Monthly Archives: September 2013

Hoping the bubble bursts

The RBA’s low-interest strategy to stimulate the non-mining sectors has an unfortunate side-effect: worsening housing affordability (“RBA urges borrowers to be prudent amid record-low rate environment”, 25/9). The investments of one generation force up house prices, robbing the next of the chance to own one.

The PM shrugs off the affordability crisis by saying “sure that makes it harder to get into the market, but it also means that everyone who is in the market has a more valuable asset” (“Tony Abbott puts bubble trouble to bed”, The Australian, 28/9). He seems unconcerned that this leads inevitably backward in time to a two-tier society, divided into landlords who bought when the getting was good, and reluctant renters, effectively serfs, who will never have the opportunity to own a home.

Interest rate cuts are a blunt instrument which cannot distinguish between productive and unproductive investment. Their effect needs to be focussed by a purposeful tax regime.

House price inflation is fuelled in part by pointless tax concessions for unproductive speculation in existing dwellings, which contributes nothing to the economy but a pervasive form of inflation. Good policy demands the removal of these concessions, and a commensurate increase in breaks for productive investment in new stock.

But as long as the Coalition lacks the courage to take the necessary action, the millions forced to rent can only hope the bubble will burst, with all the pain that would cause to the landlord class.

Don’t mention the boats

Just two weeks after the election, “Stop the boats” has become “Don’t mention the boats”. The Abbott government hopes it can make the asylum-seeker issue go away by media-management. But keeping inconvenient reports out of the press is not as simple as, say, purging uppity public servants. Like every other regime that has tried to rule by disinformation, the Coalition will quickly learn that suppressing the free flow of information makes stopping boats look easy.

Frozen in time

Christian lobbyist Lyle Shelton (“No mandate for change”, The Australian, 18/9) is wrong to say that any Constitutional challenge to marriage legislation would be about “what marriage meant in 1901”. The High Court has never viewed the Constitution, or the nation, as frozen in time. In its decisions on subjects that have changed substantially in meaning since Federation, such as race, political rights, corporations, external affairs, and even juries, the contemporary meaning has rightly always been preferred.

There are many thinking Christians in this country who are able to reconcile their personal view of homosexuality with their membership of a secular democracy, and thus do not insist, as Shelton does, that public law should reflect their private dogma.

Obvious answer

Judith Sloane (“Leaning Left by association”, The Australian, 17/9) may have intended to be rhetorical by asking “When did associations representing qualified professionals become public advocates of progressive causes?”. But the answer is rather obvious: when those objectives are in the interests of their members, or accord with their values. Sloane may find it amusing, for example, that doctors organise for peace; but doctors who have treated battlefield casualties may not see the joke.

Despite the efforts of the anti-union brigade, freedom of association is still at the base of our democracy. Sloane is therefore not prevented from forming her own rival professional associations which, say, oppose social progress, or support market libertarianism, or whatever she chooses – if she can find anyone to join.

Crisis: forces of denial force denial of crisis!

Graham LLoyd (“We got it wrong on warming, says IPCC”, The Australian, 16/9) misrepresents rumoured minor revisions of the extent of AGW as some kind of denialist victory. His main source for the rumours about an upcoming IPCC report is Matt Ridley who, Lloyd omits to mention, is a well-known climate-denier writing for another Murdoch masthead.

Lloyd selectively quotes climatologist Judith Curry in such a way as to suggest she shares Ridley’s views. This is not the case. Curry’s views differ from those of most of her colleagues only in so far as she believes it can be constructive to engage with denialism. That Lloyd has used her name to add gravitas to his article demonstrates the folly of her approach.

Lloyd breathlessly reports that “the IPCC was forced to deny it was locked in crisis talks”. Decoding this tortured phrase merely tells us that despite the ongoing denialist sideshow, there is no crisis for climate science.

Tu quoque

There is no doubt the Russian president is a hypocrite, supporting a brutal regime in Syria for his his own ends. But it is fallacy (the “tu quoque” fallacy, to be precise) to deduce from this that everything he says is false. Putin’s motives for opposing a unilateral military strike on Syria are not honourable, but there are other legitimate reasons for doing so, the many lessons of Iraq amongst them.

For all it faults, the U.N. is still the best vehicle for ensuring that the international response is legal, measured, based on evidence and most importantly, does not kill the very people it is intended to protect

Mandate schmandate

Suddenly an opposition is supposed to vote with the government because of a “mandate”? I don’t recall the Coalition doing anything of the sort when they were in opposition, and nor should they have. They had a responsibility to represent their own electors, as Labor, the Greens and the rest do now. That’s how parliamentary democracy works.

Judas kiss

Recent talk of a “Christian vote” (“‘Judas kiss’ will cost PM”, The Australian, 5/9) suggests it is time for a reminder of what kind of polity we live in. The Australian Constitution both protects private religious freedom, and excludes religions from public favour. In a secular nation, it is not a valid ambition for religious groups to influence government action on the basis of religious beliefs.

Self-styled “Pastor” Matt Prater is entitled to his views on gay marriage, but in so far as they are religious doctrine, they can have no bearing on any government’s treatment of the issue of legal equality. Discussions of what a particular religious text says or doesn’t say about homosexuality are entertaining enough on Q&A, but can have no place in parliament.

Brandis backwards

George Brandis looks back at the 20th century and sees only that “blind pursuit of left-wing ideology led to the deaths of many millions of people” (“Freedom set to reclaim its spot at heart of human rights debate”, The Australian, 3/9). He is apparently able to ignore the millions who also died at the hands of right-wing regimes, and this should give us an indication of how skewed is his view of history and present-day reality.

“We let the Left take over the language of human rights”, says Brandis, forgetful of the fact that for most the last century, human rights were not even in the vocabulary of the Right. In fact, the rights we currently enjoy were won by the Left and resisted by the Right: the abolition of slavery, workers’ rights, democratic government, universal suffrage, racial equality, gender equality, freedom of religion and yes, even free speech itself. Sexual equality is still a work in progress, but the outcome is inevitable.

It is a good thing that the moderate Right has mostly ceded these issues. But to claim, as Brandis does, that they have somehow been stolen from the Right is a self-serving reversal of historical truth.