Sunday, April 26, 2015

The sacking of Scott McIntyre

I'm prepared to make the call that SBS has over-reacted in sacking Scott McIntyre.

Yes, it is easy to find a breach of the SBS Social Media policy,  if only because the Twitter account doesn't include a disclaimer that the views are his own - as recommended by the policy.

The tweets themselves - four in total - are opinions of ANZAC Day and Australia's role in war that are shared by a minority of people (though not by me), but they are not unique nor offensive.  Given the social media code says the values are "creativity, collaboration, diversity and respect" one could argue the posts reflect on diversity. SBS more than most should acknowledge this is NOT a mono-culture. They are poorly expressed - and are framed in a way that they fail the respect test.

But this is a counselling issue not a sacking one. These are not abhorrent views, they do not bring SBS into disrepute.

The only thing bringing SBS into disrepute is the reaction of the CEO.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

100 years after Gallipoli

I don't need to draw anyone's attention to the fact that it is 100 years today since the Australian and New Zealand troops landed at Gallipoli.

But after a century the significance of the event is still much debated.

As blog readers would know my grandfather Harry Leopold Spratt (later H L S Havyatt - but that is another story) landed at Gallipoli in May 1915 with the Wellington Mounted Rifles. They left their Egyptian camp on May 9 landing on May 12. So I tend to approach Anzac Day from as much a New Zealand position as I did Australian.

The New Zealand story is a bit different - they weren't  a recently federated nation for which the battle was a defining point in the new nation's history. Their constitutional relationship was just as it had been when many New Zealanders fought in the Boer War.

The young Kiwis, especially those signing up to the Mounted Rifles (which was BYO horse), envisioned a quick war with lots of riding around in battle.

In this they were perhaps no more deluded than the European powers who did not expect the war to be a drawn out trench stalemate.

As Richard Stowers book Bloody Gallipoli starts:

Most nations have set aside days to celebrate great military victories or liberations of cities and countries. New Zealand has a day to remember a national tragedy.

It is common to "blame" Winston Churchill for the disaster of the Dardanelles campaign. It was a hastily conceived campaign as a desperate move to try to get some movement in the war, despite Churchill's own prognostication two and a half years earlier that the straits could not be forced.

Yet we should be grateful. As Peter Fitzsimons notes in today's SMH the alternative plan - favoured by Field Marshall French - was simply to immediately deploy the Australian and New Zealand forces along the Western Front intermingled in English units and not as a distinct force.

What the British would have made of these troops if deployed immediately to those fronts is anyone's guess. We do know that British officers found the larrikin element of the ANZAC troops hard to manage.

But Sir Ian Hamilton told once told Asquith "These New Zealanders and Australians, and best of all the Australian Light Horse and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, and above all the last named, are the flower of our troops or of any other troops in the world."

The British landed at Cape Helles suffered worse casualties than the Anzacs, but the perception remains if the British troops had been more like the Anzacs the campaign might have ended differently. In particular the August thrust commemorated every Anzac day at Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair may have resulted in success if the British effort had matched that of the Anzacs.

The significance of ANZAC is shown most starkly by New Zealand. Without any separate foundation narrative, after Gallipoli the colony/dominion determined that its troops would never again be placed under foreign command.

It was the moment when the individual antipodeans were starkly shown that they weren't inferior to anyone else, and when their Governments decided that they should not be subservient.

The formalities took time - in Australia's case the Stature of Westminster only adopted in 1942 and the Australia Act in the 1980s. It isn't complete - we aren't a republic and who gets called "the Honourable" is even determined by royal patent.

It really was like that startling moment that hits us all sometime in late adolescence when we realise we are an adult now.

Other countries celebrate a victory because they often had to fight a war against a foe - or an oppressor - to reach that point of realisation.

For New Zealand - and Australia - it happened at Gallipoli.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Explaining "fairness"

This morning's NewsLtd papers had a Simon Benson splash of a statement supposedly made by nine business groups. At the time of writing I can't find the statement on the websites of the biggest three - the BCA, ACCI or AiG.

I am always suspicious of stories clearly written off the back of a "drop" to one journalist that is rewarded with a splash. The AFR has posted the story online but it looks as if it has been entirely written from the News story not the document. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that one of the named groups doesn't actually support the statement and it has been prematurely released.

But drawing on the AFR story the guts of the statement is as follows:

With the Prime Minister signalling a 'dull' budget and the Opposition Leader continuing to focus almost exclusively on budget 'fairness' you could be mistaken for thinking there is no significant problem with the state of the nation's finances.

It's also tempting to look at Australia's relative prosperity, built on a quarter of a century of economic growth, and attribute it to luck or a rich endowment of natural resources. It's a comforting thought that growth is somehow automatic and that year in, year out, despite our many challenges we will continue to improve our lot.

The reality of where prosperity comes from, however, is much more sobering and if neglected will set us on a path to economic despair." Past giants of economic reform did what was right for the long-term benefit of Australia and not because it was politically expedient - it very rarely if ever was. They shared a commitment to the national good and emerged from both the Liberal and Labor parties and even the Senate cross-benches.

Today, our leaders must stand on the shoulders of these reform giants and ensure our living standards remain among the highest in the world.

We cannot continue to mortgage our nation's future on the questionable assumption that we may be in a better position to fix the budget on the never-never, particularly given the need to allow for future economic shocks like another global financial crisis and the cost of servicing debt.

There is no escaping that reform is hard and often unpopular in the short-term but achievements by those who came before show that long-term benefits can be achieved if approached in the right way.

Our message to today's leaders is simple: governing is not just the responsibility of government, it is the duty of all members of Parliament, and we must stand on the shoulders of reform giants before it is too late.

Unfortunately like most such statements lately everyone is talking about "reform" but there is very little detail of what reform might actually be needed. There is also no explanation in any of this what the apparent link is between business conditions and Government debt and deficit - other than the work of the Government and business community to use the budget position as a way to clobber both business and consumer confidence.

But the story was drawn to my attention because of the offhand manner in which the business lobby groups have sought to dismiss "fairness" as if Labor is merely pursuing this because of genuine reasons including values rather than a convenient label for destabilising the Government.

So let's explain "fairness."

I can understand the difficulty in part. The ALP website says Labor is for Fairness but the text that follows is a mixed bag on university fees, NDIS, housing affordability, sex discrimination and domestic violence.

Bill Shorten made a better fist of it in October 2014 in a speech to the National Policy Forum when he said:

But I think that chapter one must begin with Labor’s belief in fairness.

Fairness drives prosperity, it underpins growth, it lifts living standards, it creates jobs – it gives everyone the chance to fulfil their potential.

Fairness insists upon the equal treatment of women, supporting their march through the institutions of power.

Fairness demands we care for the vulnerable, it demands we speak up for the powerless, include the marginalised and uplift the disadvantaged. And fairness is a pact between generations. That means opening the doors of education, from the earliest years giving every young Australian the chance to go on to a great school and onto university or training.

Fairness between generations means that Australians should not have to work hard all their lives, only to retire poor.

And fairness between generations means caring for the environment - passing on to our children a healthier national estate than the one we inherited.

That’s the higher ground I want Labor to reach for.

Unsurprisngly Nick Cater, now Executive Director of the Menzies Research Centre, outlined a different view in The Oz in September 2014. Cater confusingly claims that "fairness" was not part of Labor's policy platform from 1949 to 1980, and that Hawke's use of it was limited. Yet he then quotes from Chifley's 1949 campaign speech to try to contrast that view from Shorten's.

The more complete reference in Chif's speech is:

I well remember when, by their thousands, breadwinners, ill-clad and underfed, queued at factory gates seeking work. We, the Labor Party, feel we have a sacred responsibility to see that all sections of the community receive justice, and that the less fortunate section of the community has protection from want, unemployment and insecurity.

We affirm for every man the right to receive a fair return for his labour, enterprise and initiative. But we do say that it is the duty and the responsibility of the community, and particularly those more fortunately placed, to see that our less fortunate fellow-citizens are protected from those shafts of fate which leave them helpless and without hope. That is the objective for which we are striving. It is, as I have said before, the beacon, the light on the hill, to which our eyes are always turned and to which our efforts are always directed.

We work and fight, not for personal gain, but that our fellow-citizens may labour under good and ever-improving standards and conditions, free from want, insecurity and misery.

Cater tries to argue that the Chifley vision is restricted to fairness in terms of return for effort and welfare as a protection from "shifts of fate."

What Cater is really on about is trying to position Labor as believing the solution to all ills is to spend our way out of them. He then refers to the whacky Tony Mackin view that Labor's economic stimulus did nothing other than push up the dollar.

I don't think you'd have seen any difference between Chifley's reaction to the Abbott budget from Shorten's. Chifley would approve of the Opposition Leader making a submission to the minimum wage case.

A better attack on Labor's use of "fairness" was made last month by Kelly O'Dwyer at the CIS. She said, in part:

Fairness’ is being hijacked as a one-word slogan by Labor and the Greens to encapsulate a very narrow concept while ignoring many crucial dimensions of fairness. 

Fairness is not only complex at a micro level; it is also complex at the macro level as well. There is absolutely no question that fairness involves assisting the truly disadvantaged and marginalised. But it also involves questions of intergenerational fairness. Amongst other things, it also involves looking at the hidden winners and losers, questions of personal responsibility and reward for effort, and complex transitional questions.

In what is part of a now common Liberal trick O'Dwyer actually questioned the "fairness" of a progressive tax system. To O'Dwyer "user pays" is fair and anything smacking of cross-subsidy is unfair.

In doing so O'Dwyer is tapping into the earlier critique of the term "social justice" which questioned who had the authority to determine the appropriate distribution of incomes in a "socially equitable" way.

(It is also notable that both Shorten and O'Dwyer touched on "intergenerational" fairness - though one used it to talk of the environment and the other of debt.)

The response of the neoliberals is that the only "fair" way to distribute resources and incomes is through "the market."

This is not the place for a full critique of neoliberal conceptions of the market. But it is worth noting that the observed human preference for "fairness" demonstrated by the ultimatum game is not well represented in markets.

Governments (and firms actually) exist because markets can't resolve all issues. Representing "fairness" is one of them. And the answer to the question of "how can Government's decide" is simply because Government's are elected.

Despite the great fear of the upper classes that expansion of the vote would see the poor appropriate all the wealth of the rich, it doesn't happen. Social mobility is part of the reason - too many people have aspirations of being rich to support full expropriation.

Surprisingly people's bias for fairness also extends to balancing fairness in reward for effort as well as fairness of opportunity and fairness of outcome.

Unfortunately when given a microphone today Bill Shorten simply responded by saying he was up for reform but would support things that were fair, and not things that were unfair without any further explanation.

And it really is time for him to say a little bit more.

Firstly, fairness is good for the economy. Increasing income and wealth inequality restricts economic growth; and it isn't solved by economic growth.

Secondly, fairness is good for our security. Crime is more prevelant the larger the poor underclass is.

Thirdly, fairness is moral. Even Hayek understood that the "shafts of fate" play just as much a role in those who are very well off as those who are destitute. Lang Hancock just happened to fly under a storm and find the Hammersley range. Which song will be a hit depends as much upon the network of people who like and recmmend it as it does the song's intrinsic qualities.

To really win Bill Shorten needs to use every opportunity to explain how fairness "drives prosperity, it underpins growth, it lifts living standards, it creates jobs – it gives everyone the chance to fulfil their potential." He needs to stop assuming that the population at large understands or shares his view. Clearly the Australian business community doesn't - and they need to!