Thoughts on our present discontents

By September 5, 2018Other

It was a bit of a shock for me finally to see the TV news and hear the words ‘Prime Minister Morrison’. Yes, I knew it had happened, but some days had passed, and here I was back in the land of the living. What else had happened? Much is still unclear. ‘Envoy’ positions for Mr Abbott and My Joyce may keep them quiet and out of harm’s way. They may also heal some of the hurt. I don’t know, and I doubt that anyone else does either. Are we going to have an early election? My sources say No, that the new PM needs as much time as possible to present some kind of united front to the electorate. There isn’t much time available to do that, but I would agree that he is more likely to go later than earlier.

In the meantime, Mr Shorten has finally becomethe most preferred Prime Minister, but not at anything like an exalted level. On the face of it, there will be a Labor Government whenever the election is held. It is hard to know what the electorate thinks about all of this, and since I have been out of circulation myself I haven’t been able to find out what my friends think. They’re not representative of the electorate, anyway. The whole episode has been rather like a bad movie. You come out of the cinema wondering how all that happened, and what might happen now. And although yet another Prime Minister has been weighed in the balance and found wanting, his deposition does not seem to have solved anything. There is a great deal of discontent abroad, and what follows is my attempt to deal with the roots of some of it.

The lack of a settled order

Australians are not, in my judgment formed over fifty years of study and survey research, fascinated with politics. In general they do have some strong views, nonetheless. One is that the politicians are there to do a job, and they need to be seen to be doing it. What is that job? Keeping a predictable, settled order in which people can get on with their lives: things ought to be running well, there should be jobs for people who want them, the public services should be efficient and free from the smell of obvious corruption, and political leaders should say the same things on Friday as they said earlier on Monday.

If that is all happening, to repeat, then Australians can get on with managing their own lives, jobs and families.  Oh, and we Australians take voting seriously. We approve of compulsory voting — in part, I think, because we recognise that it would so easy to let the whole thing slide, and just give up on the politicians. That has not been our way. I wrote about all that in Stability and Change in Australian Politics forty years ago, and even the last few years, which have been pretty drear in terms of the standard of our politics, have not shaken this basic driver of our system and its culture.

There is, I think, a widespread apprehension about not only what is happening, but what might happen. We have passed the era of jobs for life, tenure and protection. Jobs can disappear with frightening speed. Technological change is rampant in many areas, and many middle management, administrative and clerical positions that used to exist have simply disappeared. The housing market involves those who take out loans with what to me are astonishingly high levels of debt. The buyers cannot afford to be without work, indeed most often without two income streams. Yes, the economy is strong, though we cannot expect Chinese or Indian levels of GDP increase. But I detect real anxiety out there. And the finger is being pointed at the political system and those who operate in it, and indeed operate it.

The lack of clear direction

The best solution for Australians over the long haul, politically speaking, seems to have been a Liberal or Coalition Government implementing ideas and policies that largely have come from the ALP, or the Left, more broadly. That was much the case during the long reigns of Sir Robert Menzies and John Howard. We are neither a capitalist society nor a socialist one. We try to spread the wealth through better social welfare. Our big parties are collections or coalitions of people who share some important views of the world though they may disagree on others. And because electoral politics is a zero-sum game, they are united in believing that the most important task is to keep the other side out of office as long as possible.

I do not think that Australia is ungovernable, but l do think that it is much harder for any government now to give clear direction than it was during the period of the Cold era, for example, or in the 1980s, when I think we have had, in the early Hawke Governments, a team that knew what they wanted to do and were able to persuade the country that it was the right thing to do (and, by and large, it was). We are now wealthy, apprehensive, and many of us are fixated on what I think are small-scale issues. We do not have a great divider, or cleavage, in our society.

The call for rights of various kinds, the notion that there are crises wherever we look (obesity, domestic violence, gender equality, Aboriginal issues, autism, drugs, bullying, you name it), and the almost automatic political/electoral response that we (X Party) have a solution, and that if you vote for us we will provide it and everything will be wonderful again — all of this is pervasive. It means also that it is quite unclear what any of the governments of the last decade actually wanted to do that was in the interests of everybody. More, none of those governments was ever able to communicate its sense of what was possible and sensible with any clarity, if there had been any clarity to start with. Electoral auctions in Australia are not new, but it seems that we have nothing much else any more.

A certain lack of decency on the part of the politicians

Over the last half-century I have known a good many politicians, mostly those in Canberra, Sydney and the Federal Parliament. The great majority were decent, well-meaning and serious about their work. Most have been back-benchers, concerned about the needs of their constituents. They have learned quickly how the political and governmental system works, and they have used their knowledge to effect. Those who become senior and thus ministers or shadow ministers have had to learn a lot of new skills, and how to cut deals. None of it is easy, and I have seen all that at close hand both at the Federal level and in the ACT.

In the past decade I have felt at the Federal level the ordinary standards of decency have slipped, and that too many politicians, both at the senior and junior levels, appear to see what is possible and available to them as a sort of entitlement that can be screwed to what is well past breaking point. Spurious official trips, over-egging expenses, and needless hires of helicopters and cars, because you could do it, seem almost to have become the norm. There are safeguards, nonetheless, and the mass media delight in pointing out the miscreants.

There are just too many of them. I do not know what the solution is. There needs to be a real culture change. But who is to lead it? The point is that all this is plainly visible to the electorate. If you add it to the lack of confidence about what may happen and the lack of clear direction from our political leaders you get some idea of the frustration and irritation that I feel is abroad. I do not think I have seen anything like it in my time, and I do not know where it will lead. But it is there, I am sure of it.



Join the discussion 50 Comments

  • Peter E says:

    There is a big divide, I think, and it is between the ‘progressive’ and the ‘conservative’ with a large number of folk in the middle just wanting a quiet life. The radical wing of the progressives is moving strongly to adopt new ideas from SSM to climate change and beyond that to a new global socialism. The conservatives rightly see good institutions from the Crown to free speech, from nationalist pride to the flag, and democracy itself under severe threat. PM Turnbull was a natural progressive leading a conservative party and it could not last. Turnbull came to power by this brutal way of having the party overthrow the leader. It is only just that he went out the same way. It is no accident that it all came to a head over Turnbull’s attempt to legislate the 26% emissions target, a progressive ideal if ever there were one and one that is entirely useless and indeed very harmful. This was the final straw and a dozen members threatened to cross the floor, which would have meant the end for MT. So he backed off but exposed the hypocrisy of his earlier position. But that meant his authority had been shredded, so Dutton threatened to challenge. MT then made the mistake of declaring Leader and Deputy vacant. He partially succeeded in that he then received a majority vote but 35 votes against him further weakened his position. Dutton then made the mistake of trying a second challenge almost immediately. He didn’t quite get there and Morrison did a Bradbury. This is perhaps the best outcome as Dutton had foolishly proposed to take the GST off electricity prices when what is needed is to put emissions on the back burner for the foreseeable future and return to a level-playing field energy market with coal given a rails run. The fact that more than half the Liberal Party went against the conservative is a very bad sign. The Liberals have been corrupted with only voices like Abbott’s telling it as it ought to be told. Morrison can yet win if he joins those yelling that the UN-sponsored emissions nonsense has no clothes. The case against CAGW must be made, as Chris Kenny says, and politicians must level with the public and stop virtue signalling. The mob has worked all this out. Get out there and lead them.

  • JimboR says:

    “and many of us are fixated on what I think are small-scale issues…. ”

    Like electricity prices?

    • Don Aitkin says:

      No, not electricity prices. That is a decently large issue, especially when you factor in the alarm about possible AGW and climate change. But your question makes me think that I might write a piece on what are small and what are large issues.

  • JimboR says:

    “the notion that there are crises wherever we look (obesity, domestic violence, gender equality, Aboriginal issues, autism, drugs, bullying, you name it)”

    And lest we forget… criminal behaviour by our big banks and insurance companies, institutionalised child sexual abuse from our churches.

    • Boambee John says:

      ” institutionalised child sexual abuse from our churches.”

      And also public institutions such as the school system, which get a lit less publicity.


    • spangled drongo says:

      ” institutionalised child sexual abuse from our churches.”

      Never forget “institutionalised child sexual abuse from our…” aboriginals, either, Jimb.

      We just choose to be in complete denial that it is traditional aboriginal custom for old men to “break-in” pre-pubescent girls and these days that leads to much worse treatment of them.

      But to consider placing those same girls out of harms way in non-aboriginal homes is just not culturally acceptable by progressives of all shades.

      And cannot even be discussed.

      Because they would be then considered part of the “stolen generations”.

      You know, the ones that never existed.

      But a frail archbishop who did his best to prevent and rectify child abuse in the catholic church all his life gets a gaol sentence for not being aware of [or forgetting] something that happened before he even became a priest, the perpetrator of which crime having already been incarcerated.

      Do you notice a slight variation in treatment of the problem there, jimb?

      A certain amount of hypocrisy, perhaps?

  • Chris Warren says:


    Words like “fixated” and “small” seem to disparage the views and rights to participation of others.

    Australia will never have a clear direction while big issues remain unresolved and while ever Hawke’s politics remain a dim memory.

    Bob Hawke introduced tri-partite mechanisms to steer national policy: National Economic Summit, EPAC, TUTA, NBEET, and Worksafe Australia.

    If you do not have tripartite mechanisms, you end up with warring factions with some elements growing fat at the expense of others and further disruption if some seek to attack the welfare state – the basis of social consensus.

    Australia is being disrupted by some very crude voices – shock-jock radio, Hanson, Bernardi, Fraser Anning, Bolt and Windschuttle etc. Except for Santamaria, did we have similar disrupters in the 60’s and 70’s?

  • Doug Hurst says:

    Thanks Don – a very good summary from someone with other things on his mind while the pollies were all behaving badly.

    And Peter E has added thoughts I largely agree with. Morrison no doubt ‘did a Bradbury’ but I prefer to see him as a compromise candidate and hope he will be as successful as my favourite compromise candidate, Harry Truman. A little known senator, Harry became Vice President simply because he was an acceptable compromise to two opposing Democrat factions, only to become president when Franklin Roosevelt died, make the hard decisions to drop the atomic bombs and confront Communism in Korea, win an unexpected election and go on to be one of America’s most respected presidents.

    Morrison has all the necessary cards to win the next election – far more rational climate and energy policy, border protection, numerous favourable trade deals signed, good economic management (despite the senate), tighter immigration numbers and criteria, Shorten’s CFMEU links etc – but much depends on how he plays them. Here, I feel he has started well, with just hints of possible changes to come while they work out the detail. He is also more saleable then Turnbull, with none of the Harbour-side Toff and intellectual arrogance (misplaced, as it happened) baggage and well developed basic political skills.

    • JimboR says:

      “numerous favourable trade deals signed”

      It looked like one of them was recently at risk, but ScoMo stepped up and saved the day….

      Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dispelled as a “complete furphy” any idea that trade with Europe is at risk over Australian action on climate change. Speaking to reporters in Jakarta on Saturday, Mr Morrison responded to reports Europe was considering rejecting a $15 billion free trade deal with Australia unless the coalition committed to cutting emissions as part of its Paris pledge.

      “Let me be clear about this. Australians’ commitments to the Paris targets haven’t changed,” Mr Morrison said.

  • Tezza says:

    Nothing I would disagree with in you thoughts, Don.

    You might like to look at today’s Centre for Independent Studies release, ‘Voting for a Living’, for a supplementary take on what might be going wrong, and getting worse over time:

    It looks very bad for democracy when we abandon clearly necessary and comparatively far-sighted decisions, such as gradually raising pension eligibility age as careers become more flexible, private lifetime savings grow, lifespans grow and we experience demographic ageing.

  • Doug Hurst says:

    True, JimboR, they are not talking withdrawal from Paris, but they are saying affordable, reliable power has precedence over emissions reductions and keep saying that we will easily meet our Paris targets with their 2030 deadlines (for which I see no evidence). From this I sense they hope to avoid fighting about Paris, but intend to ignore it if need be (as most of Europe does by continually falling short of their targets) and get the focus on cost reduction and reliability.

    It’s obvious the big emitters like China and India don’t believe this stuff anymore, but rather than start pointless international debate they virtue signal like all the others and go full steam ahead building coal-fired power stations and ramping up their CO2 output.

    This doesn’t worry me. Many years of looking at the so-called debate tell me that the role of CO2 in climate has been seriously exaggerated and many factors, mostly numerous solar and oceanic variables, all contribute in a complex system that defies prediction and cannot yet be modelled successfully.

    We will get what we get, irrespective of Paris, but it is so politically sensitive I guess the trick is to work around it without actually seeming to do so. That’s what I would do, and I hope ScoMo & Co see it that way. We will soon know.

    • Chris Warren says:

      Doug Hurst

      While it may be that, for you, CO2 impacts “defies prediction”, it is not beyond the ken of a sixth-grader.

      Do you deny the fact that atmospheric CO2 has never naturally exceeded 300 ppm?

      Do you deny the fact that CO2 and water vapour retain heat?

      Are you able to predict from this that increased atmospheric CO2 and water vapour will increase global temperatures?

      Do you deny the fact that CO2 atmospheric concentrations have been increasing since the 1860’s and are still increasing today at a rate of around 2ppm per year?

      • Boambee John says:

        “Do you deny the fact that atmospheric CO2 has never naturally exceeded 300 ppm?”


        With this question, you have destroyed any claim to special knowledge about CO2 levels and their impacts.

  • Doug Hurst says:

    Chris Warren,

    Many highly qualified scientists, including Bill Kinninmonth who until retirement was our BMO head, now seriously doubt the role of CO2 in climate and point out that none of the models using IPCC ‘climate sensitivity’ values (greatly influenced) by CO2 have predicted the last 25 years, all seriously overestimating the temperature increases, which were so small they cannot be separated out from natural variation.

    As for all your other points, I deny nothing, agreeing that all you say is true. Where we differ, is that I don’t think such things matter for the reasons given above.

    The only proven change from increasing CO2 is the greening of the planet. Everything else is ideologically driven speculation that ignores the complexity of the climate picture and the inability of anyone to predict anything other than it will change year to year as it always has.

    Doug Hurst

  • Chris Warren says:

    Doug Hurst

    If you say “The only proven change from increasing CO2 is the greening of the planet. ” then you are denying that others things are proven.

    Given the quantity of hard data and confirmed trends comments such as “seriously doubt” is code for deny. There is enough evidence for real “doubters” to resolve their honest doubts. You can always inject political “doubts” which you can exaggerate with scary adjectives. Such are the tools of our disrupters.

    I hope you have evidence for implicating Kinninmonth in such endeavours.

    • Doug Hurst says:

      Correction. I misread your first point. Past CO2 levels have been far, far higher than present levels, often with no correlation whatsoever with temperatures.

      Increased CO2 and water vapour would most probably marginally increase temperatures, but from the water vapour, not the CO2, which history tells us has never been an important climate driver.

      I know that CO2 levels are increasing, I know they have been far higher in the past, and a bit lower, and I know from history that the current levels and small changes matter only to the plants that will now grow faster.

      My information about Bill Kinninmonth’s thoughts comes from his recent essay in Quadrant magazine and, I think, before that the Australian. He called it: ‘The Paris agreement is no longer relevant’ and is described as the ‘past supervisor of climate services at the Bureau of Meteorology (I got the initials in the wrong order) and a consultant to the world Meteorological Organisation. His book ‘Climate Change: A Natural Hazard’ and his contribution to Bob Carter’s book, Taxing Air are also mentioned.

      I feel you would find his writings very instructive and suggest that in future instead of debating non-specialists like me, you address your questions to people like him who sent a life-time in this discipline and are now telling the government it’s time to quit the expensive virtue signalling and concentrate on cheap reliable power, not placating ill informed alarmists and greedy power companies.

      • Chris Warren says:

        Doug Hurst

        I am a bit surprised that you suggested that there were ” ill informed alarmists” as the face at the bottom of the well is your own.

        You appear completely ill informed about CO2 levels. You claim, without evidence, that:

        “Past CO2 levels have been far, far higher than present levels, …”

        This is false unless you want to go back beyond 400,000 years ago and well before mankind evolved. This is an irresponsible denialist trick.

  • Chris Warren says:

    Just clearing out the fake news some continually inject.

    Bill Kinninmonth was NOT our BMO head.

    There never was any such entity as a “BMO”.

    There is and was a “Australian Bureau of Meteorology” but Kinninmonth had no role in its formal Climate Research program which was then managed by the Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre (BMRC). Kinninmonth was not attached to the BMRC.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Thanks, Don, for your summary. This winter of our discontent is certainly well attached to the current attitudes of modern day politicians and bureaucrats with their endless spending, globalisation, devaluation and debt. Completely contrary to the small business philosophy of the past that was used by all levels of govt, ie, look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.

    In Australia these days traditional industry can’t survive so govts are developing the Entitlement Industry, Health Industry, Climate Change Industry, Aboriginal Industry, Migrant Industry, Gambling Industry etc, etc, to fill the gaps and keep all the balls in the air.

    Imagine after 27 years having to have another of Paul’s recessions with mortgage interest rates at 20%?

    • beththeserf says:

      …’In Australia these days traditional industry can’t survive so govts are developing the Entitlement Industry, Health Industry, Climate Change Industry, Aboriginal Industry, Migrant Industry, Gambling Industry etc, etc, ‘ The industry you have when you’re not having an industry … A Clayton’s kinda’ industry.

      • spangled drongo says:

        Yes, Beth, and what’s left of our traditional industries are moving overseas and/or falling by the wayside through confused govt policies and globalisation as Dick points out below.

        But not to worry, we all know that Nanny has us in hand and we will never be allowed to face hard times again.

  • spangled drongo says:

    The delusion that the Climate Change Industry puts money in your pocket:

    “The world economy could grow $26 trillion in a decade if governments and businesses focus on climate change”

    As opposed to the financial disaster that is already evident at a cost of $42 trillion per year:

    “The current annual cost to extract all of the annual emissions [of CO2] is of the order of $1,000 per person per year in developed countries, about $600/person/year on global average. Extracting all current emissions is a realistic approximation of the need, as the allowed carbon budget to keep warming in the range specified by the Paris accord is nearly exhausted.”

    – James Hansen and Pushker Kharecha, “Cost of Carbon Capture: Can Young People Bear the Burden?” Joule, August 15, 2018.

    But what the heck, Paul Ehrlich, eat your heart out:

    “We have got to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic policy and environmental policy.”

  • Boambee John says:


    The worst thing about compulsory voting is compulsory preferential voting, which ensures that even though around a third of voters do not give their first preference to either of the two major groups, those groups will always dominate in the House of Representatives.

    Around a third of voters do not want either najor group to represent them, but get that anyway.

    • Chris Warren says:

      Boambee John

      There is no such thing as “compulsory preferential voting”. You can see formal ballots that do not have preferences are still entered into the count, but end up in the “exhausted” pile when all their available preferences have been used.

      In any election, all papers, even if they only have a single 1 against a particular candidate are valid votes.

  • spangled drongo says:

    What’s left of our businesses is being ripped off by overseas billionaires.

    Dick Smith exposes foreign booking sites for extorting millions from Australian small businesses in middle of drought:

  • spangled drongo says:

    New study in nature actually shows that the greeny, lefty proggies are getting exactly what they all want but still they bed-wet:

    “Here we analyse 35 years’ worth of satellite data and provide a comprehensive record of global land-change dynamics during the period 1982–2016. We show that—contrary to the prevailing view that forest area has declined globally—tree cover has increased by 2.24 million km2 (+7.1% relative to the 1982 level).”

    • spangled drongo says:

      To give you an idea of that is more than the size of NSW, Vic and SA combined. A bit less than the whole of WA.

      You’d think good news like that should give any badly bothered blitherer a break from bed-wetting for a while.

      Waddya reckon, blith?

  • spangled drongo says:

    Is it any wonder sceptics are the only ones worth believing.

    On September 26, 1988, The Canberra Times quoted “climate experts” as saying all 1,196 Maldives Islands would drown in 30 years. That is about now.

    They’re still looking as good as ever:

    A lot better than they did in 1837:

    • Neville says:

      Interesting info SD, but you’ll never change people who believe in their religious cult and their Fairy stories.
      Evidence/data means nothing to them and as my Dad used to say about fanatics -” you may as well talk to a strainer post”. For example just look at OZ rainfall data and droughts. They seem to believe that co2 strikes only in some places at some time, like a sort of pixie dust.
      Here’s the latest about Tesla’s troubles in China, fair dinkum rich Chinese must have money to burn. The price they’ll pay for these silly EVs is mind boggling.

  • Bryan Roberts says:

    Wake me up when Tuvalu is under water.

    • Chris Warren says:

      Bryan Roberts

      What will you do then???

      • spangled drongo says:

        You are expecting it to happen, hey blith?

        Even though 20c of warming and 120 metres of SLR in the recent past, couldn’t manage it?

        Is this more of your “science”?

        Or more of your enuresis nervosa?

  • Neville says:

    Will the fra-dulent Paris pack of cards collapse? Let’s hope so. Certainly the march(s) to fight climate change have had very low numbers compared to the usual nonsense from the Guardian.
    And there doesn’t seem to be a rush to fund the first 100Bn $ of this fra-dulent agreement either. Of course we could agree with all the con merchants and fra-dsters, fund everything, follow the reduction in co2 to the letter and there still wouldn’t be any measurable difference to temp by 2040, 2070 or 2100.

  • Neville says:

    Bob Tisdale looks at the historical SST data for the same region that CAT 4 Florence is now occupying.
    The same temps or higher were recorded in the 1860s, 1930s and 1950s,so just be aware of the data if Florence does make landfall.
    Of course the Guardian donkeys, CNN etc will not be interested in the data at all. Just watch the con merchants have a field day as they demand more money and more action to fight their CAGW. What a load of BS.

    • spangled drongo says:

      That’s just so right, Neville. Generally speaking, the US has had lower than average extreme weather and storms causing SLR, but still their media milks it for every drop.

      On the east coast of Aus, however we have been having the best weather and lowest extremes imaginable but still the media exaggerate to the max.

      The bed-wetting that would happen should we return to normal cyclonic patterns, storm surges and flooding of 40+ years ago would be hard to imagine.

      The alarmist stu-pids are already fainting from the effect of the good times.

      Will we ever be flogged raw for our carbon sins.

  • Neville says:

    More corruption and fra-d from the CAGW extremists, it seems they’ll fake experiments, tell lies about extreme weather events etc yet the delusional donkeys from WAPO etc will just lap it all up, no questions asked.
    Here’s Dr Roy Spencer on FOX News trying to set the record straight using actual DATA and Science.
    Bill Nye and Al Gore should hang their heads in shame, hut they’ll continue their con merchant activities because the MSM are more than happy to support them. Thank you Dr Spencer for exposing these pretenders.

  • Neville says:

    Here’s the Greens latest resolution on their so called CAGW. Note that they also support a return to no more than 350 ppm of co2. This is also McKibben and Hansen’s agenda.
    How this impossible target ( ask the NON OECD countries) would suddenly make the world a better place is not explored at all.
    To try and understand how these delusional fools regularly get 9% or more of the vote is a complete mystery and certainly our education of young people needs to include the basics of logic and reason ASAP. IOW very simple maths and Science using available data and evidence.
    This nonsensical list was updated in May 2018.

  • Neville says:

    The fra-dulent EU carbon market is still going nowhere fast. The EU countries have been trying to show the way to a sort of Utopia for decades and it has been a complete waste of time and endless billions$ for a zero dividend.
    Meanwhile the NON OECD countries continue their record emissions of co2 while the rest of the world turns a blind eye.
    Unbelievable but true, but how many more decades before we start to wake up?

  • EdmundOpeni says:

    What we have here is , a magnificentdonation
    Are you in?

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