One of the biggest revelations to come out of the RU486 debate has been the
spotlight on the “schism” between the conservative wing of the Liberal party,
led by John Howard and Tony Abbott, and its moderates, represented by Peter
Costello. Their public speeches betrayed some tension, but in private “real
anger crackled between the two groups,” says Peter Hartcher inThe Sydney
Morning Herald
. And much of this “antagonism will now carry forward into the
unfinished business of the competition for the leadership.”

The muted rage with which the AWB’s misdemeanours have been met is
understandable, say Linda Weiss, John Mathews and Elizabeth Thurbon in The Courier-Mail. But what can be gained by punishing the AWB as an institution?
Australian wheat farmers are the most efficient in the world, and our
exports of wheat, without any government subsidies at all, account for
about 16% of the world market behind only the US. One of the key competitive advantages enjoyed by Australian wheat is
our “institutional innovation of introducing a single export agency or
desk (the AWB).” Rival wheat growers, such as those in the US, never tire of
condemning the AWB. Why? Because it enhances our sales of wheat abroad,
and “returns a better profit to the farmers than they could secure if
they competed as small individuals.” So, before we rush to do the bidding of US congressional leaders by
crucifying AWB officials and dismantling the AWB, let us pause and ask
where Australia’s interests lie in all this.

human faith is found in Malaysia, yet it’s a majority Muslim country,
where Islam is the official religion, writes Timothy Garton Ash in The Guardian. At first glance I would seem to have found the “holy grail of the
post-9/11 world, proof positive that Islam in power can allow and even
encourage a peaceful, tolerant, multicultural society.” And certainly, measured by the standards of the Middle East, Malaysia
is an “exemplar of interfaith coexistence.” Look a little closer,
however, and
the picture becomes more muddy. Communities coexist rather than
co-mingle. I’m told there is relatively little intermarriage. This is
no melting-pot. “Of
course there’s nothing wrong with such peaceful coexistence” but
retaining separate communities does mean that
politics remain group-based and there’s “always the potential for
violent conflict to erupt.”

In one week of
Italy’s election
campaign, PM Silvio Berlusconi alternately compared himself to Napoleon,
Churchill and Jesus Christ while also vowing to give up sex until after the
April poll. But none of this would surprise the Italians, says Alexander Stille
in The Financial Times (not online). He has perfected a personal style that is a “bizarre mix
of megalomania, sexual braggadocio, off-colour jokes and outrageous claims.” But
there is method in Berlusconi’s madness – he’s perhaps the first “truly
post-modern politician” to turn many of the old rules of his trade upside down.

Australia, housing affordability is an oxymoron. Brisbane and Perth
house prices are about six times annual income and Sydney a whopping
nine times the median
household income.
In Houston it’s about 2.7 and yet the city is growing rapidly. What
gives? “Houston is much hated in town planning circles throughout the
Western world as the city that has repeatedly rejected, at numerous
referendums, proposals to introduce zoning,” says Bob Day in The Oz.
But that’s not the explanation. In Houston, growth is in, controls are
out. And because there are no restrictions on development, the price
ratio of land used for residential development and land used for
agriculture is effectively 1:1. In Australia it is more like 10:1. It
is this fact that provides Houston with affordable housing. The supply
of land is the key.

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