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Sep 21, 2017

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The non-binding mail survey a nation should never have endured has given rise in recent weeks to “argument” that should never have been made. Ugh. There’s the argument implicitly made by News Corp that former prime minister John Howard retains his value as an expert speaker on topics other than the Biggles series of adventure books. There are cruder, more explicit arguments made from within that same empire that no decent person should repeat.

Then, there’s the effing argument, from both Yes and No advocates, against “bullying” behaviour among the general population, which leads us to no useful end, save for proving beyond doubt that safe-space seeking is a bipartisan pursuit. Miranda Devine and all her spiritual children are now, in fact, the flakiest snowflakes, regularly demanding refuge from the heat.

Yes, Miranda, this just in: some people are not very nice. This has likely been true for some years and is possibly why policymakers have been drawn, at times, to build niceness into law. We have, for example, harsh penalties to deter those who would physically harm others. For a few decades, we had decent legal protection, hard won by trade unions, against rough treatment at work.

Curiously, the single argument of value provoked by our dreadful time of Brexit-lite may turn out to be for the Australian worker’s diminished rights. When a young Canberra woman found herself without work due to expressing support on social media for the “No” vote, some useful discussion emerged.

Not to polish the masthead, but Crikey was the first to consider the worker identified as “Madeline” not as homophobe or hero, but as a test of current employment conditions. As much as I like to give it to The Guardian, that title, too, deserves praise for considering factually what it now means to be “sacked”.

The short answer is: less and less. How can it mean anything when you don’t really have a job from the start? While older workers may preserve some part of their old-timey conditions — super, weekends, the right to shoot off at the mouth about whatever they please during weekends or other leisure hours — younger workers like Madeline must be as “agile” as Malcolm Turnbull demands. She, like her entire generation, is stuffed. Around 40% of Australians are now engaged in “alternative work”; that is, they are casual, self-employed or, like Madeline, “independent contractors”.

Contractors and the self-employed have no protection under the Fair Work Act. Which wasn’t something that seemed to trouble Guardian economics writer Greg Jericho a few years back. Jericho made the case in 2014 that we shouldn’t worry about a rise in freelance work, because a freelance agency had provided him with survey data that suggested many “choose” precisely the kind of “flexible” work that agency had as its revenue model.

Now, the guy has moved a little to the left of classical liberal economic thought, and has found that a “hands-off approach to IR” — you know, the sort of rule that deems “flexibility” and “choice” to be more important to workers than the knowledge they can pay the rent next month — might not be such a good national plan.

The Madeline freelance case may be an unfortunate event, but it sure is a good brainteaser. This fate of this No voter has highlighted a pro-market hypocrisy so stark, it was impossible even for outlets openly committed to ignore No voters, formerly quite fond of deregulation, to ignore.

Of course, over on the dependable right, Andrew Bolt finds as little trouble in ignoring hypocrisy as he does in stippling his short columns with rhetorical questions, such as yesterday’s “who are the real bigots?”, or that from a decade ago which dares us to imagine who we “really, truly would want at the top in a crisis. Howard or lip-licking Kevin Rudd?”

As things turned out, the lip-licker was chosen by Australians, many of whom found themselves facing a crisis Howard accelerated and Rudd had sworn (but failed) to address. WorkChoices, legislation piped in at the prelude of a GFC, itself caused by deregulation, had such impact on workers, they chucked the crisis-maker out. But there’s no chance that a brain like Bolt’s could be publicly teased into conceding that Madeline’s true enemy is not “political correctness gone mad”, but classical economics, AKA neoliberalism, gone mad in politics.

Bolt championed Howard, a man who believed it was up to the market to decide our fate. The market decided Madeline’s fate. Madeline’s boss reasoned that an events company would lose profit if word got out that one of its staff had urged for “No” on social media. Maybe not a commercially irrational decision in a small, progressive city, and the single state or territory where same-sex wedding ceremonies had been, however briefly, performed.

It’s not an unusual decision in the market-friendly present for a company to end a contract based on its social media policy. Actually, it’s a decision of which Bolt may, in other circumstances, approve. In one post, he listed several of Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s professional appointments, and made some argument for their cessation, partly on the basis of her seven-word Facebook post.

“Where is the government?” Bolt asks for Madeline, dismissed worker, on Sky News. Exactly where you wanted them to be, son: right out of the way of business.

Yes, I know. The search for consistency in Bolt might be compared, by disrespectful others, to the search for a single crap in a shit stack. But it must a brainteaser for others on the right, those who have also fought for the market to be master but, in the Madeline case, might not like its rule.

When the right to be a bigot, or a communist or a Known Homosexual, is no longer a guaranteed right at work, perhaps Senator George Brandis’ head starts spinning. I wonder if Tim Wilson, who has written that the “human right most being neglected is free speech”, now finds that his classical liberalism holds within it a deep contradiction. He might realise that his beloved free market inevitably curtails his beloved free speech — again. The most neglected of all the human rights in Australia, ranking well above the right to asylum, the right to freedom of association, or the right to protection against unemployment for Madeline.

Who knows what Tim is truly thinking. If The Guardian is able to shift in its views on true freedom for workers, a topic set aside for so long, perhaps he is, at least, a little confused by liberalism. The liberal-left may be less confused after Madeline, and resume its interest in labour conditions.

Save for the topic of workplace bullying — again with the surprise that some people are not nice, and can be particularly nasty in an insecure labour market — these conditions have been largely undiscussed by the nation’s left-liberal thinkers since the time of Howard. There were, at the time, centrist commentators like David Marr pointing out basic incompatibilities in conservative liberal thought.

Howard claimed to be in favour of family, but compromised that institution by extending working hours. Howard claimed to be a proud Australian, but was a humble servant to US foreign policy and US-led financialisation. Howard claimed to have traditional moral values, but kept pace with the very latest old practice exhumed by Washington DC. You don’t get to put your foot hard on the economic pedal then act surprised when cultural values start racing too. Howard invited the market to decide. The market then made its decisions.

Howard had lived long enough and read widely enough to know that big economic decisions create cultural changes and divisions. Still, he made the public case that it was always the other way around. If only we were more moral, more traditional and harder working, the health of the economy and all else would follow. It’s up to you the individual, he said. And after he had gone, the liberal-left plumb forgot they disagreed with that fib.

Madeline is their reminder. She’s not an individual to despise, but a young worker whose rights might be worth protecting. Heck. If she had these rights, maybe she’d become a person so nice, she’d change her preference to “Yes”.

This Madeline moment contains within it the potential for some old-timey solidarity. We don’t have to personally like the people with which we stand shoulder-to-shoulder. We just have to fight for our rights.

Spiteful and thin argument has been suffered as the result of this absurd survey. Pain has been felt in the LGBTI community and anger, so easily aroused in times of economic insecurity, is widespread. If there’s one good outcome (save for this rather good typo on the slip) it is a re-emerged interest in the life of the worker. All thanks to a “No” voter feted by Andrew Bolt.

 

Tips and rumours

Sep 14, 2017

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Apocryphal baker found! We’ve found an actual anti-marriage equality baker — in the only part of Australia that matters. It’s not just an example trotted out by the likes of Lyle Shelton. Cakespiration by Esther is a western Sydney-based baking business that specialises in birthday, wedding and other celebratory cakes. Esther also posted a No campaign sticker to her business Instagram account two weeks ago, but did not respond to a questions from Ms Tips by deadline.

Such a baker has so far been pure conjecture in the marriage equality debate, but a homophobic baker is going to the Supreme Court in the US. But as Michael Bradley points out in today’s Crikey: it doesn’t really matter what Esther believes, because the law would insist that as it is a business, not a religious organisation, a bakery must provide a cake to any wedding party who can pay for it.

Respectful debate. We’ve asked Crikey tipsters to send us any advertising material they receive during the postal survey on marriage equality, and one of you has provided us with this from a group calling itself “Freedom to say ‘no’ coalition”. The pamphlet doesn’t feature an authorisation message, or any way to contact the group responsible — which we can’t find online. The pamphlet makes a number of unsubstantiated claims about people losing their jobs in countries with marriage equality and claims about same-sex couples and adoption. Our tipster says it came in the mail to his home in Greensborough in Melbourne’s outer suburbs, and there are a number of strict churches in the area.

Lost in the post. Haven’t got your postal survey yet? They are being sent out in batches, so there is no need to panic just yet, but we hear from a tipster odd typesetting on the front of the envelope could cause some to go astray:

“Bit of a problem with the typesetting for addresses for postal vote. We live at number 8 but also received all the ballots for number 18 in our street due to an unusually large gap between the 1 and 8, which obviously confused the postie. – I wonder how widespread this typesetting problem is and how many ballots are going to the wrong place.”

Fill in the blanks. A new advertisement for Bolt’s Sky News program in the Herald Sun on Thursday has us wondering what La Bolta is doing with his hand here. Proving he is married? Holding a Golden Gaytime that has been photoshopped out of the picture? Preparing for some air karaoke? We welcome your suggestions.

 *Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.auuse our guaranteed anonymous form or other ways to leak to us securely

Federal

Sep 7, 2017

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This, as I am certain you have noticed, is an era of great vulgarity in communication. Our most popular television programs include Embarrassing Bodies, a low documentary which regularly exposes the prolapsed anuses of Britain, and perhaps our best-known local lifestyle celebrity is Pete Evans, a man who has also lately turned public attention to the fundament. When local commentators of note are not literally focused on the latrine, they flush away all the restraint of a previous age via their social media accounts, and we see the stars of Fairfax or of News Corp openly call each other some of the worst words in English, and even occasionally wish the other dead.

It would, of course, be true hypocrisy for a vulgarian like me to urge for a new civility. I acquired the habit of filth at an early age, and there is no Finishing School so firm that it could cleanse me. Further, we know that obscene speech is hardly new and has, at times, like the French Revolution, proved politically effective. Even if there were no moral case to make for jokes about the genitals of leaders, though, the case for greater civility in speech would remain a pointless one to make. You can’t tell entire populations, individuals or groups to speak well and expect them to answer with anything but “fuck off”. When such moral injunctions are made, they are only likely to produce more cursing.

This is an age when the world’s most powerful political figure uses his Twitter account to call the leaders of other states schoolyard names, where terms like “fascist” or “Nazi” are wielded by his opponents so often and uncritically that they no longer signify the horror that they should, and one in which a man can easily stand before a sign that names the prime minister of Australia a “bitch” and himself become a prime minister.

Let’s agree, then, that the hope for civil Western speech is dead, perhaps even agree that the kind of “respectful debate” or tasteful wit for which so many publicly long, never really lived anywhere much outside the work of philosophy, or the novels of Nancy Mitford. To hope for mass culture to reflect the sort of nice speech that was only ever uttered by those who acquired it in elite conditions is futile. For centuries in the West, the overwhelming majority could not read, let alone speak politely to the thoughts of Jeremy Bentham, or whoever.

We may have historical record of great men writing graciously about urgent moral questions. What we have scant record of is those millions enslaved in mines and factories and fields who were, I’ll bet, not speaking often in the minutes between hard labour and sleep of whether the ends were justified by the means, or the other way ‘round.

You want liberal democracy? You got it. Its speech must engage most, and most are either working long hours, or worrying for long hours about how to find work. Paid labour and underemployment are difficult and time-consuming. Higher education is expensive and time-consuming. Between the search for work, the grind of work or the increasingly vocational nature of study — I have met very few commerce graduates who show any signs at all of training in “respectful debate” — the speech for which we long but rarely utter cannot take root.

This is not, for a minute, to say that most people are stupid. Most people simply have time to interact with nothing but stupid speech. I am of the optimistic view that it takes just one or two deep interactions with true argument for the nature of thought to reveal itself. If you are fortunate enough to be exposed to it, philosophy can easily, and very naturally, become a compulsion for anyone. We are not exposed to it. Which doesn’t stop politicians — who, if they were ever themselves exposed to the elegant shape of argument, have clearly forgotten what they learned — from urging for “respectful debate”.

It doesn’t stop media commentators either. From Andrew Bolt to the most earnest writers at The Guardian, we read about the need for elevated speech, considered argument, etc. In both cases, and we see this so keenly on the “respectful debate” around the same-sex marriage survey, the assumption of the commentator is always that they are engaged in good speech, and if they are not, well, it was the bad behaviour of the other side that made them lose their temper. If only you would talk to me in the way I would talk to you if you weren’t such an idiot/snowflake/Nazi, then we could have a “respectful debate”.

Politicians show us very little respect. They have created or permitted precisely the conditions — wage stagnation, long work hours, mortgage stress, the alienation of underemployment, unaffordable education — in which the tools or the hope for “respectful debate” are unavailable to most. And most media commentators simply start from a foundation not of thought, but of antagonism. They rarely even “debate” matters of grave importance, but simply “debate” the way they are spoken about. And so, we have this peculiar set of local commentators who offer little but vulgarity, and explain their vulgarity as necessary, because the other side made them do it. I mean, please, could someone point me to that foundational text by either Chris Kenny or Clementine Ford that was not written only in the terms of obscene opposition, and shows any sign whatsoever of wishing to engage in reason?

Rage and vulgarity have their place, of course. Showing a middle finger to the other side is sometimes very necessary. But, hey, now in our purportedly democratic institutions of government and press, that’s all we’ve got. Most everyone with a public platform or policy role is making like they are the true voice of the resistance, the opponent of the marginalised or the warrior against the purported menace of the “politically correct”, and so few have legitimate belief in the power of sound argument.

Still. Most everyone seems to want it. Most everyone appears to believe that a nation full of Respectful Debaters is somehow possible, even under the harshest everyday conditions that Australian workers have encountered in many decades. These arguments we read so often about the necessity of free speech, the need for respectful speech, the need to control speech by law or not to control it, etc, have begun to seem almost religious to me. We have faith in a thing that does not take place, and cannot take place without a radical re-organisation of the way this nation is governed. And this faith is itself evangelically declared by hypocritical preachers who show no talent or interest whatsoever in the beautiful speech for which they hope.

In this moment, this hypocrisy is so evident. We have a Prime Minister who urges for “respectful debate” around a mail survey that he knew very well could only produce its opposite. He was warned, very explicitly by qualified advocates for mental health, that this would happen, that he was creating conditions hostile to many Australians.

In my view, this is a very low point for “respectful debate”. Not only will many LGBTIQ Australians suffer badly from all this “respect”. The institutions of press and of politics have suffered a loss as well. They do not seem to know that we are watching them talk among themselves about who is the least and most “respectful”, so utterly separated in their reflections from the real-life consequences of this, or any other, debate. These appalling cultural warriors who dispose of any regard for the LGBTIQ community. These shallow “allies” who assume a posture of great compassion far less to advance the life of the nation, much more to mark themselves as desirable commodities for future sale to purportedly “respectful” publications.

A few years ago, I would have implored all policymakers and commentators to learn the skill of true argument, which is, by its very nature, respectful. I have lost hope for these zealots, so sure that their own speech is transformative. My hope is for others. Those who are sick of the emptiness of speech about speech. Those who crave a better nation where we each have the time and the means to argue meaningfully and democratically about many matters, and so to truly progress as individuals and as a society.

Tips and rumours

Jul 13, 2017

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Giant leap for mankind? Or just going over old tracks? Spend enough time in Canberra, and you’ll see every fashion come, go and come back again. The ABC is reporting today that, as part of a review of Australia’s space sector, announced by Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos, an Australian space agency will be considered. More accurately, that should be reconsidered. For we used to have a space agency — it was called the Australian Space Office, and it was part of the Industry portfolio. It was established by the Hawke government, along with a Space Council, with funding for (inevitably) a Space Program. What happened to the Space Office? Well, Sinodinos would know, because he was an adviser to John Howard when Howard abolished it and the council in 1996. By 2008, rather pathetically, Australia’s entire space function outside defence was reduced to a single mid-level public servant in Industry who had, he told a Senate committee, “one and half people” to help him.

Immigration considers investigating Hun leak. In May, the Herald Sun reported it had obtained documents relating to the case of six Iranian asylum seekers who went on holiday back to Iran despite claiming refugee status. Their visas were cancelled by the department, but this decision was overturned by the AAT. It was part of the flurry of reporting critical of AAT decisions before Attorney-General George Brandis overhauled the decision-making body last month, as first reported by Crikey.  

The AAT decisions were reported to be not public at the time, leading to questions over where the leak to the Hun came from. In response to a question on notice, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection said it was currently considering whether to refer the leak to the AFP for investigation. Similarly, the department seems reluctant to investigate what information Andrew Bolt was given about the Manus Island Good Friday incident. The department said it was “unaware” of any leak of CCTV footage of a boy entering the detention centre in the weeks leading up to the incident”, and referred to the matter as a “purported disclosure” that would need “particular facts” in order to be a breach of the Border Force Act.

Plutus payroll scandal widens in PM&C. The scale of the impact of the Plutus payroll scandal is bigger in PM&C than originally reported. In May the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet suggested just 11 contractors working for the department had been using Plutus Payroll — the company that allegedly defrauded the ATO to the tune of $165 million. After a wider search, PM&C now reports that 23 contractors working for the department were using Plutus Payroll, including Programmed Professionals, First People Recruitment, Dynamo IT, Hays Recruitment, Clicks & Programmed and Horizon One. It has already been stated that the department paid over $1 million through these recruitment contractors to Plutus Payroll.

Bad IT at VCCC? What is going on at the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre? We hear the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre at the brand-new cancer care and research facility is having problems with its IT network and with NEC, the contractor hired to take care of it. According to a tipster: “Apparently NEC aren’t answering the phone anymore, no changes to the network or firewalls have happened in 6 weeks. The Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre can’t get it’s firewall fixed”.

We asked both the centre and NEC about these issues. The Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre said in a statement: “The firewall is operating normally and there are no operating issues with it”. NEC told us: “NEC has an active working relationship with Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre’s technology department, and is in regular communications with the team and the senior management team to serve their information technology needs.”

Where’s Gladys? Last night’s State of Origin result wasn’t a highlight for New South Wales, conceding yet another series to the Queenslanders. It would have been a difficult night for NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who had a bet riding on the result with her Queensland counterpart Annastacia Palaszczuk — the NSW Parliament building will be lit up in maroon lights following the loss. Ms Tips was a bit confused by the photos Berejiklian uploaded to Facebook before the match — it seemed the premier was not keen to show her face in posts pledging her support.

Is Berejiklian a dentist, so she couldn’t show us her face? Was it a body-double? We did some investigating to see if the premier was actually at the game — and it was a post from Queensland Treasurer Curtis Pitt that showed she was actually there:

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Environment

Jul 11, 2017

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Last week, Chris Kenny and Andrew Bolt broke a story that Kenny said deserved to be on front pages everywhere. But the story didn’t make a front page anywhere. Because the story didn’t exist.

With knowing nods, winks and half smiles, Kenny told his exclusive band of viewers of his “Heads Up” segment on Sky News to prepare for something momentous. This was, he told us breathlessly, a “very, very dramatic story” about “serious science”.

“There’s been quite a dramatic paper released by some of the world’s leading climate scientists,” Kenny went on, pausing for effect.

Kenny was referring to a new paper published in Nature Geoscience journal — “Causes of differences in model and satellite tropospheric warming rates” — by several eminent climate scholars, including lead author Benjamin Santer, as well as the extensively awarded Michael E. Mann.

The Nature Geoscience paper is about the difference between observed and modeled temperature rises, analysing “global-mean tropospheric temperatures from satellites and climate model simulations to examine whether warming rate differences over the satellite era can be explained by internal climate variability alone”.

But Kenny knew better, cleverly revealing the real story: “a global warming pause”.

Wrong. There is no global warming pause, as has been widely and repeatedly made clear, for example, here, here and here. Even worse, the paper he referred to said nothing of the sort.

About five seconds into Kenny’s TV, ahem, “report”, he decided to stop being even slightly accurate. “What they’re saying here is that the warming they have on their graphs, on their modelling, is much higher than the warming that has actually occurred.”   

The paper didn’t say this either.

Kenny then went on to quote repeatedly and triumphantly from the paper’s abstract, not the paper itself. Which is a bit weird. It’s like quoting from the back cover of a book, not the book itself. (The abstract of academic papers is typically publicly available, whereas the papers themselves are usually restricted to researchers or universities.) For such a huge, serious science story, wouldn’t you cite the actual paper? Unless, of course, you don’t have access to the paper. And if you don’t have access, have you actually read the thing?

Kenny quoted the last line of the paper’s abstract:

“We conclude that model overestimation of tropospheric warming in the early twenty-first century is partly due to systematic deficiencies in some of the post-2000 external forcings used in the model simulations.”

This, he said, meant that scientists were overstating temperatures. Hence the momentousness of his”story”. Problem is, the paper didn’t say this at all.

If he’d read the last line of the paper itself — and it’s questionable as to whether he read the paper at all — he would have read this:  

“Although scientific discussion about the causes of short-term differences between modelled and observed warming rates is likely to continue, this discussion does not cast doubt on the reality of long-term anthropogenic warming.”

Kenny didn’t report this, though. If he had, he wouldn’t have much of a story. However, he did claim that the paper showed that climate scientists’ models were wrong, that temperatures were overstated and therefore climate change wasn’t such a problem.

Kenny is the earthly representative of his spiritual mentor, Andrew Bolt, who misreported the same story, but went one further, saying that the paper’s lead author, “leading alarmist Ben Santer, now admits the world isn’t warming as predicted by global warming models”.

Not only is Bolt’s report as untrue as Kenny’s — if not more so — but Santer has been at pains to make clear the opposite is the case. For example, he published a fact sheet to accompany the paper Kenny and Bolt reported on. Wait a moment, I here you say, there was a fact sheet? Indeed. As Santer explained to me:

“The aim of the fact sheet was to reduce the likelihood of misinterpretation of key findings of our paper. But no matter how carefully or cautiously a paper is written, it is impossible to guard against wilful misrepresentation of results. Sadly, such wilful misrepresentation is now an expected outcome after each paper I publish.”

Funnily enough, the fact sheet completely contradicts what Kenny and Bolt reported. For example, it says this:

Do the problems in representing these external cooling influences point to systematic errors in how sensitive the models are to human-caused greenhouse gas (GHG) increases?

Answer: No, not at all. We are talking about known, well-studied problems with some of the external, climate-influencing “forcing factors” that were used in the model simulations. These problems have nothing to do with the issue of how sensitive models are to GHG increases.

The fact sheet also discusses cooling and, also rejects the notion that there’s been a pause that Kenny and Bolt reported, saying this:

In a recent paper in Scientific Reports, you find that satellite measurements do not show any signs of “leveling off” of tropospheric warming over the past two decades. Aren’t those findings at odds with the findings of the Nature Geoscience paper?

Answer: No. The findings of the two papers are entirely consistent. The Scientific Reports paper compares the satellite tropospheric temperature trend over the past 20 years with many samples of 20-year trends obtained from model simulations of natural internal climate variability. Even though the most recent 20-year warming trend is smaller than in earlier parts of the satellite record, it is still significantly larger than the range of 20-year trends caused by internal climate variability alone. From our Scientific Reports study, there is no evidence that satellite data show “levelling off” of tropospheric warming in the last two decades.

Despite a fact sheet accompanying the scientific paper they claim to be reporting on, Kenny, Bolt and a bunch of other climate sceptics have reported the exact opposite — Bolt in particular, who is syndicated internationally, especially on a host of foetid climate-denying blogs. His sloppiness — and perhaps dishonesty — in reporting this paper has already been widely disseminated.

This is but one example of what regularly happens if there’s a difference between complex climate models and reality, a difference regularly exploited to suggest climate change isn’t happening or is in doubt.

But take a step back for a moment and think about modelling anything: how you will brush your teeth compared to how you did brush your teeth; modelling economic outcomes versus actual economic outcomes; or modelling visitor numbers compared to actual visitor numbers. There will always be differences because models and reality aren’t the same thing. This is despite the fact that climate models are actually accurate (for example, see this, this and this).

Climate change should be in the headlines every day, and so should all the other problems that constitute the Anthropocene era we’re living in, but they rarely are. The only front page Kenny’s story should be seen on is that of a Press Council adjudication.

Australia

Jul 11, 2017

5 comments

Pity poor George Pell, the cardinal summoned home to face the Victorian criminal justice system on charges of having committed “historical” sexual assaults (peculiar word that, you never hear it used in connection with any other kind of crime). Friendless, apart from the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church, and the victim of a campaign of “relentless character assassination” (his words) by a baying media, with nobody to speak for him, apart from the opinion writers of News Corp and a former prime minister

As Andrew Bolt said, “what hope is there now of Pell getting a fair trial?”. It’s all enough to make one wish, like Bolt went on to do, for a more civil society, perhaps one in which people’s guilt or innocence of anti-social acts is not prejudged on the basis of what they are rather than what they’ve done.  

Mind you, on the Skittles theory of behavioural predictability favoured by Donald Trump Jr, the fact of being a Catholic priest in Australia is at least seven times more likely to mean you’ll be accused of being a paedophile than being Muslim makes you a likely terrorist. (I draw this entirely unsafe conclusion from the royal commission’s finding that about 7% of Catholic priests within the time period of its investigations had been accused of sexual abuse, while it’s generally accepted that less than 1% of Muslims are in any way radicalised).

Of course, I’m just drawing a false equivalence as a debating point. Bolt and others have been expressing genuine concern about a real human person who is facing his accusers and entitled to a fair process, as opposed to undifferentiated Skittle people whose guilt is routinely affirmed by definition.

Which isn’t to say that they don’t have a point, for once. The cardinal would be right to be worried about his prospects for a fair hearing, given that he has been the poster boy (in every sense) for the Catholic Church’s dealings with the issue of sexual abuse of children under its umbrella, for many years. He’s had celebrated encounters with the royal commission and Victorian parliamentary inquiry; he invented the so-called Melbourne Response to victims. Books have been written about him, TV programs aired, alleged victims heard. There’s a wealth of material out there if you’re particularly keen to prejudge him before he gets his day in court.

[Victoria Police raise Pell, cardinal pontificates impending See change]

All that considered, the question of how on earth a fair-minded jury will ever be found to adjudicate on Pell’s guilt or non-guilt (sorry, innocence isn’t actually an option in criminal trials) is a reasonable one to ask. It’s a particularly acute one in Victoria, where any trial will take place, because it’s one state in which judge-only trials are not available.

The digital age has proved a massive challenge for the jury system, because not only are potential jurors far more likely to have been tainted by having seen stuff on the internet that is wrong, misleading, biased and most definitely in breach of the sub judice rule, but it’s also too easy for sitting jurors to get curious and go online to supplement the evidence they’re receiving in court with, well, whatever.

That’s all a threat in any case; the argument goes that it’s massively compounded in a case like Pell’s, because of the celebrity/notoriety of the defendant. Pell, it might be argued, is simply too well known to get a jury that will be able to bring an impartial mind to his trial.

Assuming nobody is arguing that a person can be too famous to ever be tried at all, the logical alternative is the trial by judge sitting alone. This is possible in New South Wales, for example, where it was used in the Simon Gittany case, among many others. The judge determines both guilt and sentence. The supporting theory is that judges are far better equipped than jurors to shut out the white noise of media speculation and to consider the case solely on the evidence presented. It’s essentially an acceptance of the widely held theory that juries are prone to laziness and stupidity, or at least failure to understand and properly perform their role.

True it is that a judge would be extremely unlikely to do what a juror called Kasim Davey did in the UK when he was sitting on a trial of an accused sex offender: write a Facebook status saying “Woooow I wasn’t expecting to be in a jury deciding a paedophile’s fate, I’ve always wanted to f*** up a paedophile & now I’m within the law!”

Davey went to jail for contempt of court, as he should. Judges are reliably rather more self-restrained, but the threat to justice which Davey presented wasn’t his tweet but the opinion he was stupid enough to express; one which plenty of people most likely hold. It begs the question: is a judge less likely than a layperson to hate paedophiles?

Which brings us to the key point: why juries at all? The answer, as usual, has much to do with Magna Carta, that magnificent relic still working its magic 800 years later. Among many other things, Magna Carta enshrined the human right to trial by one’s peers. Why was this thought important, and why has it survived as a fundamental plank of the English system of justice? Why does the Australian constitution mandate trial by jury for Commonwealth crimes? Why is it in the US constitution too?

[Pell freezes over]

It would have been no less obvious at any earlier time than it is today that professionally trained judges are likely to be more intelligent and educated than random punters off the street. If those were the relevant criteria for fitness to decide criminal cases, we wouldn’t need juries at all. 

The framers of our legal rights obviously thought that wasn’t it, and I agree. Intelligence and education are not good predictors of objectivity, fair-mindedness or absence of bias-based prejudgment. Those latter are the characteristics that make a good juror, and which each of us would desperately hope were in abundance if we ever faced a jury ourselves. They have nothing to do with how smart people are or how much law they know.

In fairness, what I’ve said is contestable and frequently contested. But then, I know a lot of lawyers and personally I’d feel a whole lot less safe in the hands of a jury comprised of them than I would with one made up of random strangers. Not because I don’t trust lawyers, but because I agree with the reasoning behind the rule that disqualifies practising lawyers from sitting on juries at all. And, if lawyers don’t make the best jurors, then judges are arguably even less well equipped.

Juries often get it wrong. Lindy Chamberlain was convicted by a jury on some pretty dodgy evidence. She was also committed for trial by a coroner and had her appeals against conviction rejected by the Federal and High Courts. She was only later declared completely innocent by the Supreme Court, after a royal commission. Plenty of failure to share around between judges and jurors there.

None of this solves the Pell dilemma. If he ever sees a jury (there’s no certainty of that; his case is only at the committal stage and could be dismissed there), his personal fame and that of the whole abuse issue will present a big challenge. I don’t mind defendants having the option of being tried by judge alone, and wouldn’t mind Pell having that option either, if Victoria decided to go the same way as other states have.

However, allowing individual accused persons to waive their right to trial by a jury of their peers is not the same thing as accepting that the jury system is broken. The key to that system’s longevity is in the very randomness of its selection. Twelve men and women good and true remain, in my mind, a better guarantor of justified freedom than any single person, no matter how book-smart they be.

Tips and rumours

Jun 20, 2017

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From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Safe Schools still a target. It looks as if the Safe Schools program is again being used as a way to target conservative members of the Chinese-speaking community. Ms Tips understands that assistant minister to the Treasurer Michael Sukkar will be hosting an afternoon tea event at Liberal HQ in Melbourne on Sunday, along with former Liberal candidate Karina Okotel and the Chinese Liberals Association, about the Safe Schools anti-bullying program in schools, aimed solely at members of the Chinese community. According to a tipster, the invite, written in Mandarin, asks “what are your children learning at school?” and makes mention of premature sex education, including teaching about homosexuality.

Sukkar has been a vocal critic of the Safe Schools program, writing last year “the Safe Schools Coalition’s radical sex education program exposes Victorian children to very dangerous ideas, practices, and materials”.

The Safe Schools program was used by the Christian Democratic Party in last year’s election campaign as a reason not to vote for the Labor Party in flyers written in Mandarin, as Crikey reported at the time.

We asked Sukkar’s office what the event was and why he was hosting it, but didn’t hear back by deadline.

You can get it passing legislation. The Sydney Institute’s Gerard Henderson loves to comment on what has been said at “gin o’clock”, but the Federation Chamber reached “beer o’clock” just after 6.30pm last night, with Labor infrastructure spokesperson Anthony Albanese taking up the case of Australia’s craft breweries, calling for a reduction in the excise charged to small beer producers, to bring it in line with that charged to the big breweries. After namedropping a local brewery in his electorate, Albo ended the speech thus: “I will end with a quote from Russell Crowe, as his character John Nash in the film A Beautiful Mind: I have respect for beer.”

Deputy Speaker Andrew “Tasty” Hastie was residing over the chamber at the time and even accused Albo of less refined tastes: “I took the member for Grayndler to be a simple man who perhaps went for Tooheys, but there you are!”

Hastie’s infamous drinking partner Tim Wilson also spoke in favour of the motion, because craft beer aside, he hasn’t met an excise he doesn’t want to cut, and he even referred to the Cooper’s video that landed the pair in hot water: “I know, Deputy Speaker Hastie, you like beer from time to time. In fact, I have had one with you on famous and less famous occasions, so I am sure you will be supportive of this motion as well.”

Labor’s Joel Fitzgibbon and Brian Mitchell also spoke in favour of supporting craft beer, and the Liberals’ John Alexander rounded out the speeches by referring to the health benefits of beers from his local brewery: “I must say, though, as an elite athlete often competing in the most testing heat, my training made me vitally aware of the importance of maintaining hydration. That is why I always keep handy my favourite fluid loss replacement, Endeavour Pale Ale.”

Waleed Aly, superhero and controller of all Muslims. Has Waleed Aly got special powers we don’t know about? Does Andrew Bolt have the inside word? The News Corp columnist opened his Sky News program last night with a plea to Aly, as a “Muslim leader” to “step up” and “stop being apologists for Islam” because “he is Australia’s most prominent Muslim”. This, after a white man, now identified as Darren Osborne, had driven a van into a crowd outside a mosque in the UK. Last time we checked, apart from being famous, Aly is not actually a cleric. But according to Bolt, he seems to have a special ability to stop terrorism. We still haven’t worked out how that actually works.

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form

Journalism

Jun 13, 2017

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Today in Media Files, The Australian‘s campaign against GetUp has dragged in business journalist Michael West, and he’s hit back. And Channel Nine has been named in a lawsuit over the death of a man in a 2013 Melbourne siege.

Good feud guide. Former Fairfax business journalist (and occasional Crikey contributor) Michael West has hit back at The Australian after being drawn into its campaign against the Australian Press Council’s newest member, GetUp director Carla McGrath. West, who now runs his own website, has been working with GetUp and the Tax Justice Network on an investigation into 20 multinational companies and their tax affairs, which the Oz reckons isn’t very independent. West has detailed the back-and-forth with legal affairs reporter Chris Merritt over on his website, writing:

“In any case, receiving a tutorial on journalistic ethics from the folks at News Limited is a bit like being accused of being a Nazi by Adolf Hitler.”

Channel Nine sued over siege death. The mother of a man killed in a police siege is suing Channel Nine over a journalist’s involvement, The Age has reported. Convicted rapist Antonio “Tony” Loguancio called Nine Network chief of staff Kate McGrath numerous times during a 43-hour siege in Glenroy, Victoria, before he fatally shot himself in 2013. One of the phone calls lasted almost an hour. Police had been searching for Loguancio for almost a week before they found him, prompting the siege.Victorian coroner Audrey Jamieson called on the Australian Press Council to revise its guidelines in March in her findings into Loguancio’s death. Jamieson found that McGrath had interfered with a police investigation but had not caused the death. According to Liam Mannix’s report over the weekend, Loguancio’s mother, Lesley Gilmour, lodged a suit in the County Court of Victoria last month, saying McGrath’s action had interfered with police’s ability to peacefully end the siege. Nine told The Age it rejected Gilmour’s version of events.

More Age departures. The Age columnist Martin Flanagan is yet another of the writers to be leaving Fairfax in the latest round of cuts. Writing his last reflection published over the weekend, he paid tribute to his brother Tim and reflected on his 32-year career in his final sports column. Walkley award-winning health journalist Julia Medew is also leaving, as is The Age‘s science editor Bridie Smith and political editor Michael Gordon. Crikey is keeping track of those leaving Fairfax here.

Front page(s) of the day.

The Grauniad downsizes. The so-called liberal, serious Guardian newspaper is to join its more conservative and populist UK rivals (such as the Daily Mail and The Sun) by going tabloid. It’s abandoning the Berliner mid-sized paper shape it’s had since it spent 80 million pounds on new printing presses in 2005. The move is designed to continue the cost cutting that started a year ago, in an attempt to reduce continuing operating losses.

Rival publisher Trinity Mirror, which owns the weekday and Sunday Mirrors and the Sunday People, will print The Guardian on its presses. Since The Guardian started printing the Berliner size back in 2005, its daily sales have fallen to an average of 154,010 copies a day, compared with 367,478 before. And despite the growing digital audience, it still makes most of its money from print. It is now getting millions of pounds a month from “supporters” who pay a series of fees, which is a small glimmer of hope. Management says it will be profitable by 2020 under a three-year cost-cutting plan, which is now in its second year. Some 300 jobs in the UK and US have gone in the past year as part of this plan. — Glenn Dyer

News Corp’s confected ABC-bashing. A few years ago, News Corp Australia hack Piers Akerman criticised the ABC for broadcasting the world’s most popular pig, Peppa, without realising the show was a favourite of kids broadcasts on News Corp Australia’s 50%-owned pay TV monopoly, Foxtel. Last week the same ignorance was on display when the likes of Andrew Bolt criticised the ABC for screening two hours a day of content from the Al Jazeera news channel (in the very early hours of the morning). 

The man time forgot, Senator Cory Bernardi, also chimed in. Bolt failed to acknowledge that Al Jazeera is carried on Foxtel on channel 651, as did Bernadi and The Australian, whose Cut and Waste column had another go last Friday.

Why criticise only the ABC and not Foxtel, which derives a benefit for News Corp and co-owner Telstra (Jazeera pays to be broadcast on Foxtel)? Al Jazeera has been broadcast on Foxtel since 2012, and the deal brought no protests at the time.

But wait, Bolt, Bernardi and other motor mouths have missed a new potential channel of terror. They should also be calling for Foxtel to drop beIN Sports, which is the rebranded Al Jazeera Sport global operations, spun off in 2013 and renamed. It is on Foxtel and Fetch TV (a Foxtel rival) and broadcasts a lot of soccer from Europe and other regions and rugby union — offshore tours by the revolutionaries in the Australian Wallabies and the NZ All Blacks. — Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer’s TV Ratings. Solid wins for Seven on Sunday and Monday nights (nationally and in the metros and the regions) with House Rules starring on both nights, along with Seven News. Ten had a poor night, being pushed to fourth in the main channels in the metros by the ABC, thanks to the very good figures for Four Corners‘ excellent revisiting of the Queensland corruption story of 1987 (Moonlight State by Chris Masters) via the brave police whose whistleblowing led to the Fitzgerald Royal Commission, the end of Joh Bjelke Petersen and his Police Commissioner, the corrupt Terry Lewis and the jailing of minsters, police and others. Four Corners was watched by a solid 1.15 million viewers nationally, 808,000 in the metros and 350,000 in the regions.

I would have liked the intro last night from Sarah Ferguson to have at least mentioned Phil Dickie’s breakthrough reporting in The Courier Mail early that year on the crime and corruption in Brisbane’s sex and gambling industries (which Bjelke Petersen and his racing minster Russell Hinze said did not exist), but Four Corners was the stand out program last night — of any type. — Read the rest on the Crikey Website

Media

Jun 9, 2017

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Crikey has acquired* a copy of Andrew Bolt’s daily planner for June 8. It isn’t technically verified, but then again neither is Bolt’s claims that the men who attacked him on June 7 were “fascists”.

5am: Wake up. Shower. Use waterproof iPad to blog about Leftie punks and how they need a good smashing.

5.30am: Breakfast of raw eggs and beef, to give me the strength I need to take down the intolerant Left.

6am: Weight session while listening to The Ring Cycle and crying.

7am: Go for a run. Remember to bring nunchucks in case meet Leftists.

7.15am: Stop for second breakfast of smoked salmon and truffles.

9.30am: Continue run.

10am: Arrive home and have another shower, this one freezing cold to help inoculate me against the cold hearts of modern Grievance Culture Warriors.

10.30am: Crossbow target practice.

11am: Stare into mirror, practise different ways of saying, “You looking for trouble, Warmist?” Try to perfect the knife sliding out of the sleeve into the hand on “Warmist”. Work on getting pronunciation more gravelly, more Bronson-y.

11.30am: Eat lunch — rabbit terrine — in steam room while listening to Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. Retouch face of Tony Abbott carved into abdomen.

12pm: Boxing class.

12.30pm: Write column inviting anyone who wants to argue with me about the racist of the Stolen Generation Myth to come visit the gun show (remember to ask editors to insert photo of my arms).

1pm: Krav Maga training. Remember to get sparring partner to wear Tim Flannery mask.

1.45pm: More mirror work. Determine which face is scarier to Leftists: my “De Niro” face or my “Busey” face. Practise spinning pool cue in menacing fashion.

2.30pm: Write blog post challenging Sarah Hanson-Young to come and have a go if she is hard enough.

3pm: Put on Tristan und Isolde while I paint my face to resemble that of a vengeful demon.

5pm: Dinner, confit thigh of pheasant. Pray to God to give me strength to do what must be done, and to send the souls of my victims to Hell where they belong.

6pm: Strap on pistols, grab baseball bat, put on helmet.

6.10pm: Set out on nightly street patrol.

6.30pm-4.30am: Cleanse this town of its sickness.

*As discovered by world-class investigative satirist Ben Pobjie

Tips and rumours

Jun 8, 2017

5 comments

From the Crikey grapevine, the latest tips and rumours …

Marcus my words. While the Vivid festival in Sydney is mostly about pretty lights, last night it included a fiery and confusing “reverse debate” about cultural appropriation, featuring Australia’s, ahem, best and brightest debating the statement, “Artists shouldn’t be restricted by cultural boundaries in creating their work”.

Speakers were required to take the opposite position to the one they personally held, which led to an interesting time for Ms Tips’ spy. It meant “Girl Friday” and commentator Daisy Cousens (whose swift transition from pop feminist to hard-right provocateur is certainly a singular example of adopting a new culture) and Sky News presenter Caroline Marcus, both had to argue against cultural appropriation. They struggled to get into the spirit of the debate, somewhat. Marcus opened her speech with typical nuance and subtlety by saying, “it goes against everything I believe about free speech and identity politics” before pegging her argument — as best as our source could fathom — to the premise that all Australians are racist, and invoking the Nazis and book burning as though it were a good idea. You know, like progressive people do. Cousens dedicated her speech to Gillian Triggs and then argued that cultural appropriation should be banned to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings.

Luckily, they had artist and illustrator Bronwyn Bancroft as their third speaker, who seemed to understand that the evening was about attempting to genuinely engage with ideas other than your own, rather than a platform for clunky satire or cheap strawman arguments. Bancroft admitted she wasn’t quite sure what her teammates had been arguing, before basing her argument on the plundering of Aboriginal art and stories in Australia. The debate, presented by  Sydney PEN and Settlement Services International, went to the affirmative team, comedian Chris Taylor, novelist Thomas Keneally and lawyer and author Deng Adut. It would appear the usually combative and forthright duo of Marcus and Cousens might have been happy to throw this particular fight.

By Odin’s Beard! Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Steven Ciobo grabbed a snap with actor, Tourism Australia ambassador and professional level hunk Chris Hemsworth, and is very keen that we all see it. Looking at the pic, which has turned up in a tipster’s Instagram feed as sponsored content, we have to say Ciobo was brave in picking a pose that would not only accentuate their respective biceps — a comparison few would wish to invite — but also featured Hemsworth pointing at Ciobo and narrowing his eyes, like he’s trying to remember where he’s supposed to know him from.

While it cropped up on the tipster’s Instagram feed this week, it’s actually a relatively old pic — he originally posted the photo in response to stats — which illustrated that the Hollywood star is, who knew, quite popular — that came out in mid-May. Ciobo clearly just wants to remind everyone of that time he got a pic with a big time celeb — and hope that he becomes more memorable by association. And hey, what else is Instagram for? 

ND I guess? What’s going on at the National Disability Insurance Agency? A tipster tells us that while staff are struggling to put together packages for clients and deliver on the promises of National Disability Insurance Scheme, a “very expensive PR agency” has just been appointed to manage the agency’s image. The NDIS has recently been subject to some unfavorable media coverage — have they decided more money is needed to fix the perception of the issues, rather than the issues themselves? We contacted the agency to ask if this was true, and if so, how much money was being spent on it and they refused to confirm whether they had engaged new Public Relations firm — a spokesperson simply told us “the National Disability Insurance Agency works with a range of partners to deliver communications”. Well that clears that up then. Know more? Let us know.

Worth fighting for. The attack on Andrew Bolt has been providing a lot of material for media outlets around the country, and it should not be much of a surprise that the prolific correspondent on the topic has been none other that Andrew Bolt. Bolt’s blog has 11 posts on the subject (at last count) since it happened, and he’s talked about it several times on Sky, both on his own show and others. Just so we don’t forget he landed a few punches, today his byline in The Daily Telegraph is mocked up to place his head on the body of Rocky Balboa.

*Warning: The sight of a shirtless, glistening, muscle-bound Andrew Bolt is one you can never unsee.

 

*Heard anything that might interest Crikey? Send your tips to boss@crikey.com.au or use our guaranteed anonymous form