Saturday, September 21, 2002

UNHCR agrees with Ruddock

Just over a week ago, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Ruud Lubbers, made a highly significant statement which has received almost no coverage in the Australian press. In effect, Mr. Lubbers advocates exactly what Australia's Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock has been arguing for at least the last couple of years, on how the world-wide flow of refugees should be tackled. That is, the advent of large-scale people smuggling and related phenomena pose huge challenges to the Refugee Convention which cannot simply be ignored, and which call for major revision or supplementation of the Convention itself. The key passage in Mr. Lubbers' statement is:

"Lubbers acknowledged current challenges like “asylum shopping” and people smuggling. Reiterating UNHCR’s desire to work with governments to find solutions for refugees, he suggested some new agreements to “supplement” the 1951 Refugee Convention, the cornerstone of international refugee protection.

While stressing the continuing centrality and validity of the 1951 Refugee Convention – a status reaffirmed in Geneva last December by states parties to the instrument – the High Commissioner said it had also “become clear that the Convention alone does not suffice”.

He called for a new approach – which he termed “Convention Plus” – involving “a number of special agreements aimed at managing the challenges of today and tomorrow in a spirit of international co-operation”.

“A major concern today is the issue of secondary movements of refugees and asylum seekers,” said Lubbers, referring to those who had already reached a first country of asylum but then decided to move on. “I am convinced that the international community needs new agreements to deal with cross-cutting issues such as this. These new agreements would supplement the Convention and form part of multilateral frameworks for protecting refugees and achieving durable solutions, primarily in regions of origin." "


In effect, what would occur under the new UNHCR vision is that multilateral agreements would be reached with "first asylum countries" (e.g. Pakistan and Iran in relation to refugee-generating countries like Afghanistan and Iraq), whereby they would agree to provide safe asylum in refugee camps, in return for much more generous first world assistance in hosting those facilities. First asylum countries would also agree to accept the involuntary return of unsuccesful asylum seekers from first world countries. At present, many first asylum countries will only accept voluntary returnees. More than a few countries of origin take exactly the same stance. The result is that there are large numbers of rejected asylum seekers who remain in limbo in the first world, with no clear status but with their hosts being unable to remove them despite having found they have no valid claim to asylum. Many if not most of the remaining Australian asylum seekers on Manus Island and Nauru fall into that category, as do some at Woomera etc.

I have always thought that co-ordinated generous first world funding of refugee hosting in first asylum countries would be the most effective means of dealing with the huge world-wide problem of refugees and displaced persons. Generous funding would make hosting refugee camps a quite desirable thing for many countries: it provides local jobs and economic stimulus. Just as importantly, it would allow first world resources to be spent far more effectively on relieving the massive refugee problem at its source. The most recent estimate is that there are about 20 million refugees and displaced persons worldwide. Only a miniscule proportion of them could ever be acommodated by re-settlement in first world countries.

The current system results in the available resources being largely wasted. In 1997-98, the Australian Government spent in the order of $AUS 80 million on the enforcement of immigration law. This cost rose to $AUS 131 million in 1998-99, to $AUS 247 million in 1999-2000, and to $AUS 299 million in 2000-2001. This is a direct result of the increase in "boat people" arrivals from a few hundred throughout the 1990s to about 4,500 in each of the two years immediately preceding "Tampa". On average, it costs the Government $AUS 50,000 for every unauthorised arrival by boat from the time of arrival to the time of their departure from Australia. (source - recent speech by Minister Ruddock). Of course, these figures don't include the enormous cost of the "Tampa" exercise itself, or the Pacific solution and naval blockade which followed.

The effect of providing adequate resourcing to first asylum countries, so that they fully co-operate in offering safe asylum and accepting involuntary returnees from the first world, would be to relieve first world countries of this huge financial burden of processing onshore asylum seekers and enforcing border protection policies. Most "boat people" would simply be returned in fairly short order to the "first asylum" country from which they had departed. Moreover, that would be completely in accordance with existing Refugee Convention obligations. The Convention has always allowed return where durable asylum is available in another country. Once it became generally known that this was the new system, and that paying lots of money to the people smugglers was pointless, "asylum shopping" would mostly cease. That would free up resources to be devoted to addressing the problems which actually cause refugee flows in the first place (although whether that would actually occur is much more debatable - politicians are not renowned for taking the long view). Moreover, inducements could be built into the system for first world countries able to accept some asylum seekers for permanent or semi-permanent re-settlement. For example Australia, which has the largest offshore refugee and humanitarian program in the world on a per capita basis, might be required to make a slightly lesser financial contribution than more densely-populated countries which don't want a larger population. Australia would then have a financial incentive to boost the size of its offshore program.

In summary, although Phillip Ruddock is dead wrong in continuing to implement a draconian detention regime for asylum seeking families (although viable alternatives to it are by no means as clear), his arguments on the "big picture" of what is needed to tackle the international refugee problem are dead right. It seems that no lesser person than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees now agrees with him. I wonder why the Australian media hasn't taken more notice.

Friday, September 20, 2002

The American century?

The release overnight of Dubbya's blueprint for maintaining and enhancing American world military and economic supremacy raises disturbing and destabilising questions about the underlying motivations for current US demands on Iraq. Dubbya's manifesto isn't anywhere near as extreme as the apparent blueprint of the dangerously megalomaniacal Donald Rumsfeld (see Rob Schaap's piece a few days ago - the link is a general one to his blog because the archive link doesn't seem to work), so it seems that more moderate voices (like Colin Powell) still have some influence. Nevertheless, it's worrying enough.

I remain of the view that Bush has played his cards well up to now. Only a blunt, resolute stance, with an explicit threat of overwhelming force, could have compelled Saddam to agree (however duplicitously) to weapons inspectors and persuaded the Europeans to stop vacillating (well, to some extent anyway). However, it is one thing if this was a well-considered tactic to achieve peaceful disarmament, and quite another if it was just a pretext for an agenda which irretrievably and non-negotiably ends in an American military invasion. The situation is even more disturbing if this is just the first step in a vision of a US global empire. At the very least this seems an impolitic time to release a world domination policy. Nothing could be more calculated to persuade Europe and Russia not to accede to American demands for a new and tougher Security Council resolution. I wonder whether this is a deliberate Rumsfeld tactic, so the UN can be labelled indecisive, leading to an early invasion without an inconvenient delay for weapons inspections.

I have now looked closely at the principal currently operative Security Council resolution (no. 1284). It seems quite unambiguous and entirely adequate to support renewed weapons inspections. What it lacks, of course, is inherent authorisation for a military strike in the event of Iraqi obstruction. But the Russians and Europeans are hardly likely to give carte blanche to a superpower openly intent on world domination. You could even imagine some European leaders now privately viewing the US as a greater threat to world peace and freedom than either Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden (although of course they won't say so). I don't have a problem with the US projecting a willingness to restrain China from trying to become a crypto-capitalist counterbalancing equivalent to the former Soviet Union, because I don't think that is in anyone's interest either. Nor do I object to the US plan to tie foreign aid to third world democratisation and moves away from tribalism and religious fundamentalism. However, any suggestions of American pretensions towards domination of the rest of the democratic world should be firmly squashed by every available means.

The current American rush to move into invasion mode before it gets too hot for its troops to operate in Iraq (as I gather will be the case by around March) doesn't really make sense, except as either a manifestation of a US world domination plan, or a mark of Dubbya's lack of confidence that he can retain the strong backing of the American people much beyond then. However, if it's the latter, I think he might be underestimating hs own abilities and the resolve of the American people. From what I can see from this considerable distance, September 11 has changed American psyches decisively. A moderately competent leader should be able to shore up public resolve for a long fight. In fact that is essential. Winston Churchill was no genius, although he was a much better orator than Dubbya will ever be. But his main quality as a wartime leader was the ability to project dogged, steely determination and a confidence that the Allies would ultimately prevail. I think Dubbya is capable of that, in his own laconic way. If I'm right, there is no need at all to move to an accelerated invasion timetable to satisfy the Presidential electoral cycle. There is plenty of time to give weapons inspections a good faith chance to succeed, and then move into invasion mode, if necessary, some time in the second half of next year if (as one suspects) Saddam keeps playing games. Another advantage of that scenario is that the US would certainly obtain additional intelligence that would help to make any later military strike more "surgical" and less fatal to large numbers of Iraqi civilians.

Update - Jeff Cooper also has a useful take on the situation, although not including reference to Dubbya's latest manifesto. John Quiggin also has some good observations (although he also hasn't yet focused on the newly-announced Bush vision). James Morrow, on the other hand, has considered the new Bush doctrine. He seems to regard it as unexceptionable, and the SMH analysis of it as typical piece of leftist drivel.

Update 2 - Scott Wickstein also has a useful discussion of the issue. I especially liked this extract from a piece by Boston Globe's Michael Berube:

"In foreign affairs both left and right claim to speak for the conscience of America, but on Iraq the right has no moral clarity and the left has lost its moral compass. This is not a problem for the masters of realpolitik, who have long since inured themselves to the task of doing terrible things to human beings in the course of pursuing the national interest; but it is utterly devastating to those few souls who still dream that the course of human events should be judged - and guided - by principles common to many nations rather than by policies concocted by one. The emergence of the antiwar right, however, may yet hold a lesson for the left, insofar as it relies on Brent Scowcroft's internationalism rather than Pat Buchanan's isolationism: The challenge, clearly, is to learn how to be strenuously anti-imperialist without being indiscriminately antiwar. It is a lesson the American left has never had to learn - until now."

I couldn't agree more. Scott's observations do, however, call for a clarification of my own views. I am not opposed to US moves towards a pre-emptive stance in relation to international aggression and terrorism. In fact, the advent of international terrorism, particularly where there are elements of State condonation or sponsorship, means that previous strategies of deterrence and containment must to an extent give way to pre-emption. My objection to the new Bush doctrine is to the strong ubertones of triumphalist unilateralism: there is little discussion of consultation, co-operation or attempts to achieve international consensus in the National Security Strategy. There is little mention of the United Nations or any role it might play. It is this arrogant insistence on America's supposed right to do whatever it likes, whenever it likes, by whatever rules it chooses, that I find most disturbing. It was in that context that I raised the issue of the timing of release of the National Security Strategy, even more so than its content. The timing seems to me to suggest an American tactic of engineering a failure to reach international agreement on a new Iraq weapons inspection resolution, so that the US has a pretext to proceed with a predetermined invasion plan.

Update 3 - MSN Slate (I thought they went belly-up) has an analytical article on the new Bush doctrine (via John Quiggin).

Thursday, September 19, 2002

More on medical negligence reforms

Here is a link to the executive summary of the Neave Options Paper, and here is a link to the Options Paper itself. The Paper is the product of an interstate expert working group established by all State and Territory Health Ministers. The recommendations will go to a meeting of Health Ministers being held within the next couple of weeks. I expect it is highly likely that many if not most of the recommendations will be accepted and implemented, so they're worth looking at closely. This will affect everyone who has surgery or deals with a doctor, because your rights of legal action for medical negligence will be constrained.

Having now read the Paper in detail, I am sticking with my initial reaction: the recommendations are largely positive and should be supported. Here is a summary of what is recommended:

(1) Lots of recommendations about conferencing, alternative dispute resolution, expert witnesses etc. (largely uncontroversial).
(2) Recommends no change to the Rogers v Whittaker standard of care (whereas the Commonwealth's Ipp Report recommended that it be reduced back to the pre-Rogers situation of being determined wholly by prevailing actual standards in the medical profession, rather than 'objectively' by the court). Thus, the Neave Paper is more "pro-patient" than the Ipp Report.
(3) Makes similar recommendation to the Ipp Report for codification of doctor disclosure standards of surgical risks etc.
(4) Recommends an indexed cap on the maximum level of damages for non-economic loss (pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life) commencing at the level of $350,000.
(5) Recommends a cap on the weekly amount for loss of earnings at three times average weekly earnings (meaning about $110,000 per year at present), subject to ensuring the availability of “top up” insurance cover for higher income earners, to cover them for the excess loss above the award of damages.
(6) Recommends no bottom end threshold for recovery of lost earnings or other economic losses (medical and other expenses etc). Thus all such losses would remain fully compensable no matter how small.
(7) Recommends several alternative options for fixing a bottom end threshold for non-economic loss (pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life). One suggestion is that the base threshold be set so that only those with at least a 10-15% permanent incapacity or more (or a shorter term but almost complete incapacity) would be able to claim for economic loss.
(8) Recommends that there be a 3 year time limit for commencement of proceedings (similar to the Ipp Report).

As I said in my initial post on this topic, it seems like a fairly reasonable compromise to me. It appears that the recommendation that will have the greatest impact on medical insurance premiums is the one for a base threshold on entitlement to claim for non-economic loss, because the largest number and total value of claims is at that lower end. I wonder what others interested in this area (e.g. Jason Soon, Mark Harrison, Alex Robson) think about it.
A non-current affair

Richard Ackland has a fascinating piece in this morning's SMH about the hoary (and perhaps whorey) old Jim Cairns/Junie Morosi saga. For those of you not old enough to remember, this was a scandal that occurred during the dying days of the Whitlam Labor government in 1975. Jim Cairns was Whitlam's very left-leaning Treasurer at one time, and Morosi was his private secretary. There were strong rumours of a sexual affair between Cairns and Morosi (shades of Cheryl and Gareth). Both were married (to someone else), and that sort of thing was much more sensational in those more innocent days.

Both Cairns and Morosi vehemently denied any sexual liaison, although Cairns confessed to having "a certain kind of love" for Junie. Subsequently Cairns sued the Fairfax group in defamation for suggesting that there was in fact a sexual liaison, but lost (although only because the jury concluded that the reputation of an ugly old geezer like him would not be damaged by people thinking that a glamorous young woman found him attractive). Cairns gave sworn evidence that no sexual conduct had ever occurred (although he didn't actually say "I never had sexual relations with that woman, Ms Lewinsky" oops Morosi). Morosi, on the other hand, has sued several times over similar aspersions, and won damages on more than one occasion.

All this may now be a bit of a problem for Jim and Junie in their dotage, because Jim (stupidly) confessed in a radio interview last week that they really had been playing sink the sausage after all. Shades of Lord Jeffrey Archer, who is now serving time at Her Majesty's pleasure for not entirely dissimilar conduct. I should add, however, that Archer apparently suborned witnesses to commit perjury, whereas Cairns seems only to have committed solo perjury. Poor Junie might have to give all that lovely money back to the media barons from whom she won it in the defamation casino, too. I just thought Bruce Hill might like to know that there are others who are deeper in the shit than he is (although they probably had more fun getting there).
A warblogger's tale

Many of you will have noticed speculation over the last few days over the reasons behind the mysterious disappearance of Bruce Hill's "war now" blog. Happily (although I frequently disagree with the views expressed, but support that old Voltaire line), we now have a successor called Silent Running, operated by Bruce's brother from New Zealand.

Silent Running contains a few clues about what happened. I added up two and two and got twenty seven, as I explain in the following passage reproduced from my comment box:

"Yes, I've read the stuff on Silent Running as well. My guess, like Gareth Parker's, is that it arises from a particular post Gareth linked in which Bruce referred to "a particular loud, obnoxious and almost invariably stupid sub-editor". One suspects that the sub-editor threatened to sue and have Bruce sacked unless he ceased blogging. Bruce had a choice to make. The choice had nothing to do with the presence or absence of a bill of rights. Exactly the same thing would have occurred in the US. They also have defamation laws which, although less strict because of the First Amendment, would probably make a statement like the above potentially actionable. In reality, of course, no proceedings would have been pursued to trial, because the sub-editor would have found it impossible to find any more than one or two people who (a) read the blog; and (b) identified the sub-editor given that he wasn't named. Nevertheless, the threat would cause most people to buckle at the knees, either here or in the US, because the cost of defending such proceedings would be huge.

The other aspect is that Bruce may well have been threatened with dismissal. He would almost certainly have been able to bring successful wrongful termination proceedings under the Workplace Relations Act had that occurred. In fact, Australia's protections in that regard are MUCH stronger than the US. But again, the dilemma has everything to do with practical reality and nothing to do with bills of rights or statutory wrongful termination rights (as such). Even if you win such a case, your career path from then on would be a downward one. Superiors carrying a grudge have long memories. That is as true in the US as in Australia (or New Zealand). Life wasn't meant to be easy (or fair). It's almost the only sensible thing Malcolm ever said."

There are a couple of things worth adding. First, a legal observation for aspiring political bloggers naive about the pitfalls of the law. This is not intended to be relied on as legal advice. If you need that, see your own lawyer. However, in general, the law gives very wide scope for comment if you stick to public affairs, and the public actions and words of people in the public arena. That includes dissecting the opinions of op-ed columnists, however savagely (a favourite activity of political bloggers). The problems arise when you move into comment on the private behaviour of individuals who are not in the public arena. There is even a potential problem with commenting on the private affairs of public individuals. For example, cricketer Greg Chappell once succeeded in getting an injunction against the Nine Network Current Affair program to restrain publication of material about alleged extra-marital activities. The balance the law tries to draw is between the undoubted public interest in free speech, and the competing public interest in protecting people from unfair damage to reputation and invasion of privacy. The existence of the First Amendment in the US means that they draw the line rather further towards protecting free speech, at the expense of privacy and reputation, than Australia does. The mainstream media tends to argue (somewhat self-interestedly) for a US-style approach. That is why there is a certain irony in Bruce's situation. His employer, it seems, is a large, left-leaning media organisation. At least some of its executives appear to have a different view of the appropriate balance when it is their privacy and reputation in the gun (instead of, say, dole bludgers like the Paxtons).

I am a bit equivocal about whether Australia strikes the correct balance between free speech, privacy and reputation. On one hand, the reputations and privacy protected are usually those of 'fat cats' who arguably should be able to look after themselves even without the intimidatory force of legal threats. On the other hand, the principal beneficiaries of striking a balance more towards free speech (including protecting speech on non-political subjects like sexual behaviour etc) will be large wealthy media proprietors, who mostly use the power they already have to expose small players like the Paxtons or shonky car repairers, while leaving their large corporate colleagues entirely untouched. You can make a reasonable argument in favour of constitutionally protecting political speech, while leaving the common law (with legislative intervention if needed) to balance and adjust all these competing rights and interests in other spheres.

The larger issue arising from Bruce's case is the suggestion that some media organisations are seriously infected by ideological bias which causes news and views to be distorted or suppressed. In one sense, that is hardly a surprise. In another, further exposure of the details is an important public interest issue. Fortunately, there are ways to tease out the facts without running foul of defamation laws. You just need to be careful and smart, or you're liable to get hurt. But that's true of life in general.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

We really HAVE got rights, Scott

At the risk of labouring a point, I see Scott Wickstein has picked up on Kim Weatherall's piece on the Toben (Holocaust denier) case, and concluded that Australians have no constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech:

"Overseas readers," Scott says, "might be surprised to know that there's absolutely no right to free speech under Australian law- in fact, there's almost no civil rights for us at all, so the Government of the day can quite legally legislate for bloggers to be boiled in oil- if they can get the legislation through, then its legal."

Well, they might well be surprised to know this, because IT JUST ISN'T TRUE. The High Court has held that Australia's Constitution does contain an implied freedom of speech guarantee, but limited to political and government matters. However, 'political' is very broadly defined, and includes anything that might possibly be issues in a federal, state or local election. Moreover the right isn't confined to election times. It also includes associated rights of freedom of movement and association, and freedom of movement is also partly guaranteed by section 92. It might be constitutionally possible, as Scott thinks, for an Australian government to "legally legislate for bloggers to be boiled in oil", but they couldn't stop us from talking about politics while we were cooking!

As well as those core freedoms (speech, movement and association), Australia's Constitution also contains a number of other express freedoms: freedom of religious worship and a prohibition on establishment of religion (section 116); prohibition on acquisition of property on unjust terms (section 51(31)); prohibition on discriminatory taxes (section 51(2)); freedom of interstate trade and commerce (section 92); prohibition on discrimination based on State of residence (section 117); trial by jury (section 80) (although limited). There may also be an implied guarantee of adult voting rights (although the High Court hasn't ruled definitively on that). We also have some aspects of the US right to "due process". One example is the right to counsel at public expense in serious criminal trials. Another critical one is the right to natural justice in all judicial proceedings. An even more critical constitutional right (which even Americans don't enjoy expressly) is the right to judicial review of all federal administrative decisions and actions.

The totality of all these constitutionally entrenched civil rights is pretty significant, though not quite as extensive as the US Constitution. However, they're scattered throughout the Constitution, and some (like free political speech) have been derived only as implications. But the same is true of the US "Bill of Rights", whose provisions are scattered throughout the first 14 amendments to their Constitution. The main reason why many Australians (even knowledgeable and educated ones like Scott) are unaware that these rights even exist is that the Australian education system lacks any co-ordinated civics education program. Most Australians know more about the US Constitution, from watching JAG or Ally McAnorexia, than they do about Australia's Constitution.

Another point worth making is that the effectiveness of civil rights protection in any country owes much more to its culture, history and tradition than the actual written text. The US Supreme Court, for example, declined to rule slavery illegal prior to the Civil War (in the Dred Scott case), despite the Bill of Rights. Until the 1930s, it also managed to interpret the "due process" guarantees in the 5th and 14th Amendments as guaranteeing mostly just the contractual rights of corporations and the powerlessness of governments to regulate wages, safety, environmental protection and most other things we now take for granted (Lochner v New York and subsequent cases). That is, the Bill of Rights was seen, however strangely, mostly just as a guarantor of laissez fair liberalism. It wasn't until Roosevelt's New Deal and the post-war implementation of international human rights standards via the United Nations that the US Supreme Court began interpreting the Bill of Rights as actually guaranteeing civil rights in anything like a modern sense.

Finally, Australia's constitutional system provides a degree of entrenchment for ordinary legislated human rights standards that is much greater than the US. Our Senate voting system ensures that in all but exceptional circumstances the government of the day will not have a Senate majority. The result is that abrogation of human rights protections once granted becomes difficult if not impossible. The bottom line is that Australia has nothing to apologise for when it comes to human/civil rights protection. I'm not saying that some additional protection may not be desirable (e.g. an express due process clause), and I certainly think it would be useful to collect our existing constitutional rights together in one statute or constitutional chapter, so that Australians can more easily appreciate the extent of legal protections they enjoy. But we should avoid the constitutional cringe.

Update - A comment by John suggests that I have been overly kind to the High Court by letting it off the hook for its past narrow interpretations of section 41 (right to vote) and section 80 (trial by jury). I didn't think I stated or implied that the Court had been adventurous in its interpretation of either provision. Nor do I think, though, that the narrow meanings they have adopted are clearly contrary to the intentions of the Founding Fathers (to the extent they should be regarded as determinative). In relation to both sections, the actual intentions were fairly narrow and, to put it gently, confused. The history of section 41 is usefully discussed in this article by Haig Patapan and section 80 in this article by Anne Twomey. The actual intentions are sufficiently obscure that it would certainly be open to the Court to adopt a more expansive reading, but for considerations of precedent and continuity. hopefully a future High Court may be more courageous, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting.
Medical negligence reforms

Last night's ABC Lateline program had an item on a discussion paper by Victorian Law Reform Commissioner Marcia Neave, which apparently proposes:

(1) pain and suffering damages capped at $350,000 (indexed).
(2) compensation for loss of earnings capped triple average weekly earnings; and
(3) a three-year limit on claims by adults.

It sounds like a pretty fair starting point to me. I have always thought such problems are best handled (in the absence of universal no fault cover, which might well be prohibitively expensive) by capping liability rather than completely extinguishing rights (as is presently proposed for risky recreational activities). The main reason (apart from unfairness to the injured victim) is that extinguishing rights simply results in transferring the risk from the arguably negligent business (in this case doctors) to the general community (because injured victims will have to be supported by Medicare and the social security system). A side-effect of that sort of "reform" is that it removes any incentive or price signal for the business to implement appropriate risk management strategies, and therefore may in the long run increase the incidence of injuries caused by business negligence. Capping liability preserves the incentives/price signals, while also attacking the rise in premiums in a real and effective way.

I haven't been able to find a copy of the discussion paper online yet. If anyone has a link I would appreciate their advising it, because I am keen to read it.
Holocaust denial and freedom of speech

Kim Weatherall and Jason Soon have both posted items on Tuesday's Federal Court decision to order the take-down of holocaust denier Frederick Toben's website. The case is called Jones v Toben.

Both Kim and Jason observe that the decision might have been different if Australia had a constitutional Bill of Rights free speech guarantee similar to the US First Amendment. What they both overlook is that, according to the High Court (which is the ultimate arbiter of such questions), Australia does have a constitutional freedom closely analogous to the First Amendment, albeit limited to speech on subjects related (broadly) to government and politics. However, I suggest that this limitation might not necessarily be a bar to a successful constitutional argument against racial vilification laws like those involved in the Toben case.

The High Court has never considered the constitutionality of the Racial Hatred Act 1995 (which inserted racial vilification prohibitions into the Racial Discrimination Act 1975). Nor did the judge in Jones v Tobin consider the question. He was dealing with a summary judgment application by Jones, which Toben didn't bother to defend. In fact, the only case I can find where the constitutional free speech argument in relation to the new(ish) RDA racial vilification provisions was considered at all is a decision handed down just over a fortnight ago in Jones v Scully. It was a closely related case to Jones v Toben. The plaintiff in both cases was Jeremy Jones (prominent in AIJAC and the Australia-Israel Review), while the defendant Scully was apparently an associate of Frederick Toben who peddles identical poisonous jewish conspiracy theories. The judge's reasoning on this issue was, to put it charitably, a bit half-baked. No doubt that was because Ms Scully represented herself, and probably found difficulty presenting a rather complex and subtle constitutional argument in a coherent way.

A weblog isn't the place for a long, learned discourse on the High Court's implied constitutional freedom of political speech doctrine, but a short discussion can't hurt. To successfully impugn a law under the implied freedom of political speech doctrine, a party must show that the law (in this case the racial vilification provisions of the RDA) :

(1) restricts freedom of speech on political or governmental matters;
(2) does not deal with a 'legitimate' topic of law-making otherwise within power; or
(3) despite being within power, burdens free speech to an impermissible extent because it is not "appropriate and adapted" to its subject matter, in that it restricts free speech further than necessary for the pursuit of the legitimate object.

Requirement (2) fairly clearly isn't breached, because the Commonwealth has power to legislate to implement treaties, and that is exactly what the Racial Hatred Act does. Moroever, on first blush one might think that just about any question about the Jewish Holocaust has at best a tenuous connection to Australian political or governmental affairs. Certainly, requirement (1) would be a formidable hurdle for any such argument to leap, but not necessarily an impossible one. A clearer example of the conundrum is provided by an equally current topic of public debate, namely whether and to what extent young male Lebanese Australians have a higher propensity to commit rapes and other crimes than other groups. There is cogent evidence that that is indeed the case (see this Australian Institute of Criminology paper by Mukherjee). Nevertheless, I have no doubt that last Monday's Four Corners program on this subject would have greatly "offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated" many Lebanese Australians (to use the RDA's racial vilification definition). I equally have no doubt that speech on this subject is sufficiently connected with Australian political or governmental questions to be entitled to constitutional protection.

However, I also have little doubt that a Court would find that Four Corners' treatment of the issue (unlike Toben and Scully's poisonous nonsense) fell within the exemption provisions of section 18D, which exempts material that some might find offensive etc. where it was published reasonably and in good faith. The judge in Jones v Scully held that these exemption provisions were enough to satisfy requirement (3) set out above i.e. the law was "appropriate and adapted" to its legitimate purpose, because it provided sufficient exemptions to avoid impermissibly restricting political speech.

But is that necessarily so? Certainly, the most relevant High Court decision on the free speech doctrine, Nationwide News v Wills, concerned a law which (effectively) prohibited vilifying members of the Industrial Relations Commission. But the law in question contained no reasonableness or good faith exemptions at all (in contrast to the RDA racial vilification provisions). No doubt that contributed to the conclusion that the law was not "appropriate and adapted".

However, at least 2 Justices (Chief Justice Mason and Justice McHugh) expressly applied US First Amendment jurisprudence in determining such questions. The US cases draw a distinction between laws which merely regulate the manner, timing etc of an exercise of speech, and laws which attack the actual content of that speech. Laws in the latter category (which clearly includes racial vilification laws) will only survive constitutional challenge if the prohibited conduct presents a "clear and present danger" to national security or civil order. Thus, "fighting words" can be lawfully prohibited, because they present a clear and present danger to public order. On the other hand, "hate speech" that presents no such danger but is merely offensive, insulting, humiliating etc, would normally not be susceptible to effective prohibition. As recently as 1992 (in RAV v St Paul), the US Supreme Court struck down a state law which criminalised a form of hate speech not all that dissimilar to the RDA racial vilification provisions (although it didn't contain any 'reasonableness and good faith' exemptions either).

Mason CJ and McHugh J reasoned that a law which prohibited the content of political speech (rather than just the manner, timing and place of its utterance) would only be constitutionally valid if there was a "compelling justification" for it. Would the fact that political speech which presents no "clear and present danger" to public order or national security, but which may nevertheless be offensive, insulting, humiliating etc to many people, be enough to amount to a "compelling justification" for its prohibition? Certainly the US Supreme Court doesn't think so. Whether Australia's High Court would agree is an open question. I wouldn't want to bet the farm on the outcome, but I think it's an argument worth running.

BTW, I don't think Voltaire actually ever said "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." But he certainly would have if he had thought of it.
Irate on Iraq

John Quiggin also published a piece yesterday which contained some commonsense observations on Iraq, sanctions and weapons inspections. It isn't clear, however, whether he is suggesting that it is appropriate for the UN to immediately accede to Iraqi demands that economic sanctions be lifted, merely because Saddam has written a letter saying he will let the weapons inspectors back in, and without any concrete actions to back it up.

If that is what John is suggesting, Richard Butler's article in today's SMH explains cogently why that would be a very bad idea indeed. The current operative UN Security Council Resolution (No. 1284) makes lifting of sanctions conditional on Saddam demonstrating complete co-operation with weapons inspections in practice (not just by writing a deviously worded letter) for a minimum period of 120 days before sanctions can be lifted. That position was arrived at in December 1999 after almost a decade of what Richard Butler accurately describes as Saddam's "shell game" over weapons inspections. Lifting sanctions in the immediate future would be a sure-fire way of ensuring that Saddam will keep playing those games for evermore. As such, a weak-kneed stance would almost ensure that the US would conclude that there was no viable choice but to launch military action. As Butler points out, appeasement doesn't work when you're dealing with thugs like Saddam.

While I'm on the subject of media fallacies about the Iraq situation, it seems to me that the distinction currently being drawn between military action to enforce WOMD disarmament and "regime change" is likely in practice to prove meaningless. If we ever get to the point where the only practical way to compel disarmament is military action (and I fervently hope that won't happen, because I think the risk of civilian casualties in the mega-thousands is very high), then the only way of actually achieving disarmament would be to remove Saddam from power (at least temporarily) and nullify his armed forces and security apparatus, or compel his unconditional surrender (which effectively amounts to the same thing). Once that occurs, would it really make sense to simply walk out again and let him and his thugs resume their murderous rule (albeit stripped of WOMD)? How would this differ from the current situation in Afghanistan, where I haven't heard anyone demanding the reinstatement of the Taliban now that Al Qaeda is mostly vanquished?
Taking it on the chin on Kyoto

I recently took John Quiggin to task for giving the impression that his ANU economist colleague Warwick McKibbin supported ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. John points out this morning that he in fact made it clear in his initial piece that McKibbin was a Kyoto opponent. On re-reading his initial article, I have to concede he is correct. I confess I "shot from the hip" when I first saw McKibbin's published denial that he supported Kyoto (although his denial also claimed that his data as well as his own opinion provided no support for ratification).

I must have confused John's position with that of his colleague Clive Hamilton, whose media utterances (reproduced by John) assuredly did create the impression that both McKibbin and his data supported Kyoto ratification. No doubt that was what McKibbin was reacting against in his published denial.

I can't help observing, though, that John seems to have moderated his own position since his initial post about McKibbin's study. In that post he quoted with evident approval Clive Hamilton's statement that: “Now that the models conclude that we would be better off ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, the Government has run a mile from it.” In contrast, John's latest post acknowledges that the modelling results are "ambiguous". That is precisely the point I was making from the beginning. I am pleased to see John now agrees. BTW, I tried to post this piece on John's comment function, but Haloscan seems to have crashed yet again.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

More on Iraq and the United Nations

Via Bargarz. Indefatigable warblogger Stephen den Beste usefully reproduces the full text of Saddam Hussein's letter to the UN. As Den Beste points out, you could only confidently conclude that Iraq had "unconditionally" agreed to allow resumption of weapons inspections if you don't read any further than paragraph 2. If you read on to paragraph 4, you discover that another interpretation (and a more likely one given Saddam's track record) is that he is tying agreement to resumption of weapons inspections to the lifting of all economic and other sanctions on Iraq, and conceivably to other demands as well. All he is really agreeing to do "unconditionally" is to sit down and talk about the conditions on which he might be prepared to let inspectors back in. This is a breathtakingly Orwellian definition of "unconditional", but entirely consistent with Saddam's usual behaviour.

It certainly underlines the conclusion I had already drawn that Dubbya (and the rest of us) are justified in treating Saddam's "offer" with the utmost suspicion.
Fourth set to Albrechtsen 6-0

Via Tim Blair. The Australian newspaper's right-wing op-ed pundit Janet Albrechtsen has responded to the ABC Media Watch/Amir Butler attack on her with a seemingly devastating dissection of David Marr's selective focus and misleading use of evidence. I hesitate to declare game set and match to Albrechtsen, because her track record suggests it would be unwise, without checking all the facts oneself, to assume that she isn't being equally selective and misleading herself. Nevertheless, anyone previously minded to accept Media Watch as even remotely objective or authoritative would now surely be re-evaluating their opinion.

BTW, despite coming back for a second bite at Albrechtsen last Monday, David Marr again failed on air to acknowledge the extent of his indebtedness to Amir Butler. As I said before, it isn't quite plagiarism, but it sure is shabby journalism. I see Gareth Parker was moved to apologise for his comments about Media Watch, apparently because some Perth journalist castigated Gareth in the local newspaper. Gareth, sometimes it's right to apologise (like when you know you were wrong), but on this occasion your instincts were dead right. If (as you say) you didn't accuse Media Watch of plagiarism, then you have nothing to apologise for. As Scott Wickstein observed, the fact that you are willing to admit that you might occasionally be wrong puts you streets ahead of 99.9% of journalists and op-ed pundits.

Finally, and in contract to Jason Soon's and Chris Textor's opinions, I quite liked Don Arthur's psychoanalysis of right-wing bloggers. I have only two objections: (1) the same accusations apply to many leftie bloggers; (2) it's beginning to look like Janet Albrechtsen's piece on Muslims and rape may not be as clear an example of the genre as Don may have thought.
Iraq and the United Nations

Tim Dunlop has a useful piece summarising all the UN resolutions currently affecting Iraq. The more interesting (and worrying) aspect is what happens if Saddam plays his usual games and frustrates weapons inspections, in the expectation that the international community will ultimately lose its resolve and he will be able to go back to business as usual.

What is currently unclear to me is whether Dubbya's negative response to Iraq's eleventh hour (apparent) capitulation on weapons inspections represents a tactically wise move to keep the pressure on given Saddam's notorious untrustworthiness, or an indication that the US is intent on a regime-changing invasion irrespective of the progress of weapons inspections and whether or not Iraq turns out to have WOMD.

UN member nations reserved sovereign rights of self-defence by Article 51 of the UN Charter:

"Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security."

During the Cold War, this Article was a dead letter. The Great Powers had (and still have) a Security Council veto, which they used to stymie effective Security Council action on any issue where their national interests were engaged. As a result, both the US (Vietnam, Grenada, El Salvador etc) and the USSR (Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia etc) asserted rights to invade other countries whenever they judged that it suited their national interest to do so.

It remains to be seen whether the UN can be a more effective body now that the Cold War had ended. The experience over Iraq through the 1990s doesn't really give any great cause for confidence. The UN vacillated and failed to take decisive action against Saddam's calculating frustration of weapons inspections. The US seemed paralysed by its citizens' apparent unwillingness to sustain the inevitable casualties of war (Somalia, and before that the latter days of the Vietnam conflict). Until September 11 snapped the US out of its complacency, one could reasonably have concluded that the UN remained ineffective as a world policeman. September 11 seems to have brought home to US citizens the fact that the alternative to sustaining military casualties overseas might be to sustain much larger civilian casualties at home. This public realisation has given US politicians an unaccustomed freedom (from immediate adverse domestic political consequences) to engage militarily to deal with threats to the security of the US and its allies. Whether that freedom will result in positive or negative consequences for the rest of the world will depend on how wisely Dubbya and his advisers behave.

Personally, I think Dubbya has played it exactly right up until now (possibly more because of excellent advice from people like Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice than through his own judgment). It took a strong stance to blast the Europeans out of their vacillating complacency over Iraq. Moreover, the US will need to keep projecting willingness to take unilateral action in order to keep European backbones straight. At this stage, however, it would be completely unacceptable for the US to proceed with an invasion until weapons inspections have been given a fair chance. If they proceed quickly and unimpeded, and either find nothing or manage to destroy everything found, then there is no cause to invade (although an ongoing supervisory regime would be needed to ensure that Saddam does not begin rebuilding his WOMD capacity as soon as the inspectors leave again).

If, on the other hand, inspections are impeded, then the situation becomes a greater challenge to the UN's effectiveness. Military intervention would then be the only viable option. If the Security Council continued to vacillate, then we would be back to a Cold War situation, where the UN was simply an ineffectual institution. In that situation, the US would be justified (in my view) in pursuing military intervention. Saddam's history of invading neighbours and using WOMDs against his own people justifies a conclusion that he poses a "clear and present danger" to US allies in the region (principally, but not only, Israel and Kuwait, both of whom are understandably keen supporters of US military action). Arguably, action of that sort would be entirely in accordance with Article 51 of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Of course, this concept extends the express pre-requisite of an "armed attack" against a member State to cover pre-emptive action where there is a "clear and present danger" to a member State. But that is hardly an unreasonable meaning to give the Article, when the alternative is to wait until Iraq's WOMD program is complete, and then see whether Saddam choses to use them. By then, of course, it would be too late.

The "clear and present danger" formulation was used by ALP leader Simon Crean in his response in yesterday's parliamentary debate on the Iraq situation. I think it is a useful and sensible way of conceptualising the dilemma. The concept was first employed by the great American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes in a rather different context, and later pirated by pulp novelists like the bellicose Tom Clancy. But we shouldn't let that distract us from its utility for the current situation. If the weapons inspections proceed in such a way that there remains a "clear and present danger" of Saddam acquiring WOMD capacity (especially nuclear) in the reasonably foreseeable future, then his track record justifies pre-emptive military action by the US even if the UN Security Council continues to vacillate.

Monday, September 16, 2002

McKibbin doesn't back Kyoto

Anyone would think from reading John Quiggin's blog that his ANU colleague Warwick McKibbin supports Australia's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. In fact he doesn't. McKibbin has put out a statement saying that his report had been misunderstood by environmental groups. Presumably he was especially referring to the Australia Institute (with which John Quiggin is associated), because it was the most media-prominent advocate of McKibbin's report as supposedly providing additional reasons for ratifying Kyoto. McKibbin said yesterday:

``My report confirms the Government's decision not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. By any calculation, the sum of the future costs to Australia of ratifying Kyoto far outweigh future costs of not ratifying,'' Professor McKibbin said."

The only way John Quiggin manages to reason to the contrary is by assuming that third world countries will eventually sign on and agree to be effectively bound by Kyoto. But any rational evaluation would conclude that they are very unlikely to do so, unless future scientific developments show that global warming is going to be much more serious than present indications suggest. Far better to keep embarassing wealthy countries into handicapping their own economies with pointless measures designed to deal ineffectually with an almost non-existent problem, while the third world continues to have no such restrictions.
The value of values

Jason Soon takes Robert Manne to task over the difference between race and culture (as in what is 'racism'). Jason goes on to say:

"I also firmly believe that certain cultures are incompatible with others and that there are certain cultures I'd prefer not to have flourish in this country - which is not to say that promotion of such cultures should be banned, but it does mean that if people from these cultures flout the law then their culture should not be an excuse for not prosecuting them. This does not mean in anyway that Islam is a culture incompatible with Western society - it depends precisely on what sort of Islam one is talking about."

In general terms I agree with Jason, but what he is really talking about is shared values. The trouble is, what are they? As a largely agnostic, multi-cultural society, how do we go about identifying exactly what values we hold in common and want enacted? Some brands of post-modernist relativism hold that all values and all cultures are equally valid, and imply that no attempt to ascertain or enact common values can be legitimate. I suspect that this sort of woolly thinking is at the root of much of the left-liberal knee-jerk horror at saying anything nasty about any type of Muslim belief system (including the fanatical, murderous, female-stoning fundamentalist kind).

The result of this values lacuna is that radio 'shock jocks' step into the breach, fashioning their own grotesque, ratings-driven values and getting their listeners salivating like Pavlov's dogs. Poll-driven politicians then jump in and enact these 'values', lest Lawsie or the Parrot (or their interstate equivalents) mount a public campaign against them.

There must be a more rational way of determining what values we really do share and aspire to enact (both socially and legislatively). Maybe the blogosphere provides a medium where a dialogue aimed at reaching a consensus on shared values could be attempted. I actually suspect that (say) Tim Blair and Tim Dunlop would discover they share a bit more than they might think. Then again, we might find that all we can agree on are propositions so minimal and platitudinous as to be useless. But that would be a valuable result in itself. If we discover that we don't in fact share values in any meaningful sense, are we really a society? What implications does that have?

To start the ball rolling, let's look at the Ten Commandments, slightly differing versions of which are common to Protestant, Catholic and Jewish faiths). The first 3 are about God and the Sabbath, so they clearly aren't shared values any more. The 4th requires honouring one's parents. I suspect most of us would still claim to subscribe to this one, although whether we do in practice is by no means as clear. The 5th (thou shalt not kill) is still a shared value (leaving aside issues like abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, whether there is any such thing as a 'just war'). The 6th (Thou shalt not commit adultery) and 9th (Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife) are obviously not held by Wayne Carey at the very least. Moreover, the incidence of divorce, short-term serially monogamous relationships and various other social phenomena suggest that these commandments need some serious qualifications before they could truly be called shared values.

The 7th (Thou shalt not steal) is still a shared value, although corporate executives recent conduct in Enron etc. tends to suggest that they might want to define stealing rather more loosely than the rest of us. Moreover, criminologists often point to the fact that wholesale looting typically breaks out in western societies when police are on strike or law enforcement for some other reason breaks down. So is this really a shared value? Does the phenomenon just mean that there are significant numbers of people prepared to breach any social code (even if it is a genuinely shared value) if they think they can get away with it?

The 8th and 10th commandments have to do with coveting one's neighbour's goods and bearing false witness against him (telling a lie with significant adverse consequences for someone else). These are probably till shared values, although often honoured in the breach.

The other standard western formulation of values is the "Seven Deadly Sins": Pride, Greed, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, Sloth. I suspect that none of these could truthfully be said today to be regarded as socially proscribed values/attributes. In fact, a high proportion of TV shows portray them as the norm, and a rather exciting and desirable norm at that. I don't really think it is quite like that in real life, but the point is that the Seven Deadly Sins don't really delineate the boundaries of shared values in modern western society.

So what basic values do we hold in common? Is it just heavily qualified injunctions against killing and stealing? Or is there more? Perhaps some shared notion of egalitarianism (although neo-liberal bloggers would probably want to argue about that). Perhaps some notion of mutual tolerance of cultural and sexual diversity (although again heavily qualified, as Jason's initial post suggests). Anything else? What do others think?

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Ethanol might be the answer

This piece follows logically from my previous rant about the Kyoto Protocol. ABC radio news ran a story over the weekend reporting that the Federal government had made a $400,000 grant to Queensland's Sugar Research Institute to evaluate a new American process that is believed could halve the cost of producing ethanol. What has that got to do with the Kyoto Protocol? Well, ethanol can be produced from carbohydrate crops like sugar cane and corn. It is therefore a convenient form of renewable energy. It is also much cleaner than fossil fuels. Blended in an 85/15 ethanol/petrol mixture it can reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50%.

Ethanol became quite popular as a fuel supplement in the wake of the OPEC oil price hike of the 1970s, but waned in popularltiy as petrol prices fell again. The reason is that ethanol has until now been significantly more expensive to produce and refine than petroleum. That is because distillation of ethanol forms an azeotrope, or constant boiling solution, of about 95 percent alcohol and five percent water. The five percent water cannot be separated by conventional distillation. The production of pure, water-free (anhydrous) ethanol requires a dehydration step following distillation. Dehydration is a relatively complex (and expensive) step in ethanol fuel production.

Hence the importance of the new American technology: it may bring the production cost down to a point where enthanol is a competitive fuel source with petrol, even without subsidies. However, this morning, ABC news ran another story reporting that the Federal government also planned to extend the 38 cents a litre petrol excise to ethanol, but would subsidise local producers by the same amount for the next 12 months. So much for the $400,000 grant to the Sugar Research Institute. Bundaberg Sugar was quoted (understandably) as saying that this made ethanol production too risky an investment.

Surely if Australia was serious about renewable energy and reducing greenhouse emissions, this is exactly the sort of technology we should be investing in, not taxing before it even gets off the ground. The beauty of ethanol/petrol fuel blends is that they can be used in existing car engines with fairly minor and inexpensive modifications. Of course, the other huge advantage is that the technology opens up a potentially vast market for Australian sugar cane. Instead of sacrificing jobs and national income (as Kyoto does), this technology could add enormously to Australia's GNP, and enhance our energy self-sufficiency, while also drastically cutting smog and CO2 emissions.
Kyoto spin doctoring

The Federal government has just released two commissioned studies which modelled the economic effects of Australia ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. One was by ANU economist Warwick McKibbin, the other by ABARE. John Quiggin has published an item on his blog which refers to the McKibbin study but not the ABARE one. So too the Australia Institute, with which John is associated, has also chosen to publicise only the McKibbin study. Both Quiggin and the Australia Institute use the McKibbin study as a springboard for their advocacy that Australia should ratify Kyoto. John shortly summarises the result of the McKibbin study as being that "by 2010 Australia’s GNP will decline by 0.40% if Australia stays out of the Kyoto Protocol, but will decline by only 0.33% if Australia ratifies."

However, the ABARE study came up with rather different results. First, ABARE found that ratifying Kyoto would have significantly larger effects on GNP than McKibbin. ABARE found that GNP would decline by 0.15% at 2010 and 0.24% at 2015. That is, ABARE found that the effects would be almost 4 times as great as McKibbin. Moreover, as far as I can see, neither of the models took into account what would happen if some businesses simply relocated to Asia, where they would not be subject to carbon taxes and the like.

The ABARE study also makes the following revealing observations about the effects of ratifying Kyoto:

"Implementing the Kyoto Protocol is projected to generate a fall in the value of Australia's net exports, which in turn leads to a depreciation in the Australian dollar at 2010 and 2015 relative to the reference case.

The decline in economic activity in Australia associated with the introduction of the carbon penalty is projected to lower the level of investment and consumption, resulting in a reduction in real wages in Australia relative to the reference case. ...

Meeting abatement targets is projected to have significant impacts on production, export volumes and prices in key Australian sectors. The major sectors affected are emission intensive manufacturing industries such as primary aluminium, alumina and iron and steel, and fossil fuel industries. ...

The implementation of a carbon equivalent penalty in Australia is projected to reduce the competitiveness of Australian emission intensive manufacturing exports against goods from nonparticipating countries. Where Australian exports compete closely with production from these countries, the result is lower Australian exports and reduced output relative to the reference case. The loss of competitiveness of Australian sectors depends largely on the emission intensity of the sector and the magnitude of the carbon equivalent penalty
."

Are you beginning to see why Quiggin and Hamilton are pushing the McKibbin study and pretending the ABARE one doesn't exist? Does it make sense to ratify a treaty which would cause such significant damage to Australia's economy? That question becomes even more pointed when you realise that Kyoto will have almost no effect on CO2 emissions by 2100 anyway, and that it is extremely unlikely that temperature rises (even without Kyoto) will be much greater than a benign 1 degree C by 2100, and may well be much lower.

However, I suspect that neither study particularly suits the Federal government's political purposes, which is probably why they were released with very little fanfare. The ABARE study finds that the negative economic effects of not ratifying Kyoto, but proceeding with the Federal government's existing anti-emission strategies, would be even greater as at 2010 than if we ratified. ABARE projects a decline in Australian GNP of 0.17 per cent in 2010 and 0.14 per cent in 2015. That is, the adverse economic effect is 0.02% greater than ratifying Kyoto in 2010, but 0.10% less severe by 2015.

However, this aspect of the ABARE report also doesn't suit Quiggin's purposes. ABARE finds:

"Australian emissions are projected to decline by 45.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent relative to the reference case at 2010 (table 11). This is a greater decline than the domestic abatement undertaken in scenario 1 (33.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent at 2010)."

That is, it seems Australia will achieve a greater CO2 reduction under current Federal government policies than would be achieved if we ratified Kyoto and went into a carbon credits trading scheme. Presumably that is because businesses and governments will be more inclined simply to purchase carbon credits and keep polluting if they have the opportunity to do so.

Finally, the ABARE study finds that the only scenario that would have positive effects on Australia's economy is one where Australia declines to ratify Kyoto and takes no emission reduction measures at all!! A government which treated Kyoto and the global warming scare as the nonsense both of them plainly are would be tempted to dismantle existing emission reduction strategies and simply go on with business as usual. However, as I have argued previously, the sorts of activities which generate large amounts of atmospheric CO2 also have lots of other undesirable environmental effects. So the bottom line is that the economic modelling doesn't provide a compelling case either for or against ratifying Kyoto. The issue has to be decided on the fundamentals: is runaway global warming a significant threat, and will Kyoto do anything meaningful to combat it anyway? The answer to both questions is NO.
Dubbya really DID win in Florida

Tim Blair, like Professor Bunyip, seems to have missed the point of Phillip Adams' weekend column, which was to express perfectly reasonable concerns about President Dubbya's "star wars" missile defence plans. Like Bunyip, Tim ignores the thrust of Adams' piece, and seizes on several factual errors in his article instead.

I wouldn't want anyone to assume wrongly that I am Adams' greatest fan. I sometimes like his stuff, but find him frequently pompous and a bit precious and perhaps a bit too predictably anti-American (although I don’t share the rightist blogger viewpoint that anyone who dares to criticise any aspect of US behaviour is ‘anti-American’) . I do, however, think Tim was a little unfair to Adams when he condemned him for not being aware of research conducted last year which apparently showed that Dubbya would in fact have won recounts in the contested Florida booths had they ever been completed (see links in Tim's story). Apart from anything else, Dubbya's own actions contributed to leaving the contrary impression. Counting was stopped by order of the US Supreme Court after Dubbya had argued successfully that it was unconstitutional. It was fairly obvious, however, that the real reason why Dubbya appealed to the Court was that his scrutineers were telling him he looked like losing if the recounts were allowed to proceed. There is a certain irony in the fact that they were wrong: Dubbya undermined his own legitimacy.

I have to confess that I hadn't been aware of the research Tim mentions either, despite having looked rather closely at the legal issues surrounding the 2000 Presidential election for a comparative constitutional law unit I recently taught. So I can hardly blame Phillip Adams for being similarly ignorant. Nevertheless, I know now, thanks to Tim Blair. Just another wonderful thing about blogging. You can learn a lot if you keep an open mind. Of course, that might all end if Blogger continue making their servers difficult to access.

Update - a contributor to the comment section suggests that i seem 'sanguine' about the US Supreme Court's actions in the 2000 Presidential election. Not at all. That just wasn't the topic of this piece. Moroever, given Tim Blair's information about the aborted election recounts, it seems that it wouldn't have made any difference to the final result even if the Court had allowed the recounts to proceed. However, for the record, I regard the Supreme Court's action as clearly improper and partisan in nature. Anyone interested might want to read this excellent article by Jack Balkin. As for Glenn's comment that Bush would have lost had there been a recount in all counties, he can't really know that. That is what people were saying about the counties where there were recounts, but it seems they were wrong.
Blogger manipulation?

Like many other bloggers (in fact, I suspect everyone except those on the 'pay' service), I haven't been able to access my blog since some time in the middle of the day yesterday (until just now). I won't under any circumstances change over to the blogger pay system, however, which is what they clearly want us to do (the message explaining why you can't access the server says precisely that). I simply object to being played for a sucker by Blogger's business plan, which was obviously to suck in as many bloggers as possible with a free system and then, when they were all dependent on it, make the system unuseable to force people to take up the pay option. If they keep making the blogger edit function inaccessible, I intend to simply stop blogging until I get time to switch over to Moveable Type or some other system (I had a try last week, but found it too complicated to tackle in the time I had available). If others adopt similar tactics, Blogger will have to rethink their corporate strategy. They will find themselves losing customers and revenue instead of the opposite.