Saturday, 22 December 2012

Is George Brandis Australia's worst performing politician?

The Owl's readers on the Crikey website have been voting this week to provide an annual ranking for senior government and opposition politicians. George Brandis, the shadow Attorney General, is engaged in a close battle with Sophie Mirabella for the worst performing title.
On the government side the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Joe Ludwig is building what looks like an unassailable lead as the worst performer.
Overall the assessment of Opposition shadow ministers is much harsher than that on their Government counterparts. That probably tells us something about Crikey's readership and a good reason to move voting out from behind the paywall to allow the broadminded followers of the politicalowl to add their tuppence worth.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Refugees harm selves on Nauru

I don't care what she did 20 years ago - I'm sick at what Julia Gillard's doing now!

Refugees harm selves on Nauru: "TEN episodes of self-harm at the Nauru processing centre in 24 hours were a direct response to the government's decision to release thousands of recently arrived asylum seekers into the community, according to Nauru detainees. The Immigration Department confirmed that four acts of self-harm on Tuesday night were followed by another two episodes on Wednesday, saying some of the men received treatment for superficial injuries at the centre and none were transferred to the island's hospital. Another four incidents followed late in the afternoon, according to an asylum seeker. ''I cannot express what is happening here,'' the man said. ''Everyone is crying and saying, 'Why am I here?'''"

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Beating question time hands down

 I did a rare thing this evening. I watched television and am glad I did.
The program on the ABC's 24 hour news channel was a community Cabinet meeting in Brisbane. And how refreshing it was to see and hear ministers giving serious answers to sensible questions.
A refreshing contrast to my normal political television watching -  question time in the House of Representatives.

Monday, 12 November 2012

New wave pollsters - Essential and Google

About a month ago in my column for I declared Essential Research to be "my favourite pollster". That conversion (I had many months previously, wrongly, rather dismissed its relevance for being some new-fangled internet thing) was based on what seemed to me to be sensibly small weekly changes in its findings rather than the dramatic ups-and-downs of the other pollsters. Essential results seemed to tally much better with what Rod Cameron and Margie Gibbs of ANOP used to present me with when working on Labor election campaigns.
Now perhaps I have found an explanation, other than my own gut reaction, of why the pollster Crikey publishes each week might in fact be a better guide than Newspoll and AC Nielsen.
Nate Silver, the election prediction guru of The New York Times, writes today how, as Americans’ modes of communication change, the techniques that produce the most accurate polls seem to be changing as well. In Tuesday’s presidential election, he says, a number of polling firms that conduct their surveys online had strong results. Some telephone polls also performed well. But others, especially those that called land lines only or took other methodological shortcuts, performed poorly.
Some of the most accurate polling firms this year conducted their polls online. The final poll by Google Consumer Surveys had Mr. Obama ahead in the national popular vote by 2.3 percentage points — very close to his actual margin of 2.6 percentage points, as of Saturday morning. Ipsos, which conducted online polls for Reuters, and the Canadian online polling firm Angus Reid also fared well.
 (Click to enlarge)
Looking more broadly across the 90 polling firms that conducted at least one likely-voter poll in the final three weeks of the campaign, polling firms that conducted their polls wholly or partially online outperformed others on average. Among the nine in that category, the average error in calling the election result was 2.1 percentage points.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Denmark to abolish tax on high-fat foods

Hooray! A setback for the social engineers!
BBC News - Denmark to abolish tax on high-fat foods: "The Danish government has said it intends to abolish a tax on foods which are high in saturated fats. The measure, introduced a little over a year ago, was believed to be the world's first so-called "fat tax". Foods containing more than 2.3% saturated fat - including dairy produce, meat and processed foods - were subject to the surcharge. But authorities said the tax had inflated food prices and put Danish jobs at risk. The Danish tax ministry said it was also cancelling its plans to introduce a tax on sugar, the AFP news agency reports."

'via Blog this'

Saturday, 10 November 2012

The slush fund story that refuses to go away

This morning's Australian Financial Review story as it appears on the paper's website:
(Click to enlarge)
And a commentary on the slush fund from this morning's Weekend Australian:
The story just keeps bubbling along.
Fortunately for the Prime Minister any allegations of impropriety involve quite a complicated argument that is hard to summarise in a 30 second television or radio grab. It's only if comments like the one I noted in my Crikey column on Friday become commonplace that there will be a chance of it being really damaging:
"Crooked lawyer" is a description that does cut through and it won't surprise me if the Prime Minister starts going down the litigation path sooner rather than later to prevent it.

Missing Megalogenis

George Megalogenis has his last column for The Australian this morning. Makes it something of a sad day for Australian journalism really. For years he has been one of the national daily's redeeming features with his thorough, but never boring, political and economic analysis. And always done in an even-handed fashion that, when you looked at his often pointed criticism of individual politicians and governments over time, defied attempts to portray him him as a partisan supporter of any party.

The sophisticated cigarette packaging

The only problem getting my weekly carton this morning was the difficulty the shop assistant had in recognising my brand among all those of a similar colour.
The new label cigarettes have arrived in store and my congratulations go to the Department of Health designer. They look quite sophisticated in their black (supposedly olive but it seems black to me) and white way. To me mind there's no deterrent effect at all. Well done.

A Tony Abbott joke

The Opposition Leader responding to a suggestion that Labor would be trying to portray him in a negative light:
From this morning's Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The propensity of politicians to sue

A glance at a dictionary would show you that a Sydney Morning Herald story used an inappropriate word to describe Martin Ferguson's role in renegotiating the mining tax after the sacking of Kevin Rudd. Take the word used literally and you would think that the resources minister had arranged things with mining companies for his own personal financial advantage. It is the kind of word that as a journalist conscious of the need not to needlessly defame people you would hope toavoid even if it was used by the person whose views you were reporting.
Having done far worse things during 50+ years in journalism, far be it from me to caste a stone especially as the context of the article makes it clear, to me anyway, that Rob Oakeshott did not think that the offending word had its dictionary meaning. How much better it would have been if he had responded to the letter from Martin Feguson's law firm's letter by admitting his error rather than complaining about legal intimidation.
And how much better still if the minister had picked up the phone and rung the independent MP before deciding on a duel by lawyers at 20 paces.
The only winner in this sorry little story is Prime Minister Julia Gillard who intervened to stop the mountain being made over the verbal molehill.

Harsh political markers out there in the social media

Those who comment on the US presidential election in the social media make mainstream media pundits look like softies. A study by the Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism shows Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are treated in a much more negative fashion on Facebook and Twitter than on television, radio and newspapers.

Overall the media coverage veers to the negative with Obama being let off a little more lightly than Romney.

Among the other findings of the study:
  • Horse race coverage is down from 2008. Overall, 38% of the coverage coded during these two months was framed around what is typically called horse-race coverage, stories substantially concerned with the strategy and tactics of the campaign and the question of who was winning.
  • That is down from four years ago, when 53% of the coverage studied during a similar period was focused on the horse race. Coverage of the candidate policy positions comprised the second-largest category of coverage, 22%, similar to 2008. Coverage of voter fraud laws and other political topics that largely did not involve the candidates was tied for the third-largest category at 9%, and was a subject that was almost nonexistent in the narrative four years earlier.
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  • Debate coverage was more about who won than what candidates said.
  • The two candidates received similar amounts of coverage.
  • Among the issues, the economy dominated but less so than in 2008.
  • Of all the platforms studied, the tone of conversation was the most negative on Twitter.
  • Network news viewers received a different narrative about the candidates depending on when they watched.

Is Labor's "momentum" really true?

There's food for thought about Australian federal Labor's recent polling improvement in these comments about the US Presidential election from Ezra Klein's Washington Post Wonkblog:
There’s an argument out there that the idea of “momentum” is largely a conceptual error. Momentum means something in physics: A car rolling down the hill gathers momentum as a result of it rolling down the hill. But that’s not obviously true in politics. There’s no reason to think that a candidate experiencing a few good days of polls or news will, by virtue of that good news or good polling, experience more good news and good polling. 
But I’d go further: I’d bet that a careful study of media mentions of a candidate’s “momentum” would find that they tend to presage that candidate losing altitude in the polls. That’s because while “momentum” may not be real, reversion to the mean is.
When a candidate has been overperforming where they’ve been in the race for long enough that the media has become convinced of their “momentum,” that’s good evidence that they’re getting an unusually good run of good news or good polls, and the race has drifted away from its fundamentals. And when that happens, it tends to mean that the likeliest thing the race will do next is return to its fundamentals.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Employment of youths falls but rises for older workers

The OECD area employment rate – defined as the proportion of people of working-age who are employed – was 65.0% in the second quarter of 2012. This figure is 0.1 percentage point higher than in the previous quarter and 0.2 percentage point higher than one year ago but still 1.5 percentage points below the pre-financial-crisis level.
Australia has fared a little better than the OECD as a whole. Its second quarter employment rate of 72.5 per cent was well above the average and only 0.7 points less than it was back in 2008.
The OECD figures show that the biggest decline in the Australian employment rate has occurred among youth aged 15 to 24. There the 2008 rate of 65% has fallen to 60.1%. For those defined as being of prime working age - aged 25 to 54 - the decline has been from 80.3% in 2008 to 79.5% in the second quarter.
For older Australian workers the employment rate has actually risen - from 57.3% in 2008 to a current rate of 61.4%

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Saturday, 13 October 2012

Who is winning the misogynist debate?

Quite a difference of opinion among the pundits about what impact the last week of parliamentary proceedings will have made on the general voting public. At Crikey we are running a little survey to see what the wisdom of our readers think will happen. I'd be happy to have your input as well.
Just fill in the form below where we are trying to determine what result the next Newspoll will show but remember we are trying to estimate what will happen to public opinion not what people think should happen to public opinion.

The Gillard past - an underplayed but still damaging Fairfax story

In the Sydney Morning Herald it only made it to page 10 while The Age had it on page three but this story will still prove damaging enough:
It marks yet another step in moving out from the relative obscurity of the internet into the mainstream the pursuit of details about Julia Gillard's past life as a lawyer and her relations with the Australian Workers Union. With the two Fairfax papers now joining, in a strangely understated way, The Australian in indicating this is a story that needs to be reported, the Prime Minister will find it increasingly difficult to dismiss it as the misogynist rantings of disreputable bloggers.
You will find the full fascinating account HERE but this extract gives the flavour:
A TRADE union association from which hundreds of thousands of dollars were stolen by a former boyfriend of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was only registered after Ms Gillard vouched for its legitimacy to authorities in Western Australia.
Ms Gillard - then a salaried partner with the law firm Slater & Gordon - wrote to the WA Corporate Affairs Commission in mid-1992 confirming that the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association was a legitimate organisation under WA law.
In August the Herald reported that Ms Gillard may have breached West Australian corporations law by her involvement in setting up an association for her then-boyfriend Bruce Wilson, a senior AWU official, because the application documents, lodged by then state secretary, Ralph Blewitt, for the association stated its purpose was the ''development of changes to work to achieve safe workplaces''.
During an investigation into her work by Slater & Gordon in 1995, Ms Gillard described the association as a ''slush fund'' that would be used to bankroll union election campaigns.
The newly confirmed correspondence contradicts claims by Ms Gillard that she did no more than provide limited professional advice about establishing the association at the centre of the corruption scandal involving Wilson.
Inside both The Age and the Herald Mark Baker provides an intriguing insight into PM Gillard's leaving the law firm Slater & Gordon.

The feature ends with this assessment of Ms Gillard by the former Slater & Gordon partner Nick Styant-Browne who was involved in determining her future with the firm:

"Wilfully blind". Words we are sure to hear much more of as the next federal election gets closer.

Some news and views noted along the way - Saturday 13 October

Twitter fiction: 21 authors try their hand at 140-character novels

Not so super when someone drives offshore with your cash

Smuggish Thoughts (Self-indulgent) from Paul Krugman

Extreme Weather and Climate Change in the American Mind - new poll from George Mason University and Yale’s Project on Climate Change Communication

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Tuesday, 9 October 2012

A feisty and fiery but totally irrelevant Gillard speech before Slipper resigns

Attack is the best form of defence was the Prime Ministerial motto today when confronted with the nauseating revelations about the man she made Speaker of the House of Representatives. And it was quite a stirring speech if the subject had been the views of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. But the irrelevance of Julia Gillard's attempt to avoid the embarrassment of supporting a sleaze bag became clear when Peter Slipper resigned from the job.
Yet another example of this Labor Government's ability to manufacture unnecessary humiliations.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Avoiding El Nino?

The signs are emerging that Australia might escape the impact of an El Niño this year. The Bureau of Meteorology reports that most dynamical models it surveys suggest that sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific will maintain values around El Niño thresholds before returning to clearly neutral values towards the end of 2012 or early 2013. Hence there is an increased likelihood of avoiding the dry conditions El Niño's produce.

Monday, 1 October 2012

How people get their news - the young switching from television to on-line

As someone who no longer buys a printed version of a newspaper I was not at all surprised to find in the latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press that in the US the transformation of the nation’s news landscape has already taken a heavy toll on print news sources, particularly print newspapers. What did surprise me was the finding that  there are now signs that television news – which so far has held onto its audience through the rise of the internet – also is increasingly vulnerable, as it may be losing its hold on the next generation of news consumers.

Online and digital news consumption, meanwhile, continues to increase, with many more people now getting news on cell phones, tablets or other mobile platforms. And perhaps the most dramatic change in the news environment has been the rise of social networking sites. The percentage of Americans saying they saw news or news headlines on a social networking site yesterday has doubled – from 9% to 19% – since 2010. Among adults younger than age 30, as many saw news on a social networking site the previous day (33%) as saw any television news (34%), with just 13% having read a newspaper either in print or digital form.
These are among the principal findings of the Pew Research Center’s biennial news consumption survey, which has tracked patterns in news use for nearly two decades. The latest survey was conducted May 9-June 3, 2012, among 3,003 adults.
The proportion of Americans who read news on a printed page – in newspapers and magazines – continues to decline, even as online readership has offset some of these losses. Just 23% say they read a print newspaper yesterday, down only slightly since 2010 (26%), but off by about half since 2000 (47%).The decline of print on paper spans beyond just newspapers. The proportion reading a magazine in print yesterday has declined over the same period (26% in 2000, 18% today). And as email, text messaging and social networking become dominant forms of communication, the percentage saying they wrote or received a personal letter the previous day also has fallen, from 20% in 2006 to 12% currently. There has been no decrease in recent years in the percentage reading a book on a typical day, but a growing share is now reading through an electronic or audio device.
The decline of print on paper spans beyond just newspapers. The proportion reading a magazine in print yesterday has declined over the same period (26% in 2000, 18% today). And as email, text messaging and social networking become dominant forms of communication, the percentage saying they wrote or received a personal letter the previous day also has fallen, from 20% in 2006 to 12% currently. There has been no decrease in recent years in the percentage reading a book on a typical day, but a growing share is now reading through an electronic or audio device.
While print sources have suffered readership losses in recent years, television news viewership has remained more stable. Currently, 55% say they watched the news or a news program on television yesterday, little changed from recent years. But there are signs this may also change. Only about a third (34%) of those younger than 30 say they watched TV news yesterday; in 2006, nearly half of young people (49%) said they watched TV news the prior day. Among older age groups, the percentages saying they watched TV yesterday has not changed significantly over this period.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Giving magic mushrooms a try

From the Financial Times of London comes the news that a  groundbreaking clinical trial funded by the British government to treat people with depression using a psychedelic extract of “magic mushrooms” is gearing up to start next year.
Past research has suggested that a single exposure to psilocybin could improve psychological health for a year and decrease other symptoms of depression for six months, suggesting it has considerable therapeutic potential for the half of patients for whom antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy have little effect.

Rewarding vexatious litigants

Letting the sexual harassment case go to trial would have led to a "lawyers' picnic" that could have extended well into next year the Attorney General informed us as a settlement was announced with House of Representatives Speaker Peter Slipper's staffer James Ashby. And that, of course, would never do. 
The middle of next year would be much too close to election day to risk the Commonwealth Government actually losing. Far better to hand over the $50,000 now and pretend, as Attorney General Nicola Roxon did, that the payment did not mean admitting doing anything wrong. 
On the contrary. Ms Roxon said the government did not resile from its argument "that the claim was vexatious". Better to reward vexatious litigants, apparently, than avaricious lawyers.
Unfortunately for a Labor Government anxious to avoid embarrassment in the run up to a polling day there still remains the main event of Mr Ashby's legal action against the Speaker himself. Ms Roxon made a rather pathetic plea for that case to be abandoned as well but the Ashby lawyers responded with talk of adding a writ for defamation into the mix. Presumably that line of argument will now be abandoned.
Mr Slipper is now left to defend his behaviour towards Mr Ashby all on his own and at his own expense. So far the government has not received a request to cover Mr Slipper's legal costs, but Ms Roxon said back in April that if such a request came forward it would be declined. No wonder that Mr Slipper is clinging to his full salary and expense entitlements as Speaker. He will need every dollar of them plus some I expect.
And as the bill keeps rising for the parliamentary Speaker who no longer appears in the parliamentary chamber the potential electoral damage for Labor rises as well.
Appointing Mr Slipper is one of those "seemed a good idea at the time" decisions that won't appear so when the votes are finally counted.

The Republican Brain: Constructing an Alternate Polling Reality for 2012 | Mother Jones

Another look at those American presidential election polls where Republicans are refusing (pretending?) to believe what they see in the numbers.
The Republican Brain: Constructing an Alternate Polling Reality for 2012 | Mother Jones:

'via Blog this'

Friday, 28 September 2012

A Democrat bias in the polls? Statistically, speaking that's bunk

A further note on those American opinion polls. 'Unskewing' polls with party ID is, statistically speaking, bunk | Harry J Enten | Comment is free |
The idea that current polling is 'too Democratic' and needs re-weighting for party identification simply doesn't pass muster. "The mainstream media is skewing its polls with too many Democrats because they want Obama to win." Statements like this one are zipping around the internet a mile a minute these days. The general idea is that there are too many respondents identifying as Democrats in public surveys compared to past elections' exit polls. There's even a website titled that purports to adjust media polls to correct for these errors, based on Rasmussen Reports data. "
'via Blog this'

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The misleading average of the opinion polls

When faced with a myriad of opinion polls all showing different results it is natural, I suppose, that people turn to an average of the findings to get a shorthand look at what is actually happening. So it is that the Real Clear Politics site with its RCP Average has gained such a following. But really, does this daily figure help or hinder an understanding of the likely voting intention of Americans at the forthcoming presidential election? On my, admittedly cursory examination, there are grounds for thinking that the RCP average is quite misleading.
The reason is simple. Not all pollsters use the same methods. Some are thorough and others are slipshod. They use a range of different measures to weight the findings from their actual interviews to try and make their published figure representative of people likely to vote. As the reliable British site UK Polling Report stresses, "by averaging quality polls will ropey ones you don’t get better figures, you just make the better ones worse."
And the evidence suggests that there are some "ropey" polls in the Real Clear Politics sample that distort the result.
Take Rasmussen for a start. Surely its results should not be taken seriously by anyone.
Some evidence. 
Since the beginning of April (I have chosen that starting date because it is when Gallup began running an Obama versus Romney question) the average result of all polls in the RCP sample puts Obama at 47.2% and Romney at 44.6% - a difference of 2.6 percentage points. Yet the average of the Rasmussen figures produces figures of Obama 45.6% and Romney 45.8%. An Obama win of 2.6 has become an Obama loss by 0.2!
Gallup also has tended to give an Obama figure lower than the total RCP average: Obama 46.4% to Romney's 45.7% - a difference of just 0.7 points..
Yet Gallup is one of the most respected pollsters in the country. Is this just one of those statistical aberrations that can happen or is there a reason? I have noticed on one blog site  the suggestion that Gallup assumes low African American turnout based on 2010 when others base on 2008 or allow the sample to be the sample without weighting.
The RCP Polling Summary
The difference between Obama and Romney since April
All polls - Obama +2.6
All polls without Rasmussen and Gallup - Obama +3.4
Rasmussen polls - Obama -0.2
Gallup polls - Obama +0.7

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Troubled about China

I start worrying when in countries with totalitarian governments like China we see demonstrations conducted with apparent government approval. Experience has taught me that there is invariably a reason not connected with what the demonstrators are complaining about. Hence my apprehension about the recent reports out of Beijing about crowds chanting anti-Japan slogans and surrounding the official car of the United States ambassador.
The fear must be that the Chinese rulers think a diversion from the country's economic problems is needed. If that is only half true then troubles are in store for Australia

Now for something more serious

My thanks to those readers who took the time to give me their answer to whether they had looked or not at those pictures of the topless princess. I'm somewhat reassured to know that the majority, like me, did not go searching the internet to have a peek but the high proportion who did confirms my view that trying to prohibit things is self defeating.
For the record here is the final result from my Australian poll on this question:
And from the poll I conducted on the US based site:

Now for something more serious. I wonder how many people have actually looked at that video that has  caused such anger within the Muslim community.
The form is HERE

Markets and polls

The longest running market on political events that I am aware of is the Iowa Electronic Markets conducted by faculty at the University of Iowa College of Business as part of its research and teaching mission. Here is an example of why I take notice of them and the others that are now available of the net in predicting outcomes.
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The political speculator's diary: Tempted to back Obama yet again but ...

The political speculator's diary: Tempted to back Obama yet again but ...: "If it wasn't for the cautionary words years ago of the most successful professional punter I know that I always have a tendency to "overbet", I'd be having more on Barack Obama to win this presidential election. To me he is looking more and more like a good thing every day but I do have a considerable proportion of my portfolio on him already. I've got to continually remind myself not to be foolhardy so I'm letting the current 68% or so available from Intrade pass but if you have not already invested on the event now is the time to do so." 'via Blog this'

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Peeking progress

My little survey or my readers on

The topless Princess - who has had a peek?

currently is as follows:

The political speculator's diary: He who hesitates ...

My instincts were right last week when I wrote that "the momentum seems to be in Julia Gillard's favour at the moment for her to lead Labor at the next election." She has since moved on the Crikey Indicator from being a 52% chance of still being in the job come election day to a 57% chance. 
A small earning opportunity missed but there will be others especially if the press gallery pundits continue to predict that if there is no push this year to put Kevin Rudd back in the job that it is all over red rover.The currently conventional wisdom is just nonsense as those of us old enough to remember the events of 1983 well recognise.
There are still swings and roundabouts to go in this Labor leadership contest.
The political speculator's diary: He who hesitates ...: 'via Blog this'

Monday, 17 September 2012

The topless Princess - who has had a peek?

I'm just curious about whether taking legal action to stop publication of something actually helps or hinders. Hence my interest in how many people have actually had a peek on the internet of those pictures of the the topless princess.
Do me a favour and fill in my form here.

Acrtic ice receding? Who cares.

If the judgment of my media peers is any guide I guess I've become a bit of a bore in my regular Crikey column by reporting on what is happening to the ice levels in the Arctic. Very few others seem to think it is a subject even worth mentioning. But somehow I still think that the rapid disappearance of ice cover in the northern hemisphere oceans isd a far more important story to be covering than the latest Australian opinion poll.
Here is this morning's map of Arc tic ice cover:
It is the lowest by far recorded since satellites first started recording the ice cover.
Global warming looks real enough to me.

Duck torture prevalent

Take a duck to water? Not likely. The only way most of those we eat can drink is from bell drinkers where they can not even duck their heads.
Torture is what I would call it. Read the RSPCA's description and make up your own mind.

A sad truth about Muslim violence

From the BBC website

Market moves Australian Labor's way

The betting market has interpreted today's confusing opinion polls (see the item Opinion polling nonsense) as indicating a slight improvement in Labor's chances of retaining government. The last time I calculated the Crikey Election Indicator a week or so ago Labor was rated only a 17% chance of hanging on. Tonight the Indicator puts it at just over 26%.
That surprises me somewhat but so too does the lack of market reaction to the chances of Julia Gillard still being Labor Leader at the time of the next election. That Indicator was relatively unmoved by today's polls.

Opinion polling nonsense

Take a look at these and tell me what it means.

Two party preferred voting intentions

  • Newspoll - Labor 50% Coalition 50%
  • Nielsen - Labor 47% Coalition 53%
  • Essential Research - Labor 45% Coalition 55%
All these results were published today by supposedly reputable pollsters. Pay your money and take your pick.

Stop Muslim migration? Prepare for a boat people invasion

When you have a neighbouring country with 180 million or so Muslim inhabitants within small boat travelling distance it's common sense not to set out to deliberately antagonise that religion. When the government of Indonesia is struggling to contain the same kind of mindless religious extremism that inflamed the weekend troubles in Sydney then the argument for being careful with your language should be even greater.
But not, apparently, if you bill yourself as "Australia's most read columnist." In the Melbourne Herald Sun this morning Andrew Bolt was in there stirring up the idea that Australia should consider stopping Muslims to emigrate here.
Now if you think a group of extremist hot heads preaching hate in Sydney is something to worry about, consider what it would be like for Australia if we offended Indonesian Muslims, moderate and extreme alike, by restricting all Muslim migration as Bolt suggests.
For a start we could kiss goodbye all those efforts of our government to stop the arrival on our shores of unwanted boat people. Frozen relations with Jakarta would allow an open slather of the so-called "people smuggling" trade. Handling a hundred thousand or so Muslim refugees a year would really test the compassion and goodwill of the Australian people.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Reinforcing Gillard's biggest negative

With all the skill to be expected from an accomplished publicist, Maxine McKew has begun the previews of her forthcoming book about political life and it is the Prime Minister Julia Gillard who should be worried most about what it says. This was the headline in the Sydney Daily Telegraph this morning:
It concentrated largely on Ms Gillard's weakest spot - the extent to which what she says can be believed.
 The book, Tales from the Political Trenches is due in bookshops in November but there will be far more teases about its contents before then.

Tony Wright's view to agree with

The Fairfax National Times website this morning contains one sensible summary of all the fuss about activities years ago of our current political leaders. Tony Wright writes:
The new story about Abbott's assault upon a wall, of course, blends into polls showing he's not popular with voters, particularly women, and the current broader outcry about bullying in the workplace and on social media. He walks with the rolling gait of a colonial boss on a plantation. He's got to be a bully … why, he's been one since he was 20, as the story proves.
It does nothing of the sort. If it did, everyone who has ever behaved like spoiled, overexcited and unrestrained jackasses when they were young would have to be judged by the same measure. To do so would be to deny that people are capable of growing up and learning a bit about acceptable behaviour.
Julia Gillard has recently confronted old allegations about her behaviour when she was a young lawyer. It all went to the narrative about whether she was a trustworthy character, her accusers declared.
In the absence of any further evidence, it actually boiled down to this: as a young woman, she helped out a boyfriend with the principal skill she had to offer at the time - legal advice. That the rotter then used that advice to funnel ill-gotten gains to his own purposes does not, on the evidence known, mean that Ms Gillard took any knowing part in that. She simply made a bad choice as a young person in love. Who hasn't?
There are politicians of all sides shifting uneasily about the latest delirium concerning Abbott the younger.
''Of all the reasons I have to object to the idea of Abbott becoming prime minister, his antics all those years ago at university aren't among them,'' a senior ALP senator told me yesterday. ''God, if anyone dredged up the things we did at university we'd all be buggered.''
Best, surely, to judge those who wish to be prime ministers on their current behaviour.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Sunday, 9 September 2012

When Do We Lie? When We’re Short on Time and Long on Reasons

It's the kind of study to keep in mind when considering whether a politician is telling the truth or not. In a study forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, psychological scientists Shaul Shalvi of the University of Amsterdam and Ori Eldar and Yoella Bereby-Meyer of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev investigated what factors influence dishonest behavior.
In the absence of the article itself being available I can only quote the press statement summary released by the academics for details:
Previous research shows that a person’s first instinct is to serve his or her own self-interest. And research also shows that people are more likely to lie when they can justify such lies to themselves. With these findings in mind, Shalvi and colleagues hypothesized that, when under time pressure, having to make a decision that could yield financial reward would make people more likely to lie. They also hypothesized that, when people are not under time pressure, they are unlikely to lie if there is no opportunity to rationalize their behavior.
“According to our theory, people first act upon their self-serving instincts, and only with time do they consider what socially acceptable behavior is,” says Shalvi. “When people act quickly, they may attempt to do all they can to secure a profit—including bending ethical rules and lying. Having more time to deliberate leads people to restrict the amount of lying and refrain from cheating.”
The researchers first tested participants’ tendency to lie when doing so could be easily justified: Approximately 70 adult participants rolled a die three times such that the result was hidden from the experimenter’s view. The participants were told to report the first roll, and they earned more money for a higher reported roll.
Seeing the outcomes of the second and third rolls provided the participants with the opportunity to justify reporting the highest number that they rolled, even if it was not the first – after all, they had rolled that number, just not the first time they rolled the die. Some of the participants were under time pressure, and were instructed to report their answer within 20 seconds. The others were not under time pressure, and had an unlimited amount of time to provide a response.
The experimenters were not able to see the actual die rolls of the participants, to ensure all rolls were private. Instead, in order to determine whether or not the participants had lied about the numbers they rolled, Shalvi and colleagues compared their responses to those that would be expected from fair rolls. They found that both groups of participants lied, but those who were given less time to report their numbers were more likely to lie than those who weren’t under a time constraint.
The second experiment followed a similar procedure, except that the participants were not given information that could help them justify their lies: instead of rolling their die three times, they only rolled it once and then reported the outcome. In this experiment, the researchers found that participants who were under time pressure lied, while those without a time constraint did not.
Together, the two experiments suggest that, in general, people are more likely to lie when time is short. When time isn’t a concern, people may only lie when they have justifications for doing so.
One implication of the current findings is that to increase the likelihood of honest behavior in business or personal settings, it is important not push a person into a corner but rather to give him or her time,” explains Shalvi. “People usually know it is wrong to lie, they just need time to do the right thing.”

Guantanamo Bay - a wonderful place for butterflies

Don't worry about the inmates at the Guantanamo Bay naval base - concentrate on the butterflies. That's the motto of a team of University of Florida scientists who have discovered a vast diversity of butterflies and moths on the apart of Cuba leased to the United States back in 1903.According to the researchers the land has unintentionally become a wildlife refuge, offering them the opportunity to better understand the island’s natural habitats. Located in the southeast corner of Cuba, its unique and complex geological history of volcanic activity, erosion and shifting sea levels resulted in geological deposits closely associated with marine environments.
“We are comparing the moths and butterflies collected at GTMO to those recorded from the U.S., Bahamas, other nearby islands and Central America,” said study co-author Jacqueline Y. Miller, curator of Lepidoptera at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity on the UF campus.
“With the historical geology of the area, there are some potentially new species and such surveys enable us to better understand the evolutionary history of butterflies and moths.”

Just thought you'd like to know that something good is coming out of Guantanamo Bay.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Media not all powerful in politics

The easy re-election victory of Sydney law mayor Clover Moore should give us reassurance that the media is not all powerful in how people vote. The city's biggest selling newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, and the top rating talk radio station 2GB have been almost hysterically anti-Moore for years. But today's vote has proved that people are quite capable of ignoring tabloid and shock-jock nonsense.

Tony Abbott and she said versus he said

I find myself feeling quite uneasy about the Abbott as bully story from this morning's Sydney Morning Herald:
So there we have what the SMH writer correctly describes as "a hugely damaging allegation" for which there are two completely different versions. One witness says something happened and the other says it didn't.
How should an allegation like this one be fairly reported? Should it be reported at all?
Perhaps when we have access to the full Quarterly Essay piece by David Marr there will at least be an attempt to find some corroborative evidence to support Barbara Ramjan's version.

Apec summit: President Hu's pledge on China economic growth

Some hopeful news from the Apec summit.
BBC News -  "Chinese President Hu Jintao has promised to maintain economic growth to support a global recovery, at the start of an Asia-Pacific summit in the Russian port city of Vladivostok."

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The sniping about Gillard's past continues

It takes a long time for political mud slinging to register with most voters. So nothing surprising to me that this morning's Newspoll in The Australian shows little change in how it expects people would vote if they were asked to do so now.
Labor would be soundly beaten at an election but perhaps do slightly better than predicted a fortnight ago. The stories about Prime Minister's relationship years ago woith a trade union official allegedly tickling the workers' funds have done no apparent her and her Labor Party.
But the drip, drip, drip of stories continue with the Sydney Daily Telegraph having this contribution on page five this morning after a pointer on page one.

As I keep writing, this is a story that will not go away.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Steve Gibbons - Labor's biggest fool?

Politicians might not like journalists. They might, in fact, despite them - think they are regular publishers of "blatant untruths." But threatening to fine journalists when they publish misleading or incorrect stories is hardly a way of turning publicity back in your favour. That policy would guarantee nothing more than a renewed expression of bias without any punishable factual errors.
Yet fines are exactly what the Labor member for Bendigo Steve Gibbons advocated in the House of Representatives today. The ABC reported:
Mr Gibbons, the Member for Bendigo, told Parliament that people were losing faith in journalism and voiced concerns about the lack of accountability in the sector.
He said recommendations from the Finkelstein independent review of the media did not go far enough and journalists should be fined for their errors.
"Fines such as these for publishing blatant untruths or misleading news reports, or temporary suspensions of the right to publish or broadcast, would lead to a major improvement in the accuracy and fairness of our media," he said.
Mr Gibbons said he supported free speech, but inaccurate reports degraded public debate on issues of national significance.
"When a media outlet, journalist or redneck shock jock deliberately broadcasts or publishes a statement that they know is factually wrong, and it is subsequently proven that they knew it was factually wrong, they ought to be subject to an appropriate penalty," he said.

Greece Austerity Plan Short by 2.5 Billion Euros as Crisis Intensifies

Greece Austerity Plan Short by 2.5 Billion Euros as Crisis Intensifies - SPIEGEL ONLINE: "Greek Shortfall Growing Ever Larger"
The news of the potentially greater financing needs comes at a sensitive time for the country. Many in Europe, particularly in Germany, are losing their patience and there has been increased talk of the country leaving the common currency zone. Over the weekend, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble reiterated his skepticism of additional aid to Greece. "We can't put together yet another program," he said on Saturday, adding that it was irresponsible to "throw money into a bottomless pit."
'via Blog this'

The Aussie Tim hitting the top of British Labour

Julia Gillard hired a Pom and in Britain Ed Miliband has gone for an Aussie. Albeit an Aussie with some Pommy credentials.
Tim Soutphommasane, drafted into the office of the UK Opposition Leader, might have served some brief time with Bob Carr when he was a Premier and Kevin Rudd during his successful election campaign but he did complete his Doctor of Philosophy in political theory at the University of Oxford, from where he also holds a Master of Philosophy degree (with distinction). Now he has been drafted in to UK Labour's policy review.
Of Chinese and Lao extraction, and a first-generation Australian, Tim was raised in the southwest suburbs of Sydney. On his website the explains for those curious about the correct pronunciation of his surname, that the phonetic spelling of it is Soot-pom-ma-sarn.
A recent interview for the New Statesman explained Soutphommasane's thesis, elaborated in his book Reclaiming Patriotism: Nation-Building for Australian Progressives, that the left must promote a common national identity if it is first to win and then retain power. "One of the reasons why you need to have a cohesive, collective identity in any liberal democratic society is that you need to have a sense of fellow feeling in order to redistribute resources."  Since societies have become more diverse, he said, "You can't take it for granted that citizens will have an identity in common or will be willing to contribute to the common good, and so you have to work hard to ensure that people feel like they belong to a community."
In that interview there was also a veiled criticism of the Australian party of which he is still a member. 
The Rudd-Gillard governments, he said, "have great achievements to their name – the apology to the indigenous people, the establishment of a carbon pricing scheme, the creation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, a massive school-building programme – but they’ve lacked a nation-building story, they’ve lacked a nation-building project."

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Record low Arctic ice looming.

With four weeks to go before the normal low point for Arctic ice coverage is reached, data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency shows a new record low is likely.
Click on graph for larger image

A story that keeps getting more attention

I've drawn attention a couple of times in my writings this year to how the dealings of Julia Gillard back in the 1990s with a former Australian Workers Union official accused of financial impropriety keep bubbling along as an embarrassment for the government. This weekend the story has left the realms of social media, blogging and email and gone mainstream. It was picked up by a couple of the Sunday morning political talks shows after receiving yet another run in The Australian and coverage in Sydney's Herald Sun.
And now the Liberal Party attack dog Christopher Pyne has made the subject one of open party political debate. He told Sky News there were very serious questions about the prime minister's integrity and she should make a personal explanation to parliament. Files held by Slater Gordon should also be released detailing the circumstances surrounding Ms Gillard's resignation. 'In the interest of clearing the prime minister's name, those files should be released,' the Manager of Opposition Business told Sky News.
Earlier on Sky News Prime Minister Gillard dismissed the report in The Australian with claims about why she quit her job with law firm Slater and Gordon.after the newspaper's editor at large, Paul Kelly, raised the story with her without putting any allegations to her. The report says Ms Gillard resigned as a partner with Slater and Gordon as a direct result of an internal probe into work she had done for a former boyfriend.
The Prime Minister responded by describing the story as "malicious nonsense" and challenged Mr Kelly to come up with an allegation of any wrongdoing on her part. "I'm not going to get myself into a circumstance where I spend my time dealing with a circumstance 17 years ago when the people who are asking the questions about them are unable to even articulate what it is they say I did wrong," she said. "This is just nonsense and a distraction from the important work that I have to do as Prime Minister."

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The verdict on the Thomson Oakes appearance

Hard to find a Craig Thomson supporter
  1. KateWall28
    Laurie Oaks drilling embattled MP Thompson...this is quality Saturday morning tv! #todayshow #laurieoakes#auspolitics #scandal
  2. thetodayshow
    Here is @LaurieOakes interview with @DobellThommo. It's in two parts
  3. McBen9
    Wot r the chances of hearing or reading Craig Thomson's name without the word "embattled" in front of it anytime soon? #juststopwritingit.
  4. Rob_Stott
    Watching Laurie Oakes just calmly sit there and pick Craig Thomson apart is just magnificent.
  5. Bill Murray
    Craig...'the devil made me do it'....Thomson. I have never cringed as much as I have just done watching Laurie Oakes interviewing Craig Thomson. Can you believe this creature was earning $300 000 pa and still managed, according to a report by a government body (FWA) to use inappropriately $500 000 of money belonging to the lowest paid workers in our society. Some people are so low thay can mage to slither under a snake's belly.
  6. PlayThinkInc
    Craig Thompson hires Hollywood scriptwriter to craft backstory. Storyline includes:alien abduction, amnesia & Timetravel. #auspolitics
  7. Kate_McClymont
    Is Craig Thomson delusional? Here is a guide to his Parallel Universe
  8. thedoctorsaid
    Thanks goodness #Craig_Thomson was set up. I thought for a moment he might have done all those terrible things he's alleged to have done.
  9. steveblizard
    Craig Thomson is unluckiest guy in the world for getting on wrong side of such a brilliant criminal mastermind. #auspol
  10. FatherBob
    Is there a formula of public repentance available for accusers if Craig Thomson is as innocent as he so publicly proclaims?
  11. deefrawley
    How stupid does Craig Thomson think the Australian public are?
  12. mikjeffo
    Craig Thomson is either really stupid, or he thinks we all are.
  13. Zero_SugarCoat
    Anyone wanna see a very bad liar watch Craig Thomson with Lawrie Oakes #ummarhh #itwasn'tme
  14. McDonnellTed
    After watching the Craig Thomson interview three times and reading the transcript I feel the poor bloke has mental issues
  15. TheMattRichards
    Either Craig Thomson has been subject to the most sophisticated stitch up of all time or he has completely lost touch with reality #auspol
  16. misterarto
    Well name the perpetrator and sic the cops on to him - HSU hooker scandal was a set-up - Craig via @sharethis
  17. brisbanite
    If Craig Thomson's theory is accurate then kudos to whoever pulled it off! #auspol
  18. Paul McDougall
    I wuz framed! HSU officials must be incredibly clever to pull this off, and wouldn't be caught removing documents during a police raid (doh, wait that happened).
  19. Kaye Forsyth
    And the tooth fairy is real. Just saying
  20. Moderatesparty
    According to polls so far, 95% of the people don't believe Craig Thomson.
  21. DennisCometti
    The only person feeling more pressure in Canberra than Guy McKenna right now is Craig Thomson. #aflgiantssuns
  22. abcnews
    Abbott says an interview in which Craig Thomson claims he hsa been set up is an alibi for the PM to retain his vote
  23. HillbillySkill
    So,Tory Abbott doesn't believe Craig Thomson's story? And you believe self-confessed liar Tory Abbott because?
  24. JennyPescud
    @TonyAbbottMHR Tony do you and your party ever consider that tragic repercussions may result in your pursuit of Craig Thomson. Suicide????
  25. MayneReport
    Craig Thomson is now blaming Michael Williamson for setting him up. So why is his daughter Alexandra Williamson still a Gillard staffer?