April 26, 2019

Horse 2536 - The Trouble With "The Trouble With BernieCare"

The thing about Facebook and my general reluctance to engage with the site, is that I know that the platform itself has been optimised to keep people's eyeballs on it for as long as possible. One of the ways that it does this is by co-opting us into becoming both receivers and generators of outrage. The old adage of the newspaper business of "if it bleeds, it leads" has not only become a central engine of how Facebook works but the principle of the algorithm which is designed to pour light pollution into our eyes for as long as possible.
I generally find inspirational posts vapid, pictures of smiling people on holiday sadness inducing (as clearly everyone else in the world is having a funner time than I am), and pictures of babies boring. I am the owner of a nineteenth century brain which demands walls of text and a thousand words in place of a picture.
The scary thing is that Facebook knows that I like following politics and I suspect that the people who know me and follow me also know this. Consequently, I occasionally get tagged in posts on Facebook which people think that I might be interested in but in actual fact, they turn out to be partisan waffle pieces which are of lower quality than I could have written. This week I was tagged in a post on Facebook from Joe Grogan; who I already knew was director of the White House's Domestic Policy Council.
This piece in particular, made my hackles, feckles and schmeckles stand up; thus, fulfilling Facebook's main objective of making me both a receiver and generator of outrage.

To set the scene. United States Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders presented a Medicare-for-all bill to the US House of Representatives, on Wednesday 17th April. To call the legislation ambitious is an understatement. If we ignore politics for a second, the passage of the bill which would abolish the private health insurance industry and establish the equivalent of Britain's National Health Service, would be the single most disruptive piece of social policy passed in America in the twenty-first century. If we don't ignore politics and instead play out here in the real world, the legislation is impossible to pass.
Getting a simple majority in the Senate is hard. Getting a veto proof majority of 67 votes is impossible. Getting Republicans to agree with a piece of legislation which has been proposed by an independent running further to the economic left than their sworn enemies, would be as likely as President Trump submitting himself for impeachment and then running the case for the prosecution. It ain't never gonna happen, no way, no how.

Nevertheless, Joe Grogan, the director of the White House's Domestic Policy Council, wrote a piece for RealClearPolitics which is an "ideologically diverse" political news aggregator, which is amazingly paranoid in every paragraph. Dubbed BernieCare, the legislation is never going to ever reach committee stage and exists as a signal of intent. A lot would fundamentally need to change before the United States started doing anything even approaching a single payer, let alone establishing anything like the National Health Service of the UK.

Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a bill that would end health care as we know it, and Americans should thank him for letting us see where the Democrats want to take the country. Its central premise appears to be that Washington bureaucrats know better than patients and doctors.

Let me just start here by stating the obvious that neither patients nor doctors actually run or manage the health system. Patients are clients who use the services of the system. Doctors are employees of the system, whose job it is to give treatment to heal the sick. Private hospitals, insurance companies, health management organisations, all have their own internal bureaucracies. The only place where you get doctors running their own internal bureaucracies is where you have private practices where you have sole proprietors or small partnerships of less than about 50 members.

But as if taking health care choices from patients isn't bad enough, this bill also hurts seniors, eliminates private health insurance for nearly 180 million Americans, wipes out Medicare Advantage for over 22 million, and harms our economy for generations to come. It doesn't stop there: For good measure, the bill removes critical support for children and service members' families while providing free care to illegal immigrants.

YES! Oh, happy day. Eliminating private health insurance is possibly the single best thing that could possibly happen to the health care system. Insurance works best when you have the pool of risk inside the pool most closely matching the insurance risk of the general population of insurable items. Any position less than 100% of the population buying into the system means that because the people who are likely to want insurance are also likely to want to be paid out of that same system, then by definition private health insurance covers a higher proportion of bad risks than it otherwise would have done.

I do not understand this argument in principle. I am forty years old and although my eyeballs have decided to call time on short distances, I am otherwise fit and healthy. I am the classic midpoint in life which splits expected health care outcomes in twain. In general, everyone who is younger than me only presents themselves to a doctor because of the usual sorts of minor complaints that people expect and the biggest reason that people who are younger than me die is because of catastrophic physical injury. In general, everyone who is older than me, presents themselves to doctors because they have more chronic and ongoingly slow diseases and complaints. Ever since the invention of basic public health care measures like the supply of potable clean water, the removal of sewerage, and pathogen control, the classic childhood diseases like measles, typhoid, cholera and influenza were mostly controlled by the 1920s. Taken as a whole of life study, the people who are most likely to use health care services, are old people.
Again, it appears as though the whoever wrote this has never been to either a GP's office, a specialist, or a hospital in their life. Health care hierarchies for treatment are worked out on a sliding scale of immediacy and urgency. There isn't exactly a preference to necessarily treat old people and so the idea that younger people are going to create some sort of demand pushed distortions is complete hogwash.

According to estimates from nonpartisan experts, BernieCare could cost taxpayers more than $32 trillion over the next 10 years. Sanders decided a health care bill is a good place to direct our taxpayer dollars toward illegal immigrants rather than put America First. BernieCare allows the government to define who counts as a resident of the United States and makes all residents eligible for "free" health care. It's always good to see wealthy foreigners from socialist health systems like Mick Jagger come to the U.S. to pay for the best care in the world, but the senator from Vermont wants to give it away to any foreigner for free, courtesy of American taxpayers.

$32 trillion sounds like an awful lot of money but when you consider that US health care system already cost $3.5 trillion in 2017, then if you use the estimates from nonpartisan experts, then that would be $35 trillion over 10 years. BernieCare even according to this shabby hit piece from the current White House would save $5 trillion. That's 14% saved right there. If you can save 14% on anything and especially on a scale this big, you would be either stark raving insane not to accept it.

As for the argument that the American will be overrun by people from overseas, I
do not understand this argument at all. It is almost as if whoever wrote this piece is willfully facetious.
Let's assume that illegal immigrants pour across international borders for the sole purpose of obtaining health care. It is of course a stupid assumption but since we're playing in the backyard of idiocy, we may as well make pies from their mud puddle. Health care is not like a buffet. You do not load up on health care as though it were a succulent Chinese meal.
People either present themselves to a general practitioner in the first instance because they have an ongoing problem with their health, or they present themselves to a triage unit because of accident or emergency. In the case of the former, that will involve a measured and lengthy process to establish a course of treatment and ongoing management and in the case of the latter, the immediate and present danger (in some cases that someone will die) will be evaluated by the A&E Department of the receiving clinic (which is often a hospital).
The truth is that people who have chronic health problems generally do not cross international borders unless the conditions in their own countries are so terrible that the risk is worth it. Also, if your country denies basic treatment to someone who is clearly in so much distress that they have presented themselves to the A&E Department of a hospital and your country chooses to deny basic immediate treatment to them, then your country is scum. Health Care isn't a right in the United States, which says more about what business people who actually control the country think about 'We the people' than anything else. Health Care should be provided without fear or favour.
Also, why mention Mick Jagger? That's a bizarre cultural reference which belongs in a past which generations younger than I would find completely irrelevant.

Lest anyone think that there would be no room for private insurance in Sanders' new system, he has clarified that wealthy people would be able to pay for hair transplants and nose jobs. And to keep the pesky citizenry from complaining about essential treatments that could save their lives or the lives of their loved ones, his plan would ban all advertising for health care products and services. You see, if the government can keep Americans totally ignorant of what's out there, then it's easier for them to tell us we are out of options and make us suffer in silence.

I hate to say it (because it's so mind-numbingly obvious that it warrants banging one's head on the table) but drug advertising is stupid in principle.
The reason why firms think that it is a good idea to pay to put their messages and propaganda in front of people's eyeballs is that they have the expectation that people will be persuaded to buy their product (and the rather idiotic fact that US law compels drug companies to produce public information about their product). I don't have a problem with that necessarily but drugs are one of those goods where all the advertisements in the world aren't going to make a lick of difference. The idea behind advertising is to create a desire in people to buy the product and this pushes the demand curve upwards.
The only problem with it (and it is a fundamental problem) is that desire is not the driver for drug purchases. If you have a disease of the kidneys which is helped by a specific chemical which is delivered by a drug, then advertising to you is pointless because it is your doctor who is authorised to sign off on the prescription. If you don't have that disease of the kidneys, then no amount of advertising is going to make you buy it because not only are you barred from its purchase but unless you are out of your freaking mind, what the cheese and biscuits are you buying that medicine for in the first place?

The second reason why drug advertising is clinically stupid (I performed the double-blind test) is that advertising is an input cost which makes the product more expensive. It is impossible to make a thing cheaper and more accessible by making it more expensive. What good reason is there for putting advertising on television to tell people about a drug if they cannot use it, or alternatively if they need it? The general public aren't pharmacologists, so telling them about a drug is mostly pointless because they cannot possibly know what the effects of any drug is going to be in concert with their existing medication. Unless to say that Mr Grogan just really likes those adverts because he secretly gets to laugh every time, they mention death and/or anal leakage.
The only entities which benefit from higher drug prices is the drug companies; which have motives running almost exactly counter to the general public.

To be fair, Sanders did identify a few areas for cost savings in his bill. In what appears to be an effort to make sure military families do not receive the special support they deserve; he proposes to abolish Tricare. The military is not the only group targeted by this plan. The Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would also be eliminated under Sander's vision. And of course, seniors would lose their specialized support as everyone else floods into Medicare and claims scarce resources.

Good. Those programs only need to exist because the current system needs to be pushed to provide a basic standard of health care to vulnerable people. If literally everyone was included, then specific legislation to curb the bad behaviour of private companies does not need to exist. And as for the suggestion that children and seniors would lose their specialised support, that's only because that support is extended.
This whole argument is like claiming that racists have their vote diluted because of the expansion of the franchise.

Sanders' legislation allows for the secretary of Health and Human Services to consult a broad array of institutions when deciding how to implement his Utopian vision of health care. Organized labor, Indian tribes, various medical associations, and unspecified "business groups" make the cut, as do other federal agencies. Noticeably absent are Jewish and Catholic hospitals, which play a critical role in American health care delivery. BernieCare may not have room for religious providers in its America.

You've just laid out one of the fundamental principles of why this is good legislation. The Department of Health and Human Services should consult with all of the relevant stakeholders. That is how you get governance with a greater degree of consensus.
The line about Jewish and Catholic hospitals being absent from consultation, is clearly dogwhistling and if scrutinised properly, is a call to violate the First Amendment. Granted that religious based institutions should retain the right to practice their beliefs in action but what exactly does a government agency have to say about and to a religious institution other than regulatory oversight?

The Trump administration agrees that there are real problems in U.S. health care, but the solutions do not include fewer choices and more power handed to bureaucrats to make health care decisions for American patients. Medical care has gotten too expensive, but we should be working together to get costs down; not using health care costs as a backdoor to reshape the economy of this great country. We should build on what works and fix what's broken. That is why President Trump is working to protect people with pre-existing conditions, end surprise medical bills, increase the transparency of medical costs, lower drug prices, expand access to affordable coverage options, increase patient choice, stop the spread of HIV, end the opioid epidemic, transform kidney care, and accelerate therapies for paediatric cancer.

The Trump Administration and the Republicans in Congress while they had control of both houses, made it a headline policy to "repeal and replace Obamacare'. Having successfully done the first, there has never been legislation put forward to achieve the second part of that ambition. How exactly do you achieve lower costs for medical care when the interested parties who provide said services, have the profit motive baked into their very being?

As I've said in the past, if Bernie Sanders or his colleagues want to get serious about addressing any of these issues, they should know that the White House doors will always be open. Let's work together to confront the problems of health care affordability and access, and do it together, in a bipartisan fashion.

As we've seen in the past, while the White House doors might be open, there has been very little if any attempt to find solutions in a bipartisan fashion. Notwithstanding the fact that the current administration lacks the necessary skill to make deals with its own side of politics, much less the other side of the aisle.

Joe Grogan is director of the White House's Domestic Policy Council.

Joe Grogan is a former lobbyist for drug giant Gilead Sciences before joining OMB in 2017, and had repeatedly put forward plans for rolling back parts of the Affordable Care Act through regulation.

Of course, he is allowed to make criticism of legislation put forward by his political opponents but both he and I and Bernie Sanders know that this legislation will never be passed. This is one of those things that would die before it ever got to committee stage. Why does it exist? Because this is about course setting. Quite frankly, the United States should have done everything in the bill by about the end of 1948. Bernie's bill is a practical enactment of some of the clauses by FDR.
The fact that this discussion about what health care looks like is being had in 2019 instead of 70 years ago means that people like Joe Grogan have been winning for a very long time and they have no intention to dismantle the economic advantage that they personally sit on.

April 24, 2019

Horse 2535 - Ou Said, Ou Said - On Genderless Pronouns

Speaking as someone who works in a field where writing letters is often fraught with the possibility that someone else wants to be litigious and sue the pants, shirt and hide of you, I have long come to the conclusion that all Mr, Mrs and Ms titles should be dropped from correspondence. It is my experience that you are guaranteed to offend someone at some point and so it is simply not worth the hassle. Titles like Dr, Prof, and Sgt. should on the other hand be retained as titles of rank, honour and/or valour are almost always earned through very hard work.

Just before the Easter recess, we had the problem of writing a report for a family law case in which the two antagonists were called Jo and Sam. We weren't told of the gender of either of them; so making an assumption was impossible. Our report was written with their names as much as possible and of we did need to refer to someone obliquely with a pronoun, we used the catch all terms "they", "theirs" and "them". Nevertheless one of the two parties still complained and demanded that we use "Xe" and "Xyrs" pronouns. We refused. We refused not only because this sounded like a deliberately vexatious request but also because those pronouns are so non standard that running them through a spell checker seemed like an equally vexatious request. In essence we refused because this was an unnecessary make work task.
This as you would expect caused that party to fly into what can only be described as the most elegantly controlled rage in history; as though Jacob Rees-Mogg and Brian Sewell were having an argument over the parsing of a Latin verb. We however found an equally elegant solution to this, and fought velvet with ermine.

I don't mind the argument that we shouldn't use the usual cisgender-specific pronouns for non-standard gender identifying people because if we don't respect someone's preferences, we deny their humanity but at what point is this just ridiculous? I understand that it is wrong to use pronouns that deny someone's identity and that should be enough to see why we should use gender-neutral pronouns for non-binary people, but at what point is this just being used as a minefield?
I am officially declaring that I have have enough of this whole box and dice. Put it on a balloon to the moon. Put it in a box, then put the box in the bin, then fire the bin into the sun, then hurl the sun into a black hole. Stick a fork in me, I'm done.

Somewhere in the mists of time and between time immemorial¹ and Samuel Johnson's dictionary², that bastard child we call the English language, had its own gender tantrum and started to throw off all the genders for things which the Normans had imposed upon it. To be fair, that is a sensible course of action in my opinion because there is no inherent reason why a table, a bag, a house, a tree, a book, or a banana, need to have a gender assigned to them. I don't see what the net benefit to either the language or society actually is.
As for the gender of people, that's a different kind of question.

From a cold biological standpoint, there are either animated creatures that are male, female, or those which don't fit nicely into the first two categories. Of course I realise the incredible difficulties that people face if they are different and I don't want to diminish what is a very serious set of lived experience, however, everything in the world can be fit easily into the three categories of this, that and the other. What people quite reasonably object to, especially people who suffer as a result, is that the category of other results in the othering of people.
The English language which was perfectly adept at throwing off the gender of objects, already arrived at the solution of what to do about the gender of people in about the 12th century from what I can gather.

There appears to be a dialectal epicene pronoun, of the singular "ou": "'Ou will' expresses either he will, she will, or it will. I think that it works very well:
Ou went to the shops and bought some carrots.
Ous car broke down and ou had to ring roadside assistance.
It works so well because it sounds like it is derived from the same source as the word 'you' and we already have no problem at all with the word 'you' already being genderless. You are reading this and I can address you without needing to care what gender you are. It also doesn't sound particularly cold either because there isn't any sense of othering when it contains all of you.

I don't think that I'm likely to change many people's opinions on the subject of dropping cisgendered pronouns from everyday speech altogether but it seems to me to be the better solution than trying to invent a multitude of pronouns for small cases. The English language which is adept at accepting big solutions to solve problems, already solved this one for us.

In the end we went with the solution that the English language had given us oh so many years ago. The clients were fine with that and the report was presented not with
"Xe" and "Xyrs" and pronouns but with "Ou" and "Ous" pronouns and they were fine with it, whoever ou was.
I took this one step further and wrote a letter to the Law Society of NSW but they've politely told me where to go and how to get there. Their solution is one of deliberate inactivity which considering that is the Law Society is completely in keeping with their usual modus operandi. I on the other hand have to live in the firing line of complaints; which in family law cases may or may not be vexatious.

¹after 6 July 1189
²before 15 April 1755

Note: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ou
Pronoun (third-person singular, genderless)
(obsolete or dialectal) he, she, it

April 19, 2019

Horse 2534 - Bluey

Before we proceed, I have to lay down some basic information.
I am forty years old and I do not have any children. I usually find the childrens' television that I am subjected to while standing in line at the bank, both tedious and confusing.
Paw Patrol in particular annoys me to the back teeth and I really have no idea why anyone would want to live in a town with an incompetent mayor and a boy who clearly has far too much money and has amassed his own private unholy army of dogs. Dora the Explorer and Diego both need to go, go, into the jungle and stay there. Fireman Sam which has been CGI'd for the 21st Century, has been rendered both soulless and pointless.

Imagine therefore, the gears in my brain shifting from 2nd to 5th without first engaging the clutch, in a shower of spark and wonderment at a childrens' television program which I found both charming and wonderful. That program is Bluey on ABC Kids and iView.
I suppose that Bluey is the Australian equivalent of Peppa Pig and appears to have been funded in a similar arrangement, with Cebeebies, ABC Kids and Screen Queensland. Bluey is a show about a family of Blue Heeler dogs, living in what is presumably suburban Brisbane or perhaps somewhere else in Queensland. The family is made of Chili (Mum) who is a part time worker at airport security, Bandit (Dad) who is an academic archaeologist and self proclaimed rock star, and the two girls Bingo and Bluey (the eponymous character of the show).
I think that the show is inadvertently a pretty good snapshot of suburbia in Australia in the 21st Century.

Mum is obviously the more capable of the two parents but unlike other television shows, it doesn't lean into the well worn trope where mum is capable and dad is a complete buffoon. This is because he appears to be home more during the day and is making time for his kids. Mum and Dad don't berate each other; they actually appear to like each other; they also like their kids. Basically Chili and Bandit are both winning at parenting.

I suppose that the thing that I am loving the most about this series is that although it definitely has messages like 'be brave' or 'speak up' or 'don't be too rough with your kids', it isn't preachy about it, and celebrates the simple things like going to the park, taking rubbish to the dump, or going the local takeaway shop.
The house that they live in is a two storey house at the top of a hill and at the end of a cul-de-sac, and has both those decorative things above the doors which ventilate the house as well as those peculiar vents that you get at the top of walls only in Queensland and the Northern Territory. This is a show which is grounded in a place that can be nowhere else but unashamedly Australia and specifically Brisbane.

- That's obviously Big Willie at 1 William St, Brisbane; The "Tower of  Power"

The thing that both 7.30 on ABC 1, or AM on Radio National, or the Sydney Morning Herald wanted to make a lot of noise about was that the show's producers have insisted that when it is sold to overseas audiences in the UK, the US, Canada, New Zealand etc. that it remains intact and that the accents and idioms remain. The show isn't stereotypically 'strayan Australian but it is distinctive enough that it deserves to be respected as is. There's something joyful in the fact that the people who made the thing, take enough pride in it that they don't want it disturbed. We are so used to having television from other countries show up in Australia, that exporting this show is almost a reply of 'we can do this too, you know'. It not only does that, it does it so well that is the most downloaded television show in iView's history and possibly the most downloaded show in the history of television in Australia.

The biggest problem that Australian film in particular has always had is that it has needed to try and be quirky or weird, just to be heard. Australian television apart from soap opera being exported to the UK, almost never goes anywhere else at all other than New Zealand. Bluey tries neither to be quirky or weird because it doesn't have to try. It does the far harder thing of being honest and good. The show looks as slick as anything else in the world and wouldn't at all look out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon lineup at 8am in average America; say on WFYI-TV in Indianapolis (which is about the most average place in America) for instance. Also because each episode is only 7 minutes long, it fits perfectly into advertising schedules.

Of course I realise that I am not in any way the target audience for this show and to be honest, I don't care. My TV viewing contains maths and science and politics and quizzes and Scandi crime drama and politics and sport and now an extra spot of joy.
One of the things that childrens' television does very well that so called grown up television doesn't do is tell stories where the world could be better. Fairy tales are childish but no child has the expectation that that is how the world actually is. The biggest difference between childrens' stories and big peoples' stories is many levels of complexity and the creeping notion that the real world outside is cruel and indifferent to you. That's one of the pre-made lies of big peoples' stories (and also sport), that there are rules and protocols which stories follow and that things resolve themselves in nice endings. That almost never happens in the real world. In an episode of Bluey, there is a minor complication which ties up nicely in seven minutes and while that's obviously not true to life, this is a cartoon and that's fine. The big world outside is going to be cruel and scary but here, wrapping things up nicely in seven minutes and doing it with joy, is the greatest show on television at the moment.

April 18, 2019

Horse 2533 - In Response To The IPA's List Of Demands

The IPA which was founded in 1943 by G.J.Coles of Coles Supermarkets, H.G.Darling the then Chairman of BHP, G.H.Grimwade who was Director of Drug Houses of Australia, Sir Keith Murdoch of the  The Herald & Weekly Times and L.J.McConnan who was head of The National Bank of Australasia which would later merge into what is now the NAB, was from what I can determine a kind of slush fund which was set up by big business for the sole purpose of paying and lobbying for non-Labor political interests. Out of the ashes of what was the United Australia Party, the beginnings of the Liberal Party of Australia were founded by a similar group of people.
It was so suspicious at the time that the Commonwealth Police had to investigate the IPA for its links with facism. They didn't find any of course but if facism is the doctrine of combining authoritarian power with right-wing, politics, then the IPA flies roughly in a similar direction.
Their latest offering which is more or less a new list of demands on their political lap dog, is like previous lists of demands but having been released in an election cycle, is one of the most visible attempts at manipulation. It is though the puppeteer has moved from behind the curtain and is openly pulling the strings.

I have been through the IPA's list of demands and have provided an ill-thought out opinion on them. Seeing as I find them already to be mostly contemptible, I think that I am being hideously generous to give them an airing.


1. Remove all references to race in the Constitution

Section 25 states:
For the purposes of the last section, if by the law of any State all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the people of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of that race resident in that State shall not be counted.

Operationally no persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections. This section is functionally neutered. I would however prefer to see this remain in the Constitution as a reminder of the legal scar which we have wrought in history. Removing this would be whitewashing a tragic past.

Also, Section 51 states:
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:
(xxvi) the people of any race , for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws;

There might be a good reason to protect people if they are being harmed, on the basis of race.

Australia has a terrible history when it comes to dealing with the first peoples of this land. If we actually were to to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to the people of Aborginals races and make special laws to rememdy the ongoing systemic injury, then Section 51 (xxvi) is still fit for purpose; even if that purpose is different to what the framers of the Constitution thought it was back in 1900.

2. Repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (1975)

Are you still banging on about this? The reason why Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is to allow remedy where someone has been injured as the result of someone else exercising their speech. No right should be unlimited and should be hedged in by law.
The only reason that the IPA cares about this is because News Corp and the Herald-Sun has falled foul of the law and was found guilty.

3. Withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement
The Paris Climate Agreement will increase the cost of electricity production by at least $52 billion by 2030 without making any noticeable difference to the environment.

The end of this line is vexatious considering that the IPA doesn't actually believe in climate change anyway. The only reason why the IPA cares about this is because their income stream is mostly likely derived in part from the coal industry.

4. Implement a flat income tax

Its interaction with the welfare system also creates welfare traps through high effective marginal tax rates which keeps too many Australians poor and trapped in a poverty cycle.

What the heck? If you are on such a low income that you are relying on welfare, you are not on a "high effective marginal tax rate". This is just bonkers. Who wrote this? I would fail them in a class for just writing garbage.

The whole point of progressive taxation is that the marginal utility of income goes down as income increases. $1 means far more to someone who only has a few to rub together, as opposed to someone swimming in them. There are 20 slices in a loaf of bread, which is useful for five lunches. Someone spending $10 a week for lunch more closely feels the value of that $1 them someone spending $25 for one lunch. Likewise, someone on a higher income who derives a greater reward from the functioning of the economy, is less liekly to miss that $1 missing. If you think of progressive taxation as progressive discounts of taxation for poorer people, you have a better understanding of why it is so.

5. Reduce the corporate tax rate to below 20 per cent, in line with competitor nations

Who cares what other nations do? Besides which, when a great deal of the ASX actually have an effective corporate tax rate of zero, then this point is meaningless. Besides which, due to the dividend imputation system, tax ends up being taxed in the hands of the final recipient anyway; some of whom get refunds.

6. Appointment of High Court Justices to be rotated between the six states and the Commonwealth

Section 72 of the Constitution states:
The Justices of the High Court and of the other courts created by the Parliament:
(i)  shall be appointed by the Governor-General in Council;

It seems that whoever wrote this doesn't have a basic understanding of law, or the Constitution. This proposal could be enacted but not without a referendum first. Quite frankly, I would be embarrassed if I wrote this. Whoever did write this should hang their head in shame for failing to do the most basic of research.

7. Double the size of the House of Representatives, and halve the size of the Ministry

Owing to the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, the Electoral Commissioner must ascertain the number of the people in each electorate and the number of enrolled voters in each division cannot vary by more than 10% from the average across a state or territory, nor can the number of voters vary by more than 3.5% from the average projected enrolment three and a half years into the future.

Section 24 of the Constitution states:
The House of Representatives shall be composed of members directly chosen by the people of the Commonwealth, and the number of such members shall be, as nearly as practicable, twice the number of the senators.

I suppose that doubling the size of the House of Representatives, and halving the size of the Ministry, could be done; but the number of Senators would also have to increase accordingly and I just don't see why we need another 225 MPs right now.

8. Privatise the ABC
In a free society the government should not own and operate its own media company.


This is presented as fact. In a free society, we should be able to collectively own things; after all, we are a Commonwealth and the idea of nationhood is that together, this is a collective enterprise. Maybe the only thing that needs to go away is the IPA. Preferably into a bin.

9. Re-introduce the debt ceiling

The United States government consistently shows that a government which is unable to pay its bills as the result of self imposed rules on parliament is monumentally stupid; as is this proposal.

10. Hold a Royal Commission into the Bureau of Meteorology’s tampering with temperature and climate data


Is this some sort of tinfoil hat conspiracy thing? Actually yes. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, while in the top job, considered investigating the Bureau of Meteorology’s  data following claims in The Australian newspaper in 2014 that the bureau was "wilfully ignoring evidence that contradicts its own propaganda". The Australian had no basis for the claim.

This proposal needs to die.

11. Abolish compulsory superannuation
Compulsory superannuation is a tax on workers’ wages which is coercively redistributed to the Unions.

This is an outright lie. Superannuation is the mechanism by which individuals are forced to save for retirement. If this were to happen, then compulsory superannuation contributions would greatly reduce by unscrupulous employers and the future burden of making sure that old people do not starve would be placed back onto the Commonwealth.

12. Abolish the Renewable Energy Target and end all subsidies to wind, solar, and hydro-electricity generators

Which member of the coal lobby is paying the IPA? Do we have a right to know that? Presumably whoever is touting for this also wants to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement.

13. Introduce a one-in-two-out approach to reduce red tape

What does this even mean? Regulations exist for reasons other than purely having regulations. A standard electrical wall outlet for instance, has not quite 300 various regulations surrounding it, to ensure that buildings don't burn down. I prefer not dying in burning buildings.

14. Repeal the Fair Work Act


15. Legalise nuclear power in Australia

Actually, this is about the only thing on this whole list which I have some sympathy for. Since we already supply uranium overseas and store nuclear waste, it seems a shame to waste this resource.

There is also stated "5 policies the Coalition should not implement but will", as though the IPA wants to yell at the Liberal Party for not coming to heel.

1. Do not hold a Referendum to divide Australians by race
2. Do not raise taxes
3. Do not raise spending
4. Do not proceed with Snowy 2.0
5. Do not introduce new anti-discrimination laws

How about 6? Do not listen to the IPA for they are economic terrorists.

Regarding that, a good definition for economic terrorism is:
Repeated destabilizing actions in order to disrupt the economic and financial stability of the state, for ideological and monetary motives.

How are they not? Under what measure are the IPA not economic terrorists? Moreover, why should the Federal Government be beholden to a list of demands from a bunch of unelected and shadowy knaves? Also, considering that we are in the middle of a Federal Election campaign, is there some method to vote the IPA off the island?
I certainly think that we shouldn't give into their list of demands. 93% of them are rubbish.

April 17, 2019

Horse 2532 - Throwing Facts Into The Lake Of Political Discourse After It Has Been Polluted By Weaponised Garbage

One of the great paradoxes of the 21st century, the information age, and the internet, is that despite having access to seemingly endless piles of data and information, as well as access to properly researched and cogitated articles, the amount of willful ignorance about how the world works and a denial of facts themselves, is not prevalent but rampant. There is an outright rejection of a lot of science, data, and common sense, if it is useful in fulfilling the prejudices of the person who wants to believe in garbage.
People are able to buy into whatever crazy insane garbage that they want to (climate change denial, anti-vaxxing, flat earth theory, etc.) and find all of the necessary support that they need to back up whatever claptrap they choose. Such people are impervious to facts and reason and will often attack the credibility of what you present them with, or launch into various logical fallacies. The great paradox of the information age is that people actively avoid genuine information in favour of weaponised garbage.

The Franking Credit issue which has been brought up by the Labor Party during this election cycle, has been met with opposition from people who are rationally self-interested in maintaining their economic advantage. This has been merrily helped along by the Member for Goldstein¹ and probably still paid employee of the IPA, Tim Wilson, who has successfully gone on a Franking Credits 'Roadshow' at public expense and has not only weaponised garbage but done so for political gain. The problem with throwing weaponised garbage into the lake of political discourse is that anyone who wants to swim around in it, often loses all sense of clarity.

I don't really have a dog in the fight of politics in Australia because in the forty years that I have been alive, both sides of the political game have sold off the stuff that we used to own as taxpayers and members of both sides have gone on to their own financial advantage after poisoning the lake even more. I have been abandoned politically and so I don't care about who happens to lead the country, as long as they do it equitably and fairly.
This means that I tend to want to burn every piece of political claptrap thrown at me, in favour of the facts.

Let me throw some facts into the lake of political discourse:
- There are approximately 11,500,000 taxpayers who have meaningful Individual Tax Returns in Australia.
- Of these 11.5 million people, roughly 460,000 thousand receive any form of cash refunds due to franking credits.
- Of those people, 80% of those refunds as a dollar proportion go to only 91,000 retirees.
- Also, 50% of those refunds as a dollar proportion go to only 44,550 retirees, and they have SMSF Balances of $2.4m

So here's the rub.
As someone who actually works for a living, I find it obscene that someone with a balance of $2.4m who derives their income literally from the work of other people gets franking credits as cash refunds, whereas I get assessed for income tax. How is that remotely equitable?
I am pretty sure that I haven't yet received $2.4m in my entire working life. At 4% return², then the rewards due to that are significantly more than I make in a year, yet if that is ringfenced inside an SMSF, then that can be entirely tax free.

This is quite apart from the fact that people who do have accumulated funds, can use tools such as companies, trusts and SMSFs to avoid paying tax, whereas I as a taxpayer who derives my income from doing real work have no way to avoid this kind of thing at all. The way I see it, putting an end to franking credit refundability is not double taxation, since these people never paid tax in the first place, it is ending zero taxation.
I will get openly admit that I am biased but at least I am biased with reference to the facts and with reference to basic arithmetic which as far as I know hasn't changed since Adam tried to convince God that taking an apple without permission was totally someone else's fault - it's still basically theft. Here though, we've just written a lot of convenient legislation to excuse what amounts to theft from the Commonwealth and the people of Australia because it's all nice and legal.

Why is this acceptable in the supposed land of the "fair go"?  Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged during this election campaign a "fair go for those who have a go". If I work, and have a go, they why does someone who doesn't have a go at all, get a cash refund? Why does someone who literally derives their income from the work of other people, get to absolve themselves from paying tax but those of us who do real work can not avoid it? That sounds to me like someone is "having a lend".
I think that this rort needs to be hurled into the sun; then into that black hole that we've just taken a picture of.

I have been told over the past few weeks online that I am biased (which of course is true because it is impossible not to have internal biases; that also goes for the person telling me that I am biased) on a range of issues but when I point them to the source of the information, I will be told that the source is biased as well; including if that source happens to be raw data from a government agency. The most ridiculous example of this happened after budget night when I pointed to a line item relating to taxation revenue for the next financial year and I was told that I didn't understand how to read the number, despite it being there directly in print.

This is why this lake of weaponised garbage needs to be set on fire with the two flames of anger and hope. It is only through the burning of garbage that we can generate enough light to see the facts for what they are; even if people are going to continue to throw weaponised garbage into the lake of political discourse.

¹People who have read '1984' by George Orwell should instantly see the irony in this.
²Which is roughly the average rate of inflation since the beginning of the Rome in 1AU (753BCE)

April 12, 2019

Horse 2531 - The Arrest Of Julian Assange

As most Australians were going to bed last night, Australian citizen, fugitive, embassy malingerer, and in the eyes of the US Government, troll terrorist, Julian Assange, was arrested by British police after the Ecuadorian Embassy in London decided that they'd had enough of him and withdrew their cloak of asylum and protection.
Assange who was originally holed up in the embassy to evade rape charges that were being made by two Swedish ladies, has been arrested in response to charges made by the US Government on matters relating to WikiLeaks receiving of loads and loads of stolen US Dept of Defense documents and in connection to Chelsea Manning, who leaked them. She served seven in military prison for leaking classified data, and was sentenced to 35 years in prison before having this commuted.

I haven't read through the arrest warrant in full but it appears that Mr Assange has been charged him conspiracy to commit computer intrusion and this would normally be given a maximum penalty of five years' prison but given that the US Government has had roughly seven years to come up with a set of appropriate charges, I bet the only way that Assange could be found not guilty, is if it was suddenly announced that Sheol and Hades were jointly hosting the 2026 Winter Olympics. There is no way in either of those places that Assange would be able to escape a not guilty verdict if the prosecution has done its job properly.
Probably Assange would try and mount a defence that he is a journalist and there would be questions relating to whether or not that is materially true but that assumes that he will even get anything approaching a fair trial and herein lies the problem.

The United States has a proven track record of arresting people and dumping then at the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. Assange's well founded fear in the first instance, while there were still charges of rape hanging over him by the Swedish authorities, was that as soon as he landed on the tarmac in Sweden, he would be arrested and taken straight to Guantanamo Bay.
In the case of fellow Australian citizen David Hicks, not only was there no charge to begin with but the thing that he was finally charged with was invented under a law which wasn't in existence at the time of his arrest and was applied retrospectively. If you can find it, there is a very good account of this whole affair by ABC Journalist Leigh Sales, called 'Prisoner 002'.
The legal ambiguity of Guantanamo Bay is one of the most delicious pieces of legal fiction for the United States. As it isn't on United States' soil then the courts have held that not all of the US Constitution applies, which also happens to include the due process clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments. Also as the United States is not a signatory to things that it does not like (claiming that its own constitution is the highest law in the land and therefore it shouldn't be bound to international law or foreign conventions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Refugee Convention), it is perfectly fine with carrying out 'advanced interrogation' on people, which is a delightful way of excusing the use of torture.
For this reason, Julian Assange has had some very real fears about what would happen to him if he ever left the Ecuadorian Embassy and it will be interesting to see what happens next. Whatever does happen, you can rest assured that the Australian Government will continue to act on its current policy of doing exactly nothing when its citizens face trouble overseas, including when that trouble includes the threat of torture and/or the death penalty; especially when it is carried out by the United States with whom we have a military treat which binds us to be complicit and willing partners in whatever foul designs that the United States has around the world.
I'm not willing to comment on whether or not Julian Assange is actually guilty of crimes that I don't yet understand but I can guarantee that he will be found guilty. I personally think that he is something of an agent provocatuer and a ratbag and that he should have absolutely expected that this day would come. It has all the inevitability of the 07:04 express train to Redfern striking an egg which has been glued to the track - the train might be delayed but it never turns out well for the egg.

The defence that Mr Assange would mount in court (if it ever gets to one) would be the defence that a journalist should be allowed to receive material, even when it is of a sensitive nature and could possibly threaten national security. I don't know if what Julian Assange has done with WikiLeaks constitutes journalism or not (I suspect not) but when or if he is found guilty, it sets up a very dangerous precedent which would extend the United States' ability to prosecute any journalist in the world, in countries with which it has extradition treaties with, and given that they would be arrested on foreign soil, then the due process clauses of the US Constitution would also not apply. That should be enough to scare any journalist who wants to write a piece which part way annoys the United States.

I suspect that the reason why the arrest happened yesterday was that earlier in the day, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia will be going to the polls on May 18. This means that Australia currently has a government in caretaker mode and would be even less likely to kick up a stink about one of her citizens being arrested overseas (not that we'd say very much in the first place).
Ecuador has had pressure brought to bear on it by the United States with regards a resolution aimed at promoting breastfeeding at the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, which was withdrawn after the United States allegedly made threats to cut trade and withdraw some military aid. I imagine that this has been part of a long game  and I can only speculate that it has finally had enough of Mr Assange after WikiLeaks published embarrassing things from the Vatican. Moreover, President Trump is actively pursuing a program of belligerence as a show of strength and this has been reflected in his attitude towards Mexico, Central America generally, and the re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, merely helps to maintain the strongman image.
This is a public relations triumph for President Trump because in Julian Assange you already have a premade villain who looks buckwild weird and so the visuals of this play well on television (the fact that Anderson Cooper also has white hair also helps the fake news kayfabe). From an operational standpoint, you couldn't have designed an easier boss  in this game of international geopolitical politics. Unlike previous designated baddies for our two minutes of hate like Saddam Hussain or Osama Bin Laden, Julian Assange has helpfully been in one place this whole time.

I think that the reason why this was done now in particular is that the arrest of Julian Assange is one of the greatest storylines that could have been wheeled out as a distraction in case the Congress came close to finding information which might potentially upend the President on matters of obstruction of justice which could lead to impeachment charges, because this in effect poisons the well for anyone within Congress leaking things in future to WikiLeaks. It also acts as a deterrant to anyone who may have leaked the Mueller Report because as of now, the number of people who have access to that report is small and practically everyone who has said access is known.

I'm almost willing to bet that this actually has very little to do with the guilt of Mr Assange but rather the guilt of Mr Trump. I'm pretty sure that if the United States really wanted to have pursued Mr Assange, that they would have before now.

April 11, 2019

Horse 2530 - I Predicted The Election Date By Looking Into My Election Prophecy Steel Can Filled With Mud

I would like to refer the reader to Horse 2395 and the prediction that I made a year and a day ago:

My inkling is that there will most likely be a May 18 2019 election, with the Appropriation Bill No.1 having been presented to the House in April.
- Horse 2395, 10th April 2018

As I bash into my tablet like a cat with a shiny thing who has somehow acquired the gift of language, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison is in C-1 and making the drive from The Lodge to the Governor-General's place to make the advice that parliament should be dissolved and that a general election should be held on Saturday May 18.
I am not just any cat with a tablet but a cat who has just been appointed Professor of Gravity Studies at Whiskers University. Allow me to knock everything off of the table in the most elegant and smug way possible. I make no bones about the fact that this post is one of gloating, self congratulation and superbia. In the words of the great Benjamin Disraeli:

I told you so¹.

The timetable for the next Senate election is determined by the Constitution. Senators are appointed on a six year term; with half of the Senate being elected every three years. As the opening date of the next session of the Senate is July 1, then the election for half of the Senate needs to be done so that everyone can assume their seats on opening day. The Australian Electoral Commission has advised for more than half a century that they would like to have six weeks to count ballot papers and give themselves time to allow a recount should there be a dispute with the results. That means to say that the absolute last day that the AEC could ask that the election be held is if May 20 were to fall on a Saturday. There has been a Senate election on May 31 but that was under an older set of voting rules where you had first past the post for multiple seats and it was easier to count.

Running exactly counter to the AEC's wishes is the desire of the Prime Minister of the day. A Prime Minister who is in charge of a popular Government would like to go to the polls earlier in the election cycle so that way they retain power. Under normal circumstances, half way popular Governments like to go to the polls in late October, November or early December because they know that the electorate would prefer not to have their footy watching times disrupted, neither do they want to hold an election during the stress of Christmas. If a Prime Minister were to declare an election for either the Australian Rules Football Grand Final weekend, or the Rugby League Grand Final weekend, or to a lesser extent the weekend of the Bathurst 1000, then the people of Australia would open up a can of SPC Baked Beans, Scorpions and Acid, and the Prime Minister would find themselves eating a dangerous meal all alone and out in the street. Not even Mr Morrison is daft enough to hold and election in September; which is a little like writing a suicide note because by itself it is worth half a percent of votes; which in marginal seats is sometimes more than enough to flip them.
The problem for the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government was the same in principle as for the then Abbott-Turnbull Government. We have witnessed the most effective Opposition Leader in Australian political history, in Tony Abbott. Once his master (John Howard) had been unseated from his own office, this attack dog has been roaming around inside the Canberra Bubble unleashed. Tony Abbott has been such an effective Opposition Leader that he not only brought down Rudd, Gillard and Rudd again but he also brought down himself and Turnbull and has been running a pretty solid Opposition against Morrison. I don't know how long Mr Morrison could hold his government together or whether or not it would suffer another change in leadership before an October or November election. In all honesty, Mr Morrison has had his hand involuntarily tilted in declaring this date.

I work in an accountancy firm which apart from doing people's tax returns, also does a fair amount of forensic accounting. When you have a business which needs to be valued (which usually happens when partners want to escape the business, or when people in a Family Law matter want to escape each other²), then in order to work out what the business will be worth in future, you need to do a many variable trend analysis.
Watching politics is like watching sport for so very many reasons but the relevant one here is that there are ready statistics on polling data and sentiment, which you can then run the same kinds of trend analysis for. Perhaps the most famous case of political trend analysis going wrong according to the world was for FiveThirtyEight which predicted a Hilary Clinton win for the Presidency of the USA. What people fail to realise though is that it always had the likelihood of Donald Trump winning at about 30% - 35% and it kind of got the raw vote data about right. I merely ran trend analysis on the data from Ipsos, Galaxy and Newspoll and extrapolated it out to beyond the end of the last possible date of the House of Representatives and the Senate; and came up with doom for the Government.

At the time, I had been looking at at least 30 sets of polls and concluded that the can needed to be kicked down the road as far as possible. Today is just the other end of that road. What I didn't forsee and couldn't have forseen is that the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government has been so much of an omnishable and completely unable to govern itself much less the country, that 30 unfavourable polls would blow out to more than 50. There has been no bounce off the bottom of the barrel, this government has just stuck itself to the crud down there and stayed put.
Predicting the last possible date for the election was sensible. Predicting the knifing of another Prime Minister was impossible. At this point, predicting a Labor Government seems like a fait accompli.

Also, before anyone thinks that I am somehow a prophetic genius, the only reason that this post exists is because I it right. Had I got it wrong, I would have said diddly-squat. That's the thing with nonsense prophecy, it's really easy to look like a genius after the fact by only selecting favourable results.

¹I actually don't know if he said this or not but he was the kind of magnificent knave to have done so.
²In at least 97% of cases it is the husband's fault. 

April 09, 2019

Horse 2529 - Schrödinger's Election Date: 18th May? 25th May? Who Even Knows Any More?

The 8th of April came and went; this means that the Prime Minister Scott Morrison has until 11:59pm of the 15th of April to announce a May 18 election. A particular class of political pundits and watchers (I include myself in the latter category) have been expecting that the election would be held back until the last possible date for some time  and that meant May 18 or so we thought.
It would appear that we're living on so narrow a premise that reality itself is fraying before our very eyes.

The Commissioner of Australian Elections at the Australian Electoral Commission, Tom Rodgers, was before Senate Estimates last week according to ABC Elections Analyst Antony Green, about the possibility of delaying the election until May 25.
Now you and I and everyone including Antony Green have been working on the assumption that the AEC which has given the same advice about Senate elections since 1972, has provided a time frame of six weeks before the expiry date because of a legal requirement. We were wrong. It turns out that that was only ever because of a regulation and that we've been quietly sitting with our fingers up our nose for the past 49 years.
You shouldn't assume - it makes an ass out of u and me.

In the 119 years since Federation, the closest that we have ever held a Senate election to the expiry date is 31st May 1913; which admittedly is still closer than either an 18th or 25th May election but that was under First Past The Post Plurality voting. If the Morrison Government is hoping to get the Opposition offside through the element of surprise then they are playing with a deck of 34 cards, some Draw Twos and a Draw Four Wild, a Blue Eyes White Dragon, and the Kamchatka  card. Their game box is in disarray and they are hideously short of resources.
This would also explain why we keep on getting Australian Government adverts on the telly.

My suspicion is that the Liberal Party in particular is broke. The New South Wales branch of the party is still trying to fill the tills following on from the state election which was in March. Internally the Liberal Party has had a factional war; which must have affected the rate of donations to some degree.
The perpetual junior partner in the coalition, the National Party, is probably also bereft of cash, following on from an insane period where the former leader of the party was thrown out of parliament subject to Section 44 eligibility and then replaced as party leader after a marriage fidelity malfunction.
On the other side of the chamber, the Labor Party changed its rules, so now we have a party which has hid its internal squabbles effectively and although it has a leader who is somewhat lacking in the charisma department, he makes up for it in stability.

The term which came to prominence in US politics in 2017 was 'dumpster fire'. We don't exactly have a dumpster fire going in Australian politics but we do have our own unique kind of weirdness going on.
It is like the AEC is the landlord who has come to do an inspection of the house but the current tenant is desperately trying to tidy up. The landlord is jingling the keys on the outside of the door and Mr Morrison is frantically looking for a banana to push into the front door lock¹.
What we do know if the law isn't explicit on the subject, the sheer practicalities of counting millions of votes must eventually come into play. The Morrison Government can possibly keep the landlord outside for a little bit longer by throwing donuts out of the window and giving them extra resources to count votes faster but the expiry date of the Senate is fixed according to the Constitution. At some point whatever the Morrison Government is trying to say with donuts² is legally pointless. I don't even think that the Morrison Government can wait until the next Newspoll before announcing the election.

A look at the Ipsos, Galaxy and Newspolls for about the last eighteen months has had a theoretical Labor Government being installed with between 82 and 95 seats. Given the amount of faffing about being done right now, I wouldn't be surprised if they got a supermajority.
We are probably going to be going to the polls on May 18, although I don't really know what's right and real anymore if we can't even trust the advice of the Australian Electoral Commission who runs elections.

¹Pushing a banana into a door lock is a good way of temporarily lubricating the lock until you get something like WD-40.
²Actually about the only thing that you can physically say with donuts is Oooooooooo.

April 08, 2019

Horse 2528 - Two Constitutional Quirks: Or - Everything Is Going Wrong But At Least We Are Playing By The Proper Rules

This blog post has been brought to you by Chaos. Try Chaos today. If you are having a lovely but boring time and want to add some unnecessary drama and confusion to your life, simply add a spot of Chaos and watch common sense and reason fly out of the window. See the results. Just look at the United Kingdom and Australia. Ask your legislators if Chaos is right for you¹.

This blog post is like twenty-four hour Araldite in that it comes in two parts.

Quirk 1:
The first of these constitutional quirks is arguably the more important of the two as it has the potential to directly affect legislation which changes the United Kingdom for a very long time.

The House of Lords as the upper house of the parliament at Westminster, as the model for all of her children as the mother of parliaments, except in the area of the budget, has the power to turn down legislation that has been proposed by the House of Commons.
As an unelected legislative body, this is arguably better than what we have in Australia because it means that the Lords are not beholden to the knavery of party politics and can rise above it all; it is also arguably worse than what we have in Australia because it is an unelected and undemocratic institution.
Precisely because it is unelected, the House of Lords tends to be unhurried in its deliberations and doesn't have points of order. This means that it takes its time; which given the intricacies of legislation, can end up positively glacial.

Various members of the House of Lords have during this past week indicated that they would be amenable to holding up a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit, a spam spam spam Brexit with sausage and eggs and spam Brexit, indefinitely. There wouldn't be a thing that the House of Commons could do about it either. In theory the House of Lords could delay whatever Brexit deal was passed by the House of Commons until the inevitable heat death of the universe, which means to say that even in the event of complete annihilation of the everything, there still wouldn't be anarchy.  Naturally this would attract the ire of the Crown who could order the House of Lords to sit but even the Crown doesn't have the power to make it act. The Crown could dissolve parliament and bring the term of the House of Commons to an end but the Lords are something else².
There are also moves in the House of Lords to put it to the Crown that the Queen should use her royal prerogative and refuse to give royal assent to any hard Brexit, soft Brexit, spam spam spam Brexit with sausage and eggs and spam Brexit, that the Houses of Commons and Lords pass; in the greater interest of her United Kingdom. This has been met with both very hard stares and low murmers, which in the House of Lords is the equivalent of swearing bloody blue murder and crying 'havoc' to let slip the dogs of war. The royal prerogative to refuse assent to legislation has happened so rarely that it always warrants a page in the annals of history; which Brexit already most indubitably has already secured.

Quirk 2:
The other constitutional quirk which has arisen but this time in Australia has to do with the calling of the Federal Election. People often forget that in Australia it is actually the states who decide the manner by which Senators are sent to parliament. It is the states who technically call elections for the Senate and not the Prime Minister of the day.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has until 11:59pm tonight to decide whether or not he wants to hold the election on either May 11 or May 18; because if he does nothing, then the Senate election will have to take place on May 18 regardless of what the Prime Minister thinks. Governors of at least two states from what I can gather have already indicated that they will make the announcement for the May 18 election this week, if Mr Morrison fails to act.

It could very well be that having just suffered yet another Newspoll defeat (bringing the current losing streak to 51), that Mr Morrison wants to decouple the Senate election from the House of Representatives election, which he is perfectly entitled to do; in which case, the term of the House of Representatives runs all the way out to November 2nd as the last possible date for the election.
Maybe it makes sense for Mr Morrison to decouple the elections and hope that a favourable Senate is returned because at least that way, the Morrison Government can steal the Opposition's lunch with regards to policy and if they get a three point dead cat bounce, will be returned to government. As at time of writing though, the total time to decide on an either/or case for May 11 or 18 is just sixteen hours.

¹Chaos may cause political instability, blood letting, knives in the back³, change of head, legislative constipation, anal leakage, and in extreme cases the involuntary dismissal of government.
²The Crown is itself an unelected and undemocratic institution; which is traditionally replaced through the act of swording.
³Ms May has already indicated that she will resign depending on various outcomes of Brexit. It is hard to say whether or not she has been stabbed in the back if at the same time she has fallen on her sword. 

April 04, 2019

Horse 2527 - The Constitutional Background To The Budget Reply Speech

The week of the Federal Budget in an accountancy firm is always fraught with terribleness. Not only do we get to read through a document which is massive and full of myriad implications but in an almost deliberate attempt to prove Jean-Paul Sartre's misquoted saw that 'hell is other people', the great collective of other people beat down at your door with variations on one question: what's in it for me? Since the number of people in the Commonwealth is orders of magnitude greater than myriad, the number of individual answers to the question is also orders of magnitude greater than myriad.
The one question which was the most vexing came from my boss, who didn't ask about what was contained in the budget but the exceptionally easy to ask and seemingly impossible to answer, question of:

Why does Bill Shorten give the Budget Reply Speech and not Chris Bowen?

After much deliberation, I still have no idea really.
Firstly, here is some constitutional background¹.

Fact 1 - There is no Protocol for forming Government mentioned in the Constitution.

Parliament in order to work the machinery of government needs to raise and spend money in order to do so. That responsibility lies with the parliament as a whole and the notion that there needs to be a government at all, is still only really held up by fairly tenuous convention which as has been proven in the UK, can just as easily be pulled down at a snap, as there have been various Unity Governments where the whole parliament is the government.

Fact 2 - There is no Prime Minister mentioned in the Constitution.

Despite the fact that we'd been doing parliamentary democracy in Australia for 45 years when Federation happened, and the convention that there should be a Premier of executive government was well established, the more than a decade long bunfight which finally resulted in the Constitution still never mentions by name either a Premier or a Prime Minister.
Section 64 provides that the Governor-General can appoint Ministers of the Crown but there is no direction as to the nature and scope of who those Minsters are.

The Governor-General may appoint officers to administer such departments of State of the Commonwealth as the Governor-General in Council may establish.
- Section 64, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution (1900)

Fact 3 - The Treasurer is the de jure and de facto administrator of Money Bills.

Section 53 of the Constitution provides that Money Bills must originate in the House of Representatives and that by inference determines who the government actually is.

Proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys, or imposing taxation, shall not originate in the Senate. But a proposed law shall not be taken to appropriate revenue or moneys, or to impose taxation, by reason only of its containing provisions for the imposition or appropriation of fines or other pecuniary penalties, or for the demand or payment or appropriation of fees for licences, or fees for services under the proposed law.
The Senate may not amend proposed laws imposing taxation, or proposed laws appropriating revenue or moneys for the ordinary annual services of the Government
- Section 53, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution (1900)

If you can control the majority of the members in the House on matters of the supply of money and the confidence of the House, you are the government. There doesn't need to be an election (although given that we have political parties whose purpose is to control the majority of members in the House) and the Government can be changed in the blink of an eye simply by gaining the confidence of the majority of members.

Given that the Treasurer is the de jure and de facto administrator of Money Bills, then they are the one who hands down the prime bill which is Appropriation Bill No.1; which is otherwise known as the Federal Budget. Budget Night and the speech to parliament is the opening recommendation by the relevant Minister of the Crown to the House that they should accept the bill into law.

Fact 4 - There is no Opposition, Opposition Leader, or Shadow Cabinet mentioned in the Constitution.

The Shadow Cabinet are not Minsters of the Crown. There is no Constitutional requirement or basis that there even needs to be an Opposition. As there is no Constitutional basis for the Shadow Cabinet, there is no Constitutional basis for the Leader of the Opposition or the Shadow Treasurer.
Again, all of this hangs on convention which is like building a skyscraper out of tissue paper. It might look impressive but the whole thing blows over at the merest of agitation.

Those are the important facts of the case; and now we dive head first into the swirling waters of uncertainty.
I have no idea what the heck is going on.

The model of Westminster Parliaments is the eponymous parliament on the north bank of the Thames. Convention in the UK dictates that there is someone who reports from the parliament to the monarch; this person as the liaison between the monarch and the operating executive which actually administers and operates the Treasury of the Crown, is the First Lord of the Treasury. The First Lord of the Treasury existed before the notion that there should be a Prime Minister at all.
The person with the job of writing the cheques to operate parliament to in the United Kingdom is the Chancellor Of The Exchequer. They have in the past been the same person but if they are not then the cheque writer is the Second Lord of the Treasury.

The curious thing is that the first person to make a speech of objection to the nature and material of the Budget in parliament, is given by someone who is neither named in the Constitution nor needs to exist.
During the period from about 1868 to 1894, the series of rolling bunfights between Gladstone, Disraeli and Lord Salisbury, meant that they sat in all the positions of Prime Minister, Chancellor Of The Exchequer, Leader Of The Opposition, and Shadow Chancellor. There was also instances where the Prime Minister sat in the House of Lords, which isn't where Money Bills originate from.
Australia inherited these series of conventions which rather than founded in either reality or protocols of decency, were nothing more than skyscrapers made from tissue paper and filled with acid. Working my way through Hansard at the State Library of New South Wales, I have found no discernible pattern as to who gave the Budget Reply Speech, and saw that at various times it was either the Leader of the Opposition or the Shadow Treasurer.
And then it all got weird.

The Labor Party of Australia had actually been pretty stable in the period after Sir Robert Menzies left office and the Liberal/Country Party tore itself to pieces, going through Holt, McEwen, Gorton and McMahon in rapid succession (admittedly Harold Holt wandered off into the ocean; which was unfortunate). It hadn't appointed a Shadow Cabinet towards the end of the mess because there wasn't really much of a need to if the real Cabinet was so unstable that there wasn't anyone to Shadow.
So when Gough Whitlam did finally take office in 1972, his first ministry became a duumvirate with him as Minister for Everything and Lance Barnard as Minister for Everything Else. When normality returned, it was Frank Crean who became Treasurer and handed down the three appropriation bills of the Whitlam Government.

The first televised session of parliament in Australia came with the combined meeting of both houses following the 1974 Double Dissolution. This is significant because the very first televised Budget Reply Speech was by Opposition Leader Malcolm Fraser in 1975; which had the most singular end to a government in the nation’s history.
Every single Budget Reply Speech from 1975 onwards, as far as I can tell has been made by the Leader of the Opposition and as best as I can make out, the reason for doing so is that there is a camera pointed at them.

I don’t have a particularly good reason why it’s the Leader of the Opposition and not the Shadow Treasurer and I suspect the reason isn't particularly good either; it’s certainly not grounded in the Constitution which provides no direction whatsoever to a position that isn't even mentioned².

²It's the constitution. It's Mabo. It's justice. It's law. It's the vibe...

April 03, 2019

Horse 2526 - The Hand Grenade Budget Is Ticking

The Federal Budget for 2019/20 was handed down by the Treasurer Josh Frydenburg last night and this potentially has the ability to set off a bunch of chain reactions which might not resolve themselves until October. This series of chain reactions has already been triggered once before in Australia's Parliament and is still the subject of political intrigue and discussion more than 40 years later, with 'The Dismissal'.

The Treasurer handed down Appropriation Bill No.1 2019/20. This means that the clock will have started ticking on the available time in a which the Senate must agree to pass it, until the point of six months; at which point, the Governor-General can decide to dissolve the parliament. This in essence is at the core of Sir John Kerr's decision to dissolve parliament and shut down the line whole shebang in 1975.
After the Appropriation Bill No.1 2019/20 is passed from the hands of the Treasurer to the Sergeant At Arms of the chamber of The House of Representatives, it is game on. From 2nd April, this bill is still in play until the 2nd of October; even if new legislation and a new Appropriation Bill No.1 is presented to the chance to return to government within a calendar year.
Presumably the government has an agreement on supply in the House of Representatives currently but as it stands, they do not have a majority in the Senate. There is currently a major wedge fruits and nuts to separate the two big choc-banana and banana-choc parties and Mr Frydenburg's budget contains so many parts which strip funding from things like the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which might make it unpalatable to the Senate. If the intent is for the Senate to reject the budget bill, then we are in an interesting Constitutional place.
All of this is completely neutered and irrelevant if the Senate passes the Appropriation Bills for 2019/20 before parliament is dissolved. Of course, there is an argument to be made that deliberately not passing the budget until after the election has taken place, is in fact the best possible tactic; for the following insane reasons.

The Constitution makes no reference whatsoever to either the convention of who forms government, or who has the power to make and pass bills, or the positions of Prime Minister or Treasurer. With regards the passage of the budget, it is mechanically no different to any other piece of legislation and so as al always, the relevant sections of the Constitution in play are Sections 5 and 57. The power to make and break the parliament always lies in the hands of the Governor-General. As there is no mention of the various components which determine who actually does administer the monetary functions of the Crown, then there is also no Constitutional objection if the exact same people who proposed a piece of legislation then turn around and oppose the very legislation that they proposed. The only gears which are set in motion, have to do with a disagreement between the two houses; and as we saw in both 1974 where the Senate simply refused to look at legislation and again in 1975 where the legislation that it refused to look at just happened to be the Appropriation Bills for 1975/76. There just isn't the condition that the Senate needs to pass legislation at all and certainly no legal disability preventing them from refusing to pass budgets, like there is in the United Kingdom.

I make mention of all of this because the Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has indicated that he will be introducing a new set of Appropriation Bills if the Labor Party wins the presumed May election. I also make mention of this because outgoing manager of government business in the House of Representatives Christopher Pyne and Senator Mattias Corman have both indicated that they would it would be appropriate for the new Liberal/National Coalition Opposition to oppose any and all legislation including their own budget if the need arose. The question of need is very different for the people who are in the middle of the game of politics, as opposed to all of us bumpkins in the rest of the Commonwealth.
Probably we will just end up with a bunch of people yelling at each other irrespective of who actually does win the election and future Treasurer Chris Bowen's budget would be very likely to pass but the fact that the suggestion of triggering the conditions which brought about the most singular event in Australian Constitutional history is even being considered by people who potentially have the power to do so, is more than a little bit worrying.

The events of 1974 and 1975 which led to the double dissolution and the first joint sitting of the two houses, centered around the Opposition's refusal to pass bills in the Senate. There is nothing preventing the House from deliberately creating bad legislation with the intent of being rejected and the Senate has the not only the Constitutional right to oppose bad legislation but arguably, the duty to do so. My worry is that Treasurer Josh Frydenburg has deliberately created a bad budget with the sole intent of it exploding in a Constitutional mess later on in the year. The tactic eventually worked in the December 1975 election and I wouldn't put it past the strategists in the increasingly antagonistic climate of modern politics to try and pull the stunt again.