A MORE DYNAMIC ECONOMY
The Australian, 24 January 2022
Imagine a stock-trading Rip Van Winkle who went to sleep on Wall Street in the mid-1980s and just woke up today. When he looked at the biggest firms on the US market, he would be startled. In the mid-1980s, the largest US firms were IBM, Mobil, Exxon, Ford and General Motors. Today, they are Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook.
But if he’d gone to sleep on Bridge Street, Sydney, our stock trader might have wondered if he’d slept at all. In the mid-1980s, the largest Australian firms were Westpac, the Commonwealth Bank, NAB, ANZ and BHP. Today, they are Westpac, the Commonwealth Bank, NAB, BHP and CSL.
This isn’t just about firms, it’s about industries. A generation ago, the largest US firms included two oil companies and two car companies. Today, technology rules the roost. Yet in Australia, the same banks and the same mining company persist, with biotechnology firm CSL the only new entrant into the top five. Over the last generation, the biggest US businesses have been dethroned, and replaced by new firms from an entirely new sector. In Australia, it’s business as usual.Read more
CHARITIES ARE SICK OF FIGHTING OFF ATTACKS BY MORRISON GOVERNMENT
The Guardian, 15 January 2022
One of the key steps in the autocrats’ playbook is to suffocate civil society. From Venezuela to Belarus, elected leaders who have overseen a democratic decline have harassed volunteers, shut down community groups, and curtailed charities. The last thing a strongman needs is a group of engaged community leaders telling people the truth.
Five years ago, international not-for-profit Civicus started tracking how countries treat civil society. When they began, Australia occupied the top ranking: “open”. That’s the rating enjoyed by Germany, Canada, Sweden, New Zealand and many other advanced countries.Read more
WHAT BOOKS OUR LEADERS SHOULD BE READING... AND WHY
The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 January 2022
Forced into teenage work to support his family, John Curtin made up for his lack of formal education with a lifetime of reading. As a young man, he would stay late at the Melbourne Public Library. As Curtin's great-grandson Toby Davidson notes, an hour each Sunday was reserved for reading poetry. When he became Prime Minister, Curtin’s deep inner life engendered respect across the political spectrum. He had read enough in foreign policy to know that Australia needed to reach out to the United States ‘free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom’. His reading of Keynes and Pigou shaped Curtin’s decision to introduce unemployment benefits and plan for a full-employment economy after World War II. Books shaped Curtin, and Curtin shaped Australia.
2021 has been a bumper year for books about big ideas. In fact, you might say there’s been a cabinet-full of books, in the sense that there’s something for every member of cabinet to devour.
For the industry minister, Kazuo Ishiguro’s science fiction novel Klara and the Sun explores a world of artificial intelligence and genetic engineering. Walter Isaacson’s The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race delves into what current CRISPR gene editing technologies can achieve. Like Isaacson’s previous biographies of Leonardo Da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, the focus isn’t just on the outcomes, but on how extraordinary minds think differently. Reading their stories is a reminder that breakthroughs are more likely to happen when every child has the teachers, mentors and funding that empowered the world’s best innovators.Read more
TOO SLOW IN A FAST WORLD
Daily Telegraph, 4 January 2022
Sports stars are getting more remarkable every year. In 1950, no-one in history had run a four-minute mile. Now, there are more than a dozen high school students who have managed the feat. In 1950, the bench press world record was 181 kilograms. Now, it is 355 kilograms.
Today’s elite athletes have better equipment, better nutrition and better coaching than in past generations. Competitors start training at a younger age, and train harder than ever before.
Yet while today’s sporting stars are faster, higher and stronger than ever before, the same cannot be said for the Australian economy. Even before COVID hit, economic growth had slowed. Wage growth was tepid. Construction and business investment were languishing.Read more
CLIMATE CHANGE AND CANBERRA
The Canberra Times, 30 December 2021
They’re only a few dozen kilometres apart, but there’s a remarkable difference between the conversation about climate change in schools in my electorate, and from conservative Liberal and Nationals in Parliament House. Canberra’s school students know that Australia needs to take stronger action on climate. They’re excited about renewables. They love electric vehicles. The tinfoil hat brigade in the Coalition party room want to use taxpayer money to fund new coal fired power stations that the private sector won’t touch with a barge pole. They fearmonger about renewables. They claim that electric vehicles will end the weekend.
Sadly, Australia’s most progressive jurisdiction has one of the most conservative senators in the federal parliament. When Zed Seselja isn’t voting against territory rights, he’s peddling baseless fear campaigns about the dangers of climate action. Zed is a walking example of why Australia recently ranked last for climate policy among 64 countries in the Climate Change Performance Index – worse than Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Brazil.Read more
WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD HAPPEN? TACKLING EXISTENTIAL RISK
Lowy Institute Interpreter blog, 23 December 2021
What would happen if you decided to cross the road without checking the traffic? Odds are that you’d survive unscathed. But do it enough times and you’re likely to come a cropper.
As a species, humanity is now playing with technological innovations that pose a small but real risk of ending our existence. Tens of thousands of nuclear weapons pointed at major cities. Biotechnology that could allow the creation of deadly pathogens. Computer technology that could create a machine that is smarter than us and doesn’t share our goals. And all the while climate change could lead to unstoppable feedback loops.
As a teenager, I joined Palm Sunday anti-nuclear rallies. As an adult, I’ve been a strong advocate of climate change action. But when I entered parliament in 2010, the issue of existential risk didn’t loom large on my radar. My priority was people’s quality of life, not the end of life itself.Read more
WHY HAS NO PERSON OF COLOUR EVER SERVED ON THE HIGH COURT?
The AFR, 22 December 2021
In 120 years, no judge of colour has ever been appointed to the High Court of Australia. Asian Australians comprise 10 percent of the Australian population. Yet across all courts, the Asian Australian Lawyers Association estimates that only 1 percent of Australian judges are Asian-Australian.
When it comes to gender, the figures aren’t much better. Across federal and state courts, only 39 percent of judges are women. This is despite the fact that women comprise amajority of lawyers, and a majority of the population as a whole. The share of Australians with a non-Anglo background is high and rising. Yet if you go into any courtroom in the country, it’s most likely that you’ll see a white bloke on the bench.Read more
SCOTT MORRISON’S FAILURES ARE COSTING CHARITIES MILLIONS
Scott Morrison’s failure on charitable fundraising reform is costing Australian charities more than a million dollars every month.
On 15 December 2020, twelve months ago tomorrow, the Morrison Government promised to fix the country’s outdated fundraising laws. The Treasurer Josh Frydenberg even admitted that inconsistent regulations across states and territories created “an estimated regulatory burden of $13.3 million a year” for the sector. This is because charities who want to raise money online through a national campaign need to file paperwork registering in every state and territory (except the Northern Territory). These seven sets of forms can often take charities up to a week to comply with.
In another demonstration that the Morrison Government is all announcement and no delivery, a full year has gone by since the Treasurer’s empty promise. Charities are still burdened by unnecessary reporting requirements, which sees money being spent on excessive paperwork instead of causes such as feeding the homeless, protecting our environment and helping Australians rebuild their lives after natural disasters.Read more
CRACKING DOWN ON MULTINATIONAL TAX DODGING
The Australian, 14 December 2021
Appearing before a US Senate Committee in 2013, Apple CEO Tim Cook flatly denied that his company was engaged in tax shenanigans. “We don’t depend on tax gimmicks,” he told the committee. “We don’t stash money on some Caribbean island.”
Months later, the Committee handed down its findings. It concluded that Apple had managed to create subsidiaries that were – for tax purposes – stateless. Like Tom Hanks in The Terminal, they were in a legal limbo. But rather than sleeping on hard plastic seats, Apple’s stateless subsidiaries didn’t have to file tax returns. As US Senator Carl Levin noted “Apple successfully sought the holy grail of tax avoidance. It has created offshore entities holding tens of billions of dollars while claiming to be tax resident nowhere.”
For multinationals and billionaires, avoiding tax has become a sport. In October 2021, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported on the Pandora Papers, a trove of leaked documents that revealed more than 100 billionaires who had been using secret offshore accounts. Like the Panama Papers, Paradise Papers and LuxLeaks, they showed that the use of tax havens is the province of the ultra-wealthy. One study which matched data from high-profile leaks to tax statistics estimated that half the money in tax havens was held by the top 1/10,000th of the population.Read more
RICHEST 10PC THREE TO FIVE TIMES MORE LIKELY TO ATTEND UNIVERSITY
The Australian Financial Review, 6 December 2021
Few investments have so large an economic payoff as attending university. According to the OECD, Australians with a bachelor’s degree earn 26 per cent more than workers who have only finished high school (the average wage premium for a diploma is 9 per cent).
Yet the benefits of university are not evenly spread across the population. In the United States, one study found that children whose parents are in the top 1 per cent of the income distribution are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League college than those whose parents are in the poorest fifth of the population.
Curious to see how this plays out in Australia, I crunched the numbers for a study that recently appeared in the Australian Economic Review.Read more