Friday, February 13, 2009

A Thursday meander - economics, fires, environmental policy and a bit on books

I had not intended to post today, but am sitting here catching up. So I Ramana allowed myself to be sidetracked. This is a photo of Ramana whose blog so many of us enjoy.

Some new ABS stats came out. I talked about this in February 2008 - so far so good for the Australian economy. A commenter on an earlier post asked what made me so different in my economic comments. I wasn't sure whether or not he was being sarcastic, but tried to answer.

Thinking about it later, I have no idea how different my views are. I suppose I would say just this: our writing is always informed by our different experiences.

I write to try to understand. Where, as has happened a little recently, my interpretations are different, that is because my musings take me in a different direction.

Always I try to ask basic questions. I also try to present my views so that they can be challenged.

Still on the economy, this morning's Australian newspapers will no doubt be full of the defeat in the Senate of the Australian Government's $42 billion economic stimulus package.

The Government's approach here puzzled me. I agree that there is little point in talking to the opposition. However, the Government's overall tactics and especially its approach to the cross-bench Senators seemed quite ham-fisted.

This is an important measure. The Government may not like the Senate's sometime role as a house of review, but it does not have the numbers to enforce its political will. A little less haste, a little more patting would have helped.

At one stage I was left wondering whether the Government was in fact trying to set the ground for a double dissolution election some time in the future.

The Bill will no doubt be reintroduced into the House of Representatives today before re-submission to the Senate. The pressure to pass it is enormous, with all the main business lobby groups apparently in favour.

Some time ago, there was an interesting comment in the comments section of a Honolulu newspaper about the difference between the US and Australian approach to stimulus packages. Unfortunately I did not keep a reference to the link.

The commenter suggested that whereas the US approach was top down focused on the big end of town, the Australian approach was more bottom up, with a stimulus approach intended to work through more at the individual or local level. I hadn't thought of this before, but it's probably a fair comment.

Of course, Australian policy makers have far more room to move because our conditions are different. I am sure that President Obama would love to have Mr Rudd's relative freedom. However, the Australian approach is still different.  

The fires. Channel Nine is running one of those pop quizzes on the stay or go policy. How can people answer that in any sensible way? Comments from Kanani Fong reveal that Orange County is thinking of introducing a variant of the Australian policy tailored to Californian conditions.

One thing I do know is that the question of land management in national parks must be addressed. It is more than 35 years since I first heard complaints about this issue from nearby farmers who had to fight fires coming out of the parks. Since then, national park areas have grown enormously.

One of the strongest "I told you so" from the fires came from an owner who bulldozed out all the trees around his home for a certain distance to ensure a fire break. It cost him a $50,000 fine plus a further $50,000 in legal fees. His house survived.

Not national parks in this case, but the same principle applies in the way some councils have essentially banned tree clearances on environmental grounds.

That stormy petrel of the Liberal Party Senator Bill Heffernan is reported as saying that the fires are all the Green's fault. This is a very Heffernan comment. Bruce carried a counter view.

I must admit to a bias here because I have been arguing for a while that the way environmental policies work out in practice is counter-productive and sometimes perverse. This is part of my broader long-running argument about the reasons for failure in public policy making.

I have still to comment further on my reading of Clean, Clad and Courteous, the story of Aboriginal education in NSW. This is partly because of the fires, partly because I am still thinking issues through.

I think that the best way of handling this is to write some purely historical posts. It is coming up on two months since I last posted on my New England's History blog - the resurgence of economics is one reason. I want to do this before returning to my long outstanding promise to Joe to do something on Indigenous education.

My daily train reading has now switched to Peter Thompson's Pacific Fury: how Australia and her allies defeated the Japanese scourge. This was a Christmas present.

It is a very well written book, quite gripping in spots, but I also find it annoying.

The author writes from what I have come to think of as a "little Australian" perspective; Australia as the centre of the universe. His biases creep through in his choice of language. I am swept along with the story, then a choice of words makes me stop, makes me ask is this right?

I am a bit over half way through. I will see how I feel at the end.

Time to get ready for the working day.    


Legal Eagle said...

I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the bushfires and environmental management, Jim. I was hoping you'd write something.

Anonymous said...

You bushwhacked me! Thanks. Perhaps I could use a fire below me to get off my you know what! Is that your message?

Any news yet on the arsonists? I am eagerly looking forward to your posts on that aspect of the problem.

Jim Belshaw said...

Crikey Ramana. No message intended!

Thanks, both. I will write something.