How independent should Australians and Australia be?
Monday 28 December 2020, 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm
Venue: - Cafe Brunelli, 187 Rundle St · Adelaide [please buy a drink at least! We are 'renting' the seats for two hours.]
About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding
1. Are Australians now a nation of rule followers? Is this a good thing? Australia has a sentimental mythology about defying authority. This is called larrikanism. Such defiance goes back to the bushranger, Ned Kelly and beyond. Yet during the Covid-19 pandemic Australians have followed government directions far more than Americans and Europeans. That has saved many lives. But does such conformity come at a price?
2. Is Australia a 'nanny state'? What examples can you think of? Many people go for holidays, or even business, to places like Thailand where (they think) laws controlling their personal behaviour are lax or ignored. They say that Australia is a 'nanny state', and over-protective.
3. Have we lost our real personal independence by becoming completely dependent upon consumer 'essentials'? The beginning of the 2020 pandemic saw people panic and rush to strip supermarkets of toilet paper, rice, pasta and other imagined essentials. In fact our lives are completely tethered to a couple of big supermarket chains (and for many, a supply of medications). Two generations ago, this kind of shopping dependence was much less obvious.
4. Is the enforcement of laws against corporate crime strong enough? At what point do regulations, actually enforced, strangle new business initiative? In Australia, as in most countries, corporate crime is very common. Unlike in many countries, a fair amount of this corporate crime is (sooner or later) uncovered and punished.
5. What are your views about 'wage theft'? Wage theft is when an employer deliberately pays workers less than the law says they have to be paid. Temporary workers, immigrants, students and back-packers especially suffer from wage theft. A new law has just passed through the federal parliament to make 'wage theft' a criminal offense punished by prison time. Is such a law an excessive control of business independence, or is it correct?
6. What forces limit Australia's international independence? How is Australia's situation different from that of other countries? Just as there are forces controlling individuals and companies within Australia, there are also external forces limiting, or trying to limit, Australia's freedom to act as in independent country.
7. Does Australia's independence now depend upon having a much stronger military force? After World War !!, Germany and Japan have grown rich by hard work, but also by avoiding military ambitions and spending a minimum on defence forces. Australia has also benefited for most of the post WWII period by limiting defence expenditure. Russia, with a GDP not much larger than Australia's, has taken a different path. The PRC has now set itself on a path of re-armament. USA spends vast sums on the military, and could be called a militarized state.
8. How closely should Australia enter into trade and/or political treaties with other countries? Examples? European countries, after centuries of wars with each other and the loss of many millions of lives, finally agreed to form an economic and political union after World War II. Although there are endless political squabbles, and a lot of bureaucratic inefficiencies. the European Union has created for itself a generation of peace and prosperity.
9. The 2020 pandemic has shocked many Australians into believing that we should be much more self sufficient. Is self-sufficiency a sensible aim? Australia produces at least three times more food than it needs for its own 25 million people. Before the 1980s Australia was also able, with tariff protection, to produce a large proportion of the manufactures it needed. Prices were higher, but it could be done. Now Australia has a free floating currency and trades with the world with few restrictions. Prices are lower, we have wide consumer choices, and the standard of living is higher. But dependence on trade leaves Australia vulnerable in many ways.
10. How should the Australian government manage attempted attacks on Australian sovereignty by the Peoples Republic of China? The present ruling elite in China is fixated on the idea - a very traditional neo-Confucian idea - that other countries should be tribute states serving the pleasure of a superior China. This idea destroyed the Ming and Qing dynasties when it clashed with the ambitions and cultures of Western colonial powers. Nevertheless, the administration of Communist China has a recent history of 'punishing' other countries economically when it is displeased (e.g. South Korea, Japan, Norway, France, Australia etc, as well as Taiwan, which it claims). Note that USA has similar tendencies.
Extra Reading & Links
[If you are not subscribed to some of these journals you may need to install a pay-wall bypass in your browser extensions. Google it]
Peter FitzSimons (13 December 2020) "Live and let live – and let us die how we damn well choose". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/politics/nsw/live-and-let-live-and-let-us-die-how-we-damn-well-choose-20201211-p56ms4.html
Shane Wright, Rachel Clun and Esther Han (December 9, 2020) "Baby, it's gone: Fertility crashes to record low". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/politics/federal/baby-it-s-gone-fertility-crashes-to-record-low-20201209-p56lzb.html
Nick Bonyhady (December 14, 2020) "Foreign-language ads offering $8 an hour for jobs". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/nsw/foreign-language-ads-offering-8-an-hour-for-jobs-20201211-p56mt0.html [Quote: "Migrant workers in Sydney are being systematically underpaid and a union analysis of more than 3000 foreign-language job ads reveals offers of illegally low wages as low as $8 an hour are rife. The analysis of Chinese, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, Nepalese and Portuguese ads from December 2019 until last August in NSW found 88 per cent of the ads in community websites, Facebook pages and media outlets offered wages below industry minimums."]
Abby Bloom (7 December 2020) "Arriving in the US from Australia during Covid was like walking through the looking glass - Australia has shown that the response to a pandemic needs to be strict. Lives and a nation’s economy hang in the balance". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/dec/07/arriving-in-the-us-from-australia-during-covid-was-like-walking-through-the-looking-glass
Katharine Murphy (3 Nov 2020) "Eighty-one per cent of Australian voters want a federal Icac (Independent Commission Against Corruption), Guardian Essential poll shows. Survey suggests public remains happy with how governments are handling the Covid crisis". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/nov/03/eighty-one-per-cent-of-australian-voters-want-a-federal-icac-guardian-essential-poll-shows
Andrew Leigh (September 3, 2020) "Charities dwarf mining and agriculture in our economy, but many face ruin - The charity sector is 8 per cent of the economy, 10 per cent of the workforce, and mobilises 3 million volunteers". Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/charities-dwarf-mining-and-agriculture-in-our-economy-but-many-face-ruin-20200902-p55rm5.html
Daniel Hurst (30 Jun 2020) "Australia to acquire long-range missiles as PM warns of dangerous post-Covid-19 world". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jun/30/australia-to-acquire-long-range-missiles-as-pm-warns-of-dangerous-post-covid-19-world [Quote: "Australia’s defence force is set to acquire long-range missiles and research hypersonic weapons systems, as Scott Morrison warns the country to prepare for a more dangerous post-Covid-19 world and an increasingly contested Indo-Pacific region. ... Morrison will reveal a pledge to spend $270bn on new and upgraded defence capabilities over the next decade ... "
Robert Gottliebsen (16 December 2020) "Contract will reveal the true cost of submarines project". The Australian @ https://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/economics/contract-will-reveal-the-true-cost-of-submarines-project/news-story/b3cdc9c46a4dfd0e39c0204d9785558f [Thor, comment: Compare the enormous amounts of your money corruptly in play in this Defence contract scandal with the Robodebt scandal where for ideological reasons the present government pursued thousands of vulnerable people for years over imaginary debts (falsely claimed to be $4 billion) which were ultimately proved illegal] [Quote: "By this time next year Linda Reynolds may not be the minister for defence ... When the French tender in the “Competitive Evaluation Process” was accepted by the government in 2016, French officials, as well as a very senior Australian minister made it very clear to journalists that while the actual amount stated in the tender documents was confidential, it was between $20bn and $25bn in 2016 dollars. The government emphasised that it was similar to the Japanese and German bids and we knew they were within the $20bn-$25bn range, again in 2016 dollars. ... But the defence minister of 2020, Linda Reynolds is adamant that the original tender price was $50 billion in 2016 dollars - twice what everybody said in 2016"].
Rick Morton (21 November 2020) "A landmark Productivity Commission report into mental illness provides a road map to reduce harm, but it chafes against deep-seated government ideology". The Saturday Paper @ https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2020/11/21/big-picture-robo-debt-politics-and-poverty/160587720010726 [ Quote: "Scott Morrison was speaking at the release of the most wide-ranging inquiry into the costs of mental illness in Australia, lawyers announced the Commonwealth had settled a $1.23 billion class action against the controversial robo-debt scheme. ... These are not two separate stories. Instead, they speak to the way the Australian government’s punitive stance towards vulnerability ultimately bears out in spiralling mental health costs for the nation. ... “People receiving unemployment benefits are three times as likely to have anxiety or depression as wage earners are,” the prime minister said during the speech on Monday, quoting a key finding of the government’s Productivity Commission report. “This is not only as a result of financial hardship, but often associated with limited social support, loneliness and a decreased sense of personal control and achievement.” ... The robo-debt fiasco is a neat illustration of this point. It stands as a clear example of how the government’s “tough love” approach to disadvantage can quickly metastasise. Designed to raise more than $4 billion in Centrelink debts, many of which never existed, it used an automated income averaging process that was illegal and relied on relentless private debt collectors, all enforced by a bureaucracy callous in its rigidity."
Naaman Zhou (24 Jul 2020) "Asian Australians threatened and spat on in racist incidents amid coronavirus. Survey finds 377 incidents of anti-Asian racism in two months to 2 June, equivalent to 47 a week" . The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jul/24/asian-australians-threatened-and-spat-on-in-racist-incidents-amid-coronavirus
John Lee (7 December 2020) "Australia can’t afford to bite its tongue on China - Beijing seeks to punish Australia for daring to make sovereign decisions and warding off others from trying to do the same". The Australian @ https://www.theaustralian.com.au/exclusives/scott-morrison-is-correct-to-set-the-terms-of-china-relationship/news-story/bfbf53ef817e75f92a1ef1e75d725491
Alan Dupont (14 December 2020) "Fighting the dragon: we’re doing it wrong". The Australian @ https://www.theaustralian.com.au/exclusives/fighting-the-dragon/news-story/301e3d702e789a10172b18bd7286adea [Quote: " ..strategic considerations don’t fully explain the perverse excesses of China’s rhetorical assault...The now notorious wolf warrior tweet by Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian was totally counter-productive to China’s interests and reputation, and a profound misreading of Australia’s democracy, forcing even the most ardent pro-China advocates to concede that it was over the top. To compound the error, the insults and self-serving justifications have continued to flow from Chinese officials and the state-run media, with no recognition of any culpability for the sorry state of the relationship... Matrix diplomacy would be a significant departure from our reliance on the hierarchical hub-and-spokes architecture of the US alliance. This is not an argument for weakening the alliance but strengthening it through diversification and democratisation. Uniting other countries fearful of a coercive China in an interlocking but differentiated set of arrangements, partnerships and understandings would make it much more difficult for China to pick off member countries at will".]
Richard Baker (December 14, 2020) "Aerospace boss struggled to get top-secret security clearance - The Chinese-Australian scientist put in charge of the aerospace division of Australia's Defence Science Technology agency in 2017 was unable to obtain high-level government security clearance almost a year after she was appointed - Dong Yang Wu was responsible for more than 300 scientists, engineers and technicians supporting the operation and maintenance of Australia’s air combat fleet, including the US-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter." Brisbane Times @ https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/politics/federal/aerospace-boss-struggled-to-get-top-secret-security-clearance-20201214-p56n8x.html
Michael Wesley (12 December 2020) "Part one: How the China relationship collapsed." The Saturday Paper @ https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2020/12/12/part-one-how-the-china-relationship-collapsed/160769160010863 [ Quote: "The Chinese embassy’s decision to release a list of 14 demands Australia needs to meet to repair the relationship has made it politically impossible for any Australian government to do so, just as it has made it hard for Beijing to resile from any of these demands. Perhaps that was the point."] [Thor, comment: This is a very clear presentation of stages in the Australia-China relationship from the 1970s onwards ]
Laura Tingle (12 December 2020) "As the Australia-China relationship deteriorates, a $200m PNG 'fishery' deal raises eyebrows". ABC News @ https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-12-12/australia-recognised-threat-png-vulnerability-represents-china/12974846
Rowan Callick (November 27, 2020) "Ticking time bomb: why Xi is dragging down the dragon - It’s a scenario that has become almost unthinkable, but what if China’s economy — which is being driven substantially by Western stimulus funding — starts to slide backwards?" The Australian @ https://www.theaustralian.com.au/inquirer/the-way-of-the-wolf-why-xi-jinping-is-dragging-down-the-china-dragon/news-story/b95eeaac4228390bc34cfe0af166deaa [Thor, comment: There's an old saying that all politics is local. That's certainly true in big countries like USA and the PRC. In China, when a bunch of bureaucrats start throwing rocks at Australian trade, it is quite likely the game is more about distracting the locals from some unpleasant realities inside China itself ... ] [Quote: " China’s three chief drivers of growth this century — credit, internal migration and exports — have become increasingly constrained. China’s capacity for further overseas investment has become diminished, its debt surpassing three times its GDP and buying decreasing increments in productivity. ... China is struggling to challenge the use of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. The yuan is used for only about 2 per cent of international payments, compared with the euro at more than 30 per cent and the US dollar at more than 40 per cent. ... In 2019, more than $US70bn (AUD$95bn) of cryptocurrency was shifted overseas from digital wallets in China — likely the elite shifting wealth elsewhere... Internal migration to the cities has slowed as the manufacturers that used to bring people from the countryside are rapidly robot-ising, ... Global supply chains are shifting, due to rising costs in China and to a desire to diversify sources from China to reduce political risk, with China having pursued economic sanctions against so many countries in recent years. ... Canada decided in October that a free-trade agreement with China, for which talks began four years ago, is no longer worth pursuing. ... Young Liu, chairman of Taiwanese company Foxconn, which makes many of the world’s top tech consumables, including the iPhone, and employs about a million people in China, [said that] “the past model where manufacturing is concentrated in just a few countries like a world’s factory will no longer exist”. ... The revived socialism of Xi’s new era partially worked at first. China’s continuing investment in upgrading infrastructure and in education, and its ready access to the world’s top innovatory technologies by attracting global tech leaders to operate there, helped ensure that rapid growth continued in the post-GFC era of the first half dozen Xi years. ... But the perfect storm of Donald Trump’s “trade wars” coinciding with COVID-19 has pushed Xi to take on his toughest challenge yet: steering China towards a new economic template ... But ... Ubiquitous party guidance and a strong dose of protectionism, both a more natural fit with Xi’s core ethos, loom large as barriers to such overdue reforms. China’s private sector is already struggling under the weight of “party first” policy" ... Li Youwei, a former party secretary of Shenzhen, wrote recently that Xi’s program for such fusion between China’s private and state companies is causing widespread concern among businesspeople, stating: “We are standing at a crossroads.”]
Sheldon Chanel (16 Dec 2020) "The Taiwan ‘prize’ and the US-China rivalry in the Pacific - China-Taiwan fistfight in Fiji raises concerns that broader US-China rivalry could destabilise the Pacific". Al Jazeera @ https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/12/16/fiji-story
Francesco Sisci (16 December 2020) "China plays winning and losing hands in Africa - It's still unclear if Beijing's massive trade and investments have improved its image in Africa and the wider world". Asia Times @ https://asiatimes.com/2020/12/china-plays-winning-and-losing-hands-in-africa/ [Thor, comment: It is difficult for most Australians, especially in sleepy Adelaide, to grasp the vast international chessboard on which we are pawns. Beijing, Washington and others play across that board, and as a mere afterthought we can be zapped as collateral damage. This article is very useful for giving a little context to the role of China-Africa relations in this Great Game. Two million + Chinese work in Africa, and huge changes are underway in those countries. Expect unexpected challenges. ]
Luke Henriques-Gomes (17 Dec 2020) "Australians' trust in governments surges to 'extraordinary' high amid Covid - Support for some state responses to pandemic reaches levels rarely seen in polling, researcher says." The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/dec/17/australians-trust-in-governments-surges-to-extraordinary-high-amid-covid [Quote: 94% overall approval of government Covid-19 response in South Australia]
Nicola Davis (13 Dec 2016) "'High social cost' adults can be predicted from as young as three, says study". The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/dec/12/high-social-cost-adults-can-be-identified-from-as-young-as-three-says-study [Thor, comment : A huge problem with setting levels of personal and commercial independence is that what is appropriate or necessary for one part of any population simply doesn't fit other parts of the population. On a smaller scale, every school teacher soon learns this. Whatever boundaries are adopted, they have to be interpreted intelligently in individual instances. This is why we have judges (not that all legal judgements are necessarily smart or humane). When it comes to relations between nation states, the same human variables of culture and personality come into play]. . [Quote: "20% of a population uses the majority of public services, research shows, indicating long-term importance of early years investment for disadvantaged children ..... The study, which followed around 1,000 children from birth, found that at 38 years of age ... the same 22% of the cohort accounted for 81% of the group’s criminal convictions, 77% of fatherless children, 36% of injury insurance claims, 78% of prescriptions, 66% of welfare benefits and 40% of excess obese kilograms, as well as more than half of cigarettes smoked and nights spent in hospital. It was possible to predict which of the children were most likely to grow up to become part of this high cost segment of society ... the team also discovered that a rating of “brain health”, based on the combined results from a 45 minute-long assessment of motor skills, understanding of language, social behaviour and IQ at three years of age, was ... accurate [as] a predictive tool".
Steve Waterson (20 December 2020) "Has coronavirus crushed our famed larrikin spirit? Australia is now paying for 30 years of infantilising social engineering". The Australian @ https://www.theaustralian.com.au/exclusives/has-coronavirus-crushed-our-famed-larrikin-spirit/news-story/5f00fec6f4b6b9cb2aa2fd0d56092fed [Thor, comment: This author regrets the loss of unregulated living in Australia and says we are 'paying a price'. He offers up the Australian Covid-19 response as prime evidence. Hmm, the 'price' we are paying is that Australia has had 35.8 Covid-19 deaths per million. USA has had 921.31 Covid-19 deaths per million and UK 969.71 ( https://www.statista.com/statistics/1104709/coronavirus-deaths-worldwide-per-million-inhabitants/ ).. In other words, I think this man is a whining idiot, but I include his article for completeness. Yes, I do think that there are unnecessary regulations in Australia at every level of government, often with brainless enforcement causing unnecessary cruelty (we could start with Centrelink regulations as an example). At the other extreme, the fact that 30% of companies pay no tax is a demonstration that laws, far from giving protection to citizens, often give protection to scoundrels. But blanket statements about a 'nanny state' don't cut it. Each case has to be considered carefully on its merits]
Calla Wahlquist (20 Dec 2020) "The sneaky revolution: 'It's changing absolutely every job' - The drawbacks of insecure work and the gig economy have crystallised in the past six months. In an era of accelerated change, how can young Australians find quality jobs?" The Guardian @ https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/dec/20/the-sneaky-revolution-its-changing-absolutely-every-job
Michael West (Dec 16, 2020) "The Usual Suspects: oil and gas majors star in Australian tax heist". Michael West Media @ https://www.michaelwest.com.au/the-usual-suspects-oil-and-gas-majors-star-in-australian-tax-heist/ ?fbclid=IwAR2rsvNBgtvVup5JKRWMb27p9nThTnVgsaxr8Ic7T7onRHwMDP1xcsDOaxg [Quote: "Imagine making $13.3 billion and paying no income tax for the year or, even better, raking in $56.5 billion over six years and paying nary one red cent in tax; a big fat donut. Would you care to pocket $5.6 billion for the year, a la Viva Energy (formerly Shell’s petrol business), and pay no income tax? Then how about this? Drum roll, trumpets, lights – good old Energy Minister Angus Taylor bobs along with his $2.3 billion oil industry rescue package and slings you some taxpayer money in case you were thinking of closing your oil refinery. How good is not paying tax AND getting public subsidies? ]
Henry Zeffman (21 December 2020) "Trump considered martial law [on 18 December 2020] to keep Joe Biden out of the White House". The Australian @ https://www.theaustralian.com.au/world/the-times/trump-considered-martial-law-to-keep-joe-biden-out-of-the-white-house/news-story/e87560a01b1bce785d54e8ba28c0c9a9 [Quote: "The use of the military to enforce a second term as President is said to have been emphatically rebuffed by many of Trump’s closest advisers during a chaotic Oval Office meeting .... Sidney Powell and Michael Flynn, two of Mr Trump’s most passionate public advocates, were at the meeting. Ms Powell, 65, is a lawyer who has led many of the failed court attempts to allege voter fraud. Her elaborate conspiracy theories - for example that Hugo Chavez, the former Venezuelan president who died in 2013, was part of a plot to swindle Mr Trump out of his victory - caused the rest of the president’s legal team, led by Rudy Giuliani, to cut ties with her last month ... At the meeting Mr Trump discussed naming Ms Powell as a special counsel overseeing an investigation into voter fraud ... The meeting “became raucous and involved people shouting”, the newspaper [New York Times] said, with Ms Powell accusing the president’s advisers of being “quitters” ... Martial law was previously suggested by Ms Powell and Mr Flynn. Appearing last week on Newsmax, a news channel popular with Trump supporters, Mr Flynn said that Mr Trump “could take military capabilities and he could place those in states and basically rerun an election in each of those states ...” ] [Thor, comment : Hmm, Murdoch publications like The Australian and Fox News, amongst Trump's leading cheerleaders for 4 years, have a long history of dumping failed favourites. At least they've done it. We've known Trump is unbalanced, though 74 million Americans don't seem to understand that. What's scary is that he's turning to seriously treasonous people like Flynn even at this late hour. The circus is not over yet. What does all this have to do with Australia's independence? Lots. We have been at the mercy not only of a mad American president. Flynn, recall, had been US National Security Advisor, and before that Director of the Defence Intelligence Agency. People who will betray their own country by declaring martial law like this wouldn't give a second though to throwing Australia to the wolves. We have to cut our own row. Has this sort of thing happened before? Yes, sadly, again and again. Biden and his mob won't be a flight of angels, but at least they are professionally sane]
Helen Trinca (24 December 2020) "Covid response shows our larrikin streak not as ingrained as we’d like to think." The Australian @ https://www.theaustralian.com.au/commentary/covid-response-shows-our-larrikin-streak-not-as-ingrained-as-wed-like-to-think/news-story/bcc9bd0682335ea0ea937762ac0f1255 [Quote: "There’s something lost and something gained in the inevitable trade-offs between the individual and the group in every culture. Australia is good at applying rules that usually make sense and managing society without leaving too many people too far behind. But we’re not so good at making the most of the free-market system we support, not so good at taking risks or at imagining a different economy or society that will help us meet the challenges of the 21st century."
China's list of grievances against Australia (November 18, 2020) (Twitter image) @ https://twitter.com/ErykBagshaw/status/1328983898911457280