Category Archives: Ideas and ideology

Panic tests the trust of nations

In infected countries the spread of the virus is driving a wedge between citizens, governments, and the rest of the world.

This article originally appears in the Australian Financial Review on 4 March 2020

For the Australian citizens in Wuhan, it came down to trust. Those citizens who took up the offer to be evacuated to quarantine in the Christmas Island refugee processing centre trusted the Australian government over the Chinese government.

As the novel coronavirus spreads across the globe, trust between citizens and government, between neighbours, and between neighbouring nations is being tested.

The virus is revealing and exacerbating existing national and international tensions. The Schengen dream of a borderless Europe has been under strain over the past few years; Brexit was only the most visible revolt against its supranational vision. Now the borders of Europe are creeping back into place, this time in the name of public health. Continue reading

The Drum, Friday 17 January 2020

the drum

Host: Adam Spencer
Panel: Parnell McGuinness, Kirsten Banks, James Hennessy

What is a ‘Betelgeuse’ and why has it got astronomers so excited? Also, the panel discusses growing concerns over large advertisers influencing commercial news and we geek out on some exciting scientific developments and the good, bad – and permanence – of tattoos.

Full episode here - ABC’s The Drum, Friday, 17 January 2020

What the Berlin Wall did for women’s liberation

The original article appeared in the Australian Financial Review on 1 November 2019

In the spring of 1961, Brigitte Palme applied for permission to travel to West Berlin, ostensibly to go to the dentist. She took the train from the apartment she lived in with her parents, headed straight to the embassy and applied for a West German passport.

She’d left just in time to avoid being trapped in the misleadingly named German Democratic Republic (DDR). Three months later, coincidentally on her mother’s birthday, Berlin awoke to find itself divided by barbed wire, reinforced by heavily armed East German soldiers. The barbed wire was the first iteration of the Berlin Wall.

West Berliners watch East German border guards open up a new crossing point in the Berlin Wall in 1989.  AFP

It came as no surprise, despite assurances by DDR head of state Walter Ulbricht in June of that year, that “no one had the intention of building a wall”. The wall turned West Berlin into a tiny island in the midst of East Germany, accessible only by aircraft, and put a stop to the flow of defectors like my mother, voting with their feet against the Soviets and their rapacious regime. Continue reading

Think-tanks and the death of the power of ideas

Original article published on 2 October 2019 in the Australian Financial Review

Policy brains trusts were born to counter 20th century collectivism and stagflation. But where is the new thinking on climate change and trade wars?

“Every rate cut brings a little less of a return than the one before,’’ according to former treasurer Peter Costello. But the odds were on the RBA to go for one anyway. After all, what is left in the armoury? As Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said last week, Australia has been pulling the ‘‘easy levers’’ of interest rates and spending. So has the rest of the world. With interest rates grazing zero, these tools of the 20th century are looking as dated as the political challenges they were developed in response to.


Neoliberalism became infected by cronyism and helped pave the way for the GFC.  AP

A couple of months ago, I wrote about a shifting emphasis in Australia’s think-tanks from policy thinking to commentary and campaigning. While I confined my observations to Australia’s conservative and free market think-tanks, there is a similar trend across the Anglosphere.

Continue reading

Would you like some virtue with that?

Original article published on 17 September in the Australian Financial Review

Customers don’t buy a company’s social views along with their products. And companies don’t buy their employees’ consciences along with their labour.

One thing is clear: the public supports the right of business leaders to free speech. A resounding 78 per cent of Australians surveyed for the Committee for Economic Development of Australia’s inaugural Company Pulse support corporate leaders speaking out on issues of national importance.

Beyond this headline figure, however, is widespread scepticism that what business leaders say is in the national interest. Less than 50 per cent of the public surveyed believes that “business leaders are advocating in the national interest when they speak out”.

CEDA chief executive Melinda Cilento points to the public debate over company tax to explain the disconnect. Business leaders who last year argued for a company tax cut believe it to be in the national interest, as it would put Australia on a better competitive footing internationally. But these arguments were received sceptically by the general public, which couldn’t see how the benefits would flow through to the nation. And so the business leaders’ advocacy was viewed as self-serving.

Cilento acknowledges that social commentary by business leaders may also be viewed sceptically by the public, pointing to BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie’s support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart. BHP has a long and credible history of support for Indigenous communities. Nonetheless, from supporting communities to supporting change to the Australian constitution is a big leap, and Cilento notes the wider community may struggle to see the national interest in Mackenzie’s pronouncement from the BHP pulpit.

Continue reading