Friday, February 13, 2004

A Suitable Case for Fisking

The sad thing about The Hun's website is that it rarely represents the quality of the writing that turns up in the print edition. For example, on Monday (or Tuesday) of this week, The Hun published a well-reasoned, intelligent and above all factual account of Paul Cudmore's so-called "escape" from Statewide Forensic Services. You won't find it on the web-site; all you'll find is last week's series of panic-mongering reports and apoplectic editorials. At a guess, I'd say that the reason that the print edition article was stronger on fact and logic is that it was written by Victoria's Public Advocate, Julian Gardner, rather than the mentally ill inmates of the HWT Tower.

The only columnist they ever feature on the site is, of course, Colostomy Lugs. So if your only access to The Hun is on the web, you'll have missed Paul Gray's article earlier this week, where he gets stuck into John Howard for lying to the Australian public on his reasons for going to war with Iraq.

I guess this has something to do with demographics; the published edition of The Hun is intended for a fairly wide and varied readership, the web site for a smaller group, possibly computer geeks whose working lives are so busy that they can rarely find the time to form their own opinions. For these people, Andrew Bolt must be a godsend.

Today, in "The truth about lies" he's excelled himself:

Let me recite, and correct, a list of lies commonly repeated in the media by our cultural elite. A list of lies? It's a catechism, really.

That word catechism worries me a little; I tend to associate it with the teaching of religious dogma; more neutrally, it's a book that teaches the basic tenets of Christian belief, usually set out in question and answer form. Here's the first paragraph of Andrew's catechism:

No, there was no "stolen generation" of children snatched from loving homes. No, there was no genocide in Tasmania. No, the smallpox that decimated Aborigines so cruelly was not brought here by European settlers. No, windfarms will not stop global warming, or do much good to anyone. No, man-made global warming is not a proven or "agreed" scientific fact.

It looks a bit more like the TV quiz show Jeopardy to me; here are the answers, now guess the questions. The category for this lot must be "Australian History and Global Warming" - an interesting mix. I think he's on thin ice with the thirty-pointer ("Was the small-pox etc brought here by European settlers?"), but maybe Andrew has read more widely on this topic than I have. In a catechism, you don't present the theological justifaction for a belief, merely what the belief is, or what the church expects to hear you say you believe when you're asked questions like "Who is God?" and so on.

There's a lot more in the new Boltian Creed, which Andrew preached for the first time at the Sydney Institute on Wednesday. If anyone's feeling like putting in a spot of fisking, I can highly reccommend it.

The Misfortunes of Virtue

It's been a crap week for Federal Treasurer and Prime Minister In Waiting Cabinet Fall-Guy, Peter Costello. On Tuesday, Senators Ian MacDonald, Robert Hill and Ron Boswell did a fine job of dropping Mr Costello in it on Monday, with repeated claims that the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement would bring in a cool $4 billion in general economic benefits. Senator MacDonald started the pile with his answer to a question from Senator Conroy:

Senator CONROY (2.11 p.m.)—My question is to Senator Ian Macdonald, representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Is the minister aware of the comments on 24 January this year by the Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Anderson, that it would be ‘un-Australian to accept any free trade deal without sugar being included’? Did the minister read Minister Vaile’s comments on 23 January that ‘central to this agreement is agriculture, and agriculture includes the key elements as far as we are concerned of beef, dairy and sugar’? Is the minister aware that the US offer on agriculture is the most miserly offer on agriculture ever proposed by the US in a bilateral trade deal? Furthermore, is the minister aware that more generous offers have been made by the US in recent months to Singapore, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua? Minister, what happened to Mr Howard’s ‘special relationship’ with President Bush?

Senator IAN MACDONALD — Mr Howard’s special relationship with Mr Bush has brought Australia a great deal of benefits under this free trade agreement — something like $4 billion worth of benefit to Australia from this negotiated agreement.
(page 30 of the PDF file)

Senator MacDonald repeated the $4 billion dollar figure three more times (Senator Cook was keeping score). Robert Hill joined the fun in answer to a question from Senator Andrew Bartlett.

Senator BARTLETT (2.30 p.m.)—My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, Senator Hill. I ask the minister: given that the actual text of the newly-signed free trade agreement is not yet available, can he please explain to the Australian people the clear and many inconsistencies between the press releases and fact sheets of the Australian Minister for Trade and the material released by the US trade representative in areas such as quarantine, media and broadcasting, the PBS and foreign investment? Can the minister outline when the full, complete text of this newly-signed, secret agreement will be released to the public so that everyone can assess for themselves the value or otherwise of the agreement. What is the timetable for the attempted passage of any enabling legislation through the Senate?

Senator HILL—I obviously cannot answer for US government press releases or press reports—

Senator Carr—Who should we believe?

Senator HILL—I have great confidence in the releases of Australian Minister Vaile—

Senator Carr—One page! That’s a foolish approach!

Senator HILL—I have to say, Senator Carr, for your benefit, that he has done an excellent job in negotiating this agreement for Australia. On the substantive part of the question as to when the full text will be available, as of yesterday I was unable to get a firm answer on that.

Senator Carr—Haven’t you got a copy?

Senator HILL—No. There was a suggestion of a fortnight, but I suspect it might take a little longer than that ...

Senator BARTLETT—Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I ask the minister how it is that we are not able to see this supposedly fantastic agreement that is benefiting all Australians—that he has not even read—for at least a fortnight, if not longer? Given this government’s record of dishonesty and of ambiguous and misleading statements to the Australian people on key issues, how can we possibly be expected to take his word for it? Could I ask him to please address just one example in relation to quarantine, where Minister Vaile says that the systems we have in place are not affected, and yet Mr Zoellick says that food inspection procedures that have posed barriers in the past will be addressed, benefiting US products such as pork, citrus, apples and stone fruits. Is the minister seriously saying that we are not expected to believe the word of the US representative and believe his own?

Senator HILL—The honourable senator does not have to take my word for it. As I said, the detail will be explored by the joint parliamentary committee—by his colleagues, acting on behalf of parliament as a whole, both chambers—and a number of pieces of enabling legislation will need to be debated and passed in this chamber. He and the Australian Democrats will have an opportunity to show that they are actually supportive of expanding the Australian economy and providing more jobs or, alternatively, they can vote with Labor and vote no—and vote down $4 billion of benefits to Australia and potentially thousands of new jobs.

(pages 33 - 34 of the PDF file)

Senator Boswell's turn came whenm Senator Conroy raised the vexed question of sugar:

Senator CONROY—Going back to what Jim Pedersen said, the Courier Mail article quoted him as saying:

“We have had faith in the commitments given by Mr Howard, Mr Vaile and other senior Government leaders — and I bet that includes you, Senator Boswell — that sugar was a ‘must include’ in any acceptable US Australia Free Trade Agreement,” Mr Pedersen said.

And what did the National Farmers Federal say? The article said:

… Peter Corish also said his organisations had been “told all the way through there would be access for sugar”.

And what does somebody who actually represents sugar farmers got to say? What did Bob Katter have to say? We all know he had a bit of a stoush with Senator Boswell on the floor of the tally room as they looked at the three or four seats they had picked up after those magnificent three years campaigning against the Beattie government. What did Mr Katter say? (Time

Senator BOSWELL (Queensland—Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (3.13 p.m.)—I did make the statement that sugar, beef and dairy had to be included in a free trade agreement and that we could not walk away from the sugar industry. I made that statement and I reiterate it. The fact is that agriculture did very well out of the free trade agreement even though the sugar industry was very disappointed, as I was. We are not going to walk away from the sugar industry. We know that we have a commitment to the sugar industry, and that commitment will be carried out. But we were not prepared to sacrifice the beef industry, the lamb industry, the seafood industry, the horticultural industry, the cereal wheat industry, the packaged fruit industry, the wine industry, the wool industry, the peanut industry and the dairy industry for one component of agriculture.

We know that we have to stand shoulder to shoulder with the sugar industry.


Mark Vaile has done a magnificent job. He has got for our primary industries access to the world’s biggest domestic market—the world’s biggest market. He has done that and we are going to make about $4 billion. Just think of this.

(pages 41 - 42 of the PDF file)

Finally, Senator Cook revealed that between them Senator MacDonald, Senator Hill and Senator Boswell had build up a $4 billion pile of pure bullshit:

We know where the $4 billion figure comes from. It comes from an econometric study conducted by the Centre for International Economics prior to the negotiations of this agreement. It is not a figure produced by the centre; it is a figure extrapolated by government calculators from the calculations done by the centre. The qualifications put around that figure were that, if the entire US market were opened and the entire Australian market were opened, after 10 years there may be that level of benefit.

If we look at this agreement we see that hardly any of the US market is being opened but a large part of Australian industry is being opened. So $4 billion is a fanciful figure, remembering as well that it was calculated in Australian dollars when the exchange rate with the United States was 53c to the US dollar. It is now over 70c. So on exchange rate variations alone this package, if it is worth anything, is probably worth well under $1 billion after 10 years—or maybe after 18 years, because the beef quotas do not change until then.

(page 44 of the PDF file)

It's hardly surprising that Wednesday's AM started with the story of the $4 Billion Dollar Ministers (We can revive the economy - we have the agreement. We can make it bigger, richer, stronger than before). When Peter Costello was interviewed by Alexandra Kirk, his first challenge was to put an acceptable face on the combined gaffe of the Bionic Senators. The most charitable explanation I can find for his inept handling of this issue is that no-one bothered to tell him that MacDonald et al had been caught using out-of-date estimates to talk up the Free Trade Deal in the Senate. It's an understandable lapse; Senator Cook didn't let the cat out of the bag until after 3.29 PM so there wasn't much time for the Government to brief Costello for a radio interview the following morning.

Alexandra Kirk went on to ask Mr Costello about Mark Latham's proposal on parliamentarians' superannuation. He didn't do too well with that issue either, offering the standard defence that a good super scheme helped attract the ablest people into Federal politics. People like the redoubtable Senator Bill O'Chee. And Mal Colston. Here's an excerpt:

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So you'd say that the current super scheme shouldn't be changed?

PETER COSTELLO: No, I would ask this question. By changing the super scheme do you think you'll get better MPs? I'm not sure that it'll give you better MPs. I think we oughta do things that will get us better MPS in Australia, but I don't think this is one of the things that will do it.

Once again, it's possible that Costello was inadequately briefed on the issue although, after this exchange between Mark Latham and the Brillo Bullfrog, he had fairly good reason to trust his colleagues to back him in the standard defence of pollies emoluments and perquisites:

Mr LATHAM (2.12 p.m.)—My question is to the Prime Minister. Is the Prime Minister concerned by the high level of public distrust and cynicism about modern politics? If so, does he support Labor’s policy to close down the parliamentary superannuation scheme for new entrants and place a cap on the superannuation entitlements of senior office-bearers in government?

Mr HOWARD—The answer to the first part of the question is yes. The answer to the second part of the question is that I will analyse the policy. I would add that, if the Leader of the Opposition is concerned about that cynicism, there is something he can do tonight. He does not have to wait for the Remuneration Tribunal and he does not have to wait for an election; he can instruct the Federal Secretary of the Australian Labor Party to renegotiate the Centenary House lease.

So (as Tim Blair points out, it's inaccurate to call the Prime Minister's announcement that he'll adopt the Latham proposal a back-flip; he carefully avoided taking a position on the issue in parliament, preferring to go on the attack on the subject of Centenary House. Clearly what Mr Costello said on AM he said on his own behalf, not on behalf of the Government or the Prime Minister. Where Costello sees possible disadvantages in Latham's proposal, and has suggested that in the long-term it might damage the political process, Mr Howard is more sanguine:

"It to me is not the most important issue.

I'm simply not going to shed political blood on something that I don't regard as important, I don't feel that strong about.

I mean, I care about defence and border protection and keeping low interest rates for your viewers, and keeping unemployment down and reforming the industrial relations system."

Another thing Mr Howard clearly doesn't feel too strongly about is hanging one of his cabinet colleagues out to dry. But we knew that already from the Heffernan affair If the treatment that Peter Costello has received from his own side of politics is typical of the way these blokes "stand shoulder to shoulder" you wouldn't want to be a sugar farmer.

Timeo Danaos et Dona Ferentes

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an interesting feature on the current push by US conservatives to rid academia of the plague of political correctness. I found the link via John Ray, who says:

The widely-read Chronicle of Higher Education has at last given coverage to the problem of Leftist bias in academe and what David Horowitz is doing to overcome it. There is also a site here run by students themselves which gives even more information on how huge the problem is. There is an article from last year here by David Horowitz that makes clear that there is actually what amounts to a blacklist against hiring conservative professors at almost all U.S. universities ... [my emphasis]

From reading this, a casual reader might conclude that John Ray is here entertaining a conspiracy theory, but this might be a mistake. On Friday 6 February, he made his position on conspiracy theories and who entertains them quite clear:

The fact ... is that conspiracy theories (in the 60's, "the CIA" was responsible for everything) are part and parcel of the simplistic thinking that is characteristic of the Left. That is not to say that there are NO conservatives who sometimes entertain conspiracy theories but such theories are nonetheless far and away the characteristic mental hidey-hole of the Leftist who cannot afford to face reality lest his entire conceptual house of cards come tumbling down.

On the other hand it might not be a mistake; Ray does admit that there are some conservatives who sometimes resort to the mental hidey-hole of comspiracy theories, so the logic is pretty clear. Given:

I. Some conservatives sometimes entertain conspiracy theories.
II. John Ray is a conservative.

We are completely unable, on purely logical grounds to say whether John Ray ever entertains conspiracy theories or not. The only way to settle the question is by looking at the available empirical evidence, starting perhaps with Ray's writings on his blog.

That's enough of hoisting the engineer by his own petard for now. Getting back to the Chronicle of Higher Education, besides the feature linked above, there's an article by David Horowitz promoting his "Academic Bill of Rights", and a response from Stanley Fish, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Among other things, Fist says:

Opponents of the Academic Bill of Rights contend that despite disclaimers of any political intention and an explicit rejection of quotas, the underlying agenda is the decidedly political one of forcing colleges and universities to hire conservative professors in order to assure ideological balance.

Horowitz replies (in print and conversation) that he has no desire to impose ideological criteria on the operations of the academy; he does not favor, he tells me, legislation that would have political bodies taking over the responsibility of making curricular and hiring decisions. His hope, he insists, is that colleges and universities will reform themselves, and he offers the Academic Bill of Rights (which is the product of consultation with academics of various persuasions) as a convenient base-line template to which they might refer for guidance.

For the record, and as one of those with whom he has consulted, I believe him, and I believe him, in part, because much of the Academic Bill of Rights is as apolitical and principled as he says it is. It begins by announcing that "the central purposes of a University are the pursuit of truth, the discovery of new knowledge through scholarship and research, the study and reasoned criticism of intellectual and cultural traditions ... and the transmission of knowledge and learning to a society at large." (I shall return to the clause deleted by my ellipsis.)

Fish continues with some examples of how these high-sounding principles are being put into practice by Horowitz' converts:

Someone is going to say, let's monitor those lefty professors and keep tabs on what they're saying; and while we're at it, let's withhold federal funds from programs that do not display "ideological balance" ("balance" is also an unworthy academic goal); and let's demand that academic institutions demonstrate a commitment to hiring conservatives; and let's make sure that the material our students read is pro-American and free of the taint of relativism; and let's publish the names of those who do not comply.

This is not a hypothetical list; it is a list of actions already being taken. In fact, it is a list one could pretty much glean from the Web site of State Senator John K. Andrews Jr., president of the Colorado Senate (, a site on which the Academic Bill of Rights is invoked frequently.

Also via John Ray, I discovered that Theodore Dalrymple of City Journal wants to make it clear that he is in no way related to William Dalrymple who wrote the article "Islamophobia" which appeared in the New Statesman recently. Theodore begins his article on William with this bold statement:

The idea that if someone is prepared to do something truly horrible, he must have a worthy cause remains attractive to liberal intellectuals, who perhaps envy those who take up arms against the sea of troubles that is human existence.

I find this a little confusing, especially the reference to Hamlet (Act III, Scene 1), where Hamlet wanders onstage and starts raving on about topping himself:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;

Perhaps Theodore got mixed up between Hamlet and Henry V:

In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favor'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect.

That's the bugger with Shakespeare; he wrote so many plays whose titles begin with the letter H.

It may be a little unfair to dismiss Theodore Dalrymple's article out of hand, merely because he can't get his Shakespeare straight. It's only the opening sentence after all, and it bears little on the bone he has to pick with William (not even a second cousin three times removed) Dalrymple. Fair minded readers will probably want to read both William's article and Theo's article before they consider taking sides in the Dalrymple non-family squabble.
Haloscan seems to have fallen over again. I might see if I can password protect the blog until it's fixed.

Tomorrow's Hot Topic?

A Victorian court has given a woman permission to sue suspended Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) leader Geoff Clark over rape allegations.

A VICTORIAN judge today said he believed suspended ATSIC chairman Geoff Clark raped a woman 33 years ago. County Court Judge John Hanlon today granted Carol Anne Stingel, 48, an extension of time under the statute of limitations to bring civil action against Mr Clark over an alleged gang rape in 1971.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Poor Bugger Mordechai

I heard on AM this morning that Mordechai Vanunu,is due for release from prison in two months:

Vanunu has spent 18 years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement, for telling a British newspaper about Israel's possession of atomic weapons.

It's not surprising that Vanunu would like to leave Israel once he's out of jail, but that seems unlikely:

Some senior Israeli security chiefs and politicians want the former nuclear technician gagged from speaking to the media and confined to house arrest once he's released from prison. They argue the crusading Vanunu could reveal more secrets.

There's a lot about this report that bothers me, starting with the story of Vanunu's arrest:

A nuclear technician at Israel's Dimona plant, Vanunu was laid off in 1985. He left Israel and wound up in Sydney, where he met a British journalist and agreed to reveal his knowledge of his homeland's nuclear program, including photos he'd secretly taken at Dimona.

The story caused a sensation.

But shortly after in London, Vanunu met an American tourist named "Cindy" who persuaded him to fly with her to Rome.

Cindy turned out to be a Mossad agent, and Vanunu was drugged and returned to Israel on a freighter.

He was tried in secret and condemned as a traitor.

But in hindsight Mordechai Vanunu may have been lucky, because the then head of Mossad, Shabtai Shavit revealed this week he nearly had him killed.

(Shabtai Shavit speaking)

"I would be lying if I said that thought didn't pass through our heads", the former spy chief says.

So why wasn't Vanunu killed?

(Shabtai Shavit speaking)

"Because Jews don't do that to other Jews", he says.

I suppose that Vanunu should consider himself lucky. Had he been a Russian suspected of releasing Russian secrets to the West, it's unlikely that the KGB would have shown the same squeamishness. If they'd felt any compunction about Russians killing Russians, they have just contracted the job out to the Bulgarian Intelligence who didn't even seem to scruple too much about killing Bulgarians back in the good old days of the Cold War.

It's going to be interesting to see if the Israeli security chiefs and politicians get their way; for some reason, the idea of keeping someone in permanent house arrest to prevent them from talking to the media doesn't fit with my possibly naive ideas about the way things are done in a democracy. Neither does kidnapping someone in a foreign country and then shipping them home for a secret trial but that, of course, is in the past.

Whatever the Israelis decide to do about Vanunu once he's out of stir, I reckon he's got Buckley's of being accepted as an immigrant to Australia. No doubt he'll have his supporters and advocates here, but I think the most likely response to Vanunu's application is going to be based on the premise that we don't want any Israeli traitors coming to this country, thank you very much.

It's a sad case of the wrong nationality at the wrong time; in 1954 the Australian government was quite willing to welcome a couple of Russian traitors into the country. Of course the Petrovs were only traitors by the standards of Totalitarian Russian Communism; by the standards of Freedom-Loving Australian Democracy they were political asylum seekers. I don't foresee such a conflict of outlooks arising in Vanunu's case.

See These Eyes So Green ...

One significant advantage of blogging under a pseudonym - especially one as ridiculous as "Gummo Trotsky" - is that it's very unlikely that anything I post on my blog is ever going to turn up on page 30 of The Bulletin, under a picture of a great white shark key-ring. So it's unlikely that my name will ever appear in a paragraph introduced by such banalities as:

I believe you should never look back. Because the only thing you can change is the future.

My mistake - that's the Toyota ad on the opposite page. The one with a photograph of Greg Norman, looking into the distance with the steely determination of a man who knows exactly where his keylight is.

Still, though it's a risk I don't face myself, I can see how you might get pissed off if you knew that an occasional Bulletin reader might notice your name as they're flicking over the filler pages to get from Leo Schofield's article "Stand up for Etiquette to get to Deborah Light's article "Burnt Offerings" on how bushfire victims are getting the run-around from insurance companies (the latter doesn't seem to be available on-line).

Greg Norman wouldn't get pissed off - he gets paid to look craggy, resolute and slightly sweaty above the Toyota advertising copy. And, even if he didn't write all of it himself, it's unlikely he would have lent his name to a campaign with the theme "The Great White Shark says, if you insist on buying a rice burner, get a Toyota!" Even if (speaking very hypothetically) he'd said it as a passing joke in one of his meetings with the advertising agency.

On the other hand, if my name and professional position did score an entirely gratuitous mention on page 30 of The Bulletin, I'd have at least one consolation; it would be much worse to turn up on page 74, just inside the back cover, where Patrick Cook does the genuinely funny stuff. That's a page you can find without having to look it up in the table of contents.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Sea Change ?

It's only a personal impression, based on the dubious evidence of surfing other people's blogs, but it seems to me that one of the great changes that has come over Australia in the past six months is that people do feel able to speak a little more freely and a little more openly about what they feel. In a sense the pall of censorship on certain issues has been lifted. I think we were facing the possibility of becoming a more narrow and restrictive society and that free speech could not be taken so easily for granted as we might in our calmer moments have assumed. I think there has been that change and I think that’s a very good thing. I welcome the fact that people can now talk about certain things without living in fear of being branded as a slave of political correctness or as un-Australian or any of the other expressions that have been too carelessly flung around in this country whenever somebody has disagreed with what somebody has said.

Correction: I was wrong:

Labor's foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd says the Prime Minister should reveal whether the independent investigation will go ahead.

"John Howard's got a responsibility today to the Australian people [to] stand up in the Australian Parliament and just level with people, use a bit of straight talking and say whether he's going to have [an] independent commission of inquiry or not," he said.

"This going around the backdoor and letting the story dribble out I think is frankly un-Australian."

Thanks a lot Kev.

As It Happened

A $4-billion boost to the Australian economy. That's the catch-cry from supporters of the free trade agreement with the US - a figure quoted by Government ministers in the Senate yesterday. But that figure is now looking more than a little rubbery.

But even if Australia had achieved all it wanted from the free trade deal, the figure of $4-billion a year wouldn't hold. The CIE's own report actually estimated the deal would be worth US$2-billion annually. The notion it would add $4-billion a year to our economy assumed that US$1 would be worth AU$2, but the Aussie dollar is now buying more than 78 cents, and that's more than 50 per cent above the level assumed in the report. In other words, on current exchange rates, the deal would have been worth $2.56-billion if all had gone to plan. But it hasn't.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: There is now some debate about the figures. Your fellow Ministers, Robert Hill and Ian MacDonald, were in the Senate just yesterday saying that it was still worth $4-billion a year to Australia. Is it?

PETER COSTELLO: Well Alex I've said it's overwhelmingly in the national interest and will be positive for Australia. Now I listened to the introduction and I think the main point that was being made there is that a benefit of US$2-billion on an exchange rate of 50 cents is different to a benefit of US$2-billion on an exchange rate of 78 cents.


PETER COSTELLO: And of course these things move, these exchange rates move every day, and to think that you can adjust economic benefits over a 10 or 20 year period on exchange rate assumptions is looking for a false precision. You know, Alex, what do you think the exchange rate will be in five years' time?

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So how much do you think the deal is worth now?

PETER COSTELLO: Nobody can tell you what the exchange rate will be in five years time. You can't even tell what it will be in five months' time let alone five years' time, but I will make this point. We are gaining access, enhanced access, to a market of 300 million people. That market is gaining enhanced access to our market of 20 million people. The bigger benefits are going to go to the people who are getting access to the larger market. This is why it's in Australia's interest. We take a country of 20 million people and suddenly we get enhanced access for our goods and services into a market of 300.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But how much is that …

PETER COSTELLO: That's where the benefit comes.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But how much is that enhanced access worth?

PETER COSTELLO: Well, as I said to you before, it's a false precision to make exchange rate assumptions for five months or five years.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But you have your ministers in the Senate.

PETER COSTELLO: I'm not putting specific $A or US$ benefits on it, what I'm telling you …

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But your ministers are, aren't they?

PETER COSTELLO: What I'm telling you is, this is in Australia's national interest because we get access to a market of 300 million people, and that will enhance our trade and our economy.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So will you pull your ministers into line? Will they no longer say that this deal is worth $4-billion a year?

PETER COSTELLO: Well Alex, valiant try, but as I said to you, this is overwhelmingly in Australia's interests, and the question is …

Alexandra Kirk interviews Peter Costello on AM immediately afterwards

ANDREW STOECKEL: Well the $4-billion a year, right, that's in Australian dollars, and our estimates, all our estimates were based in US dollars, which was $2-billion.

STEPHEN LONG: So on the current exchange rate, you're talking about AU$2.56-billion in benefits if all your assumptions had held?

ANDREW STOECKEL: If all our assumptions had held, at an exchange rate of 68 cents to the US dollar, which it was when we did the analysis, then that would have given US$2-billion of benefit to Australia.

STEPHEN LONG: And what about now with the exchange rate at US 78 cents?

ANDREW STOECKEL: Well, you'd have to adjust that number by two things. One is the exchange rate in modern day terms, and then you'd have to take a ten-year view of that, because you have a flow of benefits over time which you need to discount. And secondly we didn't get everything we wanted. In particular we didn't get things like sugar, but then we got some other things that, for example on Government procurement, which were not in that analysis. So there's a whole series of unders and overs you'd have to look at and recalculate to get any sensible number from that US agreement.

STEPHEN LONG: So it's pointless quoting a figure of $4-billion a year in benefits without doing further modelling and analysis?

ANDREW STOECKEL: Correct, you're really… because it's very different. We assumed three things. We assumed there'd be full liberalisation, we assumed there'd be a 50 per cent liberalisation, and we assumed a 25 per cent liberalisation. Now in the wash-up we've achieved a lot of liberalisation, very quickly in some areas, and no liberalisation in other areas, particularly say sugar which is a big one.

STEPHEN LONG: You'd have to say, though, that the bottom line at this stage is that given that we didn't get those gains on sugar, we got less than assumed in some other areas of the agreement, that it's pretty rubbery to be quoting a figure of $4-billion a year annually in benefits?

ANDREW STOECKEL: Yes it would be. We really should get away from that estimate. There'll be a new estimate. There'll be some pluses to the estimate from what we estimated and there would be some negatives.

The Stealth Treasurer also had this to say on the subject of parliamentarians' superannuation:

PETER COSTELLO: No, I would ask this question. By changing the super scheme do you think you'll get better MPs? I'm not sure that it'll give you better MPs. I think we oughta do things that will get us better MPS in Australia, but I don't think this is one of the things that will do it.

Now can I move onto judges, because this is a very important point. Mr Latham says that he's going to cut superannuation for Federal judges, but not State judges. What this means is that the good people will not take Federal Court appointments, they'll take State Court appointments.

I'll make another point. Is there one Labor premier that came out yesterday and said he would forego premiers' superannuation? Cause under the Latham plan, you know what this means? The State MPs are going to be on much more generous superannuation than your Federal MPs. Will that get the best people into Federal politics? I don't think so. And there was an ominous silence from the State capitals yesterday

I think that what Mr Costello is trying to say is that the result of Mark Latham's proposal would be that, in future, talented, able people like Bill Heffernan, Santo Santoro and George "Own Goal" Brandis, will find the remuneration and perks in State Parliaments more attractive than the remuneration and perks on offer federally. That is worrying.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

They Got/We Got

They Got:

All U.S. agricultural exports to Australia, totaling more than $400 million, will receive immediate duty-free access.

Key agricultural products that will benefit from immediate tariff elimination include:

* Processed food products such as soups, food preparation and bakery products.
* Soybeans and oilseeds products.
* Fresh and processed fruits, vegetables and nuts, including: dried onions, fruit and vegetable juices, dried plums, potatoes, almonds, tomatoes, cherries, raisins, olives, fresh grapes, sweet corn, frozen strawberries, and walnuts.
* With resolution of technical issues expected in the near future, pork products.
* Alcoholic beverages, including distilled spirits.
[My emphasis]
Office of the United States Trade Representative Free Trade "Down Under" - Summary of the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement (PDF Format)

We Got:

* The AUSFTA will give Australian agriculture a significant boost in the US market.

* Two thirds of all agricultural tariffs - including in important commodities such as lamb, sheep meat and horticultural products, will be eliminated immediately - a further 9 per cent of tariffs will be cut to zero within four years.

* The AUSFTA provides greater access to the US market for two of Australia's key agricultural export industries, beef and dairy.

* Australia's sugar access remains unchanged at 87,000 tonnes per annum.
[My emphasis again]

According to Gerard Henderson, this makes us the envy of the world.

Free Trade Quote of the Day

I think that Mr Vaile was out of his depth from the time he hit Washington.
Peter Trebilco, Vice President, Finance, of the Public Health Association of Australia on AM.