The Information Action Ratio is the place to go… A monarchist’s take on the death of the Queen

Nobody was expecting much from public debate, and we seemed to get less than even that.  By the time we had a Senator telling another Senator to go back to Pakistan, we should have known that we’d reached a new low point.

The public discourse about the death of Queen Elizabeth II passed through several phases quickly.  First, we heard that she was under observation.  Then we heard she was dead.  We moved quickly to how the death of a 96 year old who recently lost their partner was actually an example of a failure of pandemic policy.  And then rapidly to who could write the most tasteless shitpost on social media.

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I want an interesting synonym to describe this thing… We could fix #QandA, we just don’t want to

Last Thursday, one of the ABC’s flagship political discussion shows, Q&A, failed to reach the top twenty of the most watched free-to-air programmes that evening.  It performed worse than Gogglebox, a repeat of the previous night’s episode of The Chase, and something called Sammy J-EV.  A similar result came in the week before.

Criticisms of Q&A are not new.  Practically since it began, commentators have noted that the show is designed to fuel combat over discussion.  The audience asks the questions–provided they ask questions approved by the producers.  A few times, the audience has gone off script asking a question not cleared by the producers, with the host helpfully vetoing the spontaneous question and replacing it with the approved version instead.  With an hour-long show and five panellists, each person has a theoretical maximum of 12 minutes to put forward their view on every topic covered in the episode.  Thoughtful, insightful contributions to discussion are drowned out by snappy hot takes.

But there’s no reason for Q&A to be nearly as bad as it is.  With a fraction of the budget, you could create a far superior show.  Hell, if you got some clever buddies together, you could produce it in a living room and stream it on YouTube or Twitch from your apartment.  Call it Frequently Asked Questions or some shit.

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It’s hard to think that you might not be real… Stabbing Rushdie where it matters

Jim saw the trending topic on Twitter along with hundreds of thousands of others: ‘Salman Rushdie stabbed’.  Five minutes earlier, Jim would have thought this was about a type of fish; a few Google searches and now Jim had informed opinions.

This is an attack on freedom of speech, he thought and tweeted.  We must never let violence threaten freedom of speech, he thought and tweeted.  If they can stab Salman Rushdie, he thought and tweeted, what’s to stop them from coming for the rest of us?

Jim knew exactly who they were.  They were Muslims.  Jim didn’t like to think of himself as a racist because Jim didn’t think of Muslims as a race.  Jim was certain that Islam isn’t a race and therefore he was entitled to be as critical of Islam has he liked.  Religious people need to accept that freedom of speech means that we need to be free to criticise religion, he thought and tweeted.  Jim voted for the ALP and so definitely wasn’t racist, like Coalition voters; he just wondered why more Australian Muslims weren’t on Twitter condemning the violence towards Rushdie.

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Quick Post: Notes and Thoughts on the Residential Tenancies Legislation Amendment Bill 2022

The ACT is proposing changes to the Residential Tenancies Act 1997.  A driving policy goal for these changes is more security for tenants.  The big ticket items in the Bill are the end of ‘no cause’ terminations and the further development of minimum standards.  I strongly recommend that all tenants in the ACT have a look at the proposals and provide their feedback (deadline 26 August): https://yoursayconversations.act.gov.au/expanding-rights-renters

The big ticket items are, of course, the ones that are going to get the most attention.  Minimum standards are only going to affect landlords who have properties that do not meet the minimum standards.  The Real Estate Institute of the ACT (REIACT) will claim that this will make it harder for landlords but, clearly, this will only make it harder for landlords who have properties that do not meet minimum standards.

Indeed, the reasoning that REIACT uses to show that ‘properties are leaving the market’ (as if landlords carry their properties around on their backs like shells and that, if it weren’t for their properties, they would merely be slugs) is faulty: they try to match up the number of bonds held by the Territory with taxation data.  What they show is more likely non-compliant landlords failing to lodge bonds with the Territory.

In this post, I wanted to give my views on some of the less obvious parts of the Bill.  And I give these views knowing that the ACT has an extremely good Residential Tenancies Act and that the ACT has been extremely lucky to have had several generations of extremely good legal policy officers working on its development.

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Quick Post: Notes on housing, residential tenancy law, and property managers

A rather good article by Slate and thread on Twitter by Henry Grabar about the housing crisis in the United States prompted me to procrastinate with some notes of my own about the situation in Australia.  The unifying theme between the Australian and North American arguments is the need to think through the history of how we arrived in our situations.  There is a tendency to look at housing problems as a ‘view from nowhere’ problem: a problem has emerged and now we need a solution.  The Grabar article and thread show part of the pathway to the current situation in the United States, and also show how things have worked (to greater or lesser extent) in the past.

The history of residential tenancy law in Australia is very different from that of the United States.  The United States has had a history of extremely varied living arrangements that we have not really seen in Australia.  The history of tenancy law in Australia, on the other hand, was about controlling rents and evictions; it was comparatively recently that tenants were considered consumers who should enjoy consumer protections.  Between 1978 and 1999, States and Territories began to codify residential tenancy law with greater protections for tenants.  Tenants were paying for a service; there should be protections that recognise their status as consumers.  Recent shifts in discussion about residential law reform have had a focus on improving the lot of long-term tenants, but I think this overlooks the unfinished work of consumer protection.

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There’s gotta be a million girls like her, though I can’t think of one… Anna Biller’s ‘Love Witch’ and ‘A Visit from the Incubus’

Despite living in the Age of Everything Being on Demand, there are some movies that are just impossible to find.  For the longest while, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch was impossible to find in Australia.  The trailer presented this beautiful, absolutely luscious palatte based on 1950s-60s movies and promised a plot that seemed absolutely bonkers.  Expectations raised.

Having been pointed in the direction of the streaming services of various cinemas, I finally got an opportunity to see it.  And expectations met!  Every part of it is amazing and easily one of my favourite movies.  I was also pointed in the direction of Biller’s short movies on Vimeo, leading to a watch of her earlier A Visit from the Incubus.

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The effect is all wrong; Plain to see I’m not moved… Do we really care about misinformation this election?

The Federal Election has been called!  If you thought the last 18 months had been bad in public debate, the next six weeks is going to be unbearable.

The fundamental puzzle is the extent to which we care about political debate being a rational exchange of ideas, or does the end justify the means when it comes to ‘our side’ winning the election?

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Quick Post: Did federalism survive the pandemic?

I’m waiting for a pizza to arrive at my office, so here is a quick argument about Australian federalism now that we’re emerging from the ‘roni.

Back before he was Prime Minister, Tony Abbott wrote a book that was supposed to be his political manifesto.  In it, he argued strongly in favour of stripping powers away from the States and conferring them upon the Commonwealth (he specifically wanted a referendum that would allow the Commonwealth Parliament to go through a relatively simple process to give itself powers).  When he formed government, he did a massive backflip and converted to the way of States’ Rights.  There was a big audit of all the things that the Commonwealth did that should be sent to the States.

The audit delivered its report and it mostly collected dust.  There wasn’t the appetite for getting the States to do things.

Scott Morrison appears to believe, quite genuinely and not unseriously, in the federal system and devolving powers back to the States.  There are some exceptions to this belief, most notably about cyber-issues, particularly the digital economy.

For whatever reason, people forget what happened back at the start of the pandemic.  Trump and Johnson were largely disinterested in managing the outbreak.  For whatever reason, a lot of the online AusPol crowd think that the Morrison government did similarly.  In fact, Australia was criticised for how rapidly it shut down the border.  Dutton wanted to use Christmas Island as a quarantine station; the State Premiers criticised him, with McGowan claiming (quite awkwardly) that Christmas Island was no place for Australians.  Berejiklian thought that NSW would use hospitals for quarantining, causing a minor spat with the Commonwealth.

There are good reasons to believe that one of the reasons that Australia did so well during the pandemic was because of this early overreach.  We don’t share a major land border with another country, so once the Commonwealth went hard on the border, Australia was likely to do well (which it did).  The question that emerged was how to handle the ongoing aspects of the pandemic.

Enter Mr Federalism, the Prime Minister: these are matters that are more obviously within the legislative remit of the States and, therefore, the States should handle them.

So what happened?

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Never for money, always for love… Authorising political content and the mysterious lack of anonymous right wing Twitter accounts

Bit of a secret–don’t tell anybody–but there’s an election coming up in 2022.  And so I found myself noodling with some questions of electoral law.  The one that has captured my imagination is the requirement to authorise political materials.

I want to present to you an idea that does not have a neat, tidy resolution.  Reasonable people can disagree about how they want their political system to handle this.  On one side of the scale, think about the mischief that arises from people being able to pump political material into the public square anonymously: people spinning political content to look apolitical or otherwise neutral.  I think most people want to be able to check the source of serious political claims.  On the other side of the scale, think about the extent to which a person should be required to give up their privacy just to participate in political activities.  We often think about the big ticket items here: what if people want changes to laws that negatively affect LGBT Australians without ‘outing’ themselves to their family?  But we don’t need to be nearly that dramatic: what if you just want to advocate for this or that policy without maniacs trying to get you sacked from your job?  Or what if you just want to run a blog about economics on the side without the Press trying to doxx you (the Greg Jericho case)?

That’s the problem in broad brushstrokes. Privacy is important and people and their families shouldn’t be ‘fair game’ just because they want to engage in democratic culture, but we also know that there’s a threshold at which people are producing a lot of very partisan, very political content and we want to be able to verify the source of the content.  From this broad sketch, we fill in the details about the problem and end up with a range of reasonable opinions…

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No soldier in that gallant band hid half as well as he did… When offensiveness is the point

Jimmy Carr is no stranger to controversy or outrage.  The most recent regards a joke made on his Netflix special His Dark Materials in which the punchline was that the genocide of Romani was a ‘positive’ of the Holocaust.  Most reasonable people were offended by the joke because the joke was offensive.  Nothing in this argument is a defense of the joke.

I instead want to flip the debate a bit to look at an aspect of the ‘freedom of speech’ debate that doesn’t get a lot of attention: what happens when people are trying to be offensive?

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