Quick Post: Politics in the Pulpit: Religious Lobbying & Oz Politics

Over on the ABC Religion & Ethics Twitter stream, there’s an open discussion about the extent to which religious leaders should take specific policy positions on issues like climate change and gay marriage.  For various reasons, I have a locked down Twitter account at the moment, so I thought I’d scratch out my thoughts here.

As an atheist, I am strongly in favour of religious leaders taking strong policy positions in public debate. Continue reading “Quick Post: Politics in the Pulpit: Religious Lobbying & Oz Politics”

Make a scene, make it real, make it feel… Two models for Senate selection #auspol

English: Portrait of Andrew Inglis Clark.

When discussing why the Senate is borked, the problem we’re trying to solve needs to be understood.  I argued this yesterday in an analysis of how the hubris of various parties caused batshit preference flows.  The problem is not — and never will be — the number of candidates on the ballot.  The problem is the way senators are selected through the Hare-Clark model.

I have two models with which I’ve been playing around: one is a tweaked Hare-Clark model; the other is a positional voting system with a quota-balance.

Before I discuss those two things, let’s revisit what the problems with the current Senate system are.

Continue reading “Make a scene, make it real, make it feel… Two models for Senate selection #auspol”

Quick Post: A leadership ballot could change the image of the ALP #auspol


English: Photograph of Kelvin Thomson, Austral...
English: Photograph of Kelvin Thomson, Australian Labor MP. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kelvin Thomson is on my television screen advocating for a leadership ballot.  Following the defeat of the Rudd Government on Saturday, the chatterati have returned to discussion about the ALP leadership.  ALP leadership has been a recurring issue throughout the past three years and, arguably, one of the reasons the ALP lost so decisively was because of the perception of division and disunity within the party.

In the twilight of the Rudd era, the ALP changed its rules for electing leaders.  The idea was to prevent the situation we had seen in the Rudd-Gillard years of Prime Ministers being replaced overnight by the Caucus.  Rigidity, inflexibility, and immutability is stability, so the argument goes.

This has caused an unusual problem in the post-election world.  The ALP is desperate to show a united front, but ballots can show division and disunity.

But could a ballot be used to promote and communicate a sense of unity and stability within the ALP?  Yes.

Continue reading “Quick Post: A leadership ballot could change the image of the ALP #auspol”

Got a face of stone and a ghostwritten biography… The deeper mystery of @LiberalAus cutting research funds #auspol

Dean of Faculty of Arts, Monash University
Dean of Faculty of Arts, Monash University (Photo credit: avlxyz)

Newspapers have a responsibility to report the news accurately and completely.  The journalists covering higher education and research issues are routinely derelict in their duty, often writing such baffling nonsense that I suspect they’re doing it on purpose to troll academics (academics are especially prone to linkbait).  Articles about funding issues are usually the most fraught, if for no other reason than the issues are ridiculously complicated.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the Coalition was unhappy with the way funding had been distributed through the Australian Research Council (ARC).  Nobody would ever accuse Simon Benson of being eloquent, but this article found new ways of presenting information in a way that would make the least amount of sense to an informed reader.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal that as part of the Coalition’s budget savings measures, a dedicated team will be formed under its proposed Commission of Audit to re-prioritise about $900 million in annual Australian Research Council grants.

Apart from being grammatically incorrect, what does this actually mean?  What does the verb ‘to re-prioritise’ mean?  Does it mean that people who currently hold an ARC might have their funding ‘re-prioritised’?  Or does it mean that future grants will be ‘re-prioritised’?  Ordinary journalists would explain what they mean, but Simon Benson is no ordinary journalist.

And things get more confusing from there. Continue reading “Got a face of stone and a ghostwritten biography… The deeper mystery of @LiberalAus cutting research funds #auspol”

Quick Post: Why the GetUp ad strategy is killing political discussion (and my daddy issues) #auspol

An advert from GetUp criticising Rupert Murdoch was rejected by the mainstream press.  Social media went into outrage mode, sharing and retweeting links to the video.

Rupert Murdoch - World Economic Forum Annual M...
Rupert Murdoch – World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps the biggest problem in contemporary political discourse is the abuse of outrage.  We don’t seek to persuade people who disagree with us.  Instead, we seek to get our supporters incoherently outraged.  I’ve argued elsewhere that it’s a deliberate strategy in the asylum seeker debate — both ‘sides’ of politics have more to gain from trashing the debate than participating in it.

But GetUp has taken this in a new direction.  No person who sees that advert will change their opinion about Murdoch.  There’s no content to it whatsoever.  The point of the advert is not — crazily enough — to draw attention to Murdoch but to draw attention to GetUp.

In other words, we are now at the point in political discourse that an organisation like GetUp can cynically bank on the value of outrage.  GetUp didn’t try to get the adverts played on YouTube, or on any of the other new media outlets.  Instead, they targeted the part of the industry which was not relevant to their target audience in order to get free publicity elsewhere.

This is indicative of something incredibly sick at the heart of political debate.

But look instead at the consequence of this sort of activity.  Surely the point of political debate is to persuade and be persuaded.  Instead, we’ve seen this GetUp advert, the ‘dontbeafuckingidiot’ website, and various other campaigns which were targeted instead at convincing people who already agree with them that they should agree with them.

Abbott’s campaign team understood this problem early.  Because all the polls were in their favour, they had to do very little in order to keep in the ‘lead’.  Jaymes Diaz and Ray King have been able to hide from public debate and still come across as contenders for their seats.  Why?  Because they had more to lose from upsetting their supporters than they had to gain from convincing people who disagree with them.

Rudd’s team has not had that luxury and they needed to convince the disillusioned.  As a result, we’ve had…  Not much.  The Left has shown that it has no idea how to convince swinging voters.  Worse, websites like ‘dontbeafuckingidiot’ have shown that the Left gets belligerently upset when swinging voters don’t make the effort to agree with them.

I’ve only ever heard this reasoning once before in my life.  When I was a teenager, my estranged father had a whinge that my brothers and I didn’t make more of an effort to see him.  The whinge was actually a phrasing of a different truth: he didn’t know us well enough to form a relationship.

The Left is currently suffering the same problem that my father had with me.  They simply do not understand swinging voters enough to engage with them.  Instead of acknowledging this failure and working to correct it, they instead complain that swinging voters are ignorant and obstinate and uncooperative and unthinking sheep.

Outrage is the manifestation of prejudices confirmed.  If you want to change people’s opinion, you need to change the language of people’s intuitions.  Should Rudd fail to retain government this Saturday, the Left will need to look at its foot-stamping political strategy.  GetUp has shown that it’s part of the problem and not part of the solution.

I am a flower and I hurt your hands… Why asylum seeker policy discussion suck


The fine folk at OurSay organised a community forum to engage with candidates in the upcoming election.  Even putting aside other problems, I’m still finding that the creativity expressed in connecting people with politicians is still unmatched by the creativity in the actual political content.

Nowhere did this seem to be more true than when the topic of asylum seekers came up.  The question itself was quite original: to what extent do our policies about asylum seekers, climate change, &c., reflect an ‘Australia first; everybody else second’ attitude towards policy development.  Only one of the candidates — Andrew Leigh (I feel bad for not voting for him, I really do; great guy) — engaged with the deeper philosophical point, even if only for a brief moment.  All the candidates went back to the stock standard talking points.  ‘If you don’t agree with me, you’re cruel.  He’s cruel, she’s cruel, all of them are cruel.’

In the media, asylum seeker issues are discussed with similar lack of creativity and insight.  I sort of wondered if media organisations had an interest in stultifying policy discussions.  When I’ve discussed asylum seeker policy with people and gone through various issues, they become less angry about it.  Outrage sells papers and provides linkbait, so perhaps setting out asylum seeker policy in a coherent, logical way would depress sales in an already threatened sector.

But, tonight, a different thought dawned upon me: what if the major megaphones aren’t even having the same discussion?

Continue reading “I am a flower and I hurt your hands… Why asylum seeker policy discussion suck”

Quick Post: @Drag0nista on Rudd’s #marriageequality pitch #auspol

Over on her blog, @Drag0nista (I’m still not sure of the etiquette in naming people on blogs) discusses Rudd’s rhetoric on marriage equality:

It was the first time my attention had been drawn to the careful positioning of Rudd’s support for same sex marriage. It was the first time I realised his support was not unequivocal. He gives the churches a free pass. […] It’s quite clever really. This positioning allows Rudd to present a modern, progressive face to some voters and a traditional, conservative face to another. [Source: Matthewson, P. ‘Rudd’s doublespeak on marriage equality’ Drag0nista’s Blog, 22 August 2013]

Although Drag0nista acknowledges the separation of Church and State issue — ‘I’m not suggesting that Rudd, his government, or any other government should impose same sex marriage on churches. I support the separation of Church and State.’ — she still finds the position duplicitous.

Which is odd.

First up, we should abandon the separation of Church and State.  If a church decided not to allow people of different ethnic backgrounds to marry, there would be some very furrowed brows.  The Church should be subordinate to the State, not given a special position as ‘separate’.

Second — and more relevantly to Drag0nista’s blog — we seem to have reached a meta-stage of the conversation where we don’t merely discuss what the various policies are, but we discuss the significance of how they’re presented.  To communications people, this is a big deal.  I get that.  But to the rest of us interested in the bread and butter of policy qua policy, it seems strange to describe somebody as duplicitous simply because they don’t express a policy in precisely the way we might like.

Drag0nista’s point is that Rudd hasn’t taken the Jimmy Carter approach of trying to encourage churches to be less homophobic.  There is some truth to this point: we should look to our leaders to be leaders both politically and socially.  Rudd is walking the easy path by taking the lowest common denominator position: getting marriage equality into legislation without spooking the religious nutcase horses.

But that is an altogether separate issue beyond the question of his policy for what he’s going to do about marriage equality.  In this sense, he is being clear: homosexuals will be able to marry in the same way that Catholics can’t get married in synagogues.  If you can find somebody to marry you, you can get married.  The won’t be a legislative hurdle.

What should offend us a whole lot more is that Rudd is once again offering a conscience vote.  If parties will not agree to let every matter be a conscience vote, parties should not let marriage equality slide into the uncertain waters of conscience votes.  If it’s party policy that marriage equality be supported, party members should vote accordingly.  Simple.


Quickpost: On @GetUp’s video of Abbott quotes #auspol #ausvotes

A number of my friends linked to this video this morning:

For the TL;DR crowd, GetUp has found a collection of Tony Abbott‘s more obnoxious quotes and filmed a diverse group of people reading them out to the sound of a slowly played piano.  The message is that people should judge Tony Abbott by his words.

Leaving to the side that I dislike GetUp, this video shows that there’s something wrong with the Left’s strategy in this election campaign.

Continue reading “Quickpost: On @GetUp’s video of Abbott quotes #auspol #ausvotes”

The mirror’s image, it tells me it’s home time… Why is Islam targeted for special criticism by pop-#atheism?

SecularPartyFollowing the revelation that the Secular Party is a racist ‘Ban the Burqa’ party in disguise, I cast my mind to the peculiar social phenomenon regarding pop-atheist critiques of Islam.  It runs something like this:

  1. Pop-atheist identifies an unpleasant aspect of Islam which has a direct comparison in non-Islamic society.
  2. Pop-atheist damns Islam for having the unpleasant aspect.
  3. Pop-atheist ignores non-Islamic counterpart.

Continue reading “The mirror’s image, it tells me it’s home time… Why is Islam targeted for special criticism by pop-#atheism?”

Are there any @WikileaksParty voters left? And did @aussexparty betray its base? #auspol

English: Leslie Cannold at the 2010 Global Ath...
English: Leslie Cannold at the 2010 Global Atheist Convention (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m usually the first to tut-tut when Twitter bursts into manic glee over political gaffes and stuff ups. It’s unseemly and undignified. We should endeavour to analyse policies and not occupy ourselves with the trivial nonsense of the sideshow.

But — I’ll admit it — when the Senate Group Voting Tickets were released, I was all too happy to join the scrum. Talk about own goals…

Australia’s Senate system blows chunks. I wrote in New Matilda that:

I am, despite being a staunch conservative, not a fan of the Senate, the House of Party Hacks. Party officials and MP staffers are bequeathed plump spots on senate tickets in recognition for not stuffing up so hideously that the media noticed. I’m hard pressed to spot a single senator that I’d trust with sharp scissors.

But while most of them are merely mediocre in their quasi-harmless crankery and kookery, few cultivate their inner bonsai of malevolent mendaciloquence like South Australia’s Cory Bernardi.

Although I went hammer and tongs after Senator Bernardi (and his support for the notoriously racist Geert Wilders), I could easily have turned my invective towards the entire system. Senate ballots use a form of proportional voting with a single transferable vote. Candidates require a quota of votes (rather than a majority) in order to be elected. As a result, preferences become hideously important. The ballot uses block voting, meaning an elector can either choose to number each candidate individually or — far more commonly — an elector can simply nominate which party it trusts with its vote. The Senate Group Voting Ticket indicates how the party will allocate that vote if (more usually when) the party fails to secure enough votes to reach the next round of selection.

This becomes important down in the minor party end of the system. There aren’t enough people drinking paint thinners to cause, for example, the Socialist Alliance Party to enter parliament. When they come last in the first round, their votes are redistributed amongst the existing parties. The party who then holds the fewest votes is eliminated and so on and so forth. The GVT shows the pathway that the votes take through the system. If your party is eliminated, the votes you received will go to their second preference. If the second preference has already been eliminated, it will go to the third. And so on and so on.

In effect, the votes usually end up back with the major parties for seats 1 through 5. The sixth seat is usually the most interesting, often causing unusual results as a result of preference flow (for example, the Family First candidate, Steven Fielding, who entered parliament due to a preference deal to exclude the Greens).

Today’s drama all started when we discovered that the Wikileaks Party (founded by Julian Assange) had decided to preference lunar right parties over the mainstream parties, including the Greens. This browser-destroying picture covers the main ideas:

Continue reading “Are there any @WikileaksParty voters left? And did @aussexparty betray its base? #auspol”