Where’s your daddy from?


In winter 2017, the latest fashion in Australian Federal politics seems to be having dual citizenship. At the time of writing, there are six members of the current Parliament who have been referred to the High Court to determine, amongst other things, if they were ever validly elected. Potentially, they could have to repay their salary, legislation they voted on may be invalid and so on. What happens from here is unknown and there are various claims and counter claims being made by ‘interested stakeholders’ including the Prime Minister.
The government is moving closer towards unilaterally referring four Labor MPs to the High Court to have the validity of their election tested, in a move that would mark a dramatic escalation of the citizenship stoush that has so far seen six MPs - Nationals Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan, former Greens Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, One Nation MP Malcolm Roberts and Nick Xenophon - referred to the High Court to have the validity of their election examined.
The four ALP MP’s have immigrant backgrounds, however
A senior Labor source warned: "if we go down this path, it will destroy them."

The ALP was, the source said, "confident in our vetting processes, while they don't have one, that's why they need the High Court".
Others have the resources to cover the ins and outs of this brouhaha with far greater timeliness that this blogsite, but they probably don’t get time to look at the demonstration of the morals and ethics displayed by the various players in this confected circus.

First up, Section 44 of the Constitution is there for a reason. Depending on your point of view it could be as relevant today as it was in the 1890’s or it could be a throwback to the days of the white Australia policy and should be repealed. Bill O’Chee (former National Party Senator in the 1990’s) seems to think there is a valid reason for the exclusion of dual citizens from the Parliament — the article is one point of view. Regardless, given that transport and communication around the world is considerably faster than it was in the 1890’s, it’s not so hard to understand that the chances of someone being a dual citizen (and being found out if they are) are significantly greater now than they were 120 years ago or thereabouts. All who nominate for Federal Parliament are reminded of their obligation in the Australian Electoral Commission’s nomination form, so there is clearly no excuse for suggesting that anyone who chooses to run is not aware of the requirement to renounce any other citizenship.

The list of those that have been ‘found out’ as well as those that have questions surrounding their nationality continues to grow. There seems to be two groups of people caught up in this mess: those that are a victim of circumstance, and those that are not. The second group include Scott Ludlam, Malcolm Roberts and Matthew Canavan. Ludlam was born in New Zealand, immigrated to Australia and should have known that at some stage of his life he was a New Zealand citizen. Malcolm Roberts has a history of deliberate vagueness and irrationality, this being no different to his attitude to climate change. Matthew Canavan’s excuse that his mother signed him up to be an Italian citizen in his 20’s has as much creditability as Shane Warne’s defence when he was temporarily banned from high level cricket for taking a banned diuretic drug in the early noughties, the dog ate my homework, it’s only a flesh wound and many other worn out clichés.

Which leaves us with those with similar claims to Larissa Waters, Nick Xenophon and Barnaby Joyce, who seem to be victims of circumstance. While Waters was born in Canada to Australian parents studying in Winnipeg, she apparently was unaware that her birthplace gave her automatic Canadian citizenship according to their law. Waters left Canada when she was 11 months old. Ironically, the Canadian law was changed a week after her birth to an ‘opt-out’ system. Joyce holds New Zealand citizenship by virtue of his father being born there, according to New Zealand law (since repealed). Xenophon is a dual Australian/UK citizen by virtue of his father, a Greek Cypriot. When his father emigrated to Australia in the 1950’s, Cyprus was a British Dominion and his father (despite trying to ’escape’ the British), travelled to Australia on British travel documents.

The High Court is the place for the various claims and counterclaims to be determined, not a blog site, or for that matter by the pronouncements of Malcolm Turnbull, a relatively successful and prominent lawyer who appeared in front of the High Court, who has subsequently struggled as Prime Minister:
Based on advice from the solicitor-general, the government is very confident the court will not find that the member for New England [Joyce] is to be disqualified from the parliament
A blog site is in contrast, the place to make some observations about the way the various political parties are handling the dual citizenship matter. The basic issue here is does every Australian Federal Parliament representative meet the requirements of Section 44 of the Australian Constitution? In the case of the Greens, Coalition and One Nation — the answer is on the face of it, apparently they don’t.

The ALP claims:
We are confident that every member of the Labor caucus has been properly elected,” ALP Acting National Secretary Paul Erickson said.

The Labor Party works closely with all our candidates to ensure that their nomination is sound and compliant with the constitution.

This is a critical part of our nomination processes.
At the time of writing, the ALP’s statement seems to be correct in that no ALP MP or Senator has been confirmed as a dual citizen, something that Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke, went some way towards explaining in Parliament a week or so ago:
"Every member of the Labor caucus has been properly elected. We have processes in place, that go back to grandparents, making sure that wherever citizenship needs to be renounced, that the full requirements of the Constitution are taking into account."
It didn’t stop Shorten slapping the Greens administration practices with a wet lettuce leaf:
"I think Australians will say 'what is going on with the Green political party? Are they ready to be serious political operators? Are they up for the job?' And so I think that this sort of inadvertently damages people's confidence."
Turnbull’s initial reaction was less that sympathetic.
"Obviously Senator Ludlam's oversight is a pretty remarkable one when you think about it — he's been in the Senate for so long," Mr Turnbull said.

In a separate interview with Channel Nine, the Prime Minister said:
"It is pretty amazing, isn't it, that you have had two out of nine Greens Senators didn't realise they were citizens of another country.

"It shows incredible sloppiness on their part. You know, when you nominate for Parliament, there is actually a question — you have got to address that Section 44 question and you've got to tick the box and confirm that you are not a citizen of another country.
When it came to Joyce’s bona-fides being questioned a few days later, the situation was apparently completely different and the attack dog in Turnbull surfaced:
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused Labor leader Bill Shorten of "conspiring with a foreign power" to steal government, as he fights for survival following Barnaby Joyce's citizenship bombshell.
The reality is that Fairfax media had been ‘sniffing around’ the issue for a while, at the same time as a member of ALP Senator Penny Wong’s staff asked a friend in the New Zealand Labour Party (and member of the New Zealand Parliament) about citizenship matters. The New Zealand Parliamentarian asked a question in Parliament which was later called inappropriate. Turnbull criticising two people networking while not touching the elephant in the room — Fairfax was going to publish the story anyway — is interesting. The Coalition claim to promote business, and should understand that networking is a large part of successful enterprise!

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop went hysterical:
"New Zealand is facing an election," Ms Bishop said. "Should there be a change of government [to Labour], I would find it very hard to build trust with those involved in allegations designed to undermine the government of Australia."
As Fairfax media reports:
However, NZ's Minister of Internal Affairs Peter Dunne [and leader of the United Future Party] said the rhetoric around NZ Labour was completely overblown.

‘This is so much utter nonsense - while Hipkins' questions were inappropriate, they were not the instigator. Australian media inquiries were,’ he said, referring to persistent questions from Fairfax Media.
The Australian High Court is the final arbitrator of who can legally sit in Australia’s Federal Parliament. The increasing list of Federal Parliamentarians who have fallen foul of Section 44 of the Constitution through either citizenship or ‘receiving profit from the crown’ issues will have their day in court. The Greens Senators that have been affected by Section 44 of the Constitution announced their resignation from the Senate. The same can’t be said for the National Party or One Nation Senators and Members of Parliament — Canavan resigned from the ministry (his portfolio being taken over by Joyce) while Joyce and Senator Nash have retained their ‘responsibilities’ while under investigation. One Nation Senator Roberts has not resigned, neither have Xenophon or the Coalition MP and Senator who may have a case to answer over the subclause of Section 44 prohibiting MPs and Senators from receiving income from ‘the crown’.

Since
Perth barrister, Dr John Cameron, brought down the first section 44 scalp, the Greens senator Scott Ludlam, by sending evidence of his New Zealand citizenship to the clerk of the Senate last month, an uneasy political detente held.
Xenophon claims that ‘platoons of parliamentarians and their staff are now at work trying to knock each other out of the game’. If Xenophon is correct, we all have to question the calibre of those that the political parties consider suitable for public office, as they should be using their taxpayer provided resources for the public good rather than settling of personal grievances. Politicians in general need to understand that others do have differing opinions on certain issues (heck even some in their own faction do) and nobody has the absolutely correct answer to every problem. There is nothing wrong with opinions being different — the problem is when opinions are forced down people’s throats as immutable facts. The Hawke era is still a demonstration of consensus between different groups generally resulting in a better outcome for all. The concept seems to have been lost since the 1980’s probably due to slick political marketing and politicians playing to win at all costs overwhelming the discussion of ideas and concepts for the betterment of Australia. Maybe the ALP does have bullet proof pre-selection processes or maybe they have just been lucky to date. Either way, maybe they are have learnt from past experience that ‘sitting back, observing and eating the popcorn’ is sometimes a much better strategy than throwing petrol onto a burning fire.

While the ALP was implicated, Fairfax media was going to run the story on Joyce’s dual citizenship anyway, so the massed indignation of political interference was good theatrics — and that’s about it. The Coalition, instead of admitting they had a problem and addressing it (as the Greens did through their Senators resigning from their job) thrashed around looking for someone else to blame for their own less than robust administrative process. Despite overwhelming evidence that the fan was starting to rotate anyway due to the investigations of Fairfax media, the Coalition tried to blame their political opposition. So much for the ‘adult government’ that are the only people with the skills necessary to govern the country. They can’t even take responsibility for their actions — while not being afraid to give advice to the Greens on their administration practices less than a week earlier! What’s that saying about pots and kettles?

The High Court will make their decision and depending what it is, the next few months could be really interesting to watch.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Are algorithms ruling your world?



A year or two ago, how many would have known what the word algorithm meant? Now it is a word in common use. It crops up whenever automation or artificial intelligence is mentioned.

The term ‘automation’ once conjured up images of robots doing manual tasks; now it encompasses intellectual or cognitive tasks being undertaken automatically. We are told that already the majority of financial transactions are carried out not with pencil and paper and calculators, but via algorithms.

The images of robots scurrying round the factory floor building motor vehicles or fulfilling customer orders in a vast warehouse, as happens in the Amazon organization, are easy enough to envisage and understand, although the programming behind these activities would be a mystery to most of us.

How many understand how an algorithm works, or even what is it?

Although the concept of an algorithm dates back to the 9th Century, it has come into its own during this century as we seek to automate a multitude of tasks previously done manually.

A simple definition of an algorithm is a self-contained sequence of actions to be performed, beginning with inputs and finishing with outputs.

In computer parlance, an algorithm is a well-defined procedure, a sequence of unambiguous instructions that allows a computer to solve a problem. Algorithms can perform calculations, data processing and automated reasoning tasks.

The most familiar algorithm is a kitchen recipe. It comprises the ingredients (the inputs) and the directions, instructions about how to combine the ingredients to produce the dish (the output).

Wikipedia provides an example of a simple algorithm in mathematics – a set of instructions to find the largest number in a list of numbers arranged in random order. Finding the solution requires looking at every number in the list. This simple algorithm, stated in words, reads:
  1. If there are no numbers in the set then there is no highest number.
  2. Assume the first number in the set is the largest number in the set.
  3. For each remaining number in the set: if this number is larger than the current largest number, consider this number to be the largest number in the set.
  4. When there are no numbers left in the set to iterate over, consider the current largest number to be the largest number of the set.
For computer processing, those instructions are written in computer language, for example using ‘if – then – else’ propositions: IF 'such and such is so’ THEN 'do this’, ELSE 'do this'.

Such straightforward mathematical algorithms seem harmless enough. An input is processed and the output is reliably produced.

Now though these mathematical calculations are used in commerce and finance, for example in stock market transactions where the computer programs of stock brokers compete with one another to accomplish the most advantageous transactions for their clients. There are stories of stock broking firms using faster and faster computers and building faster and faster transmission lines to the stock exchange to outdo their competitors. Even a few thousandths of a second faster transmission can make all the difference.

At times the speed and number of such competing automated instructions have brought the stock market to a halt – the ‘flash crash’.

We need though to get away from the notion that mathematical algorithms are pure and free from bias because they use the science of mathematics. Cathy O’Neil, a Harvard PhD and data scientist tells us why in her recently published book: Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy, published by Crown. Her experience working for a hedge fund at the time of the global financial crisis informs her views and her writings.

In an article in The Guardian last October by Mona Chalabi titled Weapons of Math Destruction: Cathy O'Neil adds up the damage of algorithms, Chalabi points out that algorithms that started as rule-based processes for solving mathematical problems are now being applied to more and more areas of our lives. She continues:

This idea is at the heart of O’Neil’s thinking on why algorithms can be so harmful. In theory, mathematics is neutral – two plus two equals four regardless of what anyone wishes the answer were. But in practice, mathematical algorithms can be formulated and tweaked based on powerful interests.

O’Neil saw those interests first hand when she was a quantitative analyst on Wall Street. Starting in 2007, she spent four years in finance, two of them working for a hedge fund. There she saw the use of weapons of math destruction, a term O’Neil uses to describe “algorithms that are important, secret and destructive”.

The algorithms that ultimately caused the financial crisis met all of those criteria – they affected large numbers of people, were entirely opaque and destroyed lives. O’Neil left the hedge fund: “I left disgusted by finance because I thought of it as a rigged system and it was rigged for the insiders; I was ashamed by that – as a mathematician I love math and I think math is a tool for good.”
According to O’Neil, algorithms can be used to reinforce discrimination and widen inequality, by ‘using people’s fear and trust of mathematics to prevent them from asking questions.’ This can occur when aspects of life other than objective mathematical propositions are the inputs to the algorithm.

Her book explains how algorithms can do this – such as the ones used to measure the likelihood a convicted person will relapse into criminal behaviour: ‘When someone is classed as “high risk”, they’re more likely to get a longer sentence and find it harder to find a job when they eventually do get out. That person is then more likely to commit another crime, and so the model looks like it got it right.’

O’Neil tells us that ’…contrary to popular opinion that algorithms are purely objective, “models are opinions embedded in mathematics”. Think Trump is hopeless? That will affect your calculations. Think black American men are all criminal thugs? That affects the models being used in the criminal justice system.’

But O’Neill tells us that sometimes it’s hard for non-statisticians to know which questions to ask. Her advice is to be persistent. ‘People should feel more entitled to push back and ask for evidence, but they seem to fold a little too quickly when they’re told that it’s complicated.’ She adds: ‘If someone feels that some formula has affected their lives, at the very least they should be asking, how do you know that this is legal? That it isn’t discriminatory?’

Algorithms have the capability to sort through vast amounts of data – so-called big data. But what data should algorithms be sorting?

Writing in The Guardian, in a article titled: How algorithms rule the world, Leo Hickman says: ‘From dating websites and City trading floors, through to online retailing and internet searches (Google's search algorithm is now a more closely guarded commercial secret than the recipe for Coca-Cola), algorithms are increasingly determining our collective futures. Bank approvals, store cards, job matches and more all run on similar principles. The algorithm is the god from the machine powering them all, for good or ill.’

We are becoming aware that our Internet browsing history, our Google searches, our contributions to Facebook, Twitter and other social media are being monitored and fed back to us in the form of suggestions about what we might buy or eat or how we should vote.

The values and the objectives of those who design algorithms are reflected in the data collected and the algorithms used to process the data.

In The Guardian article: How algorithms rule the world Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, professor of internet governance and regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, warns against humans seeing causation when an algorithm identifies a correlation in vast swaths of data.

He cautions us about: ‘… the possibility of using big-data predictions about people to judge and punish them even before they've acted. Doing this negates ideas of fairness, justice and free will. In addition to privacy and propensity, there is a third danger. We risk falling victim to a dictatorship of data, whereby we fetishise the information, the output of our analyses, and end up misusing it. Handled responsibly, big data is a useful tool of rational decision-making. Wielded unwisely, it can become an instrument of the powerful, who may turn it into a source of repression, either by simply frustrating customers and employees or, worse, by harming citizens.’

Mayer-Schönberger presents two very different real-life scenarios to illustrate how algorithms are being used. He explains how the analytics team working for US retailer Target can now calculate whether a woman is pregnant and, if so, when she is due to give birth: ‘They noticed that these women bought lots of unscented lotion at around the third month of pregnancy, and that a few weeks later they tended to purchase supplements such as magnesium, calcium and zinc. The team ultimately uncovered around two-dozen products that, used as proxies, enabled the company to calculate a “pregnancy prediction” score for every customer who paid with a credit card or used a loyalty card or mailed coupons. The correlations even let the retailer estimate the due date within a narrow range, so it could send relevant coupons for each stage of the pregnancy.’

‘Harmless targeting, some might argue. But what happens, as has already reportedly occurred, when a father is mistakenly sent nappy discount vouchers instead of his teenage daughter whom a retailer has identified is pregnant before her own father knows?’

Mayer-Schönberger's second example of our reliance upon algorithms throws up even more potential dilemmas and pitfalls: ‘Parole boards in more than half of all US states use predictions founded on data analysis as a factor in deciding whether to release somebody from prison or to keep him incarcerated.’

Awareness of the useful potential of algorithms is valuable, but so is their propensity for doing harm in the wrong hands or for the wrong reasons. But how many of our citizens are aware?

Will we all awake one day and find that our lives are being controlled secretly by forces whose self interest, not ours, is being served? By forces that want us to buy in a certain way, transact our business in a certain way, view cultural and travel offerings in a certain way, vote in a certain way, behave in a certain way, and even think in a certain way? By forces that selectively benefit those at the top and penalize those at the bottom? By forces that increase the inequality that afflicts the world today?

Does that sound like George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty Four?

We ought to be afraid. We ought to resist strongly our lives being taken over and controlled by algorithms.

But who will listen? Are our politicians aware of the threat of algorithms? More significantly, are they capable of altering this surreptitious take over of our world?

Do you use Google, Bing or Yahoo as online search engines? Do you respond to emailed requests to take a quiz or respond to an online opinion poll? Are you attracted by offers of a prize if you respond to a survey? Do you enter contests that promise alluring rewards? Do you use YouTube or Netflix or Stan? Have you used iTunes or Google Play or Amazon online to order items?

Have you noticed that your online searches often mysteriously throw up the very things that interest you?

If so, chances are that you may already be in the thrall of the algorithm creators, already slaves to the algorithm.

Are algorithms ruling your world?


What is your opinion?
Do you feel you are being manipulated through your Internet searches?

Have you had any troublesome experiences using the Internet?

Let us know in comments below.

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If the conservative ideologues get their way, Peter Dutton could be Prime Minister within a few months. If Dutton became Prime Minister, he would be the eighth person to be Prime Minister with double letters in his last name. For the record, if you get asked the question at a trivia night, the others are (in order) Cook, Scullin, Fadden, Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull. The history of the last four is well known and in all cases their terms as Prime Minister are remembered more for the politics of gaining or losing power, associated with poor opinion polls, party infighting and a general sense of unease within the community, than their achievments.

So, were the first three any better? Apparently not.

According to the National Museum Australia website, Cook
. . . became Prime Minister following the general election on 31 May 1913. He led the Liberal Party to victory with a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives but he failed to win control of the Senate. He took up office as Prime Minister on 24 June 1913, and also served as Minister for Home Affairs from this date.

On 8 June 1914 Cook sought and obtained a double dissolution of parliament from Governor-General RC Munro-Ferguson, after the Senate had twice refused to pass the Government Preference Prohibition Bill. Before the election was held (on 5 August 1914), the UK declared war and over the next five years the First World War and its aftermath were the all-consuming political issues in Australian politics. The general election held on 5 September 1914 resulted in a strong win for Labor, which gained control of both Houses of federal parliament. Cook’s term as Prime Minister ended formally on 17 September when Andrew Fisher took office.
Post the 1914 election, Cook supported the government of the day’s war policies and his Liberal Party was merged with Prime Minister Hughes’ National Labor group to become the Nationalist Party after the Conscription Referendum in 1916. He was the Australian High Commissioner to the UK from 1921 until 1927, then he retired. Cook died in 1947.

Scullin to some extent was a victim of circumstances as well as poor political judgement. He became ALP leader in 1928, and won an additional eight seats at the election held in November of that year, despite disunity and a long running and violent waterside workers strike. In October 1929, Scullin led the ALP to victory in a general election caused by the fall of the Bruce-Page Government. Unfortunately, the US stock market crash happened a few weeks later; causing the ‘great depression’. Scullin, who didn’t have a majority in the Senate, was also the External Affairs and Industry Minister.
When his Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister, EG Theodore, stood down in July 1930 after being implicated for defrauding the government in the Mungana mines affair, Scullin also took on the role of Treasurer. During a seven-month period in this role, Scullin presented his government’s first budget to parliament on 9 July 1930. Scullin’s budget planned for increased expenditure to be met through increased income tax and postal charges and the introduction of a sales tax.

As a result of the government’s difficulty in meeting interest payments on overseas debts, Scullin agreed to invite to Australia a Bank of England delegation led by Sir Otto Niemeyer. Niemeyer formed a poor impression of Scullin’s grasp of economic issues. Scullin, however, was well read in conventional economics and had been horrified by the state of the economy he had taken over - with its high level of debt, falling export commodity prices and rising unemployment.

The Bank of England delegation met with Scullin and state premiers at a special premiers’ conference in Melbourne during August 1930. On Niemeyer’s advice, the conference agreed to a heavily deflationary package of measures (known as the Melbourne Agreement) for tackling the Depression. This involved balancing budgets, ceasing overseas borrowing until all external debts were paid, confining internal borrowing to income producing schemes, reducing government expenditure (including spending on social services) and cutting wages.
Scullin left Australia soon afterwards for four and a half months to attend an ‘Imperial Conference’ with the heads of government of other dominions of the British Empire. While he was away
. . . the ALP caucus was deeply divided over the implementation of the Melbourne Agreement. The Acting Prime Minister, JE Fenton, and Acting Treasurer, JA Lyons, supported by the absent Scullin, adhered to the Agreement. Opposing them were ‘inflationists’ (the group supporting Theodore’s views) and ‘Langites’ (the group supporting the New South Wales Premier’s position).
A ‘soap opera’ of events happened when Scullin returned to Australia, including the reappointment of Theodore to the Treasury, causing some to leave the ALP and align themselves with the Opposition members of Parliament. In addition, the head of the Commonwealth Bank refused the Government’s request for funding until Scullin cut pensions, leading to a second Premiers Conference in 1931 where an agreement was hammered out and subsequently passed in Parliament (albeit with 50% of Scullin’s ALP voting against it). This led to the eventual demise of Scullin’s Government late in 1931 with Scullin rejecting calls for an inquiry into allegations of corrupt distribution of unemployment relief by Theodore, causing the ‘Langite’ Labor members siding with the Opposition to pass a no confidence motion in the Government.

Scullin resigned the ALP leadership in 1935, to be replaced by John Curtin. He acted as a mentor for both Curtin and Chifley during their Prime Ministerships and retired from Parliament in the 1949 election. He died in January 1953 and the funeral service was conducted by Archbishop Daniel Mannix.

Fadden is the only member of the Country (now National) Party who was appointed Prime Minister in a permanent rather than acting capacity. Having said that, it didn’t last too long. His term was 29 August until 7 October 1941. A year earlier, Fadden was a compromise choice as Country Party leader, being appointed as ‘Acting Leader’ in October 1940. He was confirmed in the Leadership role in March 1941 and retained the role for 17 years.
Fadden served as Minister Assisting the Treasurer and Minister for Supply and Development in the Robert Gordon Menzies United Australia Party-Country Party coalition from March-August 1940, then as Minister for Air and Minister for Civil Aviation from August-October 1940, and finally as Treasurer from October 1940-August 1941. He was a member of the war cabinet and economic cabinet from 1940 to 1941.

In January 1941 Fadden became Deputy Prime Minister for four months while RG Menzies was overseas. After increasing dissension within the UAP-CP coalition, Menzies resigned as Prime Minister on 28 August 1941 in favour of Fadden.

Fadden served as Prime Minister from 29 August until 7 October 1941. By October, he had lost support of two Independents who voted with Labor to defeat his government in the House, thus making way for John Curtin’s Labor government.

Except for the periods in office of three caretaker Prime Ministers (Earle Page, Francis (Frank) Forde and John McEwen), Fadden’s 40 days as Prime Minister was the shortest of any Prime Minister in the twentieth century.
Fadden went on to serve as Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer in the 1949 and subsequent Menzies’ Governments, retiring in 1958. He died in Brisbane in 1973.

They aren’t particularly awe-inspiring, are they? While it could be argued that politics is full of well – politics – it seems that all the Prime Ministers with double letters have come to prominence under atypical circumstances. Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull all came to power by manufacturing a party room coup and ensuring they had ‘the numbers’ to succeed. Some of the problems they had in government were due to their concentration on foiling the attempts of others doing to them as they did to their predecessor. Dutton is being touted openly by some conservatives as a potential Prime Minister when Turnbull falls or is pushed onto his sword (whichever happens first), probably to see how much public support there is for the concept. As a result, Turnbull is apparently finding it difficult to distract his colleagues from navel gazing to actually deliver policy and legislation that is wanted by the majority of Australians, such as marriage equality, while being assured of retaining his current position.

Dutton has certainly shown he has the heart of stone necessary to forcibly inflict obscene and unusual punishment on people who have attempted to apply for refugee status in Australia. US President Trump liked how the Australian Government has managed the ‘refugee problem’ so much that he commented during that now infamous phone call
TRUMP: That is a good idea. We should do that too. You are worse than I am.
Turnbull went on to boast the only reason people were under Australian custody on Manus Island and Nauru
TURNBULL: Let me explain. We know exactly who they are. They have been on Nauru or Manus for over three years and the only reason we cannot let them into Australia is because of our commitment to not allow people to come by boat. Otherwise we would have let them in. If they had arrived by airplane and with a tourist visa then they would be here.

TRUMP: Malcolm, but they are arrived on a boat?

TURNBULL: Correct, we have stopped the boats.
Turnbull is too busy checking his back for knives from the conservatives in his party and media to run an effective and equitable government. If Dutton comes to be the LNP Leader by the same path as Rudd, Gillard, Abbott and Turnbull – will he be too busy checking his back for knives from the progressives in his party?

Regardless of the political party the Prime Minister comes from, they are supposed to govern for all Australians. In the 21st Century, we expect our politicians to act honestly and demonstrate equality for all. Neither Abbott or Turnbull have appeared to understand the concept of equality in recent history. Various surveys, including the one referred to in this Sydney Morning Herald report show
The divide between rich and poor is growing in Australia, according to a new national survey which found more than a quarter of households have experienced a drop in income.
We have also touched on marriage equality. Let’s just add that Howard (the Prime Minister who inserted the ‘man and woman’ clause in the Marriage Act) didn’t need a plebiscite, secret vote or any other delaying tactic to do so – so why can’t Turnbull remove it the same way? Probably because the conservatives, including Dutton, will mutiny if he does.

We keep people in inhumane conditions across the Pacific because they tried to get here by boat and claim refugee status (which is legal according to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 – signed by PM Menzies) rather than arrive by plane and overstay their tourist or study visa (which is illegal). Dutton is the enforcer of this process.

Dutton got his wish for a postal ballot on the proposed changes to the Marriage Act (a device that will require the Australian Bureau of Statistics to oversee a ’statistical survey’ that comprises a ‘yes/no’ answer, is not binding on Parliamentarians and costs Australia $122million) and he administers an overseas refugee policy which Turnbull admits to be selective, vindictive and driven solely by politics in his call with President Trump. If either Dutton or Turnbull have ethics and morals, clearly, they are subservient to what they believe to be winning politics.

Clearly, there is no evidence to suggest that Dutton, if he was to become Prime Minister, would be any better than the motley collection of those with double letters that preceded him. To retain the ’top job’, he would have to concentrate on the politics, hatred and spite rather than equity, equality, morals, ethics, compassion or betterment for all Australians. We are better off without him.

What do you think?
Let us know in comments below.

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Inequality amblyopia
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Inequality amblyopia is a condition affecting some conservatives, who simply cannot see inequality when looking directly at it. The facts and figures that convince objective observers that there is increasing inequality in our nation, are simply not visible to them.

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Inequality amblyopia



Inequality amblyopia is a condition affecting some conservatives, who simply cannot see inequality when looking directly at it. The facts and figures that convince objective observers that there is increasing inequality in our nation, are simply not visible to them.

As in childhood amblyopia, or ‘lazy eye’ as it is called colloquially, there is nothing wrong with the eye. Amblyopia results from a developmental problem in the brain, not the eye. The part of the brain that receives images from the amblyotic eye is not stimulated properly.

In conservatives that part of the brain is where political concepts, ideology and entrenched beliefs live. So ingrained are these beliefs that no contradictory facts or figures can erase them. The beliefs are unshakable. Evidence has no impact; it is invisible.

This is why Scott Morrison was able to argue that rather than increasing in Australia, inequality was decreasing! He said: “The latest census showed on the global measure of inequality, which is the Gini coefficient, that is the accepted global measure of income inequality around the world, and that figure shows it hasn’t got worse, it has actually got better,”

Even if Morrison actually understood how the Gini coefficient was computed, what it measured, and the nuances that surround it, he is pushing his luck to base his refutation of Shorten’s inequality claim using only the Gini to 'prove' that inequality is decreasing, not increasing. More of this later.

For those not familiar with this measure of inequality, the following explanation extracted from Investopedia may be of value.
The Gini index or Gini coefficient is a statistical measure of distribution developed by the Italian statistician Corrado Gini in 1912. It is often used as a gauge of economic inequality, measuring income distribution or, less commonly, wealth distribution among a population. The coefficient ranges from 0 (or 0%) to 1 (or 100%), with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 representing perfect inequality. A country in which every resident has the same income would have an income Gini coefficient of 0. A country in which one resident earned all the income, while everyone else earned nothing, would have an income Gini coefficient of 1.

The same analysis can be applied to wealth distribution (the "wealth Gini coefficient"), but because wealth is more difficult to measure than income, Gini coefficients usually refer to income and appear simply as "Gini coefficient" or "Gini index," without specifying that they refer to income. Wealth Gini coefficients tend to be much higher than those for income.
Morrison has likely made his assertion after reading the 12th iteration of The University of Melbourne Melbourne Institute’s annual study of The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey (HILDA). The preface to the HILDA Survey explains that it ‘…seeks to provide longitudinal data on the lives of Australian residents. It collects information annually on a wide range of aspects of life in Australia, including household and family relationships, child care, employment, education, income, expenditure, health and wellbeing, attitudes and values on a variety of subjects, and various life events and experiences. Information is also collected at less frequent intervals on various topics, including household wealth, fertility-related behaviour and plans, relationships with non-resident family members and non-resident partners, health care utilisation, eating habits, cognitive functioning and retirement.’

The important distinguishing feature of the HILDA Survey is that the same households and individuals, 17,000 persons in all, are interviewed every year, allowing the study to see how their lives are changing over time.

Of relevance to this piece is one of the findings of this year’s HILDA: ‘The Gini coefficient, a common measure of overall inequality, has remained at approximately 0.3 over the entire 15 years of the HILDA Survey.’

The flakiness of using this measure to support a political point of view about the level of inequality in Australia is illustrated by Figure 4.2 on page 48 of the 2017 HILDA Survey, which details the Gini coefficient up to 2015 for males and females based on the weekly earnings of full-time employees. The graphs show a tiny downward flick for males (indicating less inequality), but there is a larger upward flick for females (indicating more inequality). The movements are so small that to claim inequality is decreasing is patently dishonest, particularly as the Gini for males and females go in opposite directions, females more than males.

Do take a look at Figure 4.2 below to convince yourself of Morrison’s deception.


The OECD Economic Survey Australia 2017 also comments on the Gini. It states: ‘The Gini coefficient has been drifting up [towards inequality] and households in upper income brackets have benefited disproportionally from Australia’s long period of economic growth. Real incomes for the top quintile of households grew by more than 40% between 2004 and 2014 while those for the lowest quintile only grew by about 25%.

You may care to look at Figure 3 on page 8 of this report that compares the Gini coefficient of Australia, Canada and the US. It shows how much the income of the top 1% has grown, as it benefitted most from the economic boom.

So let’s dismiss any serious claim that Gini ‘proves’ that inequality is decreasing in Australia. There is so much other evidence to the contrary that inequality amplyopia must be affecting the brains of those who argue so.

Conservative commentators too, such as Adam Creighton, economics correspondent for The Australian, and Paul Kelly, editor-at-large, were quick to attack Shorten’s call of inequality. Creighton wrote a headline in The Weekend Australian of July 22-23 that read: ALP’s ‘false’ pitch on inequality. He goes on to assert that Shorten’s claim that inequality is at a 75-year high is ‘patently false’. Creighton supports his argument by quoting Professor Roger Wilkins, author of HILDA, who told an Economic and Social Policy conference that “Inequality is still relatively high by modern standards but the narrative that says inequality is ever rising is patently false…”, and that the proportion of Australians over 15 with incomes less than half the median level of income had fallen to about 10%, adding “That if anything inequality has been declining”.

So the game, as always, is to quote the data, or the person that supports the argument being made. This is what Morrison, Creighton and Kelly have done, shamelessly, although it flies in the face of the facts and figures.

Yet, ask the average person in the street whether they believe that they, or Australians in general, are becoming better off or worse, and the predominant answer will be ‘WORSE’.

Writing in Crikey, political editor Bernard Keane says: ‘We're missing the point on inequality. Arcane debates about measures of inequality don't deal with the day to day perceptions of voters of an economic system that has stopped delivering for them.’

He goes on: ‘Is inequality in Australia getting worse? Is the Gini coefficient going up or down? Who’s right, Bill Shorten or Scott Morrison and the conservative newspapers beating the bushes for academics who’ll back them up? It doesn’t matter, and the longer the government and its media allies debate it, the more they’ll play into Shorten’s hands on what will become a key issue for the next election.

'Inequality is a central outcome of the kind of market-based economic reforms we’ve pursued since the 1980s. That’s how neoliberalism works. It has made us all wealthier – even the poorest Australians are wealthier than they were 30 years ago, in real terms. But the wealthiest have benefited more than the rest of us. This is indisputable.'

Writing in the same issue of Crikey Helen Razer says Inequality IS the point’. She continues: ‘Inequality has reached a crisis point in Australia, no matter your definition. The poor can't afford homes or electricity, and something has to be done. Rising inequality, says the Leader of the Opposition, is a terrible fact of Australian life. Rising inequality, says the Treasurer, is a non-fact that opposition leaders evoke when what they really want to do is stunt economic growth.

'The Herald Sun says that everyone should just shut up about rising inequality, because causing people to worry about what they don’t have and can’t get is a destructive “politics of envy”. There’s no point in scrutinising the odd claims of the Herald Sun – it’d be a bit like arguing with my Aunty Dot about global warming three sherries in. But there must be a point in scrutinising what is meant by “inequality” and how much of it we have, or don’t have, in this nation.’


Also in Crikey Alan Austin writes: ‘ Company reporting season begins this week with confidence sky high that record annual profits will be achieved. With these will come exciting news of higher executive salaries, well-earned performance bonuses and, of course, increased shareholder dividends. These are already being hailed by the corporate media as proof that all is well with the world. Meanwhile, data on Australia’s economy published in July confirms two things. First, that much of the increased income and wealth accruing to rich corporations and individuals is taken from the poor and the middle. And second, that this rate of transfer is accelerating.

Peter Martin, economics editor at The Age frontally addresses the disparity between Shorten’s claims and Morrison’s in his article: HILDA. Why we're suddenly concerned about inequality. Things have stopped getting better.

Martin begins: 'Bill Shorten's on to something. Not the pointless debate over inequality – whether it's rising or not depends on what you measure – but the truth that lies beneath the debate. It's that, unusually, life is getting harder.'

He goes on: 'In all but four of the past 15 years, things were getting better. Two of those four years followed the global financial crisis. The other two were the two most recent years for which we have data: the first two full years of the Abbott-Turnbull government. It means that whereas before the election of Tony Abbott, a typical Australian family took home about what it did in 2009, it now takes home less, after adjusting for inflation.'

He quotes Shorten: ‘As Shorten put it in a speech that purported to be about inequality but was actually about declining real incomes, "It feeds that sense, that resentment, that the deck is stacked against ordinary people, that the fix is in and the deal is done." We didn't get that sense when ordinary incomes were rising, even though inequality was widening. Only now, when real incomes are slipping, do we feel resentful. And it's mainly men who are resentful. Female earnings are trending up, especially those of women employed full-time. Male earnings are trending down.’

Can Morrison or Creighton or Kelly counter these feelings? Especially when the average Joe sees corporate high fliers sitting on salaries and bonuses that often run into millions. No, not with their amblyotic vision! The visual centre in their brains can’t process the facts and figures that we all can see.

Let’s look at some of the facts that Martin extracted from HILDA:

Education:
University graduates earn much less than their predecessors used to ($1023 a week, down from $1468) and they are much less likely to be in full-time jobs four years later (73 per cent, down from 91 per cent). Australians with only a high school qualification are even worse off. When the survey started, 81 per cent of them were employed full-time within four years. Now it's 62 per cent.’

Work:
As more and more of us work in part-time rather than full-time jobs, an increasing proportion are combining part-time jobs in order to work full-time. This means that part-time jobs are more common than the Bureau of Statistics survey suggests and that full-time jobs are harder to get.

Australians are working longer without waiting for the pension age to rise. The typical retirement age has climbed from 62 to 66 for men, and for 61 to 64 for women. And retirement is less likely to be a one-off event. Thirteen per cent of men who retired between the ages of 60 and 64 find themselves back at work within a year, up from 9 per cent. Seven per cent of the women who retired between 60 and 64 find themselves back at work in a year, up from 4 per cent.’


Superannuation:
‘Even now, a quarter of a century after the introduction of compulsory superannuation and 15 years after compulsory contributions of around 9 per cent, the balances of retirees are surprisingly low.

‘Thirty per cent of men retire without super, and 29 per cent of women. The men who do have super retire with a typical balance of $325,200; the women with $110,952. That typical balance is the median, meaning half of the retirees will have more, and half less. The mean (average) is much higher, pushed up by very big retirement balances at the top.

‘Retirees with low balances are highly likely to use them to pay off debts, obliterating 58 per cent of their super (men) or 70 per cent (women) in one go.’


Home ownership:
’Home ownership rates for the under-40s have collapsed. In 2002 when the survey began, 32.5 per cent of 18- to 39-year-olds owned a home. It's now 24.9 per cent.

‘The proportion of men in their early-20s living with their parents has jumped from 43 per cent to 60 per cent. The proportion of early-20s women staying at home has jumped from 27 per cent to 48 per cent.

‘Those who can buy houses find it hard to pay them off. The average mortgage taken out by a young homebuyer has almost trebled – jumping from $120,813 to $330,687. Going back to the same homeowners year after the year the survey finds that in most years the amount owed climbs as a substantial minority of young homeowners refinance or redraw or fall behind on their loans. HILDA author Wilkins says if they continue like this – using their mortgages to fund day to day expenses – there will be "real implications for future aged pension liabilities".’


Martin concludes: 'Australia remains a wealthy country. But it isn't absolute wealth (or even relative inequality) that matters most when it comes to our feelings. It's whether or not things are getting better. HILDA suggests they are getting worse.'

The following McCrindle image of Australian Income and Wealth Distribution 2016 summarizes inequality in this country graphically:



Morrison, his Coalition colleagues, and their conservative cheerleaders in the media are petrified about the impact of Shorten’s inequality message. No matter what counter messages they shout over the airwaves or through the Murdoch media, they know that the people out there, most of whom have never heard of the Gini coefficient, let alone its variations over time, realize that they are worse off than before, know that life is getting harder for them as their wages stagnate while the costs of living continue to rise. They know that as they struggle to pay off their mortgage and their rising power bills they have less and less for food and other essentials. No amount of tough talk from Morrison and Co., no amount of quoting Gini, no amount of slick political blather will convince them otherwise.

The sad fact is that despite these verifiable facts, Morrison and his Coalition colleagues are incapable of processing what everyone else can see, now reinforced by HILDA data. They can see the facts just as anyone else can, but because of their inequality amblyopia their brains cannot process these facts, distorted as their thinking is by inbuilt ideological biases and deeply entrenched beliefs. Their eyes see the facts; their brains cannot, and never will.

Only by recognizing this form of amblyopia will ordinary citizens ever be able to understand how conservatives can deny that life is getting more difficult for so many, how they can deny that inequality is increasing.

Shorten is on a winner.




Postscript: If any of you doubt the soundness of the 'inequality amblyopia' allegory, you might be interested to read a pertinent article in Friday's issue of The Conversation: How do you know that what you know is true? That’s epistemology by Peter Ellerton, Lecturer in Critical Thinking at The University of Queensland.

Do you believe inequality is increasing in this nation?

Let us know what you think in ‘Comments’ below.

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