Life and death depend on good politics

So far, Australia has had approximately 28 detected cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 people and 4 deaths per 100,000 people. New Zealand has fared somewhat better, with 24 cases per 100,000 people and less than one death per 200,000 people. Australia’s deaths would have been lower but for some monumental blunders in the management of infected cruise ship passengers. In the USA to date, there have been approximately 524 cases per 100,00 people and 31 deaths per 100,000 people. That is, the infection rate in the USA per population is nearly nineteen times higher than in Australia and the death rate is nearly eight times greater.

In the case of Covid-19, Australia has done well and New Zealand has done better. The USA has suffered terribly, along with others. My point here is very simple: responses to crises of this kind demand good politics, good public emergency, medical, hospital and other services, effective administration and public co-operation and compliance. In the case of the Australian bushfires, Australia suffered badly; the emergency services performed brilliantly but were simply under-resourced and insufficient. They were overwhelmed. The problem was political. Good politics is negotiation towards agreement on action for the common good, followed by action, both immediate and for the long haul. That is lacking in America’s Covid-19 dilemma. It was lacking as Australia burned and is still lacking as Australia’s government ignores climate change.

Avoidable gas “+crisis”

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is responsible for operating Australia’s largest gas and electricity markets and power systems, including the National Electricity Market (NEM), the interconnected power system in Australia’s eastern and south-eastern seaboard. The AEMO has released its 2017 Gas Statement of Opportunities (GSOO), intended to assess the adequacy of gas infrastructure, reserves and resources to meet demand in eastern and south-eastern Australia to 2036.

The GSOO finds that declining gas production may result in insufficient gas to meet projected demand by Gas Powered Generation for supply of electricity from summer 2018–19. To meet electricity supply needs, the NEM requires either increases in gas production to fuel GPG, or a rapid implementation of alternative non-gas electricity generation sources. If neither occurs, AEMO projects that declining gas supplies could result in electricity supply shortfalls between 2019 and 2021 of approximately 80 gigawatt hours (GWh) to 363 GWh across South Australia, New South Wales, and Victoria. Overall gas production for the domestic market is projected to decline from 600 PJ in 2017 to 478 PJ in 2021.

The 2017 GSOO highlights a projected decline in gas production at a time when withdrawal of coal-fired generation in the NEM is increasing reliance on GPG to maintain reliable and secure electricity supply
and meet emissions reduction targets. AEMO forecasts that sufficient electricity generation alternatives, relying on fuel sources such as black coal, will be available to meet electricity demand until summer 2018–19.

The stupidity in all this is that what is now a crisis was entirely predicable and solvable with half-way decent collation of information, coordination of policy and political cooperation.

Laissez faire aux États-Unis?

NBC show Saturday Night Live has quite a reputation for deservedly taking the Mickey out of Donald Trum, to which Mr Trup has often replied with furious tweets.

On 12 December 2016 the show lampooned some of Trump’s cabinet selections, especially that of including Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. (Pruitt has sued the EPA on climate change several times).

“Scott Pruitt is excited for the job and ready to protect us all from the environment,” Kellyanne Conway (Kate McKinnon) said in a comedy sketch.

“It’s almost like Mr. Trump appoints these people specifically to undermine the very agencies they head,” Jake Tapper (Beck Bennet) said. “Kellyanne, are these bad picks?”

“No Jake, they are not bad,” she answers. “They are alt-good.”

Unlike in earlier weeks, Trump didn’t tweet a reply.

“It’s almost like Mr. Trump appoints these people specifically to undermine the very agencies they head.” Indeed so. That’s precisely the point. Mr Trump, it would appear, along with many other Republicans and Americans generally, simply wants to remove government from people’s lives and every day affairs. That is, he wants to go back to the early C19th, where largely all government did was what we now call foreign affairs, defence, navigation, migration and trade … plus various laws that regulated personal and business relationships. NOT health care, welfare, social services, education, civil rights, economics, energy, infrastructure, housing, environment, manufacturing, technology, etc.

A novel experiment in Laissez-faire government? Interesting if it were not so potentially deadly.

Love, generosity … and competence

On 1 December 2016, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull spoke in Parliament for about 20 minutes to "to bid farewell to the parliament for another year." These are a few extracts:

As the parliamentary year—and, indeed, 2016—draws to a close, it is important that we come together to look back on what has been another remarkable year for our most remarkable country. The level of discourse between our political parties can be vigorous, fierce and, at times, confronting, but the fact that we can put aside our partisan differences to celebrate the year that was is one of the great features of our democracy. Australians are always most inspired—and perhaps surprised—at those moments of bipartisanship in this House. It is when we are at our best. …

We have witnessed with horror the terrorist attacks in Nice and Orlando, and suicide bombings in many countries … It has made us all the more grateful that we are such a harmonious society with people of all faiths, cultures and backgrounds living together in peace. Looking around the world, we know how rare it is, and we must never take it for granted. Australia’s strengths are our freedom, our diversity and our security. Those attributes are not mutually exclusive; rather, they are mutually reinforcing. This is not to say that we do not face challenges; regrettably, we do. …

[W]e must always be aware of what the public expects from its government, from its parliament, from its leaders. Many people are anxious about change or feel that their leaders are not listening, and we should not dismiss their concerns. …

Good leaders explain how change can improve lives, consult as they work to minimise the adverse consequences of change, and implement policies that take advantage of the opportunities that change brings, while ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society are not left behind. … Fairness and inclusion are key features of our national economic plan. …

Everything we do in this place is designed to secure the future of Australians, and we must never forget that …

It makes me so proud, as I know it makes all honourable members proud, to see the way we rally together. We are an egalitarian nation who will each other to succeed, who feel deeply the pain of a friend or neighbour when they are struck by violence or tragedy. So many people shared their stories with me so that I could be a better leader, and each one stays with me. …

Every year, we urge each other to be kinder and gentler in this place. I do not mind being labelled idealistic for hoping that we will be in 2017, but perhaps a more realistic goal is to vow to speak more plainly and with more candour to the Australian people. They are wearied of the political games, the sense that politicians say one thing and could easily mean another and that our promises are throwaway lines with the shelf life of a carton of milk. The Oxford dictionary has declared ‘post-truth’ its international word of the year, but let us do all we can to ensure post-truth politics has no place in Australia. If we promise to be bound by our words, we will be much more careful in choosing them. …

I wish the Australian people, who we represent here and who are uppermost in the minds of all we do, a very happy Christmas, safe and family-filled holidays and a 2017 filled with peace and love—love for our families and friends and, above all, for those who are lonely, isolated or brought low by poverty or illness. Whether we are of any or no faith, this is the Christmas season. The message Jesus brought was one of unconditional love. We will be at our very best when we reach out without judging … to those who most need, especially at this time, our love and our generosity.

One can only pray that Mr Turnbull and his government will move a little closer to governing with " love and generosity"— and perhaps a little competence, as well.

Blue House blues

South Koreans MPs reflected the national will when 230 of the National Assembly’s 300 members voted yesterday in a secret ballot to impeach the President, Ms Park Geun-hye, on accusations of influence-peddling, abuse of power, dereliction of duty, and other faults.

This victory for opposition parties and independents also relied on dissenters from the ruling Saenuri party to reach the required two-thirds majority. As The Economist notes, "today’s proceedings were remarkably civil and swift. MPs queued to cast their votes; many photographed their marked ballot papers to share on social media with their constituents. The atmosphere outside the National Assembly, where protesters had gathered, was festive in the run-up to the vote."

Blue House

The Constitutional court has six months to decide whether there is sufficient actual evidence of wrongdoing to justify the President’s permanent dismissal, but a prolonged power vacuum would be harmful and a quicker decision is expected. Meanwhile the Prime Minister, Mr Hwang Kyo-ahn, becomes by law the interim President. If Ms Park is dismissed, there must be a fresh Presidential election within a further two months. The Prime Minister’s role is largely symbolic, real power being with the President. Now Mr Hwang has an opportunity to step up. Ban Ki-moon has been mooted as presidential candidate for the Saenuri, but it is uncertain whether he could be ready if there were an early election.

Meanwhile Ms Park will endure a solitary and wintry residence in the Blue House, Korea’s equivalent of the White House. She has made apologies, but they have not been enough.