Sir: Andrew Stone (January-February 2020) paints a bleak picture of the economic future of our country: “However, even if central bankers had a road-to-Damascus experience, it is too late now for anything to be done which is not going to result in considerable and prolonged economic pain.”
Take the RBA’s 2 to 3 per cent range for “desired” inflation. Inflation is still theft, even if it is kept at 2 to 3 per cent. While this range may have been desirable when inflation was 15 per cent (in the Whitlam days) and cash rates were 17.5 per cent (January 1990) it is totally inept when inflation is about 1.5 per cent and the cash rate 0.75 per cent. Time for this desired range to be abolished or at least cut severely. John Stone comments (also January-February 2020) on the “very silly talk” from the RBA suggesting that it could look at negative cash rates and quantitative easing—printing money! Time for the Treasurer to step in and remove this power from the RBA. To paraphrase Georges Clemenceau: “Banking is too serious a matter to be left to central bankers.”
But what should be done? Tell the RBA board members to keep quiet. Saying that the economy is bad and rates may have to be cut again is no way to improve the economy. It suggests to potential investors that they should keep their money in their pockets. Andrew Stone shows why keeping interest rates at historically low levels is not working.
Thought experiment: Treasurer takes control and writes the script for the RBA for their next meeting: “Conditions are not so bad as we thought, the economy is improving and so the cash rate is raised to 1 per cent. We expect further rises during the year.” Australian investors take this with a pinch of salt but many of them decide it is time to borrow and invest before the rates go up. Banks put their rates up, foreign investors decide that Australia is a good place to invest and money floods in—perhaps only a trickle at first. Firms start or expand and unemployment goes down—slowly, as more are attracted from among the under-employed. As money comes in to Australia, the exchange rate goes up, and more money comes in, looking for a spot to make profitable investments. More firms hire, unemployment falls again and wages start going up, with negligible effects on inflation.
Can this be improved? Yes, the Super deduction is raised to 12.5 per cent but all super deductions are made optional. Some will happily pay the 12.5 per cent, but most of the working populace will opt out, preferring to have the $5000 or so (after tax) in their pockets, and spending it on what they really want—to the joy of shopkeepers and retailers. The Treasurer will be happy, getting the boost to income tax from those who get the money in hand rather than deferring it to the dim and distant future where, with 3 per cent inflation, it would have lost half its value anyway!
Banora Point, NSW
Sir: I do a lot of reading, including Quadrant, the Economist and so on. I was impressed in particular with the article by Aynsley Kellow (January-February 2020). Given Kellow’s experience it demolished the Left’s misguided and destructive hysteria and over-reach about the environment pretty effectively. We should recognise that there are real environmental problems (in particular climate change) and we need to deal with them more effectively than the current Coalition or previous Labor administrations have.
The article by Andrew Stone (in the same issue) is also guilty of the error of over-reach. Over-reach is a recurring theme in history. The Left has suffered reversals in Britain and Australia in 2019, with “Big Target” unpopular and divisive policy platforms. The Coalition suffered defeats in 1987 and 1993, the latter with Fightback (and the ALP’s skilful riposte in its book Poles Apart) and in the former with some diabolically unpopular policies including undoing much of Medicare.
Stone’s professional experience is impressive. As an economist I can also follow the logic of the interaction of growth, ageing, housing prices, immigration, productivity and so on perfectly well, but we also live in a democratic system, not a Leninist one. A cross-Tasman example comes to mind, as New Zealand’s Labour PM Jacinda Ardern will find that cutting immigration will turn her whole country into a nursing home, as will doing the same in Australia. I see no likelihood of a dramatic change in fertility rates either, and if it does occur, they are likely to fall, not rise. As for cutting spending, good luck with that. I don’t know how much influence Stone had in the policy parameters of the 2014 Abbott budget, but as he was the “Chief Economist and senior policy adviser to Tony Abbott” he might not have a lot of plausible deniability there.
Whereas John Howard proved to have learnt political lessons (for instance becoming “the best friend Medicare ever had”) which served him well (at least until 2007 and WorkChoices), the same could not be said of Tony Abbott, who claimed his government’s 2014 budget was the “gold standard” for budget repair. Pretty much every wildly unpopular idea that could be pursued was and it turned into a political debacle, demonstrating a total lack of political judgment.
I understand how big the dollars are and how diabolical the politics are. A title like “Restoring Hope” (and its sweeping mantra-like rhetorical message) gives me alarm. Reforms are entirely possible but a good starting point of political strategy is an acronym—DPPO, “Don’t Piss People Off”. Creating fear, enemies and fodder for fear campaigns (such as “Mediscare” from 2016) is the surest way to see ideas that have not been “road tested” turned into “road kill” (along with their advocates!).
There is never a shortage of political mantras backed by overblown rhetoric and titles. “Restoring Hope” has that bad feel about it.
Having It Both Ways
Sir: If Australia Day must go, surely NAIDOC Week ought to accompany it?
All the talk for greater inclusiveness used by Anti-Australia Day activists equally applies to NAIDOC Week, which celebrates the history of one segment of our community and deliberately excludes all the rest. Take the NAIDOC Week awards. Unlike the Australia Day awards, which are entirely non-discriminatory, only those of Aboriginal descent are eligible for NAIDOC awards.
You can’t have it both ways.
Sir: A warm appreciation for Diane Figgis’s fascinating article on “Waltzing Matilda” (January-February 2020), which recalls just how recently life has become sedentary, with the industrial revolution and cities. Medieval and later Europe and America, for example, were places of perpetual movement along country paths and rivers, much of it colourful, noisy and a source of legend: think Le retour de Martin Guerre, any of Mark Twain or Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre, German folk songs and so on. Apprentices wandered not just to fulfil guild rules but to gain expertise, solving any problem their craft could throw up—Germans the most international of all, and still over-represented in specialised engineering areas in most countries.
For those of us who are not Australian, “Waltzing Matilda” is vastly and agreeably different from Europe and America. Pico Iyer may have put his finger on part of it when he praised Australians for among other things that unique “raffish nonchalance” which is not mere style but a sharp way of cutting below the surface of all that is false, pompous and pretentious. Plenty of countries do raffish or nonchalance but arguably no other can carry off both at once. A final plea, therefore: don’t stop the music.
Auckland, New Zealand
Banjo and Berlioz
Sir: We are most grateful to Diana Figgis for sharing her extensive scholarship about “Waltzing Matilda”, both its breadth and depth. However, I searched in vain for any mention of the first movement of Hector Berlioz’s symphony Harold en Italie (Opus 16) as a unifying factor in the fascination the French had/have for the musical accompaniment of our famous poem. There’s quite a lot involved in this story, including Paganini and a Stradivari viola.
I was particularly interested in Ms Figgis’s reference to Banjo Paterson’s maternal grandmother, Emily Barton, living in Boulogne from 1831 to 1839. Since Berlioz composed his symphony in 1834, it may have had a significant (as yet unacknowledged) influence on Yves Montand and other French musicians, well before Banjo’s time.
Should Ms Figgis listen to Berlioz’s haunting bars, she may perhaps be moved to add a postscript to her article, which is undoubtedly a tale of fundamental importance to Australia’s cultural history, to explain more fully the interdependence of Banjo and French musical heritage.
The Crimson Thread
Sir: Salvatore Babones (January-February 2020) makes the argument that Australia has essentially become a state without a nation. He asserts that the “crimson thread of kinship” referred to by Henry Parkes no longer exists, if indeed it ever existed. He also asserts that the Australia of today is far removed from traditional concepts of nationhood.
Prominent twentieth-century Australian leaders certainly believed in the “crimson thread of kinship” based on an Anglo-Celtic heritage. Billy Hughes proclaimed that Australians were “more British than the people of Great Britain”. In rallying the nation during the dark days of the Second World War, John Curtin regularly invoked kinship, stating that “Australia is a British people” and that Australians had inherited “the ties of blood and grace and tongue that have joined British people together for centuries”. Robert Menzies expressed similar sentiments.
It is often claimed that the post-war wave of non-British European immigration meant the end of the country’s Anglo-Celtic core majority. Yet, as noted at the time by Geoffrey Blainey, Australia’s population was still 75 per cent Anglo-Celtic and 94 per cent European in 1988, two centuries after the First Fleet arrived. Even today, Australians of Anglo-Celtic descent still form a majority, albeit one in rapid decline.
It is also not always appreciated that the post-war European immigrants were encouraged to assimilate and, by and large, did so well. They became a part of the existing majority through intermarriage.
Tragically, Australian nation-building efforts have been undone by nearly two decades of incautious mass immigration. An unprecedentedly colossal immigration wave—largely from culturally-distant countries—is rapidly sweeping away the Australia that had evolved by the end of the twentieth century. Without any consultation, Australia’s political class have flung open our borders and embarked on a radical demographic and cultural experiment. With the highest per capita immigration rate and the highest proportion of foreign-born residents in the developed world, Australia is fast being reduced to an international boarding house for an assortment of people with no attachments to each other.
Unless mass dissimilar immigration ceases, the main question for legacy Australians who value tradition, rootedness and a place to call home will be what, if anything, can be done to retain meaningful cultural residues and any remnants of the old Australian nation.
Sir: I gather it is the custom when writing to the editor of many publications to express complaint or outrage or disgust, or to make some allegation. I cannot do so in respect of Gary Furnell’s “Personalism and Human Rights” (January-February 2020). I have only praise for it.
Gary Furnell argues his thesis for a vocational understanding of personalism providing an answer to the degradation of rights talk, with references to many of the great thinkers of our civilisation, not least Martin Luther, who said that when a cobbler makes a good pair of shoes he glorifies God.
When someone welcomes a newborn, makes sacrifices in raising a child, helps a family in need, helps a disabled person, assists a newcomer to the country, gives friendly counsel, admits one has done wrong, forgives an injury, bears patiently with an irritating person or situation, remedies an injustice, gives up time to promote the common good, or simply stands up in a train to give another a seat, that person is an exemplar of personalism. So personalism has its adherents who live decent lives, caring for their spouses and children, and others who cross their paths, without fanfare, in one way or another.
Gary Furnell provides an intellectual outline of personalism. Really, there is not one personalism, but many “personalisms”, reflecting different personalities and history and culture.
Common-law legal systems have many principles which are personalistic—not least that only the guilty should be punished, that guilt be established beyond reasonable doubt, that those accused have the right to a fair trial, that trials proceed on the basis of evidence, that the prosecution must establish both a guilty mind and a guilty act and so on. The notion of natural justice, sometimes called procedural fairness—that hearings be conducted fairly, the concept of equity, in the Aristotelian sense, that sometimes justice requires more than strict application of the letter of the law—is personalistic.
There are decisions of the courts which are “personalistic”: Somerset v Stewart (1772), declaring slavery in England unlawful; Donoghue v Stevenson (1932), which established liability for breach of duty of care; Tuckiar v R (1934), a decision of the High Court of Australia, which considered the right to a fair trial, and the duty of the trial judge, and of the barrister representing an accused; Brown v Board of Education (1954), which effectively abolished segregation in US schools; Mabo (1992), which recognised the land rights of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
As Gary Furnell explains, there have been many exponents of personalism, from Antigone in Sophocles’s play, to Immanuel Kant to Martin Luther King (Letter from Birmingham Jail), each providing their own perspective. What they have in common is a distinction between a person and a thing, with a person to be respected, cherished, indeed loved, no matter what that person’s characteristics.
Implicit in Gary Furnell’s account is a recognition of the important role of Jewish thought in personalism. So when Ruth the Moabite (the Moabites being traditional enemies of the Israelites, hated and despised) marries Boaz, an observant Jew, eventually becoming the great-grandmother of King David, we have an account illustrative of personalism. Similarly in the Deuteronomistic admonition to care for the widow and orphan, and for the stranger. Similarly in Nathan’s reprimand of David for his abuse of Bathsheba and murder of her spouse, Uriah the Hittite.
Gary Furnell provides a theoretical explanation for what is simply living one’s life as well as one can. Hence his vocational (or maybe virtue-oriented) personalism, which he contrasts with degraded rights talk.
None of this can be taken for granted. One simply opens any newspaper to find innumerable examples of behaviour inconsistent with personalism. Indeed we all have to struggle against ourselves to act in accordance with the demands of personalism, and none of us always so acts.
Personalism requires a constant daily struggle with oneself. It will be found in the life well-led—and the most improbable of persons may demonstrate a practical personalism.
The Power of Poetry
Sir: Rohan Buettel’s sparse and elegant poem “House Under Construction” (November 2019) precisely reflected the astonishing painting by Kazimir Malevich in our Australian National Gallery and referred to the Constructivist and Suprematist art movements that flourished in Russia before, during and after the Russian Revolution, an artistic renaissance associated with the production of those famous propaganda posters, revolutionary both in design and content. The poem also alluded to Stalin’s crackdown on “bourgeois” non-representational art in the late 1920s and the arrest of Malevich in October 1930, charged with espionage and imprisoned in Leningrad for two months. Thereafter, suitably chastised, he painted sad and sloppy pastiches of Soviet workers, peasants and athletes. He died in 1935.
In 1996 the Art Gallery of New South Wales curated a small but extraordinary exhibition of Russian art from this period titled “Kandinsky and the Russian Avant Garde”, which included hitherto unseen works by, among others, Kandinsky, Alexandra Exter, Natalie Goncharova, Lyobov Popova, Alexander Rodchenko and nine paintings by Malevich covering his progress from realism though cubism to constructivism and final wretched socialist realism.
Stalin is estimated to have imprisoned and executed over 5000 writers, poets, playwrights, artists, actors, conductors and musicians.
Sir: “Samedi Sordide” indeed! Thanks to Stuart Lindsay (January-February 2020) for his thoughtful and timely wake-up call.
For too long Christians have been silent on these issues. Whilst we have been taught that “silence is golden”, there is also a time to speak, and clearly, in accord with the protest in the article, it is now.
For those of us who have enjoyed the wonder and the freedom of a society where ideals were firmly based upon biblical principles, the sad erosion of morals and truth is heart-breaking.
Let us unite in the crusade to inform our society of the need to seek again the pursuit of probity and wholesome living. That is not to suggest we engage in vociferous protest, but in the calm and assured manner of quiet resolution. As Jesus was reported as saying in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”
But speak we must, or else lose all!