Catallaxy Files

polymathic pontification, bleeding heart economic rationalism and liberal secularist contrarianism

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    Friday, December 05, 2003
    A good day for universities

    Frustrating as the Senate often is, it also proves its worth, and yesterday's 160+ amendments to the Higher Education Support Bill 2003 and associated legislation produced a bill that was worth passing. Admittedly, that's by the very low benchmark of the current system. But quite amazingly, the government's first reform proposal did not even meet that standard, proposing a huge bureaucratic power grab.

    The bureaucrats haven't been defeated. The final act still gives them increased central planning powers over Commonwealth-supported places, and there is a wide power to attach conditions to funding "agreements" that will no doubt be exploited by DEST. But they've effectively lost the power to ban 'cappuccino courses' and other opportunities to meddle in universities' academic affairs. Prices and full-fee student numbers will exist within parameters set by the legislation, but will not be, as they were originally, the subject of Ministerial whim.

    Despite hesitation from the independent Senators about the market elements of the package, HECS set by universities and more full-fee undergraduates, they slightly reduced them rather than deleting them. Consequently, we have the start of a price mechanism, which in turn I hope will see better higher ed investment decisions and provide incentives for improved teaching. Loans will be available to all fee-payers at public universities, and if private higher education institutions can survive the regulatory burden placed on them their students will get access to loans as well.

    Australian higher education still has a poor regulatory structure and needs much more reform. But for all the faults of what was passed by the Senate last night, it is the best higher education news in a very long time.

    Thursday, December 04, 2003
    John Howard is accusing Mark Latham of a 'tribal dislike' of America that emanates from the Labor Party. This is apparently the same Labor Party with a NSW Premier who is a civil war buff and member of the Chester Arthur Society (named after an obscure US president). And this is the same Mark Latham who is a US politics buff with an interest in Richard Nixon. Memo to John Howard and all the John Howard arselickers: disliking the current motley crew of loons and crony capitalists in the White House does not make one anti-American.

    Wednesday, December 03, 2003
    How right is Latham?
    Tim Dunlop has a good defence of why lefties and social liberals should support Mark Latham despite his being no less keen on border protection than Howard. I admit to feeling the same cognitive dissonance myself, in disliking Howard's tactics on border protection while supporting mandatory detention as a necessary evil. The difference between Howard's view and Latham's view has not so much been in the policy positions they take on this, obviously, but in the way that Howard has, in a subtle way, cynically exploited this issue among the electorate (as he did during the Tampa, a contemptible episode in Australian political history) again and again and again (e.g. "those people" who throw children off boats; 'we will decide who comes into this country"); most recently he told lies about a few harmless Kurds to bring it back as wedge politics just in time for the next election. Latham's view on this, however, seems to be just an intellectual position and I don't rule out the possibility that he might even change his mind on it in future. As Tim Dunlop says:

    The most important thing about Latham's take on refugees, immigration and asylum seekers will be that he will, hopefully, treat it as a policy issue rather than a political tactic. There is no way he should side with the so-called bleeding heart approach to the topic; instead he has to discuss it within a framework of an overall population policy. Certainly there is a moral side of this debate, and it wll be interesting to see his ultimate position on the issue, but really, in the greater scheme of Australian life, it is a minor issue. As I argued here, the real problem has been the contempt in which Howard has held the Australian people in his centralising of the issue. With luck, Latham will return it to where it belongs on the list of policy priorities.

    On security, and the relationship with the United States, I think he strikes a note much more sensible and in keeping with majority opinion than Howard. As this article makes clear, he recognises the importance of fighting terrorism and the absolute folly of abandoning that fight, in the way Howard and Bush and Blair have done by favouring foolish pre-emptive wars and a policy of regime change. I don't agree with everything he says here, but it sure echoes a lot of what anti-war types having been saying for the last year or more.

    It is simply illogical to suggest, as apparently Tim Blair does that just because Latham has advocated among other things:

    5. Maximum compassion for genuine refugees, especially the poor souls left behind in the refugee camps. Australia should do more to settle refugees processed through the UN system.

    6. Retention of the mandatory detention system to avoid chaos in the processing of asylum seekers in this country.

    7. Faster processing of asylum seekers with fewer avenues of legal appeal and exploitation.

    8. Improved settlement programs and skills development to avoid the problem of welfare dependency among new arrivals.

    ((a lot of which sounds like mere common sense to me) that this necessarily means he is committed to the Howard government's more ridiculous policies such as the excision of particular islands from Australia. Agreement on policy is not moral equivalence on how these policies are spun and run (just as there may be more and less desirable ways of being 'tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime')

    Tuesday, December 02, 2003
    The ALP chooses Left-Whiggism over Left-Toryism
    Hallelujuah, it's crash or crash through time. Also time for me to act on my declaration. I'm rejoining the party.




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