Sunday, August 2, 2009

How Hard Would Dramatic Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions Really Be?

As the New Zealand Government consults on a greenhouse emissions reduction target for New Zealand we are often treated to a talking point along the lines that a 40% reduction at 2020 is "obviously" not feasible. This is always coupled with pointing out that 40% means a 40% reduction on 1990 emissions and that's a 60% reduction on today, and yes Labour was in power for much of the intervening period and what a debacle that was and so on and so forth.

Here's Kiwiblog's latest on the subject for example, and Matthew Hooton gave stirring rendition on Nine to Noon on National Radio during last week.

I had some sympathy for this view, and certainly if DPF or I, neither of us with any relevant qualifications, spend a few seconds perusing New Zealand's emissions profile, it does seem a pretty tall order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% over a decade.

Allow me to point to a remarkable recent Australasian efficiency achievement as a corrective to this pessimistic view.

Many of you will know that south-east Queensland has just emerged from a prolonged drought. At its lowest point the dams that store Brisbane's drinking water were at just 17% of capacity. As a result the Queensland Government initiated a series of water restrictions and water efficiency campaigns.

Prior to the drought per capita daily water consumption in south-east Queensland was pushing 300L. Three years later at end of the drought it was down around 130L.

That's right, domestic water consumption in south-east Queensland was reduced by more than 50% in just three years! Look at the figure, from the official report here. (Click on the figure to read it clearly.)

And what is residential water consumption in south east Queensland today, roughly a year after the end of the drought? 140L per person per day. 120L if it's school holidays.

This goes to show that dramatic and permanent efficiency gains are possible if there is the public and political will to make them. You really have to ask yourself if it is that much harder to reduce our dependence on greenhouse gas emissions than it is to reduce water use? (There are some obvious possibilities but that's for another post.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again, efficiency gains are the first and cheapest way to make reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. And the sooner big business stops paying lobbyists to derail change and starts paying engineers to work out how to solve the problem, the better.

The ideas in this post are shamelessly stolen from a recent lecture by Professor Juerg Keller. The line about engineers is likewise stolen from US Secretary of Energy and Physics Nobellist Steven Chu.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Media notes

Finding out that Niall Ferguson is writing an authorized biography of Henry Kissinger confirms my worst fears about him.

There was a fascinating interview with George Henderson of the Puddle on Kim Hill this Saturday. His honest discussion of drug addiction, his imprisonment for stealing ether, his ready quotations from literary greats, the quarter century history of his band.

The New York Times is celebrating forty years since the moon walk. Their headline today says everything about current space exploration efforts: Toilet is Fixed on a Crowded Space Station.

For the orignal though it is worth visiting Google Moon and looking at some of the photos.

Australia to the left of this image of Earthrise.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chris Knox: The Trick of Standing Upright

I am too young to have really been there and I've never talked to the guy, but it is clear that Chris Knox is a force of nature. His recent stroke has prompted me to reflect on his role in my musical education, and his many contributions to my enjoyment of my misspent youth.

It's easy to forget today that there was a time when the emergence of a particularly New Zealand music culture didn't seem inevitable. But there was Chris Knox with his 4-track, his friends in all those amazing bands, his songs. Even the one where he recites the alphabet.

I remember him as the shambolic troubadour with the banana shorts doing gigs at the University of Canterbury in the mid-nineties. We were all too cool to admit that "Not Given Lightly" was our favourite, so we had to hide our disappointment when he pretended to have forgotten the words.

I particularly recall four of us dancing around on the grass like maniacs while Chris played the End of Lectures Stein in 93, or was that 94? It was a warm and sunny spring afternoon and it sticks in my memory as one of those perfect occasions of youth; your friends around you, your whole life before you, the best music in the world. Who knows what Chris made of it when two blokes (I won't admit here to knowing them) got up on stage for a bit of a pash with the great man. He certainly seemed game.

Before the live music, and the communal appreciation of musical greatness, there was my teenage bedroom fanboy phase.

I don't remember exactly what prompted me in 1989 to give up on the FM radio stations and take up with student radio for good. At this time the Pixies were my favourite band in the world, but student radio being what it was in those days it was inevitable that I would eventually discover New Zealand music in the shape of Chris Knox and his cohorts at Flying Nun.

I remember going on a school bus trip to Akaroa in 1990. It involved singing. Despite not being able to hold a tune I was that kind of kid in high school; the choir and the debating team. I remember being counselled about Flying Nun on the trip back by a guy who was a year ahead of me. By this stage I think I had decided the Verlaines were my favourite. He urged me to reconsider Straitjacket Fits. We talked about Chris Knox and how prolific he was, the fact he was there at the beginning with Toy Love and a 4-track for the Clean. He recommended the early Tall Dwarfs EPs and "Seizure".

Today I can't even remember name of the guy on the bus but I still have a TEAC C90 mix tape of Flying Nun music he made for me. Side A is a selection from the Clean compilation that was around at the time. Side 2 has the best bits of "Bird-Dog" and "Hallelujah All the Way Home", Toy Love's "Rebel", and a lot of other gems like "Joe 90" and "Happy Endings" from Bored Games, and "Native Waiter" from the Victor Dimisich Band.

Pretty soon I had bought myself a tape of "Seizure", and the new Tall Dwarfs "Weeville" when it came out. This weekend I've taken advantage of modern technology and bought them off iTunes. I still know every word. I still feel like Chris is looking me right in the eye during "Hallelujah Boy".

I'd forgotten how much he sang about the challenges of living a good life. Admittedly, these reflections are often phrased as invective against some character who has lost everything in the pursuit of money or fame.

The songs that recount his obsession with bodies and with bodily functions seem painfully tinged today with the awareness that the body can become a prison.

Get better Chris, there are lots of us out here wishing you all the best.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Other peoples thoughts about Iran

Andrew Sullivan has completely given over his blog to the remarkable events in Iran. Even to the extent of turning his background green.

Today I came across a recent article writen some time ago by Robert Kaplan, in which he spent some energy advocating the primacy of geography over ideas in all his usual "clear-eyed realism", but concluded with Iran and the battle for hearts and minds:

As with Russia, the goal of containing Iran must be to impose pressure on the contradictions of the unpopular, theocratic regime in Tehran, such that it eventually changes from within. The battle for Eurasia has many, increasingly interlocking fronts. But the primary one is for Iranian hearts and minds, just as it was for those of Eastern Europeans during the Cold War. Iran is home to one of the Muslim world’s most sophisticated populations, and traveling there, one encounters less anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism than in Egypt. This is where the battle of ideas meets the dictates of geography.

Best of all Ian Packer has a remarkable post on the situation in Iran and Obama's remarks about it, in which he urges us to trust the evidence of our eyes:

It’s remarkable how difficult it’s been for writers of many different ideological persuasions to say that scenes like this are shameful. The reason, of course, has everything to do with the wars of the Bush years, at home and abroad, which have left so many thoughtful people incapable of holding onto the most basic thought. But it’s a mistake to let your attitude toward historic events be shaped and deformed by the desire not to sound like a neo-con, or to sound like a neo-con reborn. Trust the evidence of your eyes.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Obviously crazy things they will tell you about David Shearer

The people of Mt Albert have elected a very interesting and accomplished character to be their MP.

Given his varied and successful career, and his interesting written work, it's a pity that profiles of him have been so shallow.

So far as I can tell the main long form profile is this piece in the Herald, which is fine as far as it goes, but the pointy headed academic in me is desparate to know a little more about how Shearer thinks about the world. Particularly about domestic issues.

In the absence of much in-depth coverage of the candidate there have been a long list of absolutely ridiculous characterizations. Here are some of the more obviously crazy.

He's boring:

Hmm, well as he put it this morning on television "I've never been called boring before! I just came out of Baghdad and before that I lived in Beirut and in Gaza"

But seriously, this is a case of the media mistaking the by-election candidate for the man. Matt McCarten, who knows a thing or two about by-elections, outlines the sort of strategy of playing it safe and focussing on local concerns that worked for the successful campaign in Mt Albert.

The biggest stress is dreading your candidate making a boo-boo the media picks up. You'd spend hours briefing the candidate until they could recite their lines in their sleep. Contrary to what most people think, questions are pretty predictable.

David Shearer is a model candidate who had his ego in check and stuck to script. When he didn't know an answer he reverted to pleasant generalities that may not have pleased his questioner but would have reassured his handlers. That is, he didn't say anything stupid.

He needs a haircut

I'm not joking. This was one of the wilder comments on TV3's excellent overall Saturday night coverage. I'd be willing to make a bet that some backroom operative forbade the haircut. The slightly mad scientist look made him seem down to earth and sincere, and went with the focus on local issues and the desire to be boring. Besides which he should not have had time to have a haircut, given the exigencies of that kind of shoe-leather campaign.

My own presentational tip would be: get longer trousers! The ones he wore on his first appearance on Q&A were riding up almost to the knees :)

He's too NICE for politics/that nasty Labour caucus:

Heard this one from Linda Clark AND Duncan Garner on Saturday night, it goes with the previous two.

Lets just look at Shearer's most recent job: second in command in Iraq for the UN, the world's most notorious bureaucracy. Now I know those on the right think otherwise, but you don't get ahead in behemoth bureaucracies by being NICE.

I'm quite confident Shearer will soon be across the currents and cross-currents in his new caucus.

One can think about this notion that Shearer will be somehow namby-pamby and ineffectual a bit more broadly, and here I may be drawing a long bow but I see his much publicized written work on mercenaries as evidence for the defence.

One of the few comments from Shearer that came across as deeply felt is his desire, expressed on TV3 Saturday night, "to make a difference". There's an emphasis on that word "difference" that doesn't come across on the page and makes the comment step some way beyond the cliche. Judging by Shearer's written views it seems to me that he takes seriously the need to use the tools that are at hand in an imperfect world to make an impact.

Take these opening paragraphs from Shearer's article "Privatising Protection" (in The World Today volume 57, number 8/9, page 29):

`The redeployment of mercenaries in this blighted nation would be an act of genuinely ethical foreign policy,' noted Times correspondent, Sam Kiley after witnessing Sierra Leonean women and children being killed and their limbs being hacked off in January 1999.

This view shared by a growing and diverse group of aid workers, journalists, human rights advocates and even the higher echelons of the British and US armed forces - those closest to the world's frontlines. Although seldom aired publicly, they wonder what there is to lose by using military companies to shield innocent civilians when there is no other choice.

The emphasis here is very much on making a difference and not being too nice about how that is achieved. (Nice in either the modern sense of "dull, friendly, push-over" or the Jane Austen sense of "overly particular".)

At this point in his career Shearer was, after around a decade in international aid efforts in Somalia, Liberia, Rwanda and elsewhere, a Research Associate at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. This is clearly a very prestigious think tank, Wikipedia account here. It's in the mainstream of transatlantic foreign policy thought, with US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg being a former Senior Fellow and publishing in their journal "Survival", while UK Foreign Secretary went there recently to launch a nuclear disarmament policy document. It's bipartisan too, being the kind of place that invites Henry Kissinger to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. I've added their blog on Climate Change and Security to my RSS feed.

One gets a feeling that Shearer felt a responsibility to "air publicly" a community's views on mercenaries and aid, and found the right position and worked hard on the right publications in which to do so. 30 seconds on Google will convince you that his work has attracted a decent amount of interest and discussion in the foreign policy literature. Frankly this all strikes me as a good sign for his political career, but then I am a pointy headed academic in an ivory tower.

For those who haven't caught up, in this period he wrote an Adelphi paper entitled "Private Armies and Military Intervention". This is a monograph length work, published in a highly respected series. The much shorter "Privatising Protection", another piece in The World Today entitled "Dial an Army" and a piece in Foreign Policy, "Outsourcing War", would have functioned as brief, accessible, and widely read precis of parts of the argument.

His main example was apparently the civil war in Sierra Leone of which he gave an account in "Exploring the limits of consent: conflict resolution in Sierra Leone" which was published in 1997 in Millenium Journal of International Studies volume 26, number 3, p845.

I can't quite bring myself to agree with some of Shearer's opinions on these issues. Particularly when one understands exactly what sort of outfit the mercenary company that worked in Sierra Leone, Executive Outcomes, was. Take a look at "Dial an Army" if you are interested. There's also a stridently "realistic" tone to much of his writing on this that doesn't sit so well with me either.

But let he who has talked down armed intruders desperate for food cast the first stone.

Besides noting that they have been overtaken by subsequent events, Shearer did not resile from the opinions expressed in these papers. Good on him. He is still prepared to go into bat for "the women and children being killed and their limbs being hacked off". But I wouldn't call him "too NICE" to make a difference.

(My university library does not seem to carry all of the Adelphi papers, so I haven't looked at the full version. I'm not giving links to these publications since they are behind firewalls. "Privatising Protection" was discussed rather more tendentiously by David Farrar here, and "Outsourcing War" here.)

He's Clem Simich

The candidate who takes over safe seat from legendary former Prime Minister, takes his message to Wellington and is never seen again. This started with Whaleoil, was regurgitated by Duncan Garner on Saturday night (now THERE'S a surprise), reprised by Whaleoil, and reheated by Kiwiblog.

Now I would have said that the excellence of Shearer's pre-Parliamentary career guarantees against this one. But there is always the salutary lesson of Richard Worth!

He's the next Labour Prime Minister

Well really. If a beginning politician doesn't want to be Prime Minister they should find another job. But I suppose it is impolitic to say it out loud. The truth is 13 people have entered the Labour caucus since November 2008 and it's overwhelmingly likely that only either one or none of them will ever be Prime Minister. It's a much more useful question to ask whether a candidate in a safe seat has a credible case for being Cabinet material. Shearer does. He's honest about wanting to serve in a Cabinet after 2011. Good.

Now Linda Clark and John Campbell worked themselve into ectasies about the prospect of a Shearer Government on Saturday night. By Monday morning it was officially a National talking point since Kiwiblog, Matthew Hooten, and Whaleoil were all repeating it.

I should have a special category for Whaleoil who thinks that Shearer is BOTH Clem Simich AND the next Labour Prime Minister.

He's a raging pinko Commie leftie

Well someone other than a Kiwiblog commenter must have said this!

But really, Shearer lost out on selection for Waitakere in 2002 because of very strong union opposition. Has anyone thought to ask why?

Thinking about his CV, he was a high school science teacher, he did a Masters degree I've only seen referred to on Kiwiblog, he did some work for Tainui that related in some way to the environment, he worked for international aid agencies including Save the Children and the UN. He wrote papers in academic journals for two think tanks, he was in charge of UN humanitarian efforts during the war in Lebanon a few years back and was second in charge for the UN in Iraq.

He should be a raging pinko Commie leftie! What do the unions know that we don't? Why do commentators like Linda Clark and Matthew Hooten believe he will reposition Labour on issues like privatisation? and what do they mean by that? Could someone please find out and write about it?

He has three things going for him: "he's straight, he's married, he's got kids"

I'll admit, this one happens to be true but Wow! Talk about putting the cart before the horse. This is a quote from John Tamihere on Q&A. When I first heard this I saw red, I hit the roof, I phoned friends and bitched about it. But I "only" read the comment as an attack on Rainbow Labour. Could we please keep Tamihere off Q&A in future?

This morning though we had Matthew Hooten, who really should know better, characterize Shearer as "a candidate who is pakeha, male, heterosexual, a father, happily married and that's not what people associate with the Labour party at the moment".

This makes clear that this line of attack runs against Maori, against Pacific Islanders, against women, against those who are for whatever reason childless, and yes against gays and lesbians.

Is it true that Labour has been taken over by any of these groups? NO!

Lets take a look at the Cabinet of the Fifth Labour Government shall we? (This Wikipedia list has only the senior ministers but I haven't been able to find a more authoritative online list to jog my memory, so it's not 100% reliable but I am going with it. Also various people come in and leave, but by counting them all I have better statistics).

If I am not mistaken we have Clark, Cullen, Goff, King, Horomia, Cunliffe, Parker, Hodgson, Wilson, Anderton, Mallard, Maharey, Carter, Burton, Samuels, Dyson.

There seem to be 4 women, 2 Maori, no Pacific Islanders, and yes one gay man. This is out of the 16 people who took the most senior positions in the fifth Labour government. I started checking to see that the vast majority of the men were indeed married with children before it began to turn my stomach.

I have news for Matthew Hooten. These proportions are not representative of the New Zealand public at large, and it's not because there are too few white, male, straight married men with children taking up the senior positions in a Labour Cabinet.

We can only hope that a future Labour government will be significantly more diverse than this one. And, by the way, that Labour might find a woman to represent even one of the Auckland electorates at some time in the future. Matthew Hooten and his comrades on the right will have to get used to the idea that they may need to take orders once in a while from Maori, women, and yes even gays and lesbians.

In the mean time, people like Shearer and Goff need to work out how to respond to this egregious comment without accepting the premise of the question.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Winners and losers in Mt Albert

An utterly unoriginal theme for a blog post but here goes:

Television stations: from my sub-tropical exile over here there was no contest. The winner was TV3 which had regular updates posted to the web, a live streaming web-only broadcast for well over an hour and a web simulcast of its 10:30 show. TVNZ had only a few short clips posted to the web, none after 9pm so far as I could tell.

Politicians: Here the winners are clearly Shearer and party leader Goff.

For Phil Twyford it is a matter of swings and roundabouts. He was completely shafted by Goff and the media beat-up over Tizard and would have romped in had he stood. On the other hand he has become the effective representative for Auckland that Labour never managed to find when in Government. His work on the supercity has ruthlessly taken advantage of Government misteps.

Kiwiblog whines that this prominent Dominion Post story fails to mention that the economist who did costings and estimated job losses for the Auckland city reforms is a Labour party member. Yet Twyford who has been commissioning the research is very upfront about this, and points out that these estimates are attracting interest in the press solely because the Government has failed to do the work itself.

Moreover, I'm completely confident that Twyford, unlike the Minister for Local Government, doesn't need his mother to tell him why a city needs a library!

The list of losers is long.

John Key is an obvious one. The National talking point that the race was initially neck and neck is now a Labour talking point since their candidate got 60% of the vote to National's 17%. Key's handpicked candidate was a disaster. I am agnostic on this one, but it is possible that Linda Clark is right and the public will not react well to Key and his Cabinet dissociating themselves from the campaign and making themselves scarce on election night. There is something in the notion that New Zealanders don't like sore loosers.

Melissa Lee will sink without trace. Jonathan Coleman the ministerial handler for Lee is unlikely to be looked on kindly by his colleagues, and is stuck with the thankless task of immigration reform.

Judith Tizard was dragged through the mud, after the ignominy of loosing her previously safe seat. A mayoral campaign will not be on the cards.

I'd say that Kiwiblog and Whaleoil, and their inflence on the major media, are going to come in for more scrutiny in the future given their role in the Tizard beat-up, and Whaleoil's obviously ill-informed commentary on National's chances. This can only be a good thing.

And where was the Labour party President during all this? Either Andrew Little was too busy with his day job (General Secretary of the EPMU) or he was forbidden to show his face in the electorate by Goff. Either one reflects badly on his prospects. Duncan Garner, in reviewing possible future Labour leaders, commented that Little had missed his chance by not entering Parliament in 2008. Who knows, but his appearance on Q and A this morning was hardly scintillating.

Despite a strong personal showing by Russel Norman, the Green party should have done much better given the circumstances. 12% of the vote in an urban electorate, in a by-election, (which should be good for third party candidates,) with one of the major party campaigns totally imploding, that doesn't seem like a win. It certainly doesn't square with inner city support for the Greens in Australia for example.

The standard analysis of the Green position appears to be that in a recession Green issues recede. I would argue that the Green's long term problem in New Zealand is two-fold. Firstly environmental issues have become totally mainstream and both main parties have to spend considerable times on issues like climate change. As this trend continues the Greens will become less relevant, while green lobbies in both main parties will grow in strength. So, for example, pretty much every party in parliament supports Government subsidies for home insulation. That was a great idea and the Greens got a lot of credit for getting it in the budget but one gets the feeling they didn't have to push very hard. Secondly there is the problem that now that Donald and Fitzsimons are gone, it's very hard to convince yourself that many senior greens are motivated primarily by a passionate interest in environmental issues. Given these states of affairs many voters may ask themselves if they are really furthering the cause of the environment by voting for a party that is always going to be locked out of the Executive.

At least in this by-election voters definitely seemed to feel that they were choosing between the two main parties.

Backroom campaign managers: Winner is John Pagani. This is an interesting one since Pagani is actually a Progressive. The situation on the ground for Labour may not have initially been that favourable, I'll paraphrase Linda Clark on TV3 "It's a myth that Helen Clark had this inpregnible party machine in Mt Albert", she credited Pagani with running the show and getting the on-the-ground operation running. I'll also note the local organisation was quite probably less enthused when once head office made sure that the LEC Chair's daughter lost the nomination to its hand-picked fly-in candidate. It was a very convincing win so that goes to show that if you really need to win a single electorate badly enough you get quite good at it.

On the other hand the loser was clearly Mark Thomas. There was this great shot on TV3 of him glumly trying to get attention at the bar at National party headquarters after going over to concede to Shearer. This wasn't a great night for what Dim-Post calls his "lifelong unreciprocated loyalty to the National party"; there was even a jab from Whaleoil.

Thomas was a candidate in a very memorable contest in Wellington Central back in the day, and was famously shafted by his party's Prime Minister Jim Bolger. Is there any chance of getting Tony Sutorius' wonderful doco "Campaign" up on New Zealand on Screen? The whole thing is great, but it's worth it just for the bit where they are in the car with Thomas when he hears Bolger on the radio telling National supporters to vote ACT.

UPDATE: It turns out that I can't spell "loser" what does that say about me?

Thursday, June 4, 2009

This is Just to Say

So Australian Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon was forced to resign today which is doubtless not ideal timing for the Government.

His resignation letter is pretty strange, it's sounds like a dog ate my homework excuse a teenager would tender and is bound to lead to journalists sniffing around at length.

Read the following, and ask yourself, how many meetings take place in your office without your knowledge?

You will be aware of a question in Senate estimates last night regarding meetings between Humana, my brother and the Ministers for Veterans’ Affairs and the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel.

Having read the transcript of proceedings I decided to thoroughly examine the nature of any contact between Humana, my brother and my office.

Having done so, and despite having made it clear to all parties that it was important that I not be involved, I am not satisfied that contact between the various parties leave it clear that I have entirely conformed with your ministerial code of conduct.

In particular, I have learned that one meeting between the parties was held in my ministerial office. Further, I understand that members of my staff sat in on a number of meetings ...

On that basis, and to protect the integrity of the Government, I have decided to resign as a member of the Executive, effective, immediately.

Compare this to Richard Worth, a minor New Zealand Minister outside Cabinet who resigned in unfortunate circumstances earlier this week. He approached the matter by saying much less, but this didn't keep the journalists off his back either.

It is with deep regret that I have resigned my role as a Minister.

I am resigning from the role for personal reasons.

I tendered my resignation to the Prime Minister last night and he accepted.

It has been a privilege to have been a Minister in this Government.

I will not be making any further comment to the media.

I have been granted two weeks’ leave of absence from the House.

William Carlos Williams it ain't, but there is something poetic about it nonetheless.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Irish Comparison Reversed

I was amused to hear Peter Townsend, the Chief Executive of the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce, on Morning Report comparing New Zealand's economic position to Ireland's. In particular, he noted that while Treasury is predicting a peak unemployment rate of around 8%, Ireland's will apparently be north of 16%.

While we are all agreed that this is good news for New Zealand, those who spent years arguing that New Zealand was falling behind Ireland on account of failing to continue a neoliberal reform agenda may wish to ask themselves why we now find ourselves in a better position.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Let's hear it for public health

Sometimes DPF over at Kiwiblog does get a little carried away. I would have thought that what with this pig flu thing and everything we wouldn't have gotten this

If the public health workforce really do use a “scream test” then I think the Government should use a “scream test” on the public health workforce. This is a good start.

The historical record of the public health workforce is pretty good.

But then not many of us actually get polio, whooping cough, diphtheria, scarlet fever, AIDS, and so on so I suppose that public health really is a waste of money.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Vaclav Havel critical of human rights horse trading

Vaclav Havel has a timely op-ed in the New York times about the failings of the UN Human Rights Council.

It's called "A Table for Tyrants" but New Zealand still comes in for some criticism:

Now, it seems, principle has given way to expediency. Governments have resumed trading votes for membership in various other United Nations bodies, putting political considerations ahead of human rights. The absence of competition suggests that states that care about human rights simply don’t care enough. Latin America, a region of flourishing democracies, has allowed Cuba to bid to renew its membership. Asian countries have unconditionally endorsed the five candidates running for their region’s five seats — among them, China and Saudi Arabia.

In past years, Western countries encouraged rights-respecting states from other regions to compete for election. This year, they have ceded the high ground by presenting a non-competitive slate for the council elections. New Zealand withdrew when the United States declared its candidacy, leaving just three countries — Belgium, Norway and the United States — running for three seats.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Australian Government responds to Cutler Review on Innovation

So this budget is the first one to follow the Australian Government's review of the "National Innovation System".

The so-called Cutler report, which was released last year, and a Government response entitled "Powering Ideas", released along with the Budget, are both available here.

The main recommendations of that report were to fund research infrastructure, increase research funding, increase business research funding and improve collaboration between business and research institutions. The Government seems to have responded to many of the main recommendations of the report, with its simplification of reseach concessions in the tax code, various investments in research infrastructure (great stimulus of course) and several other measures.

One big message is that Australian expenditure on research has declined in recent years relative to GDP, while other nations have increased.

So the current budget includes a 25% increase in spending on science and innovation.

Commonwealth spending on science and innovation has fallen 22 per cent as a share of GDP since 1993–94. Business spending on research and development collapsed in the late 1990s, and while it has grown since then, we still lag many of the countries we compete with. The proportion of Australian firms introducing innovations has been stuck at one in three for years. A decade of policy neglect has hurt Australia’s innovation performance, making us less productive and competitive, and reducing our ability to meet the needs and aspirations of Australian families and communities.

Meanwhile, the bar keeps rising. China’s R&D spending has grown by 22 per cent a year since 1996, compared to 8 per cent a year in Australia. Australia spends 2 per cent of GDP on research and development. Austria, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United States spend more than 2.5 per cent; Finland, Japan, South Korea, and Sweden spend more than 3 per cent; Israel spends more than 4 per cent.
While Commonwealth spending on science and innovation fell to 0.58 per cent of GDP in 2007–08, Denmark is steadily increasing government spending on R&D — from 0.89 per cent of GDP in 2008, to 0.94 per cent in 2009, with a target of 1 per cent in 2010. In the United States, President Obama has pledged to double funding for federal science agencies over the next decade.

One figure from the Budget Education overview struck me.

The Government should be happy that after years for rewarding Australian academics for every paper we write, our per capita publication rate is 20% above the OECD average. Don't inquire too closely into measures of impact of those papers!

Obviously we should be very much less happy that apparently the fraction of firms with "new products" is 30% below the OECD average. This despite very healthy levels of venture capital!

Research and Development Tax Credit

It's Budget night here in Australia.

Bill English might like to pay some attention to one of Wayne Swan's wackier new ideas: it's something called a Research and Development Tax Credit.

Wait! Perhaps someone in New Zealand has already thought of such a scheme?

(The eagle-eyed will want to look at the detail of the Australian proposal. Will it encourage new research? Or will businesses be able to use it to offset the costs of existing activities?)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Reaction to Australian Defence White Paper

Early reaction to the White Paper seems to be positive, the main criticism is with regard to the lack of budget planning. Budgetary questions are covered in one and a half pages of 140 or so.

The Minister says that more details of future funding will be in the budget the week after next.

But really, you can rely on Greg Sheridan to have the most entertaining account.

THE defence white paper is an almost incoherent blancmange of oddly unharmonised flavours.

It reads like a biblical commentary in which 50 Talmudic scholars, each representing an alternative school of thought, have been allowed to write alternative sentences.

The internal contradictions in the document are so staggering it looks like sentences have been bolted on almost at random, like pieces in a Meccano set manipulated by a two-year-old.

And yet, even he seems largely to agree with the decisions

For all that, the Government has mostly come up with the right decisions: 100 Joint Strike Fighters, 12 new submarines, the continuation of the army expansion program, new, big surface ships and so on.

In defence, to some extent equipment and budget are real policy, the rest window-dressing. Australia's neighbours in the Asia-Pacific will look at the equipment commitments more than anything else. They will see the air force, the navy and the army getting bigger and more capable. That's all that really counts. The white paper will reinforce Australia's reputation as a formidable defence power.

In New Zealand Defence Minister Wayne Mapp is not anticipating a matching increase in New Zealand funding.

Dr Mapp believes New Zealand's current defence budget is about right, and is confident the two countries will continue working closely together.

Neither does he seem to believe that Chinese growth poses much danger to the regional order.

Dr Mapp says China's military capacity has increased as its economic capacity has grown, but over the past 30 years the country has focused on trade and good relationships with its neighbours.

I hope a more considered response will emerge over the next few months. Not just Australia but also Japan have now announced significant increases in military spending in response to growing Chinese military capabilities. The point of a strategic review like our White Paper process would be to give this at least some thought, and to allow a public discussion that goes some way beyond just questions of trade.

Oh and there is an interesting discussion of the Australian White paper here, with an even more intriguing discussion of the possibilities for an invasion of New Zealand here. (Hint: still not very likely.)

Australian Defence White Paper released

So the Australian Defence White paper has finally been released, on a Saturday.

It's available here.

There will be a significant build up in Australian defence spending.

The Government says it will keep its pledge to have 3 per cent real growth in defence spending until 2018. It says there will then be 2.2 per cent real growth in spending from 2018 to 2030 as well as 2.5 per cent fixed indexation to the defence budget during this period.

The Australian's account gives a summary of the conclusions in terms of future capabilities.

It seeks to defend the nation by creating a navy by 2030 with the teeth to deny even a sizeable enemy from dominating the northern air-sea approaches to Australia. This new navy will cost many tens of billions of dollars, easily the largest single investment since Federation. Yet it does so without broad agreement inside Canberra's defence establishment about the strategic rationale underpinning this build-up and with grave doubts hanging over the Government's ability to fund and manage this vast project or find enough crew to sail its new armada.

It also requires Australians to accept permanent real growth in defence spending for the next two decades regardless of economic circumstances. This amounts to a fundamental long-term shift in Australia's public spending priorities, a difficult proposition for any government to sell to voters, much less at a time of global recession.

The plan to double the submarine fleet from six to 12, acquire three powerful new air warfare destroyers, eight new well-armed and larger frigates, 24 new naval combat helicopters, a bigger fleet of more muscular patrol craft and to develop a serious anti-submarine warfare capability, represents a quantum leap in naval power for a mid-sized country such as Australia.

This, coupled with plans to purchase 100, rather than a smaller number, of the Joint Strike Fighters will create a formidable deterrent to any aggressor and will allow Australia to project power more deeply into the region than ever.

Of course I immediately searched for all references to New Zealand, here is the key paragraph.

As the ADF incorporates new systems and capabilities, maintaining the current level of interoperability between our separate defence forces will require a concerted effort on the part of both countries. With this in mind, Australia and New Zealand should look for opportunities to rebuild our historical capacity to integrate Australian and New Zealand force elements in the Anzac tradition. This operational integration would of course be without prejudice to our respective policy choices. It could be as modest as integrating our air transport logistics support to operations, or as ambitious as an Anzac task force capable of deploying seamlessly at short notice into our immediate region. To be effective, any integrated force elements would need to exercise regularly together as a unified capability.

There is also a mention of working with New Zealand on issues like Fiji and East Timor.

As foreshadowed by the Australian, there are indeed some sharp comments on the stategic consequences of China's rise, and more particularly its military buildup.

This from Rudd at the launch

"It's as plain as day that there is a significant military and naval build-up across the Asia-Pacific region - that's a reality, it's a truth, it's there.

"Either you can simply choose to ignore that fact, or to incorporate that into a realistic component of Australia's strategic assumptions about what this region will look like over the next two decades."

So for example this on China from the White Paper

China will also be the strongest Asian military power, by a considerable margin. Its military modernisation will be increasingly characterised by the development of power projection capabilities. A major power of China's stature can be expected to develop a globally significant military capability befitting its size. But the pace, scope and structure of China's military modernisation have the potential to give its neighbours cause for concern if not carefully explained, and if China does not reach out to others to build confidence regarding its military plans.

China has begun to do this in recent years, but needs to do more. If it does not, there is likely to be a question in the minds of regional states about the long-term strategic purpose of its force development plans, particularly as the modernisation appears potentially to be beyond the scope of what would be required for a conflict over Taiwan.

On the question of Taiwan there are two interesting comments. This in the White Paper

Taiwan will remain a source of potential strategic miscalculation, and all parties will need to work hard to ensure that developments in relation to Taiwan over the years ahead are peaceful ones. The Government reaffirms Australia's longstanding 'One China' policy.

Secondly, at the press conference Rudd was asked about Taiwan and replied with a strong emphasis on the importance of the US alliance. I've looked online for a transcript of these remarks with no success, but they were commented on by Gerard Henderson on Insiders this morning.

Updated: Here is the exchange in question, I can't for the life of me see it as anything other than a reiteration of the status quo.

JOURANLIST: Prime Minister if China attacks Taiwan in any way, will Australia help defend it?

PM: Thank you for that question. Australia’s policy in relation to the Taiwan Straits has been one of a bipartisan consensus going back a long, long time and will be into the future. It contains two elements. One is that we do not speculate on any future contingencies concerning what may or may not happen in the Taiwan Strait. The second part of my response to your question is that Australia takes seriously its alliance responsibilities to the United States.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Shock! Antarctic Sea Ice is Growing!

The Australian was so full of climate change contrarians on Saturday that it was hard to know where to start. But since both Roarprawn and Whaleoil have pointed to this article on Antarctic ice the problem is solved.

This is a particularly easy instance since the main factual claim made in the article is true. (Not always the case in discussions of climate issues that you find in the newspaper!) It just happens not to say much one way or the other about global warming.

East Antarctica is four times the size of west Antarctica and parts of it are cooling. The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research report prepared for last week's meeting of Antarctic Treaty nations in Washington noted the South Pole had shown "significant cooling in recent decades".

Australian Antarctic Division glaciology program head Ian Allison said sea ice losses in west Antarctica over the past 30 years had been more than offset by increases in the Ross Sea region, just one sector of east Antarctica.

"Sea ice conditions have remained stable in Antarctica generally," Dr Allison said.

This is not a "climate change lie exposed" as Whaleoil claims, scientists have known this for a long time and have said so. Now we just have better data. It is not even clear to me that there is "a widespread public belief" that Antartic sea ice is contracting as the article claims. (The Arctic is of course another matter, and maybe many confuse the two?)

Why does increasing Antarctic sea ice not challenge current scientific thinking about global warming? I'll defer to the US agency the National Snow and Ice Data Center

Another important point is that the increase in Antarctic sea ice extent is not surprising to climate scientists. When scientists refer to global warming, they don’t mean warming will occur everywhere on the planet at the same rate. In some places, temporary cooling may even occur. Antarctica is an example of regional cooling. Even our earliest climate models projected that Antarctica would be much slower in responding to rising greenhouse gas concentrations than the Arctic. In large part, this reflects the nature of the ocean structure in Antarctica, in which water warmed at the surface quickly mixes downward, making it harder to melt ice.

In terms of sea ice, climate model projections of Antarctic sea ice extent are in reasonable agreement with the observations to date. It also appears that atmospheric greenhouse gases, as well as the loss of ozone, have acted to increase the winds around Antarctica. Perhaps counter intuitively, this has further protected the Antarctic from warming and has fostered more ice growth.

The one region of Antarctica that is strongly warming is the Antarctic Peninsula, which juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and is thus less protected by the altered wind pattern. The Antarctic Peninsula is experiencing ice shelf collapse and strongly reduced sea ice.

Why are scientists very concerned by reductions in Arctic sea ice but don't seem to talk much about Antarctic sea ice?

Unlike Arctic sea ice, Antarctic sea ice disappears almost completely during the summer, and has since scientists have studied it. Earth’s climate system over thousands of years has been "in tune" with this annual summertime disappearance of Antarctic sea ice. However, satellite records and pre-satellite records indicate that the Arctic has not been free of summertime sea ice for at least 5,500 years and possibly for 125,000 years. So Earth’s climate system and ecosystems, as they exist today, did not develop in conjunction with an ice-free Arctic. Such an ice-free Arctic summer environment would be a change unprecedented in modern human history and could have ramifications for climate around the world.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The New Zealand Option

I have yet to read Hugh White's Lowy Institute paper on Australian Defence Paper.

However I have listened to his recent talk at the Institute.

As I have noted earlier, White's analysis is that during the course of the coming century the growth of Chinese economic and military power will strain the international order in the Pacific and may lead to a significant danger of conflict.

White sees three options for Australia in this environment.

1/ To recommit to the US alliance and accept that this will require greatly increased military committments from Australia.

2/ To aim for a more self-reliant defence and a more independent foreign policy stance.

3/ The New Zealand option.

Now my readers outside Australia, particularly those in New Zealand, should note that this is a laugh line.

White is arguing that the first two options, which would see Australia retain its status as something called a "middle power", will require a much greater expenditure on defence as fraction of GDP. The third alternative is, for the moment, unthinkable.

(Are there any countries other than Canada and Australia that actually aspire to the status of "middle power"?)

If this analysis of China becomes widespread in Australia surely New Zealand's "independent" defence and foreign policy would come under much greater pressure from our nearest neighbour?

Debate on Australian Defence White Paper

I'm going to keep linking to discussions of the Australian Defence White Paper, largely because there will be a New Zealand Defence White Paper ramping up later in the year.

Hugh White's Lowy Institute paper, which I blogged about earlier, has now been released in full.

There have been a series of interesting and apparently well-informed comments on this in the Interpreter blog. Take a look here and work backwards.

I'm particularly sympathetic to Major Gen (Retd) Jim Molan's concerns that money be spent so that actual defence capabilities are consistent with the rhetoric of defence strategy as described in the White Paper and elsewhere.

The immediate priority for the government is not to be subverted by images of heroic strategic leadership (which do not have to be funded for many years) but to the serious but less sexy duty of repairing the current defence force.

Of course there is no show without Punch, and it was only a matter of time before Greg Sheridan got stuck into White in the pages of the Australian.

White is a very faithful lover. Many decades ago he fell in love with the idea of maritime denial as Australia's strategic lodestar and from that he deduced that the force structure for the ADF should focus overwhelmingly on submarines and fighter aircraft.

In his preposterous paper, which so far has escaped critical scrutiny, White calls for 200 JSFs and 18 submarines, and an enlarged but lightweight army, deliberately not equipped to fight even in medium-intensity theatres such as Afghanistan, configured as a gendarmerie for use in policing roles in the South Pacific.

I'd been puzzling over the exact role of White's Lowy paper in relation to Government debates about the official White paper. Particularly since White was responsible for drafting the previous Australian Defence White Paper in 2000.

Graeme Dobell is very enlightening on this point, and very entertaining on Army views on White.

Hugh spent enough years in Parliament House to know how the political wheels turn. Thus, I read his Lowy paper as not just a wonk prescription.

Don’t see the paper as a faux Defence White Paper. Consider it, instead, as a particularly well written and explicit Cabinet submission. It is the sort of policy paper that goes to Ministers as the White Paper is prepared. And in the final White Paper, much of the meaty stuff — such as the tough discussion of China — gets watered down or cut out.

Who's talking about Ireland now?

It became very tedious a few years ago to listen to continual unfavourable comparisons of New Zealand with Ireland coming from the kind of commentators on New Zealand economy and politics that read the Wall Street Journal.

Given that Ireland was an EU member, a short plane flight from continental Europe, I was never sure that the comparison should carry much weight.

Nevertheless it might pay to note that Ireland has, perhaps predictably, been a major victim of the global financial crisis, with GDP this year predicted to fall 10% below its peak.

Paul Krugman's description of the situation there may have some lessons for New Zealand.

How did Ireland get into its current bind? By being just like us, only more so. Like its near-namesake Iceland, Ireland jumped with both feet into the brave new world of unsupervised global markets. Last year the Heritage Foundation declared Ireland the third freest economy in the world, behind only Hong Kong and Singapore.

One part of the Irish economy that became especially free was the banking sector, which used its freedom to finance a monstrous housing bubble. Ireland became in effect a cool, snake-free version of coastal Florida.

Then the bubble burst. The collapse of construction sent the economy into a tailspin, while plunging home prices left many people owing more than their houses were worth. The result, as in the United States, has been a rising tide of defaults and heavy losses for the banks.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Run Twyford

I have to say that the Dim-Post has brought me round to his compelling common sense point of view on the Mt Albert by-election. The alleged "Tizard issue" really is "pure, unadulterated bullshit".

Labour has allowed this inside the beltway issue to be framed by Kiwiblog, with the mainstream media falling into line behind. This course of events is all too familiar from the election campaign. It is time for some serious push-back.

The by-election is about who should be the electorate MP for Mt Albert and as far as I can tell Twyford is far and away the best person for the job. The Labour selection process should certainly not be second guessed in response to DPF and the Herald.

Tizard, on the other hand, is a properly selected list candidate and she's perfectly entitled to go back into Caucus if she gets the opportunity. Voters in Mt Albert will vote for the best person to represent them and the presence or otherwise of Judith Tizard on the Labour list will not be a major issue, just as National knows the identity of their next list candidate will not be a big issue should Melissa Lee prove to be competitive in the seat.

What's more, if we are going to start talking about apparently underperforming list MPs, I'd take Judith Tizard over Richard Worth any day.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Clark's Valedictory

I have to say I enjoyed it. I think it's a bit early to expect Clark to be trumpeting her failings. None of us can yet give a really balanced opinion of the events of 2008 or the successes and failures of the third term of the fifth Labour government.

I recommend the extended interview on Focus on Politics.

Several points she made there, rather than in the speech, were particularly interesting to me:

Firstly, she mentioned the book "Head and Shoulders" edited by Virginia Myers in reference to her early experiences in Parliament. I've long thought that this interview was by a very great margin the single most enlightening account of Clark that I have come across. Re-reading it just now, it's remarkably prophetic of later developments. Some form of split with Anderton has already occured over his public comments in the wake of the Timaru by-election. "That caused some difficulties between us. But I have a strong sense of self-preservation. I didn't come this far to be burnt out in a hail of gunfire." She rejects being labelled as a communist or a Bennite, "I don't see myself as a radical at all, but as very much mainstream Labour --- what would be called 'social democrat' overseas." Despite being on the outs with Caucus at the time of the interview she is looking to the future "Perhaps my chance will come with the fifth Labour government. That could be about 1996 and I'll just be in my prime!". You can find copies in any decent NZ second-hand bookshop.

Secondly, I think she may have hinted at oneday writing a considered and well researched account of her time in politics. This would be an enormous service to our political culture. The fourth Labour government has so far produced only disappointing accounts from its participants. Lange and Bassett have written rushed and unreflective books, despite Bassett's remarkable notes and historical training. Meanwhile Douglas has jumped back into the political fray when it would be much more useful for him to be writing a really good book.

And thirdly, I have to admit that, yes, in response to something like the famous John Dickerson question (what were your mistakes? or regrets?), Clark really did sound more like Bush II than Frank Sinatra. But perhaps that is a mistake too small to mention.