The Miracle Economy that is South Australia 2040

 

In 2015, the South Australian Premier of the day, Jay Weatherall, conducted a Royal Commission into Nuclear energy. He did this in spite of the huge opposition to anything to do with the nuclear industry throughout his Australian Labor Party, and widely in the bureaucracy as well as some parts of industry. The findings of the Royal Commission were to be an historic turning point for both South Australia and Australia itself, and turned around the historic under achievement of the SA economy compared to most of the rest of Australia.

The Royal Commission was a brave move by the South Australian Labor Premier, as his party had been implacably opposed to both nuclear power, and acceptance of nuclear waste. But at the time, SA found itself caught in the middle of inaction on climate change by conservative forces, particularly the Liberal Party under Malcolm Turnbull, then in power in Canberra and SA’s desperate need for reliable sources of power. This was not helped in late 2016, when there was a state-wide blackout due to a convergence of unprecedented phenomena happening all at once: freak storms, the breakdown of a gas fired power station, and a breakdown of supply from the national grid. In other words, an unprecedented set of circumstances, but one nevertheless which need to be addressed urgently.

The conservatives’ response to this was to cynically blame the SA government’s “obsessive” commitment to alternative energy, pointing out that this would not happen if they relied on coal. Given that no financial institution globally was financing coal fired stations in the foreseeable future without government guarantees, Weatherall needed quickly to find a short term political fix this problem. But in the long term there was no alternative but to fundamentally “change the game”.

In April, 2017, he announced his short to medium solution. SA would invest in a large back up battery facility costing over $100m, which was largely inspired by the Tesla electric entrepreneur Elon Musk. In addition the government would build a gas fired power-station as a backup for the sort of extraordinary circumstances experienced in 2017.

But in September 2017, Weatherall announced the fundamental game changer which was destined to not only change Australia’s energy landscape, but also much of the rest of the world. He began his address:

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure today to outline an exciting future for our great state of South Australia. Ever since we elected Don Dunstan as premier in the 1970s, South Australia has had fair claim to being Australia’s most progressive state. After the Dunstan era, there followed further progressive reforms: land rights, an indigenous governor, decriminalising homosexuality and of course big, brave festivals.  

“Maintaining the trend, SA also became a heartland for political experiments — Steele Hall’s Liberal Movement, the Australia Party and the Australian Democrats. These days, it has been South Australian Labor in the Senate, with the support of independent thinkers such as Nick Xenophon who saved Australia from the ravages of the extreme right wing ideologues of the Abbott Government.

“We now want to match these progressive instincts with an equally progressive and visionary economic future for SA, one which will take us into a new era of economic prosperity which is not reliant on the boom industries of the past – the motor industry, consumer manufacturing and fossil fuel fired energy generation.

“Now opportunity beckons. There is a chance to embrace technological change the same way we embraced social change and create Australia’s first ultra-modern, sustainable economy. In short, we want to turn South Australia over the next twenty- five years into the greenest, most technically advanced environmental economy in the world. We have the infrastructure, the resources, the skills and the money to get it done. And we will. The surplus we generate from our nuclear activities, will be ploughed back into investments which will transform the economy from top to bottom to ensure our vision is reached”.

Weatherall’s speech coincided with the launch of the SA government’s policy prescriptions as a result of the recommendations from the Royal Commission into the Nuclear industry, and it is fair to say the vision staggered Australia and much of the world.

The vision, as subsequently outlined by Weatherall’s staff, came in a number of components:

  1. South Australia will commit to being THE greenest, most advanced and sustainable state in the world –economically, financially and environmentally;
  2. central to that future will be a clean, efficient, technologically advanced and extremely valuable nuclear industry. This will be broken into several parts:
  3. South Australia will be made the centre of the world nuclear industry by providing a ‘close loop’ industry, i.e. rather than selling its uranium oxide to the rest of the world, it will rent it to them, and have the waste returned to South Australia for storage and eventual use as additional fuel in new generation nuclear reactors. Just by this alone the Royal Commission estimated this will generate for the State an additional surplus over the next ten years of $60 billion;
  4. SA will commit to spend some of that surplus to support the creation of a new generation nuclear industry, and construct under licence a generation 4 reactor from one of several suppliers under open tender such as GE Hitachi with its PRISM reactor, Rosatom with its BN reactor, and possibly from new innovative players such as Terrestrial The Mission of SANC will be to:
  5. license the building of a fast breeder reactor which will produce electricity from spent fuel rods sourced from the clients of Australian uranium exporters and eventually from nuclear fuel stockpiles from around the world. SANC will be responsible for the running of this process, and the accumulation of revenue, until the technology is mature, at which time SANC will sell it to the highest bidder provided its operational headquarters remains in SA, but substantial royalties will still flow to the government;
  6. be responsible for the export of uranium and the return of the waste from around the world, and the development of the storage facilities in South Australia;

iii.      oversee the enforcement of strict standards agreed globally for the movement of uranium oxide and waste around the world to and from Australia;

  1. provide technical advice to the federal government to ensure compliance to global standards; and
  2. provide the management and running of the generation 4 reactor and the distribution of the electricity to South Australia and elsewhere in Australia and offshore

The generation 4 fast breeder reactors had been a dream of the nuclear industry for decades, but no one has had the cash, the socio-political and geological environment nor the political will to make it happen. The Royal Commission though, after extensive global examination of the issue, came to the view that given the right commitment, skills and finance it would be possible for it to not only work but for it to be ready within ten years: and so it proved to be.

By 2025, the consortium charged with developing the reactor had not only had a pilot plant operating for 12 months, but was in the process of constructing a full-blown plant. This meant that via this new plant, it was possible to recycle nuclear waste from spent fuel rods with only 5% waste, and even that was then capable of recycling and so it too eventually ended up as fuel. South Australia was therefore in a position to deliver its promise of providing the world with a “close loop” nuclear industry, and the world came flocking to its door.

Between the time when South Australia started the closed loop policy in 2018, and the time the pilot generation 4 pilot reactor was commissioned in 2022, South Australia had earned over $40 billion in fees from those countries needing immediate resolution to managing used nuclear fuel. And all SA then did was to begin the process of turning it into green electricity, which eventually no only fed into Australia’s national energy grid supplying over 50% of national demand, but Australia became a major exporter of electricity once the power link was established across the Timor Sea to Indonesia and beyond to South East Asia.

As a direct result of the announcement of the SA government’s change of policy, and its commitment to a closed loop nuclear cycle, BHP Billiton announced it had decided to reopen for development the Roxby Downs mineral site in Northern South Australia– the biggest single deposit of uranium oxide and copper in the world, as well as numerous other minerals. This had been shelved in 2013 in view of the falling commodity prices and the uncertain future of the nuclear power industry. In the words of BHP: “South Australia changes everything”. From 2018 to 2030, BHP spent $10 billion developing the mine, but estimated over the 50 year life of the mine will make over $100 million dollars from it. It rapidly became SA’s biggest export earner, until the nuclear industry and its associated power generation and recycling overtook it in the early 2030’s.

Once the nuclear waste earnings started coming in in late 2017, SA rapidly began to commit to “greening” its economy. SA had long had a number of natural advantages, both from natural resources and its perceived redundant manufacturing and technology base. Weatherall now set about turning them into real economic opportunities.

First there was Elon Musk’s  Tesla electric car, his SpaceX – the most successful private provider of space travel, and his SolarCity – the US’s most successful solar energy company. Musk was a perfect fit for South Australia: redundant car factories, an operational space station in Wimmera Rocket Range, and the world’s second highest penetration of solar panels per household (after Queensland). Further, it had abundant sunlight both in winter and summer.

In 2018, in a joint news conference between Weatherall and Musk it was announced that:

  1. South Australia would hand over for nothing all the redundant car plants in South Australia to Tesla. Further, the government would provide $1billion dollars to adapt those plants for production of the Tesla Model S, X and the coming 3 provided these factories became the supply hub in the Asia Pacific region;
  2. Tesla would commit to developing and manufacturing an electric “peoples’” car which would be provided for every one at a fraction the cost of taxis, and ordered from the net and in the street. They would be all driverless;
  3. South Australia would progressively over 5 years make their major arterial roads into electric roads i.e. roads which are configured to charge electric cars as they drive along the roads which were in use in Europe in 2016 on a pilot basis, and have been increasingly charging buses as they drive along freeways. By 2025, most major roads in SA were electrified. The energy for these roads were provided by SolarCity with solar cells dotted along their fringes together with Tesla battery packs, as well as from the nuclear power stations. In the words of Musk: “it is a world first, but an incredibly exciting first”;
  4. SpaceX set up a manufacturing and development centre at Woomera for their state of the art rockets, but the actual launch pads were located in the Gulf of Carpentaria owing to the need for launch pads to be closer to the equator. By 2030, there were more rocket launches from the Cape than in North America owing to the insatiable demand from Asia and the lowest cost provider status of SpaceX.

South Australia had traditionally a vibrant Agribusiness sector, mostly centred on seafood of various kinds, world famous wines, and strong sheep, cattle and crops of various kinds. In 2017, for the first time in half a century Agribusiness passed the mining industry as Australia’s biggest export earner, and was seen to have as much potential as extractive industries because of the need to support the world’s growing population in the face of climate change and rapidly more variable weather.

SA is a very large state – it is twice the size of France for instance, and has always been constrained in its agribusiness growth by its lack of water. The nuclear opportunity opened up possibilities here too. With Nuclear desalination plants already in operation in Japan and Europe, and operating at a fraction of the cost of fossil fuel driven ones – even solar ones – nuclear energy seemed an obvious direction to pursue secure water for what was going to be a very fast growing population.

In 2021, the SA government announced the construction under the direction of the SANC of a  300-megawatt nuclear plant at Whyalla which would be required to drive a desalination facility with a capacity of 1 million cubic meters of potable water a day. That is enough water to support a population of between 3 or 4 million people. That same population would require between 4,000 and 6,000 megawatts of installed capacity to meet its electricity needs. Over time that facility not only supported SA’s very fast growing population, but enabled a range of new agribusiness industries to develop in the SA desert which would not have been possible otherwise

In addition, in 2017, Weatherall announced that he would invest $5 billion per annum into research in environmental technologies, funded from the nuclear royalties. The decisions about the funding allocations would be by an independent panel made up of a variety of the best environmental scientists in the world.  The only caveat was that the research and subsequent commercialization should be headquartered in South Australia. The result was that most major universities in the world opened campuses in South Australia and by 2040 SA per capita had more Phds than anywhere else in the western world. SA became the Australian hub of innovation and research for environmental industries, and the subsequent spin off companies remained head quartered in SA.

In April 2019, the new Federal Labor Government and Weatherall produced an even bigger shock than he did 18 months earlier. Surrounded by much of the new Federal Labor Cabinet: new PM Chris Evans; Penny Wong – Foreign Affairs; Tanya Plibersek – Treasurer; Richard Marles – Defence; and Anthony Albanese – Infrastructure. With them were the President of France, the Honorable Emmanuel Macron; and the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the right Honorable Bill English. Chris Evans started off:

“Today, ANZAC day, I am delighted to announce a major step forward in the modernisation of the Australian Economy which will make us, and especially South Australia, a pivotal player in Asia/Pacific region.

“Following our election mid last year we have been conducting a root and branch study of government expenditures and what opportunities exist for us to modernise and make our economy even more competitive. One of those opportunities is to help SA accelerate its transition to a clean green high tech economy. In doing so we recognised that SA’s ship- building capabilities together with its transition to a safe nuclear environment represented a very significant chance for our country.

“In 2015, the then LCP Government announced its intention to build up to 12 French designed ‘Shortfin Barracuda’. These French submarines are currently serving with the French navy as nuclear submarines and require expensive and extensive redesign to become diesel driven equivalents. Conventional power also considerably restricts its range.

“After extensive consultation with the French Government and the French builders, and strong support from our Department of Defence and the RAN, we have decided to build almost identical boats to their French equivalents including their nuclear power trains. In making this decision we believe this should be and will be above politics as it is so important to our future. I therefore thank the Leader of the Opposition for her provisional support which I received after I briefed her last night.

 Both parties, and the State Government, realise this is a big step but will be a major boost to SA transition to a nuclear future and provide us with leading edge capabilities in the Asia Pacific region. In recognition of the significance of this announcement to Australia and France, we welcome the French President the Honourable Emmanuel Macron to his first visit to Australia as President.

“My great friend and colleague, New Zealand’s PM Bill English, we also welcome. Bill is not only a great friend of Australia, he also leads the government of our greatest friend and ally, and fellow ANZAC partner, New Zealand. In doing so I would like to reveal that NZ has agreed not only to buy an additional two boats, but also take a 20% equity in the project. Over time we intend to make SA a nuclear hub in the Asia Pacific in partnership with our French partners, and intend to sell a number of additional boats to friendly allies around the Pacific rim. We estimate this could be as many as 20 boats over the life of the project. By going nuclear, there is no doubt we vastly improve the attractiveness of these boats to other buyers.

“I have to emphasise that none of this would have been possible without the visionary stance taken by the SA government in developing a “closed loop” nuclear economy, something I know our French partners are very very keen to capitalise on in the years ahead”.

To put it mildly, this caused a huge stir around the world, and certainly accelerated considerable additional interest in SA’s direction. It also played a critical role in helping SA successfully transform itself into the most prosperous economy in Australia such that today, in 2040, South Australia has the highest per capita income of all Australian states, is regarded as a model in sustainable development throughout the world, and has a population of over 5 million people, having overtaken WA and Queensland since 2020. Oh yes, and by 2040, in addition to the 12 submarines the RAN purchased, and the two for the  RNZN, so far there have been 21 sold to navies on the Pacific rim, and the Barracudas are regarded as amongst the most lethal weapons afloat and has caused many navies to play “catch up” when their power was realised. Nearly all of these boats use SA as a maintenance and technical base.

What could Malcolm Turnbull’s Third Party look like?

With Julia Gillard’s collapse in the polls, without something extraordinary happening, it looks as though Tony Abbott will have a clear run to the Prime Ministership. Much of his own party, and the majority of the Australian people do not want this to happen, but in the absence of an acceptable alternative this is what will…

The only way to stop this, is for a third party to emerge, with a charismatic, smart and popular leader, a strong experienced team of technocratic politicians and party men and women behind him, and with it strong backing from the business and general community. Such a leader is Malcolm Turnbull.

With Abbott’s current strength, and the weakness in the Labor Party under Gillard, Turnbull’s ambition to seize the LCP leadership before the election has now evaporated. Many of us thought, that Turnbull was being a loyal party man in anticipation of Gillard gaining in the polls as we move towards the election (which is the historic trend for incumbent governments), and once parity was gained, then the LCP would panic, and turn to him. What other explanation could be proffered for such an intelligent man as Turnbull supporting the incoherent and illthought- out set of  utterances which pass for Abbott’s policies.

Since the ill-conceived Rudd Challenge, after which Gillard’s electoral support has evaporated, Turnbull has been subtly shifting his stance. He negotiated with the party a compromise on the NBN (although in policy terms it is quite ridiculous), and he now in the last week or so, is supporting a revival of the Republican debate. Both policy issues are directly against Abbott’s mantra, and particularly the Republican issue designed to directly challenge his authority (remembering Abbott was the leader of the Royalists in 1999), and he is extraordinarily reverential to both the British Crown and all things British. Turnbull is the opposite.

Could it be that Turnbull is testing the water on a third party, with him as leader.  If so, considering the unprecedented level of disillusionment with federal politics on both sides, and the unprecedented low level of popularity for both leaders of the major parties, isn’t it exactly the right time when a well positioned and led third part might succeed? Certainly, Turnbull has very considerable support with on both sides of politics, and the so called swinging voters.

Let’s for a moment consider what this party might look like. To be successful, it would require competent middle of the road politicians and ex politicians from both sides; it would require for highly skilled party machine men to commit to such a cause; and it would require considerable levels of support from business and community organisations to fund (although i suspect a copy of the Obama popular “man in the street” internet based funding model would be a real winner with lots of people).

So who might these politicians be who would commit to such a cause. Let me reel off some of the more obvious ones:

Lindsay Tanner

Geoff Gallop

Amanda Vanstone

Jeff Kennett

Kristine Keneally

Ted Baillieau

Nick Greiner

Anna Bligh

Penny Wong

Tanya Plibersek

Bob Carr

Jason Clare

Mark Dryfus

Kate Ellis

Tony Windsor

Andrew Wilkie

 

I’m sure there are many more which other bloggers could identify.

If this list is anything like accurate, then there is a party to be built in record time if it is to prevent Abbott from being PM, and surely that would be a service to all Australians, on all side of politics.

The Mountain Obama has to climb in his Second Term

With the re-election of Barack Obama for a second term, it is worth reviewing where the US is at as a society and why Obama needs to take some radical surgery to the country’s body politic to make significant progress.

First though, I should say, that if we had to have a global superpower, the US is about as benign as they come. It has been the global policeman for 75 years now, and has presided over a period of unprecedented global growth, prosperity, and largely without war (at least world war). Sadly though I fear this is all about to come to an end. With the rise of China, the US has significant foreign policy and military challenges, which will be difficult to address, especially with the current state of the US economy and what looks like a permanent realignment of relative might of the two super-powers.

Interestingly, there was recently conducted a study by Stanford University about the attitudes of senior American military officers past and present. Surprisingly, for a group you would normally expect to be strongly pro Republican, and pro military spending, nearly eighty percent of them came out strongly for deeply cutting defence expenditures and spending the money on rebuilding America, especially educational institutions, healthcare, infrastructure, and investing in innovation. What drove such a surprising result? Well one thing the US military is, it is not stupid. These officers fully realised, and articulated very forcibly, their long term future depends on a strong economy. Without economic strength, military might disappears viz; the Roman Empire; the British Empire; the Soviet Empire; the Ottoman Empire. These capable individuals realise this very much, and seemingly are willing to articulate the case for change

So far, Obama has been playing a “hands off” approach to foreign policy and when he has intervened to has been remotely i.e. using surrogate armies and/or heavy use of drone aircraft which allows US pilots to fight a war from the safety of their own US located Airbase. With China, both sides have been treaded warily as they size each other up in Asia, and Asia skirmishes have largely been between China and US allies, particularly over the islands in the South China Sea.  There will come a time though when the US will be forced to act in Asia e.g. North Korea, Pakistan, Iran. That will be Obama’s real test.

On the economic front, there is progress being made, much of it coming from market forces rather than government policies. The most significant of these is the historic comeback of the US as a global energy power, mostly off the back of technology change which has allowed access to huge oil and gas deposits from shale which previously was not possible. This means the US will be a larger producer of petroleum products than Saudi Arabia by 2020. Coupled with this, there are domestic regulations in the US which says that domestic gas demand has to be satisfied before exports can be made, and given the US’s highly developed domestic pipeline system, this means the whole of the US can be supplied from anywhere in the country. With gas now flooding the domestic market from shale, at 20% of the market price in Asia, this has given a huge boost to energy dependent industries which have all of a sudden become internationally competitive again. The lower US dollar has also helped in this. This has caused an improvement in employment rates, and with it, a pick-up in housing prices. It may be that 2013/14 will see America climb out of its self imposed trough US will become a significant exporter of gas in the next five years, no doubt causing a downward pressure on world prices, and therefore becoming a significant stimulant for the world economy.

This though will do little to solve the serious social inequity in the US which is significantly disenfranchising more than 50% of the population. For instance, less than 50% of the population pay income tax. This is not because they are cheating, it is because 50% of the population represents 3% of the national income and so simply do not earn enough money to pay income tax. This means the country as a whole is wasting large chunks of its manpower and brain power simply through lack of opportunity and a third rate education system. Coupled with health system which costs twice as much per capita than any other major OECD country, but gets fourth rate outcomes, this same 50% are poorly supported from a health perspective and from a social income perspective.

In his first term, Obama made some significant progress on these issues against fierce opposition from the Republican congress, notably in Health care, but the US is still significantly behind other equivalent OECD countries. In my view, nothing exemplifies the parlous state of American politics and economics as much as the US health system. The US currently ranks about 15th in the table of health indicators in the OECD, yet nothing gets the Republican Party so worked up than when “Obama care” comes up. Even with the progress being made, there are still significant parts of the US population without adequate health-cover, and treatment will remain significantly more expensive than in equivalent countries until Obama takes on the doctors, and introduces a national health insurance scheme with all the economies of scale that represents.
One thing we can say though is that one of the most consistent things about America throughout its history is its ability to re-invent itself when all seems lost: slavery; the Civil War; the Great Depression; Pearl Harbour; the Cold War; Russians putting the first man into space; Vietnam. Unfortunately, now almost every statistic, financial and no- financial, shows the US in decline. And its political system is so badly broken, in spite of Barrack Obama’s best efforts. There has seemed simply an inability to do anything about it, particularly leading up to the last Presidential election. One of the outcomes of that election though is the naval-gazing that has caused in the GOP, and the willingness of least some in that party to consider modernising themselves. This has not yet seen any change in their politicians in Congress and compromise from their side still seems out of the question.
Let’s take a look at these key social indicators:

  1. 1.       US Social Indicators are going in the wrong direction.
    The Table below from the OECD shows just how badly the US is doing as a society. Nearly all its social indicators are in the bottom half of the OECD league tables.  What the table below shows is the distribution of social indicators across all OECD countries, and breaks them up into countries in the top two deciles, in the bottom two deciles, and in- between. The measures include:
    a. Household income (PPP)
    b. Ratio of employment to population 15-64
    c. Unemployment rate population 15-64
    d. Reading literacy scales
    e. Poverty rates
    f. Percentage finding it difficult or very difficult to manage on current income
    g. Percentage of average gross wage to meet poverty threshold
    h. Life3 expectancy at birth
    i. Infant mortality rate
    j. Rate of positive experience
    k. Percentage of persons satisfied with water quality
    l. Percentage of people expressing a high level of trust in others
    m. Corruption index
    n. Pro-social behaviour
    o. Voting rates
    p. Tolerance of Diversity

Net Score of top decile minus bottom decile scores by OECD countries

Countries Top Tweo Deciles Bottom Two  Deciles Net Score Net Ranking
Australia 8 0 8 3
Austria 4 0 4 10
Belgium 1 0 1 17
Canada 4 1 3 12
Chile 2 8 -6 27
Czech Republic 2 6 -4 24
Denmark 10 0 10 1
Estonia 0 9 -9 32
Finland 7 0 7 5
France 1 0 1 17
Germany 2 0 2 15
Greece 0 5 -5 25
Hungry 1 9 -8 30
Iceland 9 0 9 2
Ireland 5 1 4 10
Israel 0 9 -9 31
Italy 1 3 -2 21
Japan 5 2 3 12
Korea 2 5 -3 22
Luxenberg 5 2 3 12
Mexico 1 11 -10 33
Netherlands 8 0 8 3
New Zealand 6 0 6 9
Norway 7 0 7 5
Poland 0 7 -7 29
Portugal 0 5 -5 25
Slovak Republic 2 8 -6 27
Slovania 2 1 1 17
Spain 2 2 0 20
Sweden 7 0 7 5
Switzerland 8 1 7 5
Turkey 1 14 -13 34
United Kingdom 3 1 2 15
United States 2 5 -3 22

Source: Compilation from OECD Social Indicators in Society at a Glance 2011

There are many highlights in this information, but the most worrying from the US’s perspective is that it comes 22 out of 34, behind such advanced economies as Italy, Spain, Slovenia and equal with Korea. To be fair, it is likely that many of the European countries have gone backwards since the GFC and the Euro crisis(s), but so will have the US. It is likely that countries such as Korea and Israel will have gone ahead of the US since then given neither was greatly affected by either the GFC or the Euro crisis. This probably puts the US about 25th, a disgrace given it is the wealthiest country on earth, and is the most advanced technologically, militarily, and academically.
2. US Obsession with Religion: 
If you look at the measures outlined above, many of the social indicators where the US scores badly is what could broadly be called “social tolerance”. Much of this stems from the blind adherence to religious doctrines for much of the population, and much of its politics. The US is about the only country in advanced economies where it would be impossible for a non-believer to be elected to public office. Over 80% of the population goes to church on Sundays, where in the rest of the anglo world it is less than 10%. Even in the so called Catholic countries of Europe, such as Italy and Ireland, church attendances are less than 20%.
As a direct result of this social intolerance in the US, social measures are well below advanced countries norms. Take teenage pregnancies. With the exception of Russia (practices there are distorted by the championing of abortion as the preferred form of birth control under communism, and these practices continue today), the US has the worst record of teenage pregnancies in the OECD.

 

 

Why? Primarily the opposition of the religious right, and the Catholic Church to both birth control and comprehensive sex education in schools (see table below);
Birth, Abortion and Pregnancy Rates for Developed Countries Ages 15-19 (per 1,000 population)

Countries Births Abortions Pregnancies
Russian Federation 45.6 56.1 101.7
United States 54.4 29.2 83.6
New Zealand 34.0 20.0 54.0
UK 28.4 18.6 47.0
Canada 24.2 21.2 45.4
Australia 19.8 23.8 43.6
Sweden 7.7 17.2 24.9
Denmark 8.3 14.4 22.7
Germany 12.5 3.6 16.1
Netherlands 8.2 4.0 12.2
Italy 6.9 5.1 12.0
Japan 3.9 6.3 10.2

*Note: pregnancies exclude miscarriages; data from mid-1990’s. SOURCE: The Alan Guttmacher Institute report on Teenage Sexuality and Reproductive Behavior in Developed Countries

Related to this, is the increasing trend in the US of children not been vaccinated for preventable diseases, mostly because of opposition from the religious right, who regard it as “ungodly”. The result, eminently preventable diseases such as hooping cough, measles and polio are on the rise there, when even in the developing world, partly as a result of the great work by that great American Bill Gates, and his Gates Foundation, rates are rapidly decreasing. In most of the developed world, these diseases are virtually eliminated by almost universal inoculations of the young.
3. The Paralysis of the American political system.
The US is not a Westminster style parliamentary democracy. Although difficult to believe in the current state of play, the US is not an adversarial system in the sense that Westminster democracies like Australia, the UK and Canada are. The way the US system has worked for 400 years is through compromise and consensus, with much of the power residing with the President. It depends on the legislature reaching compromises in order that the business of government gets done. Now, however, one side, The Republicans, have allowed their party to be high-jacked by extremists (the Tea Partyists), and not very bright ones at that, who regard compromise as a sin (a word used advisedly). Much of their ideology comes from the extreme right parties of Europe (Le Pen in France, the National Front in Britain, the successors to the Nazis in Germany, and One Nation in Australia). These parties generally are made up of disaffected working class voters, often extremely racist, and often under-educated. They carry with them an under-lying hatred of the way things are, and a frustration that they feel they are not getting their “fair share”. Usually, when prosperity continues these people remain in a small minority, but after the economic dislocation in Europe and the US in the last 5 years it has created an environment for extreme views to flourish, in much the same way that the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles and the Great Depression was directly responsible for the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. This time, however, the greatest victim is the US itself, where they have managed to successfully press the self destruct button. This will only be addressed by the moderates in the Republican Party recognising the need to modernise, and being able to convince the social conservatives led by the Tea Party. It is in the early stages of this playing out, but the GOP will rapidly become irrelevant without reform, and will probably lead to the emergence of a new party or permanently entrench the Democrats in the White House.
For the current state of play to continue, the US has almost become ungovernable. No matter how competent the individual is in the White House, and how much his/her heart is in the right place, there seems to be no way by which will emerge a means to bring in the desperately needed reforms which will reverse the poor social outcomes listed above, and restore the United States reputation, previously assumed by the rest of the world, as being the beacon for progressive thinking, social innovation, and sound economic management. The next three years will be critical to this, and Obama will either emerge in his second term as a reformist president in the Roosevelt or Johnston mould, or to be cast out as the biggest lost opportunity in US history.

 

The NBN is too important to play politics with…..

You may have noticed in the Press the spat between Malcolm Turnbull and the ABC’s Technology correspondent Nick Ross. The source of this friction is that Ross has exposed the coalition’s broadband policy as the sham it is.
http://www.abc.net.au/technology/articles/2013/02/21/3695094.htm

In this article, he goes in to a huge amount of detail comparing what is currently planned and what the coalition says it wants. Frankly, Ross has nailed Turnbull well and truly and Turnbull does not like it one little bit.  I suggest this is because Turnbull knows he (Ross) is right (Turnbull is after all one of the country’s foremost technology executives, and would understand the technology arguments very well), and he has been exposed as being a hypocrite on these issues. We all know Turnbull has gone along with Abbott’s recidivist policies presumably waiting for him to self-implode in the hope that LCP party room will turn to him, but this policy stance he is advocating is frankly irresponsible.

For any of you in doubt about this, look at my previous blog on this where CSIRO sets outs in dispassionate, objective fashion how important an advanced broadband capability will be for the future economic well-being of Australia, particularly in the light of our appalling non farming/mining productivity performance.

Those of you who read this blog regularly, will realise I am generally a fan of Malcolm Turnbull. In fact I think he is the best person to lead this country into the future. But he is dead, dead wrong on this. One of the things I admire about him is his willingness to analyse things on their merits and not get too tied up in Abbott’s high ideological approach to policy. Does this prove me wrong? I very much hope not. We can only hope that when they come to power, they will quietly shelve this stupid policy.

The NBN is all about productivity improvement – ask CSIRO

For those of you who are not aware, the CSIRO has an incredibly interesting podcast called CSIROPOD. It shows off the range and depth of Australia’s leading scientific research institution. For those of you excited by the possibilities of science, like me, to solve the world’s problems, it is just a treasure-trove. Most people do not realise, though, CSIRO is not only “hard science”. It has soft science areas like economics and social research.

One area which it has tackled recently is the area of Australia’s productivity. Apparently, if you take mining and agriculture out of the mix, Australia ranks about 33 out of 36 in the OECD productivity table. This is in stark contrast to almost every other social and economic indicator where Australia usually rates in the top 3 or 4. This is a disgrace.

This interview outlines the challenge, but also the solution:

http://www.csiro.au/en/Portals/Multimedia/CSIROpod/Uploading-the-economy.aspx

What it clearly explains is that there is a solution to this predicament, but it involves Australia as a nation committing to completing the roll out of the NBN fibre to the home, which the coalition are still holding the line about dismantling. This is crazy. Malcolm Turnbull has more than enough ammunition to fire at the ALP on this area of economic policy. He should not also prevent the solution from being arrived at. It is politics in its worst form.

I still think Turnbull is the best leader for Australia at the moment, but he is dead wrong on this one.

The Rapidly Changing Education Model

Further to my piece yesterday, where I suggested the debate around the implementation of the Asia in the 21st Century Report, there is a discussion this morning in the Fairfax Press in “the zone” where Ernst & Young outline the finding of their research into the education sector.

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/full-transcript-peter-rohan-20121014-27kwz.html

Clearly the revolution is coming, but so are amazing opportunities. Implementing across the country Asia language skills is surely doable over the next 20 years off the back of thesE changes.

A very interesting comment buried in the narrative is “that both political parties have beenengaged and thoroughly understand what is coming in Education” what does this mean? It means that this criticism of the Asia White Paper by the Opposition is yet another one of Abbott’s scare campaigns. You would have though there would be a rethink by now in the Coalitionthat they need to switch the debate to one based on policy difference rather than their knee jerk negative reaction.

The coming together of two visionary ideas…..

As regular readers of this blog will realise, I am a great admirer of the Federal Government’s NBN policy – one of the most visionary policies I believe from the Federal Government in recent memory and one which has the potential to greatly change the way we operate as a society for the better.

Some of you also may not realise that I am “an old Asia hand” ie someone who has lived and worked in Asia for almost a decade in my career, so I was delighted to see the Government initially commissioning their “Asia and Australia in the 21st century” White Paper, and releasing it so competently over the weekend. Having now read it thoroughly, I think the authors have done a great job, and deserve due consideration on both sides of politics, as well as in academia and the media.

Imagine my horror today, when listening to the ABC at lunchtime, when the government has allowed themselves to be marginalised by the vested interests on this issue, particularly on their commitment to Asian languages and the line from the opposition “it means nothing without extra funding”.

This is a nonsense. The extra funding comes from the NBN. Sometimes I wonder whether the Government even realises what a revolution they have started in this area.  They certainly did not explain it as they should, something they also have  a habit of doing in other areas of policy.

It started off this morning in “The Age” with one Professor Adam Chen suggesting the commitment to Asian languages “will cost billions”. This was followed up during the morning by the usual procession of vested interests with their hands out (of which as usual the Teachers Unions are the most vocal with their baseless breast beating about class sizes echoed by the Federal Opposition).

Education is the sector, along with Health, which will be most profoundly affected by the NBN. In 10 years’ time, when the NBN will be fully implemented, education will be profoundly changed.  Teaching at universities will be largely done online, when the most important things  for them will not be the size of their campus, but the quality of their teaching and the prestige of their Brand. The NBN will provide virtually unlimited capacity to teach. Rather than a university lecturer being limited to the student numbers dictated by the size of the lecture theatre, it will be restricted by the size of the demand as these services will be delivered via a limitless capacity on the internet.

As with universities, the same will apply to schools. An excellent teacher of Mandarin, rather than being restricted to a classroom, will be able to take regular classes with unlimited capacity via a very fast broadband. It will revolutionize schools, and greatly improve teaching standards to all sectors of society in all subject areas.

It is possible the Federal Labor Government would prefer to take “stick” from the Opposition, than to have to explain this fact to their constituency in the Union movement, most of whom do not appear to understand this profound change (along with most of the Press). Nevertheless, it is coming down the track, and will greatly expand the policy options for government in all sort of areas, not least Education.

In my view, it will be a revolution even more profound than the internet itself.

Why Muslin Demonstrations are Different

It is very disturbing and very disappointing to see the over-reaction of Muslim youth in many countries to what was an incredibly stupid movie posted online about the Prophet. As a firm non-believer, it is difficult for me to understand such religious fervour , but what I can say is I can appreciate the reasons for the revulsion of the general population to such violent demonstrations, when such revulsions are not as apparent in other religions’ over reaction in to slights on their beliefs.

The problem with the public face of Islam is it is almost always predominantly male, young and thuggish. The other religious demonstrations, for instance, the Christian reaction to “The Life of Brian” , which was in many ways equally insulting to Christ, but the reaction was peaceful, predominantly female, and middle aged. It also saw the humour in it, which these young thugs singularly lack.

It is reasonable to ask what is it in Islamic upbringing that does not allow a significant portion of their flock to bush these “insults” off as the stupidity they are? The fact that they can’t, or won’t, both scares and alarms large sections of the Australian population, and creates a backlash against a religion which when practiced in its mainstream is civilising, gentle and inclusive.

The elders of the Muslim faith urgently need to look at their education system, their practices and the way they bring up their children to ensure these extremes are marginalised and such behaviour is shunned universally, by both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Overseas Graduates – yet another great chance for Australia

Everyone is aware of the devastation which the GFC and now the euro crisis (s) have brough on Europe. These are dramatically illustrated by the trends in youth unemployment across Europe, particularly since Lehmann’s collapse. In most European countries, graduates make up between 20-30% of youth unemployed. Similarly in the US. Unemployment amongst college graduates is the highest in half a century.

What does all this mean for Australia? It means yet another incredible opportunuity.

Australia, through its good fortune to be one of the strongest economies in the OECD, has an unprecendented opportunity to attract the best and the brightest graduates from countries with high education levels and high graduate unemployment rates ie countries like Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Greece and the US. Without wishing these countries mis-fortune, the fact is they have some very smart young people bereft of opportunity and many will become “the lost generation”. Australia desperately needs skilled people to provide the energy and drive for the future. Although a properly structured program would be quite expensive, in the longer term it would pay off handsomely, and would be a sensible way to spend any future surplus to set the country up as a brain driven environment to drive innovation, creativity and wealth creation.

This plays to one of the over-riding but unstated tenents of our immigration policy post While Australia i.e. although the policy is non-discriminatory from race, religions and sexuality, it definitely favours the better educated on the basis it is education which is the biggest driver of assimilation and job security. In an environment where our universities are bursting at the seams, and we can’t get enough of graduates, particularly those related to the sciences, why wouldn’t we take the best and the brightest from abroad. Much cheaper than financing additional Phd places, although that should be done as well.

A related issue to this, it was dissappointing to see that there has been a considerable tightening up on criteria for entrepreneurs from abroad immigrating here. Somewhat short sighted I would have thought.