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One of my favourite expressions is the phrase ‘quantum leap’. In the conventional parlance, it means, ‘a very large leap forward.

It stems from the Latin word, quantum, which means ‘how much?’; quantum theory answered this question by saying ‘very little’. A quantum, I believe, is the smallest possible unit of energy.

So what then is a ‘quantum leap’? Quantum jumping is a bizarre phenomenon whereby an atom, whose probability state is erratic whilst it remains unobserved, may jump from location A to location B because the probability of it being in location B is non-zero. If atoms were ping-pong balls, it would be like a ball being inside a jug magically reappearing outside the jug. Just because.

So a quantum leap might have originally meant a highly improbable leap forward. Instead, it means a huge leap forward – the exact opposite of what quantum leap should mean. Isn’t that a quantum leap in logic?
Edit: Damnit, I just re-read this post and realised how precise my language was. I’m writing an assignment, so my brain has switched to legal writing mode.

Also, the half-pun in the last sentence just failed. It was meant to be witty – its both a large leap and a highly improbable leap.

This blog has avowedly ignored the non-issue of asylum seekers for its entire life, but I’m going to touch briefly on the issue simply because the Malaysia Solution decision by the High Court could radically shift the political landscape in Australia.

There has been so much written about the decision and how it can hurt the Government; I won’t repeat that, I’m sure much of what they say is right and much of it isn’t. But one point which I haven’t heard much about is the one I think is the most critical.

The Gillard government has been facing much woe on all sides – on the economy, on the mining tax, on migration etc; the failure of the Malaysia Solution, all those difficulties I just alluded to, merely add to that pile. They may well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

What’s missing from this analysis is why, when the government is wading through this toxic sewage, is it not up to its neck and drowning? The answer is that Tony Abbott’s persona is deterring them from actively committing to vote Liberal. If you summed up that feeling into one phrase, it would be the “Dr No” image he’s cultivated. That image is about to be shattered when Tony Abbott starts to call the shots on the resolution to the Malaysia Solution debacle. That will change the whole tenor of the future debate.

 

*Caveats: (1) This post in no way implies the High Court decision is unusual or political. I have not read the decision, but it appears to be a rather standard application of interpretive principles, albeit one where Heydon J was unusually in dissent. I strongly disagree with Gillard’s comments about French CJ, if only because the case he decided as a Federal Court Judge, Ruddock v Vadarlis (the Tampa case) was decided on entirely and completely different issues to the Malaysia Solution case. It turned on whether there was a prerogative power or a nationhood power to repel asylum seekers by force; that argument was not raised in this case.

(2) I do not endorse Abbott’s views (in fact, I almost entirely disagree with him) but I have consistently said that he has a very effective political strategy. Destroy the government in the polls. I personally think his low preferred PM rankings are understated. People are reluctant to commit to him now, but they’ll change their minds once the looming election forces them to turn their minds to the issue.

This blog has been half-heartedly following the High Speed Rail debate here in Australia, so it would be remiss of me to neglect the Economist’s contribution to the UK debate on high speed rail. The main leader here, followed by a second article in the same issue. The Economist is highly critical of high speed rail, in contrast to some of its earlier commentary which (from my recollection) was more supportive of high speed rail infrastructure in the US.

They raise some interesting arguments, and they certainly make sense in the UK context. What worries me is that they do extend this argument to all high speed rail. The argument that high speed rail can cause economic damage (by by-passing towns on existing long-distance rail lines) doesn’t, for example, apply to Australia.

See also the Infrastructurists’s reply to the Economist

http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/dream-act-would-improve-a-bad-situation/The Cato Institute supports the DREAM Act currently being debated by the Californian Congress.

I’ve no well-formed opinions on the DREAM Act. On the one hand, not passing it is tantamount to punishing people who cannot be held responsible for illegally entering the US (since they were under 5). On the other hand, with California’s dire fiscal situation can they really afford to pay for more students? They’ve already enacted drastic cuts to education budgets.

Although I’m broadly skeptical of paths to legalisation, I think I am tending towards passing the DREAM Act, since it prevents further ghettoisation over the generations. It won’t be a panacea – if the stereotypes are anywhere near accurate (and stereotypes often aren’t), then most illegal immigrant teenagers are unlikely to be able to get into college anyway. But for those who fought the odds to get decent high school grades, to learn English and to otherwise be eligible, I say, let’s give them their dues.

 

 

Boyd v Mirror Newspapers [1980] 2 NSWLR 449 is well worth reading. A case in defamation in which  Boyd, a professional footballer, alleges several imputations:

“(a) that the plaintiff was so fat and slow that he could not properly play in his position as a second row forward in first grade rugby league football;

(b) that the plaintiff was so fat as to appear ridiculous as he came on to the field to play a first grade rugby league match;

(c) that the plaintiff had so allowed his physical condition to degenerate that he was a hopeless second row forward in first grade rugby league.”

It’s great. The whole case is just so undergraduate, the imputations all felt like yo momma jokes.

Basically, apparently its not fair to say it would cast Boyd in a ‘ridiculous light’ to say he’s so fat and slow. Nor is it disparaging to say so. Hmm, that leaves a lot of room to make yo momma jokes.

Sex sells, and none more so than when done illicitly with the potential to bring down an entire government. But can Craig Thomson actually bring down the Government? He may be pushed out by s 44 of the Constitution, which relevantly states:

“Any person who… has been convicted and is under sentence, or subject to be sentenced, for any offence punishable under the law of the Commonwealth or of a State by imprisonment for one year or longer… shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a… member of the House of Representatives”

According to Odger’s Senate Practice, Thomson must be ‘convicted and subject to be sentenced’, ie if “if he or she is awaiting sentencing but also if he or she has been given a suspended sentence, subject to certain conditions being met”. The leading case is the High Court decision in Nile v Wood (1988) 167 CLR 133.

So the question is how long it will take to ‘convict’ Thomson. The difficulty is that Thomson has a constitutional and common law right to a fair trial which will certainly delay things. Will it delay it past the next election? I’m not familiar enough with criminal law and procedure to say so, but many journalists at least are saying it will take two years to convict. I myself suspect the court will be more than happy to expedite things, subject to giving Thomson sufficient time to prepare his defence. This may not be as long as you think – he had been prepared for a defamation case based on the same facts so the evidence has been gathered.

The other possibility is that Thomson may simply resign. There may be a convention for such MPs to resign, but they are based upon political calculations. It does more damage for a party to hold a potentially criminal MP than to let him go. That calculus shifts radically when that MP holds the balance of power – the ALP would rather suffer the political damage of having an alleged criminal in its ranks than lose Government altogether. And such a convention, even if it can be characterised as a constitutional convention, cannot overcome the plain words of s 44. It is unenforceable by a court of law.

The choice, however, does not lie in the ALP’s hands but in Thomson’s hands. He may decide to leave the political scene to protect himself from further reputational damage. The track record for backbenchers finding employment after losing their seat is not great as things stand. He may decide to attempt suicide; there are reports the ALP has kept a watchful eye over Thomson for this reason. Or, he may simply crack under the intense pressure placed on him by the media and Opposition and resign for psychological reasons; men are never always rational.

So whilst s 44 itself is probably ineffective to achieve the Opposition’s aims, its very existence could lead to an early election. In any case, the opportunity to attack the Government on an issue on which Abbott cannot possibly lose votes cannot be better for the Opposition.

Edit: My friend mentioned another possibility – that the rural independents could vote for a motion of no confidence. But the appropriate question is in whom will they have no confidence? They are not required to have confidence in Mr Thomson; the House cannot, by majority vote,  kick a democratically-elected member from its ranks whilst remains eligible to be an MP.

 

They can remove a Minister from office, or even the Government from office by a vote of no confidence. But it is a very great stretch to say that this Government, being supported by a potential criminal, ought to be removed for tolerating that criminal to remain in their ranks whilst he remains constitutionally eligible to do so. And there doesn’t need to be any link between Thomson and the no confidence motion. This just restates what we always knew – the independents may, at any time, remove the Government from office and put Tony Abbott into the Prime Minister’s office.

One of the perils of being a law student is that one accrues favourite justices. Mine include Dixon, Mason CJJ, Evatt, Meagher, McHugh, Scalia, Souter JJ and Judge Posner. I can now quite happily add Oliver Wendell Holmes to that list simply because of his witticisms.

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/o/oliver_wendell_holmes_jr.html

Its beautiful.

One of the great strengths of Australia has been its political system. Whilst many economists have criticised the undue emphasis on balancing the Budget, I’m in two minds. There is no inherent economic benefit to balancing the Budget -> it can be harmful if you balance the Budget too quickly by withdrawing stimulus from the economy before it has fully recovered from the recession. On the other hand, every other developed nation is struggling because its politicians have been promising tax cuts and spending increases leading to unbalanced budgets. Australia is fortunate because we’ve been careful to spend our money efficiently.

I’ve previously attributed Australia’s strong Budget to having a fused executive and legislature, so the advice of experts within the public service is used most effectively by its legislators who write the Budget. But it can also be attributed to Australia’s emphasis on balanced budgets. The balanced budget political commitment is an effective mechanism to drive continued spending cuts and efficiency dividends. It’s certainly more effective than the debt limit mechanism which America uses – one which failed to restrain spending for the last 10 years and which nearly caused a market collapse this year. But I don’t want to overstate the case – the emphasis on balanced budgets is a relatively recent invention; it is more a symptom of having a fused executive/legislature.

The balanced budget commitment can, however, have negative effects as we have seen from Joe Hockey’s current dilemma. Joe Hockey must make $70bn in savings from spending cuts in order to balance his budget. Is this truly achievable? To give a sense of proportion, the Australian Budget has $365bn in expenditures. Can you really cut 20% of the Australian Budget without so much political backlash that the Opposition can win the next election? It is often said that Oppositions don’t win government, Governments lose government – but this is one Opposition which may have lost government before it was even sworn in.

This $70bn figure does not come from any announcement by Joe Hockey, it is the result of an internal Liberal Party document obtained by Channel 7. The $70bn figure emerges if you add up all of the Opposition’s promises – to dump the carbon tax ($27bn) and mining tax ($11bn), $8bn in tax cut and $37bn in spending promises.

Joe Hockey says that entire departments will be removed, including the Department of Climate Change. But if we cut spending on climate change to $0 (contrary to Liberal Party policy), you still wouldn’t get $70bn in savings. The Government is only spending around $465m on the Department of Climate change,. Another 69.6bn to go. So where is the $70bn going to come from?

In fairness to the Liberal Party, this is not the fault of the whole party. Joe Hockey is a policy dunce whom insiders widely believe is too lazy on policy. Either Andrew Robb or Malcolm Turnbull would make a better Shadow Treasurer.

The $70bn black hole is also the cost of Tony Abbott’s very effective strategy of criticising any tax rises or other economic policy offered by the Government. It seems he’s playing a riskier game than I thought -> whilst his strategy has caused the Government’s popularity to plummet, it may backfire when he is forced to either undo some big political commitments or make unpopular spending cuts.

Another problem is that the Opposition would be caught unprepared if an election was announced today, or if Craig Thompson were to lose his seat and Tony Abbott became Prime Minister. That is a very bad political position to be in.

I noticed that Google released a new tool a few months ago – Google Public Data Explorer. It automates charting from public data sources.

I’m not sure it works very well.

E.g. Comparing US, Japanese and Chinese GDP/capita over time

The Japanese GDP/capita numbers must be wrong. As we all know, Japan’s economy was going gangbusters until 1991, whereupon it went into a Lost Decade where economic growth went stagnant. And yet the biggest and most sustained increase in GDP/capita is between 1990 and 1995. The only way that is possible is if the number of people in Japan rapidly shrank during that time.

I did some research (ie I used Google Images and typed Japanese GDP/capita) and I was right:

As you can see, GDP per capita does not spike in 1995. There’s something severely wrong with the Google-generated graph.

Similarly, I suspect the US GDP/capita is wrong too. It’s just too smooth.

But I also found this graph which is very cool:

Edit: What’s worrying is the data set I used is an official data set (which should be verified): http://mcgillpolisci.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/human-development-indicators-in-google-public-data-explorer/

Edit 2: The source of the problem is not Google. It’s the World Bank data set it uses: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD?page=3

FYI, the Federal Government has now released the first stage of its $20m feasibility study on high speed rail: http://www.smh.com.au/national/sydney-to-melbourne-rail-trip-in-three-hours-20110803-1ibnk.html

This blog has written on HSR in the past. Whilst I have supported HSR generally, I think it’s inappropriate in Australia because it simply isn’t business feasible without heavy government subsidies.

I’ll have a more thorough post up later, but it seems as  though it won’t be business-feasible. It’ll take 3 hours to travel between Sydney and Melbourne at a cost of $75-190. Even taking into account travel times to airports (and to the train station) or the time taken by security check, are you really willing to pay triple the price of an air ticket to travel slower than a plane? I can’t imagine there are enough people who would want to do that.