Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Shooting Their Mouth Off

I'm getting pretty sick of anonymous police sources mouthing off in the media.

That mood is not assisted by the topics they choose to complain about. There is a saying "No police officer ever met a new power he didn't like."

That's not universally true, of course. In fact, in recent years, some police officers have shown remarkable sense in pursuing smarter, rather than harsher, ways to deal with crime.

Today, however, we saw police demanding mandatory penalties for gun possession:
Full story here
No doubt they were able to point to extensive research that proved that such a change would reduce gun crime. Or at least some evidence that it was the best way to deal with the issue?


First there are two examples of sentencing, presented without any context whatsoever, meaning the reader has no way of knowing whether the sentence was appropriate or not. This is a constant issue with media reports that, frankly, one has become more accustomed seeing in the Terrorgraph.
Then, there is this unattributed (and, I have no doubt, thoroughly invented) claim:
Then we have this brilliantly detailed analysis:
I'm sorry, but if you're going to make such a definitive claim without a shred of evidence to back it up, then you're flat out lying to achieve a political goal.

And the paragraphs following are not evidence:
To reduce the New York Zero Tolerance experiment to "zero tolerance penalties on gun possession" (what even does that mean?) is to grossly distort history.

The changes in New York were wide ranging and encompassed a fundamental shift in policing in New York. Sentencing was a very discrete and comparatively insignificant part of the changes.

The following is from a paper entitled "Zero Tolerance Policing":
Whilst crime was reduced, there is also disagreement as to the extent to which zero tolerance policing as a whole had an effect. This from "Beyond Zero Tolerance":
These police officers are launching a cowardly, anonymous attack in the media without a shred of evidence to back it up.

In fact, the only sensible suggestion in entire piece (the government having either not suggested one or not having had it quoted) comes from John Robertson.
A guideline judgment is a decision from the Court of Criminal Appeal that sets out a framework for sentencing an offence.

At present we have a number of guideline judgments in operation, including for High Range Drink Driving and Armed Robbery. If the Attorney General sought such a judgment, and the court was satisfied that it was appropriate, a framework for sentencing persons convicted of gun possession could be handed down.

It would be something along the lines of "A person convicted of XXXX should in the ordinary case be facing a term of imprisonment of between three and five years."

Alternatively, the government could impose what is known as a Standard Non-Parole Period - a period of time that should be imposed on a mid-range example of an offence.

By way of example, the Standard Non-Parole Period for Murder is 20 years, whilst for Sexual Assault it is 7 years.

Of course, that all assumes that the penalties being imposed are actually insufficient, and no one quoted in this piece was actually able to prove that. Until someone does, this piece remains little more than a baseless attack on the legal system.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Guarding our Borders

Sometimes I wish I had more time to write for this blog.

Inevitably, having a full time job, and more commitments outside of work than I care to count, means I often have to pass on pieces I would like to write because I don't have the time to do them justice. The redistribution process is one of those issues on which I would love punch out a really detailed piece, but don't have the hours and hours such a piece would take to write properly.

Of course, there is also the fact that Ben Raue. of the excellent Tally Room. has already gone and written an outstanding bit for New Matilda on that very topic.
I'm not going to reinvent the wheel, because his piece is excellent. You should read it: http://newmatilda.com/2013/01/23/sydney-electorates-south.

I guess I'm just grateful that we have this kind of process. That a non-political, independent body invites submissions on the issue, and then makes the decision that is most in accordance with democracy and justice.

It means that we avoid te awful gerrymandering that Queensland, and that we see in the US today:
Some super-high-quality gerrymandering from the Illinois. Pic from here
The process is going to lead to, I have no doubt, furious brawling behind closed doors, as members of the Legislative Assembly fight over who gets what seat. That's to be expected.

But let's all take a second to be grateful that we have maps that look like this:
From the AEC
Or this:
From the AEC
Rather than this:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Stabbed in the BackBench

This is a pretty remarkable story from Tyron Butson in the Inner West Courier:
Full story here
As if those opening 3 paragraphs weren't enough, we had direct quotes from 2 named MLAs:
It's just extraordinary.

How did these MLA's ever think this was a good idea? It is a clear threat to the Premier, conducted through the media, that he had better start promoting people or else they're going to quit.

That's without even considering whether promoting these backbenchers would be appropriate. Many of the present cabinet members knocked around in opposition for a long time, and whether or not they are "right" for the job I think they are entitled to feel like they're finally "getting their go".

But that's not even the point. If you are of the view that you deserve a promotion, you have a quiet word to the people who decide these things. If that doesn't work, you go about proving that you deserve it.

If that doesn't work, you keep your head down and back someone else when they challenge for the leadership. Or you wait around for whoever it is that doesn't like you to moves on.

That can take years. But to launch an assault through your local newspaper strikes me as more than just arrogant - it's plain dumb.

Did these guys think that O'Farrell would now be intimidated into giving them a gig? Or that he would overlook their obvious inability to be a team player?

As it happens, when Heath Aston (writing for the SMH) followed up the story the next day, there had been two thoroughly unsurprising developments:

Full story here
No doubt he got his torn a new one by someone on behalf of the Premier (or perhaps even by the Premier himself) and was forced to release a grovelling statement taking it all back. Looking at the wording, I wouldn't be surprised if someone in the Premier's officer was even kind enough to draft it for him.

This was always going to be a problem for O'Farrell. He has a lot of people who spent a long, long time in opposition paying their dues. He has a lot of young MLA's who are impatient for their time in the sun. He has far too many backbenchers, meaning that he doesn't have enough titles, committees and positions of importance to keep all the egos satisfied.

But I think he may have hoped that those backbenchers would have a little more sense than to go about things in this fashion.

Will there be more grumbling like this? For sure. But will there be any MLA's dumb enough to put their name to it again? I doubt it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Home safe?

Home prices in Sydney are out of control. They compare unfavourably with almost every major city in the world.
Graph from this paper
Why? Well, that depends on your vested interest. Some people blame the State Government, for not releasing enough land to developers.

Others blame the State Government for not doing enough to force councils to rezone land to encourage higher density developments.

It's also easy to blame the Federal Government for excessive immigration. Or the Baby Bonus, which was created, at least in part, to encourage procreation.

Maybe it's just the inevitable consequence of living in a city that is widely regarded (by most) as being a thoroughly excellent city to live in.

It's probably all of those reasons. Of course, it doesn't really matter why it is so expensive - it just is, and the government needs to deal with that reality.

In recent years, a number of steps have been taken. New land is continually being released to developers - although eventually that land starts to become so remote from the rest of Sydney that the process becomes a farce.

Continuing to release land in the Campbelltown area (for example) is certainly necessary. But it can only be part of the solution - it is incredibly time consuming for those residents to commute to the Sydney CBD (or, for that matter, any of the "cities" that make up the Greater Sydney, except for Campbelltown itself).

From the NSW Planning and Infrastructure website
The Labor government also introduced a numbers of measures (continued by the O'Farrell Liberal government) requiring local councils to plan for an increase in the population density of the area.

In my local area (the North Shore) this has caused significant protest as the feel of quiet suburban streets has been wrecked by the construction of large apartment blocks. No doubt there have been similar experiences across Sydney.

But, at the end of the day, house prices have continued to rise.
Graph from here
This is why we have the first home buyers grant. It was introduced as a measure to assist First Home Buyers in getting a foothold in the market.

This makes intuitive sense. If house prices are out of reach, then why not give those trying to buy into the market a helping hand? If you've just sold a home, then odds are you have a benefited from the inexorable rise in prices - but a first home buyer does not have that advantage.

The grant was initially $7000. And, in the spirit of full disclosure, I gratefully accepted that sum when the wife and I bought our first home a few years ago.

The problem is that the research suggests that these steps did nothing to make homes more affordable for first home buyers (see for example this, or this)

Those who are purchasing their first home have particular preferences that differ from (say) families with kids, or retirees.

This meant that, where a vendor had a home that was attractive to a first home buyer, there would be a multitude of buyers who all had the backing of the grant.

As a result, in general, the price of the home was increased by more or less the value of the grant as bidders pushed up the price. The only people that benefited were the people who had bought in before the introduction of the grant.

Moreover, in light of what happened in the global economy in the last 5 years, there should be a level of concern about throwing money at first home buyers to assist them to buy into the market. The money would, in most cases, be used to assist the purchaser to get a deposit together.

There are good reasons why banks require a deposit. One of those is to show the bank that the borrower has the capacity to cobble together cash over a period of time, meaning that the borrower is more likely to be able to effectively budget well enough to repay a home loan.

Last year the rules were changed. When the state budget was released last year it was announced that, from 1 October 2012, the grant would increase to $15 000, but would apply only to new homes.

This made the grant far less about new home buyers and far more about propping up the building industry. Which is fair enough.

Given that the announcement was made in June 2012, it should hardly be surprising that there was a great deal of marketing along the lines of:

How much that helped is anyone's guess. Naturally enough, there are a multitude of factors that affect the quantity of homes financed. But this graph has been splashed around a fair bit today:
Graph from here
Now, there an immediately obvious reason for the fall - if you knew that the you had to get in before October to get that grant from the government, isn't it a no-brainer to change your plans to ensure your purchase qualifies?

The natural consequence is depressed figures for the quarter following the removal of the payment.

How much of the fall can be blamed on the amendment of the grant? It is impossible to tell. It would be helpful if the (otherwise outstanding) ABS provided further breakdown of the first home buyer purchases into new and existing properties, but I don't think it does.

In all those circumstances, this story that appeared on the SMH website today jarred with me.
Full story here
Further down:
Burney's comments are ridiculous, and deliberately mislead the reader. The reason for the fall is (at least in part) what I have outlined above - people getting in before the changes late last year.

The total number of new dwellings purchased has fallen in the last quarter.:
Total number of new dwelling purchases in nsw (source)
Whilst the number of established dwellings purchased has risen slightly:
Total number of established dwellings purchased (source)
Has the O'Farrell government "abandoned first home buyers"? Of course not.

If these first home buyers want to buy a new dwelling, the payment has doubled. Of course, the cost of those dwellings will no doubt be significantly higher than it would be without throwing money at first home buyers, but that is a different discussion.

As for those first home buyers who do want to buy an established dwelling - the cost of that dwelling will be significantly less given that most of the potential buyers will no longer have an extra $7 000 from the government backing them up.

The government has stopped pretending that the new home buyers grant would make housing more affordable for first home buyers, and is rather focussing on propping up the building industry.

Whether they should be doing so is another issue. But have they "abandoned first home buyers"? Hardly.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Burney Misogeny?

Is Barry O'Farrell a misogynist?

I don't know. But I certainly was surprised to see this article flick through my timeline this morning:
Full story in the Tele
The comments complained of are further down the page:
Further down:
There were also complaints that O'Farrell had made derogatory comments about Kristina Keneally:
Whilst I don't for a second doubt that O'Farrell fully intended the alleged subtext, I don't have any intention of discussing whether they are in fact misogynistic.

No doubt others will have their say on that issue. But I can live without being flamed for "not doing feminism right". So I'll leave that for other blogs.

What I am interested in is whether this mud is going to stick.

There can be no doubt that the attacks that have been made on Tony Abbott for comments he has made about women have been incredibly effective.

Before the last federal election, GetUp launched this ad:

Whether it actually changed any votes is anyone's guess. It certainly wasn't the first attempt to label Abbott as a misogynist.

It wasn't really until Julia Gillard's speech in parliament late last year that the idea really gained traction in the popular media:

Whether you think her attack is fair or not, you cannot deny that it has fundamentally changed the public's perception of Abbott. It was a decisive speech that has (probably permanently) labelled Abbott as, at the very least, anti-women.

No doubt this is the kind of result that Burney would have been hoping for with the Telegraph article. No one else has picked the story up (as of late this afternoon, and as best I can tell) - but Burney may well have been hoping that bored NSW Political reporters might be keen to run with the issue.

If that is what she is hoping for, I think she is going to be disappointed.

There are many reasons that Gillard's speech resonated with the Australian public.

In part, it was a powerful woman sticking it to a powerful man in a way that we are unaccustomed to seeing, even today.

Moreover, it didn't overreach. She didn't need to look for offence, or trawl for comments and somehow twist them to suit her partisan goals.  Abbott's statements spoke for themselves.

Most of all, in my opinion, the reason her speech resonated was because it fitted generally with the latent opinion about Abbott.

Recently I read a comment the basically said that a political ad is most powerful when it accords with what the public already suspects about someone.

The public suspected that Romney was obscenely wealthy and didn't care about the disadvantaged. This is why the now-famous 47% video resonated so strongly:

Julia Gillard's knifing of Kevin Rudd and her immediate ascension to the Prime Ministership had an air of illegitimacy about it. So, when she promised not to introduced a Carbon Tax and then reneged on that promise, the cry of "Liar!" was always going to be damaging:

So, again: are these attacks on Barry O'Farrell and the insinuations that he is a misogynist going to stick?

I don't think so.

O'Farrell just doesn't have "the runs on the board' to make the allegation something that will fundamentally alter the community's perception of him in the same way.

That's certainly not to say that the comments in question were appropriate, or defensible. To give them some context, I've extracted them below.

First of all, the "hooker" comment:
Further on:
As for the "witch" comment:
The Kim Kardashian comments are a little more interesting. I recall them causing a fuss around the time that O'Farrell got into the habit of referring to Keneally in that way.

The first came on 8 November 2011, when Keneally was still sitting as the Member for Heffron:
Then, on the very next day:
And then, finally, on 14 February 2012, this happened:
All very unseemly.

When push comes to shove, I think this issue is going to disappear pretty quickly. Whilst Linda Burney is the acting Opposition Leader, Robertson will be back on deck soon, and the obvious opportunity afforded by her acting in the role will slip away.

What she will be hoping is that O'Farrell will keep making these kinds of comments, and that more articles on this topic get written. Unfortunately for her, I suspect that O'Farrell is a little too smart for that.

But you never know.

UPDATE: In fairness, thought I should include this exchange as O'Farrell has a response of sorts to what I have written above:
At the time of making this update, there had not been a reply to that last tweet.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Polls Apart

The new Newspoll was released today. Suffice to say that it will bring no joy to John Robertson or the ALP as a whole.

First, the party numbers:
Full table here
And the Premier numbers:
Full table here
True it is that there has been a gradual drift back to the ALP since the election. Their present 2PP numbers are some 5% better than at the election.

The problem is that a few simple sums show that, at this rate of improvement, the ALP will not win the next election. Believe it or not, we are almost half-way through the 4 year fixed term that O'Farrell won in March of 2011. Labor has made up 5% of the 14% shellacking they got almost 2 years ago.

There are good reasons why politicians who make decisions based upon polls deserve contempt. That said, when the polls are consistent over a long period of time, more concrete conclusions can be drawn about the attitude of the electorate.

That said, the numerical issue over how fast Labor catches up is the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

There should always be a rebound of sorts after a big win for a challenger in an election. Many people will often vote for the opposition because "it's time for a change" or "because we need to send a message". In and of themselves, those are pretty stupid justifications for a vote, but it is a common reason after a government has spent a long time in power.

People who naturally see themselves as supporting the incumbant will, for reasons that remain opaque to me, choose to vote for someone else. Those people should naturally flow back to the new opposition once they have been defeated.

Even more common is the disillusioned supporter - those people who voted for the challenger (perhaps against their better judgment) and then are immediately shocked/surprised/horrified by the changes introduced by the new government.

When you consider that a new government will often "get the bad stuff out of the way early" there should be a pretty large group of dissillusioned voters.

This is particularly so after a particularly heavy victory - there must be hundred of thousands (if not millions) of people who voted Liberal/National for the first time in their entire lives in 2011.

Those people must, for the most part, have been appalled by O'Farrell's actions since the election. They would have plenty company.

This makes the failure of the Labor opposotion to make inroads since the election surprising - and no doubt concerning for the Labor faithful.

Whilst O'Farrell has, for reasons I have discussed previously, an excellent chance of serving at least 8 years, Labor will not be willing to roll over and concede this. Their failure to make up significant ground renders this almost inevitable.