Reading List – February 2018

I thought I’d just share what’s on my reading list right now – what I’ll be reading shortly, what I’m reading now, what I’ve read in the last few days.


I’m not allowed to buy new books until I’ve gone through these. All of these can be found on, with the exception of War With China – for that, I’ve provided the link to where you can get it.


  • The Better Angels of our Nature (Steven Pinker) (re-reading)
  • The Blank Slate (Steven Pinker)
  • Dowager Empress Cixi (Jung Chang) (re-reading)
  • Command and Control (Eric Schlosser)
  • Kindly Inquisitors (Jonathan Rauch)
  • The Righteous Mind (Jonathan Haidt)
  • The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (John Mearsheimer)
  • Grave New World: The End of Globalization, the Return of History (Stephen D. King)
  • War with China: Thinking Through the Unthinkable (RAND Corporation)
  • Dear Leader (Jan Jin-Sung)
  • Political Amnesia; How We Forgot to Govern (Laura Tingle)
  • A Thousand Miles to Freedom (Eusun Kim)


  • Kingdom of the Wicked – Book 1: Rules (Helen Dale)


Articles can be found on the series of tubes. Links on the headings.

And, when it comes out; Despatches, by Paula Matthewson – more information is available here. And no, she didn’t put me up to this. But if you care at all about Aussie politics, you want in on that.


The M Word; the looming election and the right to legislate

On 29 August 2019, the Forty-Fifth Parliament of Australia will expire. Under the provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1919 (and section 28 of the Constitution), the latest date for the election of the House is 2 November 2019. Of course, the actual date will be sooner; half of the Senate expires in 2019, and the law requires that the half-Senate election be held and completed in time for their replacements to take office on 1 July 2019 – practically, this sets a date of 18 May 2019 at the latest for that.

A double dissolution cannot take place within six months of the expiry of the House – no later than 28 February 2019 – and we all know how well the government didn’t do the last time they called one of those.

Historically the electorate has tended to treat a separate half-Senate election as an excuse to kick the government without kicking it out; Australian governments have been very reluctant to let the houses get out of sync, so we can expect to see the next election be a House and Half-Senate – the sort we usually get. This must happen between 4 August 2018 and 18 May 2019[1].

Antony Green observes that, when we take into account Victoria and New South Wales’ impending elections, factor in the timing of the Easter/ANZAC Day holidays in 2019 (they are in the same week), and the rarity of elections in December through February, the most likely period for an election is September-October 2018[2].

Despite Turnbull’s assertion that there won’t be an election this year[3] there’s a long-established history of politicians, well, lying about this. Only once in Australia’s history has an election taken place after the parliament expired, in 1910[4].

We can, as the ALP is doing, proceed under the assumption that this is an election year.

Regardless of the outcome, no matter who wins, we can expect to be bombarded with the dreaded “M” word; mandate. The winner will claim a mandate to implement their policies to their heart’s content, as though handed the right to rule by God, and will hurl all sorts of insults at any obstructionists in the Senate or the Opposition benches. We’ve seen it happen after every election.

Here’s a funny fact; there’s no such thing. Not in Australia. If you hunt through the Constitution, you’ll find no mention of it. Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice uses the word three times – and never to imply the government has such a thing[5]. It appears once in the House of Representatives Practice – when detailing the reasons given to the House by the government of the day for the dissolutions of the House in 1917, 1955, and 1963[6]. It does not appear anywhere in the sense of the government being allowed to just implement its policies.

It’s the same in America[7].

For use to find such a thing as a mandate, it is to Mother England, with her Salisbury Doctrine, that we must turn. Simply put, the Doctrine states that the House of Lords will not block any tabled bills listed in the election manifesto of Her Majesty’s Government – they can only be “reasonably” amended (no amendments designed to sink the bill are allowed). The manifesto is a publication containing the policies a party stands for and would implement if they form government – we’d call them a collection of “core” promises. Any policies a party wants to implement that are not in the manifesto it cannot claim to have been elected for; these policies are fair game[8]. (This is not to ignore the Parliament Acts that allow the Commons to overrule the Lords – but circuit-breakers for disagreement between the houses is not the focus here.)

There is no Salisbury Doctrine in Australia. All policies and bills are fair game in either House of Parliament – especially given how prone our governments are to designating promises as “non-core” after the fact or just outright breaking them.

In Australia, the only mandate a government has is that it may try. No-one is under any obligation to let it succeed. Indeed, as Arthur Fadden found out in 1941, a government doesn’t even have a mandate to be the government if enough members of the House decide they don’t want it there. And we needn’t revisit the events leading up to the Dismissal to recall that, in the absence of a government majority, the Senate has never behaved as though anything like the Salisbury Doctrine applies here.

So when you hear a government on Canberra’s Capital Hill getting shouty about a mandate, think “bullshit”.


[1] Lundie, “‘So When Is the next Election?”

[2] Green, “Federal Election Timing.”

[3] Tillett and McIlroy, “Malcolm Turnbull Says the Election Won’t Be until 2019.”

[4] Lundie, “‘So When Is the next Election?”

[5] Odgers and Evans, Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice.

[6] Wright, House of Representatives Practice.

[7] Youngberg, “There’s No Such Thing as a Presidential Mandate.”

[8] Dymond and Deadman, “The Salisbury Doctrine.”


Dymond, Glenn, and Hugo Deadman. “The Salisbury Doctrine.” London: House of Lords Library 30 (2006).

Green, Antony. “Federal Election Timing and How to Move the Dates of the Next NSW and Victorian Elections.” Antony Green’s Election Blog (blog), May 4, 2017.

Lundie, Rob. “‘So When Is the next Election?’: Australian Elections Timetable as at 1 September 2016.” Australian Parliamentary Library, September 1, 2016.

Odgers, J. R, and Harry Evans. Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice. Edited by Rosemary Laing. 14th ed. Australia: Department of the Senate, 2016.

Tillett, Tom, and Tom McIlroy. “Malcolm Turnbull Says the Election Won’t Be until 2019.” Australian Financial Review, January 22, 2018.

Wright, Bernard C., ed. House of Representatives Practice. 6th ed. Australia: Department of the House of Representatives, 2012.

Youngberg, David. “There’s No Such Thing as a Presidential Mandate,” January 10, 2018.


Christian Nation? Not so much

At the publication of the last census I made a prediction; that by 2021, the number of Australians who say they have no religion would be the plurality – the largest single group.

As it turns out, I was wrong; we are ahead of schedule.

(Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006, 2007, 2012, 2017a, 2017b, 2017c)

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Don’t Bash the Fash; objections to punching Nazis

Alice More: Arrest him!
Sir Thomas More: Why, what has he done?
Margaret More: He’s bad!
Sir Thomas More: There is no law against that.
Will Roper: There is! God’s law!
Sir Thomas More: Then God can arrest him.
Alice: While you talk, he’s gone!
Sir Thomas More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
Will Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Will Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
Robert O. Bolt, A Man for All Seasons, 1960

I have to admit, when I saw Richard Spencer get punched while explaining his Pepe the Frog badge to a reporter, I smirked; inside me there is a kid who giggles at that sort of thing. I’m pretty sure part of me never stopped laughing at the Road Runner’s antics.

Then I scrolled further on my Twitter feed, and was disturbed by the sheer amount of glee people were displaying. Yes, it’s Richard Spencer, a carbuncle on the backside of humanity, and yes, he’s got what Reddit calls a punchable face, but come on guys; aren’t we just a little disturbed at that act of political violence in the full glare of the cameras?

Apparently not; since then I’ve seen a lot of tweets and blog posts and opinion pieces that are condoning, celebrating, or even encouraging such acts. Disturbing, to put it mildly.

Before we begin:

  • No, I’m not a Nazi, or a fascist;
  • No, I’m not a sympathiser with either;
  • Yes, I think they have the right to free speech;
  • Yes, this includes speech I find repugnant and awful;
  • Yes, I know there are other issues in the world, but I’m not talking about them right now;
  • Yes, I am aware of those cases where violent protest did have a fortuitous outcome – such as the Stonewall Riots – that will be dealt with below;
  • Yes, I know that sometimes “say shit, get hit” applies – that doesn’t mean we should be celebrating or encouraging it;
  • No, this isn’t a complete list of my objections, but it is pretty thorough; and
  • As always, all the sources used here are listed at the very bottom under the heading “Sources”, including hyperlinks where available.

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Seven Thoughts on the Centrelink Debt Debacle

As the steaming heap of institutional ineptitude that is the Centrelink Debt Debacle continues to upend itself across Australia for yet another week, with no end in sight, a few things have occurred to me:

  1. I am so incredibly happy I was never able to qualify for, and thus have never received, any form of benefit from Centrelink;
  2. Some of the people that have received debt collection notices are now qualified and practicing lawyers – I suspect there are pretty good odds that Centrelink will find itself in court over this;
  3. Speaking of making enemies, going after the elderly was a Very Bad Idea – they have a lot of time on their hands, the heartstrings of their voting children and grandchildren, and are already inclined to grumpiness;
  4. As the experience of using MyGov continues to be unfavourably compared to getting a napalm enema or your fingernails pulled, this reinforces my decision that there is no way on God’s green earth, or any other planet, that will I ever willingly touch that website;
  5. I can’t decide if the Government spokesmen defending this are drunk, incompetent, being beamed in from another reality, lying, or a combination of the above;
  6. It’s too early to say what effect this will have on this Government’s prospects and chances at the polls, but any effect it does have will not be positive; and
  7. The 2016 Census, the ATO crash, and now this? I’m honestly wondering; when it comes to computers, can you people get anything right?

Logically Indefensible; why freedom of religion requires acceptance of same-sex marriage

In 2008 a CNN iReport entitled Why Defence of Marriage is Indefensible was written. In 15 points of dispassionate, clinical logic, the piece dissected opposition to marriage equality, and found it to be completely indefensible. Sadly the original is no longer available, and I neglected to make an archival copy before it vanished.

This post is based on that iReport, and has been in the drafts folder for many months now; in it, I apply that argument to the Australian context, although I take 19 points. The post has been updated to reflect the current situation.

First, a note; civil unions as a valid alternative to marriage have been rejected as a failed experiment (Australian Marriage Equality 2009) – as the Americans would say, “separate is not equal,” (Sorenson 2012) not is it acceptable; this stance is supported by clinical evidence (Wilkinson and Kitzinger 2005).

And now, let us begin.

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