More 'Questions for Kevin' (2007)

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Introduction + INTRODUCTION

In early April 2007, Crikey started a series of daily 'Questions for Kevin' seeking policy detail from Australia's Opposition leader in relation to matters that were seen to be of public significance (eg about David Hicks; unfair dismissal; media relations; and the Murray Darling Basin), presumably in order to probe the implications of possible ALP success in the 2007 federal election.

Crikey's initiative in seeking policy detail is to be applauded, and (unfortunately) likely to be ignored by political leaders.

Substantive policy questions have become nearly irrelevant to elections because:

  • electoral success does not require policies or performance that stand up to critical review, but merely an ability to win a kind of public-relations-driven 'beauty contest';
  • Australia has a traditional strategic policy dependency on more powerful nations because of its colonial origins, resource-focussed exports, 'branch office' economy and lack of strong civil institutions (see comments on Queensland's Weak Parliament, and the curse of natural resources);
  • further institutional deficiencies affecting Australia's system of governance now make it even harder for political leaders to develop or implement adequate policies (see Restoring 'Faith in Politics'); and thus
  • almost all that can be on offer are various 'populist' agendas (ie those that may sound good, but often contain defects that are not obvious to Australia's civil institutions without close examination), and even these are likely to be incompetently implemented by the cronies of those who win the 'beauty contest'.

It is noted that Crikey appeared to give up its attempt to obtain policy detail after posing only four questions. This was unfortunate as it is only by developing Australia's ability to debate serious issues that it is likely that the weaknesses in its institutions (eg the growing bipartisan tendency towards 'populism' and undermining the the effectiveness of public administration for political advantage) are likely to be overcome.

Thus the present writer has drafted a series of additional questions about international and domestic issues (see below). Similar questions might (with appropriate variations) usefully be directed to all of Australia's political leaders.

More Questions


International Affairs

What does he understand to be the implications of the rise of China as a potential regional / global superpower apparently based on traditions (eg intuitive / a-rational intelligence, elitism, bureaucratic authoritarianism and non-universal ethics) that are quite different to the principles on which a global order was initiated under Western leadership in recent centuries? Suggestions about the issues involved are outlined in China as the Future of the World?  In particular, would the 'Beijing Consensus' (based in essence on political and economic control by autocratic elites) be a superior option for developing nations to the 'Washington Consensus' (based on liberal democratic capitalism)?

What geopolitical strategy would he advise Australia's allies and the global community generally, to adopt in dealing with issues such as the (a) weakness of the post-war multilateral system (b) the spreading phenomenon of failed, dysfunctional or 'rogue' states and (c) the emergence of global Islamist extremism. Concern about such issues seemed foundational to initiatives suggested by US neo-cons in relation to trying to transform Iraq into a successful democracy through military intervention (see The Second Failure of Globalization?) As that strategy has not proven to be a sparkling success, a viable alternative 'big picture' strategy is clearly needed.

Should Australia put in place additional security measures  in relation to Islamist extremists - noting reports of a resurgence by Al Qaida [1] and the presumed release of its resources for attacks in other countries (including Australia) following the now-likely failure of efforts to transform Iraq into an effective democracy?

How should unauthorised economic migrants who pose as refugees and the world's 20 million or so real refugees be dealt with? This question seems to involve difficulties that have not received public attention (see Complexities in the Refugee Problem).


Should Australia take precautions to guard against the risk apparently implicit in global financial imbalances, ie that the unprecedented economic growth boom of the past 15 years might be unsustainable given that it appears to be associated with wasteful use of capital, dubious accounting and deflationary demand deficits in East Asia and asset bubbles elsewhere (see Structural Incompatibility Puts Global Growth at Risk). It has reportedly been suggested by the Bank of International Settlements that financial imbalances are the world's greatest economic problem and that Australia's dependence on large capital inflows exposes it to particular risks of capital flight, if (say) the 'carry trade' were to be disrupted [1] - a concern that the International Monetary Fund appears not to share [1].

What is the evidence that an emphasis on education would overcome Australia's productivity problems? While the corporate flexibility sought through the Work Choices industrial relations package would probably be inadequate, indicators that improved education would also be insufficient are outlined in Is Education Spending the Key to Raising Economic Productivity?

Did Hayek's social philosophy really have the decisive role in motivating the shift to liberal market economics, which he asserted in a 2006 critique of 'market fundamentalism' [1]? An Alternative to Market Fundamentalism notes that virtually no one actually seems to have heard of Hayek's social philosophy.

Would 'Fair Work Australia' be a better industrial relations system? While, 'Work Choices' may be inadequate, the suggested alternative seems to involve close government supervision of the affairs of employees and employers that would inhibit the flexibility required for real productivity gains (see Fair Work Australia: Establishing the Machinery of a Socialist State?)


Would the best role for Christian churches in promoting social welfare really be to simply lobby politicians to mobilize government support (as he suggested in 'Faith in Politics', The Monthly, Oct 2006). This question  is examined in Restoring 'Faith in Politics' , which suggests that carrying forward churches' core mission (whose social effect is to help motivate / empower individuals to support one another) would be a better alternative.

Is there a case for giving special attention to disadvantaged families to prevent the emergence of an underclass in which disadvantage perpetuates from one generation to the next? Diverse viewpoints about this are outlined in Minimizing Poverty.

Climate Change

A 60% reduction in CO2 emissions was suggested to be an appropriate goal for Australia by 2050 (eg in 'Smart Power: New Directions in Australian Foreign Policy', The Diplomat, Feb-Mar, 2007). Would this reduction be conditional upon the development of alternative high grade energy sources?  Unconditionally cutting energy usage could well be dangerous for humanity generally from an economic, social and survival viewpoint (see Climate Change: 'No Time to Waste' in Doing Precisely What?).

Would a reduction in CO2 emissions be sufficient response to the potential for climate change given that the IPCC estimates that CO2 emissions are less than half of the drivers of change (48%), and that some IPCC critics suggest that even this is an overestimation of the role of CO2 emissions (op cit).


Was public sector reform under the Goss administration in Queensland successful? To what extent would this process (in which he had an influential central role) provide a model for dealing with the public sector under a future federal ALP government? There are indicators that the process was a classic case of reform failure, which transformed run-down government machinery into a  chronically dysfunctional and crisis prone administration (see Queensland's Worst Government).

What is his attitude to professionalism in public services - given the apparent abuses of power under Queensland's Goss administration and its legislative actions to make it unnecessary to consider professional merit in making senior public service appointments. It seems that, in the absence of professionalism, there is no automatic 'reality check' on populist political proposals and that corruption is facilitated.

What is his attitude to public officials exploiting their positions to enrich their friends and families. Such behaviour, criticised as 'crony capitalism' in Asia and as 'patronage' in Russia [1] is apparently endemic in the West Australian ALP [1, 2] and now also seems to be be being exposed in the Queensland ALP (see Reform of Queensland Institutions or a Rising Tide of Public Hypocrisy?)

Should a republic be on Australia's reform agenda, and if so what method would be appropriate in appointing a head of state? Politicisation of that role (ie by direct election - the method that has popular support) would seem inconsistent with Australia's system of representative democracy, and thus to require very extensive changes to the constitution and system of government to avoid creating dangerous political instability.

Should reform of Australia's  federal system involve overcoming obstacles to state responsibility and accountability that are the result of fiscal imbalances, ie by reallocation of taxation powers?

Due Diligence

Were there any unusual occurrences during his posting as a junior diplomat in China that could make him susceptible to pressure from Chinese interests?

How did he acquire his 'Dr Death' nickname while taking central roles in the Goss Government in Queensland in the early 1990s? Speculations by various observers about the basis of this are outlined in 'Dr Death': The Bean-counter?.