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AQ: Australian Quarterly

AQ: Australian Quarterly 90.2 Apr-Jun 2019

For over 90 years AQ: Australian Quarterly has been packing its pages with the debates that have shaped Australia and the world, tackling the big topics in science, politics and society. Grounded in evidence, yet written in a style accessible to everyone, AQ is unique in Australia’s publishing landscape, pushing back against the trends of subjective truth and media spin. If it matters to Australia then it matters to AQ.

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Australian Institute of Policy and Science
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4 Issues

in this issue

3 min.
a word

This edition ‘hits the selves’ only days before the Morrison government is set to hand down their early budget, opening the door for a quick-fire election. Australia will have decided on the fate of the Coalition government before we at AQ have another chance to comment. But it only takes the barest inclination of foresight to predict the inevitable battlegrounds. Whether or not Morrison and Dutton decide to have another crack at their withered Medivac scare campaign in the wake of the Christchurch massace, the election will be about asylum seekers. The Banking Royal Commission is likely to continue to hold popular currency with voters, underscoring the role of money and influence on both sides of politics. Climate inaction will be trumpeted as action from a scientifically bankrupt Coalition, and Labor will…

15 min.
the human factor

Yes, it’s the Brave New World of direct-to-consumer genetic testing – and it’s coming to a barbecue near you. Already, the companies that offer the service turn an estimated $100 million in annual global sales. On some estimates, the market will climb to at least $300 million in just five years’ time. That growth has been kicked along by some very determined marketing. My staff even spotted at least one company spruiking a testing kit as the ideal Father’s Day gift. It could certainly add some interesting complications to the family’s celebrations of Father’s Days forevermore. The same company has now entered into a partnership with the music streaming service Spotify, so that your results will come packaged with a customised playlist of your ancestral music. But it’s not just the allure of…

15 min.
more important than ever: antarctica – the last frontier

Free from armed conflict, and dedicated to science Humans have been grappling with the magnitude and magnificence of Antarctica since their first encounters with the white continent. Almost twice the size of Australia, surrounded by ocean, covered by an average thickness of nearly 2 kilometres of ice, and holding 60% of the planet’s freshwater, Antarctica is the highest, coldest, driest and windiest continent on earth. It is also the engine-room of our planet’s climate, and the keeper of its secrets. Scientific exploration of Antarctica began as 19th century kissed the 20th. Early explorers of the continent, such as Carsten Borchgrevink, Ernest Shackleton, Robert Scott, Roald Amundsen and Douglas Mawson all took scientific personnel on their expeditions and they often collected scientific data themselves. Science also played a crucial role in shaping the modern…

2 min.
ode to antarctica

Some things cut through. Illuminating and potentially blinding you. The brilliant sparkle of the isolated continent of Antarctica is one such place. So substantial, and so heavy with frozen mass. Giving an air of permanence and untouchability. Antarctica cuts through. There’s no need for a homage if you have seen it. Even translated through the eyes of a scientist, like myself, some things cut through. I can recall, for example, with intricate detail, the fluff of a young snow petrel chick hidden by parents in a quartz cave. I can quickly bring to mind the oddly growing crystal ice – geometric shoots growing up from blue lakes. In my head, a clip can play, of a penguin swimming past a grounded iceberg, leaving a steady trail of feathered bubbles. Fields of fanworms, like poppies in…

19 min.
democracy before dollars: the problems with money in australian politics and how to fix them

The aspiration of representative democracy is that this distance is bridged by strong mechanisms of accountability and responsiveness, as well as an ethos based on the public interest, all of which seek to ensure that government officials rule ‘for the people’. The obvious risk is that this distance becomes a gulf and that public officials govern for a few, rather than ‘for the people’ – that an oligarchy operates rather than a democracy. It is a startling fact that many Australians believe – and increasingly so – that government functions as an oligarchy. Survey evidence shows that perceptions that ‘[p]eople in government look after themselves’ and ‘[g]overnment is run for a few big interests’ have risen significantly since the 2000s, so much so that in 2017 more than 70% of respondents…

2 min.
ten-point plan for democratic regulation of funding of federal election campaigns

1. Effective transparency of political funding • Comprehensive:i) low disclosure threshold with amounts under threshold aggregated;ii) covers key political actors (including third parties)• Timeliness: e.g. UK system of quarterly report + weekly reports during election campaign• Accessibility: requires analysis of trends etc (e.g. through reports by electoral commissions) 2. Caps on election spending • Comprehensive:i) cover all ‘electoral expenditure’;ii) covers key political actors (including third parties)• Applies 2 years after previous election – allow limits to apply around 6 months• Two types of limits: i) national; ii) electorate• Level set through review and harmonised with levels of caps and public funding 3. Caps on political donations • Comprehensive: i) cover all ‘political donations; ii) covers key political actors (including third parties)• Gradually phase in to set cap at $2000 per annum and private funding around…