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AQ: Australian Quarterly

AQ: Australian Quarterly 91.4 Oct-Dec 2020

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

The conservative side of modern politics is defined (almost proudly) by a lack of political imagination. Their bias is towards the past - their key touchstones already exist. In general, the only reason conservative parties do anything, is so that they are seen to be busy; thus, they tinker around the margins, backing the horses of old. There is a fallacy at the heart of the tired trope that conservative parties are better economic managers. The metrics by which we measure success do not include the economic cost of doing nothing. They do not capture the loss of potential, the curtailing of possibility, nor the cost of cowardice. Rather than looking at our situation retrospectively, why do we not evaluate ourselves prospectively? How much better off would Australia be if we were…

13 min.
game of sabotage: the culture war for the abc

Well, you could do what some New South Wales Liberal Party members did in 2018 by putting up a motion at a state party conference calling for the ABC to be privatised. You might even find, as they did, that there’s a fair bit of support in the room. You could pass the motion, hoot and holla with acclamation and wait for the media to amplify the vote to become a national media story. Yes, you could do that. But if you do, you should also safely predict that no action will follow, and the ABC will likely remain stubbornly in public hands. John Howard’s chief of staff, Grahame Morris, said something very telling about conservatives’ relationship with the ABC… “our enemy talking to our friends.” Back in the 1990s, Prime Minister…

12 min.
can artificial intelligence be trusted with our human rights?

Sir Reginald Ansett was a captain of industry in the old-fashioned sense. The eponymous head of one of Australia’s major airlines, Reg Ansett had strong views. One of his views was that women don’t make good pilots.1 But he met his match with Deborah Jane Lawrie. By age 18, Lawrie had earned a private pilot licence. By 24, she had a commercial licence and two university degrees. A year later, in 1976, Lawrie applied to join the pilot training program for Ansett Airlines. Reg Ansett said that his company was not discriminating against Lawrie on the basis of her sex…[just] that women do not make good pilots. She was ignored. Over the next two years, she applied again and again. Eventually, in July 1978, she was interviewed and rejected. Ansett’s policy was to employ…

1 min.
how does facial recognition work?

‘Facial recognition’ technology relies on machine learning to classify subjects at speed and scale. This starts with a ‘training’ process, whereby a powerful computer is fed a large dataset of labelled pictures. The computer will come to recognise the characteristics associated with, say, a typical car and be able to distinguish a car from a dog or a human. Trained on a large enough dataset of diverse labelled pictures, the computer will be able to differentiate between different types of car (discerning, say, a Toyota Corolla from a Ford Focus). Similarly, by feeding the computer a large dataset of headshot photographs, it will be able to differentiate between humans. In other words, the computer will come to recognise a photo of me as me, and one of you as you. The effectiveness…

20 min.
a cause for celebration

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it…”German physicist Max Planck, Scientific Autobiography and other Papers, 1950, p. 33-34. This once-in-a-century pandemic hasn’t given us much to celebrate in 2020. One cause for optimism, perhaps, is that we might finally jettison the mainstream economics fictions about government deficits and debt, which have hampered prosperity over several decades. Max Planck’s observation is often shortened to “Science progresses one funeral at a time”. For macroeconomics, we might think of progress as occurring one crisis at a time, because it is the sequence of crises – 1991 recession, the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and, now the COVID-19 pandemic…

1 min.

Macroeconomics The branch of economics dealing with the performance, structure and behaviour of an economy as a whole. Fiat Currency Government-issued currency that is not backed by a physical commodity, such as gold or silver, but rather by the government that issued it. Monetary Policy Refers to the actions undertaken by a nation’s central bank to set interest rates to achieve macroeconomic goals. Fiscal Policy Changes in taxation, spending, or other fiscal activities by a government in response to economic events or changes in economic conditions.…