I'm extracting a few key findings from Victor Perton's blog (Victor has been a local MLA from a nearby constituency to where I live and I'll have the pleasure of meeting him next week), regarding Australia's continued excellence as a place to live in. (Btw, Victor lists Hayek has one of the writers he admires most, so I'm sure we'll have plenty to talk about).
Australia performs exceptionally well in measures of well-being….
Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards. In Australia, the average person earns 26 927 USD a year, more than the OECD average of 22 387USD a year;
Australia is a top-performing country in terms of the quality of its educational system.The average student scored 519 in reading literacy, maths and science in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). This score is higher than the OECD average of 497, making Australia one of the strongest OECD countries in students’ skills. On average in Australia, girls outperformed boys by 9 points, in line with the average OECD gap.
In terms of health, life expectancy at birth in Australia is almost 82 years, two years higher than the OECD average of 80 years. Life expectancy for women is 84 years, compared with 80 for men.
97% of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in time of need, higher than the OECD average of 91.
In general; Australians are more satisfied with their lives than the OECD average, with 74% of people saying they have more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is higher than the OECD average of 72%.
I don't normally comment on Australian policy, but this outrageous piece of information that came to my attention deserves comment.
This man, who heads the climate centre of BOM wrote in his email to Phil Jones (the thoroughly discredited professor at the University of East Anglia, and main author of IPCC reports):
climate change here [in Australia] is now running so rampant that we don’t need meteorological data to see it. Almost everyone of our cities is on the verge of running out of water and our largest irrigation system (the Murray Darling Basin is on the verge of collapse – across NSW farmer have received a 0% allocation of water for the coming summer and in Victoria they currently have 5% allocations.
It is a matter of BASIC SCIENTIFIC DILIGENCE that we are interested in LONG TERM TRENDS, not short term variation. Australia is the world's driest continent and such droughts have occurred repeatedly in its history.
Australia's climate commission has confirmed:
“Australia naturally has a high degree of variability in rainfall, with long periods of intense droughts punctuated by heavy rainfall and flooding, so it is difficult from observations alone to unequivocally identify anything that is distinctly unusual about the post-1950 pattern”.
Even the beginning student of climate science would not give short-term events ANY credence. And if we are to look only at short term trends, then here is the current data:
Sydney’s water storage: 78 per cent full
Melbourne’s water storage: 65 per cent full.
Canberra’s water storage: 96 per cent full
Brisbane and SE Queensland’s water storage: 79 per cent full.
Adelaide’s water storage: 77 per cent full
Perth’s water storage: 36 per cent full
Worse, David Jones believes that the MISGUIDED OPINION of an ill-informed public is relevant:
"Recent polls show that Australians now rate climate change as a greater threat than world terrorism."
So what? Why does it matter what the people "believe". The issue here is one of SCIENCE, not of public opinion.
The fact that such AN INCOMPETENT man heads the "climate centre" of BOM is a disgrace.
There is NO ACCOUNTABILITY of certain professions (including economists). Climate "scientists" head the list of unaccountable professions.
As Australian taxpayer I ask that this fool be dismissed, and ALL ADVICE HE HAS PROVIDED BE SHREDDED.
I refuse to pay the salary and perks of such fools.
In 1992, Australia funded my postgraduate studies in business and finance in Perth under the Colombo Plan. That was an excellent investment, for it opened my eyes (as a Third World socialist bureaucrat) to many new things I would not have otherwise known about. True, I was not a typical "socialist" bureaucrat, and had been, by then, a major advocate of freedom within the Assam government.
But the education I received was invaluable, for it brought some rigour to my foundational ideas of liberty. It also fed greater curiosity which was then (partly) quenched through a PhD in USA funded by Japan (Joint Japan-World Bank scholarship) and by the US university system which rewards merit.
As I pointed out a few days aago, Australia broke away from protectionismquite some time ago, and has been one of the least intrusive countries as far as trade is concerned. It is not quite as free as Hong Kong or Singapore, but free enough – compared to most others in the West (don't divert my attention to questionable non-tariff barriers such as quarantine requirements, and a few others).
Now Australia has taken global leadership in economic reform by announcing that it will throw open its borders entirely to trade from developing countries.
The Prime Minister last night said Australia would give a boost to the world's least developed countries and allow them to sell their exports here tariff-free.
After a decade of stalled [WTO] trade talks, Ms Gillard told 1400 global business leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting that a dramatic re-thinking was needed. She called on other countries to follow Australia's decision to give trade help to poorer ones. [Source]
Australia still has a massive foreign aid program, which is a matter of great concern – for foreign aid is largely inappropriate (educational aid is an exception). But this opening of trade entirely to the developing countries – in the face of stiff resistance from protectionist nations like USA and Japan – is vindication for Adam Smith.
Australia is merely following countries like Hong Kong in a way – which had learnt from Adam Smith a long time ago (and profited enormously). But surely it is better late than never. Australia has now become one notch more free in the economic sense (even as freedom of speech is being muzzled – something I've written about just a short while ago).
Australia will study the issue of its relationship with Asia in more detail through a White Paper to be drafted by Ken Henry. Henry is a Keynesian economist who was responsible for the significant "stimulus" in Australia during the financial crisis (an action that SIGNIFICANTLY weakened the Australian economy, for one can NEVER outsmart the market's investment decisions. There is the fundamental economic concept of rational expectations, which Henry is probably not aware of).
I'm not sure what level of understanding Henry will demonstrate towards India during his investigations. I have experienced FIRST HAND some extremely derogatory comments about India from some very senior bureaucrats of Australia.
That is not the way Australia is going to partner with India. I sense a lot of paternalism towards India in Australia, apart from pervasive (soft) racism.
Let me repeat what I've explained at length in a number of places already (e.g. here) that the West must learn to treat India with respect and aim to become its PARTNER.
That is quite different from being a foreign aid donor, or someone who provides technology to India, or someone who preaches to India.
I refer in particular to governance as an area of significant partnering opportunity.
Despite its forays into Keynesianism and the welfare state (Australia's welfare state is extremely pervasive. It spends more than $100,000 per Aborigine per year - most of which goes to bureaucrats, not to the people!), Australia still has perhaps one of the world's best public administration systems.
This is so perhaps because everyone else's system is so bad that Australia's system look good in comparison. Its system has many weaknesses (and I speak from extensive experience). For instance, Australia could do with the idea of Local Board which I have outlined in BFN (Online Notes).
But regardless of these issues, there are many positive things about Australia's governance system that India can learn from – and indeed partner with.
It is important that this should NOT be a one-way street. I recommend an exchange of bureaucracts to set the ball rolling. Thus, if an Australian bureaucrat were to work in the economic affairs department of India, a similarly qualified and experienced Indian bureaucrat should work in the economic section of Australia's government. And so on.
That is my key message to Australian policy makers – of the need to build a PARTNERSHIP.
The USA has started treating India with some respect (e.g. see this).
Australia has not yet learnt this basic lesson. I hope Henry is up to the task he has been given.
Just a few days ago I was boasting to someone I know in Australia about how much Australia had to learn from India on the conduct of elections. Australia's electoral machinery is incompetent seemingly beyond compare! They are STILL struggling to declare results in its TINY parliamentary constituencies. Elections were held on 21 August Saturday. It is Thursday evening 26 August. Six full days gone and no results yet! And I couldn't help laughing when the Australian Electoral Commission confused everyone in Australia about the meaning of "seats won" (here).
In this mess, I was proud of the fact that India has some of the most effective and efficient voting systems in the world, proud to have been part of these systems from January 1983 to 2000 – during which period I held roles as diverse as Presiding Officer, Assistant Returning Officer, Returning Officer, Additional Chief Electoral Officer, State Observer, and Central Observer. I was also involved in the testing of the first few Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in India in 1991. I held some doubts about their reliability but I believe that most issues I had raised (and others had raised) were later resolved. The mass use of EVMs was not undertaken till after 2000, though.
How easy is it to tamper with India's EVMs?
But now comes bad news that has seriously punctured my pride in India's fabled election capabilities. It appears that India's EVMs may not only NOT be a suitable role model for the world, but these gadgets might actually endanger India's democracy – unless they are immediately, and possibly radically, improved.
[Addendum!!: Sorry, looks like I took Sandeep's well written article (below) at face value. The machines are most likely fine. See Supratim's detailed comment below. Key elements:
- These machines have hard-coded chips and need machine language for programming, each being individually coded.
- These machines are not connected to the internet at any point in time – so you need physical access to hack them
In brief, I thank Supratim Basu, a senior FTI member, for reminding me not to rush to conclusions. In the same vein, there are serious issues with way the ECI has handled this matter. It should issue a public challenge (and reward to ANYONE in the world to prove that the machine can be tampered, GIVEN the strict processes that accompany its use.) See the first two comments on this post (by Supratim and me) before rushing to conclusion about Sandeep's article that you'll shortly read, below.
I apologise for the flurry I might have caused and accidentally giving air to potential innuendo re: the machines. However, I do think that repeated exposure and verification of the truth is vital. So let the ECI set up a process to ensure that such questions do not arise in the minds of Indians in the future. The credibility of EVMs is absolutely crucial to the integrity of India's democracy. Once that is done I can continue being proud of India's election machinery.]
===ORIGINAL POST RESUMES==
Thanks to Shantanu Bhagwat (a senior FTI member) for pointing me to a number of relevant facts which I should list first, for your information:
1. Shantanu's note on Facebook.
3. These slides.
4. And finally this article, Democracy imperilled by Sandeep B in The Pioneer, 26 August 2010. I've copied it entirely below for your convenience. Read this article, and be VERY, VERY concerned. Also read it on Sandeep's blog. (Sandeep, if you chance by this blog, I trust I have your permission to post your very important article here. – I'll also write to Sandeep separately on this and see if he objects to this being posted in full).
Democracy Imperilled – by Sandeep B.
The arrest of Hari Prasad, a technologist whose research helped prove beyond doubt that Indian EVMs are vulnerable to fraud, sends out a dangerous signal: That anybody who challenges the Central Election Commission runs the danger of persecution and prosecution in our democracy
Voting and freedom in a democracy are inseparable. Voting stands right at the top as one of the important ways people exercise their freedom to choose who they want to entrust with running their lives. Voting is what gives a Government the authority to govern and this authority must ideally be based on virtuous principles. Those who vote perform their duty in the fullest sense when they thoroughly understand exactly what the person they’re voting for truly represents. While this is not true of an average voter anywhere in the world today, there are thousands of such well-aware voters.
Which is why the election process is sacrosanct in strong democracies. Which is also why the Election Commission of India is a quasi-judicial constitutional body with sweeping powers that are binding even on the President. Which is also why it is insulated from the executive. But in practice, it has been infected with the same decay of political meddling that plagues most institutions in this country.
A recent instance of this malaise is the arrest of Mr Hari Prasad, technical coordinator and a key resource person of an independent citizens’ forum, VeTA. The organisation describes its purpose as “promoting Verifiability, Transparency and Accountability in Indian elections”.
Mr Prasad is a technologist with expertise in electronic voting machines, now the de facto method of voting in Indian elections. He collaborated with a team headed by Mr Alex Halderman, a Computer Science professor at Michigan University and Mr Rop Gonggrijp, a security researcher from the Netherlands, on a project that involved detailed technical analysis of Indian EVMs. Their studies yielded conclusive, scientific proof that EVMs could easily be tampered with. They conducted several demonstrations across major Indian cities showing how EVMs could be rigged.
On August 17, 2009, the EC invited them for a similar demonstration and laid illogical conditions under which the demonstration was to be done. What followed is detailed in the lucid Democracy at Risk (GVL Narasimha Rao, VeTa), also available as a downloadable book in pdf format (www.indianevm.com).
Mr Halderman captures the sequence of events that followed after February 2010 “when an anonymous source approached Hari and offered a (EVM) machine for him to study. This source requested anonymity and we have honoured this request. We have every reason to believe that the source had lawful access to the machine and made it available for scientific study as a matter of conscience, out of concern over potential security problems.” The team used this EVM to demonstrate on a TV channel how it could easily be tampered with. In the first week of August, the police visited Mr Prasad and recorded a statement about this EVM he had used.
And then, suddenly on August 21, he was arrested on a bizarre charge — that of stealing an EVM from Maharashtra. In his text message, Mr Prasad says, “I am not worried or scared at all by these tricks from the EC. I came to know that because of tremendous pressure, police had no other option than to arrest me. Our new CEC is positive in resolving EVM vulnerabilities but it seems even he came under pressure to change his stance from what he promised us on August 10.”
The episode clearly reeks of intimidation by the EC or whoever directed the arrest. As Mr Rao’s book shows, the EC has been obstinate in its stand that EVMs are “foolproof”, “perfect” and “tamper-free” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary across the world. Mr Halderman, Mr Prasad, et al have shown that by embedding a Bluetooth (wireless technology) device, it’s possible to manipulate the EVM using remote devices like a mobile phone.
The book painstakingly explains this and other methods of manipulation. Ideally, India should’ve followed suit — or ordered deeper inquiry — when the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Ireland banned EVMs because they were “easy to falsify,” risked eavesdropping” and “lacked transparency”. What’s worse is that Indian EVMs leave no trail — there is no mechanism to track suspected election fraud.
The EC’s obstinacy thus defies reason. On one hand, the EC insists that EVMs are impregnable. So there should really be no reason to not let the researchers examine the machine. What or who is it scared of? Indeed, if it were transparent, it should’ve actually facilitated Mr Prasad and team to expose any vulnerability in the EVMs. That would’ve restored our faith in the health of our democratic institutions. Instead, Mr PV Indiresan issued an outlandish analogy equating a call for a scientific inquiry into EVMs with testing the chastity of Sita. This only helps deepen suspicions about foul play in the issue.
[DIGRESSION: Btw, on 4 February 2008, Indiresan wrote to me "I will try [to review the book]" and gave his address for being sent the book, Breaking Free of Nehru. The publisher Anthem Press sent it to him by courier. He not only did not bother to review it, he did not respond to numerous subsequent email reminders. See this. What credibility does such a man have? Not with me, anyway. Small things like this show the true character of a man. Was he scared of publicly discussing my extremely adverse comments on Nehru's socialism? I trust he will one day tell me why he promised to so something but then backed out. And he didn't return the book either.
Second, NO SCIENTIST WORTH HIS SALT WILL EVER MAKE THE STATEMENT THAT INDIRESAN HAS MADE. A scientist is sworn to the truth, and to experiment. Why should he bring religious symbolism into a factual matter?]
The UPA reached a new low in 2009 when it bulldozed the appointment of Mr Navin Chawla as Chief Election Commissioner who the Shah Commission report “declared as unfit to hold any public office which demands an attitude of fair play and consideration for others.” And now the arrest of Mr Prasad has again sent an ugly signal. Is it safe to conclude that ordinary citizens will be persecuted for seeking the truth? Ironically, on August 9, the Cabinet passed the Whistleblower Bill, but who should people turn to when the state’s institutions themselves begin to look like agents of intimidation? The current CEC, Mr SY Quraishi, must come clean immediately on this shameful affair. The country has a right to know whether the EC is a body of the Constitution or just an arm of a political party.
Tampering of EVMs is a serious issue with potential to shatter the foundations of democracy. The logical end of this will mean that only one party gets to wield power forever. If the voting process is subverted, it won’t be long before national interest will be equated with a particular political party’s interest — it harks back to a black era when “India was Indira”.
Mr Prasad’s arrest also shows how many of our fundamental freedoms are slowly being taken away without our knowledge. Equally, it’s ironical that the state is virtually powerless against a dangerous man like Abdul Nasser Madani but swoops down on an individual who asked uncomfortable questions concerning national interest.
However, it’s heartening to see the groundswell of support that has emerged across the country for Mr Prasad. Petitions, Internet groups, blogs and articles have strongly condemned the strong-arm tactics of the EC. VeTA has also indicated approaching the Supreme Court for a “renewed legal battle”. This news has already attracted international attention with people comparing this with the Florida EVM fiasco. It’s a huge blot on India’s image in the world, which regards our elections as reasonably “fair and free”. The EC needs to urgently show complete transparency with regard to this episode — admitting that the EVMs are flawed is not a personal insult to the EC.
This issue is in many ways a good test of the saying about eternal vigilance and is an opportunity to prove Ambrose Pierce wrong when he said that voting is “the instrument and symbol of a free man’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.”