Charles Gutjahr

Melbourne, Australia

Split Labor, split Liberal, we'll be better off.

It’s pretty clear that it was a mistake for Malcolm Turnbull to try to appease the agitators in his party by changing energy policy yet again. Turnbull’s capitulation lost him credibility and surely hastened the leadership challenge by Peter Dutton yesterday. Turnbull remains Prime Minister today, but he probably won’t last long.

Why does this keep happening in Australian politics? I blame the two-party system. Disagreements and arguments that should be happening in Parliament are instead happening inside the big parties. Labor did it for years, now the Liberals are.

The solution is a multiparty democracy. We’re already headed that way, with primary votes for the two major parties falling for years. Now I hope the moderate and conservative factions of the Liberal Party split into separate parties.

I’ve heard people claim that to get anything done we need big parties and stable government, but I think the last few years shows that big parties do not give us stable government. We need to try the opposite now: to get government moving we should reject the big parties and replace them with smaller parties that have stable policies which their voters actually want.

Imagine if Turnbull had led a moderate Liberal party, instead of a moderate-conservative Hydra. He could have done a deal with Labor on energy policy, which is what industry and community groups want and indeed what voters want. The conservative politicians could complain all they like without preventing other parliamentarians from negotiating a solution.

There are perhaps half a dozen natural political groupings in Australia, and I think they are the parties we should see in our Parliament:

  • Outer-suburban working class, who are concerned about jobs and cost of living (from Labor)
  • Inner-city progressives, who are personally comfortable but worried about the wider world (from Labor, and Greens, and Australian Reason Party)
  • Liberal moderates, who want government to leave them alone so they can make money (from Liberal, and Centre Alliance)
  • Right-wing conservatives, who want Australia to return to their idyllic past (from Liberal, and some National, and Australian Conservatives)
  • Farmers, who are concerned that city politicians don’t understand their particular needs (from Nationals)
  • Angry people, who want to blame others but don’t have any answers (from One Nation, and Katter’s Australian Party)

The split is already happening slowly on the left. Labor voters in inner-city seats are switching to The Greens, and Bill Shorten is refocussing Labor on worker’s right and wages.

Now what we need is for the same thing to happen on the right. A sudden, dramatic split in the Liberal party would be great for Australia. The resulting two parties could truly represent their respective constituents. I reckon it would be the best thing we can do to fix Australian politics.

Don't let crime flourish online, keep strong encryption.

Malcolm Turnbull said this week that “the law must prevail online as well as offline”, and I wholeheartedly agree. We shouldn’t let crime flourish just because it happens online.

Lawful interception is a long-standing way of dealing with crime, and I think it has been a good thing. Australian Federal Police should be able to intercept and monitor communication between people when they have a warrant. However if end-to-end encryption is used then police are unable to read intercepted messages, even if companies handling the communication do their best to help. One day lawful interception could become completely useless because none of the information will be readable, and that could be devasting for police investigations.

However it is also reality. Lawful interception is dying, and Turnbull forcing companies to break into end-to-end encryption is not going to bring it back.

The laws won’t work because they’re intended for use in serious crime, and serious criminals aren’t going to be worried about using an encryption method banned by the law. It is inconceivable that keeping a message secret would ever be a more serious crime than terrorism or paedophilia. Criminals will keep their messages secret.

That’s probably why Turnbull is talking about going after Facebook and Google rather than the criminals. If tech companies replace secure encryption with an alternative that they can break into for police, perhaps a few criminals who don’t understand tech will get caught… until the word gets out that you can’t trust Facebook or Google any more, and everyone learns to use something secure. There are heaps of alternatives that will endure because they are decentralised and not dependant on any one company, for example OpenPGP or OTR.

But there are real risks to companies being forced to make people’s private data readable. Companies can have rogue employees who abuse that access. In the past Google fired staff who read private messages and stalked teenagers. Then of course there are hackers. In recent years hackers have stolen data on 500 million Yahoo users, 167 million people on LinkedIn and 150 million Adobe customers. Hackers held to ransom millions of messages between kids and parents in a CloudPets breach earlier this year. End-to-end encryption prevents hackers from gaining access to millions of private messages: if the company cannot read messages then their hackers cannot either.

What’s the point of undermining the security of things most people use, when anyone with an incentive to avoid interception can easily use something else to stay out of reach from the authorities?

We should not introduce this law if it stops few serious criminals but allows other cybercrime to flourish.

Natural gas in Victoria compared to world prices

A number of recent articles claimed that Japan was paying less for Australian natural gas than Australians are. That surprised me because I always thought natural gas was very cheap here in Victoria, and remember uni lecturers telling me that we were underpaying for gas here. Did I have it wrong?

The articles lacked specific numbers so I went looking for data myself. What I found was less dull than I expected, so I put it in this graph:1

Natural gas wholesale prices, A$ per gigajoule
Natural gas wholesale prices, A$ per gigajoule

So it is true that gas prices in Victoria have been very cheap in the past, especially compared to Japan. But recently Victorian prices have jumped up, and that coincides with a fall in world prices.

That is presumably why gas prices are a big deal in politics now.


  1. Disclaimer: I know hardly anything about natural gas or its pricing! I just looked up numbers from reliable sources, standardised the units and graphed them. There might be subtleties in natural gas pricing that I failed to account for.