Leading Thinkers | Between the Lines


The Wrap with Ebony Bennett

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Yanis Varoufakis, the former Finance Minister of Greece, at one of two sold-out shows in Sydney and Melbourne.

Yanis Varoufakis was touring Australia as a guest of the Australia Institute as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations.

You may also have seen Yanis’ piercing and provoking address to the National Press Club, in which he:

  • Blasted the absurdity of the Australian government collecting more money from HECS than it does from the Petroleum Resources Rent tax
  • Advocated for Australia to adopt a Green New Deal that includes dropping fossil fuel projects and embracing renewables as a way to power green industry
  • Put the Australian Government on notice over its international reputation “tainted by blindly following America”

If you missed his address, it is 60 minutes of invaluable insight into the world today, delivered with refreshing honesty. It’s well worth your time to watch.

Watch the NPC Address

This month, we are also proud to host His Excellency Anote Tong, former President of Kiribati and Chair of the Pacific Elders’ Voice.

Speaking to ABC Radio Melbourne, he shared the plight of his country.

“By 2060 our islands will be uninhabitable…unless we cut emissions today & stop approving new fossil fuel mines.”

“At the moment, these things are not happening. We find it extremely disturbing & extremely disappointing.”

Watch Melbourne Town Hall Address

Next week, Anote Tong will address our Climate Integrity Summit where he will join a multitude of climate experts in calling for global efforts, beginning with Australia, to stem the climate crisis.

To bring two international leaders to speak truth to power is an achievement that makes me incredibly proud to be a part of the Australia Institute team, and of our ongoing work to move the national debate to the issues that matter.

Whether it is building affordable houses for people instead of tax avoidance systems for millionaires, taxing fossil fuels properly to pay for better public services, or stopping new coal mines to save the Pacific, it is all possible.

With the continued support of people like you, we are well-positioned with the best chance of making it happen. Thank you for all that you do.

— Ebony Bennett, Deputy Director of the Australia Institute

The Big Stories

Tax reform, HECS and the PRRT

In the March Issue of The Monthly, Richard Denniss writes that tax reform is about democracy, not economics.

“In Norway they tax their gas industry heavily and give their kids free university degrees. In Australia we subsidise the fossil fuel industry and charge our kids a fortune to go to university.”

When it comes to tax and the need for reform, the comparison between HECS and the PRRT, first highlighted by Richard at the National Press Club, continues to capture attention.

ABC Fact Check has published a deep dive into the issue and confirmed once again just how absurd it is that the gas industry gets away with paying so little tax.

Read ‘Tax to grind’ by Richard Denniss in the March issue of The Monthly.

Tasmania Votes

As Tasmania heads into the final week of the election campaign, the Australia Institute Tasmania’s research continues to underpin important policy conversations.

Our research found a majority of Tasmanians believe the upcoming state election is most likely to produce a minority government, but that electorate remains unsure about who is best placed to work with the crossbench.

With the right approach, minority governments can be extremely productive, and there are some huge issues that prospective representatives would do well to address.

As reported in The Australian, our research finds that nearly two in three Tasmanians do not want native forests to be logged, 3 in 4 Tasmanians want salmon farming out of inshore waters, and more than three quarters of Tasmanians support a new, fit for purpose anti-corruption commission.

The fight against native forest logging has become a focus point, with independents lining up to sign the Independent Member for Mackellar, Dr Sophie Scamps’ Forest Pledge to end native forest logging.

Tasmanian state election independent candidate for Clark Kristie Johnston and independent candidate for Clark Sue Hickey during a press conference in Hobart, Friday, March 8, 2024. Independent and minor party candidates at the Tasmanian election have signed a pledge in conjunction with The Australia Institute to end native forest logging. (AAP Image/Ethan James)

On the first Friday of this month our spokesperson for Tasmania’s Native Forests, Vanessa Bleyer, spoke alongside Richard Denniss and Sophie Scamps, the Independent Member for the Federal electorate of Mackellar, laying out a pathway to transition out of native forest logging in Tasmania.

Watch the recording: A Pathway out of Native Forest Logging with Dr Sophie Scamps MP & Richard Denniss

The Nuclear Fairy | Judy Horacek

The best thing about nuclear energy is that it solves so many political problems without solving any real ones – like the massive climate impact of Australia’s fossil fuel exports.

All cartoons © Judy Horacek

The AUKUS Delusion

With the US announcing it will halve the number of submarines it will build next year, questions about the future of the AUKUS agreement continue to be asked.

Professor Hugh White joined Dr Emma Shortis for ‘Dead in the Water: The AUKUS Delusion’, discussing whether the AUKUS deal will enhance or undermine Australia’s security as tensions between China and the US rise, and whether the submarines plan is likely to ever be achieved.

In further analysis, Allan Behm’s latest piece, Webs and deceit: The politics of AUKUS discusses the essence of the agreement and asks: How did we reach the point where the nation stumps up an indicative $368 billion on a fantasy?

Technofeudalism: Yanis Varoufakis Speaking Tour

Opening his address to a packed out Melbourne Town Hall, Yanis Varoufakis began with three questions in lieu of an introduction.

“First, why is Australia being pushed by the United States into the intensification of a new Cold War against China, which is detrimental to the interests even of Australian capitalists?”

“Question number two, why did Elon Musk spend $43 billion US dollars to buy Twitter?”

“Question number three, why is the German car industry — the epitome of the German business model — deindustrialising and in serious crisis, even though the German car industry is producing as many cars as it used to 10 years ago?”

Three questions, Varoufakis argued, that have the same answer.

“My hypothesis is…in the same way that we had the great transformation from feudalism to capitalism around the 1770s, we now have already a great transformation from capitalism to something that I call technofeudalism.”

“Our two party system…has been completely usurped and coopted by vested interests that are pushing humanity very quickly to climate catastrophe and to social decay, which in the end only benefits the neofascists.”

With so much at stake, it’s fantastic to be joined by a visionary like Varoufakis.

The tour included appearing on the panel of ABC’s Q+A, delivering public talks at Adelaide Writers’ Week, Melbourne Town Hall, and the State Library of NSW, and concluded with a powerful address to the National Press Club and a visit to the Australia Institute team in Canberra.

Pacific Threat: His Excellency Anote Tong Speaking Tour

His Excellency Anote Tong’s much-anticipated tour kicked off at WOMADelaide last Saturday, and continued to draw crowds in Melbourne this week, where he joined a panel with Dr Monique Ryan MP, Dr Richard Denniss and Rachel Withers.

Mr Tong spoke to the imminent threat of climate change for Pacific communities and Australia’s role in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

He will continue his tour with an event in Sydney tonight with Kylea Tink MP and will address the annual Australia Institute Climate Integrity Summit next week, Wednesday 20 March.

Mr Tong is visiting Australia as a guest of the Australia Institute in celebration of its 30-year anniversary in 2024.

Watch His Excellency Anote Tong’s address at the Melbourne Town Hall 

A Journey Through Modern Monetary Theory with Stephanie Kelton

The starting point with MMT is to begin by recognising that when you’re talking about a government that is the issuer of a currency…you can’t run out of your own currency.

After the pandemic, can we rethink how we talk about Government debt? Dr Greg Jericho, Chief Economist at the Australia Institute, spoke to renowned economist Stephanie Kelton, former chief economist to the US Senate Budget Committee, for a webinar about Modern Monetary Theory and her new film Finding the Money.

Watch our webinar: Finding the Money with Stephanie Kelton

International Women’s Day: Gender & Pay Gaps

In an article published on International Women’s Day in The Conversation, Lisa Heap, Senior Researcher at the Centre for Future Work, called on Australia’s workplace umpire, the Fair Work Commission, to finally close the gender pay gap.

Analysis from Bill Browne, Director of the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program has found that women remain underrepresented in seven of Australia’s nine parliaments.

In 2015, both the Labor and Liberal parties set the same target: for 50% female representation by 2025. Our analysis finds that with just one year to go, fewer than one in three Coalition parliamentarians are women, with the party overlooking the opportunity to preselect women in both the Dunkley and Cook by-elections.

Big Cars, Big Problems

The issues of fuel efficiency, EVs and big cars remain in the news, with senior economist Matt Grudnoff telling the Washington Post that it’s “astounding” that Australia is yet to act on fuel emissions standards.

Meanwhile, some critics remain threatened by the idea that big utes & SUVs aren’t the best way to get around our cities, but as Richard Denniss wrote in the Daily Telegraph:

It might feel great for some but we can’t all drive the biggest car. Just as being first in a line feels good for an individual, if we all do it, we get a stampede.

Read more: Stop the surge to big utes


Follow the Money

The Albanese government came to power with big expectations around climate action, but are the government’s actions falling short of their rhetoric?

On this episode of Follow the Money, former President of Kiribati Anote Tong joins Walkley Award winning journalist Stephen Long to discuss the Australian government’s “disappointing” record on climate, the role of China in the region and the prospects of a Pacific UN climate conference hosted in Australia.

Listen now: Great expectations: will Australia walk the talk on climate change?

Dollars & Sense

Australia’s recent gross domestic product (GDP) figures show that the economy is weak and people are struggling to keep up. So what can the federal government – and the Reserve Bank – do to help?

Listen now: GDPitiful 

The Quote

What’s got to be understood is Australia is the third largest exporter of fossil fuel and that is what we need to focus on because it is not the domestic emission level that is the problem: it is the export of very high volumes of fossil fuel.

— His Excellency, former President of Kiribati, Anote Tong on ABC Melbourne  discussing Australia’s fossil fuel exports, and the impending future of Pacific climate refugees if nothing is done.

The Win

Labor Makes Moves Towards Truth in Political Advertising Reforms

The Albanese Labor Government is one step closer to implementing truth in political advertising reforms, with Special Minister of State Don Farrell expected to introduce legislation by mid-year.

It is perfectly legal to lie in a political ad – and it shouldn’t be. Australia Institute research into South Australia’s truth in political advertising laws, which have operated successfully for almost 40 years, finds that they are popular, practical, and hold both sides of politics to account.

Liberal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s provisional support for truth laws is welcome, and brings him closer to his ACT and Victorian colleagues, who have supported these reforms alongside Labor, the Greens and other crossbenchers.

Senator Farrell has also flagged plans to introduce donation and spending caps. Australia Institute research shows that changes to campaign finance must be done carefully and according to principles of fairness – or they can end up unfairly benefiting incumbents and worsening the problems they are intended to fix.

The Bin

Government Pushes to Legislate Easier Approvals for Coal, Gas & CCS

The Australian Government is pushing legislation that will make it easier for offshore oil and carbon capture and storage projects to obtain approval. It further removes oversight of the Federal Environment Minister when it comes to the offshore approval process.

“This legislation is clearly a favour to the gas industry, designed to facilitate new offshore gas projects,” said Dr Matt Ryan, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Australia Institute

On Thursday, Independent Senator David Pocock echoed the concerns of Tiwi Island traditional owners who, at a Senate Inquiry hearing, said that the changes will silence the voices of Traditional Owners in the consultation process.

What’s On

To mark 2024 – the Australia Institute’s 30th anniversary year – we are inviting some of the world’s leading thinkers to Australia and hosting exciting events around the country, as we celebrate 30 years of big ideas.

We have exciting events taking place throughout March – both in person and online. Visit our Events Page for more information and to book your place.

Thank you for supporting the Australia Institute. We’re ready to tackle some massive issues this year and we couldn’t do it without supporters like you.

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