Sunday, September 30, 2007

Federal Election Date

There has been weeks of speculation in the media bout when the Federal election will be held. Senior Government members will only say "between now and Christmas" or "well before Christmas".

Given that this weekend has a public holiday, and is the start of school holidays in NSW, my prediction is as follows.

  • John Howard will call the election during the seek after school returns. The Governor-General is overseas, and to call the election during the holidays would not go well with voters psyche.

  • If he calls the election during that week (15-20 October), the election will be held on Sat 1st December. John Howard would not want it to be any later - that would interfere with voters' Christmas shopping, and be too close to the start of school Christmas Holidays, neither of which would please voters.

So, Saturday 1st December is my prediction for the date of the Federal election.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Australian Farming Audit

Last week, Opposition Shadow Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, agreed that an audit of farming land would not be a bad thing. He said this in response to a direct question.

The Federal Government's (junior) Parliamentary Secretary for the environment, John Cobb, immediately responded by trying to "shoot the messenger", saying that Garrett was "the grim reaper" of farmers. Such a response contributes nothing to the discussion. It's a discussion teh Government does not want to have. There has been a number of media stories and editorials supporting John Howard's plan to provide more assistance to farmers.

Much of Australia has been in drought for more than 6 years, the average temperature has been higher than in other droughts, possible due to climate change, and rain events that have occurred have been less common and more extreme. Add to this, the mix of high-water use irrigated crops such as cotton and rice planted in the very dry Murray-Darling Basin, and there would seem to be a good case for a national audit of what we produce on farms, where it's produced, what water is needed to produce it, and whether some areas currently farmed are viable. Some years years ago, both the manufacturing, sugar and dairy industries were restructured, and the Federal Government encouraged some farmers to leave the industry: there might be other areas where this is appropriate, with suitable financial inducements.

A national audit of farming land, production and water use is a worthwhile response to the effects of climate change/"shift" on our farmland, drought and our farmers and their families.

The question is not whether our politicians have the "ticker" to do it; the question is, are we willing to insist on action for Australia's benefit.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Federal-State Health Funding

On Tuesday (25-Sep), a woman had a miscarriage in a public toilet at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. On Wednesday, another lady contacted the media to say she had had a similar experience 2 years ago. Both had gone to the hospital, and been waiting for more than 1.5 hours. The experience of both could only be described as shattering.

Triage sets priorities for waiting patients. Those most at risk (chest pains, breathing difficulties) are treated sooner. The process relies on assessment, and on available nurses and doctors. Both are in short supply. RNS has vacancies for over 60 registered nurses, and an unknown number of doctors. It underwent a restructure last year - presumably to reduce costs.

Health is one of the "big 3" budget items in NSW (the others are educations and police), the proportion of the budget spent on each of them is increasing. Health now uses about 26% of NSW's budget. While many call for more funding, no one disputes the need.

How to properly fund the provision of State services is a much bigger issue. States cannot reasonably borrow to pay for recurrent expenditure. ie money spent each year in running the services, the same way that we cannot relentlessly borrow to pay for food and regular household bills.

Since the Hawke-Keating years, the % of GDP provided to the states has fallen. Under John Howard and Peter Costello is is at its lowest point - just 5% of GDP. Yet the costs borne by states has risen inexorably. If the states, and NSW in particular, cannot adequately fund the required levels of service using the money we pay in GST, there are only 2 options:
  1. we pay more tax - eg by increasing GST from 10% to , say 12%, or more income tax to the Federal Government
  2. the Federal Government releases more money to the states, possibly as tied grants for specific service areas.

John Howard has 3 fundamental objections to increasing Federal Government grants to the states:
  1. He considers the budget surplus his, to be used for the benefit of the Liberal Party, and his re-election. Last election he splurged $6 billion in voter "sweeteners": we're paying higher interest rates partly because of that largess.
  2. He has a fundamental objection to helping fund Labor governments to provide services. That doesn't help him.
  3. He has a fundamental objection to public services: he would much rather spend Federal money helping private companies deliver the same services, because he retains a measure of control, and he can take "credit".

States need to be have increased funding to provide the services we "demand". That money must come from our taxes, either new, increased, or existing income tax. Perhaps we really do need to look at a new Federal-State funding model. We will need a different Federal Government to do it, though.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Workchoices - the Christianity Test

On 9 August, John Howard & Kevin Rudd both professed their Christianity in a broadcast to the Hillsong Church, a church that has mostly supported John Howard.

He told the audience "The predominant religious culture in our society is Christianity" and that the parable of the talents is all about capitalism.

A friend sent me a passage from the Old Testament.
It is from the book of Job 8:4-7 It reads:
Listen to me, you who trample on the needy
and try to suppress the poor people of the country,
Then by lowering the bushel, raising the shekel,
by swindling and tampering with the scales,
we can buy up the poor for money,
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
The Lord swears ..
'Never will I forget a single thing you have done!'

It reminded me of the effects of WorkChoices legislation. I wonder what lesson John Howard and Kevin Rudd would draw from that passage.

Today's news also had stories about WorkChoices ads that have been withdrawn. The embrassing withdrawals of both ads reflect the need to for both the government and business consortiums ( the ad was from a groups of 19 employer organisations and pretended to show union bosses closing a dressmaking shop) to portray accurately what happens: neither ad does that. As with all ads from governments and big business "Caveat emptor" - let the buyer beware. The ads and the scare tactics are untrustworthy.

John Howard professes Christianity - but does his legislation practice it?


NSW - The Gambling State

NSW is set to allow even more opportunities for problem gamblers to fill Treasurer Michael Costa's moneybag. On Fr 22-Sep, NSW Minister for Gambling and Racing told ABC Radio
"The Gaming Machine Act is under review and that means everything is under review, from harm minimisation through to poker machine entitlements. We are not ruling anything in or out."

NSW Hotels and clubs will be mighty pleased - they will be lobbying hard to allow extra poker machines. The government is likely to be sympathetic: it wants the tax revenue, especially given it is losing millions in revenue from lost horse racing, and might yet have to be seen to be supporting the industry.

The NSW government is also under some pressure over hotel trading hours, given the increasing levels of violence surrounding some big hotels, and nightclubs.

The NSW branch of the Australian Hotels Association has been a significant lobbyist of the NSW government. Electoral Commission data shows the owners of 2 hotels where there have been problems with violence have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the NSW ALP. Presumably they see it as a "business investment", and want a return.

All this comes at the same time as Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court plan to dump poker machines from South Sydney Leagues Club. There desire is driven by their recognition of the social cost of gambling, and the manner in which it is promoted: no sunlight (so patrons lose track of time), ATMs nearby, and the desire for clubs and hotels, and the NSW government, for ever more money from punters.

This is indeed a serious social issue, but the big players - the NSW government, clubs and pubs - have just one phrase: "show me the money"! Their cynicism in the face of significant social problems is nothing less than mind-blowing.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Poll Spin - Howard Says He Can Win

Today's Newspoll survey results seemed to bring good news to John Howard. The Liberal Party was back to his previously losing position, as shown by polls from 6 July onwards. The only exception was the last poll. (2 September). All others had (2-party preferred) the Coalition at 44-45% and the Labor Party at 55-56%.

From that, John Howard told the Party room that "I can win it". Well, politicians do like to talk up their underdog status, to at least appear to have a chance. In truth, he does. The polls have shown a fairly consistent % of 'uncommitted' that are not included in the poll results. Those undecided on polling day are more likely to vote for an incumbent government, than for a change. So, we can expect future polls to show a narrowing of the gap.

In terms of voter satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the leaders, the numbers stay the same.
  • John Howard: 45 % Satisfied; 44% dissatisfied.
  • Kevin Rudd: 65% satisfied; only 18% dissatisfied.
The same is true for voter perceptions of who would make a better Prime Minister
  • John Howard: 38%
  • Kevin Rudd: 48%
The challenge for both parties, and especially the Liberal Party, is to win the hearts and votes of those uncommitted: about 10-14% of voters. The other numbers will change a little, but it is this group that will really decide the election.

Meanwhile, Kevin Rudd has been cautioning his team against any displays of hubris or arrogance: Government ministers have already tried lining up to tell voters that's what's happening. The mind games continue, from both sides.

It is 5 days since John Howard talked about his team. Since then, not a single one of his press releases has mentioned the word 'team', but there have been plenty of 'I's.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Howard Government's Green Advertising

As John Howard prepares an advertising campaign to tell voters about his Climate Change "green" credentials, it is appropriate to look at his own record.

Kirribilli House, used by John Howard instead of The Lodge, had rainwater tanks fitted in 2007. If they had not been, John Howard faced the embarrassment of being named a large water user, as Sydney residentsstruggled to cope with water restrictions.

Parliamant House, where he could have shown considerable leadership, has been less than an ideal model of a "green" citizen. While there are government websites and documentation afor householders to use to benefit themselves and the environment, John Howard's government:

  • still uses large, petrol-engined cars. No Toyata Priuses here.
  • 2004-05 figures show there were 133929000 MJ of energy used at Parliament House. Only 10274386 (7.8%) came from renewable/green energy sources
  • A 2002 Senate Inquiry on "The Value of Water" recommended specific measures, including "Upgrading all Commonwealth buildings for higher standards of water efficiency" and "The Joint House Department to be funded to change all toilet cisterns in Parliament House to dual-flush and to fit water efficient shower roses".

    (Recommendations 9 & 10, under "Leading by Example")

    As at May 2007 only the toilets in the carpark, forecourt and Parliament House Recreation Centre had been fitted with waterless urinals (no dual-flush toilets) and only the Recreation Centre has water efficient shower roses.

You''ll soon see slick advertisements espousing the green "climate change" credentials of John Howard & co. So much for the political will of John Howard's Government to show leadership in their own backyard!


Friday, September 14, 2007

John Howard's New Team

John Howard has a new team. At least he says he has a team. After years of presidential-style domination of his party and coalition members and Ministers, John Howard would have voters believe they are a team.

Consider his 3 press releases today:
  • Nurses Education: one "I"; no mention of "team"
  • Address to the RSL National Congress: more than 30 "I"s; no mention of "team"
  • Australian Nursing Schools: 19 "I"s; no mention of team
So much for having a team. This is not about teams: the Coalition has members and Ministers who firmly believe that John Howard should NOT be leading the party, let alone the country. Yes, they are self-interested: they stand to lose their seats at the election.

The presentation of a "team" to voters is like a quick slash of gloss paint over a facade that is crumbling, cracked and very much in ruins. It's glossy, but has no substance. John Howard's leadership, and his governement, has almost certainly run its course


Howard's Nursing Agenda

Today Prime Minister John Howard released his plan for nnursing education. Pointedly, he made the announcement at a private hospital (St George Private Hospital, in Sydney), rather than at a public hospital.

In his press release, he also pointedly talks about "I" - no mention of the new "team" in the whole press release - and says:

"What we are going to do is to provide $170 million over a period of five years to create 25 Australian Hospital Nursing Schools and essentially what that means is that the Federal Government will fund individual hospitals, either public or private, we'll adopt the same approach irrespective of whether it is a public or a private hospital; for them to provide training facilities within the hospitals themselves for people training to become enrolled nurses. "

Here we need to draw parallels with the Australian Technical Schools - remember those - most of which have been unable to find apprenticeships for their students, and most of which have to sub-contract the training to TAFE, because they don't have RTO status.

It also says that the Federal Government "will fund individual hospitals." Let's draw further parallels with universities, which this year had the option of no increase in funding, or an increase in funding if they offered only Workchoices. Yes, it's political blackmail, and yes the university Vice-Chancellor's had Hobson's Choice: Workchoices or nothing.

From John Howard, this offer might look good, but the offer is really about 2 things:
  • Concentration of Political power for John Howard
  • The Federal Government using financial "leverage" to push more people onto Workchoices.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

NSW Electricity Sale to Benefit Budget - Not People

On 4 May 2007, the NSW Premier, Morris Iemma, told Parliament
"there will be no sale of electricity generation, transmission or distribution"
On 11 September the Owen Inquiry into Electricity Supply in NSW was released. Its recommendation is a s follows:

"... there is a need to be prepared for additional investment in
baseload from 2013-14. Further, the most efficient means of
providing for baseload is to improve the commercial and policy
signals used by the private sector when investing in generation
capacity in New South Wales. My key recommendation,
therefore, is that the Government of New South Wales divests
itself of all State ownership in both retail and generation. ..."

That is, Professor Owen, having looked at the National electricity market, carbon-trading schemes present and planned, the need for increased baseload power generation, and the budget, has recommended NSW sell its electricity infrastructure.

How does this fit with Morris Iemma's prmise on 9 May? Professor Owen raised the possibility of long-term leases to power station plant to private companies as way out. He argues that a long-term lease will encourage private lessees to maintain the power stations. But this doesn't solve the problem of the extra need.

The solution, it seems is to remove the pricing caps, to allow private companies to build new power stations, while politicians tell us that "iremoving the pricing cap will have no effect because competition will keep the prices low". If that is the case, they should be left. Fair go - they must think there's one born every minute! The NSW ALP government is really looking to avoid investment in infrastructure that would provide essential service (electricity) to the people of NSW.

By so doing they will make the budget look good (Treasurer Costa beams with happiness) while avoiding having to (gasp) use the State's AAA+ credit rating to borrow money to provide long-term investments to benefit the people of NSW.

The sell-off is so that the State Labor Government can avoid their responsibility to the people of NSW. They ought to be ashamed.


Howard Survives His Own Coup

In the time leading up to the APEC forum in Sydney, during and this week ( after the forum) there has seemingly been much whispering and talk within the Liberal Party about John Howard's leadership future. Nothing surprising there - it has been happening for months - because the polls (by Newspoll, SMH/The Age and internal Liberal polling) have never showed any improvement in either John Howard's, or the Liberal Party's, standing with voters.

This morning, John Howard's leadership was not challenged in a quickly-convened Liberal Party meeting. To do so would mean admitting he should have handed over to Peter Costello last year. And it would hav ebeen politically stupid for the Liberal Party to change now: no new leader could hope to capture the voting public's imagination in such a short time.

Indeed, the most recent polls show a further swing to both Kevin Rudd as preferred Prime Minister, and the APL's vote. Backbenchers and Ministers are in danger of losing their seats, and are paranoid about it: they feel John Howard is leading them to oblivion. Ministers at risk include: John Howard (NSW), Alexander Downer (SA), Brendan Nelson (NSW), Gary Hardgrave (Qld)

What is surprising, is that John Howard says the speculation was all his fault - he claims he asked senior ministers including Alexander Downer, Malcolm Turnbull and Brendan Nelson, to talk about him and his future. Peter Costello wasn't invited.

Mr Howard told a press conference
"... I have never run from a fight before and I don't intend to
do so now."
Ominous words from a leader who seems likely to lose the election, even allowing for some convergence in the polls after the election is formally called. It is reminiscent of a leader who knows he'll die in battle, but is determined to sacrifice his own troops to do it.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

APEC - Hot Air on Climate Change

The Sydney Declaration on Climate Change at the Sydney APEC Forum contains just over 2000 words.

It reaffirms signatories' commitment to the UN principles on Climate Change.

It commits nothing till after 2012.

It says, in part, that members of APEC will:

  • "work(ing) towards achieving an APEC-wide regional aspirational goal of a reduction in energy intensity of at least 25 per cent by 2030 (with 2005 as the base year);"
  • "work to achieve an APEC-wide aspirational goal of increasing forest cover in the region by at least 20 million hectares of all types of forests by 2020"

Have another look at point 1:

"work towards achieving an ... aspirational goal" means that the aspirational goal might never eventuate. There is no requirement of members. China apparently almost baulked at this - it wanted something stronger (to its credit).

Nevertheless, there is a target - 25% less energy intensity than 2005 by 2030. But there are no intermediate targets; no requirement for members to start acting; nothing has to be done in the political lifetime of the leaders.

Increasing the forest cover is a fine aspirational goal. APEC countries apparently account for 54% of the worlds managed and natural forests ( Abare Economics) . However, a nuber of APEC countries where these forests are being denuded (legally or illegally) includes: Australia;
Indonesia; Phillipines; Thailand; China; Mexico; Papua New Guinea; Chile; Peru; and Viet Nam.
These represent a significant portion of APEC nations. Australia, for example, is still waiting on a decision on a Tasmanian woodchip mill that would partly use old-growth forest timber; some other countries have significant problems with illegal timber clearing.

The aspirational target to increase forested area has no timeline of commitments, and the statement allows countries to argue economic differences to avoid doing anything.

Overall, the document has escape clauses to avoid doing anything, even after 2012; and, if anything is done, it could well be after the current political leaders are no longer in office.

The reality is, it was about John Howard, in particular, trying to look good before an election - without him having to do anything.

"The Analyst"

Saturday, September 08, 2007

APEC Protests

Today's protests in Sydney, to coincide with the APEC forum turned out to be quieter, and more orderly than many expected, and planned for.

There might be a number of reasons for that:
  • some individual people and groups, known troublemakers, were warned off. They included Mutiny, a left-wing group that distributed a manual for APEC that detailed how cause trouble; Resistance, a group that acknowledged on its website that other groups feared it would cause violence; and AC/DC, an anarchist political group (not the band)
  • Police have lessons have been learnt from the Cronulla and Macquarie Fields riots of 2005
  • rain, or the threat of rain, kept some people away
  • the public holiday in Sydney
  • pre-warning by Police that they would tolerate no trouble at all, and had the numbers and equipment to show it
  • Protester fears that the protest could be high-jacked by those individuals and groups seeking violence.
Reports this afternoon indicated 18 people had been arrested: not many out of 3000 - 5000 estimated protesters. Some protesters, as they seem to do, and some parts of the media have questioned the force used by Police in their zero-tolerance approach. One journalist was pushed back, and fell to the ground, while trying to push into the middle of a Police arrest to get a photo. The journalist seemed to have only minor injuries from the push and fall, but some defended the action as part of "the media just doing its job".

Well, no - it is not the media's job to put themselves into a position that interferes with Police officers' work. The photo could have taken from the 3-5 metres without interfering with Police.

Whether the Police operations, and the special APEC laws, were excessive ought to be discussed as part of a debriefing. If a disaster plan, including preventive measures, means a disaster (riot) didn't happen, that is one measure of its success.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

APEC: Howard, Rudd Gush to Impress Voters

Since Tuesday, John Howard has been basking in his friendship with US Presidetn Bush. Yesterday, he even issued a press release of the "media conference of mutual admiration and political praise."

John Howard was gushing in how well the war in IRaq is going, and how much we need to stay. Recent media stories of the progress towards teh 11 criteria set for the Iraq government shows 2 of 11 performance indicators only. Better than none; but hardly war-winning.

Goerge Bush, having said he wanted to stay out of Australian political campaigns was at pains to tell voters that John Howard was a man of "vision" and "a leader". Certainly John Howard has led Australia to follow George Bush's Foreign Policy on Iraq. (war, more war; and more troops, for longer)

Today, Kevin Rudd countered with his meeting with George Bush: a meeting at which he confirmed Labor's policy of withdrawing (some) troops from Iraq; but offered to send more troops to Anghanistan. Diplomacy is a 2-sided coin, after all. Details of the conversation will remain private, at Mr Bush's request.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has arrived, and announced improvements to ensure the safety of toys (following a number of toy recalls by Mattel) and while the governemnt announced a gas deal, Mr Rudd apparently spoke in Mandarin during a social event with the Chinese. He is trying to show Australian voters, and the Chinese, that he is better able to communicate by talking one-to-one with the Chinese in trade, energy or other matters. Certainly, his time as a working Diplomat gives him that advantage over John Howard.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Howard Slips Further in the Polls

Today's Newspoll results did not bear good news for John Howard. They show a widening gap between the Coalition and the Labor Party on a two-party preferred vote: 59% to the ALP and 41% to the Coalition. The fall in coalition voting intention is due to the fall in Liberal Party vote.

But there is worse for John Howard: he continues to fall as "preferred Prime Minister" to 37%, down by 2%, while Kevin Rudd's approval has gone up by 2% to 48%. For both men the approve/disapprove changes seem to come from those voters willing to express an opinioni: neither man is convincing the"uncommitted" percentage.

The primary vote results are particularly worrying for the Coalition Parties:

  • the National Party vote is down from almost 6% at the last election to 4%
  • the Liberal Party vote is down from 41% to 33%
  • the overall Coalition vote is down from 47% to 37%
  • the Labor vote is up from 38% to 51%. The increase here is greater thatn the decrease in Coalition voting intentions, indicating that opposition to the Coalition government is concentrating in Labor's intended primary vote.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Andrew Johns, Football and Drugs

Drugs in sport are nothing new. Some sports have had the legitimacy of whole events questioned. Cycling's Tour de France and other endurance races have been the subject of individual and team doping for some years.

This week's revelation and cathartic confession by Andrew Johns that he did take drugs, including ecstacy, during competition times; that he ran the gauntlet of drug testing; and that others in his team, club and family knew of his drug-taking brought many comments. Today's news stories are that he not only suffered from depression, but the more serious bipolar disorder, and was/is taking medication for it. However there are still questions to be asked, and actions to be taken. Johns has admitted that drugs are not the only problem; alcohol abuse is another. Many would believe such abuse is common among footballers (soccer, AFL, rugby league and rugby union). One of the last things a person suffering depression needs is a depressive drug like alcohol.


  • what responsibility does a player have to inform their club of psychological problems that could affect their performance? (Johns admitted that some days he went through the motions of playing)
  • what responsibility does a club have in promoting and ensuring responsible use of alcohol (not more than 6 standard drinks (4 schooners only) in any 24-hour period; and at least 2 days a week without alcohol)? Alcohol is often provided in vast quantities after important games - win or lose! Should restrictions on alcohol use be part of every player's contract?
  • what responsibility does the NRL bear in its testing regimen? Should players be tested on weekends, after playing Friday night? Out-of-season testing? Just how far does the NRL go in testing?
  • how much will his near and extended family have to do to support him?

Andrew Johns will need the support of many people: his doctors, family, friends, his club and the NRL. Most of all, he will need help to avoid the circumstances that lead to taking excessive amounts of alcohol and drugs. He will have to avoid nightclubs, late-night outings at pubs and clubs without a sober minder. I hope he can do it - but I despair that he can't: behaviours learnt from a football culture that includes binge drinking and playing-up from teenage years will be extraordinarily hard to change.