Sunday, December 30, 2007

Benazir Bhutto's Legacy

Benazir Bhutto: 1953 - 2007

Benazir Bhutto has been buried before sunset, in the family mausoleum, next to her father.

She persisted with her drive to democracy for Pakistan, and was assassinated on 27-Dec-2007, after a rally before the scheduled elections.

Benazir Bhutto was first elected as Prime Minister in 1988; and again in 2003. It is likely that the charges of corruption brought by Pakistan Presidents Khan and Leghari. Khan had disagreements with both Bhutto and the PPP; and with the military, whose legislative power he sought to restrict. Leghari, also from Bhutto's Pakistan People Party is reported by Wikipedia to have succumbed to blackmail in bringing charges against Benazir Bhutto.

Benazir Bhutto was a woman in a man's world. Muslim societies do not easily tolerate women in positions of power: her family's strong political background and her family name undoubtedly helped.

Benazir Bhutto could become Pakistan's martyr to democracy. Maybe!

President Musharraf was, until recently, both head of the military, and President. The Military will not easily give up its power and political influence. Those who riot after Bhutto's death do themselves and their country no good. It is very likely that elections scheduled for 8-January-2008 will be cancelled, a state of emergency declared, and both Musharraf and the military will retain political control.

If they do, Pakistan will remain a divided nation. One group will have money, and/or political influence or power; the rest will have nothing, as they have now.

Benazir Bhutto's legacy could be that millions have hope of democracy, and a fairer system of government. If they don't get it, Pakistan could well become unstable, with pockets of rebellion, in a country that has somewhere near 100 nuclear weapons. Frightening!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas 2007

What is Christmas about? Is it about presents, family, holidays away, frantic mad shopping, idiocy and death on our roads? All of these happen at Christmas time, or XMAS, as it is sometimes abbreviated. The 'X' in XMAS comes from the Greek letter χ (chi), which starts the Greek word for Christ.

Christmas is a secular festivity, and a religious one. Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, in a manger, at Bethlehem. Other religions celebrate the birth of their gods and prophets, but the celebration of Chrtistmas in our society has also become a social celebration.

As we celebrate Christmas, many people will attend church ceremonies. Religious leaders will publish a Christmas message. My hope is that people will give to those less fortunate, spend time with family and friends, build understanding with other people, and that people reflect on the meaning of Christ's message in today's world. By doing so, may they realise the need for all people to work together for peace, hope for tolerance, and act justly.

Merry Christmas, ... and Happy New Year.


PS some will say that the above was full of idealism, but without idealism, we condemn ourselves to accept the otherwise unacceptable.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Haneef: Court Rejects Andrews' Appeal

The full bench of the Federal Court of Australia has upheld a previous court's decision to grant Dr Haneef his work visa. The previous Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, had made a political decision that Dr Haneef was not of good character, because his second cousins in Britain had his (British) mobile phone card, and had allegedly been involved in terrorist activity.

(Photo: The political decision came after the courts had dismissed charges of aiding terrorists against Dr Haneef. The "character test" was applied with Minsterial discretion on the basis of the alleged actions of his cousins, at a time when Dr Haneef was in Australia.

Previous comments about "the Haneef case" can be found here (there are several posts in July 2007)

Mr Andrews, as then Minister, appealed. The Federal Court disagreed with him on matters of law.

Dr Haneef, on a pilgrimage to Mecca, can return to Australia to work, if he wants. The Queensland Government has said that he will be welcome to apply, if he satisfies visa and doctor registration procedures.

There are serious questions that we need to ask about the process used, and motives of, previous Minister Andrews. Among them are:

  • what were his political motives?
  • was he acting under instructions from former Prime Minister Howard?
  • was there any breach of the "separation of powers"?
  • was AFP Commisioner Mick Keelty acting in the interests of, and with advice from, the government?

Our democracy needs to be robust, and we need to be able to trust governments, and Ministers. I'm not sure we could trust the previous Coalition Government.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Tax Cuts Inflationary

The ABC and other media are reporting that Access Economics has warned the (new) Federal Labor Government that its promised tax cuts will be inflationary. During the election campaign, John Howard's Coalition Government promised $34 Billion in personal tax cuts; Kevin Rudd promised $31 Billion. In the midst of the election campaingn the Reserve Bank of Australia raised interest rates by 25 basis points (0.25%), an unprecedented intervention during an election campaign.

In October, I reported that the promised tax cuts would be inflationary. I stated:

"(tax cuts) by themselves, they will be inflationary. The economy will have to produce nearly $50 Billion of EXTRA GDP. It is already groaning under the strain of other pressures such as the US sub-prime mortgage market, rising oil prices, rising food prices, and rising prices of other goods ... We need responsible economic management, not inflationary tax cuts."

Now, it seems that Access Economics has confirmed that view. They also point out that finding cuts might be politically unpopular, and mentioned "middle-class welfare" as one area where cuts could be made. "Middle class welfare" is a term often used to describe Federal Government houndouts that are not means tested, and provided to people who are not in need of the money. It is a policy that was heavily used by the Coalition Government to win votes. Cutting it will be fraught with political danger, even if it is tapered and means-tested.

Treasurer Wayne Swan has a difficult task to deliver ANY tax cuts, and still find sufficient extra savings to fund them, and increase his budget surplus from 1% to a more responsible 1.5% of GDP.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Political Climate Change At Bali

The US has agreed to a compromise plan to start talks on a new climate change protocol, to take effect after obligations under the existing Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012.

Every other represented country, or group such as the European Union (EU) agreed to the compromise plan. The 190 members of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to the plan after almost 2 weeks of negotiations, and after the return of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He returned to Bali to urge, with diplomatically plain language, recalcitrant countries to agree to the 'Bali Roadmap' for the good of humanity. I'm sure the US will soon find economic, trade, and foreign policy reasons to justify their change of heart.

There was certainly a sense of desperation as Kevin Rudd told his team, and Penny Wong, in particular, to do "whatever it takes" negotiate a settlement. Climate change is a priority.

So, what next for Australia? I believe we need to look at the following, from a national perspective:

  • reduce "base load" electricity demand, and hence our reliance on coal. The term "clean coal" is deceptive - coal is dirty, and it does pollute.
  • reduce unnecessary lighting in office buildings at night
  • reduce the use of "off-peak" (night-time) electric hot water systems, and install more solar hot water systems, with gas backup.
  • increase the use of wind farms
  • increase the use of solar electricity generation on houses, and large business buildings, especially where buildings have air conditioning installed
  • mandate national building design codes that increase the use of passive heating and cooling (verandahs, awnings & blinds, building aspect, insulation and construction materials)

All of this will involve significant changes to aspects of our economy, and our individual and collective thinking - we will need to increase investments in some areas of our economy and reduce it in other areas.

It won't be easy, and we do need our political leaders to take short-term hard decisions for the longer term benefit, while still being mindful of the social effects That is, after all, what we pay them to do.

In business speak, we need to undertake a process called Business Process Engineering - we need to fundamentally change what and how we do things.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Libs a Half-Nelson Basket Case

As John Howard enjoys his new-found, but unwanted, leisure time, the Federal Liberal Party is in leadership turmoil. It has been revealed that Malcolm Turnbull was unhappy about the leadership election, with now two members who have since lost their seats voting, and two senators whose planes were delayed not allowed to vote. Brendan Nelson won the leadership by just three votes.

The reality is that with John Howard gone, and Peter Costello declining, there is a lack of clear leadership within the Liberal Party - hence the divided vote. One of the consequences of John Howard's dominance and "strong leadership" is that, apart from the anointment on Peter Costello, the leadership skills of other members was suppressed and its development stopped.

While both men are aspirational leaders, neither yet has the charisma AND political skills to lead the Liberal Party to a future victory. It is unlikely that Brendan Nelson has the ability to charm teh electorate to lead the Liberal Party to an election win in the foreseeable future; and Malcolm Turnbull is seen as too ill-disciplined and prone to "shoot his mouth off". The Federal Liberal Party has similar leadership woes to those that Labor had after Paul Keating lost, and left.

There are not many leadership options yet, apart from Brendan Nelson or Malcolm Turnbull. We might well have the simmering divisions can that turn a political party into a "basket case". That is something that NSW State Party Director Geoff Selig warned against, but probably can't yet stop.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Crean Speaks on Climate Change

Simon Crean is in Bali for Trade talks - appropriate, given that is his portfolio. But he seems to have spoken out of turn on climate change. He has more experience than to do that. Mr Crean said that developing countries, including China and India, must commit to much tougher emission targets before Australia would commit to a post-Kyoto Agreement on Climate Change.

Worse, Mr Crean then went on to say that Australia would not commit to any binding targets till next year - at least till after the report on the economics of climate change is handed to the Federal Government.

Already Prime Minister Rudd has said that what Mr Crean suggested about developing countries is not the Government's policy. It would seem that Trade Minister Crean has spoken out on an area that is not his portfolio, and made suggestions that are not (officially) government policy. Nevertheless, climate change will have an effect on trade, and it is appropriate for the Trade Minister to make comments about climate change - they just need to be consistent with government policy.

There is a danger that Kevin Rudd will seek to assert HIS "strong leadership". The problem with that is that "strong leadership" often seeks to dominate by stifling discussion, even among colleagues. This is the type of control used by former Prime Minister John Howard - to his ultimate detriment, the detriment of the Liberal Party, and to the detriment of good policy for the Australian people.

Kevin Rudd will certainly need to discuss the problem with Simon Crean. Ministers must not become compliant servants of the Prime Minister. They need clear direction, a deep understanding of Government Policy, and need to learn to be trusted to speak on matters that affect their portfolio.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

T-Card Project A Failure

T-Card is supposed to be the new integrated, electronic ticketing system to cover public transport on buses, trains and ferries. Last Month (Nov-07), the State Government gave notice of its intention to cancel the contract, unless the company (ERG) can demonstrate a working system within twenty days.

On 3 December 2007, ERG gave a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange, saying it was "well placed to implement the system on a wide scale by 2009". ERG claims to have implemented similar systems in Melbourne, Singapore, Rome and San Francisco. The question then is, "why invent a new system, when it already has successful existing systems?"

On 9 November the NSW Transport Minister, John Watkins, said "Enough is enough. ... This has been a very frustrating project." The system was supposed to be working before the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

What makes a successful project? In my opinion a successful project satisfies the following criteria:
  • the customer is satisfied. Clearly this is not the case, with the customer, the NSW Government preparing to stop the project.
  • the system works as intended. Again, this is clearly not the case.
  • the project is finished on time. 2007 is well past the expected completion in early 2000. The Auditor-General's office in its Report to Parliament 2006 Volume 5 p338 stated "We are not aware of any further remedy for delays. (in the T-Card project)"
  • the project is completed satisfactorily on budget. While NSW has spent $64 million, it has not made all the payments, becasue the contract included penalties for non-completion of milestones. Since it seems unlikely a working system won't be forthcoming for nealy another two years, and at unknown cost, there are good aruments for terminating the project.

Good Project Management requires that, at each stage of the project, a review is conducted to determine whether it is worthwhile continuing. It seems to me that ERG has been more interested in continuing the project, hoping to retrieve the golden egg of taxpayer money, even when technical and other difficulties seem to have indicated otherwise.

It would seem to be a project worthy of cancellation. In future the NSW Government, through the Dept of Commerce, should oversee projects, and insist on having representatives on the project oversight committee, and on project teams.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Koperberg Steps Into A Straight Right

NSW Labor Minister Phil Koperberg has stepped aside pending results from a preliminary police investigation into acts of domestic violence allegedly committed 20 years ago. The time is irrelevent, and it should be investigated. Premier Morris Iemma's hand was forced when two people called hi soffice to speak to him about it. at that point, Mr Iemma aasked his Director-General to refer the matter to the police. Appropriately, he would not name the two people who called his office.

But what of the underlying politics? Who has the knives out for Mr Koperberg? The allegations surfaced in 2006 before the March 07 state election, and were denied then. Paul Gibson, then a Labor MP, had a 10 year affair with the former Mrs Katherine Koperberg, and there appears to be bad blood between the two men. After the election in March, allegations about Paul Gibson' salleged violence towards Sandra Nori surfaced. He was denied a ministry. Police later dropped the investigation for lack of viable evidence.

Now, Paul Gibson seems to have copy of Mrs Koperberg's affidavit alleging assault on her and her daughter. So do some reporters.

The issue has become both political and the subject of a police investigation. It would seem there is some dirty politics, but violence should never be tolerated - just ask Paul Gibson.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Education A Learning Curve for Labor

As Julia Gillard prepares Labor's Education agenda for the two Cabinet meetings before Christmas, she should pause and consider some of the concepts proposed.

Access to a computer at school for every Year 9 -12 student is readily achievable, but it will also need to be considered in conjunction with the broadband for schools policy. The Federal Government will need to meet with state governments, Catholic Education Offices, and independent schools to ensure that computers provided are appropriate.

The trades in schools policy requires much more work, and probably needs rethinking. This is especially true for regional areas where it is unlikely that each school would have sufficient interested and committed students or resources to create classes in multiple trades areas.

A more practical solution might be to provide incentives for schools to allow students to enrol in courses at TAFE, where that is available. In most states, there is a program which allows students to study TAFE courses as part of their Yr 11 and Yr 12 studies. Classes often include students from several schools, and they gain from the expertise of TAFE teachers, and from the usually, better resources provided by TAFE . Delivery by TAFE would be more cost-efficient, and provide a wider range of trades for study than could be provided by placing one trade class at every school.

While providing resources directly to schools is electorally and superficially popular, ultimately, using existing TAFE systems would provide better outcomes for the economy as well, because more students could be trained in more trades areas more efficiently, using qualified trades teachers who know their industry.