Saturday, September 20, 2008

Turnbull Just A New Image

Malcolm Turnbull’s ascension to the Liberal Party throne – Ok, Opposition Leader – was quicker than he had initially planned.
...
Turnbull has already said that he doesn’t intend to change policies, including those set by former leader Brendan Nelson. So the only change is a change of image. The substance, the policies and characters tarnished by Howard’s insistence on blind loyalty to him remain. The Liberal Party has changed leader, but it is still lost in the desert.

John
I will be shortly moving my blog to: http://blogs.myperspective.org.au/truepolitik
For the Full Text of this posting see my new page at:
http://blogs.myperspective.org.au/truepolitik/?p=6

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reba, Reba Where Ya Goin' To?

Yesterday, after handing out how-to-vote leaflets for NSW Council elections, Reba Meagher announced her resignation from the NSW Parliament. She would have been dumped from new NSW Premier Nathan Rees's ministry, but resigned first.

After resigning as Minister for Health, she indicated she had always acted in the interests of "the (Labor) Party". She was elected, as a party-parachuted candidate, for the seat of Cabramatta, in west/south-west Sydney, in 1996. She has held Ministerial positions in Fair Trading, Community Services, Aboriginal Affairs, and Health. Health, especially Public Hospitals, has been beset by myriad problems, including embarrassing deaths at RNS. She will retire with a Parliamentary pension of about $130,000 - about 3 times the average annual income of her constituents.

The following lyrics should be sung to The Monkees' son 'Mary, Mary'.
(with apologies to Mike Nesmith and The Monkees)

Reba, Reba, where you goin' to?
Reba, Reba, is it Coogee?
This one thing we know ‘bout ya
We will live better, without ya
Reba, Reba, where you goin' to?

Reba, Reba, tell us truly
What did we do to make ya leave us?
Whatever it was, it wasn’t us
You knew from “The Party”, ya had to go
Reba, Reba, where you goin' to?

Reba, Reba, where you goin' to?
Reba, it’s not Cabramatta
Reba, Reba, Reba, Reba, Reba, where you goin' to?
[Repeat adlib]


John

[This post is also available at http://truepolitik.myperspective.org.au ]

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Rees Gets His Way

Morris Iemma had told his Right wing faction that it (the cabinet reshuffle) was his way, or no way. "No way!' said the faction, and Morris resigned.

Enter newly-elected Premier of NSW, Nathan Rees. He gets his way, and both Reba Meagher and Frank Sartor are left out of cabinet! "Cranky Frankie" issued a press statement saying that dumping him was a mistake - a political tantrum.

The irony of Reba Meagher's omission is that she had reportedly called Morris Iemma at 6am Friday to tell him she was not resigning, and still wanted her job in cabinet. She then went to right-wing power-broker Eddie Obeid, and this helped precipitate the events that led to Iemma's resignation, Nathan Rees's election as Premier, and Meagher's dumping from cabinet.

Both Morris Iemma, at his press conference on Friday, and Reba Meagher, in her press release last night, said that they had always put "the interests of the party" first. In saying that, they are reminding "the party" that they are available for other appointments; now, or in the future!

And that, dear reader, is the single biggest issue with our politicians: - "the party" and their political careers, are more important than the interests of the people.

John

Postscript - The new ministry, announced on Mon 8/9/08, is:
Premier, & Arts: Nathan Rees
Deputy Premier, Commerce, Climate Change & Environment: Carmel Tebbutt
Attorney-General: John Hatzistergos
Transport: David Campbell
Education & Training, Women: Verity Firth
Planning & Redfern: Kristina Keneally
Health: John Della Bosca
Roads: Michael Daley
Roads & Waterways, Regulatory Reform, Finance & Infrastructure: Joe Tripodi
Police: Mat Brown
Housing: David Borger
Water, Rural Affairs and Regional Development: Philip Costa
Industrial relations, Emergency Services, Land: Tony Kelly
Tourism, the Hunter: Jodie McKay
Aboriginal Affairs, Ageing and Disability Services: Paul Lynch
Small Business, Science and Medical Research, Assistant Health Minister (Cancer): Tony Stewart
Community Services: Linda Burney
Primary Industries, Energy and Mineral Resources, State Development: Ian Macdonald
Gaming and Racing, and Sport and Recreation: Kevin Greene
Juvenile Justice, Youth, and Volunteering: Graham West
Local Government, Assistant Health Minister (Mental Health): Barbara Perry
Fair Trading, Citizenship, Assistant Arts Minister: Virginia Judge


(this post is mirrored at: http://blogs.myperspective.org.au/truepolitik )

Saturday, September 06, 2008

NSW Labor Supernova

In February, (http://truepolitik.blogspot.com/2008/02/nsw-labor-set-to-supernova.html), I wrote that the NSW Labor Government, led my Morris Iemma, was set to supernova. (other media use the term 'implode') Then, the main issue was corruption; in, and outside, Wollongong City Council. I raised other issues, including incompetent project management, the proposed privatisation of electricity, and incompetent Health Minister (Reba Meagher).

In July, (http://truepolitik.blogspot.com/2008/07/nsw-in-need-of-new-ministers.html), I wrote that NSW needed new ministers, and that at least the following should go: Morris Iemma, Michael Costa, Reba Meagher, Frank Sartor, David Campbell, Joe tripodi & Graeme West; and that NSW had become a dictatorship (under Morris Iemma and Michael Costa).

I August, ( http://truepolitik.blogspot.com/2008_08_01_archive.html), I suggested that the embarrassment that ensued when Morris Iemma's early recall of Parliament backfired, and it became obvious that Parliament would not allow the privatisation of electricity, was "unsustainable".

Yesterday, 5-Sept, that supernova occurred. The Right faction would not allow Morris Iemma to dump Reba Meagher, & others, in a cabinet reshuffle. The opportunity occurred because of the sudden resignation of his Deputy Premier John Watkins on Tuesday. Certainly the NSW Labor Party executive had a hand in the behind-the-scenes politicking, given Morris Iemma's defiant stance against party policy over electricity. Morris Iemma's own Right faction withdrew support for him, because he wouldn't accept their (suggested) cabinet. Iemma resigned, rather than suffer a Party-room bloodbath. Like Costa, he has indicated he will resign from parliament, too.

Meanwhile Michael Costa held a 25-minute press conference, essentially to say that only he could have made the tough budget decisions; and unloading bucketsful about the state of NSW's finances / budget.

So NSW has a new Premier, Nathan Rees, and Deputy Premier, Carmel Tebbutt, both of whom are from Left-wing factions. The new Cabinet will likely be announced today, after a full caucus meeting. The supernova has, as with stars, been slow to build, but quick and brutal in its effects. The Right faction's grip on Parliamentary power, in Leadership and behind the scenes, seems to be broken. You could only shed crocodile tears for right-wing power-brokers Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid.

John

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Carmel Resurrected For NSW Labor

Carmel Tebbutt, the former NSW Education Minister, is set to become the new Deputy Premier. The sudden resignation of her left-faction colleague, John Watkins, left a hole to be filled. John Watkins was seen as the "nice guy" - he was Education Minister for a short time, charged with calming troubled waters. He has, however, been unable to successfully master union control within the NSW Transport portfolio, especially the railways.

Carmel Tebbutt is "good news" for Premier Morris Iemma - she is seen as hard-working, a mother who put her young family ahead of her career as a Minister for more than twelve months. Caucus will approve her appointment tomorrow, following her left faction colleagues voting to support her.

Morris Iemma will also announce his "new" reshuffled ministry. If Reba Meagher, Frank Sartor, Michael Costa and John Della Bosca stay, it will be like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic! The last 3 of those WILL stay, and Costa will stay as Treasurer, party bully, and scourge of infrastructure investment - Iemma needs their influence and followers to stay, so they will remain, although not necessarily where they are. Reba Meagher is not only unpopular with voters as Health Minister, but is seen as incompetent: she will be lucky if she is moved to an outer Ministry, and not dumped to the backbenches. There is a growing perception that Sartor approves developments that suit donors to the ALP, and which are contrary to his senior Departmental Officer's advice.

Media report suggest Ms Tebbutt is being groomed to take over as Premier. Morris Iemma is unpopular, and seen as ineffective, by voters; unpopular with NSW ALP Executive; and Labor MP's and MLC's because of his defiant stance over the "sale" of NSW electricity assets.

In 2009, Iemma will have served long enough to qualify for extra "retirement benefits" as a long-serving Premier. These include an office; staff; and car. It would be an opportune time for him to stand down, giving Carmel Tebbutt 15-18 months to establish her image before the next election. Cynical? Probably, but that's the reality of how politicians work for their own interests.

John

Sunday, August 31, 2008

NSW Power Sale Short-Circuit

This week saw some high farce in NSW politics. Premier Morris Iemma recalled Parliament early to sell NSW's electricity assets. However, the National Party flagged early that it would oppose the sale, because such a sale was certainly not in the interests of regional and rural people. This put the Liberal Party in a no-win situation. It's policy has been to sell ("privatise") electricity (& other) assets. The NSW Auditor-General had largely approved the sale, even though Premier Iemma and Treasurer, Michael Costa, had not put a minimum acceptable price on the assets.

In the end, Liberal leader Barry O'Farrell was caught between a rock and a hard place: follow Party policy; or keep the National Party happy and avoid long-term divisiveness. He chose to keep his Coalition partners happy. As a result, the sale legislation, having been introduced into the upper house, was withdrawn, and Morris Iemma stormed out of the lower house.

Such an embarrassment is usually politically unsustainable. Iemma and Costa quickly formed a Plan B - introduce a mini-budget to amend the lack of new funds, and sell the retail arms of NSW electricity at the same time. This, too, will have implications for the people of NSW:
  • the sale issue has become a political power play - for political parties, and for individual politicians & factions on both sides of politics.
  • it will create a new, privately run oligopoly, similar that run by oil companies. That is, there is a captive market and few companies providing the service.
  • the new private companies will have income and dividend growth for their business plan. This will be achieved through higher prices, and probably, new "fees and charges", similar to those imposed by banks.
  • High-yield dividends will probably be paid int he first 5-10 years to the owners by large borrowings against future income, increasing the debt-ratio of the companies, possibly putting them at financial risk like that experienced by the private owners of the private roads the Cross City Tunnel and Lane Cove Tunnel.
  • the sale has not yet incorporated how the Federal Government's carbon-trading scheme will affect prices, and the price to be paid for the assets.
  • the assets still don't have a highest minimum acceptable price for sale. It is entirely possible that Morris Iemma and Michael Costa could turn this into a fire-sale of assets of which they are custodians, but don't directly own, to satisfy their own political power agendas.
  • Their arguments for sale include the emotional blackmail of no new infrastructure investment, including for hospitals and schools. The NSW Labor Government has done little or noting of that in the last 12 years anyway! Their negligence should not be used to justify a need to make their budget look good.
People will be right to ask questions if Michael Costa, in particular, retires from Parliament with his lifetime government pension and benefits, and goes to work for a company involved in 'his' privatisation. he has already indicated he will retire before the next election (2011)

Barry O'Farrell and the NSW Liberal Party have their own conflicts to resolve: it is Liberal Party Policy to sell NSW electricity assets, but how would they do it, and not look like back-flipping, and how can this be reconciled to the contrary National Party policy.

However a 'sale' happens, the people of NSW will be worse off because of the actions of Morris Iemma and Michael Costa.

John

Sunday, August 24, 2008

It's What Politicians Don't Say

This week has been a typical week in politics: politicians avoid some questions, tell us only part of the truth, or perhaps, simply don't know the answers!

Republican US Presidential candidate John McCain was asked how many houses (dwellings) he owned. After a few stammered words, he said "I think, eh, um, I'll have my staff get back to you on that." Not knowing, or perhaps not wanting to discuss, how many homes you have isn't a good image for one who wants to run one of the biggest economies in the world. Turns out he has 10, including the ones held in his wife's name.

Back home, former Astralian Treasurer Peter Costello was definite when answering a question in Melbourne - he would definitely NOT challenge for the (opposition) Liberal Party leadership. But, again, he didn't say whether he would accept the leadership if it were handed to him on a plate by current leader Brendan Nelson. Dr Nelson is seen as weak, inept and lacking leadership by many.

In NSW, Premier Morris Iemma has been gloating about the NSW Auditor-General's report that found "no major obstacles" to the sale of state-owned electricity assets. But Mr Iemma did not say that the A-G had recommended a (realistic) reserve price be set, that his government has no current plans to set a reserve price; that the Federal Government's proposed carbon-trading scheme would have an effect on the price; that polls suggest that nearly 80% of NSW voters do not want state-owned electricity assets sold, because private companies in an oligopoly will always be more interested in profits than service in rural and remote areas (Telstra set the standard, there); that he is acting against his own Party's policy; or that up to 17 members of his own Government oppose the sale.

AS ususal, it is what the politicians don't say that is the most important aspect of their media massaging.

John

Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympic-Sized Tantrums

This week, as we watched some of the events at the XXIX Olympic Games at Beijing, we very quickly decided that we had become armchair experts at a considerable number of sports. "This is easy to judge", we said! We enjoyed watching, and supporting Australia's competitors, rejoiced in their successes & efforts; and applauded the feats of others who did well.

The "Olympic experience" in our living room has been tarnished though, by a number of tantrums / dummy spits / over-reactions / bad sportsmanship:
  • 3rd Place: China's attempts to block any bad news: protests over Tibet, the weather, ring-ins in the opening ceremony; and to restrict media reporting of anything other than how great China's games are.
  • 2nd Place: the Russian women's Beach Volleyball team. Beaten by Georgia, part of which country Russia had invaded, the teams "hugged" at the end of the match, but the Russians tried to belittle the Georgians in the press conference, were surly, and mumbled derogatory answers. Yes, the Georgians were born in Brazil, but have qualified to represent Georgia under Olympic regulations. Other countries have migrant representatives, too. the Russians appeared to be motivated by spite, and sour grapes at losing.

  • (Gold) Silver Medal:(unlikely to be beaten by anything else) Swedish Greco-Roman wrestler, Ara Abrahamian threw away the bronze medal he won in the 84kg Greco-Roman wrestling tournament. He'd argued with the umpire(s) in a match he lost to the eventual winner. He walked out immediately after receiving the medal, and before the other athletes had received theirs. He is reported to have said "I wanted to take gold, so I consider this Olympics a failure". It was truly a "gold-medal" dummy spit, and many will hope that the wrestling sports body takes appropriate action.
    (Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

But graciousness and goodwill have been the hallmark of most athletes.

John

Olympic Post Script: 25-Aug-2008

There has been a change - a new, last-minute result. The biggest, and gold-medal-winning tantrum goes to the Cuban Taekwondo fighter, Angel Matos, who was disqualified after taking too long for an injury time-out: he kicked out at, and hit, an olympic referee. He, and his coach, have been given a life-time ban by the World Taekwondo Federation.

Full story at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/08/23/2344656.htm?site=olympics/2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Banks Under Pressure To Lower Rates

It seems everyone believes the Australian Banks should lower their interest rates when the Reserve Bank (RBA) does: politicians, financial reporters, borrowers, and yes, the reserve Bank of Australia. It is expected that the RBA will lower interest rates, possibly at its September meeting. Core inflation is expected to fall slightly faster, returning to the 2% - 3% target by mid-2010, as the Australian economy cools. However, economic indicators such as business and consumer confidence measures are falling quickly, and retail businesses have suffered a sharp fall over the last quarter, as interest rates bite into family budgets.

The banks, however, are reluctant. After all, the (US) Federal Reserve has raised interest rates to ... shock, horror! ... 2%. Banks have borrowed overseas money cheaply, and on-sold some of it here at much higher retail rates. The banks will claim they need to keep charging higher interest rates because of "the sub-prime crisis" in the US. Well, yes, Australian Banks did buy packaged sub-prime mortgages. That was their commercial decision because they thought they saw easy profits, and probably failed to apply due diligence. However, most prudent people would question the decision to buy 2nd, 3rd, and 4th-rate mortgages, where the risk of defaults is much higher, as a high-risk, poor investment. That is a decision made by the banks, and they, their executives, and shareholders should suffer. Bonuses should be cut, not maintained and offered because of increased bank fees, and artificially raised interest rates. The Commonwealth Bank has just announced a record profit of $4.8 Billion, a rise of 7%, well above inflation, and despite write-downs for some sub-prime investments.

The ethics of banks, and some bank CEO's, are appalling! It might be time to consider a partially-regulated banking industry again.

John

Friday, August 08, 2008

Iemma's Privatization Fuse

The NSW ALP Administrative Committee, its most powerful body, today met with NSW Premier, Morris Iemma. He had previoously refused to attend to dicuss the issue of his, and Treasurer Michale Costa's, plan to privatize NSW's electricity assets. The upshot is an uneasy "truce" that gives Morris Iemma a back door exit: he did say that he was "still willing to negotiate" (on privatization).

He will be acutely aware that he needs to stay as Premier for another 12 months before he can access "long-term Premier" benefits in retirement. Michael Costa, his staunch ally in privatization, is also looking at his retirement. They alone told Caucus what it would think, raising the stakes, and the hackles of NSW ALP government members, members of the ALP, Unions, and the public. Perhaps the 'negotiations' will last that 12 months, whereupon Mr Iemma might retire from politics, take his added benefits; which include car, driver, and office; and pass the poisoned chalice of privatization to someone else, to be quickly dropped as a change in policy by the new leader.

Given the unpopularity of the proposed electricity privatization, many in NSW, unionists and others, would be pleased.

John

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Costello Still Deciding on Leadership

As the Liberal Party languishes in the whiteout that is the Winter Recess for Federal Oppositions, Brendan Nelson leaves for a 10-day holiday, just as Peter Costello returns from his holiday in warmer climes. Could Nelson's holiday be the political equivalent of Capt Oates' "I’m just stepping outside for a while and I may be some time..." suicide walk in the Antarctic?

Several senior Liberal Party members have voiced their support for ex-Treasurer Peter Costello just 1 day after Nelson's departure for his holiday. Among them are "Mad Monk" Tony Abbott, MP; and Senator Nick "Captain Crankypants" Minchin.

For his part Peter Costello is biding his time: will he retire from politics, or take up the challenge of Opposition leadership after 12 years as Treasurer? His book launch has been brought forward to September. There are some possible political reasons for doing so:
  • Costello wants the leadership, but on his terms. To be introduced at his book launch as now "Opposition Leader", sounds MUCH BETTER than just "soon-to-retire-not-involved-backbencher".
  • Costello could be waiting to be "invited" to take the leadership, without challenge from Malcolm Turnbull, or the incumbent Brendan Nelson. Such a bloodless coup reduces the public gnashing, although Turnbull would still be seething and plotting, rather like Brutus did for Caesar.
  • If he is not offered the leadership on a plate, it is unlikely that Peter Costello would challenge for it: he had ample opportunity to challenge for Leadership when the Coalition was in government under John Howard, and Howard had "promised" him the leadership. After the Coalition lost government in Nov 2007, Costello wanted nothing to do with leadership of the Opposition. He might still regard it as a poisoned chalice.
Will he? Won't he? Only Costello knows at this stage, but media straw polling shows more voter support for Costello than the hapless Nelson, or the golden pony Turnbull. He can certainly be more competent in Parliament, if he so chooses. WorkChoices, his inflationary budgets, and the last 10 movements in interest rates being up are his biggest pieces of baggage.

We won't know Costello's intentions until he chooses to tell us, perhaps by "rumours" leaked by supporters to the media, followed by a quick, clean kill. The smiling snake might yet be back.

John

Friday, August 01, 2008

Sonny Bill Williams Defection Irony

This week's defection from Rugby League to Rugby Union by (Canterbury, NSW) Bulldogs player Sonny Bill Williams has created considerable print, air and television discussion time, mostly by supporters of Rugby League.

Not one has mentioned the considerable irony involved in a league player defecting for money. In 1907-08, led by Dally Messenger, other Rugby union players deserted union to establish Rugby League ... for money! For years, Australian Rugby League pilfered union players to swell its ranks, including: Ricky Stuart, Michael O'Connor and Wally Lewis.

There is considerable irony, then, in a league player deserting the code to play rugby union ... for money$! Others, of course have already gone from league to union: Mark Gasnier, Lote Tuquiri, Berrick Barnes, Timana Tahu to name a few. Given its history, it's hard to see how league could complain ... it's EXACTLY what they did / still do.


John

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Brendan Nelson's Climate Change

Federal Liberal and Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson has again been rolled by his shadow cabinet, this time on climate change. What follows represents an interview that might have been:

John: Dr Nelson, what's your policy on climate change?
BN: Well, John, today's policy is what the shadow cabinet told me.
John: What about tomorrow?
BN: Well, tomorrow will be a new "today", so it will still be "today's policy".
John: Last year, then Prime Minister John Howard told you, and everyone else in his government, what the policy would be. After the Coalition lost government at the election you changed it.
BN: Yes, go on ...
John: Is that different from "today's policy"?
BN: No, it's almost the same.
John: What about the rest of your shadow cabinet?
BN: Let me make it clear, my policy is almost the same as theirs.
John: What about Malcolm Turnbull's policy?
BN: Almost the same.
John: Peter Costello's? The Labor Government's?
BN: Almost the same. I told you, it's almost the same.
John: Is their anyone's policy that is different??
BN: ... um ... The Greens!
John: But aren't their policies good for the environment? Isn't that an image you want?
BN: Let me make it clear, my policy today is almost the same as theirs. And tomorrow's "today's policy" will be almost the same. Nearly. It depends on what I'm told.

John

Sunday, July 27, 2008

QLD Lib, Nats Unite

Yesterday the Queensland branches of the Liberal Party and the National Party each passed separate resolutions to unite, becoming the LNP - Liberal National Party.

There is some irony in the name: the National Party was never really about 'liberalism', at least not in the way that Liberal Party icon Sir Robert Menzies envisioned it. They have always been about the "free market", as long as there are protectionist policies, government handouts to farmers, and monopoly organisations. AWB springs to mind. However, perhaps Menzies is already turning in his grave over the damage the (rather extreme) right wing of the Liberal Party has already done to his party.

Queensland's Mal Springborg, former leader of the Qld National Party, and new leader of the LNP said that (instantly) State Opposition MP's from the Liberal & National Parties were now automatic members of the LNP. It remains to be seen if they all want that: perhaps the politically expedient desire to be re-elected will ensure they do. Not so for former Howard Government Minister Mal Brough. He lost his seat at the last election, and they found a job for him as State President of the Queensland branch of the Liberal Party. He is unhappy at the merger, and unsure of his political future. He walked out of the Liberal Party State Convention after the vote.

The Federal Coalition opposition will now consist of 3 parties. there might be a minor reshuffle if the Federal Liberal and National Parties want to exert their superior numbers. Expect further tension as some conservative Queensland MP's and Senators are asked to reflect different priorities, set by the new LNP.
John

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Libs Want Costello, But Does He Want Them?

Speculation continues in the media about whether former Howard government Treasurer, Peter Costello, will be recruited to the leadership of the Opposition. (photo: abc.net.au)

Costello, as Treasurer, was described by many as an accomplished Parliamentary performer, known for: his evil-looking smirk; his quick wit; and his theatrics.

Speculation about his future is driven by the retirement of several former senior members of the Howard government: Alexander Downer, Peter McGauran, and Mark Vaile. John Howard lost his seat of Bennelong at the election in November.

While a number of Liberal right-wing members have thrown their support behind Mr Costello. But would he want it? He will have gone from treasurer, and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in government, to lowly Opposition backbencher, to leading an Opposition likely to remain there for at least two parliamentary terms. The Opposition is fragmented, current leader Brendan Nelson is seen as ineffective, they can't decide on their current policy on carbon trading and pollution reduction, many of it s potential leaders, including Costello, will be tainted for years by John Howard's WorkChoices, funding cuts to public education, and a legacy of rising inflation from an overheated economy: an economy that Peter Costello didn't control in the last 3 years.

Having already declined the leadership after the election, leadership of the Federal Liberal Party, and Opposition Leader, might well be a poisoned chalice not to Peter Costello's liking.

John

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Murray-Darling Water Flow And Solar Energy

An Open Letter to:
The Rt Hon Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister of Australia
Senator, the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change and Water

In April 2000, Germany passed the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) to boost the planned switch to renewable energy sources. Producers of renewable energy are paid for each kWh (kilowatt-hour) of solar power, or wind energy, generated and fed into the grid. Companies embrace it because there are economic advantages for them, and the payments are not tied to a budget, but funded from a fraction of a cent rise in the costs.

It is now 2008, and Australia and the world face significant threats from climate change and the effects of global warming. Australia also faces catastrophic long-term effects of drought on rivers, farms, and communities in the Murray Darling Basin.

Australia has the greatest amount of usable solar energy of any country in the world. Kevin Rudd’s Federal Labor Government has some related problems it needs to address:
One of its very first actions was to sign the Kyoto Protocol, committing it to reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases by Australians, and by commercial enterprises operating in Australia.

It has just released a “Green Paper” on reducing carbon pollution. A Green Paper is used for discussion, and later adjustment, as Government finalizes its policy. The proposal includes huge subsidies for the biggest carbon polluters, including owners of coal-fired power stations, contrary to the recommendations of the Garnaut Report.

It has had ongoing discussions about how to put more water into the Murray-Darling Basin river systems. This area has significant long-term drought effects, little water flow, and much land is becoming marginal for farming. There are high-water-use irrigation crops, including rice and cotton being grown in dry inland Australia.

The Federal Government ought to consider the following:
  • Maintaining, or extending, incentives for individuals to add solar panels to their homes.
    Adding a “payment” for electricity fed into the grid by companies and individuals, such payment to be funded by a fraction of a cent rise in the cost of electricity, and therefore borne by all users. Companies can offset the increased costs by installing their own solar or wind generators and connecting them to the grid.
  • Implementing, even legislating, changes to Australia’s farming industries in dry, inland Australia. Farmers should be encouraged to cease growing low-yield, high-water-using crops to implement “solar farms”. Cotton and rice farms spring to mind. In the 1990’s Australia restructured the sugar industry, effectively removing inefficient producers. One of the advantages of solar farms is that they generate electricity when it is most needed – in the daytime. Such a scheme would also help to secure water, and employment (infrastructure) for towns and cities along the rivers systems. Such a scheme also means that fewer farming families would need to leave unproductive land that is increasing their levels of debt.

A reduction in water demand from inefficient farms in the Murray-Darling Basin, and development of large-scale "solar farms" could result in increased water flow, and a reduction in greenhouse gases as increasing amounts of electricity are generated. It will be a costly exercise, and will require commitment, explanation and vision from a government that genuinely wants to improve Australia, provide alternate sources of farm income for those in marginal areas, wants to reduce the carbon pollution generated by Australians, and which wants to make best use of Australia's abundant solar energy potential.

The states, the National farmers Federation, and the Liberal & National Parties, must not be allowed to be obstructionist.


John

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Church Abuse - Call For Compensation

Yesterday, during a World Youth Day ceremony to consecrate the altar at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, Pope Benedict XVI apologised to victims of sexual assault.
"Indeed I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the
victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in
their suffering "
Following the apology,Hetty Johnston, Executive Director of Bravehearts (a child sexual assault advocacy group) , called for compensation for the victims. That would be fair and just. However, the issue is more complex than just making the Catholic Church pay. Or any other church. Most victims of child sexual assault or abuse know the perpetrator. They either have some connection to the family, or are family members. They, too, ought to have rights to compensation.

Nor is the issue that Catholic priests, or members of other religious orders, are unmarried, and take vows of celebacy. Rod O’Conner, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Health Program Evaluation, in 1991 wrote that

"Child sexual abusers are predominantly male. Other than that they are unlikely to be readily identifiable. Abel et al (1987), on the basis of ... subjects studied over a nine years period, concluded that they came from a broad spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds, and were unremarkable in terms of age, education, or marital status."
Compensation to victims ought to be independent of organisations and people. Having said that, it might well be appropriate for courts to order compensation for victims from a central (State) source, and impose fines on perpetrators and organisations that breach their duty of care. At least, then, all victims can be compensated, irrespective of the perpetrator. Further the Catholic Church, and other churches, ought to establish proper protocols to facilitate police investigation of all allegations of sexual abuse, and to resolve outstanding matters. This would fit with Christ's edict to "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew, 22: 19-21 )

John

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

World Youth Day Sydney 2008

Sydney has begun hosting World Youth Day (WYD) events. There has been much contrary discussion from some Sydneysiders, and some groups. Yes, there is disruption to people's routine. So did the Olympic games, so do football grand finals, international one-day cricket games. Yes, some groups oppose the goodness of religion, apparently just because it's religion. They have closed their minds, and will run with a confrontational agenda.

Our city hosted pilgrims before they went to Sydney. I had social contact with some of them, and those attending were were both inspired, and inspiring. I hope that other people find them so - the media have shown images and sounds of people enjoying themselves, and behaving well.



While there are no longer 12, Australia has its own "apostles", on the Victorian coast, and aren't they magnificent!!


Go on! SMILE, & BE INSPIRED!


John


Saturday, July 12, 2008

UN Nobbled by Russia And China

A UN Security Council resolution, S/2008/447, that would have imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe, has been vetoed by China and Russia. The vote was 9 For - 5 Against. Belgium, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Italy, Panama, United Kingdom, United States voted for the resolution, while China, Libya, Russian Federation, South Africa, Viet Nam voted against, with Indonesia abstaining. China and Russia vetoed the resolution. A press release from the UN can be found here. It includes a copy of the draft resolution.

China issued a statement attempting to justify its veto. It said that "a sanctions resolution against Zimbabwe would not help...".

In April this year, a Chinese vessel carrying 3 million rounds of ammunition (for AK47 assault rifles, also supplied by China; and Russia), and rocket-propelled grenades was interrupted by South African dock workers, who were concerned about their intended use, just after Robert Mugabe lost the March election. {subsequent violence by the military, and others, against Mugabe's opponents would seem to justify their concerns}

The UN resolution would have, among other items, required an embargo on the supply of arms, and financial transactions. China 's significant arms trade with Zimbabwe/Mugabe would have to stop immediately, and payments due for past shipments would be effectively forfeited.

China's veto was much more about China's self-interest than any concern for processes aimed at ending the violence (& need for arms!). Russia vetoed to protect its growing trade with Zimbabwe, and to support its communist ally.

{See also the Human Rights Watch pages on Zimbabwe's abuses of its people.}

John

G8: We Met,We Talked, We Did Nothing

This week the G8 summit was hosted by Japan. The G8 includes the leaders of the world's biggest polluters: Russia; France; Germany; Italy; Japan; Russia; the United Kingdom; and the United States.

High on their agenda was climate change, and the reduction of greenhouse gases that contribute to it. That was driven, in part, by the sudden large increase in the price of crude oil. In July 2007, the price was about US$75 /barrel. In July 2008, it is just over US$140 / barrel, an increase of more than 85% in 1 year! (see chart)

In real terms it is almost the same price as during the oil crisis in 1979-80.

They listened to the opinions on climate change of other "non-G8", countries, including Australia. Their responses to climate change, from their joint Statement included:

  • "we urge oil producing countries to increase production"
  • "we ... encourage all countries to enhance (oil) refinery capacity"
  • "We ask relevant national authorities to examine the functioning of commodity
    futures markets and to take appropriate measures" - it's all the market's fault!! ?
  • "We are convinced that urgent and concerted action is needed and accept our responsibility to show leadership in tackling climate change."
    and they
  • "note that market mechanisms, including emission trading and tax incentives, have the potential to deliver economic incentives ... "
Their proposed action now: Nothing, although they have a "vision" of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gases in 2050. This inaction is driven by the recognition that it is right that something should be done, but we're not doing it as a majority. China and India would not agree to it, and the others, led by US President (& oil company owner) George W Bush, decided to do nothing. The politics is dirty, and the world will continue to be so, because of the leaders of Russia; France; Germany; Italy; Japan; Russia; the United Kingdom; and the United States.

Real leaders of the world would have stood up and said: "It is right to implement policies to reduce greenhouse gases. WE will do it." They didn't, and we must question their leadership.

John

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

NSW In Need Of New Ministers

The NSW Labor Government continues to squabble. The latest backbencher to express unease, MP for Drummoyne, Angela D'Amore, suffered a tirade from Premier Morris Iemma for more than an hour. Media report that he threatened to withdraw government projects in her electorate if she didn't do as she was told - at about the same as Mr Iemma told the press of the "industrial terror tactics" of the rail union. (it had threatened strike action during World Youth Day in Sydney, and it would have been reprehensible). mmm ... must check the meaning of 'hypocrite'.

The NSW Treasurer, Michael Costa, in a fit of pique, withdrew from a Labor Party fundraising event. He is at odds with his party executive over the Government's desire to sell taxpayer-owned electricity assets. Backbenchers continue to tell senior Ministers that they are out of touch. Hospitals are never far from the news, and hospitals routinely go "code red"; meaning only life-threatening cases are accepted by ambulance, or admitted.

In February, I wrote that the NSW Labor Government was ready to supernova - other media seem say "implode". So what Ministers should go? My list is:
  • Morris Iemma, Premier: incompetence; lack of leadership; conflict with ALP State Executive
  • Michael Costa, Treasurer: workplace bully; ready to "retire" with a nice pension; conflict with ALP State Executive
  • Reba Meagher, Minster for Health: incompetence
  • Frank Sartor, Minister for Planning: incompetence; has problems identifying conflict of interest; wants to micromanage everything. When he was Minister for Water, his nicknames within Sydney Water were "The Big Drip" (if he had an 'idea'), or "Cranky Franky (in his 'usual' mood)
  • David Campbell, Minister for Police: too much political involvement with Police matters; WYD "annoyance" legislation!
  • Joe Tripodi, Minister for Small Business: incompetence; too many dubious "connections", including from the sacked Wollongong Council
  • Graeme West, Minster for Gaming & Racing: incompetence-Clubs NSW bypass him, and go straight to the Premier and the Treasurer.
  • I'm sure arguments could be made for others.
There are not many possible replacements! Nevertheless, the best hope for the ALP is that backbenchers continue to express their views, and make them known to the media. That will be the only way to change the dictatorship that runs the NSW Government.

John

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Rudd's Short Term Inaction

The Federal Liberal/national Coalition has criticised Prime Minister Kevin Rudd over his handling of flows in the Murray-Darling Basin. The ABC reported it as "an illusion of government action". Earlier this year the Federal Labor Government completed an agreement with the states; an agreement that the previous Coalition Government, under John Howard, did nothing for 11 years, and was unable to bring to fruition at the last minute.

The Coalition now says (without John Howard) that the agreement will not increase flows to the ailing system, but fails to indicate what would be required. What is required is significant rainfall, and a fundamental restructuring of some irrigation-based farming industries. Questions about the wisdom of growing high-water-use crops such as rice and cotton in dry, inland Australia need to be addressed. So too, do questions about the amount of water that properties can farm out of the system. Cubbie Station, in SW Queensland, has previously been named as a cause of significantly reduced flows into the upper Darling River.

Again, the ABC reported Mr Rudd as saying:

"Medium term, the Basin plan and Basin cap and a more aggressive approach to the purchasing of licences" and "Longer term, acting responsibly nationally and globally on climate change. That's our three-phase strategy."

The Government would be buying back (irrigation) water licences - but not yet. But medium and long-term policies are not enough. Mr Rudd, as part of his responses to Climate Change, Environmental concerns, farming practices and regional planning needs short-term responses as well. He needs to have some actions now, for the sake of people who live and work there, and for all Australians.

John

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Garnaut's Draft - Wake Up!

Professor Ross Garnaut released the Garnaut Climate Change Review Draft Report yesterday.

While there appears to be nothing starkly different from what had been expected, it outlines the very significant and stark effects of climate change if we do nothing. For excample:

  • "major declines in agricultural production across much of the country, including a 50 per cent reduction in irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin. By 2100, irrigated agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin would decline by 92 per cent."
  • "(a fall of) 4.8 per cent of Australia’s projected GDP, around 5.4 per cent of projected household consumption, and 7.8 per cent from real wages by 2100" (Media Release)
Professor Garnaut paints a picture of significant effects on economic, cultural, and physical environments. He aslo has some salient advice, indiectly aimed at politicians and nay-sayers:


"We will delude ourselves should we choose to take small actions that create an appearance of action, but which do not solve the problem." Yet, this is so often how politicians react!

and

"it is neither rational nor helpful to reject conclusions because we do not like them. The conclusions will only be ‘wrong’ if the premises or logic leading to them are wrong. The Review aims to be clear in its premises and methodology, so that they can be contested transparently. If the subsequent public policy debate follows these lines, we will improve the prospects of Australian governments taking good decisions." (Draft Report)

Politicians should not choose political expediency as the basis of policy, and Industry groups, lobbyists and other groups and individuals should not engage in scare campaigns to suit their short-term financial or poitical interests. Liberal/National Opposition politicians were already crying "wolf", even before the release of the draft report; and NSW Labor Treasurer Costa is already demanding exemptions for coal-fired NSW power stations. He wants to sell them, and a carbon-trading scheme would mean the sale price would be less!

Already, then, some of our politicians are ignoring Professor Garnaut's wise advice, and are acting in a short-term, politically expedient, and irrational manner; for their own selfish purposes. We don't want such politicians any more, and they have no part to play in rational discussion leading to proper, appropriate public policy.

John

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

World Youth Day - What's 'Annoying'?

The NSW Government, just before Parliament rose for several months, passed a law to stop behaviour that "causes annoyance or inconvenience to participants in a World Youth Day event".
Police will have "discretionary" powers to arrest and/or fine people. While some, including Anna Katzmann, SC, President of the NSW Bar Association is reported as saying that the laws are "unnecessary and repugnant".

People in Australia do have a right to free speech and to protest, and a law that relies on non-specific, vague terms such as "annoyance" must be bad law. I suspect that many courts would struggle to define it. I could not find a general, stand-alone legal definition for it.

WYD is unpopular with some people. It will inconvenience many. But so do/did other cultural events: consider the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, for which streets are closed, and which promotes lifestyles practised by about 10% of the community (http://www.uqu.uq.edu.au/queer/faq_gl#7) In the 2006 ABS YearBook, 34% of Australians identified themselves as Catholic. Some/many Sydney and NSW Catholics will attend some or all WYD events. They should not now be denied that opportunity.

I'm not attending WYD, but participants in WYD should be free to do so without torment or disruption. Those who wish to protest should do so away from those specific areas being used by WYD, and respect it as a (world, and local) community event that will happen just once in their city. That is, they should be tolerant, and inclusive, in the same way that they demand of others.

Issues surrounding whether or not Sydney, or any other metropolitan city, should host large events that cause disruption, and bad legislation from our governments, should be addressed by the community, by contacting your local politician. APEC springs to mind. Look them up at www.nsw.gov.au and www.aph.gov.au

John

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Humanity Still Exists

This week, there were two news stories about people who we should recognise. Not just their names, but their actions, attitudes and they way they benefit our world.

Tragically, Jane McGrath, wife of Australian Cricketer Glen, died from breast cancer. She had fought the disease for 11 years, creating the McGrath Foundation to help others by funding nurses specifically to help others. You can make donations here.

Jane McGrath touched all with her decency and grace. Humaniy has been improved because of her life on earth. Vale, Jane McGrath.

Nelson Mandela is in London to celebrate his 90th birthday. He was charming to the Queen, and later give a stern message to Zimbabwean despot Robert Mugabe. He also has a foundation - to promote and "convene dialog around critical social issues".

Individually, and as a society, we know people who contribute something, and make our society a better place. People who donate time, effort, sometimes money. People like Jane McGrath and Nelson Mandela should inspire us ... so be inspired. If you aren't doing anything for your community, and you can, get on the bus: helping, and contributing to help others, being active in community organisations & local religious groups, even lookng out for people in your own street strengthen our community, and enrich our lives. What are you waiting for.

John

Thursday, June 26, 2008

NSW Voters Dumping Iemma

The news just keeps getting worse for Morris Iemma and his NSW Labor Government. The public’s list of his problems continues to grow and now includes:

  • Electricity: supply, sale, rising prices
  • Water: supply / restrictions, rising prices [Aside: future sale, as per electricity??]
  • Hospitals: buildings, equipment, staffing, management "culture", recurrent funding to staff the wards and equipment, some of which sits idle in NSW because there is no staff allocation/funding to operate it, and excessively high occupancy rates caused by understaffing and "bed closure".
  • Schools: maintenance, staffing, equipment, how to manage the installation and on-going maintenance of many new computers from the Federal Government’s rollout
  • Public Transport: trains, buses, ferries, timetables, overcrowding, delays. The electronic T-Card Project fiasco was, by any measure, a failed project of this government.
  • Roads and Motorways: the (privately owned, but contracted to RTA) motorways are either overcrowded (M5), or underused (Cross City Tunnel, Lane Cove Tunnel) despite measures that disadvantage public road users. Links to the Northern Beaches, via Spit Bridge. This week an electrical fault on the Spit Bridge took almost 3 hours to fix. Morris Iemma’s Government has not (yet) funded an upgrade the electrical system despite previous problems.
  • Development: corrupt and incompetent Councils; a Minister (Frank Sartor) who appears to be controlling decision making at the Ministerial level, rather than letting the public service do its job. The Beechwood Homes collapse highlights the need for fair trading, corporate and building insurance legislative amendments
  • Infrastructure: lack of appropriate investment in infrastructure over 10 years has necessitated a budget full of planned investment … but not too soon, and not immediately.
  • Growing disenchantment with World Youth Day 2008.

It is understandable, then, that this week’s polls show that the Liberal Opposition leader, Barry O’Farrell (a not fabulous 39%), is the first Opposition Leader in more than 10 years to be more popular with voters than the Premier. (a mere 32%). At this week's caucus meeting it was made clear to him that ALP politicians in NSW are not all happy.

The government’s official response: "We've got to sell our message a lot better."
Well, … No! The government needs to change its focus from managing the next news story / media release to proper, accountable, competent management of the state of NSW. To achieve that, Morris Iemma will probably have to be replaced as Premier. Some of his Ministers need to be replaced. The problem is: who will do the job? For the people of NSW.


John

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ethics Of Corporate Money Lending

The sudden, and spectacular, crash of Beechwood Homes has affected ordinary people. People who are trying to build a house.
Recent reports suggest that owner Larry King "borrowed" about $40 Million to personally invest in a racehorse stud, "Written Bloodstock", which has failed as a business. Mr King invested the money with Mark Peters, a former bankrupt, and banned gambler.

There were several options available to raise the money, including business and/or personal loans in the name of Mr King. What he did, it's been reported, is borrow $40 million from his other company, Beechwood Homes. At least some of this money would have had an attached liability on the balance sheet: it was money paid by customers for work that had yet to be done! It was also money needed by the company to ensure that it continued to receive other payments - that is, to continue its business operations.

A case could be made that companies ought not to lend money to owners to an extent that leaves a company, or other entity, with insufficient funds to meet its liabilities; or would do, if there are several rises in interest rates. A prudent Chief Financial Officer or accountant would have advised as much.

This case seems to highlight another instance where what is "legal" is a gulf away from what is ethical. Our legislators should ensure that it cannot happen again, not with specific case legislation, but by amending existing legislation to include general safeguards against actions that are clearly not in the interests of customers who are often asked to pay up-front amounts before work commences. While they are at it, the building insurance scheme needs to be overhauled.


John

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Libs, Nats Still Running On Empty

Brendan Nelson scored some "PR-points" from the public with his proposed 5c cut in fuel excise. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd certainly felt some heat, in and out of Parliament.

Ultimately, though, such a cut is bad policy. Brendan Nelson was told as much by members of his own party. A 5c/litre cut in the excise on petrol was estimated to cost the Federal Government's budget $1.8 Billion. Today, the National Party says it wants a 20c/litre cut. On a 50 Litre fill, that's just $10/week - close enough to 2 cups of coffee from Gloria Jean's, or similar coffee shops.

In terms of the family budget, it's not much, but its effects could be significant - not just on the budget, but on inflation.

Economically, at lower prices, petrol is reasonably inelastic. When prices rise significantly in a short time, as they have, then it becomes more elastic. To howls of protest from the public and businesses!

Australia, and Australians are being price-forced to evaluate how much they drive, the type of vehicle they drive, and maybe, just maybe, they way they drive.

Just driving more smoothly could save you up to 10% of your fuel bill, and only 5-10 minutes of travel time. On that 50 Litre fill, at $1.70/L, that is $8.50. Almost as much as the National Party's 20c/Litre cut, and with much less risk of higher inflation.

Want to cut your petrol bill? - drive better!

John

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Is Gordon Ramsay Socially Inept?

As TV chef Gordon Ramsay sat in the spotlight of a Senate Committee, he attended a 'Good Food' magazine function at which he seemed to deliberately drop a "swear jar" presented to him by food writer Lyndey Milan. Perhaps the Aussie tradition of putting money in a "swear jar" upset him. He made no effort to clean up the broken glass; just swore, and walked away, leaving "someone else" to clean up after him.

The Senate Committee will look at changing broadcasting standards. Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi said that in one of Ramsey's episodes he used (the 'f-word') 80 times in 40 minutes. Ramsay "groupies": in TV, the hospitality (food) industry, and those part of his "in" crowd make light of the swearing, fearing that any criticism will affect their ability to bask in the synthetic glow around him.

Some things to note about swearing:
  • Most people swear sometimes: sudden surprises, sudden severe pain are some causes.
  • there are swear words in practically every language
  • some elements in some cultures use swearing routinely
  • swearing loses its impact when repeated often
  • swearing seems to be a linguistic way of expressing strong emotions
  • swearing might indicate a lack of thought about what is being said.

Psychology Today says that "Swearing is basically a way to relieve anger and frustration in a nonphysical way" . That might be true, but continual, or persistent, use of swearing might also indicate a person who:

  • cannot control anger
  • shows disrespect in a crude way
    (criticism need not involve a string of invective)
  • might be unsuited to managing/directing/training/reviewing other people
  • is a bully
  • socially inept at coping with their current circumstances.

Perhaps Gordon Ramsay would be better suited to a show where he reviews the work of cooks/chefs without being physically present; and where his criticisms can be refined before being broadcast.

You can say almost anything, to almost anybody, on almost any topic: how you say it is one measure of the quality of character.

I'm no wallflower, but I find his performances trashy. Ramsay's histrionics might make ratings, but they aren't good television. If you want quality, and class, look elsewhere.

John

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Human Decency Test

This week's news has been dominated by two events. A third event attracted not nearly as much attention.

Event 1:

Alleged bad behaviour by Federal Labor MP Belinda Neal and her NSW Minister husband John della Bosca. Decency? Enough said - there has been a mountain of material published. (Photo: smh.com.au)


Event 2:

The Footy Show (Channel 9) host Paul Vautin ridiculed a bouncer who talked with difficulty when an "interviewer" thrust a microphone almost in his mouth and where the lights and camera also caused visible distress. Vautin said, " ... that bloke was blind. He could hardly talk." The securiy guard concerned has a mild disability which affects his speech, and his eye movements.

It took not one, but three days for Vautin (Photo: www.icmi.com.au) to apologise, and for Channel 9 to remove the footage from its website. It's now available on the Internet forever, having been cached on other servers. None of the others involved have apologised. Vautin says: "We thought it was quite funny, the whole thing, and we wanted to make light of it . . . I would be the last person to ever bag someone who has a mental handicap" (he has a brother with Down syndrome).

Nevertheless, part of the ethos of the show is to embarrass and belittle as many people as possible because "it's funny"! Decency?

Event 3:
A French woman, Marie-Paul de Massiet, 81, donates some of her land to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, after excavations confirmed a mass grave of up to 400 soldiers from at least Australia & Britain. They were killed during the Battle of Fromelles 19-20 July 1916. (Photo: Wad Laube, on smh.com.au)
Following a memorial service this week, Ms Massiet donated the land to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Good on her!

At last, a story of human decency this week.

What a pity this story doesn't have the same amount of discussion as the other, "sensational" stories! We are a poorer society and community for our greater infatuation with celebrities and bad behaviour, than for our recognition of human decency.


John


Saturday, June 14, 2008

Oh What A Tangled Web...

Yesterday morning, NSW Premier Morris Iemma told his embattled Minister, John Della Bosca, his job was safe. Iemma had "accepted" Della Bosca's earlier account of what happened at Iguana Joe's restaurant and Nightclub. Even yesterday morning's news that Della Bosca wrote the "apology" issued by the owner of Iguana's, didn't prompt Morris Iemma. It was Iemma's staff that panicked and forced Iemma's hand.

The politics is:
  • some politicians believe they can lie and "get away with it": to each other, the media, and the people.
  • some politicians believe everything they are told by the media advisers that taxpayers pay for
  • Morris Iemma needs to keep Della Bosca, and those he "influences", on side, so that Iemma can sell the NSW taxpayer-owned electricity assets.
  • Iemma tried, and failed, to media-manage the events involving John Della Bosca. (see previous posts concerning alleged bullying by his wife, Belinda Neal)
  • It was only as a "last resort" to help his own image as being "in control", that Morris Iemma acted on his staff's advice that he sacked John Della Bosca by telling him to step aside as Minister for Education and Minister for Industrial Relations.
  • Already there has been some media speculation about a possible challenge to Morris Iemma's leadership.
Morris Iemma's handling has been to act in the interests of Morris Iemma, and had nothing to do with Parliamentary or Ministerial standards. He has lurched from denial & support for his Minister, to attempted media manipulation ("management"), to crisis-mode action.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive!"
(Sir Walter Scott)

John

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Neal Accepts Counselling


Embattled Federal MP Belinda Neal has accepted Kevin Rudd's "advice" that she attend counselling for anger management. But even as she held a press conference at her Central Coast office, she was agruing that she had done nothing wrong; insistent, almost, the SHE was right. It is a minor demonstration of a personality that might, pehaps charitably, be called "agrumentative".
(Photo: Ms Neal's Website)

What she, and her husband NSW Minister for Education and Industrial Relations, John Della Bosca, have shown is not uncommon aomong political players. Consider the following list: Mark Latham and Wilson "iron bar" Tuckey (explosive temper tantrums at will), Bill Heffernan (who did the bullying for John Howard); John Howard (who used Heffernan and others to do his bullying); many of the politicians inhabiting the NSW bearpit ... opps, Parliament.

In 2001, a VicHealth survey found that 40% of respondents named a politician as a bully, and almost 50% believed they behaved as bullies in Question Time!

We can identify other areas where bullying occurs: some employers (esp. those using the old WorkChoices laws to lower wages); some union officials (elements in the building unions and CFMEU spring to mind); political parties (especially around preselection time).

Governments have had much political "good news" publicity about anti-bullying programmes in schools. Perhaps we, as a society, need such lessons. For many of us. Politicians, especially those who have condemned Ms Neal's behavioour, could start with their own parties, and their own Parliaments.

John

Monday, June 09, 2008

Della Bosca the Spinner

The Iguana's Waterfront restaurant and nightclub is the location of the latest incident involving John Della Bosca, NSW Minister for Industrial Relations and Education, and his wife, Federal Labor MP Belinda Neal. He has previously admitted that he expects a letter from the RTA notifying suspension of his driving licence (for repeat speeding offences)

A number of media have run a story alleging abusive threats by Ms Neal, alledgly including: that she would have the police remove the (nightclub's) liquor licence; that she would have the manager sacked. In all, six staff members signed statutory declarations, including 2 managers. It's also alleged that Mr Della Bosca's behaviour became imtimadatory. The alleged threats and intimidatory behaviours started after they were asked to move to a different table to make more space for the nightclub part.

It has been reported that Mr Della Bosca made a number of phone calls to the nightclub's owner(s), and by Saturday afternoon, there was a conflicting statement from the owners, who tried to "withdraw" the statutory declarations. (They can't withdraw them, and the media has copies) It raises questions about whether Mr Della Bosca's later statements and denials are just political backspin; just how much political involvement there was in the "new" statements by the owners and such involvement is appropriate.

On 5 December 2003, Mr Della Bosca, as Minister for Industrial Relations, launched a Charter of rights and Responsibilities (for union safety delegates) the 2nd Annual Safety Delegates Conference. It included information about "Victimisation".

One can only wonder how the alleged behaviour of Ms Neal, and possibly Mr Della Bosca, can be reconciled to the OH&S rights of the club employees and managers! From supposedly "good Labor people", too.

John

Friday, June 06, 2008

Australian Politics - a blog: Art World Needs Reality Check

Australian Politics - a blog: Art World Needs Reality Check: "'Is it right to photograph pubescent children in that way?'
'Is it right to then put images of nude children on display?' (in a gallery or using the Internet)
'Is it right to display images of children in erotic poses?'"

Henson Nudes Not Porn

Today, the NSW DPP has decided not pursue charges against artist Bill Henson over puublic display of photographs of nude pubescent children. Many people, me included, doubted that such charges, if laid, would result in conviction for pornography, or puublishing indecent material.

I previously posted that the legal issues were less important that the ethical questions.


"Is it right to photograph pubescent children in that way?"
"Is it right to then put images of nude children on display?"
(in a gallery or using the Internet)
"Is it right to display images of children in erotic poses?"

I wonder: 'Would a person who downloaded the uncensored images of Henson's nude children be charged with child pornography?' That is, would the viewing and downloading of such images for sexual gratification be criminal? Henson, and other artists, might rightly claim that they are meticulous and pure in their artistic endeavour, but should artists consider how other people will use their images, before they photograph naked children? Should they then not photograph children's genitals?

The questions asked above are particularly relevant in light of this week's arrests of 90 Australian people for downloading child pornography.

John



Tuesday, June 03, 2008

NSW Budget A Mixed Bag

NSW treasurer Michael Costa has delivered what might be his last budget. As with every budget there are winners and losers.

Winners include:
  • NSW infrastructure: the NSW Labor government has been dragged by bad political press into increasing investment in NSW infrastructure. It had allow much of it to run down since taking office 12 years, and myriad Ministers ago.
  • Health: again bad press for health, and extra funding from the Federal Government (to reduce hospital waiting lists) necessitated extra spending.
  • Education: as for Health, with extra funding from the Federal Government for technology initiatives (computer access for every secondary student). Again, years of neglect have necessitated big increases in maintenance/repair/upgrades.
  • Business: phased reductions in payroll tax to 5.75%, although they will still not reach the lower levels of Queensland (4.75%) and Victoria (4.95%)

The big losers will be:
  • government employees, who will likely get pay rises that are less than inflation. This is despite the budget papers saying that it is government policy to "maintain the real value of past significant wage increases over time". Wage rises of 2.5% pa represent a reduction in real wages after inflation of 4.2% to March 2008!
  • NSW voters, who voted for a government that promised NOT to sell electricity assets, but such sale underpins this budget and the next 3 budgets.
  • All government services, (including Health & Education) for which there was little, if any, increase in recurrent expenditure in this budget, or forward estimates.

There is not much use in infrastructure investment or one-off investments in hospital or school/TAFE equipment if there is no ongoing provision for staffing, maintenance and depreciation!

John

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Petrol Pricing Expediency

Over the last two weeks or so, much has been made of the politics of petrol prices in Australia. The Federal (Coalition) Opposition announced it would reduce the fuel excise by 5c/Litre to "help the battlers in Western Sydney". In Parliament he referred to families in Taragos (people-mover vans) with mum, dad, 4 kids and wheelchair in the back! (not exactly the typical Australian family; perhaps it was just artistic licence)

Petrol pricing is a sensitive issue in Australia - witness former PM John Howard's political angst following complaints when petrol hit AU$1/litre. He was at further pains to make the same point the current Labor government does - international petrol prices are beyond its control. The policy has been that Australian prices are tied to the Singapore price of TAPIS crude.
Australia's petrol taxes, and pump prices, are by no means the highest, or lowest, in the world.

In February 2008, the average price across Europe was AU$2.04/litre; NZ was AU$2.28; and Britain AU$2.25/litre. The Australian weighted average was $1.44. In the USA it was about AU$0.85-0.90 (Compiled from information gathered from: RBA; AARoadwatch, Ireland; Australian Institute of Petroleum; Backpack New Zealand. Image from www.coolmob.org)
Petrol is reasonably inelastic - when the price jumps quickly, as it has, people react strongly, but in the longer term will try to reduce consumption either by changing their travel habits an/or by buying more economical vehicles. Many metropolitan and regional areas also suffer from poor public transport planning by our politicians.
Nevertheless in a world where global warming is an issue we cannot ignore, a petrol price that encourages less use is a good thing, despite the pain in the wallet. People need to adjust their expectations of cheap petrol all the time - it is just not going to happen. Politicians should look for other ways to help people, including 5, 10, and 15-20 year plans to help public transport recover from their ravages of the last 15-20 years. The trouble is, that would require them to have some vision beyond the next press conference or election.
John



Friday, May 23, 2008

Art World Needs Reality Check

An exhibition of photos by artist Jim Henson had its opening delayed after NSW police raided an Art Gallery in Paddington. They reportedly seized 20 of 41 photos - nude photos of a pubescent children aged 12-13, some photos showing sexual behaviours betwen boy and girl. It seems likely that charges of publishing an indecent article will be laid under both the NSW and Commonwealth Crimes Acts.

Some in the "art world" cried foul; "It's censorship of the worst kind" they said . Defenders of the nude children's photos included the Gallery's owner, an arts journalist, and some members of the "arts community". A blog site discussing Henson's art, Junk for Code, argued that it's not pornography, but art. Defenders say Henson is one of the best artists in his field (digital media and photography).

True, much of the media reporting has used the word 'porn'. Whether or not they constitute pornography from a social or legal perspective is less important than the questions:
  • "Is it right to photograph pubescent children in that way?"
  • "Is it right to then put images of nude children on display?" (in a gallery or using the Internet)
  • "Is it right to display images of children in erotic poses?"
I think the answer is 'No', because responsible adults recognise that, as a society, we believe such actions to be innately wrong. Henson, and his defenders, might see a message about the vulnerability of pubescent children, but I believe that the photos are an abuse of that very vulnerability, and are inappropriate in a civilised society.

John

PS some of the images have been posted on the Internet, but I will not display them on this site, because I believe that would be inappropriate.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ill-Devined Article for Della Bosca

After NSW Minister for Education & Training, John Della Bosca, had his licence suspended for serial speeding offences, columnist Miranda Devine launched a "poor John" defence. (Driven to Distraction for Revenue)

She argues that public humiliation, lampooning and unflattering photos in the tabloid press is "the price you pay for driving a few kilometres over the speed limit as you go past a speed camera in NSW." Certainly Mr Della Bosca had suffered from poor press and lampooning from the Opposition, but that is not the case for everyone, as implied in her statement.

She asserts that slowing down for speed cameras, then deliberately breaking the speed limit again, is just a "silly game motorists play". Pardon - an act to habitually, consciously and deliberately break the law is a silly game? Ms Devine then goes on to refer to such people, including Mr Della Bosca, as "law-abiding". People who make conscious decisions to repeatedly break the law are NOT "law-abiding".

She then argues that when caught speeding on a probationary licence, "He had been going to a work function from his Central Coast home". As if that made speeding socially acceptable!

Mr Della Bosca was asked for comment for the article, and one can't help wondering whether Mr Della Bosca's, or the Premier's, office or media staff asked for the article. That is, was this a politically-motivated article designed to manipulate public opinion in favour of the Minister.

Many people cry foul of P-Plate (probationary) licence holders. It's not just P-Platers - there are some who do drive responsibly - it's everyone who deliberately and repeatedly ignores the laws of our roads; including those in public office. They should be fined, and they should lose their licences.

John

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Opposition Irrrelevent to Federal Budget 2008

As Treasurer Wayne Swan delivers his, and Kevin Rudd's, first budget, it seems he was right - there are "no surprises". that's because most of the important news had been leaked to the media. In doing so, the government has avoided attacks on any surprise elements.

So, as previously reported in the media there is money for: education, health, infrastructure, tax cuts, child-care rebates, means-testing of some government benefits and rebates, preventive health programmes were all flagged.

Given the Auditor-General's concerns about lack of accountability (& ethics?) in the former Coalition Government's regional programme, it is not surprising that they have been dropped, and replaced.

This afternoon, the Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson,, used Question Time to ask:
"Isn't this a Budget of confusion from a Government that doesn't know what it's doing?" The Liberal/National Party Opposition is critical of the Government's spending cuts (about $33 Billion), saying it will slow down the economy and cost jobs. Spending growth is the lowest in almost 10 years - 1.1%.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd responded by saying: "It (the Opposition) is no longer articulating any credible economic policy position in the lead-up to this Budget."

The Opposition is critical of the lack of spending, because that was always its policy - dump ever-more money into the economy. It was a policy that contributed to economic demand exceeding GDP, and contributing to the inflationary pressures, and interest rates, we are now experiencing. They might well remain without economic credibility for some years yet.

John

Friday, May 09, 2008

Burma - Junta Refuses Aid Workers

One week after the terrifying storms left a trail of destruction and death in Myanmar (Burma), and left tens of thousands missing or destitute, the military junta still refuses to let in suffiient international aid workers, and aid, to help the people.

There are a few, but a coordinated releif and support effort needs both immediate aid and experienced people. The Junta has restricted both.

The Foreign Ministry, through a state-owned newspaper said it would welcome aid (relaity doesn't match the statement), but would deliver it themselves. Yet most of the images that have been shown, it is the monks and a few foreigners that have been providing immediate aid. The military, which should have been doing it, have been nowhere to be seen! Perhaps they were tending to the Generals?!

A week later and Richard Horsey (UN Office of Co-Ordination of Humanitarian Affairs) was reported in The Age as saying: "There are large swathes of the lower Irrawaddy delta completely under water. We are talking 5000 square kilometres under water. It's a vast area" . That's about 40% of the area of greater Sydney!

It is time the military dictators let in appropriate numbers of international aid workers "- people and organisations that have the experience and expertise to manage disaster relief, and medical and rebuilding assistance. China, as a major financial supporter of the Junta, has a role to play in facilitating outside assistance.

John

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Iemma & Costa Lose Conference Vote

At the NSW State Labor Party Annual Conference, held at Darling Harbour, NSW Premier Morris Iemma and Treasurer Michael Costa were resoundingly defeated in their motion to privatise NSW electricity assets. The vote was 107 for, and 702 against. That is, 88% of delegates voted against privatisation of NSW's electricity assets, assets which generated a return (dividend and 'income tax equivalent') of more than $1.2 Billion in 2006-07.

It is a significant defeat for Treasurer Costa, who has been the driving force: Premier Iemma has just been along for the ride, but nevertheless spruiking the sale. This has been a difficult issue for Morris Iemma. If he did not adopt Costa's policy, he risked internal Government ructions, but became beholden to Costa to keep him propped up. Having spruiked it, he could not then back down: he would be criticised for being "in the pockets of the unions", and weak. So he chose to be in Costa's pocket.

Morries Iemma has a dilemma! The Labor Party Conference has set a policy of not selling. If he backs down, be seen as weak, and the Opposition (remember them?) will drive home his weakness in and out of Parliament. If he proceeds with privatization against the Party Policy, he will risk both a public and Party backlash; possible expulsion; and exacerbate internal party divisions; and Opposition ridicule. Saving face will be almost impossible.

The actions of Morris Iemma, Michael Costa, and others, have been driven by politics, and power. The real, long-term interests of the people of NSW have not been a consideration.

Late Extra:
Premier Morris Iemma told media this afternoon:
"I'm advising that we are proceeding down the path ( to privatise NSW electricity assets, against Party Policy) that the Government had started"


John
PS I am not a member of any political party, nor have I ever been.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Alcopops: More Tax to Reduce Binge Drinking

The Federal Government has announced an increase on the tax on alcoholic soft drinks (alcopops): they are now taxed as spirits. This corrects an anomaly in the taxation that endured since the introduction of the GST. The price increase amount to 33c-60c+ per bottle, bringing their cost to about $1.30

The Federal Government, using the media, has pushed the line that this will help reduce the incidence of binge drinking among youth, and associated social problems, including violence. But is it enough? I don't think so. Indeed, it really might just be a token gesture, albeit one that will contribute more to government revenue. One hopes it will be spent on preventive measures.

E LAW - MURDOCH UNIVERSITY ELECTRONIC JOURNAL OF LAW, VOLUME 1 NUMBER 4 (DECEMBER 1994), stated that:


"If (alcohol taxation) were effective (in reducing social problems associated with the over consumption of alcohol), one would expect taxation to reduce the aggregate consumption of alcohol. However, in Australia there is little empirical evidence that this is what actually occurs"

and concluded that
"Ultimately, taxation is too blunt an instrument to effect the government's desired objective of reducing alcohol related social problems."

The Centre for Health Programme Evaluation, in 1992, concluded that

"...there is a very compelling case for a new tax base and for a
very significant increase in the rate of tax."

That is, a change in the way that alcohol is taxed, perhaps to volumetric taxation, and that there should be a large increase in dollar terms of the amount of taxation. There are many different interest groups - bottled wine makers; cask wine makers; spirits; beer - some of which would see their prices rise significantly if there were volumetric taxation. The method of taxation needs to account for consumers who will choose the "cheapest" or "most popular form" of alcohol on which to binge-drink. It will not be an easy task.

John

"Want a tax cut ... drink less!"

Monday, April 21, 2008

Australia 2020 Summit Ideas

The 2020 Summit held in Canberra has finished. Each of the 10 working groups has threshed out the wording of its "big idea". Some of them, listed below, are similar to Labor Party policy. The Main Idea Areas were: Productivity; The Economy; Environment; Rural; Health; Families; Indigenous; Creative Australia; Governance and Security.

The initial report can be read here., at the 2020 site. The 202Summit site will later publish the full report.

Let me comment on one area - Governance. Yes, the move to a republic was its top recommendation, including some suggested steps. This is the one that got all the headlines - well, it IS the major idea. But there were other ideas that will help strengthen the foundations of our democracy:
  • a Bill of Rights: worth further discussion, but it should be noted that such a document has not helped the many people in Zimbabwe who opposed the despotic Robert Mugabe
  • "fix" the current state of federalism: successive governments of both former Prime Ministers Keating and Howard have done much damage to Commonwealth-State relations in the last 20 years. Recovery will likely be slow, and some politicians will resist, but it is definitely worthwhile.
  • Executive (Ministerial) Accountability to Parliament: every voter knows that Question Time has been used to avoid, and not accept, accountability and Ministerial responsibility; and to mockingly abuse Opposition politicians. It is an area that needs fixing, at both Federal and State levels!
  • Freedom Of Information Laws: (as above) Indeed, many major daily newspapers report the obfuscation used to avoid providing journalists with honest and open responses to questions.
  • the need to strengthen individual and community participation in our democracy. This one will be a challenge - generations of Australians have been turned off politics, government, and politicians because of the actions of successive politicians. This applies to political leaders all the way to party hacks who "do as they're told" in the name of "the party".
Action on reform of Question Time and FOI can be swift, effective, and at little or no net cost. Kevin Rudd just needs to allocate the Parliamentary time to implement them. A Bill of Rights and fixing Federalism will take longer, and require Federal and State leaders to , well ... talk to each other, politely!

John

Monday, April 14, 2008

Quentin Bryce Our Next GG

Prime MInister Rudd has announced Ms Quentin Bryce as Australia's next Governor-General. Curremtly Queensland's Governor, she will tak office in September.

Her appointment has met with almost universal approval. While her CV has been published, and commented on by the media, there has been much more made of the fact that she will be the first woman to be Governor General or Australia.

On the basis of her CV, she is certainl yan appropriate appointment.

Why, then, is it necessary for so many to concentrate on her gender? Does Australia have such a poor record of appointing women to very senior ranks in Government, and in business?

Perhaps governments have been more successful in having women leaders. There have been women Lord Mayors, Premiers, Deputy Premiers and Julia Gillard is currently Deputy Prime Minister. Business is dragging the chain. The Australian newspaper (22-Aug-2007) cited a EOWA survey as follows:


"The EOWA study shows that women make up 12 per cent of executive management
positions in Australia -- a smidgen up from 11.4 per cent in the 2004 survey.
The survey showed that almost 40 per cent of companies surveyed had no women
executive managers."

Comparing Australia to other countries, in 2005:

  • Australia - less than 8% of company board members were women (womenonboards.org.au)
  • Norway - 21%, Sweden - 20%, and Sweden, Estonia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Finland, UK, Latvia, Germany, Lithuania, Hungary, Denmark, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Greece and Poland (Handbook on Women in Business and Management By Diana Bilimoria, Bilimoria, Sandy Kristin Piderit, Piderit, Inc NetLibrary)
all had greater representation than Australia.

Perhaps Quentin Bryce, as Governor General, will provide a suitable role model for business, and the community. Business also seems to need new, effective, affirmative action plans. They just might help their profits.

John