Monday, March 24, 2008

Premier Iemma's Annus Horribilis

NSW Premier, Moris Iemma, today marks one year since his Labor government's NSW re-election. It has, by any measure, been an "annus horribilis".

The year has been marked by political and criminal controversies.

  • Former Minister, Milton Orkopolis has been convicted on child sex and drug charges. The questions about who else knew what, and when remain unanswered, and will haunt the government, and some individuals, for some time.
  • The "Paul Gibson" affair, where allegations of domestic violence against a former lover were ultimately dropped due to lack of evidence.
  • The allegedly revenge allegations aabout his replacement, former Fire Commissioner Phil Koperberg, also failed due to lack of evidence, but caused him sufficient health problems to resign as Minister.
  • The Lane Cove Tunnel has caused traffic chaos, as not as many people aare using the private tunnel, and more want to use the now single-lane public road.
  • Health, and Minister Reba Meagher, have had their own problems: Royal North Shore emergency dept; Bathurst Hospital Project bungling; not one, but two enquiries into hospitals; Central Coast Hospital emergency response times are no alleged to have been changed to meet Health Dept "requirements"; there are, or will be more.
  • The T-Crad (public transport) Project was finally put to rest. It was supposed to have been operating before the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

Morris Iemma had been looking for "good-news" stories: in the last two weeks, they came in the form of proposed water storage in disused tunnels under St James Station; and the north-west metro rail line. Uh-oh! Problem! Despite Deputy Premier John Watkins saying they are diferent tunnels, it seems that they are one and the same tunnel under St James Station. Just another case of left hand-right hand syndrome.

Really, it was just another stuff-up from Morris Iemma's NSW Labor Government.

Just another day in NSW politics.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Libs Won't Bury WorkChoices

Following their defeat at the election last November, senior members of the Liberal Party said that “WorkChoices is dead.” On the basis that voters “have spoken”. Joe Hockey, having tried to defend the indefensible as Minister for Workplace Relations, was among them.

On 19 Feb, The Liberal Party Deputy Leader, Julie Bishop spoke the media outside Parliament House in Canberra and said the same thing – WorkChoices is dead. (see here)

Yesterday, the new Labor Government’s legislation to dismantle the most evil part of WorkChoices – individual contracts, or AWA’s – was passed by the Senate. The Opposition did not vote for it, but they did not oppose it.

Later, the Government gave the Opposition what can only be called a flogging – a flogging amplified by almost every news report. The Government moved a motion that Parliament would never again legislate to introduce individual worker contrats – AWA’s. The Opposition went ballistic: they raised points of order, called for divisions, and some walked out. These were the same people who stood before the media and “WorkChoices is dead”. They voted against the motion, leaving the door open for a future Coalition government to say – we didn’t agree; and reintroduce AWA’s.

The government will doubtless remind voters, often and loudly, the Opposition secretly wants to resurrect WorkChoices. The Opposition can only blame itself – it said WorkChoices was dead, but wouldn’t bury it.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Turnbull's Knickers in Hypocatic Knot

Shadow Treasurer Malcolm Turnbull's knickers are in a knot. The Liberal Party has decided to unload all that was John Howard's, after Howard led the Liberal Party, and himself, to defeat at the last election.

His latest trigger is that the Government's submission to the Fair Pay Commission does not ask for a dollar amount. What he wanted was a figure that he could then use to try to dissemble an argument against the Government, both through the media, and in Parliament. Having not give him an exact figure, and therefore a means to score political points, Mr Turnbull is throwing his own personal tanty, using the media.

The Fair Pay Commission has received submissions on a rise in the minimum wage, currently $522/week. Unions want a rise of $26, business groups want only $13. A $13 rise would see the wages of people fall, in real terms: it is not enough to match the rate of inflation.

The problems for the Opposition, and Mr Turnbull as Shadow Treasurer, are threefold.
The first is that they, individually and collectively, allowed John Howard to establish the Fair Pay Commission, set its agenda, and lower the wages of people in real terms. They voted for it, and then made people wait almost 2 years after its establishment for any sort of pay rise.

The second problem for the Opposition is that, having refused to recommend a dollar amount of rise in its own submission, it then hypocritically calls for the Government to do so.

And then there's Malcolm Turnbull's media tanty!


Monday, March 10, 2008

Carers, Pensioners: Kite-Flying Rumours

Having flown the kite that nothing is guaranteed, the Federal Government has this week see much media speculation about winners and losers. Kevin Rudd's and Wayne Swan's "razor gang" have been looking at ways to slash the budget.

It is right to examine HOW the budget is spent, as well as WHERE. The bottom line, so to speak, is about cutting government spending, particularly spending in the Australian economy. That such a measure was needed is indicated by Treasurer Wayne Swan's (pictured) push to increase the retained surplus from 1.2% of GDP to 1.5% of GDP. Such a measure will have an impact on inflation by reducing the money supply in the economy.

Carers and Pensioner "bonus payments" were subject to much media speculation: not much was heard from the Opposition which, in government, introduced such payments just before the 2004 election as a vote-buying exercise. Kevin Rudd has now said that no carer or pensioner will be worse off, implying that he will build the "bonus" into regular, fortnightly payments than will properly appear in the budget and forward estimates. This is more economically responsible than end-of-year splashes. However, if these groups want to have that money spare, they will need to budget, and put aside the money each payment. The trouble with this is twofold: health costs rise faster than inflation, and Australians are bad at "saving for a rainy day"!

Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan realised they needed to find other ways to save money, so they have flown the electorally popular ideas of cutting back on politicians gold passes (25 free domestic flights per year, and the pass is earned depending on years of service and positions held.). Perhaps, just perhaps, they don't need that many, for so many years after retirement.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Interest Rates, The Economy and Tax Cuts

The Reserve Bank lifted the official cash (interest) rate by 0.25% to 7.25% from 5-March-2008. Banks will follow suit quickly, and might raise their rates by more than 0.25%.

However, the RBA noted that there is some evidence of slowing of household demand. The RBA noted that there is likely to be another rise this financial year (before end of June), before perhaps moderating next year as demand slows. The full text can be found here. The RBA must use monetary policy to slow demand, because the budgets of the previous Federal Government have contributed heavily to inflation.

There have been varied responses to the rise. The Australian Chamber of commerce and Industry says the last 4 rises have cost the economy (business) $8 billion (in extra profit). For people with a mortgage it is further bad news - their repayments will rise, or they will pay for longer times.

This puts the new Labor Government's commitment to tax cuts in dimmer light. Kevin Rudd says the Government will deliver. I'm not sure the economy can take the cuts, as promised. A fiscally (budget) responsible position would be to delay the tax cuts, or to provide them in a different form - unions want some as extra superannuation contributions from the government. John Howard and Peter Costello pumped ever more spending money into the economy, and caused this inflation. Kevin Rudd is caught between a rock and a hard place: election promise or economic responsibility. I feel a compromise where there will be further cuts to government domestic spending, and most of the promised tax cuts. (So much of politics is about image.)


NSW Anti-Corruption Measures

Many in NSW wish that someone would dismiss the NSW Government! A number of Government members have been scrutinised in the media as a reuslt of the ICAC investigation into corrupt behaviours at Wollongong Council. The recommendation to dismiss Wollongong City Council was accepted, and Council has been sacked. (See here). They include Joe Tripodi, and Member for Wollongong, Noreen Hay. While not formally investigated, the relationships between the NSW Labor Party and developers has highlighted a number Government members who have, or have had, potential conflicts of interest. These, at least, have not been declared, nor has there been any apparent attempt to avoid or mitigate them.

There are wider issue here, with individuals and "interest groups" gaining access to the Premier and Ministers by buying lunch/dinner meetings with them. The guise is as a "fundraiser" for the ALP. That is, money buys access to government! It includes developers, the hotel industry (AHA), Clubs NSW, and gambling interests. One wonders what "return on investment" they have in mind.(?)

It would be timely to remind ALL of our state politicians that possible and actual corruption must be eliminated, and confilcts of interest avoided. Fortunately ICAC runs training sessions. There is one scheduled for 5 March on Corruption Prevention for Managers, although it is too late for them to register now.

ICAC should be invited to present compulsory training for ALL NSW Parliamentarians - MLA's and MLC's - and their Parliamentary staff. The voters of NSW reasonably expectat that they will know about, and take active measures to avoid, both corruption and conflicts of interest. Anything less represents reprehensible conduct. Ignorance is no excuse.

What will Premier Morris Iemma do - my prediction is that he'll do nothing! Unfortunately that will only erode not only confidence in the NSW Government, but the foundations of our democracy.


Wollongong Council Sacked

NSW Local Government Minister Paul Lynch has sought, and been granted, the dismissal of Wollongong City Council from NSW Governor, Marie Bashir.

Wollongong Councillors, staff, former staff and developers have been the subject of an ICAC investigation.

Mr Lynch said:
"Sacking councils is absolutely the last I want to do but when you've got no
option, you've got no option."

It is right that Wollongong City Council be dismissed - ICAC might yet recommend pursuit of criminal charges against some of those involved. An administrative team will take over, and elections for Wollongong Council will not be held this year. Administration will continue for another four years.