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.


"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.


"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!


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 (
  • 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.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

NSW Trains & Education Stupidity

For some time now we have had the "good news" announcements about the new rail metro line to Rouse Hill. But the Ministerial bloopers have kept rolling. Certainly, they have distracted the media, and possibly some voters, from the NSW Health / Hospital inquiry.

Metro bloopers
  • The announcement that the Metro line could start from a currently disused St James Station tunnel.
    PROBLEM: the very same tunnel was, days earlier, used for a Premier Iemma photo-op as ... a water storage facility. The story was that it could be used for holding rainwater for watering the Botanic Gardens, Hyde Park, and other areas.
  • the proposal is to have 1 line, from the city, terminating at Rouse Hill, a distance of about 40-45 km. This is a single-line, long-run railway.
    PROBLEM: Metro lines work best in cities with high population densities, usually over short runs of less than 20 km, and with frequent (5-10 min) intervals between trains. The Sydney metro proposal would be better as a normal train.
  • the NSW Government will almost certainly want a private investor, because it doesn't want to spend the money to provide the service, even though that's its whole reason for existing.
    PROBLEM: the history of private toll roads in Sydney is variable - consider the Cross City tunnel, and the Lane Cove tunnel - and voters are voting with their wallets, and using different routes.
The latest proposals are:
  • Tell teachers they cannot have any more than a 2.5% wage increase; at Treasurer Costa's insistence, so that his budget look good. This is less than inflation, and will drive more teachers out of the system.
  • Change the staffing (appointment) system, so that individual schools are responsible for hiring. That way, the voters can't blame the Government for the lack of teachers (see above), or because the school is not in a desirable area.
    PROBLEMS: Those teachers currently teaching in more remote areas, or areas of disadvantage, can now forget about transferring. Under the Government's proposal, if they want to move, they have to find a school willing to employ them. Those schools will find it even harder, if not impossible, to find staff.
  • Make Principals responsible for hiring (and firing). Again, this means that voters can't blame us (the Government).
    PROBLEMS: giving Principals the responsibility of hiring presents opportunities for conflicts of interest. Now, a number of current Government Ministers might think that a conflict of interest is not a problem, but a state-wide system needs to ensure this, and an independent appointment system does this. Further, will Principals be given a "staffing budget" and therefore be put into the position of deciding how NOT to employ teachers and staff that are needed, for "budgetary considerations"?
  • The Government proposals can only do to Public Education, and our children and grand-children, what road closures have done to residents and businesses near the Lane Cove Tunnel and Cross City Tunnel. They should be resisted by teachers, by Parent associations, by Principals, and by us voters.