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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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:

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: 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
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.


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)


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.


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.


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.


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!


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
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.