Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

As we prepare for Christmas with family: children, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, in-laws; and/or friends and strangers, it is good to reflect on the reason for Christmas.

For Christians, it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ; a time to remember the messages of hope, redemption, peace, love and generosity of spirit.

For a secular society, it is a time of hope, for wishes of peace, love, family, and generosity.

The messages are remarkably similar.

Merry Christmas to everyone.

For a modern, digital, take on the story of the nativity, see:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkHNNPM7pJA

John

Thursday, December 23, 2010

NSW Suspends Democracy

The NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, has effectively sidestepped democracy. The NSW Governor, Marie Bashir, has prorogued (suspended) Parliament at the Premier’s request. It was not scheduled to be prorogued till late February. Writs for the election are scheduled for about the 4th March, 2011. The NSW Parliament will not now sit until April 2011, after the election. However, because the government is not in caretaker mode , the Premier is still free to make major policy announcements.

The move means that any meetings and deliberations by a Legislative Council inquiry, from today, are unlikely to be recognised. The inquiry was to examine the sale, the involvement of individuals and possibly the legality/ethics of the sale. By suspending Parliament two months early, Premier Keneally and others hope to avoid official public and Parliamentary scrutiny of their actions.

The last few months have seen the NSW Government, led by Treasurer Eric Roozendaal, move to sell NSW taxpayer electricity assets.

Following are some of the facts that are known:
  • Treasurer Eric Roozendaal, and some Treasury officials, are known to ”treasure” the state’s AAA credit rating, and have been reluctant to invest in electricity infrastructure for many years.
  • NSW Treasury expects to gain more than $5 Billion form the sale of taxpayer-owned assets.
  • The transactions are expected to take over 2 years.
  • 11 board members of Eraring and Delta Electricity resigned, believing the sales of their trading rights were not in the interests of the NSW state-owned companies.
  • NSW Treasurer Roozendaal replaced the 11 board members at night with political yes-men.
  • Tony Maher, who resigned from the Board of Eraring on 14-December has described the sale as “a mad dash for cash”.
  • The NSW Government is creating privately-owned companies that will form an oligopoly of electricity suppliers.
  • Origin energy gains Country Energy and Integral Energy (retail suppliers) and the output from Eraring (power generation)
  • TRUenergy, a Hong Kong company, gets EnergyAustralia, and the output from Delta West and some smaller generators
  • Elizabeth Knight, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald on 16-Dec, wrote that “the purchase of the long-term supply contracts with gentraders Eraring (acquired by Origin) and Delta Electricity (bought by TRUenergy) went for bargain-basement prices”
  • The Sydney Morning Herald reported, 16-Dec-2010, “A UBS analyst, David Leitch, said: "NSW households are in for higher electricity tariffs and more people at their front door, trying to get them to change electricity supplier." Note: he said more people, not more suppliers.
Speaking to the ABC about the 11 directors who resigned, Roozendaal said “They were not looking at the public policy objectives of the government. They were not looking at the benefits to the taxpayers; they were looking narrowly at what they believed was interpreting the responsibilities for their organisations." But aren’t company directors supposed to act in the interests of the company, and shareholders?
ASIC sets out the duties of directors thus:
  1. be honest and careful in your dealings at all times
  2. know what your company is doing
  3. take extra care if your company is operating a business because you may be handling other people’s money
  4. make sure that your company can pay its debts on time
  5. see that your company keeps proper financial records
  6. act in the company’s best interests, even if this may not be in your own interests, and even though you may have set up the company just for personal or taxation reasons, and
  7. use any information you get through your position properly and in the best interests of the company.
Given the above, especially point 6, there might well be serious questions asked of the directors so hastily appointed by Eric Roozendaal, whose only task, it seems, was to act in the political interests of the Treasurer, and Treasury.

The Legislative Council inquiry, so swiftly sidestepped by Premier Keneally, might well be the public inquiry we need to have.


John

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Different Welcomes

For two of the last three weeks, Australians welcomed, gushed and had periods of personal hysteria during the “Oprah Winfrey’s Ultimate Australian Holiday”. She was gracious, generous, almost gushing in her praise of Australia, and Australians. Journalists, and media outlets, covered the minutiae of her movements. I heard one journalist say words similar to ‘We believe Oprah is in her car. Oh, my God’.  It was, after all, a promotional tour organised by Tourism Australia. She appears to be a nice lady, well-known, wealthy, and we welcomed her with open arms. We spent considerable amounts of money to pay for her tour, including adding a big “O” to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.


Contrasting this, was the most terrible crash of a boat-load of asylum-seekers on Christmas Island, on Wednesday. Boat arrivals, and the treatment of asylum-seekers have been the subject of UNHCR criticism. Under former (Liberal) PM, John Howard, the UN was critical of the harsh regimes in detention centres, especially Baxter Detention Centre in central Australia, and of the ‘off-shore’ processing centre at Nauru. (Labor) PM Kevin Rudd, and now Julia Gillard, have been criticised for the length of time it takes to repatriate people whose asylum claims have been denied.

The photo at right shows a woman’s t-shirt that says “bomb the boat” at a community meeting in Northam, WA in November. I do hope she’s not gloating at the loss of 30 or more men, women and children on Wednesday 15-Dec-10 when the boat sank at Christmas Island. Similar meetings and sentiments have been held in the Adelaide Hills, SA.

Australia should not have an open-border policy. But there are people in Australia, and elsewhere, who want to take the ‘Christ’ out of Christmas. Our politicians, of all sides, have led the race to the lowest point, in the quest for a vote, as they try to buy the votes of xenophobic and racist voters. That is our shame, and theirs.

Merry Christmas. I just hope you’re not seeking asylum.

John

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Swan Parries at The Banks

Treasurer Wayne Swan has announced measures to increase competition in the banking sector. In Australia, the big banks -  Commonwealth, National Australia Bank, Westpac/St George and ANZ – hold most of the market. They also effectively own a number of second-tier banks and mortgage providers. For example the Commonwealth Bank own Bank West, Wizard Home Loans and has a 33% stake in Aussie (Home Loans)

The banks act a a classic economic oligopoly. The mortgage market is effectively controlled by only a few large corporations. They have increased interest rates on loans above the increases announced by the Reserve Bank, are largely unaffected by political “pressure” statements of the current (Labor) government, and the previous (Liberal-National Coalition) government. They have not increased rates on their savings accounts, and have reduced the rates on some term deposits in the second half of 2010.

The measures announced by Mr Swan include:

  • banks to issue a one-page fact sheet detailing repayments, total amount repaid, and URL’s of websites where rates can be compared
  • exit fees to be abolished
  • ACCC to be given power to investigate price collusion. In an oligopoly such as run by the banks, public comments about ‘we need to raise interest rates’ also acts as a signal to other banks, and softens-up the public before the almost simultaneous rise by the banks. The practice is called ‘price-signalling’, and stifles competition.
  • credit unions and building societies will be allowed to issue ‘covered bonds’.
  • former Reserve Bank Governor, Bernie Fraser, will be asked to investigate how technology can be used to make it easier for consumers to switch mortgages, and savings accounts.
  • credit card reform will limit or ban over-limit fees, unless the consumer deliberately allowed it.

The announcement was orchestrated as a full press conference, with the Treasurer, Assistant Treasurer & Minister for Financial Services & Superannuation, Bill Shorten, and the Treasurer’s Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, David Bradbury. It was, by any measure, a media “event”, designed to maximise publicity about taking on the banks, and improve the government’s approval rating. Former (Liberal) Treasurer, Peter Costello used to put on such shows, at which he also revelled in his displays of sharp wit.

It remains to be seen whether the Liberal-National Opposition will support the legislation, designed to increase competition, and give more power to consumers, or support the big banks in their opposition to competition. The history of the Liberal-National opposition since losing government in 2007, and the 2010 election, has been to support big business and oppose, or obstruct, most legislation introduced to Parliament by the government. I suspect it will try its best to obstruct and delay as much as it can.

John

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

I Love A Sunburnt Country

The following is the 2nd verse of a 6-verse poem called 'My Country'. It was written by Dorothea Mackellar

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me!

It is the best-known verse of this poem, a poem that spends 5 of its 6 verses professing the author's love for different aspects of Australia. Following are some images that I hope reflect some aspects of that amazing verse.

In December 2010, many parts of the plains of NSW are experiencing flooding, with every west-flowing river between the Namoi R. in the north to the Murrumbidgee R. in the south having flood warnings. Some people will be lucky to be allowed home in time for Christmas, let alone have a habitable house.

If you're in Australia, please consider a gift to a charity that will help people at Christmas. Try The Smith Family, St Vincent de Paul, The Salvation Army as a start.

I love a sunburnt country ... but geez, she can be hard on us.
John

Drought...
... and flooding rain


rugged mountain ranges










the wide brown land


Sunday, November 28, 2010

NSW Drinking Age

Today’s news carries the suggestion that NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, that she believes we should have a public discussion about raising the drinking age in NSW to 21. It is currently 18, has been since the early 1900’s.

So, should the state, or Australia as a nation, raise the drinking age to 21?

For Against
Medical reasons: many doctors suggest that the teenage brain does not cope well with anything more than small amounts of alcohol Effectiveness: it is unclear how effective the measure would be. It could just shift binge-drinking 18-20 year-olds into parks and residential streets
It could reduce violence near trouble spots. Violence could be shifted to parks and residential streets
Reduction in vehicle accidents & deaths Does this simply cause a corresponding shift in the ages where injuries & deaths occur to 21-24, instead of 18-21?
NSW, and Australia, has a high rate of alcohol abuse (binge-drinking) and alcohol-related violence, especially among young people 15-24. Earlier lock-out (no entry) & closing times have lead to a reduction in violence, without lowing the drinking age.

There are more arguments if you want to do an Internet search.

Other Considerations that might affect the rate of alcohol abuse & related violence, and which we should also discuss in public forums:

  • If the drinking age is raised, will in be in 1 step, or staged over 3 years, with a 1-year increase in the legal drinking age each year?
  • If we go for a “Lora Norder” (law and order) response:
    • does it include earlier lockout & closing times for pubs & clubs, as SUCCESSFULLY trialled in Newcastle?
    • does it include more police licencing operations?
    • does it include police action every Friday & Saturday night in known trouble areas, such as George St and Oxford St Sydney?
    • how many extra police will the law and order response need, and what will be the cost?
    • how much more are you prepared to pay in state taxes to fund the law and order response, or what extra state taxes will you pay?: higher GST, higher licencing costs, higher car registration, other? This is important because you will have to pay more. An increase in the rate of GST would require approval of all States & Territories.
  • Should alcohol advertising be banned?
  • should we consider reintroducing the offence of “public drunkenness”? (it was decriminalised in March 1980, but police do still have powers to detain a drunk if they present a danger to themselves, or others. Apparently they are used only in more extreme circumstances, to prevent overloading police resources.) See points 4-5 under “Lora Norder” above.
  • Should future licencing consider the density of licenced premises, the total number of patrons who could be served, the alcohol-related history of the area, and the likely effect on the number of alcohol-related incidents?
  • Should political donations from alcohol (& tobacco) interests be prevented from pedalling political influence by donating to political parties? mmm… for that matter should we have publicly-funded elections, with no organisations being allowed to donate and strict limits on personal donations? The alcohol industry, in particular pubs and clubs associations are significant donors to the political parties that will make the decisions.

More reading:

http://www.health.gov.au/internet/drinkingnightmare/publishing.nsf/Content/B2D387C687D03FC9CA2574FD007CA91C/$File/Young%20people%20research.pdf

http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/last-orders-for-drunken-aggression-20101108-17kjc.html

I do hope our politicians

  • declare a conflict of interest, since most of them will have received election funding from donations from the alcohol industry, and pubs & clubs associations, in particular.
  • don’t just come up with electorally popular, but ineffective, tough-talk. I do hope they determine what will be good policy, in the interests of NSW, and run with that, even if it costs electoral donations to their party.

 

John

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Abbott Wants Elected Judges

At a community forum in Brisbane on 10-November, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said that if courts continue to give “lenient sentences” then Australia will probably move to a system of elected judges. Judges are elected in the US, for example. He indicated that too many judges are handing down sentences that do not reflect community anger at the crime.

I don’t know about you, but I had alarm bells ringing in my head, as follows:

  • elected officials are, by necessity, political animals. That means that actions will be directed to suit a re-election strategy. As political animals, they will have political friends, and there will always be the possibility of governments exerting undue influence on the judiciary.
  • is Tony Abbott suggesting this, at a community forum, because it sounds politically popular, or does he, & the Liberal Party, want that political influence on the judiciary? The risk with an elected judiciary is that that type of corruption becomes more likely than with appointed judges. It tears at the Separation of Powers, which is fundamental to an independent judiciary. (Joh Bjelke-Peterson, former Queensland Premier, undermined that tenet for his own personal and political advantage, by influencing and using corrupt senior Police.)
  • who is Tony Abbott to advise judges on what sentences they should impose? What qualifications does he hold to do that? Should ANY politician be advising judges on sentencing matters? Who should? I certainly believe the best people to judge, are the judges. They have the legal experience, the legal knowledge, the legal resources in case histories,and know the case they are hearing.

Mr Ian Gray, Chief Magistrate of Victoria, in a presentation to the Sentencing Conference (February 2008) addressed the issue of “Sentencing in Magistrates’ and Local Courts in Australia” to the National Judicial College of Australia.

In it, he presents arguments:

  • against elected judges (by Chief Justice Gleeson)
  • for greater independence for prosecutors, especially Police prosecutors in Magistrates’ Courts, and more resources to achieve that
  • that question those who would publicly give sentencing advice to judges
  • that focussing on the result of a particular sentence, without understanding the intricacies, similarities and differences with other cases would be departure from principles of justice. (a statement by the majority of the High Court of Australia)

It is these last two points that really are the telling points against Tony Abbott’s suggestion. It would be best if politicians, and governments of all persuasions argued against a suggestion that might well have been driven by political opportunism and populism.

You can read the full text of Chief Magistrate Ian Gray’s presentation at:

http://njca.anu.edu.au/Professional%20Development/programs%20by%20year/2008/Sentencing%20Conference%202008/papers/Gray.pdf

John

Monday, November 15, 2010

Political Vacuum

As Stephen Conroy defends the National Broadband Network (NBN) from criticism by an OECD report, there are also other things to consider.
The OECD has criticised a number of policies. The Federal Opposition is beating its slogan drum, and both sides of politics have much to work on.

The policies comments on Australia by the OECD include:
  • Response to the global financial crisis: Tick. Good for Labor, unhelpful to the Liberal/National Parties' Coalition.
  • GST: Cross - the OECD believes it's too low, and we should tax (fresh) food. Not good for either Labor, or the Coalition. Flat taxes are regressive, and hurt those with lower incomes more. Neither side wants to raise taxes, even if they should to fund the services taxpayers demand.
  • NBN: Cross. The OECD believes it's anti-competitive. Unhelpful for Labor, good for the Coalition, which doesn't want it.  The Coalition wants the private Internet and phone companies to build a spaghetti network of copper and wireless. But wireless is already overcrowded, not likely to get any better, and none of the companies want to invest in new infrastructure.
  • Emission Trading Scheme: Cross. the OECD believes we should have one. Not good for either Labor, or the Coalition. The criticism stems because Labor has not implemented this policy, or even a simpler carbon tax. It was spooked by voters' acceptance on the Coalition's sloganeering.
Meanwhile Tony Abbott has been spruiking his "stop the boats" slogan in Parliament. He does this knowing that he doesn't have to. Indeed, he doesn't even have to have a policy - just a slogan. Meanwhile the UN has expressed its concern about "off-shore processing", including Labor's Timor solution, and the Coalition's "Pacific Solution" on Nauru.

The fact is that many of the OECD's criticisms, but not all, stem from the fact that our politicians, and their parties, do not, and will not, determine good public policy and run with it. They simply spend too much time palying politics, and paying 'media advisers' with taxpayers' money.

John
 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Social Evils Hide Behind Behind Sports Skirts

It’s been more than a week since Canberra Raiders Rugby League player,Joel Monaghan, fronted the media to resign from the club as a player. The NRL had also been reported as considering deregistering him as a player.
The images of alleged bestiality with a dog that had been released onto the Internet and reported in the media had finished his career. Much was written about the alleged bestiality, and that it was a drunken prank that occurred as part of ‘Mad Monday” – annual binge-drinking events tolerated by Clubs, and the NRL.
The NRL, QLD, NSW and Australian representative teams, and Brisbane and Newcastle RL clubs are sponsored by beer companies. These entities have a vested interest in not reducing the alcohol consumption of players, nor of the public who go to see the sponsors’ ads … err ..game.
An acquaintance talked about the “the devil” in the drink, and the actions of players who were present, and did nothing, and of those who took and publicised the photo, or photos. I agreed that it  was certainly unethical and morally wrong for Monaghan’s “mates” to stand around watching the alleged act, but doing nothing, and to take and release photos. In its derivation “devil” comes from ancient Greek (& later, Latin) words which mean “accuser” & “slanderer”.
Joel Monaghan, and other sports professionals who have suffered public embarrassment or humiliation, has paid a very public price for his binge-drinking and alcohol-induced stupidity. But there are devils within his team, and his group of “mates”. They are culpable because they did NOTHING to stop actions they knew to be wrong; took photos of it; and now remain anonymous. Those reactions are, truly, “devilish”. For its part, Canberra Raiders club has said it would not try to identify the player who leaked the photo. They are happy to retain the “devil” and do nothing about him.
Canberra Raiders and the anonymous “devils” they are protecting demean the player, his family, the NRL, and our society. They are allowing anonymous people involved in the incident to get away with no consequences, no responsibility.
John

Monday, November 08, 2010

Big Brother Pollies tracking You

Today's news carried a story about the websites of politicians using cookies, including so-called 3rd party cookies to track the web movements of visitors.

Most politicians have websites. The politicians named include: NSW Premier Kristina Keneally (Labor); NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell (Liberal), Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott (Liberal), and teh website of The Greens. All the websites reportedly placed 3rd party cookies. ie cookies from anther website not related to theirs. None of the websites indicated they used them. Some of the cookies were Adobe Flash cookies: these are NOT deleted when you use the "delete cookies" setting in your browser.

Flash cookies can be removed. See the following sites:
http://www.itworld.com/internet/118784/how-murder-a-flash-cookie-zombie 
http://www.macromedia.com/support/documentation/en/flashplayer/help/settings_manager.html 

More worryingly, these politicians, from all parts of the spectrum, are, I believe, unethical in their use of such tracking cookies because they do not inform visitors to their site that they use them, and do not offer an option to turn them off. They will not be alone in that: many companies, including the target-de-joeur banks, use flash animation in their sites. Personally, I've never much liked Flash: it is more likely than other software to crash any of my browsers, and their cookies seem largely aimed at generating business income, and not user  convenience.

At the macrommedia site (link above), work through each of the Settings Manager links on the LHS. (see below)


Cut the politicians, corporations, and others that want to track you. If they collect enough data about you, it could be used to identify you!

John

Monday, November 01, 2010

Federal Politicians Work Too Hard

Do they? Last weekend, Federal Liberal MP, Dr Mal Washer, said that the longer working hours for current MP's and Senators are "unsustainable". The argument is that the tight numbers in the House of Representatives mean that MP's have to be available to rush to the House if required by their Party.

Previously a number of MP's from either side of politics could mostly absent themselves from the House or Senate without any great consequence. there was also a "pairing" arrangement, which meant that if a member were absent on Parliamentary or government business, a member of the other side would either absent themselves, or abstain from voting. (Liberal) Opposition Leader tony Abbott refused this practice as a routine matter, and has only decided on a "case-by-case basis". this increases the uncertainty, and the requirement for members to at least attend Parliament House.

The second thing that has increased over the last 10 years is the amount of time politicians spend on "party-political" duties. That is, using work time, and taxpayer-funded advisers, to perform work for their political party.

Thirdly, the time spent on seeking advice about, preparing, rehearsing, and finally presenting the 3/5/10 second media grab has increased exponentially. These mostly consist of untested political assertions, short slogans (remember, I discussed 'sloganeering' during the recent election) designed to get attention, but contribute nothing to any debate on issues. While there is undoubted pressure from sections of the media for a media grab, politicians are not bound by duty to be media tarts. And rather too many of them are. 'The media' is seen as something to be managed, to be used for party political advantage, and for self-promotion. Too often whether a story will look good in local news, News Ltd papers, Sky News, or other media is more important than working towards good policy and contributing to sensible, rational debate.

I don't doubt that politicians work long hours. I just question how many of all the hours, and taxpayer dollars, are spent on the job we employ them to do, and how many are spent on party work, and self-promotional work. I do think that, if the thoughts of Dr Mal Washer are valid, politicians need to restructure their work, to focus on their work as representatives (of either voters, or states), and to have better defined times when they are available to the media.

John

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hockey Alone on Economics

Joe Hockey is alone on economic policy. Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, was stunned into silence this morning when asked if he supported Hockey's 9-point plan to control the banks. Twice he was asked if he supported Hockey's plan; twice he  gave an unrelated response. Later, he was asked if that was all just a bit of a misunderstanding withe 9-point plan. His reported response was "Umm ...", followed by a longish silence.

Later still, Abbott made phone calls to radio stations with essentially pre-prepared statements and answers.

Meanwhile, Jon Howard said that Hockey is "not in the same league" as (former Treasurer) Peter Costello. On 22 October, The Australian reported: "Senior Liberal MPs, including frontbenchers, told The Australian yesterday they did not agree with the position Mr Hockey had taken on the banks and said it demonstrated lack of judgment. "This is certainly not Coalition policy," one frontbencher said."

Among the ideas were:
  • legislation to regulate the interest rates banks can charge.
  • An investigation by the Prudential Regulation Authority to investigate the risks banks take.
  • More pressure from the ACC on alleged price-collusion the big 4 banks
  • other points in the plan are more difficult to find,  but legislative regulation of the banks is definitely contrary to the Liberal Parties free-market policies.
For all the bagging Hockey has received, a new Banking Inquiry might not be such a bad idea. They make noises about rising costs of funds (ie overseas interest rates,because about 2/3 - 70% of their loan funds are sourced overseas. However, they quite deliberately left out the bit about the high $Aus benefiting them enormously while they (re)negotiate their 3 and 5 year loans!

Deregulating the banking sector created an oligopoly: the big 4 banks control the vast majority of home loans, and they flex their individual & combined market power. Their repetitive statements about the need to increase interest rates is classic consumer softening by repetition and frequency. It should be resisted, especially in light of the significant increases in their profits, and profit margins! An inquiry is one way, but not the only way, for more people to be aware of this information, and counter the banks advertising-by-repetitive-statement tactic.

For all that, I believe Joe Hockey is rather alone in the Liberal Party on economic policy, and the "amended", watered-down plan taken to Shadow Cabinet and ultimately approved by them was really them saving Hockey's backside. They won't do it too many more times.

John

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hockey's Bank Bashing Blooper

This week saw Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey indulge in a little bank-bashing as he tried to score a few political points and be seen as 'hero' to those with a mortgage. It seems to have backfired, on a number of levels.

First, he proposed legislative controls on bank interest rates. That is, he has proposed either aan extreme socialist policy, or an extreme right policy. It is certainly a policy that seems contrary to Liberal Party policy and beliefs, which say that "we simply believe in individual freedom and free enterprise". Legislating interest rates is contrary to both of those beliefs. Malcolm Turnbull, perhaps the Liberal Party's only moderate with any public profile, did his best to distance himself from the comment. Tony Abbott said nothing. (Aside: John Howard and Peter Costello would have publicly decried the suggestion and privately carpeted the perpetrator, while making public statements about banks not needing to raise rates.). Liberal backbencher Don Randall said it was a "typical lunatic fringe idea", not realising it had come from a member of his own party with leadership ambitions.

Second, he proposed an inquiry into the financial services, particularly of banks. The concept is worth considering, but Hockey showed he was just a talking head by indicating he had no plan for any terms of reference.

It seems that, in his quest for a headline and populist policy, Joe Hockey has somewhat alienated members of his own party, and earned the criticism of business and economists, especially in the media, and the Government. While Tony Abbott does not want the instability, real or perceived in polls, associated with a reshuffle, Joe Hockey's days as Shadow Treasurer could well be numbered. Post-Christmas / New Year would be, perhaps, the least damaging time for an Opposition reshuffle.

Populist announcments are never good policy.

John

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Saint For All

I have been on holidays for several weeks, so I apologise now for not posting.

Last night Mary MacKillop was sanctified by Pope Benedict. Some have already pooh-poohed the idea, questioning why people would believe in miracles. But faith is a difficult thing to explain. Self-belief is important to our psyche; it is the basis of our self-confidence. Self-confidence increases the chances of success in the things we do. But self-belief and self-confidence are not measurable, in the same way that a length of timber can be measured. Nevertheless, the personal and social effects on a person lacking in self-belief and self-confidence can be clearly observed.

As an abstract concept faith is also difficult to measure. It stems from the confidence in the truth, or trustworthiness, of a another person; a thing; or a concept, such as "God", or the tenets of a religion. Yet the works of people who truly live according to a philosophy of goodness, whether secular or religious are tangible evidence of their faith.

Mary MacKillop was a strong Catholic woman. She set about improving the lives of individuals who were poor, disadvantaged and outcast. Along the way, she upset some people, predominantly me of power in a patriarchal church in a patriarchal society. Yet her faith sustained her, and with the help of others, and her own strength of character and faith, she prevailed.

Her life, her work, and the work of her nuns did make significant material difference to the lives of others. In that respect alone, she is worthy of recognition. Her elevation to sainthood in the Catholic Church is one way that it recognises her work, her life, her faith as a beacon of Catholicism. The work and life of St Mary MacKillop should also help us to focus on how we can help others; and how our society, our politicians treat others.

As an aside, I believe (there's that word again) that everyone in society should do work for society, other than their paid employment and family commitments. As for me, I have been a member of a service organisation, I donate blood or plasma regularly (it's an unpaid donation in Australia), and I help with tasks at my local church.

Johnb

Monday, September 27, 2010

Abbott In Full Tantrum mode

Parliament resumes on Tuesday. The pollies are ready. Nearly. Prime Minister Julia Gillard is still trying to sort out the positino of Deputy Speaker. Tony Abbott put the kibosh on any aspirations Alex Somlyay might have had in his last term for the position, and the Parliamentary allowance it carries. The deal would have required Somlyay, or any other Coalition Deputy Speaker, to 'pair' with the Speaker. ie to not not vote on no-confidence, and possibly some other, motions. Tony Abbott's office staff released a statement on Mr Somlyay's behalf. It was quickly and publicly denounced by Mr Somlyay as not his, but he was lent on, and later withdrew from negotiations for the position. Labor has since had negotiations with another Queenslander, Peter Slipper, who missed both the Liberal Party meeting, and the Coalition's Joint Party Meeting, but this, too, seems like it will fail.

Meanwhile Tony Abbot, and his minions, have been flogging the message of "all bets are off", there will be no 'kinder, gentler politik' as promised by Abbott while he tried to woo the Independents so he could form government. It's like a warning of one enormous tantrum-to-come when Parliament resumes. Prime Minister Gillard, and her minions, repeat the message of Abbott-as-wrecker. If there is an early election, watch for it to be repeated ad nauseam.

Mr Abbott does not want Parliament, or Ms Gillard's Government, to work - his interest is the interests of the Liberal Party, and his desire for power. Ms Gillard's interest is to retain power long enough to have some "beneficial" (read 'popular-with-voters') legislation & policies, to increase her chances of an outright victory at the next election.


John

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Abbott Cops a Kloppering

Marius Kloppers has publicly stated his preference for a carbon tax. Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, must have fainted. Kloppers was instrumental in the advertising campaign against the mining super profits tax, is head of the world's largest resources and mining company (BHP Billiton).

Kloppers is an experienced business man and engineer. He most certainly wants the realistic 'best' for his company. European countries are already moving to limit carbon emissions and have improved their energy efficiency since the 1980's, following oil crises in 1973 & 1979 which saw the supply of oil limited, and its price rise significantly. While there is plenty of coal for BHP to mine, sell, & use, Kloppers perhaps recognises moves within the world's economies to limit carbon emissions.

A carbon tax is simple, fixed and easily incorporated in business plans. An emissions trading scheme (ETS)was favoured by John Howard (who resisted actually doing anything) and the previous and current Labor Governments under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. But under ETS, carbon permits would be traded, like shares, on current and 'futures' markets. Their price, like shares could fluctuate wildly, making business planning more difficult. There have also been suggestions that, with such a low level of proposed reductions, an ETS would achieve little except make 'winners' and 'losers' in business.

Kloppers might well be making a pre-emptive strike to achieve a level of certainty his business needs. Nevertheless, a carbon tax might well be a worthwhile inclusion in Australia's plan to reduce carbon emissions from its people, and its businesses.

Also, remember that some of the media, notably News Ltd publications The Australian and The Daily Telegraph will argue against carbon reduction on the basis of their support for the opposition Liberal  Party.

My view is that we should probably have a combination: the carbon tax introduces a level of certainty, and a limited ETS reduces the effect of the open-market price volatility.

The last thing Tony Abbott wanted was for a significant business leader to publicly state his preference for a carbon  reduction scheme, let alone a carbon tax! Phone calls will made, and emails sent from the Liberal Party. So too, press releases and media grabs from a congo line of Coalition members will be cheap as chips from the Opposition.

You can read more at:

John

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Gillard Announces Ministry

Prime Minister-elect Julia Gillard has announced her Ministry to start Labor's second term of government. It is, as you know, a minority government, dependent on The Greens and 3 Independent MP's.

You can read the full Ministry at http://www.smh.com.au/national/the-gillard-ministry-20100911-155qc.html . After swearing-in on Monday, they will be listed (via a link) at http://www.aph.gov.au/whoswho/index.htm

There are some things worth noting:
  • Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minster, has been given Foreign affairs. That was widely tipped, following a deal made between him and Julia Gillard during the election campaign. It also recognises his standing within the Parliamentary Labor Party.
  • Former Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, has been given Defence. He insists it's not a demotion, and this is still a senior Ministry. It also paves the way for the government to drop construction of 12 new submarines at Adelaide. Defence military officials are not convinced that lessons have been learnt from the rather disastrous contracts for Collins-class submarines. Only one of the six is currently in service. The new submarines were a project which had the support of Kevin Rudd, when he was Prime Minister.
  • Peter Garrett has moved to Education, away from environmental repsonsibiities. He had problems with the home insulation scheme, in particular.
  • Former Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong, has been given the Finance portfolio. Again, the former government had been unable to negotiate an Emissions Trading Scheme, which The Greens thought was too watered-down, and which was not the carbon-tax recommended by Prof. Ross Garnaut in he report for the government.
  • Mark Arbib and Bill Shorten are both in the outer Ministry. They were major players in the moves that dumped Kevin Rudd and appointed Julia Gillard as Prime Minister. Mark Arbib was formerly ion the outer Ministry, but this is a promotion for Bill Shorten.
  • Independent Rob Oakeshott turned down the offer of a Ministerial position - Regional Australia & Regional Development. I think that was smart; among other reasons, it does put the onus, and responsibility squarely with Julia Gillard and the Labor Party, and it allows him to retain his independence.
Nevertheless, there seems to be reasonable correlation between Ministers' strengths, abilities and their portfolios. The proof, of course, will be in their performances.

Tony Abbott has yet to announce his Shadow Cabinet.

John

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Govt Decided, Politics Continues

Two days after the 3 Independent MP's made their decisions, the politicians, political parties and their supporters are back to basics. Independent Bob Katter, from north Queensland made his decision to support the Liberal-National Coalition shortly before lunch on Tuesday. Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott from NSW announced their decision to support a Labor government later in the afternoon.

Today, we had "news" stories of both Prime-Minister-in-waiting, Julia Gillard, and Liberal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, addressing their respective party 'meetings'. These were stage-managed media 'events' for PR-via-the-news; they were for public consumption to 'appeal' to voters.

But all is not as it seems: Liberal Andrew Robb wanted to challenge 3-different-leader-Deputy Liberal leader, Julie Bishop, but was convinced not to challenge for the sake of public perception. Likewise, it is probable that former (deposed) Prime Minister,Kevin Rudd, will get his choice of Ministerial position - probably Foreign affairs & Trade - as part of pre-election deal with Julia Gillard. While Labor has significant internal party issues to deal with, there will be strenuous efforts to keep them behind closed doors. That will probably suit Bill Shorten, Mark Arbib, and those from the NSW Labor Party backroom who controlled the Federal election campaign. But Labor must deal with the issues created by Shorten, Arbib and their Federal Party factions, and those from NSW's right faction who controlled the election campaign.

Meanwhile Liberal and National Party members appear to have been behind campaigns of insult and innuendo run against Tony Windsor and rob Oakeshott. The Liberal and National Parties will undoubtedly continue to undermine and character-assassinate the Independent MP's, while Tony Abbott (Liberal) and Warren Truss (National Party) will try to exude a facade of niceness.

John

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Treasury Comparison

The Independent MP's have had briefings from Treasury officials about the costings of the election policies of both the ALP and Liberal-National Party Coalition. These costings, and some policies important to them, will form the basis of which side of politics forms a minority government in Australia: a largely centrist-conservative Labor government; or a more right-wing conservative Liberal-National Coalition government.

A summary of the costings can be viewed at
Coalition-costings
Labor Party Costings
So, which is the better economic manager? I doubt you could form an opinion based on these documents. the only possible conclusions are that: there is little difference between the final figures from Treasury; that the Liberals did not use standard Treasury methods for their costings (based on the number of adjustments Treasury made). In terms of economic management, the sharemarket is indifferent, perhaps indicating that investors largely recognise that there is little or no significant economic difference between Labor and the Coalition. The market is more concerned about its ties to what happens in the US economy/sharemarket, and, to a lesser extent, in Europe.

My conclusion from the Treasury costings and the parties' public policy documents is hat the Liberals & Nationals lean more towards personal wealth, rather than community (public) wealth. That is, they want to distribute more public money (tax) to private entities, both individuals, and private companies, than does Labor.

I think it is important to retain, and enhance, our community/public wealth through investment in public education at all levels, public health and social programs that benefit individuals, communities and society. Becaue of those beliefs, I was once called a "latte-sipping, chardonay-drinking, left-wing (John) Howard-hater" by a Liberal Party supporter. I took it as a compliment.

John

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Wilkie Signs With Labor

Independent Andrew Wilkie, from Tasmania, has today signed an agreement to support a Labor minority government, IF Julia Gillard is able to form one. That might be more likely, but by no means certain, as Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor consider their positions over the weekend.

The terms agreed to include $340 Million for Hobart Hospital, and $1.8 Billion for hospitals across the nation; and a commitment to force states to use smart cards on poker machines, if they don't agree voluntarily. This will take some negotiation, and the states, addicted to gambling revenue, will resist staunchly.

Wilkie reportedly rejected an offer of almost $1 Billion for Hobart Hospital from Tony Abbott - perhaps he was prepared to forget about the rest, or cut another $Billion from their funding.

Simply throwing money at one electorate would have readily been seen by the electorate as "pork barrelling" - corruption by any other name. Julia Gillard seems to have at least provided it as part of a greater level of funding for other hospitals.

Given his treatment by the former Liberal PM, John Howard, after Wilkie's whistle-blowing about questionable intelligence being used to justify the invasion of Iraq, it was always hard to see him agreeing to terms with members of that same former, Liberal-National Coalition government.

John

Abbott-Hockey Swallowed By Own Black Hole

It really didn't a take long for some details, at least the "bottom line", on Tony Abbott's costings to appear. Secretary of treasury, Ken Henry, was involved in briefing the 3 Independents about Treasury costings of Coalition election promises. Treasury estimates a shortfall - "black hole" - ob between 4& Billion and $11 Billion.


In typical politician style, Tony Abbott tried to brush aside concerns, saying that they were merely "differences of opinion". One  of the differences is that Treasury refused to allow the Coalition to adjust the conservative bias allowance, a $2.5 billion blow to its costings. This allowance, used by Treasury in all its costings, ensures that the extremes of "estimates" by politicians are moderated. It seems to imply that the Coalition used the most optimistic figures it could, perhaps a more economically reckless approach.

Joe Hockey put in his 2-bit's worth, saying "It is not a black hole because fundamentally we are taking this out of surplus." But it's a surplus they don't have, and which they seem to have estimated at the most optimistic figure they could think of.

 This whole concept of not using Treasury ( a principle created by John Howard & Peter Costello, because it gave them an advantage in government; it's just come back to bite the Coalition parties!); of planning it back before June ( at least 2 months before the election was called); of using a company with links to the Liberal Party; and using the most optimistic figures have all contributed to The Liberal Party's problems, real or perceived, as NOT being better economic managers than Labor.

mmm .. what's that old saying??? Oh, yes! "When first you practise to deceive ... "

John

Monday, August 30, 2010

Libs' Bovver Boys Go Calling

Since the end of last week, the NSW Liberal Party's federal "bovver boys" - political bullies - have swung into action. At the end of last week it was Alby Schultz, Member for Hume. He reportedly ran Independents Tony Windsor & Rob Oakeshott.

One of his local newspapers, the Goulburn Post (25-Aug-2010) reported that he is ‘close friends with key independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott’, and that he would not be ‘weighing into negotiations unless he’s asked.’ He was quoted, saying “I thought it was absolute stupidity for the leader of the National Party to make comments seeking to influence or denigrate people about where they put their allegiances when we have a likely situation of a hung parliament and we are wanting to get into dialogue with them ... It shows a lack of political nous.

Yet last week, he rang Independents (Tony Windsor & Rob Oakeshott), accusing them of being “arrogant, naive and holding the country to ransom”; telling them they had to support the Coalition; and was reportedly so threatening to Tony Windsor that Mr Abbott had to later apologise to the Tamworth-based Independent MP.

It would seem that Mr Schultz possibly:
  • has been asked to become involved (unlikely, since Tony Abbott moved quickly to distance himself); or
  • simply tried his hand at political bullying, perhaps at the behest of his 'friend' Senator Bill Heffernan (If so, it was a failure);
  • misleads members of his electorate; and 
  • by his own words has "a lack of political nous"!
Today, Senator Bill Heffernan has been identified as the Liberal Party caller to Rob Oakeshott's home phone. It was answered by his wife, and Heffernan is reported to have said words like 'It's the devil calling'. He tried to explain it away by saying he thought it was one of Mr Oakeshott's children. If that's the case, it is disgraceful, and Tony Abbott should move to have him censured by Parliament, and by the Liberal Party. The current defense is that he does it to everyone he knows - I'm not sure he knows Rob Oakeshott's children that well!

Again, the motive was political bullying, and it appears to be not uncommon among Liberal Party members. Senator Heffernan was former PM, John Howard's, henchman in Parliament.

Both of these men are bullies. Both have behaved in a way that is inappropriate in any workplace. Politics should be no exception. Politiking is one thing, bullying must never be acceptable.

Parliamentary bullying ought to one item on the agenda for reform of Parliamentary processes.

John

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Who Will The Independents Choose?

One correspondent has asked me the following question, via the contact form.
"... who do you think the Independents will side with? Being fairly (can never say one is 100%) unbiased, you are perhaps in a better position than most to see which of the parties and their leaders is making the better pitch and has the better points."
It's a difficult question. Julia Gillard appears to be presenting as a calmer, more rational, more open, amenable & cooperative negotiator. Tony Abbott began with a rather belligerent, tough, stance, but has had to quickly backflip on Treasury costings, and then provide plenty of spin for the news. Too many voters are sucked-in by 'spin'.

Tony Windsor, Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott, and (likely) now Andrew Wilkie will not be taken in by the political & media posturing by either leader. Those performances are for public consumption & poll manipulation. The Independents want to look at treasury costings of both parties' policies, with treasury briefings. The first 3 mentioned have presented their 7-point wish-list, and been negotiating wit the leaders. They will be acutely aware that all members of the National Party, including leader Warren Truss, have been kept out of negotiations because of ongoing resentment by the Nationals about their leaving the National Party to become Independent MP's.

They are conservative MP's, some of whom view Julia Gillard's Labor Pary as left-wing. (it's members really mostly range from centre-left through centre to centre-right conservative)

Tony Abbott is a smart politician, but a political bully - he will reach a point in negotiations when he will not be able to help himself. I think that the only way the Independents will support Tony Abbott as PM is if he undertakes more, significant backflips on climate change, the National Broadband (optic fibre) Network, possibly the tax on super mining profits, reform of Question Time, and parliamentary accountability of Ministers. I suspect they will have some doubts about the economic nous of Tony Abbott et al. after treasury briefings.
 
My prediction: as much as they dislike Labor, I think they will support Julia Gillard as PM, because she will be less belligerent, and more agreeable, during negotiations. Labor's economic policies are largely conservative, but there will almost certainly requests to amend them. If Tony Abbott suspects he will lose, he will more strenuously strive for a fresh election &/or try to destabilize Parliament.
 
John

Friday, August 27, 2010

Abbott's Great Big Treasury Backflip

After several days of steadfast resistance to submitting Liberal & National Party policy costings, Tony Abbott has agreed to Treasury costing of Coalition election policies & promises. The underlying assumptions will not be provided to the ALP, but the Independents will have access to treasury briefings on both Labor and Coalition policy costings & analysis by Treasury.

This did require consent from both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott to amend the conventions covering caretaker governments & oppositions.

As late as last night, Coalition Shadow Finance spokesman, Andrew Robb, said "We don't want to have a fight with these guys (the Independents), but we're not going to be dictated to and not tug our forelock.." Today, he'll wish he hadn't said it like that, with its implied sexual innuendo - some people will call him  "tugger" today.


The backflip occurred quickly to stifle any public comment, and voter belief, that he, and the Coalition, have something to hide. Last night Independents Bob Katter & Tony Windsor publicly questioned whether Mr Abbott had something to hide by not submitting policies to Treasury for costing.

Meanwhile, Mr Abbott moved quickly to distance himself from loopy Family First Senator Steve Fielding's threat that he might vote against (all) Labor legislation & possibly block (money) supply. Julia Gillard, despite having fundamental differences of philosophy with Senator Feilding, quickly tried to smmoth the waters, saying she had been, and would continue to, try to work with Senator Fielding, citing the Fair Work Australia legislation that undid much of the insidious parts of WorkChoices. There might be other Coalition backflips still to come - climate change springs to mind.

The quest for power occurs almost without principles, regardless of who it is.

John

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Abbott Reverts To Type

Two days after publicly calling for a "kinder, gentler polity" approach to politics, Tony Abbott has shown his true colours. He has gone hard against some of the requests of the Independents, whose support he wants to become Prime Minister. It's the hard-ball political bully many people believe him to be.

In particular, he is refusing to submit any Coalition policies to treasury for funding. Instead, he has offered access to the report from the accounting firm WHK Horwath. The firm has significant links to the Liberal Party through the family of former Liberal WA Premier Sir Charles Court, & his family. The firm has a significant conflict of interest, not declared by Abbott. At the same time, he has also claimed that treasury costings of Opposition policies will damage our Westminster system of democracy. Well, I hope you recognise that as poppycock; a distractor from the real issue of Treasury costings which he clearly does not want.

If the Independents are to adequately compare the costings of both Labor & the Coalition, the costings should be done by Treasury. It means that the same methodology & measurements will be used, giving a comparison that is more reliable.

Abbott is a formidable politician,  and he's trying to publicly stare down the Independents. But they, too, are hardened politicians, especially Bob Katter and Tony Windsor, and they will not resile form a political dog-fight, if that is what Abbott wants. If they hold out and say 'no deal', Abbott will have to find a way to save face.

Abbott is risking much with this anti-Treasury stance: antagonising the Independents, and antagonising the very Treasury that he needs, IF he becomes Prime Minister.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Independents Present 7-Point Plan

The key independents have today given both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott their 7-point plan. While it has not been released publicly, Julia Gillard has indicated her commitment to a full term of Government should they support her as PM. I suspect that at least the following are on the agenda: Broadband Internet, climate change,  regional health programs & infrastructure, and the tax on very large mining profits. Ms Gillard reportedly took to the meeting a portfolio of things her government (well, the last Labor Government, led by Kevin Rudd) had done for each of their electorates. It will have required at least 1 backflip - on climate change, where she had said she would not act during the coming term of government. There is a level of expediency involved, but perhaps not as much as with Tony Abbott & the Liberal-National coalition.

In largely agreeing to their requests/demands, and announcing so publicly, Ms Gillard has really given Tony Abbott a "Hobson's choice". If he agrees to the requests as Ms Gillard has, Mr Abbott will perform at least 2 significant backflips: broadband policy, where he will largely have to agree to the National Broadband Network of optic fibre, and action on climate change, which he denies for political, but not scientific, reasons.

I expect the meeting with Mr Abbott to have been rather tense, even without National Party Leader Warren Truss being involved. He's been sidelined because of the none-too-secret loathing from the National Party towards its 3 former members. Mr Abbott's choice is to largely accept the Independents' requests, while trying to dilute them, or risk not becoming PM. His earlier statement about an Independent speaker wasnoting other than a statement of political reality - if he becomes PM in a minority government, he does not want to appoint one of his members, Liberal or Natinal, as Speaker of the House, and essentially lose that vote. That stattement was driven by politics; altruism never entered his head.

Does Mr Abbott stick to his political principles and say 'No' to some things, or abandon them for the sake of possible political power. Political expediency is a strong driving force - quite possibly stronger than Mr Abbot's, or the Coalition parties', ethics.

John

Monday, August 23, 2010

Truepolitiking The Independents

As the reality of not winning has seared itself on the brains of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, the politics begins. First up were the overtures to the Independents. We'll come back to that.

Next came the claims of legitimacy. Tony Abbott claimed, rightly, that the ALP government had lost its legitimacy to govern, but he forgot to say the people did NOT give it to him. Julia Gillard was quick to point out that, and that, as PM, she had heard "the message" from voters.

Then came "the numbers" claims. Tony Abbott claimed that he should form government in a hung Parliament because the Coalition had the highest Primary vote. Except Australia doesn't elect members, or Prime Ministers, on a simplistic primary vote. Julia Gillard claimed she should form the government, because the 2-party preferred numbers favoured her. The difference is so small as to be negligible, and, again, that's not how we elect our Prime Minister. The statements on legitimacy & voting numbers are simply to influence public opinion, and to reinforce the leaders' own sense of messianic leadership. They are for public consumption, and will be ignored by the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce.

So, the real action is behind the scenes. Wooing the Independents will not be easy, for either leader. Rob Bandt (Greens, Melbourne) has indicated he will support Labor to form government. The remaining 3 certain Independent MP's are Bob Katter (Qld), Tony Windsor (NSW), & Rob Oakeshott (NSW). All were members of the National Party, but all left it for philosophical reasons. There is no love within the Coalition for these men, only what they have to do to form government.

The problems for Tony Abbott include: all 3 want the NBN (National Broadband Network, of optic fibre); all recognise that privatising the NBN will not be in the interests of their regional constituents; Rob Oakeshott and, possibly, Tony Windsor are likely to favour action on Climate Change; Bob Katter wants import tariffs on farm produce, and to ban imports of bananas & some other fruit. Coalition Senator Barnaby Joyce and Tony Windsor make no secret of their mutual loathing. I'm sure that none will want any education and health cuts in their electorates, as promised by Tony Abbott. The NBN, Climate Change and not cutting education & health would be serious back-flips for Tony Abbott, and he is unlikely to agree to them.

Action on Climate Change will be a sticky point for Julia Gillard: she promised no action on Climate Change for the duration of this government! Perhaps Julia Gillard will have a better chance of negotiating, with only the one backflip: action on Climate Change.

Of the threee Independents, I believe that Bob Katter is most likely to remain 'Independent' - that is, will not support either the Labor or Coalition to form government.

Stay tuned. This drama will beat anything on TV

John

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mad Maxine Dumps On Party

Maxine McKew has gone from her to nobody to villain. In 2007 she defeated the then imcumbent Prime Minister, John Howard, taking his seat of Bennelong. The former journalist was a strong supporter of Kevin Rudd, and, in turn, had his support while he was Prime Minister.

Many believe she won the seat on the back of strong protest vote against John Howard, who was responsible for introducing the controversial, and socially divisive, WorkChoices legislation.

The Liberal Party dropped a high-profile, but unproven, candidate in former tennis player, John Alexander, who won the seat from Ms McKew. Ms McKew proceded to dump on her party, and her colleagues, blaming them for her loss. The image below sprang to mind, of mad Maxine & the 'Scream'.

With aploogies to Edvard Munch (and Homer Simpson)

John

Predicted Hung Parliament

At 1:30 this Sunday morning, with about 78% of votes counted nationally, the predicted state of our national Parliament is:


Labor 70; Coalition 72; Greens 1; Others 4.
76 seats would give any party/coalition a majority, and government.

Of the 5.5% swing against the ALP, only 1.8% went to the Coalition. The Greens picked up 3.7% of the swing against the ALP, which has given it its first seat in the House of Representatives at a general election, and almost certainly a balance of power in the Senate. The strong swing to The Greens probably indicates dissatisfaction with the ALP's social policies: the hard line of refugees (to try to be the same as the Coalition), lack of action and commitment to act on Climate Change. The Greens showed some social vision in their policies, and I suspect this appealed to voters more than the blancmange, & porkbarelling dished up by the major parties.

At this stage is is more likely that the Coalition, led by Tony Abbott, might have a better chance of forming a government. However, he will be frustrated by lack of control in the Senate, and will likely be forced into more socially equitable compromises than he would like. Industrial relations amendment, to bring back elements of WorkChoices such as easier dismissal, individual contracts, shorter annual leave and lower or no national wage increases, will be shelved until the Coalition has both government & control of the Senate. Make no mistake, IR is on the 'wish-list' of legislation when the Coalition has full control of Parliament.

Stay tuned - there is much more to come in this saga, including the possibility of a second general election if neither side can form a viable government.

John

Friday, August 20, 2010

Election-Eve

As Australian prepare to vote tomorrow, the polls are showing a nail-biting finish to the election.

Julia Gillard has certainly run hard today with the spectre of WorkChoices return under Tony Abbott. I believe it is a real risk. In the second term, Abbott will want to use, for example, the local hospital boards as a means of implementing WorkChoices-style AWA's - individual contracts offered with no negotiation. The method will be to offer local hospital boards more money, provided they implement AWA's.

My personal opinion is that there are more reasons to NOT vote for Tony Abbott's Coalition, than there are rreasons to NOT vote for Julia Gillard's Labor Party. The election campaign has been that negative.

As for tomorrow's result, I will hesitantly offer the following possibilities:

  • Labor retains government, with preferences from The Greens, with a 2-seat majority.
OR
  • The Coalition wins, with a 3 to 5 seat majority.

It all depends on the votes in individual seats.

Ignore Mark Latham's advice to leave the ballott papers blank: he's an idiot. Anyone who saw him on news reports would have thought that. VOTE PROPERLY. By voting properly, you strengthen our democracy, you can send messages to politicians with the preferences you give, you can determine which party controls the Senate. It WILL count, and will determine who governs this great country.

Vote well.

John

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tony's Bonds

Tony Abbott has announced he'll implement an Infrastructure Bonds program to help private companies and governments build infrastructure.

The "sweetener" is a 10% tax rebate on the interest income. The (government) Infrastructure Fund Manager would collect the bond money, and distribute it to government/private companies Private entities will own the infrastructure.

There are a few extras that people need to know, but which Tony Abbott hasn't indicated:
  • Government Bonds generally return quite a low rate of interest. Investors should be looking at the effective rate of return, and the tax sweetener might not be enough. At the end of the bond's life, you get your money back: a $10,000 bond will not be worth $10,000 in 10 years' time, even allowing for the interest payments.
  • Tony Abbott's plans involve providing the bond money to private companies. Why not let the market decide if those private companies are worth investing in? That, at least, would fit with one of the Liberal Party's tenets of private enterprise. The answer is that companies which build infrastructure in a public/private arrangement with governments do not have a good record. Their record includes borrowing ever more money in the first 5-10 years to pay large dividends. This is bad for the debt-to-equity ratio, and the business. Several have gone broke in NSW and Queensland.
  • If the Government's bond money is used to fund rail & roads, expect a significant $ Toll from the private company. Taxpayers will still be paying, as will non-taxpayers. (eg pensioners) to use them.
  • If the bonds total $1.5 Billion, that amount has been taken out of the money market. There is then the  potential for increased interest rates because the money would have been invested elsewhere. IF Superannuation companies invest in them,, they are less likely to also invest in as many shares in those companies, which could cause problems of capitalization.
Like so many other policies, there is much that Tony Abbott & Joe Hockey are not telling us voters.

Caveat emptor - buyer beware.

John
 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Which Party Best Suits You

I started to produce a table with a synopsis of some of the policies of the major parties, using the very short statements from the major parties: Labor, Liberal and National Parties, and The Greens. I stopped after 2 policies, because a friend rang and pointed me to the site linked at the bottom of this post.

Before I provide the link, my profile at right indicates my politics are largely centrist, but vary between centre-left and centre-right. I have also previously posted about the shift to the right by the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the National Party. See the chart on my post of 17-July at http://truepolitik.blogspot.com/2010/07/election21-august.html

The issues covered are: Tax, Government Spending, Immigration, Education, Environment, Employment & Industrial Relations, Health, Defence, Communications (Internet), Indigenous Affairs. There are 3 "tie-breaker" questions on the Use of Deficits, Government action on Carbon Emissions, Industrial Relations (WorkChoices options)

My results, reflecting my basic centre-conservatism with a social concience, are shown below.


NO - I do NOT support the Labor Party - if you read my blog, you will see I have been critical of both Julia Gillard and the Labor Party; and Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party.

The Link is:

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-election/vote-a-matic/index.html

John

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Labor's Education Madness

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has  released a new Education Policy that includes the following:
  • the present funding formula for schools will remain, at least until 2013. That would be an election year, so she won't change it then, either! the funding is applied selectively, so that public schools, especially those with many children from lower socio-economic areas are excluded. If applied uniformly, public schools would receive massive increases in funding.
  • tax deductions for school uniforms. Yes, I know they can be expensive, especially when you have several children. Just ask my wallet. But this policy is designed to appeal most to those who choose to send their children to private schools. Parents make that choice, knowing they will have to pay for uniforms. This policy will direct tax-payer money mostly to people who have more money. It will not help the families on welfare, or low-income earners sending their children to public schools. It's a policy to buy votes; it's tawdry. [OK - the Liberals policy is worse: they will give about $10,000 of taxpayer money back to a person who pays $24,000 for 1 child to attend 1 private school. Yes, I know some families make sacrifices to send children to some private schools. However, the rich of Sydney & Melbourne will certainly benefit from that redistribution to the wealthy!]
  • performance assessment and bonuses for 10% of teachers, and schools. In NSW there are about 50,000 public school teachers with an estimated 15,000 private school teachers. With a "top" bonus of $8100 multiplied by 10% of 65,000 teachers, that equates to more than $52 Million in NSW. The issue of bonuses is divisive: NSW Principals Association doesn't believe they are good policy; nor do public and private teacher unions. Many say that money would be better spent on lower class sizes, more support staff, better resources. But bonuses appeal to Julia Gillard, and some "dry" economists. They want to reduce education to a factory output of numbers.
  • Labor also wants to reward the "better" schools, schools whose results improve, but penalize schools that do need help. This policy has not worked in Britain, and it has not worked in the US. There is no indication it would be educationally effective in Australia.
Ms Gillard's education policy would contribute nothing to the social infrastructure of education, and would cause division among teachers, between schools, and between school systems. The reality is, it is bad policy; and bad economics. Aside: the Liberals education policy isn't any better.

John

    Monday, August 09, 2010

    Libs Economic Woes

    Today was not a good day for Tony Abbott.  After yesterday's official election launch in Brisbane, he was a rooster. Today, he's a feather-duster. Tony Abbott, Joe Hockey, Andrew Robb & Barnaby Joyce were all part of some economic shambles. Politicians love the media attention ... except when they fall over themselves making mistakes.

    In a week when Labor is running ads showing part of an interview in which Peter Costello said he wouldn't support Tony Abbott to run the economy, Mr Abbott  & friends stumbled on economics. It went like this:
    • on radio this morning, Tony Abbott announced net recurrent spending cuts of more than $18 Billion, and that the Coalition's spending on policies would be much less than that. (ie less than $18 Billion)
    • at the National Press Club debate with Wayne Swan, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey said "We've announced savings of $28.534 billion, so, so far we have $2.8 billion of net savings on the announced policies" That is, spending on policies would be about $25 - $26 Billion:  more than $7 Billion more than the $18 Billion claimed by Tony Abbott. 
    • Later in the day, Andrew Robb tried to explain away the difference, saying that Joe Hockey had included the $7Billion savings from the policy to drop the extra tax on super-mining profits. Except that that figure is accepted by Tony Abbott as $10 Billion, not $7 Billion.
    • Barnaby Joyce was interviewed on SykNews in the afternoon, and repeatedly tried to deflect questions on the Coalition's costs of policies, and tried to redirect an answer about Labor. When challenged about the costs of Coalition policies, he said that policies would be submitted to treasury for costings, and "we don't have the resources that Labor has" (that's true, but the reverse was true before the last election, when Joyce was part of a government! He was just having a whinge) The real economic faux pas by Barnaby Joyce was that the Coalition must submit policies AND costings to Treasury. Treasury doesn't do costings for the Opposition!
    It's impossible for voters not to think that Abbott, Hockey, Robb and Joyce don't have a handle on economics. It will probably be reflected in polling about which party is the better economic manager.

    John

    Sunday, August 08, 2010

    A Christian Government?

    This week there were reports in the media from some Christians, indicating that they could not vote for Labor, because Julia Gillard is not a Christian, and their pastor had told them they had to vote Liberal to get a Christian as Prime Minister. Some thoughts quickly sprang to mind.

    It is NOT the role of those who run a church to tell people who they can, or can not, vote for. At all! My vote comes from my consideration of the policies of offer (so dreadfully lacking in details), and the quality of the local candidate. Some of you will have the choice of an Independent candidate, as well. Mostly, it seems, the pastors are from the more fundamentalist Christian churches, and it almost reminds one of the control that Scientology and The Exclusive Brethren  exert over many of their members. While it was once not uncommon in 'mainstream' Christian churches to direct people how to vote in the 1950's and 60's, most have long since ceased such interference in personal political affairs.

    Electing a "Christian" Prime Minister, does not mean that you will get a Christian government. Consider the previous Liberal-National Government, led by John Howard, a Methodist, and which had Tony Abbott, a Catholic, as a member. Consider the following:
    • WorkChoices: a system designed to lower the wages of working people, to make it easier for them to be sacked, which allowed 'take-it-or-leave' contracts, and which was designed to distribute that money to companies. Was that Christian? Would Christ have done that? Tony Abbott vigorously defends WorkChoices.
    • Treatment of refugees: the use of Nauru and Baxter detention centres drew sharp criticism from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Among other criticisms, Nauru and Baxter were used to inter women and children, and separate them from their husbands/fathers for years; and the 'Christian' government knew, and did noting about, the psychological trauma. Was that Christian? Would Christ have done that?
    • Social Security and 'middle-class welfare': Tony Abbott was part of a government that made it more difficult for people to receive welfare, at times when they needed it. The Australian Council of Social Service, and individual social service providers, including St Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army, were critical of the Howard-government policies. Tony Abbott defended them. At the same time as Howard's government made it harder for those needing social services, it embarked on a redistribution of the savings to those who were already better off. Was that Christian? Would Christ have done that?
    • The government of which Tony Abbott was a member, deliberately misled Australian voters in the 'children overboard affair', during an election campaign, no less. 
      (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Children_Overboard_Affair ) Members of the 'Christian' government lied. Was that Christian? Would Christ have done that?
    Electing a 'Chistian' as Prime Minister will not give us a Christian government. Do not let any pastor, or other church official, tell you otherwise. ALL political parties have non-Christians, and set a purely secular agenda, often designed to appeal to the lowest common votes - personal greed and fear. So, it would be best to set aside any religious considerations, and decide which party / candidate will best act in Australia's interests, and in the real best interests of Australians.

    The Good Samaritan, although not one of the Chosen People, was a much better person than those 'Chosen People' who ignored the plight of of a fellow human being.

    John

    Thursday, August 05, 2010

    Abbott's Beds Hide Agenda

    Tony Abbott has promised funding for 2800 more public hospital beds. It sounds good, and will appeal to voters. But what are they getting?
    • funding will not be made available until AFTER the states have opened the beds. Opening a bed involves costs for: nursing staff, ward staff, operation and maintenance, increased number of doctors/doctor visits, electrical costs. I'm sure there are more to be found by accountants.
    • the 2800 beds INCLUDES the extra 800 beds for mental health previously announced. The latest 5survey data shows Australia has almost 56500 public hospital beds in 737 public & 19 public psychiatric hospitals
      (see: http://www.aihw.gov.au/publications/hse/84/11173_c04.pdf )
    Tony Abbott has other plans for hospitals not included in the 10s media grab, and carefully scripted press release:
    • local hospital boards: in the 1970's &  1980's there was a history of stacked political appointments, particularly, but not only, under Queensland's National-Liberal Government. The previous Federal Liberal-National government, of which all existing Coalition MP's & Senators were members, had a policy of forcing non-elected 'wannabe' politicians on schools to which they gave Australian flags & flagpoles. It would not be unreasonable to think they would do the same with local hospital boards.
    • In 2008, when John Howard unilaterally announced a Federal takeover of Mersey Hospital in Tasmania, it had to delay it because people quickly realized that all employees would likely be offered AWA's under WorkChoices IR Laws. IR is definitely on Tony Abbott's agenda - he just doesn't like discussing it. Local Hospital Board's under Federal control would allow Tony Abbott to push his IR agenda.
     Early in this campaign, Tony Abbott admitted he would target populist policies. Sadly, this is likely to be one of them. Glossy, popular on first glance, but with a hidden agenda that is not good public policy.

    John

      Sunday, August 01, 2010

      Party Betting Ethics

      Today's news reports indicate that members of both Coalition Parties (Liberal Party and National Party) and the Labor Party have been betting on the upcoming federal election. Reports indicate senior members of the ALP are betting that the Liberals will win particular seats, and will win government. The stories also indicate Coalition party politicians betting that Labor will win the election.

      At the time of writing, neither Party seems to have a publicly-available Code of Conduct for its members. I have contacted both Labor and Liberal Parties for a copy of their Code of Conduct. If gambling on elections, and particularly against the party, is not excluded, I believe it should be.

      A Code of Conduct specifies how people within an organization are to behave, and how that behaviour serves the interests of the organization and the people it serves. If followed, it also provides a level of protection from complaints. Codes of Practice are common, and I would be surprised if the parties do not have one.

      Reasonable people would agree that betting against your own team (or party) is not in the best interests of that team. It also creates a conflict of interest, since to lose, in this case the election, would mean financial gain for the member who bet against his/her party. It would also put members in the position of campaigning for their party, but desperately hoping they lose.

      While I await a response from the parties, voters would be justified in increasing their level of cynicism about the major parties if they do nothing about this issue.

      Some politicians & party members will still be thinking 'ethics, schmethics - who cares!' The answer, of course, is that we voters do!

      John

      Wednesday, July 28, 2010

      Mixed News for Labor, Libs

      There has been mixed news for the major parties in the last few days:
      • the Cabinet leak about Julia Gillard questioning the costs, and the political value, of a paid maternity scheme, and possibly pension rises above normal should never have occurred. It was good news for Tony Abbott, and a number of Opposition members trotted out to the media for the 5-10s media sound bite. Cabinet discussions are supposed to be confidential. The finger is being pointed at Kevin Rudd, but no evidence has been made public to support that, and he has denied any responsibility. Cabinet leaks are not common, but the last Liberal-National government had them too. There were police raids on newspapers and individual journalists over leaked Cabinet documents previewing Howard's intervention in Aboriginal communities in the NT. That was 14-Nov-2004. The raids were ordered by Howard's Dept of Prime Minister & Cabinet.
      • Economics has largely favoured Julia Gillard's government. The inflation figures released today for both CPI and underlying inflation fell, and it is likely there will be no interest rate rise this month. Fairfax newspapers reported, in the business section, that the predicted price rises from both Labor's Climate Change policy, and from the Coalition's increased tax on big business, will be about the same. Whichever party is elected, the "Coles & Wollies" effect will be similar. Mortgage applications rose by 2.3% in the June quarter, and the decline in personal credit (loans and credit card applications) will be good for an economy overloaded with personal debt. All up, good news for Julia Gillard's Government, and not good for Tony Abbott's Opposition. The news gives voters no reason to change government. Tony Abbott has been forced to promise a tax cut for business, but it won't take effect till after 2013, or perhaps in teh budget before an election. It's a cynical backflip, while attempting to be populist  to buiness.
      • The media ran stories about Julia Gillard's photo makeover for Women's Weekly. Yes, it's only images & story, but it will  only help Juila Gillard's standing with women, and possibly some men. Already the Coalition is worried about her appeal. It will likely remain a significant stumbling block for Tony Abbott.
      Score: ALP: 5; Coalition: 2

      John

      Sunday, July 25, 2010

      Election - State of the Parties Week1

      During the first week of the election campaign, we have seen:
      • Tony Abbott stumble over WorkChoices. He wanted voters to believe that WorkChoices was "dead, buried & cremated". then he let slip the real agenda will be in the second term of his government, if elected. That could be a fatal self-wounding.
      • Tony Abbott run as Tony Abbott only, until the Saturday polls showed he was losing women voters to Labor. So, Saturday saw the first appearance of Tony Abbott with his Deputy, Julie Bishop. She made complimentary comments about him, as she did for every other leader for whom she has been Deputy Leader. It was nothing other than an attempt to attract back a few women voters.
      • Julia Gillard try to sideline Climate Change Policy, by announcing a forum of 150 people drawn from the electoral rolls. Everyone saw it as nothing other than attempt to avoid giving details of a climate change policy.
      • The spectre of Kevin Rudd, with news he is seeking a part-time Climate Change job with the UN. It took tony Abbott's WorkChoices bungles off the front page. Mind you, I would understand his frustration at being pestered by journalists looking for a story, ANY story, about him in his electorate.
      • Labor released its cashback policy for old (pre-1975) cars if they are upgraded to new, efficient cars. (see an earlier post)
      Overall, I give a 2-Party preferred 'vote', as follows:
      • Labor:  51.5
      • Coalition: 48.5
      John