Thursday, August 31, 2006

Telstra and Alby Shultz

Alby Shultz is the Federal (Liberal) Member for the electorate of Hume, in regional SW NSW.

He has issued a number of press releases about how selling Telstra would disadvantage regional voters, including those in his electorate. The most recent press releases were on 14 July 2006, and in the local newspapers during the week starting 28 August 2006. They concerned regional job cuts by Telstra, including field service officers and telephone network designers.

Alby Shultz has always said that selling Telstra would be bad for people who live in regional areas. ie. non-metropolitan areas, and especially those who live outside regional towns and cities.

Telstra is concentrating its resources in (mostly) metropolitan areas - the areas where it expects to make more profit and greater Return On Investment - to make it more appealing before its impending sale.

Yet on EVERY occasion when Mr Shultz had an opportunity to oppose the sale of Telstra in Parliament, he didn't. The action he took was to abstain from voting.

By so abstaining, and not voting for the good of people in his electorate, Mr Shultz has put the interests of the Liberal Party, and his own electoral (preselection) interests first. The people of his electorate, especially those in more remote areas, came last. They deserve better.

The Analyst

Monday, August 28, 2006

Teacher Salaries

A report by two economists found that academic standards (literacy & numeracy) of beginning teachers in 2003 are lower than those of 1983. The economists report indicated:

  • low salaries for teachers were the main culprit
  • merit pay for good teachers would be more cost-effective

Australian Federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, has used this report to push for "merit-based" pay. That is, individual workplace contracts, but she did not use those words! Why not? More and more people are opposing them, as they, their friends and families experience them in the workplace.

The political context is as follows:

  • the Federal Government wants all workers on individual contracts (AWAs). The net effect of AWAs will be to lower wages, by reducing the “bargaining power” of individual employees. This is the main thrust of the Federal Government’s industrial relations laws.
  • teacher unions have traditionally been quite strong, and sometimes militant.
  • people become teachers because they want to make a difference: they leave becasue of our (society's and politician's) abuse and because they are crushed by bureaucractic and political interference.
  • The Federal Government does NOT want unions involved.
  • For years, elements of the (mostly tabloid) media have bagged teachers and the teaching profession using populist mistruths about hours worked, union membership and greed. Yet this same research by the economists found that teacher pay levels had fallen, by 4% - 13% in real terms, and up to 17%, compared to other recent graduates!
  • The Federal Government seeks to reduce costs by using an economic rationalist approach. That is, students are production units, and the output of teachers is measured in student grades A-E, and by public examinations on content. Nevertheless ACT Government opposition (Liberal) education spokeswoman Vicki Dunne is reported as saying …

"The real problem in the ACT is that the economic rationalist approach of the (Labor) government is to make economies now and not look to the long term and see where we will be in the future”.

Mmmm … that is probably true of the ACT, and other, Labor governments.. However, this also criticises the Federal Government’s position, because its arguments are also based on economic rationalism, and student results as the ONLY measure of teacher effectiveness, regardless of demographic and social factors.

Julie Bishop is setting out to do to school education what Brendon Nelson has previously done to universities and TAFE: reduce the funds to the barest minimum, and preferably transfer them to the private sector. Every single voter who cares about their children and grandchildren should resist her efforts.

The Analyst

Thursday, August 24, 2006

New Army Battalions - Adelaide & SE Queensland

Prime Minister John Howard announced today (24 Aug 06) 2 new Army Battalions, to be based in Adelaide and SE Queensland. This represents about 2600 soldiers.

Why has he picked Adelaide & SE Queensland??

Adelaide has at least 3 marginal electorates: Adelaide; Makin and Hindmarsh, and they will be crucial to the election in 2007.

South East Queensland has Bonner, Bowman & Brisbane as marginal seats. Further, some commentators believe that if there is a swing to one party, it is "magnified" or most noticeable in Queensland!

John Howard has a vested electoral interest in the location of any new battalions. Further, because the introduction, recruitment and establishment will take some time, this is an announcement that he can make repeatedly in the leadup to the next election.

Mr Howard hasn't addressed the problems of about 10%-11% or service personnel leaving each year - because they can earn more and have better conditions elsewhere. Irrespectivce of the apperent need to for more military personnel, remember, politicians, especially those in government, have political reasons for the announcements they make.

The Analyst

Stem Cell Research Bill

Liberal Senator Kay Patterson and Democrat Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja are both preparing Private Members Bills to allow the use of stem cells from embryos to be used in research for therapeutic cloning.

It is not surprising, given their political differences, that 2 senators should be preparing bills on the same subject matter. As a society, and individually, though, we need to consider the ethical, and political implications.

Ethical Considerations: the ethics of research using human embryos is fraught with political, social and religious ethics. Society rightly prohibits experimentation on other humans, and the debate about whether an embyo is human will not be won or lost here. It is a fact that there are frozen human embryos left over from IVF programs, and some of them are unwanted for that purpose.
  • Does that mean they are "available" for other purposes, even if that means human embryos will be destrotyed?
  • Recent news stories suggest a US team has developed a process of extracting stem cells from embryos without destroying the embryo. The destruction of embryos has certainly been an ethical stumbling block for stem cell research.
  • If the embryo has been thawed to let it develop and produce stem cells, what then? Can it be re-frozen? Can it be reused? Is it expendable because it is "unwanted" for pregnancy purposes?
These questions need to be addressed by society. There will be a wide range of views on these questions, from staunchly religioous to staunchly humanistic, but they will all arouse passion of some sort in most people.

Political Implications: Why would John Howard allow a conscience vote? Because he's a nice guy and thinks MPs should be able to make up their own minds? Not on your Nellie! John Howard is an astute politician. He has largely insisted on strict party adherence to (his) party room decisions. His decision to allow a conscience vote should be seen in the following light.

  • the government has had bad press lately over a number of events and issues.
  • this is potentially another divisive issue, with Tony Abbott among the more rsistive to change, while som eothers have a more humanisitic approach.
  • the debate is likely to be ongoing, with both for and against arguments or statements to the press. We could forget that the Cole Inquiry into AWB corruption is due to report at the end of next month, and that more than 20 QCs asked the Attorney General to let Commissioner Cole ask questions of politicians. He declined the request.
A conscience vote allows our democracy to work at its best. It doesn't guarantee that "correct" decisions will be made, but alt least MPs and Senators will have to think, rather than simply "toe the party line", as they are used to doing under Mr Howard and Mr Beazley.

Mr Howard has allowed a conscience vote, because, ultimately, he would be unable to control party members with a wide range of differing views on stem cell research.

The Analyst

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Political Ads - *OUR* Money

The NSW State Labor Government plans to run advertisements afor its 10-Year State Plan. According to the media, the NSW Labor government is spending nearly $10 million of taxpers money on government advertising (

Research for a Senate inquiry into Federal Coalition government advertising included recommendations that the Auditor-General view and have a say in government advertising, and that there are shortcomings in levels of accountability. It noted that in 2004-2005, the Federal Coalition government spent $138 million of taxpayers money promoting itself.

As a taxpayer, I object to ANY government spending our money on self-promoting government ads. Political parties have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo - that is, we taxpayers foot the bill for political ads!

Last year the Federal Government spent $55m of our money promoting "workchoices" as being good for everybody; that it is good that the (independent) Federal Industrial Relations Court no longer determines wages, but a Commission, effectively under Ministerial control.

Whichever government does it, this is wrong. There needs to be independent auditing and approval for government advertising campaigns, especially costly ones. We need to tell our political parties that this is wrong, and we want them to be more accountable.

Remember there is a State election next March; and a Federal election due before the end of 2007!

The Analyst

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Australian Government tries to Neutralise "Issues"

This week, Attorney General Phillip Ruddock said that the (Federal) Government would press for a "speedy trial" for David Hicks, in light of the US Supreme Court's decision about the illegality of the proposed "Military Commission".

If that were not to happen, Mr Ruddock indicated to Australian newspapers that Australia would seek the return of David Hicks. (

Why? To what end would the Australian Federal Government have this change of heart? It has always seemed happy enough for the US to inter David Hicks at Guantanamo Bay, with its criticism by the UN and International Red Cross.

I suggest that the Australian Government is trying to sideline, or at least minimise damage from, as many possible thorns as possible before the election due before late next year.

Remember, it is suffering from a number of recent issues, that it wants to sideline:
  • David Hicks' incarceration at Guantanamo Bay
  • High petrol prices: the government has felt sufficient media and voter dissquiet it has even offered A$2000 to convert cars to LPG, a fuel not currently subjec to excise duty. But it will be.
  • Leadership ambitions of Peter Costello & speculation about when Mr Howard might retire as PM
  • Interest rates. The (independent) Reserve Bank has increased rates again. This is the third rise since Mr Howard promised to keep them low before the last election. It is also the 4th consecutive rate rise!
  • Unease in the electorate, and most especially from the Church-based charities about the fairness and injustice behind new "welfare-to-work" penalties and case management.
  • Stem cell research
  • Telstra: I think the government will NOT be able to sell it via a T3 offering. Rather it might well be "shufffled out of tehway" to the "Futures Fund": not owned directly by the government, but sidleined, unable to be sold because of the mess surrounding its outdated infrastructure, and desire to exert monopoly-like charges on proposed new "fibre-to-the-node" infrastructure.
  • The increasing unpopularity of Australia's involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Internal Liberal Party bullying over Migration Laws. Remember that the Government withdrew the proposed legislation after some of its own members railed against the bill in the House of Reps, and the Senate.
Yesterday (18 August), on the anniversary on the Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam, much was made in the media of Mr Howard's apology to Vietnam Veterans. But he has not changed his government's view on restricting, or fighting against, benefits for veterans still suffering the effects of Agent Orange, psychological, and other health problems suffered by Vietnam Veterans.

The Howard Government still has much to fear as its decisions come back to haunt them before the next election.

Not withstanding those, the Labor Party will need to develop coherent, cogent policies, AND publicise them to the electorate, if it wants to win government. It will have to do this with knife-edge timing: too early, and they will have the eyes picked out of them; too late, and the electorate won't have time to assimilate what is being promised.

The Analyst

Thursday, August 17, 2006

NSW Politics & "Corruption"

Political Parties in NSW are facing an interesting time in between now and the election next March. We voters need to take a keen interest in what has happened and the activities of Ministers, Premiers/former Premiers and the Liberal and Labor Parties' pre-selection of candidates.

Today's news carries information about:
  • Joe Tripodi, former backbench member and now Minister in NSW. It seems at some point he has, through a small company, acquired Government land which has been used for purposes opposed by Councils; environmental officers and ratepayers. His company has bought, then sold government land, to his wife.

    There might NOT have been anything illegal in his behaviour: that is now a matter for ICAC.

    The Premier, MR Iemma, is promising to tighten disclosure laws, but is being publicly cautioned by Bob Carr, immediate past Premier of NSW and now consultant to Macquarie Bank. While there is a Parliamentary Ethics Committee, I believe it would be prudent to have outrside ethical and legal specialists determine appropriate standards of behaviour for MPs.

  • This raises another issue. Should former Premiers, Ministers or members of a government be able to work for companies with which they had direct political contact immediately upon retirement from Parliament?? There have been Premiers from both Liberal and Labor governments that have done this. Mostly, these companies have benefited from significant amounts of public money, and have offered jobs to Premiers almost upon retirement. Is/was there a conflict of interest?? Who knows.

    I believe it would be ethically appropriate for politicians, especially Ministers and Premiers, and senior Publiuc Servants to not work for companies with whom they have had cause to work while in office; at least for a period of 4 years (1 parliamentary term)

  • And what of Party "branch-stacking"? Major political parties have long done it, but it can only create the perception of corruptin from within. Prue Goward, Liberal Party member who wants preselection for the safe seat of Epping, is reported by the SMH (7-Aug-06) as saying, on Monday:
"A lot of women … don't like the machinations and the deal-making, ... But, it's a test of character … Are you prepared to be corrupted? Are you prepared to make deals with people about planning laws and other things that you just might do for them if they vote for you?"

Isn't it time there were properly instituted laws regarding membership and voting requirements for party preselection. I suggest the following: Only 1 preselection vote per election. If you have already voted in preselection for seat X, you cannot transfer to branch Y and vote again; and members must have at least 6 months membership, and attendance at a branch before being eligible to vote in a preselection ballot.

The Analyst

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Water Options - Goulburn

There has been much discussion about recycled water, and other water options, for Toowoomba, Goulburn and other towns and cities. Some of the argument has been emotional, drawing heavily on "the yuk factor" psychology. I attended a meeting in Goulburn this week to discuss its water supply. It does concern me that a "water" group would summarily dismiss the concept of water recycling.

We must remember that there is a fixed catchment area and that we can't control when and how much it rains. We therefore need to make best use of our water, including methods to augment the water supply.

For Goulburn, in particular, there have been a number of suggestions, including:
  • increasing the number of (rain)water tanks. This is a worthwhile idea, and should be further encouraged, bearing in mind it will affect the volume of water flowing into the river as stormwater, and this will affect people downstream.
  • encouraging tap assemblies that reduce the amoujnt of water wasted while people wait for the hot water to flow. Again, this is a good idea.
  • a pipeline from Pejar Dam to Sooley Dam. A number of routes were suggested, including partway along the river, and circuiting Mt Wayo. But what of property owners who have river frontage? Do we deny them any rights to water released from Pejar?
  • pumping water from the Shoalhaven ("Sally's Corner") or from the Snowy Mountains. These are big projects and I don't think there are recent feasibility studies on them. Such studies would need to include the political, environmental, economic and engineering aspects. I think they would fail the "political feasibility" test, at least.
  • Carting water (from parts unknown, possibly the ACT). This is not sustainable for any length of time, and will cost teh ratepayers, & water users, dearly.
  • Installing a second pipe to carry recycled water to buildings. This might be possible for new developments, but the cost would be prohibitive for existing buildings. Re-using old gas pipes - the old ones were wooden, made by coopers in the 19th century, and were replaced because they leak.
  • Building more weirs on the rivers. Again, this does not really improve the total supply, unless they all overflow, in which case there is probably amle water. Furthermore, if ther is limited water flow in the rivers, the water in the weirs will remain still, and algal blooms will grow, creating a health hazard.
  • Using recycled water for parks and gardens. The Australian Academy of Science suggests that the level of treatment for recycled water is governed by its use. If it is treated to a lower standard than drinking water, what are the risks to users of illness? What are the risks to Council's insurance rates, and the rates that people pay? If it is treated to potable standard, why not pump it into the water supply?
  • Pumping water from Kopford Reach to Sooley Dam. Kopford Reach is downstream from the Sewage Treatment Plant, and contains recycled water!

Water recycling involves all of the processes used to treat water from the water supply (dams & weirs) before entering the reticulation system: filtering, coagulating & flocculating removes more than 99.9% of bacteria and 99%viruses; then disinfection. (Figures from The Australian Academy of Science)

The suggestions from the meeting have varying degrees of merit. Some a re good, but using recycled water is one option for augmenting the water supply that ought not to be discarded.

The Analyst

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Telstra withers under the Sol

In recent weeks Telstra, and its Chief Executive, have railed against the ACCC and the Federal Government.

It is unhappy about an expected order from the ACCC to lower the prices it charges other telcos for access to its copper network. It is also unhappy about regulation of the price it wants to charge for access to its proposed FTTN (fibre-to-the-node) network.

What is FTTN? It involves fibre-optic cable being connected to a router (node) and then using existing copper wires to connect to nearby homes at very high speed. Maximum speed is about 25 Megabits/s, over short distances.

FTTN is cheaper than rolling out fibre to the home (FTTH), but media reports suggest Telstra would invest A$3 billion.

Telstra is trying to play a carrot-and-stick game with the ACCC and the Federal Government. In this game, we, the Australian people, suffer. Sol Trujillo might have been used to getting his own way at US West (a telco), but Australia has a different approach to regulation and government. For all the pressure he has exerted, he has produced the following:

  • Falling share price
  • Falling company value (down A$16 billion)
  • Falling dividend (12% less)
  • A fat A$2.5 million bonus, on top of his salary, sign-on fee and “moving” fees, giving a total of A$8.6 million.

If Telstra Chief Executive Sol Trujillo and fellow American Phil Burgess (head of Telstra’s Public Policy & Communication division) cannot work within the legal & ethical and regulatory frameworks Australia has, they should resign. If they believe that FTTN ought to be a national infrastructure project of the Federal Government, they should say so.

Attempts to bully the ACCC and the Federal Government by Telstra should not be tolerated.

The Analyst

Friday, August 11, 2006

Unemployment Rate

As the Federal Government praises itself over Australia's "lowest" unemployment rate for a generation, it is timely for voters to remember that the measure of unemployment numbers is different.

It is like the measuremnt of the length of a ruler. Today, we would say its length is 30 (cm), but, but since we are not measuring the same things any more, we have only an 8 (inch) ruler in the 197o's. The numbers are different, because we are using different methods of measuring, and the quantities are different, because we defined them differently.

But there is more: who we define as "unemployed" is different. If a person works for 1 hour, they are not unemployed! Many people are "underemployed" - they have part-time work, but want to work more hours. Some people might have 2 part-time jobs, but still work fewer hours than 1 full-time employee! This is particularly true of of people aged 25 or less.

Furthermore, long-term unemployed people who are over 55 are no longer counted (they were "removed" from the unemployment lists in 1991) and were shifted from unemployment benefits to "disability" benefits.

To more accurately compare the employment rates from 1974 and todaywe should be using:
  • unemployment = unemployed people + underemployed + those over 55 who would work if it were offered and are available.
The ABS does not do this and it is unreasonable to compare unemployment rates calculated using different methods. Often, sports commentators say it is unfair to compare great sportspeople form different eras for the same reason.

We all, including media representatives, must ask politicians the "difficult" questions which will help to make them more accountable to us voters.

The Analyst

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Australia's Migration Inhumanity

Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) is a statutory body independent of government, established by the Commonwealth in 1986. That is it is statutory and independent of government means it is not subject to ministerial control.

On 6 August 2006, it released a media statement. The staement makes the following salient points:

  • The "United Nations Human Rights Committee has found that Australia’s immigration detention regime breaches one of the most fundamental of all human rights obligations – the right to be protected from arbitrary imprisonment."
  • There have been 5 adverse findings against the Federal Government in the last 10 years (the time it's been in office)
  • The Human Rights Commissioner is quoted as saying "proposals to send all people who arrive in Australia by sea without a visa for offshore processing are likely to put Australia in breach of its human rights obligations."
  • The Migration laws do not allow a person, who does not have a visa, to have their case reviewed by a court, or any other review body to determine whether they should be detained. Even our most heinous criminals are given this right to court appearances.
  • The Commissioner also said that the adverse findings by the United Nations should act as a warning against the currently proposed legislation.
The current Federal Government is abrogating its responsibilities to treat other people with basic human dignity and due care for their rights. It is turning Australia into the Pharisee who crossed the road in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

We should be ashamed.

The Analyst

More Debt, More Repayments Due

Apparently we went on a home-loan spending spreee in June, weeks after the Reserve Bank lifted interest rates in May.

Collectively we now owe more than A$20 BILLION on home loans.

Repayments, JUST of the home loan debt account for 11% of weekly earnings, on average!

The trouble with averages is, they don't tell us enough. Not everyone has a home loan. Some people have two incomes, some do not. Nevertheless this 11% is a higher proportion of our earnings than when interst rates were at 17%. So even though our incomes have risen and interest rates are at about 7.5%, we are now payong more of our income, just to service home loan debt.

I think the Reserve Bank will left rates again, perhaps in October or November. More pain is due, because collectively, we won't stop borrowing to excess.

The Analyst

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Petrol Prices, Consumers & the Federal Government

Earlier this week, Prime Minister John Howard said he hoped petrol prices would return to about A$1.15 per litre.

Today the ABC ran a story about Mr Howard having to defend his
comment. A Labor Party MP claimed that this equates to about US$60 / barrel, when the current price is about US$70, and that the Federal Government's budget projection was around the US$70 mark. (This affects the calculations of how much GST is collected)

But is it the Federal Government's job to reduce bpowser petrol prices. Australia has long had a policy of international price parity, designed to reduce our consumption. Whether it does so is another question.

Motorists can reduce their spending on petrol by:
  • driving more carefully (slower rates of acceleration & deceleration)
  • reducing speed (about the only places where many city drivers DON'T speed is near speed cameras!
  • planning trips to reduce the number of times the car is taken out, traffic lights

It might be possible for people to reduce their pertol spending by 5%, almost negating the effect of the price increase.

In any case, it is really up to the consumer to reduce their spending on petrol, not for them to complain that "the government" shoud do something about reducing prices.

The Analyst

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Economics, Politics & Interest Rates

Last week, the Reserve Bank raised the cash-rate by 0.25%. The banks have quickly followed suit on the interest rates they charge on home loans; personal loans and credit card rates will follow very soon.

The Australian economy has, for years, been a consumer-driven economy. As a our manufacturing sector now contributes 10% or less to our GDP, mining and consumer spending are the big contributers.

Consumer spending is critical to maintaining employment (think retail, commercial & tourism), but is funded by an ever-increasing debt - personal, corporate and national. This debt has increased not only in monetary terms, but also as a per centage of GDP. Debt now exceeds the value of GDP per annum.

The Federal Government's "gift" to consumers of a tax-cut from 1 July was heralded as "relief" for taxpayers struggling with high petrol prices. But history shows that such tax cuts are often used to finance new consumer spending, rather than managing with what we (collectively) have, nor is it used to reduce our collective debt.

All this spending and debt contributes to underlying inflation. The rate of underlying inflation influences the Reserve Bank to adjust interst rates to curb spending and control inflation.

On the one hand, then, we have the "generous" Federal Government giving us a tax cut, which makes it more popular. On the other hand, the Reserve Bank has had to raise interest rates to curb our collective propensity to spend when we shouldn't. Fiscal (budgetary) policy is largely politically driven by a government that wants to be popular, but is at odds with monetary (economic) policy.

How does this sit with the Liberal/National Parties' claims to be good economic managers?

The Analyst

Thursday, August 03, 2006

War Crimes

A United Nations document expressing the UN position on the International Criminal Court (ICC) says, in part
"In UNHCR’s experience with refugees and displaced persons, civilian populations are innocent victims of war; thus any deliberate attack on them is morally unjustified and particularly heinous. Protocol I to the Geneva Convention specifically prohibits attacks against civilian populations. Additionally, in light of increasing attacks on United Nations humanitarian as well as other humanitarian personnel working in areas of armed conflict, UNHCR also supports an interpretation of "civilian population" which includes humanitarian personnel so that attacks on such personnel would fall within the Court’s jurisdiction."

Both the military arm of Hezbollah and Israeli forces have shown a prediliction to target various civilian areas, including hospitals, ambulance & emergency personnel, UN personnel and personnel working under the banner of the International Red Cross / Red Crescent.

In light of that, are War Crimes being committed in the Middle East?

Just a thought.

The Analyst

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Refugee Review Tribunal Independence

Yesterday (31-July) the Refugee Review Tribunal overturned the Immigration Dept's refusal to issue a protection visa to a Papuan who sought refuge from Indonesia in January this year. His is the last application to be processed to the "end stage".

The issue of Papuan refugees caused much political angst between Indonesia and Australia, and Indonesia lobbied Australia to refuse to accept the Papuans.

The Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone was quoted the The Sydney Morning Herald today, saying:

"The RRT is a final, independent merits review body and I am

unable to direct its members in their decision making."

At least the RRT is still independent, for the moment. The Federal Government has previously removed the independence of the Industrial Relations Court and established the Office of Workplace Services (OWS) which is under the direct control of the minister.

In a democracy, we must insist that the judicial arm of government remain independent of the executive arm of government. The Separation of Powers really IS important.

The Analyst