Sunday, December 30, 2007

Benazir Bhutto's Legacy

Benazir Bhutto: 1953 - 2007

Benazir Bhutto has been buried before sunset, in the family mausoleum, next to her father.

She persisted with her drive to democracy for Pakistan, and was assassinated on 27-Dec-2007, after a rally before the scheduled elections.

Benazir Bhutto was first elected as Prime Minister in 1988; and again in 2003. It is likely that the charges of corruption brought by Pakistan Presidents Khan and Leghari. Khan had disagreements with both Bhutto and the PPP; and with the military, whose legislative power he sought to restrict. Leghari, also from Bhutto's Pakistan People Party is reported by Wikipedia to have succumbed to blackmail in bringing charges against Benazir Bhutto.

Benazir Bhutto was a woman in a man's world. Muslim societies do not easily tolerate women in positions of power: her family's strong political background and her family name undoubtedly helped.

Benazir Bhutto could become Pakistan's martyr to democracy. Maybe!

President Musharraf was, until recently, both head of the military, and President. The Military will not easily give up its power and political influence. Those who riot after Bhutto's death do themselves and their country no good. It is very likely that elections scheduled for 8-January-2008 will be cancelled, a state of emergency declared, and both Musharraf and the military will retain political control.

If they do, Pakistan will remain a divided nation. One group will have money, and/or political influence or power; the rest will have nothing, as they have now.

Benazir Bhutto's legacy could be that millions have hope of democracy, and a fairer system of government. If they don't get it, Pakistan could well become unstable, with pockets of rebellion, in a country that has somewhere near 100 nuclear weapons. Frightening!


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas 2007

What is Christmas about? Is it about presents, family, holidays away, frantic mad shopping, idiocy and death on our roads? All of these happen at Christmas time, or XMAS, as it is sometimes abbreviated. The 'X' in XMAS comes from the Greek letter χ (chi), which starts the Greek word for Christ.

Christmas is a secular festivity, and a religious one. Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, in a manger, at Bethlehem. Other religions celebrate the birth of their gods and prophets, but the celebration of Chrtistmas in our society has also become a social celebration.

As we celebrate Christmas, many people will attend church ceremonies. Religious leaders will publish a Christmas message. My hope is that people will give to those less fortunate, spend time with family and friends, build understanding with other people, and that people reflect on the meaning of Christ's message in today's world. By doing so, may they realise the need for all people to work together for peace, hope for tolerance, and act justly.

Merry Christmas, ... and Happy New Year.


PS some will say that the above was full of idealism, but without idealism, we condemn ourselves to accept the otherwise unacceptable.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Haneef: Court Rejects Andrews' Appeal

The full bench of the Federal Court of Australia has upheld a previous court's decision to grant Dr Haneef his work visa. The previous Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, had made a political decision that Dr Haneef was not of good character, because his second cousins in Britain had his (British) mobile phone card, and had allegedly been involved in terrorist activity.

(Photo: The political decision came after the courts had dismissed charges of aiding terrorists against Dr Haneef. The "character test" was applied with Minsterial discretion on the basis of the alleged actions of his cousins, at a time when Dr Haneef was in Australia.

Previous comments about "the Haneef case" can be found here (there are several posts in July 2007)

Mr Andrews, as then Minister, appealed. The Federal Court disagreed with him on matters of law.

Dr Haneef, on a pilgrimage to Mecca, can return to Australia to work, if he wants. The Queensland Government has said that he will be welcome to apply, if he satisfies visa and doctor registration procedures.

There are serious questions that we need to ask about the process used, and motives of, previous Minister Andrews. Among them are:

  • what were his political motives?
  • was he acting under instructions from former Prime Minister Howard?
  • was there any breach of the "separation of powers"?
  • was AFP Commisioner Mick Keelty acting in the interests of, and with advice from, the government?

Our democracy needs to be robust, and we need to be able to trust governments, and Ministers. I'm not sure we could trust the previous Coalition Government.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Tax Cuts Inflationary

The ABC and other media are reporting that Access Economics has warned the (new) Federal Labor Government that its promised tax cuts will be inflationary. During the election campaign, John Howard's Coalition Government promised $34 Billion in personal tax cuts; Kevin Rudd promised $31 Billion. In the midst of the election campaingn the Reserve Bank of Australia raised interest rates by 25 basis points (0.25%), an unprecedented intervention during an election campaign.

In October, I reported that the promised tax cuts would be inflationary. I stated:

"(tax cuts) by themselves, they will be inflationary. The economy will have to produce nearly $50 Billion of EXTRA GDP. It is already groaning under the strain of other pressures such as the US sub-prime mortgage market, rising oil prices, rising food prices, and rising prices of other goods ... We need responsible economic management, not inflationary tax cuts."

Now, it seems that Access Economics has confirmed that view. They also point out that finding cuts might be politically unpopular, and mentioned "middle-class welfare" as one area where cuts could be made. "Middle class welfare" is a term often used to describe Federal Government houndouts that are not means tested, and provided to people who are not in need of the money. It is a policy that was heavily used by the Coalition Government to win votes. Cutting it will be fraught with political danger, even if it is tapered and means-tested.

Treasurer Wayne Swan has a difficult task to deliver ANY tax cuts, and still find sufficient extra savings to fund them, and increase his budget surplus from 1% to a more responsible 1.5% of GDP.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Political Climate Change At Bali

The US has agreed to a compromise plan to start talks on a new climate change protocol, to take effect after obligations under the existing Kyoto Protocol expire in 2012.

Every other represented country, or group such as the European Union (EU) agreed to the compromise plan. The 190 members of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to the plan after almost 2 weeks of negotiations, and after the return of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He returned to Bali to urge, with diplomatically plain language, recalcitrant countries to agree to the 'Bali Roadmap' for the good of humanity. I'm sure the US will soon find economic, trade, and foreign policy reasons to justify their change of heart.

There was certainly a sense of desperation as Kevin Rudd told his team, and Penny Wong, in particular, to do "whatever it takes" negotiate a settlement. Climate change is a priority.

So, what next for Australia? I believe we need to look at the following, from a national perspective:

  • reduce "base load" electricity demand, and hence our reliance on coal. The term "clean coal" is deceptive - coal is dirty, and it does pollute.
  • reduce unnecessary lighting in office buildings at night
  • reduce the use of "off-peak" (night-time) electric hot water systems, and install more solar hot water systems, with gas backup.
  • increase the use of wind farms
  • increase the use of solar electricity generation on houses, and large business buildings, especially where buildings have air conditioning installed
  • mandate national building design codes that increase the use of passive heating and cooling (verandahs, awnings & blinds, building aspect, insulation and construction materials)

All of this will involve significant changes to aspects of our economy, and our individual and collective thinking - we will need to increase investments in some areas of our economy and reduce it in other areas.

It won't be easy, and we do need our political leaders to take short-term hard decisions for the longer term benefit, while still being mindful of the social effects That is, after all, what we pay them to do.

In business speak, we need to undertake a process called Business Process Engineering - we need to fundamentally change what and how we do things.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Libs a Half-Nelson Basket Case

As John Howard enjoys his new-found, but unwanted, leisure time, the Federal Liberal Party is in leadership turmoil. It has been revealed that Malcolm Turnbull was unhappy about the leadership election, with now two members who have since lost their seats voting, and two senators whose planes were delayed not allowed to vote. Brendan Nelson won the leadership by just three votes.

The reality is that with John Howard gone, and Peter Costello declining, there is a lack of clear leadership within the Liberal Party - hence the divided vote. One of the consequences of John Howard's dominance and "strong leadership" is that, apart from the anointment on Peter Costello, the leadership skills of other members was suppressed and its development stopped.

While both men are aspirational leaders, neither yet has the charisma AND political skills to lead the Liberal Party to a future victory. It is unlikely that Brendan Nelson has the ability to charm teh electorate to lead the Liberal Party to an election win in the foreseeable future; and Malcolm Turnbull is seen as too ill-disciplined and prone to "shoot his mouth off". The Federal Liberal Party has similar leadership woes to those that Labor had after Paul Keating lost, and left.

There are not many leadership options yet, apart from Brendan Nelson or Malcolm Turnbull. We might well have the simmering divisions can that turn a political party into a "basket case". That is something that NSW State Party Director Geoff Selig warned against, but probably can't yet stop.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Crean Speaks on Climate Change

Simon Crean is in Bali for Trade talks - appropriate, given that is his portfolio. But he seems to have spoken out of turn on climate change. He has more experience than to do that. Mr Crean said that developing countries, including China and India, must commit to much tougher emission targets before Australia would commit to a post-Kyoto Agreement on Climate Change.

Worse, Mr Crean then went on to say that Australia would not commit to any binding targets till next year - at least till after the report on the economics of climate change is handed to the Federal Government.

Already Prime Minister Rudd has said that what Mr Crean suggested about developing countries is not the Government's policy. It would seem that Trade Minister Crean has spoken out on an area that is not his portfolio, and made suggestions that are not (officially) government policy. Nevertheless, climate change will have an effect on trade, and it is appropriate for the Trade Minister to make comments about climate change - they just need to be consistent with government policy.

There is a danger that Kevin Rudd will seek to assert HIS "strong leadership". The problem with that is that "strong leadership" often seeks to dominate by stifling discussion, even among colleagues. This is the type of control used by former Prime Minister John Howard - to his ultimate detriment, the detriment of the Liberal Party, and to the detriment of good policy for the Australian people.

Kevin Rudd will certainly need to discuss the problem with Simon Crean. Ministers must not become compliant servants of the Prime Minister. They need clear direction, a deep understanding of Government Policy, and need to learn to be trusted to speak on matters that affect their portfolio.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

T-Card Project A Failure

T-Card is supposed to be the new integrated, electronic ticketing system to cover public transport on buses, trains and ferries. Last Month (Nov-07), the State Government gave notice of its intention to cancel the contract, unless the company (ERG) can demonstrate a working system within twenty days.

On 3 December 2007, ERG gave a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange, saying it was "well placed to implement the system on a wide scale by 2009". ERG claims to have implemented similar systems in Melbourne, Singapore, Rome and San Francisco. The question then is, "why invent a new system, when it already has successful existing systems?"

On 9 November the NSW Transport Minister, John Watkins, said "Enough is enough. ... This has been a very frustrating project." The system was supposed to be working before the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

What makes a successful project? In my opinion a successful project satisfies the following criteria:
  • the customer is satisfied. Clearly this is not the case, with the customer, the NSW Government preparing to stop the project.
  • the system works as intended. Again, this is clearly not the case.
  • the project is finished on time. 2007 is well past the expected completion in early 2000. The Auditor-General's office in its Report to Parliament 2006 Volume 5 p338 stated "We are not aware of any further remedy for delays. (in the T-Card project)"
  • the project is completed satisfactorily on budget. While NSW has spent $64 million, it has not made all the payments, becasue the contract included penalties for non-completion of milestones. Since it seems unlikely a working system won't be forthcoming for nealy another two years, and at unknown cost, there are good aruments for terminating the project.

Good Project Management requires that, at each stage of the project, a review is conducted to determine whether it is worthwhile continuing. It seems to me that ERG has been more interested in continuing the project, hoping to retrieve the golden egg of taxpayer money, even when technical and other difficulties seem to have indicated otherwise.

It would seem to be a project worthy of cancellation. In future the NSW Government, through the Dept of Commerce, should oversee projects, and insist on having representatives on the project oversight committee, and on project teams.


Monday, December 03, 2007

Koperberg Steps Into A Straight Right

NSW Labor Minister Phil Koperberg has stepped aside pending results from a preliminary police investigation into acts of domestic violence allegedly committed 20 years ago. The time is irrelevent, and it should be investigated. Premier Morris Iemma's hand was forced when two people called hi soffice to speak to him about it. at that point, Mr Iemma aasked his Director-General to refer the matter to the police. Appropriately, he would not name the two people who called his office.

But what of the underlying politics? Who has the knives out for Mr Koperberg? The allegations surfaced in 2006 before the March 07 state election, and were denied then. Paul Gibson, then a Labor MP, had a 10 year affair with the former Mrs Katherine Koperberg, and there appears to be bad blood between the two men. After the election in March, allegations about Paul Gibson' salleged violence towards Sandra Nori surfaced. He was denied a ministry. Police later dropped the investigation for lack of viable evidence.

Now, Paul Gibson seems to have copy of Mrs Koperberg's affidavit alleging assault on her and her daughter. So do some reporters.

The issue has become both political and the subject of a police investigation. It would seem there is some dirty politics, but violence should never be tolerated - just ask Paul Gibson.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Education A Learning Curve for Labor

As Julia Gillard prepares Labor's Education agenda for the two Cabinet meetings before Christmas, she should pause and consider some of the concepts proposed.

Access to a computer at school for every Year 9 -12 student is readily achievable, but it will also need to be considered in conjunction with the broadband for schools policy. The Federal Government will need to meet with state governments, Catholic Education Offices, and independent schools to ensure that computers provided are appropriate.

The trades in schools policy requires much more work, and probably needs rethinking. This is especially true for regional areas where it is unlikely that each school would have sufficient interested and committed students or resources to create classes in multiple trades areas.

A more practical solution might be to provide incentives for schools to allow students to enrol in courses at TAFE, where that is available. In most states, there is a program which allows students to study TAFE courses as part of their Yr 11 and Yr 12 studies. Classes often include students from several schools, and they gain from the expertise of TAFE teachers, and from the usually, better resources provided by TAFE . Delivery by TAFE would be more cost-efficient, and provide a wider range of trades for study than could be provided by placing one trade class at every school.

While providing resources directly to schools is electorally and superficially popular, ultimately, using existing TAFE systems would provide better outcomes for the economy as well, because more students could be trained in more trades areas more efficiently, using qualified trades teachers who know their industry.


Friday, November 30, 2007

Training Labor's New Ministers

Having been elected to government on 24 Nov 2007, Kevin Rudd has announced his new ministers. It includes two members who have previously been Ministers: John Faulkner and Simon Crean. Warren Snowden and Nick Sherry have had experience as Parliamentary Secretaries. The full list will shortly appear at the Australian Parliament House website . Three members of Cabinet have less than six years Parliamentary experience: Penny Wong (5); Peter Garrett (3); and Tony Burke (3).

While Kevin Rudd will have appointed minders to help his new team, it is important that neither they, nor Kevin Rudd, rule his ministers in the same way that John Howard did. Such close control would increase the risk that Kevin Rudd's Ministers will be as stifled, robotic, and mere 'appendages of power', as were many of John Howard's ministers.

It is likely that some will make mistakes. Unless the mistakes are serious, new Ministers need to be able to learn and be guided, without the heavy handed "I'll tell you what to say, when, where, how and to whom you will say it" approach that John Howard used.

That is, Ministers need a "structured workplace learning" program, similar to those used in trade and vocational training. This will help ensure that Ministers grow into their job and develop Ministerial skills that are both specific to their portfolios, and which could be applied elsewhere.

Such a program will not only help to create more effective ministers, but also ministers that more open and responsive. That could only benefit everyone, and strengthen our democracy, and develop trust from the media and voters.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Difficult Choices for Libs

Today, the contest for the Liberal Party leadership narrowed after Tony Abbott withdrew because he would not get enough votes. The leadership will be contested by Malcolm Turnbull and Brendan Nelson.

Turnbull seems to have won a number of vox populi polls in the media. Whether that is reflected in the party room is another matter. Of the two, Malcolm Turnbull is the better speaker, and more words of substance seem to come from him than ever came from Brendan Nelson.

Of the contenders for the Deputy Leader, SA's Chris Pyne and WA's Julie Bishop are the most discussed in the media. While he is a qualified in Law, Chris Pyne seems to only ever have worked for the Liberal Party, both before entereing Parliament in 1993, and as a Member of Parliament. This almost total lack of real-world work might well hinder his ambitionis. Julie Bishop has worked as a solicitor and barrister for almost 20 years, had experience on the board of SBS and in an institute for managers.

Andrew Robb, the former Federal Party Director, has less experience in Parliament, but more political nous that Chris Pyne or Julie Bishop, and might well have a steadying influence on Malcolm Turnbull.

The Liberal Party will elect its new leaders tomorrow (Thursday). My prediction, based on CV's and Ministerial & political competence is: Malcolm Turnbull & Andrew Robb.

What I think the Liberal Party will do? I think they will elect Malcolm Turnbull as Leader, with Andrew Robb as Deputy; Chris Pyne and Julie Bishop might withdraw, leaving Robb unopposed. They'll be rewarded with shadow Ministries with increased standing in the Party Room.


Post Script - Thursday
Today the Federal Liberal Party elected Brendan Nelson as its leader; Julie Bishop as Deputy Leader. Given Brendan Nelson's somewhat taciturn manner, Julie Bishop will provide some "personality" to the leadership. She should be able to hold her own in Parliament, given her prior performances.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Fixing Public Hospitals

One of Kevin Rudd’s election platforms was to negotiate better funding for public health with the states. The requirement is better health administration. His Kevin07 wesite says:

“Under Labor's Plan, in order to access funds, the States will be required to sign up to achieving specified health outcomes, such as:· Reducing avoidable hospitalisations and readmissions to hospital;· Reducing non-urgent accident and emergency presentations;· Reducing waiting times for those people who require essential hospital services such as elective surgery; and· Providing more appropriate non-acute care for older Australians.”

There are some specific problems that we, individually, collectively and politically must face. There has developed over some years a culture of division between the states and commonwealth, based largely on political differences and prejudices. This has lead to:

  1. cost-and-blame-shifting, as each tries to limit the $ exposure for “its” responsibilities.
    A reduction in the proportion of GDP provided by the commonwealth for public health care provided by the states. At the same time, the Commonwealth was happy to provide funds to support private health insurance (companies)and private hospitals.
  2. The costs of providing health care have been increasing at a rate faster than inflation and economic growth, and the states have borne the brunt of extra funding required for public hospitals
  3. Increasing “gaps” in health care, resulting from the previous two conditions.

Recent events in NSW at RNS emergency dept and RPA maternity are examples of how health care and its administration has been driven by budget constraints and not health planning and funding.

Kevin Rudd is offering an extra $2 billion over 4 years. Economically he can’t just pump money into the economy – he will need to restrain spending or eliminate unnecessary government spending to maintain an economically neutral position. The Commonwealth and States, and NSW in particular, will need to develop significant restructure plans for health administration, to be implemented over 5 years. Its likely effects will include significant changes in personnel, business process reengineering to change the way and culture of doing things, and higher levels of political accountability and responsibility.

The effects of such changes will take at least ten years to be fully felt. This requires planning well beyond the 4-years of budget forward estimates, but it must be done.


Liberal Woes Self-Inflicted

The Liberal Party implosion since it lost the election last Saturday is not surprising.

The leadership void and lack of clear direction has occurred because: John Howard ruled “his” government with an iron fist; he used his own staff to monitor and micro-manage his Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries; he used some government members to ensure MP’s and Senators complied with his wishes. In their compliance, Liberal Ministers, MP’s and Senators have served the interests of the Liberal Party – a service Peter Costello mentioned when declining to be nominated as “leader of the Opposition”

Such “strong”, overbearing and dominating leadership stifles proper discussion, suppresses opposing views, inhibits the desirable effects of conscience & ethical principles, and stifles leadership qualities. One measure of the dominance exerted by John Howard is the number of his former Senators and Ministers now saying that they “told him (John Howard) to go”; Peter Costello has declined the leadership, having been “promised” the Prime Ministership which is now not there for him. They can say this because John Howard is no longer their leader, and he's not in Parliament any more.

Senior Liberal Party members are also now saying they should “dump WorkChoices” and support ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, and its attendant environmental targets. This is probably the correct policy direction, but it will seem to smack of hypocrisy, given their previous vigorous public defence of John Howard's position.

It also put members of the Coalition in the position of defending John Howard, even if they had misgivings. Here the list extends to WorkChoices; funding of public education, public hospitals and health; “children overboard”; attack dogs on the wharves; the Tampa affair, where Australia clearly breached its obligations under International Maritime Law; and immigration detention centres & “the Pacific Solution” to refugees. The drive to make unemployment at less than 4%, with rising inflation from the volume of money pumped into the economy hardly smacks of responsible economic management that would “keep interest rates at the lowest levels for 30 years”.

John Howard, driven by his own obsession with power, has done much to tear apart the fabric and principles of the Liberal Party, and poisoned the political careers of many Liberal Party MP’s and Senators.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rudd as PM But Who'll Lead the Lost?

Australia has a new Prime Minister-elect. Kevin Rudd claimed victory after a phone call and concession speech by John Howard. As the first Labor Prime Minister for 11 years, Kevin Rudd has become a hero to his party.

Both leaders have displayed graciousness - they're obviously not in Parliamentary Question Time - and are to be congratulated for that.

John Howard could well lose his seat, Bennelong, which he held since 1974. As the Liberal and National Party, which also lost seats, began preparing for life in opposition, there came another blow. Just hours after ex-Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer was reported saying that "the best thing the Liberal Party can do now is get behind Peter Costello as leader", Peter Costello issued a statement saying he will NOT contest the leadership of the Liberal Party! Dear Alexander, did you not call Peter first?! Peter Costello is the Liberal Party's best performer in Parliament. There are few other worthwhile candidates: they will probably have to choose between Brendan Nelson (of marginal competence as a Minister), Malcolm Turnbull (known to leak Cabinet discussions, and waver under political pressure), or 'mad-monk' Tony Abbott.

Even if he retains his seat - a big IF - John Howard will not lead the Liberal Party. Peter Costello's decision not to lead them will leave the Liberal Party floundering, probably for some time, simply because there is no-one with the same political strength to replace John Howard. That was crushed by Howard's iron fist in the Cabinet and Party Room. Disunity and internal mistrust could be the characteristics of the new opposition. None will want to face Parliamentary questions on on WorkChoices, Iraq, Health and education funding, Federal-State relationships, or the Nationalist principles John Howard wanted.


Friday, November 23, 2007

NSW Libs' Right-Wing Attack Lindsay

Five Liberal Party members have used leaflets giving false information about Muslim group supporting the ALP has backfired.

The Muslim groups on the leaflet doesn't exist, and the statements about the ALP are false. Involved in the distribution are at least 5 Liberal Party members and supporters. The most significant members of the group that misrepresented Muslims and the ALP are:
  • NSW Liberal Party executive member, Jeff Egan
  • Retiring Liberal MP Jackie Kelly's husband, Garry Clark
  • Greg Chijoff, husband of the Liberal candidate fro Lindsay
Five Liberal Party members have been expelled, including Mr Egan. While John Howard distanced himself and condemned the action, Jackie Kelly, as retiring MP and wife of one of the participants, told the ABC it was a "joke". She said it was like a "Chaser" TV show stunt. While she thought it a joke, the Liberal Party was in full "damage control" over the stupidity of the action - an action that might be likened to Mark Latham's intimidatory handshake with John Howard, and showed the at temped bullying by him. Some will liken it to Mr Howard's "children overboard" mistruth.

Here, the action has racist and xenophobic undertones, and both Kelly and Chijoff are probably tarnished as part of the racist faction within Right-wing of the NSW Liberal Party. That the matter has been passed from the Electoral Commission to the Federal Police should stop them laughing.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Leaders' To-Do Lists

Kevin Rudd released his top5 "To-Do" list in an interview with The Sun-Herald last weekend.

They were:

  • climate change
  • education
  • health
  • broadband
  • computers in schools

This gives him the "soft", people-centred tasks. Signing the Kyoto Protocol and setting interim targets is largely symbolic, but allows us to have a greater say at the next round of negotiations in Bali. The Coalition won't sign, and we'll be in the back blocks, left out of key negotiations.

Education, health, fast broadband (especially for regional areas) and computers in schools will appeal to most sections of the community.

John Howard has reacted with:

  • strong economy (growth)
  • security
  • "election promises"
  • Takeover of the Murray-Darling Basin
  • talking about recognition of Indigenous people in the Constitution

The trouble for Mr Howard is that economic growth is not what is needed, and his election promises, if implemented, will drive inflation for years after he retires. Further, his economic record speaks of WorkChoices, a term he now avoids, but which he did not tell voters about last time.

He gave no detail about further "security" legislation that he wants. (shades of WorkChoices?)

John Howard believes his use of "economic management" will win votes. If voters think about his promises, and the current state of the economy, it could be political poison for him.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Election 2007 Prediction

With the Federal election next Saturday, and many pollsters predicting a Labor landslide, the following is my prediction, based on a combination of Antony Green's Election Predictor at the ABC's Election 2007 site, polls, "history" and "art of prediction" (whatever that is!)

Labor: 76

In fact, the predictor suggested Labor 78; Coalition 70; Other 2.
However, I believe there are a few seats that will not conform to the "State-based swing" result: The Prime Minister's seat of Bennelong will possibly be retained, on the back of a "sympathy vote"; the Seat of Dobell will be a 50-50 proposition, as will be Malcolm Turnbull's seat of Wentworth in Eastern Sydney, and the SA seat of Boothby. Eden-Maonaro will be won by the ALP.

Now, we just need to wait and see.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Howard vs Labor - the Election Promise Effects

Both major parties have now launched their election campaigns. We've had almost 4 weeks of the unofficial election campaign where travel and living expenses of our politicians have been paid by taxpayers. Many would argue that, ethically, once the election writs have been issued by the Governor-General, political parties should be paying, not the taxpayer.

John Howard, at the Liberal Party launch, promised an extra $9.5Billion to voters. This brings his total to almost $65 Billion.

Kevin Rudd, claiming the economic conservative high ground, promised an extra $2.3Billion at the Labor Party's launch. this brought his total to almost $57Billion.

The possible effects of election spending by the end of 2009 are:

  • Home Loan Interest Rates under John Howard: 11% - 12%
  • Home Loan Interest Rates under Kevin Rudd: 9% - 10%
The inflation figure from John Howard's spree is exacerbated by his ideological, but economically bad, drive to put ever more money into the hands of middle-class and wealthy taxpayers, many of whom spend it on consumer goods. This drives consumption inflation, one of the current problems identified by the Reserve Bank.

Of course, John Howard could have some "non-core" promises that he won't implement; and Kevin Rudd could increase the amount of budget surplus retained from 1% to 1.5%-2% during the current boom.

John Howard has gone for the "Go for Growth" slogan - the problem is that there is no room for growth without inflation. Both he and Peter Costello are ideologically locked into retaining only 1% of GDP, even as the economy is overheating and creating inflation. Excessive growth is NOT what the economy needs at the moment.

Kevin Rudd has gone for the "New Leadership" slogan. If elected, his leadership will be tested by the economic conditions he inherits. An overheated economy with rising inflation and significant overseas pressures. Increasing the retained budget surplus from 1% to 1.5% will be a challenge.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Non-Exclusive Interview - Rudd & Howard Talk

"Mr Howard, thanks for your time. I know you're busy with the election."

"Yes - so much money to give away - baby bonus, tax cuts... And so many Liberal seats to try to keep."

"But won't that be inflationary? Won't the economy suffer?"

"Inflation, schminflation - look, I won't be around next election so it won't matter .... to me at least. That'll be Peter's job, if I win"

"Yes, Mr Rudd, thanks for your time. You've also promised tax cuts."

"Yes, John, but ours aren't inflationary. See, I'm an economic conservative, unlike that economic thug, John Howard. He just throws money around willy-nilly. And it's not even his money."

"But the Reserve Bank says that inflation is likely to be higher till at least 2009, and more interest rate rises are likely. That will affect homeowners with a mortgage."

"John, Janette and I own our own home, so they won't affect us. And they won't affect the rich too much either."

"Me, too".

"Don't either of you care?"

(Howard) "Is that a rich private entity I can give taxpayer money to?"
(Rudd) "Of course the Labor Party cares - we are the caring party."

(Howard) "Any interest rate rises are because of union thugs - it's not my fault. It's not, mum"


Friday, November 09, 2007

Banks Interest in Greed

Banks have tried to "talk up" the possibility of raising interest rates by more than the 0.25% rise in the rate set by the Reserve Bank, announced on Wednesday.

They claim they have been carrying costs asociated with the troubled sub-prime markets, mostly in the US. The decision to lend money in such markets forms part of a bank's overall business strategy and business decisions are made on that basis.

Let's look at the 2007 profits for the major banks (results reported to Sept-November 2007):
"Net profit for the year to September was $1.163 billion, an increase of 11 per
cent over 2006. After adjusting for hedge fund accounting, cash profit was
$1.160 billion, an increase of 13.1 per cent over the previous year."

"3.45 billion, 12 per cent higher than this time last year."

"Macquarie says its profit for the six months to September should be up strongly
on last year's corresponding result of $730 million",
and is expecting a record
profit for the current six month period.

"met forecasts with a 20 percent rise in second-half profit, driven by strong
loan growth, and said it targeted revenue growth above the industry average in
its key consumer banking"

"For the 12 months to 30 June 2007, statutory net profit after tax was $4,470 million", a 14 percent increase, and reportedly has less exposure to the US sub-prime market.

ANZ recorded a record profit of $4.18 Billion, an increase of 13 percent.
In the face of record profits and increases of 4-5 times that of inflation, and because they admit they made business decisions that have not made as much profit as regular mortgages and bank fees, and that therefore they need to increase lending rates of existing mortgages by more than 0.25% is, I think, wrong.

If the business decisions they made are not as profitable, then they need to examine their strategic plans, and redirect their money to customers who will generate a stable return on their investment ... but not increase their loan rates by more than 0.25%.


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Interest Rates Up - Howard says 'Sorry'

There were no surprises at all today, when the Reserve Bank announced it has lifted interest rates by 0.25%. The banks and financial institutions will follow suit.

Over the last 3 budgets (2005-2007), John Howard and Peter Costello have pumped about $70 Billion into the Australian economy in personal tax cuts alone. In May 2006, John Howard defended his tax cuts, saying they were not inflationary! He issued another $37 Billion in 2007.

His redistribution of tax money seems to favour those who are wealthier, with households in the top 10% of income taking about 30% of the tax cut money. See here.

A look at the RBA's interest rate rises shows increases in: May 2006, Aug 2006, Nov 2006, Aug 2007, Nov 2007.

The economy, for its part has had to generate an extra $100+ in value of GDP as consumers spent up big. There are only 2 ways it can do this: create more goods and services - difficult in an economy at full capacity - or the increase prices - inflation.

Part of the RBA's statement says:
Inflation in Australia has increased. ... During 2007, the pace of growth of
demand and output has also increased.

It is this growth in demand that needs to be managed. The Federal Budget needs to remove more money from the economy to help reduce demand - but that would not be popular in an election year, so political expediency takes precedence. Good economic management doesn't count.

Today, John Howard said "sorry", but 'sorry' doesn't mean "good economic management"


Sunday, November 04, 2007

Inflation - it's not my fault says Howard

On Wednesday, we will find out if the Reserve Bank lifts interest rates yet again. It would be the 6th interest rate rise since the last election. John Howard promised voters keep interest rates "at a record 30 year low".

Today, he told the ABC there are some factors that might lead to another interest rate rise: the strength of the economy, which he manages; the growing price of oil, and the drought (which is affecting food prices).

But, as with most political statements, it is what John Howard is NOT telling us that matters. In determining the underlying rate of inflation, the Reserve Bank discounts the effects of items seen as volatile, including the price of oil, and of food.

That leaves John Howard's contribution - the "strength" of an overheating economy; an economy managed by his & Peter Costello's budgets. Within hours, Mr Howard promised to pump an extra $10 Billion into the economy, as he tried to buy votes in the politically important areas of Sydney, Victoria, and south-east Queensland. These are areas with electorates he must retain to continue his (otherwise) unannounced agendas.

There are two elements in the fine print, though: the road/rail funding is targeted till 2020 - 4 government terms away; and it is as though he wants to ensure that inflation continues to grow, whatever the outcome.

Economically responsible - you bet it's not!


Friday, November 02, 2007

Madness, The Monk & The Rock Star

The last few days must have John Howard and Kevin Rudd wishing, praying, that their charges would stop having moments of madness.

Tony Abbott, Minister for Health, has been called "the mad monk". His madness erupted this week, with public abuse of Bernie Banton for (trying to) deliver a petition for PBS support for a drug to treat asbestos-related illness. Mr Banton will die from such an illness, and campaigned with unions to get compensatin from James Hardie.

Then there was the the debacle at Mersey Hospital: the Federal Government was supposed to take control, but somebody forgot to arrange for federal supervision of state doctors, and to solve the problem of not using "Workchoices" on the new emeployees. Workchoices is a particularly sensitive area for the government, and it is desperate to retain seats in Tasmania.

Then, in Victoria with Prime Minister Howard for a "policy launch". John Howard was having such a good time he kept Tony Abbott waiting to return to Canberra for a televised debate with Labor Health spokeswoman, Nicola Roxton. He was overheard saying "that's bullshit" to Roxton's taunt that he could have been on time.

All he could do was "grin and bear it" - and apologise ... often.

Today, a radio shock jock reported Labor's Peter Garrett saying to him that, if elected, Labor would "change everything" - presumably its promises and policies. And the Liberal Party wants to (as a Federal Government) take over Grafton Hospital. They haven't yet solved the (Workchoices) problems at Mersey Hospital.
Madness ... sheer madness!


Monday, October 29, 2007

Big Tax Bucks for Private ATCs

John Howard today announced his $2 Billion plan for 100 more Australian Technical Colleges. Thirty of these would be "offered" to States and private schools - for which they will receive $10 Million. That's a total of $300 or 15% of the $2 Billion. 30% (state/private schools) get 15% of the money. 70% - all private entities- get 85% of taxpayer money.

The other 70, will receive $1.99 Billion of taxpayer money, to go to private organisations. The private organisations will get 85% of taxpayer money for just 70% of the ATC's. States and private schools will get 0.5% of funding for 30% of the ATCs. This seems to be another instance of John Howard splurging taxpaer dollars to private entities.

Then ther eis the issue of performance and accountability. The Auditor-General's (Performance) Report #3 on DEST's funding of current ATCs showeed that enrolments were only 2/3 of those projected by ATCs in their requests for funds, and funded by DEST. They also show that they are not achieving the numbers of School-Based Apprentices and Trainees required. (only 74 of projected 460). There were problems of accountability identified by the A-G, but which won't be addressed till 2008-2009. Significant numbers had problems with their RTO status, and have had to "sub-contract" to TAFEs

ATC's are inefficient in terms of their funding model, and represent John Howard's policy of providing great amounts of taxpayer dollars to private entities, at the expense of public facilities. The current arrangements are unsatisfactory, but Mr Howard will continue to fund private entities with 99.5% of the funding for only 70% of the facilities. Meanwhile, universities, TAFE and public schools have had their share of federal funding cut.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Coalition At Odds with Itself

"A week is long time in politics" is a well-worn clichè. Kevin Rudd had his blooper this week at a gathering of seniors in Tasmania, where he received a spray from one Howard supporter. Then there were the days of Coalition criticism of Kevin Rudd about his removal of CFMEU Assistant Secretary Joe McDonald's from the ALP.

This weekend must seem an eternity to John Howard, his minions, and his minders. Consider the following weekend events:
  • Joe Hockey told journalists that the Coalition is simply running a "fear campaign" about unionists.
  • While John Howard would not commit to a % of unionists that would be representative, Hockey said 20%. He then struggled to name 3 former union members who were ministers. He tried to count a student association and the AMA as unions. Tony Abbott might be the only one - hardly "representative", as Hockey would want.
  • The Sunday Telegraph ran a story that Malcolm Turnbull had previously urged Mr Howard to sign the Kyoto Protocol (on global warming). No only had Cabinet discussions been leaked, but this was contrary to the position Mr Howard enforced on his ministry. Liberal sources were blaming Mr Turnbull for the leak - possibly to destroy any future leadership roles he might desire - saying he was only interested in retaining his own seat.
  • Mr Howard was questioned by Channel 9's Laurie Oakes about his promise to keep interest rates at the "lowest levels for 30 years". There have been 5 interest rate rises sisnce the last election, and a sixth seems likely on 6 November when the Reserve Bank board meets to discuss inflation.
  • The Sun-Herald today revealed that Federal Territiroes Minister, Jim Loyd, has tried to have a memorial to the people of SIEV-X who died at sea, removed. The memorial was previously approved, by the government, the ACT Government and the NCA. IT became unacceptable after the election was called. It is consistent with John Howard's policy that refugees, boat people, and "foreigners" should be dehumanised, and used to create fear in the comunity.
John Howard must be cringing that he can't hold all his ministers' hands, all the time. Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time" would be an appropriate chorus for them.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Howard's Inflation His Own Poison

Today's economic news was all about interest rates and inflation. Treasurer Costello tried to use the media to put pressure on the Reserve Bank to not lift interest rates when it meets on Melbourne Cup Day by citing only the official 12-month figure for inflation. He avoided any mention of: the underlying rate of of inflation (the cpi was almost 1% for the quarter) or the rate at which that figure is increasing.

With a big budget surplus, Howard and Costello are spurging in election-promise spending. But it is not good economic management. In November 2006, I wrote:
"Monetary Policy (interest rates) is a blunt instrument against inflation. ...
Successive "tax cuts" have produced more spending than the value of the tax
cuts. That is, we created more money and inflation than the tax cut."

The underlying rate of inflation, and the speed at which that is increasing is a concern for the Reserve Bank. In July 2006, John Howard said that it was important that the Reserve Bank focus on underlying inflation. (it was when banana prices were very high after a cyclone ruined much of Nth Queensland's crop). That Peter Costello is studiously trying to ingnore that fact right now is a measure of his desperation and lack of candour with the Australian people.

High, and an increasing rate of, underlying inflation indicates poor economic management by the Federal Government in its budget spending - poor management that will likely see an unprecedented rate rise in an election campaign.

It's as though the government has decided that, if it's going to lose, it should make things as difficult for the Australian people and the next government as possible.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Election Debate: Skills Crisis

A John Howard and Kevin Rudd exchanged insults during the "Election Debate", it became apparent that, as always, it was about many things. Debating wasn't one of them. It was about TV image and political point-scoring before a panel of journalists, and a government tantrum about "the worm"

John Howard was critical of the use of the "worm" to show audience reaction to his and Mr Rudd's statements: he knows he doesn't always argue well. However, the journalists panel was critical of his attitude, saying that there was ever-more government interference in the media for purely political purposes. Indeed, the Federal Government cut Channel 9's feed when the "worm" went to air. Media manipulation by the Federal Government is, indeed, something that ought to frighten voters.

Among the issues raised during the debate were:

  • education: Mr Howard looked uncomfortable when Mr Rudd talked about a recent OECD report that was critical of Australia's investment in public tertiary education. It is certainly true that John Howard, Julie Bishop and Andrew Robb have been responsible for funding cuts to universities and TAFE across Australia, as a % of GDP. They have also used threats to withhold funding unless universities and TAFE adopted the Liberal Party's agenda on WorkChoices.
  • optimism: despite both leaders expressing optimism, John Howard's response was to assert that Kevin Rudd is "pessimistic". No argument, just an assertion.
  • industrial relations: John Howard was very careful to NOT mention the "W" word (Workchoices) when IR was discussed. He does not like voters' response to the lowering of wages, and tries to avoid the issue, or rattle off statistics hoping to confuse people.
  • climate change: Mr Rudd wants to set targets, sign the Kyoto Protocol and work locally and internationally to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Mr Howard has a reactionary view that "whatever you do, don't damage the economy". The reality is that climate change will damage the economy, to our land, our rivers, our coastal living if we do nothing; if we do, there will still be some damage to the economy in reducing carbon emissions, but it can adapt and remain strong.
  • economic management: Mr Howard is still seen by many voters as economically responsible. It is an assertion he repeats often, hoping that voters will not remember the 5 interest rate rises since the last election, that his economic management redistributes wealth to those who have most, that poverty has risen from 7% to 10% of our people. Those are parts of his economic management he tries to avoid people remembering.
As I have said before, to win this election both sides must target the 12-15% of voters who are "undecided". Whether this debate helped either leader do that, or whether voters see it like as one long policical ad remains to be seen.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tax Cuts, Interest Rates and Public Facilities

Tax cuts and negative name-calling: it must be election time.

John Howard has once again trotted out tax cuts during an election campaign. He asserts that HE is the most responsible economic manager for Australia, yet he knows that the $34 Billion in tax cuts he is offering will surely lead to higher interest rates and higher inflation. There are enough arguments to NOT have these tax cuts:
  • by themselves, they will be inflationary. The economy will have to produce nearly $50 Billion of EXTRA GDP. It is already groaning under the strain of other pressures such as the US sub-prime mortgage market, rising oil prices, rising food prices, and rising prices of other goods.
  • many voters believe such money would be better spent on public facilities that benefit society: public education (universities, TAFE, public schools); public health and hospitals, and public roads (national highways, and major state roads). Providing funding to states for public facilities goes against what John Howard stands for. He will willingly give public money to private entities, and redistribute wealth to those who have more, but providing adequate funds to states for public benefit is not high on his agenda.
  • there will be less money to spend on climate change and renewable energy sources. Again, this is not one of John Howard's favourite topics, having picked his position as a "climate sceptic".

John Howard is hoping that voters will not think about the implications of such large tax cuts, much of which will go to those with more wealth. Kevin Rudd is probably smart to pause and give a considered response, rather than a "me-too" reaction.

It seems as though whatever economic responsibility John Howard might have had went out the window when he mentioned the word "election". We need responsible economic management, not inflationary tax cuts.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

It's the 24th November!

After several months of speculation, Prime Minister John Howard has called the Federal election for 24 November 2007. He announced the date at a media conference at Parliament House at noon today.

In his following speech, he made a number of assertions:

  • "people must decide who is most able to not only to preserve Australia's prosperity, but build it to make sure it is fairly spread"
    QUESTION: Is WorkChoices designed to fairly spread the nation's wealth, or to reduce pay and conditions of millions of "worker units"?
    COMMENT: in his 11 years as Prime Minister, the number of people living in poverty in Austrlia has increased from 7% to 10% of people.
  • "There is no reason why the current unemployment can't go lower"
    QUESTION: An admirable aim. What effect will even lower employment have on inflation? Interest rates? When interest rates have moved in the last two years, what has been the movement? (UP)
  • "I have always wanted to achieve reconciliation (with indigenous people)", he said.
    QUESTION: Demonstrate your track record on reconciliation over the last 11 years?
  • Mr Howard said that if reelected as Prime Minister, Peter Costello would be Treasurer.
    QUESTION: Won't Peter Costello become Prime Minister next term?
  • Mr Howard asserts that there is "nothing balanced" in having a Federal Labor Government and Labor state governments.
    QUESTIONS: When has the financial bullying and political blackmailing by the Federal Government over funding to states been balanced? Is forcing a politically-set history curriculum on states "balanced"?
  • Climate Change and reconciliation positions seem have have been reversed, or at least seemingly altered.
    QUESTION: Is that just political opportunism, cynicism, or both?

Update: Kevin Rudd's Response

Kevin Rudd has said, in response

  • that the election IS about a new style of leadership that is needed. That was John Howard's attack on Paul Keating way back in 1996!
    COMMENT: Kevin Rudd's leadership, like John Howard's, is "Presidential" in style. John Howard like power, Kevin Rudd wants voters to focus on his popularity.
  • he has a plan, and understands the challenges facing Australia.
    COMMENT: Perhaps, but it is not yet fully articulated, except for Workchoices. That will come during the campaign, we hope.
  • he will ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and will NOT develop nuclear power stations.
    COMMENT: this will certainly attract voters away from John Howard, whose plan is really about extra profit-driven "Carbon-trading", but this will mean reliance on coal, or gas-fired, power stations.
This campaign will be a long six weeks for many voters. Much of it is likely to be negative.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Leaders Campaign But No Date Yet

John Howard and Kevin Rudd are both campaigning in Sydney today.

John Howard is promising Federal funding for storm-water harvesting ... but only in his electorate of Bennelong. Kevin Rudd is continuing his criticism of John Howard's "government advertising" just before the election is called. It will stop when the Parliament is dissolved: then the Liberal Party will pay for advertisements that support the government.

Mr Rudd has announced $50 for a cancer centre for Sydney. A worthy cause. Federal funding, as a % of GDP has fallen, while states share of hospital funding has increased. A visionary government/leader would recognise that what voters want is a commitment, from either party, that they will provide a greater share of funds to the states for public hospitals. John Howard's vision from the last 11 years has been to foster private entities at the expense of public ones.

Short-term electioneering is a reality near elections, but neither side has yet articulated well enough its vision for services to the public, by public utilities.

Many voters are already disengaging from the campaign, and just want the election to be called, and over. Meanwhile there is still much speculation in the media about when the election will be officially called, and dates of 17th or 24th November are being mentioned. John Howard will only use those dates if he bets the Reserve Bank will NOT raise interest rates after its November meeting. I still believe he will use 1-December for the election.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Reba's Health Woes

NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher has been under intense pressure and media scrutiny over problems in the NSW hospital system. Royal North Shore Hospital (RNS) has been a constant problem since a pregnant woman miscarried in the emergency waiting room toilet became known about 2 weeks ago. Yesterday, there were reports about missed cancers and delayed x-ray reports at Liverpool Hospital.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma is supporting his minister, despite calls for a parliamentary inquiry from the Opposition. Mr Iemma will resist such an inquiry for a number of reasons:
  • Mr Iemma is a former Minster for Health
  • party factionalism
  • personal friendship
  • the mere fact that the Opposition wants an Inquiry
  • the total Health budget is essentially determined by Mr Iemma (as Premier) and Michael Costa (as Treasurer). Neither want to be called to give evidence.
There probably should be a Parliamentary Inquiry: it is an important step to determine what is actually wrong and, perhaps, recommend ways to fix it. It would also be one way to ensure accountability and responsibility from our State politicians. Politics will determine that there isn't one.

In the meantime, Reba Meagher will be accountable through media scrutiny and analysis. They seem to hang on every nuance, inflexion and facial expression. Some time after the Federal election, Morris Iemma might decide on a Cabinet reshuffle. Perhaps Reba Meagher will move to a ministerial position more suited to her talents. At this stage of her career, Health seems to have been too much of a challenge.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Reading From the Book of History by John Howard

Today, the Prime Minister will announce that Federal funding to States for schools will only be provided if they teach an Australian History curriculum set by John Howard.

The curriculum move comes after John Howard dumped recommendations by a Melbourne history academic, and had them rewritten on his terms by right-wing (conservative) historian and a supporter of John Howard. Further, John Howard seems to have set the curriculum: students will have to learn about 70 facts of Australian History: emphasis on "facts". But history is not just about facts. Date-and-event is pretty dry content. History needs to be about people, context, environment, and ... not included in Mr Howard's curriculum ... balance.

There are some significant omissions from Australia's history, from which valuable lessons could have been learnt:
  • the White Australia Policy, and its parallel in current xenophobic policies
  • the "Rum Rebellion": a conflict between Governor William Bligh and Macarthur & his army officer supporters over the reduced number & size of land grants, especially to the wealthy
  • the Eureka Stockade
  • the Stolen Generation; and the broarder issue of treatment of orphans
  • attitudes and treatment of indigenous people, apart from 1 or 2 major incidents
  • other aspects of changing attitudes of the world and Australia. eg Britain's nuclear weapon testing in Australia (MonteBello Islands & Maralinga), and subsequent move to the EU; Australia's change to follow US foreign policy

What John Howard wants:

  • power over states
  • power to personally set school curricula
  • a politically-set quite prescriptive curriculum (HIS curriculum) It is similar to Japan's former politically-set history of WWII- a history that denied Japanese atrocities and war crimes - in that important key facts and political sensitivities are omitted or treated lightly.
The Prime Minister has also insisted on the attendance of the Principal and school captains at Moorebank High School. They are on school holidays and Mr Howard wants to use them for his own media promotion. He wants voters to think, by association, that the Principal and children are on his side. It is marketing manipulation, paid for by us voters.

Should politicians set the content of school curricula? Vote now - see top right section of my blog.


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Social Happiness and Government Policies

Many economists find the concept of "social happiness" too difficult. This is especially true of those who subscribe to economic rationalism, where the main argument is for less government intervention.

John Howard would like to think of himself as an economic rationalist. He has expressed the view "let the market decide", most recently about a carbon emissions trading scheme. That is, if business thinks there's money to be made, let them do it. He certainly did not want his government to interfere and set binding emissions targets. At the other end of the spectrum, he has been most happy for government intervention when it is to his own political advantage: the takeover of Mersey Hospital in Tasmania is an example. So is the growth of "public servants" and "media advisers" for government self-promotion. Kevin Rudd might be a little less "dry" in his economic thinking, but he, too, is prone to promised intervention if it suits.

"Social happiness" is sometimes expressed as the "sum of all individuals' happiness". But this is difficult to measure. Are people happy because they have another tax-cut? Are they happy knowing that the collective money could be used for public good? Individual people know that Public utilities (public hospitals, other health facilities, public schools, national highways) are essential, but are "happy" to take the money themselves ... until they need to use the public facilities. Then they ask "why isn't the government funding this properly?"

Government policies at State and Federal levels have been geared to individualism and privatism for too long. It is time to better fund our Public utilities for public good, rather than political expediency.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Polls Still Bad But PM Has Hope

The latest Herald-AC Nielson Poll continues the bad news for Prime Minister John Howard. The numbers show voter consistency of opinion over months: The 2-party-preferred count shows Labor 56%; Coalition 44%. However, as with other polls, this does not include the "uncommitted", a figure of about 12%.

Number-crunching shows the approximate figures as:

  • Labor: 49%
  • Coalition: 39%
  • Uncommitted: 12%

It is this 12% of uncommitted voters that gives John Howard hope. I expect that about 7 in 10 of these will vote for the government (Coalition), just because they are in government, and because such voters are more likely to be befuddled by a government scare campaign. That would give figures close to:

  • Labor: 52%
  • Coalition: 48%
and result in a much closer election result.

The challenge for John Howard is to harness the scare campaign. He really only has 3 bullets: voter perceptions of his economic management (multiple successive rises in interest rates notwithstanding) and fear of refugees. He and his ministers will continue their assertions on these issues. The third bullet is pork-barrelling the voters. He's started with highway funding, and will continue on to hospitals, both of which are areas of voter concern. "But wait, there's more - ..."!

The challenge for Kevin Rudd is to continue to push the image of a leader who has a vision, and who wants to restore public faith in public structures such as health, education and transport; and the image of leader who wants to undo the worst degradations of WorkChoices without alienating businesses.


Friday, October 05, 2007

Hospitals Can't Heal Themselves

Assertions about Hospital funding, emergency department procedures, ministerial competence, a promised inquiry and changes of minds, and much finger-pointing have been the result of a recent traumatic miscarriage at Royal North Shore (RNS) Hospital in Sydney.

Since 1995-96, the proportion of Federal Government funding towards public hospitals in NSW has fallen from 45% to 41% (2005-06) of the the total funding. The States increased their proportion from 55%-59%. Many will also find unsurprising that the proportion, and dollar amounts, going to private hospitals has increased. Much of that probably comes through the 30% Health Insurance rebate given to taxpayers who then use private hospitals. Still, in NSW 30o people per 1000 people will visit an emergency department - that's a number equivalent to 30% of the population.

Education, transport, universities, TAFE, health. The Federal Government's agenda is to provide more taxpayer support for "private", rather than "public". (The same is true for NSW roads.)

"The time has come", the Walrus said, "to talk of many things ..."
  • We taxpayers might need to pay more tax to fund the public services, such as hospitals, that we want.
  • Or, since State Governments are severely hamstrung in raising revenue by taxes, the Federal Government needs to increase its spending on these.
  • The Federal Government has restricted the number of doctors that can be trained by our universities. It is time they went, with a plan to increase the number of graduating doctors. The plan might also involve lower degree costs for doctors who work in public hospitals after completing their training. Similarly, for nurses.
  • The proposal for local hospital boards is simply about divide, conquer and control by the Federal Government. Let's put that plan to rest.
  • NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher needs to be more productive in her office, and spend more time understanding her portfolio, and less on holidays.
  • Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott must spend less time trying to snipe at, and blame, others (states) and look for ways to work for the people of Australia.
  • NSW Area Health Services need to find failures in all their procedures, staffing levels, staff training, staffing needs (in terms of experience) and infrastructure needs. Then, they can be brutally honest with their departmental and political masters. Only through such a traumatic and cathartic evaluation will a viable 5-10 year plan be possible. We will need that long to fix the systemic and political errors of the last 10 years.
All of these will require a radical change in perspective from all participants.. Economically, we cannot just pump more money in: it needs to be redistributed from elsewhere. As a society we need to set the agenda. We also need politicians and governments who will act in the public interest, not the party interests. Instead of being belligerent, controlling, and blackmailing, governments must actually consider the public good in how they deal with each other.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Federal Election Date

There has been weeks of speculation in the media bout when the Federal election will be held. Senior Government members will only say "between now and Christmas" or "well before Christmas".

Given that this weekend has a public holiday, and is the start of school holidays in NSW, my prediction is as follows.

  • John Howard will call the election during the seek after school returns. The Governor-General is overseas, and to call the election during the holidays would not go well with voters psyche.

  • If he calls the election during that week (15-20 October), the election will be held on Sat 1st December. John Howard would not want it to be any later - that would interfere with voters' Christmas shopping, and be too close to the start of school Christmas Holidays, neither of which would please voters.

So, Saturday 1st December is my prediction for the date of the Federal election.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Australian Farming Audit

Last week, Opposition Shadow Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, agreed that an audit of farming land would not be a bad thing. He said this in response to a direct question.

The Federal Government's (junior) Parliamentary Secretary for the environment, John Cobb, immediately responded by trying to "shoot the messenger", saying that Garrett was "the grim reaper" of farmers. Such a response contributes nothing to the discussion. It's a discussion teh Government does not want to have. There has been a number of media stories and editorials supporting John Howard's plan to provide more assistance to farmers.

Much of Australia has been in drought for more than 6 years, the average temperature has been higher than in other droughts, possible due to climate change, and rain events that have occurred have been less common and more extreme. Add to this, the mix of high-water use irrigated crops such as cotton and rice planted in the very dry Murray-Darling Basin, and there would seem to be a good case for a national audit of what we produce on farms, where it's produced, what water is needed to produce it, and whether some areas currently farmed are viable. Some years years ago, both the manufacturing, sugar and dairy industries were restructured, and the Federal Government encouraged some farmers to leave the industry: there might be other areas where this is appropriate, with suitable financial inducements.

A national audit of farming land, production and water use is a worthwhile response to the effects of climate change/"shift" on our farmland, drought and our farmers and their families.

The question is not whether our politicians have the "ticker" to do it; the question is, are we willing to insist on action for Australia's benefit.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Federal-State Health Funding

On Tuesday (25-Sep), a woman had a miscarriage in a public toilet at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney. On Wednesday, another lady contacted the media to say she had had a similar experience 2 years ago. Both had gone to the hospital, and been waiting for more than 1.5 hours. The experience of both could only be described as shattering.

Triage sets priorities for waiting patients. Those most at risk (chest pains, breathing difficulties) are treated sooner. The process relies on assessment, and on available nurses and doctors. Both are in short supply. RNS has vacancies for over 60 registered nurses, and an unknown number of doctors. It underwent a restructure last year - presumably to reduce costs.

Health is one of the "big 3" budget items in NSW (the others are educations and police), the proportion of the budget spent on each of them is increasing. Health now uses about 26% of NSW's budget. While many call for more funding, no one disputes the need.

How to properly fund the provision of State services is a much bigger issue. States cannot reasonably borrow to pay for recurrent expenditure. ie money spent each year in running the services, the same way that we cannot relentlessly borrow to pay for food and regular household bills.

Since the Hawke-Keating years, the % of GDP provided to the states has fallen. Under John Howard and Peter Costello is is at its lowest point - just 5% of GDP. Yet the costs borne by states has risen inexorably. If the states, and NSW in particular, cannot adequately fund the required levels of service using the money we pay in GST, there are only 2 options:
  1. we pay more tax - eg by increasing GST from 10% to , say 12%, or more income tax to the Federal Government
  2. the Federal Government releases more money to the states, possibly as tied grants for specific service areas.

John Howard has 3 fundamental objections to increasing Federal Government grants to the states:
  1. He considers the budget surplus his, to be used for the benefit of the Liberal Party, and his re-election. Last election he splurged $6 billion in voter "sweeteners": we're paying higher interest rates partly because of that largess.
  2. He has a fundamental objection to helping fund Labor governments to provide services. That doesn't help him.
  3. He has a fundamental objection to public services: he would much rather spend Federal money helping private companies deliver the same services, because he retains a measure of control, and he can take "credit".

States need to be have increased funding to provide the services we "demand". That money must come from our taxes, either new, increased, or existing income tax. Perhaps we really do need to look at a new Federal-State funding model. We will need a different Federal Government to do it, though.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Workchoices - the Christianity Test

On 9 August, John Howard & Kevin Rudd both professed their Christianity in a broadcast to the Hillsong Church, a church that has mostly supported John Howard.

He told the audience "The predominant religious culture in our society is Christianity" and that the parable of the talents is all about capitalism.

A friend sent me a passage from the Old Testament.
It is from the book of Job 8:4-7 It reads:
Listen to me, you who trample on the needy
and try to suppress the poor people of the country,
Then by lowering the bushel, raising the shekel,
by swindling and tampering with the scales,
we can buy up the poor for money,
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
The Lord swears ..
'Never will I forget a single thing you have done!'

It reminded me of the effects of WorkChoices legislation. I wonder what lesson John Howard and Kevin Rudd would draw from that passage.

Today's news also had stories about WorkChoices ads that have been withdrawn. The embrassing withdrawals of both ads reflect the need to for both the government and business consortiums ( the ad was from a groups of 19 employer organisations and pretended to show union bosses closing a dressmaking shop) to portray accurately what happens: neither ad does that. As with all ads from governments and big business "Caveat emptor" - let the buyer beware. The ads and the scare tactics are untrustworthy.

John Howard professes Christianity - but does his legislation practice it?


NSW - The Gambling State

NSW is set to allow even more opportunities for problem gamblers to fill Treasurer Michael Costa's moneybag. On Fr 22-Sep, NSW Minister for Gambling and Racing told ABC Radio
"The Gaming Machine Act is under review and that means everything is under review, from harm minimisation through to poker machine entitlements. We are not ruling anything in or out."

NSW Hotels and clubs will be mighty pleased - they will be lobbying hard to allow extra poker machines. The government is likely to be sympathetic: it wants the tax revenue, especially given it is losing millions in revenue from lost horse racing, and might yet have to be seen to be supporting the industry.

The NSW government is also under some pressure over hotel trading hours, given the increasing levels of violence surrounding some big hotels, and nightclubs.

The NSW branch of the Australian Hotels Association has been a significant lobbyist of the NSW government. Electoral Commission data shows the owners of 2 hotels where there have been problems with violence have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the NSW ALP. Presumably they see it as a "business investment", and want a return.

All this comes at the same time as Russell Crowe and Peter Holmes a Court plan to dump poker machines from South Sydney Leagues Club. There desire is driven by their recognition of the social cost of gambling, and the manner in which it is promoted: no sunlight (so patrons lose track of time), ATMs nearby, and the desire for clubs and hotels, and the NSW government, for ever more money from punters.

This is indeed a serious social issue, but the big players - the NSW government, clubs and pubs - have just one phrase: "show me the money"! Their cynicism in the face of significant social problems is nothing less than mind-blowing.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Poll Spin - Howard Says He Can Win

Today's Newspoll survey results seemed to bring good news to John Howard. The Liberal Party was back to his previously losing position, as shown by polls from 6 July onwards. The only exception was the last poll. (2 September). All others had (2-party preferred) the Coalition at 44-45% and the Labor Party at 55-56%.

From that, John Howard told the Party room that "I can win it". Well, politicians do like to talk up their underdog status, to at least appear to have a chance. In truth, he does. The polls have shown a fairly consistent % of 'uncommitted' that are not included in the poll results. Those undecided on polling day are more likely to vote for an incumbent government, than for a change. So, we can expect future polls to show a narrowing of the gap.

In terms of voter satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the leaders, the numbers stay the same.
  • John Howard: 45 % Satisfied; 44% dissatisfied.
  • Kevin Rudd: 65% satisfied; only 18% dissatisfied.
The same is true for voter perceptions of who would make a better Prime Minister
  • John Howard: 38%
  • Kevin Rudd: 48%
The challenge for both parties, and especially the Liberal Party, is to win the hearts and votes of those uncommitted: about 10-14% of voters. The other numbers will change a little, but it is this group that will really decide the election.

Meanwhile, Kevin Rudd has been cautioning his team against any displays of hubris or arrogance: Government ministers have already tried lining up to tell voters that's what's happening. The mind games continue, from both sides.

It is 5 days since John Howard talked about his team. Since then, not a single one of his press releases has mentioned the word 'team', but there have been plenty of 'I's.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Howard Government's Green Advertising

As John Howard prepares an advertising campaign to tell voters about his Climate Change "green" credentials, it is appropriate to look at his own record.

Kirribilli House, used by John Howard instead of The Lodge, had rainwater tanks fitted in 2007. If they had not been, John Howard faced the embarrassment of being named a large water user, as Sydney residentsstruggled to cope with water restrictions.

Parliamant House, where he could have shown considerable leadership, has been less than an ideal model of a "green" citizen. While there are government websites and documentation afor householders to use to benefit themselves and the environment, John Howard's government:

  • still uses large, petrol-engined cars. No Toyata Priuses here.
  • 2004-05 figures show there were 133929000 MJ of energy used at Parliament House. Only 10274386 (7.8%) came from renewable/green energy sources
  • A 2002 Senate Inquiry on "The Value of Water" recommended specific measures, including "Upgrading all Commonwealth buildings for higher standards of water efficiency" and "The Joint House Department to be funded to change all toilet cisterns in Parliament House to dual-flush and to fit water efficient shower roses".

    (Recommendations 9 & 10, under "Leading by Example")

    As at May 2007 only the toilets in the carpark, forecourt and Parliament House Recreation Centre had been fitted with waterless urinals (no dual-flush toilets) and only the Recreation Centre has water efficient shower roses.

You''ll soon see slick advertisements espousing the green "climate change" credentials of John Howard & co. So much for the political will of John Howard's Government to show leadership in their own backyard!


Friday, September 14, 2007

John Howard's New Team

John Howard has a new team. At least he says he has a team. After years of presidential-style domination of his party and coalition members and Ministers, John Howard would have voters believe they are a team.

Consider his 3 press releases today:
  • Nurses Education: one "I"; no mention of "team"
  • Address to the RSL National Congress: more than 30 "I"s; no mention of "team"
  • Australian Nursing Schools: 19 "I"s; no mention of team
So much for having a team. This is not about teams: the Coalition has members and Ministers who firmly believe that John Howard should NOT be leading the party, let alone the country. Yes, they are self-interested: they stand to lose their seats at the election.

The presentation of a "team" to voters is like a quick slash of gloss paint over a facade that is crumbling, cracked and very much in ruins. It's glossy, but has no substance. John Howard's leadership, and his governement, has almost certainly run its course


Howard's Nursing Agenda

Today Prime Minister John Howard released his plan for nnursing education. Pointedly, he made the announcement at a private hospital (St George Private Hospital, in Sydney), rather than at a public hospital.

In his press release, he also pointedly talks about "I" - no mention of the new "team" in the whole press release - and says:

"What we are going to do is to provide $170 million over a period of five years to create 25 Australian Hospital Nursing Schools and essentially what that means is that the Federal Government will fund individual hospitals, either public or private, we'll adopt the same approach irrespective of whether it is a public or a private hospital; for them to provide training facilities within the hospitals themselves for people training to become enrolled nurses. "

Here we need to draw parallels with the Australian Technical Schools - remember those - most of which have been unable to find apprenticeships for their students, and most of which have to sub-contract the training to TAFE, because they don't have RTO status.

It also says that the Federal Government "will fund individual hospitals." Let's draw further parallels with universities, which this year had the option of no increase in funding, or an increase in funding if they offered only Workchoices. Yes, it's political blackmail, and yes the university Vice-Chancellor's had Hobson's Choice: Workchoices or nothing.

From John Howard, this offer might look good, but the offer is really about 2 things:
  • Concentration of Political power for John Howard
  • The Federal Government using financial "leverage" to push more people onto Workchoices.


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

NSW Electricity Sale to Benefit Budget - Not People

On 4 May 2007, the NSW Premier, Morris Iemma, told Parliament
"there will be no sale of electricity generation, transmission or distribution"
On 11 September the Owen Inquiry into Electricity Supply in NSW was released. Its recommendation is a s follows:

"... there is a need to be prepared for additional investment in
baseload from 2013-14. Further, the most efficient means of
providing for baseload is to improve the commercial and policy
signals used by the private sector when investing in generation
capacity in New South Wales. My key recommendation,
therefore, is that the Government of New South Wales divests
itself of all State ownership in both retail and generation. ..."

That is, Professor Owen, having looked at the National electricity market, carbon-trading schemes present and planned, the need for increased baseload power generation, and the budget, has recommended NSW sell its electricity infrastructure.

How does this fit with Morris Iemma's prmise on 9 May? Professor Owen raised the possibility of long-term leases to power station plant to private companies as way out. He argues that a long-term lease will encourage private lessees to maintain the power stations. But this doesn't solve the problem of the extra need.

The solution, it seems is to remove the pricing caps, to allow private companies to build new power stations, while politicians tell us that "iremoving the pricing cap will have no effect because competition will keep the prices low". If that is the case, they should be left. Fair go - they must think there's one born every minute! The NSW ALP government is really looking to avoid investment in infrastructure that would provide essential service (electricity) to the people of NSW.

By so doing they will make the budget look good (Treasurer Costa beams with happiness) while avoiding having to (gasp) use the State's AAA+ credit rating to borrow money to provide long-term investments to benefit the people of NSW.

The sell-off is so that the State Labor Government can avoid their responsibility to the people of NSW. They ought to be ashamed.


Howard Survives His Own Coup

In the time leading up to the APEC forum in Sydney, during and this week ( after the forum) there has seemingly been much whispering and talk within the Liberal Party about John Howard's leadership future. Nothing surprising there - it has been happening for months - because the polls (by Newspoll, SMH/The Age and internal Liberal polling) have never showed any improvement in either John Howard's, or the Liberal Party's, standing with voters.

This morning, John Howard's leadership was not challenged in a quickly-convened Liberal Party meeting. To do so would mean admitting he should have handed over to Peter Costello last year. And it would hav ebeen politically stupid for the Liberal Party to change now: no new leader could hope to capture the voting public's imagination in such a short time.

Indeed, the most recent polls show a further swing to both Kevin Rudd as preferred Prime Minister, and the APL's vote. Backbenchers and Ministers are in danger of losing their seats, and are paranoid about it: they feel John Howard is leading them to oblivion. Ministers at risk include: John Howard (NSW), Alexander Downer (SA), Brendan Nelson (NSW), Gary Hardgrave (Qld)

What is surprising, is that John Howard says the speculation was all his fault - he claims he asked senior ministers including Alexander Downer, Malcolm Turnbull and Brendan Nelson, to talk about him and his future. Peter Costello wasn't invited.

Mr Howard told a press conference
"... I have never run from a fight before and I don't intend to
do so now."
Ominous words from a leader who seems likely to lose the election, even allowing for some convergence in the polls after the election is formally called. It is reminiscent of a leader who knows he'll die in battle, but is determined to sacrifice his own troops to do it.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

APEC - Hot Air on Climate Change

The Sydney Declaration on Climate Change at the Sydney APEC Forum contains just over 2000 words.

It reaffirms signatories' commitment to the UN principles on Climate Change.

It commits nothing till after 2012.

It says, in part, that members of APEC will:

  • "work(ing) towards achieving an APEC-wide regional aspirational goal of a reduction in energy intensity of at least 25 per cent by 2030 (with 2005 as the base year);"
  • "work to achieve an APEC-wide aspirational goal of increasing forest cover in the region by at least 20 million hectares of all types of forests by 2020"

Have another look at point 1:

"work towards achieving an ... aspirational goal" means that the aspirational goal might never eventuate. There is no requirement of members. China apparently almost baulked at this - it wanted something stronger (to its credit).

Nevertheless, there is a target - 25% less energy intensity than 2005 by 2030. But there are no intermediate targets; no requirement for members to start acting; nothing has to be done in the political lifetime of the leaders.

Increasing the forest cover is a fine aspirational goal. APEC countries apparently account for 54% of the worlds managed and natural forests ( Abare Economics) . However, a nuber of APEC countries where these forests are being denuded (legally or illegally) includes: Australia;
Indonesia; Phillipines; Thailand; China; Mexico; Papua New Guinea; Chile; Peru; and Viet Nam.
These represent a significant portion of APEC nations. Australia, for example, is still waiting on a decision on a Tasmanian woodchip mill that would partly use old-growth forest timber; some other countries have significant problems with illegal timber clearing.

The aspirational target to increase forested area has no timeline of commitments, and the statement allows countries to argue economic differences to avoid doing anything.

Overall, the document has escape clauses to avoid doing anything, even after 2012; and, if anything is done, it could well be after the current political leaders are no longer in office.

The reality is, it was about John Howard, in particular, trying to look good before an election - without him having to do anything.

"The Analyst"

Saturday, September 08, 2007

APEC Protests

Today's protests in Sydney, to coincide with the APEC forum turned out to be quieter, and more orderly than many expected, and planned for.

There might be a number of reasons for that:
  • some individual people and groups, known troublemakers, were warned off. They included Mutiny, a left-wing group that distributed a manual for APEC that detailed how cause trouble; Resistance, a group that acknowledged on its website that other groups feared it would cause violence; and AC/DC, an anarchist political group (not the band)
  • Police have lessons have been learnt from the Cronulla and Macquarie Fields riots of 2005
  • rain, or the threat of rain, kept some people away
  • the public holiday in Sydney
  • pre-warning by Police that they would tolerate no trouble at all, and had the numbers and equipment to show it
  • Protester fears that the protest could be high-jacked by those individuals and groups seeking violence.
Reports this afternoon indicated 18 people had been arrested: not many out of 3000 - 5000 estimated protesters. Some protesters, as they seem to do, and some parts of the media have questioned the force used by Police in their zero-tolerance approach. One journalist was pushed back, and fell to the ground, while trying to push into the middle of a Police arrest to get a photo. The journalist seemed to have only minor injuries from the push and fall, but some defended the action as part of "the media just doing its job".

Well, no - it is not the media's job to put themselves into a position that interferes with Police officers' work. The photo could have taken from the 3-5 metres without interfering with Police.

Whether the Police operations, and the special APEC laws, were excessive ought to be discussed as part of a debriefing. If a disaster plan, including preventive measures, means a disaster (riot) didn't happen, that is one measure of its success.