Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Minister Holds Info on Haneef

Federal Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, today said that he might not release information he used to decide to cancel Dr Mohamed Haneef's visa, even after a Migistrate had granted him bail, and the DPP subsequently reviewd that case and decided that there was none.

He says that both the British Police and the AFP say it could "jeopardise and ongoing investigation." That might, or might not, be true. The problem is that there has been a lot of redirecting blame.

Politicians and the AFP have blamed each other, and the media, but not themselves. AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty has played a political game, even giving an interview to deflect any blame onto the British Police, the DPP, the media (for covering information released to them!), and a circumspect comment on Australian politicians.

For his part, Mr Andrews said, when asked about lwhen he might be able to release information, "I don't know. I take advice."

That is probably an accurate reflection of how and why he made the decision to cancel Haneef's visa. He took advice from the Prime Minister, obtained some suitable information from the AFP, and made the decision John Howard wanted him to make.

Mr Andrews made further comments to the media that a judicial enquiry was not needed because:
"This process has been overseen by the judiciary at every step. The
investigation and the timing of it, the amount of time that people could
question Dr Haneef was all under the direction of a magistrate.
there was a bail hearing in which the magistrate made a decision.
thirdly, the director of public prosecutions personally reviews the whole case."

In saying this Mr Andrews was trying to move away from the purpose of the called-for enquiry: he does not want an investigation into his own, and the government's, actions. Nor does John Howard or Phillip Ruddock.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Politics of Fear

A government based on the politics of fear

must take away our democratic freedoms.

How much do we value our democracy?


Friday, July 27, 2007

Haneef Charge Dropped But No Visa Yet

This afternoon, the charge against Dr Mohamed Haneef that he provided material support for a terrorist organisation (by giving his pre-paid SIM card to his cousin) was dropped.

The case had been set down for mention this morning, but was delayed, pending a decision by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Damian Bugg. The ABC reported him as saying that "there are matters which have developed as the case has progressed which require examination".

He has been released from prison, but is reportedly going to a Dept of Immigration "safe house".

By any measure this has been a strange case, and it is not yet finished. From the beginning, politicians, particularly the Prime Minister and leading Cabinet Ministers, have had much to say. By so doing, they create considerable pressure on the AFP to produce a "result" consistent with the politics. (aside: it's what the government is trying to do to the Reserve Bank over interest rates)

The sometimes farcical nature of the "evidence" and statements to the court that were clearly wrong, allegations of police writing in his journal, and alleged statements from his interview that were never made led to the almost inevitable result of charges being dropped.

However, it could not be that simple:

  • the AFP needed a way out: it would look bad if they had to publicly say that they got it wrong.
  • the government politicians, after all their tough talk on terrorism about Haneef, needed a way out. Their posturing would look silly had the AFP admitted their mistakes
So, in steps the Commonwealth DPP. He reviews the tainted "evidence" and decides to drop the charges. Result: both the AFP and the politicians save face, becasue neither had to admit, or further act on tainted evidence.

The only acts still to be played out are a "review" of new material by the Minister, Kevin Andrews, who might grant Haneef back his visa, as part of a deal that Haneef leave the country voluntarily. Such a deal, if it came about, would mean Haneef would eventually leave the headlines, the vocal Government Ministers could move on to other "pressing" matters, and they would hope the public would forget the terrible politics of this matter.


Post Script
Saturday 28-July-2007
Dr Moahamed Haneef will leave Australia tonight, from Brisbane.
Immigration have returned his passport, but not his visa, and he has been banned from speaking to the media.
Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said his dicision not to return the visa was lawful, on advice from the Solicitor-General. He did not remind people that Section 501 of the Immigration Act does not require him to act justly, or that it allows him to act on his personal "discretion".

Mr Andrews, John Howard & Phillip Ruddock will heave a collective sigh of relief, and hope the public forget.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Howard: Concentrated Power

John Howard loves to centralise his power. He does not like State Labor Governments. He likes to behave, and present himself, Presidentially. He bears himself up, he sees off the troops he sends, even though he is NOT Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, as is President Bush. HIs Presidential style could be to impress George W Bush; or to be compared to George W Bush. There is some irony in that "Presidential" style: he is, after all, a monarchist.

He has concentrated poweer in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC), and in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). Ministers and members of the Government do not make statements without having them approved by his office.

He has shown himself to be an idealogue. He decided to use Corporations Law to make Work Choices; he is considering using it, or passing specific legislation, to take control of water. He announced his takeover of Aboriginal settlements in the NT, becasue he could.

In all of these things, he has "announced", then tried to force the hand of States and Territories. There has been no consultative cooperation with the States: he announces.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

CPI, The Reserve Bank and Interest Rates

Today's release of the June-07 Quarter CPI figures has had mixed reception.

The Treasurer, Peter Costello, chose to look backwards over the previous 12 months, and quoted a 12-month inflation figure of 2.1%. This is low, but higher than the expected 1.9% for the 12 months.

But voters, and the Reserve Bank, need to look a little deeper. The June 2007 Quarter CPI was, overall, 1.2%: it seems not much, but if that were sustained over 12 months the annual inflation rate would be about 5%, a figure that would make both the Treasuer and the Reserve Bank turn white with fear.

The graph below shows the CPI and Housing Loan interest rates since December 2005.
(Data from: Reserve Bank of Australia and Australian Bureau of Statistics)

As you can see, the fluctuations inthe Home Loan Interest Rate match very closely the changes in the CPI. When the Reserve Bank meets next week, the chart suggests that it will raise the official cash rate. Banks and other lenders will increase their interest rates.

The Reserve Bank is independent of government, but you can bet your bottom dollar the government will be trying to pressure the Reserve Bank into not raising interest rates. Based on history, it is "almost certain" to raise them; if not next week, then at the beginning of September.

If interest rates rise at all, it will be bad news for John Howard: he relies heavily on his "economic management", but homeowners are already stretched, and a rise in interest rates is not a good economic look.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Rudd 'Cuts It' in Tasmania

Kevin Rudd has followed Prime Minister to Tasmania. Mr Howard was there last week promoting Liberal Party candidates. There he had an embarrassing moment on radio, when he forgot name ofhis party's candidate.

Today, Labor Opposition Leader Mr Rudd has announced $20 million to support the forestry industry in Tasmania. Here, he has been very careful: at the last election then leader Mark Latham upset the union representing forestry workers, which then supported John Howard.Mr Rudd does not want a repeat: he wants to secure as many seats as possible, especially those that were once Labor seats. The union has swung its support in favour of Kevin Rudd. He will therefore probably win seats from the government at the election.

Politicians and political parties sometimes dilute policy for political ends: this is one of those occasions, despite concerns about the Gunns Ltd proposed plant in the Tamar Valley, near Launceston. The dilution of policy is undoubtedly good politics, given the events of last election. Politics is often about compromise: it's just that there are rarely any winners in a compromise. Except Gunns Ltd, in this case. They did, after all, pay the unionists to demonstrate in favour of their proposed timber processing plant in the Tamar Valley, near Launceston


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Haneef - High Farce of Politics

The case of accused terrorist Dr Mohamed Haneef just keeps twisting.

Last week, the media revealed

  • his phone SIM card was not found in the car used in a terrorist act in Britain, but was found nearly more than 300 km away, 8 hours later.
  • the prosecution case against Haneef relied heavily on, and the Magistrate was told, his SIM card was in the car
  • none of The AFP, the Prosecutor's office, or the politicians were willing to correct the mistake
  • within hours of bail being granted, and before it could be posted, the politicians intervened and used the Minister's "discretion" to revoke his visa and put him in detention. The migration Act makes it clear that natural justice is not a requirement of Ministerial discretion.
  • significant differences between what the prosecution alleged Haneef said in his interview, and what he did actually say.

The last piece of information has resulted in law societies, barristers, Senior Counsel, and former judges commenting that the case against Dr Haneef has effectively collapsed. The whole shebang is farcical.

Further, the government's response to the leaking of Dr Haneef's interview transcript was typical of John Howard's government:
  • if there's a problem, shoot the messenger. An assortment of Government Ministers criticised the barrister who leaked the interview transcript.
  • if there's a problem, it's not OUR problem: the same Ministers refused to give further advice, referring questions to the AFP

With respect to the Minister's decision to detain Dr Haneef, the government's operation is:

  • pick a position that is politically expedient
  • even when they know it's wrong; the media report it's wrong; and the voting public know it's wrong, defend it to the death. Even though it's wrong.

That's how they operate.

Today, given the almost certain collapse of the charge against Dr Haneef, someone has "leaked" to the media that Dr Haneef was possibly learning to fly and had pictures of Brisbane buildings. The voting public will think, and surely be reminded of the events of 9/11. The politics of fear has John Howard written all over it.


The Ties That Bind

Yesterday (Saturday, 21-July), a baby was buried in Perth, Western Australia. The baby was found last month, in a plastic bag, inside a woman's handbag, at a recycling centre. No cause of death has been determined, and he and his mother are unidentified.

The funeral was reportedly attended by more than 100 people. "Luke" as people from the funeral company called him, could not be officially named, but was buried in a white coffin, in a grave marked by a donated monumental headstone. A service was conducted, and donated white doves were released to mark his passing.

This show of humanity, decency, and love for others can only strengthen "the ties that bind us" - the very fabric our our society: the common decency we should all show, every day, to everyone.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Costello Leadership on the Rocks

Revelations that Peter Costello had less-than-complimentary comments about John Howard, to be published in a political biography of Howard could mean the end of Peter Costello's aspirations to lead the Federal Liberal Party.

In the biography, Peter Costello:
questions the competence of John Howard as Treasurer (in Malcolm Fraser's government). During that time official interest rates rose from 10% to 21%.
said that John Howard could have, but didn't, push the Campell Inquiry reccommendation to deregulate the financial industry.
own he felt that John Howard made a firm commitment to hand over the leadership to him (Costello). John Howard's wife, Janette, made puiblic statements saying that Howard would not have done so.
regretted that he, as Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, and his wife, had never been invited by the Howards to dinner (except for official functions)

The degree of damage done to Costello's leadership aspirations remains to be seen. But the Opposition is making much of it; and the media loves a scandal/hate-hate relationship scandal. Peter Costello's leadership ambitions could be terminal.


John Howard - Political Control of Voters

Since leading the Liberal/National Parties to power in the 1996 Federal election, John Howard has concentrated his own political power with the government; and has led his coalition to successive electoral victories in 1998, 2001 and 2004.

He has done this by:

  • controlling his ministers: they do not generally say anything, or do anything without John Howard (or his office's) approval. If they make a mistake, they are quickly corrected, and issue a media correction, to make sure everyone knows what they meant to say.
  • increasing the powers of his bidders in the Dept of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and in the Office of the Prime Minister. Indeed when members of his government become Minsters, they are usually given a “minder” from one of those two offices. The minder keeps the new Minister in check, and reports to John Howard.
  • Parliamentary accountability, let alone responsibility, has diminished. No Prime Minister wants to have the embarrassment of Ministers seen to be in trouble. 1997 was a bad year for his government, and he has worked to avoid accountability since. After taking control of the Senate, he set about to eliminate Senate Committees he did not control, and which might lead to embarrassment.
  • He has reneged on policy announced in election campaigns: they were “non-core” promises, he said.
  • He has, at every election since 1998, found something to scare voters, or at least manipulate their minds, so that they vote for him. We’ve had children overboard, Tampa, migration, interest rates, Latham: they have all worked for John Howard.

This year, nothing seems to be working: takeover of aboriginal communities, interest rates don’t mean much compared to housing affordability. “Haneef as terrorist” has had a small positive impact in the polls (about 3% swing to the Government), but that was before news of the debacle about the case, and increasing voter concern about Ministerial intervention. Then there is the release of his political biography, with all its detail of dislike between him and Peter Costello, Costello’s belief that he was shafted by John Howard not honouring a commitment to his (Costello) becoming leader and PM, Costello’s poor view of Howard’s time as Treasurer, and his rampant election spending.

John Howard seems to be struggling to find something, *anything*, to make the voters like him. He seems to be losing political control of voters.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Howard-Costello Relationship

There has already been much written about Peter Costello's comments about John Howard in a soon-to-be-released political biography of Prime Minister John Howard.

In the book current Treasurer Peter Costello:
  • is critical of John Howard's election spending ($6 BILLION, during the election campaign in 2004)
  • lets it be known that he and his wife have never been invited to a private dinner with the Howards, at either the Lodge (Canberra), or Kirribilli House (Sydney). Early in his Prime Ministership John Howard decided he would not reside at the official residence in Canberra, but at Kirribilli House, restored in the 1950s for visiting dignitaries of the Commonwealth.
  • that a memo from Shane Stone, then Liberal Party President, that criticised Peter Costello was leaked from John Howard's office, because that is the only place it was sent.
  • is critical of John Howard as Treasurer (when Malcolm Fraser was PM), saying he did nothing for economic reform as Treasurer; and oversaw high (11%+) interest rates

Today, both men tried to banish the issue, and put on "he's a great leader/treasurer/great working with him/best we ever had" spin. But it looks and sound just like , well ... "spin."

Many will form the opinion that John Howard kept Peter Costello in his box and let him out only occasionally to speak on matters economic, budgetary, to snipe at the Opposition in Parliament, or to say what a "good fellow is John Howard". Now, if we believe the polls, John Howard will lead the Liberal - National Party government to defeat, and deny Peter Costello his chance to be Prime Minister, at least for the next 3 years.

And yes, voters do seem to be becoming tired of John Howard's fear politics; the poor record of his social policies; WorkChoices; housing affordability; even the government's actions to retain control of fear politics. Peter Costello could have reason to feel piqued, even if he doesn't show it now.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Haneef Interview and Politicians

The release of Dr Mohamed Haneef's interview with police, as admitted by his barrister, has caused a flurry of activity and comment from our politicians. His barrister, Stephen Keim, said it was within his legal right to release the document. A copy must be provided by the police to the person interviewed: it seem logical that the copy is his. Attorney-General, Phillip Ruddock, and Prime Minister John Howard both made comment on the issue, Ruddock conceding it was not illegal to release the transcript.

However, Mr Rudduck had two further responses:
  • that the government might respond by delaying the trial, keeping Haneef in detention longer; and
  • saying words to the effect that "the government might have to give advice to the courts about how to interpret the law."

Whoa! Back up there: Australia's democracy recognises the principle of the separation of powers. That is, executive government (Cabinet) should set policy and draft laws; parliament passes legislation, which is approved by the Governor-General (Governor, at state level), and laws are administered/enforced by the judiciary. It is inappropriate and unethical for politicians, let alone the Attorney-General, to suggest that *they* should tell the judiciary what to do.

It is a measure of the government's attempt to retain political control and exert their own, inappropriate, influence over the courts and the case. This case is now all about the federal government's politics. The politics they've run at previous elections: the politics of fear. It remains to be seen if it will help them in the polls - it hasn't so far.


Monday, July 16, 2007

NSW Govt Weighs in on RailCorp Culture

Morris Iemma probably wishes he was still on holidays. He returns to work on Sunday, usually a quiet day, and has to deal with a multitude of problems with Railcorp. Problems with management; problems with unions; problems with maintenance; problems with voters; and pesky reporters asking awkward questions.

His response:
"Enough is enough - taking pot shots, blaming each other...
I make the point - the war's gone on for too long and it is time for reform and change...
Those that don't want to go along with reform will get left behind."

Close enough to a politician's dummy-spit. NSW Liberal Opposition Leader rightly said "there is no time frame, there is no real preparedness to set deadlines for the union and management to meet." Well ... no. Morris Iemma is still working out which of his antagonists to deal with first:
  • Railcorp management: allegedly abrasive; allegedly working nights and weekends to rake in the penalty rates; and ready to blame the unions.
  • Unions: resistant to change, with a history of sometimes poor work practices; and antagonistic towards management, just because it's management.
  • Treasurer Michael Costa, whose response to possible government accountability and responsibility was to suggest selling the maintenance section so that the government can avoid blame. As an aside, the money could be used to show a nice budget surplus. Wouldn't he like to brag about that!
Let me help clarify the steps to finding a possible solution:
  • Develop a public transport plan. Yes, I know the current plan is to build more private roads, with tolls going to private companies, but public transport IS important, does need financial support, and does need a cohesive public transport plan.
  • You need to bring the interested parties together. Use neutral ground. Set an agenda and distribute it before the meeting. Invite people who are willing to work to improve the culture in Railcorp
  • Forget blaming: it is counter-productive.
  • Investigate and adopt appropriate ISO quality standards.
  • Accept that governments providing a service expect to not make a profit.
  • If you have no one working for the government who is competent at helping people find and move towards accepting solutions, hire outside people.
Rushing to sell rail maintenance, or any other section, to make a "fist full of dollars" and avoid accountability and responsibility is not good government.

Voters elected you to govern responsibly, to provide appropriate services (including rail), and to be accountable. Get on with it.


Haneef bailed - detained by Minister

Gold Coast Dr Mohamed Haneef was today released on bail by a Queensland magistrate. He has been charged with recklessly providing material support (a mobile phone SIM card) to a terrorist organisation: his cousins, with whom he worked in Britain.

Within hours, Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews announced Haneef's detention after deciding that Haneef was not a fit and proper person, and revoked his visa.

Mr Andrews said he had used his Ministerial powers because Haneef failed the "character test", because "'the person has or has had an association with someone else or with a group or organisation whom the Minister reasonably suspects has been involved has been or is involved in criminal conduct".

The Labor opposition has said it supports the decision: - it could do nothing else, politically, because John Howard would play the "you're soft on terror" ace.

There are questions we should ask:

  • the decision falls under 'ministerial discretion' of the Immigration Act. There is NO review, unless the Minister changes his mind.
  • the magistrate, in granting bail of $10 000, believed that this was legally reasonable.
    Mr Andrews has been at pains to try to separate his actions, from that of the magistrate. Why? Because he can, and has, operated outside normal legal principles of presumption of innocence, and burden of proof. However, even Mr Howard, in Tasmania said: "Dr Haneef is entitled like any other person to a presumption of innocence ... "
  • Did Mr Andrews asked the AFP for a "briefing" that he could use to justify a decision he had already made, but not announced? That is, was the first approach from the Minister, his office, or anyone else from the government or their officers.

On Sky News, Piers Akerman defended Mr Andrews' decision by referring to the granting of bail as coming from "just one Queensland magistrate". He was trying to belittle the magistrate, and create the impression that no other magistrates would have granted bail. That is, Mr Akerman's response was of the "shoot the messenger if it's bad news" style.

Mr Andrews cannot reveal the information provided to him by AFP officers, but it would seem unlikely that there was any new evidence not presented to the magistrate. I suspect this is just a detention driven by political desires of the Federal Government. But we won't know for 40-50 years when the archives are released. I hope Mr Andrews is alive to defend his decision. I hope it is justified from an ethical and moral perspective.

The press are right to be sceptical, and inquisitorial; and so should the public be.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

The BBC, The Queen, and Media Operations

Last week the BBC was forced to apologise to the Queen after misrepresenting events in a photo session with Annie Liebovitz. The BBC showed a preview of a documentary about Liebovitz's work with the Queen to journalists, where it seems the Queen had walked out in a huff, and BBC1channel controller, Peter Fincham, added: "Annie Leibovitz gets it slightly wrong and the Queen walks out in a huff."

The BBC was forced to apologise to the Queen, acknowledging that the video had been spliced in the wrong order, apparently deliberately. That it was the BBC is the surprise. Had it been tabloid newspapers or TV there might have been an apology, but less would of been made of the media organisation.

As long ago as 1999, Jana Wendt highlighted the public's knowledge of the sad state of "current affairs" and news reporting in Australia's television. Ten years ago, in the Andrew Olle Lecture - 1997, she said
"...journalism and entertainment are separated by a line as thin as a spider's trail (and that) On commercial television, the result has been the dimming of news priorities. ... While considerable promotional horsepower is dedicated to pumping out large claims about the quality of news and current affairs, the reality is rather sadder and more mundane. Often, the selection and order of so-called news stories bears little relation to their actual news significance. Stories trumpeted as 'in-depth' reports are often little more than a ninety second videotape pastiche...

Not surprisingly, news and current affairs have become the worthy objects of derision."
Nothing has changed in 10 years? I think it's only become worse. Jump 10 years - 2007. A heavily-promoted tv "currrent affairs" program allegedly tricked a person into meeting them with the lure that they had "secret legal documents" . A news.com blog about the issue elicited this response:

I don't think anyone takes any of these current affairs proggrammes (sic) seriously, for me, they have resorted to sensationalism to increase ratings., facts only get in the way. I now use the option and turn both off.
On another site, about a different commercial program, and a different issue:
Since when has ACA been quality balanced journalism?
Many people in Britain rely on the BBC for quality news reporting. That is especially true given the tabloid sensationalism associated with many British newspapers We in Australia must rely on the ABC for in-depth questioning and analysis of current affairs on TV, because commercial interests seem to over-ride quality news and current affairs journalism. The full text of Jana Wendt's Anrew Olle Lecture -1997 can be read here.

I hope all news and current affairs producers and journalists read it, and address the issue.


Saturday, July 14, 2007

Truepolitik's First Birthday

Truepolitik is 1 year old, today!! The first post, on 15-July-2006 oulined our mission. It is reproduced below:

Our Mission is to
analyse selected events covering:
* Australian National politics
* NSW Politics

The reason for doing this is because too many voters and

media outlets accept politicians' statements at face value, along with the
sometimes token analysis by tabloid media. Indeed, in recent times, commercial
television "current affairs" in Australia has become nothing more than tabloid TV.

* publish other selected thoughts about Australian current affairs.

During this first year, we have:
  • posted 136 times

  • added a counter to the site in July 2007

  • provided independent, non-party-political comment and analysis on Australian Federal and NSW politics and current affairs

  • begun releases to Australian media outlets

  • Written open letters to politicians, and sent them copies.

We also have a new, fresh look from today. We hope you like it.

So, we will have our cake, and eat it, too!


Haneef on Terrorism Charges

Dr Mohammed Haneef, a doctor from the Gold Coast (Queensland) has been charged with providing material support (a mobile phone SIM card) to a terrrorist organisation. He has been charged by Australian Federal Police under the Crimes Act.

Dr Haneef was held without charge for 12 days, and there had been increasing media attention on his detention without charge. AFP Commissioner Keelty has defended the time, saying "The detention of Dr Haneef, whilst attracting considerable media attention, is something that the organisation and certainly myself believed was necessary in order to afford everybody the best opportunity to understand what has occurred." Perhaps this charge enables the process to continue without having to hold Dr Haneef without charge.

On Friday, after a question from the media, Prime Minister John Howard said he was relaxed and comfortable about the time of Dr Haneef's detention without charge. Civil libertarians say the time is outrageous, and that Dr Haneef will not be able to get a fair trial (because of the media attention to the case) But the media has not detailed, or preempted evidence that might be used. They have concentrated on his detention without charge, reasonably so, I believe.

It is important, at this stage, that they do not speculate or produce their own, non-legal, case before any trial. Tabloid media, in particular, are prone to doing this, but trial by media would be wrong. The "public interest" test must not be used to deny due legal process; and the facts, evidence and analysis could be reported during and after any trial.


Friday, July 13, 2007

John Howard Wants Business Money

Prime Minister John Howard has defended his call for business money to pay for ads supporting WorkChoices. The Retail and Industry organisations have rejected Mr Howard's call for cash.

He is reported to have stated: "It's desirable in a debate about public policy that those people who believe in good policy come out and support good policy". Health Minster Tony Abbott has weighed in with "the unions are going to run a multi-million dollar blitzkrieg against the Government's workplace relations reforms." That is 'the scare tactic' - an attempt to intimidate employer organisations into coughing up, and remind voters how scary unions are (supposed to be) His use of the word 'blitzkrieg' is interesting, given Paul Keating's reference to John Howard's Nationalism, and its subsequent comparisons to Hitler.

With regard to John Howard's statement that "those people who believe in good policy come out and support good policy" - we should look forward to the Liberal and National Parties putting their money where their mouth is.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

NSW Railcorp "Culture"

News stories today tell us that missing screws and split pins were the cause of the rail disruption on Sydney Harbour Bridge last week. Strong winds had blown off a cover, which hit the overhead power lines, and caused significant delays.

Rail Corp Chief Executive, Vince Graham, yesterday said there was a lack of "maintenance culture''. Unions cried foul, saying this was an attack on workers; Acting Premier John Watkins disagreed.

A maintenance review is to be conducted, and was announced by both Mr Watkins and Mr Graham.

There are bigger issues here, though. Since Nick Greiner instituted micro-economic reform in NSW, and made government "services" run as corporations, economic rationalism has been the driving force of government "services", including during the last 10 years of NSW Labor governments. The concept of economic rationalism has been discussed by Greg Whitwell, and many others. The core concept is that the 'market' will set the prices. But what price a rail service? Any "service"?

A rail service requires coordinated investments in maintenance, infrastructure, employees and timetables. However, under the economic rationalist approach, the railways were broken up into different corporations, each with their own separate budgets; and "empires". The result is that managers seek to protect "their" budgets; and there is lack of coordination towards delivering the service that commuters expect.

I believe that there are problems with management, "work cultures" at all levels, and coordination. Perhaps the divide and conquer approach of separate corporations is not working. We need Premier Morris Iemma to lead the NSW government towards a more adequately funded, more integrated railway system that is focused on delivering service by investing more in maintenance, infrastructure, employees and timetables. More trains, more carriages, better reliability, and more parking facilities at stations will attract people back to public transport.

Economic rationalism for government services, and dare I say, utilities such as water and electricity, is not working. A new plan is needed.


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

PM - Don't Mention the War

The Prime Minister, John Howard, today said he wanted Australians to "take a deep breath and wait" until the American commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, gives his progress report to US Congress in September.

His call for patience comes amid increasing calls from both Democrats; and George Bush's own party, Republicans, for a planned withdrawal from Iraq. US troops comprise almost all of the commitment, and of the 3 893 coalition deaths (5-July-2007) 3 607 were Americans (CNN 11-July-2007). There have been 2 Australians killed in Iraq. A different, interactive, site can be seen here.

Mr Howard's (& his government's) policy is, in essence "all the way with GWB". In January 1966 Harold Holt, then Australian PM, took Australia to the Vietnam War with the slogan "all the way with LBJ" (Lyndon Baines Johnson, then US President). Holt acted after John Howard's hero, Robert Menzies, resigned as Prime Minister, not wanting to take Australia to war, or align our foreign policy with that of the US. Our foreign policy is still, essentially, that of the US.

But with a Federal election due, and increasing voter concern about our involvement, a commitment by the ALP to withdraw troops at an appropriate future date, Mr Howard really wants voters to forget about Iraq. He'd rather we took notice of himself and other coalition MP's on the unofficial election trail.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Housing Affordability and Governments

Housing affordability is becoming an election issue, with both the Kevin Rudd and Prime Minister John Howard making comments. John Howard blames the states for not releasing land, especially in and on the fringes of greater metropolitan areas. Kevin Rudd proposes a low-taxed home savings account, so home buyers can save more.

Other "suggestions", not necessarily from politicians include include:
  • doubling the first homeowners' grant from $7000 to $14000
  • reducing state taxes, such as stamp duty.
  • reducing the charges on developers that passed on to buyers. For example councils charge developers for much of the costs of establishing new roads, water, sewerage; they are charged for electricity and gas mains; and telephone lines. All these are passed on to the buyer.
But the problem is much more complex, and it is not simply a case of reducing costs or giving bigger handouts, or releasing more land, to which there is a limit. The psyche of sellers (of existing houses); developers and buyers is that they will simply use the "extra" they get, or don't pay, to buy bigger or pay more.

Developers, of course want to build bigger, more luxurious houses, because they make more money of their investment. That's how business works, and no "adjustments" will change that.

Our society is a "me" society: we want the best, we want it all, and we want it now. Unless first home buyers change their tune to start with more modest houses, housing affordability will remain low. A two-storey "McMansion" with all mod cons, home theatre, multi-car garage and instant gardens is not the low-cost ideal for young(ish) first home buyers. Housing affordability will always be lower in large metropolitan areas, because that is where population growth is greatest, and so is demand, at the moment. Low interest rates might help, but it is the total cost of the houses that has the most impact on affordability at the moment.

Nevertheless, our politicians want to be seen to be doing "something", "anything" that might attract votes. We might get many comments and a lot of hot air, with little result. There is, after all, an election due in the next 6 months.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Confusion in Govt Ranks

The last few days have seen some confusion in messages from members of teh Federal Government.

Last week Minister for Defence, Brendan Nelson, let slip that oil ("resource security") was one of the reasons for going to war in Iraq, and staying there. Within hours we had "the big three" - the Prime Minister, The Treasurer and the Foreign Affairs Minister all denying it. Whether any voters believed them is irrelevant: it is the Government's style to pick a position and defend it to the death; even when they, and everybody else, know they are wrong.

Today, there was apparent confusion in statements from Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer about whether travel warnings to Indonesia had been upgraded. The Prime Minster said there was an upgraded warning about travel to Indonesia. Alexander Downer said there wasn't. The matter is resolved in Mr Downer's favour. The smartraveller website, published by the Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade, says:

"This advice has been reviewed and reissued. ... The overall level of the advice has not changed." (9 July 2007, 20:25)

The Prime Minister will be hoping that voters don't penalise him in opinion polls. Only time will tell.


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Border Control Software Upgrade

Today, 7-July-2007, the Prime Minister, John Howard, and Attorney-General, Phillip Ruddock held a press conference in Sydney. They announced
"a major upgrade in Australia's border control system (which) began at the end of last year. ... It involves the introduction of more state of the art software which will enable a massively more comprehensive and effective examination of the antecedents of people who seek visa entry into this country."
The new system has "advanced identity management". The system can check the identity and previous travel of future visa applicants, and visa-holders already in Australia.

Neither Mr Howard nor Mr Ruddock discussed the software upgrade, but it could relate to the contract the Federal Government signed with Unisys in 2006 as part of a $50 million program.

In the press conference, Mr Howard admitted the announcement had been "accelerated" because of recent terrorist events in Britain.

A comment by the Attorney-General gives scope the the view that the software is not yet operational. He spoke of budget estimates, but not spending ...
"... one of the reasons this has been brought forward is because if you go through the process of looking at the level of detail you need to be able to make announcements about the precise cost, that means you've started to look at acquisition, and you've made estimates in relation to that."
Could this be a new re-announcement of the $50 million contract between the (then) Dept of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (now Dept of Immigration and Citizenship) and Unisys that was reported in July 2006? That contract was for software delivery over 4 years. It is one thing to shorten a project's time-frame, but reducing it by 3 years of a 4 year contract seems just little adventurous.

Perhaps this is just a re-announcement of matters from 12 months ago, to be used for largely political purposes.


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Indigenous Abuse Plan Still Changing

On June 21 the Prime Minister and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mal Brough, announced their intention to help stop child sex abuse in NT indigenous communities. The announcement was made with much fanfare and gusto, even before a plan was conceived.

We have previously made comments soon after the announcement (here), and a week later about the lack of consultation with indigenous leaders and communities. (and here). Since then, many people have offered to assist, and Mr Brough has made a point of more tours of communities, where community members have been able to speak to the Minister. Always with the media along.

However, the initial announcement made much of plans to impose control on communities and ban specific things. Some critical aspects of the plan have changed in 2 1/2 weeks:

  • a ban the sale, import and distribution of alcohol
    --> maybe they're OK (6 July)
  • a ban on pornographic material
  • quarantining 50% of welfare payments to spent for the benefit of children
    --> possibly under review, but criticism from the Catholic Church, and the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne have been dismissed.
  • compulsory health checks and treatment for every child up to 16 years old
    --> ""When there is a suspected child abuse, normal protocols should occur and that can involve compulsory checking and that should not change" (6 July) ie not every child, as originally announced.
A representative of the Combined Aboriginal Organisations (CAO) of Alice Springs, Graeme Smith, told the ABC that there was still much confusion within communities (not surprising, since "the plan" is still changing), and that there is likely to be an influx of (indigenous) people to towns such as Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, because those addicted to alcohol and other substances will leave the communities where the plan is to control them. Mr Smith said:

"People are addicted to alcohol, to substance abuse - they need counselling.
I'd like to know what counselling measures are going to be put in place.
What additional funding is going to be attached to the Aboriginal health organisations to address these things - because people will need counselling."

Fair comments, and neither the NT Government nor the Federal Government have yet addressed these issues.

The Analyst

Friday, July 06, 2007

Iraq: Rudd vs Howard

It seems we voters will have a choice on Foreign Policy in the upcoming Federal election.

Iraq became one of Prime Minister Howard's "problems" during this term. Up until last year, he could manipulate voters with "the terrorists are coming" and "we are winning the war on terrorism". Now it seems, according to Defence Minister Brendan Nelson, that we are staying in Iraq because of our need for oil ("resource security"). He was quickly contradicted yesterday by both Mr Howard and Mr Costello (Treasurer), and today by Foreign affairs Minister Alexander Downer. Now "it's not about oil, it was never about oil".

So, why are our troops still in Iraq? Why did we really join the US war in Iraq? We have variously been told it was because Saddam had "Weapons of Mass Destruction"; to protect Iraqi people from Saddam; to fight terrorism; to install democracy; and now Alexander Downer says it's because "because if Iraq can't export any oil, Iraq can't earn any revenue" (told to Sky News, 6-July-07).

Now for the real reasons. The reasons we joined the US war in Iraq are entirely political. In short, US foreign policy is driven by what's good for the US; and what's politically good for the US President. Our political commitment to the ANZUS Treaty, and John Howard's personal wish to help his friend ensured that Australia went to war in Iraq.

John Howard's problem now is that voters are seeing the war as never-ending (as near the end of the Vietnam War); and Kevin Rudd has said his government would set a target for withdrawal. There would need to be a good deal of political manoeuvring on his part to achieve this: we can't just "cut'n'run"; but the concept is gaining popularity with voters, and that creates a problem for John Howard.

The Analyst

Joe McDonald, the ALP and Building Safety

Part of a concrete slab was reported to have fallen up to 16 stories from a QCon construction site yesterday. It was the same site where CFMEU official Joe McDonald was filmed having a rant, and trying to bully workplace officials.

Mr McDonald has said that this safety incident, which could have killed someone had it hit them, justifies his stance and behaviour as it was filmed and released to the media. Following its release, ALP Federal Leader Kevin Rudd moved to have Mr McDonald expelled from the ALP, because such stand-over, bully-boy behaviours were inappropriate.

They are inappropriate, and safety concerns do not justify violent behaviours that attempt to intimidate. However, safety concerns DO justify action on the part of employees and unions. The building industry in Australia has had a long history of sometimes violent disputes and corruption, from both employers and unions. There have been Royal Commissions. The history of some construction companies wanting work done as quickly as possible, as cheap as possible, and by cutting as many corners as possible was historically resisted by unions, and unionists, whose political agenda was extreme left wing. It's a history that the industry is still grappling with - from both sides.

Workplace safety is not something to take lightly, and responsibility rests with both employers and employees. Both parties must meet, and cooperate in the interests of their employees, union members. And their insurance companies and their own profits.

Meanwhile, the ALP still has work to do to silence those union officials with their own personal agendas - to be seen to be able to control or manipulate Kevin Rudd. They are personal agendas abd behaviours that are relics from the 1950s and 1960s. To change decades-old cultures on both sides will take a revolution. A non-violent one, we hope.

The Analyst

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Australia's Iraq Interest - Oil

Since the Iraq war started on 20 March 2003 (Aus time) - John Howard's government has always told us that the war was about: weapons of mass destruction; removing Saddam; supporting the USA; ... but it was NOT about oil, as the Opposition and anti-war protesters said.

Today (5-July-2007), the current Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, has admitted in a speech that oil was a factor in John Howard's decision to take Australia to war. Prime Minister John Howard, and his various Defence Ministers, have spent the last 4 years telling us that oil (security) was NOT the reason we went to war.

Brendan Nelson has spoken as a "warm-up" before Mr Howard delivers an updated foreign policy speech today. Given that Ministers do not release information without Mr Howard's (or his office's) approval, what has changed? Why is the government admitting that oil is a reason for the war? John Howard is an extremely good politician.I believe it is because:
  • He has felt the electoral concern about current, and likely future, price of petrol.
  • He knows that voters are concerned about an unending war we can't win (like Vietnam)
  • He knows that the Labor Opposition has a policy that will try to set a time-line for withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
  • He knows he has to call an election soon after the APEC conference in September.

Because of the above, John Howard want to retain voter approval for his actions. He wants voters to think that the war will lead to lower petrol prices. He wants voters to think he is doing a good job on petrol prices. He is, very carefully, trying to manipulate voters to think what HE wants them to think. That's his politics. Good politics, but will it fool the voters? Will it fool the media?

The Analyst

Post Script:
Late this afternoon senior government members, including John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello said that oil (resource security) was NOT one of the reasons for Australia's continued stay in Iraq.

It seems that Defence Minister Brendan Nelson did not clear his comments with the Prime Minister or his office, before talking to the press. Such a public rebuttal by senior members of government does not look good on a minister's CV.

Bridge Toll Plan 'unAustralian"

Today's news carries a suggestion by Ken Dobinson, a former RTA director, that Sydney Harbour Bridge commuters could pay varying amounts more to use the 'Bus Only' lanes. Fairfax media carries the story here .

The proposal has a number of points about which people ought to be aware:
  • the amount will vary. It will either be $10 or $20 EXTRA, depending on how many cars use the bus lane. You won't know till you get the bill! Not knowing how much you are paying for a service goes against every principle of fair trading.
  • the extra toll is to use the 'Bus Only' lane on the Harbour Bridge. Once off the bridge, you have to rejoin the normal congested traffic lanes.
  • the principle behind such tolling, called High Occupancy Tolling (HOT), is that those with more money can have better access to public roads. That principle goes against every grain of Australia's concept of a fair go for everyone - it is 'unAustralian' ( term usually much abused by politicians, but which seems appropriate here)

Motoring organisations, including the NRMA, will rightly condemn the proposal, because they advocate for equality of access for motorists, not access based on how much money a driver has.

The RTA, and the NSW Government, should reject this proposal outright.

The Analyst

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Treasury's Warning to PM on House Prices

Channel 7 television station has obtained documents from treasury under FOI legislation. The documents consist of Treasury reports to the Government about Housing affordability. The documents are available on-line at:
( http://au.news.yahoo.com/news/story-info.html )

What the documents show is that:
  • housing affordability is lowest in Sydney (no surprises), compared to other state capital cities
  • the number of mortgagee sales has increased
  • Treasury discusses the whole household sector, although it mentions areas of western Sydney ie it concerns itself with macroeconomics, but little microeconomic planning.
  • (Federal) Treasury tries to lay the blame on states: state taxes are significant, but it the Federal Government has indicated it would not change the first home owners scheme to improve affordability.
  • the paper tells the Federal Government that the effect of changing state & local land policies is overstated
  • one paper from Treasury advises the Federal Government to look at the "10-point plan" proposed by a newspaper. (are they THAT short of policy ideas in microeconomics?)

The Labor Opposition has, understandably, adopted those parts of the documents that advise the Federal Government that its own policies could be contributing to falling housing affordability. The Federal Government, of course, rejects this, and attempts to lay the blame on the states.

Politics: if it's good news, it's because of 'MY' policies; if it's bad news, it's not the Government's fault.

The Reserve Bank has recently signalled its belief that interest rates are more likely to rise at the end of 2007, an the beginning of 2008. Just about the time of the Federal election, and just after. I think the Reserve Bank will NOT raise interest rates after September, if it has not done so before, but will wait till February/March 2008. Perhaps the Federal Government's economic management is not as good as it would have us believe, and the economy is soon to be affected by internal and external influences.

The Analyst

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Open Letter to Democratic Leaders

Following is a (generic) copy of a letter I have sent to both the Prime Minister, Mr Howard (leader of a conservative Liberal/National Party government) and the Premier of NSW, Mr Iemma (leader of a Labor government). I believe it speaks for itself.

The Analyst

Today, 1-July-2007, I visited Old Parliament House in Canberra for the first time in about 3 years. I refreshed my memory about its importance, history and traditions, while I read the "self-guided tour" pamphlet.

It describes King's Hall as "the heart of the House, symbolising the openness of our parliamentary democracy..." I nearly choked!

Prime Minister/Premier, over successive governments, both Labor and Liberal, the openness of our democracy has declined, almost to the point of being meaningless.

Consider, please, the following:
1) the FOI laws: their intent was to make government and bureaucratic decisions more available for scrutiny in the public interest. ie the "openness of our democracy". They have, instead, become a means for governments to obfuscate and hide behind public servants whose only mission is to "do as they are told" (a response from your government to recent 'whistle blower' legal pursuits, including journalists.

2) the degradation, almost to non-existence, of Ministerial accountability and
responsibility to Parliament; and to the Australian people.

3) the abuse of Question Time, mostly to have compliant Party members ask trivial questions, the purpose of which is to give Ministers a springboard to gloating &/or abuse of Opposition members. Often, valid questions form non-government members are answered with "I don't recall" / "I haven't been told.." / "I'll get back to the member". Some of these are questions on notice, and it behoves Ministers to answer them, in Parliament, on record.

Prime Minister/Premier, these are serious problems. King's Hall no longer symbolises our democracy. What we have is an insidious, evil cancer. I ask you to take action to address each of the above problems, so that our democracy can be restored to the highest world standards: standards it once held.

Yours, as a voter

The Analyst

PostScript (03-07-2007)
The Sydney Morning Herald of 3-July-2007 carries a story about the Federal Government denying a Freedon Of Information (FOI) request for public opinion surveys performed for the Federal Government, paid for by us taxpayers, but which we are not allowed to see (at least till after the upcoming election!)
( http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/government-refuses-to-let-public-see-survey-results-on-ads/2007/07/02/1183351125216.html )

The Dept of Workplace Relations (WorkChoices) said
  • the information was not inthe public interest! (Rubbish! Ted Cole, Principal Adviser means it's not in the interests of the Government)
  • Mr Cole also indicated that "they" (the voting public) would not cope with the "outdated" results. Poppycock! We voters can make up our own minds, thank you)
  • Matthew Moore, FOI Editor for teh SMH said "A final reason offered suggests the Government believes it can withhold survey results indefinitely as long as it plans to update the results in the future." But that doesn't mean we voters aren't entitled to know, under the intention and letter of the FOI legislation.