Wednesday, August 29, 2007

John Howard Scared of Labor's IR Plan

Prime Minister John Howard must be very afraid of voter perceptions of Workchoices, and the obvious differences in the ALP's (& Kevin Rudd's) modified IR proposal.

Today, Mr Howard issued a press release about Labor's proposal. Because the media run these press releases as news, almost without question, Mr Howard will mention the "scary moster" word "union" every 20 words i his 330 word press release.

But, as with most things said by politicians, it is what was not said that is important. Mr Howard had no argument: he is simply trying to scare voters. He said nothing of his plans for "WorkChoices v2"; he did not argue against any of the content of the ALP's policy, other than to criticise a system of arbitration and conflict resolution. His tactic is simply to repeat the untested assertion that is his position: no facts, no policy, just repetition.

It seems to be all he has, or wants to tell us. Voters can only hope that the media recognise that, and report it.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Big Kev's 'Big' IR Changes

Kevin Rudd has released his proposed changes to IR Laws. The changes, he says, are to make the system fairer, and will be introduced soon after the 2007 Federal election. His proosals include:
  • awards will not be used to cover those whos epay is above $100,000 (indexed to inflation) For many "ordinary Australian" workers, this is a figure chosen for its 6-figures - much more than they earn.
  • workers earning less than $100,000 would be covered by an award.
  • secondary boycotts stay- there is no change. The ALP can never go back to allowing them - the political risk is much too great.
  • those whose AWA's were signed before the so-called "fairness test" are likely to be stuck, some for the next 4 1/2 years! It would be infeasible to try to legislate backdated cancellation of such contracts. The best that the ALP, and those on AWAs can hope for, is that the proposed "transitional arrangements" will ease the burden on both.
  • Flexibility in awards would not allow employers to reduce pay and conditions. That would seem to be fairer, since AWA's can, and do, reduce not just pay, but other conditions such as public holidays.
The ALP claims that fewer than 5% of workers are on AWA's and that most of them are among the lowest paid workers in hospitality and retail. These are areas that use a large proportion of casual, part-time employees, many of them women, or young people.

There are undoubtedly many old-time ALP members and supporters who will be upset that the changes will not go far enough, and that the 1970's power of unions will not be restored. That is a good thing in many voters' minds, and will severely limit the level of valid criticism that could be used by John Howard's Parliamentary and Industry representatives. They will still use invalid, "bogyman" tactics to try to scare voters, though. It's worked in the past.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

An Inconceiveable Conversation?

The following story comes from a fly on the wall. I do not know the whereabouts or identity of the fly - it is one of billions.

PC Plod: That lawyer is soooo bad! Fancy releasing the transcript of the umpteenth interview with that fellow we called a terrorist ….whatisname? … !

Minister For Foreigners: Yes – absolutely disgusting! Doesn’t do much for the AFP, though!

PC Plod: Don’t you talk – you wanted a political decision. We just told you the interpretation you wanted … Idiot.

Minister For Foreigners: Idiot! IDIOT! Listen, should I release more of the reasons you gave me for my decision??

PC Plod: NO. That would only make matters worse. No way, Minister. (THINKS: would make the AFP, and ME, look like an idiot.)

Minister leaves to address a press conference ... Later news reports carry the following quote:

"I’ve been advised that I cannot release any more information about what I’ve
been told about (that terrorist-fellow)."

Couldn't happen in a robust democracy ...


Friday, August 24, 2007

Howard vs Rudd - Some Differences Appear

As we get closer to the 2007 Federal Election election, voters a re now starting to see some differences in language and concepts used by both John Howard and Kevin Rudd. To soem extent, Kevin Rudd has been coerced into highlighting differences, as Government ministers ahve lined up to say that either Kevin Rudd has no differeences, so stick with us; or tried to assert that a Labor Governemnt should scare everyone.

On the 20-August, the John Howard outlines in both a press release, and in an "Australia Rising" speech, nailed some of his colours to the mast. Others have come from his public and parliamentary comments.

John Howard wants:

  • a Nationalist government - that should worry many Australians. Nationalism was a concept based on ethnic and religious intolerance and led to the formation of the nations of Germany and Italy, causing of some of the most dramatic and divisive events of the 20th century

  • greater concentration of power (to held by himself, and fitting with his Nationalist ideas)
  • more takeovers without consultation
  • actions to be "outcome focused" - (subtext: never mind due process, cooperation or consultation)
  • further economic reform. (WorkChoices 2)
  • Nuclear Power - however, has has given a (non-core) promise that communities can have a referendum on whether they want one in their suburb/area. I'm sure Ziggy Switowski would vote for one in his 'backyard' - he recommended them, after all.
  • "All the way with GWB"
  • Climate change - as long as big business and mining interests can make money from it.
Kevin Rudd wants
  • greater cooperation with and among states, especially regarding hospitals. Indeed he has stated that he will give the States just 18 months to work with him to fix the problems. If they can't or won't he will take a proposal for a Federal Government takeover of public hospitals to the 2010 election.
  • Economic and IR reform (the proposal is to remove the excessively adverse effects of WorkChoices on women, families and young people)
  • a withdrawal of troops from Iraq at a "convenient time" - while much of Mr Rudd's policy is ideal, it is likely that Australia will be asked to make a greater commitment to Iraq, given the US major escalation of troop numbers and a number of other countries (Britain, among them) looking to reduce their involvement in what has become a mire. Forcing a country to have democracy when it was artificially created from historically warring parties and has been ruled by warlords is proving particularly troublesome.
  • Action on climate change - here he is treading carefully, knowing the interests involved - including the use of "clean coal" technologies.
John Howard would also like Peter Costello to stay in the background: leadership talk by others unsettles him.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Kevin Rudd and the "Celebrity' Strip Club

A strip club's a strip club - they all provide tacky "entertainment", usually sleazy.

Today's media is full of the story of Kevin Rudd visiting strip club Score's in New York, led by Glenn Milne's reporting in one of News Ltd's Sunday papers. Milne is a long-time fan of Prime Minister John Howard, and it would be difficult to think other than that this story was fed to him. {Readers will recall that it was Milne, in a drunken state, that pushed Stephen Mayne, from, off stage while he was presenting an award in 2006}

Rudd confesses it happened; that he called his wife the day after; and that he'd had too much to drink with others who accompanied him.

By any measure, Rudd's visit to such a club was politically stupid. Yet Australians have often forgiven those in public office who breached the usual bounds of decency: Malcolm Fraser wndering hotel corridor without his trousers, and Bob Hawke's prediliction for swearing come to mind.

John Howard was absent from Media interviews today, but many feel sure he would have supported Mr Rudd, having supported Australian soldiers "letting off steam" just a few weeks ago. Both leaders cultivate their image: this will almost certainly hurt Kevin Rudd and the ALP in this week's NewsPoll survey. The reult will allow John Howard to tell the media, voters, and especially the party room that he will be 'good for' the election - although he won't publicly phrase it that way.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Costello The Fortune-Teller

Yesterday's and today's news is about what Treasurer Peter Costello did, or did not say to journalists and supporters.

Three Journalists had dinner with Mr Costello, who is reported to have spoken "off the record" about leadership, in 2005. The reporters, as would any journalist, kept notes, and say that Peter Costello said:
  • John Howard could not win the next (this coming) election

  • John Howard had to step down as Prime Minister by the middle of 2006, for him. If John Howard did not stand down he would work to undermine him, to the point of going to the backbench.

  • Only he (Peter Costello) could lead the Liberal-National Parties Coalition to victory in this (2007) election.
Peter Costello today claims he did nothing, and said nothing to his supporters. It is, perhaps, difficult to think he said nothing in private to at least some of his supporters, but that the politics of numbers was such that he would not win any challenge. In 2006, John Howard held sway, both with voters, and in the party room.

However, the polls this year show voter disenchantment with John Howard. They believe him to be "mean and tricky"; his economic credibility is taking a battering from interest rate rises and housing affordability; and his leadership dominance is not as it once was. Yesterday, Peter Costello's 50th birthday, saw Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey send faxes to John Howard and other members, effectively demanding that John Howard should resign as Prime Minister. The ALP asked the Prime Minister in question time if, after 11 years, he would finally invite Peter Costello and his wife to a private dinner for his birthday. John Howard did not do that.

Peter Costello's remarks might well turn out to be prophetic. Perhaps the Liberal Party's best chance at this election is to change leader and hope that Peter Costello is still enjoying a "honeymoon" period as Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister when the election is held. Even this close to an election!


Monday, August 13, 2007

Economic Management-2

In a previous posting ( here ) I suggested that:
"The Reserve Bank (RBA) uses monetary policy (interest rates) when fiscal policy (the budget) is ineffective, or having an adverse effect on the economy"

Today, the Reserve Bank has used its Quarterly review of monetary policy to foreshadow further increases in interest rates. It believes further rises will be necessary because the economy is still overheating (see economic streetracer ) and has revised its expected rate of inflation for 2007 and 2008 from 2.5% to 3%. It doesn't seem like much, but that is redlining the economy, and is unsustainable.

John Howard has two political problems on economic management:
  1. if he pushes "electoral sweeters" at voters before the election, he will pump even more money into the economy, and will be responsible for even more interest rate rises, and will be seen as being economically irresponsible.
  2. the Reserve Bank is showings its independence from government in ways that John Howard does not like.
John Howard has a history of taking effective control where he does not like outcomes. He took responsibility for wage increases away from teh independent judiciary, and put it within a Ministry; he put the once-independent tribunal that determines politicians' salaries under his own department (& effective influence); he wants control of water; he wants selective control of hospitals.

John Howard has a history of wanting "control". If he wins the election, he might well consider removing the Reserve Bank's independence, and put it under effective control of himself and the Treasurer.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

HMAS Sydney Found - Possibly

There is news tody that a group has claimed to have found the wreck of HMAS Sydney off the coast of WA.

The mystery of the final resting place of the Sydney has been along one.

HMAS Sydney was commissioned on 24 September 1935. She was a "light cruiser", and was sunk on 19 November 1941.

(Picture: HMAS Sydney at Circular Quay in 1939)

She was sunk in a battle with the German raider Kormoran, somewhere near Shark Island, off the coast of Western Australia.

The Sydney's total complement, 645 crew members, were lost. It was the largest ship, and greatest single loss of ship's crew in WWII. The (then suspected) loss was reported 15 November, as in the picure below.

If the wreck is that of HMAS Sydney, it will be formally declared a war grave; and its find will bring closure to the families and relatives of all those lost, and for all Australians.

Lest We Forget


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Interest Rates and Economic Management

Back in July, I predicted interest rate rises (so did many others)
I also discussed them in May - and there were tax cuts in the budget, just enough to pour even more money into the economy.

That the RBA has had to take such a blunt economic instrument, the first time in an election year, since its independence from government, and the 9th rise since 2002, is a serious blow to John Howard's claim of being a "good economic manager".

The Reserve Bank (RBA) uses monetary policy (interest rates) when fiscal policy (the budget) is ineffective, or having an adverse effect on the economy. Before the 2004 election, Peter Costello put a number of "electoral sweetener" options to Mr Howard. He wanted Mr Howard to use one. Mr Howard used not one, but all of the possible put to him by Peter Costello. The result was an EXTRA $6 Billion put into the economy. With an "average" multiplier effect of about 1.4-1.5 across the economy, the economy had to produce an extra $8.4-$9Billion worth of GDP. And that's before the $multi-Billion tax cuts; the mining boom; the housing boom; rising levels of personal debt.

No wonder there were 5 interest rate rises since the last election. The RBA had to slow spending somehow.

Have a look at:


Whatever spin is put on this by both the Coalition Government and Labor Opposition, the fact remains that the economy has become too strong; John Howard's government has been too loose with its "voter-pleasing" spending, and its budgets (fiscal policy) have not been as effective as they would have people believe.

With an election shortly, voters will be acutely aware of the hip-pocket effect of this latest rise, in particular.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Andrews Inconsistent on Haneef's Departure

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews has made conflicting statements about Dr Mohamed Haneef's departure from Australia.

On ABC TV's Insiders program, Mr Andrews said

“Dr Haneef has been protesting his innocence, there's an appeal on foot, normally people stay around to see the outcome of their appeal."

This is at odds with his statement to reporters in Melbourne on 28-July, when he said

"… he (Haneef) should depart Australia”


The government has been at pains to show it is "tough on terror", but having been denied a judicial trial, is now seeking "trial-by-media".


Saturday, August 04, 2007

Haneef Case Review

There have been calls from the Federal Opposition and Green Parties for a judicial review of the handling of the investigation into Dr Mohamed Haneef.
Following are the "findings" a reasonable person might have made:

  • Dr Haneef was granted a 457 visa so he could work in Queensland, because there is a shortage of (hospital) doctors.
  • Although he made some comments early, Prime Minister John Howard left most of the media commenting to Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock, and Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews. This does not mean he had nothing to do with them. His office alone employs 40-odd people, and Ministers do not make comment without Mr Howard knowing what they are saying.
  • While the AFP rightly claim that intelligence information can, and does change quickly, they seem to have been reticent to incorporate changed information into questions asked of Dr Haneef'.
  • There are still allegations that AFP officers made some entries into Dr Haneef's diary, then asked him about the entries.
  • The AFP, and its officers and analysts, was under considerable political pressure because politicians kept making comments during the investigations. Perhaps, if they had been silent, as they should, a death might have been prevented.
  • AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty showed some political promise when "passing the buck" for mistakes, including blaming the media. One would hope that he remedies the causes of the mistakes in the organisation he leads.
  • There is no doubt that the Federal Government was very keen for Dr Haneef to leave the country: the case had brought significant bad press for the Federal Government, particularly in relation to the use of Section 501 (ministerial discretion) to cancel Dr Haneef's visa, and to leave it cancelled after the DPP reviewed the case and dropped all charges. That the Commonwealth Solicitor-General gave legal advice that the visa cancellation was perfectly legal, even where no case exists, highlights the need for oversight of such "Ministerial discretion".

I'm certain the Federal Government doesn't want the formal judicial review: it could only make them look worse.


WorkChoices Ad Campaign

WorkChoices, as it is still known by many people, remains unpopular with those most affected: families, their children and Mr Howard's so-called aspirational Australians.
(Digital manipulation by 'The Analyst'; Photo from The Age )


Friday, August 03, 2007

NSW Public Transport

Today's and recent headlines about public transport in Sydney include:

  • one of the contractors building new Millenium trains for Sydney (Downer EDI) had a profit downgrade, and its Managing Director resigned. Deputy Premier & Minister for Transport tried to reassure voters that Downer EDI was only one part of the consortium that has the contract.

  • criticism of Minister Joe Tripodi for being slow to ensure that Cremorne Wharf was repaired quickly after July Storms.

  • "kite-flying" by the government about privatising the ferry service, which might lead to a doubling of ferry fares. At least Treasurer Michael Costa would be happy to receive a bucket-full of money, and with the passing of responsibility for services.

  • there is still no single ticketing system for Sydney's public transport, and nor are services linked. People can leave one service (train, ferry, bus) only see a connecting service disappear. (SMH)

The contract to the consortium for Sydney trains, which also includes AMP Capital, ABN AMRO and Babcock & Brown is a significant shift in government spending policy, because it is the largest public-private partnership contract ever. That included the more than $2 Billion contract for the "western orbital" for Sydney. (info from SMH)

A profit downgrade, even the third one this year, doesn't mean the contract won't be fulfilled. But it IS cause for concern. Voters would be keen to know what safeguards have been built into the contract.

The Project for electronic tickets on public transport has been running for 10 years, but there seem to be no results. How much has been spent? Who oversees the project (there has been a procession of Ministers)? Victoria and Tasmania seem to have them operating - what's wrong with NSW?

Furthermore, there have been significant problems with maintenance, track maintenance, safety and timetables.

All in all, public transport in NSW is in a mess. Furthermore, successive governments, from the time of former (Liberal) Premier Nick Greiner, through former Labor Premier Bob Carr to the current Labor Government have had policies of developing private toll roads with public money, but nothing for public transport. They need a re-think.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Rudd Targets WA

Yesterday, Prime Minister John Howard targeted the marginal Tasmanian seat of Braddon,by effectively taking control of a public hospital that teh State government proposed to downgrade to a day-surgery and Emergency Department.

Today, Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd promises that, if elected, some of the Federal Government's income from the Pluto gas project would be put back into WA infrastructure.

Mr Rudd said "I think we would want to be generous in order to make sure that people here in the West in the State Government can plan properly into the future." Well, yes, winners would be grinners. As much as John Howard's Tasmania stunt was about buying votes, so too is Kevin Rudd's.

Not that states shouldn't be better funded by the Federal Government - they should - but that is the policy position that should be put.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Howard's Takeover of Mersey Hospital

Prime Minister John Howard has indicated that the Federal Government will fully fund Devonport's Mersey Hospital.

The hospital has the following characteristics:
  • it is in a marginal seat in Tasmania (Braddon)
  • the Hospital, a lower-level "Community Hospital", has neither obstetrics, nor an Emergency department
  • the Hospital has a history of losing money. Mayne Health sold it in 1993 to Healthscope
  • Healthscope signed a 15 year (+10 year option) with the (then) Liberal Tasmanian Government to run the public hospital and provide health services.
  • the hospital has had several service downgrades, because it keeps losing money.
  • the hospital was eventually handed back to the (now Labor) Tasmanian Government to run as a public hospital.
  • there are two other, larger, hospitals nearby
Mr Howard has responded to allegations of political pork-barrelling by saying:
"They wouldn't regard it as cynical pork barrelling, they would regard it as saving a vital community service."

But is it a "vital community service" when there are two other, larger hospitals; it has no Intensive Care Unit, no obstetrics and no Emergency Dept?

Other questions to be asked by voters are:
  • Will the Federal Government use its financial influence to insist that all workers be on AWA's? Is that want nurses, doctors, cleaners, adminstrative staff want? Does the community want lower incomes?


  • If a Community-grade hospital is so vital, what about the 600+ other regional public hospitals in Australia? Why are they not being funded?

Mr Howard claims the hospital serves a regional population of about "70,000 people". As with many statements made by politicians, there is a "but": that figure includes the population of Burnie and surrounding districts. Devonport and surrounding regions have a population of about 30,000. That's less then half the figure quoted by Mr Howard.

John Howard appears to be being very selective, with the electorate he has chosen, the population figures he quotes, and the selective (even exclusive) nature of this "policy". Such behaviour almost certainly indicates that he his acting in his own interests, and not those of the wider Australian community.

A previous study of the Mersey Hospital saga, dated 2005, can be found here .