Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas

One of the better slogans I saw during the preparations for Christmas was this sign, outside a church:

"Christ - not available in stores"

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year to all!

I will be having a few days' break to celebrate.



Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mary Mackillop - Australia's Saint-In-Waiting

"Looking for something
We can rely on
There's gotta be something better out there
Love and compassion
Their day is coming
All else are castles built in the air
And I wonder when we are ever going to change
Living under the fear till nothing else remains"

So sang Tina Turner in "We Don't Need another Hero"

We have found something today: Blessed Mary Mackillop, founder of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, has had a second miracle confirmed by the Vatican. She will be confirmed as Australia's first saint sometime in 2010.

You can find more information about Mary Mackillop, and the order she founded at:

"We don't need another hero": politician, environmentalist, or any other. Mary Mackillop acted on her motto "Never see a need without doing something about it". She worked for the poor, the disadvantaged, the isolated. She was concerned with human dignity, not redistributing wealth to the wealthy, not avoiding taxes, not drugs and parties and "celebrities". Mary Mackillop was concerned about people, and did something about it.

What about you?? You could help with a charitable donation. Choose your favorite charity; see your local church, synagogue, mosque, temple; or checkout the following websites.

Help someone else - all you feel is good! I did.


Saturday, December 19, 2009


The statement issued by world political leaders at Copenhagen is being spun as a good outcome. The only outcome is that there is, indeed, a document signed at Copenhagen. The world's leaders of developed, and developing, nations would not want to have spent as much money, time, travel, even carbon pollution to go home with nothing. So, an agreement of sorts was the most likely outcome.

The "outcome" such as it is, has been rejected by the countries most at risk, including the island of Tuvalu, as being a sellout. Almost all of Tuvalu's income comes from selling Internet Domain Names - the ones ending in ".tv"

The document
  • is not legally enforceable.
  • allows each country to set its own targets. Targets will be lower than expected, and have little effect on increasing temperatures, increased severity & duration of drought, or rising sea levels.
  • allows each country to check itself - there is no independent verification - and write its own report. I wonder what people will think of politicians writing reports about themselves!
The politicians have sold out the world, their people, their children. They sold out because they had a selfish agenda: to not give what they should, to want more than they should, to pollute more for a fist full of dollars. That is their shame, and the shame of their government, and their families.

Plato viewed the world as having 2 planes: an (ideal) plane of perfection, and a plane of reality. In the ideal plane all people are virtuous, acting ethically and justly. The plane of reality is an imperfect copy of the ideal plane, and people only see occasional glimpses of good. There appears to have been not much goodness driving negotiations in Copenhagen.

Politicians have committed to meeting in Mexico next year to try to enhance the agreement. Many will doubt their ability to tighten the agreement, based on the "commitment" not shown, and selfishness that was shown, at Copenhagen.

We, the people, must contact our politicians, and tell them we want significant action on climate change, and we want binding international agreements.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Nats Accuse Abbott of Treehugging

Tony Abbott's plan for an alternative to an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) or Carbon Tax, has hit a snag - his partners in Opposition, the National Party. Together, they were instrumental in using the Senate to block, a second time, an ETS proposed by Kevin Rudd's Labor Government.

As the Liberal Party worked on an alternative to an ETS, National Party Senator Ron Boswell, has hit out at a key element - planting more trees, and granting (financial) incentives to farmers to do so.

Mr Boswell's reasoning is that farmers shouldn't plant trees, and governments should not pay them to do so. Fair enough - he wouldn't want to be socialist in his ideas of financial support for farmers ... oooh, wait a sec, yes he does. The Nat's policy is is often summarised as 'privatise profits, socialise losses'. And climate-induced long-term drought and diminishing farm viability will be socialised with government support: at least, that's the Nats' view. There is no doubt that more of our primary industries need to be restructured, particularly in the Murray-Darling Basin. John Howard, to his credit, did it for the sugar industry.

Boswell's a dinosaur, and Tony Abbott, as Leader of the Opposition, should tell him so.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Alcoholic Violence: Is Society Stupid?

Over the weekend police in all states & territories, and New Zealand, had simultaneous operations on drunkenness and violence. They particularly targeted 'hot spots', including Oxford St, Kings Cross and George St in Sydney.

From the data so far, it looks as though the publicity telling people it was happening had absolutely no effect. None. Zilch. So are we as a society, and the people concerned, so stupid that there was no change in behaviour?? Well, yes! People still went out with the purpose of getting drunk; people still carried knives & machetes, looking for a fight; people still thought they could indulge in illegal drug-taking. One TV actor, Todd Lasance, was allegedly caught with cocaine. 'Who?' you ask - well he's a person who wants to be known for his acting on the tv soapie Home and Away, wants to got to the US to further his career; and, yes, just another drug addict. Perhaps the tv show 'Stupid, Stupid Man' was written with the likes of him in mind. If convicted, the US might deny him entry.

More and more people are beginning to think the solution involves some or all of the following:

  • restricted opening hours for licenced premises. That is, the time they can be open, and the closing time.

  • enforcement of the RSA laws. Many establishments and nightclubs are clearly NOT fulfilling their legal and social obligations for a quick buck. Those not complying with the Responsible Service of Alcohol laws should be shut down. Repeat offending licensees should be banned for a period of years, and repeat premises should have a licence suspended, and not reissued at that address for some years.

  • higher rates of referral to drug and alcohol counselling

Me? I went to a party on Saturday night, had a few drinks, remained sober, and had a good time.

Those who go out to get drunk, and the premises that serve them, need to be targeted. I cannot see a reason why licenced premises need to be open beyond, say 1:30 am; or why drunks should be free to violently roam the streets. Nor can any taxi driver!

OK, I confess that all reads a bit like a weekday shock-jock, a species of which I am not fond. However, we, individually, and as a society, need to address the issue of alcohol, its irresponsible service by licenced premises, violence, and the people who go out to get druink and be violent.


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Keneally First NSW Woman Premier

At a special caucus meeting at 6pm today, the NSW Labor Party dumped its Premier, Nathan Rees, and elected Kristina Keneally with support from Joe Tripodi /Eddie Obeid's Right Faction. They had installed Nathan Rees, from the Party's Left Faction, as Premier just 14 months ago. They'd called Morris Iemma's bluff, and dumped him. Like (dumped Federal Liberal Leader) Malcolm Turnbull, Nathan Rees continued to talk. Correctly, he cited those in the Party who have weekly tried to white-ant him, and his leadership. Like the Liberal Party, the NSW Labor Party will never recover until the likes of Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid are gone. Bitter factional power-broking only breeds disloyalty, treachery, and, ultimately, a long time in Opposition.

The Left Faction's Carmel Tebbutt will remain as Deputy Leader.

Just like the Federal Liberal Party, the NSW Labor Party is a (rocky) horror show ...

(Joe Tripodi & Eddie Obeid, wearing black fishnets … I mean eyebrows, and cloaked in developer funds )
It's so fatuous, oh fantasy free us
So you can't see us, no not at all
In a caucus meeting, with manic intention.
Well-secluded, We see all.
With a stab in the back, You're in the Premier’s seat
And nothing can ever be the same
We’re spaced out on power, we are in control
Let's do the Labor backstab!
Let's do the Labor backstab!

(Kristina Keneally, with high-pitched, shrill voice)
Well I was walking down Macquarie Street just a-having a think
When a snake of a guy gave me an evil wink
He took me in, he took me by surprise
He had a Right Faction and developers' eyes.
He stared at me and I said ‘yes’
Ethics meant nothing, never would again
Let's do the Labor backstab!
Let's do the Labor backstab!

(with apologies to all from The Rocky Horror Picture Show)


Related article:

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Libs Jump To The Right With Abbott

The Federal Liberal Party today elected former student priest, boxer and journalist Tony Abbott as its leader. At its Party meeting, a leadership spill motion was carried. (Then) Leader Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey & Tony Abbott all contested the leadership. Joe Hockey, who, like Turnbull, believes in climate change, was eliminated in the first round of voting.

The party then split the vote, with Abbott winning 42 votes to 41, with 1 member absent for health reasons, and 1 deliberate informal vote. Tony Abbott then fronted the media, telling them the party is now united. (having won by just 1 vote!)

There were reports of a song & dance for the press ...

(Tony Abbott) It's astounding. Time is fleeting. Madness takes it's toll...
(Julie Bishop) Ahh...
(Tony Abbott) But listen closely...
(Julie Bishop) Not for very much longer...
(Tony Abbott) I've got to keep control.
I remember doing the Lib division.
Drinking those moments when The Far Right hit me.
(Tony Abbott & Julie Bishop) Electoral void would be calling.
(Libs) Let's do the Lib division again.
Let's do the Lib division again.

(Voters) We just jumped to the left.
(Libs) Let’s go th’ far right.
(Voters) We want an ETS.
(Libs) We all cover our ears. But it's The Far Right.
They really drive you insane.
Let's do the Lib division again.

Let's do the Lib division again.

(with apologies to all from The Rocky Horror Picture Show)



Friday, November 27, 2009

'The Crew Are Revolting, Sir'

So said Fletcher Christian to Captain Bligh, when Christian led the mutiny on HMS Bounty. (at least that's the story") They might well have been spoken by Liberal Senator Nick Minchin to Malcolm Turnbull yesterday. Seven Liberals resigned form the Shadow Ministry, including: Nick Minchin, Tony Abbott, Sophie Mirabella, Tony Smith, and Senators Eric Abetz, Mitch Fifield, Mathias Cormann and Brett Mason.

It is a mass desertion of their leader, and a treacherous act of disloyalty on their part. The resignations came after a motion to declare the leadership vacant was lost, meaning most of the party effectively voted to keep Mr Turnbull as leader.

Turnbull's shortcomings have included:
  • being too 'small-l' liberal, as in the mould of the Liberal Party created by (later, Sir) Robert Menzies. He is, therefore not part of the extreme right wing of the party.
  • his wealth is recent - not 'old money'
  • not being from Melbourne's rich establishment
  • not having a Parliamentary henchman to bully dissenters in his party. John Howard used Senator Bill Heffernan and, occasionally, Wilson 'Ironbar' Tuckey.
There will almost certainly be a leadership spill on Monday. Malcolm Turnbull has indicated he will not stand aside, at least for today. Number-crunching on the week-end might indicate resignation is better than the alternative. Tony Abbott has indicated he might stand. Senior party members are urging a Joe Hockey-Peter Dutton ticket. As an aside, having Peter Dutton as the Deputy would almost certainly force the renegade Queensland branch to find him a safe seat.

Neither Abbott, nor Hockey, will be able to unite the Liberal Party. The only hope of winning an election in the next 10 years is if the Liberal Party dis-endorses all those involved in the current stupidity, disloyalty, and conspiring to have the extremist right wing take over the Federal Liberal Party. They should start with those who have publicly contradicted, belittled, undermined, resigned from Shadow Ministries. Until they do, the Liberal Party will remain in disarray, and will not be a viable, strong Opposition, let alone an alternative government.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Politicians 1, Good Policy 0

It looks as though the politicians have won. Using politics as a base for legislation just does not work.

The "negotiated" legislation on an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has resulted in any good policy being abandoned, for the sake of politics. Politicians of all persuasions have ignored the reports from the CSIRO and the IPCC; ignored the science and asked: 'what's politically expedient?'; 'how can I confuse the people with double-speak and pseudo-science?' and 'which big polluters donate to my party?' Except The Greens - they, at least, appear to base their position on something approaching the science of climatology.

The information available to politicians includes information similar to that found in a book by A. Barry Pittock, Climate Change: The Science, Impact & Solutions, 2nd Ed., CSIRO, 2009. Consider the following, from Page 2.

"The World Meteorological Organization ... has declared that 2005 and 1998 were the two warmest years on record ... The decade of 1998-2007 was the warmest on record. ...Since the start of the twentieth century the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74 ±0.18(degrees Celcius), and the linear warming trend for the last 50 years ... is nearly twice that for the last 100 years.

Note that when scientists give such estimates they usually include a range of uncertainty." (Ed. something politicians don't give)

You can read the full sample chapter at:
and information about the book at:

So, among the politicians:
  • The National Party says Climate Change is not happening. They obviously haven't consulted many rural communities and farmers about the effects of climate change on farm viability over the last 50 years!
  • The Liberal Party is divided, and divisive. They have abandoned any pretence at good policy for the sake of infighting, disloyalty, and personal political ambition. (to lead a divided party)
  • The Labor Party (Government) has abandoned good policy for the sake of political expedience.
  • The Independent and small-party Senators seem to have no idea about good policy. This might not be as surprising as it seems: they were Senators for much of the time John Howard was Prime Minister.

To summarize:
Politicians have abandoned any semblance of good government, and good policy for Australians. For their own purposes! Politicians 1, Good Policy 0.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Good News Week!

A group called "Something Corporate" had a song called "Good News". Part of the song goes:
I wanna read good news good news
I wanna be innocent again
I wanna read good news good news
But nothing good is happening

This week, some good things have happened:
  • Conjoined Bangladeshi twins Krishna and Trishna have been separated after a marathon series of operations lasting more than 30 hours. A team of 16 doctors and nurses separated the twins, joined at the head. In intensive care in a Royal Melbourne Hospital, the twins are reportedly doing "exceptionally well". Many have cried and hugged each other: nurses; doctors; their guardian, Moira Kelly; and many people just listening to the news. In a Banglashi orphanage they and no hope, and no prospects. They were brought to Australia two years ago by the Children First Foundation. The rescue, the bringing to Australia, the operations and the care reflect much that is good in our humanity, and much that is good about Australians.
  • Paralympian Kurt Fearnley, a man with no workable legs, and missing the lower part of his spine, has "walked" the Kokoda Track on his hands and arms, in 10 days, finishing at Owen's Corner. He did it to raise funds for disabled people, while remembering the suffering of those who fought in WWII. The Kokoda Track (some call it Trail) was the scene of bloody battles between Australian and Japanese forces in WWII. You can read some of the history at, and Australians remember the heroism and hardship experienced by Australian soldiers.

These two, isolated and singular, events, give our society cause to reflect on the good side of our humanity. Bravo.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Howard Tilts At Rudd

John Howard has given an interview to The Sunday Herald Sun, former Liberal Party PM John Howard has criticised (Labor) Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, while attempting to apply gloss to his own history.

Current PM Rudd is criticised for:

  • "spend(ing) the bank balance that Costello and I left behind"
  • "symbolic" only gestures such as the apology to the stolen generation
  • signing the Kyoto Protocol, which he also called symbolic. Certainly there was an element of symbolism, but it also signified Australia's change of attitude towards climate change, a matter on which John Howard dithered and obfuscated. He went on to say that what Kevin Rudd has done/is doing is almost the same as what he took to teh election he lost: he was 'gunna' do it too. Never mind that he had more than a decade to do it, but did nothing about climate change!
  • considering a time frame for withdrawal from Afghanistan, a matter which he says "would be seen as a huge defeat for the West and an enormous morale boost for Islamic terrorism." Here, Mr Howard is greatly overplaying the significance and proportion of Australia's contribution. Yes, the work done by Australian military personnel is important, and one of which we should be proud. But Mr Howard is deliberately overplaying the significance of Australia's involvement, partly to enhance the public's memory of his own self-importance. Australia ranks about 97th of approximately 164 countries in the number of active troops per 1000 head of population. (in 1996, when Howard was still PM). Source :Wikipedia The work we do has a higher level of importance than some others, but John Howard's assessment of our contribution is overstated.
  • his response to increased numbers of 'boat people'. He only says that he "stopped the boats". He didn't, boats still came. However, as with financial advice "past performance is no guarantee of future returns" by Howard.
John Howard said he would not have provided $900 cheques (tax rebates) from his surplus, nor does he indicate if he would have spent ANY money to alleviate the effects of the global financial crisis on the Australian economy, and "ordinary Australians"! He might have spent none, to protect his beloved surplus, and used Paul Keating's line about a "recession we had to have" (under Howard & Costello)!?

If John Howard, or any other current or former politician of any persuasion, wants to criticise a successor, they need to "speak up, and put up". Mere political criticism & glossing self-image is self-indulgent, and contributes nothing that would help develop good public policy.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

Pollies, Bl**dy Pollies!

What is it with politicians? Yes, I know they like to micromanage everything, and are especially vulnerable to the merest whiff of changes in polls. And their minders like to manage everything from the clothes they wear to the assertions they make, to the questions journalists can ask them.

However, all this "management" means they forget about their whole raison d'etre: to develop and implement good public policy for the betterment of our society. Instead, they indulge in unfounded assertions; cheap, political point-scoring; invalid arguments and unfounded assertions; and "talk tough" bluster.

Consider the following:
  • Kevin Rudd's "tough talk" on unlawful migrants/refugees. Many Australians had tired of the Liberal Party's, and John Howard's, inhumane treatment of such people. John Howard, and his Government (all of the current Opposition, and them some) were criticised by the UNHCR for their inhumane policies. What does Kevin Rudd do: almost exactly the same. Why? He's afraid the polls (voters) might not like a more humane set of policies.
  • Kevin Rudd indulged in more gratuitous political jibes in Parliament over Malcolm Turnbull's leadership, or lack of control, of his Liberal Party members. Specifically, loose canon Wilson Tuckey, and later Sen. Nick Minchin.
  • Malcolm Turnbull still cannot stop his Liberal Party cohorts from speaking out of turn; or lead them to wards a sensible, public-interest-based Climate Change policy. The policy many of them want is subsidies for big polluters.
  • Malcolm Turnbull, in a media interview, argues that, if reports that Sri Lankans still aboard a Custome vessel off Indonesia had been processed by the UNHCR in Indonesia are true, then Kevin Rudd's argument that external push factors are creating more boatloads of asylum seekers in all wrong. What he should be arguing is that, if true, these people should be returned to Indonesia, to follow proper assessments by teh UNHCR. However, he denies outside influences: the humanitarian disaster befalling Tamils in Sri Lanka at the hands of their (Sinhalese) Government, and increased movement of refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq. Turnbull's argument is wrong, he knows it, the journalists interviewing him know it.

Sadly, few, if any, journalists working for commercial media question the arguments from any politician. The possible exceptions work for the ABC current affairs shows. Kerry O'Brien springs to mind. The commercial press has largely become complicit in the political hoodwinking of voters, by politicians. That's how the politicians, and their minders, want it. We need to change it. Journalists should ask difficult questions, and politicians should feel discomfort if their arguments are invalid, and their policies inhumane, or not in the public interest.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Rudd Uses A Howard Solution

Prime MInister Kevin Rudd this week showed that, under pressure, he resorts to fairly standard political behaviour. The pressure on dealing with boat-people came from the electorate (well, the poll surveys) and the media.

His response, particularly during media interviews was to "talk tough", trying to make the electorate warm to his handling of the issue, use lots of repetition of the "tough talk". Under pressure during an interview with the ABC's Kerry O'Brien, Kevin Rudd retreated into bureaucratese: that language which sounds overly complex, uses confusing language, and is sanctuary under pressure. Even the bumbling, Turnbull-led Liberal-National Opposition managed a few hits; at least until Wilson Tuckey opened his mouth, and let the Prime Minister and other Government members deflect attention.

Today's announcement of $50 million in extra aid to Indonesia to help intercept boatloads of unlawful migrants/refugees has quickly been dubbed "the Indonesian solution", much like John Howard's use of Nauru became "the Pacific solution". I wonder whether the UNHCR will report on Australia's current policies, and practices!


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nuclear Poll Reporting

TOday's media are reporting on a Herald/AC Nielson poll about nuclear power. Headlines scream with "More Aussies back nuclear power: Poll" (, "People open to nuclear power: Carr" (, and "Australians embracing vision for fission" (

The stories go on to report that 49% of (surveyed) Australians "said nuclear power should be considered for Australia's future energy needs, while 43 per cent were completely opposed" (SMH) Former NSW Premier Bob Carr was reported by the ABC as saying "There is a shift. People are more open to it again because they can see the damage that carbon dioxide is doing".

There are some problems with reporting on surveys, on-line polls, and market research. Foremost among them is that the media do NOT report that the numbers aren't definitive: they come with an error margin eg ± 3%, or ±5%. The second is that some people who volunteer, or are asked for, comment might have an agenda that is unreported. Bob Carr, for example, is paid by a company that invests in infrastructure. That company might have an interest in building a future nuclear power plant. There is no suggestion that Mr Carr was acting for any other entity when making his comments. Rather, the reporting illustrates that the interests and agendas of commentators are rarely reported. Thirdly, were respondents aware that the best places to put nuclear power plants in Australia is in coastal areas where there is an abundance of seawater for cooling; and close to existing transmission lines? Perhaps Bob Carr is happy to have a nuclear plant near Maroubra? ooooh, (shudder), I can feel the rage in the NIMBY response! In reality, parts of the less inhabited coastlines of SA and WA are more likely places.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was quick to dismiss the building of nuclear power plants in Australia, saying it was, and is still, ALP policy. He then passed the parcel, challenging the Opposition to have a position, reminding everyone that former PM John Howard wanted Australia to have nuclear power plants. It really was a political "hospital pass", knowing that the Liberal party is deeply divided on environmental and climate issues.

Be a bit wary of reports on polls and surveys: the numbers are not definitive, as implied in the reports, and some commentators might have hidden interests. With news, as with advertizing, it pays to be "buyer beware"!


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Telstra Investor: Tell MP's To Help Us

Telstra's second biggest shareholder, Australian Foundation Investment Company (AFIC) , has provided its investors with a letter to send to MP's. The letter hopes to influence MP's to disallow any structural breakup of Telstra, because that might hurt the share price. ie the letter is lobby MP's to protect their investment. Here, I declare that I do not hold any Telstra shares.

The government proposes to force Telstra into separating its retail ('telco') and infrastructure businesses. The reasons for this are:
  • Telstra has long drawn the attention of the ACCC because of its anti-competitive practices
  • Telstra has a significant history of belligerence against the Federal Government (former and current), as it seeks to exercise monopolistic business practices
  • the sale of Telstra "lock stock and barrel" to form a private, largely monopolistic company was always bad policy. (from the previous Federal Government led by John Howard)
  • Telstra made only a token, even mock, tender for the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN). Its tender deliberately did not meet specified requirements, and it was excluded. It then complained about its exclusion!
  • establishing a separate business entity would mean that Telstra (the retail telco) would be forced to pay similar, or identical, rates to its competitors for access to the infrastructure. It would open the retail telco to more competition.
AFIC's letter seeks to impress upon MP's the need to protect their money (investment). But that is not the role of either MP's, or Government: they have a democratic responsibility to act in the best interests of ALL Australians. I believe that protecting the investment money of a minority by allowing Telstra to set the agenda, would be contrary to the best interests of Australians, contrary to our democratic ideals, and unethical.

MP's should vote FOR the structural reform of Telstra.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Turnbull's Ultimatum

Malcolm Turnbull has publicly put his job on the line. The Federal Liberal Party, and Opposition leader, has indicated that he might "walk away" from the leadership if the Party does not show some discipline (over Climate Change) and support his policy of negotiation with the Government on an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)

The Opposition, and the Liberal Party in particular, has been under significant pressure to negotiate, while significant numbers of backbenchers run like media tarts to speak against it. Frankly, it is time the Liberal Party tapped a few MP's and Senators on the shoulder - "it's time to go". Wilson Tuckey springs to mind. The Australian newspaper reports that up to 2/3 of Liberal backbenchers do not want to negotiate with the Government over an ETS.

I think it was politically dangerous for Mr Turnbull to make his ultimatum publicly, outside the party room, and without a henchman. (John Howard had Senator Bill Heffernan, among others, and ruled the Party Room with an iron fist.) Without having a decision made by all members, in a closed party room, Turnbull risks having no decision, no discipline, and a continued procession of media tarts denying climate change. Meanwhile, Deputy Leader Julie Bishop has been polling those same backbenchers, trying to shore up her own position. She is certainly being prepared if Turnbull has tripped himself.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Libs Struggle As Kevin Struts The Stage

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is undoubtedly enjoying strutting the world's stage. Having had breakfast with former US President Bill Clinton on his (Mr Rudd's) birthday, he has bathed in the compliments of both Clinton and current US President Barak Obama, while being a co-host of the plenary meeting with world leaders. They will meet in Copenhagen in December where it is hoped that leaders will commit to some action on climate change.

Meanwhile Liberal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has been relegated to speaking to conservative organisations, where he has been preaching to the converted about how the Labor Government's stimulus packages are not the reason Australia has done remarkably well in the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). This flies in the face of the opinions of Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry; Reserve Bank Governor, Glenn Stevens; myriad respected economists and business commentators; and voters. It was, according to Mr Turnbull, the (former) Liberal-National Government's "four pillars policy" about no mergers between the big 4 banks. He forgot to mention that this had been a "6 pillars" policy - 4 big banks, and Life Insurance companies AMP and National Mutual - instituted by then Labor PM Paul Keating, but unilaterally downgraded to just the 4 big banks by then Treasurer Peter Costello in 1997.

Mr Turnbull, and his Liberal Party, are also under pressure on Labor's proposed bill on Climate Change. The party is riven with disagreements, and has been challenged by Labor to come up with workable amendments by the end of October, before Parliament resumes for a short time in November. Kevin Rudd, and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, know that the Liberals will not be able to achieve this. If they vote down the bill, Kevin Rudd will have a reason to call a double dissolution election.

Such an election, if held in the first 6 months of 2010, could see The Greens, and Labor, improve their numbers in the Senate, with the Greens possibly holding the balance of power. The Liberal and National Coalition parties, and their conservative independent supporters, could be reduced to Senate also-rans. This is a real dilemma for the Liberals: risk losing Senate seats and Senate power and relevance, or vote for a climate change bill which is divides their party. Oh, what a feeling - not!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Libs Remain Confused

Federal Liberal Party members remain confused. Last week Malcolm Turnbull refused to rule in or rule out a return to WorkChoices. His fence-sitting was driven by two opposing forces: his innate recognition of the injustice that drove the WorkChoices policy of reducing the wages of ordinary Australians, while executives reaped double-digit rises in their salary packages; and the more extreme right wing of the party that still beats the WorkChoices drum, and whose support he needs. His leadership is simply not sufficiently strong to properly bury WorkChoices, or any other euphemistic name that the party cares to use.

Brendan Nelson gave his valedictory speech to Parliament this week. In it he again voiced his opposition to an emissions trading scheme (ETS). Malcolm Turnbull, his successor as Liberal Party leader, could not get to the backbenches quickly enough to shake hands and finalise Dr Nelson's departure. Imagine, then, the Libs' surprise the following day to see Brendan Nelson being appointed as Australia's ambassador to the EU and NATO. He becomes the latest example of former Liberal Party MP's and Senators to be appointed to Labor Government positions. His ambassadorial role will see him argue Australia's case for an ETS! No sign of an appointment for ex-Prime Minister John Howard, though.

Internally, the Liberal Party remains divided on WorkChoices, an Emissions Trading Scheme, leadership, the need for and size of an economic stimulus for Australia. In short, they remain a rabble, led by a man who cannot improve his electoral approval, where all but one of the women have been pushed into the background, and which cannot seem to agree on many policy matters with their Coalition "partner".

Malcolm Turnbull has not shown sufficient leadership to draw together the different elements in the Liberal Party. He seems to be there under sufferance, in which case he will likely be replaced when those elements congeal after the next Federal election in 2010, whereupon he will be replaced, possibly by Joe Hockey.


Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Women for the Front Line?

Federal Defence Personnel Minister, Greg Combet, has indicated the Federal Government wants to break down military gender barriers in the Defence Forces. The intent is to attract more women to the forces, and allow them to join combat units. Mr Combet wants physical capability, rather than gender, to be one of the determining factors. Women currently make up 13% of the forces, not in combat roles, and the Government would like to increase the proportion of women in the defence forces.

But Liberal backbencher and former infantry officer Stuart Robert thinks the idea is "outrageous". He went on to say "My concern is that really only Israel and a handful of countries whose very existence is threatened have gone down this path - the rest of the Western world hasn't" . He forgot to mention women in the Chinese and Russian military; hardly nations facing extinction! Also, his statement, per se, is not an argument for not allowing women in combat roles. Just because we, and others, haven't done it before, doesn't mean we shouldn't.

There will be women fitter than many Australian men. The criteria should only be whether service personnel can do the tasks required of the job. There are men who want to join particular combat units, but who are rejected. Just ask anyone who wanted to be a submariner, or join the SAS.

The Defence Forces should not lower physical and mental standards for combat units. That would be embarrassing, even humiliating to the men, and women, who joint the unit. But gender is not an argument for denying anyone the opportunity to train and be assessed.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Catherine Hill Bay: Court Overturns Sartor

Former Planning Minster, Frank Sartor's, approval of a development at Cathering Hill Bay, south of Swansea, near Newcastle.

As then Planning Minister, Mr Sartor, accepted the advice of the Planning Panel. He appointed members of the panel, so any references to it being "independent" outght to be questioned. Rose Corp's development application was ranked very low on the Planning Department's list of preferred developments for the lower Hunter Region. It's approval was contingent on the deal to transfer some land to the State Government, in return for planning aproval, and land.

Residents of the old coal-mining town, and from other nearby, small settlements, objected. Today, the Land And Environment Court has declared void the former Planning Minister's approval of the development.

While the method, the deal and reasoning behind the development approval appear to be discredited by the court's decision, I think it is unlikely that the State Government will challenge it. The court's decision, though, does not mean there can be no development at Catherine Hill Bay; it just means that Frank Sartor's decision was not valid. I wonder how much of it was his idea - as Minister for Water, Sydney Water employees had two 'terms of endearment'. They were 'The Big Drip' if he had an idea, or 'Cranky Franky', if in his usual mood.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rees: 'I Won't Go'

NSW Premier Nathan Rees, has held a press conference and stated: "I am and will remain the New South Wales Labor leader". He then said it again, just in case the assembled journalists didn't understand. Or, it could have been repetition to reinforce his own idea.

Like any other political leader, he remains in the job only while he has the numbers: the support Joe Tripodi & Eddie Obeid (ther is irony in the right wing onf the Labor Party acting as power brokers for a left-wing Premier), the NSW Labor Party, and the Caucus.

Kristina Keneally also fronted the media to deny that she had been approached by Joe Tripodi, or anyone else, and that Premier Rees had her full support. She also questioned how much of the current, and on-going, media speculation was driven by the media. Fair question: there is no doubt that some journalists, and some media outlets have their own political agenda. How much of the speculation is media-driven, and how much comes from disgruntled Labor Government members is unknown. There is probably some of each.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell, held a media conference to say, 'Bring on the election'. As if that were news! Having stirred the election pot, he probably chuckled all the way back to his office to watch the mayhem. Politics, n. a daily dose of unreality, reported ad nauseam by the media.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Nuclear Barnaby

Following is an extract of a speech given by Queensland Liberal-National Party Senator, Barnaby Joyce, on 24 August 2009 to the National Party Federal Council.

"... One of the agendas we must start looking at is nuclear power. We must
be serious about it. ... We export this product all around the world, we obviously think it is philosophically correct to export it to everybody but we don’t believe we should use it ourselves.
Then you have the query that everyone will put up well do you want one in your backyard? That’s the ultimate payback, but do you want one in your backyard? Well I bet we can devise a plan so that I do. You give me my power at half price I’ll take one. I’ll take one tomorrow and if gave every council in Australia the right to have a referendum to ask if you want one we’ll give you your power at half price, that is your choice. And then just let the Australian people make the decision. That would be a nice way to go about doing business. Let the Australian people make the decision about whether they want to do it."

I'm not sure that, as an accountant, he has done his sums properly, nor the politics & practicalities of nuclear electricty management. His solution is simplistic - if we offer cheap electricity, people will approve a nuclear power station in their locality, or a location near other Australians. He hasn't addressed the costs of construction, operation & maintenance, waste disposal, decommissioning and disaster planning. His solution is: "offer cheap, and they'll let you build". But his implied assertion that nuclear-generated electricity will be half the cost of that produced by coal ought to be treated with much cynicism. The 'hip-pocket nerve' of many Australians might look for a cheap way out, as they have done with cars, and they might look to reduce their costs by reducing their use of electricity. An ETS, so opposed by Barnaby, is not so much a tax, but a mechanism of social engineering to change the electricity consumption habits of (all lights ON, ALL night) businesses and individuals.

If Barnaby Joyce wants to debate the merits of nuclear power for Australia, he has hindered his cause by not doing his (accountancy) homework and by simply shooting his mouth off.


Some references:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Govt To Amend RET Bill

Kevin Rudd has agreed to amend the Renewable Energy Target (RET) Bill, after making an agreement with the Opposition. The Bill will force electricity suppliers to source 20% of the ir energy from "renewable" energy sources. Users will pay a higher price for electricity, but it will help reduce the amount, or the exponential growth in the amount, of greenhouse gases by us Australians.

Some of the changes include:
  • the Bill will be introduced on its own. It was initially coupled with the Emissions Trading Scheme Bill (ETS), which was voted down by the Opposition, and small-party/independent climate-change 'sceptics'.
  • the use of 'waste' methane from coal mines to generate electricity will be counted as 'renewable'! While the term is debatable, it is better to use the methane this way (and generate CO2 ) than allow the methane to simply escape into the atmosphere. Methane is much worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
  • more compensation for large energy polluters, such as the aluminium industry. Householders will pay more to offset the higher compensation.
Opposition spokesman on the Environment, Greg Hunt, called the described the changes (including the need for householders to pay more) "a victory for common sense". That fits with the Coalition's manifesto that business, particularly big businesses, come before householders.

Not included, but on Barnaby Joyce's (National Party leader in the Senate) wish list are nuclear power stations. Presumably he knows they need lots of cooling water, and will be happy to have them 'liberally' located along Queensland's coast. Queensland is his home state and the state whose constitutional interests he is supposed to represent. I just wonder if his National Party voters want them in their backyard. I wonder if any Queenslanders want nuclear power stations in their backyard.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

O'Farrell: is it the Young Right?

NSW Liberal Opposition Leader has been urged by some in his party to clean out some of the "older" members. He has been told they risk becoming an old, one-term government if, as expected, they win the next NSW election.

The "too old" brigade includes Brad Hazzard, who is 58 now, and will be 60 after the next election. Too old?? There are some in their 60's now who, perhaps, might consider retirement - except that they, too, will want to be part of a Liberal-National Party Government. They have not held power since Nick Greiner lost to Bob Carr in 1995. (aside: many could only dream of a generous pension on retirement at 60-odd)

But is that the Party is concerned that those with experience will be too old? We will have to wait and see who they propose to take the place of the "oldies". In my opinion, it is that the more extreme right wing wants its acolytes in a Liberal-National government after the next NSW election in 2011.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Musings on Emissions Trading

Federal Liberal Party & Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, has kept his job. But he likes to test the waters. He released the new, updated Liberal-National Parties' policy on an Emissions Trading Scheme before the party discussed it. Yes, former PM John Howard used to do that, but no-one was game to criticise him. Turnbull could do it because he knows there is no-one else who could be leader. No-one: they are all tainted with the decisions of John Howard, Turnbull among them, but none of the others has the leadership ability, or public charisma of Turnbull: and HIS rating sits lower than a limbo bar!

The new Coalition Emissions Trading Policy, devised by Frontier Economics with a tight brief on what to protect has the following main features:
  • agriculture is excluded. Yes, there is no cost for those who wish to clear-fell trees. It is after all, an "agricultural" activity.
  • emissions-intensive industries get 100% free permits. (& perhaps a free lunch with the current Opposition Leader?)
  • electricity producers, those who burn huge amounts of coal & generate huge CO2 emissions, would get a baseline & credit system. Free permits up to a baseline, then they have to pay. The problem is that the baseline will be so high, it will be largely meaningless.
  • the coal industry (miners) gets more help
  • electricity price rises have been kept to a minimum (so that consumers & industry don't need to change their usage habits, thus keeping profits up)
  • claims of a 10% reduction in greenhouse gases hinge on the goodwill of polluters to buy carbon credits off-shore. Like the Government's "up to 25%" this is not a fixed target, only a "best - possible - outcome -if - the - gods - are - kind" figure.
Malcolm Turnbull hopes this will be politically popular - that's why he's done it - but voters should never confuse popularity with good policy, and already questions are being asked about the policy, and the Government has launched a PR attack, in, and out of, Parliament.

We'd really rather they argued rationally, but politics is all marketing these days, isn't it? Bloody marketers!


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Turnbull Bunkers In

Following the release this week of the Auditor-General's Report on the "utegate" affair, Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has largely retreated to teh bunker. He gave brief media interviews defending himself. He did not defend former Treasury official Godwin Grech, who provided the fake email to him. Indeed, he did not even mention his name. It was left to teh media to remind people that Mr Grech is now in psychiatric care. No-one form the Liberal Party, let alone Mr Turnbull or his advisers, has visited Mr Grech. They were quite prepared to use him, and he is alleged to have approached them. Former Liberal Party Deputy Peter Costello didn't help with his media interviews saying that Mr Turnbull did not apply any "due diligence" on the now-known-to-fake email.

Now, some in the Parliamentary Liberal Party are proposing Andrew Robb as a possible Leader. He was one of John Howard's more right-wing Ministers. It is also likely that the more extreme right of the NSW Liberal Party are working to gain preselection for safe Liberal seats in NSW, for both the next Federal election (2010) and the NSW State election in 2011. That bodes badly for Malcolm Turnbull, whose views are more centrist.

The week's economic news hasn't been that good for the Liberal/National Coalition either. Unemployment has remained at 5.8%, rather than rising to 6%, and more jobs have been created, although most are part-time jobs. But they have made nothing ... nothing ... of the rises in underemployment. This is an issue both the past Liberal National government and the current Labor Government don't want to discuss. They are the hidden unemployed - those with jobs, working les than 35 hrs/week, and who want to work longer.

Emissions Trading Scheme legislation is also due to be debated this month, and the Liberal/Natinal Coalition still can't decide what's best for the country - vested interests or an emissions trading scheme to help lower greenhouse gases, which contribute to drier, less productive farmland; and which will threaten the coastal homes of many people. MMM ... vested interests, or people. It's such a hard decision!

The bottom line is, we need politicians to act in the interests of the people. The Liberal Party is too busy playing politics, including internally, to be useful to anyone.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Health, Holidays & Wealth

I'm back - I've had 5 weeks off, an extended break. I felt refreshed, till I went back to work last week. I've been just as busy as ever.

The big news is the release of a report into Australia's health system by the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission. It confirms what many pople already knew.

The health system focusses too much (more than $90 b) on ill-health, rather than wellness
like campaigns against smoking, binge-drinking, too much sugar et al. Australians don't change the habits that adversely affect their health. Like smokers and drinkers they KNOW the messages about healthy living; they just choose to ignore them! Well, many people. Yet the report highlights that these lifestyle diseases consume more than 2/3 of the health budget! The report says "We have a health system skewed to managing sickness rather than encouraging wellness."

The recommended change in focus to preventative health has been welcomed by many. The politicians will be wary of being seen to "take away".

Hospitals remain a festering sore. They were once one of the jewels in the crown of State rights, and responsibilities. While Kevin Rudd has talked tough about how states have to reform hospitals, the States will argue strongly & concertedly to keep them. But the public knows that hospitals are underfunded, understaffed, and over-populated. NSW hospitals routinely operate at 99%-107% of bed capacity, because they don't have the budget to operate (pun intended) at the best-practice level of 85%-87% of capacity. Such levels would have seen considerably fewer operations delayed because the hospitals' priorities had to change to those with the H1N1 virus ('swine flu').

Money! Whichever of the reforms are implemented, partially or wholly, it will cost. Even better health in the long term costs, as people live longer, and acquire more age-related conditions. If voters want a better health system, they need to better fund governments. Ouch - that means more tax money. Voters will need to decide: better health care, better health programs, better hospitals; or a 2-cups-of-coffee-a-week tax cut? The effects on singular personal wealth might be ever-so-slightly dented, but communal wealth will increase significantly. Kevin Rudd shied away from questions about how any reforms might be funded. No surprises there - no Prime Minister wants to announce increases in taxes.


Monday, June 22, 2009

'Utegate' and Political Accountability

On Saturday, I wrote "A picture of an alleged email appears in The Daily Telegraph today, allegedly from Andrew Charlton (senior economic adviser to Kevin Rudd) to Treasury official Godwin Grech. The image in The Daily Telegraph is, indeed a picture, and pictures can be doctored." On Sunday, Kevin Rudd announced that he matter had been referred to the AFP - a tactic that opened the possibility of police interviews of Opposition members, their staffers and Treasury officials.

Today, Monday, the AFP have released a statement confirming the email was fake, but not who created it. "Preliminary results of those forensic examinations indicate that the email referred to at the centre of this investigation has been created by a person or persons other than the purported author of the email." Some news reports indicate the email originated within Treasury.

And so Parliament played the game of political argy-bargy. Kevin Rudd's government dredged up his alleged involvement in the HIH (insurance company) scandal when (now Opposition Leader) Malcolm Turnbull worked for Goldman Sachs as a merchant banker; and wanted to know Malcolm Turnbull's involvement in the fake email. PM Rudd taunted Mr Turnbull with "The leader of the opposition has his fingerprints all over the promotion of this fake email and he knows it." There were questions about a (recently-left) former staffer for Malcolm Turnbull, Paul Lindwall, and whether the AFP wanted to interview him. He has denied any involvement.

The referral to the AFP appears to have worked for Kevin Rudd. Parliament censured Mr Turnbull today, albeit with a vote on party lines only; and Turnbull has effectively had to drop his attack on Kevin Rudd. The opposition has now turned its attention to Treasurer Wayne Swan, who is alleged to have received a fax about the Ipswich car dealer, John Grant, who provided a ute for Kevin Rudd, and who reportedly asked for assistance getting dealer finance.

Much of the mud appears to have rebounded onto the Opposition, possibly one or more Oppositin staffers, at least one person in Treasury, and The Daily Telegraph.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Politicians, Children & Accountability

Wow - they say a week is a long time in politics. It's 2 weeks since I last posted and soooooo much has happened.

Just in the last week:
  • Former Federal (Coalition) Treasurer Peter Costello has indicated that he will not seek pre-selection for his Melbourne seat of Higgins at the next election. That event doubtless caused much joy and celebration for Malcolm Turnbull and his supporters; and doubtless Costello's supporters, largely the more extreme & right wing in the Liberal Party, felt a little flat. They have no viable right-wing leader. Parliamentarians of all sides played the game, and said nice things about Peter. Even he conceded it was almost a series of eulogies.

    It will be some little time before history settles on his real legacy: wannabe Prime Minister, with no guts to challenge John Howard; good/great Treasurer; Treasurer who could have done more in the good times.

  • Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young was asked to remove her 2yo daughter from the Senate during voting. Greens leader Senator Bob Brown, and Liberal Senator Sue Boyce have asked for the issue (of children in the Senate) to be debated "so the rules are clearer". Notwithstanding that there is available child-care provided at Parliament House, I think that there are times when outsiders are not appropriate in workplaces. Some people seem to equate "family-friendly workplace" with the ability to take children anywhere. Such a view is, I think, much too broad. Except for the need to breastfeed infants, I think outsiders, including toddlers and children ought not be present in Parliament, especially during House business, debates, votes & Parliamentary Inquiries.

  • During The Press Gallery Mid-Winter Ball in Canberra, Liberal Party adviser Anthony Scrinis allegedly grabbed the breasts of up to six women, and "lurched from woman to woman on the dance floor". He worked for Liberals' spokeswoman on Women's Issues Sophie Mirabella for less than a week, and has resigned. I guess most people would take "Issue" with his behaviour. He was also allegedly drunk. Who needs alcopops!? And how have the organizers and alcohol providers fulfilled their responsibilities for responsible service of alcohol? The answer, of course, is that they haven't. I hope we don't get to the stage of having "minders" for politicians' minders .. ooooh, my head hurts at the thought.

  • Opposition parties are always looking for blood, especially of a Prime Minister. And so PM Kevin Rudd finds himself at centre of a storm over allegedly misleading Parliament about his / his office's interference in a government OzCar vehicle financing scheme to help a car dealer obtain finance. The dealer, John Grant, previously donated a ute for Mr Rudd to use in his electorate. A request for assistance was allegedly sent from the Prime Minister's Office to a Treasury official. A picture of an alleged email appears in The Daily Telegraph today, allegedly from Andrew Charlton (senior economic adviser to Kevin Rudd) to Treasury official Godwin Grech. The image in The Daily Telegraph is, indeed a picture, and pictures can be doctored. The Government claims the email does not exist, and The Telegraph has not released the original to any other outlets. Treasury officials, including Godwin Grech and his boss have told a Senate Inquiry that they cannot find the email on any system. It would be expected to be still on a server, or backup. Even if an individual "deleted" it, that does not delete it from the server. THere might have been inappropriate advances, but in the absence of definitive proof - an original email extracted from the servers - it remains an allegation / suspicion.

    Kevin Rudd is not the first, nor will he be the last, PM to have allegedly misled Parliament. There were at least 2 allegations against John Howard: one over a meeting with the owner of Manildra ethanol producer (it later received Government funding) and the Trish Draper travel affair/rort.

Ahhh, politics, nothing changes, except the players. And they don't learning anything from their political forebears in terms of behaviour.


Friday, June 05, 2009

Human Decency Lost, And Found

This week has seen a string of events that have reflected badly on our humanity, and one sad event that has reminded us that there is hope.

"David Gabriel Watson, 32, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years' jail on Friday after pleading guilty in the Supreme Court in Brisbane to killing his new wife, Christina (Tina) while scuba diving in north Queensland in October 2003." ( ) He will server 12-months in gaol, with the remainder of his sentence suspended. He will then be free to return to the US, whence he came.

"A couple whose baby daughter (9-month-old Gloria Thomas) died after they treated her with homeopathic remedies instead of conventional medicine have been found guilty of manslaughter." ( ) Thomas Sam is also a qualified doctor. A custodial sentence for both parents seems likely.

The Chaser's War On Everything - a satirical show that has included stunts such a character dressed as Osama bin Laden attempting to gatecrash the APEC conference in Sydney (they gave themselves up after security failed to stop them) - has been suspended from ABC TV for 2 weeks after public outrage over their "skit" on dying children. "The ABC was inundated with callers outraged by the "Make a Realistic Wish Foundation" skit in which Andrew Hansen and Chris Taylor ask actors playing hospital bed-ridden children what they wish for. When one little girl asked to meet Hollywood actor Zac Efron, she was handed a stick instead, with Taylor asking 'why go to any trouble when they're going to die any way'." (,22049,25584801-5001021,00.html )

So much for the tacky, the inhumane, and just plain criminal. However, we were sadly reminded that human decency, compassion, and skill can all be combined. The sad event concerned (Prof.) "CHRISTOPHER O'BRIEN, the world-renowned cancer specialist who died from a brain tumour last night, acquired many honours during his career, including being made an officer in the Order of Australia, to be announced in the Queen's Birthday honours list on Monday." ( There will be a State Funeral for a man whose medical peers, and all who knew, or were treated by him, acknowledge his human compassion, understanding and surgical skill. Professor O'Brien's passing has helped to remind us that there are good people, and we can aspire to emulate them. Vale, Professor Chris O'Brien.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Rudd's First Ministerial Resignation

Joel Fitzgibbon resigned today as Minister For Defence. He has had a number of "troubles" in recent months including: the SAS pay bungle; undeclared gifts of trips to China paid for by businesswoman Helen Lu, this week there were revelations of hotel accommodation paid for by NIB Health Fund; and meetings involving his brother (as Chief Executive of NIB Health) and Defence officials. Two inquiries, one where Defence Signals Directorate investigated itself, have cleared the Department of spying on the Minister.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd seemed to acknowledge the "mistakes" relating to proper accountability when he said "The minister has accepted responsibility for these mistakes, they are mistakes in relation to accountability, there have been a number of them."

The resignation comes at a time when some reforms are overdue within the civilian arm of the Dept of Defence. Also, British MP's are looking for any hole in which to hide from public scrutiny over rorting their allowances; and increasing scrutiny on Australian politicians.

Former Prime Minister John Howard did much to diminish accountability and Parliamentary responsibility, mostly to protect his political allies. One would hope that Kevin Rudd, having bit this bullet, will further insist on his Ministers and members having proper accountability. Note that accountability refers to the concept that a Minister is answerable to Parliament for the performance of their Department. It is however, a Minister's responsibility to declare gifts, and to claim only those expenses incurred. Joel Fitzgibbon had, perhaps by force, been both accountable and responsible for his actions/inactions. Restoring both accountability and responsibility ought to be one of Kevin Rudd's missions; reforming Question Time is another.

Voters will hope that Joel Fitzgibbon is the last of Kevin Rudd's Ministers to resign, because all the others will have learnt their lesson from Mr Fitzgibbon's public shame.


Postscript 5-Jun-09
Senator John Faulkner has taken on the position of Minister for Defence following Joel Fitzgibbon's resignation. Senator Faulkner is an experienced Minister, and politician. He has shown himself to be coolly forensic in Senate Estimates hearings, an approach that should serve him well in this difficult portfolio. (Defence has a somewhat chequered history of its treatment of Ministers)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

So Long, Sol

Telstra's now-former CEO, Sol Trujillo, has left early. He was due to to finish at the end of June, but he left in May, and left Australia. He proceeded to badmouth Australia in a BBC interview, calling us racist, and being here "like stepping back in time". I wonder how much the BBC had to pay him for the interview. Australia is not racist. It has a small number of people who are, as with every other country. Australians' dislike of Sol Trujillo is not based on race, but his "achievements".

In 4 years as CEO this is his list of achievements:
  • took A$30 million in pay & bonuses

  • took a confrontational, even belligerent, approach to Industrial Relations. He offered his employees dreaded, and dreadful WorkChoices: individual contracts which offered no pay rises for up to 5 years, and a reduction in conditions. He took large increases, and exceedingly generous bonuses

  • Telstra's share price has fallen from just over A$5 to just over A$3. Concerns about the share price slide were expressed by the former Coalition Government as far back as 2006, well before the current Global Financial Crisis.

  • Trujillo brought over two US friends. Phil Burgess was charged with taking on the Australian Government and the ACCC (competition regulator). They lost. Trujillo seems to have thought that privatising a government-owned monopoly must automatically create a private monopoly. To its credit the (then Coalition) Federal Government did not.

  • Under Trujillo's leadership, some reports suggest that the rate of customer complaints against Telstra increased by 240%! ( )

  • Perhaps contributing to the rise in complaints, Telstra's total workforce has fallen from 56000 to 47000 people.

  • Trujillo oversaw Telstra's bid to install Australia's proposed new broadband infrastructure. He knew the bid did not meet tender requirements; and apparently believed that public (government) money should be used to build national infrastructure which would be privately owned and controlled by Telstra, to the detriment of competition. The bid failed; and Trujillo's last failure might well leave Telstra in a poor strategic position.
It is entirely possible that Sol Trujillo's legacy might be as a prime example of "what not to do as CEO/manager". His name might live in corporate training manuals for years.

So long, Sol. You won't be missed, or forgotten.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Swines Spreading Flu

The number of Australians reportedly suffering "swine flu" - H1N1 Type A is NOT really swine flu -has grown significantly over the last 3 days to at least 65 cases. Many have returned from cruise ships, flown in from LA, or been in contact with those who have.

Many returning from the cruise ships have been told to stay in "home quarantine" for at least a week. However, it seems some parents didn't follow the message with sick teenagers being allowed to go to work at a fast food outlet at an Epping Plaza (northern Melbourne) shopping mall. The Mall, and food outlet were closed for some time. Such behaviour, from the parents, and the teenagers, is socially irresponsible. The teenagers might be forgiven for their naivete, but the parents ought to have known better.

So too, health authorities who allowed possibly infected passengers from the cruise ship Pacific Dawn to fly from Sydney to Queensland. Quarantine should have been in Sydney, at least until the blood test results were confirmed. Immigration, and Federal and State Health authorities have a responsibility to do more than say 'stay home for 7 days' - it is clear that more cases of this human swine flu are arriving in Australia, and that those identified as being at high risk need to be cleared by their GP before returning to work. While anti-viral drugs, such as Tamiflu, might help reduce the severity of symptoms, they are not a vaccine, and their widespread use would not be appropriate. A vaccine is not likely to be available till at least September.

This flu is apparently likely to be more severe in younger children, older people, and those who are otherwise frail. Most people will not suffer severe symptoms, yet they have a social responsibility to ensure that they are not responsible for spreading to other people. If you're told to stay home, stay home. If your children are sick, do not send them to school, sport, or work -keep them at home; yes that's inconvenient, but it IS socially responsible!


Monday, May 25, 2009

Kevin Rudd's Unfinished Business

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has unfinished business. Specifically he has two formerly independent bodies determining wages, that are not independent.

In 2005, John Howard effectively sidelined the Federal Industrial Relations Commission, which had been presided over by Judges, and established his own "Fair Pay Commission", using Federal Corporations Law to do so. In October 2005, then PM Howard announced Melbourne Professor Ian Harper as the first Fair Pay Commissioner. Far from being independent, the Fair Pay Commission, and Prof. Harper, sat as a unit within the Dept of Employment and Workplace Relations, under the control of Minister Kevin Andrews, and Prime Minister Howard. It was always subject to political interference: that was one way that Howard could lower the wages of Australians in real terms. As an example, witness the extended delay in announcing the Fair Pay Commissioner, that the Commissioner was a political appointment by Howard, and the extended delay in announcing considerably-less-than-CPI wage increases.

The Australian Fair Pay Commission still sits within the Ministry (Dept of Education, Employment & Workplace Relations) where the current (Deputy Prime) Minister Julia Gillard, and PM Kevin Rudd can still exercise considerable political influence. It is the political interference and the policy of using the Commission to lower the wages of the lower paid workers that so rankled the union movement, and many other Australians. Under the current structure, kept by Kevin Rudd, that can happen again. The Australian Fair Pay Commission is NOT as independent as was the Federal IR court. It is no wonder, then, that the states & territories have not signed up to Kevin Rudd's proposed industrial relations takeover. Only Victoria has signed up. The states, with some historical justification, given the history behind John Howard's partial takeover, with the political objective of lowering average wages, have a distrust of the intentions of this and future Federal Governments.

The second unfinished business concerns the Remuneration Tribunal. In 2001, John Howard made Tony Abbott "responsible for" the Remuneration Tribunal. It had once been a statutory independent body that reported to Parliament, not to a Minister or Prime Minister. Every pay rise was justified because the "Remuneration Tribunal is an independent body". Politicians of all parties made similar announcements, knowing that it is patently untrue. It reports to the Minister, and indirectly to the Prime Minister. Malcolm Turnbull said it on 2o-May-09; Kevin Rudd said it though a 'spokesman' on 28-Apr-09.

I believe it is a good idea to debate the Federal politicians' salaries, their allowances and associated auditing requirements, and how they are determined. Not surprisingly, the pollies don't want any auditing of how they spend their allowances, or how frequent flier points earned from Government business might be used for personal travel of family & friends. But for politicians to continually refer to "the independent remuneration tribunal" is specious at best, and more likely, deceptive, on their part.

Kevin Rudd has unfinished business with both the politically abused 'Fair Pay Commission' and the less-than-independent Remuneration Tribunal.


Further Reading:,com_remository/Itemid,26/func,fileinfo/id,37/

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What the NRL Must Do

Volumes have been written this week about Andrew Johns, his involvement in group sex with a NZ woman 7 years ago, his sacking by both Channel 9, the Melbourne Storm NRL team, and the NRL.

I would make the following points about the matter:
  • what Johns did was wrong: allowing other players to enter; cheating on his wife; knowingly indulging in behaviour that might contribute to the spread of STD's; many would argue it was ethically, even morally, wrong.
  • Australians have a term for those other players who "got off" on watching - we call them 'wankers', and it's a term of derision. It might well be literally & figuratively true, given how they've scurried into the shadows this week.
  • those team members who took part, and the club officials, who knew of the behaviour, and did nothing, are also responsible. Legally, it might be called "accessory after the fact". Although no crime appears to have been committed, the 'fact' ahs brought the game, and the reputations of some people, into disrepute.
  • the NRL has concentrated on players only, and Johns in particular. The media has largely done the same, although the Daily Telegraph (15/5/09) carried front page silhouettes of other players allegedly involved.
  • having been complicit in the scapegoating of Johns, it now behoves the NRL to provide appropriate counselling for Johns, and his family.

So, is Andrew Johns a scapegoat? Yes - in biblical times a scapegoat was the goat upon whose head the sins of the people were laid on the Day of Atonement, and which was afterwards sent off into the wilderness (Lev. 16: 21-22). This seems to fit with the actions, or inactions, of the NRL, Channel 9, the Melbourne Storm, Johns's former team-mates, his most recent work-mates, and a multitude of social commentators. There is abundant literature on the psychology of scapegoating (See for an example.) Essentially, scapegoating is a form of bullying whereby others (see above list) avoid admitting to, or consequences of, their wrongdoing. In Johns's case, he appears to have been chosen because of his higher profile that the others.

While Johns had pleaded his 'me culpa' publicly, somewhat reluctantly, and under considerable psychological strain, the others, players and officials, have retreated to the shadows like cowards.

Here are my suggestions for the NRL, but applicable to other sports, male & female:

  • ban alcohol sponsorship: ban new contracts, and the renewing of existing ones. Start with your own representative teams. Ban players, officials, clubs and associations from alcohol sponsorship. If you choose to provide alcohol to your teams, do it behind closed doors, with no outsiders; none. Yes, I know the Brisbane Broncos are sponsored by a brewery, some players drink like they're in a brewery, and some have brought themselves, and the game, into disrepute becausse of it. Ban it anyway.
  • don't just target one player. All players involved need to be reported, if too cowardly to own-up. Officials bear responsibility, too. If it was right to sack Johns from any role with the NRL, it is right that officials who knew should also go. You can't have one rule for "the players" and another for officials: that would be hypocrisy.
  • For away games, especially, it is no longer appropraite to let players do as they please. At home, and away, players represent the club, the team, and the NRL. Consider inviting the girlfriends, parners, wives.
  • introduce a common code of conduct for officials, and players; and enforce it with significant bans. eg cannot be a club official, or be involved club management or board; if an NRL contract is terminated, it ought to be concurrent with a ban on playing.
  • the player education program about how treat women should be extended to all officials, including NRL managemenet, who should attend with the players. This will let them see just how bad are the attitudes of some players towards women.
  • given the claim that this is a common occurrence, test every NRL player for STD's. Do it discretely, and the results should be private, but players should know this is a possible consequence of their chosen NRL lifestyle


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Budget Realities & Politics

Did I say I was busy in teh last post?! - you bet I have been. For the record, however, I have NOT been working on the Federal. or any State, budget.

As far back as 2000, John Howard's & Peter Costello's budgets were in, or near, "structural deficit". They recorded a "surplus" because they won an economic lottery - overseas demand for our minerals ensured huge amounts of taxes paid that were outside the normal economy's scope; and they sold more of Telstra and the country's Internet infrastructure. You can read more of the expert discussion on the ABC's 7:30 Report of 10-May-200. Further, in February 2005, Treasury Secretary Ken Henry warned the Howard Government that the US current account deficit could (would?) cause a severe economic correction in the US, with worldwide implications. John Howard's response was "There's no prospect, in my view, if you're asking me for my view, there is no prospect of the American economy crashing." ! Either his skills weren't as good as he wants us to believe, or he was being deceptive.

For their parts Labor PM Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan, have a budget that looks "tough, but socially responsible", but which is has some poor policy choices: a second attempt at an alcopops tax; lots of money for universities, and school infrastructure, but not much about the extra funds public schools and TAFE will need for students staying on after the COAG "compact"(15-20 year olds will be either at school, or receiving training to help with teh recovery)

Alcohol ought to be taxed on its alcohol content, not the type of drink (beer, spirits, alcopop, wine) Further, if the desired socailly engineered position is to reduce alcohol consumption and binge drinking, the cost ought to escalate at higher levels. ie not a linear tax based on %alcohol, but a tax based on an exponential curve.

The Lib/National Coalition's plan to raie the tobacco tax to reduce the budget deficit and discouage smoking won't work - it will just be a regressive tax. And the Liberal PArty still accepts donations from ... tobacco companies. Malcolm Turnbull knows the increase in tax won't stop smokers. Essentially they show the same traits as drug addicts - by and large they will pay whatever price is asked. So the increase is just an greater regressive tax, and tobacco consumption will be unchanged.

I think means testing the Private Health Insurance Rebate is worthwhile. Effectively it is means whereby the government pays 1/3 of the private premiums. Mind you, the Coalition will oppose this measure, despite their fundamentalism on "user-pays"! Turnbull is still playing the "I'm-in- Opposition,-so-'No' " game.

As far as the already-distributed cash handouts go, Australia relies heavily on the retail sector, because reforms to industry have effectively reduced the contribution manufacturing makes to our economy. In that respect, they will likey mean the structural deficit will not be as great as it could have been.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

Budget: Mixed News, As Always

Oh, dear. I have been so busy that I have not had time to post for 2 weeks. It seems like an eternity. It's 2009 Budget time, a time when politicians like to sprout, er, "leak" good news to the voters by using the media. They also like to prepare us for bad news, by leaking possible increases in taxes.

So, Prime Minister Rudd, and the State leaders have reached a "compact with young Australians", specifically those under 20. The following extract is from the press release via the PM's office:
"This compact with young Australians will ensure that every Australian under the age of 25 will be entitled to an education or training place. This is an important undertaking to the nation, an important undertaking to mums and dads concerned out there about their kids, an important undertaking to young Australians themselves."

Sounds good ... but just how many young Australians under 20 were at the COAG meeting that decided this. Hint: it's a nice round number! And its dressed up nicely with references to "mum and dad". There is also a sting in the tail, not just for the kids, but for "mum and dad" who receive Family Tax benefit A.
"The other part of this initiative is that we've also strengthened conditionality in welfare payments. To support this new Compact, the Commonwealth Government will strengthen the conditions unemployed young people must pass to receive the youth allowance. Anyone under the age of 20 without a year 12 equivalent qualification must be in education or training in order to receive Youth Allowance. The same conditions must be met if parents of young people in the same circumstances wish to receive Family Tax Benefit A."

Ah, yes. We'll not only make it harder for the kids, but we'll possibly punish the parents as well. Notwithstanding that the part about education & training might be good policy, the second part, about the Family Tax Benefit A, is social engineering, with a big stick, using tax policy.

There's the news about the massive investment, over 20 years, in defence capability. The fine print is that "savings" of about $2 million /year are to be made from the current defence budget: savings additional to those required under the Howard government. There will be plenty of opportunities for re-"announcements" of this future spending in this, and later, budgets. I suspect that not much of the new spending will occur soon.

News, too, that the budget "might" defer tax cuts announced last year, especially for "the rich" - applying the same formula used for the RuddBank's personal stimulus tax rebate, those earning more that $100,000 should worry. Just a little: it is after all, only a "leak", and many kites are flown to test voter reaction. There will be some bad news in the budget though, because this is a recession, and 2009 is not an election year.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Federal Government PR in Full Swing

Late this morning we had a number of press conferences, where Federal Government Ministers attempted to ameliorate bad news, announce something new, and indulge in a little gratuitous Oppostion-bashing. Don't get me wrong - the previous Coalition Government, now in Oppostion, did the same things.

Parliament is in recess till May, when the budget will be delivered to Parliament. The polls give Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Federal Labor Government substantial leads over the Opposition, led by Malcolm Turnbull.

The Government's response: lay as much blame for the bad news on the previous Coalition Government.
  • Deputy PM Julia Gillard did it when talking about the unfettered highly-debt-geared business plans, and planned market dominance by ABC Learning Child Care, which is now in receivership. At the same time, she announced the "good news" that of the 241 ABC Learning Centres, 210 will be sold, and that the Government has been working with the administrator to find jobs for those who work in others. Oh, and your child care will be prioritised.
  • Health Minister Nicola Roxon and Wayne Swan ran a double act. Roxon ran the new alcopop legislation to validate tax already collected , and the "new" related legislation to retain teh increased tax rate; and the health benefits. Treasurer Swan took his turn, and indulged in a spot of Opposition bashing: the Liberal Party, the Opposition, and Malcolm Turnbull all copped a serve.

All round, it was presented as "good news from the government", and a "smack in the mouth for the Opposition". Monty Python would be proud. Ahhh. Don't you just love marketing ... err ... I mean "press conferences"?


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Respite For Premier Rees

NSW Premier Nathan Rees will doubtless see the Easter holidays as a welcome distraction.

The media is full of Easter stories, tabloid "stories" about "celebrities" (Nicole Kidman & Keith Urban; Hugh Jackman; Cathy Freeman's wedding; TV/radio people; Sydney's social butterflies; 2-bit starlets, et al.), sport, more sport, and Kevin Rudd.

Nathan Rees will welcome the respite from the recent news stories about
  • two electrical blackouts affecting Sydney CBD & surrounds;
  • former (sacked) Minister for Small Business, Tony Stewart, who is suing the State for unfair dismissal ( ); Memo: it's politics, Tony, get over it!
  • voter and media dissent over Joe Tripodi's 3-week around-the-world trip at taxpayers' expense. He will visit Hong Kong, China, New York, Canada, London and maybe Spain, hoping to find a buyer for NSW retail electricity assets. Given the parlous state of the financial world in New York and London, Mr Tripodi might find potential buyers scarce in those places. He might still find a few people at tourist venues. Many, especially the media, will look forward to his timely, comprehensive report to NSW Parliament. (ROFLOL!) I just can't help remembering that there were whispers in Joe's right-wing ear that it might be time for him to retire from Parliament.
  • news that NSW proposes to sell NSW Lotteries, an enterprise that returns more than $400 million to NSW Treasury each year. The news was released on Thursday, just when many voters were setting off for the Easter weekend, and when many voters are not interested in news.
Little wonder Premier Rees was looking forward to Easter. I hope he, and his new wife, enjoy the break.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Sydney Buildings Told To Reduce Power

Sydney's CBD and some surrounds were again affected by a power blackout on Saturday. It was the second blackout in six days. Both also affected the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, and an emergency generator has reportedly been installed to ensure it remains open. Owners of large buildings have beeen asked to reduce power consumption, especially from air conditioners, to avoid more blackouts.

Energy australia has indicated it will take some time to restore all the "backup" supply lines, and repair the main, 130kV, line under Circular Quay, which apparently failed when some earth subsidence affected its insulation.

Perhaps it is pertinent for the NSW State Government to look at:
  • electricity supply lines to the CBD, and other strategic areas.
  • current and future requirements, capacity and infrastructure.
  • building codes for large, multi-storey, air conditioned buildings. Should there be a requirement for emergency power to take lifts to the next lowest level, from backup generators or battery systems? Before you laugh, consider the dozens of people who had to be rescued, largely in darkness, from 34 lifts across the CBD last Monday, 30 March. 34 different lifts for emergency services to attend! Perhaps, too, building codes for new multi-storey buildings to have solar power generators on their rooftops, and greater requirements for passive cooling systems on all buildings to reduce reliance on energy-gulping air conditioners. Hey - there'll be economic stimulus & job creation benefits, too.
Governments, and Oppositions, in this situation are usually light on action, and big on talk and approtioning blame. Premier Nathan Rees's Government will likely be no different. Someone else will be told to "fix it".


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Earth Hour 2009

Last night was Earth Hour - the hour when people and organizations are encouraged turn off as much electrical equipment & lights. It is a promotion to help remind us about global warming and of our need to reduce our carbon emissions. (

As a political and environmental point, it has become an important symbol.

But it's not enough! Unless people and organizations make changes - drive less, use more economical transport, turn off appliances and lights, use less packaging, and recycle more - one hour, one day a year will make little difference.

The same for organizations - if it's acceptable to turn off most lights in empty buildings at night for one hour, why is it not aceptable every night? Security lighting is important, but it does not need every light, in every room, on every floor, every night! Electricity companies will say they need it, because they need to provide base load electricty from their mostly coal-fired, power generators. This is like the cart driving the horse. But if we set our base-load demand on our needs, not those of electricity companies, then they will have to adapt. That adaptation will result is less electricty being made from coal, and more from other sources during the day.

Governments have a role to play, by setting appropriate social, environmental and taxation policies. The coal industry donates $millions to our political parties and politicians; and governments and politicians want to sell electricity assets, so it is unlikely there will be significant action. If that sounds cynical, consider the following quote, from George Beranrd Shaw: "The power of accurate observation is frequently called cynicism by those who don't have it."

I encourage to to change your habits - it'll be good for the environment, & you'll pay less in bills, too. Oh - and that would increase company profits too.

Some Earth Hour 200 photos can be found at:


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fielding's Big Month: No, No, Yes

Family First Senator Steve Fielding has had a big month, and he's loved all the attention from the Government, and the media.

1. Political Donations

Senator Fielding voted with the Opposition to defeat a bill that would have improved the reporting and openness of political donations. Here, Senator Fielding has apparently acted in the interests of the Family First party. On 14-March-09, the Sydney Morning Herald asked Senator Fielding revealed that the Victorian branch of Family First declared "total receipts of $284,758. It disclosed one receipt above $10,500: a $100,000 donation from company director Jehan Salib. That left $184,758 in undisclosed receipts." Questions from the Herald apparently elicited a game of pass the parcel, which eventually returned to Senator Fielding, who refused to answer. Senator Fielding had previously said, on his blog:

“We need protection against political donations...we really have call these 'donations' by their proper names - inducements or bribes. They are used to buy favour or policy…” Sen. Steve Fielding

Senator Fielding voted against legislation to reduce the disclosure limit to $1000, and remove a tax deduction for donations to political parties of up to $15000.

2. The Alcopop Tax

Senator Fielding flexed his 'sole-senator' muscles and refused to vote for the increases in the alcopop tax. The government would not yield to his demands to ban alcohol advertising during sports broadcasts., Along with the Coalition opposition, he voted against the legislation. About $140 million in already-collected taxes has to be returned to the brewing industry.

Senator Fielding argues that binge drinking is not a tax problem. "It's a culture problem and breaking the back and the link between alcohol and sport is absolutely critical for all Australian families". But taxation is one of the tools used by government in social policy, and while the selective taxation of alcopops is not an ideal solution, Senator Fielding could have voted for it, with a negotiated sunset clause after the full review of taxation. That is, if the legislation were an interim measure, where it had some chance of achieving a reduction in excessive consumption.

3. WorkChoices is Dead

Senator Fielding voted with the Government to pass the Fair Work bill, which replaces, and undoes much of, the Coalition's WorkChoices, introduced without mandate by John Howard in 2006. Immediately after the election of Kevin Rudd's government in 2007, most of the Opposition, including current leader Malcolm Turnbull, and Joe Hockey, declared that WorkChoices is dead (as a policy). Yet they voted against the government's replacement, the Fair Work Bill, because Peter Costello and the right wing of the Liberal Party have dragged the moderates much further to the right than they wanted. They hope to resurrect the WorkChoices corpse after some future election. (probably under then new leader Peter Costello)

Senator Fielding was elected with less than 1.8% of the primary senate vote, and Labor preferences. Labor is unlikely to give him any preferences next Senate election, or if there is a double dissolution of Parliament (unlikely)