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)


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Costello - Puppet or Puppeteer?

Peter Costello just won't go away. He does, after all, love the media attention; and the fawning of right-wing neo-liberals in the party. Much has been made of the fact that Peter Costello won't comment about leadership speculation, but he doesn't have to: his acolytes will continue to talk about it, and elements within the media keep driving it as a "story".

Costelo, or his followers, have dragged Malcolm Turnbull's leadership away from the more reasonable centre-right, small-l Liberalism, back towards the more extreme neo-liberalist views of Costello. The Liberal Party's, and Turnbull's, position on each of the following has lurched to the right because of Costello's influence: the economic stimulus, fair workplace legislation, and climate change.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith is reported as saying that the federal opposition's position on several key issues won't change even if Peter Costello became their new leader. Well, yes; given that Costello has effecgtively dragged the Liberal Party to his right-wing policies on these issues.

But is Peter Costello simply being a right-wing idealogue, using his supporters to effect right-wing changes in policy? Or, is Peter Costello a tool of the right-wing to wrest power from the more moderate Turnbull? His seemingly increasing support from within the party is testament to the work of his acolytes. That Malcolm Turnbull is looking over his shoulder indicates his tenure is likely to be replaced sooner, rather than later, pehaps after the (7-week!) autumn break from Parliament.

See also:


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Footballers, Alcohol And Clubs

Manly rugby league player Brett Stewar has been charged with the sexual assault of a 17-year-old girl, who lives in the same apartment block as he. After several days, the NSWRL has suspended Stewart, after Manly indicated it would select Stewart to play this Friday. The NSWRL is concerned about bad publicity, and trouble at the game against the Bulldogs (Canterbury). Some social networking site users have reportedly planned to target Stewart.

There is a significant history with football players and alcohol. Todd Carney has just been sentenced by a Goulburn court for damage to property, including shop fronts and a car. He claims he couldn't remember the incidents because he was drunk. Among other conditions, Carney is not to return to Goulburn for 12 months, and to seek alcohol counselling. Yet, he is going to North Queensland to play for a district club ... and work in a pub! Presumably the QRL sees no problem with this, even given conditions of his sentence.

Bigger questions arise:
  • are pubs or clubs legally liable for players being drunk at official club functions?
  • what liability exists for allowing, even forcing, players, members or visitors to leave drunk?
  • how do those serving alcohol determine sufficient drunkenness to refuse alcohol?
  • what responsibility does any sporting organisation, club, or pub have to meet national guidelines for the consumption of alcohol?
  • if a club knowingly allows players to become drunk at an official function, and a player subsequently commits acts of violence, does the club bear any civil liability?
Ho much alcohol is "too much", and which could affect your health, and ability to function appropriately in society? A study commissionied by the NHMRC found that
"For males, the average daily intake should not exceed a level between 25g and 45g per day"
( , p55)

This is about 2-4 standard drinks on any day, given a "standard drink" in the same study was defined as one having 10g of pure alcohol.

Alcohol remains a serious problem, for all sporting asociations and clubs, and, it seems, especially for rugby league!


Sunday, March 08, 2009

Housing Credit

The HIA expects that there will still be tough times in 2009/10, but that the market is showing some resilience, possible due to temporary increases in the first home buyers grants for existing, and new, housing.

Low interest rates, and rising rents due to shortages of rental accommodation are also encouraging people to consider buying - sorry, Government House, Sydney, (pictured) is not for sale!

But there are still significant risks for buyers:

  • the mortgage provider sector is still subject to full or partial takeovers, mostly by the big banks. For example, the Commonwealth Bank has taken a $2.5 billion portion of the Wizard Home Loans portfolio from GE Money, from the start of this month.

  • While mortgage interest rates are at a generational low, as the economy recovers, interest rates will likely rise again. The "stress test" is, could you make the extra required if interest rates went up 2%? As interest rates rise, it is probable that the number of problem loans will increase.

  • Buyers with less than 10% deposit, not including the first home buyers grant, will need to factor in the cost of mortgage insurance. Mortgage insurance covers the lender, not the borrower!

  • Building insurance costs are set to increase, as insurance companies cry poor after claims are aid from flooding in north Queensland, and the fires in Victoria. (they also insure in case of large disaster payouts, but will cry poor to the public to justify the increase)

  • The Australian economy will likely still deteriorate in 2009 -2010. Recovery, when it comes, will likely not arrive till the second half of 2010, and be felt until 2011.
It is likely that this is a good time to buy, IF you have the 10% deposit, IF you don't want too much house, IF you can afford the repayments, IF you can pass the "stress test"; IF you can cover the insurance - just do your "homework", so to speak. Lenders, at least, are being less reckless than they were; and that is a good thing.