Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Politics Of Rebuilding

This week saw a return to normal partisan politics.

Having flown the kite in the media, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the proposed addition to the Medicare levy to fund the reconstruction of public infrastructure, especially in Queensland. The levy will fund about 30% of the reconstruction and will be collected for only 1 year. It will levy an extra 0.5% of income over $50000 and less than $100000; and 1%  for incomes over $100000. You can see the proposed weekly effect at 

Politically, Julia Gillard wants to ensure the budget surplus as promised in 2012-13. It will be her first surplus, with the previous and current Labor Government having rightly gone into deficit to ensure Australia did not slide in recession during the Global Financial Crisis, but she also needs to prove wrong Tony Abbott's assertion that Labor would never deliver a budget surplus. Never mind the extenuating global financial and exceptional flood-induced circumstances.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey have been relentlessly pursuing the "great big new tax" line in as many 5-second media grabs as possible, rather like Chicken Little's "the sky is falling, the sky is falling". His solution to finding the extra money is to cut government programs and other spending. Again, for political purposes, he suggests dumping the National Broadband Network. This is despite his alternative plan from the election being generally regarded as slower, and creating more congestion in the Internet wireless bandwidth.

Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey have been critical of the levy, because it's an income tax levy. But they supported the levies introduced and imposed by former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard: the gun buy-back levy after the Port Arthur massacre, and the airline flight levy to pay employee entitlements after Ansett went broke. They also both proposed an income tax levy to fund a paid parental leave scheme at the 2010 election. A levy on income tax is not a philosophical problem for them; the problem is that they are not in government, and they therefore see the need to whinge about it.

Meanwhile Abbott has also applied political pressure to the Independent MP's, with whose support Julia Gillard remains Prime Minister. There's nothing "bipartisan" about that, despite any public comments to the contrary by him.

Tony Abbott's negative politics, which reinforces the selfish "why should I pay more" and "I already donated to the flood relief" attitudes will be a challenge for Gillard, and Treasurer Wayne Swan, to overcome. We have just celebrated Australia Day, and given ourselves a pat on the back for wanting to help our society. To now whinge about a 1-year small levy to help rebuild our flood-ravaged physical and social infrastructure is, perhaps, hypocritical, selfish, and not the kind of Australian we say we want to be.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Australia Day 2011

Today is a public holiday, Australia Day. It's a day when we Aussies:
  • celebrate being Australian
  • remember the arrival of 11 convict ships, on 26-January-1788,  under the command of Arthur Philip.
  • recognise the achievements of many Australians, at National, State, and local levels. Significant numbers are receive Australia Day Awards. The official Australia Day Awards. There are also Australia Day honours. We often refer to them irreverently as "gongs", as in "She/He got a gong for ..."
  • have a BBQ with mates, or go to a cricket match (involving Australians vs an international team) in a one-day game.
  • we welcome people from overseas who have chosen to become Australian citizens.
But our society is not perfect. Politicians, of both sides, continue to develop politically-expedient policy, rather than good public policy. On occasions they act unethically, even if not unlawfully. Perhaps the most recent example is the suspension (proroguing) of NSW Parliament in December. An election is due in late March, but it is widely viewed as an attempt to hinder or stop a Parliamentary Inquiry into the sale of NSW electricity supply and generation companies. We need to tell our politicians that we require higher standards of behaviour from them. We have groups of people whose purpose is to marginalise, or intimidate other people: there are Asian and Middle-eastern gangs; criminal motorcycle organisations; organised crime (think of the Underbelly series about both Melbourne & Sydney); far right wing, neo-nazi, racist groups. We still have poor & disadvantaged people in our towns and cities, and in remote areas of Australia, whose welfare and health are similarly below the national standards.

Australia Day is a time when we are proud of our achievements, recognise particular individuals, and encourage and show our mateship. I hope we also vow to work for an even better Australia. Goodonya! I'm off to watch the cricket (Australia vs the Pommies. we lead 3-0 in a best of 7-game series)


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Insurance Inquiry Needed

As many people in multiple states are suddenly finding, what constitutes a flood changes with almost every insurance company. Some insurers, Suncorp among them, have said they will honour claims for flood damage, which is a nice piece of PR in a disaster. However, some of the companies it owns, AAMI among them, have already denied claims for flood damage using the “fine print” definitions to argue a “rising river event” is not the same as a flood!

Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, has indicated aggrieved policy-holders might be allowed to give evidence to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Queensland floods.

The Federal Government has already expressed some concern about the fine print definitions of what constitutes a “flood”, and, while the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) proposed a standard definition in 1998, it was rejected by the ACCC, because of a number of concerns it had. ( )

The ACCC left open the possibility of approval for a new common definition from the ICA: none appears to have been forthcoming. So, the insurers continued to use their fine print and differing definitions, and rely heavily on the fact that many (most?) consumers don’t read the contract, but rely on the explanations given by a sales person, who might, or might not, be intent on meeting a sales target and achieving a bonus.

If you want to contact APRA about insurance, go to

It would seem timely for a full and open inquiry by APRA into all aspects of insurance policies to be held. I think it should be held concurrent with, or very soon after, the Queensland Government’s inquiry into the floods. I suspect that the Insurance Council of Australia and an assortment of industry lobbyists will now be in politicians’ ears trying their best to prevent such an inquiry, or at least try to dilute any terms of reference. It should examine all definitions of various events: flood, fire, storm, and other events.

I hope that the following does not represent the typical insurer of people in Queensland, or anywhere else in Australia.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Aussie Floods 2011

I cried this week – more than once.

I cried at the devastation wreaked by the floods in Queensland. Much of southern Queensland (Qld) has been affected, but it is not the only region. The mid-northern city of Rockhampton was inundated by floods on New Year’s Day, 2011. Today’s news said that roads to Rockhampton were only just opening. The floods have affected 3/4 of Queensland. They are the worst floods since 1974. Each blue balloon below is a town or city affected by flood.

I cried at the images of the “inland tsunami” centred on Grantham, in the Lockyer Valley, and Toowoomba, west of Brisbane.

I cried for the people who died, and for their families and communities. I particularly cried when I read the story of Jordan Rice. He, his mother and younger brother were swept away in their car at Toowoomba on Monday. When a rescuer, tied to a rope, came to drag them to safety, James insisted they first take his younger brother, Blake, who is 10. When the rescuer came back, James, and his mother Donna Rice, were swept away from their car, and died. Jordan Rice was 13 years old. He gave his life, so that his younger brother could live. Read the full story in The Brisbane Times.

I was, and am, angry at the 10 people who have been arrested for looting. It is a despicable act to steal from people, but more so when those people are affected by a disaster of this magnitude.

I cried again today as I watched the multitude of volunteers who came to help the people of Brisbane and other areas affected by floods. More than 7000  55000 people turned up, and registered as volunteers, just today. TV images showed all sorts of people: skilled trades people; truck drivers; unskilled people with buckets, brooms, shovels; young, middle-aged, and children all came to help people they didn’t know. One young woman, asked why she was volunteering, said she was not affected by the floods, and .. “I’m Australian”. Cue the Australian chant:
“Aussie! Aussie! Aussie"!”
“Oi! Oi! Oi!
“Aussie! Aussie! Aussie"!”
“Oi! Oi! Oi!
Across the country, people have donated money (very important after the immediate recovery), clothes, food, services, time to help people they don’t know, and likely never will. The outpouring of community spirit from emergency services, charitable organisations, ordinary community members is not only inspiring; it is the glue that strengthens our community, our nation.

See: (has many links)

I went to the Blood Bank this week to donate plasma. It wasn't as busy as it is normally. While many of you have contributed, I read today ( )that Queensland’s blood collections are down, because of the floods, and because donors have more important things to do. So, if you’re not in Queensland, not affected by floods in other states, and you can, give blood. In AUSTRALIA, see , or call 131495 (Australia only)

And let's not forget people in other states affected by floods: NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania.


Monday, January 03, 2011

Australia's 2011 Challenges

Belated Happy New Year. I've been holidaying with family, so haven't posted. Nor did I looked at work emails, or use a computer between Christmas and New Year. I didn't miss them, even though, like many people, I consider them "tools of trade/life".

For 2011, Australia and its people have much to work on. While politicians will set the direction we take, each of us has both a personal and social responsibility to work towards a fairer society, and to help our communities - local, state and national.

Our politicians must address the following:
Tax reform - the Henry Review
Superannuation reform - the Cooper Review
Climate Change - Emissions trading Scheme or simple, but effective, Carbon Tax. Business lobbied for an ETS, believing they (or some of them) could make money from it. Also important are plans to protect coastlines, infrastructure and possibly restructuring some food-production industries.
Health and Education - Health funding and responsibilities for the myriad health services are still a dog's breakfast covering mostly State & Federal Governments. For hospitals there are proposals giving control to local boards. For Education, Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard has already flown the kite for direct funding of public schools, with Principals responsible for budget, hiring and firing, and "performance bonuses" to teachers selected by the Principal. Principals would be accountable to a local board, as with hospitals. Such approaches will only enhance the perception of "bean-counter" reluctance public health & education. Such a penurious approach will limit health and education services, based almost solely on local budget considerations. I do not believe these are good policies.
Economics - recent floods in NSW and Queensland, in particular, will require significant relief funds from governments, will lead to higher food prices for at least 6 months, and will adversely affect regional, state and the national economy. The effects of global economic conditions will also have an impact, especially from the US, European and Asian economies.

Individually, each of us must start, or continue, some form of service to our communities. Sometimes that is through aspects of our work, or donations to charity, help with local community organisations, such as Lions, Apex, Rotary, SES, Theatre, sporting clubs, local Church ...

For 2011, I'd like you to consider donating blood or plasma. Not everyone can, but I'm a regular donor - it's one of my community contributions. I've made about 100 donations, but there are people who have donated more than 250 times! In Australia, blood donations are freely given, and are provided free to people who need them. Many employers, and awards, allow some time off for employees to give blood. IN AUSTRALIA, see, , or call 131495 (Australia only)

While you're at it, consider becoming an organ donor - IN AUSTRALIA, see, or call 1800777203, or see your Medicare Office.