Friday, August 31, 2007

Can Laura make George pull out?

We wish, but the White House has confirmed that the President will attend APEC in Australia next week. A story from Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of the Australian, ran the head - Bush no-show would be a blow to APEC.

Given the theme of a new, major poll - Australians lack warmth for Bush – a few hearts beat a little faster with Sheridan’s comments:

“I have heard a whisper, a muffled, confused, hesitant, distant, unsure sort of a whisper, but a whisper nonetheless, that the President may yet cancel at the last minute.”

As to that poll, I intend to report more on that when I have had time to go through the raw data. But hey! Don’t worry, we Aussies generally love you yanks, it is your administration we have problems with.

So if George doesn’t pullout at the last minute, noting Laura has puled the pin on the trip, we are now guessing what the conference fancy dress will be this time. The national costume dress-up is usually the only reportable aspect of this gig. I have offered up my selection.

UPDATE: Bush 'sorry' for APEC pain

Having been informed that his presence will cause total disruption of host city Sydney (not Sidney as US media are reporting) Mr President seems a little bewildered. "I've got a lot on my mind” he explained. “First, I am looking forward to coming to the beautiful city. And to the extent that I inconvenience them I apologise”

That would have to be one almighty apology. But I doubt he will manage to actually see much of the beautiful city.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sharing a gem

Not often that I share my musical preferences, but this is just too good to pass by. A few months ago nobody had heard of a Welsh suburban cell phone salesman named Paul Potts. Then he won Britain's Got Talent 2007 singing the Pavarroti hit, Nessun Dorma .

Okay, I’m no opera fan, but I do love a good classical voice and this guy is good; spine tingling! I wan’t sure just hearing one piece, but then I heard him perform Time To Say Goodbye. Both can be seen here Sunrise video.

I can’t do the fancy video stuff, but here is another link. and a bit more about him.

Just effing dumb…

Security at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum seems designed to foil terrorists by sheer bafflement, judging by the experience journalists.

They had to fill in a nine-page questionnaire, including every address they had occupied in the past 10 years (with the dates when they had moved in and out).

They were told that to obtain a photo identity they had to appear in person with photo identification. At the Sydney Convention Centre they were confronted by a wall of police and security guards. "You can't enter without your APEC photo ID passes," a guard said, barring the way.

Just Say NO!

Come on people, how long does this have to go on before we act? Escorting President George W Bush's motorcade KILLS!

"Any time there is a presidential motorcade, the officers, that's part of their job, they drive at a high rate of speed," according to the police boss of the latest victim. Another Officer Dies in Bush's Motorcade

Now I’m liberal on these things, but next thing we know some Sydney cop is going separate from one of that city’s gloriously expensive, thundering motorcycles. For what; just so George can’t see stray abusive placards?

Just effing dumb…

Brigadier Andrew Smith (Royal Australian Air Force), speaking to reporters in Sydney said civilian pilots should be aware they would need a permit to enter the temporarily restricted airspace over Sydney during the September 2-9 summit.

RAAF F/A-18 Hornets will be deployed over the city during the Asia pacific booze-up. The restricted airspace zone will encompass a 45 nautical mile radius around Sydney Airport during the international piss-fest.

HMAS Yarra, a coastal minehunter will patrol Sydney Harbour during inane meeting of government leaders and NSW Police Force's new mesh-clad buses were also put on display for the first time. Each bus has a barred cell in the rear.

Methinks some world leaders are fixated on their genital organs rather than reality.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

US expert misses Aussie mark

I can’t say I’m familiar with US conservative academic and pollster Frank Luntz, but his findings on the robust nature of Australian amusing, if not instructive. I know he’s a fairly young bloke, but comparing John Howard with Nixon is a bit of a stretch:

"He is using the most blunt terminology that I have ever seen a leader use," Luntz says. "Howard is almost Nixonian."

"America has a reputation for having a knock-down, drag-out negative electoral system. But it doesn't hold a candle to Australia. You guys are so much more blunt, so much more in-your-face."

Luntz is correct in suggesting our parliamentary system, which compels our political leaders to engage in daily combat, to be at the heart of that bluntness. But it also reflects a traditional attitude in this country – everyone’s shit stinks!

Howard is a polariser in his language though he lacks the venom and colour of former leaders, from both sides of the parliament. In fact I would say, despite the bind he’s in at the moment Howard is still bland.

On the other hand Kevin Rudd is catching whatever barbs thrown and claiming them as his own. No counter attacks, no harsh words, just a ‘cuddly’ display untypical of his Labor movement.

Luntz might well be shocked, when comparing with the US, but I’m just amazed Howard has remained so calm. It has never been his language per se as much as his tactics of wider community division.

However, now Howard is under direct threat of losing not just government, but his own seat. Defending just over 4% in a redistributed electorate, Howard is facing a tough battle to hold in.

Fighting the battle on two fronts would normally generate a much more robust response. So Luntz, I’m sure you are a bright young bloke, but just peeking through the door obviously doesn’t inform as much as a sound background knowledge. Nixonian indeed!

A living example:

From my brother the candidate to the Deputy PM he is opposing:

Dear Mr. Vaile,

I am excited at the thought of running against you for the seat of Lyne as an unfunded and unaligned Independent in the upcoming federal election.

You and I have found a beautiful, rare and wondrous place.

I am a bit of a clown and my memory seems to be fading a tad so I am really excited that you and I have found the elusive ‘Level Playing Field’ that you have rabbited on about for so long as Minister for Trade, Deputy Prime Minister and other sundry positions….

Vaile thanked Robin for his thoughts, adding: I have noted the matters you have raised and will keep them very much in mind in the future.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Polls and horses

The broad Australian community is in shock today as our horse racing industry is laid low with a dose of the flu. I’ve talked to several men who are almost distraught that wall to wall racing has come to a temporary standstill.

Even people who don’t normally mention the racetrack are panicking that the country’s biggest sports event, The Melbourne Cup, might be cancelled. That would be three disruptions in a row, as the cup falls on the first Tuesday in November each year.

Now as I was really going to tell about our upcoming election polls I need to explain just how I drifted into horse racing. It started with a recent quote from our Attorney-General Philip Ruddock; bearing in mind the polls are not looking at all rosy for the government.

Ruddock claims voters are sick of opinion polls and won't make up their minds on whom to vote for until the federal election campaign gets under way. "I think people have been polled out, quite frankly," he adds. Sounds like sour grapes to me, but…

I have added several Australian political blogs below, mainly for my own ease of access to some expert analysis. What the experts are telling me is forget the polls, look at the odds being set by bookmakers.

I can understand where they are coming from, gamblers look at the form, work the systems. They put their money where their mouth is. I look at the form, at some readers know I’m fascinated by election prediction systems; I’m just not all that familiar with betting systems and odds.

So given the concept has captured my attention I expect there will be a bit more in future based on the betting odds. For now I can say that in both the polls and the betting odds the opposition Labor party is set to form the next government. Well, it is a two horse race, so I’m not sure there are really any winners in the eventual outcome.

APEC Updates – the weird and wonderful

The preparation for the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation gabfest in Sydney next month is still producing weird and wonderful news copy, on a daily basis. I’m not sure it is the most effective way to promote US – Australian relations.

The news that Laura will not be coming downunder caused a ripple - Laura extended her regrets in a telephone conversation yesterday to Janette Howard, wife of Prime Minister John Howard, saying she needed to get rid of a pain in the neck. We know what she means; George is becoming a burden here already.

The growing realisation of the scope of the president’s ‘cone of silence’ is being met with a level of incredulity in a country used to giving political leaders the finger. Then as one commentator put it, “…we are more used to keeping the masses in the dark, not the leaders. It gives the mushroom club a whole new meaning.”


John Howard says violent protesters are to blame for the severe security measures in place for the APEC meeting in Sydney. We are not a country given to violent protest. In fact most crowd brawls occur after big public piss-ups, like the New Years Eve fireworks parties on Sydney Harbour.

But when faced with the current levels of disruption some are sure to get overheated. At least they won’t be rolling bags of marbles under police horses. This sturdy security phalanx looks like it will be confined to barracks with equine flu sweeping the state.

Other animals aren’t quite so fortunate. Sydney’s Taronga Zoo will be moving cuddly critters to a temporary site close to the gabfest. Seems the zoo can’t offer the right levels of security for the wives of visiting officials. No doubt Laura has heard about koalas pissing on the rich and famous, good little Aussies that they are.

Meantime anyone who wants out will need to get out early. Sydney Airport, gateway to the country, will be restricted during the event. Nothing quite like the circling Sydney at a thousand metres for a couple of days, waiting for clearance.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday musings

As regular readers know, I don’t really go in for conspiracy theories. Sure I’d be delighted to claim that I was an empiricist, purely evidence based, but alas I don’t meet that ideal fully either.

Still, a persistent and growing body of evidence appears to support a nagging concern that Australia and the US are moving glacier like towards a form of national socialism, or fascism as it has also been known.

It helps to be effected by policies to gain the insights needed to make reasonable analyses. My years in North America allowed a close-up experience of how the US is moving towards government for corporations.

Now back in Australia I am having a very similar experience. Day by day I am seeing mounting evidence that we are being stripped of those precious aspects of society we somehow expect are unassailable.

The crux of the issue is the importance of our individual rights and freedoms within the whole system. Our governments have been steadily stripping these, probably since the late 1960s, and have given powerful corporations licence to continue that process.

It is one thing for governments to curtail our rights in the name of supposed security implications. The real signs of a drift to national socialism are when business, big business, is given the right to curtail our rights to deal fairly in the marketplace.

Even living in Canada I felt the effects of the corporate power through Telcos and various utilities. Sure they have a product to market, but increasingly they can market those services, or deny them, to anyone they choose. Never mind community responsibility or as the old Scots expression has it– the commonweal (for the good of all).

I say even in Canada because I left that place with a great respect for a remarkably equitable community, even give the various right wing excesses. I feared the election of Harper’s Conservative government, but even they have gone no further than tradition liberal economics.

The US has rarely ever had any great regard for the common good; even the downtrodden seem capable of demanding stricter controls on those who might be in need. Australia’s have traditionally been a fairly caring community, but politics of greed or just plain greed, are changing that.

The forthcoming general election here, the pre-election posturing with activities like APEC, is all showing where this country is going, and providing a window into US directions. The insanity of the APEC talkfest can be found in several posts on this blog, with more updates to come.

The significance of the APEC example is the growing potential for expected protests to be inflamed in order to create ‘reasons’ to tighten Australia’s draconian security laws even further.

Prime Minister John Howard is now claiming, without support of evidence, that violent protesters are to blame for the severe security measures in place for the APEC meeting in Sydney. I predict that, after APEC, government moves will begin to introduce universal and obligatory identification documents for all Australians, an issue which has faced strong public opposition over many years.

But the security excuse, which we share with the US, is just one example of a fundamental shift towards a Fascist type system of government. I could talk at length about specific examples of how corporations have gained supremacy over the bulk of citizens.

We have all experienced the growing difficult of challenging corporate excesses. I suggest that even if you can win a specific claim you then face officially sanctioned penalties including reduction or suspension of services.

One of the major examples of a move toward corporate socialism is found in the refusal of our governments to regulate business activity, even socially destructive activity.

In the forefront now is the sub-prime crisis. Our governments have sanctioned lending practices which are guaranteed to harm borrowers. The system only works when property prices continue to rise, continue to ensure these unscrupulous lenders cannot lose.

The problem now, in an unregulated market, is that the housing crisis reaches far deeper than sub-prime. Figures on mortgage defaults and housing stress are sky rocketing in Britain, Australia and the US. Again this is a crisis driven by officially sanctioned corporate greed.

Regardless of the example presented there is one constant, overlying scenario; the victims and the unwary citizens are cast as the guilty parties, not the unscrupulous power elites. There is no longer any presumption of innocence; it is far easier to sell unproved guilt to a populous seemingly ready to simply accept it.

The US was always further down this road, but times have changed in Australia and consumer diversions have ensured that vigilance is no longer sufficiently engaging. Perhaps the answer comes from a cat:

Stand up to your government creatures. Growl at them. Bite and claw for what you believe... Fred the Cat coming at you fast

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Stitching up the big country

According to my calendar it is 2007, in the age of technology – communications. But here in Australia we seem to be falling between two stools; on the one hand we are still relying on rapidly degrading, stretched copper wire, on the other real technology is tantalisingly out of reach.

I guess with a population of just around 21 million spread around the big continent there are some very real ROI issues in rolling out a fibre optic network. At least one which can reach the low population inland areas; the bulk of the population is situated on coastal areas, particularly the Melbourne Brisbane corridor.

The compromise being adopted is a based on a wireless network and Telstra have been trumpeting their Next G Network. But not without drama!

Telstra wants to close its extensive CDMA network in rural and regional Australia by early 2008, which would force many of the network's 1.7 million customers on to Next G as the only alternative. But Next G is not a viable alternative yet and won’t be for some time, given the faults constantly bugging the system.

Now Telstra are in trouble over a series of ads. One shows Dustin Hoffman instructing a Hollywood real estate agent about a limit on what he will pay for a property but, because his phone keeps cutting out, the agent gets the impression the actor will pay any amount. Hoffman vents his frustration by shouting: "This wouldn't happen in Australia."

The ads also feature overseas talent such the rock singer and political activist Bob Geldof and the tennis star John McEnroe making the same claim. Well they are amusing and bemusing. Obviously none of the star talent has any real experience with the vagaries of Australian telecommunications.

Messrs Hoffman et al might also find the billing practices of Telstra and their main opposition, the Singapore owned Optus, as desirable as the poor service quality. I have been battling both lately on behalf of ordinary people with billing problems that would baffle a certified accountant.

I’ve gained a local reputation because I can actually communicate with those sub-continent call centre jockeys with names like Vic and Sam. So long as I refrain from lapsing into a Punjabi/English accent I can keep them on the line and sort of communicate.

I say sort of, and generally need to have my calls escalated to a supervisor. Sometimes it actually happens, more often Sam or Vic just change their name to Dustin or Bob. When that happens, the resolution is invariably a crock just to get me off the line.

Oh for the days when we rolled three pennies down the slot and did bench presses with a bakelite handset. At least you could get a connection – eventually.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pulling the wool over our eyes

It struck me today, ploughing through Australian news, just how an election campaign is starting to resemble a blockbuster cinema production.

I’m not sure how many helicopters will be destroyed in the current election campaign here. Car chases wrecks dominate the news anyway, so I’ll let them pass.

The big issue is the huge amounts of ‘our’ cash suddenly come available to buy ‘our’ votes. We are talking tens of billions of dollars, although a close analysis shows a lot of smoke and mirrors and little substance.

I know I won't win prizes for graphic design, but if you want to see a bigger version go here.

Another blow to anti-terrorism forces

The Howard government received another setback in its handling of the Mohamed Haneef case yesterday. Haneef is the Indian doctor given the rough Australian anti-terrorism treatment because he is related to some of the hapless UK airport terrorists.

Haneef was released because of an absence of any evidence, then had his work visa cancelled by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews. He is now back in India, but has challenged the visa issue.

Now the Federal Court has quashed the Immigration Minister's decision to cancel the work visa, apparently on a technicality as Andrews used the wrong criterion when judging Dr Haneef's character.

It was dodgy stuff from the start, but Howard desperately wanted a win on terrorism. Well you know how it is. Andrews said he would appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court, declaring he stood by his decision, which he had made "in the national interest".

Throughout Andrews has claimed the visa decision was made on evidence he cannot reveal. That is handy. Hannef’s lawyer aren’t allowed to see the evidence, it hasn’t be presented to any court. Just more of the same lame justifications to keep alive a dead issue.


Just to show that the Australian Federal Police don’t have a monopoly on selective leaks Haneef’s lawyers have released the transcript of an all-night interview with police.

It shows clearly that Dr Haneef disagreed with parts of the translation into English from Urdu and the police interpretation of the discussion with his brother that occurred on the day he planned to leave Australia.

Andrews used highly selective fragments of the police interview that placed Dr Haneef in the worst possible light. He concentrated on a passage where Haneef's younger brother, Shuaib, had advised the doctor to tell his hospital that he was leaving because he had a new daughter and "tell them nothing else".

The "tell them nothing else" has been used as proof of guilt. Andrews said yesterday the public release of the police interview did not change his reasons for revoking Haneef's visa late last month.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Federation soapbox

It seems a while since I’ve felt compelled to launch into an essay. So many issues, facts and figures swirl around political campaigns; and with the need to distil them into short sharp pieces. Of course many are parochial as well, not suited to this forum.

Federation, however, is an issue worthy of universal interest. Just at a time in history when federation, and the diversity it delivers, has come into vogue, Australia appears to be lumbering into a centralist model of national government.

A generation ago Australian’s would have gone to the trenches to defend the system of Federation enshrined by our constitution. Now mention of the federation or of a centralist alternative is more likely to generate that glazed eye look.

The constitution, adopted in 1901, was hammered out over a decade or so; hammered out to ensure each of the sovereign colonies would retain a reasonable position of strength under a union. I recently read a comment that if you took every reference to states and federation out of our constitution you would simply be left with confetti.

It is a construct of conservatism, and was rejected and still is, by the Labor movement. For the once socialist Labor party of Australia Power could only be effectively wielded from one central government. Now it is Howard’s conservative Liberals driving what the Prime Minister disingenuously styles as the “new federation’ or ‘aspirational nationalism’.

In driving this fundamental change, with Labor acquiescence, Howard is ignoring both the intent and provisions of the constitution. He claims that we shouldn’t waste time tinkering with systems but simply strive for outcomes.

The only problem with that is that the country, in the process, loses the map book; loses the underlying guidelines for our governance. Without set parameters the country can simply drift this way and that at the will of the latest holders of political power.

The constitution does allow agreed transfer of certain powers between the states and the federal government. The earliest was the transfer of taxation to the feds during wartime, but the states refused to take that unpopular power back.

It’s worth sharing a side comment from Sir Robert Garran (c1958):

We thank you for the offer of the cow,

But we can’t milk, and so we answer now,

We answer with a loud emphatic chorus;

Please keep the cow, and do the milking for us.

Since the constitution was adopted ‘external powers’ have become part of the Federal arsenal. These are to do with treaties with foreign countries and can reflect a very wide rang of issues, among them labor laws.

Now Howard is facing losing his hold on government the federal/state dynamic has taken on a new twist. With the states being held by Labor premiers Howard has developed a neat attempt to insert a wedge between premiers and Howard nemesis, Kevin Rudd.

Howard is now impinging on a number of areas of state responsibility, including; health, education, local government, rivers and water and ports infrastructure. The approach, at the very least, is creating a fuzzy outline on various responsibilities. Worse is the lack of discussion and consequent conflicting programs and funding being introduced.

It is not a smart way to run a country, using essential social and commercial services as political footballs. In many cases Howard has no real desire to win the fight he is taking on; his only desire is to destroy any opposition.

I would regret the loss of our federalist model, but to lose it without consultation with the people is not an acceptable option. The system is important and it is time now for Australian to start looking seriously at where we are heading.

In an odd way I am championing a conservative construct, but one that works! Just take the issue if diversity: One of the great moderators of democracy is checks and balances. By maintaining separate federal and state responsibilities and the diversity of a number of separate states, any policy screw-up is isolated and able to be modified more easily.

Once power is vested in one central government the ship of state becomes cumbersome and difficult to turn. There are no ‘safe’ experiments; every decision of the government must be right. There is simply no room to learn lessons and modify policies.

Another key effect is to remove those responsible for service delivery from the people and the local dynamic being serviced. Australia has a smaller population than Greater Los Angeles, but the geographical spread is greater than the continental USA. Needs and issues vary greatly across this vast landscape.

If that means a series of constitutional conventions, so be it. If it means a series of referenda then we should embrace the opportunity. Like most democracies at the moment, our greatest problem is the wider lack of engagement with things political.

I have been a political junkie most of my life, I find it difficult to avoid or ignore politics, wherever I am. But I know that is not a general condition, and I accept that most don’t share my passion. But we aren’t talking about passion when it comes to saving our democracies; vigilance and awareness should not be too much to ask.

If we simply allow the political elite to transform our country without consultation we deserve exactly what we will get.

APEC Update

Cost are now put at $331 million for the Asian talkfest, APEC. That is the Federal component, with more coming from state coffers.

Security alone will cost a staggering $143 million with 21 world leaders, including US President George W Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, heading to Sydney next September.

Business groups say the New South Wales Government's decision to grant the people of Sydney a public holiday during APEC will cost businesses around $320 million.

But there won’t be much opportunity to protest the waste, with security fences and road closures being supplemented by a $600,000 water cannon. Premier Morris Iemma says the $600,000 US-built cannon will knock unruly protesters off their feet.

"Any protesters who are considering violent disruptions during the APEC conference should count this as a warning," says Iemma.

All of this and the number of delegates now expected is far short of original estimates. Mind you, if I was still living in Sydney I would be getting out for the duration. As a PR exercise the security measures are not a good sell.

Monday, August 20, 2007

NY scores a hit downunder

While the guesswork continues over the date of the looming Australian general election the big boys have started playing rough. The government have allegedly leaked details of poll frontrunner, Kevin Rudd, in a sordid attempt to dent his popularity.

Rudd blames a drunken blackout for a wild night watching lap dancing girls in a strip club in New York City. Mr Rudd yesterday confessed he had been a "goose" that night.

He was in New York as the alternative foreign affairs minister during important United Nations' proceedings, a regular trip available to all shadow foreign ministers.

The story broke just a week after both Howard and Rudd pitched for the Christian vote. Bear in mind, the Christian lobby has never been particularly strong in this country, but desperation calls.

So while the righteous might be foaming at the mouth there is a strong sentiment that the bookish Rudd might actually be a real bloke after all; a preferred look to the average voter.

We haven’t seen any polling fallout yet and talk back and vox pops tend to draw the fringes rather than real public opinion. My guess is that Howard has given Rudd a free kick on this one, as he has been doing throughout the pre-campaign period on a number of attacks.

Sadly these attacks continue to focus interest on the two leaders. It is too soon to expect local media to become too serious over our independent campaign, but gaining traction in what is becoming a two horse race is certainly going to take some creativity.

Perhaps I should start sending my candidate to do the rounds of the local strip clubs. On second thoughts, I think maybe not…

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sunday musings

It is a cool and very wet Sunday in my current sub-tropical wonderland; just the sort of day for some really odd musing.

I’m no great fan of that Springfield family, but as a serial political activist I’m becoming aware of just how much they reflect the wider electorate out there.

So dredging through the Sunday papers (we shall leave the news label out of it) I came across an opportunity to render myself as a Springfield resident –

Okay, I doubt I would ever pass casting. The result wasn’t a bad rendering of me, but is hardly suitable for a family cartoon character.

I’m beginning to think the same goes for the real me and the electorate. Just lately I have been advocating for a few people battling various service providers. You know those telcos and power suppliers who don’t really give a rat’s arse for ordinary people.

Fighting the ‘terms of service’ is always problematic. Firstly because those I’m assisting have never bothered to check the TOS. On the other side these global documents often fall foul of local consumer law so are open to challenge.

Trouble is, the whole process seems to be too much for people to cope with. Often my efforts are cut short when the complainant gets the fits of the “Oh, it must be all my fault’.

Just like those enticed into easy credit for a home purchase or just to consolidate mounting debt. It probably is partly their own fault, but the providers also have responsibility to deliver appropriate services and not fleece customers.

The politics is much the same. The fat cats can get away with murder, and tell the ordinary folk – “It’s all your fault!” And they will believe it.

Opportunities in the economic lab

While Australia is a relative minnow among the big world markets the county’s Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens has provided an excellent opportunity to judge different approaches to financial crisis – in real time.

Stevens has said he would have no hesitation raising interest rates on the eve of a likely November election if necessary. The Reserve Bank board will be armed with new inflation figures when it meets on November 5. The move might bring an election date forward, but that is another argument.

Need for regulation
Stevens has called on the Federal Government to more strictly regulate mortgage brokers in the wake of the turmoil in the US subprime loans market. "Selling finance is not the same as selling a used car - it is different and I think part of what is needed is better discipline from the sales process," he argued.

He said the bank would have to lift interest rates during the federal election campaign if an inflation figure in October showed more tightening was needed. "If it is clear that something needs to be done, I don't know what explanation we could offer the Australian public for not doing it, regardless of when the election might be due.”

The Reserve chief’s approach is certainly quite different from other central bankers around the world. He finds the idea of dropping rates to bail out the beleaguered home lender market anathema. He certainly sees an argument for the markets to sort out their own shit.

Generally, at the top end, the Australian economy is in good shape. Our issues are more to do with effective fiscal policy – the distribution of the bounty we now enjoy. I guess having buckets of money are an effective hedge if Stevens wanted to go down that track, but instead he has given us the opportunity to watch an alternative approach play itself out.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Buses at 200 paces

I love Sydney, I’m just thankful I don’t need to live there anymore. I doubt if anyone is actually allowed to enjoy the beauty of the city anymore, but way out in the western suburbs there are some who still find the exciting aspects of the place.

Unfortunately they are bus drivers. A group of adrenaline-fuelled private bus drivers have turned a bus tunnel in Blacktown into their own personal drag strip. Blacktown, when I was a boy, was the outer limits of civilisation. I enjoyed several years there in a semi rural kid heaven.

Since those times it has grown enormously and the bus interchange (we walked when I was a boy) is beneath a major retail centre. So side by side, they race down the bus tunnel underneath this shopping centre.

The game is to see who can record the highest speed down the 200m tunnel before screeching to a halt outside the busy bus stops, crammed with waiting passengers. I don’t think George W catches the local bus so there isn’t really much drama, but I’m not sure how they wind the lumbering beasts up that much.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

We are so excited…

A five-kilometre-long, 2.8 metre-high fence will be used to lock up sections of Sydney's CBD during APEC.

Sydneysiders may also have to show identification to cross the street in parts of the CBD during the summit.

All this fuss is to accommodate George W, who is expected to arrive on Tuesday, September 4. But at least he is expected to leave the Leaders' Week of the APEC summit early.

Google are in on the act too and are vehemently denying any connection. Much of Sydney's city centre as it appears in the satellite images on Google Maps Australia has been fuzzed out, just weeks before the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit.

Google says the imagery was downgraded as a result of a "commercial issue" with a supplier, but there is speculation it was done at the request of police in order to minimise the risk of a terrorist attack during the September summit, where Sydney will host 21 world leaders including the US President, George Bush.

And beware those singing kids: Australian Federal Police are carrying out checks on a group of eight- to 12-year-old Australian choristers to ensure none of them poses a threat to world leaders.

Don’t impede the greedy bastards

Clever headlines aside - US paper trail rams rate rise home – the whole sub-prime debacle is becoming tedious. Well it would be if it wasn’t so bloody alarming.

Australia’s biggest non-bank lender, RAMS, is the latest victim of the global liquidity contagion, unveiling a profit and dividend warning yesterday less than three weeks after an $885 million stock exchange listing.

RAMS founder John Kinghorn said "life was cool" until last Thursday, when the contagion spread rapidly from the US sub-prime market to "all bank and sub-prime borrowers".

Correct me if I am wrong, but we have been watching the home market meltdown for many months now, so one would think industry heavies might have had a little forewarning.

RAMS has a $14 billion loan book. All of its loans are 100 per cent mortgage insured. So any defaults from borrowers would be covered by the insurance company. Of that $14 billion, only $4 billion is funded by residential mortgage-backed securities. That's mortgages that are packaged up and sold to investors.

Around $4 billion is funded by what RAMS calls 'warehouse transactions' - broadly, like an overdraft with a financial institution; until the mortgages can be packaged and sold to investors. The final and biggest - and troublesome - bit is $6 billion in US commercial paper. That ties RAMS directly into the US domestic ripples.

RAMS's $6 billion in US borrowings is just a tiny part of Australian business's - actually, mostly banks and other financial institutions - total $700 billion-plus gross non-government, non-linked foreign debt.

Which raise some other domestic issues, particularly lack of government regulation over the commercial sector; but a readiness to bail them out of their messes. On the other hand the Howard Government has choked infrastructure development borrowing by state governments.

It seems government borrowing reduces the ability for commercial interests to raise funds. Ironically industry suffers because of lack of development, but they can wall in the debt swill bucket to their hearts content.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Parfait Paranoia

Sydney restaurants, particularly those close to the APEC venue (Sydney Opera House) are receiving attention from security operatives.

Guillaume Brahimi, of Guillaume at Bennelong, the restaurant in the Opera, said his staff had been through security checks even though he said the restaurant would be closed.

Whatever the issue staff, are being grilled by people who wouldn’t know an haute cuisine if it bit them on the bum.

So here is a call for items which should be banned from Sydney menus while world leaders are in the city - (Sept 5 thru 11 07). I can come up with a few starters – any ideas?

‘Bomb Alaska’, a backed ice cream cake coated with meringue.

Shooters are obviously suspect.

Any form of flambé…

Knives and forks might be a bit of a worry

Gas cylinders should be banned

Interest free-for-all

THE US mortgage crisis has hit Australian home buyers for the first time after one lender yesterday hiked its rates by up to double last week's official interest rate rise.

Other lenders have signalled increases variable home loan rates by 0.25 per cent in coming months, independent of moves by the Reserve Bank.

Bluestone, with about $3billion worth of loans on its books, blamed higher funding costs as a result of the global credit squeeze for its decision to lift its lending rates by between 17 and 55 basis points.

Bluestone is a provider of so-called low-doc loans. About one-quarter of its customers have prior credit problems, placing them in the same category as the "sub-prime" sector in the US, where poor lending practices have caused a meltdown in capital markets around the world.

So we can forget official rate rises now. The only issue regulating rates is competitiveness, and there seems to be enough general upward movement to negate that. So we go from loans at any cost to loans at crippling cost.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Slip sliding away

“Almost two-thirds of voters in John Howard’s electorate of Bennelong believe he will retain his seat, regardless of the result of polling to the contrary.

“23 per cent believe Mr Howard will win his seat and the Government will win the election. 38% think Mr Howard will win his seat but the Coalition will lose.

“The poll canvassed 800 voters in Bennelong (Howard's electorate). It found the ALP candidate Maxine McKew leading Mr Howard, 53-47, on a two-party basis.” Hope for Howard after all, poll finds

Maxine is a former ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) journalist and highly regarded for her integrity. The problem is the figures are pre-digested and adjusted to reflect the preferential voting system here. We don’t do first past the post! We also don't do straight primary figure polls it seems.

The big negative for the Prime Minister is that median house prices in his own seat are falling and homes are taking longer to sell. Howard is defending a 4% margin which should be relatively comfortable in normal circumstances. Unfortunately for the PM the current economic indices are against him locally as well as nationally.

The last prime minister to lose his seat was Stanley Bruce in 1929, a few years before my time. Prime Ministers have a bit of latitude to bulk up their numbers in redistribution, but Howard let that opportunity slide. I’m thinking hubris might be in play here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ciao Rove

So long Karl, and thanks for all the fish...

Apologies Douglas Adams. Irrelevant perhaps, but we have waited so long it seems like a scene from restaurant at the end of the universe.

Go figure…

“WORLD central banks have poured almost $200 billion into financial markets in less than 24 hours in a bid to stem a global financial panic.”

Some months back, at the time of our annual budget speech, I was curious as to what the $billions held back by the Australian government. We have had a bumper income from the current resources boom which wasn’t reflected in money distributed back into the wider economy.

I posited that at least some of that money had been held back as a slush fund to manipulate the market to the benefit of big business. The confirmation came when:

“The Reserve Bank of Australia had to pump almost $5 billion into the local market, about double the normal daily injection, to ensure that the cash interest rate did not spiral higher than the new 6.5per cent....”

Now I’m a bit messy on currencies here, but you will get the general picture. Australia has a population hovering around 21 million. So balance that $5billoion (about double the normal daily injection) against:

  • The Federal Reserve Bank, in the US, advanced about $US24billion ($AUS28billion)
  • European Central Bank - E95 billion.
  • Japan - Y1trillion ($AUS10billion).

Why is it that I get the impression that the needs big business over ride those of ordinary Australians? Even worse is that those bail out funds could serve to strengthen our social and commercial infrastructure.

The Howard government refuses to intervene in market regulation but is ready to bail out these crooks on a daily basis. Meanwhile Australians are dying because there is an insufficient health infrastructure. Business is stalling because the government is determined to score cheap points against the Labor states, denying essential tax flow on funding.

But raise any of these issues among any of those suffering this bad policy and I’m quickly assured – “We don’t like to discuss politics.” Don’t you just love the way people just open their legs to be raped again and again? Frankly, I don’t!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sunday musings

The current excitement over the sub-prime debacle tangled with a book I have been reading. The book is nothing special, being a 50 cent offering from the local thrift shop, but this 1953 thriller was an oddly timely read.

My normally boring Sunday, my turn to cook and smoked cod pie the request, was seasoned with a bit of blogging excitement. A winger attack over at praguetwin and a continuing sub-prime coverage from reality-based educator set my blood running and mind racing.

The winger attack was interesting in that it petered out on a charge that a fellow Australian (of mine) was a whacko. Well this is a country where we can freely assert that our leaders and neighbours are brain-dead dickheads. No great issue there.

But back to the book and to wider issues of US policy on economic and diplomatic practices (Australia seems to be subservient to those policies for the foreseeable future).

The novel was set between Britain and Poland in a post war setting (1953?) and one of the Polish characters expounded the contemporary little gem:

“…a hard ideology is worth a lot more than hard currency – as your American allies are beginning to learn at their cost...”

I doubt the American leaders learned any such thing, but there you go. Another leitmotif was that extreme (dictatorial) regimes tend to rely on the moral argument to shore up their dubious positions.

Hitler had a whole department to regulate the length of women’s skirts and of course homosexuals were classed with Gypsies and Jews. Stalin, Mao and others including radical Muslims have used oppressive moral codes to control the people.

Ain’t it bloody strange that George W should have homed in on that same controlling factor to cement his corrupt regime? I am no apologist for Australia’s part in all this, except to say it doesn’t really sell here. John Howard’s Christian Right is generally told to stick it in their ear!

But history keeps repeating because we let it repeat; accept these moronic moral strictures in place of logical fact. I guess fear drives people to accept the simplistic – I guess, but don’t really understand. A bully brings out the worst in me but then maybe I’m just not keyed into the realities of this life.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Take George W Bush….

Or more to the point please keep him! The recent phone call from George to John Howard was to advise that the Prez is planning an extra two days in Sydney for the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, further disrupting the city and adding millions of dollars to the cost.

This is a city where Bill Clinton can still wander around with minimal disruption to anyone, attracting adoring fans being the biggest problem. Not so George, it seems. A major security program, including lane closures on the busiest trunk routes over the now extended period.

Fortunately George isn’t up for election in Australia; but his little holiday will do little for US/Australian relations. It won’t do much for Howard’s standing either, but he can’t really do much to harm himself more.

If I were Howard, or even Rudd, I would be inviting Bill over for a pre-election tour of the country. Some disruptions are welcome and embraced and Clinton would give a real boost to whichever leader hosted him. So if the US wants a holiday from a major political personality at least be sensitive to our sensitivities.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

New government by December

I know you readers will tell me it is still too far out to declare the upcoming Australian election. Well I would be happy to put money on a Liberal/National loss right now; except I don’t want to add to ballooning consumer spending, and thus inflation.

Of course it is far too soon to get down to predicting margins, but under the rules of my beloved economic predictor the Howard government is finished. On broad figures the government have a buffer of 16 seats at the moment.

Polling consistently has Labor around 10% ahead. Given an unlikely uniform swing the government holds 43 seats by margins below 10%. 14 of those are below 3.3%. When we can look at the dynamics of individual seats a clearer picture will emerge, but the government is doomed.

Looking at the predictor, we have three main indicators – the unemployment rate, inflation and interest rates. If two or more of these rise over a full, three-year electoral cycle, the government will lose. So looking at them:

Unemployment rate – The government claims near full employment, however that assertion fails to look at part time, casual and other underemployment, dumping them all into simple employment. They can talk it up, but they can’t fool those not really benefiting from the claims.

Inflation – Since the last election inflation has risen from a weighted median of 2.4 through to highs of 3.0 and 3.2 and currently sitting on 2.8. The government argued against a rate rise on the basis of this 2.8 being satisfactory, but the Federal Reserve feared another blow-out.

Interest rates – After holding off for many months the rate has now been bumped by .25%. No big deal in itself perhaps, except it is the fifth rise during the life of the parliament without any corresponding drops.

Even discounting dubious employment figures the government is in dire straits. Perhaps a fallout from those indices is an accelerating housing crisis and of course the surging Aussie dollar against the greenback.

The latter might sound great, but not for our economy. Imports are cheaper, of course, driving consumer spending. On the other side, exports become more expensive, putting pressure on a range of markets.

Howard has been trotting out a number of mitigating circumstances for the rate rise; the latest that they are a result of a booming economy. I’m not sure many in his intended audience are seeing any benefits from a booming economy.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Rate rise bites

As widely tipped by financial markets, the Reserve Bank of Australia lifted its cash rate to 6.5 per cent from 6.25 per cent, its highest level since November 1996.

Prime Minister Howard said measures such as tax cuts and higher welfare payments would help households hurt by today's interest rates rise.

It might help them tread water, but I doubt it will be enough to win their hearts and minds. His spin also failed to address the issues beyond those on welfare or low wages. The country, from top to bottom, is overextended and the rate rise will bite.

The picture

As to the picture, well Johnny was keen to blame the states for the blow-out, but the look on his treasures face suggests that the argument won’t wash. Treasurer Costello was looking forward to snatching the leadership baton; looks like he might have to wait for it now.

I’m gratified, personally, as I can now return to my refrain of key economic indices predicting election outcomes. I have been concerned about skewed figures, such as posited full employment. Avoiding a rate hike can be justified for just so long.

The employment figures have been fudged all the way. The pressure on the Reserve to hold, by Howard and Co has been enormous. Howard went further with a pre-emptive strike on the states, blaming their borrowing. Most people I speak to understand none of that, they just know they are hurting.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Judgement Day Downunder

Bad boy John and thanks kvatch for the inspiration….

I’ve been musing lately on how judgement day seems to be closing in on John Howard. Despite a bag full of dirty tricks and wedge politicking poor ‘old’ John can’t take a trick. After a decade of dominance he simply can’t get traction for his latest campaign.

The leak of a report from his own Rovian strategists seems fishy to most commentators, given the very few people on the distribution list for these gems. The most probable scenario cited was a sort of reverse psychology, based on attacks generally flowing back in favour of the attacked.

Nothing is working for Howard or his strategists, the shadowy Crosby/Textor. Even Howard‘s most loyal shock jock had to point out that the damning report came from internal sources, not his opponents.

There was a new poll out today which shows the government slipping further behind, and that from Murdoch’s stable. Again, I expect they are pushing for a sympathy kick-in, but it seem more unlikely as time goes by.

Kevin Rudd, on the other hand, is achieving solid traction, with even fairly dumb moves being lapped up by a growing support base. For the rest of us life is lonely outside the polarised centre of interest. Media still promote either or – Howard or Rudd.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Roving the globe

Having alluded to an antipodean ‘Karl Rove’ recently, I felt moved to reveal a bit more of the story of those conservative backroom gurus. In fact Australia has a Rove tag team – Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor. Fitting, as this pair spread well beyond local influence.

Crosby/Textor are a Canberra, Australia based market research and communications company closely aligned with the conservative Liberal Party of Australia. Well that is the official version. Crosby/Textor operates in both Australia and the UK, and has formed a partnership to advise Wirthlin Worldwide clients in the Australasian region.

The pair have a long history on the seamier side of political polling and strategy, including push polling and wedge strategies. "In the 2001 elections it was Textor's polling advice that crystallised Howard's decision to run a xenophobic scare campaign based on fear of immigrants and terrorism." The Guardian

“We know that Mark Textor has learnt research strategies from extreme right-wing Republican identities in the US, [such as] the Reagan pollster Richard Wirthlin.” says Australian senator John Faulkner.

Sections of the Liberal Party, starting with the Prime Minister, are transfixed with the polling that Textor produces. Howard thinks it is gold. The latest wedge manoeuvres include the Northern Territory land grab, a particular interest area for Textor who had previously crafted racist campaigns.

With Howard’s figures looking grim the ‘dirty politics’ the Federal government are engaged in has all the hallmarks of the Rove approach. It has been a successful approach by the Howard government. Crosby/Textor might well be a home grown product, but they seem well connected to their better know associates.


A leaked dossier, prepared by pollster Mark Textor on June 21, outlines a recovery strategy for the Howard Government and makes it clear that voters are looking to Labor's Kevin Rudd for a generational change.

It contains a damning critique of the Prime Minister as old and dishonest, while Mr Rudd is seen as genuine and accessible. The summary:

  • Voters see PM as old and dishonest, Rudd as genuine
  • Internal file tells PM to pick fights with states
  • Broad expectation Labor will win election

The report was leaked to a Murdoch paper, and from a Textor report. I dunno, it sounds damaging , but the pathway of the revelation sounds bloody suspicious as well. These Rovian tactics are beyond me….

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The new federalism?

In a masterpiece of marketing the Howard government have labelled their centralist push ‘the new federalism’. Relabelling is probably something dreamed up by our own ‘Rove’ – Mark Textor, pollster and strategist to Howard’s mob.

The approach is also fascinating; with the “Federal Government is just shopping around Australia, trawling through marginal seats…” seeking out targeted, vote catching, intervention in areas of state responsibility.

The latest is the Federal purchase of a Tasmanian regional hospital. The hospital had been phased out when a larger facility was established in a nearby town. The move was well in line with economic rationalism, but also handy in this marginal seat the government are trying to hold on to.

New Victorian premier, John Brumby, is ready to take the fight up to the Feds. The first will no doubt be against the Feds takeover of the country’s inland river systems. But on hospitals Brumby says:

"In recent years we've been cheated and robbed in relation to (Commonwealth) funding," he said. "For example, we're only getting 41 per cent of our hospital funding under the Medicare agreement. We're meant to be getting 50 per cent.”

He adds “…we need a better framework for federalism, in which to produce the best for the citizens of Victoria and Australia. But you can't do that if the Federal Government just bails out a hospital which is not viable."

I expect we will have a few high court battles on the federal intrusions, at least from Victoria and Queensland. Senior doctors at Tasmania's North West Regional Hospital have threatened to quit over the federal intervention in their region. That might get the smallest state mobilised as well.

My fear it that the centralist threat is only a real issue to the smaller (population) states; and Victoria which has a traditional rivalry with NSW. Western Australia is basking in a resources boom at the moment and really see themselves as separate and the NSW voters are far too self focussed to concern themselves with political infighting.

That the assault on our country’s structure will help the embattled Howard government is doubtful. But in the process, political motivation will drive the country further off course, further along the road to an American style ‘democracy’.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Ring of idiocy

Australian authorities Wednesday revealed new anti-terror measures ranging from loudspeakers on city streets to plans to secretly search and bug homes and businesses.

Qualative polling shows clearly that Sydney is the countries greediest city. Lifestyle is related to showing worth through possessions.
The census shows Sydney people are the least likely in the country to volunteer or give a rat’s arse about their neighbours.
Research clearly shows Sydney residents are the most debt ridden in the country, no doubt a reflection on the former points.

So the question, in an election year is; why program a major international conference – APEC – in a city which is bound to resent an intrusion on their acquisitive lifestyle?
Traders in Sydney are already talking about closing their doors for the duration of the APEC meeting.

A huge concrete wall will be built around Sydney's CBD in a bid to protect potential targets from terrorists and protestors during next month's APEC meetings.
Dubbed the "ring of steel", the 2.8m high concrete-reinforced fence will shield well-known businesses such as McDonald's and Starbucks amid fears they could be attacked by demonstrators.

The much-anticipated economic boost from September's APEC summit has already turned to disappointment for many Sydney businesses.
Organisers initially expected more than 7,000 delegates and media representatives would visit Sydney during the summit, boosting the city's economy.
However, luxury hotels claim bookings have not been confirmed by delegates and tourists are choosing to stay away from the city during the meeting of leaders, government officials and business people from 21 countries that starts on September 2.

New South Wales police say the trial run of a motorcade through Sydney's CBD today in preparation for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit has gone smoothly.
The four-hour operation is one of a number of exercises ahead of the summit, which will bring 21 world leaders to Sydney for three days from September 7.

Unruly fans at tonight's Bulldogs-Eels blockbuster will risk an up close and personal preview of the police riot squad's tactics for this month's APEC summit.
Head of the NSW riot squad, Chief Superintendent Steve Cullen, last night confirmed all on-duty officers have recently honed their response tactics for the five-day APEC summit.

Not the bloody football too? The Bulldogs draw their fan base from a heavily Lebanese population. The Eels supporters have always been a feisty lot, from when they were predominantly Anglo to the current multicultural mix. I guess it will give the cops something to practice with.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Terror in high places

Now the rules for dealing with terrorism have been established it must be time to some other outstanding cases. For example there is ample evidence against our Deputy Prime Minister to create a great deal of suspicion.

The fallout from the AWB scandal clearly suggests Vaile’s association with those who were financing a terrorist organisation, Saddam’s Iraq regime. The $300 million dollars was funded through people who the Deputy Prime Minister was known to associate with.

There were serious allegations that Saddam’s mob were in league with Al Qaeda, those links were part of the justification for sending Australian troops to oust the regime.

October 20 2000 Vaile had an ‘informal meeting’ in Egypt with AWB Iraq executive Dominic Hogan, the subject of the meeting was the growing concern over kickback claims.

Later in 2000 the Deputy Prime Minister was dealing with then AWB chairman, Trevor Flugge. Again the thrust discussions were the emerging revelations of financial support for Saddam’s terrorist government.

July 2002 the Deputy Prime Minister was adamant that dubious wheat deal should continue without interference. In 2002 Vaile met with AWB executives again, this time in he was visiting two other known terrorist states, Libya and Iran.

So should Deputy Prime Minister Vaile be charged with recklessly supporting a terrorist organisation? I obviously cannot disclose all the facts of any potential, future investigation, but there certainly appears to be ample innuendo to proceed.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

That’s not pork barrelling…

John Howard has denied his decision to underwrite a Tasmanian hospital earmarked for downgrading is cynical pork barrelling ahead of the federal election. Regular readers might recall that health funding fell well short in the Australian budget some months back.

Health and particularly hospitals are a state responsibility. But having failed to fund the states sufficiently the Feds are now attempting to point score with targeted funding; just another example of a steady move to centralised government in this country.

But it is about politics and the Howard government is cherry picking issues and electorates. While the move in on aboriginals in the Northern Territory they ignore the high level of paedophile activity across the countries internet. The latter issue, communication, is well within their jurisdiction.

While they under fund education delivery by the states they are targeting special funding to targeted sectors, particularly Catholic and various other religious schools. That funding, oddly enough, was for school bloody chaplains! Why the hell would a religious school need a special chaplain?

If it isn’t pork barrelling then it is pure, bloody minded political posturing. Not that it seems to be helping them in the polls. Ironically the majority of potential voters see the opposition leader as a younger, more attractive John Howard.

Meanwhile I’m still pushing to get a credible independent candidate up in Lyne. Not that I have stopped supporting my brother Robin. More that I am convinced we must break the hold of the two major parties (and their hangers-on) on our countries politics. It might be a long fight, but there is a great opportunity to get it rolling now.