Friday, November 30, 2007

Happy Christmas George

Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd has announced that Australian combat troops in Iraq should be withdrawn by about the middle of next year.

Combat troops to come home from Iraq The Age, Australia
Iraq pledge by Australia PM-elect BBC News

Australian troops to leave Iraq by mid-2008: Rudd AFP

Australia wants Iraq toops home by mid 2008 Reuters et al…

What more can I hay?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

If only life were black and white

I’ve always had mixed feelings about things military. I really abhor violence and weapons, which probably means they scare me, I’m not sure. On the other hand I understand the need for order and social discipline, within the proper constraints.

So when a friend’s son asked me to attend his cadet unit passing out parade I was pleased and wary at the same time. With only Mum and big sister 17 YO Jake looks to me as some kind of role model, which is odd for a kid intent on joining the army.

He’s not the first kid who has accepted my general antipathy to things military, but sought my moral support all the same. To be fair, Jake wants to be in transport, but I know life isn’t that cut and dry in the military, he might actually have to do the tough stuff.

But watching these kids train, to do drill and the rest fills me with a measure of pride. For me at their age it was gymnastics, which required self discipline through to leadership, without the spectre of military. But I can’t condemn the commitment I’ve seen in this lot or those I’ve known before.

While they were on the parade ground there was a chorus of jeers from over the field, the kids who won’t or can’t commit to anything. Oddly enough, I think those kids jeering are going to see more mindless violence than the kids on the parade ground sweating their butts off trying to achieve something.

D.K. Raed recently asked for our memories of 60s protest songs. With all the usual suspects likely to come out I went for an 80s song, reflecting on VietnamOnly 19

I was playing it on Youtube before I posted my comment and young Jake walked in and stopped in recognition of something special.

So here we are in late 2007 and a 17 YO tells me this song from the 1980’s about the 1960’s is some sort of anthem to these kids, the cadets. Damned if I know, the older I get the less I know.

I do know I felt very proud to have been invited to this event and to watch those kids trying to be the best they possibly could be. Young Corporal (Acting Sergeant) Jake was passing out after his five years of cadets and he did so with dignity and discipline. I know there were regrets and disappointments, but he didn’t show any of that.

If we have to have a military these young people, and those I’ve known in the past, give a real hope where I never thought I could expect it. It isn’t dumb aggression but rather an imperative to find some rational and sensible responses to those things we find so difficult to control.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Rage Factor

Kevin Rudd set the tone of our recent election in many ways, but above all he refused to engage the bitterness that is often a feature of these contests. He even went so far as to suggest there is no anger or hate at the Howard government, simply a desire to move on with a fresh team, suggesting more of the same in some ways.

From reports I’m getting, from poll workers on the day, there was a surprising level of anger and rage among voters. The general comment was that it was something these once a day every few years workers had never seen before.

In fact there has been a growing, and disturbing level of rage right across the country. Some of it manifests in the road rage we are blighted with, we have also seen the indiscriminate rage like the beach riots of recent years. Now neighbourhood rage is taking its sad toll.

The legacy of the Howard years covers a range of sad issues; the often boasted and promised wealth has simply not filtered through to most Australians. The financial suffering is widespread, but the message has been ‘everyone is doing well’, leaving the question; ‘what have I done wrong?’

John Howard’s policy simply left the people he was governing for out of the equation. During his victory speech Rudd promised to govern for all Australians, but significantly he chose to mention one particular man, a bloke who died yesterday – Bernie Banton.

"Bernie, you stand out as a clarion call to us all about what is decent and necessary in life and mate, I salute you," Mr Rudd said. He was referring to a man who had fought for years to win compensation for asbestos workers from James Hardie. It was a matter of the little bloke, a dying man, fighting the corporate giant.

Just days before the election and his death from asbestos related cancer won his final battle against the corporation, on top of helping to set up a $4 billion compensation fund to help mesothelioma sufferers gain access to a drug to help ease their pain and possibly extend their lives.

Bernie’s rage kept him alive long enough to win his final claim, and to stand as a clear symbol of where this country needs to head. Hid rage was highly targeted and stands as a great example for the rest of us. I hope Rudd is really reading the signals.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Reflections on a green connection

I guess getting personal is part of the blog experience, something I probably need to work on and will do so this post. I’ve never been secretive about my voting directions or my strange political turns, but voting a straight Green ticket is something I’m still coming to terms with just now.

When I resigned the liberal Party sometime back in the mid 1970s it was partly spurred on by the personal stress of a young family, a mortgage and a few very intense years of politics. We had a quick succession of Federal campaigns, plus a State campaign in those chaotic times.

I was angry over the swing of the Australian Liberals to the right, and I guess was copping a fair bit of fire for remaining a moderate. My health was suffering and my doctor was on leave. The locum was a young bloke (weren’t we all?) called Bob Brown.

Dr Bob was straight to the point, for my health sake, get out of politics. Well I was ready for a break, but Bob’s emergence, within months, as a leader of a seminal environmental movement did rock me. Not that I disagreed with his sentiments, just that he shunted me out while he was moving in.

Bob came to prominence as leader of the Wilderness society, fighting the destruction of Tasmanian pristine wilderness to create hydro electric power stations. It wasn’t a party, but it was a major movement.

For my part, politics was just part of who I am. I had admired the former liberal minister for customs, Don Chipp, and when he broke from the Liberals to help form a new party, the Australian Democrats, he had my support.

The democrats were about moderate politics, about a fair go for all, about supporting small business and individual enterprise. The party was about democracy and equity. Having refused to run as a bunny candidate for the Liberals, I was quick to actually stand in an unwinnable seat of Bass for the Democrats to help the vital Senate campaign.

Robin, the almost candidate of late, was my campaign manager and we swung 8% of the vote. I am still proud of that effort. But more, we were also representing the environment, the cause which took fire in Tasmania over those years. It was a strange position for me, as I was employed by Tasmania’s biggest timber (lumber) plunderer, Gunns Ltd.

I maintain I was and remain a moderate. I was in a position where I could talk with both the exploiters and those trying to save an incredible and globally significant natural environment. I did try to do that for a few years, talk to both sides and bring them together occasionally. Not a smart move, but I would probably do it again.

My whole thrust was to encourage dialogue, even knowing the two sides were poles apart. The emerging Greens were happy about that, but the industry hated it. This was also a period when I had moved into part time journalism and there were major corruption revelations in the state. I tended to be in the wrong place at the wrong time there too.

I had given up organisations and parties, but I did still support individuals if they appealed to me. One happened to be a Green candidate who had worked on my earlier Democrats campaign. We went back a way and got on well.

The Greens, as a party, didn’t really appeal, despite having known so great people in that organisation. The policy base was narrow and at time a bit extreme for my tastes. To be fair, Bob Brown was always a decent bloke, but he had a big mark to make on our national political scene.

Like Brown, his party has matured. The policy base is broad, albeit reflecting environmental concerns, and the presentation excellent. I broke my own rules this election and voted for the individual I most respected – a Green – then a straight Green Senate ticket.

The latter because the only safeguard this country has against greedy, self-seeking politicians is a balance of power in the senate. And the Greens can deliver that with appropriate moderation.

Monday, November 26, 2007

If I was into dancing in the street….

Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile is to quit as leader of the National Party. He made the announcement at a news conference in Canberra today. I am predicting, despite his protestations, Vaile will leave parliament within six months.

Why hast thou forsaken me?

After a day spent trying to woo voters in traditionally strong Labor electorates, Vaile remained upbeat during the count. He prayed for a Coalition comeback at a church service in his NSW home town Taree before joining Prime Minister John Howard at a function in Sydney.

The National Party is in damage control after losing up to three seats across the country. They lost Dawson in North Queensland, Page on the NSW north coast and possibly Cowper in regional NSW.

That will prune them back to nine or ten seats nationally, continuing their slow steady death as a political force. Vaile suffered under Howard’s Liberals who were already treating their coalition junior partner as an increasing irritation.

I find his idea of a God fascinating. “Don’t worry about praying for the wider community, the people of this country – just save our sorry arses God.”

Well his God let him down it appears. And after all that money he has flowed into the Catholic Church out of government coffers. Perhaps God doesn’t really like Catholics.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The fallout

I can’t stray too far from economics, especially since the now former treasurer, anointed next Liberal leader, has stepped away from the opportunity to lead a dead party.

Peter Costello says he ''would not seek nor accept'' a nomination to be the new opposition leader and instead would step away from politics for a business career.

I don’t blame him, only his timing. I said some months ago that if he was smart Costello would leave parliament and take up a plumb posting. Among those mentioned was an appointment to the board of the Bank of England. That is a plumb.

But like Howard he hung in. Plumb appointments now depend on how far the real economists spread their message: Rubbish leaders spread

“If John Howard and Peter Costello lose today's election, let's hope we see an end to the economic half-truths and illiteracies they've been spreading for the past decade.”

The article is worth a read, even if you don’t really understand economics. I’ve talked many of these issues before, albeit as a virtual economic illiterate. I guess I’m pleased some of the things I’ve raised are being confirmed.

As for Peter, well I didn’t believe he would become Prime Minister, but I hope he finds a niche in the corporate world. Unfortunately the next in line for leader of the Libs is a former merchant banker who wants to sell the country wholesale.

Again I am pleased that the Greens will hold the balance in the Senate. There is a slim margin between disaster and disaster without that.

Morning after

“Mr Rudd maintained his usual restraint but beamed widely and embraced and kissed family, friends and supporters as he took the short walk to the stage.”

The new Prime Minister – Ruddbot – is incredibly restrained in his behaviour, not a good sign of things to come from a new government. Or perhaps half the bottle of Chivas Regal (held in the pic by Robin) is having its effects.

I’m furiously going through the numbers now to confirm my slightly inebriated belief that the Greens will save us from an abundance of hubris. The morning news is:

“THE GREENS have emerged as the balance-of-power party in the Senate after the last two Democrat senators crashed and the environmental party picked up at least two extra seats.”

It seemed there was a strong swing to Greens across the lower house count, and I was hoping that would translate to the Senate, the only place it really counts. Now I shall find an ice pack and simply enjoy the moment. A very personal moment for me seeing Howard dumped.

The picture is of the almost candidate Robin and my good friend and neighbour Mr Singh. I hadn't really touched up the bottle at that stage.

Morning after reflections – the tsunami effect

After a bit of the hair of the dog (that bit me) I’m more able to look back at a weird and wonderful night. I was expecting a fairly early result, one way or the other.

We still (fortunately) record our vote on pieces of paper which must then be counted. The fly in the ointment last night was that the early count was coming from small outlying booths, and didn’t really reflect the final result.

In fact it was around 10 pm before the real numbers started flowing in, the big polling stations which must have been triple counting primaries and preference distribution. It was an anus clenching night and the Australian Electoral Commission deserves congratulations for the way it was done.

But it was like a tsunami, the silent killer. No one was conceding or bragging most of the evening, and then we were swamped by a Labor wave. I predicted a 30 seat gain and might have egg on my face. At this stage it is looking closer to 28.

But the great news is that neither major party will own the Senate.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

E Day observations

I voted early, as is my habit, but resisted voting often.

As usual, however, I did take issue with the polling station staff. While standing at my cardboard box voting booth I picked up a letter size piece of paper, a four colour flyer for incumbent Mark Vaile.

Never mind truth in advertising - ‘trusted locally, respected nationally’ – the law is clear that candidate advertising material is barred from the vicinity of voting. I intend to lodge an official complaint, and expect Vaile to simply argue that this is an acceptable ‘how to vote’ leaflet, which are handed out as voters enter.

My concern, having found one in my box, is that I then waited as those around me emptied and found more of them. I took mine to the guy in charge and demanded they be removed. He refused to take the one I was handing him, but finally gave in.

“We remove them all and bin them,” he told me. Blood hell they do! I complained again on the way out, and was assured of the same. Robin went to vote about an hour later, aware of the possibilities. Sure enough these offensive flyers were lying in the voting booths.

It wouldn’t be an election if I couldn’t get up the polling station staff. The issues vary, and this is one of the worst I’ve seen. It makes a special day even more entertaining.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

How much can a Koala Bear?

Before you start, I know koalas are not bears, they are marsupials. But before I get into the wildlife story, with a political broadcast and advertising blackout now in place, a quick observation is in order.

I’ve been just a little critical of Rupert Murdoch’s Newspoll reports in News Limited press. Regardless of the figures the analysis has invariably been favourable to Howard’s coalition. Just a few days out from election day the story has changed with a concession that Labour has winning leads in all states except Western Australia.

Now the wildlife

I spend odd days at an office located in the bushy suburbs of Port Macquarie. Koalas love gum trees (eucalypts) which abound in this area. In fact, because of threats to koala habitats it is almost a hanging offence to remove one of these trees.

So one day, sitting on the porch eating lunch, we heard an almighty racket, sounding like a wild bush pig. An Aussie my age and I didn’t even know koalas made any sounds, but this I’m told (well I was watching) was a koala in breeding season. His charming pig snorts apparently tempt local females to him.

There are some other neat critters around this building. This week the gum tree was host to a pair of very young Boobook Owls, sleeping in the dappled sunshine. But my favourites are probably not immediately cute but surprisingly friendly.

There is a magpie sharing those trees and the rest of the place. It follows the groundsman around cleaning up any edibles revealed. I really enjoy watching it picking insects and grubs off tree trunks around the yard. It’s certainly not shy of people.

A blue tongue lizard also wanders the grounds freely, unfazed by people. I haven’t really approached this one, but I recall others when I lived here before. One mother lizard used to scratch on our screen door in the height of summer when food was scarce. She wasn’t asking for herself, but making sure her young one was fed.


Another thing I learned about Koalas is that the pig sounds probably match the male attitude. The female won’t mate during gestation, of course, but extends the hands off period through the first year after the birth of its single baby.

Very protective, and nurturing; but the male really has only one thing on its mind, after it has had its fill of gum leaves which ferment in the gut. The male will actually kill the young, if it can, to get the female to play. It’s a hard life…

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Trench warfare or trench foot?

At the end of the penultimate week of campaigning we were warned that trench warfare would be the battle orders for the remaining period. Given so little real information has come out of the major parties so far that could only mean an increase in negative campaigning.

Negative campaigning here in Australia is far different from the US experience during the 2006 mid-terms. There are no local battles, as party campaign secretariat’s have strict control over the whole show.

In essence, the methods break every rule of campaigning I would subscribe to. For a start repetitive advertising from each party is focussing on the opposite number, a guarantee of securing ‘own goals’ and promoting the enemy.

But people are generally turning off the whole thing, I hope with some consequent drift to minor parties and independents. For my part, and after many years of mixing with but rarely voting for, I’m going Green.

In the past I saw the Greens as too narrow in focus, but they have matured to a broad based issues party. So they should, as few issues don’t impact on the natural environment in some way.

I a impressed with our local Greens candidate, Suzie Russell and can see real value in ensuring Greens hold a balance of power in the Senate. Obviously there is no real acceptable difference between the major parties and neither should have a rubber stamp in the Senate.

So while the leaders wallow in the shit in the trenches, while the feet slowly rot out from under their campaigns, so my choice is made.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bound to bore

With just days to go before we trot off to our local polling stations the boredom is really setting in. Despite late breaking scandal the campaigns just haven’t caught fire. All carefully planned of course, this is the election of the small target.

I’ve reflected before on the major parties going to great lengths to control media output. With something like $40 billion in promises there is no simple, straight forward list of what is on offer.

Break your promises, please!

Not something we normally want, but the broad thrust of the promises are based on tax breaks. Hospitals desperately need catch up funding and the country desperately needs hospital staff. Not a word on that, just give us a few bucks a week in our pockets.

Education infrastructure funding desperately needs sorting, instead we give education tax breaks to parents. On and on through key issues, forget the basic needs and just offer us the cash. I would hope that a sensible government would simply put the money where it is really needed.

On the polls

This is another odd area of the campaign, with the polls barely moving over the past year. Sure there are a couple of points difference between some of the polling organisations, but pretty much within the error range.

It is more the way polls are being reported. The same figures can range through from a cliff hanger to a wipe out either way. I guess that comes back to lies, damned lies and statistics.

The pork barrel

Just days out from election day the incumbents have been revealed as the greatest pork barrel artists in this country’s history. Between a suggested $400 million dumped on key electorates without any proper oversight, and another $200 million a year spent on government ‘information’ campaigns, the Howard government is without equal.

But it seems corruption is just another yawn in this election campaign full of yawns. There are some very real issues which should be addressed, but I doubt any will even be considered in this outing. ‘Don’t know, don’t care’ seems to be the election campaign slogan.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Blanding China’s Paradise

In the spirit of looking at the diversity of the country, I thought a visit to one of China’s less developed provinces, Yunnan, might be in order. I came across an interesting commentary recently in the SMH – When you live in Shangri-La, you don't want a highway to your door

Yunnan is the most south western province in China, with the Tropic of Cancer running through its southern part. The province has an area of 394,000 square km, 4.1 percent of the nation's total.

The province borders the Tibet Autonomous Region in the northwest. It shares a border of 4,060 km with Myanmar in the west, Laos in the south, and Vietnam in the southeast.

The province is home to around 25 recognised ethnic minorities, including Tibetans. In the spirit of modernisation the central government is keen to develop tourism in the region. In fact the stress seems to be on ‘Hanification’ or bringing the diversity into the majority fold.

Beijing officially rebranded the nearby Tibetan town of Gyalthang (Zhongdian in Chinese) as the mythical "Shangri-La" in 2001. Regardless of ecological or cultural sensitivities the town was turned into a tourist trap.

An influx of Han Chinese officials and business people and often unsympathetic development, including karaoke clubs, oversized hotels and prostitution are the accepted models for bringing these unique areas into the fold.

Some towns are resisting or looking for more amenable developments. One of the poorest villages neighbouring the Napa Lake nature reserve, Hamagu, signed up to a WWF-sponsored eco-tourism program, villagers' incomes have doubled to 1000 yuan ($A145) a year.

No great income jump perhaps, but these people are far more intent on protecting their heritage. Small groups of tourists are welcomed, and well managed by this community. Other towns in the region have allowed larger developments, but the trend generally seems to keep things manageable.

The dominant Han culture is making its mark in places, devouring cultures in its wake. But generally they are probably busy enough to ignore those who choose to go it alone, find alternatives to bland development. Growth might be the mantra elsewhere in China, but it certainly isn’t universal.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Undertaker visits Vaile

The failed, or not quite candidate, Robin, hasn’t given up his soapbox just yet. With an election just seven days away he’s going for one last media punch. See picture.

Why a period undertaker? Well we do have an historic graveyard in Port Macquarie, but if Vaile has his way we’ll also have a nuclear power station. That was the first inspiration.

Then (see my previous post) there has been a late revelation of pork barrelling on a scale never before seen in this country, and dear Mark Vaile is in the middle of it. He escaped the Food for Oil scandal, but with Labour now odds on favourite to take over government he’s not going to escape this one.

Still, he tries:

Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile has launched an extraordinary attack on the office of the Auditor-General following the release of a damning report exposing the Government's abuse of a $328million grants program for regional Australia.

That was in the Howard friendly, Murdoch rag, the Australian. The SMH had a different take:

THE Deputy Prime Minister, Mark Vaile, has announced two unapproved grants worth $900,000 for his own electorate since the election campaign started, under a funding program that has funnelled millions of dollars into rural Coalition seats.

Just for now I’m hoping Vaile can hang on in Lyne, and frankly I don’t see any great threat to his numbers yet. Cut back his lead by all means, but leave him to face a new government which is not so inclined to cover his indiscretions.

Robin has long felt that there will be a by election for this electorate within six months, I can agree with him now. Vaile might exist as a humble opposition member, picking up what perks he can. There is no way he will survive an onslaught from a government looking for heads.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Vaile - The $300 million dollar man

I began this blog with a focus on corruption, a long time fascination of mine. Corruption and politics might excite my thinking, but generally the issue is so pervasive people simply turn off and ignore it.

So when a major scandal drops just eight days out from an election, one involving my local member and deputy prime minister, it’s not surprising to expect another great voter yawn.

I have, over the past couple of years, taken on Mark Vaile over the $300 million Food for Oil scandal centred on the Australian Wheat Board and Vaile’s political responsibilities. The only actual response I received from him was a bland note about my ‘allegations about him and his colleagues’. The issue was never prosecuted.

Now he is implicated in the most monumental pork barrelling ever uncovered in this country. Another $300 or possibly $400 billion scam. Vaile is up to his ears in this one too, I’m just sorry about the timing of the Auditor General’s release.

A few months back I was asked to identify, fairly urgently, a funding source for a local community program which I saw as a fantastic return on investment for the individuals involved and the wider community. I will be a bit circumspect here, because the whole thing is still in play.

Going through funding options I hit on ‘The Regional Partnerships’, overseen by our own Mark Vaile. My advice to the applicant body was to ignore the normal bureaucratic niceties, as this was a political source. Corrupt perhaps, but I wasn’t going to change that program and the funding proposal is more than worthwhile.

I advised that, with the election looming, the application should be lodged quickly to take advantage of the obvious pork barrelling involved. Unfortunately the applicants failed to understand my meaning and went through the normal processes.

So the questions, I expect, are:

Why did I think the funding program was corrupt?

Being involved in a campaign against Vaile, why didn’t I go public with my beliefs?

The second question first: It is one thing to identify corruption, it is another to be in a position to garner any real proof, at least court level proof. I simply don’t have the resources or powers of an Auditor General.

But what indicated the corruption. Those issues show up in the website for the program, but then repeated by the AG:

The Regional Partnerships Programme is a very flexible discretionary Grants programme. It has broadly based assessment criteria, and projects are subject to continuous assessment rather than being considered through structured funding rounds. Funding decisions are taken by Ministers.

  • community services, activities and facilities supported by non profit
  • organisations;
  • regional tourism, business and skills planning and development;
  • civic and community infrastructure works;
  • commercialisation of new and emerging technologies;
  • the initiation of new businesses or growth of existing businesses; and industry assistance measures.

Vaile and the coalition are now doomed to defeat, corruption not withstanding, they simply can’t claw back in a week what they have failed to regain over the past year. If the latest corruption revelation makes no impact they are still around 8% behind on primaries and the senate is drifting out of the control of both major parties.

In the way of these things retribution will be delivered in the new parliament, and it will be delivered courtesy of the independent Auditor General.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A cricket terrorist?

Pakistan cricket legend Imran Khan is to be charged under anti-terrorism legislation following his arrest today, police say.

Khan, who led Pakistan to cricket World Cup glory in 1992 and has since formed a small but vocal opposition party, was initially placed under house arrest after Musharraf imposed emergency rule on November 3. However, he slipped the net and had been in hiding until today.

Imran Khan is know and respected trough the cricketing world. Perhaps not always liked, but then his patrician stance harked back to the days of a game divided between ‘gentlemen and the paid players’; Khan was always the ‘gentleman player’.

Of course the Khan title is synonymous with some Muslim ruling classes, and many see the Muslim link as synonymous with terrorism. (Funny they don’t see the same correlation with fundamentalist Christian.)

Khan seems to disabuse that idea with his failed marriage to Jemima, the daughter of late multimillionaire British industrialist James Goldsmith. For those unfamiliar with the Goldsmith family, they have an acknowledged Jewish heritage.

It would be easy to perceive Imran as a puffed up, self important prick. But I think his passion for whatever he goes after belies that summary. He is focussed and determined, but the terrorist label is way over the top.

Don’t tell George W or Musharraf, but I’m inclined to see them as the ones subverting rule of law and decent human principles.

Labour gain 30 seats?

Following the official campaign launches of both major parties this week there are some remarkably firm predictions coming out. Labour need to win 16 seats to secure government; a feat seen by many as daunting.

To be sure, there are sufficient marginal seats, i.e. within picking off range for Labour. But that presupposes an even swing, at least across these key seats. The problem there is that marginals are often close because voters in these seats are often less volatile than elsewhere.

But Rudd is on a roll, and John Howard continues to fail to gain any traction. Following on after Howard’s big spending campaign launch Rudd declared "I don't stand before you with a bag full of irresponsible promises that could put upward pressure on inflation." Rhetoric perhaps, but the message is following the prevailing mood.

Back to those marginals, “Punters betting on the election with Sportingbet Australia have installed Labor as favourite in 19 Coalition-held seats, more than enough for Kevin Rudd to be the next PM.” The Australian

“Since the opening of the seat-by-seat betting markets, Labor has not looked as hot there as it has in the national markets. It now looks like the two sets of markets are moving closer together as the election draws closer.” Simon Jackman, Stanford University politics professor

What has surprised me is the number of pundits gamely claiming a 28 or 30 seat gain for Labour. That means 90 of the 150 seats up for grabs or a straight swap on the seat count.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Consistency would be helpful

Economic pedantry aside it is time that our political establishments selected and stuck with one model, rather than the hotch potch we are currently presented with. While I’m not friend of the current ‘set and forget’ monetarist model, Reaganism – Thatcherism – neo-conservatism – neo-liberalism – economic rationalism…; the names go on.

The key to this model and its variants is that they are ‘set and forget’; they don’t cope well with any intervention. My criticism is that the model serves big money and ignores social imperatives.

But what our conservative leaderships are finding is that they need to win votes, which means playing with the fiscal controls and throwing the machine out of whack.

The current Australian election campaign offers a good example.

The top end of the country’s economy is booming, trade and budget surpluses are going through the roof. But under the ‘set and forget’ system, any distribution of that wealth is going to distort the economics and drive inflation. That is happening here now, and getting worse during a bloody election campaign.

I don’t like this model, but if it is the current paradigm it should be adhered to.

Instead the money is being used to buy votes, worsening the current inflationary trends. Either run a ‘hands on’ or a ‘hands off’ model, but don’t mix and match!

Having intervened, our politicians have tried to second guess the electorate on what will win their hearts and minds; in the process driving an impending economic disaster.

The desperate need in this country is to rebuild neglected social infrastructure, i.e.; health and education. Rather than commit money directly to these sectors the idea is to deliver assistance through individual tax breaks.

Now someone might care to correct me on this, but it seems to me more money in individual’s pockets each pay period isn’t going to make hospital beds, nurses or emergency rooms available when Joe Blogs slips off his wallet and breaks his back.

The education tax breaks have already been revealed as barely sufficient to cover basic school costs, with no hope of covering actual term fees for those a choosing private school education.

In both sectors the real needs are for underlying infrastructure, it is a nonsense to give the money to individuals to spend on ensuring facilities are able to meet demand. More to the point, tax breaks are more likely to be absorbed meeting increased rent and mortgage commitments in the face of rocketing interest rates.

In effect, our political leaders are undermining their preferred economic model by intervening – tinkering with it. Then they are making the wrong choices; choices which do nothing to address the real issues we are seeing.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hey big spender…

The key argument in the current Australian election campaign is economic management. Hours before PM John Howard delivered his campaign speech yesterday our central bank delivered it’s quarterly report, stressing “slow the growth".

The economy, on the back of a resources boom and China’s incredible growth benefiting our exporters, is overheating. The surplus is there, big time! But spending it is driving inflation and consequently rate rises.

So Howard, the consummate economic manager, pledged $64 billion dollars, an amount economists say will increase rates over the next five years at least. It wasn’t even savvy spending, simply vote winning spending.

Rather than putting money directly into key areas of health and education, for example, it delivers tax breaks at best, and then limited. There will be little money going directly to infrastructure, none to ensure that health and education facilities are available to spend tax breaks on.

Initial indications suggest a major blowout in mortgage defaults over the next couple of years. That is not a bad thing, overall – but I’m glad I’m not holding a mortgage at the moment. The fact is property in this country has risen way beyond true value and a correction is overdue.

Whichever party forms government in two weeks time has either commit to its promises and further exacerbate the economy or break its election promises. I hope for the latter. The whole process has been self-serving and dangerous.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Honours come in strange flavours

I note with an odd pleasure and a little trepidation that I’ve been listed on the blogroll of E Pleb Neesta, along with Praguetwin under the title - Left leaning blogs deserving respect.

I know of two of the four contributors to the blog - no_slappz and Lysander Cadwalader. I must admit, despite a few spats, I respect their willingness to engage in debate and not simply trivialise with name calling as some from the right tend to.

The trepidation, indeed fear for my safety, is being found by the Australian left to be impersonating a lefty. Indeed, the left here is a very different animal to that in the US. I’m not a socialist, in fact economically (the only real measure) I’m a tradition economic liberal, in the style of Keynes and Galbraith.

Oh, I’ve been called a ‘red ragger’ (communist) and a fascist, both in the same paragraph, but that should put me fairly much in the political centre.

On social issues:

  • I subscribe to minimum intervention into personal morality, but that is more of a spiritual question than political.
  • I am an avid supporter of full and open democracy, unlike both left and right.
  • I believe in our wealthy societies, decent education and health care are not merely social prerogatives but economic necessities.

I don’t really do labels, and this is as much a disclaimer to the real left as an explanation generally. Still, the honour is noted and appreciated.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Steeling China

China is the world's biggest iron ore consumer and importer with iron ore imports estimated at 325 million tons this year. Major suppliers are CVRD Brazil and Australia's BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. Imports next year will grow by 30 million tons.

CVRD are the biggest single supplier, but the two Australian suppliers jointly outgun the South American’s. So it’s not hard to understand the concern of Chinese steel mills when news broke of a hostile takeover by BHP Billiton of competitor Rio Tinto.

The scales here are enormous; a takeover would boost BHP Billiton into the class of MicroSoft, Shell and GE. But for buyers it creates a supply behemoth big enough to hold China to ransom on pricing.

"Of course a merger will have an impact on the iron ore price negotiations - the Asian market will be monopolised by one company," said a spokeswoman for Shougang, China's second-largest steel company, which has long-term contracts with BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

Steel has an iconic status in China beyond even its central role in the country's industrialisation. And there are few things that irk Chinese economic officials more than being at the mercy of foreign iron ore miners. SMH

The China story is fascinating me just now, and there are so many facets to this country of 1.3 billion people. I throw this in as a continuing insight into what drives relations with China, where that country is headed.

Trade undoubtedly is the major driver of international relations now and Bush’s aggression is little more than local domestic politics fodder. I really want to get down to a few specific areas on China, like the regional differences and the Olympics, but today the world drives the post.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Another blow to democracy

Australia has a robust media, one of the best in the world, but they are powerless against a political establishment intent on curtailing any real engagement in the election process.

Both major parties have imposed blanket control on candidates to ensure nothing is said or done which might cause the least ripple. The media are fed carefully crafted puff by political leaders who doggedly avoid any serious discussion of their issues.

It is called ‘The Seinfeld election’ a show without any story. Senior journalists refer to the ‘the desperate emptiness of this campaign’; composed of constantly repeated , focus-group tested, sound bites that kill language and empty it of all meaning.

The media control is so tight that most senior journalists have refused to be part of the travelling leader’s circuses. There is nothing to be reported, of any substance. The less experienced journalists will no doubt lack the experience to inject the killer question, but they will also lack the opportunity.

Even after non-candidate Robin (he of the underwear on the Town Green) failed to register the media are still talking to him, still running stories about him. We have been laughing all week that Robin is getting more local column centimetres and TV footage than all the candidates put together.

Partly that was the result of an uncommon honesty, going straight to the media when he failed to register, and telling them the truth. Partly it is because he injected a conversation into the campaign, something the media play with; more than bland media releases, the purpose of which is to avoid engagement.

Our politicians are gutting democracy, removing real discussion and avoiding real contact with voters. They can do it because in the end there are no real alternatives, they have tweaked the electoral system to ensure one or the party will win. Worse, we have reached a stage that there is no discernable difference.

The fascinating part is that others are now publicly attacking Robin, presumably trying to nullify whatever effect he is having in the campaign. None of the registered candidates are being at, just the one who missed the boat. We don’t think he did miss the boat, we think he hit the target well.

Robin has the attention of people and the media in Lyne, the electorate he intended to contest, and he will milk it further yet. So in the next week or so you can expect some more dress up and tell a story antics from the failed candidate.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Alien redhead seed facing extinction

Okay the alien bit was mine and I will expand, but the news is that internationally redheads have reduced for 4% to 2 % of the population. According to some genetic scientists, redheads (a hair colour created by a mutation in northern Europe thousands of years ago) could become extinct.

The alien theory

Years ago I had a good friend, a sculptor living and working out of an old country hotel, who maintained that green eyed, redheads were in fact the product of alien seeding.

This bloke was bald as a badger, but his goatee was definitely red and the eyes green. His position of being a spaceman was oddly supported by his otherworldly approach to life – but then he was a passionate sculptor.

I keep coming across this redhead thing, enough to wonder at the 2% figure being put on them. Just in the blog circle we have Redheaded Wisdom. And Enigma4ever features Botticelli’s Venus, complete with flowing red locks.

Two of my friends here in the sub-tropics are clearly redheads, albeit they are mother and daughter, which has an effect on the odds. The woman I adore is not exactly redhead, but she has those wonderful red lights through her brown.

Alien or mutant I think you redheads had better get down to some serious breeding.

Ref: Beauty Redheads are apparently face extinction.

Gingers extinct in 100 years, say scientists

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A Change Is Going To Come

I don’t usually see ads, so when one jumps out I’m intrigued.

In fact I wasn’t even sure this was an ad and it wasn’t linked back.

The image is linked back here.

On the polls

With elections dominating polls are coming at us from all directions. How we take in the information varies, from pure headlines, through analysis to raw data. But how reliable are they, how predictive? Read more

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Election rate hike

“The Reserve Bank [Australia] has made history, weighing into the politically-charged federal election campaign by raising interest rates to their highest in a decade.

In a widely anticipated move, the bank lifted the official cash rate by 0.25 percentage points to 6.75 per cent this morning - the first time it has moved rates during an election campaign.”

The Howard government are still campaigning on an illusory ‘economic management’ program. Illusory because they really don’t have much pull on the economic side, relying largely on fiscal policy to steer the ship.

They are trotting out dubious historical figures to attack Labor, but they are increasingly questionable when looking at Howard’s record now:

“The increase will add $67 a month to repayments on a $400,000 loan, bringing to $395 the cumulative impact of six interest rate rises since the last election, when the Coalition campaigned on a promise to keep rates low.” SMH

The Australian dollar punched through 93 US cents after the announcement of today's rate rise. A strong Aussie dollar is not what the doctor prescribes for our economy, based as it is on resource exports. Fortunately China is committed to its resource imports programme, but we still compete with other countries in this field.

Speaking of China, now I’m back in business I will be back on the Chinese dragons tail in the next day or two.

Off Air and campaign collapse

Our reliance on technology can be a problem at times, and problems tend to strike out of the blue. Like a fried mother board while we thought the computer was asleep. We’ve spent a week getting a working computer from our carcass collection, and we are in business once more.

Campaign Central

Candidate Robin also found the penalty for being a one man band. The deadline for registration arrived; Robin drove to a distant town to register and left his vital signatures behind. So he missed out on registering. Botched paperwork derails Robin's bid

All is not lost. With no real likelihood of winning Robin had set out to do his part to reduce the incumbent’s large margin. That part of the effort looks to have worked. The media still intend to use Robin’s oddball approach; it makes for good copy and footage. I might talk about the campaign a little more now.