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Tag Archives: Australia

Open letter to Simon Birmingham

The Weasel often writes letters to elected officials… as the dictum goes: If you smell something, say something.

The most recent pronouncement by our erstwhile federal education minister that creative careers were a lifestyle choice had a particular odour. The lack of response from the reigning opposition parties also left much to be desired. So while the intended recipient for below missive was originally for Mr Birmingham; I encourage you, good reader, to freely appropriate the text and send to all those elected officials you believe would benefit from my educational inquiry.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Dear Minister Birmingham  [or insert name of senator or MP here]

I am writing to you regarding recent comments [by the Federal Education Minister] that described creative careers as a lifestyle choice.

I would like to enquire why the government of the day is ignoring the actions of most other technologically developed nations. In the UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030, creative industries are identified as key drivers in revitalising manufacturing sectors, and on-shoring production or services that in previous decades been shifted to less expensive markets.

The U.K., France, South Korea, and Germany all have policy that explicitly links creative industries to programs designed to build or enhance innovation; and gain competitive advantage in the shift to Industry 4.0. Many countries now have dedicated creative industry hubs to create and enhance networks and connectivity between creative professionals and other industries.

To state that creative careers are a lifestyle choice ignores the essential function of cultural events in our society. It ignores the economic contribution. It ignores the contribution to the expression of the Australian character by thousands of actors, painters, dramaturges, designers, editors, architects, writers. Finally, it ignores the contribution that trained creative’s deliver in innovative thinking to thousands of Australian businesses. You can read more about how vibrant and vital creative professionals are on the AusTrade website.

If the current government is truly serious about innovation, then engagement and investment in creative careers and industries is essential. Design thinking is inherent in all creative pursuits, and those are exactly the structured innovative skills Australia needs to regain economic strength.

In the new knowledge economy, superior creative thinking can conquer limitations of scale or distribution. The emerging decentralised, interconnected, and data-rich manufacturing landscape has opportunities waiting to be discovered and exploited; and it is creative professionals who are best positioned to think outside the box, make use of limited resources, and take advantage of connectivity to drive innovation.

In light of all this, I would like an answer to the following questions:

Why does the Education Minister consider creative careers non-essential to the Australian economy?

How does the government plan to succeed with an innovation agenda without using design thinking, or input from creative professionals?

I have included links to some of the sources to which I refer in this letter. I encourage you to investigate them further.
I look forward to your reply

Yours Sincerely

The Weasel

 

austrade.gov.au: Creative-Industries

thecreativeindustries.co.uk/

creative-industries-worth-almost-10-million-an-hour-to-economy

Deutschland creative industries

UNESCO Science report: creative industries driving innovation

https://en.unesco.org/USR-contents

forbes.com: what everyone must know about industry 4.0

The Chinese political donations blow up

By Erin Chew

Well the dragon is out of the bag. The Chinese political donations scandal has taken front and centre stage in Australia, with politicians now dotting their “I’s” and crossing their “T’s”, distancing themselves from being implicated. To avoid the jury by media and the court of public opinion, they are advised to deny, deny, deny.

But the question is, how long has this been going on for, and why it has only been now that the Government is jumping up and down about it? The fact that it implicates Chinese companies and business people makes this saga all the more inflated, triggering prejudicial feelings among regular Australians and presumably the fear of a Chinese economic invasion. To those active in the Chinese community in Australia, political donations is nothing new, in actual fact, it is the norm, meaning that this is how the “Chinese” do business. This is not saying that political donations is right and ethical, but it is more so to point out that Chinese businesses do things differently than “western” businesses.

Chinese Australians are also relatively cautious when it comes to standing up and being overtly politically active. To mainstream Australia, the perception is Chinese Australians are hardworking, excel academically and in essence live the model minority life. To an extent this is not wrong. The earlier Chinese in Australia are taught to study hard and not make a big deal in the public sphere. Hence, many Chinese who were born and raised in Australia tend to shy away from schoolyard skirmishes and not to confront but negotiate and be diplomatic. And in some cases to give in, because asides from becoming a target nothing more will be achieved. It is also this perception and mindset that has worked against the Chinese in Australia, placing them in the situation they are in today. Anything which mentions the words “Chinese investment” and bidding for farmland, natural resources, electricity and purchasing mines will turn heads and cause unconscious and conscious xenophobia.

What is most interesting is that Chinese political donations to political parties, is not new news – well that is not to the Chinese Australian community. In China, the controversy surrounding Sam Dastyari wouldn’t even bat an eyelid. Corporate political donations for current/future business/publicity favours is how business is done there, and paying a legal/travel bill for a politician is part and parcel of a business/political relationship. The Chinese way of business and influence speak to the way Australia does it are on completely different sides of the cube. Where this style of doing business is frowned upon in Australia, it is acceptable within certain sections of the Chinese community. This is not saying the Chinese political donations saga is right or wrong, but it is just to make a point which has not been relayed adequately in the mainstream media.

So let’s talk about what has transpired and how did Sam Dastyari get mixed up in all this. But to understand how this all blew up, is to have some knowledge on the background to Chinese political donations in Australia. For those who take an active interest in Australian politics know that both Labor and Liberal Parties have Chinese fundraising groups, using the names of “Chinese Friends Of…” and/or “Chinese Association For…” and a number of similar style group names. Their sole purpose is to hold fundraising events and garnering support for the respective political parties, and having these groups are a way to channel Chinese political donations. The man of the minute, Huang Xiangmo and his company Yuhu Group, attends these fundraising events (on both sides of politics), as well as other Chinese and Chinese Australian business people, and this is one way where donors are able to discreetly make a donation. At these events many politicians from the respective political party are in attendance – their way of guaranteeing that they are in the good books with the Chinese Australian community – you know, taking photos, shaking hands and looking pleasant. Both Malcolm Turnbull, Bill Shorten and other senior MPs would make concerted efforts to speak and be present at these events. The more senior the MP that attends, the better chances of receiving better donations and fundraising outcomes.

Sam Dastyari was merely a scapegoat, collateral for the media to pounce and jump on. His crime in the court of public opinion was having asked and received a payment of $1,670 from the Top Education Institute, run by the businessman Minshen Zhu for travel costs. Sam declared this money. Following rules, and in the name of transparency, this declaration became public and Sam moved to pay this money back. One thing led to another, and it was found that before Sam became a Senator, Huang Xiangmo of Yuhu Group, paid $5000 to cover some legal bills. Reason for the legal bill is unknown. The only thing Sam has publicly stated is that it was for a personal matter and that the media trial by jury coordinated by the Government is just a distraction. He is not wrong there, because like Sam, other more senior politicians, such as Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop, George Brandis, former Premier Bob Carr, Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have all been photographed with Huang with some politicians, including Sam himself having visited Yuhu headquarters in China.

Former MLC (NSW Upper House) Eric Roozendaal went to Yuhu Group after he resigned from politics, which paved the way for Ernest Wong, former Deputy Mayor of Burwood and friend of both Sam Dastyari (back then General Secretary of NSW ALP) as well as Huang Xiangmo to replace Eric Roozendaal as an MLC (NSW Upper House). Ernest has a strong presence and influence within certain sections of the Chinese Sydney community as well as sections of the Chinese Australian media, so politically, he was the ideal candidate. Sam as the General Secretary of NSW ALP back then justified Ernest’ entrance into NSW Labor as being a Chinese representative in Parliament, and where this is noble and is required, there was no consultation or even consideration of other candidates within the Chinese Australian community who would also be suitable for the position. But remember, Ernest is a known fundraiser and networker for the NSW Labor Party, so he was the more convenient candidate. There is not more to say on the story behind this saga, because it is adequately reported all over Australian media outlets and reports.

Although, one interesting fact which has not been clearly reported in the media, is that there is not a whole lot of backlash from the Chinese Australian community, particularly those who read, listen and watch Chinese Australian media because these media outlets are controlled by the same people who organise and coordinate these political fundraising sub groups. It pretty much operates like Chinese state owned media. The people with the biggest pockets and political influence will be able to dictate what goes in and what gets left out as well as how issues and columns are communicated.

So where to from here? Well I guess we will just have to see how deep the cracks grow and spread, and how much trial by media the Australian public demands. But it makes you wonder, whether the Chinese are being targeted for prejudicial reasons, and what about political donations from British, American, Canadian, New Zealand or other European companies – would these be seen in the same light as Chinese political donations? Remember making anything remotely “Chinese” publicly will always attract the attention of the mainstream and give media reports more crunch. And as for Sam, well he will be fine on the back bench and being young, will have adequate time for soul searching and to make a comeback when things die down. Rest assured politicians who have been associated with Huang, Zhu and other Chinese companies who make big political donations will be quiet and not comment on any media questions and reports. Remember, there is nothing remotely wrong with corporate political donations, it is really about tougher regulations and ensuring greater transparency.

Erin Chew is Convener of the Asian Australian Alliance, and Asian Australian Alliance Women’s Forum.

 

Speaking Of History: Though I Disagree With What You Say, I Am Doomed To Repeat It!

Ok, let’s have a little think about Dutton last week, but before we do that, let me just state that I’m an angry white male just like that guy with the funny name that nobody can spell. You know, whatsisname… David… David… Leyonhjelm. That’s it. Honestly, I don’t think people with names that don’t follow good old normal Aussie spelling should be allowed to say anything controversial but I guess the politically correct brigade will be on me in a flash restricting my freedom of speech by telling me that they disagree with what I say. And that’s what makes me really, really cross. After all, I’m white and I’m male, so I should be allowed to say what I bloody well like in my own country without the likes of women and other minorities having the temerity to criticise and tell me that I’m wrong.

Now, Senator Leyonhjelm – or Grumpybum, as I’ll now refer to him because I can spell that without looking it up – has recently announced his intention to lodge a complaint against Mark Kenny with the Human Rights Commission for referring to him as having “angry-white-male certitude”. He intends using 18C which – as I’m sure you all know makes it an offence to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person because of their race or religion. Unfortunately, Senator Grumpybum assured us all that he wasn’t offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated so most thinking people would suspect that this puts a rather large hole in his argument. Sort of like when James Ashby was complaining about sexual harassment from Peter Slipper, but that’s a whole other story. The good senator tells us that he’s only bringing the complaint to highlight the absurdity of the whole 18C thing. In much the same way that if Scarlett Johansen were to speak to me and tell me that I looked pretty cute, I could attempt to bring a charge of sexual harassment against her, because even though I didn’t mind it at all, it shows how absurd it was anyone could object to being complimented on their figure.

So, I’m very, very angry that – like Senator Grumpybum – I can’t take advantage of all the privileges of 18C just because calling me a “fat white bastard” doesn’t upset me. Well, apart from the “fat” bit and I have to concede I could lose a few kilos without the adjective “gaunt” springing to mind. As for the “bastard”, well, my parents were married, but if one means it in the colloquial sense, I’d have to agree that I could hardly be upset by what is really a term of endearment.

And that’s why I was so angry when poor Peter Dutton had to defend himself when it was leaked that there were over 2000 cases of alleged abuse against asylum seekers on Nauru. The way people carried on, you’d think that we had an obligation to investigate complaints even if we don’t know if they’re true. I mean, don’t we need evidence before we start to look into whether or not something occurred?

Certainly that was the way newly elected One Nation senator, Malcolm Roberts, saw it on QandA last night. If he finds evidence that abuse is occurring, then he’ll support a Senate inquiry to look at the evidence, but until evidence has been found, then there’s no need to look at the evidence. Say what you like about the man, he was certainly consistent. When the subject later turned to climate change, he again demanded evidence. Not just that data that had been concocted by NASA and Bureau of Meteorology – an organisation, he reminded us, that Greg Hunt wouldn’t allow to be investigated, but “empirical evidence”. And until he was given such evidence, he found no need to look at anything that anyone was asking him to examine, because, well, if it wasn’t consistent with his position, then it was clearly “doctored” or “dodgy” or “silly” or “too full of facts and figures to be worth reading” or…

But back to Peter Dutton… As he pointed out, a lot of these things are exaggerated. You know the sort of thing, a guard gives a five year old a bit of a slap on the cheek and it’s reported as though it’s assault even though no bones were broken. And as for claims of sexual abuse, well, how often do people make up claims of sexual abuse?

All right, maybe not that often in the scheme of things. And before anyone starts bringing up how the Royal Commission is discovering all these cases of sexual abuse where the person wasn’t believed and the perpetrator was allowed to stay in their position, I’d like to remind people that these things happened a while ago. In some cases, it was last century; in others, it was as far back as 2012… Whatever, it was certainly, before these asylum seekers were sent to Nauru, so that’s a completely different thing.

I’ll happily concede that we should have believed the people who are testifying at the Royal Commission, because they were true blue Aussies, not foreigners. At least in most cases…

And when Dutton said that people were self-immolating in the hope of getting to a better place, clearly he meant heaven and not Australia.

So you can see why I’m angry. I live in a country where we now have to check the spelling of people’s names and I have to worry about people’s feelings and we can’t just be cruel to foreign people without someone complaining. God, this isn’t the Australia I grew up in.

I’d suggest that we should have a day to celebrate people like me and Grumpybum and Malcolm Roberts and Andrew Bolt, but I suspect you’d end up calling it “Sooking, Sad, Old White Man” Day!

Day to Day Politics: If it were a business you would sack them all.

Friday February 5 2016

1 As opposed to the lifestyle TV show ‘The Block’ which revolves around the contestants personalities, rather that the renovations they carry out, the ABCs ‘Grand Designs’ hosted by Kevin McLeod is a fascinating insight into the construction of homes or the conversion of building into homes.

We witness the planning, the economics, the unforeseen traps, the mistakes, the personalities, the battles and the time it all takes. They are just everyday people who take on a challenge and prove to be remarkable problem solvers, able to cope with all sorts of problems that arise.

Unlike Australian politics they all have a plan even if some are rudimentary. They have a sense of purpose.

What I am getting at here is that Australian politics is like a construction where the builder thinks he is in charge but the foreman and his crew are undermining all the work because they want to do it their way. The architect drew up a grand design but everyone on the site thinks they know better. The construction is a mess and everyone thinks they have a plan but the sites pet dog ate it.

Look at our Politics. The economy is in a mess as is health and education. Immigration Policy a disaster as is the Environment.

Despite having the most qualified cabinet in Australian political history you would have to say that if they were the board of a major business you would sack them all. There would be a shareholders revolt.

You see we, with undoubtable evidence, have proved that we are just very bad at doing politics. Our democracy is badly in need of a makeover, restoration even. The problem is that everyone is so busy building their own egos that they don’t have time to plan anything, let alone fix it. The only thing they are good at is talking about what they might do.

2 On Wednesday I wrote about the politics of hate. Thursday morning I had the misfortune of seeing an interview on News24 with Cory Bernardi. Virginia Troili asked a question about returning children to Nauru. The question arose following a High Court decision that offshore detention wasn’t illegal. She framed the question in the context of criticism from many organisations interested in the rights of the child, and particularly those groups warning about the damage being done mentally to them.

He answered by saying ‘That’s our policy. I’m perfectly happy with it’

My point is that I have never heard the word ‘happy’ bastardised is such a fashion.

A short time later Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was interviewed on ABC News radio. He said during the course of it something that made my hair stand on end. (That parts a bad joke) ……’best interests of these children and those who might follow them’

In the context of what was being said it could only have meant that the children would be sent back as a deterrent to those who might consider sending other children. That the Government was prepared to sacrifice some children so that more wouldn’t come. The bastards really do know how to hate I thought to myself.

This Parliament is collectively liable for its incapacity to find solutions. With a collective communal brainpower from the best learning institutions in the world it has no answers other than hateful ones.

Moreover to make it worse it makes no attempt to find a reginal solution. The politics of hate prevail. The appeal to base instincts for political gain override the best interests of the child.

I’m tougher than my opponent has become the new mantra. It’s not the Australia I so once admired.

3 The Liberal preselection wrangles continue. Craig Kelly is being challenged in his seat of Hugh’s by Kent Johns.

Broadcaster and right wing ratbag Alan Jones will have none of it:

‘You’re not going to get anyone better than that bloke.’

‘So let me say to Kent Johns and anyone else who’s thinking of standing for the preselection out there and to put a torpedo under this bloke.’

He then threatened Kent Johns saying:

‘You’d better pull your head in, Kent Johns. Because I’ll tell you what: if you put your head up, there’ll be a hell of a story that’ll be told about you, Mr Johns.’

It rather reminded me of a few years ago when Alan was visually outraged when a NSW Premier appointed a Police Commissioner and Jones felt he should have been consulted first.

4 As I said last week. Good government has been delayed indefinitely.

Here’s proof.

A NSW government minister has launched a blistering attack on the federal government’s administration of the scandal-ridden private vocational education sector.

In an exclusive interview, NSW Minister for Skills and Industry John Barilaro told Fairfax Media that his ministerial federal coalition colleagues “have made errors that I would not have ever believed from a government” in allowing the private vocational education sector to blow out to an expected $4 billion in public debt this year.

“How have we allowed a private provider in one year to have $300,000 in funding go to a hundred million in funding?” he said.

5 Malcolm Turnbull came to power promising a new politic. One of openness and transparency.

What we have had since is a Prime Ministers department fighting tooth and nail to prevent the release of information under freedom of information laws. And they have spent $70,000 in legal fees doing so.

6 How confusing economics can be to the lay person. This is how my friend Fred Martin put it:

‘The LNP claim they are about “growth and jobs” but I fail to see how you can “grow” the economy by cutting Government expenditure and increasing taxes on consumers.’

Remember that, according to the last budget update, the only reason we are not in recession is because of Government spending.

I think they are more about “profit and loss”, profit for the big end of town and the mega rich and the loss of living standards and dignity for the rest of us.

My thought for the day.

‘Ask yourself. Does the culture we have make us feel good about ourselves?’

 

Day to Day Politics. ‘If parliamentary convention applied. Dutton would resign’

1 If you think I am going to mention the ‘F’ word and some references about sexism over Christmas then you would be wrong. This is about misleading the parliament. The facts are straight forward.

This is about a 23-year-old Somali asylum seeker known as Abyan. The fact that she became pregnant on Nauru is well documented. She sought to have the pregnancy terminated last September. In October she was brought to Australia but as quickly as she arrives she was returned back to Nauru on a private jet no less, and at a cost of $115.000.

In the parliament Dutton claimed that she decided to not go ahead with the cessation. It is recorded that he repeated the claim in many subsequent interviews.

This is what he said. Quote.

The lady, following the consultations, provided advice that she did not wish to proceed with the termination and, as a result, was then chartered from Australia back to Nauru.”

 However, Human rights lawyer Kellie Tranter sought documents under FOI which confirm that Dutton misled the parliament. Emails make it clear that she hadn’t completely made up her mind and was still open to an abortion. Nauruan officials also made this clear.

So instead of waiting until the women was well enough to make an informed decision the Government hurried her back to Nauru. They did so because in the words of the first assistant secretary for the Immigration Department Neil Skill, they believed that the women’s lawyer was just ‘buying time’ so he could legally intervene to keep her in Australia permanently.

There we have it. An Australian Agency seeking to evade our legal system. That’s serious enough but on top of that we have the flagrant disregard for the women’s health.

The Coalition has people with degrees from some of the finest learning institutions in the world so I’m somewhat puzzled as to why a dunderhead like Dutton gets a ministry before them.

He should resign.

2 A thought on free speech.

The peddlers of verbal violence and dishonesty are the most vigorous defenders of free speech because it gives their vitriolic nonsense legitimacy. With the use of free speech, the bigots and hate-mongerers seek to influence those in the community who are susceptible or like-minded.

The original intent of free speech was to give a voice to the oppressed and to keep governments honest. In the United States, the first amendment is now used as a justification to incite racism, validate hatred and promote both religious and political bigotry

In a democracy the right to free speech in given by the people through the government. Therefore, it should be incumbent on the recipient to display a decorum of moderation, truth, fact, balance, reason, tolerance and respect for the other point of view. Sadly, this seems to have been forgotten both here and in the United States.

2 What should Shorten do?

Thus it is that Bill Shorten has gone from short odds to win the next election to rank outsider.

He doesn’t have the charisma of Turnbull and although the Royal Commission has found him innocent of any wrongdoing some mud has stuck. The recent revelation of branch stacking also underscores the negative view people have of him.

On the brighter side whatever tax package Turnbull takes to the election will be a hard sell and it will give Labor a decent campaign pitch. If Shorten is the policy wanker he is supposed to be then they might put forward some that command the electorate’s attention.

Notwithstanding the importance of economics Shorten must come up with a narrative that grabs the attention of the community.

How should he go about it?

A starting point would be a narrative about the decline in our democracy and the conservative’s participation in it. He could take the moral high ground, even acknowledge the faults, the corruption on both sides together with the destruction of our parliamentary conventions (the afore-mentioned Dutton action is an example)and institutions. Shout the need for a new truly representative democracy as often as Abbott said “Stop the Boats”.

In every utterance say that good democracies can only deliver good government and outcomes if the electorate demands it. Differentiate and deliver a campaign message that speaks to young and old alike by appealing to people to participate in this new democracy where all policy is centered on the common good. I can hear the first sentence of his first speech:

“I speak to all who have a common interest in renewing our democracy regardless of ideological association”.

Besides internal reform that engages its members, Labor needs to look at ways of opening our democracy to new ways of doing politics: ways that engage those that are in a political malaise so that they feel part of the decision-making process again.

Some examples of this are fixed terms, and the genuine reform of Question Time with an independent Speaker. Among many other things, Shorten needs to promote the principle of transparency by advocating things like no advertising in the final month of an election campaign, and policies and costing submitted in the same time frame. You can add reform of the Senate into this mix, and perhaps some form of citizen initiated referendum. Also things like implementing a National ICAC. Perhaps even a 10 point common good caveat on all legalisation.

He needs to convince people of a collective democracy that involves the people. A creative and exciting one.

In a future world dependent on innovation it will be ideas that determine government, and not the pursuit of power for power’s sake.

His narrative must convince the lost voters who have left our democracy to return. (and I am assuming that most would be Labor), He has to turn Labor’s ideology on its head, re-examine it, and then reintroduce it as an enlightened opposite to the Tea Party politics that conservatism has descended into.

Uppermost in his mind should be the ‘’say it like it is’’ rhetoric of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn.

He must promote and vigorously argue the case for action against growing inequality in all its nefarious guises, cast off its image of having moved to far to the right and replace it with a simple proposition of government for the common good.

Fighting an election in the fashion that we have become used to will not win government.

My thought for the day.

‘In the recipe of good leadership there are many ingredients. Popularity is but one. It however ranks far below getting things done for the common good’

Dear America, please don’t make Donald Trump your president

So Donald Trump wants to be president.

Well I would implore all Americans to think long and hard before casting a vote in his favour. Do you really, really want him in the White House?

I love America. One of the great things about America is that it embraces religious freedom. Take that away and not only will you diminish as the ‘land of the free’ but it just might not have the results that Trump hopes for. However, I’m not here to talk about that. There’s something else I want to warn you about.

I’ll start off with what a commenter on one of the articles on this site wrote:

I remember the first couple of weeks of Trump’s campaigning.

There were those who said that it was funny. They insisted the buffoon was in it just for publicity, he’d be gone in a month. The man was so ridiculous that common sense would prevail and people would dismiss him.

Rather than burn out, Trump has dragged the Republican candidates to [a] dangerous group … he has normalised ideas that should be abhorrent … he is desensitising the mass media. His comments draw much less outrage than they should.

Letting Trump spew his relentless, loathsome rubbish has not caused people to turn away in disgust. Rather, it has placed him as a front runner to be the next US president.

As a nation [Australia] we took a laid-back attitude . . . And how did that turn out? Well, as usual, the politicians resorted to pandering to the lowest denominators … fear and ignorance.

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” – Voltaire

The underlying message there is that we in Australia know exactly how it turns out. We’ve had a glimpse of what life under a Trump-like disaster can be like.

And that’s how it was under our recently dethroned prime minister, Tony Abbott. In two short but destructive years Tony Abbott completely turned on its head the character and soul of our nation. In two frightening years under this manipulating dangerous man we saw the rise of patriot groups, supported by rogue politicians … encouraging racists to whip up fear and hatred with a passion never before seen in this country. And that, simply, is what changed us.

Dangerous, powerful men – supported by an obliging media – can easily change any nation. If they can change an easy going, laid back nation like Australia one can only shudder what they might do to a nation that has been on edge since the terrible events of 9/11.

You’ve been lucky not having a leader anything like Abbott: One that has made us frightened of shadows; of having us fear anyone with a long beard, a tanned skin, or a different religion. Of making us afraid that these people, at best, will take our jobs and security. At worst, slit our throats.

He turned us into a nation of nervous, frightened, angry vigilantes. Vigilantes who have set fire to homes belonging to people who speak Arabic; who threatened to kill people just because their skin was dark; who wanted people expelled from this country simply because they spoke a different language; who assaulted people in the streets because they wore a scarf around their head. No questions asked. Anyone who looked ‘different’ was a threat to our national security and had to be dealt with. Attacks on these people have become more daring, more devastating, and more frequent as each week passes.

It hasn’t helped us or ‘saved’ us one little bit, because to put it simply, the threat wasn’t there in the first place. If anything, payback might be on the horizon. Or worse still, blowback.

Tony Abbott was removed from office a few months ago but the seeds of hate he planted are now growing uncontrollably wild and unchecked.

It is as if overnight we were no longer a tolerant and welcoming nation. Fear mongering prime ministers (or presidents) don’t succeed in such nations. Their political survival hinges on maintaining their political capital: fear. And then more fear.

Yes, there are troubles in the world which must be addressed, but are they being addressed by turning people against their neighbours, their work colleagues or people sharing the same bus? Are the troubles of the world being addressed when a young Muslim lady is bashed in a busy street in your city by stirred-up punks? Punks who, only a couple of years ago, would not have batted an eye lid at the same lady.

What good is it when the public discourse is one of hatred and violence? When talk around the local bar, the restaurant table, the coffee break at work or at family get-togethers is filled with nonsense at how people from other lands or other religions are obsessed with destroying us and our country. Yes, it’s nonsense, but people are frightened into believing it to be true.

Abbott frightened us and feasted on it. Trump will do the same to you.

And like Australia you have the same gutter-dwelling media who will keep boiling the pot of racism and bigotry for their own selfish needs.

Having said all that, I must say though that we’ve been lucky to date in that only kicks, punches and threats have been flowing. Blood has not been spilled. And that’s probably because of the one big difference we have with you. We don’t carry guns.

 

Australia versus USA on social housing – how do we compare?

By Dr Heather Holst

On a recent trip to the USA I was struck by the progress being made nationally to solve the homelessness crisis. A few major cities were proudly declaring they had ended veteran homelessness, while others claimed to have ended homelessness completely in their communities.

As deputy CEO of a major homelessness agency in Melbourne I was keen to understand how a country with a strong aversion to social welfare and government intervention seemed to be accepting a level of responsibility and even leadership in efforts to end homelessness.

I knew the US had a history of developing large scale affordable housing projects in several major cities. This was largely borne of the necessity to house a growing immigrant population and low income workforce throughout the early to mid-20th Century.

Much of the newer affordable housing development in the US is supported by low income housing tax credits provided to both not for profit and for profit organizations. For some large cities like New York the impetus for setting impressive targets like 200,000 new or reclaimed affordable housing properties by 2024 continues to relate to productivity and workforce.

New York Mayor Bill de Blaso has embarked on a serious campaign to boost affordable housing stock in that city by 200,000 because essential service workers like nurses, paramedics, and teachers have been priced out of the private rental market in that city. He also wants to provide housing for low income households (those earning under $24,000 a year) who have previously not qualified for ‘affordable housing’ because their income was too low.

Under de Blaso’s plan developers will adhere to mandated affordable housing quotas in where previously quotas were voluntary. The city will offer developers incentives such as the ability to increase the size of developments to compensate for the lower income generated from the affordable stock. It will also offer tax credits and other incentives for new construction. It will also extend financial assistance to landlords who offer or extend regulated rent to tenants that provides security of tenure.

In contrast Australia’s affordable housing stock has been rapidly shrinking in recent decades and all levels of Government have contributed to the crisis that we now find ourselves in. A combination of bad social policy, a lack of leadership at the federal level and a lack of planning and investment at the state and local levels has contributed to the housing crisis affecting hundreds of thousands of Australians today.

In 2011 Australia recorded a shortage of over half a million rental properties and working in the housing sector I can guarantee that number has increased since then. In Melbourne alone it is estimated that only 1% of rental properties are affordable for low income families.

A Senate inquiry into affordable housing in Australia reported in May this year that the market was not capable of solving the affordable housing crisis. The report was critical of the lack of a coordinated national response on this issue.

One of the findings that resonates with the success of the US model was the need to attract private investors into developing low cost housing. This will only be attractive to developers if incentives are offered along the line of the tax credits available to private investors in the US.

Despite cuts in federal affordable housing subsidy programs in the US, New York’s local government has prioritized a boost in supply through a coordinated effort involving 13 city agencies and buy in from more than 200 developers, and other interested parties. They have also committed $8.2 billion in public funds over 10 years to the plan.

The Low Income Housing Tax Credit in the US is part of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Since its inception it has leveraged over $100 billion of private investment capital which has financed the development of 2.8 million homes for low income families.

It is now widely acknowledged now in Australia that housing affordability and homelessness are not marginal issues that we can continue to ignore in the hope that they will go away. There is no stereotype of ‘a homeless person’. While people from low income and disadvantaged backgrounds or those experiencing family violence, mental health or drug and alcohol issues continue to be hardest hit by the housing crisis in this country, it is increasingly impacting on middle class households.

So how can we learn from the US experience which is by no means perfect but has made significant inroads into a problem that really shouldn’t exist in wealthy, developed nations?
The most significant factor in the success of the US model is political leadership. This leadership comes from Washington and flows down to the states and local authorities who are taking up the challenge issued from the top to end homelessness in local communities.

The approach has been considered and well planned. Where it works best it incorporates well thought out public policy and strategic planning and financing from federal, state and local governments. It refocuses the issue of homelessness and housing affordability as an issue the whole community has a level of responsibility for.

I’m hopeful that Melbourne, with a Mayor who is genuinely concerned about homelessness and housing affordability and a strong philanthropic community that includes construction companies like Grocon, can come up with a New York style plan. It might not be as impressive in scale but it would send a message to Canberra and our neighbouring states that we are serious about an inclusive and humane future for our city. One that affords everyone the very basic right to safe, secure and affordable housing.

About the author: Launch Housing’s deputy CEO Heather Holst has worked in the housing sector since 1989. Heather joined HomeGround Services in 2009 as General Manager Client Services where she led the client services teams across all sites and programs.

Heather is passionate about ending homelessness and is committed to leading Launch Housing in working towards this mission.

Her housing experience spans homelessness service delivery, tenancy advocacy, homelessness policy, program development, research, rural homelessness service coordination in both the non-profit sector and government since 1989.

Heather co-authored the Opening Doors initiative and has contributed to key Victorian housing and homelessness innovations including the coordination of all services, transitional housing, standards, data, rights-based approaches and sector training.

Prior to working in the housing sector, Heather worked in the publishing industry for Penguin Books as a sales representative and then as reader and copy editor and for the Australian Women’s Book Review as business manager.

Heather has a Ph.D. in History from the University of Melbourne. She has published scholarly articles, book chapters and a book, Making a Home: A History of Castlemaine. She taught history for several years at Australian Catholic University, including in the Clemente program for people who have been homeless.

 

Terrorism in Australia

I wonder how I would feel about the title of this article if I lived in Syria or Lebanon, Somalia or Pakistan, Yemen, Palestine, Israel, Nigeria …or even France, Spain, Russia, the UK or the US – or pretty much anywhere other than Australia.

On September 12, 2014, Australia’s security alert was raised to high indicating that a terrorist attack was ‘likely’.  Billions of dollars have been diverted to national security and draconian laws impinging on our civil liberties have been enacted.

A week after raising the threat level, more than 800 police launched synchronised raids on a few houses and vehicles across Sydney’s west and north-west, and Brisbane’s south to ‘foil a plot’ where some guy from IS had apparently been ringing people asking them to behead a member of the public after snatching them from the street in Sydney.  These raids were filmed and distributed to the media before investigations had been carried out and before any charges had been laid.

Four days later, an 18 year old man who had been under surveillance by police in what was reportedly a two-year operation, was asked to come to the police station to discuss behaviour “which had been causing some concern”. When the man arrived outside the station, he stabbed the two officers, one from Victorian police and one from the AFP, as they went to meet him.  He was shot dead.

Would the outcome of this lengthy operation have been different if this young man was asked to come in with his family and was instead greeted by a Muslim community leader and a youth counsellor?

Then in December 2014 we had the Lindt Café siege in Sydney where a deranged man shot and killed one hostage.  The police then shot him, and 4 other hostages, killing one.  The perpetrator was well known to all authorities, was inexplicably on bail for serious offences, and was the subject of 18 calls to the security hotline in the days before the siege as his Facebook posts became increasingly unhinged, not to mention his letters to politicians including the Attorney-General asking about contacting IS.  All of the security people being paid to assess risk dismissed the public’s concern and deemed him not a threat.

Would they have come to a different conclusion had mental health experts been assessing the information?

In April we saw three young men arrested because a 14 year old boy in England had been urging them online to target police officers involved in ANZAC commemorative activities.

And last month we saw the tragic murder of an accountant by a 15-year-old Iranian-born Iraqi-Kurdish boy who was then shot dead by security guards.

This case makes me terribly sad and angry.  Sad for the man who had harmed no-one but who was randomly assassinated and will never come home to his family, and immeasurably angry about the cowards who pretended to be the friends of a kid whose family had fled to Australia to find a safe place to raise their children.  These young men armed this child with a gun and hatred and then stood back like those kids in the playground yelling fight, fight.  They are beyond contempt.

Every life lost in this violence is a tragedy as brought home by the father of one of the victims in the Bataclan Theatre in Paris who said, “I can’t stop talking about my son.  If I do I will die.”

Yesterday in Nigeria, an 11 year old girl was used as a suicide bomber.

There are ignorant evil people in the world but we cannot combat them by violent means.  You cannot combat hatred with hatred.

Australia’s counter-terrorism strategy centres around “five main pillars: Challenging violent extremist ideologies, stopping people from becoming terrorists, shaping the global environment, disrupting terrorist activity within Australia, and effective response and recovery.”

If I was writing a counter-terrorism strategy my pillars would be education, lifting people out of poverty, providing jobs and infrastructure, protecting and respecting minorities, and investing in mental health and social support.

Perhaps we are comparatively protected from terrorism in Australia because of the vigilance of our security forces.  Or maybe it’s because life is good here and we must fight to make sure it remains that way for all Australians regardless of religion and ethnicity.

 

There must be a better way

Solving the problems in the Middle East is a task we cannot achieve but we can certainly do better in Australia to protect our children from the harm others would try to inflict on them and to improve social cohesion by embracing diversity and tolerance.

What do our police hope to achieve when they send in hundreds of armed men to storm a few houses in the middle of the night screaming, searching as terrified families and neighbours watch on, dragging off teenagers, locking them up incommunicado, and then usually releasing them without charge?

Why are these raids filmed and the footage, if not captured by TV journalists along for the ride, immediately provided to the media?  Is it a show of strength?  Is it designed to terrify the Muslim community?  Should we be using fear as a weapon?

The government argues that we must protect the privacy of tax evaders but they are very quick to show the homes of people who have not been charged with any crime, to show them being led off in handcuffs, to detail evidence in the media before any trial has taken place.

In most instances, these raids have been sparked by information from the community rather than intelligence gathered by security agencies.  One wonders if the community will continue to be willing to pass on concerns if their children are subjected to such harsh treatment and penalties.  These actions are far more likely to build resentment rather than co-operation.

How could we do things differently?

Intervention should be constructive rather than punitive.

If you become aware of teenagers posting inflammatory stuff on social media, or being contacted by people with possible bad intent, instead of being heavy-handed, why not get the family together with local Muslim leaders, psychologists and social workers, police trained in cultural awareness, mentors – a non-threatening support group who can try to help a young person through a vulnerable period.

We should listen to young people and learn about what they are looking for.  Show them a way to a happier life, a different path.  Help them know their own worth as a contributing member of our society with all of us working to make it a safe and tolerant place for our families to grow.

Rather than looking for solutions, the government is spending a fortune on how to spin its approach.  The Department of Immigration and Border Protection and its agencies spend up to $9.2 million on communications staff salaries alone.

They have now hired a group called Talkforce Media and Communications Strategists to provide media training to its top executives.  Talkforce trains clients to deal with “difficult media situations” and manage “controversial issues and close media scrutiny”. Its full-day workshops include mock television interviews that teach clients “how to take control of an interview, even when under pressure”.

“Talkforce Media and Communications Strategists can help you tailor and direct messages to your audience in order to be heard over all the competing noise that exists in this modern and technology-driven age.”

Managing the message has become on obsession.  Whatever happened to telling the truth?

It comes back down to respect.

Do those who want to stop mosques being built and to ban halal certification of food want to impose their religious beliefs and dietary choices on us all?  These people who live in irrational fear that Sharia law is about to be universally imposed cannot see they are trying to do the same thing.  Security forces use fear and force to fight against those who use fear and force.

There must be a better way.

Does a successful ERF auction bid really help an Australian company to remain competitive?

By Dr Anthony Horton

Now that the results of the second Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) auction have been released, I think it is reasonable (and important) to reflect on how being successful in an auction could assist an Australian company to remain competitive (and enhance their competitiveness) on the world stage.

In analysing the auction results, Climate Institute CEO John Connor pointed to the need for a policy focus that will show the world that Australia has a clean and modern economy. He also put the results into context in terms of the first two auctions contributing 3.5% of Australia’s total emissions to 2030, representing 8% of a 2030 abatement target commensurate with Australia making its rightful contribution to the 2°C warming cap and representing 15% of the Government’s current 2030 target.

The Media Release from the Climate Institute yesterday afternoon gave a very good analysis of auction outcomes and prompted me to think about “what next” from the point of view of an Australian company. This is prudent given the way that many international Governments and large very well known brands are moving on the opportunities that climate change is already presenting and will continue to present going forward.

Those of you that have read my previous blog posts will know that I analyse and comment on the international policy landscape with respect to climate change and the response of the business community. As a result of following both of these closely, five points come to mind that the Australian Government and companies will need to grapple with (and rather quickly find workable solutions for) in order to both reduce their emissions and maintain (and over time increase) their international competitiveness.

1) Governments will need to implement innovative policies that empower companies to identify and pursue low carbon opportunities. By its very name, the ERF offers Australian companies opportunities to implement lower emission projects. This assumes they were successful in the bidding process and can comply with all of the contractual compliance conditions including delivery timelines of course.

These conditions (and others that successful bidders are required to agree to) are quite onerous, and given that taxpayers’ money has been put up for the fund, many Australians would say that such conditions are perfectly justified. If an Australian company wasn’t successful or did not bid, it is difficult to see where the incentive to identify and pursue such opportunities are in a domestic context given that keeping the doors open is challenging enough in Australia at present.

2) There is a clear signal that future policies need to mandate or incentivise the procurement of a large percentage of a companies’ energy needs from renewable sources. In previous blogs I have highlighted examples of Governments increasing their investment in renewable energy and multinational corporations factoring this into their procurement decisions-for either goods or services (or even for both). As a result of doing this, not only have cost savings been realised, their corporate social responsibility profile has (in some cases) been significantly transformed.

The corporations that are making such procurement decisions have realised the importance of continuous improvement in terms of their own business performance, and therefore it is justifiable that they ask this of suppliers. At present I don’t see how the ERF or the Direct Action Policy assists Australian companies with this. I am aware of Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) funding for renewable projects, however again that is a competitive process and if you aren’t successful where is the incentive then?

3) It is clear that science based emission reduction targets are gaining significant traction in both Government and business spheres. The We Mean Business Coalition has published detailed guidance information on how to do this-whether by the 3% solution, by cutting absolute emissions, using value added approaches or lastly the Sectoral Decarbonisation Approach (SDA). Again targets like this clearly demonstrate that corporations understand the challenges and opportunities that climate change presents. Being market based, those that adopt these could see their competitive advantage grow over time.

The ERF is predominantly designed for individual projects rather than a series of projects one after the other, and while companies can reduce their emissions over time for that project (above comments regarding contractual compliance notwithstanding) I find it difficult to see how it encourages Australian companies to set science based emission reduction targets.

4) Pricing carbon internally and 5) investing in renewable energies and low carbon assets are both fairly self explanatory. Given that there is no longer a carbon pricing mechanism in Australia, once again it is difficult to see where the incentives are for Australian companies to do this. Perhaps the best illustration of the worldwide hunger to invest in renewables is the divestment movement. The sheer scale of the divestment movement, and the range of sectors that are embracing divestment shows that corporations have essentially charted their future course, irrespective of future developments (including the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris). At the risk of sounding like a broken record, under the current Government policy settings I can’t see how Australian companies are assisted to price carbon internally or invest in renewable energies and low carbon assets (above ERF and ARENA comments not withstanding).

Overall, I think it is reasonably clear that, successful in an ERF auction or not, Australian companies have a lot to do in order to remain internationally competitive in a world that is clearly intent on reducing carbon emissions. Given that trillions of dollars will be required post Paris to maintain the current pledges, the Australian Government will have to play its part in that investment and examine how their policy settings may need to change to support Australia’s share and ensure that Australian companies remain competitive.

rWdMeee6_peAbout the author: Anthony Horton holds a PhD in Environmental Science, a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours and a Diploma of Carbon Management. He has a track record of delivering customised solutions in Academia, Government, the Mining Industry and Consulting based on the latest wisdom and his scientific background and experience in Climate/Atmospheric Science and Air Quality. Anthony’s work has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals and presented at international and national conferences, and he is currently on the Editorial Board of the Journal Nature Environment and Pollution Technology. Anthony also blogs on his own site, The Climate Change Guy.

 

Dear Mr Murdoch

By Bob Rafto.

Dear Mr Murdoch

Life’s good for an old fella it seems and may you live long to enjoy it. However, there is a growing chorus of voices who would prefer that you don’t.

What I wish to write to you about is my disgust towards your attitude that Australia is a mere entry in a balance sheet: one where paltry tax is paid but where your yields and power are great. One where you are able to squeeze $882 million from a Murdoch friendly government. One where you can be seen in the likes of Google, Apple and Microsoft (to name a few) and collectively benefit from the ‘legitimate’ evasion of what denies Australia an alleged $10Billion in taxes.

murdoch taxThe Australian tax system has been designed with its current rates to generate sufficient tax revenue to help meet Australia’s many needs. Yet you, Mr Murdoch, are our country’s greatest risk as you endeavor to avoid paying your share of this tax. This all adds up to not only derailing our economy but denying services to any number of Australians.

So in effect, as the society becomes less affluent it will impact on demand for goods and services and undoubtedly it will impact on your own profits, as it will on any corporation with business in Australia. It’s commonsense. On the other hand, if you paid your taxes you are helping to build the economy which in no doubt will increase the profits of your goods and services, yet you choose to be a corporate leaner on 23 million Aussies.

Australia is the country that catapulted you to become one of the richest and influential persons of your time and your thanks to this great country is to rip off its citizens with a behaviour that I compare to that of a common corporate thief.

I believe there was once an admiration of your achievements by the Australian public, however this sentiment has been changing rapidly over the past few years and the sentiment emerging is now one of hate.

In simple words, Mr Murdoch, you are a burden on the tax system. In my eyes you are stealing from us.

Keep this in mind, Mr Murdoch, if you and the others keep on taking and taking there will be a point when there will be nothing left to take.

Yours in contempt

Bob Rafto

 

The top 5 signs that your country’s Refugee Policy is a disaster

Australia’s Minister for Saying-We’ve-Stopped-the-Boats – one Mr Peter ‘PDuddy’ Dutton – was out and about this morning defending what he and his government believe is the best and most successful immigration policy EVER.

I decided to check out PDuddy’s claim against the following officialesque list …

The Top 5 signs your Refugee Policy is a disaster

Number Five: Refugees would rather return to possible death in a war-zone

than stay in the Refugee Centres your country provides

The Australian government has worked hard to convince as many refugees as it can to return to their home countries, despite the considerable potential risk to those refugees that doing so entails.

One Syrian refugee – Eyad – elected to return to probable death in Syria a few months ago, saying he would prefer to die with his family in Syria rather than stay on Manus island. On arriving in Syria he was arrested and tortured for 20 days. Following his release, he was allowed to return to his former home village where he was subsequently hit by shrapnel and saw his father die before him.

Number Four: You put refugees in the care of a government that has made

money from selling passports to terrorists & money-laundering

The way that Peter Dutton pontificates about ‘smashing’ the business of people-smugglers, you’d think he’d donned a cape and mask and turned into a one-man regional crime-fighting machine.

What PDuddy conveniently forgets to mention, when boasting of his crime-fighting achievements, is that the Australian government is propping up the Nauru government with our Refugee policy – and that the Nauru government is so beleaguered by corruption claims that the New Zealand government recently cut off aid to them.  PDuddy also leaves out the fact that this same government was previously heavily sanctioned by the international community for selling Nauruan passports to terrorists and laundering money for the Russian Mafia.

Number Three: Your Refugee Centres make it onto the UNHRC’s torture list

In March this year, the UN Human Rights Commission released its report on torture, naming Australia as a country who had breached the UN Convention against Torture in our Refugee camps.

Of course our government raced to immediately set up a Royal Commission to investigate the issues raised by the UN. Oh wait – no,  that was a Royal Commission into the unions. What our government actually did in response to the UN report was to say that it was sick of being lectured.

Number Two: You are spending more on your Refugee Policy than the

combined GDP of 9 small countries

In 2015, the Australian government spent at least 4 billion on its Refugee Policy – of which 3 billion was to look after offshore refugees (including just under 1600 refugees on Nauru and Manus Island).

This is the equivalent of the combined GDP in 2014 for Tonga, Micronesia, Palau, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Sao Tome and Principe, Dominica and Comoros.

By way of contrast, the UN has a budget of $157 million USD for 2015 to look after over 200,000 refugees in South-East Asia.

Number One: A country in the Axis-of-Evil thinks you’ve gone too far

Over 110 countries lined up at the UN this week to comment on Australia’s refugee policies. In fact, so many countries wanted to raise issues at the periodic UN review, that each was given a time limit of just over a minute to speak. Between them they still managed to raise over 300 concerns in just that space of time.

Among their number was long-term member of Bush’s ‘Axis-of-evil’ – North Korea – who said that they:

have serious concerns at the continued reports of … violence against refugees and asylum seekers“.

It’s official – Australia’s refugee policy is a disaster …

In all seriousness – our refugee policy really IS a disaster. It is pure propaganda  – truthiness at its finest – to suggest otherwise.

And still Peter Dutton keeps a straight face while he claims that Australia’s Refugee policy:

  • has saved lives – this is doubtful at best;
  • has stopped people smugglers – if this were true, who exactly are they paying to turn around?
  • to be the most generous in the world – this is actually an insult to countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan who lay true claim to this title. We are literally nowhere near.
  • to have protected our borders – from who exactly? From victims of war, terrorism, torture and persecution, who, if they had the funds to arrive here by plane would be allowed to stay? When did we start needing protection from victims? The reality is that these are the world’s most vulnerable people being used as political pawns. They aren’t terrorists. Or economic migrants. They are people with no safe place to call home.

It doesn’t matter what measure you pick …

  • financial
  • humanitarian
  • doing our bit globally
  • stopping crime in the region
  • making our country more secure, or
  • just plain common decency.

… there is not a single measure that doesn’t point at our government’s Refugee Policy as being at best an abject failure, and at worst a complete disaster that will haunt us in years to come.

This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.

 

Let’s have some truth

If we are going to have a conversation about taxation reform it would be useful if our Treasurer told the truth.

When asked about using the GST to fund tax cuts, Scott Morrison said “When you have the average wage earner in this country about to move into the second-highest tax bracket at $80,000 next year, you’ve got a problem with the incentives in your tax system.”

The most obvious reaction to this statement is wouldn’t it be easier to just change the bracket thresholds?

But beyond that, Morrison’s statement is misleading for several reasons.

Moving into the next tax bracket means you only pay the higher rate for the portion of your income over the threshold so if you if you are just above the limit it will make very little difference to the amount of tax you pay.

Moving into the second top tax bracket means you would pay an extra 4.5c for each dollar over $80,000. Because of the generous tax free threshold, the effective tax rate for this bracket ranges between 21.9 – 30.3%.  This is never taken into account when making international comparisons.

Annual income of $80,000 gives weekly earnings of $1538. According to the ABS, in August 2014, the mean weekly earnings of employees and owner managers of incorporated enterprises in all jobs was $1,189 compared to $1,156 in 2013, nowhere near the $80,000 limit and unlikely to get there any time soon.

What’s more, there is a glaring gender disparity. For males the mean weekly earnings in all jobs was $1,410 and for females it was $948.

It is not until we take the specific subset of ‘males working full-time’ that Morrison’s statement comes close to being true. Mean weekly earnings for full-time workers in all jobs was $1,448 ($1,592 for males and $1,264 for females).

But is using the average even valid?

As any high school maths student can tell you, when you have a skewed distribution, as is the case with income, the median (middle score) is a far more reliable measure of central tendency.

The median weekly earnings in all jobs in 2014 was $1,000 ($1,185 for males and $838 for females) ie 50% of employees earned less than $52,000 a year.

Part-time workers represent 32% of the workforce and understandably, their earnings are lower. Median weekly earnings for full-time workers was $1,200 compared to $467 for part-time workers.

The difference between the mean and the median demonstrates the asymmetric distribution of earnings, where a relatively small number of employees and OMIEs have comparatively very high earnings with some 400,000 earning over $3000 per week.

At August 2014, 10% of people had weekly earnings in main job below $300, while the top 10% had weekly earnings in main job over $2,143.

earnings

Income tax has become less progressive in recent times, due mainly to the succession of income tax cuts during the Howard boom years. According to The Australia Institute’s Matt Grudnoff, only 3 per cent of taxpayers are in the top tax bracket now, compared to 13 per cent 10 years ago, so any bracket creep is just redressing the profligacy of Howard’s vote buying.

Whilst progressive taxation goes some way to addressing income inequality, the rapidly rising wealth inequality in Australia is taxed very lightly.

On the latest figures available, the median net worth of Australian households – that is, their assets minus their liabilities – was $1.59 million for the top 20 per cent and $29,600 for the bottom 20 per cent in 2011-12.

The capital gain on the family home is not taxed at all, while that on other assets is taxed at half the rate of savings such as bank interest. Superannuation is taxed at a concessional rate that provides the largest benefit to higher income earners. The combination of the 50 per cent capital gains tax and negative gearing makes investment housing an attractive option for many, particularly higher income earners, while lower income earners are increasingly shut out of the market.

Unlike other developed countries, Australia has no wealth tax, inheritance tax or gift duties, although they potentially provide the most direct means of curbing rising wealth inequality

Most capital investment or entrepreneurship faces a substantially lower rate than the personal marginal rate – either through the CGT 50 per cent discount, or the company tax rate of 30 per cent or 28.5 per cent for small companies. If you sit at home and make $50,000 on trading shares you will be substantially better off than someone who works hard all year to earn the same amount.

The Coalition like to point to New Zealand whose top marginal rate is only 33% (ours is currently 45%+2% medicare levy+2% temporary surcharge) but what they fail to point out is that there is no tax free threshold in NZ – you pay tax on every dollar earned – and the top rate kicks in at $70,000 instead of $180,000.

NZ has a 15% GST, another fact Morrison like to point to, but they have no general capital gains tax (although it can apply to some specific investments), no local or state taxes apart from property rates levied by local councils and authorities, no payroll tax, and a 1.45% levy for New Zealand’s accident compensation injury insurance scheme. They have chosen a higher GST rate to fund government services.

Modelling from the Parliamentary Budget Office has shown that increasing the GST to 12.5% or broadening its base would raise the same amount as a carbon price of $28/tonne but cost households about three times as much hence requiring much greater compensation for low income households.

The solutions seem so obvious but conservative ideology will blind this government to what must be done and once again, those least able to afford it will bear the brunt of the Liberals ‘lower taxes’ mantra.

 

First Class Travel and the Danger of Extremism . . .

This morning Paul Sheehan quoted Canadian author, Mark Steyn who was over in Europe to see what immigration had done. Canada, of course, has been ruined by immigration – just ask the indigenous population!

However, we’re not talking about Canada here, we’re more interested in a how a Canadian perceives Europe. Apparently early on in his visit there was an a rather nasty incident. Sheehan quoted Steyn:

“I was looking forward to sitting back and enjoying the peace and quiet of Scandinavian First Class. But, just as I took my seat and settled in, a gaggle of ‘refugees’ swarmed in, young bearded men and a smaller number of covered women, the lads shooing away those first-class ticket holders not as nimble in securing their seats…

“They seemed to take it for granted that asylum in Europe should come with complimentary first-class travel … The conductor gave a shrug, the great universal shorthand for there’s-nothing-I-can do.”

Refugees taking it for granted that they should travel first class is outrageous enough, but that first class travellers should have to put with men with beards “swarming” in. Although how Steyn managed to determine that they were refugees and not hipsters, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was the “covered women’, because, after all, this was Scandinavian first class travel and it’s my understanding that everyone’s naked there most of the time, but that could be because I reduce everything to stereotypes.

Of course, the same mental powers of clairvoyance that enabled the writer to tell that they were asylum seekers and to determine exactly what the conductor meant by his shrug, enabled him to see that they both clearly knew that travel comes in classes and that they had an economy class ticket but were choosing to travel first class, out some sense of entitlement. Now, a socialist might suggest that those in first class also had a sense of entitlement but, as we know in Australia, the age of entitlement is over so that socialist would be wrong.

Of course, Paul Sheehan goes on to tell us about how this influx of refugees is causing a lurch to the right and how anti-immigration parties are gaining ground in many European countries. He talks about Germany’s decision causing problems with social cohesion because as he says:

“Too late. More than 500 arson attacks have occurred in Germany this year targeting housing designated for refugees.”

Now, I could go on to quote a lot more of Paul Sheehan’s article but the basic thrust of it seems to be an attempt to make Tony’s “Jesus didn’t know what he was taking about it and I was just so awesome that I stopped the boats speech” seem reasonable.  I think you’ve probably got the gist. It takes the view that if people are starting to believe something then it must be true, which makes an interesting contrast to views on climate change where people are just being gullible and going along with a majority.

He goes on using the sort of logic that suggests that Reclaim Australia is the result of the Liberals being too left-wing before concluding with:

“This encapsulates a growing view in Europe from which you may recoil, as it contrasts starkly with the liberal belief that the West has a moral obligation to help the wretched.

I doubt the liberal view will prevail. The dots are starting to connect. They point to a gathering storm, building on millions of small indignities and disappointments which, over time, will add up to something large.”

Yep, once you fail to see the irony in a Canadian complaining about foreigners disturbing his “Scandinavian first class travel”, then it’s a small step to argue that refugees are causing problems with social cohesion because people are attacking them.

But then consistency has always been in short supply when it comes to politics.

 

Free Trade Agreements – economic or electoral?

Since September 2013, the ‘achievements’ of our government could be broadly summarised by ‘knock it down, rip it up, sell it off or shoot it.’

Their one supposedly constructive achievement, apart from promises about roads, is hastily finalising several free trade agreements.

Aside from the co-incidence/concern of agreements that had been negotiated over several years all reaching conclusion at the same time (what did we agree to?), are these actually in Australia’s best interests or are they just political opportunities?

When John Howard signed the Free Trade Agreement with the US in 2004, it was suggested that his motive was electoral rather than economic – to highlight the American alliance and hope that if Labor opposed it it could be cast as anti-American, and hence a security risk.

The Coalition’s reaction to Labor’s attempts to safeguard Australian jobs in the China FTA has used a similar approach, branding Labor as racist.

In the first five years after the signing of the US FTA, Australia’s exports to the US grew by only 2.5 per cent, compared with double-digit growth for exports to all the major Asian trading partners.  America slipped from third to fifth among Australian export destinations, overtaken by Korea and India.

By 2009, the value of Australian exports to the US was only about a quarter of those to the two leading customers, China and Japan. The four Asian countries together took more than 10 times the value of exports to the US despite having no such trade agreements.

Moreover, between 2004 and 2009, the bilateral trade gap in America’s favour grew even larger. Australia’s imports from America grew much more quickly than its exports to America. According to US data, the gap in America’s favour grew from $US6.4 billion to $US11.6 billion.

In 2004 Australian exports to America were worth about 54 per cent of the value of imports from that country. By 2009 the figure was down to 41 per cent.

And our current endeavours do not promise any better.

Hockey’s second MYEFO showed a revenue write-down of $1.6 billion due to the FTA with Japan.

Also, the agreements with Japan and Korea effectively sounded the death knell for our car industry and manufacturing more broadly.

The Chinese deal on beef is only for an extra 10% exports before a trigger where tariffs will be charged again, and the proposed tariff reduction will not fully take place for nine years.

Agribusiness lawyer Lea Fua told a Brisbane hearing that China has a safeguard clause which allows it to add customs duties to fresh and frozen beef carcasses and meat when Australian beef imports hit a volume trigger of 170,000 tonnes.

“In 2013-14, Australia exported 161,000 tonnes of beef to China worth $787 million,” Mr Fua told the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Treaties.

“The concern here is that given the growth in Australian beef exports to China, which has been exponential in the last few years, the risk here is that the trigger will be reached fairly quickly and China is able to apply extra customs duty which appears to be against the spirit of chapter two [of the FTA],” he said.

Mr Fua said a similar situation applies to Chinese imports of Australian milk and cream solids.

As Bob Katter has warned, rather than being the food bowl for Asia, on current trajectory, Australia will become a net importer of food, and pretty much everything else other than coal and iron ore.  This will have significant implications for domestic prices as farmers can make a greater profit by exporting their produce.

If, as the unions warn, foreign companies are allowed to bring in their own workers, it becomes even more difficult to believe these agreements are in the best interests of our country.

A bilateral meeting with a friendly leader presents many domestic political advantages. It gives the appearance of advancing the national interests and attracts intense and usually uncritical media coverage, but it inevitably favours the biggest countries, such as the US and China. Their power affords them superior bargaining leverage to win concessions favouring their domestic constituencies.

After bilateral meetings, leaders can sing each other’s praises and hail the breakthrough their mutual brilliance has achieved. In practice, the promised benefits often fade just a little more slowly than the TV lights.

 

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