Sunday, March 30, 2014

Racing back to the fifties

 Photo Sydney Morning Herald

Much hilarity throughout the land at the PM's announcement that he was bringing back the titles of Sir and Dame, confirming that his mind is firmly back in the days of empire.

Much criticism too, not just from the left and republicans but from his own party, and even from his mentor, arch-conservative John Winston Howard.

But there are deeper problems highlighted by his action.

He didn't bother to discuss it with his colleagues in the coalition, he simply took to the media to announce he was doing it. That's a worry in a democracy.

So is the fact that it demonstrates yet again his fifties mindset, far from what the country, any country, needs in the twenty-first century.

And of course his total contempt for what the majority want, and what they want is clear from the reaction.

I was also disappointed to see that the outgoing Governor General Quentin Bryce accepted the title of Dame, after previously declaring her republican leanings. I wish she'd gracefully declined the offer.

Attorney-General encourages bigots

George Brandis seems to be trying to outdo the appalling Philip Ruddock in the role of Attorney-General.

The highest law officer in the land told the Senate: "People do have a right to be bigots you know. In a free country people do have rights to say things that other people find offensive or insulting or bigotted."  

His boss, PM Abbott, backed him when questioned in parliament too.

It was in the context of their plan to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and replace it with a watered-down version.

RACIAL DISCRIMINATION ACT 1975 - SECT 1

Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin
             (1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
                     (a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
                     (b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group. 

By the way, the next Section of the Act says:

RACIAL DISCRIMINATION ACT 1975 - SECT 18D

Exemptions
                   Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith:
                     (a)  in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or
                     (b)  in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest; or
                     (c)  in making or publishing:
                              (i)  a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or
                             (ii)  a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment. 

So it doesn't seem much like an attack on free speech to me.

Unsurprisingly there's been a huge backlash, and not just from the left. Coalition MPs have said they will vote against the bill, Premier O'Farrel here in NSW has rejected it, Fairfax newspapers reported the Cabinet had insisted they back off, which they're doing to a degree.

Still, at least the true beliefs of the PM and his ministers are in the spotlight.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Medicare disaster

I expected an Abbott government to be bad for us but it's turning out to be even worse than I feared.

The projected sale of Medicare is the latest example. A bad move which will benefit the few at the expense of the majority, but it'll go ahead because of a mixture of ideology and self-aggrandisement.

Abbott has declared that he wants to be remembered as 'the infrastructure PM'. A short term windfall of four or five billion dollars for Medicare will allow him to build something towards his wish. But it's such a short term objective and it's bad management.

Keep Medicare in public ownership and its contributions of several hundred million dollars a year would go on year after year. Commit that to infrastructure and we and future generations would continue to benefit, rather than the little we'll get for a one-off headline-grabbing spend.

Ideologically the sensible course is the middle road, naturally. There are various things that are of such national interest that they need to be in public ownership.

Others need to be in public ownership to ensure the common good, Commonwealth Bank and Medicare being prime examples of that.

Had ComBank not been sold off we'd have much more influence over the banking sector.

Each time the Reserve Bank lowers interest rates there are howls of protest because the banks don't pass it on in full or quickly. Had ComBank been in public ownership they would have immediately passed on the full rate decrease and the competition would have been forced to follow.

Same with Medicare. Keep it in public ownership and premiums/benefits can be controlled, which means that competitors are also constrained in what they do.

But when they go into private ownership the interests of the shareholders become the focus, as it must. Profits have to be maximised and, of course, top executives will have massive salary increases and big bonuses.  That means either higher premiums or reduced benefits, or both. And the other players will follow.

So the budget loses an annual income of several hundred million dollars, we lose influence over the private health insurance market, we'll end up paying more for less.

Another reason to vote them out next election.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Totally inappropriate

A local story that seems to have gone viral is that of a coffee shop manager's rant about the inappropriate use of mobile phones.

He put up a sign saying "Fifty cent surcharge for being on the phone at the counter. It's rude!"

Murdoch newspapers carried an obviously set-up photo of him at the counter:

Photo. Waide Maguire. News Ltd.

I agree the mobile phone thing is rude - but then IMO he's equally rude greeting his customers while dressed in his underwear. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The amnesia defence

So many politicians, dodgy businessmen and other assorted wrongdoers lose their memory when fronting up to questioning that it seems to be an epidemic. The same people are amongst the worst informed in the country too, judging by the things they didn't know.

Cardinal George Pell is the latest to be suffering from the affliction.

Inevitably the Royal Commission into child sex abuse has heard that he 'wasn't aware' and 'couldn't remember' in today's hearings.

He also fell back on the old 'we're not as bad as others' non-defence, when he said that sexual abuse by priests was “a mighty issue for us because it is so contrary to what we should be about”.
But “whatever the deficiencies, I think we were ahead of some countries”, he said.

The next amnesiac in line will be Senator Arthur Sinodinos when he fronts up to the ICAC hearings. 

He's done the 'didn't know' bit already. Chairman of AWH at the same time as being NSW Liberal Party Treasurer he didn't know that donations were going from AWH to his Libs.


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Crying wolf

The gold medal for whingeing in 2013 has to go to Gerry Harvey, chairman of Harvey Norman.

He was in the news regularly through the year, whingeing about the tough times retail was having, the unfair competition from online shopping, that Aussies weren't spending, that it was the worst he'd experienced in all his years in business.

He's just announced Harvey Norman's half year results. Revenue up 3.6% at $2.99 billion, nett profit up 36% at $111.42 million.

Yep, times are tough, plenty to whinge about.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Spin doctors to block the news

Interesting revelation in Sydney Morning Herald that the Scott Morrison's Immigration Department employs a team of 66 spin doctors media liaison officers.

That's up from just 13 a couple of years ago.

It's our taxes that pay their salaries, and as it's the most secretive of all the ministries we seem to be paying them to block any news getting out to us.

That was borne out by this para in the story: (We) asked the Immigration Department to comment on staffing levels, but were referred to Mr Morrison's media team, who did not respond to questions.