Posts Tagged ‘John Howard’

Today is Australia Day, a national holiday marking the arrival of The First Fleet to establish a penal colony on Terra Australis in on January 26, 1788.

There is plenty to celebrate in this nation with an overall standard of living ahead of most of the world. But there is also a darker side to things. (more…)

I have not been posting here nearly as frequently as I would wish to be. However ‘real’ life has been sticking its sticky fingers into my so-called life and making quite a mess of things.

What inspires me to start furiously bashing away at the keyboard once more was a line I heard in interview on this morning’s radio – that whoever governs Australia after the next election shall have to face the same problem as now, that prices of resources are dropping thereby reducing the incoming revenue stream.

Once upon a time, Australia was said to ‘ride on the sheep’s back.’ That harks back to the glory days of wool, particularly once wool hit the magic ‘a pound (cash) for a pound (of wool in weight)’ mark. And a great deal of that wool was exported bringing additional monies into the country. Wool and other agricultural products do not have the same degree of economic importance in that respect any longer – still important but not in a position of ovine jockeying.

The place of the traditional agricultural products in the economic scheme of things has frequently been taken by another primary product – production of raw resources through mining, although the mining industry goes through cycles of practically dizzying highs and crashing lows. Like any export market, it is very much price driven. If the price isn’t there to justify the cost of production, then mining ceases.

Photo: Chris Lane

John Howard Photo: Chris Lane

For years now, Australia has been in the midst of riding a boom in resources prices. This was a product of external matters such as expansion of Chinese industrial capabilities and therefore demands for products such as coal and iron ore. Despite what some may say, this didn’t have anything to do with Australian economic policy etc. The Howard government rode this wave throughout its time in office. Of course the Howard era also had another unexpected bonus – huge amounts of Goods and Services Tax revenue from sales of petrol at the service stations. Why? Australian’s participation in George Bush’s Coalition of the Gullible (or whatever it was called). The invasion of Iraq over mythical weapons of mass destruction drove the price of oil through the roof on the various exchanges. And so the price at the pump jumped big-time. And accordingly GST revenue exploded upwards, way beyond revenue forecasts. Again it was a revenue stream that was not a direct consequence of government policy. What happened to that excess revenue is a subject for another rant, another time.

Kevin RuddPicture: Kym Smith Source: The Daily Telegraph

Kevin Rudd
Picture: Kym Smith Source: The Daily Telegraph

Howard’s successors in government, the Labor governments of Kevin Rudd and then Julie Gillard, kept on surfing the resources boom. Those revenue streams helped fund Australia’s hedge that kept off the worst of the GFC in this country.

Along the way we’ve seen those who own the mining interests have their wealth simply skyrocket. The infamous Clive Palmer in Queensland, bought into mining interests at the right time and his wealth escalated dramatically. Even more significant was Gina Reinhart, after convincing Daddy on his deathbed to put her back into his will and then managing the collapse of one of the trusts Daddy had set up to benefit Gina’s despised step-Mother (who seemed to be a gold digger anyway), thereby directing yet more wealth in her direction. Reinhart is now a multi-billionaire (and no, it’s not defamation, just a rather crude simplification of already well-documented facts).

Gina Rinehart protests against the mining tax last year. Photo: Tony Asby

Gina Rinehart protests against the mining tax last year. Photo: Tony Asby

The degree of super profits being realised by the mining industry is what drove the Labor government to introduce its special ‘mining tax.’ This was to tax mining interests on their ‘super profits.’ The repeated catch cry was that it was only right and fair to ensure the distribution of such wealth. Naturally mining interests screamed blue murder. Reinhart held rallies for her miners, insisting that this tax was going to shut down their operations, thereby costing them all their jobs. Interestingly enough, not long after that Reindhardt, after presenting herself as the champion of the hardworking miners, started her public campaign to dispense with her Australian workforce and replace them with specially imported Asian immigrants who would be employed at substandard rates and conditions, with Reinhart claiming the greedy Australian workers were ruining her business. Naturally she claimed government should allow her to so royally screw those immigrants. Not much being said then about all the Australians she was seeking to put out of work.

Julia Gillard. Photo: Andrew Meares

Julia Gillard.
Photo: Andrew Meares

The mining tax went through and became legislation. The massive revenue to the government’s coffers from this new tax was to be a keystone in Labor’s electoral promise to return the Budget to surplus. There was only one problem. Once the data came in on just how much revenue was actually being earned from this new tax, it was a very small fraction of the forecasts. It was all a screaming big mess for one very simple reason. It was all bollocks.

The Howard, Rudd and Gillard governments have all ridden the generous wave presented by high resource royalties. And they have all acted as if this was going to be at least an indefinite thing if not a permanent boom. But of course it wasn’t going to be that. Yet it has become blindingly obvious that none of these interests had many any real plans for what if said prices drop? What if the demand for those products drops?

So now we are facing reality. The price of resources has dropped. Government of any flavour is going to be trapped by this failure to even properly plan for what should have been blindingly obvious – those prices and that demand will eventually drop. The fall in prices has reduced the monies coming in from the mining tax. The fact that the estimates were so very, very wrong, brings up the question of how those estimates were created in the first place? Did they really not bother to factor in the fact that the signs were already on the horizon? At the same time, the relatively piffling amounts raised by the mining tax have made a thorough mockery of Gina Reinhart’s rabble rousing. Rather than the mining tax costing her workforce their jobs, it was in fact Reinhart who was advocating the actions which would see who knows how many of her miners out of a job. Her blatant scare  tactics have been shown to be sheer garbage (the cynic might be tempted to draw comparisons to her forcing an inquest into her elderly father’s death and her insistent claims that her step-mother had employed imported hit men – the fact that Step-Mummy being somehow found guilty would see her removed as a beneficiary of Daddy’s will, putting even more cash into Reinhart’s hands would have been an unintended externality *cough cough bullshit cough*).

At the end of the day, all I am seeing is a combination of short-sighted immediate political gains, a chronic failure to properly plan and obscene degrees of greed. I have said it before and I shall say it again – come next Federal election, Donald Duck’s looking pretty good to me. If nothing else we would at least be amused by the sight of one of his feathered incoherent tantrums at Gina Reinhart.

Ross sigVote the rant

So much for unity

Posted: October 30, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

In the midst of this Quantas bru-ha-ha and the tragic deaths of four more Australian soldiers in Afghanistan (which I am leaving along – let the families grieve), another small event has gone virtually unnoticed. In the face of still-terrible approval ratings, a member of the Gillard government (apologies as I missed their name) has come out claiming Prime Minister Gillard has the full support of caucus and the party.

Now when did we hear that sort of blather before? Back when the Howard government was facing increasing public unrest, we tired of hearing statements like that about party unity under Howard. It seemed for a while there that any statement by that government to either parliament or the media had to include some reference to them being “a team.” Some two months before the November 2007 election, Joe Hockey vehemently declared on ABC radio (I happened to be listening at the time) that the party was 100% behind John Howard. Yet shortly after the election which not only saw the Howard government toppled but saw Howard lose his own formerly-blue ribbon seat, Hockey was quick to join the rush of former government ministers claiming they had not really supported Howard but had been telling him to stand down. So much for unity.

Are we now seeing a repeat within the Labor ranks?

The situations are of course quite different. Howard had a Menzies-esque autocratic hold on his government for 11 years. Gillard on the other hand only achieved her position through political assassination of her predecessor, Kevin Rudd and coming within a hair’s breadth of losing the subsequent election. In the circumstances, given how the approval ratings of Gillard and the government in general are rivalling those that were used as justification for Rudd’s removal.

I find it very hard to believe that the unity within the Labour caucus is any better than that which really lay behind Howard’s ‘team’.

So now we have The Mad Monk’s (aka Tony Abbott) reply to the Budget. High on his list is a cut to the public service. Specifically, he states that they will not be sacking people, but instead losing 6,000 people per year by natural attrition through a recruitment freeze.

Now hold on there a moment, Jug Ears. We have heard something like this before. Back in 1996, on the day of the election, the Liberals ran full-page ads in The Canberra Times which set out a number of ‘promises’ it was making to members of the Australian Public Service. This included a very precisely worded assurance that staff numbers would be cut via natural attrition over the next two years. Yet almost as soon as Johnny ‘Eyebrows’ Howard assumed office, across the board retrenchment of thousands of public servants commenced. Tens of thousands of jobs were lost. So much for the reassurances of the use of ‘natural attrition’. And now The Mad Monk expects us to believe the same nonsense all over again.

What made that 1996-onwards position even worse, was then-Treasurer, Peter Costello, coming out afterward and saving that the loss of all of these jobs in Canberra and the heartache and difficulty it caused to many thousands of families across Australia, was a good thing. I would hate to see what he called a bad thing.

Adding to the hypocrisy of the new Liberal position is that, just as widely predicted, we see the essential elements of Work Choices rearing their ugly heads again. So much for those assurances that Work Choices was gone.

For some reason, the Liberals are seemingly incapable of coming up with a single original idea these days but just constant recycling of John Howard’s crap.

Oh come on

Posted: March 14, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Am I the only one finding it rather hard to swallow Joe Hockey’s latest public stance?

In a recent speech, Hockey made himself out to be some sort of deep, feeling, civil libertarian.

Oh please.

The current Coalition i.e. the Liberal Party, under Tony Abbott’s leadership, has regressed right back into the Howard years, to the point of practically recreating the Howard Cabinet in Opposition. Recycling does have its limitations as a good thing, you know.

Joe Hockey was a vigorous and vocal supporter of John Howard from before they even first assumed government in 1996. Only about two months out from the 2007 election, I vividly recall listening to Blubberguts on ABC radio, ranting about how the entire party was 100% behind John Howard. He dismissed results from a survey conducted by a university, that showed significant public opposition to his government’s Work Choices legislation, as only being the product of union influence and interference. Yet it was with almost indecent haste that after the disaster of the 2007 election for the Coalition, Blubberguts jumped onto the “I didn’t really support Howard or Work Choices” bandwagon.

Anyone who really thinks that the Abbott-led Oppostion will win the next Federal election, whensoever it is called, is frankly kidding themselves. Should Abbott last that long in the leadership, he would be sure to fall on his sword. Blubberguts is rather obviously positioning himself to then be seen as the Party’s ‘saviour’.

Mind you, last time I looked up the definition of ‘saviour’, it did not include words like opportunistic, self-serving hypocrite.

Last Wednesday, Prof Alan Fels stated in the wake of the government refusing to enact the recommendations by Fels to lift Parallel Import Restrictions, that the public had the government to blame for more expensive books. Now he has changed his story.

In a very public display of what can only be described as pique, Fels has claimed that the government has bowed to the opinions of a small number of ignorant and uneducated authors.

Who the hell does Fels think he is? I am a published author in my own small way. I joined the campaign against lifting PIRs. I am an accountant and economic statistician by qualification and experience as well as holding post-graduate professional writing studies. I take considerable offence at this clown calling me either ignorant or uneducated. This coming Thursday I shall be interviewing a highly successful author who holds three separate degrees as well as a Doctorate in Human Letters. My, we authors really are an uneducated lot, aren’t we!

This is the same Prof Fels who for years while heading the ACCC, continually claimed that there was no evidence of any wrong-doing by oil companies. Meanwhile, we ignorant, uneducated slobs, did the practical thing of watching the pump prices. Whereas any reduction in the price of crude (ah – the joys of petrol pricing parity, gifted to the nation by then-Treasurer John Howard in the late 1970s – whatever happened to him by the way?) took a week or so to ‘filter’ through to the pump price, yet the moment there was an increase in the price of crude, it immediately hit the pumps. That happened across the board, regardless of company or location. But that was apparently too bleedin‘ obvious for the good Prof to notice.

Prof Fels has made quite a deal of noise about the price reductions he claims would have resulted from lifting PIRs, by comparing the price of a book available in say the USA with the same available here in Australia. The coalition of major book retailers, lead by Dymocks, who have been staunch supporters of Fels in this matter, have stated that the reduction that may have resulted could have been as much as 12%. However the price differentials that Fels likes to show off were far greater than a potential maximum of 12%. So even his supporters, who have publicly vowed to ‘continue the fight’, cannot agree with him on what the savings might be.

Incidentally, the good Prof with his apparently superior education, appears to have missed out entirely on the basic economic premise of ceterus paribus, loosely translated as ‘all things being equal.’ Simple comparison of market prices between significantly different economies breaches that economic fundamental. But perhaps he slept in that morning at uni.

I keep harping on the point of taxation in other posts. In all the hoopla, why is it that Fels and Dymocks et al, continue to ignore the simple fact that most of that potential 12% saving could be achieved in one fell swoop (pun intended) by removing taxation on books? I seem to remember the then-Labour Opposition joining with the Australian Democrats in opposing introduction of GST on books, prior to the Democrats leader, Meg Lees, blatantly rolling over for John Howard in the Senate.

We already have a taxation infrastructure for managing exemption of certain ‘supplies’. It would not be a big deal to extend those to cover exemption of books. But Fels, in his apparent wisdom as a product of his superior education, pushes instead for a scheme that would require creation of new, expensive infrastructure, not to mention the imposition on the tax-paying public of the proposed government grants to compensate authors for the loss of income that Fels admits would result.

On this subject of author income, please do realise that we aren’t all J. K. Rowling, getting mega-bucks. Studies have shown that writers as a whole are very poorly paid. We are not in general a pack of greedy oiks, complaining because we can’t upgrade the Rolls this year or have to put off installing that helipad.

Throughout this saga, Fels and Dymocks et al have continually claimed that the object of the exercise was to realise cheaper book prices, yet the simple measure of removing taxation is ignored in favour of a set-up that would have the long-term impact of a wrecking ball smashed into the Australian publishing industry, under the guise of having market forces driving price reductions.

Another significant point consistently overlooked by Fels and co is that the likes of the USA and the UK flatly refuse to have anything to do with lifting their own equivalents of PIRs. Yet those are the economies that stand to benefit by dumping onto the Australian market. That product would not necessarily even be the same as that published here. Take the example of the author Michael Robotham. He is a major seller in both the UK and the USA. However on at least one occasion, the US publisher made him rewrite part of a novel, removing part of the text, because it was too ‘sophisticated’ for the US market. Robotham has told me that the box of freebies of that US edition that he was given, remains unopened because as far as he is concerned, that is not the real novel that was published elsewhere, including Australia. Guess what edition would be dumped onto our markets in the wake of lifting of PIRs.

Significantly, the major publishing chains have not supported the Fels proposals. These are multi-nationals who could have benefited by dumping excess production that through sheer economies of scale (see Prof – we’re not all as ignorant as you claim and understand something of economics) can be produced cheaper there but they could see the long-term view. Driving margins down yet further, simply means there is less money available for publishers to bring on new authors. We aren’t all magically like Stephen King, Jack Higgins, Bryce Courtenay or Tim Winton. In fact, at the start of their publishing careers none of them were the accomplished authors that they now are. It is already becoming harder and harder for new novelists to get into the mainstream. The Fels proposals would have pretty much screwed an entire generation of new Australian authors.

Exactly who is demonstrating their ignorance here? Not to mention chronic short-sightedness. And who stood to really benefit? The multinationals and a small number of major book retailers trying to further tighten their control of the market while pretending to be in the pursuit of some altruistic ideal.

In all of this fuss, I am reminded of the late Nigel Hawthorne in his wonderful portrayal of the English civil servant, Sir Humphrey Appleby. Sir Humphrey described the behaviour of politicians thus: “we must do something; this is something therefore we must do it.”

Perhaps the good prof should consider a career in UK politics rather than acting like a petulant schoolboy, with voluble complaints when the ref has called him for a foul on the footy field. Of course he could always just take his ball and go home.