Monday, 31 March 2008

A virgin birth?

Have organisers of the Catholic Church's World Youth Day 2008 achieved a small miracle with their selection of Sydney man Alfio Stuto to play the leading role in a performance of the Stations of the Cross?

Google reveals that before it was announced that Stuto, 27, was one of the four finalists in the running for the leading role he had no prior history in Googleland.

What? A 27 year old who doesn't have a Google track record?

Perhaps the Catholic church has pulled off the best long shot of the year. Then again, it could be that forces have been at work to ensure the church's selection has the appearance of a clean skin.

'Water poverty' - a case of back to the future

With Australian government at all levels looking to cost increases to the consumer as a way to off-set increasing demand for essential services, this scenario out of Britain does not reassure.
Nothing I have heard from our own politicians has truly come to grips with how increasing costs for water, electricity, gas and petrol will affect low-income families over the long-term or explained how limited and periodic government handouts to compensate for increases will actually avoid this type of Third World poverty trap.
According to BBC News last Saturday.
The number of people in "water poverty" will rise, says the water consumer watchdog for England and Wales.
The Consumer Council for Water uses the term for people whose water bills cost more than 3% of their income after tax.
It estimates a third of people living in the South West will fit this criteria by 2010.

If you had ever wondered if Brendan Nelson might be a fool, wonder no more...

Aunty's The Insiders on Sunday featured an interview with Coalition Leader of the Opposition Brendan Nelson.
Nelson as usual was all about the big picture and vital national issues.
That is if you delved deep enough under the half-truths and fairy floss.
It seems Little Brennie just knows that all's well with The Alliance even if Queenslanders are about to declare war on Texas, it's really O.K. for a prime minister to travel overseas if he has Liberal Party permission, an Opposition Leader will miraculously regain relevance by going walkabout or pretending to work at Coles, voters will believe this leader is genuine if he doesn't make a fuss about political donation rules, and whatever whoppers he tells will go down easily if he repeats them often enough.
Yeah mate - and the crows will fly backwards to Bourke on the day you show some political nous.
Here are the trite bits I liked the best.
"And I think what we've seen from President Bush and Kevin Rudd is a reassurance I think to Australians and the rest of the world that the alliance is strong, that the fundamentals of that alliance will continue, and at a personal level it would appear at least outwardly that Kevin Rudd and George Bush have hit it off, and that's in Australia's interest, and I think no one should be critical of that.
Although, I do sympathise with the Queenslanders who are a bit cranky about the idea of Mr Rudd conferring honorary Queensland membership to the President, but they'll debate that in Queensland."
"Well look the first thing Barrie is I think it is important that the Prime Minister, and a new Prime Minister, actually travel, we've got no problems with that at all."
"Yeah, a lot of it will. Obviously we've got some structure, in terms of places that we are going to, and functions that I will be attending and addressing, but you'll see me in servos and bagging groceries in supermarkets, and all of those sort of things that just, you know, connections with people in day-to-day life."
"but I don't think the average Australian wants to get too hung up in us spending too much time on issue [political donations]."
"You see you have got to remember, Barrie, we're the real deal."
"Again, I go back to our Liberal roots. We are men and women committed to building a better society based on small business, families, reward for hard work and sacrifice in every day life, and one of the key things for us is we need to broaden our base, we need to be a party that's attractive and resonates with every Australian, does matter where they live or whatever their circumstances, and when I'm sticking the groceries in the bags at Woollies and Coles, mate, that's what I'll be talking about."

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Mob associated with Hillsong do a lot more harm than good

Surely, recent revelations about the activities of the Hillsong-associated Mercy Ministries requires a response from an Australian government department.

That Mercy Ministries avails itself of government funding for highly questionable motives is in itself a disgrace, but that no government department, and especially a cabinet member of the Rudd Government, has as yet stepped up to the plate and put this matter on the public record suggests this mob of bible-bashers continues to wield power that they ought not have.

Mercy Ministries' Peter Irvine initially reckoned "only (that's Irvine's wording, not mine!) three" women had negative experiences with Mercy Ministries. Irvine subsequently revised the number and said it was six. Come on Mr Irvine, spare us the crap. One is one too many!

US 08: Hillary replies to critics

Simply because I found myself on one of Barack Obama's mailing lists, I have from time to time posted his emails on North Coast Voices.
In a spirit of equal time, here is a piece from Hillary Clinton's team on her official website.
Hillary Clinton will lose New Hampshire and the race will be over
Hillary Clinton wins New Hampshire, defying the predictions and the polls
Hillary Clinton will lose the big states on Super Tuesday and the race will be over
Hillary Clinton wins the big states on Super Tuesday – and wins them by double digits
Hillary Clinton will lose Texas and possibly Ohio on March 4th and the race will be over
Hillary Clinton wins both Texas and Ohio on March 4th – and she wins Ohio by double digits
Despite Hillary Clinton's big victories on March 4th, "the math" works decisively against her
and the race is essentially over
The math is
simple: neither candidate has reached the number of delegates required to
secure the nomination and either candidate can win
Barack Obama is substantially ahead in the pledged delegate count; pledged delegates are the
only measure of success; therefore the race is essentially over
The candidates are within
fractions of one another on delegates; Barack Obama needs super
delegates to win; and a marginal pledged delegate lead does not determine the outcome
Full version of Pundits vs Reality here.

Sometimes it's just not worth getting out of bed for an unsuccessful Nationals candidate and mayoral hopeful

Sometimes local politics brings a broad smile to the face when suddenly the biter gets bit.
In this case Chris Gulaptis, Clarence Nationals chairman (his sexist word not mine), unsuccessful candidate at the last federal election and frequently unsuccessful candidate for Clarence Valley mayor, must wish he had never opened his mouth in The Daily Examiner letters to the editor.
Chris managed to get himself exposed as one of those people who may have looked to a federal political career not out of conviction but because it pays well with good superannuation.
Here is a reply to Gulaptis' foray into the letters column which turned up in yesterday's issue of that paper.
Chris cross
THERE is an old Turkish saying that goes something like this: "If you don't tell the truth make sure you have one foot in the stirrups."
The level of fiction in the Chris Gulaptis letter (DE March 22) almost guarantees he'll shortly be in the market for a good horse.
Probably about the time Janelle Saffin, and not Steve Cansdell, delivers on Grafton Base Hospital.
But it's the last paragraph of his letter that really should have Chris Gulaptis galloping off into the sunset.
He's on pretty shaky ground when he starts accusing people of being something they are not.
I've been around the Labor Party a long time and I wouldn't know Craig Howe if I fell over him.
The Gulaptis story, however, is a little different. His claim to be National Party first, last and foremost is a road to Damascus conversion and came after he couldn't get what he wanted from the ALP.
He shed plenty of sweat chasing a position with Labor, right down to travelling to Sydney to meet with the then NSW general secretary, Mark Arbib, former minister Harry Woods and Harry's chief of staff Mike Fleming.
His comment that Steve Cansdell won seven primary votes to every one of Craig Howe's only proves he knows how to use a calculator.
The fact that Janelle Saffin is now in Federal Parliament proves that what the ALP thought of Chris Gulaptis was spot on.
Terry Flanagan
Orara Way

Who's being a little too clever on Antarctic whaling - The Oz, Asahi or Kevin Rudd?

Sometimes the media raises more questions than it answers in a hunt for the next day's story.
The difference between The Australian's take on what Kevin Rudd told Asahi Shimbun and what appears in that Japanese newspaper on the issue of Antarctic whaling appears to be more than a matter of nuance.
The Australian has Kevin Rudd willing to develop a whaling issue "scheme" and abandoning "legal action" but Asahi Shimbun remains completely silent on the former aspect and does not specifically address the latter.
So is Kevin Rudd starting to back down on Labor's support of the international moratorium on whaling or is someone being rather mischievous here?
Given that there seems to have been only one interview with the Japanese newspaper and knowing the rather unfortunate reputation of The Oz, one has to suspect that the Australian newspaper may have expanded what was said.

Last Thursday The Australian ran this article under the banner "Whaling olive branch to Japan"

Peter Alford, Tokyo correspondent March 27, 2008
AUSTRALIA is optimistic of getting a diplomatic settlement of the Antarctic whaling controversy "with our Japanese friends", a conciliatory Kevin Rudd has told a top Japanese newspaper.
"I have an optimistic view that the issue can be settled diplomatically," the Prime Minister told Asahi Shimbun editor-in-chief Yoichi Funabashi, Japan's top foreign policy journalist, during a Canberra interview.
"I know that it is not easy to have a solution and I understand that there exist very strong views about it in Japan," Mr Rudd is quoted as saying in the front-page article. "On the other hand, there also exist very strong views in Australia and in international society as well."
Rather than pursuing any legal action against the Japanese government-sponsored whaling, Mr Rudd wants to settle the matter diplomatically, Asahi told its readers yesterday.
The Japanese fleet is returning to port after killing an estimated 500-600 whales during the recent Southern Ocean hunt, partly in waters claimed by Australia.
The catch, less than two-thirds of the "research" quota Japan granted itself for this summer, reflects disruption by the harassing tactics of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Greenpeace vessels and a diplomatic row that forced the Japanese to abandon plans to kill 50 humpback whales for the first time in 20 years.
Canberra officials are examining evidence, including images of whale killings gathered by the Customs vessel Oceanic Viking, to decide whether to take action in an international court against Kyodo Senpaku whaling company.
"Our activities are to find out what's going on in the area, to find out if it is for scientific purposes, or is it commercial whaling?" Mr Rudd told Asahi. "When we (have) gathered (the) facts, we would like to co-operate with our Japanese friends to establish a scheme for the solution of the issue."
The interview came amid growing concern in Japan about the Australia relationship, and in particular with a Government led by a Prime Minister who once was a China specialist.

On the same day Asahi Simbun online ran this piece in Tokyo under the title "Rudd: Whale talks very, very difficult"

CANBERRA--The feud between Japan and Australia over whaling can be resolved through diplomacy, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said, but he reiterated Canberra's criticism against Japan's research whaling.
"I'm optimistic that we can resolve these matters diplomatically," Rudd said Tuesday in an interview with Yoichi Funabashi, editor in chief of The Asahi Shimbun. "I am fully appreciative of the fact that it would be very, very difficult."
Rudd pledged to oppose whaling during his campaign in November last year that led his Labor Party to win control of the government for the first time in 11 years.
The Australian government under Rudd has dispatched a customs ship to conduct surveillance of Japanese whaling vessels and other steps to strengthen restrictions on whaling.
Rudd reiterated the Australian government's position that has been critical of what Japan has described as scientific whaling.
"The reason we have undertaken the actions we have is to establish in our own mind the facts of what's transpiring down there, vis-a-vis scientific or commercial whaling," Rudd said.
Despite the differences over whaling, Rudd stressed the importance of bilateral relations with Japan for Australia, especially in the area of national security.
"The relationship with Japan is an absolutely core relationship for the Australian government," Rudd said.
Rudd indicated his government would maintain the same course in the cooperative relationship on national security between Australia, Japan and the United States established by his predecessor, John Howard.
"We have reaffirmed the importance of our trilateral discussions between ourselves, the United States and the government of Japan," Rudd said.
At the same time, Rudd took a more pessimistic view toward a proposal made by then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to create a four-party cooperative relationship that would include India.
Rudd will visit the United States, Europe and China from Thursday on his first major trip abroad since becoming prime minister.
When asked about concerns that Rudd's government was skipping Japan, the prime minister indicated that the fundamental relationship would not be affected because he described the relationship between Australia and Japan as "good, strong, mature, robust."
Rudd also expressed expectations that Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda would demonstrate leadership during the Group of Eight summit to be held in July at Lake Toyako, Hokkaido. Rudd has been invited to represent Australia at that summit as an observer.
"It depends on how Prime Minister Fukuda wishes to conduct the summit, and I understand that obviously climate change will figure prominently at the summit," Rudd said.
Rudd also indicated that he would bring up the issue of clashes in Tibet during his talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao on his trip to Beijing.
"I will raise the human rights concerns with the Chinese government," Rudd said.
The interview Tuesday was Rudd's first with a Japanese media organization since he became prime minister.(IHT/Asahi: March 27,2008)

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Federal Opposition requires suicide watch

There can be no mistaking the symptoms. These fairly screamed at us all yesterday, on the day Australian Workplace Agreements were legally laid to rest, when Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson told reporters that individual statutory work agreements are not dead.
The Liberal Party of Australia needs to be placed on a suicide watch as it is definitely a political danger to itself and others.

Soup kitchens for GPs

Struggling to make ends meet? Well, it seems you are in good company. Many GPs are also battling to put square meals on their dinner tables, thus forcing them to resort to welfare-like handouts from pharmaceutical companies. Some handouts take the form of work-day food and drink events that are disguised as "educational events" sponsored by drug companies.

Next time readers sit down to one of their gastronomical extravaganzas featuring such delicacies as baked beans (salt-reduced, of course) they should spare a thought, or two, for the poor GPs who suffer the enormous indignity of having to rely on drug company handouts for their very survival.

Yes, readers, "every working day, more than 200 health professionals, mostly doctors, attend an "educational event" garnished with food and drink supplied by a pharmaceutical company." (SMH, March 29)

The Herald reports that "in just six months last year these get-togethers attracted attendances totalling 385,221."

But, there's more, ...

A "review by consulting firm Deloitte found drug companies paid out $43 a head in hospitality. It has identified 52 events which will be investigated for breaches against the industry's code of conduct, which was designed to end lavish dinners and entertainment for doctors."

And, even more, ...

In addition to the largess described above there's
"routine schmoozing that the $17 billion-a-year pharmaceutical industry undertakes with individual doctors."

"Not covered by the seemingly exhaustive list of 14,633 events reported are even more frequent sessions drug company representatives hold with individual doctors and staff at morning teas or light lunches that a rep brings to the surgery. Many practices are called on more than once a week by reps, who, while they cannot sell drugs to a doctor, promote their company's products."

Read the Herald's report here.

Bless 'em - the all singing and dancing 2020 Summit partygoers list

Here is the full Australia 2020 Summit invitees list.
Just for laughs have a close look at those attending this workshop.
It's so reassuring to see that the wealthy, ivory tower denizens, pollies and the fourth estate will again be informing federal government.
I will sleep well at night knowing that Miranda Devine, Gerard Henderson, Kerry Stokes and George Brandis all managed a seat at the table. 
Plus ça change.....
Future of Australian Governance
Mr Martin James Bailey, Male WA
Mr Joseph Martin Fernandez, Male WA
Ms Pia-Angela Francini, Female WA
Ms Alison Lesley Gaines, Female WA
Professor Janette Hartz-Karp, Female WA
Ms Holly Elizabeth Ransom, Female WA
Mr Wayne Francis Scheggia, Male WA
Dr Christine (Chrissy) Sharp, Female WA
Mr Peter Ajak, Male VIC
Professor Judith Margaret Brett, Female VIC
Mr Julian William Kennedy Burnside, Male VIC
Mr Paul Chadwick, Male VIC
Professor Allan Fels, Male VIC
Ms Iresha Herath, Female VIC
Ms Kristen Anna Isobel Hilton, Female VIC
Professor Sarah Louise Joseph, Female VIC
Ms Janice Winearls Keynton, Female VIC
Dr Terry MacDonald, Female VIC
Professor Robert Manne, Male VIC
Ms Katherine Dawn Sampson, Female VIC
Professor Cheryl Anne Saunders, Female VIC
Ms Sally Warhaft, Female VIC
Mr Alan Wu Male, VIC
Dr Sally Young, Female VIC
Mr Benedict Bartl, Male TAS
Ms Lyn Mason, Female TAS
Rev Professor Michael Tate, Male TAS
Ms Olivia Guarna, Female SA
Ms Elizabeth Francesca Ho, Female SA
Ms Tanya Louise Smith, Female SA
Mr Sean Barrett, Male QLD
Senator the Hon George Brandis, Male QLD
Dr Alexander Jonathon Brown, Male QLD
The Honourable Matthew (Matt) Joseph Foley, Male QLD
Mr Paul Formosa, Male QLD
Ms Bridie Kathleen Jabour, Female QLD
Ms Joanne Kelly, Female QLD
Professor the Honourable Michael Lavarch, Male QLD
Mr Michael McKinnon, Male QLD
Mr Alexander McLaughlin, Male QLD
Mr Stewart Mcrae, Male QLD
Dr David Solomon, Male QLD
Dr Anne Tiernan, Female QLD
Ms Danielle Vujovich, Female QLD
Professor Patrick Weller, AO Male QLD
Ms Sarah Jane O'Rourke, Female NT
Mr Mauri Japarta Ryan, Male NT
Ms Erin Adams, Female NSW
Mr Phillip Adams, Male NSW
Ms Robin Banks, Female NSW
Associate Professor Lyn Carson, Female NSW
Professor Greg Craven, Male NSW
Associate Professor Kate Jane Crawford, Female NSW
Ms Miranda Devine, Female NSW
Mr Macgregor Duncan, Male NSW
Professor Geoffrey Ian Gallop, Male NSW
Ms Kate Gauthier, Female NSW
Mr Gerard Henderson, Male NSW
Dr Helen Irving, Female NSW
Dr Paul Kelly, Male NSW
Ms Miriam Lyons, Female NSW
Mr David Marr, Male NSW
Mr Simon Rice, Male NSW
The Honourable Helen Sham-Ho, Female NSW
Professor Christopher Dominic Sidoti, Male NSW
Mr Brett Solomon, Male NSW
Associate Professor Anne Frances Twomey, Female NSW
Professor Hillary Charlesworth, Female ACT
Mr Harry Evans, Male ACT
The Honourable Justice Mary Gaudron, Female ACT
Ms Susan Gail Harris Rimmer, Female ACT
Mr Michael James Harvey, Male ACT
Ms Janet Eileen Hunt, Female ACT
Sir Anthony Mason, Male ACT
Mr Ian McPhee, Male ACT
Ms Jamila Helen Rizvi, Female ACT
Professor Marian Sawer, Female ACT
Ms Amelia Mary Simpson, Female ACT
Professor George John Williams, Male ACT
Sir William Deane, Male ACT
Ms Janet Giles, Female SA
Ms Amy Sarah King, Female
Prof Julianne Schultz, Female
Mr Kerry Stokes, Male NSW
Mr Howard Whitton, Male

Friday, 28 March 2008

Families Minister and Member for Jagajaga channels Mal Brough and throws compassion out the window

TONY EASTLEY: The Federal Government will quarantine the $5,000 Baby Bonus from parents who neglect or abuse their children. Families Minister Jenny Macklin says parents will instead receive the bonus in the form of vouchers to buy items like prams and nappies.

Leaving aside the fact that Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs is merely parroting the former Howard Government and the previous ministerial incumbent; the Welfare Rights Centre pointed out in 2006 that such a move was not going to solve the problem of bad parenting and would be unlikely to stop individual abuse of welfare payments by recipients with an established alcohol, drug or gambling addiction.

Since then Ms. Macklin has moved from endorsing a straight voucher system to talking of implementing a debit card or store cards which would be useable at approved stores and for approved purchases.

The aim still appears to be to progress that old neo-con agenda. Starting with the Baby Bonus and other family payments as a trial of the electorate's gullibility, before moving onto the unemployed, disabled and finally introducing universal income management for all pension, benefit and allowance recipients from groups which are not seen as politically powerful.

Such income management would eventually stop 50% of the fortnightly welfare payment from going directly into a recipient's own personal bank or building society account, and 100% of all advance or lump sum payments would also no longer be given as cash payments into accounts.

Now here's the rub for any rural or regional parent receiving one of these debit/store cards (who even lives within commutable distance of one of the government-favoured big three, Coles, Woolworths and K-Mart) covering the Baby Bonus or other family allowance. These future guinea pigs who are already being identified as 'bad' by both the media and the Minister.

Rural and regional towns and villages are by definition reasonably small - if you don't actually socialise with the person standing next to you, you frequently know a friend of theirs or their children go to school or weekend sports with yours.

Store clerks and cashiers have no training and often no tact when it comes to welfare recipients as it is. They sometimes have no compunction in identifying store gift vouchers, being presented for payment of purchases, as having come from a non-government welfare agency.
In one instance I witnessed a cashier confiscating a packet of sweets from a very average pile of groceries a developmentally challenged adult (whom she only knew as a regular store customer) wanted to purchase with his gift voucher, on the stated grounds that lollies are not good for you.

When under any income management scheme almost inevitably one of these cashiers loudly and publicly tells a parent accompanied by a child that an item the parent wishes to purchase is not on the Centrelink/Community Services/Government list, everyone within earshot will be able to identify that family as 'dysfunctional' and the child as possibly considered to be neglected or abused.

Just how long do you think that child's privacy will last and his/her dignity remain intact when the local rumour mill will have that checkout incident across town and in the schoolyard within days?

One of the saddest aspects of Labor's rush to create its own form of Big Brother has been the sight of Ms. Macklin rising to her feet in Parliament last week and relying on a caller to the Alan Jones radio show for evidence of a need for Baby Bonus income management. A show notorious for setting up straw men to further its namesake's own biased arguments.

Ms. Macklin and the rest of the Rudd Government need to slow down here and develop a little political humility and compassion.
They are displaying nothing less than an arrogant paternalism. At the same time ignoring the fact that the Baby Bonus is currently not being handed out as a lump sum to identified dysfunctional families, but rather is being successfully and discretely delivered in instalments - without placing any child's right to privacy at risk or exposing a family to malicious gossip.

A little Mandarin goes a long way

Photograph from Indymedia

ABC News reported this late last night.

A senior Australian diplomat will be allowed to visit Tibet tomorrow, as a part of a delegation granted access by the Chinese Government.
Australia had requested diplomatic access to Tibet to assess the situation in the region, after a recent Chinese Government crackdown on protesters.
After initially ignoring the request, the Chinese Government has agreed to allow one senior diplomat from Australia's Beijing Embassy to join other foreign diplomats on a trip to Tibet, accompanied by Chinese officials.
The speed of China's approval has surprised the Australian Government.
Before leaving Australia for an overseas trip today, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described the lack of access as a sticking point.
A spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says the Australian diplomat hopes to check on the welfare of four Australians known to be in Tibet.

Clearly an instance where Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith made better ground than might have been possible if John Howard and Alexander Downer were still at the helm.

The Rudd dog whistle exposed

Faced with the reality of office, everytime it comes up against an uncomfortable moment in the media cycle the Rudd Government has been drawing out of the hat that old trick of re-labelling some troublesome behaviour as significant social problems and then telling the world that these were out of control or at 'epidemic' levels.
Coming out from under 11 years of John Howard using this very same tactic, it was easy to spot the political dog whistles.
Teenagers out-of-control, bad parents, addicts.
This was confirmed mid-week when the COAG communique was posted at the Prime Minister of Australia website here.

"Binge Drinking. COAG today agreed on the importance of tackling alcohol misuse and binge drinking among young people. COAG agreed to ask the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy to report to COAG in December 2008 on options to reduce binge drinking including in relation to closing hours, responsible service of alcohol, reckless secondary supply and the alcohol content in ready to drink beverages. COAG also asked the Australia New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council to request Food Standards Australia New Zealand to consider mandatory health warnings on packaged alcohol.

Gambling. COAG agreed to continue to discuss issues related to problem gambling".

A perfect example of sound and fury signifying very little.
Not so easy is it fellas. Just because you are now teh Federal Government doesn't automatically mean you would be able to come up with instant easy-fix answers or allow you to pretend that this focus on binge drinking and gambling was anything other than a beat up.
I look forward to hearing you discover Laura Norder, border security and welfare 'cheats' next week.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Northern Rivers couple star in documentary

Yaegl woman and film-maker Pauline Clague celebrates her parents life in the documentary film When Colin Met Joyce.

Ms Clague told The Daily Examiner that "For us as film-makers it's important to give it back to our community," ---
"This film is a gift to the Clarence River. It identifies Yaegl country really well,"
Pauline said she was excited and nervous about showing the film at Yamba.
"As a writer and producer it's hard to bring it back to my own community, but Mum and Dad have seen it and they're happy with it," she said."

Details of the film

When Colin Met Joyce will also be shown on SBS at 7.30pm on 1 August 2008.

Opposition shadow spokesperson for water makes a Laughing Jackass of himself

It's been a long saga and like many other Aussies I have been crossing my fingers and hoping that this nation will finally come to grips with those huge environmental problems in the Murray-Darling river system which have been generations in the making.
However, Opposition spokesperson for environment and water Greg Hunt continues the Liberal's new tradition of counting kookaburras whenever it is brought face-to-face with another instance of cooperative endeavour between the Commonwealth and the States under the Rudd Labor Government.
Yesterday when a real breakthough was announced on management of water within the Murray-Darling Basin, I swear I heard Hunt on the teev repeating a version of his February line about the Murray-Darling being an "defining failure" of the Rudd Government.
Only this time he was calling it "an abiding failure".
After the complete, utter, total, abiding failure of the John Howard-Malcolm Turnbull attempt to bully the states into a collective formal agreement over this dying river system, all Hunt could do yesterday was accuse Rudd of a similar failure.
He has definitely taken to imitating the Laughing Jackass. A real Koo-koo-koo-waa-aah-aah-ah!
This new agreement may not be perfect, but at least it's a fair dinkum attempt.
You remember what fair dinkum means don't you, Greg?
Here is the Murray Darling Basin Reform Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Prime Minister and every Premier and State Minister with territory within the Murray-Darling Basin.

The 2008 Olympiad as a graphic

Telling graphic from Club Troppo's Missing Link.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Don't do it, Nicola!

This week The Age reported that the Federal Minister for Health Nicola Roxon was inviting Liberal opposition frontbencher Tony Abbott to have coffee and smooth things over between them.
Apparently Abbott has been complaining about a lack of bipartisanship in government decision making in areas covered by his Indigenous Affairs shadow portfolio.

That was on Monday. By the next day that ever changeable far-right media tart was saying something different according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
"Opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Tony Abbott has criticised plans for a bipartisan approach to indigenous issues, saying it could lead to "sanctimonious" and unsuccessful policies.
---Mr Abbott, writing in The Australian newspaper, said bipartisanship could make "wrong-headed" policies harder to change."

So don't do it, Nicola. Don't try to smooth things over with Abbott. The man will only see this as a sign of weakness and continue to harass rather than help, because he truly believes the Opposition is the real federal government.

Give Mac Bank the flick & bring back bonds says Motorists Action Group

This turned up in the Inbox yesterday.
It seems that the Motorists Action Group has joined those sending Morris Iemma a message about his planned privatisation of NSW electricity supplies.
Draft Media Release
Government Bonds Not Selling-off Assets To Fund New Infrastructure
The NSW Government has been asked to re-issue once popular government bonds to fund new road, rail and services infrastructure projects instead of selling-off publicly owned infrastructure such as the electricity generation network to pay for such works.
Richard Talbot, President of the Motorists Action Group (MAG) & long serving NRMA Director said: "A once off sell-off of publicly owned assets to pay for new infrastructure is not the way to go. Nor is handing over new infrastructure projects to merchant bankers who create debt ridden financial models to hoping they can on-sell these financial basket cases and exit the scene to make a short term profit.
"Good government is about providing long term, sustainable and user affordable solutions to this countries growing and changing needs. Government bonds were a traditional way previous generations have funded many road, rail, water & electricity projects. They were very popular with mums & dads investors as a safe way of saving for their retirement as they were government guaranteed. Importantly they were a relatively cheap way of the government gaining access to a large pool of funds without having to go through a middleman.
Government bonds were phased out of existence when the economic rationalists took the helm of successive state governments and conga lines of private sector lobbyists became regular fixtures at expensive political party fundraisers.
"We should learn from the mistakes of the past with a number of infrastructure funding failures such as the Cross City Tunnel, Lane Cove Tunnel and the Airport Rail Link. The new transport initiatives such as the North West Rail Link and M7 Extension (from Blacktown to Kariong) can all be funded by giving the public and superannuation funds to directly invest in the projects. Additionally other already built projects can be bought back through such an investment method.
"Selling-off the silver wear then handing it over to privateers to extract short term profits is not in the best interests of residents and taxpayers. Gaining the support of the people who'll be using the final product by giving mums & dads a chance to invest in their own infrastructure is in the best long term interests of both governments and consumers".
Richard Talbot has written to the NSW Government urging the re-introduction of State Government Bonds.

Dinner with Barack anyone?

One can only admire the relentless drive for campaign funds by the Obama for America team.
They are now bringing out the family silver and holding a lottery. With first prize being an intimate dinner for three.

Will Barack finally talk detailed policy then?

Today's email.

Some of Barack's favorite moments of the campaign have been opportunities to meet and talk with the most important donors to this campaign: ordinary Americans just like you.
You've heard about all of these political fundraising dinners, hosted by Washington lobbyists and filled with representatives of special interests.
Contributions like these are at the root of what's wrong with politics. And John McCain and Hillary Clinton have built campaigns fueled by them.
But our campaign is different.
In February alone, more than 94% of our donors gave in amounts of $200 or less. Meanwhile, campaign finance reports show that donations of $200 or less make up just 13% of Senator McCain's total campaign funds, and only 26% of Senator Clinton's.
Our funding comes from a movement of more than one million people giving whatever they can afford.
And in the next week, four supporters will be selected for a new kind of fundraising dinner.
Make a donation in any amount between now and 11:59 pm EDT on Monday, March 31st, and
you could join Barack and three other supporters for an intimate dinner for five.
We're reserving two of those seats for new donors like you. If you've ever thought about making a donation to join our campaign, now is the time:
This movement is changing the way campaigns are funded.
More than one million individual donors have demonstrated that this election is about more than a candidate -- it's about each of us having a personal stake in the future of American politics.
Meanwhile, Senator McCain has raised more than 70% of his total campaign funds from high-dollar donors giving $1,000 or more. Senator Clinton has raised 60% of her funds from $1,000-and-up donors. And both Senator McCain and Senator Clinton have accepted millions of dollars from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs.
Refusing to accept donations from lobbyists and special interests has allowed this campaign to answer only to ordinary Americans like you. And this dinner will be an opportunity for you to sit down with Barack and your fellow supporters and talk about the issues that matter in your life and in your community.
Get the kind of treatment that John McCain and Hillary Clinton reserve for special interests -- make a donation in the next week, and you could share your story and your ideas with Barack in person:
With every single donation, we're building a movement to change American politics. Help the movement grow, and own a piece of this campaign today.
Thanks for your support,
David Plouffe
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

No doctors available for some North Coast medical rescue flights

Sometimes it's hard to keep a positive outlook on life in regional New South Wales.
Beautiful surroundings but often woeful levels of services the big metropolitan centres take for granted.
This week The Northern Star drew attention to the fact that the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue helicopter based at Lismore continues to experience difficulties in finding suitably qualified doctors to man its medical retrieval flights.
"THE future of Lismore's rescue helicopter is in peril because the city's hospital hasn't enough physicians qualified to work with the service, doctors have warned.
A leaked memo from Lismore Base Hospital emergency department director Dr Martin Chase warns the hospital no longer had enough doctors qualified to perform retrievals with the helicopter.
As a result 'there may be occasions over the next few months when the Lismore-based medical retrieval service will be unable to provide an urgent medical retrieval service', Dr Chase says in the memo, which was sent out last month."
Two little words for the Iemma Government and the North Coast Area Health Service - fix it!

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Broke Libs call on politically bankrupt Howard to fill the party kitty in NSW

It's now four months since the Liberal and National parties were frogmarched out of government.
Plenty of time for the parties to regroup and find a common direction.
However the apparently cash-strapped NSW Liberals are determined to keep reminding voters of their past folly - they have invited John Howard to speak at a fundraiser this May.
At least they appear to have had the grace to hide this 'tribute' dinner away in the suburbs and not charge thousands of dollars for a seat.
In fact tickets are rumoured to be on the cheap side. Probably because Howard's recent US speaking tour showed that he has nothing left to offer except reworkings of his 2007 election set pieces.
I suspect that, besides being in need of a metaphorical group hug from those guests attending, Howard is using this event to keep his profile up just in case a publisher does actually decide to purchase his autobiography.
It surely can't be because this former PM wants to meddle in domestic politics - he was always so vocal in his condemnation of other prime ministerial relics who refused to fade away.

Clarence Valley Council looks into affordable housing scheme

Yet another NSW North Coast council is deciding that there may be a role for local government in the provision of affordable housing.
Clarence Valley Council is looking into the feasibility of creating a not-for-profit charitable body provisionally called the Affordable Housing Trust, with an aim to help meet the need for affordable housing in the valley.
Given the level of public housing stock in this region is lower than the state average, it is good to see Mayor Ian Tiley raising the profile of this issue.
According to the Northern Rivers Social Development Council; "No one can escape the affordability crisis that affects households across Australia. The Northern Rivers has one of the highest rates of families living in housing stress in Australia.  Average rents in our region are the same as Sydney, but people here earn on average less than two thirds of the average Sydney income. In our coastal towns and major centres up to 65% of low income households are living in unaffordable housing.  Key workers in industries such as Community Services, Children's Services, Health, Aged Care, Hospitality and Retail have problems finding accommodation close to work and services.  For the most disadvantaged finding any accommodation is difficult."

Nationals Member for Clarence protecting his image

Spotted on the banks of the Clarence River over the Easter long weekend.
NSW Nationals MP Steve Cansdell getting his picture taken with a mate.
Quick as a flash Cansdell grabs the lit cigarette out of the mate's mouth, holds it behind his back, and then jams it back from whence he plucked it as soon as the happy snap is completed.
Does he really believe that voters will think that he doesn't know anyone who smokes the demon weed? G'arn.
Talk about political correctness gone mad.

Monday, 24 March 2008

Port Stephens finds answer to tree vandals. Will Northern Rivers coastal councils follow suit? photograph

Port Stephens Council decided to use shipping containers to punish residents who lopped down 20 trees to improve their sea views.
A move which looks like being a lot more effective than the relatively small, neat and tidy bill boards commonly being used by councils on the NSW North Coast.
Well done, Port Stephens!

National Generators Forum wants major Australian emitters to be given greenhouse get-out-of-gaol-free card

In January this year the National Generators Forum wrote to the Ganaut Climate Change Review recommending that, in any future national carbon trading scheme, major energy companies using conventional dirty production methods be given consideration by way of "appropriate allocation of permits" "to recognise past investment made in good faith".
In other words both public and private energy suppliers would like a free pass on much of their existing infrastructure and production practices. Even though these suppliers could have made an informed decision to apply mitigation measures anytime in the last ten to twenty years.
Such a free pass would also involve considerable dollar compensation to the Forum's 22-strong membership.
It seems that the National Generators Forum is quite happy with the notion that the poor will bear a disproportionate burden when it comes to predicted increased energy costs, but it is less than happy at the thought of its own members bearing any financial burden at all.

Changing and lengthening the Australian minority years

I see the media has been reporting on the idea of extending the school leaving age.
Last year Victoria increased leaving age to 16 years of age. Matching South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania.
In West Australia it went up to 17 this year.
Now there's talk of raising it to 18 in New South Wales, so that all students would leave high school and become legal adults all in the same year.
Across the board there also appears to be a debate about raising the legal drinking age to 21 years. Which would leave the young adult in the strange position of being trusted with a right to vote in governments but not to drink an alcoholic beverage.
I'm not knocking the desire to see the young receive a reasonable level of education or discourage alcohol abuse, but it almost looks like we are trying to extend our concept of what childhood is again.
If we keep this up a 'child' will be anyone under 30 years. Rather a tiring thought for all those working parents out there.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

North Coast action group speaks out on NSW coastal freight corridors

Climate Change Will Make the NSW Coastal Freight Corridors Unsustainable

On 27th November 2007 in the case Walker v Minister for Planning [2007] NSWLEC 741, Justice Peter Biscoe of the Land Environment Court ruled against a coastal development at Sandon Point, on the NSW south coast on the grounds that it will be likely to suffer from coastal flooding as a result of Climate Change. He found that the NSW Planning Minister had failed to consider "whether changed weather patterns would lead to an increased flood risk in connection with the proposed development in circumstances where flooding was identified as a major constraint on development of the site".
A part of his judgement relating to Ecologically Sustainable Development Principles
covers 49 pages and follows the history through the United Nations and other world forums of these principles which relate to, inter alia, preserving biodiversity and taking inter generational responsibility to ensure current developments are sustainable and will not impose an unnecessary burden on future generations.
An area of coastal vulnerability noted in the case was land within 3 kilometres of the high tide mark and under the 6 metre contour.
When we look at the current transportation policy in relation to road and rail freight corridors between Sydney and Brisbane we find that both the rail line which transports mainly bulky goods and the road freight corridor (Pacific Highway) which transports mainly non bulky goods both run within 1 kilometre of the coast when they pass through Coffs Harbour and both are situated under the 6 metre contour.
Lands within 3 kilometres of the coast and under the 6 metre contour have been recognised by planners and the Insurance Council of Australia as being vulnerable to severe weather events and coastal inundation.
A CSIRO report to the Victorian Government suggested that 1:100 severe weather events could occur every 5 years by 2070.
Buffer zones at Hearnes Lake (calculated for the Sandy/Hearnes Lake Estuary Management Plan) where the proposed motorway will run within 600 metres of the High Water Mark take into account rising sea levels and it has been suggested by WBM Oceanics (authors of the EMP) that planning horizons should cover the next 100 years and that the creation of major infrastructure within the coastal zone should be avoided.
The Environmental Assessment for the Sapphire to Woolgoolga section of the Pacific Highway indicates the cost of the new 6 lane motorway upgrade will cost close to $850 million by completion.
Given that $450 million has been invested in the Sydney Brisbane rail line recently and about $850 million will be spent on the 25 kilometre Sapphire to Arrawarra section of the Pacific Highway alone one has to wonder why is so much money being spent on ecologically unsustainable motorways.
The Tourism Transport Forum Ltd claims responsibility on their web site for lobbying the Howard Government into committing AusLink funding for the Hexham to Tweed upgrade of the Pacific Highway to tolled motorway standard and having it declared a national road freight corridor.
SHAG wonders if its members like the NRMA, the RTA, Toll Transport, Macquarie Bank and the AbiGroup who profit from motorway building will ever display the same awareness of Justice Peter Biscoe and others who embrace Ecologically Sustainable Development Principles and face the challenges of Climate Change and Peak Oil and the responsibility to future generations with wisdom and courage.
It is alarming to think that since the WBM Oceanics paper was written, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets have been found to be melting at a rate of 150 billion cubic metres every year (Refer Appendix F).
Climate Change expert with NASA, Dr James Hansen (Appendix F), predicts that if the Earth’s temperature increases by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius this century that ocean levels could rise by up to 1 metre every 20 years. He claims the last time the Earth was 2 to 3 degrees warmer sea levels were 25 metres higher than they are today.
The Planning Minister Frank Sartor, should adopt the Precautionary Principle, refuse Pacific Highway upgrade works in the Northern Beaches of Coffs Harbour and get on with securing a "fit for purpose" rail freight network between Sydney and Brisbane as well as returning road freight to the New England Highway.

Wayne Evans
Sandy Hearnes Action Group (SHAG)

*Guest Speak is a new North Coast Voices feature airing serious or satirical comment by local individuals or groups.

It can't be all bad if Tim Blair dislikes it

Poor Tim Blair of do-you-know-the-truth-or-do-you-read-the-Telegraph fame.
Almost everything that even hints at being slightly green or mentions the possibility of climate change seems to turn this journalist markedly dyspeptic.
I wouldn't be surprised to hear that he was also a green legume anorexic as a child. :)
Popped on to his 'personal' blog early last night and around a third of the posts on his home page contained a dig at Earth Hour in one form or another.
With Earth Hour likely to occur again next year and climate change just as likely to be remain a topic of discussion, perhaps Tim will have to consider breaking out the Mylanta.
Here's laughing at you, kid.

Look who's going to Rudd's 2020 summit

Take a gander at this piece on Kevin Rudd's Australia 2020 summit coming to a comic strip near you this April.
I'm sorry, Kev, but you don't really expect me to take your bit of fluff seriously do you?
First it was Canberra and now wannabe talkfests are springing up everywhere.
So help me - there's even one scheduled for the Clarence Valley. A real piece of busy business allowing government and council staff (along with non-government agency employees and local business operators) to justify their existence. 
The whole national box and dice has all the hallmarks of a camel in the making.
Larvatus Prodeo pointed out some of the problems weeks ago.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Whales of the NSW North Coast in pictures

A slideshow of whale photographs can be found at the North Coast's Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre website here.
This image shows a whale breaching off Byron Bay.
Whale song from ABC's Whale Dreams.

Obama team lashes out: Clinton will "do and say anything" McCain wants "100 years of war"

With the racial attitudes issue muddying waters in the US presidential nomination race, Barack Obama now refocusses attention on his opposition to the war in Iraq.
Pity that this much publicised opposition didn't include voting in the US Senate to starve George W's war machine.
Here is the latest email from the Obama camp, with its usual bottom line request for more money.
Senator Clinton and Senator McCain are reading from the same political playbook as they attack Barack on foreign policy.
They have both criticized Barack's commitment to act against top al Qaeda terrorists if others can't or won't act.
And they have both dismissed his call for renewed diplomacy as naïve while mistakenly standing behind George Bush's policy of non-engagement that just isn't working.
But most of all -- after five years of overwhelming evidence that we are less safe, less able to shape events abroad, and more divided at home -- Senator Clinton and Senator McCain are failing to address the consequences of a war they both supported that should have never been authorized and never been waged.
We need a leader who had the judgment to oppose this war before it began and who has a clear plan to end it.
But Barack is facing a two-front battle against Senator Clinton and Senator McCain. Make a donation of $25 to support this campaign today:
We knew at the beginning of this campaign that we'd be up against the full force of the conventional thinking that grips Washington.
But no one could have imagined it would go on this long, or that we'd have to fight this battle on two fronts at the same time.
Senator Clinton's campaign, with her chances of winning dwindling and our delegate lead even larger than it was before her so-called comeback on March 4th, has adopted a "kitchen-sink" strategy to throw everything they can at us. Her campaign has made it clear they will do and say anything to win this nomination.
Senator McCain, now the presumptive Republican nominee, is already running his general election campaign. He's so eager to justify another 100 years of war in Iraq and drum up conflict with Iran that he and his campaign have been making sloppy and woefully false assertions about links between Iran and al Qaeda in Iraq.
We've got to take on both Senator Clinton and Senator McCain at the same time.
Your support now is more important than ever -- please make a donation of $25:
Yesterday, Barack laid out a clear plan to make America more secure and end the war in Iraq.
Today, he laid out the economic costs of the war that Senator Clinton and Senator McCain supported.
In both speeches -- and in his speech on race in America earlier this week -- Barack Obama demonstrated that he is the candidate with the courage and judgment to tackle the challenges we face.
The choice Americans have in this election is clear -- and your support right now sends a message to those who support the status quo that it is time for a new kind of leadership.
Please do what you can to help fight this two-front battle for change:
Thank you,
David Plouffe
Campaign Manager
Obama for America

Libs have more hide than Jessie the Elephant

Yesterday The Daily Telegraph let the world know that Brendan Nelson, Julie Bishop, Joe Hockey, Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott and friends would like more money please.
The parliamentary salary scale for Opposition MPs was fine by them when they held the more financially lucrative government benches, but now they don't they want more money for shadow ministers who currently receive the base salary of about $127,060 per annum plus $30,000 in electoral allowances.
With Nelson as Opposition Leader getting a total package of around $262,00 a year and Bishop as Deputy Leader getting an extra $73,000.
These lord high poobahs just cannot get their heads around the fact that they are now the plebs of the Australian Parliament. Their greed and arrogance appear to know no bounds.
With many on the NSW North Coast scratching to find their next meal, keep a roof over their heads and afford medical treatment, whining Libs will find little sympathy hereabouts. 
Oi, Tony - if your wants were weeds you'd have a paddock full!

Friday, 21 March 2008

Read my lips, Mr. Rudd. I will never vote Labor if you continue down this path

For over a decade the former Howard Government ignored this country's own democratic heritage, international law and UN conventions; as it sought ways to quash many of the historic human and legal rights of Australian citizens, turn the safety net welfare system into a form of alms giving dependant on a whim of the government of the day, commence the transformation of public infrastructure/services delivery into 'user pays', and convert a significant part of government pensions, benefits and allowances into a non-cash component.
It was easy to turn away from the Liberal Party and the Nationals when faced with this concerted effort to destroy what was left of the ideal of an egalitarian society and the notion of a fair go.
Now barely four months after the federal election which saw it installed, the Rudd Government continues to support most of the legislation and regulations which the Howard Government created as its preferred vehicle for the destruction of our civil liberties and the idea of a fair go.
We still see racist law operating, habeas corpus remains missing in action for some criminal charges, draconian sedition laws chill dissent, judgemental and punitive attitudes to the poor still flourish within government policy, and there is a continuing push to transform certain pensions, benefits and allowances into a modern version of food stamps under the guise of income 'management'. 
The Northern Territory intervention clearly demonstrated that this current push to replace a percentage of welfare cash payments with vouchers or cards has nothing to do with the cited reason of protecting children in dysfunctional home situations. Because income management there was immediately applied across the board in designated indigenous communities and involved people without children, family commitments or any form of addictive/anti-social behaviour.
This push originally started as a possible method to control and restrict the lives of welfare recipients in an effort to disguise the fact that the former government was intending to dismantle the welfare system overtime and the Rudd Government allows the push to continue for very similar reasons.
Like the Howard Government before it, this Federal Labor Government is first targeting groups which society has always felt comfortable about negatively labelling before it inevitably widens its 18th century net and goes after the unemployed and those with a disability. 
Sadly, modern Labor governments right across Australia are turning out to be nothing more than a collection of self-righteous suits eager to assume the position in front of neo-con think tanks, big business and professional god-botherers. Always happy to demonise the weak and vulnerable if doing so pleases these politically powerful sectors. Seeing nothing wrong with the diminished autonomy, discrimination, humiliation and financial loss that ensues.
So read my lips Mr. Rudd. If you continue down this path towards establishing debit cards for any or all 'welfare' recipients, I will not be voting for a Labor candidate at any future election.
What's more, I will treat Labor as I treat the Coalition and make sure that my ballot is likely to be exhausted long before my preferences could flow on to its candidate.
Therefore, although the Labor MP for Page may be a genuine and hard-working local member she will never see my vote.
No Labor candidate for the NSW Clarence electorate will ever get my vote in the future. Nor will any Clarence Valley local government candidate identified as a member of the Labor Party.
The ball is now in your court, Prime Minister.

Breaking news: Pensioners in financial stress

Australian pensioners will wake to the news today that their politicians have arrived at the ground breaking conclusion that pensioners don't live on easy street.

An Australian Senate committee report has highlighted that those who rely on the pension as their sole income are among those most in financial stress.

The committee's findings come as no surprise to those who struggle to subsist on the meagre pension, particularly single pensioners.

For some perverse reason, politicians, bureaucrats and other assorted bean counters have long figured that single pensioners have overheads that are significantly less than those of their married counterparts.

Even the most cursory examination of pensioners' expenditure records readily reveals that, for want of a better term, 'economies of scale' are had when couples live under the one roof and contribute towards their shared overheads such as rent and utilities.

Single pensioners face the same costs as couples. One doesn't have to be an Albert Einstein to understand that a more equitable approach to pensioner payments is long overdue.

That the committee has reported its findings and recommended an overhaul of pensions is commendable, but for something to be done about it, well that's another thing completely different.

Pensioners can expect to have to wait in their queue for some time. They would be well advised to not hold their breath while waiting for an appropriate course of action that would improve their lot to be implemented.

Heaven forbid, but some fiscal nerds are likely to respond that married pensioners are too well paid and call for their pensions to be cut, bringing them in line with their single counterparts. Too silly for words? Don't be too sure of that!

In part, The Sydney Morning Herald (March 21) reports:

Older single women tend to have missed out on compulsory superannuation and must rely on a pension that is low by English-speaking countries' standards.

They receive a pension of $546.80 a fortnight, compared with the $913.60 for couples, even though many fixed costs such as rates, rents and bills vary little between singles and couples.

The meagre payment meant pensioners were often reduced to relying on donations of food from friends and even, according to one inquiry witness, to "raiding dumpsters to retrieve bread, fruit, vegetables … and sometimes meat" discarded by grocery chains. Others told the inquiry of going to bed early to cut heating bills, and forgoing social visits to or from friends because of transport and meal costs.

The committee agreed to a bipartisan verdict acknowledging pensions had increased in real terms in the past decade. But after hundreds of submissions the committee said the comparatively widespread prosperity "obscures the fact that the distribution of wealth among many older Australians is unbalanced".

Many Australians, particularly those on low, fixed incomes with little discretionary spending capacity, were vulnerable to living cost rises. They were disproportionately affected by increases in essential goods and services: food, rent, petrol, utilities and health care. Growing medical and pharmaceutical costs and the lack of affordable dental services were disturbing.

"These older Australians do not enjoy a decent quality of life," the committee said.

The committee's call for a rethink on the level of the pension and the way it is calculated triggered a chorus of calls from seniors groups for the single pension to be lifted from the current 60 per cent to at least two-thirds of the couple rate.

The chief executive of National Seniors Australia, Michael O'Neill, said the findings "confirm what every pensioner knows: living on a pension has become almost impossible unless you have additional income".

The Government late yesterday signalled that it would consider lifting the single pension.

Read the report in The Sydney Morning Herald here.

The Easter Bunny in Australia

This weekend the Easter Bunny will begin his dawn journey across Australia laden with a limitless basket of chocolate eggs.
If you listen carefully, you may hear him cry as he tops a hill close by - Don't shoot!

OECD politely tells Australia it can do better for the environment

The 2007 OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Australia is now available.
"Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett says the Government will act on the report's findings.
"Our response to this report will be genuinely whole-of-Government," he said.
"We know environment issues don't rest with one or two portfolios and that these issues don't stop at borders either, it's a whole-of-planet challenge and it requires a whole-of-Government response."
As Peter Garrett is new to the ministry only time will tell if he has any ability to live up to his words.
Hopefully before then he will learn that the environmental picture is larger and more complex than the issue of plastic bags.
Some of the main conclusions and recommendations of the OECD review suggest that Australia might be falling behind in effectively addressing:
transport sector emissions, air pollution control monitoring, fine particle pollution, urban growth pressure, use of market-based instruments to advance ecologically sustainable development, exit assistance for business/industry to protect environmental integrity, water scarcity, energy sector net greenhouse gas emissions, agency data collection, monitoring and reporting, integration of traditional owners into whole-of-government policy on natural resource management, equity for all Australian stakeholders, public consultation mechanisms, environmental impact training for business operators, integration of environmental objectives into government procurement and operation policies.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Joe Hockey loses his cool, again and again and again...

WorkChoices may finally be on the way out and Australian Workplace Agreements dead and gone, but Liberal and Nationals MPs brought the House of Representatives to a state of near chaos yesterday when the Minister for Workplace Relations Julia Gillard put forward a motion asking that the House recognise the ills caused by WorkChoices and undertake that statutory individual employment agreements should never be reintroduced into Australian industrial relations law.

The Liberals Joe Hockey went ballistic and tried to shut the motion down. The Opposition then tried twice more in succession to gag debate of the motion.
Thwarted they tried a third time and then Uncle Joe unsuccessfully moved that the Deputy Speaker's ruling be dissented from.

On and on and round and round the arguments and divisions went, from 11.39am to 1.02pm, until Ms. Gillard's motion was finally voted in.

Immediately after that the Opposition Deputy Leader Julie Bishop rose to a make a motion praising WorkChoices and the whole uproar started again for another 21 minutes, as the Government retaliated by gagging this debate and forcing a vote.

Almost two hours of parliamentary mayhem, only lightened by the unconscious irony of former Howard Government minister Tony Abbott referring to another party's parliamentary tactics as "jackboot government" and Labor's Anthony Albanese losing patience and calling Hockey "fool".
Such a waste of taxpayers money. reported on aspects of the uproar yesterday.
Hansard records it all here.

Those life-style nongs are at it again

I frequently have to wonder whether there is anything at all in the brainboxes of some who decide to purchase small parcels of rural land, for a life style change or a gamble on future rezoning.
These people are thick on the ground now on the NSW North Coast and a few like these misguided souls are objecting to payment of the Rural Lands Protection Board levy.
Yelling that this is a tax on seachangers they refuse to cough up for years on end.
Rarely do you find owners like these keeping their land in good heart. Often their plots are weed filled and sour, with no crop or stock in sight.
The half-hearted attempts at bush regeneration are often abandoned before completion. 
I have little sympathy with their views. All I see is more agricultural land being removed from any meaningful productivity and court time being wasted.
Gimme, gimme folks one and all. They give genuine small-acreage farmers a bad name.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

It's not easy being green: time for Australian governments to put their investments in order

This month the Australian Conservation Council released its 32 page report Responsible Public Investment in Australia.
Few of the government funds interviewed for this report appeared to have linked ESG factors with their material influence on returns and the associated risks and opportunities in investment management.
This demonstrates a worrying disconnection between many public sector funds and industry best practice developments.
In many cases government asset managers lack the transparency of private sector asset managers in terms of their investment strategy and portfolio holdings.
However, a small number of asset managers were aware of ESG developments and reported
that the UN PRI was being considered at board level.
Government investments in the energy sector may be undermining stated environmental policy
The investment practices of government funds have the potential to support or detract from government policy goals.
Most Australian jurisdictions, for example, have policies and laws that related to climate change and energy.
But investment priorities sometimes appear to undermine stated policy objectives.
The total investment of all State, Territory and Commonwealth funds in the listed energy sector is estimated as follows:
Industry: Holdings ($ million):
Nuclear/uranium $ 559
Fossil fuels $ 5,379
Renewable energy $ 126
There appear to be contradictions between these investment holdings and the stated policy goals of some States and Territories.
In particular:
• NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia all have significant holdings in uranium-related equities, despite legislative or political bans on uranium mining;
• All jurisdictions have very low holdings in the renewable energy sector, despite a stated strong commitment to renewable energy as a critical part of future energy generation; and
• All jurisdictions have significant exposures to fossil fuel industries, despite a range of policy commitments relating to the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The imbalance between investment in fossil fuels and renewable energy sources is striking, given the public commitment of all Australian governments to renewable energy.
The report also identifies the Commonwealth Futures Fund as not taking social, environmental and governance issues into consideration when making investment portfolio management decisions.
It's time for a whole of government approach to public investment. The Rudd Government needs to lead the way by example on this and then drag the states, kicking and screaming if necessary, into a green investment plan.