Monday, August 31, 2009

Lets Stimulate a few more Bogans

It will come as no surprise to learn that I am against big government - I am also against incompetent government. But when the choice is between big and incompetent I will usually favour going with big.

What I am saying is that incompetent government is much more of a threat to our society than is big government. As a result, I usually take the view that our Federal Government is less of a threat than our various State Governments - with provisos.

I will let you work out which of the Federal and State Governments is big and which is incompetent. The worst possible scenario is to end up with a big AND incompetent government.

Now having said all of that, I am surprised to see that the Federal Government’s stimulus push and $43 billion cash splash is almost exclusively directed toward Australia’s manual, administrative and retail workers.

The whole gig seems to have few targets. The building industry and the car industry are the obvious ones - and are the recipients of the bulk of the money.

And maybe that can be justified on the basis that they employ quite a few Australians - and will keep Gerry Harvey and dozens of CEO’s happily sipping Moet as they spend away.

As I have reported earlier, if you happen to work in these industries then you will probably be asking "what crisis" - as you throw back another VB while watching the footy on the new plasma screen in the lounge room of your McMansion. Or head for a short break in Bali or Fiji.

But surely, some substantial part of the stimulus should have been directed toward the *smart future* industries - the ones that are built by science and maths and technology and that rely on using our brains instead of our brawn.

Those of us who work in such industries are a bit miffed that science has been ignored yet again - its a little bit depressing to know that our Federal Government often talks about education and science but puts our money in the industries that rely on muscle power.

The unspoken message is that brickies and chippies and electricians and plumbers and real estate and car salesmen and other semi skilled people are valued ahead of scientists and mathematicians. Is that really the message that we want to send to our kids?

Perhaps it is but I sincerely hope not.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Surplus of Premiers

This week the South Australian Premier Mike Rann said he would implement a "rigorous lobbyist code of conduct with stringent rules governing their work and how they interact with ministers and other government representatives".

“Mr Rann said the South Australian code of conduct will see the establishment of a public register of lobbyists, and impose strict rules about former ministers and government executives engaging in lobbying activity after leaving public employment”.

All supposedly in response to those people who have been pointing out the serious conflicts of interest that permeate government decision making in South Australia and the need for a local ICAC type organisation.

As if this announcement is going to magically fix the endemic "old boys club" culture that pervades the activities of both major political parties in the state.

In the same week that Premier Rann made this heroic announcement, the Acting Premier - Kevin Foley announced that a former Premier - John Olsen would become a special envoy to the United States - to help identify business opportunities for South Australia.

Sounds like a case of too many Premiers to me.

The Acting premier declined to provide further details of this appointment including how much Mr Olsen would be paid - but said that "John Olsen is ideally placed to help the state". I suspect there would be some debate about that.

Perhaps this ex Premier is the outstanding and exceptional candidate - how would we know given that this appointment was made without scrutiny by the usual suspects in the "old boys club".

So I wonder if the "Lobbyist Code of Conduct" applies to Premiers, Acting Premiers and ex Premiers - and if not why not?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

John C Wegener

Today is my father’s birthday. He was born in Gawler, South Australia on the 25th August 1930 and died in Adelaide on the 21st December 2008.

With my mother Maureen he had five children (Roger, Sue, Kate, Janet, Tony) and had a diverse career working in the taxi industry, the vehicle industry, the oil industry, then farm machinery and the steel making industry. But he always remembered his roots and his family. While his final years were often painful with a variety of illnesses he was always cheerful and willing and able to communicate with friends and family. I do miss him.

He was one of two sons (David and John) of my grandparents Cliff and Laura who lived most of their lives in Kadina, South Australia. Cliff died in 1966 and Laura passed away in 1986.

Cliff was one of nine children of Lebrecht and Ellen who lived much of their life in Tumby Bay in South Australia.

Our family has recently found a substantial amount of new information about the early Wegener history in Australia and some of this will probably end up on my blog.

In the meantime, I plan to celebrate my dad’s birthday today.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Federal Tax Review and the States

Kenneth Wiltshire of the University of Queensland Business School has written extensively on comparative federalism and has recently completed a nine year term as a member of the Commonwealth Grants Commission.

So you would expect him to know something about our constitution, and the roles of the States and the Federal government - and the disbursement of tax dollars within and across our federation. Today he has an opinion piece in the usual location in "The Australian" on the current federal tax review.

It’s a well argued piece but he seems to take the position that we have a Federation of States and that is how it will always be - regardless of our national need and our ability to evolve and change.

He takes aim at the Federal Treasury and it’s Secretary Ken Henry as though they have positioned themselves as being above and beyond our constitution - he accuses them of ignoring the interests of the states.

Personally I don’t see a problem. I would much rather have Ken Henry in charge than any of the various State Treasurers or Under Treasurer’s - who simply aren’t "up to it" and have demonstrated that for decades. These regional politicians and functionaries seem to enjoy playing the role of the "dumb cousin" to the Federal Treasury’s "responsible father".

If we had even one State Treasurer or Under Treasurer over the past hundred years, who had shown enough gumption, promise and competence to have risen to the top then we would not have the mess of duplication that is infecting our nation and hindering our ability to deliver quality services to the Australian people.

Instead, we have an amalgam of waste, cost shifting, duplicate taxes, finger pointing, blame and even corruption that has been coming from the states for many decades. They simply can’t be trusted to look after the national interest - in many cases they can’t even look after their own interests.

So to Ken Henry - I say go for it. Review the tax system and the payments system as much as you like, and if that annoys the states and their apologists then bad luck.

If they are sufficiently concerned about it then they will get their own house in order and demonstrate that they can do better - but I won’t be holding my breath.

The Coalition - where is it headed?

Possum has a great analysis and series of graphs on the relative nationwide performance of the three major political parties (Labor, Liberal and Nationals) since 1996 - here.

Of particular interest (to me anyway) is the decline of the once mighty Coalition over that time.

Their Lower House seat holding has gone from 58% in 1996 to 39% in 2009 while the Labor party has gone from 40% in 1996 to 50% in 2009. Note that this measure is nationwide and includes the States and the Federal parliament.

Now I know that the Coalition is not big on analysis - at least not in any scientific way - but surely they have noticed this serious decline throughout their supposedly glorious years.

Ask any rusted on Coalition supporter about their greatest period in government and they will tell you that it was the period between 1996 and 2007 - when "the Stonefish" ruled the roost.

Well they may have been in government Federally but according to the decline in their seat holding, they impressed less and less Australians at the numerous State and Federal elections since 1996. This latest work by Possum demonstrates that the Coalition has been on the nose with declining support for all of that time.

If ever there was a time for some fact based analysis of why they are in serious decline - it is now. But realistically, I doubt they even know where to start.

Of course some of the Liberals who do recognise this decline are behind the recent attempts to draft Peter Costello into the leadership - sort of wishing and hoping that he can resurrect the "good old days".

It does look like the Nationals have worked something out though - especially with the increasingly shrill noise that Barnaby Joyce is making about carbon trading.

Barnaby is on a trajectory to become the Pauline Hanson of the decade. He will get there by demonising carbon trading instead of Asians but like her, he will rely on ignorance and fear to capture the attention of his constituents.

And like her he will crash and burn and probably take his party with him - amen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Five key reasons why newspapers are failing

A must read article by Bill Wyman on the newspaper industry in 2009.

If he were running a chain of papers, here’s what he'd do:

1) Go hyper local; devote all resources, from reporting to front-page space, to local news. No one cares what the Pittsburgh Post-Dispatch has to say about Iraq.

2) Redesign the websites to present users with a single coherent stream of news stories and blog entries. Create simple filters to allow them to tailor the site to their preferences.

3) Tell the union you won’t be touching salaries, but that all work rules are being suspended, including seniority rights. Tell all reporters that they’re expected to post news if word of it reaches them in what used to be thought of as "after hours."

4) Get out of the mindset of "nice" coverage. Tell the reporters to find the "talker" stories in town development battles, corrupt pols, anything with a consumer bent. Monitor web traffic to find out what people are interested in. If a particular issue jumps, flood the zone. Make each paper the center of every local debate, no matter how trivial, and make finding and creating those debates the operation’s prime job.

5) Create chain-wide coverage of all areas where it can be done. It’s sad, but it means laying off a lot more film critics and dozens of other duplicated positions. For such positions, do this. Hire two people to cover the beat for the chain. Make them into sparring partners, arguing about each new TV show, movie, CD, traveling Broadway show, concert tour etc. Get out of the business of being promotional. Give your readers sharply argued opinions, something fun to read they can’t get anywhere else.

6) Create local listings second to none. Create them from the users' point of view. Don't use abbreviations. Overwhelm users with insider information that only locals know; where to park, where to sit, when to go, etc. Get rid of all the site navigation levels no one cares about. Put the information people want front and center.

7) Devote as much manpower as possible to creating must-read local news blogs. Tell the bloggers to work the phones and IMs, finding out about every personnel change, every office move, any tidbit. Support and cite local bloggers in the same areas. Yell at staff members if they are consistently being scooped by (unpaid) competitors.

8) Create and maintain a wiki designed ultimately to function as an encyclopedia for the town, from neighborhoods and politicians to every retail establishment. Let it become the ultimate guide to the area. Like Wikipedia, it will inevitably contain information that is controversial. Cover the controversies with alacrity.

9) Serve the community. Don't publish crap. Tell folks stuff they might not want to hear. Grow a pair.

Fantastic stuff - makes me want to go do it...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How do we get them to listen - Bernard?

Another great article by Bernard Salt in The Australian today - this is a must read for anyone who knows they have been screwed but don’t yet understand how or why.

It’s really about who the winners and losers are and where they live - relative to our cities and the inner and outer suburbs. And the results are?

Well the results are the same as they have always been - the poor folks with little or no prospects live in the "burbs" or the "sticks" and the rich folks with great prospects live in the "inner cities".

Why is anyone surprised by this? As Bernard says:

"Between 1996 and 2006 the average income per person in the outer suburbs of Australian capital cities hovered a few percentage points above or below the Australian average".

"For this entire decade, these edges of our largest cities represented the heartland of (very) average Australia".

"However, it was a different story in the city centres - where income levels moved from 27% to 73% above the Australian average in a decade".

"The bottom line is that income levels in the outer suburbs remained average during the boom but in the inner city the gains were anything but average".

"At the heart of the differences is education. In the inner suburbs it is not uncommon for two thirds of adults to hold a bachelor degree or higher. In the outer suburbs this proportion is less than a third".

So there you have it - the single most important thing that anyone can do to improve their prospects and that of their family and offspring is to become - educated.

It’s always been thus and always will be - what amazes me is that so many people don’t get it. Actually I do know why - they don’t read - and so Bernard’s message is missed. Perhaps the smartest thing he can do is go to work on the Kyle and Jackie O show ;-)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ferret is Right

Yesterday, "Ferret" a member of the Finks Motorcycle Club criticised the state based anti biker laws in a speech to the National Press Club.

He said: "I’m not trying to say all bikers are saints, just like not all politicians or police are squeaky clean. But I would say that there is more organised criminal activity every day in Australia’s governments and police services than you would find at your local biker clubhouse".

Criminology expert Paul Wilson from Bond University said that biker related crime is small.

"Gang-related violence represents just 0.6 per cent of all crime in Australia and biker groups represents about half of that. OK some of it is horrific, but it’s a very small proportion".

So according to the expert, non biker crime accounts for 99.7% of all crime in Australia. And yet some states are ignoring that and pursuing the 0.3% that relates to bikers - with draconian legislation.

What on earth is that all about?

Simple really - this is about those State Governments desperately trying to shore up their untenable positions - diverting attention from their own failures by being seen to be "tough on crime".

And by the way, the real criminals roam free and do what they like while the state police agencies target those dreaded bikers.

As everyone knows bikers are the scourge of the nation, responsible for organised crime - and loads of bad stuff - and they probably also kidnapped the easter bunny and tortured father christmas - blah, blah, rhubarb, rhubarb and other irrelevant nonsense.

It’s simply a diversion - one that is often used by unscrupulous state politicians to gather more power and keep themselves and their mates on the gravy train.

It seems to me that it is about to backfire.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

New Underwear

There is such enormous dissatisfaction with the progress (or lack of it) within and across our various State Governments that there is some possibility we will eventually get to replace the state political system with something that is more representative, accountable and useful.

But I won’t be holding my breath - because the large array of vested interests who feed off it will be working overtime to keep the gravy train rolling as long as they can. I don’t expect it is something that will happen in my lifetime.

There are however some things that we can all do to resist the attempts of the dominant political parties to monopolise power at the state level. Here is some food for thought.

* Insist that your local member takes seriously his/her responsibility to represent your local community ahead of their party - and get them to express that in writing.

* Find a small party or independent that is worthy of your vote and encourage them to remain independent.

* Provide financial and moral support to the independents and minor parties - there are plenty to choose from. You might even want to help them by contributing your time and effort around election time - they need all the support they can get.

* Ignore the major parties - don’t participate in their focus groups or PR sessions or fundraisers and let them know that you expect a representative who looks after your interests and not one who is dictated to by the party machine.

* Encourage and support their attempts to expose the rip-offs and rorts that are often perpetrated by political machines across the nation. Join a local chapter and participate in their activities.

* Take your vote seriously and consider all the alternatives at each election. Don’t vote for a party just because you always have done so - or your parents did - seek out the candidates and get them to put their case and then select one based on merit.

* Above all treat incumbent governments like underwear and change them often. The longer a government stays in power the more entrenched they become and the harder they are to shift. Plus there is no better way to ensure a viable opposition than by signaling that they have a chance to claim the treasury benches - next time.

With any luck if there are enough Australians who are interested in the health of our democracy then we just might have a chance at fixing the State system.

Perhaps the best quote about democracy is this one by George Bernard Shaw: "Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve".

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Battle of the Teams

One of the crazy things about our political system is how the major parties have exploited the "footy team" concept and have created a supporter base that is partisan and one eyed.

It’s as though they have copied the play book that has been so successfully exploited by the AFL and applied it to the political process. Each have managed to convince their supporters that their team is the only one with all the answers.

This is all about capturing and exploiting the fears of those people who really can’t think for themselves and channeling their uncertainty into support for one or other of the political teams. It’s about developing a class of supporters known as the "rusted on’s". It’s quite a feat when you think about it.

You only have to look at the answers to the regular Newspoll questions that are broken down along major party lines to see the extent of this. For example, in a recent survey about the "Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme" we can see a key difference between Labor and Liberal supporters - as follows.

In Favour68%48%20%

It is clearly not plausible to suggest that either the Labor or Liberal supporters who participated in this survey - are exclusively knowledgeable on this issue so why the large differences?

There are a number of possibilities but my theory is that they are merely following the lead that has been set for them by their "political team".

In other words they are sheep meandering along the path that has been defined for them by the wolves who are masquerading as the political machine.

Another example of democracy at work under our party system.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The bogans are attacking each other

So the likes of Kyle and Jackie O can get away with the most god-awful and seriously bogan behaviour for years and no-one cares. Did anyone notice?

But when their antics affect the bottom line and sponsors start to withdraw funding from their show - then apparently the whole world gets all sentimental and precious.

Yesterday the Kyle and Jackie O show was said to be "in recess" from their radio station - 2Day FM. Today Kyle was sacked from Channel 10 as a "Judge" on Australian Idol.

All supposedly because some invisible line was crossed last week.

And the commentary today has been that the radio station will most likely increase it’s ratings because they are gone. If that is the case why were they there in the first place?

It’s quite simple really, the likes of 2Day FM and Channel 10 have built a programming model that is based on it’s appeal to bogans. The advertisers want to sell their stuff to these bogans and so they have been pouring money into advertising on these media outlets.

Cashed up bogans are a good target because they are strongly consumer focussed and not overly discerning - in other words they are an easy target. Plus it’s a very sad fact that these bogans appear to outnumber any other obvious clan of Australian’s.

But all of a sudden some of the bogans have turned turtle and are now offended by the bad behaviour - perhaps they think "youse" have gone too far ;-)

So the advertisers are withdrawing their patronage - and as a result 2Day FM and Channel 10 have become all concerned and moralistic - because they want to keep the money and the audience.

That’s the problem with building a business with a revenue model that is based on bad behaviour and poor taste - you never know when the fashion will change.