Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Give thanks to NSW

The Liberal Party should surely be giving thanks to New South Wales for that appears to be the only state where there is a likelihood of putting a further dent in the Labor Party's national dominance of governments. After the surprise of its narrow win in Western Australia which ended Labor's monopoly on state and territory power, and a narrow loss in the Northern Territory, there was much enthusiasm and hope among Liberals that the electoral pendulum really was starting to swing in their direction.
The actual election results since then in Queensland and the ACT and opinion polls elsewhere suggest that this is a rather strange pendulum. While in NSW the Coalition has a handy lead, the Newspoll figures for Victoria out this morning show that the Government of John Brumby is still doing remarkably well. A poll last week in The Advertiser contained no evidence of a swing against Labor in that state either.
It would seem to me, incidentally, to be something of an anomaly that the market has Labor and the Coalition so close together on the national Indicator. If you believed the latest trio of opinion polls you would have Kevin Rudd and his team very much shorter than 62%. It is only the need to tie up the dollars for over a year before there is a result that is stopping me from backing my opinion but I must say I am tempted.

Rotting capitalist era art

It is a wonderful thing to behold the way respectable institutions cling so tightly to ill gotten gains. The battle by Greece for the relocation of the Elgin marbles from the British Museum in London to Athens has been well and truly in the news of late and overshadowed another wonderful example involving those highly principled people t Yale University. Through the largesse of a donor, Yale ended up with Vincent Van Gogh's famous picture "The Night Cafe" after it had spent many years in a gallery of Soviet Russia after being seized come the revolution of 1917 from the collection of one Ivan Morozov (1871-1921), a Russian textile tycoon and discerning collector of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. The sale by the Soviet to raise funds was part of a program to rid the country of“art of the rotting capitalist era”. Now a descendant of old Ivan has filed a suit against Yale in an endeavour to get the family treasure back, and the university has filed one of its own to assert its valid title to the picture. The only winners in this dispute are bound to be the lawyers for the respective sides while if Vincent were still alive to observe it all he would surely spend another three nights on the drink at the 24 hour cafe as he did when he produced the work in question.

I want to believe in Harry

It was a pretty standard collection of sportsmen behaving badly stories this morning. My morning media round-up for Crikey had four of them and it should have been five but I forgot one. There were two about a couple of rugby league players.now on charges which involved a girl being hit at a night club, another group including a star now playing rugby union in France denied entry to the same place and then the description of the Sydney Roosters as being a rugby league club "out of control" when it came to the influence of booze on the culture of its players.
The fifth story I meant to include but didn't was a Sydney Daily Telegraph apologia by Josh Mssoud putting forward one Matthew Johns as being a suitable candidate to become coach of the NSW State of Origin rugby league side. Mr Johns, you might remember, was the retired player stood down from the Channel Nine commentary team after ABC Four Corners did its story about members oif the Cronulla team for which he played having a gang bang with a now quite distraught woman while in New Zealand. Mr Massoud, who purports to give expert opinion, wants his readers to "Ignore the odour of charcoaled flesh that still accompanies Johns after he was burned at the stake for Cronulla's 2002 group sex incident - and remember the man we all loved not so long ago."
Before Channel Nine succumbed to populist bullying and pulled the plug on Johns' commentary career, he came across as one of the game's best analysts. But from an Origin perspective, it wasn't so much Johns' technical observations that impressed.
It was the passion with which he delivered them. Johns devoured a fine game of rugby league, a debate about its most contentious issues, or an interview with one of its brightest stars, with the relish of a footy tragic tucking into a piping hot meat pie on the hill.
Toss is a collection of stories from on field incidents like the one about the Queensland Aussie Rules player being investigated by police for assault after a brutal on-field football incident that left an opponent with a broken jaw, eye socket, cheek bone and nose; A Springbok rugby union international rubbed out for eye gouging and Barry Hall of the Swan's once again setting a shocking example by going the biff and it was not a sporting morning to get enthused about.
Which was a pity really because last night I had watched an intriguing interview on Fox television with with a young Collingwood footballer with a Brazilian mother and an African father named Harry O'Brien who presented quite a different image of a modern football superstar. Harry writes a blog on the Collingwood website where he describes, among other things, how he gets the bus every Wednesday night to his meditation classes. It sure beats getting thrown out of night clubs.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Small business power

It was surely no accident that the decision to scrap the supermarket price watch scheme came shortly after the Minister for Small Business Craig Emerson had consumer affairs added to his responsibilities in the recent ministerial reshuffle. The group with most to lose from publicity being given to supermarket prices are small supermarket operators not the major Woolworths and Coles chains who are being blamed for forcing the breaking of this first major Labor election promise. Mr Emerson, who has been actively out and about listening to small business people, knows that advertising prices in a fair dinkum fashion would be very much to the advantage of the two major chains plus the growing force of Aldi.
The real test for Labor on the grocery pricing front will be whether it is prepared to act against the standover tactics that the majors employ to ensure that suppliers give them a price advantage over the smaller operators.

Preserving its thunder

At The Oz they jealously guard the pre-eminence with which its fortnightly Newspoll figures are treated by the rest of the press and the politicians. Whenever the rival AC Nielsen polling team have been in the field, the release of the Newspoll figures is moved from the normal Tuesday publication day to Monday. So it was this morning that the bad news for the Coalition, and for the Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull in particular, came from two barrels. Well, three actually. The day was chosen as well for one of the very occasional polls taken by Galaxy for the Murdoch tabloids.
And what really did the trio of pollsters tell us? Very little that is new. While individual polls bob around a bit which enables journalists to invent an explanation for such behaviour the findings has been the same since the last election. Kevin Rudd is thought to be a better leader than anyone in the Opposition and Labor has a bigger lead than it had at the last election.

Stable interest rates

Confidence is increasing still further that the Reserve Bank will keep official interest rates unchanged at its July meeting. The Owl/Crikey Interest Rate Indicator now has no change as an 84% probability.

No spin needed for spoon feeding

There was a time when journalists for the mainstream television and radio outlets were outraged at the very suggestion that they be provided with electronic versions of the press statement. It was taken to be a matter of journalistic pride that what went to air was the result of what they themselves recorded not some handout. Those days are clearly gone as was illustrated at the weekend by the alacrity with which a run was given by the major news services to a Prime Ministerial You Tube statement.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Shifting the blame - it wasn't my idea

We can be sure that things are getting tense within a political party when pollies start saying "don't blame me - it was all his idea." Which is what is happening now to the Liberals as they leave Canberra behind for the winter break. The Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz (or perhaps someone kindly acting on his behalf) has very pointedly spread the line that Malcolm Turnbull was personally responsible for the tactical decision to try and finger Kevin Rudd as improperly helping his Ipswich car dealer mate. In the Melbourne Herald Sun this morning is a story that the Opposition Leader, hell bent on bringing down the Prime Minister, ignored Senator Abetz's advice not to do so on the basis of the ute gate email.
Senator Abetz loyally went along with his leader's instruction to bring details of the email out during the Senate evidence of Godwin Grech and, according to anonymous Liberal MPs quoted in the Sun Herald, Senator Abetz was now being unfairly blamed for the email debacle.

What's this ute business?

It is always something of a reality check for those of us of grand fatherly age to catch up with the younger generation. Thus it was at dinner last night that I was asked by an intelligent 26 year old mother of two "What's all this ute business about?" There was I well and truly uted after a week of reading and hearing about it and the notion that something was going on in politics was just reaching an ordinary voter.

A policy to follow

Those industry super fund advertisements of the people the same age paying the same amount ending up with vastly different payouts have clearly registered with me but the practice of so-called financial planners charging their outrageous commissions continues. Clearly not everyone has yet got the message of the cumulative impact of that percentage being skimmed off every year for ever. In Australia there has been much discussion about ensuring that the commissions paid on financial products is properly disclosed to those being advised but I notice that the British Financial Services Authority (FSA) has outlined a far more radical shake-up of the investment, pension and life assurance industries by spelling out plans to ban independent financial advisers (IFAs) taking commission for selling savings plans full stop.
Under the proposals, to come into effect at the end of 2012, advisers will have to charge customers a fee rather than receiving commission from the savings and pensions companies they recommend. The London Daily Telegraph reports consumers will be told how much the advice is going to cost up front and be given the choice of paying it as a fee or having the cost deducted from their premiums.
The FSA is also moving to make clearer the different types of advice given by financial planners. Advisers will have to describe themselves as either offering "independent advice" or "restricted advice" – where recommendations are based on a small range of products. Tied sales forces of banks and insurers, who cannot give independent advice, will be made to specifically disclose the size of their commission charges to improve disclosure. Advisers, whether independent or tied, will also be required to hold a qualification equivalent to passing the first year of university. An independent Professional Standards board will oversee the regime.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Turnbull really is in trouble

hen a Liberal leader loses Dennis Shanahan as a supporter we can safely assume he really is doing badly. The political editor of The Austrtalian is not a journalist to be easily swayed by a left leaning press gallery herd. He tends to stick to the views that the paper's bosses would like to think are held by the majority of its readers. Dennis showed that right through the dying year of John Howard's rule when he steadfastly remained a loyal supporter always looking for a sign of hope as the evidence of impending defeat mounted. That conservative viewpoint remains but after quite an extended period away from active duty he has returned anything but a fervent admirer of Malcolm Turnbull.
Take this morning's offering where he described Kevin Rudd as sounding "like a prime minister with his foot on the throat of an opponent and a finger itching for an election trigger." That gloomy assessment came after the previous day's description that "Liberal MPs no longer just look like they are thinking of defeat at the next election, they are beginning to talk about it", and that "even Malcolm Turnbull has raised the fear of losing a double-dissolution election in an attempt to impose discipline and unity."
On Tuesday the Shanahan commentary had been even harsher when he wrote:
What had been primed as a king hit on the Rudd Labor government, designed to take out Rudd and Swan, has turned into a potentially mortal wounding of Turnbull. No matter what the evidence, the logic or the sense of political justice, the Coalition has botched its prosecution of Swan. And it has opened the way for a government demolition of Turnbull's character.
The significance of these comments is considerable. This is the political commentator that Liberal MPs know is the most sympathetic to their cause within the press gallery and the commentator who writes for the one newspaper that consistently supports them against Labor.
Malcolm Turnbull surely is in serious trouble.

Tabloids lead, broadsheets follow

The ABC and The Australian are the last bastion of interest in ute gate as a news story. I noted yesterday how the tabloids had moved on to other things and now the Fairfax broadsheets have followed suit. The Oz kept plugging away with a page one lead this morning that had the look of a paper that decided it should keep putting the boot into the Opposition Leader and the ABC's AM program kept going at breakfast but I notice the World Today had moved onto other things at lunchtime
Malcolm Turnbull should be thankful that he will now have a couple of months in which he can hide away from Canberra to lick his very considerable wounds.

Best horse racing coverage on businessspectator

I have noted on a couple of occasions in the last year that the Australian racing industry is about to undergo some amazing changes as the pots of gold provided by monopoly state totalisator businesses disappear and commented on the reluctance of the major newspapers to draw attention to what is unfolding. Clearly the papers are desperate to preserve one of their own last advertising monopolies - the production of advertorial formguides - and do not wish to risk offending the totalisator operators.
Over on our associated businessspectator.com.au website there are none of those inhibitions and so it is that the best coverage of the future of Australian racing has appeared in the form of an interview with Tabcorp CEO Elmer Funke Kupper. An accompanying commentary by Robert Gottliebsen neatly summarises the problems the racing industry will soon have dealing with employment cut backs, lower prize money and the fall in the value of horses.

A royal familiarity

My fluent Spanish speaking correspondent was so excited to hear Kevin Rudd's welcome in Spanish yesterday to the Spanish King and Queen but was surprised that such a stickler for detail as our Prime Minister said,according to the ABC, 'con vuestra visita' which means 'with your visit'. This is the highly casual use of the form 'you'. Spanish, like most Latin languages has both informal and formal use of the word 'you' and 'vuestra' is the casual form. Not exactly appropriate for a head of state! I know people who call their parents in law the formal version of you, so its suprising that no one picked Rudd up on this. It is however, very standard to use in Latin America, so perhaps thats why it went through. Just thought you'd all like to know.
I haven't seen a video though and can't find one, so am unsure how accurate the report is. I searched El Pais, the major Spanish paper for it and found nothing. However they did note the ironic nature of friendly Turnbull was to Rudd during the Spanish meet and greet although they had just been slugging at each other during parliament.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Advice from a real pro

When you look through the list of donations to political parties published by the Australian Electoral Commission, the Motor Trades Association of Australia does not feature yet the success the MTAA had in getting government aid when car dealers were threatened with a loss of finance shows that the body has considerable clout in Canberra. Perhaps there was a little hint of how this can be so in some comments made by MTAA chief Michael Delaney about the donation of that ute to Kevin Rudd's electorate campaign office by one of Ipswich members. Mr Delaney explained that he encouraged all MTAA members to assist politicians with their local campaigning. It is the big donors to head offices of political parties who might get the headlines but it is those who spend a little and often at the grass roots level who end up with the influence.

Political revenge

Third parties that hold the balance of power in upper houses normally at least pretend not to be in the blackmailing business by saying that they do not engage in trading votes on an issue important to a government for government support on a separate issue of concern to them. Thus the naked power of the blackmailer generally is hidden from public view. Up in the New South Wales Legislative Council at the moment the polite fiction is being discarded with the NSW Government's $500 million plan to privatise lotteries facing defeat after the Government rejected Shooters Party legislation for hunting in national parks. The Sydney Morning Herald reports this morning that the Shooters have sided with the Greens on several issues over the past week, sending a clear message to the Government that their votes cannot be taken for granted. The Shooters Party MP Roy Smith, asked which way the party would vote on the lotteries bill, said: "We have yet to make up our minds." His indecision follows the deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt confirming that Labor will not be supporting a Shooters Party bill allowing hunting in national parks.

A grand Treasury tradition

Over in the Treasury building they fancy themselves as the upholders of the tradition of the fearlessly independent public service but Godwin Grench shows that within the department there has been often a unique definition of impartiality. The spirit that governments acting improperly should be exposed came in to view most famously during the last months of the Whitlam Labor Government in 1975 when the shadow Treasurer Phillip Lynch was briefed regularly by a senior insider on the dubious fund raising activities of Minister Rex Connor. The big difference between then and now is that the identity of Godwin Grench has become public. Unlike Malcolm Turnbull, Phillip Lynch and Malcolm Fraser knew how to keep secret the name of the giver of secrets.

News sense returning to normal?

Perhaps we can declare that ute gate has done its dash and that news sense is returning to normal. Two of the big three tabloids down the eastern sea board this morning featured previews of tonight's State or Origin rugby league game with the Melbourne Herald Sun going for a woman claiming to have been raped by a Carlton AFL footballer.

Readers of media web sites certainly have moved on. Canberra's drama was not on top of any of the major most read lists at midday.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Serious Fairfax readers show the way

As I have been looking through the websites these last few weeks preparing the Crikeymorning media wrap I have noticed things getting more serious at the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age. For years the web versions of the two broadsheets used to bare so little resemblance to what appeared in the print versions that I had taken to calling them the broadloids. Then in the last couple of months the Fairfax strategy seemed to change with the more serious offerings of the papers given prominence over the light weight puff offerings that appeal to readers of the proper tabloids.

So it was not really a surprise this morning to find that the story of Utegate topped the most read list of both The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Both have given excellent and comprehensive coverage to this fascinating yarn without having any obvious barrow to push like The Australian where for days they were almost willing the Prime Minister to be caught out. Some justice this morning then that in the national daily it was the Qantas jet in the dark on turbulence risk that led the way with Malcolm Turnbull’s fake email nightmare in second place.

Sydney Telegraph readers were attracted to the tale of the NSW girl pregnant at age 12 while up north at the Courier Mail they wereintrigued by the story from down south in Hobart where a robber who demanded cash from a service station in Tasmania was told by the attendant: “You need a weapon.” In Hobart itself Mercuryreaders were fascinated by the tale of the Clarence footballer who flashed his penis during a live television broadcast.

At the Melbourne Herald Sun and the Adelaide Advertiser a version of the Utegate story did top the most read list but on the omnibusnews.com.au site it was the tragic tale of the mum who died after donating a kidney to save her daughter’s life who had caught the most attention of readers.

Over in Perth the subject fascinating readers of the West Australian was a look inside the new headquarters of the Finks bikie gang.

And what conclusion can we reach from this little survey? Probably that the story of Utegate is not proving as fascinating to most Australians as it is to the political junkies who determine what news should appear on page one of our newspapers and lead the way on the television news bulletins. Malcolm Turnbull can at least be pleased about that.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

History medium and ancient

"When Labor turns banker, don’t taxpayers always have to pick up the tab?" is the current line that Malcolm Turnbull thinks will help revive his electoral fortunes. He used it several times yesterday as he tried to justify the Opposition's decision to vote against the Australian Business Investment Partnership Bill of 2009 in the Senate. The Liberals and Nationals really think there are votes to be gained from preventing the Government setting up a joint venture with the private banks to provide finance to property developers if and when current loans provided by foreign banks are not renewed. "I ask the Prime Minister," Mr Turnbull said in question time, "to detail to the House the Labor Party’s record in commercial property lending and advise honourable members how many thousands of jobs and billions of taxpayers’ dollars were lost through the Labor government run state banks in Victoria and South Australia."
Outside of Parliament House in the real world of voters I doubt there would be many people at all who had any idea what he was talking about. The Prime Minister might just as well have replied that Australians fondly remembered the great success the Labor Government of 1911 had with the establishment of the Commonwealth Bank. Certainly the idea that once again there should be a Government owned bank to ensure competition with the current oligopolists would have plenty of support among voters.

Differences of opinions about what is news

The main ABC television news last night gave extensive coverage to a stepping up by Labor of its attack on Malcolm Turnbull over one aspect of his past dealings as a merchant banker. This morning the newspapers largely ignored the story.
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister Tony Burke was the Minister chosen to lead the attack because the Dorothy Dix question was framed around the desirability of sustainable forest practices. Could the Minister provide, Mr Burke was asked, examples of dangerous and reckless logging practices?
He most certainly could and proceeded to do so in considerable detail:
I am reminded of the example of Axiom Forest Resources, a company that engaged in logging in the Solomon Islands in the 1990s, at the same time that the Leader of the Opposition
was both its chairman and a shareholder. I read with interest an article earlier this year in the Sunday Telegraph. The title of the article is: ‘Malcolm Turnbull linked to mass logging operation in Solomon Islands’. It went on to report about the island of Vangunu, home to just over 2,000 people in the Solomons. The Leader of the Opposition’s company certainly left its mark on the island; it was never the same. A report provided by AusAID said:
… more like a clear-felling operation and bearing little relation to an attempt at even retaining a token sample of future commercial crop on the site.
Further:
The degree of canopy removal and soil disturbance was the most extensive seen by the authors in any logging operation in tropical rainforest in any country … The impact from the destruction of the resource was such that, instead of it being done in a sustainable way, the resource was essentially shot to pieces and that then had an ongoing impact on the soil. When rain went through, the water would take in the order of 24 hours to a week to clear and, in the rainy season, the plumes became a semi-permanent feature.
It was also revealed in March 2007 that the chairman of that company bought in at 200,000 grand and sold out one year later for $25 million. That is not a bad story for the Leader of the Opposition but a pretty shocking story for the residents of that island in the Solomon Islands. In a 1997 report into logging practices in the Solomon Islands, it was also revealed that complex corporate arrangements where consistently entered into to avoid tax. This is something that would be known fairly well by someone who has been willing to be an opportunist in this way—an opportunist who was also willing, as the minister for the environment, to describe rainforests as ‘the lungs of the world’ some years after he had decided to be part of an operation that was clear-felling the lungs of the world.
Quite clearly the Government has decided that the Turnbull years as a merchant banker will provide fertile ground to be tilled between now and the next election.

Getting to know you

The Australian Democrats now have "up to 200 friends" on Facebook I am informed in the party's most recent email newsletter. Make of that what you will but at least they cannot be accused or branch stacking.

Playing games on internet news sites

Forget the news. Just click on to the Sydney Daily Telegraph site to play the games.
Ah well, I suppose it's not much difference to those old fashioned crosswords that probably account for a major proportion of the sales of the printed version.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

A victory not a defeat

The glib description as the Rudd Bank of the proposed financial aid for commercial property developers that the Senate defeated last night will have done the Labor Government no harm and nor will the defeat of the legislation. Property companies are traditionally the largest financiers of election campaign costs for the political parties and Labor will be rewarded for trying when the hat gets passed around next year. Collectors for Malcolm Turnbull on the other hand will find the going very tough indeed. Not that this is an issue Labor will be keen to elevate in to great prominence by reintroducing it in three months time to provide a double dissolution trigger. The money of property developers is handy but campaigning for them too openly is not a vote winner.

Brown wins from defeat too

The Liberal Party is trying to suggest that there is something improper in Bob Brown getting public donations to pay the legal bills of some court room challenges to the activities of Forestry Tasmania. The party would be better served by being quiet. Reminding people that it is the Greens, and Greens alone, who are prepared to go into battle to preserve the trees simply gives the good Senator more support. Whenever the environmental question under public discussion is to do with trees the Greens pick up support. When they are off on one of their wacky social justice campaigns the support is more likely to drop

A tentative interest rate indicator

No change is the firm early prediction of the Owl's July Reserve Bank Interest Rate Indicator. Trading in the prediction markets used to derive our Indicator has so far been relatively light but the probability of no change at the July meeting of the Reserve Bank Board being put at 73%. A fall of a quarter of a point is rated as more likely than an increase

The benefit is yet to come

The wonderful way of economic leads and lags is illustrated in this morning's Australian Bureau of Statistics figures for dwelling units commencements in the March quarter. The total number of new private sector house dwelling units commenced fell 4.0% in the quuarter which followed a revised fall of 11.5% in the December quarter. The seasonally adjusted estimate for new private sector other residential building fell 6.6% in the March quarter following a revised fall of 21.8% in the December quarter.
Yet an upturn in home building activity should soon be on the way. Both the number and value of financial commitments for owner occupied housing have been on the rise since back in September.

Preparing his escape hatch?

Offering a job to Peter Costello! Fair dinkum - if Kevin Rudd is that desperate to show what a bipartisan conservative he is then maybe it is true that he is seeking the job as Secretary General of the United Nations.

In case you watch by mistake

With the Seven Network taking off its Sunday night current affairs offering to make way for Dancing With the Stars I thought an extension of our Owl Election Indicators was called for. So here it is: the opening probabilities for the show we pretend we only watch because of the kids.

Back to being serious

Economic problems are not being seen as an impediment to the-re-election chances of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. With a couple of months to go she is a firm favourite the Owl's Election Indicator:

A tip from Her Majesty the Queen

A flurry of bets from staff at Buckingham Palace has gone on the Queen’s horse Four Winds in the Hampton Court Stakes to be run at the Royal Ascot race meeting on Friday. The Queen’s first runner at the meeting will be Instalment which is 20/1 in the pre-post market for the Jersey Stakes. The London Daily Telegraph reports that the Monarch is known to put wagers on her own horses.

Personally I would rather get a tip from Her Majesty’s personal staff about what she will wear on Ladies Day than what is expected of her six horses entered over the carnival which dates back to 1711 when Queen Anne drove from nearby Windsor Castle to Ascot with her entourage for a day’s sport organised at her command. Bookmakers have framed a market on the colour of Queen Elizabeth’s Ladies Day hat with yellow being the current favourite at 4/1.

Overnight, Australian speedster Scenic Blast, ridden by Steven Arnold, triumphed in the King’s Stand Stakes ahead of Fleeting Spirit and Anglezarke.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

And so, he was too gutless after all

When it came to the final crunch Peter Costello had no stomach for the political fights. He wouldn't risk the initial defeat in the party room that was probably a pre-requisite to finally toppling John Howard. He did his sums after the Coalition's defeat and could not cop the thought of three - and probably six - hard years his Party was then prepared to give him as Leader of the Opposition. He mischievously toyed while sitting on the backbench about changing his mind but yesterday he admitted defeat for what is presumably the last time. Peter Costello should soon be gone and the Liberal Party will be well rid of him.

Persistence deserves being rewarded

Those of you who look at the Breakfast Media Wrap posted on the Crikey website each morning around 7am might have noticed the continuing probing away by the Melbourne Age at the activities of the note printing division of the Reserve Bank of Australia and an associated company. For several weeks now the paper has been running stories that have made this reader very curious about the ethical standards being followed in the pursuit of business for the plastic notes business. This morning's instalment drew attention to the refusal by the Assistant Treasurer Nick Sherry to answer questions from Greens leader Bob Brown in the Senate about the overseas dealings of Securency Pty Ltd and Note Printing Australia (NPA), saying it was "not appropriate" while the Australian Federal Police assessed their activities. Senator Brown is not the kind of man to be fobbed off forever and the Coalition should be joining him in setting up an inquiry into the whole matter for there are surely few aspects of government more important than the Reserve Bank conducting its activities with complete probity.

Moving along nicely

Bank bashing is moving along nicely with the good old Commonwealth doing its bit by organising an end of financial year function to thank staff for some successful fee gouging. The tabloid headlines this morning - Which bank parties as mortgages soar?; Commonwealth Bank’s 5-star party; Commonwealth Bank celebrates lifting mortgage rates with lavish party - with the stories underneath of Krug champagne and caviar must surely be one of the yer's great PR disasters. Just as surely the stories increase the growing pressure on the government I wrote of yesterday to stop talking and start acting.

Australia on top

The violent treatment of Indian students in Australia might have dropped out of the news media here this week but it continues to feature prominently in India. This morning it finally reached the status of the front page splash in the Times of India.
Similar stories have made page one in recent weeks but I don't recall them reaching pride of place before.
You will get the flavour of the anti-Australian feeling from this collection of related stories the TOI listed this morning:

Monday, 15 June 2009

Paying off the cards

Evidence this morning from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that at least some prudent people used their $900 bonuses to pay something off their credit cards. The figures for personal finance reveal that in April revolving credit commitments in seasonally adjusted terms decreased 2.9%. Overall the value of total personal finance commitments increased 0.2% with fixed lending commitments up 3.8% largely as the result of loans for housing.
Business lending remains in a decline with the seasonally adjusted series for the value of total commercial finance commitments decreased 12.9% in April 2009 compared with March 2009. This was driven by falls in fixed lending commitments (down 17.9%) and revolving credit commitments (down 1.2%).
The value of commitments for the purchase of dwellings by individuals for rent or resale (trend) increased 1.3% in April 2009, following a revised increase of 1.2% in March 2009. The seasonally adjusted series rose 5.3% in April 2009.

Action against banks needed soon

The time is fast approaching when the Labor Government will have to do more than just go tut-tut when the banks move to protect their profit margins by increasing interest rates when all around them other companies and individuals are suffering from this global recession. There is no doubt about it; the public will soon turn on Treasurer Wayne Swan and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for being all talk and no action.
The Federal Government certainly has the power to limit the profits the banks make. All it takes is a modest return to some of the regulatory regimes overturned by the Hawke and Keating Labor Governments. That Messrs Swan and Rudd have not done that already was to avoid the risk of Australian financial institutions getting in to the same kind of mess as their overseas peers. Now that the danger of such collapses here has passed, giving banks one up the bracket has become possible.
And the politicians will understand the necessity of doing so too. There is nothing like fear of a little electoral unpopularity to concentrate the mind.

The punter's lament

We was robbed has been the cry of the losing punter from time immemorial but I've no one to blame but myself. There I was on Friday putting my hard earned on the people of Iran throwing out a President without paying any regard to the possibility of a non-elected Ayatollah being just as likely to rig an election count as any other authoritarian ruler.
Evidence of an electoral rort is not easy to find at this distance but the views of the New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof I summarised in this morning's Breakfast Media Wrap make a compelling argument. Ahmadinejad’s victory, he wrote, looks extraordinarily suspicious.
If he won by that margin, he would be the most popular Iranian president ever - which he certainly isn’t. And it seems exceptionally unlikely that he won in Moussavi’s hometown, as the government claims. That’s the problem with dictators - they don’t just try to steal a squeaker of an election, they try to steal a landslide. In the process they lose plausibility and legitimacy.
I notice too that the Al Jazeera website has chosen to put quotation marks around the word "victory".

It is not just sore losers and Americans who are sceptical. Iranians are too as this moving account in The Independent tells:

Friday, 12 June 2009

Leadership lament

Surely that NSW Premier Nathan Rees could not be such a nark as to do what the Sydney Daily Telegraph predicted this morning and bring on a pre-emptive ledership spill after next week's state budget. What the heck would the Macquarie Street press pack have to write about then? The leadership challenge story has become the staple diet of NSW political journalism. I am amazed that within the ranks of the Labor Party Caucus there are actually people who think that Frank Sartor would be capable of leading them to victory.

This week's election fix


They are going to the polls in Iran today and the Crikey Election Indicator is going with them. Our assessment of the probable outcome of the presidential election, based on the action at the Intrade prediction market, is that the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in grave danger of being defeated. The Crikey Indicator has the probability of him winning at just under 33% with one Mir Hussein Moussavi favourite as almost a 64% chance.
How the market has made its judgment is unclear to me because the evidence of the opinion polls is far from clear cut.
And I did note a cautionary tale on the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website headed "Checkered Past Of Iranian Opinion Polls Leaves Much In Doubt" which pointed out how the pollsters had a far from distinguished record before previous elections. Be that as it may I am fearless fellow and have taken the Indicator's guidance as a study of past results from a multitude of countries shows me that the final market normally does not get the favourite short enough - that is it wins on more occasions than the probability suggests that it should.

Reputation crumbles still further

Thank goodness for advertising people and car salesman. But for them I would be a member of the profession regarded as the least ethical and honest in the country. The annual Roy Morgan survey of the professions has at the foot of the table what the pollster calls the ‘familiar suspects’ with Car Salesman (3%, down 1%) being the profession least associated with ‘ethics’ and ‘honesty’ while Advertising people (6%, down 3%) are the lowest they have been since the survey began in 1979. Newspaper Journalists (9%, down 5%), Estate Agents (10%, unchanged) and Insurance brokers (11%, down 4%) are also perceived as the least ethical.
What particularly rankles me is that television journalists actually rate higher at 14% than those of us journalists who can actually write!
Nurses are once again top of the trusted list with 89% of those surveyed rating nursing as the most ethical and honest profession in the country.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Time to admit it? Maybe the Government got it right

The unemployment numbers out this morning are nowhere near the horror figures that were feared generally when this global economic crisis started proving so damaging to jobs in the United States and most of Europe. The slight rise in the Australian Bureau of Statistics seasonally adjusted estimate for May of 5.7 per cent is yet another statistic showing that Australia is doing better than other developed economies. There is probably worse yet to come but with luck unemployment might not reach the 7.1 per cent it rose to back in October 2001.

Participation keeps growing

An interesting aspect of this morning's official figures is the continuing strength of the participation rate. There is no sign at all of people becoming disenchanted and dropping out of the potential workforce. If the participation rate was as it was at the start of this century then the unemployment number would be a couple of percentage points less than that 5.7 per cent

A problem for Malcolm Turnbull

These numbers are clearly bad news for the personal ambitions of Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull. He needs doom and gloom if he is to even keep his leadership of the Liberal Party let alone become Prime Minister at the next election. And as promises are like pie crust I will mention Peter Costello and a leadership challenge in the same sentence. His Party will turn and offer him the job if he again seeks pre-selection because the despair will be so great by the end of this year as the opinion polls show Labor heading into the election year with an almighty lead.

NSW leads the way


The premier state surely is living up to its name. The NSW unemployment rate is well above other states and the national average.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Ugly Australian curry bashers

They are calling it "Curry Bashing" in the Times of India and anti-Australian feelings are still running hot in the sub-continent.
Check the TOI blog for the latest Indian version of the rash of assaults on Indian students and migrants that has "Indians in Australia ... living in crippling fear. Worried parents in India are recalling their children from Australian universities. Victims have vowed not to go back. Aspiring students and travellers have decided against visiting Australia..."
The image of drunken white oafs was further enhanced this morning when an Australian passenger on a Dubai-Chennai Jet Airways flight abused the cabin crew and refused to apologise afer locking himself in a toilet. On arrival in Chennai he was taken to the police station but later released without being charged. Meanwhile in Sydney police were showing similar restraint in dealing with about 70 young men who overnight demonstrated against what some claimed as racially-motivated attacks against Indian students perpetrated by members of the Lebanese community. The ABC reported that two men were arrested and taken to Parramatta Police Station. One was released without charge and the other was served a notice to appear in court later this month.