Friday, 28 February 2014

Gareth Evans gives Julie Bishop a diplomatic serve over Cambodia

It is hard to get present day Labor politicians to lift their interest in matters of foreign policy past comments about the damage that asylum seeker policy is doing to relations with Indonesia. Even the remarkable flirtation Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had with her Cambodian counterpart over his country taking some of the Australia bound regimes could not stir an interest.
So enter Gareth Evans, Foreign Minister under Hawke and Keating, to remind us that the Labor Party once had principles. “Cambodia’s government has been getting away with murder,” wrote Evans ,who is now Chancellor of the Australian National University, in an article published in today’s Phnom Penh Post and available on the Project Syndicate website. ”For far too long, Hun Sen and his colleagues have been getting away with violence, human-rights abuses, corruption, and media and electoral manipulation without serious internal or external challenge.”
And the man who played a major role in the Cambodian peace process devoted a paragraph or three to Julie Bishop:
But the tone of too many of these statements has been muted. Australia’s statements have been typical – falling over backward to avoid giving offense, and too anxious to balance criticism with praise. Officials are “concerned” about “recent disproportionate violence against protesters” but “welcome the Government’s stated commitment to undertake electoral reforms.”
Australia’s new foreign minister, Julie Bishop, has talked, as foreign ministers often do, of the need to avoid unproductive “megaphone diplomacy” and to “engage, not enrage” her counterparts. But, it seems that no robust critique was delivered when she met privately with Hun Sen in Phnom Penh on February 22 – even though Australia’s high standing in Cambodia (not least owing to its historical role in the peace process) means that its voice certainly would have been listened to.
There is a place for quiet diplomacy that relies on genuine engagement to encourage significant behavioral change. But when states behave badly enough for long enough, loud megaphones can also be in order.
I know Hun Sen and worked well with him in the past. I have resisted strong public criticism until now, because I thought there was hope for both him and his government. But their behavior has now moved beyond the civilized pale. It is time for Cambodia’s political leaders to be named, shamed, investigated, and sanctioned by the international community.

How Qantas is losing to oil money and penny pinchers and other news and views for Friday 28 February

  •  Qantas and its ilk are losing the Asian skies to oil money and penny pinchers – ‘The “Flying Kangaroo,” as Qantas Airlines is known, has announced its largest cutbacks in 20 years, including laying off 5,000 staff and a six-month loss of $226 million. CEO Alan Joyce is asking the Australian government for state aid due to “some of the toughest conditions Qantas has ever seen.” Specifically, Qantas is getting killed by competition from Virgin Australia, a fast-growing, money-losing budget airline controlled by three other so-called flag carriers—Air New Zealand, Etihad Airways of the United Arab Emirates, and Singapore Airlines. Qantas’s fate is being echoed across Asia and around the world, as Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Etihad expand into new territories, and low-cost carriers (LCCs) like Air Asia, Southwest, Easyjet, and Ryanair fight aggressive fare wars against their older rivals.”
  • Asia budget airlines: no flying profits - “Competition escalates as more airlines enter the fray.”
  • Climate Change: Evidence and Causes -”It is now more certain than ever, based on many lines of evidence, that humans are changing Earth’s climate. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, accompanied by sealevel rise, a strong decline in Arctic sea ice, and other climate-related changes

The Daily Telegraph's page 17 sense of humour

James Ashby can consider himself a bit hard done by this morning. Last year after a federal court judge ruled he had launched a sexual harassment claim to destroy his former boss Peter Slipper and the claim was thrown out, Ashby was treated by many as a no-good figure of fun. Not by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, though. The Tele, which had featured the original accusation against the one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives Slipper prominently on its early news pages, consigned a report on Ashby’s case being thrown out to page 17.
With a wonderful sense of timing the full bench of the Federal Court chose yesterday to rule on an appeal that overturned the previous ruling and the Ashby case against Slipper can now proceed. The decision just happened to follow the publication that morning of a tut-tutting finding by the Press Council that the Tele was quite unfair in consigning the story on Ashby’s loss in court to page 17.
So what to do with the news of the man’s vindication by the full bench? Why, put in on page 17 of course.
2014-02-28_page17Humorous but perhaps a bit unfair and not just on James Ashby. Journalist Steve Lewis, now retired from the News stable, saw his reputation sullied a little in the original judgment. The last par of the Tele’s report this morning thus deserves a wider circulation than page 17 provides:
The court was also complimentary of former Daily Telegraph journalist Steve Lewis, rejecting the trial judge’s conclusion he “was lying” in his evidence and saying it was wrong to assume a “We will get him” text message Lewis sent Mr Ashby referred to the harassment claims, because Lewis had been investigating Mr Slipper’s travel entitlements for some time.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Constructing new mines going down but actual mining production on the rise

The signs that the inevitable decline in investment in new mining projects are well and truly underway was shown today when the Australian Bureau of Statistics released its survey of Private New Capital Expenditure and Expected Expenditure for December. The ABS found that the trend estimate for Mining fell 0.6% in the December quarter 2013. Equipment, plant and machinery fell 12.4% while buildings and structures rose 0.8%. The seasonally adjusted estimate for Mining fell 5.5% in the December quarter 2013. Buildings and structures fell 4.2% and equipment, plant and machinery fell 16.0% in seasonally adjusted terms.
The decline in mining investment was a major component in the trend volume estimate for total new capital expenditure in industries overall falling 0.7% in the December quarter 2013 while the seasonally adjusted estimate fell 5.2%.
2014-02-27_totalcapitalexpenditureIt was not the reported actual falls that seem to have spooked many economists but the ABS estimates of future capital expenditure. Estimate 1 for 2014-15 at $124,880m is 17.4% lower than Estimate 1 for 2013-14. The main contributor to the decrease was Mining (-25.2%).
Before getting too despondent it is worth remembering that the figure for next financial year is but an estimate. In 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 the first estimate – made five to six months before the financial year begins – understated what finally happened.
Whatever happens on the total and mining investment front, the mining “boom” in actual volume of production is still a long way from its peak as the graph below taken from the Minerals Council of Australia’s brief for members of the new parliament illustrates:
What that rise in production volume will mean in a dollar contribution to GDP is difficult to judge given the volatility of the Australian dollar exchange rate but there must be a good chance of increased export income softening the blow caused by declining capital investment. On the downside, however, is the effect on employment with actual mining requiring far less labour than the initial construction work.

Creating three parent babies? A new ethical debate

An advisory committee of the US Food and Drug Administration has just concluded two days of meetings to consider whether to make legal a proposal that scientists be allowed to try to make babies using eggs that have been genetically altered to include DNA from another woman. The committee decided not to vote to determine a recommendation to the FDA after some panellists worried that not enough research has been done to know whether the experiments would be safe. ”I think there was a sense of the committee that at this particular point in time, there was probably not enough data either in animals or in vitro to conclusively move on to human trials . . . without answering a few additional questions,” Dr. Evan Snyder of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., who chaired the 25-member committee, told National Public Radio.
During the hearing, the panel heard from researchers at the New York Stem Cell Foundation, the Oregon Health & Science University and Newcastle University in England who have conducted prelminary research in animals and want to try the procedure in humans.
They argue it would help women with diseases caused by problems with a type of DNA known as mitochondrial DNA to have healthy babies. These conditions can be devastating, even sometimes fatal. The approach could also be used to help treat women suffering from infertility.
“We have developed a technique that would allow a woman to have a child that is not affected by this disease, and yet the child would be related to her genetically,” Dieter Egli of the New York Stem Cell Foundation told NPR in October.
Several critics of the proposal told the panel that they feared the technique could introduce errors into the human gene pool, or even open the door to creating “designer babies” by letting parents to pick the traits of their babies.
At the end of the hearing, the FDA panel outlined what steps researchers might have to go through before they could do a clinical trial. That would include making sure the process was safe, ethical and would produce useful results. The FDA has not said when the agency might make a decision.
In a New York Times report earlier this week the attempt to produce genetically modified human beings was  called “a dangerous step.”  The techniques would change every cell in the bodies of children born as a result of their use, and these alterations would be passed down to future generations.
The F.D.A. calls them mitochondrial manipulation technologies. The procedures involve removing the nuclear material either from the egg or embryo of a woman with inheritable mitochondrial disease and inserting it into a healthy egg or embryo of a donor whose own nuclear material has been discarded. Any offspring would carry genetic material from three people — the nuclear DNA of the mother and father, and the mitochondrial DNA of the donor.
If the subject interests you there is a wealth of further information about Inheritable Genetic Modification on the website of the Center for Genetics and Society.

Relations between Australia and the Indonesian military have never been better?

The Jakarta Post this morning publishes an interesting theory on Australian-Indonesian relations - relations might be tense between Jakarta and Canberra, but between Canberra and the Indonesian Military (TNI), things have never been better.
The commentary, written from Perth by Lauren Gumbs, described as a writer who holds a Masters in communications from Griffith University in Queensland a Masters in human rights student at Curtin University, appears on the paper's main op-ed page under the headling "Australian government bypasses Jakarta, builds ties with military".
Indonesian officials are in disbelief that special life rafts carrying undocumented migrants were given by Australian authorities for the purpose of sending back migrants but concede that there might be a special agreement between Australian and Indonesian defense force chiefs.
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa remains steadfast in opposing the coalition’s boat U-turns despite six reported incidents where boat people have been pushed back or even sent back on new lifeboats purchased solely for that task.
And President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, deeply concerned about impositions on sovereignty as well as public ire, is still smarting after the phone-tapping furor and recent accidental maritime incursions.
The TNI however, previously told to beef up maritime border protection and point its radar Australia’s way, has been largely silent on rhetoric about threats to Indonesia’s sovereignty from Australia and somehow missed two giant orange life rafts being chaperoned around the sea for several days before finally being nudged back toward Indonesia.
The article speculates on the role of TNI commander Gen. Moeldoko in dealing with Australia's policy of returning boat people.
27-02-2014 bypassThe article concludes:
Indonesian lawmakers are angry at this latest Australian “provocation”, however Singaporean fighter planes crossed into Indonesian airspace this week, demonstrating that threats to Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty can come from other directions, and extenuating the way that the TNI has reasserted itself into the political debate.
With such sovereign and domestic threats featuring on the horizon, and the endless corruption scandals biting chunks out of democratic legitimacy, some fear that Indonesian voters may turn towards the strong leadership offered by presidential candidates with a military background. Indeed, Prabowo Subianto, a former general, is second in line to the throne after Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo (so far an unofficial candidate).
The presence of conservatively nationalist military actors in the political sphere signals retrograde forces at play in Indonesia’s still vulnerable democratization.
In Indonesia politics can be a largely patrimonial game, so if Australia enjoys special cooperation on a controversial humanitarian issue now it may one day have to return the favor.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A right for businesses to deny service to gays and lesbians

It is front page news in Arizona but a bill passed by the state’s legislature that would allow business owners in the state to deny service to gays and lesbians is arousing controversy throughout the United States. Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer is being pressured to veto the bill under which to deny service, the business owner has to have sincerely held religious beliefs.
National Public Radio reports that the legislation’s wording has become so controversial that even some lawmakers who voted for it are now regretting it.
Jay Michaelson, who studies religious freedom for the progressive Political Research Associates told NPR a number of other states considered and rejected laws similar to Arizona’s. The Arizona law would allow business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians if the owner’s religion says homosexuality is wrong. But Jay Michaelson says the bill could affect virtually anyone who deals with a business owner claiming religious protection.
MICHAELSON: And, in fact, this law was so broad that it could cover anybody. So if I’m a fundamentalist Christian who holds Jews responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, I could put a sign saying no Jews allowed in my hotel or my restaurant or my sports stadium for that matter.
Doug Napier of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is trying to get similar bills passed across the country, sees things quite differently.
DOUG NAPIER: This is a human dignity bill. It’s a human rights bill. It’s an anti-discrimination bill, so people of faith have a safe place in Arizona. That’s all it is.
The inspiration for the Arizona bill was a court decision in neighboring New Mexico last year. That state’s Supreme Court ruled that an Albuquerque photographer could not refuse to take pictures of a gay couple. The Arizona law was intended to protect business owners from similar lawsuits but what may have begun as a religious rights issue has quickly become a civil rights issue. Both U.S. senators from Arizona, John McCain and Jeff Flake, have come out against the new bill. “This is going to hurt the state of Arizona’s economy and frankly our image,” Sen. McCain told CNN.

Significant drop in obesity among two to five year old children and other news and views for 26 February

Some news and views noted along the way

Banking ethics Credit Suisse style

Credit Suisse made false claims in US visa applications, conducted business with clients in secret elevators and shredded documents to help more than 22,000 American customers avoid US taxes, according to a scathing report by a US congressional committee.

An Oscars election contest

For the Daily Telegraph “prick” must be a new dirty word

2014-02-26_singosprayAlmost a new category – journalists writing about proprietors slanging off at proprietors. The Daily Terror this morning:
IT would have to go down as the spray of the year: Sydney radio tsar John Singleton unleashed yesterday on his onetime would-be business partners at Fairfax Media, calling its chairman a “pompous pr..k” and the CEO an “idiot”…
SINGLETON ON CORBETT – “He’s only got a year to go and then he can be president of the Avoca bowling club or Rotary or something, some self-important, pompous, puffed up job for him.”
SINGLETON ON HYWOOD – “(He is) obviously an idiot.”
FAIRFAX ON SINGLETON – “Anyone who had the misfortune of hearing John Singleton’s deluded and self-indulgent sprays … can only feel sorry for the man.”
And in passing we should note the latest example of hostilities between the Tele’s senior stablemate The Australian and the ABC which made page one again today.
Don’t you just love it when an organ of the Murdoch press takes up the cudgels for ethical journalism?

The tough life of the freelance journalist

It’s a tough life being a freelance journalist and don’t I know it. My sympathies, therefore, go to Asher Wolf who at least got a moment of fame via The Oz yesterday.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Beheading Hindus and other things worth reading from around the web

  • The withdrawal of ‘The Hindus’ - The Times Literary Supplement reports on how Penguin India’s decision to withdraw and pulp all remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An alternative history has provoked outcry in the literary world. The TLS has also revived its original review by placing it on its website. The opening paragraph of the review :
24-02-2014 reviewingthehindus
Keep reading the review HERE.

Monday, 24 February 2014

A Phnom Penh view on Australia sending refugees to Cambodia

No wonder Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is keeping publicly silent on her suggestion to Cambodia when visiting at the weekend that it help out by taking some of our surplus refugees. Despite what the Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said at a press briefing on Saturday – that it was a proposal that the government was taking “very seriously” – politicians in his country are opposed to the idea.
The Phnom Penh Post reports today that the  Cambodian government clarified yesterday that it is not keen on taking in refugees fleeing political persecution who might seek to use the Kingdom as a “springboard” for political activities, raising questions about what protection Cambodia would actually offer to those that Australia wishes to send.
“[Australia] wants to hand over its moral responsibility to Cambodia, I don’t think that’s acceptable,” Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua said yesterday.
“Australia has to settle its own moral responsibility as a nation that we consider a democracy that respects human rights, [and] as a nation that is well developed and has in the past been very generous with refugees [including from Cambodia].” …
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said that Cambodia wished to help Australia “as a friend of humanity” but would, however, require assistance from the international community to help successfully resettle refugees.
“We don’t want the world to see Cambodia as a springboard for political refugees. We support and try to preserve our neutrality,” he said.
But Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said this position was one reason why Cambodia had a “horrible” refugee rights record.
“We don’t have the financial capacity but we also don’t have the political will [for] refugees who need protection, especially when most refugees are of a political nature,” he said.

A close run thing for control of the US Senate in November

There’s a lengthy analysis on the Real Clear Politics site at the moment on How Likely Are Democrats to Lose the Senate? at the US mid-term Congressional elections in November that suggests the conventional wisdom of the pundits is that they are more likely to do so than retain their current majority. The problem the Democrats have, the analysis suggests, is the low approval rating of President Barack Obama,
Using what has happened at past elections RCP’s Sean Trend compiled this summary of  what the Democrat losses in the Senate would be for various Obama approval ratings:

This is a grim picture for Senate Democrats, suggesting that the president would have to get his approval above 50 percent by Election Day before they would be favored to hold the chamber. This is also consistent with what we’ve seen in polling, which shows the seven “red state” Democrats in truly severe states of distress, while Democrats in Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire and Colorado are exhibiting surprising weakness.  If these 11 seats are showing similar signs of weakness in November, Democrats will have an extremely difficult time holding the chamber.  At Obama’s current 44 percent approval rating, we’d expect Democrats to lose somewhere between nine and 13 seats.
Well that’s one view of the prospects in November but the Owl is more inclined to stick with the wisdom of the crowds and look at how his Congressional Election Indicator assesses things. This is the market assessment for contol of both the House of Representatives and the Senate:
2014-02-24_congressionalkindicatorsYou will find the Owl’s Indicators for other events HERE.

The verdict so far on the Abbott coalition government – what the market says

The Owl is a believer in the wisdom of crowds being superior to  pundits like himself when it come to predicting future political events. Hence he uses the assessment of the market to compile his election indicators and this is the early appraisal of the Coalition government:
2014-02-24_AUSTNFEDINDICATORYou will find other indicators HERE.

Out of my post-Intrade sulk - investing on a Scottish "No" vote

When the Irish based market trading website Intrade went through the hoop last year I lost enthusiasm for betting on politics. While it ended the most interesting of the political markets the need for financial sustenance has induced me to return even if that means tackling the odds of orthodox bookmakers on events where Betfair is not operating.
My first dabble for nearly 10 months is to back the "No" vote in the Scottish referendum to be held on 18 September at Betfair's $1.23 - $123 on for a potential win of $23.
For details of this and other current (some of those taken before the temporary retirement are yet to run) bets, along with the Owl's historical record, see The Portfolio page at The political speculator's diary.

The “No” vote gains support in Scotland’s referendum election

The latest poll published in Scotland on Sunday shows support for a “No” vote increasing.
2014-02-24_scotlandpollThe Owl’s referendum indicator shows a similar strengthening in support for the “No” vote.