Monday, 30 June 2014

Let Them Eat Cash – the poor do not waste grants and other news and views for Monday 30 June

  • Prabowo continues his anti-democratic rhetoric – “Prabowo’s statement on direct elections is another example of his anti-democratic rhetoric, which has been an insufficiently reported feature of the Indonesian presidential campaign.”
  • Drink Up: NYC Ban On Big Sodas Canned – “Big sodas can stay on the menu in the Big Apple after New York state’s highest court refused Thursday to reinstate the city’s first-of-its-kind size limit on sugary drinks.”
  • E-voting experiments end in Norway amid security fears – “Experiments with voting via the net were carried out during elections held in 2011 and 2013. But the trials have ended because, said the government, voters’ fears about their votes becoming public could undermine democratic processes. Political controversy and the fact that the trials did not boost turnout also led to the experiment ending.
  • Let Them Eat Cash – “The poor do not waste grants. Recently, two World Bank economists looked at 19 cash transfer studies in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Almost all showed alcohol and tobacco spending fell or stayed the same. Only two showed any significant increase, and even there the evidence was mixed. You might worry handouts encourage idleness. But in most experiments, people worked more after they received grants.”
  • Bat country for old men – “Daily Telegraph blogger Tim Blair is notorious for inflammatory personal attacks posted on his blog, particularly against women with a public profile and strong opinions. Personal abuse is everywhere on the Internet, on twitter, private blogs, and in comments. But Blair is also a journalist blogging under the masthead of Australia’s most powerful News Corp tabloid, The Daily Telegraph.”
  • Ebola and ethics: Is animal welfare killing wild apes? - “The Ebola virus is not just a threat to humans, but is also wiping out chimps and gorillas. Will a decision to end testing on chimps at a major US medical institute hamper efforts to develop a vaccine that could save primates from Ebola?”
  • Adam Smith on How to Make the Working Class Happier and More Productive: Pay Them More

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Which bank? The CBA’s credibility is so compromised that a royal commission into these matters is warranted.

Australia’s Commonwealth Bank has entered the ticket clippers big league.
From the report of a Senate committee released today:
In this case study, the committee examined misconduct that occurred between 2006 and 2010 by financial advisers and other staff at Commonwealth Financial Planning Limited (CFPL), part of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia Group (CBA). Advisers deliberately neglected their duties and placed their personal interests far above the interests of their clients. The assets of clients with conservative risk positions, such as retirees, were allocated into high-risk products without their knowledge to the financial benefit of the adviser, who received significant bonuses and recognition within CFPL as a ‘high performer’. There was forgery and dishonest concealment of material facts. Clients lost substantial amounts of their savings when the global financial crisis hit; thecrisis was also used to explain away the poor performance of portfolios. Meanwhile, it is alleged that within CFPL there was a
management conspiracy that, perversely, resulted in one of the most serious offenders, Mr Don Nguyen, being promoted.
Initially the committee found:
 the conduct of a number of rogue advisers working in CFPL was unethical, dishonest, well below professional standards and a grievous breach of their duties—in particular the advisers targeted vulnerable, trusting people;
 both ASIC and the CBA seemed to place reports of fraud in the ‘too hard basket’, ensuring the malfeasance escaped scrutiny and hence no one was held to account;
 the CBA’s compliance regime failed, which not only allowed unscrupulous advisers to continue operating but also saw the promotion of one adviser, thus exposing unsuspecting clients to further losses;
 there was an inordinate delay in CFPL recognising that advisers were providing bad advice or acting improperly and in CFPL acting on that knowledge and informing clients and ASIC;
 ASIC was too slow in realising the seriousness of the problems in CFPL, instead allowing itself to be lulled into complacency and placing too much trust in an institution that sought to gloss over its problems;
 ASIC did not pay sufficient attention to the whistleblowers who raised serious concerns about the conduct of Mr Nguyen and the action
As the committee gathered more and more evidence, however, lingering doubts began to grow about the robustness and fairness of the ASIC-sanctioned compensation process for CFPL clients who had suffered losses because of adviser misconduct. The committee could see major flaws in the process being implemented by CFPL, in particular:
 the manner in which information about adviser misconduct was conveyed to clients, which rather than reassure clients tended in some cases to intimidate and confuse them;
 CFPL’s obfuscation when clients sought information on their investments or adviser;
 a strong reluctance on the part of CFPL to provide files to clients who requested them;
 no allowance made for the power asymmetry between unsophisticated, and in many cases older and vulnerable clients, and CFPL;
 no client representative or advocate present during the early stages of the investigation to safeguard the clients’ interests when files were being checked and in many cases reconstructed;
 numerous allegations of missing files and key records, of fabricated documents and forged signatures that do not seem to have been investigated;
 the CFPL’s initial offer of compensation was manifestly inadequate in many instances; and
 the offer of $5,000 to clients to pay the costs of an expert to assess the compensation offer was made available only after the CFPL had determined that compensation was payable and an offer had been made.
Recent developments, whereby both ASIC and the CBA have corrected their testimony about the compensation process, have only deepened the committee’s misgivings about the integrity and fairness of the process. The committee is now of the view that the CBA deliberately played down the seriousness and extent of problems in CFPL in an attempt to avoid ASIC’s scrutiny, contain adverse publicity and minimise compensation payments.
In effect, the CBA managed, for some considerable time, to keep the committee, ASIC and its clients in the dark. The time is well overdue for full, frank and open disclosure on the CFPL matter. The committee is concerned that there are potentially many more affected clients that have not been fairly compensated. The clients that gave evidence at a public hearing were exceptional in that they were willing to voice their concerns publicly and were able to fight for compensation because of their circumstances. They were fortunate because they had a family member determined to assist them, were able to obtain independent expert advice, or were able to obtain a copy of their original file from one of the whistleblowers.
At this stage, the committee’s confidence in ASIC’s ability to monitor the CBA’s implementation of its new undertaking regarding the compensation process is severely undermined. Furthermore, the CBA’s credibility in the CFPL matter is so compromised that responsibility for the compensation process should be taken away from the bank. The committee considered five options to finally resolve the CFPL matter. But, given the seriousness of the misconduct and the need for all client files to be reviewed, the committee believes that an inquiry with sufficient investigative and discovery powers should be established by the government to undertake this work. To resolve this matter conclusively and satisfactorily, the inquiry would need the powers to compel relevant people to give evidence and to produce information or documents.
The committee is of the view that a royal commission into these matters is warranted.

Australian official job vacancy figures show some reason for optimism

A slight upturn in the Australian Bureau of Statistics quarterly figures for job vacancies. Total job vacancies in May 2014 were 146,100, an increase of 2.1% from February 2014. The number of job vacancies in the private sector was 135,000 in May 2014, an increase of 2.0% from February 2014. The number of job vacancies in the public sector was 11,200 in May 2014, an increase of 4.3% from February 2014.
job vacancieschart
(click to enlarge)
An analysis by Westpac also released today of new jobs created suggests Australia’s impressive jobs growth this year is somewhat undermined by details showing the gains have been concentrated to just a few sectors. New jobs are concentrated in the services, construction and real estate sectors.
26-06-2014 westpacjobcreation1There has been a stagnation in jobs created for many years outside the mining, utilities, education, health, public and business services.
26-06-2014 industry divergence
26-06-2014 constructionandmining

The latest legal setback for the UK's Barclays bank

Top NY securities regulator sues Barclays over ‘dark pool’ -
"New York’s top securities regulator has sued Barclays alleging the UK bank favoured high-speed traders using its “dark pool” trading venue while misleading institutional investors. Eric Schneiderman, the state attorney-general, said Barclays had expanded its dark pool, Barclays LX, to one of the biggest off-exchange venues “by telling investors they were diving into safe waters . . . Barclays’ dark pool was full of predators – there at Barclays’ invitation”."

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

An organised hypocrisy that made the News of the World very British indeed and other news and views for Wednesday 25 June

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  • Believe it or not: Karl Marx is making a comeback – “It’s true. The ‘Communist Manifesto’ co-author has gotten a second life — and he has some advice for progressives.
  • France seeks to shed reputation for rudeness to woo tourists – “The Socialist government, desperately seeking ways to inject new life into the stuttering economy, is rolling out a plan to transform the tourist industry – not least by addressing the delicate issue of treating holidaymakers with a little more grace.”
  • Devaluing the Bolivarian revolution – How much worse will Venezuela’s economy get?
  • Defend Argentina from the vultures - A creditor paid more to take on the risk of a default cannot then be surprised by it.
  • The Capitol Since the Nineteenth Century: Political Polarization and Income Inequality in the United States – “Even the most casual observer of American politics knows that today’s Republican and Democratic parties seem to disagree with one another on just about every issue under the sun. Some assume that this divide is merely an inevitable feature of a two-party system, while others reminisce about a golden era of bipartisan cooperation and hold out hope that a spirit of compromise might one day return to Washington. In this post, we present evidence that political polarization—or the trend toward more ideologically distinct and internally homogeneous parties—is not a recent development in the United States, although it has reached unprecedented levels in the last several years. We also show that polarization is strongly correlated with the extent of income inequality, but only weakly associated with the rate of economic growth.”

Australia in for a warmer season whether El Niño comes or not

Warmer days and nights are more likely than not for Australia for July to September. The Bureau of Meteorology in its latest national temperature outlook puts the chances that the July to September maximum temperature outlook will exceed the median maximum temperature at greater than 60% over Australia. Chances are greater than 80% over southwest WA, southeast Queensland, northeast NSW, southern Victoria and Tasmania. So for every ten July to September outlooks with similar odds to these, says the Bureau, about six to eight of them would be warmer than average over these areas, while about two to four would be cooler.
The chances that the average minimum temperature for July to September 2014 will exceed the long-term median also are greater than 60% over Australia. Chances rise to greater than 80% over southern and central WA, southern Victoria, Tasmania, and the eastern seaboard of NSW (see map above).
The Bureau’s outlook says the warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean over the past several months has primed the climate system for an El Niño in 2014. However, in the absence of the necessary atmospheric response, the increase in Pacific Ocean temperatures has levelled off in recent weeks. Despite some easing in the model outlooks, international climate models surveyed by the Bureau still indicate El Niño is likely to develop by spring 2014. While POAMA, the model that produces the seasonal outlooks, does not forecast a high probability of El Niño, it retains a warmer signal across the country due to patterns in the ocean and atmosphere across the Pacific. This warmer signal is generally consistent between international models regardless of their ENSO forecast.
Models indicate the currently warm Indian Ocean is likely to remain warm. The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is expected to remain neutral for the next three months, and is therefore unlikely to have a significant influence upon this outlook.
On the outlook for rainfall the BOM believes a drier than normal season is more likely for parts of central and eastern Australia with a wetter than normal season is more likely for eastern Tasmania

Renaming budget day as government wish-list day

In another three or four weeks it might be possible to make an intelligent assessment of the Australian federal budget for 2014-15. Until then I will continue to refrain from adding to the pointless analysis that has been occurring since Treasurer Joe Hockey released all those pages of documents outlining his wish-list.

Kevin 16 off and running for top UN job

Kevin Rudd is reportedly off and running hard in the race to succeed Ban Ki-moon as secretary-general of the United Nations. While Ban will not leave office until the end of 2016, World Politics Review reportsthat a lot of pretty serious politicians want to run the UN.
Two people who do seem to want to be secretary-general are both Antipodean ex-premiers: Helen Clark and Kevin Rudd. Clark, prime minister of New Zealand from 1999 to 2008, now runs the U.N. Development Program, and signaled her desire to replace Ban in an interview with the Guardian earlier this year. Her prospects would improve if Ban and she can secure a deal on future international development goals, which should be finalized at a U.N. summit in September 2015.
Meanwhile Rudd, Australian prime minister from 2007 to 2010 and again briefly last year, has a strong reputation for top-level multilateral diplomacy. He was one of the few leaders said to have impressed President Barack Obama in G-20 debates during the financial crisis. Rudd has been energetically engaging in U.N. affairs over the past six months, reportedly lobbying to be the organization’s next envoy to Syria.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

My new political favourite – The Best Party shows the way

The policies were unorthodox. Well, certainly the non-core ones.
Electors were promised free towels at swimming pools, a polar bear for the zoo, the import of Jews, “so that someone who understands something about economics finally comes to Iceland”, a drug-free parliament by 2020, inaction (“we’ve worked hard all our lives and want to take a well-paid four-year break now”), Disneyland with free weekly passes for the unemployed (“where they can have themselves photographed with Goofy”), greater understanding for the rural population (“every Icelandic farmer should be able to take a sheep to a hotel for free”), free bus tickets.
Then the core promise caveat.
“We can promise more than any other party because we will break every campaign promise.”
And the election result? The Best Party, described as anarcho-surrealists, were to govern Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik for four years.
Tages Anzeiger provides delightful details of the victory and its consequences.
The leading candidate, Jón Gnarr, a comedian by profession, entered the riotous hall full of drunken anarchists looking rather circumspect. Almost shyly, he raised his fist and said: “Welcome to the revolution!” And: “Hurray for all kinds of things!”
Gnarr was now the mayor of Reykjavik. After the Prime Minister, he held the second-most important office in the land. A third of all Icelanders live in the capital and another third commute to work there. The city is the country’s largest employer and its mayor the boss of some 8,000 civil servants.
No wonder the result was such a shock. Reykjavik was beset by crises: the crash of the banking system had also brought everything else to the verge of bankruptcy – the country, the city, companies and inhabitants. And the anarcho-surrealist party – the self-appointed Best Party – was composed largely of rock stars, mainly former punks. Not one of them had ever been part of any political body. Their slogan for overcoming the crisis was simple: “More punk, less hell!”
Key to the astounding victory was The Best Party’s campaign video.
And did politicians with a sense of humour actually actually work as a government? Apparently.
An assessment of four years of anarchist rule yields a rather surprising conclusion: the punks put the city’s financial house in order. They can also look back on some very successful speeches, a few dozen kilometers of bike paths, a zoning plan, a new school organization (that no one complains about any more) and a relaxed, booming city – tourism is growing by 20% a year (and some say that is the new bubble). In speeches, president Grímsson no longer praises Icelanders’ killer instinct, but their creativity. Real estate prices are again on the rise and the Range Rovers are back too. In polls last October, the Best Party hit its high-water mark of 38%. Shortly thereafter, Gnarr announced he would retire and dissolve the Best Party. His reason: “I’m a comedian, not a politician.” He added: “I was a cab driver for four years, a really good one even, and I quit doing that as well.”
“My question was always: ‹How do we fuck the system?” says [a former punk band member Einar] Örn. “And the answer was, we show that non-politicians can do the job as well. But quitting with a certain election victory within reach, that’s truly fucking the system!”

Iraqis under ISIS control say their lives have gotten better and other news and views for Sunday 22 June

  • Iraqis under ISIS control say their lives have gotten better – “Perhaps the most important victory so far by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), the extremist group tearing through Iraq, was not overwhelming the much larger Iraqi military or even seizing vast areas of northwest Iraq, including the major city of Mosul. It was convincing regular Iraqis that have come under ISIS rule to trust them. … ISIS looks like it might be winning the battle for Iraqis’ hearts and minds in the Sunni areas it has seized, and this could be enormously bad for Iraq’s crisis. It could make ISIS more powerful and more resilient in the mostly-Sunni northwest. Maybe worse, it could increase the possibility of the crisis spiraling into all-out civil war.”
22-06-2014 thereef
  • Down Under – a New York Times review of ‘The Reef,’ by Iain McCalman – “By the end of McCalman’s transformative book, we feel the full force of this slow-motion emergency. In story after story of fascination and trepidation, in revelations and in requiems, this passionate history brings to life the Great Barrier Reef’s magnificent mutability. McCalman’s closing appeal is well earned: We have seen the splendor and now we need to act to slow the vanishing.”
  • Slavery and the Shrimp on Your Plate - Thai Seafood Is Contaminated by Human Trafficking
  • US sets up honey bee loss task force – “The White House has set up a taskforce to tackle the decline of honey bees.”
  • A Job Seeker’s Desperate Choice – “The story of Shanesha Taylor, a mother who had a job interview but was unable to find child care, shows the harsh realities of today’s economy.”
  • World Cup feels China’s strong presence despite its absence from pitch – “A bevy Chinese companies are serving as the event’s official corporate sponsors and suppliers, symbolizing the growing economic power of a country whose leader is an avid soccer fan. … Besides the World Cup, another factor behind the current soccer mania in China is Xi Jinping, the country’s president. …  Xi is scheduled to watch the World Cup final on June 13 at the stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The official purpose of Xi’s visit to Brazil is to attend the BRICS summit on July 15-16 in Fortaleza, Brazil, with the leaders of five major emerging countries, including Russia, India and South Africa as well as Brazil and China. Brazil, which hosts the conference, originally proposed to hold the summit around April, according to diplomatic sources. But the date was pushed back to immediately after the World Cup as Xi expressed his desire to watch the final. Xi’s long-cherished dream is to bring a World Cup to China and watch the Chinese national team win the title. Xi has been putting pressure on China’s soccer community to make efforts to realize this vision.

A quiet week so Amanda brings back the fat cats – the commentariat daily for Sunday 22 June

  • It’s been a slow news week with those dreaded Labor villains not providing much fodder for biting criticism. So what’s a woman to do for a Sunday column? Get stuck into fat cats. That’s what. Public servants are a tried and true, reliable piece of fair game. Hence Miranda Devine’s Time to take the scalpel to fat cats in The Sunday Telegraph. Did you know the head of Treasury earns $824,320 a year and the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet a whopping $844,000? Well if Miranda thinks they are outrageous sums for running the country I wonder what she thinks of the tens of millions paid to those who run the country’s banks? Maybe she’ll tell us on the next slow-news Sunday.
  • Nobody is laughing as clowns take over senate asserts Piers Akerman in his Tele contribution as he comes to terms with the Abbott government being every bit as much a minority one as its immediate Labor predecessor. Writes Piers: “AT the end of this week, the current moderately sane Senate will sit for the last time. When next it sits — next month — the Senate will be a circus unmatched in Australian parliamentary history. Former PM Paul Keating’s oft-quoted observation that it was “unrepresentative swill” will be more than justified. This situation has been created by the rise of minor and micro parties achieving some success through the clever manipulation of preferences. Thus we see individuals with little or negligible popular support taking senate seats on the basis of preference deals brokered between parties with no shared values. While the major parties will usher in a few new senators — some smart, some not so bright — the loud-mouthed Queensland self-promoter Clive Palmer will be welcoming his team of three Palmer United Party senators, led by former rugby league player Glenn Lazarus.”
  • News Corp’s Samantha Maiden in a column PM can win back votes by burning carbon tax passes on the interesting snippet that “preference whisperer” Glenn Druery has joined Motoring Enthusiast Party senator-elect Ricky Muir’s office as a political adviser and media wrangler.
  • Compromise could save Government from itself – In his column for the News tabloids Peter van Onselen speculates that a $7 co-payment that kicks in immediately for everyone has no chance of winning support. If the rate is dropped and pensioners and concession card holders are excluded, perhaps Health Minister Peter Dutton will get what he’s after. If that happens the Senate may save the Government from itself. We have seen this before. While the laws John Howard’s government sought to pass through the Senate were often made messy by compromises, the outcomes were more politically palatable.
  • Coalition under pressure from within. Everything old is new again. They are having three cornered contest problems again in Victoria. Farrah Tomazin explains in The Sunday Age how hostilities between Liberals and Nationals have broken out over the seat of Euroa, a newly formed electorate in Victoria’s north-east. “Both sides will now head to November’s poll at war in the bush, using resources that could otherwise be spent elsewhere battling the common enemy: Labor. … On one hand, the three-cornered contest gives voters more choice. On the other, the last thing the government needs is to appear as though it is at war with itself, particularly in country Victoria where issues such as TAFE cuts, job losses and ambulance response times continue to bite.”

Higher income for the finance industry, slower economic growth and a greater number of asset bubbles

… finance was taking a heavier toll on the economy even before Lehman Brothers went under.
That is the conclusion of a new paper by Guillaume Bazot of the Paris School of Economics. …
The paper is a useful contribution to the debate about the role of the financial industry in the global economy. What justifies the high incomes earned by bankers and fund managers? One could argue that they have created a lower cost of capital for business in the form of low bond yields and high equity valuations. But that is a tricky case to make: low yields are more the consequence of central-bank policy and the low level of inflation.
An alternative view is that these higher incomes are what economists call rents: excess incomes earned by those with a privileged economic position. The financial industry is protected because governments and central banks will act to rescue it when it falters, in a way they would not do for chemicals, say. And the sector may also benefit from asymmetric information: some of the products it sells are highly complex and clients may not be aware of the full cost until well after a sale is made.
The central question that the finance industry needs to answer is this: why has its increased importance been associated with slower economic growth in the developed world and a greater number of asset bubbles?

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Health and health care in Australia at a crossroads and other news and views for Saturday 21 June

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In 2008, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) signed up to a National Healthcare Agreement to improve not only health outcomes for all Australians but also health system sustainability. How are they doing? The latest report by the COAG Reform Council—Healthcare in Australia 2012—13: Five years of performance—has good and bad news. It shows that life expectancy has increased for men (79·0 years to 79·9 years) and women (83·7 years to 84·3 years), deaths from circulatory disease have fallen (from 202·0 to 159·6 deaths per 100 000 people), as have deaths in children younger than 5 years (106·9 to 82·9 per 100 000 children) and the national smoking rate (from 19·1% to 16·3%).
However, potentially preventable hospital admissions for acute conditions (1079·6 to 1198·2 per 100 000 people) and vaccine-preventable conditions (70·8 to 82·2 per 100 000 people) have increased. The report also shows worrying increases in the overweight and obesity rate (61·1% to 62·7%), which could lead to peaks in type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases in the future.
Monitoring is crucial to track health reforms and policies, and to identify health and health-care problems. However, this is not only the COAG Reform Council’s latest report but also its last. The Council will cease to exist on June 30, after being axed in the hugely unpopular 2014 budget delivered by Prime Minister Tony Abbott last month. One benefit of an accountability body such as the COAG Reform Council is its independence from federal, state, and territory governments. Concerns have also been expressed over who will now report on the Closing the Gap initiative of Australia’s governments to reduce disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
Health agencies have also fallen foul of the new budget. Several, including the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the National Health Performance Authority, will be merged into a new super agency—the Health Performance and Productivity Commission. However, details are scarce on how this will happen. The future of health and health care in Australia has entered uncertain times indeed.
  • 21-06-2014 baghdad
  • The Disintegration of the Iraqi State Has Its Roots in World War I – “Created by European powers, the nation of Iraq may be buckling under the pressure of trying to unite three distinct ethnic groups.”
  • Getting to the heart of Abe’s vision for Japan’s military – The hottest buzzwords in politics these days are “the right of collective self-defense,” now that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s advisory panel on security has released its much-awaited recommendations for reinterpreting the Constitution. The Japanese people have been engaged in heated debate as Abe works eagerly to achieve a historic policy shift that would allow Japan to exercise this right, which he says would strengthen the Japan-U.S. military alliance. But what is the right of collective self-defense? Why is Abe pushing so hard for the change?
  • The London meeting that could shape the future of the internet
  • What Will Thailand’s Post-Coup “Democracy” Look Like?
  • Partial Disclosure – “Glenn Greenwald is indignant, self-righteous, and self-aggrandizing—but so what? It’s a red herring, just as focusing on Edward Snowden—who is he, where is he—is a distraction. The matter at hand is not their story; as long as this is a democracy, it has to be ours.”
  • Iran Big Winner in the Iraqi Debacle – “The stunning success of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Shams (ISIS), a Sunni terrorist group which began as al Qaeda in Iraq in 2003, in seizing control of almost a third of Iraq in less than a week came as a shock to Washington. Blame for underestimating ISIS is already becoming a major political issue, but America has been caught off guard by al Qaeda in Iraq for well over a decade because politics distorts intelligence. In the long run, Iran will be the big winner in the Iraqi debacle.”

Gerard Henderson both writes and is written about - the commentariat daily for Saturday 21 June

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  • The Henderson gigs – Gerard Henderson writing about other journalists, other journalists writing about Gerard Henderson, Gerard Henderson writing about other … and so on ad infinitum. Mike Seccombe knows how to play the game of sticking with the tried and true with this piece that confirms there’s nothing very innovative about The Saturday Paper.
  • Gerard himself in his weekend piece for The Australian gives an explanation of how ” ‘Occupied’ East Jerusalem stunt confuses fact and fiction” with the Lee Rhiannon’s Green-left line being the culprit because it only undermines the peace process. He notes: “Reports from the committee meeting have tended to run the line that Brandis changed Australia’s attitude to the Middle East peace process by describing some of the territories that Israel attained consequent upon the 1967 Six Day War as ‘dispute’ rather than ‘occupied’. In fact, Bishop had flagged the Coalition’s position on this matter in an interview with ABC Radio National Breakfast’s James Carleton on September 6 last year.”
  • Inaction in Iraq would be far too risky for the West Is Paul Kelly’s argument in The Oz but don’t expect to find out what the action should be. He concludes: “Obama has been trapped. His disengagement from Iraq came undone long before his watch was over. That is the reason he needs to refocus now on Iraq. This is Obama’s problem; he cannot use the excuse that it is all Bush’s fault since we have known since 2004 that Bush’s invasion was a mistake. Obama has got to find the capacity to exert real influence without fuelling the Jihadist frenzy.” Thanks for that sage advice, Paul.
  • And if Iraq does not give you enough to worry about, The Oz has more:
  • Why the Kouk is plain wrong sees Henry Ergas give us yet another instalment of the “are we smoking more or fewer cigarettes” serial that has been The Australian’s crusade for the week. With my tobacco industry history I’m too scared to make a comment other than that all will be revealed over time as the excise duty figures are published.
  • In Lib Senators ponder disgraceful use of conscience vote Peter van Onselen takes to Coalition senators threatening to cross the floor on Abbott’s signature policy – the paid parental leave scheme.  It “represents a disgraceful misuse of the conservative right to exercise a conscience vote on issues even when party policy has been set”. – The Weekend Australian
  • An overlooked hero of reform – Laurie Oakes in the News Corp tabloids remembers the role of Bill Hayden as the Opposition Leader who did the hard yards that enabled the later reform years of Hawke and Keating. “Shorten needs to start demonstrating a similar approach to Hayden’s — and soon. … So far, Shorten is vulnerable to government claims that he sticks like glue to policies of the past. Hayden tackled party reform with the kind of courage that Labor could benefit from now, backing intervention in the Queensland branch — his home state — even though it meant falling out with good friends and facing intimidating abuse. And, often defying the factional heavies, Hayden shaped the frontbench that became the Hawke cabinet — one of the best Australia has seen.”
  • Gadfly: Ashby pulls out - Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flys about the nation for the Saturday thing. Should be read out of commiseration by every real and wannabe freelancer.
  • You can’t keep hiding the ugly truth – Andrew Wilkie writes in The Mercury of the “systemically cruel” live animal export trade. ” Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has given the green light to live export to Iran after a 40-year boycott. This while regulations are routinely ignored and any effective oversight of the industry is left to noble welfare organisation such as Animals Australia. This is a government content to treat animal cruelty as a growth industry even though the economics of the industry simply don’t add up.”
  • Queensland voters deserve the truth on Labor’s big ideas “The party’s awesome majority of 78 seats will no doubt be reduced. However those rushing to administer last rites to the Newman Government are moving in haste. … Labor still has not released anything resembling a winning manifesto, and its hapless crew of seven members in Parliament often resemble goldfish tipped out of their bowl. If Labor has any big ideas voters deserve to hear them now.”

  • New Senate, new force or rabble? – The Fairfax duo Deborah Snow and James Massola look at the new lineup. “Nick Xenophon, the independent senator from South Australia, is scrabbling for a metaphor to describe how the nation’s upper house will look from July 1. ‘If it were a painting,’ he says, ‘I don’t think it would be a landscape. I don’t think it would be a Picasso. I think the Senate will be more like Blue Poles.’ It’s an intriguing comparison. The famous painting by Jackson Pollock, which hangs in Canberra’s National Gallery a short walk from the Federal Parliament, is a sprawling, chaotic masterpiece governed by eight poles leaning at different angles across the paint-spattered canvas. … The PUP group is already picking off Abbott government measures it won’t support – paid parental leave, the fuel excise increase, the $7 GP co-payment, an increase in the pension age – though its support for the repeal of the carbon and mining taxes look more assured. In the longer term, government strategists believe the Palmer senators can be peeled away on individual pieces of legislation and privately question how long the colourful billionaire can hold his flock together. Coalition party bosses are also keenly aware that a double dissolution could well enhance, rather than decrease, the representation of micro-parties because all 12 senators from each state, not just six as in a regular election, would go to the polls.”
  • No lies in Parliament, just truth deficit disorders – Fairfax’s Tony Wright tackles the use and abuse of liar in the federal parliament.
  • Our politics needs to change. Here’s how Michael Gordon fails to live up the headline but has a good anecdote about the press gallery mid winter ball.
  • The contender. Ben Hills profiles Victorian Labor leader Daniel Andrews for Fairfax’s Good Weekend