Allan Takes Aim Blog

Archive for May 2010

First posted in The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 24 May 

Last week I wrote briefly about the recent ACT Budget. This week I write briefly about federal budget and issues such as the Super Profit Tax (SPT).

Knowing little but the title, I asked some of Canberra’s alleged political cognoscenti to tell me how the SPT worked. Political cognoscenti or not they didn’t know. Was this because they thought it wouldn’t affect people in Canberra? If so, they were wrong, because many Canberra retirees seem to think the STP will reduce their retirement income.

Dispirited at not getting an answer, serendipity came to my rescue when a friend introduced me to *Andrew Leigh, an economics professor at the ANU, who gave me an answer that even an economic cluck like me understood.

The answer. When a mining company’s profit goes beyond Australia’s long – term bond rate  currently 6%,  any profit above that rate will attract the SPT. While this answered my question, thinking about it later it raised the question: was the bond rate an appropriate benchmark because it takes no account of the effort needed to achieve profit?

That said, I pass on Professor Leigh’s answer to help people decide if they think the SPT will benefit the community (in respect of the STP it must be said there’s a big gap between theory and reality) or deter investment in mining, cause job losses, reduce superannuation investment returns and so affect retirement incomes.

With governments encouraging mining companies to make their businesses as profitable as possible it seems odd that the Government wants to tax an extra large slice of their profit in tax because it says they do not pay enough tax on what are Australian owned resources.

As a former Superintendent on two big mining projects, the Bauxite Mining project at Gove and the Greenvale Nickel Mine Project in North Queensland, where a very large part of the workforce was non-Australian because Australians didn’t want to work on them, this statement rings hollow to me. It must be said also that if the same situation applies today, it’s easy to understand mining companies’ anger about an SPT.

I wondered also if the SPT had been the creature of politicians envious of business success or who still suffered an ideological hangover of miners being big exploiters of people and resources who should be cut down to size? If so it makes the SPT more an envy tax than a tax to help the community.

It seemed to me also that many budget assumptions about the future were “somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue” kind. Unfortunately my experience of government assumptions about the future is that, more often than not, they are based more on hope than expectation, like assumptions made by many whose application for a bank loan gets turned down.

On the other hand the extra money allocated to health in the budget sounds good. However, just as the road to hell is paved with good intentions the money will be beneficial only if the necessary personnel can be attracted to take up a career in health so that the needs of the sick can be met. Unless that happens, then no matter how much money health is allocated, in the future, people will continue to wait for a doctor in a super clinic, or a bed in a hospital, or entry to mental health and other medical facilities.

But the budget item that bemused me was the claim that $682 million over five years ($136.4 million a year) is a positive contribution to renewable energy programs. As a contribution it is petty cash. The fact is that Australia, and the world, needs billions of dollars to be spent accelerating development of nuclear fusion, so that plants capable of delivering unending and limitless supplies of clean energy will make the mining of coal and drilling for oil un-necessary and also make redundant Emission Trading and the other renewable energy schemes.

For many homeless people, the budget also made Australia feel less like home as it did many who bought homes with the assistance of the stimulus package but now face losing them because of increases in interest rates.

* Professor Leigh is Labor candidate for the seat of Fraser.

The Chronicle, Canberra, for the best community news. Published every Tuesday


First published The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 18 May, 2010

Budget is a six-letter word that caused people I always thought polite to surprise me when they described the budget, delivered by the ACT Treasurer two weeks ago, with a number of four letter words, some of them new to me. The politest words they used: the ACT Government should be hung, drawn and quartered. Perhaps some of you felt the same.

Their hackles were raised because, while boasting about population growth the budget made little provision to remedy the growing scarcity of doctors. And despite Government’s boasting of its more affordable homes program the hackles of young married couples and single people were raised because extra charges would make it almost impossible for them to buy or rent homes. 

But the decision that millions of dollars would be devoted to the Arboretum is what raised my hackles. I thought, irreverently, that if Chief Minister Jon Stanhope wanted a memorial to be remembered by, apart from it being much cheaper than an arboretum, a statue like that of Al Grassby would suffice.

I wondered also why an arboretum needed a Five Star Hotel and cycle track. The Canberra Business Council (CBC) provided the answer. The many builders and their associates who are members thought the hotel was a good idea that would also aid tourism. No doubt, the tourism aspect was based on a survey that showed thousands of people wanted to visit Canberra and, after a strenuous day watching trees grow, retire to sleep in a five star hotel.

Perhaps, too, their survey showed that supporters of cycling also wanted to visit Canberra to watch cyclists tire themselves out racing then, like the watchers of growing trees, recover in a five star hotel bed. But the fact that the arboretum needs a hotel and cycle track to make it successful suggests to me that talking of it as a tourism attraction is nonsensical.

No doubt, the CBC and ACT Tourism (because it has to) also support a five star hotel because they do not believe the forecasts of climate change experts that, by 2050, the ACT’s climate will not sustain agricultural growth. Perhaps they don’t think of trees as agricultural?

But let me not gainsay the CBC, ACT Tourism, or other supporters of the arboretum. Indeed, despite my doubts, let me suggest an idea that is sure to come into its own many years hence. Why not let the forests grow as nature intended so that in time they become a jungle. On reaching the jungle state, the arboretum could then be stocked with lions and tigers for example, whose natural habitat is jungle, thus creating the possibility that, in the future, safaris could be mounted.

Safaris could open up a wealth of new opportunities. For example, entrepreneurs could be licensed to conduct safaris. Naturally, only those tourists and local residents allowed to explore Canberra’s jungle would need to obtain a jungle exploration diploma from an ACT Jungle Training School (JTS). Such training would be necessary to make them aware of the danger they faced from wild animals. Shooting animals would not be allowed.

Tour packages could be developed that included a JTS course focused on breast-beating and chanting mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa so that tourists on safari parties could apologise when they disturbed the animals’ habitat. A special funeral plan would also be available for safari members who found out too late the danger posed by wild animals.

The JTS course could also be useful for politicians, business executives and bureaucrats who work in different jungles while the special funeral plan could be adapted for cabinet ministers, senior business executives and senior bureaucrats who also find out too late that the environment they work in is dangerous.

And while I might not be around many years hence, because politicians, business people and bureaucrats obsessed with leaving a legacy will be, I hope my idea is not forgotten.

And though I’d like to end on a positive note, I can’t. All I can say is, that when Karr composed his epigram ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same,’ I wonder if he, too, was thinking of budgets, business people, bureaucrats and politicians!

For Canberra’s best Community news, The Chronicle, published every Tuesday


 Are you one of the few who haven’t seen or heard of the fi1m “Jurassic Park, ” the film in which dinosaurs, including the ferocious velociraptor, were re-created using DNA extracted from the blood of mozzies that had fed on the blood of dinosaurs before being fossilised in amber?

I can only say I’m glad I wasn’t around at the time because, if dinosaurs were as thick skinned as they say they were then on the basis of mozzie bites today, the mozzies of that time must have been equally as ferocious as the velociraptor. And though smaller than dinosaurs, the mozzies clearly had better survival skills because they are still around while the dinosaurs and velociraptors are extinct, which brings me indirectly to the subject of today’s column.

Recently, I read that renowned Japanese scientist, Professor Kazufumi Goto, intended to try and re-create the woolly mammoth, said to be extinct for around 5000 years, from semen extracted from mammoth carcases cryogenically entombed in Siberia’s frozen wastes.

The good professor thinks that if he can then inseminate an Indian Elephant  -a known genetic relative of the mammoth- soon he would be able to entertain the world with the spectacle of a woolly mammoth rampaging around the tundra.

Why does Professor Goto want to restore the mammoth? Allegedly, the Chinese value elephant tusks highly because when the tusks are ground down to powder and consumed by humanist is said to have strong aphrodisiac qualities. But, surely just because Japan’s population has declined and caused a drop in the sales of domestic products, the Japanese aren’t thinking of mass manufacturing aphrodisiacs from woolly mammoth tusks in an effort to boost their population to China’s 1.2 billion level? Indeed in these days of climate change some people are saying that population growth should be contained. 

Of course if China’s population level could be attributed to the aphrodisiac qualities of elephant tusks, one would have to admit that would be an impressive recommendation? However, it seems to me, that keeping the woolly mammoths under ice while making sure the Chinese didn’t get any more elephant tusks for the manufacture of aphrodisiacs would be a more sensible thing to do. Indeed by digging up and re-creating mammoths, Professor Goto could, unwittingly, have provided the means by which dinosaurs could be re-created and in doing so make the contents of thousands of Pandora’s Boxes seem like mild afflictions.

Australian politicians and megalomaniacs (could you spot the difference in a spot the difference competition?) who think their influence should continue forever would seize on the process, seeing in it the potential for giving them a kind of immortality. They would rush legislation through parliament that allowed Australia’s Antarctic Territory to be used as a cryogenic site and semen-try. I have since been given to understand that the reason three parliamentarians undertook an Antarctic expedition in 1996 was to confirm the Antarctic as a suitable site. 

I understand also that the ice caves in the Antarctic necropolis where the bodies would be interred would be architect designed and real estate developers would market the development. The Semen-tery would have separate sections for different groups, for example politicians and property developers and a fail-safe method of marking burial spots. These measures would be necessary to guard against errors in future re-creations.

Just think how disastrous it would be, if in the future, because of the disappearance of igloo markers, a croygenised Howard was re-created instead of a cryogenised Kevin Rudd; Conrad Black instead of Rupert Murdoch; Kerry Stokes instead of Kerry Packer and Bob Brown instead of the Leader of the Nuclear industry? Imagjne the chaos if decades into the future because parliamentary speaking standards had fallen into such a state of decline that it became necessary to recreate politicians of outstanding oratorical skills for example Pauline Hanson, Martin Ferguson, Steve Fielding and Winston Tuckey, to teach politicians how to speak.

And just to ensure that if life in the future needed a touch of spice, part of the ice necropolis could be set aside for interring the remains of the many people who have kept us enthralled as their lives were laid bare in the tabloids or turned into television series suitable only for adults.

In the case of Canberra however, perhaps it might be better to invite Professor Goto to vist every house of parliament where he’d see do many woolly mammoths still walking around that he’d immediately cancel his experiment.

First published The Chronicle, Tuesday 11 May, 2010

Even before favourite Gai Brodtman got to the starting gate in Labor’s pre-selection race for the seat of Canberra, the nobblers were in action. And if the tactics they used in this political race were not quite what nobblers use in the real world of racing (if really desperate I wouldn’t put that past them), they hoped that smear and attempted character assassination would stop her. Fortunately they didn’t succeed.   

I don’t know Gai Brodtman, although I have met her briefly. Nor do I know Andrew Leigh, the Labor candidate for the seat of Fraser, except as a contributor to Radio National and like me a contributor to Online Opinion, the national online newspaper. He, too, was also subjected to character assassination. Fortunately the nobblers didn’t succeed with him either.

It is fairly well known that I am a supporter of independents in politics and so do not share Brodtman and Leigh’s political views. Indeed both of them might have different views on Labor Party policy, views no doubt that will become clear during the election campaign. But regardless of their individual views, if elected, I hope in parliament they demonstrate the same attitude as that of the rank and file who pre-selected them.  

It is well known too, that if media gets wind of an internal party disputes in any party hierarchy bosses when questioned they dismiss the problem by saying that because the party is a broad church such disputes occur. Believe that if you will, but, during the pre selection campaign for candidates in the Canberra and Fraser parishes of the ALP’s broad church, a process the hierarchy usually controls (it is the same in all political churches) the hierarchy’s behaviour was illuminating: democracy ran a poor second to dictatorship.

Unfortunately for ACT Labor, the congregation (better known as the rank and file) in both of these parishes, so disliking the ALP hierarchy trying to manipulate the process to suit its choice of candidates, took matters into their own hands. In a rare show of defiance they decided democracy should prevail and made their own selection.

And while perhaps I hope for too much, nevertheless I hope people have stopped being apathetic about who controls their destiny. I hope also, that the feeling which stirred and motivated Labor’s rank and file in Canberra and Fraser to rebel against dictatorship of the hierarchy spreads to the Liberals, Greens and Democrats party rank and file. 

Much as I am optimistic I am also a realist and doubtful that, come the next election, the example shown by Labor’s rank and file in Canberra and Fraser will be replicated. Indeed I suspect most of the rank and file in all parties will, like Pavlov’s dogs, come to heel at the command of party hierarchies and vote according to party orders.

It is unfortunate also that in Australia the practice of democracy is being exercised by opinion polls and demagoguery. People now talk of electing a Prime Minister as if electing a president. At the same time we are losing our once famed values of independence, caring, compassion and the ambition to do good. We are becoming a society without values. And as countries in Asia, the Indian sub continent and Africa shape democracy to suit their cultural and social needs, not ours, Australia if not careful, could become a third world country.   

Regrettably our  leaders (?) do not realise that, in the not too distant future, unless real democracy is restored we shall become followers, not leaders, which is why, if we want to retain democracy, freedom and progress, we need people with real vision as leaders.

What we don’t need are more people who, without any idea of what leadership or greatness means, have leadership and greatness thrust upon hem. It seems to me our current national leader is an exemplar of someone without either of these qualities.

And so, when people are mistakenly elevated to leadership and greatness without any understanding of what they mean, they often try to copy a great leader from the past. Sadly, full of self-importance, they fail to understand that because these great leaders from the past were unique, they cannot be copied.

The Chronicle every Tuesday for the best of Canberra Community News

First published The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 4 May 2010

Before COAG started Prime Minister Rudd told State and Territory Leaders his historical and radical reform of the health system depended on them giving him 30% of their GST revenue. The South Australian Premier quickly caved in but all the others said over my dead body. Despite their brave words all the others except for the Premier of Western Australia, accepted various bribes from the PM in return for 30% of their GST.

Among the many bribes the PM doled out was that he would provide thousands of extra hospital beds, as if only hospitals comprised the total heath system. What this statement conveyed to the many people anxiously waiting for a hospital bed to become available was that their waiting time would soon be over.

Had this been true, it would have been marvellous. Unfortunately and sadly, the many who thought they wouldn’t be waiting much longer would soon find out that it would be years before the promised extra beds would be available, by which time the probability is that they would have had to call on their local emergency services.

While everyone in health knows there is a shortage of beds they know also that there is a shortage of the myriad personnel needed to provide services to people currently in beds. And while thousands of extra beds sounds good, unless the shortage of personnel is addressed, the extra beds would be valueless.

Generously, the PM then promised to recruit the needed thousands of doctors, nurses and various other health professionals to overcome this problem without saying where such personnel would come from. One hopes he isn’t intending to recruit them from countries whose need for them is even greater than Australia’s?

But now that COAG has come and gone, what did it leave behind? What it left behind was many people wondering what the PM meant by historical and radical reform. If he thought that giving bigger bribes than usual was historical and radical, then he had been radical. Indeed, had the theme song for COAG been “Money is the root of all evil,” by conference end and because of the PMs munificence, the words would have been changed to: “Money is the root of all cures.”

And if the future health of the nation could be measured by the value of the bribes the PM doled out, State and Territory leaders could almost promise voters that illness would be a thing of the past. This could be seen during the meeting because, whenever a State or Territory leader mentioned difficulty in a particular area of health, the PM was not long in promising a bribe valued in the millions to that particular State or Territory leader to help overcome the difficulty. 

The reality is the PM’s statements that he was radically reforming Australia’s health system to help “working families” which he reiterated constantly at COAG, were rhetoric. Had he wanted to be radical, he would have told State and Territory Leaders their heath systems would be scrapped and that a National system from which people could opt out if they wished, would be established.

What happened? Nothing! We still have eight health services because the PM lacked the courage to change the system; after all, this is an election year. However, in an attempt to make it look as if change had taken place, he became more magnanimous and doled out even more bribe money to the States and Territories to help with various programs, for example: disability, mental health, homelessness and aged care

 Following COAG, as State and Territory leaders waxed eloquently about their successful strategies I sensed the strategy all had followed had been designed by the PMs minders to show it had been the PMs arguments that had persuaded them to give up 30% of their GST. Unfortunately the West Australian Premier still declined the PMs blandishments.

With an election pending, it seemed to me the strategy adopted had been designed to help boost the PMs falling ratings Unfortunately for the PM what many voters saw was seven State and Territory leaders exhibit not only their usual lack of principle but also the possible purchase of a pig in a poke. We shall see.

The Chronicle every Tuesday for the best of Canberra Community News

With health services in the news I thought this column appropriate. Much as it has been my intention to live twice as long as the person recorded as having lived longer than anyone else, extending the human life span will create enormous problems for society. Because of this, one might question if it makes sense to extend mans’ natural life span particularly if accompanied with good health, fitness and fertility.

Currently male life span is shorter than that of females, and though some older males manage to remain fertile, remaining fertile seems to be rare in older females. However, if life span is extended it seems logical to assume that both men and women will want to extend the age of procreation. If this happens a likely consequence is that older couples (it would be wrong to call them aged because in an extended life span a new definition of aged would have to be created) might want to continue having children.

And if older couples then become grandparents and their first-born also become grandparents, children born of older couples will become siblings of grandparents and even of great grandparents. It might happen also that in an extended life span more couples will divorce. If that happens the mind boggles at the possible social problems this might create.

Since first setting foot on earth, man has taken aeons to reach his current level of development. During his development he also became aware that good food and better hygiene helped him live longer and so he set out to develop better foods and hygiene systems. This in turn gave life to doctors, surgeons, dentists and myriad other medical disciplines. Indeed it could be argued that man has become too smart for his own good. This is a subject that merits greater discussion because of the need to discuss, if life span is extended, how older people will work and live.

 This is a problem already because older people are being encouraged to work longer. But working longer is of little value because governments’ (regardless of their political philosophy) use it to delay making proper plans to care for them when, inevitably, the time comes when they cannot work. Indeed the policies of working longer and living longer could be likened to shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic.

If giving birth in later years also becomes fact, the demand on health services will be even greater than at present. It would also be easy to dismiss my proposition as nonsense even though some women have shown they can give birth later in life as a result of in vitro fertilization, a process which suggests that, in an extended life span the possibility of natural births could occur.

Sustainable population activists will look at these suggestions with horror. It might even encourage them to push for the introduction of euthanasia. Others, of course, will argue that these people are not advocates of life but of death. Indeed I doubt many of them would willingly be euthanased to ensure what they consider a sustainable population.

And nor have I heard any realistic policy proposals from young male and female supporters of sustainable population about how population levels can be controlled. For example: advocating global birth control measures that would allow a family not more than two children? In a world where life span has been extended, couples capable of late age birth might have something to say about that.

While some politicians are sincere about caring for older people, I doubt the sincerity of others because I think their sincerity is based more on securing their future than ensuring the future health and welfare of older people.

This brings me to the reform of Australia’s alleged national health system. Some facts: Australia doesn’t have a national health system to reform but eight State and Territory health systems. Thus the alleged reform is simply the Commonwealth returning to the States and Territories billions (of their own) dollars that, hopefully, will help them improve their existing health systems. In other words, it’s a Clayton’s reform.

Finally, if you don’t believe life span and the age of procreation will extend, the evidence suggests otherwise. Unfortunately, I doubt I’ll be around to enjoy the experience.


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