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08 December 2008

Phony Pope Mobile Fined

It's been a little while since I posted on offbeat news... well, it's been a little while since I posted on anything. I will be back to the political affairs soon - but in the mean time.

A protest Popemobile, built by Sydney activists as a protest against the Pope's visit in July, was issued with a Defect Notice and put off the road. It's driver, Ian Bryce was booked and fined for "having a roof ornament likely to distract motorists".

Details of its adventures, photos, and a video, are linked from the website

On top of this, in related news, we now learn that the Government's bill for World Youth Day has come in at more than $100 million over-budget.

15 July 2008

World Youth Day - No New Powers, Just Old Ones

I am more than pleased to report that the new laws, allowing police to detain people or fine them $5,500 for annoying or inconveniencing World Youth Day attendees... for the obvious reason that they could be misused to infringe on people's rights.

I may have joked about making the laws less unfair by expanding them - but in the end, in all seriousness, sense has prevailed.

Unfortunately it took an appeal to the Full Bench of the Federal Court to realise this outcome - and all the associated costs and fuss that comes with such an appeal... but at least it happened.

08 July 2008

Under-funding Public Broadcasters - the problems and pitfalls

In my recent post on under-funding the ABC, I outlined how much the ABC has had its budget cut over the last decade or so... and Kevin Rudd's official reply on the matter.

I have since contacted the minister in question (Senator Conroy) to remind him of the promises made before the election.

But today, Crikey! released their assessment of some of the symptoms of under-funding that are beginning to show themselves.

I can't say it much better than them... so here's the link:

The ABC: outsourcings "R" us

01 July 2008

World Youth Day - New Powers

New powers, effective today, have been introduced to allow police to perform partial strip searches at hundreds of Sydney sites - and to allow police to arrest and fine people for "causing annoyance" to World Youth Day participants.

The SHM report.

Critics say that the new laws have the potential to make a crime of wearing a T-shirt with a message on it, undertaking a Chaser-style stunt, handing out condoms at protests, riding a skateboard or even playing music.

I say - these laws haven't gone far enough!

Yes, they are prejudiced against people who aren't participants of World Youth Day.

But the answer isn't to restrict the laws - or repeal them. The solution is to broaden them.

Let's remove the prejudice from these laws by extending their powers to everyone.

World Youth Day causes me great annoyance. Why not fine everyone of the participants for every WYD t-shirt they wear.

All participants of WYD should be strip searched upon leaving any of the "declared areas". People leaving them should be subject to vehicle and baggage searches that require them to remove jackets, gloves, shoes and headwear if requested. And reasonable force should be allowed to make sure they stay inside their "declared areas" if, for any reason, they do not permit the search.

Kristina Keneally is reported as saying "bag checks are a sensible safety precaution which any young person who is going to a major event in Australia … would expect". So, the participants should be expecting them.

The president of the NSW Council of Civil Liberties, Cameron Murphy, said the broad meaning of "causes annoyance" had the potential to encompass any activity.

Great! So, basically, if extended to pro-WYD behavior as well as anti-WYD... it would cover any religious singing, all speeches and sermons performed as a part of WYD... and most especially, anything carrying the motto "For the time of your eternal life"!

Bring it on. Let's fine every last one of them for all the really annoying things they're going to subject us to.

Don't shun the idea - use it.

Bring on the new laws... just get rid of the prejudice in them, and we can all join in the game.

18 June 2008

Supply - not Demand 2

To continue the discussion of "Supply - not Demand" (see original post here)...

The New Norm

As economic expansion becomes its own problem and the difficulties facing an economy with almost full employment become the new norm... more and more issues arise that ask the question:

"how do we increase supply, and not demand"

I was listening to Radio National this morning (details and podcast here). Professor Deborah Brennan was talking about the Rudd Government's new Child Care policies and the ways in which increasing the Child Care benefits will simply increase demand and not help the supply problem.

I agree with her - and I am sad to think that the Rudd Government has come up with policies as cynical and pointless as the "first home-owners grant".

It makes people feel better. It makes them feel as if the government is doing something... but in the end it simply increases demand, drives up prices, creates more "burn" in the tax benefit system and does nothing to actually make anyone's life easier.

Housing and R&D

It did set me to thinking, however, about how one might manage to improve the supply situation without increasing demand.

The answer, in a way, is simpler for houses. We have a whole industry based around the supply of houses - the construction industry, housing developers... there are people to whom we can give direct tax credits, simply for doing their job, in order to increase the supply of houses being built in the economy (more about this idea).

There is no equivalent for Child Care. There is no Child Care Centre construction industry.

But the concept of tax incentives based on particular activity within an industry is not a new one. Think of the generous tax incentives for R&D that have been implemented in some countries.

Yes, admittedly, there is always the problem of "what is R&D"... but that is for the tax department to work out. You know when you're doing it... and if you've got any queries, don't depend on the tax rebate until the department has made a ruling... it's simple really, and it's been done before, many times.

Finding the Answer

What we need is a 150% (or at least something 100%+) tax rebate on all the costs involved in the first year's set-up and running of a "new" child-care centre.

Yes, the tax department will need to define "new". Yes, it will need to clarify what can be included in the list of expenses. But the basic list is easy to come up with - the details can, as always, be worked out in the fullness of time.

The list includes, but is not limited to, the costs of:
  • building new premises intended for the purpose of housing a new Child Care centre, which is then used to house said Child Care centre for at least 12 months. (If premises has other purposes, as well, then a pro-rata calculation can be made)
  • Renting premises intended for the purpose of housing a new Child Care centre, which is then used to house said Child Care centre for at least 12 months.
  • All wages for staff involved in supporting and running a new child-care centre.
  • All office expenses, new materials etc. involved in supporting and running a new child-care centre.

Facing the Problems

There is then the problem of Child Care centres not being viable after the initial 12 month period. But the problem is a small one.

The point is, there is a lot of unmet demand out there. There are more children than places. If that isn't the case, we don't have a problem. Once a Child Care centre is up and running - it is unlikely to be torn down and replaced with something else, unless someone has made a very stupid business calculation and is now running a Centre where the prospect is truly unsustainable.

If this is the case, then the problem is with the business case, not the incentive scheme - and the Centre deserves to shut down, as per the laws of Supply and Demand that we are trying to utilise.


Would it be expensive?


Would it cost more than the current rebate extensions?
Possibly, depending on tax rebate levels

Would it help supply without increasing demand?

Can we afford it?

Would it help "working families" more than the current rebate, in the long run?
Most certianly, YES!

Let's stop just making people feel better, and help the whole economy.

The Reasons

Access to Child Care is an equality issue.

Increasing access helps new parents back into the workforce. It increases levels of participation. It helps single parents. It increases overall output and productivity.

It simply IS a good idea.

This isn't some "anti-market" strategy. It's a market shaping strategy... and a good one... one that works. Only the absolute free-market purists could argue against it... and, well, really... arguing against a purist of any persuasion is a bit pointless.

Questions, comments, further ideas and foreseen problems welcome. Let's work out the details and get this implemented.

11 June 2008

Supply - not Demand

Australia's housing afford-ability

OK. So what's obvious is that the current housing afford-ability problem, in Australia, is a basic Supply/Demand problem.

What's also obvious is that any attempts that try to fix the problem by giving people money only supports the demand side of that equation and completely fails to deal with the problem from a supply side - which, in effect, only makes the problem worse.

So giving people a "first home owners grant" only raises the cost of housing, on average, by the amount of the grant - it might make it slightly cheaper for first home owners and slightly more expensive for anyone not buying a first home. But on average, the market simply corrects. There's still a lack of supply, and raising demand simply raises the equilibrium point.

And in the face of the, more recent, rental squeeze in Australia's urban centres, giving people rent assistance only pushes the price of rental properties up even further - for exactly the same reason.

What we need is more houses. More houses means greater supply - greater supply means cheaper sales and rent. Simple, isn't it? Obvious!...

What is not so obvious, however, is how the current tax incentives for investors effects the afford-ability problem.

The current housing tax regime, in Australia, was originally designed to help afford-ability by encouraging people to invest in housing, therefore encouraging investment in building houses, therefore raising supply, therefore reducing prices and rent...

There are a number of "but"s here:
  1. Much of the tax relief goes to people investing in pre-owned houses - making the expenditure inefficient. Why are we helping people invest in and make money out of 100 year old houses... we need new houses, not more investors in old ones.
  2. The tax incentives only work as planned when the market is going up.
    1. They encourage extra investment when investment is a good idea anyway, by increasing profits... but they are of little help when the market is going down. At end of the day, if the capital value of houses is going backward, it doesn't matter how much money you refund on the costs of running the house, it's still a bad investment, and needs to be sold.
    2. By encouraging over investment on the way up, they encourage a greater boom and bust throughout the housing price cycle.
So, if cash payouts don't do any good and tax incentives for investors cause extreme markets... what's the answer?

Well, actually, it's really not that complicated.

If you wanted to reduce the cost of cars, you wouldn't start by making investing in cars cheaper, you'd start by making the manufacturing of cars cheaper.

In the same way, in order to make houses cheaper... forget the tax incentives for investors... give tax benefits to builders.
  • Reduce company tax for companies that make building materials - bricks, building timber etc. Tax return incentives for investment in certain areas of business have precedent and are not that new.
  • Give tax reductions to companies that build houses - developers etc.
  • Create subsidies for companies that sell housing products to individual builders and contractors
  • Give tax credits or bonuses (think "the baby bonus") to individuals who build their own houses.
It's a simple equation:
  1. make building a new house cheaper
  2. increases the number of competitors and competition in the market
  3. makes the final sale price of each house lower
  4. drives down prices for currently standing houses (people who can pay less for new houses won't pay as much for similar non-new houses)
Where does the money come from to pay for all these tax incentives?

In past versions of this plan, I outlined ideas like reducing the current 100% tax benefit for investors by 5% a year, and putting the money saved towards tax benefits for builders... but, quite frankly, with the kind of surpluses we've been seeing in the budget recently, we can simply afford these tax breaks... we don't need to "find" the money. We've got it already.

By keeping the current tax incentives for investors, the combined effect will continue to have downward pressure on rents by encouraging investment... however, over time, the idea of reducing tax benefits for investors could/should be looked at in order to encourage people to buy their (now cheaper) houses, and discourage the low owner-occupier / high-investor model we're currently locked in.

On top of that, by my readings, it's not a particularly inflationary tax-cut. It's upshot is to reduce the cost of building new houses, which immediately takes the pressure off wages by reducing mortgage stress and rental stress.

There don't seem a lot of down-sides to the plan in general - the details, of course, will need to be fought over.

10 June 2008

The Wealth Spread Index - The Fairness Bourse

A friend of mine and I went out for drinks recently. While we were speaking about politics, economics and how to solve the future... he gave me a great idea for a use for something I've been messing around with.

The History

Wealth Distribution - how we compare

Some short time ago I was doing some research on wealth distribution. I wanted to come up with a way of comparing countries directly.

Recently, I heard a talk from Paul Krugman, a Professor of Economics from Princeton University. In fact, I've written on that talk before.

What had stuck in my head from Krugman's talk was the issue of "wealth spread" and "fairness" within an economy - we should have a way of comparing different economies directly.

More specifically - while I "know" from common understanding that the US economy has become much less evenly spread over the last couple of decades, and many of the Scandinavian countries have maintained their even equality of wealth - I wanted to be able to calculate the situation more accurately; to clearly measure and compare the different economies; possibly work out where Australia is on that scale, right now.

I looked around and couldn't find any consensus on the issue - no standard way of measuring what I wanted to measure.

After some hunting around and a little experimenting I came up with with a basic model/system of my own.

Now at that point I had no idea what to do with it. It was interesting to me and I liked to see the results - but I couldn't see what the practical upshot of it could ever be to anyone.

And this is where my drinks with Simon come into it. He gave me the idea of what to do with it while we were talking that night.

Why do we so easily measure a country's health and value by:
  • GDP Growth
  • Interest Rates
  • Inflation
  • Unemployment Rates
  • Stock market values
Why can't we talk about "Spread of Wealth", "Long term vs Short Term Unemployment", "Ease of Basic Living"... the simple reason, I would hypothesise, is because GDP, Interest Rates, Inflation and Unemployment all have single numbers attached to them - and the Stock market has the "bourse" value (e.g. ASX200, FTSE, Nasdaq etc.)

All the other issues (Spread of Wealth etc.) have no single number that can be associated with them - and therefore can't be summarised as easily.

One example in support of this theory is the topic of "housing afford-ability". Until recently, in Australia, the issue had never been discussed widely. In order to have the conversation about it - in order to make it news worthy - we needed a specific housing afford-ability index, so that we could compare States with each other, record whether it's gone up or down and by how much... and generally discuss the issues using simple concepts. That's what we did. We made a "housing afford-ability index".

And so... the idea that came out of my discussion with Simon is this:

If we want to have a discussion about "fairness" and the "spread of wealth" in our economy, then we need a fairness bourse... a wealth spread index; a single number that can be compared between economies and over time within an economy.

So - let's make one.

The overview

The original ideas

Using data easily available, I wanted to find a value that would vary within a known range (say 0 to 100) and that would represent the level of inequality within an economy.

So allowing for the idea that the "worst" possible economy is one in which the bottom 60% of the population own nothing at all and the "best" economy is one in which everyone owns a completely equal share of the wealth - it was fairly simple to come up with a reasonably basic way of scoring economies within the given range.

With a tip of the hat to Ghandi's/Churchill's/Truman's quote (see many confused references to this quote across the internet - Florida Today, Ask MetaFilter, Memorable Quotations, Askville to list a few):

"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members"

the formula I used gives more weight to the fairness imparted on the bottom feeders than the big end of town. So while an economy could improve its rating by decreasing the amount of wealth that is "soaked up" by the richest people, it will improve its index value far more quickly by improving the lot of its worst off inhabitants.

Here are the initial results:

All of the initial results were between the values 57.5 (Turkey) and 77 (Slovakia) (represented by the red bars).

These values can, alternatively, be viewed by stretching them out between 0 and 100 so that the lowest scoring economy always receives a score of 0 and the highest 100 (represented by the blue bars).

Some notable scores amongst the list are:
  • America - 23.08
    • 2nd worst score
  • New Zealand - 38.46
    • I was surprised by how low NZ scored
  • United Kingdom - 38.46
  • Australia - 53.85
  • France - 64.10
  • Sweden - 87.18
  • Japan & The Czech Republic - 94.44
    • 2nd highest score
On a comparative basis - I think this system of scoring shows some merit and represents a step forward in finding a single value to represent the spread of wealth within an economy.

However both systems show some limitations.

The first version, with values between 57.5 and 77, show little absolute variance and gives the mistaken impression that there isn't much difference between these economies in the terms being measured.

The second version with values between 0 and 100, tries to deal with that limitation, but suffers from, or emphasises, a few more:
  • it stretches out values at the bottom of the range and compresses values at the top
  • it could make countries in the lower values appear as if they were improving or slipping faster than they are
  • it could mask improvements/drops in countries with higher values by making the changes seem smaller than they are
  • one country slipping at the bottom or the top could make the others appear as if they were improving when they weren't
  • one country improving at the bottom or the top could make all the others appear as if they were slipping when they weren't

The final solution

It soon became clear why these systems each had these particular problems.

They treated "100" as an attainable goal, as if the "perfectly fair" society was something reachable.

In order to make the scale work like a normal bourse, the "perfect" solution needed to remain something unattainable. Something that everyone aims for, but no one can ever reach - stretching into infinity.

Taking this into account allowed me to calculate these values:

The final results varied from 5.0 up to 22.23 and will increase in rate of growth (approaching infinity) as the economies being measured approach "perfect".

Some notable scores amongst the list are:
  • America - 6.2
    • again, 2nd worst score
  • New Zealand - 8.26
    • again, surprised
  • United Kingdom - 8.26
  • Australia - 8.9
  • France - 11.5
  • Sweden - 17.4
  • Japan & The Czech Republic - 22.23
    • Now the highest score

The Details

All calculations were based on details of the relevant economies from this UNICEF web site:

The calculations are based on 2 main values:
  1. Low = the % of the nations wealth held by the bottom 40% of the population
  2. High = the % of the nations wealth held by the top 20% of the population
The accuracy of the figures, and how up-to-date they are are somewhat irrelevant at this point. The point was, and is, to come up with a reliable, convenient and illuminating way of measuring an economies fairness.

The values actually used were as follows:

Czech Republic2536
Korea, Republic of2238
New Zealand1844
United Kingdom1844
United States of America1646

The Final Results

The fairness values calculated, in order form "worst" to "best", were as follows:

United States of America6.2
New Zealand8.26086956521739
United Kingdom8.26086956521739
Korea, Republic of15.1666666666667
Czech Republic22.2258064516129

The Final Calculation

The calculation used was as follows:

((100 - High) + Low^2)/((High - 20) + (40 - Low))

The Reasoning

The reasoning is as follows:
  • The value of "High" varies between 20 -> 100
  • The value of "Low" varies between 0 -> 40
  • In the "perfect" situation - High = 20, Low = 40
    • (High - 20) + (40 - Low) = 0
  • In the "worst" situation - High = 100, Low = 0
    • (High - 20) + (40 - Low) = 120
  • The inverse of (High - 20) + (40 - Low)
    • maximum (infinity) in the "perfect" situation
    • minimum (1/120) in the "worst" situation
  • To further increase the exponential effect of both "High" and "Low" (but particularly of "Low") multiply the above calculation by ((100 - High) + Low^2)

And you are left with final calculation:

((100 - High) + Low^2)/((High - 20) + (40 - Low))

The Conclusion

After some experimentation and testing with varying values around the current "correct" values, I am convinced that this is a valuable way of calculating the over-all fairness of an economy.

I would be very interested to hear any feedback, comments or findings related to the calculation - how its adoption could be encouraged, and what might improve its usefulness.

28 May 2008

Tracks from Returning Beauty

This isn't my usual kind of post... but I felt like making these available.

A few years ago, for my wife's birthday, a bunch of my friends, and hers, got together and made an album, as a birthday present.

Here are the tracks I can supply. The others, unfortunately, fall under some form of questionable copyright. I tried to get a license to release the covers, from APRA, but it was too expensive to make it worth it - unless I was going to actually sell the tracks, which seemed more trouble than it was worth at the time...

So, here they are:

St James Infirmary Blues

Performed: Nicholas Gledhill (vocals, guitar), Joshua Shipton (guitar)

Evening Prayer

Performed: Catherine Lockley (vocals), Ruth Lockley (vocals, piano)

The Lady of Shallot

Performed: Anthony Hunt

Bitch in a Manger

Performed: Bobbie Scarlet (vocals, guitar)

07 May 2008

Kevin Rudd on Funding for the ABC

Half way through March last year, I wrote to Kevin Rudd - the, then new, Labor Leader - about funding (or the lack thereof) for the ABC... your ABC.

He wrote back.

Well, someone from his office, with official access to his email wrote back, anyway.

He (or they) did the classic politician's thing of rewording the answer to suit the question he wanted me to ask. Some of his response is about the process by which the ABC board is stacked. To be honest, I think this is an important issue as well... and I agree with Kevin Rudd's assessment of the situation. It makes my original letter sound more broad ranging than it actually was, which is fine by me.

Click here to see a list of the statistics on funding for the ABC that I sent in my letter to Kevin Rudd.

Not only did I get Kevin to say he thought the ABC was underfunded, he actually mentioned a figure ($100 million), which is more than I ever expected to get in response to my original letter (not the amount, but the fact that he mentioned a specific figure at all).

I realise that there is little chance of the government announcing extra spending for the ABC in this up-and-coming "tight" budget, on May 13 - and, to be honest, Mr Rudd does say "over the next triennium", so he's got a full 3 years to come good on his offer here. (Isn't that now quartennium? What happened to Kevin's promise to make Australian political terms a fixed four-year affair... I should do a post on that sometime soon...)

Here is the email I got, from Kevin:

Dear Nicholas

Thank you for your letter highlighting the importance of adequate funding for the ABC and the need for the ABC to be free from political interference.

Labor shares these principles.

The Howard Government has starved the ABC of the funding it needs to produce decent public broadcasting services. After coming to power the Howard Government cut ABC funding by $66 million over two years. This funding has never been fully restored. In real terms, the ABC has less money to make programs than when John Howard came to office. As a consequence, the production of Australian drama has fallen to record lows.

The Howard Government has also has repeatedly sought to stack the ABC Board with its political mates.

Labor is deeply concerned with the Howard Government’s attempts to bully the ABC and undermine its independence. This is a worrying threat to Australian democracy.

Labor is committed to ending the practice of Governments making political appointments to the ABC Board. Under Labor, appointments will be based on merit, not mateship.

Since 2003 Labor has argued that there should be an open and transparent process for making appointments to the ABC board. Vacancies should be advertised and there should be clear merit based selection criteria. Labor's policy provides for an independent selection panel to undertake a proper shortlist selection process.

Most importantly the selection of the shortlist would be independent of the Minister. If the Minister does not appoint a short listed candidate he or she will have to table a formal statement of the reasons for departing from the shortlist to the Parliament.

This process will make it virtually impossible for a political crony to be short listed for an ABC Board appointment.

Labor's policy will enhance our democracy. It will foster an environment where the ABC can be fearless in its approach to news and current affairs, and critical of both sides of politics whenever necessary.

Labor is committed to a better, stronger and independent ABC. During the last election campaign, Labor pledged to begin to restore the ABC's finances by injecting an additional $100 million over the next triennium. Labor will review the funding requirements of the ABC in the lead up to the next election. ABC must be properly funded so that it is able to fulfil its charter to inform, educate and entertain all Australians.

Kind regards,

Kevin Rudd
Federal Labor Leader
Member for Griffith

So where to now? I guess we see how the next few budgets treat the ABC. To see the statistics I sent Kevin in my original letter, see here. They're quite enlightening, still, I think.

ABC funding - the scary statistics

ABC funding. Let's take a second to look at what's really going on there.

I wrote to Kevin Rudd about this, and if you want to see his response click here.

Over the last 12 years, things have gone from OK, to bad, to worse for the ABC in terms of funding. For an idea of just how bad it is... let's look at some figures:

[NB: Some of the details of the requirements for the ABC's funding have changed since these facts were compiled for the original letter, but the bulk of the facts remain true and pertinent to the situation at the ABC]
  • The Howard government cut 12%, or $55m from the ABC in the 1997 budget, and it has waited until just this last budget for any increase from that level at all.
  • "8c per day per person" was the quoted cost of the running the ABC in the reign of David Hill as MD - over 10 years ago. It was quoted in order to prove how little the ABC actually cost to run. Today that figure is below 5.5c per day. Budget cut backs and population growth have reduced this figure significantly - but that's before inflation is taken into account. 5.5c is worth much less now than it was in the 1990's. In fact 5.5c is worth only 3.9c in 1996's currency, and so funding for the ABC has dropped by more than 51% in real terms since then - yes that's right! More than 51%.
  • Over the same period through which its real funding has dropped by more than 51% (1996 - 2007) the ABC has been required to maintain it's output for 4 national and 60 regional radio stations and a TV station, and numerous other pursuits in its charter - while also being required to expand it's output for a whole new TV station, it's hugely popular website and more recently its podcasts and its 40 ABC shops.
  • The ABC's broadcasts of internally generated new content has fallen from 103 hours to 13 hours annually in just four years.
  • Based on 2003-04 figures, the ABC TV's annual budget of $400m is less than a third of the Nine Network's $1.3bn, 40% of Seven's $1bn and 58% of Ten's $686m.
  • A recent report was commissioned by the government from KPMG. They were asked to assess whether the ABC was efficiently run and whether or not any more efficiencies could be found. It was quoted as saying "The ABC provides a high volume of outputs and quality relative to the level of funding it receives... the ABC appears to be a broadly efficient organisation." and "even with indexation we do not believe the ABC could sustain its present range, quantity and mix of outputs at its present level of funding". The report suggested that small efficiency gains could be made by reducing staff by 5% in the legal, archiving, library and Human Resources areas. Reviews of the legal department and HR are presently underway. SO - in other words - YES! The ABC is efficient, NO! the ABC cannot find any real efficiency increases in its current state and NO! The ABC cannot continue the way it is currently being funded.
  • To take the ABC up to the minimum amount quoted by KPMG as required to maintain current standards (which are already well below historic standards) would mean increasing the ABC's funding by another $37m on top of the recent increase - to a total of approx. $900m. However this still doesn't take into account the recent requirement for the ABC to spend 25% of its total operating budget on New Media and Digital Services - this would require an extra increase of $300m to a total of $1.2bn - just to maintain output [ED - These details have changed since compilation of these facts for the letter to Kevin Rudd, NG]. And FINALLY, if we are to ever get back to the (apparently cheap) days of "8c per day per person" in today's money it would take an increase of the ABC budget to $1.8bn… not too bad when you consider it is running 2 TV stations, 4 national and 60 regional radio stations, an internationally recognised News service, an enormous and popular web site and podcasting service and a chain of retail stores (and also remember that the Nine Network spends $1.3bn on one TV station alone).
Again - see here, for Kevin's response to these statistics.

02 May 2008

The baby bonus

Not Fair: Nelson

"I would have thought that Mr Rudd - who's already tried to pick on seniors and carers - would find another group other than families to pick on and it's very, very important that Mr Rudd understands that every mother loves her baby and this should be an Australia where all babies are equal"
- Brendan Nelson

Let's just pull that apart for moment.

"already tried to pick on seniors and carers"
Now by this, presumably, Dr. Nelson is talking about Labor failing to confirm that it would maintain the carers benefit. They failed to confirm that they would continue to pay "exactly the same" benefits, its true - but I think the language of "picking on" is hyperbole.

"find another group other than families to pick on"
Apparently Dr Nelson believes Labor should be picking on someone - but not families.

"every mother loves her baby"
1. Is this true?
2. Even if it is - what about fathers? Does their love not matter? I thought we might have left the sexism behind with the Howard government - but apparently its just a Coalition thing.
3. Even ignoring the sexism of that statement - and assuming it to be true... So what? What on earth does that have to do with support payment policies? If other people's love a were a reason to give government support, that would change a lot of policy, I think.

"this should be an Australia where all babies are equal"
Exactly! It should be! And here's the news flash, Dr Nelson - it's not. Not all babies are born equal - some are born with a lot more in this world than others. And one way to improve that imbalance would be to means test the support given new parents, towards the cost of having babies.

If we means tested stuff like the baby bonus then babies born in Australia would be more equal, and we would be closer to Dr Nelson's dream.

Too Expensive: Turnbull

And, on the idea that working out the baby bonus payments would cost more than it would save in tax dollars... we already do these calculations (quite complicated one's) to work out the value of parent's child care / day care payments... we just need to start working it out a year or two earlier - it's simply an addition to a process that's already in place - not a brand new expense. Give me break.

Bring on the means testing - even if I lose my benefit. It won't cost much more than calculating family benefits does already - and it would actually make Australia much closer to Nelson's stated dream of all babies being equal.

Vote yes to a fairer system. Vote yes to means testing.

Some more sensible words

For a slightly more serious take on the reasons to means test (or get rid of the baby bonus all together) and what to do with the money saved - Andrew Leigh

28 April 2008

A message for the future

A friend of mine sent this to me today.

I have grown a little older and more cynical - and never was it clearer than while I watched this video. I assumed, as it started, that it was going to be a joke of some kind... most of the videos I get sent these days are, after all.

Then, as I watched and realised it wasn't a joke, I wanted nothing more than to be able to laugh at it. Whatever it was that was coming, I wanted it to be silly, saccharine... an inadvertent joke, with itself as the punch line.

But finally, as I got further, I realised just how important this video was...

No matter how jaded you are... no matter how many times you've made the argument "but it's more complicated than that"... this video, this message, is the point we should all start from.

We pass off sentiments such as this as "simple", "too broad". We ignore such advice by saying such things as:
  • we need to think about the bigger picture
  • the economy is important too
  • it's just not that simple
All of these statements are true. But, it is no less true or more broad sweeping to say:
  • we create enough food for everyone in the world
  • we aren't trying hard enough
  • "we shouldn't break what we can't fix"
This message, in the video below, is where it all starts - the big picture, the simple dream, from a clear thinking child's perspective.

This is a message from 1992... I thought it was filmed today when I first saw it... and the really sad message there is, a child could tell us all of this 16 years ago and we're still not listening.

16 April 2008

I love Nelson as a leader... for the Coalition

Actually, I'm starting to suspect Dr Nelson never really changed his politics after all. Maybe he's still actually working for the Labor Party.

The Challenge

I wish to offer you, dear reader, a challenge.

1. Make sure you have nothing around you to entertain distract you
2. Watch the video below. Pay close attention and focus only on the video.
3. Try to make it past the 2:00 mark without feeling the desperate desire to watch something else or turn it off entirely.

Please respond with your own personal reactions below.

What Brendan Nelson has learned

So apparently, Brendan Nelson has discovered that there are people in this country who can only afford $30 a week for petrol, and people who can only put $5 worth of petrol in their car at a time.

Wow. It's obviously been a big week for the man. I wonder if his coalition buddies will believe him.

"No" they will say, "that just can't be! How can people live like that. You must be mistaken. Obviously this is all the fault of the Labor Party and their mismanagement of the economy. This kind of thing never happened under Howard. No one will put up with those kind of living standards for long."

Well I guess if he learns only this one small thing then he has at least listened to someone and learned something.

It's a start, anyway.

But honestly, if that's a revelation to Brendan Nelson - no wonder he doesn't get what 2020 is all about. If he honestly needed to talk first hand to poorer Australians in order to work out they exist - or in order to work out that not everyone can afford to fill their tank with petrol whenever they want to... why should we ever expect him to understand an issue like Global Warming, or the importance of education to social equality.

What Brendan Nelson just doesn't get

And in further news - Brendan Nelson wants us to feel sorry for the banks.

Brendan Nelson: life hard for banks
Nelson wants you to encourage banks to make a profit
Banks are people too: Nelson

Yes that's right. Dr Nelson wants us to realise that "Banks are people too"...

Um... no, actually...

They're not...

They're banks... you know - Companies...

They may be, by strict legal definition, for tax purposes, "entities" much like a person. But the day we start taking our definition of "people" from the tax department, I think we've really lost the battle against pseudoscience in our education system.

But wait, hold on, isn't he saying we should feel sorry for the individuals who have to foreclose on people's mortgages - I hear you say.

Well, in this day an age, I'm sure that an individual employee's experience of foreclosing on customers, compared to times in the past, is about as close as fighting a field battle is to launching an international missile strike. Someone sits in a room somewhere and hits a button that causes the printing of a thousand letters. They get folded and packed by machine and posted to a thousand customers. Some of them contain offers of more credit, new loans and investment opportunities. Some of them contain foreclosure notices.

Along with his lack of understanding about how many Australians live their lives with respect to money, Brendan Nelson also seems to have very little idea about how large offices work in the modern society.

Banks, these days, run by rules and regulations. Certain levels of risk imply certain behavior and certain levels of underpayment require foreclosure. No individual favours or punishments. No human interactions. No guilt. Just transactions, payments and foreclosures. The way it should be.

Dr Nelson said people should stop criticising banks and they should be encouraged to make profits. Isn't he just encouraging us to support banks making a profit?, you respond.

Well, yes he is. And in general, we can all support banks making a profit. It's good for the economy. Any company making a profit, in general, is good for the economy. No argument here.

But to encourage the pursuit of profit, blindly, with no other considerations would lead to many horrible outcomes. Imagine a world in which car manufacturers chased profits with no fear of the repercussions of bad safety standards and no adherence to pollution level guidelines. Imagine if we were encouraged to support housing developers profits in the face of buildings that fell down within a few years of being built.

The Solution?

Maybe the people who can no longer afford to pay their mortgages should never have been loaned money in the first place (they might be better off now if they hadn't). And maybe, just maybe, the banks should have to take some responsibility for the (bad) decision to lend them money when they did. Perhaps we could find a way of minimally fining, or otherwise disadvantaging banks for foreclosing on loans. Maybe then we wouldn't have as many foreclosures as less risky loans were avoided.

Maybe then we wouldn't have so many sad banks to be sympathetic for.

Maybe then less people would only be able to put petrol in their car in $5 increments.

Hey - maybe Brendan Nelson's got a point after all.

Then again... maybe not.

04 April 2008

Albinos protected from witch doctors in Tanzania

Excuse the long break - I'll be getting back to the political commentary and ways to save the world soon - but...

In stranger, more disturbing news just out - Tanzania's 150,000 albinos are now under the protection of the President... protection from Witch Doctors.

Witchdoctors were involved in 19 murders over the past year, says President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete. Police have been ordered to hunt them down. Apparently the witchdoctors have been murdering the albinos to use their body parts in magic potions - potions designed to bring people good luck.

29 February 2008

The End of the Ice Age - The first 100 days

It looks like Kevin Rudd is keeping his own list of achievements for me (if you don't know what I'm talking about, see Things that make me happy)

Whitlam and Rudd - the first 100 days

For those of you wondering where Kevin Rudd gets his inspiration, and whether he models himself on anyone in particular - let's take a quick trip back in time... the passage below is from one of Whitlam's own speeches - Keynote Address by the Hon E.G. Whitlam AC QC "Thirty Years Later: the Whitlam Government as Modernist Politics", Old Parliament House, Canberra. December 2, 2002, 0930hrs.


"... In 1973, Robert Drewe wrote an article for The Australian on the Whitlam Government's first 100 days. He described himself as a '30-year-old child of Robert Gordon Menzies out of World War II' and he was just on the threshold of his brilliant literary career. Bob Drewe wrote:

You're aware of a certain rare feeling of national self-respect these days. It's not as if we're suddenly a big-shot country … but the fact is that Labor restored some dignity to the conduct of our national affairs at a time when we had all come more or less to expect nothing but ill from political action. Without precedent in the history of British-style governments, it set out to make up for lost time by immediately implementing its campaign promises. Australians blinked as within weeks we recognized China, ended conscription, abolished race as a criterion of our immigration policy, began reform of the health service, supported equal pay for women, abolished British honours, increased arts subsidies, put contraceptives on the medical benefits list, took the tax off Australian wine, moved to stop the slaughter of kangaroos and crocodiles and searched for a new national anthem. Along the way, the Government attempted to make our relationship with America … a bit less one-sided. The End of The Ice Age, is how Russel Ward describes the new era in a current Meanjin article.

In his essay, Robert Drewe put the view that to the extent the new spirit reflected the personality of the Prime Minister, it was 'by using (and being seen to use) the idea of the Australian Government, as he prefers to call it, as a direct and intelligent instrument for the general good.' I believe that idea is as relevant today as it was 30 years ago. Furthermore, I am convinced that relevant and contemporary policies, developed on the basis of that idea, creatively mobilising the resources of the Labor Party, the Parliament, the Constitution and the United Nations, will speed the day when the men and women of Australia will proclaim once again: It's Time."


I would like to give a future echo to Bob Drewe's "rare feeling of national self-respect"... now here's Kevin's first 100 days:

First Cut: PM reflects on first 100 days

Rudd releases achievement book

22 February 2008

Nelson, Hypocrisy and Videos

With Nelson and Hypocrisy on the brain... I found these funny and thought I would leave them here for your enjoyment.

18 February 2008

Mandate schmandate - the ultimate hypocrisy

My letter today, to the Australian:

To the Editor of The Australian,


Ms Albrechtsen has spent an entire article arguing against the existence of "Mandate Theory". She makes a very convincing argument. I happen to completely agree with her. In her own words "Mandate theory? Bunkum." I don't support WorkChoices, by the way - but I don't believe the Labor party has the right to roll it back unless it can get its law changes through both houses of parliament in the prescribed manner.

Mandate theory is, indeed, the hypocritical rhetoric of both sides, used, whenever they are in power, to attempt to subvert the checks and balances we have built in to our democracy. Howard was wrong when he claimed the Senate was getting in his way. He was wrong to put forward changes that might have decreased the senate's power to stop laws - and the Labor party is wrong now, to claim they have a mandate over and above the senate's right to stop any law change they wish.

I agree with all of that.

Janet Albrechtsen then commits the ultimate hypocrisy by calling on mandate theory to defend the continuation of IR changes made before 2004. She writes "After all, voters approved those changes at the 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2004 elections. Dare one remind Labor that the Coalition won four mandates for those changes?"

If every government had to maintain the laws of previous governents simply because they were once elected, and enacted them, then the Coalition should have been stopped from ever rolling back laws that Hawke and Keating implemented - after all, presumably they had a mandate to implement them when they were elected. By Albrechtsen's argument, no one should be allowed to change anything that could have ever claimed a "mandate" in the past.

She has gone from "no mandate theory", to the "hyper-mandate theory". Just think of the laws we would never be able to change.

Ms Albrechtsen spends much of her piece gathering evidence of the innate hypocrisy in most arguments that use mandate theory as their basis. Having spent so long making a reasonable argument against mandate theory, to call upon it to argue for anything at all is clearly the greatest hypocrisy of all.

Nicholas Gledhill.

17 February 2008

The French and the US - social security vs. efficiency?

Due to the political makeup of my extended family, the fact that many of them are French or live in France and our collective passion for politics, I often find myself debating the positives (or otherwise) of the American and European styles of social security.

Long before Michael Moore's famous comparison between the French health care system and the American - the French welfare system was the whipping boy of pro-American style economies. After all, the Americans love to hate the French, so they have to find a way of diminishing their, otherwise apparent, achievements.

Basic claims, from defenders of the American welfare system, range from "But everyone knows the Europeans can't afford their welfare system" to "but you know the French are going broke don't you". I was on the lookout, recently, for statistics and/or information from reputable sources that would refute such assumptions, without simply saying "go on, prove it".

So, I was very happy to hear this quote, today on Radio National, from Princeton Professor of Economics, Paul Krugman:

"So we say, Well, American equality is essential to our productivity, and then you compare it with France, which has much less and is much more generous a social welfare state, and it turns out that the French problem is they screwed up their retirement policy. It's not something cosmic , it's not a basic fundamental flaw of trying to have a more equal society. And they have health care, that is as good as or better than ours, and it covers everybody at 65% of the cost of the US system. In many ways they do better, but of course everybody knows that we're at the cutting edge of technology. So just look at the future, except it ain't true. Turns out that broadband is now more widely available and faster in France than it is in the United States. We're actually losing that edge too. So the whole notion that the US have done so wonderfully and that justifies all of the brutality of our society, is just based on ignorance.

I think a lot of political rhetoric in the United States depends on the notion that Americans have no idea what life is actually like in other countries."

Well! What else can I say? There it is, from a Princeton Professor of Economics none-the-less.

He has a lot of other very interesting points to make about the death of the middle class since the 1970s. The only point I disagree with him on is - he says the phenomenon is "unique to the United States" and that "the closest thing you can see this unequalisation that's taken place in the United States is in Britain during the Thatcher years". I would like to invite professor Krugman to investigate the progress of wealth distribution across Australia, over the last decade, and ask him if he can see the same process here as well.

Before I let this one go, there's one other quote from him that I would like to point out:

"... prime age working years in France, 25-54; 80% of French adults between the age of 25 and 54 are working, which is exactly the same as the United States. So if your vision is that there are huge numbers of unemployed French people, with no employment for middle-aged French people and with no job prospects, it's just not true. They're exactly as likely to be working as we are."

For a full transcript of his whole talk on how the New Deal society has been dismantled in America, and the reasons for it, see here - or for the full audio, see here.

Don't believe the hype.

13 February 2008

So, what went wrong with Nelson?

There's been a lot of chatter - even in the small amount of time since the Apology - about Brendan Nelson's reply to the Apology.

But what really went so wrong?

For more on the Apology itself - have a look at some of the video links at the bottom of this post:

Apology for being so proud

Nelson's Speech

For a full text of Nelson's entire speech - see Nelson's reply to the Apology, the full text.

Many people have spoken about how they were offended by Brendan Nelson's words; how they didn't believe him... but what really went so wrong? He seemed to say the right things. He said sorry - he agreed to the policy initiatives. What really was so wrong with what Nelson said?

The important thing to remember here is that Nelson never said anything that can be argued with factually. At no point am I trying to dispute the details of what Nelson said. What I am interested in, is the implication of stating certain facts and details at this particular point in time. There are many points at which someone can choose to point out truths about the world - and when and where one chooses to do so has meaning over and above the truth of those statements.

OK! Starting from the top... I'm going to rush through some of this - I can't take too long on each point, or I'll be here all year.

  • Right off the bat - Minister Nelson chooses to refer to "those Aboriginal people forcibly removed from their families through the first seven decades of the 20th century", which stands in stark contrast to Rudd pointing out that some people currently in parliament were in government when the last "stolen" children were taken from their families. Somehow the phrase "first seven decades of the 20th century" seems longer ago than "less than 4 decades ago". While they are the same thing, literally - the use of language, as ever, is important.

  • In the very next sentence he says that we need to "reach from within ourselves to our past" so that we may have a "deep understanding" of it. Again - placing the behaviour of previous governments clearly in the past and, I assume, a deep understanding that is aimed at sympathy towards that past behaviour. I don't deeply understand the past governments laws. On some level, I believe they should have known that removing a child from its parents on the basis of race, was wrong.

  • He asks us to "pause to place ourselves in the shoes of others... to see this issue through their eyes with decency and respect." This has two frustrating implications;
    • 1) it implies that there was nothing objectively wrong with the behaviour of previous Australian governments - that we need to put ourselves in the Aboriginal people's shoes in order to see it as wrong. Personally, I think it's clearly wrong regardless of your point of view... it's not a subjective issue. I'm not sorry because the Aboriginal people feel bad - because of their point of view. I'm sorry because my government did the wrong thing;
    • 2) it implies that we need to keep our mind open to seeing it from the other point of view (the previous government's) as well. It's an ambiguous sentence, and dangerous in its ambiguity... it doesn't say whose point of view we should be open to - and in the light of some of his later comments, I don't necessarily think he's aiming at the Aboriginal's.

  • "This chapter in our nation's history is emblematic of much of the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788." Sorry? Is he saying that things are now much the same as they were when children were removed from their families, purely on the basis of race? If so, then we don't just need to say sorry for our past behaviour, we need to change our current.

  • Brendan Nelson goes on to talk of one of "two cultures", "one ancient, proud" and "The other, no less proud"... so... we're proud too, don't think you've got a monolopoly on pride? Why point it out? Why do we need to compete with the Aboriginal people on pride, today of all days? Nobody disputes we were proud... so why the competition, Brendan?

  • He talks of our (the settlers) "gritty determination to build an Australian nation" as if determination to succeed was an excuse for our government's behaviour.

  • He claims that we were building this nation "for its early settlers and indigenous peoples"... well, I don't know about you, but I don't think that nation building for indigenous people was high on the agenda in a country that didn't consider those indigenous people citizens until 1967.

  • "our non-indigenous ancestors have given us a nation the envy of any in the world". Only by taking it from the indigenous people in the first place, and then treating them badly - which is what we are apologising for... why do we need to rub salt in the wound, now, by pointing out how much we've profited from it?

  • "But Aboriginal Australians made involuntary sacrifices, different but no less important, to make possible the economic and social development of our modern Australia"... see last point.

  • And now a long bit:

    "We cannot from the comfort of the 21st century begin to imagine what they overcame - indigenous and non-indigenous - to give us what we have and make us who we are.

    We do know though that language, disease, ignorance, good intentions, basic human prejudices, and a cultural and technological chasm combined to deliver a harshness exceeded only by the land over which each sought to prevail."

    All of this is true... but what does it say? When the non-indigenous people of Australia made sacrifices, they did so as a result of their own decisions or because of bad luck. When the stolen generations were taken from their families they weren't the victims of bad luck or the repercussions of their own decisions - they were victims of laws enacted and enforced by our own government. If the harsh Australian conditions could say sorry to the first settlers, maybe they should - but they can't. We can.

    Quite frankly, Minister Nelson, how dare you compare the losses, hardship and difficulties of the non-indigenous Australians with those of the Aboriginal people. We are responsible for their problems, they are not responsible for ours, or even their own. That's the point. That's why we're saying "sorry"; and the fact that you tried to link the two only makes it clear how little you understand.

  • "and churches heeded their Christian doctrine to reach out to people whom they saw in desperate need". Wrong actions done in the name of Christianity are still wrong.

  • Nelson continues in this vain for while, now - outlining the difficulties that indigenous people faced at the hands of the first non-indigenous Australians, while still excusing the behaviour as "of its time".

  • "Our responsibility, every one of us, is to understand what happened here, why it happened, the impact it had not only on those who were removed, but also those who did the removing and supported it". Thank you Minister Nelson, I am sure that there is a time and place for considering the psychological damage done to those who realise they did the wrong thing, after the event, but to bring it up now is simply to diminish the power of the moment as a heart-felt apology. The apology was from the government to the indigenous people of Australia - if we also need an Apology to the people who carried out the governments instructions, we can have one - but lets not confuse the matter now. Not today.

  • "Our generation does not own these actions, nor should it feel guilt for what was done" - that's as close to saying "I'm sorry if you feel bad" as he could have gotten, and is as close as he could have come to not apologising at all.

    Besides which, again, "our generation" is not apologising - our government is.

  • He continues, shortly after, " many, but not all cases, with the best of intentions". If good intentions were a reason for not feeling guilty I, personally, could have saved a lot of guilt in my life.

  • "each generation lives in ignorance of the long term consequences of its decisions and actions." But we have to try! We have to make an attempt to know how what we do today will effect the future. And when we get it wrong, we say "sorry". Just like we did today. Without reservation or excuses. This is simply a cop-out; an excuse for not being careful about the reprecussions of our actions.

  • "Even when motivated by inherent humanity and decency to reach out to the dispossessed in extreme adversity, our actions can have unintended outcomes. As such, many decent Australians are hurt by accusations of theft in relation to their good intentions." But they were stolen. The children belonged to someone else and they were taken without their guardian's permission. They were stolen by people who were told to do so by the Australian government - and the Australian government is apologising for telling them to do it. Decent and humane people do the wrong thing, sometimes. It doesn't mean they didn't do it, shouldn't be accused of doing it, and shouldn't be sorry.

  • Brendan Nelson then quotes two stories of children being taken from their families and follows it up with this: "It is reasonably argued that removal from squalor led to better lives - children fed, housed and educated for an adult world of which they could not have imagined." Or in other words, Aboriginal children lived in squalor and it was good for them that were removed from it... why didn't you just not support the Apology?... no really - why didn't you?

  • As if that wasn't bad enough - having basically stated that it was better for indigenous kids to be taken from their "squalor" he tops it off with this: "from my life as a family doctor and knowing the impact of my own father's removal from his unmarried teenage mother, not knowing who you are is the source of deep, scarring sorrows, the real meaning of which can be known only to those who have endured it." [my emphasis]... or in other words, it happened to white people too, you know - it was really bad for them as well. We may have saved you guys from squalor, but I understand it was difficult because my dad went through the same thing. Yes, I realise, that's not what he said... but again, why bring up this stuff now? Black children saved from squalor and Mr Nelson's pain... why are we bringing these things up? We're supposed to be apologising because we realised our government did the wrong thing... not making more excuses and telling our own woes.

  • "No one should bring a sense of moral superiority to this debate in seeking to diminish the view that good was being sought to be done." Again, this is true - but so what? We can all accept the fact the people thought they were doing the right thing - we get it. We all agree. What we don't seem to agree on here, Mr. Nelson, is the fact that wrong was done, and we should apologise for that wrong, without reservation. I'm starting to sound a bit repetitive - but its hard to avoid... Nelson keeps repeating the same excuses.

  • Now here, Nelson goes on to quote another victim of the period who says "I don't want people to say sorry. I just want them to understand the hurt, what happened when we were initially separated, and just understand the society, what they've done." That's fine Brendan, I'm glad you managed to find one victim who didn't particularly want people to say "sorry". But it doesn't sound to me like saying sorry is going to upset this woman either... and I promise you there are a lot of directly effected people who do want us to apologise. Again, surely using this quote at this moment in time can have no implication other than "we shouldn't be apologising". A little hypocritical, maybe? I will apologise, but I don't think we should be.

  • After a quick reference to the fact that no amount of money could completely compensate for damages (and therefore, apparently we shouldn't give anything, or even try)... Nelson goes on to "Separation was then, and remains today, a painful but necessary part of public policy in the protection of children." Now I've heard this argument from other people, before. I'll say the same thing to Brendan Nelson I say to others. Yes, we sometimes take children away from parents today, for their own protection. But 40 years ago we were still removing children based purely on race. No white children were taken away under the same instructions - only "half-cast" and indigenous children. To compare today's policies of child protection to the previous governments' policies is, as ever, to completely miss the point - and to fail to understand what the Apology is actually for.
From here on in Nelson repeats the same mistakes, over and over again - and I really don't need to document all of them separately.

He mentions the generations that went to war, as if to say that, because they once did a grand and noble thing, they shouldn't ever have to apologise for anything ever again.

He refers to "neglectful indifference" and implies that those people who live in "comfortable, modern Australia" are "seeing their actions in the separations only"... as if to say, we wouldn't be sorry if we saw their actions from their pint of view.

He spends a long time combining a list of terrible things that still happen to Aboriginal people as a result of past atrocities, with a list of policy failures that his own party oversaw over the last 11 years - as if to say that because things are still really bad for Aboriginal Australians that we shouldn't bother apologising for the period when things were even worse.

But then he seems to defend our current position by quoting how much money we spend on the issue. Again, all true facts - but why bring it up now? Are you saying we shouldn't be sorry because we spend so much money on it?

He mentions "political buck-passing" and then has a go at state governments because they "resist the extension of a Northern Territory-style intervention."

  • "I challenge anyone who thinks Aboriginal people get a good deal to come to any of these communities and tell me you wish you'd been born there." I know he's probably not doing it intentionally - but, in context, at this point in the speech, after everything else he's said, he sounds like he's saying "we should still be saving these children by taking them away from the squalor"?

And finally - to top it all off - his closing words:

"We honour those in our past who have suffered and all who have made sacrifices for us by the way we live our lives and shape our nation."

Considering the content of the rest of his speech "those in our past who have suffered and all who have made sacrifices" includes non-indigenous Australians who "sent their sons to war" and all those "early British settlers" who started this great country - not just indigenous Australians. So even in final summary Bredan Nelson made yet one more attempt to apologise without actually apologising.

No fault can be found with Brendan Nelson's facts or figures, but his sentiments, in context, at this moment in time are offensive to the reconciliation process in general and to those Aboriginal Australians who came today to hear an apology.

The only thing I can say in its defense is that it is honest. I believe it clearly and honestly reveals the true nature of the Coalition's attitude towards reconciliation and indigenous affairs - one of dismissive indifference to its importance and relevance.

Brendan Nelson, I digitally turn my back on your speech and hope that you come to realise what an oportunity you missed here today.

Apology for being so proud

I am not a man easily driven to feelings of pride.

I have a long standing argument with one of my dearest friends who often asks me why I'm not "proud of Australia" or "proud of being Australian".

To be honest, over the last decade, Australia, as a nation and political entity, simply hasn't given me that much reason. We are a lucky country - we are a wealthy country - and there are many reasons to recommend Australia, and living in Australia, over and above many other places on the planet.

But what we have chosen to do with that luck and those riches has often left much to be desired.

When I left Australia in the early 90s I was too young to know just how lucky and blessed we were, and by the time I came back, in the late 90s, we were already on the path of division, short-termism, selfishness and fear that has guided our behaviour as a nation for a decade since.

I also simply don't give my "pride" away that cheaply. I value it very highly. When I say I'm proud of something that I'm a part of, I want to know that there is good reason - and that the pride I'm giving away means something.

And that is why, with tears in my eyes, I am happy to say the last 48 hours have made me very proud.

I won't spend anytime analysing why it was so great - it just was. "I'm sorry", it just was.

The same dear friend of mine that hassles me for not being proud of my Australia, also pokes fun at me for apologising too much. And so... it now behooves me, obviously, to apologise profusely for being so god-damn proud of my country.

The "Welcome to Country" was inspirational, and will remain a yearly reminder of where our nation came from and who had it first.

The Apology said what it needed to say. It covered some great policy initiatives and had a real sense of having been planned in consultation with those people for whom it was designed - the Aboriginal people of Australia.

To see the whole thing for yourself, scroll down this post and watch the YouTube postings below.

"The apology" is, like the signing of Kyoto, very late. But, none the less, the way with which it was handled today by Rudd and the rest of the Australian government made me proud. It was a great moment.


what went wrong with Nelson?

OH... MY... GOD!

Could he have done a worse job? I don't think so.

If that was the line he was going to take - he should have simply said he didn't support the Apology. It would have made more sense.

I only heard one explanation today that went anyway towards explaining why he might have said what he said... because he wasn't speaking to the people of Australia but to his party - the conservative side of it... staying in power in his party was more important than speaking to the people of Australia in a politically positive way.

But what was so wrong with what he said then?

I wasn't sure, while listening to Nelson live, what was making me so uneasy... everything he said was potentially "salvageable" in the moment... but none of it was ever salvaged... none of it was corrected... and as a whole, the speech was simply an insult to the reconciliation process.

For more details of what I'm talking about, have a look at So, what went wrong with Nelson?

For a great summary of what happened today:

The "Welcome to Country":

Apology - part 1.

Apology - part 2.

Apology - part 3.

Apology - part 4.

Nelson's reply to the Apology, the full text

Aboriginal people across the Australia reacted angrily to Opposition leader Brendan Nelson's speech. Here it is in full.
[For my commentary on the speech and what went wrong with, So, what went wrong with Nelson]

Mr Speaker, members of this 42nd Parliament of Australia, visitors and all Australians.

In rising to speak in support of this motion, I recognise the Ngunnawal, first peoples of this Canberra land.

Today our nation crosses a threshold.

We formally offer an apology to those Aboriginal people forcibly removed from their families through the first seven decades of the 20th century.

In doing so, we reach from within ourselves to our past, those whose lives connect us to it and in deep understanding of its importance to our future.

We will be at our best today - and every day - if we pause to place ourselves in the shoes of others, imbued with the imaginative capacity to see this issue through their eyes with decency and respect.

This chapter in our nation's history is emblematic of much of the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians from the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.

It is one of two cultures; one ancient, proud and celebrating its deep bond with this land for some 50,000 years.

The other, no less proud, arrived here with little more than visionary hope deeply rooted in gritty determination to build an Australian nation; not only for its early settlers and indigenous peoples, but those who would increasingly come from all parts of the world.

Whether Australian by birth or immigration, each one of us has a duty to understand and respect what has been done in our name. In most cases we do so with great pride, but occasionally shame.

In brutally harsh conditions, from the small number of early British settlers, our non-indigenous ancestors have given us a nation the envy of any in the world. But Aboriginal Australians made involuntary sacrifices, different but no less important, to make possible the economic and social development of our modern Australia.

None of this was easy. We cannot from the comfort of the 21st century begin to imagine what they overcame - indigenous and non-indigenous - to give us what we have and make us who we are.

We do know though that language, disease, ignorance, good intentions, basic human prejudices, and a cultural and technological chasm combined to deliver a harshness exceeded only by the land over which each sought to prevail.

And as our young nation celebrated its federation, formality emerged in arrangements and laws that would govern the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The new nation's constitution though, would not allow for the counting of natives or for the Commonwealth to pass laws in relation to Aborigines.

Protection Boards and Reserves were established.

Aborigines in some jurisdictions were excluded from public schools, episodic violence in race relations continued, assimilation underwrote emerging policies and churches heeded their Christian doctrine to reach out to people whom they saw in desperate need.

Though disputed in motive and detail and with varying recollections of events by others, the removal of Aboriginal children began.

In some cases, government policies evolved from the belief that the Aboriginal race would not survive and should be assimilated. In others, the conviction was that half-caste children in particular should, for their own protection, be removed to government and church-run institutions where conditions reflected the standards of the day. Others were placed with white families whose kindness motivated them to the belief that rescued children deserved a better life.

Our responsibility, every one of us, is to understand what happened here, why it happened, the impact it had not only on those who were removed, but also those who did the removing and supported it.

Our generation does not own these actions, nor should it feel guilt for what was done in many, but not all cases, with the best of intentions. But in saying we are sorry - and deeply so - we remind ourselves that each generation lives in ignorance of the long term consequences of its decisions and actions.

Even when motivated by inherent humanity and decency to reach out to the dispossessed in extreme adversity, our actions can have unintended outcomes. As such, many decent Australians are hurt by accusations of theft in relation to their good intentions.

The stories are well documented. Two are worth repeating:

" was at the Post Office with my mum and auntie (and cousin). They put us in the police ute and said they were taking us to Broome. They put the mums in there as well. But when we'd been gone about 10 miles they stopped, and threw the mothers out of the car. We jumped on our mothers' backs, crying, trying not to be left behind. But the policeman pulled us off and threw us back in the car.

They pushed the mothers away and drove off, while our mothers were chasing the car, running and crying after us. We were screaming in the back of that car. When we got to Broome they put me and my cousin in the Broome lock-up. We were only 10 years old. We were in the lock-up for two days waiting for the boat to Perth.''

In his black oral history, The Wailing, Stuart Rintoul records the thin pain of an Aboriginal woman from Walgett;

"Something else that never left my mind, my memory was of a family of children being taken away and this little girl, she must have been about the same age as myself, I suppose she might have been about six. But I can still see that little person on the back of the mission truck with a little rag hat on, and she went away and we never seen her anymore. She was crying. Everyone was crying.
Things like that never leave your memory.''

It is reasonably argued that removal from squalor led to better lives - children fed, housed and educated for an adult world of which they could not have imagined.

However, from my life as a family doctor and knowing the impact of my own father's removal from his unmarried teenage mother, not knowing who you are is the source of deep, scarring sorrows, the real meaning of which can be known only to those who have endured it.

No one should bring a sense of moral superiority to this debate in seeking to diminish the view that good was being sought to be done.

This is a complex issue. Faye Lyman's life is one of the Many Voices oral history at the National Library of Australia. Faye left her father when she was eight; ``Personally I don't want people to say,
"I'm sorry Faye' - I just want them to understand.

"It was very hurtful to leave Dad. Oh it broke my heart. Dad said to me, It's hard for daddy and the authorities won't let you stay with me in a tent on the riverbank. You're a little girl and you need someone to look after you. I remember him telling us that, and I cried. I said, `No, but Dad, you look after us.' But they kept telling us it wasn't the right thing.

"I don't want people to say sorry. I just want them to understand the hurt, what happened when we were initially separated, and just understand the society, what they've done. You don't belong in either world. I can't explain it. It hurts so much.''

There is no compensation fund, nor should there be. How can any sum of money replace a life deprived of knowing your family? Separation was then, and remains today, a painful but necessary part of public policy in the protection of children. Our restitution for this lies in our determination to address today's injustices, learning from what was done and healing those who suffered.

The period within which these events occurred was one that defined and shaped Australia.
The governments that oversaw this and those who elected them emerged from federating the nation to a century characterised for Australia as triumph in the face of extraordinary adversities unknown to our generation.

In offering this apology, let us not create one injustice in our attempt to address another.
Let no one forget that they sent their sons to war, shaping our identity and place in the world. One hundred thousand in two wars alone gave their lives in our name and our uniform, lying forever in distant lands; silent witnesses to the future they have given us. Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians lie alongside one another.

These generations considered their responsibilities to their country and one another more important than their rights.

They did not buy something until they had saved up for it and values were always more important than value.

Living in considerably more difficult times, they had dreams for our nation but little money.

Theirs was a mesh of values enshrined in God, King and Country and the belief in something greater than yourself. Neglectful indifference to all they achieved while seeing their actions in the separations only, through the values of our comfortable, modern Australia, will be to diminish ourselves.

Today our nation pauses to reflect on this chapter of relations between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia. In doing so however, spare a thought for the real, immediate, seemingly intractable and disgraceful circumstances in which many indigenous Australians find themselves today.

As we meet and speak in this parliament, Aboriginal Australians continue to die long before the rest of us.

Alcohol, welfare without responsibilities, isolation from the economic mainstream, corrupt management of resources, nepotism, political buck-passing between governments with divided responsibilities, lack of home ownership, under-policing and tolerance by authorities of neglect and abuse of children that violates all we stand for, all combine to still see too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living lives of existential aimlessness.

Indigenous life expectancy is 17 years less than their non-indigenous counterparts. An indigenous baby born while we speak still has only a one in three chance of seeing age 65. Diabetes, kidney disease, hospitalisation of women from assault, imprisonment, overcrowding, educational underperformance and unemployment remain appallingly high despite gains in some areas over the past decade. Annual indigenous specific spending by the Commonwealth has increased by 38 per cent in real terms to $3.5 billion, plus $500 million this year on the Northern Territory intervention.

Sexual abuse of Aboriginal children was found in every one of the 45 Northern Territory communities surveyed for the Little Children are Sacred report. It was the straw breaking the camel's back, driving the Howard government's decision to intervene with a suite of dramatically radical welfare, health and policing initiatives.

The Alice Springs Crown Prosecutor Nanette Rogers with great courage revealed to the nation in 2006 the case of a four-year-old girl drowned while being raped by a teenager who had been sniffing petrol. She told us of the two children - one a baby - sexually assaulted by two men while their mothers were off drinking alcohol. Another baby was stabbed by a man trying to kill her mother.

So too, a 10-year-old girl is gang raped in Aurukun; the offenders going free, barely punished. A boy is raped in another community by other children.
Is this not an emergency, the most disturbing part of it being its endemic nature and Australia's apparent desensitisation to it?

Yet state governments responsible for delivering services and security resist the extension of a Northern Territory-style intervention.

I ask the prime minister to report to this parliament regularly on what his government is doing to save this generation of Aboriginal Australians from these appalling conditions.

Our generation has, over 35 years, overseen a system of welfare, alcohol delivery, administration of programs, episodic preoccupation with symbolism and excusing the inexcusable in the name of cultural sensitivity, to create what we now see in remote Aboriginal Australia. With good intentions - perhaps like earlier generations - we have under successive governments, created lives of misery for which we might apologise; I certainly do. The best way we can show it is to act and act now, as we did last year.

I challenge anyone who thinks Aboriginal people get a good deal to come to any of these communities and tell me you wish you'd been born there.

The first Aboriginal Australian who came to this parliament was Neville Bonner. A Junggera man abandoned by his non-Aboriginal father before his birth on Ukerebagh Island in the mouth of the Tweed River, Neville was born into a life hardship known only to some who are here today.

Neville grew up in a hollow carved by his grandfather under lantana bushes. The year before his mother's death when he was nine, she sent him to a school near Lismore. He lasted two days before the non-Aboriginal parents forced his exclusion.

It was to his grandmother, Ida, he attributed his final success. Arguing at 14 that the boy must go to school, she had said to him, ``Neville, if you learn to read, write, express yourself well and treat people with decency and courtesy, it will take you a long way.'' It did. Through a life as a scrub clearer, ringer, stockman, bridge carpenter and 11 years on Palm Island, it brought him to this parliament in 1971, as the events of this motion were nearing an end.

He said in prophetic words to the Liberal Party members who selected him, ``In my experience of this world, two qualities are always in greater need - human understanding and compassion.''

When asked by Robin Hughes in 1992 to reflect on his life, Neville observed that the unjust hardships he had endured can only be changed when people of non-Aboriginal extraction are prepared to listen, to hear what Aboriginal people are saying and then work with us to achieve those ends.

Asked to nominate his greatest achievement, he replied, ``It is that I was there. They no longer spoke of boongs or blacks. They spoke instead of Aboriginal people.''

Today is about being there as a nation and as individual Australians. It is about Neville Bonner's understanding of one another and the compassion that shaped his life in literally reaching out to those whom he considered had suffered more than him.

We honour those in our past who have suffered and all who have made sacrifices for us by the way we live our lives and shape our nation. Today we recommit to do so - as one people.

We are sorry.