February 24, 2010 | Graham

The art of the apology

The news carried footage of PM Kevin Rudd taking notes of the complaints of a group of insulation installers and then later promising $41M to partly compensate them for problems caused by the chaotic administration of the home insulation scheme.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott accused the Prime Minister of not being much of a Queenslander, but borrowing from the style manual of the former premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie.

Beattie became infamous in Queensland for his three-step approach to problems that would have killed a lesser politician. First he would apologise for having caused the problem, second he would say that he would fix the problem, and third, and most critically, proclaim that in fact he was the only one who could fix it. Voters bought the line, even after they’d learnt to recite the mantra.

So he survived the Shepherdson Inquiry not just bythe skin of his teeth with a resounding majority despite the problems that it uncovered being entirely due to the Labor Party. It ended-up giving him a formidable weapon which propelled him to a record majority.

Criticising Rudd for being like Beattie is insulting to Beattie.

I’ve  been waiting for the press corps and the opposition to zero in on the real problem for the government – its failure to show any real feeling for the people who have lost life or property because of government bungling.

Beattie famously swam with sharks as a publicity stunt. What we saw on TV tonight was prim and tight-lipped compared to what Beattie would have done. One suspects it only occurred because the small demonstration would have attracted further bad media if the PM hadn’t attended.

By now, the man who swam with sharks would have been out to the families of the four contractors who lost their lives, and visited a large proportion of the people who had lost their houses to fire.  He would have apologised immediately rather than stone-walling, and exuded sympathy that you could believe in.

Australians expect empathy from their leaders.

Not long ago a Governor General lost his job, not for anything he did in that job, but because in his previous job as Archbishop of Brisbane he was judged to have failed to show enough compassion towards the victims of pedophilia in a church school in his archdiocese.

The school was much less under his control than the Environment Department should have been under Garrett’s. There was no evidence that when confronted with the facts that the church or the archbishop failed to act promptly, unlike the minister and his department.

Pedophilia is a dreadful crime, but a death, while accidental, is worse for the victim and their family.

Garrett failed to exercise proper oversight of his department, but public servants can be hard to control, so he has excuses. He has also failed to personally exercise proper care and consideration for the people damaged by his department. He has no excuse that.

It is apparently much easier to show sympathy to abstract stolen generations when you bear no responsibility than it is to those for whose hurt you share corporate and personal responsibility.

Posted by Graham at 11:50 am | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Australian Politics Tags: , ,

February 24, 2010 | Ronda Jambe

Zero taxation and lots of representation

Adele Ferguson wrote in the SMH (Feb 17) that at least 40% of the biggest companies in Australia pay no tax.

That must mean they aren’t profitable, since profits gets taxed, don’t they?

But the tax man is going after them, which makes you wonder how long this has been the case. It can’t be for lack of staff, as it can reasonably be assumed the ATO is no more (and no less) bloated than other departments.

Has corporate tax shrunk as a proportion of total tax? Or are retiring baby boomers living off the rest of the country, as implied about the UK in a recent book review in the Economist?

There are no signs that the corporate sector is underrepresented in government deliberations, if you consider how often their peak bodies appear on TV compared with, say, ACOSS or the Brotherhood of St Lawrence.

A thread to be followed, for sure, in these days of government deficits.

This may be my last blog for a bit, as I am off to Rajasthan to see the sights of Northern India. I wonder how much tax the average Indian pays?

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 12:48 am | Comments (3) |

February 22, 2010 | Graham

Push bikes and blood pressure

This is a piece of quasi medical research.

I’m wondering if anyone has had the same experience as me. After a lifetime of good blood pressure a few years ago it suddenly just jumped up to 160 over 100. My doctor said that unless I could reduce it he would prescribe medicine, and to help me get on top of it he recommended that I buy a blood pressure monitor.

The increase was a surprise to me. I wouldn’t call myself a “gym junkie” but many people would say I was disgustingly fit, particularly for a man my age. I run, lift weights and surf regularly and police my weight so that it is pretty close to ideal for a person my build. My resting pulse rate is generally quite low.

Observation of my blood pressure over the last couple of years  suggests some factors which influence it. Number one factor is salt. I now run at “high normal” with a systolic reading generally of 130 to 140 and diastolic of 80 to 85. It came down fairly quickly by reducing my salt intake significantly.

Other factors are alcohol – lowering it immediately after consumption but increasing it significantly the next morning – and exercise.

It is exercise that is the point of this post. A typical gym session for me consists of 30 minutes of heavy weights, 35 minutes of  running during which I’ll typically cover 6.5 to 7 kms and 20 minutes of stretching. A couple of hours later the exercise effect on my blood pressure will be somewhere around 10 points for both systolic and diastolic.

The effect appears to be short and long term. If I don’t exercise for a period of weeks then my blood pressure starts to creep up.

However, I’ve recently started riding a push bike to work, something which I tried a year or so ago too. That’s half-an-hour of riding in and out, counting stops at the lights and a journey distance of somewhere around 12 kms total. The effect on my blood pressure appears to be more dramatic than that of my usual vigorous exercise regimen.

I’m wondering if others have had the same experience. And if they have, what it is about push bike riding that might make the effect greater. I have two theories. One is that it’s causing me to sweat more so that the salt content of my blood is lower, thus reducing blood pressure. The other is that the stop-start nature of bike riding, particularly those frantic dashes in the right-hand lane, rushing to make a turn and worried that the semi behind you won’t slow sufficiently, provide a superior exercise effect.

And as I like to know what I am talking about, and as  my sample at the moment consists of insufficient data, being just me, I thought I’d throw the issue out to the blogosphere.

You never know. If there is something in this we might be able to convince Health Minister Roxon to subsidise push-bike purchases as a contribution to preventative health.

Posted by Graham at 12:49 am | Comments (8) |
Filed under: Health

February 09, 2010 | Graham

Furious agreement

I could have asked Marina Orlova (who always reminds me of Grishkin), but a friend in Chile posed the question and I suspect found the answer which will do me, unless someone else can come up with an even better theory. The question? What is the origin of the phrase “furious agreement” ?
When I do a Google search, most of the references are from Australia. This suggests it is an Australian phrase, although the way Google tweaks searches these days it may just prove that I am using an ISP which tells them I am an Australian.
But my friend turned up this 1991 book Furious Agreement written by Michael Dugan in 1991, published by Penguin Books in association with the Australian Institute of Management.
Any advances on this?

Posted by Graham at 10:39 pm | Comments Off on Furious agreement |
Filed under: Language

February 09, 2010 | Graham

Abbott channels Howard and Rudd channels?

Lucien Leon lectures in the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences and made this animation which he calls a “poltoon”.
It’s clear what he thinks of Tony Abbott, but what is he saying about Kevin Rudd. Was that Mahler that his imported car was playing on the stereo?

Posted by Graham at 10:24 am | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Australian Politics

February 07, 2010 | Ronda Jambe

Onward Capitalist Soldiers!

Lots of people I know are either still pouring their money into super or leaving it for another few years until it recovers the losses of the past year or so. One friend told me just the other day that this was her strategy, in preference to paying off a mortgage.
Now the markets have taken another tumble, and I feel like calling to suggest that waiting for super to recover is like waiting for your body to grow an amputated limb.
In one day (must have been Friday in the northern markets) Australian super holdings lost $15 billion. That’s a lot of paydays. Household wealth in Australia is now down to $1.006 trillion, whereas it was $1.235 trillion in October 2007. Those figures come from a tabloid in a coffee shop, so they must be accurate.
Any financial advisor will tell you I am hysterical. They assure me that for a mere 1% of my total wealth per year they could easily oversight further losses. No promises of course: if your money grows, they will take credit. But if it tanks, problem belong you.
Within the space of one week last year, sort of coincidentally, the very firm spruiked by one advisor (if you come across a financial advisor that is truly not connected to a big investment firm, please let me know) was bagged by another advisor who described them as compromised.
Thomas Friedman’s phrase (unless he borrowed it from someone else) is ‘the electronic herd’. They just stampede.
My preferred metaphor is footsoldiers for free enterprise, capitalist soldiers marching in formation, without questioning their leaders. And doomed to be the front runners when the machine guns start firing.
Like the worst of wars, the generals just keep pouring more cannon fodder into the fray. There is no reconsideration of strategy, tactics, or fundamental assumptions. Growth will come, it must come, because we have no Plan B.
The dangerous situation in the economies of Spain, Greece, Portugal and Ireland are just hints. Iceland is a more full-blown example, but there are just a few of them. Sovreign debt is not an endless capacity, no more than consumption. What is worse, huge debt mirrors even deeper problems, where the nexus between eco-nomics and eco-logy becomes cristal clear.
Climate change sceptics, please look a bit into the crisis unfolding in the Nile Delta, where sea level rises are already driving farmers off the land, endangering food security, and threatening to put 7 million people out of a livlihood. Multiply that by all the coastal growing fields on river deltas and see how many frost free fridges that sells.
That doesn’t mean I am happy about the feds having 150 employees sitting waiting to run their emissions trading scheme before it goes through Parliament. I’m with Abbott on that one, but the Canberra economy is based on bureaucratic featherbedding and I could almost vote Liberal just to dare him to try to prune it back.
CODA: Which super fund dipped into my pocket to extract an extra $900 over just 6 months for ‘income protection insurance’ which is not obligatory and I didn’t ask for? Why the one the government runs. Complaint now pending, but rather than having a simple ‘opt in’ approach with a box I could decline to tick, apparently I was meant to read page 43 of their product disclosure statement. Cute, eh?

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 6:34 am | Comments Off on Onward Capitalist Soldiers! |
Filed under: Economics