July 29, 2014 | Graham

40 job applications no big deal

When I worked as a finance consultant I was supposed to make 10 approaches a day, and attend at least two appointments. I’d keep notes of conversations and follow-up with potential clients at regular intervals if they had nothing for me now, but might have in the future.

I didn’t always make my quota, but that would be because I’d landed a job and was too busily employed.

Not surprisingly I’m underwhelmed by the government’s decision that the unemployed should make at least 40 job applications a month. There is little difference between prospecting, particularly for sales of high end items like finance, and job applications. If you’re only making two applications a day you’re not working at it very hard at all.

Of course, representatives of the compassion industry are out in force claiming that even this very modest amount of effort would be beyond any unemployed person.

David Thompson, the chief executive of Jobs Australia, which represents non-profit employment service providers, said he could not see how some young job seekers would be able to survive under the regime.

This is risible.

As an employer, every time I advertise for staff I am besieged, for the most part by shoddy emails, sometimes without a CV, generated without much thought, through an electronic matching service called Seek.

Many job seekers put less effort into applying for a job than they do making their status updates on Facebook, and much less effort than they use composing their photos for Instagram.

To suggest that they can’t spend a fraction of that time combing Seek (actually you don’t have to comb it, you can set filters to send the jobs to you) and doing two “status” updates a day, shows how badly conflicted their representatives are.

Then there is the flip-side argument, that employers will not be able to deal with the “deluge” of applications.

I can tell these experts this will be a relatively trivial exercise too. Most job applicants rule themselves out immediately because they haven’t put enough effort into the exercise, can’t spell, or are an obvious mismatch.

It doesn’t take a lot of time to eliminate most applicants, and then the helpful people at Seek give you tools to automatically email them back saying “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The main problem in the system is that most job seekers I see for low grade jobs aren’t really serious.

This isn’t an argument for making them do less prospecting, but an argument for making them do more. At very low cost to everyone it will help to make them realise that this is serious.

Work for the dole has the same function, again something which these same “experts” deride.

There was a time when I would have agreed with them – back in the 70s when mass unemployment first became an issue. Then it was a cost argument – work for the dole schemes cost the government money to administer and wouldn’t produce any more jobs.

Now I would accept that it won’t create any more jobs (hence the studies showing it doesn’t improve the time it takes to find one), but by setting-up a mutual obligation it undermines the idea that the dole is a right without a responsibility. The benefit is moral and psychological, not economic, and indeed comes at a cost to the government.

The work of Professor Jeff Borland is being used to support the proposition that work for the dole schemes don’t work, but if you actually read what he says, he believes they can work.

For the other 5% of the time, I would argue that it is worth government persisting with programs for the unemployed. What needs to change, however, is the design of the programs. There needs to be much more attention to building in the lessons we now have about “what works”. 

He does want to see some tweaks, and I’d be surprised if he and the government didn’t have some common ground here.

Posted by Graham at 7:47 am | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Economics

July 19, 2014 | Graham

Questions for Premier Palasczcuk?

On the basis of today’s Stafford by-election, you would have to put your money on Anastacia Palasczcuk being the next premier of Queensland after the next election, due around March next year.

According to the Australian, the swing against the Newman government was 18.6%. The primary votes are almost a mirror image of those achieved at the last election with the ALP taking around 51% of the vote and the LNP 33%. At the last election it was LNP 51% and ALP 33%.

That means that the Newman government doesn’t look so much like the Bjelke-Petersen Government that ruled for 19 years between 1968 and 1987, but the Borbidge government that ruled for less than three between 1995 and 1998.

Despite what political dilettantes, like Newscorp’s Peter Brent think, by-elections can be good indicators of what voters will do at general elections. You just have to be careful what by-elections you pick.

By-elections can be a turning point. The Ryan by-election in 2001 was one such. As a result of this by-election John Howard reversed unpopular decisions, demonstrated he was listening, won the subsequent Aston by-election and the following federal election.

Campbell Newman is not displaying the same characteristics. His response to the by-election loss is to say that he has heard the message from Queenslanders but he is going to keep doing what he has been doing:

“We’ve heard you, we understand how you feel, and I pledge this evening to continue to work hard,” Mr Newman told LNP supporters at a party function on Saturday night.

 “In fact, we will redouble our efforts to improve this state and to take it forward with a bright future.”

Anastacia Palasczcuk is now in the same position Newman was before the last election – she is the premier-in-waiting.

Voters complain that they didn’t know what Newman was going to do. That was because journalists never asked him.

It is to be hoped journalists won’t make the same mistake this time.

I’m tired of the “Don’t blame me, I didn’t vote for…” stickers. Maybe you didn’t, but we, collectively, did, and we can’t disclaim responsibility for our vote because we were too stupid to ask relevant questions.

The government is about to change, so now the opposition has to explain how it is going to fix the state’ economy.

“What we did last time”, is not a sufficient answer.

Posted by Graham at 11:06 pm | Comments (6) |
Filed under: Australian Politics

July 13, 2014 | Graham

Palmer in trouble in the Senate

All the media commentary I have read says Tony Abbott is the one with a problem in the senate, but that is to misread entirely what is going on. The person with the biggest problem in the senate is Clive Palmer.

PUP is a party that offers a cornucopia of policies, but in the real world workable and coherent policies are always scarce.

We have seen similar parties wax and wane in the past. First there were the Australian Democrats, then the Australian Greens. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation was another but really only enjoyed substantial success in Queensland state politics.

Their attraction is always the same. They are parties of protest that for a segment of the voting population have the virtue of being “none of the above”.

Some voters support them because of their policies, but often an equal number, or greater, support them because they are a tool to send a message to the major parties. They are also a way of avoiding having to make a choice between two unpalatable alternatives.

To maximise their appeal as a protest party they have to be opposed to as many things as they can be. When they support particular policies, they lose voters opposed to those policies, because their voters are not interested in compromise.

The Australian Democrats were riding high until they became part of the machinery of government and cooperated with John Howard in the design of the GST. That was the beginning of their end. They went from having 9 senators in 1998 to almost ceasing to exist today.

Likewise the Australian Greens have suffered from being in a de facto coalition with the federal Labor party in the last parliament. In 2010 they won 13.1% of the vote, while in 2013 it was 8.65%.

Clive Palmer is in a different position to the Greens in that he isn’t in a de facto coalition with the government, but he has the same problem – if he appears to be in bed with the government he will suffer the same fate. This gives him an incentive to be erratic.

One also has to bear in mind that he draws just as strongly from disenchanted Labor voters as he does Liberal voters. He can’t afford to veer too much one way or the other as a result.

So, while Palmer presents difficulties for Abbott, the problems he has springing from the sort of constituency that he represents are far larger.

To keep things together he needs to agree to as little as possible, at the same time as he needs to appear to be doing something about the issues that matter to his voters.

PUP voters tend to come from outer urban and regional areas, and to be less economically secure than the mainstream.

If Abbott wants to tame PUP he needs to follow John Howard’s lead. Howard originally tried to tame One Nation by doing a preference deal with them (disastrously trialled in the 1998 Qld state election). His final strategy was to go directly after their voters. These became the Howard battlers.

If Abbott can target these same voters and make them the focus of his government he can gut PUP. He can also pull himself back from his current potentially fatal polling figures.

One issue they respond to is illegal entrants. While Abbott is performing well on this issue, imposing a Medicare copayment, and penalising their under 30 year old offspring by making them wait 6 months for unemployment benefits, has fired them up.

In this respect Palmer may actually do him a favour. These are parts of the budget that Abbott should be happy to see him block. If enough parts of the budget are blocked it could allow the government to go back to the drawing board and pull a budget together that is more electorally appealing, at the same time saying they have heard the people.

So even when Palmer acts in his own self-interest in opposing everything, he potentially puts in train events that will act against him.


Posted by Graham at 10:20 pm | Comments (14) |
Filed under: Australian Politics

July 13, 2014 | Ronda Jambe

Does Mr A have a Plan B?

Has Abbott been jolted awake from his coal-fired stupor yet? Has the Australian
Senate taken the leadership role we have long hoped for?

If science doesn’t convince, the markets eventually will. This article and quote
from the UK Telegraph is yet another of many showing that the fossil fuel bubble
is going to burst.

Quote: The cumulative blitz on exploration and production over the past six years
has been $5.4 trillion, yet little has come of it. Output from conventional fields
peaked in 2005. Not a single large project has come on stream at a break-even cost
below $80 a barrel for almost three years.
“What is shocking is that upstream costs in the oil industry have risen threefold
since 2000 but output is up just 14pc,” said Mark Lewis, from Kepler Cheuvreux. The
damage has been masked so far as big oil companies draw down on their cheap legacy reserves.


The Economist is giving similar warnings to Scotland as it prepares for a referendum on independence.
What will they live on once the oil is gone?

We await our fearless leader’s plan for an Australia after fossil fuels.

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 6:47 am | Comments (10) |
Filed under: Australian Politics

July 11, 2014 | Graham

The education Riddle

The international statistics say that Australia’s education performance is slipping, but how can this be when spending on education has been increasing in real terms for decades?

Part of the answer to this riddle can be seen in the words of educationist Stewart Riddle.

According to yesterday’s Australian:

In an article posted on The Conversation website last week, Dr Riddle invokes a two-tier school system, saying the literacy skills needed by Aboriginal children in remote communities are different from those required in major cities as measured by the national literacy tests, NAPLAN.

“What relevance does sitting for the NAPLAN tests have for a young child, living in a largely oral-language culture in remote communities, where English may be their third or fourth language?” he says.

“It might be argued that such attempts (to close the gap) are no better than historic attempts to make Aboriginal kids more ‘white’ by sending them off to missions to be properly educated.”

I can see no reason why Riddle should not be sacked, or demoted. This quote exhibits a racist tendency. Apparently Aborigines simply aren’t capable of mastering normal intellectual concepts because they are not “white”. Their future should be limited to the past.

It also exhibits a complete disregard for the normative educational values of not just western, but human society. If this is his attitude towards Aborigines, what is his attitude towards poor “white” kids, or migrants? How does he judge their needs

Our society is based on the idea of progress, which rests on the idea of the autonomous individual. To be autonomous every individual needs access to a common pool of cultural knowledge and intellectual understanding.

That is why, for over 100 years, the most advanced societies have placed such a premium on education that they have made it freely available to anyone up to the age of 17 or 18.

The reason that Australian educational standards are dropping is that the Stewart Riddles of this world are a significant percentage of the population of education faculties across the country.

While he should get the sack for this outburst, he is more likely to be rewarded with promotion, and trips to conferences to discuss educating with cultural sensitivity.

Education in Australia won’t start to improve until state governments cut not just the power of teachers’ unions to set terms and conditions in the classrooms, but the power of university education faculties to determine what sort of teaching graduate is turned-out.

Perhaps states need to do their own teacher training and cut unis and loonies out of the loop.

Posted by Graham at 7:47 am | Comments (8) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

July 09, 2014 | Graham

Stiglitz needs to call in on NZ as well

Professor Joseph Stiglitz is over here to tell Australia how to run an economy, when it really ought to be a research tour so he can educate his fellow Americans on best practice.

What Australia has done contradicts much of what Stiglitz recommends, and proves empirical proof that he’s wrong.

This is a situation when MiltonJohn Maynard Keynes would have been sure to advise him to “change his mind”.

And while Australia is close to best practice, there are some other countries that are even better practice, and one of them, is in the vicinity.

Yesterday Fitch Ratings affirmed their AA ratings and revised their outlook to positive.

I don’t put a lot of faith in ratings agencies – which of them picked the GFC toxic debt crisis – but it does focus attention on New Zealand, which didn’t suffer the handicap of the Rudd and Gillard governments.

As a result it didn’t “Go hard, go households”, and still had growth better than the US since 2008. Its growth is not quite as good as Australia’s, but they also didn’t have mining and population booms.

NZ is facing a budget surplus and is repaying debt. It also has a polity in which all sides seem to be responsible about the economy, unlike Australia where Shorten and Palmer are happy to vandalise the place for their own personal gains.

Stiglitz should economise on his plane fare and drop over the ditch. He might take some of our own soothsayers with him as well. Everyone can learn from our cousins.

As an introductory primer her could do worse than read this short news report on the NZ budget from the ABC.


Posted by Graham at 7:53 am | Comments (13) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

July 08, 2014 | Graham

Just like my own climate conversion

One of the best reasons for being skeptical of many of the claims made about CO2 emissions is not the science, but the language. I went from being a more or less mainstream adherent to a skeptic when I read a defamatory media release from the IPCC.

In it Rajendra Pachauri branded Ian Castles, former head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and Ian Henderson, Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics and the ANU “so-called experts” because they had dared to point out that economic projections being used as a proxy for rate of growth of CO2 emissions were incorrectly based on market exchange rates rather than purchasing power parity.

At that moment I knew there was a scandal, and was surprised that none of my journalistic colleagues picked up on it.

In Climate change: The moment I became a climate skeptic journalist Zev Chafets recounts his own encounter with language that gave the game away.

I called the professor, one of the authors of the report, for a clarification (he remains nameless because we were off the record). “If global warming is caused by man-made emissions,” I asked, “what accounts for the world warming to this same level 10,000 years ago?”

There was a long silence. Then the professor said, “Are you serious?”

I admitted that I was.

The professor loudly informed me that my question was stupid. The panel’s conclusion was indisputable science, arrived at after years of research by a conclave of the world’s leading climate scholars. Who was I to dispute it?

I told him I wasn’t disputing it, just trying to understand how, you know, the world could have been this hot before without the help of human agency. Maybe this is just a natural climate change like ice ages that once connected continents and warming periods that caused them to drift apart or …

At which point I heard a click. The professor hung up on me. At that exact moment I became a climate skeptic. I may not know anything about science, but I have learned over a long career that when an expert hangs up in the middle of a question, it means that he doesn’t know the answer.

If a politician behaved like this expert, or Pachauri, a journalist would sense a major scoop and chase it. But not, it seems, for most, with climate change.

What is it about the term scientist that euthanases the common sense of journalists and transports them into raptures of conformism? They may not understand the science, but there job is to understand words.

The science and words both point in the same direction. When it comes to CO2 emissions we’re not really sure what effect they might have, but it’s likely to be a lot less than the alarmists would have you think.


Posted by Graham at 8:10 am | Comments (7) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

July 03, 2014 | Ronda Jambe

A Fruitful Pause…

Those avid readers of Ambit Gambit might have noticed my absence these past many months. Family, farm and finances can cloud the personal space. However, climate change remains a key issue for me, so this year I ran a course on climate change science and policy through the University of the Third Age on the NSW south coast.

Right now, I am in Iceland, where we gave a paper on climate change resilience and adaptation. The Iceland temperatures in July are about the same as Canberra mid-winter. The landscape tells the story:


Many sceptics have  noted an apparent pause in global temperature increase. This is mythology in the making, as it has been confirmed that not only has CO2 reached a new high:

The Amount Of Carbon Dioxide In Our Air Just Reached A New Record, And Scientists Are Worried

but also, and not surprisingly for those who accept the science of atmospheric physics,

Global temperatures in May hit an all-time record high

Those who would contradict this finding need to first do some serious research, as the data is coming from many sources. In Iceland they are mostly concerned about the impact of climate change on their fisheries, which they have managed better than most for many centuries. Their energy is abundant and renewable, coming from the thermal ground beneath their volcanic ground. Not much hope for agriculture here, although we did see some lit up greenhouses:



Soon I hope to share with you some of the reading that has kept me motivated these past months. We all owe it to ourselves to be as informed as possible about the future, since that’s is where we will be spending our time (and money).

The financial dimensions are already giving the power brokers (like Clive Palmer) a wake up call.

Til then, keep warm, and think of blue silica pools in Iceland when the mild Australian winds are blowing:



Posted by Ronda Jambe at 9:46 pm | Comments (3) |

July 02, 2014 | Graham

Stiglitz should look and learn, not lecture

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is in Australia to tell us how to run a successful economy.

According to Stiglitz our government should be spending more, not trying to get its budget back into surplus.

It says a lot about Australians’ inferiority complex that we give people like this the time of day. Because if we weren’t so certain that all wisdom resides overseas we’d recognise that our economic performance since the 1980s has been one of the best in the world.

And that stellar economic performance was not driven by following any of the policy prescriptions that Stiglitz preaches.

Stiglitz, influential in the US and as a former World Bank economist, doesn’t exactly have a successful track record to run on. If you were looking for examples of what to do, neither of those institutions would be the place you would look.

The US has been overspending for years, aided and abetted by the Greenback being the world’s reserve currency. But it hasn’t brought them extraordinary wealth, and their performance after the GFC compared to ours has been anaemic.

Rather than telling us what to do Stiglitz should be asking our advice on how to structure an economy and a banking sector so that they don’t go into shock and meltdown so easily.

He’ll find that the reason Australia has fared so well is that we have built ourselves a flexible economy which reacts quickly to stimuli, preserving financial and social capital. We allow entrepreneurs to get on with the business of business, and we have a tightly targeted welfare system that ensures those who need support get it, and those who don’t can look after themselves.

We don’t have quantitative easing, and we do have banks whose key business is lending, not merchant banking and speculation.

There are some blemishes – we have a housing sector which has become overpriced as a result of town planning policies, and unwinding this bubble will be difficult and take time – but they are minor compared to the boils that need to be lanced in the US economy.

And we had a government for the last few years who decided to spend without looking at the return. By doing this they raised expenses and expectations unrealistically in advance of income.

Stiglitz is here as a guest of The Australia Institute, one of the cheer squad for the debilitating economic policies of the last 6 years.

As such he is not here as an economist, but as a prop in the agitprop of domestic politics.

Much like Al Gore lent his Nobel Laureate to the reprobate Clive Palmer.

It’s unlikely to end any better for Stiglitz than it did for Gore, although at least the TAI is on his side.

Posted by Graham at 8:00 am | Comments (14) |
Filed under: Uncategorized