Monthly Archives: May 2012

Funding decent public services easier than you think

Imagine if we actually did have a government prepared to collect enough revenue to fund necessary services like dental care and disability services, let alone decent public health and education system. A Dr Richard Denniss, writing in Crikey this week as part of their “what would you do” budget discussion, has some ideas:

My fantasy budget would massively simplify the tax system and in the process collect a lot more tax revenue. It would be transformative because in one fell swoop tens of thousands of our best and brightest would be “freed up” from the stultifying, but very well paid, task of helping wealthy people engineer their finances to avoid tax.

So how to do it?

Step one is to abolish John Howard’s arbitrary decision to tax capital gains at half the rate of other income. Before that decision we had spent 20 years moving towards a simplified, harmonised system that reduced incentives to “financially engineer” ordinary income into more tax effective forms of income. The argument that such an incentive would stimulate investment is spurious, was mounted after the decision was made and is not borne out by the empirical evidence. That said, it’s very popular among the wealthy.

Step two is to abolish the bizarre notion that income from superannuation should be tax free. This was another of John Howard’s crimes against tax efficiency and equity. Those lucky enough to have accumulated millions, and in some cases tens of millions of dollars, in their superannuation accounts before the annual contribution limits kicked in can literally withdraw millions of dollars in income from their super, completely tax-free.

All up, tax concessions for superannuation cost the budget about $30 billion per year and anyone who says that these contributions are saving the budget more than $30 billion in reduced aged pension payments is either kidding themselves or kidding you. It’s demonstrably untrue, and Treasury’s own figures show that about $10 billion of that $30 billion goes to the highest 5% of income earners, the vast majority of whom were never going to be eligible for the pension.

There’s more on the link, but imagine if governments had the sense to even do that much. (Those calling the ALP’s recent budget “socialist” have no idea.)

Talking of avoiding responsibility

Another ripper story in Friday’s Crikey daily email, with Bernard Keane calling bullsh*t on business people pathetic present ruse of blaming every bit of their own incompetence on THAT DIABOLICAL GUBMINT!

We need a name for this — we’re calling it Whinger Whack-A-Mole. Business leader after business leader sticks their head up to blame Julia Gillard for all their own failings and says that investors were turning away from Australia. We at Crikey whack them with facts. Rinse, repeat. Well, someone has to do it, because the rest of the media don’t appear interested in doing it.

Today it’s Myer’s Bernie Brookes lamenting that Everything Is The Gummint’s Fault, dutifully reported verbatim by Fairfax’s Eli Greenblat, that dedicated diarist of the woes of the traditional retail sector. Brookes also got plenty of air time at Business Spectator, where he was more circumspect about the Prime Minister’s personal culpability for everything wrong with Myer, but still managed to fit in a few complaints about taxes, uncertainty and that old favourite, the lack of GST on the evil internet.

To rehearse the tiresome facts all over again: the Fair Work industrial relations framework sees industrial disputes and wage pressures at or near historic lows. The government presides over a low inflation, low unemployment, low-interest economy of the kind only dreamed of for most of the past 30 years. The tax take from business has fallen as a proportion of gross operating surplus to the lowest level since the mid-1990s; overall tax receipts as a proportion of GDP are at their lowest level since the mid-1990s. It’s hard to work out, bar removing all protections for workers, how much more this government could have delivered for business.

That’s presumably one of the reasons we’re almost choking on investment. Brookes’ comments were particularly poorly timed given yesterday’s release of new resources investment data by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, which shows there’s a mining investment pipeline of half a trillion dollars, with “advanced projects” accounting for over a quarter of a trillion dollars. If there’s a capital strike on by foreign investors, god help us if they ever get enthusiastic.


Fortunately for Tony Abbott, that kind of actual analysis and balloon-pricking doesn’t appear much in the news media consumed by most Australians.

It’s either amusing or galling (depending on whether you can forget for long enough to avoid an ulcer that the consequences of this shameless whinging will ultimately negatively affect the vast majority of us) watching business blame every one of their problems on everyone else whilst claiming to be advocates for “personal responsibility”.

Not exactly a compliment

“If I could reach the stars, I’d give them all to you.”

To what end? What would I do with one unimaginably hot, astronomically huge, fusion-powered sphere of death, let alone all of them?

Why would being given the stars be a plus? They would immediately obliterate me, and everyone I care about. Hell, even from a significant distance away they’d destroy not only everyone I’d ever met, but all life on Earth – except, apparently, you, with your hypothetical ability to survive near stars long enough to collect them together and hand them to a single person.

Come to think of it, wouldn’t your wished-for scenario likely end the possibility of any life anywhere? Wherever the stars were, there would now be dark chaos. Wherever you’ve moved them, would be a matter-crushing overheated super super super super giant.

Essentially, you wish to eradicate all life in the universe.

I think I’ll decline the offer of a drink.

Just make sure you choose your starting attributes wisely

I still think this is a useful way of getting privileged people (particularly young privileged people) to grasp that, despite whatever challenges they do face in their lives, it’s still a hell of a lot easier than for those from marginalised groups: “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is“.

Australians rebel against the copyright companies

You know when you, as an exploitative corporate parisite, have lost the PR war? Not when you have to keep pretending the thing you’re complaining about is something it’s not (“piracy”, “theft”) in order to deceive gullible governments into doing your dirty work for you. Not when you find increasing numbers of your potential customers are so sick of being ripped off and prevented from viewing the content you happen to control that they are resorting to other means to obtain it.

It’s when not a single news.com.au reader will come to your defence.

Here’s how stupid the content industry is. If people download a program as it’s broadcast so as not to have it spoiled online, but then buy the bluray the moment it’s released – the content industry thinks it should treat these customers as criminals who should be punished. Rather than customers who want to buy its products at a reasonable time at a reasonable price. It’s an industry granted a temporary monopoly by our elected representatives to distribute certain content and then it refuses to promptly or reasonably distribute it.


Spoiler warning for every single Australian.

In whose interests is that? Certainly not in the interests of the creative people who made the content in the first place. Or the community, whose interest in encouraging creative works that enrich us all is the whole reason the government-enforced temporary copyright monopoly was invented in the first place.

And the public, the broad mass of ordinary voters have, even with the national media doing everything in their power to push the dubious lines of the parasites, noticed. And are angry.

No wonder the copyright parasites have to lobby our governments in secret, and our governments have to bury the anti-consumer laws they’re passing on their behalf so that voters don’t realise until it’s too late.

When Yahoo killed Flickr

Ah, Flickr. I remember using that – before Yahoo forced its broken yahoo account rubbish on users before we could login. Man, those were some frustrating times. Almost Vodafone support line frustrating. And as obnoxious as when Ebay drove us away by demanding a third cut through PayPay if we ever used it to sell anything.

Anyway, there’s an excellent article on Gizmodo on How Yahoo Killed Flickr. A tale of a corporate behemoth buying a successful business and incompetently driving its users away because it didn’t understand what the business actually was. A salutory lesson that I don’t think the next people who should learn it will pay any attention to whatsoever.

Still, a good read.

(Via LGWS.)

“Taking the Myki”

Seriously, that is the best headline for the debacle that is the introduction of Myki – if not the very design of it, at least the half-arsed disaster that’s been the compulsory introduction by the Baillieu government over the last month.

I yield the remaining words of this post to Mathew Dunckley at the AFR (where they came up with the “taking the myki” pun):

I have been “touching on” and “touching off”. Note: not swiping. Myki doesn’t work if you swipe, although your ability to work this out appears to have a direct correlation with the number of people waiting behind you to get out of the station.

So I guess it had to happen but I’ve now had my first personal Myki snafoo. At the station I dutifully put my Myki on the brand spanking new terminal.

I put in my EFTPOS card, punched in the right numbers and, hey presto – nothing happened. Actually, that’s not quite right. A quick check of internet banking revealed I had been debited the $32 or so for my fare but it had not been loaded onto my card.

Damn. OK. I call the number on the machine: 13 – you guessed it – MYKI. Only this is the wrong number. Since the Baillieu government got on its mission to “fix the problems”, you have to ring another number for Public Transport Victoria. Apparently, the stickers are being changed.

A helpful lady took my details but said she was sadly at level one and my query was probably better pitched at level two.

I was a little frustrated by this point… On level two, I got some answers. My money would be refunded. That would take up to 10 days.

Sorry, 10 days? You know my bank account details, when the transaction happened, where, how much, my registered Myki card number, and yet it will take two weeks to get my money back? Yes.

Can’t even get the money onto the Myki card? No.

What happens to my money in the meantime? Oh, you don’t know. Hmm, I would like that answered.

So can I pay over the phone? Yes, but it will take 24 hours to load on your account. No good for a Holding hopeful. Can I pay on the internet? Yes but that too will take 24 hours.

No, I would not like to try my luck with the machine again.

The answer turns out to be finding a retail outlet. Luckily, I discovered, there is one not far from the station. Good thing I got stranded in the morning not the late afternoon when the milk bar closes.

Not ready, and only someone with utter contempt for travellers would’ve forced it on them before these details were resolved.

I can only assume no-one in the Baillieu government actually takes the train, or knows someone who does.

For those who think the Marriage Act doesn’t discriminate on the grounds of gender (despite specifying gender in critical sections)

A frustratingly obtuse twitter argument tonight has made it finally register for me how it is that those defending discriminatory marriage laws argue that it’s not “discriminating” against anyone on the grounds of gender.

They do it by focusing on the general. So men and women can, indeed, marry under the present Marriage Act. Therefore, they say, there’s no discrimination! Men and women can marry! They’ve just got to rule out half the population when choosing their partner.

The rhetorical trick there, of course, is to ignore the specific.

Because where the discrimination comes in is where the law prevents a particular person from doing something because of their gender. As in, I was allowed to marry my wife by the law, but I would have been prevented if I were a woman. And she was allowed to marry me, but only because she’s a woman. If she were a man, she’d have been blocked.

And of course, when the law prevents you from doing something because of your gender, by necessity that’s discrimination on the grounds of gender.

I’d have thought that was obvious, but apparently others pretend to ignore the specific discrimination and zoom out to the macro level where they can’t see it.

But it’s there. All you have to do is look at the individuals affected by it. Individuals who are prevented from marrying their partner purely because they’re a particular gender.

Q, as they say, ED.

18 years at the William/Lonsdale St corner

The first image is a screenshot from the ABC-TV series Janus, taken c1994. The second I took on Monday from Owen Dixon Chambers East (unfortunately I couldn’t get on the roof to take the exactly matching shot).


(Click to enlarge.)

It’s weird – I must’ve gone past the old red brick buildings formerly on the present County Court site many times, but they ring no bells whatsoever.

Brown’s replacement

The Greens have announced Bob Brown’s replacement in the Senate, “winemaker, academic and former investment banker” Peter Whish-Wilson.

Here’s hoping he’s more committed to the progressive social and economic policy side of the Greens’ platform than I am the environmental side.

I’m a little concerned by this:

Whish-Wilson, who has a burly physique and a soul patch, said he plans to refrain from commenting on political issues until he takes up his Senate position in June.

I’d rather know more about his approach to social and economic policy – as, I suspect, would other Greens supporters – before he’s locked in for a number of years.

And whilst I doubt Brown would have approved anyone who was going to betray the principles for which the Greens have consistently stood, I’ll be watching carefully.