The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

Strip clubs and sinners and stock markets, oh my!

Sunday 19 August 2007 at 10:11 pm

I’m holed up in bed with a cold (which seems to have come from either Webjam or Jam for Sudan, both of which were immensely awesome!). Tis a mystery how I ever lived without WiFi.

  • I would care if Kevin Rudd had ever spoken to the military leadership of Burma, or had an audience with Robert Mugabe. But a strip club in New York City? Bah, next there’ll be reports that he visited a casino in Las Vegas. Problem is, I fear this will dent his popularity — but then maybe the coming week’s polls will agree with Peter Beattie, since no one trusts MPs to be upstanding citizens anyway. Also, isn’t it just a little suspicious that it was a News Corporation editor who led Rudd and Snowden into the club, followed by the News Limited papers plastering it over their front pages today?
  • Speaking of Robert Mugabe, am I the only one left with a bitter taste at the Foreign Minister’s decision to cancel the Australian student visas of his leadership’s children? Even aside from the “sins of their parents” question, exactly how will this help towards getting Zimbabwe out of its current situation?
  • Earlier this week, we had the Treasurer issuing warnings and saying there was no need to panic-sell shares, and today he’s expressing “concern” at the state of the mortgage market. Now I’m just as miffed as every other investor that the market has dropped, but I have trouble seeing what the Federal Treasurer’s action or inaction has to do with the poor decisions of American home lenders. Oh wait, my mistake: this is the responsible economic management we keep being told about.
  • Two things that caught my attention yesterday: a fluff-piece in the West Australian about the construction projects planned or underway around town, and a (rather expensive-looking) State Government brochure outlining the new infrastructure being paid for by taxpayers. But both of them miss what I think is the more important discussion — the subtler changes needed, if you will, to our city’s ‘software’. Things like giving priority to pedestrians in the city, engaging more closely with the arts (e.g. using white walls around town as canvases), and actually promoting the small bars that the liquor licensing changes were supposed to deliver …

Swimming in the dollars!

Tuesday 8 May 2007 at 7:05 pm

So the 2007 episode of The Peter Costello Budget Show has aired, and my first impression is “wow! the spending’s not as irresponsible as I’d expected!”

Not to say that it is responsible, but I can at least detect miniscule grains of sense in pretty much everything that’s been put forward.

Perhaps because of this, Treasurer-man was at pains to tell journalists that he’s delivering “major reforms” — which is of course nonsense. For instance, rather than tax simplification, there’s a $30 billion tax cut aimed squarely at the voters who haven’t been all that well looked-after by Pete and Johnny thus far. Indeed, that’s the theme of this Budget: try to buy out voters who may be swaying from the Howard school of “keep interest rates low” due to traditional Labor concerns like the environment or education.

Universities get a reasonable boost in the form of a “Higher Education Endowment Fund” equating to about $100 million per campus (UWA’s existing endowment is $450ish million), along with promises of new management policies and more funding for Commonwealth scholarships, but this is relatively small change on the back of long-term declines. The story is likewise for vocational training: any extra funding is great, and this Budget delivers, but it falls far short of what is really needed.

There are a bunch of one-off bribes carefully structured so they’ll arrive right before the election, one of which is a doubling of the superannuation co-contribution for payments made last financial year. It must be said that this policy is a mostly good thing and thus worthy of funding, but a one-off top-up? in an election year? could it be any more blatant?!

On health and the environment, the offerings are pretty lame, apart from small policies like a doubling of the solar panel rebate. The documents quote nice big figures, but most of it was announced before and is spread over many years. Then again, who knows what the “real” election campaign will bring?


Some observations around the Houses

Saturday 28 April 2007 at 9:48 pm

I’m caving into writing a list again: if only I’d had time to develop each of these into posts themselves!

  • The speculation earlier this week about possible tax cuts in the next episode of The Peter Costello Budget Show is amusing in the context of John Howard talking up his economic management credentials in Brisbane. It’s an election year, and you have to be pretty naive to think that the Budget will contain anything other than vote-buying measures. If only we could get some real economic reform out of these guys, like a desperately-needed simplification of the tax system (rather than just tweaking rates and thresholds) to cut down the gigabucks wasted on administration. Or better yet, how about some spending on economic constraints — on upgrading the ports that serve our mines, or on technical education to address skills shortages?
  • Water from the Kimberly is back in the news; forgive me for not being excited. Lots of people are saying things like “forget the cost, we’d never get anywhere if we didn’t build expensive stuff!” … and sure, big visionary projects are wonderful, but there’s a difference between being a visionary and bankrupting the State. The best available assessment suggests that three thousand kilometres of water transport system, be it canal or pipeline or whatever, would fall into the latter category. (For those who failed physics: to move stuff, including water, requires energy. The amount required is directly proportional to the distance travelled. Energy is not free, and the Kimberly is a bloody long way from Perth.)
  • The other part of Omodei’s proposal this week is far more sensible: an irrigation scheme to develop agricultural land near the Fitzroy River. I can see a lot of potential problems (the region’s ecosystems are more fragile than anyone in Perth seems to recognise) but there’s actually hope that these are problems that can be handled. So much so, in fact, that the idea sounds like a copy of what already exists.
  • On the other side of the House, state Labor have always been pretty bad on the self-promoting propaganda front, but why do we need ads during the footy telling us that new liquor laws are coming and we can expect a “change of scene”?! Actions speak louder than words, kids.
  • Finally, a brief mention of federal Labor: I don’t know enough to comment on the merits of the new IR policy, but for crying out loud, this obsession with throwing the term “fair” around whenever workplace relations come up is getting very tired, very fast.
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