THE SITUATION Western culture is experiencing a barely recognised but increasing nostalgia. This phenomenon in not a simplistic return to ‘the good old days’ but it is a rising concern about the future. This is occurring following fifty years of unprecedented global economic growth following the end of WWII and decolonisation. This growing current of unease is flowing through United States, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Scandinavia. Australia is becoming restive
Manifestations of this nostalgia, cumulatively, are the growth of Far Right parties, white supremacist movements, polarisation between Socialist and Conservative politics, demonstrations and rallies over declining living standards, intractable youth unemployment, rising underemployment, a rising angst over automation and artificial intelligence, the implications of global warming, home ownership as a fading American and Australian dream and finally, the migration of alien cultures and religion into the fabric of European nations which is starting to destabilise Caucasian culture.
What may not be appreciated by many is that the world after WWII in 1945, the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the GFC in 2008 have totally changed the world order and its institutions. Old alliances are now less relevant and distrust between nations has risen as evidenced by exploding arms procurement programs.
Not yet given popular resonance is the increasing audible whisper that European economic influence is declining relative to Chinese and Asian population and their economic growth rate. This situation existed prior to the period of European maritime exploration and trade between 1500 – 2000. The wheel is now turning full circle!
European governments and grass roots movements are seeking to counter this growing malaise by harking back to former ‘glory days’ which incorporate heritage, conquest, trade, the Enlightenment, industrial development and, if not too controversial, Empire. These reflections on the past are intended to instil confidence in the nation and working for the future.
The rise and fall of the British, Russian, French, Spanish and Portuguese empires should not be regarded as isolated events but rather, they are merely part of a Homo sapiens continuum. The invasion and settlement of Canada, United States, Australia, Central Asia, South Africa, West Africa, Mexico and Brazil merely represents human activity over the past 8000 years. Since the commencement of the Common Era, excluding the Empires above, examples of invasion and settlement involved Romans, Mongols, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Normans, Khmer, Bugis, Murghals, and Austro-Hungarians. In the fullness of time, conquest, collapse or assimilation reduced their influence. In the latter part of the 20th Century, Tibet has been invaded and colonised by the China and West Papua by Indonesia. An objective of a New World Order would be to reduce invasion and colonisation but this may be contrary to the instincts of Homo sapiens. An ironic twist – Homo sapiens is currently making plans to colonise Mars. Conquest and colonisation is in the species’ DNA.
AUSTRALIA DAY Australia is in an invidious position regarding this Celebration which will be wafted towards ‘We are One but We are Many” as a mantra to promote acceptance and camaraderie: a more substantive national ethos appears to be airbrushed out. The drive by European nations is based on a common ethnicity and a common culture. Australia shares this common heritage but due to growing ethnic diversity it is not politic to dwell on its cultural history and its projection into the future. Currently, due to the nature of early settlement, and until Australia’s history books are rewritten, the achievements of our very early pioneers may remain muted.
Alongside barbeques, national dancing and children’s races, far greater prominence should be given to the cumulative achievements of Aboriginals, Europeans, Chinese and Afghan settlers who, by their blood, sweat, tears and death created the Australia that we enjoy today. As a nation we need to generate a pride in our past as a spring board for confident progress into the future, The Australia Day message should promote: *National Pride – confidence will be encouraged by commemorating past achievements, omitting political accolades, with plans of more to come. Australia is more than sport, far greater prominence should be given to achievement in Science and the Arts. The Armed Forces and their Battle Honours, not their peace keeping abilities, should instil national pride. *National Harmony – ‘We are One but We are Many” will suffer from repetition and group photos of cross cultural meetings will provide grist to this ditty.
THE BIGGER PICTURE Declining self esteem and nostalgia are reported as an emerging problem among the European nations. The old social and political systems are in flux and Democracy is under challenge. The political class is now under close scrutiny. Politicians, by their nature, are usually unable to make complex decisions; there is a built in expediency with one eye on their electoral base. This is no way to run a complex system. Government must become more technical, independent of donations and less partisan for the 21st Century.
The heyday of politicians unfit for purpose should be entering twilight tears as technical experts make rational decisions that affect progress and the wellbeing of the Nation.
What has happened to Us. 2 January 2019. Geopolitical Futures. The uses of Nostalgia. 22 December 2018. The Economist.
JOHN HUGH HILL Current Affairs Flashpoints – towardsthefinalhour.com firstname.lastname@example.org
CAPTION. Good governance can lessen the burden. Fiscal Deficit. Trade Deficit, Debt.
Obscuring the Truth.
Australian Treasurers appear to have developed the charade of constantly obscuring the economic problems from the nation. A recent statement by Treasurer Frydenberg reinforces this reporting situation. Evidence for this style of reporting on the national economy is illustrated by the following quotes:
A pleasing set of numbers. Hockey, September, 2014.
A terrific set of numbers. Hockey, June, 2015.
The best growth rates since 2012. Morrison, September, 2016.
Deficit reduction due to good economic management. Morrison, January, 2018.
Excellent GDP rate of 3.4%. Frydenberg, September, 2018.
The Devil in the Detail.
Each of these statements have glossed over a serious weakness in the economy or have omitted to include important facts which have a bearing on the numbers. The Devil lurks behind the rosy announcements:
In September 2014, Treasurer Hockey announced the National Accounts to be a ”pleasing set of numbers”. At the same time, the Reserve Bank warned of a dangerous housing bubble. Mr Hockey enthused that the GDP had risen to 0.5% for the June quarter but omitted to mention real GDP had fallen to 0.3% due to unfavourable Terms of Trade.
In June 2015, the annual growth rate had risen to 2.3%. Treasurer Hockey enthused “this was a terrific set of numbers” and further stated the Australian economy was among the fastest growing in the world. The Treasurer omitted to mention that this period had seen the fifth quarterly drop in the Terms of Trade and that disposable income was now less than that after the GFC in 2008. Australian living standards were falling and national productivity had declined as growth was driven from low labour mining to intensive labour in tourism and hospitality.
In September 2016, Treasurer Morrison enthused over the National Accounts informing Australians there was no sign of a downturn in the economy. The Treasurer noted that exports had increased slightly and imports had decreased. However, the Treasurer omitted to mention that Australians now had less disposable income so, ipso facto, lower imports were to be expected.
In January 2018, Treasurer Morrison enthused over the success of Government economic policy in reducing the deficit. However, the Treasurer omitted to mention that there had been a spike in export commodity prices and that ATO income had increased due to the fact that company tax losses had now been fully absorbed following the GFC. The reduced deficit was due to good luck not good management.
In August 2018, Treasurer Frydenberg enthused on the annual growth rate of 3.4% for the six months ending June 2018 and that this is on a par or better than Australia’s trading partners. Much more muted was a warning from the Reserve Bank that this result is partly driven by shoppers drawing down on their savings. This profligacy cannot continue.
A Plea for Informative Economic Reporting.
Treasurer Frydenberg generated enthusiastic reporting of GDP with accompanying economic sweeteners. This is useless information on which to judge the health of an economy. GDP can be generated in several ways:
By immigration and small business development – unfortunately the money supply will churn, quantitative easing will be necessary and the currency will slowly devalue.
By encouraging a domestic building boom – imports will increase putting pressure on the deficit (Terms of Trade), money supply will churn unless there is strong offshore buying.
By irresponsibly permitting a savings funded retail spending spree. This is economic madness – the retail sector will benefit but the deficit will increase due to the import of foreign goods. Savings are finite!
By generating infrastructure projects – overseas funding will be required which will increase the National Debt but, unless this infrastructure produces export income. the resultant economic activity will produce less useful domestic GDP.
By encouraging strong export income. This is the Holy Grail. Unless the Government can encourage an increasing export, income wages will continue to flatline and increasing pressure will be placed on living standards.
Improving the Treasurer’s Statement.
The Government trumpets its record on job creation We know wages are depressed and under-employment is increasing, but what we do not know is the breakdown of employment into jobs in the domestic economy and jobs in the export industries. With this information, there will be a better informed sense as to how the economy is travelling. The term Jobs and Growth is oxymoronic- the mantra must become “Jobs and Exports”.
JOHN HUGH HILL Current Affairs Flash Points towardsthefinalhour.com email@example.com
Caption: QUIET ENGLISH WEEKEND, JOUER DEJEUNER OR LIGHT RELIEF BETWEEN ANGELA AND VLADIMIR (dailymail.co.uk)
BOISSONS–DRINKS The same herd of elephants in NATO head quarters will move to the President’s palace in time for the Trump Putin meeting. It is almost certain two important issues will not be properly addressed.
The issues are the fallout from the unilateral decision by Present G W Bush to withdraw from the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001 which spawned another arms race between Russia and America. The second issue is the annexation of Crimea and the destabilisation of Ukraine by Russia in 2014. Hot potatoes like North Korea, the Iran nuclear program, Russian interference in Syria, cyber security will be discussed at the expense of the really serious.
ERSTER GANG–FIRST COURSE
Caption: ‘FOE” AND FAUX PAS, NATO, BRUSSELS (Business Insider)
The United States requires Europe to remain a strong strategic and financial buffer between the American homeland and the Russian Federation. Just as Russia requires Eastern Europe and Ukraine to be a buffer to NATO and China requires the Nine Dash Line as a first line of defence, so America requires the same. As a digression, China is increasing its influence in the Pacific Islands north-east of Australia which could affect the security of Australian maritime trade.
In 2001 America withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to improve its missile defence systems as a precaution to counter the rise of terrorism. This inevitably triggered a renewed arms race which made Russia nervous of American military power. This has resulted in Russia upgrading its military capability that is now perceived as a threat to European security. Putin recently made an unusual reference to the development of anti-ballistic missile defence systems and other offensive military equipment.
(Russian Military Buildup, 4 March 2018, National Interest)
The European Union is America’s most important trading partner, despite the current adverse terms of trade; by contrast Russia is twenty-third in the list. Also, America requires a stable Europe and a more indefinable, but important, resilient Trans Atlantic Community. (Newsweek, 16 January 2018)
America is still a superior power compared to Russia but ‘boots’ on the ground might pose a threat:
The Russian ‘Zapad’ military exercise in September 2017 involved up to 100,000 troops, heavy armour and aircraft adjacent to the Polish and Lithuanian borders. (Washington Post, 23 September 2017)
By contrast, a major US led NATO exercise, Sabre Strike 18, only involved 18,000 soldiers from nineteen NATO countries which were spread across Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The exercise was ‘a demonstration of commitment and solidarity to the alliance”.
(US-NATO Lead Exercise, 3 June 2018, Associated Press)
Prior to Sabre Strike 18, the Polish Government had requested an American armoured division (15,000 men and 44 tanks) to be based in the country to counter Russia’s increasingly aggressive posture along the border. The Polish document referred to Russian aggression in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.
(MENI-ONET, 20 March 2018)
Russia appears to have more ‘boots on the ground’ than NATO at any one time, To counter a hostile act, NATO maintains 30,000 equipped troops with only a 20,000 strong rapid response group that could be mobilised in thirty days. (Die Welt, 3 June, 2018))
Last year there were only 30,000 American troops in Europe. (Business Insiders, 30 August 2017) This information may explain why NATO members must contribute 2% of GDP to increase its deterrent capacity.
(Written before the Summit) The flash points for discussion between Trump and Putin in Helsinki have been well aired. The elephants have now arrived at the Presidentinlinna from Brussels. While Trump made enemies in Britain, they will conclave to ensure that crucial matters will not be addressed. These matters are the destabilisation of Ukraine and the military build up by Russia along the Eastern European border lands.
Irrespective of Trump’s view of deficient contributions by NATO members, the security of Europe is important to America as its primary trading partner; Russia ranks twenty-third. America must maintain the integrity of European borders.
America has a special relationship with Ukraine which makes it surprising that America has permitted Russia to cross a ‘red line’ and annex Crimea and destabilise Eastern Ukraine. Trump should make it clear to Putin that these incursions will not be tolerated. Unless a hard line is taken, Russia will commence incursions into Eastern Europe – note Poland’s concern.
American policy is complicated by America’s special relationship with Ukraine. Since independence in 1991, Ukraine has has been a good ally for the United States. The country gave up its nuclear weapons following the implosion of the Soviet Union and signed a non-proliferation treaty with America. In 1994, the Budapest Declaration signed by Russia, America and Britain guaranteed the sovereignty of Ukraine. Russia tore up this document with the annexation of Crimea and the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. This has crossed a ‘red line’. In 2008, Ukraine supplied three battalions to the Iraqi Coalition and was fourth with ‘boots on the ground’ after America, Britain and Poland. Soon after, President Bush attempted to bring Ukraine into the Atlantic Alliance but this was not supported by Nato members.
KAFE I VODKA–COFFEE AND LIQUEUR
(Written after the Press Conference)
Caption: “THE BALL IS IN YOUR COURT”, PUTIN TO TRUMP, HELSINKI. (ABC NEWS)
The Press Conference produced a furious, disgusted reaction in the United States at the performance by President Trump: no substantive issues were discussed to a conclusion. The mood is best summed up by John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, quote “Today’s Press Conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American President in living memory.” (The Guardian, 17 July 2018)
The Press Conference ended with a brilliant tactical move by President Putin when he threw a soccer ball to Trump with the quip “The ball is now in your court!” President Trump, almost expressionless, quickly threw the ball to The First Lady. Trump has returned to the Washington “Swamp” much discredited and to face the fury of many people.
POKHMELYE–THE HANGOVER There was no meeting of minds between the two leaders; the incompatibility of ‘Make Russia Great Again’ and ‘America First’ ensured there was no common ground. Major international issues were virtually ignored as both leaders were mindful of their domestic politics and their support base. For Trump, this was a difficult meeting as Russian interference lurked just under the surface. It was probably Trump’s intention to blame the Obama administration for the poor relations between the two countries, not the Trump administration, but the message was lost in translation between the brain and the vocal chords. The move by Special Council Mueller to indict Russian agents threw Trump into confusion which resulted in Trump endorsing Putin’s view of the election interference situation. This was a PR disaster for Trump.
A diplomatic leak (Gazeta Express, Kosovo, 25 July) from the closed door meeting mentioned a discussion on the partition of Kosovo between Serbia and Albania. Should this proceed then serious boundary disputes and fighting could erupt in Bosnia and Macedonia leading to widespread unrest. ( Geopolitical Futures, 1 August 2018)
Concerning ‘dirt’ on Trump – if there had been, the Russians would not have permitted the press conference to proceed. Strange as it may seem, Russia wants to increase Trump’s standing in the West as he is such a divisive influence: this assists Russian foreign policy objectives.
In this sorry saga, real damage has been done to one politician, Trump. The electorate and his base know him and the latest ratings show him at 47%. Nothing much will change in the heartland but a deluge of comment can be expected from his critics. Post Helsinki nothing will change. The slow shift in power politics will continue, but if hostilities should erupt, then a little more rapidly.
(The Trump Putin Meeting, 18 July 2018, Geopolitical Futures)
Caption: JOHN McCAIN, CHAIRMAN, SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE>
JOHN HUGH HILL Current Affairs Flash Points – towardsthefinalhour.com
A DAMOCLEAN BUDGET FOR EDUCATION-SCIENCE-INNOVATION-INFRASTRUCTURE
Sword of Damocles Any situation threatening imminent harm or disaster. Caption – Tax Cuts or Education, R&D & Innovation
BUYING VOTES AND DEMEANING DEMOCRACY
These comments are not a critique of the budget, the intention is to highlight aspects of the budget as it relates to secondary education, tertiary education, R&D, innovation and infrastructure – matters that are important for increasing Australia’s export income.
The centrepiece of the budget appears to be tax concessions to ‘hard working ‘ Australians. Tax inducements was one among several reasons that cost Najib Razak his position as Prime Minister of Malaysia. Rumblings of disapproval have been heard in Australia on this ‘tax reduction’ budget that does not bode well for Mr Turnbull. The Conversation (8 May) has commented ‘this is not a big budget for school funding and that the freeze on university funding continues into this year’s budget’.
In the WE Australian (12-13 May), Alan Kohler noted ‘the Federal Budget is a political event, a statement on election strategy not a report on financial administration’. The term ‘jobs and growth’ will continue to be an oxymoron until export income replaces low, paid jobs churning cash around a fragile internal economy. Well proven round the world and now corroborated in Australia, the trickle down effect from a natural resource rich export economy is a myth.
In delivering the Budget the Government emphasised its good economic management, proof being the creation of a million jobs and a lower deficit. What the Treasurer did not mention was a surprising increase in export income from coal, iron ore and gas and also a boost to the ATO due to company tax losses from the GFC being fully absorbed. These windfalls were due to good luck not fiscal rectitude. The statement on employment glossed over under-employment and continuing low wages which cannot substantially improve until export income increases. Also last year’s youth jobless rate was 13% with under employment hovering round 18%. ( The Guardian March 2017)
IMPEDIMENTS TO RISING EXPORT INCOME.
Secondary Education. Education in Australia is in a deepening turmoil, and yet it is the very foundation for innovation and export income. There are several reasons for this critical situation:
Back in 1901, at Federation, the nation inherited the colonial structure that morphed into six states and two territories. Today the nation is burdened with separate education systems managed with variable rigour by several Departments of Education.
‘Turf’ protection will ensure there can be no unified national curriculum.
Australia has a growing inequality problem. According to the IMF Fiscal Monitor, Australia has the fastest rising inequality rate in the OECD over the past thirty years, As a consequence, an increasing number of children are growing up in impoverished poorly educated households. The failure of the ‘trickle down’ effect will be a contributory factor to this situation.
The OECD League Tables on education standards (March 2015) show Australia at 14th behind Poland and Vietnam. Further more the PISA assessments show Australia consistently slipping between 2000 and 2012. Ranking declines are: Maths 6 down to 8, Science 8 to 16, and Reading down 4 to 13.
NAPLAN – Despite its short history there is pressure to abandon the tests, reasons given are that the tests are too stressful for students and there are odious comparisons between schools..
Federal and State governments are floundering seeking a solution to the entire education model. The Finnish education model is an outstanding success utilising well-trained highly-paid teachers who operate under a uniform national system. (Simola, H, 2007, The Finnish Miracle of PISA). Australia’s six state education system is an impediment to a national uniform education syllabus.
Vocational Education & Training (VET). This education division is the big loser. A year ago the Federal Government promised $1.5 billion to the Skilling Australia Fund. No state has signed up to participate although Victoria has donated $200 million to the project. The Government has offered $50 million inducement to any state that signs up by early June. At Budget Night there were no takers. Vocational Education and Training is in crisis; Australia cannot function without a trained artisan workforce. This situation will lead to an influx of skilled foreign tradesmen under the Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) program meaning lost jobs for Australians.
Tertiary Education. The Federal Government has extended last year’s funding freeze to universities in the 2018-19 budget. Funding, however, is available to regional, rural and remote students for Bachelor degrees at rural hubs, student access to youth allowance, Commonwealth supported places and education, training and employment assistance. The government has funded 4000 extra places costing $124 million for diplomas, associate degrees and postgraduate course work. A further 700 new student places costing $96 million ($120,000/student) will be made available for young people from regional, rural and remote areas.
Another twist of the knife into university funding is that from 2020 funding for new students will be based on the 2017 enrolment numbers, adjusted for population growth but tied to attrition, completion and employment numbers. This is grossly unfair since Federal/State education systems are turning out ill-prepared and poorly-educated students struggling to meet required STEM and PISA proficiency. There will be no Government subsidy for additional students and no funding for indexed inflation but the universities will receive indexed student contributions. So the bottom line is funding for students but no funding to improve university infrastructure. It is an election budget designed to foster student supporters.
Science, R&D and Innovation. Australia rates poorly in research and innovation on automation and artificial intelligence. The OECD Innovation Index shows Australia’s place slipping during the past three years – records show 2015-17, 2016-19 and 2017-23 (UN World Intellectual Property Organisation). Further, these conclusions are reinforced by the World Economic Forum: Davos in 2017, was critical of Australia’s performance where a seminar concluded Australia trailed in skills uptake and risks becoming uncompetitive due to poor grasp of STEM. This information is reinforced by Professor Greg Austin, Centre for Cyber Research, ADF, who commented that ‘over the past twenty years the Government has been fostering a culture of incompetence in training in computing skills and cyber security’.
Has the Government been stung into a major initiative by its position on the Innovation Index – 23rd? A National Research Infrastructure Plan will fund projects of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Fund to the tune of $4.1 billion .
Develop research institutions.
Develop data linkage systems.
Leverage of knowledge and learning to drive innovation.
Develop alliances and models of collaboration.
Achieve interoperable bioscience.
It is very likely all this work and more could be carried out in existing universities, why the requirement to set up new organisations?
Grants for important scientific research will be maintained at existing funding levels. This is important for continuity. It is also important because R&D in the corporate sector is decreasing.
The proposed corporate tax cut from 30% to 25% will cost the Government net $5 billion a year. Before implementation there are issues which should be considered:
The effective tax rate after deductions is already about 17%.
Presidents Regan and Bush reduced corporate tax rates to stimulate the American economy, the result was disaster. Companies bought back shares, went looking for new investments, but did not employ more staff. President Clinton raised corporate taxes, created jobs and reduced the deficit.
The Turnbull Government appears oblivious of this case study.
Research & Development. The Government has placed the Sword of Damocles over Research & Development, Innovation and also, on the mantra of ‘Jobs and Growth’ in Australia. Professor Roy Green, Innovation Advisor, University of Technology, Sydney, considers the budget is not good for Australia’s Research and Development industry. (Science Show 19 May) Professor Green considers that, at a time when Australia is struggling to innovate away from a resource driven economy to a high tech export economy, the budget is a disappointment, the more so when the corporate sector will receive $5 billion a year income tax saving while this sector expenditure on R&D is declining.
The Government has cut $2.4 billion from the R&D tax incentive so that now revenue measures have been bought forward and spending measures pushed back. The proposed commitment of $1.9 billion over 12 years ($158 million a year) is almost meaningless beyond the four year forward estimates. During the Abbott and Turnbull Governments the science and R&D budgets have been cut by around $2.0 billion. In terms of comparison, the proposed tax concession to the corporate sector is effectively a handout by the Government of $5 billion a year and this at a time when corporate R&D is declining.
Funding for R&D has also taken a hit. The tax relief threshold for R&D funding has been raised and funding has been reduced. Holland along with Australia are the only members of the OECD that rely on tax incentives to fund R&D. Professor Green considers the future is bleak for science, R & D and innovation. The Academy of Science concurs with this assessment. Regressive elements of the budget are:
The R&D tax offset will now have the cash refund capped at $4 million per year with additional expense carried forward.
Companies with less than $20 million turnover were eligible for a 43% refund of a refundable tax offset, this is now lowered to 41%.
The threshold that can be claimed at the allotted R&D tax offset rate is being raised from $100 to $150 million for the financial year. (Research and Development Services, 9 May 2018)
Infrastructure. King &Wood Mallesons (8 May) have provided an analysis of infrastructure forecasts that could be construed as an election budget. Major projects in the budget provide for $75 billion expenditure over a ten year period. Beyond the four year estimate the funding cannot be guaranteed. Some $12 billion is to be spent during forward estimates period in six states on road, rail and bridge upgrades. Additionally, $44 million is earmarked for innovation studies for Roads of Strategic Importance and Infrastructure and Regional Cities portfolio.
Three new funds have been created:
$250 million for a MajorProject Business Case Fund to assist with the development of business cases for future critical land transport in infrastructure projects. This appears to be placing the cart before the horse – mining, agricultural projects and industrial ventures all depend on resources and capriciously, where one finds them.
$1 billion to establish an Urban Congestion Fund to support projects to alleviate congestion, improve traffic safety and commuter/freight movement. London is the obvious starting point but the whole process will be bedevilled by politics, not science and logic.
$536 million will be spent over five years to regenerate the reef. This is probably a political decision where ‘something must be seen to be done’ before the election. Scientific study will identify problems from rising sea surface temperatures and chemical run off from inland agriculture. Professor Grabic, Environmental School, Griffith University, states ‘the 2018 budget may not go far enough to save the Reef. The problem is not only declining water quality but expanding coastal development, bleaching, acidification, extreme weather events, marine heat waves and cyclones. Risks cannot really be addressed, they are inevitable as the climate changes. Progress on water quality is slow and targets may not be met’.
A Voice of Reason. Andrew Mackenzie, CEO, BHP, was critical of the size of the infrastructure budget. He suggested this is the responsibility of private enterprise not government. (FR 11 May) The commitment of $24 billion in projects with a ten year program exceeding $75 billion is not wise. Pledges for funding have been made through equity investments thus big ticket difficult items like the National Broadband Network can be kept off the balance sheet. The real problem is the Government strategy could result in financial loss if projects do not achieve commercial return. The firm message is government should use money for education and health, not funding infrastructure.
Australia should create incentives to use corporate balance sheets to invest in infrastructure; corporate knowhow and ability is normally better than governments. The interests of the nation would be better served by investing in education, research and health. These sentiments are endorsed by Dr Bowditch, Executive Director, Better Infrastructure Institute, Sydney. He commented that too many projects are orchestrated and funded by government which sits oddly with Super Funds which have the capacity to invest in infrastructure. This whole situation needs redress.
Private enterprise should be given the chance rather than relying on taxes taken from ‘hard working Australians’. Using private funds will free up government funds for budget repair and targeting community and social infrastructure – direct commercial returns will be low but the quality of life will improve.
Comments by Andrew Mackenzie raise fundamental issues on government policy which cannot be addressed here. Commentators have noted that the 2018-19 budget is an election budget so the question must be asked: is all infrastructure work in the six states absolutely essential or is this expenditure designed to curry votes?
Final Word.With respect to budget policy on education, science , infrastructure and innovation, the consensus is that the budget will do little to promote high-tech export-income Science and innovation; the main drivers to generate export markets are not well funded.
Secondary education is in disarray, university funding has been cut by at least $2 billion, there appears to be no strong impetus to improve on the IMF Innovation Index and R&D funding has been made more expensive. Finally, according to the BHP CEO, private enterprise should do more heavy lifting for infrastructure and the Government should concentrate on raising the nation’s living standards. There is much room for improvement.
By the end of the financial year the Sword of Damocles will still be hanging by a thread.
JOHN HUGH HILL
Current Affairs Flash Points – towardsthefinalhour.com
To be, or not to be – that is the question Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or take up arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing them – to die. (Hamlet, Act 111)
As the arbiter of good taste and of Australian culture the ABC has constantantly referred to ‘partner’ rather than husband and wife despite some 60% of those eligible being married, not partnered. By logic the term partner or partnership has thus become acceptable and the term ‘partnership equality’ can become legally equivalent but not interchangeable with ‘marriage equality’ since there is no gender equivalence. The term ‘partnership equality’ for same sex couples should be supported, since the vocabulary used by the ABC is already in place. Biologically and legally a wife can only be a woman and a husband can only be a man and by universal convention their union is one of marriage.
The heat and rhetoric created by the postal vote is rational since it impacts on a core value of global society, but for Australia it is irrational due to the numbers involved. Based on the 2011 Census, there were 33,700 homosexual couples in Australia, i.e. 67,400 citizens – about 0.3% in a population of 24 million. Same sex couples represent about 1% of all couples in Australia. (Australian Social Trends 4102.0, July 2013, ABS) The most recent census would show an increase.
For the ‘No’ vote, this is a Hamlet problem as younger generations arise and established verities are cast aside. It matters not that present day well-being and freedoms are the product of strife and discipline of yesteryear. In this brave new world it is natural to construct new words or new definitions: the danger for society is where will this stop, particularly in a less democratic order. At the national level, will a ‘Yes’ vote for ‘partnership equality’ improve or will there be an indefineable weakening of our culture? In view of the ABC’s persistent use of ‘partner’, it is reasonable to assume that, under law, partnership and marriage should be treated equally but are not the same and never will be.
The Australian Government has polarised the nation, fostered bad blood, divided families, abrogated its responsibility and wasted more than $100 million. The Government has created a burlesque of a serious Parliamentary Debate.
Current Affairs Flash Points
towardsthefinalhour.com John Hill firstname.lastname@example.org
PREAMBLE It must be rare in the annals of democracy that a political elite abrogates its right to govern the people. With those with whom I have discussed the plebiscite issue this constitutes a serious dereliction of parliamentary responsibility.
BACKGROUND It appears likely the plebiscite was intended to protect Liberal party figures from a public affirmation of their faith and/or their opposition to marriage equality. The trumpeted upside was the ‘people’ would decide. For a minority of Liberal conservatives the plebiscite would remove the embarrassment of a parliamentary debate and the possibility, that like the Disciple Peter, they would dishonour their faith before the ‘cock crowed twice’. (The Drum, 28January 2016)
Within the Australian electorate there is majority support for marriage reform as illustrated by a survey that showed Coalition 58%, Labor79% and Greens 97%. (SMH, 3 July 2016) Quoting this majority opinion the Australian Marriage Council has excoriated the plan to spend $160 million on a plebiscite. In view of these survey results, it is inexplicable why a rump of Liberal parliamentarians oppose a parliamentary vote unless it is by reason of their faith or conservative dogma to the detriment of sectarian democracy.
BROKEN PROMISES Much has been made by Government Ministers that an election promise of the Liberal party was a plebiscite. Honour is all unless there is a darker reason.
Below is an incomplete list of broken promises or identified untruthful statements attributed to Liberal party spokespersons since 2013. These are:–no cuts to disability pensions, monitoring Indigenous school attendance, no deals with the Greens to raise debt ceiling, funding cuts to ABC and SBS, no subsidies to coal or agriculture industries, cancellation of whaling/customs vessel, funding to NGOs, tow back of asylum boats, ensuring open and accountable government and the list goes on. (Alan Austin, Independent Australia, 8 February 2016)
A recent broken promise and an example of smoke and mirrors are:– (The Australian, 9 May 2016)
changes to superannuation arrangements
a dissimulation to the South Australian electorate on submarine construction. Until 2019 at the earliest work will only involve design and planning not construction jobs.
There must be something special about this promise for a plebiscite. Either there is a desire to keep faith with the electorate – unlikely, review the above – or, the Australian people are witnessing a small number of conservative Liberal party members absolve themselves of their parliamentary responsibility because of faith in an imagined reality and/or dogma. Many of the above broken promises involve budget constraints or electoral ‘pork barreling’, strangely despite the worsening national debt, there is no desire to cancel an unnecessary $160 million plebiscite expenditure, admittedly only an incremental amount in the overall national debt. This is not helping the trend in the light of a recent warning by the Credit Rating Agency, Standard and Poor, who have placed Australia on a downgrade watch. (AFR, 7 July 2016)
REQUIEM Australia aspires to be a modern open secular democracy. By not permitting a parliamentary debate and jeopardising the AAA credit rating, is it possible the religious inhibitions of a few are being forced onto the many?
Australia has a serious youth unemployment problem. For 2008, the 15 – 24 age group numbered 300,000 young people, that is, a 14 % unemployment rate. (Source Youth Unemployment in Australia, Dr Patrick Carvalho, November 2015)
Backpacker working visas granted during 2012 – 13 were 249,000. These young people found employment picking fruit, working on farms, hotel cleaning, in bars and restaurants. (Source Department of Immigration, August 2013) There is now one backpacker for every Year 12 school leaver. (Source Centre for Population and Urban Research, Monash University)
I was recently in a packing shed in central New South Wales, Korean backpackers were efficiently working. I asked why no Australian young people were in the mix. The owner snorted and stated he would not employ young Australians for several reasons from laziness to unreliability.
Our Australian culture still suffers from the legacy of ‘Loss of Empire’. We, as a nation, must come to terms with the fact that there must be young Australians in our midst who will remain ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water: aspirations for degrees and diplomas for some will remain pipe dreams and our political elite must face reality. The above ideas will be dealt with in more detail later. Contribution on this issue would be welcome. A variation on crowd funding!
BREXIT Calais Refugee Camps
A ‘boil’ barely mentioned but might be painfully ‘lanced’ is the international boundary between Britain and France, nominally in the middle of the English Channel. Currently, France assists Britain by placing the boundary on the seaward side of Calais – Britain pays millions of pounds a year for this service. There are now rumbles from the French Government that this cosy arrangement may be reviewed. There is now a possibility that the refugee camps containing some 18,000 displaced persons could be transferred to ‘This blessed plot, this realm, this England (Richard II). In recent months, France has foiled 37,000 attempts by migrants to reach the shores of Kent. (helprefugees.com and BBC News) Martello Towers and the ghosts of The Few and Francis Drake will be unable to repel this new invasion. This might become an unimagined consequence of the ‘Leave’ faction.