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Archive for September, 2008

Don’t misunderestimate the recession

Posted by occidentprone on September 25, 2008

George W Bush grasps the seriousness of the financial crisis crunching the globe.

“We are in the midst of a serious financial crisis,” he said before hosting unprecedented crisis talks. “Our entire economy is in danger.” (Source: The Australian)

On ABC:

“There has been a widespread loss of confidence and major sectors of America’s financial system are at risk of shutting down,” Mr Bush told the nation from the White House, using some of the bleakest language of the crisis so far.

“The government’s top economic experts warn that without immediate action by Congress, America could slip into a financial panic and a distressing scenario would unfold,” Mr Bush said, in a rare televised appearance.

“With the situation becoming more precarious by the day, I faced a choice – to step in with dramatic government action, or to stand back and allow the irresponsible actions of some to undermine the financial security of all,” he said.

Mr Bush – finally taking a front and centre role in crisis – listed the prospect that more banks could fail and the possibility the US economy could be driven into recession as more reasons that the massive rescue must be approved.

He punched home the message by referring to the impact such a scenario would have on the lives of ordinary Americans and acknowledging the validity , saying that while tens of thousands of people had have lost their homes.

Acknowledging deep American anger that such huge sums of money – amounting to five per cent of American GDP – are being contemplated for those who created the financial strife in the first place, Mr Bush said that nevertheless, not acting now would cost Americans much more later.

Bush’s heir hopeful, John McCain has suspended his election campaign with all the gravity the Republican war veteran can muster.

His opponent Barack Obama says this is the time presidential candidates (you know, those wanting to be President of the United States of America) should start talking about the economy.

McCain is backed into a corner with Sarah Palin as his running mate. She has shown zero capacity for original, analytical thought and between the pair of them, they seem to have trouble pronouncing economy, for all they have avoided the topic.

I have avoided discussing the American campaign as my blog is predominantly about West Australian, and to a lesser degree Australian, current affairs but as the characters develop more and the financial crisis threatens to engulf all of us, I’m wading in. Since late 2006, I have listened to podcasts from Slate magazine and The New Yorker, so that they have become a weekly serial of heroes and villains and jesters all culminating in a series finale in November. (Although if I hear the word ‘narrative’ to describe a current affairs event one more time I’ll scream – and that means you too Crikey crew.)

So I’m trying to draw some meaningful lesson from across the Pacific that we can apply here. And my main concern is this: Please let’s never get in the situation they have in America where a VP candidate (Palin) is allowed to build a cult following without facing questions from the press. No person running for any office, let alone high office, should be unaccountable – BEFORE THEY’RE EVEN ELECTED.

We saw a little of the cult of personality in the Kevin O7 election last year and our leaders face off first as characters, then politicians with policies (think Nelson v Turnbull last week and Buswell for much of this year). But to allow a candidate escape questioning and scrutiny – from reporters or bloggers or voters or anyone – is totally insane. You get what you deserve if you let this happen.

Back to McCain. Slate’s John Dickerson had this to say:

John McCain has launched his second Hail Mary pass in a month. On Wednesday he called for a suspension of the presidential campaign—no events, no ads, and no debate Friday—so that he and Barack Obama can head to Washington to forge a bipartisan solution. Even more than his selection of Sarah Palin as running mate, this gambit feels like a wild improvisation someone in the McCain team mapped out on his chest: OK, you run to the fire hydrant, cut left, and then when he gets to the Buick, John, you heave it.

Dickerson might overuse the word narrative but he knows how to put politics into language we understand.

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Posted in Australian politics, Foreign affairs, Media, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Sharks catch a break with pilot shortage

Posted by occidentprone on September 25, 2008

Australia has a pilot shortage, a story that doesn’t have a direct impact on a lot of people’s lives. So how to hit readers where it hurts? Make it into a shark story.

WAToday reports: 

Aerial shark patrols of Perth’s beaches will no longer be flown by Edith Cowan University’s aviation school which has operated the shark spotters since they started in 2001.

The WA government first contracted ECU to fly the patrols in November 2001 after businessman Ken Crew died when attacked by a 4m white pointer at North Cottesloe Beach in November 2000.

Until last summer, ECU had been able to marshall the forces of 15 to 20 student aviators to fly the shark spots out of Jandakot Airport.

… But last summer WA’s booming mining industry poached so many student pilots for fly-in, fly-out work that there were no longer enough students to keep the community safety service running.

… ECU is the only university in WA to offer a degree course for budding pilots.

Typically, students gain their commercial licence in the second year of their degree and build their flight hours up in the third year.

But increasingly, mining and tourism companies are employing students as soon as they get their licence, and the students complete their flying hours in full-time employment.

By the by, young and inexperienced pilots have long been getting a raw deal from many small and rural operators. Being a pilot is more of a vocation than a job or profession to a lot of people who have dreamed of owning the skies since the seventh time they saw Top Gun. And bosses have capitalised on that by paying measly dollars to pilots eager to fill in the log book and rack up the air time.

Maybe a short-term shortage is just what the industry needs to show employers they should ditch the cowboy culture, disregard for regulations and shelf-stacker pay and treat its staff as professionals.

Posted in Diversions, Industrial relations, Perth | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Save the whale stories

Posted by occidentprone on September 25, 2008

Another day, another whale story. This time a baby humpback is stranded at Jurien Bay. It’s not just a whale, it’s a baby whale and this ill kid can’t be saved.

The media love a good whale story. Human reporters and near-human editors like to anthropomorphise animals of all stripes. What good is a fantastic creature picture if people aren’t ascribing human emotions and features to the characters in it?

Here in WA, a famous case is the picture of giraffe Makulu by West Australian photographer Ron D’Raine. The picture is aesthetically cute on its own but once we project our own very human feelings about motherhood and babies on to it, the image of mother giraffe kissing the top of baby giraffe’s head is unforgettable.

So back to the big lumps of blubber in the ocean. What’s the attraction?

Whales are mysterious creatures. They’re mammals, like us, but dwell in the depths of the unknown. It’s a primal thing maybe or perhaps we look for twists on Biblical Jonah’s journey into the belly of the whale. And that whale song – talk about haunting.

Every permutation on a whale story is exploited in newspapers and on telly  – us humans offering help to stranded whales, like mythical mermaids caught twixt land and sea; the barbaric foreigners harming whales for base purposes – food; whale watching as faux connection with nature.

Some whale stories from around the world:

‘Orphaned’ whale thinks mother is yacht. (NineMSN)

Japan might kill world’s only white whale (The Telegraph)

Adding Weight to Suspicion, Sonar Is Linked to Whale Deaths (New York Times)

Study fails to link naval sonar with whale strandings (New Scientist)

So save the whale stories, I say. More whale yarns for everyone and if they’re sad we can have a blubber.

Read more about strandings world wide at whales.org.au. The site also has a clip of Sir Anthony Hopkins speaking out for whales (good with some fava beans and a nice little chianti, no doubt).

Posted in Diversions, Environment, Media | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

How can you underpay the lowest paid workers?

Posted by occidentprone on September 23, 2008

The WA economy is characterised as booming, no question. A lot of workers are rolling in it. This we know.

We also know (but may not want to acknowledge) there are those who aren’t keeping up. The elderly, the disabled, the unemployed. Even people who in low-paid jobs, who work for love or sense of duty or because they have no other skills.

So why oh why are some employers screwing the people who work where many others won’t – in the caring industries. Whether it is deliberate or accidental is up for debate. But carers in child care and aged care homes are being diddled, reports ABC.

About 90 West Australian child care workers will be reimbursed $35,000 after random audits found they were being underpaid.

The Australian Workplace Ombudsman randomly audited 31 WA child care providers and found 19 of them were underpaying employees.

Alfred Bongi from the Ombudsman’s office says WA was the worst offender and investigations into other child care services are continuing.

“A number of these employers have been issued with breach notices but in Western Australia so far they have all voluntarily complied,” he said.

“We are continuing investigations on three premises.

“We do these campaigns particularly to focus on vulnerable workers and we selected this industry because of the number of trainees and apprentices who work there.”

The Ombudsman’s report outlined their target:

One of the reasons why the aged care and child care industries were selected for audit was the understanding that they employ a high percentage of workers that the Workplace Ombudsman would classify as vulnerable. This proved to be the case with women being the predominant workers in the aged care industry and women and young workers being predominant in the child care industries.

Read the report further for a summary of issues in WA:

The campaign has supported the rationale behind Western Australia’s selection to undertake audits in the child care sectors with rates of pay and penalty rates as the breaches that were the most commonly identified issues in the industry.

The qualitative information collected highlights that the predominant findings (rates of pay) were due to a lack of understanding/knowledge of the pay scale increases that occurred in October last year. However, in some cases it was due to incorrect classification of employees based on their length of service in the child care industry and their qualifications.

… Another common finding was that employers were not engaging their full-time employees for the required hours under the industrial instrument. Both instruments in this case required a 38 hour week to be paid however, at least 6 employers were found to be in breach of this requirement and back payments for some of these businesses are still underway.

An unusual finding was that an employer was only paying one employee the rate that the business was subsidised per hour under the Commonwealth ‘Inclusion Support Subsidy’. This subsidy is a contribution towards the costs associated with including a child or children with ongoing high support needs in child care and is part of the Australian Government’s Inclusion and Professional Support Program. It does not void an employer from paying an employee their appropriate minimum rate of pay payable under the Act. The employer is currently in the process of rectifying this underpayment.

In Western Australia only 6 businesses (18%) were found to be complying. This is believed to be the lowest compliance figure for a time and wage campaign in Western Australia since March 2006. However, those that were appeared to be up to date on their knowledge of their employer obligations and usually had direct dealings with an external body such as Chamber of Commerce and Industry or a union such as the LHMU.

Seriously, this is bullshit.

And particularly here in WA right now where many workers are well paid and unemployment is low. 

For employers and workers alike, I give you the Workplace Ombudsman’s website: http://www.wo.gov.au  You can register for an email alert of changes to the published pay scales.

And dear readers, if your loved one, young or old, is in the care of a carer, it is up to you to make sure the carer is being treated as well as you would like Cupcake / Pops to be. That’s caring.

Posted in Australian politics, Perth, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Alan Bond threatens old haunts

Posted by occidentprone on September 21, 2008

Alan Carpenter was haunted by Brian Burke. Now Colin Barnett could face the spectre of Alan Bond moving from past to present.

The page 1 headline in The Sunday Times today read: “Bondy’s back – and reveals he wants to stay for good this time.” 

Inside Bond made a comment that “I will be back here full time in about 12 months”. Maybe he said it in passing, maybe it’s something he’s thought about seriously. Anyway, the paper made it into it’s big story for the week though it’s not on the website so maybe they’ve since changed their mind.

The people most haunted by Bond are the shareholders who were ruined after their trust in Bond in the 80s and early 90s. But like any master of reinvention, he’s shed that skin. He told the Sunday Times

“I think you go through life  and learn many lessons. And I think today I am a better businessman than I was then even, because you get the yin and yang.

There was a downturn in the economy, the banks that were lending to us went broke, a number went at the same time.

Unfortunately, because I was one of the highest profiles, I took a lot of the flak.

If your gearing is too high, as it is around the world with a lot of people, you are going to get hurt at some stage if the music stops.”

Unless you are a crook, of course.

I like the stuff about yin and yang. I wonder if Bond’s earthy yearning for home, where he and Di Bliss have a house at Cottesloe, has anything to do with the fact WA’s going gangbusters and there’s gold in them thar suckers.

Another Sunday Times non-story or not, there’s an interesting hypothetical.

What if Bond comes back? Is it a metaphor for the bad old days of big business rorts, just as Burke was a symbol of political rorts. Labor thought it had exorcised its demons then let Burke back in. And how did that turn for you Mr Carpenter?

Bond had been keeping a low profile but then he popped up on the BRW rich list this year and this week showed up to celebrate some old yachting victory. As we’ve said before, he deserves recognition for all he’s contributed to the people of this state.

The Barnett government has already waved the flag for development so it’s like the 80s all over again. Complete with ghosts of crimes past.

 


Posted in Media, Perth, Politics, West Australian politics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Liberals haven’t lost their love of development

Posted by occidentprone on September 19, 2008

The Liberal Government hasn’t even been sworn in in WA and already they’re talking of putting an exclusive housing development at Fremantle port.

Ahh, back to the good old days where any old dead spot – like say the historic and still quite useful Freo docks – can be sold off and given up for flash apartments. Transport minister-elect Simon O’Brien wants to phase out that boring, stinky old cargo business at the port and shift business south to Kwinana.

The West Australian reports:

“Planning will commence very soon for a strategic renewal of our container shipping facilities away from North Quay to new facilities at James Point,” Mr O’Brien said.

Mr O’Brien said the government would be looking to redevelop the land at North Fremantle freed up by the move, possibly in conjunction with the developers of the North Port Quay proposal because of the synergies between the two projects.

“Whether we ultimately have a sea bed reclamation of the type that’s been proposed by the North Port Quay developers remains to be seen,” he said.

Quay spokesman Greg Poland said the consortium welcomed the opportunity to take the concept to the approvals stage.

Also beating down the new minister’s door will be the Len Buckeridge-led James Point Consortium, which has plans to build a port near Kwinana.

The private port, stalled by the Carpenter Government while it developed its plans for an island port, was given approval by the Court government.

Consortium spokesman Hans Moonen said a meeting with Mr O’Brien had been sought to discuss whether the new Kwinana port could be a private development or a joint venture with the government.

But Fremantle mayor Peter Tagliaferri said the new government was planning to relocate a multi-billion-dollar asset to Kwinana without having done any studies to support it.

“It’s not that simple, they’ve got leases in place with the stevedores until 2017 and (the equivalent of) 10 per cent of the gross domestic product of the country in cargo coming through that port each year,” he said.

Fremantle Society president Ian Alexander said while the port was still important for jobs and the local economy it was also important that the role of Fremantle as a port for more than a century was recognised and people did not want to see it become a “boutique port” for cruise ships.

Mr O’Brien said he would seek to consult widely over the plans.

“There’s a lot of sensitivity about change but I respect Fremantle as one of the great trade centres and historical centres,” he said.

It’s a win-win situation really. More prestige apartments in Fremantle – yay – and more jobs in the Labor marginal seat of Kwinana – double yay.

* Read more about Kwinana at Kwinana from the Inside.

Posted in Perth, Politics, West Australian politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Suburban mums fall prey to the dark side

Posted by occidentprone on September 17, 2008

Big news in the war against drugs – the drugs are winning. Now those darn drugs have recruited suburban mums in the fight.

That august record,  PerthNow website reports:

Suburban mums are among the over-30s who have emerged as the new users of the illicit drug ecstasy, a national study has found.

Once considered a “young person’s drug”, ecstasy has a new following in more mature users who see it as a harmless alternative to alcohol.

Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia’s Paul Dillon described the results as shocking. “Everyone is stunned. Everyone is thinking it’s a really young person’s drug but it’s not,” he said. 

The recently released 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey has revealed that since 1995, the number of people aged 30 to 39 using ecstasy has increased 5.7 per cent to 6.3 per cent for men, and 2.8 per cent to 3.2 per cent for women. 

Mr Dillon said mature people were turning to the drug because of misinformation about its effects. 

“I talked to two women in their 30s two weeks ago and these were both divorcees, they have recently split from their husbands, they’ve got 15 and 16-year-old kids and they’ve basically discovered their second childhood,” he said. 

“The reason they’re taking ecstasy is because they don’t want to drink, because with drinking they get out of control.” 

School car parks, playgrounds are populated with MDMA-ravaged mothers saying “I love you” to random strangers. 

Mums who don’t want to get out control.  Mums who probably haven’t felt in control since the second trimester of their first pregnancy.

If only …

In real life, mums are people who just say no to euphoria.

And if they were delving into the illicit drug scene en masse, it would surely be speed. A little amphetamine enhancement would make all the sports practice / music / play date chaos run a little more to schedule and deliver the oomph to be heard above the dinnertime din. Or coke for extra confidence in dealing with slouching, sulking, surly teens.

Ok, so I’m generalising and playing on stereotypes. I admit it – what about you PerthNow?

Posted in Diversions, Media | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Ellison resignation ends Howard era, really this time

Posted by occidentprone on September 17, 2008

WA Liberal Senator Chris Ellison and former Howard government minister is quitting politics.

The West Australian senator said he wanted to make way for new blood on the opposition front bench and was keen to spend more time with his family, including his three young children.

He said he would immediately move to the opposition back bench and decide in the coming months when to leave parliament. (Source: The West)

The fact that Malcolm Turnbull became federal Liberal leader yesterday has nothing to do with it he insists. Turnbull is famously a republican and Ellison famously a monarchist. Both famously have double-L in their names.

You can find Senator Ellison’s rollicking resume on his parliamentary website.

Posted in Australian politics, Politics | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Labor goes the safe option

Posted by occidentprone on September 16, 2008

It’s coronation day for oppositions in Australia today. Eric Ripper has been dubbed leader of the ALP opposition in WA, just hours after Malcolm Turnbull won for the Libs federally.

Eric-the-Safe, they call him.

Former Western Australian treasurer Eric Ripper has been appointed leader of the WA Labor party.

Kwinana MP Roger Cook, who survived a knife-edge win over Independent Carol Adams, is Mr Ripper’s deputy.

Former premier Alan Carpenter resigned as leader after the Nationals backed the Liberals to form government after the September 6 election resulted in a hung parliament.

Mr Ripper, from the centre faction, yesterday gained the support of the powerful right faction, and is seen by some as a “safe pair of hands” to guide Labor into opposition. 

The left faction reportedly met all day yesterday and was leaning towards supporting outgoing planning and infrastructure minister Alannah MacTiernan, also from the centre faction. (Source: PerthNow

Roger Cook must have been a last-minute nomination since he didn’t even have the seat two days ago. Instead the independent Carol Adams was having meetings at Parliament and rubbing Labor’s nose in it until a last-minute sprint saw Labor win.

Posted in Perth, Politics, West Australian politics | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Stokes like a kid in a toy shop

Posted by occidentprone on September 16, 2008

Some blokes play train sets as they chuff into retirement, some buy the sexy sports car they couldn’t afford 20 years before when they would have looked good in it. Kerry Stokes’ preoccupation into his autumn years is The West Australian.

After a failed tilt earlier this year, Stokes is finally getting his train set.

Seven Network chairman Kerry Stokes and his deputy Peter Gammell have been invited to join the board of West Australian Newspapers, WAN chairman Peter Mansell said today.

The Seven Network is WAN’s largest shareholder with about 22.4 per cent of WAN’s ordinary shares.

The move comes five months after Seven made an unsuccessful bid to oust members of the WAN board, including Mr Mansell, in favour of Mr Stokes and Mr Gammell. (Source: WAToday)

The West tells it like this:

Less than five months ago, Mr Stokes lost his bid to win two seats on the WAN board.

The move to appoint Mr Stokes and Mr Gammell was rejected by a shareholder vote at a meeting in Perth of 800 investors.

The billionaire had then argued that the WAN board needed to be “refreshed”, citing the company’s recent financial performance and newspaper distribution problems.

Does this mean the writing is on the wall for The West‘s Little Editor Who Could, Paul Armstrong? Stokes has made no secret of his desire for a different kind of newspaper and now he has the shares and the board influence to start cracking skulls.

Crikey says: 

The West Australian’s editor Paul Armstrong might have finally prevailed over his bitter political enemies Alan Carpenter and Jim McGinty with the defeat of the Labor state government, but it will probably be a short-lived victory as Stokes and most independent observers clearly believe he should go.

The fate of Armstrong will be the first big test of whether Stokes is exercising control, because Armstrong ran quite a partisan campaign against the billionaire during this year’s proxy battle.

Then there’s the issue of Seven being more than $100 million under water on its 23% stake in WAN and the stock is down another 23c at $8.52 this morning.

Stokes will want some fast action on things like The West’s lame website, falling circulation and the ongoing disputes with newsagents.

Posted in Media, Perth | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »