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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 »

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 »

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 »

Era of half-Nelson puns over

Posted by occidentprone on September 16, 2008

Malcolm Turnbull is humbled. Now that he’s top dog.

Turnbull is the new federal Liberal leader after Brendan Nelson called for a spill and wouldn’t you know got dumped. That’s why he was not good as leader, his capacity to read a situation / nation / party room / voters was notoriously off.

Mr Turnbull defeated Dr Nelson by a narrow margin of 45-41 at a partyroom meeting this morning.

Dr Nelson’s decision to call the leadership was designed to catch Mr Turnbull off balance after weeks of speculation and just days after the Member for Wentworth returned from Italy.

Julie Bishop remains as deputy leader.

Mr Turnbull lost the leadership ballot to Dr Nelson by just three votes on November 29 last year. 

But Dr Nelson polled poorly against Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and speculation had been continuing that either former treasurer Peter Costello would be drafted into the leadership or Mr Turnbull would make a move.

Mr Costello, who launches his memoirs today, effectively ruled himself out of leadership contention last week. (Source: The Australian

The West Australian reports:

Mr Turnbull, 54, said he was “honoured and humbled” to be elected as leader.

The Wentworth MHR said his job in power would be to allow the “dreams of Australians to be enabled”.

“We must, above all, have policies that reflect the values upon which our party is bound – freedom and fairness,” Mr Turnbull said.

“I didn’t get here from a life of privilege … I know what it’s like to be short of money,” said the millionaire and former merchant banker.

“We are a party of opportunity and … this is a land of opportunity.

“But we need to have confidence, we need to have leadership, we need above all to have the opportunities to do well.

“And that is the great difference between our side of politics and Labor, because we believe that government’s role is to enable each and every Australian to do their best, to exercise their freedom of choice to do their best.”

“Labor believes government knows best. We are not so vain as Mr Rudd.”

Ms Bishop refused to say who she supported in the party room vote, but said the party would be well served by Mr Turnbull’s “intellect and vision”.

Turnbull is obviously playing the little known “ironic card” of politics when he says “We are not so vain as Mr Rudd”.

Crikey‘s Bernard Keane says the outcome should faze the Government:

In ALP Caucus, Julia Gillard, filling in for an absent PM, declared that it didn’t matter who led the Liberal Party. Ah, but it will, Deputy Prime Minister, it will.

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

Oh for the opposition life

Posted by occidentprone on September 15, 2008

This is one worry off Carps’ mind:

Four co-workers from Alan Carpenter’s electorate office are celebrating a $2 million lotto win, on the same weekend as Mr Carpenter resigned as labor leader.

The colleagues say the former Premier was thrilled to hear of the win, and timing could not have been better.

“I’ve never heard him so happy, he was thrilled for us.” said one of the group.

The electorate office syndicate has been running for about five years.

“This is a load off our minds, the timing couldn’t have been better,” said one. (Source: ABC)

Meantime, let’s do the guess-the-new-leader game.

Not sure she’d want the job but Alannah McTiernan would be fantastic. She’s got my vote.

But for stability until the run-up to the next election, Eric Ripper would probably get caucus support. Then a switcheroo in the lead-up to the next poll with a little more flash and profile.

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

What a day

Posted by occidentprone on September 15, 2008

In the last 24 hours in WA:

• The Nationals have handed minority government to the Liberals by siding with them in a non-coalition coalition.

• Alan Carpenter has resigned as opposition leader-elect and Labor has yet to appoint a new leader.

• The seat of Kwinana has been wrenched from the hands of the former Labor, formerly gleeful independent Carol Adams and awarded to Labor’s Roger Cook.

• 1100 votes in the seat of Geraldton have been declared missing (possibly dead) and the snafu might cause a byelection.

• Political analyst Peter van Onselen was hospitalised for over-exposure after being cited an unhealthy number of times. He is under observation in the rent-a-quote ward for elevated opinion levels. He is not to blame for his condition, it is a systemic problem that we must all look at.

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

Barnett’s glad bag

Posted by occidentprone on September 14, 2008

Now we get to the nitty gritty. What can we expect from a conservative government, the first such state government in Australia for some years?

PerthNow says:

Mr Barnett is determined to focus on “bread and butter” issues that affect people every day, according to friends and party sources who are close to him. 

As a priority in its first 100 days, a Liberal-National coalition would: 

* Finalise plans to deliver $250 million in tax cuts to WA families and small businesses. 
* Give courts more power to stop anti-social behaviour. 
* Toughen penalties against hoons. 
* Strike a new pay deal with teachers. 
* Legislate to save Royal Perth Hospital. 
* Inject $10 million to reduce surgery waiting times. 

As this blog went AWOL during the election campaign we’re playing catch-up now on Liberal policy and promises.

Let’s just pick up on the Save RPH thing. The Fiona Stanley Hospital, still years from opening, cannot find enough staff, including specialist doctors, to work there. How the blazes are they going to recruit if RPH stays open? Let alone the other costs of maintaining the two campuses. $10 million on cutting surgery waiting times isn’t going to go very far at all.

And tax cuts? If people voted against the Carpenter government because they squandered the proceeds of the boom with little to show then what are tax cuts going to do?

Between more sandwich-and-milkshake sweeteners and the Nationals’ deal to whisk $675 million into rural areas what is Barnett expecting to buy with the coins left over?

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