Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Iron Lady only had partial rights to do what she did

Meryl Streep deserves great praise for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady", despite the screenplay itself lacking from its superficial coverage of each of the important events in Thatcher's political life (unfortunately a more fulsome coverage would have run for too long for the average Oscar contender). She shows the leadership qualities that gained Thatcher her steely reputation, but also exposed the arrogance that is a leader's greatest enemy.

The fine line between leadership and tyranny

We want our leaders to lead.  We don't want them to dominate, terrorise or control our lives.  I don't agree with Thatcher on a range of her policies and approaches, but I respect her for stating her perspective and for being elected by the British people.  What I don't respect is her belief that her way was the only way.

As a hard-line conservative, Thatcher believed that all people had a responsibility to work, to earn an income.  Yet she went further, by stating it as a duty. 
"when people come and say:"But what is the point of working? I can get as much on the dole!" You say:"Look" It is not from the dole. It is your neighbour who is supplying it and if you can earn your own living then really you have a duty to do it and you will feel very much better!" 1
This debate plays out in all democracies, and there is certainly truth to the sentiment - without people choosing to be productive, society would have no progress.  However, Thatcher puts her perspective as an absolute.  It is this "moral absolutism" that is of concern, rather than the view itself.

When leadership gives way to righteousness

Thatcher's downfall is often portrayed as the infamous cabinet meeting in which she chastised her colleagues as children.  While this obviously had a role to play, the (almost) equally famous resignation speech in the Commons by the Chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Howe, made it clear that it was Thatcher's refusal to consider any alternative views on integration with a European monetary union that was actually to blame.  As he said...
"Cabinet Government is all about trying to persuade one another from within". That was my commitment to Government by persuasion--persuading colleagues and the nation. I have tried to do that as Foreign Secretary and since, but I realise now that the task has become futile...The conflict of loyalty, of loyalty to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister--and, after all, in two decades together that instinct of loyalty is still very real--and of loyalty to what I perceive to be the true interests of the nation, has become all too great. I no longer believe it possible to resolve that conflict from within this Government. That is why I have resigned.

We can all take the lesson that leadership is no longer leadership when nobody is following any more.

Let me know what you think.

Mark S

Monday, 21 November 2011

Hat-wearing etiquette's time to enter the modern era

Recently I walked into a lawn bowls club on match day wearing my black fedora-style hat.  I was told that I had to remove my hat as it was club rules. I looked around and there were the ladies sitting there with their hats on. Of course, the rules are that ladies MUST keep their hats on in the club. Hmmm.

John Brack: Collins St 5pm, 1955
Now I'm not completely opposed to etiquette, or "when in Rome..." type standards, but I am opposed to standards that are imposed that make no sense at all in 2011.  This hat issue is certainly one of those.  According to all writers on hat etiquette, when the wearing of hats was commonplace until the middle of the 20th century, there were a long list of hat wearing rules that men and women followed.  John Brack's famous painting reflects that era in "Collins St 5pm".

It's important to remember that during those times, issues of gender inequality along with class/status issues were integral to Australian, American and British culture (one might argue it hasn't much changed in Britain!). So, a man removed his hat to deference to a superior or to a woman.

If I wear a hat, do I have to relinquish sexual equality?

So, the etiquette of the mid 20th century has been largely forgotten, and now hats are making a comeback.  Those who are old enough to remember the traditions of 50 years ago expect that the same protocols should apply now. As a man, I am expected to remove my hat in the club, but the women are expected to leave theirs on.  Huh? It no longer makes any sense.

If the etiquette is about a hat being an outdoor item, then men or women should take a hat off when indoors.  Or, a more modern take on hat etiquette is "if you are in transit, leave the hat on. If you’re stopping or sitting or staying for a while, take it off." Again, that would make equal sense for men and women.

Fashion - it's the new thing

The fashion advisers are telling us guys that hats are in.  The retailers are selling us lots of cool hats, and the paparazzi are happily snapping the models indoors with their hats on in the spring carnival marquees.

Of course, the ladies wear their hats all day, but it's just as sensible if it's a men's fashion item that they should wear their hat as well.

Don't make me fight you, old bowls and RSL clubs

I'm not going to shame the bowls club I entered or the RSL club with this published policy

At no time is the following allowed -
- Hats/beanies, including bandana’s
            (ladies are allowed to wear hats when worn as a 
              fashion item, not caps etc)

But needless to say, these clubs are now out of touch with modern society. If they don't want hats worn inside - then, fine - for men and women alike.  But, hanging onto their sexist rules are just anachronistic, like some of the committee members.

OK, so hat etiquette isn't the most important topic in the world, but it still shines a light on how old traditions can undermine modern equality

Let me know what you think

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Why does Bill Evans want Australia to have a recession?

Bill Evans, Westpac
Glenn Stevens, RBA
Back in July, Westpac's chief economist Bill Evans forecast the European economic problems would slow growth and result in a decrease in official interest rates by 100 basis points.  Nobody else was predicting that, and yes, he got it right when the Reserve Bank dropped rates by 25 basis points in November. But why does he insist on interpreting every statistic through the lens of their own prediction?

By sticking to the prediction that rates will decrease by a further 75bps, Bill Evans is forecasting the cash rate to fall to 3.75%.  That is well below a neutral level, so the only reason we will get a rate that low is if Australia falls into recession. The Reserve Bank is forecasting Australia's growth to continue at trend rate of 3-3.5%, so why does Westpac continue to talk up their prediction and talk down the economy?

Stick to your guns, but be fair

I respect Bill Evans for having a view, but recent economic data is indicating that the Australian economy is turning upwards.  As new data has arrived, it seems that Westpac are only looking for evidence to support their "rates down by 75bps" view, rather than taking an objective look at the figures.

Sure, if they believe that Europe is going to hell in a handbasket, then there is a case that Australia will fall into recession.  But you can't just dismiss positive data because it doesn't fit your theory.

My call is for stable rates

For what it's worth, I think rates will stay where they are now for some time. I don't see any change in December, and the green shoots of growth give me cause to think that by February our consumer economy will be looking OK.  Combined with the very strong mining sector, and my thought that the next inflation numbers won't be quite as low as the October figures, I'm tipping no change in February as well.

Of course, if Europe really does disintegrate, then that's a different story, but unlike Bill Evans, I'd be prepared to change my view if the data do change. (Oh, and I am putting my money where my mouth is!)

Whatever your view might be, you still have a responsibility to interpret new data objectively.  I don't believe that Westpac are doing that at the moment 

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Monday, 14 November 2011

Greece and Italy set to gain proper governments from the wreckage

No more bunga bunga capitalists. No more crazy socialists.

While Greece and Italy have been forced into dramatic political change, for the first time in many years, they are set to be led by men who will govern the country with less interest into popularity.  Lucas Papademos in Greece and Italy's most likely PM Mario Monti are "technocrats".  That's political speech for "they'll get on with managing the economy".

It takes a crisis to find a leader

Not every crisis produces leaders of quality.  But serious crises do create an urgent need for change, even more urgent than an election.  The paradigm changes.

The paradigms in Greece and Italy (and a number of other European countries) has been to continue to do the  same that's always been done, just because it's always been the way.  There's even been acknowledgment that things could be better, but there's been no political will to change.

Finally, like a company in crisis who calls in the administrators, the new managers will be expected to fix the mess.  They won't expected to be popular, they won't even be expected to consult widely.  They will be expected to get the job done.

Frankly, we need more focus from our world leaders on getting the job done, and less focus on 10 second voice grabs.

Lucas and Mario - please stick to your guns and fix the mess.  The people will respect you for it.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Australia's carbon price legislation is a sign of growing up

After years of dithering, today's decision by the Senate to pass the Clean Energy Bill is a momentous occasion in more ways than one.  Yes, I think the policy itself is a good one, but it's the maturity as a country that has really struck a chord internationally.

So the largest polluters will pay for carbon emissions, pass on the costs to consumers who will be compensated, and clean energy innovation will thrive.  Economically and ecologically the evidence suggests this will be a positive for Australia.

Huge international interest

But what has been more compelling is the positive international response. Within 12 hours, there are over 800 global news stories covering this decision, and a variety of opinions.

BBC: Australia's Senate has approved a controversial law on pollution, after years of bitter political wrangling.
WSJ: Australia's Carbon Tax Clears Final Hurdle
Xinhua: A latest report showed the carbon tax will cost 0.98 trillion U. S. dollars on the Australian economy, or 39,086 U.S. dollars per Australian from July next year to 2050.
TVNZ: Australia passes landmark carbon tax laws

Leadership by Gillard

Whether you like the law, or dislike it; whether you see it as an economic positive or negative, this story has put Australia's leadership credentials on the global stage.  Rather than waiting to be led by the next Kyoto round, or following the path of larger countries, Prime Minister Gillard has shown real leadership.

Whether you agree with him or not, you can't ignore the power of Al Gore.  And when he says, "With this vote, the world has turned a pivotal corner in the collective effort to solve the climate crisis,” it is a clear sign that Australia is setting the agenda on a major issue.

After failing to vote for a Republic 12 years ago, finally Australia is growing up.  Whatever your views on the Clean Energy Act, we should be proud to take our place on the world stage. Oh, and it's good for our brand.

Let me know what you think

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Why do Christians get a special seat at the tax table?

The Federal government is holding a tax  forum on Tuesday 4 October and Wednesday 5 October to discuss priorities and directions for further tax reform.  After all the reviews we've had, let's hope any reforms are good for Australia.

What concerns me is who is getting a seat at the table - particularly the special treatment for Christian groups.

There have been 20 invited participants representing the community. 6 of these are representing Christian charities. There are peak groups such as ACOSS and others representing housing needs, but there aren't any non Christian charities who have been invited.

Tax exempt status for religious organizations

This skew in attendees matters a lot.

First, in any fearless review of Australia's tax system we must look at the tax exempt status of religious groups. Why they receive this special privilege is beyond me. And with 6 invited Christians on the forum the government is sending a clear message - "you are important and we won't be touching your tax exemption"

Next, these groups all have the same worldview due to their Christian beliefs. Sure, there are lots of business leaders at the forum to present a business viewpoint, but among community leaders there are vast differences. So, why invite 6 groups representing the same ideals and broadly the same people?

Apply to be an attendee

There is one thing you can do. There are still 12 places available for community participants. Expressions of interest close this Friday 12 August. So apply.

The 6 Christian charities invited to the tax forum all do good work for the community. But Australia is all for a fair go - not for making one religious group more important than the rest of us. 

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Sunday, 24 July 2011

What we wear is a personal choice. Simple as that.

Recently, the issue of what people should be allowed to wear has been raised in Australia, yet again.  The range of arguments are always based on some pre-conceived idea that one person knows better than another.  Frankly, I can't fathom why anyone would have the arrogance to impose their views on what people should look like.

The burka - it's the woman's choice - like any other dress code

On Q&A on Monday, muslim woman Susan Carland was asked her view on women covering their face.  Her response reflected a mature, balanced view.

" in the end I think a person or a woman should be able to choose how much of her body she shows to other people and if she wants to cover her face and she feels comfortable with that and the laws of our society say that she can, then get over it. You know, I might not feel comfortable looking at people with a face covered in tattoos and a Mohawk but that’s their prerogative. If they want to dress like that, then that’s my issue if I can’t deal with it.

So, Carland is saying that it's the responsibility of the person viewing the individual.

I don't like tattoos, but that's my problem

Like Susan Carland, I'm not a big fan of tattoos, and like her, I agree that is my issue.  I have nothing against Collingwood footballer Dayne Beams, or Miss Bombshell, with all of their ink.  Yes, of course it projects an image - and they are entitled to project that image, and dress their bodies in that way.

Who cares what Kate Ellis wears? Other women apparently

Kate Ellis in Grazia
Last year, Kate Ellis appeared in a fashion spread in Grazia magazine, and last month she appeared on the front cover of the Fairfax press Sunday Life section.  In both shoots, she was dressed in what would generally be called fashionable clothing - including tall heels.  Now Kate Ellis is the Minister for the Status of Women, her appearances in those magazines have attracted scores of comments - mainly critical.

Today's Sunday Life carried a follow up article on the controversy. Women had written in with comments such as "the wearing of super-high stiletto heels represents women as vain, attention-seeking, foolish and potential victims".

Really?? Kate Ellis responds in the article that she wears similar clothes to the office as she wore in the Sunday Life shoot.  So, because she is tall and attractive, women are imposing their own biases.  Again, it's their problem, not hers.

How many times do we need to say it - no woman is a "victim" because of what they wear.  Praise be the Slut Walks
Boston Slut Walk, May 2011

The more times we read comments that accuse women of being victims because of what they wear, the more respect we should all have for the Slut Walks. I've blogged about the issues of dress codes and the Slut Walks before, but the message isn't getting through.

When strong, intelligent women such as Kate Ellis are criticised for dressing as she does, women certainly need a strong voice to stand up for their rights.  Slut Walks are continuing around the world - in cities as diverse as Boston, Seoul and Delhi, and long may they continue.

People will judge you based on what you wear, but that's their problem.  Be who you want to be.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Saturday, 16 July 2011

It's time for a national debate on drug laws - decriminalise and regulate

According to 2009 calculations, the war on drugs in Australia costs $4.7bn. That's slightly more than the entire compensation package for the carbon tax. The debates about drug laws have been topical for decades, and it's time we looked closely at them again. The current system isn't working, and it's illogical.

If we want to minimise harm, shouldn't we prohibit the most harmful drugs? Probably not.

The argument for prohibition centres on the harm caused by drugs.  If this really was the reason, then the drugs that are prohibited should be the ones that are the most harmful.  Unfortunately, this isn't what happens.  A paper published in the Lancet in 2007 by Professor David Nutt from the University of Bristol showed that the drugs that are most harmful are not the ones that are prohibited.

The following chart shows 20 substances ranked by harm, as assessed by a nine category matrix of harm and expert assessment. I have added the two orange bars to divide the drugs into three equal categories.

As you can see from their findings, the banned drugs cover the most harmful such as heroin and cocaine to the least harmful such as ecstasy.  It also shows that our most popular legal drug, alcohol, is in the most harmful category - even worse than tobacco.

So, if we want to ban the most harmful drugs, we should ban alcohol.  Of course, that was tried in the 1920s and led to catastrophic crime in the US.  It was a trial that failed.

What's the next alternative? Should everything be legal? Maybe.

There are many proponents of the legalisation approach, including many countries.   Robbie Swan's article in the Canberra Times this week explained that the results have been overwhelmingly positive.

Calls for legalisation have come from a range of respected sources such as doctors.  GP, Wendell Rosevear was quoted at the Australia 2020 summit saying "I want to give drug addicts choices and I want to legalise all drugs in Australia."

There is a better alternative - regulate and tax.

In between these options of prohibition/enforcement and legalisation, there is another option.  We can regulate, tax and manage.

Those who are in favor of small government oppose regulation on principle.  I'm not one of those.  Well regulated industries are commonplace in Australia, and they generally work well.  Our pharmaceutical industry is carefully regulated.  Why shouldn't the recreational drug industry be the same.

I won't try to suggest the best methods of regulating drugs - but I support Robbie Swan's perspective in the Canberra Times article:

Over the past few decades the use of all recreational drugs has been on the increase except one tobacco. Cigarette smoking is the only recreational drug use that is in decline and that is because governments have control over the product including its packaging, point of sale, price and, most importantly, public health and education campaigns.

Let's start this debate.  Let's make it sensible, and logical.  Rather than prohibiting a randomly chosen set of substances, let's regulate all recreational drugs for the benefit of all.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Correction: The article originally stated that "The most notable of these is Portugal, which legalised personal possession of drugs in 2001." Portugal decriminalised drugs, they did not legalise them.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Julia Gillard to Press Club: "Don't write crap". News Ltd fails to listen on sex slave story.

While Julia Gillard was presenting a well-reasoned and factual case for the carbon tax, News Limited were proving again how lacklustre they are at journalism.  In response to Mark Riley's question about the press corp, her succinct advice was "don't write crap".

Olga the Russian karate hairdresser and bondage mistress hoax

Who is Olga really?
Unfortunately, while the PM was handing out this excellent advice, News Ltd weren't paying attention in class.  Today they ran with "Hairdresser karate kicks bandit, ties him up, feeds him Viagra and uses him as sex slave for three days"

It turns out that this is another one of those great "let's print a story even thought it's two years old" episodes.

According to the Courier-Mail, and most other News titles running the story, this was about a Russian hairdresser named Olga who supposedly was a karate black belt, overcome a robber named Viktor, tied him up and used him as a sex slave, feeding him Viagra for three days.

They took it from the UK's Daily Mail: Robber who broke into hair salon is beaten by its black-belt owner and kept as a sex slave for three days... fed only Viagra

The only problem is, the story is at least 2 years old! Hairdresser turns robber into sex-slave was first published in on 14 April 2009 and the Moscow Times on 15 April 2009 Hair Stylist Keeps Armed Robber as Sex Slave.

Don't you guys all learn!!

What's amazing about all this is that a simple search brings up a story two days ago on Forbes: Same Old Sex Slave, Brand New Gawker Story. So, not only didn't News do any checks, they actually missed the checks that others had done that proved it wasn't recent.

But there's more.  After ninemsn screwed up, they even posted a retraction yesterday! Correction: Salon owner kept robber as sex slave. That would be a major Australian site, guys. *sigh*

So, News Limited hack phones, copy articles and can't even plagiarise corrections properly!!

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Autism - Not a disability - But more common that you might think.

One of the most misunderstood neurological conditions is the Autism Spectrum.  I admit I certainly had a very weak understanding until recently.  The most important lesson is that: "Auties" are not disabled.

Why is this so important? Well, in the May Federal Budget, the Government announced over $2b of investment into mental health services (excellent). However, a lot of this money focuses on treating disorders, rather than assisting individuals to recognise and cope with their differences.  Autism is a classic case.

What is Autism Spectrum? It's not a disability. 

There are a lot of different definitions of Autism Spectrum.  Some get lumped in with the disabilities, as shown by the announcement of the $146m Helping Children with Autism package by Senator Jan McLucas, who is the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers.  Here, Autism is bundled together with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, Fragile X syndrome, and moderate or severe vision or hearing impairments, including deafblindness. The package is fantastic, but the connection with disability is quite inappropriate.

Here is a much better definition from Open University, UK:

Autism involves three characteristic areas of difficulty. 
  • People with autism find it hard to interact socially with others or to make friends...
  • They also have communication difficulties...
  • Lastly, people with autism tend to have narrow interests...

If you want to take a quick quiz on what is real about autism, click here for a great little exercise.

Auties and Aspies are different to "neurotypicals" - it's neurodiversity

Over the last decade, there has been a growing understanding that some people are wired differently to the norm.  The phrase for this difference is neurodiversity.  Here are a couple of definitions:

People experience the world differently based on their neurological attributes, which are equally valid, unique, and socially beneficial experiences of the world that should be celebrated.

The world is going to need all of the different kinds of minds to work together
- Temple Grandin
[Temple Grandin is a world expert on animal behavior and consultant to the livestock industry.  She is also autistic, and an advocate for autistics.  (For a great 20 minutes, watch her TED talk, especially the last 3 minutes of Q&A)]

Nearly 3% of the population may be autistic

Over recent years, the proportion of people with autism has been rising.  Well, actually, the proportion hasn't changed at all - it's been our improved understanding and measurement that is revealing how prevalent it is.

In 2002, estimates for autism spectrum were around 0.6% (CDC)

In 2010-11, according to Autism Victoria, 1% of people are on the autism spectrum.

But the most recent data from Yale Child Studies Center expert Dr. Young Shin Kim, has shown a prevalence rate of 2.64%. This study in Seoul is predicted to be very similar in other countries and cultures.

So, with nearly 3% of the population having autistic characteristics, that's a lot of neurodiversity to embrace.  If we see autism as a valuable asset to our society, everyone will be richer for it.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Homophobia and rape of lesbians in Africa places pressure on FIFA over Qatar

FIFA is proud of its record in addressing racism in football. The Say No to Racism and Fair Play campaigns have been publicised around the world. Despite this, a report in yesterday's New York Times has shown that homophobia is still rife, and FIFA has not progressed.

Lesbians routed from Nigerian World Cup squad

The NY Times article, In African Women’s Soccer, Homophobia Remains an Obstacle, reported on the entrenched anti-lesbian attitude of the Nigerian national coach, Eucharia Uche, who "used religion in an attempt to rid her team of homosexual behavior, which she termed a “dirty issue,” and “spiritually, morally very wrong.”".

Even more damning is the removal of players from the Nigerian team by former technical assistant for Nigeria, James Peters, who said he had "removed some players from Nigeria’s women’s team last year, “not because they were not good players, but because they were lesbians.”"

"Corrective rape" of lesbians is condoned in South Africa and Zimbabwe but the Chosen FEW are a shining light

The article reports that lesbians are beaten and raped in South African and Zimbabwe, as "corrective treatment". One particularly shocking example was the attack on Tumi Mkhuma, of Johannesburg's Chosen FEW, who was raped and left pregnant. "After losing her baby, she said she twice tried to kill herself.

The South African organisation, the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW) was established in 2002 to support LBT rights. Their football team, the Chosen FEW, is comprised of 25 young black lesbian women from townships in and around Johannesburg, who are all activists for the rights of lesbian women in South Africa You can read more about this fabulous side and support the FEW here.

Shocking prevalence of corrective rape is placing pressure on FIFA

ESPN's E:60 program also investigated the issue of corrective rape in South Africa, and uncovered some shocking facts. 80% of South Africans believe homosexual sex is wrong, and they use this as an excuse to rape lesbians. Last year, a women's support group reported that there are 10 new cases of corrective rape each week in Cape Town alone.

Mvuleni Fana was raped in a stadium after
practice when she was 16 because she is a lesbian
The ESPN program (watch here) interviewed a number of inspiring, strong South African women who had been raped. But it is the story of Eudy Simelane which has attracted most notoriety. Eudy was 31 years old, a former national player, a respected coach and openly gay. She was gang-raped, and stabbed to death. Her friend is of no doubt that the crime was committed because she was a lesbian. And the chilling interviews with young men who said such things as "Lesbians get raped because men want to correct them and put them in the correct direction" leaves you in no doubt that Eudy's rape and killing were deliberate and homophobic.

Within this context, there were calls for FIFA to use the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to make a similar stand against homophobia as it has against racism. The Women's World Cup starting in Germany this week is being used as another opportunity to press this case.

But FIFA - what will you do about Qatar?

With this pressure starting to build on FIFA, President Sepp Blatter has been asked to justify why Qatar would be awarded the 2022 World Cup when same-sex relations carries a 5 year jail penalty. On one hand, his response was encouraging:

“It’s another culture and another religion, but in football we have no boundaries. We open everything to everybody and I think there shall not be any discrimination against any human beings, being on this side or that side, left or right or whatever. Football is a game that does not affect any discrimination. You may be assured … if people want to watch a match in Qatar in 2022, they will be admitted to matches.”

But, on the other hand, when he was asked what gays should do to avoid being sent to prison, he replied:
"They should refrain from any sexual activities.”

Surely President Blatter, if there is no discrimination, all people should be allowed to have sex after a great match they have watched at the World Cup - gay or straight

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Monday, 20 June 2011

Greek crisis reminds us to keep a steady ship

The crisis confronting Greece at present is a salient reminder that our country's central bank and government must do whatever is necessary to keep the economy on an even keel, over each economic cycle.

Last week, the governor of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens, gave a speech to the Economic Society of Australia in Brisbane.  He made the important point that - although some parts of the economy had some slack, overall, the Australian economy is very strong.  As a result, monetary policy will be set to meet the needs of the whole economy.

Strong economic decisions allow us to succeed

This will always mean that there are some winners and some losers.  The alternative is to satisfy only the needs of a few small groups within the economy.  This failure to take appropriate decisions when they need to be taken is what leads to economic disasters such as those in Greece, Ireland, Iceland, and to some extent even in the United States.

When good economic decisions are taken such as movements in interest rates, careful government spending, or introduction of sensible policies like a carbon tax or mineral rent tax, these create an environment in which businesses and workers can be confident.

Ironically, the failure of the Greek economy may slow down Australia's enough to avoid an increase in interest rates until later this year.

Sensible decisions from the Reserve Bank, sensible taxes such as carbon tax and mineral resources rent tax, all assist in making Australia the world's leading western economy. 

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The law is an ass - rape is rape

Credit must go to the Herald Sun for their front page story today, Sleeping woman rape trial sparks fury.  This story details how the Victorian Court of Appeal set aside a conviction for a man, Tomas Getachew, who raped a women who was asleep, who had twice rejected his advances, before passing out drunk.

The Court ruled 2-1 that the trial judge had erred in his instructions to the jury.  The minority judge, Justice Lex Lasry got it right when he said:

"The complainant had made clear her rejection of the applicant on two occasions before this incident occurred. When penetrated by the applicant, the complainant was in a position consistent with her being asleep. There was no positive conduct by the complainant which might have led Getachew to conclude that his sexual approach was now being welcomed.''

This is what the Slut Walks are for - to stop rape

Recently, as a man, I was proud to attend the Melbourne Slut Walk, where women joined others at Slut Walks around the world and proudly chanted "Whatever we wear, wherever we go—yes means yes, and no means no!".  As a man at this very civilised protest, it struck me that this message cannot be repeated often enough.  So many men have been brought up in a misogynistic world where they believe that "women are asking for it".

The key message of the Slut Walks is that "women retain the right to say no, and to be heard".

And this is why the decision by Justices Peter Buchanan and Bernard Bongiorno is so perpelexing, and wrong.  The victim of the rape by Tomas Getachew had said "no".  She had said "no" again.  Then she had fallen asleep.  To argue - as the learned Judges have done - that there is any way that she changed her mind after she fell asleep drunk, simply defies logic.

Remember the key message of the Slut Walk - once she said no, she had the right to be heard.

Whatever we wear ... or whatever we drink ... rape is never OK

The Toronto policeman who blamed women for the way they dress could just as easily have blamed them for getting drunk.  It's certainly been an argument put to blame victims many times.  It is simply wrong.

Worryingly, a psychology study in 2006 even found that: Juries blame women for 'drunk rape'.  The study found that jurors:
- decided it was 'reasonable' to assume there was consent even if a woman was too drunk to give it".
- blamed drunk rape victims for 'bringing it on themselves'.

So, it seems that two of our learned judges, who should not be influenced by the same biases as ordinary people, have the same views on victim-blaming that the Slut Walks are trying to highlight.

Let's hope the prosecution appeals to the High Court - and wins

In the words of the wise Home Office spokesperson on learning of these study results: 'We need to tackle the myths. Rape is never the responsibility of the victim.'

The prosecution is considering appealing to the High Court.  They should do so, and should win.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Safe injecting rooms - a necessary step towards harm minimization

Drugs is an emotional issue. At one extreme are those who argue for a zero tolerance approach. At the other extreme are those who argue for legalization of all drugs. In between - where most people can agree - is the need to minimize harm.

When it comes to minimizing harm from heroin use, safe injecting rooms are a proven solution.

Research findings now show the value of safe injecting rooms

In Sydney, Vancouver, Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany, safe injecting rooms have been a success.

Insite in Vancouver
  • Decreased public injection
  • Reduced dangerous syringe sharing
  • Reduced HIV risk behaviour
  • Reduction in publicly discarded syringes
  • Increase in addicts seeking treatment and detox
  • Reduction in measures of public disorder
  • Less bacterial infections such as cellulitis and endocarditis
A major cross-national study by Australian and Dutch universities showed that:

Findings ... have been encouraging. In some areas public nuisance has been minimized, the number of overdose deaths and complications from non-fatal overdoses have decreased, BBV risk behaviour has decreased and health and social functioning of clients have improved.

The Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre has also published statistics over its decade of operation that confirms the value of the facility:
  • 3,500 overdoses managed without a single fatality
  • Publicly discarded needles and syringes has halved
  • 80% reduction in ambulance call outs to Kings Cross
  • More than 8,500 referrals to health and social welfare services.
The Australian and Dutch study identified a range of measures that should be adopted to minimise harm from heroin use.  They concluded:

The trial of supervised injecting centres in Australia represents just one new intervention within a much broader existing harm reduction framework. Additional and complementary interventions may include the distribution of naloxone to drug users, low threshold methadone, needle and syringe exchange in prison, pre-release methadone programmes for prisoners, the facilitation of IDUs to move to non-injecting routes of drug use and the expansion of opioid pharmacotherapies. 

So with so much evidence, why is there opposition to safe injecting rooms?

Based on the facts, politicians, lawyers, health professionals, police, and even church leaders support at least a trial of safe injecting rooms. (Read more from The Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform)

So why is the Sydney facility the only one in Australia?

Perhaps it is because the only political party to treat drug issues as a core policy is the Australian Sex Party

A key Sex Party's policy is to Legalise and increase the number of medically supervised injecting rooms.  

Given all the evidence, this just seems so sensible.

So, who would oppose harm minimisation and safe injecting rooms?

The FCV doesnt' represent
the views of learned churchmen
such as Rev Harry Herbert
Well, at present, there are two main opponents - the Family Council of Victoria and the Victorian Liberal Government.

The FCV is a collection of anti-abortion, anti-drug, radical Christian groups. They do not represent the mainstream view of the churches in Australia. In fact, the Sydney injecting room is run by UnitingCare, and headed by the Reverend Harry Herbert.

So, the Victorian Liberal government is choosing to align with a radical group of Christians, who don't represent the majority of churchgoers, so that Ted Baillieu can say: "We haven't supported injecting rooms, we won't support injecting rooms"

It just doesn't make sense.

Harm minimisation should be a core focus of any public policy.  Safe injecting rooms are critical to minimise harm for drug use and should be introduced without delay.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Monday, 6 June 2011

Business models change. Industries must adapt or die.

Although we are now well into the 21st century, I'm still surprised at how often there are calls to protect certain dying industries in Australia. Protectionism is simply bad economic policy. All it does is delays the inevitable.

The foreign competition argument for protectionism is growing from Bob Katter

Most arguments in favor of protectionism focus on the threats of foreign competition. Bob Katter and his new Australian Party are now leading the charge to "protect" Australia from China, Thailand, Philippines and Singapore. Of course, Bob is just pandering to those who see themselves as under attack from foreigners.  He is drawing on a potentially potent mix of short-term self interest and misguided patriotism, verging on xenophobia.

The Australian Party is committed to providing support and protection to Australian industries and reversing this madness - Bob Katter

Technological change is more important than foreign imports
Horse & buggy, Port Melbourne c.1900

The most important argument against protectionism is actually about technology change. Technology is not new and it will continue forever.

Let's take transport as an example. At the turn of the 20th century, the horse was the most common form of urban transport. But when the motor car was invented, jobs for blacksmiths and farriers declined sharply.  Yes, it was an economic problem for those employed in the horse-related industries.  On the flipside, the motor car created a whole new range of employment opportunities.

The same is happening in the early part of the 21st century.  Technological change from improved manufacturing processes have reduced items that were highly technical to mere commodities, and made them unprofitable.  That's the reason some forward thinking companies such as GE have moved on from manufacturing appliances to focus on higher value products such as medical equipment.

It's (the appliances business) a low-margin low-growth company being attacked by foreign competition

Those appliances are still being made - but by lower cost labor in emerging economies.

Technology change from the Internet is more dramatic

Over the next few years, the Internet will accelerate the pace of change of existing industries.  For example, already the development of Google Maps has rendered the old map making business model obsolete.  And this is just the start.

The big change is that services which used to be provided by experts will now be accessed by individuals themselves.  Instructions and systems are popping up all over the Internet, to do it yourself:

  • Do it yourself wedding stationery - is fast making printers obsolete
  • Do it yourself will kits - reducing the role of the family solicitor
  • Digital photography and Facebook - cutting deeply into the professional photography market.
  • A Google search - reduces the need for the average computer technician
  • ETrade - means most shareholders no longer need a stock broker

If you are a wedding stationery printer, family solicitor, stockbroker or professional photography there is a natural desire to call for some protection for your industry.  Yet, that will only delay the inevitable.  Your industry is changing - you need to change with it.

Create the infrastructure for the layman.  The democracy of Google.

Industries that are currently serviced by experts will slowly become the realm of the layman.  One by one, professional services will be simplified, codified and made accessible to everyone.  It's democratisation by Google.

In 1985 when I was first trading shares, I never thought I'd be able to transact myself.
In 1990 when I was audio taping focus groups, I never thought it would be possible to video tape and edit them on a laptop computer.
In 1991 when I published a book via a publisher, I never thought I'd be able to self publish online.
In 1996 when we built our first website, I never thought I'd be able to create a website.

Instead of each of these services providers being paid for the labor, now we are happier that their knowledge has been transferred into infrastructure that we can tap into as we want.

Consultants and professional services are like manufacturers - be ready for the change

In 2011, there are a lot of things that I still need an expert for, but that won't be the case in 2020.  Consultants and professional services will become more and more accessible.  The change will be towards more and more automation, and online access.  I'm one of those consultants, and I'm enthusiastic about the change.  If you are a manufacturer, you should embrace it too.

If you are in an industry facing change, embrace it.  Specialise, innovate, develop infrastructure.  Just don't ask for protection.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Baillieu is taking Victoria back to 1875 - truly Victorian - truly fucking outrageous

Please be advised that this blog contains swear words (like the one in the title).  Small children and Mr Baillieu are advised to please not read it.

Baillieu as a 19th century Victorian: it looks like the
Sex Party Vic election video had it spot on
With a one seat majority on the floor of the Victorian Parliament, wouldn't you think that Premier Ted Baillieu would want to govern for all. Instead, he is leading the most dramatic charge towards social conservatism this State has seen for a very long time.

He says it's about law and order.  Let's take a look at Baillieu's own rap sheet after only 6 months in office.

Rejection of safe injecting rooms

Despite overwhelming evidence of the value of safe injecting rooms, and the support of the local community in Richmond, Ted Baillieu said "We haven't supported injecting rooms, we won't support injecting rooms, and I don't support the normalisation of any of this sort of behaviour."

It is clear that his focus isn't on law and order with a decision like that.  In fact, law and order is much better served by having a safe injecting room. Mayor of Yarra, Alison Clarke and Councillor Stephen Jolly understand their community.

Cr Jolly said "We can't just put our head in the sand and close our eyes to harm minimisation approaches. It's not good enough."

Well, Ted Baillieu is happy to act like an ostrich on that one.

Passing discriminatory laws

Only yesterday, I wrote about the Victorian Equal Opportunity Amendment Bill 2011 that allows churches and other faith-based groups including religious schools to discriminate.  They don't have to justify discrimination as an inherent requirement on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity.

It was yesterday's blog, so I won't repeat it, but you can access it here.

This Bill certainly has nothing to do with law and order, and everything to do with very outdated social policies, particularly those associated with the old fashioned church.  Ted's upbringing at the Anglican Melbourne Grammar has obviously influenced him.  According to the school's own website, its second Headmaster, Edward Morris chose the motto "Pray and Work" in 1875, and supported the principle that education and religion go hand in hand.

Thanks to Mr Morris, we are now able to date Ted Baillieu's philosophy to 1875.

On the spot fines for swearing. 

Fucking hell, of the three examples this is the most absolutely outrageous. The Attorney-General Robert Clark and Ted Baillieu seem quite proud of their $240 on the spot fines for “Uses profane indecent or obscene language or insulting words”.

When this trial was introduced in 2009/10, there was a 67% increase in offences.  Well, fuck me, if that isn't just a $1.34 million money grab.

88% of offences were males aged 18-59, and since most of the offences were on the street, it's clear that young males will be the most targeted, as they are the ones out having a good time.

Even the director of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is taking a wait and see approach.  As comedian Will Anderson tweeted, "Suddenly my show is going to cost me a lot more next year."  Can you really imagine the MICF without a decent smattering of fuck and cunt - some of which is directed at the audience!! "I'm sorry Rich Hall, but that's profane and indecent - Officer, please hit him up for $240"

Tim Minchin sings "Fuck the Poor" at the MICF gala
In IndiaTorontoJerusalem, and New Zealand, and other locations around the world this decision has been reported and is turning Victoria into a laughing stock.  What, those nice Australians who swear all the time, and even launch major tourism campaigns with "Bugger"...!!

Stop fucking up Melbourne - we are proud of who we are

Melbourne is one of the most vibrant and interesting cities in the world. We are a city of culture, edginess and spirit. This is one of the most livable cities on the planet.

Ted Baillieu doesn't trust the good people of this State to create and maintain an outstanding society that is envied by the world. He wants to impose nanny state restrictions and 19th century morals.

Wake up We've moved on to the 21st century because what we have built for ourselves is better than some nostalgic view of the time of Queen Victoria.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Disgrace. Baillieu Government votes for discrimination rights against LGBT and mothers

Let's not beat around the bush on this one.  The Victorian Equal Opportunity Amendment Bill 2011 allows churches and other faith-based groups to discriminate.  They don't have to justify discrimination as an inherent requirement on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity.

This Bill reflects the views of the noisy Christian Lobby, hot on the heels of their equally disgraceful campaign against the Rip and Roll campaign in Queensland.

Baillieu ignores Parliamentary rules to pass discrimination bill

What is even more galling is that this Bill was reintroduced to Parliament for a vote after it had already been defeated.  Instead of abiding by the normal rules of Parliament, when Mary Wooldridge missed the vote the first time, the Premier decided he didn't like that outcome and didn't like the rules.  The defeat of the Bill the first time should have been the end of it.  This cynical rejection of the rules is as unacceptable as the Bill itself.

Mothers will suffer - not just gays

This Bill will open the door to discrimination against mothers.  I've been proud at the last two companies I have worked for that two wonderful women have been promoted to senior roles, while they were on maternity leave.  Most likely, single mothers will be singled out. This terrible Bill will turn back the clock and justify religious groups and religious schools in ignoring all of the gains that have been made in equal rights for women, as well as for all people based on sexuality, sex and gender identity.

March in the streets.  Lobby your MLC. We are as mad as hell.

This week when the Australian Christian Lobby campaigned against Rip and Roll, the equal rights communities responded strongly.  With credit to AdShel, they reversed their original decision to take down the posters.  Campaigning does work.

With this discrimination Bill having passed the lower house, we must lobby Victorian Upper house members.  The Government has a majority in the Upper house, and the Bill will most likely pass, but we can't go down without a fight.

Lobby your legislative council member.  March in the streets.  If equality is worth fighting for, this is the first battle.

The passing of the discrimination Bill by the Baillieu government highlights a desire by some sections of society to return to the past.  We cannot let progress by overturned by bully boys and the Christian right. 

Let me know what you think.

Mark S

ABC: Fury as Vic government retakes lost vote
SMH: Vic govt casts rules aside for revote
Equal Opportunity Act 2010
Equal Opportunity Amendment Bill 2011

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

R18+ computer games makes sense. Support the new classifications. Fill in the survey.

This week the government announced the draft Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games.  The government media release stated that "Extensive public consultation in 2010 on whether there should be an R18+ category for computer games revealed overwhelming support for its introduction."  The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) will decide whether to approve an R18+ classification for games at their July meeting.

This is a call to arms! Support the R18+ classification.  Fill in the survey

Let's all get behind these sensible and mature changes to the classification of computer games. As TV, movies, websites and computer gaming all merge into one, there is no sense in discriminating.

As part of the engagement process, the Australian Government has released a survey to register your opinions to these new classifications. PLEASE FILL IN THE SURVEY HERE

Kudos to the Australian Sex Party for a committed campaign

The Australian Sex Party has run an excellent campaign to promote these changes to computer games classifications.  It was the only political party to campaign on these issues at the recent Federal and State elections.  Without parties such as the Australian Sex Party, there would be little debate on these issues.  Or worse, the loud voice of the Australian Christian Lobby would be heard over the voices of the many.

As the Attorneys General stated, there was overwhelming support for this change to the classification - yet the only political party to voice the thoughts of the majority was the Australian Sex Party.  This is democracy in operation.

The Australian Sex Party's media release on the new classifications can be accessed here.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Shocking live cattle abuse in Indonesia deserves tight regulation but not the banning of an industry

In last week's blog "You don't ban a whole industry because of a few bad eggs", I explained the importance of self-regulation by companies.  That article focused on self-regulation in the porn industry, to ensure that workers are not exploited.  
Mistreatment of cattle at Indonesian slaughterhouses

Tonight's episode of Four Corners uncovered torture of live Australian cattle in Indonesian abattoirs, essentially exploitation and harm of the defenceless workers.  The revelation only came to light as a result of an investigation by Animals Australia, and then by Four Corners.  The  images are shocking. 

Self regulation means setting real standards and sticking to them

Ideally, the Australian cattle industry would be self regulating, to ensure the humane slaughter of the live cattle being sent to Indonesia.  The industry, under the control of Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) and Livecorp, has standards that are expected to be observed by the slaughterhouses, and it even inspects these slaughterhouses and conducts training.  Some of the facilities conduct themselves in a way that satisfies those standards.  Unfortunately, as shown on Four Corners, many of them fall horribly, inhumanely, short of acceptable.

What is clear is that the cattle industry is not enforcing its standards adequately.  Nobody in the Australian industry wants cattle harmed.  Yet they continue to allow it.  The self regulation of the industry is tepid.  A strict enforcement of standards could easily be implemented by developing a tight set of regulations, including mandatory stunning of cattle before they are killed.

In fact, only 10% of Indonesian abattoirs currently stun the cattle.  Despite significant efforts by people such as Greg Pankhurst, whose company, Juang Jaya Feedlot, has installed many stunning devices, most Australian beef is still being killed without stunning.  Pankhurst says that "You could probably say 90 per cent of our animals could be stunned within 18 months to two years".

Despite Pankhurst being one of the leaders in animal welfare within the cattle industry, a self regulating industry would impose a zero tolerance policy.  What he is suggesting is that with 10% compliance now, 90% compliance in 2 years will be OK.  Surely, that is not what self regulation means.

Sometimes industries need a very large nudge

Today, LiveCorp has announced that it is suspending exports to three facilities.  It is taking a stand against maltreatment of cattle.

To get to this step has taken a strong nudge through this major campaign from Animals Australia and of course, a very public 45 minutes on national TV, with extensive press coverage in Australia, Indonesia and around the world.

This reinforces the need to encourage individuals and groups to speak up against the breach of standards.  Animals Australia should be congratulated on bringing this atrocity to our attention.

The government may regulate, but we must resist banning the industry.

In last week's blog, I posed a question around what should be done when a "Manufacturer X, that sells Product A, exploits and harms their workers".  Most people would agree that the manufacturer should be prosecuted, and consumers might boycott the product.

However, banning the product completely isn't the answer.

The case of live cattle exports is an example where a particular problem certainly needs to be fixed.  There are many ways that the Australian government could regulate.  Indeed, if an industry has proved itself too slow or incapable of self regulating, then government regulation is appropriate. But, the solution is not to ban the trade.  

The government should insist that live cattle may only be exported if they are delivered to a certified slaughterhouse, which uses stunning to kill each animal.

Industries, beware! There are costs of ignoring your own standards. The Greens will get you.

I've seen so many industries pay lip service to their internal standards, believing that they can get away without walking the talk.  In every case, this deceit comes back to bite them on the arse.  Tobacco, gambling, banking, alcohol, telemarketing, cattle, porn, manufacturing ...

As an industry, you must set standards, and insist that they be adhered to. No wiggle room.  If you breach your own standards, government will impose tighter regulations on you - it will hurt the bottom line more than the ill-gotten gains you made.  If you still ignore the standards, you will be prosecuted. 

But it is only in the extreme case where the whole industry ignores an imposed set of standards for an extended period of time that the industry might be shut down.  The live cattle industry isn't at that point of no return yet, and the calls of politicians tonight to close down the trade are misguided.  The Greens are using an appalling situation as an excuse to peddle an agenda.

We must expect standards from all industries, but we must also support economic liberties. Our government should not ban any industries just on principle.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Hey Lindsay Fox: The economy is no excuse to compromise on women's rights

Lindsay Fox's encouragement to women to have 6 babies in 7 years reflects an outdated view from an old generation.  His economic objective makes sense - grow our population. It's the social element that is two generations out of date.

Fertility rates in the developed world are permanently lower since women's liberation

This chart shows the fertility rates for Australia and the US since 1950.

As you can see, the numbers of children born per women plummeted since the availability of the pill. It wasn't that women actually wanted 3 or 4 children each - they simply had no way to plan their family.

Lindsay Fox would need to turn Australia into Burundi

But take a look at this map of fertility rates around the world. It's only the poorer sub saharan African nations where fertility rates are above 5.0.  Those countries lack the same liberties for women that developed and even developing nations enjoy.
Except for sub-saharan Africa, almost all of the world has lower fertility
rates than Australia in the 1960s

To populate Australia the way Lindsay Fox advocates would require the wholesale rejection of contraception, and decades of feminism. We would need to have a culture like Burundi, where a woman's primary role is to breed boys for agricultural labor.

Obviously that isn't going to happen.

We can import population, Lindsay, so hopefully you support that as well

The first half of Fox's suggestion sounds like a great idea ...  "go home and make love tonight and create another baby for Australia.". But I'd strongly encourage safe sex, and remind Lindsay that you don't have to create a baby when you make love.

The economic premise of Lindsay Fox's suggestion makes a lot of sense - more people in Australia has a whole raft of economic benefits. But there's an obvious alternative to 1950s fertility levels. Let's just increase migration.  I've written a blog on migration here, so won't go over that again.  However, I would call on Lindsay Fox to support that option.

The key issue is that a suggestion to achieve a valuable economic solution by reducing women's options is just not acceptable. It's even more of a concern when it is said in humor or by a well respected citizen like Fox, as it softens the blow, and entrenches very old-fashioned attitudes.

We cannot condone any comments that suggest women should comply with any set of behaviors - especially those that reduce their equality

Let me know what you think

Mark S