Friday, 21 September 2012

Loving in Japan

Greetings from Tokyo. 

One of the interesting things about being in a different place is that different social norms and customs generate a commercial requirement for different types of services. 

Many single people in Tokyo live in small studio apartments, not much bigger than a student dorm room. They choose to do this to have personal privacy rather than to live in shared accommodation like many inner city dwellers in Australian cities. 

You can hear your neighbors! You need a love hotel. 

So you are single in your 20s. You pick up at a bar. You live in a dog box with clothes hanging from the ceiling and not enough room to swing a cat. 

You aren't going to impress your new friend at home, and with some enthusiastic intimacy, you will break a whole bunch of rules with your neighbors. 

What do you do? Go get a room. And thankfully, a whole industry called love hotels will rent you a really nice room for a perfectly decent price for either 3 hours ($40-50) or overnight.

Where are these love hotels? Right around the corner from the nightlife districts. It's a great example of the market delivering supply to satisfy a need. 

Let the market do its job - there is so much we can learn from other countries

Monday, 10 September 2012

The worst abuse of statistics by Rev Peter Jensen

Tonight on Q and A, we witnessed one of the worst abuses of statistics - and it causes real harm.

A correlation is not causation

Peter Jensen - you sinned by misusing statistics
Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen asked for a sensible debate about the health issues of being gay, on the basis that gays have shorter lifespans on average than non gay people.

This is the most heinous misuse of statistics.  A correlation (when two things coexist at the same time) does not mean that one thing causes the other.

Observe the following facts:
- People who live in Africa have a shorter lifespan than people who live in Australia
- People who are overweight have a shorter lifespan than average
- Men have a shorter lifespan than women
- People who are gay have a shorter lifespan than average
- Indigenous people have a shorter lifespan than average
- Smokers have a shorter lifespan than average

Does this mean...
- Africans are genetically weaker?
- If you are overweight, you should lose weight to live longer?
- If you are a man, you should become a woman to live longer?
- If you are gay, you should become straight to live longer?
- Indigenous Australians are at fault for their shorter life spans?
- To live longer you should stop smoking

Clearly, some of those statements are nonsensical, some are provocative, but they are all equally plausible (or implausible) from the data.  None of them should be stated without more facts.

What is really going on?
  • Africans and indigenous Australians have a poorer standard of nutrition, water and healthcare among other things.  It is these things that cause shorter life spans.  The reasons that these groups and others around the world have these conditions is complex and varies from location to location.  However, this does not means that Africans or indigenous Australians are at fault for their shorter life spans.
  • People who are overweight, and men have a higher risk of certain conditions which end your life.  Diabetes and heart failure are two of these.  Would losing weight reduce your risks? Yes, controlled studies have shown this.  Would becoming a woman reduce a man's risk? Who knows - there have been insufficient studies of transsexuals to evaluate?
  • Gay men live on average shorter lifespans than average.  Why? There are a myriad of possible factors including higher rates of mental illness, which does shorten life spans.  Why do gays have higher rates of mental illness? There are many contributing factors, but the suggested solution that gays should try to not be gay is more likely to increase mental illness than decrease it.

  • Smokers have shorter lifespans, because smoking increases the risk of lung cancer.  Lung cancer will end your life.  Therefore: smoking - causes - lung cancer - which causes death.  This is the only one of these statements that is a proven causation.

Misuse of statistics is not an accident

Peter Jensen, you are a learned man.  You studied the rigorous discipline of law, you have multiple degrees.  You know the difference between a correlation and causation.  You know that you are being deliberately mischievous when you were asked to comment on Jim Wallace's quote that included...
"The life of smokers is reduced by something like seven to 10 years and yet we tell all our kids at school they shouldn't smoke...But what I'm saying is we need to be aware that the homosexual lifestyle carries these problems..."

He is trying to argue that there is a causal relationship between both smoking and death and a gay lifestyle and death.  There is a relationship for smoking.  There is no relationship for a gay lifestyle.

You know the difference Peter Jensen.  You know.

Peter Jensen, your knew your comments would get traction. You misused statistics deliberately.  That is sinful. Christ would not have done that.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

A solution to the foreign sale of Australian farms

The emotional and political debate about the sale of Australian agricultural assets, particularly to Chinese interests,   needs a more objective perspective. 

Two types of assets

Cubbie Station - a political football
What is an asset like Cubbie Station?  It's actually two assets. One is the land and resources under the land. The second is the right to produce food or crops from farming. 

This isn't just a technical point, it's critical to the security of Australia and to the debate. 

Separate the assets

A lot of the debate quite rightly surrounds the ownership of large tracts of Australia by foreign owners, especially foreign governments.

There is also acknowledgment that Australia lacks the capital and commitment to farm our arable resources to their full capacity. So, we need to work with foreigners to make productive use of the land.

So, we can lease the asset, rather than sell it. 

The UK model

For centuries, the UK property model has sold long term leaseholds over residential property.  If you "buy" a flat you are most likely buying a 90 year lease, not the freehold. 

We should adopt this model for significant Australian agricultural landholdings. Sell a 100 year lease. It provides food security for the Chinese buyer, but does not relinquish the ultimate ownership of the Australian land. 

Selling long term leases of Australian agricultural properties is a win-win for all. 

Let me know what you think. 

Mark S 

Monday, 2 July 2012

Happy Carbon Tax Day

So, today was the first day of the Clean Energy plan, highlighted by the introduction of the carbon price on major emitters.

There are 294 companies to pay the tax

So, let's set a couple of things straight.  There are 294 liable entities for the 2012/13 who have to pay the carbon tax.  No, it isn't 500 companies as been widely reported.  It's just 294.

Most of them are involved in energy or mining, plus a number of councils who operate landfills.

Hardly any impact on the average person

How is this going to affect the regular person? Well, some prices will go up, but the average person will be compensated, so there will be very little impact.  In fact, many people will finish off better off.

Given that prices go up and down for various reasons, it will be very surprising if the carbon tax impacts are as noticeable as the GST.  It isn't as if prices will suddenly go up by 2% this week.  Instead, companies that have to pay the carbon tax will carefully consider their pricing, and will make decisions as to whether they will pass the price on.

Companies that increase their prices will risk losing customers, so that is quite a disincentive. And given the level of industry support, there is a good chance that many won't shift their prices, at least not straight away.

So if people won't lose and companies won't put prices up, how does this work?

Just to clarify, there will be some price rises.  But, the real way that the carbon tax will work is to penalise companies that pollute and advantage those that are clean.

Very quickly, capital will move towards the green companies (we are already seeing that happen). And the big energy companies are accelerating their green programs.

Dirty coal plants like those in the Latrobe Valley will be phased out, and workers in those plants will transition to other jobs.  Some will stay in the energy industry and others will do something different altogether.

Economists call this the productive use of resources. I call it helping to get workers out of dead-end industries.  There are hardly any blacksmiths any more, and that's because there are a lot less horses being shod.  In a few years time, there will be a lot less brown coal workers, and that will be because we will have weaned ourselves off brown coal.

Any change is contentious and emotional.  The carbon tax is a good change.  Time will show this to be true.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

P.S. Check out the website for more information

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Why can't we see that life is still very good?

We don't know how good we have it.
We Australians have a very good life.

The fundamentals of the Australian economy are very good.  Most people have a job.  Businesses are still profitable. Health care is the best it has ever been.  The quality of our food is high.  So why is there a pall of gloom hanging over us?

We compare ourselves to what we had 

Rightly or wrongly, humans evaluate our state in terms of gains and losses. Rather than looking at how wealthy we are or how much food we have, we instinctively assess whether we have gained or lost.  During the mid 2000s boom, most people had more money (even if a lot was on credit), jobs were very easy to get, asset prices were booming and confidence was high. 

Now, everyone feels like they have lost (unless you are one of the small number who work in mining).  We are all a little behind what we were at the peak.  Oddly, although our logical brain knows that Australia is in a strong position, and much better than the rest of the world, our emotions win the day. We feel the losses. It is those feelings that dominate. 

Unfortunately, our emotions then have a big say in our decisions. Our logical brain says "everything is fine - we have plenty of money, just not as much as 2008".  Our emotions say "look at how much money we have LOST. Let's batten down the hatches."

Sentiment then feeds off itself 

Once the emotions win the battle, the negative feedback turns into reality. People stop spending. Businesses start failing. People lose jobs.

Job hunters queuing for 50 jobs at London Zoo
We can override these emotions. We need a different frame of reference. Rather than comparing to the past, we can compare to other benchmarks. We can compare ourselves to the British or the Americans. These are western nations that we can relate to. 

We need stories comparing the average Briton, or American to the average Australian. We need to see our current state as a WIN not as a LOSS. 

If we don't do something quickly to defeat our emotions, they will make our very fears a reality. 

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Government report on micro-betting misses the mark again

Today the Federal Government's draft review of the 2001 Interactive Gambling Act was published.  I have a particular interest in this legislation as I used to be in the online gambling industry.  Now I am just an interested observer, and I'm still surprised at the misunderstandings that exist, like this big one...

Recommendation 25: Because of the greater harm associated with ‘micro-betting’ from a problem gambling perspective, ‘micro-betting’ should be prohibited irrespective of the electronic medium (that is, telephone, internet, etc.) by which the bets are placed.

You'd think this would be based on some research, or merit, wouldn't you?

Fear trumps evidence, again

In the same section of the report,

  • Racing and Wagering Western Australia noted that: ‘in-the-run micro-betting’ ... would be akin to games of chance for the majority of the target audience and expose greater risks of problem gambling ...

  • Betfair noted: According to a report conducted by the UK Gambling Commission in 2009, there is no evidence that online in-play betting (including ‘micro-betting’ after an event has commenced) poses a “specific, identifiable risk to problem gambling as opposed to other forms of betting or online gambling.
So, a government department makes a scary claim, and a private organisation quotes a reputable study, but the report chooses to go with the scary claim with no evidence.

It's no wonder I got frustrated when I was in this industry.

The scary claim is wrong.  Plain wrong.

After the release of the report, various people have come out to have their say, including "independent gambling researcher, Sally Gainsbury" on the ABC.  She said:
"If you are looking at something that's like ball-by-ball betting on outcomes that are popping up within a game, this is a form of gambling where gamblers could chase their losses, could spend more than they intended, and it really could be an excessive form of gambling,"

Sorry Sally, but you are just guessing.

A screen shot of our micro-betting - live, real, online
Why do I know? Because I am the only person in Australia who has actually operated micro-betting, legally on the Internet.

Our company provided microbetting services to Ladbrokes, the UK's largest betting company.  And the results were clear.  These microbets were just novelty bets.  The punters placed small wagers.  They didn't increase their bets, and everyone just treated it as a bit of fun.

Our business made a very small profit - much less than we had expected - because the bets were small, and the punters' losses were very controlled.

Eventually, Ladbrokes replaced our service with an in-house product, and because we couldn't offer our service to an Australian operator, we went out of business.

You can lose more, faster, with the TAB!

What really makes me shake my head about all of this is that the betting we were offering is no faster than what is available right now with the TAB in any of the States.  Any day, you can place a bet every couple of minutes on a race.  On a Saturday, that would be at least every minute.

The microbet that we were offering is only available every 4 minutes or so - the average time it takes to play a game of tennis.  So, it's actually less likely to be a form of betting where punters will chase their losses than our beloved horse racing.

I have no qualms about being out of this business, but I do have concerns that wild claims will be believed over solid evidence.

We should be able to rely on our public servants to make considered decisions based on fact and not fear-mongering.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Friday, 11 May 2012

Joe Hockey lies on Sunrise

Joe Hockey: you didn't tell the truth on Sunrise
This morning Joe Hockey blamed the increased cost of electricity on Labor's carbon tax. This is an outright lie.

He said to Tony Burke that people are "concerned about rising electricity costs, and it's because of your carbon tax"

The facts about electricity price increases

Here are the key facts about the electricity price increases:
  • Electricity prices began rising from 2005, when the Liberal government was in power
  • Electricity prices have risen 30% over the past four years
  • The largest factor in price increases is the need to replace and upgrade the ageing poles and wires of the national electricity grid, some of which have been in service for more than 40 years.
  • Increases in demand have increased wholesale prices and transmission and distribution prices
  • Renewable energy certificates (RETs) must be purchased by energy retailers (nothing to do with the carbon tax) which have increased costs
  • State and federal governments regulate the price of electricity through the National Electricity Market (except WA which has a separate regulator). They consider the cost increases incurred to set the prices.

Clean Energy Australia
Reserve Bank of Australia
Roger Dargaville, Uni of Melb

Joe Hockey knows the facts

These facts about electricity pricing are well known to Joe Hockey, he just chose to ignore them when he made his claim this morning. He must be brought to account.

Politicians and other public figures cannot be allowed to make statements that are blatant lies

Let me know what you think.

Mark S

Monday, 7 May 2012

We underrate the fast thinking of footballers, nurses and police

Doug Hawkins - famous in AFL for footy smarts despite low IQ
What are the fast thinking qualities that make a great poker player, midfield footballer, chess player or many other pursuits where there is very limited time for complex decision making? What we do know is that traditional intelligence doesn't measure it very well at all. Football (all codes) is littered with examples of players with  football smarts who are very unintelligent in the "real world". Chess success is also less correlated with IQ than you might imagine.  So what are these smarts?

Let's take a look at what makes good decision making.  

There are four key elements. 

1. Background knowledge.
For example, in football, you really need to understand the rules and the various strategies. If the coach talks about a zone v man on man defence, you have to have all of that knowledge stored away. You need to know which side your opponent prefers to kick with, and a champion Chess player needs to know all of the main opening lines.

2. You need to capture the relevant information at the time.
Scientists and analysts conduct research to collect their data (I'm in that category) but footballers need to gather a lot of critical information in a few seconds. Where is the ball, where are the players, where are they all moving to and more.  Collecting the relevant information quickly is vital. 

3. Processing the information. 
When the high IQ people in the world process information they often use statistics, computers, data models and a whole range of techniques. You can't do that in football and unless you are a computer you can't in Chess either. There isn't enough time.  So, smart players have an alternative method of processing this information that they've captured almost immediately. We know that some of this is innate and some is learned.  We also know that the thinking system they are using is a completely different one to the system I use when I am doing rigorous analysis. 

4. Act on it
The best players sum up all this information and make a decision - generally within one second. Once they have made that decision they have to execute it. A kick to a player, a tackle, a chess move. Actually picking up a chess piece and placing it where you decided to is pretty easy. Kicking a ball through a small gap when you are running full pace is not. 

So what is all this about?

We know that different thinking styles exist and are relevant to different careers. Nurses and police are more like footballers than analysts.  We need more nurses and police, so we need to understand more about this fast thinking style.  We are only scratching the surface but rather than focusing only on analysts like me, let's make sure our education and societal systems recognize the importance of these fast thinking approaches. 

This area hasn't had enough study. I will keep looking out for more information and let's all start to champion these differences as equals.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Studying Apple is useless for business

Apple's share price has increased from $3 in the '80s to nearly $600
AAPL:Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world.  It is now valued at $528 billion. Its products are loved by millions. Steve Jobs is revered as one of the great visionaries of our time,  So why is Apple irrelevant for business study?

Precisely because it has been so successful.

Apple is a fluke

When I wrote The Complete Guide to Australian Gambling in 1991 I told a story of how if Moses and Jesus had both been playing Lotto since they were born that by now Moses would have been likely to have won Division 1, but Jesus would not (he is younger!).  Winning the major prize in Lotto is a fluke.

What's that got to do with Apple? Let's consider how many InfoTech start ups there have been in the USA since 1970.  According to the US statistics bureau, there have been a bit over 500,000.

Now consider how many spectacularly successful InfoTech companies there have been since that time.  Microsoft, Apple, Google, Cisco, Intel, Oracle.  So, that's SIX.  We can argue the toss over a few others that have stood the test of time, but in terms of massively successful InfoTech enterprises that have launched since around 1970 in the US, there are about SIX.

So, ladies and gentlemen, there are your odds of being an Apple - 6 out of 500,000!

So why not shoot for the stars?

I hear you.  OK, even if you have only got a 1 in 80,000 or so chance you still want to try.  Fine.

I think there is a better way than trying to be an Apple.

Let's go back to the US census bureau data,  The most recent data shows that there were 34,543 Information companies that have survived since 1993 or earlier.  And there are only 117,000 in total (so about 400,000 of our start ups have closed down).

Take a look at the 34,543 success stories.  Now you have about a 1 in 15 chance of being one of those.  The odds still aren't great, but they are realistic.  Study these companies.  Rather than hitting it big with iTunes, these companies have developed and maintained solid businesses through the ups and downs of business cycles.  Some are quite large, and others are mom and pop operations, but they have all stood the test of time.

Smaller, resilient businesses didn't have the incredible luck of Gates, Jobs and Co. to be born at the right time and fall over the next big thing.  That's why their lessons are meaningful to you.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Behring Breivik shows how racism must not be given any air

I really don't like writing about evil people, it only gives them oxygen. Yet on the other hand, not commenting allows their evil to grow quietly. Anders Behring Breivik is evil. We need to talk about this.

I don't think he is insane. 

In fact, he was very successful.  It's a terrible conclusion I've had to come to.  To be insane requires a lack of normal mental functioning. That's not the case with Behring Breivik, he is considered and very logical. He thought about why he was taking action, how to do it, and what would stop him from achieving his goals. He executed his plan extremely well. Indeed, as horrible as the thought is, there are many lessons to take from his approach that can be applied to the successful execution of other projects. That's not insane. It's intelligent, sophisticated, rigorous and tough. All of the qualities we would want on our own side.

He is the latest in a long line of killers in the name of race or religion

Srebrenica massacre memorial
When Osama bin Laden masterminded the September 11 attacks, most of the world launched a war against him. But not all, he had tens of thousands or millions of supporters for his killing in the name of Islam and against the West.  When Slovodan Milosevic ordered the genocide of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims which was meticulously carried out by Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic the world was horrified.  The UN and international community have engaged in years of investigations, trials and convictions against the perpetrators. Yet again though, there were thousands prepared to support and carry out this atrocity directly against Muslims, because they were Muslims.

These are just two examples through time.  Most major racial groups have been guilty of shocking racial/religious crimes and often they have been victims as well, at different times in their history.  Christians, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Hutu, Japanese, Turks, Indonesians, British, Germans, French, Russians, Chinese... Race, religion, ideology - all combining into considered deliberate attempts at genocide.

Breivik is no better or worse than all of them. We must stop all racial/religious intolerance. 

So Behring Breivik is just the same. He had a considered agenda. There are many Europeans with his Islamaphobia. He was the most recent to carry out a heinous act in the name of racial intolerance. We must stop all racial intolerance or we allow ourselves to be slaughtered, or to become the slaughterers.  Marine le Pen must be stopped in France. Ahmadinejad must be stopped in Iran. Rick Santorum must be stopped in the USA. But more importantly all the snide racial comments and jokes must be stopped in our living rooms.

Racism and religious fear and hatred must be stamped out before it takes its first breath. 

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Why Gen Y are holding us back

I don't really want to believe this, but the evidence is building.  Gen Ys might be responsible for the economic slowdown in Australia's non-mining States.  Let me explain.

Mortgage rates are low but mortgagees are worried

Over the last month some interesting data was released.  First, the Westpac/Melbourne Institute consumer confidence figures showed that mortgage holders are much less confident than they were. At the same time, the ANZ published some stats showing that housing affordability was its best for a few years.

This doesn't make much sense really.  Interest rates are low by long term standards.  Even though the banks put their rates up last year, and ANZ put theirs up a smidgem recently, the Reserve Bank cuts mean that home loan rates are lower now than they've been for a long while.  This isn't the sort of situation that should make home owners less confident.

House prices are down - maybe that's it

The best reason I can find for this loss of confidence is that house prices are down.  Hmm, that would make sense if they fell in 2012, but they didn't. House prices fell last year, and confidence is down this year.

I can't believe that everyone was blind to the falls in prices in 2011.  Every newspaper was talking about it - we all knew our house prices were sliding.

So what have Gen Ys got to do with falling confidence then?

My daughters are Gen Y, so like any parent I don't want to believe anything bad about these perfect angels, but then again, they've had it rather good!  Seeing the world from their point of view, over the last decade, they've had jobs, had a place to sleep, someone to bail them out and a booming economy.  Of course, they haven't always used those parental safety valves - but they've appreciated them being there.

Now, rather than the economy being a 10 out of 10, it's only an 8 out of 10.  For those of us old enough to remember 4 out of 10 economies, 2012 is pretty good.  yes, unemployment is pushing into the high 5s, but most people still have jobs, and even with issues in Europe, the world isn't falling apart.

For Gen Ys though, any whiff of a problem is scary.  Euro debt problems - aargh! China is slowing - Nooo! Tony Abbott says prices will go up because of the carbon tax - Yikes! If there is one thing that Gen Ys want it is certainty, and even though the fundamentals in Australia are strong, these are uncertain times.

You have shown a link to mortgagees

Gosh, you are right.  So let's get to that.  First of all, a lot of these Gen Ys are the ones who have bought the new houses in the 'burbs over the last few years.  They are loved up, and taken out their first mortgage, and suddenly have responsibilities.  You mean the bank wants me to pay this money EVERY MONTH?? So, it's perfectly understandable if the little dears are a bit worried about everything.

No wonder Gen Y parents look worried!
What about all those young renters, they aren't mortgagees? Well, no, but their parents are, and that's where the parental safety net kicks in.  The kids are getting worried, and what do you think they are going to do - that's right - put their hands out for free rent.  Not my kids of course, it's your kids. And that must make you worried, surely.

There we have it, because the world isn't perfect anymore and Gen Ys have to stand on their own two feet, its their parents who cop it.  Thanks kids!

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Monday, 16 April 2012

Atheist Convention - just a thinly veiled phrase for anti religion. So come out and say that.

I'm finding myself increasingly puzzled by the Atheists. This week Melbourne hosted the Atheist Convention. Essentially as Richard Dawkins said that is a convention of non believers. So I'm trying to think of any other situation where people have a convention to show that they DON'T believe that something exists.  Nobody holds "Tooth Fairy non believer" conventions, so why hold a "Judaeo Christian God non believer" convention?

Is it a reason convention?
Perhaps it's less dramatic to hold a conference on reason and logic but isn't that what Atheists are supposed to stand for. Aren't they simply people who have considered all the reasoned evidence and have concluded that there is no god. Aren't they just trying to emphasize the importance and value of critical reasoning?

I'm all for logical reasoning and objective evaluation of the facts. But the focus of an Atheist convention is the narrow topic of objectively analyzing whether there is a god, and everyone agreeing that there isn't one.

So does being an Atheist mean you make a commitment to Atheism?

Atheist are just as committed to their belief in atheism as believers in other religions are in their deities. And yes, it does include an element of belief because even when we analysts assess data we still have to form a view based on the most likely interpretation, and we have to leave open the possibility that there is a better one.

Yet being an atheist requires a commitment to the conclusion that there ain't a god. That sounds awfully close to a value system to me.

Atheism looks just like another religion

I have this debate with a number of people about what makes a religion. Given that you can believe in any number of religions or cults (religions without many followers) involving none, one or many gods, doesn't a fervent commitment to Atheism look just like a fervent commitment to any other religion?

The Atheists say no. But then again, we are back to opinion based on belief. I say that Atheism is actually the belief that religions based on a God are harmful and wrong.

Frankly, I think there is some merit in that argument, but it moves an Atheist from being a non believer to being an anti-religion campaigner. It makes Atheism a system of thinking based on the unshakeable view that there is no God.

That looks awfully like a religion to me.

Call it for what it is: the anti religion convention

Maybe  "non believer" is tame, "Atheist" is strong and "Anti religion campaigner" is likely to set lynch mobs on you. That could be why the real anti religion ethos isn't front and centre.

I think that's a shame because it is clouding the issues. If the campaigns are really about removing subsidies for religious institutions, then say it. If the campaigns are really about ensuring that every child at every school is taught the scientific facts of evolution, then say it. If the focus is on casting aspersions on the mental capacity of anyone who believes that there is a God or Gods, come right out and state it.

The whole Atheist movement is confusing. There are some very valuable contributions being made to society by Atheists because of the way they understand the world, but I don't see how it matters whether they are Atheists to make those contributions.

After all, if there is no God, then believing or not has nothing to do with it. 

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Paul Howes - somebody IS benefiting from the higher dollar

Today Paul Howes has come out criticising the Reserve Bank's charter, and claiming that "One of the real issues that our country has to come to terms with is that a high Australian dollar is good for nobody."

Sorry, but that's just plain wrong.  Here is some proof that the Australian dollar is good for somebody.

Overseas travellers have benefited

Since the appreciation of the Australian dollar, overseas travel has boomed.  There are nearly an extra 200,000 people a month travelling overseas now compared to 2008.

ABS: Short term resident departures

People buying televisions and computers have benefited

According to the latest ABS data, Audio, visual and computing equipment is down 18.8% in the last year (to Dec 2011).  That means major savings for anyone who wants to purchase these products.  It means that equipment that may have been too expensive for some people, has fallen into an affordable range.  It means that the rise in the Australian dollar has been good for somebody.

Australians buying property overseas

With the higher Australian dollar, that means that Australians can buy property overseas at a much lower price than previously.  It is now in the realm of the middle class income earner, with properties in Europe now attainable for $100,000. Property buyers lured to foreign affairs

Whether it is a lifestyle choice, or an investment, this means that Australians are owning real assets in other countries.  This means that the higher dollar is benefiting those buyers.  Those people are somebody.

Paul Howes - are the Unions as economically inept as Katter

The calls from Paul Howes to review the charter of the Reserve Bank are echoes of Bob Katter's crazy claims to sack the RBA board.  The well managed Australian economy through the Hawke/Keating, Howard/Costello and Rudd/Gillard/Swan years has been nothing short of stellar.  And the independence of the Reserve Bank with its charter and formal agreement with the Treasurer to maintain underlying inflation in a target range of 2-3% PLUS achieve full employment has been a critically stable influence throughout.

Whenever radical statements are made by any side of politics, people listen and get confused between the nonsense and the sensible.  We must remain economically rational.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

One Direction mania - symmetrical faces, endorphins and sex

One Direction: the latest superstar boy band
British boy band One Direction have arrived in Sydney, to extraordinary scenes of screaming teenage girls reminiscent of the Beatles in the 60s, the Bay City Rollers in the 70s and Take That in the 90s.  So, why does this happen?

Attraction and symmetry - they are pretty boys

At an evolutionary level, Cute boys offer the potential for ideal genetic material.  One way to measure this is via symmetry.  Leonardo da Vinci's famous "Vitruvian man" demonstrated the perfect symmetrical figure. More recently, a number of studies have shown that perfectly symmetrical faces present a guide to health and strong genetic material.

I've tested this theory out on the five One Direction boys compared with my own face.  I score a rather paltry 90.5% symmetry score, while the boys range from Niall on 92.6% to Zahn on 96.6%.  Given that this was conducted with publicly available photos on an online tool, it isn't exactly scientifically rigorous, but it certainly heads in the right direction.

On a somewhat more subjective level, there is general agreement among teenage girls that these fellow are "hotties".  That proves that part of the argument than, they are attractive! Therefore, they would make ideal mating material.

Screaming, excitement, endorphins and sex

So, the boys are attractive. Yeah, we know that.  What about the screaming? Well, endorphins are a substance that is released during a variety of situations including exercise, excitement, pain, love and orgasm.  They are similar in structure and effect to opiate drugs.  Of these alternatives, for a teenage girl, excitement and love are two of the most attractive options.  So, when you combine a "crush" on a beautiful boy with the excitement of seeing them, you have the recipe for a release of endorphins.

Where does the screaming come in?

There are a variety of theories why girls scream at the boys in the band.  Certainly it is some combination of expressions of excitement, joy, and (immature) sexual desire.  Once it starts, that only heightens the endorphin release.  Due to the opioid effect, that encourages more of the same behavior, to receive more of the opioid.  The process is the same as for drug taking, and for orgasm.  In some ways, although they are unlikely to be aware of it, this is a young teenage girls form of simulating some of the same positives they will hopefully receive from sexual orgasm in years to come.

So it's all good then - let's all get carried away with some euphoria

If you believe the conservative dogma that young women should be mild mannered, meek and quiet, then you'd be critical of any form of "out of control" response, at any age.  I don't subscribe to this view - I prefer to encourage all of us to experience the full range of human emotions.

Some people will actively seek out pain through experiences like Tough Mudder, others will experience physical and emotional pain that is not of their choosing.  Fans become obsessed with their football teams, and scream at the players.  When people have sex, it can be done with a degree of control, or total abandon, releasing more endorphins. And everyone can benefit from energetic exercise.  All of these experiences, whether good or bad, are part of who we are.

Thanks girls and thanks One Direction, you've brought yet another human experience to bear.  Let your endorphins run wild.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Thursday, 5 April 2012

There is no place for racists like EnergyWatch's Ben Polis. Boycott them.

Ben Polis is a racist. Source: Herald-Sun
The racist and sexist comments on Facebook by Energy Watch CEO Ben Polis are completely unacceptable. What is more concerning is that a young entrepreneur feels he can laugh off any criticism by claiming they are "private comments". It is exactly this sort of justification that allows racism, sexism, homophobia as all forms of bigotry to flourish.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

The growth of social media has seen an explosion in the number of bigoted rants, jokes and pictures being publicized. This doesn't mean that society is becoming less tolerant. What it means is that the intolerance that exists in private in living rooms, bars, pubs, community and sporting groups and workplaces is being exposed to full view.

The cliche is that sunshine is the best disinfectant, so this exposure is an important step in stamping out these abhorrent attitudes.

Boycott EnergyWatch

Congratulations to the Melbourne Football Club for canceling its major sponsorship deal with this bigoted man.

I call on my very own football club Melbourne Victory to do the same. There is no place for this sort of sponsor at our fantastic multicultural club.

And as individuals we should boycott EnergyWatch (I feel ashamed now to have recently used their services). There are plenty of other energy brokers to choose from.

Don't let bigots get away with their comments

When you see a racist, sexist, homophobic or other bigoted comment on social media, don't ignore it. Bring attention to it.

You will probably receive a barrage of criticism but call attention to that as well. Being prejudiced needs to become socially unacceptable within people's hearts. It is only be calling attention to it that the mood will change.

Thank you for being a high profile racist Ben Polis - you have become the lightning rod for all of us

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Melbourne sponsor Ben Polis in racist rant storm
Demons dump EnergyWatch after Ben Polis's racist rants

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Finally, even News Ltd concedes drug laws need to change

When a popular commentator such as Eddie McGuire calls for change to drug laws in a News Ltd tabloid like the Sunday Herald Sun, you know that public opinion is shifting.

McGuire's article:"Time for national debate on evil drug trade" is a major shift for a News Ltd paper.

Yes, it is time for Australia to seriously look at decriminalising drugs

As readers of this blog will know, I've consistently advocated decriminalisation and regulation of drugs.  The first article on this topic "It's time for a national debate on drug laws - decriminalise and regulate" said many of the same things as McGuire.

I'll repeat it again. Let's regulate, tax and manage.

The more recent article "Challenge the narcotics convention" discussed a very practical issue that our lawmakers will need to face to move down this path.

Who will take the lead?

So, now that we have the conservative tabloid contemplating change, will we see anyone from the Liberals supporting these calls? Given the Baillieu government's tough on crime stance, it still looks like the Victorian government is calling the shots from the old fashioned anti-drugs, anti-crime playbook.  Maybe, a kingmaker like McGuire can influence from the inside.  Working for James Packer as he does, he certainly has the connections, and I'd encourage him to have those quiet conversations that are so necessary to make political change happen.

On the Labor side, the social conservatives who still make up so many of the supporters are reluctant to head down this path either.  With Prime Minister Gillard under fire from multiple directions, it's highly unlikely she would be willing to take this issue on right now.

And the Greens have also been reluctant.  While their constituents are most likely to support a different drugs policy, the leadership hasn't wanted to be seen as a bunch of hippie pot smokers.  Again, from a pragmatic perspective, it's understandable, but with recent disappointing poll results for the Greens, I hope they can be encouraged to take more courageous action on socially progressive issues like drugs.  Especially now they can see that drug legalisation is becoming more of a mainstream view.

We will benefit by changing our approach

As Eddie points out, if we choose to spend money on "rehabilitation, advertising and teaching", society will end up millions (or up to $5 billion) in front of where we are now.  Thank you Eddie for bringing this thinking to the Sunday Herald Sun readers.  We need them on board to make these changes happen.

Let's keep discussing drug law reform sensibly.  We will get there.  We will benefit once we do.

Let me know what you think.

Mark S

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Who will support Julian Assange for the Senate?

Last week, Julian Assange announced that he plans to run for the Senate next year. He has a high profile but who will support him.

The major parties won't

Obviously the major parties have their own agenda. There isn't much chance of either of them supporting a firecracker like Assange unless there are preference deals involved.

Assange has attacked Labor and Liberal with roughly equal venom. Neither would be included to help out now.

Socialist Greens v libertarian Assange

The Greens have certainly stood up for Assange. So on one level, he might have an ally there.

But economically, they are poles apart. Assange is a market libertarian. The Greens are economic socialists and protectionists.

All they really agree on is that the major parties are unaccountable. It's not really enough for a close political relationship.

GetUp! Occupy and the Socialists in the malls

Assange's most strident supporters have been the youth based activist groups such as GetUp! along with the various socialist groups who pop up at every rally.

These supporters who have set up the Occupy sites around the  country are even further economically left wing than the Greens.

Sure, they are strident supporters of Assange's open governance agenda but they would shudder if they heard his position in support of market economics.

Would some of them defect to the Assange camp? Maybe, particularly as they are starting to age from being Uni students to wage earners. Like many people moving through that phase, lower taxes are appealing when you are trying to climb the economic ladder.  Some may get behind him.

Independent or new party?

So, if alliances are unlikely, that leaves Julian with the decision of being an independent or starting a new party.  Independents have a tough time of it, so his best chance of success would be to start a new party.  He certainly sits in a space that isn't filled at the moment.  Pro-freedoms, market libertarian, but as he has mentioned in his interview today, he is still in favour of some protections for small business, which fits with his previous statements that you need to force markets to be free.

I welcome Julian Assange to the Australia political stage.  I hope he starts a new party.  I could see myself supporting him.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Sunday, 25 March 2012

A new era in politics after Queensland

The greatest landslide in Australian political history.  The election of 2012 will go down in the annals, and will be debated for decades to come.  I believe it is a watershed.

Time for a new party

Two weeks ago on Q and A, this question was asked by audience member Ralph Panebianco to Malcolm Turnbull:

"Malcolm, I think there should be a new political party in Australia. It should be socially progressive and economically rational... will you create it for us?"

Mr  Panebianco is right.  The Roy Morgan State of the Nation for 2012 reported that: As a nation, Australians are increasingly open-minded and ‘liberal’ and 'Australians are becoming more progressive'.

It also reported that after economic issues, the most important issues facing Australia are government, political and human rights.

So, we need a party that considers BOTH the economy and Australia's liberal and progressive social attitudes.  That sort of a party would represent most of us.  And it just doesn't exist.

Labor represents a dying breed

There are some very good people within the Labor Party (as there are also within the Liberal party and the Greens), but the Labor movement itself is far less relevant any more.  It was born from an era when manufacturing was the largest employing sector.  It isn't any more, and it is shrinking all the time.

It was also born in an era when workers viewed the bosses as the enemy, and power was heavily biased in favour of the employer.  Labour unions were needed. In the late 19th century and much of the 20th century, the power struggle between workers and bosses continued.  This was a hallmark of the Industrial age. Labour parties fought for and achieved much needed rights for workers. Indeed, because of the changes the ALP has achieved in IR laws in Australia, the balance of power is more equal.  The ideals of the labour movement are still relevant, but the movement itself has achieved most of its goals.

Now, the Industrial Age is over in advanced economies like Australia.  We are now in the Information Age, and the power relationships between workers and bosses are thoroughly different.

Queensland could never have voted this way if Labor was as relevant as it was 

Yes, there were very specific Queensland issues that influenced the rout yesterday.  Yes, Anna Bligh's government was punished for a raft of actions that were condemned by Queenslanders. But even some of the safest Labor seats fell.  This is virtually unthinkable.  The numbers don't lie - only the staunchest of Labor supporters stuck by the ALP.  And there are far fewer staunch supporters of the ALP, because the labor movement isn't relevant to them any more.

We need a new political movement.  We need a party that represents what Australians actually want - rational economics and a progressive society.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Carl Katter fights back. Support him.

On Monday, I called on all Australians to:

Be loud. Reject homophobia. Reject Katter. Reclaim the fair go.

Today, Carl Katter (Bob's half brother) has done just that, and more.  He has got loud, with this ad, and he has made it clear that this is not about gay rights.  It is about rights for all of us.

He said it's not OK for politicians to get away with hatred and bigotry.
He said that we shouldn't have to put up with politicians seeking election by appealing to the worst in human nature.

We must support diversity. It's OK to be who you are.

He also said we should be electing politicans who support diversity and tell young Australians it's OK to be who you are.

This is a clear cut issue. Carl is right and Bob is wrong.  I've struggled with being different to others.  I have many friends who have struggled with being different to others.  I have friends and family members right now who are really struggling with being different to others.

All Australians deserve respect.

Let me know what you think.

Mark S

Monday, 12 March 2012

Homophobic Bob Katter shines a light on bigotry. Fight him!

Bob Katter's attack ads against Campbell Newman are a radical throwback to Pauline Hanson's attack on migrants. By using wedge politics, he is seeking to shift the agenda towards his bigoted anti-gay views.

When Hanson tried this, she succeeded in moving the agenda to an anti-migrant stance. It was harmful, and only now are we beginning to see a more balanced discussion, and more active inclusion of recent migrants into mainstream Australian culture.

Fight back against Katter

Don't let Katter achieve his ends. This deserves the vitriol that has poured out against him. The voices of equality must be heard louder than the scared little voice of an old bigot.

Support the Facebook groups. Add your comments to the criticisms. Write to politicians. Whichever is your choice. Just be loud and be often.

It's our fair go under threat

Katter and other establishment politicians often argue for the Australian concept of the fair go. They are right about that.  it has to be a fair go for all. A fair go for Aboriginals, British migrants, Construction workers, Disabled people, Economists, Financiers, Graziers, Homosexuals, Iraqi migrants ...

You get the picture.

By seeking to place any group below any other, this denies a fair go to all of us. We are all members of minorities. No group in Australia can claim to being Australians. Katter's discrimination panders to those who want to deny rights to others. Yet by doing so, they deny rights to their own little group.

No wedge politics

Australia is a fabulous country, because of our diversity and fairness. Don't let anyone take that away.  Katter will gain support from this attack. He may be elected. However, we must make wedge politics as socially unacceptable as smoking in offices or drink driving.

Be loud. Reject homophobia. Reject Katter. Reclaim the fair go.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Genetically modified. Innovative. Productive.

With the focus on Australian productivity, and the decline in manufacturing, we will soon be seeing stories about the innovation of Australian industry.  Today's announcement by the Queensland University of Technology developing genetically modified, iron-rich bananas for the Indian market is a great example.

We should praise scientific innovation - including GM

There has been a lot of criticism of GM food over recent years, but little focus on the benefits.  One of the world's great problems is food security.  As the world's population grows, we need to find methods to increase the amount of nutritious food grown on our limited amount of arable land.

GM is a fantastic example of scientific innovation.  If GM can add iron to bananas, that's something for Australians to be proud of.  Sure, there are many criticisms of GM - some valid, some less so - but the road from innovation to success is never a straight one.

Manufacturing productivity not old style factories

As Australia rapidly moves away from old manufacturing to new, value-added manufacturing, we should encourage scientific advances in agriculture.  The more that we shine a positive light on high-tech research and development efforts leading to high-tech manufacturing, the less we will be concerned about the loss of old-style factory jobs.

Libertarians support the free market

Philosophically, I'm also in support of less controls rather than more over new innovation.  If we want to be productive, and creative, we should release the chains on new ideas.  Whether it is the production of GM crops, or the creation of edgy art and movies, let's embrace new ideas - even if they subsequently fail.

It's good to see positive stories about Australian science and innovation.  Let's keep focusing on the good, not the bad.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A little economic pain now is the perfect medicine

Deputy Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe gave a valuable speech to the Australian Industry Group yesterday.  You can read the detail at the RBA site here.

The implication of the speech is that the structural changes to the Australia economy are necessary, and will benefit us in the long run. Of course, he is absolutely right.

The recession ... I mean ... structural change we had to have

Just as Paul Keating honestly told us in 1990 that we were in the "recession we had to have", Philip Lowe is making it clear that the RBA sees this as the structural change we have to have.

Despite many comments by the Reserve Bank, and others, Australia's productivity is getting worse not better.

And what isn't so apparent to non economists is that the only way for Australia to sustain our improvements in our standard of living is to improve our productivity.

Productivity won't improve without significant change

At a business conference I was on some years ago, we were placed in groups on an oval, around a roped area with numbered squares scattered inside of it.  We had to find the fastest way to touch every square in order with each person only touching one square each time they entered the roped area.  We started by running into the area, touching a square and running out as quickly as we could.  This was pretty slow.  There had to be another way.  We had to be more productive.

Eventually, by looking at the other teams, we all figured it out - "straight line running".  Each person could run straight through the roped off area and touch their foot on one square.  This was much faster, and much more productive.  It was a very different approach.  It took significant change, and fast runners.  Yet, people who were agile but slow runners became less productive than they were when we all ran in and turned quickly to get out of the area. 

There were winners and losers, and everyone adapted as best we could to achieve a much better result.

Australia is going to have winners and losers too

Today, the most recent labour force data showed a small increase in unemployment.  This brought about a howl of concern from Joe Hockey and calls for lower interest rates from Bill Evans to stimulate the economy.  I had to shake my head.

Phillip Lowe explained that there would be winners and losers during this period of structural change.  To lower interest rates now would be to encourage people to keep running into the area and turning around inefficiently, rather than figuring out the equivalent of "straight line running". 

There actually has to be some pain, so change will happen.  There actually have to be some losers, so that they (and we) can all become winners.

Politically, it's a tough time to hold your ground

It's one thing for Phil Lowe to deliver the somewhat bitter pill to the country, and another for Wayne Swan is holding his ground on needing to deliver a surplus, or for Julia Gillard to resist the temptation to provide subsidies to those parts of the economy that are struggling through these changes. 

It's especially hard when the loss of 7 jobs, yes - 7, at Westpac's collection centre makes headline news (ok, so it was combined with 119 IT jobs going offshore, but the 7 jobs still made it into the headlines). The human story of even 1 person losing their job is so much easier and immediate for the average person to grasp that the much more important story that we will benefit from the structural change.

If you are reading this, or read Phil Lowe's speech, please evangelise.  More people need to understand that just a little medicine now will make us very strong in the future.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Terry McCrann - retail is changing, it's not dying

Dear Terry

I've read your article "Bleakest of views from the shopfronts" in the Sunday Herald Sun, and you make some valid points.  I also understand how your readers like you to sensationalize economic stories for a bit of cheap titillation, but they also expect you to get your facts right.

Retail is not the largest employer

First off, let's set the record straight.  You said that "Shops are also the biggest employers". Well, that was right until two years ago before health care passed retail as the biggest employer in the country and it has continued to grow.

So, sure, retail is a large employer - but it is in fact the second largest employer, not the biggest. And in the most recently reported quarter, the number of retail jobs didn't even fall, so when you state that "jobs are being slashed" I doth think you protest too much.

Retail is changing, not dying

Next, let's look at your implication that retail is dying in Australia - "in trouble like it's never been before". That's simply mischievous.

Australian retail is changing for sure, but it is still strong. The best retailers are innovating and tired retailers are struggling or fading away.

For the customers of a store like Fletcher Jones, or Angus & Robertson, it's a shame when the chain folds, but it's not the first or last retailer to close up.  And as you point out yourself, Woolworths weaker results were still underpinned by increased sales in groceries and liquor, so it's not all doom and gloom - they are just admitting Dick Smith has underperformed.

So rather than focus on the challenges of Woolworths, and to claim that "this story is repeated ...across all retail" why not look at a success story like Super Retail Group, who are growing sales in existing stores and opening new ones as a result. Their like for like sales were up between 3.5% to 9.9% across their three divisions, and earnings per share were up 20%.  That doesn't sound like "sales are struggling, profits are plunging" now, does it?

Terry, let's make a deal

OK, I don't want to criticize without being constructive, so how about this. If you point out a weakness in our economy, balance it up with the positive.

Point out the benefits to our productivity as a result of this retail shake up, or give credit to our big shopping centres for continuing to improve what they offer to the community.  Remind everyone of the great food and beverage precinct at Westfield Sydney, the continuous upgrades that keep shoppers flocking to Chadstone, or the recently reported like-for-like increase in retail profits from shopping centre owner, GPT.

We should applaud the changes in retail. We are moving forward towards the 22nd century, not backwards to the 20th

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Politics the bloodsport - off and racing - it's Gillard, from Abbott and here comes Turnbull

Call me naive, but one thing I didn't expect out of today's leadership ballot was the all-guns-blazing-go-to-your-corners-and-come-out-when-the-bell-rings aftermath that we have seen.

Gillard finest 15 minutes

Perhaps not enough people were watching, but Prime Minister Gillard's press conference and particularly her handling of the media questions was truly Presidential.  She was strong, bold and as she said "impatient".  This was not a Prime Minister who was apologising for her position.  This was not a Prime Minister in any doubt of who was in charge.  She has an agenda, and is going to see that agenda through.

Dare I say it, but that's one from the John Howard playbook.

The Q&A plants

While Tony Abbott was just the same-old negative Tony Abbott, Coalition voters in the Q&A audience really turned up the heat tonight.  Of course we expect each side to have a clear position, but this wasn't Q&A - it was a battleground. 

Yes, the outnumbered Labor voters tried to give as good as they got, but the normally balanced audience was as parochial as Janet Albrechtsen.

Could they sense the need to up the ante? How long before we hear from Clive Palmer again?

Turnbull - the Coalition's nuclear option

The Prime Minister will get on with her agenda.  Australia will have carbon pricing, and a mineral resources tax, and health and ageing reform and a disability insurance scheme, and as many more reforms as she can muster.

History shows that when a Prime Minister does get on with the job of getting things done, they attract the respect of the nation.  Take the Howard/Costello GST - a ballsy move if ever there was one - but it gained respect.  As Gillard passes these Bills, her rating and the ALP rating will rise.

So, the jungle drums will be beating.  Turnbull is sitting at the rear of the field like Phar Lap, ready to pounce.  For all the love Abbott has of polls, all he needs is for the pendulum to swing the wrong way, and his Parliamentary supporters holding marginal seats might exercise the nuclear option and switch their allegiances.

To quote Leslie Cannold's tweet:  Coalition could send Labor into the wilderness for a decade with @TurnbullMalcolm. Abbott will be Labor 2010 all over again #qanda

The real heavyweight battle in ready to begin

We've had the 2009 Libs battle, the 2010 Labor stoush, a Federal election and the grapple for the independents, the carbon tax brawl of 2011 and now the great de-Rudding of 2012.  But, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

None of those haymakers have landed a killer blow.  Gillard is solid on her feet.  Abbott believes he has the crowd behind him, but maybe he hasn't got the goods to knock her out.

Only a fool can confidently predict the next 18 months, but if Gillard gets strong, it could be Turnbull from the clouds in the shadow of the post.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Kevin Rudd - you've let us down

Dear Kevin,

I've had plenty of jobs where I didn't get along well with my boss.  It becomes my responsibility to do my job to the best of my ability, and earn their support and trust.  Above all, I've always had clients to deliver to.  Regardless of my relationship with my boss, I had to do my best to deliver to my clients. 

Occasionally, I've felt like you that I didn't have the support of my boss, and it wasn't going to change.  So, I left and found another job.  That's your choice, Kevin.

More importantly, though, you have let us - your clients - down.  You are a very good Foreign Minister, and you've thrown in the towel.  You were not a good Prime Minister, and even if you win the spill, you will be leaving Australia with a weakened government.

Kevin, you have disappointed me.  I thought you had changed, I thought you had gained a backbone, I thought you had gained some maturity.  I was wrong.  You are none of those things.  Peter Costello was a great Treasurer who wanted the top job, and never got it from John Howard.  You could have been remembered as a great Foreign Minister. 

Now, you will just be remembered as a crybaby.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

It affects me - that's why I must support the private health insurance means test

I want Australia to be more productive, more creative, more fair and economically successful.  Some of these goals require change - change that impacts on real people.

So, when the Gillard government proposed the private health insurance means test, I had to ask myself, does this fit the criteria? Will it make us more productive, or economically successful.  The answer is probably yes.  We need to afford a health system, we need a public dental care system, and for individuals earning over $83,000 or families over $166,000 it seems fair to reduce the rebate they are receiving for purchasing health insurance in return for a $2.4 billion saving over just 3 years.

And it affects me - so I can't very well argue for some changes that don't impact me directly if I won't support changes that do affect me.

Productivity changes affect real people - that's why we need them

If productivity changes didn't impact on anyone, then they are probably not doing anything.  At the moment, Australia is in a once in a century mining boom.  Yes, it's impacting on many industries.  Yes, a lot of people can't see that this is doing them any good.  But, the impacts are real, and they have the potential to transform Australia for the better.

If we want to preserve old manufacturing industries, who is going to pay for it? All of us.

If we want to protect old fashioned retailers, who is going to be affected? All of us.

If we want to continue to drive our economy with polluting, carbon-intensive fuels, who is going to be affected? All of us.

So, we need to embrace the changes that are needed and take advantage of the one in a century opportunity that we are being handed.

I might have to pay and we all might have to change

At the moment, my job isn't impacted by the changes to the economy.  It wasn't always that way - I've been made redundant when the Marketing industry went through change.  So, if you are a manufacturing worker at the Toyota plant, or a retail worker whose shifts are being cut, it would be natural to be concerned. 

For most workers, there are other opportunities.  95% of people who want a job currently are employed.  For the retail worker, you have sales skills - there are currently over 2,000 sales jobs being offered in Melbourne alone.  For the manufacturing worker, there are over 1,500 jobs in Manufacturing, Transport & Logistics in Melbourne.  Change can seem scary, but it's what we have to do as society changes.

For me, I have to pay more for my private health insurance.  I can't ask you to adapt if I won't.  We all have to share the journey.

Tony Abbott's position makes no sense

Given that I will have to pay more for my private health cover, I don't understand why Tony Abbott wants to give me a hand out. Here is his statement on radio...

"Private health insurance is in our DNA. It is our raison d'etre, that is why we exist as a political movement, to give more support and encourage for people who want to get ahead. So, look, private health insurance is an article of faith for us. We will restore the rebate in government as soon as we can.''

So, is he saying that if you are wealthy, we will give you more money to make you more wealthy? Huh?? Honestly, that makes no sense.

Or is he saying he wants to do away with Medicare, and just have private health insurance? That would make even less sense, and be even less equitable.

I'm really trying to understand his perspective, but frankly, I can't see it at all.  Then again, I can't see why Prime Minister Gillard insists on bailing out foreign car companies either ... but that's a discussion for another day.

Times are changing, and we all have to step up to the plate.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

I'm not a monarchist but thank goodness we've had Queen Elizabeth

I am a strong Republican, and still bemoan the squabbling that led to the failure of the 1999 referendum. So, I am not in favour of us having the Queen of England - a foreign country - as our head of State.

Quite separately to my view on a republic, I am very grateful that Queen Elizabeth II has been the head of state of Australia for 60 years.  I'm grateful, because she has been an exceptional person. So, on this diamond jubilee, let's celebrate the excellence of leadership that this individual has provided to our country, and forget for a moment whether she should have that power or not.

Great Queen Elizabeth qualities we can all aspire to 
Calmness under pressure
The classic pressure moment in our recent memory was the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana in 1997.  There has been much written about the Queen's response, but you cannot doubt that she kept her calm and focus, and ultimately responded appropriately.

Growing up through World War II, Elizabeth learnt how to cope with circumstances much more trying than any of us living in the relative peace of 2012 can imagine.  That English resilience is shared by Queenslanders coping with floods, and Victorians recovering from bushfires (3 years ago today).  Having a resilient role model has certainly been a positive.

Responsive to change
Unlike many older leaders around the world, Queen Elizabeth has been responsive to change.  She has breached pre-existing royal protocols, held a huge party inside the grounds of Buckingham Palace for the golden jubilee, and moved with the times not against them over 60 years.  Yes, she has her views and would prefer some things to stay the same, but on the whole she has been very modern.

How could you be loyal to a bloke like Phillip? Really! Well, it shows that a strong relationship really can withstand all sorts of pressures, quirks, gaffes and according to some reports, even affairs.  For Queen Elizabeth, though, he has been her rock, and she has been his.  Of course, her loyalty extends beyond the personal, to the national.  She has been a staunch supporter of all of her peoples of the Commonwealth.

Good on you Elizabeth.  You are a great woman, a great leader, and we've been lucky to have you.  Long may you reign.

Let me know what you think

Mark S