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