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Tuesday, 09 February


Australian Federal Election 2016: campaign humour North Coast Voices

Excerpt from email sent by, 6 February 2016:

Victory was declared this week. Punctuation was defeated and the Government’s semi-annual skirmishes against hyphens and semi-colons came to an end. After two years the Government decided to stop their so-called "red tape repeal days". We can all congratulate the Government on successfully removing from legislation 40 hyphens, one comma and one inverted comma; changing two full stops to semi-colons, one semi-colon to a full stop; and inserting two commas, one full stop, one colon and one hyphen. They also abolished state navies, which hadn't existed since 1913, and decided you no longer need to register your mule or bullock for military purposes. #Victory


Will the Turnbull Government finally eliminate those overgenerous superannuation tax concessions for the wealthy? North Coast Voices

Is talk of make superannuation policy fairer just part of the political spin in the lead-up to this year's federal election spin or will the Turnbull Government genuinely commitment to removing overgenerous superannuation tax concessions for the wealthy?

In 2015 Australian Treasurer Scott Morrision put superannuation tax concessions for the high-income earners on the table - signalling the possibility of cuts to tax concessions for this group.

By January 2016 Morrison was holding to this position with qualifications.

Public expectation began to build that the Turnbull Government would at last address those tax loopholes in the national superannuation scheme which allows high-income earners to use super as a form of tax av...

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Monday, 08 February


Can it really be against the law to say something that someone else says they have been offended by? Catallaxy Files

According to 18C, as I understand it, it is contrary to the law to say something that someone else says they have been offended by. But how do we know they have been offended? Because they have said so. But how do we know they are telling the truth that they have been offended? Again, because they have said so. As circular as this may seem, the nature of the law as it is now constructed is that it merely takes the word of someone to say they have been offended by something someone else has said and off to kangaroo court we go.

If being offended was all it took to start this process going, you would think these courts would be filled to the brim and their calendars would stretch into the future for years ahead. There are plenty of offensive statements being made all the time everywhere. There is, however, a catch. Only some groups are officially designated as potential offendees. Only they can get these kangaroo courts to act. So hidden away under lock and key is the list of people and groups who will set this process in motion by saying they have been offended, while with others they can offend to their heart’s content and no one will say boo to a goose.

Andrew Bolt discusses one such case, under the heading, Even Christ would be banned under our laws against speech that offends. Of course, the superfluous word there is the word “even”. The real point is that it is especially Christians who are banned from stating their beliefs, you know, the beliefs that have been the basis of our civilisation for the past 1500-2000 years. And if someone should find themselves offended by some anti-Christian rant, of which there are many from which to choose, is there a tribunal to which they could take their complaint? You have only to ask to know the answer.

Then there is this st...


Generally a fine journalist Catallaxy Files

SBS has done a great profile of Rita Panahi:

People on the inside at the Herald Sun say Panahi has become the go-to woman when the editors want an extreme view expressed.

“She never flinches from controversy,” says one of her colleagues. She’ll write things over which others would hesitate. And her colleagues remark that she almost never turns down an opportunity for exposure. Panahi is everywhere – on Radio 3AW, on Sky News, on Sunrise.

Rita Panahi claims she is quite prepared to attack “my own side” when the situation calls for it. Asked for an example, she mentions her criticism of former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s famous helicopter ride.

Her writing is lively, often bellicose and sometimes witty, strong on assertion and short on argument. She articulates a view, rather than convinces. She does not canvass ideas, so much as assert positions. If she has a wider range as a writer, and can engage with nuance and complexity, is yet to be seen. But it could happen. Her talent is impossible to doubt.

One of her friends says: “She is full tilt at making it. I think she figured out at some stage that making it wasn’t just about money.

“It’s about influence and profile. She is heading for the top.”

Now Rita is hardly an extremist – my only criticism of her are her pro-ASADA/anti-Essendon views. But she is a Hawthorn supporter and like all their ilk can be insufferable. Think m0nty, Dover Beach, Fisky, and I’m sure there are others too. :)

Long time readers will recall that it was m0nty who introduced us to Rita but don’t let guilt by association taint her. Her columns feature in the Herald Sun or follow her on twit...


Murdoch spreads the IPA’s porkies about ‘the Andrew Bolt law’ Independent Australia

Murdoch spreads the IPA’s porkies about ‘the Andrew Bolt law’The campaign to rehabilitate one of the most notorious racist liars in the English-speaking world grinds on. Alan Austin reports — and asks why. read now...


The Superbowl ... and other adverts with a little bit of sport in the background Independent Australia

The Superbowl ... and other adverts with a little bit of sport in the backgroundCorruption and advertising in sport. Once again, sports correspondent Lachlan Barker doesn't shy away from the tough issues. read now...


Lambie’s Senate Estimates questions reveal Tasmanian Government King Island complacency Senator Jacqui Lambie - PUTTING TASMANIA FIRST

During Senate Estimates today Independent Senator for Tasmania Jacqui Lambie’s questions, revealed the Tasmanian State Government have made King Island 6no move to fix King Island’s freight crisis.

“When I visited King Island late last year, I discovered it will lose its shipping service within 12 months, as the SeaRoad Mersey will be replaced by a larger vessel.’’ Senator Lambie said.

“As a result, King Island Port needs an upgrade before it can accept any larger vessels. When I spoke to the King Island Shipping Group, they estimated the port needed a $60 million upgrade to satisfy the larger ships necessary to continue the King Island freight service.

“When I asked the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Senate Estimates Committee, led by Senator Richard Colbeck, if they planned to assist King Island with its shipping crisis, imagine my shock when the committee said the Federal Government has not received proposals from the state government.’’ Senator Lambie said.

“The Tasmanian Government’s lack of care or simple incompetence towards their own port is a devastating blow for the King Island community, who rely on their shipping services to make a living.

“Without an investment of $60 million in the King Island Port, the residents face a jump in their cost of living – which is already high – and/or decimation of their primary industries.

“Tasmanian Senator Colbeck admitted to me during Senate Estimates this week that King Island would most certainly require an infrastructure upgrade when King Island loses their shipping service – So why haven’t his state counterparts formed a proposal seeking assistance?’’ Senator Lambie ask...


Restore the no-surcharge rule Catallaxy Files

My RMIT colleague Jason Potts and I made a submission to the RBA Changes to the Bank’s Standards for Card Payment Systems inquiry.

The summary:

Having introduced inappropriate regulation in the early 2000s, the RBA has exposed Australian credit card users to excessive surcharging and profiteering. The RBA now proposes to introduce yet another round of regulation to overcome the earlier unintended consequences of its own actions. The fact is that the RBA still does not understand the role of interchange fees in a two-sided market, still relies on monopoly explanations for efficiency enhancing activity, and will further regulate and complicate the economy for no net benefit to the community.

There is a simple solution.

Allow credit card schemes to regulate themselves. The easiest and cheapest option would be to deregulate the payments system allowing credit card schemes to reintroduce a no surcharge rule.

Some extracts:

Vague Benefits, Unknown Consequences

The RBA is remarkably vague when describing the benefits of its new policy setting:

The proposed reforms announced by the Government and the Reserve Bank will mean that consumers may still pay surcharges on some payment cards, but where they do, surcharges will be no more than the amount the merchant pays its bank or payments provider to accept that type of card.

Consumers are still paying a surcharge.

The proposed changes are likely to result in some reductions in the generosity of rewards programs on premium and companion ca...


GST – what to do, what to do. Catallaxy Files

I claim no particular expertise in tax policy, but that has never stopped people commenting.  So I throw up some thoughts, including why I am torn in my personal views around tax changes.

The case for increasing the GST and reducing income tax seems obvious.

Unlike income tax, the GST offers no deductions.  GST is also very hard to avoid because there are no benefits from “spending-splitting” or setting up a trust or company from where the spending will come.  This is a tick on the fairness test because having high priced accountants or lawyers won’t get you a better tax deal.

Importantly also, from a governance perspective, it is near impossible to tweak the GST for a politically favoured group.  Yes in theory the GST can be at a different rate between states and postcodes, but such modifications are unlikely.  At best the GST can be a different rate (including a nil rate) for different goods or services, but then there will be arguments about definition.  For example what is fresh food and what is not.

One of the best reasons for increasing the GST and using the proceeds to reduce income tax is that it could go a small way, a very small way, to rebalancing the intergenerational equity scales.  Assuming revenue neutral changes whereby all increased GST revenue is returned via income tax cuts, a GST-income tax switch would shift the tax onus from workers to spenders.  Thus given demographic changes, with the number of people working to number of people not working expected to significantly reduce, an increased GST allows those who benefit from government services (PBS, Medicare and pensions) to contribute a bit more to their cost.

The biggest case against increasing the GST is that no-one believes that the Government (or opposition if in Government) would ever deliver a revenue neutral package or would not take the opportunity to redistribute income.

Doing an income tax for GST swap would also take the pressure off Govern...


Australia and the war in Syria: Continuing obfuscation over legality Independent Australia

Australia and the war in Syria: Continuing obfuscation over legalityAustralian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – and others in the Government – have made a number of contradictory statements about the legal basis for Australia to bomb Syria. Barrister James O'Neill reports. read now...


Sugar Cave-in Catallaxy Files

Did I mention that Malcolm Turnbull and his fellow Liberal wimps in Cabinet have caved into the rent-seeking demands of the Nats, led by Barnaby, to decline to refer the Queensland Sugar Industry (Real Choice in Marketing) Amendment Act 2015 to the National Competition Council?  Truly pathetic.

This would have been the means whereby this profoundly anti-competitive statute could be knocked off by the feds.  But Mal just didn’t have the ticker, it would seem.

All that boasting about introducing pro-competition reforms along the Harper review lines is really complete blather. 

Even if the sugar rent-seekers, such as the growers’ associations, claim that the act is just fine and not anti-competitive, then why would they fight so hard to insist that the NCC review not take place?  The Queenland Productivity Commission has already given it the thumbs down.

The reality is that there will now be a serious capital strike in investment in new and upgraded mills (there is quite a lot of foreign investment and we know what Barnaby and the Nats think about that – NUTS) and the industry will resume its decline.

But I do have one good idea:

Impose a levy on all growers until the $500 million that was handed to compensate them to deregulate the sugar industry is returned in full to taxpayers.  That’s only fair, surely, Barnaby.  And, Mal, you know you can do it.


Whether he keeps the GST or ditches it, Turnbull is in political trouble Drag0nista's Blog

The GST debate has always been about politics as well as economics, and Malcolm Turnbull’s pivot away from […]


David Leyonhjelm guest post. Privatise hospitals Catallaxy Files

Imagine if a libertarian like me had his way with health policy and nobody died. It would be a disaster. Not for the public, but for the thousands of public servants and lobbyists who would be out of a job.

The Commonwealth Government employs more than 5,000 public servants in the Health portfolio, yet it runs no hospitals and employs no doctors or nurses who care for the sick. Under a Liberal Democrats government, the Commonwealth Government would employ a few hundred health officials to coordinate health service standards, health statistics, immunisation, and biosecurity. That’s it.

For the dozens of interest groups that hang around health issues, this would be catastrophic. Almost all of them oppose change of any sort, not because the status quo is the best approach, but because they are experts at negotiating the existing bureaucratic maze. Defending this maze keeps them in their well-paid jobs.
Any whiff of change would prompt a huge scare campaign from the Pharmacy Guild, which represents the owners of pharmacies, the Australian Medical Association, which represents a minority of doctors, and the Health Services Union, which represents a minority of other health professionals.

But it is easy to conceive how change would make individual pharmacists, doctors and nurses better off. Currently, governments regulate numerous healthcare decisions, commonly via the Medicare Benefits Schedule, so that notionally private-sector operators make the ‘right’ decision. It controls what services GPs provide, what they can charge patients, and how often they refer patients to specialists.

When a patient needs a prescription, governments regulate how far they must walk to the nearest pharmacy. By owning public hospitals, governments regulate the procedures that hospitals may provide and how long the wait will be. Governments subsidise insurance for certain health services but not others. And they limit the private health insurance...


Turkish channel TRT World interview on Australia’s asylum policies Antony Loewenstein

Australia’s refugee policies are designed to inflict harm on the most vulnerable. Last week I was interviewed by Turkish international news channel TRT World in Berlin about the issue (my interview starts at 19:54):


Is Paul Sheehan certifiably insane? loon pond

(Above: this day the pond's anger meter is set to an astounding JEB! low. Please clap, and more here).

It's the question on everyone's lips, but the pond only asks it in a clinical, scientific way ...

Is Paul Sheehan certifiably, clinically, incurably insane?

This isn't some frivolous, light-hearted, trolling question.

The pond has plenty of evidence. There's the matter of the unique water affair, which can still be found online here, and here, and here, and here, and while looking it up, you might also stumble across Has Paul Sheehan Written the Worst Article Ever?

And then there was the way that...


No time for democracy over GST Independent Australia

No time for democracy over GSTMalcolm Turnbull's Government '... has taken our views [on GST] into consideration and rejected all of them', writes David Tyler. read now...


GST should not be a matter of political machismo Catallaxy Files

Today in The Australian

You may well ask why the government ever floated the idea of raising the GST, given that by far the best tax reform would be bringing public expenditure under control.


Tony Abbott and his captain's picks continue to haunt Australia North Coast Voices

It would appear that when he was prime minister the MP for Warringah, Tony Abbott,  was not only telling political lies of omission and commission to Australian voters – he may also telling them to his own government.

The Australian, 1 February 2016:

Sharp tensions between Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop were exposed yesterday with the revelation of a rock-solid pledge in writing by Mr Abbott to back former New Zealand leader Helen Clark as the next UN secretar­y-general.



The Turnbull Government continues the Abbott Government's failure to protect Australian marine life from foreign super trawlers including the Geelong Star North Coast Voices

Image of Geelong Star (formerly FV Dirk Dirk) and position heading towards the Bass Strait on 28 January 2016

Geelong Advertiser, 2 February 2016:

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Sunday, 07 February


Can-can-cancelled, and the grievances surge to the surface like a pulsating alien emerging from the belly ... if you can handle that image ... loon pond

Perhaps it was watching the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra over the weekend that made the pond think so fondly of this Rowe cartoon (and more properly formatted Rowe here).

Yes, the streaming was working for once, and the Berlin Philharmoniker app was giving the Venezuelans away for free, and they were pounding away at Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and being an agile multi-tasker, at the very same time, the pond was reading Gary Wills saying everything the pond has only thought, in his review of E. J. Dionne Jr’s Why the Right Went Wrong, under the header The Triumph of the Hard Right, currently in The New York Review of Books, and outside the paywall for the moment.

Quick, rush to read it here, while the pond prepares a few quotes, because Wills' thesis is easy enough to grasp: 

The sense of betrayal by one’s own is a continuing theme in the Republican Party (a Fox News poll in September 2015 found that 62 percent of Republicans feel “betrayed” by their own party’s officeholders). The charges against Eisenhower were repeated against Nixon, who brought Kissingerian “détente” into his dealing with Russia and renewed diplomatic ties to China. On the domestic...

Tuesday, 02 February


Where is all the US aid money in Afghanistan? Antony Loewenstein

My investigative feature in UAE newspaper The National (PDFs of the stunning looking feature DC.front and DC.spread):

The human cost of the Afghan war has been devastating. The United Nations estimates that at least 20,000 Afghan civilians have been killed since 2001 and violence is worsening across the country.

United States president Barack Obama, fearing an Iraq-style state collapse after withdrawing the bulk of US forces from there in 2011, has pledged to maintain an indefinite presence of 10,000 soldiers, tens of thousands of contractors (the Pentagon claims up to 30,000) and an unknown number of special forces. Foreign occupation is seemingly permanent.

Former head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and commander of US special operations command, General David Petraeus, argued in a recent Washington Post opinion piece that Washington should step up its bombing campaign to halt a resurgent Taliban. There’s no evidence that this failed strategy, advanced in Iraq and Afghanistan over more than a decade, would be any more successful this time.

Afghan resources, estimated to be worth billions of dollars, have provided very little money to the general population.

During my time in Afghanistan last year whilst investigating the mineral, oil and gas industries, I witnessed the suffering of local people around proposed mining sites, such as Mes Aynak in Logar province. They were kicked off their lands, without jobs, and were attacked by the Taliban, ISIL and the Af...

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