Category Archives: Life

Friday Salon: Easter edition

voltaire_230

An open thread where, at your leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the Comments Policy. Include here news and views, plus any notable personal experiences from the week and the weekend.

For climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French; he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

The thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Follow that and you should be fine.

Ending the age of entitlement


“there are no cuts to health, no cuts to education, pensions don’t change…”

That was Tony Abbott at the National Press Club just days before the last election, as reported by Peter Martin.

JOE TO SLASH AGED CASH

was the headline of Samantha Maiden’s Murdoch paper report in the Courier Mail on Sunday.

Budget pain to hit all: Hockey

That was the headline of Laura Tingle’s front page article in the AFR on Monday.

Treasurer Joe Hockey says no group will be safe from cuts in the May budget, as he braces voters for potential changes to the age pension and tighter asset tests.

Large numbers are cascading everywhere. Maiden’s article tells us that 94% of Australians over 70 qualify for either a pensioner concession card or a seniors health care card. Some 78% of the cost of scripts claimed under the PBS is going to concession card holders. Half of the $40 billion age pension bill goes to households with assets of more than $500,000. The $40 billion bill could rise to $70 billion over the next decade.

Labor increased the aged pension from 65 to 67 but that is to be phased in by 2023. The LNP are considering lifting the eligibility age to 70.

Another option is to include the family home in the assets test if it is worth more than $1 million.

Moreover, Hockey reckons the age pension indexation needs to be sustainable. Labor increased the rate and indexed it to average male earnings, which escalate faster than the CPI. Hockey appears to favour a return to the CPI.

Cutting the ‘seniors supplement’ (I get $500 taken off my tax because I’m old) has also been mentioned.

Justin Greber quotes the savings (paywalled) calculated by Stephen Anthony of Macroeconomics. Anthony reckons we need to cut the budget by about 1% of GDP or $16 billion. Overall he says:

the primary focus for the government should be in stemming middle- and upper-class welfare, with the most obvious savings in the aged and family benefits, drugs, industry assistance and removing overlaps between different levels of government.

As to the oldies, he says changing the indexation back to the CPI will save $900 million. Including the family home in the assets test will save $1.1 billion, while cutting the seniors supplement would garner a further $500 million. Peter Martin identifies a further $1.5 billion in carbon price compensation, so in all about $4 billion could be screwed out of the oldies.

Peter Martin also points out that the aged pension has increased by 25% since the indexation changed four and a half years ago, compared to the CPI of 13%.

There’s little doubt that rich old men could contribute a little more.

For context we need to note that the Australian budget is approaching $400 billion.

As a disclosure I’m modestly self-funded with no superannuation. I’d appreciate help with pharmaceuticals but get none other than the normal PBS. In this post I’m not arguing the merits or otherwise of any of the proposed changes. I do think, however, that we could consider paying a bit more tax.

Yet Peter Martin argues that tax increases are already included in the forward estimates because they don’t compensate for bracket creep. The CPI and bracket creep could make our incomes virtually flatline in real terms. He favours increasing the GST.

New Zealand increased the GST in two phases from 10 to 15% without stalling the economy or undue public concern. John Hewson says we are the champions in the OECD in tax concessions, including notoriously concessions to rich retirees and the fossil fuel industry. There are plenty of options available and Anthony stresses the problems are in the out years, not the next budget or two. There should be time for debate.

The Commission of Audit report is said to be available shortly as is a review of the welfare system.

My main worry in all this is that the poor and the vulnerable are going to be hit as well when there really is no need. Also there are sectors where we need to increase spending, such as skills, education including universities, research, innovation and smart industry development. Did everyone see the 4 Corners program on the hollowing out of sophisticated manufacture with the demise of the car industry? That at a time when the CSIRO prepares to cut another 300 jobs.

Meanwhile the Fairfax poll is now 48/52 in favour of Labor. There are some problems for Abbott in the regions, perhaps over foreign investment and trade policies. However, the Labor TPP surge is largely courtesy of a stunning increase in the Greens vote. 26% of 18-24 year-olds now favour the Greens. From 16-39 the LNP vote is lower than Labor, while within the margin for error. It’s the oldies that are keeping Abbott afloat. They don’t always vote in their own interest.

You can use this post as an open thread on politics.

Saturday salon: your say

voltaire_230

An open thread where, at your weekend leisure, you can discuss anything you like, well, within reason and the comments policy.

Also, for climate topics please use the most recent Climate clippings.

The gentleman in the image is Voltaire, who for a time graced the court of Frederick II of Prussia, known as Frederick the Great. King Fred loved to talk about the universe and everything at the end of a day’s work. He also used the salons of Berlin to get feedback in the development of public policy.

Fred would only talk in French, as he regarded German as barbaric. Here we’ll use English.

Update: I’ve decided that I won’t put up a separate Lazy Sunday/The week that was post at this stage.

Please use this thread to share information about what you’ve been up to on the weekend or notable experiences during the week, shows you’ve seen, books you’ve read etc.

This implies that the thread will be a stoush-free zone. The Comments Policy says:

The aim [of this site] is to provide a venue for people to contribute and to engage in a civil and respectful manner.

Follow that and you should be fine.

From hero to zero politically: Campbell Newman shows how

Doctors_1800187_670334396358324_809804344_n-250All during the 2013 election campaign Kevin Rudd warned voters that Abbott would “Cut, cut and cut to the bone” just as Campbell Newman had done in Queensland. Commentators have remarked on Abbott’s lack of a honeymoon period. Campbell Newman certainly had one, but has now spectacularly squandered his political capital in various ways.

Dominating headlines for weeks on end the doctors’ dispute seems to have become something of a tipping point. Mark at his new blog The New Social Democrat has published an excellent link-filled post Newman v the doctors: a political fight that is poisoning the LNP, originally published at Crikey.

Mark sees the changes proposed in doctors’ conditions as carrying a broader warning for Australian health policy:

The contracts, read in conjunction with changes to the Industrial Relations Act, deny salaried doctors unfair dismissal protections, control over work location and timing of shifts, and require doctors to take direction on appropriate medical care from hospital and health service administrators.

The suggestion is that, having failed to find private operators for public hospitals that could actually provide cheaper services, the government’s agenda is to substitute bureaucratic cost controls for clinical judgement. That’s something the federal policy shifts towards paying hospitals for the “efficient price” of a procedure encourages. (Emphasis added)

The ground is shifting politically:

None of this is a good look for a government that recently lost the Redcliffe byelection to Labor with a massive swing. Polling conducted by ReachTEL for the Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation in Ashgrove (the Premier’s seat), Cairns, Ipswich West and Mundingburra shows massive public opposition and significant impacts on the LNP’s vote. Newman would easily lose his seat to the ALP on these numbers, and it could be reasonably inferred that the LNP’s majority would be in danger.

Readers may recall that in 2012 Anna Bligh spectacularly crashed and burned, losing 44 of 51 seats to be left with seven in an 89-member parliament. With a walloping majority “Can do” Campbell may do the impossible and become a one-term government. A tweet from Possum Commitatus quotes a ReachTEL poll which says that if an election were held now the LNP would lose 36 seats and government.

Newman has looked gone in his own seat for some time. If people think he’s not OK as leader let them ponder the alternatives!

Elsewhere Kiwi doctors stand in solidarity with their Qld colleagues and are being advised to stay well away.

The electorate is volatile. Abbott be warned!

For anyone who arrives early

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One day soon, in the middle of the night, a bright new day is going to dawn with the official birth of a new blog about climate change, sustainability, plus sundry other stuff.

Climate Plus is due to put up a welcoming post, shall we say at 12.01 am (Eastern Standard Time of course) on Sunday 6 April. Anyway with a bit of luck I’ll be there.

This is an open thread for anyone who arrives early to chat if the spirit moves them.

Gillard on the world stage

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Wikipedia tells us that post politics Julia Gillard signed a book deal with Penguin, purchased a house in Adelaide and was appointed honorary professor at the University of Adelaide. In that job it appears that she is actually going to do real work.

Now she has been appointed as the new Chair of the Board of Directors of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE).

With some billions of dollars to spend and 60 participating nations the prime focus is on 57 million children who don’t go to school. Beyond that GPE advocates for the improvement of the quality of education generally.

Here’s the AAP story, Café Whispers, and Gillard’s own thoughts at the GPE blog.

Given the primacy of education in Gillard’s political philosophy the appointment seems particularly apt. I’m sure she’ll do a fine job and wish her well.

Australia currently provides $30 million pa in funding. They wouldn’t trim their contribution, would they? ‘They’ being Abbott, Bishop, Hockey, Mathias Cormann et al. After all they dishonoured our promise to help build a new parliament for Granada to save a measly $4 million. And to make a point.

Is the Pope a communist?

Hardly, but he is certainly a severe critic of market capitalism. George Weigel sees his recent apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) as

a clarion call for a decisive shift in the Catholic Church’s self-understanding, in full continuity with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Austen Ivereigh begins his broader treatment this way:

The first teaching document mainly authored by Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, is a bold and thrilling bid to send the Catholic Church worldwide on mission. Energetic, direct, lyrical, its language and style model the evangelization to which the Pope is calling Catholics. In sharp critiques and passionate prose, it polarises the choices faced both by the Church and the world, gently but insistently inviting people to opt for mission – and to a journey of transformation and reform.

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Be sure to read, however, Travis Gettys’ Pope Francis rips capitalism and trickle-down economics to shreds in new policy statement. Continue reading Is the Pope a communist?

Climate clippings 87

Climate clippings_175These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as a roundtable. Again, I do not want to spend time in comments rehashing whether human activity causes climate change.

This edition picks up the theme of activism mentioned in Climate change: reconnecting politics with reality.

1. Blue sky

After the last election some friends of my younger brother, feeling blue, decided to turn blue into an optimistic colour, and invented the Blue Sky movement. To join all you have to do is ‘like’ the Facebook site put something blue on your front footpath visible from the road, take a photo and post it on the site. Yes, and take the Blue Sky Pledge, which includes reducing your own emissions, displaying blue for 12 months, and encouraging others to join.

Here’s one example:

Blue Sky_1395958_234410770055917_951721907_n
I notice that people have been using the site to share links.

If you click on “Community” or “About” at the head of the Blue Sky FB page and then click “more” you’ll get the full Blue Sky spiel.

2. Go Getup!

Ben Eltham thinks GetUp! is currently Tony Abbott’s most dangerous opponent. Continue reading Climate clippings 87

Climate clippings 86

Climate clippings_175These posts are intended to share information and ideas about climate change and hence act as a roundtable. Again, I do not want to spend time in comments rehashing whether human activity causes climate change.

This edition is mainly about politics and policy rather than the science.

1. Anti renewables tirade

As the forces of darkness are unleashed upon us under the rule of Tony Abbott, people attending the Eastern Australian Energy Outlook Conference were subjected to a “venomous rant” against the renewable energy target from Burchell Wilson, a senior economist at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The tragedy of this is that Wilson’s presentation may have been plain wrong, nasty, manipulative and ideological, but he’s not alone in Canberra….

As Wilson (rightly) pointed out, there is a vast reserve of anti-renewables passion in the rump of the National Party and the Liberal party backbench open to such rhetoric– which insiders say is being whipped up by new Liberal MP Angus Taylor.

Wilson expressed his hope that these views would overwhelm those of moderates such as Environment Minister Greg Hunt, and Energy Minister Ian Macfarlane. He hoped that the economic rationalists at the Productivity Commission would have carriage of the next RET review.

2. Mining lobby targets RET

In the current political climate the RET is under serious threat, being targeted directly by the mining industry.

This is how John D sees it:

Australia’s RET is one of the few emission trading schemes in the world that is actually working. For years it has been steadily driving investment in utility scale renewables. Better still, because it is an offset credit trading scheme that does not generate government revenue it is achieving this with negligible changes in power costs. (The fossil power companies are actually complaining that it is pushing wholesale prices down!)

For this reason it is of some concern to see that the Minerals industry is pushing for the repeal of the RET.

We should all be campaigning for an increase in the RET target and against any attempt to eliminate or scale back the RET.

Continue reading Climate clippings 86

The Heart of the Matter

Over the past two weeks the ABC’s Catalyst program has run a special series under the rubric The Heart of the Matter calling into question the importance of cholesterol as a risk factor for heart disease with Dr. Maryanne Demasi leading the charge. This is how she described the programs:

In the first episode of this two part edition of Catalyst, I investigate the science behind the long established view that saturated fat causes heart disease by raising cholesterol.

In the second episode, I cut through the hype surrounding cholesterol lowering drugs and reveal the tactics used by Big Pharma to make the drugs to lower cholesterol appear more effective than they seem to be.

In Heart of the Matter, I investigate whether the role of saturated fat and cholesterol in heart disease is one of the biggest myths in medical history.

Go here for transcripts and videos:

Dietary Villains

Cholesterol Drug War

First up it must be said that Dr Demasi is not just a journalist. She has a PhD in medical research from the University of Adelaide and worked for a decade as a research scientist specialising in rheumatoid arthritis research at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

I had a triple bypass back in 2000 and have taken statins ever since as well as 100mg aspirin daily and medicine to lower my blood pressure. Except on rare occasions saturated fats do not pass my lips.

Dr Norman Swan told Fran Kelly that his wife had sat next to someone on a plane who had been taking statins for familial high cholesterol levels. After seeing the program he said he had dropped the drugs and was going to tuck into the cream cheese.

To this viewer, such a response would be warranted on the basis of the evidence put forward in the programs. I’m a cautious person, however, so my intention was to stay on course, but was going to consult my GP who I see every four to six weeks. I expected her to advise me to change nothing until I next see my cardiologist in March next year.

Norman Swan was angry. He said people will die as a result of the program. Continue reading The Heart of the Matter

Distractions…

Andrew Wilson queries why nobody writing or commenting on this blog has raised the issue of the really medieval legislation recently passed in Queensland. One reason is that Mark and I have both had certain distractions which will continue for a little while.

de-clutter_mind_map-copy1_300One is the great decluttering project, wherein Mark is consolidating 20 years worth of collected stuff. In simple terms he’s vacating his digs at New Farm at the end of the month and moving back to join us on a temporary basis, which will probably last months rather than weeks. So there has been massive decluttering at his place and ours together with some recluttering of our place.

This is coinciding with the end of university semester in which Mark has a fairly heavy teaching load. The other day, surveying his study, his computer was open revealing that he was in the process of marking 189 assignments. That’s over 60 hours work for one subject!

Earlier tonight after we staggered down the stairs with some book shelves he agreed he didn’t have the head space for blogging right now. Perhaps next week.

I’m fairly busy right now, but my den is being cleaned up for the first time in decades plus the shed has had to be reorganised to accommodate in the first instance about 20 boxes of books. Furniture is being relocated all over the house.

Next Monday my wife and I are flying to Sydney for the wedding of her nephew. A quick trip but it wipes out two days.

So I too have a few distractions. I may be able to squeeze out a bit of writing, but not as much as I’d like.

For those who came in late, I have the privilege of being Mark’s father. And for those who are curious, he’s been calling me “Brian” since he was four years old. One day he just decided that he was too old for this “dad” stuff. I have a policy of avoiding unnecessary arguments, so that’s the way it’s been!