Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas…

Well this is my last editorial for the year, and although it might sound like a cliché, what a year it has been. History has been made with the end of the Howard Government, and the beginning of the Rudd term of office. Climate change and environment issues have become part of the mainstream agenda. The Iemma Government in New South Wales was re-elected, even though nobody seems to like them. Sydney hosted the APEC conference. And the list goes on…

Partly because it is fresh in the memory, the Federal Election stands out as a watershed moment. Time will tell if the new government lives up to its many promises, but it is already certain that Australians have soundly rejected work choices. It would seem that Australians still believe in a fair go. So much so that we have decided to give Kevin Rudd’s Labor Party a go, even though the State Labor Governments continue to disappoint.

But despite the big events and the big changes, it’s the everyday things that still matter to most of us. Can we afford the house we live in? Why does the price of petrol keep going up? Will the train be on time? Can I see a doctor if I go to the Emergency Department at my local public hospital? Are the kids getting a decent education?

The New Year will bring both challenges and opportunities, not only for our politicians, but for all of us. The question is will we be smart enough to recognize that challenges and opportunities are really the same thing, and turn those opportunities into a better life for all Australians? In the end, it’s up to all of us to do own own little bit.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. And let’s remember to look after each other. In the end, that’s all we ever really have.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

They’ve Got Us Over a Barrel

The release of the A.C.C.C. report on petrol pricing might be viewed as disappointing, as it finds no evidence of price fixing or collusion. However, it is interesting that the report finds a “comfortable oligopoly” between the big four oil companies, which hampers competition at the wholesale level. Despite the failure to identify anti competitive practices, the report is faint in its praise. It also provides a number of recommendations which may go some way to giving consumers a better deal.

First, the A.C.C.C. will now have monitoring powers over petrol prices on an ongoing basis, reporting annually to the government. The government will also appoint a petrol price commissioner. And there is a proposal to extend the Fuel watch program from Western Australia to operate nationally.

Fuelwatch is a program where the petrol companies are required to report the following day’s price by 2pm, which is made public. This has the effect of reducing market volatility and improving predictability for the consumer.

In the end though, petrol prices will continue to be high for a number of reasons. It is a precious resource and an essential commodity. Any company selling it can command a good price. The cost of all energy is going to continue increasing as environmental policies take effect. And in the end, the function of any business is to maximize its profit.

In the absence of more draconian price controls from government, that will always be true.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Lingering Legacy of Misguided Policy

The legacy of some of the less appealing aspects of John Howard’s government will continue to haunt the community for a little while yet. The cabinet has resolved to present its legislation abolishing work choices at the earliest opportunity in February. However, it will take time making its way through the parliament and is not likely to pass until July when the coalition finally loses control of the Senate. Even then, the legislation will provide for transitional arrangements to tide us over until the new regime arrives in 2010, and the last Australian Workplace Agreement probably won’t expire until 2013.

In the meantime, there is another piece of Howard Government policy that still impacts on a number of Australians. The Welfare to Work policy saw the introduction of harsh penalties for anyone who fails to comply with the requirements, up to and including the complete loss of benefits for up to eight weeks. This has always been problematic, because the people who find themselves in this position are already at the very edge of financial survival.

While it sounds like a good idea to penalize people who don’t meet their obligations, the truth is that people have a whole host of reasons for falling foul of the system, which does not take into account the underlying causes of the failure. Whether people suffer from a mental illness, family crisis, or just plain made a mistake, the consequences can be severe. It is projected that about 2000 welfare recipients will be trying to make it through Christmas with their usual benefits suspended, and no other source of support. They must turn to family or charity to survive.

Two thousand might seem like a small number in the overall scheme of things, and it is, but that actually demonstrates the foolishness of the policy. Most people do the right thing. There is no problem with any kind of widespread rorting of the system. Sadly, this draconian and punitive regime only penalizes those who are already desperate, along with innocent family members, without doing anything to help these people overcome their circumstances.

That’s why the new government must keep its promise for a full review of the system as quickly as possible.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

It’s no longer a point of debate whether or not the Australian Government should say “sorry” to the stolen generation of indigenous Australians. The new government has made the commitment to making a formal apology next year, so now the discussion has turned to the contents and phrasing of such a statement, along with the proposal to set aside a compensation fund.

There remains a lot of misunderstanding about the events of the past, along with a continuing attitude by some that there’s nothing to be sorry for, or if there is, then it was the fault of previous generations and not our responsibility. That attitude completely misses the point.

Already various State and Territory Governments, as well as the major Churches, have made formal apologies. So have other organizations and community groups who have expressed their support for the cause. But the one existing entity which should truly be the one to carry the responsibility is the ongoing entity which was originally responsible for the policies of the past. Governments change, but the parliament continues as the ongoing representative of the sovereign people of Australia. As such it is appropriate for the parliament, representing the Commonwealth of Australia, to make whatever apology is deemed suitable. We the people may not be responsible for the policies of the past, but the parliament, as an ongoing institution, is.

Secondly, it’s important to recognize the reality of the policies that created the stolen generation. While it is true that such policies were created in the belief that they were in the best interests of both the people and the broader community, we must examine the basis on which those assumptions were made. Even today, we expect the authorities to intervene and “rescue” a child from an environment where it is at risk of harm, and we’ve seen startling cases in recent times highlighting that challenge. But the assumption underlying the stolen generation was that such a decision could legitimately be made solely on the basis of race and culture.

Christine King of the Stolen Generations Alliance summed it up by saying that the children of the stolen generation were not taken away to save them, but to change them. That’s a distinction which identifies it as an exercise in social engineering with no regard for individual human rights, and that’s why an apology is not only warranted but long overdue.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Is It All Just Hot Air?

Kevin Rudd is certainly a good talker, and when it comes to climate change he’s had plenty to say. Having successfully made it an election issue, the new Prime Minister wasted no time signing the papers to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. His first journey overseas as Prime Minister has been to attend the climate conference in Bali, where the speech he delivered attracted much praise. He has pointed to the need for the United States to change its position. But is it all talk?

The Kyoto Protocol has almost run its course, so signing up now is a powerful symbolic gesture, but in practical terms doesn’t really do much. The whole point of the Bali conference is to determine a framework for a post-Kyoto plan to come into effect in 2012. Bali is supposed to provide the so-called roadmap for the next two years of negotiations. At issue is a deep division between Europe and the United States over whether or not to include a commitment to a specific range of emissions cuts from 25 to 40% by 2020.

The United States argues that such a commitment now undermines future negotiations, and so far it seems that Kevin Rudd has fallen into line and accepted this argument, refusing to support the inclusion of the targets in the Bali Declaration. Many people are now questioning whether this represents a failure of the Prime Minister to “walk the walk” on climate change.

Too much has been invested in the Bali talks for them to be allowed to result in total failure. That won’t happen. But the roadmap that is issued may be for a road to nowhere if goalposts are not clearly set by the declaration.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Law Unto Themselves.

New South Wales has taken another step towards becoming a police state. Last week, special legislation was passed to give police additional powers for the upcoming Papal visit for World Youth Day. The legislation also sets up the World Youth Day Co-ordination Authority to administer the laws which provide for wide ranging control over a number of issues from airspace to advertising.

I think most people would accept the introduction of reasonable measures to ensure the safety of the Pope and the community, along with facilitating the smooth running of what will be a massive event. But it seems that the legislation goes beyond reasonable measures. It’s all very well to temporarily give police greater powers of search and seizure, but the new law goes much further.

This legislation delegates power from the Parliament to the Government so that significant matters such as police powers can be adjusted by regulation, not legislation. Further it provides for an unprecedented level of autonomy for the both the Co-ordinating Authority and the Minister to whom it reports. That Minister is the Deputy Premier John Watkins. According to the legislation the authority of the Co-ordinating Authority and the Minister cannot be “challenged, reviewed, quashed, or called into question” in court. In other words, absolute supreme power is in the hands of the Minister, and if anyone believes that the co-ordinating Authority has acted unjustly there is no recourse to the courts.

To remove all judicial oversight of these arrangements is an abrogation of the normal democratic rights we take for granted in a free society. It doesn’t matter who the minister is, the concentration of all power on one desk is contrary to the principles of parliamentary democracy. If the police and other authorities do their jobs properly, they have no need of protection from being challenged in the courts. This legislation is authoritarian, and almost totalitarian, and it does not improve the standard of security provided to the Pope or the community.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Obesity: The Problem Is Getting Bigger…

The new Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has announced a program to have all children weighed before they enter preschool. They will also be measured and have their body mass index calculated, all as a part of a new initiative to combat obesity. Now while it certainly won’t hurt, the question is will it help?

If the measurements are simply written up in a report and filed away it is not going to achieve anything. As a first step to encouraging more active measures it does have something to offer. Despite some criticism that this might encourage eating disorders among sensitive children, I believe that promoting awareness of good health habits from an early age can only be a positive step.

If a child is weighed and measured, and is also given a comprehensible explanation as to why, that child can learn to make healthy judgments for himself. The key to this is not just the measurement, but the message. Kids are already getting a lot more useful information about good health and nutrition than previous generations, but for some reason it isn’t always getting through. The reason is the cacophony of mixed messages that are bombarding not just kids, but all of us.

While we are urged to eat better food we are also flooded with junk food advertising. While we are told to get more exercise, we are constantly reminded that it’s not safe to go outdoors. And for kids, the biggest factor is the example being set by Mum and Dad. As confusing as all this can be, it’s not (as they say) rocket science. Good food, exercise, fresh air. Unfortunately, we seem to have developed a lifestyle where these things are hard to fit in between all the other pressures and distractions that envelope us.

The Healthy Kids Check, which will also encompass sight and hearing, is a step in the right direction, but success will depend on the steps that follow.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Justice May Be Blind, But People Can See Something Is Not Right!

Since it came to light that a judge in North Queensland handed out what appears to be a remarkably lenient sentence to nine offenders who pleaded guilty to gang rape, the storm of controversy has kept growing. Three of the offenders were over the age of consent at 17, 18 and 26. They were given a six month jail sentence, suspended for twelve months. The younger offenders were placed on twelve months probation, with no convictions recorded. Those are the facts and I don’t have to explain why people would be outraged by this.

In any legal proceeding there is always more evidence and argument presented to the court that can be reported in the media. That is why “trial by media” is a poor substitute for justice. But even with the few facts that we do have this decision just defies common sense. This is the gang rape of a ten year old girl. It’s hard to imagine mitigating circumstances that would reduce the seriousness of that.

In the wake of public opinion the Queensland Attorney General, Kerry Shine, has announced an appeal against the sentences, and more importantly, a review of all judgments in sexual assault cases in North Queensland over the past two years.

It has been reported that the Judge, Sarah Bradley, delivered her sentence in line with the recommendations of the prosecutor. If that’s correct, the people of Australia are entitled to ask just who was the prosecutor representing…. The Crown, or the defendants? While the offenders aged 16 and under can expect to be treated as children by the law, what’s the explanation for the 26 year old? And since all the offenders as well as the victim are indigenous people, some people are also asking if there is one law for “them” and another for “us”.

These are questions that must be dealt with honestly, because unless justice is uniform then there really is no justice at all.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Power to the People, Right On!

The plan to privatize the electricity industry in New South Wales is still a contentious issue. The proposal has a number of features designed to address the main concerns, such as job guarantees, bonus payments, and price caps. But does it all really add up to a better deal for consumers?

Unions are concerned about the threat to jobs and conditions. This has been addressed with a plan to impose a freeze on both for three years. Consumers are concerned that prices will rise, and this has been addressed with price protection until 2013. But despite the fact that these conditions have been imposed, the concerns haven’t gone away. In fact, the need to put them forward in the first place could be seen as an admission that without those protections jobs would go and prices would rise. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be needed would they?

Many people are strongly opposed to the privatization of public infrastructure on the grounds that the taxpayer should continue to own the asset, enjoying the revenue from it, and guaranteeing a level of customer service that is not purely profit driven. Past experience with privatization hasn’t done anything to alleviate that concern.

The privatization of Telstra has seen the reduction of jobs along with a perceived decline in customer service. Along with that, in spite of all the talk about competition, Telstra still maintains a monopoly on most of the physical telecom network. The Telstra experience is proof for many people that the private enterprise approach simply cannot adequately meet the needs of rural and remote Australia, while at the same time serving the interests of shareholders and pursuing a profit.

There are two fundamental problems here. One is the unique nature of Australia which is suffering from the attempt to thrust an American model of economic management onto a place which is not America. The other is a more universal problem which can be summed up with this question: Is the system being made to serve the people, or are the people being made to serve the system?

The idea that democracy is a form of government where sovereignty resides in the people is gradually being undermined by the corporatisation and securitisation of everything the taxpayer owns. In other words, we are becoming tenants in our own homes. A significant slice of the general public is opposed to this privatization, and the government will be ignoring them if it presses ahead with this plan.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Paying the Privateers...

The chief amigo at Telstra, Sol Trujillo, has spoken. It seems that after a long battle with the previous government in regard to investment in broadband services, Telstra is now prepared to take on the new government. Prior to the election Telstra’s position appeared to support the Labor Party policy for a national broadband network. Now the government has changed, and Telstra has now clarified its support for the plan. Putting it as bluntly as he could, Sol Trujillo said “We are only going to participate in the things that we own and control.”

Now this is a potential problem for the new governments plan to invest almost $5 billion of taxpayers money into broadband infrastructure. Quite understandably, the government wants to have some kind of joint equity arrangement, which is a sensible protection of the taxpayers’ investment. At the same time, Telstra would be happy to take the money, or even spend its own money to build the network, but will only do so if it can own, control and set the fees for the use of the asset.

This demonstrates the very reason that it was a bad idea to sell off Telstra as a going concern in the first place. If the intention was to create competition, the network and the service provision components of the business should have been separated at the beginning. By allowing Telstra to keep its network intact the process preserved the monopoly. Even now other providers depend on the Telstra network to deliver their services. If Telstra is allowed to have sole control of the new broadband network, nothing will change and the monopoly will continue to be preserved.

As privateers (and yes I know that’s another word for pirates) Telstra is perfectly entitled to protect its interests and pursue whatever it determines to be the most profitable course. What matters is whether the new government has the fortitude to stand up to the bullying tactics of Telstra and, if necessary, build the infrastructure with another partner.

Sol Trujillo is right about one thing: if Telstra invests its own money it should be entitled to set its own prices. But that same argument suggests that if the taxpayer is also investing in the project, then the taxpayer is also entitled to have a commensurate level of control.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Part Time Police

The recent report by the New South Wales Auditor General revealed that the completion rate for police investigations fails to meet the standard of other states. It also highlighted the issue of the controversial block rostering system which can see police officers work three or four twelve hour shifts and then have as many as six consecutive days rostered off. This system is unique to New South Wales and critics have made the connection between rosters and a “part time policing” mentality.

There is a number of important concerns about this practice that deserve to be properly addressed. Block rostering is popular among police because it allows them to have extended breaks, which many of them use to moonlight in second jobs. Now, anybody is entitled to do whatever they like in their own time, so it’s perfectly legitimate for police to have second jobs. But while there are controls in place to prevent inappropriate employment, there seems to be no clear policy on fatigue management. If somebody is working two jobs it would be fair to assume that fatigue could be an issue.

But it’s not simply a matter of second jobs. Even if an officer isn’t moonlighting, the length of the shifts themselves could also lead to fatigue problems, given the demanding nature of much police work. Then there’s the situation where an officer is off duty for three or four days, or even more. Does that mean investigations can come to a standstill, and is that really in the best interests of the community?

The Police Association insists that the system works very well at attracting and retaining personnel, and that if it was changed, as many as one third of officers would leave the force. The commissioner says that he supports the right of officers to take second jobs. The difference is that no other employer bends as far over backwards to accommodate its workers moonlighting.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Blaming the Wrong People

The Department of Community Services can’t stay out of the headlines for more than a few days. The latest tragedy to hit the front pages involves the death of a newborn baby in a family already known to DOCS. “Known to DOCS” is a phrase that we have heard repeatedly in recent times, and usually in the most tragic of circumstances. Increasingly attention has been focused on the performance of DOCS as we all wonder what more could have been done to prevent these unthinkable events. But is it possible we are asking the wrong questions?

The Department certainly has shortcomings, and has a history of failure. Efforts have been made to improve training and procedures, and more and more money is spent. But the results have not been good enough. And despite an increased budget, the recent Auditor General’s report revealed that the actual per case funding has halved over five years. It is clear that more needs to be done.

The opposition has been critical of the government for holding inquiry after inquiry and achieving very little. Then, in the same breath, the opposition calls for a Royal Commission, which is really yet another inquiry. The current inquiry is headed by Justice James Wood, famous for his previous Royal Commission work, and it should be reasonable to expect him to identify clear recommendations to improve the Department’s effectiveness.

In all of this however, the headlines have begun to verge on hysteria. Surely it is a mistake, and an easy shot, to simply blame DOCS and expect the government to fix it with more money and another inquiry. Let’s not forget that DOCS did not kill these children. Severely dysfunctional individuals and families did. The real question here is where does this dysfunction come from in the first place? These tragedies are not just a sign that the Department is failing… they are a sign that society is failing to address the underlying issues that cause this extreme level of dysfunction.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

It’s Time To Move Beyond Kyoto

Kevin Rudd sure wasn’t joking when he told us during the election campaign that his first act in office would be to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Barely had he and deputy Julia Gillard been sworn in when he and the Governor General adjourned to another room to sign the necessary papers, even before the rest of the cabinet took their oaths. The urgency of doing so was perhaps partly to do with the Bali Talks getting under way on the same day as the swearing in, but more importantly, the move was symbolic in that it was intended to send a strong message to the rest of the world that Australia has changed tack on climate change.

While that is important, the real challenge still remains ahead. Climate change policy will come at a cost, and despite the evidence that the cost of inaction is greater, many people will feel the pinch as energy costs and the cost of living increase. The point has been made that we cannot continue to consume and sell coal as we have been if we are to make a genuine difference to greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, out economy can’t afford to simply abandon coal, at least not yet.

While the way ahead globally should be to move away from coal, Australia still has a tremendous vested interest in continuing to export it. This is a dichotomy that won’t be easy to reconcile. Longer term however, it will be imperative that Australia becomes a world leader in alternative energy such as solar, wind, and geothermal, just as we have been world leaders in minerals.

That’s the key to ensuring long term prosperity.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Speed Camera Figures Not Too Flash…

Since January the New South Wales government has rolled out 100 flashing light devices to warn motorists that they are entering a school zone. While the 40 kmh limit is in force, before and after school, the lights flash. It’s pretty simple, and it’s hard not to see. At the same time, 25 of those locations have fixed speed cameras in operation. According to figures reported in the Daily Telegraph almost 20000 motorists have been snapped breaking the limit in the five months from January 29 until June 30. Remember, these infringements were recorded at locations with the flashing warning lights!

It’s one thing to object to speed cameras as nothing more than revenue raising devices, and to question their deterrent value when a driver is not aware of having been caught until several weeks after the event, but this is another matter entirely. In order to get caught in one of these school zones, a driver must pass the school zone sign, pass the new flashing warning lights, and pass a speed camera warning sign. There really is no excuse for getting caught in those circumstances.

Is it possible that people are so preoccupied with other matters that they fail to notice all those warnings? Or is it an indication that some people just don’t care? Either way, it’s not good news.

The results of the RTA’s assessment of the effectiveness of the new program are not yet known, but I would hope that they will show a reduction in school zone speeding. If you can’t see the flashing lights then quite simply you should not be driving at all. And if the flashing lights aren’t getting the desired results, I expect that the authorities will respond with even more speed cameras and higher penalties. If we want to avoid that happening, then we had better start paying attention to those flashing lights and slow down for schools.

Friday, November 30, 2007

And It’s Goodnight From Him…

In a week of watershed moments, with a new government elected, and a new leadership team for the opposition, another great turning point has occurred. The nation’s most iconic broadcaster, John Laws, has switched off his golden microphone. This is not just the end of a career, or the end of an era in the media, but the end of an era in the lives of millions of ordinary Australians who have listened to Laws over his 55 years on air.

In a way that no other broadcaster has been able to match, John Laws has been embraced as a part of people’s existence. There are those who love him, those who loathe him, those who are envious, and those who have done their best to belittle him. But it has been impossible to ignore him. Such words as “icon” and legend” are frequently thrown about with sufficient casual disregard as to devalue their meaning. But John Laws has earned those accolades.

At every point in his career, John Laws has led the pack. It was John Laws who pioneered top 40 radio in the fifties. It was Laws who pioneered talk radio in the sixties. It was Laws who pioneered networked programming in the eighties and nineties. That’s not to say that he invented those formats or concepts, but he was the one who showed Australia how they could be done successfully. Even in the nineties, other attempts at networked programs failed because of a failure to understand the needs of audiences. And John Laws has always been the master of knowing who is his audience and giving them what they want.

Of course there was the controversy of his commercial arrangements, but speaking as one from inside the commercial radio industry I have to say that the whole thing was twisted out of proper perspective. From the day I began in radio at the age of 18, management has drummed into me and my colleagues the importance of looking after the sponsors. It is commercial radio, and the revenue comes from advertising. Only a fool doesn’t give his customers the best possible service. As radio announcers we have always been encouraged to go the extra mile to keep the advertisers happy. It protects and promotes the business base of the station, boosting the income of the management and the sales representatives.

For many announcers however there is no additional bonus other than the occasional free CD or concert ticket. John Laws’ only “crime” in that respect was to be astute enough to cut a deal where he too shared a “slice of the action”. I repeat, it is commercial radio, and where John Laws prospered from his sponsorships, so did the stations that broadcast his program. Others may see it differently, but John Laws never pretended to be anything other than a commercial presenter, although in truth he also delivered so much more in entertainment value, with a quick wit, a talent for incisive observation, and the ability to cut down anyone foolish enough to try to give him a tonguelashing.

Without exaggeration, it is the end of an era. And by inference it must also be the beginning of a new era… although just what that era will bring remains to be seen. But that’s a discussion for another day. Today belongs to John Laws, who I am sure would like us to remember his time on air by adhering to his daily advice to “be kind to each other”.

It’s the least we can do.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The State We Are In... And How It Got This Way.

The New South Wales Auditor General’s annual report is an epic filled with one disaterous chapter after another. From transport to policing, the report is packed with pages of evidence of how the New South Wales Government is failing us all. The Sydney ferry service is a laughing stock and the punchline is that the government’s proposed method of fixing it is to sell it. The Auditor General wonders about the $65 million that appears to have been wasted on the T-card fiasco, and so do the customers of public transport in Sydney who still have a reliable excuse for being late for work. The police service fails its performance comparison to other states, with the rate of investigations completed within 30 days falling below the national average. And so on.

Chief among the disasters is the report on the performance of the Department Of Community Services. DOCS has been in the headlines far too many times in the last few months for all the wrong reasons. There have been high profile cases of child deaths where it was later revealed that the children in question have been known to the department for a considerable time. Now we know part of the reason DOCS seems to be unable to function effectively.

The actual funding provided to the department on a per case basis has halved since 2002. Five years ago the figure was $2671 per notification. Today that figure is $1383. Apparently that is the value of a child’s safety from the point of view of the New South Wales Government.

With that as a starting point it becomes clearer as to why so many children seem to be falling through the system that is supposed to provide a safety net for them. There is obviously a whole range of factors affecting the level of performance, but without proper funding we are starting from behind the eightball.

The worst of it is that the situation pertaining to DOCS seems to be representative of government as a whole in New South Wales. Whether it’s health, education, policing, or public transport, there just isn’t enough funding getting through to the coalface, while somehow billions of dollars disappear into the bureaucracy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


It’s all too easy to get bogged down in the daily cycle of negative news and simply use this editorial to have a whinge about something. But it’s refreshing to have something positive to say. This week’s club friendly match between Sydney FC and LA Galaxy was a magnificent spectacle. The event was everything anybody could have hoped for. The crowd of more than 80 000 saw a game with everything, including the David Beckham goal from a free kick towards the end of the first half. The final score of 5 – 3 favouring Sydney FC was a terrific result reflecting the fast moving action of the game. In every sense the night was a magnificent success.

I would guess that among the millions of people who watched the game on television there would be some who would not normally watch a soccer match. It’s not hard to imagine that this one event has done more to promote the image of the game in Australia than any other single factor since the inception of the A-League, which was in itself a great step forward.

It was such a great success, wouldn’t it be a great idea if it could be made an annual event, with other great teams invited from around the world? It’s just an idea, but hasn’t Sydney come a long way since the days when the only game in town was Rugby League?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Thanks Bernie…

Australia has lost a great hero with the passing of Bernie Banton. The fight against James Hardie Industries has been well documented, but the true legacy of Bernie Banton is the inspitation that his courage has given all Australians.

At a time when it would have been entirely understandable for Bernie to quietly battle his disease in the privacy of his own home, Bernie decided to make a stand. Bernie took up the challenge of fighting against injustice, not only for himself and his family, but for all the victims of James Hardie Industries. In a sense he was fighting for all Australians, for our belief in a fair go. And it was not an easy fight. There were dirty tricks and personal attacks thrown in Bernie’s path, but he brushed it all aside because in the end his cause was just and true. Others played their part in the battle, but it was Bernie’s personal courage that really made a difference for so many people.

It was a wonderful victory when James Hardie Industries was forced to provide proper compensation to its victims. Bernie at least had the comfort of knowing that he had won that battle. Of course, the other great battle in Bernie’s life was the battle against the disease itself, and that was a battle that sadly he could not win. We have lost a truly great Australian, but thanks to Bernie’s efforts, Australia has been left a better place.

Monday, November 26, 2007


I’m not going to waste any time saying “I told you so”, but the election victory of Kevin Rudd was no surprise. Anyone who has followed the polling over the last year could have seen it coming. Some have been surprised by the magnitude of the win, but as I wrote in this blog last week, when the sticks are out nothing will stop a flogging.

For Kevin Rudd and the Labor Party a magnificent opportunity lies ahead. It’s now up to the new government to seize that opportunity and deliver on all the expectations that it has worked so hard to create.

As for Mr. Howard, it seems that he and a few of his closest colleagues were the last people in Australia to realize that he had missed his opportunity to retire as a hero. Nevertheless, it should be acknowledged that Mr. Howard has been the Liberal Party’s second most successful Prime Minister ever, and leaves a significant legacy, despite the humiliating end.

Now the task for the Liberal Party is to select a new leader without tearing itself apart. I have said for many years that Malcolm Turnbull will be the next Liberal Party Prime Minister, and I believe that now more than ever. It is right and proper that all who aspire to the leadership of the party have the opportunity to put themselves forward. However, the party needs two things from a leader: the ability to rally the party behind him (or her), and the ability to bring the voters back to the party. Contenders like Tony Abbott, Brendan Nelson, or even Alexander Downer should he be tempted to try, aren’t in a position to take the party forward because they have too much baggage from the past.

For my money, Malcolm Turnbull is the best choice. Of course, it will be a long road back to government, so even if somebody else takes the leadership now, Malcolm will still be there waiting in the wings.

Friday, November 23, 2007


So, after six weeks of unrelenting political campaigning, annoying television commercials, stumbles, bumbles and dirty tricks, the Fat Lady is about to sing. As you know, I have been off the air for a few weeks for health reasons, but I am pleased to say that I plan to be back on deck on Monday. By then we will all know just what tune the Fat Lady chose to perform on Saturday night. So, now is the time for considering the issues, assessing the campaigns and making some observations. The overwhelming consensus in the press appears to be that Kevin Rudd has powerfully out-campaigned the Prime Minister, and that the A.L.P. is set to take office. There are some who believe the outcome is not so clearcut, but they appear to be in the minority.

With a majority of opinion polls declaring a Rudd victory, and a majority of newspaper editorials predicting such an outcome, it would seem to be a no-brainer. However, there are some potential hitches for the opposition.

First, there’s the underdog effect. If everybody believes that Rudd is guaranteed victory, some might believe that it doesn’t matter which way they vote, and may choose to support the Howard Government. By and large, the underdog effect is often exaggerated and is far from a reliable source of support. If the sticks are out, nothing will stop a flogging.

Second, there is the fear factor. Not just fear of the unknown, which is an obstacle for any potential new government, but also the specific fear of Union dominated irresponsible economic management. This has been the Coalition’s not so secret weapon, and it is an effective one. There is no shortage of people with genuine concerns about the economic credentials of Labor, and about the influence of the Unions. The truth is that these concerns are grossly exaggerated, but that doesn’t mean they won’t influence the way people vote. The catch cry “Labor can’t manage money” is for many people a statement of the obvious.

Third, the fact remains that Labor must win sixteen seats or more to take government, and that all hinges on how many marginal seats will change hands. History demonstrates that a party can win the two party preferred vote by as much as 53% and still not win enough actual seats to take government. It happened to Kim Beazley and it happened to Andrew Peacock.

So, it’s not a lay down mizarre. John Howard can pull of an apparently miraculous victory. But I don’t believe he will. My prediction is a Labor victory, and if I had to pick a number I would suggest that the A.L.P. can pick up more than 20 seats.

But it’s not up to me, it’s up to you. So what do you think?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Normal Service Will Resume...

I’m not on the air at present as I am recuperating from some minor surgery. I hope to be back at the microphone in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, here’s something to think about.

It’s always a mad time during an election campaign. The carousel of endlessly elevating hysteria known as election advertising can be relied upon to reach ridiculous levels of hyperbole, and thus provide more entertainment than Sex & The City. If election advertising was to be held to the same standards of truthfulness that are applied to ordinary everyday commercial advertising then there wouldn’t be one campaign director amongst them who would escape serious jail time. The coalition’s union bashing fear campaign is nothing short of an assault with a blunt instrument.

The sanctimonious tone in which judgement upon all unions and unionists is handed down would be in any other context offensive. Here we see a gallery of Labor Party frontbenchers lined up like mugshots, with almost three quarters of them identified as unionists. Fair enough. The Labor Party is supposed to be the political wing of the union movement. It’s like saying most teachers at a Catholic school are usually Catholic. Derr. Then to drive the point home with the subtlety of a bloodstained axe those identified as unionists are stamped with the slogan “Anti-Business”. From the morally superior ground of the hard core right wing the two are assumed to be interchangeable, and together an indictment of a person’s character as being only slightly removed from Satan worshipping child abusers. It’s a campaign that rivals McCarthyism for both its paranoia and its stupidity. The sad thing is that they do it because it works. Some people actually believe that anything related to a union must be, by definition, undesirable.

Joe Hockey has proudly proclaimed that this is a fear campaign. He says it is a fear campaign rooted in fact, but of course it is important to recognize the difference between the facts and the opinions that people have about those facts. It is a fact that lightning bolts do sometimes kill people. But it is an opinion that all storms are evil and we’d all be safer if it never rained at all. If I campaigned to have all rain made illegal because thunderstorms are dangerous, that would be a fear campaign, but a fear campaign that I could claim was rooted in fact. That’s the level of logic we are currently being dealt in this election campaign.

To blithely label every unionist as “anti-business” completely dismisses all common sense. Yes there have been any number of “colourful characters” in the unions over the years who have at times been fond of business bashing. Where are they now? Have those characters ever actually advanced the cause of unions and their members? Natural selection has seen those dinosaurs gradually edged out of existence because those who genuinely support a union movement know and understand that such behaviour is unsustainable. By the same token, there have been many monsters of business who have raided, plundered and pillaged, leaving only bankrupted investors and retrenched workers somehow trying to piece together broken lives. But a handful of corporate cowboys doesn’t prove that all business people are greedy, unscrupulous thugs sucking the lifeblood out of their workers, their shareholders, and their customers.

How can unionists be anti-business? If there are no businesses, then there are no jobs. If there are no jobs there are no workers. If there are no workers, then there are no union members. If there are no union members, well then, who’s going to pay those union dues to cover the salaries of union officials? And yet people actually believe this nonsense. Of course the shoe fits on the other foot too. If there is no business there can be no jobs, but at the same time, if there are no workers there can be no business. Did I hear somebody say “skills shortage”? The reason we have these problems is because of a lack of forward planning and investment in the future inspired by bottom-line thinking. It’s that same thinking which marginalizes the value of ordinary everyday people and their place in the community. But that’s a topic for a whole other discussion.

By Joe Hockey’s logic, it would be perfectly legitimate for the Labor Party to launch a counter campaign with mugshots of the Coalition frontbench lined up on the screen. Given the contention that the introduction of Work Choices has undermined workers’ rights it could be concluded that those ministers are anti-workers’ rights. Now let’s not get confused between facts and opinions again. It is a fact that the Work Choices package removed unfair dismissal rights. It removed the No Disadvantage Test. It reduced the number of guaranteed conditions in awards. It reduced access to collective bargaining. Those are facts. Whether or not those are good or bad things is a matter of opinion. But if you are of the position that those things are bad for workers then it is entirely reasonable to denounce those Ministers who supported them. So, in our hypothetical Labor Party advertisement, every minister in the gallery could have stamped across his or her face the slogan “Anti-Worker”. Or even better, “Anti-Family”.

That makes just as much sense as Joe Hockey’s ludicrous propaganda campaign. Probably more.

So what do you think? Feel free to leave a comment, that’s why this blog is here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Crumbs from the table...

For the first time that I can recall a politician has made an election promise to give pensioners a better deal. The Prime Minister has unveiled a $4 Billion package increasing the utilities allowance for age pensioners, carers, and disability support pensioners from just over $100 up to $500. That’s a significant increase in anybody’s book. Even more importantly, the Prime Minister has also promised to introduce a new cost-of-living index to apply to the twice yearly indexation of pensions. This recognizes the fact that the CPI measure of inflation does not accurately reflect increases in day to day living costs. While the package falls short of truly lifting pensioners out of poverty, it is at least a recognition that not everybody is sharing the benefits of Australia’s much vaunted prosperity. It’s a small step, but a step in the right direction. Ultimately however, the only way to elevate pensioners out of the poverty trap is to increase the pension. Instead of one quarter of male average total earnings, it should be at least one third. And longer term, if compulsory superannuation is allowed to perform as it was originally intended, fewer people will need to be on the full pension anyway. Wouldn’t that be the best option?

So, is the Prime Minister’s offer to the pensioners enough to pick up the grey power vote? Or is it too little, too late? Leave your comment here…

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Is respect out of fashion?

This is not exactly headline news, but it strikes me as being worthy of comment. For two days in a row, Prime Minister John Howard has been accosted by total strangers and verbally abused. On Monday, as the Prime Minister took his morning walk around Lake Burleigh Griffin, a man shouted at him, “You’re a disgrace John!” Then on Tuesday in Adelaide another middle aged man took it upon himself to tell Mr. Howard that he is a “bloody arsehole”. Now, maybe it’s just me, but I find this sort of behaviour completely unacceptable. If our children did it they would be sent to the naughty corner! If it was your father or your grandfather out walking and this was dome to him, you’d want the culprit put in his place wouldn’t you? No matter how strongly you might disagree with John Howard’s politics, there is no call for this kind of nonsense. Abusive behaviour always says far more about those who are dishing it out than it does about those who are unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end. So, is this sort of thing acceptable now? Is this the way good people behave? Maybe I’m just getting old, but why should we have to put up with it? If you don’t like John Howard’s policies you can send him a message where it counts… at the ballot box!

So, how do you feel? Is the Prime Minister entitled to a bit more courtesy, or am I completely out of touch?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Is DOCS failing us all?

There is never going to be an acceptable or adequate explanation for why Dean Shillingsworth is dead. Despite the fact that the Department of Community Services had been contacted over concerns for his wellbeing, there was no adequate to prevent his death. Now there is never going to be a perfect system, and there may always be some cases that are not caught in time. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking questions about the procedures and competencies at the Department of Community Services. If there are any calls for help that are going unanswered, then the system is failing all of us. And while many people have very strong feelings about how the mother should be dealt with, that is not the answer either. The angry crowd that called for her to be drowned in the lake represents the feelings of many in the community. But those feelings are misguided. There has been no evidence yet put before a court, no conviction or acquittal yet recorded. It achieves nothing to indulge mob mentality. What might achieve something is a thorough review of the question of why the Department of Community Services is apparently unable to respond effectively to the 240 000 calls for help it receives each year.

What do you think? Is the Department of Community Services to blame for not intervening?

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Australian Dream: Out Of Reach For Ordinary Australians

There has been growing concern over the housing affordability crisis for quite some time. The latest figures however have taken us into unknown territory. Now, for the first time, a family will need a household income of more than $100 000 in order to qualify for a mortgage to buy a median priced home. In other words, an average family can no longer afford to buy an average house. Naturally there is a growing expectation that the government will somehow “fix” the problem. The fact is that government has been part of the problem, in particular State and Local governments adding to the cost of development with increasingly excessive levies and charges. In the end, if capital values continue to be over-inflated, the market will find a way to correct itself. That’s why it’s appropriate for home affordability to be on the Federal election agenda. If the crisis can be managed so as to provide an easing over time, it would help to avoid the risk of a more damaging market collapse at some point in the future. After all, that is something we really can’t afford.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Do we have teenage drug dealers in our schools? Well, the short answer is yes. But to some extent that misrepresents the problem. Although there may be some who could be described as dealers, the real problem is more about social behaviour and perceptions of what is cool and what is not cool. There is very good evidence that drug incidence in schools is falling, and that the drug education programs are working. Kids nowadays are better informed than ever before, and are more likely to understand the risks involved in drugs. That’s not to say that things are perfect, because they are not. It remains true that drugs are alarmingly easy to obtain in our community, and some drugs, such as ecstasy, are seen as harmless fun and a social enhancer. When drugs do enter a school it’s more likely that they’ve been passed around among friends, or obtained from older siblings and sometimes even parents. To whatever extent that we may have a drug problem in our schools, it reflects a problem in the broader community. That has been amply demonstrated by Ben Cousins, and before him, Andrew Johns. It’s not just the parents who need to worry, it’s all of us.

So are we winning the so-called war on drugs? Can we win it? Either way I don’t believe we can afford to run up the white flag.

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Are taxcuts enough to buy your vote?

John Howard has launched his election campaign with a bang. $34 billion worth of tax cuts is going to get anybody’s attention. But will it get their vote? It’s almost a tradition in this country to announce tax cuts in an election year, made possible by the inevitable effects of bracket creep. Without indexation of the tax thresholds, wages growth over time propels people into higher tax brackets and erodes their disposable income in real terms. This makes it possible for a government to make itself appear generous from time to time by giving back some of what it has taken. With a massive and growing budget surplus, the government is clearly collecting more tax than it needs, and it’s only right that the excess is given back. But it would be more honest to index the thresholds so that too much tax isn’t collected in the first place. Then there is the question of whether the money could be better spent on improving other things, for example highways and hospitals. Despite the fact that these are primarily state government responsibilities there is a widely held expectation that whoever the federal government might be after the election, they should do something to fix the perceived problems. And with so much money in the federal budget surplus surely that is a reasonable expectation for taxpayers to have.

So how would you spend the money? Taxcuts? Or highways and hospitals?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Can John Howard avoid the iceberg, or is he already sunk?

Can John Howard stage the biggest comeback by an incumbent Prime Minister in the history of Australia? All this year the opinion polls have been pointing to an A.L.P. victory, with some newspapers using headlines such as RUDDSLIDE! If we are to believe the polls we might as well not bother having the election at all, but simply hand over the keys to The Lodge to Kevin Rudd. But, of course, it’s not that simple. Opinion polls are not necessarily reliable indicators of election results. They can change dramatically during the course of an election campaign, and sometimes they don’t even agree with each other. However, the fact is the opinion polls have all been consistent all year. The fact is that no other incumbent Prime Minister has come from so far behind to win. The fact is that all the available evidence points to a Kevin Rudd led Labor victory. There is one more fact to consider. If anyone can perform such a miraculous comeback John Howard is your man. His determination and skill are not to be underestimated. I suspect, however, that many voters have already decided that it’s time for this government to go, and it would take an extraordinary development to turn that around.

So what do you think? Is it too late for John Howard?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Buck passing is making us all ill...

Despite the fact that everybody everywhere is sick and tired of buck passing and blame shifting in politics, it seems to be all we are getting at the moment. In particular, the growing mountain of evidence to indicate that public hospitals are failing to provide the standard of care we should be entitled to expect is still being ignored by the NSW government. When pushed on the subject the Premier and the Health Minister will invariably cry poor and accuse the Commonwealth of starving them of funds. The Commonwealth, on the other hand, insists that they have paid every penny of the funds agreed to by the states, and that the states have failed to manage the health system effectively. The fact is they are both right. However, the claim by the states is a dummy pass. Whatever funds they have available, it is the responsibility of the states to DO something. The real problem is that instead of addressing the issues we have got more finger pointing and buck passing than ever before. And until the NSW Government recognizes that the massive Area Health Services bureaucracy is part of the problem no amount of additional funding is actually going to fix it. It’s clearly wrong to blame John Howard for the failure of our public hospitals, but things have reached the point where there is an expectation that he should fix it. Meanwhile, workchoices has disappeared from the front page… co-incidence? Or clever politics?

Have your say by clicking the link and leaving a comment.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Shock! Balls seen in football dressing room!

I’m not sure how many people have seen the video footage of Michael Robertson in his birthday suit in the Manly dressing room after the grand final. It might be easier to ask how many people have not seen it, such is the power of the internet. There is absolutely no doubt that the exposure was completely accidental, and Michael Robertson had no idea he was on camera. The incident does raise more than one question though. Firstly, in our pursuit of better and better coverage of sporting events, have we gone too far with cameras and microphones intruding into places that would once have been out of bounds. Secondly, once the image was accidentally captured, the fact is that one individual decided that it would be funny to upload the video onto the internet. Has that individual gone too far? Was it appropriate that he has lost his job? And while many will see the funny side, the entire affair has been terribly embarrassing for Manly, and Mr. Robertson. For my money, I don’t understand why anybody would be shocked or surprised to see a naked bloke in the dressing room after a footy match. For heaven’s sake, what do you expect? Michael Robertson and the Manly Club have absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about, and even the cameraman can be forgiven for not noticing what was happening in the background. If we are so worried about this sort of thing getting seen the answer is simple… keep the cameras out of the shed. Now, that’s not hard is it?

What are your thoughts? Click the link to post your comments.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Capital punishment... will it hurt Kevin Rudd?

Kevin Rudd and his Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister Robert McClelland have decided to take a stand opposing capital punishment in Asia. While Australia has officially opposed the death penalty for quite some time, there have been times in recent years when our government has quietly chosen not to voice that opposition. In particular, Australian authorities have given the silent nod of approval for the execution of the Bali bombers, and also of Saddam Hussein. As a matter of principle the opposition is right. If you don’t oppose the death penalty with 100% consistency, then you cannot claim to truly oppose it. For many people, the fate of the Bali bombers is nothing less than they deserve, and some Australians will probably be offended by the suggestion that they be spared. What might also be unsettling for some is the fact that this Friday is the 5th anniversary of the first Bali bombing. So, is Kevin Rudd risking a voter backlash over his Foreign Affairs spokesman's stand opposing the execution of the Bali bombers? Not on your life! Mr. Rudd has quickly moved to distance himself from Mr. McClelland's remarks. But ultimately, if you truly oppose capital punishment, there is no other position available.

What do you think?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Pole Dancing for Beginners

The sexualisation of children has been of increasing concern to the community for some time now. There has been much debate about teenage fashion models, about the clothing marketed to teenage and even pre-teenage girls, and about the example set by role models in popular music such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Now there’s an interesting pair of women… one of them tragically off the rails, the other reveling in her success. But what they both have in common is something that has become known as “Raunch Culture”. Until now, there has been a cloud of ambiguity around the whole debate. What some might see as sexy, others might see as sweet and innocent. But now the debate has reached a whole new level with the latest craze being pole dancing. There is absolutely no ambiguity about pole dancing. It comes fully loaded with all the sexual connotations of a buck’s night at the strip club, whether you like it or not. Now it’s all very well for adults to have a bit of fun, and good luck to them, but there is something truly disturbing about the idea of teaching seven year old girls how to pole dance. What’s more disturbing is the handful of parents who seem to think it’s a good idea.

What do you think?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

It's Your Say!

Hi! Welcome to the Leon Delaney Show Blog. In this space I will post some of my editorials, and maybe some other bits and pieces as well. More importantly, it is a place where you can respond with your own thoughts, whether it's a reply to something I've said, or just something you'd like to get off your chest. Check in often for the latest updates, and your chance to have your say. And of course, don't forget to listen to the Leon Delaney Show on 2SM in Sydney on 1269AM every weekday from 9:00 till midday. And if you can't listen on the radio, listen on the net at and click on the links to listen live.

Now, over to you...