Friday, February 22, 2008

Rental Crisis Alarm Bells Were Ignored…

The National Housing Conference this week has heard that rising rents are forcing people to skip meals to make ends meet. The research has been undertaken by the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute through surveys and interviews with both renters and new home buyers. Many new home buyers are finding themselves stretched, but the real crisis appears to be among renters.

According to the study, 26 percent of low income renters go without food so that they can pay the rent. 42 percent cannot afford to send their children on school excursions. 72 percent of all renters are constantly worried about their finances.

The federal housing minister, Tanya Plibersek, has also presented a report commissioned by the previous government which has been kept secret since its completion more than two years ago. That report showed that even then a rental crisis was already taking a grip, with a third of renters paying more than a third of their incomes on rent.

Renters and owners alike face the prospect of disaster in any economic downturn, which some commentators are seeing as increasingly likely. The conference has been told that any economic slowdown would see the decline in demand result in job losses feeding into a recessionary cycle which would also see house prices in many areas fall. In other words, we are standing at the edge of an economic precipice, and it will take a delicate balancing act not to fall.

The simple answer is that there is no simple answer. The warning signs began to emerge a long time ago, but nobody wanted to hear the alarm bells, especially the previous government which was busy telling us all how we had never been better off. Now it’s time to work out how we are going to pay the piper.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Only Three More Years Until You Can Vote Them Out…

The growing scandal around the corruption allegations concerning Wollongong threatens to envelop the New South Wales Government. Currently the subject of hearings by I.C.A.C., the story that has emerged is a tale of far more twists and turns than a television crime drama. When the evidence given by former town planning officer Beth Morgan hit the headlines it was just the beginning of the unraveling of a web that now has embroiled a number of government ministers, including the Premier.

It has been revealed that Ms. Morgan was involved in romantic affairs with more than one developer, and received cash and gifts in return for development approvals. One of those developers, Glen Tabak, is connected to a company which is also a significant campaign funds donor to several Labor Party members.

Ms. Morgan was also involved in what is described as a long term relationship with another developer, Frank Vellar. They were allegedly approached by two other men, Ray Younan and Gerald Carroll, who are alleged to have impersonated I.C.A.C. officials and demanded bribes. It is alleged that $50 000 was paid and that Ms. Morgan had sex with Mr. Carroll as part of the deal. What she didn’t know is that Mr. Vellar already allegedly had a past association with Mr. Younan.

Another man alleged to have paid bribe money to the pair is Joe Scimone. Mr. Scimone has been a Labor Party branch president, a pre-selection candidate, a campaign manager for the now police minister David Campbell, and a long time friend of Joe Tripodi, as well as a Wollongong City Councilor until last year. Last month he was given a job with N.S.W. Maritime commanding the impressive salary of $200 000. His friendships and associations extend all the way to include the Premier. There are also extensive and unsavoury sexual harassment allegations against Mr. Scimone.

Of course, even if any of these allegations are proven against Mr. Scimone, it would be wrong to consider the premier and senior ministers guilty by association. But it simply isn’t reasonable to accept that nobody knew anything about this can of worms before it hit the headlines this week.

As if the crises in Health and Community Services weren’t already enough, this fiasco has completely shredded what remained of the N.S.W. government’s credibility.

And we’re stuck with them for another three years.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Smile, Not A Grimace.

It must have been a bitter pill to swallow for Deputy Liberal Leader Julie Bishop to front the media in her capacity as Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations and finally kill off Australian Workplace Agreements. Ms Bishop had until that point been fighting tooth and nail to preserve the contracts, despite the government’s determination to abolish them along with Work Choices. Just days ago there was talk of blocking legislation until that distinction was recognized, and the response from the government of a threat to bring on a double dissolution early election. All of that has now fizzled out.

Minister Bishop insists that the Liberal party still wants a system of individual contracts as part of the I.R. landscape, and is now satisfied with the government’s plan to rely on common law contracts for that purpose. This is a complete reversal of her previous position, and represents a moment of epiphany. Not the realization that AWAs had become the instruments of undermining pay, conditions and living standards, but that defending them was not politically sustainable.

Despite the fact that AWAs did exist before Work Choices, they had become the symbol of everything that was wrong about the Howard government workplace relations policy. The new Prime Minister promised a fresh start and that’s what the electorate expects. For the opposition to cling to the malodorous debris of a failed policy would be sheer stupidity.

Still, it must have been difficult for Julie Bishop to smile at the press conference, rather than grit her teeth.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

No More Excuses

It is beyond belief that $98 million dollars has been spent by the New South Wales government building the brand new Bathurst hospital only to be told by doctors that it is so badly designed and built that it needs to be, at least partly, torn down. The list of faults is staggering. Leaking sewerage is dripping from one floor to the next. Rooms are too small for the purposes for which they were intended. Vehicular access will not accommodate ambulances. Wards have been opened with fewer rather than more beds. The paging system is faulty and doctors have failed to receive urgent messages about patients at risk. The full report extends to five pages.

The people of Bathurst are entitled to be outraged. The rest of New South Wales should be worried. Something like this unfolds over a period of years through the planning, project management, construction, and fit-out stages. How is it that a project of this nature can make it all the way to commissioning before the alarm bells go off? Sadly, Bathurst is not the only community in need of a hospital upgrade.

The Royal North Shore Hospital has been the subject of repeated controversy, and is itself the subject of a $720 million upgrade. What guarantee is there that this crucial project will fare any better than Bathurst? The only thing worse than not spending the money on essential services, is spending it badly. The continuing theme that has emerged is that the government seems to be incapable of listening to the people who are actually at the coalface, such as the doctors and nurses who are battling to hold the health system together.

The New South Wales government is a high tax, high expenditure government, but what exactly are we getting for the money?


Monday, February 18, 2008

Alarmed, But Not Alert

NSW Police are planning to set up a database of every closed circuit security camera location in the state. The idea is simple enough… businesses both large and small already have cameras operating inside and outside of their premises which can provide critical video evidence in the event of a crime being committed. If all the locations are listed on a central database, the police will be able to access and source these pictures more quickly.

It has already been demonstrated overseas that the idea can provide significant assistance to an investigation, quickly and effectively. The London bombings of 2005 are cited as a prime example of video cameras being instrumental in retracing the movements of offenders and tracking them down. There is also some evidence to suggest that the presence of cameras in any given area may also help prevent some crime from happening in the first place.

Despite the fact that many people feel safer knowing that public places are monitored on security cameras, some are concerned about privacy issues. Some are also concerned about civil liberties implications, and the inevitable references to “Big Brother” are brought out again. Of course, “Big Brother” refers to a scenario where an oppressive government keeps its population under constant surveillance, even in their homes, to prevent any kind of uprising.

What the NSW Police are proposing here is not a “Big Brother” scenario. The cameras already exist. They are already watching your every move. They are doing so in public places, where your privacy is not invaded. The plan to create the database won’t change any of that.

You might want to be careful though about where you stand if you pick your nose.