Friday, February 29, 2008

Something You Don’t Want To Pass On To Your Kids.

The New South Wales government has taken the first step towards banning the smoking of cigarettes in cars with children. This follows the recent introduction of such bans in South Australia and Tasmania. The Minister responsible for Cancer, Verity Firth, has announced that a discussion paper will be released in the coming month as a prelude to drafting legislation.

This really should be a no-brainer. In fact, the real question is why have we waited so long? It is amazing that there are some people who still do it, but apparently there are. Exposing young children to cigarette smoke in an enclosed environment such as a car is obviously harmful, so such a law is easily justified. However, some are questioning whether it can be enforced.

It’s true that it may be difficult to police, and many people might continue the practice and get away with it. But the point is that others won’t. Some will be caught, and some will actually respect the law. Others will be the subject of criticism from their families and friends. It will make a difference. Not to impose such a law amounts to condoning the practice, and given what we now know about the health effects of passive smoking, that’s no longer appropriate.

As I have said many times before, I am in favour of going further and banning smoking in cars altogether. There are three reasons for this. One is obviously the health argument. The second is the safety question. Handheld phones are illegal, but cigarettes are not? That makes no sense when you consider the danger caused if somebody accidentally drops a burning cigarette in their lap while driving! The third reason is that if you are not smoking in your car then you are not throwing butts out of the window, causing environmentally damaging litter, and creating a significant bushfire risk.

All in all, there is no good reason for anybody to smoke in a car at any time.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sport Should Be About More Than Scoring Points

It’s always disappointing when we see kids’ sporting activities ruined by aggressive parents behaving belligerently. It’s even worse when one of those parents is actually a team official acting as a linesman. The case of Peter Quigley, who has been suspended for six weeks, shows just how extreme some parents can become.

Acting as a linesman at a match in September last year, Mr. Quigley complained to the referee on several occasions in the first half. His complaints were loud and forceful to the point where he was told he was ruining the game, but still he continued until the referee called off the game altogether. The argument then spilled over among the parents of the opposing team who were angry that Mr. Quigley had caused the match to be abandoned. Mr. Quigley alleges that somebody made physical contact with his son, at which he responded by saying, “ All you people are the lowest form of life. You should all have been wiped out during the war.”

Did I mention that the other team was the Maccabi club, a Jewish team?

If indeed somebody became physical with Mr. Quigley’s son, that is also out of bounds. But it’s certainly not justification for such an outrageous racist outburst. In fact, things should never have been allowed to reach that stage in the first place. One of the things that we are trying to teach kids in sport is to respect the referee. Apparently Mr. Quigley fails to understand this.

What worries me is that there are other Mr. Quigleys out there in the community. People who feel that it’s not how you play the game, but whether you win or lose that matters most. People who feel that someone else’s mistake is justification for a tirade of abuse. People who act as if the best way to resolve a dispute is to become aggressive and offensive. People who have no concern for the good of the game or the wellbeing of others.

What’s really sad is that some of those people are playing sport professionally and are making headlines for abusing each other rather than playing the game. With that sort of example to follow, parents must work all the harder to show their kids the true spirit of sport, which is to respect the game, the referee, and the opponent. It’s the only code to follow if you want to receive respect in return.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pruning The Bush

There is no doubt that the new federal government confronts a significant challenge in dealing with the legacy of increasing inflation left behind by the previous government. Higher inflation means higher interest rates, and homebuyers and business owners don’t want to see that. It can also be argued that higher interest rates can actually contribute to inflation through the threat of increased wage and price pressures as people try to keep up. Then at some point the bubble bursts and demand falls away, taking the steam out of the economy. The trouble is that the bursting bubble can be too dramatic and trigger a recession.

That’s why interest rate policy is often described as a blunt instrument. It often punishes people who are already the victims of the inflationary problem, and the results can be unpredictably messy. If inflation can be contained by means other than interest rate increases that must be a good thing. Or is it?

Wayne Swan has made no secret of his intention to reign in government spending, despite the fact that there remains a record surplus projected to reach as much as $30 Billion in the coming budget. The problem is that cutting government spending not only reduces the money flowing into the economy, it reduces the services performed by government. Notwithstanding the fact that it must be possible to identify clear areas of waste which can be tidied up, there is a risk that excessive budget restraint is also going to hurt the people who depend most on government services. In fact, it is possible to underfund services to the point where they actually become less efficient. I like to refer to that effect as “pruning the bush so far back that you kill it.” On top of that there is also the risk, as with interest rates, that if taken too far the policy can actually provoke a recession.

Then there is the question of what to do with the $30 Billion. It is now accepted wisdom that infrastructure and skills are the two areas of our economy that have been the victims of dramatic underinvestment. Our inflationary problems are not so much driven by demand but by capacity constraints. That’s why the $30 billion could be productively invested in better infrastructure, along with more education and training. I’d like to add one more suggestion: I’d like to see some of that surplus going into our superannuation funds as a co-contribution. Now that’s a real investment in the future.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Web Of Scandal

Nobody is going to walk away from the Wollongong corruption scandal unscathed. Regardless of what findings I.C.A.C. might deliver, the fallout is already spreading throughout politics. From the initial allegations of bribes and sexual liaisons relating to the former town planning officer Beth Morgan, to the question of political donations to the Labor Party, and now the revelation that at least one of the developers also made contributions to the Liberal Party.

While the New South Wales government is contemplating the sacking of the Wollongong Council, the councilors are asking how that is appropriate when the problem wasn’t with the councilors. The development industry is proposing that planning authority be removed from councils altogether, and handed over to panels reporting directly to the state. But of course it is the state parliamentarians, and federal for that matter, whose election campaigns are funded from donations.

This has prompted the Prime Minister to call for a reform to the whole political donation process, as well as identifying taxpayer funded government advertising as another area requiring reform. In fact the two have now become linked with suggestions that such funding could be redirected towards the cost of campaigning on an allocation basis.

The backwash of this scandal, combined with other unpopular issues, has left Premier Morris Iemma’s approval rating at an all time low. In truth however, all political parties at all levels of government have milked this particular cow at one time or another, and real reform is overdue.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Here’s To Your Health…

Apparently we have a drinking problem. A week or so ago, our Prime Minister identified what he described as a “binge drinking epidemic” as a priority for his government and our community to address. Now, the Australian Nation Council on Drugs has released figures that reveal the numbers of teenagers who not only drink, but do so at levels that would be excessive at any age. In any given week, one in ten teenagers from 12 to 17 abuse alcohol at the level where boys consume seven or more drinks in a day, and for girls, five or more drinks in a day.

While the first question is obviously where are they getting the alcohol in the first place, the bigger question is why do they think it’s normal or desirable? A big part of the problem is that kids learn their behaviour by following examples, not by following instructions. So when they see adults behaving as if drunkenness is a normal or desirable activity, the youngsters naturally follow suit. It might not be their parents, it might be role models in entertainment or advertising or just in their circle of acquaintances. But as long as society acts as if it’s cool to get smashed, then no amount of good advice or education is going to be completely successful.

The new research indicates that the age at which kids are turning to alcohol is younger than ever before. That’s not really a surprise when almost half a million kids are living in a home where the adults are themselves bingedrinkers. The end result is easily connected to the apparently increasing problems of public intoxication and violence. If kids are already binge drinkers by the time they are 16, what do you think they will be getting up to when they turn 18?

Part of the problem is that some people don’t even think there is a problem. This is not about being wowsers or stopping people from enjoying themselves. It is about stopping the harm to health and wellbeing caused by excessive drinking, which becomes vastly more devastating when the damage begins at an early age.