Friday, November 26, 2010

Pass The Champagne…

Although it seems that bank bashing has only become fashionable in the last few months, with both the government and the opposition climbing on board the bandwagon, some of us have been pointing out the excessive and unacceptable practices of banks for many years. Over that time, it has always seemed as if the targets of such criticism have the hide of the proverbial rhinoceros, as every attack appeared to leave no impression whatsoever. In fact, there have been times when it seemed as if the big banks actually enjoyed the criticism, smiling smugly from within their ivory towers, sipping Veuve Clicquot and puffing long panatellas. But now, suddenly and almost shockingly, one of the enemy appears to have broken ranks and spoken the unspeakable.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Cameron Clyne, the CEO at the National Australia Bank has said that it is time for banks to stop being arrogant. How extraordinary! But of course, this outburst of humble pie hasn’t suddenly come out of the blue. It is a carefully constructed reaction to the realisation that after years of customer dissatisfaction, the government might finally be about to actually do something to intervene. With both the government and the opposition taking up the cause, and preparing to impose greater regulation, the banks have suddenly found themselves backed into a corner of their own making. So naturally, the only course of action open to them is to try to head off any such moves by launching a pre-emptory strike.

While it might well seem cynical that after years of people like you and me loudly pointing out their failings, the banks are only now getting the message under threat of government intervention, it is nevertheless a good thing. Now at last, instead of spending millions on glossy television advertisements proclaiming their wonderful service, they might devote more efforts to actually delivering that wonderful service. You know, practical things, like abolishing those excessive fees and charges, keeping branches open in country towns, and giving customers a fair go on interest rates. If they did, it would do more to revive their public image than any glossy advertising campaign ever could, or any number of bank executives standing in front of the cameras wondering if perhaps they should become less arrogant.

Now pass me that bottle of Veuve Clicquot would you?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Altiyan Childs Interview

After a huge response from listeners today, here is the full recording of the interview with X-Factor winner, Altiyan Childs...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It’s Knock Off Time

So today is “National Go Home On Time Day”. This event has been declared in response to findings that Australians are working longer hours than any other Western country. And if that’s not enough, it appears that many of the extra hours are unpaid overtime. Research from the Australia Institute has found that Australian workers are “donating’ over $70 billion worth of overtime to their employers each year. Of course, the word “donation” implies choice, and while I’m sure that many people volunteer to go the extra mile in order to improve their chances of advancement, I am equally sure that this is not always the case. At least some of those who are working unpaid overtime do so for fear of losing their jobs, or because there is a workplace culture which will judge them harshly if they do not “love their job” so much that they are prepared to do it for free.

The plain fact of the matter is that involuntary unpaid overtime of this nature is nothing short of theft. It is a form of exploitation where the powerful take advantage of the vulnerable, stealing their labour for no financial reward. The truth is that any workplace with this kind of culture is going to find that the best and most capable employees will be the ones who get fed up with being treated like dirt and decide to leave. It is a culture which belittles the individual and demeans the worth of that individual’s contribution. It reflects a management attitude which is cavalier and autocratic, and which amounts to a kind of corporate serfdom where employees are expected to offer undying gratitude for the job that they hold, even if they are not being paid for what they do. And yet, if a plumber is called out to a job after 5pm he will expect to be paid for the hours that he works, so why should any of us be treated any differently?

And since today is “National Go Home On Time Day”, it’s now time for me to do my part and knock off. Good bye.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stop, But Go!

While it seems on the face of it that the New South Wales government has done motorists a favour with the announcement of the overhaul of the demerits points system, there is also a strangely mixed message attached. On the one hand, the government has over the years increased the penalties for a variety of offences, increased enforcement measures such as introducing more speed cameras, and increased the impact of penalties at certain times with the imposition of double demerits for public holiday weekends. On the other hand, they now appear to be admitting that they have been too harsh on motorists and to make up for it have decided to become more lenient with yesterday’s changes to demerit points. When you stop and think about it, doesn’t that seem to be something of a contradiction? It’s as if the government is saying “stop, but go” at the same time.

Of course, drivers who feel that the penalties have become too draconian will no doubt feel some relief at these changes, but surely there is a risk that we will all miss the point. While we might feel a bit more relaxed about all those new speed cameras now that we are going to see them clearly marked, aren’t we forgetting that ultimately the responsibility for road safety is in our hands? The most important factor is driver attitude, and the onus upon us all to drive in a manner suitable for the road conditions, whatever they might be, at all times. And while we are all feeling more grateful to the government for letting us off the hook a bit more often, aren’t we forgetting that it is that same government who is responsible for under-funding road infrastructure? Not to mention, for creating an increasingly complex road environment with apparently arbitrary and constantly changing speed limits which leave drivers frustrated and confused?

If the New South Wales government was serious about road safety they would invest more into road infrastructure, driver training, and real police in highway patrol cars, instead of doing deals with merchant bankers to raise revenue from speed cameras. The problem is that relying on measures like speed cameras makes it too easy for the government to appear as if they are doing something, when really they doing nothing about the factors that actually matter. The change to demerit points, while easing the burden on mistake prone motorists to some degree, is really a bit of nonsense, because those who habitually break the road rules will always find themselves just one more infringement away from disaster no matter how many points they might be allowed to accrue, while those who genuinely and diligently try to avoid breaking any rules very rarely will.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Still Blaming Anyone But Themselves

The latest Neilsen Poll published by the Sydney Morning Herald shows that the Gillard led Labor government is struggling to gain public support. With the two party preferred figures favouring the opposition 51% to 49%, it appears that if there was an election held today the government would lose office. Of course, the fact is that there isn’t going to be an election held today and, in theory at least, there won’t be until 2013. And in the unlikely even that a snap election is brought on any time soon, the fact is that calling an election actually has an impact on opinion polls because people are pushed into making up their minds. When an election is actually called, it suddenly becomes real rather than hypothetical. So, despite the continued poor performance in the polls for the Labor Party, it’s all really just academic.

Or is it? Already, barely three months since the election, and about five months since the sacking of Kevin Rudd by his own colleagues, there are hints of whispers of rumours of suggestions that Prime Minister Gillard may be targeted for similar treatment if the polls don’t turn around. At this point, it is not an imminent threat, but the prospect that such a thought could be contemplated by anyone in the Federal Labor Party is extraordinary. It is also an indication that there are at least some who have simply not understood the meaning of the message delivered to them at the election they so nearly lost. It is a lesson that the Labor Party has failed to learn in New South Wales, and can’t afford to ignore at the Federal level.

The idea that any government can avoid electoral defeat in the wake of poor opinion polls simply by bringing down a leader and replacing him with a shiny new one is not only misguided, but it is morally bankrupt. Perhaps it gained some acceptance because Morris Iemma won an election in New South Wales after replacing Bob Carr despite widespread discontent with the government at the time. But the difference was that Bob Carr actually retired, rather than being forced to leave. Paul Keating won a Federal election after bumping aside Prime Minister Bob Hawke, but that was only because Liberal Leader John Hewson couldn’t cut up a birthday cake without getting confused about the tax implications.

The bottom line for both the New South Wales and the Federal Labor governments is that dumping a leader in response to poor polling will always bee seen by the voters for what it is. That is, a pathetic attempt to hoodwink the voters not to notice that bringing in a new clown hasn’t changed the fact that it is still the same old circus. It’s a clear indication of a government which has become more concerned with polls than with policy, consumed by their own spin, and completely out of touch with the real world. If any such move is ever launched against Julia Gillard in the coming year or so, it will be a sure sign that the same old desperados are still looking to blame anyone but themselves for their failures.