Friday, December 24, 2010

The Meaning Of Christmas

Here we are at the end of anther year, and it’s time once again to share wishes of peace and goodwill to all men and women. It’s time to celebrate with family and friends, and it’s time to spare a thought and maybe some loose change for those who are less fortunate. It’s time to try hard not to eat and drink too much, and if we don’t fully succeed, then it will no doubt be time for a Christmas afternoon nap. It is time to reflect upon the year that has passed and to look forward to the year ahead. And it’s a good time to remember the true reason for Christmas.

Now before anybody goes and gets all politically correct on me and starts worrying about possibly offending people of different religions, or perhaps none at all, let me point out that you don’t actually have to be Christian to appreciate the true spirit of the season. Whether we choose to follow Jesus or not, his simple instruction to “love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” is one that any of us can accept. That’s why I have always finished my program with a little bit of advice about all of us taking care of each other.

No matter whether you are Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim or none of the above, it is advice which can help us to better our lives, and the lives of those around us. To see so many misguided members of the politically correct brigade trying to stamp out that message for fear of offending someone is itself offensive, and is one of the most disappointing aspects of celebrating Christmas each year. But people of good will who belong to every faith should reject such nonsense and simply share in each other’s joy.

Now that the year is coming to a close, I must also thank you for listening to my radio program each day. For the past seven years I have presented the morning show from 9am until midday on 2SM and on network stations. It has been a fun, fabulous, frantic, and sometimes frightening rollercoaster ride, talking to all sorts of people, ranging Prime Ministers to pop stars, to everyday people like you. Thank you for listening, and being part of the show, and thank you for all the phone calls and the emails.

Merry Christmas, and until next time, take care of yourself. But more importantly, let’s all remember to take care of each other because in the end “each other” is all we ever really have.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Last Minute Shopping

All right, own up. Have you done your Christmas shopping yet? Apparently, according to the Australian National Retailers Association, one in five Australians do their shopping in the final week. And it’s men who are more likely to be making the mad dash with a survey done last year showing 40% of men leave their Christmas shopping until the last minute. Behavioural experts claim that men consider shopping, including Christmas shopping, to be just another task, like mowing the lawn, and either avoid it for as long as possible until it simply has to be done, or approach it with a “grab it and go” mentality. Women, it would seem, are more likely to get started on their shopping ahead of time, and might well spread the process out over several days or even weeks.

Either way, if you are brave enough to venture into the shops in the last couple of days before Christmas you are likely to encounter big crowds, and have difficulty finding a parking space. There is a sense of urgency as time runs out to find the perfect gift for that someone special, and the mood of the crowd is best described as frantic. It’s enough to make you question your own sanity for being a part of it all. In fact, that same survey that showed men to be more likely to be last minute shoppers also showed that they were likely to regret not having done it earlier. I guess that it just goes to show that men can be irrational after all.

So, this Christmas, I made the decision to learn from the past, and to take action. No more procrastinating, no more excuses, I would definitely do my Christmas shopping early this year, and get it all done so that I can relax and enjoy the season. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. In fact, I’m off to the shops right now to get it all done today, instead of leaving it until tomorrow. I feel so much better now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Just Another Dodgy Decision

Nobody much likes the New South Wales government. Nobody much trusts it either. So it’s no great surprise to find that the Premier has decided to prorogue the parliament, that is, to shut down all parliamentary business, in an apparent effort to close down an enquiry into the controversial electricity assets sale. The enquiry, initiated by the Opposition, had been set to commence in January and was to deliver its findings on the 5th of March just three weeks before the election. However, today’s decision means that no parliamentary business can be conducted until after the election, even though it is still three months and four days away.

It’s a blatant and cynical move to shut up the critics and prevent any damaging findings emerging during the election campaign, but simply pulling the rug out from under the enquiry isn’t going to fool the people of New South Wales, or stop them from questioning the wisdom of the electricity sell off. It is not going to stop public criticism and condemnation of a deal which has satisfied no-one other than the government itself, and presumably the purchasers of the assets. On the contrary, voters are likely to see this move as just one more dodgy decision from a government that they no longer trust.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The $50 Billion Entertainment System

Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has responded to the release of the National Broadband Network Business Case by asking “do we really want to invest $50 billion of hard-earned taxpayers' money in what is essentially a video entertainment system?” Of course, the reality is that the Network will actually do a whole lot more than just become a video entertainment system, and the cost to the federal budget will not be $50 billion. In any case, the investment is projected to start showing a profit in just over ten years, so there will actually be a return on investment for the taxpayer over time. Nonetheless, it is still a legitimate question to ask if we are spending too much on a network we don’t need.

To take the second part first, there is no question that Australia desperately needs to have a network upgrade to deliver 21st century technology to as much of the population as possible, so the debate has really been about how much capacity is required. The network is promised to deliver connection speeds of 100 megabits per second, although the business plan acknowledges that ten years from now only about one third of customers will actually choose to use that much. Instead, most are expected to opt for the slower and cheaper 12 megabits per second service. Even then, there are some who are concerned that as the network replaces the old Telstra wires they will be forced to pay more for something which exceeds their requirements.

The fact is that over the last twenty years, internet speeds have gone from about a thousand bits per second for anyone actually able to access the net back then, up to eight million bits per second or even more for many home users today. At the same time, consumer expectations have increased just as dramatically as connection speeds. That being the case, it is only reasonable to assume that both speed and customer expectations will continue to increase over the next twenty years. Just because 100 megabits per second exceeds most people’s needs, doesn’t mean that will be the case in twenty years time, or even ten when the network is completed. Far from being in excess of our future needs, I believe that the planned network reflects the likely continued growth in demand.

As for whether we are paying too much, surely the real question is whether we can afford not to make the investment in this essential 21st Century infrastructure. While some might describe the network as an expensive video entertainment system, it is the impact on commerce, education and health that will really justify the investment. While the price tag appears to be very large indeed, the money will generate jobs for the next ten years, and at the end of it all there will be another huge public asset just waiting to be privatised. When that happens, it will make the sale of Telstra look like a lamington drive, and return a cavalcade of cash to government coffers.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Just What Are These Clowns Getting Paid For?

The Federal Government has today unveiled draft legislation aimed at giving shareholders more power to influence executive salaries, which have been the subject of much criticism in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. Of course, Australian salaries have not seen the same excesses as those that occurred in the United States, and Australian banks and financial institutions have not suffered from the same management failures, but all the same, executive remuneration, especially within the banks, has grown far in excess of ordinary wages. So much so, that many people consider them to be greedy, and out of step with community expectations, and up until now, shareholders have been virtually powerless to do anything about it.

Currently, shareholders have a non-binding vote on the remuneration report at the annual general meeting. It provides an opportunity for shareholders to express their disapproval of salary packages which they believe to be excessive, but little else. Under the proposed reform however, a “no” vote exceeding 25% of shareholders in two successive years will trigger the opportunity for a further vote to vacate the positions on the board of directors. What this means is that if directors cannot justify their remuneration decisions to their shareholders, there will at least be a mechanism allowing the shareholders to replace those directors. It’s a level of accountability which should have existed all along, because in the end it is the shareholders who have put their capital at risk.

While many have called for executive salaries to be regulated or in some way restricted, it is better to allow companies to make their own decisions, so long as they remain accountable to their owners. It’s easy to suggest that multi million dollar salaries are excessive, but the real question has to be by what standard? If an executive is doing a great job, increasing company profits, expanding market share, creating employment, and delivering dividends to shareholders, there is no reason that he or she should not be paid well. How well should remain a matter for the company to determine, no some government agency.

On the other hand, when a company performs badly, losing value in the market place, cutting jobs, and delivering disappointing returns to the shareholders, surely there is a need to ask just what are these clowns getting paid for? Too many times we have seen high flying executives appointed to Australian companies, and paid enormous salaries, only to see the company decimated and the executive paid even more millions just to go away and stop causing trouble. It is this sort of bad decision making for which boards should be held accountable.

And now perhaps they will, at least a little more than they have been.