Tuesday, February 17, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says that sharks are a lot less dangerous than arsonists>

Arrogant Italian restaurateur refuses to admit that his serving sizes are small

Part of the email correspondence between the restaurateur and his customer above. The full story is here. I have been dining out frequently for many years and have had the same problem with mini-dinners at fancy restaurants, particularly fancy Italian ones. They seem to think everyone is on a Weightwatcher's diet. I now mostly avoid such restaurants and eat ethnic instead. You get much better value that way -- and better service too. Anyway, the above episode is fair warning to avoid Harry Ferrante's "Simon's Seafood Restaurant" in Northbridge, if you live in or are visiting Perth.

British stupidity of getting more people into university about to be repeated in Australia

So lots of kids attempt courses they cannot handle and people with degrees end up as waiters. Brilliant! Inflation of credential requirements is already a problem so they want to make it worse! Heaps of jobs that were once done with only high school education now require degrees -- meaning that kids spend 3 or 4 years wasting time and not earning or contributing. And if Fred Hilmer -- a cautious bureaucratic type not given to rocking the boat -- thinks it's foolish, then you can be sure it is REALLY foolish

The Bradley review of higher education lacks vision and sets unrealistic and unaffordable goals, the University of NSW vice-chancellor, Fred Hilmer, said in a speech last night. On the eve of a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, Professor Hilmer said the review failed to provide a vital blueprint for the sector's future. He highlighted the proposed increase in undergraduates as being a huge and uncosted financial burden, saying another six or seven new universities the size of UNSW would be required.

Ms Gillard will meet Professor Hilmer and other members of the elite Group of Eight universities in Sydney. Ms Gillard began the series of six discussions two weeks ago so universities and other stakeholders could respond before the Government's official response to the review.

The former vice-chancellor of the University of South Australia, Denise Bradley, released her review of higher education in December, urging the nation to increase participation in higher levels of education and give fairer access to people from lower socio-economic groups and rural areas.

Professor Hilmer said the Secretary of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Lisa Paul, should be appointed to map out the long-term overhaul of the system with full and realistic costings. He said extra funding would ensure the viability of a strained higher education system in the short term by allowing immediate action on problems such as student/staff ratios and research funding shortfalls.

But the blueprint for a highly effective, affordable plan for higher education was missing, Professor Hilmer told the Centre for Independent Studies forum at St Leonards. "The problem is not the themes themselves but the lack of a vision and a clear and affordable path. The proposed path seems to be to recommend processes without a sense of where they might take us, and at what cost," he said.

The Bradley target that 40 per cent of 25-34 year-olds will have attained a qualification at bachelor level would require about "a 70 per cent increase in commencing students annually, 3.2 million additional enrolments over a decade, $15 billion in capital works, the equivalent of about six or seven new universities the size of UNSW, and an additional 17,700 academic staff", Professor Hilmer said.


Dentists lash out at socialization plan

If you knew what socialized dentistry is like in Britain -- with people reduced to pulling out their own teeth with pliers -- you would run a mile from this. "Free" dentistry just leads to massive waiting lists -- sometimes even leading to death when serious problems are left untreated. There are in fact "free" dental hospitals in capital cities already but you can wait years to access them

Dentists have condemned a Medicare-style system for free universal dental care being considered by the Rudd Government as impractical, and massively expensive. The Denticare plan is part of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission's sweeping makeover in hospital and health services, including for indigenous people, the aged and young people with mental illness. Denticare would be financed by a 0.75 per cent income levy.

In its interim report released yesterday, the commission raised three options for reshaping state and federal governments' running of the health system. The proposals range from an improved version of the existing system, through to the development of a European-style social insurance scheme financed by the Commonwealth under which people could choose from health fund plans which would purchase services on their behalf. The commission is to decide which scheme it would favour in its final report to the Government expected by midyear.

The Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, said the Government was happy to have a debate about the possibility of a new tax to finance Denticare, which she described as a "fairly radical proposal . but we are interested in the community's response to this".

But Dr Neil Hewson, the president of the Australian Dental Association, representing private dentists, slammed the Denticare proposal, saying it could nearly double to $11 billion the cost of dentistry to the government and individual patients. "The recommendation . for a universal Denticare scheme is impractical, nonsensical, overly simplistic and flies in the face of much of the deliberations that have taken place on this issue over the past decade," he said. "It shows no appreciation of the real problems facing dental delivery in Australia."

The association believed the Government should target the 35 per cent of the community who could not access or afford proper dental care and said it would be fiscally irresponsible to introduce a universal scheme for dentistry.

The chief executive of the Australian Health Insurance Association, Dr Michael Armitage, said insurers would consider the dental care proposal and other recommendations and compile a response to the reform commission. "The industry would support any plan to improve access to dental care for Australians but it is about more than that - it's about quality, safety and achieving better health outcomes - not just health financing," he said.

The Opposition's health spokesman, Peter Dutton, said taxpayers would pay billions of dollars in extra taxes for a national Denticare scheme. "Almost 11 million Australians or 50 per cent of the population would pay more than they currently do to meet the costs of the Denticare scheme," he said.


How to reduce the unemployment threat

Swan has already acknowledged the global financial crisis will result in increased unemployment in Australia. Australia is about the 14th largest economy and, as a nation trading goods and services, its economy is very dependent on the world economy. Now that the Prime Minister and his colleagues concede that the challenge they face is to sustain as many jobs as possible in the climate of increasing unemployment, what can be done?

The Government's two expenditure packages are already in place and few would argue that over the next couple of years it should spend more and borrow more to finance such expenditure. Yet there is much that can be done to support employment, especially in small business, without in any way further increasing the budget deficit.

* Unfair dismissal legislation is a clear disincentive to small business to take on full-time workers. Rudd is about to reintroduce unfair dismissal legislation covering small business. Certainly this is not as draconian as that which prevailed before the Howard government. But it is a disincentive to employment, nevertheless. It is not clear why any employer should be effectively compelled to employ anyone whom he or she does not wish to employ. But the unfair dismissal provisions are now well entrenched with respect to larger businesses. The return of these provisions covering enterprises employing fewer than 100 workers should be postponed at least until the global economic crisis is over.

* Whatever may be said of the Coalition's Work Choices legislation, it went hand-in-hand with a reduction in unemployment and the creation of job scarcities in certain parts of Australia. While much of the developed world is in recession, it would make sense for the Prime Minister to at least delay Labor's Fair Work Australia legislation.

* Last Thursday Craig Thomson, the Labor chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, announced that the Treasurer had asked his committee to "inquire into the choice of emissions trading as the central policy to reduce Australia's carbon pollution taking into account the need to reduce carbon pollution at the lowest economic cost". Thomson and his colleagues are required to report back later this year.

The rapid decline in the world carbon price, along with reduced emissions due to the economic downturn, could give the committee ample reason to recommend that the Government postpone its carbon reduction scheme until at least 2011 or 2012. There are few commentators who would argue that a tax on businesses which emit carbon will increase employment. It is much more likely to lead to a net rise in unemployment. So it makes sense to delay the policy until the end of the economic crisis. Especially since neither China nor India seems likely to embrace carbon reduction and since it is unclear how far the Obama Administration and/or the Congress will go in reducing carbon when unemployment is on the march in the United States.

There is no convincing evidence that any government or individual knows how to handle the global financial crisis. So it makes sense for politicians to focus on how not to make a bad situation worse. As Robert Skidelsky wrote in Interests & Obsessions, Britain recovered rapidly from the Depression in the absence of any fiscal stimulus. Yet despite Franklin Roosevelt's expansionary New Deal, the US recovery was slow. Australia's economic policy at the time was closer to that of Britain than the US, as is documented in C.B. Schedvin's Australia And The Great Depression.

If the Rudd Government has any cash left over, it would be advised to focus on reducing taxation and costly regulation on small business. Unlike government, small business is the main driver in Australia of job creation and job support.

More here

Conservative Senator says nation can't afford maternity leave

In Sweden, which has very "generous" maternity leave laws, the great majority of young females work for the government. Few others can risk hiring them

QUEENSLAND Senator Barnaby Joyce says the nation can no longer afford paid maternity leave and business would stop hiring females if forced into it. Senator Joyce said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's $42billion economic stimulus package had drained the coffers and paid maternity leave was now a casualty of the nation's newly acquired debt.

The Productivity Commission last year proposed a $450million-a-year paid parental leave scheme that would pay mothers 18 weeks' leave at the minimum wage. The commission's final report is due within weeks. Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the Government would respond to the final report but paid maternity leave had not been ruled out of this year's Budget. "Paid maternity leave will be considered in the Budget context," Ms Gillard told Channel 9 yesterday. "Obviously things that amount to expenditure, particularly ongoing expenditure for the nation, will be dealt with in the Budget context."

Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner was preaching the same message yesterday on Channel 10's Meet the Press. "That along with a range of issues (including) our commitment to increase the living standards of the pensioners of Australia, other important issues that are on the table, they will be in the mix for the Budget," Mr Tanner said. "There's a lot of issues within the paid maternity leave question that have to be dealt with as well. "It's not a simple matter by any means."

Meanwhile, Senator Joyce said increasing the base rate of the aged pension was more important than having paid maternity leave. He said businesses would stop hiring female employees if they were forced to fund their own maternity schemes. "They will just start employing blokes," Senator Joyce said. He said Mr Rudd's stimulus package was to blame. "The money is no longer there. In its place is a silo of debt," he said.


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