Friday, June 26, 2009

Economic forecasts show Australia leads the world

Thanks to the strong economy bequeathed by John Howard. There was never any problem with the banks in Australia. They have returned good profits every year without interruption. Rudd's "rescue" of them was just a stunt

AUSTRALIA'S economy is a tower of strength after two respected international reports confirmed it continued to lead the developed world. As national politics was again dominated by the Utegate saga, the International Monetary Fund added its weight to mounting evidence that Australia was powering ahead of its rivals during the worst downturn since the Great Depression. It yesterday upgraded its outlook for our economy, tipping it to retreat by only 0.5 per cent this year before growing by 1.5 per cent next year. It earlier forecast a contraction of 1.4 per cent.

"We currently, among the major advanced economies, have the fastest growth. We have also the second-lowest unemployment," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told Parliament. "We have the lowest debt. We also have the lowest deficit."

Mr Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan welcomed the signs of a recovery despite again having to fend off Opposition attacks over allegations Mr Rudd's office asked a senior Treasury official to help John Grant, a mate of Mr Rudd's, gain access to car industry finance. The ploy backfired on the Coalition when the email at the centre of the scandal was found to be a fake. But Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull is continuing to pursue Mr Swan over claims he gave special treatment to Mr Grant, a car dealer and neighbour of Mr Rudd who loaned the Prime Minister a $5000 Mazda Bravo ute. Mr Swan denies the allegations.

Parliament now goes into a six-week winter break and most MPs are today in their electorates to be greeted with concerns on the economy.

Yesterday's positive IMF forecast followed an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report that commended the Government's stimulus measures. "In particular the IMF has strongly commended the Government's three-stage stimulus strategy, starting with direct payments, moving to shovel-ready infrastructure, followed by major nation-building projects to support jobs and strengthen the economy for the future," Mr Swan said.

The OECD also gave a tick of approval to the Australian economy and the Rudd Government's measures to stimulate activity, including its infrastructure packages. It forecasts the domestic economy will contract by 0.4 per cent this year, the mildest contraction of any of the 30 OECD countries, before growing by 1.2 per cent next year.

Importantly, the OECD believes unemployment will be not be as severe as the forecast in the Budget. Treasury has predicted unemployment will peak at 8.5 per cent mid-2010, but the OECD believes the highwater mark will be 7.9 per cent. Treasury Secretary Ken Henry was not ready yesterday to concede economic forecasts in last month's federal Budget had been too pessimistic. "Of course, the March quarter was stronger than we had expected," Dr Henry said. "It means we are now thinking that gross domestic product growth in the present year, 2008-09, will be somewhat stronger, but it will still be weak relative to trend. It may be that there is some upside to our forecasts, but really it is too early to tell."


Labor governments claim to be the battler's friend. So how come they are giving millions to car dealers, of all people?

OzCar passed by Parliament. The whole think definitely smells. Would you buy a used car from this government?

THE Federal Government's controversial OzCar scheme has been passed by Parliament. Labor will now be able to set up the $850m taxpayer-funded finance scheme, designed to assist Australian car dealers struggling in the wake of the global financial crisis.

OzCar has been in the spotlight since it was revealed the public servant responsible for it, Godwin Grech, may have given false evidence at a Senate inquiry last week.

Following Mr Grech's testimony, the Australian Federal Police uncovered a fake email at his home which purported to show Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's office seeking OzCar support for a Queensland car dealer who had supplied Mr Rudd with a ute.


Shame of violent schools revealed

Report from South Australia (Population 1,600,000)

An average of 22 violent attacks, sexual incidents or drug abuse cases are reported each week in our schools, the Education Department has revealed. For the first time, it has released complete details of "critical incidents" serious enough to be reported in writing by schools to head office, ranging from knife attacks to sexual assaults.

In response to a Freedom of Information probe by Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire, the department released details of all incidents in the 2008 school year and 2009 so far, including 406 violent attacks, 97 sexual incidents, 180 threats, 20 abductions or stalking, 35 drug possessions and 24 cases of self-harm. Among the more serious cases at the state's primary and secondary schools were:

CHILD pornography spread on students' mobile phones.

A STUDENT shot in the eye, requiring surgery.

A RECEPTION student stabbing another student with a pencil.

THREE adults found having sex and using drugs in school toilets.

A GIRL held against her will, blindfolded and photographed.

THE stabbing of a student, which was filmed.

A STUDENT breaking into a teacher's house and sexually assaulting her.

A GIRL'S hair being set alight.

A TEACHER at school under the influence of drugs.

Australian Education Union state president Correna Haythorpe said teachers and students were increasingly being put in dangerous situations. "There is absolutely no doubt that these incidents are on the increase," she said. "What we need is a systematic approach which includes more student counsellors and more resources for our schools. "Otherwise it places teachers, staff and students at risk."

SA Secondary Principals Association president Jim Davies said the real concern was "strangers" coming into school grounds. "Those sorts of incidents certainly cause a lot of concern because whilst there will inevitably always be situations where students have a go at another group of students in your school, you have more control," he said. "When there is a third party involved that is not part of your school community, it is very difficult to have those proactive influences over those people coming in."

Child protection expert Freda Briggs said while the statistics were shocking, they were only the tip of the iceberg. "We know that not everyone reports this kind of behaviour, so we won't really know the true extent of what is happening," she said. "The real problem is much deeper. "The dangerous thing is that if this is continually happening in schools and if victims are fearful, they can't relax at school, so you will get reluctance to attend and learn." Including less-dangerous events which posed a threat to student safety but no injury, there were 1271 "critical incidents" reported to the department over the 15-month period, or around four every school day.

Students were by far the worst offenders, with 641 incidents blamed on their behaviour, 215 blamed on parents, 52 on other adults, 25 on former students and 20 on staff members. Knives were the weapon of choice in most armed assaults (38), followed by scissors (8), sticks (5), pens and pencils (6), rocks (5), desks and chairs (2), and garden spades (2). Many of the weapons were improvised from common school items such as a ruler, shot-put, fire extinguisher and wheelie bin.

Mr Brokenshire said it was disturbing that many of the crimes were filmed and the images distributed for pleasure. "This data shows why we need a police-in-schools program to build rapport with students and encourage law-abiding behaviour," he said. Mr Brokenshire said authorities should study school districts which had restricted the incidence of violence and implement these strategies in other areas.

Education Department chief executive Chris Robinson said the reporting of critical incidents was an effective way to ensure that schools got the support they needed. "While many of these reported incidents can be quite minor, we strongly encourage schools to report all incidents so they receive adequate support," he said. "Incident reports filled out by schools stem from reasons such as abusive parents, schoolyard incidents, accidents, after-hours break-ins and intruders. "Many of our schools have close working relationships with their local police and don't hesitate to call when help is required."


Self-serving know-alls fuelled fatal Victorian bushfires

The bureaucratic ineptitude being revealed at the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission is at once extraordinary and infuriating. The lessons have implications for every aspect of government in Australia and demand a radical rethink about the dominance of politicised bureaucracies within our lives. The emerging picture eerily imitates Franz Kafka's The Trial.

Government fire services furtively developed their doctrinaire rules, then enforced them with mindless zeal. Fire and emergency supremos were provided with limitless authority to bend citizens and communities to their rigid controls without effective scrutiny or supervision. What emerges is a layer of self-styled bureaucratic intelligentsia devising policies that became sacrosanct in themselves regardless of their original purpose. Ideological processes left no room for common sense, pragmatism or compassion, and opportunities to help vulnerable people were wasted. Policies bore testimony to the assumption that the population was so imbecilic as to need greater protection from itself than from raging wildfire.

Sound familiar? This mindset is magnified by its ubiquity in modern Australian government and alarm bells should be ringing. Failures equally significant but less conspicuous are probably simmering away beneath the whole gamut of populist government decision-making. The danger is fanned by the speed and dimension of decisions that are made under of a veil of urgency associated with recession, security and other confected emergencies.

Day after day, emergency service tsars present themselves to the royal commission as though they are the stars atop the tree of knowledge. The Country Fire Authority seems genuinely bamboozled that a handful of head office executives did not prove to be wiser than its thousands of volunteers who have intimate knowledge of local roads, properties and personalities. Directions, strategies and resources were issued and controlled by executives far removed from the horrific reality that their edicts and regulations created. Volunteers and citizens were left to fend for themselves after bureaucratic strategies descended into chaos.

Rigid and enforced controls were relaxed only when they were mocked into submission by a recalcitrant inferno. The winding trail of blunders growing from stubbornly centralised remote control defies the imagination. Emergency call centres were overwhelmed while extensive volunteer networks lay idle. NSW firefighters were called up with media fanfare and weren't provided with so much as a map. One homeowner was relieved to see a NSW bushfire tanker arrive at his front gate, only to learn it was lost.

ABC radio had been anointed the official emergency broadcaster with little regard for the millions who listen to commercial radio. Descriptions of the official information feed provided to the broadcaster conjure visions of a garbage chute funnelling ad hoc faxes, phone calls, emails and web bulletins. Producers and announcers consumed valuable time piecing together the scraps of intelligence.

To his credit the CFA chief officer continues to roll up to the royal commission to take his medicine. It will be interesting to see if his past and present ministers will also be required to testify and give an account of their stewardship. Neither justice nor recovery will be served if the bureaucrats are hung out to dry by themselves.

The vast body of evidence suggests a great deal of loss and destruction could have been avoided if local knowledge, experience and commitment had been respected and used. Instead, the politicians and their bureaucrats shared a motivation to exert close and uncompromised control. An aggressive resistance to contestable advice allowed policy-makers to deny the existence of culpable knowledge. The mandarins eventually succumbed to their own intoxicating publicity and stared down the risk of their knowledge deficit. Dysfunctionality bred like a virus in a hotbed of intellectual conceit.

The implications are sobering for every aspect of government policy. School principals especially must be crying tears of blood as they witness the obscene waste of money occurring under the ridiculously rigid policies of the so-called Building the Education Revolution.

Of course the critical role of bureaucracy must be respected and communities are happy to oblige. However, such respect does not establish government entities as the sole repository of wisdom. People don't expect governments to be omniscient but they are entitled to hold them to a lie as much as a truth. Including communities in practical policy formulation must go far deeper than the cosmetic consultation most Australian governments practise.

It must also go deeper than community cabinet meetings and a prime ministerial revival of an imagined Australian lexicon. It also goes beyond the federal government's notion of "umpire politics" where decisions are designed to mute the lobbyists rather than genuinely serve the nation.

Real change requires courage and creativity that is shared and accepted with a parity of worth. The view that these qualities are vested exclusively in parliamentary and bureaucratic empires is a dangerous and culpable vanity that Australia simply cannot afford.


No comments: