Friday, August 21, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG excoriates the NSW government for the parlous state of its public hospitals

A Not So Capital Idea

By Dr Stephen Kirchner

It only took until 2pm last Saturday for the Treasurer to pour cold water on a report in the Weekend Australian that the Henry tax review was modeling a capital gains tax (CGT) on family homes worth more than $2 million. The proposal was portrayed in the media as good economics but bad politics.

Journalist David Uren commented that ‘the tax treatment of savings is a dog’s breakfast … savings are taxed on an entirely different basis, depending on whether it is money in the bank, superannuation, shares, trusts, investment property or the family home.’ In this context, the principal residence exemption from CGT is seen by some as distortionary. But another way of looking at it is to ask why we persist in taxing other forms of saving. The Henry review has identified Australia’s relatively high tax burden on capital as a priority for reform. Alleviating the tax burden on other forms of saving would be a better approach to reducing any distortions arising from principal residence exemption.

The 1999 Ralph reforms discounted by 50% the CGT payable by individuals and funds, a measure also widely criticised as distortionary. Yet CGT payable by individuals increased by 317% from 1999–2000 and 2006–07, compared to only a 146% increase in CGT payable by companies, which are not eligible for the 50% discount. Realisations rose 302% for individuals compared to 193% for companies over the same period. The Ralph reforms demonstrate that easing existing taxes on saving is potentially revenue positive.

The principal residence exemption is often said to lead to over-investment in housing, but this argument is looking increasingly threadbare against the backdrop of a chronic national housing shortage. This shortage is not just a cyclical issue but reflects what RBA Governor Glenn Stevens has called ‘serious supply-side impediments to producing … affordable shelter.’ While portrayed as a ‘wealth tax,’ it is worth recalling that 42 Sydney suburbs had a median house price in excess of $1 million prior to the onset of the financial crisis. In the absence of indexation, even a ‘wealth tax’ would capture a growing share of the housing stock.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated August 21st. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590. Telephone ph: +61 2 9438 4377 or fax: +61 2 9439 7310

Not all cultures are good

Australia is multiracial but it should not be multicultural, contends Barry Cohen

"WHEN I hear the word culture, I reach for my pistol." Whether Hermann Goering or someone else spoke those words is immaterial; the sentiment is clear. I feel the same when I hear the word multicultural. By now the language police will have concluded that I am a rabid racist not fit to mix in polite society. It is the standard epithet hurled at those who question multiculturalism. How has it come to this?

I became involved in politics almost 50 years ago with the prime motivation of fighting racism. However, I am aghast at the way multicultural advocates have taken control of the race debate by denouncing as racist anyone who disagrees with their view of the future of Australian society. At this point it may be apposite if I detail my family's ethnic mix. It includes Polish and Lithuanian Jews via South Africa, Celts from Scotland and Ireland, a handful of Thais and the very best British bloodstock.

Born in Griffith in 1935, by the time I was five World War II was well under way. At the time Australia was 97.5 per cent Anglo-Celtic and Christian. Those sectarian differences that did exist then were between Catholics and Protestants, many of whom were not far removed from the battles for Irish independence. As a small Jewish boy I wasn't a threat; more of an oddity, really.

I first experienced anti-Semitism when sent to a Sydney boarding school to study for my bar mitzvah. On my first day at school I was involved in three fights with boys who had greeted me with the welcoming words, "You dirty f..king Jew." Hence my lifetime commitment to fight prejudice. Sure, there were further incidents, often at the most unexpected times, but I remain convinced that Australia is one of the least racist countries.

It is not in the least surprising nonetheless that when Australia, under Ben Chifley, abandoned its practice of only seeking migrants from Britain, and turned to Europe there was some apprehension about how it would work. It was, as we know, a great success. First came the Italians, Poles, Germans, Balts, Dutch and others, followed by those from wherever there was suffering. Millions sought safe haven from wars, oppression, famine or poverty. They came to a country that offered the freedoms they had been denied, provided them with the opportunity to earn a decent living and enabled them to rear a family free from the threat of violence.

Each new wave of migrants followed the same pattern. Arriving with little, they gravitated to areas with cheap accommodation among people who spoke the same language, ate the same food, worshipped at the same church and were familiar with the same culture. Older Australians had doubts about these cultural "ghettoes" but in time they not only got used to them but grew to cherish them. Eventually there was hardly a nationality, religion, race or creed that didn't have its own cultural identity and community in Australia. With a few exceptions the integration was seamless and tensions were rare. Adult immigrants found it hardest to assimilate into the local community. Differences became less obvious with each passing generation. Each group made their contribution towards a new, constantly changing Australian culture.

So why, I hear you ask, do I bridle at the word multiculturalism? We are a multiracial society and a harmonious one. What I object to is the idea promoted by the multicultural lobby that not only should we be a society of a hundred cultures but it is the government's duty, nay obligation, to see that we remain permanently culturally divided. If some groups wish to remain separate from mainstream Australia, then that is their choice, but they should not expect governments to aid and abet those divisions.

Governments have a responsibility to assist new arrivals to settle in by helping them to find work, learn English, obtain housing and, if necessary, provide welfare. They should not help create the society from whence they escaped. In return, migrants have a responsibility to learn about Australia's history and culture, including indigenous Australia and those of Anglo-Celtic origin, which was the dominant culture for 150 years.

Strangely, it is the Anglo-Celtic culture that is continually denigrated. No culture is perfect but few can match the British tradition of equality before the law, respect for minority views, freedom of speech and association, political and civil rights and above all, democracy. The word that best fits that heritage is "tolerance". Oddly, those most critical of that culture often come from the most oppressive and repulsive regimes, those ruled by feudal monarchies, military and theocratic dictatorships and one-party states.

The idea that all cultures are equally good is arrant nonsense. A glance at Freedom House's annual rankings of freedom will attest to that. Australia ranks among the very best.

To those who believe it is the government's responsibility to re-create the culture from whence they have escaped, I suggest they consider other options. Ours is a multiracial and tolerant society, and our culture should be a gradually evolving one, free from government interference and guidance. Let it remain so.


Some Greenie face-saving

SOME new conditions are being placed on coal-power generators in Queensland which, on the face of it, sound like positive news for the environment.

Announced just minutes ago (from when I started typing!) as part of Queensland’s just-released climate change strategy, the Government has announced it will not allow any new dirty coal-fired power stations to be built in the state.

But there’s a get-out clause - and it’s quite a big one. Hang on - let’s put that another way. It’s HUGE, because some coal-fired power will be allowed.

While generators will have to use “world’s best practice low emission technology” they will also have to show their new power station will be ready to retrofit Carbon Capture and Storage technology - a technology still unproven. What’s more, they’ll have to fit the aforementioned unproven technology within five years of it being proven on a commercial scale.

I’d like to meet the person who has to check that the power plant is ready for something which doesn’t yet exist.

Similarly loose-fitting restrictions have been placed on new coal-fire plants in England, where the Government says it doesn’t expect carbon capture to be demonstrated commercially for at least another decade.


The parsnip war

Mr Burke may be an attractive onscreen personality (though I believe he is much less attractive offscreen) but he has bitten off more that he can chew over this one. If you just boil the hell out of parsnips in the traditional Australian way, they are certainly not much. But in the hands of a good cook they can be quite reasonable eating. It seems that the problem traces to his mother's cooking and, having myself been subjected during my childhood to traditional Australian/British cooking, I think I know where he is coming from

Gardening Don Burke and master chef Donna Hay have gone to war - over the humble parsnip. Mr Burke fired the first shot last week when he used his radio program to slam Ms Hay and the The Sunday Telegraph for publishing parsnip recipes in the Sunday Magazine. Mr Burke described Ms Hay as "wretched" for serving parsnips to people as they were not fit for pigs.

"I'm outraged, I'm angry, I'm upset, I'm crushed. I'm all of those things and a lot more," he said on air. "If you get that appalling newspaper today, The Sunday Telegraph, and get out Sunday Magazine ... that wretched Donna Hay has got two pages of parsnip recipes. "I respect pigs, I like pigs, but I wouldn't give my pet pig parsnips."

But Mr Burke may have bitten off more than he can chew, with Ms Hay and the parsnip industry rising up to defend this worthy vegetable. Vegetable growers' association AUSVEG said Mr Burke's comments were misguided. "Don Burke is entitled to his view, but his expertise is probably more in the area of plants than vegetables," AUSVEG spokesman Hugh Tobin said.

Parsnip grower Angelo Lamattina, 33, said Mr Burke's comments were "un-Australian". "Where does he get off?" he said. "Here's some bloke who had some TV show and reckons he can come out and bag our work. "It takes six months to harvest a perfect parsnip and Don Burke should take the challenge to come to the farm and see if he's up to it."

Mr Burke stood by his comments last week, but revealed the root cause of his parsnip problem was his mother's cooking, describing her baked parsnips as "hideous". But he insists serving parsnips is an "affront to human dignity".

It's not the first time Mr Burke has had a run-in with parsnip fans. The Burke's Backyard website features an apology and recipes from several years ago after he made "disparaging comments about the vegetable".

The gardener suggested parents who made their children eat parsnips deserved to be shot. "I had people who loved parsnips writing me letters and putting in angry calls," Mr Burke said. "Some challenged me to come to their farms so I accepted I was beaten and we put that on the website."

Mr Burke said he rates Ms Hay as one of world's top chefs. "But I condemn all people who like parsnips and challenge Donna to present them to me in a way that's appealing," he said.


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