Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We were very wrong on closing bank branches, says Westpac executive Peter Hanlon

Back to the past for the latest wisdom! It sure took a long while for that penny to drop. I was a Westpac customer for decades but when they closed their local branch, I had to go to a back street in a distant suburb to find another one -- and the staff there were useless anyway. I now get much better service at a smaller bank, not that any bank is good at handling anything beyond the basics

A BOSS at one of the big four banks has admitted its two-decade policy of shutting branches has cost it - and consumers - dearly. In a classic mea culpa, Westpac group executive Peter Hanlon said removing customer-orientated bank managers and centralising operations was a massive mistake. He said the banks had failed to care adequately for customers by morphing into an automated and faceless service that account holders were increasingly fed up with.

"Closing branches has been a complete failure. We have closed branches in places we simply should not have closed them. This is an admission we made a mistake," Mr Hanlon said. In attempt to redress those mistakes, Westpac has revived a key role long thought extinct - the true bank manager focused on local customers and their communities....

Mr Hanlon said the focus on "short-term cost-cutting" had led to a reduction of service. "Banks have done a range of things in the name of profitability. "No one can argue with that, because we have closed hundreds and hundreds of branches, and we have shrunk our workforce by tens of thousands, so it’s undeniable that we’ve reduced services," he said.

Mr Hanlon said Westpac had hired 400 new bank managers this year, telling them to be more hands-on, giving them more autonomy, and requiring them to be more active in their local communities. "Over the last 20 years we've taken away the capabilities of bank managers to get involved in any lending decisions, we've taken away their ability to hire their own people, we've even taken away their ability to sponsor the local bowls club," Mr Hanlon said. "The bank managers now decide who they hire, when they open and close, they decide where their sponsorship dollars go, they decide on what to do with specific customer inquiries.

"I want us to be respected again. I want bank managers to be respected members of the local community and I think the work people like me have done over the last 20 years, while not on purpose, has engineered the drop in respect of the local branch manager. The bank has also committed to opening at least 200 new branches in the coming years, many in locations where Westpac closed its doors barely 10 years ago.


Note that NAB seems to be in rather better shape. Despite their problems, both banks have been pretty good sharemarket performers. I have shares in both

How lacking in perspective can you get?

No wonder the guy below is "controversial". He ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of studies on the subject show no risk. Outside his own field he appears to know nothing more than the layman and it is popular but poorly substantiated beliefs that he echoes

BRAIN cancer surgeon Charlie Teo has urged people to put mobile phones on loudspeaker, move clock radios to the foot of the bed and wait until microwaves have finished beeping before opening them.

The controversial Sydney specialist told a Melbourne fundraiser that although the jury was still out on mobile phones and other forms of electromagnetic radiation, we should not take risks. "Even though the jury's not in, just to err on the side of safety I would try and limit the amount of electromagnetic radiation that you're exposed to," he said. "The American government, for example, recommend that all electrical appliances should be put at the foot of the bed and not the head of the bed.

"Electric blankets should be turned off before you get in bed and definitely wait for those five beeps before you open the microwave. "With the mobile phone I encourage you to put it on loudspeaker and step outside rather than sticking it up to your brain."

Dr Teo, who tackles tumours other surgeons deem inoperable, said some hair dyes, particularly red, could also cause brain cancer in people with a predisposition. "The body needs some genetic predisposition. The hair dye, the mobile phone, they're just catalysts but you probably need some sort of genetic aberration to get the cancer in the first place," he said.

Dr Teo said while breast cancer doubled its cell numbers in weeks or months, the quickest brain cancers took just 16 hours. No age group was immune and the incidence of brain tumours was growing. [Because the population is getting older, mainly] "It's increasing in frequency both in this country and developing countries and it used to be ranked out of the top 10 but it's just joined the top 10 most common cancers," he said.

Recent studies have raised alarm bells about mobile phones. An unreleased World Health Organisation study reportedly found "a significantly increased risk" of some brain tumours related to use of mobile phones for 10 years or more. A Suleyman Demirel University study in Turkey also found wearing a mobile phone on your belt may lead to decreased bone density in an area of the pelvis commonly used for bone grafts.

Dr Teo said there had been some advancements in treating tumours, like microwave therapy and putting chemotherapy directly into a tumour. A healthy diet, meditation and positive thought could also be beneficial. "We believe that they probably boost the immune system," he said.


Journalistic dirty tricks against a Christian conservative

News Limited was willing to pay dearly for this story not to be published. It first offered a $110,000 payment, plus a private apology, to avoid going to court. But the price it demanded was that the matter be kept confidential. The company was told to take a jump. See you in court.

The Daily Telegraph had published four stories about Michael Towke which he believed had defamed him, destroyed his political career, and caused untold stress to his family. "These stories sent my mother to hospital," he told me. "They demonised me. I wanted to confront them in court."

But a court was not where News wanted to see Towke. "They spent a lot of money fighting me," he said. "Their lawyers made me jump through every hoop. They asked me 30 pages of questions."

Near the eve of the court date, lawyers for the subsidiary which publishes the Telegraph, Nationwide News Pty Ltd, offered the confidentiality package, which Towke emphatically rejected. On the eve of the trial, Nationwide came up with another offer: $50,000, plus costs, plus removing the offending articles from the internet and dropping the confidentiality requirement. On the advice of counsel, Towke accepted. He was never willing to accept any settlement that was confidential, despite the risk that entailed. "I was willing to bankrupt myself to clear my name," he said.

Here is his story.

Michael Towke is 34. He attended Marcellin College, Randwick. He is a Lebanese Christian, a practising Catholic and the eldest of eight children. He has a first-class honours degree in engineering and a BA, both from the University of Sydney, and won the Alan Davis Prize, the top prize for sociology.

He has an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. At 17, he joined the Army Reserve and served for 20 months. He is president of the Sylvania conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society and has been volunteering for Vinnies since he was 15. He works as a telecommunications engineer. He has lived in the Sutherland Shire for 10 years.

Towke is also a long-serving member of the Liberal Party. In July 2007 he won preselection for the then safe federal Liberal seat of Cook. He was set to replace the outgoing member, Bruce Baird. The contest attracted a large field, including Paul Fletcher, who recently won Liberal preselection for Bradfield (vacated by the former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson), and a former state director of the NSW Liberal party, Scott Morrison.

Towke won easily. On the first ballot, he polled 10 times as many votes as Morrison, 82 votes to 8, who was eliminated in the first round. His victory meant that a Lebanese Australian would represent the Liberal Party in the seat where the Cronulla riot and revenge raids had taken place 18 months earlier, in December 2005. "The campaign against me started four days after preselection," Towke said.

Two senior people within the Liberal Party, whose identity is known to a widening circle within the party, went through Towke's nomination papers to find every possible discrepancy and weakness. Then they started calling selected journalists to tell them Towke was a liar. The first story appeared in The Daily Telegraph on July 18, 2007, under the headline, "Liberal ballot scandal in Howard's backyard." Three days later, on July 21, a second story appeared in the Telegraph: "Towke future on hold." The next day, in The Sunday Telegraph, a third story: "Party split as Liberal candidate faces jail."

"That was the story that sent my mother to hospital," Towke told me.

Then came a fourth story in the Telegraph, on July 25: "Towke lied, but just by degrees." Four different Telegraph journalists, two of them very senior, wrote those four stories, so the campaign of leaks and smears was assiduous. There is insufficient space to detail all the claims made and disputed. Towke was portrayed as a serial liar, an exaggerator. He disputed every such imputation with factual evidence. After it was obvious his political credibility had been destroyed by these stories, he started defamation proceedings. A year of legal attrition ensued.

Shortly before the matter was to begin in court this month, Nationwide News paid and settled.

It is telling that experienced Telegraph journalists appear to have based their stories on sources they trusted, suggesting those doing the leaking were both senior figures and seasoned in dealing with the media.

Though Towke would eventually win his legal war, the damage had been done. The adverse media coverage set in train a reaction within the party to get rid of him. A second ballot was ordered, in which the balance of power was shifted away from the grassroots in Cook and to the state executive. The second ballot gave the preselection to Scott Morrison. Amazing. He had been parachuted into the seat over Towke's political carcass. Morrison clearly had backers who wanted him to get the seat. "These guys were prepared to ruin my life," Towke said.

Why? There was a view among some senior Liberals that a Lebanese Australian could not win Cook in a tight election.

Two years later, Towke's honour has been restored. His name has been cleared, his standing in the party rehabilitated, and his ties to the electorate broadened. Justice will be served when the two assassins within the party are politically terminated. That process has begun. The circle will only be complete if this Lebanese Australian represents the shire in Federal Parliament.


A much-honoured Greenie nut

Being a crank makes you a "public intellectual" apparently. Comment by Andrew Bolt below

THIS sure is a strange way for Professor Clive Hamilton to spend the few years that he - and we - have left. I mean, if you thought the end of the world was nigh, would you really waste your last moments trying to become the next member for Higgins?

Still, who knows what now goes on in the grim skull of the Greens candidate for the Melbourne seat just vacated by former treasurer Peter Costello. And who understands what dark currents swirl in the brains of the thousands who will vote for him on December 5, in a poll that will measure how mad these times now are.

Hamilton has a CV that might make an innocent reader, impressed by titles, think: "Wow! This man must be smart." He describes himself as a "public intellectual". He's written books and is professor of public ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. The Rudd Government made him a Member of the Order of Australia. Yet that CV measures not Hamilton's greatness, but this country's idiocy.

His message is just one preached by religious cranks for centuries: "Repent, for the end of the world is nigh!" Here's his new version of this faith: "I think where we're going is to begin to see a Gaian earth in its ecological, cybernetic way, infused with some notion of mind or soul or chi, which will transform our attitudes to it away from an instrumentalist one, towards an attitude of greater reverence." And if we don't repent? "Unless we do that, I mean we seriously are in trouble, because we know that Gaia is revolting against the impact of human beings on it."

In fact, Hamilton fears we're doomed already by Gaia's revolt against wicked us and our greenhouse gases: "It now seems almost certain that, if it has not occurred already, within the next several years enough warming will be locked into the system ... (and) humans will be powerless to stop the shift to a new climate on Earth, one much less sympathetic to life."

So sure is Hamilton of this danger that voters may get just one chance to vote him in - and none to throw him out if the world's temperatures start rising again: "The implications of (a rise of) 3C, let alone 4C or 5C, are so horrible that we look to any possible scenario to head it off, including the canvassing of emergency responses such as the suspension of democratic processes."

Even our freedom to shop offends this embryonic dictator: "Shopping has become both an expression of the meaninglessness of consumer society and an attempted cure for it." But good news: "It has recently been shown that compulsive shopping disorder can be effectively treated with certain anti-depressant drugs ... "

Can't wait to see Hamilton lash the ladies of Higgins out of their fine shops in Chapel St and Toorak Rd. Still, be fair. He actually wants all of us to be poorer, and not just the rich: "We can only avoid catastrophe - including millions dying in the Third World - if we radically change the way we in the rich countries go about our daily lives. Above all, we must abandon our comfortable belief in progress."

Here's how: "Australia, along with the rest of the world, must cut its emissions by at least 60 per cent ... " But how to get people to agree with a target so ruinous? Hamilton's answer: "Personally I cannot see any alternative to ramping up the fear factor." Actually, Clive, consider that fear factor ramped. If you're now the kind of thinker voters prefer, even I will agree we're doomed.


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