Friday, July 02, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is unimpressed by Julia's admission of atheism

Partial backdown on mining tax

It's a big backdown but still leaves the major problem untouched: The new tax applies to existing mines as well as new ones. That means that companies can no longer invest with confidence -- because they now will never know what tax changes might disrupt their investment calculations in the future. It means Australia's "sovereign risk" is high -- in a similar league to Africa. Australia has gone from being a safe place to invest to a risky one -- a huge blow to future investment in Australia

The Government will take a projected $1.5 billion cut in revenue after agreeing to reduce the resource super profit tax from 40 per cent to 30 per cent. Ms Gillard has also agreed to water down other key aspects of the tax, which will affect about 320 companies compared to 2500 flagged in the original deal. The new tax - called the minerals resource rent tax - will be placed on companies involved in mining iron ore and coal.

Ms Gillard denied the Government had backed down in the face of an aggressive public relations campaign from the mining industry. She said the deal, signed last night, assured that "Australia gets a fair share for its non-renewable resources", adding that "we've been stuck on this question as a nation for too long".

Despite the expected drop in tax revenues of $1.5 billion, Ms Gillard said Australia remained "on course to return to surplus at 2013". She also noted the tax deal would lead to sustained investment in infrastructure, strengthen the national economy in the future, and enable Australian businesses to grow and promote investment in jobs.

In another major concession, the tax will apply from a much higher rate than originally planned 10-year Commonwealth bond yield. The new cut-in rate has been adjusted to the long-term bond rate plus seven per cent - an approximate rate of about 12 per cent.

The current petroleum resource rent tax will be extended to all onshore and offshore oil, gas and coal seam methane projects. Other commodities will not be included in the tax regime.

The new measures come at a cost, attracting $1.5 billion less in revenue than the planned resource super profits tax.

To offset the lost revenue from the new mining tax agreement, the Government will cut the company tax rate to 29 per cent from 2013/14. Small companies will still benefit from an early cut to the company tax rate to 29 per cent from 2012/13.

A planned lift in compulsory superannuation contributions - from 9 per cent to 12 per cent by 2020 - remains unaffected.

"The breakthrough agreement keeps faith with our central goal from day one: to deliver a better return for the Australian people for the resources they own and which can only be dug up once," Ms Gillard said. "It is the result of intense consultation and negotiation with the resources industry.

Mr Macfarlane said overseas investors were "just bewildered and frightened now about investing in Australia...They will simply take their money elsewhere".


Will the new tax go through?

It's got to get through the Senate first and then survive a general election

The revamped tax has been hailed as a victory for the Prime Minister, with the Minerals Council describing it as a positive outcome and mining stocks getting a lift from investors.

But Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says he will not support it. “The next election is a referendum on tax,” Mr Abbott said. Mr Abbott said the battlelines had been drawn and the alternatives were sharp and clear. "Labor supports a great big new tax on mining - the Coalition doesn't," he told reporters. "It's as simple as that."

Labor needed a tax because it had turned a $20 billion budget surplus into a $57 billion deficit, Mr Abbott said. "The Opposition will oppose the new minerals tax," he said. "We will oppose it in opposition and we will rescind it in government.

Mr Abbott said the mining industry had got "the best deal from a bad government". "The miners were effectively negotiating with a gun at their heads, and that's not a situation they should ever have been put into," he said, adding the new deal would still hit the industry hard. "This is still a tax grab rather than tax reform ... A $12 billion tax grab has been replaced with a $10.5 billion tax grab."

Mr Abbott also criticised the government for not consulting widely enough. "It was discussed between the government and three big companies," he said. "There are about 300 other companies that it wasn't discussed with and you shouldn't make any assumptions as to whether they are happy with it."

Mr Abbott called on the government to release the modelling of both schemes to justify its figures. "It's difficult to see... how the original tax could raise $12 billion and how the new tax could raise $10.5 billion given the changes."

Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said the new tax would deter companies thinking of investing in Australia's resources. "Not only have they got the most complicated taxation regime in the world, but now they have a new tax that is going to raise at least $10.5 billion dollars that is going to have to be paid," he said in Sydney.

The Greens leader Bob Brown said there needs to be scrutiny of the deal. “In the end, Parliament will decide if this Gillard and mining baron deal stands. Australians will have a say at the next election when they elect a new Parliament, including a new Senate,” Senator Brown said.


Fraudulent surgery waiting lists in NSW public hospitals

AN external audit has been called into surgery waiting list irregularities in western Sydney, a sign of unease over a debacle that led to hundreds of patients wrongly being left off operating lists.

O'Connor Marsden & Associates would "undertake an independent review of planned surgery patient bookings and waiting list management processes", a spokeswoman for Sydney West Area Health Service confirmed.

The Herald reported last month that failures in a centralised elective surgery booking system across western Sydney hospitals had resulted in patients - some with cancer and spinal problems - being left off politically sensitive waiting lists, which were artificially low as a consequence.

The fresh audit has been called by the area's newly appointed chief executive, Heather Gray, whose predecessor, Steven Boyages, presided over the introduction of the centralised system.

It is in addition to a separate review by Donald MacLellan, the health department's program director of surgery, and represents an escalation in the administration's response to the problems, which have infuriated doctors.

O'Connor Marsden specialises in probity work and internal financial audits for government departments and agencies. But a spokeswoman said the firm's terms of reference were limited to the area's waiting list management, and did not include the use of surgery funds.

Patients continue to suffer under western Sydney's chaotic elective surgery regime.

A former shearer, Graham Ricketts, finally had his trachestomy tube removed on Wednesday, six months after the procedure was first scheduled. Mr Ricketts, 74, had been assured he would have seven days' notice when the tube - inserted in his neck at Westmead Hospital after throat cancer blocked his breathing - would be removed.

But on the October long weekend, Mr Ricketts picked up his phone in Young, in southern NSW, and received a blast from a Sydney surgeon angry he was not in the operating theatre. The hospital had failed to tell him the procedure had been booked. "Let's look at this for what it is - a bloody disgrace with Monday being a holiday, not to mention Young being 400 kilometres away from Westmead," Mr Ricketts said.

Six months later, he endured a repeat performance: a phone call notifying him of surgery the next morning, but no letter. Mr Ricketts left home that night at 1.30am, arriving at Westmead at 6.30am, but his operation was cancelled.

Last Thursday he received a letter giving him three working days to accept surgery on Tuesday. He was asked to telephone at 7.30pm on Monday to confirm final details, and was again driven through the night by a relative. He arrived at Westmead early on Tuesday, only to find his operation delayed for another day. "The doctors and nurses at Westmead are absolutely fantastic," Mr Ricketts said. "But the system is totally flawed."

After the Herald made inquiries, the hospital apologised to Mr Ricketts for his "inconvenience and distress". The area spokeswoman said "regrettably this [long distance needed to travel] was not noted on Mr Ricketts' admission forms."


"Bogan": The self-selected superior person's term for those he/she looks down on (i.e. ordinary Australians)

When Tourism Australia released its "There's Nothing Like Australia" ad campaign recently, the sound of forehead-slapping could be heard across the country.

Not because it refers to kangaroos as "furry things that bounce around in herds" or has girls in a left-hand drive four-wheel drive but because, in 90 seconds, it makes Australians look like a pack of bogans.

"Bogan pride at its best", decried a post on the media blog Mumbrella, while at the Herald, website commenter Gavin agreed it was "absolute rubbish. I don't understand why the people in tourism marketing insist on making us look like such incredible bogan morons."

With ugg boots selling for £150 ($250) on London's high streets, a swearing former prime minister called Kevin and Alf Stewart finally taking out the Gold Logie, you could be forgiven for thinking that bogans have arrived. But such accolades belie our deep-seated fear and loathing of boganness. No matter how many uggs are sold, bogans remain Australia's cultural punching bag of choice.

In recent months, everyone from unappreciative theatregoers to pitbull owners and brides in strapless gowns have been deemed "bogan". As an all-purpose insult, with no single identikit, you just know it when you see it. And in these politically correct times, when so many socio-cultural insults are offlimits, you can still call someone a bogan with gay abandon. "You can get away with using it anywhere," says Bruce Moore, director of the Australian National Dictionary Centre. "It never developed that taboo rating."

Cultural critic and writer Mel Campbell says the real beauty of boganness is that it doesn't actually exist. After researching representations of the expression in the mass media, she concluded: "There's no such thing as a bogan."

Rather, it is a "strategic term or idea to quarantine aspects of Australian cultural life or identity that we're embarrassed about".

As a young nation (arguably founded by English bogans), we have a long history of trying to police what is acceptably Australian.

Campbell sees parallels between contemporary attitudes to bogans and those towards Irish larrikins, such as Ned Kelly, in the late 19th century.

While we like to think we've put all that silly anxiety behind us, in practice the cultural cringe never died – it just went underground.

Look around and almost every element of our national identity is plagued by fears of bogan influence.

Each year there is increasing disquiet about the "boganisation" of Australia Day and Anzac Day, with their hyper, "inappropriate" displays of nationalism. As travel writer David Whitley observed last month, an alcohol ban was slapped on the Gallipoli dawn service because of "backpacking bogans who saw it as a slightly more exotic Oktoberfest".Writing recently in the Illawarra Mercury, Chris Dyson complained "the Southern Cross is being sullied, not celebrated, [as a] bogan slogan", while Facebook group Not Having a Southern Cross Tattoo has almost 60,000 fans.

Wollongong University human geography professor Chris Gibson has a theory that, like the country cousins you can't quite accept you're related to, today's globally inclined, cosmopolitan Australia doesn't appreciate being reminded that "so much of Australian culture is still Australian".

As Kath Leahy, author of Lords and Larrikins: The Actor's Role in the Making of Australia, noted in The Australian last year, actors will "bung on the bogan" when they have to play working-class characters but they would never use such language their everyday lives. "We absolutely cringe when we hear someone say 'nuffink'."

The unpretentious, unselfconscious bogan outlook doesn't sit well with a country doing its damndest to look and sound grown-up. It's a sentiment that the boutique beer brand Moobrew has successfully tapped into with its advertising campaign "Not suitable for bogans".

T-shirts bearing the slogan have been bestsellers. As brewer Owen Johnston told the Herald: "Everyone thinks that their neighbour's a bogan, not themselves."

The expression, which made its first official appearance in print in the surfing magazine Tracks in 1985, is certainly on the brain. Mentions of the b-word in mainstream print media have increased almost threefold in the past five years, from about 400 a year to more than 1000.

The term has edged out "ocker" and "hoon" and the regional terms "chigger", "bevan", "booner" and "westie" to become the byword for all that is rough, ready, unintelligent and undesirable in Australian culture. As Moore notes, "Suddenly the word was everywhere and bogans, it seems, were as 'everywhere' as their word".

Gibson's explanation for this sense of reds under the beds is drawn from his studies of bogan culture in the Illawarra. He says economic and cultural dimensions have been "decoupled" – boganness today is more about taste than income. In the past, safely segregated in less affluent suburbs, they were easily identifiable by their mullets and Winnie Blues. These days, they can just as easily be found in Kirribilli, wearing designer sunnies and drinking cosmopolitans.

According to the cult blog Things Bogans Like, "The bogan today defies income, class, race, creed, gender or religion . . . Those who choose to deny the bogan on the basis of their north shore home, their stockbroking career or their massive trust fund choose not to see the bogan."

In true McCarthyist style, our discomfort can be seen in the enthusiasm with which we attempt to rat out boganness and, in doing so, confirm our own non-bogan status.

Since last October, Things Bogans Like has been assiduously cataloging aspects of the condition (some 150 items and counting), from Aussie hip-hop to celebrity fragrances.

One recent post states: "If the bogan is thirsty, it will not merely drink water, it will crave a Boost juice . . . if the bogan wishes to leech some cultural cachet from the bloated corpses of Bach and Sinatra, it will try to illegally download some Andre Rieu or Michael Buble."

Similarly, commentary website The Punch attracted hundreds of spirited reader contributions last year for its article on the top 10 bogan suburbs in Australia.

While studies such as the University of Western Sydney and Macquarie University's Challenging Racism project have found no direct association between socioeconomic status and intolerant attitudes, Gibson says boganness has nonetheless been linked with a "particular kind of xenophobic pride".

Bogan icons such as Russell Crowe, Warrick Capper and The Castle might seem harmless enough but there have been some disastrous PR blows lately. Pauline Hanson, the Cronulla riots and the persistence of bumper stickers proclaiming "We grew here, you flew here" and "F--- off, we're full" have fuelled the stereotype that bogans are not just bad for our image, they're bad for our soul. As one commenter opined in the Sunshine Coast Daily's coverage of Australia Day this year, "[It] is all out bogan day, get drunk, wear a flag cape, cause some violence, be racist, get arrested and vomit, and anyone who doesn't do this is un-Australian".

The image hasn't been helped by the constant hysteria about Paxton wannabe dole bludgers and troublemakers on current affairs programs.

As Michaela McGuire noted in The Sunday Age, these shows "have embraced the pursuit of documenting bogans with great enthusiasm".

Even Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle picked up the theme when announcing his desire to ban "bogans" and their violence from the centre of the city, as part of a wider campaign to prevent Melbourne from become a "bogan magnet".

Without a hint of irony, bogan bashing has become a high horse you hop on to prove you are a tolerant, decent, peaceful Australian.

Meanwhile, the green-eyed monster lurks. The mining boom has given many blue-collar workers six-figure salaries – and opportunities to spend. Jules Duncan, who is making a documentary on self-identified "cashed-up bogans" in Western Australia, says jealousy is driving much of the criticism. "They don't just buy a Beemer like doctors do – they buy utes in bright colours with loud stereos," Duncan says. He also notes that despite the fact he is making a serious film – not a "pisstake" – media coverage of his work usually bears the tagline "They're the people you love to hate".

For a supposedly classless society, there is snobbery at play. Duncan says that, like "squattocracy", the term "cashed-up bogan" implies that some people deserve their money and some don't. And yet bogans with money are having the last laugh.

They are frustratingly impervious to middle-class sniggers about their lime-green V8s, sub-woofers and endless rounds of Swan Lager. "They get to live the good life without being what they would term a wanker," Duncan says.

Of course, jealousy, militant tolerance and cultural cringe aside, bogans can be funny.

For Gibson, we shouldn't underestimate the power of humour to come to terms with our culture. This much-maligned group is a safe base; a soft punching bag. "They're instantly recognisable, but not you," says Campbell, who likens bogan jokes to the current boom in gags about redheads.

"Because they're white, it's OK to laugh at a bogan. We can laugh at ourselves but we laugh at a part we don't totally identify with."

Australian comedy has a rich tradition of such caricatures. Yet while Dame Edna has been lampooning our boganisms since the 1950s – something taken up with great vigour by Barry McKenzie, Kylie Mole and Eric Bana's "Poida" in the '70s, '80s and '90s – there's an increasingly harder edge to it. While Kath and Kim peppered us with malapropisms and bad fashion, there was always a sense that it was "not quite coming from within", says Gibson.

Rebel Wilson's 2008 TV series Bogan Pride was all-singing and all-dancing but with its schoolyard bullying, eating disorders and farting it was more unattractive than irreverent.

Perhaps that's why the comedian Wil Anderson has outlined the reasons why bogans "shouldn't f---" and The Chaser bailed up mothers with prams, "fining" them for giving their children bogan names with bogan spellings.

As a magically flexible word, bogan isn't set in stone like America's unequivocally pejorative "white trash" or Britain's abusive "chav". But at some point, we will have to stop having our bogan cake and eating it too. As Moore warns, "you can't have that sort of range forever. 'Bogan' will have to sort itself out."

Some might say that bogan bashing is a harmless national pastime, simply proof that we're jokesters who don't take ourselves too seriously.

Yet there is a creeping persecution of this cultural sub-group in Australia. We're far less relaxed and comfortable about our identity and status than we'd care to admit.


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