Friday, February 18, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is critical of New Zealand apples. Julia does seem to have undermined Australian farmers with unseemly glee: No mention of the issues involved.

A moral tale: Australian booksellers are largely the authors of their own misfortune

They got the government to "protect" them. That meant that they could charge much more per book. So many Australians now buy their books more cheaply from Amazon. So instead of getting more money, the local guys got nil. Which serves them right for trying to rip off book buyers. I myself never bother walking into a bookstore any more. I just order online -- JR

Reading the news yesterday that the United States bookstore chain Border has gone into bankruptcy, I began to ask myself how long it could possibly be before a big Australian chain met the same fate. Unfortunately the wait wasn’t long.

A press release came out that afternoon announcing that REDGroup, who control Borders Australia, Angus and Robertson and Whitcoulls in New Zealand, were being placed into administration. This will affect 260 stores.

Really, it is a wonder this didn’t happen earlier given that Australian booksellers have been defying the laws of market theory that would have sent other businesses bust long ago. There are a few reasons why this was pretty inevitable. One involves parallel import laws and the other the internet, but the two are closely linked.

We pay more than we should for books in this country because of the parallel import laws that mean we can’t buy books also published in America or Europe if an Australian publisher wants to publish the book. In turn, the protected status of Australian publishing rights drives up the price we pay at the counter because of a lack of competition.

The laws are protectionism in an era when other tariffs have been all but abolished in other industries (perhaps with the exception of our nationalised car industry). The same arguments about the end of Australian music culture were made in relation to parallel imports of CDs, and they have been shown to be rubbish. If people are buying more non-Australian (especially American) music and books – this is a pretty out there theory – perhaps they just prefer it?

It’s also interesting how willing people are to jump down the throat of a whitegoods retailer when he moans about internet sales, but get a bunch of luvvies in a room to be addressed by celebrity authors making ostensibly similar arguments, and all that free market logic and concern for the consumer dissipates.

Anyway, the argument was made and lost in cabinet last year when Kevin Rudd came down on the side of the luvvies, despite some of his ministers siding with the Productivity Commission’s recommendation to lift the ban.

The really strange thing about the parallel import debate is it ignores the fact people are already conducting their own parallel imports over the internet. You know when you buy a book from Amazon or the Book Depository for about half the price than you would in Australia? That is just a form of parallel importing, and obviously a lot of Australians have caught on.

Recently in a Borders store I asked about a book of essays from a very prominent UK author. I was told that they didn’t have it in stock but they could order it in. For the privilege of waiting a couple of weeks I would then pay $35 for the book.

Unimpressed, I went home and logged on to Amazon. It sold me the book I wanted and another book by the same guy for just over US$20 including delivery. This was the first time I’d used the internet to buy a book, previously labouring under the misapprehension that it was better to buy from bookstores. Bookstores are nice places, but not so nice that I feel the need to pay about at least 20 per cent extra for the privilege of entering them.

Of course US booksellers face similar pressures from the internet as well as struggling with the growth of e-books, but Australian publishers and retailers are further handicapped by the fact they charge more than their US counterparts and simply won’t be able to compete anymore. Even stranger, it’s a self-imposed handicap.


Vilifying the mainstream Australian population was a dumb idea

A surprisingly realistic article below from an ABC writer. Chris Uhlmann is political editor for the ABC news channel, ABC News 24. He makes the point that sanctimonious Leftist preaching and contempt for Australia has generated a backlash among young Australians against all that, a backlash that is now in full swing.

But persuading people was probably not the highest priority of the the Left. Most of all, they needed to vent their spleen. That they have ignited nationalism where there was virtually none before is however an amusing demonstration of how hate can be self-defeating

Each Australia Day acres of newsprint is devoted to worrying about the apparent rising tide of aggressive nationalism.

Young Australians have embraced January 26 in a way their parents never did. Flags fly from cars, men and women sport Southern Cross tattoos and gather to party in public places.

There is an ugly side to this, a few are using national symbols to exclude other Australians and that is unpardonable. But maybe we should try harder to understand where this assertive nationalism comes from.

Let's imagine for a moment that there might be an explanation for this phenomenon beyond the reflexive chant of "racism". Perhaps these young Australians were schooled in a society that venerated multiculturalism and they understood it to mean they lived in a nation of tribes: "Italian-Australian", "Vietnamese-Australian" and so on. The hyphenated Australians had clearly defined identities, symbols and even national dress and foods that made them distinct. That difference was celebrated as the essence of what made Australia good.

And the perceived threat to a multicultural society, endlessly explored, was the assumed intractable racism of the host population. So government reports were commissioned which proved the desperate need for racial vilification laws.

If you listened to the rhetoric of some of the champions of multiculturalism in the 1970s and '80s, it was also routine to hear that pre-war Australia was a deeply racist backwater where the food was awful and the people dull. One common mantra then was that it "didn't have a culture". Only after the immigration boom did the country get some and get interesting.

Where did that leave the sons and daughters of the pre-Second World War immigrants? What was the place of the currency lads and lasses?

Is it possible they grew tired of the grim assessment of their past and went in search of a more appealing narrative? Is it surprising that some should seek their own identity, find their own symbols, write their own mythology and define their sacred places?

Tony Wright noted in his book "Turn Right at Istanbul" that growing numbers of young Australians were making pilgrimages to Gallipoli. Many of the ones he met were there searching for a connection to a story they could call their own. This was an utterly spontaneous movement and completely at odds with routine predictions of the demise of Anzac Day that began to surface in the 1960s and '70s.

I vividly remember a university lecturer mocking Gallipoli as "mythology" and I wondered what was wrong with a nation-building myth. No right-thinking person in the multicultural '80s would think of deriding the tapestry of mythologies that binds other cultures.

Yet looking back in anger at every aspect of settlement since 1788 was such a common feature of the '80s and early '90s that it paved the way for the history wars.

In the decades multiculturalism enjoyed bi-partisan support and it was that rarest of public policies, it was perfect. Any attempt to question it or the enormous lobby it spawned was shouted down as racist.

Multiculturalism fell from favour during the Howard years, but the word was never removed from the immigration portfolio. By late 2006, the Labor Party was falling out of love with the idea too. It introduced two new words to the shadow immigration portfolio "integration and citizenship" and flicked multiculturalism into a junior portfolio.

The then shadow minister Tony Burke's explanation for the change was "Integration is how you make a multicultural society work". It sounds perfectly reasonable but it is not a construction that would have passed muster in the mid-80s or early '90s. Then words like "integration" and "social cohesion" were lumped with the anathema that was "assimilation".

Multiculturalism was dumped from the Immigration Department's name when Labor took power in 2007 and it was not included in any of Labor's portfolios under either Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard.

Now it's being redeemed.

In a speech at the Sydney Institute the Immigration Minister Chris Bowen set out to resuscitate multiculturalism and to cast Australia's brand as unique. He sees it as very different from the experiment in Germany and Britain, where it is widely viewed as a divisive. Chancellor Angela Merkel says it has "utterly failed" and British prime minister David Cameron agrees.

Mr Bowen's opening gambit was that "our multiculturalism is underpinned by respect for traditional Australian values".

He pointed to a speech by former prime minister Paul Keating who said "the first loyalty of all Australians must be to Australia, that they must accept the basic principles of Australian society. These include the Constitution and the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and religion, English as a national language, equality of the sexes and tolerance".

I'm sure that Mr Bowen would disagree, but, in practise, that was not the way multiculturalism was packaged here in the 1980s and 1990s. Then suggesting that there was any such thing as "Australian values" was an invitation to be abused by the multicultural industry. I know because I did and I was.

The dull, pre-war Australians, the ones who apparently got by without a culture, built those values. And despite Mr Keating's fine words the real failing of the last incarnation of multiculturalism was its acolytes almost never gave the host population any credit for creating the kind of society that could absorb mass immigration, largely without violence. That is an extraordinary achievement and one to be celebrated. But it rarely was. All too often the impression was that multiculturalism prospered in spite of the pre-war population, not because of it.

By 1996 so entrenched was the feeling that Labor had lost touch with its own people that the Coalition could win a landslide election victory by promising to govern "For All of Us".

So why is Labor re-birthing multiculturalism now? No doubt Mr Bowen believes it is the best policy for continuing to build a cohesive immigration-based nation.

But it is also a political strategy to help dig Labor out of the its border protection mess. It needs to shore up its left flank while it continues to run a hard line on boat people to neutralise the attack from the right.

Above all, it needs to head off any attempt by the Coalition to use shared values as a weapon in the immigration debate, because there is a deeply divisive issue simmering in the sub-plot of the immigration brawl.

What Ms Merkel and Mr Cameron were talking about when they dubbed multiculturalism a failure was a concern that Muslim immigrants in their countries are not integrating. Mr Cameron said that it was time to assert a "more active, muscular liberalism" where equal rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and democracy are actively promoted to create a stronger national identity.

In short, when faced with a powerful set of alternative beliefs real border protection begins with clearly defining and defending your bedrock beliefs. No nation that doesn't do that can stand.

Here the problem is nowhere near as acute as it is in Europe. But that doesn't matter, what matters is perceptions. Both major parties know that the concerns expressed by Ms Merkel and Mr Cameron are shared by large parts the Australian community. It lies at the heart of the visceral reaction some people have to boat people. And the feeling is not confined to one ethnic group.

Until now this debate has been played out in code. But the game has just changed.

Now the Prime Minister is demanding that Opposition leader Tony Abbott distance himself from comments attributed to his immigration Scott Morrison that the Coalition go on the attack over Muslim immigration. Mr Morrison denies he made the comments in shadow cabinet. Tony Abbott has publicly recommitted the Coalition to a non-discriminatory immigration policy.

This is very dangerous water for both major parties and both would be well advised to tread carefully.

If Labor is to make a fist of its reunion with multiculturalism it must ensure that, this time, at its core, the policy loudly proclaims that that there are some bedrock principles that all Australians must share.

Alas, setting out to rebrand multiculturalism with yet another anti-racism strategy at its heart leads you to believe that Labor has learned little from the past. Once again the key message seems to be that the main problem with social cohesion is the insatiable racism of the host population. This dangerously misreads the public mood. There is an appetite for some muscular liberalism.

The problem with the Coalition is it seems to have yet to work out how it goes about governing for all of us.


Second mother tells of miscarriage horror

TWO Frankston Hospital emergency department staff have been stood down "without prejudice" after a woman revealed she miscarried her baby in a toilet. The hospital's clinical director of emergency, Helen Hewitt, admitted it made a mistake and it was "profoundly sorry" for Tracey Lake and Darren Hall's ordeal.

An investigation was launched after it was revealed the 41-year-old, who was 10-12 weeks' pregnant, was forced to wait more than four hours before she saw a doctor.

A second mother came forward yesterday to express her distress over treatment following her miscarriage in January. Rebecca Wadey said she lost so much blood in the 24-hour ordeal she had to have a transfusion with four bags of blood. "The bleeding was so excessive there was blood over the toilet seat and on the floor," Mrs Wadey said.

She claimed she waited up to five hours at the hospital on the first night before going home. The next morning she said she still forced to wait up to two hours for a bed. The final indignity was when she secured a emergency bed and was examined. Staff discovered the overhead light would not work.

"I just can't believe it, women just shouldn't be left to wait or treated like this, I wouldn't wish that on the worst enemy," Mrs Wadey said.

A spokesman for Peninsula Health expressed regret that Mrs Wadey was unhappy but questioned the amount of time she had been forced to wait, saying she was treated in the appropriate time for a category three patient.

Angel Babies Foundation, which provides to support to women after miscarriages, said even though not usually life-threatening the protocols for dealing with miscarriages needed to be changed urgently.

Executive director Maree Davenport said the loss of a baby in a toilet is "all too common" and the grief is exacerbated by a lack of training in accident and emergency departments. "We need to ensure women are provided privacy, their dignity is respected and the extremely confronting emotional situation is managed in a compassionate way," Ms Davenport said.

Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson said Victoria had a charter of human rights, which meant patients should be treated with respect and dignity.

Australasian College for Emergency Medicine's Victorian member Simon Judkins said unless capacity problems were addressed these issues could continue to happen.


Another bungled "green" scheme

THOUSANDS of people who have made their homes more energy efficient have been forced to wait as long as eight months to receive a promised solar hot water rebate worth up to $1000 from the Federal Government.

The Herald Sun can reveal the total value of the delayed payments could reach $7.8 million for 8695 people.

The embarrassing delay comes after the Government has been besieged by a series of bungles and poor management of climate-friendly schemes such as the roof batts fiasco. It has also axed the green loans scheme, cut the green car initiative, dumped its proposed citizens' assembly and abolished the cash-for-clunkers plan.

The Government blamed a new computer system for the solar hot water delays and said six extra public servants had been rushed in to help clear the backlog by the end of March. The parliamentary secretary for climate change and energy efficiency, Victorian MP Mark Dreyfus, said he regretted the delay.

A significant number of people have been waiting up to 19 weeks longer than the standard eight-week processing period and some as long as eight months.

Opposition spokesperson Sophie Mirabella said the Government's excuses were not good enough for people who were relying on rebates for the scheme. "People believed Labor and again they have been misled by a hopeless government that is drowning in its own ineptitude. Hard working Australians who do the right thing deserve better," she said.

The scheme started in the dying days of the Howard government and expanded under the Rudd government. Households can receive between $600 and $1000 for replacing electric storage hot water systems with a solar hot water system.

"We regret that as part of the move to a new, more efficient IT processing system [The typical Leftist talent for turning reality on its head] some people have had to wait longer than anticipated for their rebates," Mr Dreyfus said. "But these delays have been necessary to ensure applications are rigorously assessed and taxpayer money is appropriately spent."

The Government yesterday reversed plans to cut $100 million from its solar flagships program to pay for the clean up of summer floods in a deal to secure the Greens vote for its controversial $1.8 billion flood levy. It also promised to restore $264 million to the national rental affordability scheme. The Government was not able to say exactly how it would plug the Budget holes.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

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