Saturday, May 14, 2011

Light bulbs and set top boxes

Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich

We have all heard many versions of the famous light bulb joke. Like this one: Q: How many economists does it take to change a light bulb? A: Two. One to assume the ladder and the other one to change the bulb.

Since traditional light bulbs have long been banned in Australia, it’s time to adjust the joke and move on to other household items. Such as TV sets. But here the government provides us with a real life joke.

So how much money does it cost to install a digital TV set top box, worth about $30? Up to $400, never mind that you can buy a brand new flat screen digital TV for less than $400. Anyway, this is the amount the government has set aside to help eligible households under its Digital TV Switchover – Household Assistance Scheme. The scheme applies to pensioners and veterans who haven’t yet upgraded from analog to digital TV reception.

The $400 per household not only pays for the set top box but also for the services of ‘a qualified government contractor’ – perhaps the same people who were made redundant after the infamous pink batts debacle. The contractors will install the boxes, maybe even without burning down any houses.

But then again, what’s so difficult about connecting the box to a power socket, an aerial and the TV? Unless they’re deaf and blind, most pensioners should well be able to set up their new set top box – especially if they get it free of charge from Centrelink. And if they’re deaf and blind, well, they probably don’t watch much TV anyway.

It’s hard to understand the reasoning behind the scheme. Since when did government start paying for household items? What about the pensioners who had already switched to digital and paid for it themselves? And how can you justify a scheme costing taxpayers $309 million at a time of a $50 billion budget deficit?

The government’s set top box scheme is a modern version of the old light bulb joke. Unfortunately, it is very costly. And not very funny.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 13 May. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Gillard shouldn't give our money to terrorists

ASKED in July 2009, in the aftermath of the Gaza War, if Australia would deal with the Palestinian government if Hamas were to be included, Julia Gillard was unequivocal in her response: "Hamas obviously is a terrorist organisation that has been engaged in violent actions against the Israeli people, and in order to be part of any process it needs to completely renounce that violence."

So it should stand to reason that following the announcement last week that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah group and rival Hamas had agreed to end their long-standing feud and form a unity government, the Australian government must re-assess its relations with the Palestinian Authority.

But in Tuesday night's budget, it was announced that "Australian aid to the Palestinian territories and Palestinian refugees in surrounding regions will double to around $70 million per annum by 2012-13".

Included within that, is money that will go directly to the PA to "improve its operations and assist in the delivery of services".

This is despite the fact that the "governance" section of our International Development Assistance Program in the budget explicitly states that "Australia supports a two-state solution led by a capable and moderate Palestinian Authority". The question is, can a Palestinian Authority partly run by Hamas be considered capable and moderate?

If anyone needed a reminder as to where Hamas's allegiance lies, look no further than their reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden.

Hamas was one of the few groups to condemn his killing, with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh calling bin Laden an "Arab holy warrior" and accusing the US of pursuing a policy based on "oppression and the shedding of Arab and Muslim blood".

Hamas was born out of a desire to create an Islamic state in Gaza, West Bank - and all of Israel. Its charter explicitly calls for Israel's destruction. It has said, unequivocally and repeatedly, that it will never negotiate with or recognise the Jewish state.

Since the beginning of this year, at least 300 rockets have been fired into southern Israel from Hamas-ruled Gaza, many by Hamas itself. Hamas also took responsibility for the deliberate firing of an anti-tank missile at a school bus several weeks ago, killing a 16-year-old youth.

Only two weeks ago, Hamas's "military wing" (whose philosophy and modus operandi is no different from the rest of the group) confirmed it was "going on the path of jihad".

Moreover, Hamas's military wing is a proscribed terrorist organisation in Australia under the Criminal Code Act. It is also a crime under Australian law, and a violation under international law, to provide funding to terrorist groups.

Yet there can be no guarantee that Australian taxpayers' dollars will not reach their hands and be used for acts of terror against Israel or to support the activities of those who threaten Australian security. Only last month Israel arrested an Australian man and charged him with spying for Hamas.

Before the ink on the unity agreement even had the chance to dry, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader involved in the talks, said "[o]ur program does not include negotiations with Israel or recognising it".

Hamas's Prime Minister immediately followed this by calling on Fatah to renounce its recognition of Israel.

Meanwhile, Abbas's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said the reconciliation "was not Israel's concern". Yet when an organisation does not recognise even your mere existence and is sworn to your destruction, that is a very real concern to anyone.

It is telling that in June 2007, after Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah in a brutal coup that resulted in the loss of hundreds of Palestinian lives and led to the feud between the two groups, Abbas said of Hamas: "there will be no dialogue with these murderers and forces of darkness".

Israel cannot be expected to deal with the new Palestinian government as long as Hamas continues to reject the quartet's (UN, US, EU and Russia) pre-conditions for participation in the peace process. These are: recognition of Israel, renouncing terror and violence, and accepting all previous agreements and obligations.

There is an additional reason to be concerned about this unity deal. Hamas and Fatah have reportedly agreed to release each other's prisoners, thereby severely undercutting Fatah's security co-operation with Israel in the West Bank, which has - until now - enjoyed relative calm. One prisoner, however, who will not be released is Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas has held as a hostage for almost five years after seizing the soldier from Israeli soil, in total violation of international law, and without allowing even a visit from the Red Cross.

In the coming months, the Palestinians will go to the UN to demand recognition of a Palestinian state. The agreement reached between Fatah and Hamas is intended to show the world they are united and more ready than ever for statehood. But regrettably, all Abbas has shown is that he prefers to partner with those who seek Israel's death and destruction, rather than negotiate a two-state solution in good faith.

Hamas's inclusion in the new Palestinian government raises serious implications for the Australian government.

Hamas has already declared it has no intention of abiding by the quartet's conditions - or the ones articulated by Gillard in July 2009 - including renouncing their campaign of terror against Israel. The Australian government would therefore now have to seriously consider whether it can even maintain ties to the PA.

The unity agreement will also have implications for Australian non-profit groups such as World Vision and Care Australia, who, notwithstanding their good intentions, may risk being in breach of Australian law by donating to projects in the West Bank and Gaza which may be effectively controlled or manipulated by Hamas.

After the announcement of the Palestinian agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "the Palestinian Authority must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both."

The PA has made its choice - peace with Hamas. Australia must make its choice as well.


Idiotic welfare system

SOME families could be better off knocking back a $20,000 pay rise rather than slipping out of the welfare net, an economist has found.

As the federal Government tries to claw back almost $2 billion in savings by stalling thresholds of some family welfare payments, an exclusive analysis for the Herald Sun reveals some families could be left asking questions about the worth of work.

It comes as Bureau of Statistics data shows Australian workers' average wages last year were more than $1000 a week.

Tony Abbott has stepped up his attack on the federal Government's plans, saying some families on $150,000 a year in wealthy parts of Australia were doing it "incredibly tough". "If I'm a policeman married to a nurse trying to pay a mortgage in Sydney, earning maybe $150,000 as a family, I'm still doing it incredibly tough," he said.

Some social services groups have questioned the debate over household incomes, saying many families were struggling on $70,000 or less.

The Government says households on $150,000 a year are "not rich" but need to do their bit to get the country back into surplus. Under the Budget, the cut-off threshold for Family Tax Benefits and the baby bonus and paid parental leave would stall at $150,000, and not match inflation rates until 2014.

Griffith University economics professor Ross Guest said the decision to withdraw middle-class welfare created "high disincentives to work". "As you phase out benefits, or cut them, it essentially hits people like another tax," he said.

Prof Guest's analysis of a couple with two children living on a primary income of $150,000 and receiving paid parental leave shows that they would be as much as $8000 worse off after tax if they received a $10,000 pay rise.

The family would need to receive a pay rise of more than $20,000 before they had as much disposable income as they did before losing the payments. They would need to receive a $30,000 pay rise to have just another $4000 in disposable income.

Data from the Bureau of Statistics shows the average pay packet of Australia's 9.8 million workers is above $1000. The average weekly income in August 2010 was $1035, an increase of $40, to take the annual salary to $53,820. For full-time work the average is $1267 a week.

Australian Human Resource Institute president Peter Wilson said the two-speed economy meant at the top end of the employment market, particularly in the resources sector, companies were giving extraordinary payments to staff. He expects average wages to rise by 4 per cent a year.


Gillard kills 'big Australia'

THE Gillard government has killed the concept of "a big Australia" by rejecting the idea of a population target, and will instead focus on areas of high labour demand using immigration and affordable housing.

The government's long-awaited sustainable population policy, to be released today, also rejects the concept of "growth for growth's sake" in which economic expansion is put ahead of all other concerns.

"Economic prosperity is only one element of a sustainable Australia; environmental sustainability and liveable communities are important," the Population Minister, Tony Burke, will say. "Growth for growth's sake leads us to a big Australia where people go to congested communities, not where they are needed."

Instead, the policy will recognise different communities have different needs. "In areas where there is demand for workers we are targeting immigration and affordable housing," Mr Burke will say.

"In areas of congestion we will target local employment so hard-working Australians spend less time and money travelling to and from work. Every local suburban job is a car out of a traffic jam."

The policy rejects "big Australia" - the term embraced by the then prime minister Kevin Rudd in late 2009 when Treasury forecast the population of 22 million would balloon to 36 million by 2049. This sparked a backlash in already congested regions such as western Sydney and the outer suburbs of other big cities.

The acceptance of regional difference will target the policy towards improving the quality of suburban life.


1 comment:

Panta Rei said...

RE digital set top box

presumably for terrestrial TV:
Which is another big waste in terms of TV signals,
using up valuable mobile frequencies when satellite/cable has much more capacity for the one-way dominant signals for fixed large screen viewing (especally with HDTV)
-- and of course mobile broadband can itself be used for digital picture transmissions anyway, as required.

RE light bulb ban in Australia

another piece of idiocy, as in Europe etc,
Light bulbs don't burn coal and they don't release CO2 gas.
Power plants might!
If there is a problem - deal with the problem.

Simple incandescent light bulbs are safe to use,
there is no shortage of electricity for paying consumers,
and the overall society savings from banning the simple and safe types of light bulbs is
small anyway, as seen from US Dept of Energy's own figures
(with more on the lack of logic behind the ban)