Sunday, June 26, 2011

Another day, another ban

Alexander Philipatos

Banning is supposed to be an extreme policy, used in severe circumstances with great caution. Today, however, it seems to be the first tool politicians reach for amid public protest. Our representatives are banning everything – from live cattle exports to cigarette advertising, from mortgage exit fees to swearing in public. In the time of focus group politics and governance by poll, the ‘ban’ is the new ‘in thing.’

While some may think this is harmless, the real economic and social ramifications of knee-jerk policies are repeatedly underestimated.

The recent ban on Spanish cucumbers thought to be contaminated with E. coli cost Spanish farmers $306 million per week. The suspension of live cattle export to Indonesia has already cost $10 million to the Australian Agriculture Company and threatens to shut down many smaller Aussie farmers. Melbourne’s 2am lockout trial in 2008 cost many bars and clubs thousands in lost revenue with no reduction in violence.

Of significant concern is the estimated $3 billion in lost revenue to be borne by pokies if Independent MP Andrew Wilkie gets to put limits on gambling, not counting the flow-on effects.

Apart from the retrospective economic costs of wrongheaded restrictions, there are social costs to individual liberty. Discussions of whether Ban A will reduce smoking or whether Ban B will reduce gambling ignore the fundamental issue of individual rights.

The real question is whether Australia is committed to a free society or whether we are prepared to have the government decide for us what we can advertise, how we may do business, how we manage risk and health, what mistakes we may make, and how we speak to each other.

The more the public offloads individual decisions and responsibilities to the state, the less say we have in governing ourselves.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 24 June. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

There's a bad mood rising for Julia Gillard

IT'S extraordinary that, a year after Julia Gillard stood in Labor's caucus room and introduced herself as the nation's 27th Prime Minister, engaged and interested people still ask who she is and what she stands for. But it is happening in streets around the country, during public meetings and forums and at dinner parties and in cafes.

There has been plenty of attention on Gillard - especially in this anniversary week of her becoming Australia's first female PM - but nothing she's been able to do or say has brought her any closer to the public she strives to lead.

Twelve months and an inconclusive election on, the public is in as bad a mood as the Labor Party. People are unsure of Australia's direction (although a clear majority think it's headed in the wrong way); they are grumpy about making the weekly household budget balance (even though for most, living standards have risen during the past five years); and they cannot understand the big issues that are supposed to matter. The carbon tax is as toxic with the public as Tony Abbott says it is; the mining boom is treated with suspicion; and a rational conversation about asylum seekers is as far away as it ever was.

It's easy to understand why Bob Katter launched his Australian Party - he is as good a barometer of a bad mood as anyone in politics - seeking to tap into the failure of political leadership, the sense of national drift and seeming financial pressure as well as a deepening and acknowledged community cynicism. Katter knows instinctively the public is crying out for leadership and direction.

The Economist's John Grimond said in the magazine's recent annual survey of Australia that the current crop of politicians couldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding. "Many, if not most, of Australia's politicians, like those in other countries, now emerge from the murk of their party apparatus rather than from the wider world," he wrote. "When they rise to the top, they surround themselves with henchmen, read polling results and tea-leaves and subordinate policy to the art of winning elections. "If they happen to gain power, they do not seem to know what to do with it. If they take action, it is because they want to be seen to be doing something."

It is a harsh assessment and not only falls short of the truth but also denies the good work being done by many ministers in the Gillard Government. It is, however, an appraisal that is met with nodding heads and grumbles of agreement.

At the Noosa Longweekend festival last week, two forums on politics this columnist took part in revealed universal evidence backing the sentiments expressed here. Conservative voters think they've had their worst fears confirmed; Labor voters are in deep despair; and those in the middle range between frustrated bewilderment and annoyed disgust.

As well as questions about the character of the Prime Minister, people couldn't understand what the mining boom was about and had no idea what our politicians wanted for the future of the country.

At a breakfast on political leadership at Noosa Springs Country Club, there was a unanimous view in a packed room that we had none and people were sincerely despondent about where we might find any.

Of course, members of the Gillard Government believe they can find a way through this national bad mood if there's a perceptible change in economic fortune, and things such as this week's National Broadband Network deal with Telstra continue to get done.

The NBN deal, which represents one of the few really positive agenda items Labor has on its plate, can help Gillard in two ways. It counters the perception nothing gets done in Canberra because of the minority government propped up by the Greens and Independents; and it is about delivering on promises - many left over from the time when Kevin Rudd was leader.

The next big-ticket item is pricing carbon, a policy as unpopular as John Howard's deadly WorkChoices, which should be wrapped up as soon as next week or by the middle of July at the latest.

Bedding down some kind of agreement with Malaysia on asylum seekers is also essential, although the hard bargain being driven by the Government in Kuala Lumpur is making that more difficult than it should have been.

One Labor veteran this week suggested a comparison between the current national malaise and a similar period that ran from about 1994 to just after 2000 - reflected in big swings at three national elections in a row and the rise and fall of Hansonism. "If you think this gloom cycle really began in about 2004-05, benefited Rudd at the polls in '07 and then was given a booster shot by the financial crisis in '08, we could be nearing its end," says the Labor figure.

If that's the case next year could be one of turning the corner and the one after - the scheduled election year - even better again, both in terms of the mood and the economy.

Of course, a second global slump could blow all that optimism out the window and, with it, any faint hope Labor might have had.


Telstra forced to pay costs, compensation after worker Dale Hargreaves slips while working at home

Being blamed for something over which you have no control is a parody of justice

EMPLOYER groups are outraged by a legal decision that makes employers responsible for injuries suffered by staff working from home. Telstra will be made to pay legal and medical costs in a multimillion-dollar ruling by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Telstra worker Dale Hargreaves, 42, said she slipped down the stairs twice in two months while working on marketing campaigns from her Brisbane townhouse. Telstra denied liability because the falls occurred outside Ms Hargreaves designated workstation.

But the tribunal found the shoulder injuries she suffered were work-related. Telstra will also have to pay compensation for lost income.

In the first fall at 6pm on August 21, 2006, Ms Hargreaves was going to get cough medicine from the fridge in her sock-clad feet. In the second at 8.40am on October 9 the same year, she was locking the front door in line with Telstra's instructions following a break-in at her home.

The tribunal found both falls "arose out of Ms Hargreaves' employment with Telstra" which made them workplace injuries.

Legal experts said the ruling could force employers to conduct workplace health and safety audits in the homes of the one-in-four Queenslanders who regularly work from their private residence for lifestyle reasons.

The Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that would be "a bad outcome for everyone concerned". "An employer has no capacity whatsoever to determine and influence workplace health and safety arrangements at a person's home office," QCCI policy manager Nick Behrens said. "What the ruling essentially does is significantly discourage an employer providing workplace flexibility. It could be a catalyst for a significant change in employer behaviour."

Under the terms of the ruling, Ms Hargreaves could receive millions of dollars in compensation if she is unable to work again.

Solicitor Rachael James, of Slater and Gordon, said it was a significant win for her client who had left Brisbane to live with her parents in Victoria because of her medical and financial circumstances. "She can't dress herself for work. She is unable to do up a bra or a shirt, or carry a laptop," Ms James said. "She's going to get a whole back payment from the date of the injury up until today, and depending what the medical evidence says going forward, she could continue to receive those payments until she's 65."

A Telstra spokeswoman said the company was still examining the ruling.

Queensland University of Technology Dean of Law Michael Lavarch said employers "should not enter lightly into home work arrangements". "Homes are inherently dangerous places," he said.

David Miller from the Australian Industry Group said working from home had the potential to create problems for employers. "What the tribunal has done is extend beyond what the employer thought was reasonable in terms of their liability for an employee's safety. That's always going to be a difficult judgment," he said.


The delusion of human climate control

The Puyehue volcano in the Andes mountains of southern Chile blows up. It poses the question, whatever carbon tax we impose on industry in Australia - on businesses who pump carbon into air as a waste product - how are we going to fine the Andes mountains or the real culprit, Puyehue, for spewing all that carbon dust into the air as if it were a giant candle on Guy Fawkes night?

Bob Brown was rubbing his hands together in glee - as they also do in Tasmania with the purpose of warming them in the freezing cold of Hobart - when he extracted the last ounce of tax from red-bobbed Julia Gillard on the carbon issue. Then, after it had waited 50 long years to blow its top, Puyehue sent millions of tonnes of sulphur and ash teeming with carbon into the skies, where it continues to circle - disrupting flights and raising carbon levels in the atmosphere to choking point. In a final insult it is believed that no one in the Australian government, including Brown, was consulted before it blew its stack.

It makes a mockery of serious governments around the world who are seeking to pass significant legislation controlling the levels of carbon and sulphur that industry can pump into the air, when a dummy spit by Puyehue spoils everything.

Australia was going ahead with carbon taxing legislation, as a leading nation, when most of the world was not thinking that the atmosphere surrounding Australia might magically stand still and not wander around the rest of the globe where non-taxed carbon molecules frolic free in proportions dwarfing our taxed molecules. God is poking his tongue through the Puyehue volcano, whose carbon output dwarfs industry's.

Although Australian governments have an impressive history of being able to tax virtually everything - goods and services, imports, exports, mining, and super mining - it would test even Peter Garrett to tax the volcano for breaching emissions policy. The same thing happened when the unspellable volcano in Iceland decided to blow its top and send millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, interfering with European air traffic. Iceland was bankrupt at the time and could have used the hefty fine but found it couldn't pay itself.

The Earth is not playing ball with its inhabitants, although we are practically family, having been created by God. It's like trying to fill the bath by the leaving the hot and cold taps running but someone has pulled the bath plug and no matter how much we turn the taps on, the water disappears down the plughole. Did God do this deliberately, playing a trick on Earth, or did he devise a huge reality game show called Survivor Earth?


1 comment:

Paul said...

Ms Hargreaves was going to get cough medicine from the fridge in her sock-clad feet

Be interesting to know if Telstra have a footwear policy. If so then they have grounds for appeal