Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Proposal to end 'sacrosanct' confessions

Parliament can propose but the church will dispose.  Are they going to lock up priests who adhere to their canons?  Not very likely

CATHOLIC priests may be forced to reveal if they heard about crimes during confession under a proposal before Victoria's inquiry into child sex abuse.

Priests would be ordered to reveal crimes told to them in private confessions but priests say they will resist any such moves, the Herald Sun says.

A parliamentary committee also will look at new laws that would see bishops face criminal charges for the misconduct of their priests.

The committee is asking those making submissions whether they think mandatory reporting rules should be imposed on the confessional.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne would not comment because it did not want to pre-empt the work of the inquiry.

Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, has previously said the confessional must remain sacrosanct.


Australians eating the "wrong" foods?

I don't know what business it is of anybody but the eaters -- and the fact that Australians have one of the world's longest lifespans is not addressed

SOARING obesity rates, falling fruit and vegetable intake and a fast-food industry cashing in on an appetite for fatty foods - Australians seem to be gluttons for punishment.

A damning government report on nutrition and dietary habits said more than 60 per cent of adults and almost a quarter of children aged 2-16 are either overweight or obese.

It's leading to serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, costing more than $8 billion a year in health care and lost productivity.

But it's little wonder our waistlines are growing, with almost 30 per cent of the average household food budget spent on fast food and eating out.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report found the average family spent more each week on alcohol than meat, fruit and vegetables.

Even when families buy healthy food, much of it ends up in the bin -- with an average $600 worth of food thrown out annually per household.

Of an estimated total $5 billion worth of food disposed of annually, $1.1 billion was fruit and vegetables.

AIHW spokeswoman Lisa McGlynn said more than 90 per cent of adults did not eat the recommended five serves of vegetables each day -- and half did not eat enough fruit.

"The good news in all this is that we know the state we're in and we know what we can do about it," she said.

"We can all start with small changes like just having a couple of extra pieces of fruit or serves of vegetables."

Newcastle family day-carer Robinanne Lavelle said she often saw parents packing their children's lunch-boxes with processed foods, sandwiches smothered in chocolate spread and lollies.

"We're in a society where we have a lot more money than we did a few decades ago and children are often becoming the ones who choose these products," she said.

"I believe working parents who are short on time might not want the hassle while they are out at the shops so they will buy something just because the children want it."

According to the report, lower income earners, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were most at risk from poor diet and obesity. With healthy food costing up to 30 per cent more for people living in rural and remote regions, they too were at increased risk.

Dietitians Association of Australia spokesman Dr Trent Watson called for a fundamental change in the way authorities tackled the problem, with more funding for prevention.

"Unless we start shaping our health care system to target these determinants of health as an absolute priority, we're going to be in an unsustainable position," he said.


Don't let the prudes deprive us of the spice of sexual banter

IT'S been a red-hot month for sex therapist Marty Klein. The well-known Californian psychologist - soon to give a lecture tour in Australia - has spent more than 30 years writing about sexual issues, often attracting the blowtorch of indignation from the US's powerful conservative groups. But he's never experienced anything like the frothing-at-the-mouth nastiness he's experienced since commenting on a recent controversy over an unwanted sexual invitation.

It started when a woman, Elyse Anders, was speaking at a sceptics' conference. She was approached by a couple she'd had contact with through Facebook who presented her with a SwingLifeStyle card that included their names, phone number and a semi-naked photo of them. They then left.

Anders posted a seething blog on her website, ranting about how offensive this was, how it undermined her professionalism. "I do important work. The work I do saves lives. And yet I still have to worry about whether I'm worthy or if I'll ever be respected beyond my f---ability. And that's bullshit. I deserve better than that."

In his regular column in Psychology Today, Klein took up the issue, perhaps foolishly disguising some details of the case to present a more general scenario. But he made a powerful argument, suggesting the issue here isn't sexual harassment but rather unwanted sexual attention. He then described the legal, ethical and social differences between the two.

Klein argued that sexual-harassment law was never designed to protect women from merely feeling uncomfortable and that in a typical workday, for instance, both men and women face many sources of discomfort: the infertile face co-workers' desks with photos of their kids; fundamentalist Muslims and Jews face people dressed with arms and legs uncovered; atheists face people wearing crosses. Why do we privilege unwanted attention that happens to involve sexuality?

We all cope with unwanted attention every day, Klein said, coming up with some telling examples: overly personal stories from strangers on planes; awkward compliments from co-workers; grocery clerks sympathetically inquiring about the brace on your wrist; and "Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormon missionaries asking if they can talk with you for just a moment about their invisible friend in the sky".

Klein pointed out that he had fought hard against sexual coercion and sexual harassment but suggested the whole "Eek! An unwanted sexual invitation - gross! My day/week/year is ruined" is a bit precious. He concluded that surely we should be able to handle a friendly sexual invitation in a genuinely safe environment without losing our composure.

He makes a good point. It seems extraordinary that Anders got her knickers in a twist about simply being handed a piece of paper, with no pressure to make any further response.

Since Klein's article was published, Anders has responded with 5000 words of venomous blog, tearing him apart and nit-picking about his inaccuracies, but never discussing the important issues he raised. The article also led to hundreds of furious comments, blogs and threats to interfere with his regular writing assignments.

There's a very real issue at the heart of this silly controversy - namely, the notion that sex is peculiarly dangerous and the rules of normal adult interaction must be adjusted when the subject is sex so no one ever feels uncomfortable.

Look at the constant skirmishes now taking place in workplaces, where the wrong joke, comment or sexual reference risks accusations of sexual harassment. Yet, as even the feminist website points out, there are women who make and enjoy sexual banter. As this site suggests: "Overbroad restrictions on sexual material infantilises women and shores up destructive Victorian stereotypes that women are (or should be) so pure that any expression about sexuality offends and demoralises them."

Sexual banter, the exchange of jokes and flirty comments can be the welcome spice of life for women, as well as men, and it's foolish to let the prudish in our midst determine what is appropriate behaviour.

Demonising sexuality inevitably distorts a proper perspective on sexual crimes, leading to politically inspired calls for absurdly longer sentences, misinformation about the likelihood of offenders to reoffend and exaggeration of the emotional damage to the victims of minor abuse. Our prurient interest in sex crimes often robs the perpetrator of any chance of redemption - as the sad death of cricket commentator Peter Roebuck bears witness. This is why allegations of child sexual abuse feature so regularly in fierce battles over child custody - the hint of sexual misbehaviour is a weapon like no other, leaving a lifelong taint on character.

The absurd overreaction from Anders and her colleagues to Klein's serious discussion of unwanted sexual attention makes the case that reason disappears when sex rears its head. Klein has spent his career arguing that sexuality deserves better treatment, and that's what he'll be talking about in Australia in October.


Rates gap a fair price to pay for safer banks

As I'm sure you've gathered, a surprising number of our industries are going through a painful, job-shifting process economists euphemistically refer to as "structural adjustment". You've heard at length about the tribulations of mining, manufacturing, tourism, retailing, aviation, bookselling, newspapers and free-to-air television.

Then there's all the angst and words spilt by the media, politicians and people with mortgages over structural change in banking. Huh?

When people have been carrying on about how the banks have stopped moving mortgage interest rates in line with changes in the Reserve Bank's official interest rate, they've actually been complaining about just one consequence of the structural change that's being imposed on banks around the world in reaction to the devastation wrought by the (continuing) global financial crisis.

Just how the banks are being forced to change was explained by the deputy governor of the Reserve Bank, Dr Philip Lowe, in a speech last week (on which I'll be drawing heavily).

All of us can remember the halcyon days before the financial crisis when mortgage interest rates moved in lock step with the official rate. Unfortunately, they were only halcyon on the surface. Underneath, big trouble was brewing.

Particularly in the United States and Europe, there was a lot of cheap money flowing around, so the banks got quite slapdash about whom they lent to. They lent at interest rates that were artificially low, failing to reflect the riskiness of the project and the chance they wouldn't get their money back.

They also greatly increased their "gearing" - the ratio of borrowed money to shareholders' capital they used to finance their activities. When business is booming, becoming more highly geared accelerates the rate at which your profits grow. When business turns down, however, it hastens the rate at which profits shrink and turn to losses.

As we know, the day of reckoning did come, many banks in the US and Europe got into deep trouble and had to be bailed out by their governments to prevent them collapsing and causing a depression. Even so, the North Atlantic economies dropped into deep recession, from which they've yet to properly emerge.

In the meantime, the bank regulators and the global financial markets are forcing the world's banks to change their ways and lift their game - in short, to operate more safely, reducing the risk of getting into difficulties. Although our banks are well regulated and didn't get into bother, they're still affected by this tightening up.

Banks are now required to hold a higher proportion of their funds in shareholders' capital and a higher proportion of their assets in liquid form, making it easier for them to cope with a surge in depositors wanting to withdraw their money.

The financial crisis made Australians realise how dependent our banks had become on using short-term overseas borrowings to meet the needs of local home and business borrowers. Before the crisis the interest rates our banks paid on these foreign borrowings were unrealistically low; now they're much higher, to adequately reflect the risks involved.

Our authorities, and our sharemarket, have been pressing the banks to do their overseas borrowing over longer periods and raise a higher proportion of their funds from local depositors.

Do these efforts to make our banks safer and more crisis-proof sound like a good thing? They are. But, like everything in the economy, they come at a price.

What banks do is act as intermediaries between savers on the one hand and borrowers on the other. The costs they incur in performing this invaluable service (including the return on the shareholders' money invested in their business) are called the "cost of intermediation", which is the gap between the average interest rate they charge on the money they lend out and the average interest rate they pay to depositors and other lenders.

The cost of making our banks safer - by requiring them to hold higher proportions of share capital and liquid assets - has raised the cost of intermediation. Most of this higher cost has been passed on to the banks' mortgage and business borrowers.

The higher cost of borrowing abroad and borrowing from local depositors has also been passed on.

This explains why, since the early days of the financial crisis, the banks have been raising mortgage rates by more (or cutting them by less) than movements in the official interest rate. Over the 10 years to 2007, the variable mortgage rate averaged 1.5 percentage points above the official rate. Today, it's about 2.7 percentage points above.

That's what all the complaints have been about. Now you know why it's happened. But this bad news has been accompanied by three bits of good news which have had far less attention.

First, much of the increase in mortgage rates is explained by the very much higher rates being paid to depositors as the banks compete furiously for our money. Before the financial crisis, deposit rates were well below the official rate; now they're above it (particularly on internet accounts). Depositors outnumber people with mortgages by two to one.

Second, safer banks mean people who invest in bank shares (which is everyone with superannuation) are running lower risks - meaning their profits don't need to be as high. The boss of Westpac, Gail Kelly, said recently its return on shareholders' equity had fallen from 23 per cent before the crisis to 15 per cent.

Finally, to reduce the pressure on bank borrowers caused by the banks' now higher margin above the official rate, the Reserve Bank has cut it by about 1.5 percentage points below what it would otherwise be.

Structural adjustment is always painful - but there's always someone who's left better off.


1 comment:

Paul said...

AIHW spokeswoman Lisa McGlynn said more than 90 per cent of adults did not eat the recommended five serves of vegetables each day --

Safety Lesbian in full flight.