Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Double-standards let Jacqui Lambie off the hook for inappropriate 'well-hung' comments

Are you seriously serious?

Earlier today, the Palmer United senator did an interview on the Kim and Dave Show for Hobart's Heart FM.

And here, when asked about her ideal man, the single senator replied, "they must have heaps of cash and they've got to have a package between their legs".

"They don't even need to speak".

Later, when a prospective suitor called up the show, Lambie enquired if 22 year-old Jamie was "well-hung".

This induced great mirth from Kim and Dave (ratings gold!), but just imagine if a male politician had offered a similar opinion, about say, a woman needing to be "really rich and have massive boobs".

It would be a career-ending, resigning offence. Facebook groups would spring up in protest. People would make t-shirts and take to the streets in outrage.

In recent months, Tony Abbott has weathered howling storms for suggesting a Liberal candidate had sex appeal. And for winking when a talk back caller revealed she worked on a sex line.

Clive Palmer has also raised the eyebrow of disapproval for calling female journalists "madam" and "my dear".

And yet, Lambie is sure to stroll away from her Heart appearance and into her next set of public comments with nary a scratch.

Yes, they are lighting up the internet - but only for their "omigawd" value. Not because they might be construed as demeaning and well, sexist.

Of course Lambie is entitled to have financial and physical specifications for her ideal partner (lets face it, she is not alone there). And in her favour, she was not describing her ideal employee.

But here's the worry: if we are to hold male MPs - and men more broadly - to a societal standard about respect and stuff, what happens when when we let women off the hook?

Is it good enough to shrug it off with the excuse that women don't "mean it in the same way"? That men wouldn't be offended?

In the end, the whole set up is undermined.

The other doozy with Lambie is that you can't imagine another female MP making the comments she made either.

They are the kind of thing you might hear between girlfriends having a giggle on a hens night. Not in a radio interview with an elected member of Parliament.

In Australia we don't want our politicians to be stuffy, but there is an expectation that they will maintain a little decorum.

Lambie's comments were textbook crude: along with the well-hung remarks, she also joked about how a whipper snipper would be needed to tackle her bikini line.

The idea of any other female MP talking about hair removal in an interview - albeit on a commercial radio station where things tend to be more informal - is ridiculous.

Once again, the PUP senators are demonstrating that they are not beholden to the normal rules that politicians play by.

PUP leader Palmer turns up to Parliament in his luxury cars, only to skip the next day's sitting because he doesn't think it is worth being in Canberra.

He storms out of interviews and is nonplussed if questioned for changing his mind.

Similarly, Dio Wang has admitted he had "zero" interest in politics before he joined PUP and Lambie is already well known for her ah, colourful turn of phrase.

This is the same person who described Abbott as a "political psychopath".

All of this rule breaking is part of PUP's appeal. They are not like other politicians. And they're not trying to be.

Lambie joked during her radio appearance that she "should have done a runner".

My bet? Lambie will gain support, not lose it for talking of her desire for a well-hung man.

And all because it's not the standard parliamentary package


Billions spent on roads in "hideously inefficient" way

More than $20 billion a year of national road funding is being spent in a “hideously inefficient” manner, according to a leaked assessment by Australia’s independent infrastructure umpire.

The Infrastructure Australia report, obtained by Fairfax Media, has also delivered a scathing critique of “monopoly” state-run road entities such as VicRoads, claiming a culture of resisting reform has led to a situation  in which political leaders are held “captive” to demands for more funding.

“The unhealthy focus of road agencies appears set on ‘getting, controlling and spending’ more taxpayer money, rather than questioning efficiency or value to the motorist and governments,” the report says.

The report, "Spend more, waste more, Australia's roads in 2014: moving beyond gambling," was sent to industry experts on Tuesday for comment. But, just hours after it was circulated, Infrastructure Australia’s acting coordinator John Fitzgerald ordered its withdrawal.

Mr Fitzgerald said the report had been emailed “in error” by a consultant. He said it had been withdrawn because he had not read it, nor had it been properly considered by the Infrastructure Australia council or the federal government.

“While I’m still here, I value good processes to ensure that publications from Infrastructure Australia are of the highest quality,” Mr Fitzgerald said.

The report, which claimed Australia has a “gambler’s addiction to roads”, said national road spending is now outstripping revenue raised through road-related taxes and charges, warning “Australia’s thirst for roads” would come at the expense of other services as the gap continues to widen. In the four years to June 30, 2012, road spending outstripped road revenue by $4.5 billion.

“Given that current governments at all levels display an appetite for much greater road spending in future, this trend should give rise to urgent questions of efficiency about how road funds are raised and allocated,” the report said.

It suggested there was little consideration of whether Australia’s demands for new roads should be satisfied, and argued that rail funding had missed out as a result.

“The current Australian system assumes that roads are an answer to most transport problems and seeks more and more funding to that end, with little consideration of alternatives that most other developed parts of the world enjoy, such as significant heavy intercontinental rail networks and dominant heavy mass transit systems."

It suggested a better approach would be to increase private-sector investment in roads.

“These efforts should bypass road agencies, which in most observed cases, will only suffocate or over-complicate such opportunities if given carriage of them.”

The report said since Infrastructure Australia was set up in 2008 to provide independent advice on infrastructure projects, it has received more than 1000 proposals, mostly for road projects.

“They were almost universally poor, in that they lacked any cost-benefit rigour whatsoever,” it said. “The real problem is that road agencies and other road project proponents in industry and the community spend next to no effort examining what problems their projects and plans are trying to solve, other than the perceived problem that they do not have enough road funding.”

The report raises interesting questions for the federal government, which has a road-focused approach to infrastructure funding. During the 2013 election campaign, Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared that the Commonwealth should “stick to its knitting” and focus on funding roads rather than urban rail.

The Napthine government too has been criticised for failing to submit a robust benefit-cost analysis for its East-West Link  to Infrastructure Australia. But, with about $27 billion of transport projects announced in the May budget, it has also been keen to involve the private sector.

The report was also critical of the federal government’s efforts to predict increases in road traffic, claiming urban congestion had consistently been overstated as a result.

In Melbourne, the government had predicted a 27 per cent jump in road vehicle kilometres travelled in the decade to 2011-12. In reality, vehicle use had increased by just 15 per cent, it said.


Call for paid childcare for 'qualified' grandparents: productivity commission

Nannies and grandparents could be paid by the government to look after children if they get TAFE qualifications under a proposal to overhaul the nation’s convoluted childcare system.  

The bewildering array of childcare subsidies should be replaced with a single, means-tested payment that would go directly to the parents' choice of provider, according to a draft report by the Productivity Commission.

Those on a family income of $60,000 or less would get 90 per cent of the cost of childcare covered and the payment would taper so that families on $300,000 or more would get 30 per cent.

Nannies, grandparents and anyone else willing could join workers at childcare centres and family day care in being eligible for government payments if they had at least a Certificate III in early childhood education, the report says.

The quality of care being offered would be scrutinised by the national auditor, with providers subject to targeted and random checks.

The report found that the current auditing regime was cumbersome and costly and should be rationalised.

But commissioner Wendy Craik said "there would need to to be a credible chance that someone would come round unannounced to the house to check the care being provided" for the system to be successful.

She said the proposal would see the childcare workforce increase by about 15 per cent.

The commission found many families were struggling to find flexible childcare that met their needs and that there were long waiting lists in some areas.

Parents currently have access to two main forms of government support - the childcare benefit, a means-tested payment for low-to-middle income families, and the childcare rebate, a non-means tested payment that covers up to 50 per cent of out-of-pocket costs.

The new payment would be available for children whose parents spend at least 24 hours a fortnight working, looking for work or studying. It would cover all approved services for up to 100 hours per fortnight.

Children deemed at risk of abuse or neglect and those with disabilities would have access to “top-up” payments.

The report also takes a swipe at the Abbott government's paid parental leave scheme, which seeks to pay the primary carer their wage for 26 weeks, plus superannuation, capped at an annual salary of $100,000.

This is up from the current scheme, introduced under Labor, that pays women the minimum wage for 18 weeks.

"The Commission considers that it is unclear that the proposed changes to the paid parental leave scheme . . . would  bring significant additional benefits to the broader community beyond those occurring under the existing scheme," the report says.

"There may be a case, therefore, for diverting some funding from the proposed new scheme to another area of government  funding, such as [early child care education and care], where more significant family benefits are likely."

Early Childhood Australia chief executive Samantha Page backed the idea of redirecting some of extra PPL money.

"Extending paid parental leave is welcome, but this has to be integrated with a quality, affordable early childhood education and care system," she said.

But Assistant Education Minister Sussan Ley said redirecting funds from PPL was "not an option".

She said that the Coalition's scheme was a different policy.

"Governments can do lots of things with reports," she told ABC Radio.

Ms Ley, however, also welcomed the release of the report, saying the current child care system was "at breaking point after child care fees skyrocketed 53 per cent during Labor's six years in office".

"We cannot continue with the Labor approach of blindly topping up child care payments on the nation's credit card combined with ineffective band-aid solutions."

But she cautioned that Tuesday's report was only a draft

"There is still much work to be done between now and the final report being handed to government in October," she said.

Ms Ley said the government would not pre-empt the final report and would consider it later in the year.

Labor's education spokeswoman Kate Ellis said that "the only thing that is certain about this review is that Tony Abbott has promised there will be no more money for child care".

"Any new support for families – like nannies and au pairs – will mean cuts to the existing child care services families rely on every day," Ms Ellis said.

"The government has already announced more than $1 billion of child care cuts. If Tony Abbott was serious about improving child care he would stop these continued attacks."

The commission found the federal government should also maintain the current funding arrangement for pre-school for four-year-olds that provides 15 hours a week. The federal government is waiting on a review before deciding the future of the current state-federal funding model to give each child 15 hours.

The number of women who work has increased in the past two decades - from 57 to 66 per cent - and the bill for childcare costs has also grown. The average out-of-pocket cost of childcare is 27 per cent of the average wage - less than in Britain, the US, New Zealand or Canada, but more than the OECD average of 17 per cent.

Other commission recommendations include that school principals be responsible for ensuring schools provide before and after school care, and removing restrictions on the number of child care places for occasional care. 


ATO's 'rotten' culture revealed

The Australian Taxation Office's internal culture is so poor that its ability to do its job is in danger, according to a scathing internal report.

The frank assessment, obtained though freedom of information laws, shows an organisation hamstrung by bureaucracy, risk aversion and internal empire building and in urgent need of sweeping “reinvention”.

The report found that a third of ATO workers disagreed that a climate of trust and respect existed in their workplaces and 38 per cent of workers thought taxpayers were not dealt with in an acceptable timeframe.

ATO management said in a statement on Monday that the report was an “honest look at our culture” and a necessary step in the program of change under way at the agency.

Despite calling for sweeping changes across the organisation, the report’s authors found nearly 60 per cent of the workforce did not know what was expected of them from the ATO’s much-vaunted Vision 2020 reform package.

The ATO is undergoing major upheaval, slashing thousands of jobs in an effort to cut costs and facing public and Parliamentary scrutiny for its enforcement of tax laws and its conduct in disputes with taxpayers.

The report lays responsibility for change squarely with the agency's bosses who, it says, must take urgent action to "reinvent" an organisation with a culture so negative its very core functions are threatened.

In the report Reinventing the ATO, the internal “2020 Program Office” advises that productivity and efficiency in Tax was being hampered by excessive bureaucracy, a silo mentality, risk aversion and poor people skills.

“The ATO is not sufficiently service oriented, major improvements are needed in people skills ... there is not enough focus on measuring or reporting performance or accountability for progressing strategic change, the ATO lacks an outcomes-focused approach and there are inefficiencies and over-engineering of process, staff are disempowered,” the report authors wrote.

They also found many staff “strongly disagreed that individuals at ATO were held accountable for their performance,”

“Bureaucracy, risk aversion, cost reduction focus and [a] silo mentality all inhibit flexibility and adoptability to changes in the client experience, it also means that decisions on client cases take longer,” the report warns.

“With staff not empowered to make decisions, it is more difficult and time-consuming for clients to deal with the ATO and its processes.”

The authors concluded that much was expected from a greatly reduced workforce if lasting change was to be achieved.

“Significant cultural change is needed with organisation-wide initiatives that bring about permanent change to the way the ATO works,” the report states.

“It will take concerted effort from everyone across the ATO to break this cycle.”

An ATO spokeswoman said in a statement on Monday that the report also found 82 per cent of the agency’s public servants supported the Vision 2020 plan, even if they were unsure what they were supposed to do to achieve it.

“As part of our commitment to reinventing the ATO, earlier this year we took an honest look at our culture,” the spokeswoman said.

“It was clear from the findings that our staff overwhelmingly agreed with the 2020 mission and vision the Commissioners have set for the ATO.

“We are proud that at a time of significant workplace change, our staff continue to deliver good services to the community and government.”


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