Wednesday, June 17, 2020

'Times have changed': Push for Australia's iconic Coon cheese to be renamed because of its use as a racial slur

This is an old controversy.  Back in 1999 Aboriginal activist Stephen Hagan lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission about the name "Coon" on a popular brand of cheese. It's a brand I sometimes buy myself.

Hagan got nowhere with the Commission and I believe he went on to put the case before a UN human rights agency also with no useful outcome. 

Racial sensitivities have been hugely amplified recently however so the outcome may differ this time.  Owners of the brand have been very resistant to abandoning it, however so the outcome is far from certain.  The brand has a good reputation so is worth money to them

The brand no longer "honours" anyone.  It is just an identifier for a popular brand of cheese

Australian comedian Josh Thomas is leading calls for the country's Coon cheese to be renamed because of its historical use as a racist slur.

The Please Like Me star shared a photo of the cheese product - found in supermarkets across Australia - alongside the caption: 'Are we still chill with this?'

The cheese made by the Warrnambool Cheese and Dairy Company in Victoria is named after its American creator Edward William Coon, who patented the unique ripening process behind the brand.

But Thomas argued it was out of touch to still honour the cheese's creator more than 85 years after his death while disrespecting those for whom the term is still an ethnic slur.

'It's amazing the respect people have for the name of a man who invented a processing technique of cheese - who died in 1934. And the disrespect they have for black people,' he wrote on Twitter.

The word is pejorative when used as a reference to those with dark-coloured skin - including those of African-American or Aboriginal descent.

Coon's Canadian owner Saputo bought the Warrnambool Cheese and Dairy Company in 2017 and is also behind the popular Mersey Valley and Sun Gold brands.   

Production of the brand in Australia started in 1935 and continued through to 1942 before the war disrupted production, the company's website says.

Manufacturing restarted in 1948 at Allansford in western Victoria and was made at the time in a red waxed cloth known as 'Red Coon'.


Super funds need reminding it’s not their moneyJ

Noticed the number of television ads promoting industry super funds? With expensive production values, they seek to bolster the case for compulsory superannuation as well as demonstrate the quality of the performance of particular funds.

It is hard to square this use of members’ funds with the sole purpose that governs super funds: to maximise retirement incomes. But the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority resorts to all the force of a powder puff to applying the sole purpose test. It has been a difficult time for the industry. The pandemic and lockdowns adversely affected its financial performance, and the government decided to allow members early access to their accounts.

Amounts up to $10,000 are permitted for this financial year and the same applies for the next. It is estimated about $15bn has been withdrawn, the typical amount being just above $7000.

It is a relatively small amount. It is estimated that super funds held about $2.7 trillion in January. Of course, some have been required to fund relatively more withdrawals than others

The super industry didn’t take too kindly to the government’s decision. The point was made that applicants were not required to give detailed reasons for seeking their money. Moreover, misleading figures were produced to exaggerate the effect on final retirement balances.

Industry Super Australia, the funds’ lobby group, was required to restate the financial impact. For a 30-year-old withdrawing $20,000, the revision it made was close to 20 per cent lower. This followed criticism from Treasury and the Australian Securities & Investments Commission

Sensing perhaps that a second withdrawal option might be reconsidered by the government, data has been presented indicating super withdrawals have been spent on gambling, alcohol and takeaway food. Actually, the largest single use has been to pay down personal debts.

But according to Andrew Charlton of economic advisory firm AlphaBeta — prime minister Kevin Rudd’s economic adviser — “superannuation is there for retirement, not for crises. If someone used super money to buy a $20 pizza, that pizza might end up costing them $150 at the time of their retirement. It will be the most expensive pizza they’ve ever bought.” What this demonstrates is the confusion about the ownership of the funds and the purpose of compulsory superannuation. There is a view the money belongs to the funds rather than the members, so any action that jeopardises the ability of the funds to hold on to the money should be queried.

The alternative view — that the money belongs to the members — is shared by the government. Given today’s circumstances, it has been entirely appropriate members have had access to their money based on their own judgment of need.

Adding to this confusion is that the purpose of superannuation has never been legislated. The government has proposed the following: “To provide income in retirement to substitute or supplement the Age Pension.”

The key objection raised by the industry was the absence of any reference to a comfortable or adequate retirement. But the real weakness is its vagueness. A dollar more in retirement would meet the goal but would require years of forgone consumption.

Unless substantial proportions of the population are able to move off the Age Pension, it’s hard to see the point. And we know from the modelling that the proportion of entirely self-funded retirees is not likely to rise above about one-fifth for the next 30 years or so. After the financial impact of COVID-19 is taken into account, this may be even lower.

The key weakness of the system is that low-income earners must sacrifice today’s spending, which they can ill-afford, only to rely on the full Age Pension when they retire, plus a small balance. Also, middle-income earners are particularly dudded as they enter the asset trap (presently above $400,000 a couple) and have full entitlement to the Age Pension reduced by an extremely high taper rate (read tax rate). They are taxed during their working years by virtue of the superannuation guarantee charge, then taxed in retirement. It’s hardly surprising there is a scramble among retirees to get below the asset cap.

The scheme makes sense only for the relatively well-to-do who can achieve a super balance north of $1m. Not only are they better placed to spend a little less while working, they are able to take full advantage of tax concessions associated with super contributions and earnings. And many in this group would have saved for self-funded retirement in any case.

Given these fundamental flaws, it’s extraordinary that ISA chief executive Bernie Dean declares our compulsory super a “national treasure”. (Note to Bernie: Clive Palmer was declared a national treasure.) Equally laughable was his notion that super policy is essentially settled. It’s about as settled as a tropical storm given the multiple changes made to the system, including in relation to contribution rate, contribution caps, taxation and other features.

His primary concern is that the government may backtrack on its commitment to lift the SGC from 9.5 per cent to 10 per cent in July next year, and 12 per cent in 2025. But the case for permanently freezing the rate at 9.5 per cent looks overwhelming. We are waiting for next month’s final report of the Retirement Income Review. Commissioned by the Treasurer, it was decided the review should continue in these difficult months.

Without doubt, some of the contradictory arrangements affecting retirees will be highlighted, including the asset trap. Hopefully, attention also will be drawn to the funds’ high fees and charges that significantly erode final balances. It will be fascinating to see if the panel can navigate a rational way out of this bizarre maze of rules and regulations. They create a climate of confusion and perverse incentives for retirees and workers, even if they provide a very comfortable living for those working in superannuation.


Facebook has told the ACCC it could kick Australian news off its platform and it wouldn't have a 'significant' effect on its business

Australia’s competition watchdog released a proposed code of conduct for Facebook and Google that would force them to pay for linking to news sites. Facebook has rejected this and said if it kicked Australian news off its platform entirely it would not have a “significant” impact on its business.

Although this dispute is happening in Australia, Facebook’s remarks are a signal to publishers agitating for tech giants to compensate the media as revenue continues to erode.

Facebook said neither it nor Google should be expected to prop up Australian news media.

Faced with the prospect of having to pay for running news on its platform, Facebook issued a clear message to publishers: We don’t need you.

This emerged from a clash between Facebook and Australia’s competition watchdog, the ACCC, which was tasked with creating a mandatory code of conduct for tech companies in response to the advertising industry shrinking during the coronavirus pandemic. The ACCC released its recommendations for a code of conduct in mid-May.

Part of the ACCC’s proposed code of conduct was aimed at getting Facebook and Google to pay for news links on their platforms, bolstering the cashflow of media companies which have seen their business models upended by social media.

In a submission to the ACCC on Monday, Facebook said there is a “healthy, competitive rivalry” between itself and news publishers, per The Guardian. It added that it could get rid of news from its platform without any major impact on its business as news only makes up a “very small fraction” of what users see on their news feeds.

“Notwithstanding this reduction in engagement with news content, the past two years have seen […] increased revenues, suggesting both that news content is highly substitutable with other content for our users and that news does not drive significant long-term value for our business,” the company wrote.

“If there were no news content available on Facebook in Australia, we are confident the impact on Facebook’s community metrics and revenues in Australia would not be significant.”

Facebook said it’s not the responsibility of private tech companies to plug money into the media industry. “It is not healthy nor sustainable to expect that two private companies, Facebook and Google, are solely responsible for supporting a public good and solving the challenges faced by the Australian media industry,” it wrote.

Although this particular fight is happening in Australia, it represents more global concerns about social media undercutting the business models of established news publishers, having such a large sway over how traffic is directed to news sites.

The tech giant has strived to show it is not a journalism-killer, and promised in January 2019 that it would spend $US300 million in journalism partnerships over three years, and in March 2020 pledged $US100 million to support local news economically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.


Investors face pressure over miner set to destroy Aboriginal artefacts

It's almost automatic for Aborigines to stand in the way of development projects.  The role of white Leftists in the background probably explains most of it

The world’s largest asset manager and a top superannuation fund are facing pressure to explain investments in a Chinese conglomerate set to destroy ancient Aboriginal artefacts at a coalmine in regional NSW.

China Shenhua Energy, the world's largest thermal coalminer, is planning to construct an open-cut mine next to the Liverpool plains near Gunnedah in the "food bowl" of the state.

The mine has been fiercely opposed by the site's traditional owners, the Gomeroi people, who fear it will lead to destruction of historic and culturally significant artefacts including grinding grooves showing markings of ancient warriors sharpening spears for battle, burial sites and sacred trees.

Funds management giant BlackRock, which manages more than $10 trillion in assets including substantial amounts of Australian retirement savings and money for the Future Fund, has billions of dollars invested in China Shenhua Energy, records show.

CBUS, the $54 billion super fund for construction industry workers, also confirmed a small investment in the firm, which is majority controlled by the Chinese government.

Failures by mining companies to preserve Indigenous artefacts have come into sharp focus after resources giant Rio Tinto last month decimated a 46,000-year-old site in Western Australia against the wishes of its traditional owners.

The Rio blast sparked an emergency Senate inquiry into how state and federal laws protect Aboriginal heritage.

There has also been rising scrutiny in the investment world over responsible and sustainable investing and best strategies for lifting corporate environment, social and governance standards.

The Gomeroi people last month filed submissions in the Federal Court against federal environment minister Sussan Ley in an attempt to overturn the mine's 2015 approval.

Gomeroi woman Dolly Talbott called on major institutional investors to boost transparency about where they put their clients' money.

"If you believe in preserving and looking after sacred sites, they need to know where they’re putting their money and what these companies are doing."

She said all Australians should be angered about cultural artefacts that will be destroyed if the mine proceeds, which include ceremonial corridors, burial sites and other items.

"Our direct ancestors are buried out there. You don’t go and blow up European burial sites so why should they be able to do that to us?" she said.

CBUS confirmed it owns around $4.5 million worth of shares in the company through a passive index fund.

The fund said it was considering divesting its stake as part of its broader climate change strategy and would ask its investment managers to incorporate First Nations heritage issues into engagement strategies.

"The sacred sites of our First Nations Peoples should be protected," CBUS head of responsible investment Nicole Bradford said.

BlackRock has positioned itself as a leader in socially responsible investing and last year pledged to reduce its holdings of thermal coal. The firm's founder, Larry Fink, has also been a prominent supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Market Forces campaigner Will van de Pol said the outrage over Rio Tinto's blasting should serve as a reminder for super funds about the role they play in actively managing investments.

"The Western Australia example should serve as a turning point that should have come long ago," Mr van de Pol said. "But at least from now on, we need to see super funds ensuring that that sort of destruction never happens again on their watch."

"As a firm committed to racial equality, we must also consider where racial disparity exists in our own organisations and not tolerate our shortcomings," Mr Fink said in a public letter on May 31.

An archaeological report commissioned by China Shenhua Energy said it could preserve roughly half of the more than 60 significant artefacts identified by adding fencing or moving them to another location.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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