30 October 2009

Chameleon loses its camouflage

Kevin Rudd's major immigration bungle—the so-called "Indonesian Solution", which really should be called the Indonesian Fiasco—exposes his phoniness. Such is his mastery of delivering spin over the 24-hour media cycle and contempt for the average voter that he masquerades as an economic conservative, environmentalist, humanitarian and Christian socialist, depending on which voters he wants to con in the message that he is conveying. He makes extraordinary and incoherent ideological shifts not just between press releases, but between sentences within the same speech.

Rudd has spun a web of deception extending from the political left to the political right, and it has inevitably left him entangled. Julie Bishop, Deputy Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, asked Rudd about a newspaper report that he is offering millions of dollars to Indonesia to intercept the growing wave of asylum seekers in Indonesia:

Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin) (2:21 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the report in today's West Australian newspaper that 'Indonesia will be offered millions of dollars to intercept and house asylum seekers who attempt to make the journey to Australia', which could be paid 'as a bounty for every boat intercepted'. Will the Prime Minister inform the House whether such arrangements are under consideration and the estimated cost to Australian taxpayers?

Mr RUDD (Griffith) (Prime Minister) —I thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for her question, which goes to the fabric of our cooperation with Indonesia in dealing with the global challenge of people smuggling. I note that that question follows the previous question from the leader of the National Party, which pointed to the push factors which are at work, one of which is from Afghanistan and another of which is from Sri Lanka, given the recent civil war. This government has been absolutely consistent in saying that in dealing with this problem, which is a global problem, we must maximise our global cooperation with the UNHCR and resettlement countries. That is the first part of it.

The second part of it, of course, is to employ the cooperative arrangements with Indonesia and other regional countries through the Bali process and also under the provisions which are provided for under the Lombok treaty—which I seem to recall was negotiated by those opposite, though it was ratified and concluded after this government took office. That treaty, in one of its provisions, deals with cooperation between Australia and Indonesia on people-smuggling. The President of Indonesia and I have made no secret of the fact that we intend to continue to develop a framework for further cooperation on people-smuggling. That is what we intend to do. That will mean providing additional assistance to our friends in Indonesia to help with the resettlement task and to help with all the associated functions which they might undertake in the future to assist Australia and other countries in dealing with this regional problem. There is nothing remarkable in that; it is the right thing for Australia to do. This government makes no apology whatsoever for the fact that we have a tough line on asylum seekers when it comes to dealing with the challenges of people smugglers around the world—tough but humane.

Rudd's attempt to politically escape from this policy debacle by outsourcing border protection to Indonesia is anything but tough and humane. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull summed up Rudd's epic policy failure in his address to Federal Parliament:

Well, it’s time for this Prime Minister to face up to the facts; he cannot escape responsibility for the people aboard that Australian Customs vessel. He cannot refuse to answer for how his policies have led to this outcome. He says his policies are tough and humane. Tough but humane – it’s just another of the phoney formulas dreamed up by the Winston Smith wannabes in his office to create an impression with the Government’s border protection policies are something they are not.

In fact, this Government’s policies are neither tough nor humane. They are dysfunctional. They do not work. They fail to achieve the object of the policy, which is to stop the people smuggling. They have failed and they will continue to fail. And Australians know that, because they see with their own eyes how these policies are unravelling as each and every day passes.

The Bilateral Solution

Kevin Rudd must end the farce that has unfolded in Indonesia over the past 11 days as soon as possible before it does further damage to our international image. The vacuum in our border protection policy is clearly evident and it will only add to Australia's appeal as the ideal destination for the operations of people smugglers.

This policy debacle was entirely preventable and of the Prime Minister's own making because in trying to please the left and right at the same time using deceptive spin, he has created a situation that is bad for the asylum seekers, bad for Australia's diplomatic relationship with Indonesia, bad for our international reputation and undermines our border protection policy objectives.

Rudd should consider offering the 78 asylum seekers on board the Oceanic Viking currently anchored in Indonesia a compromise: allow women and children to be processed via Australian facilities if they disembark at once.

25 October 2009

Cut the spin and bureaucracy and fix our phone companies, Senator Conroy

While Senator Conroy seems to now be aware that mistreatment of customers in the telecommunications industry is rife, it remains to be seen whether he will show some leadership on this matter and deliver reform that working Mums and Dads will see on their phone bills. Conroy did not sound particularly proactive in the comments he made on Network Ten:

What we need to do is put pressure directly onto the telecommunications companies

If we do not start seeing a significant improvement in these sorts of reports ... we will legislate.

Even though phone companies have been ripping customers off for years by withholding details of charges from customers, he fails to commit himself to reform that is necessary to ensure that the rights of the customer are protected from dishonest business practices. The problems will not be fixed with bureaucracy, spin as a substitute for progress or endless process in the form of reviews, inquiries, commissions, committees and task forces that characterise the leadership style of Labor governments.

Twitter popular among the well-paid and educated: research

The results of research carried out by Nielsen on the people who use Twitter would surprise some people, especially those who have tried out the social network for a short while and deride it after finding the experience rather underwhelming.

The results of the research published in the Australian Financial Review on 1.6 million Twitter users in Australia show that 61% of users earn more than $75,000 and 40% earn more than $100,000. 421,000 users have a Bachelor's degree, while 202,000 users acquired a postgraduate degree, with these two groups together comprising 39% of the Twitter users studied. The professionals using Twitter tend to work in sales, administration, technical areas, executive management or be self-employed.

Deirdre Macken, the journalist who wrote the article, explains the power of Twitter:

Because of the endless linkages between Twitter users, it is the ultimate expression of the idea that there are at most six degrees of separation between any two people in the world. Information jumps through wildly different networks, rapidly forming opinions or spreading news.

Much of the power of the network is a reflection of the people who use it. Worldwide, users tend to be adults established in their own professions who have a lot of opinions, even though they might lack outlets to express them.

Crocodile tears from gang not welcome in Western Australia

Despite the complaints made by members of the Finks and their attempts to portray themselves as victims of police bullying in the media, it would be naive to think that they came to Western Australia just to go on a picnic. The Western Australian community has every reason to be concerned about the arrival of a group that was declared a criminal organisation just across the border in neighbouring South Australia. The South Australian Supreme Court ruled that Section 14.1 of the Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Act 2008 was invalid, although the South Australian Government is seeking to overturn the ruling in the High Court.

A Finks nominee from the Perth suburb of Belmont was recently charged for a range of offences, including a shooting incident in Landsdale.

One Finks member pleaded guilty in a Brisbane court on Friday for his involvement in a savage spree of bashings and sexual assaults carried out by gang members on the Gold Coast in January.

WA Attorney-General Christian Porter said that under legislation to be introduced into WA Parliament next year, it would be easier to declare the Finks a criminal organisation than other groups such as the Mafia, Chinese Triads or Sword Boys.

The Finks do not appear to have any support from the WA Opposition, either. Shadow Minister for Police, Margaret Quirk, said that an increase in their presence within WA "is certainly not welcome". She also said that they are "keen to set up somewhere else" because they are being pushed out of South Australia.

24 October 2009

Adam Shand from The Sunday Times joins in Finks PR campaign

A report by Adam Shand from The Sunday Times was just published attacking the efforts of our police to ensure the safety of the Western Australian community with the influx of members of the Finks motorbike gang from South Australia. He picks up a couple of Finks members from the airport and drives them to their clubhouse where they were holding a party and gets a first-hand glimpse at life inside the motorbike gang. The report begins with SPECIAL REPORT: Adam Shand, Inside Finks clubhouse—they must think they've gotten a real scoop to be given opportunity to enter their clubhouse and inform the outside world about how well behaved they are.

The report is titled 400 WA officers target Finks bikies . . . but no arrests and he appears to regard the operation as somewhat of a waste of taxpayers' money. After the impressions he gained from his visit to the clubhouse, he is convinced that the poor gang members are just misunderstood:

Not to everyone's taste, but not a threat to law and order.


At the time of writing, the weekend had been virtually incident-free.

The point he seeks to make in the story is then made in the final paragraph:

It's said there were nearly 400 officers statewide involved in the visit by the Finks. WA Police is facing a huge overtime bill with precious little to show for it.

We must remember that Adam Shand is a journalist, so perhaps he was disappointed that he didn't have a more exciting story to tell because the police did their job in maintaining the peace.

Reform needed to protect customers in the telecommunications industry

Date: Sat, 24 Oct 2009 14:07:43 +0800
Subject: Reform needed to protect customers in the telecommunications industry
From: Justin Lee
To: Nick Minchin
Cc: Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop, Mathias Cormann, Dennis Jensen

Hi Nick,

If Senator Conroy wants to reform the telecommunications industry, he should begin by introducing legislation that compels carriers to meet their basic service obligations, rather than leaving it to working Mums and Dads to ensure that they are not being robbed by stealth.

As we all know, the quality of the customer service (or lack thereof) provided by our telecommunications carriers is appalling, and this is due to the inadequate protection available to ordinary customers who do not have any practical recourse when the carrier fails to meet its basic service obligations. Carriers do not have any incentive to provide customer service at a level of quality that any customer would consider fair and reasonable.

My experience with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has been that it is slow, bureaucratic and places an unfair burden on the customer when the carrier has clearly failed to meet its basic service obligations. No customer should have to go through a lengthy dispute arbitration process every time they are incorrectly billed. I was continually billed with hefty, unexplained charges by Optus and each time I raised a complaint, the billing errors became worse. To make matters worse, they refused to disclose details of the services that were incurring data charges for reasons of "privacy". They refused to even confirm that none of the data charges on a bill were for services that I was not using. I was informed that there was no process I could go through to access details of my data charges.

We should have no illusions about the current regime under which our telecommunications carriers operate. Signing up to a phone service when the carrier is allowed to withhold billing information is like handing them a blank cheque.


18 October 2009


Press release issued by the Hon. Malcom Turnbull MP following party room discussions on amendments to the Rudd Labor government's emissions trading scheme (ETS).

The Coalition has unveiled a plan to save thousands of Australian jobs and limit increases in electricity prices for small business through common sense amendments to Labor's flawed and rushed emissions trading scheme.

The Shadow Cabinet and Joint Party Room today agreed to a package of amendments that will form the basis for good faith negotiations with the Rudd Labor Government. The package demonstrates Labor's CPRS can be made cheaper and smarter, protecting jobs.

Key export industries, including coal mining, food processing, natural gas and aluminium will be better protected, saving thousands of Australian jobs under threat from Labor's scheme.

The package also protects farmers from the scheme by exempting agriculture altogether. By allowing agricultural offsets which include carbon sequestration in soils and vegetation, there is the opportunity for financial and land management benefits in the rural sector. This is a win/win for farmers and the environment.

By including voluntary measures, the environment will also benefit from individuals, businesses and community groups who develop their own initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Coalition will continue to advocate an intensity-based cap and trade approach to the electricity sector, as this more than halves the initial increase in electricity prices, reducing the economic costs of achieving emissions cuts.

If the Government refuses to consider the intensity-based approach, it must clearly explain why, and work with the Coalition to provide an alternative strategy for cushioning the initial impact of higher electricity prices on small businesses.

The key amendments to Labor's flawed CPRS and the commitments required from the Government that will be sought by the Coalition are outlined below.

Trade Exposed Industries

  • Amend the CPRS to provide a single level of assistance for emissions intensive trade exposed (EITE) industries at 94.5 per cent until 2015 and 90 per cent thereafter.
  • Lower the threshold for assistance from the CPRS proposal of 1000 tonnes of CO2 per $1 million of revenue to 850 tonnes of CO2 per $1 million.
  • Continue to provide assistance to Australian EITE industries at 90 per cent until 80 per cent of their international competitors have also implemented carbon abatement measures.
  • Include primary food processing such as dairy and meat in the EITE scheme.
  • Allow industries that include a series of sequential or parallel production processes to have these assessed as a single activity in determining assistance.


  • Permanently exclude agricultural emissions from the CPRS.
  • Obtain Government agreement to introduction of an agricultural offset scheme in line with similar offset schemes to be introduced in comparable economies such as the US and EU.

Coal Mine Emissions

  • Exclude coal mine fugitive emissions from the CPRS.
  • Provide the Minister with authority to use regulation to control fugitive emissions with the objective of achieving a 30 per cent reduction by 2025 as technology and international best practice allow.

Lower Electricity Prices

  • Coalition will continue to advocate an intensity-based cap-and-trade model for generators. This delivers the same emissions cuts as the CPRS but with a much smaller increase in electricity prices.
  • This would greatly reduce the burden on small and mid-sized businesses, which receive no compensation for higher power bills under Labor's proposals.
  • Under the CPRS retail electricity prices will rise by close to 20 per cent in the first two years. Under an intensity approach, retail electricity prices would rise by less than 5 per cent in the first two years.
  • If the Government continues to refuse to consider the intensity model, the Coalition will negotiate for an alternative approach to cushion near-term electricity price increases for small businesses.

Compensation for Electricity Generators

  • Coal-fired generators must be better compensated for loss of value they experience from the CPRS, to ensure security of electricity supply and enable them to transition to lower emission energy sources.
  • The CPRS offers coal-fired generators 130 million permits over five years worth $3.6 billion. Yet three respected private sector analysts estimate their losses at $9–$11 billion.
  • Assistance should be increased to 390 million permits over 15 years (or about $10 billion). Assistance should be allocated to all generators in proportion to the losses they suffer.
  • In the absence of access to the Government's secret Morgan Stanley report, this represents the Coalition's best estimate of appropriate generator compensation given the available data.

Energy Efficiency and Voluntary Action

  • The Coalition will negotiate for a national "white certificate" energy efficiency scheme so households and businesses earn credits for efficiency measures, and contribute to reducing national emissions.
  • Likewise, the Coalition supports creation of a voluntary offset market in advance of the introduction of the CPRS, and amending the CPRS to ensure voluntary abatement leads to a lower national level of emissions.

The Coalition will negotiate the above matters with the Government in good faith, and in the expectation that the proposed emissions trading scheme can be improved to deliver the same environmental benefits with less severe economic costs.

The ball is now in Mr Rudd's court. If he wants to fix the flaws in his proposed emissions trading scheme, he needs to give Senator Wong the green light to engage with the Coalition and embrace our plan to save Australian jobs and reduce costs.

18 October 2009

They can "get away with higher prices" - IGA distributor

WA IGA President John Cummings claims that locally owned supermarkets are "highly competitive" according to a survey he "personally conducted", where a basket of products sold at his IGA store in Glengarry were compared with products purchased from Coles and Woolworths stores in the Sydney suburb of Warringah. In his findings, Cummings stated:

The only conclusions to be drawn from this survey is that Perth shoppers are either well served by the independent sector and that the independents continue to put downward pressure on day-to-day grocery prices, or both Coles and Woolworths are engaging in blatant price gouging of consumers in Sydney.

Cummings' personal research is not as definitive as he would like to believe, especially when one looks at one of the slides from a presentation that was given by Reitzer, CEO of Metcash, to US investors:

Reitzer tells investors that one of the reasons that Metcash's "independent" grocers have been successful is that "their location or format allows them to get away with higher prices." Far from having the downward pressure claimed by Cummings, Reitzer boasted that IGA is able to defy market forces and rip off consumers.

17 October 2009

The 800-pound gorilla standing in the way of extended trading hours

We keep hearing the same arguments against deregulation of retail trading hours in Western Australia: small shops will be put out of business by Coles and Woolworths and the results of the referendum held in 2005 on this issue show that the public do not want reform. Unfortunately, we would be naive to assume that the opponents of deregulation who give these flawed arguments have the general community's interests at heart and not their own.

The ACT and Northern Territory both have completely unregulated trading hours. Tasmania's trading hours are unregulated on all but two and half days of the year. Notwithstanding the claims made by the independent grocers' lobby, liberalisation of trading hours in other states and territories has not had an adverse impact on the performance of independent grocers.

The people were not asked in the 2005 referendum whether they wanted extended trading hours, but whether they thought it was good public policy. Furthermore, IGA led a fear campaign in the lead up to the referendum with claims such as extending trading hours threatens 15,000 jobs, which is totally absurd.

All the economic debate that has surrounded this policy issue is just a distraction from the grubby rent seeking and politics that are driving the resistance to reform. Metcash, the distributor for IGA and Foodworks that benefits from the current regulatory regime, donated a total of $26,000 to the WA Nationals for the financial year of 2007/2008, as reported on the Australian Electoral Commission's website.

Donations to WA Nationals for 2007/2008 reported by donors

The disclosed donations for the financial year of 2008/2009 are yet to be published, but they will be interesting indeed. The Barnett Liberal government introduced legislation to extend retail trading hours, but this was blocked by the Nationals and Labor opposition. The Liberal government then explored an alternative approach to extending trading hours without passing legislation through the Western Australian Parliament: extending the boundaries of the Perth tourism precinct, which the Nationals said they would block via a disallowance motion—they even blocked changes that didn't affect the constituents of any of the seats they hold.