Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bill and Mal's taxation adventure

On Sunday it was Malcolm...

A simple plan - and we can afford it, too
By Malcolm Turnbull
August 28, 2005

Australia's tax system needs further reform to make it simpler, more efficient and more competitive.

Our top marginal rates are too high, although the last budget's reforms mean they now cut in at higher levels of income than they previously did.

Most of us would agree that we should have a tax system that is less complex, with rates that are lower. But how do we finance reductions in rates? Where is the money coming from?

The answer is that there is a virtuous circle. A simpler tax system will have fewer concessions. This means that the tax base, the income that is available for taxation, will be broader. By broadening the base, we are able to raise the same amount of money with a lower rate. Broadening the base allows you to lower the rate, and vice versa. Simplicity and efficiency go hand in hand.

And on Monday it was Bill's turn:

Union chief joins call for big tax cuts
By Jason Koutsoukis
and Josh Gordon
August 29, 2005

ONE of Australia's most influential union leaders has called for the top income tax rate to be slashed to 30 cents in the dollar as the push for widespread tax reform gathers pace.

Australian Workers Union national secretary Bill Shorten, who is widely tipped to enter Parliament at the next election, said all rates needed to be simplified as part of a radical overhaul of the tax system.

He urged Labor to embrace genuine reform to try to wrong-foot the Howard Government.

It seems the young turks on both sides of politics have decided that tax reform is way for to make a name for oneself. Not content with fighting the battle inside the party, they've taken it to the public, writing op-ed pieces, briefing journalists, and doing their best to be self-styled saviours of the Australian economy.

As is so typical in debates over tax reform, the first thing on the agenda is the degree to which income tax can be reduced. So far no problem - income tax in Australia is to high, particularly given international comparisons and the company tax rate. But the proposals are not about tax cuts - they are about tax reform, and both proposals are intended to be revenue neutral. Therefore the $64,000 question (to be taxed at 20% according to Bill) is just how the base will be broadened in order to ensure its revenue neutrality. Whether it's through clamping down on trusts, income splitting, fringe benifits tax, family tax benefit or tinkering with the GST excemptions (extremely unlikely since this would require the approval of the states), that part is going to be the hard sell.

Perhaps that relates to the Shorten/Turnbull/anyone else who wants to try their hand approach: the "no dessert unless you eat your greens" kitchen table strategy. Tempt people with the sweetness of the banana fritter of income tax rate reduction, and then later on focus on the necessity of bok choy and turnips exemption reduction.

Australia does need tax reform - a separate debate from a tax reduction. Hopefully we can soon get to the substance of a debate on the issue rather than having a bidding war on income tax rates. If Costello and Swan are reluctant to give it a go, then maybe we'll need to wait a few years for Turnbull and Shorten.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Any takers?

This lobbed in to my in box this week, thanks to a well-connected friend:

Monday, August 22 2005

The team producing the new John Safran television show is looking for a researcher.

You should have a clue about political and religious matters.

Your job would involve taking a brief then sourcing guests - rabbis, imams, gurus etc - and writing background material and interview questions based on this brief. You would also be expected to contribute your own ideas.

Being able to Google is not enough. You are going to need a lateral-brain that can help secure unusual guests and eclectic content. Maybe you’re an academic, maybe you’re an anthropologist, maybe you’re a bright spark of some other description. No TV experience necessary but it doesn’t hurt either.

You would preferably be Melbourne-based. The job is a 16-18 week paid full time position starting mid-September 2005.

Send a CV to gemma.white@themoneyshot.com.au

I'm not the one for the job, but I'm sure there'll be plenty of people putting their hand up. A second series of JS versus God, presumably. Good to hear that everybody's favourite Yeshiva-bocher is busy doing what he does best, and not so desperate as to be Dancing With The Stars/Joining the Circus/Playing for Collingwood.

...God doesn't think he's John Safran.
...God doesn't think he's John Safran.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

And I think to myself...

IT'S leafy, affluent and perhaps a little smug, but South Yarra has reason to be well pleased with itself — according to a study commissioned by The Age, it is the most liveable suburb in Melbourne.

An interesting front page article in The Age today that no doubt excited the inner-city Age-reading latte-sippers (like me) no end. As new South Yarra residents, AOTW and his other half are thrilled no end with their choice - and are quietly relieved that they didn't chose to live in Cranbourne North, which is apparently at the other end of the livability spectrum. As the other half pointed out, that means we now live in the most livable suburb in the world's most livable city. Life's good!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Two takes on China

There were two interesting contrasting pieces on the Australia-US-China triangle on the Op-Ed pages of today's papers. In The Age, Hugh White argued in favour of Australia's pragmatic appoach to keeping China on side, comparing it favourably with the American approach of treating China as a strategic rival:

John Howard, visiting Washington last month, starkly displayed these differences when he and President George Bush spoke on the touchstone issue of China.

Standing next to Howard, Bush described America's relations with Beijing as "complex" and "complicated". "We've got issues when it comes to values," he said, and asked Howard to "work together to reinforce the need for China to accept certain values as universal."

Howard turned him down, flat. He told Bush: "We have a good relationship with China. It's not just based on economic opportunity. We are unashamed in developing our relations with China. I'll do everything I can in the interests of Australia to ensure it develops further."

The day before, he had said his approach was "to build on the things that we have in common, and not become obsessed with the things that make us different".

This is pragmatic politics at its most pragmatic - and the logic works. There are fundamental differences in values and philosophies between Australia and the US on one hand, and China on the other. Its a political truism to acknowledge this vast gulf of difference. The question is how to reconcile the two. It seems unlikely that China will move toward free markets, democracy and respect for the succession desires of some of its population by political isolation. Instead, engagement is needed. Similarly, there is little to gain for the western state which refuses to engage with China diplomatically or economically - the only state harmed is the state who refuses to engage.

Over at The Australian, Greg Sheridan presents an tempting, but ultimately wrong, alternative approach, framed with reference to Taiwan:

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province that must one day reunite with the mainland. Tiawan (sic) is independent in everything but name. It was for a long time ruled by the Kuomintang, which lost the civil war to the communists. Now Taiwan is a democracy and the KMT is the Opposition. The US, although notionally subscribing to the one China policy, is pledged to defend Taiwan. Now that everyone is joining up to the China boom it has been dismal to watch the way dollars trump democracy or human rights, and governments of Left and Right are happy to connive in the strangulation of Taiwan.

Sheridan's position is high on principle but low on practical effect. He suggests that Australia should not be afraid of getting the Chinese offside on a matter of principle, ie Taiwanese independence. The problem with this proposition is that it would cut Australia off from the significant and tangible benefits that a good relationship with China provides in order for us to feel warm and fuzzy for supporting our fellow democratic travellers, the Taiwanese.

Australia should stand by Taiwan, and do whatever it can to engage with it as a democractic ally in a part of the world that boasts very few democracies. Trade links, second-track diplomacy and quietly whispered words of support are all healthy and desirable. What Australia shouldn't do, however, is compromise our relationship with China over the issue.

Regardless of the outcome of the bullying of Taiwan, the talks in North Korea, the suppression of Falun Gung or the painfully slow development of Chinese democracy, the reality remains that China is going to be a major player in the 21st century, and it would be in Australia's national interest to be on good terms with the People's Republic. Tempting as it is to stand atop our soapbox and shrilly condemn the Chinese, there is a more sensible - and pragmatic - alternative. Engagement rather than isolation with China is smart politics, and positions Australia well for the political dynamic of the next couple of decades.

UPDATE, 20/8, 6:34pm: I was disappointed to see that I'd attracted some blog-comment spam. I removed it as soon as I noticed it, and hope like hell that it doesn't become a regular feature of the blogworld. It does lead on to the scary prospect that spam might become a feature of SMSs on mobile phones, which is all the more possible with free online SMS services. How many times to we need to tell them to get fucked?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Ari interviews a Reaganite

Next week, thanks to Vibewire, I'm interviewing Clyde Prestowitz, who's in Australia to promote his new book, Three Billion New Capitalists.

From his biography, Clyde is a long time economic neo-conservative who has wielded plenty of influence inside the Washington beltway:

Clyde V. Prestowitz, Jr. - President

Clyde Prestowitz is founder and President of the Economic Strategy Institute, a Washington think-tank influential in the areas of international trade policy and specialized in how key sectors of the US and world economy adapt to change, in particular the effects of globalization.

Prior to founding ESI, Mr. Prestowitz served as counselor to the Secretary of Commerce in the Reagan Administration. There, he led many U.S. trade and investment negotiations with Japan, China, Latin America, and Europe. Before joining the Commerce Department, he was a senior businessman in the United States, Europe, Japan, and throughout Asia and Latin America. He has served as vice chairman of the President's Committee on Trade and Investment in the Pacific and sits on the board of the US Member Committee of PBEC.

Anyone have any suggested questions? Drop a note in the comments.

Clyde Prestowitz

Clyde Prestowitz. Thanks to Mother Jones for letting me shamelessly breach copyright.

Investigating Investigate

The Australian media battlefield is strewn with the corpses of magazines who fought valiantly but failed. Back in the mid-1990s it was Kookaburra, a magazine of satire, that produced a wonderful first issue but failed to make it to a second. In the late 90s it was The Eye, an excellent anti-establishment magazine which stirred the pot, but evidently failed to find an audience. Then just recently there was The Reader, also from Text Media, which has slinked back to the on-line world after trying its luck in print.

Given this background, it was a brave move by New Zealand magazine Investigate to try its luck in Australia. This monthly magazine has been established across the Tasman for some time, but has only this year ventured into the Australian market.

Here 'tis

To title the magazine "Investigate" is highly misleading. For sure, the feature article was a fascinating show-and-tell amongst the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Phillipines, for which journalist Matthew Thompson and photographer Ranae Carlson deserve plenty of credit. That is investigative journalism. The rest, though is a collection of opinion, commentry and muckraking, with a distinctive conservative bent. The magazine is quite deliberately slanted to the right: take the editorial, for example, which carries the subtitle "Douglas Wood's rescue reveals the Left's moral bankruptcy" - ouch!

The collection of contributers gives heart to any bloggers - ahem - who dream of one day making it into the mainstream. Amongst their number are columnists Alan Anderson (formerly The View From The Right), Adrian Neylan (Adrian the Cabbie) and Tim Dunlop (Road to Serfdom - and the sole lefty to make it into Investigate). Whilst it's wonderful to see bloggers make the chasmic leap across to the print world, it must be remembered that bloggers are primarily armchair commentators rather than well connected investigators.

Ultimately, Investigate is a welcome contribution to the Ausrtalian media landscape. The cover price of $7.95 is rather steep, and market economics (of which Investigate would no doubt be big fans, given its politics) will surely force it down if the magazine is to have a future. However, with a distinctive conservative voice, high production values and a modest display of investigative skills, this is a magazine of both style and substance. This will be one to watch, and deserves to enjoy a longer lifespan than its blink-and-you'll-miss-it predecessors.

Anyone else likely to read this stuff, or am I going to be the only one, sheepishly hiding it inside something more dignified? (Perhaps you'd call is a respectable receptacle?)

UPDATE 16/8, 9:04pm: As if on cue to prove my point about the difficulties of sustaining an independent magazine at the moment, one of the more glossy and insubstantial publications on the market has bitten the dust. From the Herald Sun:

Jobs go as magazine folds


MELBOURNE Magazine will fold less than three years after it was launched.

Managing director John Allan said the monthly magazine would release its final edition in September after its board decided it was not financially viable to continue.
The magazine was founded by Steve Harris, the former editor-in-chief of The Age, and was first published in 2002.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Kennett's Melbourne

During the week I had a Kennett moment. I was out late one night, waiting for a train at Parliament station and started studying the local area map on the wall. As at most stations, the map is a collection of Melway pages stuck together, pointing out everything worth seeing in the area, all with a painful amount of detail.

To help pass the minutes I started looking at the small details on the map, and noticed that it had aged quite significantly. Just south of the Yarra was "Crown Casino Complex (proposed)", whilst just opposite Flinders Street Station was nothing but an unwieldly collection of railway lines and the Gas and Fuel building. Based on what was an wasn't published on the map, I estimated that it was circa 1995, just over two years into the Kennett era, and with many of his major projects still to come.

I betchya Jeff did most of the talking
I betchya Jeff did most of the talking

In the time since the map was published, there have been a multitude of changes to the shape of Melbourne. Dividing them between the Kennett era and the Bracks era is revealing:

- Crown Casino Complex (licence issued by Kirner, but construction was under Kennett)
- Federation Square (Kennett, though completed - late - under Bracks)
- Melbourne Museum (Kennett)
- Docklands Stadium (Kennett)
- CityLink (Kennett)
- Exhibition Street extention (Kennett)
- MCG Redevelopment (Bracks, although in response to winning Commonwealth Games, a Kennett project)
- Spencer Street redevelopment (ditto)

Though the past ten years has been shared roughly equally by both Kennett and Bracks, the imprint on the shape of the city by the former is stark, whilst the latter's legacy is modest. In recent years there has been a lack of excitement about developments in the inner city. The mystery and excitement of heading into the city and seeing a skyline full of cranes is no longer there. Instead, there is a sense that the city is complacent and not keen to grow.

Perhaps I am falling victim to the craving for bread and circuses which ultimately cost Kennett his Premiership. After all, Bracks himself has claimed that he wishes to focus on social infrastructure rather than major projects. But even with this rearrangement of priorities, surely there is still a role for the state Government is ensuring Melbourne remains a vibrant and ever-growing city.

As the 10:53pm to Frankston pulled up, I couldn't help but have a secret longing for Kennett, in all his big-haired, arrogant-speaking major-project-loving goodness. Is there truth to what I'm saying, or am I just a development fascist?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Artz and Kulcha

As well as finding time to offend friends on both the left and right of politics, I manage to lead a bizarre double-life as an arts reviewer for The Program, an excellent arts and culture website. For your edification, here's some of my latest work:

DVD :: Cho Revolution - Margaret Cho with Bruce Daniels
"So I think that if racial minorities, sexual minorities, feminists, both male and female, hell, all liberals, if we all got together and had this big "too much information", "go there" voice, if we just went and did it, that would equal power, and that power would equal change, and that change would equal... a revolution."

And so ends Margaret Cho's hilarious call to arms at the climax to her laugh-packed and offense-filled stageshow and DVD, Cho Revolution. Cho has been an American comedy institution for over a decade, rejecting the bland observation-fuelled gags which have sustained so many other comics. Instead, Cho uses comedy as a vehicle to communicate ideas - she seeks to challenge as well as to amuse. Cho has an unashamedly political agenda as she seeks to give voice to some of the groups shut out of public debate in Bush's America. As with her performing, the timing of her rise was exquisite - in the same year that renegade political comic Bill Hicks died, Cho was offered a TV sitcom, All American Girl, which allowed her to enter the hearts and minds of Americans. If Hicks was Asian, female and possessed slightly less facial hair, he would be Margaret Cho.

Read the rest here.

I've also been out at the theatre, at the must-see Bell Shakespeare production of Measure For Measure:

Theatre :: Measure For Measure - Bell Shakespeare, touring nationally

A punk rebel without a cause. A set filled with seedy porno posters. An wog pimp with all the bling. Sounds like just another night watching Shakespeare. With John Bell in the director's chair.

Over the years Bell Shakespeare has worn its antiestablishmentism as a badge of honour, loudly and proudly thumbing its nose at those who have a more conservative taste in the Bard. This time around the company turns its attention to one Shakespeare's lesser-known plays, Measure For Measure, and the outcome is a triumph. The performance begins the moment you arrive in the theatre - not with the players on stage, but with a bold set dominated by faux grandeur and garbage cans as well as a liberal array of scantily clad men and women. It takes a while to take in the message purveyed by the set, and it provides a sure guide of things to come. Veteran designer Robert Kemp and Pier Productions deserve plenty of credit for getting the tone right from the start.

Read the rest of that one here.

Sounds kinda familiar

"Welcome to the Australian International University web site. Established in 2005, we are a two hundred year old university institution based in Australia. We provide educational services to a diverse yet exclusive clientele of local and international students. Our clients choose the AIU when value for money is their number one priority."

Click here for more.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Pointing the Bone

Pamela Bone is a journalist I admire. She's a writer on the left who understands the nature of poverty, justice, and the ideology which is slowly destroying out world. Best of all, the wisely avoids the indulgent Western self-criticism which has driven many of her colleagues to desperate seeking morally equivalancy for every fundamentalist excess when none exists. Here's a sample of her fine work from The Age today:

Those searching for the "root causes" of terrorism might do well to listen to the terrorists themselves. The leadership of al-Qaeda has said many times that its aim is to set up a global Islamic state. They want a worldwide Islamic theocracy ruled according to sharia law; a world in which women must conceal their faces, where they may not work or be educated, may not go in public without a male relative; a world in which women are under the total control of men. They want a world in which women do not have the option of rejecting them.


Brindal brought to brink

This is one way to come out of the closet:

MARK Brindal is the Liberal MP who claims to have been blackmailed over his sexual relationship with a 24-year-old man.

The married father of four had a three-month affair with the man - who has a mental incapacity - earlier this year.

The pair had sex in Mr Brindal's Unley electorate office several times.

Truth be told, there was nothing willing about the timing - it was forced out by a blackmail attempt, and may well destroy his political career as he seeks preselection for the state Labor held seat of Adelaide. Still, these are gutsy word and deserve to be applauded:

"I believe people in all sorts of places have been living a lie all of their lives . . . who need to get out of the shadows," he said.

"Hopefully the next generation of kids can actually grow up and say this is who I am, I don't need to be ashamed, I don't need to hide." Mr Brindal has told close friends that while he may have made "an error of judgment", he had done nothing wrong.

"At least I don't have to live a lie any more," he has confided.


In an emotional speech at the Fad Bar last night, Mr Brindal, near tears, asked: "Why is it that people are absolutely fascinated with attempts to blackmail a politician?

"It's about same-sex attraction. Maybe there is nothing wrong with that, but there was something wrong with the other human being . . . so it was predatory action."

The first of three panellists at a fund-raiser for leukemia, he began by saying "nobody today could throw any more stones at me".

"I thought I would come naked today, because that's how I feel," he said. "I thought if SA wants to know all about every intricate detail of my life and my anatomy, I might as well just front up with nothing on. I am instructed that given the situation that I find myself in, I need to have a level of caution.

"Please bear in mind I am a little constrained by what I can say."

Mr Brindal told about 30 people that he "grew up in a world where if you wanted to go into public office, you had to . . . divide yourself into two people and live in the shadows.

"And that I think is the most cruel cut of all - the fact that some people are not the same sexually.

"I don't know of a gay person who would say this is what I chose . . . I went out shopping for sexuality, there's mine . . . there's gay, bisexuality, and this is what I picked - the best brand on the shelf.

"Some of the right-wing churches will say there is a choice. Most gays will tell you that gayness found them - there was no choice.

"It is who they are, and most gays, I think, are more comfortable now than in my generation, when it was a truly difficult choice.

"You either took it, or you lived a life in the shadows - and I am one person that can actually stand up and say that is no life at all.

"It is a life foisted on gays and it's a life that gays shouldn't have foisted on them because what actually happens is that trying to hide something, you try to be discreet about something, which after all, is no one else's business.

"You then become vulnerable because either you make wrong choices - because your choices are limited - or, in fact, you allow yourself, because you are vulnerable, to be open to blackmail or any other sleazebag effort that comes along, and that's not right."

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us
Brindal: Was the moustache a give-away sign?

It will be interesting, though I expect disappointing, to see whether his outing will destroy his political career. Voters have shown themselves to be very conservative when it comes to those who lead adventurous private lives. Last year Ross Cameron lost his seat of Parramatta after admitting his (hetero) affair, whilst in the US the former Governor of New Jersey, James McGreevey came out and then resigned all in a single breath, fully aware of the likely response of voters.

The reality is that voters place a significant value on the character of their local candidate, and the further reality is that for most voters bisexuality is not consistant with good character. No doubt they will cloak their homophobia (well, bi-phobia) as objections to Brindal's extra-marital activity.

It shouldn't be this way. Brindal should be a role-model to those who are questioning their sexuality - not just those young people unsure of what sign their bodies' are sending them, but to married men and women who are realising later in life that there is more to sexuality than monogomous heterosexuality. One wonders how many people live in unhappy marriages, with a constant 'what if' eating away at their mind. To condemn someone for exploring this side of their life is disappointing, but hardly surprising.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Bolt and friends (and enemies)

There's been some argy bargy between Media Watch, the left's standard-bearer, and Andrew Bolt, the hero of the right. In response to Bolt's latest tirade, a friend of mine of the left, the modern day Che, Nahum Ayliffe sent this missive to the Hun columnist:

Well done Andrew,

I'm never one to hold back, and I hate Muslims just like you do.
All they want to do is bomb the hell out of us, and ruin our way
of life.

The ABC and SBS should be taken off air because they represent
different views to yours. David Marr, Liz Jackson, Stuart
Littlemore, Stephen Mayne, far from being fellow journalists or
colleagues, are all ignorant idiots. Serve them right for having a
go at you for you to hang them out to dry in your shockjock column.

My advice is, don't listen to them. If they are your only critics,
you only give them credit by responding to their ill-informed
ramblings. Develop a thick skin and let their hastily cobbled case
against you fall on deaf ears.

Only erudite and educated Australians watch the SBS or the ABC,
and they don't like you anyway. However, as Howard's popularity
shows, they don't have the numbers. It's the picture-paper reading
struggle-streeters to whom you most appeal.

Leave the pinkos and the poofters to watch the Aunty and keep on
doing what you do best. It gives me and many other Australians a
good reason to hate Muslims. And who needs a reason nowadays...


Nahum Ayliffe

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Young Libs: Stupid or set up?

Not so long ago, I wiled away the hours keeping busy in a 'youth' political movement. We were young, idealistic, and desperate to put ourselves front-and-centre whenever there were jobs and preselections on offer. Unfortunately, as a Young Democrat, these things were few and far between. From all reports, not much has changed in the two years since I left. Whilst it was a lot of fun, and we desperately craved attention, there was always a clear rule: never embarrass the party or its public representatives.

In practice, this meant that you never got too drunk in public, never make public statements challenging the party line, and never air your dirty laundry in public.

Easy, right?

Not if these stories are correct:

THE AGE: Feathers fly at Young Liberals' shindig
By Farrah Tomazin
State political reporter
August 2, 2005

With scuffles, verbal abuse and excessive drinking, the Victorian Young Liberals' annual ball turned into a very big night out.

But as the hangovers clear after the weekend event, allegations linger that members of the Melbourne University Liberal Club and their friends engaged in "thuggery and intimidation", calling other guests "left-wing wankers" and upsetting the guest speaker, party elder statesman Tony Staley.

Former state MP Inga Peulich last night told how she was forced to "exercise a bit of crowd control" when two warring groups faced off on the banks of the Yarra outside the warehouse where the ball was being held.


THE AGE: Young Libs attack gender equality and Petro Georgiou
By Farrah Tomazin
State political reporter
August 3, 2005

Victoria's Young Liberals want to end one of Sir Robert Menzies' founding principles — mandatory gender equality in the party.

The state's Young Liberals movement this week passed a motion opposing "all affirmative action within the Liberal Party — including, but not limited to, gender-specific positions within the Liberal Party".

Many senior Liberals are appalled by the push to abandon principles that have been in the party since its creation in the 1940s, when Menzies enshrined rules into its constitution to ensure women were equally represented.


HERALD SUN: Young Libs' terror hit squad
By Peter Mickelburough

VICTORIA's Young Liberals have called on the Howard Government to train hit squads to track down those behind the Bali bombing.

The "war on terror" motion was adopted with a two-thirds majority at a Young Liberal Movement meeting on Monday night.

Clearly, there's plenty of leaking going on. But by whom, and with what motive?

Surely it wouldn't be Inga Peulich, the apparent hero of the Saturday night scuffle, trying to discredit the Young Libs, who rumour has it opposed her in preselection for the new Southern Metro LegCo seat?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Why the long face?

I made it back safe and sound from Hobart, but am overwhelmed with uni work. Will post more musings in a few days. For now, though, I think it's worth repeating a post I made almost exactly a year ago:

Sunday, August 01, 2004
A very happy birthday

It's August 1, so it's time to wish all the horses of the world a very happy birthday.

All those in favour, say 'aye'. All those opposed.... ah, it doesn't matter.
Apparently Gai went a bit overboard in celebrating the occasion.