A Rudd defeat looming. The Liberal and National Parties might not be able to harm Federal Labor Leader Kevin Rudd but his own Party seems likely to do so this weekend. At the New South Wales Labor Party State Conference, the New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma looks like being defeated on a planned sell off of the government owned electricity businesses. Yet Mr Rudd earlier this year gave his full support to the privatization proposal. “I understand how politically problematic it is,” said the PM back in February 6, “but we need to make sure that we get proper generating capacity for the state for the future; I support Premier Iemma’s direction.” And to reinforce the message: “Iemma has my complete support. This is a necessary reform for the nation. I understand how politically problematic it is.”

Beer, Smokes Up! They are a timid lot this Rudd Government. Here we had a chance for a return to a fair dinkum budget headline for the first time since the indexation of excise rates in the 1980s and they chickened out. Instead of waiting until budget night to slug the young drinkers and all of the smokers at the same time, Kevin Rudd decided to pretend he was not so much putting up a tax as moving to stop binge drinking. Thus we had the Saturday night announcement of a doubling of excise on ready-to-drink (RTD) spirits so that his horror budget with its spending cuts will not be categorized as an old-fashioned tax and slash affair. Not that we smokers should think we have escaped; there will be room for another health inspired slug in May that will be well enough disguised by the activities of the razor gang.

Once upon a time. The upper echelons of the Commonwealth public service used to be the providers of policy advice to governments but rarely any more. The principal job these days of a mandarin is to provide secretarial services for someone else to come up with the bright ideas. The 2020 summit was a prime example of how the public service has lost its role as the principal adviser to government but there were two more yesterday. The Minister for Housing Tanya Plibersek bypassed her bureaucrats for the very basic task of assessing current and future demand for housing across Australia by setting up the National Housing Supply Council under the chairmanship of Dr Owen Donald who she described as “an expert in housing policy and research, social housing management and housing supply planning”. The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, joined in the game of getting third party endorsement for policy proposals by announcing an independent committee of seven eminent Australians to review the citizenship test introduced in the last year of the Howard Government.

Australia’s share of the Afghanistan burden. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the would-be international leader, was lecturing the world again yesterday about the need for other nations to take an increased share of the burden of fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. At a press conference where he expressed his condolences to the family of Lance Corporal Jason Marks, who was killed during engagement with the Taliban the previous night, Mr Rudd said “the key thing is to make sure that other parties engage in effective burden sharing, and furthermore, that there is an effective civilian correlation to the military effort.” It was a continuation of a theme that was central to the recent overseas jaunt which saw him attend a meeting of NATO ministers in Bucharest to suggest that others should send more troops to the region where Lance Corporal Marks was killed. There has not yet been any rush by those nations he pointed the finger at to do so and the table below perhaps shows why. A look at the deaths in Afghanistan per million of a countries population show that Australia comes well down the index of suffering even after this week’s fifth death.

Sharing the Burden in Afghanistan
Country Soldiers Killed Population (millions) Deaths/million
Denmark 14 5.5 2.55
Canada 82 33.2 2.47
USA 490 304 1.61
Britain 94 60.6 1.55
Estonia 2 1.3 1.54
Netherlands 16 16.4 0.98
Norway 3 4.8 0.63
Spain 23 45.2 0.51
Romania 6 21.4 0.28
Germany 22 82.2 0.27
Australia 5 21.3 0.23
Sweden 2 9.2 0.22
Czech 2 10.4 0.19
Portugal 2 10.6 0.19
Finland 1 5.3 0.19
France 12 64.5 0.19
Italy 11 59.4 0.19
Poland 3 38.1 0.08
South Korea 1 48.2 0.02

Note: the casualty figures are taken from the CNN website.

Get ready for the flavoured beers. The so-called rationale for the heavier taxes on RTDs is that the lowering of the excise back in 2000 was responsible for an explosion of drinking by teenagers attracted by their attractive price. Experience in the United States, where there was no similar price advantage, suggests something more complex is behind the attraction. The US Gallup polls in its annual monitoring of drinking habits has found the same switch to spirits by young people as has occurred here.

The Australian tax collectors will be pleased about that because a minimal decline in consumption will still lead to a considerable increase in revenue. What will surely happen as well is an increase in the available range of brewed and fermented forms of alcohol (as distinct from distilled spirits) which will now be better placed to compete for a share of the youth market for sweet forms of alcahol because they will not be at a price disadvantage. So look out for a range of flavoured beers like those produced by the international brewing giant SAB Millers which introduced its alcoholic fruit beverage Brutal Fruit into the South African market a couple of years ago and has since rolled out such flavours as Sultry Strawberry in the USA. Anheuser-Busch, another international brewing major, has in its range range of disguised brewed alcohol a range of products labelled Bacardi, which have no rum in them, and a malt beverage called Tequiza combining lager beer with blue agave nectar and a natural flavor of lime and real Mexican tequila.

The Daily Reality Check

The sordid story of the daughter locked in the Viennese cellar that features so prominently on this morning’s most read lists, for the second day in a row, was not quite what Lionel Bart had in mind when he wrote his musical Lock Up Your Daughters but there was one song in his version of Henry Fielding’s 18th century comedy Rape upon Rape that seems appropriate: it’s a charming little ditty about newspapers called It must be true with some lines that went something like “It must be true, for I read it in the paper didn’t you, Though the Evening Post and the West Gazette, disagree with most of the rest, why fret, It must be true, though it seems a most extraordinary point of view.” The story of a 73-year-old man accused of locking his daughter in his cellar for 24 years and fathering seven children with her might seem extraordinary but the readers are lapping it up. It keeps topping most of the most read lists showing again that incest fascinates the reading public. Remember 60 Minutes and that Adelaide couple? Also for the second day in a row, virtually politics free most read lists all around. The only political story any top five list was The Advertiser’s shock, horror report of a call by a health lobbyist to increase the tax on wine and beer by 300 per cent.

The Pick of this Morning’s Political Coverage

Peter Fray

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