Charles Babbage at work. I am grateful to the vice chancellor of La Trobe University, Professor Paul Johnson, for introducing me this morning to the wisdom of the 19th century writer Charles Babbage who argued that the payment of commissions (he called them “bribes”) to financial agents would inevitably lead to the mis-spelling of investments. No sooner had I read the Professor’s piece in the Melbourne Herald Sun than I stumbled across all those stories of executive pay rises which far outstrip those of ordinary workers. With the Babbage these in my mind it became clear that the principal reason for the outrageous salary increases of the past decade is the influence of those head hunters and executive pay consultants whose fee depends on the amount of remuneration that is eventually paid.

The future of Fox. Rupert Murdoch hates backing losers so it will be interesting to see what happens to the Fox News Channel if and when Barack Obama becomes President of the United States with the considerable majority that now seems likely. Fox News has been stridently and quite unfairly anti-Obama throughout the campaign and punishment will surely be on the Democrat agenda should they become the administration. Look for some sacrificial lambs as the lord and master tries to square off.

Being independent does not make you right. There’s a rather naive faith among this Labor Government that as long as they follow the advice of the independent regulators that everything they do will be right. Surely the experience of the last 10 months as a government should have cured them of the belief that being independent makes somebody right. It clearly does not as the commitment of the Reserve Bank to high interest rates for all those months while the financial collapse turned in to a full scale crisis for capitalism showed. The independent regulator was clearly wrong in maintaining that inflation was the major economic problem facing Australia and the Treasurer Wayne Swan and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd therefore wrong in acting upon that advice.

No mention of the “U” word. Trade Minister Simon Crean is stoically making another overseas trip on behalf of his country. By my count his visit to Belgium and Russia beginning yesterday is his twelfth in less than a year. What a price to pay for losing the Labor leadership all those years ago. Perhaps the one remarkable thing about his press statement giving details of the talks on the Russian leg is that there is no mention of uranium. Last month the parliamentary Treaties Committee questioned whether Australia should be exporting to Russia in light of the invasion of Georgia. The Committee’s chairman, Labor backbencher Kelvin Thomson, said at the time he was concerned that Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would not abide by the conditions Australia planned to impose on uranium it sold to his country.  

Racing minister steps in. NSW Racing Minister Kevin Greene might well be a Crikey reader for he certainly has acted to clean up the mess I wrote about in Crikey 10 days ago (Friday, 17 October 2008, item 17, “Richard Farmer’s political bite-sized meaty chunks“). Minister Greene has ditched the process that the racing industry was following to appoint a so-called new independent board of Racing NSW because he could see there was no likelihood of the new administration being independent in anything other than name. “This process has derailed and nobody wants the new board to have to start out with any questions hanging over it,” Mr Greene said yesterday. “I want this process back on track, and to achieve that I will introduce reforms to State Parliament revising the appointment process. I want to be clear from the outset this Government wants thoroughbred racing in NSW to have a functional, energetic and productive board.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey