Rudd’s media manipulation:

Chris Graham, National Indigenous Times Editor, writes: Re. “PM’s media deceptions treat voters like children” (yesterday, item 1). Congratulations to Bernard Keane for his piece on exposing the media manipulation of the Rudd government.

Two months ago, I wrote a similar piece for Crikey about essentially the same thing — the Prime Minister’s office falsely using the bushfire tragedy in Victoria to explain why its report card on Indigenous affairs was delivered three weeks late. The report card was supposed to be delivered to parliament on February 3, four days BEFORE the fires. It was delivered, finally, in late February three weeks AFTER the fires. So the Rudd government used the deaths of hundreds of Australians as the excuse. I doubt it gets much dirtier than that.

And just as Bernard outlines in his piece about Rudd’s explosion over his meal, officials in Rudd’s press office were more than prepared to bare-faced lie for the cause. The worse part of the story is that the press gallery didn’t even blink. Not one outlet beyond Crikey reported the true story. Which leaves me to wonder which is worse: The manipulation of the media by Rudd’s office, or the media’s willingness to be manipulated.

Neither bodes particularly well for reliable reporting from the Hill. Thank God for Bernard and Crikey.

James Holyoake writes: Wow! Finally a Bernard Keane criticism of Rudd, even if it was three days after the Lateline interview, about his attempts at media manipulation. To quote your editorial: “There. That wasn’t so hard was it?”

Beermat mum:

Adam Rope writes: Re. “Beermat Mum follows media script to perfection” (yesterday, item 5). Andrew Dodd’s’ article yesterday on the Australian media’s beat up — sorry reporting — on the Annice Smoel non-story gave the impression that all the media followed the same all too predictable course. However there was one glaring exception — Andrew Bolt.

In his column on Wednesday Bolt ripped into the ugly drunk Australian abroad image, especially when drunken antics lead to arrests “Do we really not understand that our raucous manners and big mouths don’t charm many foreigners? Do we really need to be told that abusing and lording it over Asian police and judges in particular buys us nothing but trouble?”

He then followed this up with another article on Thursday, “Our wonderful sense of humour“, detailing further embarrassing incidents, and asked at the end “Does anyone ask themselves what kind of reputation we must have overseas?”

Love him or loathe him as you will, but you have to credit Bolt for condemning the antics of Australian louts abroad in this case.

Rob Pickering writes: Regarding the beer mat mum — isn’t bribery of a foreign official (as mentioned in your article) an offence prosecutable in Australia? According to Smartraveller.gov.au — their quote is (on each travel advice per country): “Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.”

So — when will the prosecution be of these people who are bribing foreign officials?

Alan Kennedy writes: A group of drunk cashed up boganettes in Thailand get themselves into trouble and behave like a bunch of NRL players on a night out, one gets arrested and the full force of the Australian Government is brought into play to get her home. We should have left her there.

At the very least she should be asked to pay some sort of bill for all the taxpayers money expended because she doesn’t know how to behave herself.

The age pension:

Hamish Waters writes: Re. “The age pension” (yesterday, comments). The main reasons while I feel Budget proposals unduly punishes pensioners with small supplementary incomes are:

  • It is totally unjust to have a top marginal tax rate of 45 cents in the dollar for those on $180,000 a year who will enjoy tax cuts of $2150.20 pa. The new taper rate of 50 cents in the dollar for pensioners cuts in where income exceeds the income free area of $3,588 pa if single ($138pf) or $6,240 pa ($240pf). This penalises pensioners on a relatively small income whilst those on a high income are better off.
  • Half of the first $500 per fortnight will not be counted before application of the 50% taper rate in respect of employment income and yet the 50% taper rate is to apply to the hundreds of thousands of migrants who receive or will receive a part or full Government pension from overseas. In the case of British migrants this amounts to hundreds of thousand of people who will receive a pension since they had part of their working life overseas. Surely they should be treated on at least the same basis of those who have employment income so only half the first $13,000 of foreign pension income pa is assessed.
  • Up to 25% of foreign pension income is treated as a deductible amount by the ATO and yet the pensioner is means tested on the full value of a foreign pension. In the case of British pensions the ATO treats 8% as a deductible amount. In view of this it is logical that British pensioners should be means tested on only 92% of their British pension.

Many of your readers will be unaware that the increase in the taper rate from 40 cents in the dollar to a 50 per cent taper rate will mean that current and future pensioners on relatively low incomes are worse off under the budget measures announced. As a married DVA pensioner the $10.14 a week I will receive in pension increase will not make up for the reduction of income as a result of the 50 cent taper rate being applied to my British pension I am due to receive in three years time as opposed to a 40 cent taper rate.

There are a number of pensioner organizations such as British Pensions in Australia Inc whose members will be dismayed and angry when they are made aware of the ramifications of the budget measures.

The economy:

David Havyatt writes: Re. “RBA’s Debelle says rate rises won’t wash” (yesterday, item 23). The conclusion Debelle reaches is the correct one, that a general interest rate rise is no way to head off asset price bubbles because it slows all activity including genuine productive activity. That was a major conclusion in J.K.Galbraith’s The Great Crash, central banks could not have justified increasing interest rates in the stockmarket boom because otherwise the economy wasn’t booming in the late 1920s.

Were however deposit taking institutions (DTI) capital adequacy rules to be governed by something like the risk weightings applied to different loan classes as in Basel 1 there is a simple alternative. That is, rather than having static risk weightings based on the security type of a loan, that the risk weightings be subject to an additional factor to reflect the relative price stability of the asset class. So for example under Basel 1 residential mortgages carried a 50% weighting.

However it is reasonable to believe that if house prices are increasing faster than inflation (by some measured amount) that the prices paid may not be sustainable and therefore a real reflection of the value of the security. As a consequence the risk weighting should be reduced to say to 40%. This makes that class of loan relatively dearer for the DTI than other loans and so results in an increase of the market rate of interest on the assets subject of the bubble. That is you build a kind of automatic stabiliser into the capital adequacy rules.

Of course to implement such a scheme we need to return to something like Basel 1 and also recognise that “off balance sheet” lending is the very risky activity it sounds like and effectively close it down.

Car sales:

Mark Scott writes: Re. “Car sales accelerate, economy gets into gear” (yesterday, item 3). Of course car sales are doing well in Australia. With what was a 30% tax deduction, and now a 50% tax deduction for business equipment, you’d be mad not to buy a car at the moment if you can get away with it. The contractor in our office went out and bought two cars this week, and said that our local Ford dealership couldn’t keep up with demand.

Too bad that once the 50% tax deduction goes, the sales will all dry up.

Swaggies, not hobos:

Keith Thomas writes: Re. “Lessons in history: What we can learn from… Great Depression hobos” (yesterday, item 15). Mike Stutchbury has given us a lesson in hobo life from the US of A. Mike, this is Australia!

We have our own history, our own traditions, our own character and our own music of the 1930s too. Peter Dawson sang Leslie Coward’s Wandering the King’s Highway, Don Bradman played the piano and ‘Our Glad”s records warmed our hearts. And we had swagmen, not hobos.

In the 1950s, men who had been on the road for 20 years still called at our back door and asked politely for “the makin’s”, offering to chop wood in exchange, or for space to sleep in the woodshed. Let’s hear about Australia’s history. There are young people now who think the second amendment either applies to Australia or is a universal right.

With articles like Mike’s, Australian kids will grow up believing we had hobos when in fact we had swaggies.

To whom it may concern:

Matthew Brennan writes: Re. “To whom it may concern: Should I dob my team-mates in?” (Wednesday, item 15). In the interests of procedural fairness, Crikey should receive a “To whom it may concern” from C. of Christchurch as well. Seven years of suicidal degradation surely indicates a need for Aunt Agony’s therapeutic ministrations.

And I sure your dear aunt could provide a few helpful hints about among other things, not going back to the room of paying guests of your employer after work, how to hold your liquor and motherly advice about what men are really like, in a tactful and tasteful manner whilst still respecting C.’s anonymity.

Climate change cage match (now with its own blog):

Michael James writes: Re. “Value for money in the budget? – Solar vs. Coal” (Rooted, May 13). The increase in government funding for solar and other renewable energy sources is to be welcome if long overdue, but still is puny compared to the estimated $7 billion in annual subsidies to the fossil fuel industries.

As Tony Jones pointed out to Ralph Hillman (director of Aust. Coal Assoc.) the other night on Lateline, it is curious that such a large, successful and mature industry like coal mining — and one that claims to have the best quality product in the world market — still needs government to heavily subsidize it, for example half a billion dollars to build a new rail line or billions on research on so-called Clean Coal.

Hillman ceded the point that the industry itself is only contributing 0.3% of its turnover to the CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) project yet this is the project that it stridently claims will save the industry and the planet.

This appears to be another failed bit of industrial policy which one would imagine clever political operatives like Kevin Rudd might believe they were too savvy to have fallen into. One wonders if Rudd imagines getting a line in Australian history for favouring an 18th century industry, by a factor of about 30-to-1, over 21 st century ones (solar-thermal, solar-PV, geothermal, wind etc)?

In Tuesday’s New York Times discussion of the Obama administration’s response to their collapsed car industry neatly shows the traps. While pointing out that Japan’s feared policy actions were slaying the rest of the world in the field of cars and domestic electronics there were also significant failures:

In the Japanese experience, economists see evidence of both dangers. Problems, they say, are typically by-products of what economists call “political capture.” That is, an industrial sector earmarked for special government attention builds up its own political constituency, lobbyists and government bureaucrats to serve that industry. They slow the pace of change, and an economy becomes less nimble and efficient as a result.

The article cited as an example of failed policy the shift from main frame computers to microprocessors for microcomputers. As usual in Australia our government focuses on old tired industries, and we only need a single four-letter dirty word that says it all: coal.

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