Queensland floods:

Steve Johnston, Head of Corporate Affairs and Investor Relations, Suncorp, writes: Re. “The soft, cold-hearted landing for insurers after the deluge” (yesterday, item 1). In response to yesterday’s article about the Queensland floods:

  • Suncorp is one of the few insurers prepared to provide flood cover throughout Queensland (and Australia). The overwhelming majority of the Group’s customers affected by the Queensland floods will be covered for the damage. This has provided great comfort for our customers as they begin the rebuilding process.
  • Our “media blitz” consists of a marketing campaign informing customers how to make a claim while the media team is reactively responding to the understandably high number of incoming inquiries.
  • No-one at Suncorp is crying poor about the cost of payouts, it’s part of operating in the insurance industry and something we plan for and limit through prudent weather allowances and reinsurance arrangements.
  • We make no apology for keeping the market and our customers informed with relevant information about events such as this one.

Peter Doherty writes: Re. “Climate change … where it fits into the Queensland disaster” (yesterday, item 3). Whether or not the massive, recent snowfalls in Europe and North America, and the catastrophic flooding that has occurred over the past 12 months in Pakistan, Central Europe, China, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Queensland and Victoria are a direct consequence of ocean warming due to anthropogenic climate change is by no means established. Given the rigor of science, it is impossible to draw a direct line between cause and effect for a single data set that is likely to be influenced by complex, interactive forces.

Should this profile repeat in the short term, say within the next 5-10 years, the case will become much more compelling. What is obvious now, however, is that given the Precautionary Principle that is central to all good governance, we should accept the possibility that human agency may indeed be a factor and move forward at the earliest possible date to legislate a carbon price that is realistic and will begin the process of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

We can’t afford to wait for the perfect experiment, the final statistics!

Tamas Calderwood writes: Yep, I’d been expecting an article in Crikey explaining why it’s all due to climate change (what isn’t?). But didn’t Queensland have bigger floods back in 1893 when temperatures were around 0.7C lower than today?

So I checked the IPCC’s AR4 Impacts summary paper and it confirmed Australia would see “increases in the severity and frequency of storms and coastal flooding by 2050” (page 13). But then, only two paragraphs before this, the same IPCC report states that “as a result of reduced precipitation and increased evaporation, water security problems are projected to intensify by 2030 in southern and eastern Australia”. Thus, more rain AND less rain according to the IPCC.

This is certainly consistent with all the other claims made by environmentalists — drought, floods, heavy snow and bitter cold, heat waves, you name it — climate change is responsible. And if a weather event is “extreme” can there be any doubt that climate change caused it?  Or as Dr England so precisely puts it, to “exclude climate change would be premature”.Dr Sullivan is less circumspect, stating we must “all learn from this that climate change is real”. It sure is!

According to the UAH satellite temperature data the world has warmed by 0.09C since the last major El Nino/La Nina event in 1998. This represent an incredible 0.03% increase in our atmosphere’s thermal energy. Dr Sullivan goes on to state that we must act “before nature wreaks further havoc on our pitiful attempts to control it”.

Well, obviously excluding our attempt to control nature by adjusting humanity’s 4% share of CO2’s 0.038% concentration in the atmosphere, right?

Scott Miles writes: Re. “Mirvac … millions at risk after the floods”  (yesterday, item 23). Mirvac has nothing to do with the Montague Development in West End. It is a development being constructed by an overseas syndicate. The sales website for example shows it as being owned by Mirae Queensland.  This somewhat reduces MGR’s exposure to that reported ($400m down to $170m) and the potential losses based on a 50% reduction to more like $83.5million (20% of that reported).

Although this does not alleviate some of the issues raised, it is a shame that front page news in The Oz is not better researched. Also a shame that Crikey just breathlessly repeats what The Oz says and does not do a little more research — like spending 20 seconds looking up the Montague project website or reading MGR’s annual report or perhaps asking MGR for a comment.

I would expect better from a publication which purports to provide non-mainstream independent analysis of issues.


John Richardson writes: Re. “Rosenbloom: PM is using weasel words on the GST-equity debate” (yesterday, item 20). No disrespect to Henry Rosenbloom but I don’t accept his thesis regarding poor Julia’s response to the internet/GST debate. Nor can I believe that the likes of Gerry Harvey don’t understand the reality of any government’s position on this issue — it won’t change because it can’t change. To explain:

  • I don’t believe that the Australian government has the legal power to require a business operating in another country to charge, collect and remit tax to the Australian government on purchases made by a resident in Australia over the internet, regardless of their value. Indeed, I suspect that the only thing they’d get if they tried is the finger, so they don’t try;
  • what the government does do is try and collect any duty plus GST payable on the imported goods from you, the importer, where their value for duty is $1,000 or more;
  • now, there are around 150 million or so mail order items arriving in Australia every year. Whilst I don’t know the number (maybe Australian Customs could confirm?), I suspect the number of those consignments with a commercial value higher than a $1000 isn’t that great;
  • can Crikey readers imagine the Herculean task that would confront the Australian government if it suddenly required Australian Customs to attempt to charge, collect and remit GST on the value of every private mail order consignment entering Australia?

Well, have a look at Australian Customs most frequently asked questions detailing the processes that Joe Average has to go through when importing an item with a commercial value in excess of $1000. Now imagine trying to manage that process in respect of the volume of consignments being imported — impossible — Customs would become our biggest employer overnight; the nation would grind to a halt and we’d probably plunge into bankruptcy. All to appease Gerry and upset 20 million punters: not likely.

So, the real issues here are practicality and politics.

No way can the government collect the GST in the real world: it’s just not practical. But, of course, that’s the last thing the government is going to admit.

Far better to talk about the importance of not denying Australian consumers the populist “right” to make such purchases, particularly when the only other option is to ban them altogether (wheel out the guillotine if any politician was silly enough to go that way).

So, the political choice for Julia (or Tony for that matter) is to ignore Gerry and his mates away, particularly when the whole sordid retail model in Australia has been gouging our good citizens since the First Fleet, and to continue to pretend that you are Joe’s best friend.

Practically and politically, there really isn’t any other choice.

I wonder if there might be another agenda here?

Geoff Scott writes: I have a friend with an SME who estimates that he spends 3 to 4% of his time doing BAS requirements, which equates to a 4 to 5% loss of potential wealth creation resources. That is a large cost for a 10% revenue gain, not counting Government collection costs.

In this environment of cost cutting at all levels of Government that is a very high cost to revenue ratio. It is not surprising that collecting the GST of online purchases is not popular with those who would have to do the work when collecting less than $100 from a huge number of sales outlets worldwide. But it is not a level playing field for the large Aussie retailers and others.

My suggestion is to do away with the GST completely. Work out the net cost of doing this, net revenue loss plus increased wealth creation. Then introduce a mining super tax of the same amount. Revenue neutral with added local wealth creation benefits and a huge cut in the collection costs. Win win for everyone and it would help to flatten out the distortions from the current mining boom.

Disclosure: I am President of Better Hearing Australia, Gold Coast which benefit significantly from the generosity of the large retailer complaining loudest of this unlevel playing field, Harvey Norman.

Social media:

Lee Wallace writes: Whether it’s Bernard Keane lauding the role of Twitter in the “Tunisian Revolution” or Ben Gook’s review of The Shallows needing to stand up for poor, defenceless Facebook (whilst directing us to Meaghan Morris’s vindication of Zuckerman’s folly) I’m getting fed up with hearing from writers who are fed up with writers who are fed up with social media.

Twitter and Facebook are multibillion dollar companies that have very quickly imbedded themselves into the global culture and into people’s everyday lives, surely more critical analysis of these behemoths could only be a good thing. And if you are a fan of them both, you don’t need to look too far to find another breathless endorsement of either business; personally, I’m fed up with every piece of journalism I read having to glowingly mention Facebook and/or Twitter (couldn’t they just  merge and become Twitbook?). In other media such (brand) namedropping would be derided as product placement.

As for the “Tunisian revolution”, Malcolm Gladwell’s much maligned New Yorker article seems to have gotten something right about social network propelled movements quickly collapsing into turmoil. Which makes me wonder what role did Twitter and Facebook play in Baby Doc’s return to Haiti?