Queensland floods:

Gavin R. Putland, Land Values Research Group, writes: Re. “Labor’s lazy levy option hides longer-term fiscal problems” (Friday, item 8). Why do people build in flood-prone locations? For the same reason that they build in locations that are far from workplaces and amenities, ill-serviced by public transport, choked by industrial pollution, or in any other way undesirable: they can’t afford anywhere better.

And why can’t they? Because land in more desirable areas is used inefficiently, creating an artificial shortage of accommodation, which raises prices and rents.

And why is land used inefficiently? Because the tax system raises most revenue from taxes that penalize the USE of land — such as income tax, payroll tax and GST — and comparatively little revenue from charges on mere OWNERSHIP of land — such as land tax, municipal rates (to the extent that they are levied on land values), and capital gains tax (which falls mostly on unearned increases in land values). Even municipal rates have been corrupted so as to penalize USE of land, by including values of buildings in the rating base and/or by charging for services that happen to be correlated with actual use of land.

And why is the tax system skewed in this way? Because the big land owners like it that way, thank you. If desirable land is used inefficiently, prices and rents of desirable land will rise for the benefit of established owners, and less desirable land will be forced into use for the benefit of those who stand to gain if such land is approved for development. More desirable land will then command premium prices and rents by comparison with the less desirable land; and as worse and worse land is forced into use, the premium gets higher and higher.

Only investors and speculators benefit from this system. Ordinary home owners don’t benefit, because higher sale prices for their present homes are offset by higher purchase prices of alternative homes, and because their modest interests as land owners are offset by their interests as land users, building users, wage/salary earners, and consumers. But pride makes them susceptible to propaganda which encourages them to think of themselves primarily as land owners and to vote accordingly. Thus widespread home ownership entrenches the absurdities of the tax system.

And now, thanks to compulsory superannuation, even low-wage workers who rent their homes own land indirectly through their small super accounts, and therefore augment the ranks of useful idiots who can be induced to vote as land owners.

Perhaps the final step in this process will be a compulsory super contribution levied on welfare payments, so that even the no-hoper in the dole queue can be induced to think of himself as a land owner and to vote accordingly.

Thus the defining principle of our tax system is that inefficiency in the use of land is good, because it artificially increases demand for land for the benefit of current owners. And to Hell — or down the river — with everyone else.

David Hand writes: Re. “Brown says a national flood insurance scheme makes sense” (17 January, item 1). I guess it was inevitable that as the Brisbane River peaked two weeks ago, all the contenders in the eternal debate about climate change would start firing their verbal bullets. And the depressing avalanche of verbosity surely arrived. A notable feature was that the so-called informed; those who study the issue; who have sought to show leadership on climate change are themselves down in the cesspool of ignorance where absolutely nothing can be achieved in working out what we as a society must do or not do.

Leading from the front in this lemming like point-scoring circus that will go absolutely nowhere was the leader of the Greens. If ever there was an opportunity for someone to stand up and lead, this was it. And last week, that leadership would have come out with the fact that has been said ad nauseam over the past few years and many times in Crikey. You cannot associate these specific weather events with global warming, including the Queensland and Victorian floods. This was particularly needed in the midst of the pain and suffering we all saw on our TVs.  The specific Brisbane event can only be blamed on climate change if a credible explanation for 1974 and the 1890’s can also be delivered and science has yet to do that.

But Bob certainly showed his colours, revealing himself as just another politician scoring political points for his political advancement. Yep, it was the good old class war leftie rhetoric and bugger the planet. I doubt whether he has considered for a nanosecond the damage his posturing does to such a complex issue. We see it all the time. I felt sorry for the way Tim Flannery was taken apart for his less than careful comments about Gaia and earth system science. His mistake was that he didn’t truly appreciate what fringe dwellers of society the Gaia crowd are and the relish with which the media would go for him.  But I still got what he was trying to say.

I’m sure Bob has followers who believe that shifting away from carbon is good economics — an idea that has merit though its nature remains uncertain. But Bob is not interested in economic growth or action on climate change; he is revealed as a tired refugee from the Marxist left pushing some socialist class warfare nonsense. Our politicians from all sides of politics have a sorry record of poor leadership in the climate change issue over recent years. Tony, Penny and Kevin all merit a mention. But if anyone entertained the notion that Bob somehow stands apart, well, last week sorted that out didn’t it.  Memo to Bob — if you think people will vote for you because of your credibility, actually having some is handy.

David Williamson:

Jim Hart writes: Re. “David Williamson: no apology for my play, but for my generation” (Friday, item 2). David Williamson provides a well-reasoned and thoughtful response to Jason Whittaker’s criticism of his play. He makes many interesting points about his (and my) generation and about theatre in general. He even makes me think I should go and see it.

It’s a pity then that his article begins and ends with the Bryce Courtney defence — my work is popular, it sells, the public likes it even if you don’t, so there. Artistic criticism is not about who’s popular and who isn’t. David Williamson of all people must know that and he weakens his case by invoking it.

Rundle on Ireland:

Mark Geary writes: Re. “Rundle’s British Isles bites: Assange to the Frontline … Labour Lord’s it over Tories … Another Ireland crisis …” (19 January, item 13). The majority of Irish people do not find the term “British Isles” acceptable. The Irish fought for 800 years to rid the country of the British, who come from Britain. Can you rename Rundle’s column to something which is acceptable? “British and Irish” is fine.

Under the skin:

Douglas Clifford writes: Re. “Caring for older Australians: a rethink on funding and facilities” (Friday, item 12). Crikey published:

“RANZCP is particularly concerned with ensuring the models for care are evidence-based and integrated into any reform. Its focus is on management of dementia through detection and recognising behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia or BPSD, such as psycosis, depression, agitation and aggression as they are a leading factor in the stress of carers. The RANZCP also recommends personalized care, integrating the carer and patient for more effective treatment.”

Psycosis (barbae) is a skin disease. I’m sure the The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists meant psychosis.

NIMBY-ism in Sydney:

Sydney resident David Lecomte writes: The problem with change is that all of us wants change, unless, of course it affects us adversely.

Most of us enjoy the fruits of the internet. For example many of us take advantage of the real savings that can be made to shop online. Online sales only need a warehouse, and a few storemen. The major retailers also incur these costs, plus the cost of leasing retail space, and running a store. But, when online sales started to hurt retailers, then all of a sudden retailers found reasons why we must restrict the former. Another fruit of the internet is that fewer and fewer of us need postal services. Email has replaced letter writing, facsimiles allow orders and invoices to be transmitted instantly. More and more bills and statements are now delivered electronically. This has to cause some change.

A logical conclusion is that we need post offices less and less. You can see that post offices have tried to respond to this, by adding more and more unrelated services. A modern post-office is starting to look like a newsagency. Will we soon see them selling soap, cereal and Lotto tickets? The problem I have with extending the range of services supplied by the Post Office, is that we potentially end up with a local store, supported by public money, competing against other stores, funded by the private sector. That wasn’t the original intent — post offices were set up to distribute and receive mail — a function considered vital to an economy, and one that it was believed wouldn’t be performed properly by the private sector.

There have been several post office closures in other areas of Sydney, but now Australia Post are hitting the North Shore and the Inner-West suburbs of Sydney. These have the loudest NIMBYs. Sydney has suffered greatly from NIMBY-ism. The F3 freeway is stranded in Wahroonga because no government has had the courage to use the land corridor that was reserved specifically for its extension. The Nth Shore residents of Wahroonga “win” at the expense of anyone trying to drive to the North, or from the North, of Sydney. Anyone living near Pennant Hills Rd suffers greatly as a result.

Mid Nth shore residents were upset because the new Epping Chatswood Rail link was to pass over the Lane Cove River.  To allay this, a tunnel was dug under the river. This delayed the project, added greatly to its cost, and made the planned East Lindfield station impossible.  As a consequence the housing estates being built on the old UTS campus site in East Lindfield are only serviced (poorly) by private bus services. Ironically the protests around these new housing estates claimed that all these extra houses would increase local traffic. The same NIMBYs have now guaranteed that to occur. And probably the best example of the perverse nature of NIMBY-ism in Sydney, is the fact that Sydney still does not have even a plan for a 2nd airport — just the intent. This latest set of NIMBY protesters want the rest of us to subsidise their post offices so they can avoid a 15 minute walk, or an extra five minutes drive in the car.

The worst possible thing the government could do is to give way to these selfish protesters. But, as the other examples show, the governments (state and federal) will give way, and the talk-show media will laud it as a great success for “community action”.


CRIKEY: On Friday, Crikey published a comment in the comments section, without a by-line, that appeared as if it was part of a correction related to Brian Stewart, CEO of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (Queensland). The comment, relating to asylum seekers and Afghanistan, should have been attributed to Crikey reader Peter Lee. The error was caused in production. Crikey apologises for the confusion.