Bono on poverty

Greg Williams writes: Re “Memo to Bono and TED fans: look closer to home for poverty” (yesterday). Further to the general thrust of the article highlighting Bono’s wealth as a speaker on world poverty, let us not forget his hypocrisy, with his band (U2 — purportedly the highest-grossing band worldwide for 2010, and almost certainly still up there somewhere in the subsequent two years) and the furore when the band “moved” its music and publishing business from Ireland to the Netherlands for tax purposes in 1996. This at a time when Ireland was “doing it tough” indeed. Google “Bono tax”, and of the first 10 predictive options, five come up as  “Bono tax avoidance”, “Bono tax evasion”, “Bono tax dodger”, “Bono tax cheat”, “Bono tax evader”. In fact, Google says it all:  just Google “Bono hypocrite” and you are greeted with an overwhelming array of predictive options.

DFAT in deep trouble

Alexandra Oliver, Lowy Institute research fellow, writes:  Re: “Tips and rumours” (yesterday). That DFAT is short of funding comes as no surprise to the Lowy Institute, which has conducted a long-running investigation into the bipartisan neglect and under-resourcing of the department. It’s not just the IT budget and the passports section showing strain. Over the last 25 years, the department has lost over a third of its staff overseas (the foreign service), and its budget has flatlined. As a proportion of government spending its budget has halved. The rumour that the passports section is under strain is telling. Passports are actually one area of the department with a somewhat secure resourcing, based on a formula agreed with the Department of Finance and Deregulation calculated on the number of passports issued. Last year, over 1.7 million Australians got new passports. Half of the population hold passports, and the number of overseas trips we take has soared to 8 million trips a year (five times the number 25 years ago).

But the department that is supposed to look after all these travellers (remember the Bali Boy?) and still manage to provide some sort of sensible policy advice to government on, you know, important relationships in this Asian century like those with China, India, Indonesia, Korea and the US, for example, has barely the number of staff it had 25 years go, and no more money in real terms. The study that Andrew Shearer and I published for the Lowy Institute in late 2011, Diplomatic Disrepair , found that Australia had one of the smallest diplomatic footprints in the developed world, and the smallest of all G20 nations. The US State Department had a Secretary of State that supported it, championed it and defended it through very challenging financial times. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs is sorely in need of a Hillary Clinton right now.

Go back to where you came from, S&P

Dave Lennon writes:  It’s all very well writing pieces about what Standard & Poors might do to NSW’s AAA credit rating. But before you or anyone else does, could I perhaps see something that explains why anyone should take Standard and Poor’s seriously? After all, are these not the same people who gave AAA ratings to junk bonds, thereby playing a vital and totally dishonourable part in the GFC. In the clamour after GFC to see bankers jailed and a school of thought that believes there ought to be some downside for the firms responsible for the orgy of naked greed that led the GFC, how is it that the ratings agency appear to have sailed through with credibility intact?

So far I can’t recall seeing anything about a government regulatory investigation into these firms that has concluded they are or indeed ever have been credible when rating nation states. Surely the correct course of action is to create within Australia a credible ratings organisation and tell these Yankee carpetbaggers to, well, f*ck off.