Apr 04

Weeping Window II Refugees welcome II Finland happiest II Two cities II Cobalt II Debt & Inequality II

Welcome to the March BLOG

Contents: Weeping Window II Refugees welcome II Finland happiest II Trump II Two cities II Cobalt II Debt & inequality II 

Having sung in this cathedral in Hereford, it seemed appropriate to promote the image below. The photograph of The Weeping Window conjures up visions of Romeo and Juliet and Rapunzel,  the installation actually comprises several thousand handmade ceramic poppies.  It is a touring tribute to Britain’s first world war dead.  Very beautiful and meaningful.  The artist is Paul Cummins with designer Tom Piper.

Source:  The Guardian Weekly 230318, Matt Cardy, Getty Images,  the images are sourced from The Ross Gazette and Hereford Cathedral School. (“There’s a place for us” – music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim)


Sicily welcomes refugees…

Since 2014, “Sutera in central Sicily, has augmented its dwindling population with dozens of asylum seekers.  The school has been reborn; the butcher and grocer are happy; the birth rate has rocketed.”   From the 1970s to the 1990s Sutera increasingly lost its citizens due to mass unemployment. 

As reported by Lorenzo Tondo, “Deborah, 26, a Nigerian victim of trafficking is one of 50 asylum seekers now living in the town.”Deborah was raped by traffickers in Libya. Her daughter Sophia was born in Sutera and she is now a year old.  Thanks to children from Ethiopia, Pakistan and Nigeria,  the school is now safe from closure.   Two neighbouring towns are now following suit – Mazzarino and Milena.  Today the locals say the true salvation of Sutera  is the refugees.  (Sources Images: Typical Sicily, Pinterest)

Another positive story …

Finland has overtaken Norway to become the happiest nation on Earth according to the UN.  The top four places on the 2018 World Happiness Report are Nordic with Denmark and Iceland following.  The Nordic countries scored highly on income, health, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.   Considered the best governed, the safest and most stable, Finland today has a population of 5.5 million.  Pictured : a village inside the polar circle – DesignGrapher.com & ‘Rainbow’ Pixabay free images – Finland.

Finland is sandwiched between Norway, Sweden and Russia, see map.



Trump again – Gary Young, a journalist writing for The Guardian Weekly (23.03.18, Comment&Debate, p20) had this to say on the Trump presidency “Witnessing Trump’s presidency unravel so spectacularly provokes a perverse joy.  The venality is so baroque, the vulgarity so ostentatious,  the inconsistencies so stark,  the incompetence so epic and the lies so brazen, it leaves you speechless.”

This after President Trump unceremoniously fired his Secretary of State,  Rex Tillerson and the previous week Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe was sacked two days before he would have qualified for a full pension.  McCabe said he was targeted because he is a potential witness in the investigation into collusion between members of the Trump election campaign and the Kremlin (Julian Borger, International News, p7).    

Meanwhile the European Union has proposed a levy of 3% tax on the revenues of big technology companies –  think FAANG– Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google,  those who  operate in Europe but have little or no physical presence there.  The proposal requires unanimity among the EU member states to be adopted.  Australia should do the same.  Source: The Economist, March 24, 2018 (p8).

Comparing two cities – Copenhagen, Denmark and Kinshasa, Congo

Copenhagen (remember our Happiest Nations),  in 2015 had a population of 1.3 million and yet it is projected in 2050 to have precisely the same – 1.3 million. 

Declining birth rates, ageing populations and good infrastructure allows many cities to focus on the environment. Copenhagen’s lord mayor, Frank Jensen,  said “today our harbour is so clean we can swim in the water,  62% of Copenhageners ride their bike to work or school.”  It’s a green and liveable city.  Copenhagen wants to be the first carbon neutral capital city by 2025.

Now look at Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Population in 2015 – 12 million and projected population by 2100,  83 million that is nearly a 900% increase.  If we compare to 2050 as we have with Copenhagen, the expected population is still projected at 75 million. Kinshasa is dysfunctional, ringed by vast shanty towns of informal settlements.  Its infrastructure is nonexistent or collapsing.  Source: Praag.org  – Kinshasa, ringed by shanty towns.  

According to the World Bank,  what is happening in Africa is that small scale informal trading is not adding enough economic benefit.  But investment in Africa is happening via China, note their investment since 2010.  



China’s investment is linked to its Belt & Road initiative. The two legs of the new Silk Road, however, are not single routes but rather consist of a network of links connecting different parts of China to the world.

The ‘Belt’ aims to link the western parts of China through six economic corridors to Central Asia, Russia, Europe, the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, and Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, the ‘Road’ – somewhat confusingly – is a sea route designed to link China’s coastal parts to Europe and Africa through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean in one route, and through the South Pacific in another route.

Altogether the Belt and Road initiative covers 65 countries, 4.4 billion people and over a third of the world’s GDP.

Source: Star Graphics & China Business Review

Cobalt demand up

Today an electric vehicle uses about 10kg of cobalt and more than half of the world’s cobalt reserves and production are in one dangerously unstable country, the Democratic Republic of Congo.  (Pic – 2 little boys (aged 7) working in a cobalt mine)

Eighty percent of the cobalt sulphates and oxides that make the all important cathodes for lithium-ion batteries are refined in China.  The remaining 20% is processed in Finland.  But the raw materials come from a mine in Congo which is majority owned by China Molybdenum.   GEM, a Chinese battery maker has said it would acquire a third of the cobalt shipped by Glencore between 2018 to 2020.  That’s equivalent to half the world’s production going to China.  Cobalt has risen from $26,500 a tonne in 2016 to above $90,000 a tonne today.  Production in Congo is set to increase but investment may be deterred by the recent 5-fold increase in royalties on mining cobalt.  Source:  Goblin Metals, The Economist March 24th, 2018 p63,  image:  Collective Evolution.


I wondered when this subject would next rear its head and at last Professor Tony Makin (Economics) at Griffith University has dared to speak the unspeakable – “our unsparing outlays are unsustainable”.

In 2013 we were correctly informed that the budget deficit had to be addressed as a matter of urgency.  But despite the rhetoric, little has been done to reduce federal spending. Labor queried the Foreign Secretary’s expenses bill of $1.2 million in 2017 but nothing came of it.

Australia’s net public debt is about 19 per cent of GDP.  The interest on our public debt is about $13.4 billion.  “Each percentage point rise in interest rates adds another $3.7 billion to the annual interest bill, more than the government spends on housing.”

“Public debt will keep growing until we reach surplus predicted by Treasury to be 2021.  The Coalition has gone silent on deficits,” said Professor Makin.  “There is no doubt our company tax rates are not competitive.”  China and Ireland – classed as two miracle economies prospered on the back of tax breaks that discriminated in favour of foreign investment.

The company tax rate is 12.5% in Ireland and 17% in Hong Kong and Singapore.  Personal tax cuts mooted down the track are simply not affordable.  While promoting further company tax cuts, Professor Makin also suggests “these should be accompanied by cuts to government spending.” Apart from middle class welfare (and we will say something about that shortly),  “there are billions spent on assistance to agriculture, mining, manufacturing and construction.  Industry assistance only benefits some businesses [but] at the economy’s expense.” 

Take a look at Australia’s government debt clock – $621 billion and rising. http://www.australiandebtclock.com.au/

Source: Commentary, The Australian April 3, 2018 p12.


Yes that is how Australia was described by Anglicare’s Executive Director Kasy Chambers.  The organisation commissioned a research paper and report into tax benefits in late March, and what they found was shocking. 

A staggering $68 billion in taxpayers dollars is spent keeping the wealthiest households wealthy… every year.  That is greater than the cost of Newstart (at $11 billion) or the entire Aged pension program ($44 billion).

Here is a list of the tax benefits paid to the top 20% wealthy Australians:

  • Capital gains tax concessions and exemptions
  • Superannuation concessions and tax breaks
  • Private education tax exemptions
  • Private health care tax exemptions
  • Negative gearing
  • Discretionary trusts

Yep that’s $37 a week taken from every worker in Australia not to mention the foregone tax revenue $68 billion every year.  Something’s got to give.

Source:  The Cost of Privilege, Anglicare Australia and percapita.

End of Blog quote :  Modern slaves are not in chains,  they are in debt.

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Feb 28

Jobs versus Ai II Uni versus TAFE II Aged care innovation II Hanson – cut payroll tax II Gas for Twiggy

Contents: Jobs versus Ai II Uni versus TAFE II Aged Care innovation II Job Active not working II Hanson – cut payroll tax II Gas for Twiggy

Nearing the end of February and there’s been little news on the national front over the past couple of months with the pollies away on their summer vacation.  Plenty of scandal though and even now,  they’re back hurling insults across the floor in the first week of parliamentary sittings – where’s the policy?

We’ve done gay marriage but what else?   Now the government wants to give big business a tax cut down to 25%.  Can we afford it, no… will it bring jobs I doubt it. 

On jobs versus Ai,  Associate Professor Dr. Louise Floyd has been focusing some of her research on robotics and the gig economy.  Her new  book ‘Employment Labour and Industrial Law in Australia’ published by Cambridge Press was co-written with Steenson, Coulthard, Williams and Pickering.  Dr Floyd who works at James Cook University, Cairns says ‘there’s a revolution happening in the workplace’… more worrying is her projected belief that ‘all workers will be replaced by robots.’   

Writing in The Australian today,  Tim Dodd the Higher Education Editor said “Universities will feel the force of disruption and come under pressure to offer shorter courses with content more relevant to an automated economy driven by artificial intelligence, according to high level US political and policy adviser Bruce Reed. 

Mr Reed will deliver the keynote address at the 2018 Universities Australia Conference in Canberra this week.   “Universities will have to move away from full length degrees down to a 3 year degree and these microdegrees will be more specific.”    Another interesting point raised in the article is that universities are teaching and honing in on skills that are hardest to automate – critical thinking, judgement, collaboration, emotional intelligence,  all things that AI will take longer to assimilate.   

With the next wave of  disruption there will be increasing pressure on workforces globally especially on semi-skilled and non-college educated workers.   Reed also pointed out “We have an enormous opioid crisis, life expectancy is falling as Americans over 50 are killing themselves with drug overdoses, suicide and alcoholism.  Sociologists now refer to these deaths as the ‘deaths of despair’,  there is a sense of loss and deep anxiety within the next generation.  

Peter Van Onserlen writing for the Inquirer at the weekend, was critical of a front page headline “Unis failing to deliver for business”.  In the latest employer satisfaction survey undertaken by the Federal Government, 84% of businesses were satisfied with graduates they hired.   Examining the tables, the worst performing uni – the University of Southern Queensland scored 78.4% (just 1.6% short of a distinction !) while the top performer, James Cook University had an overall satisfaction of 90.6%. 

Van Onselen goes on to suggest that the negative spin espoused by the Ai Group,  reminded him of the constant culture-war bashing of the ABC.  Universities are as much about research as they are about teaching with academics (like Dr Floyd) expected to spend roughly 50% of their time developing technological and scientific breakthroughs as well as forewarning on social, economic and environmental challenges.    Underfunding under Howard and full fee paying overseas students have resulted in the commercialisation of university education.   In December the Federal Government proposed funding cuts of $2.2 billion for universities.  In addition there is the lowering of the threshold for the repayment of HECS-HELP fees from $54,869 down to $42,000 with a sliding scale of 1-4% of taxable income as the new repayment rate.  

Tuition fees paid by students both Australian and international, now contribute more to the income of Australian universities that the government grants they receive.  More than 20% of income comes from international students alone.  Last year 350,000 international students studied here.  Some of our leading universities will earn up to $700 million from international student tuition fees in a year.  Our tertiary education sector is now our third largest export at $30 billion a year.  

Uni versus TAFE

Since the coalition gained power, there has been a 31% decline in the number of hours of TAFE education delivered, and nearly a 15% fall in government funded TAFE places.  Last Friday, Labor’s shadow minister for education Tanya Plibersek, announced that a Labor government would hold a national inquiry into post secondary education.   The Business Council has called for whole scale reform of the VET sector, suggesting a crippling skills shortage is coming in nursing, community care, mechanical engineering and technology.  There is no bridge between intellectual and practical studies. 

TAFEs are now too starved of funding to bridge that gap. Labor has been quiet on the intended $2.2 billion cut to universities,  its intention is to focus on VET.   Looking at the whole picture,  if as Louise Floyd suggests robots will replace the majority of jobs, we need to think about how people will live,  surviving on a meagre universal wage (see Jan. blog re Finland),  perhaps taking up horticulture, plumbing, building and welding at TAFE is not such a bad idea after all –  a small holding,  a shed,  some vegetables and an increased appreciation of nature seems like a good solution.  

Sources: Matthew Killoran, Cairns Post Wed 28 Feb 2018 p13, Peter Van Onselen, Inquirer – The Weekend Australian Jan 13-24 p20,  Tim Dodd, Higher Education – Spectre of AI looms over unis and work, The Australian Wed 28 Feb p28, Robert Bolton & Iain Watt, Australian Financial Review, Mon 26 Feb p14.

Aged Care Innovation

Populist newspapers like The Australian tend to dramatise,  but there is no denying Australia will have an increasing number of retirees, estimated at 5 million by 2040.  In the article entitled “An Aged Care and Health Tsunami will swamp  us unless we act now” it is estimated that 180,000 more carers will be needed and 85,000 more nurses” within the next seven years.

In the article by Van Smeerduk and Mead (PwC and Australian Unity),  it is suggested that governments invest in an independent mechanism for trials with new community partners and innovative models of care, the price tag  is estimated at $500 million to start this innovation accelerator.   Less than a month on, and the University of Wollongong has launched its own $500 million project to bring health clinics, an aged care centre and a retirement village together with health research and teaching.  Lend Lease have been selected as the proposed partner.  

The university will focus on translating health research into practical applications, creating new models of “patient centred” care.  Wollongong vice-chancellor Paul Wellings said – “The first stage (on the 7.5 ha site) will include a 108 bed residential aged care facility, 199 independent retirement units, and retail shops.  The main health clinic ‘intoHealth’ will be modelled on the Mayo Clinics in the US.   This project will transform the university’s old innovation campus.  Image : Health & Wellbeing Precinct planned for University of Wollongong

Sources: James Van Smeedijk – PwC,  Rohan Mead MD Australian Unity, Tim Dodd, The Australian Wed 28 Feb., p28.

Job Active not working !

Front page headlines of an audit of government funded job agencies has raised issues over fraud with fewer than 40% of clients finding long-term work.  “…more than a third of job agencies performed so badly they should be disqualified.”  There is plentiful evidence that job agencies induced and harassed former clients for payslips from their new employers (irrelevant of whether the job was filled by their efforts), in order to claim financial bonuses.  Job Network providers,  now known as Job Active agencies are handed incentive payments every four weeks after a client starts a job and then again at three months and then six months. These incentive payments can total $13,750 for each client.  I know I have worked in such an agency.

Fewer than 40% of clients remain employed after the six months,  and many of the placements are government sponsored.  Further almost half of the $1.7 billion spent on job agencies goes to administration costs.  Of 1648 employment services, 569 were found to be at fault.  In Western Australia where the Employment Minister Michaelia Cash lives, just 14% of the 107 employment services sites met the grade.  The bonuses in many cases are the only revenue keeping some of the agencies afloat so tight are the contracts they are tied to.   

There are moves within the Labor Party to assess the entire employment services model although parliamentarians are tight-lipped on the policy.  Ed Husic, employment services spokesman said “We spend roughly $9 billion on these govt job programs,  the second largest area of procurement outside of defence.  We have 730,000 people out of work, 40,00 employment service consultants and only 20% of their clients find work for more than 6 months.”   Even the CEO of Jobs Australia, David Thompson, said the system was a hopeless mess and hugely ineffective and had been run to the advantage of large companies.  On average staff in these agencies have a case load of 150 jobseekers,  some have 300 on their books.  It’s cheap and ineffective.  In addition 43% of providers have a risk rating of “extreme or high”, with more than half rated ‘extreme’ due to concerns about their ongoing financial viability.  There are also between 4000-4900 suspected invalid claims per quarter.  Fold it up and start again is what I say.

Source: Rick Morton,  Social Affairs editor,   The Australian  Tues Oct 31, 2017 front page headlines.

One Nation will not be supporting tax cuts for big business.  According to Senator Hanson, companies could pay down debt, increase shareholder returns, and/or lower prices.  The shortfall in tax will increase debt.  Senator Hanson goes on to refer to the American tax cuts which are expected to double US debt in the first year and add more than $US1 trillion to debt in 10 years.  Senator Hanson makes the point that the government needs to give investors globally competitive electricity and gas prices.   “Experts say we have the weakest tax regime for offshore gas so foreign owned multinational petroleum companies do not pay for our gas nor do they pay tax on profits made from our gas.     I challenge the goverment to do a deal with the states and remove payroll tax – that will lead to more jobs.   But Scott Morrison reckons he’s got the job market covered with 400,000 new jobs last year.  (Source:  The Australian Mon 26 Feb. p12)

Andrew Forrest (Twiggy), the billionaire who took less than a decade to build the world’s fourth largest iron ore producer wants to sell ‘gas’.   Via his private energy company Squadron Energy he is investing in a new venture called Australian Industrial Energy.  

A shortage caused by exporting east coast gas to the world in the form of liquid natural gas is best answered by importing LNG to a re-gasification terminal at one of NSW industrial ports. 

AIE is funded by Forrest, the second investor is Marubeni, a Japanese trading house, the third investor is  JERA.  JERA is the LNG buying house for Tokyo Electric Power and Chubu Electric Power. 

JERA is the world’s biggest LNG buyer accounting for approx 10% of the market. JERA purchases 35 million tonnes of LNG per year,  to place these expanding volumes JERA is going to expand as an LNG trading house.    AIE is going to need 2 milllon tonnes of LNG annually.   AIE is suggesting it can provide 75% of the NSW market requirements in gas.  It hopes to use Australian LNG.   

Many manufacturers have complained that the new contract pricing demanded has been nigh on extortionate.   Pricing and potential unreliability makes electricity an unlikely alternative energy source.    There is talk at Squadron of a ‘virtual pipeline’  linking east coast gas markets to regional liquid natural gas markets.  Queensland’s three LNG plants consume more than the whole of the domestic gas market.  Gas producers are struggling to sustain export and domestic demands.  

Victoria is also considering two similar proposals using an FSRU – floating storage and regasification unit, anchored off a specific coastal port … it would then be sent to the onshore pipeline network.    A third option is the west to east pipeline advanced by the Federal Government with a pre – feasibility study due next month.   If the imported LNG was from WA,  it would form a virtual east-west pipeline by boat.  In Australia JERA has interests in the Gorgon, Wheatstone, Ichthys and Darwin projects.   Gas is a transition fuel moving Australia towards a renewable energy future.   See end of Blog quote below:

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Jan 29

Welcome to 2018 II The Grand Seducer II emotive images II the new slavery II Kurds help and hindrance II Reflections on 2017 II

Welcome to 2018

The French President Emmanuel Macron

An image, photograph or painting, it’s the visuals that catch my attention always.  So it was with The Grand Seducer, Emmanuel Macron – even his name says ‘elite’.  Macron was featured in The Weekend Australian Magazine,   the photograph is magnetic.  In the article by Harry de Quettteville, Macron is described as mesmerizing, a master manipulator.  He seems to take such interest, he is clever but above all,  he is a seducer. 

Just turned 40 in December, Macron is one of the new young leaders (Trudeau at 46 is another, and he has just stepped in to strengthen the Trans Pacific Partnership – free trade).  Macron is placed to “unleash a revolution, peel away the bureaucratic stultification and free the French economy.”  Open, lively and charming, the ‘Deuxieme gauche – second left” is Macron’s reason to be.  His connections both political and financial are unrivalled.  Even his private life is exceptional,  he married his former drama teacher, Brigitte who is 64 and has three children by a former marriage. 

On the left he presents as anti-establishment BUT his critics see him as far right, “the frontman for a cabal of unvarnished capitalists who intend to turn France into a US style economy”.  Whatever his modus operandi, this seductive french man is set to re-establish the glory of the French state. 

Emotive images – Bound to happen this Iranian woman is now missing.   International media are re-publishing her photo to draw attention to her plight.  Her name is Vida Movahed, 31, and she has a 20 month old daughter.  Reliable sources confirm her arrest.  It was bound to happen, protesting elevated and alone, and without the mandatory veil.   (Times, Weekend Australian, Jan, 2018).  Protests have been raging again in Iran over government corruption. 

The new slavery – with robots set to reduce jobs for humans, the universal basic income idea has been promoted by battery man, Elon Musk and FB king, Mark Zuckerberg.  BUT the current trial in Finland where 2000 people aged 25 – 58 are being paid $680 a month is viewed with pessimism.  There’s no obligation to seek or take work,  those that do can keep the $680 a month.   How very generous,  $680 a month.  Australia’s Newstart is $538 a fortnight,  $1076 a month.  and you have to either volunteer or study to get paid.  UBI is a bad idea, it’s a lazy solution, read ‘slavery’ down the track.  Yes we have a problem but making a whole new class of welfare dependent individuals,  is not the answer.   Try some innovative thinking.

Turkey’s president has launched a campaign against the Kurds in northern Syria.  A Pentagon spokesman said US and Turkish military commanders had in the past discussed a secure zone along the border with Syria,  but no decision was made.  Now Turkey is taking the lead,  bombing the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) who have worked closely with Washington against Islamic State during the Syrian war.   Further raising tensions, the Turks have floated bombing Manbij, where there is a US military presence.  

And another flashpoint,  Jerusalem.  Below an emotive image from an earlier blog.  Despite being part Jewish,  I feel sorry for the Palestinians.  They are fighting a losing battle. 

A Palestinian boy looks on near burning tyres during clashes with Israeli soldiers following a protest against the nearby Jewish settlement of Qadomen, in the West Bank village of Kofr Qadom near Nablus.

September 19, 2014. REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini 

Reflections on 2017 – in January Skynews put Australia’s deficit at $436 billion (being revenue less spending) that is 17% of GDP.  Yet in December it was published at $300 billion or 20% of GDP.   It seems journalists cannot get it right and neither can I.  

Ministers Porter and Trudge spruiked Centrelink’s debt recovery system.  “We’re owed $70 million and recipients aren’t making any effort to repay it.”  Centrelink’s mistakes,  they overpaid the recipients.  “The government is hoping to recover $4.5 billion mmm HOW?  didn’t we just hear the debt is $70 million,  Must be talking about this spruiking … with robots, if you can get them to answer! 

Affordable housing was also in the headlines.  Then February 2017,  it was farewell to the Obamas.  An independent national review of politicians entitlements was completed in March 2016.  the Government said it would adopt all recommendations.

Senator the Hon Scott Ryan  Image David Foote-AUSPIC/DPS

Special Minister of State, Scott Ryan, pictured (Dept of Finance and Remuneration Tribunal) is said to have failed to implement even one.  Then in January 2017,  the PM announced new compliance,  Health Minister Sussan Leys was duly appointed and she in turn appointed,   guess who?? Scott Ryan. 

Also in February,  with the appointment of President Trump there was plenty of coverage on fake news, housing affordability and budget deficits.  It was reported that one in three Australians were being shortchanged on their SUPER.  Missing is $3 billion a year says the ATO,  but they have no resources to monitor situation.

In March China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ policy was featured, with surging power bills and JCU innovation.  I also promoted my new business Online Tutoring.  My last Japanese student completed her Masters via UTAS and attended her award ceremony in December 2018 in Launceston,  congratulations Reiko. 

Finally in March the Federal Government stepped screaming and kicking into the energy crisis. At JCU Townsville, Dr Madoc Sheehan, Professor Heimann and two research students successfully produced a micro-algae biofilm that can absorb nitrogen and heavy metals from tailings dams.  

In April our BLOG belonged to bloggers, advocates and artists.  Aaron Swartz think creative Commons and Wikipedia, suicided as a young man.  Raif Badawi is still in prison in Saudi Arabia, put there by his own father for espousing religious freedom and gender equality.  First flogged (50 lashes) in a public square in Jeddah,  he has not been leashed since due to international public outcry.  His wife and children have asylum in Canada. 

And a special memory test in Britain can now reliably diagnose Alzheimers.  

June 2017 necessitated the title ‘Bloodsuckers’ referring to Aveo, an Australian company with Malaysian and Hong Kong linkages,  Aveo is known to gouge money from pensioners – 40% of their estate when they leave the village.  Norway spent $4.4 million upgrading the world’s global seed vault.  thank you Norway.  In July we featured rare timbers in Tassie, being brought to life from the depths of lakes.  Inequality was making headlines around the world.  

In August the R1M blog promoted the new Cairns Aquarium and the Mount Emerald Wind Farm.  There were driverless and electric cars and drone taxis,  particularly relevant when my son was about to set up his own driving school.  September,  we veered to Bitcoin.  I say veered,  it is a digital currency beyond restriction and confiscation they say,  but it is restricted … to 21 million units.  In October when I first decided to find out what Bitcoin was,  one bitcoin was worth $5243.  Created by an Australian called Craig Wright in 2008,  he also claims to be Satoshi Nakamotor.  Confused,  I am.  There are now only 4.3 million bitcoins left to mine.  Punters say 30% of the 16.7 million in circulation will be lost forever due to hard drive crashes and misplaced keys.  I won’t be purchasing anytime soon,  I can’t imagine it.

October was when we sadly reported the bombing of the White Helmets in Sarmin, Syria.  Seven of their brave volunteer medics died,  Russia was implicated… from the US,  there was no comment.   Murdoch failed in his battle for SEVEN in Australia and the ‘gig economy was defined by job insecurity.  SUPER – it is not.

November’s blog again featured Australia’s debt.  Our GDP of $1.6 trillion is 69% let’s say 70% based on services.  Cut to university funding forecast – $1.2 billion. It’s our third biggest export.  Student fees are scheduled to rise by 7.5%,  HECS threshold will be slashed down to $42K,  thus discouraging young people from going to University.  Maybe the government only wants international students who pay their way.   And in December,  the calm before the storm,  debt was still headlining.

eyes of a Dreamer by artist JR (Mexican border)

Rover Thomas, indigenous artist

These are some of the images that caught my attention.  And as we leave 2017 and begin a new slate with 2018, my new year’s resolution is to get fitter,  it can’t be that difficult.  

scanning – driverless cars

An eagle captures a drone









Irish artist, Peter Dunne – the road to Thamsar Jot, India



End of blog quote – Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground  Theodore Roosevelt. 

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Unemployment – the tip of the iceberg

Nov 29

Calm before the storm I House of cards I Future of work I Protection and risk

Contents:  Calm before storm and House of Cards refer to the economy, Future of work and Protection and risk.  

Renewable energy jobs in select countries (excluding large hydropower). CREDIT: IRENA

The QLD election has come and gone, and I welcomed the brevity.  We are now into another Christmas and the heat is on. The calm before the storm refers to both Qld’s debt – $71.98 billion,  and the Commonwealth government debt. In June this year the Commonwealth debt reached more than $499 billion.  Gross debt will hit $725 billion in 2027-28, according to the budget documents, but by international standards, Australian government debt remains low  !!!  The most relevant figure of net debt, gross debt minus the country’s financial assets, currently sits at $300 billion or 20 per cent of GDP. (Source: Sydney Morning Herald, reporter Eryk Bagshaw, June 14, 2017)

The majority of this blog features a Report on the economy by Matt Barrie, co- authored with Craig Tindale.  The Report concerns the future of Australia’s economy and in every way this influences all of us,  our children and grandchildren. The Australian economy as a whole, has grown through a property bubble inflating on top of a mining bubble, built on top of a commodities bubble, driven by a China bubble.

Societe Generale’s China economist Wei Yao said recently, “Chinese banks are looking down the barrel of a staggering $1.7 trillion — worth of losses”.  Chinese bank losses “could exceed 400% of the U.S. banking losses incurred during the subprime crisis”.  These losses are largely the result of  debt-bloated and unprofitable state-owned enterprises (SOE).  But be aware 2008 banking assets in China were at $8 trillion , today they are close to $45 trillion. 

A hard landing for China is a catastrophic landing for Australia, over one third of our exports go to China. In 2007 when the GFC unfolded the US Federal Reserve cut short term interest rates.  When that didn’t work – to curb rising unemployment and stop growth stagnating, central banks across the globe started printing money which they used to buy up financial securities in an effort to drive up prices. This process is called  quantitative easing (“QE”), to confuse the average person in the street into thinking it wasn’t anything more than conjuring trillions of dollars out of thin air and using that money to buy things in an effort to drive  prices up. Continue reading

Oct 30

Witch hunt II Bitcoin Ascendancy II Eyes of a Dreamer II Headlines of Impact II

Continue reading

Sep 29

Cairns Aquarium II Driving to nowhere II Dutton’s $$ chest II Slashing human rights II Gaza – a way out II eurozone & the amazing Ms Merkel II Tweets abound, Airbnb special and Rover Thomas

Welcome to R1M September blog, featuring the new Cairns Aquarium, driving to nowhere with driverless cars, Dutton’s $$ chest II A way out for Gaza, eurozone fightback and the amazing Ms Merkel  II Tweets abound & Airbnb special and Rover Thomas.

CONGRATULATIONS are due to young local entrepreneurs, Daniel Leipnik and Andrew Preston, who this week achieved their vision with the opening of the Cairns Aquarium.

Featured this week in the Australian Financial Review, reporter Larry Schlesinger said, “A reviving local tourism market has boosted the value of the newly opened Cairns Aquarium to around $100 million deliver[ing] a better-than-expected return to the dozen high net worth investors who funded its construction.”

Pictured sharing a special milestone, Leipnik and Preston open the valves to begin filling the 1.8million litre Oceanarium. Showcasing more than 15,000 aquatic animals, fish, plants, and other organisms housed within 71 live exhibits, it opened last week, after construction commenced in November 2015.

The three-level, 7800 square metre aquarium was developed by Leipnik and Preston at a cost of $54 million. It took them six years to bring the ambitious project to fruition, with its opening marking the first new aquarium developed in Australia since the Melbourne Aquarium opened 18 years ago.  I first covered the plans for the Aquarium in my blog October 2016.  

Key to its development was securing construction finance through a $32 million fixed-term debt facility from specialist lender Gieldan Capital, a joint venture between prominent investment banker Mark Carnegie’s private equity firm, M H Carnegie & Co and fixed income dealer FIIG Securities.” 

Cairns is a dynamic tourism focussed city. This year Dubai-based Syrian billionaire Ghassan Aboud began developing a third hotel in Cairns having bought a motel and office building on the Cairns Esplanade. Mr Leipnik told local media he expected around 700,000 people to visit the aquarium every year.

Again a link to a previous blog – October 2012 on a clean energy future.  Tom Volling reporting in the Cains Post last week confirmed Powerlink are about to start construction of a 275kV substation to connect the 180 

megawatt Mt Emerald Wind Farm to a transmission network.  Fifty three turbines will be constructed initially, and the $350 million dollar project is expected to generate 150 jobs.  The farm will supply about one third of the Far North’s power needs. Expect to see giant blades on the local roads from the port to Walkamin. Pictured is the base of one of the turbines in construction.

Driverless cars ? Business Insider Intelligence predicts fully autonomous driverless cars on the road by 2019, but having viewed Catalyst last night,  I think it might take a while longer and who wants them anyway?  The pluses for businesses are no employees,  they’re a disrupter.  We won’t need taxi drivers, or uber drivers,  or pizza delivery boys or food delivery people period.  If we want to tour London and don’t know the streets,  hey well,  just hire a driverless car on your mobile and it will turn up at will anywhere just like an Uber car does now, except no driver.  Its robot will talk you through your trip,  find you a toilet,  take you past the Tower of London,  and even look for a hotel room in your budget range. 

Driverless cars require a massive uptake of data to make them safe and knowledgeable and companies are hoping their artificial intelligence insemination will help to avoid death by collision, miscalculation and or code deficit.  Now if you want to talk about electric cars,  that’s a different story.  Bring them on, lessen carbon emissions, batteries will propel them upwards, sideways and hopefully forwards. (Pictured: Ford’s driverless test car).

Companies involved in cartech revolution – companies manufacturing electric cars are Tesla, Panasonic, Ford and General Motors, but it’s the Renault-Nissan alliance which has moved nearly 37,000 electric cars this year, more than Tesla.  Source: Bertal Schmidt, Forbes 2017. 

Companies involved in manufacturing driverless cars are more diverse and with many more partnerships due to the requirements of high-end technology in both software and sensor technology. Google’s Waymo is developing just that. Audi is also in the race with Nvidia (graphic card maker) aiming for Level 4 autonomy by 2020 but far ahead of the pack is a Boston start-up, nuTonoy, a robot taxi now in service in Singapore.  You can take a free trip in nuTonoy (see pic) or try it as a self driving car. 

And in today’s news (28 September 2017) featured in the Cairns Post is Dubai’s ‘Hover taxi” developed by a German drone company.  Drone firm Volocopter describes its flying taxi as resembling a small two seater helicopter with 18 propellers above the cabin.  The Hover taxi has a maximum 30 minutes flying time, back up batteries and a couple of parachutes.  Airbus, Kitty Hawk (backed by Google) and Uber are all working on flying taxis. They’re a little behind Brazil who have had chopper taxis since 1999.  In fact Sao Paulo has the world’s largest helicopter fleet (420) and 820 pilots. And a chopper obviously has more power than a drone, should you need to leave that meeting in a hurry!

Business Insider, with Navigant Research today published a leadership grid for self driving cards.  Navigant ranked the 18 companies out of 100 points on those most likely to get their self driving cars on the road first. 

The German auto supplier ZF is high on the list having commercialised Nvidia’s PX2 processing platform ProAi,  PSA (Peugeot and Citroen) are using ZF also and had four of its self driving cars drive 360 miles in 2015.  This was early.  Volvo is test driving its cars with families in Sweden.  Waymo (Google’s self driving car) was launched in 2009, and Waymo has driven over 2 million miles autonomously in the US.  Partnered with Fiat Chrysler,  Waymo also had a partnership with Lyft, Avis and Intel.  BMA has advanced driving assistance right now in its luxury models and has teamed up with Intel and Mobileye.  Volkswagon and Audi are in the mix as is Daimler forecasting 2020. The Renault Nissen Alliance has proPILOT, a self drive feature that lets production cars drive autonomously on highways in Japan.  General Motors is said to be ready for mass production, its self drive cars will all be electric.   But the leader is Ford, it has an automous test fleet of 100 cars.  In February Ford invested a further $1 billion in Argo AI, a secretive artificial intelligence start up in Pittsburg…  that says to me that things still aren’t quite right. Image opp. shows how a driverless car using LIDAR perceives its surroundings.

But driverless cars are coming… and how much will they be? For starters, there is LIDAR, the highly sensitive laser sensor that is the core of almost all autonomous vehicles that’s about $85,000 currently. Ouch! (Source: Business Insider, Denielle Muoio Sept 28, 2017)

Dutton’s money chest – the Hon Peter Dutton, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection has  been on a spending spree to get help restructuring his ‘super’ department.  Over the past two years $26 million has been paid to Boston Consulting to provide both strategic and advisory services.  Most recently as reported in The Australian (Sept 6) one of BCG’s contracts to restructure Dutton’s department was upgraded from $370,000 to $2.8 million.  Nauru still hangs in the balance while Manus is closing.  The operation of both refugee camps has cost the tax payer $2.57 billion.  $28.8 million to sort out a Department that the Minister should be capable of restructuring on his own merit,  wouldn’t you think so? AND I thought we had a budget deficit !

Headlines of Impact

Slashing Human rights – The Philippines President Duterte has slashed the budget of the Human Rights Commission from $A16.5 million to $A25.00.  Nothing less than an insult. Also reported in the Guardian Weekly on the 22 September, the entire police force of 1200, has been sacked in the city of Caloocan.

Hamas and Fatah to shake hands – a power sharing unity government in Gaza and on the West Bank

Any conciliatory action on relieving the living conditions of Palestinians is welcome.  Reporting on the 17 September (SBS News & AFP) Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad said a bilateral meeting with Hamas would be organised to begin working out a way forward.

The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade for around a decade, while its border with Egypt has also remained largely closed in recent years.The statement comes after Hamas leaders held talks with Egyptian officials last week. Gaza is facing a mounting humanitarian crisis. Pictured above, a Hamas security guard stands near the border between Egypt and Gaza. Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group has agreed to dissolve its Gaza administration and hold general elections to end its long feud with Egypt’s Fatah movement. (Source: EPA/Hassan Ali)

Gaza is facing deteriorating humanitarian conditions, including a severe electricity crisis and a lack of clean water. The coastal enclave of some two million people also has one of the world’s highest unemployment rates. 

Eurozone strikes back … Growth in the 19 country eurozone has quietly outshone the US over the past two years.  Annualised growth shows the single currency bloc growing at 2.3% and production is up 3.2% on last year, said Jennifer Rankin reporting for The Guardian Weekly.  France is still behind the ball park, however Germany’s economy remains solid, Spain has bounced back not so, Greece,  but Italy’s economy is doing better despite issues over heavily indebted banks.  

Angela Merkel is back for another four years, having served 12 years as Germany’s Chancellor. Highly visible during the eurozone crisis, Merkel has stayed largely at home in 2017 steering her party solidly and strongly towards victory. She repeatedly changed position when the public mood diverged from her conservative principles.

A physicist in another life, Merkel stuck with her humanitarian discourse having welcomed over a million refugees. “We will handle it” she insisted. Germany has since, tightened eligibility for asylum, enacted tougher security and struck a deal with Turkey to close migrant routes through the Balkans.  Pictured above -German Chancellor Angela Merkel stands in front of her campaign tour bus in Berlin September 16, 2013 (Source : REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch). 

“There is no fear that the refugees will take jobs, everyone already has work” says Sebastian Sunhammer whose Bavarian factory makes trucks.  (Sources: Sydney Morning Herald, Nick Miller 23-24 September, 2017 p29, The Australian, Anton Troianovski, Berlin Sept 22, 2017 p.12 & Weekend Australian, Jacquelin Magnay Sept 23-24 p.12) 

Twitter to double tweet size – 280 letters,  what more can I say?

Airbnb special – Loftium (Seattle) will provide prospective home buyers with up to A$64,000 for a down payment on a house as long as they are willing to continuously list an extra bedroom on Airbnb for one to three years and share most of the income with Loftium over that time.  This service is “for people who don’t have the parents to help or the high income to save while paying rent,” said Ms Zhang, one of the founders.  Ms Zhang said she had had about 200 Airbnb guests in her townhouse.  (Source: Tara Siegel Bernard, The New York Times/ Australian Financial Review 28 September, 2017).

Digital payments, the dark side – digital bank payments have resulted in greater surveillance and a massive increase in financial cybercrime, according to Brett Scott writing in The Guardian Weekly (22 Sept 2017).  Sweden leads the way whereby every transaction is passed via banks, card companies, phone providers and payment apps.  Its citizens every economic interaction is logged in a database.  Such States have the potential to institute economic censorship.  Corporations too are anxious to acquire this data.  But I prefer the idea of cash remaining available,  I abhor the possibility of being forced to accept a pension card which only allows me 20% of my aged pension in cash.  I refuse to be dictated to in terms of what I eat,  where I buy my food and how much I spend on my car, travelling and life in general.  It’s no-one’s business except mine. So resist digital payments and hang onto your cash. PS: Couldn’t have attended the Elton John concert last night without cash, venue rules stated no food, no bottled water or alcohol unless paying cash.  Now there you have it.

Last but not least ART 

Rover Thomas, born in 1926 in the Great Sandy Desert, Rover Thomas is a renowned Aboriginal artist from the Kimberley region.  Click on the link above, to discover more of his incredible art. Rover Thomas died in 1998 but his paintings are now highly valued by collectors. Featured in The Saturday Paper this week, Partrick Hartigan a Sydney based artist, talks about the man and his work. His paintings currently vary in price from A$6000 to over A$400,000. (Pictured the magnificent Bullock Hide Story 1995.)

Quote of the month : You must trust and believe in people or life becomes impossible – Anton Chekhov

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Sep 01

Nth Korea II SUPA NOT II Iceberg II Screen legend II Breaking News

North Korea – short and sharp

Introduction:  With one day to research and write, this month’s blog is a challenge.

This week  the North Korean Leader decided to threaten anyone and everyone by shooting a ballistic missile over Japan. The world I think, has a short time span for reacting to atrocities, famine, and even war these days.  For 48 hrs Kim Jong Un had our attention.

North Korea’s launch of a missile over Japan was a prelude to more military operations directed at the American territory of Guam, North Korean state media warned on the Wednesday.

Pictured: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un receives a military briefing in Pyongyang. Source: KRT via AP VideoSource:AP


…then the media frenzy moves to the next story. 

For me it was Superannuation or lack of it. 


In the early 2000s I seem to remember government departments were outsourcing, creating contracts, but beware the mantra – ‘don’t worry if you are made redundant …we’ll definitely keep you in mind for a consultancy’.  And lo and behold such consultancies appeared.

For usually a year or more, the consultant would manage projects with a specific focus on policy. All well and good. You got your supa paid, you got your entitlements (Minister Hockey hated the word but loved the money!).  

As budgets contracted, being a contractor could also mean months of unemployment between work. Nine months is about average for mature age people between jobs. During this time I used to withdraw from my supa to keep afloat, who can live on Newstart at $290 a week, particularly if you are a sole parent? 

But things have changed.  We’re working in the ‘gig’ economy now – read ‘short term engagements’. 

In the gig economy, we’re now puppets of Facebook and mobile phones.  We’re working longer hours for less money, and signing contracts that are dodgy to say the least, but you wouldn’t complain.  We don’t get paid if we have to take a break, burnout happens. There’s often no sick pay working in the ‘gig economy’, no holiday leave, and no superannuation.   

On contract you can’t afford to pay supa anyway,  who had that mad idea !

There’s not even any enforcement regulation it seems, although the Super Guarantee is mandatory. Employers do as they like.  Joanna Mather writing in Tuesday’s (29 Aug, 2017), Australian Financial Review confirmed that the ATO estimates the gap between what employers nationally have paid and what they owe in terms of superannuation is $3.26 billion. 

ATO Superannuation Deputy Commissioner James O’Halloran said the ATO was stepping up the numbers of investigations undertaken in the area of Superannuation.  “The Super guarantee is a compulsory minimum contribution that employers must pay into employees superannuation accounts. The Senate Economics Committee is looking at tougher penalties.  Hooray.

Iceberg or New economy

The Foundation for Young Australians’ (FYA) New Work Order research series, encompasses five reports to date, analysing how disruption to the world of work has significant implications for young Australians. Established in 2015 the FYA has analysed over 20 billion hours of work completed by 12 million Australian workers each year to predict the skills and capabilities that will matter most in 2030.

Nearly one in three young people are currently unemployed or underemployed and on average
it takes 4.7 years to transition from full-time education to full-time work.  I personally query that statistic, I don’t see much full time work around, particularly permanent full time work.  It appears to be only prevalent in the public service.

The report shows that as technology reduces the need for workers to complete routine, manual tasks will be far less, they will spend more time focusing on people, solving strategic problems and thinking creatively.

A new commitment to skills, training, careers education and real jobs for young Australians; is now promised.

  • A promise and a plan for the equitable intergenerational transfer of knowledge, resources and power in the new economy

Based on subscription membership the foundation appears very helpful – creating leadership advice etc., but what will it actually do? Check out the website’s Youth Programs.   You be the judge, see what you think.

Automation is going to increase unemployment.

“Unemployment – the tip of the iceberg”

In a study produced for the Centre for Applied Economic Research at the University of New South Wales, Professor Mitchell and his Senior Research Officer Ellen Carlson, found high unemployment rates were persistent in all OECD economies.  They have been since the early 1970s and economists and policy makers claim it is the result of  “institutional arrangements in the labour market –  such as wage setting, unions, faulty government policies and welfare…[yet] after 25 years of harsh cutbacks and structural dislocation, unemployment remains persistently high.”  

Mitchell (2001) states in his conclusion,  “mass unemployment occurs because of deficient demand resulting from inadequate levels of net government spending”,  adding that the demand constraints and structural changes have been forced upon the workforce.

I couldn’t believe it this week when Senator MichaelIa Cash, the Unemployment Minister (sorry,  Minister for Employment), started spruiking ‘mature age employment’ yet again.  The government  is flailing around seeking good luck stories anywhere that will distract from its lack of policy legislation.  My god I thought,  had they found my thesis,  or noted the money poured in that direction before Howard grabbed the policy and it became the “Diversity Awards”? 

Shorten’s point

If the economy is to start moving again, people need money in their pockets. I think Shorten has a point. Inequality, issues with the Fair Work Act and superannuation, the energy crisis and yes a lack of jobs, are fuelling discontent.  We’ll be hearing more on all fronts.

Screen Legend…

This was the headline on the cover of the AFR on 13 August.  Patrick Grove couldn’t find anyone in Australia to back his start up Iflix.  His streaming service is now worth $700 million. 

Android phones are it – the way to stream content in Asia.  Writing in the Australian Financial Review, journalist John Stensholt said “Over the previous decade Grove now 42, established the iProperty Group, ICar Asia, and the IBuy Group  on the ASX. A young Grove pictured, watch him explain how he operates now in this video   

With a commerce degree from the University of Sydney, Grove joined the dot.com boom after two years at Arthur Anderson.   His property business alone sold for $751 million in 2016.

Enter iFlix which is run from Kuala Lumpur. IFlix is cheaper than Netflix.  This week the Company announced a $US133 million capital raising.  Iflix is now close to ‘unicorn’ status as a $1 billion tech company like Atlassian

Patrick Grove is still nurturing his baby.  On revenue he remarked “Celebrities are massive in our market” he said.  The typical celebrity can reach more people on Instagram than buying the front page of the newspaper every day for a week.  The company is targeting 3 billion people in 50 emerging markets in Asia.”  Smartphones – it seems they’re gold?


Having started this blog with North Korea,  I find myself quickly switching from provocative war mongering to dinner tonight.  

In January in 2016, whilst staying with my sister Candy in Northern Ireland,  my sisters and I had the most sumptuous home made dishes with a glass of wine (or three),  whilst she periodically shouted the word “homework” as her daughters meandered in and out of the kitchen tasting titbits.   Homework and pastry was the focus as the wind howled across the harbour below. 

We could even see snow on the mountains in Scotland from the living room window. This is why I end up making pastry,  it brings back so many wonderful memories.

Breaking News

CBS is set to shake up our TV market.  Having taken control of the TEN Network, the US giant is set to roll out its own streaming services in Australia.

Fortunately the planned Murdoch-Gordon take-over with bids for TEN conditional upon a favourable shake up of media ownership laws, has been thwarted. 

The looming media ownership legislation can now be binned,  one less for the government to have to think about.  Good.  

The offerings from the major public broadcaster  have been weak of recent,  and while I realise the ABC had to suffer $250 million in cuts thanks to Turnbull as Communications Minister, most people are streaming  entertainment, bored with endless repeats, cooking shows and mildly funny sitcoms. 

CBS according to Michael Smith, journalist writing for the AFR (29 Aug, 2017) “has the deep pockets and management expertise” to fix the struggling TEN Network.  The US giant was also Ten’s largest creditor with a $795.5million claim against the company.  

CBS’s All Access digital subscription membership costs only US$6 per month in the US.   Sounds good to me.


Seven members of the White Helmets rescue service were killed by assailants in a raid on their base in Sarmin.  Which assailants?  Why is the US expressing ‘sadness and horror’,  was the US responsible? See the above link.

The White Helmets, also known as Syria Civil Defence, search for survivors in the rubble of bombed buildings.

They gained international attention following an Oscar-winning Netflix documentary about their work. 

Local employment and affordable housing

I’m on his side,  yes I agree with the Major Bob Manning – the pensioner cottages in Parramatta Park should go,  save one maybe for posterity onsite but let’s get with the program – 30 couples into new affordable housing,  come on.

“ It’s a no brainer,”  says the Mayor.   Council will appeal the Heritage listing. Source: Public Housing Pensioner Cottages, Image Anna Rogers

End of blog quote

Occasionally I pull out one or other of my poetry books,  it helps to anchor myself in the garden. 

Purchased years ago in a book sale,  The Poetry of Gardens by M. Aumonier is a completely hand made book with illustrations dated 1944.  The two lines at the end of the book just delight me

“The flowers are holding revel to-night

For the garden is flooded with strange moonlight”…

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Jul 31

Retrieving trees II the new power of political reportage II Simmering discontent II artistic joy II

July Blog

Retrieving trees II the new power of political reportage II Simmering discontent II artistic joy II Quote of the month

Let’s start with something positive. Am sick of political rancour so this month is about “lost treasure”, how reporting can go viral, inequality (yes its important) and the joy of art in a poetic setting. 

Retrieving trees

Two Tasmanian entrepreneurs have developed a means of harvesting the old growth forests still standing at the bottom of the icy waters of Tasmania’s hydro-electric lakes.  This lost treasure of highly priced and increasingly rare timber; sassafras, celery top, Huon pine, myrtle and blackwood is a resource anticipated to last for many decades, and an increased boon for the island state.

Dreamt up over a few beers in the local pub, Andrew Morgan, an environmental consultant and David Wise his business partner, developed Hydrowood. It’s a significant achievement.  The operation began commercial harvesting in 2015 with seed money of $5 million, a federal government grant aimed at assisting Tasmania’s struggling forestry industry.  The men raised an additional $2m privately. (Image courtesy of ABC Northern Tasmania, Rick Eaves)

Lake Pieman on the shores of western Tasmania is the first lake to be surveyed by Sonar, and a custom-built barge manoeuvres and excavates the timber from as deep as 26m below the lake’s calm surface.The timber has been miraculously preserved due to water’s icy temperatures, the oxygen levels and sun protection afforded by the tannin-stained water. The timber is sold to craftsmen in Tasmania and Victoria who say it is easier to work with than normal timber.  Mr Morgan estimates Lake Pieman’s timber will last ten years and Hydrowood has the rights to harvest the drowned forests of Lake Gordon, and four other lakes have also been surveyed.  “There is relief but pride is the overwhelming emotions” said Andrew Morgan,  he believes the business may well have timber resources for 100 years. Source: Matthew Denholm, Weekend Australian July 8-9 The Nation p7

The new power of political reportage…

In The Saturday Paper July 29, Zambian born Santilla Chingaipe who is an Australian award-winning journalist and documentary film maker, takes issue with journalists commentary going viral.  Chingaipe asks – what does engagement look like online and is ‘going viral’ a measure of success?  The ABC’s political editor Chris Uhlmann who has fronted the 7.30 Report and the National Press Club’s Luncheon speakers and parliamentary debates, found himself covering the G20 summit in Hamburg. His 2.5minute report on Trump caused a social media sensation.  The “on-camera commentary went viral and was praised by commentators and journalists alike”.  Trump “managed to isolate his nation, confuse and alienate his allies and diminish America”, he said.  “It’s the unscripted Trump that’s real, a man who barks out bile in 140 characters, who wastes his precious days as president at war with the West’s institutions, like the judiciary, independent government agencies and the free press.  He was an uneasy, lonely awkward figure at this gathering.” Journalist Chris Uhlmann defends his commentary. Photo image: Andrew Meares, Canberra Times.

Chingaipe said Uhlmann’s commentary raised questions about a journalists’s role at such events, are they there to reflect opinion or to have one?  A spokesperson for the ABC said “Chris Uhlmann is the ABC’s political editor and his analysis was based on his observations and reporting… the primary purpose of analytic content is to aid understanding and offer the audience [a] richer context and information about an issue.  As a specialist with expert knowledge of a subject area,  this is a regular part of Mr Ulhmann’s role.”

While agreed, in asking questions about the impact of clickbait on social media platforms, credibility and trust must be at the forefront, journalists are under pressure with declining revenues, new sources of unvetted information, the 24 hr media cycle, dangerous assignments and ever increasingly complex technology, to deliver the news.  Professionals such as Uhlmann should be applauded in my opinion and the ABC’s view on the piece going viral speaks volumes for the national broadcaster which is constantly having to justify its funding.  

Breaking News: Facebook reported $US9.3 billion in revenue for the second quarter of this year, up 45% from the same period last year.  Profit rose to $3.9billion, up 71% from last year. There is an ‘ad load’ limit it can place in its news fed without disturbing its 2 billion Facebook customers.  Mobiles continue to be the driver of growth for the social media giant. Source: The Australian Financial Review Friday 28 July, p14, Journalist: Mike Isaac.

Simmering discontent – inequality

There is a lot of talk at present of inequality and unfairness and it is not just Australia’s Labour party initiating it. The New Internationalist devoted its entire July/August issue to the subject.  Australia did not even figure in their table of countries listed, but the United States and the United Kingdom were listed as the most inequal with the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland being the least inequal.  

It is a fact that a sustainable society leaves little trace of its existence. Hunter gatherer societies distributed and bartered food and goods. Danny Dorling, in his book The Equality Effect,  states the obvious that equality matters in terms of health and happiness but new data reveals in more equal countries, people consume less, produce less waste and emit less carbon.  Australia is listed as No 14 on his chart (2015). Those less inequal include countries like France, Japan and New Zealand with the least inequality being in Denmark.

Surprisingly the poorest countries are shown to have the least emissions.  Philip Lowe, Governor of the Reserve Bank said of inequality “It’s risen,  it rose quite a lot in the 80s and 90s and it’s risen … recently.” Housing which tends to be owned by the wealthy was a case in point. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair, Rod Sims said the sale of ports and electricity infrastructure and the opening of vocational education to private companies had caused him and the public to lose faith in privatisation and deregulation. “I’m now almost at the point of opposing privatisation because it’s severely damaging our economy.”  Deregulating the electricity market and selling poles and wires in Queensland and NSW has seen power prices almost double over five years. Mr Sims also said monopolies had been created without suitable regulation to control how much these monopolies could then charge users.  

Wayne Swan (ex Treasurer under the Gillard government) spoke on the 7.30 report recently,  saying inequality meant that capitalism must change.  I would argue that economic rationalism is the beast at fault. While capitalism is defined as an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit rather than the state,  economic rationalism is characterised by minimal government intervention, tax cuts, privatization and the deregulation of labour markets.  Writing for the Sydney Morning Herald,  Ross Gittins rightly states “The doctrine of economic rationalism not only assumes self-interest to be normal and altruism to be non-existent,  it sanctifies self interest as a civic virtue.”  

This is the basic problem, and while Philip Lowe discussing the stagnant economy said “We don’t want to be creating a sense of excessive anxiety,” this is precisely what is happening.  Throughout the developed countries, rampant free market capitalism has hollowed out the middle classes and created vast armies of the working poor, leading to stagnant economies and deep political polarisation.  As Gitttins writes “When you’re worried about keeping your job, you don’t complain about the cost of living”,  nor would you ask for a pay rise or spend money on non-essentials.   

The ABC Four Corners program continues to unearth injustice with Aveo retirement villages gouging large administration and refurbishment fees from the elderly and multinationals are seen to be tampering with water meters and stealing water from farmers downstream on the Murray Darling.  It is the politics of greed that is running the show in Australia and as Labour’s Bill Shorten is aware,  there will be a electoral backlash.  

Millenials working in the ‘gig’ economy – unstable, insecure and low paid

The government seems incapable of reining-in these illegal excesses. With huge increases in electricity bills, unaffordable housing, high unemployment (skewed statistics) and disruptive robotics and AI intelligence set to remove 40-50% of current jobs,  it is little wonder families are letting out rooms and garages, grown up children are returning to the nest and those in employment are faced with sham and/or short term contracts. Employers are seen to be underpaying their staff, not paying their income tax contributions or superannuation. Employees are being bullied, coerced and intimated, some having to sign time sheets that illustrate less hours than they actually worked and having their hours cut adhoc, forcing those in employment to seek (and if they’re lucky), hold down two or three casual part times jobs, all on low wages. Those people particularly youth are too frightened to complain let alone retaliate. Neither does a university degree guarantee employment.  Watch this space.

Sources: New Internationalist, The Saturday Paper, July 29, ‘Ravelling Economy” by Karen Middleton p4., Sydney Morning Herald, Patrick Hatch 27 July 2016,  and Ross Gittins 7 Sept., 2011.

Breaking News: Aveo’s Chief Executive Geoff Grady warns against adverse consequences of regulatory changes (Australian Financial Review, Michael Bleby, Thurs 27 July, 2017).  The company suffered a 20% slump in its share price after media investigations exposed sharp practices affecting the elderly. The negative reports have triggered an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Federal Minister Michael McCormack said he was concerned by the excessive fees and charges – high exit fees and exorbitant refurbishment costs. Grady claimed the deferred management fees freed up capital for residents and minimised ongoing cash contributions.  Who is he kidding?

Artistic joy…

Two weeks ago I visited the Tweed Regional Gallery in NSW.  As my mother was friends with artist Margaret Olley who was born in Lismore,  it was fitting to see her Sydney residence reproduced at the gallery.  Also on display was an outstanding landscape exhibition by Andrew Hmelnitksy and a photographic exhibition of David Hockney’s work whom I remember from my time living in London.

I listened to the video at the gallery and now I will never argue about the state of my ex-husband’s studio, highly creative people it seems, don’t worry about ‘mess’ they are completely pre-occupied with the process of divine art in all its forms.


End of blog quote: There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore,  there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, the music in its roar:  I love Man the less but Nature more.

Lord Byron.

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Jun 30

Blood suckers II Penalty rates II Music legend II Global seed vault II Sustainability

June Blog

Introduction II  Blood suckers II Penalty rates II Greg Allman II Global seed vault  II Sustainability II Quote of the month

This month’s blog which will be brief, it looks at Aveo, one of Australia’s largest companies in the aged sector, penalty rates in a city where tourism is king and casualisation is queen – pity the poor worker II a tribute to a musical legend – Greg Allman and the Allman Brothers Band II securing the world’s seed vault and Tasmania’s pledge to future generations.

Four Corners (ABC Monday 26 June) featured an expose of Aveo, one of Australia’s biggest listed companies in the retirement village sector. The focus of the program was the company’s outright gouging of the elderly and urgent legislation is required to curb excessive profits by the private sector post deregulation.

Aveo is in the business of retirement villages, selling or leasing accommodation to the elderly as they age. The problem is their business model is a financial trap.  In February in The Australian, Aveo boasted a profits surge of 82%..$108 million in a year (2016).  Aveo is partially owned by Malaysian property company MUPHA. Both Aveo and Mupha are chaired by Malaysian billionaire, Seng Huan Lee.

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May 30

Unemployment II Casualisation II Disrupters II Nature matters II Safeguarding the future II Madmen in White House II Assange innocent II

May blog

Contents: Introduction II Unemployment II Casualisation II Disrupters II Nature matters II Safeguarding the future II Madmen in the White House II Assange innocent II End of blog quote II 


I’ve been reading a lot lately, not sure whether it’s the poor offerings on television or the cooler autumn temperatures. ‘Optimism’ by Bob Brown was a joy to read – it rekindled my love of environmentalism. And ‘Down the Dirt Roads’ by Rachael Treasure, a dog and horse trainer, had me reeling at the loss of her farm in Tasmania.

Nature is so much stronger than any politician or multi-national. On 26 December, 2004 a tsunami approached Indonesia, its depth was 30 kilometres, with a maximum runup of 167 feet, 230-280,000 people died.  

In 1984, I remember living in Cornwall in a lighthouse cottage with my 3 year old son Ben,  listening to the radio.   It was in the morning, a dull day, stormy and grey. We had no TV or phone. The BBC announcer was talking about Afghanistan where the Russians seeking to overturn the rebels (Mujahideen), laid mines (PFM-1) which were often mistaken as toys by children who picked them up and were blown to bits.  Did the Mujahideen surrender…  no, a civil war ensued and the Taliban and al-Qaeda (Osama bin Laden) established the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. 

The rest is history, we are not safer, we are not treating the world well, we are not treating one another well.  And we are becoming more monitored and controlled.  


Using the phrase ‘Creating jobs’ is a slogan certain to gain electoral votes.   Looking at immigration, foreign aid and the refugee crisis, Tony Mitchelmore, a qualitative researcher working for Visibility, is quoted in The Saturday Paper,  May 20…”It is not generally racist…essentially…It’s about job insecurity.”   Data gleaned from targeted focus groups confirm “the mining boom’s over and things have stalled – we can’t compete with Asia,  manufacturing industries are closing.” Mitchelmore further states “It’s about unemployment, underemployment and the casualisation of the workforce.  Wages have stagnated and the cost of living’s still rising up.”

Most employers don’t provide professional development anymore, although they should,  some employers don’t even pay the SUPA they are legally bound to pay.  Now we have penalty rates for Sunday hours being removed and God forbid, if your hours are cut and you have to apply for Newstart at $267 per week.

If you decide to study Austudy is $218 per week or $268 if you are moving from long term unemployed to study. 

For 18-24yr olds, the Youth Allowance is worse still, at just $144 per week if you’re living at home, or $218 if you’re living away from home. How can anyone survive under these circumstances? 

Well you can’t – so you have to look for work (and now volunteer as well) and/or be studying, both of which cost money. You have to look for somewhere cheap to live – possibly in a share house, or at home with parents until you find a job. And that is harder than one would think. 

Some employers even request your academic records. It’s difficult to gain high distinctions when you are working casual with insecure hours and Centrelink obligations. When I went to University as a result of a stroke which limited my abilities working in television, I had all the above problems with the added responsibility of being a sole parent.  

Reporting in Inquirer for The Weekend Australian, Ewin Hannan said “Full-time jobs are eluding far too many millennials”. Stacy (27) has to do a one year internship despite the fact she is a University qualified psychologist. Try counselling, she did…and found it requires a 100 hr placement (usually with Lifeline). Carissa (24) has been on the dole for 79 wks. She finished Yr 12, took a Diploma at the Melbourne School of Fashion, has a Certificate in retail and has volunteered at the Salvos for the past two years. Michele Depina (23) completed Yr 12, has a Diploma in Information Technology as well as a TAFE Certificate in software programming “I will just have to hope it gets me somewhere.” 

“The number of full time jobs has fallen by almost 60% since 2010,” says Hannan.  “And it is the millennials, the generation born between the early 1980s to the mid to late 90s, who are especially affected.  A rapid decline in low skilled entry level jobs and the rise of the ‘gig’ economy (those working as contractors with or without Degrees, and precarious employment arrangements) means young people are struggling to make ‘ends’ meet and they simply cannot save,  applying for a loan would be impossible. Casual employees don’t even get a ‘look in’.  See p.3 of the attached report for a self explanatory graph on underemployment, unemployment and underutilisation. (Images: Courtesy of abc.net.au)

Youth Unemployment Monitoring – know the facts

Generation stalled – Underemployment and Unemployment in Australia 2017

Sources: Mike Seccombe, The Saturday Paper May 20-26,  Ewen Hannan, Inquirer p17, The Weekend Australian, May 20-21, 2017, Brotherhood of St Laurence


Reporting in The Australian (Aug  2016) Paul Cleary writes “Employers use a myriad of means to reduce labour costs. Whether it is hiring more juniors, casuals, part-timers, trainees or migrants on short-term visas, the drive to remain competitive through cheaper and more flexible labour hire can be seen throughout the economy. This in turn is hiding massive levels of underemployment.

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