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. 

SUPA NOT

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?

PASTRY

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.

HEARTACHE

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 

Introduction

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.  

Unemployment

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

Casualisation 

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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Apr 29

Morally indefensible II Innovation JCU II Nasty world – Trump II One belt One road II Power bills to soar II

APRIL BLOG

Contents: Morally indefensible II Innovation JCU II Nasty world – Trump II II One belt, One road II Rogue company II Power bills to soar II Quote of the month II 

Morally indefensible

People working long term in the public service and living in public housing make me angry. Well paid, six months paid leave after 10 years, salary sacrifice arrangements, TOIL, 12% supa, paid holidays, sick leave, it goes on.  Everyone knows a permanent public service job is gold.  The limit on assets in order to be eligible for public housing is $90,000.  The most recent statistics on homelessness indicate 19,838 people in Qld and 105,237 nationally (ABS, 2011). The wait list for public housing in Qld I am told, is nearer 200,000.   Public housing is for disadvantaged people not those working in the public service permanently over a long period of time.  

Innovation – nature-based technology

Turning a problem into a solution is what Dr Madoc Sheehan does.  With Assoc. Professor Kirsten Heimann and two student researchers, the JCU team have successfully produced a microalgae biofilm that can absorb nitrogen and heavy metals from tailings water.  Their experiment conducted at the tailings dam at Qld Nickel, revealed dissolved heavy metals, while cleaning the water.  

Assoc. Prof. Heimann said then “the water can be more easily re-used …and poses less of a danger to the reef.”   When harvested 10% of the algae’s dry weight was made of pollutants. Dr Sheehan confirmed that 40% of the tailings water was carbohydrate which made it suitable for converting into a biofuel e.g., ethanol.  This same biofuel could be used to harvest and grow the algae again,  a complete remedial cycle.  

Dr Sheehan (pic) has received many awards for embedding sustainability into the engineering curriculum. “Eventually we’ll be able to clean mine waste water using algae, concentrate the heavy metals, sequester CO2 and turn it back into energy.”

Mine waste becomes a resource. Source JCU Media release 13 Apr 2017

 

A nasty world

Referring to the world,  President Trump said “right now it’s nasty.”  Having dropped the Mother of all bombs on a network of caves and tunnels (Tora bora) used by ISIS and close to the Pakistan border,(Apr 14).. and fired some 60 missiles at an air base used to launch planes which bombed civilians in a chemical warfare attack (sarin gas) in Syria (Apr 7), Trump has illustrated he is not fearful of taking action.  

Also reported in The Weekend Australian April 22-23, an Egyptian American aid worker imprisoned in Egypt for three years has been released after Trump’s diplomatic intervention.  Aya Hijazi, her husband and four other aid workers, were arrested and charged with child abuse and human trafficking.  The bogus charges were widely dismissed  by human rights groups.  Ms Hijazi who is a dual citizen, had established a foundation to help street children in Egypt. Pic: Aya and President Trump at the White House.

Unfortunately the US is said to be closing in on Australian WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. But according to Cameron Stewart writing as Washington correspondent for The Weekend Australian, “any successful prosecution would need to prove Assange went beyond his role as a publisher or journalist in leaking classified documents.”  Barry Pollack, representing Assange, said “WikiLeaks is a publisher and they are publishing truthful information that is in the public’s interest.” Assange has been held up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012. 

Source: Sarah Blake, Newscorp, NY, Apr 14, 2017, ABC News, Wall Street Journal, The Weekend Australian

The world is indeed a nasty place when you consider 20 million people face starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria, and this figure includes 1.4 million children.  The Islamist group, Boko Haram are increasingly forcing children to carry out suicide bombing missions.  Around Lake Chad (Nigeria) 117 attacks have been carried out since 2014, 80% of the bombs were strapped to girls who were sometimes drugged before their missions. An estimated 500 children are still missing including half the girls who were kidnapped by the terrorist group in 2014. While Boko Haram are said to be in retreat the UNHCR has said 2.25 million people have been displaced.

Seven hundred Palestian prisoners held in Israeli jails have begun a hunger strike over conditions. Led by Fatah Marwan Barghouti, a potential successor to the current Palestinian president.

Israel has been blasted for approving its new Emek Shilo settlement in February 2017. More than 600,000 Jews live in 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The settlements are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Even Israel’s highest court deemed the Amona settlement illegal and residents had to be evicted. Pictured, a Palestinian boy looks on during clashes with Israeli soldiers near Qadomem in the West Bank. Source – Abed Omar Qusini, Reuters, Aljazeera News 

While in Venezuela chronic shortages of food and medicine have lead to major protests. The country is in recession with inflation running at 63%. Venezuela boasts the world’s largest oil reserves and yet its homicide and inflation rates are among the world’s highest (The Guardian Weekly 21 April). President Maduro has also silenced the media.  In recent weeks Peru, Brazil and Argentina have led an effort to censure Venezuela. Some of Maduro’s hardline supporters face indictments for drug trafficking and corruption in the United States.  

Source:  Cairns Post April 13, p36, Guardian Weekly, Al Jazeera

One belt, One road – BR

The ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) initiative is a Chinese economic and strategic agenda by which the two ends of Eurasia, as well as Africa and Oceania, are being more closely tied along two routes–one overland and one maritime. Supporters suggest that the initiative permits new infrastructure and economic aid to be provided to needy economies. Critics claim that it facilitates Chinese economic and strategic domination of the countries along these routes. 

Geoff Wade from the Dept of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security explains the Australian Government’s assessment.  “On land, the plan is to build a new Eurasian land bridge and develop the economic corridors between China-Mongolia-Russia, Central and West Asia, the Indo-China peninsula, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Myanmar.  On the seas the initiative will focus on jointly building secure and efficient transport routes connecting major sea ports.”

China has massive capital reserves—both state and private, achieved through 40 years of rapid economic growth, and the OBOR is intended as an outlet for the vast excess production capacities which exist today in China. The initiative conceptualised by Chinese President Xi Jinping, will cost $5.3 trillion. Beijing will host a summit mid May on the Silk Road initiative and many world leaders are expected (and it would be sensible) to attend. Author: The focus of OBOR now termed ‘BR’, is in my opinion, to increase China’s dominance of world trade, strengthen the Chinese currency,…oh and sell lots of goods in the process..   

Santos – rogue company 

Prosecuted for pollution and damage to an aquifer in northern NSW (Sydney Morning Herald, March 8, 2014) when drilling for coal seam gas, Santos this year was found to be extracting 25% of east coast gas to meet its long term overseas gas contracts. Matt Chambers of The Weekend Australian (Apr 22-23) reported Santos as having taken 59% of its gas in March from third parties rather than use its own supply.  Jennifer Howard reporting for the Australian Financial Review 10 Apr., “the combined $70 billion to build the 3 separate projects has meant none are nearly as profitable as expected, given [current] low oil prices.”

But as Chambers pointed out, “it is hard to get away from the fact,  Santos and partners (France, Malaysia and Korean companies) approved a 2-train project that would rely on third party gas and that amount has grown substantially since 2011.  Santos management are responsible.  Some gas purchases were linked to development, its true, but gas used to be $3-$4 a gigajoule, and businesses are finding they now have to pay $12 to $20 per gigajoule.

Power prices to soar

The Australian government stepped into the energy crisis yesterday and put a cap on gas exports. Looks like Santos will have to buy abroad.

I hope its expensive. I am not happy about increasing power bills, when Australia has the resources.  The Australian government needs to get a grip on energy and price carbon. 

 

End of Blog quote: ‘Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature, it will never fail you’ – Monet
Pic: Lion rock,  SW Tasmania. Photo; Grant Dixon 2007

 

 

 

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Mar 28

Energy crisis II World water day II Climate change II Empire or vampire – Amazon

MARCH BLOG

Contents: Energy crisis II World Water Day II Climate change II Amazon – empire or vampire II Peter Dunne – artist

Not in my wildest dreams, did I ever think I would welcome a cyclone.  We have had four months of excruciating heat and high humidity, today’s temperature is expected to be a wicked 37 degrees celsius.  

As reported by Joshua Robertson in The Guardian Weekly this month (p1. 17.03.17) “The Great Barrier Reef is suffering a ‘mass bleaching’ for an unprecedented second consecutive year”.  Calling it an underwater heatwave, the GBMPA’s David Watchenfeld stated  “The climate is changing and that’s bringing a much greater frequency of extreme weather events to the reef”.  For Cairns this is serious, tourism is still our major economic driver.  

We are in the midst of global warming. It is arguable we are beyond the point of no return.  What is the action plan?  It’s certainly not helpful when our government spends last week debating race and hate speech and gay marriage. 

Climate Change Policy and Action

3.2°C – this is the expected increase in average global temperatures based on current pledges to reduce emissions, as projected by the UN.  It is way above the agreed target negotiated in Paris at the Paris climate conference (COP21) in December 2015 where 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. The limit to global warming was set at below 2°C.  Referring to the most recent State of the Climate Report (2016) by the CSIRO in Australia – 

  • Ocean temperatures and acidity have increased affecting corals and fish production
  • Sea levels have risen.  This we know.

Photograph: Brett Monroe/ Garner/Greenpeace

A brief and basic note on climate change .. Energy comes from the Sun.  In order to maintain stable temperatures at the Earth’s surface, in the long run energy from the sun has to be balanced by an equal amount of heat radiated back into space.

Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide, act to increase the temperature of the Earth’s surface, oceans and atmosphere making it harder for the Earth to radiate this heat upwards, this is called the greenhouse effect.  

Greenhouse gases are largely emitted by the burning of fossil fuels and changes to land use,  the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is rising and surface temperatures are increasing.  There is now an energy imbalance.  

The atmosphere and oceans will continue to warm until enough extra heat can escape up into the atmosphere to allow the Earth to return to balance.  Because carbon dioxide increases persist in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, further warming and sea level rise is locked in.

The greenhouse effect 

While some governments globally, and courts are taking this seriously,  in Australia arguments continue about the best approach, meanwhile the average temperature in NSW on February 11, was 44°C.  Paul Kelly in his lead article ‘Switch off the politics to solve energy crisis’, remarked  “spiralling power prices, shortages and system unreliability [that’s what we are facing] as the long and unresolved issue of climate change is overtaken by an energy emergency.” 

The Financial Review (Thurs 9 Mar) reported “There is a shortfall in gas-fired electricity in NSW, Victoria and South Australia – looming gas shortages [are] forecast for eastern states as the bulk of coal seam gas is exported.”  On the bright side, Australia has massive gas reserves.  In fact Australia is set to become the world’s biggest LNG exporter.   But what a mess. The Australian Energy Market Operator (who’s that?) is quoted as saying “holistic planning across the entire energy supply chain is now imperative.”   Hello ….

(Source: Journalists, Laura Tingle and Mark Ludlow reporting on Energy)

In December 2016, South Australia had a state-wide blackout caused by a freak storm, 75,000 customers were affected.  Then in February 60,000 customers lost power as temperatures topped 40°C.  Now this is more serious, 90,000 homes had no power for 27 minutes.  Then later in the month NSW experienced rolling blackouts across the state, as a result of load shedding.  

Commenting in The Australian today (Fri 31 Mar), former Trade Minister Andrew Robb described the loss of power and blackouts resulting from the nation’s chaotic energy distribution as a ‘crime’.  Robert Gottliebsen, Economics writer went further “Every word uttered by ministers as they vandalised the network and created high prices needs to be examined.”  We now know that solar and wind installations required back up and what should have happened was a reconfiguration of the power network which didn’t and as yet, hasn’t happened. 

Finally some action – on March 14, the South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill announced his government would spend more than $500 million to build a new gas-fired power plant and Australia’s largest battery farm (100MW) as it moves to secure the state’s energy supplies. Electricity prices are now being driven up by policy failure and according to the Australian Energy Council “the price impact is now effectively equivalent to a carbon price in excess of $50 a tonne”.  

Prime Minister Turnbull steps in with a $2 billion extension to the Snowy.  Atlassian and Tesla were already in on the act.  Battery parks can be linked to wind farms or solar generation or connected to the grid.  Alan Kohler (who reports for the ABC, The Weekend Australian and Constant Investor) said,  “batteries can shoot power into the system in a nanosecond for just five minutes, and turn off again just as quickly.”  That sounds like a boost.

Meanwhile Xenophon won’t sign – no company tax cuts till the energy crisis is resolved.  Well done Nick.

“Agricultural exports are now second only to iron ore and bigger than coal, in importance to the national economy; most Australians don’t realise that,” Mr Joyce told The Australian in an exclusive interview.

Deputy Prime Minister,  Barnaby Joyce will gain fresh money $4 billion in fact, to deliver funds for drought relief direct to farmers, The loan facility will also create new dams and weirs and irrigation pipelines.

National agricultural production will exceed $60 billion in value this year, for the first time. Food and rural exports are already worth $48bn to the economy, cattle and sheep prices are at an all-time high and an unprecedented 52.4 million tonnes of wheat, grain and pulse crops have just been harvested. Higher prices on the back of surging export demand are also directing a greater share of profits to Australia’s 135,000 farmers.

Source : Sue Neales, Reporter – Rural/Regional Affairs, The Australian Mar 29, 2017

And now in a new political brawl,  enter Environment Minister Greg Hunt who has just approved an open cut coal mine – Shenhua,  in some of Australia’s best agricultural land., NSW Liverpool Plains. Sue Neales was further reporting today that Super Funds are moving into agriculture.  Agriculture is the strongest growing sector of the economy.  It soared to 8.3% of GDP in Dec 2016, double the growth rate of the mining sector.  

Advice to government: Get with the program, sort out the energy crisis. 

WHO | World Water Day 2017: Why waste water

60 powerful images World Water Day

World Water Day on 22 March every year, is about taking action to tackle the water crisis. Today, there are over 663 million people living without a safe water supply who spend countless hours queuing or trekking to distant sources, and coping with the health impacts of using contaminated water. This year’s theme: Why waste water?  How about DON’T waste water.

World Water Day – 60 powerful images

Images – above …In Bangladesh,  the polluted Buriganga river in Dhaka,  a woman collecting water to rinse vegetables (AFP).

A boy drinks water from a pipe in the rebel-held besieged town of Douma, east of Damascus, Syria (Reuters). 

 

Amazon – empire or vampire

Amazon fresh is heading to Australia. US retail powerhouse, Amazon is preparing to launch its food and groceries services in Australia this year.  Advertising for technical staff in Brisbane is happening. office space in Melbourne is secured along with trade marks etc. Eli Greenblat, (SMH & the Australian) said “”it will pose a huge threat to supermarket chains like Coles and Woolworths. It may be as much as 30% cheaper when it pushes the button.” 

Jeff Bezos who has taken the long term approach to investment, is famous for telling competitors “your margin is my opportunity.”  With total sales per year of $131 billion, Amazon is scooping 50% of all online retail sales growth in the US. Microsoft is its strongest competitor but Google and IBM are formidable too.    Since 2015 Amazon’s price has jumped by 173%, with a market capitalisation of some $400 billion,  Amazon is the fifth most valuable firm in the world.  Interestingly 92% of its value is due to profits expected after 2020.  

Amazon Fresh is coming.  But will Australians buy fruit and veg online?  I wonder.  There’s nothing like the local market (pictured Rusty’s weekend markets in Cairns).

Finally farmers battling drought will get some respite in the 2017 budget. James Massola reporting for The Age on Saturday March 25, said that $4.5 billion will be channelled through the Dept of Agriculture and Water Resources, the Department fronted by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.  

And now to Art – Peter Dunne’s art.
Part of the India exhibition, this is the road to Thamsar Jot.  Spectacular !
On his website there is an Australian exhibition too and a ‘greed’ exhibition with video. 
Watch …Peter Dunne – giving away his art in the financial district of London
Peter Dunne’s website  …art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

End of blog quote:  The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge. – Bertrand Russell 

  
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Feb 17

Verification II Tucker’d Out II Strike action II Innovation & affordable housing II Superannuation II

BLOG FEBRUARY 2017

Content:  Verification II Tucker’d Out II Strike action II Innovation & affordable housing II Supeanuation – a time bomb II

This month’s blog will be brief and it’s early as am off to Thailand for a break.  

Verification – My January Blog received verification with the SBS broadcasting a piece on ‘Fake/Alternative’ news in last night’s bulletin at 6.30pm.  Trump[et] likes to make outlandish statements, often retracted at a later date. Journalists working on the 24/7 cycle have screens to fill and newspapers to publish, the repetitiveness however turns people off.  Australian writer Claude Miragliotta, says “the media harmonises with the negativity [which can infiltrate] our minds and this perpetuates pessimism.”  The Centrelink clawback program is still generating coverage with Centrelink staff to strike later this month.  On pollies entitlements,  the Gold Card for retiring pollies (except PMs) finally got the axe this week, and housing affordability and the budget deficit are current hot topics. More on Climate change and renewable energy next month.  

“Lipstick on your collar” Artist Glen O’Malley,        2013 courtesy of KickArts website

Tucker’d Out – Brian Tucker is an accountant who practises in Brisbane.  Since 1998 Mr Tucker has collected over 1000 pieces of contemporary Australian art.  The KickArts Collective housed at COCA in Abbott Street, Cairns are showcasing highlights from this fabulous collection. This is the first time that Mr Tucker has invited the public to view his private collection. Quoted in the Saturday Weekend Post Mr Tucker said “I’m delighted with it being open to the public,  Art is created to be seen…” Mr Tucker said he accidentally started collecting,  the exhibition was curated by Miriam Carter and will run until April 8,  don’t miss it. 

Centrelink staff to strike amid debt-recovery controversy

Centrelink staff will launch two weeks of rolling industrial action from February 13 in response to the Government’s controversial debt-recovery scheme.The ABC understands the strike action is expected to result in delays at Centrelink offices and call centres across Australia, but those working on robo-debt calls will be exempt.

From what .. striking?

The program has issued nearly 170,000 notices of potential overpayment. In some cases, welfare recipients have been forced to start repaying fortnight instalments to Centrelink despite continuing to contest their records. The Department of Human Services, which manages the Centrelink and Medicare programs, was informed of the strike action on Friday.  The strikes be held on February 13, 15, 17, 20, 22 and 24.  

This is not about the program,  its about more pay ! 

In March last year, it was reported in The Australian by journalist Sid Mayer that a claw back of $329 million had been achieved in the first six months of the operation. The government [last year] introduced further welfare compliance measures into parliament, including imposing an interest charge on debts, removing the six- year limit on debt recovery and preventing debtors leaving the country without clearing debts. Centrelink is also monitoring social media pages.

Innovation – Affordable Housing 

Last month I mentioned Brad Harris and Victoria Roads (Vic Roads) and their innovative plan to build mobile studio units (57 x $80,000) on disused allotments around Melbourne to aid the homeless.  Scott Morrison also went to the UK to investigate what was happening there with affordable housing.  Councils there have got back into building.  “More than a third of UK local authorities [councils] are setting up their own house-building companies which act like commercial developers.

Sheffield council has announced plans to build 2300 homes over 15 years, Croydon will deliver 1000 homes over three years, half for affordable rental and the other half for private sale. Barking and Dagenham have the biggest plans with 42,500 homes to be built over 15 years through a variety of joint ventures. 

Architect Paul Karakusevic has an Award winning architectural practice which works specifically on social housing projects for local authorities.  It is currently designing 3000 homes for 13 London councils.  “Mr Karakusevic has also written an optimistic book for the Royal Institute of British Architects, looking at the new wave of social housing.

Rather than partnering with developers,  councils can achieve around a third more affordable housing on each project” he said.  Source :  Oliver Wainwright, UK News, The Guardian Weekly 17 Feb 2017). 

“The REIQ has expressed disappointment in the State Government’s decision to NOT broaden the first home buyer grant to include established homes.  The REIQ’s lobbying efforts were supported by the Far North Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils (ROC).”   The problem here is that new house and land packages are $3-400K locally,  whereas a review of established units and houses reveal prices in the much more affordable range of $150-250,000, possible with both parties working full time.

Many young people in Cairns work in retail and tourism where jobs are contractual, casual or permanent part time, making it difficult to obtain bank loans and mortgages. Public housing is available only for the most disadvantaged which sees most public housing being awarded to indigenous or people with a disability.  So young people have to struggle to save from their wages.

It would be helpful if the first home buyer grant could be extended,  surely its better to have people buying rather than renting which is dead money.  Renting is insecure and as one’s working life ends, it is more difficult and can lead to further welfare dependency with ‘rent assistance’ needed via Centrelink.  If it was trialled for a 3 year period,  and construction on new houses monitored at the same time, this is at least an opportunity to see if housing affordability eases.  Give it a go.  REIQ and ROC are to be commended for advocating.

Superannuation – a time bomb

In December 2016, the Turnbull government put together a working group to examine superannuation following an Industry Super Australia report found that up to one in three Australians were being short-changed by their employers in their obligatory superannuation guarantee payments.  

The group which is chaired by the ATO with representatives from APRA, ASIC and the Dept of Employment and Treasury has failed to seek input from those working in the industry.    The ATO claims it does not have the wherewithal to estimate the extent of underpayments.  

Reporting in the Australian (Michael Roddan, Jan 26, 2017), ‘the issue of super guarantee non-compliance has been a high profile topic …since 2010.”  Relevant parties had not been informed of the new working group which was appointed by Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer (pictured).  Both the ISA and Cbus super fund analysis estimates $3.6bn was unpaid in 2013-14 alone.  The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia has put the annual figure at about $2.75bn affecting more than 650,000 Australians.  I would suggest this is the tip of the iceberg.  I myself am aware of young people who have not been paid their relevant super by employers.  

A final report is due at the end of March.  It is a common misconception that SG contributions are not payable to for contractors registered with an ABN.  However, where a contract is predominantly labour related an employer/employee relationship is deemed to exist for the purpose of SG contributions.  Watch this space.

Source Image :  ABC Q&A 

End of blog quote:  Yesterday is history,  tomorrow is mystery,  today is a gift – thank you to Yoga teacher.

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