August 28, 2015

Horse 1969 - The Commonwealth Of Apathy (Why Switching To A Republic Isn't All That Great)

Roughly about once every five years, either as a smokescreen to cover over a more serious issue or because someone has had a dip in the popularity polls, the idea of an Australian Republic bubbles to the top of the collective consciousness and floats around for a while, before sinking back beneath the surface again. I'm not a staunch monarchist; I don't have any special affection for the Royal Family but by the same token I am definitely not in favour of changing to a republic either because I think that the downsides outweigh whatever imagined benefits might exist.

Republicans will argue that an independent nation should have an independent head of state and whilst there is a fair amount of truth in that, it is impossible to argue that Australia hasn't already been an independent nation in every legal sense since the Statue of Westminster Adoption Act of 1942. Australia makes laws on behalf of Australia and no other countries' laws that are passed affect Australia. There is a provision in section 58 of the Constitution for the Governor-General to hold bills aside for the monarch to sign but in practice this almost never happens because the Governor-General normally signs off on laws themselves. The Governor-General remains for all intents and purposes the last pair of hands that a bill must go through in order to become law.
Yet as the head of the armed forces and as the one who holds the power to appoint Prime Ministers and dissolve parliaments, the Governor-General is not just a bit player in a figurehead position. In the 1975 Constitutional Crisis for instance, when Sir John Kerr sacked the Whitlam Government, he did so with good reason. The government was unable to pass a budget and the deadlock was broken with the best possible solution - the dismissing of a Prime Minister, the passing of the budget that day and the calling of a Federal election.

I completely understand the desire to alter the symbolism so that it no longer includes a reminder that the British Empire simply just tuned up, stole an entire continent through the cunning use of flags and displaced many people groups; destroying culture and connection to the land in the process but none of the republican debate that I've ever heard has even so much as once talk about reconciliation and recognition of first peoples through constitutional means. Usually becoming a republic or a new nation is about deliberately severing ties with the past, but in running away from the past, what sort of future are we running towards? If Australia's involvement over the past 70 years with that other great republic, the United States of America, is anything to go by, then the future that we are symbolically running towards is another 70 years of national spinelessness and military subservience to that great power across the waves. By remaining in the monarchy, we embrace the fact that the empire has crumbled and we're fine with that.

I rather like the fact that no-one is entirely sure of what the Governor-General is supposed to do. In theory they wield all sorts of power but in practice, they almost never use it. The 1999 referendum showed that if we were to move to a republic, then people want the ability to vote for the head of state. The problem with that is that once you've voted for someone, you then expect them to do something. The rather impotent role of the current Governor-General would be altered through the process of voting and I don't know if anyone is prepared to see the consequences of that. What would happen for instance if the Governor-General and the Parliament came to an impass? In the United States it results in gridlock; in France it results in gridlock but in Ireland and Germany, that situation doesn't arise because the President remains impartial.
From what I've seen in the Australian Parliament with its ultra adversarial politics, I do not believe that an elected Governor-General either would or could remain impartial. In fact, if an elected Governor-General ran that position in the same spirit as Bronwyn Bishop did with the role of Speaker of the House of Representatives, then that's surely the best possible advert against ever becoming a republic. Electing the Governor-General must surely lead to partisan politics and that's something which I do not want to see; especially considering that the current system works so well that most people don't even know who the Governor-General even is.

The truth is that although I understand why some people might think that Australia becoming is a good idea, it just isn't compelling enough for me. We've had 115 years of remarkably stable government and even had a change of government in the middle of a world war and that didn't cause chaos. The system is demonstrably fine by operation and I don't see and conceivable reason why switching to a republic is going to make anything better at all. I can see how it might make things worse and if change for change's sake is going to make things worse, then that's even more of a reason to do nothing and keep what we already have.

August 26, 2015

Horse 1968 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No 22 - Malcolm Fraser

XXII - Malcolm Fraser

Depending on how you want to read events, Malcolm Fraser's first term of government lasted for something in the order of two and a quarter hours on that fateful afternoon of 11th November 1975.

Whitlam was offficially decommissioned as Prime Minister by the Governor-General Sir John Kerr, during their 1pm meeting. The Senate had still not been informed officially and it would have appeared really strange when at 2:24pm, the appropriation bills which formed the 1975 Budget bills passed the Senate.
At 02:34pm Fraser stood in the House of Representatives and announced that he had been appointed as the new Prime Minister by Kerr and immediately the House passed resolution after resolution defeating the "new" government, which included passing a no confidence motion in Fraser.
With supply secured, Fraser then advised Kerr that there were no fewer that 21 bills which counted as election triggers under section 57 of the Constitution and so approval was given to dissolve the parliament and an election was called for 13th December 1975.

To Whitlam's surprise, 30 seats changed hands and Fraser's Liberal/National coalition was installed as the government with 91 seats to 36. The Liberal Party by themselves won 68 seats which meant that they could have held government in their own right but they chose to remain in coalition with their partners the National Country Party who had changed their name from the Country Party.

Fraser's government sought to cut back many of the Whitlam Government's program and this meant a vast reduction in overall government expenditure. The new universal health insurance system Medibank was vastly altered, the ABC saw a series of deep cuts which would last from 1976 to 1985 and the public service began to shed jobs.

In the meantime Fraser's Government would establish the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission, the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) as well as passing the first piece of aboriginal land law with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1976.

Under the Fraser government, Australia took in more than 200,000 Asian migrants with about a quarter of those being Vietnamese refugees. In order to help people resettle and start a new life, the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs was also established.

At the 1977 election Fraser's Government retained government but lost 5 seats in the process. Whitlam who was still Opposition leader going into the election resigned not long after. Three years later, the government lost a further 12 seats in the 1980 election but was still awarded a third term in government.

Under pressure from Fraser, the Treasurer Phillip Lynch resigned and John Howard was promoted to the position but facing a period of double digit inflation and double digit unemployment known as "stagflation" the task was never going to be easy. Fraser wanted to pass an expansionary budget in the face of a looming recession and he and Howard frequently disagreed on what that should look like. By 1983 there was significant increases in spending on national highways and aviation infrastructure, as well as increases in welfare and transfer payments. At the same time construction of the new Parliament House began and this was expected to be completed in time for the bicentenary of British settlement in 1988.
In 1982, a Federal Enquiry was launched into the Australian banking system and foreign banks were allowed to open for the first time.

Following a by-election in the seat of Flinders in January 1983, Fraser called for an election for the 5th of March. On the morning of 3rd February as Fraser was visiting the  Governor-General, the Opposition Leader Bill Hayden resigned his post and Bob Hawke replaced him as Labor leader.
Ultimately the Fraser Government would lose the 1983 election, 24 seats in the process and suffer the worst defeat by any non-Labour government ever. Fraser would not go on to lead the Liberal Party in Opposition and did not stay in Parliament too long afterwards either, resigning two months later.

August 25, 2015

Horse 1967 - Feeling Foul, Fever & Fahrenheit

Romeo loved Juliet, Juliet she felt the same
When he put his arms around her
He said, "Julie baby you're my flame"
Thou giveth fever...
- "Fever" Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell (1956)

Dear Romeo,
Either Juliet is a perpetual carrier of some virus, bacteria or other pathogen which your body is reacting badly to or Juliet is the name of a very hot object like an oil heater or blast furnace. Juliet might even be the name of a radioactive source like a piece of fissile material or at worst, an exposed nuclear reactor core.
My suggestion is that you evacuate yourself immediately and find a nice warm bed in a darkened room until this fever passes. I don't care how much you love this "Juliet", she is obviously hazardous to your health and should be avoided post haste.

Yours deliriously,

Owing to the fact that I am a metric man every inch of the way, our thermometer reads off in degrees Fahrenheit. The fever that I'm currently experiencing, peaked at 105°F at the weekend and Mrs Rollo politely reminded me that extended periods of hyperthemia can cause brain damage and so I ought to take some paracetamol to diffuse it. I duly obeyed and took myself off to that darkened room, wherein I was driven to anger by the continuous hammer drop of the ticking clock on the wall but was unable to do anything about it as reason, language, logic and desire all got on a plane and flew away, leaving me with cyclical chills and a pair of hands that felt as though they had been resting in the caldera of Eyjafjallajökull.

I say all of this by way of introduction as an illustration of the only acceptable and sensible use of the Fahrenheit scale of temperature. Measuring fever is, in my self aggrandised opinion, a perfect use of the scale but it serves no real other purpose.

The German physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit who developed his eponymous scale, took the rather strange approach of setting the limits of his scale at points that make not much sense. 0°F was taken to be the point at which brine froze. He then set 96°F at so called "blood heat"; which ended up being wrong anyway.
From the outset, Fahrenheit set up his scale from one point which was based on an ill defined standard, to another point which was incorrect. I suppose that if there literally is no other scale or standard to set measurements against then it would have to do but just like barracking for Collingwood or making Duck A L'Orange for dinner, better things have come along and it should be abandoned immediately. It isn't wrong but we just shouldn't use it.

In contrast, Anders Celsius' scale was reasonably well thought out, the conditions can be reproduced and it has proper real world applications.
0°C is the point at which water freezes in an atmosphere of 1000mB and 100°C is the point at which water boils in an atmosphere of 1000mB. Water is a chemical which has useful relevance to people's lives and by setting the standard based off of it, this means that the conditions are readily reproducible. Furthermore, because 0°C is based on the freezing point of water; that's readily observable as well. If I step out and I can see frost and ice all over the place, then I know that there must have been some micro 0°C conditions outside. Minus degrees Celsius suggests that it is cold outside because it is. 29°F which is below the freezing point of water doesn't really suggest much of anything. Likewise, 100°C is observable every time one makes a cup of tea; which is proper and noble and delightful. 212°F which is the same temperature sounds hot but its a vague sort of number.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling for the absolute elimination of the Fahrenheit scale, it's just that it has a singular and limited use. A lot of the old Imperial units for instance, were based on useful and practical things. A pint is a good amount but not too much to have, of milk or beer. A pound is a good amount but not too much to have, of cheese, beef, rice, potatoes or leeks. People should be measured in feet and inches because that's sensible; new born babies should be measured in pounds and ounces because that's also sensible.
Fahrenheit should be used to measure fever because 99°F is alright but 100°F is the beginning of a fever. 101°F is worse, 102°F is a little bit of a worry, 105°F is time to be worried. Fahrenheit although it is used to quote temperatures on weather forecasts in some countries, is really ill suited to the job. The continued use of Fahrenheit for these purposes makes my blood boil (which is an extreme sort of fever and one which should be investigated by a triage officer or emergency ward immediately).

August 24, 2015

Horse 1966 - F1: Mercedes Is Still Firing Silver Bullets (Round 5)

Perhaps the most laughable story of the Belgian Grand Prix happened before a wheel had even turned. McLaren changed so many arts to their Honda powerplants that they effectively got new engines and in consequence, Fernando Alonso was given a 55 grid place penalty and Jensen Button was penalised 50 grid places. Not that this made much of a difference as they qualified 17th & 18th and the penalties put them into 19th and 20th.

Sergio Perez in the Force India made a blistering start, forcing his way around the outside of both Grosjean and Rosberg towards La Source and took the lead for a brief period. Nico Rosberg who bogged down on the start, fell back to fifth; falling in behind Bottas’ Williams, and Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull.

Very quickly though, Lewis Hamilton asserted his authority on the race and on the run up through Eau Rouge and Raidillon on the first lap, easily overtook Perez. He would never be headed again except for a brief period when he made a pit stop and Vettel would officially lead lap 14.
Rosberg would pass Bottas by the end of the first lap and after the first round of pitstops on laps 12-14, he again found himself in second.
Pastor Maldonado’s Lotus mysteriously came to a stop on lap 3 as the Mercedes refused to supply any more power.

Most of the race was fairly processional from about lap 3 onwards except for Max Verstappen who bravely passed Felipe Nasr around the outside at Blanchimont on lap 11 and Grosjean passing Ricciardo on lap 18 for third.
Daniel Ricciardo's race would not last much beyond that though, when his Red Bull expired on lap 21 and came to a stop on the start-finish straight which meant that the race was brought under virtual safety car conditions whilst it was cleared. After the race was restarted, Hamilton broke free to establish a six second gap over Rosberg  and for the rest of the race, the gap never really wavered.

In a comedy of errors, Williams fitted three soft compound tyres (marked with a yellow band) and one medium compound tyre (marked with a white band) to Valtteri Bottas’s car. Mixing compounds is not allowed and so Bottas had to come back into the pits to correct the mistake and in addition to that he was given a drive-through penalty. What should have been a podium, became ninth place.
I understand that Formula One is a pressure cooker environment but not getting colours right is a childish error. Maybe Williams should consider hiring a technical advisor for this sort of thing. I suggest Elmo from Sesame Street.

Two laps from home the rear right hand tyre on Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari exploded and he was furious. Ferrari had been told by Pirelli that the tyres were good for 40 laps and so they decided upon a one stop strategy. The tyres on the Ferrari had only done 28 laps when the right rear let go and there was no indication beforehand that it would fail. As the tyre failed at Raidillon and at just over 180mph, had it happened just a few hundred metres before, the consequences could have been serious.
A similar sort of failure occurred in Friday free practice on Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes; with Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso expressing concerns during the driver’s briefing meeting. Pirelli launched an investigation but found no issue with the structural integrity of that tyre but two similar failures in a weekend suggests something which warrants further investigation.
The unexpected benefactor of Vettel’s tyre failure was Romain Grosjean who had had a fairly quiet race in the Lotus up to that point. In fourth place was Danill Kyvat who in the closing laps passed Raikkonen, Massa and Perez in quick succession.

Race Results:
1. Hamilton - Mercedes
2. Rosberg- Mercedes
3. Grosjean - Lotus-Mercedes
4. Kyvat – Red Bull-Renault
5. Perez - Force India-Mercedes
6. Massa - Williams-Mercedes

"The John Logie Baird Television Was Better in 1984 Memorial Cup" at the end of Round 5 looks like this:

37 Hamilton
34 Rosberg
15 Vettel
8 Massa
7 Raikkonen
6 Kyvat
5 Riccardo
5 Bottas
4 Grosjean
2 Perez
2 Nasr
1 Hulkenburg

The Constructor's Championship is thus:

71 Mercedes
22 Ferrari
13 Williams
10 Red Bull
4 Lotus
3 Force India
2 Sauber

August 21, 2015

Horse 1965 - Deceptive Philosophy

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
- Colossians 2:8

In broad terms the two parts of the Bible, that is the Old and New Testaments are built in the same fashion (at least in the order that they usually appear in western Bibles). The Old Testament is comprised of several books of history, a song book, three books of philosophical discourse and the rest is made up of prophecy. The New Testament is made up of five books of history, the letters themselves whilst they are pastoral and doctrinal in nature are still pieces of philosophical discourse and finally there is one book of prophecy.

I think that it is a mistake to suggest that the Bible is opposed to philosophy when so much of it is either blatantly made up of it or contains pointers to it. The word philosophy itself is made up of two Greek parts; being “Philos” which means “love of” and “Sophia” which means “wisdom”. Taken together philosophy means "a lover of wisdom" or “a friend of wisdom” and indeed any functional definition of philosophy must include an enquiry into the nature of knowledge itself. Philosophy as a pursuit, asks questions about the nature of being and how and if things can be known.
Nor do I think that asking questions of the why and how your set of knowledge is, is a bad things either. In the book of Acts, Luke writes that the people of Berea "were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true".  Going away and checking new information against what you already know or against a standard is surely a sound approach and the ability to question "why is it so?" must surely lie at the heart of any enquiry.

This is where I think that the scientist, the theist, the atheist and the philosopher all agree in principle. They might disagree with each other about the makeup of their worldview but I think that it's probably true for everyone that knowledge and wisdom is built up through the assessment and evaluation of all new pieces of information. Everyone suffers from confirmation bias to a degree and some pieces of information when thrown against an existing knowledge set, either bounce off and are rejected entirely, shift existing pieces of information about or shatter old pieces of information. The scientist, the theist, the atheist and the philosopher all engage in this process whether they're actively aware of it or not and I hold the view that the possessor of a human mind is perfectly entitled to hold any knowledge set they like because it is impossible not to acquire one.

The fool says in his heart,  “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.
- Psalm 14:1

There will be some pieces of information within a knowledge set which are very very tightly bound in place; so much so that there will inevitably be a clash of opinion when possessors of two human minds with opposing sets of knowledge start throwing pieces of information at each other. It is reasonable to expect that for an atheist that the inverse "The fool says in his heart, ‘There is a God.’” will be their opinion stemming from their worldview. It is important to remember on both sides that the other person is entitled to their opinion, since a possessor of a human mind can occupy no other space.
The Bible itself starts with the assumption that there is a God. In English translations this is started in the first four words "In the beginning God..." and in the Hebrew this is even more economically rendered as just three. The assumption of whether there is or isn’t a god, stems from at least some a priori position. Even these two positions still require as least some presupposition; it depends what is deemed as acceptable evidence. The area of study that looks at what is and isn’t knowable is epistemology and it asks the question of how it’s possible that we really can know anything at all.

Paul’s discourse has to be taken in context. This comes within a passage talking about the Deity of Christ and the implications thereof. This would have been set against a prevailing climate of Greek thought in in particular the school of philosophy known as Stoicism.
The Stoics held that the goodness of an individual lies within the state of their soul itself; in the attaining and exercise of wisdom and self-control. Christians hold that there are no fundamentally “good” people; that people are inherently selfish and have rejected God and face punishment as a consequence. The biggest clashes of opinion would have been in whether or not a person could be “good” enough and the setting of Stoicism within a pantheistic worldview as opposed to the Christian’s triune God.
Both the Stoics and Christians would agree though that the possessor of a human mind holds an inner freedom against the world and that the world is fundamentally flawed and sinful.
Paul writes about philosophy with the qualifier “apaté” which means to  make a false impression, to deceive or cheat. The qualifier is a specific instruction to check for motives and to make an enquiry into the nature of knowledge itself. It isn’t a blanket instruction to throw out all of philosophy as worthless; nor should it be.  Philosophy in asking questions about ethics, logic, evidence, materialism, aesthetics, virtuousness is not only useful but we should be asking those sorts of questions anyway.

August 20, 2015

Horse 1964 - It's Mean To Talk About An Average, Joe
"Bracket creep will mean that the average full time wage – currently around $77,000 – will soon sit in the second top income tax bracket of 37 cents in the dollar," Mr Hockey said.
"This is just not good enough."
- Joe Hockey, as quoted by Nassim Khadem, Sydney Morning Herald, 15th Jul 2015

I heard the Treasurer Joe Hockey on the television tonight again talking about bracket creep as though it were the Nothing from the 1984 movie "The NeverEnding Story" but unlike The NeverEnding Story which had an end, Mr Hockey's story has no end and is being told from the Ivory Tower rather than about it.
I thought about the use of the term "average" and how whilst it might seem to be perfectly reasonable, as the average includes every value in a distribution, it is very much influenced by outliers and skewed distributions. In the case of incomes, there is a case to be made of heavy skewing and there are some utterly obscenely outlying outliers. Together, they made the use of an average as applied to incomes, as useful as useful as a wooden frying pan.

Part of the problem is a deliberate obfuscation of the measures of central tendency. That is, those figures which better help to describe how a set of statistics is put together. An average is a figure derived by adding together all the statistics and then dividing by the number of items. A much better indication of what might be something approaching what more "normal" people earn is the figure known as the "median". Like the median strip which runs down the centre of a highway and cleaves it in twain, the median is the figure which slices a set of statistics into two halves - exactly half the statistics in the set are below it and exactly half are above it.

Consider the following country of Rollovik. It is a very small nation consisting of ten citizens and whose chief export is widgets. The Taxation Department publishes a list of everyone's incomes and they are as follows:
10K, 15k, 20k, 20K, 50K, 50K, 50k, 50k, 75K, 410K.
The average of all of these wages is 75K but the median wage is 50K. 50K is the number which splits the nation in twain. It is safe to say in this case that 50K is a number which more accurately reflects the spread of incomes.

If the top two tax brackets started at 80K and 200K and the Treasurer started complaining that the average wage was going to pass into the second top tax bracket in a couple of years, you'd probably be quite justified in thinking that whilst that might be technically correct, you'd wonder what all the crowing was about.

Yet this is precisely the case in Australia. We have Treasurer Joe Hockey running around crying blue murder and that the sky is falling, by saying that by the end of the decade that the average wage is going to move into the top tax bracket. Oh how sad. My heart bleeds.

Finding statistics on things like median wages is a little bit more difficult than average wage because of the lag in reporting. Even so, the most up to date statistics that I have are from August 2013 and they paint a very different picture than the one we're being fed in the headlines. In Aug 2013, the average wage was $73,886 per year but the median wage (that is the one which divides the population in two) was $49,400 per year. That means to say that half the population had a wage of $49,400 or less². Also of note is that this publication has been discontinued. By keeping the population ignorant, they don't know how much they're being done over by.
If inflation is running at 5% (which is isn't and would probably be seen as disastrous) then the average wage would find itself in the second top tax bracket in 2015. The median wage though, wouldn't reach that point until 2025. At 5% inflation, the  second top tax bracket wouldn't even be reached for a whole decade; longer if inflation is more gentle.

"We must address bracket creep because it is better to leave money in the pocket of the taxpayer and resist the temptation for the government, using taxpayers' money, to provide financial support to individuals and families."
- Joe Hockey, as quoted by Nassim Khadem, Sydney Morning Herald, 15th Jul 2015

This talk about changing the tax rates because they "hurt" people's wages might have sounded reasonable to most people because it is the figure of Average Weekly Ordinary Time Earnings (AWOTE) which is published every six months but the figure for AWOTE as in the case of the invented country of Rollovik, isn't the best measure of central tendency if the overall distribution of wages is skewed. Furthermore, to parrot this as the basis of policy when talking about taxation, when the intent is to reduce Income Taxation which is progressive and replace it to a degree with an increase in the GST which is regressive is nothing short of deceptive and detestable.

It is impossible to say exactly what proportion of the population earns less than "average" wage but it certainly is not 50% as you might expect. The only thing we can know for certain is that half the population earns less than 83% of the average wage.
The other thing which we don't know about is what percentage of the population deliberately modified their incomes through the use of companies and trusts to change their income.
If you'd just been shy of the top tax bracket at $180,000 in 2015, on $180,000 you'd be assessed for $58,147 in tax. Provided you can find either a spouse who earns nothing or a willing partner, you could in theory divert $90,000 to them; you'd both be assessed for $23,047 which adds up to $46,094 and you'd have saved $12,053 for doing practically nothing. This sort of thing like all tax avoidance strategies is not illegal but getting more than 12 grand for just shifting money around starts to sound shrill when half the population doesn't even have that sort of cash to rub together.
This might be something to consider. Of the 3 million people who work Part-time, their median wage for the year 2013 was $23,296. In comparison, my annual rent for the year 2013 was $18,720. If you had a single person working under such circumstances, they'd have $4576 a year left over or $88 a week from which everything would have to come. Maybe that's achievable but it would be a pretty miserable existence.
Is it really better "to leave money in the pocket of the taxpayer" than to "provide financial support to individuals and families"? If tax reform ends up about addressing bracket creep by replacing it with the GST, then this shifts the actual tax burden away from the utterly obscenely outlying outliers to those who earn less than the "average" and that's just mean.


August 19, 2015

Horse 1963 - We Need Anti-Suicide Pits

I have heard of this thing called "L’appel du vide" which is quite literally "the call of the void" where temptation rears its ugly head and induces a 'what if' moment when people are standing next to some great canyon that beckons them to jump into the wide blue yonder,  or that thought which might race through the mind of someone standing on a railway station platform which might persuade them to jump in front of a train and end it all. In such cases, either because of internal conflict, depression, intoxication by various kinds of drugs, mental illness, maybe even spiritual attack, a mind which has reached the point where it wishes its own destruction clearly isn't functioning normally. There will always be those people determined to extinguish their own existence but surely there must be some portion of the population who reaches an immediate point of regret and wishes to correct their moment of insanity.
On the many many occasions that I've stood on the platforms at Wynyard, Town Hall, North Sydney, Martin Place and even St James' stations it always struck me as odd that the space between the rails of underground platforms is flat and to be honest, I do not understand the rationale behind it. Why is this so?
If I was Grand Poohbah and Lord High Everything Else, I'd seriously think about improving this state of affairs with a minor change in infrastructure: the anti-suicide pit.

I've seen these things in the London Underground, the Tokyo Metro and even the Moscow Metro and I see no just or sane cause why we should not have similar sorts of things in Sydney. I can think of several occasions where the whole Sydney Trains network has been brought to a standstill because someone decided to jump in front of a train and I wonder if anti-suicide pits would have helped or not.

Sydney's Trains draw their power from an overhead set of wires which is extremely helpful. This is different to say, the London Underground, which uses a third rail system to deliver power to the trains; consequently the space is compromised and yet it's still a design feature. Sydney's railway network doesn't suffer from this limitation and so this means that virtual all the space between the 4'8" between the rails could very easily be hollowed out and a long pit could be carved between the rails. That way, if someone did happen to go between the rails, they could duck underneath a passing train instead of being collected by the train's low slung mechanicals. Having a train pass over the top of you in a few terrifying moments must surely be preferable to being smeared over the floor of a railway tunnel for several hundred yards.
Such pits needn't be terribly deep either. A person lying down doesn't occupy a space which is that tall. I don't know for certain but I think that two feet deep aught to be more than sufficient. Anti-suicide pits also would be useful if someone were to accidentally fall between the railway tracks or if a particularly nefarious and malicious person were to push someone off the platform. Such people do exist in the world.

It's simplicity itself. It's a system which doesn't cost all that much to install, costs practically nothing to maintain, is cheaper than installing platform length barriers and door opening systems and more importantly would act as a visual deterrent to stop people from jumping on the tracks in the first place.

The railways corporation already provides little hidey holes in the walls of tunnels and there's already a sophisticated system which turns all the yellow lights off down the side of the tunnel in a block, 30 seconds before a train enters the block. One such lamp exists almost half a mile from the station that I get on in the morning and one chap was amazed that I knew that a train was coming with alarming reliability until I pointed that out. If safety for their employees of the railways, then safety of its customers has got to be a concern doesn't it? If nothing else, the railways owe a duty of care to the people who plough money through the tills.

I suspect that the reason that no anti-suicide pits exist currently isn't because of a case of neglect but because no one's ever thought of it before. There is an old saw which says that you should never attribute to maliciousness that which can be explained by stupidity but this isn't even a case of stupidity either but of simple blindness.

I guess that I've been thinking about this because the announcements on every train I've been on lately have changed from advising unwell passengers to seek help at the next station, to telling passengers to remain behind the yellow line and to tell children to do likewise.
Sydney Trains' rail safety messages have got me to think about rail safety - who'd've thunk it?

August 18, 2015

Horse 1962 - This Is The News

I've been set a challenge by someone; that was to write a news report as though it were a radio feed. That seemed absurdly easy to me as the average length of most stories on the radio is barely 100 words long and provided I was able to get the format right, I should be able to waffle on and make it sound plausible.
I am an avid listener to ABC News Radio... but for no more than an hour at a go unless The Health Report or the Law Report from Radio National comes on. If you’ve made it to the end of an hour, then the chances are that you’ve heard everything and are about to go around the board again.
If you listen to any commercial radio station, then news bulletins just aren’t that long at all. In fact, I’m not even sure that there is anything longer than a six minute news bulletin on anything other than the ABC.
Just don't get me to read the news. I have a voice like cut glass being dragged down a chalkboard.

Opening Sting:
1110 XYZ Local Radio. This is the six o'clock news and I am Jeff Badcrumble reading it.

A man aged 43 and two women aged 25 and 19 have died following an accident on the Chadwick Highway just outside of Pembleton in Victoria. The man who was driving a farm ute, had no time to react as the sedan holding the two women, crossed over onto his side of the road after rounding a blind corner. The combined speed of the two vehicles is believed to have been in excess of 160km/h. No trace of alcohol has been found and it is presumed that tiredness and fatigue played a factor.

More than 5 million dollars worth of damage has been suffered when strong winds in the southern Brisbane suburb of Castleford caused a tree to crash through the front of an electrical store in the main street. Police were in attendance to further ensure that no more goods would be stolen by thieves and looters. The building has been structurally compromised and has been slated for demolition.

Thirteen people have been arrested and detained following a protest in the Hunter Region city of Kemble Grove; following the decision to allow a copper mine in the local area. Scuffles broke out when protesters descended upon the town hall and demanded to see the mayor. When he refused and the doors to the town hall were locked, protesters began to pelt the town hall with rocks and eggs.
Residents are worried that the mine could poison the local water table and that this could contaminate local drinking supplies. The mayor of Kemble Grove could not be reached for comment.

Public transport is set to become more expensive with an average 2.3% increase across bus, rail, tram and ferry service in the next quarter, following a review by the state's pricing authority. Some minor changes to timetables are expected which the transit authority hopes to improve their already good record of 94% of all scheduled services across all forms of transport, either being ahead of schedule or on time.

The Edwards Government gained an election trigger last night as the Senate blocked the Reform Bill for the third time. The Reform Bill wishes to extend the vote to 16 year olds on a noncompulsory basis.
The government which only saw the budget pass after heavy concessions were given away, has slipped even further in approval polls to 24%. The Mercury Poll also sees Prime Minister Edwards slip as the preferred PM, falling to 41-59 to Opposition Leader Mary Churchill.

Today was a quiet day on the markets with the ASX200 closing just a shade over half a percentage point higher at 5436.8. There wasn't really that much movement among the majors except for the Hostile Takeover Bank which firmed 11 cents to close at $33.48 a share and the big miner Betoota Allied gaining 88 cents to close at $74.56. Most companies on the exchange have still not made declarations about their expected dividends for the quarter, though there are rumours that Red Telecoms and Telco Blue are set for a merger in the second quarter.

Australia has beaten New Zealand 23-22 in the semifinal of the World Farnarkling Championships in Berlin. Even the plucky efforts of New Zealand captain Dave Sorenson, who scores three arkles could not overcome the triple Aussie powerhouses of Redmeyer, Jagiello and Ng, who all arkled and Ng who even scored a shuffle before the umlaut. Australia will meet Kazakhstan in the final, who beat four time champions Italy, 34-5.

FFA Cup - Round of 16:
Blacktown Bogans 3 - AFC Dubbo 0, Sydney FC 1 - Ballarat Blues 0, Betoota 1 - Western Sydney Wanderers 0, Bentleigh Greens 1 - Perth Glory 2, Adelaide United 2 - Brisbane Roar 3, Newcastle Jets 0 - Christopher Pyne 4, A Blade of Grass 9 - Melbourne Victory 0, Sunshine FC 0 - South Melbourne 3.

Traffic is backed up on the M4 for 22 kilometres from Junction 3 through to Junction 8, following an accident between a semi-trailer and two cars. Only one lane is free to traffic beyond that point. Roadworks continue along the M12 from Richmond to Greenfield and traffic has been reduced to two lanes from Junctions 9 through 22. Traffic is moving slowly along the M1 at Ashwood because a piece of cardboard is lying in the middle of the central lane. Come on people, it's not even a cardboard box. It's just a piece of cardboard. What's the worst that could happen? Bob-bom. A motorist has reported that a giant sea-monster is by the side of the motorway on the M1 North at Runalong. As reports come to hand and we find out if it's Behemoth, Leviathan or Nessie, we will keep you informed about whether or not you should be worried about being eaten.

Sydney, fine, arrogant and only concerned about property prices, 22°. Canberra, windy, terminally tedious, 19°. Melbourne, raining, sport obessed, 20°. Adelaide, mostly cloudy, still good enough to have a picnic, 23°. Perth, hot and wishing it could secede from the rest of Australia, 27°.  Brisbane, sunny, with a pervasive sense of dread that you haven't locked the front door, 25°. Darwin, excessive reports about crocodiles in the newspaper, fine, 32°.

The Lighter Side:
Mr Gordon Christie, an 87 year old man in the Perth suburb of Crowoongah has been successful in his case to legally adopt his cat Thomas as his son. The cat who frequently accompanies his "father" on public transport was denied passage by the Warrailla Bus Company because he was not either a child; nor a companion pet. The cat's adoption legally entitles him to travel on a child's fare and he will again be able to accompany Mr Christie on his travels.

That was the news. You are listening to 1110 XYZ Local Radio.

If you listen to any news bulletin in Australia, invariably there will always be one statement at the end of every single news bulletin; that is Darwin, Fine 32. It’s almost never not Darwin, Fine 32.

August 17, 2015

Horse 1961 - The Lion Roared, Heavens to Murgatroyd! Exit, stage left!

For the last few years a lion has been sitting in the centre of me steering wheel with one paw raised defiantly; as if to champion the cause of "Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité" to the world. The econobox version of the Peugeot 206, which once gave Marcus Grönholm two WRC championships gave us reliable service until without warning it threw a timing belt, yelled "Vive la révolution" and then summarily executed eleven of sixteen valves. The last act of this internal mechanical revolution was to ensure that the engine would never again give us the several thousand revolutions that it was supposed to - how very French in action, French in civil disorder, French to the very end with a general strike.
The 206 was a spirited car to drive, gave us oomph and zing when we asked for it and because it was primarily designed for its home market on French roads where every single kilometre is accented by eleven million potholes, the suspension was excellent because it had to be. It was was said of the Citroen 2CV that one of its design requirements was to be able to carry a basket of eggs across a field at 40km/h and not break any of them. I'd believe that.

We've pretty well much decided that we're done with French motoring. If we were in Europe then it might be an easier prospect to throw many Euros at the car to keep it going but ten thousand miles away and throwing the little Aussie battler around, that has started to pall.  The problem is that apart from the Falcon, Commodore, Camry and Cruze, every single car sold in Australia is imported and from 2017 when the last Australian produced car rolls off the assembly line, that will be brought to completion.
So then, faced with the dilemma of having to replace one imported car with another imported car, we're caught between the horns of a dilemma and they're not the horns of Ferruccio Lamborghini's raging bull either.

I like the look of the Fiat 500 but even I know that the Cinquecento is built to Fiat's less than immaculate standards. The 500 would be made from rubber bands and bits of balsa wood if Fiat could get away with it. Nor is our replacement car likely to be a Toyota Yaris, which although is put together splendidly by an army of robots in an airtight factory whee nobody ever goes in and nobody ever comes out, knowing they way that most Toyotas feel, it will feel like a car designed to be driven by robots. Most Toyotas are perfectly polished to the point where they feel completely neutral and dead to drive. I'm sure that the Yaris would be an excellently built car but most of my impressions of Toyotas is that they lack fun to drive.
There is the Kia Rio which looks interesting and is worth considering. Even ten years ago if you'd asked me what I thought of Kia, I'd have laughed incredulously and thought that you were a few sandwiches short of picnic but starting with the Magentis, Kia have improved their build quality a million billion percent. The VW Polo is probably the best engineered supermini of all but it is serviced by the same people who repair Skodas, Audis and Porsches. A VW Polo is likely to come with a Passat sized parts bill and I'm sure that inside the workshop, the mechanics would rather be working on a Touareg or an Amarok than a Polo.

This then leaves the obvious candidates for the replacement car as either one of the two cousins, the previous model Mazda 2 or the Ford Fiesta. Both sit on the same platform, which means that the geometry of the car should produce a communicative and fun thing to drive (I had a Ford Ka which was an absolute hoot) and the engines should be nice and torquey.
The Mazda 2, ever since the DE came out in 2007 has always been a cheekily styled car. Even when it went through its "happy face" stage from 2011, where a white number plate would remind you of Bugs Bunny's teeth, it still looked fine. The current DJ sits on the new Skyactiv platform rather than the Ford B3 platform.
The Fiesta has always looked a little more aggressive but Mk.7 looks far better than the anonymous Mk.6 which it replaced. The dashboard in the Fiesta looks a little spaceshippy but how it looks isn't as important to me as how it feels to drive. All the reports I've ever read about the Mk.7 Fiesta suggest that even in the 1.0L three cylinder "Ecoboost" model, Ford have played their trump card of handling yet again.

That's the problem. Now that the Peugeot 206 has destroyed itself in the most French way possible, finding a suitable replacement is going to be difficult. The truth is that no one produces an objectively bad car anymore; not even Chery. If we have to part with hard won dollars and live with our new chariot for a long time, we'd better make the right choice. I'd personally prefer to have Henry's signature in a blue oval staring at me from the centre of the steering wheel but even I'll admit that although my heart beats for blue, my wallet is ruled by slightly more practicality. I do know that for the immediate future, that Armand Peugeot's lion will not be waving at me any more.
Au revoir, le lion d' tribulation.

August 15, 2015

Horse 1960 - The Perfect Car For A Supervillain

Back in the days when cinema had to rely on actual acting and writing to tell a story and they couldn't just hold a film together with flashy special effects; back when you could hold more tensions and terror in a PG rated movie than you can probably get in modern movies that drift ever further into M and MA ratings, heroes were good but dumb and villains had properly fleshed out characters.
Also cast into the films of long ago were the villains cars. They were big and black and actually looked...well... villainous. Russians could get around in ZILs and even right up until the 1980s, American gangsters and ne'er-do-wells could lollop about in Cadillacs and Mercedes 600 Grossers and later S-Classes.
I look around the traffic that I see on the roads around me and I notice something which is excellent for everyone's daily drive but horrible for villains. Virtually every car on the road today is brilliantly competent from a Mitsubishi Mirage to a Mercedes-Benz S600 with all points in between. Although I have a dislike for SUVs, even they are all marvels of modern engineering. All of this leaves a problem. If you are a movie villain, what do you choose as your car of choice? Moreover, if you are a movie director, what could you possibly cast for a villain in a world where there are no longer and obvious villain's cars?

Size Matters:
The ZILs, Mercs and Caddies of years gone by were all behemoths in comparison to traffic today. Having owned an S-Class Mercedes 450 SEL 6.9 I can tell you that the footprint of such a large car is as obvious as if Usain Bolt were to walk around in a Ronald McDonald costume in the supermarket - insanely quick but very careful about where to tread. Changing lanes in such a car is a decision which is best made miles in advance and when coupled with woefully inadequate suspension, it's easy to see why those sorts of cars used to be cast. We don't have anything on the roads like that now. Not even Chrysler's 300C with its "look at me" grill on the front, manages to instill fear in other road users.
I suppose that you could cast a car like a Lexus LX470, Audi Q7, Porsche Cayenne or Range Rover as the car of the villain but they're just not all that villainy. I've seen so many of those driven by mothers with small children and dogs that fit inside handbags whilst they sit at cafés smoking and making idle chit-chat, that those cars were used, I'm more likely to think that someone was on a school run or going to the gym than plotting a fiendish scheme to blow up parliament.

Purpose Matters:
What sort of deviousness do you want your villain to perform? If they're engaging in international banking fraud (okay, just regular international banking), or some sort of stealing of national secrets, then you're more likely to cast a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or BMW 7-series than anything else. You can't cast a Maybach because nobody knows what that is and although a Hyundai Genesis looks like it should be a much more expensive car than it is, that's just no likely. And no, you can't cast a Porsche Panamera - they look dopey.
If you have a lot of thugs that you want to deploy in a hurry, then you still can't beat either a Ford Transit, VW Transporter or a Toyota Hiace. A black van is functionally obvious but unfortunately not very villainous.
The other option is that you'd like to give your villain a henchman with a lot of kit. Preferably he's going to be a deranged henchman and so really any pickup truck will do, like a Toyota HiLux SR5 or Ford Raptor but the level of their scariness will be determined by the number of chains, chainsaws, axes and other blunt instruments they can carry. In short, the sorts of tools that tradies already use to muck up people's houses with is perfectly acceptable for a henchman but they're only the hired help and not the main villain.

The Winner:
All of this leads me to only one real conclusion if I were to cast a car as the villain's in a movie. It would naturally come in black, be relatively big and chunky compared with other road users, be jacked up like an SUV and have massive 27" tyres, I'd have it dripping with gizmos and gadgets and it would be able to carry a few chains, chainsaws, axes and other assorted instruments of mayhem in the boot.
Only one car fits that bill to a T and that is: BMW X6.

For many many years I've wondered what they heck this vehicle was for and who the intended market is. It is a car which is a big four wheel drive but which the owner's manual explicitly tells you that you can't take off the road and it has such strange styling that it doesn't know if it's a hatchback or strange sedan or a jacked up station wagon without the utility.
In every respect, I have consistently failed to understand why the BMW X6 exists, who it was for and why it even comes in an M variant from BMW's Motorsport division when clearly the vehicle is unsuited to track work.
The BMW X6 is a car which is so pointlessly garish and fills me with disdain, that of course that's what its for. It's a car which has menaced me in traffic and brought about so much metaphorical fist shaking, that that can only be the purpose of the vehicle.
For that, it's about to do something which no BMW since the E30 M3 has made do. I'm going to declare that I think it's cool. I've misjudged the BMW X6. I still hate it so very very much but now I finally understand. The BMW X6 is the perfect car for villains.

August 14, 2015

Horse 1959 - The Treasurer Has Spoken; We're Just Not Sure What He Said
We cannot afford to have a tax burden that stifles growth and costs jobs. We can’t just view the tax system and taxpayers as a collection pool of unlimited funds. So in developing a better tax system, we need to consider the sustainability of our heavy reliance on income tax, especially personal income tax. This is because we need to take into consideration the negative impact and disincentive of higher taxes.
The problem is we have an over-reliance on personal income tax to support our revenue base. Our largest source of tax revenue is personal income tax. It raised about $185 billion last year.
- Joe Hockey, in The Australian, 10th Aug 2015.

On Monday, Treasurer Joe Hockey was given an opinion piece in The Australian. Now whilst in principle I have no problem with someone being free to express their opinion and be paid for the expression of that opinion, I wonder why he took his opinion firstly to The Australian and not the ABC.
The Prime Minister thought it was a problem when "the national broadcaster appears to take everyone's side but our own" in January of 2014 and I would have thought that if government officials wanted to show that they were on "Team Australia" that they would have "at least some basic affection for the home team, so to speak". Which is "the home team"? If The Australian is the doyenne of a subsidiary of an  American multinational mass media company, just who is the "home team" here?
A man much wiser than me once said that "where your treasure lies, your heart will lie also"; from the world of accounting we're told that if you want to find motives, follow the money. It is telling therefore that when Treasurer Joe Hockey writes a piece talking about income tax policy, he does so in The Australian and not on the ABC's website.
Even within the News Corp Australia group, he does so in The Australian and not the Herald-Sun, the Daily Telegraph or the Courier-Mail. This is a piece which from the outset plays to an audience and definitely has them in mind. This is a "discussion" around income taxation policy, knowing that the great unwashed, illiterate masses will not be privy to it. Follow the money; find out where this treasure lies; who he is playing to.

That aside, I find two broad things interesting about Mr Hockey's article.

Firstly he starts with the premise that government revenues have and over-reliance on personal income tax supporting the revenue base.The article then tries to prosecute the case as to why he thinks that income taxes are inherently too high.

Given that in the 2015 budget the projected revenues expected to be collected from Individual Income Tax is $189.6bn and the single largest component of the income side of the budget, it seems strange to me that you'd want to castigate Income Tax itself.

"Our top marginal tax rate is higher than the OECD average and relatively high by international standards."

This is technically correct which is the best kind of correct but in one sentence, this statement is misrepresentative.
The OECD is made up of 34 countries; some are vastly different to others. Australia's top marginal tax rate of 45% might be worth comparing to other industrialised nations like the UK, France or Germany which also have a top marginal tax rate of 45% but is it fair to compare Australia to a nation like the Czech Republic whose top marginal tax rate is only 15% or Switzerland which is a virtual tax haven at 11.5%.¹

"Our personal income tax revenue is subject to unsustainable risk. For example, the top 10 per cent of individual taxpayers pay nearly half the personal income tax collected by the government."

If I was going to design the perfect taxation system, I would want the total taxation base to map perfectly to the total income base. Unfortunately, there is a degree of impossibility about that. Income tax concessions are usually given to the very bottom tier of society because the poorest people in the country are often squeezing pennies so hard that they begin to yell (both the people and the pennies).

When collecting statistics, there's always a bit of lag and so I don't have current figures. In 2011-12, the 1.8 million people in the top 10 per cent of individual taxpayers accounted for nearly 29% of total income. To be in that top 10% you needed to have earnt at least $88,102 when AWOTE was $68,775. Currently, AWOTE is $77,194; so in proportion that top 10% should now be earning at least $98,886. The thing is though, at an income of $98,886 you're not exactly doing badly.

In 2015-16, exactly what is the income share of the top 10 per cent of individual taxpayers? If the bottom say 40% include people who have income diverted to them with the express purpose of avoiding taxation, then maybe it is fair to recoup some of the lost taxation from the people who made those decisions to avoid tax. I deal with instruments such as Trusts and Superannuation Funds and advice clients to make those decisions. Tax avoidance is not and has never been illegal. What I'm suggesting is that there could be a distortion of taxation statistics as part prudent financial planning.

There is a generally accepted principle that if you work harder, then you should accrue greater rewards for that work. We like the idea that the economy is somehow this virtuous entity which apportions its rewards upon the hardest working of society and does not reward the lazy. Whilst that might be true in a theoretical economy where everyone's labour is valued identically, that simply is not the case in the world we live in. Quite often the cleaners of a building work horrible hours and are treated horribly by horrible people for equally horrible pay. If the rewards for work were truly awarded to those people who work the hardest, then cleaners would be paid far more than they are. They are not.
If it isn't the laboriousness of work which is rewarded, then is work rewarded upon the basis of skill? Clearly that is not the cases either, since teachers are not paid more than people in management and neither are people like research scientists. The real rewards to be found in the economy are things like corporate management, financial management, the legal profession and an extremely small slice of the entertainment and sports industries.
The awful truth that no-one likes to admit is that doing work and the rewards for work were decoupled a long long time ago; yet the myth still persists because those people who are paid a premium also tend to hold more of the power in deciding what the rewards for work shall be.

The other thing that really bothers me in this discussion is the annoying fact that ever since about 1975, the rewards for holding capital (which mostly entitles someone to derive benefits from other people's work) have been growing in real terms at higher rates than the rewards doing work in the first place. Returns on capital have generally kept ahead of inflation whereas real wages in many instances have not.
This being apparent by observation, you'd think that it would make sense to tax non-personal services income at higher taxation rates than wages. However, as soon as you suggest that, the instant and obvious retort would be that people in a period of relative dissavings such as pensioners and unemployed people, then that would be unfair.
If the rewards of an economy and the taxation collected therein is to be truly fair, then ideally all income would be taxed at the point of reception but that's impossible as people who collect more in the way of dividends, rent and profits are usually also in a better position to reclassify and divert those income streams into entities like trusts and companies to minimise the amount of tax they pay. The taxation system is invariably complex only because people such as me invent ways of getting around the system. Industries such as the salary packaging industry, live inside the pockets of perks; generating nothing of actual real capital value.

"We need to consider that about 300,000 Australians are expected to move into the second-highest tax bracket over the next two years. In just 10 years, nearly half of all taxpayers will be in the top two tax brackets — an increase from about 27 per cent today to 43 per cent."

"Higher tax rates provide a disincentive to economic activity."

The problem that I have with the argument that bracket creep or rising taxation rates acts as a disincentive to work harder is that it's untrue on at least two fronts. The first being that high taxation rates generally aren't a disincentive to people working harder because in periods such as the 1980s when marginal taxation rates pushed beyond 60%, people still continued to work hard and CEO pay still tended to widen to many multiples of average workers' pay. If the semi confiscatory taxation rates truly were a disincentive to work hard, then why didn't this ever show up in the real world. The second issue I have is that as discussed previously, working "hard" has long since been decoupled from rewards anyway.
At the point where you're likely to experience bracket creep, you're already being paid a princely premium for your work anyway. Besides which, dividends, rents and profits represent the rewards for other people's work; so in reality taxation and transfer in that regard is something of a mechanism for returning the rewards for work back to the people who actually worked in the first place. As for transfer payments to people on disability pensions, old age pensions and unemployment benefits, the total combined transfer payments to those people who do not work is financially cheaper than to people at the top of the pay scale. I suspect that upper and middle class welfare and tax avoidance costs more to governments budgets than transfer payments to poor people, its just that people who control the media have a vested interest to demonize the poor.

Secondly, the other thing which really bothers me about this article is not what is said but what isn't said. The Abbott Government has inherited a seriously eroded tax base caused by the incompetence of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government and the willful idiocy of the Howard Government before that. Had the taxation rates of 2000/01 post GST been indexed to CPI and been allowed to gradually drift upwards, today's budgets would still be in surplus. Hockey as Treasurer who seemingly is allergic to Income Tax Rises to correct the problem, has no real wiggle room at all.

At this point there are four basic options:
1. Bash pensions, disability payments and unemployment benefits to poverty levels.
2. Asset Sales.
3. Raise income taxation rates.
4. Raise the GST.
5. Raise collections from Company Tax.

1. Unless the government really did want to reduce the conditions of  pensioners and people on benefits to that of the nineteenth century, then this probably isn't much of an option. Whilst it might be great for a narrative to get "tough" on people on disability and unemployment benefits, the biggest reason why disability pensions are so high is that governments already don't want to address disability issues and even if you were to reduce unemployment benefits to zero, it only tinkers with a sliver of the budget.

2. Previous governments have already sold off the brightest and best assets that they previously held. What are now private corporations like Telstra, the Commonwealth Bank, CSL, the airports any far too many more, all used to pay their profits into consolidated revenues and this helped to reduce the taxation burden. The only real things left that are worth selling are Australia Post, the ABC and breaking the backs of the States to sell off the hospitals. Corporations like News Corp Australia would love the idea of selling off the ABC and have been pushing for that since practically its inception. Selling off the hospitals to the highest bidder would give us a health care system like the United States; probably with the same sorts of outcomes.
If this is indeed the end game which is being proposed, then please forgive me if I'm more than a little suspicious. "Trickle down economics" is all well and good if you are a government which deals in three word slogans but it's not so great if the thing you happen to be standing under is a very large horse.

3. Raising Income Tax rates whilst it might be a sensible economic option, is like buying a ticket on an express train to Opposition. Governments which raise the rate of Individual Income Tax are very rarely reelected and no politician wants to be the one to give themselves a haircut with a guillotine.

4. GST is regressive and hateful (see Horse 1024²). Reducing Income Tax and increasing the GST would exactly achieve the aim of  conservative party; that is to conserve and entrench privilege. The thing is though that the majority of poorer people are too stupid to realise what's happening to them; they'll only see that their Income Tax has been reduced. Whilst increasing the headline rate of GST might be politically damaging, as part of a broader narrative, in might be saleable.

5. In the 2015-16 Budget, Company Tax accounts for $68.2 billion out of total revenues of $397.9 billion. Now I'm not sure what proportion of total GDP is represented by Companies but I'm reasonably sure that it's probably a heck of a lot more than 17%. I find it absolutely impossible to believe that the corporate sector accounts for less than one fifth of total GDP.
Even more than individuals who have access to vehicles such as Trusts, SMSF and using Companies to avoid tax, very large transnational corporations have access to exotic arrangements which span countries in order to avoid tax. If the government changes the rate of company tax, then all that this is likely to do is change the mix of strategies employed by small business and individuals to avoid tax.

"Second, any reform must be fit for purpose in the modern economy. We have a tax system with 1950s rules that simply doesn’t fit with a modern, globalised economy."

When you have companies who are able to use bizarre sounding setups like the now infamous Double Dutch Irish Sandwich and can pay no tax whatsoever, it makes a mockery of governments taxation receipts. Hockey is quite right to suggest that we need a twenty-first century approach to taxation but that would mean actually standing up to corporations and biting the hand that feeds the political parties. That's almost certainly not going to happen. No nation currently has the ability or even a suitable set of rules which actually does fit with a modern, globalised economy. The corporations like it that way

As Treasurer, Joe Hockey is asked to square the circle. Options 1 & 2 will annoy the left and jeopardise the chances of the party at the next election. Options 3, 4 & 5 will annoy the right and jeopardise the chances of the party at the next election.
Perhaps rhetoric is in fact the best and only option available. It means not doing anything and with the added bonus of kicking the can down the road a little further. An opinion piece in which you can sound lofty and at the same play to an audience. It also makes it harder to work out where this treasurer lies.


"It won’t be the government that determines the next technological or commercial breakthroughs. It is hardworking men and women who make the difference."

Is that a promise? The CSIRO is largest patent holder with more than 3500 patents, trademarks and inventions. Things like WiFi, the Hendra virus vaccine, drought resistant cotton varieties and long wear contact lenses were invented by the CSIRO. The government has very much in the past developed important technological or commercial breakthroughs because only governments have the capacity to invest in seemingly profitless enterprises. Governments might not necessarily determines the next technological or commercial breakthroughs but they can help.


August 13, 2015

Horse 1958 - On Citizenship

Mrs Rollo who is an American, is pursuing the idea of becoming an Australian citizen. After having lived in this wide brown land, which is about three quarters of a mile from the sun in summer and which then plunges the populace into the dairy supermarket freezer in the winter, for the last seven years this starts to make a degree of sense. It's quite reasonable to throw your lot in with the nation who you intend to spend a lot of time with. She, like the great majority of recent migrants, will make an excellent citizen.

I on the other hand am a terrible citizen. Whilst I do obey the law, pay taxes to whom taxes are due, and perform my civic duties of voting and would serve on a jury or the defence forces if called to, I am uneasy about my citizenship and seriously question some of the causes, policies and actions which the nation has done in recent years and continues to do.
In a broad patriotic sense, I'm not particularly good at bearing my allegiance to this nation either. In the sporting arena my heart lies with a sceptred isle, built by nature for herself as a fortress against the hands of war and disease. Three Lions adorn my shirts and I rejoiced when England went 3-1 up to win the Ashes. I also regularly experience disappointment once every four years when England fails yet again at the football World Cup. I am convinced that in many respects, that my possession of a green passport is an historical accident and the time in my life when I felt the most "home" was when I was once in a traffic jam, waiting to plunge into the Queensway Mersey Tunnel and staring across the Mersey at the Royal Liver Building. I think that I identify more with the British characteristics of complaining, queuing and being perpetually disappointed (and writing strongly worded letters to the editor) than I do with the supposed Australian ideals of mateship and the "fair go" which booth sound great as rhetoric but seem to evaporate when asked to be put into practice.

In due course if Mrs Rollo wants to become an Australian citizen she will need to sit a citizenship exam. I thought that such an exam would be easy and so, without any study I took sample citizenship exams online for both Australia and the United States. I scored 100/100 on the Australian citizenship exam but only got 98/100 on the American exam because I didn't know who Susan B Anthony was and I don't know who the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court is.
If passing an exam is practically the only qualification for citizenship of a country, then I reckon that I could be a citizen of most of the Anglophone world. That's a bit sad. I feel that citizenship should be more than just about passing an exam.

The concept of citizenship is for the most part, entirely ignored by the people who enjoy it. Being a citizen of a country entitles the person to certain legal rights such as the right to vote, the right to work, the right to hold property is some jurisdictions and in theory the right to assistance if in trouble when in another country, as well as legal responsibilities of being called to serve the country on juries, in the defence forces if the country goes to war and in the case of Australia, the responsibility of casting one's vote at the ballot box.
Citizenship is the legal binding of a person to a country and more nebulously the reciprocal binding of that country to the person.

It's not like citizenship is a new concept either. In the book of Acts in the New Testament, Paul is held and bound and waits trial precisely because he was a Roman Citizen; after an uproar in Jerusalem. There is much ado made about the fact that as a citizen, Paul was entitled to a certain level of treatment by the state and its agents and this results in much dithering.
Citizenship was an older concept than that though, with the Greek city states conferring citizenship upon their people as early as the mid 700s BCE. The idea that someone had rights and was able to exercise them was special, when compared with many people who in effect had no real right and slaves who were legal chattel.

A lot of what we consider to be the obligations of states to their citizens and the reciprocal duties of citizens to their states, only really began to solidify during the enlightenment and the. The industrial revolution when the rise of the middle class and their duty to pay taxation was questioned because the citizenry started to demand some sort of benefit from the state they were paying taxes to. The extension of the franchise is inexorably tied to the concept of being a citizen; as is the beginning of questioning about human rights generally.
Australia, which came to the party of statehood relatively late in the piece, had already extended the franchise to most of its citizens by 1902 and made some hideous mistakes with regards Aboriginal peoples; only correcting that in 1962 with amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act*.

For most practical purposes though, citizenship doesn't really change all that much. If you happen to be living somewhere as a permanent resident, by virtue of that residency you already are entitled to many of the services that the state delivers. Granted that I am grateful for the privileges which my citizenship entitles me to, I'm still mostly ambivalent to a sense of patriotism. Given that Mrs Rollo came from the United States, which has its own sense of super-hyper-ultra patriotism which descends into parody and is self-aware of the fact, I don't think that she'd be particularly openly patriotic about Australia either.
What citizenship does though is bind you to the nation. If we were to move to the United States, then I would consider becoming an American citizen because if I was to live there for any considerable amount of time, I'd want a say in how the country was run. I have that in Australia because my citizenship is by default but Mrs Rollo would have that through choice.

*The 1967 referendum amended the Constitution to include Aboriginal peoples in population counts in section 127 and to remove the "race" power from section 51.

August 12, 2015

Horse 1957 - The Quiet Place

I think that it's safe to say that I will probably not be the next host of Top Gear, even after my fantastically amazing 30 second audition video that I sent the BBC (which was so fantastically amazing that no one in the world shall ever again see it). Having to do a piece to camera as opposed to writing a blog post, does instantly change your awareness of the environment around you and I'm sure that with better equipment, I could overcome many of the technical difficulties (such as getting a clean sound). What you do become painfully aware of is just how much noise there actually is... in the world.
On my journey to work this morning, I again turned my attention to the noises which I usually ignore and there are as many as there are varied.
There is the whine of powerful electric motors of the train as they pull us on, on and ever on towards the city. They remind me of some sort of stringed instrument except that there is no let up for a very long time. To play such a note upon a viola would require a bow several miles long and no person would physically be able to draw it across the strings. There is the light murmuring of people's conversations on their mobile phones; which are far more subdued than what I usually hear on the trip on the way home again but still as inane. There are the repetitive automated announcements telling us what the next station is, or reminding us yet again that if we feel unwell that we should seek help at the next station. This week is "rail safety week" as we are informed of for the sixth time on this journey and the recorded announcement is again telling us to remind children to remain behind the yellow line when standing on station platforms. There are the involuntary noises that emit from the humans around me such as sneezes, the sounds of coughs and sniffles and the shuffling of mucus; then there are subtle noises such as people's guts churning and reminding them that they haven't had any breakfast.
All of this is quite apart from the fact that people then choose to lock themselves away in their own personalised sonic bubbles with their ear buds, though somewhere off in the distance I'm sure that I can hear AC/DC's "Back in Black". Okay I can't hear any of the words but those same bass chords and riffs are on quick rotation.
It is really difficult to find a quiet space in the world. Maybe a hundred or so years ago, we would have heard the sounds of horses hooves as they carted goods around, on in the office we would have heard the frenzied mechanical clack of the typewriter as opposed to the less romantic clash of plastic on a computer keyboard. Factory workers  in ages past literally lost their hearing as they themselves were lost inside the tumultuous cacophony of machinery and labourers, bricklayers, plumbers, dockers and a whole army of workers heard the human voice.

But where does one find quiet?


Four hours after arriving at work, I find myself on my lunch hour; with no real mission and armed with an Opal Card which at this point in the week entitles me to free travel everywhere in Sydney, I caught two buses and just decided to enter a deserted building.
Curiosity which killed the cat and has been found guilty of conspiracy to kill Rollo on occasion, led me up a set of escalators and stairs to this group of offices and landing. According to the directory downstairs, there are no tenants here anymore. This place is spookily quiet; to the point that I can hear my own heart beat and the soft hush of my own blood.
I wonder as I stand in this place that humanity has forgotten amidst the hurrying din, why I find this place so mind warping. Has someone been murdered here? Are there spirits who wish to do me harm? Or could it be that I've become so accustomed to living in a world full of ignorable noises that their absence is unusual.
This place is so quiet that I cannot even hear the so-called white noises which you’d usually find in a building such as the gush of air through the air-conditioning ducts. With no tenants, there probably is no need to switch on the air-conditioning and with nobody visiting this place very often, the people who don’t come here are not concerned about the faint mustiness in the air. You cannot hear smell.
I am by myself. There are no other people here. There are no intrusions to my train of thought as it speeds along and no stops along the way either.  It is terrifying. Unlike being in places where the noise is so loud that you cannot hear yourself think*, in a space like this you can't run away from yourself or your own thoughts. They are front and centre upon the strange; free to tread the boards in front of the proscenium arch; in full view. The upside is that it makes writing something very easy as there are no interruptions.
Of course now that I have found my patch of calm, my own little oasis amidst the sea of noise and confusion, it would be foolhardy of me to divulge where it is. We can’t have every Hugh, Louis and Deward knowing about this place. This is a place where the phone doesn’t ring, where there are no emails to reply to, where there are no pieces of paper that suddenly land on the desk and where no one is demanding that something is done instantly.
There is also no real reason to stay here very long either. Just like a traffic refuge, you can’t hang out there all day if you have places to go to and things to do.

*See Horse 1951:

August 11, 2015

Horse 1956 - We Want You To Work For Less Pay II

Much has been made in the news recently about the Australian Chamber of Commerce an Industry's proposal to abolish penalty rates at the weekend under the premise that this would create more jobs. This is Economics 101, right? If you lower the costs for a good  (in this case labour) then you shift the supply curve downwards, thus creating a new lower equilibrium position and selling more as a result. The theory says that if employers don't have to pay as much for their labour, then they're going to hire more labour and this will lower unemployment. The problem with the ACCI's suggestion is that it isn't actually true. I think that this is a serious case of synthetic a priori. We've moved into some sort of Kantian fantasy where thinking about a thing will change the thing. The world simply doesn't work that way.

When economists talk about incentives, its often unclear about what they mean by that term. I've read several texts and come to the conclusion that even within the text you're reading, an economist will propose some model about how incentives work and that proceed to ignore that model throat out the rest of the text. Like Kant who never strayed more than about 70 miles from.his house in his whole life, economists have a tendency to live in their own little thought bubble and cultivate friends such as managers and politicians and then wonder why things don't work out in the real world.
I also don't understand how the ACCI arrived at their conclusions either. The example which has frequently been put forward in the media is of cafés and restaurants but having been a member of the Mossman Chamber of Commerce for more than a decade, I can tell you that we do not see any café or restaurant owners. The members of the local Chamber of Commerce tend to be professionals and semiprofessionals like financial planners, legal and paralegal practitioners, real estate agents and the local managers of banks and building societies. These sorts of people tend to want to become members because they can see a synergy in referring clients between each other. Someone who wants accounting work done is also semi likely to want financial planning help as well. Likewise, someone buying property often needs legal assistance in the conveyancing and drafting of legal documents in conjunction with that property. Café and restaurant owners do not become members of the local Chamber of Commerce because they're too busy out in the real world running their cafés and restaurants.
My question in broad teams for the ACCI is who the heck did they speak to? Not once have I seen a single survey conducted and the results published. You can't just think about something and say that that's how the world works.

Yesterday this blog actually bothered to conduct the research. The Horse Independent Poll (which was me armed with a clipboard) went into the streets of Mosman and tested the proposal to see it if was true. I was truly HIP.
I was surprised at just how many cafés there are in Mosman. There are two in Bridgepoint, one across the street from the ex-cinema, six just in the region of Myagah Mews and from Spit Junction through to Mosman Junction on Military Road there are twelve cafés and this doesn't include places like the charcoal chicken shop, the bakeries, the cheese shop or the burger place. There were twenty-one places that I managed to visit in an hour; which I'll freely admit is too small to be a statistically useful sample size but it's better than nothing.

The two questions I asked were:
1. If penalty rates at the weekend were abolished, would this encourage you to employ more people?
2. If penalty rates at the weekend were abolished, would this encourage you to remain open for longer?

The results were surprising. Of the 21 cafés that I surveyed, 0 would employ more people if penalty rates were abolished at the weekend and 0 would remain open longer.
The reasons given for these responses (and that also surprised me, that people will just talk to you without prompting) ranged from "Mosman is dead at the weekend and so there wouldn't be any point", through "I'm not looking to employ any more people", to "It's rude for the Prime Minister to think that we'd remain open just for him. We need our weekends too."
This latter response, or something like it, was echoed by 12 people with 3 specifically name checking the Prime Minister. Cafés it seems, are driven either by more than just money, or come up against hard barriers as to why they don't remain open longer at the weekend.
Maybe this is also worth that Mosman lies within the electorate of Warringah, which just happens to be that of the Prime Minister. In the eleven and a half years that I have worked in Mosman, I've only seen the Prime Minister on the street once and that was during the 2010 election campaign.

The reason why penalty rates exist is because people are in effect rewarded for working in conditions that in some way suck. Overtime exists because it sucks that people need to work longer than their allotted 37.5 or 40 hours a week. Penalty rates for dangerous or dirty jobs exist because those conditions suck in some way. Penalty rates for working at the weekend or during late hours exist because it sucks to be working those hours. Granted that people aren't as religious as they once were and so perhaps the rationale that people want to go to church isn't there any more but working at 11pm on the weekend is crap. Leaving work in the nighttime and in the cold sucks. If an employee is in the city, they also face increased risk of being stabbed.
The thing is that it also sucks for employers to be open longer and later. They have to make sure that everything is locked up, that their employees aren't stealing from them and they also face the fact that leaving work later sucks.

The abolition of penalty rates seems to me like an airline reducing its fare in the hope that people will want to travel 75% of the way to Auckland. Price is not the only thing at issue here. If 0/21 cafés that I surveyed would neither employ more people or remain open longer then the aim of abolishing penalty rates is completely missed. I would suspect that employing one extra person is a bigger step than just slashing people's pay. In the end, the only people who would get thrown off the plane though, are the workers.

Also See:
Horse 1830 - We Want You To Work For Less Pay

August 10, 2015

Horse 1955 - My Favourite Number

Because I work in an accounting firm, people sometimes ask me what my favourite number is, as if that's the sort of thing that they expect accountants to have. I like to joke that if they are prepared to give me that many dollars, then my favourite number is 28 million. There's also this assumption that I must like the number pi because of its apparent nerdiness and whilst pi does make for a very nice nerdulent answer, unless you do happen to be going something which involves practical geometry, then pi is about as useful as putting a knitted beanie on the Sydney Town Hall - it might look cool but its impractical and mostly useless.
So then, for the purposes of answering the question of what my favourite number is, I shall now decide upon one. That number is: 240.

Those of you who happen to be reading this and were born before about 1956 will more than likely understand why I've chosen 240; that is that there are, or rather were, 240 pennies in the pre-decimal pound. Granted that I do have a penchant for old things and if I had access to time travel I'd go to the 1930s and fit out my wardrobe from that period but my reasoning for picking 240 is one of usefulness.

Decimal currency was invented because it was supposedly useful. 100 cents in the dollar means that you can do most calculations in a hurry but in the world of accounting and tax returns, we almost exclusively use whole dollars and tax returns explicitly state "Do Not Show Cents".
Believe it or not, the pre-decimal pound was in fact decimal. It even had a coin which at one point had the words "one tenth of a pound" clumsily written on it; that coin was the florin. A pound of 20 shillings divides to ten 2 shilling parts evenly. This is just one of many useful divisions that the old pound could be evenly sliced.

240 parts = 1d.
120 parts = 2d.
80 parts = 3d.
60 parts = 4d.
48 parts = 5d.
40 parts = 6d.
30 parts = 8d.
24 parts = 10d.
20 parts = 1/-
16 parts = 1/3
15 parts = 1/4
12 parts = 1/8
10 parts = 2/-
8 parts = 2/6
6 parts = 3/4
5 parts = 4/-
4 parts = 5/-
3 parts = 6/8
2 parts = 10/-
1 part = £1

Unlike a decimal dollar of 100 cents, the old pound divided into many useful parts. Allocating monthly expenses come out to whole pennies because 240 divides into twelve but 100 cents does not and you have to round off. Halves, quarters and thirds are all useful fractions of things to be playing with but you can still get a tenth of something if you desire.

As for the argument that a decimal dollar is easier to understand, I think that is demonstrably untrue. People survived quite happily with the old pound and I don't know if that says that the general populace was more intelligent than today or if society has progressively got stupider but even if both of those positions are correct, everyone has more computing power in their smart phones these days than the entire Apollo Program which sent people to the moon; so I don't think that's much of an issue. It is my general experience that most people don’t do simple maths (as opposed to can’t) and so how the currency is divided is largely irrelevant.
Actually, for a country like Japan which has the Yen divided into 100 Sen and 1000 Rin, those divisions are irrelevant anyway. The last time that any Rin coins were minted was 1892 and the Sen disappeared in 1953. Australia’s cent coins have already fallen by the way side and the 5 cent coin should follow New Zealand’s lead and just go away.

Back in Horse 1109* I already wrote of the usefulness of the number 12 which can be divided by 2, 3, 4 & 6. 240 continues that usefulness but to a much larger degree. The pre-decimal pound even had an element of decimalness about it anyway. The two shilling coin, the florin, from its inception in 1849 until 1892 bore the legend “one tenth of a pound”. Technically you could if you wanted to write an amount like £5.7 and it still would have been meaningful and come out to an exact amount. It’s just that £5.7 equals £5/14/-.

I’m guessing that the reason for people asking about someone’s favourite number is as a starter for small talk. Intrinsically there isn’t anything particularly special about any number, it’s just that as humans who live in a world of stories, we like there to be some story behind people’s motives and desires. We are all natural storytellers.
When you think about it, every single human endeavour be it the sciences, human drama, sport, religion, faith, love, even life itself is bound up in stories. Stories are the currency of life. It’s just that my favourite number is a story not only about currency but about a world which has passed and about a lament for a system which is more practically useful.

*Horse 1109 - 

August 07, 2015

Horse 1954 - Liverpool's Season 2015-16

From an unpredictable and then idiotic unravelling of the title chase in 2013-14, the loss of Luis Suarez in 2014-15, saw them lurch and limp to an impotent sixth. If 2015-16 is to be any different, then at least two strikers will need to start paying dividends on the potential they've shown.

Apart from the opening match at Stoke the next six away fixtures are against Arsenal, Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City. At least 10 points from those would be acceptable, though to be title winning material, they probably need to take home at least 13 points. I have seen 25 seasons of false dawns, so we shall know by the end of November, whether or not to consign the 2015-16 season to the rubbish bin and whether or not the long-suffering of Liverpool fans qualifies them for canonisation to the sainthood.

Brendon Rogers has this strange propensity to play 4-3-3 which I quite frankly do not understand. I don't know if that's supposed to be one player who sits behind the front two but I do know that it often leaves the midfield horribly exposed; I think that Rogers would do well to rethink it.

Being the EA FIFA player that I am, the formation which I most commonly use is either 4-4-2 (or 2-6-2 if I really want to clog up the midfield).
If 4-4-2 is to be adopted then the usual starting keeper would be Mignolet, the four backs would be Clyne, Skrtel, Enrique and Touré, Henderson and Milner would play as a central midfield pair with Coutinho and Ibe on the wings and Sturridge, Benteke and Balotelli would rotate through the two striking positions with other partners. Every position would be rotated through every week.

However, I do not believe in building a default starting eleven simply because I think that that's a waste of talent and resources. Liverpool have 9 listed midfielders. If the season is likely to be 45 games long (which includes all cup and league ties in all competitions), then that means in a 4-4-2 system there are 180 possible starting midfield positions. Under my managership, that would be 20 starts per player and although the players might complain about starting less than half the matches, I'd want them to remember that the manager's job is to manage and that the goal is silverware.

One of the problems that Liverpool have is how to avoid being stretched too thinly over the course of the season. Apart from the league and FA Cup, is the Capital One Cup Cuppity Cup and the Europa League. Almost every club that competes in the Europa League suffers a corresponding drop in the league table. The Champions League seems to provide adequate compensation which leads to improved squad depth but the Europa League is almost like a poisoned chalice.

When Liverpool travel to the Britannia Stadium and play Stoke City on the opening day of the season, the memories of last year's 6-1 defeat hopefully should have faded into the distant past. They were undefeated on their pre-season tour; with the only blips being scored against first by Brisbane Roar in a 2-1 victory and a 1-1 draw against a Malaysian XI in 34° heat and after having midefielder Lucas leave the field with a bloodied face.

This season more than most, Liverpool will need to hit the ground running and running hard or face getting a face full of gravel.

Newcastle United's 2015-16 kit:

Ugh. What were they thinking? The blue section at the bottom of the back, just makes the players permanently look as if they've forgotten to tuck their shirts in and their undies are showing.
The blue IN the stripes looks horrid, the all white back looks horrid and the sponsor which offers short-term, high-cost credit (read loan shark loans) at more than 5000% APR in some cases, is morally bankrupt.
What makes this worse is that tensions against owner Mike Ashley have been growing and the retention on Wonga as a sponsor is seen as a slap in the face to a working class city like Newcastle by a billionaire who has in the past tried to on sell the club to investors from the Middle East.

The alternative offered by The Magpie Brand is a smart looking piece of kit and is led by the supporters themselves: