And they’re off

So, the election has started in earnest, and we finally know the date: September 7th. Today was Day 1, and the action is all under way for Election 2013.

Hmm: let’s recap for those who haven’t been paying attention. Back in 2007, Kevin Rudd was Opposition Leader, running against the tired old policies of Howard. Rudd promised… well, roughly the same policies as Howard, but he’d be nice to the Aboriginals, the refugees, the environment, and the “working families” who were about to be put on cruel and unusual employment conditions.

Rudd got into power, and appointed his deputy Gillard to oversee the transition away from the cruel & unusual working terms (a.k.a. WorkChoices). He then got stuck into the hypotheticals, called a major ideas conference, and then promptly did… well… I don’t think anything actually concrete came of that conference. I’m not sure even something ephemeral did.

Then the GFC happened, and everything else went out the window.

Continue reading And they’re off

FBT Rule Changes

Excellent post on The Conversation about what is actually proposed by Rudd & Bowen to change with the FBT rules next year:

This means that where the statutory formula method gives a lower taxable value than the cost method, the taxpayer is getting a tax concession.

This is recognised in the annual Tax Expenditure Statements issued by Treasury. The Tax Expenditure Statements contain a list of items where taxpayers are getting a tax concession, along with an estimate of the aggregate of the tax concession.

The statutory formula method is listed as a significant tax expenditure. On the other hand, where the statutory formula method gives a higher taxable value than the cost method and the employer fails to elect into the lower cost method (this will rarely happen), the employer is being (unfairly) overtaxed. This would be a negative tax expenditure.

The removal of the statutory formula method simply moves this part of the tax system back to a principled position by removing a tax concession. These facts have been completely lost in the “debate”.

The whinging of vested interests and the media’s speed in presenting their stories as being utterly valid without question leaves me disgusted. Any business that just complains when their operating environment changes, especially when they’ve been operating on what amounts to a rort, doesn’t deserve to be in the business in the first place. This is a repeat of the mining tax whinge writ small.

Edit: Michael Pascoe in the Fairfax press also has an excellent & incisive piece on this.

Obama: America is not yet a post-racial society

Barack Obama, showing the eloquence he’s famous for, makes the point in the light of the Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman case that America is not (yet) a post-racial society:

There are very few African-American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me.

And there are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me, at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

This is something that many who haven’t experienced that side of society’s treatments perhaps don’t realise – those viewed this way notice. People might thing they’re being careful or subtle, but it’s noticeable. I’m not a black man in America, but I’ve seen shades of the same thing, and while 9 times out of 10 it’s easy to dismiss, there’s always the odd moment when you think to yourself that you’re paying for the original sin of appearance, something you can’t control at all.

And let me just leave you with a final thought: that as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.

It doesn’t mean that we’re in a post-racial society. It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated. But you know, when I talk to Malia and Sasha and I listen to their friends and I see them interact, they’re better than we are. They’re better than we were on these issues. And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

The underlying point here is: electing me – even twice – hasn’t resolved the race issue in America, and it’d be worthwhile to recognise this as a factor.

Kevin’s Back

Possibly a little late to be jumping into the schemozzle that was Federal Politics last week, but now that Kevin’s back, there’s quite a few people giving Labor another look. It’s fascinating to me because the policy differences between Rudd and Gillard are minimal, so the difference boils purely down to personality and perception.

Anyway, that point aside, here’s Pollytics on how the 2013 Election is actually shaping up to be a very, very interesting one:

The “Swing to the ALP” figure is the change to the ALP two party preferred vote since the 2010 election. As we can see, there’s big movements to the ALP in Qld, but large movements away from them in Victoria and South Australia, with NSW and WA remaining static.

If we plug those numbers into Antony Green’s Election Calculator, we get the ALP currently sitting on 77 seats, the Coalition 71 and 2 Independents (Katter and Wilkie). The Tasmania, ACT and NT results all come from small samples in either the ReachTEL or Morgan SMS results – so they’re a bit iffy, but you get the general picture.

My election simulation produces a similar result 76 seats to the ALP vs. 72 to the Coalition, with 2 Independents.

Wait, what? That’s not supposed to happen. Labor is ahead on its own merits, and QLD seems to be the key.

Very, very interesting electoral maths about to occur.

Four More Years for Obama

In 2008, I think I was far more nervous and yet also more confident of Obama’s election – surely, the US would see after the disaster of the Bush presidency that something different was needed, and they delivered. The elation, the sheer relief of Bush being over and done with was as big a factor in the aftermath as the historic election of a ‘Black’ President. Obama would have that label no matter what, now that he was elected – and the Hope & Change message was a powerful one.

In 2012, the farcical path the Republican party took to get to the final nominee, the unbelievable audacity of the untruths told in the process, probably made me far more complacent about the prospects for Obama’s re-election – surely his achievements were sufficient! – but at the same time I was almost expecting that the American people wouldn’t see it, and they’d be blindly railroaded into rolling over to Romney – and all for want of a decent debate performance? It was the strangely believable result which I could see the Americans delivering. Never trust the nice guy is going to finish on top.

So when the election wrapped up pretty much as Nate Silver and the team at FiveThirtyEight predicted, it was a moment of relief more than anything that cynical lies hadn’t won the day. Obama deserved an equal chance to prove his changes meant something as Bush, Clinton or Reagan got – a presidential legacy to be sealed. Now it is up to him to deliver on the promise, without the constraints that the hunt for re-election places.


It saddens me that the term limits are a factor in the US like this – Obama doesn’t get a shot at a third term, no matter what. Bill Clinton doesn’t get a shot to use his intelligence and capabilities that remain so strong and so present. Obama will retire in effect at 55, having done all he could have done in politics. Short of a nomination to the Supreme Court by a successor, the man may have another 30 years in which he cannot directly apply his intelligence to the public good. Fair’s fair – this could have applied in both directions, and Reagan could have been President until his dementia kicked in, but it is something that becomes an interesting question with longer lives and younger candidates.


Another note of interest I picked up yesterday was the following map from the NY Times election coverage – it shows the shift in the votes for each county:

The red arrows show a shift to a higher Republican vote/margin, the blues to a better result for Obama. The length of the arrows shows the magnitude of the shift.

For all the talk of the Deep South being Republican heartland and this election being driven by that factor more than anything else, you can see very, very clearly that this hasn’t been the case in the south. Obama managed to win despite the move against him in nearly every state – the states which show clear pockets of blue are Ohio, northern NY, and then the southern “traditionally red” states. That he managed to win despite the big red arrows against him in the Mid-West is awesome indeed.

Semblance of Reason

On the weekend, there was a horrific crash on the Pacific Highway, where a B-Double truck swerving to avoid a ute on the wrong side of the road crashed into a house, killing an 11 year old boy in his sleep. The driver of the ute was also killed, and the truck driver taken to hospital with serious injuries.

The Pacific Highway is a 600+ km highway between Sydney & Brisbane, and its upgrade has been long promised. I used to live halfway up it, and I drove it myself this holiday season. It’s come from being a nightmare stretch of road with one lane in each direction for much of its length to being dual carriageway for over half its length.

The cause of this crash was a car being where it shouldn’t be, on the wrong side of the road. The driver may have been fatigued and inattentive, or he may have been distracted, or any number of reasons for being on the wrong side. The truck driver wasn’t to blame – he did his best, but the consequences were unfortunate.

In the aftermath though, media and community attention has for some unfathomable reason focused on the fact that a speed camera 1km away from the location of the crash had been switched off, following a review of the effectiveness of cameras. The new O’Farrell government said they would switch off those cameras proven ineffective, and this was one of 38 switched off. The transport minister has now promised to switch this particular camera back on, bowing to community pressure.

Why?

There’s no suggestion speed was involved – police have not said what the cause of the ute being on the wrong side was, but there’s no mention of speed in any of the reports. The camera was 1km away, and being a speed camera it would have only provided a temporary deterrent, and meant little if the driver was distracted or fatigued. And yet in the interests of appearing to do something, a speed camera is being switched back on, despite proving ineffective.

Why is it that people clamour for these things without any semblance of a reason for doing so? What would they think a camera would have done on that fateful night?

Mining Tax SNAFU

Wayne Swan is pitching it as “…a way in which all Australians share in the bounty of the mining boom,” but Alan Kohler destroys any illusion of that:

There was, and is, a fundamental disconnect between the terms of trade boom that was killing manufacturing and tourism and the tax revenue governments were getting from it because royalties are levied on volume not price.

The Henry proposal involved a 40 per cent extra resources rent tax and a reduction in company tax to 25 per cent, plus a series of depreciation and capital allowance benefits for manufacturers and other small businesses.

Now, that particular reform wasn’t ever posed by Rudd, but something very much like it existed, however briefly, before the miners took a hatchet to the government. It’s only now that the majority of people are starting to see the two-speed economy for what it is.

.Julia Gillard negotiated a lower tax on iron ore and coal with BHP, Rio Tinto and Xstrata so that only the smaller companies with smaller advertising budgets would complain. As part of that, she was forced to allow existing mineral royalties to be deducted from the tax, which totally negated the idea of replacing ad valorem royalties from a tax on profits.
And then, to make the whole exercise completely pointless, she tied it to an increase in the superannuation guarantee levy from 9 per cent to 12 per cent.

That increases manufacturing costs instead of reducing them, and vastly increases the cost of the exercise to the federal budget.

According to Brian Toohey in this morning’s Financial Review, the cost to the budget of the extra superannuation tax deductions will be $4.2 billion in 2019-20. The total cost of the concessions connected to the MRRT will be $9.4 billion in that year – less than a third of which is paid for by the revenue to be collected from the MRRT.

The latest concessions negotiated by Andrew Wilkie undermine any credibility he had – his electorate in Hobart doesn’t have any mining interests, so his conditions on improving things for small miners is clearly the result of targeted lobbying. Oakeshott and Windsor did well for their electorates, raising the issue of Coal Seam Gas – but Wilkie betrayed the idea of the independent representative.

How the GOP Became The Party of the Rich

Astonishing reading for anyone who realises the November 23 deadline for the “supercomittee” is coming up, and they’re not doing anything about it – the malaise set in a while ago:

In November 2002, at a meeting in the White House, the president and his top economic advisers packed tightly around a mahogany table in the Roosevelt Room. With the administration’s own forecasts showing that the economy had already regained its footing, one after another of Bush’s deputies sounded the alarm about the dangers of a new tax cut. “This burns a big hole in the budget,” deputy chief of staff Josh Bolten told the president. “The budget hole is getting deeper,” added Daniels, “and we are projecting deficits all the way to the end of your second term.”… Entertaining the chorus of doubters, Bush himself voiced qualms about more cuts for the rich. “Won’t the top-rate people benefit the most?” he asked. “Didn’t we already give them a break at the top?”

But Cheney was having none of it. When O’Neill warned Bush that America was headed for a “fiscal crisis,” the vice president, sitting at the Treasury secretary’s right elbow, dismissed him midsentence by citing the ultimate champion of Republican tax cuts: “Ronald Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter, Paul.”

A true student of Reagan would have understood that 2002 was the moment for a tax increase. When his 1981 tax cut overshot the mark, Reagan had put aside ideology and raised taxes, putting the needs of the country above the desires of the wealthy.

For all their clamouring and strident proclamations, the current Republican leadership doesn’t have a clue as to how to get back into surplus. It’s much the same in our dear little opposition.

Julia, resign

Julia, resign:

At the same time you were blind to Rudd’s achievements, most importantly his tactical response to the global financial crisis mark I. It was fast, intelligent and successful. Few believe you can perform to his level for GFC II.

Neither the voters, according to the pollsters, nor the frightened people sitting behind you in the Reps. They know the party is doomed but are paralysed. They don’t have the guts to admit to a huge error of judgment and demand you leave.

That’s why you must resign. You started this fiasco. Only you can end it. That’s the only way to have a fighting chance. Not only in the next election but in the dramatic months between then and now.

Never, ever did I think I would find something in The Australian that I could point to as rational thought. Have a look at this chart of polling:

If Rudd had lost his way, Gillard is up the proverbial creek without a paddle and sinking fast.

Caveat Lector

A response to this rather infuriating article:

Paul Sheehan has a rather glaring contradiction in his article on Monday, accusing “Comrade Rudd” of being a great illusionist. To claim on the one hand that the Prime Minister falsely represented himself as an economic conservative, but argue on the other hand that following Keynes’ General Theory is not economic conservatism appears somewhat contradictory.

Keynes’ ideas of macroeconomics had been largely displaced by Milton Friedman and the Chicago School of Business’ laissez-faire monetary approach since the 70s, so it seems that a return to older ideas would indeed conform to the ideas of conservatism in the field of economics. Applying the approach used to solve the Great Depression of the 1930s seems like the very model of conservatism.

It is also telling to read the full text of Niall Ferguson’s quasi-blog-post. Sheehan very selectively quotes from the source, which is primarily focused on proposing a solution for America and its banks.

Niall Ferguson’s article focuses on the fact that the US and UK governments are deeply indebted, along with their banks. He proposes that the US Government effectively seize American banks known to be holding large volumes of potentially bad debt, rewriting mortgages in more favourable terms for borrowers, and reprivatizing seized banks in 10 years. It’s an idea that is widely circulated, and has the backing of Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize for Economics winner for 2008.

Does Sheehan expect that Kevin Rudd follow this example for the Australian banks? The solutions Sheehan hints at in Ferguson’s “solution” have nothing to do with Australia and the Government’s attempts to stimulate local demand, and would have Sheehan screaming about socialism by any other name. To imagine that these solutions could be brought about without increased government spending and debt is also fatuous.

Australian banks not affected to the extent of their international peers, for which regulation is but one factor, so Ferguson’s proposed solution is largely irrelevant to Australia, despite the allusions Mr Sheehan draws to solutions which “space precludes listing.” Ferguson’s contention that more debt is a problem, which Sheehan has latched onto, is only to set up the argument that the further debt should be targeted more directly at fixing bad loans in America. Paul Sheehan seems to have missed that part.

Caveat lector – let the reader beware – ought to proceed Sheehan’s article.