Sunday, July 25, 2010

Political Silly Season

Elections, whatever the level (Federal, State or Local) bring out the competitive streak in all politicians. "One-up -manship" becomes the order of the day. "You think you are tough on crime? I can be tougher!" "Cut immigration by 50%? I will cut it by 60%." Whatever the topic, each side tries to go further. They push relentlessly to the extremes, usually in the negative direction. All of this adds up to just one thing - a stifling of political debate.

Every party, once they are in office, has but one stay in office. Every decision, every action, every indecision is to accomplish one goal - staying in power. The common excuse is that they are the only party that has the answers, hence to get the correct outcomes, they need to stay in power. Unfortunately this leads to an abrogation  of responsibility by governments. Hard decisions are not made. By definition they are hard because they will lead to unpopularity.

The role of government is to do just that - govern. They should not fear unpopularity. True, it could cost them their jobs but their role is not to stay in power, it is to govern. Good government does not come easily or cheaply. Unpopular decisions need to be made for the future good of the country. For the good of the current and the future citizens.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Presumption Assumption

Everybody likes to believe that they are innocent until proven guilty. It is a nice comforting thought that we hold onto dearly if we are the one being judged. However many are quick to jump onto the band wagon and condemn someone if they feel the person deserves it. If this happens in a closed environment it can be controlled. Where it really becomes sticky is when this is done in the media. Television programs are always looking for an edge, something that gives them an advantage over their competition.

There has been a recent case of this played out in the media. Without going into too much detail, there have been accusations made of sexual abuse behind the scenes of a well-known TV program back in the 80's. The first accusations appeared in public in a women's magazine. This story was then picked up by two rival TV current affair programs. There have been numerous stories from former cast members saying they knew, they suspected or they had no idea that this was going on. Suffice to say it reached saturation level. Both sides got to have their points put forward. All this has occurred without one charge laid or even one complaint lodged with the authorities.

My immediate concern is with the victim, if there is one. The problem lies with the fact that without a complaint from the victim the police cannot investigate. Even if they investigate and charges are laid the victim and their supporters may have done themselves a great disservice with all of the publicity - this has turned into a trial by media at the very least. How is the alleged perpetrator supposed to get a fair trial? If I was his attorney I would be asking for any charges laid to be dropped on those grounds.

In recent history there have been two instances where the courts have ruled that TV dramatizations of criminal activity could not be shown as it would prejudice court cases or appeals. Here we have someone being accused and judged by public opinion without any charges laid. With the saturation level media coverage it would be nigh on impossible to find a jury that had not been influenced in some way by TV or conversations or the inter-web-thingy. Innocent until proven guilty? Here we have a case of tried and where do I make my complaint.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Rationalizing the Irrational

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why did it happen to them? Why was it them and not me? What if....? These are questions that are often asked in times of grief. Horrific accidents are not rational and can't be explained in rational language. If they could be explained in rational terms, if the events can be rationalized then the events would not present the puzzle they do. It might seem callous but we should not waste time trying to rationalize irrational events.

So how do we cope? How do we make sense of a situation that has no meaning? The only rational explanation I can come up with is the irrational. Many would have us believe that human existence is merely four score years on this planet then oblivion. People who subscribe to this seek irrationally to create a legacy, something to leave behind, a reminder that they were here.

Others subscribe to a belief in the existence of a higher power....God, Allah, or some other being or power. The key thing is that they have faith in a power outside of themselves. Something that governs the order of the universe. Often this type of belief is associated with a belief in life after death or eternal life or multiple consecutive lives. Again the key thing is there is a belief in something beyond this present life. There is no need to leave a legacy. This life may end at death but there is something beyond this.

A popular product asks "What gets you up in the morning?" Well, what is it? A desire to create a legacy that will will last beyond you or a belief that there is more beyond your four score years? Without a belief in something beyond this current mortal life there is nothing to get you up in the morning. Most people will not have the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy beyond their immediate why bother? With a belief in something more, this life ceases to be precious.......which makes it all the more enjoyable.

So, what will get you up in the morning?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Saving on Your Utilities

One of the great myths of the energy debate is "If you reduce your energy consumption you will save money." You can reduce your energy consumption by turning appliances off at the wall, changing to energy efficient light bulbs and buying energy efficient appliances. If you are trying to save energy - great! If you are trying to save money - wrong! Think of it from a logical point of view. The energy companies are in the business of making money, and lots of it. When we were using energy like there was no tomorrow they were making record profits. When you reduce your energy consumption they lose money. The only way they can continue to make big profits is to charge you more for the energy you use. Expect that as energy consumption comes down, the price per unit of energy will go up.

The same will happen across other utilities such as water and gas. It is already happening with water. We learned to use less when there were restrictions in place. Now that the restrictions are gone we are still being frugal with our water. The water companies still want their profits (got to keep the shareholders happy) so they have to increase the cost of the water, or recover the cost elsewhere. In some places the water bill can be over $120 before you even turn on the tap.

All the environmental arguments in the world will not be as effective at reducing energy consumption as the hit to their hip pocket. What is discouraging to both climate skeptics and environmentalists is the penalty that people pay for reducing their energy consumption. By the way, why do we need two new power stations if everybody is reducing consumption? The power producers and the regulators (one and the same) have to justify the the increased why not justify it by building power stations we don't need. They would be far better spending that money by putting solar power on every home, office block and school in the state.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Healthcare Reform

The announcement today that the Federal Government will "takeover" the majority of hospital funding was fully expected. In the lead up to the last federal election the then opposition leader said that if the States couldn't get the hospitals right then he would have to do the job. If I remember correctly his words were - The buck stops here, it stops with me. Quite clearly his actions today say that he didn't think the States had been able to fix the problem.

What makes the new system interesting is that the Federal Government will only be the supplier of funds, about 60% of the funding required for the activities carried out by the hospitals. The rest will come from the States. That may be how the plan is supposed to work however in reality the funding arrangement will not change. This is because the bulk of the Federal money will come from taking money from the States (GST revenue). It is easy to be generous with other peoples money.

The management of the hospitals will also change - they will be run by regional boards. Fine in theory but he who holds the purse strings calls the shots. The Feds will only pay the hospital money for activity based on standard costs for procedures. If those procedures cost more in some hospitals they will have to make efficiency gains to save money or they will have to cease the procedure because they can't afford to do it based on the rebate they will receive. What you will find over time is that services will be reduced at some hospitals because they can't reduce costs. This is most likely to affect country hospitals, who by the way often have reduced services to start with.

Will all of this end the long waiting lists for elective surgery? I don't think so. Will it bring down the cost of healthcare? I don't think so. Will it end the blame game that is Public Healthcare? I don't think so. Will it increase the bureaucracy? Of course.......

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


It is generally seen as "heroic" to stand up and accept responsibility for something when it has gone awry. How "heroic" is it to let a mate take most of the heat and then step in at the last minute and to accept "full responsibility" for the failed scheme? And how far does "full responsibility" or "the buck stops with me" actually go? If you accept full responsibility then you should be the one who is chastised or demoted or sacked for the failure of the project...regardless of any fault or blame. After all you did accept "full responsibility". Further more how heroic is it to accept full responsibility when you know that you can't be held accountable for many weeks or even months?

Accepting full or any responsibility means that you will take the punishment as well as the plaudits. You are prepared for action to be taken at the point of failure. Someone who puts himself in this position is truly heroic and then has the right to hold others accountable for their action or inaction.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Ageing Population

We are in the middle of the biggest pyramid scheme ever. Currently it takes about two workers to support a retired person. By the time I am ready to retire it will take about 5 people to support a retired person. So the only way to support my generation is to get more workers but who is going to support their retirement? The only way for the current system to survive is to keep getting people in at the ground floor. What we need is a change of paradigm. We should not be expecting the government to fund our retirement.

There are countries where the government does not fund a retirement plan for the elderly. Instead a plan is in place for each worker to fund their own retirement. Singapore is a prime example. Each month a portion of the employees wage is set aside, a bit like Super. A contribution then comes from the employer. Together they amount to approximately 40% of the wage. A portion of this is placed in a medical fund to pay for healthcare and the funds can be drawn on for buying a house. If funds are borrowed they must be repaid. Once you retire you are paid a stipend based on the amount of funds you have.

If we are funding our own retirement then the government can fund national growth, which will improve incomes for everyone. There is also the incentive to be more productive......if you are not your retirement will be poorer. The government should not be thinking how can we afford all these pensions but how do we change the paradigm.