Tony Abbott’s Red Tape Day

How excited was I to learn that Tony Abbott’s propensity for saying what he thinks his audience wants to hear has led him to commit to a ‘Cut Red Tape Day” in March.

For once, I thought, a good idea, and I’m determined to play my part.

Fired with determination to serve the common weal, I delved into the red tape that so obviously besets our very existence, searching for the slashable.

You’ll be pleased to know that I have – as the Chinese say – met with success.

First, toys; mountains of regulations determine the quality, dimensions and constituents of children’s’ toys sold in this country. It’s scandalous.

Get rid of it Tony.

What’s that you say? Children might be poisoned or otherwise injured?  Let’s not, I reply, allow a few sick kiddies to stand, or lie for that matter, in the way of corporate profitability.

I found the same wherever I looked; vast piles of regs dictate such silly things as vehicle and food safety.

When you apply for practically anything from a government department, you first have to prove you are who you say you are.

What? Do they think we might fib?

Do you know how much red tape is involved in becoming a licensed electrician? Or a brain surgeon? Or an airline pilot? It. Just. Never. Ends.

Form upon form demands completion simply so we can be sure that proper amounts of GST are paid.

Here we are, on a gigantic island, most of the innards of which are near enough unpopulated, and we have to get permission to dump our toxic waste. It can take days, and all the while my toxic waste is sitting in my premises being, well, toxic, while I wait for some lazy bureaucrat to tick a box or two.

There’s even a rule that says you can’t have cockroaches and rats in restaurant kitchens. Well look, these critters have to eat too you know.

Tony’s really onto something here.

But I have this nagging concern.

I began to wonder how it all got there in the first place, all these stupid rules; after all governments only do something when they have to, and they’re the ones who created the red tape at the get go.

Turns out, in every case, there was a driving need that forced government to create a regulation.

So if we’re to get rid of them, then one of three conditions must apply:

  • The original problem no longer exists;
  • A better solution has been found and is in place; or
  •  We must be willing to forego whatever benefit the red tape was originally put in place to afford.

If it turns out to be the last option, then I wonder if we’ll be given a chance to decide how willing we are; or not.

Abbott’s Red Tape Day may turn out to be rather a short one.

Fool Me Once…

One of the many ways the Abbott government takes its cues from the US Republicantony-abbott-420x0 Party is its bait and switch approach to jobs.

One the one hand it waxes, if not lyrically then certainly loudly, on the need to create them and to keep unemployment low.

On the other, it unashamedly beats its collective hairy chest about the need to achieve small government by getting rid of public servants.

Here’s Abbott in full flight in a National Press Club Address on 31st January 2013: “By restoring the jobs growth of the Howard government, there’ll be two million more jobs over a decade.”

And a little further along, in the same speech, “The Coalition supports every Australian who’s working hard to get ahead.”

But in his budget reply speech on 16th May 2013, he announced with evident pride that 12,000 public service jobs would be cut by “natural attrition.

Oh, right, natural attrition. Well, that’s okay then.

Or is it? What that really means is that 12,000 people will leave the public service for one reason or another, but the 12,000 people who might otherwise have replaced them will remain unemployed.

Evidently, public servants, and those who would like to be, aren’t among those Australians working hard to get ahead.

So how does the Coalition rationalize this dichotomy to itself? (You know it’s not going to try rationalizing it to us; it’s just hoping we won’t notice).

Well, it goes like this.

Because private enterprise is so efficient and does things so much quicker than the public sector, (actually not true, but that’s another story), then private sector jobs must be more important, and thus, by extension, the holders of those jobs must be more honorable and more worthy of government support, whereas those lazy, slow public servants… oh dear, of dear.

So let’s look at a specific or two; say a little known federal government department, The Australian Organ and Tissue Authority

According to its Accountability and Reporting Performance update of June 2013 organ donation outcomes are up 33% over the same period in the previous year, and organs recipients are up 22%. The number of organs transplanted is up by 20% on the previous year.

Clearly defined, objective, performance measures showing significantly improving outcomes; looks disturbingly like we’ve got a bunch of out of control public servants actually saving lives.

Who knew?

Obviously begging to be naturally attritionized.

Compare their efforts with those of a corporate accountant who sole raison d’etre is to set up front companies in the Bahamas so the corporation can avoid paying unnecessary taxes.

Being a private sector position, it meets the Coalition’s criteria for admiration, respect and preservation.

And if another few hundred such jobs were to be created, the government would pat itself on the back and say, “Well done us.”

By the way, did you know that – hardly surprisingly – in countries across the world, there is an exact inverse correlation between the quality of federal and state government regulatory oversight and the incidence of community illness due to poor food quality?

Gotta love that small government!

Now, while Tony Abbott demonstrably handles the truth, er, carelessly, he’s not stupid. Well, not completely. He’s perfectly aware of the contradiction.

Or at least, the people who give him his riding instructions are.

But Tony and his lords and masters are betting that we’re all too distracted or too indifferent to care.

Personally, I think he, and they, are wrong.

Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice…

We’re in Good Hands… Sort Of

I hold the view that when stuff happens, we’re all entitled to five minutes of emotion.

As the just held election was an exceptionally large and malodorous pile of… stuff, I’ve had to give myself a couple of weeks.

But, finally, equanimity has been regained, although it wasn’t easy, even if the outcome was anticipated.

What helped was learning of American research that goes some way to explaining what happens here.

First, there is a widely promoted – and widely held – view of the US that it’s basically made up of two warring camps, the Right and the Left.

The research tells us the reality is that the majority of Americans are ” moderate, pragmatic, fiscal centrists”,  In other words, most Americans agree on fiscal issues.

They support medicaid, social safety nets, fair taxation, etc, and they tend to belt any party/candidate that moves too far from the centre on fiscal policy.

But they, shall we say, vigorously, disagree on a bunch of peripheral issues, like whether people and dinosaurs walked the earth at the same time, and whether or not there’s a link between the country being awash with guns and the fact that 100 times more Americans are killed by guns than all of Europe plus the UK, which adds up to about the same population size.

In other words, they hate each other over the stuff the rest of the world thinks is a no brainer, but agree on fiscal policy.

This leads to the second interesting discovery.

The US Main Stream Media, otherwise known as ‘Dickhead Central’, would have us believe that Americans are hugely party aligned and that elections are fought to win the hearts and minds of a tiny swinging voter population, often put at 2 – 5%.

The Australian version of DC would have us believe that it’s the same here.

After all, it sounds so down-to-the-wire dramatic doesn’t it. The idea just begs for breathlessness among even the least breathless young things that pass for reporters these days.

This turns out to be what’s technically known as crap. Around 40% of American voters are non party affiliated and describe themselves as swinging voters.

Now, I’m going to posit that, although there isn’t the research to prove it, the Australian electorate  is pretty much the same, i.e.

  • We’re moderate, pragmatic fiscal centrists who will thump fiscally extreme politicians, and
  • About 40% of us are swinging voters who think fairly carefully about who we vote for. (Okay, there are a few new senators that do make me wonder, but, by and large….)

I would go a bit further and say that most Aussies are centrists on social issues as well as fiscal issues, that is, we take the idea of a fair go a bit further than the Americans.

Once  I understood this, I realized that no matter how lame Abbott and his band are, they can only do so much damage in three years, and if they move too far from the centre, Aussies will thoughtfully give ‘em a slap upside of the ear.

Just as they did with Labor a couple of weeks ago.

So, when I say in the title, that we’re in good hands, I’m referring to the Aussie people, and not the Right Wing nut bags skulking behind our new PM having wet dreams about turning our beloved country in to a Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand envisioned nightmare.

Makes it all so much easier to put up with.

Elysium, Fact or Fiction

Every so often I encounter an issue that seems to me so important that I think about writing something serious about it.

Here is one such story Go ahead and read it, take your time, I’m happy to wait. Every Australian should.

It addresses the biggest elephant in the room. In fact, I reckon I could make a case that it’s a more pressing issue than Global Warming; and those who know me know how important I think that is.

Think about what it’s predicting; think about the example, that more than five million truck drivers in the US will be replaced by driverless trucks in the coming years.

Now let’s think about how many jobs have been lost to automation already, right here in Australia.

And then, just think about how automation will impact on employment levels in other industries and professions.

Of these things, we may be certain:

  1. that automation will drive steadily increasing unemployment;
  2. that the natural forces of the free market will ensure that wages fall as more and more people compete for fewer jobs;
  3. that any form of collective action will fail because computers and robots don’t join unions;
  4. that this trend will create (it already has), an ever increasing gap between a relatively small, wealthy elite and a vast number of poor; all at the expense of The Incredible Shrinking Middle Class, (to paraphrase the title of several B grade movies).
  5. That this will continue until a crisis point is reached.

Point 1 is a given. It’s already happening and there’s a wealth of data to prove it.

Point 2? Well, that’s how the free market works – the Law of Supply and Demand. We’ve seen it happening already with the effects off shoring of jobs to developing countries.

Point 3 is self evident.

Point 4 is precisely what we’re seeing now, although largely for a different reason. As mentioned, off shoring of jobs has been driving down wages for years. Automation will exacerbate this trend and also introduce it to developing countries. Note the point in the linked story about Foxconn planning to replace Chinese workers with robots. I guess they figured out that robots don’t commit suicide either.

Which brings us to Point 5. A crisis point will be reached. Go see the movie Elysium and see if you don’t have a a wee sense of concern when the lights come back on.

Sure, the Elysium custard is a tad over egged, but its suggestive of one possible endpoint; that the elite will isolate themselves from the mess that collective human nature along with the forces of economics is in the process of creating.

I leave you with this scenario; it’s happening as we speak.

Company A, (for ‘A’ insert the name of any large corporation you like), invests in automation to replace human workers. It is taking no risk but will substantially increase its profits.

Society, or taxpayers, or to put it another way, you and I, will pick up the tab for supporting the newly unemployed, as we should, being a caring society.

Meanwhile Company A will beaver away at reducing its tax bill. It will create entities in the Cayman Islands, (think Commonwealth Bank, e.g). It will lobby for reduced taxes, and so on.

In other words, Company A, while inflicting huge costs on society as it increases its profits, will be doing everything in its power to reduce its contribution to coping with the problem it created.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we stop automation; for any number of reasons that is a dumb idea.

What I am saying is that – as the article suggests – it’s imperative that we think and talk about how we as a society deal with this problem.

Otherwise Elysium will turn out to have been a documentary.

Oh, and here’s a little PS. It being that time again, ask yourself this question: Does any Right Wing party have the slightest reason to even acknowledge this problem, let alone do anything about it?

Be Afraid, be Terribly Afraid…


The election campaign has pretty much come down to which side can hammer the crap out of refugees the hardest.

Tough call, they’re both fairly hairy chested about these deadly dangerous folk who come to our shores hungry, cold, and more often than not wet through; oh and armed to the teeth with a set of clothes – yes, I refer to the ones they’re wearing – and not much else.

Both Labor and the Coalition therefore must be convinced that most Australians are terrified of boat people.

Seriously. Why else would they be peddling these policies?

So, what is it that we flag bearers of the noble Anzac tradition are so scared about?

Here’s one reason that thunderous rattle you here is the sound of our collective knees knocking. They’re going to force their religion on us.

Look, the religions that have been here for more than a hundred years are fighting a losing battle to keep their churches filled, so what hope does a johnny-come-lately have?

The way I see it, the religion train has pretty much pulled out of the station already; after letting most of its passengers out.

Next refrain is ‘They’ll take over our culture’.

Oh really? Is our cultural heritage so pathetic that a few tens of thousands of ‘them damned furiners’ are going to convince all twenty three million of us to chuck away the last two centuries and go with a different model.

Neat trick if they can pull it off, but I don’t see how. Especially when experience from previous waves of immigrants has taught us that within a generation or two, the vast majority become nothing more than Aussies who look a touch different.

Why am I so confident? Easy! because being an Aussie and living in this country is so fantastic that most people who come here are as envious as all get out.

If we could bottle and sell Aussieness, it’d make the mining boom look like a lemonade stand.

So, why would immigrants want to change it? If it ain’t broken…

The next one is, “they’re going to take our jobs’.

I’m no economist and I  haven’t studied the data, but let’s think on this for a wee moment.

A family arriving in Australia, needs food – more work for our farmers, retailers and transport industries.

They need clothes; more work for retail and transport;

They need somewhere to live; more work for the building industry.

Their kids need education; more work for teachers.

The need medical attention; more work for the health industry.

And, and, and…

I would be highly surprised if immigrants don’t create at least as many jobs as they consume.

Sure, some immigrants will be unemployed for a while, But so are some Aussies.

Many of our immigrants come from less than glorious locations. The vast majority take one look at the opportunities our country offers and can’t wait to become productive so they can become good little consumers like the rest of us.

It doesn’t pay to underestimate the lure of a 56cm flat screen.

Clearly, there’s not a reason in the world to be frightened of immigrants, so why are so many of us?

Because being afraid of something, or someone. who’s different is woven into our genes; it’s a survival trait that helped our ancient ancestors live long enough to procreate. It sits in the reptilian part of our brain and whispers ugly things in our ears.

But here’s the thing, what it tells us only works if we simply feel it.

If we think about the reptilian message it evaporates.

But in the meantime, until enough of us do spend five minutes thinking about why we’re instinctively scared of immigrants…

Be Afraid, Be Terribly Afraid.