Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Closing the retirement savings gap

Not long before the recent boomer-bonanza Budget, actuaries Rice Walker released a study showing that Australia’s retirement savings gap (the difference between currently accrued super plus future contributions/compounding, vs an actual “comfortable retirement” amount, deemed as 62.5% of pre-retirement earnings) had decreased by 25%, or $150bn, in just three years (2003-2006).

The explanation for such an apparent miracle? Introduction of the super co-contribution (a boon for un- or ultra-low waged boomers in rich families) and removal of the surcharge tax for high-income earners is part of it. More mundane though, is the impact of tweaking one underlying statistical assumption: whether the age-pension helps to bridge the gap, or not.

The 2003 stats are age-pension exclusive - they leave working-age low-income earners (= on less than 0.75 of average weekly earnings), who are likely to be totally reliant on the age-pension in retirement out of the equation completely, and make a rough guess at what part-pensions may be worth in closing the gap for the rest. In contrast, the 2006 stats are age-pension inclusive, in part. While they still leave low-income earners out of the whole equation, the calculations factor-in how much age-pension an individual will receive, rather than repeat the 2003 exercise, which tried to distill notional statistics for “pure” self-funded retirees.

This difference may be more ideological than statistical. Anyway, let’s cut to the chase, to see for which age groups, and genders, the $150bn has gone to the ostensible (retirement) benefit of.


Here’s my text adaptation of the 2003 table (PDF).


Age Band
Retirement Savings Gap – Males ($m)
Additional Contribution of Income Required to Close Gap (Males)
Retirement Savings Gap – Females ($m)
Additional Contribution of Income Required to Close Gap (Females)

25 – 29 30,957 2.9% 67,396 5.6%

30 – 34 31,395 3.5% 76,039 6.7%

35 – 39 29,595 4.1% 84,939 9.0%

40 - 44 30,143 5.1% 88,143 12.2%

45 – 49 26,143 6.1% 84,160 17.0%

50 – 54 27,287 8.8% 78,950 23.3%

55 – 59 21,961 13.5% 55,071 34.3%

60 – 64 NIL NIL 13,574 27.3%

Total males 197,481m, Total females 548,272m

As foreshadowed above, the ~$750bn apparent total "gap" is then discounted, reflecting a rough estimate of part-pensions’ value in offsetting the gap, to result in the widely-reported headline total retirement savings gap of $600bn (penultimate URL) .

Looking down and across the table, the gap appears much direr for females than males, in all age groups. For men, the stat curve is both neater and less steep. For men under 45, in particular, a comfortable self-funded retirement is only a ~$30bn per five-year-age-bracket away. Meanwhile, the percentage required to close this gap (which of course gets smaller with youth, as youth equals more upcoming contribution years at the current 9% standard), remains a single-digit percentage for men right up to the age of 54.

While for females in 2003 then, prospects of a "comfortable", self-funded retirement looked virtually impossible, for most males, kicking in 6% on top of the current compulsory 9% would comfortably suffice to close the gap to nil.


Here’s my text adaptation of the 2006 table*.

(Percentage figures for Additional Contribution of Income Required to Close Gap were not given in the hardcopy original)


Age Band
Retirement Savings Gap – Males ($m)
Retirement Savings Gap – Females ($m)

25 – 29 32,717 39,231

30 – 34 37,554 34,755

35 – 39 36,069 28,385

40 - 44 41,145 35,541

45 – 49 37,942 35,652

50 – 54 35,090 28,388

55 – 59 19,303 12,268

60 – 64 6,667 5,002

Total males 246,448m, Total females 219,223m

What a difference three years (plus the above-mentioned statistical tweaking and substantive changes to super law) make, eh? To remind you, the 2003 total-gap figures were 197,481m (males) and 548,272m (females).

Curiosities abound here, but surely the largest is to do with why the male “gap” has gone significantly (~25%) up since 2003, while at the same time the female “gap” has gone meteorically (~60%) down? Thus, using the 2006 figures, females are financially closer to a “comfortable retirement” than males in all age groups, bar the 25 -29 one.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that women are sitting on fatter super accounts than men in absolute terms: the deemed “comfortable retirement” of 62.5% of pre-retirement earnings makes $100k in savings look more “comfortable” for an average woman than a man, given their average earnings differentials.

But there is still something disquieting about the figures, particularly in the peak gap for men currently being in the 40-44 year-old cohort (this peak is in absolute dollar terms; the percentage figure for Additional Contribution of Income Required would be exponentially higher) . This 40-44 age group, having enjoyed (or otherwise) compulsory super for most of its working years, now finds itself hand-in-pocket, short in the small matter of, ahem, $41bn, as they/we start their/our career’s downhill run into retirement.

The recent Budget does nothing to close the gap for men in this age group, who are also statistically less likely to be home-owners than any living, older generation of Australians. Abolishing super contributions tax might have been a sufficient carrot for these men to immediately start saving for retirement at punishing rates (I’m guessing an extra 20% of their income may need to be put away to get to the “comfortable retirement” at 65 threshold), but instead the Budget abolished taxes only for current and near-to-medium term retirees**.

If you think here that I am once again playing the whingeing Xer violin on my lonesome, consider this (PDF):

One of IFSA’s critical questions has been to examine the relative merits of changes to the various components of superannuation taxation: contributions tax, earnings tax and benefits tax. Table 3 shows the impact on revenue of removing each component. Table 4 shows the benefit to retirees of this removal, while Table 6 shows the net cost/benefit over time.

• Of the three taxes, removal of contributions tax has the largest net benefit to retirees – however the main benefits do not accrue until Generation X is retiring. This change has least benefit to baby boomers

• Removal of earnings tax has an immediate benefit, particularly for baby boomers.

• Removal of benefits [exit] tax has a marked impact on baby boomers, but is a zero-sum game overall.

We all know which one got the nod, of course. (Hint, it wasn't the Greater Good one.)

For Xer men, their/our only realistic “option” is the familiar Xer trademark move, of going “short”, this time on super. If a “comfortable” self-funded retirement can only be achieved through super-human savings measures, then an uncomfortable retirement (aka taking it to the wire) is the better choice. Which means in practice, putting nothing into voluntary super in one's 30's and 40s (and 50s, on present indications), even if one can afford it. Instead, it’s going to be more profitable for my generation to simply wait for the wheels to fall off the whole boomer-greed bandwagon over the next two decades.

* Anna Fenech, "Brave new world for boomers" (Table, note table not in above URL) Australian May 13, 2006

** I say this because of the triple whammy the Budget kicked Xers with. Boomers (born before July 1959) can access their super at 55 (tapering to 60 for Xers born after June 1964), and so start part-withdrawing and juggling it around for tax effectiveness, even as they await their age-60 tax-free-of-the-lot day. Second, there is the risk of the 15% exit tax being reimposed (possibly at a higher rate, to boot) in future – and the longer before one can access one’s super, the higher this risk. Finally, there are the age-discriminatory transitional provisions, that allow boomers born pre-1957 five years grace for a belated, tax-privileged ramp-up of their super, and boomers born between 1957 and 1962 up to five years to do this. Again, this taper cuts out as soon as Xers cut in.

Monday, May 29, 2006

NAB’s unauthorised traders

Spot the difference/s:

This case demonstrates that senior employees who hold positions of trust and responsibility will be held accountable for any dishonest conduct and, especially where both the employer and shareholders are deceived, significant jail sentences will be imposed by the court.’

- Jeffrey Lucy, Chairman of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), 15 June 2005 (commenting on the 29 months imprisonment (16 months minimum) sentencing of Luke Duffy, former head of the NAB foreign currency options desk)

This case further demonstrates that employees who hold positions of trust and responsibility will be held accountable for any dishonest conduct and, especially where both the employer and shareholders are deceived, jail sentences will be imposed by the court.’

- Jeffrey Lucy, 6 April 2006 (commenting on the 16 months imprisonment (8 months minimum) sentencing of Gianni Gray, a former NAB foreign currency options trader

This result shows that senior employees who breach their duties as officers of a company can cause significant damage to the company’s interests and shareholder value. ASIC will not tolerate dishonest conduct by company officers, and as yesterday’s decision by the jury demonstrates, the community will not tolerate dishonest conduct either.’

- Jeffrey Lucy, 29 May 2006 (commenting on the finding of guilt against David Bullen and Vincent Ficarra, both former NAB foreign currency options traders (the two are currently in jail, awaiting what I predict will be formalised as a ~24 months imprisonment (~12 months minimum) sentence.


See them? (There are three.) Most obviously and inconsequentially, the first two mention “jail sentences” while the final one doesn’t (even though such is a foregone conclusion in practice). Second, is that Duffy (who was the immediate supervisor of the other three) received a “significant” jail sentence, while Gray got just an ordinary (“insignificant”?) jail sentence. Again, no great surprises there – one would expect the boss to get more time than an underling.

What is surprising, though is that the awaiting-sentencing duo (but not Gray) get the label “senior employee”. While this is patently untrue of both, it is ludicrously so in Vincent Ficarra’s case. The 27 years old Ficarra’s role with NAB was his first job after graduating from university, and the “dishonest” (of which more about later) conduct in question started not long after he did. (David Bullen, at 37 years old, is a year or so older than Duffy, his former supervisor, and Gray, his former colleague)

Having followed this case reasonably closely, my considered opinion is that the jailing of Ficarra, in particular, is/was a monstrous travesty. (As is, to a lesser extent, that of Bullen and Gray, who must be considered, more than Ficarra, part-architects of their own misfortunes: Bullen because he played the Buddhist-nutbar card in his (self-represented) defence, and Gray because he (stupidly, IMO) pleaded guilty).

There’s a lot more to be said about this case, including the presiding judge’s curious (IMO) instruction to the jury of what “dishonesty” meant in the relevant context.

But for now, I’ll leave off with this tidbit. If the Ficarra jailing is indeed a monstrous travesty, it is the presiding judge’s second such result in quick succession. In March, County Court judge Geoff Chettle let 44 y.o. child-rapist Cheryl Whittle off with a wholly suspended jail sentence.

The boy Whittle raped (now a man in his late 20s) was interviewed on “Today Tonight” last Thursday (25/5). Understandably, he is bitter about the light (/non-) sentence Whittle received. His explanation was that there must be a gender double-standard at work. With respect, I can’t agree with him: the only plausible reason, IMO for Whittle getting off is because she was/is a baby boomer – female Xer molesters have gone to jail for less culpable acts aginst minors than Whittle’s (same URL).

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The end of the white-collar workaholic

Preliminary clarification: no, I am not suggesting that white-collar workers putting-in obscenely-long hours is a phenomenon in general decline. If anything, the opposite is true for men of my (prime working-age, 30-44) generation, despite all the “family-friendly” guff (“family-friendly” is to noughties workplaces what mission-statements were to 90s ones).

Workaholics are an endangered species in that the voluntariness that is a necessary part of their ostensible addiction is in steep decline. “Workaholic” is not, say, a suitable term to describe a rat running on a treadmill just so as to stay still – and such an image seems fairly accurate in describing white-collar Xers who are ball-and-chained to their jobs.

So what’s new/different, vis a vis boomer workaholics?

One is high house prices: for boomers, workaholism was about getting the icing on the cake, for Xers it’s defensively pre-empting downward mobility, in hoping to become a home-owner like one’s own parents.

More insidiously, “work” can no longer be a primary addiction (semi-jokingly or otherwise), because often it has been replaced by a harder drug. And I’m not speaking metaphorically here: in 2006, alarming numbers of Xers, of a type who in the 80s would have been labelled as innocent-enough “workaholics”, are crystal-meth addicts*.

As usual, the boomer-tariat sort of sees the problem here but fudges it, as if trotting out a few all-purpose clichés is going to fix a generationally-specific problem.

But it is an editorial in yesterday’s Australian that takes the generational cake, as it were:

There are hard times for [those] ideologically ill-disposed to the opportunity and prosperity provided by a generation of economic reform.

Yep, 27 years of economic fundamentalism in the West merits the label of a “generation”, in time-frame terms at least. In human terms, the Australian’s connotation is that some (Xers, presumably) are perversely dyspeptic in the face of so many years of “opportunity and prosperity”.

Needless to say, count me in on this one. Addiction to one’s own bile beats a crystal meth habit, any day. I probably would be happier as a 80s-style workaholic, admittedly – but I can’t see anyone out there offering me a ride in a time-machine with a pair of yuppie-red braces thrown in.

* Julie Macken and David Meagher, “Hot shots” AFR Magazine 26 May 2006

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Inter-generational equity – boomers start to see the light

Nicholas Gruen did it a couple of weeks ago.

Today, Julian Disney does it, admittedly without using explicitly generational phrasing:

The excessively generous exemptions of owner-occupied homes from capital gains tax and land tax inflate the price of land far beyond what might arise from other factors . . . They divert investment from export-producing and job-creating enterprises . . .

Similar consequences flow from excessively generous tax concessions that induce massive borrowing for overinvestment in high-cost rental property — "negative gearing" — especially when allied with the major tax preference for profits from asset sales compared with other forms of income . . .

Another key deficiency in the taxation system is its treatment of savings, especially superannuation. Like the housing tax regime, the current superannuation tax regime is upside down because it provides richer people with much more assistance than poorer people, both in gross terms and per dollar contributed.

I am particularly interested in a double whammy causation between unproductive, real-estate speculation by the masses (well, boomer masses, anyway) and high (which is to say, any) unemployment among educated men my age, thanks to the destruction of the mandarinate. Blind Freddie could see the link here, but no one seems to be overtly saying it.

So what is to be done? As far as throttling real-estate speculation goes, simply removing negative gearing won’t go far enough, and removing the main-residence exemption from CGT will claw-back almost nothing from boomers (and older), because presumably it would not apply to currently-owned properties. A better idea is, one I suggested a few months ago, is to implement a modified version of NSW’s short-lived vendor tax – this time on all property sales. That is, if you make a profit (after CPI indexing and expenses) on selling any property (including one’s own home) then you pay tax (at a minimum 50% rate, I’d suggest) on the real profit. Unlike capital gains tax, this tax (which would have to be state-based, for constitutional reasons) could be “retrospective”, in the sense that date of acquisition would be irrelevant.

Such a change would also assist in heading off two other, problematic reforms that Disney suggests: the reintroduction of gift/inheritance tax, and removal of the owner-occupied home exemption from the aged-pension assets test. While the former tax is famously “fair”; it is easily avoidable at/by the big end of town (“big end of the cemetery”?); while a tax based on real-estate transfers (whether by will, gift or sale) is hard to avoid. Re the latter, my personal view is that all social security recipients should be required to use up, within reason, any home equity before being eligible for benefits. By “within reason”, I suggest that the test should be looser for aged-pensioners: with, say the minimum threshold for equity divesture being set at 130% of average house value in the applicable city/region. (For working-age benefit recipients, any equity should first be consumed.) But again, a better way of largely avoiding these sorts of measures is simply to negate the likelihood of home-owners having windfall equity build-up in the first place, per my above proposal.

The stakes here are high, and getting higher. One thing I missed in the recent Boomer Bonanza Budget was the premium it places on retirees with large amounts of super to dispose of it inter vivos – if they give it away (presumably, to their kids) while they are alive, it is tax free, but if it is inherited as super, it is taxable (albeit at a relatively modest rate) in the hands of the recipient.

Translated, this means that GenY have just been handed a major “in” to the inflated property market. Chances are that their boomer parents will have a spare mill or so in super, that in the longer term would be burning a hole in the old coffin. Giving most of this to the kids will be triply-efficacious: the Yer kids get in to the property market, Xers remain locked out of it (i.e. it stays artificially inflated), and the taxman goes away empty-handed (i.e. no chance of universities (etc) getting properly funded, because *that* might mean (shock horror) jobs for Xers).

Oh, and by making such a gift, mum and dad boomer should be able to line up for the old age pension at 65, too.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Latest Mt Everest “first” – man left to die alone, rather than spoiling boomer’s summit wank

With implacably bad timing, Bill Leak yesterday wrote of ever-easier Mt Everest “firsts”. Leak’s timing was so awry because a few hours later, details emerged of a climber’s particularly awful death high up on Everest.

I’ll cut to the chase: 34-year-old David Sharp’s life may well have been unsaveable when the 47-year-old Mark Inglis’s party encountered him. And, by taking below-recommended amounts of oxygen with him, and climbing Everest more or less alone (isn’t there an all-purpose motherly maxim against such?), Sharp must have understood he was taking a large risk with his own life, and so therefore carry sole responsibility for his own death.

But equally, surely Mark Inglis’s party could have done something for David Sharp, without in any way risking their own lives? That "something" admittedly would have probably stopped their successful summiting (Inglis et al were on their way up when they encountered the prone Sharp (who was descending after successfully summiting, FWIW)). At the very least, two of them (for safety) should have stayed with Sharp for (i) as long as he was conscious, providing that (ii) they were not risking their own (/party's) safety by so doing.

Not that doing such would have saved his life, of course. But Holy Fucking Christ, what must have been going through the poor man’s mind, as 40 (!) people walked past his obviously-stricken form, admittedly some of them taking a moderate interest in his health, sufficient for them to stop briefly, radio back to base for advice – and then push on up, leaving David Sharp to die alone (AFAICT).

I’m not sure if David Sharp’s being an Xer, and the others (Mark Inglis, at least) being boomers has anything to do with it. In any case, the Most Callous Thing Said or Done Award for the whole tragedy seems to belong with David Sharp’s mum:

"Your responsibility is to save yourself - not to try and save anybody else," Sharp's mother, Linda, told the Evening Gazette newspaper in Britain.

Possibly, she might disagree with me that helping her son not to die alone would have been a good thing; more likely, she just hasn’t considered it. Then again, given that her son so willfully defied the ancient maternal injunction about not doing things alone (as well as probably not having changed into clean underpants that morning, to boot), maybe she thinks that he just got what he deserved; an awful, lonely death with only a shrill voice inside his head for company.

Other references:

Dying left in Everest climb

Abandoned in the 'death zone'

Update 27 May 2006

Now back in New Zealand, Mark Inglis has objected to being singled out over David Sharp’s dying alone. (I’ve already said that I don’t believe that Sharp’s life could have been saved, although I am starting to have second thoughts, below)

[Inglis] said he was surprised by the attention he had received, given he was one of about 40 climbers who walked past Sharp.

"So much of this situation has ended up focused on me personally when there were a very large number of other people on the mountain who were far more confident and capable.

While reportage has conspicuously failed to clarify who was the leader of the team Mark Inglis was in, this comment damns him quite sufficiently (whether or not Inglis was the nominal leader):

PETER LEWIS: Before he left Nepal, Mark Inglis told Television New Zealand that in climbing, as in everything else in life, you get what you pay for.

MARK INGLIS: And I paid probably as much as anyone on that whole mountain. The problem is that two-thirds or three-quarters of the people on that mountain have paid a pittance, have paid sort of about US$8,000 through to slightly more, some slightly less, and they've been given the opportunity, but given no support whatsoever - no Sherpas, no oxygen, no camps.

Yuk – what a scum-sucking piece of boomer low-life. US$8,000 is a “pittance”: yeah, right. The obvious implication is that Inglis, because he could afford to, did a “gold class” Everest climb, and that Sharp was a mere gate-crasher into his cozy club.

But it gets better, in terms of some remarkable differences in the detailed versions of what happened, as told by Inglis vs Australian “businessman” Bob Killip (at 52, also a boomer and also presumably rich)

Here’s Inglis:

"My sherpa sort of just pushed me on . . . that was the end of the situation really. I did nothing. I did nothing, you know. I did everything that I possibly could, which was essentially nothing."

Ah, the Sherpa did it! But in fairness to Inglis, this account seems over-embellished with personal guilt/regret; even in doing “nothing”, he still at least stopped and radioed back to base (per above post).

Or did he?

Here’s the Killip version:

"We climbed past him on the way up at about 2am on May 15 but we thought it was the body of a Polish climber who has been frozen there for years. We didn't know there was a climber missing."

Mr Killip said that later, as his group was headed back *down* from the summit, one of the climbers noticed signs of life.

"A bloke called Max, from Lebanon, saw he was alive and immediately started trying to give him oxygen . . . Max spent 90 minutes with him but he eventually realised there was nothing we could do. He was devastated and he didn't want to leave him".
(emphasis added).

Now, I accept that, high up on Everest at 2am, it is presumably easy to mistake a living person for a frozen corpse, especially as one stumbles half-asleep up to the summit, knowing that if one doesn’t get back to camp the next night, death is the almost certain outcome.

But obviously, Sharp can’t have been that close to death as the Inglis/Killip team passed him on the way up, for he was visibly alive about 16 hours later (I’m guessing) as the team came back down.

So which is it, guys? The pushy Sherpa, or the old Polish corpse-decoy trick? Apart from their inconsistency, both versions share a curious trait, in that Sharp’s life was very nearly, almost saveable. That is, if it wasn’t for those pesky Sherpas and/or dead Poles . . .

Monday, May 22, 2006

Here we go again: Sydney’s gutter-press goes on homophobic rampage

By “gutter-press”, I mean the broadsheet SMH, inter alia. (I haven’t read the tabloid, but I would assume that it is following suit).

Paul Sheehan’s “damnation” of the late John Marsden boils down to two main accusations. One is the factual possibility that Marsden had sex with “rent boys”, despite having won, in 2003, a defamation action in which he successfully rebutted such an allegation. The second is that he was overly-aggressive as a defence lawyer.

Re the second charge, Sheehan comes dangerously close to accusing Marsden of excessive competence in his profession. Tellingly, all the specific allegations relating to Marsden’s ostensible ethico-legal breaches relate back to his sex life; i.e. the first charge and its hydra-headed tangents.

I don’t know or care whether Marsden had consensual sex with one or more of his clients; if he did, it is a relatively small ethical breach, and in no sense a crime. And certainly so, compared to massive tax avoidance by dozens of senior Sydney lawyers: profession-disgracing crimes (not only breaches of ethics) which seem to concern Sheehan not a hoot.

“[W]henever things got hot for Marsden, he and his supporters in the lavender mafia would raise the cry of homophobia, a cynical debasement of gay rights.”

Yeah, right. Sheehan’s OpEd itself is such a living, breathing case-study in gratuitous homophobia, that I make the following challenge. If Sheehan’s decapitated corpse isn’t found in a back-street gutter within the next 24 hours, then the so-called “lavender mafia” is a toothless tiger, and provably so.

Three examples of Sheehan’s vileness are: (i) Marsden’s not simply having sex with men, but “sodomis[ing]” them, (ii) Sheehan’s dragging Justice Kirby’s name into his piece, just because Kirby is giving Marsden’s eulogy, and (iii) using the phrase “rent boys” with calculated ambiguity. (While I’m no expert, I imagine that the vast majority of such “boys” are at or over the age of consent, in which case Marsden would not have been committing an offence).

Marsden was no saint, of course. But AFAICT, he paid his taxes, and paid his dues in all sorts of other ways, as well. And compared to Paul Sheehan – a truth-sodomiser of the first order – Marsden was a much, much better human being.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

“Decent and hard-working” boomers concerned about their financial vulnerability in retirement

Hah! As in one day, they might have to downsize from, or at least re-mortgage the family pile (same URL). Diddums. Meanwhile, I’m genuinely looking forward to, and up at, the old-age pension and (with a fair bit of luck, on present indications) a public housing rental unit at 65.

But admittedly not all boomers are equity-windfall home-owners (much less slumlords to renter-for-life Xers, in addition). Gummo Trotsky, if her blog is to be believed, finished high school c. 1973, and has never managed to buy, or at least keep, any real estate in the mean time. Diddums again – but curiously, the reclusive Gummo, currently living in semi-comfort (= on the DSP) as a dazed and medicated hausfrau (same URL), doesn’t share my anticipatory enthusiasm for the OAP, despite her being only a dozen years away from her own jackpot day.

Ah, boomers: they’re just like tired toddlers, except they have twice as much shit to fling around when they have a tanty. But at least their tanties are clockwork-predictable: as long as one doesn’t criticise them in any way (aka say “No!”), they’ll actually let you change their nappy, without them unduly emptying its contents onto you.

Also in my personal boomer dog-house this weekend is Elisabeth Wynhausen, who wrote an article on the public housing estates around Sydney’s Mount Druitt in yesterday’s Weekend Australian Magazine*.

In a nutshell, Wynhausen has again followed in the footsteps of Barbara Ehrenreich – this time, in doing a story on a largely-Xer milieu, but emerging not only none the wiser, but with negative net empathy for her research subjects (the Xer ones, anyway).

There’s no URL, unfortunately for this here typing-dyslexic. So if my following analysis seems sub-standard, please make allowance for the sheer typing grunt required to get even the raw material up.

State housing authorities gradually relinquished [c. 1960s/1970s] the grand egalitarian vision of giving workers on low incomes a chance to own their own homes.”

Strange. While I accept that post-WWII housing was rationed due to materials shortages, surely once these were ironed-out, the free market could and would handle the rest? That is, given the full employment of the time, why would a worker, even one on a low income, need a sustained housing leg-up? (Is Wynhausen simply assuming, a la Mark Latham’s family being in public housing, despite Latham pere working full-time, that a comprehensive housing safety net was still needed for families whose breadwinner drank or gambled his earnings away? If so, I fail to see what was so “grand” about this.)

My point, in case it’s not obvious, is that Wynhausen is bizarrely oblivious to the permanent demise of full employment, from the mid-70s on, having changed everything. Hence, this unctuous pseudo-insight:

Parts of Mount Druitt were still under construction when the government switched to providing housing . . . for *welfare* recipients, turning whole streets into dumping grounds for distressed families . . . [Yet] [w]ithout a doubt, [to this day,] most locals are decent and hard-working.” (Emphasis added)

Nice. Addicted fuck-ups like Latham pere, who only had a job because of the boom times, are/were apparently highly deserving of public housing, while welfare recipients, such as the involuntarily unemployed, are low-life blights on the neighbourhood.

This perverse (to me; maybe to a boomer it makes sense) dichotomy reappears in the sad story of 40 y.o. Lee Francis – similarly aged to me, and also like me, currently unemployed but has not always been so.

Wynhausen gives Lee Francis an implicit big tick because, while he lives in a public-housing-dominated suburb, his actual place is a private rental property (at $135/week, a huge chunk of his dole). Moreover, he keeps it “spotless” – and he does all this after having chosen to leave a public housing place (direr, but for much cheaper rent, no doubt).

Well, good on him for having landed the cheapest private rental two-bedder in all Sydney, but I’m not sure what Wynhausen’s point is. That kudos to Lee Francis for not having totally given up, and withdrawn into a bludger's perma-coma? (Yet – at some stage, surely the ~$100 a week extra he pays to rent privately will start to look extravagant?) Or does Wynhausen give Lee Francis kudos simply because he is (the odds are) providing a boomer slumlord with a nice little earner? That is, if an Xer can’t be “decent and hard-working”, then they can at least keep their decency by paying much more rent than they can reasonably afford.

Whatever else Wynhausen might think that the future holds for Lee Francis, home ownership is not on his horizon, even remotely. Which may sound like a silly point to make, but at least for a couple of Francis’s boomer co-subjects, home ownership is at least on the distant horizon. To be fair, the home ownership in question is Brent Robertson and his wife helping their three disabled, GenY sons buy a place, but coming on the heels of the Lee Francis story, it leaves me with a cold, queasy anger. Sorry Robertson family, but (non-disabled) Xer Lee Francis should be way, way ahead of you in the home ownership stakes. Of course, this obscene, boomer-and-Yer-preferring juxtaposition is Wynhausen’s fault, not yours.

Two other generational juxtapositions round-out Wynhausen’s offense:

Unemployed, but for occasional casual work, 31 y.o. John Buttigieg says he is better off than the next generation.

(Yes sirree, John - they’ve sure brainwashed you into being “decent”.)

And boomer (I’m guessing) community worker Teddy Hart says this:

I know 60-year-olds who get up at six to go to work each morning. Their sons are lying in bed waiting for the pension.”

“Pension” as in DSP to come later that week (not as in the OAP in 25 to 40 years), I assume. To the extent that the DSP has been used to hide unemployment and/or to medicalise Xer mainly-economic disadvantage, I’m all for the spotlight being shone on these sons in bed. But I don’t think that Teddy Hart has a clue about any of this; nor, sadly, would even the DSP-recipient men’s working fathers. After all, being “decent and hard-working” seems to entitles a boomer to a lifetime gold-pass for the free scapegoating of our generation.

* Elisabeth Wynhausen “Road to nowhere”, Weekend Australian Magazine 20 May 2006

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Is Kel Knight (from “Kath and Kim”) a cashed-up small businessman?

Xer-hating David Chalke thinks so:

Kel . . . spends a fortune on matching his-and-hers leather jackets; they have the spa and big telly.”

Now, even accepting that Chalke may be somewhat taking the piss, as well as the dictum that one should not excessively rely on fictional TV characters to make, or deny, demographic pronouncements, the above is still a palpable crock.

Matching his-and-hers leather jackets in the style Kel and Kath favour are available in any op shop in Australia for $10 each, tops (I’m sure you could also haggle them down from this, because they have undoubtedly been hanging on the rack for at least a decade). Even new leather jackets these days (thanks to the "miracle" of globalisation (which translated, usually means third-world slave-labour)) are about one-quarter their real cost in the 1980s; i.e. about two-hundred 2006 dollars, compared to five-hundred 1985 dollars. (I know this coz I bought one overseas then: “That’ll save!”, as Kath says.)

A spa? Big deal – it costs $10k or so to put one in. Like dishwashers, whether one has one or not is quite unrelated to income; it mainly depends on whether one owns or rents. (I’ve lived in rental properties for almost 20 years, only one year of which has seen me dishwasher-blessed (spas = none).)

Big TV? Doesn’t Chalke remember the ep when they got the huge new plasma (in 2002, ~ $10k, now ~$3k), but Kath got addicted to watching it, so it went back? A smart move in retrospect, because if the 50-ish Kel really is on $100k+ a year (which I doubt, judging by the car he drives), then the recent budget is a dream incentive for his plowing all he can into voluntary super for the next six years. After which time, not only will huge plasmas be cheaper still, but Kel will have a tax-free (at least after 60) lump sum of $1m+ to spend on new man-bags and all manner of other baubles.

(Gender-awareness note: I do not discuss Kath’s personal nor joint financial situation here because (i) it is (unless I missed something in the series) opaque at best (ii) Chalke reduces her role to housewife-sidekick anyway, and who am I, as an "instant gratification" Xer, to argue with that?)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Latest Kovco bungle: Defence Minister Nelson farts loudly at press conference, adding extra sibilance to his “sorry” . . .

. . . to which Kovco family says “This is really the last straw”

Get over it, Kovco family.

First, I acknowledge your grief, compounded by the tragic – and currently inexplicable – circumstances of the young man’s death. But seriously, the compounding pretty much ends there.

Re the body-bungle. Fact: the middle-east (and not just Iraq) in 2006 is a giant charnel-house, and in these circumstances, a cadaver mix-up is as equally (no more, no less) regrettable as the above hypothetical, ill-timed fart.

That is, it was and remains purely your choice whether to laugh or cry at it all. Saying that “nothing’s going to bring your boy/man back” is trite; but looking at video and text of the actual set-up at the Kuwait morgue should focus your thinking here. The morgue is a chaotic wholesale operation, dominated by the bodies of third-world workers who came to the middle-east in search of a life that they plainly got short-changed on.

So if the Kovco family gets any compo out of this, and they have any decency, then I suggest remitting a fair chunk of it to ensuring that dead third-world workers’ bodies in Kuwait get a little bit more respect, henceforth. Which would also benefit any future Australian corpses that might (touch wood) pass through that awful place. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats.

Re the lost-report bungle. In terms of what Defence's Elizabeth Cosson did, the only “bungle” was a momentary, easy-to-make lapse. If blame should be pinged anywhere within Defence, then it should ultimately rest with whoever was so cheap as to not allow Elizabeth Cosson her own laptop.

Much more blame, however, should be thrown at the git who found what was plainly sensitive, confidential information – and then decided not to hand it in to [insert responsible agency]. What a creep, and what a fucktard Derryn Hinch was for exploiting the Kovco family in this way, for ratings and/or his skewed sense of the fourth estate’s role.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Gay marriage revisited, again

Q: What do you get when you put two gay men in a room together? (And get your mind out of the gutter – here, I’m referring to a media-panel type of set up).

A: Three or more opinions, of which the basic template is as follows. A calls B a bitch (not in so few or as plain words, but you get the idea). B calls A a bitch. And each separately accuses the other of one or more of these: (i) being allowed to go first and so being unduly preferred, (ii) getting the last word in and so being unduly preferred, (iii) talking over the top of him, and (iv) talking over the top of him while he was trying to make point (iii). (Infringing point (iv), of course, is much more heinous than point (iii)).

I’m inspired to make such dubious characterisations of my gay kin after watching last night’s SBS “Insight” current-affairs panel program, which focused on the gay marriage issue.

If poofs (and I’m taking educated, middle-class, sober ones) can’t participate constructively in such panels – and on last night’s evidence, they/we plainly can’t – then our asking to have full-hetero rights, per the most common pro-gay-marriage argument, seems a pretty hollow case. Never mind the procreative-sex and/or children-first aspects of marriage (the two main “anti” arguments), marriage is surely, particularly on its basic workaday level, a system of etiquette for those under its roof. And poofs – I just don’t think that such a roof is “us”, if you get what I mean.

Many of those who watched (or were actually in the panel last Friday) are no doubt already impatient to interject (ha!) at me, with observations to the effect that the panel had only one serious etiquette-breacher, John Heard. True enough, based on what I saw (= went to air), anyway. But that’s not a goal-scoring kick.

All the world loves, or at least used to love, until my generation came along, a golden boy – a brainy, good-looking young man looking to make his mark on the world from an impressively young age. Such a man would be gently indulged in many ways, such as being cut a fair deal of slack if he was on a media panel. Possibly, the gay world (/mafia/community/whatever) never abandoned GenX golden boys as completely as the straight world did (for the boomer men in the latter, women were the new, improved (lower-paid!) golden boys), but overall it is fair to say that young men like John Heard (who’s 24 or 25) are in exactly the right place at the right time, to take advantage of golden boys suddenly being back in fashion, and out of the wilderness. Upwards from an age just older than him, are almost two decade’s worth of gay men who either have nothing to say that hasn’t been said (including by themselves), a million times*, or are just too old/poor/Xer to matter.

In others words, the John Heard monster didn’t make himself. (Cue horror/suspense sound-effect). You - the boomer-centric gay world – made him! Which means that you can’t now disown him, or even suggest that his golden boyhood might now be slightly tarnished after his “Insight” performance.

For me, the most ridiculous aspect of what golden boy John said was his recital of the findings of a recent study:

JOHN HEARD: The Private Lives Survey, which was released about two months ago by La Trobe University - which was the largest survey of its kind of same-sex attracted people in Australia - demonstrated that the majority of gay men aren't in any kind of relationship at all, not only that, that the majority of gay men did not want to formalise their relationships and indeed the majority of lesbians were in the same situation.

I would be incredulous if any gay man found these results actually surprising. So how did they get to be a weapon in John’s armoury, then? The answer’s plain enough – that GenX gay men were missing from the panel, or at least were only represented by the minority, viz a few love-struck couples (eww!). This lacuna conveniently allowed John (who is perennially ambiguous re whether he belongs with the gay ordinaire majority (viz the single/sluts/celibate/chaste), or the cutely-coupled minority), to spew forth unchallenged on his key point: that gay marriage is an ideologically-driven hoax, sought to be inflicted by a gay minority onto the gay majority. What bullshit. I, for one, have long been a gay marriage agnostic, at best, and I’m far from alone here. A notable, “gay” gay marriage dissenter is/was 2004 federal election Liberal candidate for Brisbane, Ingrid Tall, an out lesbian who was viciously pilloried by the Family First and National Parties because of her sexuality alone.

Yet as far as “Insight’s” producers seem concerned, John Heard is a gay maverick on the gay marriage issue. Morons. And I’m not just bitching here about my (or any Xer contrarian) not being on the panel – the only Xers that were on the panel (those sickeningly lovey-dovey couples) were talking over the top of me, as I was yelling at my TV last night. And that’s in the “bad”, point (iv) above, sense.

* Take a bow (and get a life), Rodney Croome

Selected References:

Paul Watson on gay marriage:
[Comment reproduced below, slightly edited]:

I want "the practical benefits of being in a committed relationship" too. But gay marriage is a separate issue from achieving financial equality.

So I agree with John on this issue (who would have thought?), but not for his reasons.

The religious objection to gay marriage is not plausible, or even relevant. The spiritual side of marriage is simply pagan fertility rituals dressed up. Gays who think that they can appropriate a fertility ritual, to address a quite different ritual need, are deluded.

Also, there is the apples/oranges comparison factor at work, with different law in Oz and the US. In the US, unlike Australia, de facto couples - gay or straight - have no property rights against the other in the event of break-up. In Australia, gay de facto couples mostly have only common law property rights, which are a lot more expensive and complicated to enforce than the statutory rights which straight couples unequivocally enjoy. Thus, in the US, the gay marriage push is at least in part for something - however imperfect currently - that many countries, including Australia, have already had, and got with little controversy.

Finally - and this is a very impressionistic/non-scientific observation - from TV footage of demos, the US gay marriage push seems to be dominated by rich, middle-aged, both-white couples. The sort who seem to have only belatedly come to realise that gay marriage is *the* thing that’s missing in their life. What’s the matter, fellas - the his’n’his Harley-Davidsons not doing it for you anymore? And where were you and your politics in the 80s and 90s? (too busy making money by day, and being sluts by night, is my guess).

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Burned-out boomer ex-Lefties in Central Australia

By her own admission, Alice Springs-based Crown prosecutor Nanette Rogers long ago burned-out as a white do-gooder (to use the pejorative term for an idealistic white Lefty in an Indigenous-sector job). She did so after three years or so of struggling against the odds:

TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Nanette Rogers has been Crown Prosecutor in Alice Springs for more than 12 years . . . When you came to central Australia more than 15 years ago, you began your work, your career as a defender. You've moved on to become a prosecutor. Did that happen because of a particular case, or did it happen because of what you saw over a period of time?

NANETTE ROGERS: It was an accumulated effect. I ended up getting sick of acting for violent Aboriginal men and putting up the same old excuses when I was appearing for them . . .

Fine, up to a point: I’ve been to Alice Springs (once, in 1994), and couldn’t hack three hours in the place, much less three years. But where Rogers started to go badly wrong was in not getting out twelve years ago.

Instead, she seems to have spent much these twelve years hatching copious amounts of shit – aka feminist empowerment claptrap – with a view to being able to smear it all at once, one day, over her chosen target, Indigenous Central Australian men. And yesterday her shit finally came in, via a “dossier” released exclusively to ABC’s “Lateline”.

Some such men are indeed criminals of shocking depravity, or cowardice (I prefer the latter term). And everyone, surely, wants these men's behaviour to absolutely prevented in future, and for past perpetrators to be punished (and rehabilitated, if possible).

As to how “Girlpower”-style self-actualisation for Indigenous females is going to actually prevent child rape, I really have no idea. It may, after the event, assist the prosecution is building up its evidentiary case – but equally it may also just up the ante in a loosely-styled men-vs-women gender war.

What *should* be done is less Girlpower/gender-agendas and more tweaking of the evidentiary rules in cases of intra-Indigenous child rape. Here, I’m not suggesting the incorporation of customary Indigenous criminal law into Australian law, which is a large and controversial topic and not one I think is worth going into for present purposes. Instead, all that needs to be done, IMO, is a relaxation of evidentiary rules, in particular to allow, within reason, written witness statements to stand in court, without the witness being required to be examined and then cross-examined on their statement.

There are genuine cultural and personal-safety reasons for Indigenous Australians thinking that doing their legal duty ends with providing a witness statement. It is presumptuous of Rogers to think them remiss in this respect, and it is either irresponsible or foolhardy for her to embark on a mono-gendered campaign to change this mindset.

But that’s burned-out boomers for you – they can’t stop compulsively smearing-around their own faeces. Last night's "Lateline" featured the first “dossier” I can recall since the infamous WMD-dossier that served as a pretext for the Iraq war. You be the judge of which of the two is flimsier.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Improving Melbourne’s transport system

Yep, a parochial (and boomer-free) post, inspired by yesterday’s Herald-Sun cover-story: "Road chaos relief".

Robert Hoddle’s 1830s Melbourne grid has a lot to answer for, particularly when it comes to the rigid mindsets of transport-planners nearly two centuries later. North-south and east-west are the default directions, with the only deviance permitted, in more modern times, being freeway radial spokes emanating from the CBD (which is in microcosm admittedly skewed from the compass-cardinal), and nowhere but.

This approach thus notably excludes new diagonal arteries, unless these converge on the CBD, or alternatively form part of a recognisable "ring". When talking about above-ground road and rail, sticking to the NS/EW grid does have clear advantages, but when it comes to road or rail tunnels (below-ground being the only way that transport infrastructure can now be viably retro-fitted in most of Melbourne) diagonal tunnels can make more sense than grid-following ones. Most obviously, below-ground diagonal arterials won’t duplicate above-ground routes.

A prime example of a useful, but never conjectured by anyone before me, AFAICT, diagonal arterial tunnel is an answer to the double-headed traffic snarl at the city end of the Eastern Freeway. Most of this traffic is headed generally SW, to-, if not through the city (going further south or west). Separately, a reasonable amount of such traffic is headed NW, onto various points along the Tullamarine Freeway, including the airport.

The traditional approach is that there are two snarls here, so requiring two solutions. The simpler one of the two is to dig a 5 km EW tunnel to link the Eastern and Tullamarine Freeways at their closest point. Trickier, and/or less satisfactory, is de-tangling the city-bound snarl; hence the various lame mutterings about somehow improving Hoddle Street/Punt Road.

Well, fuck Punt Road, I say (words that every Melburnian would say “Amen!” to, if they actually haven’t personally uttered them already at least once in their lives). Rather, there only needs to be *one* answer to the two snarls: a 5 km road (and rail, of which more about soon) tunnel running WSW from the city end of the Eastern Freeway to the Docklands side of North Melbourne station (and so also the NS CityLink tollway). In terms of interim entrances/exits, just one (perhaps at the Elizabeth Street mega-roundabout, south of Melbourne University) would probably suffice.

While such a route would be somewhat indirect for some city-bound Eastern Freeway motorists (viz, those headed for the eastern CBD), even if a freeway tunnel was dug under the Hoddle Street alignment, getting the last two or three, EW kms in or out of the city would still be a nightmare. Melbourne CBD road access is currently less-stressed, generally-speaking, from the north and NW than from the NE, east, or SE.

Also admittedly somewhat indirect for Tullamarine Freeway-bound, Eastern Freeway motorists, such a tunnel would add about another 2 km (= 75 seconds, at 100 km/hr) to the journey, compared to a pure EW tunnel. Balanced against this is the greater chance of the dual-purpose WSW tunnel being free (which I strongly support), compared to a single-purpose EW tunnel.

Anyway, that’s my Great Idea Number One.

Great Idea Number Two has been thought of already, as it happens (viz, yesterday’s Herald-Sun cover-story) – perhaps because it is Hoddle-grid compliant. A relatively short (2-3 km) road tunnel under Footscray would link the two, moderately-used, above-ground EW Docklands arterials with the grossly under-used Geelong Road. Such would provide a practical (same-distance) alternative to the Westgate Bridge for most motorists (SW-to-SE and vice versa “coast-huggers” aside). It would also get huge numbers of trucks off existing residential-street rat-runs, particularly in and around Yarraville.

Great Idea Number Three is a pure-play rail idea. Ironically, it also Hoddle-grid-neat, and an explicit counter-point to an oft-cited radial suggestion. The Doncaster rail line, as it is usally mooted, involves building 13 km of new track WSW down the Eastern Freeway, to meet existing track just east of Hoddle Street. Such a route features a distinct lack of population along its path, the suburb of East Kew aside.

Instead, why not use the existing railhead, and very suitable interchange point at Box Hill – 4 km south Westfield Doncaster (the logical terminus for a Doncaster rail line)?
Further, the 4 km of NS rail tunnel involved in a Doncaster-City (via Box Hill) line could be value-added by being built in tandem with a Box Hill-Burwood rail tunnel, so continuing the NS alignment another 4km. With a suggested terminus of the Burwood Highway, near Deakin University, a captive (and currently very car-dependant) rail clientele already exists, not to mention a large institution that would hopefully part-underwrite the cost.

Finally, my first Great Idea was for a rail, as well as road, tunnel from the city-end of the Eastern Freeway. Starting from the existing NS track just east of Hoddle Street, such a rail line would run under the southern fringes of Melbourne University, another institution whose staff and students would surely much-benefit from the new track.

Teenage suicide: a bullshit, non-epidemic

My being an Xer Intergenerational Rip-off theory (and practice) partisan sometimes means having to fight the fire on two fronts: younger and older. For the most part, I prefer to leave the younger* generation well out of my rants.

But when valid statistics, which longitudinally compare Xers and Yers, do exist and such stats are wilfully ignored so as to advance a special pleading case for Gen Y, so shunting-aside *my* generation in the process, I won’t hold back.

Such is the case with current concerns about teenage suicide. Simply put, there is not now, and has not been for more than a decade, a teenage suicide epidemic. There is (and has been since the early 1980s), however, a definite suicide epidemic in Australia: among boys, then men, born between the mid-60s and early 70s.

Simon Castles writes of the Xer “suicide generation” here, while a more impersonal, stat-based reference is: Jeni Harvie "Suicide prevention needs direction" Australian 3 December 2005 (no URL).

Here’s the table, in text form, from that article (which cites the ABS as its source):

The four columns are: age bands, 1992 rates, 2002 rates, and % change (i.e. over that decade)

15-24 years 16.4 11.8 -28.0

25-34 years 18.8 19.0 1.1

35-44 years 16.1 18.5 13.0

45-54 years 16.3 14.8 -9.2

55-64 years 15.2 11.1 -27.0

65-74 years 16.6 10.9 -34.3

75+ years 16.5 12.2 -26.1

All ages 13.2 11.8 -10.6

Extrapolating from these stats:

Teenage (as well as, FWIW, 55+) suicide rates took a dramatic fall in the mid-late 90s; i.e. as GenY started to hit puberty en masse, and uber-Xer Kurt Cobain, ahem, politely excused himself from the emerging circus).

Meanwhile, albeit not as dramatically (unless one factors-in that every other age range’s rates fell), the suicide rates for Xers *rose*, particularly so for older Xers, aged in their mid-late 30s in 2002. The given figure (35-44 years old in 2002) admittedly also includes boomers born as early as 1958, but as I’ve argued elsewhere, such “Wallace Line”-overlapping stats need unpicking. In particular, since there doesn’t appear to be any good reason why younger boomers (born 1958-1961) would have topped themselves in 2002 at a greater rate than older boomers (born 1948-1957, whose 2002 rate was 14.8), it is very likely that the actual Xer rate within the 35-44 years-old-in-2002 cohort was significantly higher than the cross-generational average rate given, of 18.5. (If the boomer rate within this cohort is assumed to be 14.8 (also), then the unpicked, pure-Xer rate would be 22 or so). (A similar statistical unpicking can be performed with the 25-34 years-old-in-1992 rate of 18.8; by imputing the older-boomers rate (of 16.1) to younger boomers, the pure-Xer rate (covering Xers born to 1967) would be also be 22 or so.)


I was prompted finally to write this post – which has long stewed dormantly in my mind – by this SMH article previewing tonight’s "Four Corners" (correction 17/5; original read “Australian Story”, an episode which promises to be a multi-hanky job for viewers, unless you’re an Xer man, in which case, I suggest it’s best avoided, less it prompt a brick-through-the TV-screen response, certainly if this sentiment is any guide:

These [teenage suicide] rates are down on the peak rates of the late '90s but that is no cause for complacency” (same URL).

Um, I think that just about every** single suicide is a tragedy – so what’s with the talk about “complacency”?

Something strange is going on here, and it’s made stranger by the cited “peak rate” time being decade-plus out of whack. As noted above, it’s my (Xer) generation who take the dubious honours here.

This “honours” point further, and this time exponentially, ups the strangeness ante. According to the acting principal of Riverview (an elite Catholic boys high-school) college, James Rodgers:

"It's a tragedy, it happens [i.e. when one of our students suicides], we are at one with people in their grief, but we can't send out the message to our students that the way to gain notoriety is to kill yourself." (same URL)

Um, if I was a teacher or administrator at Riverview, and I understood that gaining notoriety (or “fame”, to use a more neutral word) was a fairly major pre-occupation of many (all?) of my students, I wouldn’t be that keen on Rodgers’s harm-minimisation, or Safe Notoriety mindset.

Rather, I’d do one of the following:

(a) Kill myself. (Not for fame, mind, but because of suddenly discovering that I’d spent a large chunk of my life, in preparing to be a teacher, on a youthful generation for whom being taught anything at all is now revealed to be superfluous). Or

(b) Kill all the little fame-whores in my charge (Again, not for personal fame, but out of a genuine belief that I would be doing them a favour). Or

(c) Get Gretel Killeen on side (I’m pretty sure she was once a Catholic school-girl, which might count for something), with a view to arranging some kind of VIP-route into the “Big Brother” house/cast, just for Riverview students. If this cunning scheme did work, it should nicely quench my charge’s thirst for notoriety/fame. And do so in slightly less drastic way than (a) or (b). Or maybe not – but hey, that could just be my “complacency”, kicking in.

* “Younger” means born post-1978 or so; the Gen’s X/Y division is currently (and may always be) a “soft” border, in that it doesn’t feature the same dramatic, statistically-demonstrable “Wallace Line” that bifurcates around the 1962-born

** There’s a necessary exception here, I’d argue, for criminals who kill themselves to avoid justice.

Update 17 May 2006

More over at LP. To digest a comment I make there, I was electrified by one aspect of the show: a 16 y.o. gay kid’s coming-out epiphany at Homebake, going from a reserved nerd to crowd-surfing along to Grinspoon’s “More than you are”. So it was worth worth watching for that, at least. Otherwise, the "epidemic" bullshit did get a run, of course.

Also a curiosity from the program was the emotional frigidity of the dead kid's family. Reminds me very much of my own, and the fictional Fishers from “Six Feet Under".

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Find me a successful, non-obsessive Australian man born in 1964, 1965 or (Jan – May) 1966

Yep, I’m issuing a challenge to my readers: I undertake to blog, without directly or indirectly mentioning the b-word (boomers), for a Biblically-significant period (40 days), if anyone can come up with the name of a single successful, non-obsessive Australian man roughly my age.

Specifically, I’m interested in someone who has had (/made) roughly the same, youth-to-20s chances (/choices) in life as me, but is now through to a very different outcome into middle-age. Re the possibly odd-sounding inclusion of only some of the 1966-born, I’m not trying-on an obscure statistical gerrymander here; rather, just in simplifying the end-narrative. In case you don’t get it, I’m interested in “snapshots” of other men at 40, or soon after. There’s nothing magical about turning 40, of course, but it does have a certain ring to it. Also, IMO this age, and probably not too much before, is a reasonable proxy/predictor of a man’s prospects for the rest of his working (or not) life

First, some fine-print terms and conditions, before I go into the “successful” and “non-obsessive” stuff:

- the said man must have some sort of public (/Google-able) profile, just so we know he’s real

- the said man must be Australian-born, or at least have migrated to Australia before starting primary school

- past or present expats (= men who have had significant career success overseas) are excluded (This may sound like a silly, artificial exclusion that denies the reality of modern global careers, yada x 3, but for me in the 80s, any thought of my moving to London would have simply connoted dropping-out (= doing the tired-old hippie thing, but for new, peculiarly-masochistic reasons, given Thatcher.) (I didn’t realise until much later than Hawke and Keating were Thatcher in drag, and pari passu Australia’s economy.))

- the said man must have at least an undergrad honours university degree. Preferably, though, he will have a Masters degree or higher

- sons of billionaire media proprietors, et al, are obviously excluded

Second, this is not a quest for romance, career-advancement, or anything else on my part. I don’t want to meet the guy/s who may be suggested – just to prove a point, or not.

Finally, re his being “successful” and “non-obsessive”:

By “successful”, I don’t necessarily mean filthy-rich. But owning a nice, substantially- or wholly- paid-off house in a capital city is almost certainly a pre-requisite (unless he is an eccentric-renter type, who could transparently afford such a house in a heartbeat, if he so chose). Also a pre-requisite is a reasonably high-paying ($100k +) job or self-employment income. Again, I’d be prepared to bend this if necessary, say, to accommodate a Nobel laureate medical-researcher who’s only on $80k. But in any event, if he’s had more than one year on ultra-low (below $30k) income since his mid-20s (including, perish the thought, because of long-term unemployment), apart from when he might have been (i) a full-time postgrad student or (ii) in the start-up phase of self-employment, he’s disqualified on the basis of his “success” being erratic over the longer-term.

“Non-obsessive” is a still-looser concept. Ken Parish, probably rightly, accuses me of being “obsessive”, but – even at acute risk of deepening my own grave – I reckon that such a trait is a very common one among educated Australian men of my vintage, but that this fact remains curiously unacknowledged. Two examples here, of same-aged male public figures, who have enjoyed some career success, but who I’d call “obsessive” enough to be disqualified from my quest (assuming that they otherwise had all the boxes ticked) are Democrats politician Andrew Bartlett and gay activist Rodney Croome (both bloggers also, BTW, but I stress that this doesn’t itself cause their, IMO, “obsessive” label). If you still don’t “get” what I mean by “obsessive” with these two examples, you need to Google their careers.

I also note here that being “obsessive” can be a strongly positive characteristic, albeit in a way invariably counter-productive to one’s conventional career success. Again, invoking an example might be useful.

[On May 1, the morning after the two Beaconsfield miners were discovered to be alive] one man, miner Brett Cresswell [the duo’s shift supervisor] risked his life and crawled through rock and rubble to within 1m of the pair to pass them water and a blanket . . . Progress on a communication pipe through to the men had been frustratingly slow. Cresswell . . . orders everyone else out of the area and squeezes and digs himself into a claustrophobically small crawl space over [the rockfall area].

Cresswell, 40, is acting illegally and risking a $20,000 fine . . . Cresswell is an unassuming hero.

(Hey, no shit about the “unassuming” or “hero” bits. If it were me, I’d like to think I’d be a little bit angrier and a little less “unassuming” about Macquarie Bank, the mine's absentee landlords (and their minions, whose chain of trust plainly stops somewhere above shift-supervisor), whose ironic, newfound softly-softly safety concerns (after the duo were heard to be alive) would most probably have lead to the trapped duo dying in situ before they could be rescued. But there I go, “obsessing” again. I'm sure that Xer Brett Cresswell, in return for his zipped-lips moderation in comparison, will be getting a juicy job offer from MacBank any day now . . . )

So the rest is up to you readers: scour the country and find a stable, male, early-40s Xer who’s on the sharper side of ordinary and fits within the above fine-print.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Books as evidence

From law school in the 80s, I remember a case about whether certain evidence could be introduced by the prosecution, re a man facing drug offences. The evidence in question was one book (out of his library of several thousand) that was a how-to grow marijuana guide.

While I now can’t remember what that case decided, a much more recent case seems to suggest that a single book, in any size library, will automatically be cogent evidence of possible criminal purpose. I’m referring to John Howard Amundsen, an Xer school-teacher (amongst other things) recently arrested in Brisbane.

While it’s early days in the case, I’m shocked at the media attention so far given to his apparent possession of the book Bin Laden: Behind the Mask of a Terrorist. If the title isn’t clear enough for you (/the cops), a bit of Googling confirms that this book is not remotely a Jihad manual, or somesuch. Indeed, it seems to paint Osama Bin Laden in the same way I have always done (without ever reading, much less owning (Phew!) Behind the Mask). In brief, Bin Laden is a (typical) spoilt boomer and armchair terrorist, who gets brainwashed Xers to do the real work.

It’s going to be interesting to see whether Behind the Mask gets “opened” or not in Amundsen’s trial. If judged solely by its cover, and the plain connotations of its title are ignored also, then I suppose its simple possession might be capable of suggesting some Islamist link (even without Amundsen's being a Muslim, AFAICT). A fucked interpretation, yes, but still a possible one.

More fucked still, however, would be the book getting duly “opened”, and a radical new spin then introduced. This new spin: Far from being a mere Islamist Xer lackey answerable to Bin Laden, Amundsen has learnt the lessons of recent history (from the book) so as to become mastermind boss of his own evil empire; making him so resourceful that he doesn’t need Bin Laden’s or Saudi’s billions, much less any religious-mission ideology to inspire him. And an vengeful Xer in this position can only have one natural, secular target: the boom-ocracy

Yep. Or maybe he’s just a loopy middle-aged man. Or maybe he’s even innocent.

The budget – and when should Xers say “enough is enough”?

Many have observed, if not in gloat then almost always in passing, that Tuesday’s budget was strongly pro-boomer in its biggest-ticket item: new superannuation rules (that will mainly apply from next year).

In fairness, there are some anti-boomer elements within the new package, but these are relatively minor, and look set to be soon tweaked/watered down, anyway.

So just how mind-bogglingly boomer-preferring is the new super regime?

First (although almost no one else has picked this up), giving tax relief all at the back-end (= upon withdrawal), instead of front-end (upon deposit) or along-the-accretion-way-middle, a massive, if opaque, boomer subsidy has been instantly engineered. Back-end taxes can (and of course will, as soon as boomers are safely through the gate) be reinstated, while forgone front-end and middle (accretion) taxes could never be, because they would be overtly (instead of covertly) retrospective. Looked at another way, abolishing front-end and/or middle taxes would have been generationally neutral - and we couldn’t have that.

Then there’s the much-simplified, new $50k threshold for putting tax-advantaged money into super. It seems more age-neutral than the old/current system, apart from the “transitional” provisions. But again, the devil is in the detail, and these provisions are heavily generationally-loaded.

Let’s look at three age-cohort case studies here; one real (= me), the other two hypothetical. (All sums are in 2006 dollars).

Case one (minimum age to ordinarily access preserved superannuation 55)

B1 was born in June 1954. S/he has never struggled to find work, or to buy real estate. While 15 years of her/his award super currently amounts to bugger all (say $100k), and this couldn’t possibly grow into a reasonable nest-egg in the countdown to retirement, s/he is currently doing quite well financially, and so is able to plow significant amounts ($100k a year) into voluntary super.

Under old/current rules

B1 can voluntarily plow $100k a year in, on a tax-advantaged basis, until s/he turns 75 (subject to RBLs, and to whether s/he really wants to work that long, which is unlikely). It is tax-neutral whether s/he cashes in her/his super at, before, or after 60.

Under new/2007 rules

B1 can voluntarily plow $100k a year in, on a tax-advantaged basis, almost until s/he turns 60. From July 2012, s/he will be limited (although this prospect could soon change in her/his favour) to putting in $50k a year. When s/he turns 60, only two years later, s/he will almost certainly cash-in her/his super (one is now allowed, of course, to do this *and* still keep working).

Plus/minus impact of rule change

A big “plus”. B1 will have fast-track accumulated a $1m, tax-free nest-egg by 2014, which will allow her/him to comfortably retire at 60. It is unlikely that, given RBLs and tax, such a cosy-retirement at 60 (starting late and from a low base) would have been possible under the old rules.

Case two (minimum age to ordinarily access preserved superannuation 55)

B2 was born in June 1959. S/he has never struggled to find work, or to buy real estate. While 15 years of her/his award super currently amounts to bugger all (say $120k), and this would at best grow into a middling nest-egg over the next one-to-two decades, s/he is currently doing quite well financially, and so is able to plow significant amounts ($100k a year) into voluntary super.

Under old/current rules

B2 can only voluntarily plow in $40.5k a year in the short-term, until s/he turns 50. After this (in 2009), s/he’s in the same boat as B1, above: allowed $100k a year, on a tax-advantaged basis, until s/he turns 75 (subject to RBLs, and to whether s/he really wants to work that long, which is unlikely). It is tax-neutral whether s/he cashes in her/his super at, before, or after 60.

Under new/2007 rules

In the two years between the new rules kicking in, and B2’s turning 50, s/he’ll be limited to the ordinary $50k annual cap (which is nonetheless still an improvement). From 2009 to 2012, s/he’ll be able to use the last three years of the $100k a year transition-for-50-plusers, after which s/he will be revert to ordinary $50k limit for the duration (although again, this prospect could soon change in her/his favour). Chances are, given the big tax “carrot” for so doing, that B2 will work until turning 60 in 2019, despite the minor frustration (assuming that this isn’t soon tweaked) of “only” being able to put in $50k annually in her/his mid-late 50s.

Plus/minus impact of rule change

An overall “plus”. B1 will have accumulated a $1.2m tax-free nest-egg by 2019, which will allow her/him to more than comfortably retire at 60. It is unlikely that, given RBLs and tax, an equivalent retirement-at-60 would have been financially possible under the old rules. If the new rules are tweaked, to allow B2 to put in $100k annually in her/his mid-late 50s as well, B2 will be obscenely, instead of merely rich in (relatively-) early retirement.

Case three (minimum age to ordinarily access preserved superannuation 59)

X was born in June 1964. He has never held a secure job, and hence owns no real estate. His fifteen years of award super, given patchy employment and the ability to withdraw such, during periods of unemployment, currently amounts to $500. Not surprisingly, he is looking forward to old age pension eligibility in 2029 with a lottery-winner-like fervour.

But this prospect may yet change. In 2007, he gets offered Andrew Bolt’s Herald-Sun writing gig (Rupert has gone bust, and been bought out by a Left consortium), on $300k a year. This salary allows him to immediately start putting significant amounts ($100k a year) into voluntary super, with a view to not even needing the old age pension.

Under old/current rules

X can only voluntarily plow in $40.5k a year in the medium term, until he turns 50 in 2014. After this, he’s in the same boat as B1 and B2, above, except for not being able to, no matter what, retire much before 60, thanks to a Paul Keating-era several-decades-in-advance taper (minimum age to access preserved superannuation increases from 55 to 60, stretched along the June 1959-born to the July 1964-born).

Under new/2007 rules

Unlike B1 and B2, X doesn’t get any benefit from the $100k-transition-provisions (which only apply to those who turn 50 before 2012, regardless of subjective financial circumstances). Thus, he’ll have the ordinary $50k annual cap for the duration (even if the $100k-transition-provisions are soon tweaked, it’s almost certain that such will be in B2’s cohort’s benefit, not X’s)

Plus/minus impact of rule change

A neutral or “minus”. Under the new rules, X will have accumulated a $1m tax-free nest-egg by 2024. This would have allowed him to comfortably retire at 60, but it’s instead mostly subsumed by his buying his first home.

He probably would have been able to accumulate a bit more under the old rules, even factoring in RBLs and tax. But either way, with his whole super (justifiably) blown at 60, he’s once again staring down the barrel/comforter of old age pension eligibility at 65 in 2029.


And the “enough is enough” factor? When will my generation be slitting boomer throats on the street for their loose change? Not sure exactly, but it’s definitely on the cards – and there sure as hell won’t be any transition-provisions in the lead up.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

“I have a (short) (day-) dream”, says David Williamson

Oh yeah? Should be interesting, given that the guy has oscillated in recent years, from being shocked at the boganity of Australian cruise-ship passengers (which didn’t play well with the Howard/Cronulla/white-trash constituency), to being an anti-pomo cultural warrior (which would have played well with Howard, anyway). Between them, I can’t decide whether Williamson’s education would be benefited by his watching just a little “Big Brother”, or whether his brain has been perma-fried already by watching too much of the said show.

And Williamson’s idea? That the two rescued Beaconsfield miners not profit personally from any media deals they might be offered, and instead “decide that any money made would go into a fund for the families of mine accident victims”.

Yep, very nearly dying and then being trapped for almost a week in a small dark hole with only one’s accrued shit and another man for food and company, doesn’t make one a “victim”. No! Just because even US prison guards at Abu Ghraib might even blanch at inflicting this, doesn’t mean that it’s really any more of a painful experience than booking too late for Saturday dinner at one’s fave Noosa restaurant (which did happen to Williamson once (I'm guessing), but he soldiered on (!), only stopping to write a play about it, and so collect a few-hundred thou).

But maybe I’m wrong with this interpretation, and what Williamson actually means is that, being Xers, the two miners deserve nada, no matter what they’ve been through. That is, dollars actually flowing generously into Xer hands offends some principle of particle physics, or whatever.

What a contemptible turd. If Williamson’s so concerned for “the families of mine accident victims” (note: no nationality, or post-accident financial-circumstance qualifiers), he should (i) put up his own money, and (ii) fuck off to Russia or China, where there are indeed plenty of genuinely-deserving such families, thanks to lax safety standards. Once he’s so ensconced, I’m sure he’d naturally be prepared to be censored, as a writer, about the safety stuff, and instead just be grateful to be a passive, bottomless wallet in the indirect service of millionaire (at least) mine owners).

Update 11 May 2006

Today’s Age runs David Williamson’s turdfest, and gives further space to boomer Alan Attwood to make much the same point:

I doubt that the media money will go to the true heroes of this tale - the people who got the miners out”.

Oh do you? Just because – were the rescued duo baby boomers like Attwood – they would presumably take the money and run (making sure that they yell “Fuck you!” to (i) Larry King’s family and (ii) the rescuers as they do so), this doesn’t mean that Xers will behave as scum-suckingly greedy as boomers.

So. Give. Them. A. Chance, you boomer turds.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Generational tensions and the future of the Beaconsfield Gold Mine

As I noted a few days ago, the convoluted ownership structure of the mine necessarily left a media/responsibility “gap”, one that, in the media sense anyway, was competently filled by union boss Bill Shorten.

On the "management" side, the ultimate beneficial owners of the mine, Macquarie Bank, were conspicuously silent, at least until they made the promise, on ~ May 7, to give their stake to a workers’ trust. Which left fronting the media on behalf of the side of "capital" to just two men; mine manager Matthew Gill and Tasmanian Minerals Council chief executive Terry Long.

The former would be a familiar face to anyone who followed the long rescue unfold on TV, but there’s an interesting backgrounder on him here. In any case, it is the less media-promiscuous, and presumably more powerful behind the scenes, industry body chief Terry Long who interests me much more.

If the overall rescue drama had some hugely see-sawing moments, Terry Long has gone through similar amplitudes of media highs and lows. Not about the rescue itself, but about the related issues of mine safety and the mine’s future.

Staggeringly, this morning Long was suggesting (TV interview) that the mine could quite possibly re-open, subject of course, to safety concerns being met, and proper inquiries done first:

The Tasmanian industry body says the highly technical mining industry will find a way for the mine to re-open

Long bolstered his optimism here by using a darker side-current, about what would happen to the town if the mine did not re-open (TV interview), the gist here being that while some miners (and certainly so the rescued duo) would never go back, economic circumstances would probably see the majority willing to do so – but only in due course and with stringent safety measures, blah blah.

Nice. Only a boomer, IMO, could possibly make such a callous comment without wincing, and further, such a comment could only be made, in the circumstances, if the cohort of desperate employees he is referring to are inferior humans, in some sense. That is (I’m assuming) such a cohort is mainly of Xers (like the rescued duo).

What makes Terry Long’s comments more egregious still is that as recently as May 4, he was taking the completely opposite tack:

"You can consider it closed, and I'm not talking from the mine operator's point of view, but just from the level of common sense within the mining industry," Mr Long said.

(FWIW, these comments greatly angered the locals)

So why the big turnaround in Long’s opinion, as soon as the trapped duo were safely above ground? Even I’m not sure. It can’t strictly be to get MacBank off the hook (even though it seems plausible enough to regard Long as Macquarie’s media proxy over the past week) – as Macquarie's head of treasury and commodities Andrew Downe elegantly put it this morning, the mine’s re-opening, or not, is now a ball firmly in its workers’ court:

"If the mine does not re-open, the [workers’ trust] has no value."

Translation no. 1 (for boomer ears): it’s not MacBank’s problem now, because in return for washing their hands, they’ve given away a potentially valuable asset.

Translation no. 2 (for Xer ears): You’ve been given the booby prize from hell. If you disclaim it (by keeping the mine closed), don’t expect any sympathy, much less money, from us (aka “Why didn’t you listen to the soberly-concerned-for-*your*-future Terry Long on 9/5?”). And if you decide to re-open, and something goes wrong, don’t blame us boomers – we told you so! (aka “Why didn’t you listen to the common-sense/safety-first Terry Long on 4/5?”).

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Should male drivers over the age of 65 be immediately banned from Sydney’s North Shore?

If you don’t get the reference, young Sydneyite Sophie Delezio was yesterday, for the second time in three years, seriously injured, in her home neighbourhood, by a car being driven by an elderly (in 2003, he was 67, in 2006, looks 70+) male driver.

So far, this may sound like grotesque, unfortunate coincidence – and no more. But when one looks at the circumstances of the two assaults (I don’t believe that “accident” is quite the right word, although it’s early days in the latest case), one really wonders about the care-factor, or lack thereof, of men aged 65+ on Sydney’s North Shore. I’m not very interested in exploring the reasons behind this apparent phenomenon, just in being business-like (“insurer-like”, to be more precise), by minimizing the future external risks (= harm to others) that flow from its incidence.

Banning such a cohort from driving (here, thought would have to be given whether to make the ban “local” only or national) is admittedly a fairly drastic proposal. If someone can make a less drastic suggestion, that at the same time would as much as possible prevents this sort of thing ever happening again (to Sophie, or anyone else), I’d be interested to hear it.

Friday, May 05, 2006

White-collar defalcation and gambling addiction

One of these cases happens, on my estimate, about a dozen times a year in Australia: a white-collar worker (often, but not necessarily at a bank), trusted to some extent with access to large sums of money, steals a six-to-eight-figure sum from his/her employer/clients and gambles it away, almost always either on poker machines or casino table games.

An interesting feature of such surprisingly common (given the large sums involved) crimes is that Anglo men seem grossly under-represented among the perpetrators. I don’t have any stats to cite here, but I start from a premise that Anglo men have at least as great a representation in jobs-that-allow-six-to-eight-figure-defalcation as they do in the general population.

Yet almost all convicted gambling-related defalcators in recent years have been (a) women, or (b) non-Anglo men. I’m not sure what to make of the latter part of this otherwise, as in contradistinction to Macquarie University’s Andrew Fraser, I don’t believe that “race” is a valid scientific concept.

As far as the women-vs-men thing goes, however, while I accept that science (especially when combined with popular belief) can (i) overstate the differences between the genders, and (ii) be wilfully blind to the dividing line being quite blurry in some (fairly rare) cases (viz intersex/transgendered people), I am prepared to state with some certainty that women in jobs-that-allow-six-to-eight-figure-defalcation should go through greater pre-employment probity checks and ongoing monitoring than men. (“Should” here as in “good for employers”; private-sector frauds don’t affect me personally, not being a shareholder in anything.) In particular, if there is any indication that such a (NOTE: not any) female employee is a regular poker-machine player, serious alarm bells should automatically ring with the employer.

(Disclaimer to the above: yes, I know it sounds sexist, and that I don’t cite any relevant stats. Further, I acknowledge that enforcing it would be difficult. But as I’ve said recently in another context (white-trash single mums blowing “their” (= their kids’, actually) welfare on pokies), banning poker-machines, period, has to be seriously considered as an option here).

Anyway, back to the latest case (penultimate URL), in which Erik Tjandra (who I’m guessing from his name and appearance is of Indonesian- or Malaysian-Chinese birth/ancestry) is charged with stealing about $10m from his former employer (the Commonwealth Bank) and/or its clients (media reports do not make clear, curiously enough, who is ultimately going to wear the loss).

While it’s early days in the case, one thing already stands out: that Tjandra has got bail, and on fairly lax conditions ($50,000 surety for a $10m alleged fraud – you do the math). Notably, he has not (AFAICT) been required to surrender his passports (I’m not a big gambler, but I’d bet anything that Tjandra’s got at least two). Of course, being remanded for white-collar theft is not particularly common, but I would have thought that Tjandra’s facing ten years plus in the slammer (ten years is what that Frank De Stefano, who stole and gambled $8m, got sentenced to three years ago), might mean that Tjandra’s bail would be exceptionally strict, if at all.

What does remain to be seen (apart from Tjandra’s sticking around for the verdict) is whether the casino where most of the $10m was squandered – Sydney’s Star City – is going to be hauled into the criminal trial (and/or become a party to a civil action).

I’ve blogged several times around the themes of casino liability for receiving stolen money, how a creative revival of an old law (vagrancy) could be used to sort ought the (small minority of) genuine recreational gamblers at pokies venues from the majority of welfare-abusers and sundry other criminals, and on the Frank De Stefano verdict. In the last-mentioned post, I made the important but easy-to-miss (unless you, like me, have worked in the gambling industry) that to lose $8m, a gambler, playing as a typical gambling addict does, would have to turn over $50m-80m at the tables.

That is, Star City Casino whooped-and-hollered, or at least quietly watched while subconsciously rubbing its hands together, as a 32 y.o. nerdy-looking “administrator” turned over ~$150,000 a day, every single day for 15 months (or if you prefer him as a weekends-only gambling type, that’s ~$1m each and every weekend for 15 months).


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