Thursday, March 02, 2006

Howard’s ten-year anniversary

Funnily enough, a few potted asides from recent media coverage of Howard’s Decade, has given me some succinct, non-trivial insights.


Fact one: John Winston Howard and I worked at the same law firm (Stephen Jacques and Stephen, a Sydney firm which merged with a Melbourne firm in the 1980s to become Mallesons Stephen Jacques)

Not at the same time, of course. But in law firm culture, change happens at glacial pace. Evidently, young Johnnie didn’t stay long at SJS – though I assume that he did at least complete his one year articles there. While my own stint at MSJ also wasn’t long - one year articles, plus one year as junior solicitor – I’m guessing that I actually outlasted Howard in this respect. So take that, Johnnie – you flighty, job-hopping little GenYer, way ahead of your time.

On a related note, Mike Steketee notes that Howard was thus far from being a mere suburban solicitor – “aspiring to being a law partner while still in his mid-20s was more the mark of a high flyer” (same URL). Hah! Note that by his mid-20s, Howard was already on to his third, law-firm employer – this being a small firm that posterity seems to think is best left unnamed. If this was “high-flying”, in comparison, my own legal career as a 20-something was stratospheric: at 29 (a year after leaving MSJ), I was a Level B lecturer (on $70k, in current dollars), who designed and taught four subjects from scratch for a brand-new LLB program.

Oh, and for Steketee’s benefit, any junior lawyer who doesn’t aspire to becoming a partner (although admittedly this is more true of large firms) is either naïve or clinically insane. This (which BTW is the reason I happily left MSJ, i.e. I had no ambition to become partner) is because junior lawyers are the lowest-paid workers (notional hourly wage once unpaid overtime is taken into account) in the whole building, period. Therefore, the fact that Johnnie stepped from partner-track (but short of actual partnership) to the relative easy-street of a parliamentary safe seat at 33 years of age, speaks volumes: feeling exploited as a fairly long-term junior lawyer (partnership typically takes 7-12 ceaseless years of 80 hour-weeks), Howard decided that someone owed him something, and so Hello, preselection for Bennelong.


Fact two: John Howard’s parents’ business involved what would now (at least) be considered the rorting of a public asset

Cue the violin strings: as a boy, Johnnie used to pump petrol for no pay, weekends included, at his “father’s” (sic: I’d bet there was a family trust involved) Dulwich Hill servo in Sydney’s inner west*. As a photo, presumably from the time of Howard’s boyhood, makes clear, the bowsers for this servo were right on the kerb, meaning that cars filling up with petrol would necessarily do so from the taxpayer-funded public road. Now, I accept that such an arrangement was probably common at the time (you still see it in remote country towns), but by modern standards, the Howard family business was a variant on those pesky intersection windscreen-washers. Admirable entrepreneurialism, yes – BUT GET THE FUCK OFF THE ROAD, AND BUY/RENT YOUR OWN LAND IF YOU’RE RUNNING A BUSINESS, NOT A SCAM.


Fact three: John Howard’s reflex pro-Americanism (and pro-cartelism) was embedded early, but remained long-dormant (mostly)

Australia’s petrol industry since at least WWII has been a notorious dual hotbed of multinationals and oligarchy. Accordingly, the Howard family’s servo was inevitably aligned with a multinational oil company: the USA’s Mobil, as it happens (same photo, above). As a boy, Johnnie presumably saw Mobil as a generous, paternalistic sort of company – an uber-Dad. His choppy legal career, above, confirms that even well into adulthood, John Howard had something of an authority-void in his life, when without a Big-as-Texas protector of/over him. Fortuitously for the psychic well-being and stamina of the much older Howard-as-PM, 2000’s election of Dubya brought his boyhood comfort feeling of Being Protected full-circle, and home.


* Brad Norington, “My path from bowser boy to IR reform” Australian 25 February 2006 (no URL)

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Review of Ryan Heath, Please Just F* Off: It's Our Turn Now (Pluto Press, 2006)

First, as to the title – don’t be put off, all you boomer would-be readers, as it’s quite misleading as to the contents therein. Albeit by sleight of hand, this book is much more scathing of GenXers (b. ~1963 – 1978) than baby boomers (b. 1946 – ~1962).

In fairness to the author here, he doesn’t agree with such a date range for GenX, nor quite possibly even for GenX’s existence as a generation separate from boomers.

He achieves this feat firstly by front-ending his own, it-generation back to 1970, thus giving the born-1980 author a prime, two-thirds-of-the-way-in possie. Such is mathematical destiny because the end-date of any modern generational pigeon-holing is seemingly obligatorily set at 15 years after its start, thus giving the talking-'bout-his-generation Heath the born 1970-1985 age-spread.

A cheeky move, perhaps, but one not entirely out of order: any 15 year range, including the one I postulate for Xers above, will have enough internal heterogeneities as to potentially justify an alternative spread that cannibalises some (only) of the former. Also, Heath’s chosen 1970-1985 range possesses a definite, if indirect, prevalent characteristic – these 15 years are quite possibly the peak Children of Boomers being-born years. Apart from a briefly Oedipal acknowledgment vis a vis his own boomer parents, however, Heath studiously ignores dwelling on this tricky, common-heritage thread.

More problematic, in any case, is what happens to the resultant GenX rump (b. 1963 – 1969) in Heath’s arbitrary-or-otherwise 15-year schema. Rather presumptuously, I would have thought, the older almost-half of this rump is simply absorbed into boomers, or at least a subset thereof: “younger boomers”, aka “Generation Jones”, who are apparently those born 1955-1965. As someone born in 1964, I can at least see some sense in this – had I not gone to university – and double this if I had also not finished school – I would probably now be as well-off financially as the average boomer, instead of living in long-term poverty.

No matter this, though – it is what Heath does with the rest of the GenX rump (those born 1966 – 1969), that utterly deserts his credibility. AFAICT, anyone born in this half-decade simply doesn’t exist. Possibly, having long ago entered a collective depression according to Heath (writing in early 2004) they’ve since all topped themselves.

Which is a shame, because the strongest arguments in Heath’s book pivot, at bottom, rather exactly on the fate of those born 1963 – 1978 – and surely half this demographic can’t be lopped-off without at least some side-effects. He quotes approvingly from Mark Davis’s 1997 anti-boomer tome Gangland (which otherwise is only cited twice (while ubiquitous Gen Y-pert Peter Sheahan gets not even a single mention)):

“[T]he real pity is that [baby boomers] trashed the place and left us to clean up”

The quote comes from a letter to the editor written, apropos of Kurt Cobain’s death, in April 1994, by Ruth Gamble. Something makes me think that Ruth’s use of “us” might well not have extended to the 13 y.o Ryan Heath then, nor indeed to the 25 y.o. current expat high-flier. (Googling Ruth Gamble, who I’d guess was born well before 1975, comes up with just a single, tantalising badge of presumed Xer-ship, that of failed film-maker: she had a $6,100 AFC grant revoked in 1997-98.)

But Heath’s riding on the coat-tails of unfortunate Xers doesn’t stop with Ruth’n’Kurt. Home ownership is, of course, a major grievance of GenX towards boomers, yet Heath has the nerve to cite 2001 Census figures, as extrapolated by NATSEM, on the relatively dire home ownership position of 25-39 y.o’s (that’s those born 1962-1977) as a prime exhibit in his case for the 1970-1985 generation being short-changed. Apart from the age range of his data being seriously out of whack with that of his narrowly-plead subjects, Heath has the galling presumption (or just stupidity?) to be already concerned about the reduced home ownership prospects of a half-decade cohort born 1980-85 – persons over whom such hand-wringing is surely premature. And if it’s not, then all you early-20’s, anxious renters can take a number, and then line up in the affordable-housing queue way, way, way behind me.

This is not to say that Heath’s case that affordable housing becomes a major policy priority lacks merit or sense. On the contrary, I agree entirely, and moreover, I have a better idea than Heath – who simply suggests abolishing negative gearing, and spending much more on public housing – on how to fix the current mess. My idea 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. Would the Greedy Boomer lobby scream like stuck pigs over such a tax? You betcha – so if they want to avoid its iniquities, it’s all really quite simple – just sell at cost+CPI, so making everyone a winner (= cutting out the taxman, together with giving Xer first-home buyers a break).

Of course, such a plan is sheer dreamin’. Even Heath’s so-modest-it’s-waste-of-paper-(IMO) suggestion to abolish negative gearing has raised the hackles of 29 y.o. Age reviewer Cameron Woodhead, who says that such a plan “would almost certainly lead to the collapse of the property market”*. As in – that’s a bad thing. Wazza matter, Cameron: the two-thirds downwards price adjustment/“collapse” (call it what you will) that is necessary to bring house prices back to long-term equilibrium (= 3 times average incomes) is going to whip your over-geared butt, perhaps? Or do you simply believe that home-ownership for Xers should be as rare, and entail as much cock-sucking, as it takes for an Xer to get a regular newspaper reviewing gig?

The other main plank of Heath’s book that had me generally nodding in agreement is the undesirability of non-free tertiary education. HECS is – and always has been – a rotten, slimy boomer conspiracy against the young, especially the most talented thereof. However, I don’t agree that re-imposing free, plenary tertiary education is necessarily desirable (assuming that it is affordable).

Instead, I’d suggest that free places generally be reserved for the “elite” (am I allowed to use that word in a non-sporting context?), which in ball-park terms would be a % figure somewhere between a top 1% (which I’m guessing is about where taxpayer rolled-gold kicks-in for elite 18-21 y.o. sportspeople) and the top 15% (= the % (again, I’m guessing) of born-1955-to-61 boomers who got free university (Note: not CAE, etc) education between 1973 and c.1985, all without the taxpayers of the time, AFAICT, ever kicking-up any fuss). Personally, I’d prefer the “elite” benchmark to be set as generously as possible, but the funding-elite-intellectuals-as-much-as-elite-sportspeople (and of course, the current HECS system doesn’t even do that) has to be considered as an absolute worst-case scenario. And in case you’re wondering, yes, non-elite students could get tertiary education as well, either in:

- private universities (which should get zero taxpayer assistance, and therefore be allowed to serve small (~5% of domestic 18-21 y.o’s, plus as many overseas students as they want), but apparently necessary, niche roles as finishing schools for the rich-but-dumb),

or

- public, part-subsidised (i.e. fee/HECS-charging) teaching-only colleges, for ~30% of 18-21 y.o’s.

Needless to say, these tri-sectors should be kept utterly separate, rather than co-existing within the legal aegis of a single institution, as is the case with all (?) Australian public universities/“universities” at present – which happily service rich-but-dumb (local and overseas) and college-course students, all while maintaining an empty pretence, but not the actuality, of being a real (= an institution with a core, 100%-subsidised, elite student base) public university.

In conclusion, Heath’s book also covers in depth the Gen eXpat (Ypat?) diaspora. Yawn. If I were Heath’s age, no doubt I would have also done what he, and many of his also-bright age-peers, have done – got an okay HECS-paid (soft-loan) tertiary education in Australia, and then got out, forever. It ain’t rocket science. The only mysteries are (i) why Heath cares enough to bother writing a whole book about the lost cause that is his birth-land, and (ii) why the GenX “rump” – whose most talented non-expats, if I’m any guide, are miserably wasted in their birth-lands – didn’t/don’t join him and the hordes of other bright young Aussie emigrants.

Just call me a “true believer”, Ryan. As in someone who believes that the Western world turned to shit about 1980 (yes, I know it’s the year you were born, but don’t take offence; it’s only a coincidence) – but maybe, just maybe, we can someday return to a world of full employment, led by smartest-first precedence. Finally Ryan, since you nail Labor/Labour colours to your own mast of optimism, let me tell you that the most pro-boomer, Xer-fucking government that this country has so far been (mis)ruled by existed between 1983 and 1996. These years may have been bounteous if you were (i) a boomer, (ii) still at school, or (iii) escaped overseas. For the rest of us, though, I’d suggest that our story during those blighted years would make a great subject for a future book. But really – no “please” or “just” in the title, this time.


* Cameron Woodhead, “Dude, you so blew it” (Review of Ryan Heath, Please Just F* Off: It's Our Turn Now) Sunday Age 26 February 2006

Monday, February 27, 2006

Ten ways in which I’ve got nothing in common with someone three years older (b. 1961) . . . and how a born-1961 boomer more closely resembles someone born in 1901

Sorry about the long title, and for being off-air for the last week. I went away for a few days, but my main excuse is having been sick, sick, sick.

Anyway, today’s post is inspired by having read (sorta) Ryan Heath’s Please Just F* Off: It's Our Turn Now, of which I hope to post a review tomorrow.

Some examples of Australian 1961-born – each from a modest background and who all seem to consider themselves as having a social conscience – are: Mark Latham, Julia Gillard and Tony Moore (Pluto Press publisher).

--

Here’s my top-ten list, of a 1964-born Xer being on a different planet from a 1961-born boomer:


1. Access to “preserved” superannuation

Someone born in June 1961 will have access to this at age 56, while someone born in July 1964 (Disclosure: this is tweaking my real DOB by a few days) will have to wait until they’re 60. While the “same as 1901, for the boomer” test obviously is without direct equivalence, the striking point is what a difference a mere three years (plus one day) makes. The changes to accessing preserved superannuation – raising the minimum age from 55 to 60, with a 5 year taper – were made decades in advance, in the early 1990s. It is bizarre that the 1961-born, who don’t even turn 55 until 2016, are only at the soft inside-edge of the 5 year taper, rather than well past its “pointy” end.


2. Homelessness rates

1976 – 10% of homeless (men) are under 25
1986 – 40% of homeless (men and women) are under 25
2005 – 46% of homeless (men and women) are under 25
(1901 figures unknown)


3. Paying for tertiary education

Admittedly, not many born-1964 Xers were still at uni in 1989 (the year HECS was introduced). But I certainly was – doing what would have been my penultimate year, but because of HECS became my last year (I did graduate, but ditched an arts honours year). In case you’re wondering what a 24-going-on-25 y.o. was doing at uni anyway, the story is that I deferred for a year twice (pre- and mid-course), both times to save money by working full-time; plus my arts (hons)/law course was (or at least would have been) six years long.

As for the “same as 1901, for the boomer” test, tertiary education was not, of course, generally free in 1901 – but I’m assuming that scholarships for the smartest were available back then. Indeed, what is unique about my (and others’) predicament in 1989 is that this was the first time a smart student, in particular, was being expected to pay for their tertiary education – not as in “first time since 1972” but as in first time ever. Oh, and existing students weren’t even grandfathered from HECS. Had I been starting university in 1989, I would have at least been able to see the writing on the wall in time – that a seismic shift of resources from young to old was taking place, involving a complete “Fuck You” to the former – and not have bothered wasting my time and money.

Update 28 March 2006

Participation rates for commencing higher education were markedly different between the 1961-born and the 1965-born, as shown by this longitudinal study (PDF).

Even I was surprised by this pre-HECS data, which seems to have gone little remarked upon. What it boils down to is that higher ed-participation fell – not steeply, but still, I’d guess, the only such fall in Australian history – in the boomer-to-Xer transition years, aka demographic cliff (from 1961-born to 1965-born).

More dramatic here was the higher ed-participation fall-off among the first Xers from parental backgrounds other than professionals. In other words, it was only young, disproportionately-optimistic (back then), Xer children of professionals (that’s me) who plugged what would have otherwise been a quite nasty hole in enrolments in 1984.

And to think that we GenX intelligentsia actually thought at the time that we were lucky to be going to uni. It now turns out then we were the only ones who hadn’t yet sniffed the distinct odour of Sinking Ship. So we became cannon-fodder for the culture wars (pomo, etc), not realising our true cynical, disposable roles until much later.

4. Home ownership

(Disclosure/ “Sliding Doors” rewind: had I not gone to university, I would most likely now own a fully-paid off home worth a few hundred-thou. As things stand, my total assets are worth about $5,000)


5. Assets/income compared to one’s parents (at same age)

A general rule has prevailed since at least 1901: that major depressions aside, each new generation does a bit better economically than its parents. This was true as recently as the 1961-born. It is certainly not true in my own case, nor, I suspect, for a majority of Xers.


6. DSP recipient rates

Recipients of the disability support pension have a striking, counter-intuitive mini-peak among those born 1962-1965, while there are almost no DSP recipients who were born in 1960 or 1961. Numbers of DSP recipients that match rates among the oldest Xers are only again reached in the 50+ age group, with those born in or before 1956.

- “Budget to reduce disabled, sole parent benefits” (Graph) AFR 13 April 2005.


7. Fertility rates

Since I’m gay, this one is of marginal direct personal relevance, but there is no doubt that Xers – particularly highly-educated ones – have bred less than boomers. Intriguingly, the ranks of single mothers (or more accurately, Parenting Payment Single recipients) are much more stacked with late boomers (those born up to and including 1961) than early Xers (those born in or after 1962).

- “Budget to reduce disabled, sole parent benefits” (Graph) AFR 13 April 2005.


8. The Yoof Industry

In early 1981, aged 16, I entered an adult poetry competition (unsuccessfully, FWIW). As far as I can recall, there was no “youth” literary/arts anything in those days – one either cut it in the plenary, adult world, or didn’t. Ironically, soon afterwards the election of the Hawke/Keating Labor government in 1983, plus International Youth Year in 1985 begat a thriving “youth” arts/policy industry. This was ironic because career-wise, I missed this boat entirely, not because I was too old, but because the chosen yoof-meisters of 1985 came from a tiny demographic sliver (one that necessarily excluded me): post-university, but still under-25. Yep, you guessed it, the 1961-born (and very few else), like Tony Moore. And ever since 1985, the 1961-born (or older) appear to have held onto their youth industry hegemony.

- Tony Moore, “To praise youth or bury it?” in Glenn Patmore and Dennis Glover eds New Voices – Labor Essays 1999-2000 Pluto Press 1999 pp 216-232

(Disclosure/ “Sliding Doors” rewind: had I not gone to university, I could probably have obtained a youth industry sinecure in 1984 or 1985)


9. Women being discriminated against

For centuries prior to and including the 1961-born, it is unarguable that simply being born male in the West gave one considerable advantages in later life. The patent unfairness of this now mainly-historical anomaly is equally unarguable. More controversial is whether the situation for the post-1961 born, involves gender equality, or actual female preferment. I would argue that the latter is true, albeit it takes a much milder form than the stark male preferment that prevailed for so long historically. However mild, there is still something that rankles me in being on the receiving end of a (generally unacknowledged, and certainly unintentional) historical over-shoot.

(Disclosure: I considered myself a strong feminist while at university. Ironically, I could (still) afford to be one, had I not gone to university. Like (I suspect) most men who were “sold” on feminism, the successful pitch involved a modified form of chivalry – a quality that instantly evaporated(/s) on any level playing field, other than a relatively-cloistered 1980s university.


10. Punk

The punk cliché “no future” (= high 1970’s unemployment, etc) is often trotted out as some sort of corroboration for the fact that late boomers at least, such as the 1961-born, by no means have had an easy ride through life – and albeit more as subtext, that late boomers, in punk, own the last authentic master-key of cultural coolness.

Although once again I have to disclose that, while at university (= the 1980s) I once thought otherwise, today there can be no doubt that punk was the last, wretched spasm of the boomer soixante-huitard counter-culture – before the abandonment of the whole project, via the mass uptake of economic rationalism. As Guy Rundle writes:

“The failure of the cultural revolution . . . burning out in punk and euro-terrorism in the late ‘70s, was an inevitable result of the contradictions it carried within itself, but it has left a vacuum . . . “

- Guy Rundle. “Prospects for political renewal”, in Glenn Patmore and Dennis Glover eds New Voices – Labor Essays 1999-2000 Pluto Press 1999 p 163


Update 24 March 2006

Here’s 11 and 12 on the list

11. The 1961-born can apparently rape children with impunity

“Rape” is the word I believe best describes what the now 44 y.o. Cheryl Whittle did to a then 14 y.o. boy in 1992:

“[Whittle] crept into her son’s bedroom and performed oral sex on his friend, who was sleeping on the floor. She then had penetrative sex with the boy, who pretended to be asleep during the assault. Afterwards he went outside and vomited.”*

For this, Whittle – who then had the boomer gall to pursue the boy for child support, after becoming pregnant by raping him – received a wholly *suspended* jail sentence for her actions.

So what gives? Contrary to some reports, it’s not gender: Xer Karen Ellis was sentenced to real jail time for an offence that was not objectively nearly as serious (Ellis did not force herself on a cowering child).

As “being a boomer” cannot, per se, be invoked as a get out of jail free card, judge Geoff Chettle clutched at three main straws to exculpate her, more or less. Here they are:

- The 12-year delay in reporting the crime constituted “exceptional circumstances”.*

Huh? Most (non-stranger) sexual assault against children is only reported much later. Indeed, a 12-year delay is probably on the short-side of the norm. And there is no issue here of the defendant being geriatric/senile/dying (unlike, say, in the case of some accused Catholic clergy).

- “[Whittle] had endured a confused and chaotic life [having had several drug related convictions, and doing nine months in jail in her late teens for armed robbery].”*

Oh, I get it – every else has prior convictions (which *add* to sentence severity), but boomers have “chaotic life” windfalls; i.e. the more “priors”, the better one’s chances of escaping jail for one’s latest fuck-up.

- Unlike the case of Karen Ellis (a teacher of the boy she assaulted), the boy Whittle raped was not “under her care.”

Yep, age-peer friends of boomers' children, sleeping on their kid’s floor, are in no sense under any adult care. They’re seredipitous playthings for the mum and dad of the house, children who can be raped (and presumably also murdered) with impunity.


* James Madden “Mum of 10 free after sex assault on boy, 14” The Australian 11 March 2006 (no URL)


12. The 1961-born get infinite slack cut when they screw up at work

Or that’s how I interpret the two-months paid leave – “with additional training, counselling and appropriate mentoring” – that 44 y.o. Federal magistrate Jennifer Rimmer has been sentenced to, for several cumulative crimes against competence.

Magistrate Rimmer seems to have got massively behind (as in taking three years to to it) with writing/issuing one particular judgment. Presumably in a panic, she lifted, without attribution, large slabs from another judgment. Curiously, journo Michael Pelly goes on to say:

“After repeated requests from [Chief Federal Magistrate, John] Pascoe, she altered her judgement to contain attribution, but failed to alert the parties — a remarkable lapse for a judicial officer” (same URL).

Umm, let me get this right: Magistrate Rimmer’s inserting a footnote (so as to attribute what she had previously plagarised), but not actually telling anyone else about this new footnote, was her main “lapse”. That is, never mind the three-year delay, and her patent floundering desperation in getting something, anything out on paper. No, these only go to the *quality* of the justice she dispensed in the case. And forget that stuff: as a born-1961 boomer Protected Species, Magistrate Rimmer is apparently entitled to have the gravest possible accusation aginst her be a pissy, procedural non-sequitur.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Fixing housing affordability for GenX

Does the Housing Industry Association read Catallaxy Files (and my comments therein)? Possibly, judging by this off-the-cuff OpEd by HIA national president Bob Day.

High-immigration rates by relatively cashed-up immigrants is not, needless to say, even fleetingly mentioned as a contributor to the problem. Instead, changing its tune from a couple of years ago, when high taxes were the primary culprit, outer-suburban land non-availability is now the big issue.

Which factor is superficially – and only superficially – hard to disagree with: it’s simple demand exceeding supply, blah blah. But the moment the costs of servicing greenfields land start to be factored in, Day’s mind goes to (Bob) Jelly:

Ironically, the case for urban consolidation has been advanced on the back of a number of arguments: namely, that it is good for the environment, that it stems the loss of agricultural land, that it encourages people on to public transport, that it leads to a reduction in motor vehicle use and that it saves on infrastructure costs for government.

None of these is true.


What. The. Fuck. Now, the loss of agricultural land bit I’m not too fussed about (Australia runs a massive agricultural trade surplus, and running this down would help to force the issue of our existing banana-republicanism, re having almost zero “smart” exports).

But as for the infrastructure costs of carte-blanche suburban sprawl being insignificant, the HIA has simply lost the plot. The building of new public/“free” arterial roads/highways in Australia has virtually stopped – certainly in terms of those that weren’t already planned (and so land acquisitions made) decades ago. Likewise with public transport, particularly in Victoria: Melbourne’s suburban train system last had new track added to it one hundred years ago.

Plainly, Bob Day has a huge blind-spot when it comes to the Arthur Laffer game, aka keeping taxes down by denuding (or simply not building) public infrastructure. It is inconceivable, then, that boomers and other Laffer-ites would wear the large tax rise that properly servicing carte-blanche suburban sprawl would necessarily involve. (And only a couple of years ago, the HIA was saying that taxes were already too high).

“But why not private infrastructure?” I hear you ask. Fine – if you want the net cost of outer-suburban land to be as unaffordable as anything else, and for the taxpayer, sooner or later, to step in to bail out the privateers (as seems to happen in 99% of private infrastructure developments (sic) in the real world).

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Criminalising funny humour

As many have pointed, most or all of the Danish cartoons were seriously unfunny. The implication is, the, that it they were funny/ier, their publication would have been more justified.

Which makes perfect sense to me – the only trouble here, though, is that in Australia recently, a “the funnier the prank, the more criminal it must be (and vice versa)” paradigm seems to be emerging.

Exhibit one: the Chaser AWB novelty-cheque stunt

While I’m tempted to put anything involving oversize cheques in the “automatically- unfunny” drawer (they’ve almost been done to death), the absurdly inflated reaction to the Chaser team’s stunt allows them, IMO, leniency on this occasion.

Now, since commissions perform quasi-judicial roles, I quite accept that they do (or if not, should) possess some court-style inherent contempt powers – that is, to keep things serious and respectful inside and immediately outside their hearing rooms, as well as (more contentiously), to have inherent jurisdiction to punish disrespectful (=shit-stirring) reporting of their proceedings.

AFAICT, the Chaser stunt would not have been contempt, had the commission and its building been an actual court. Moreover, while one can understand the greasy AWB executive Charles Stott being "completely shaken" by what he first may have mistaken as a gesture of public support for his plight, Commissioner Cole’s apparently referring the matter to police (same URL) easily takes the Prank of the Day prize. Seriously, it’s bizarre – and deeply unfunny also, needless to say.


Exhibit two: the Leunig Cartoons

For probably the first and last time, I agree pretty much with everything Andrew Norton (a co-Xer, FWIW) has written on something. Building on Andrew’s argument: the stunt, far from being a bizarre hoax, was clever, because it shows up what a pathetically provincial controversialist Leunig really is. Oh, and another word for “pathetically provincial controversialist” is “unfunny”. Needless to say, here the police also have been called in, this time with the aid and resources of Leunig’s (co-boomer) paymasters (and sometime censors!) at The Age. More curiously, the Iranians seem to have been exemplars of co-operation in this matter. So they can build nuclear bombs to take out the West with relative impunity, but when it comes to a minor copyright infringement (note: usually a civil, not a criminal matter), establishment Australia and establishment Iran somehow become best buddies, united against a common enemy – a lone, mischievous Xer (I’m guessing)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Job Network scamsters

It is difficult to believe that the Slavos are the only, or even a notable perpetrator of this type of scam. Given that not-for-profit operators would now be servicing a minority of Job Network indentured "customers", it is a reasonable supposition that the majority-reaching, for-profit Job Network operators have/are committing scams at least as egregious.

No doubt Sarina Russo et al have better departmental/political (although arguably there’s hardly a difference between them these days) Canberra connections than the not-for-profits, not to mention much less likelihood of internal whistleblowers dwelling within their ranks. (From personal experience, the dollar-driven culture among Sarina Russo staff makes McDonalds’ “fries with that?” upselling look like Soviet supermarket counter-service).

But the odds of this expose extending to, and so catching bigger fish are zero, of course. As long as you’re engaged to hammer the unemployed – and do actually do so – fiscal fraud that would otherwise be a serious criminal offence will, at worst, be resolved by a gentlemanly repayment arrangement. (You know, like when you drive off from a servo without paying, with $9m+ of petrol in your tank. Whoops! But don’t panic – the servo operator wouldn’t dream of causing you any public embarrassment over such an oversight, much less calling the police.)

Also happily defrauding taxpayers, without any apparent shame or a legal care in the world, is Hillsong, Sydney’s gay-hating white-trash “church” of choice. Apart from what’s revealed in the Oz article, I reckon that this Hillsong press-release itself inadvertently gives the game away:

The Block in Redfern will be the platform for showcasing the talents of Indigenous youth at the annual ‘Stomp at the Block’ dance competition being held this Saturday . . .

The dance competition has been organised by Hillsong Emerge with extensive support from the community support [sic], and is a continuation of its existing community work in the area.

“Stomp at the Block is being held in celebration of the Indigenous culture and also the surrounding community,” said Leigh Coleman, CEO of Hillsong Emerge. “This event gives opportunity for Young People [sic] to showcase their creativity and talent, strengthening relationship and building unity in the community.”

“There is a lot of support from the community. Schools are involved, along with different Indigenous and local personalities,” Mr Coleman said.

The inaugural event was held last year and . . . also attracted a great deal of support.

Did you get that? I think there’s a bit of community (!) support (!) behind the dance competition. Like, wow, some Redfern kids might actually be entering it. Whatever the whole thing cost Hillsong (I’d guess a few thou), it and the six micro-loans to Indigenous people totalling $17,500 appear to be the only part of the taxpayers’ $611,000 that didn’t flow into Hillsong’s own, very non-Indigenous coffers.

Like having a Job Network contract, Hillsong’s 60-pax-annual-dolesworth lurk is indeed nice “work” if you can get it.

Friday, February 10, 2006

“Sticks and stones may break my bones” – but words can sometimes be a form of violence II

(First post is here)

Not a valid excuse for violent activity “speech”, in response to violent words, however, is simply being hopelessly outgunned/outclassed in the words department. That is, if more speech is contextually practicable, but the right words can’t or don’t come out, then the insultee just has to suck it and stew. (In both sport and war, the law of the jungle is thought positively desirable, or at least universally accepted, so why not in contests of education and wit?)

Saying this goes against a strong Australian tradition, admittedly – a tradition as diverse as the thoughts of PM John Howard (in giving license for non-violent “provocative” political protesters to be bashed, or worse), law-of-protests specialist Roger Douglas*, and the composition of the jury who acquitted, against all rational evidence, the bouncer who struck and killed David Hookes.

Zdravko Micevic was found to have killed Hookes in self-defence, despite the deceased not having thrown any punches. While the evidence on what Hookes might have said to enrage Micevic was murky, it appears that Hookes, at worst, threatened to use his media influence to have the pub closed down, or some-such. Plainly for Micevic, being a semi-literate fuck-knuckle, nothing less than king-hitting a quite-drunk man was going to be an appropriate form of “speech” in response to such a core-of-one’s-identity (NOT) insult (NOT). Whatever – but I’m flabbergasted that a jury would buy this argument. I only wish that they, and any other Australians who agree with this view, could be made to wear, whenever in public, a T-shirt that reads: “WARNING: do not say anything to me that might be construed as an insult. If you do, I reserve the right to murder you, with legal impunity”.

Which nicely segues us back to the Danish cartoons – although I start by making the point that the Muslim population generally is still an objective pillar of restraint, on an objective scale of insult-and-response, than Micevic specifically. A surprising recent twist is the evident hypocrisy of Jyllands-Posten's editorial standards: “offensive” Jesus cartoons were rejected by the paper three years ago.

While the editorship did change between the Jesus cartoons and last year’s Mohammed ones, the two editors concerned are determined to put up the semblance of a united front. Which first struck me as strange: surely it’s not too big a deal for the ex-editor to admit he made an oversight, or even mistake, in censoring the Jesus cartoons?

No sirree – it appears that we have got a Boomer Cabal on our hands. (Now, if at this point you’re frowning: “He just had to bring boomers in at some point”, please hear me out). I reckon that ex-editor Jens Kaiser and current editor Flemming Rose just have to both be boomers, based on their extraordinary logic of patent offensiveness being defensible if it is invited by the editor. (This is haute-boomer thinking because invitations/mutuality are a currency even more hoarded by boomers than money).

In response to “Jesus” cartoonist Christoffer Zieler (who I would guess to be an Xer, BTW, solely for (i) his being talented, but (iii) not toeing the boomer line) saying that Jens Kaiser rejected running the cartoons, because they would be considered offensive to readers, Kaiser prevaricates:

"My fault is that I didn't tell him what I really meant: The cartoons were bad [as in not funny]," Kaiser said in a statement. He said he told Zieler he had not used the cartoons because they were offensive to some readers.

So which is it, Jens? Personally, and constitutionally incapable of taking offence at either set of cartoons, I find the Jesus ones (described in same URL) as much funnier than any of the Mohammed ones (the running out of virgins one aside, perhaps).

Anyway, valiantly trying to cut through confused explanation of his (presumed) co-boomer, is current editor Flemming Rose, who emphasises the different treatment was because the Jesus cartoons were an unsolicited freelance submission, while of course the Mohammed ones were famously by invitation (only).

To me as an Xer, running a media by invitation (only) is a form of serious provocation. And in saying that, I don’t mean it in a “My speech can be better than yours” kind of way – rather, “provocation” as in justifying a psycho-unhinged Micevic kind of response. And so in the end, the Danish cartoons may be more about the (necessary) clash of generations than the (gratuitous) clash of cultures/religions.


* “Douglas . . . concludes that public order laws are part of the price which civil liberties law must pay for its legitimacy: ‘a legal regime in which people were free to offend and insult others, and in which those others were forbidden to retaliate (except for counter-offensiveness and insults) would be likely to arouse considerable resentment.’”

- quoted in Stan Winford & Peter Noble, “Activism, the law & social change” Overland no. 179 (Winter 2005) p. 22 at 26.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Should Australia become officially bilingual?

In the last decade or so, Australia has become a de facto bilingual country. While English remains the predominant – and sole official, although there are cracks appearing in this policy (see below) – language, written and spoken Chinese is now more pervasive than any minority language has been since Australia’s annexation by England. (“Chinese” here is used to mean both the monoform written language and the plurality of spoken languages and dialects – while this may thus seem to necessarily require multi-lingualism, a large measure of official bilingualism does rest with the written word.)

My prompt for this post came from browsing the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission website which has (what I’m guessing is) the organisation’s name in Chinese embedded in its top banner, along with the Australian coat of arms and the ACCC’s logo. This bilingual naming of a government agency would not seem to be officially sanctioned, or even widespread. Austrade’s website, for example, does not follow the ACCC approach.

Official, mandatory bilingualism, as Canada’s case shows, can be Orwellian over-zealous and annoyingly petty at the same time. Worst of all, though, with a majority-Anglophone/minority-Francophone population split that roughly parallels Australia’s non-Chinese/Chinese numbers, three decades of the policy have seemingly hardened Francophone’s sense of a separate identity. While there are cogent reasons why the experience of Canada’s Francophones can’t be easily extrapolated to Australia’s Chinese (geography, for one: the former are highly concentrated in Quebec province), it is clear that in terms of the raison d’etre of Canadian bilingualism – bringing majority and minority together – it has been a manifest failure.

OTOH, unofficial bilingualism, as Australia is pursuing currently, seems to me to be a cop-out. I am surprised by the complete absence (AFAICT) of academic/OpEd discussion of language policy in Australia. (Another eloquent ruin of boomer policy-making: multiculturalism – largely premised on poly-lingual service delivery to marginalized first-generation migrant NESBs – contain(s)/ed a large measure of unwittingly-planned obsolescence, meaning that it has long since become an empty charade for the employment and empire-building of boomers).

Perhaps there is a happy middle-way here; if so, it plainly necessitates, at the very least, many more non-Chinese Australians to be acquiring the Chinese language than are presently so doing. But since there’s nothing to gain for boomers in this – unlike, say, the house-price inflation windfall that large-scale migration of the relatively cashed-up has inevitably brought – I can’t see it really happening.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Overdue generational change in the Victorian ALP

"I support generational change" says Simon Crean, "I practised it." As Labor Party leader, he says, he was responsible for bringing new blood to Labor's front bench, including Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd, and Mark Latham.

Oh, gimme a break (again!): the above-mentioned trio are all boomers (Gillard and Latham were born in 1961), just like the Xercidal Crean himself.

But shove over, boomerpath Simon; generational change – this time actually featuring Xers – is currently on the menu, big-time, within Victorian Labor, at both state and Federal levels. Of the eight individual challenges anticipated to Labor incumbents (all boomers, and all in safe seats, I’m pretty sure), seven are by Xers (four definitely, the others I’m guessing) – and curiously enough, all eight are most definitely male.

What’s happening at state level is relatively simple: a case of the Premier anointing two favourites – one who happens to be his Chief of Staff, Tim Pallas (aged late 30s, I’m guessing), and the other dotcom millionaire and generous Labor donor, Evan Thornley (aged 40 or 41). In politics, this may not seem a particularly new narrative, but its novelty, for me, is that the installees both seem relatively old – not to mention career-established – for this kind of nepotism to be the make-or-break factor. Admittedly, Tim Pallas has had unhappy runs (narrowly and questionably defeated by pedestrian, at best, boomers) at preselection for the state seat of Kororoit and the federal seat of Melbourne Ports (PDF), but falling back onto crass boomer patronage is hardly a good look for a middle-aged Xer, if you ask me.

At Federal level, two of the six challengers (Party/union hacks Nathan Murphy and Matt Carrick) I know nothing about, but I’m guessing that they’re mid-30ish Xers (Correction 14 February 2006: Murphy and Carrick are 28 or 29). Then there’s the odd man out: Melbourne QC and boomer Mark Dreyfus (49). The remaining three are definite Xers, all between their mid-30s and 40 (and all also Party/union hacks): Martin Pakula, Bill Shorten and Richard Marles.

What’s going on, then, is a quite concerted Xer putsch. Note that this is most certainly not a “youth” push – and also remember that this is not a leadership tussle thing; it is about just getting one’s foot in the door of, at or near middle-age, a parliamentary seat. And plainly all seven Xers have already more than paid their dues as Party/union hacks, if previous generations’ lessons and graduation in Preselection for Faithful Hacks 101 (Mark Latham became the member for Werriwa at 32) are any guide.

Has something previously gone wrong with the system, then, which has lead to this seemingly-sudden eruption? Most definitely. Affirmative action in recent years – which has lead to disproportionately more Xer women being preselected (by Liberals, as well as Labor, BTW), all to replace an imbalance of boomer men – may be partly to blame. Branch-stacking (same URL) can’t be held to blame, though, as it is hardly new. Some blame, at least, must admittedly be laid at the foot of the Xer aspirants themselves – the “instead of going for a marginal seat preselection at 30, go for a safe seat at 40” game is perhaps a reckless (although characteristically Xer), all-or-nothing, short-sell ploy.

Above all, though, the Victorian ALP Xer eruption is just one illustration of a wider malaise affecting Xer men in particular. With one in seven* not even in casual or part-time work (and many more with only meager employment), it is about time we stopped being grateful for boomers’ scraps. Fuck the boomers' petulant, youthful: “We want the world and we want it now!”. Xers of the world unite: “We only want what you got given on platter, we’ve been patient long enough, and so we’re taking it now!”.


* This is extrapolating GenX (aged 30-43) as being pari passu with the wider 25-54 y.o. band. While this assumption may not be correct, the fairly standard preconception, that workforce participation among 25-54 y.o. men would run in a straight-ish, downward line, can be safely knocked on the head. Recipients of the disability support pension have a striking, counter-intuitive mini-peak among those born 1962-1965, while there are almost no DSP recipients who were born in 1960 or 1961 (Take a bow, Mark Latham). (Numbers of DSP recipients that match rates among the oldest Xers are only again reached in the 50+ age group, with those born in or before 1956).


Update 9 February 2006

Once again proving my “demographics is thicker than anything else” theory, (boomer) Julia Gillard yesterday went into bat to save the preselection of (boomer) Simon Crean from a Xer’s challenge:

Mr Crean's long history in the ALP as a minister, shadow treasurer, deputy leader and leader meant he deserved respect. "That respect should be shown in the preselection process by having Simon re-preselected and returned. Simon is now one of the important custodians of our collective and corporate memory".

If he’s such an important custodian, Julia, why not mount him in a glass box, and then place the said exhibit out of harm’s way? (Seriously, I’m sure there must be sinecures within Labor other than plain vanilla, safe-seat do-nothings.) You actually expect Xers, and particularly Xer men, to vote for a party that values "memory" above a future, and proven mediocrity against at least possible talent? Sheesh.


Further update 9 February 2006

Greg Combet (a typically clueless boomer) says re the Pakula vs Crean preselection battle: “something's gone awry here along the way and I can't quite put my finger on it”. Earth to Greg: What’s gone wrong is blindingly obvious – boomers pretending that they could run a closed-shop, bar a few token Xer women, indefinitely.

Ages for Nathan Murphy and Matt Carrick have also been corrected.


Further update 27 February 2006

Look at this hilarity from the mouth of John Button:

"Sometimes they call it renewal; sometimes they call it regeneration . . . But that can't be right because they [i.e. the Xer challengers] won't be there, if they succeed in their preselections, until after the next federal election. Now, if Labor wins the next federal election, is it in need of renewal? That is a nice question. If it doesn't win the next federal election, then they're there".

So "they" will always be there (on tap, as it were), eh John? What a moron.

Monday, February 06, 2006

“Sticks and stones may break my bones” – but words can sometimes be a form of violence

Chances are that my thoughts here, inspired by the Danish cartoons controversy, aren’t particularly original. Freedom of speech is itself such a well-worn topic that any new accretion to its corpus arguably deserves an automatic litter fine (or the intellectual equivalent thereof), a la those people who put something into an already-full bin, with the new addition inevitably tumbling to the ground below. But anyway, here goes.

There are at least one hoary old, and widely accepted limit to freedom of speech: shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. This particular exception seems defensible mainly because of (i) the damage to human life and limb that could otherwise result, and (ii) the limited “value” of the speech that is being suppressed. But I would prefer to combine these two into a third reason for this example being an unproblematic type of non-free speech: that it cannot be effectively counter-acted by more-and-better speech (my assumption here is that the shout of "Fire!" sets into place an irreversible and immediate panic).

Hence, I am suggesting that the best test for the justified suppression of speech is the “*practical* counter-action (by more speech)?” one.

In light of the Danish cartoons, there does seem to be a case for their never having been published on this basis. The sort of damage caused is/was likely to be immediate, and irreversible by merely more speech, such as even a prompt denunciation. Likewise, although the “value” of the speech that is being suppressed (aka the genuine literary/artistic etc exception to racial/religious vilification) is undesirably subjective in many types of case, the Danish cartoons appear to be just as pointless and juvenile shit-stirring as is setting-off a false fire alarm.

Finally, on a side-note: damage to property (and no more) is never a form of violence. The media and the Right commentariat too often get away with this one, such as at a student demonstration at Monash, where a glass door being smashed (without injury, certainly to anyone other than the demonstrating students) was inaccurately, but widely, termed “violent”. Likewise is the contentious use of this term to describe the damage to cars – and no more – in the Sydney “revenge attacks” of 12 December 2005.

Damage to property is certainly criminal, and/but it may or may not be morally justified on socio-political grounds, IMO. Never, however, is it “violent” – that is, reparation and/or punishment *can* be practically made down the track (and so pre-emptive suppression is never justified). Strange as it may sound at first, words (including images, of course) *can* be categorically “violent” (unlike property damage), as the unfortunate fall-out from the Danish cartoons shows.

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