Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The retirement age of consent

The 12 May federal Budget’s announcement that the age-pension eligibility age was going to be raised from 65 to 67 incrementally between 2017 and 2023 was a shock in one major respect – baby boomers, born between 1952 and 1957 slap-bang in the middle of their generation, are going to be first in line to experience the full force of the changes.

However, that’s only if you believe that the announced changes have put the pension-age issue to bed for another two decades at least, i.e. when Xers start to turn 67. February’s Harmer pension review (not to be confused with the concomitant Henry review), kept under wraps by the government until Budget day and little reported since, recommended a phased-in increase, between 2014 and either 2021 or 2029, of the age-pension eligibility age from 65 to either 67 or 69. Not to be outdone, the Henry review then endorsed this proposal, but added to it
a suggested further review in 2020, to consider whether it would be appropriate then to increase the pension-age further still; i.e. presumably beyond 69. So much for boomers, for once, being at the pointy end of a sharp stick.

One aspect of the Harmer review has already been ditched, though – the proposed 2014 start date. While there were logical reasons for this choice – it is the year when the arduous, one-year-in-four taper increase in the female age-pension eligibility age to 65 will finally be achieved – the government presumably decided that 2014 was simply too soon for the electorate to wear. A later start date of 2017 has consequently meant that the taper increase has been changed to one-year-in-three. Ominously for Xers, the tweaked 2017 start date and the shortened one-year-in-three taper increase dovetail perfectly with the Harmer review’s original 69-in-2029 worst-case scenario. If this does transpire, then consider yourself warned here first, Xers (and Gen Y) – it would surely then be a shame, c. 2025, to interrupt the neat pattern of increase set between 2017 and 2029, so you might want to pencil in that the pension-age is right now mathematically scheduled to hit 70 in 2032, 71 in 2035, etc.

Taper increases are funny beasts – a sharp taper, like one-year-in-one, takes a surprisingly long time to be put to bed. This can conveniently be seen with the virulently anti-Xer, and so impeccably bipartisan, changes to the superannuation preservation-age, first announced by Treasurer John Dawkins in his 30 June 1992 “Security in Retirement” statement (RTF), but only made law by the Howard government in 1998, effective from 1 July 1999. This one-year-in-one taper goes from 55 to 60 for those born between 30 June 1960 and 1 July 1964 (therefore seemingly exactly demarcating the Boomer/Xer divide at the mid-1962 born), but its implementation actually stretches from 2015 to 2024. Note that for every second year during this period, starting 1 July 2015 to 30 June 2016, there will be no one at all hitting preservation age.

I have blogged before on the generational injustice of this taper increase. As well as the (announced to legislated) 23-to-17 year lead-time being ludicrously long – a point now reinforced by the mere 8-year lead-time for the pension-age increase – its direction, of taper increase not decrease, is illogical. Boomers have often loudly complained that the introduction of compulsory superannuation in 1992 came well into their working lives. Point taken, so why shouldn’t boomers’ preservation-age be higher than for Xers; i.e. that the legislated taper goes from 60 to 55 for those born between 30 June 1960 and 1 July 1964?

Predictably, ex-PM and Paul Keating and ex-ACTU leader Bill Kelty, presumed original architects of the anti-Xer superannuation preservation-age taper, and also of the anti-Xer HECS in 1989, have lately been concerned that their vision of comprehensive generational apartheid, now 20 years old, and long since bipartisan in practice, might be getting meddled with, in the wash-up to the age-pension changes. Certainly, both the Harmer and Henry reviews explicitly recommended an alignment between the age-pension eligibility age and the superannuation preservation-age. Keating said such a move would make superannuation “pointless”, while Kelty, not to be out-exaggerated, said it would be would be “an abrogation of the fundamentals” (same URL) of compulsory superannuation.

Now, don’t get me wrong here: the super preservation-age for Xers (born 1 July 1962 to 1976) is currently 58 to 60, and aligning it with our recently-increased pension age of 67, (and then possibly 69, and so on), is not in Xers’ interests, in principle. But the taper needed to achieve a massive 7-to-9 year increase in Xers’ super preservation-age from 2024-on works in our favour, for once. Unless such a taper broke entirely new ground for implementation speed (which can’t be ruled out, of course), Xers will, by 2030, either be scraping in on the favourable side of the taper (older Xers like me), or otherwise be a pig-in-the-python – an uncomfortable lump for the retirement system to digest painfully over two decades (the youngest Xers don’t turn 70 until 2046). So bring it on, and soon, I say – and to Keating, Kelty and Dawkins: sit on your “Security in Retirement”, and spin.

Sidebar: How and why can the government tie up Xers’ Money?

“Without preservation, superannuation savings would be in danger of degenerating into a form of deferred remuneration scheme, providing a concessionally taxed windfall payment whenever a person changes employment and becomes eligible to withdraw their accumulated superannuation. However, it is still the case [in 1997] that a very large proportion (around 65 per cent) of superannuation savings in Australia are not preserved [and so can be accessed at any age].” (RTF)

Compulsory superannuation, since it began in 1992, has always been “preserved”. Prior to this, preserved superannuation mainly attached to certain tax-concessional, voluntary super arrangements. For voluntary super, indeed, no general preservation requirement was enacted until 1999 (same URL). That is, prior to 1999, if you didn’t want to lock your (volunteered) money up until preservation-age (55 for everybody, also until 1999) you paid more tax. Which sounds fair enough – you not only got the choice to save, or not, for your retirement, you also got a between-now-and-55 further option, or insurance policy – as long as you paid the premium, of more tax, up front, your money wasn’t locked away until 55, but could be accessed at any time, for any reason.

Instead of this double choice (which of course boomers working in the 1980s and 90s, were prime placed to enjoy), Xers got double compulsion in our superannuation arrangements. Most iniquitously, low-income employed Xers pay a 15% superannuation (contributions) tax equal to, if not higher than, our ordinary-income marginal tax rate, but our garnished super pin-money* is nonetheless locked away tighter, and for longer, than that of any boomer under the most tax-advantageous possible scheme.

* My superannuation balance at the end of 2007 (last contribution) was about $6,000, my current balance is about $4,000. No voluntary or government co- contributions ever made/received, “balanced” option throughout, industry fund, total cumulative investment returns in “good” years (i.e. excluding loss years) of less than $1,000. Mmmn - and with only 15 years to go, under current arrangements, before I can access this incredible shrinking nest-egg of "security".

Update 29 April 2014

* Re tapers, I got my math wrong.  Here’s my projection of what the 13 May 2014 Budget will bring, if it continues the taper set in 2009 – the age of 70 won’t be bedded down until July 2035.  Note that the first six-months for each taper increase are “downtime”, when no one will actually become eligible.  Hence, the lucky Xers born on 1 January 1966 will become eligible for the age pension (if it still exists) when they turn 70 on 1 January 2036.     

Pension age for those born on or after 1 July 1952

Affects those born (both dates inclusive)
Pension age
01/07/1952 to 31/12/1953
65 years and 6 months
01/01/1954 to 30/06/1955
66 years
01/07/1955 to 31/12/1956
66 years and 6 months
01/01/1957 to 30/06/1958
67 years
01/07/1958 to 31/12/1959
67 years and 6 months
01/01/1960 to 30/06/1961
68 years
01/07/1961 to 31/12/1962
68 years and 6 months
01/01/1963 to 30/06/1964
69 years
01/07/1964 to 31/12/1965
69 years and 6 months
01/01/1966 to  . . . ?
70 years

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gang-bang etiquette 101

One participant (male) in a 2002 group sexual encounter gone wrong apologises to the victim (female) at the earliest opportunity* – pointedly, this apology is not for his own conduct, nor even for anything he witnessed personally. In 2009, he makes another apology on national TV. Nonetheless, this man is widely portrayed in the media as the chief villain, and his apologies, particularly the first, receive scant media attention. Somehow, the man has come to stand for the group, despite obvious (to me) differences in involvement, and so perhaps culpability, between the man and the bulk of the group. So to the facts.

There seem to have been two triggers for then-professional rugby player Matthew Johns leaving the hotel room at a certain point – that 8 to 10 of his teammates and other club employees gatecrashed (some or all through a bathroom window) the threesome (2M, 1F) Johns was having, and this exchange between the victim and one of the gatecrashers:

"[Luke Branighan] said he would [like to have sex with the victim, “Clare”] and she said “no, no, anyone but you” . . . She then pointed at [Matthew Johns, indicating that she wanted to have sex with him instead]".

Whether Johns left the room at least partially out of consideration for the feelings of Branighan is unknown. What Branighan did after this is also unknown, but “Clare” has not indicated that he then had sex with her, contrary to her express wishes. What can be reasonably inferred is that the sexual encounter started to go wrong at this point, that is, probably before a majority of the gatecrashers had sex with “Clare”.

The above reconstruction comes mainly from Matthew Johns’ account. The bathroom window detail appears to have come not from Johns but from the police account of the incident, with at least one player seemingly boasting to police about this (his) “commando” stealth in entering the room. Also, while describing the exchange in which the victim rejected Branighan, note that Johns was careful not to publicly name his teammate, which makes him a gentleman IMO, at least in this regard.

“Clare” has explicitly contradicted one aspect of Johns’ account, saying that Johns not only remained present throughout the incident, but was the ringleader:

“He laughed and he joked and he very loud and boisterous and thought it was hilarious and you know kept it going”.

“Clare’s” account of her two-hour long sexual encounter (not including the very end, which I will discuss separately) with the group of 10 to 12 men, as broadcast on “Four Corners” is as follows:

“SARAH FERGUSON: In 2002, 19-year-old Clare, as we'll call her, was working part time as a waitress at the Racecourse Hotel on the outskirts of Christchurch. After finishing work Clare went with two of the players back to their room, one of them started kissing her.

CLARE: I didn't want to you know, make a big deal out of a kiss and even though it was rough and disgusting and I was a piece of meat even at that stage, but it was you know it was you know, it was nothing it was just a kiss.

SARAH FERGUSON: Over the next two hours, at least 12 players and staff came in to the room, six of them had sex with Clare, the others watched. Five days after the event Clare made a complaint to police.

CLARE: They were massive, like ah big Rugby players, I felt that I just had no idea what to do. There was always hands on me and there was always um, if one person had stopped, someone was touching me and doing something else. There was never a point where I was not being handled. Every time I looked up, there would be more and more people in the room and um there's lot, lots of guys in the room watching, ah maybe two or three that were on the bed that were doing stuff to me.

SARAH FERGUSON: Can you try and tell me what some of those things were?

CLARE: They flipped me over quite a bit and got out their penises and would put like, put them on my face and stuff and like maybe two guys would rub them on my face and things like that and yeah.

SARAH FERGUSON: What were the others doing while that was happening?

CLARE: They were I don't like know how to say it, um but masturbating yeah themselves while watching.

CLARE: I only remember this whole time, I only remember one player definitely, it was Mattie Johns.

CLARE: They never spoke to me, they spoke just to themselves, amongst themselves, laughing and thinking it was really funny. When you have sex with someone and it's nice and you talk and you touch and this was awful. This was nothing like, nothing like that.

SARAH FERGUSON: Some players even came into the room through the bathroom window.

CLARE: I had my eyes shut a lot of it and when I opened my eyes there was just a long line at the end of the bed.

SARAH FERGUSON: What was going through your mind when this was happening?

CLARE: I thought that I was, that I was nothing. I thought I was worthless and I thought I was nothing. And I think I was I was in shock. I didn't scream and they used a lot of like mental power over me and, and belittled me and made me feel really small like I was just a little old woman”.

In my opinion, the above description is of a quite unambiguous, brutal sexual assault. While “Four Corners” made a pointed disclaimer here (“Four Corners doesn't say that what took place in room 21 of the Racecourse hotel was sexual assault”), there are no outward indicators of “Clare’s” consent, and ample non-verbal signals that she was not freely consenting: “Every time I looked up, there would be more and more people in the room . . . They flipped me over quite a bit . . . I had my eyes shut a lot of it and when I opened my eyes there was just a long line at the end of the bed”.

Nothing Matthew Johns has said is inconsistent with “Clare’s” account, obviously bar (i) whether his presence there continued, and (ii) the Luke Branighan exchange. There is no point in speculating further on the former, but I will note that the Luke Branighan exchange, if it occurred, was a conspicuous, calculated cruelty by "Clare". I cannot imagine this exchange occurring at any time covered by “Clare’s” above account of her extreme passivity throughout. It apparently later became the subject of teammates’ jokes, which perhaps provides some corroboration that it occurred. Certainly, like the husband in the Borat-goes-to-USA movie’s “Not so much YOUR wife” joke, Branighan would have been KO’d at the time – there can be no socially acceptable response to the random, and so paradoxically personal, slur implicit in both “jokes”. Again, the media has not dwelt on any of this.

The most conspicuous media omission regarding the whole incident concerns the gatecrashers. Call me “Miss Marple”, but the fact that some or all of these entered through the bathroom window suggests that the hotel room’s door/s was locked. This is a very important detail in assessing consent to group-sex encounters – a door ajar may suggest an invitation (most likely revokeable and/or provisional) to others, while a door both closed and locked presumptively indicates the opposite. In other words, the gatecrashers must have realised that they required all three existing participants’ clear consent, if they wanted to join the then-threesome. There is scant indication, in any account bar the Branighan exchange, that such express consent was given by “Clare” to the group, wholly (bar Branighan) or individually. Plainly Johns, under his account, refused consent. Why the media spotlight is not instead currently glaring at (including by naming) the gatecrashers, given some plausible indicia that they (not including Johns or Branighan) raped “Clare”, escapes me.

Finally, two aspects of the “Four Corners” story made me wince, as a man – one for a lack of male-gender insight, and the other for excessive, to the point of unethical and/or dangerous female bonding between journalist/producer and subject.

“CLARE: I think maybe one of the guys said she's had enough, or something along those lines, like alright guys let's wrap it up she's had enough. And so I put my clothes on and walked out as, yeah.

SARAH FERGUSON: Did anybody talk to you while you were putting your clothes back on?

CLARE: No no one. I was nothing.”

In my personal experience, many gay men don’t like to talk before, during or after sex. I think this might well be just a guy, straight or gay, thing. To insinuate that a man’s failure to make small-talk at the messy end of sex either poisons a consensual encounter, or else makes a rape still worse is a gender-blind delusion. Worse, it unintentionally subscribes directly to what David Penberthy calls the “modern-day June Dally-Watkins” school of misogynist, or getting-away-with-rape, etiquette, aka “be polite afterwards and pay her cab fare home”.

Last night’s “Lateline” stated that “Clare” has gone into hiding. I am not surprised, given the unnecessary level of detail on her mental health that “Four Corners” chose to broadcast. Of course rape is a traumatic experience, and at least attempting suicide is probably a common-enough experience in the aftermath. But near-suicidal distress, however real, is rarely postively cathartic for the sufferer, especially when expressed in full public view. Whatever actually happened in 2002, “Four Corners” has managed to wring far too much emotion, and far too little truth (or reasoned speculation), out of it. So ladies, in case it needs to be said, I’m off - and sorry to have to end on a sour note.

* “SARAH FERGUSON: Afterwards in the car park, Matthew Johns told Four Corners, he went up to Clare and said he was sorry about the other guys coming into the room”.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Counter-terrorism, Mills & Boon-style

For someone styling herself as a counter-terrorism expert, Australian journalist and author Sally Neighbour is oddly casual with her facts:

“[Rabiah] Hutchinson has spoken frankly for the first time about her 20 years on the frontlines of the global jihad movement, in a new book [by Sally Neighbour], The Mother of Mohammed. It began when she joined a student Islamic group [in Indonesia] involved in the resistance against then Indonesian president Suharto in the 1990s . . . In 1990, after divorcing her third husband, Indonesian-born Abdul Rahim Ayub, Ms Hutchinson travelled to northwest Pakistan with her six children to ‘join the jihad’”.

So joining the jihad in northwest Pakistan-Afghanistan wasn’t even a curtain-raiser to Rabiah Hutchinson’s later radical “beginning” in an Indonesian student group who – shock horror – were agitating against their corrupt (Muslim) dictator/president of the time? This curiosity is explained in the Australian magazine* of the same day –Hutchinson’s Indonesian student group days were circa 1984-85, not the 1990s.

In the same Australian magazine article, also by Sally Neighbour, the facts get stranger still when Osama bin Laden enters Hutchinson’s life. Earlier in her article, Neighbour sets the scene for Hutchinson’s spartan life in the Pakistan desert town of Pabbi for three years from 1990:

“The electric blankets [Hutchinson] had brought after being warned of the sever winter cold were never unpacked. Pabbi had no electricity, just a communal generator that provided electricity for about two hours in the morning and two hours at night”.

Pabbi’s material primitiveness doesn’t prevent Neighbour from being able recount, third-hand, a conversation between bin Laden and Adbul Sayyaf (a senior al-Qaida figure) in Pabbi sometime during those three years:

“‘[Hutchinson] came with her children, she works in the hospital, she doesn’t have anything, they don’t even have air-conditioning.

‘Well they do now’, bin Laden replied. A few days later, his emissary delivered a new air-conditioner to her home”.

It is surely remiss of Neighbour to not make more of bin Laden’s loaves-and-fishes scale miracle. Never mind that a rich man had freely donated a single new (!) electrical appliance (or a year’s worth of free bread (baked, not conjured) to the town as a whole), bin Laden has evidently solved a problem that bedevils many first-world power grids: providing enough electricity for energy-guzzling air-conditioners on hot days. And it’s not that Hutchinson’s air-conditioner would have been the only summer peak electricity-hog in the village – Sayyaf’s “even” implies that Hutchinson was one of a air-conditioner have-not minority at this time. More astonishingly still, bin Laden’s generating magic-pudding act has all been done using either using the previously-mentioned single generator (!), or by building a conventional power station in an impoverished town in an impoverished country, in record time. Praise be to Allah, indeed.

The improbable air-conditioner story is, however, Neighbour’s own highlight of Hutchinson’s interactions with bin Laden, unless you count a possible marriage proposal for Hutchinson to become bin Laden’s nth wife, which proposal lapsed anyway after bin Laden fled to Sudan. This is hardly probing investigative journalism. Sally Neighbour evidently has an excellent bedside manner in these matters, when she wants to – witness Jack Thomas’ “4 Corners” admission that was the subject of subsequent court proceedings. Why she covers Rabiah Hutchinson’s objectively similar, quite possibly traitorous journeyings as though they were a romp in a harem – an air-conditioned one, mind (but only after sufficient begging to the master) – is a mystery, of the strong and silent type.

* Sally Neighbour, "Journey to the Jihad", Australian magazine 2 May 2009 (no URL).

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