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Archive for the ‘Economy’ Category

Guest commentator Matt Caine has prepared this review of a recent book by Adele Ferguson, whose journalistic investigations were instrumental in prompting the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry:

This is a brilliant read, so what is it about?

It is the story of the tail wagging a big, stupid dog.

Of barrels full to the brim with bad apples.

Greed at all costs, where cash isn’t everything, it is the only thing.

The story of sycophants just following orders.

Of total incompetence at the highest levels of Australia’s largest companies.

Of their low and inept smear campaigns.

Of a few good men heroically standing up to be counted.

Of the Government’s Finance Minister trying to cut regulation while evidence of theft, fraud and money laundering are staring him in the face.

Of how white collar criminals get off the hook.

Of a failed advertising man becoming Treasurer and a Prime Minister who sells his soul to the devil, both telling us that problems are being addressed, and made to look the buffoons they really are.

How Australia’s major parties are easily bought.

Of Government that forgets who it represents.

A merry-go-round of people working in politics, the financial sector and the regulator.

How a regulator choked of funds becomes ineffectual, and gets cosy with those it is supposedly regulating.

Of people whose life savings are stolen from them by narcissists who still have their jobs or have escaped scot free, with monies obtained by fraud.

Of how media suck up to advertising clients.

A Royal Commission with terms of reference written by those sympathetic or beholden to those being investigated.

And why the Government picks a member of the Melbourne Establishment to head it.

Whether anything will change.

A fascinating horror of a true crime that continues today.

Who should read this?

Everyone who has ever held a bank account.

Anyone who holds a loan, insurance, investments or superannuation.

Everyone who holds shares on the ASX.

Anyone who votes.

Those who care about their fellow Australians.

You owe it to yourself to become informed: it could save your financial future and your life.

Most of all, it is a riveting story, brilliantly told by the journalist instrumental in blowing the whistle on some of the worst criminals of our time.

Adele Ferguson AM, I salute you – a thoroughly deserved AM award – and a true champion for all Australians.

 

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During this interminable Australian Federal election campaign the Coalition has shortened their notorious three-word slogan format previously practised by the erstwhile Tony Abbott. Maybe due to the short attention span of voting punters, Coalition candidates have been parroting a two word catchphrase (exclude the joining word):  Jobs and Growth.

Its mechanical repetition by all their candidates has given rise to the idea that a messianic figure is coming to save our greedy asses, in the person of Jobson Grothe. Apart from the moronic and insulting nature of this tactic, my problem is that both those key words are so yesterday.

In reality the government has little control over jobs, apart from the public service, which it is busy down-sizing. Okay, it wants to reduce company taxes to encourage investment, trickle down effect, blah, blah, but critical economists have debunked that impoverished idea. In this post-industrial society, where are jobs meant to come from? Oh yeah, the services sector of call centres, hospitality, digital thingamajig, health, etc.  Hmm!

As for Growth, another impoverished concept well past its use by date, it has taken us on a merry ride of exponential destruction of our natural environment. Sorry, I meant operating environment for business, aka corporate profits. Folks, we’ve got to get our brains into some existential thinking: where will endless growth and despoliation of our planet and atmosphere get us?

In this marathon election campaign politicians of both major parties have ignored, to use econo-speak, the huge ‘externality’ of economic growth known as climate change, which is almost a euphemism for endangering our own life support systems. Ditto any mention of our renewable energy future. So, without further ado and need for explanation, I’m launching a new campaign counter slogan identity: Colleen N. Green.  Go girl!

coralbleaching

 

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Modern First World living is fraught with really annoying problems. Out Kookynie way we spend plenty of time on the front verandah, trying to digest an array of old-technology newspapers with our daily bread. Sometimes though the desert wind suddenly gets up and starts blowing pages all over the joint. And we have to scurry around retrieving them and fitting ’em back together. Imagine how annoying that can be.

So we briefed researchers at KLOTU (Kookynie Lo-Tech University), who have been collaborating with the prestigious Deutscher Werkbund to bring the finest German design traditions to bear on the problem. The year-long project has resulted in the simplicity of this subtle application of a classic object, with exact proportions and weight for easy handling.

To capitalise on consumer perceptions of German quality design the new device is called Zeitungsbeschwererkissen (ZBK) or newspaper-weighing-down-pillow. Local fashion designer Akira completed the collaboration trifecta with a stunning pale red fabric representing the faded earth around Kookynie.

Every First World resident with a verandah or backyard is gunna love this baby. And with such a cool brand name it’ll go off, big time: move over Hugo Boss. You can facebook-like it, as it’s going viral and global! Firstly though we’re tackling the Kookynie market with a 2-for-one offer for those households with his and hers newspaper piles. Or hers and hers

And of course when the last printed newspaper rolls off the presses and digital reigns supreme, the ZedBeeKay will painlessly revert to its classic slim pillow function full-time. The opposite of inbuilt obsolescence.

Wind pillow

 

Wind pillow 3

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The sorry saga of Australia’s offshore asylum seeker gulag is not just about bringing suffering and hopelessness to those in detention. In fact for the government contractors who run the island camps it’s a lucrative business.

The eponymous G4S, a provider of ‘security solutions’, claims to be one of the world’s largest employers with 625,000 staff in 125 countries. It earned $244 million for managing Manus Island camp for 5 months. Australian-owned Transfield earned $302 million for looking after the Nauru camp over the last year, but will now take over both islands, under a non-tendered 20 month contract for the bargain basement price of $1.22 billion.

My trusty solar-powered calculator was put in bright sunlight for this calculation. With 1,332 Manus and 867 Nauru detainees it works out to $554,798 income per inmate for Transfield: KACHING! By the way, they are people like us, not hardened criminals – the detainees I mean! A good little earner for Transfield though, paid straight out of our squeezed taxpayer purse. It would certainly buy a helluva lot of incarceration in our regular prison system.

Interestingly objections to the morality of Transfield’s detainee operations are coming from artists in the Sydney & Melbourne biennales protesting against their sponsorship of them. A dilemma indeed for arts organisations and those purporting to critique society.

On a tangent from gulag service providers, but equally repugnant, is Foreign Minister Julie Bishop trying to stitch up the Cambodian government to take our asylum seekers. With Australian aid of $329 million over the last four years, we are one of its largest donors, so her bargaining chips are huge. Human rights abuse is rife in Cambodia, social welfare is non-existent, 20% of the population lives in poverty and 40% of children under five are malnourished. Our Julie is plumbing new depths of cynicism and hypocrisy on our behalf. But who cares, right? Out of sight and out of mind, at any price.

Barbed wire

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The Indonesian government is implementing a ban on the export of some raw mineral ores, particularly nickel and bauxite, to encourage the construction and operation of local smelting and production facilities. To ‘add value’, as the economists call it, which is their ideal development path for mature economies.

As always China holds the key. It imports a quarter of its bauxite from Indonesia for aluminium production, and holds nine-months supply of stockpiles in anticipation of the ban. What will happen then? It will be very instructive to see how this bold move by Indonesia to capture more of the benefits of its ore reserves plays out.

Meanwhile, in the short term, Australian miners are rubbing their hands together at the prospect of replacing the Indonesian supplies with our ore, hopefully at higher prices.

Longer term Australia is in a quandary, with giant aluminium manufacturer Alcoa (US-owned) expected to close one of its two Victorian smelters. BHP has declared the production industry here ‘structurally challenged’, but somehow their smelters in Southern Africa are profitable. And so value-adding goes north, to Indonesia, Africa or China.

Australia slips back to what we do best. Digging the stuff up and shipping it away, without any fancy new taxes or government ‘red tape’. Minerals Resource Rent Tax anyone? Or a Norway-style sovereign wealth fund to better capture the benefits of our depleting common-wealth? Yes, the stuff in the ground actually belongs to all of us! Tell ’em their dreamin.

Indonesia’s government has also introduced laws to restrict foreign mine ownership to 49%. Imagine the outcry and fear campaigns by the mining companies here if our government tried either of these sovereign initiatives.

Go the Lucky Country! How about re-naming it Her Majesty’s Quarry? The place isn’t called Down Under for nothing.

Ore train

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During this post-Christmas period, before Easter, is a good time to reflect on Christ’s teachings. It will come as no surprise to regular KC readers that this will challenge some cosy religious beliefs. ‘Sabbath economics’ tries to explain what Jesus said about capitalism, particularly wealth and its re-distribution, and how his teachings have been misinterpreted over the years. A summary of these revelations by Ross Gittins last Easter is recommended reading.

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The President of Uruguay is a daggy 77 year old, full of beans and common sense. To say that Jose Mujica lives modestly is an understatement, as he eschews the usual trappings and luxury of the country’s highest post. And he speaks of the world’s central problem with conviction and simple wisdom. An inspiring figure from outside our anglo-saxon universe indeed! His name is of Spanish Basque origin, meaning place of ferns. Ferns symbolise solitude, sincerity and humility. Mujica’s koru (to mix in a maori metaphor) has definitely unfurled, expressing the inter-connectedness of people and resources.

Muijca3

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