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Monday Message Board

January 28th, 2008

It’s time once again for the Monday Message Board. Please post your thoughts on any topic. Civilised discussion and no coarse language, please.

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  1. Peter
    January 28th, 2008 at 14:15 | #1

    I wrote the following e-mail to Australia’s immigration department:

    “The following countries are exempted from IELTS requirement for immigration purposes: USA, UK, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand( http://www.immi.gov.au/skilled/general-skilled-migration/175/eligibility-english.htm ). Many Caribean countries have English as its major language(For example Jamaica, Bahamas Barbados to name a few). Why have these countries not been exempted from English language requirement. Is race a factor in not exempting these English speaking countries from English language requirement. Has the Australian goverment taken the Australian people into confidence in formulating such a disciminatory immigration policy.”

    Immigration departments reply to the above:

    “the Government has determined that there is much more variation in the levels of English in these other countries and therefore that the language skills of individuals from these countries is less certain. It is for this reason that English language testing is a core component of the GSM program. Rather, the 5 countries currently specified by the Minister for Immigration are ones where the proportion of people who speak English only are high, with whom Australia has traditionally had a close relationship and from which there has been a significant number of people wishing to migrate on the basis of their skills”.

    UN has the following definition of racism:
    “the term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.” ( http://www.hri.org/docs/ICERD66.html)

    There is also much variation in the levels between Ireland and UK, but both of these countries are exempt from “threshold English requirement on the basis of their passport alone”. In my opinion, just because “Australia has traditionally had a close relationship with these 5 countries” does not automatically qualify these countries to get preferential treatment over the Caribean countries or for that matter any other country.

  2. observa
    January 29th, 2008 at 13:47 | #2

    That John Quiggin gets about and I think I’ve worked out why. There’s more than one of him
    http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,23125901-5006368,00.html

  3. Henry
    January 29th, 2008 at 15:52 | #3

    Paddy McGuinness is dead. As usual, the News Corp hacks are unanimously (but independently of course) stating he was a ‘free thinker’.

    Total crap, he wrote what his proprietor wanted, and took aim at the same targets all the other glove puppets did; soviet union bad, indonesia good.

    Spare us the crap, News Corp.

  4. January 29th, 2008 at 16:56 | #4

    It is far more likely that Paddy McGuinness wrote what he himself wanted, but that that was sufficiently consistently compatible with what proprietors wanted that it worked out. We can see this from what happened to whats-his-name, the one that used to be editor of Quadrant whose views changed. He wasn’t pressured, he was replaced. If Quadrant had been going for subservient editors rather than compatible editors, the issue would never have come up, and any line wobble would have produced corrective pressure.

  5. Henry
    January 29th, 2008 at 18:48 | #5

    PM Lawrence. Yes thats probably right.

    News corp no doubt does its filtering at the job interview stage, if you aren’t a right wing nutter you dont get a column (with a couple of tokenistic exceptions such as Phillip Adams and Jill Singer)

    What annoys me though is the way the same news corp hacks then loudly proclaim their ‘independence’ when in fact if they stopped writing their right wing stuff they would be sacked.

  6. gerard
    January 29th, 2008 at 20:36 | #6

    While listening to the Vodaphone robot voice, I thought up a recommendation for the ACCC. Who thinks it is a good idea?

    Let people switch their phone carrier without changing their cellphone and/or phone number!! Stop charging people more for calling others on a different carrier!! See how much better service providers will become with a bit of Competition and Consumer Choice!

    What we have in Australia is just an extortionate oligopoly and people are getting ripped sideways. I know we’ve got a low population density but that can’t explain why we are paying so much for SUCH crap service.

  7. gaddeswarup
    January 29th, 2008 at 20:39 | #7
  8. peterd
    January 29th, 2008 at 21:16 | #8

    Paddy McGuinness will not be missed in this household. I well remember a column he published in the Age/SMH in which he suggested the Russians viewed Germans as stupid, based on a confusion of the Russian word for “dumb” (to become dumb=nemet’) with their different word for German (nemets). Quite a clown, our Paddy!

    On a diffeen issue, does anyone know why RealClimate is down, right at this moment?
    I tried http://www.realclimate.org/ both from my work and home computers and get only
    “Warning: Unknown: failed to open stream: Permission denied in Unknown on line 0″
    ollowed by more unintellignble guff.
    Cheers

    _

  9. observa
    January 29th, 2008 at 22:37 | #9

    “Let people switch their phone carrier without changing their cellphone and/or phone number!! Stop charging people more for calling others on a different carrier!!”
    You can do that now if you own your own phone. Try a Vodaphone cap. Lock in plans are offered usually for 2 years because for most people they’re too lousy to buy their own phone and want to update it every 2 years. The kids like Optus because they get free time Optus to Optus off peak and so many free SMS messages per month. Telstra OTOH want to bundle you with your lanline and braodband, due to their investment in landlines. Plenty of choice and horses for courses, but if you think there’s supernormal profits in Oz telephony, grab your financial backers and feel free to go for it.

  10. January 30th, 2008 at 11:09 | #10

    I regard this site as more pro-government than me. However I still wouldn’t mind if some of John Quiggins readers offered their perspective on the following suggestion for democratic reform:-

    http://alsblog.wordpress.com/2008/01/30/citizens-power-of-veto/

  11. gerard
    January 30th, 2008 at 12:08 | #11

    really, I can switch from vodaphone to optus or telstra and keep the same number that originally came from vodaphone? I just arrived back in Australia two weeks ago after years away, and all these “super mega-fun maxi-bundle text-cap super-value pack-offer” blah blah whatever are a pain in the arse – I just want some straight no-strings credit without being ripped off – other countries can do it, why not here? I don’t know if the profits in Oz telephony are supernormal – but I do have a groovy business plan for anyone reading who wants to give me some VC.

    here it is:

    Since, for some mysterious reason, making international calls on mobile phones is something like thirty times cheaper than making a call to someone in the same Australian city, how about we start a service that REDIRECTS all local mobile calls OUT of the country and then BACK IN? the signal might be patchy at times, but considering how cheap it would be compared to the Oz oligopoly’s rates, I’m sure it would be a goer.

  12. January 30th, 2008 at 12:42 | #12

    really, I can switch from vodaphone to optus or telstra and keep the same number that originally came from vodaphone?

    Yes. I’ve moved phones several times. It takes about half an hour in the mobile phone shop to put the change over into effect. If you are in the process breaking a contract there may be associated costs.

  13. January 30th, 2008 at 12:45 | #13

    Here is what looks like the relevant press release on mobile phone number portability. Note that it took effect six years ago.

    http://www.dbcde.gov.au/Article/0,,0_4-2_4008-4_16059,00.html

  14. jquiggin
    January 30th, 2008 at 13:50 | #14

    Terje, I read your post at #9. You seem to me to start from the presumption that citizens should be given additional power to produce outcomes that you want, but not otherwise.

    Talking in terms of “power of veto” tends in the abstract to suggest stopping governments from doing new things, but in an already mixed economy, this is a mistaken implication. Often governments want to do things that would reduce their role in the economy and citizens would prefer the status quo. Thinking purely about outcomes rather than long run implications for the political process, I’d certainly welcome a citizen power of veto over privatisation, for example.

  15. January 30th, 2008 at 14:42 | #15

    be still my heart! i get all squiggly when ozzies start talking about democracy. on one side there is my desire to move in that direction, on the other my long-standing experience that ozzies ain’t got it in ‘em.

    i am a bit surprised that self-styled ‘libertarians’ don’t support democracy, as a way to get the dead hand of government off their throats. but if you’ve swallowed the culture and think you’ve got a ‘democracy’ that you know you don’t like, i guess it’s not entirely surprising. it’s hard to break out of the ‘emperor’s new clothes’ acculturation that ozzies get while growing up.

  16. January 30th, 2008 at 14:47 | #16

    John,

    You are somewhat right. When I say veto I am more accurately refering to a power of repeal.

    A peoples power to repeal legislation would in my view provide a net gain in terms of democracy, liberty and ultimately in terms of human welfare in providing an additional point at which legislation can be overturned. We allow the Senate to veto laws proposed in the house of reps. I think it does more good than harm to allow the general population to repeal any laws that they feel strongly about.

    Also laws that enable privatisation don’t endure in effect in any significant way (although the effect of privatisation does). The legislation that enabled the privatisation of Telstra for instance could not have been halted by a citizens intitiated referendum if the referendum was deferred by default until the next general election just as the ALP could not now reverse the privatisation merely by repealing the previous law. The law made the governments actions lawful. Removing the law would not have retrospective effect.

    My suggested provision would not in general halt reform but it would provide a means for rolling back oppressive laws or at least for putting such laws on the agenda for public debate.

    Of course if the people repealed a law that the government was adamant about then the government could simply re-enact the law. However the democratic implications of such arrogance would typically be quite dire.

    The idea is not new although the terminology varies. Many US states have and use such a provision as does Switzerland. Ireland has something called an ordinary referendum in which the President may refer a bill directly to the electorate before it becomes law.

    As an idea I don’t think represenative democracy is broken. However it could be enhanced by a little bit of direct democracy around the edges. While there are other direct democracy proposals that I would not support this is one measure that I see merit in.

    Regards,
    Terje.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Referendum

  17. Tony G
    January 30th, 2008 at 15:55 | #17

    @13 JQ Said:

    “Often governments want to do things that would reduce their role in the economy”

    The Australia government sector is a self regulating monopoly that has legislated itself a pay rise each year since federation (n.b. a bigger proportion of the economy).

    Total taxation revenues as a proportion of GDP have gone from 6% to 32% since federation.

    Government revenues have continued to rise and at the same time many services like pensions, education, health care, roads, utilities…etc etc have been privatised.

    What they say they “want to do” and what they do are two different things!

  18. gerard
    January 30th, 2008 at 17:25 | #18

    Terje would these referendums only take place on a country-wide scale or would they go down to local communities? Like, could one town veto a law that had passed in the rest of the country – so that the law wouldn’t apply in that locale? Or might you have a whole state vote against a piece of legislation, but it would still be carried because 50%+1 of the country’s population as a whole supported it?

    (Being a libertarian myself I would personally like to be able to individually veto any law that I don’t like so that it doesn’t apply to me)

  19. Ikonoclast
    January 30th, 2008 at 20:44 | #19

    I have a simple solution to mobile phone issues. Refuse to own one. I also refused a mobile phone at work. This may have affected my promotion prospects though some unkind souls there suggested my promotion prospects were nil in any case.

    By listening (unavoidable) to other people’s mobile phone calls, I formed the opinion that 99% of personal calls and 95% of business calls are completely unnecessary. But then 99% of blog posts are uneccesary too so I am hoist on my own petard.

  20. January 31st, 2008 at 07:54 | #20

    Gerard,

    The proposal is that a national referendum, initiated by a petition of a given size should be able to repeal national laws. By logical extension state referendums should be able to repeal state laws and local referendums should be able repeal local laws.

    The idea that individuals should be able to repeal the application of laws to themselves is not a principle that I agree with. Even at the anachist extreme libertarians believe only in an absence of government not an absence of laws. Perhaps you are an exception or perhaps I have misunderstood you.

    I hope this helps.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  21. January 31st, 2008 at 07:56 | #21

    Regarding comment #1. I would suspect that GDP per capita is a bigger factor than race, however I could be wrong.

  22. wilful
    January 31st, 2008 at 09:02 | #22

    Total taxation revenues as a proportion of GDP have gone from 6% to 32% since federation.

    Government revenues have continued to rise and at the same time many services like pensions, education, health care, roads, utilities…etc etc have been privatised.

    yes we had wonderful, accessible and high quality education, pensions, health care, roads and utilities at the time of federation. iremember them well.

    it’s called democracy, get over it. people want these things and they want the government, as the most effective provider, to deliver them.

  23. Tony G
    January 31st, 2008 at 09:59 | #23

    “yes we had wonderful, accessible and high quality education, pensions, health care, roads and utilities” in the late 70s. “iremember them well”.

    I also recall it was all provided with total taxation revenues from all levels of government @ 25% of GDP. The same services today including the privatised ones probably cost us 50% of GDP.

    Some people were even lucky enough to go to uni for free. Maybe you wilful?

  24. wizofaus
    January 31st, 2008 at 10:07 | #24

    wilful, while I agree that there are areas in which the government is the most effective provider, it’s not unreasonable to point out that most citizens don’t really dedicate sufficient time to studying the issues to be able make a sound judgement on such matters. Better would surely be to allow private providers to offer the same services, where possible, and let consumers decide whether the government or private providers offer the best service. Sure, governments get the advantage of taxpayer funds, but are hindered by bureaucracy and a relative lack of ability to attract enterpreneurial and talented individauls likely to be able to radically innovate and improve services. In many cases this experiment has been carried out, e.g. with for-profit educational institutions, and government has won the day, in others, e.g. provision of consumer-end telecommunications services, I think it’s reasonably clear that private enterprise has done better.

  25. Tony G
    January 31st, 2008 at 10:07 | #25

    Before the public sector exploded into a dysfunctional black hole syphoning money from the community and getting the community to provide its own services.

  26. wilful
    February 1st, 2008 at 09:31 | #26

    I’m glad you’re prepared to modify your arguments once challenged Tony. But if you look around, I don’t think you can compare either the input costs or the outcomes of healthcare, infrastructure and education now and then. Basically, we’re both paying more and getting a lot more.

    I paid what seemed like a great deal of HECS, it’s a system that I thoroughly support, though Howard did his level best to bugger it up. How are those private Unis going (particularly if you’re from the lower classes)?

    Funny how conservatives have been the ones responsible for much of the increase in tax take.

    wizofaus, I agree, as did the governments through national competition policy, which the the PC (but not JQ) cite as the primary reason for the productivity boost of the 90s. It’s still the case that public sector providers of roads, schools and hospitals in Australia appear according to most of the evidence to be the best, lowest cost solution. Plenty of rent-seeking private businesses sucking on the public teat, but that’s a political choice, not the rational choice that the bureaucrats would have pushed.

  27. wilful
    February 1st, 2008 at 09:38 | #27

    wizofaus, one further point in agreement with you, re telecoms. That was an absolute disaster of a privatisation, as anyone can tell. The Govt should have retained the backbone infrastructure in monopoly hands and sold off the retail arm. As it is, it’s almost dysfunctional. Proof that mixed solutions are the way to go.

  28. Tony G
    February 1st, 2008 at 11:27 | #28

    wilful Said;

    “Basically, we’re both paying more and getting a lot more.”

    I agree we are definitely paying a lot more and we might be getting marginally more in services.

    BUT with a lot of the services previously supplied by public sector now privatised,and with the revenues of the public sector rising continually…..

    You would have to say…

    Basically, we’re both paying a lot more for the public sector and they are doing hell of a lot less.

  29. February 1st, 2008 at 11:54 | #29

    We made a video about this issue for the last election. It isn’t the worlds most slick video but it wasn’t really targeting the mass market.

    http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=5FidBATOQ_Y&feature=related

  30. February 1st, 2008 at 11:58 | #30

    Making this one was fun as well:-

    http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=nAP0vXs9gwY

  31. wilful
    February 1st, 2008 at 12:03 | #31

    Basically, we’re both paying a lot more for the public sector and they are doing hell of a lot less.

    Who is this ‘they’? Bureaucrats? Did something magically happen to make them lazier and less productive between the 70s and 00s? I really don’t think so, in fact the limited evidence is that your average bureaucrat is as skilled, dedicated and productive as any comparable private or NGO sector person. Certainly that’s my anecdotal experience.

    The main explanation for the waste arising (particularly from Canberra) is middle-class welfare and other boondoggles spurred principally to buy votes. In other words, largely the fault of JWH and his cheer squad. Get ‘em off the teat and we can better afford universal government provided health and education and natural monopolies.

  32. February 1st, 2008 at 12:27 | #32

    “…your average bureaucrat is as skilled, dedicated and productive as any comparable private or NGO sector person” – two out of three isn’t bad, but unfortunately the third is wrong, from confusing a comparatively high ratio of output to input from the person with productivity of the activity; it isn’t, because the structure is set up to do wasteful things. It’s like measuring the efforts of a horse that isn’t pulling on a collar but a noose, or with a plough fastened to its tail (both of which happened when horse collars were unknown or unavailable); you should be measuring the ploughing, not the horse.

    Someone once remarked that the worst form of waste was doing well that which should not be done at all, and unfortunately much of what is done by the public service is in that category – and we can’t separate that out and stop doing it. As someone else once said, “half our advertising is wasted, if we only knew which half!”

  33. February 1st, 2008 at 12:32 | #33

    There was an amusing (in both senses) letter in yesterday’s AFR, saying that only bad economists write articles in the AFR, since the good ones are lying low, living and working in the South of France. It was amusing because I know an economist who did precisely that (after leaving Peter Dixon’s mob), and doubly so because a certain economist had an article on that day’s opinion pages…

  34. Peter
  35. Tony G
    February 1st, 2008 at 13:31 | #35

    Terje,

    Too bad not many people saw those videos. Many people are sick of big spending governments and they are also disapointed with the major parties.

    The liberal democrats are a serious party in the UK. If you guys want to be taken more seriously you shouldn’t align your party with loony pot smokers, the shooters party or the Milats.

    wilful;

    We agree on a few things though we look at them from different world views.

    I am against privatisations when the government uses them to raise taxation by stealth. i.e. privatising the government services and maintaining or increasing revenues.

    There is nothing wrong with “universal government provided health and education and natural monopolies”. It is a matter of who can cost effectively deliver them.

    We had more services universally government provided in the mid 1970s costing 26% of GDP and now we have them largely privatised costing 50% of GDP. I do not believe the sevices have improved to justify costing 24% more of GDP

    “Who is this ‘they’? ”

    ‘They’ are the elite political ruling class and their cronies. They control the other 98% of the population under the guise of the 2 party system where they divide and conquer the community, carving up the spoils for themselves.

    I don’t begrudge bureaucrats as they are victims here like everyone else. Ask them how they feel being made to deal on a daily basis, with an expanded bureaucracy that allows them to achieve very little.

  36. wilful
    February 1st, 2008 at 13:44 | #36

    Well yes Tony, we aren’t as far apart as I first suspected.

    The worst example of privatisation that I can think of is Melbourne’s CityLink. Unquestionably it should be a toll road, and built to the highest standards by private enterprise. BUT, for purely ideological reasons, rather than being a $1.7bn road project managed (at the highest level) by VicRoads, who had the skills and experience, it became a tax lurk, offshore profit generator that will cost the community $6bn for the same service.

    PML, I accept your point too. Individual productivity is as near enough the same (hey they’re paid less too), but yes there’s too much BS, driven by the Ministers, who are driven by polls and the media, and often unskilled or unsuitable for their jobs anyway.

    I reckon if you asked the bureaucrats a lot of them would tell you what’s not worth doing.

  37. Tony G
    February 1st, 2008 at 14:18 | #37

    “the elite political ruling class and their cronies”

    The nexus between the upper echelons of government and Macquarie Bank and alike is criminal. How many ex polies end up on there payroll.

    See what Tony Harris has to say;

    http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2006/s1573798.htm

    Tony Harris also said if people at the coal face in the public sector had a say, they could could improve it markedly.

  38. February 1st, 2008 at 16:23 | #38

    you shouldn’t align your party with loony pot smokers, the shooters party or the Milats.

    We only associate with the non-loony pot smokers, shoorters and Milats. The loony ones don’t get a look in.

  39. Ian Gould
    February 1st, 2008 at 17:54 | #39

    “The liberal democrats are a serious party in the UK.”

    Apart from the name, the two parties have little or nothing in common.

    Some policies from the UK LDP:

    # They support “free education for all” and propose to abolish university tuition fees and set up a system of Government grants for university students.
    # They propose a substantial non-means tested increase in pensions.
    They support anti-discrimination laws (covering race, gender and sexuality)
    They would fund 10,000 police officers (on top of Labour’s plans) and provide an extra 20,000 community support officers to back them up. They would equip the police with new technology to tackle crime and cut time spent on paperwork.
    # They would cut down on illegal working by inspecting employers and bringing prosecutions against those who use illegal labour.[16]
    # They would use phone-taps and other “intercept communications” as evidence in court against terrorist suspects, making prosecution easier.[16]

    “The most well-known Liberal Democrat policy for most of the 1990s was to increase the basic rate of income tax by one percent to fund public services (especially education). This proposal was abandoned after Tony Blair’s Labour government increased national insurance contributions by the same amount, a policy with much the same effect. Other previous fiscal policy included increasing the top rate of income tax by 10 percent to 50% for those earning over £100,000 to fund their increased public spending plans, but this was abandoned in 2006 after the party conference approved new tax policies which left the top rate at 40%.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberal_Democrats#Policies

    But other than supporting higher taxes and higher government spending I’m sure they’re almost identical to the Aussie LDP.

  40. February 1st, 2008 at 18:19 | #40

    The liberal democrats in Japan are also a serious party. However like the UK example that also fails to negate the fact that the LDP in Australia is a serious party also. The fact that the LDP does not get millions of dollars in public funding and also does not get a refund of it’s candidate application fees like the major parties and yet still managed to field candidates in nearly 50 electorates should indicate that those involved are completely serious. You don’t hand over thousands of dollars of your own money and invest mountains of personal time just on a whim.

  41. February 1st, 2008 at 20:22 | #41

    Keep it up, and soon you’ll be as serious as the Democrats or Socialist Alliance. Are we done advertising the LDP yet, or should I come back next week?

  42. Tony G
    February 1st, 2008 at 22:18 | #42

    Terje;

    Upon reflection you are correct to assert “the fact that the LDP in Australia is a serious party also”. The LPD should be commended for their efforts and progress thus far.

    I withdraw my inference that the LDP is not a serious party and I apologise if I have offended you.

    At the last election when I had posted my 1 for Malcolm and my 11 for the developers son and bagman George, I hovered my pencil over Jonatan’s box for my number 2 vote, but decided against it due to the above associations mentioned in comment 34.

    My suggestion now being that, those associations might be a handicap to the LDP’s electoral prospects.

  43. peterd
    February 1st, 2008 at 23:22 | #43

    P.M Lawrence wrote:
    “……..the structure is set up to do wasteful things. …….unfortunately much of what is done by the public service is in that category – and we can’t separate that out and stop doing it. As someone else once said, “half our advertising is wasted, if we only knew which half!â€?

    I work in the private sector and I can tell you that there’s plenty of waste there. Some of it is subsidised, effectively, by the public sector, through grants and tax rebates.
    As Keynes pointed out, the waste of paying unemployed people to dig holes and fill them in again serves a purpose, as aggregate incomes are increase and the unemployed (presumably) spend their mony on food and other essentials.

  44. wizofaus
    February 2nd, 2008 at 07:05 | #44

    Did Keynes really say that? How can paying money to people for results that nobody actually has any use for possibly make any economic sense?
    Why not just give them the money without them actually digging the holes in the first place?

  45. Gavin
    May 27th, 2009 at 12:55 | #45

    The testng agency for the IELTS is half owned by Seek and its a monopoly used by DIAC for its compulsory English test. Then the government gets half the revenue back via telstra(who owns seek). Im suprised the accept any ones country as proof of english ability! After all, its just a con to sap money out of international students!

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