Friday, October 27

A fair day’s work for a fair days pay.

I think it’s somewhat refreshing that the newly formed “Australian Fair Pay Commission” decided to increase the minimum wage by 5.65% or $27.36 per week for the 1 million lowest paid employees in Australia, those employees who earn less than $700 per week.

The Australian Fair Pay Commission was recently established to set and maintain a federal minimum wage that will promote the economic prosperity of the people of Australia under the Workplace Relations Amendment (Work Choices) Act 2005.

Chairman Professor Ian Harper came to the Commission with very strong economic credentials, but also possessing equal doses of compassion and integrity. Together with his fellow Commissioners he has presided over a decision in stark contrast to the submissions from Government and Industry groups for a minimal increase. These submissions argued the increase recommended by the Australian Council of Trade Unions of $30 per week would be irresponsible, leading to widespread unemployment and inflation. Whilst the Commission acknowledge a nexus between wage rates and employment it nevertheless on balance rejected theses arguments and granted a $27 increase.
I agree with the Commission. Economic outcomes need to be balanced with principles of fairness and integrity by providing protection to lower paid workers. The idea that such decisions will lead to 300,000 job losses and widespread inflation is a highly fanciful notion based upon flawed economic analysis. It all boils down to common sense, that is to say a fair day’s work for a fair days pay for those of minimal bargaining power in a democracy.

Thursday, October 19


Australia is currently in the grip of the worst drought ever faced. The current El Nino weather pattern ensures the dry conditions will continue as we experience much lower than normal rains. Longer term the prognosis remains clouded. Some assert this drought is a natural part of our landscape whilst others contend drier conditions represent the flow on effects of global warming.

Barry Hanstrom, NSW regional director of the Bureau of Meteorology is concerned: The evidence for climate change is compelling, in several examples of that across Australia. The fact is that south-west Western Australia since the 70s has dropped almost 20 per cent. The last 10 years in south-eastern Australia the rainfall's down 10 to 20 per cent. 2005 was the warmest year ever recorded in Australia, so there are strong indications, both with rainfall and temperature across Australia that the climate is changing.

The current position means crops like wheat and barley are likely to yield at most 30% of last year and the effect to country areas is devastating. Increased suicides and depression arise with Rural Councillors streched to the limit, but notwithstanding most remain focused to change what they can for the better, to stay positive and look forward to next years season.It’s also hard for city folk to imagine the devastation of a crippling drought in country towns.

The response of the Government was to announce an extra $350 million for farmers and to confirm they are considering a further $400 million, having already spent $1.25 billion on needy 50,000 farming families since 2001.

The basis of this relief is “exceptional circumstances” since normal drought is expected to be managed by farmers.

Water scientist Professor Peter Cullen, has been quoted has suggested such aid only prolongs producers struggling on land no longer sustainable. Clive Hamilton from the Australia Institute was quoted as saying “Farmers shouldn't be getting assistance; they should be leaving the land when it's like this?”

The debate has raged, as if fanned by our recent hot northerly winds, the familiar smell of smoke from earlier tham expected bush fires.

Our Prime Minister commented.

Well, I reject that completely. I reject it. I mean, the basis of his argument is that in some way the payments farmers receive under Exceptional Circumstances represent us paying people to stay on the land. I think that would come as a great surprise to farmers, who know that the Exceptional Circumstances gives them the equivalent of the dole and provides some interest rate subsidies. And that's hardly paying people to stay on the land. "It is, in many cases, paying people to put some food on the table. It's a very unrealistic attitude for people to take. We are not a country that pays people to stay on the land. We're a country that gives people who want to stay on the land support to survive through desperate drought circumstances, and that's what we're living through at the present time. So I reject completely the argument that this drought assistance is, quote, 'paying to keep people on the land', unquote.

It’s a complex situation but I feel the current position is not enhanced by the current aid programme. Consider the value of rural land in Australia and indeed in many parts of the western world and why it is is vastly overpriced. This is a consequence of continued income support to farmers over successive frequent droughts that ensures the price of land reamains unrealistically high. Overseas huge subsidies paid to farmers inflate the value of the land.

Rural land in Australia has appreciated in real terms around 5-6%, thats 5-6 % above the rate of inflation over the past 20 years, putting undue pressure to obtain a commensurate improved return.

I also think Australian farmers are the most efficient in the world and most are responsible environmentalists who do a magnificent job looking after the land for future generations. During dire times such as we are currently experiencing they immediately begin de stocking and mitigating the effect of drought,in other words caring for the land. Many are debt free 3rd generation farmers whose reserves and or alternative incomes tide then through these most difficult of times.

What I favour as an alternative to income support is government assistance in the form of interest free loans, made during such times but to be repaid during good seasons. I think most farmers would prefer a loan to income support schemes, which is nothing more than a handout.

I also think additionally its worth considering a heritage type annual payment, in recognition of the Farmer custodian role of looking the land, that's on on our behalf to preserve it for future generations.

On the longer terms I believe the current exceptional circumstances will not be so exceptional in years to come, but I also believe the Australians farmers will adapt and cotinine to preserve the land for future generations in a sustainable way. That means much more diversity for Farms, a sole farming income will be unsustainable, and other income streams will need to be added for it to be viable overall as we experience drier conditions. This is already occurring to a marked degree and will accelerate in the near future. In effect it will be engaging of country and the city, with new industries such as echo tourism, as it always could have been. The dichotomy or tension between country and city, farming and non framing and or industry need not exist at all as we are all co dependant upon one to another.

In fact I think it wil be true for most countries the world over. The pooling of skils and sharing between communities, that is between country and city, allows us us to learn together as to how to be sustainable, in partnership with nature. It's how we evolved and its how we will survive the future.

Wednesday, October 11

North Korea

We have reaffirmed our commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. . . . The actions taken by North Korea are unacceptable and deserve an immediate response by the UN Security Council.” --President George Bush; following the detonation of North Korea’s first nuclear weapon.

North Korea has a population of 23 million, similar to Iraq, where I estimate about 700 billion has already been expended for an end result of near civil war. In North Korea, we have a country taking up a disproportionate slice of world attention, attention seeking to an extreme and provocative. Yet surely there could have been a more sensible line followed by the US and its allies.

I think this current crisis with North Korea could have been avoided given reasonable diplomatic skills and the use of psychology.

Bush has insisted North Korea was on the “Axis of Evil” list, and publicly announced that he “loathed” Kim Jung Il.

From North Korea's perspective they have no intention of being the next victim of Bush’s pre-emptive policy. Donald Rumsfield even boasted the US is capable of operating in 3 theatres of war simultaneously.

So Kim Jong-Il has built North Korea’s first nuclear bomb. By all accounts the first explosion was less than 1,000 tonnes, either a partial success or a partial failure, who knows! But tests in the past by other powers have been around the 10,000 tonnes, judged at that level to be a successful test of capability. Already he has vowed to continue testings if the US imposes sanctions.

It reminds me of the cold war, where we saw a continuance of a fear driven weaponry build up by the United States and Russia, both fed on a diet of incompetent intelligence. At the time the Russian economy was estimated to be three times its actual size, by the CIA and accepted as factual by a gullible eager Administration. So we continued on in this mindless exchange and build up of weaponry until the Soviet Union eventually collapsed inwards as it became unsustainable.

The current situation with North Korea I think could be much more easily resolved. So what is it they want or hope to achieve? The seeds of the current situation go back to 1994 as North Korea’s wants to go back to the original 1994 “Framework Agreement” originated by Clinton where food, fuel and two light water reactors were to be provided in exchange for North Korea’s abandoning its nuclear weapons programs. The North had agreed to these terms, but the United States has never honoured its obligations.

Time will tell, but it’s high time we had sensible foreign policy initiatives from the USA and its allies!, administrations that don’t regard compromise as a dirty word, and are willing to hold talks and consider alternatives.

Maybe the United Nations will be able to negotiate a way forward, but only with support from its previous most powerful critic, the USA.

Wednesday, October 4

Nuclear Madness

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) – “North Korea will conduct a nuclear test, its Foreign Ministry said, a move Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said would be "unforgivable'' and require a severe response from the international community. “

"The DPRK will in the future conduct a nuclear test under the condition where safety is firmly guaranteed,'' the ministry said in a statement published on the country's official Korea Central News Agency. DPRK are the initials for the country's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea”

North Korea’s stance is unpredictable, but I think they would realise any engagement of nuclear weapons in warfare will only bring about annihilation, just as was realised by Mao and other consummate psychopaths even though they were willing to sacrifice millions of lives for a stated aim of world supremacy.

At the same time France Says Iran Must Halt Uranium Enrichment.

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- France said Iran must suspend its uranium enrichment program before it makes further proposals on how to break a deadlock with the U.S. and other countries over its nuclear program.

Iran must first give an answer to an offer made by the five members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany that they would enter into negotiations with Iran and suspend the threat of sanctions if it halts enrichment, said Jean-Baptiste Mattei, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry.

Iran said earlier today that French nuclear company Areva SA could oversee uranium enrichment in Iran to guarantee that it was intended for peaceful purposes.

"Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's nuclear agency, said in an interview with France Info radio that Iran's proposal to break the deadlock was to have Areva oversee enrichment in Iran."

When the cold war ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the East German wall, a renewed sense of optimism flourished.

Now we have different threats to world peace.

But it’s also true for the world at large, for it is madness for any country to have, keep or manufacture nuclear weapons. Forget about Star wars and other fanciful notions about defence systems blowing these missiles or bombs out of the sky.

Ultimately I think the only way foreword is a return to negotiation and mediation through a present feeble United Nations, which needs to be rebuilt, strengthened and re energised under a new Secreartary- General, almost certainty to be South Korea's Foreign Minister, Ban Ki-moon, maybe to give peace a chance.