Friday, 27 August 2010

Government-in-waiting…or more like waiting-for-Government

Australia's federal election went off without a glitch…except that the result is a little ambiguous.

It has been nearly a week now and neither of the major parties has managed to form a government. The final call will come to the four independent and one Green (and if you count the renegade Western Australian National, one National) members of parliament. Some people think this is a good thing while others think it is not so good or neither good nor bad – guess it all depends on who is talking.

Since the general consensus has been that the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal/National Coalition do not seem to differ on many policy fronts, I guess we all had this result coming. The Australian Greens, as always, had been super quick to support Labor (no surprises there) and three of the four independents are former Nationals, though it is not clear where their support will go. It will be interesting (albeit painful) to see how everything turns out. I am sure every day will bring silly news like these, so perhaps it would be best to simply wait and ignore the "look-at-me" announcements from everyone.

While counting is still ongoing, it is clear that neither of the major parties will have the numbers. This brings us to the question of the Governor-General. As the Queen's representative, she is supposed to be unbiased and "above politics." Something that surprised me was that her son-in-law is Federal Labor MP Bill Shorten. She has been cleared of any ethical conflict, but who are we kidding here? Now, I know we are not at the point where Australia is on the brink of collapse or in the middle of a constitutional crisis, but if we were to have another Labor administration, there is always an off-chance that the Governor-General may have to act in the interests of the nation and sack the Government (granted the chances of this happening in Australia are as likely as swimming in a crocodile-infested river with chicken fillets strapped to your body and coming off unscathed) but Bill Shorten is her son-in-law – that means that whatever position he occupies impacts directly on the Governor-General's daughter. There may be no legal conflict of interest, but the possibility for there to be one is so plainly obvious. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, 20 August 2010

Death and (unfair) taxes…

There comes a time when we all come to accept death and taxes, whether we like it or not. What I would like to know is when did Australians start to accept unfair taxes as the norm?

The lack of policies to get excited about during this Australian election campaign got me thinking and searching through all the policies that the parties have on offer. Rummaging through the scaremongering and hyperbole almost made me want to give up but knowing that that is exactly what the politicians want forced me to keep researching.

Many are the policies that I would disagree, question and downright reject (as I'm sure many people would as well, though perhaps not the same policies), however there was one that caught my attention: the Australian Democrat's income tax reform proposal (after the run of bad luck they have had they could use some good news). In Australia, the tax-free threshold is currently $6,000. Income tax is taken from every dollar over $6,000 earned in a financial year. To put this in perspective, assuming a 5-day work week, you can make about $25 a day tax-free.

Since Australia has a Goods and Services Tax (GST – a value-added tax), if you are spending those income tax-free $25, the government gets its tax take anyway. But back to the point I want to make: with low and controlled inflation over the last 20 years it boggles the mind why the tax-free threshold has not kept pace. Since the 2000-2001 financial year, the tax-free threshold has been $6,000. For the majority of the 90's ('91-'92 to '99-'00) the threshold was $5,400. In that same period the middle ranges have undergone various adjustments and the top range has increased from "$50,001 and over" in '91-'92 to "180,001 and over" in '08-'09 - an increase of more than 300%. For the current 2010-2011 financial year the minimum will still be $6,000 (not even a 12% increase on early 90's levels) and the maximum kicks in from $180,001 – there will be slight changes to the middle ranges.

I think it makes sense to raise the tax-free threshold – something that hasn't been done considerably for 20 years! It would benefit everyone and simplify the damn complicated process of tax that is income taxation in Australia.

Perhaps the lack of reform is because there's an accountants' conspiracy…

Image credit: jscreationzs / Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The (red) power behind the Greens...

Ok, so the Australian Greens are poised to make history on Saturday 21 August. Diversity in the political landscape in Australia is always a good thing. But, what do the Greens really stand for and who are the people behind their nascent surge...?

Information about the Greens is readily available on Wikipedia, their official website, news sites and myriad other sites. What I am presenting here is simply new information that has become available recently coupled with my thoughts, so hopefully it is error free.

It is great to see that the Greens have a full range of policies. They are just not a one-issue party. But after having a look through their policies and looking at the related coverage, I have to agree that they have been confirmed, in my eyes, as hard socialists. If things go as predicted, I look forward to the grandstanding of "we have a mandate" from the Greens even though I doubt that all the people who will vote Green agree with all their policies (the same goes for the major parties – this whole "mandate" thing gets really annoying).

Now we have news that a rather large donation by the Electrical Trades Union (previously aligned with Labor) has gone to the Greens. Do we really need another union-backed political party in Australia?

Finally, we have GetUp's not-so-subtle endorsement of the Greens with their issues scorecard. Funny how no issues where the Greens fail are presented. For example increasing the tax-free threshold or having a fairer distribution of public funds between government and non-government schools (granted, all major parties fail on that, I think). If GetUp were genuinely interested in advancing the prospects of progressive and moderate candidates they would do more than this token gesture.

Image credit: graur razvan ionut / Sphere: Related Content

Monday, 16 August 2010

Boats or Cosmetic Surgery.....which is the greater risk?

The superbug: NDM-1 is in Australia.

I know it's not very exciting news, but I wonder if we are ready for the worst-case scenarios that could eventuate if this antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria takes a permanent, widespread hold. The first reported death has been recorded and while this is not to say that others haven't succumbed already the potential for widespread loss of life is real.

As usual, we should expect weeks if not months of international blame game commentary but it is pointless to waste time and resources finding the origin, this resistant strain is here and now we have to do something. The reality may be that the origin of this antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria was a country with widespread antibiotic availability, or a country with poor regulatory frameworks, or a random bacterial mutation, or whatever - either way it is, as I said, pointless.

Air travel would thus seem to be the unfortunate harbinger of worse things than a few boats off the Australian coast. As can be seen, we have to also watch out for Canadians - in a light-hearted, non-offensive, kind of way of course.

Image credit: Filomena Scalise / Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

English in it enough?

Japanese companies have started to adopt English, the language of global business, for more and more of their everyday operations. Although requiring all employees to have a working knowledge of the English language can be construed to be a very controversial move, it points to a dichotomy in Japanese society.

The business world in Japan is openly embracing English and the oppportunities it can bring. On the other hand, there is a bureaucratic side of Japan that eschews English like the plague. While the Japanese government has set a goal for English language instruction, it remains to be seen how successful this policy will be at increasing English proficiency.

Of greater concern, in my experience, is the fact that so many Japanese, young and old, are apprehensive (for lack of a better term) to use the English language. Japan has one of the most widespread foreign language (English language) programs in the world (at least to my knowledge). I would estimate that most Japanese in their 40's and younger would have studied English for six years or more in junior and senior high schools. Now, I am not saying that six years makes anyone a master of any language, but, assuming the teaching is sound then the basics are there.

I have met many people here in Japan who are decent at writing and reading English, however, when compared to China there seems to be a lack people who are able to actually speak the English language here. From personal experience, I've noted that when Japanese make slips of the tongue in the standard Japanese language, they are very nearly ridiculed for their minor mistake. I am no expert on Chinese but I wonder if the same thing happens in China to someone who mispronounces Mandarin words.

Perhaps this culture of avoiding mistakes at all costs needs updating?

Image credit: jscreationzs / Sphere: Related Content

Friday, 6 August 2010

Why filter the internet?

I do not agree with censorship and I do not agree with the current Australian Government's proposal of an internet filter. Like so many others, I believe censorship would be made much easier by having this filter in place. Censorship: Labor's hidden policy explains (in rather long detail, sorry) the broad opposition to the filter.

While the current Australian election campaign has so far failed to mention anything about the filter, if Labor gets reelected they will be touting that as the filter was an official policy proposal that people voted for it....yeah, right. If noone is discussing it then it doesn't enter into the which-party-to-vote equation that faces us as voters.

Reports in early July that the filter would be put on the backburner were good to hear but for the fact that it is a deceptive delaying tactic.

Finally, however, the Liberals have clearly stated their position - let's hope they treat this a 'core' promise and keep their opposition to the filter, period. I tentatively expect that this announcement will bring the internet filter into the election discussion. Why spend $30 million when the responsibility to protect children should also involve parents themselves. Paul Syvret's line: "But don't treat me like a 12 year old Senator Conroy. I don't consider it a 'legitimate' exercise of power." pretty much sums up my thoughts.

Perhaps Labor is taking its cues from Chavez in Venezuela?

Image credit: Suat Eman / Sphere: Related Content