Posts Tagged‘rudd’

The Internet Filter: Drop it Like it’s Hot.

In all honesty I’m starting to get bored with bashing the Internet filter. I’ve attacked it from almost every angle and there’s no way that the current idea that Conroy and his department have drummed up can be spun into something that I could wholeheartedly endorse. I’ve been willing to put my partial support behind a filter that at the very least lets you opt-out but even then I’m doing so because apart from killing the legislation completely it seems to be the only idea that’s gaining any traction in parliament. It’s been almost 2 years since the Rudd government started talking about a filter and many months have passed since it was supposed to be implemented and frankly I just keep hoping it will go away so I don’t have to think about it anymore.

It’s no secret that it’s not particularly popular policy, especially with our friendly Internet giants and overseas counterparts. This is especially true with the technology community who have polled overwhelmingly against the filter, to the tune of over 90%. There’s still been little study of what the wider Australian populace thinks about the policy but what has been done shows that most people don’t want the government nor ISPs to be in charge of what they or their children see on the Internet and the majority are concerned that once the filter has been implemented it will be abused for political purposes.

But who am I kidding, if you’re reading this blog it’s pretty much guaranteed you’re in opposition to this filter as well and you already know all these facts. What has just recently come to pass is the admission by omission of the government that even they don’t believe this is popular policy and they’re pushing it to the backburner so it doesn’t become an election issue:

KEVIN Rudd has put another election promise on the backburner with his controversial internet filtering legislation set to be shelved until after the next election. A spokeswoman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said yesterday the legislation would not be introduced next month’s or the June sittings of parliament.

With parliament not sitting again until the last week of August, the laws are unlikely to be passed before the election.

Labor promised before the last election it would force internet service providers to block access to illegal content such as child pornography and X-rated images.

With Conroy spouting such fervent rhetoric against those who would oppose the scheme you’d think that he was damned sure this was what the Australian public wanted and would do anything to see it passed. Being held back until after the election tells us a couple things. First Rudd doesn’t believe that pushing this through (and thus following through on an election promise) will win him any favours and you can be damned sure the tech crowd would vote against him in droves if he did. Secondly the rhetoric that Conroy spews constantly mirrors his own views quite consistently as it wasn’t him but one of his spokespeople who made the announcement. Had his belief in the filter been faltering in anyway you can be assured that he would be the one talking about it, since up until now he’s been the only one talking to the press about it.

Broken election promises are nothing new but when something like this, which started out as a proposal that no one cared about since NetAlert failed and it was going to be opt-in (even that apparently wasn’t feasible), gets pushed back again and again you start to question why it keeps happening. I’ve always been of the mind that the government is trying to let it die a slow and quiet death so that they can say they tried to do something but ramble off a list of excuses to save face. Traegically it seems that we’re doomed to a constant cycle of delays and rhetorical battles between the government and the wider world with no end in sight. If they would just hurry up and try to pass this thing we could hopefully see it shot down once and for all. It seems for now we will be denied this pleasure for at least another 5 months.

When Stupid Meets Stupid: Internet Filters, Anonymous and Rudd.

As many people know I’ve been a long time opponent of the Internet filter. In fact if you wind back the clock to when I created this blog you’ll see that it was originally created as a place to collate my thoughts and actions on the issue. Whilst the majority of the opposition to the filter has been clear and reasonable it would seem that the time has finally come when the vigilantes come out of the woodwork and start wrecking all the solid work we have been doing:

The Federal Government is investigating reports a computer hacker managed to temporarily shut down the Prime Minister’s website.

Kevin Rudd’s site, www.pm.gov.au, was brought down for a short time last night due to what is described as a denial of service attack.

The hacker, apparently known by the nickname Anonymous, posted warnings that government websites would be targeted in protest against its plans to filter the Internet.

The Government is considering ways to block websites carrying material it believes is offensive.

The move has attracted widespread criticism, largely because of fears the filtering system will slow Internet speeds.

The first bit of stupid I’d like to point out here is that whilst the “hacker” was identified as operating under the name Anonymous the media failed to properly recognise that he/she was probably acting as part of the online group with the same name. Although they do quote people who allude to them being a group later on most news outlets have just been repeating the first few lines. They have voiced their disapproval for the Internet filter before and due to their spontaneous order like affiliation they are unpredictable in the action that they take. It would then seem that one member identifying with their principals decided to take matters into his own hands and try to make a point about the issue, albeit with the completely wrong methods.

Whilst I can appreciate the passion and dedication that the hacker/s must have felt in order to attempt something on this magnitude I can not condone their methods. The unfortunate truth about their actions is that it has done nothing to further the cause to have the filter abandoned and has only served to bring a small amount of news to the front pages saying that the prime minister’s website was attacked. Judging by the attack itself I can hazard a guess that the attacker is either from outside Australia or not current with news on the filter, as it is essentially dying on the vine. We still need to be vigilant to make sure that the government does not try to resurrect the policy under a different name however the filter as it was proposed is being swept away in the hopes it can die without taking any politicians with it. Unfortunate as I would’ve liked to have the sacrificial lamb to be Conroy for fervently supporting this legislation.

Acts like this do nothing to serve the cause and only help to strengthen the opposition’s resolve. The out pouring of support from other countries, like the UK naming Conroy as the Internet Villain of the Year, does far more to help than what amounts to petty vandalism of a government site. If they want to put their 1337 |-|a©Kz0r skills into practice maybe they should look to more persuasive ways, like google bombing Conroy. But that would be too much effort now wouldn’t it? :P

It was fun to see the stupid explosion when they collided though :)

June Quarter National Accounts: Another Swing and a Miss!

Today we will see a release of the National Accounts document from the Australian Bureau of Statistics which will give us a very clear idea of how Australia’s has faired since it narrowly avoided a recession just 3 months ago. As with any ramp up to figures like this, especially during tough economic times like this, there’s already a healthy amount of speculation abounding with the growth currently tipped to be somewhere around 0.2%:

Most economists’ forecasts were revised down after figures yesterday showed a worse-than-expected current account deficit.

Still, it would be the second consecutive quarter of growth after the December quarter’s contraction of 0.6 per cent.

Annual economic growth is expected to come in at just 0.2 per cent.

Joshua Williamson says household spending kept the economy afloat in the June quarter.

“Consumers have gone out and spent some of their stimulus payments and we’re expecting to see that through the household consumption data,” he said.

BT Financial Group’s chief economist, Chris Caton, says the economic picture will be mixed and goes beyond the gross domestic product figures.

“Although GDP growth has remained close to zero and/or positive except for one quarter, we’ve taken a 2 per cent hit to the unemployment rate, so we certainly have been affected, but not as much as elsewhere.”

I was going to wait for the figures to be released prior to posting this however I realised that regardless of the outcome my stance would be the same: Whilst Australia might be the only developed nation dodging the dreaded “r word” this is not something that signalling a bigger crash further down the road, as many doom and gloomers would have you believe. We as a country are very well set to ride out this global financial crisis as the problems that plagued the United States and many other countries simply aren’t present here (which I’ve blogged about previously).

There are 2 quips I commonly encounter from my friends over on the doom and gloom side of the fence. The first is that Australia only avoided a recession due to Rudd’s initial cash splash for over 8 million Australian tax payers. I give this some credit as for the most part it was spent as intended and the saving or paying off debt helped ease the burden on banks. However the idea falls down when you see that the unemployment rate around the same time showed signs of levelling off. The next round of unemployment figures (due out this time next week) will settle this issue succintly, and I’ll make sure to do a follow up then.

The second is that through their other stimulus initiatives (mostly the First Home Owners Grant boost) are keeping asset bubbles propped up which give the false impression that we’re doing fine and a crash is soon to come around the bend. Whilst I can appreciate the idea that housing is relatively expensive in Australia I always question the algorithms people use to come up with their metrics. The standard would be median house price to median wage (the median multiple) which I remarked about in the comments on a previous post. Such a metric is an extremely blunt too with which to judge housing affordability as there are many other factors that can influence what constitutes affordable housing. Take for instance the situation back in 1990 and compare it to today:

  • Data:1990/Today
  • Interest rate: 14%/3%
  • Average wage: $30,576/$53,404
  • Average house price: $100,000/$468,819
  • Median multiple: 3.27/8.77
  • Average mortgage repayment: $14,000/$14064

That last line is the kicker. With interest rates this low the average mortgage will be only $64 more than it was 20 years ago. This also doesn’t take into account that first home owners should not be buying a house in the median price bracket and should start out with something that’s less desirable but affordable (both of my current mortgages are below median properties, so I’m not just peddling nonsense here). Housing is affordable for those in a stable job and do their research. The main problem I see is a crisis of desire as most people want the large house close to town, which as a rule of thumb will always be out of reach of the first home owner.

BREAKING NEWS:

As I was writing this post the figures were released! Here’s the low down:

GDP (Chain volume measure)
Trend
0.3
0.3
Seasonally adjusted
0.6
0.6
Final consumption expenditure (Chain volume measure)
Trend
0.5
1.6
Seasonally adjusted
0.8
1.9
Gross fixed capital formation (Chain volume measure)
Trend
-1.9
-3.2
Seasonally adjusted
0.7
-2.3
GDP chain price index
Original
-2.2
-0.5
Terms of trade
Seasonally adjusted
-7.4
-11.6
Real net national disposable income
Trend
-2.2
-3.2
Seasonally adjusted
-2.0
-3.2

Staggering. The figures show that even before seasonal adjustment we still come out ahead. Australia has now had 2 quarters of small positive growth, so much for a recession ey?

contribution

Recession: Swing and a Miss.

With the ABS releasing its National Accounts figures yesterday a strange thing occurred, we avoided a recession. In a seemingly unprecedented move the Australian economy rose above negative territory and showed a small positive growth of 0.4%. The results of this news was almost instantaneous with the share market closing slightly higher overall. Whilst I’m cautious about this signalling the end of the bad economic times for Australia (and I’m glad Rudd doesn’t think that either) it does show that as a country we are well placed to ride out this crisis with the least amount of impact to our daily lives. There are a few key points to take away from the ABS’ figures however.

Firstly we need to take a look at what the contributions to the GDP figure where¹:

contribution

What we can see here is growth in Agriculture, Mining, Energy, Construction and Retail. What’s not doing so well is Manufacturing, Wholesales, Transport and Property and Business services. Whilst the strong growth in agriculture is a good sign the rest of the industries that showed growth only had small increases. Undoubtedly the retail figures are backed in part by Rudd’s stimulus package which also drove up imports. There was also some additional growth (about 0.5% from the previous quarter) in terms of exports, which could be put down to how cheap our dollar was until recently. The most worrying parts of these figures are the manufacturing and property and business services, as they represent a good chunk of where Australia’s future problems lie.

When the manufacturing numbers are down it usually means that there’s been a downturn in demand and this has been seen for the past few quarters. Whilst we can easily point the finger at the GFC for this one it signals that there is a decreased demand for production within Australia. Further to this we’ve seen an increase in the amount of imports over this last quarter showing that less is being sourced from within our country. Due to the dollar rising this could soon change however I believe the damage might have already been done, as many manufacturing plants have already begun to thin their workforces. Trying to take advantage of the strong local dollar will prove difficult for such companies as they will no longer have the capacity to increase production.

The property and business services is a little less worrying as there has been quite a lot of wealth knocked out of the top end of the market which will drag the entire sector down. Business are also cutting back on expansion plans and additional services so this is not particularly surprising either. However this figure still represents a downturn in this sector, but I believe that it is far better placed to recover than manufacturing is.

So overall I believe Australia’s resource backed economy is serving it well through this recession. We’re still feeling much of the pain from the GFC but at least there’s some signs that once confidence comes back to the markets Australia as a whole will be well placed to take advantage of it. The key issue for the Rudd government now is how to keep unemployment low through the next year or two so that we don’t lose our strong resource and manufacturing workforces, something which will cost a lot more to replace in the future.

¹Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009,  Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, Mar 2009 cat no 5206.0 , viewed 04 June 2009, http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/productsbyCatalogue/35F488B5F9F7D242CA256DF000814610?OpenDocument


The Little Budget that Could.

It’s that time of the year again, and the full federal budget is now out and about for all of us Australians to take a gander at. My previous blog post about the speculation seems to have hit on some of the right points, namely the increase in the pension and hit to superannuation contributions but it seems the higher taxes for the rich have fallen by the wayside (although they might be on the table in the future) along with the increased defence spending. Here’s some of the major initiatives that the government has intended to include in the current budget:

  • $3.4 billion for roads
  • $4.6 billion for metro rail
  • $389 million for ports and freight infrastructure
  • $4.5 billion for the Clean Energy Initiative, which includes $1.0 billion of existing funding
  • $2.6 billion in projects focused on universities and research from the Education Investment Fund
  • $3.2 billion in projects focused on hospitals and health infrastructure from the Health and Hospitals Fund
  • Partnering with the private sector to build the $43 billion National Broadband Network
  • A pension increase of $32.49 per week for singles and $10.14 per week combined for couples on the full rate
  • A crucial boost of $2.7 billion in funding for tertiary education, research and innovation
  • $1.5 billion for the Jobs and Training Compact, providing education and services to support young people, retrenched workers and local communities
  • A 50 per cent Small Business Tax Break for eligible assets
  • Extending the First Home Owners Boost for an extra 6 months
  • Honouring our promise of tax cuts

What I’m impressed with are the initiatives dedicated to infrastructure spending. This is something that will not only benefit Australia at large but will also build a solid foundation of sustainable jobs which will grow when the economy recovers. This also lends itself well to the boost provided to tertiary education as these people are going to want somewhere to work once they’ve graduated. The extension to the first home owner’s grant was a small surprise and it will help to keep the housing market afloat until the end of the year. Phasing it out instead of dropping it will make sure the market doesn’t suffer too much when the bonus finally comes to an end, as any more shocks to the market aren’t going to help our current situation.

Straight after the budget the criticisms started to flow thick and fast. ABC’s 7:30 Report last night had interviews with both Wayne Swan and Joe Hockey, although Hockey’s criticisms of the budget feel a little….weak:

KERRY O’BRIEN: Have we seen a global crisis like this?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, can I tell you, the RBA, the Reserve Bank said last week it will not be as deep as 1990. They said that last week. And yet this Government has spent more money than any government in modern Australian history – 29 per cent of GDP. It is the biggest spending government in modern history, the biggest debt in modern history. One million people unemployed. Nothing to show for all the money they’ve spent.

KERRY O’BRIEN: So what would you be doing? What should’ve happened in this Budget to reduce debt?

JOE HOCKEY: Well the starting point is don’t deliver the cash splashes.

KERRY O’BRIEN: No, that’s gone.

JOE HOCKEY: Well, no, no, no.

KERRY O’BRIEN: What would you be doing in this Budget now, what should’ve happened in this Budget now to reduce debt?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, grow the pie. You’ve got to grow the pie.

KERRY O’BRIEN: How?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, the first thing is you’ve got to focus on small business. That’s what we’ve always talked about. Malcolm Turnbull has already laid out a number of detailed policies to try and get small business to grow.

JOE HOCKEY: Well, let’s go back to the assumptions, right, that you’ve put into that question. The fact of the matter is that the Reserve Bank and the IMF say it’s going to be a slow recovery. But the RBA, the Reserve Bank said it’s not going to be as deep and severe as 1990. The starting point for the Rudd Government was they inherited a Budget surplus, they inherited four per cent unemployment, which is now going to eight per cent. They inherited zero Government debt, in fact there was money put in the bank. They’ve spent all the proceeds of the mineral boom and they’re now mortgaging the next boom.

KERRY O’BRIEN: OK, but very briefly, you’re happy to quote the Reserve Bank when it suits you, but …

JOE HOCKEY: Well, no, the Reserve Bank was right.

KERRY O’BRIEN: Well then do you also accept that the Reserve Bank governor is right when he says that the debt levels are modest?

JOE HOCKEY: Well, I don’t know if he’s seen these Budget numbers. But I tell you what, I wouldn’t consider them modest when it’s $9,000 for every man, every woman and every child in Australia, with an annual interest bill of $500 for every person. I don’t consider that modest.

I’m going to have to agree with my father (whom I was watching the report with last night) and say that Joe Hockey is just a trouble maker. He’s lashing out at the budget in order to try and score some easy political points. Additionally he ridicules the government for selectively quoting the RBA when it suits them and then proceeds to do the same thing. Whilst I know this budget isn’t perfect it’s a great start to keep this nation afloat whilst creating a sound basis for our economy to boom again when the time is right. The middle section I quoted shows that Hockey has little to no idea on how to approach this situation and had he been in charge of the budget I’m sure we’d be closer to the budget I predicted last week; something lacking direction and lining the coffers of the loudest lobbyists.

Swan didn’t get off easy either. Kerry did point out that some of his initiatives, namely the raising of the pension age and large deficit, were created without a lot of knowledge of the situation we’re in. Whilst the predictions made are probably the best that can be done with the information that we have it does seem a bit reckless to start basing policy on them. Many of their policies have times that are set a bit far off in the future which is a deliberate political ploy in order to make sure they get elected back into office. This will be the budget that will stick in people’s minds come the next election, and I’m sure the Rudd government knows that.

Overall I’m pleased with the budget. The money is getting spent in the right places and whilst we might be running a deficit, we’re still in a good position to weather this recession and come out ready for the good times ahead.

I’m just going to have to tune out Hockey and the other detractors for a couple weeks. :)

Sit Back, Relax, and enjoy the Recession.

Our beloved Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has finally used the R word to describe Australia’s current economic situation:

The worst global economic recession in 75 years means it’s inevitable that Australia will be dragged into recession,

The challenge for government is to cushion the impact of recession on business and jobs, through the actions we take, through economic stimulus strategy.

Up until now Rudd has been referring to the situation using terms such as economic tough times and making reference that Australia is not immune to the global economic climate. Whilst this would seem a much of muchness when it comes to describing Australia’s current economic position it is actually a powerful rhetorical tool. Some particular words love to wreck havoc with the stock exchange and recession is one of the bigger ones (with regulation being my all time favourite). Looking back to December last year the Federal Reserve Bank of America officially announced that America had slumped into a recession.  This was then accompanied by a huge rush in stock sell-offs and had the Dow Jones finishing almost 8% lower, its fourth worst drop in history. Official figures using certain words can really get people in the mood to sell.

Whilst Rudd’s announcement has done little to stir the market it does put people on notice that when the next quarterly figures come out they’ll probably be negative and this puts us into the technical definition of a recession. In reality this starts to get the execs thinking more about cost cutting, improving their returns on investment and adopting new strategies to cope with economic climate. In essence Rudd is attempting to pre-empt an announcement by the Reserve Bank so that people start thinking about it now, rather then panicking when the R word is used officially.

Whilst it’s a good move overall for Rudd there’s probably a few more things he could do in order to gear people up for the coming recession. His current focus of stimulating the economy through handouts, a few infrastructure projects and supporting small businesses will provide a decent amount of short to medium term boost to the economy. However there is little in the package about longer term investments or adjustments to the banking sector, and rightly so. After the initial down turn businesses will start to pick themselves up off the floor again, and the economy should start turning itself over as per normal. Rudd is doing a good job of keeping in everyone’s good graces and this will do well for him come election time. I’d be really interested to see what policies he brings forth when he doesn’t have to contend with the world falling down around him.