News Ltd at it again with FBT beat-up

Running scared that the Labor government might be in with a shot at the upcoming election after Friday’s announcement of the PNG solution, the Herald Sun naturally instead focussed on the tweaking of fringe benefits tax regulations on novated leases as the basis for an attack on Kevin Rudd. It’s only at the bottom of the page in the Herald Scum that one finds the fundamental nature of the change. Drivers are now to be asked to keep a log book for 3 months every 5 years to prove the vehicle is being used sufficiently for work purposes to claim the relevant tax offset. All the government has done is tightened up on the rorting of an already generous tax concession, largely by the middle and upper class, and yet this rent seeking industry built on a tax break is squealing like a stuck pig. I don’t know what’s more pathetic; the media coverage or the pathetic whining of the industry at being taken to task for what is basically the defrauding of average taxpayers.

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In defence of Dar

Not as easy as it looks: Umpire Simon Fry signals a wide during a match at the MCG- photo taken by the author

Not as easy as it looks: Umpire Simon Fry signals a wide during a match at the MCG- photo taken by the author

Well, I’m back from an enjoyable holiday, and I thought I’d dive straight into an issue of pressing national importance. The Ashes, naturally. Like former PM John Howard, I am a cricket tragic, and, similarly likewise, a tragic cricketer. So naturally, the first Ashes test match presently taking place in Nottingham has been my centre of attention. It was with interest that I awoke to news on Saturday morning of the controversy surrounding the non dismissal of English batsmen Stuart Broad, having edged the ball, I was informed ‘to first slip’; I quickly came to learn that this meant first slip via the wicketkeeper’s gloves and thigh, and so immediately this seemingly horrific error became all the more understandable. I must admit, my greatest sympathy was for Pakistani umpire Aleem Dar, three times ICC umpire of the year, who doubtless would have had a sleepless night as a result. Having umpired some cricket myself, I can sympathise with the difficulty involved. One is expected to have the skill and composure of a neurosurgeon, and to some involved, exhibit an even higher degree of perfection than the said neurosurgeon, matters of life and death paling in significance to a game of cricket. But, beyond examining the minutiae of this particular situation, greater questions about ethics and indeed about human nature itself are raised.

In a more narrow sense, the vexed issue of cricketing ethics was again brought to the fore. To the outsider, this is a bizarre game with an even stranger code of ethics, whereby, for example, a bowler preventing a batsman from gaining an advantage by backing up too far is considered the cheat should he mankad him. Under this rather ambiguous, unwritten, and quite fluid code of ethics, many were quick to condemn Broad for, at face value merely accepting the decision of the umpire. I would instead condemn not Broad, but the culture which his actions reflected. In this increasingly professional era, except for numerous exceptions, batsmen simply do not walk. In a societal sense, it reflects the fact that many people will do whatever they can get away with, and only express contrition if they should actually get caught. The other issue the situation raises is the double standards that every single one of us apply, whereby we expect perfection of others, but blanch at the thought of looking in the mirror and examining our own faults. And so, much criticism was directed at Umpire Dar, yet every single batsmen dismissed in the match prior to him, and every bowler hit for four, had just like him, made a mistake.

As I final observation, I think it is worth noting that my most noteworthy observation from playing and umpiring the game is that the cricket field serves as a crucible. Out in the heat and dust, you see the true nature of a person. The bowler, rising star Ashton Agar revealed himself as an individual mature beyond his age in response to what would have been his bitter disappointment at the non dismissal. As to the actions of others, I shall leave that up to you to interpret.

Pink batt hypocrisy

The pink batts scandal is once again back in the news, and the aggressive posturing of the Liberals raises some interesting ideological questions. For one, why is the party of individual responsibility blaming the government rather than the cheap, sleazy bastards who sent untrained young men to their deaths in pursuit of a quick buck? Could it be that the said individuals are those small business types with which the Liberals so adore? Furthermore, why is the party of the alleged moral high ground so eager to politicise these tragedies? Food for thought…

4 ways Abbott will hurt vulnerable Australians

One reason for my opposition to the conservative side of politics here in Australia is that in my view they not only seek to oppose the downward redistribution of income via progressive taxation, they in fact encourage regressive taxation. The Shop and Distributive Union’s Joe de Bruyn has put out a very concise and convincing piece on this issue, which can be found here. He lists plans to reintroduce a tax on low income super contributions, to undermine penalty rates, to reverse the near tripling of the tax free threshold to $18000, and plans to abolish the school kids bonus. Perhaps if these 4 policies received greater publicity, low and middle income voters would think twice about supporting a party which really only cares for the residents of Toorak and the North Shore.

From little things, big things grow

I was interested to read yesterday a very simple but potentially effective suggestion from Bangladeshi microfinance pioneer Dr Mohammad Yunus. It came in the context of an article about the incredibly poor living and working conditions of Bangladeshi garment workers. Yunus proposed a 50c per garment levy on Bangladeshi garments, with the money then used to fund improved conditions for workers; it could be put into improving healthcare or sanitation, or perhaps creating a workers compensation scheme, all things we take for granted in Australia. As the article notes, 50c is a small amount here in Australia; it might get you 5 minutes parking in central Melbourne or a Chupa Chup at the check out. But in a country where garment workers are earning $3 a day, it could make an enormous difference. As an Oxfam survey found, 70% of Australians would be happy to pay a bit more if it were to improve conditions for garment workers. So how about it?

Is Mount Isa the new Wittenoom?

If someone were to ask me for a single, definitive reason as to why I lean left rather than right, I think I would say that, for all its flaws, the union movement never killed anyone in order to make a buck. Unlike companies such as CSR and James Hardie or the big tobacco companies, who, in spite of knowing full well that their respective products were deadly, suppressed the information and continued selling them. In the case of CSR, this in the end led to the WA mining town of Wittenoom being left as a ghost town, with an estimated 1 in 3 of those who passed through the town either developing, or by 2020 set to develop an asbestos related disease. CSR’s blatant disregard for life in the pursuit of the almighty dollar was immortalised in Midnight Oil’s protest anthem Blue Sky Mine¬†(young-uns and overseas readers who’ve never heard it, check it out), and has come to be seen as a hallmark of corporate immorality in Australia.

You’d think corporate Australia would learn. But now, news has come out today that the operations of miner Xstrata in the Queensland town of Mount Isa are responsible for elevated lead levels in the blood of local children, according to an independent study. This is in spite of previous denials by Xstrata and the Queensland Government that naturally occurring lead was responsible for the elevated lead levels. Needless to say exposure to lead is not a good thing, with it having the potential to cause damage to vital organs and to retard growth in children. In 2008, when the Queensland Health report came out detailing the high levels of lead in children’s blood, Xstrata denied the correlation between their operations and the high levels. Now that this independent¬†report is in the public domain, it is time for Xstrata to outline what they know, and to look to alter their practices in order to minimise the exposure of the children of Mount Isa to dangerous lead.

ACTU ad reminds us of the value of unions

An advertisement from the Australian Council of Trade Unions to be released this evening serves as a pointed and timely reminder of the merits of the oft maligned union movement. Many Australian’s will remember the ACTU’s powerful advertising campaign against the Howard government’s WorkChoices in 2007. The Coalition has relentlessly attacked the union movement in relation to a number of scandals whilst Labor has been in power. Indeed, like any other organization, there have been some bad apples within the movement. But with the Coalition looking set to return to power, it is worth remembering the prominent role the union movement has played in shaping society as we know it, by virtue of initiatives such as the 40 hour week. Without the union movement, the disparity between the haves and the have nots would be far wider in Australian society. It is a crucial counter balance to the power and influence that money buys for corporate Australia. So, next time a Liberal MP attacks the unions, pause to wonder what life for the vast majority of us who work for someone else for a living would be like without them.