Friday, July 31, 2009

We're trashing our future

Until now Australia has been blessed with good will from practically everywhere.

When I reported from Japan, Australia consistently came number one in surveys of the most trusted and most popular nation.

Much of it was due to the good work we put in educating future elites from from other countries.

The Columbo Plan students I studied with came away with justifiably fond memories of Australia, and Australians - memories that have cut us slack ever since.

Then, ten or so years ago we began trashing our future.

Wendy Carlisle's brilliant 4 Corners report Monday spelled out what we have done.

What is the up-and coming generation of Asian elites going to think of us when it matters?

Just asking.

Check out the program.

UPDATE: A Senate Committee is inquiring into the welfare of international students.

Submissions are welcome, due in a fortnight,
August 14.

The Chicken Littles are wrong

The Rudd government's "Education Revolution" is paying extraordinary dividends for Victoria's building industry, with an unprecedented $653 million of education building contracts let in June, more than four times the previous revcord in records dating back a decade.

Education building work also soared in Queensland and South Australia, but not in NSW, suggesting that other states were quicker to let contracts.

Victorian home building approvals jumped 20 per cent in June to their highest point in 6 years, as first home buyers rushed to take advantage of the full $21,000 First Home Buyers Boost for for new homes which phases out after September...

Australia-wide, approvals surged 10 per cent.

"It's encouraging, but a sustained recovery in home building needs to be more widely-driven than in the first home buyer market if we are to make serious in-roads into the shortfall of stock," said Housing Industry Association economist Harley Dale.

CommSec economist Craig James agreed, saying building would need to increase still further to avoid a house price bubble of the kind that concerns the Reserve Bank governor.

Speaking on Tuesday Governor Glenn Stevens said a "very real challenge" would be "how to ensure that the ready availability and low cost of housing finance is translated into more dwellings, not just higher prices".

Mr James said with demand for homes propelled by the fastest population growth in 40 years and interest rates at generational lows, there was a risk of a housing bubble if home building didn’t lift sharply over the coming year.

It’s a simple matter of demand and supply. Demand is increasing and supply isn’t keeping pace, leading to higher prices and tight rental markets," he said.

Building approvals for apartments jumped sharply in June, but not by enough to offset a larger slide in May.

Published in today's SMH

And more on marriage

It makes us live longer by making us happier

Cahit Guven and Rudolph Saloumidis from Deakin University:

Why is the world getting older? The influence of happiness on mortality

"World life expectancy has risen by around 20 years in the last 50 years.
This period has also witnessed rising happiness levels around the world sug-
gesting that happiness might be one of the causes behind the decline in
mortality. We investigate the relationship between happiness and mortality
using the German Socio-Economic Panel. We consider doctor visits, self-
reported health, and presence of chronic illness as health measures. After
controlling for initial health conditions, we nd that happiness extends life
expectancy. 10 percent increase in happiness decreases probability of death
by four percent, and this e ect is more pronounced for men and younger
people. Happiness plays a more important role for chronically ill people in
decreasing mortality than for those who are not chronically ill. The positive
influence of happiness on mortality can o set the negative impact of chronic
illness. Marriage decreases mortality and this e ect appears to work through
increased happiness."

But more so for men - it's a fascinating paper.

Influence Happiness Mortality

The world is full of married men

And guess what? They're honourable.

This new paper demonstrates it:


Kim Janssens, Pandelaere Mario, Kobe Millet, Bram Van den Bergh, Inge Lens, Roe Keith

In two experiments we demonstrate that men display an enhanced interest in status enhancing consumption upon exposure to mating cues. Men indicate a higher interest in high-status products (study 1) and more readily noticed high-status products (study 2) after exposure to sexily, rather than plainly, dressed women.
The effects are restricted to single men, suggesting that the acquisition or consumption of a luxurious product functions as a mate attraction mechanism."

NOTE: "The effects are restricted to single men"!

Can Buy Me Love

Less alcohol in the beer, less cocoa in the chocolate...

Fosters calls it Australia's favourite full-strength beer, but VB, or Victoria Bitter as it is properly known, will soon scarcely deserve the title.

Two years ago Fosters trimmed its alcohol content from 4.9 per cent to 4.8 per cent. Within days it will cut it again, this time to 4.6 per cent.

It's nothing to do with "responsible consumption," the justification used by confectionery makers to cut the size of their chocolate bars, it's because of a sly and steadily-escalating tax introduced by the Hawke government during the 1980's to take the heat out of Budget night.

Before then legislated increases in the excise levied on beer, spirits and tobacco were greeted with regular headlines reading "Beer, cigs up".

The new arrangement automatically lifts the excise rates each February and August in line with a a formula built around the consumer price index.

It forces the manufacturers to either put up their prices every six months or to cut the amount of alcohol or tobacco in their products.

The next increase, to apply from Saturday, should add around 2 cents to the price of a six-pack and 8 cents the price of a slab according to the Tax Office.

But it won't for VB. Fosters is freezing the price of VB and several of its premium brands, and instead cutting further the amount of alcohol in each bottle of VB.

At 4.6 per cent, so-called full-strength VB will have about 4 per cent less alcohol than it used to, on the face of it more than enough to offset what would have otherwise been a 2 per cent price hike.

But Fosters spokesman Troy Hey says other costs have gone up as well including glass and hops.

It'll do no good switching to Melbourne Bitter. It's already offering just 4.6 per cent, as is Tooheys and Carlton Draft. Crown Larger stands nearly alone in still offering 4.9 per cent although it's eclipsed by Coopers, whose Sparkling Ale still contains 5.8 per cent.

How will you know whether you're getting the the old "full-strength" VB or the new one?

For a while both will be on sale until the old packets sells out. Mr Hey says the new packaging will be "slightly different" and accompanied by a new advertising campaign. But the campaign won't explicitly mention the lower alcohol content. That'll be left for a customer examining the fine print on the bottles and cans in the liquor store fridge.

The Tax Office expects the price of a six-pack of light beer to climb just 1 cent, and the price of a six-pack of alcopops to climb 5 cents. A pack of 50 cigarettes will cost an extra 8 cents.

Published in today's SMH

"The Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Indices for the June Quarter 2009 on 22nd July. This resulted in new rates of duty on spirits, beer and tobacco. The new rates take effect from Saturday 1 August 2009 and will be published in the Government Notices Gazette on Wednesday 5 August 2009.

Below are some examples of the increase in the excise duty component for specific products.

Excise Duty Component

Product Current New Increase

375 can light strength beer (2.7%) 20 cents 20 cents No change
280ml glass light strength beer (2.7%) 3 cents 3 cents No change
375 can full strength beer (4.9%) 57 cents 58 cents 1 cent
280ml glass full strength beer (4.9%) 30 cents 30 cents No change
375ml ready to drink spirit (5%) $1.30 $1.30 No change
30ml nip of Brandy (37.5%) 73 cents 73 cents No change
700ml bottle of other spirits (37.5%) $18.15 $18.26 11 cents
Pack of 25 cigarettes $6.42 $6.46 4 cents
50 grams Tobacco $16.05 $16.15 10 cents

Please note: The actual price of these products is also dependent on production costs, market factors and the Goods and Services Tax."


Thursday, July 30, 2009

John Laws, back on the radio this morning.

Wow! listen here.

It takes 10 minutes, but you'll get the idea as soon as he starts speaking to 3AW's Neil Mitchell.

No regret, no guilt, little self-awareness, ten years on.


Here was me back then:

"The Bankers Association says that bank fees aren't too high, while demonstrating that its members, if pressed, can rustle up $1 million, repeatedly, to pay the consultancy which employs John Laws. Put one way: one in every $1,400 that householders hand over in bank fees now apparently goes to the Laws consultancy. Put another way: some 10,000 Australian bank customers now pay their fees to the Laws organisation rather than to assist the running of the banks."


HT: Crikey


What's cheaper? Milk and chocolate.

If you've felt more change in your pocket after going down to the shop to buy a bottle of milk, there's a good reason. The Melbourne price of milk is falling.

In March the Bureau of Statistics priced a two litre bottle at $3.68. By June it was $3.61. The Bureau cautions that the list of average prices it releases each quarter can be misleading where the quality or size of the product has changes, and that is what's happened in the case of chocolate.

But neither the quality nor the quantity of milk in two litre bottles has changed, and oddly the price of other dairy products such as butter and cheese has kept climbing.

The answer lies a good distance away from the supermarket in the federal Parliament...

Late last year it quietly abolished a special tax that has added 11 cents per litre to the price of every bottle sold since the start of the decade.

Called a "levy" rather than a tax when introduced by the former Prime Minister Howard, it only ever applied to the price of drinking or "pouring" milk and was designed to slowly raise the $2 billion paid to help dairy farmers adjust to deregulation.

By February this year it had reached the total and the legislation to remove it took effect.

But but Melbourne residents appear not to have got the full benefit. We're paying just 4 cents per litre less, whereas in Sydney they are saving 10 cents per litre and in Perth, 16 cents.

The Bureau finds that across a range of groceries Melbourne's prices are more expensive than those in other state capitals.

Melbourne has the most expensive bread, at $3.87 for an sliced white loaf compared to as little as $3.18 in the lowest-priced city Hobart.

Melbourne's meat gets the poll position as well with forequarter lamb chops and pork chops more expensive than any other state capital.

In the last six months Melbourne's price rises have been substantial but price cuts limited. Except for chocolate.

The "average" price the Bureau quotes for a large block of milk chocolate has slipped from $4.40 to $3.84.

The fine print in the speadsheets explains why. Until March the Bureau priced a 250 gram block. In June it priced 200 grams.

That's probably because Cadbury cut the size of its 250g block to 200g in April and cut the wholesale price of the block at the same time.

Consumers saw a packet that looked about as big (thanks to clever work with cardboard packaging) and paid less for it.

The Bureau isn't tricked when compiling the Consumer Price Index (it converts the prices into cents per gram) but chocolate lovers might well feel they are paying less, at least until they discover that they feel less full.

"It's a move towards responsible consumption," says Trish Hyde, chief executive of the Confectionery Manufacturers Association, pointing out that Nestle and Mars have also cut the sizes of their differently-sized bars.

"We are reverse-engineering our portion sizes in order to better align them with what it's responsible to eat."

Along with the end of the milk tax it's one of the few things holding grocery prices back.

The ups and downs of grocery shopping:

Price changes since December

Sugar, white 2kg
UP: $2.33 to $2.44
Baked Beans, 240g
UP: $1.47 to $1.52
Margarine, 500g
UP: $3.05 to $3.24
Coffee, instant 150g
UP: $7.71 to $7.80
Soap, two bars
UP: $3.99 to $4.35

Milk, 2 litre
DOWN: $3.69 to $3.61
Chocolate, block
DOWN: $4.20 to $3.84
Flour, 2kg
DOWN: $3.29 to $3.27 **
Chicken, 1kg
DOWN: $5.53 to $5.50
Detergent, 450ml
DOWN: $3.95 to $3.54

Melbourne prices, ABS 6403.0.55.001

Published in today's SMH and Age

A consumer's report:

Hi Peter,

As discussed earlier this afternoon, please find a response from Cadbury. Also attached is the media release from April in which we announced the weight and wholesale price reduction of our moulded chocolate block range. Our moulded chocolate block range is the largest part of our business.

Chocolate Blocks - April Wholesale Price Reduction

The changes we have made to size and weight of the Cadbury Dairy Milk milk chocolate have been driven by one simple reason – consumer value.

We have found that consumers, particularly in the current economic climate, are looking for great value when purchasing chocolate.

Over a number of years, we have seen the price of our blocks creep up due to a range of factors [ingredient costs, labour costs, inflation etc] and this has meant that Cadbury Dairy Milk milk chocolate blocks had become out of reach for many consumers.

In particular, the cost of raw commodities such as cocoa and sugar has been increasing significantly. Cocoa has doubled in price over the last two years and for some time we have been absorbing these commodity cost increases.

Whilst we know people love the previous block sizes, keeping our blocks at those sizes was not a viable way to provide consumers with affordable Cadbury chocolate whilst managing the skyrocketing costs of cocoa and sugar.

In April this year, we reduced the weight and the wholesale price of our chocolate blocks (150g to 100g, 250g to 200g and 400g to 350g). We did this to enable retailers to price our blocks more competitively within a highly competitive market. In the overwhelming majority of cases, retailers have reduced the full recommended retail price accordingly.

It is important to note that as a manufacturer, by law, Cadbury does not set the retail price consumer pay in the shop. This is done by the retailer where they purchase the product.

Pre – April Wholesale Price Reduction

In September last year we reduced the weight and wholesale price of a number of our sharepacks (multi bags of Freddo, Crunchie, etc). We have not reduced the weight or wholesale price of other products between this time and when we reduced the wholesale price of our moulded chocolate block range in April this year.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Expect to pay an extra $300 per month on your mortgage

The Australian dollar has soared and financial markets have begun pricing in big interest rate hikes on the back of a declaration by the Reserve Bank Governor that he will soon have to push up rates and that he might do so without waiting for unemployment to stop climbing.

The Bank is thought to have never before pushed up interest rates while unemployment was rising.

But Governor Glenn Stevens told a business audience in Sydney he didn't regard himself bound by such a convention.

"I have never heard nor I have never seen written down a rule of thumb that says we wait until unemployment has peaked before we lift the cash rate," he said.

"It depends what else is happening...

...and also depends how low we went."

"We eased very aggressively which was the right thing to do. Hopefully we'll return to normal in a suitably timely way," he said, adding the economy was recovering sooner than he had expected.

Financial markets immediately priced in an even-money chance of a rate hike by Christmas with futures trading suggesting the cash rate will jump 0.15 percentage points higher by December and 1.50 to 2.00 points throughout next year.

Such a jump would push standard variable mortgage rates back up above 7 per cent and add $300 to the monthly cost of servicing a $300,000 loan.

"Households can afford it," said Macquarie Bank strategist Rory Robertson. "None of them would have taken out a loan expecting these historically low rates to last."

The Australian dollar jumped half a cent on the news, soaring to 83.2 US cents, its highest point for the year and also its highest point since the onset of the financial crisis in September. The share market soared for the eleventh consecutive day.

Some banks remained skeptical about an early move with the ANZ labeling a rate so soon after a downturn "unprecedented and unlikely".

"Any recovery will remain tentative until unemployment stops rising," said economist Riki Polygenis. "And inflation is falling, so there's no inflationary justification for a hike."

Governor Stevens said he had sensed a "tangible improvement in the general sense of Australia's outlook," and that far from being severe, the present downturn might turn out to be "not one of the deeper ones of the post-war period".

"We cannot claim to have avoided any downturn at all, but positive factors have so far outweighed their fears of unemployment," he said. "Housing loan approvals are up by about a third, and house prices are actually tending to rise, with arrears rates remaining very low and in some cases actually falling."

Referring to interest rates Mr Stevens said that in Australia and in other countries it would soon be necessary for authorities such as the Reserve Bank to "remove the exceptional accomodation being supplied at present."

"I am not saying when that is, but in due course that will be required," he said.

"Getting the timing right won't be easy."

The speech was notable for making no reference to the possibility of a further interest rate cut, something that has been canvassed in the formal minutes of each of the last 3 Reserve Bank board meetings.

Mr Stevens said higher interest rates would be needed in to reign in inflationary expectations as the economy recovered and also to ensure strong demand for housing was "translated into more dwellings, not just higher prices."

"This ought to be the time when we can add to the dwelling stock without a major run-up in prices. If we fail to do that – if all we end up with is higher prices and not many more dwellings – then it will be very disappointing, indeed quite disturbing," he said.

"Not only would it confirm that there are serious impediments to producing one of the things that previous generations of Australians have taken for granted, namely affordable shelter, it would also pose elevated risks of problems of over-leverage and asset price deflation down the track."

The Governor also said he thought it would soon be time for Australia's banks to wean themselves off the government guarantee and "borrow in their own right, getting back to a world where private risk is appropriatly priced".

Published in today's SMH and Age

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

See that crane on the skyline?

Private-sector infrastructure development has as good as stopped, with all but 14 of the new projects announced in the past three months government-funded - the lowest number of new private projects on record.

Access Economics has revealed the number in its latest quarterly Investment Monitor. It says that when the existing private developments finish there will be hardly any to replace them.

Only 2 of the 14 new private projects are in NSW; a new brewery being built by Bluetounge at Wanervale on the central coast for $120 million employing 250 workers and a new global headquarters for Cochlear being built by Watpac Constructions at Macquarie University for $80 million announced in June.

"That's all there is...

Without public sector projects the pipeline would dry up," says Access Economics Director David Rumbens.

Access has identified 6 new government projects in NSW, most funded by the Roads and Traffic Authority and the State Rail Authority including the $4.9 billion planned rail link between Rozelle and Central.

Projects still underway include the $1.9 billion desalination plant being constructed at Kurnell due to be completed by the end of the year, the $1.5 billion Hunter Expressway between the F3 and Branxton Highway which will finish in 2013.

Projects that remain in planning include a $2.2 billion 600-turbine wind farm near Broken Hill and a $900 million revamp of the Opera House.

Building in Sydney's CDB is set to grind to a halt, with no new commercial or office buildings planned.

"The only construction underway in either the Sydney CBD or the Melbourne CBD right now is work that was approved before the crisis," said Mr Rumbens.

"There is no longer much for office space, and finance is harder to get."

"The Prime Minister is right. Even after economic growth returns, investment and employment will continue to shrink."

Access expects a further 40,000 construction workers to lose their jobs nationwide over the next two years.

Australia's construction workforce has slipped from just over 1 million to 949,000 in just six months. Access expects a further fall to 907,000 by 2011.

"Some of the workers on commercial sites will find employment building houses as residential work pick up, but many don't have transferable skills," Mr Rumbens said.

Access says there are now $7 billion more projects on the books than three months ago, almost all of the new ones government funded. But there are still $12 billion less than a year before.

What's new

Public projects lead the way in NSW

NSW Railcorp: $320 million new railcars PUBLIC
NSW RTA: $140 million F5 widening PUBLIC
NSW RTA: $101 Astonville bypass PUBLIC
State Rail Authority: $6.5 billion Rozelle to Central PUBLIC
Hunter Water: $43 million recylcing plant PUBLIC
Bluetongue: $120 million Warnevale brewery PRIVATE
Cochlear: $80 million global headquarters PRIVATE

Public projects lead the way in Victoria

VicRoads: $750 million Peninsula Link PUBLIC
Vic Rail Track: $609 million new metropolitan trains PUBLIC
Vic Rail Track: $559 million South Morang extension PUBLIC
Vic Rail Track: $194 million Sunbury electrification PUBLIC
Vic Infrastructure: $140 million Southbank redevelopment PUBLIC
VicRoads: $74 million Dingley Arterial PUBLIC
VicRoads: $48 million Smartbus route extension PUBLIC
Vic Rail Track: $194 million Sunbury electrification PUBLIC
Institute of Architects: $35 million headquarters revamp PRIVATE

New projects since March
Access Economics Investment Monitor, June quarter

Published in today's SMH and Age

Graphic: Skylinetcs


Monday, July 27, 2009

How is it that some propositions become accepted as true...

...even if they're not.

And how is it that evidence to the contrary gets buried?

It's all in this chart →

Here's the fascinating paper from the British Medical Journal that uses a citations network to examine the question:

How citation distortions create unfounded authority

Steven A Greenberg, Harvard Medical School

To understand belief in a specific scientific
claim by studying the pattern of citations among papers
stating it.

A complete citation network was constructed from
all PubMed indexed English literature papers addressing
[a belief]. Social network theory and graph theory were used to
analyse this network.

Unfounded authority was established
by citation bias against papers that refuted or weakened
the belief; amplification, the marked expansion of the
belief system by papers presenting no data addressing it;
and forms of invention such as the conversion of
hypothesis into fact through citation alone...

The same sort of thing doubtless happens in journalism as well as in academic citation, and has probably happened through time immemorial in gossip.

Econophysists study this sort of thing. We need their insights, and others.

HT: Julie

Why was Cronkite trusted?

Probably not for the reasons many of us suggested

"If he was the most trusted man in America, it wasn’t because he was a nice guy with an authoritative voice and a lived-in face. It wasn’t because he “loved a good story” or that he removed his glasses when a president died. It was because at a time of epic corruption in the most powerful precincts in Washington, Cronkite was not at the salons and not in the tank."

It's in the New York Times.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The best newspaper correction ever

Note the date: New York Times, July 17 1969

HT: Regret the Error, via Mark Colvin

Friday, July 24, 2009

The earth at night... a blaze of light

Well, in Japan, Western Europe and the eastern United States it is.

But not in many other places.

Click to see a really big version of the earth at night from space:

And wonder... about the needless electricity some of us use, and many more of us can't. And much more besides.

On looking at this my 5 year old son told me that he is going to go to the moon.

He could well.

The full set of NASA night shots are here - some of the files are very detailed and very big.

HT: Charter Cities Blog

That recession forecast, withdraw it

Westpac has recanted. Until yesterday the bank's forecasting arm was officially among Australia's most pessimistic, predicting 3 successive quarters of negative economic growth this year - a recession by any definition.

It's now revised away all but one of those negative quarters, expecting just a single contraction in the three months to September, surrounded and overshadowned by positive growth throughout the rest of the year.

"Exports are turning things around, but also confidence," chief economist Bill Evans explains...

"Our exports surged a surprising 2.7 per cent in the March quarter. We are expecting an extra 1 per cent in the June quarter - enough to turn our GDP forecast from negative to positive."

"Beyond that its confidence, and it's something of a circular story. Consumer confidence surged because we avoided a recession earlier this year. We know that surging consumer confidence lifts purchases of non-essential goods. So we've changed our forecast of flat consumer spending in the second half of this year to growth."

"There's no doubt incomes are down, we are working in fewer jobs for fewer hours. But we've salted away a lot of savings we can draw on, especially those of us who kept making mortgage payments at the old rate."

"The first stimulus package didn't boost confidence, but the second own did, along with news that we weren't in recession."

"When things turn down households at first fear for their jobs and cut back on spending, but after a year in which most haven't lost their jobs they start to say: it looks like I'm okay, and by the way I've got lower interest rates, some money from the government, some money saved and a job."

Mr Evans says improving property prices are the bedrock to the the growing confidence, and they are now spreading well beyond the cheaper suburbs whose prices were initially lifted boosted by the first home owners boost.

"Businesses will respond to to the extra spending by hanging on to staff and persevering with investment plans they would otherwise have cut."

"There will probably be continuing problems with the world financial system, but that's now a second-order story, it shouldn't dent confidence."

Only two things temper Westpac's new optimism. Mr Evans says the recovery should be "slow and measured," unlike the previous boom, and interest rates won't fall any further. Until this week Westpac had been expecting a series of further cuts from the Reserve Bank to take the cash rate down from 3 per cent to 2 per cent. Now the chief economist says there will be none.

"Nah, not a chance," he says.

Published in today's SMH

Westpac Forecasts June

Westpac Forecasts July

UPDATE: As Bill Evans tells it, this afternoon
Evans July 24


Stealing intellectual property is worse than stealing physical property?

"It's more serious to illegally download a compact disc than it is to walk into a store and steal one"

What's the most serious crime you can think of? It's 'murder' according to the Bureau of Statistics, which puts it at number 1 of a new list of 154 crimes ranked in order of "perceived seriousness".

That's higher than did the Ten Commandments which placed it in the middle of the pack, below not honouring God or respecting parents.

The Bureau has drawn up the list to assist it in categorising offenders found guilty of multiple crimes. Where for instance one offence involves both blackmail and assault, it needs to know which is the most serious in order to list the "principal offence".

Released for the first time to the public as a stand-along publication the National Offence Index provides an unintentional guide to modern morals.

"Procuring or committing an illegal abortion" ranks at number 43, one above "property damage by fire or explosion"...

"Theft of intellectual property" comes in at 73, one above actual physical theft from a retail premises, suggesting that its more serious to illegally download a compact disc than it is to walk into a store and steal one.

The Bureau has been guided by the severity of sentences handed down by courts and also by "consultation with practitioner and advisory groups".

The advisors and courts apparently regard "graffiti" as more serious than air pollution and a good deal more serious than vilifying of inciting racial hatred."

Prostitution ranks fairly low on the scale at 136, just above resisting arrest and driving without a license, and below trespass and the use of offensive language.

The use of illicit drugs also ranks low at number 125, but the import, export, manufacture and selling of those drugs ranks highly at numbers 14 through to 22.

Two offences in the top ten are new entrants. Sexual servitude and child pornography weren't in the list when it was first produced in 2002. Other new entrants include "stalking" at number 31 and forgery of documents at number 61.

Offences that appear to have become more serious since the start of the decade include driving under ht influence of alcohol, up from number 89 to 37, and negligent acts "endangering persons," up from 91 to 39.

Pedestrian and traffic offences remain the least serious, joined by public order offences and consuming "legal substances in regulated spaces".

The ABS says list has no legal standing in its own right and will be used to prepare its crime and justice publications.

Published in today's SMH and Age


The Hottest 154

1 Murder
2 Attempted murder
3 Manslaughter
4 Driving causing death
5 Manslaughter and driving causing death, n.f.d
6 Homicide and related offences, n.f.d
7 Aggravated sexual assault
8 Non-assaultive sexual offences against a child
9 Sexual servitude offences
10 Child pornography offences
11 Non-aggravated sexual assault
12 Non-assaultive sexual offences, n.e.c
13 Sexual assault and related offences, n.f.d
14 Import illicit drugs
15 Export illicit drugs
16 Import or export illicit drugs, n.f.d
17 Deal or traffic in illicit drugs - commercial quantity
18 Manufacture illicit drugs
19 Cultivate illicit drugs
20 Manufacture or cultivate illicit drugs, n.f.d
21 Deal or traffic in illicit drugs - non-commercial quantity
22 Deal or traffic in illicit drugs, n.f.d
23 Serious assault resulting in injury
24 Abduction and kidnapping
25 Aggravated robbery
26 Deprivation of liberty/false imprisonment
27 Serious assault not resulting in injury
28 Common assault
29 Assault, n.f.d
30 Other acts intended to cause injury, n.e.c
31 Stalking
32 Other acts intended to cause injury, n.f.d
33 Acts intended to cause injury, n.f.d
34 Neglect or ill-treatment of persons under care
35 Other dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons, n.e.c
36 Other dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons, n.f.d
37 Drive under the influence of alcohol or other substance
38 Dangerous or negligent operation (driving) of a vehicle
39 Dangerous or negligent acts endangering persons, n.f.d
40 Non-aggravated robbery
41 Blackmail and extortion
42 Threatening behaviour
43 Procure or commit illegal abortion
44 Property damage by fire or explosion
45 Offences against government security n.e.c
46 Import or export prohibited weapons/explosives
47 Sell, possess and/or use prohibited weapons/explosives
48 Prohibited weapons/explosives offences, n.e.c
49 Prohibited weapons/explosives offences, n.f.d
50 Unlawfully obtain or possess regulated weapons/explosives
51 Misuse of regulated weapons/explosives
52 Deal or traffic regulated weapons/explosives offences
53 Regulated weapons/explosives offences, n.e.c
54 Regulated weapons/explosives offences, n.f.d
55 Prohibited and regulated weapons and explosives offences, n.f.d
56 Counterfeiting of currency
57 Bribery involving government officials
58 Subvert the course of justice
59 Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter
60 Obtain benefit by deception
61 Forgery of documents
62 Possess equipment to make false / illegal instrument
63 Fraudulent trade practices
64 Dishonest conversion
65 Misrepresentation of professional status
66 Other fraud and deception offences, n.e.c
67 Illegal non-fraudulent trade practices
68 Theft of a motor vehicle
69 Illegal use of a motor vehicle
70 Theft from a person (excluding by force)
71 Theft of motor vehicle parts or contents
72 Motor vehicle theft and related offences, n.f.d
73 Theft of intellectual property
74 Theft from retail premises
75 Theft (except motor vehicles), n.e.c
76 Theft (except motor vehicles), n.f.d
77 Receive or handle proceeds of crime
78 Illegal use of property (except motor vehicles)
79 Commercial/industry/financial regulation
80 Import/export regulations
81 Offences against privacy
82 Harassment and private nuisance
83 Exceed the prescribed content of alcohol or other substance limit
84 Graffiti
85 Property damage, n.e.c.
86 Air pollution offences
87 Water pollution offences
88 Soil pollution offences
89 Noise pollution offences
90 Environmental pollution, n.e.c.
91 Environmental pollution, n.f.d
92 Sanitation offences
93 Disease prevention offences
94 Occupational health and safety offences
95 Transport regulation offences
96 Dangerous substances offences
97 Licit drug offences
98 Public health and safety offences, n.e.c.
99 Public health and safety offences, n.f.d
100 Environmental regulation offences
101 Immigration offences
102 Quarantine offences
103 Offences against justice procedures, n.e.c.
104 Offences against government operations, n.e.c.
105 Escape custody offences
106 Breach of home detention
107 Breach of suspended sentence
108 Breach of custodial order offences, n.f.d
109 Breach of parole
110 Breach of community service order
111 Breach of bond - probation
112 Breach of bail
113 Breach of violence order
114 Breach of bond - other
115 Breach of community based order, n.e.c.
116 Breach of community based order, n.f.d
117 Prison regulation offences
118 Bribery (excluding government officials)
119 Breach of non-violence orders
120 Defamation and libel
121 Censorship offences
122 Vilify or incite hatred on racial, cultural or ethnic grounds
123 Cruelty to animals
124 Possess illicit drugs
125 Use illicit drugs
126 Possess and/or use illicit drugs, n.f.d
127 Other illicit drug offences, n.e.c
128 Riot and affray
129 Trespass
130 Offensive language
131 Offensive behaviour
132 Criminal intent
133 Disorderly conduct, n.e.c
134 Betting and gambling offences
135 Liquor and tobacco offences
136 Prostitution offences
137 Offences against public order sexual standards
138 Resist or hinder police officer or justice official
139 Resist or hinder government officer concerned with government security
140 Resist or hinder government official (excluding police officer, justice official or government security officer)
141 Drive while licence disqualified or suspended
142 Drive without a licence
143 Driver licence offences, n.e.c.
144 Driver licence offences, n.f.d
145 Registration offences
146 Roadworthiness offences
147 Vehicle registration and roadworthiness offences, n.f.d
148 Exceed the legal speed limit
149 Parking offences
150 Regulatory driving offences, n.e.c.
151 Consumption of legal substances in regulated spaces
152 Regulated public order offences, n.e.c
153 Pedestrian offences
154 Traffic and vehicle regulatory offences, n.f.d

1234.0.55.001 - National Offence Index, 2009


Thursday, July 23, 2009

What about Australia's inflation monster then?

Australia's inflation rate has collapsed from 5 per cent to just 1.5 per cent in less than a year - the most dramatic slide on record.

But far from celebrating felling what he had dubbed the "inflation genie" and what his prime minister called the "inflation monster," Treasurer Wayne Swan sees it as a sign of weakness, of an economy under siege.

"It's a reminder of the impact of the global recession," he told a press conference yesterday, adding that he expects unemployment to rise both this year and the next.

Mr Swan's advisors in the Treasury are understood to be considerably more negative about Australia's economy than is the Reserve Bank which Tuesday forecast a recovery as soon as this year...

Sharp falls in the prices of men's underwear, fruit, vegetables, milk and bank charges helped offset big increases in the prices of women's underwear, hospital services, real estate and petrol according to the Bureau of Statistics.

The underwear standoff was extreme. Whereas the prices of outergarments were little changed in the June quarter, in Melbourne the prices of mens underwear, nightwear and socks plummeted 9 per cent while the prices of women's underwear, nightwear and hosiery soared 7 per cent. The Bureau reported the same pattern in other cities.

It might be a result of the so-called "lipstick effect" in which women are said to spend more on cosmetics in depressed times as they reportedly did in the United States after the September 2001 terrorist attacks . No such effect has been identified for men.

The price of "personal care" items including cosmetics jumped strongly in the June quarter, climbing 1.2 per cent, three times Sydney's overall price increase 0.4 per cent.

Beer, another purchase said to be recession-proof, jumped in price 1.6 per cent.

A 10 per cent slide in the price of fruit and vegetables weighed down on inflation as a did an apparent narrowing in the interest rate margins and fees charged by finanical institions. The price of "deposit and loan fascilities" slid a further 4 per cent in the June quarter on top of a 14 per cent slide in the March quarter. The price of overseas holidays slid a further 3 per cent on top of a slide of 4 per cent the previous quarter.

Working in the other direction was a 4 per cent increase in the Sydney price of petrol, clawing back some of the 25 per cent slide over the previous six months. Sydney housing prices rebounded 1 per cent. Rents climbed a further 1.5 per cent.

Coalition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said that although the hadline rate of inflation had fallen to its lowest level in a decade the Reserve Bank's measure of "unerlying inflation" remained uncomfortably high at 3.9 per cent for the year and up 0.8 per cent for the quarter.

"This suggests inflation is still a challenge," he said.

"There is no room for the government to provide additional stimulus, let alone to continue with the waste and mismanagement in the stimulus program that it already has."

"The fact is our economy continues to perform well. The government should not overheat it."

Mr Swan were it not for the stimulus measures "many more people, many more Australian families would be without a bread winner".

"Even if the worst of the global disruption is over, we are going to have live with the consequences for some time," he added.

The skilled vacancy index compiled by the Department of Employment fell a further 1.7 per cent in July, sliding 3 per cent in NSW to be down 66 per cent over the year.

The Department found just 208 skilled jobs advertised in July, down from more than 600 a year earlier.

Published in today's SMH and Age

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

No more rate cuts

"Unless the world blows up"

Hopes of a further Reserve Bank interest rate cut are receding quickly after the release of board minutes pointing to an economic recovery as soon as this year.

The minutes for the Bank's July board meeting held two weeks ago point to an economy "more resilient than expected" with exports "remarkably strong" and some mining companies and ports "operating close to capacity."

The Bank credits a pick up in China with the turnaround as well as the government's fiscal stimulus programs and its own dramatic cuts in interest rates which have more than halved variable mortgage payments in less than a year.

It says retail sales are 7 per cent above their pre-crisis levels, "considerably stronger than in comparable countries," and that both consumer and business confidence is lifting...

"Housing loan approvals have recorded a strong increase, and house prices are again picking up, with the rises becoming more widespread. The outlook is for a gradual recovery to begin later in the year, and downside risks to that have diminished."

The Bank tempers its optimism only by saying that the jobs market is likely to remain soft for some time, but even there points to signs that employers are "making efforts to minimise job shedding."

While holding open the possibility of a further interest rate cut "if needed," the minutes indicate that the Bank would be surprised if it was, noting that the full effects of its previous cuts will be "coming through for some time".

"I don’t think they have any intention of cutting again," said ICAP Securities economist Adam Carr on reading the minutes, "unless the world blows up".

"I mean seriously, it must be a furphy given everything they’ve said about growth. We've past the worst, there can be little doubt about that. Their own growth expectations imply it and rule out another cut."

"We believe the Bank’s easing cycle is over," said JP Morgan economist Helen Kevans. Given the unprecedented policy stimulus in place, Reserve Bank officials, will not wait for the unemployment rate to peak before starting to take it back."

The Bank's forecast of an economic recovery this year is a big advance on the official Budget forecast of a recovery in 2010-11.

The difference is most likely to reflect an improved economic outlook since May rather than a disagreement with the Treasury. It points to a lower than expected budget deficit and a slower run up in government debt as revenues from improved company profits kick in earlier.

The Coalition seized on the improved outlook to demand that the government reigned in its planned spending.

"Please Prime Minister start pulling back on the borrowed spending, said Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey. "We might have seen the worst of the global financial crisis. But Australians are going to pay a massive bill for the massive government expenditure well into the future."

Treasurer Wayne Swan said the worst of the global recession might have passed but that Australia would "live the consequences for some time to come".

"That's why we need to keep in place stimulus to support business and keep customers coming through the door. To withdraw now would be a recipe for higher unemployment."

Published in today's SMH and Age

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A second Apollo 11 Anniversary

It's the real one today, in a few minutes actually. I jumped the gun yesterday.

My colleague Brendan Nicholson and I are amazed that it could ever have happened - far more amazed than we were at the time.

I guess it was normalised back then, at least to primary school children.

Another observation, something Jacob Vigdor said when he spoke to the ANU about computers in education the other day:

Now, the policy goal is no child left behind. We evaluate learning tools by how much they lift poorly-performing students out of illiteracy and innumeracy.

Then, during the space race, the policy goal was extreme excellence - getting the top kids further ahead, espcially in physics and maths. We evaluated learning tools by the extent to which they succeeded in leaving the performing-performing students behind.

And now for the best summation:

Tom Wolfe - author of The Right Stuff, which I heartily recommend as a movie.

Read this, if you read nothing else about that day 40 years ago:

One Giant Leap to Nowhere


WELL, let’s see now ... That was a small step for Neil Armstrong, a giant leap for mankind and a real knee in the groin for NASA.

The American space program, the greatest, grandest, most Promethean — O.K. if I add “godlike”? — quest in the history of the world, died in infancy at 10:56 p.m. New York time on July 20, 1969, the moment the foot of Apollo 11’s Commander Armstrong touched the surface of the Moon.

It was no ordinary dead-and-be-done-with-it death. It was full-blown purgatory, purgatory being the holding pen for recently deceased but still restless souls awaiting judgment by a Higher Authority.

Like many another youngster at that time, or maybe retro-youngster in my case, I was fascinated by the astronauts after Apollo 11. I even dared to dream of writing a book about them someday. If anyone had told me in July 1969 that the sound of Neil Armstrong’s small step plus mankind’s big one was the shuffle of pallbearers at graveside, I would have averted my eyes and shaken my head in pity. Poor guy’s bucket’s got a hole in it...

Continued in the NYT

HT: Mark Colvin

The GST carve up recarved

Premier John Brumby has promised to fight a proposed change in the carve up of GST revenue set to cost Victoria hundreds of millions each year.

The proposed change to the break up of the $40 billion GST pool would give extra money to the growth states of Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory to compensate them for the cost of building the schools, roads, hospitals and police stations needed to service their growing populations.

Until now they have been eligible only for a subsidy for the cost of repaying loans taken out to build such infrastructure.

The Grant's Commission's draft report says states predominantly use GST money rather than borrowing fund infrastructure and that a change that recognised this would allow them to build infrastructure "when the need arises"...

Western Australia's Treasurer Troy Buswell has applauded the report saying his state has been "propping up states such as New South Wales and Victoria for too long".

"We have a very high level of population growth and pressures on us to provide the funding that drives that economic activity," he said.

Premier Brumby disputed that assessment yesterday saying Victorians already got back only 92.7 cents in each GST dollar they paid and "would not want to see that get any worse''.

"Queensland and Western Australia ought to be paying their way,'' he told
reporters in Melbourne.

"They have been the beneficiaries of a huge growth in the royalty income that came through the resources boom, and we wouldn't want to see their position further improved at the expense of Victoria.''

If Victorians lost an extra once cent out of each dollar in GST revenue they handed over the Victorian budget would be down $131 million.

Tax experts contacted by The Age say the exact loss to Victoria is hard to quantify, as the draft Grants Commission recommendation is only general in nature.

Another proposed change would have the GST formula reviewed every four years instead of every five and had the potential to benefit Victoria.

The Commission will issue a final report on the proposed formula in February, but indicates in its draft report that it unlikely to alter its its thinking about infrastructure funding, saying the change reflects "a more comprehensive approach to equalisation."

The change would come into force from mid next year.

Published in today's SMH

Graphic: How to Carve a Turkey


Access: It'll be better we'd thought...

Australia is set to emerge from its downturn a year earlier than forecast, with far fewer people thrown out of work.

The latest Access Economics forecasts have the Australian economy growing this financial year in contrast to the Treasury's Budget forecast which has it shrinking.

"Things are better than either us or the Treasury expected," said Access director Chris Richardson. "Our economic stimulus programs have worked better, and China's stimulus programs are helping us more."

Access now expects unemployment to peak at 7.5 per cent, a full one percentage point below the Budget forecast of 8.5 per cent.

But the Access forecast still implies an extra 200,000 Australians joining the unemployment queue over the next two years, almost half of them from Victoria...

"We have avoided the worst the world had to throw at us," said Mr Richardson. "But that doesn't mean things won't get worse. Retail spending is at a record high thanks to government handouts, but their effect will fade and spending will flatline as unemployment climbs."

"Businesses will wind back spending as around $50 billion stripped from coal and iron ore earnings begins to hit profits."

While not endorsing the Access forecast the Access forecast Treasurer Wayne Swan welcomed the acknowledgement that the stimulus package was helping, agreeing that Australia still faced "strong global headwinds and some major challenges, particularly rising unemployment, as well as very large falls in business investment and the terms of trade, stripping billions from our national income."

"These huge challenges simply steel the Government's resolve to implement our three stages of economic stimulus to keep supporting businesses and jobs," Mr Swan said.

Access has Australia skirting a so-called "technical recession" with GDP slipping 0.2 per cent in the June quarter and staying steady in the September quarter before improving.

"It means the worst of the growth slowdown is behind us, but the worst of unemployment is still to come," said Mr Richardson.

The Access forecast has the Australian economy growing 0.4 per cent this financial year, whereas the Treasury's Budget forecast has it shrinking 0.5 per cent. Both Access and the Treasury expect a strong recovery next year of more than 2 per cent with Access expecting an even stronger bounce-back in Victoria of 3.3 per cent.

"Victoria isn't burdened by the size of its finance sector the way NSW is," said Mr Richardson. "And it's already suffered big job losses in manufacturing."

While Victoria's relative reliance on manufacturing will continue to be a drag on growth it stands to benefit from exceptionately strong population growth.

"It going like a train, up almost 2 per cent in the past year alone. That's the fastest population growth rate since Jean Shrimpton scandalised Flemington Racecourse with her mini-skirt back in 1965."

"It's underpinning housing construction and it is helping to protect Victorian retailers."

"And, unlike NSW which was caught flat-footed in the race to justify stimulus funds, Victoria did well in the carve up of national stimulus funding."

An Essential Media poll conducted over the weekend found that 52 per cent of Australians believed economy had hit bottom and was on the way up, compared to 31 per cent who expect things to get worse.

Optimists outweighed pessimists among both Labor and Coalition voters with only Green voters overwhelmingly pessimistic.

Published in today's Age


NSW will be by far the worst performing Australian economy in the year ahead according to new forecasts which have it going backwards at a time when every other state and territory economy will move forwards.

The Access Economics forecasts have NSW gross state product shrinking 1.2 per cent during 2009-10 at a time when the Australian economy rebounds 0.4 per cent and the Victorian economy 0.5 per cent.

"It's Sydney's finance sector," says Access director Chris Richardson. "Normally a source of strength, it's on life support, joining NSW manufacturing, farming and tourism which is already there."

"As well NSW coal miners are starting to feel big income losses from lower prices and NSW is faring badly in the carve up of federal stimulus funds, getting less than its fair share."

"It's adding to pressures on Australia’s weakest link."

Access is expecting NSW unemployment to peak at 8 per cent in mid 2011, , well above its present 6.5 per cent, as another 96,000 NSW residents join the unemployed, roughly half the 200,000 extra Australians expected to find themselves out of work.

Australiawide Access expects unemployment to peak at 7.5 per cent, down on the Budget forecast of 8.5 per cent, but well up on the present 5.8 per cent.

"Our message is that Australia has dodged a bullet - we have escaped the worst the world had in store for us, but nevertheless things will get much worse before they get better," Mr Richardson said.

The Access forecasts are at odds with public opinion reflected in the latest Essential Media poll. Asked on the weekend whether the Australian economy was over the worst and starting to improve, 52 per cent said yes. Just 31 per cent expected things to get worse.

The Access forecasts have retail spending flatlining as the effects of the stimulus handouts wear off and unemployment climbs. Businesses will wind back spending as around $50 billion stripped from coal and iron ore earnings begins to hit profits.

Treasurer Wayne Swan welcomed an acknowledgement from Access that the stimulus package was helping, but said he agreed that Australia still faced "strong global headwinds and some major challenges, particularly rising unemployment, as well as very large falls in business investment and the terms of trade, stripping billions from our national income."

"These huge challenges simply steel the Government's resolve to implement our three stages of economic stimulus to keep supporting businesses and jobs," he said.

Access has Australia skirting a so-called "technical recession" with GDP slipping 0.2 per cent in the June quarter and growing not at all in the September quarter. "But in the real meaning of the term, we will be in recession," Mr Richardson said. "If the unemployment rate jumps by 2 or more percentage points, it's a recession."

Access expects a rebound in the NSW housing market, but mainly "because it couldn't get any worse". “Even with improving population growth, low interest rates, government handouts and chronic underbuilding, most of NSW’s leading indicators have only just started to bottom out," said Mr Richardson.

"Financing of new dwellings is usually the first indicator to turn and it's been far more buoyant. That suggests a rebound, even though builders might have to wait until 2010 to feel it."