Sunday, January 27, 2013

It's gone. No Coalition commitment to deliver a surplus within 12 months


Instead the Coalition will "get the budget back under control, cut waste and start reducing debt"

Much better.

Read all about it:

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Friday, January 25, 2013

My Australia Day message. Let's make it January 1

There's something forward-looking about January 1.

That may be why it was chosen as the date for the creation of Australia, from a number of previously separate states, in 1901.

(For a while it looked as if New Zealand was going to become part of Australia. Radiating out as spokes from State Circle in Canberra's heart and pointing to each state's capital are Sydney Avenue, Adelaide Avenue, etc. There's another, originally provisionally entitled Wellington Avenue, just in case. It was later renamed Canberra Avenue. For a while Western Australia was going to stay out - meaning we would have had to rename Perth Avenue.)

The point is that January 1 is when Australia was created. It is a day of which we can all feel proud.

January 26 represents different things to different people, some of them bad indeed. For people outside of NSW it represents very little. My home state of South Australia was created differently, on a different day.

Let's unite around the one day that can unite us.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What if the rest of Australia copied Queensland?

I referred to this graph on ABC 891 Adelaide today.

John Quiggin takes up the story:

"Reading Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls’ attempts to explain away the latest unemployment figures, showing Queensland pulling up the rate for the country as a whole, the question that springs immediately to mind is: Why bother? Wouldn’t he be better off with some Thatcherite “No pain, no gain” rhetoric, promising that the cuts his government has implemented will yield payoffs for all Queenslanders in the long run.

Other things being equal, sacking 14 000 people in a state with 2 million or so employed workers will raise the unemployment rate by around 0.7 per cent, which is exactly what has happened. Of course, as Nicholls points out, other things aren’t all equal. The mining boom has slowed a bit and commodity prices have come down from their recent peaks. But that only points out the dubious timing of these massive cuts. Under boom conditions, public sector workers would have more easily found new jobs.

Nicholls can, perhaps, take comfort that ‘second-round’ effects have yet to show up in the statistics. The nurses, social workers and firefighters his government has sacked have less money to spend on goods and services of all kinds. The tens of thousands who were threatened with the sack but ultimately spared would also be looking harder at discretionary spending. The effects of this may show up in retail employment over the course of 2013.

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You use a computer, you think you're safe...

Wednesday column

You sign up for a web service. You violate the terms and conditions. What’s the worst that could happen?

Aaron Swartz was 24. No saint, he hid a laptop and a hard drive in a cupboard at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, signed up to the journal storage service JSOTR, and began downloading.

Some five million journal articles later (there was apparently an allowable limit, but neither JSTOR nor the MIT enforced it) he was arrested and charged with computer fraud.

JSTOR didn’t want him charged. It felt he had merely broken a contract. It asked for the copies back and left it at that. Going further would be “like trying to put someone in jail for allegedly checking out too many books from the library,” was how one of his friends put it.

If Swartz had broken any other sort of contract, say one involving real estate or the purchase of a multi-million dollar corporation, the authorities couldn’t have touched him. Those sort of contracts, no matter how big, are settled between the parties, through litigation if necessary.

But in the United States contracts involving computing services are different. The US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act makes it a crime to violate a website’s terms of service where a sum of more than $5000 is involved. There doesn’t need to be a victim and it doesn’t need to complain.

The secret service took over the investigation, just as it had that of Bradley Manning who is charged with handing classified files to WikiLeaks, also in part under the disturbingly broad Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Boasting of its “aggressive stance in the investigation of computer intrusions” the service swept together enough charges to put the 24-year old in jail for a jaw-dropping 35 years (although six months or laughed out of court might have been more likely).

An Obama appointee, Attorney Carmen Ortiz grandstanded, issuing a press release declaring: “Stealing is stealing whether you use a computer command or a crowbar, and whether you take documents, data or dollars. It is equally harmful to the victim whether you sell what you have stolen or give it away.” Her office refused to plea-bargain unless Swartz pleaded guilty to every single charge.

On January 11, two years into his ordeal, Swartz killed himself... He was 26. At last week’s funeral his father said he was “pushed to his death by the government”.

An expert in computer protection who was to speak at the trial said if he had been asked whether what Swartz did was wrong he would have replied that it was “inconsiderate, in the same way it is inconsiderate to write a cheque at the supermarket while a dozen people queue up behind you or to check out every book at the library”.

I know a criminal hack when I see it,” he wrote. “Aaron’s downloading of journal articles from an unlocked closet is not an offense worth 35 years in jail.”

It looks as if the authorities wanted to make an example of Swartz. He was part of the successful fight against the punative Stop Online Piracy Act. At age 13 he helped design the RSS code that many of us use today to keep up to date with websites. He had previously distributed for free costly US court records and come to the attention of the FBI.

In extraordinary intervention shortly before his death JSTOR made a limited version of its service available to the public free worldwide. It may have been what Swartz was trying to achieve. In a tribute it described Swartz as “a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the internet and the web from which we all benefit”.

“The case is one that we ourselves had regretted being drawn into from the outset,” it confirmed. “Our mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge”.

In response Democratic congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has drafted ‘Aaron’s Law’, an amendment to the Computer Fraud Act that would specifically prevent violations to the terms and conditions of a web service being treated as crimes. But she’ll be up against as powerful forces as if she taken on the gun lobby.

They extend to Australia.

Early one morning in 2003 the Australian Federal Police raided the weatherboard house Hew Griffiths shared with his father on the NSW central coast and charged him with breaking a US law.

His crime had been to share illegally-downloaded software. He had never been to the United States. Like most Australians he had assumed he wasn’t subject to US law.

John Howard’s justice minister Chris Ellison refused to intervene (the government was negotiating the US-Australia free trade agreement at the time). Griffiths became the first foreign national anywhere to be forcibly taken to the United States to face copyright charges.

“Whether committed with a gun or a keyboard – theft is theft,” declared US attorney Chuck Rosenberg, hailing the precedent. “For those inclined to steal intellectual property here, or from halfway around the world, they are on notice that we can and will reach them.”

Facing ten years in prison, Griffiths pleaded guilty and served six months. He was well-treated. He told me later the US is “good at running prisons”. The three years he had spent in Sydney’s Silverwater Detention Centre fighting the extradition were much less pleasant.

Australia’s decision to surrender sovereignty over Griffiths took place as it made another. In order to get the free trade agreement through it agreed to make intellectual property part of Australia’s criminal as well as civil law. Our government (or the US government for that matter) is now free to prosecute an Australian for a breach of copyright and threaten a jail term whether or not the injured party minds. It can be pressed into taking action the injured party would otherwise have to take itself.

The US is pushing for even more in negotiations currently underway over the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

We should say no.

In today's Sydney Morning Herald and Age

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Bushfires. Good money after bad?

Australia spends too much money trying to prevent fires and, if it spent less, it could actually save more lives, according to a controversial study by a leading insurance researcher.

Conceding the findings for such a "sensitive" and emotive matter may upset some and anger others, Dr Brian Ashe says a rational analysis of the $12 billion in annual funding for fire prevention backs his case.

Dr Ashe works with the insurance industry funded Risk Frontiers centre at Macquarie University. He gained his doctorate studying the cost of fire.

Writing in the Australian National University journal Agenda he says the total cost of fires in Australia amounts to around $18 billion per year. But most of that cost is in safety measures and responding to fires. The cost of injury, lost lives and lost property amounts to only 9 per cent of the total - $1.7 billion.

Australia's fire fatality rate is “already low by international standards” at 0.6 deaths per 100,000 of population and has proved “resistant to increasing expenditure on fire management and protection”.

Dr Ashe surveyed 26 fire professionals and found none believed further spending would result in a net economic gain. All but four believed Australia would be better off if it spent less attempting to prevent fires....

“This is a very sensitive matter and really what we're looking to get is the best out
of our investment,” Dr Ashe told Fairfax Media. “We just have to be careful that we don’t put too many resources into one hazard.”

Dr Ashe said if $4.5 billion of the money spent on fire safety was returned to businesses and consumers as tax cuts instead health and nutrition would improve, saving lives. His modelling suggests such a tax cut would save between 90 and 225 lives per year, which coincidentally is close to the total number of lives lost to fire each year.

“When you take money out of the economy or out of people’s pockets there is an impact in terms of their health and safety,” Dr Ashe said. “I don’t know where the balance is, but I think it is a debate that needs to be had. You can’t keep throwing money at an issue, you need to be a bit more sophisticated about it.”

Microeconomist Stephen King agrees. Dean of the faculty of business and economics at Monash University Professor King says when politicians make decisions perceptions can be as important as realities.

“Political reality can mean government spending doesn’t satisfy what the economist would say were desirable rules to follow, or may follow information that’s maybe in the benefit of the politicians rather than the best expenditure if a longer term view was taken,” he said.

Dr Ashe believes the media’s coverage of fires fans perceptions of risk. A study he completed after the 2009 Victorian bushfires showed a jump in estimates of the risk of death from fire were exaggerated, something he blames on the reporting.

“What happens all the time is events like this occur, there’s demand for more resources and generally more resources are provided.”

Around 114 lives are lost each year from fire, 14 of them from bushfires.

Dr Ashe conceded more might be lost to fire if less was spent preventing fire, but he said the case wasn’t open and shut.

“Take the current fires and the losses, say recently in the northern NSW. I think there were 30 buildings lost. What about if we didn’t put any effort into trying to prevent that happening. Would we still lose 30 buildings or would we lose 60? I know it’s very difficult and I’ll probably be shot down for saying it, but these are the questions that need to be asked,” he said.

Nicholas Gruen, a former presiding commissioner at the Productivity Commission said he was uneasy applying cost-benefit techniques to fire prevention.

"Safety is value-based and takes as its object not just the minimisation of harm, but its elimination," he said. "It's like the Hippocratic Oath of doctors. If you ask the safety practitioners in most large private sector companies what their objectives are, they will say that any deaths are unacceptable – their target and their intended result is none at all. Economists should be careful thinking their idea of costs and benefits is such a deep insight."

A spokesperson from the Attorney General’s department responded by saying the government made “no apology for investing in the protection of lives and helping Australian communities prevent, prepare for and recover from disasters”.

With Marian Borges, in today's Sydney Morning Herald and Age

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Employment shrinking - it's the worst since the GFC.

See further down for details of a bogus claim by Abbott

Australia's jobs market is sliding with layoffs and unusually weak public service recruitment providing a sobering start ot the year.

New figures show employment growth of only 1 per cent in the twelve months to December, not enough to keep pace with population growth of 1.6 per cent.

The December figures pushed up the national unemployment rate from 5.3 to 5.4 per cent and sparked take of a further interest rate cut when the Reserve Bank board meets for the first time this year on February 5.

“2013 looks set to be yet another year of lacklustre jobs growth,” declared Westpac economist Justin Smirk. “On current trends unemployment will hit 5.75 per cent.”

The proportion of the population in work has slid from a peak of 62.5 per cent reached in late 2010 to just 61.5 per cent - the lowest point reached during the global financial crisis.

The Bureau of Statistics figures show Queensland acting as a drag on the rest of the nation, losing 8300 workers over the past year. In contrast NSW gained 56,400 and Victoria 36,300. Western Australia gained 59,400 workers.

Acting employment minister Kate Ellis seized on the Queensland figures saying had it not lost jobs the national unemployment rate would have fallen to 5.2 per cent.

“Since it was elected, the Newman government in Queensland has presided over 65 job losses each and every day, an increase in the unemployment rate and a decline in workforce participation as some Queenslanders have simply given up... In contrast since the federal government came to office we have created more than 800,000 jobs.”

The “break-even” point at which employment growth stops the unemployment rate from climbing is around 13,000 per month. The latest trend figures show employment growing at only half that pace, 7000 per month.

The grim news helped pushed the Australian share market to its highest point in one and a half years as growing expectations of an interest rate cut sparked buying of banking stocks. The ASX200 climbed 18 points to 4757.

Futures market pricing pushed up the implied probability of an interest rate cut next month from 37 to 41 per cent.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott drew a link between the weak job figures are the government’s decision to abandon its promise of a budget surplus, announced on December 20.

“It is no wonder that jobs growth is weak, that unemployment is trending up, when you have got a government which simply cannot deliver when it comes to budget management. On no fewer than 200 separate occasions the prime minister and the treasurer have promised a budget surplus. It is not going to happen,” he said.

But the link is unlikely. The labour market survey took place between December 9 and 22 and asked about employment experience in the preceding week.

Separately released ABS figures show public sector vacancies have slid 30 per cent over the past year. The total number of vacant jobs in Canberra has fallen to 800, the lowest in 14 years.

In making its decision in interest rates the Reserve Bank will also take into account the latest update on inflation, due next Wednesday.

In today's Canberra Times, Sydney Morning Herald and Age

Recommended reading

. The work of Newman - Greg Jerrico

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

What about the sovereign risk? Er....

Play with the slider:

Months after the mining tax, the carbon tax and Labor’s fourth successive budget deficit Australia has been rewarded with an upgrade by the world’s biggest fund manager.

Blackrock is one of the world’s most important buyers of governments bonds, investing $US3.7 trillion worldwide. It says Australia’s carbon tax and the mining tax have had at most a “marginal” impact on perceptions of country risk. More important has been the government’s success in shrinking its budget deficit.

Its new sovereign risk update ranks Australian government bonds as the world’s seventh least risky, up from the tenth least risky three months ago. No other nation has jumped three places in the latest survey.

The finding is at odds with a claim by the Coalition's Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey in August that Labor was “adversely impacting Australia’s sovereign risk profile”.

BlackRock’s Australian head of fixed income Steve Miller said Australia’s position was “exceedingly strong” and strengthening.

“The plain fact is, compared to the rest of the world - and this is what we are doing - Australia's public debt position is very, very strong. Whether you are looking at budget balance or public debt to gross domestic product, whichever way we look at it Australia comes out exceedingly strong.”

The new Blackrock survey rates the governments of Norway, Singapore, Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Canada, Australia, Taiwan, Germany and Chile as the ten safest to lend to.

The United States is in the next ten along with New Zealand and China, which have each moved up two places.

At the bottom in positions 40 to 48 are Spain, Argentina, Ireland, Italy, Venezuela, Egypt, Portugal and Greece. Japan and South Africa have each slid two places to 35 and 36.

“All other things being equal this and the things that brought it about will put further downward pressure on bond yields,” said Mr Miller referring to interest rate Australia needs to pay to borrow money. Mr Miller said it would also make it easier for Australian state governments to borrow money...

The Blackrock calculation accords with those of the world’s top three credit ratings agencies which have given Australia their highest AAA rating. But it is a more recent calculation and the improvement reflects recent developments.

“The impact of the mining tax and the carbon tax would be marginal,” said Mr Miller. “We look at ability to pay and willingness to pay. Australia’s budget position has improved. It has never defaulted. It has low debt by international standards.”

The Blackrock calculations were finalised before Treasurer Wayne Swan disowned his promise of budget surplus on December 20. Mr Miller said the new position made little difference.

“I don't think bond markets would be that rankled by the difference between a surplus of 0.1 pc of GDP or a deficit of 0.1 per cent,” he said. “I don't it would have a material impact on Australia's ranking.”

Acting Treasurer Penny Wong welcomed the report as an “endorsement of Australia’s strong public finances in the face of global headwinds”.

A spokesperson of Mr Hockey said the reality remained that business leaders had “expressed serious concern about the chopping and changing of government policy, the uncertainty of the taxation environment and the toxic relationship Canberra has with many members of the business community”.

“Unquestionably, eight changes to the carbon tax, five versions of the mining tax, unexpected changes to business taxation, and the four largest deficits in Australia’s history impacts on Australia’s attractiveness as an investment destination,” the spokesman said.

In today's Sydney Morning Herald and Age

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Rich? Australian? You're targeted.

Wednesday column

Have you heard about the trick they use in fruit shops?

If they want to make money from a large load of lettuce they divide it into two. They put half in a “bargain bin” and charge something like $3 a kilo. They put the other half at the quality end of the store and charge $6. The well-heeled and uncertain pay $6. Those with less money and keener for value pay $3.

It earns the shop much more than if it had just charged $6 (if mightn’t have been able to shift all the lettuce) and much more than if it had just charged $3 (rich folks would have kept the extra $3 in their pockets). It also makes more than if the shop had just charged a single price somewhere in between, such as $4.50. Well-off customers would have still hung on the extra dollars and some needy customers would have still been priced out.

The technique is called price discrimination. It may be retail’s most clever invention, and it’s everywhere.

Arnotts once made a near-identical but cheaper brand of biscuits called Sunshine. It placed the packs at the bottom of racks where the well-heeled wouldn’t look but the bargain hunters would.

Restaurants in Manly quietly ask whether patrons are locals before offering cheaper prices. They don’t want to scare off locals looking after their dollars but they do want to get the most out of visitors primed to spend.

The trick in price discrimination is to hide what you are doing. And to let someone else do the work of sorting your customers.

Sometimes they’ll do it themselves. Computer manufacturers offer “cash backs” with expensive machines. Money-conscious buyers send in the certificates (it’s one of the reasons they buy the machines). Well-off buyers don’t bother.

Banks offer discount or honeymoon rates to customers who switch but not to those that stay. They figure those who don’t move don’t much mind paying more, unless they threaten to leave in which case they are quickly looked after. Phone companies are masters of the manoeuvre.

General practitioners are in a very good position to assess for themselves the paying potential of their patients... In a just-published study of 267,000 medical records Meliyanni Johar of the University of Technology finds low-income patients are typically bulk billed while high income patients are charged 15 per cent more.

New technology is being applied to the task. This newspaper has reported that Australian web-based retailers charge higher prices to customers from wealthier suburbs. Amazon has experimented with charging its regular customers more. The online customers don’t know it’s happening: they are only presented with one price (which is sometimes a higher price if they are accessing the web from an Apple machine).

One of the easiest ways to divide up your customers is to let the government or an educational institution do it for you. Cinemas don’t charge less for students out of the goodness of their hearts. They do it to fill cinemas without cutting everyone’s price. If they are at risk of filling their cinemas with full-paying customers they often suspend their discounts. McDonalds offers a seniors’ discount. It does it not because it is partial to seniors but to free-ride on the work the government has already done issuing cards to price sensitive customers.

The easiest way of all to price discriminate is to brand an entire country. DVDs are region-coded in part to make it hard for Australians to take advantage of the cheaper prices in the United States and Indonesia. Nescafe attempted to cut off supplies to Aldi when it had the temerity to import lower-priced Indonesian jars labelled "For sale in Indonesia only." For many years Australian music companies succeeded in making it illegal to import legally-produced cheaper versions of their own songs. These days although it is legal to import music at overseas prices iTunes won’t let you. If you’re from Australia it’ll charge $20.99 for an album. If you’re from the US it’ll charge $12.99. If you make the mistake of getting an Amazon Kindle delivered to an Australian address each eBook you buy from then on will cost more than if you had had it delivered to the US.

The consumer group Choice says one of the Microsoft software development packages is so expensive here it costs $8500 less to buy it in the US. It is worthwhile paying someone’s to fly the US, buy the package and fly back here.

(Except you would have to pay Australian prices for the flight, often double the price of tickets bought overseas.)

Why would international commerce discriminate against against an entire nation? “Willingness to pay” is one of the answers the Treasury comes up with in its submission to the parliament's IT pricing inquiry, due to report soon. Affluent and not too concerned about value, we’ve globally classified as soft touches.

At home, there’s always the risk we’ll see through the ruse of someone selling the same product for two different prices. So retailers will often roughen the product up, metaphorically punching and bruising half the lettuces so they are genuinely worse than the other half. In the US white goods retailers are said to take hammers to some of their fridges so they can sell them as “shop soiled”.

Australian first computing mainframes were given big brains and then hobbled for entry-level customers. When the customer wanted an upgrade a technician would arrive, charge for the extra memory, and then remove the hobbling device while no-one was watching.

These practices offend our sensibilities. But, appallingly, they are what our own government’s new $37 billion national broadband network is planning in the prices it charges retailers. It wants to hobble the speed for ordinary users and remove the block for users who pay a higher price.

The constraint is artificial. There is nothing to stop it giving all Australians the truly phenomenal speeds of which it is capable. If it wants to charge for usage it can charge for data.

Former Telstra economist John de Ridder has told the Competition Commission its thinking is mired in the past. It is imposing scarcity where none exists, “building a motorway and then only using one lane”.

Unless we are given what we have already paid to build, most of us might never know what its truly capable of.

In today's Sydney Morning Herald and Age

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Peter Veness, some memories.

"He filled the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run"

Peter succumed to cancer a year ago tonight, aged just 27.

It shouldn't have happened.

He was wise beyond his years. He gave back far far more than he took out.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Ms GILLARD (Lalor—Prime Minister) (14:49): On indulgence, since parliament last met we have seen the passing of Peter Veness. It was a sad duty for me, accompanied by my partner, Tim, to attend Peter's funeral earlier this year along with other members of the parliament and, I believe, almost the entire parliamentary press gallery. He was a young man who fought incredibly hard against cancer—a young, young man taken from us and from his family far too soon. Even as he struggled with cancer and continued to come to work he turned his thoughts to fundraising for others. Many here would have participated in those fundraising events. One was participated in by Tim as a 'shave-off' event. Peter's courage was on display as he went about those good works, even as he battled cancer himself.

At the funeral service his young wife, Bec, made a remarkable tribute to him. I think her speech, along with the other contributions that day, will be in our minds and in our thoughts for a long period of time. Our thoughts continue to be with Bec and with his parents, David and Cheryl, in the depths of their grief, as we mourn a young man lost far too soon.

Mr ABBOTT (Warringah—Leader of the Opposition) (14:50): I join with the Prime Minister to pay my respects and the respects of the coalition to someone who was taken away from us far too soon. The phrase 'respected journalist' is normally a bit of an oxymoron, but Peter Veness was not only a respected journalist; he was also a loved journalist. He was certainly very good at his job, as anyone who was grilled by him at the front doors of this building would know. But there was no edge to it and there was no malice to it, as the tributes that have poured in since his passing show.

I particularly liked the tribute that came from the Director-General of ASIO, David Irvine, who noted Pete's meticulous attention to detail. I have often wondered about the clunk on the phone that sometimes happens, and it is good that ASIO are still listening in to the conversations that journalists have. Death is the ultimate mystery, but Peter Veness wrote about it with insight, pathos and humour. We miss him. We mourn him. We particularly grieve with his widow, Bec, and we acknowledge that, more than just about anyone else who has been in this place recently, he filled the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run.

The SPEAKER: As a mark of respect, I invite honourable members to rise in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Mr FRYDENBERG (Kooyong) (11:44): On indulgence, I was very saddened to hear of the passing of Peter Veness. He was a young, courageous and good man who at 27 years of age departed far too early from this earth. I got to know Peter as a journalist for the Australian Associated Press, the AAP, when I first came to the parliament in late 2010 and he was working in the Canberra press gallery. He always struck me as having a nice sense of humour, an ear and an eye for a good story, and a professional and dedicated commitment to his journalistic craft. Even as he battled against a rare form of brain cancer, which was diagnosed in 2009, Peter remained stoic and positive and true to his larrikin streak. In his own words, 'Live a life of no regrets. Don't die wondering.'

In a poignant article in 2009 Peter wrote:

Even when life is consumed by thoughts of death, of leaving my most loved, of lying in a coffin, of being lowered six feet, there are ways of smiling. Old, silly jokes still bring a smile to my face and the sight of just about any dog makes me joyous from a childhood spent spilling all my secrets to my loyal blue heeler, Bert.

There is one final wish I haven't mentioned. To live. I pray at night, asking my God the seeming simplest of questions: 'Will you save me?' I haven't heard back yet.

God did not answer that call in the way we would have liked, and so, Peter Veness will be deeply missed by his colleagues in the press gallery, his admirers in the parliament and his loyal friends and treasured family.

My condolences go out to his wife, Bec, and his parents, David and Cheryl, at this very difficult time. Rest assured you are in our thoughts and prayers as we remember the life and contribution of a good and decent man, Peter Veness. Peter, may you rest in peace.

Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (11:46): Having been elected in 2010, like my colleague the member for Kooyong, I have not had as much as others to do with the fourth estate, camped down the hallway in the press gallery. But I did get to meet a number of characters in a short space of time. Some of them can drive you to this blissful plane of distraction and albeit occasionally infrequent frustration. One bloke I had the genuine pleasure of getting to know as he went about with his scrawny beard broken up with a grin that had a good load of cheek in it was Peter Veness. The scrawny beard came about for a reason that too many people knew. In late 2010 I came to appreciate why he had grown that beard. I got swept up to go into a fundraiser at the National Press Club to raise funds for cancer research. Pete had his beard shaven off as a broader effort to raise funds for cancer research.

In dealing with Pete he never gave you a sense of what he was going through. He masked it so well. He was literally an emotional rock. But if you wanted an insight into what he was going through you just needed to Google the feature he wrote in 2009. I certainly commend that to people. Not only did he share in the trials and the difficulty that cancer patients go through in their treatment but you are enamoured with his spunk and with his fighting spirit.

I want to reflect on some of that. I loved when he said, for example:

The doctors give me little hope. Stuff the doctors who have already killed me; they don't tell me when to die. These are the same doctors who told me they would eat their hats if there were any tumours on my spine. Well, get out your knives and forks, boys, and chow down on those Akubras.

That is the attitude and spirit that drew me to Pete Veness, and it drew a lot of people to him.

We would bump into each other from time to time and you would have no sense of what he was going through. But when we did, he and I folded arms in a corner of the gallery, sorting out issues nimbly and with ease, him razzing me and me trying to get one up on him. These moments and stories were shared by many. The impact of the bloke, as seen by the outpouring of emotion after the terrible events of Sunday, 15 January, really spoke volumes. The power of Pete was that he could make you laugh through your tears. A lot of us would recount the good in him and want to measure up to that good ourselves. A number of pieces that were written and a number of words that were said have left an impact on me. Chris Johnson, writing on 20 January, recounted a number of stories, but he summed it up neatly when he said:

This cannot be a dispassionate piece of writing, because Veness was not a dispassionate person. A larrikin's larrikin by any reckoning. Loud and boisterous, yet with a heart as big as his cheeky grin. And a sensitivity that could make you weep.

I also love:

He taught all his blokey friends that it was okay to say "I love you, brother" and really mean it.

Chris Johnson also recounted how, after Pete's high-school days at Gilgandra, he and his family settled in Bathurst, where Peter studied journalism at Charles Sturt University:

It was from where he sought out again the sweetheart he first met in Gilgandra, Bec Bignell. Long-time partners, they married after his diagnosis.

To Bec, and to his folks, David and Cheryl, I extend my deepest condolences.

I was unable to attend his funeral service or the wake afterwards because I was overseas, but I did keep tabs on what people were saying and the outpouring of emotion that I mentioned earlier. One article about it reads:

AAP colleague Adam Gartrell said Pete - as he was known - embodied many of the best things about the craft of journalism. Pete believed the best story he ever wrote was a yarn about a farmer doing it tough, which he got by striking up a conversation with a random guy at a pub out bush. "That was pure Pete. He may have written about elections, political spills and scandals, but writing about the plight of the common man was what really made his heart sing," Gartrell said.

His wife, Bec, was quoted:

She said many had remarked it was a tragedy that someone so young had lost his battle with cancer. "He didn't lose. He kicked cancer's arse every day for almost three years," she said. "He got out of bed every single day up until a month ago."

It is these types of things that moved people about Peter—the strength within him but everything still done with class.

But for a smart bloke he made bad sporting choices. I told you about all the razzing that he did of me. He would razz me about my support of the Chicago Bulls basketball team, and he countered it with his misplaced support for the Utah Jazz. At this point I would like to advise the ABC's Latika Bourke, who says that not many people follow the NBA, that she should talk to some of her colleagues, because Pete was a mad fan. He would talk to me about the greats of the Utah Jazz—Stockton, Malone, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams. Back and forth on Twitter or Facebook, he and I would be talking about the NBA and swapping insults. We were joined by a long-term mate of mine who I discovered later is actually his cousin, Todd Clewett. If Pete Veness were in this place right now, he would dare me to do this, to put on the colours of the Utah Jazz. There are not too many teams that I would do this for, but for Pete, and in respect of his cheek, I will do it this one time and I will say, 'I love you, brother.'

Mr RUDD (Griffith—Minister for Foreign Affairs) (11:53): On indulgence—what to say about the life of Peter Veness? Many things have been said, by many who knew him a long time and many who knew him just in the recent months of his most acute suffering. I do not intend to speak about his life as a journalist. Others are much more familiar with that than I am. His colleagues have spoken of his professionalism, and they will speak with eloquence and effect on that. I would just like to reflect for a moment on Peter Veness the human being, the person. There is a strange thing about this place—Parliament House, Canberra; the cauldron of the nation. Here we see the best and worst of people. Peter Veness was one of the best, because he had about him an almost universal humanity and a universal—and I use the word advisedly—spirituality. There was something about this young man that, beyond his experience of suffering and the automatic response of compassion which that evokes in any person of feeling and of conscience, gave him the remarkable ability to touch you as a human being. What was it that was unique about this young guy in his 20s? It had something to do with the fact that Peter had a deep and underlying dignity and calm. As the member for Chifley just reminded us, he was the best at a throwaway line or remark about the depths of suffering through which he was going. That is one of the great Australian attributes. When people ask, 'How are you going, mate?' a person might reply, 'Oh, I'm battling on,' knowing that they only have a few weeks to live. But, underneath that, it was the dignity and calm of this individual that struck me as a human being.

That dignity and calm came from a number of factors. When he was getting sick again, he asked to come and have a yak. I had just come out of heart surgery at the time, and so he came round to the house that we have in Yarralumla. We spent a long, long time talking. His grounding as a human being—his dignity, his calm and his poise—came from the absolutely foundational love of his parents. Adults do not often reflect on that, but it was the unconditional and supporting love of his parents that gave him those things. David and Cheryl were rocks to him—the rocks of his life. That gave him a sense of foundation from which he could not be moved.

Then there was the love of his life, Bec. They chose to get married in 2009, both knowing full well that he had a pretty ugly sentence hanging over his head. But they embarked upon the adventure of a married life together absolutely confident in their future and absolutely determined to rejoice in every day that they had together. This for him became the second great grounding force in his life. I have never met a young woman like Bec, who has such strength of character for one so young. She was presented with so many of life's adversities in such an acute form so early. Maybe it is growing up in the country; I am not sure. But the two of them, and young Bec in particular, would literally take my breath away, and Therese's as well, as we sat and talked. We attended the same church here in Canberra, St John's in Reid.

That brings me to my third point. He was also a person grounded in his faith. He had extraordinary and remarkable faith. His was not a long discourse with yours truly about Dietrich Bonhoeffer; his was a long discourse about why he was here, what his purpose was and what he was supposed to be doing in life. He was anchored in these deep spiritual fundamentals, which gave him calm, poise and dignity even as he faced death.

I last spoke to him when he was in Clare Holland House, the hospice here in Canberra. He was fading in and out. I am not quite sure how much he took in of what I was saying, so I decided to read to him instead. I understand that he took that in and received some modest element of comfort in that basic expression of human solidarity from that. I do not come to this chamber often to talk about individual lives. It has never been my habit. But the great thing about this guy is that he is one of those folk who will stay indelibly imprinted in our minds, our memories and our hearts because of who he was and not because of the position that he held. There is something deeply commendable about his humanity which I believe can ennoble us all if we reflect on it in our own future lives.

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (12:04): On indulgence—I would like to offer my condolences for the death of Peter Veness to his family and to his wife, Bec. Like the previous speaker, the member for Mayo, the first time that I met Peter Veness was at the doors of Parliament House. I concur with the member for Mayo that he never let me, as a new MP in 2007, get off lightly in the questions that he asked. He also—and this was a real part of his nature—never followed the lead of the other journalists on the door, with many of the questions coming very much from left field. They were sometimes ones that I was not prepared for. I believe that that showed Peter's tenacity. After that we did manage to move on from some of those difficult questions. We had a lot of conversations outside the doors. What struck me was really that he was a bit of a go-getter. He was certainly a go-getter who wanted to throw himself into everything that he did. Certainly, with his diagnosis of cancer, I think I got to see an enormous courage in how he battled that.

I know that a lot has been said of his Twitter account, which says that he was no-one special, but certainly—having had time to meet him and have conversations with him over the last four years since I have been in this place—he was someone special. I do not know many people who would be battling cancer at such a young age, having to go through that, who would still be able to get up to go to work in the morning and, more than that, want to go to work in the morning. Every time I spoke to him he was very keen to come back to work, to come in and do what he loved.

Also, he was not going to let the love of his life get away. He was determined to get married to Bec, and I think that shows once again that tenacity but also that love of life and determination that he showed in his work and in his life.

In terms of his commitment to raise money for the cause, once again that was something that he did—not in the more traditional way, I guess, but in his unique way that he always demonstrated, a way that really fitted into always keeping true to himself, which was another thing that I certainly noticed.

He was also a young man who liked to have fun. I was not on the 2007 campaign bus, but, while a lot of the journalists have kept under wraps what happened on that bus, it does sound as if Peter was the entertainment on that and had a lot of fun with everyone on it.

I believe that he showed so much courage and commitment and, from talking and hearing about his family, that they—and obviously his wife, Bec—also showed such courage and commitment to fighting cancer. I offer my deep condolences to Bec and to Peter's family and wish them the best one can hope for in these difficult times.

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (12:07): On indulgence—Peter Veness was just 27 when he died. At 27 years of age, we are told, the world is at your feet, you are learning constantly in your chosen career, you may be meeting or sharing the early years with the love of your life or you may be travelling the globe. Dying should not be on this list. Peter left behind a young wife, a loving family and many, many friends. His eulogy was filled with loving family memories, funny stories and his love of his journalistic career.

Peter Veness covered a lot in his short yet accomplished career as a journalist. Described by his colleagues as someone who embodied many of the best things about the craft of journalism, and renowned for writing about the plight of the common man, it really made his heart sing. Peter had a knack of bailing up politicians and asking questions few dared to raise. He wrote on elections, political spills and scandals. However, he was once quoted as saying that he believed the best story he ever wrote was about a farmer doing it tough, a story he got by striking up a conversation with a random guy at a pub out in the bush.

Journalism is a tough job. It has long hours, late nights and early mornings. You are often perceived as the bad guy with a habit of elaborating the truth and being heartless. Peter Veness was a truth teller and he had a big heart. The Nationals leader described Peter as one of those genuine nice guys who always had a beaming smile and time for a chat and laugh, but he always had a job to do, a job he did very well.

Peter was a regional boy. He went to school in Batemans Bay and completed high school in Gilgandra before starting his communications degree at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. Peter then started out at the Bathurst Western Advocate newspaper in 2004 and remained there until he became a member of the Australian press gallery in 2006. He joined Australian Associated Press in April of that year. He was described as eager and tenacious, and these attributes served him well when he fought the good fight, a long battle lasting three painful years. Peter wrote poignantly of his illness in 2009. In this he emphasised his love for his then fiancee and soon-to-be wife, Bec—the woman of his dreams, as he called her. He wrote of how he intended to relive a fond childhood memory and I quote:

I have recurring memories of being dunked by waves on the NSW south coast where I spent my childhood nearly drowning and spitting out sand.

Despite the pain in my back from a biopsy on my spine, I am going to drive down the mountains from Canberra to the sand and let one giant wave hit me, drag me under the white foam and bash me.

It's a silly memory, I know, but I would regret not doing it if it is to be for one last time.

Sadly, Peter succumbed to his rare brain cancer on the night of 15 January 2012, taken too soon, far too young. His death reinforces the fragility of life and the fact that cancer does not discriminate. Vale Peter Veness; may you rest in peace.

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (12:10): I rise today to offer my condolences to a well-loved and respected member of the community of this place, Peter Veness, known to his mates as Pete. I also particularly rise here today to offer the condolences of a member of my staff, Julian Leembruggen, who was a dear and very close friend of Pete and would often be in Canberra over the term of their friendship, which goes back to university days, and spent many times with Peter, particularly during the last period of his life.

I was privileged to attend the service in Pete's remembrance and honour in Canberra a few weeks ago, joining other colleagues, including the Prime Minister. I am sure Pete would have been very pleased to see so many of his journalist friends in church. It would have been something that I am sure he would have been encouraging them all to do in his own way. The way I think he would have done that most of all would be through the example of his own life, because we all know those actions speak louder than any words we might say ourselves.

I wasn't a close friend of Peter's but I met him as many people in this place had—that is, on the doors of Parliament House. I think one of the great tributes that were made to Peter at the service was that, despite the hard questions and the strange angles they came from at times, which were always based on the good solid research that Pete was well known for—as the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, it was something for which the Director-General of ASIO commented favourably on him—it was without malice and it was without guile; it was nothing more than just a very professional person who believed in what he was doing and was seeking to get straight answers from all of us.

Pete joined the parliamentary press gallery in 2006 and quickly established himself as a talented and eager journalist. His enthusiasm and old-school style, Julian tells me, won over his colleagues and earned the respect of politicians of all stripes. I think we can all attest to that, and the tributes that have been flowing in this place back that up. Like many members, I encountered him on the doors and occasionally we would have the opportunity to chat afterwards. One particular occasion I had the opportunity, particularly as he went through his illness, to talk about some of the things that were going on in his own life at that time and how he was dealing with them, as I know many people in this place had the privilege to do—and they have said so in this place today.

There have been many tributes to Pete. Phil Hudson, the president of the press gallery, said Pete's 'great determination to live life to its fullest' and his refusal to give in was an inspiration to many of his colleagues. The Prime Minister commended his 'fight for life with every fibre of his being'. The Acting Leader of the Opposition at the time of Peter's passing remembered Pete as 'one of those genuinely nice guys who always had a beaming smile and a time for a chat and a laugh'. The AAP editor-in-chief, Tony Gillies, said Pete confronted the gravity of his illness early and 'stood defiant, disarmingly talking about his own prospects in such a matter-of-fact way that was often delivered with a sense of humour'. Pete's father, David, gave a very poignant portrait of his son as someone who was not only a dedicated journalist but also someone who, in his short life, made a significant contribution to humanity, especially by teaching people how to love. I can think of no greater commendation than that. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs said earlier in this place, Pete was known for who he was, not what he did, and for the substance of the man. That is something that I think we would all aspire to. Pete certainly lived that. For his father to be able to say that of a son, or for any parent to be able to say that of a child, would fulfil any parent's greatest aspiration for their children. It is such a tragedy that he had to say it so soon in Pete's young life. For those of us who had the opportunity to meet him and get to know him a bit, it was one of the hard things to understand—he was only 27. A fellow such as this, who had developed such wisdom, such insight, and such fullness of personality, was still at such a young age. Therein lies the great tragedy of this story. The potential, the opportunity, the contribution, the love, the care, the relationships—these are the things that we mourned when we gathered in Canberra just a few weeks ago.

I recall most vividly one thing after walking out of what was an absolutely inspirational service. The tributes were great, they were often witty—you would expect that; his mates were journos. They know how to write and they know how to put words together, and they certainly did on that day, and they did a wonderful job in giving testimony to their mate. But the one thing that came out of that story, which is such a sad story, was the issue of hope. It is such a refreshing thing in this day and age that in the midst of such tragedy you can walk out of a service such as that and reflect on the fact that there is hope. Pete embodied hope; he embodied hope against all circumstances. He lived for hope. He triumphed hope and championed it every single day that he cherished in those few remaining years that he had left.

His family and friends will attest that Pete was a generous, kind young man who, while often brash and uncompromising, was innately generous and selfless. This spirit helped Pete fight with a fierce will to live and a resolute hope that treatments, tests, setbacks and bad news rarely dampened. It was a spirit that, even in the midst of his own suffering, drove him to help others, such as raising funds for youth cancer charities like the Warwick Foundation, and famously involving the growth of perhaps the most confronting facial hair—Julian writes here—ever to grace these halls; I can well remember that beard and the shaving of it on a particular occasion here in Canberra. Hundreds of mourners said farewell to Pete at St John's Anglican Church, and it was good to be there amongst them.

At that service, reference was made to an article that Pete wrote in 2009, and it was a very honest article. Pete's honesty, in the little I knew of him, was incredibly confronting but it was like the sword that divides sinew and flesh. His honesty penetrated. In this article he wrote about his cancer. He said, 'I pray at night, asking my God the seeming simplest of questions: will you save me?' In that article he wrote, 'I have not heard back yet.' In this piece Pete wrote, in the midst of a struggle, about his will to live a life of no regrets. This is something that he not only wrote but lived every day of his illness. At Pete's funeral, the Reverend Margaret Campbell comforted all of us in attendance with her homily. She told us that Pete would be the first person to tell you that God did not cause his cancer. God does not send us suffering to teach us things, but in suffering we can sure learn. We learn that we are not invulnerable and that life surely ends in death from the first breath we take. We learn that sometimes we have no control over the things that happen to us but we do have control over how we react to them. Put simply, we all choose how to respond to life. She went on to say:

I can tell you that before he died, he did hear back. Pete knew that through God's love he was saved, he was upheld, he was sure of the promise of eternal life, and was still able to give God glory until his last days.

It is a tribute to Pete's spirit and an inspiration for us to stand for our beliefs and pursue what is right and fight for what is worth fighting for. Pete is survived by his wife and inspirational life partner Bec, his parents David and Cheryl and brother Tim and sister Lara. He will be fondly remembered by all of them, I am sure, all the days of their lives and he will be fondly remembered by his good mates including Julian Leembruggen and others in the gallery and all of those who comforted him and were inspired by him over his last days. I am sure all my colleagues here and everyone in this place will join with me in offering them our great comfort, with a sense of sympathy and regret, while at the same time joining in that sense of hope that was so evident in that service.

Of all the tributes, I think the one Pete would have valued most greatly is the one given to him as he met his heavenly father, who would have said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (12:21): Sometimes the people from the Central West of New South Wales, like all Australians, look at Canberra from time to time, sometimes to see if their local member is doing his job and for other reasons. The Central West of New South Wales, and Bathurst in particular, has spent a few years looking down here because they had someone here of whom they were very proud, and that was obviously Peter Veness.

Peter started his journalistic career at the Bathurst Advocate. He was there from 2004 to 2006. One of the reasons locals were proud of Peter was that they knew he was respected, and he was a very young person to have reached the heights of journalism that he did in the parliamentary gallery. It takes most people a lifetime to do that; he did it in a very short time. His family, who still live in Bathurst, are wonderful people. Pete's father, David, managed the RSL in Bathurst until recently. The way they took finding out that Pete had that rare form of brain tumour was as amazing as the way in which Peter himself dealt with it. Quite apart from his ability as a journalist and his ability to talk straight to everyone regardless of their place in politics, what he wrote—live a life of no regrets, don't die wondering—was amazing stuff. It was incredible for someone who knew he had nowhere to go. It does not change the fact that the last thing he wrote, if I recall correctly, was that he still wanted to live. I guess it is a touch of reality that most of us who are a lot older than he was probably have not retained anything like the respect he gained in a very short time. It was not just about politics; it was about good and accurate reporting—which does not always happen. I think all of us would say that. I think he set a standard not just for us; he set a standard that those in the gallery, some of whom are a lot older than him, could take note of. The whole of the region will join me in offering our condolences to David and Cheryl and particularly to his wife, Bec.

Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (16:01): On indulgence, I first came to know Peter Veness on the doors of Parliament House. For those outside this building, doors are a bit of a strange ritual. You walk out the front of Parliament House to a press pack that asks you questions about any issue of the day. Pete Veness was the man who asked the hardest questions. He would often be on the fringes of the press pack and he would call out at you, not about what was on the front page of the paper necessarily but about what he thought was the most important issue. He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and given a few months to live, and he nearly made it to three years. In that time as he worked as a journalist, Pete knew that his life was short and he needed to do what he could to make it count. His questions were punchy, penetrating and straight to the point, as the best journalists are. I remember he said to me after one particularly bruising doors session: 'This place has lost its spontaneity. Doors used to be about the opening of the car doors; now it is about the opening of the parliamentary doors.' All I could reply was: 'Pete, I have come out here to face your questions. I want to be prepared.'

I talked to Pete about this when I went to see him in the Clare Holland House hospice towards the end of his life. I am not sure how much he understood. He was going in and out of sleep at the time. With him was the little blue teddy bear and the crucifix that he held in his hand. As you do in these circumstances, I just talked and told him about how much he had influenced me in the short time we had known one another. And it was a short innings. Peter Veness passed away aged 27, far too young for anyone to be taken from us. His funeral was a fitting send-off. AAP journalist Adam Gartrell spoke about how Peter embodied the best of the craft of journalism. He told the story of Peter Veness writing a yarn that Peter thought was the best one he had ever written. It was about a farmer doing it tough. The only reason he got the story was by striking up a conversation with a random guy in a pub in the bush. Gartrell said:

That was pure Pete. He may have written about elections, political spills and scandals, but writing about the plight of the common man was what really made his heart sing.

We heard from his wife Bec Veness, who with extraordinary strength gently scolded Pete for having failed to prepare some words and said, 'He didn't lose. He kicked cancer's arse every day for almost three years.' Warwick Newell told a splendid story of one of his big nights out with Pete. He said, 'I lost Pete after a big night out. He called me a few hours later from a bus in Bankstown in a frenzied and unexplained search for Paul Keating.' All of us erupted into laughter. That was one of the many sides to Pete Veness.

The service itself finished in the most poignant of ways, with the parliamentary press gallery forming a guard of honour from the door of the church through to the gate at St John's. It was all the more poignant because on the back of the funeral service program was a picture of Pete and Bec coming out of the same door of the church just a few years earlier, after their marriage.

One of my favourite obituaries of Pete Veness was that written by Chris Johnson, a Canberra Times journalist, who really got to know Pete because they were in adjacent offices in the press gallery and were both inveterate music lovers. Chris wrote in his obituary that Pete Veness was:

A larrikins' larrikin by any reckoning. Loud and boisterous, yet with a heart as big as his cheeky grin.

Chris told the story that Pete, who appeared to me an extremely confident journalist, once confided to him, 'Do you know what a big deal it is for me to be in this gallery? I'd better not stuff it up.' But you never got that sense of fragility from Pete Veness. You got a sense of somebody who had earned his right to be here and who did his job in the best spirit of the press gallery.

Chris disclosed that Peter Veness sometimes wrote music reviews under a pseudonym, the name Sal Caulfield, combining Sal Paradise, from On the Road, and Holden Caulfield, from TheCatcher in the Rye. That, of course, sent me on a hunt for some of the reviews written by Sal Caulfield, where you see some of the best of Pete Veness's writing. Here he is in the Canberra Times on 8 May 2008 writing under his pseudonym about an album by Cog, Sharing Space:

Producer Sylvia Massey left plenty of air among the almost apocalyptic electronic twitches that dart around Flynn Gower's pleading, pounding voice in the verses. The air evaporates when the chorus arrives pushing the listener back with sheer volume and urging the ear forward in anticipation at the same moment.

It is beautiful writing—another reason, I think, so many of us are so sad that Pete is not here to contribute to the great craft of journalism for many decades yet. He worked to the end. As recently as 3 November last year he wrote for AAP the story of the killing in Afghanistan of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin. He wanted to keep on working to the end and he did, and he continued to make a great contribution.

Journalist Peter Martin reminded me that one of the things that some of the tributes to Peter Veness have passed over is how devout he was. At the service, Peter read psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd, and he pointed out to me that Peter Veness was the chair of St John's Anglican Church council and he was studying theology part time at St Mark's. Peter Martin suggested that in preparing these brief remarks I should speak to Margaret Campbell, the assistant minister at St John's. I spoke to Margaret this morning and she said that I should remind the House of what a man of great faith Peter Veness was, that he took great comfort in the promise of eternal life and that he was there in the church every Sunday. Margaret said, 'Peter Veness challenged us, and we will really miss one of our own.' I too will miss him. Doors will never be the same without him, and this place is a little poorer for his passing.

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (16:09): I would just like to say to the member for Fraser, whose speech preceded this one, what a heartfelt and well-meaning speech that was. I pass my congratulations on to him because he has summed up Peter Veness extremely well.

I did not know Peter Veness all that well, but the reason I stand here today to add to the comments about his life, which was so tragically cut short, is that Peter went out of his way to give me advice and to give me the benefit of his wisdom when he did not need to. As a matter of fact, I do not think he really needed to do anything when it came to me. But he did that. He came into my office on two occasions and spent over an hour with me. The first was just telling me about the doors and what you should look out for when you do it—what the traps are when journalists try to interview you, especially the types of things that he was trying to get out of members that would make the news. He did that really out of the goodness of his heart and also because, when it came to policy, we shared a common interest. That was the other hour that he spent with me. That was talking about trade policy.

Peter was a journalist who knew, understood and followed trade policy. He was pretty rare in that regard. I had a very insightful discussion with him about where global trade policy was at and the pitfalls. We could talk World Trade Organisation, we could talk Doha Round and he understood all the language that went with trade.

Once again, he went out of his way afterwards to always make sure he flicked to me the latest developments which were coming out of Geneva—anything that was occurring with regard to Australia's bilateral free trade agreements, whether they be with Korea. I would note—and I think Pete predicted this—that the free trade agreement negotiations with South Korea have stalled once again. But that would be the sort of thing and the sort of advice he would flick to me: 'Have you seen this? Have you seen what's going on?' There was no need for him to do that. There was no need for him to sit down and give me the benefit of his wisdom about the doors. But he did so out of the goodness of his heart.

We touched briefly on his illness and how he was dealing with it. I just remember the incredible strength with which he was able to talk about it and the resolve he had in dealing with it. He was truly someone we should all admire for his strength of character and the way he dealt with, for three years, a debilitating illness that was to cost him his life.

I pass on my condolences to his wife, Bec. I say to her that I am sorry that I could not make the funeral. I would have liked to have been there because of the goodness that he showed me, but I could not be. I would just like to say: rest in peace, Peter Veness.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Forget the fiscal cliff, we were facing a female cliff

We're pulling back

The world is pulling back from a looming shortage of women.

Cheap ultrasound technology and selective abortions in South Korea, China and India have pushed down the proportion of female babies to historic lows making millions of men unmarriageable and sparking abductions of women and sex crimes. In China the number of boys born per 100 girls has peaked at 119. In Korea and India it has hit at 116. The usual ratio is 106.

Now a new study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research has found the worst has passed in Korea, with the ratio back to normal at 106 after hitting 116.5 in 1990.

The authors from Columbia University and Seoul National University “may offer a preview of the demographic future of India and China”, meaning a global female shortage will never eventuate.

Chinese authorities had been predicting an excess of 24 million men over women of marrying age by the end of the decade.

Economists Lena Edlund and Chulhee Lee say increasing wealth in Korea has made boys less important as a means of providing for their parents in old age. It has allowed parents to feel they can sacrifice having a boy in order to have a better shot at getting grandchildren.

“Sons are more productive than daughters, grandchildren through sons are more valued than grandchildren through daughters, but grandchildren through daughters are better than no grand-children,” the authors say.

In Australia there is no clear evidence of what parents prefer, although Sydney IVF reported that before sex selection was made illegal in 2006 those of its customers who made a choice prefered girls 59 to 41...

Australian National University demographer Peter McDonald said the overwhelming concern of Australians seemed to be to balance families.

“The desire to have one boy and one girl is stronger in English speaking countries, it’s a stronger trend that doesn’t occur in other parts of Europe or say in Scandinavian countries.”

His colleague Edith Gray said parents were reluctant to discuss their preferences. “We found people felt very conscious of speaking about it in public. There are lots of taboos surrounding the topic, a feeling we should be happy for a child no matter what the sex.”

Medical tourism company Global Health Travel has helped around 100 Australian couples travel to Thailand for family-balancing IVF treatment in the past year.

Director Cassandra Italia said she gets inquiries from China and India but only helps Australians. “In Australia the preference is fifty-fifty, they’re not choosing just males. Within our company, designing families is not acceptable, we help balance families.”

Packages to the Thai Superior assisted reproductive technology clinic cost $11,000 Australian dollars. With flights and accommodation couples can expect to spend around $15,000. Half of the treatment takes place in Australia, including pre-screening tests, consultation, and ovarian hyperstimulation.

A review of the Australian guidelines is planned this year with many clinicians and patient support groups expected to push for an opening up of Australia’s rules.

Keith Harrison, Scientific Director of the Queensland Fertility Group, believes there is demand from the community. “Opponents will say a significant number of embryos created which will be discarded. You could argue for those embryos to be donated to those who can’t conceive, but donating embryos is another contentious issue. I suspect a middle ground will be reached,” he said.

With Marian Borges, in today's Sydney Morning Herald and Age

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Don't write off the surplus

But don't care too much, either

An unexpected surge in the the global iron ore price has put the budget surplus back within reach.

The iron ore price had climbed from a September low of $US86 an tonne to $US135 at the time Treasurer Wayne Swan abandoned his commitment to a budget surplus in late December. It has since climbed to $US158. Forecasters from Deutsche Bank are expecting it to hit $US170 a tonne within weeks.

If sustained the near doubling of the iron ore price would boost company tax revenues and lead to a surge in mining tax payments, putting government revenue back to near what was forecast in the May budget.

In abandoning his commitment to a surplus in December Mr Swan stressed he was only doing so because revenues had collapsed. he would continue to restrain spending so that if they recovered a surplus would still be possible.

Mr Swan wrote to ministers after Christmas asking them to find spending cuts in order to fund new priorities. Although the letter did not mention the priorities by name they include the multi-billion dollar National Disability Insurance Scheme and Gonski education reforms.

The Treasurer recommitted himself to the spending measures in his weekly economic note Sunday saying the goal of having Australian schools back in the top five schooling systems in the world by 2025 was “ambitious but essential to ensure our future economic success.”

“We will launch the first stage of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in 2013, one of the biggest social reforms our country has seen. For too long, successive governments have shunned the opportunity to reform disability services, leaving people with a significant and permanent disability and their families behind. That’s the purpose of a strong, resilient economy – to put in place reforms that ensure we’re taking everyone with us.”

Another priority might be an increase in the $35 a day Newstart allowance, now acknowledged by politicians from all sides of parliament to be too low to live on...

Lifting the allowance by $50 per week would cost $2 billion a year according to a costing prepared for the Greens by the Parliamentary Budget Office.

Mr Swan is determined that any new measures will be funded by cutbacks to existing programs rather than throwing the budget further into deficit.

He will tell a financial forum in Hong Kong Monday that a surplus is “unlikely” but that he has put in place budget settings “appropriate for our economic circumstances”.

“We’ve got strong public finances with our net debt only one-tenth of the major advanced economies because we’ve got a track record of responsible fiscal management. We’ve taken a balanced approach which supports growth and jobs,” he will say.

Deutsche Bank chief economist Adam Boyton said a surge in the iron ore price to $US170 a tonne would most likely be temporary reflecting restocking in China at a time of subdued supply growth in Australia and Brazil. Importantly neither the coking coal price nor the Chinese steel price was climbing in line with the iron ore price. By the middle of the year the price might fall back to $US120 a tonne.

But if the price did hold at at around $US158 Australian incomes might grow by as much as 6 per cent over the course of the year. If that happened interest rates would be climbing rather than falling in the second half of the year.

In today's Sydney Morning Herald and Age

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Howard was your most wasteful sprendthrift in modern history - IMF

Not Whitlam. Not Rudd. Not Gillard

Australia’s most needlessly wasteful spending took place under the John Howard led Coalition government rather than under the Whitlam, Rudd or Gillard Labor governments, a major international study has found.

Entitled A Modern History of Fiscal Prudence and Profligacy the new International Monetary Fund study bills itself as the first to examine 200 years of government financial records across 55 leading economies.

It identifies only two periods of Australian “fiscal profligacy” in recent years, both during John Howard’s term in office - in 2003 at the start of the mining boom and during John Howard’s final years in office between 2005 and 2007.

The stimulus spending of the Rudd government during the financial crisis doesn’t rate as profligate because the measure makes allowance for spending needed to stabilise the economy.

The Whitlam Labor government of 1972 to 1975 also escapes censure.

The economists from the IMF’s fiscal affairs department found the only other years of profligate spending during the past six decades took place during the conservative government of Robert Menzies, in 1960. It says the Menzies government was notably prudent in 1950.

In the postwar years of 1947 to 1949, the Chifley Labor government was deemed prudent as were the Scullin and Lyons Labor and Coalition governments between 1931 and 1935. John Curtin’s Labor government was profilgate in 1942...

The study finds that in broad terms Australia’s government debt has been falling since 1932 when it peaked at 98 per cent of gross domestic product. Across all levels of government it is presently just above 20 per cent after climbing since the global financial crisis.

The budget balance has been broadly stable for half a century.

The key finding is that Australia has few examples of economic recklessness compared to other developed nations. Canada’s government debt peaked at 143 per cent of GDP in 1946, Japan’s reached 233 per cent in 2011, Israel’s reached 284 per cent in 1984. Australia’s neighbour New Zealand recorded government debt of 226 per cent in 1933 and a budget deficit of 7.5 per cent of GDP in 1995.

Developed nations were generally their most prudent before the First World War and during the 1990s, the study finds. They were generally their least prudent during the mid-1970s and in some cases after the global financial crisis.

The IMF study mirrors findings in a 2008 Australian Treasury study that found real government spending grew faster in the final four years of the Howard government than in any four year period since the 1990’s recession.

The number of big spending decisions worth more than $1 billion climbed from one in the first Howard budget to nine in the last. The proportion of savings measures fell from one third of budget measures at the start of the Howard era to 1.5 per cent at the end.

Responding to the IMF report Coalition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said the Howard government left Labor with a $20 billion dollar surplus and no net debt.

“It was not John Howard and Peter Costello who wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on dangerous pink batts and overpriced school halls - it was this Labor Government,” he said.

In today's Sydney Morning Herald and Age

Play with the IMDF DataMapper. It's fun:

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