How out of touch is the Treasurer?

One of the most jarring points made by smirk-meister Costello in last night's Budget was his comments about part-time workers. It really shows a man out of touch with the real world.

People who are working part-time, most people of $30,000 or less are working part time, to do additional work, to put in some more hours to build the capacity of the Australian workforce. - Source: Budget Lock-up press conference

I suspect you'd find that a very large proportion of people earning $30,000 or less are actually full-time workers with crappy McJobs. Given that those on the minimum wage are earning $484.50 per week, that works out to around $25,194 give or take leave loading. These are full-time workers, though I guess some of the nice Mosman Mums who go back to a few hours of part-time paralegal work might benefit too.

Why nukes? Making sense of the political equation

Plutonium PeteHoward is radioactive

I've been thinking about this great push to nuclear power in Australia, and wondering why it's happening. Modern politicians don't push hard on something like this without a reason. They'll either think it's electorally successful, or have some other motive for pushing it.

Howard's motives are pretty easy to discern. Nuclear, like the mythical "clean coal", allows him to effectively do nothing that changes the status quo while still being able to say he's doing something. It takes the heat off doing something real like giving carbon a price. It's also, of course, completely the opposite of his espoused economic ideals: he's picking the winner, rather than pricing in the external cost and letting the market decide. Who woulda thunk that the old anti-Communist would go for a planned economy?

There's another thing Howard knows here, and that's Labor being hopelessly split about the issue. The conference seems to have decided to expand uranium mining, which means every argument put forward by Peter Garrett can be deflected by pointing out how he has compromised his principles. Easy to attack someone for compromising his principles when you yourself don't have any to compromise.

Labor's support for nukes is altogether less obvious. The CFMEU is powerful within Labor, but I can't see that as being the reason.

Do Labor have some kind of polling data that shows Australians support expansion of the nuclear industry? I seriously doubt it. Most Australians' understanding of nuclear energy is limited to Hiroshima and Chernobyl, which aren't exactly positive images. It just seems really bizarre that Labor would think they're on a winner with the electorate here. Unless there's marginal seats to be had around Roxby Downs, Jabiluka and Ranger, which still seems like a lot of work for a few seats.

Which of course leaves us to the usual corrupting influence: money. But even there, either the mining companies are getting a really great deal or the donations have only been made recently. Searching for this finds that in 2004-2006 (financial years) mining and logging ("resource" being the euphemism) companies donated $368,350 to political parties. Of this, a large proportion appears to be coal companies and Gunns (old growth forestry).

Of those with a direct interest in uranium mining: Rio Tinto (including their coal subsidiary's donations), owner of Ranger and Jabiluka mines, donated $12,000; BHP (again including their coal subsidiary's donations), owner of the Olympic Dam mine, gave $31,850.

So if these electoral donations have resulted in the expansion of uranium mining and the possible introduction of nuclear power in Australia, it represents and incredible return on investment for these companies.

I don't get it. Why the push for nukes Krudd?

A solution to Sydney's water problems

If you're not in Sydney you probably don't know this, but it's been raining solidly for the last 36 hours or so. Of course none of this rain is going to reach the catchments of the dams that supply Sydney's water. The big problem is our dams are in the wrong place, or the city is in the wrong place. So I have a solution to our water problems. It will require a small adjustment to the Constitution and will be acceptable to the cast majority of Sydney people.

Here it is: bulldoze Vaucluse and build a big dam. There's always loads of rain on the Eastern Suburbs, even when it's not reaching the dams. And there's nobody interesting living there. Only rich nobs.

The constitutional change required? We need to amend paragraph 51(xxxi), otherwise known as The Castle clause to "the acquisition of property on just terms from any State or person for any purpose in respect of which the Parliament has power to make laws, except for rich nobs who get no just terms."

Simple really. You gotta wonder why someone hasn't come up with it before.

Farmers: Spare change?

I couldn't help imagining my local bum's plaintive "spare change" request when I saw Ben Fargher (now there's an unfortunate surname), CEO of the National Farmer's Federation on the telly last night. He was talking doom and gloom, food price rises and the collapse of civilisation as we know it due to the drought. The (ABC) news then switched to pictures of parched fields with the voice-over talking about how this farmer's cotton couldn't be planted. Cotton? WTF?

The farming lobby has skillfully played on Australians' delusional self-image of being country folk for years, winning torrents of corporate welfare for themselves in the process. In reality we're one of the most concentrated urban societies in the world. You can be absolutely sure the farmers will win some more handouts in the latest drought.

The thing is, why should farming be treated like any other business? The biggest landowners in Australia are actually giant agribusinesses, hardly the image of the hard working battling cocky. Of course you won't see images of business suited agribusiness chairmen sitting around boardroom tables in anything put out by the farming lobby. Instead we'll see the Akubra-wearing cocky propping up the gate on his parched patch of dirt.

Now if I were to set up a little corner shop without doing my homework and discover there's no demand in the area for what I'm selling, I wouldn't expect a government handout when the business failed. Why is farming any different? Any business should do its research into market conditions, and for farming the climatic conditions would be one of the most important aspects. Anyone who couldn't see the writing on the wall for farming at least twenty years ago really hasn't been paying attention.

What's more, we farm absolutely ridiculous crops for our climate. What the hell are we doing growing insanely water-intensive crops like cotton and rice in this country?

The problem with further handouts to farmers is that it actively encourages poor farming patterns. Instead of penalising bad decisions, which is what our free-market government claims to want, we reward them by bailing them out every time Australia's climate turns for the worse. What's more, this pattern effectively penalises those farmers who have changed their methods to be more in tune with our climate, since they're not eligible for the handouts.

If the farmers' methods were rational, they'd be able to use standard market mechanisms like insurance and hedging (paid during the good years) instead of relying on the public purse.

Farming in Australia, and anywhere for that matter, will always be a somewhat risky occupation. But most businesses have important variables that are way out of their control, so why should farming be treated any differently?

Any handouts given during the current drought should be tied to radical changes in our farming methods. In many cases that means abandoning the most marginal lands. Don't expect these kinds of hard decisions to be made by any of the geniuses vying to win the election this year though.

Gun control saves lives

Howard has talked about my post on gun laws, and talks about the laws and their effect in the UK. There's been a massive increase in gun crime in the UK in recent years, fuelled partly by smuggling from Eastern Europe and the rise of gangsta culture. Someone was shot in Newington Green this week, just around the corner from Scott and Katie's place.

I thought I'd lay down why I support gun control, and in fact support it being far, far tighter.

People go nuts. In Australia and the UK, they go nuts at pretty much the same rate as America, give or take a bit. When someone goes on a killing spree, the weapons available to them make all the difference in the impact of the spree. You can only get so far with a knife, and hurt so many people.

Now occasionally this means a nutter with foresight will get hold of an illegal gun, and still go on a killing spree. But these types of spree are far, far rarer. They're normally going to go with what's easily available.

Personally I think you need a very good reason to own a gun. Target shooters should be required to join a gun club, and the gun is signed out and back in to lockers run by the club whenever they're used. You can't have such a gun at home.

Hunters, well I'm not quite sure we need them. I'm sure some similar restrictions could be thought up though. No guns in homes.

Farmers are a bit more difficult. We have a lot of pest animals in Australia, and farmers really do need to be able to have guns readily accesible to protect livestock and kill any pests they find. Not sure how you can reduce the risk here, apart from background checks, weapon limits and mandatory gun lockers.

Handguns? There's never any legitimate need outside law enforcement. Again, sporting shooters can join a gun club.

Gun laws are good

Back when the Port Arthur Massacre had just happened and the debate raged over gun control, it was common to hear about Texans saying things like "never woulda happened in Texas". They'd say this because, the theory goes, in Texas everyone is packing heat so when some nutjob pulls a gun, he'd only get to pop a few off before someone else took him out.

Reading about yesterdays terrible events I ended up reading about Luby's massacre, which up until yesterday had been America's deadliest (civil) mass shooting. It happened in 1991, four years before the Port Arthur Massacre. It happened in Texas. Of course, their reaction was to allow concealed weapons to be carried, which is quite a contrast to what happened here.

The Wasp Nest Principle

I've been listening to a great radio play called The Department from Radio 4. It's very sharp satire. This afternoon I listened to the episode where the team tackle terrorism, and it had this brilliant rant:

"Well our problem here is that right from day one the War on Terror has been based on the wasp's nest principle, which thinks that the best thing to do if you've been stung by a wasp is to follow that wasp back to its nest and hit the nest with a big stick, and then keep repeatedly hitting the nest with a big stick until the stripey little shit has learnt its lesson."

That is going straight to the signature file, the email equivalent of the pool room.