Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fat boomer jerk tells it like it is

On tonight’s SBS TV “Insight” obese millionaire boomer Harold Mitchell got the first line in, re what Australia’s $10bn budget surplus might best be spent on. His opener was something like: “This is the first generation since 1788 who will not have a standard of living as high as their parents”.

Well, amen to that, I thought.

But it turns out the above sentence was only half-digested in Mitchell’s processes; his real point came in his next line: “And so young people will have to become internationally competitive”. (Again, I’m paraphrasing from memory).

Yes, this (barely) walking coronary disaster-area actually just said that boomers are apparently exempt from the chill winds of international economic competition. I’m not sure why – perhaps Mitchell sees their (and his) big fat house-prices as like his big fat gut; having enough stored surplus in them to keep the third-world at bay for decades, if need be.

Oh, and hilariously, Mitchell’s top (indeed only) $10bn spending priority, bearing in mind the need to keep Australia’s post-boomers lean and mean, was broadband infrastructure.

Let them eat YouTube, eh Harold?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Australia’s nuclear dumping-ground

The communal dumping-ground is a strong feature of European culture, at least of the last hundred years or so. It does not seem to be a universal norm across all modern cultures, however. I suspect that one set of cultures not so big on communal dumping-grounds are Australia’s Indigenous ones. Which makes a suitably ironic starting-point for discussing the nuclear dumping-ground to be established on Indigenous land in the middle (a word which, as will be seen shortly, carries more than its usual weight here) of the Northern Territory.

Communal dumping-grounds are, under European norms, places of apparent necessity. Private – which is to say, capitalist – dumping grounds exist by default in sparsely-populated areas (even well-heeled farmers don’t get council garbage collection), but are otherwise an anathema. Capitalism can’t cope with its own shit, you might say.

To be effective, a communal dumping-ground requires both strong boundaries and tolerant (or hapless) neighbours. The occupants adjacent to the dumping-ground will always carry the hazard of the dump oozing onto their property by stealth – whether by wind or water carriage, or by human agency. Conversely though, it would be completely unacceptable for such an adjacent occupant to become a “Join ‘em” defeatist, or capitalist, by allowing their property to become an unofficial or official dump also. That would be to then spread the boundary-policing problem to the neighbours adjacent to them, of course.

Over the last three decades, communal dumping-grounds have followed the general globalist trajectory of the times by being relentlessly de-localised. Even now – but not for much longer – the affluent residents of Toorak have their own neighbourhood dumping-ground (in less-affluent but still toney South Yarra), despite traditionally working-class Richmond being just as close to Toorak. The communal factor used not to mean open-slather aggregation and concentration of dumps, then. One’s garbage – until land values intervened – was generally geographically contained by one’s local government area, and probably also by the role of perceptions, in which the hypothetical prospect of Richmond trucking its garbage to Toorak would be more acceptable to the general public than the reverse. (South Yarra shares Stonnington Council with Toorak, while Richmond is, and has always been, a separate LGA.)

The proposed Muckaty nuclear dumping-ground is, needless to say, the nth degree of Other People’s Garbage being transported far, far away from its own Neighbourhood.

While Muckaty doesn’t have a local government, and in any case one might think that nuclear waste is in a different category from general waste in hardly being a local government issue, there is still an odd politicking and geography behind its choice. This isn’t a Toorak vs Richmond story of class, though.

If a person who knew nothing about the Northern Territory or Australia were to look at map of the NT that showed nothing other than (i) km scale, (ii) the Territory’s land and sea boundaries, and (iii) the internal boundary between the Northern Land Council and the Central Land Council, and was told that the NLC had rubber-stamped a nuclear dump somewhere within its bailiwick, that person should be able to pick out the location of this dump (the unlabelled Muckaty) with a high degree of accuracy.

How so? The intra-Territory NLC/CLC boundary runs like a diagonal step-ladder from the north-west of the Territory (about on a level with the southern end of Lake Argyle, WA), to the south-east (about a hundred clicks south of Camooweal, QLD). There are a few minor irregularities in this step-ladder, when it veers a bit north and south so as to trace the boundaries of current or former pastoral leases, but only one striking peninsula, where a finger of CLC bailiwick protrudes eastward into NLC territory about half-way between Elliot and Tennant Creek. The result is that a smallish (about 2000 square km) square of NLC land to the south of this finger is surrounded on three sides by CLC land. No prizes for guessing where Muckaty is now, folks.

Land council politics and geography aside though, the choice of Muckaty as a dumping-ground is not altogether perverse or malicious, as far as the Powers That Be (but not the traditional owners) are concerned. To my non-Indigenous eyes, the ~250 km stretch of the Stuart Highway between Elliot and Three Ways is the unloveliest countryside in Australia. It doesn’t have the central desert’s red, weathered geology and precise, minimalist vegetation, nor the tropical zone’s ferocious abundance. It is also too much in the middle in other ways, conveniently close to the Three Ways cross-roads, but conveniently far from any NT/state boundaries (state governments can’t be overridden by the Commonwealth like the Territory’s government can.)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The naked lawyer, drugs and depression

Media coverage of barrister Peter Hayes’ death, and last days of life, has had a distinct below-the-belt focus. He was found nekkid – so what? I sleep naked, and I hope to die in my sleep. Ergo, I hope to die naked. So if the n-word or sight in my death should ever confront any of you down the track, you read it here first.

Admittedly though, the n-word would have gotten much less prominence in Hayes’ case had in not been in the close vicinity of two other “Um-ah” terms: “prostitute” and “drugs”. In turn, the p-word (which refers to a legal activity that is generally thought to be no one else’s business) seems to have only been so openly used in Hayes’ case because of the d-word. Drugs (illegal ones), then, are the only real baddie in the story of Hayes’ death; the rest is just tabloid prurience.

From the preliminary medical reports, it appears that Hayes died of a heart attack, and that the drug/s he had taken may not have caused his death. Time and autopsy will tell whether the d-word also was just another incidental detail given ridiculous media prominence.

In the meantime, I want to talk about another d-word – an above-the-belt one, this time – that seems to have had a pervasive role in Hayes’ life and death. Perversely, “depression” is a word that the media seem to have been unable to say, despite (or because of?) all the other salacious detail. Hints have been dropped, but mostly in an ambiguous context, in which allusions to Hayes’ mental fragility could simply refer to drug highs and lows.

I don’t know for a fact that Hayes had depression. I do know from first-hand experience, however, that Hayes had a mental breakdown in 1990, and that this was kept quiet at the time, even within the legal profession. In 1990, I was an articled clerk assisting on a large commercial litigation matter, which had finally gotten to trial. For me, that had meant endless photocopying in the weeks prior to trial: a set of several lever-arch files for the judge, my side’s two or three barristers, and quite a few others. The premise of my side’s case was that within the thousands of lever-arched pages in each copied set was a sort of conspiracy, in which the other side’s company had sold my side’s company a multi-million dollar “lemon” (of a life-and-disability insurance company). If so, this was certainly not handily expressed, or even implied, in any single document. The trial was going to be interesting then, for whether my side’s barristers were going to be able to draw any nuggets out of this paper desert.

During the trial, I was head trolley-boy, and so the paper “desert” might more accurately be termed a paper “mountain” from my POV. I wasn’t in the court-room when, early on in the trial, Hayes had a mental breakdown and so was taken off the case, but naturally I was told about it, along with the firm injunction to keep it quiet.

The fact of Hayes’ mental breakdown did not surprise me. Spending weeks utterly absorbed and lost in a paper wilderness did enough strange things to my head, and my greatest intellectual challenge was to ensure concordant page-numbering of the copied sets – a mere dip of my big toe in the documents, compared to the full-body immersion of Hayes (et al) in them. Now that’s nakedness.

Hayes in 1990 was much thinner than he was in recent years. Obesity is a disease strongly co-morbid with (i) poverty and (ii) depression. I think we can rule out poverty in Hayes’ case. Hayes’ late-life obesity is thus Exhibit 2; showing that Hayes’ mental fragility in 1990 was probably not a once-off, but something that stayed with him, and probably worsened over time.

That the legal profession outflanks all others (by far) in its rates of depression was written up in the AFR a few weeks ago. This was a fact that I’ve instinctively known anyway, at least since 1990. It would also seem to be a fact that most lawyers have instinctively grasped along the way.

I assume that Hayes received appropriate mental-health treatment, in 1990 at least. Two brutal facts need be stated here: (i) depression cannot be cured, or even significantly alleviated, for a sizeable minority of its sufferers, and (ii) if you’re in this category, it is surely better to embrace than futilely fight the black dog. That Hayes remained a lawyer after 1990 is thus Exhibit 3: misery loves company, or there’s safety in numbers.

That Hayes evidently self-medicated is "case closed" on the d-word, your honour. Drugs didn’t do it, depression and documents did.

I really hope that Peter Hayes has now gone to a better place, and had a less burdened trolley-boy than the 1990-me to help him on his way. And my apologies to his family, if I have raked up stuff they may have preferred been kept private - I mean no disrespect.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The banality of motorcades

Watching the live TV crosses of David Hick’s return to Adelaide this morning took me back to an earlier, indelible motorcade association. Princess Diana’s funeral procession, after it had left London, and so without any ceremonial pace or backdrop.

I could not stop watching the TV footage of this, in the unusually-subdued downstairs back bar at the Prince of Wales (no irony intended) in St Kilda. The screen tracked the motorcade’s relentless passage through the ugly English “country”-side, hour after hour. It was like watching a reverse ambulance journey: never wanting it to get “there” and savouring every banal detail as a sort of impediment to its progress.

Maybe this was just a Jungian rehash of the ferryman and the Styx. Which analogy seems appropriate enough to David Hick’s motorcade journey this morning. From hell - or at least legal limbo - and back.

Welcome home, David, you Xer you traitor you martyr, and shine.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Cricket in Zimbabwe, and paedophiles in your neighbourhood

Yes, there’s a link of sorts.

Regarding cricket in Zimbabwe, it seems that there is a bleedingly obvious reason why Australia should not have sporting contact with that country. It is a nation falling apart, yet at least 11 of its citizens apparently have nothing better to do than faff around in white pyjamas while their fellow countrymen starve. For that they are scum. Never mind Mugabe; the “Let Them Eat Spectacle” eleven are sufficiently psychopathic on their own.

It’s called “Look who’s getting the dollars, and what they’re doing for it”. It’s not rocket science, but boomer journo Margaret Simons just doesn’t get it, anyway.

In an article in Saturday’s Age, “Looking for the safety zone” (no URL), Simons manages to make a paedophile, who lived for a short period in her neighbourhood, look positively attractive compared to a boomer yuppie throwing her real-estate weight around.

“No one wants a pedophile for a neighbour.”

If you don’t have young children (and I and the vast majority of my suburb don’t), then what’s the problem? Noisy GenY neighbours, OTOH . . .

The pedophile’s house is “one of those semi-detached pokey 1920s numbers” with a “tiny” distance between the front fence and the front door.

Yep, one of those which unrenovated cost at least $400,000 – and so for a first home-buyer would require annual income of $120k+ to buy. But Simons thinks it positively ghastly, presumably because she lives in somewhere nearby but far more spacious, that she picked up for a song.

Going back to the Zimbabwe segue, I’d have thought that putting a paedophile fresh out of jail in a large (I assume it has at least two bedrooms) public housing (again I am assuming) unit, worth a mint, all on his own might be a fair-enough story. Not because of the paedophile angle particularly, but because he’s a boomer man who has gotten Rolls-Royce public housing, while Xer men get shunted to rooming-houses. Wouldn’t a rooming-house be a reasonable enough domicile for him?

Such mundane monetary thoughts are not even on Simons’ radar, of course. Like most of her generation, all she does in life is take, take, take – and occasionally, bitch. This is thrown into glorious relief when she muses on a recent experience using FOI, versus FOI in the early 1980s:

“When the [FOI] legislation was introduced in Victoria in 1982, I was part of the team of Age journalist who explored its use. We put in big, wide fishing expeditions of requests . . . The truth is that we just wanted good stories. Freedom of information used to be fun”.

Hey, I’m sure that cricket in Zimbabwe once used to be fun also. But stating that in the current environment is not merely lame; it’s obscene. So your journo generation had a hoot when it was 20-something, did it Margaret? If you really can’t see the connection between this fact and FOI’s current uselessness, I’d recommend your moving to a more “pokey” abode – the space is wasted on you where you now live so myopically.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Retrospectively doubling the superannuation co-contribution, and other perversities

I’m an always-read-the-fine-print kinda guy. Which has its downsides, believe it or not. In matters of intimate relationships, my instinctive “Show me your complete warranties and disclaimers and I’ll show you mine” mindset is not exactly conducive to getting any.

But that’s a topic for another day. Post-Budget, I find my read-the-fine-print instinct shattering a small gesture towards my retirement I had planned to make pre-30 June this year.

I am 42 going on 43, and currently have less than $5,000 in superannuation savings (and almost no other assets, including no real estate, car, or shares). “Just put this bleak fact as far as possible out of your mind” would be, I think, a reasonable strategy in the circumstances. But no – little, middle-aged heroic me decided a while ago, and until yesterday, to make a $1,000 voluntary, post-tax superannuation contribution this financial year. I’d calculated that I was going to earn just less than the $28,000 annual income, under which the government makes it maximum co-contribution of a nominal $1,500, or $1050 in real terms, as explained below.

It was not going to make a huge difference anyway, and I could certainly use the $1,000 in the short or medium term, as opposed to locking it up until 2024, but I nonetheless thought, until yesterday, that the fiscal stars had more or less aligned for me, as a single Xer male, as much as they were ever going to.

When I first read this story – a budget leak that no other media seems to have got hold of – in yesterday’s Oz, I thought that the fiscal stars had in fact doubly aligned for me – the low-income superannuation co-contribution was to be doubled!

Enter the fine-print. Which here overlaps with my long experience as an Xer, that there has not been a single government spending or taxation policy change that has worked to other than to my detriment in all my adult life, and this is unlikely to change. In fact, the doubling up was only for low-income earners people who made voluntary superannuation contributions last financial year (i.e. the year ending 30 June 2006).

To call this retrospectivity perverse is an understatement, yet none of the three* print media outlets that today ran the once-off doubling-up as a story have commented in this aspect, or even highlighted the fact. Last night’s ABC TV 8pm Budget wrap-up erroneously even said that the once-off doubling-up was for “this year”. (Incidentally yet again confirming the ABC’s status as sheltered workshop run by slack boomers for greedy boomers – neither of which are going to be bothered with the details of loose-change-amount stories, other than when loose-change turns up as a simple $500 cash bribe to millionaire over-60s.)

Some might say that the retrospective aspect, while puzzling from a policy point of view, doesn’t actually change (for better or worse) my hitherto-planned superannuation co-contribution. Which is true in one sense, but certainly not in my fine-print combing mind. I can only assume that the retrospectivity is designed to trick non-fine-print-type people into making a voluntary superannuation contribution in this, or future financial years. So I won’t touch it with a bargepole.

Finally, just to be clear about the economics underlying superannuation co-contributions. For someone earning between $25,000 and $27,999 this financial year, the $1,000 they may be thinking of putting into super in order to attract a $1,500 co-contribution gets taxed twice before it hits their super account: at 30% PAYE and a further 15% super-specific tax. Therefore the first $450 of the supposed $1,500 co-contribution is your money anyway. Basically, the low-income co-contribution scheme sucks, then.

If you are a high-income earner ($75k-$100k), OTOH, you’re entitled to a very different scheme of what is in substance a government co-contribution of about $850** for each $1,000 volunteered. Here, you can put pre-tax money into super to your heart’s content, more or less – but only if you’re a boomer. Boomers born on or before 30 June 1962 have the super triple whammy of: (i) earlier access (age 57 tops but 55 for most), (ii) being closer than Xers to retirement day in any event (and so carrying less legislative and investment risk), and (iii) being able to tip $100k pre-tax into super for at least one year pre-2012, while for everyone else, the pre-tax limit on voluntary superannuation contributions is $50k. And further, those over 60 and still working can launder their ABC-comfort-level incomes to pay no tax, by salary-sacrificing 100% of their income (under $100k) into “new” super, while drawing on tax-free “old” super to actually live on.

* According to a Google News search this morning for "superannuation co-contribution".
** (Update) Does not include 15% superannuation contribution tax.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Schadenfreude in Melbourne

Spotted last Sunday at Smith Street Safeway: over-exposed and perennial boomer-boosting writer/critic Peter Craven, pushing a mop in the aisle. Well he wasn’t literally pushing a mop, but he was wearing an employee uniform and carrying a disconsolate expression on his face that suggested a mop wielding-like inertia. Perhaps he was performing a price-check on Helen Garner Credibility Crackers, with a best-before date of 11/11/1975 and now Reduced To Sell.

It’s good to see that the calculated starvation of the arts and academia, a uniform blight on the lives of Xer writers and thinkers for the last two decades, has finally caught up with at least one high-profile boomer. But don’t worry, Peter – I’m still way ahead of you in the shitty job stakes.

Also had to chuckle at photos in today’s AFR magazine of the interior of boomer architect Karl Fender’s “stunning” (his word) high-rise apartment. It features faux-retro bar stools that were runners-up in the Fountain Lakes Academy of Interior Décor end-of-year prize night. In 2004. And an opaque bluey-green tinted glass-topped coffee table that appears to have come straight from the Freedom Furniture catalogue of the same year. But in fairness to Fender, time has mellowed the opaque bluey-green tinted-glass range. In 2007 such furniture speaks with all the charm and quiet authority of a dentist’s waiting room, rather than a humbler original connotation of a 20-something’s proud splurging of their first post-uni pay-cheque.

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