More zeal than sense

Why throw out a perfectly respectable source of revenue – stamp duty – and thereby narrow your tax base?

As his recent budget demonstrated, ACT Treasurer Andrew Barr is an ambitious politician who intends to leave his mark on the territory’s public finances.

Nothing wrong with that, except that the Treasurer’s plan (eventually) to replace revenue from taxes on conveyancing (stamp duty) with revenue from rates suggests more reforming zeal than common sense.

Religion’s place in Australia

Recently, Baroness Warsi, a Conservative Cabinet minister in Britain’s coalition government, and also a Muslim, criticised what she saw as a trend towards ‘militant secularisation’ in European society. By this, she meant that religion was being downgraded in the public sphere. Europe, she wrote, should be more comfortable in its …

Green, but not happy to pay

Beyond composting the kitchen scraps and making sure the bottles and paper go in the yellow bin, most of us find the going tough, Jenny Stewart writes. Despite what Shakespeare may have said, there’s a lot in a name. Canberra’s tips, once the site of weekend recreational outings with the …

Weighted figures stretch truth

The so-called obesity epidemic is a more complex picture than the statistics would have us believe.

Who’s heard of the Australian obesity epidemic? One way or another, most of us are vaguely aware of the growing fatness of Australians, if only when we ruefully try to get into last year’s swimming costume. Doctors warn of the rising incidence of diabetes and other conditions associated with being overweight.

The tricks, and trials, of measuring performance

I don’t know anyone who enjoys performance assessment, either having it done or doing it. At one stage in the public sector, many agencies offered performance pay: a salary top-up for those who were considered to have performed well. Although this practice seems to have died away, having one’s performance assessed is still important. Payment of increments, for examples, rather than being automatic as it once was, now depends on at least satisfactory performance. (Only senior people in the financial sector, it seems, are paid bonuses even when their company does badly.)

Long way to independence

The Queen’s visit serves to highlight how much Australia has change – and how much we’ve stayed the same these past 60 years.

The Queen’s 16th visit to Australia has come and gone, reminding us how much – and how little – has changed in the 60 years since she ascended the throne. Most Australians my age can remember the tremendous to-do of the first and second royal visits, the breathless anticipation, the flag-waving, and if you were lucky, the gloved hand glimpsed through the window of the passing Roller.

Forestry didn’t get it all wrong

There is a strong push to stop all logging of native forests, but is this really justified from the point of view of conservation?

I wonder if the Australian environmental movement remains pleased with its success in relation to our native forests. According to Forests Australia, the area of native forest in public conservation reserves has reached 16 per cent of the total, up from 11 per cent in 1997. This represents an increase of almost 6million hectares. Most of this forest – almost 5million hectares – was transferred from production forests operated on public land by state forestry agencies. At the same time, the area under plantation has grown steadily, with something like 900,000ha of hardwood plantation reported in production statistics for 2011.

A more productive argument

China might be central to our prosperity, but we need a more strategic approach to reaping the rewards of our resources boom.

In my lifetime, there have been three resources booms. In the 1960s and early 1970s Japanese and, later, South Korean demand drove the rapid expansion of the mining and energy sectors. The short-lived boom of the early 1980s was propelled by buoyant world demand for energy. And for the last 15 years, the motive force has been the rise – and rise – of China.

Time to refine energy security

What are we to make of the energy debate? If good public policy is the art of distilling the signal from the noise, the challenge has never been greater.

How to balance the risks of climate change against the costs of doing anything about it? And what, in turn, might these decisions mean for energy security?

For the past six months our national attention has, understandably, been focused on the carbon tax issue.

Hard path to get things right

Employers regularly take universities to task for not producing graduates with the qualities needed in the modern workplace. Chief among these, so we are told, is the capacity for independent, critical thinking – that is, being able to test arguments for logic and coherence in the process of making up one’s own mind about issues of importance.

What’s the bonus, baby?

The federal government is convinced it is on to a winner with its baby bonus (or maternity payment as it is more correctly called), which currently pays out $4,000 for each new arrival, rising to $5,000 in 2008.

Would you have a baby for $4,000? Or even $5,000? For many women, it would take a good deal more than that to get them interested. The whole-of-life costs of a child are conservatively estimated at about $100,000 in today’s dollars, which makes the proposition, at least in financial terms, look distinctly unattractive.

Do we really want our city to be like all others?

The National Capital Authority justifies its bold new plan for Civic on the grounds that to many people, Canberra is a bit of a disappointment. Visitors, we are told, expect more of their national capital than the rather luke-warm induction Civic is able to provide. It seems that Civic is insufficiently cosmopolitan and – even more damning – not vibrant enough.

Don’t take funding for granted

Time was, when you wanted to do something, you just went and did it. Now, you need to get a grant first. There are grants for just about everything: for putting on plays and writing poems; for doing quilting; for being innovative; for travelling about and taking notes.

For academics, it is not enough to do research, or even to write books. In fact, it is probably not a good idea to write books at all, because no one is interested in publishing them. If you really want a CV that sings, you need a grant from the Australian Research Council (ARC).

By most accounts not the best way to run an education system

You have to feel sorry for young Andrew Barr. A newcomer to government, he has been thrust into the midst of what looks to be a protracted fight about the future of 39 schools (and pre-schools) in Canberra.

Ultimately, fewer than 39 schools will close. Indeed it looks as though the government went deliberately for over-kill, calculating that, after the dust has settled, the community will be so grateful for the schools that have been spared, they will forget the rest.

Everyday heroes expendable for short-term interests of consumers

Until relatively recently, producers were the heroes of the Australian economy. Now they are considered to be expendable.

Consider the recently-announced closure of Bluescope’s tin-plating mill in Port Kembla. Two hundred and fifty workers will lose their jobs, and in addition, it is likely that there will be knock-on effects, not only for Wollongong but for the economy as a whole.