Sunday, 31 July 2016

New Zealand experts warn Australia data-driven welfare 'abuses and brutalises'

Extract from The Guardian

Data collected on New Zealand welfare recipients is used predict their ‘future liability’ and cost to the state.
Data collected on New Zealand welfare recipients is used predict their ‘future liability’ and cost to the state. Social workers say the government’s thirst for more data is leading to overwhelming administrative duties. Photograph: Juice/REX/Shutterstock
New Zealand welfare experts have slammed the Australian government’s decision to copy their welfare system, saying the changes are unproven and are causing New Zealand’s most vulnerable to “check out” of any relationship with the state.
“In New Zealand our welfare system operates the same way as our prisons – it treats beneficiaries as a threat to society, to be policed and managed,” said Darrin Hodgetts, a professor of societal psychology at Massey University and an expert on poverty in New Zealand.
“If Australia want to abuse and brutalise their people, then sure, copy our system.”
In 2012 the National-led government initiated a wave of welfare changes, with an emphasis on “social investment” – using data collected on welfare recipients to predict their “future liability” and cost to the state.

“We owe it, at least to the taxpayer, but absolutely to the people needing our help, to use every tool available to change lives,” said the deputy prime minister, Bill English, in a data conference this year. “Lives which are described by the data.”
The New Zealand government believes that increasing use of predictive modelling techniques based on personal data from beneficiaries (incorporating data from child, youth and family payments, work and income, and the criminal justice system) will help it identify the most vulnerable in society and intervene at an earlier stage so they do not become long-term or lifetime beneficiaries.
The government says in the four years since implementing the regime, it has saved the welfare system $12bn it would have otherwise had to spend in the future.
This model – called “actuarial valuation” – is what the Australian government want to emulate.
But poverty experts in New Zealand say the Australians are signing up to a system that is routinely harming, rather than helping, New Zealand’s most needy.
“Any of these data modelling tools – trying to predict the future – they are notoriously wrong,” said Louise Humpage, a senior lecturer in sociology and criminology at the University of Auckland.
“And they are hugely dehumanising as well – people become a statistic and not an individual.”

Experts agree that increasingly New Zealand’s most desperate citizens are “opting out” of the state welfare system due to its complex administration requirements and hardline approach.
“The quest for more data seems to be spreading like wildfire, and it really concerns me, not least because it is a cold, hard method for a government agency that should be built on empathy,” Humpage said.
Social workers on the ground are also reporting that the thirst for more data is leading to overwhelming administrative duties and less face-to-face time with clients.
“If we get obsessed with data collection and data analysis it really takes away from a personalised, nuanced understanding of someone and their needs,” said Nicola Atwool, who coordinates the social worker program at the University of Otago.
“I don’t think the balance is right at the moment, people are dealing with administrative procedures at the expense of spending time with families.”

Last year Auckland University of Technology social science lecturer Michael Fletcher penned an opinion article for the Australian website the Conversation warning Australians not to follow New Zealand’s welfare changes.
“The claim that the NZ investment approach has been ‘very successful’ is at best unproven. Arguably, it is plain wrong,” he wrote.
“The data which the government is so excited about is incomplete,” he told the Guardian after Australia’s announcement this week.
“We don’t know what has happened to people once they have come off the benefit, and whether they got off because their lives improved, or they just couldn’t cope with the system any more, which has become extremely hardline at the front line.
“By using future liability as its measure, strictly speaking the government don’t care what happens to the people who go away – who give up on trying to get what they deserve from the state. They’re not included in the data. And that’s the cracker.
“Welfare should be underpinned by a caring, facilitating approach. This is emphatically not.”

Herbert seat won by Labor's Cathy O’Toole by 37 votes after recount

Extract from The Guardian

Australian Electoral Commission declares seat, but Turnbull government, which has a majority of just one, likely to contest the decision in court

Cathy O’Toole
Labor candidate for the electorate of Herbert, Cathy O’Toole, has won the seat by 37 votes. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP
The Australian Electoral Commission has declared the last remaining House of Representatives seat for Labor, leaving the Turnbull government with a majority of just one.
The AEC on Sunday said Labor’s Cathy O’Toole had prevailed over the Liberal incumbent Ewen Jones in the north Queensland seat of Herbert by 37 votes.
The declaration of Herbert leaves the Coalition with 76 seats post election and Labor with 69 seats. But the Liberals have flagged an intention to challenge the result in the court of disputed returns. The government has 40 days to mount such a challenge after the writs are returned.
Speaking on Sky News ahead of the declaration, the special minister of state, Scott Ryan, confirmed that was the decision-making timetable.
“It’s marginally less than 40 days on this occasion due to some administrative arrangements, but let’s just say that it’s about 40 days from next weekend,” Ryan said on Sunday morning.
Malcolm Turnbull last week sent a strong signal the Coalition would contest any loss in Herbert in court on the basis there were allegations that electors in Herbert were not able to vote in the contest.
It is claimed some soldiers from Lavarack Barracks missed out on voting while they were on Exercise Hamel in South Australia during the election campaign.
A number of Townsville hospital patients are also believed not to have been given the opportunity to vote.
The Liberals have been collecting affidavits and other preparatory material in anticipation of a challenge. Jones was unavailable for comment on Sunday.
Speaking in the Northern Territory on Sunday, the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said he hoped the government would accept the result and not have a “dummy spit”.
Shorten said the ALP would deal with any eventuality in the seat but he said there would have to be strong grounds to seek a court challenge in the seat, and he said the residents of Townsville would be frustrated with procedural skirmishing.
Labor has been pouring resources into north Queensland seats over several election cycles but the party has not managed to win back Herbert for the past 20 years.
Unemployment is high in Townsville and One Nation performed well in the seat, attracting more than 13% of the vote in the recent election.
Funding the stadium in the town was a major issue during the recent campaign, and the Liberals committed to funding it comparatively late in the election cycle.
The AEC is also continuing the Senate count almost a month after polling day. Final results are expected by Thursday this week.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Banks' 'low-risk model' high risk for Australian economy

Extract from ABC News
Posted 13 Jul 2016, 4:50pm

You have to listen to a lot of talk from central bankers to glean the odd tidbit of enlightenment, but it's worth it when you get an insight.
Yesterday provided a particularly worrying insight into the Reserve Bank's attitude towards home lending, and perhaps one reason why it's generally stood idly by while Australian banks have inflated what is on most measures one of the world's biggest ever housing bubbles.
The insight came at a banking conference from the Reserve Bank's head of financial stability Dr Luci Ellis, and one can only hope the sentiment stems from her relatively narrow role and doesn't reflect a broader view at the RBA.
The banks in Australia have coordinated on a low-risk business model, everything else they could be doing other than lending on mortgages is higher risk overall.
Her comment was in answer to a question about whether the 60-plus per cent concentration of big four bank loans in the housing sector was a concern to the RBA.
In the second part of her answer, Dr Ellis effectively said a severe housing crash in Australia would kill the major banks through bad business loans first.
"All of the stress tests that our colleagues at APRA have done have generally shown that, by the time you've got to a position where the mortgage book is sending you out of business, you've already gone out of business because of the other bits of business that you have," she added.

Lax home loan rules boosted housing addiction

Certainly, the bank regulator APRA has historically considered housing loans safer, allowing the major banks and Macquarie to use their own internal risk weightings to assess how much capital they needed to hold to cover potential losses.
That saw risk weights for housing bottom out below 15 per cent for some banks, meaning they potentially only needed to hold $1.50 in capital for every $100 in mortgages they lent out.
However, on the recommendation of former CBA boss David Murray's financial system inquiry, APRA has now imposed a 25 per cent floor on housing risk weights.
In large part, it has been these lower risk weights, relative to the 100 per cent risk weighting on most other loans, that have encouraged Australia's banks to overinvest in housing.
The less capital they have to hold, the better the banks' return on equity, which means higher dividends for shareholders and fatter bonuses for bankers.
However, what this home loan addiction has also done is create a housing market that most respected financial authorities - from the OECD and IMF to The Economist magazine - think is dangerously overvalued.
Combined with a pro-housing tax and transfer system, these rules have also resulted in Australians and their banks directing far too much "investment" towards real estate, and far too little towards expanding local industries.

Real estate overinvestment hollows out economy

While, from a microeconomic point of view, home lending may appear a whole lot safer than business lending, from a macroeconomic point of view it simply results in a hollow economy.
The home lending fetish results in underinvestment in new businesses, research and expansion, and an over-reliance on foreign capital which can easily evaporate in a crisis.
It also creates a higher cost of doing business because of inflated land prices, and because workers' wages need to be high enough for them to also afford inflated housing costs, making Australian firms globally uncompetitive.
If (or, perhaps more accurately, when) this results in an Australian recession the banks will have to be bailed out through central bank loans.
The further disappointing news from Dr Ellis is that this Reserve Bank largesse is likely to be granted based on bubble home prices, rather than bust ones.
"People sometimes forget that this means lending against collateral valued at pre-panic prices," she said in her prepared remarks.
Some people will always regard whatever happened before the panic as inflated and somehow illegitimate.
"While some asset prices can reach over-exuberant levels in the lead-up to a panic, fire-sale prices in a panic are no more based on fundamentals than mania-phase prices are."
So savers who have elected not to over-leverage themselves to speculate on the housing boom are not only losing out through low interest rates designed to prop up the bubble, but are also likely to have to wear some of these costs of bailing out those who did jump in.

Australia headed for recession next year, Professor Steve Keen says

Extract from ABC News

Updated about 6 hours ago

Australia's credit binge will lead to a bust as soon as next year, with house prices to fall between 40 and 70 per cent and unemployment to rise sharply, Professor Steve Keen says.
The professor famously lost a bet when he predicted a catastrophic crash in Australian house prices following the GFC and had to walk from Canberra to Mount Kosciusko as a result.
But he says, this time, he is right and does not have his hiking boots at the ready.
"We have borrowed ourselves so much to the hilt that we are now dependent on that continuing to rise over time and it simply won't," he told the ABC's The Business.
Many believe the Reserve Bank has been a steady guiding hand to the Australian economy in the years since the GFC, but Professor Keen believes it has guided the economy "straight toward the shoals" by encouraging households to borrow with low rates which has led to asset bubbles.
"They don't know what they're doing," he said.
"Our debt level according to the Bank of International Settlements, private debt level, has gone from 150 per cent of GDP to 210 per cent of GDP."
He argued that means a large part of the growth that Australia has enjoyed since the GFC, while many other countries plunged into recession, has been fuelled by a 60 per cent rise in household debt.
"Ireland did the same thing when they called themselves the Celtic Tiger and they don't call themselves that anymore," he said.
"Spain was doing the same thing during its housing bubble and we've replicated the same mistakes.
"It is even worse for us, we are the last idiot on the block."
He believes the Reserve Bank will be forced to take rates down to zero from their current level of 1.75 per cent as the economy continues to slow, but that will not stop the collapse of the credit binge that has kept the country afloat until now.
"[Lower rates] will suck more people in, it will suck more people in for a while and the [Reserve Bank] can delay this for a while by cutting the rates," he said.

Government deficit worries overblown, Keen says

He said the catalysts for the recession were the declining terms of trade, the continued fall in investment into the economy and the Federal Government's "stupid" pursuit of a budget surplus.
"The Government is frankly stupid about the economy and is obsessed about running surpluses when it is bad economics."
A major round of government stimulus that takes the deficit to 10 or 15 per cent of GDP and a massive uptick in foreign investment, especially into housing, would allow the country to avoid a big recession, according to Professor Keen.
But he said neither options were politically palatable.
He said worries about huge government deficits were overblown.
"The Government is not like a household. A government is like a bank. And a government running a balanced budget is like a bank that simply lends back as much as it gets in repayments, therefore the money supply never grows and without that, you don't have a growing economy," he said.
Professor Keen, who was formerly an associate professor of economics at the University of Western Sydney and is now at Kingston University in London, says economists and governments around the world have their thinking completely wrong on the issue of budget deficits.
He said the best way to prepare for the coming recession was to sell assets and reduce debts, but he admitted that was the type of behaviour which could set off a credit crunch.

ABC station older than the ABC itself celebrates 85 years of radio in central Queensland

Extract from ABC News 

Posted Thu at 6:47pm

One of regional Queensland's oldest radio stations is celebrating 85 years of continuous operation, making it an ABC station older than the ABC itself.
4RK was started by the privately-run Australian Broadcasting Company in Rockhampton in central Queensland on July 29, 1931.
Radio historian David Brownsey said that was almost a year before the ABC as we know it was created.
The Australian Broadcasting Commission — later to become Corporation — was launched the following year on July 1, 1932.
The ABC took on 4RK, and the Rockhampton station became the fledgling national broadcaster's first regional Queensland station.
"Radio in those days was quite a novelty, and sets were expensive and few and far between, but they had a very, very attentive audience," Mr Brownsey said.

Twenty-three years ago an aspiring radio presenter a few weeks away from his 21st birthday applied for a job with ABC Capricornia (as 4RK is known).
He was Spencer Howson, who has now been at the helm of 612 ABC Brisbane's top-rating Breakfast show for 15 years.
"At times I do joke about the time I spent in Rockhampton, but in truth I wouldn't change a thing," Mr Howson said.
"Whenever I talk to journalism students or people wanting to get into radio, I always tell them how enriching it will be to spend a couple of years outside the south-east of the state."
One of the highlights of Mr Howson's time in Rockhampton was reporting on a man who hatched a scheme to buy one mushroom at a time from the supermarket, because the price rounded down to nothing.
The story led to shoppers being banned from buying individual mushrooms.

Andrew Lofthouse, a familiar face in Queensland homes from presenting the statewide television news on the Nine Network, also spent time working at the Rockhampton station.
"The first day I was supposed to come to work, I couldn't get to the studio because there was a bomb scare at The Factory nightclub around the corner and police had cordoned off the entire block," Mr Lofthouse said.
"I remember getting a call in the morning saying 'You'd better not come in because they're not going to let you near the building', so what a start that was."
Mr Lofthouse did eventually get in the building, and said his experience in Rockhampton was "the best possible start I could get in radio".
"I remember doing an outside broadcast from the Beef Expo down near the showgrounds, and all of a sudden getting taken off air," he said.
"It took us a long time to work out what the problem was. We checked all our connections, we checked the outside broadcast trailer, the studio, all of those things.
"In the end we discovered a bull had trodden on the power cord going to the circuit box and pulled the plug out."

Cath Hurley, the ABC's head of regional content, started her career as a rural reporter at 4RK.
"It was a wonderful opportunity," Ms Hurley said.
"It's one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs in the ABC.
"I'd been in the station for about a month when the second rural reporter said 'I'm going out west, can you present the television weather for the next two weeks?'
"In those days they used to draw the maps with coloured markers. You'd get the information on the telex machine, and you'd stand in front of the camera and deliver the weather.
"Fortunately at the time it was the middle of winter, so it was fine and sunny in central Queensland virtually every day."

Award-winning journalist Chris Masters, Four Corners' longest serving correspondent, credits his time at 4RK in the late 1970s for launching his career in television.
"It was my first stint in television, and while I'd worked in radio for half a dozen years, to my surprise I found television just worked for me," he said.
Mr Masters said working in regional stations built strong storytelling skills in broadcasters, and had honed his work ethic.
"I remember having to come back with something like four stories in a day and doing them all on a 10-minute reel of film," he said.
"That generated discipline that was particularly valuable to me later in my career."
Mr Masters still has painful memories of losing four 4RK colleagues in a plane crash in October 1983.
The light aircraft was on a charter flight from Rockhampton to Kenlogan Station to gather material for rural current affairs program Countrywide when it crashed about 40km from Clermont.
Lost in the crash were rural reporter Bruce Anning, cameraman Joe Mooney, sound technician Bill Fryer and station manager Ralph Elphinstone, an experienced pilot who was flying the plane.

Australian Unemployed and Smoko-Ho July 13, 1895.

BRISBANE, July 13, 1895.

Australian Unemployed.

The report of the superintendent of the N.S.W. Government labour Bureau for the month of June shows that to the houseless and homeless 7426 shelter tickets were issued for June as against 7663 for May. The number of men working for rations at the Centennial Park, Sydney, on June 1st. was 2398, since when the daily average had been from 600 to 800, the number never exceeding 830. The total rations issued for the June month of five weeks was 31,076 to 12,472 persons, costing £2777 18s. 71/2d. This total for the month does not represent distinct individuals, however, as about 75 per cent of the men are relieved day after day. Many of the men so employed are described by the superintendent as respectable and decent. A large number, too, are business men, clerks, and accountants who have seen better days, and who express gratification at being allowed to work in preference to receiving pauper rations. [Labour papers in Great Britain please publish as a set-off to the statements of colonial Agent Generals in London about the States of the Labour markets in Australia.]



IT is said that a certain Queensland newspaper offered to go into mourning for a defunct local magnate; price £2.

POLITICS in N.S.W. at the present time look like a fight to a finish between the Legislative Assembly and the crusted fogies of the Upper Chamber.

THE American beef trust, consisting of the firms of Armour and Co., Nelson, Morris and Co., and Swift and Co., is said to make an annual profit of £1,300,000.

THE general secretary of the A.L.F. Has received the sum of £5 5s., collected by Mr. J. M'Veity, at Evesham, in aid of an old friend in distress named W. Adams.

ON Michael Davitt's arrival in Sydney the Australasian Labour Federation, the Federated Seaman's Union, together with other societies, presented him with addresses of welcome.

THE squatters are jubilant over the rise in the price of wool in the London market. They should let the rouseabouts wages rise also, and then the jubilation would be more general.

IN Greeley colony, Colorado, US., anyone, who sells intoxicating liquor invalidates his title to the soil. The Queensland whisky party would not get on very well in that part of the world.

WHEN the collection-plate was being handed round in a Melbourne Church on last Sunday a man seized a handful of the silver coins and tried to bolt with them. The forced loan did not come off.

AT the sheep show held in Sydney during this week the president, in an opening speech, stated that 90 years ago there were only 1531 sheep in Australia. At the present time there are 120,000,000 out of a total of 520,000,000 in the whole world.
It is pleasant to think, too, that her Majesty the Queen pays the postage on every private letter she sends away,”- London paper. Rather liberal of the old lady, certainly, considering she receives somewhere about £600,000 per year as salary. What say you, Grimes?

THE Privy Council of Great Britain has upheld the appeal of the Japanese Government, in which the latter claimed £170,000, damages against the P. and O. Co. for the sinking of a torpedo cruiser by one of the company's steamers during the late war. The coolie crews will have to work harder to pull up the dividends.

LABOUR Member M'Donald informed the Legislative Assembly last week that during the 1891 bush strike there was a kind of leg-iron introduced for the use of union prisoners which is known as the “Lyre-bird leg-iron.” Readers of the WORKER who don't see the print are requested to communicate with Colonial Secretary Tozer.

MICHAEL Davitt arrived in Sydney last Saturday and met with a splendid reception. Over 10,000 persons assembled at the railway station and cheered the Irish patriot. A procession of the Hibernian Society and trade unions conveyed him to the Grosvener Hotel, from the balcony of which he delivered an address to a large concourse of people.

THE N.Z. Observer of the 8th June, in giving a favourable criticism to a clever little sketch appearing in the WORKER, over the signature of “Victor Zeal,” states that the author is “Mrs. J. Hawker Wilson, of Rotorua, a lady who is gifted with considerable literary ability.” The N.Z. Observer is wrong. The author is a New Zealander, but not the lady in question.

WAR-WHOOP of the N.S.W. Premier to the electors of the King division, Sydney: “How can the MacLaurine, the O'Connors, the Heydone, the Jacobs, the Salomons, the Davis and the Dangers of our Upper House imagine that men sprung from a race which Plantagenets, and Tudors, and Stuarts could not subdue will bow the knees to them? Do they think Australians so degenerate as to be afraid of puppets of their own creation?”

C” WRITES under date June 17: “From St. George to the Boatman station, with the little township of the Bollon in a very sleepy state between, is a good tramp of 170 miles. The only place between where work is going on is at Bindy Bangs station. When I passed three contracts for ringbarking were let. On two the men were getting 20s. and on the other, that of Broomfield and Sullivan, 25s. The men here are, I believe, guaranteed their wages.”

IN the evidence given before the Victorian Banking Commission one of the witnesses, referring to the number and manner in which many struggling farmers were evicted by the banks, said: “If all these men who had been subjected to this treatment lived closer together there would have been such a row as there was in Ireland. What had prevented this was the fact that they were all isolated. If he were one of these men he would simply say to these bank men, 'I am doing my best to pay, and my storekeeper has offered you your interest.'”

THE re-union of the churches and the activity of religious missionaries is causing a lot of discussion in Sydney just now. Lecturing on this matter one clergyman, describing the spiritual enterprise of the missionaries of another denomination, said; “We have heard of missionary vessels whose bills of lading showed a spiritual cargo indeed, but spiritual in the sense of casks of whisky and wine and rum, much more than in the number of Bibles. A Sydney paper of March 27, 1880, gives the following bill of lading of the missionary ship John Williams, of which we have heard a good deal lately, then sailing from the port of Sydney: '1 case wine, 1 case port, 2 cases ale and stout, 25 cases claret, 25 casks whisky, 65 cases beer.'” This spiritual impeachment is stoutly denied by the clergymen in the opposite camp, and the printer's devil is blamed as the cause of the false charge. Poor devil!      

Chernobyl could be reinvented as a solar farm, says Ukraine

Extract from The Guardian

Ministers create presentation to show how idle land around nuclear disaster site can be used to produce renewable energy

An abandoned ferris wheel in the town of Pripyat, which was abandoned after the accident.
An abandoned ferris wheel in the town of Pripyat, which was abandoned after the accident. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
The contaminated nuclear wasteland around Chernobyl could be turned into one of the world’s largest solar farms, producing nearly a third of the electricity that the stricken plant generated at its height 30 years ago, according to the Ukrainian government.
In a presentation sent to major banks and seen by the Guardian, 6,000 hectares of “idle” land in Chernobyl’s 1,000 square km exclusion zone, which is considered too dangerous for people to live in or farm, could be turned to solar, biogas and heat and power generation.
Pressure has been mounting for years to allow industrial development, but no indication is given of where the solar panels would be located. “There has been a change in the perception of the exclusion zone in Ukraine. Thirty years after the Chernobyl tragedy [it] reveals opportunities for development. A special industrial area is to be created in compliance with all rules and regulations of radiation safety within the exclusion zone,” says the presentation.
Tens of thousands of people in Ukraine, Belarus and south Russia were evacuated immediately after the 1986 accident from a wide area around the nuclear plant and places where the radioactive plume descended. A few hundred people still live in 11 semi-deserted villages close to Chernobyl.
There is “about 6,000 hectares of idle land, some of which can be used for placement of electrical generation facilities, and some for energy crops”, according to the presentation.
The Ukrainian government said more than 1,000MW of solar and 400MW of other renewable energy could be generated. The nuclear plant had an installed capacity of around 4,000MW.
The advantage of generating renewable power at the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident is that the land is cheap and plentiful, and the sunshine is as strong as in southern Germany. In addition, the grid infrastructure and high-voltage power lines needed to transmit electricity to the national grid remain intact, the presentation added.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) this week indicated it would be prepared to lend money for the renewable energy plan. The EBRD has already provided more than $500m (£379m) to build a large stainless steel “sarcophagus” over the destroyed reactor, which will remain dangerous for thousands of years.
“The EBRD may consider participating in the project so long as there are viable investment proposals and all other environmental matters and risks can be addressed to the bank’s satisfaction,” said a spokesman.
The move to solar reflects a new energy reality involving plunging renewable energy costs and escalating costs of nuclear power. Hours of sunshine in the Chernobyl area compare favourably with southern Germany, one of the largest solar producers in the world.
In a recent interview, Ukraine’s ecology minister said the government was negotiating with two US investment firms and four Canadian energy companies, which have expressed interest in the Chernobyl’s solar potential.
Meanwhile in Belarus, just 20 miles from Chernobyl, a 22.3MW solar plant is already under construction in Brahin district, around 20 miles from Chernobyl. The district was one of the most contaminated by Chernobyl’s fallout and the land where the plant is to be built is not suitable for agriculture.

'Quietly confident' Cathy O’Toole awaits Herbert's cliffhanger result

Extract from The Guardian

If Labor’s 35-vote lead stands, the north Townsville federal seat will easily become the most marginal in the country

Cathy O’Toole
Cathy O’Toole campaigns with Labor leader Bill Shorten in Townsville. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP
For a candidate whose fortunes hinge on one of the biggest nailbiters in Australian election contests, Cathy O’Toole has a useful day job to fall back into.
As counting in the seat of Herbert moves to the end of its fourth week, O’Toole – at last tally 35 votes in front – is immersed in the running of a north Queensland mental health service.
“Working in mental health, one has to know how to take care of oneself before you can help someone else, so I’m fortunate in that space,” she says.
“I live with the premise: if I can’t control it, don’t waste my energy on it. It’s been topsy turvy, a ride of ups and downs. For me, it’s put a whole new spin on the term ‘down to the wire’. I don’t think anybody expected this sort of result here.
“I won’t say it hasn’t been stressful at times but I’m paid to work, not to look at the [Australian Electoral Commission] website. And I’ve got huge things happening at work, so there’s a lot to be done.”
So O’Toole, as chief executive of Solas (Supported Options in Lifestyle and Access Services), is focused on bedding down new offices and the early launch in her region of the national disability insurance scheme.
Periodically, the updates come in from her electoral scrutineers, who are fixed on what is shaping, in terms of the raw vote margin, as the fourth-closest result in Australian political history.
Only Des Corcoran in the South Australian state seat of Millicent in 1968 (one vote), Nat Cook in South Australia’s Fisher in 2014 (nine votes) and Fran Bailey in the federal seat of McEwen in 2007 (31 votes) won by slimmer margins.
If O’Toole’s 35-vote lead stands, her north Townsville seat will easily be the most marginal in the country, taking over from Clive Palmer’s 53-vote grip in Fairfax in last election.
Her win would be the first for Labor in Herbert in 20 years and the first for a woman in the seat. It would also diminish the Coalition’s parliamentary majority to a single MP.
It’s a tough break for the Coalition incumbent Ewen Jones, who shed tears on national television while advocating for sacked workers at Palmer’s Queensland Nickel factory months before the election.
Jones has said he is “forever hopeful” and that he might yet prevail in a full preference recount that could run into this weekend.
O’Toole stops short of claiming victory – something reports have already attributed to a message on her Facebook page on Tuesday – and says she is “quietly confident”.
“I’m not – nor is my campaign team or the Labor party – claiming anything except [that] we’ve won the first count, we’ve won the recount and probability would say, yes, it would hold,” she says. “But this is about going through due process.
“The full preference count is happening now and there could be some minor changes. We don’t know, of course, but bearing in mind these votes have been counted numerous times now.
“You would imagine if there are changes, they won’t be great changes large in numbers – but anything’s possible.”
The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, strongly indicated on Thursday the Coalition would contest a loss in court. “There may well be a challenge to it, because there are allegations that people were not able to vote in the election,” he said.
An Australian Electoral Commission spokesman has described as “speculation” Coalition concerns that 628 defence force personnel on exercises in South Australia and voters at a Townsville hospital were unlawfully deprived of the chance to vote.
The University of Queensland professor Graeme Orr, an electoral law expert, says he’d be “very surprised if this didn’t end up in litigation” in the court of disputed returns.
“It’s quite possible the people of Herbert won’t have full certainty about who their member is until early next year,” he says. “But it sounds like Ms O’Toole is going to be representing them and voting for them in the interim.”
A legal dispute was likely because of the closeness of the result and “the status of a seat like Herbert” as a longstanding Coalition possession amid the strong presence of the military and the increasingly socially conservative nature of its Townsville suburbs.
“I call it the first law of electoral law: when you have really tight results, there is certainly a strong incentive for the losing party to look at it and scramble to find those few errors [that may have occurred],” Orr says.
“That doesn’t mean just because it’s a very close result it should be overturned. Elections can’t be perfect. This is a case of a very thorough count leading to a very close result.
“It’s really a question of, were there errors, administrative or breaches of law, that deprived people of a vote? Or the other thing that would be argued – and why [attorney general] George Brandis and others are up there is – were their votes that were, you know, squiggly numbers that went to one side rather than being counted as informal, for instance?”
If the court found decisive problems with the election, it would be much more likely to send Herbert voters back to the polls than declare a new result itself, Orr says.
He says lawyers are already likely to be on the ground, taking statements, because the losing party needs to be armed with a full statement of evidence when it files a challenge. This must come within 40 days of the seat’s declaration, which is likely to be next week.
Meanwhile, if O’Toole is declared the winner, she’ll have her pay as an MP backdated to the day of the election, go to Canberra, and vote for Herbert in parliament “until such time as the court says otherwise”, Orr says.
Jones did not return calls from Guardian Australia on Thursday.
O’Toole says the Coalition will “do whatever they decide to do and that will be entirely their business”.
Asked how Labor managed to win a relatively safe Coalition seat after two decades, battling a 6.2% margin, O’Toole says its policies on education, health and jobs resonated locally.
“Our policies were relevant, they could be contextualised to the local community, they were very easy to talk with people about, they were meaningful,” she says.
The Coalition’s signature pitch – “jobs and growth” – rang hollow, she says. “It was just a slogan. ‘Jobs and growth.’ Well, where? And how? They’re the questions, seriously,” she says.
O’Toole claims this was “the big difference” in a city where unemployment is almost 13.5% and youth joblessness at almost 20%.
Observers might also note the effect of preference flows against the Coalition from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, whose candidate, Geoff Virgo, came in third on the primary vote with 13.5%.
O’Toole notes the final seat to be decided in a close federal election is “important from both [major] parties’ perspective” – from Labor’s to reduce the Coalition’s parliamentary buffer to a wafer.
“But to localise it, a woman has never held this seat and it’s 20 years since Labor has held the seat of Herbert,” she says. “These were also the strong passions that drove us.”

Friday, 29 July 2016

Hillary Clinton's Speech To The Democratic Convention.

Our attitude towards wealth played a crucial role in Brexit. We need a rethink

The decision to leave the EU was disappointing. But now we’re outside the union, we need to be honest about the part that money plays in our society

Illustration: Ellie Foreman-Peck
Illustration: Ellie Foreman-Peck
Does money matter? Does wealth make us rich any more? These might seem like odd questions for a physicist to try to answer, but Britain’s referendum decision is a reminder that everything is connected and that if we wish to understand the fundamental nature of the universe, we’d be very foolish to ignore the role that wealth does and doesn’t play in our society.
I argued during the referendum campaign that it would be a mistake for Britain to leave the European Union. I’m sad about the result, but if I’ve learned one lesson in my life it is to make the best of the hand you are dealt. Now we must learn to live outside the EU, but in order to manage that successfully we need to understand why British people made the choice that they did. I believe that wealth, the way we understand it and the way we share it, played a crucial role in their decision. As the prime minister, Theresa May, said in her first week in office: “We need to reform the economy to allow more people to share in the country’s prosperity.”
Stephen Hawking on EU referendum: ‘Britain risks being isolated’
We all know that money is important. One of the reasons I believed it would be wrong to leave the EU was related to grants. British science needs all the money it can get, and one important source of such funding has for many years been the European commission. Without these grants, much important work would not and could not have happened. There is already some evidence of British scientists being frozen out of European projects, and we need the government to tackle this issue as soon possible.
Money is also important because it is liberating for individuals. I have spoken in the past about my concern that government spending cuts in the UK will diminish support for disabled students, support that helped me during my career. In my case, of course, money has helped not only make my career possible but has also literally kept me alive.
On one occasion while in Switzerland early on in my career, I developed pneumonia, and my college at Cambridge, Gonville and Caius, arranged to have me flown back to the UK for treatment. Without their money I might not have survived to do all the thinking that I’ve managed since then. Cash can set individuals free, just as poverty can certainly trap them and limit their potential, to their own detriment and that of the human race.
So I would be the last person to decry the significance of money. However, although wealth has played an important practical role in my life, I have of course had a different relationship with it to most people. Paying for my care as a severely disabled man, and my work, is crucial; the acquisition of possessions is not. I don’t know what I would do with a racehorse, or indeed a Ferrari, even if I could afford one. So I have come to see money as a facilitator, as a means to an end – whether it is for ideas, or health, or security – but never as an end in itself.
Interestingly this attitude, for a long time seen as the predictable eccentricity of a Cambridge academic, is now more widely shared. People are starting to question the value of pure wealth. Is knowledge or experience more important than money? Can possessions stand in the way of fulfilment? Can we truly own anything, or are we just transient custodians?
These questions are leading to a shift in behaviour which, in turn, is inspiring some groundbreaking new enterprises and ideas. These are termed “cathedral projects”, the modern equivalent of the grand church buildings, constructed as part of humanity’s attempt to bridge heaven and Earth. These ideas are started by one generation with the hope a future generation will take up these challenges.
I hope and believe that people will embrace more of this cathedral thinking for the future, as they have done in the past, because we are in perilous times. Our planet and the human race face multiple challenges. These challenges are global and serious – climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans. Such pressing issues will require us to collaborate, all of us, with a shared vision and cooperative endeavour to ensure that humanity can survive. We will need to adapt, rethink, refocus and change some of our fundamental assumptions about what we mean by wealth, by possessions, by mine and yours. Just like children, we will have to learn to share.
If we fail then the forces that contributed to Brexit, the envy and isolationism not just in the UK but around the world that spring from not sharing, of cultures driven by a narrow definition of wealth and a failure to divide it more fairly, both within nations and across national borders, will strengthen. If that were to happen, I would not be optimistic about the long-term outlook for our species.
But we can and will succeed. Humans are endlessly resourceful, optimistic and adaptable. We must broaden our definition of wealth to include knowledge, natural resources, and human capacity, and at the same time learn to share each of those more fairly. If we do this, then there is no limit to what humans can achieve together.

Stephen Hawking recently launched

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Michelle Obama's stirring speech brings Democratic convention to tears

Extract from The Guardian

The first lady proved the perfect Trump antidote and drew a ‘wow’ from Bill Clinton as she declared: ‘Because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters ... take for granted that a woman can be president’
Democratic convention opening night: as it happened

Obama delivered her remarks to a raucous crowd waving placards reading ‘Michelle’.
Obama delivered her remarks to a raucous crowd waving placards reading ‘Michelle’. Photograph: Timothy A Clary/AFP/Getty Images
Here, at last, the profound, moving and devastating riposte to Donald Trump that many in America, and the world, had been waiting for. And the antidote to the non-politician came from another non-politician – a mother.
Michelle Obama, the first black first lady in American history, gave a 15-minute address to the Democratic national convention that drew cheers, left some delegates openly weeping and did more than any governor or congressman to unite and fire up the party for November’s presidential election.
It also added a chapter to the dynastic saga of the Obamas and the Clintons, coming four years after Bill Clinton gave an extraordinary speech to help Barack Obama get re-elected.
The former president was in the audience on Monday – caught on camera mouthing the word “wow” as Michelle Obama delivered one of the most passionate speeches of election year. On Twitter, President Obama wrote: “Incredible speech by an incredible woman.”
She made reference to a speech made by Hillary Clinton when she conceded defeat to Barack Obama in 2008, saying: “We weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time” after a bruising primary campaign.
Clinton “has the grace and the guts to keep coming back and put cracks in that highest and hardest glass ceiling until she finally breaks through, lifting all of us with her”, the first lady told a packed arena in Philadelphia. “That is the story of this country. The story that has brought me to this stage tonight.”
The election of the first African American president, and now potentially the first female president, were testament to the true America and a repudiation of all Trump stands for, she continued.
“The story of generations of people who have felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation but who kept on striving and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves and I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”

Michelle Obama’s DNC speech: ‘I wake up every morning in a house built by slaves’
Her voice cracking with emotion, she continued: “And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters, and all our sons and daughters, now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”
Veteran civil rights activists John Lewis and Jesse Jackson were present. Some delegates could be seen wiping away tears. “So don’t let anyone ever tell you this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again because this right now is the greatest country on earth,” she said.
The elegant inversion of Trump’s campaign slogan prompted the crowd to erupt in cheers and wave regal purple placards bearing the name “Michelle”.
Obama went on: “And as my daughters prepare to set out into the world, I want a leader who is worthy of that truth, a leader who is worthy of my girls’ promise and all our kids’ promise. A leader who will be guided every day by the love and hope and impossibly big dreams that we all have for our children.”
After a rocky start to the convention, with supporters of Bernie Sanders rebelling over leaked emails, Obama urged Democrats to get to work and recapture the spirit of the past two elections when she was such a force for her husband. “So in this election we cannot sit back and hope that everything works out for the best. We cannot afford to be tired or frustrated or cynical. No, hear me: between now and November, we need to do what we did eight years ago and four years ago.”
She permitted herself just a little wistful looking back in a speech that focused on how a president, like a parent, should set an example to children. She told how during their time at the White House she and Barack saw their daughters “grow from bubbly little girls into poised young women”.
Recalling their first day at school, she said: “I will never forget that winter morning as we watched our girls, just seven and 10 years old, pile into those black SUVs with all those big men with guns. And I saw their little faces pressed up against the window and the only thing I could think was: what have we done?
“Because at that moment I realised that our time in the White House would form the foundation of who they would become and how well we managed this experience could truly make or break them. That is what Barack and I think about every day as we try to guide and protect our girls for the challenges of this unusual life in the spotlight.
“How we urge them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is: ‘When they go low, we go high.’”

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama said of her and Barack’s advice to her daughters: ‘When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level.’ Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP
She spoke of the young black boy who looked up at the president and asked: “Is my hair like yours?” She said: “And make no mistake about it, this November when we go to the polls, that is what we’re deciding. Not Democrat or Republican, not left or right, no – this election and every election is about who will have the power to shape our children for the next four or eight years of their lives.”
The one person she trusts, she said, is Hillary Clinton. “What I admire most about Hillary is that she never buckles under pressure. She never takes the easy way out. And Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life. And when I think about the kind of president I want for my girls and all our children, that’s what I want.
“I want someone with the proven strength to perserve. Someone who knows this job and takes it seriously. Someone who understands that the issues a president faces are not black and white and cannot be boiled down to 140 characters.”

That dig at Trump’s tweeting produced another roar from the crowd. “Because when you have the nuclear codes at your fingertips and the military in your command, you can’t make snap decisions. You can’t have a thin skin or tendency to lash out. You need to be steady and measured and well informed.”