Thursday, June 14, 2007

That Country Club

The brewing story of the week has been the appropriateness of the function John Howard hosted at Kirribilli House during the recent Liberal Federal Council.

The event was drinks on the lawn to which were invited all the conference delegates and the business observers. The focus has been on whether the business observers paying their $8,000+ were engaged in a fundraiser.

It is important to note that the Liberal Party did NOT promote the reception as being at Kirribilli House in any of the pre-event publicity. In fact there was blessed little pre-event publicity - I had to ask three times for the forms to be able to register and fork out my dough.

When you come to the function how much of a bait was it to have to queue for buisses from the Westin Hotel at 5pm for a 40 minute trip through peak hour traffic to get the opportunity to have drinks and canapes from 6pm to 7pm and then wind your way back on busses for the dinner back at the Westin. Many of the business observers, while appreciating the opportunity to see the "big house", were really questioning the use of their time sitting on busses for drinks that could have been held in the city.

So maybe the issue is not the imppropriety as such, but the simple lack of judgement. Perhaps it should have been reserved for the good folk of the Party and simply let us professional "hangers on" go home!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Button Up Burgess!

That was the heading of an excellent item by Stuart Corner on his iTWire newsletter site. The item starts "Telstra motor mouth, Phil Burgess, really has gone too far in his xenophobic rantings against Singapore, whose national carrier just happens to own Telstra's main rival."

The xenophobic pitch of Telstra really has gone beyond the pale, but the beauty of this post is that Burgess has had a crack at Singapore because it "executes people". Corner rightly points out that Burgess comes from a country that "executes people" and has just recently invested heavily in a country that "executes people".

What we can learn from this is that polling Telstra has done on Singapore tells them that Australians associate negative comments about Singapore with the execution of Van Nguyen in December 2005. Pretty pathetic really.

For those interested there was a related couple of comments to Crikey by Andrew Maiden from Telstra with a response from me.

You just have to say - Telstra is getting desperate when they call Investec "dodgy African bankers".

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics - Part 2

On a completely different front - the Menzies Research Centre launched StateWatch yesterday, based on research by Henry Ergas.

The way the paper accompanying the launch, and the presentation, ran the claim was that the State Governments have received a "windfall" in GST revenue as this tax has grown at 7%p.a., that the States have been profligate in spending this as it has almost all been consumed in recurrent expenditure. The recurrent expenditure growth has been primarily consumed in paying higher wages. The higher wages haven't been matched by productivity improvements as we would expect in the private sector.

Which is all a bit strange really. Firstly 7% growth in the GST is not great really - it is a function of inflation and GDP growth.

More importantly, elsewhere the Government likes to claim credit for a 19% real wages growth since 1996. The State Governments as employers have to compete in the same labour market as anyone else and therefore have to follow this growth (unless the claim is the State Governments have led it, in which it is not a Federal Government achievement). So they had no choice where to spend it - the real claim is there hasn't been an improvement in productivity.

But even here we have extremely dodgy statistics. Firstly the measure for hospitals is hospital beds, whereas productivity improvement in hospitals is getting people through them faster...and this does continue to improve. I don't know how you can apply technology or work practices to teach more pupils with less teachers - and anyway reducing class sizes is what taxpayers want. Finally police forces are equally highly labour force driven.

So, nice try - but no cigar!

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics - Part 1

There has been much public debate about broadband over recent weeks and the Canberra Times ran a story which Helen Coonan latched onto to expose Labor's "Furphy" in the debate.

The central claim being that Labor was overstating the potential economic benefits of broadband by relying on a 2001 study, the bulk of the forecast benefits of which would already be achieved. A few days later we had a flurry of activity when Market Clarity questioned the validity of the broadband league table published by the OECD.

All this reflects how far away we are from the kind of debate that Telstra's Phil Burgess tells us is what he has been trying to encourage. In a speech to the Australia British Chamber of Commerce this week he talked admiringly of William Wilberforce and went on to explain his relevance to fact based public policy. While Phil then tried to provide a speech based on facts, unfortunately I think many of them fell into the categories above. My favourite remains the idea that high speed broadband will make mammography more widely available - cause it appears to me the investment limitter there isn't the specialist staff it is the cost of the bloody machine - but maybe I'm wrong. Hopefully Dr Phil's speech will make it unto Telstra's nowwewaretalking site (see links).

A small aside. The word "furphy" comes from a brand of water cart. These were used by Australian troops in WWI and it was at the cart that people would pick up and spread rumours. Furphy had a slogan on the end of the tanks on the carts that went "Good better best, we will never rest, till our good is better, and our better best" which was also the last brand campaign run by Telecom Australia before the merger with OTC and becoming Telstra!

I do seem to keep using that title though.