Hockey shows signs of hubris in FT interview

Joe Hockey has called for the world’s economies to go cold turkey by kicking the “morphine” of easy monetary policy.

The Federal Treasurer has warmed up for this week’s meeting of G20 finance ministers in Sydney with some free advice for his counterparts in an interview with the Financial Times. The FT noted that the criticism was “egalitarian” in being directed at developing and developed nations, including the US and Europe.

“Sooner or later the world has to get off this morphine of printing money and easing monetary policy,” he told the FT.

“I believe in freedom, enterprise and liberty – they are the things that facilitate opportunity,” he said. “I think our role as finance ministers is to facilitate ambition and lift the yoke of regulation, red tape, taxation and centralised control.”

“I have a unique goal to try to drive the world to greater growth and prosperity,” added Mr Hockey, who says his political idol is Teddy Roosevelt.

The FT accurately observes that Hockey has emerged as the “ideological backbone” of the Abbott government. But can he really claim that his goals are unique?



Australia slips in world press freedom index

Australia has fallen two spots in the annual world press freedom rankings, with Reporters Without Borders citing an increase in legal actions seeking to identity sources of stories.
The index said concerns over “surveillance and confidentiality of sources” were behind Australia’s drop to 28th spot.
“In Australia, the lack of adequate legislative protection for the confidentiality of journalists’ sources continues to expose them to the threat of imprisonment for contempt of court for refusing to reveal their sources,” it said.
‘No fewer than seven requests for disclosure of sources were submitted to the courts in 2013 alone.”
New Zealand fell one place in the index to 9th place, with the index arguing that there was growing mistrust between the Key government and the news media.
“In New Zealand, the interception of reporter Jon Stephenson’s metadata by the military, which thought his articles were overly critical, and the release of journalist Andrea Vance’s phone records to a leak investigation is indicative of growing government mistrust of the media and their watchdog role.”
The US fell by 13 places and is worth a close read. So too is the UK, with the Glenn Greenwald-Guardian exposures. New reporting restriction are afoot in Japan, and the entry on Israel-Palestine is worth a read.
Timor-Leste (77th) rose 14 places in the wake of an historic journalists’ congress in Dili last October where a code of professional conduct and the creation of a seven-member Press Council were approved. But continuing vigilance is needed. The media law currently before parliament is the next challenge for media freedom in Timor-Leste.

1300 Forge jobs cut on big WA, Qld projects

The receiver/managers of the ASX listed Forge Group cut 1300 jobs on power stations and mining projects in Western Australia and Queensland.
The move partly reflects a downturn in mining projects. One of Forge’s biggest contracts was at Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill project in WA.
Mark Mentha of KordaMentha Restructuring said he hoped some of the employees may be able to get work with the new contractors. Forge employees would receive their entitlements from the sale of Forge assets and the Federal Government scheme that guaranteed basic entitlements.
KordaMentha said in a statement late on Wednesday the workers were retrenched today after the principals of the construction jobs exercised contractual rights they claimed on the projects.
“There is no money to pay employees and no work to perform. We are working closely with the administrators Ferrier Hodgson to do whatever we can to help the employees at this dreadful time for them and their families,’ Mr Mentha said. “We will be bringing the employees back to their home town and helping them apply for their entitlements.”
KordaMentha Restructuring was appointed receivers and managers of the engineering, procurement and construction company on Tuesday, following the Company’s decision to appoint Ferrier Hodgson as voluntary administrators.
Mr Mentha said that Forge’s international businesses in South Africa, Asia and the US would operate business as usual pending a sale of those businesses. These operations come under the Taggart and Webb Groups.
The Australian operations had to be assessed on a project-by-project basis. “Today’s moves by some of the owners of the projects forced our hand because there is no cash to carry employees,” he said. Employees were notified of the redundancies at meetings this afternoon.
The Forge Group is understood to have debts of $500 million, including an expourse of about to the ANZ bank.
The appointment of administrators and receivers follows the company reporting significant cost over-runs and profit downgrades in power construction contracts. Mr Mentha said against a backdrop of material movements in cash flow and EBITDA projections, the Company’s financiers did everything possible to give the Company time to find a solution to repair its balance sheet.
Forge previously employed 1753 staff in Australia, mostly in the construction division, with a further 814 overseas.

Toyota Australia denies Fin Review story re plant closure

Toyota Australia today issued a statement to deny a story in my old employer, The Australian Financial Review, which said that the company blamed car unions for the decision to end manufacturing.
The full text of the Toyota statement is here:

Toyota Australia denies the allegations in today’s front page Australian Financial Review story, ‘Toyota blamed union’.
Toyota Australia has never blamed the union for its decision to close its manufacturing operations by the end of 2017, neither publicly or in private discussions with any stakeholders.
As stated at the time of the announcement, there is no single reason that led to this decision.
The market and economic factors contributing to the decision include the unfavourable Australian dollar that makes exports unviable, high costs of manufacturing and low economies of scale for our vehicle production and local supplier base.
Together with one of the most open and fragmented automotive markets in the world and increased competitiveness due to current and future Free Trade Agreements, it is not viable to continue building cars in Australia.
The company will not be making any further comments on this issue.

Notwithstanding the above statement, Toyota Australia and its president Max Yasuda have been frustrated in recent years in their attempts to overhaul work practices at their Altona plant.
For example, a small group of employees, which included some AMWU shop stewards, took Federal court action to gain an injunction which prevented Toyota management from seeking workforce approval for a package of changes to cut costs and improve productivity.
The changes would not have cut base pay but would have reduced the Christmas break, delivered more rostering flexibility and the like.
On the other hand, Toyota had angered the AMWU shop floor by the manner of hundreds of forced redundancies a few years ago. And management refused to negotiate the changes with the full cast of delegates who were usually involved in enterprise bargaining.
Toyota Australia had argued that it needed to cut the cost of each car it made by $3800 in order to compete with other Toyota plants, especially in a new factory in Kentucky which is less influenced than the traditional mid-West strongholds of the United Auto Workers.
Toyota makes a coded reference to workplace matters in its statement when it refers to the high cost of manufacturing in Australia, so it is being a bit coy.
The outcome of a vote of Toyota’s 2500 manufacturing workers is now only conjectural. But it is likely that it would have been passed by a majority of workers if they realised it was a referendum on whether they wanted to keep their job.
The Abbott government, led by Treasurer Joe Hockey, now appears to be putting most of the blame on unions and the Toyota workers. Max Yasuda says otherwise. Why is it so hard to argue that the reasons for the Toyota decision were complex? Did the workers have any influence on the Australian dollar, the content of free trade agreements and changing consumer preference?
But here’s a question – Tony Abbott telephoned Yasuda-san briefly in the wake of Holden’s decision in December that it would shut its assembly plant in Adelaide.
After that phone call, did the PM ever have a serious discussion with Toyota regarding its future in Australia ?

McTernan: Paul Howes is world’s most interesting union leader

The Guardian Aus has just published a piece I wrote on Paul Howes and THAT speech to the National Press Club.
In the article, a spokesman for Howes denied that Julia Gillard’s former communications boss, John McTernan, had a hand in writing the speech.
I sought comment from McTernan beforehand, but he is in the UK nowadays and his emailed reply only arrived this morning.
In reply, McTernan wrote in the email:

“Paul Howes is … by far the most thoughtful and interesting union leader anywhere in the world at the moment. His NPC speech shows how deeply and practically he is thinking about how unions can work to guarantee future prosperity for all Australians.”

McTernan concurred that he did not have a hand in the speech and added: “I am a proud member of that great union, not a speechwriter for it.”

Asked when he joined the AWU, McTernan replied that the became a member when he joined the Prime Minister’s Media Office. “ALP members need to be union members,” he said.
“Am an USDAW member in the UK. (A shoppie).”

Time to rethink Ian Thorpe coverage

Ian Thorpe’s fame as a sportsman has not extinguished his right to privacy.
For that reason, media outlets need to take stock of how their coverage will affect him and his family at a critical time.
I started mulling over his situation after getting annoyed at how every television and radio report tonight, February 4, referred to him being “in rehab” for depression.
This jarred with me because people are usually referred to being in rehab when they are being treated for an addiction, or are recovering from an injury or an operation.
As a layman, I thought that people with depression had an illness and received treatment.
Most of the reports tried to gain some broader legitimacy by noting that Thorpe admitted a while back. Or by referring to the let down of “civilian life” after massive achievement on the sporting stage, and the lack of official support once the applause ends.
The general principles of the Australian Press Council talk about not placing gratuitous emphasis on matters such as illness, and respect for the privacy of individuals.
The journalists’ Code of Ethics makes similar points and has a guidance note: “Basic values often need interpretation and sometimes come into conflict. Ethical journalism requires conscientious decision-making in context. Only substantial advancement of the public interest or risk of substantial harm to people allows any standard to be overridden.”
Sure, Thorpe is one of the greatest sporting figures in world history. But is there is a public interest in pursuing him while he is being treated for depression?
As a journalist, I understand that Thorpe’s battle will be reported when it spills unexpectedly into the public arena. But it’s unfair to keep reporting it while he tries to recover. Walking the black dog is hard enough.

ASIS told to watch the booze

Australia’s intelligence watchdog concluded that some overseas spies might have been issued with weapons while they had alcohol in their system, according to a report released late last year.
The report by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Vivienne Thom, noted that operatives of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service could not be issued with a weapon when they had a blood alcohol level of more than zero.
But she found there was “some misconception by staff in relation to this matter and that ASIS did not have adequate controls in place to provide assurance that there was compliance with this requirement.”
“While there was no direct evidence that any ASIS staff member had retrieved a weapon with a blood alcohol level greater than 0.0, the Inspector-General considered it was possible it had occurred. (This does not necessarily mean that any person has been issued with a weapon while actually impaired by alcohol).”
Dr Thom said the inquiry into weapons and self-defence training at ASIS and was part of close oversight rather than being prompted by any particular concerns. She found that training was well managed overall.
“ASIS now have staff members and agents issued with weapons in a number of countries allowing them to conduct their work more safely in dangerous operational environments,” the report said. “Since 2004, ASIS has progressed from relying on training provided by the Australian Federal Police to developing their own in-house training tailored to their specific needs. The training is professionally conducted.”
An unclassified copy of the report’s executive summary has been made public and a full copy was given to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, on November 29.
The inquiry included a review of weapons-related incidents since 2004 which found only two cases of firearms being discharged without prior approval. Both had occurred within “controlled weapons training environments and were not indicative of systemic issues.”
However, the report raised concerns over delays in providing capsicum spray and batons to some overseas stations after they been approved by the Minister as being necessary for the safety of staff. The inquiry found that the delays were mostly due to the “lack of central governance of weapons policy and procedures” in ASIS.
The Inspector-General made six recommendations as a result of the inquiry, mostly relating to the governance of weapons policy and procedures. ASIS advised that a number of the recommendations were already being implemented.
In her 2013 annual report, Dr Thom said the weapons and self-defence inquiry would examine authorisations, training, procurement, issuing, storage, transportation and carriage of weapons, and reportable incidents. ASIS has to submit a written report if a staff member or agent discharges a weapon other than in training and its website says that weapons can only be used in self-defence.
Dr Thom said in the annual report that she was “satisfied that the need for limited numbers of ASIS staff to have access to weapons for self-defence in order to perform their duties is genuine.”
However, the annual report (see overview) expressed concern about the impact of budget constraints on her now agency, forcing limits on interstate and international travel.
” Despite increases in average staffing costs and the efficiency dividend, our staffing complement remained constant,’ the annual report said. “This was achieved by removing the international travel budget, limiting interstate travel, and reducing consultancy and legal costs to negligible amounts. Further savings in these areas will not be possible: domestic and international travel is essential to continue to provide appropriate oversight of AIC [Australian Intelligence Community] agencies.”
The Inspector-General had total funding of almost $2.4 million in 2012-13 — down from about $2.7 million the previous year — and an average of 13 staff.