Ian Thorpe’s compassion

Ian Thorpe wants people to get behind the ‘yes’ vote on same-sex marriage to give hope to young gay people, “that young people can feel that and we start to get rid of all of those layers of discrimination the LGBTIQ community can face.” That’s a nice objective but is that a case for same-sex marriage? It is certainly not conclusive or assured. As I said in other blogs, same-sex marriage does nothing to benefit gay people, who already have the freedom to choose their partner and live in whatever way they like. I’m still waiting for a convincing argument on the ‘yes’ vote.

A Bill to regulate relationships between same-sex couples

Senator Brandis rises and announces to the Senate that the government has decided to pass legislation to control and regulate relationships between same-sex couples.

“For too long”,  he says, “same sex couples have been free to form relationships with whoever they choose, whenever they choose. This has to stop! I am bringing to this parliament a law to impose rules and regulations in order to bind such couples in permanent unions, til death do they part!”

“Hear! Hear!”

Does anyone seriously think this is a good idea?

 

Cardinal Pell’s day in court

Cardinal Pell says he looks forward to his day in court. He believes he’s innocent and considers truth will prevail. He expects a speedy resolution and acquittal. Naive.

This naivety and the belief that truth will set him free is typical of some of his dealings with the Royal Commission. In those cases, his adherence to truth actually did him no favours. While lesser men would have embellished their evidence with feigned regret; embroidered their feelings or motivations in the past, Pell was brutally honest about himself, e.g. “It (stories of priests molesting children) was not something that attracted my attention.” Commentators never gave him credit for his utter devotion to the truth despite it making him appear aloof, callous, cold and lacking empathy.

But again, Pell thinks that his devotion to the truth will spare him. It’s not that simple!

The forces that have been chasing the Church (with good justification, one might add) for many years, are not interested in truth anymore, though they may feign sympathy for victims. In fact, the causes of the victims are part of a much bigger agenda.

Pell seems to be assuming that the reason that these charges have been raised are because the victims are mistaken or they are lying. In either case he seems to think that it is just a matter for him to refute the accusations, speak the truth and all will be settled; case closed!

Are those behind these accusations – not the victims but those who are promoting them – going to settle for Pell’s truth? Establishing truth after twenty, forty, fifty years is far from simple and they know that. They don’t need to find the truth, just undermine trust in Pell’s testimony. They don’t even need to challenge the content of Pell’s testimony, just the way he presents it. They really only need to show Pell’s indifference to the victims and they will have won. Besides that, they will be happy for the truth to be obscured, to be tainted with ambiguity, insinuation, to be muddied by subtle half-truths and inferences. They haven’t come thus far to fail. They will have plenty of cards to play and a few aces up their sleeves. They don’t intend to lose now.

 

Margaret Court’s comments provoke predictable responses

I don’t think much of what Margaret Court has been saying lately, but my earlier blog predicted the reaction to it (21/9/2016.) You can’t express an opinion on some subjects without invoking a fury of indignation and reprisals. Her opinions are out of the mainstream now but they were well inside the mainstream when she was a champion tennis player. I applaud her for sticking her neck out.

In this world, people have beliefs based on what they have been taught or grown up with. Other people have newer, more fashionable ideas. Who’s right? Are we making progress or going around in circles? Once we took half-caste children from their mothers and took children from their unmarried mothers. We thought it right then, but we think it wrong now no matter how unsuitable the parents prove to be.

It’s a very strange world today in many ways. In recent times you have seen the anguish of victims of molestation at the hands of Catholic clergy and other institutional abuse – young people put into harms way by the institutions that were supposed to protect them. But if someone would now question the right of gay couples to adopt children they would be hounded down as homophobic! They would be the worst kind of bigoted, narrow minded, reactionary troglodytes.

Recently my employer’s homepage was actively promoting a gay male couple who were raising a pair of boys. Of course, a pair of loving gay men can raise two boys without harming them, but then we once thought that priests were beyond reproach, too.

Today, people have the right to live their lives fairly freely without the law interfering. Consenting adults can do anything, which is the way it should be. But children, who gives consent for them? Why is it always children that we choose to experiment with?

 

Innovation and exploitation

The Australian economy is fundamentally exploitative rather than innovative.

The problem with our type of economy is that what you exploit eventually gets used up and turned to waste. The Australian rich-list is dominated by miners and developers. Look at other countries and see who are their wealthiest – American IT entrepreneurs, Italian designers, German automotive engineers, Chinese trading magnates and Japanese industrialists. What do we do? Our wealthy become rich by digging up the ground or chopping up the land. Then we sell it off cheaply to foreigners anyway. There’s no skill in that, there’s no intelligence and there is no future either. But we are addicted to this lazy life of thoughtless exploitation. When Australia does innovate, what happens? If we manufacture, regular booms in commodity prices bring a rising dollar, killing competitiveness in our secondary industries. When the commodity boom ends, the dollar falls and our industry is ripe for takeover by foreign interests.

And our government is complicit in perpetuating this paradigm of exploitation, rabidly defending and promoting coal mining and the destruction of our environment while undermining and denigrating those who seek more intelligent solutions to the world’s problems.

Why we have the current house price crisis.

We need to explain why house prices have risen throughout Australia and why Sydney and Melbourne house prices seem to be out of control.

The main influence is interest rates. People will pay what they can afford. As interest rates have consistently gone down house prices have gone up. However, even though the home buyer can afford to repay larger loans with lower interest, the size of the required deposit rises out of proportion and the consistent growth in home prices has made getting a deposit is blocking out some new home buyers.

The second influence is population growth. With a static population house prices would settle at some fixed standard and would move pretty much in fixed ratio with incomes. With population growth comes competition for the existing stock of houses. Not only is the population of Sydney and Melbourne rising but there is a change in the demographic. Home ownership is important to new immigrants from Asia, and not just one home but several. Some young immigrants from China came here as the children of wealthy Chinese. They have resources behind them and a desire to have the best. They also have resources to overcome the deposit gap.

Negative gearing and CGT concessions are a strong signal to these buyers. Even if these will not actually make a person richer, the existence of these sanctioned tax avoidance mechanisms is attracting people to make certain investment decisions, even to make bad ones. For people who see homes as a store of wealth these are special incentives. Again, this goes to the special nature of the current home-buying demographic. As prices have continued to rise the investment decision is proven to be correct and entices another round of bidding up.

Overseas buyers may only be ten percent of total new home sales, especially apartments, but as many of these are remaining vacant, this investment is actually diverting resources from adding to the supply. Sydney and Melbourne are stand-outs because of their stature as ‘World Cities.’ The attraction of having an asset in such a city at a time when prices are rising at much higher rates than other investments can be a status thing for overseas buyers. Given the populations of countries involved dwarf the Australian population of home buyers there is likely to be some pressure on housing for some time.

Is there a bubble? There appears to be a bubble in Sydney and possibly in Melbourne. Will it burst? If interest rates rose to what they were twenty years ago prices would have to come down but that is unlikely. It would cause such a recession that interest rates would drop back to even lower levels. It’s likely that the principal factors at play continue for some time. Overseas buyers will continue to try to buy property in Sydney and Melbourne. Those who have amassed wealth through tax-incentivised investment will continue to do so.

The oft-stated proposition that houses are ‘unaffordable’ is nonsense, as someone can afford them, or thinks they can. The statement that the problem is a lack of supply is partly nonsense because it cannot be used as a basis for policy. The number of homes within 10 kilometres of the city or with a harbour view or on a decent-sized block of land is fixed. So, what can be done?

Here are some policies that would work:

  • Reduce population growth
  • Remove the dual incentives for investing in houses as the only way to amass wealth – either CGT concessions or negative gearing has to go.
  • Increase taxes on unoccupied dwellings to remove incentives to buy property just for the capital gain.

Some policies that would not work:

  • Allow people to access superannuation to get a deposit
  • Increasing first homebuyer grants
  • Any policy at all that is aimed at the demand side