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Tax the miners more

Here we go again. Just saw a ludicrous popup ‘ad’ from the Minerals Council of Australia talking about how wonderful the miners are and making a ‘link’ between mining and scientific research into the Coronavirus (?).

The real reason for these ads, in case you were wondering, is to avoid paying more tax. The minerals council did the same after the bushfires, when the country suffered huge financial losses and there was a proposal to tax the miners more. Vague, ‘feelgood’ ads appeared which really send the signal ‘don’t tax our free diesel or our piddling 5% royalties’.

This is all pathetic and sad for two reasons:

First, apparently these type of ads aren’t really meant for the general population. They act as ‘signalling’ for the easily led elites (notably the press gallery and the canberra politicians) that the people love the mining companies, and they can’t possibly be taxed more (even though they are barely taxed now).

Surely the miners are wrong. The press gallery can’t be THAT gullible, surely, to be taken in by a special interest pleading for lower tax rates? I mean its not like the miners always hire an economic ‘consultancy’ to produce a rubbish report showing that, lo and behold, increasing the tax rate would make them actually pay less tax, or some other rubbish like that; and this ‘independent’ report is splashed uncritically across the news by basically innumerate press gallery hacks? Oops, thats exactly what happens. The press gallery ‘pre decide’ that the policy must be unpopular, as they are taken in by the laughable PR campaign and fancy reports. You can generally rely on the press gallery to side with what the elites want in opposition to what the vast majority want (see also mass immigration on this point). Taxing the miners has always been a wildly popular policy; but unfortunately not permitted by our elites.

Second, mining in Australia is criminally undertaxed. Criminally. They get tax free diesel. They pay a lousy 5% royalty (when they feel like it). They get huge, rorted, depreciation allowances which, for example, allows the gas industry to basically pay no tax. Its estimated that if the miners paid proper tax, every Australian household would be $20,000 per year richer. Imagine if I logged into your netbanking and stole 20k a year- would you be happy? And yet thats what we allow them to do. Could we all do with an extra 20k a year during this current crisis?. Hell yes. Or we could easily pump an additional 220bn a year into public health. Now that would be a good thing!

The solutions are very simple. We need a proper market bidding process for mining royalties. Lang Hancock flew over an iron deposit in the 1950s, claimed it for a lousy 5% royalty rate (for 90 years!), and they’ve been busy onselling the minerals until they are likely all gone in a decade or more. Gina Rinehart is now worth 50 billion plus (money obtained from clipping a ticket from a government resource given away virtually for nothing) while she implores us to work for $2 per hour. Gina Rinehart is also Australia’s biggest welfare bludger. Its not even close. You could add up all the money paid out in unemployment benefits, triple it, and she still extracts more than that a year.

They are our minerals, not theirs. Make them bid for it. See if BHP will offer a 7% royalty for Hammersly Iron (I bet they would) or Rio Tinto offer 15% (I’ll bet they would too!). Lets have a proper free market for these minerals, with people paying a proper rate.

Ironically, a free market is exactly what the miners and the IPA etc etc oppose- they think they should be entitled for life for a government monopoly sweetheart deal. Not any more.

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A modest proposal for Public sector job and wage cuts

With the deficit skyrocketing, most Australians are doing it tough. Most. However, there are a few protected areas that have surprisingly escaped much scrutiny.

The most obvious are public sector workers. Now, straight off, I’m going to draw a clear distinction between the actual, front line, ‘deal with the public’ workers, the nurses, the doctors, the orderlies, the police, the ambulance people, the teachers, the bus drivers etc, and the armies of backoffice bureaucrats that we have working in the state/federal bureaucracy- many of whom wouldn’t meet the general public in a fit in an average workday.

I have to say that because one of the chief distracting tactics of the public sector cheersquad is to conflate all cuts to public servants as cuts to front line, genuine workers, when of course that’s not what we’re talking about at all. Fairfax commenters (many of them public servants I wonder?) constantly make this false conflation. For the record; we’re talking about the back office clipboard loafers – of whom there are many.

Despite what many public sector defenders say, the ‘back office’ people are clearly distinguishable from the frontline workers, and always have been. So, yes, you can sack back office people without affecting the frontlines (and always could). And in fact one of the biggest impediments to people on the frontline are the backoffice people making up rules and regulations and sending out forms and surveys for the sake of it.

A good example is the Victorian Institute of Teaching. I can remember the old school inspectors, who would come to the school, and actually stand in class and observe. Tough for the teachers, but you had to respect the fact the inspectors made the trip. Now, we get a bunch of smug ‘tick the box’ bureaucrats, making ‘directives’ and collecting fees (and fining those who are late) who wouldn’t visit (or even know where a school was) in a pink fit. And every so often, at great public expense, they launch a ‘show prosecution’ (with a little group of overpaid barristers) to ban a teacher – in many cases running uncontested hearings (with barristers on 5k a day!) where the teacher has already handed in their license and said they have stopped working anyway(!). Time to simply shut the whole thing down.

Should also be noted that there are extreme levels of nepotism and favoritism in the public sector. Most jobs are given to mates or family members. Therefore its a bit odd to expect private sector workers to support payrises for jobs that are effectively denied to them, for life.

Victoria’s public sector wages bill is a staggering 26bn a year. It defies belief that there isn’t fat to cut from that, even after ringfencing frontline workers (which we should do). Here is a modest proposal to cut that fat, with the most obvious candidates at the start:

  • Complete and immediate sacking of all ‘ministerial advisers’ with no payout of benefits etc. These sackings would have the added benefit of immediately lifting government productivity. Bye bye, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet!
  • Immediate sacking of all media advisers, people who write press releases, ‘communication officers’, ‘Electorate officers’, PR officers, and all those bloody idiots who devise those pathetic government advertising campaigns (have you ‘swapped a stop’ to walk more to lose weight recently?).
  • Most of the corporate lawyers can go. And so can the ones that devise ‘corporate compliance’ (ie dreaming up more rules to confuse everyone with).
  • Anyone who works on indigenous issues who is not, on a daily basis, providing direct person to person care; is sacked. Bye bye Canberra bureaucrat who I saw enjoying her triple latte at Parliament House while flicking through her ‘Closing the gap’ glossy brochure with a pen marker!
  • All HR etc etc can be reduced to a simple ‘Personnel Officer’ (one person per department) who simply gathers and filters resumes for all PS positions. And, because nepotism and jobs for mates are a critical issue in the public sector, a simple global govt website which says ‘Job xrt221 at Dept of Lands was filled on 15th May 2020 by John Stubbins, who was previously a bureaucrat at Treasury’. Then we all know who’s getting the jobs, and why. Sunlight is the best disinfectant!.. And because we’ll change the law to allow people to be sacked as easily in the public sector as in the private, no more tribunals, ‘grievance committees’ etc etc and no. no. no. more jobs for life.
  • A complete, across the board upper wage cap across all govt and govt owned enterprises of 200k. Christine Holgate- leader of Australia Post on 3m a year? Sorry Christine, its 200k, take it or leave it. ABC star ‘luvvie’ who’s on a 500k package, you’re now on 200k; if you dont like it, leave. (You might have to sell your house in Glebe or North Melbourne. Oh well). This is everywhere- all heads of departments from the PM down.
  • 70% cut to ABC budget. Yep, I know you got your job when you were a Whitlam staffer, and I know you must have the right opinions because everyone else in the office agrees with you. But we haven’t time for you anymore. Out. ABC was set up as a basic news service so it needs a TV channel and a news website. And that’s it.
  • 80,000 of the most unneeded backoffice public servants to be sacked in Victoria. At an average total cost of 100k a year, that’s a saving of 8 billion a year- straight into the public health system! Imagine that replicated across the whole country- fantastic!
  • 40% across the board paycut for any backoffice public servants still left including all MPs.
  • The Victorian Institute of Teaching, Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, The Victorian Privacy Commissioner, The Victorian Law Foundation, The Legal Services board, AHPRA, all completely closed; all staff sacked; and the resulting 500m a year pumped straight into public health. Similar bodies in other states abolished (send me your suggestions!).
  • The Australia Council completely abolished- no more luxury trips to Venice for you! (and no more artists being funded to do burnouts in rolls royces in the outbacks to tell a message about oppression!)
  • All former backoffice staff on defined pensions to have those pensions reduced to a maximum of $450 a week (still very generous). Sticks in my craw to have smiling former bureaucrats boasting of their 1.5k a week incomes (plus! for life!) for being retired from a job where they never did anything anyway.
  • This is all just a start, what are your ideas? After this post, the other side of the ledger- a plan to finally make the miners pay their proper share of tax!

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Turns out I’m useless, (and thats fine)

Firstly, kudos to our health workers, doctors nurses orderlies, grocery clerks, delivery drivers and all the others keeping us going. Its interesting who the real essential workers turn out to be; and compare that with how much they’re paid.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not one of them. Its a bit frightening (but not surprising) to discover that you belong to a job that in this current crisis is utterly useless.. Makes you want to retrain to do something practical. I’m sure there’s a lot of others looking at who we normally fawn over in the normal economy realizing that they just didn’t matter that much.

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The real reason we dont have free speech anymore

Our stupid defamation laws.

The early days of the internet, the 1990s were a wild west. But largely, it was a great wild west. Barriers came down. Discussion was open.  We could get information by ourselves. We didn’t have to rely on a little group of insider journalists who may or may not decide to write about what policy was announced or filter or slant it their way – we had the revolutionary way of now looking it up ourselves. (And didn’t it make them furious).

During this time, the internet proved itself as a great source of free information.  The One-Tel collapse was presaged by anonymous emails by a whistleblower.  Wikileaks happened.  Information was out there.

Even better, our defamation laws were then reformed in 2005, and made nationally consistent. For a while things looked promising, with limitations put upon claims and common sense rules imposed; including a right to an ‘early retraction’; a commonsense reform.

But judges started loosening the defamation laws straight after they were tightened.  As always, their sympathy to ‘do something’ in the case before them prompted them to push them wider, little by little; granting extensions, increasing the scope of payouts, weakening sensible tests and thresholds. 

At the same time, the web has tightened up. The media business figured out that people just wont pay for news or reporting, and started putting up paywalls. And they began to realize that having lots of comments just isn’t worth it; it doesn’t really bring in any advertising, and just exposes them to legal risk.

As a result, Whirlpool has become a ridiculously overrmoderated joke (that might as well be shut down); Fairfax began censoring its comments, and finally has a ‘subscriber only’ comments policy (which has turned it into a garden of smug) ; and Newscorp is the same.  Facebook is the one remaining exception, but a wave of cases have made them pull up; as well there is now a new censorship movement gathering steam in the mainstream media to stop ‘manipulation’ of facebook (which really means shutting down comment without pre-moderation, which really means no more free speech).

Defamation laws, to state the obvious, only protect the wealthy. The sheer costs of running a defamation action, along with the legal risks, means the rich are its main users.  A recent case of a wealthy couple (who tested positive for Covid 19) then refusing to self isolate, demonstrates this: we are not allowed to know who they are, because of defamation concerns.

Defamation laws are corruption’s best friend.  The wealthy and the corrupt tend to overlap quite a lot (almost totally in some cases) and there have been many trials and cases in Australia that can’t be pursued due to defamation concerns.  I’m aware of one open and shut case of corruption that no journalist wants to write about (despite the facts being very simple), as the main beneficiary is a prominent wealthy person with political connections. Everyone knows it happened- nobody wants to write about it.

Journalists should be our natural allies here.  The defamation laws are ridiculous. They are being invoked in school disputes, by parents fighting about school facilities and uniforms.  They are being waged by councillors against each other, over trivial nonsense which should be a natural part of government discussions. They are shutting down debate, and smothering everything with a patronizing ‘we can’t talk about it’ gloss that’s worse than the pre internet 1980s. Corruption is thriving.

I acknowledge that journalists opposition to the defamation laws often comes from wanting to gossip about celebrities. By and large, this stuff is a waste of free speech, however sympathetic we are to a ‘sleb who’s been unfairly treated.  But the defamation laws overwhelmingly protect the corrupt, no matter how you look at it.

We need, simple, commonsense, bleeding-heart-judge proof defamation laws. A presumption of free speech.  Damages for defamation only in the case of clear, serious injury to someone’s reputation where there was no basis whatsoever to make the comment (and the basis can be a mistaken belief). If I see you dip your hand in the till and take out $30, I’m entitled to report it, even if it turns out you got permission from your boss to take the money earlier. And if you do issue court proceedings, I can make a retraction within six months, which (unless its done in a clearly insincere way); ends the matter with no costs. Damages capped at 100k; an all up global limit between you and me (no matter how many cases you launch or causes you file for).

Free speech is being completely and totally throttled, its getting worse, and we don’t have time for our idiot judiciary to shut free speech down on behalf of the corrupt rich.

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Update

Firstly, yes, we should all be isolating and stopping the spread of this goddamn virus as much as possible. Listen to the public health people and give them/do whatever they want.

That out of the way, I can’t decide who annoys me more in the media chatter. Usually its Newscorp- this is where you find the majority of ‘I’m alright jack’ comments, as well as most of the conspiracy theorists etc; or the morons saying that the fact of the virus proves there’s nothing to worry about from climate change (?)

But, Fairfax is really running a close race. The sheer smugness of its commenters- who all think they have gotten their remarks published on merit, but really because subscriber comments are let straight through. Its pay for play. And the self satisfaction! Oh look I said ‘Scomo’ ; and someone else said ‘Scotty From Marketing’ and its all the PM’s fault (when the issues confronting the virus response are far more human ones driven by our reluctance to change rather than the fault of which side of politics you dislike). You get the feeling that a lot of the commenters work(ed) in the public sector. And don’t get me started on the constant trivia of their press gallery columnists.

Also the constant assumption that government money and debt is a bottomless pit which never has to be paid back starts to grate. I would be happier if they actually acknowledged the need to eventually balance the books and tax the miners a bit more, but nobody ever does…..

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Can you basically trust people?

No.

People only care about themselves. This has been proved time and time and time again.  The bushfires were a good example. Remember those?

The fires caused about 100bn of losses (houses lost, businesses, tourism down etc). An appeal was held, and about 1% of what was actually needed was raised. There then was a fake scandal where, literally, a few people in some focus groups said they were concerned how the donations were being spent, the media beat it up (of course) and everyone jumped online to say how it had ruined it for them and they weren’t donating any more.  The excuse to stop donating to a cause (so big it would have caused real financial pain) had been provided, and we accepted it greedily.

The houses are still burnt out, people are still homeless, and nobody cares. I wonder how long it will be before we’re told the homeless people in the bushfire zones need to accept personal responsibility, and go after $3 per hour fruitpicking jobs in the outback?

Its really time to stop deluding ourselves that people are meant to care about each other.  I found out what a mistake this is many years ago when I started working. The scope of human selfishness really is boundless.  Need to testify to help a mate? Sure I will- until I have to actually do it and it might cost half a day’s pay; then my phone will ring out and you’ll never hear from me again.

People can point to the doctors and nurses keeping everyone alive in the coronavirus crisis, and, yes, good for them.  But its notable how powerful the underlying altruistic idea has to be in public health (with everyone reinforcing it) to motivate a group to keep striving to a common goal.

Meanwhile in early March the Australian newspapers are full of paid for ads by the mining industry talking about how dynamic it is (in other words signalling to the press gallery/elites they don’t want their diesel rebate touched or any mining taxes increased from their present pathetically low level). The press gallery, as always, pick up on this, automatically assume this is what ‘the readers’ want; and any increase in mining taxes is quickly binned as ‘too hard’.  Selfishness grinds on.

One thing that gets me is the constant surprise at the selfishness. Basically someone (if they have the time) will give you a jumper lead start for your car, and that’s about it.  Then we’ll go back to opposing that local shelter for veterans (you just know its inappropriate for the area); any sort of tax rise; anything that would have the slightest impact on your life.  All this as my phone lights up with scamming phonecalls and messages.

I honestly think we’d all be better off stopping trying to project fake altruism.  The wide eyed appeal from union leaders about ‘members money’ (when they’re stealing it themselves); press gallery journalists dressing up the desire for gossip as a right to know; politicians virtue signalling. Lets accept that many times (not always; not in health care) those that want to expand government have their own self or business interest at heart.  Lets accept that self interest is a bedrock human motivation (the motivation) and adjust our perceptions accordingly; and still do business with people on this basis. Life is a seething mass of competition over not enough and always will be. We’d all be better off assuming that truth.

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Precious Pinstriped Prison Punts the Point.

This is a belated review of a book from 2008 from a disaffected former lawyer ( at a top law firm, colloquially known as a ‘Top Tier’), who wrote what she felt would be a savage indictment of elite talents gone to waste in law firms.

Hammered over and over is the tragic waste of young elite graduates with top skills forced to while away their time working for soulless law firms, when they could be doing so much more.

Unfortunately, none of this is right or has any connection to the real world.

Anyone who’s worked in law knows the total, almost comical, bias toward the ‘top tier’. Even 30 years after graduating, your resume will be haunted (in fact binned before you start) by the fact that you haven’t worked at a ‘top tier’.  Experience and skills are irrelevant without this background.

And yet the Top Tier is a symbol of nothing. Nobody who works there is anything special. For all the bluff and bluster about their ‘elite’ skills, Top Tier firms add as much as high flying overpaid CEOs or consulting companies (ie, nothing). In fact, ironically there’s a big overlap between the consulting companies and the Top Tier firms. And nobody’s forced to work there.

It is very difficult for anyone who’s struggled in ‘SmallLaw’ (there’s another nickname but I wont use it) to have any sympathy for the poor struggling Top tier grads in this book.

I wonder if Top Tier grads have ever had the following experiences: been bailed up by an endless stream of mentally ill clients, screamed at for not taking someone’s traffic fine to the high court (not because they’re a client and you’ve agreed to work on it, but because their de facto has a ‘no win no fee’ injury case with your firm, so of course you’re responsible for everything that happens in their extended family); received death threats at midnight because of some case you’re running, and, above all, been triumphantly told the client ‘ is on a pension’ (thus meaning you have to work for them for free for life).

Compare that to the horror for the poor little dears who managed to score high marks on the law marks lottery- by aceing irrelevant issue-spotting exams (in first year) on topics long forgotten; and then spent (oh the tedium!) boring long hours with their corporate clients.  And the hours for SmallLaw and the Top Tier are about the same, contrary to rumor.

The other massive difference between Top Tier grads and all other law grads are exit options. You work in small law, you stay in small law, forever. Nobody cares about how good you are, what you know, how you appear in court. All they know is you didn’t work in the Top Tier. The elite jobs for govt, public sector etc etc, are ringfenced for the Top Tier grads, totally and completely. It usually takes till your fifth year out when this dawns on you.

Pleasingly, since 2008, the most notable feature of the law graduate ‘market’ (if you can call it that) is the slow collapse of the ‘Top Tier’. People have woken up to the overpricing and lack of value. (Well, most people, but it’s still taking public companies and governments a while).

Of course, the other dominant group not mentioned in the ‘Pinstriped Prison’ are those who never get to go to any prison to begin with- the unemployed. And with a quintupling of grads, thats the main experience law grads will have.

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Why does Whirlpool bother?

Anyone who’s been on whirlpool forums knows the ridiculous overmoderation that goes on there. There is no free speech, any discussion on virtually any subject is just arbitrarily shut down. It’s quite common, after posting just a comment, to find your whole account gone, with a smug little comment about the account being closed.

In particular, anyone who criticizes anything, or questions immigration, or in fact raises any issue about anything is quickly shut down.

To be accurate, they should give the disclaimer: ‘please note these discussion forums should not be a forum for discussion’.

The same declining gang of easily offended commenters is gasping along, no new voices allowed.

The question is, why? Why did something that provided a useful outlet for commenting become so ridiculous and so dead? That provided a useful forum to discuss things anonymously (because, lets face it, people are bland to the verge of pointlessness when discussion is under their real names).

I think the reason Whirlpool has collapsed into a no-discussion overmoderrated joke is part of a broader collapse of free speech on the web, closely linked to ridiculous defamation laws and lawyers. There is virtually no benefit from publishing comments, where there is an ocean of legal pain available to plaintiffs. I wish these laws were changed, but until they do, we can say goodbye to the old ‘free discussion’ whirlpool and we’re stuck with what it is now; a joke which might as well just shut down.

The collapse of free speech on the web will be the subject of another, more detailed, post coming soon.

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Fairfax readers (the few allowed to comment) have worked everything out for themselves

This link from Fairfax has a quite reasonable article about how we should go nuclear to save the climate. For the record, nuclear power is a virtually no emission power source which, (annoyingly for its opponents), provides reliable baseload.

Naturally, the fairfax readers were having none of it. Scroll down in the link to see their self righteous and emotive comments, (which mostly ignore the practicalities), saying ‘no’. Some even say they don’t want to hear the arguments, they just don’t want it, full stop. These same people will bemoan the bushfires and curse Scott Morrison and the world for not doing enough on emissions and climate change, (without any sense of irony).

Of course, we will never know how many people commented in favor of nuclear (at least being an option without unscientific objection, nobody’s saying we have to use it) without being published…Fairfax has a long history of not allowing comments that offends its in house groupthink- and pro nuclear (probably due to its scientific basis) definitely offends that anti nuclear cloth eared collective.

So we get the sad site of previously nuclear Japan going all out to ramp up dirty coal (and poison more of it citizens than nuclear ever could).

Still, as long as the smug, virtue signalers at the Age are happy then the world’s been put to rights – unfortunately with a lot more carbon and other pollution and no more clean safe nuclear power. Yep, when they were working things out for themselves, ‘facts’ and ‘logic’ carried to weight compared to blinkered social justice warrior instincts (Mixed with the usual anti nuclear NIMBYism).

It’s hard to work out why Fairfax bothers with its comments, as they only publish the same narrow views from the same predictable group (no dissenting views are allowed), but then again, that’s how most journalists think at the Age in the first place.

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Rupert isn’t (really) the enemy

Yes, the media in Australia is too concentrated (though this was more of a problem in the pre internet era).

Yes News Corp has a conservative bias and always has (it was actually a lot more pronounced in the olden days).

But no, News Corp is not the enemy. Really. Its just providing a market for what the readers want. I remember being told in 1991 by a (left wing) journalist that the Herald Sun didn’t really filter its letters- that what you saw is what you got. And what you got were a lot of conservatives writing in to the newspaper.

Pick up the Australian newspaper now and you’ll see letter after letter from people rubbishing climate change. These people exist- they have to give a name and verifiable address to be published, and they do so. I have met plenty of people like this in my life, and still do.

If you read, closely, the editorials of the Australian, they have, in fact, been reasonably liberal on climate change. Yes, they publish a lot of op-eds from a denial perspective. And I’ll bet you they’ve done that because these columns appeal to the readers. It’s the readers- mostly older, more often male, that are the bedrock of the Australian’s culture. If anything, its more liberal than they are.

Its comforting in a way to think its all Rupert’s fault. If you can blame one person you can divert your eyes from the real deniers of climate change- the vast bulk of people who object to changing anything (and in their partial defence, many of the solutions are not quite there yet). But, the same way his conversion to the green cause in 2007 didn’t change much back then, it wouldn’t change much now. People are the real problem.