Reviewing the Challenges of 2015 – Economy – Environment – Religion

ECONOMY — ENVIRONMENT — RELIGION

2014 was not the greatest year in history.
Be this as it may, the one element of life that will never be lost is Hope. This means that we can plan for 2015 to be a better year, but, as in all things, success happens when we face and plan to overcome obstacles. So, as 2014 draws to an uninspiring close, we look at three significant roadblocks and talk about how to get around them. Continue reading “Reviewing the Challenges of 2015 – Economy – Environment – Religion”

Seniors become five days a week slaves – Elder abuse on a grand scale!

My article published in Crikey 19/12/13

Most people who reach the traditional retirement age, look forward to spending more time together, particularly doing a lot of travel, even though many choose to work part time as a necessary step to increase their inadequate superannuation. But, they are now denied this well-earned right because their children pressure them to look after the grandchildren so both parents can be in full time employment and maintain a lifestyle that their parents never experienced.

Seniors become five days a week slaves because their children prey unashamedly on granny’s undeniable love of grandchildren. Their motivation is that, by avoiding child care fees, they save at least 10% of their pay packet. This act of selfishness, represents elder abuse on a grand scale and it is a disgrace. Indeed, it can be a breach of age discrimination laws. Continue reading “Seniors become five days a week slaves – Elder abuse on a grand scale!”

There’s promising possibilities for old investment in a new bush – Go West Old Guys!

My article published in Crikey 13/12/13

Too many farmers are burdened with unmanageable debt, some of them heavily so. Many bought farms with minimum equity at maximum prices during the height of the boom before the GFC of 2008, then went further into debt during subsequent droughts and floods in the hope of surviving until a new wave of prosperity occurred. In a rapidly changing world, those good days are now a mirage on a disappearing horizon.

Their only viable path to survival is to welcome an injection of friendly equity that will enable them to take their bank manager to lunch and tell him to get lost. But, the challenge is to find equity which is friendly, non-threatening, helpful and wise.

One promising possibility is to involve Australia’s rapidly growing population of Seniors, especially those with spare capital and business wisdom. The best deal would be for those elderly investors to decide to live in the same rural community as the farm.

Actually, there is potential for this to occur as the majority of older Australians have lived their years in capital cities and, when they retire, too many head for the beaches as they follow a dream of happy days watching the waves roll in to pleasant sandy shores. Problem is that, after a few months, they have watched the waves for too long and are bored out of their brains.

Now, some are heading to the bush, looking for a small and pleasant community which gives them a new and interesting lifestyle in total contrast to their city days. They enjoy involvement in the life of the community while coming to understand the economy of surrounding rural industries. Some buy a local shop, while others look for a farmer who needs a financial partner and is willing to introduce them to farming skills.

Without doubt, there is capacity to turn this trickle of new rural dwellers into a national movement of significance, following the American vision of two centuries ago when Uncle Sam said ‘Go West Young Man’. We can say ‘Old Guys’.

There are problems to overcome such as identifying rural communities who are not wary of ‘city slickers’ and where farmers are ready to welcome business partners.  We also need enlightened governments to provide tax incentives and do something significant about reducing transport costs and other financial burdens caused by the tyranny of distance. Politicians have been promising this for a century, but have delivered little because there are not enough votes out in the bush to cause them real concern. The disgraceful result is that the huge potential of rural Australia to become the greatest food producer in the world has never been realised.

Also, we need to protect farmers from the owners of Supermarkets who screw them into the ground mercilessly – indeed they are greater predators than floods and droughts.

Strange as it may seem, an even greater challenge is to convince oldies that a relaxed retirement is a fast way to the grave, while long life comes when you start a second career which is a stimulating challenge.

But, they will resist the lure of country life until there is a revolution in the quality of bush housing as most of it belongs to the lifestyle of yesteryear. And cultural life of rural communities has to come alive as well.  Society based only on the local pub is primitive.

Nevertheless, the opportunity for regeneration of the bush is there for the taking because the world has  7 billion people, growing to 9.5 billion by 2050. Most are underfed. There is a fast growing middle class on every continent who seek quality food that only a huge and empty island like Australia can produce if it builds a prosperous farming industry backed by innovative marketing and distribution.

So, it’s worth a go. I am involved in starting a movement to find thousands of ‘grey apprentices’ to partner young farmers whose skills need an injection of cash, wisdom and mutual respect. I am working with a fine team of researchers at Per Capita to determine the most effective way to bring this into being. Watch this space.

Follow me on Twitter @EVERALDATLARGE

The Will of God – Impact of Religion on Peace, Prosperity and Justice

The earliest memory of my life is that of my mother taking me to the Methodist Sunday School in Linville, a small village nestled in the foothills of the Blackbutt Ranges of Queensland. For all but a few Sundays, I have been going to Church ever since, and recently I notched up my 53rd year as an Elder, firstly in the Presbyterian Church and then the Uniting Church.

In my earliest years, I was a rigid fundamentalist but, as the years passed, I peacefully and happily translated to becoming a very liberal one, while never ever diminishing the depth of my pilgrimage as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified because he broke all the conservative traditions. I now proudly describe myself as a Progressive Christian, hungry to understand more of the mystery of it all.

Right now, I have three main goals in my life as a Christian.

One is to work persistently towards the achievement of a reduction in poverty across the planet, as no person can claim to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth without doing something meaningful about this blot on humanity.

The second is to live in peace and understanding with those of other faiths. In seeking to participate in the task of bringing this to reality, I am a very active member of the North Brisbane Inter Faith Group, where Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, etc, share meals and dialogue together regularly and strive to find beliefs and ethics we can agree upon.

Number three, which should really be number one, is to foster the hope that religious people everywhere will refrain from declaring that their actions are the Will of God. Since the dawn of time, millions have been killed by those who claimed to have acted in God’s name, but the truth is that every single death has been the unjustifiable action of a violent person passionately and conveniently declaring that they had no option but to carry out a command they had received directly from God himself.

Nothing can be further from the truth. In reality, they were expressing their inbuilt bigotry and lack of intelligence, while bolstering their personal insecurity.

I am a very avid reader of books about religion, and I find that, when you cut away all the heavy theology that smothers any faith, you can get down to the very essence of them all. You discover the irrefutable fact that they are all religions of love and peace and justice.

The horror of violence has been added to doctrines down the centuries by people with tiny minds who had a need to gain or retain power that would sustain their permanent domination of the masses. Too many religious leaders, and political leaders who used religion to gain power, have been, and still are, manipulators and betrayers of the very basics of any faith.

Throughout my life, I have watched awful deeds that were based on the so-called ‘Will of God’. Catholics and Protestants murdering one another in Northern Ireland has been a shameful blot on Christianity. Shiite and Sunni Muslims killing one another in Iraq, Iran and Syria is a travesty that violates the basic tenets of a peaceful Islamic Faith. Buddhists killing Tamils in Sri Lanka has little resemblance to the peace that we have always attributed to Buddhism. Going back a couple of centuries, we find that slavery was carried out by Christians who declared themselves to be a superior race — God’s chosen people — honouring what they declared to be God’s stated intention that inferior people were destined to be servants. As a footnote, we can record that they made a lot of money carrying out “God’s will”.

Without trying to preach a sermon, can I make some personal observations that could contribute to a sensible discussion on the role of religion in life.

Much of the bloodshed has had its foundation in the belief that religion is based on personal salvation and a promise of life after death, but the reality is that these are thoughts that are capable of fostering selfishness and a distortion of spiritual power.

I hold the view that religions are predominantly about a love that unites humanity and seek to share the resources of the world equitably. Thus, I believe in a God who does not punish non-believers.

It has been a long time since I have believed that God decides who lives or dies. He (or she) gives us the spiritual power to handle whatever life throws at us, and this will always be composed of both good and bad. That power enables us to go to our death with a complete faith and with no expectation of reward.

In blunt words, happiness and prosperity can exist only in a world of peace, whereas religion today is the most common cause of oppression, whether it be physical or economic or social, and this is very sad.

It also spreads appalling inequality in the treatment of women, which is just as bad in Rome as it is in Mecca. It is not only unjust. It makes little sense as it means that half the economic and social power of the world is under-utilised. This is just plain dumb, as well as being manifestly unfair.

Where does this lead you and me?

We will move towards a better world if more and more of us can acknowledge that we are incomplete people who will enjoy life more if we harness a spiritual power beyond ourselves and then determine which religion relates best to our image of life, while respecting those who choose to walk another pathway to God.

Too many choose a God called Money, and they are really fragile people who cause more havoc for humanity that the most bigoted of religious killers. While I have a healthy respect of a good bank balance, it benefits me only if it is my servant, not the reverse.

There is a potentially beautiful and peaceful world out there. Too many bigots, who worship greed and a selfish brand of religion, stand in the way of it being enjoyed by most of humanity.

A step forward for all of us in creating peace and prosperity in a just society is to divest ourselves of every vestige of bigotry we carry around, as it is excess baggage that is a very heavy burden.

I am working personally and regularly on the divesting, but writing this article reminds me that I have a long way to go.

Implementing some changes of attitude during the goodwill of the Christmas season is a great idea, so long as we remember that only a minority of the world’s population will be celebrating it.

For the majority, their religious festivals happen at another date in the calendar — a reminder to us all that diversity is an interesting and important element of life.

70 is a very young age to retire

When Andrew Fisher and Alfred Deakin combined together to have a bi-partisan Pension Bill passed through Parliament in 1908, they asked an Actuary for advice on what age most workers could be expected to die.

The actuary did not hesitate to say,

‘The vast majority of them will not make it to 65’.

Fisher and Deakin both knew that the government could not afford a huge pension payout so they set the pension age at 65. Up until that time, all Australians had no option but to work until they died.

Those 65 year olds of 1908 are now the 90 year olds of today as longevity for Australians has increased by 25 years over the century that has passed.

Now, we are faced with the fact that millions of Australians will live to a very old age, kept alive by costly pharmaceutical, medical and hospital expenditure that will cripple the nation along with burgeoning pensions. And, at least a million of us will suffer from Dementia, especially Alzheimers.

A crucial issue is that most Australians will have inadequate superannuation and its poor returns will peter out soon after they reach 80 unless we have a huge increase in contributions – at least 15% from employers, plus far more in personal contributions.

Above all, it will be essential that no one is allowed to access superannuation until they are 70 and taking it as a lump sum must be banned as too many blow it quickly and go on the pension.

However, all of this will be of no avail unless employers start hiring Seniors into the work force.

Too many of them have a policy of not hiring anyone over 50 and the worst offenders of all are governments whose public service regulations force employees to retire early and make it almost impossible for anyone of mature years to apply for a position.

We need laws that require every employer to have at least 10% of their staff who are Seniors or it will be pointless to raise the Pension and Superannuation Age to 70 as most will have to apply for the dole.

All of this means that this nation needs a positive plan to turn ageing into an asset.

We won’t get far with it if we follow the coverage in the Main Stream Media. Headlines like ‘Work till you drop’ trivialise the matter. A more accurate headline would have been ‘Australia is the most overpaid, underworked and uncompetitive nation in the world’.

The most positive and pragmatic thing we can do is to commence action now, particularly in squarely facing up to the important decision to raise the retirement age to 70 as this must happen far sooner than the Productivity Commission has recommended. Every three years, commencing in 2015, we can raise the retirement age by one year.

Side by side, there must be a huge program of preventative health and tele-health to get the nation’s medical bills down, in tandem with an expansion of recreation and tourism industries where Seniors can contribute significantly to economic growth.

In addition, we will need a huge attitude change to growing old as it is a time of life where we can contribute wisdom and experience more than ever before.

Essential to it all will be to diminish our sense of entitlement and acknowledge that  Australia owes us nothing. We owe a lot to Australia for the greatest lifestyle in the world.

If we can become a nation of givers rather than getters, the Ageing Tsunami will lose its sting and we will lead the world in ensuring that we are a land of opportunity for the vision that comes with greying hair.

 

Rail and Water Agenda for an Infrastructure Prime Minister

Article written for On Line Opinion “Under New Management” feature.

I greeted with enthusiasm Tony Abbott’s election comment that he wanted to be remembered in history as Australia’s Infrastructure Prime Minister. I formed the view that his words were welcomed by many who have genuine concern that our nation has an appalling record of neglected infrastructure stretching back for far more the half a century that has elapsed since the Snowy Mountains Project became a reality.

During this time, there has been a steady, but not spectacular, investment in roads and some expansion of ports, but very little spent on railways or water. If the PM can make a difference in these two areas, it will make an enormous contribution to the progress of the nation. Continue reading “Rail and Water Agenda for an Infrastructure Prime Minister”

I will complete the Blueprint on Ageing

I have made real progress with my plan to complete the Blueprint on Ageing and am pleased that we will do so with the aid of an eminent Australian Think Tank, using crowd funding plus some corporate and trust gifts.

We will publish it on schedule in June, 2014, so that Hockey’s sacking of me and my Panel will have been of no avail and we can then plan to implement many of the recommendations without help from government.

Before we finalise the Blueprint, we will hold public consultations around Australia and I hope that those who have contributed to the debate will be able to attend and express their thoughts.

The more I work on the plan, the more I realise that the scope of it is enormous, as ageing is a significant element in every facet of national life. So, the turning of ageing into an asset will create great change, but I believe that it can be centred on an economy that is not dollar driven and will create a level playing field for young and old.

A problem we face in Australian politics is that anyone who has a conscience about anything is labelled a socialist and, every time there is a change of government, it is regarded as essential to destroy everything the previous government has done. But, Australians are wise enough to overcome this and export our good policies on Ageing to a world that is being hit by the same ageing tsunami as we are.

Government sources have hinted to me that I will breach copyright if I try to complete the plan. Can I say that I will enjoy my day in court and I will appear without a barrister as my defence will be that I am completing a document of national importance that was otherwise destined for the shredder simply because it was initiated by Wayne Swan.

The court case will cause millions of Australians to read the Blueprint.

Why Joe Hockey should not have sacked me.

As we face an ageing tsunami, Treasurer Joe Hockey has sacked the Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing (and me as its chairman), declaring it to be irrelevant without stating why this is so. Shortly before that, Prime Minister Tony Abbott decided not to have a minister for ageing, downgrading the importance of millions of seniors in the life of the nation.

The sole reason for the dismissal of the panel, as conveyed to me privately by Coalition MPs, is that it was established by former treasurer Wayne Swan and it has been decided that every vestige of Swan’s term as treasurer must be obliterated. Such is the waste that politics represents in our national life. Continue reading “Why Joe Hockey should not have sacked me.”

Economic Growth or Quality of Life – measuring the progress of a nation.

Politicians and economists calculate the stature and prosperity of a nation by the annual percentage increase in its Gross Domestic Product. Governments rise and fall on the basis of this statistic, mainly because nations are declared to be in recession if there is negative GDP growth on three successive occasions.

However, the thoughts of many support the view that it is long overdue for this inadequate gauge of a nation’s growth to be declared the farce that it is.

I want to suggest that it should be replaced by a new measure that could be called General Domestic Prosperity. This means that a GDP will still be calculated, but it will have a new meaning and a different basis of measurement. Continue reading “Economic Growth or Quality of Life – measuring the progress of a nation.”

The Commonwealth of The South Pacific

Creating a Union of Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands

In the 1890s, when the Federation of Australian States was being fervently debated, there were seven negotiating parties at the table — five States on the Continent, plus Tasmania and New Zealand.

Just before referendums were held to determine whether the grand venture would go ahead, New Zealand withdrew. Their stated reason was that Australia was experiencing a major economic recession brought on by the bank collapses of 1893, combined with the worst drought of the century. New Zealand had avoided both of those disasters and was motivated to take the short term view that it would be wise to pull out. In hindsight, it was a bad decision.

So, Federation proceeded without them. Yet, the provision remains in the Constitution for them to change their minds at some time — but it is an option that has never been taken up. Continue reading “The Commonwealth of The South Pacific”

For whom the bell tolls – The last days of Rudd or Abbott or both.

Saturday will be a time of great personal relief for the vast majority of Australian voters. After the most painful and boring election of a lifetime, we will have made the decision that most of us would prefer not to make.

Is Abbott about to achieve his dream of becoming Australia’s Prime Minister, or will Rudd pull-off what will be recorded as a political miracle? The making of this sad choice will enable us to experience the profound relief we cherish when we get-up after sitting for a long time on a really nasty bit of prickly pear. You feel a hell of a lot better, but you know also that you will have a sore backside for a long time thereafter.

It is not an exaggeration to say that I have never before seen Australians so disgusted with politics, or so disillusioned with the choice that political parties have forced upon us by presenting us with leaders who inspire such little confidence. But, there is not much we can do about it right now, and it is our democratic responsibility to ensure that whoever wins is given a fair go at trying to give positive and sustainable leadership to Australia.

So, let us look for a few moments at the key figures in this eminently forgettable election:

Continue reading “For whom the bell tolls – The last days of Rudd or Abbott or both.”

The Search for Clean Coal

The coal industry is at a crisis point worldwide, and any fallout from its decline will impact heavily on the Australian economy.

Barack Obama has stated that his goal is to gradually shut-down every coal fired power station in the USA, and Green lobby groups worldwide are calling for the picketing of all new coal mines anywhere on the planet. Warren Buffett has said that decline of coal mining is gradual, but permanent.

Gas, more so than nuclear, is being promoted as the ideal alternate to totally replace coal and, to add to the problem, coal prices are steadily dropping to the point where it soon will become uneconomic to dig it up. Then, there is the issue of the relationship between miners and farmers, which is at a low ebb and becoming even more militant on both sides.

All of this uncertainty has led to a tightening of the equity and debt markets for coal mines, with junior miners not having strong enough balance sheets to back their development capital requirements. This leads us to a dismal looking future for coal — so the industry is now slowly and reluctantly seeking ways to turn its fortunes around. Continue reading “The Search for Clean Coal”

Can boat people be turned back?

In August  2001, MV Tampa, a freighter owned in Norway, was on the high seas south of Indonesia when it picked up a May Day call from Palapa 1, an overloaded people smuggling boat with 438 souls on board. It was reported to be sinking not far from Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

Observing the long-time law of the sea that he believed no-one should ever violate, Arne Rinnan, captain of the Tampa, went immediately to their aid, taking them on board his boat and sitting them on the open deck. He sailed to Christmas Inland, but was stopped from disembarking his human cargo by the Australian Navy.

There was a stand-off for several days. Rinnan was humiliated aggressively and treated as a criminal.

After the Border Protection Bill was rushed through Parliament and a challenge to it was dismissed by the High Court, we eventually took the refugees from the Tampa and flew them to Nauru, from where most of them were eventually admitted to either Australia or New Zealand.

It was one of the most shameful weeks of our history, and it achieved absolutely nothing. Continue reading “Can boat people be turned back?”

Carbon – A debate without end.

In his Budget Reply speech last month, Tony Abbott resoundingly confirmed his previously-stated intention to immediately repeal the Carbon Tax if he is elected Prime Minister in September. This means that the nation as a whole now needs to consider the consequences of such an action, and prepare for its impact on business and on the lives of those who hold deep convictions about the environment, as well as those who believe that human activity is not the cause of the problem. Continue reading “Carbon – A debate without end.”

Minority Governments provide the best form of democracy

For all of the first 15 years after Federation in 1901, Australians elected Minority Governments. Nevertheless, the Parliament passed much of the essential legislation that created the fabric of Australian society today. The Age Pension is a prime example of this.

We should also note that for a crucial period during the Second World War, we had a minority government, but we still managed to win the war.

Most of the nations of Europe have had minority governments for as long as I can remember, with many of their voters never having experienced a majority government in their lifetime. You may retort that it was an inability to exercise decisive political power in so many governments that caused the current economic chaos in the European Community. This is an unlikely assumption as they all simply followed the worldwide mania for greed that majority governments failed to curb. Continue reading “Minority Governments provide the best form of democracy”

Is it a sin to sell a Government Asset?

More emotion is generated by the debate on Government Asset Sales than most issues that are littered around the political playground. Most of the comments are generated by the thought that there are votes to be won by perpetuating this battle — far more so than the remote possibility that there may be deep political convictions involved.

This means it’s time to try to take the discussion out of the hands of political opportunists and elevate it to a rational plane, as the balanced development of the nation will depend heavily the creation of many more new assets. Continue reading “Is it a sin to sell a Government Asset?”

Is Super very Super?

A comment on the explosive election issue of Superannuation

There are few, if any, certainties in life. Nevertheless, I am willing to put significant money on the real possibility that the September Federal Election will be decided by the votes of the rapidly growing ranks of Seniors, many of whom are not happy chappies.

Right now, there are a number of issues that will determine where the Oldies vote will go. One is the desperate shortage of Age Friendly Housing, while another is the blatant discrimination against Seniors who want to stay in the workforce or return to it. However, the most powerful one is the uncertainty and complexity of Superannuation, combined with the poor financial returns that come from it.

Let me lead you through a chat about my view of the basic principles of how a good National Superannuation Program could best be run, without commenting on any details of the complex legislation that has grown-up around it so ridiculously in Australia over two decades. Continue reading “Is Super very Super?”

The Election of a Lifetime

Who will win power in September?

A year ago Tony Abbott was an unbackable favourite to become Prime Minister of Australia at the 2013 Federal Election. Only Black Caviar had shorter odds. Most punters reckoned that Julia Gillard would lead her party to absolute oblivion, irreparably damaging the ALP brand in the process.

Now, although the Coalition is still clearly in front, it is a genuinely contestable election that may yet provide the biggest political upset in our nation’s history. Continue reading “The Election of a Lifetime”

The Quest for Energy will dominate.

The Quest for Energy will dominate the politics of the future

The provision of energy to meet the growing needs of billions of people worldwide is an enormous economic challenge for every nation on earth. Half of the world does not have any form of power in their homes right now, and there is insufficient to meet the ever expanding needs of industry and transport.

The debate on the future of energy is about the use and abuse of oil, gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, hydro, tides, ethanol, etc — which is best, cheapest, more environmentally friendly, available and sustainable — and what influence does political and financial power have on all of them.

Have just read “The Quest” by Harvard Professor Daniel Yergin — an excellent analysis of the global energy situation that covers all of the above. Well written, reads like a thriller. It caused me to form the view that it is not possible to understand world economics without having a basic grasp of the impact of energy on the aspirations of humanity.

Voluntary Euthanasia

Voluntary Euthanasia — the issue that won’t go away

There is an excellent book now in circulation called “At Liberty To Die — the battle for death with dignity in America”, which has been written by Howard Ball. It sets-out the many efforts that are being made in the United States to legalise physician-assisted death.

There has been legislation debated in their State and Federal Governments and Courts for many years. Millions of dollars have been spent on lawyers and lobbying — the Roman Catholic Church being by far the most prolific financier of the case for the negative — a very doubtful use of the offering of its parishioners.

Oregon was the first state to legalise PAD, and two others will shortly follow them, but many more long and bitter battles will be fought. What is disturbingly significant is the evidence that most people don’t want to even consider the possibility that one day they will die.

I have long held the personal conviction that I want to die at the moment when I know that I have no quality of life. I utterly reject the depressing possibility that my family may have to visit me for years while I am a vegetable. Nor should they and the government have to bear the cost of me being maintained as a vegetable.

I want my doctor to accidentally leave all the windows open on a freezing winter night and ignore me for a while. After all, death is an indispensable and unavoidable part of life, which should be a positive experience at the end of a good journey.