Thursday, 2 July 2015

Music Video of the Day

My firm is very encouraging of my music love, and I think that is probably because my practice manager is quite deaf. Anyway.

Most mornings, as I am getting set up, pulling out files, and getting stuck into my third coffee, I usually put on a music video, just to get the day started. It is a different video nearly every day, and I thought I would share.

Don't worry, I'm not going to turn this into a rambling blog about my music choices, and what these songs mean to me - my blog is rambling enough as it is!

So, day 1, "Swing Life Away" by Rise Against.


Get your acoustic punk rock here!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Wind Energy, and how to have a good discussion about wind-farm-itis.

James Carleton is currently hosting RN Breakfast, and doing a wonderful job. This morning, he hosted a discussion between Miles George, Chair of the Clean Energy Council and MD of Infigin Energy, and Tony Hodgson, Chairman of Friends of Collector, a lobbyist campaigning against a wind farm near his property.

If you have read many posts in this blog, you will know my views about wind farms. Primarily that they are fine, and that wind-farm-itis is a crock of shit.

I believe that there is only one reason why you don't want a wind farm near your property: because you don't like them. That's fine. I don't care, but don't try to make up some bullshit argument about health hazards from 'infrasound!'

Ok, so there's my view, full disclosure.

James Carleton managed to hold a sensible discussion with two opposing views, without alienating or patronising either of them. He made the wind-farm hater answer questions based on the premise "What if conclusive studies showed no problems" and he made the wind-farm proponent answer questions based on the premise "What if credible studies showed real problems."

By forcing both parties to debate the issues based on these assumptions, he was able to advance the debate. This was particularly effective, because Tony Hodgson didn't feel he was being patronised or that his beliefs were being dismissed.

It also allowed Tony Hodgson to sound like an absolute fool, which is always good.

That audio can be found here:
http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/senate-report-says-more-investigation-into/6571950

Hyperbole Alert! Or, Confected Outrage

I hate politics. Not government, just politics. I hate when people argue for the sake or arguing, or use misleading and obfusticating rhetoric to 'prove' a point. 

I also hate it when the government (or, more commonly, the opposition) blows something way out of proportion, and tries to confect an absolute outrage over... well, we are never quite sure what. 

Therefore, I will take it upon myself, as a self-respecting wannabe journalist (blog=journal, right?), to point out the worst, most egregious cases. 

We will open the book with a post about the Government's 'green paper' on Federation. It was recently leaked, and one of the suggestions put up for discussion was removing commonwealth funding from public education, and laying that burden on the states. The paper theorised that the states would have to fund this, perhaps by levying a means-tested fee for public school education, for those who could afford it.

Now, I think this is a terrible idea. The whole purpose of public education is to provide the same access education to everyone, regardless of income. It means that everyone should be able to access public education for free, and if your choice as a wealthy person is to utilise the public school system, well, good for you.

But this sort of discussion is good for society. If nothing else, this discussion raised the issue of how lucky we are that we DO have free education, up to the end of year 12!

Ok, so then Labor got on its high horse, and tried to make out that the government was planning to do this. It accused Abbott of planning to dismantle the Australian way of life, and it used, as its evidence, the fact that this discussion paper was prepared by the Prime Minister's department. 

What bullshit. 

Mark Butler, ALP President and Shadow Climate Change and Environment Minister appeared on RN Drive on Monday 22 June 2015, and tried to argue that Abbott had refused to rule it out. This was despite him saying, in fairly categorical terms, that it was not a policy that his government would support. Frankly, he sounded like he was trying to beat a drum that just wasn't there!

If you see any other instances of 'confected outrage', (Such as Abbott accusing the ALP of 'laying out the red carpet for terrorists' because they didn't support the then un-disclosed citizenship bill), please let me know so I can get on my soapbox and get them off theirs!

Friday, 5 June 2015

The evolving nature of political debate has reached the jurassic age.

This article from The Guardian ("Tony Abbott's 'with me or agin me' rhetoric cheapens citizenship debate") is a great example of the politics that I hate. It is one side saying either you support my (as yet unannounced) plan to be 'tough on x', or you are in favour of 'x' being completely unfettered.

Replace 'x' with crime, immigrants, refugees, terrorists, or anything, and you end up with the same problem.

If the other side of the debate is not skillful and, more importantly, loquacious, then they are going to be drowned out. If they try to 'pussy-foot' around the issue so as not to be seen 'in favour of x', then they will never be able to truly debate the issue. They might be against 'x' in principle, but not support the proposal of the government.

This is where we truly lose the benefits of a political democracy. If one side is allowed to define the debate as X vs (negativeX), then anyone proposing Y as a possible alternative to X is simply lumped in with the terrorists.

I would love to see a political system whereby debate focussed on policy and evidence, and truly discussing ideas with a view to improving them.

I suspect that our current system unintentionally forces politicians to present ideas with absolute conviction, even before those ideas are fully formed. Therefore, you can't say "What about we try ABC to achieve XYZ?" unless you already have a fully formed plan. I think we lose something by not saying "I want to achieve XYZ, and I thought maybe ABC could do it, what do you think?"

How much better would things be if the opposition said "That's a good idea, let's see how we can make it better" rather than "That's stupid and you are stupid."

Monday, 1 June 2015

The Dangers of the Subtle Conservatives

It will surprise none of my readers to discover that I lean left. I tend to vote and argue progressively on social justice issues, and generally in favour of government welfare initiatives (although not categorically.)

So this post is a warning to anyone else who prefers Labor over the Coalition, even if only as the lesser of two evils.

Beware the Subtle Conservatives! Because they are coming, and the Left just isn't prepared to meet them.

To quote progressive political campaigner Joel Dignam,
EVERYONE IN AUSTRALIA BE WARNED. A first-term Tory Government just got re-elected with increased representation after five years of attacks on health, education, and social security. If you were complacently looking forward to Abbott's downfall, now would be a good time to be less complacent.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Why Marriage (whatever definition) is the best financial tool

I posit this example based on a 'traditional' family, because it is easier to refer to 'him and her' than to 'A and B'. I in no way support the continuation of marriage inequality. 

I also make the following example based on pure fiction, and it is not based on the circumstances of any of my clients. 

A couple has lived together in happily wedded bliss for 20 years, and are both in their early 50s. They have bought a house (worth $500,000) and have nearly paid it off. They have all the mod-cons, they both enjoy their jobs, and their kids are happy, well-educated, and independent. 

During the relationship, he worked full-time. He earned a good wage, and over the last 20 years, has amassed a significant superannuation balance, nearly $500,000.  He is still working, earning at least $100,000 per annum. 

She worked part-time for most of the relationship, taking time off here and there to have and raise children. She didn't pursue a career, despite having the skills and qualifications to do so. Instead, she took on the traditional 'wife' role, being the housekeeper, child-carer, and generally supporting her husband in his career. Her super is minimal. 

The two were happy in their respective roles. He worked hard, and as a result of not having to worry about things at home, was able to advance in his career. She worked hard, and as a result of not having to worry about money, the home was a happy one, the kids were happy, and everyone was happy. She didn't regret not having a career, because the role that she had happily accepted didn't require her to. She regarded being a 'mum' as the best thing she could have done. 

(Note that this example could be gender-reversed)

The two are well off, saving for retirement, but enjoying life. The mortgage is nearly gone, and they are looking at maybe investing in another property. The kids are about to move out, and life is pretty good. Even if they both lost their jobs, they are well-enough-off that they would survive comfortably. Especially if they both worked for 5-10 more years, they are looking forward to a comfortable retirement. 

The critical point is that they both assumed roles within the family which contributed to a successful financial model. 

But then they separate. Things just aren't working at home, and they decide to call it quits. They go their separate ways, amicably. 

Here is where things become interesting. 

She is entitled to a property settlement, and I won't go into the fairness of it here. Suffice to say that this couple happily took on the family roles that they did, meaning that he earned more than her. In this example, because of her substantially smaller earning capacity, she receives 60% of the property pool, including superannuation. She walks away with $350,000 cash in hand, and half of the total superannuation, being $250,000. He keeps the house, but has to re-mortgage it to pay out his wife. He then has a $500,000 home, with a $350,000 mortgage, and $250,000 in super. 

Neither of them now are well off. 

He has to service a large mortgage, and although he earns well, suddenly his security in retirement is gone because his super is reduced. He can't pay off the mortgage quickly AND put more money away into Super. 

She has cash, but no house. She can only afford to buy a basic house out of town, because her earning capacity isn't enough to get a loan. She can't increase her earning capacity, because it is 'too late' and she doesn't have the skills to make a significant wage any more. She has some superannuation, but it isn't going to increase much during the next 5-10 years while she can't earn a lot. 

So while the total value of the assets is exactly the same, neither party is nearly as well-off as they were in the relationship, when the assets were pooled!

Duh, so what's your point?
Well, if you have read this far, you have probably worked it out. I suggest that the 'couple' is the best financial structure to make/save money. 

Firstly, when you have two people applying for a loan, you can get a much larger one. Over the course of your working lives, you can then pay it off more easily. Compare two people both applying for small loans, neither of whom can individually afford to buy a house, but together can buy a mansion. 

Here is the thing: the cost of living for a couple is far less than double the cost of living for two people who are not a couple. 

Let's look at saving for a deposit to buy a home. Paying rent while you save is a pain, and let's say you have found a $250/week, 2-bedroom unit to live in. Your expenses are about a further $300/week (groceries, petrol, internet/phone, electricity, insurance, etc.) and your wage is $800/week net. At best, you can put $250/week away into savings. To get a $350,000 home, you need a deposit of approximately $42,253 for a first-home buyer (5% deposit, stamp duty, PLUS lenders' insurance). That will take you 169 weeks, or 3 1/4 years to save. That's assuming you don't have any unexpected expenses. 

That also only gets you to the time when you can get the loan. You then have to pay off that house!

Ok, so contrast having a partner. Let's say that you both earn the same. You still pay $250/week, and your internet, gas and electricity bills don't change much. Your food goes up a little, but in general, your household expenses don't change significantly. Now, your budget is $1,600, and your expenses are say $850/week. Now, you can save $750/week. That same deposit now takes just over a year to save. 

This all seems very obvious, until you separate. Suddenly, this financial model comes crashing down, and you are left with two people wishing things were different. 

What this results in is a lot of anger and hostility, when parties realise that after they separate, things just aren't going to be as good as they were. They are not going to have the same luxury and security as they did within the marriage. Their roles, happily accepted and functional during the relationship, are no longer sufficient when single. 

So when/if you are advising clients about a relationship breakdown, make sure you manage their expectations, because if you don't, they are going to be very upset when they realise that even if they 'win' the settlement, they still aren't going to have it easy. 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act - why it doesn't need to be amended

This is going to be a link-heavy post, but I'll try to summarise the use of each link to save you trolling through hundreds of thousands of words. It may also be a long post, but it is something I feel strongly about. For the purpose of any libel suits, this piece reflects my opinion, and nothing more.

The 'tl;dr' version of this blog post is that s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 does not need to be amended to protect 'free speech' or to enable lively political discussion about unpopular topics. I argue that defence of 'fair comment' which is explicitly stated in s18D of the Act ("Exemptions") is sufficient protection to our freedom of speech, and that we have to balance our freedoms against our right to a peaceful life.

In particular, I argue that Andrew Bolt cannot avail himself of the 'poor me' argument, because he is a crass bigot who benefits from fallacy and sensationalism more than he does from stimulating real meaningful debate.

More after the jump.