Friday, August 23, 2013

Election 2013 : ALP - Cutting the Red Tape?

For those of you that have been reading my blog over the last couple of weeks, it has been concetrating mainly on our current sitting member for Indi, Sophie Mirabella, and the Liberal Party. But a few things have happened on the other side, that I think deserve a closer look.

This morning the Labor Party made some announcements, aimed at "cutting red tape" for small and medium businesses. 

Cutting Red Tape: Paid Parental Leave Payments
The first was to transfer the burden of dealing with Paid Parental Leave payments away from small businesses with less than 20 employees to Centrelink. Now, I think this is not a bad move. It will save some time for employers dealing with parental leave. Not significant time, but some. Which is why I think they may have over-egged the announcement with this statement:
The Rudd Labor Government has listened to business, and understands that in the current economic environment small businesses need to be able to devote their scarce time on adapting to thrive as our economy transitions away from the China mining boom.
Adapting to thrive. As our economy transitions away from the China mining boom. Do they actually read what they are putting out there?

It's also weird that whilst this will "slash red tape", the bottom of the page states that:
The recent evaluation of the scheme found that most employers have found their role straightforward and easy.
So is it hard to deal with, or easy to deal with, at the moment?

Cutting Red Tape: Superannuation Clearing House
This is one of those initiatives where you wonder why it hadn't been brought in earlier.

The Howard Government introduced super choice, allowing employees choice of where their superannuation accounts are held. Since that time,  the employers' compliance costs of dealing with registrations and payments to a multitude of funds has been burdensome. As someone dealing with them on behalf of clients, I know that this area can be a pain in the arse.

The Superannuation Clearing House is designed to allow employers the ability to make a payment to one place, and to have them deal with the distribution of payments to the different funds. It has already been set up for use by businesses with fewer than 20 employees. See here for further information. The Labor Party are now proposing to extend this to businesses with up to 99 employees.

This is a good move.

Cutting Red Tape: Reducing the Burden of GST
The third initiative announed was for an extension of the current regime for annual GST statements for business with up to $20 million p.a. in revenue. Up until now, some (not all) businesses with turnover under $2 million p.a. had the option of paying GST in quarterly instalments (based on last year's lodged returns) and then completing an Annual GST return with either a balance of GST payable or refundable (much like an income tax return).

$20 million p.a. in turnover is just under $385,000 per week. We are not talking small businesses here. You may be surprised to know that there are a few dozen companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange with turnover under $20 million p.a.

My fundamental question with companies of this size is this: Why don't you already have accounting systems in place to calculate your GST for you?

I feel that the policy announcement was made in an alternate universe, where computers don't exist and businesses were using the abacus, parchment and quill to assist them with their GST calculations.

The modern abacus
I cannot think of any organisation of that sort of size that is unable to properly track their income and expenses. Think computer software. Think accountants and bookeepers, necessary for businesses of that size. There are already calculations that need to be made for PAYG withholding, PAYG instalments, FBT, and a whole raft of other taxes and rebates that included in a quarterly BAS.

And forgetting about taxes for one second, why aren't businesses of this size keeping track of their revenue and expenses, assets and liabilities, for management purposes? The short answer is, all businesses of this size have good systems in place to deal with accounting and taxes.

I am not sure who this policy announcement is designed for. Is it for the public, without much knowledge of all things bookkeeping, think - It sounds like a good move. Is it for the government, who can tick the "slash red tape" section of their "An Idiot's Guide to Election Policies" and move on to the next area. It's not for businesses, that's for sure.

I think the real reason for this policy is actually indicated at the bottom of the policy summary (my emphasis):
This aligns GST more closely with the Pay As You Go income tax system and means businesses will no longer have to make complex GST calculations throughout the year.
This is the Labor party's concession to try and make it look that the GST is being made easier for businesses. Which is a bit of bullshit, because all it is doing is delaying these "complex GST calculations" until the end of the year. So where is the time being saved? And what complex calculations are these? 95% of GST transactions are pretty simple. And if you are having issues in that 5% range where it's not pretty simple, the policy announcement today will do nothing to ease that.

I think the type of "cutting the red tape" that businesses are looking for are to simplify the manner in which the GST liability needs to be assessed. Not the timing of the calculations.

My score for these three policy initiatives: 1 1/3 out of 3 (plus GST)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Election 2013: Package from Sophie

The printers for the Liberal Party are working overtime at the moment. A nice contract to get, surely. Who would have expected, in this digital age, that so much printed material would be used to try and convince us that a candidate should get our vote.

Not that it's from all the candidates in Indi. Or even a few. It's been one.
And that's just the covering letter.

I'm not sure if all electorates are having mail outs to the extent that Indi is from its current sitting member, Sophie Mirabella. Printing costs money and I'm pretty sure that Liberal Party Headquarters are concerned about how to stretch their funds to get maximum bang for their buck. Or to help out those candidates that they believe really need help.

There's a lot that can be said about the covering letter, but I want to concentrate on the other two documents that accompanied this letter.  First we have a wonderful 4 page, A4, full colour pamphlet that must have cost a bomb to design and print. The second is a How To Vote Card.

Let's first have a bit of a more detailed look at pamphlet.

Take a good look at the photo. You'll see this same photo on the third page and again on the back page of the pamphlet, with a caption stating that they are members of Tony Abbott's Coalition team. We have, from left to right, Malcolm Turnbull, Andrew Robb, Joe Hockey, the main man himself, Tony Abbott, Julie Bishop, and Eric Abetz (I think).

Who's missing?

Where's Sophie in this picture? Being Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry and Science, wouldn't it have been a good idea to include her in this picture, in a pamphlet designed to promote the local candidate? How did Malcolm get his mug in this photo, being only Shadow Minister for Telecommunications and Broadband (a tautology?). The implication here is that Sophie is a lightweight within the Shadow Ministry. This, from her own party. A ringing endorsement.

Let's move on.

Six key priorities. A colourful summary of what is to be explained on pages two and three of the pamphlet. A waste of half a page. It's not a book we're reading, it's a 4 page pamphlet. I'm sorry but this is either here to pad out the pamphlet (in other words, not much to say) or it's just poor design work.

So what are the six key priorities? Let's turn the page.

1. A Stronger Five Pillar Economy
It's interesting that the definition of the Five Pillar Economy changes ever so slightly between the first and second pages.

Page 1                                                                    Page 2
Mining                                                                    Mining Exports
Agricultural                                                             Agricultural
Services                                                                 Advanced Services
Education                                                               Education and Research
Manufacturing                                                         Manufacturing Innovation

Now I am not sure what Advanced Services really means, so I checked the Liberal's 52 page mega-pamphlet. They're not sure either. It looks as though it might be IT, or financial services. Definitely not government services, given the public service job cuts already forshadowed by Joe Hockey.

And Manufacturing Innovation can be read two different ways, with two very different meanings. Think about it.

Now what about building and infrastructure development? Tourism and hospitality? Health?  I'm pretty sure that these sectors employ a significant part of the working population, right around the country. Clearly not all that important to the Liberal party, however. Not in the context of their five pillars.

What hasn't been made clear is how a Liberal Government will "deliver more jobs" in these 5 pillars. Especially as they seek to both lower taxes and reduce the budget deficit. And how exactly can productivity be boosted when a commitment has been provided to leave employment conditions untouched? Their mega-pamphlet doesn't shed much further light on this.

2. We Will Deliver Stronger Borders
I cannot believe that either party puts this in their top dozen priorities. This pamphlet, however, does not properly describe the disgusting depths that the Liberal party has gone with this "issue" as it appears to have been printed prior to their policy announcement late last week. This topic causes me to see red like no other, however I will spare you, the reader, from me ranting on and on for paragraphs about this shit policy by the Liberal party, and instead direct you to a pretty well thought out piece by Greg Jericho on his blog, Grog's Gamut.

One day we as a country will see how immature and unnecessarily hostile these policy announcements (from both major parties) have been on refugees.

3. End the Waste and Debt
Reading through this pamphlet there is absolutely no information provided as to how the Liberal Party plan to acheive the ending of waste and debt. Ending waste can be subjective, but will have to mostly be cutting government expenditure of some sort.

Ending debt is rather more of a problem. I have a feeling that the Liberal's will be look around for stuff to sell in order to pay off debt. What's left to sell that the Howard and Keating Governments hadn't already sold? Medibank Private is probably an easy sale to start off with.  The extent to which these sales occur, potentially of infrastructure assets, as well as some Australian icons (the ABC and SBS have been mooted as being up for sale, though surely not seriously) will depend very much on the make up of the Senate. A Senate that has a majority of non-LNP members will make it tougher for many sales to occur.

So then how will that Debt end? It won't. This is a fanciful priority of the Liberal party, not backed up by any policy, and not backed up by economists, Treasury, business groups or anyone else for that matter.

4. Carbon Tax Gone
OK, so this will save families and businesses. How does this help the budget, and the debt situation? This actually is starting to feel like a bit of a bribe.

5. A 'Fair Go' for Regional and Rural Australia.
Regional and Rural Australia (or RRA) is a pretty big place, with a relatively small population. And being a member of RRA, I am keen to see what this 'Fair Go' actually means. According to the pamphlet:
  • Help the Agricultural Sector grow. - A reiteration of the first priority
  • Abolish the carbon tax - A reiteration of the fourth priority
  • Address Mobile Black Spots - money spent helping the telcos out
  • Building Dams - Hmmmmm. Really? Next.
  • Live Export trade certainty - I cannot speak with any authority on this. I am sure this is important for communites in Northern Australia.
  • Improve mental health service accessability for RRA - This policy I heartily agree with. No issue with this one at all.
All in all though, this priority is just a little bit light on in detail, and once you take out the reiterations of the other priorities, consists entirely of mobile phones, dams, shipping cattle and sheep and then mental health. Surely there are other areas that 'RRA' can have a fair go in. Health, Education, Business Services, Arts and Culture. All these areas are just as important to RRA. Otherwise it feels as though RRA is being dealt with as some sort of caricature of a big farming community with mental health issues, and dodgy phones (as can be seen by the photo they chose for this priority).

6. Two Million Jobs Will Be Created
Over what period? How? Using what resources?

This priority has less detail than the other five.

I look at the six priorities and can only find improved mental health services in RRA as the only tangible benefit that I reckon they can actually deliver on, without wrecking the economy.

We turn now to the back page.

There she is. Our Liberal party candidate Sophie Mirabella.

Hang on. There's been a Real Change in the 6 priorities. Stronger borders has become Stop the Boats. Also, there was nothing in the first three pages about better roads. How did that get into the final summary? I just checked it again. The first mention of roads is on the back page. I love the consistency, people.

Interestingly the pamphlet finishes with a cry for help - "Join me. I need your support." Probably due to the lack of support shown earlier by the party for this local member.

But that's not all. We have a How To Vote Card as well:

Wow, the Liberal Party really love that photo of their leadership team, don't they. Four times you see their eager faces on these two documents. And we get to see Sophie again.

The interesting part of this, of course, is how the preferences have been dealt with. Here they are in full detail:

  1. Sophie Mirabella (Liberal) - obviously
  2. Rick Leeworthy (Family First)
  3. Phil Rourke (Katter Australian)
  4. Robert Murphy (Palmer United)
  5. Jennifer Podesta (Independent)
  6. Bob Dudley (Rise Up Australia)
  7. Cathy McGowan (Independent)
  8. Helma Aschenbrenner (Sex)
  9. William Hayes (Bullet Train for Australia)
  10. Robyn Walsh (Labor) 
  11. Jenny O'Connor (Greens)
Now, there are probably no surprises about the top 4, being recognised as conservative parties. Jennifer Podesta is interesting at number 5, as one would hardly describe her as conservative. I personally find it disappointing that Bob Dudley from Rise Up Australia comes in anywhere other than last, especially as the party's founder had declared Black Saturday to be God's action because Victoria allows abortions.

It is also interesting that both the Sex Party and Bullet Train for Australia Party get higher preferences than Labor, with Greens dead last. Not that these will matter, as it is starting to be clear that Sophie's greatest challenge will come from the Independent, Cathy McGowan. One would expect that preferences flowing from Labor and Greens to Cathy (as they both will) to be more important than where Sophie's preferences go.

I am still waiting on printed material from any of the other candidates, though I expect that reduced resources, especiallu for the Independents, will mean that either no printed material, or if there is, to arrive in the last week of the campaign. In the mean time it appears as though Facebook and Twitter are the preferred means of reaching out to the electorate for the other candidates.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Election 2013: Letter From Sophie

Last week we received our first letter from an Indi candidate. It was from our current sitting member, Sophie Mirabella, and was part of an application for postal voting. Unfortunately my wife tossed it in the fire before I had a chance to scan and comment on it. Luckily our second letter from Sophie arrived in the mail today.

First of all Sophie, I understand that the official rules regarding the use of official letterheads in electioneering material are still unclear, but it's not a good look. Having taxpayers fund the stationery you use to plead for our vote just smells bad.

I can't see anywhere on this letter that actually indicates which side you barrack for. You say you're a senior member of the Coalition team, but weren't Labor and the Independents in a coalition in this last parliament? You seem to indicate this in the second paragraph. Maybe that's one of the rules of using your official letterhead, that you can't use the words Liberal Party. Or Tony Abbott.

Apparently this election is about giving us and families in the Murrindindi region a better future. So what do you think will swing our vote?
  • More jobs
  • Fix roads
  • Better broadband and mobile phone coverage
  • Bushfire detecting and monitoring technology
 Let's look at these in a little bit more detail.

More jobs
You say you will build a sustainable local economy, thereby creating more jobs. That's nice. In what areas? And how? With what money? Apparently getting the budget back in to surplus is one of the top priorities of the Liberal Party. That means cutting programs, not creating new ones. Is it the company tax rate cut of 1.5%? That won't help many businesses in the area that are set up using alternative structures. Changes to employment conditions? That has already been categorically ruled out by your leaders.

Building a sustainable local economy has less to do with government intervention and more to do with individual and collective initiative. How will you help us create new business ventures and projects? Eliminate the carbon tax? That will do nothing. Stop the boats? Ditto. I've read the Liberal Party Pamphlet (Real Solutions for all Australians) and there's nothing in there about how to build a sustainable local economy.

Fix roads
The corner of Watsons Road and Jorgensen Parade is starting to develop some serious potholes here. Can you get that fixed? Local government issue I hear you say. What about Kinglake-Whittlesea Road? Whittlesea-Yea Road? Melba Highway? Which "local" roads can you secure money for fixing? Or doesn't this apply to our region?

Better broadband services
Does this mean the Liberal Party now supports the NBN? Or are you talking about Turnbull's alternative plan, with fibre to the node? Will there be a node near where we live? Who pays for the connection to my house, which is about 100 metres from the road?

Improved mobile phone coverage
Does the Liberal Party want to nationalise the mobile phone networks and improve our coverage directly? Or will you fund the infrastructure required to eliminate the black spots in our region? Or is this simply talking to Telstra, Optus et al to get them to do the heavy lifting, where you'll then take the credit?

Bushfire detecting and monitoring technology
Forgive me for sounding just a bit jaded here, but Black Saturday would have occurred even with the best bushfire detection technology available. This smacks just a little of retrospective caring about what happened in 2009. How is this supposed to win my vote?

Is this the best you've got? Are these the only issues your focus groups have indicated as important to our region?

Not that I'm entirely surprised. According to the 2011 the Shire of Murrindindi has just over 10,000 people eligible to vote, which would be less than 10% of the total voting population of the electorate of Indi. Why would you spend serious time dealing with the southern end of Indi, when there are rural cities such as Wangaratta and Wondonga that provide a greater opportunity to reach a critical mass of voters?

One final point, Sophie. Having an old photo and a quote from Fran Bailey endorsing you does not, in any way, help you to reach out to us. You may as well put a photo of John Howard on your letter with some fake quote from him for all the good it does.

I am now eager to receive letters from other candidates for Indi to see if they have the same level of connectedness about what issues matter to voters in the Murrindindi region.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Election 2013: Sophie Watch #1

In the 2010 election we were in the seat of McEwen, meaning that Rob Mitchell (Labor) defeated local Liberal candidate, Cameron Caine, to earn the title of our elected representative.

That's Cameron
This is Rob

Then the boundaries changed. Goodbye Rob and McEwen, and hello to Sophie Mirabella (Liberal) and Indi.

The electorate of Indi

Sophie has been the member for Indi since the 2001 election (The Children Overboard, Tampa election) and came in to Parliament alongside other newbies such as Steven Ciobo, Peter Dutton, Greg Hunt and Tony Windsor.

Whilst she spent her time in the back bench during the Howard years, after the 2007 election she has been promoted to a variety of positions, including Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government, Opposition Spokeswoman on early childhood education, childcare, women and youth and more recently Opposition Spokeswoman for innovation, industry, science and research.

Interestingly if you visit her website and click on to Speeches and Transcripts you wont find much recent action, with the latest speech dated 8th November 2012. She must have been busy doing other things.

She has been a regular on ABC's QandA, a panel show hosted by Tony Jones. It is from one of her earlier attendances on that show this year that has provided us with these moving images of her concern for her fellow panellist who had suddenly fainted.

All that is old news.

Sophie has been in the media recently, in her role of Opposition Spokeswoman on Industry,discussing the current issues surrounding the car industry.

She was chatting to Fran Kelly on Radio National this morning, indicating the Liberal party's concern for the future of the car industry. Which is fine, except the current policy of the Liberal party is for a reduction in financial assistance to the industry over the next few years. And whilst farmers appear to be supporting this move, the automotive industry is obviously less keen.

Anyway, she was out, later on still talking about the car industry, and I love this. from Judith Ireland of The Age:
The Coalition's Industry spokeswoman Sophie Mirabella weighed in to the car funding debate this afternoon with a media release that would win a gold at the Tongue Twist Olympics.
"Carr's Car Con Confusion" it begins, before pointing out differences between Labor's targets to have more Australian made cars sold in Australia.
Seriously, try saying that a few times really quick.
I've tried finding that Media Release online. Nothing. Not yet, anyway.

I've also tried finding about what local issues Sophie is concerned about. You'll need to stay tuned for that one. Hopefully something will turn up soon.

Before I sign off tonight, I must thank @ABCNews23 on Twitter and share this with you:

Will we see her in the electorate? Down here? Time will tell.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Election 2013 : Prologue

So, the PM has visited the GG and an election date has been announced - 7th September.

Now for the circus to start (if it hasn't already been in full swing since the last election).

I haven't used this blog in a little while, but feel the urge to take it out of hibernation and to make some commentary about the election as it progresses.

As a start, let me give you, the reader, some idea as to where I am coming from with this blog.

  • I have no connections or affiliations with any party.
  • My background in tax and accounting will give me a slightly less than passable understanding of all things economic. 
  • I will be voting in the seat of Indi, due to a change in electoral boundaries (last time we were in McEwen). We will be choosing whether to keep the incumbent, Sophie Mirabella (Lib) or dump her for someone else.
  • The political events of the last month have made it difficult for me to feel "loyalty" to any side. I will therefore endeavour to look at things as objectively as possibly (up to a point).
  • I won't be updating this blog every night. I do have a life.
  • I have a big interest in music, and will be keeping an eye out for any pronouncements relating to The Arts.
  • I have no respect for 99% of the media, especially during an election.
OK. So, what do we know so far? Both sides are going to be running a negative campaign, and with good reason.

The bounce that Labor received in the polls after Rudd ousted Gillard has softened. There are too many negatives that the Liberal party can smash the Labor party with, and they will. What are they?, I hear you ask. From my point of view:
  • The level of infighting over the last few years, especially at the highest levels, is unbelievable. There are so many sound bites that the Liberal party have from Labor hating Labor, that I think half the Liberal ads have already been created, using the voices of Conroy, Swan, Garrett, Gillard etc.
  • Eddie Obeid in New South Wales. The timing of the release of the ICAC report is not going to help Labor.
  • The changing goal posts that is the Budget deficit. How a budget released in mid-May be so wrong just a few weeks later is beyond me.
 There's many more, but that's enough for now.

On the other hand, there are no real positives for Liberal party.
  • Their leader is not liked, as poll upon poll has shown. 
  • From what I have seen from the performances of the opposition front bench, there doesn't appear to be a great deal of talent to showcase. Hockey and Robb look as though they know less than I do about economics, Bishop has dealt with foreign matters poorly, Pyne has been shown to be clueless about education and Turnbull has been forced to defend a substandard policy regarding broadband. As for Hunt, the less said about the Environment portfolio, the better. 
  • And finally, where are their policies, for anything (beyond three word slogans)?

One of the big problems I personally see in this election is that some real non-issues are going to be front-and-centre of the campaign. They are:

Asylum seekers. As a son of a refugee (Hungary, 1956), the "debate" surrounding this issue really stinks. And from both sides. Forget who started this, this has developed into a pissing contest of the highest order. And a contest where the asylum seekers are used, not as pawns, but as ammunition. I hated the use of this issue by Howard in 2001. I loathe it now. This should be a second or third rate election issue. But it won't be.

Presidential campaigning. Rudd v Abbott. What bollocks. Watch the media analyse the minutiae of the two leaders. Happy snaps with the family. Sound bites and more sound bites. Stay on message. Highlight the gaffes. Bullshit.

The Economy. The truth of the matter is that the government will never be able to control events that occur beyond its borders and most of the time our economy is shaped by what happens overseas. The China slowdown, the European debt crisis, the GFC, the US recession are all factors that significantly influence our economy. That's not to say that the government can't make it worse (slash jobs and other austerity measures) or reduce the worse of its effects (Budgets 2008 and 2009). It's just that it shouldn't be the The Thing That Matters.

So what does matter, and what should the election be about?
  • How do we prepare our kids for the future (education, cultural development and broadband)
  • How do we help those who can't help themselves (aged care, child care, health, welfare, Foreign aid, Refugees - as in helping them, not getting rid of them)
  • How do we encourage and promote innovation (broadband and education - again)
  • How do we grow, as a country (infrastructure, education, business, taxation, cultural development)
  • How do we tackle the challenges of the future (climate change and environment)
I mentioned earlier I have no respect for the media (or most of it), and especially during elections. However, I am a keen reader of some political blogs, such as Grog's Gamut, Polytics, Andrew Elder and The Failed Estate, amongst others. There are also interesting points and discussions occurring through Twitter. As for the press and the broadcasters - good for sport but not much else.

Well, there is the Prologue to this Election.

We'll keep an eye on the seat of Indi. We'll keep close watch on the things that we think matter. We'll make passing commentary on the things that don't. And we'll hope that people take the time to think about the things that truly are important to them, in the lead up to this election.