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Government take a punt on rubbery forward estimates while ignoring tax reform agenda

This year's budget represents an absolutely critical one for Australia as it makes especially visible the underlying structural deficit that has faced Australia now for many years.

When assessing some of the assumptions underpinning Wayne Swan’s 2013 federal budget, two things spring to mind: the Henry Tax review and the notorious inaccuracy of forward estimates.

History shows it might be foolhardy to rely on the accuracy of forward estimates. And meanwhile, the repercussions of failing to undertake structural economic reform by amending our taxation system will continue to weigh on our economic fortunes.

So what is the link between the Henry Review and the forward estimates? One was timely but ignored; the other has time against it.

 Read full article at The Conversation:

Creatine loading: not just for athletes

Use of the popular sports supplement creatine has shown promise in a small-scale clinical trial in helping people with diabetes get their blood sugar under control.
 
Creatine is a popular nutritional supplement widely used across many sports. Creatine occurs naturally in the body, and is found mostly in muscle tissue. Creatine is a normal part of the foods we eat, but meat, fish, and poultry are the only foods with any appreciable amounts.

Media and Political Transformations in the Arab Spring

On  Wednesday (15 May 2013) I had the honour of  introducing a documentary  film ‘Words of Witness’ as it premiered as part of the Human Right Arts and Film Festival (HRAFF).   The documentary was made  during the Egyptian uprising, by  filmmaker Mai Iskander and follows Heba Afify, an online journalist reporting from the frontline of the revolution. I was asked by the Festival organisers to introduce the film and provide the audience with some updated reflections on the current political situation in Egypt and across the Arab Spring countries.

Racially defining Malaysian politics

Three factors are emerging from the post-election shake-out that will shape Malaysian politics for the foreseeable future. Although Malaysia's opposition came closer to government, the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN -- National Front) coalition has secured government not just for another five years but may be in a position to retain power beyond the 2018 elections.

The vote has sharply delineated Malaysian politics along racial lines, with the BN’s ethnic Chinese partner, the Malaysian Chinese Association, losing two-thirds of its seats. The Chinese vote has, instead, swung dramatically behind the opposition Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) ethnic Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP).

The opposition’s Malay Partai Amanat Se-Islam (PAS -- Islamic Message Party) lost two seats, with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s Partai Keadilan Rakyat (PKR -- People’s Justice Party) losing one seat. The PR has thus become much more Chinese in representation, while the government’s BN has become increasingly Malay.

This then leads to the second factor, with the ethnic coloration of the government and opposition set to create further tensions in difficult and sometimes factious Malay-Chinese relations. The PR has only just been able to exercise discipline around the unity of its three component parties.

The PAS is divided between more accommodationist Malay Muslims and those who can barely tolerate their Chinese partners. The more radical wing of the party is now threatening to either splinter or to shift wholesale across to the government. The government is, meanwhile, holding out a welcoming hand to these disenchanted PAS members, replicating a policy employed by the BN for the past four decades by buying off vulnerable elements of the opposition’s ranks.

This could effectively kill the PAS as an effective component of the opposition, concentrating power in the hands of the opposition’s Chinese majority (Malaysia’s ethnic minority). From this position, it would be next to impossible to win the next elections. It would also cast doubt over Anwar Ibrahim’s leadership of the opposition, given his former balancing role between the PAS and the DAP.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Najib Razak will be watching his back, with his predecessor having been dumped for an election result that was not as bad as the loss of a 10 further government seats.

The third major factor of the 2013 Malaysian elections was that rorting of the electoral system reached almost breathtaking levels. On the latest count, the government won by 22 seats in a 222-seat Parliament, but with just 47.38% of the vote, while the opposition received 50.87% of the vote. This result has in large part been attributed to the gerrymandering of the Malaysian electoral boundaries, which favour rural Malay voters. However, what has alarmed observers is that although both the government and opposition pushed to get the vote out on Sunday, resulting in a record 80% turnout for the voluntary elections, the number of new voters spiked in a number of marginal seats, in one case to over 60%. There were 25% or more new voters across 90 of the Parliament’s 222 seats.

Added to this were some voters being told their vote had been cast before they had voted, claims of multiple voting, the mass government registration of non-Malaysian guest workers and the old stand-by of simply paying for votes.

The Malaysia government has scraped back into office on the basis of these electoral rorts. With a possible split in the opposition’s ranks, it may now have bought itself an extension to its guaranteed unbroken 61 years in office.

The Persistence of Objectification and Stereotyping in Public Debates about 'Islam and Muslims' in Australia

 
Increasing cultural and religious diversity does not and should not have a detrimental effect on social cohesion. Diversity should not be linked to a loss of a sense of collective action,   but rather to a stronger community bonding and mutual trust. And under no circumstances, should  cultural diversity be invoked to justify infringements on domestic laws and accepted norms of human rights. Indeed, cultural diversity should be employed as a key lever to engendering  intercultural understanding in our increasingly multicultural society.  Yet this is not always the case as recent events have shown.

Beating cancer one step at a time

Cancer is a big killer of Australians, yet a person has much in their own control in preventing many of these cases of cancer. Being physically activity is one of them and is now recognised as a potent ‘cancer-preventing’ habit.

Killings in West Papua by Australian-backed anti-terror police

Violence has again broken out in Indonesia’s troubled province of West Papua, with the Australian-supported counter-terrorism police squad Densus 88 leading the attack. In the latest violence, there are unverified but fairly detailed reports of 10 West Papuans being killed during flag-raising ceremonies at three locations across West Papua. Dozens have also been arrested in these otherwise peaceful ceremonies.

Densus 88 has been the subject of a number of critical reports, notably for being used to suppress political dissent and not in its primary counter-terrorism role.

The West Papua National Freedom Army (TPN-PB) -- the armed wing of the Free Papua Organisation (OPM) -- organised flag-raising ceremonies on May 1 across the province to mark West Papua's incorporation into Indonesia. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has said in response to the violence:

"These latest incidents are unfortunate examples of the ongoing suppression of freedom of expression and excessive use of force in Papua. I urge the government of Indonesia to allow peaceful protest and hold accountable those involved in abuses."

West Papua Legislative Council deputy speaker Demianus Jimmy Idjie condemned the use of violence by the police as a group of West Papuans attempted to hoist the Morning Star flag. "Seeing these people’s wounds, the shooters were not trying to disperse the rally, they were actually aiming at the protesters," he said.

According to several reports, two protesters were shot dead in Sorong, on the tip of the Bird’s Head Peninsula, with another three wounded and many more arrested. It is understood that four people were also killed and a further 20 arrested in the mining town of Timika, south of the central Maoke Mountain Range, and a further four shot dead in Biak, on Suipori Island, just north of the mainland, again with many more arrests.

The attacks against the protests were said to be led by Densus 88 officers, supported by conventional soldiers. Densus 88 officers arrested a further 22 activists on Saturday.

In response to this latest round of violence, a TPB-PB spokesman has called on the Indonesian government to enter into talks aimed at a peaceful resolution to West Papua's outstanding claims.

A police spokesperson, Senior Commander I Gede Sumerta Jaya, denies allegations that Densus 88 officers shot two men during the Sorong protest. However, he says the police will investigate the allegations. "It’s a hasty conclusion to condemn the police or the military as responsible for the deaths," he said, as no bodies had been found by police. Unconfirmed photos of what appear to be the bodies have been made available.

According to the UN's Pilay:

"Since May 2012, we have received 26 reports concerning alleged human rights violations, including 45 killings and cases of torture involving 27 people. While many incidents relate to communal violence, serious allegations of human rights abuses by law enforcement officials persist."

"There has not been sufficient transparency in addressing human rights violations in Papua. I urge Indonesia to allow international journalists into Papua and to facilitate visits by the Special Rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council."

Increasing income tax the right choice for a sustainable NDIS

While an income tax increase may be hard to sell to some people in the community in the lead-up to a federal election, it’s the right choice for a sustainable National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

From July 1 next year, the Medicare levy will increase by 0.5% to partly fund the NDIS, taking the Medicare levy to 2% and adding an extra $1 per day to the Medicare levy of an average worker on A$70,000.

But the move is a risk for the Gillard government because it gives the Coalition, if elected in September, the power to delay or veto the scheme.

Increasing income tax the right choice for a sustainable NDIS

Obama makes chemical case in Syria, but hesitating on intervention

US President Barack Obama has moved a step closer towards direct intervention in Syria with his statement that there is now evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria's civil war. Obama has previously said the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line" that, if crossed, would trigger US intervention.

However, Obama has said it is not yet absolutely clear who was responsible for the use of the chemical weapons, and that it is critical to clarify this point so as to ensure international support for US intervention. His caution reflects growing concern not just over Syria's mounting death toll but international opposition to intervention as well as the inexorable drawing in to the conflict of outside forces, in particular Lebanon’s heavily armed Shiite militia Hezbollah.

Both the Bashar al-Assad government and the Syrian opposition claim chemical weapons have been used in the conflict, as recently as last Sunday. This supports earlier Israeli claims chemical weapons were being used in the Syrian conflict. There has been a high level of reluctance to take such claims on face value, however, given the disrepute of similar claims that rationalised the start of the Iraq War. Even if it can be established who has used chemical weapons -- thought to be the nerve gas Sarin -- it is not yet clear what form intervention might take, much less the shape of international reactions to such an intervention.

With the US public weary over the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, it is unlikely that the US would commit ground troops to Syria. A belligerent response from Syrian ally Russia, and to a lesser extent Iran, are also factors against a ground intervention.

However, a bombing campaign and related air cover, as in Libya in 2011 and in Yugoslavia in 1999, have been shown to be effective in either changing the course of a ground war or compelling a government into submission. With the Assad regime only slowly losing ground in its now two-year-old civil war, such an intervention would be likely to tip the outcome against his government forces.

One factor complicating of any hastening of the fall of the Assad regime is that Syrian opposition forces are now deeply divided. The Free Syrian Army is supported by the US and its European allies, and the explicitly al-Qaeda-affiliated Al Nusra Front is supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Although it wants the Assad regime to go, the US and its allies are deeply opposed to an Al Nusra takeover of Syria. A civil war between Al Nusra and the FSA is also seen as increasingly likely following the fall of the Assad regime.

On-ground intervention by Hezbollah, which is supported by Iran, has led Al Nusra leaders to say that, following the fall of the Assad regime, Hezbollah's destruction will be the next priority. Contemplating a possible Al Nusra takeover in Syria and a widening of the war into Lebanon and possibly Iran, the US is focusing on how its increasingly likely intervention could shape Syria’s highly contentious future.

Is it time to shine for vitamin D?

Vitamin D is attracting more than its fair share of attention in both the scientific and public spotlight. Long known for its role in keeping bones healthy, there is a growing list of health benefits being linked to this so called 'sunshine vitamin'. The list of disease candidates is long and includes diabetes, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, obesity, autoimmune diseases, cancer, respiratory diseases, and even some mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. The field of research is fast-moving so it is hard to determine where the truth may lie.

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