. = V E N T = .
Letters to the Editor

From time to time, a commentary on the world will bubble up inside of me to the extent that I'm forced to write a letter to my local, metropolitan, daily newspaper, The Age. This is where I blow of some steam. Feel like venting too? Add your own comment or visit my homepage.

Friday, April 28, 2006

<     >

Howard, US and WMD

My thanks to The Age for reminding us of the quote from Prime Minister John Howard in 1996 after the terrible Port Arthur massacre: "I am determined that large numbers of weapons of mass destruction will be taken out of circulation and that Australia will be a safer place. It's time to bite the bullet and take a stand so Australia does not go down the path of the US with its gun culture." (The Age, 28/4/05)

Inappropriate cliches aside, how refreshing to hear a PM wary of blindly following US folly. Not to mention a PM successfully finding and removing WMDs! What the hell happened? Clearly, his inexperience in foreign affairs was showing. Now, after ten years in the job, the Man of Steel has given us Iraq, the "Free" Trade Agreement and no Kyoto. It's time for some less experienced leadership.


Tuesday, April 25, 2006

<     >

Parental Controls and the Media

Geez, it's getting tough to be a parent. With all those junk-food ads on telly and porn sites on the internet, it's harder and harder to delegate child-rearing to a trusted grey box in the corner (The Age, 25/04/05)!

Children are neither discerning nor worldly media consumers. Lobbyists believe the answer is a (futile) attempt to render media safe for unsupervised children. Why not just ask parents to supervise their kids' use of media (including judicious use of the mute or "Close Window" buttons)? Parents and kids will get to know each other better, while parental patience will provide a natural brake on screen time. Plus, it's the best way to inform developing young minds about how advertising and consumerism work. This will help contain that modern curse of "pester power". Older children, once successfully "inoculated" against the worst excesses of consumerism, can begin enjoying TV and the web unsupervised.

Our media has to serve the interests of all Australians, including grown-ups. Let's not allow a few vocal, lazy or ill-informed parents in search of a conscience-soothing quick-fix hijack the future of media.


Friday, April 21, 2006

<     >

Water Future Soured

The Bracks Government's water strategy is doubly flawed. Shielding our biggest water users - farmers and industrialists - from the fair market price of water through subsidies encourages profligacy and discourages investment. To compound this, the Government limits its waste compliance regime to domestic users, who use just a few percentage points of our state's water supply. Business users are exempt from these measures and instead opt into a voluntary program (The Age, 21/4/05).

Any strategy that relies on the individual consciences of (often financially desperate) small business people - especially where they can't monitor their competitors' waste and so assume the worst - is headed for disaster. Mr Thwaites, please reconsider and at least signal to business that you are serious about this issue.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

<     >

Speeding to the Polls

When scotching free public transport, Bracks pointed out that we'd all vote for free beer too. No doubt Doyle's already talking with the brewers about that - plus new "tolerances" for drink-driving.


Thursday, April 06, 2006

<     >

Improving the Quality of Residential Tenancy Databases

The Victorian Law Reform Commission's report on Residential Tenancy Databases (The Age, 6/4/05) concedes that these "blacklists" have an important role to play in reducing risks (and hence prices) in the private rental market. However, they are operated for the short-run benefit of landlords and real estate agents and so tend to accrue "false positives" ie erroneously listing good tenants. This is of concern to the entire community, as these wrongly-excluded tenants will end up taking up space in our public housing system - or face homelessness.

Given the present ineffectiveness of the National Privacy Principle's Data Quality provisions, the VLRC's position is that the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) should take on the role of regulating these lists, approving each addition or modification to the private databases. This is unwieldy, costly and will simply drive underground dodgy practices.

As these private operators are trading in informational goods, a second (unexamined) option is to enforce "merchantable quality" under Section 74D of the Trade Practices Act. While "quality" is subject to judicial interpretation, the law states that if you paid for goods "not fit for purpose", you are entitled to seek redress. Why can't this apply equally to databases?


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

<     >

Market Failure in Child Care

Congratulations to The Age for presenting a series of informative articles and opinion pieces about our crisis in child-care (The Age, 4/4/05, 5/4/05). Quality journalism is crucial to explain the issues to those of us outside the system.

It's clear that there is an ongoing, systemic "market failure" to meet supply with demand. Frustratingly, none of the reporting pin-points the reasons for this. Why, for example, are cheap child-care places rationed by placing tens of thousands of parents in queues for months or years, rather than the fairer and cheaper solution of different prices?  Why aren't new child-care places provided to well-known areas of unmet demand?

Contrast the situation with, say, health clubs and gyms. The market manages to deliver a huge range of service/price/location mixes - why not for child care? What's holding it back? Is there a shortage of staff, onerous government regulations, lack of marginal votes or anti-competitive behaviour? Or is everyone - regulators, parents and operators - simply stalled, waiting for a major policy overhaul?

These "big picture" questions, essential for fixing the mess, are best asked of policy wonks and professional economists. To further public understanding, could The Age please seek their expert comment next time?