Wry & Dry

Green men undergo gender re-assignment. WA's & Europe's elections.

Wry & Dry's quiet week (parliament is not sitting and Tony Abbott is in Warsaw, or is it Paris, today) was rudely disturbed by news that half of the little green man images used to light up the 'walk' sign at Melbourne pedestrian lights are to become a little green woman.

W&D checked the calendar.  No, it wasn't the first day of April.

So now he is really concerned.  What will happen to the unwanted green men?  Will they be recycled?  Or undergo forced gender re-assignment?

Image result for cartoon green pedestrian lights

Sigh.  It has come to this in the Peoples' Socialist Republic of Victoria. 

Across the continent, W&D will be watching the outcome of the Western Australian state election very closely.  Readers will be aware that the Liberal Party, lead by Colin Barnett, with the support of the Gnats Party, has ruled WA since 2008.  During that time Barnett enjoyed the massive royalties from the mining boom, that flowed like rivers of gold and the general coffers did fill [1]. 

Did this, in Barnett, seem ambitious?   Err, yes.  Because government debt is now approaching $40 billion with a budget deficit of $4 billion.  How could it have come to this?  Well, dear readers, not even Mr Barnett can suspend the basic rule of budgeting as enunciated by Wilkins Micawber so many years ago;  "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen [pounds] nineteen [shillings] and six [pence], result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery." [2]

Barnett certainly spent large amounts on infrastructure, but also gave massive pay rises to state government employees.  Then, wooshka, the commodity price boom collapsed, down went the excess royalties.  And, down went the state's share of GST revenue collected by the federal government (this is because the Grants Commission sort-of evens up revenue the states get, on a delayed basis).  Oops.

And then there's the poisonous preference deal that Barnett did with Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party.  Ms Hanson has confirmed, in campaigning, the inverse and exponential relationship between the width of her mouth and her IQ.  

Image result for cartoon pauline hanson

It's not only her weirdo policies but her off-the-cuff comments.  The magnificence of her brainlessness ranges from examples such as the vaccination one and the one about Tsar Vlad, to the perhaps more significant GST.  And so consider this:

January (on Perth radio)... 

Caller: "Will you, Senator Hanson, help us in Western Australia...and be willing to see the GST share of your home state Queensland reduced so that WA can get a better deal?".

Senator Hanson:  "Of course I will.  No problem".

March (yesterday)... 

Senator Hanson: "At no time have I ever said that it (GST) must come out of Queensland..."

Also consider the political party that she runs. Last month she sacked the party's WA state president and secretary, apparently because they were too old, namely 91 and 79.  Ageism?  But rusted-on supporters of the sprightly couple are causing massive internal ructions.   One Nation Zimmer frames at 40 paces?

Meanwhile, back to the equality-of-green-pedestrian-lights-Peoples' Socialist Republic of Victoria, the government has gleefully announced the elimination of stamp duty on home purchases made by first-home buyers.  The idea, said State Treasurer, Tim Pallas, was to make home ownership "more affordable".

What nonsense.  All that will happen is that the funds that would otherwise be spent on stamp duty will now be used to push up the price of the home being bought.  The funds that should go to we-the-taxpayers coffers will now go to property vendors.

Auction

This is the same as the daft First Home Owner's Grants, a similarly self-defeating policy of many state governments and the federal government.  The price of homes went up by the size of the grant.  Just a waste of we-the-taxpayers' money.  All in the name of vote winning.

Readers will recall in the first W&D edition for 2017, W&D predicted that Victoria's Premier, the hapless and extreme left-wing Daniel Andrews would be made to walk the plank by his more pragmatic colleagues.  Well, the latest opinion poll has Comrade Daniel's government being slaughtered at the next election.  Watch this space for a repeat of the John Brumby/ Steve Bracks switcharoo of 1999. [3]  W&D's curiosity is which amiable member of the government might fill Comrade Daniel's shoes.  The sensible and very talented Philip Dalidakis is in the wrong house, but might be parachuted into the lower house.  Transport Minister Jacinta Allen is extremely ambitious.

Comrade Daniel was the ideal man to make politics very dull.  The hope was his very dullness would cover his incompetence, sort-of the reverse approach to Pauline Hanson, that is her chattiness enhances the impression of incompetence.  But somehow things have got out of hand.  

Speaking of wasted dollars, but this time shareholders' rather than taxpayers', global motor vehicle giant, General Motors, is selling its Europe businesses: Opel and Vauxhall.  Note: in the same way that GM in Australia was known as Holden so as to give the impression to the locals of being a local company, so too in Europe with Opel, seen to be German and Vauxhall, British.  

GM has lost almost $20 billion in the past two decades in Europe.  This is a gutsy move by GM CEO, Mary Barra, but an obvious one.  

Cars

GM comes a poor 6th in car sales in Europe.  Ms Barra is also considering pulling GM out of Korea, India and Brazil because of labour cost pressures.  The company has already abandoned Russia (too tough), Australia (labour costs) and has scaled back in South East Asia.

The problem in Europe is simply that there are too many car manufacturers and the ever omnipresent 'national interest' of car makers.  Car companies provide fertile ground for nationalistic appeals.  This problem is no more evident than with the purchaser of GM's European business, PSA Group (i.e. Peugeot), of France.  PSA will now have to negotiate elected officials and labour leaders in three countries (France, Germany and UK) where it has large plants.  And PSA is 14% owned by the French government.

PSA's Chairman, Carlos Tavares wants to save $2 billion.  The only way he can do this is close some under-performing factories.  Readers will know that French workers ferociously demonstrate as soon as little as a croissant is taken from their entitlements.  Imagine closing a car plant.  W&D suggests that PSA might take the more politically palatable route for France, and stick it up the Brits.

Meanwhile, speaking of losers, W&D's heart goes out to the poor lawmakers of China.  That country's richest lawmakers are worth more than $500 billion, according to the Hurun Report, which tracks the fortunes of the country’s wealthiest people.  That reports says that the 200 richest members of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress, an advisory body, have combined fortunes worth nearly $507 billion.  They include the heirs of some of Hong Kong’s biggest fortunes, but most are first-generation Chinese billionaires such as Pony Ma and Robin Li, founders respectively of internet companies Tencent and Baidu. 

Nice work if you can get it.

And finally, W&D notes that the price of oil has pulled back sharply, down below $50 for the first time since November last year.  It's all about US shale oil supply coming back on line.

Elsewhere, some news and views on the year's elections in Europe.  And Miscellany, to soothe your troubled mind.

 

[1]  "He hath brought many captives home to Rome, Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?"  William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar.

[2]  Wilkins Micawber is a fictional character from Charles Dickens's 1850 novel, David Copperfield. He was modelled on Dickens' father, John Dickens, who like Micawber was incarcerated in debtors' prison (the King's Bench Prison) after failing to meet his creditors' demands.

[3] Brumby was leader of the Opposition in Victoria, and just five months before the September 1999 election, when far behind in the polls, he was 'encouraged' to resign in favour of the amiable Steve Bracks.  Bracks won government with the assistance of three 'independents'.