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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who's ignorant and uneducated?

Last Wednesday, Prof Alan Fels stated in the wake of the government refusing to enact the recommendations by Fels to lift Parallel Import Restrictions, that the public had the government to blame for more expensive books. Now he has changed his story.

In a very public display of what can only be described as pique, Fels has claimed that the government has bowed to the opinions of a small number of ignorant and uneducated authors.

Who the hell does Fels think he is? I am a published author in my own small way. I joined the campaign against lifting PIRs. I am an accountant and economic statistician by qualification and experience as well as holding post-graduate professional writing studies. I take considerable offence at this clown calling me either ignorant or uneducated. This coming Thursday I shall be interviewing a highly successful author who holds three separate degrees as well as a Doctorate in Human Letters. My, we authors really are an uneducated lot, aren't we!

This is the same Prof Fels who for years while heading the ACCC, continually claimed that there was no evidence of any wrong-doing by oil companies. Meanwhile, we ignorant, uneducated slobs, did the practical thing of watching the pump prices. Whereas any reduction in the price of crude (ah - the joys of petrol pricing parity, gifted to the nation by then-Treasurer John Howard in the late 1970s - whatever happened to him by the way?) took a week or so to 'filter' through to the pump price, yet the moment there was an increase in the price of crude, it immediately hit the pumps. That happened across the board, regardless of company or location. But that was apparently too bleedin' obvious for the good Prof to notice.

Prof Fels has made quite a deal of noise about the price reductions he claims would have resulted from lifting PIRs, by comparing the price of a book available in say the USA with the same available here in Australia. The coalition of major book retailers, lead by Dymocks, who have been staunch supporters of Fels in this matter, have stated that the reduction that may have resulted could have been as much as 12%. However the price differentials that Fels likes to show off were far greater than a potential maximum of 12%. So even his supporters, who have publicly vowed to 'continue the fight', cannot agree with him on what the savings might be.

Incidentally, the good Prof with his apparently superior education, appears to have missed out entirely on the basic economic premise of ceterus paribus, loosely translated as 'all things being equal.' Simple comparison of market prices between significantly different economies breaches that economic fundamental. But perhaps he slept in that morning at uni.

I keep harping on the point of taxation in other posts. In all the hoopla, why is it that Fels and Dymocks et al, continue to ignore the simple fact that most of that potential 12% saving could be achieved in one fell swoop (pun intended) by removing taxation on books? I seem to remember the then-Labour Opposition joining with the Australian Democrats in opposing introduction of GST on books, prior to the Democrats leader, Meg Lees, blatantly rolling over for John Howard in the Senate.

We already have a taxation infrastructure for managing exemption of certain 'supplies'. It would not be a big deal to extend those to cover exemption of books. But Fels, in his apparent wisdom as a product of his superior education, pushes instead for a scheme that would require creation of new, expensive infrastructure, not to mention the imposition on the tax-paying public of the proposed government grants to compensate authors for the loss of income that Fels admits would result.

On this subject of author income, please do realise that we aren't all J. K. Rowling, getting mega-bucks. Studies have shown that writers as a whole are very poorly paid. We are not in general a pack of greedy oiks, complaining because we can't upgrade the Rolls this year or have to put off installing that helipad.

Throughout this saga, Fels and Dymocks et al have continually claimed that the object of the exercise was to realise cheaper book prices, yet the simple measure of removing taxation is ignored in favour of a set-up that would have the long-term impact of a wrecking ball smashed into the Australian publishing industry, under the guise of having market forces driving price reductions.

Another significant point consistently overlooked by Fels and co is that the likes of the USA and the UK flatly refuse to have anything to do with lifting their own equivalents of PIRs. Yet those are the economies that stand to benefit by dumping onto the Australian market. That product would not necessarily even be the same as that published here. Take the example of the author Michael Robotham. He is a major seller in both the UK and the USA. However on at least one occasion, the US publisher made him rewrite part of a novel, removing part of the text, because it was too 'sophisticated' for the US market. Robotham has told me that the box of freebies of that US edition that he was given, remains unopened because as far as he is concerned, that is not the real novel that was published elsewhere, including Australia. Guess what edition would be dumped onto our markets in the wake of lifting of PIRs.

Significantly, the major publishing chains have not supported the Fels proposals. These are multi-nationals who could have benefited by dumping excess production that through sheer economies of scale (see Prof - we're not all as ignorant as you claim and understand something of economics) can be produced cheaper there but they could see the long-term view. Driving margins down yet further, simply means there is less money available for publishers to bring on new authors. We aren't all magically like Stephen King, Jack Higgins, Bryce Courtenay or Tim Winton. In fact, at the start of their publishing careers none of them were the accomplished authors that they now are. It is already becoming harder and harder for new novelists to get into the mainstream. The Fels proposals would have pretty much screwed an entire generation of new Australian authors.

Exactly who is demonstrating their ignorance here? Not to mention chronic short-sightedness. And who stood to really benefit? The multinationals and a small number of major book retailers trying to further tighten their control of the market while pretending to be in the pursuit of some altruistic ideal.

In all of this fuss, I am reminded of the late Nigel Hawthorne in his wonderful portrayal of the English civil servant, Sir Humphrey Appleby. Sir Humphrey described the behaviour of politicians thus: "we must do something; this is something therefore we must do it."

Perhaps the good prof should consider a career in UK politics rather than acting like a petulant schoolboy, with voluble complaints when the ref has called him for a foul on the footy field. Of course he could always just take his ball and go home.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Honesty? Fairness? Don't make be laugh

Is it so wrong to expect common decency? Honesty? Fairness? Apparently in this day and age, it is.

Major employers are allowed to lie through their teeth to workers compensation insurers, coincidentally keeping their insurance premiums down by minimising the number of successful claims. The insurer is allowed to apply law that isn’t even in effect at the time of your claim, despite said law not being retrospective. You are allowed to simply ignore findings of bodies such as the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. In the public sector, the agency responsible for workers compensation and overall employee health and safety, Comcare, will similarly not bother worrying about workplace implications of adverse AAT findings.

Many people are like I was and of the opinion that the Commonwealth Ombudsman was an independent arbiter. Nope. It if is in anyway connected to a workplace, they will claim that the matter arises out of employment and is therefore out of scope of their office. Offer up evidence of blatant lies, deception and withholding of material evidence by a governmental employer and similar evidence of the regulator, Comcare, refusing to even look at it, and still the Ombudsman shall say no, that is a matter of employment.

Nobody cares if an employer knowingly costs you any chance of having the appropriate industrial body look into things, which is in turn another excuse for the Ombudsman’s office to put it in the ‘we can’t be bothered’ file.

In short, bare-faced liars like the Australian Bureau of Statistics are allowed to do whatever the hell they like. Use staff up. Make them work excessive hours while banning them from overtime and access to higher duties (i.e. getting paid for the higher level functions that you are actually performing). Ignore medical advice and warnings whenever it is convenient to do so. Pretend you have no knowledge of workplace health issues. Above all, lie, lie and lie some more. Lie to Comcare. Lie to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. Lie in formal statements to government-appointed solicitors.

It doesn’t matter how many laws or regulations you break, or that you are acting in blatant bad faith, because nobody will do a god damned fucking thing to stop you.

As for the individual perpetrators, they get promoted.

Is it any wonder that the poor fuckers like me end up becoming so screwed up in the head that they end up with multiple suicide attempts?

yet more on the PIR issue

In wake of the decision not to lift Parallel Import Restrictions, Prof Fels has announced that from now on, all book buyers are to blame the government for more expensive prices as a result of the decision not to adopt his recommendations. An unnamed major book retailer has criticised the decision, claiming that adopting them would have lowered book prices by some 12%. I am prepared to wager that this unnamed source was in fact Dymocks, given how strongly they supported the recommendations, which just quietly would have helped strengthen their market share and dominance.

Both Fels and the likes of the Dymocks chain (that I now flatly refuse to purchase anything from) argued strenuously that the only way to bring book prices was the complicated system proposed by Fels, of lifting import restrictions, thereby creating greater 'competition' with a system of grant funding to support authors whose income had been reduced.

How about a reality check for a moment? By far the most direct means of producing an immediate reduction of 1/11th of the cover price of books is to dump GST on books. Other products are GST-exempt and such an approach would not require the creation of all new infrastructure that the Fels recommendations would have required.

If these parties crying foul at today's decision are fair dinkum, then they would have been campaigning for the government to lift taxes on books and achieve the same end result of cheaper books without throwing the equivalent of a wrecking ball through Australian publishing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

latest on the the assistance issue

Roughly a week after the matter had been passed to the provider's admin to see what could be done, when I followed up by telephone (yet another STD call I am out of pocket for) not only had nothing been done, the person had little idea what I was talking about. I probably shouldn't be surprised as this is the same admin area that has repeatedly failed to make any contact with me during the weeks of this saga, despite assurances that they would be.

In fairness, I did receive a return call this afternoon from that individual, so it would seem wheels have slowly started turning. But it has all had to be referred back to Centrelink. Not my local office mind, but to another branch office that is actually across the border, in another State, with that office waiting for a manger to decide what, if anything, can be done, and then refer it back again to my local office.

End result - I have actually gone backwards from the position I was in four months ago.

Oh and there was more little joyful bit of fun - when my preferred provider endeavored to start the process to have me transferred, I am told that the provider I was stuck with actually refused to do so.

Parallel Import Restrictions to remain!

In the face of strenuous opposition around the country, the Australian Productivity Commission had recommended to the government some time back that Parallel Import Restrictions on books be lifted. The whole slew of recommendations were, in my opinion, a poorly considered short-term view. The justification was that books would become cheaper. The income base of existing authors would supposedly be protected by recommended introduction of government grants. Tough luck for those who were not already published authors and faced an even steeper uphill climb under the Fels scenario. There were other means of making books cheaper, such as lifting tax on them. Instead, Professor Allan Fels and his cohorts argued strongly that the only means of making books cheaper was to allow excess production from other countries to be dumped on the Australian market. Significantly, countries such as the UK and USA, while being in a position to shift more product onto the market outside of current Australian publishing channels, flatly refused to lift their own restrictions.

This morning, the Australian Competition Minister announced that the government would not be implementing the recommendations. This is a victory for the entire Australian publishing industry. Significantly, about the only voices in favour of the Fels recommendations were a narrow coterie of big business interests.

Following is a press release from the Australian Society of Authors. While it is rather gratuitous as there were definitely more than just the ASA campaigning against these recommendations, nonetheless it does reflect wide-spread pleasure and relief at this morning's announcement. Ironically, Prof Fels was due to be debating this very subject at 12:30pm today at the National Press Club, with the CEO of Melbourne University Publishing. The topic? What price cheaper books? I wonder what dear Prof Fels had to say?

From: Jeremy Fisher []
Sent: Wednesday, 11 November 2009 11:24 AM
To: Jeremy Fisher
Subject: PRESS RELEASE: ASA Members Victors in Parallel Importation Debate!

PRESS RELEASE: ASA Members Victors in Parallel Importation Debate

The ASA congratulates its members and our colleagues in the Australian publishing industry in their united, sustained and ultimately successful campaign to retain territorial copyright.

“The ASA membership has once again demonstrated its quiet strength,” ASA Executive Director Dr Jeremy Fisher declared. “Our members have been constantly telephoning and writing to their parliamentary representatives pointing out how the removal of territorial copyright would destroy Australia’s literary culture and publishing industry. Their persistence has been rewarded. Our leaders have listened. Today’s announcement by Competition Minister Craig Emerson that the parallel importation restrictions in our Copyright Act will remain unchanged is a clear victory for Australia’s literary creators.”

Dr Fisher also acknowledged that the Australian publishing industry was facing significant pressures and authors needed to bear these in mind.

“Minister Emerson correctly highlights the fact that e-books and digital technology are having an impact on the Australian publishing industry,” Dr Fisher said. “The ASA welcomes change. We constantly seek new means to increase authors’ incomes. We are currently in discussions relating to fair contracts for authors with regard to e-books and products such as Kindle. We have also taken an active role in the US-based Google Book Settlement, which will see authors being able to pursue income streams for out-of-print works. The ASA will always seek improved income streams for its members in both print and digital forms.”

Dr Fisher has announced that he will leave the ASA on December 11 to take up the position of Senior Lecturer in Writing at the University of New England.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Kevin Federline a father for the fifth time?

Who the &^%$ cares? He is a failed backup dancer who got some notoriety for marrying Britney Spears, who subsequently told him by SMS that the marriage was over. He's getting a ridiculous amount money from the Spears money machine to keep him the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed. Pretty nice gravy train if you can get on it. His attempt at a rap career was a joke. "I'm gonna be a big star, Gonna get a big car."

Who gives a fruit bat's fundament that he is possibly going to be a father for the fifth time? Yet this crops up as 'news'.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Can we be of assistance?

Here in Australia, we have all manner of assistance programs. One of the latest incarnations is the Job Services Australia program. This is a service that was recently overhauled and supposedly provides access to various job placement networks. If you are like myself and suffering from a disability, you can access a quite specific part of this network to provide tailored assistance.

How it operates is like this.

You make contact with a preferred job network and learn that first of all you need to attend your doctor and pay him his fee to complete a lengthy medical referral. Next you make contact with Centrelink who record your contact and assure you that they will be in touch shortly with an interview time and place to have a job capacity assessment completed. Several weeks shall pass by without contact despite you making regular follow up and having various staff confirm that yes, you have been making contact and yet further assurances of rapid follow up - that never actually occur. The next step is to visit an actual Centrelink office and refuse to leave until they have done what they had promised to do about a month before - make you an appointment for a job capacity assessment.

Centrelink will now realise that your disability pension is not paid via Centrelink but via a superannuation fund. Centrelink staff shall now lecture you that you are not eligible for any referral to the Job Services Australia program, despite all advertising to the contrary. All in the jolly spirit of the occasion, you need to engage in a a shouting match in order to attract the attention of a supervisor who will then inform his delinquent staff member that you are indeed eligible for referral and to make an immediate appointment for you. An immediate appointment is in fact in a week-and-a-half's time.

With the appointment confirmed and the lengthy medical report done, you confirm that your preferred provider is still in fact prepared to take you as a client, noting that you are already a client of other services of that organisation. With that confirmation in hand, you head off gaily to the job capacity assessment. A very pleasant young lady shall then interview you, take the copies of detailed medical reports that you thought to take with you and send you on your way. As a result of this assessment, it shall be determined that your preferred network cannot in fact take you, although do not expect anyone to actually make contact with them to make sure of their facts. Instead you will be referred to yet another network.

The new network you are referred to shall initially deny all knowledge of any appointment having been made but after some days, eventually someone discovers how to turn the computer on and actually check. A pleasant half-hour is then spent filling out forms and you will then be told that a case manager shall be assigned in two weeks time, but noting that you shall have to complete mandatory training programs before they will actually start helping with the job search. Naturally anyone seeking assistance is an illiterate delinquent who needs extensive coaching before they can be turned loose on unsuspecting employers.

Now if you are a conscientious little swot as I am, you will continue the job search all the same and have an amazing opportunity present itself, with the potential employer particularly interested in the prospect of some governmental assistance that comes with employing you as a participant in the Job Services Australia program. The next step for you is to contact the job network provider to explain that you have potentially found a position but need to be able to provide contact details for the prospective employer to discuss things with. In response to that good news, you will be informed that thou shalt have a case manager in two days time although the file has yet to leave the desk of the chap who did the intake interview the previous week. Well why not rush a case manager through - all the hard work will have already been done for them and they get an easy 'success' to add to their Key Performance Indicators.

With our pessimistic old friend, Murphy, working overtime, after a week or so you make contact once more to see what's going on. Now it transpires that there isn't a case manager even available but one shall be made available in the near future. Another week goes by and you discover that there never were any case managers even available in the first place but instead recruitment action is pending so you can expect to get someone, sometime, who is brand new to it all and won't have a clue about how things work.

The joyful news shall continue for yet another week at which time you are advised that recruitment is still pending, but naturally, you are informed that you shall have a case manager assigned 'soon' although no indication can be provided as to when this may actually occur.

As you ruminate on this fun little experience of being out of pocket for doctor's bills and mounting numbers of telephone calls, you will recall that the lovely young lady who did the job capacity assessment, assured you that if things were not working out with the assigned network, all you have to do is call and she would arrange a transfer to another provider.

Being cautious, you will first contact your preferred provider - again - and be told by them - again - that they are happy to take you as a client. With that glad news to hand, you then contact the parties who did the job capacity assessment. However due to the office in the nation's capital not having anything as luxurious as someone who can assess the computer file, you will be asked, quite politely, to spend money on STD telephone calls to their Sydney office. These friendly people in Sydney will confirm that yes, they shall contact the assessor the following day and get things moving for you - sorry that it didn't work out for you so far.

Several days later you will then discover that your preferred supplier has not heard so much as a misplaced rectal emanation from the assessors but you will receive a mysterious telephone message asking you to contact a specific person at the assessor's office. Sadly, when you return that call, said contact at the assessors will not have the faintest idea of why you are calling or what she is supposed to be doing. But that situation is easily rectified with yet another telephone call to the lovely young lady you saw the previous month in that same office.

Oh dear, she shall inform you. Our administration were supposed to call you. We cannot transfer you to another provider at all now as too much time has passed since the assessment was done. The file is locked and I cannot access any information - what is your telephone number by the way?

The particularly joyful news is that you need to start the entire process all over again, just as you had done four months ago. But never fear, you shall be informed of a telephone call being made the following day to explain just how this is to be progressed. When the promised call does not eventuate, you will call the assessors - yet again - only to be told - yet again - that nobody can assist. Entirely puzzled by the state of affairs, you will contact your preferred supplier to see if they have heard anything. Now you shall learn that the preferred supplier, equally mystified as to what is going on, has made contact with the supplier that you were actually directed to. They will have informed your preferred supplier that they have no intention of releasing your file (why would they - numbers of clients means more government money to them) and that, yes, you guessed it, you are to be assigned a case manager in a week's time.

The preferred supplier will by now be almost as frustrated as you are and shall suggest that they will contact the assessors themselves to try and find out what on earth is going on. But of course Friday has come around once more and the world has stopped turning, not to resume gravitational orbit once more until Monday.

Perhaps you should consider a formal complaint to the Education Department the preferred supplier shall suggest. After an hour of fruitless search of the Department's website, you will have failed to come up with so much as a contact telephone number or even an address to post a letter to.

So next week, after all the gleeful excitement of the past wasted four months, you get to start it all over again. In the meantime, because of the stigma of being disabled, employers shall continue to not want to have anything to do with you. Unclean! Unclean!

Here in Australia, we have all manner of assistance programs. What a pity that they're actually a time-and-money-wasting load of bollocks that keep the perpetrators in work but do nothing to help those actually seeking work.