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Archives for February 2005

Coming Of Age: The Sex Discrimination Act, Women, Men, Work And Family

Pru Goward, Sex Discrimination CommissionerThe federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Pru Goward, says it is time to put paid and unpaid work and family responsibilities in the spotlight.

In an address to the National Press Club in Canberra, Ms Goward said there was a need to closely examine these issues to better understand the pressures facing men and women and the barriers to balancing work and family in Australia today.

The Commissioner used the occasion to launch a new Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission project titled Striking the Balance: Women, Men, Work and Family. [Read more…]

APEC To Meet In Sydney 2007: Howard Staying On?

Another sign that John Howard has no intention of making way for Peter Costello in the current parliament can be seen in today’s announcement by the Prime Minister that the 2007 APEC Meeting will be held in Sydney.

The leaders’ meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will be held in September 2007, just two months before Australia’s next scheduled election.

Howard’s announcement came during a wide-ranging press conference in Canberra. Questioned about whether he expects to host the leaders meeting, Howard responded: “I think the Australian Prime Minister will host that meeting with great skill and great alarm – I am not going to comment on that except to say that I’ll continue to occupy this position for so long as my party wants me to.”

This is the transcript of the press conference given by the Prime Minister, John Howard, at Parliament House, Canberra.


Thank you ladies and gentlemen for coming. I am sorry for the postponement. I had to speak to several Premiers before I was in a position to say what I wanted to say and therefore I had to slightly postpone the timing of the news conference. I want to announce that the 2007 APEC Meeting, leaders meeting which Australia will host will be held in Sydney. The date that we are negotiating around, and this depends very much on the convenience of other leaders as well, we’re proposing that the meeting be held during September of 2007. I am not in a position at this stage to go into all of the details of where precisely in Sydney the meeting is going to be held but those of you familiar with that city will no doubt begin to speculate as to where various meetings will take place.

This will be, although in aggregate numbers not the largest assembly of world leaders in Australia’s history, but in terms of the weight and influence (if we can presume to put it that way) will certainly be the most significant international meeting to have been hosted by Australia. I should point out that there will be a lot of other meetings; ministerial meetings, officials meetings associated with the leaders meeting and it will be our intention to spread those meetings around Australia as much as possible. In other words not all of the meetings associated with the APEC leaders meeting will be held in Sydney and we are certainly very keen to hold as many of those other meetings as we can in other parts of Australia including all of the states of Australia.

I might also mention that discussions are still going on of the hosting on the G-20 Finance Ministers meeting which is to take place in Australia in 2006. I want to thank those states who expressed interest in the hosting of the meeting and as I say I have informed the various Premiers involved, including of-course the NSW Premier.

Before taking questions on anything you choose, can I say how pleased I am with the ceasefire that’s been agreed between Ariel Sharon the Prime Minister of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Leader, in their meeting in Sharm el- Sheik. I think it represents the best hope for a lasting settlement we’ve seen for a number of years. We have to be cautious – but given the bloodshed, the violence, the ill will, the lack of trust that has characterised this terrible conflict for so long, this very significant movement has to be very warmly welcomed. I want to pay tribute to both men. It’s very much a triumph of the democratic process. We had an election in the Palestinian territories and out of that election came a man (Mahmoud Abbas) greatly respected in the Middle East; a person who has asserted his authority over Hammas and others and has brought a new sense of hope to his people and to the people of Israel and I also pay tribute to Ariel Sharon who has stared down some of his hard liners in his party and the stance that Sharon has taken in relation to the withdrawal of the settlements is to be praised, it has been a necessary step forward. I think the citizens of both countries are tired of the death and the conflict and they want peace and every nation of goodwill should try very hard to assist that process. I know how committed President Bush is to achieving, in his second term, a lasting settlement in the Middle East.

The new administration – it is a new one since his re-election – is absolutely determined to do what it can, and it can do a great deal to bring about a settlement and with the combination of the approach of the United States, the new sense of goodwill that exists between Abbas and Sharon, countries such as Australia are long standing, an unapologetic friend of Israel but also a country that for a long time, and in advance of many other western countries, has strongly supported the notion of an independent Palestinian state. We will do everything we can to aid the process but it is a day of hope in this very troubled part of the world. I don’t need to remind you of the wider ramifications for winning the confidence and the understanding of the Islamic world if we can achieve a settlement in the Middle East and it is a day of real hope but there is a long way to go and we have seen these hopeful signs before. In fact the last time I personally visited the area was a time of hope in 2000 when I was in fact encouraged to go to Ramallah by the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to meet Yasser Arafat and others and that of course all fell apart when it was impossible to achieve the lasting settlement that we hoped might be possible at the time. But tragically many people have died since then and I can only hope, as the rest of the world does, that we are seeing something of a new dawn in the Middle East and the possibility of some sort of lasting settlement.


Prime Minister are you looking forward to hosting the 2007 leader’s summit?


Jim, I think the Australian Prime Minister will host that meeting with great skill and great alarm, I am not going to comment on that except to say that I’ll continue to occupy this position for so long as my party wants me to.


Why Sydney and was…


Why Sydney?


…it because this situation is unprecedented for Australia?


Beg your pardon?


Will the security operation be…


Well there’ll need to be a lot of security.


Why Sydney?


Why Sydney? Because on balance it offered the broader range of facilities. It’s a very spectacular city and it’s got some very well known international icons. The city of Brisbane put forward a very significant proposal, a very good one, great cooperation from the Queensland government. I think it’s fair to say although Victoria was keen to participate, Victoria is hosting quite a number of things over the next year or two and given the drain on conference and hotel facilities, realistically the range of possible locations is fairly limited. I think Sydney will do it very well and I’ve no doubt that we’ll have the full cooperation of the New South Wales government.


What swung Sydney ahead of Brisbane?


Well I think just a range of things including the facilities and I think the location of various facilities, the Opera House and the NSW Government House, other facilities, Darling Harbour, they’re all in fairly easy proximity of each other and they’re very substantial facilities and of course the hotel facilities of Sydney. I am not denigrating the hotel facilities of Brisbane for a moment. I use them very frequently and I am always given a very warm welcome in Brisbane, in Queensland. I think it’s fair to say that politically I receive no warmer welcome anywhere in Australia than I do in Queensland. But these things are always hard to make judgements about, I rang the Premier of Queensland, I spoke to him in Mackay this morning, and he understands the government’s decision.


The shirts [inaudible]?


No I have to give a lot of thought to that, it may not be shirts.


When you spoke to Peter Beattie this morning, did you mention the Rau case?


No no it didn’t come up in my discussions with any of the Premiers I spoke to this morning.


With the Rau case one of your own Liberal backbenchers Petro Georgiou thinks that the asylum seeker policies of the government are no longer needed and that they should be set free so to speak. What is your opinion of that?


Well our policies will continue.


Labor is suggesting that the troops should now be pulled out of; at least some of the troops should be pulled out Baghdad because they say that they are just now guarding an empty building.


Well we take advice on these matters from Defence and the latest advice we have from the Chief of the Defence Force that under current circumstances the best option was for the security detachment to remain where it is and I really think that at the present time and I know Oppositions feel the need to try and score political points but given the democratic dividend that’s been won in Iraq by the Iraqi people and the tremendous step forward that the Iraqi people have made over the last few weeks. So far from talking about pulling troops out, if we want to secure and reassure, we shouldn’t be talking about that. This of all times is a time for reinforcement and reassurance rather than to be talking about pulling troops out. I think if you want to send a message to the Iraqi people and a message to those who are trying to destroy the hopes of democracy in Iraq you don’t talk about pulling troops out.


Would you see a different role for those troops there Mr Howard if they’ve been on [inaudible] duty?


Well once again they are matters that we will take advice from Defence on.


Prime Minister on Xstrata, your cabinet colleague Mr Vaile’s got concerns about the national interest in developing our … what are your thoughts on that issue, the national interest issue and the current…


Well this is a decision which under law must be taken by the Treasurer in accordance with the law and it will be treated in that fashion. Welcome back, good to see you. We liked your replacement but also good to have you back.


Good to be back.


Now what’s your question?


The removal of Stephen Kenny from David Hick’s legal team this morning reportedly because he was too combative with your government and Hick’s legal team is seeking a more cooperative relationship with the Australian government, does that change your attitude at all to the way things should be dealt with.


I have nothing to do with that and I have no comment.


No but that was their action and…


I have no comment; the engagement of somebody’s lawyer is a matter for that person, for the client. I don’t have any comment to make about that at all, the first I knew about it was when I read it in the papers.


His legal team says though that they would like the government to make representations to Washington about Mr Hick’s release, what do you say to that suggestion?


Well there is a difference between Mr Hicks and Mr Habib, the difference is that Mr Hicks was charged and he’s charged and he is going before a military commission which will have procedures which were changed as a result of negotiations between the Australian Government and the United States Government and there is a vast difference. The reason why we requested Habib’s repatriation by the Americans was that they indicated to us that they did not intend to charge him. Now there is a vast difference between the two and I don’t see any alteration.


Prime Minister just on Australian schools… Do you think that rejecting Xstrata’s bid for WMC would send a bad signal to the international investors?


I am not going to answer those questions of a specific kind about an individual case. Look there is a strict legal procedure and it has to be followed by the Treasurer and he will follow it, the foreign investment review board will make a recommendation and I then I am sure he will take a decision will be taken by him in accordance with the law which requires him where appropriate an assessment of the national interest.


Will there be an announcement before the West Australian election?


I don’t know you would have to ask the Treasurer I don’t know precisely where the thing sits at the present time, it will be determined in accordance with the law, with the foreign investment law of this country. Now foreign investment is important to this country but we have a law that governs decisions in relation to these matters. Sam, I think you were trying to get a word in?


Do you believe that improved sex education in Australian schools would cut the abortion rate? On a separate matter, what’s your response to a senior NSW teacher who fears that teachers are failing their students because they’re voting for the Coalition and for the Howard government?


Well I’ll come to that second one not surprisingly first. I mean this is the very sort of comment that does public education great damage. I mean this kind of comment drives more people out of the public education system. This only confirms suspicions that people have that the public education system lacks the balance that’s needed. Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that what he said is representative of the views of English teachers generally, I certainly hope it’s not. But it’s the sort of unbalanced, politically driven comment that does a great disservice to public education and as somebody who believes very strongly in a dual system and who believes very strongly we should preserve and strengthen our public education system that sort of comment just feeds a growing view in the community that the system has been too radicalised through the attitudes of some teachers. Now I repeat again in case it is misunderstood, I don’t think for a moment he represents the views of English teachers generally, I certainly hope he doesn’t, but I think it’s a very regrettable comment, particularly given the position he holds.

Now as to the question of abortion. I think a greater, or a more effective level of sex education could have an impact, yes. I think anything that encourages greater levels of responsibility and a greater understanding of the implications of sexual behaviour can, (impossible to measure it) can have an impact on the abortion level. I think anything that can be done to discourage and prevent unwanted pregnancies and therefore obviate the need for people to choose terminations is something that people who are opposed to abortion should support very strongly. I certainly support it very strongly.


Will it apply to all children?


I beg your pardon?


Will it apply to all school children?


Well you have to take into account the views of parents and I mean different parents have different views. I mean ultimately the best environment for sex education is the home but not always, it’s not always possible, it’s not always conducive, not all parents feel the same level of ease in talking about these matters as others but however it is done my view unqualifiedly is that the greater understanding there is, the better. Abortion is never I’m sure an option people would want and the more therefore that can be done to prevent unwanted pregnancies the better.


Mr Howard there’s still some concern within the coalition particularly among women about the nature of this abortion debate and the selection of it, despite the fact that you said there’ll be no change of the law. What do say to reassure those people that the debate isn’t going to be damaging?


Well look people feel strongly about issues and I’ve made it very clear in a democracy like Australia you can’t stop a debate and I had never said the debate should stop, I have just stated that there won’t be a Government sponsored change to funding arrangements and that if a private members bill comes forward then it will be dealt with at every stage, including the stage of whether or not it’s going to be debated, as a matter of conscience because that is the way in which we have traditionally approached these things and I have naturally encouraged people on both sides of the argument to exercise courtesy and politeness in putting their views. You no doubt may have some sources of your own but I was present at the meeting yesterday and I didn’t detect acrimony. I mean there’s feeling but I didn’t detect acrimony and political parties worth their socks are big enough to have debates of this kind without losing their stability and without the debate suffering in terms of being a comprehensive one. I mean we had a debate a few years ago about a republic where there was a free vote in the Liberal Party and as you know there were some celebrated different views inside the Liberal Party, what that was November 1999 and this is February 2005. And you know fair go.


Given what you just said about sex education would you like to see the Commonwealth government get more involved with improving education in the states and may be more money?


Well I don’t… more money? Well the states have got a lot of money for education; the states are rolling in money. I mean let’s not kid ourselves, the states are rolling in money as a result of the GST and look I’m not trying to tell the states how to do their job in relation to this. I’m expressing a view as Prime Minister and as a citizen about the desirability of things – how you actually work it out and who pays for it and precisely what form it takes – well that’s got to be determined by the teachers and the parents and the experts. I am simply stating my very strong view about the role of sex education and the need to do all we can as a community to prevent people having to make this choice. And I also want to reinforce something I said on Sunday and that is that if you believe in choice, if you are pro-choice to use the language of this discussion, then you would have to agree that if there were greater opportunities available for people who might be in a genuine quandary about whether or not to have a termination the option of keeping the baby, being clearly one of the two choices, then if there were more assistance available for people who might be disposed to keep the child, all the better.


On interest rates, do you see any link between the Reserve Bank’s stated desire to increase interest rates and the amount spending promised the May budget and the election campaign last year?


Well I mean if you want to know the thinking of the Reserve Bank you’ll have to ask the Reserve Bank. I read the monetary policy statement and I think you can draw your own conclusions from that. I didn’t see any particular reference to that issue.


Mr Howard on APEC what impact will it have on the timing of the next election given that it is due around the same time as APEC?


Well obviously you have to juggle these things. I mean I’ve faced this before and no doubt I faced it in relation to the CHOGM meeting, it was scheduled to be held in October. Now that was predetermined that date. We’re proposing to have it in September. We’re paying. Obviously I recognise that there will be an election due around about the latter part of the second half of the year. I also recognise that Ramadan falls during the period under question, we’ve had an APEC meeting in September before, the APEC meeting held in New Zealand in 1999 was held in September. Now we’ve got to talk to people about various dates; we’ve got to establish the convenience of other leaders, it’s not only my convenience that’s important it’s the convenience of other leaders as well.


Mr Howard is there any movement on the free to air telecast of the Ashes?


Any movement on the what?


The free to air telecast of the Ashes, is there any chance the government…


Oh that continues to engage me. I think that’s all I can say at the moment. I would like to see the Ashes on television – there are a number of things I’m looking at.


The ABC or SBS [inaudible] legislative.


I haven’t really sort of got to that.


Would you like to see ABC telecast it?


I don’t want to be more specific at this stage.


Has the ABC asked for some money to specifically telecast the Ashes?


The ABC is always asking for money – no disrespect to the ABC.


Prime Minister you’ve made some good inroads in western Sydney in recent years why not get your strength in the seat of Werriwa?


Well Steve, a decision on that will be made by the New South Wales organisation – the New South Wales executive of the Liberal Party after we’ve finished discussions with local people. There are some discussions going on at present; some of the local people involving Brian Loughnane, the Federal Director, and others. And we have to take into account the point you’ve made and that’s an important point. We also have to take into account the availability of good candidates, the need, as you’ll appreciate, to have the resources to run a strong campaign. We have made inroads into Western Sydney. It is also fair to say though, that one of the areas we didn’t make big inroads into the last election was the seat of Werriwa. In fact there was a tiny swing I think in favour of the then sitting member. Now that may have been due to the fact that he was the Leader of the Opposition and therefore a very high profile person. We’ve got to balance these and take into account other political considerations. But in the end our strength in Western Sydney is based on what we have done to benefit the people of Western Sydney; their high wages, their full employment, not full employment but very high employment, their low interest rates, their tax cuts, the university assistance, all of those things that we have done for Western Sydney. That weighs more heavily on the minds of voters than anything else.


What’s your feeling Prime Minister?


Oh look I don’t want to tilt my hand at the moment, I respect the processes. I think the organisation has to be listened to on these things and I respect the fact that when it comes to policy matters the organisation leaves things to us, but when it comes to these things you’ve got to listen to the party organisation. They’ve got to raise the money and carry the heat and burden of a campaign and I don’t think they should be treated contemptuously.


Mr Howard you’ve had the first day back against your old opponent returned, what’s the verdict?


Look I think there’s, I don’t deliver the verdict will be delivered on us in three years time.


Have you started to warm to the canal project?


Well I’ve never been cold to that, I think the concept of…


What about paying for it?


The concept is a great one and I think it’s something that ought to be considered sympathetically by the Federal Government. But clearly we have to look at it and we have to make a proper assessment. But I think what Colin Barnett has endeavoured to do is to reach out to the concerns that people in Western Australia have about their water and power supplies and it’s a bold idea. I do know something of the proposal. I received a briefing on it from the company months ago but you know clearly if Mr Barnett wins, and I hope he does, I’ll be very happy to sit down and talk about it.


What do you rate the chances of the Ashes being shown on free to air tv?


I don’t want to go more, go further than what I have already.


Are you positive about it?


No, no I would like to see them, I would like to see the Ashes available on free to air TV, now whether it’s possible to bring that about I don’t know but it is something that I am engaged upon. Last question.


Do you have any in-principle opposition to a foreign company owned or controlling Australia’s largest uranium mine?


Look I’m not going to make a comment on that particular proposal which… Yes it might, I mean come, come on.

Righto, see you later.

Vanstone Announces Details Of Cornelia Rau Inquiry

Senator Amanda Vanstone, Minister for ImmigrationThe Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone, has announced details of an inquiry into the detention of Cornelia Rau.

The inquiry will be conducted by the former Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Palmer.

Cornelia Rau spent six months in the Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre and another four months in the Baxter detention centre in South Australia. An Australian citizen, Rau suffers from mental illness. The failure of assessment and treatment of her mental condition by police and immigration authorities is at the heart of the controversy surrounding her detention. The issue of mandatory detention of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants has also been highlighted again by Rau’s experience.

Vanstone announced the inquiry at a press conference in Canberra. Facing persistent questioning from journalists, she repeatedly used the expression “with respect” when responding during the 40-minute encounter.

  • Listen to Vanstone’s press conference.

This is the text of a media release from the Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone.

Cornelia Rau Inquiry

Minister for Immigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone, today announced details of the inquiry into the Cornelia Rau case.

The Minister said former Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Palmer AO APM, would conduct the inquiry.

‘Mr Palmer is a distinguished former Australian Federal Police Commissioner who has served over 30 years in both the State /Territory and Federal areas of policing within Australia,’ Senator Vanstone said.

‘Mr Palmer has also been Australia’s representative for Asia on Interpol’s Executive Committee.

‘I am sure all those with an interest in the Cornelia Rau case will recognise Mr Palmer’s breadth of experience within policing and the public sector and welcome him as an appropriate, independent person to conduct the inquiry.’

The Minister also released the terms of reference for the inquiry.

‘The terms of reference ensure that the inquiry will be as broad as possible, while ensuring the central issues relating to the detention of Ms Rau and interaction between Commonwealth and State agencies, particularly police and mental health providers, are considered promptly,’ the Minister said.

‘We will discuss with Mr Palmer the provision of appropriate mental health expertise to assist him in his inquiry.

‘While I understand that some in the community are suggesting the inquiry should be conducted in public, I have requested that Mr Palmer conduct his investigation privately, with his findings to be released publicly.

‘As well as protecting the privacy of Ms Rau, the nature of the inquiry will ensure the report can be completed as quickly as possible and that it is not used by those with agendas outside of the scope of this inquiry. I want to ensure that Ms Rau’s personal circumstances are not misused. Public inquiries always present that opportunity.

‘I have asked Mr Palmer to report to me by March 24, 2005.’

Terms of Reference

The Inquiry will investigate, examine and report on matters relating to the case of Cornelia Rau, including in particular the actions of DIMIA and relevant state agencies, during the period March 2004 to February 2005.

In particular the Inquiry will:

  • examine and make findings on the sequence of events that gave rise to her being held in immigration detention;
  • examine and make findings on the circumstances, actions and procedures which resulted in her remaining unidentified during the period in question;
  • examine and make findings on measures taken to deal with her medical condition and other care needs during that period;
  • examine and make findings on the systems and processes of, and co-operation between, relevant state and commonwealth agencies in relation to identification/location of missing persons and provision of mental health services; and
  • recommend any necessary systems/process improvements.

The Inquiry will need to request the support and co-operation of relevant state agencies.

The Inquiry will report by 24 March 2005.

Vanstone Holds Press Conference On Cornelia Rau Detention

The Minister for Immmigration, Senator Amanda Vanstone, has held a press conference to discuss the detention of Cornelia Rau.

Rau, a German citizen and permanent resident of Australia was detained during 2004 and 2005 under the government’s mandatory detention program. She was held at the Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre and the Baxter Detention Centre.

Rau suffered mental illness. She refused to reveal her identity and was classified as a suspected illegal immigrant by the Immigration Department. [Read more…]

Reserve Bank Hints At Interest Rate Increase

Reserve Bank of AustraliaThe Reserve Bank of Australia said today that “the likelihood of further monetary tightening being required in the months ahead had increased”.

The statement comes in a Statement on Monetary Policy issued by the Reserve Bank today.

Interest rates were a key issue in last year’s federal election. A rise in rates in the coming months would cast doubt on statements made by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer during the election campaign.

This is the first chapter of the Reserve Bank’s Statement on Monetary Policy


After a strong year in 2004 the world economy retains momentum, with growth continuing to be led by the United States and China. Recent data for the US have confirmed that the economy is expanding at a good pace and is generating solid gains in employment. China’s economy has become an increasingly important driver of world growth, with last year’s growth outcome of nearly 10 per cent exceeding most expectations. In other parts of the world, including Japan and the euro area, the economic recovery is continuing, though at a slower pace than in the first half of 2004. Despite some slowing, growth remains quite strong in most of the smaller east Asian economies. The tsunami disaster is unlikely to have a major impact on aggregate GDP in the Asian region but will reduce growth in the short term in Indonesia and Thailand, as well as in some smaller economies on the Indian Ocean rim. Overall, most observers expect growth of the world economy, though not as strong as last year, to continue in 2005 at an above-average pace for the third successive year.

The strong global economy has contributed to upward pressure on commodity prices in the past couple of years. One important aspect of this was the sharp rise in oil prices, which peaked in October last year. While the rise in oil prices was seen as primarily a consequence of strong global demand, supply disruptions also played a role, and much attention last year was focused on the possible impact that higher prices might have on global economic performance. With oil prices in recent months having fluctuated in a range somewhat below their October peak, risks to the global economy from that source appear to have lessened.

Prices of a range of other mineral commodities have generally remained firm or increased further over recent months. For Australia, this is providing a significant stimulus to national income and spending, with the prospect of more to come. World prices of Australia’s base metals exports are now around 40 per cent higher than they were two years ago. For iron ore and coal, substantial increases in contract prices are set to take effect later this year, building on the already sharp increases of last year. In addition to boosting incomes and spending in Australia, the effects of rising commodity prices are also being seen in producer prices more generally.

In international financial markets the main development recently has been the continued decline in the US dollar. In the final three months of last year the US dollar declined by 8 per cent against the euro and 7 per cent against the yen, to be around its lowest level in the past decade. Since the beginning of 2005, the US dollar has recovered somewhat against the euro, but has remained around its recent lows against the yen and other Asian currencies. Movements in the US dollar have continued to be the major influence on the Australian dollar over the past few months. The domestic currency has generally traded in a range of US76 to US79 cents, and is around the middle of that range at present. The Australian dollar’s movement against other floating currencies has been modest.

Given the strength of the US economy, the Federal Reserve has further tightened monetary policy and financial markets expect this to continue. Even so, US government bond yields have remained remarkably stable at around 4¼ per cent. In Australia, market yields, particularly at the short end, have risen since early December, reflecting stronger employment and prices data.

Most economic data in Australia have continued to suggest strong conditions recently. Particularly noteworthy in recent months has been the performance of the labour market, with employment posting a series of big increases and the unemployment rate declining to its lowest level since the 1970s. In addition, most business surveys reported conditions that were at high levels throughout 2004, while consumer confidence has been close to record levels. The high level of confidence was also reflected in the Australian share market, which outperformed the markets of all other major countries during 2004. Overall, while the national accounts had reported a surprisingly weak outcome for growth in the September quarter, the range of other available information suggests that the economy was in a strong condition through last year and is likely to have maintained a good pace of growth entering 2005. With a favourable international environment, high levels of confidence domestically, and further rises in the terms of trade adding to national income, the prospects are that demand conditions will continue to encourage growth in the period ahead.

Given these conditions, a key issue for the Australian economy will be the extent to which the ongoing growth of demand might give rise to capacity constraints and, consequently, upward pressure on wage and price inflation. With the expansion now in its fourteenth year, there is clearly much less spare capacity available than was the case in its early stages. The general performance of the economy in 2004, when production was unable to keep up with the strength of global and domestic demand, is suggestive that capacity constraints may be becoming more important.

The clearest indication of emerging pressures on capacity has been in the disappointing performance of exports to date, which has been associated with a widening of Australia’s current account deficit. While there has been a modest recovery in export volumes from the trough reached in mid 2003, this has so far only lifted exports back to around their level at the start of the decade. One factor likely to have contributed to this disappointing performance is the strong growth of domestic demand over recent years, which may have adversely affected manufactured and service exports. Additionally, there are a number of areas in the mining sector where supply bottlenecks have held back export growth recently, though there are indications that capacity expansions in that area are now in train.

Inflation outcomes during 2004 were higher than had been expected at the start of the year. The CPI increased by 0.8 per cent in the December quarter and by 2.6 per cent over the year. This was boosted by rising petrol prices, so that underlying measures were somewhat lower, generally around 2¼ per cent over the year. For the past couple of years, underlying inflation has been held down by the lagged effects of the exchange rate appreciation that took place during 2002 and 2003, but the maximum impact from that source has now passed. Hence it is likely that underlying inflation has now reached its low point and that it will start rising during 2005. Domestically-sourced inflation has been running faster over the past couple of years and there has been a significant pick-up in domestic producer prices recently, associated with rising materials costs and strong demand pressures in some sectors. At this stage, the overall rise in inflation over the next two years is forecast to be gradual, with inflation in both headline and underlying terms expected to be around 3 per cent by the end of 2006. However, given the firm demand conditions in prospect, the possibility that wage and price pressures will build more quickly cannot be ruled out.

The adjustment in the Australian housing market during 2004 should assist prospects for sustainable economic growth, with the decline in house prices and new lending during much of the year alleviating the overheating which had previously been apparent in that part of the economy. More recently, there have been some signs of prices and finance levelling out, or possibly rising. Data on house prices for the December quarter were a little firmer than earlier in the year, and the demand for housing finance picked up towards the end of the year. It is too early, however, to tell whether these latest developments represent a significant change in trend.

The cooling in the housing market during 2004 was associated with an easing in credit growth to the household sector from the exceptionally high rates seen in the previous year. Nevertheless, the growth of credit to both the household and business sectors remains high, with aggregate credit growth still running at an annual rate of 12 per cent over the six months to December 2004. The overall strength in demand for credit, combined with the fact that interest rates remain slightly lower than the average of recent years, continues to suggest that the current policy setting is not inhibiting the growth of the economy.

In its recent policy deliberations the key focus of the Board has been on whether continuing strength of demand conditions would give rise to significant inflation pressures. At its December meeting, as in earlier months, the Board judged that a further tightening of monetary policy would probably be required in due course, but that there was no need for action in the short term. Information becoming available over the subsequent two months for the February meeting tended to confirm the strength of both domestic and international demand, and gave early signs of a pick-up in inflation, as had been expected.

At this stage, the Board’s judgement is still that this pick-up in inflation will be quite gradual, with inflation reaching 2½ per cent this year and 3 per cent next year. Nonetheless, continued pressure on raw materials prices, evidence of capacity constraints in some sectors and reports of higher employment costs – notwithstanding the steadiness to date of aggregate series for wages – constitute a risk that this forecast could prove to be too low. On balance, the Board decided at its February meeting to leave interest rates unchanged, while noting that the likelihood of further monetary tightening being required in the months ahead had increased. The Board will continue to monitor developments over coming months and will respond as necessary to ensure that rising inflation does not jeopardise the sustainable expansion of the Australian economy.

2005 State of the Union Address: George W. Bush

President George W. Bush has delivered the first State of the Union Address of his second term.

  • Listen to Bush’s speech (19m)

This is the prepared text of President Bush’s State of the Union Address. [Read more…]

Democrats Respond To State Of The Union Address

Following President Bush’s State of the Union Address, the House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid delivered the Democratic response.

  • Listen to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi (15m)

This is the text of the joint address by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. [Read more…]

Crikey Sold To Beecher For $1 Million

CrikeyCrikey, Australia’s most successful ezine, has been sold to Eric Beecher and Di Gribble, publishers of The Reader, for $1 million.

Citing a desire to “take Crikey to the next level”, Stephen Mayne, the founder of Crikey, said the sale would allow him to concentrate on shareholder activism and his wife to return to her legal career.

The sale involves the Beecher-Gribble company Private Media Partners (PMP) making a $200,000 non-refundable deposit in instalments during 2005. PMP will assume full management control of Crikey on March 1, 2005, but must complete the sale by September 2006 or hand back control.

This is the text of the email sent to subscribers at 9.25am today.

Dear beloved 5,300 Crikey sole subscribers,

After almost five years of operation, yesterday afternoon Stephen Mayne and Paula Piccinini signed binding contracts for the $1 million sale of Crikey. The buyers are Eric Beecher and Di Gribble from Private Media Partners (PMP), publisher of The Reader.

Eric and Di were the original founders of Text Media which was sold to Fairfax for more than $60 million in 2003-04.

The terms of the sale are that PMP pays a non-refundable deposit of $200,000 in installments through the course of 2005 and has complete management control of Crikey for 18 months from the effective date of March 1, 2005.

Then, in September 2006, PMP must either complete the purchase with the balance of $800,000 passing to us, or surrender their deposit and hand back management control.

Why sell?

The decision to hand over management control to some media professionals is based on the desire to take Crikey to the next level. There is only so much you can do from the spare rooms of a modest suburban house in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

After five years of struggle, including moving house five times in 30 months, we really couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. The birth of our third child in October last year meant that we now have three children (Laura, Alice and Philip) under three and a half.

I am exhausted after working 80 hours a week on this labour of love and Paula, rather than selling advertising and doing administrative work for Crikey, would like to resume her career as a family law barrister on July 1, 2005.

It is time to get a life again rather than literally working every day of the week on Crikey, including 6-8 hours every Sunday.

Despite the impressive growth of Crikey, financially it has always been a struggle and to this day we still have Crikey-related liabilities of almost $50,000.

Why Private Media Partners

There was always only ever one natural buyer of Crikey and that was Eric and Di’s Private Media Partners. I know them having briefly written the “B*tch” column for their Text Media magazine The Eye in 1999. They have a vision to grow Crikey whilst retaining its present character and key contributors.

Eric Beecher made the following comments about PMP’s plans for Crikey:

“Crikey is something incredibly innovative, as there is nothing quite like it anywhere in the world. It was a momentous thing for Stephen Mayne and his team to invent and run.

“It is our intention to retain Crikey’s essential ingredients: disclosure, ferreting out important information that people don’t want you to know, being an active and lively part of the fourth estate that acts as one of the crucial checks and balances in the Australian democracy.

“Of course, we’ll do it in our own way, but we won’t be changing the fundamental role of Crikey – if anything, we hope to enhance it and take Crikey to its next stage of development as a distinctive and valuable part of the media landscape in a country that desperately needs more players in its media landscape.

“We intend to ensure that Crikey remains mandatory reading for anyone interested in politics, media, business, professions and other areas of society that matter to thinking people.”

Having championed media diversity over the years, it was important to us that Eric and Di are fiercely independent media players who have a proven track record at Text Media built up over a number of years and now produce a high quality publication such as The Reader. We would never have sold to any major media player.

When we announced the “strategic review” leading in to our fifth anniversary, a number of parties expressed interest in buying Crikey and a genuine auction would almost certainly have produced a higher price and more certain sale outcome than the 18-month staggered arrangement we have entered into.

However, given that we were looking for an operator rather than a passive investor, Melbourne-based Private Media was the only party we spoke to in detail as they already have the journalists and media monitoring in place for the production of its weekly print publication, The Reader.

The synergies are substantial and I look forward to working with them to build on the strong foundation that is Crikey’s 16,000-plus email data base (5,300 paying subscribers) and 1 million-plus page views a month on our public website.

The shareholder activist is back

As part of the agreement, I am committed to writing exclusively for PMP (Crikey and The Reader) over the next 18 months and will now also have the time to resume serious shareholder activism and business commentary.

As supposedly Australia’s leading shareholder activist, it was a joke that I was down to attending a couple of AGMs a year because of the time commitment involved with running Crikey from our home with a young and expanding family.

This week’s National Australian Bank AGM was a case in point. On Monday morning, a producer for ABC Victoria’s Drive host Virginia Trioli asked if I could attend so I worked frantically to publish the edition and then turned up 90 minutes late for the AGM at 3.30pm. Without a proxy organised there was no opportunity to ask questions and in the chat with Virginia at 5.20pm yesterday I failed to mention the extraordinary intervention of former NAB CEO Nobby Clark because this happened before I arrived.

Without the responsibility of running Crikey, the NAB AGM and subsequent commentary on Crikey and the ABC would have been a lot more compelling. It will be a case of watch out companies in the months ahead. First port of call might well be the PBL EGM to approve the Hoyts deal in early March.

Thank you, thank you, thank you

While it will very much be a case of business as usual for Crikey, there are many people to thank for helping to create what is arguably the most successful and influential independent ezine of its kind in the world.

Paula, aka Mrs Crikey, has put up with more than any partner deserves and her tolerance, support and dedicated work for the business have been treasured from the outset.

Our political correspondent Christian Kerr has been with us since day one, originally under the guise of Hillary Bray, and has done a superb job building our reputation in political circles with an enormous amount of consistently good copy.

All the other paid staff and contributors have also been vital to the success of Crikey and they include, in alphabetical order, Mark Cornwall, Glenn Dyer, Hugo Kelly, Kate Jackson, Charles Richardson, Ben Shearman and Ross Stapleton.

There have also been literally hundreds of other unpaid contributors who have helped us produce the huge body of work which now numbers more than 10 million words. Thalia Meyerhold, JF Smith, Boilermaker Bill, Delia Delegate and Wendy West are just some of the stage names that spring to mind.

We sent an early version of this announcement to our 200 life and gold members at 9.30pm last night. This explains the one paragraph story in today’s SMH business section and the chat I’ll be having with ABC Sydney’s Sally Loane just after 10am.It will be very interesting to see how the rest of the media react to this announcement.

Despite an occasional leak, the life and gold members deserve a big vote of thanks. During our darkest days fighting Steve Price and Nick Bolkus in the courts, they were the group who collectively coughed up more than $100,000 after we sold our house and paid out almost $100,000 in settlements and legal bills. Our lawyer, Holding Redlich partner Nic Pullen, also deserves a special mention for all his help during these battles.

Finally, a big thanks to you, our paying subscribers, who have stuck with us over the years and put up with the good and the bad, the long and the very long. You are the group that helped Crikey survive and helped prove to the doubters that there is such a thing as a viable independent ezine.

These are exciting times and we hope you stay with us for the next part of this journey as we all knuckle down to continue the growth and development of Crikey.

Do ya best and please send through any feedback to this email address.

Stephen Mayne