Archive for September, 2018

Sep 11 2018

Kevin Rudd’s same-sex response straight from The West Wing

West Wing moment: Kevin Rudd and Martin Sheen Matt Prater: questioned Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on his gay marriage stance. Photo: Screen grab, Q&A

Rudd’s ‘answer of the century’Federal Election 2013 coverageHave your say on YourViewElection Live with Judith Ireland

Kevin Rudd’s much tweeted and Facebooked response to a pastor’s challenge on his recent decision to support gay marriage bears a suspicious similarity to a line from a famous episode of the US television series The West Wing.

Mr Rudd won much applause and a storm of support across social media for his reply to Pastor Matt Prater, who demanded of the Prime Minister on ABC-TV’s Q&A how he could call himself a Christian after chopping and changing his position on same-sex marriage.

Mr Rudd, in a lengthy response, demanded to know whether the New Hope Church pastor thought homosexuality was abnormal.

Pastor Prater, also a conservative radio host, replied that “I just believe in what the Bible says and I’m just curious for you, Kevin, if you call yourself a Christian, why don’t you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?”

Mr Rudd, quick as a flash, produced his killer answer.

“Well, mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition.”

It sounded to the practised ear not entirely original.

Fans of The West Wing – and Mr Rudd and many of his staffers past and present are devotees – might recall an episode from 2000 when the show’s US President Josiah “Jed” Bartlett, on the very eve of a tight mid-term election, recited something very similar, with a theatrical flourish.

The scene takes place in the White House, where President Bartlet finds himself in the same room as a radio talk-show host, Dr Jenna Jacobs, who regularly dispenses advice to her listeners.

Voice dripping with disdain, President Bartlet tells Dr Jacobs he likes her show.

President: I like how you call homosexuality an abomination.

Dr Jacobs: I don’t say homosexuality is an abomination, Mr President. The Bible does.

President: Yes it does. Leviticus.

Dr Jacobs: 18.22

President: Chapter and verse. I wanted to ask you a couple of questions while I had you here. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned by Exodus 22.7.

She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would be a good price for her be?”

Mr Rudd’s office, during his first period as prime minister, was regularly abuzz with staffers reciting lines from The West Wing. So popular was the show in the PMO (prime minister’s office) that staff would squabble over who was most entitled to be known as their favourite character of the show.

A case, perhaps, of life imitating art?

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Sep 11 2018

Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott drop in for a cuppa

Deb Schmusch makes a cup of tea for Tony Abbott during his visit to her home in Adelaide. Photo: Alex EllinghausenFederal Election 2013 coverageHave your say with YourViewElection Live with Judith Ireland

Deb Schmusch had never hosted Christopher Pyne in her home before. And she certainly hadn’t had the lively South Australian Liberal standing in her kitchen at 7.45am on a weekday, chatting over a cup of tea.

But Pyne’s incongruous presence at the sink wasn’t even the most unusual thing about breakfast at the Schmusch house on Tuesday. That was the 40-odd media pack filming Pyne through the kitchen window having a cup of tea with her.

Schmusch described the experience of having the election campaign arrive in her living room as ”overwhelming”.

Then Tony Abbott showed up, also wanting a cuppa.

Sitting at a table on the back patio later, Abbott apologised for the ”absolute squadron” of media with him. ”It’s unavoidable, it’s part of democracy,” he told Eric Schmusch.

”I hope we haven’t disturbed the neighbourhood too much.”

Not really. Just a minor, localised traffic snarl as bewildered residents of Kidman Park, in outer Adelaide, negotiated their way around four TV vans, three federal police vehicles, Abbott’s two Commonwealth cars, the press pack’s coach and the ute emblazoned with ”vote for Christopher Pyne”.

None of that would be seen on the nightly news, however. This was Abbott’s first visit to a private home during the campaign and his image makers knew the grabs coming out of Kidman Park would be of an incoming prime minister soothing an ordinary family about Labor’s ”insidious” taxes, as he put it.

Eric Schmusch was particularly energised about the mining tax because his food services company relies on the mining sector. Abbott told them the mining tax would ”almost certainly” go up under a re-elected Labor government.

The family said they were Liberal voters but not party members.

They were a good choice. Two footy-mad sons, one daughter, two hard-working parents in an aspirational, mortgage-belt home.

But this being Adelaide, things were not all as they seemed.

Neighbour Angelo Arena said there had been a murder-suicide next door to the Schmusches a little over 15 years ago.

Three days after Christmas, a man had killed his wife with a screwdriver and shot himself.

”When I saw all the TV vans, I thought something bad must have happened again,” Arena said.

That sort of light and shade has no place at a heavily choreographed election photo opportunity however and, within minutes, the TV vans, the AFP cars, the coach and Pyne’s ute left Kidman Park behind.

It was time to visit a soap powder factory in Port Adelaide to talk soothingly about an end to the carbon price.

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Sep 11 2018

Kevin Rudd’s Syria spat with Tony Abbott comes a little too late

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Photo: Andrew MearesFederal Election 2013 coverageHave your say on YourViewElection Live with Stephanie PeatlingFact check the politicians

No less than a “stunning error of judgment” is how Kevin Rudd characterised Tony Abbott’s latest intervention on the war in Syria.

Abbott has in turn none-too-subtly implied Rudd suffers a touch of the tall poppy and that we, Australia, should not be “getting above ourselves”.

Behind this otherwise fairly juvenile exercise in name calling is a stoush about the differing ambitions each party holds for Australia in world affairs.

Labor is proud of its achievement in winning a seat on the UN Security Council and 2014 host of the G20 summit in Brisbane, so sees Australia having a natural voice on international issues.

Abbott is, not surprisingly, more conservative.

“We are a significant middle power, but no more.”

Abbott’s crime, in Rudd’s eyes, was to raise doubts about the Syrian National Coalition, lumping the group into a stew of “baddies versus baddies”.

The Syrian National Coalition is the very group recognised by the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League – and Australia – as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.

But Rudd’s outrage is confected, an attempt to score an electoral advantage by questioning his opponent’s diplomatic skills and inviting people to imagine Abbott dealing with other world leaders as Australia’s prime minister.

Given Julia Gillard once declared little “passion” for foreign policy, only to grow ever more comfortable in the job, it seems a desperate tactic.

A close reading of Abbott’s remarks during an ABC TV interview does suggest some confusion.

Abbott at first suggested the Syrian opposition includes “quite a number of elements” – some in the thrall of al-Qaeda – but then went on to say it is “a civil war between two pretty much equally unsavoury sides”.

But he did not directly accuse the Syrian National Coalition of including al-Qaeda members, and it is well recognised that there are many disparate groups fighting for their own reasons in this conflict.

Rather than nit-picking about Abbott’s choice of words, Rudd might profit from drawing out a contrast between Labor’s big picture view for Australia in diplomacy versus the Coalition’s more traditional and narrow focus on the US alliance.

But that is a theme that should have been carefully developed over weeks, in speeches and interviews, hammered home with examples and not suddenly trotted out in the dying days of a campaign.

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Sep 11 2018

Transparency urged for key transport projects

Infrastructure expert Sir Rod Eddington has called for maximum transparency to allow the public to make up their own minds about major transport projects such as Melbourne’s east-west link.

Sir Rod said he hoped to reach a point where governments are prepared to release detailed costings to allow independent scrutiny of major projects, saying his 2009 study examining the need for a new link had included 800 pages of analysis.

“I think transparency is invariably a good thing and I hope we will get to that point soon,” he told a transport reform network lunch on Tuesday.

The state government is refusing to release an analysis of the costs and benefits or detailed traffic predictions for the 5.5-kilometre road link, suggesting it could jeopardise sensitive commercial negotiations.

It has instead published a “short form” brochure asserting the road, expected to cost between $6 billion and $8 billion, will generate $1.40 benefits for every $1 invested.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has warned there will be no money for commuter rail projects if he wins Saturday’s election, saying the Commonwealth should “stick to its knitting” and fund road projects.

Asked about the comments, Sir Rod said he was keen to avoid a road versus rail debate, arguing a mix between the two modes would be vitally important to ensure people and freight continued to move efficiently.

“The premiers who are closest to the issues in their own particular state will decide what projects they wish to champion and which projects they don’t, and then it is up to the federal government to decide where it does or doesn’t want to provide financial support to those projects,” he said.

“That’s what elected governments do. I’m sure in my own mind that the states will take a broad, modally agnostic view of projects and will decide what their priorities are.

“But if they want to go to the federal government and get federal support for these projects then they will need to be mindful of which projects are and are not likely to be supported by the prime minister of the day.”

Premier Denis Napthine has argued his government is still more transparent than the previous Labor government about the release of information on major projects.

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Sep 11 2018

Ignore the prophets of doom

The dire warnings of economic, financial and sharemarket Armageddon keep on coming. On the weekend, I received a warning my stocks are about to fall 90 per cent. So much for a Happy Father’s Day.

I’m not going to get into the details of why the wealth manager concerned thinks Australian stocks will most likely have fallen 90 per cent in about two more years, but to say the least, the prospect is totally farcical. Such dire and 100 per cent wrong scare-mongering is totally irresponsible.

I’d be willing to stake my whole stock portfolio on a bet that ASX stocks won’t fall 90 per cent in about two years. In fact, I already have. By remaining invested, I’m doing exactly that. I’m betting on the wealth-generating forces of capitalism to continue to increase my share portfolio over time. Will there be setbacks? Almost certainly. Will they amount to 90 per cent? Of course not.

If I’m wrong, my portfolio will be only a shadow of its former self – now that’s a serious bet. It’s also one I’m more than prepared to make. The true odds of something like this happening should be around 10,000 to one, perhaps more. I don’t intend to be on the wrong side of those odds.

Growth continues – despite forecasts of doom

In what should be a wake-up call for the pedlars of doom, this website yesterday reported: “Analysis from CommSec shows our top companies are still making money.”

That’s a bit of an argument killer for the “stocks down 90 per cent” crowd.

Now, I’m sure the pessimists will still find some reason for despair. They’ve been predicting market crashes from when the S&P/ASX 200 was 3145 all the way through to today’s 5190. They’ll likely be making them at 7000 too.

At The Motley Fool, we’re business-focused investors. We don’t sweat the macro-environment. We don’t try to guess which way the gold price will move, what the S&P/ASX 200 is going to do this month or next, or what Helicopter Ben Bernanke’s taper will or won’t do to US stocks.

Yesterday’s ASX action is a case in point. The futures market was predicting an early fall in the ASX, down 18 points in early trading. That prediction was wrong.

Commenting in The Australian Financial Review, Alphinity Investment Management lead portfolio manager Johan Carlberg said: “A falling Australian dollar and the benefits of company cost-cutting measures enacted over the past 12 to 18 months should act as tailwinds to help lift the Australian sharemarket over the coming year.”

Boring … and beautiful

My money is on shares continuing to be a wonderful long-term investment class, no matter what happens to US markets this month.

It’s true that the good old “buy and hold” message lacks a little excitement. It doesn’t have the “headline value” of a claim that stocks are about to plunge 90 per cent or some “hot mining stock tip that could soar 842 per cent” in the next 132 days. Finding needles in a haystack is far easier.

Forecasting the near-term is fraught with danger. A sample of “experts” canvassed in the Financial Review provided year-end targets for the S&P/ASX 200 that ranged between 4600 and 5250.

That’s some middle – 650 points. It’s a full 14 percentage points of difference, or almost 50 per cent more than the average yearly gain on the ASX.

If you tried to faithfully follow the daily predictions, dire headlines and the gyrations of the market, you could be excused for being paralysed by fear. It would be fair to wonder how an investor could possibly risk their hard-earned money in the market.

Foolish takeaway

Of course, the answer is to tune out the noise – to forget the doomsayers and short-term prognosticators. To take refuge in the words of the greatest living investor, Warren Buffett: “Over the long term, the stock market news will be good. In the 20th century, the United States endured two world wars and other traumatic and expensive military conflicts; the Depression; a dozen or so recessions and financial panics; oil shocks; a flu epidemic; and the resignation of a disgraced president. Yet the Dow rose from 66 to 11,497.”

I don’t think Warren Buffett worries about hyperventilating doom-mongers or pays attention to year-end targets. Neither should we.

Attention: Foolish, dividend loving investors and BusinessDay readers alike who are looking for Australian investing ideas can click here to request a Motley Fool free report entitled Secure Your Future with 3 Rock-Solid Dividend Stocks.

Bruce Jackson is the Motley Fool’s general manager. You can follow the Motley Fool on Twitter @TheMotleyFoolAu.  The Motley Fool’s purpose is to educate, amuse and enrich investors. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691).

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