Monday, December 13, 2010

Exit fees are all they had.

With Wayne Swan looking to pass legislation to ban mortgage exit fees, one must contemplate what effects this will have on the retail mortgage market. If banks are no longer allowed to write in compensatory fees/fines for terminating their agreement, they will lose control of their mortgage portfolios. Customers will move from bank to bank in search of the best rate, terms and conditions and the banks themselves will be squeezed to the limit, with increased competition making it almost impossible for them to make any money from the business of lending money.

Consequentially, this will lead to a decrease in the number of loans the banks will be willing to write, which will put pressure on both the housing market and the wider economy as they will be even less willing to fund small business growth. The worst case scenario, however, is the creation of regulatory conditions that encourages collusive behaviour.  This would make the mortgage business similar to the retail petrol business, where prices are almost identical between competitors and fluctuations are synchronised so as to not lose customers to competitors.

Yes, collusion and anti-competitiveness is investigated by the ACCC and punishable by the courts, but building enough evidence to prove such behaviour is extremely difficult, as the Visy case showed. It is much better to maintain an environment that promotes competition and fairness, than try and deal with the problem after contributing to its creation. Instead of banning them completely, the government should be looking to regulate the size of exit fees, to make them proportional to the size of the loan, while also taking into account the socio-economic status of the mortgage holder. Otherwise, they'll be chasing the proverbial horse after unlocking the stables.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Ties that Bind

The Importance of Maintaining Ancestral, Cultural and Religious Ties

If you don’t stand for anything, you’ll fall for everything. This succinctly sums up a problem faced by many people who have left their homeland in search of a better future. Many 1st generation Indian migrants worry that their children and their children’s children will grow up without the traditional moral, cultural and religious platform that they acquired while growing up in India. One may wonder how a person could possibly lose touch with their ancestral and cultural heritage, in this age of global connectivity, web 2.0 and easy access to vast online resources.  But access to books online and the ability to email or Skype a relative pales in comparison to the ability to physically interact with like minded people, who are willing to share their experiences with those of a younger generation. This is what our parents fear they have deprived us of by moving overseas.

Maintaining the association of people of a good calibre, people with a good understanding of the world around us and with people of similar religious faith is no easy feat. Creating a network of like minded individuals with the freedom to discuss sometimes controversial philosophy in a non judgmental setting is an undertaking we have aimed to do. Although opinions can sometimes get heated, and ideals can just as easily set people apart, they can just as easily be brought closer together in the knowledge that there are others in the community who think and believe just as you do.

 Attending community religious and cultural events, and participating in voluntary service hosted by the various associations and clubs around Melbourne give all people the chance to congregate, socialize and have fun while participating in an activity that is mentally, spiritually and holistically fulfilling. It provides opportunities to contribute to society in ways we would not usually do routinely, and reveals facets to our own character we would have otherwise never discovered. 

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A cliché riddled rant

the fact of the matter is thus: if the population truly cared about the impact they had on the people surrounding them, their physical surrounds and the  wider environment, they would be willing to compromise and sacrifice to find a viable solution to all of the planets human and natural challenges : Flood, famine, drought, obesity, fire, war, fear, financial distress, the list is almost endless. 
Stop the apportioning of blame, and start thinking of solutions and ways to implement them. There has to be a limit to the amount of time, effort, energy and money spent politicizing problems and point scoring for the sake of popularity, if any true reform is to be undertaken. Leaders must be able to think altruistically, and believe that they are doing the right thing for the future, irrespective of their standing in the polls. Knowledge, expertise, Foresight and insight: we must allow those who have these qualities to have their voices heard, and their ideas publicised, as revolution can be just as important as evolution. If we allow populist opinion to run our nation, and consequently run the world, the human tendency to stagnate, to fear and resist change will overcome our basal tendency to live long and prosper, sometimes, we have to be the change we want to see in the world, there's no point waiting for the world to change, not when the people changing it currently are making it worse, if the people with power can't handle the responsibility, maybe its time to transfer the power.  

Monday, August 16, 2010

Expensive, Expanding and about to Explode.

Next step, living in the Bay? 
The decision made last month by the Victorian State parliament to expand the metropolitan urban boundaries, (from the current yellow to include the brown pockets) has been taken without any thought for the future of our fair city.  

Already struggling under the demands placed upon it by over 4million people, Melbourne's vital infrastructure and public services will be stretched beyond capacity if more people are accommodated further away from the city's centre.

Now I'm all for having more people live in Melbourne, and in Australia in general, but it must be regulated to fit the needs of Australia's developing economy. Given the size of our land, the  number of people occupying it and the relative abundance of our natural resources, Australia's economy is operating well below its capabilities. Broadly speaking, many foreigners are amazed at the size of our continent, and the small number of people making use of it. The skill set required for our country to grow into a true world "player" must be actively sought out by government schemes, while encouraging those in the corporate sector to bring foreigners here who will add to the country,  economically, socially and culturally.

A typical Melbourne Traffic jam, rendering the speed limit useless.
Melbourne is a vibrant, cultural city, it is known world wide for being one of the most "liveable" cities, and is arguably the sporting capital of the world. However, there is only so much people can afford to pay as a premium because of these advantages. The day to day practicalities, however, make this city a nightmare for the commuting public, as patrons have to wait in cramped sardine cans on the late trains, or in banks of traffic that don't seem to dissipate until after the time at which you were meant to be at work.
Melbourne Train System

 A small and unscientific analysis of three cities, Melbourne, London and New York City, sheds light on the long term planning that didn't take place. In terms of population size, New York City holds about .4 million more people than London, with the British capital holding just under 8mil. Melbourne holds under half that, with our population currently hovering around 4 million.
In terms of physical land size, Melbourne, in square kilometres, completely blows New York and London out of the park, with its area totalling, London in second at and NYC relatively small at

Greater London Trains- Underground and Above-ground systems
 Counter-intuitively, the young city of Melbourne has by far the worst public rail system. Established and settled in  1835, Melbourne should have been able to build upon years of established technology and engineering experience gained from other cities established around the world. London was established by the Romans in 43AD, and New York in 1624. True, technological advances were relatively few and far between. The City of London began work on its first subterranean railway in the 1850s, with it becoming operational in 1863, it now incorporates 270 stations in its network.

New York's rail network is much more extensive, with  24 lines connecting 468 stations and the ability to carry over 5 million passengers per weekday. It began service in 1904, which begs the question, why didn't Melbourne's planners think long term and build for the future. One common feature of the New York and London system, is that they do not incorporate a central hub to which each and every train must pass, although there are areas of increased connectivity and no doubt activity.
Having greater connectivity and no central hub, makes it easier for people who have no need to enter the congested zones, get to their destinations. The ability to get from home to work, or from Frankston to Clayton, without having to catch 1 train and 2 buses, or 2 different trains and a bus etc.
The improvements required for the upgrading of Melbourne's rail network towards a modern, efficient, user friendly system, will require a lot of planning, international consultation, expertise and last but not least, foresight and a vested interest in making Melbourne a better city.

We can undoubtedly make Melbourne more attractive to the rest of the world by improving our public transport, but if we want to preserve our unique lifestyle and make it easier for families to live and grow, we must accept the need to become an economy of scale. To allow for more people, we must also recognize and accept the fact that living habits must change, and that some luxuries currently afforded to most of the population, must be sacrificed if we are to maintain financial prosperity.  Many of the houses built in the late 50s and 60s are medium sized, well built homes that lie on massive amounts of  unused garden space(see left). However, the structure of our modern society is such that most gardens go under used and under appreciated, with more and more people flocking to public gardens and parks to meet friends and conduct various recreational activities. So what purpose do expansive areas of grass, weeds and plants serve? Gone are the days in which children played with their friends in an unstructured manner.More kids are enrolled in after school care programs and are involved in club sports, martial arts, swimming, dance, drama and gymnastics than ever before; activities meant to add structure to children's lives and developing their all round skills.This is also symptomatic of the work/life balance afforded to their parents, who would rather spend money enrolling their kids in such activities than spending personal time with them. The amount of time they spend in their own front or back yard with their kids is lower than ever before, and its not something working families are willing to change.

So the main advantage of owning land along with a house, is prestige. But what value do people place on owning land that they do not use? Wouldn't they benefit more from selling their land and obtaining cash for it? would Melbourne as a city, not be better off if people capitalized from the land that they own by developing upwards? If we were to sacrifice our front and back yards, build longer and wider, single story houses, developing second and third stories  would generate revenue for land owners, and easily accommodate the predicted population increase

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Harry Brown & the Superhero Vigilante Complex.

Harry Brown is not your everyday vigilante super hero movie. Nor is it a character study of a man at the end of his tether, frustrated at the lawless ways of London's "Estate" and the impotence of the police. It is a thrilling depiction of the potential held by normal citizens to "do what must be done" and to "be the change you want to see in the world".  Although it does portray the title character as a hero, we question his methods even if we sympathize with his plight and accept his motives as pure. Director Daniel Barber shoots some tremendously gruesome scenes, with both the opening sequence and the finale depicting horrific, bloody deaths.

Harry Brown shows the depths to which an essentially good man will sink to regain a sense of normalcy. A former Royal Marine with repressed memories of past military activity, Brown seeks to eliminate the threat posed by the local youth gang by out thinking them and by operating alone, as no one believes a man of his  advanced years would be capable of revenge, let alone murder.

This quality film provokes debate amongst its viewers, as it leaves them in a state of limbo, neither barracking for or against the protagonist Harry Brown, whose actions are quietly accepted but not acknowledged by the police.The final scene, wherein the chief of police denies any vigilante involvement and takes all the credit for himself, indicates that Brown  has escaped the rule of the law, and has been granted immunity for his actions. Just like other super heroes, who take the law into their own hands to do what "they feel" is right, Brown acts in a selfish manner to gain revenge over the death of his close friend, which he rationalizes as "doing the public a service", by helping to 'clean up the streets'.

Just as Batman and Spiderman pursue 'wrongdoers' in the name of justice, Brown acts with neither mandate nor method. Acting on instinct and impulse, Brown skirts the police as he takes action against those he has a problem with. Just as Bruce Wayne sought revenge for the brutal murder of his parents, and Peter Parker took revenge upon the man that killed his Uncle, Harry only takes action once he has personally been affected by the "estate gangs". The principle difference between vigilantes and authorized officers of the law is without doubt the emotional connection the vigilante feels towards the victim. Being emotionally driven to take action, however, is not always a good thing, as the decision making process of the vigilante is compromised by the grief and their actions are driven by hatred. Even though the police may be hamstrung by onerous laws which demand proof beyond reasonable doubt, their is still no good reason for people to take the law into their own hands.  
The Age Review 1
The Age Review 2

Friday, April 2, 2010

White Noise : : Kevin'07(& '08-'09-'10) has lead us down this dark path.

Australian government policy is without doubt in a bit of dead zone. While suffering the effects of the much vaunted "Global Financial Crisis", numerous other political, economical, ecological and social problems,  are running rampant under the watchful gaze of our nations fair dinkum leader Kevin Rudd. Having promised much change in his "Kevin '07" campaign, what we have seen is a lot of jetsetting, a lot of media spin,  a lot of show piece speeches and  'peace time' electioneering. Don't be fooled by this latest effort at spin. It is clear that the Prime Minister and his advisors have seen this as a way to ingratiate himself to the public again. It's all an act and it amazes me that people seem to be falling for it.

Kevin Rudd isn't the only responsible party in this whole mess. John Howard put into motion a whole range of irresponsible policies that caused such a public outrage it cost him his job. the infamous Work Choices, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, non-existant policies in regards to the environment, renewable energy, the list goes on.

So what exactly has Kevin done? After promising much, he has failed to live up to the hype he and his merry band of PR pros created. Yes, he took on and defeated the big-bad-GFC, and in the process wasted millions, if not billions of dollars on pointless schemes that did little to stimulate Real growth in the economy.He re-spent promised money, re-branding his "Education revolution" plan as the new " Nation building" scheme, as the global picture turned towards longer term growth, and instead of buying computers, rebuilt schools in good communities, (which act as reminders come election time), neglecting schools that really need the development and funding.

He guarenteed bank deposits, usually a smart move for the circumstances, but then means-tested and over-regulated the scheme to make it more wasteful,  made a big fuss about "saying sorry" to the stolen generation, then did nothing to improve the living conditions of the many thousands of Aboriginies, nor improve their life expectancies by encouraging  the building of infrastructure, hospitals, and creating jobs and educational opportunities.

He signed the Kyoto protocol, then did not think it important enough to negotiate with the opposition to see an effective Carbon emmisions trading scheme, passed through parliament. He successfully introduced several ill-thought schemes to "green-up" Australia, but instead ended up with a large sticky mess, and the death of half a dozen insulation installers on his hands. The national public service should be able to arrange solar, insulation and rainwater schemes effectively and efficiently, to budget and on time, with a minimal of fuss and fully regulated.Instead, he continued to play political games, effectively sacking the opposition leader, and having gotten nowhere on climate change, started preaching to the nation about the state of healthcare, and the need for State government co-operation to see reform. He calls himself a diplomat, but cannot seem to negotiate with foreign leaders and their governments to serve the best interests of our nation.

He failed to intervene in the Southern Ocean whaling debacle, where other leaders might have held direct talks with the Japanese government, and more recently, failed to serve the interests of an Australian Citizen facing trial in China. This case rankles the most, for the first time in a long time, we've had a Leader fluent in another language, and instead of combining his skills, experience and knowledge of China, to seek a fair and open trial for Stern Hu, who was involved in commercial espionage and allegedly paid/accepted bribes on behalf of Rio Tinto, was strangely quite, and almost non-existant in the media.

And on a foreign policy front, our golabal position, a periphery player in the G20, not really apart of ASEAN, nor a powerhouse in the UN, leaves us in a very precarious position. As an emerging, but already established country, we should be leading the world, but Kevin has got us following the lead of Obama and the EU, and although we are a major resource supplier to China and India, we don't seem to have any actual direction as to the future of our nation

Sunday, February 7, 2010

JET CAMP: A revealing experience.

Last December, I spent six days in the presence of my family Archarya, his entourage of vedic scholars and about a hundred other devotees. He spoke, we listened, he taught, we attempted to learn, and on the occasions that he allowed public debate, he provided a forum in which we could rid ourselves of conjecture and form an understanding of our rich vedic traditions and history.

Although mainly a religious camp, it allowed us to meet new people from around Australia, share ideas and philosophies, and most importantly, allowed Swamiji to speak to all of us in the one location. He gave a detailed commentary on Thirupaavai, expounding the meaning behind the famous poems written by Andaal, and gave many discourses on various topics, ranging from the Bhagavad Gita to the importance of temples and their place in Vedic culture, which sparked a somewhat heated debate amongst the disciples which lasted well into the early hours.

Not only did we listen and learn from Swamiji, we also learnt various asanas to keep the body healthy, clear and regular. We learnt various slokas which we now recite upon waking, learnt their meaning and significance, and gained a greater understanding of our mothercountry's history, culture and traditions. It was, without doubt, a great way to spend 5 days amongst the tranquil surrounds of nature.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

X & Y : Oh Brother!!

The governments economic stimulus package has worked its 'magic', the recession that we Aussies were well placed to fend off in the first place, was completely avoided with exorbitant Government spending in various projects that had questionable motives and public worth.
"Nation Building", "the Education Revolution", 900 Household bonus, etc etc were rolled out with massive fanfare and PR spin. The Treasury didn't release details as to how they were to fund these massive stimulus payments, but since their release, the Commonwealth Government Bond market has exploded into life, for the first time since late 1999, when Howard and Costello got rid of federal government debt, the government now owes foreign and private entities money, at a rate of interest which will need servicing from the public. so let me ask you, which generation is "screwed" ??