Thursday, May 20, 2010

Thank you John Howard - for gun control

By Graham Cooke

Two incidents that made the Australian news this morning involved firearms. First there was the case of a religious cult, Agape Ministries International. Police raiding its Adelaide headquarters had found a shipping container stashed with prohibited weapons, slow-burning fuses, detonator cords and around 20,000 rounds of ammunition.

In Melbourne an obviously disturbed young man who attacked a bus driver and tried to steal his bus, was subdued when a police officer shot him in the chest after he produced a knife and capsicum spray had failed to subdue him. The offender is currently in a stable condition in hospital.

I do not wish to comment on the specifics of either incident, but it occurred to me that it is because I live in Australia that I know so much about them

They are news because they are so unusual.

How much would I have learnt about these stories if I had been living in Los Angles or New York?

The fact of a religious cult stashing weapons might have raised a headline or two, but probably not the blanket coverage it has received on radio, television and in newspapers here. As for the police shooting incident - well the guy's not dead, he didn't kill anyone, no one was even injured. No story.

How fortunate are we that firearms are so rare in this country that their use, even by the police in the legitimate pursuit of arresting a suspect, is news. Let's give thanks that we will never have situations as does happen in the United States, where a simple incident of road rage results in handguns being produced with multiple deaths and injuries.

When future historians look back on the Howard Government - and I really mean look back, much as we do today on the 19th century with all the main players long dead and only the bare records of the day and their consequences as a guide - I believe they will list its greatest legacy as not the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax, or its economic management, but its strict firearms control legislation in the wake of the Port Arthur Massacre.

We are now an effectively disarmed country. Those who wish to practice the art of pistol or rifle shooting can do so under strictly controlled conditions on registered ranges. A few individuals, such as farmers, are allowed to keep registered weapons for use on the land.

There will always be illegal ways for sophisticated criminal elements to acquire firearms - witness the active gangland environment in Melbourne - but the old American catch-cry: 'if guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns' is largely irrelevant here.

We live in a society which is generally safe and which has considerable respect for human life. Thank you, John Howard for that.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

British election - what next?

By Graham Cooke

At the time of writing, just about the only certainty in the British General Election is that Prime Minister Gordon Brown is doomed.

With just over 100 seats still to be declared his Labour Party is trailing the Opposition Conservatives by around 60. Overtures to the Liberal Democrats will not help him, as the third party has, at this point, polled just 40 seats, a surprisingly poor performance after so much was expected of them.

And anyway, the price of Liberal Democrat support for Labour in the House of Commons would have been the immediate departure of Brown.

That seems to be increasingly irrelevant as the Tories power on, probably to a position where they will be just short of an absolute majority.

So the question is what happens next? Convention has it that the sitting Prime Minister always has the first shot at trying to form a Government if the result is not clear-cut.

This means Brown will probably spend the next day or two going through the motions of talking to the Lib-Dems and possibly the Welsh and Scottish Nationalists to see if some unlikely deal can be forged.

Assuming that is impossible, he will advise Queen Elizabeth to call on Opposition Leader David Cameron to form a Government. This Cameron will do, possibly trying to shore up an absolute majority by seeking the support of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

However, the price of DUP is demanding - outlined in the weeks leading up to the election - of cordoning off Northern Ireland from any Tory spending cuts, is simply too high.

In which case Cameron will try to go it alone with a minority Government.

The last time that happened under Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1974, the Government lasted six months. However, at the subsequent election, Wilson managed a tiny majority.

Labour strategists will be mindful of this and may conclude it would be to their advantage to let Cameron's inexperienced team stagger on for a year or two in the hope the public quickly become disenchanted and switches back to them. Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats may take a similar view.

All of which suggests that Britain may have a continuing political crisis to add to the economic one it is already facing.

Interesting times lie ahead.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why the cheque book should not rule

By Graham Cooke

At risk of turning this blog into a sports column, I am again entering the debate over the Melbourne Storm rugby league saga, this time to reject the assertion, made in a British-based magazine dabbling in Australian Affairs, that the salary cap is a hindrance to the development of the sport and should be scrapped.

The view of the magazine is that the cap is anti-free market, anti-competitive and unfair to players whose careers are necessarily short. "No other industry operates according to a bizarre set of rules that punishes the successful in such a manner," it states.

To compare the National Rugby League with industries outside sport is equally bizarre. Rugby League exists on competition. If there were no competition there would be no sport and no source of income for the players, coaches, officials etc.

The public, apart from those who are shareholders, does not care whether PricewaterhouseCoopers is doing better than Minter Ellison, or if Woolworths is more successful than Coles. If a company finds its performance is declining, it reforms or goes out of business. There is no wooden spoon and a chance to do better next season.

The business of all rugby league clubs and indeed all sports teams is to do better than the other fellows and win a championship, but if those results and wins become too predictable the sport itself suffers. There are already signs that the early success of the English Premier Football League, which does not have a salary cap, is beginning to stall as fans tire of repetitive outcomes.

It's worth remembering that in the days when the English Football League ran the show, a significant proportion of the revenue generated by the top clubs was filtered down to those in the lower divisions. The elite thought they should keep all the money and with the connivance of the Football Association, resigned from the EFL and formed the Premier League.

Just a handful clubs have won the title in the 20 years since. Pick the winner in 2010-11? Any one from Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea? Got it.

Meanwhile dozens of smaller clubs have struggled to survive, going in and out of administration. Once quite successful teams like Luton Town and Oxford United have disappeared into non-league football.

The salary cap operates as a brake on the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. It's not the only possibility - a draft system where the bottom club in the just-completed season gets first pick on the new crop of young players coming into the game works well in other codes.

The aim, as it must always be, is to keep the competition reasonably even, ensuring that qualities other than fat cheque books are the criteria for success. A free-for-all, while it may have some initial attractions, would ultimately be to the detriment of the sport.