Sydney off costly perch

Sydney is Australia’s most expensive city. Photo: James AlcockThe dollar may still be stubbornly high, but it has weakened enough to knock Sydney off a list of the world’s 10 most expensive cities.
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Sydney, which is still Australia’s most expensive city, has plunged from ninth position to 26th in Mercer’s 2014 Cost of Living survey.

The survey covers 211 cities across five continents and measures costs including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment.

Australia’s other capital cities also fell, with Melbourne dropping 17 places to 33, while Perth fell 19 spots to 37 and Brisbane dropped outside the top 50.

Garry Adams, leader of Mercer’s Talent business, said a softening of the dollar was the ”primary reason” for the drop in rankings. Since July 2010, the dollar has dived 14.6 per cent to US94.06¢.

The changes did not mean Australian cities had become more affordable for residents. But he said it had made Australia more competitive globally, particularly in attracting talented staff.

”Now we’re provided with a lot more flexibility in setting salaries and attracting employees from the global talent pool, knowing the expat dollar will go a lot further here,” Mr Adams said.

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Unemployment rate returns to decade high: Bureau of Statistics

Australia’s June unemployment figure – which has returned to the decade-high 6 per cent it reached earlier this year – reflects a soft labour market that could get worse, according to economists.
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The seasonally adjusted figure, released on Thursday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, was marginally higher than May’s adjusted figure of 5.9 per cent.

In trend terms, the rate held steady at 5.9 per cent.

St George senior economist Janu Chan said while the improvement in the market earlier this year may have been a ”false dawn”, it was still in better shape than 2013. The ”stronger-than-expected” rise in June unemployment was partly due to the participation rate rising slightly to 64.7 per cent, she said. A slowdown in job growth may also have been a factor. Further rises in unemployment were possible but ”it should begin to stabilise soon”.

Others including CBA economist Gareth Aird labelled the figures a mixed bag. Despite the rise in the unemployment rate, the lift in employment over June exceeded market expectations, he said.

On a state basis, Victoria recorded the largest fall in job numbers, with 15,300 people leaving the workforce. The largest increases in employment were in NSW (up 10,000 people), South Australia (up 5800) and Western Australia (up 5200).

NSW’s seasonally adjusted unemployment held steady at 5.7 per cent.

Victoria’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rose from 6.2 per cent to 6.5 per cent.

South Australia had the nation’s highest seasonally adjusted rate, with 7.4 per cent. The Northern Territory and the ACT had the lowest, with trend figures of 3.9 per cent and 3.6 per cent respectively.

The national figures also revealed slight increases in the numbers of the unemployed and employed.

There were 728,500 unemployed Australians in June, compared with 727,400 the month before, according to the figures. Numbers of employed rose to 11,582,400 in June from 11,571,800 in May.

Justin Fabo, from ANZ, said: ”We expect the unemployment rate to remain within earshot of 6 per cent for much of the next year or so.”

The fall in mining investment would shed further jobs, he said, but this would be partly offset by a rise in construction jobs.

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The perils of following policy footsteps of Uncle Sam

‘One wonders whether Abbott and his government really understand what has happened in the US?’ Photo: Andrew MearesFor better or worse, economic policy debates in the US are often echoed elsewhere, regardless of whether they are relevant. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recently elected government provides a case in point.
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As in many other countries, conservative governments are arguing for cutbacks in government spending, on the grounds that fiscal deficits imperil their future. In the case of Australia, however, such assertions ring particularly hollow – though that has not stopped Abbott’s government from trafficking in them.

Even if one accepts the claim of Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff that very high public debt levels mean lower growth – a view they never really established and that has subsequently been discredited – Australia is nowhere near that threshold. Its debt to GDP ratio is only a fraction of the US, and one of the lowest among OECD countries.

What matters more for long-term growth are investments in the future – including crucial public investments in education, technology, and infrastructure.

There is something deeply ironic about Abbott’s reverence for the American model in defending many of his government’s proposed ”reforms”. After all, America’s economic model has not been working for most Americans.

The Australian model has performed far better. Indeed, Australia is one of the few commodity-based economies that has not suffered from the natural-resource curse. Prosperity has been relatively widely shared. Median household income has grown at an average annual rate above 3 per cent in the last decades – almost twice the OECD average.

To be sure, given its abundance of natural resources, Australia should have far greater equality than it does. After all, a country’s natural resources should belong to all of its people, and the ”rents” they generate provide a source of revenue that could be used to reduce inequality. And taxing natural-resource rents at high rates does not cause the adverse consequences that follow from taxing savings or work. But Australia’s Gini coefficient, a standard measure of inequality, is one-third higher than that of Norway, a resource-rich country that has done a particularly good job of managing its wealth for the benefit of all citizens.

One wonders whether Abbott and his government really understand what has happened in the US? Does he realise that since the era of deregulation and liberalisation began in the late 1970s, GDP growth has slowed markedly, and that what growth has occurred has primarily benefited those at the top? Does he know that prior to these ”reforms”, the US had not had a financial crisis – now a regular occurrence around the world – for a half-century, and that deregulation led to a bloated financial sector that attracted many talented young people who otherwise might have devoted their careers to more productive activities? Their financial innovations made them extremely rich but brought America and the global economy to the brink of ruin.

Australia’s public services are the envy of the world. Its healthcare system delivers better outcomes than the US, at a fraction of the cost. It has an income-contingent education-loan program that permits borrowers to spread repayments over more years if necessary, and in which, if their income turns out to be particularly low, the government forgives some of the debt.

Australia should be proud of its successes, from which the rest of the world can learn a great deal.

It would be a shame if a misunderstanding of what has happened in the US, combined with a strong dose of ideology, caused its leaders to fix what is not broken.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, is University Professor at Columbia University.

©Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2014.

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Sydney off costly perch

Sydney is Australia’s most expensive city. Photo: James AlcockThe dollar may still be stubbornly high, but it has weakened enough to knock Sydney off a list of the world’s 10 most expensive cities.
Nanjing Night Net

Sydney, which is still Australia’s most expensive city, has plunged from ninth position to 26th in Mercer’s 2014 Cost of Living survey.

The survey covers 211 cities across five continents and measures costs including housing, transportation, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment.

Australia’s other capital cities also fell, with Melbourne dropping 17 places to 33, while Perth fell 19 spots to 37 and Brisbane dropped outside the top 50.

Garry Adams, leader of Mercer’s Talent business, said a softening of the dollar was the ”primary reason” for the drop in rankings. Since July 2010, the dollar has dived 14.6 per cent to US94.06¢.

The changes did not mean Australian cities had become more affordable for residents. But he said it had made Australia more competitive globally, particularly in attracting talented staff.

”Now we’re provided with a lot more flexibility in setting salaries and attracting employees from the global talent pool, knowing the expat dollar will go a lot further here,” Mr Adams said.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Australian Book Collectors, edited by Charles Stitz

Australian Book Collections: Book collecting revisited. Photo: supplied Endlessly fascinating: Charles Stitz at his bookshop in Albury, NSW. Photo: Supplied
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AUSTRALIAN BOOK COLLECTORS. A – I,  J – Z. Edited by Charles Stitz. Books of Kells and Green Olive Press. 2013. 859pp. $150. Two-volume set.

Reviewer: COLIN STEELE

Australian Book Collectors (2010), with another substantial and impressive contribution to Australian book collecting history.

The two volumes provide biographical and collecting details of 125 individuals, Australian by birth, migration or association, from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Entries are supplemented by colour and black and white illustrations, especially of individuals, books and book plates.

Stitz, a retired lawyer and Albury antiquarian bookseller, writes, “Books seem to me to be a reflection of the human condition … To me, the process of discovering and recording or re-recording the lives of the collectors and the stories of their collections is endlessly fascinating.”

The contributors document a number of fascinating collectors. James Errol Scarlett, who has written books on Queanbeyan and Gundaroo, is covered by nearly 20 pages of autobiographical memoir. Scarlett poignantly concludes his piece with the problems of having to down-size a collection in readiness to move into a retirement village.

Scarlett also dislikes “haggling” with book dealers over the disposal of books, comparing it to “selling a cat or child with an eye to profit”. Antiquarian bookdealers themselves are usually not significant collectors for a number of reasons. Cooma born, Bruce Llewellyn Evans (1905-1989), described in his entry as “a bloodless humorous character”, used to collect private libraries by the yard, using a tape-measure, but he also had a significant personal collection, which was sold at a major Gaston Renard 1989 auction.

Some biographical entries are relatively short, compared to Scarlett’s, as the available evidence is relatively scant, often being restricted to details in an auction catalogue. Stitz himself contributes a significant number of entries, but he also draws on booksellers, librarians, literary scholars and historians. Well-known contributors include Robert Holden, Donald Kerr, Wallace Kirsop and from Canberra, Stephanie Owen Reeder, Gary Kent and Geoffrey Burkhardt.

Professor Kirsop indicates in his preface that there is rich material to be mined from the 125 entries, for example, in the study of “transnational” book history and the mechanisms of the antiquarian trade between the northern hemisphere and Australia. The entries reveal that book collecting has long roots in Australian history and society. Wealth, of course, allowed individuals such as Sir Wilfred Russell Grimwade, Sir George Grey and Dr John Orde Poynton (1906 -2001) to pursue their collecting.

Stitz comments, however, “limited education and relatively modest income have never been obstacles to book collecting”. Being wealthy, moreover, did not necessarily entail a lavish lifestyle. We learn from Poynton’s extensive entry that, in later life, he lived very frugally and that he used his NHS prescription pads as bibliographical notepaper since they provided copies in triplicate. Poynton’s endowments of the University of Melbourne Library and the National Gallery of Australia were “extraordinary” in their munificence.

Stitz acknowledges the lack of women collectors, just five in this compendium, against four in the first. This fact has many economic and social reasons and was not restricted to Australia. Two of the women who do appear are Louise Hanson-Dyer (1884-1962) and Nancye Enid Kent (1918-2011). Contemporary collectors include Robert Edwards, David Ross McPhee and Canberra’s Alan Ives, the latter entry based on an extensive interview by Gary Kent. Ives is quoted as having more than several hundred thousand items irrespective of his map, book catalogue and paintings collections, which not unsurprisingly, has “taken over much of the available living space”. One is reminded of the complaint of Sir Thomas Phillipps’ wife, who said in 1870 that she had been “booked” out of her bedroom.

Subject material is not restricted to Australiana. Ron Graham (1908-1979), a Sydney businessman and company director, built up one of the finest collections of SF and fantasy in the world, which is now part of the University of Sydney Fisher Library’s collection. It is is entirely appropriate that Graham’s entry is written by Pauline Dickinson, former collection manager of the Fisher Library.

Benedetto Haneman’s (1923-2001) collection on Spain and Cervantes, then reputed to be the third largest collection at the time in the world, went to the State Library of NSW in 1977. Three contributors, including Susan Tomkins and Gerard Windsor, capture Haneman’s almost Renaissance ebullience. It was perhaps fitting that the fall that led to his death occurred in the NSW State Library. Another unusual subject area to be described is Timothy Bourke’s collection of contract bridge books, which has been donated to the State Library of Victoria.

Konstantin Hotimsky’s (1915-1990) substantial Russica collections went in several tranches to Melbourne University Library in 1965. Hotimsky fell out with Fisher Library staff after his Australiana collection, that he donated between 1959 and 1964, was apparently neither accessioned nor processed. Libraries need to woo collectors, but their willingness to do so and to take in collections has diminished dramatically in recent years. This has been largely resulted from budget cuts, a lack of staff expertise and a reallocation of physical space to accommodate digital “student commons”.

The emphasis on the digital is reflected Scarlett’s comment, “The taste of the modern age is not for books, unless in the inert form on which they can be read on a computer”. Lifeline book fairs would seem to contradict this on the popular level, but there is still much valuable research print material that needs to be preserved. One notes the random dispersal of a number of major Canberra personal libraries, such as that of the late Professor Derek Freeman, that deserved a better fate.

Some scholars give away their libraries to the next generation of students. The 2013 ANU Melville Hall dispersal of the libraries of Professor Iain Wright, and part of the library of Professor Ralph Elliott, sets an example, perhaps for others. Jack Waterford’s 2013 suggestion for a collection holding repository in Fyshwick, so that the libraries of retired academics and public servants could be sifted and assessed, resonates here.

Australian Book Collectors provides fascinating insights into an array of collectors and their place in Australia’s culture and history. The three volumes to date should become a standard reference source in Australian libraries. One hopefully looks to further Stitz in time.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

The Fifth Season returns to dark side

THE FIFTH SEASONBy Mons KallentoftHodder and Stoughton, $29.99
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Mons Kallentoft’s Detective Inspector Malin Fors of the Linkoping Violent Crime Unit first appeared in Midwinter Sacrifice in 2007 (translated 2011), in what was then a projected quartet of crime thrillers, each set in a different season. Kallentoft finished the quartet with Savage Spring in 2010 (translated 2013) but, unable to let his female detective go, continues the series with The Fifth Season.

Fors is “ smart, intuitive … obsessive” and now has her personal life under control, no longer dependent on alcohol and in a relationship with Peter Hamse, scion of a wealthy family in Malmo.

Although Fors is considered by her colleagues as “the best of them all”, the solution to one case has eluded her. Seven years earlier, Maria Murvall was found brutally raped and mutilated on a forest road. Since then she has lived mute and motionless in a psychiatric clinic. “The passage of time has no meaning for Maria Murvall. She lives in a season of her own … a season of inverted emotions. Dead emotions … the fifth season”.

When a girl’s body is found in the woods outside Linkoping, her extensive injuries are disturbingly similar to those of Maria. A psychiatrist from Lund mentions another girl who was found five years ago on a road near woods, “naked, raped. Mute. As if she’d been terrified out of her life, but without actually dying”. Malin Fors wonders how many other women have suffered a similar fate at the hands of a serial sadist.

The intensive police investigation leads from forest hunting lodges to university secret societies and, eventually, to a group of powerful, rich men who hunt together – but is it only game they hunt?

Kallentoft’s experiments with language have created a challenging, unique style. The victims’ thoughts, hopes and memories are a constant reminder of their fate, while short, often repetitive phrases increase the tension in a graphically, often sickeningly, violent exploration of “shameful, terrible, vile crimes” against women. The Fifth Season is atmospheric, disturbing and memorable.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.