Browsing articles in "Disaster"
Monday 23rd June 2008 - 8:05 am

Petrol prices:the phoney war

by Alan Thornhill

No-one likes losing elections.

But, right now, being in opposition, as Australia’s conservatives are, does have its advantages.

Oppositions cannot be blamed, for example, for soaring petrol prices.

And petol price hikes give them a perfect weapon for attacking the government.

It isn’t being wasted.

The Deputy Oppostion leader, Julie Bishop, is telling all who will listen that the government is “powerless” to cut petrol prices, through talks, like those now in progress in Jeddah.

And she says Kevin Rudd should simply follow the opposition’s lead – and cut the petrol excise by 5 cents a litre.

The National party’s leader, Warren Truss, pressed that point, saying the opposition would like to cut the excise by 10 or 20 cents a litre.

“But we have to be economically responsible,” he added.

That, of course, is not true.

Oppositions, in fact, can promise whatever they like, knowing that they won’t have to actually deliver. Not for, perhaps, another three years, at least.

And who knows what the global situation will be like, then?

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was equally unrealistic last week, when he spoke of applying the “blowtorch” to OPEC.

That, of course, won’t happen, either.

Australia’s Energy Minister, Martin Ferguson, has been just as diplomatic, in Jeddah, as Rudd, himself, was in Tokyo, earlier this month, when the subject of whaling happened to come up.

That is the way civilized countries conduct their business with each other.

Don’t expect too much civilized behaviour in parliament this week, though.

The phoney war, in domestic politics, is still in full swing.

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Sunday 25th May 2008 - 11:54 pm

Wall Street offers little hope

by Alan Thornhill

Wall Street fell sharply, again, on Friday, US time.

The Dow Jones industrial index dropped 145.99 points on the day to 12,479.63.

The S&P 500 fell 18.42 points, to 1,375.93.

And the tech heavy NASDAQ composite index dropped 19.91 points to 2,444.67.

There were sharp falls in Europe, too.

The FTSE 100, for example, fell 94.30 points to 6,087.30.

And with oil futures, hitting $US132.19 a barrel over the weekend, Australian time, traders’ spirits are  likely to remain subdued.

Even the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was sombre, at the weekend.

He reminded the Labor faithful in Melbourne that the International Monetary Fund, has warned that the global economy is currently suffering “the greatest financial shock since the Great Depression.”

“At the same time, oil prices have soared to record global levels, off the back of ballooning demand from China and the developing world,” Rudd added.

He said these forces, combined with  rising domestic inflation, had presented “difficult economic circumstances” as the government put this year’s budget together.

Two huge natural disasters, that have struck Asia recently, are also adding to global financiers’ headaches.

China is now planning to build 1.5 million temporary shelters, to house people left homeless by its earthquake, even before it thinks of permanent reconstruction projects.
And the Burmese generals are now – belatedly – seeking cash from countries willing to help victims of their country’s devastating cyclone.

Thursday 22nd May 2008 - 5:47 pm

China learns from its disaster:Burma does not

by Alan Thornhill

China’s political leaders have matured, as a result of their country’s earthquake.

Burma’s generals, though, have learnt nothing, from the disaster that Cyclone Nargis, dumped on their country.

China’s premier, Wen Jiabao, flew straight to the disaster area in his country.

He was then seen on television, shouting to children buried under a pile of rubble:”This is Granpa Wen Jiabao.

“Children, you’ve got to hold on.”

That graceful, indeed heroic, action would have won hearts, anywhere.

Indeed, that kind of thing is expected from suave, experienced western poliitcal leaders.

Not necessarily, though, from tough Communist bosses.

Wen Jiabao’s response, though, contrasts sharply with that of the Burmese generals, to their country’s disaster.

A Western aid worker overheard one of those generals saying: ” Don’t worry about the dead bodies.

“The fish will eat them.”

Not just callous. But ignorant as well.

Disease is now, probably, the main threat facing survivors of Burma’s cyclone Nargis, with the possible exception of starvation.

Wary of any possible political contamination, from outsiders, the Burmese generals have refused western aid agencies permission to enter the country, although they have allowed some aid workers in from neighbouring countries, and some western agencies have arrived, without permission, anyway.

But while the Chinese government is clearly doing all it can, to relieve the suffering of its people,the Burmese generals have not.

Indeed, they have decided, instead, to proceed with the second round of a constitutional referendum, designed to keep them in power indefinitely, while the Burmese people are suffering, terribly, from the after-effects of Cyclone Nargis.

Wednesday 7th May 2008 - 7:35 am

Burma:the curse of fertility

by Alan Thornhill

The low-lying Irrawaddy Delta region is one of the most fertile places in the world.

And one of the most heavily populated.

So when a typhoon strikes, sending big waves inland, casualties will be high.

So far, there are no reliable estimates of either the number of dead, or the number in deadly distress, as a result of the Typhoon Nargis’s ravages.

Burma’s official media is putting the death toll at 40,000, but nobody would be surprised if the actual number were double that.

Even in this extreme distress, the Burmese government is putting its control of the country it calls Myanmar above those of its people.

It is insisting that relief workers, from around the globe, wait patiently for visas,  before they enter the country.

Those relief workers, who have been able to make a preliminary assessment of the situation, say the most urgent need, at present, is for clean water.

Disease control measures will also be urgent. So will relief supplies of food.

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Alan Thornhill

Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.

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