GREG RAY: Whirlwind news week

IN case you missed it ...

This week was so full of news it was hard to keep track. Here’s a quick reference of events, to remind you. World news first:

Thousands of dead pigs, ducks and swans have been fished out of Chinese rivers as an epidemic of killer flu sweeps through animal populations. About nine people have also died, so far. Australia’s flu season has begun slowly, with the usual coughs, colds, aches and pains after the annual jab. Just a coincidence.

North Korea echoed to its annual ritual of blood and thunder threats against the rest of the world, suffering bemusement and surprise when, for once, somebody listened and reacted.  Western pressure is building on China to do something about its rogue client regime. Risky Korea move.

Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher died in Britain, setting off the expected mixed reaction from fans and non-fans of her extreme views on markets. “Thatcherism” became a byword for the naive belief that free markets could fix everything, a belief made seemingly plausible by the obvious failure of a system based on the equally naive belief that permitting incentives for success has no role in society. The pendulum swings.

Speaking of the political pendulum that swings from right, to left to right again, former prime minister John Howard appeared in public to argue that the invasion of Iraq was not based on a lie. Just a mistake, which makes it OK. It also, apparently, paved the way for the “Arab Spring”. Worth the price?

The Bank of Japan moved its money-printing program into high gear, responding to continuing American efforts in the same direction. Australian bankers warned of a “wall of money” that would soon be chasing Australian assets. Inflation, anybody?

Meanwhile, financial journalists took to their keyboards to warn investors against buying gold, which apparently is doomed to fall in value relative to the tidal waves of newly printed cash pouring out of central banks. China and India are apparently still buying gold anyway, despite the warnings from Goldman Sachs etc. Who to believe?

In Australia, electioneering continues apace, as both Labor and the Coalition attempt to convince anybody who might listen that they are real nation-builders. Opposition broadband spokesman Malcolm Turnbull produced the Coalition’s cut-price blueprint, which offers slower speeds than Labor had promised, but at a lower cost to the budget. At least now they’ve got a policy.

An almost red-faced Labor wheeled out a high-speed rail report. It said the idea might be OK one day, but would cost a lot and probably never recover its capital investment. You paid $20million for what?

In Hunter news, NSW premier and minister for Western Sydney, Barry O’Farrell, visited Newcastle to open the new improved Cardiff Railway Station, and to explain why his government wouldn’t back the art gallery. Because there isn’t any money left in the kitty. So there.

Newcastle City Council cancelled the long-planned and much voted-upon art gallery redevelopment this week, arguing that it was a waste of money in a difficult financial time. Goodbye, perhaps, to $7million in federal grants and to some precious bequests of valuable art. Oh well, easy come, easy go.

The council then voted to spend $250,000 on “root vaults” so it can replant fig trees in Laman Street. Asked whether this was value for money under the circumstances, the council said the long-planned purchase was a commitment to ratepayers that could not be reneged upon. Sounds fair.

Cessnock City Council’s never-ending saga of civic division moved into a new phase, with the surprise resignation of general manager Lea Rosser. The ICAC inquiry she prompted – which had led to her being protected by a Supreme Court ruling from being sacked – has now apparently been resolved. Time for a fresh start, the council reckons. Oh good, another fresh start at Cessnock.

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