March 9th, 2012


In lieu of a real post, I will repub­lish a let­ter I wrote to the Sen­ate Legal and Con­sti­tu­tional Affairs Com­mit­tee on the sev­eral Mar­riage Equal­ity Bills that are before the Par­lia­ment. It has been selec­ted for pub­lic­a­tion. There are actu­ally two Com­mit­tee inquir­ies under­way, one in the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives and the other in the Sen­ate. If you would like to sig­nal your sup­port to our rep­res­ent­at­ives, Aus­tralian Mar­riage Equal­ity have a form here. How­ever, I believe you are much more likely to sway someone if you write a per­sonal let­ter or story. The Com­mit­tees are happy to receive sub­mis­sions anonym­ously if pri­vacy is an issue.

Dear Com­mit­tee Secretary

Mar­riage Equal­ity Amend­ment Bill 2010

Although the Com­mit­tee is seek­ing sub­mis­sions regard­ing Sen­ator Hanson-Young’s Bill, I will also take this oppor­tun­ity to com­ment on the two Private Mem­bers’ Bills intro­duced by Stephen Jones, and Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie, as they cover the same sub­ject.
I strongly wel­come the intent behind the Bills, and the Com­mit­tee will no doubt appre­ci­ate that this sub­mis­sion is being made on a day ded­ic­ated to the cel­eb­ra­tion of love.

Mar­riage is widely regarded as one of the found­a­tions of a strong and stable soci­ety. We encour­age it because it cre­ates bonds of fidel­ity and mat­ri­mony. It has social and eco­nomic bene­fits not only for the spouses in the mar­riage but also their fam­il­ies and com­munit­ies. Indeed, the fact that mar­riage is widely regarded as bene­fi­cial is a com­pel­ling reason to make it avail­able to more couples.

David Cameron, the Prime Min­is­ter of the United King­dom, recog­nises this simple fact. In a speech to his party in 2011 he said: “I don’t sup­port gay mar­riage des­pite being a Con­ser­vat­ive. I sup­port gay mar­riage because I’m a Conservative.”

I under­stand that the thought of a same-sex couple mar­ry­ing may seem pecu­liar, per­haps even con­front­ing to some Aus­trali­ans. How­ever, I cat­egor­ic­ally reject the notion that a lifelong com­mit­ment between two people can det­ri­ment the mar­riages of oth­ers, or in some neb­u­lous way “dimin­ish the insti­tu­tion of marriage”.

Aus­tralia has tra­di­tion­ally been a world leader in its respect for peoples’ dig­nity and human rights. The late H.V. Evatt, an emin­ent Aus­tralian, was instru­mental in draft­ing the Uni­ver­sal Declar­a­tion of Human Rights, which sets out the right to mar­riage between con­sent­ing spouses in art­icle 16. It is in this vein that I implore mem­bers of the Com­mit­tee to sup­port extend­ing the rights of mar­riage to all couples, and cement Australia’s ongo­ing com­mit­ment to uphold­ing uni­ver­sal human rights.

Many coun­tries around the world have marched towards mar­riage equal­ity, includ­ing those we con­sider peers, without any appar­ent dam­age to their social fab­ric. Same-sex mar­riage is legal in Canada, and much of West­ern Europe. Even in the United States, where it is such a hot-button issue, same-sex mar­riage is legal in Con­necti­cut, Iowa, Mas­sachu­setts, New Hamp­shire, New York, Ver­mont and the Dis­trict of Columbia. It is about to be leg­al­ised in Wash­ing­ton state, and pending fur­ther court chal­lenges, in the largest state of California.

Opin­ion polls con­sist­ently demon­strate a clear major­ity of Aus­trali­ans are in favour of mar­riage equal­ity, and that an even greater major­ity believe that it is inev­it­able. This sup­port tran­scends party and state lines, and age-groups. It is grossly offens­ive to dis­reg­ard this as not a “top-order issue” — it is import­ant to those of us it affects, and our fam­il­ies. It falls upon par­lia­ment­ari­ans to gov­ern for all Aus­trali­ans, not simply those who fully enjoy their rights.

I under­stand that the Bills intro­duced by Sen­ator Hanson-Young and by Adam Bandt and Andrew Wilkie are identical. The dif­fer­ence between those Bills and that intro­duced by Stephen Jones is that the lat­ter does not pro­pose lan­guage on gender iden­tity and sexu­al­ity in the con­tent of the Mar­riage Act 1961.

I believe that the lat­ter approach is prefer­able. This recog­nises that dis­crim­in­a­tion on the basis of one’s gender iden­tity and sexu­al­ity is already being con­sidered in the Government’s con­sol­id­a­tion of anti-discrimination laws. Fur­ther­more, dis­crim­in­a­tion on the basis of gender iden­tity and sexu­al­ity, and same-sex mar­riage are import­ant issues that should not be con­flated. They merit their own debates and sep­ar­ate con­sid­er­a­tion by this Committee.

Thank you for con­sid­er­ing my sub­mis­sion on this mat­ter. I make this sub­mis­sion in my per­sonal capacity.

Yours sin­cerely

Daniel Nguyen

March 6th, 2012

It’s been a while

Hello there. Is any­one still reading?

I’ve been tinker­ing around the edges with this site in an effort to bet­ter man­age my online presence.

I haven’t pos­ted any­thing of sub­stance for a long while. There’s 2 main reas­ons for that:

  1. I’m in a “real job” now and no longer have the time
  2. I’m a pub­lic ser­vant and am oblig­ated to abide by rules gov­ern­ing pub­lic comments

I can’t believe my archives stretch back to 2003, as I was trudging through the HSC. It’s a scary thought that next year marks 10 years since I gradu­ated from high school. I’ve toyed with the idea of delet­ing the archives. Look­ing back, my old posts are poorly writ­ten and have all the hall­marks of intem­per­ate youth. What I’ve pos­ted in the past is prob­ably incon­sist­ent with what I believe now, blessed with a bit of life exper­i­ence. How­ever, they’re a part of my his­tory and I should embrace it, warts and all.

I’m not sure if I’ll make any more sub­stant­ive posts. I use up my ana­lyt­ical power at work, and blast my heat-of-the-moment thoughts via Twitter.

We’ll see.

September 5th, 2011

Crosspost: Measuring Homelessness

On Census night 2006 there were approx­im­ately 105,000 people classed as home­less in Aus­tralia. The ABS arrived at this fig­ure based on the data col­lec­ted from the 2006 Census in con­junc­tion with other key data­sets. That the ABS had to rely on external data reflects the dif­fi­culties in count­ing the num­ber of people exper­i­en­cing homelessness.

This is due in part to the dif­fi­culties asso­ci­ated with defin­ing home­less­ness. The ABS uses the “cul­tural” defin­i­tion, where home­less­ness is divided into three cat­egor­ies: primary, sec­ond­ary and tertiary.

  • Primary home­less­ness cov­ers the tra­di­tional ste­reo­type of rough sleep­ers and those in make­shift accom­mod­a­tion. They account for about 16% of home­less­ness in Australia.
  • Sec­ond­ary home­less­ness includes people who fre­quently move from one tem­por­ary form of accom­mod­a­tion to another, and those in transitional/emergency accom­mod­a­tion provided under the Government’s Sup­por­ted Accom­mod­a­tion Assist­ance Pro­gram. This is the biggest cohort, and accounts for 64% of homelessness.
  • Ter­tiary home­less­ness includes people who live in board­ing houses on a medium/long-term basis but do not have the secur­ity of ten­ure con­sidered neces­sary to meet the com­munity stand­ard of a self-contained flat. This includes “couch surfers” and accounts for about 20% of home­less­ness in Australia.

The Government’s 2008 Home­less­ness White Paper, The Road Home, set an ambi­tious tar­get of halv­ing home­less­ness by 2020, with an interim tar­get of a 20% reduc­tion by 2013. Between the 2001 and 2006 Censuses, the num­ber of people exper­i­en­cing home­less­ness increased from about 100,000 to 105,000. How­ever, the over­all stead­i­ness of this fig­ure masks the big changes that occurred among age groups. Although there was a 16% decrease in the num­ber of 12 – 18 year olds exper­i­en­cing home­less­ness, there were large increases in the num­ber of under 12s and over 55s. This kind of data – dis­ag­greg­ated and rig­or­ous – is essen­tial in any kind of home­less­ness policy devel­op­ment, and assess­ing the effect­ive­ness of that policy.

Although the most recent Census was held on 9 August this year, most of its res­ults will not become avail­able until late 2012. This lag in data col­lec­tion will be prob­lem­atic when it comes time to track the pro­gress of interim goals in the Home­less­ness White Paper.

Long-term, it might be use­ful to provide basic stat­ist­ics train­ing for NGOs and com­munity groups. If the stand­ard of their data col­lec­tion rises to a level accept­able to the ABS, the job could be effect­ively out­sourced, provid­ing wide­spread geo­graph­ical cov­er­age and a rolling stock of raw data so we don’t get sur­prises every 5 years.

August 5th, 2011

Crosspost: The Reserve Bank and inflation targeting

In day-to-day life any kind of price rise is blamed as infla­tion (or price gou­ging!). But this is tech­nic­ally incor­rect. A price rise on any one thing is just a price rise, it is not infla­tion. Strictly, the text­book defin­i­tion of infla­tion is “a sus­tained increase in the gen­eral level of prices”.

There is no easy way to meas­ure infla­tion, and the best tools we have are prox­ies in the form of vari­ous price indexes. The most well-known is the con­sumer price index (CPI) which tracks a ‘bas­ket’ of goods and ser­vices rep­res­ent­ing com­monly bought things.

Infla­tion can be an insi­di­ous thing, erod­ing the value of people’s cash sav­ings, and redu­cing their pur­chas­ing power. It also has a tend­ency to accel­er­ate out of con­trol if it is not con­tained. The most fam­ous example is the hyper­in­fla­tion in Ger­many in the 1920s, which got so bad people had to push around wheel­bar­rows of cash to buy loaves of bread.

Australia’s Reserve Bank (RBA) has an expli­cit policy of “infla­tion tar­get­ing”, where it tries to keep the annual rate of infla­tion (CPI) between 2 and 3 per­cent over the course of the busi­ness cycle. The RBA achieves this through changes in the ‘cash rate’, which is the mar­ket interest rate on overnight funds lent to banks and fin­an­cial insti­tu­tions. The cash rate is used as a baseline that affects most other interest rates, includ­ing mort­gages and busi­ness loans. Increases in the cash rate have a tend­ency to reduce levels of busi­ness invest­ment and con­sumer spend­ing and vice-versa. Changes in the cash rate there­fore have rever­ber­a­tions across the entire eco­nomy, affect­ing over­all spend­ing and borrowing.

Infla­tion tar­get­ing was intro­duced in 1993 and has been sin­gu­larly suc­cess­ful in anchor­ing infla­tion expect­a­tions, keep­ing CPI increases stable, and under­pin­ning Australia’s eco­nomic growth. You can see in the graph below that CPI increases oscil­lated wildly before 1993, but have since mostly stayed in the RBA’s 2 – 3 per­cent tar­get band.

Graph of inflation in Australia over the long run

The CPI starts to wobble again towards the end of the graph as the income surge from Australia’s min­ing boom starts cre­at­ing price pres­sures across the eco­nomy. The uptick at the very end is attrib­ut­able to the hangover caused by the RBA dra­mat­ic­ally cut­ting the cash rate from 7.25 to 3.25 per­cent over the course of 2008-09 in the face of the global fin­an­cial crisis.

The most recent stat­ist­ics have the CPI run­ning at 3.6 per­cent, fuelled by increases in the cost of fruit (up 26.9% in the three months to June), pet­rol (+4.0%) and health ser­vices (+3.4%). This was off­set by decreases in the cost of veget­ables ( – 10.3%), com­puter equip­ment ( – 6.3%) and elec­tri­city ( – 1.5%). Although some of this is attrib­ut­able to nat­ural dis­asters and external events, the CPI is still at the upper bounds of the RBA’s target.

Through agree­ment between the RBA Gov­ernor and the Treas­urer, and the State­ment on the Con­duct of Mon­et­ary Policy, the RBA’s man­date is to address this breach of its infla­tion tar­get. If the RBA were a purely infla­tion tar­get­ting cent­ral bank, it would have raised rates on Tues­day. The RBA’s staff eco­nom­ists pushed for an increase. Read­ing between the lines of its state­ment, ele­ments of the RBA Board would also have pre­ferred to raise rates. The ten­sion lies squarely on the Board itself, which is pop­u­lated by industry fig­ures whose busi­ness interests, par­tic­u­larly in retail, are cry­ing out for rate cuts.

Against the back­grop of ongo­ing debt and eco­nomic troubles in the US and Europe, the next 12 months will be fascinating.

January 14th, 2010

New Sydney Uni website

While I thought Sydney University’s new logo was a good effort, another aspect of their rebrand­ing leaves much to be desired.

I shall simple repost my com­ment on Enoch’s blog, who also does not think very highly of the ret­ro­grade changes.

It is god damned atro­cious. It’s increas­ingly appar­ent we went to a third-??rate insti­tu­tion, and it shows up in everything they do: the qual­ity of edu­ca­tion, the qual­ity of facil­it­ies, the rela­tion­ship between the gov­ern­ing bod­ies of the uni and the stu­dents, and now the barely-??tepid effort they put into their web­site.
Who the hell thought it was a good idea to have the logo jut ting out to the left? What is this meant to rep­res­ent? That if you want to achieve some thing, Sydney Uni will jump out of left field to block you?
Why is there is logical grid or spa­cing to effect­ively man age the masses of informa­tion? Why is it so boxy? Why is the typo­graphy so bad? All-??in-??all it looks like some “designer” spent a couple of hours trawl­ing the 1990s inter net for some “cool scripts” and hacked together a Frankstein’s monster.

And this is after a very prom­ising brand ing pitch book that actu­ally looked like it was going to unify the hitherto haphaz­ard brand ing strategies. I’m really dis­gus­ted. I fully expect Sydney Uni to have slipped down the rank­ings in the next dec­ade, all the while fun­nel ling massive amounts of cor­por­ate money into its coffers.