Labor, coalition say no to minority govt

Labor has joined the coalition in ruling out deals with minor parties and independents to form a minority government if the federal election result is tied.

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Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s decision came as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott directed the Liberal Party to put the Australian Greens last on all lower house how-to-vote cards.

Labor’s ambition is to win majority government, after three years of governing in minority with crossbench support.

“That is the best thing for the nation,” Mr Rudd told reporters in Cairns on Wednesday.

“We will not be entering into any coalition agreements. We won’t be having any negotiated agreements. We won’t have any deals with any independents or any minor party.”

Mr Abbott, who earlier in the campaign made the same pledge, said minority government had been an “experiment that failed”.

He challenged Mr Rudd to “show some leadership” and also put the Greens last.

Mr Rudd said preference decisions were a matter for the ALP organisation.

Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Labor was making preference decisions on a seat-by-seat basis ahead of the September 7 poll.

Greens leader Christine Milne said the major parties felt threatened by her party’s success.

“They don’t have a different philosophical view. In fact, both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott could be sitting in the same car, looking in the same rear-vision mirror,” she said.

Senator Milne argued the Liberals couldn’t govern alone after the election anyway because they were in coalition with the Nationals.

The two major parties are finalising preference deals.

The clash came as the 54 parties contesting the election, as well as independent candidates, were finalising their preference deals ahead of the close of election nominations on Thursday.

The Senate’s group voting ticket, which determines preference flows when voters cast an “above the line” ballot, will be finalised over the weekend.

High-profile Labor candidate Peter Beattie on Wednesday made a last-minute pitch to Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) for preferences.

Labor and the coalition are courting Bob Katter’s team for preferences, especially in Queensland where their vote is expected to be strongest.

Mr Katter flew to Melbourne earlier this week for talks on the issue with Liberal federal director Brian Loughnane.

Mr Rudd is understood to have spoken with Mr Katter before the campaign began.

“I don’t see any difficulty, assuming I get elected – and that is up to the people of Forde – working with Katter,” Mr Beattie said.

“He shares with Kevin Rudd and I a passion for Queensland and that passion will actually make sure that Queensland is given the sort of recognition it should … in the national capital.”

Mr Katter, who is likely to hold the seat of Kennedy, told reporters in Brisbane he’s not leaning towards any party when it comes to preference swaps.

He said there was a lot of “wheeling and dealing” to be done before any preferences are decided.

KAP is expected to poll strongest in the seats of Herbert and Dawson and could also have influence in Capricornia, Flynn and Leichhardt.

There is also the prospect of picking up a Senate spot at the expense of Labor.

Syria Kurds, jihadists in fresh battles

Fresh battles have broken out in strategic, majority Kurdish areas in Syria, as jihadists and the main Kurdish party fight each other for control.

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In the northeastern province of Hasakeh, “clashes broke out at dawn pitting the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), Al-Nusra Front and other battalions,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Tuesday.

The fighting hit Dardara, Hmeid and Jafa villages, and others surrounding the strategic town of Ras al-Ain, near the Turkish border, the watchdog said.

The fighting comes days after jihadists linked to Al-Qaeda pressed a fresh offensive to take control of majority Kurdish areas.

Violence has been so fierce in recent days that some 30,000 Syrians, mostly Kurds, have fled to neighbouring Iraq, the UN said on Monday.

The massive exodus late last week appeared to be the biggest since around 9,000 Syrians crossed into Turkey in November.

“There is a war for territory, control and oil,” said Havidar, a Kurdish activist from Ras al-Ain, who added that the town is important because it is a key gateway from Turkey into Syria.

Other flashpoints are home to oil and agricultural resources that both the YPG and the jihadists want to control, he told AFP.

The Kurdish Democratic Union Party, the largest in the area and the group that dominates the YPG, has announced plans for autonomy in Kurdish areas.

Elsewhere in Syria, canon fire by troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad against the rebel-held Tariq al-Bab neighbourhood of the northern city of Aleppo killed four people, said the Observatory.

A projectile “launched by regime troops against a popular market in the Tariq al-Bab area killed four people, including a child, and wounded seven others,” it said.

Syria’s war, which the UN says has claimed more than 100,000 lives in 29 months, has morphed from a protest movement demanding Assad’s fall into a complex civil war.

‘Business as usual for Wanderers’: Popovic

Under the radar, above the radar – it doesn’t matter a great deal to Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic.

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The Western Sydney franchise surpassed all expectations with a stunning debut A-League season in 2012-13 to finish runners-up.

They recovered from a rocky start to blitz home with 11 wins and one draw in their last 12 games to claim the minor premiership.

And while it could be argued they will no longer have the element of surprise in the season ahead, coach Tony Popovic dismissed it as an advantage in the first place.

“We have our own expectations,” the 2012-13 A-League coach of the year said.

“Whether we’re under the radar, or on top of the radar, it won’t change what we do. We’ll go about our business the same way.”

Many players from the Wanderers 2012-13 campaign – including Japanese superstar Shinji Ono – played their first minutes in over three months in their 3-1 win over Canberra Olympic at the AIS on Wednesday night.

Cobwebs were aplenty – as were ignited flares from 200 of their diehard supporters watching on.

Yet Popovic expressed pleasure at the performance post-hitout.

“We’ve got some new players here which will need time to adapt to how we play,” he said.

“So it’s good experience for the young boys.”

He declined to talk about the team’s goals when the A-League season kicks off on October 11, the most obvious of which is to go one step further and claim the championship.

“We haven’t spoken about that. We’re just in the pre-season phase trying to get all the players fit,” Popovic said.

“We’ll get them through that and then worry about where we’re going and what we want to do when the season starts.

“We’re just trying to be better. Just trying to play our game at a better level than year.”

Comment: The history of the world in one chart

This “Histomap,” created by John B.

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Sparks, was first printed by Rand McNally in 1931. (The David Rumsey Map Collection hosts a fully zoomable version here.) (Update: Click on the image below to arrive at a bigger version.)

This giant, ambitious chart fit neatly with a trend in nonfiction book publishing of the 1920s and 1930s: the “outline,” in which large subjects (the history of the world! every school of philosophy! all of modern physics!) were distilled into a form comprehensible to the most uneducated layman.

The 5-foot-long Histomap was sold for $1 and folded into a green cover, which featured endorsements from historians and reviewers. The chart was advertised as “clear, vivid, and shorn of elaboration,” while at the same time capable of “holding you enthralled” by presenting:

the actual picture of the march of civilization, from the mud huts of the ancients thru the monarchistic glamour of the middle ages to the living panorama of life in present day America.

The chart emphasizes domination, using color to show how the power of various “peoples” (a quasi-racial understanding of the nature of human groups, quite popular at the time) evolved throughout history.

It’s unclear what the width of the colored streams is meant to indicate. In other words, if the Y axis of the chart clearly represents time, what does the X axis represent? Did Sparks see history as a zero-sum game, in which peoples and nations would vie for shares of finite resources? Given the timing of his enterprise—he made this chart between two world wars and at the beginning of a major depression—this might well have been his thinking.

Sparks followed up on the success of this Histomap by publishing at least two more: the Histomap of religion (which I’ve been unable to find online) and the Histomap of evolution.

John B. Sparks, Histomap. 1931. David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

© 2013, Slate

Microfinance under the microscope

People working to improve the lives of women say increasing their economic independence is a crucial step in reaching that goal.

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Microfinance is considered one of the tools helping women towards economic independence, especially in the developing world.

 

The future of this idea, and the role it plays in women’s lives, has been the subject of talks between one of the world’s largest microfinance networks and AusAID, the Australian government’s overseas aid program.

 

Peggy Giakoumelos.

 

 

Microfinance involves giving loans, sometimes as small as $100, to people who are often excluded from the formal banking sector.

 

It’s considered a key way to help many women in the developing world to free themselves from poverty.

 

Women’s World Banking is a network supporting 39 microfinance institutions from 29 countries, and most of its 19 million clients are women.

 

In 2010, Australia began a new partnership with the network, becoming one of its four main funding bodies.

 

During a recent visit to Australia, the President of Women’s World Banking, Mary Ellen Iskerdarian highlighted some of the current issues affecting the sector.

 

“The number 2.8 billion people who don’t have access to financial services is always such a daunting number, and microfinance has been around say 30-35 years has really only touched 200 million clients so we’ve got a big gap to fill there, so I think being able to think more broadly beyond just the microfinance institutions but thinking about banks, taking advantage of the extraordinary opportunities that cellphone technology now gives us, to reach people who were previously literally unreachable, we’re just going to have to work harder to bring people around the table who may not have been at that original set of conversations when we first started talking about micro-finance.”

 

Rosyln Russell is the Principal Research Fellow from the School of Economics at RMIT University in Melbourne.

 

She says research shows the benefits of microfinance for women.

 

But she says issues of governance continue to be plague the sector.

 

“Microfinance institutions have grown exponentially the number of them in developing countries. So it’s blowing out in some respects almost faster than what regulation and governance can keep up with, so there have been issues and there has been problems with governance but there’s still evidence of high interest loans being charged though these MFI’s now, which almost mirrors pay day lenders type of exploitation. But there is a lot of evidence when they’re provided as they should be provided to help individuals, it does provide a helping hand and it provides what they need to kickstart a small business and improve lives of individuals and their immediate communities.”

 

The President of Women’s World Banking, Mary Ellen Iskerdarian says in the Asia Pacific region, a major focus of the organisation’s work is in developing good governance or leadership practices.

 

“We’ve been working in the last few months with several Pacific microfinance institutions. We’ve been working particularly in Papua New Guinea with Nationwide Microfinance in helping their management team, really reach the level that a leadership team needs to in order to start innovating. Some of the things may not sound very innovative to someone who is used to a developed country level of financial services but represent huge leaps in terms of service provision for some of the smaller microfinance institutions.”

 

Bill Mitchell is Professor of Economics at Charles Darwin University.

 

He says while microfinance has undoubtedly changed the lives of many individuals, it doesn’t do much to challenge the broader causes of poverty in the developing world.

 

Professor Mitchell says sound macroeconomic policies need to be in place for microfinance initiatives to really have an impact.

 

These smaller ventures tend to just shuffle the activity, so if you get a very active local community with a good local bank, yes you can improve its fortunes somewhat. But the scale of poverty and the scale of unemployment and underemployment in particularly developing countries is so large that you need national government macro-economic policies, budget deficits and spending and job creation. To solve the big, big problem. And within that sort of solid macro economic approach to development, then the small micro banks are extremely effective.