Eighteen trillion dollars. Yes, “trillion” dollars. That is the broadly accepted working estimate of the amount needed for vital economic infrastructure such as roads, ports, and rail facilities among Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation group partners. And that’s just in the current decade to 2020.
It is a staggering sum even considering the large populations and massive growth often associated with this part of the world. For Australia, such an explosion of capital investment portends great opportunities and suggests that in addition to the mining boom, we are situated precisely where you would want to be as the locus of global power swings decidedly eastward.
For the pan-Eurasian colossus of Russia, this tectonic shift is being adapted to with maximum haste because geographically, if not culturally, the former super-power has a foot in both camps. The Russian capital may be closer to western European centres like Helsinki and Stockholm, but its vast territory extends to a coastline nine flying hours and eight time zones to the east. Which is why its President Vladimir Putin, who returned to the top job earlier this year, is now so eager to stress his country’s Asian links.
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Barely a week goes by when the problem of asylum seekers and boat people hits the headlines in some fashion. And it’s one that needs addressing, but what is hard to fathom is the scale of Australia’s interest.
The public fear, the reaction, and the amount of debate seems disproportionate to the amount of asylum seekers intercepted off Australian shores, especially given how much of an humanitarian issue it is.
In Europe it is likewise a hot topic, but perhaps more understandably so. Refugees fleeing areas of political unrest in North Africa and the Middle East either head across the Mediterranean in crowded boats, or head first to Greece and use that as a gateway to the rest of Europe. In 2010 alone the number in Greece was around 128,000.
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The 99th Tour de France commenced in a predictable manner. Nervous riders battled for the leading 20 places in the field as the peloton raced over the narrow, lumpy roads and lane ways of Belgium and northern France.
The leading teams endeavoured to keep the Tour favourites - Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans - out of trouble near the front of the rolling group of riders.
The combination of the nervous start and narrow roads resulted in a series of crashes that seem to feature in the early stages of each year’s Tour.
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It comes around so quickly, another financial year been and gone as words like “peloton,” “jersey” and “Phil Ligget” enter our vocabulary once again.
The Tour de France is back and as it creeps onto our midnight screens, induces insomnia and replaces the European erotica that we normally watch on SBS, we see a surge of popularity in the sport.
You have to admire cycling commentators as they provide fascinating insights and anecdotes that glue us to our beds.
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Last year, thousands of Azerbaijanis spontaneously took to the streets of Baku shouting and chanting. None of the demonstrators were arrested. They were celebrating Azerbaijan’s triumph in the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest.
Only a few weeks earlier, you would have witnessed an entirely different spectacle – partly fascinating, mostly disturbing, entirely incomprehensible. The Azerbaijani government’s response to demonstrations they don’t agree with.
Teenage girls shouting “freedom!” chased and knocked to the ground by police, manhandled onto buses and driven to the outskirts of town. Elderly men shouting “resign” muffled and gagged. Younger ones punched, kicked and dragged into the back of police vans; facing the prospect of days, months or even years in an Azerbaijani prison cell.
Over the past week, the word Grexit has been thrown about. It’s a term coined to describe a Greece exit from the euro. But will it actually happen?
Only last week German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germany wants the country to remain in the bloc. But recently, financial leaders from the European Central Bank (ECB), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and various Heads of State have broken their silence, and publicly commented on such a move. It’s something they avoided for fear of an overreaction on global share markets.
But investors are certainly pricing in the possibility, as they sell out of risky assets like the Australian dollar which fell to below parity with the greenback. The Australian share market lost more than $100 billion dollars last week.
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It was a country that banned beards. Travellers arriving at the border sporting facial hair would be shaved on the spot.
A citizen attempting to leave the country on other than official business engaged in an act of treason punishable by jail or even death.
During the second half of the 20th Century Albania was one of the most isolated countries on earth.
The markets are melting down again. The ASX 200 fell $33 billion, or around 3 per cent yesterday, on the back of more European scares. As you’d imagine, people like CommSec Chief Economist Craig James were rather busy yesterday. But we managed to grab him for a few quick questions.
What’s the best case scenario?
The best case scenario is that the Italian Government comes out with concrete proposals to address its budget situation. Another positive proposition would be instead of calling elections for early next year the Government or the Prime Minister simply resigns and a new government is formed. So anything that would provide a degree of confidence to the markets – at the moment we’ve got nothing.
And the worst case scenario?
It could be anything. It could be countries deciding to exit the Eurozone. It could be continued silence from the Italian officials on dealing with the situation. One of the worst case scenarios could be a country actually physically defaulting on its obligations. So there’s a whole range of negatives out there. There’s no one specific bad scenario; there are a number.
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The noises coming out of Europe are ominous. Australians should sit up and take notice.
“If there isn’t a solution by Sunday, everything is going to collapse,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy before dashing to Frankfurt for emergency talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
“If the Euro fails then Europe fails,” said Merkel. Though she added hopefully: “We will not let that happen.”
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So. A bunch of European bankers with their sharp suits and their cuckoo clocks want to take a break from their fondue parties and ski lodges made of cognac to tell us about doing it tough as a true blue Aussie.
What right they have, I don’t know. In the global economic climate, ‘Euro’ and ‘money’ make as credible a pairing as ‘Fascist Fun Run’ or ‘Relevant Bono’.
Yet when Euromoney magazine named Wayne Swan the world’s Finance Minister of the Year, it presumed to get stuck into his constituents for their despondency. “Surrounded by the consumer baubles that wealth brings, grumpy Australians don’t seem to appreciate how good they’ve had it,” said the report.
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Twenty years ago today, Muscovites awoke to tanks in their streets in a ill-fated coup against the modernising leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.
It was, it turned out, the last gasp of the hardliners and within months, Soviet communism was officially over.
Along with the collapse of the Berlin Wall two years before these events were viewed somewhat triumphally as the end of history. Indeed a book of the same name was a publishing sensation in the early 90s.
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Over the past three decades we have seen successive Governments expand the size and scope of the Federal Budget, to the detriment of all Australians - and I must emphasise this is a bi-partisan issue.
This year’s budget with all its debt and deficit continues a disturbing trend with the centralisation and growth of the Federal Government. Treasury figures show the total dollar value of Australian Government spending has grown from $176.9 billion in 2000-2001 to $314.3 billion by 2010-11, a total increase of 78 per cent.
This equates to 5.9 per cent growth per annum over the past decade.
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“Okay it’s time to go now - they have started throwing stones.”
The words were calm but it was hard to miss the rising panic in the voice of my Greek host Danai as stones pummelled into the building behind us as we watched the latest episode in the demonstrations that have been rocking Athens for the past month now.
Yesterday the tension was palpable.
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They say the best thing about travel is that it gives you a better understanding and appreciation of home. That’s certainly the case for me. A recent trip to Europe, to attend the annual conference of the International Labour Organization, has shown me that while life in Australia is not perfect, we are still a long way ahead of most countries.
You don’t have to look far in Europe to see that the continent is still struggling through an economic crisis.Greece has seen riots as citizens protest the austerity package the government has been forced to implement to pay back its debts.
The move to an austerity package is dragging down the Greek economy by cutting wages and jobs, limiting the country’s ability to grow its economy and pay off its debts. The victims of this are working people and their families, many of whom did not benefit in the good times.
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Is your CEO or director on “Out of Office AutoReply” this month? If so, chances are that they are far from the southern hemisphere. August is holiday season in the North and with the long standing link to Australia’s heritage, it’s a good bet that there is a European and probably London stopover on the way.
Having just returned to Australia via the climate policy desert of the USA, the European climate change landscape couldn’t be in starker contrast. Whilst American media seems destined to miss the BP oil spill as an opportunity to get their citizens to connect the dots between fossil fuel pollution of all types and drive their own leaders to climate action, Europe is a different story.
In the European climate world, business meetings and conferences talk of how to deal with climate change and when, not if? They talk of the risks of extending pollution reduction targets even further, not of avoiding targets at all. Climate deniers are forced into backrooms and dare not raise their heads far for fear of ridicule. A career in UK climate denial is accompanied by US and Australian visa applications because jobs are thin on the ground there.
Travelling in northern Europe, ‘the War’ is never far away: from the way that people feel about Germany’s performance in the World Cup, to the bullet scares on churches and town halls, the designs of cities such as Rotterdam that where flattened in air raids, to more in-depth conversations about identity and nationalism.
As an Australian who has not spent much time in this part of Europe until recently, this is quite surprising. Like most Australians, World War II feels to me in the distant past and rarely thought about, whereas here, its memory is alive and present.
A friend of mine highlighted an example of just how nearby the War is for many Europeans even of more recent generations.
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Walking through the streets of Amsterdam, one of Europe’s most vibrant capitals, it is easy to get caught up in the cosmopolitan nature of the city. Being World Cup time, the city is not only awash in Dutch flags, but an array of other nationalities hang their national banners alongside the recognisable orange of the Dutch team.
The backpackers, tour groups, sightseers and locals politely wrestle for space in the crowded streets and bars, while cars with engines smaller than 50cc and motor scooters share bike lanes. On the bikes, no one wears a helmet, people smoke, talk on their phones and sometimes can be spotted drinking beer. Here, everyone rides: from the men and women in expensive suits, to girls dressed in glamorous outfits on their way out to club, as well as families of four on various sized bikes, and young Muslim women wearing hijabs.
I sit in a café (as distinct from the famous Amsterdam ‘coffee shops’) and speak to various politically active young people. Telling them that I am slowly falling in love with their city and pointing to Geert Mak’s fascinating historical account of Amsterdam, we turn to the political landscape of the Netherlands and the rest Europe.
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There’s quite a menagerie in the stock market petting zoo. You’ve got your bulls, your bears and the occasional stag. Until now, though, you’ve never had PIGS.
In the past week, the PIGS have run rampant, trampling markets and joining CDO and CDS as acronyms guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of investors. Like collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps – those complex financial instruments that fuelled the GFC – anyone with shares needs to keep an eye on the PIGS.
Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain – collectively, and unkindly, derided as the PIGS – are in a fair degree of financial pain. All of them have budget deficits of more than 10 per cent of GDP, which experts reckon they will struggle to finance on wary international bond markets.
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In Rhodes it was one power plug between 30 tourists vying for a place to charge their phone and camera batteries. The stench of toilets made me dry retch, as did the bird poo splattered windows that flung open, letting cold air into my room every night.
Cold showers, no elevator and the useless guy at reception reckoned he’s done his back, so no help there.
For 10 Euros a night, what do I expect?
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It was the incident that gave flaming sambuca a whole new meaning, turned a young Greek woman into a national heroine and shone an embarrassing spotlight on Britain’s yob culture.
Stuart Feltham, a 20-year-old from outside London, had his genitals set on fire after allegedly dropping his trousers during a boozy night out at a bar in Crete.
Marina Fanouraki, a 26-year-old Greek tourist, admits having soaked Feltham with sambuca in retaliation for having her legs and breasts “forcefully fondled” by him, but denies that she purposely set him alight.
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TWO years ago, Veronica Lario did something extraordinary.
After marrying the now Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in 1990, the former actress had maintained a low profile; rarely seen in public and avoiding the sort of official functions wives of national leaders do.
But on January 31, 2007 that changed when she bizarrely wrote a letter to the editor calling on her husband to apologise.
Read all about it
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