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Branch closure a national pastime

ANOTHER week, another announcement from one of Australia’s major companies that it needed to alienate its customers to improve its bottom line.

Last time it was Coles Myer, dropping its shareholder discount card. This week the National Australia Bank said it intended to close 56 regional branches – one in WA - over the next five months and reduce its global workforce by a net 2,100 people … all in the interest of shareholders, of course.

On Tuesday, a day after the NAB’s announcement, the ANZ Bank said it would be willing to buy all 56 branches, their staff and their customers’ accounts at book value from the National.

The latter bank’s initial response was to reject the ANZ offer, perhaps in recognition that its many customers nationwide are actually responsible for its yearly boastings of record profits.

Tax time

THOUGH it needs to find some cash quickly, the State Government says there’ll be no reintroduction of its premium property tax idea(but then Treasurer Eric Ripper’s moustache does make it a little difficult to read his lips properly sometimes).

On the other hand, the Government is considering just about every other potential source of additional revenue before the State Budget is released next month.

The Opposition says the Government is using the weeks before the Budget to soften voters up for tax rises. And if anyone would know about this tactic, it would be Colin Barnett and members of the last Coalition government, who became experts at softening up the punters properly.

Here’s a Week that Was prediction: the most bitter tax rise pills will be leaked in a couple of weeks’ time, everyone affected will scream blue murder (probably justifiably), but unless the Government proposes some really hare-brained scheme, most people will have forgotten about the issue within two months. Ask Dr Peter Hollingworth about people’s medium-term memories.

Constitutional cringe

SPEAKING of the Governor-General, the toughest task he’s had to face lately was to choose which television network would offer the most gushing coverage of the Queen Mum’s funeral.

Dr Hollingworth was left to watch the once-in-a-lifetime event from Yarralumla after Prime Minister John Howard flew off to London to do what he considered the right thing – and represent Australia at the funeral, the pre-funeral procession from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey, the pre-procession lying in state and the post-funeral knees-up.

No-one seems to be particularly bothered about this switching of implied Constitutional duties.

The many faces of terror

ON matters more serious, Israel has spent the past week shooting Palestinians and bulldozing their homes in what it calls its own “war on terror”.

The invasion of occupied territories has caused official expressions of outrage from Arab and non-Arab countries alike, including, after much fence-sitting, the United States.

The Australian Government has been quiet in comparison, saying it supported both Israel’s right to defend itself and the United States’ position on the conflict.

Regardless of whether Israel’s action is justified, it appears to have achieved an immediate purpose – there have been no Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel since the attacks were launched.

On the other hand, guerrillas in Lebanon and Syria have attacked Israeli forces, and Iraq (supplier of 2 per cent of world oil production) has suspended oil exports for 30 days in protest at Israel’s actions.

Stem-cells ok

THE Council of Australian Governments has given qualified approval for the use of embryonic stem cells in medical research. Scientists will be able to use the roughly 70,000 existing IVF embryos to try to find cures for life-threatening and debilitating diseases.

Footy fury

WA seems to be the only State where football fans aren’t complaining about the television coverage of AFL matches by the Nine/Ten/Foxtel consortium.

Viewers in most other States have complained en masse about their suffering of two rounds of intolerably late replays or no trans-mission of some matches, a situation so desperately serious that the Federal Communications Minister Senator Richard Alston has intervened to improve broadcasts.

Who said governments couldn’t be the good guys?

All at sea on water

WATER, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink. Well, not quite. Perth isn’t yet suffering the thirst of the Ancient Mariner, but as we keep hearing, if we don’t cut our consumption we’ll be in the dry docks for a while.

Basically, the only thing that’s stop-ping the Government imposing harsher water restrictions, particularly on lawn and garden watering, is the fear such a move would have on sprinkler-dependent businesses.

A Canadian ecologist, Professor William Rees, this week suggested a doubling of the cost of water would encourage more prudent use of the resource, but as a high proportion of Perth’s greenest lawns seem to sit in the western suburbs economic sanctions such as this may not be the fairest or most effective solution.

Here’s hoping we have one of the foulest winters on record to follow one of our driest summers.

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