Back Down Under

My wife and I have just returned to Australia, having spent two wonderful months touring parts of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Peter Gladwell

My wife and I have just returned to Australia, having spent two wonderful months touring parts of the United States and the United Kingdom.

We took in Las Vegas, but only to pick up a hire car and drive the 300 miles to visit the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

I have had this visit on my list of things to do for many years and I wasn't disappointed. When I stood on the rim and looked out across this huge hole where the Colorado River is a mile down on the canyon floor, and the opposite rim is five miles away, I could not help feeling quite minuscule and insignificant.

The colours of the rock during sunset and sunrise are magnificent. There is wildlife to see, but mostly the vastness of this place is captivating, and it's hardly surprising to learn that it creates its own weather system.

Back in Australia, the headlines are mainly about the American economy and the effects this is having on our stocks' and shares' values and the housing market.

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The Australian Federal Reserve Bank reduced official interest rates by a percentage point, when they met on Tuesday, in a surprise move.

Already some criticism is being directed at the four largest big banks, as the media claim the banks have no intention of passing any of this rate cut on to their customers, in particular to those struggling to pay their mortgages and loans.

The banks are claiming this will offset the rising costs of borrowing money on global markets, but little is mentioned about the huge profits banks have accumulated in recent years during their irresponsible period of throwing money around to those with unmanageable credit card debts and those wishing to borrow against inflated housing prices.

Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has come in for some stick for not pressing the banks to pass on part of this cut.

As we have all come to recognise, politicians have very short memories. While Labor were in opposition, plenty of criticism was aimed at the Howard Liberal government for not putting pressure on banks to pass on interest rate cuts during those times in our economy when the heat was being felt coming out of Wall Street.

This time things are a lot more serious. Already some families have faced foreclosure and have had to vacate their homes, unable to keep pace with mortgage payments, while at the same time unable to afford rental accommodation. As in other countries, there is a shortage of new public housing and affordable homes to rent.

Yet nothing is being done to correct this imbalance, whether by passing laws to curb rental increases or setting a policy in place to build new public housing.

Another problem has emerged in one of Melbourne's new housing developments. In the eastern suburb of Cranbourne, methane gas has been found in the walls of homes built in the last year or so.

Apparently, developers were given the go-ahead by the Victorian Claims Tribunal after the local council refused permission for the development after it was found that the houses were to be built close to landfill.

Residents have been forced out of their new homes for fear of a catastrophe from the gas seeping through walls and cupboards. The homes must be demolished but the problem is how to achieve this without causing a massive explosion.

Developers are now not only faced with angry residents who have paid many thousands of dollars for their new homes but also with finding short term accommodation to house them.

Not only that but they may also be sued, and most banks want to know how mortgages on these homes will be settled.

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