Monday, May 25, 2015

Another ALP in­fight as union heavy ques­tions Qld. re­cruit­ment pol­icy

A FOR­MER top union boss and suc­cess­ful state La­bor trea­surer has called for less union in­flu­ence in the party, say­ing the move­ment has a skewed hold over the party.  Ex-NSW trea­surer Michael Costa said La­bor was now dogged by “a ger­ry­man­der in favour of the unions”.

The La­bor stal­wart made the com­ments as Premier An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk and her Cabi­net col­leagues yes­ter­day in­sisted their move to re­quire pub­lic ser­vants to re­cruit new union mem­bers was noth­ing new.

The La­bor stal­wart made the com­ments as Premier An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk and her Cabi­net col­leagues yes­ter­day in­sisted their move to re­quire pub­lic ser­vants to re­cruit new union mem­bers was noth­ing new.

The qui­etly re­in­stated “union en­cour­age­ment pol­icy”, re­vealed yes­ter­day in The Courier-Mail, was blasted by Prime Min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott as “de­liv­er­ing for the unions”.

“I’m al­ways dis­ap­pointed when any gov­ern­ment gov­erns for one sec­tion of the com­mu­nity rather than ev­ery­one and this is a gov­ern­ment here in Queens­land which was elected on union money and on union cam­paign­ing,” he said.

Mr Costa said there should be a level play­ing field within the work­force, adding that his com­ments were rel­e­vant across the board and not just to Queens­land.

“Govern­ments shouldn’t ac­tively dis­cour­age union­ism, but they shouldn’t ac­tively en­cour­age it ei­ther,” he said. “There needs to be a re­duc­tion of union in­flu­ence in the La­bor Party.”

The Courier-Mail can re­veal union bosses played a role in push­ing for the pol­icy, which will boost mem­ber­ship. It comes at a time its num­bers within the pub­lic ser­vice are flag­ging.

It also comes just weeks af­ter The Courier-Mail re­vealed key union bosses were boast­ing about the in­flu­ence they now wield within the new Govern­ment.

The an­nual re­port for the To­gether Union, one of the big­gest pub­lic sec­tor unions, shows its mem­ber­ship num­bers have fallen to about 28,000 peo­ple, from more than 38,000 in 2012, its low­est level since 2006.

To­gether Union sec­re­tary Alex Scott ad­mit­ted to the union play­ing a role in dis­cus­sions around the union en­cour­age­ment pol­icy.  “We asked them to con­sider reis­su­ing the de­part­ment pol­icy to make it sim­pler as well,” he said.  “We ar­gued it was a le­gal en­ti­tle­ment ... it’s help­ful to have it as part of the de­part­ment pol­icy.”

But Mr Scott said it re­flected a clause within ex­ist­ing en­ter­prise bar­gain­ing agree­ments, which New­man gov­ern­ment laws had made un­en­force­able.

Shadow At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Ian Walker said the pol­icy saw bal­ance tip in favour of unions.  “There is a role for unions but it shouldn’t get to the point where the Govern­ment … be­comes their de facto re­cruit­ment agency,” he said.

Queens­land Coun­cil of Unions boss John Bat­tams said his or­gan­i­sa­tion played no role post-elec­tion in ne­go­ti­at­ing for or dis­cussing the pol­icy, but had raised it be­fore­hand.  “The role we played was to get the com­mit­ment be­fore the elec­tion. We just ex­pected it to hap­pen and it did,” he said.  “A Govern­ment keep­ing com­mit­ments shouldn’t be coloured as pay­back.”

He said there were more than 100,000 pub­lic sec­tor work­ers who were union mem­bers.

Depart­ment of Premier and Cabi­net di­rec­tor-gen­eral Dave Ste­wart has been charged with en­sur­ing all other di­rec­tors-gen­eral put the pol­icy into ef­fect.

Ms Palaszczuk said the pol­icy had been in place for a decade be­fore for­mer pre­mier Camp­bell New­man.


A dramatic testimony to the wreckage of the Australian economy by the Rudd/Gillard regime

While Rudd and Gillard were running up half a trillion in debt, and getting nothing for it, John Key was governing N.Z. prudently

Australia's warmer climate and higher wages have long lured droves of New Zealanders across the Tasman Sea with the aim of making a better life in the 'lucky country'.

But with Australia's economy stumbling and New Zealand's improving, the trend has begun to reverse.

New Zealand figures released Thursday showed that in April, for the first time in 24 years, 100 more people moved east from Australia to New Zealand than moved in the opposite direction.

The trend has been emerging for some time. Two years ago, a net 34,000 New Zealanders moved to Australia. That fell to 11,000 last year and to 1,900 in the most recent data for this year.

An agreement between Australia and New Zealand allows citizens of both nations to live and work in either country.

In New Zealand, the loss of its people over decades to its larger neighbor has proved a political sore point.

In 2008, when the current prime minister John Key was the leader of the political opposition, he stood in an empty sports stadium in Wellington to illustrate the thousands of people who were leaving each year and vowed to turn that around.

Robert Muldoon, who was prime minister in the 1970s and '80s, once quipped that the exodus raised the average IQ of both countries.

But now, the turnaround may pose new political challenges. The figures released Thursday show record annual immigration of 57,000 people to New Zealand, which added more than 1 percent to the population of 4.5 million. Many people believe immigration is helping fuel skyrocketing home prices in the largest city, Auckland.

Australia's economy has been struggling after the price of iron ore, its most lucrative export, slumped due to a slowdown in China's economy. Still, Australia's debt level remains low compared with most countries and its standard of living higher than in New Zealand.

New Zealand has been enjoying relatively strong economic growth, and its unemployment rate has dropped to 5.8 percent, below Australia's rate of 6.2 percent. But it, too, faces economic challenges, including lower prices for its agricultural exports due to the slowdown in China.


Australian food companies feed investor returns

Buttressed by demand from the emerging economies to the nation's north, Australia's $50 billion agribusiness sector is burgeoning. But the paradox for the sector is that it struggles to attract capital from Australia's super funds.

A recent survey of 114 superannuation funds, commissioned by accounting group BDO and conducted by the University of Queensland Business School's commercial arm UniQuest, found that Australia's super funds invest on average just 0.3 per cent of their assets in the agriculture sector.

In contrast, overseas pension funds are "very keen" on Australian agribusiness assets, says Tim Biggs, founding partner and chief investment officer at agribusiness investment firm Laguna Bay Pastoral Company. "We find that the North American pension funds really 'get' the Australian agribusiness investment opportunity.

"Australia's real natural advantage is that it produces some of the highest-quality agricultural products in the world, both bulk and niche, with an impeccable record of safety and traceability, it is on the doorstep of the emerging consumers in Asia who want traceable, repetitively deliverable high-quality product, and it has excellent logistics to export that produce," Biggs says.

US-based pension funds are even more conscious, says Biggs, of the institutional investor's holy grail: authentic uncorrelated returns. "Agricultural investments are generally negatively correlated to financial investments, stocks and bonds. They have different return streams, and thus can diversify an investment portfolio more widely."

US investors also have concerns about the drought in California, he says. "Ninety per cent of the world's almonds come from the San Joaquin Valley in California. That has always given the Australian producers a classic counter-seasonal export opportunity, but now in the US, they're thinking, 'What if we don't have the water to feed our crops?'" If the water situation in California gets worse, investors will be looking at Australia, he says.


The final piece of evidence in Australia's favour is that when the pension funds investigate this market they see "probably the most sophisticated water trading market in the world," says Biggs. "Australia confronted the value of water a long time ago, and we price water appropriately." Producers in the US are being forced to confront the value of water, he says.

The water market in Australia can offer investors uncorrelated returns, but it is still small, says Cullen Gunn, director and CEO of farmland and water investment manager Kilter Rural. He says about $1 billion of water is traded annually, most of it in the Murray-Darling Basin, which produces one-third of Australia's food, almost all of its rice and cotton, and 45 per cent of its dairy output.

"The Australian water market channels water up the economic value chain, to where it finds its highest-value use," says Gunn. "The primary vehicle is a water entitlement, which is a perpetual share of water available in the system. Then there is the secondary vehicle, the allocation, which can differ depending on the amount of water in the system.

"They're both tradeable, but the allocations trade much more readily, and are a lot more volatile. They're sold to producers who need water for their crops. The sale of allocations creates yield," he says.

Kilter Rural manages both water and farmland investments for super funds, and says the "uncorrelated returns story" is slowly gaining traction, as is the level of returns. But he says many funds consider the market to be too small.

"If we're trading $1 billion a year, that is, pardon the pun, not liquid enough for most super funds, who simply like to invest in bigger licks," says Gunn. "They know that given the emerging demand from Asia for food, as an investor, holding agricultural land and water rights makes a lot of sense, but they'd like to see the market a bit bigger."

Gunn says holding entitlements and selling allocations will deliver between 4 per cent and 7 per cent a year, but it's volatile between seasons. "We're moving more towards generating investment products built around leasing water, where there is an indexed lease rate that is really the same as a commercial office lease." The leases generate between 5 per cent and 8 per cent a year, indexed and reviewed annually, he says, with a diversity of clients; dairy farms, nut and fruit growers.

"It's a terrific asset, because you're investing in the major input to meeting the export demand for Australian food, but you're not taking the agricultural risk of producing that food."

Michael Dundon, CEO at the $13 billion not-for-profit super fund VicSuper, has invested in water holdings and environmental remediation through Kilter. While mostly happy with the experience, Dundon sees the problems that other super funds may have in making similar forays.

"We're getting close to generating 9 per cent a year, after tax, which is where we wanted to be with a long-term investment, and it is uncorrelated return," Dundon says. "But at the same time, there is a scale question, and it's probably fair to say that super funds find themselves fairly constrained in that market. Large funds tend to want to invest more than the market can accommodate. We've yet to work out how much further would we be prepared to go."

One factor that may induce more super funds to consider these types of investments, he says, is that the return is "truly" uncorrelated. "A lot of what are considered 'alternative' investments, which purport to offer uncorrelated returns, are in reality hedge funds and absolute-return strategies, and that's not truly uncorrelated, in our view," says Dundon.

VicSuper does not consider its agribusiness and water holdings as part of its "alternative investments" exposure: it allocates them to "real assets", along with infrastructure and direct property. "We would have 7 per cent to 8 per cent in real assets, and within that, probably about 2 per cent of the fund would be in agribusiness/water.

"In this asset class, I think funds are going to want to invest directly. If they view it as a 'real asset' play, they're probably not going to want to go through ASX-listed stocks," he says.

Shane Kelly, principal at agribusiness corporate advisor Latitude 232, says the next generation of investment products will offer super funds exposure to agribusiness, without the need to take on operating and commodity risk. "Super funds that have previously had bad experiences in agriculture were primarily involved in owning and operating farms. Super funds need stable returns, so it makes sense for them to steer clear of operating and commodity risk and focus on buy and lease back investment models that deliver regular income and long term capital growth," Kelly says. 

"There is opportunity for super funds to own the underlying land assets, which will be leased to good operators, such as a blue-chip, large-scale family company or a corporate agribusiness. In some instances this may involve taking land off-balance sheet, while in others it will support an expansion of the area under management. This approach ensures that the people who have the experience operate the farms, while the super funds can earn stable returns from leases that will vary from 4 per cent to 10 per cent, depending on the risk weighting applied to the commodity sector and the quality of the counter-party involved."

Another potential approach is the "agri private equity" style of fund, such as the new Food and Fibre Fund offered by 3F Asset Management. "We're concentrating on assets that sit in the supply chain, between the farm gate and an Asian consumer," says 3F director Craig Anderson. "That could be on the input side – such as services that get supplied to farmers, machinery businesses, agronomic services, technology providers that increase efficiency and effectiveness of Australian agriculture – and then on the output side, from storage to logistics to wholesaling, cold-storage and transport and even distribution assets in Asia."

Anderson says the fund would either buy or invest in those businesses, "like a normal private equity player would".


Australia could miss out on second LNG boom, Chevron says

Natural gas exports have been touted as Australia's great white hope to replace plunging iron ore earnings, but oil major Chevron has warned the nation risks missing out on the next wave of investment.

Among the problems were too much regulation to get approvals, an inflexible industrial relations systems, high labour costs and taxes and government policies that don't support investment, said Chevron's Australian managing director Roy Krzywosinski.

He also took a veiled swipe at Australia's services companies that supply the industry, suggesting they needed to lift their game and better support oil and gas producers.

Australia's march to soon becoming the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas was a success story but its rapid growth was unprecedented and testing the capacity of those services industries, he said.

There was a potential $US100 billion ($127 billion) waiting in the wings with the associated economic benefits if the next wave of investment could be attracted.

However global competition was increasing, particularly with the new waves of US LNG projects due to an abundance of gas there driven by the onshore shale boom.

Not enough co-operation on logistics between LNG projects was occurring either to drive down costs, as mostly occurred in the Gulf of Mexico and North Sea, he said.

"We need to recognise there has not been a final investment decision on an Australian LNG development since 2012," Mr Krzywosinski told the Australian Petroleum and Exploration Association conference.

"As many of us forewarned, the second wave of LNG investment for Australia - which promised to deliver further benefits - is at serious risk of not happening, at least in the foreseeable future.

"A major contributor is Australia's falling international competitiveness."

Seven new LNG plants are due to come online over the next three years to add to the three current ones, with Chevron involved in building two of them: Gorgon and Wheatstone in Western Australia.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Australia preparing to transfer refugees to Cambodia, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says

Australia is in the process of transferring a small group of refugees to Cambodia under a resettlement deal between the two countries, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says.

It is believed the four who accepted the deal were an Iranian couple, a single Iranian man and an ethnic Rohingya man from Myanmar who were taken from Nauru to Darwin about two weeks ago.

The four were being housed on Nauru after trying to reach Australia by boat.

Mr Dutton said the Government hopes more refugees on Nauru will take up the offer to be resettled.

"In time that is certainly the Government's aim and we've had a first small group that we have been working with to send across to Cambodia," he said.

"I welcome very much the partnership we have with the Cambodian Government."

It is unclear when the four will be flown out.

In September, Cambodia agreed to resettle potentially hundreds of refugees held on Nauru in exchange for an extra $40 million in aid from Canberra.

International human rights groups have condemned the deal, saying Cambodia is incapable of providing proper care for asylum seekers.


Australia one of world’s richest, most equal countries: OECD

Australia is not only one of the wealthiest countries in the world but also has one of the most equal distributions of wealth.

A new OECD study on inequality shows that Australia also stands out as one of the only advanced countries where the distrib­ution of income has become more equal over the seven years since the global financial crisis.

The study blames the spread of part-time and temporary work for the worsening of inequality elsewhere in the world but finds that in Australia non-standard working arrangements often generate higher incomes.

The richest 5 per cent of Australian households have a net wealth equivalent to $US2.2 million ($2.78m), which is marginally above the OECD average, while the richest 1 per cent have net wealth equivalent to $US4.5m, slightly below the average.

However, the middle 60 per cent of households have net wealth of $US211,000, which is 41 per cent higher than the OECD average of $US140,000.

By contrast, in the US — which has the greatest inequality of wealth — the richest 1 per cent have assets of $US15m while the median household has assets of only $US56,724.

The four countries with more equal distributions of wealth than Australia are all, with the exception of Spain, much poorer than Australia.

The only countries with higher average net wealth than Australia are the US and Canada.

Australia’s high house prices help explain its relative wealth, although the principal residence, which represents 51 per cent of the average Australian’s wealth, is in line with the average share across the OECD, as is the 18 per cent of wealth held in investment and other real estate.

The study shows that Australia is closer to the middle of the advanced­ nations in the dis­tribution of income, with the best-paid 10 per cent of the population earning 8.8 times more than the worst-paid, which is slightly below the OECD average of 9.6 times. The US again stands out for its unequal­ distribution, with the top earners getting 18.8 times as much as the poorest 10 per cent.

The OECD shows that Australia is among a small minority of countries where income distrib­ution has become more equal since 2007, a result possibly influenced by tax cuts.

Australia is one of the few countries in which the bottom 10 per cent of the population improv­ed their incomes over the period of the global financial crisis while the top-earning 10 per cent earned less.

The OECD blamed the rise of casual, temporary and part-time work for the increase in inequality in advanced nations since the financ­ial crisis.

It said that standard full-time and permanent jobs had dis­appeared in the middle of the distribution of both income and skill.

More than 40 per cent of jobs in Australia are either part-time, temporary or self-employed, which is one of the highest shares in the world. The study found that part-time workers in Australia earn more per hour than those on standard full-time positions, regardless of age or skill, while there is no difference between people on permanent and temporary work arrangements.


Gillian Triggs too busy with her own rights and playing the victim

And so it has come to pass that the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission seems to be preoccupied with her own rights.

That Gillian Triggs remains in her job is a mystery and probably says as much about the government’s timidity in tackling the Green-Left groupthink of our universities, public broadcasters and other institutions as it does about her own chutzpah.

Triggs has been exposed for delaying an inquiry into children in detention under Labor because of what she openly testified were political reasons.

Her various statements on these matters have also exposed a series of erroneous and contradictory positions.

Apart from diminishing the public standing of the AHRC, this has led to the situation where Triggs, a statutory officer, has criticised members of the government for scrutinising her actions.

This is an untenable situation.

But the government seems to be frozen into inaction; not having the stomach for a distracting fight when the economy is the main game.

Yesterday we saw a sharp contrast in the commission’s work that must confound the human rights lawyers, progressive journalists and other political activists who tend to support Triggs.

We saw the best of the AHRC and the worst – a contrast in pragmatic work versus self-indulgence.

In Broome the controversial commissioner appointed by the Abbott government, Tim Wilson, co-convened a landmark meeting aimed at promoting private property rights and the private economy to help redress indigenous disadvantage.

Broad buy-in from indigenous leaders delivered a fresh approach to the crucial issues around economic development and empowerment of indigenous communities.

Can any reader provide a better example of practical community engagement by the AHRC, looking for solutions rather then merely addressing grievances? I’d be interested to know.

The counterpoint came, tellingly enough, in Canberra, where Triggs was speaking at a forum about female leadership.

She was busy claiming victim status for herself and declaring her intention to dig in and serve out her term.

“Now, no human rights commission in the world could have turned its back on the number of children held in prolonged and indefinite and mandatory detention as asylum seekers,” said Triggs, conveniently turning on its head the main criticism of her actions.

Triggs must know she has not been criticised for investigating the issue of children in detention but for failing to investigate that very dilemma when Labor was in power and the numbers being detained were escalating towards their peak. Under questioning she has openly attributed her delay in holding an inquiry on political considerations.

“So as far as I was concerned I was simply doing my job according to the law,” she went on yesterday, “But what I didn’t realise was that I forgot about the politics.”

No, Triggs didn’t forget about politics. Her testimony to various parliamentary committees, while inconsistent, has generally held that she avoided calling the inquiry, at least in part, because she took election timing into consideration (even though she seemed to make obvious errors about that timing).

Triggs has not undermined public faith in her commission by forgetting about politics but by seeming to be influenced by political calculations. Remember, she once denied discussing these issues with Labor ministers when they were in government, thousands of children were going into detention and she was not conducting an inquiry — then later had to admit to meeting not one but two separate Labor ministers and discussing these issues.

Triggs took over as president in July 2012 when the boat-people crisis was running out of control but didn’t launch her inquiry until early 2014, after a change of government, when the boats had stopped, children had stopped going into detention and the numbers being held had already started to fall dramatically. The AHRC president is not a victim.

With the plight of asylum-seekers creating dilemmas for governments around the world, practical human rights issues about how to combat exploitative people-smuggling while assisting genuine refugees could hardly be more pressing. Yet that seems to be what the AHRC is incapable of focusing on.


Bjorn Lomborg confident of finding Australian university partner after UWA pull-out

Controversial Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg says he is confident he will find another Australian university to host his 'Consensus Centre' despite a fierce backlash in Western Australia.

A self-described 'sceptical environmentalist', Dr Lomborg's planned Australian Consensus Centre was allocated $4 million in this month's federal budget, but plans to host it at the University of Western Australia (UWA) were abandoned after protests from students and staff.

"I'm sure we'll find somewhere in Australia to do that but I'm not sure [where] just yet," Dr Lomborg said.

Dr Lomborg was speaking from Nairobi, Kenya, where he is addressing an aid conference on new United Nations development goals.

Dr Lomborg declined to say which institutions he was negotiating with but said he was confident he would get the go ahead.

"I can understand that, given what happened at the UWA, some people are going to be a bit more reluctant," he said.

Bjorn Lomborg's history of controversy

Lomborg is an author and director of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, a non-profit think tank addressing global issues. In his 1998 book The Skeptical Environmentalist (English 2001), he said he accepted manmade global warming, but used statistics to argue the global environment had actually improved.

He was found to have been objectively scientifically dishonest in his book by the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty, but had the finding rescinded by the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

On his website, Lomborg says reducing carbon emissions is prohibitively expensive, and that investment non-carbon emitting technologies is the "smartest solution" to global warming.

Papers published by the Copenhagen Consensus Centre say climate change from 1900 to 2025 has mostly been a net benefit and has improved global welfare.

The Copenhagen Consensus Centre advocates a value-for-money approach to global problems and engages economists to perform a cost-benefit analysis proposed development goals.

"Do they want to engage in this? But again, I think it's a big shame in the sense of saying we work with more than 100 of the world's top economists, seven Nobel laureates, lots of interesting people."

Dr Lomborg accepts the science on climate change but has argued poverty and disease are more pressing problems.  He argues the UN should scale back its goals to ensure money is spent effectively.

"Basically they're promising everything to everyone and we need to find a way to make sure we focus on the very smartest targets," he said.

"That's what I'm here in Kenya to talk about and that's where we could also talk about... where Australia would spend its $5 billion to do a lot more good, potentially four times as much good."

Dr Lomborg is frustrated his views on climate change have hijacked the debate on his new centre in Australia.  "The decision from UWA was very clearly a very emotional one," he said.  "A lot of people got very involved and talked about, oh, this is a climate centre and Bjorn is a climate denier and all that, which is just not true."  "I think if they had given it a chance they would've seen this would actually be a real opportunity for Australia."


Friday, May 22, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG mocks the Labor party's financial credibility

'Nope, nope, nope': Tony Abbott says Australia will not resettle refugees in migrant crisis

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said "nope, nope, nope" to Australia offering resettlement to any of the thousands of migrants caught up in south-east Asia's refugee crisis.

"I'm sorry. If you want to start a new life, you come through the front door, not through the back door," Mr Abbott said on Thursday.

Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have provoked an international outcry for pushing boats carrying Rohingya and Bangladeshi asylum seekers back out to sea.

On Wednesday, Malaysia and Indonesia backed down from their stance and said they would temporarily allow thousands of people to come ashore - on the condition that international agencies repatriate them within a year.

At a media conference on Thursday, Mr Abbott said Australia would not be offering resettlement.  "It's a refugee and humanitarian program which has been modestly expanded because we have stopped the boats and we are not going to do anything that will encourage people to get on boats." 

Mr Abbott said resettling any of the refugees would encourage the people smuggling trade.  "If we do the slightest thing to encourage people to get on the boats, this problem will get worse, not better."

He said Australia was happy to offer assistance to Australia's neighbours in south-east Asia in other ways, including through humanitarian work "inside Burma because part of the problem is the difficulties that some ethnic groups face inside Burma".

But he said there was "no future for anyone in encouraging the people-smuggling trade". "Australia will do absolutely nothing that gives any encouragement to anyone to think that they can get on a boat, that they can work with people smugglers to start a new life.  "I'm sorry. If you want to start a new life, you come through the front door, not through the back door."

The United States has said it will take refugees as part of international efforts to deal with the crisis.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor supported regional resettlement as a general principle.  "But where there is an unfolding humanitarian crisis in south-east Asia, Tony Abbott's 'not my problem' approach is disappointing. There's no doubt there's terrible violence happening in parts which are affecting the Rohingya people."  He called for the government to "engage" on the issue.


The wide-ranging influence of genetics

The Left long denied the influence of genetics but now simply ignore it.  The study below is therefore powerful evidence of just how wrong they are.  Hans Eysenck, a considerable student of genetics, once said to me, "It's ALL genetic".  He was of course making a conversational statement to a colleague rather than a precise scientific one but the present study does confirm one sense of what he said:  ALL traits have a substantial genetic component. And the writer below makes the correct and important point that the 50/50 split observed is only an average and that the genetic contribution varies from trait to trait.  So the findings do not overturn the usual finding that IQ is about two thirds genetic

It's a question that dogged scientists for close to a century and Queensland researchers say they have the answer.  When it comes to health, in the age-old battle of nature versus nurture… It's a draw.

University of Queensland research fellow Dr Beben Benyamin worked with scholars at the VU University of Amsterdam to review almost every twin study completed globally in the past 50 years.

After analysing studies of more than 14.5 million twin pairs across 17,804 traits from 2748 publications, they found variation for human traits and diseases was 49 per cent genetic (nature), and 51 per cent due to environmental factors (nurture).

The Queensland Brain Institute researcher said the draw was expected but he was pleased to be able to put a number on the variation and surprised by how similar an influence each aspect had.

"Most of the reviews have been for specific traits, like people are interested in studying one particular disease and review all the twin studies for one disease," he said.  "But this is I think is the first one to review everything about all disease and all twin studies that are available at the moment."

The influence of nature and nurture is actually a complex interplay rather than a simple either/or and is far from equal across all traits and diseases.

The risk for bipolar disorder was about 70 per cent due to genetics and 30 per cent due to environmental factors, Dr Benyamin found.


Echo chamber of anti-government outrage

For an insight into the regrettable yet predictable lack of intellectual curiosity at the taxpayer-funded national broadcaster, you only needed to listen to about 15 minutes of ABC Sydney’s local radio last week.

Following Joe Hockey’s second budget, ABC’s 702 radio station in hosted three journalists on its regular journos’ forum to discuss the budget. Instead of a debate, the forum became an echo chamber where like-minded journalists emoted over entitlements and displayed scorn for Australians who fund the ABC to the tune of more than a $1 billion a year.

It’s bad enough the ABC hab­itually ignores its charter obligation to present news and information in an accurate and impartial manner, a reasonable quid pro quo for receiving taxpayer funds. It’s bad enough that last week Leigh Sales on 7.30 and Emma Alberici on Lateline used their taxpayer-funded platforms to launch aggressive, bad-mannered and partisan attacks when interviewing the Treasurer and Finance Minister respectively.

And it’s just as bad that Lateline’s other host, Tony Jones, can’t imagine a difference between the recklessness of the Rudd government’s stimulus spending and a narrowly targeted tax deduction for small business.

It’s even worse when the national broadcaster invites a panel of three journalists to discuss these and other measures — and all three are in wild agreement with each other’s contempt for budget reforms.

The conversation on 702’s journos’ forum about new tax breaks for small business went like this: The Sydney Morning Herald economics columnist Ross Gittins, the ABC’s Alberici and BuzzFeed News’ Mark Di Stefano all agreed with each other that people are too dim to understand the new measure. Gittins said: “I met people who think ‘oh the government’s going to give you $20,000’ ... there’s no free gifts”. Alberici chimed in with: “Well, look, I have to say I agree with Ross entirely … it’s been beaten up in a way because people don’t understand how the tax system, how a deduction works.” And Di Stefano, who laid claim to providing news to Tony’s tradies, said: “They’re our people as well. It’s very funny because I totally agree with Ross and Emma.”

Was it beyond the wit of those at the ABC to find a journalist who might suggest that most of the men and women running the two million small businesses in Australia probably do understand a tax deduction? A more curious journalist might have suggested that if these small-business owners have purchased anything for their business in the past, they have likely claimed a deduction against income. The new budget measure is not complicated. If you are a small business with turnover of less than $2 million, you can claim an immediate deduction against earned income for items up to $20,000 used in the business. Instead, the forum exposed how contempt for voters such as Howard battlers and Tony’s tradies grows among the so-called progressive set when a Coalition government is in power.

There was more chorus-line chatter when it came to the government’s policy to halt the double-dipping of paid parental leave. Gittins agreed with Alberici and Di Stefano agreed with both of them.

Alberici was more concerned with pointing the finger at this newspaper than considering the unfairness of a two-tiered system where most people can’t access what entitlement-rich ABC employees can access.

“Look, I am one of those people that the — let’s call it for what it is — The Australian newspaper calls out for being a higher-earning public servant who takes advantage of the so-called double-dipping, or the rort, or the fraud,” she said. In fact, no one here has accused Alberici of double-dipping. As she said, the scheme wasn’t available to her when she had children.

During the forum, Alberici uttered “outrageous” no less than five times. Her outrage over the PPL changes was no substitute for a wider debate.

Was it impossible to find a journalist who might have pointed to the fundamental inequity in a system that sets up two classes of recipients: the first class can access two tranches of PPL, the generous PPL package of at least 12 weeks full paid leave if, for example, they are public servants plus $11,500 under the government’s 18-week minimum wage paid leave system? The other class, with no access to workplace PPL, can access only the government scheme.

As The Australian’sJudith Sloan pointed out last weekend, it’s estimated that of the 80,000 recipients who access both PPL schemes, 60,000 are in the public service. In the ABC’s echo chamber of outrage, there was no mention of the fact, as a nation, we are spending more than we are earning. Not one of the journalists uttered the word deficit, only this mocking reference from Gittins: “Somebody has dreamt it up, somebody in fin­ance has said, ‘We can save a couple of bob, minister.’ ” Damn those finance types and their obsession with fiscal responsibility.

A different-minded journalist also might have pointed out, in the context of a discussion about women and work, that the government is pumping an additional $3.5bn into childcare over the next five years so that low-income families will receive 85 per cent subsidies for childcare costs.

Perhaps it is indeed beyond the imagination of those at the ABC forum to ask searching questions around inequity and deficit challenges of the budget. Certainly the host of the journos’ forum, Kumi Taguchi, didn’t think to inject these issues into the talk. And that’s the core problem so often evident at the ABC. It’s as if no decent, morally upright person could possibly hold a view different to the orthodoxy of ABC journalists.

While it is certainly not the role of the taxpayer-funded national broadcaster to advance a government’s reform agenda, it most certainly is its role to deliver good, intellectually curious and honest journalism, to offer up different points of view and present news and information in an accurate and impartial fashion.

ABC groupthink is exacerbated when those who host the major news and current affairs programs are the same people venting their opinions on any number of the ABC’s opinion platforms, be it the journos’ forum, the Drum, Insiders or elsewhere. If you want to be a commentator, go ahead and commentate. If you want to host serious news programs, do that. But pick your poison. When you nail your colours to the mast, for example, by declaring that one or other government policy is outrageous, it pollutes your ability to deliver news and information in an accurate and impartial manner.

More important, it undermines the ABC’s ability to meet its charter obligations and that taints the legitimacy of the ABC as a taxpayer-funded broadcaster.


Commonwealth Bank Targeted by Greenies

The Commonwealth Bank has been targeted by climate campaigners for the second day in a row, as anger over its support for the fossil fuels industry grows and protesters start to move to more direct and disruptive actions.

A group of around nine protesters are currently ‘occupying’ a Commonwealth Bank branch on the corner of Market and George in the Sydney CBD, after performing a similar action in Melbourne yesterday that saw the bank’s headquarters interrupted for nine hours.

Police are on the scene, although customers are still doing business inside the bank. A spokesperson on form the bank declined to comment on whether the branch would shut.

The actions are part of an escalating campaign against the bank, which is lining up to assist coal company Adani fund a massive expansion into Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

This week’s protests have been led by, a global climate group dedicated to reversing emissions, and co-founded by environmentalist and activist Bill McKibben.

350’s media coordinator Krista Collard, who is watching the protest from outside, told New Matilda the bank was the only of the ‘big four’ to be publicly named dealing with Adani, and that it had failed to engage with community concerns about the Indian company’s Queensland projects.

“We have been trying to talk with Com Bank for years now and basically every time members of the public, members or concerned residents bring this up, they’ve been shielded from talking to anybody that has any decision making power,” Collard said.

Meetings with the bank have taken place but “our concerns have not been taken seriously,” she said.

Aside from concerns about damage to the Great Barrier Reef from the world's largest coal port, which Adani plans to construct at Abbott Point near Mackay, climate campaigners have warned an expansion of mining in the Galilee would be a disaster for global efforts to limit temperate increases.

Along with Artic oil and the Alberta tar sands, Queensland’s coalfields are seen as a key battleground for the fight to limit temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

While other banks have distanced themselves from the projects, environmental campaigners are concerned that if Adani is able to secure domestic credit it will trigger further international investment.

The company has defended the impact exporting and burning Galilee coal will have on the Great Barrier Reef by arguing the world is on target for a 3.1 degree temperature increase regardless of whether the coal in the Galilee is left in the ground or extracted.

In response to questions, a spokesperson for the Commonwealth Bank said the organisation recognised its role in addressing the challenge of climate change.

“In that regard we have invested in more than 170 renewable energy projects in the wind, solar, hydro and landfill gas power sectors,” they said.


Jeep again

MOMENTUM is building for a national “lemon law” to protect owners of dodgy cars, with a key federal senator declaring support for increased examination of “vehicle manufacturer conduct”.

After last week’s story which revealed how Jeep had finally relented and replaed a faulty car after one family’s exhausting battle, we were inundated with other horror stories

The worst of them featured the Sifniotis family say their Jeep Grand Cherokee’s steering locked — while in motion — in August last year, five months after purchase.

In a September email the dealer said it had fixed what it called “a wiring concern”. But in November, while Mary Sifniotis was doing 100km/h on the M5, it happened again. She says she had to stop the car to unlock the steering wheel.

This, and 15 other less significant faults, led her and husband Con to request a refund. They had no success so contacted me after last week’s story.

A Jeep spokesman said the steering wheel locking again was only raised by Mr Sifniotis last week. Emails suggest this is not the case.

The Sifniotis have had access to a loan car at Jeep’s expense. However, they say they have also spent $12,000 on another car, because they do not want to drive the Jeep.  “My wife is too scared to even look at it, let alone sit in it or drive it,” Mr Sifniotis said. He said they believe the “vehicle is not roadworthy”.

The family intends to pursue a refund through the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

However, Jeep wants to conduct further testing on the vehicle.

Following the unprecedented response to last week’s column — and ahead of an official review of existing legislation — our probe of the case for a lemon law reveals:

* influential but rarely-heard-from crossbench senator Ricky Muir of the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party wants the review to consider “greater consumer protection … in the area of motor vehicle sales and repairs”;

* the highly regarded Consumer Action Law Centre wants a law that defines a lemon as “a vehicle that has been repaired at least three times by the manufacturer or importer and the vehicle still has a defect or if the vehicle is out of service for 20 or more days in total due to a defect;

* the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is “actively investigating … vehicle manufacturer conduct in the context of consumer guarantee obligations” and is “increasingly concerned about reports of consumers having difficulty with their new cars”; and

* there is no evidence that any new car owner has obtained a refund or replacement using the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), introduced in 2011.

Consumer Action CEO Gerard Brody said in the ACL review it would also argue for a switch in the “onus of proof” for at least the first six months of ownership.

“The trader should be required to prove that the goods are of an acceptable quality rather than this burden sitting with the consumer,” Mr Brody said. “We find that recalcitrant traders repeatedly repair cars and say they are working when they aren’t. This requires consumers to complain and complain and end up at the tribunal which can mean they give up.”

The federal minister responsible for consumer affairs Bruce Billson revealed the ACCC investigation yesterday. Of the existing law, he said: “If you buy a motor vehicle and it has a major failure, you have the right to choose between a refund or a replacement product. While not called a ‘lemon law’, consumer guarantees can provide similar redress.”

That said, the review of the ACL later this year “will be an opportunity to test how well the law is working and to see if changes are needed”.

Top consumer group Choice’s spokesman Tom Godfrey said the ACL review was timely.

“Too often we hear of consumers being driven into the aftermarket and given the run around by dealers when they seek redress,” Mr Godfrey said. “Some consumers are wondering how car companies are getting away with off-loading lemons”.

Other stories from Jeep owners

Not new

SIMON, who asked that his surname not be used due to his occupation, says he wasn’t told his new 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee had been damaged and repaired. He wants a refund and, while Jeep hasn’t agreed, it is “more than happy to work with (him) to reach a suitable outcome”.

Noisy engine

LAURA Puig and Jim Chitsos say they have taken their 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee back 14 times in six months for a noisy engine. Jeep says it is a “commonplace characteristic” of that engine and claims the owners “attest to this”. The owners disagree and still want a refund.


PETER Curran says his 2013 Chrysler 300 SRT8 has many problems including a ticking sound from the engine and faults with the side mirrors. Jeep says “all required repair work has been carried out under warranty”. Mr Curran says this is not the case and he still wants a refund.

Won’t start

MATTHEW Good says his 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Blackhawk fails to start. It happened in November, February, April and May. He says there have been failed attempts to fix the fault and he wants a refund. Jeep told Public Defender last night it would contact the customer.

Unable to tow

KARL Boos says his 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee cannot safely tow a three-tonne caravan and that he has a statutory declaration from an expert to this effect. He says the vehicle is not fit for a normal purpose and wants a refund. Jeep said last night it would get in touch with the customer.

Water Pump

COURTNEY Murray had her 2012 Jeep Patriot serviced regularly but not by Jeep. A week after the warranty ran out, Jeep had a special on servicing. Jeep found the water pump was leaking but wouldn’t fix it because it didn’t do all the servicing. Now it is “happy to work with this customer”.

Leaking roof

CORY McMillan found his 2013 Jeep Wrangler’s roof was leaking. He says he took it to get fixed and Jeep said keep driving it until new seals came in. During the recent storms water got in, causing extensive damage. Jeep said it wouldn’t fix it. Now it says it’ll repair it as “a standard warranty claim”.


Thursday, May 21, 2015


The appeal of the Greens to the rich and godless has been underlined by an analysis of voting patterns in the recent NSW election. The Greens picked up three lower house seats — Balmain, Newtown and Ballina — and two members of the upper house. The party’s state-wide vote was unchanged at 10.3 per cent, but it achieved solid increases in the inner city — and big jumps in its support on the north coast of NSW, due to concerns about coal-seam gas.

Analysis of election results using 2011 census data compiled by the NSW parliamentary library reveals the ¬secret of the Greens’ success ¬appears to be the party’s appeal to atheists and the well-off.

In the top 10 electorates ranked by the proportion of households with income of $3000 a week or more, the Greens’ primary vote averaged 17 per cent. In the 10 electorates with the lowest proportion of such families, the Greens vote averaged 10.9 per cent. And this figure was inflated by the Greens’ outstanding results in the north coast seats of Tweed and Lismore, driven by the CSG issue. The electorates ranked one and two for people who nominate no religion, agnosticism, atheism, humanism or rationalism are Newtown and Balmain in inner Sydney. The No 3 godless electorate is Sydney, which is held by the Clover Moore-backed independent Alex Greenwich, who captures much of what would otherwise be the Greens vote.

Even with him getting 39.6 per cent of the vote, the Greens still managed a respectable 9.7 per cent primary vote. The Greens’ other seat, Ballina, which includes Byron Bay and Mullumbimby, is ranked four for the number of atheists. Conversely, in electorates where the proportion of Christians is highest, Greens did relatively poorly. In the most Christian seat in NSW — Cootamundra in the Riverina — the Greens managed just 3.5 per cent of the vote. Although the Greens proclaim an emphasis on social justice and equity, working-class people ¬appear unconvinced. In electorates with the highest proportion of labourers, the Greens averaged only 4.8 per cent.

Greens MLC John Kaye said education, rather than income, was a better predictor of a likely Greens voter. “As a progressive party, we appeal to people who have been formally trained to look at alternatives and assess them,” he said. Dr Kaye said it was a mistake to lump Balmain and Newtown together, because they were quite different electorates. Balmain was wealthier and had more families while Newtown had more students and public-sector workers. ABC election analyst Antony Green studied the demographics of the Greens vote in the 2010 federal election, concluding Labor and the Greens are not engaged in a battle over Labor heartland but that the Greens were concentrated in the inner cities and among the “knowledge elite.” He remarked that “high Green support basically disappears at the end of the tram lines” in Melbourne.

Via email from the Australian Prayer Network

NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay slams inner-city hipsters as ‘anti-road zealots’

HEY you! Latte-sipping hipster of Newtown or Fitzroy. You’re worse for the environment than a fleet of trucks.  Look at you, sitting there in your wholefood cafe, munching on your kale salad (yum!) and whingeing about why your city can’t be a freewheeling bicycle utopia like Paris. You just don’t get it.

This is the entirely unflattering view NSW’s Roads Minister Duncan Gay takes of Australia’s inner-city residents, as he rails against (or, should that be “roads” against?) their extremist pro-train agenda.

Politicians continue to fend off criticism from residents (oh, and pesky planning experts) for prioritising mega roads — such as Sydney’s whopping Westconnex motorway and Melbourne’s maligned East-West Link — over public transport.

While the East-West Link is on the scrap heap, the 33km Westconnex is happening — and the six-land freeway will spit out thousands of cars right next door to Sydney’s hipster HQ of King St, Newtown.
But inner city scenesters can cry into their quinoa for all Mr Gay cares.

He used a forum on freight in Sydney yesterday to slam Australia’s “anti-road zealots”. (Stack hats on, hipsters, coz you’re about to cop it from Mr Gay.)

“I’m increasingly concerned by the vocal anti-road movement in Sydney and elsewhere which revere dogma over reality,” he said.
“They conveniently forget that thousands of commuters each day need to drive to rail and bus stations, ferry wharves, hospitals, schools, shopping centres and sporting grounds.

“They forget their groceries, whitegoods, furniture and mail are delivered by road. I’m yet to see a freight train back into a shop in Newtown or someone hitch a ride on a tram with their newly purchased 400L fridge from Harvey Norman.

“It is one thing to sit in your cafe, sipping your latte, and complain about cars and roads. “It’s another thing to wonder how the grease trap in that coffee lounge actually gets removed.” 

But, for his big finish, Mr Gay said Australia’s “chattering class” were worse polluters than trucks.  “More particulate matter goes into the air over the city of Sydney from the chattering class sitting around their log fire and a glass of chardonnay (talking about) that horrible Duncan Gay; they put more particulate matter into the air of Sydney by a factor of four of five than heavy vehicles ever did,” he said.

In a deeply unsurprising development, Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi has rushed in with box of tissues to dry the eyes of her craft-beer swilling constituency.  “Minister Gay’s callous remarks about the people in our community fighting against toxic toll road projects are condescending and ill-informed,” she said.

“The people organising against projects like WestConnex and NorthConnex are doing so because they believe these roads are not what Sydney needs in the 21st century. And they are right. “The Roads Minister’s tired cliches about latte-sippers basically trivialise what are really serious issues for people: the air they breathe, the way they get around, and the accessibility of the services and amenities they need to live good, healthy lives.”


Brandis takes away a lot of the money from the Leftist arty farties

And they're squealing

Diverting almost $105 million in funding from the Australia Council to the federal Arts Ministry would challenge "widespread perception" that the arts funding body is a "closed shop" that favoured artists in Melbourne and Sydney, Arts Minister George Brandis says.

There was a view that the Australia Council was an "iron wall that you're either inside or outside", the senator said on Tuesday.

"This is a very good budget for the arts," Mr Brandis said of measures announced in last week's federal budget. "There have been no significant cuts at all," he told ABC Radio National.

Under the policy, a National Program for Excellence in the Arts will be established with $104.7 million over four years diverted from the Australia Council (which will have $185 million to distribute to artists and arts organisations). In addition, the Australia Council has been asked to find savings of $7.2 million over four years.

The move sparked an outcry from many in the arts community, saying it reduced the amount of arts funding delivered by peer review, at arm's length from government.

While several major companies have been quiet on the move – and Opera Australia CEO Craig Hassall said he was "delighted" that major performing arts companies' funding was not cut – others have expressed concern that companies with better connections to the minister will be rewarded to the detriment of smaller organisations.

More than 4000 people, including authors Thomas Keneally, Christos Tsiolkas and JM Coetzee, playwright Joanna Murray-Smith and artists William Yang and Shaun Tan have signed a petition opposing the "massive defunding" of the Australia Council.

Individual artists have also backed up those concerns.  "It hasn't been explained yet how the minister will be administering these funds, and what he means by areas of excellence," said artist Ken Unsworth, who represented Australia at the 1978 Venice Biennale. "If that's just flagship companies getting more money then I think that's appalling."

Editor, poet and essayist David Brooks criticised the move, adding he wasn't greatly surprised by it. "We could have seen this coming, regardless of but especially after the PM's non-arm's-length role in this year's Prime Minister's Literary Awards."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott insisted Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan share the award with Steven Carroll, the judges' unanimous choice.

Asked to define his interpretation of excellence in the arts, Mr Brandis sidestepped the question, saying he would rather not anticipate the specifics of the guidelines.

They would, however, be transparent, independent and "they will extend access to funding to a wider [pool] of applicants", he said.

"The minister's not the assessor," he said, adding that decisions would be made by staff from within his office.

Of the perception that the budget measures would hit emerging artists hardest and favour the heritage arts, he said: "I don't think there is an antithesis between excellence and experimentation, not at all."

The senator said he had "quarantined" the arts from larger cuts in this budget and last year (the 2014 budget included more than $100 million in cuts to the sector by the Abbott government, which included a $28 million reduction in funding to the Australia Council over four years, $33.8 million taken from arts programs run by the Attorney-General's Department and $25.1 million from Screen Australia).

He denied he was "dismantling" the Australia Council by moving the Book Council and programs such as Festivals Australia, Visions of Australia and the Major Festivals initiative back under his ministry's control.

"I don't think the Australia Council is on the way out," Mr Brandis said. "About 87 per cent of grant funding will continue to be funded through the Australia Council. I think the Australia Council ought to continue to have the principal role in arts funding in Australia.

"That being said I do not favour the view that it be a monopoly funder of the arts. A funding mix ... is a healthier way to do arts funding."

The minister provided little further detail beyond the short statement released last week on how the new initiative would work.

Mr Brandis said his office would publish guidelines in coming weeks and would invite applications for funding "in the coming financial year".

He compared the model for the national program to the cultural fund created to mark the Gallipoli centenary.

"[There's an] analogy with the way the Anzac Arts and Culture Fund has been administered, with an advisory panel of experts who assess projects and make recommendations."


Labor suffers first defeat in hung Qld. Parliament as Billy Gordon backs LNP’s wait time guarantee

Long waits in public hospitals are no concern of the ALP, apparently

THEY joined with embattled Cook MP Billy Gordon to help the Opposition chalk up its first win against the Palaszczuk Government in State Parliament last night and the Katter’s Australian Party MPs warn it will not be the last time this term.

KAP State Leader Robbie Katter said the decision signalled the return of democracy to the House.

“I think it demonstrates to people that we have introduced this wonderful form of democracy back into the parliament now where things get through on their merits,” Mr Katter said.

“We saw merit in what the Opposition motion delivered for hospitals and we voted accordingly and so did the Member for Cook and that will continue to happen.”

Mr Katter said he hoped the decision signalled to Labor and the LNP that state parliament was “not about major parties beating their chests and playing party games”.

“It needs to be used for serious activity to deliver real outcomes,” he said.  “We represent electorates that are on their knees. We believe we are doing it worse than anywhere else in Australia...and we are uncompromising in pursuing the agenda that we feel delivers best for Queenslanders.  “We’ve got real democracy ... and I think it’s a good thing for Queensland.”

Fellow Katter MP Shane Knuth said they would continue to work with the government on the surgery wait time issue to achieve a result they were happy with.  “We’ve indicated right from the beginning that we want to support good policies, good legislation and good motions,” Mr Knuth said.  “We may not get it right every time. We’re not perfect.”

In the first sign of the instability of the hung Parliament, Mr Gordon sided with the Katter MPs to help the Opposition win a motion to keep the LNP’s health wait time guarantee.

Mr Gordon said he backed the Opposition as he had not seen anything to convince him to vote against it.  “I’ve always said I will offer confidence to the Government and that stands, but on this particular issue, I haven’t heard anything that persuaded me otherwise,” he said.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk last night tried to downplay the loss.  “It’s just a normal vote of the Parliament, nothing unusual,” she said.

There was audible shock in the chamber as the Clerk read out the votes of the Crossbenchers, revealing the final tally of 45 votes for and 43 votes against.

Despite the vote, Labor insisted it wouldn’t reinstate the LNP’s wait time guarantee.  Instead, Health Minister Cameron Dick said the Government would continue with its own plan to tackle waiting lists.  “Any vote in a Parliament is important. But this is the reality of a hung parliament where no party has a majority,” Mr Dick said.  “It’s not a binding vote in the sense the Parliament can’t instruct the Government to do things.”

Scrapping the Opposition’s wait time guarantee – which assured surgery within clinically recommended time frames or free surgery in a private hospital – was one of the first things Mr Dick did when he became health minister.


The Tim Flannery hypothesis

Peter van Onselen

The descent into madness at the University of Western Australia associated with the possible setting up of a centre to be headed by Danish professor Bjorn Lomborg has been a debacle from start to finish.

I feel for all the parties involved — the management forced into an embarrassing backdown, colleagues who rightly or wrongly felt blindsided by the initial decision. And perhaps most of all I feel for the great majority of staff and students at UWA (let’s call them the silent majority) who probably weren’t that concerned about the decision either way, but no doubt are concerned by the reputational damage caused to the university.

Although I do not agree with the backlash that the decision to accept the commonwealth funds and establish the centre caused among staff (I wrote in defence of the centre’s establishment after it was announced), it is the often disingenuous reasons for the uprising that bother me most. These have certainly been the reasons to receive the most public attention.

I want to put out there a proposition for readers to ponder, which I’ll come back to throughout this piece: would the bottom-up revolt by staff have occurred had the Rudd or Gillard government done the same for Tim Flannery, for example, and set up a centre to advocate aggressive climate change action?

It is just my opinion, but I highly doubt it. Sure, this newspaper and certain commentators might have had a crack at it, but I doubt UWA would have faced a revolt.

For anyone who agrees with me they will also, I suspect, agree that this is a telling observation. For readers who do not, because the above is an unprovable opinion, we simply have to agree to ­disagree.

Let’s establish a few facts, as well as dispel more than a few myths surrounding this debate.

Lomborg believes in climate change, but he questions whether the cost of addressing it is economically worth the effort, in a world of finite resources.

Yes, he is not an economist by training, he is a political scientist. Critics have made a lot of this. But to suggest there isn’t overlap between these disciplines, or that he is somehow unqualified to explore a hypothesis in the wider sphere of economics is preposterous. All the more so given that his research expertise is in statistics.

I would direct readers to (the more than eminent) Professor Flannery’s formal qualifications and training, reminding them that unlike Lomborg he engages in debates about the science of climate change, for which he is not ideally qualified.

Would opponents of Lomborg’s academic policy engagements equally oppose Flannery’s, on the premise that both men were not, strictly speaking, trained within the specific discipline they now operate in?

There has been scuttlebutt about how well qualified Lomborg is to be worthy of the appointment UWA offered.

First, it was to be an honorary post, without salary. Second, he was already an academic at a well respected overseas university. His PhD is from Denmark’s top ranked tertiary institution (University of Copenhagen) and he rose to the rank of professor at its second best institution, the University of Aarhus. These are world top 50 and top 100 universities respectively. For context, UWA is a top 100 university, and proudly so.

Third, the mooted centre would have been staffed by scholars who would have gone through a formal appointment process within UWA.

Finally, the Danish centre as well as its offshoots in the US house highly reputable scholars, including a number of Nobel laureates. Links to these institutions would, I believe, have elevated UWA, not diminished it.

The point is not to brag, nor to imply UWA would be lucky to be graced with Lomborg’s partial presence. It is simply to highlight the absurdity of suggesting his centre was without merit and UWA would lose academic standing because of it, much less be so diabolic that it needed to provoke an uprising by staff and students.

It was an overreaction, which is perhaps why management should have stood firm.

Would it have been a controversial centre? Of course. Is that a reason not to engage with Lomborg’s ideas? I hope not, or I had better find another university to affiliate myself with. I don’t tend to tread lightly in my political commentary. There is a good point to be made criticising centres such as Lomborg’s as bordering on the polemical, and suiting the purpose of a think tank more than a university. I have heard this criticism used in recent weeks. That is to say, such centres seem to want to find evidence to support a hypothesis, rather than let the evidence direct the inquiry.

There are two things to say about this. First, keeping such centres out of universities is a fight that was lost a long, long time ago. The University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies is the most high-profile version of such a think tank within a university in this country, but there are many others both here and abroad. In fact, there are a number that concern themselves with campaigns for climate change action beyond what the consensus requests. Second, are those who opposed Lomborg’s centre consistent, and would they equally have opposed a similar centre albeit with a different ideological goal? This is the Flannery hypothesis (cum opinion) that I have.

I’ve seen others invoke the freedom of expression defence as to why Lomborg’s centre should have gone ahead, and in turn they have criticised UWA staff for silencing dissent. While John Stuart Mill’s writings often get raised in this context, in truth he has made counterpoints to the arguments free speech advocates like to raise. They would know this had they read his collective works, rather than cherry-picked his findings. Let’s keep long dead philosophers out of this debate, other than to note its nice to hear contrary arguments when we do quote scholars who housed themselves in our institutes of higher learning, often as contrarians at the time.

My criticism of the rejection of the Lomborg centre is more about the lack of consistency, the false narrative and misinformation associated with it, and the (in my opinion) rather obvious ideological partisanship which seemed to kick it off. It is important to note that there were colleagues who were upset with the initial decision because of the management process, or I suspect in their view the lack of it. I do not mean to lump them in with the more vocal opponents, who have tended to base their opposition on the grounds I am criticising above.

Are there reasons to dislike the decision to accept the money and set up the centre? You bet there are. Did the Abbott government have a clear agenda when seeking to allocate the funds? I have no doubt. The university would have been within its rights to say, “Thanks, but no thanks, we don’t want to be part of your partisan games.” Perhaps it should have.

Would I have rejected the opportunity were I part of university management? I simply do not know, there is too much information courtesy of the way this process has unfolded to develop an undistorted view now.

Like it or not, university managers need the support of their subordinates, such is the institutional structure. The fault perhaps lies more in the lack of consultation prior to the initial decision, than in the ultimate one to walk away from the centre.

I can see that the decision to engage with Lomborg may have been a managerial mistake given the agendas in play, it is a crying shame the way my colleagues reacted. That’s because universities should not shut down contrarian scholarship. And they certainly should not do so inconsistently and in a distorting way, given the broad ideological spectrum within society, which should be reflected in our universities.

It does appear that management could have sold the now defunct centre better to colleagues. The mere fact that there was an uprising against the decision is arguably evidence of that. But would a better sales job surrounding the opening up of the centre have avoided the embarrassment we witnessed? Perhaps, but I’m not certain. Because the reasons behind the opposition to Lomborg’s arrival (in name more than in person, given he was only ever going to be an unpaid honorary chairman of the centre, and not based in WA) seem to me to have been largely built on a mixture of ideology and misunderstanding.

In a sign of how ridiculous this whole debate has become, it is incumbent on me before signing off to spell out where I stand on climate change, how to combat it and what (if any) qualifications I have to comment on such matters.

Like Lomborg, I accept the science of climate change (not that I would have cared if he did not, his research isn’t about trying to disprove it). There appears to be a scientific consensus on climate change, although we should be mindful that there are well qualified professors of climate science who dispute the consensus, and they work in leading universities. They appear vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the evidence, but recognising such dissenting views is important.

Like Lomborg, I am primarily a political scientist by training, with a PhD in the discipline. I feel that makes me qualified to debate and examine the public policy benefits or otherwise of pursuing alternative uses of limited government (and private) monies when combating disease and scientific decay.

My political science studies have also trained me in the study of political economy and public policy specifically, as I suspect Lomborg’s have, and I’ve completed a master of policy studies and a master of commerce, if that somehow matters when dipping into this multidisciplinary debate.

Does the economics of focusing on combating climate change stack up, or are there other ways to spend limited funds more effectively? I’m not sure I’d agree with Lomborg’s findings, to be honest; I’d need to do my own research to find out. But what’s to fear in him doing such work? Surely his thesis is worthy of inquiry?

Not that this was to be the purpose of the UWA centre Lomborg would have been affiliated with anyway. It seemed from the media releases to be an extension of his work, focused more on the various ways of combating disease and dysfunction in our region. Lomborg’s earlier works on the economics of climate change action almost seemed irrelevant to the work the centre would have engaged in. You can see the value it would have had without agreeing with the premise on which it came about. It struck me that UWA could have played the government off a break, structuring the centre for its own purposes at the same time as satisfying the Abbott government’s penchant for dishing out the cash in the name of a cause.

Inevitably some colleagues who disagree with the views I have expressed may seek to pick holes in my argument, which I absolutely welcome. That’s all part of the rich joy of academic debate. It would have been nice if Lomborg’s centre could have been viewed in the same spirit, but alas.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What was behind the white Australia policy?

Although it is now a forbidden belief, a belief that race differences exist and are in some cases important was virtually universal up until fairly recently so it is easy to conclude that the legislation enshrining what was generally known as the White Australia policy was motivated by racism.  While racial beliefs did no doubt provide some background to, and justification for, that policy, however, I would think that most people with any awareness of Australian social history will be aware that the "Immigration Restriction Act", as it was called, was motivated primarily by a strong demand from the working class to exclude cheap labour, Chinese labour in particular. It was motivated by what unions call a desire to maintain their "conditions".  Suspicion of cheap labour brought in from China still surfaces among union spokesmen to this day. 

For those who know little about Australian social history, a long and erudite essay by a pseudonymous author has just appeared.  I reproduce below the section most immediately relevant to the enactment of immigration restrictions at the very beginning of the Australian federation. 

There is one small error in it.  The white Australia policy was abolished not by Gough Whitlam but by the conservative government of Harold Holt.  Whitlam just tidied up a few details

Australia was singularly fortunate that, by the beginning of the 1890s, the “common man” actually had political power via the franchise and elected his own representatives to the various colonial Parliaments. In a world ruled mostly by absolute monarchs and the hereditary aristocracy, Australia was unique in being governed by “the workers” the majority of whom were also literate and numerate. In Australia almost the entire population, from the top professionals to the lowest ditch-diggers, were directly connected with the convict “assigned servant” system or had come from the disenfranchised and oppressed classes of Britain, Europe and America. Here people, men and women, could breathe free and truly believed that “Jack was as good as his master” and there was no way they were ever going to allow British or foreign Imperialists, aristocrats, or the filthy rich share-holders to establish a plantation system in this country worked by exploited whites or anyone else. The only way to stymie foreign plans for exactly that was to pass legislation that would deny such exploiters the one resource they needed – and that was the importation of a huge coolie workforce. That’s why the various colonial laws restricting immigration were made consistent and became the “Immigration Restriction Act” that was the first legislation ever passed by the Australian Federal Parliament and became known as the “White Australia Policy” – even though it did not deny anyone entry on the basis of race.

Between 1901 and 1914 Australia was “the most democratic country on earth” and led the world with social reform that, for the first time in world history, gave the common man a real opportunity to rise above the station of his (or her) birth. A place where a man really could be judged on the content of his character, his own abilities and innate worth, rather than on whom his father was or the “Public” school that he’d attended – or his accent. At that time visitors to Australia were often appalled by the lack of “respect” and “reverence” Australians showed to their social betters and their refusal to doff their hats or tug their forelocks to anyone or to “know their place”. Australians had also developed a distinctive accent that, unlike anywhere else in the English speaking world, is the same regardless of geographical location or social status. George Bernard Shaw could never have written “Pygmalion” if he’d been born and raised in Australia; that could only have been written in, and about, a class riven society such as Britain where people are instantly judged, and assigned a social role, by their accents. Australia at that time, just over a century ago, also had a very powerful union movement that ensured that employees, regardless of the complexity of the work done, received a liveable wage and had a real and tangible opportunity to own their own home or piece of land and made sure there were schools for their children and hospitals for their sick and pensions for those of them who were old or infirm. Those ideas were “revolutionary” in the world of the first decade of the 20th Century. Australia also elected, for the first time in world history, a Labor Government made up of men who wouldn’t even have had the vote in Britain (or most countries in the world) at that time.

In that first decade of the 20th Century Australians were the richest and freest people in the world and in all human history. The wealth distribution between the rich and poor was also the narrowest and we had avoided a war of independence, a civil war, serious uprisings or any of the other great societal conflicts that plagued older and more traditional societies. But while we avoided all those things and the horrors of the Industrial Revolution with its 5 year-olds down mines and cleaning the cotton mills, the little match girls and chimney sweeps, the share-cropping system, and the factory fodder living in a company hovel and working a six day week for one day’s pay and forever in debt to the company store, there was an element, both domestic and foreign, who still hankered after a coolie-worked plantation system that would bust the unions, drive down wages, and chase the common ruck from the Halls of Power that “rightfully” belonged to them on the basis of their birth and inherited wealth. Australians were the bastards of the British Empire, a collection of lower-class upstarts descended from criminals and street sweepings that needed to “compete” in a reverse-auction for work and political power – for their own good – against a few million coolies imported from around Asia and the Pacific Islands. But they failed. The White Australia Policy lasted on the statutes until the mid-1960s when it began to be watered down and then finally abolished by the Whitlam and Fraser Governments and was replaced, without any popular support or, heaven forbid, a referendum of the people, with Al Grassby’s policy of “multiculturalism” – an idea that had been around since the days of the Roman Empire and has a 100% failure rate everywhere it had ever been tried – and is failing everywhere it’s been implemented over the last 50 years.

The Immigration Restriction Act was not about white supremacy, racism, or the belief that whites were higher up the evolutionary tree than the coloured races. Rather, it was designed to STOP the racist exploitation of non-whites (all of whom would have been illiterate peasants practicing religions and cultures anathema to progressive democracy) being conscripted into a life of semi-slavery in a coolie-worked plantation economy for the benefit of the absolute monarchs, hereditary aristocracy and the super-wealthy companies and share-holders of the northern hemisphere. It was also about stopping the creation of ethnic-racial enclaves and ghettoes, inter-religious schisms and conflict, and from destroying the “working man’s paradise” that had been created by the native-born, the “currency” lads and lasses, of Australia. We did not want the racial and ethnic conflicts that plagued every part of the Americas and the Caribbean or the rigid class structures of Europe or the oppression of ethnic minorities as was normal in the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, British, French, German, American, Russian, Chinese and Japanese Empires of the time. We only wanted people who believed as we did: that a man should have dignity, a say in government via a universal and compulsory franchise, and a fair share of the wealth of the nation; that people should rise in society on their own merits and find their own station in life regardless of who their father was; that women should have the same rights to an education, inheritance, personal wealth and social advancement as anyone else; that no man, woman or child should ever be a slave or a serf or work in indentured bondage; that anyone could say what they damned well liked without fear of exclusion, impoverishment, the knout, the cell, the chain-gang, or the gallows. The only way to ensure all those revolutionary freedoms was to keep one commodity in short supply – and that was labour. The White Australia Policy was about self-preservation and the continuance of a social experiment that had been a spectacular success.


Renewable energy deal close

Both sides may settle for half a loaf

A deal on the Renewable Energy Target could come within weeks after the federal government indicated this morning it is willing to back down on a demand the scheme be subject to biannual reviews.

The development has been welcomed by industry, which has seen investment collapse by nearly 90 per cent since the Abbott government recruited self-professed climate sceptic Dick Warburton to head a review in February last year.

“It’s the reviews that have really killed the industry over the last couple of years,” said Russell Marsh, Director of Policy at the Clean Energy Council.

The council, supported by Labor and the Greens, had last week dismissed continuing reviews as a “deal breaker” after the government met with the Opposition and made an offer to break the deadlock over the target.

At the meeting, the government changed its position on the target, announcing it would agree to set the amount of electricity that must be sourced from renewables by 2020 at 33,000 gigawatt hours (GWh).

The target was established at 41,000 GWh with tri-partisan support in 2009, but industry is willing to accept the Abbott government's cut to 33,000GWh so as to maintain bipartisan support, which will help calm investors’ nerves.

“It’s really only having the legislation locked away and changed that you’ll see investor certainty returning,” Marsh said.

Reacting to this morning’s news Kane Thornton, the Chief Executive Officer of the Clean Energy Council, said he’s “now confident that a final agreement can be negotiated, which will deliver the necessary bipartisan support for the RET, restoring stability to the policy and allowing the industry to meet the revised target”.

“It has been a tough 15 months, but this development will be a huge weight off the shoulders of the 20,000 people working in the industry,” Thornton said.

Labor has not yet responded to the government’s changed stance. While it will welcome the government’s decision to drop the reviews, another “red herring” could still derail a deal.

Last time the government met with Labor to discuss the RET it also demanded that native forest wood waste, which was delisted by the Greens and Labor in 2011, be reclassified as a renewable energy source.

Labor remains opposed to including wood waste but it has generally followed the industry’s lead in negotiations, and while the Clean Energy Council also opposes the reclassification, it is urging politicians to focus on the big picture.

“They should get on with the job of getting the legislation passed and not let those other minor details (in the scheme of things) get tangled up in the process,” Marsh said.

The compromise on reviews could see new legislation introduced before parliament breaks for winter recess on June 25, and Thornton remains hopeful “the major parties will continue to work through this issue for the good of the tens of thousands of people employed by the renewable energy industry”.

Environmental groups, however, have argued that including native wood waste would undermine the effectiveness of the RET.

“The regime would be a hell of a lot more certain if native wood waste was excluded from it,” the Climate Council’s Andrew Stock said.

“In the short run - 20 or 30 years - while the trees are replanted and establish themselves, you’re probably net adding to emissions because you’re burning trees that have been there for 50 to a 100 years,” Stock said.

“And if the power station isn't right next to a sawmill or something the costs and the emissions associated with the transport of the wood waste is an additional emission.”

“It is clear there is a serious intention to proceed with forest furnaces,” said Peg Putt, Chief Executive Officer of Markets For Change.

“Large greenhouse gas emissions result from burning native forest wood,” she said.

“If it proceeded then energy from native forest biomass would be at a scale that would reduce the proportion of the RET available to wind and solar, undermining these genuinely clean energy sources.


Abbott won't let foreign militant fighters back into the country after they leave

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday ruled out an amnesty for Australian citizens seeking to quit foreign militant groups and return home in the wake of media reports that his government was negotiating with potential defectors.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that Australian authorities in the Middle East were negotiating with three Australian fighters with the Islamic State radical group who wanted to leave but feared imprisonment at home.

Abbott seemed to confirm their fears on Tuesday, taking a hard line that includes prison time for those who have ignored Australian laws expressly barring them from participating in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

“If you go abroad to break Australian law, if you go abroad to kill innocent people in the name of misguided fundamentalism and extremism, if you go abroad to become an Islamist killer, well, we are hardly going to welcome you back into this country,” Abbott told reporters.

“If you go abroad to join a terrorist group and you seek to come back to Australia, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and jailed.”

Security analysts have put the number of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria, travelling from scores of countries around the world, in the thousands.

Abbott has told parliament at least 70 Australians were fighting in Iraq and Syria backed by about 100 Australia-based “facilitators”.

Australia is on high alert for attacks by radicalized Muslims or by home-grown militants returning from fighting in the Middle East, having raised its threat level to high and undertaken a series of high-profile raids in major cities.

Under tough new security powers won by Abbott’s conservative government in October, Australian citizens can face up to a decade in prison for overseas travel to areas declared off limits.


High-quality 19th century marker shows that the sea-level has FALLEN since then

Tasmanian marker showing that the mean sea level of the mid 19th century was ABOVE the mean sea-level of today

The ‘Isle of the Dead’ may yet prove to be another nail in the coffin of global warming and its gruesome companion, Disastrous Sea Level Rises.

The `Isle of the Dead’ is over two acres in size and is situated within the harbor of Port Arthur opening directly to the Southern Ocean. The isle itself is actually a graveyard (thus its eerie name), containing the graves of some 2,000 British convicts and free persons from the 19th century who lived and died at the nearby convict colony of Port Arthur between 1832 and 1870.

In 1841. renowned British Antarctic explorer, Captain Sir James Clark Ross, sailed into Tassy after a 6-month voyage of discovery and exploration to the Antarctic.

Ross and Governor Franklin made a particular point of visiting Port Arthur, to meet Thomas Lempriere, a senior official of the convict colony there, but who was also a methodical observer and recorder of meteorological, tidal, and astronomical data. It is important to note what Captain Ross wrote about it.

    “My principal object in visiting Port Arthur was to afford a comparison of our standard barometer with that which had been employed for several years by Mr. Lempriere, the Deputy Assistant Commissary General, in accordance with my instructions, and also to establish a permanent mark at the zero point, or general mean level of the sea as determined by the tidal observations which Mr. Lempriere had conducted with perseverance and exactness for some time: by which means any secular variation in the relative level of the land and sea, which is known to occur on some coasts, might at any future period be detected, and its amount determined.

    The point chosen for this purpose was the perpendicular cliff of the small islet off Point Puer, which, being near to the tide register, rendered the operation more simple and exact. The Governor, whom I had accompanied on an official visit to the settlement, gave directions to afford Mr. Lempriere every assistance of labourers he required, to have the mark cut deeply in the rock in the exact spot which his tidal observations indicated as the mean level of the ocean."

That mark is still there today, as can be seen in the photo.The photo was taken at midway between high and low tides.

There is intensive research presently underway by several institutions including the now corrupt CSIRO assisted by the head of the Inter-Agency Committee on Marine Science & Technology, Dr David Pugh, who is based at the University of Southampton, UK. But in spite of plenty of time we have yet to see their detailed explanation of just why this mark confounds all the predictions about sea level rise.

Dr. Pugh airily waves his hands and says in effect that poor old confused Lempriere, in spite of the detailed instructions about getting a Mean Sea Level (half way between high and low tide), he just put in the high water mark. This, of course, sounds logical to anybody steeped in the Green religion.

But not to anyone else and not to real scientists who look at evidence unflinchingly.


Don Argus slams iron ore inquiry

Former BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus has warned Australia would become a “laughing stock of the world” if the government ­intervened in the iron ore market.

As the Abbott government considers an inquiry into claims by Fortescue Metals Group chairman Andrew Forrest that industry giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton have been forcing down prices and driving out smaller rivals, Mr Argus warned that intervention would make the nation non-competitive and send mixed signals about whether Australia was a command economy or a market economy.

“We will be a laughing stock of the world because, in a market economy, prices will determine what is produced, how it’s produced, and who will get the things we make,” Mr Argus, also a former National Australia Bank chief executive, told The Australian.

“A market economy uses prices as signals telling us how to use ­resources.”

He sounded a note of caution that the proposed inquiry could become a “political football” and expose very sensitive commercial information to offshore buyers of iron ore. Officials in Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane’s department could already be called on to seek an explanation of the “various” components that drove iron ore pricing.

Mr Forrest has been leading the call for the inquiry and found support from smaller producers such as Atlas Iron, BC Iron and US company Cliffs Natural Resources. In March, Mr Forrest called for a cap on iron ore production. Last week, Mr Forrest urged Australians to lobby the government to “consider the multinationals’ ­licence to operate in Australia if they don’t market Australian iron ore responsibly for all Australians”. On Sunday, an “Our Iron Ore” campaign was launched to gather support for an inquiry.

Mr Argus said an inquiry was not needed.

“If you don’t understand something, sit down with the miners and talk to them, they will tell you,” he said.

“It’s just ­beyond my comprehension how anybody would even be thinking about it.”

He said he was “aghast” that politicians had not used officials from Mr Macfarlane’s department “to get an explanation of how pricing is done” given that they are “a very talented group of people and understanding of the resources industry”.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon has continued to push for an inquiry. Tony Abbott flagged an inquiry last Friday, and yesterday said he wanted to get to the bottom of the “claim and counterclaim” being made within the market. “An inquiry may well be a very good way of doing that,” the Prime Minister said.

He said an inquiry could not be a “witch hunt”, vowing that “one thing you will never find from this government is any attempt to regulate a market which is working well”.

While there has been speculation the terms of reference could be released shortly, others insist the government will take a more cautious approach and is open for an inquiry to be done by a regulator or statutory body.

Mr Macfarlane and Trade Minister Andrew Robb confirmed yesterday that the government’s leadership group was seeking views but no decision had been made.

“No decision has been taken as yet but the leadership group have, quite appropriately, been canvassing views — various views — amongst various colleagues,” Mr Robb told ABC radio.

“I’ve put my views, as others have, to the leadership group and it’s up to them to weigh up the merits of all the views that have been put to them, and to make a decision for the government,” Mr Robb said.

Mr Macfarlane said: “My understanding is that this is a discussion which the cabinet will have.”

Labor has said it would participate in the inquiry if it goes ahead, but competition spokesman Andrew Leigh said there could be “potential threats to investment if the government’s rhetoric gets out of hand”. Dr Leigh told Sky News that parliament should write competition laws and leave it to the competition watchdog to administer them.

The iron ore spot price peaked at more than $US180 a tonne in early 2011, but has fallen sharply in the past 18 months to as low as $US47.08. Iron ore is currently trading about $US61 a tonne.

The sharp price fall has wiped off billions of dollars in tax and royalty revenues, and has been felt most keenly in Western Australia.

Last week’s West Australian budget showed that the state had had to adjust its revenue expect­ations for the next three years by $12 billion after slashing its iron-ore price projections.

In last week’s federal budget, the fall in the iron ore price wiped $20bn from forecast tax collections compared with the previous budget.

On the push for intervention in the market, Mr Argus echoed warnings that Australia would risk giving up market share to Brazil’s Vale and other producers, saying that Vale and Brazil would be “salivating at this”.

“If anybody was thinking about investing in Australia, they would be thinking twice, I think,” Mr Argus said.

Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Brendan Pearson said Australia had to decide whether it was committed to open markets, and whether we “junk that proposition as soon as one producer finds the commodity price cycle uncomfortable”.

The comments by Mr Argus were echoed by the head of Rio Tinto’s iron ore arm, Andrew Harding. He said any inquiry into iron ore would not only find that the iron ore market was operating freely, openly and normally, but would also send a worrying signal to major trading partners.

“Australia has been a global champion of free trade and open markets,” Mr Harding said.

“These have underpinned our economic development. We should be careful not to disturb this hard-earned reputation. Our global standing as a supporter of open markets has already been undermined by calls to cap iron ore production and for government intervention in the market.”