Friday, November 17, 2006

Australia reacts to French global warming threat

Australia has hit back at France over its threat to impose a tax on industrial goods from countries that ignore the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. Prime Minister John Howard described the plan as "silly", while the mass-circulation Daily Telegraph headlined its report: "Back off, Frogs". Running across a picture of a French nuclear bomb explosion in the Pacific in 1971, a subheading read: "The French did this to our backyard and they have de Gaulle to attack us on Kyoto."

Australia, like the United States, has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on reducing the emission of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Howard's conservative government says compliance would harm the economy and complains that the pact fails to impose similar curbs on pollution by major developing countries such as China and India.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Monday he would push with European partners for a carbon tax on industrial goods from countries that ignore the Kyoto Protocol. "That is a thoroughly silly proposal and utterly out of touch with reality," Howard told reporters. "Mind you, (Villepin) does come from a country that is known for imposing high trade barriers against other countries like Australia."

The Kyoto protocol requires industrialised countries to reduce emissions of six greenhouse gases by 5.2 percent by 2008-2012 compared with their 1990 levels. UN-sponsored talks are underway in Nairobi to reshape the agreement for the period after 2012 and include rapidly developing economies not bound by the original text.

Villepin said France would present EU members with concrete proposals in the first quarter of 2007 to tax industrial imports from countries that snub Kyoto Protocol requirements after 2012. "Europe must use all its weight" to counter "environmental dumping", he said.

Despite his dismissive comments and a continuing refusal to ratify Kyoto, Howard has recently signalled a major policy shift as Canberra scrambles to counter criticism of its environmental policy. He has proposed a "new Kyoto" and said Tuesday he would back launching an international carbon trading scheme to fight global warming when he meets leaders at this weekend's APEC summit in Vietnam. Carbon trading is the centrepiece of the Kyoto pact, which proposes a system under which rich countries are allotted caps for their pollution but which only Europe has begun embracing. If countries come in under target they can sell any surplus to partners who are above their emissions goal.


Red-tape reform victory (Maybe)

Business groups have won a round of major concessions in their campaign against red tape, with the federal Government promising to clear away duplicate reporting systems and allow small investors to get financial advice without drowning under a mountain of paperwork. In what is being billed as the biggest reform to corporate regulation in years, financial reporting requirements for mid-size companies will be eased, but some big companies - including some in Richard Pratt's Visy Group - will find they have to publicly lodge audited returns for the first time.

The Government will today release a major proposals paper as part of its ongoing efforts to reduce the amount of red tape facing business, that will include a move to make paper-based annual reports almost a thing of the past and another to remove duplication in reporting top executive pay. The changes - to be announced by the Treasurer's Parliamentary Secretary Chris Pearce - stretch across corporate governance, fundraising, reporting standards, financial services regulation and takeovers. "None of (the changes) take away the fundamental consumer protection elements," Mr Pearce told The Australian yesterday. "But what they do do is make it easier for business to provide the services."

Groups led by the Business Council of Australia have been pushing for cuts to the red-tape burden that is costing the economy as much as $80 billion, according to some estimates. Already the federal Government has halved the cost of incorporation for small business to $400 and removed the requirement for companies to send annual reports to all shareholders.

The changes include a win for the financial services industry campaign to slash the amount of information financial advisers must provide to investors, particularly those with less than $10,000 to invest. Instead of having to produce detailed reports for these clients, financial advisers will be able to give them a one- or two-page note, except for superannuation investments.

Mr Pearce said that under the current rules, some small investors were unable to get advice because planners found it uneconomic to do the work. "We're trying to make the law better suit the practice of the industry and what consumers actually want," he said. The Investment and Financial Services Association has been pushing for a clearer line between general and personal advice, and this will also be clarified. The Government will allow financial service providers who are providing nothing more than sales recommendations to escape the full reporting requirements in some situations.

Australian Securities and Investments Commission deputy chairman Jeremy Cooper confirmed yesterday that product disclosure statements issued by financial institutions could be virtually halved in size by the posting of details on websites and other reference sites, under the new reporting obligations. He said the "incorporation by reference proposal" would significantly help clarify public understanding of financial products. Mr Pearce will will also introduce reforms to make it easier for employees in unlisted companies to buy a stake in their employer. He said this would allow those employees to "share in the prosperity" of their company, and the move is expected to significantly boost share ownership.

In other moves, Mr Pearce said the thresholds on what constituted a large proprietary company - a badge that brings with it additional reporting requirements - would be doubled. But as part of that measure, a grandfathering provision that excused some major companies from public reporting of audited financial reports - including some in the Visy Group - will be scrapped, forcing those companies to report the detailed information for the first time


Ambulance service near-meltdown in Queensland

Ambulance employees racked up 610,058 hours in overtime last year - the equivalent of an extra 334 full-time staff - as the state's health system continued to struggle. The overtime hours cost the Government about $23.5 million for the extra hours. It came as the demand for emergency code 1 services increased by 12.2 per cent last year and hospitals continued to struggle to provide services.

Ambulance Employees Australia Queensland spokesman Steve Crow said the continued reliance on overtime was akin to a "pressure cooker" situation. "My concern is how long they can they keep it up," he said. "It's just stupendous - or stupid." Mr Crow said the organisation received daily reports from paramedics about their overtime concerns, particularly in the busy metropolitan regions, compounding their already stressful job. "It is a stressful job," he said. "Our ambos take home a great deal of work on their shoulders."

Emergency Services Minister Pat Purcell said overtime was an integral part of the Ambulance Service's delivery model. Despite the growth in demand, the service reduced its overtime hours "as a result of more efficient and effective work practices and resource development, including matching resources to community demand profiles". "When recalled to duty, paramedics are paid overtime for all time worked," Mr Purcell said. Although the actual overtime hours worked were down 25,332 on last year, the cost was up $1.167 million.

Opposition emergency services spokesman Ted Malone said the figures cast serious doubts on the management. "There are some real problems within the managerial side of the QAS," he said. "With no disrespect to the people, if you had a heart attack do you really want a person who has been working for 16 hours to save your life?" He said reasons for the increases included ambulances being "used as hospitals" while emergency departments were on bypass.

Queensland's hospitals continue to experience massive demand. In the most recent Hospital Performance Report to the end of September, 11.9 per cent of patients awaiting category 1 elective surgery had "long waits". Likewise, 22 per cent of patients waiting for category 2 surgery and 32.9 per cent of patients awaiting category 3 surgeries had long waits.

The Department of Emergency Services annual report said the service would employ 70 additional paramedics this financial year to cope with the increasing demand. A further 144 frontline staff will be employed over the next two years to address issues of health and safety, fatigue and roster reform. Last October, paramedics took industrial action for the first time to highlight the increasing demands on workers.


Child abuse case backlog rises

They are too busy taking kids off good parents over imaginary problems. See here

The number of outstanding investigations into child abuse allegations by the Child Safety Department is continuing to rise, despite fewer reports being made to the agency. The department's 2005-06 annual report released yesterday showed that at June 30, a third, or 11,048, of 33,612 abuse notifications received during the year had not been finalised. This compared with 28 per cent of notifications in 2004-05.

But other statistics in the report point to the sweeping reform process started in early 2004 beginning to pay off, with fewer children in out-of-home care being abused by carers (down 45 per cent) and fewer children being the subject of more than one notification (down 5 per cent). The number of proven cases of abuse also dropped significantly from 17,307 allegations of abuse involving 12,985 children upheld after investigations in 2004-05 to 13,184 allegations involving 10,177 children - the lowest number recorded in three years.

Child Safety Minister Desley Boyle said teams deployed around the state had been making inroads into the number of incomplete investigations. At October 31, the number of outstanding cases had been reduced to 9088. Ms Boyle welcomed the 24 per cent drop in the number of cases of confirmed harm to Queensland children but said there were still too many instances of child abuse. "But this significant drop in substantiated notifications shows we may be turning the corner with the protection of our vulnerable children," she said. "Since the department was created (in 2004) the budget has more than doubled to more than $500 million. "Child safety officers now have more incisive decision-making tools. They have targeted resources at the families where children are most at risk." Ms Boyle said there were now more than 2100 child protection workers and the Government was still actively recruiting. At June 30, 6446 children were subject to protective orders and 6654 children were in out-of-home care.


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