Saturday, January 26, 2008

Greenhouse cuts would land us in the Middle Ages, says Labor Party sceptic

THE Hawke government finance minister Peter Walsh has warned the Rudd Government that cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 would send Australian living standards back to the Middle Ages.

Mr Walsh, who was at the forefront of Labor's conversion to economic rationalism in the 1980s, heads the Lavoisier Group of hardline climate-change sceptics. In a submission lodged with the Garnaut climate change review, the former West Australian senator disputes the scientific evidence that carbon dioxide emissions are causing rising global temperatures. He points out that the Romans grew grapes in northern England in the first millennium and the Vikings grew cereals in Greenland in the second millennium. "Those much warmer periods cannot reasonably be attributed to anthropogenic greenhouse gases," he says. He also says the temperature on Mars has risen in a similar way to that on Earth.

Mr Walsh says that changes in solar behaviour are a better scientific explanation for temperature changes and that many scientists believe a cooling period will set in within the next decade or so.

The review by Professor Ross Garnaut is examining the economic costs for Australia of tackling climate change.

Mr Walsh tells Professor Garnaut that a mooted 60 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 would have significant adverse consequences: "The latter figure is unachievable without substituting nuclear power in place of coal and crude oil or, alternatively, a reversion to the living standards and population densities of the Middle Ages." He describes emissions trading as the "cargo cult of the 21st century".


Propaganda for toddlers

CHILDREN as young as three are being taught anti-racism lessons as part of the first NSW Government-funded program designed to stamp out bigotry from a young age. The program will be rolled out at a preschool in western NSW and youngsters will be given regular lessons in tolerance and multiculturalism.

The move comes as NSW councils investigate implementing a similar program across all council-funded daycare centres across the state.

The Menindee Children's Centre, in the state's Far West, has just received a $4000 grant to launch the first State Government-funded program of its kind. The focus on racism follows the 2005 Cronulla riots and a recent Government survey which found more than 40 per cent of migrants surveyed had come across "some" or "a lot" of racism in Australia. Claims of racism also blew up recently in the Sydney Test between India and Australia.

NSW preschool's director Hayley D'Ettorre said the centre would use the funding to launch the program, which was to include guest speakers and lessons on international music as well as foods and books. She said the centrepiece of the program would be regular discussions about racism. "It is the biggest part of the program, it will be about teaching tolerance and positive diversity every day," she said.

Premier Morris Iemma said it was necessary to teach our youngest about tolerance. "It is important for our children to learn acceptance of different cultures at an early age," he told The Daily Telegraph. "If we set our children up with the right messages we will ultimately enjoy a more tolerant, accepting and peaceful society."

Local Government Association president Genia McCaffery said they would study the anti-racism program of one western Sydney daycare centre with a view to rolling out a simular curriculum across the state.


China's booming economy likely to shield Australia

THE Chinese economy has posted its fastest growth rate in more than 10 years, underscoring how Australia's commodities-driven economy could steer clear of a United States recession and turmoil in global financial markets. China's gross domestic product growth rate "slowed" in the final months of 2007 to register annual growth of 11.4 per cent, the fastest since 1994. Quarterly growth eased from 11.5 per cent in September to 11.2 per cent in December, compared with the previous year. A sharp slowdown in export growth to the US was more than offset by extraordinary investment in new housing, commercial property and infrastructure.

Jonathan Anderson, at UBS, expects the Chinese economy will still grow at a rate close to 10 per cent in 2008. "China will still be well insulated at home in a US recession scenario," he said. Mr Anderson said arguments about whether China has "decoupled" from the US miss the point: the two economies have never been closely correlated. The Chinese economy grew strongly despite contractions in key export markets during the Asian financial crisis of 1998 and the US-led global recession of 2001.

Shen Minggao, at Citigroup, said China's slower export growth would still be considered fast by the standards of any other country. "The external slowdown led by the US will probably push China's export growth down to below 20 per cent," he said. The strength of developing Asia, led by China and India, means Australian policy makers are still more worried about the prospect of high inflation than lower global growth. Economists at Lehman Brothers said policy makers across the region face a greater risk of overheating than of a sustained slump.

The US Federal Reserve's decision to slash interest rates this week has complicated efforts by the Chinese central bank to manage inflation, which surged to 6.5 per cent last year. American interest rates are now below Chinese interest rates - encouraging unwelcome "hot money" flows from overseas. "This implies that it will be hard for the People's Bank of China to lift rates meaningfully without worrying about attracting more money inflows," said Qu Hongbin at HSBC.

In contrast to Australia and emerging Asia, Japan faces a renewed period of economic weakness. But Chinese economic strength has so far saved Japan from recession. Figures yesterday showed Japanese exports to China rose 8.4 per cent in the year to December while exports to the US fell 4.5 per cent. Last financial year Australian exporters shipped more than three times as much product to Japan and twice as much to China as they did to the US. The US was now Australia's fifth-largest export market, coming in below India.

The latest Chinese economic figures were positive for Australian mining, energy, mining services and engineering companies, said Commsec's chief equities economist, Craig James. "The Chinese economy is continuing to grow at a fast clip and the determination of the authorities is to maintain the pace of growth into 2008," Mr James said. "Chinese demand for commodities is likely to remain strong, underpinning the Aussie dollar at levels close to US85-90c. The main concern is that global energy and food prices will remain high, keeping upward pressure on global inflation. "The Reserve Bank's resolve to lift interest rates would be bolstered by the latest batch of strong economic news out of China."


Left-run NSW choking on bureaucratic incompetence

NSW IS in the grip of a public service meltdown, with the entire NSW public health system to be referred to a special commission of inquiry for the first time in the state's history. Sparked by a blistering report from the NSW Deputy Coroner into the death of 16-year-old Vanessa Anderson, it comes on the heels of an identical inquiry already under way into child deaths and the Department of Community Services.

Having just returned from holiday, Premier Morris Iemma yesterday faced a collapse of confidence in the health system, echoing a similar catastrophe within DOCS in November following the death of seven-year-old Shellay Ward. It was accompanied by the likelihood that the failure of the Government's four-year $300 million public transport ticketing system less then 24 hours earlier will now also be referred to a parliamentary inquiry for investigation.

Following a scathing critique of the health system by the Deputy Coroner Carl Milovanovich, based on his shocking findings into the death Ms Anderson, Mr Iemma adopted his recommendation for a full public inquiry into NSW Health. It would be the third hospital inquiry in as many years but the first to encompass the whole health system, including the state's 500 hospitals.

Mr Milovanovich said a worse level of care could barely have been imagined and slammed the Government for presiding over a problem which has existed for years. Ms Anderson was admitted to Royal North Shore Hospital in 2005 for a mild head injury inflicted by a golf ball. she died after being administered too many painkillers. "As a Deputy State Coroner for the past six years I have presided over many inquests involving deaths in hospitals," he said. "In many of those cases one error or omission, sometimes a serious one led to death, however, I have never seen a case such as Vanessa's in which almost every conceivable error or omission was detected and those errors continued to build one on top of the other." A series of shortcomings, including indecision by medical practitioners, communication failures, staff inexperience or overwork and poor record-keeping, had conspired to claim the teenager's life, Mr Milovanovich said.

The lawyer who headed the previous inquiries into the Camden and Campbelltown hospitals and Sydney Ferries, Brett Walker, looks likely to be handed the task again, which could take up to a year to complete. "We will be establishing a special commission of inquiry to act on that recommendation of the Coroner," Mr Iemma said. "There is nothing here that anyone wants to hide or run away from."

Asked why the Government would not hold a royal commission into the health system, Mr Iemma said: "A special commission of inquiry is broad-ranging and has powers, so let's not get bogged down on what you call it. "Can I also say to the family, our heartfelt condolences on the tragic loss of Vanessa and an unreserved apology for how the system tragically let down the Anderson family and Vanessa Anderson." Health Minister Reba Meagher promised that the inquiry would conduct public hearings.


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