Friday, February 22, 2008

Rudd Government cool on extremist climate report

The Federal Government has tried to play down its chief climate change adviser's call for even deeper cuts to dangerous greenhouse gases. Economist Ross Garnaut, in his interim report on climate change policy released yesterday, said the Government should set a 2020 greenhouse target this year and consider setting a tougher 2050 target. "Australia should be ready to go beyond its stated 60 per cent reduction target by 2050 in an effective global agreement that includes developing nations," Professor Garnaut said. The report said such an approach would mean Australia played a positive role in global talks for a post-Kyoto regime. [Sounds like a very political economist -- which he is. He has been a Labor party adviser for many years]

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said Professor Garnaut's report would be an "important input" to Government policy. "We welcome Professor Garnaut's input . . . of course we will also be looking at other inputs, such as modelling from the Australian Treasury," she said. "We are conscious of the impact on the Australian economy and we will ensure the scheme addresses the impacts on households and also on industry."

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has championed the issue of climate change and one of his first acts was to ratify the Kyoto agreement. He also pledged to put an emissions trading scheme in place by 2010. Senator Wong called yesterday's report - the final document is due in September - "early thinking" on the policy response to climate change.

But Australian Greens leader Bob Brown said the Government was trying to minimise the importance of Professor Garnaut because he had followed the science. "Penny Wong has reduced Ross Garnaut to input," Senator Brown said. "There are huge vested interests at play here; the coal industry, the aluminium industry, the forest logging industry and it's up to the Rudd Government to put this country ahead of those vested interests."

Professor Garnaut also cast doubt on the Government's renewable energy target, saying it might not be needed once the emissions trading scheme (ETS) was established. He said it was inevitable there would be extra costs on households but income from selling ETS permits could help ease the burden on low-income earners. "This is a hard reform but get it right and the transition to a low-emissions economy will be manageable . . . get it wrong and this is going to be a painful adjustment," he said. "We're only going to solve this problem if we find a way of keeping economic growth going and prosperity going but breaking the link between economic growth and emissions."

The Garnaut Review was commissioned last year by federal Labor while in opposition, in co-operation with state governments. State premiers, including Queensland's Anna Bligh, yesterday vowed to act quickly on the report's recommendations.

Speaking from Adelaide, where the report was released, Ms Bligh said the report was "very sobering". "There's no doubt it's one of the biggest issues to face Australia and the planet," she said. Leading environmental groups admitted they were surprised by the strength of the report.


Carbon emissions cuts must be realistic

WITH less than two years to implement an emissions trading system, a leading point of interest in the business community is how the Rudd Government will keep the economy competitive under the scheme, as the aim is to increase the cost of energy. The expectation was that this would be high on the agenda of the Garnaut review. Following the preview Ross Garnaut gave yesterday of his interim report for state premiers, they will now not be so sure.

Garnaut first sent a signal that he considers the European Union aim to reduce emissions by between 20 per cent and 30 per cent by 2020 a good move. He also indicated support for Al Gore's extreme proposition that by 2050, emissions should have been cut by more than 80 per cent. Labor's platform requires a 60 per cent cut by 2050, a difficult enough target as it is.

He also made clear that he believes Australia should make serious cuts in emissions, even though he believes the Bali process will not produce overall reductions in emissions in the foreseeable future. And he gave no indication that he considered strong cuts would generate any problem in international trade, despite the sharp focus on this in Brussels and Washington, DC, during the past month.

Garnaut's leading interest evidently is in how Australia can be a world climate-change leader. He thinks cuts by Australia will encourage developing countries to make cuts, and argues that regional collaborative arrangements between Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea would set global precedents.

But he is making the same mistake European Greens made over the Kyoto Protocol. They believed developing countries would follow the example of industrialised countries and make cuts. They didn't, and they demonstrated at Bali that they expect to increase, not reduce, emissions in the future. China has been clear: it accepts the effects of climate change, it will adapt to them, but economic growth will remain the priority.

The impact on competitiveness has been highlighted by developments in Brussels and Washington during the past month. Emissions trading in Europe is harming competitiveness. In a bid to get business on side, the EU environment directorate argues that the EU should restrict trade with countries that don't cut emissions.

And a US congressional energy committee has just released a white paper on emissions trading. It considers that commitments by developing countries to reduce emissions should be a precondition to the implementation of emissions trading in the US.

Anybody who thinks the World Trade Organisation multilateral trading system is important should be concerned. Such EU trade bans would generate extreme tensions and encourage proposals to amend the WTO in ways that could seriously weaken it. And before anybody starts to muse "Why not amend the WTO?", consider applying that approach to agricultural trade.

Rather than insisting the EU and the US align their agricultural policies with WTO principles, the approach here is to change WTO rules to legitimise their policies.

The risk of trade conflict nicely brings the competitiveness question back to the centre.

Until now, the attitude in Canberra has been that the impact on trade rules will be sorted out after the emission trading rules have been settled. This is the wrong approach, as there is prospectively an inherent conflict between the free-market philosophy of the WTO and the cap element of emissions trading.

The cap means government directs and regulates an economic activity: the production of energy. It is an economic command and control tool. When governments try to protect capped activity from cheaper products from uncapped jurisdictions, you get conflict with WTO rules. This is why the trade and competitiveness dimension needs to be an integral part of the planning for the emissions trading system, not something considered after the fact. The ideal result would be a system with measures that preserved competitiveness and were consistent with WTO rules.

Garnaut needs to give priority to developing a system that protects Australian competitiveness. We have put competitiveness in second place in the past, to our cost. A little more than 100 years ago, justice H.B. Higgins ruled that higher wages were more important in the Sunshine Harvester case. This drove Australia's first globally competitive manufacturer out of business, and manufacturing did not regain competitiveness until the tariff reform in the 1980s, in which Garnaut played a key role.


Crime surge rocks Victoria

Since so many Victorian police have been transferred to "community" functions (e.g. "gay and lesbian liason") by Victoria's big fat pro-Lesbian top cop (See above), this is not exactly a surprise

VICTORIA has witnessed staggering rises in assaults over the past five years, with Melbourne and the outer suburbs hardest hit. That is the picture painted by a comparison of official Victoria Police figures for the 2000-01 period with those for last year. In the metropolitan area, Melton tops the list, registering a 160.6 per cent increase from 226 to 589 cases reported in 2007. Close behind is Casey, where assaults jumped from 595 to 1358 over the same period, an increase of 128.2 per cent. Moreland, Mornington, Wyndham and Cardinia are close behind, all seeing five-year increases in excess of 100 per cent. Across the state, assaults climbed from 21,939 in the 2000-01 reporting year to 31,020, an increase of 41.4 per cent.

Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walsh blamed alcohol and domestic violence for the increases, insisting that much of the surge was due to a campaign aimed at encouraging victims of spousal abuse to report attacks. "We've been concentrating on family violence and encouraging people to report that violence," he said. "The other driver is alcohol, and we're addressing that."

Casey councillor Steve Beardon said the figures demonstrated the need for drastic measures. "We have hoons on our roads, and shopping strips and parks are magnets for kids hanging out and causing trouble," he said. "I've taken up a petition with 1500 signatures of local residents, which called for a curfew. "It was tabled in parliament and then forgotten, even though the same measure has worked very well in Western Australia. "Bottom line: we need more cops and we need them now."

In Dandenong, where in the past five years assaults have risen from 709 to 1151 -- a 62.3 per cent hike -- councillor and anti-crime campaigner Peter Brown echoed the call for more police. "After the trouble we had last year in Noble Park," he said, referring to the beating death of 19-year-old Liep Gony, "the police blitzed the area and we saw problems with gangs drop off. "Give them credit, they did a good job but it didn't solve the problem. What it did was move it somewhere else . . . "On Monday night as I was driving by, there was a mob of these kids -- drunk or high, I'm not sure which, probably both -- spilling out into the street and playing havoc with the traffic. You don't cure a problem in Noble Park by moving it to Dandenong."

Across Melbourne, Werribee activist Lori McLean hailed police efforts to curb violence and hooning, saying that a "tough-minded approach" was working. "Big, burly male coppers; they're the ones that get taken seriously, and they are the ones that have been getting the results."

Country Victoria also had major increases in assaults, with Whittlesea experiencing a 104 per cent increase from 375 to 765. In Bendigo it was 49.3 per cent and in Geelong it was 38.1 per cent.


Othello becomes a tragedy of the system

LITERATURE, the soul of the English language, has been marginalised by ideology and social theory in its study in schools and universities. Reader in English at the Australian National University Simon Haines said the literature part of the subject English had been squashed and marginalised during the past 30 years, pushed aside to teach theories from other disciplines. "Literature is the heart of English and if we're not doing that, then the subject loses its soul," he said after addressing the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney yesterday.

Dr Haines said university academics in English and literature over the past two generations had "colonised" other disciplines such as anthropology, sociology and linguistics. As a result, it had become the attitude in English schools to question the primacy of the text in the belief that the text should be used to illustrate theories from the other disciplines. "And so Othello has become a tragedy of race rather than a tragedy of jealousy," he said. "It hasn't always been; up until the 1960s, it was a tragedy of jealousy. "It's not the teachers' fault - they're just reflecting what they've heard for two generations in universities, which is that literature as core of the subject English is in the end dispensable and theoretical."

Dr Haines is the director for the ANU of the International Centre for Human Values, a joint venture with the Chinese University in Hong Kong. He holds a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University and is a former diplomat and analyst with the Office of National Assessments, and was chairman for three years of the OECD budget committee before pursuing a career in academia.

Dr Haines said the English syllabus in schools had become much more crowded over the past three or four decades. "It's all the more reason not to dilute English with other disciplinary or ideological approaches. There just isn't time," he said. "The best you can hope to have is an understanding of the context of the play, so you don't want to narrow it down into one ideological approach. What you get then is a teacher who doesn't understand Marxism and feminist theory as thoroughly as a university academic trying to give students a half-baked version at the same time as teaching Othello. Students end up with a mishmash.

"By all means study Marxist theory when you're at university, where you can study it thoroughly, but don't try to do it in a half-baked way at school." Dr Haines said in this way, Othello had become a tragedy of race not jealousy, which makes the play narrower, more polemical and ideological than Shakespeare intended.


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