Sunday, April 27, 2008

Queensland building projects stalled as red tape lifts costs

Governments constantly bloviate about the high costs of housing and try to blame the suppliers for it but governments themselves are a major cause of the high costs. Restricting the supply -- for Greenie and other reasons -- will inevitably raise prices

Leading housing industry groups are furious $10.5 billion worth of residential development earmarked for Queensland is being held up by government red tape. While the State Government has vowed to help fast-track land releases and development approvals to ease the growing housing crisis, projects now on the books may blow out by more than four years. Almost 20 affected projects still in the planning stage include the Redland Bay South subdivision, Broadlakes housing development at Merrimac, Riverside Waters at Townsville and the Riverbank community at Morayfield.

The Housing Industry Association of Queensland has accused local and state governments of holding up work. "Delays in getting development approval can be measured in years these days, not months," HIAQ executive director Warwick Temby said. "We've been making noise about these delays for some time now because it adds a lot to the cost of land."

Mr Temby said he feared the Government had overspent on projects such as the water grid and now lacked funds to supply infrastructure for many of the proposed developments. Developers Fox and Bell Group plan to build a satellite town near Redland Bay in Brisbane's southeast, to house up to 9000 people. Director Garry Hargrave said the company had been working on the project for six years. Slow approval meant construction was unlikely start before 2012.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Infrastructure and Planning Paul Lucas said he had started to meet with developers and councils because he was concerned about "land-banking" in some parts of the state's southeast, where parcels of land were being held back waiting for a more favourable market for the owner.

The article above by Hannah Martin appeared in the the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on April 27, 2008

Fewer beds at major NSW hospital than 13 years ago

Despite a significant rise in the population

THERE are 186 fewer beds at Sydney's troubled Royal North Shore Hospital than there were 13 years ago when the state Labor Government came to power, Health Department figures reveal. In March 1995, 776 beds were available to patients, but on the latest available figures the hospital has just 590 beds. The figures, obtained by the NSW Opposition under freedom of information, measured bed decline from 1993 to September last year. Opposition health spokesman Jillian Skinner said the figure was alarming when the remaining 590 beds included cots, bassinets, critical-care beds, mental-health beds, maternity beds, and "transition beds" in patients' homes.

Under the $702 million hospital redevelopment announced by Health Minister Reba Meagher in November last year, the hospital will end up with 626 beds. In 2003, when Premier Morris Iemma was health minister, the number of beds reached its lowest point at 547. "Every RNSH doctor who gave evidence at the parliamentary inquiry into the hospital last year spoke of the desperate shortage of acute-care beds," Ms Skinner said. "The NSW Labor Government has stripped more than 180 beds from RNSH since it came to power 13 years ago," Ms Skinner said. "It also expanded the definition of a bed so even those in a patient's own home are counted as hospital beds. The new hospital will be seriously short of beds."

Ms Meagher yesterday said there was less need for large numbers of beds as patients now stayed in hospital for shorter periods. "The 23-hour unit at Royal North Shore Hospital today performs a number of day-only procedures that 10 years ago would have resulted in a five-day stay in hospital," she said. "For example, hernia and varicose-vein procedures, which resulted in a three- to seven-day stay in hospital 10 years ago, are now performed mostly as day only procedures."


Stupid blame game

"Binge drinking Howard's fault". They have the same problem in Britain so I suppose that is Tony Blair's fault?

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon has blamed the former Howard government for the rise in teenage binge drinking. Ms Roxon said the decision to cut taxes on premixed alcoholic drinks eight years ago helped fuel the surge in excessive drinking by young people, particularly teenage girls.

The Rudd government overnight reversed the change, virtually doubling the excise on alcopops from midnight, pushing the cost of the drinks up by between 30 cents and $1.30 a bottle. [Big deal!]

"We can track the change in the way that young women have been drinking these products from the time that the Howard government changed the excise in 2000," Ms Roxon told the Nine Network. "We've seen patterns where it's gone from about 14 per cent of young girls drinking these products up to about 60 per cent. "So, this is an explosion that we think needs to be tackled ... We have a problem that must be turned around and this is the place where we're starting." Ms Roxon said she did not know why the Howard government had cut the excise in the first place.


A cool idea to warm to

By Christopher Pearson

About the beginning of 2007, maintaining a sceptical stance on human-induced global warming became a lonely, uphill battle in Australia. The notion that the science was settled had gathered broad popular support and was making inroads in unexpected quarters. Industrialists and financiers with no science qualifications to speak of began to pose as prophets. Otherwise quite rational people decided there were so many true believers that somehow they must be right. Even Paddy McGuinness conceded, in a Quadrant editorial, that on balance the anthropogenic greenhouse gas hypothesis seemed likelier than not.

What a difference the intervening 15 months has made. In recent weeks, articles by NASA's Roy Spencer and Bjorn Lomborg and an interview with the Institute of Public Affairs' Jennifer Marohasy have undermined that confident Anglosphere consensus. On's bestseller list this week, the three top books on climate are by sceptics: Spencer, Lomborg and Fred Singer. Archbishop of Sydney George Pell, a shrewd cleric who knows a dodgy millennial cult when he sees one, has persisted in his long-held critique despite the climate change alarmism of his brother bishops. Even Don Aitkin, former vice-chancellor of the University of Canberra, whom I'd previously been tempted to write off as a slave to political correctness, outed himself the other day as a thoroughgoing sceptic.

The latest countercultural contribution came in The Australian on Wednesday. Phil Chapman is a geophysicist and the first Australian to become a NASA astronaut. He makes the standard argument that the average temperature on earth has remained steady or slowly declined during the past decade, despite the continued increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, with a new twist. As of last year, the global temperature is falling precipitously. All four of the agencies that track global temperatures (Hadley, NASA Goddard, the Christy group and Remote Sensing Systems) report that it cooled by about 0.7C in 2007.

Chapman comments: "This is the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record and it puts us back where we were in 1930. If the temperature does not soon recover, we will have to conclude that global warming is over. It is time to put aside the global warming dogma, at least to begin contingency planning about what to do if we are moving into another little ice age, similar to the one that lasted from 1100 to 1850." A little ice age would be "much more harmful than anything warming may do", but still benign by comparison with the severe glaciation that for the past several million years has almost always blighted the planet.

The Holocene, the warm interglacial period we've been enjoying through the past 11,000 years, has lasted longer than normal and is due to come to an end. When it does, glaciation can occur quite quickly. For most of Europe and North America to be buried under a layer of ice, eventually growing to a thickness of about 1.5km, the required decline in global temperature is about 12C and it can happen in as little as 20 years.

Chapman says: "The next descent into an ice age is inevitable but may not happen for another 1000 years. On the other hand, it must be noted that the cooling in 2007 was even faster than in typical glacial transitions. If it continued for 20 years, the temperature would be 14C cooler in 2027. By then, most of the advanced nations would have ceased to exist, vanishing under the ice, and the rest of the world would be faced with a catastrophe beyond imagining. Australia may escape total annihilation but would surely be overrun by millions of refugees."

Chapman canvases strategies that may just conceivably prevent or at least delay the transition to severe glaciation. One involves a vast bulldozing program to dirty and darken the snowfields in Canada and Siberia, "in the hope of reducing reflectance so as to absorb more warmth from the sun. We may also be able to release enormous floods of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) from the hydrates under the Arctic permafrost and on the continental shelves, perhaps using nuclear weapons to destabilise the deposits".

He concludes: "All those urging action to curb global warming need to take off the blinkers and give some thought to what we should do if we are facing global cooling instead. It will be difficult for people to face the truth when their reputations, careers, government grants or hopes for social change depend on global warming, but the fate of civilisation may be at stake."

The 10-year plateau in global temperatures since 1998 has already sunk the hypothesis that anthropogenic greenhouse gas will lead to catastrophic global warming. To minds open to the evidence, it has been a collapsing paradigm for quite some time. But Chapman's argument about last year's 0.7C fall being "the fastest temperature change in the instrumental record" ups the stakes considerably. It replaces an irrational panic in the public imagination with a countervailing and more plausible cause for concern. It also raises, more pointedly than before, a fascinating question: since there are painful truths with profound implications for public policy to be confronted, how will the political class manage the necessary climb-down?

In Australia, Rudd Labor's political legitimacy is inextricably linked to its stance on climate change. If the Prime Minister wants a second term, he'll probably have to start "nuancing his position", as the spin doctors say, and soon. A variation on J.M. Keynes's line - "when the facts change, I change my mind" - admitting that the science is far from settled and awaiting further advice, would buy him time without necessarily damaging his credibility.

Taking an early stand in enlightening public opinion would be a more impressive act of leadership. While obviously not without risk and downside, it would make a virtue out of impending necessity and establish him, in Charles de Gaulle's phrase, as a serious man. I don't think he's got it in him. But we can at least expect that some of the more ruinously expensive policies related to global warming will be notionally deferred and quietly shelved. Innovation, Industry, Science and Research Minister Kim Carr will be allowed to invest in high-profile nonsense such as funding "the green car". But the coal industry is unlikely to be closed down or put into a holding pattern. Nor are new local coal-fired power stations going to be prohibited until the technology is developed to capture and sequester carbon.

Since the greater part of the funds for the research underpinning that technology is expected to come from the private sector - and there's a limit to what government can exact by administrative fiat - as the debate becomes calmer and more evidence-based, business will be increasingly reluctant to outlay money on a phantom problem. Budgetary constraints and rampant inflation provide governments with plenty of excuses for doing as little as possible until a new and better informed consensus emerges on climate.

Ross Garnaut could doubtless be asked to extend his carbon trading inquiry for the life of the parliament and to make an interim report in 12 months on the state the science. In doing so, he could fulfil the educative functions of a royal commission and at the same time give himself and the Government a dignified way out of an impasse.

Whatever happens in the realm of domestic spin doctoring, economic realities in the developing world were always going to defeat the global warming zealots. Before the election, Kevin Rudd had to concede that we would not adopt climate policies that were contrary to Australian interests unless India and China, emitters on a vastly larger scale, followed suit.

However, it has long been obvious that neither country was prepared to consign vast parts of their population to protracted poverty and to embrace low-growth policies on the basis of tendentious science and alarmist computer projections. Even if their governments were convinced that global warming was a problem - and they clearly aren't - it's doubtful they could sell the self-denying ordinances we're asking from them to their own people.

A likelier scenario would be full-page ads in our broadsheets and catchy local television campaigns paid for by the Indian and Chinese coal, steel and energy industries that buy our raw materials. Their theme would surely be that if many of the West's leading scientific authorities no longer subscribed to catastrophic global warming, why on earth should anyone else.


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