Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Big sharks right in Sydney harbour -- thanks to the Greenies

All sharks are now "protected" species in Australia

When we arrived about 10.45am Justin handed over one of the frigate mackerel his clients had just caught. With its blood red, oily flesh it was perfect shark bait. We did not use berley - mashed fish flesh, called chum in the US, and designed to attract sharks. Al rigged a stout gamefishing rod and reel filled with about a kilometre of 24kg strength line, attached a wire trace and smallish hook, and cast out a fillet of the frigate. Around us the little tuna - looking like lime green bullets - continued to feed, sometimes spearing half out of the water in their enthusiasm for their own tiny prey. The rod and reel are more at home chasing giant fish in the deep, many kilometres out to sea. But we were 10-15m from shore and our depth sounder read just 8m of flat bottom, with a drop-off to deeper water nearby.

Maybe 15 minutes later we knew something else besides frigate mackerel was out hunting. A bloke fishing in a tinny next to us cruised by and said: "I think I just saw a decent shark, just over in the really shallow water" as he pointed to the sandy shores less than 2m deep. Builders on shore, with the advantage of elevation enabling them to look deep into the water, waved and kept pointing to the same spot.

Within half an hour a brown shadow slid past the stern. About 1.8m long, it had the shape and colour of a bull shark. We also missed two tentative bites from what were most likely sharks. They do not always smash their prey and can be delicate feeders. Then, after only an hour drifting with the outgoing tide, and with Clifton Gardens' netted swimming enclosure a few hundred metres away, the fillet of frigate was swallowed. Line poured from the reel. "This is a shark, and it's a pretty big one," said Al.

The shark headed into the shipping channel, unstoppable. Half an hour after hook-up and the shark was still moving westwards, forcing us to motor at up to 10km/h. An hour after hook-up the shark appeared to be aiming for Garden Island, where navy diver Paul de Gelder was attacked on January 11. We manoeuvred our boat to try to force the shark towards the surface. Nothing seemed to be working until, finally, it swam into shallower water and began to tire.

An hour and a half after hook-up, with little warning, it gave up and could be led boatside. It made one last surge, a thick, broad, tan-coloured head breaching the surface, snow white teeth flashing in the sun, cream belly glowing, tail slapping the water. "It's a bloody big bull shark!" Al shouted.

Just as we were about to put a NSW Fisheries gamefish tag into its shoulders the shark's teeth overcame the wire trace and it was gone, leaving an upwelling of boiling water 2m across. We called it as a bull shark between 2.7m and 3m long. NSW Fisheries scientists will study photos of the shark. State Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald told The Daily Telegraph yesterday: "It is of a similar size to the one involved in the attack on the diver."


Greenie emissions plan for Australia set to be scuppered

The Federal Government's emissions trading scheme is heading for defeat in the Senate before it is even debated as independent Nick Xenophon and the Nationals' Barnaby Joyce rule out supporting the policy even with amendments. Senator Xenophon, who passed the Government's $42 billion stimulus package only after winning $1 billion in measures for the Murray-Darling Basin, told The Age he would vote against the scheme in its present form. But Senator Xenophon said he would not trade his vote for more money for the Murray-Darling or other programs, because he has fundamental problems with the design of the scheme.

Instead, Senator Xenophon is backing an alternative cap-and-trade program based on a Canadian model, which has been previously ruled out by Climate Change Minister Penny Wong. Senator Wong said in a speech on Friday that the Government would not delay nor change the details of its proposed cap-and-trade system.

If Senator Xenophon votes against the scheme, the Government will have to get the Opposition's support to pass it. However, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce believes "there are not enough amendments" to fix the scheme, and indicated the Nationals would reject the scheme outright. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull is still waiting on economic research scheduled to be delivered this week before determining the Liberal Party's position.

Senator Joyce told The Age "it didn't matter" what the Coalition policy would be because he would be asked to vote on the Government's proposal. "And I cannot back it because it will throw people out of their jobs and their homes and do incredible damage to the Australian economy," he said.

Senior Liberal sources said yesterday there was disagreement in the joint party room on what policy the Opposition should take, with support from many members of the Liberal back bench to vote against the Government's scheme outright rather than seeking to amend it.

An industry source close to the Liberal Party said "they (the Coalition) have no policy really, but they have made a decision to get on the front foot after the disaster that was last week and so they are talking about climate change probably more than they would like at this moment".

Mr Turnbull and environment spokesman Greg Hunt indicated yesterday that the Opposition would present policies that contain emissions cuts greater than the 5 to 15 per cent range by 2020 announced by the Government last year, but would not say if they would support an emissions trading scheme. Mr Turnbull is backing a range of other emissions reduction programs such as biochar offsets, energy efficiency in buildings and international forestation measures, which can be implemented into an emissions trading scheme or run as independent programs. The Liberals and the Greens are proposing a Senate inquiry to replace the House of Representatives inquiry that Treasurer Wayne Swan shut down on Thursday.

The Greens have proposed 13 terms of reference for the inquiry, including investigation into the adequacy of the Rudd Government's 2020 targets. But the Coalition and Greens, who need to join forces to establish the Senate inquiry, last night had not agreed to the terms. The Government is expected to release draft legislation for the emissions scheme this week.


Even FDR was keen to slash public servant pay packets

Horror of horrors!

By Alan Moran

In his essay in The Monthly on the global financial crisis, Kevin Rudd named me as a neo-liberal (which he didn't define, but which roughly translates as liberal meaning bad and neo meaning very) for proposing cuts in public sector wages. The Prime Minister argues that public servant wage reductions were a policy of one of his nemeses, Andrew Mellon, US treasury secretary in the Harding, Coolidge and Hoover administrations. He is unaware that one of the first acts of his hero and model Franklin D. Roosevelt, on becoming president in 1933, was to cut all government employees' pay by 15 per cent. It was Congress that reversed these cuts over the following year or so.

Such expenditure restraint policies are being followed by a range of governments, including those tied to the failed Keynesian approach that Rudd finds so attractive. President Barack Obama, in his first executive order, introduced a freeze on White House salaries. Singapore has reduced salaries of top public servants by 12per cent to 20per cent, with further cuts foreshadowed. The Irish Prime Minister is implementing an average 7per cent reduction in gross pay for everyone on the public payroll, in the form of a levy to finance their pensions.

Public servants have long pointed to wages in the private sector as beacons by which their remuneration should be measured. But the near guarantee of job security that public servants enjoy is worth a considerable premium compared with workers in the private sector. This has been recognised by London's mayor Boris Johnson, who has pointed out that in England the generosity of public service remuneration packages has become unacceptable in view of economies forced on private sector employees. Cost-saving economies by private sector businesses are widely evident in Australia. Jobs are being shed across the private sector. Alcoa workers are among those who have volunteered to accept a wages standstill to assist the company's competitiveness and nabCapital's January survey indicates private sector wages are beginning to fall.

Similar approaches must be followed by governments in Australia to ensure parity with the private sector. Moreover, state governments must drastically cut back recurrent expenditure on public service salaries if they don't want to face the fate of Queensland. Standard & Poor's downgrade of the Sunshine State's debt will add $200million to its interest bill.

Other states will face the same deficit pressures as their profligate spending is left high and dry by revenue shortfalls created by lower taxation income from resource exports, house sales and even the GST. Moreover state governments have less scope than federal governments to borrow (and no scope to print money). In the US, several states are already confronting the budget imbalances this creates. Speculation is mounting that California will fail to cut spending and be the first state to declare itself bankrupt.

For electoral reasons driven by the need for state Labor governments to keep sweet with the public sector unions, Australian states will seek to balance their budgets by raising taxes rather than shedding staff (or, heaven forbid, cutting salaries). But eventually, radical spending cuts will be required, though in Australia this normally requires a change in government.

Rudd's defence of paying a bloated public sector excessive wages is part of his fiscal stimulus philosophy based on a crude Keynesian formula that equates income with consumption, investment and government spending. The problem is that trying to boost income through government spending brings offsetting reductions in private spending and investment, and in doing so reduces the economy's productive capacity. The Rudd policy rests on the alchemy of government fiscal multipliers providing extra bang for every buck spent. While cash injections can boost regional economies, a national economy's multiplier is accompanied by a negative multiplier resulting from governments eating into private wealth and incomes. Hence the aggregate national multiplier is unlikely to diverge from zero.

We therefore have a combustible brew. Rudd's penchant for spending and profound mistrust of individuals making their own such decisions is combined with Treasury's advice. This is anchored in a poorly understood Keynesian framework and is abetted by business lobbies seeking a share of government spending spoils. Instead of a gentle economic warming, the measures proposed, which already amount to $80 billion and approach 10 per cent of gross domestic product, will torch the economy. Though having more scope to engage in imprudent deficit spending, even national governments have to confront reality once their deficit financing threatens lenders' risk preferences.

What is needed now is a careful husbanding of expenditures and reductions in the regulatory costs. Ironically, such measures were promoted by Small Business Minister Craig Emerson just as Rudd's essay calling for fiscal intemperance hit the streets.


Tough love a hard sell

By Australian columnist, Janet Albrechtsen

Playwright David Williamson has some advice for those of us on the conservative side of politics. In a long email exchange between us, he said conservatives lack compassion. Indeed, it is a constant refrain from critics on the Left. While much of this criticism is based on lazy and crude logic, Williamson deserves to be addressed for two critical reasons. First, to prove wrong the progressive myth that those on the Left have a moral monopoly over compassion. And second, to remind conservatives that they are sometimes their own worst enemy in articulating why their policies produce the best outcomes.

John Howard's first major foray into politics since his election loss in 2007 went part of the way towards debunking the myth that conservatives lack compassion. Last Thursday, Howard made a compelling case not merely that conservative policies have delivered the best outcomes for a greater number of people, but also installed an "Australian safety net" that strikes the right balance for the underprivileged.

As Howard said, the Australian welfare system rejects the "hard edges, sometimes verging on indifference, of the American approach" and the "overly paternalistic approach of many European countries". The idea of mutual obligation, introduced by Howard, was readily derided as lacking compassion for those in need by a welfare industry that hungers for and depends on bigger government. Yet by imposing an element of irritant, policies such as Work for the Dole and Welfare to Work recognised the best help is to encourage people out of fatalistic welfare dependency into a job.

That compassion does not depend on a government cheque is now part of the orthodox thinking on welfare. As Noel Pearson and others argue so powerfully, welfare without sensible limits and incentives is the antithesis of compassion.

Yet Williamson has a point about conservatives when he writes in his critique to me that "it's a hard sell to convince many that the `tough love' policies are better for us in the long term". Conservatives do need, as he tells me, to "grapple with the fact that the human brain is not totally rational", lest they be cast as irrelevant and out of touch.

However, embracing the legitimacy of Williamson's observations does not mean succumbing to every emotional call on the public purse or public policy. On the contrary, such claims need to be addressed partly by continued rigorous and rational analysis, partly by becoming more generous in response to genuine claims on our compassion and partly by embracing the kind of unabashed spin doctoring so favoured by progressives to explain their policies.

By staying true to their core value of rationality, conservatives are duty bound to vigorously analyse the merits of any claim on compassion. Given that many such claims are shameless attempts to extract money undeservedly from government, there are four filters that should be applied: the motive filter, the intestinal fortitude filter, the brains filter and the fashion filter.

Sometimes the call for compassion is hopelessly infected by improper motive. Frequently it is just a disguised political ploy, partisanship dressed up as nobility. For example, the Australian Human Rights Commission's report has exposed that under the Rudd Government children are still being held indefinitely in our detention centres. Yet the silence from activists has exposed previous calls for compassion from an uncaring Howard government as bogus, politically motivated stunts. The new-found silence suggests they do not care much about detained migrants, at least not enough to protest against a Labor government.

The fortitude filter is a simple recognition that appeasement is easy. How much easier to give in to every demand, buying peace for now, putting off until another day or another government, the harder task of saying no? Armchair moralists don't actually have to make decisions. Yet they denounce decision makers who have to think about both the present and the future.

A critical filter is the one about brains. So often the allegedly compassionate outcome is counterproductive in the long term, revealing that many compassion buffs just aren't that bright. Whoever dreamed up various forms of "sit down" money for indigenous Australians would have needed only the slightest hint of intellect to realise what a poison it would become.

And remember the fashion filter. What sometimes passes for compassion is just fashion - metaphorically and literally. Think of all those silly rubber bracelets championing every cause under the sun, readily discarded as whims change. David Hicks was undoubtedly the cause du jour in 2007. While there were legitimate criticisms from some quarters, many of his supporters refused to apply careful scrutiny to his conduct, which exposed as a fraud his candidacy for membership of the downtrodden, ill-treated and innocent.

Calls for compassion that fail these filters have been duly assigned to the scrap heap of poor policy. Sensible immigration controls, once derided by the Howard-haters, now feature as required policy even in Europe. Foreign aid is increasingly subjected to more rigorous thinking about accountability and outcomes rather than simply pouring more feel-good money into the pockets of corrupt governments. Anti-terrorism laws scoffed at by the bleeding hearts as unnecessary restraints are still with us. And the list goes on.

But that does not mean there is not room for improvement among conservatives. They often fail to explain their ideas and values through the prism of compassion. Even Margaret Thatcher fell for that trap when she declared there was no such thing as society. In fact, as the response to the Victorian bushfires reveals, a deep sense of society rests within most of us. There are certainly more legitimate claims for compassion that conservatives would admit. Disability carers and foster parents are just two groups who deserve more help than they get.

Finally, conservatives need to do a much better job in the spin and hype department if only to offset those keen to portray us as mean and hard-hearted. Williamson may be interested to learn that bleeding-heart purveyors of compassion are not always what they appear. A few years ago, Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks, a behavioural scientist, exposed the great myth of giving. In Who Really Cares: the Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism, his extensive research revealed that religious conservatives in nuclear families are far more generous, giving more to charity than the great pretenders - secular liberals who believe in government entitlement programs.

When conservatives learn that good policy is about winning hearts as well as minds, they will shake off this recurring theme that to be a conservative is to lack compassion.


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