Monday, May 25, 2009

Paddy Foley’s Please Explain

A lighthearted post for a change: I put up below a little story sent to me by a relative of mine who is a former Queensland Railways man

Paddy Foley was a guard on the Mail Train working from Mackay to Townsville. In a cage in the guard’s van was a valuable breeding canary consigned to B. Lane, Cairns. The unfortunate bird died en route and Paddy’s reply to the “please explain” has become legendary. The poem below was first published in Viv Daddow’s book: The Puffing Pioneers and Queensland’s Railway Builders (University of Qld Press) 1975.

The reply:

Dear and venerated shades of my departed fathers, look down on your suffering offspring who is now charged with the wilful murder of a miserable canary. I, whose ancestors stretch in an unbroken line from the landing of St Patrick; I, whose forebears twanged their harps, composed and sang their songs on Tara’s Hall! For the inference cast, I have but this to say:

Shure the death of this bird
may not have occurred
had his coat been a beautiful green
But he being yellow,
this unfortunate fellow,
his early demise was foreseen.

This bird in the van
with a lone Irishman
may have raised his ancestral rage;
But I cannot conceive,
or hardly believe,
he murdered him foul in his cage!

And so in conclusion,
let there be no delusion
I did this poor bird slaughter.
I beg to advise
‘tis safe to surmise
he died from want of fresh air and water.

Should my reply seem confusing
when it you’re perusing,
do not think me evasive or hard.
You have the sympathy,
if of much use that may be,
of P.J. Foley-the Guard.


Carbon plan will cause jobs carnage

THERE is a surreal aspect to the present debate about the accuracy of short to mid-term economic growth forecasts contained in the recent budget. As this debate plays out, the 76 members of the Australian Senate are preparing for a crucial vote next month on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, a policy initiative the Government has described as the most substantial economic reform of the Australian economy for decades.

Yet those 76 senators will have to make their decisions on this once-in-a-generation reform without the benefit of any detailed forecasts of the scheme's short and medium-term impact. While the Government describes its Treasury modelling as the most comprehensive ever attempted, the analysis provides no forecasts on the sectoral or regional employment impacts over the first decade of the CPRS. None at all. The Treasury analysis provides intricate detail about the shift in employment shares between sectors in 2050, but nothing about what the scheme will mean for jobs in key Australian sectors between now and 2020.

Senior Treasury officials admitted this week that a limitation of its modelling is that it "doesn't capture all the transitional elements". For those unfamiliar with bureaucratic eco-jargon, a "transitional element" means someone losing their job.

In other words, the Government's premier economic agency officially has no clear sense about the near-term employment impact. This is economic policy-making with a blindfold on.

The minerals sector considers this sort of economic risk-taking is unwise at best. So we asked Australia's most experienced economic forecaster -- Brian Fisher -- to assess the impact on employment in the sector that produces about 50per cent of Australia's exports. Fisher -- a former executive director of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics -- used the same Treasury assumptions and the same data sources used in the Treasury modelling. Unlike the Treasury, he took into account the global financial crisis. It is a sober, straightforward analysis. The results are even more sobering.

The CPRS scheme will shed 23,510 jobs in the minerals sector by 2020 and more than 66,000 by 2030. These are direct jobs. All minerals sectors will be affected, whether in coal mining, gold and base metals, alumina refining, mining services, copper, zinc, lead and aluminium smelting and so on. No state, or the Northern Territory, will be spared, no mining region will be untouched. The impact on regional Australia will be severe, including thousands of jobs in the Illawarra and the Hunter in NSW, the Bowen Basin in Queensland, remote regions in Western Australia, including the Pilbara and Kalgoorlie, South Australia, Victoria's Latrobe Valley, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

You can add to these numbers the jobs of the council workers, the school teachers, the nurses, gardeners, and employees in the hundreds of small businesses in the towns and communities that service these mining regions.

Not surprisingly, I consider these numbers should prompt a Government re-think of its CPRS legislation.

In particular, the Government has made one basic mistake. It decided that raising revenue was more important than establishing a sensible measured transition to an emissions trading scheme. It decided to auction 70 to 75 per cent of its permits from the outset of the scheme.

It is a mistake that puts the Australian scheme at odds with the European scheme and the one being developed by Barack Obama's Democratic Party in the US. The present draft of the US legislation will auction only 15 per cent of permits; that compares with 70 to 75 per cent in Australia.

That emphasis on revenue raising is at the core of the threat to job losses in Australian industry. It will mean that the CPRS will cost the mining industry $10 billion in the first five years, a cost none of our international competitors will bear. Over time, as the new analysis shows, that means a steady drain of jobs out of the industry, and out of the regional communities that depend on it.

Repairing the mistake in the CPRS will not weaken the environmental integrity of the scheme. Allocating permits without charge will not make a scheme less environmentally rigorous than if all permits are sold. But don't take my word for it. The head of the Pew Centre on Global Climate Policy (and former Clinton administration climate negotiator) Eileen Claussen told a recent congressional hearing that the "free allocation (of permits) provides the same economic incentive to reduce emissions as does an auction".

There is a simple solution. Let's do what the Europeans and Americans are doing. Let's phase in the auctioning of permits. Such an approach will establish a carbon price signal without putting the economy into reverse. It will reward firms who reduce their emissions. It will also raise sufficient revenue to ensure low and fixed income earners are not economically disadvantaged. There is no need for special treatment or compensation for certain sectors: the burden of the new scheme will be spread evenly across the economy.

We'd also have a better chance of meeting those economic growth forecasts that are front and centre of the present political debate.


More childish and futile government nannying

THE New South Wales State Government is considering the removal of ATMs from casinos, pubs and clubs to combat problem gambling. The Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing is calling for tenders to conduct research into whether there should be a required distance between gaming areas and ATMs. Funded by the Responsible Gambling Fund, it will also investigate deterrents including ATM withdrawal limits, and making poker machines unable to accept $50 or $100 notes.

The move follows Victoria's stand on banning ATMs in gaming venues from 2012 and has reinforced a fierce divide between gambling support groups and the hotel industry.

ClubsNSW chief executive David Costello said there was no evidence to suggest the plan would work. "If someone wants to reduce their ATM daily limit or block their debit card, all they need to do is pick up the phone and call their bank," he said.

But Keith Richardson appealed to the Government to make the move after the death of his 28-year-old son in 2004. In a submission to the Productivity Commission's inquiry into gambling, Mr Richardson wrote the ATM in the Hornsby pub where his son was drinking and gambling heavily, led to him losing all his money. Having none left for a taxi home, he tried to get the train, but fell on the Normanhurst tracks and was hit by a train.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the fact that our son could beggar himself by walking a few metres from poker machine to ATM under one roof was a significant contributor to his death," he wrote.


New boatload of "asylum seekers" stokes island tensions

AUTHORITIES on Christmas Island were yesterday preparing to process a boatload of 73 suspected asylum seekers - the 20th arrival since September - fuelling tensions among local residents over food shortages exacerbated by the island's swelling population. The boat was intercepted off Ashmore Island at 7am yesterday, as new figures were released showing the number of skilled overseas workers coming to Australia on temporary 457 visas had plunged to its lowest level in four years.

Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus did not give details of where the passengers and four crew were from. They are due on Christmas Island by the end of the week.

The flood of asylum seekers has swollen the island's population by almost 60 per cent forcing the Department of Immigration to employ a community liaison officer to ease ongoing tensions on the tiny territory. Immigration officials were confronted for more than two hours at a community meeting last week by about 150 angry residents demanding to know how the Rudd Government intended to ease pressure on the resources of the small island, whose population of 1200 regularly endures supply shortages as a result of late shipments from Perth.

There are currently 464 detainees on Christmas Island and 226 immigration workers, contractors and service providers. The presence of the fly-in, fly-out workforce - many of whom have a daily allowance of about $80 for food on top of their wage - has led to recriminations over scarce and expensive fruit at the local store. Fresh food flown in from Perth is many times more expensive than in mainland stores - one man claimed last week to have paid $21 for three capsicums.

Some residents have grown resentful that the 29 asylum seekers living in community detention on the island are able to buy fruit on store credit provided by the department. The department moved quickly to squash rumours that asylum seekers were living on unlimited credit. It issued detailed information showing a family of four asylum seekers on Christmas Island would receive $766 in store credit each fortnight and $300 cash. [Over $500 per week for free!]


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