Saturday, September 05, 2009

Repeated deceitful sensationalism from Australia's Green Party

The very self-confident but mentally challenged Ms Siewert above

RACHEL Siewert radiated righteous anger last weekend, after flying over the West Atlas oil rig spill in the Timor Sea, and her alarmist comments guaranteed her the kind of media coverage politicians lust after. The West Australian Greens senator said both the Federal Government and the company that owns the rig, PTTEP Australasia, had misled the public by downplaying the extent of the spill. "Literally from horizon to horizon you see the oil on the surface," she told reporters. "I'm extremely worried about the Kimberley coast because this is only 10 nautical miles, which is 20km, from the coast."

Siewert handed out photographs which she said proved her assertions, one of them showing reefs and mangroves on which she said the oil would have a devastating impact. Then she watched with satisfaction as excited journos rushed to file stories.

It was, as it turned out, nonsense. The slick was nowhere near the coast. The nearest oil was actually 148km from the coastline. But when Siewert grudgingly admitted five days later that what she had thought was oil could be algae, there was virtually no media coverage. As a result, many people still believe her original statements were true. All care and no responsibility. Who said it's not easy being Green?

Bob Brown's party is doing well at the moment, picking up support from voters disillusioned by what they see as Labor's failure to deliver on environmental issues. And with Labor not running a candidate, the Greens have high hopes of polling well in the by-election in Bradfield, the Sydney seat being vacated by former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson.

But Siewert's performance on the West Atlas issue raises questions about the Greens' approach. Are they serious, or a group of populist opportunists?

Light crude oil and natural gas began leaking from the rig early on Friday, August 21. According to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, it started mobilising resources within 15 minutes of being notified. The first concern, rightly, was getting workers to safety. Then an AMSA Dornier plane mapped the spill. Two small planes equipped for spraying chemical dispersant were despatched to Truscott aerodrome. Arrangements were made for delivery of up to 50 tonnes of dispersant. Also, a specialist C-130 Hercules was chartered from Singapore by the company to spearhead the dispersant-spraying effort. (It reached Darwin the next day, and was in action by Sunday.)

Reasonable efficiency on Day 1, you might think. But Siewert was on the airwaves saying that, instead of dispersant having to be flown from Victoria, resources to combat such spills should be based in Northern Australia. In fact, the dispersant was stored in Darwin in case of just such an emergency.

Then, Siewert and Brown demanded that the government establish an immediate judicial inquiry to establish how the oil rig was being operated and how the early stages of the clean-up were undertaken. Talk about putting the cart before the horse! Clearly, at that stage, the priorities had to be dealing with the spill's effects and plugging the leak, not drawing up terms of reference and appointing judges. Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson says there will be an independent inquiry – after the leak is capped. Sensible.

Siewert's next foray was over the plan to use a mobile rig to drill into the leaking well and plug it with mud. She insisted the Government force PTTEP Australasia to borrow a mobile rig from Woodside rather than bring one from Singapore or Indonesia. The Government, wisely you might think, preferred to follow expert advice that the overseas rig, capable of fixing itself to the ocean floor to provide a more secure platform, was a better option.

If you can get the Woodside rig there even a day or two earlier, that is 3000 barrels of oil per day that they wouldn't be pumping into the environment, the senator argued. That estimate of 3000 barrels of oil a day appears to be another Siewert special. The Government's experts put the amount leaking closer to 400 barrels a day.

And then came Siewert's flight and her headline-grabbing claims. "The slick is at least 90 nautical miles, which is 180km, east-west from the rig," she said. "And it's fair, it's pretty safe, to assume that it's going north and south as well." In contrast, the observations from AMSA's Dornier aircraft on the same day had the spill covering a rectangular area 15 nautical miles by 60 nautical miles. What's more, only 25 per cent of this area was actually affected, mostly by oil streaks and patches of sheen. The heaviest concentration of oil was within three nautical miles of the rig.

No one would deny that the oil spill is a serious matter. Siewert is right to be concerned. She has an obligation, however, to ensure her information is accurate before she charges in. Considered statements would be more impressive than wild assertions.


Folly of Housing Stimulus without New Houses

By Dr Stephen Kirchner

The increase in the First Home Owners Grant is a key element of the federal government?s fiscal stimulus. But the June quarter national accounts show little benefit in terms of new housing supply. Dwelling investment fell 5.5% over the quarter, the third consecutive quarterly decline, to be down 11% on the June quarter last year.

Where the grant did show was in a 10.6% increase in ?ownership transfer costs,? which measures expenditures made in transferring the ownership of existing homes, but adding only one-tenth of a percentage point to GDP growth. The grant was a boon to the vendors of existing homes, with national dwelling prices up 4.5% in the first six months of 2009, based on RP-Rismark data. Sydney prices were up 5.9%, while Melbourne prices were up 6.5%. But where is the new supply needed to make housing more affordable?

Building approvals for private houses have increased by 4.7% since July last year, but this is offset by a 26.2% decline in approvals for private multi-unit dwellings, leaving overall dwelling approvals down 3.9% on July last year. Moreover, much of the recent increase in housing finance and private house approvals represents a bring-forward of activity to take advantage of the grant that will see a future pay-back in the form of weaker activity as the grant is phased out.

In the December quarter last year, Australia saw only 79 dwelling commencements for every 1,000 persons the ABS estimates were added to the resident population. This is the lowest ratio of commencements to the estimated change in resident population for any quarter going back to 1984, the period for which we have comparable data.

With annual population growth running at just under 2% at the end of last year, Australia does not need to further stimulate housing demand. It needs to start addressing what RBA Governor Glenn Stevens has called the ?serious supply-side impediments? to making housing more affordable.

The above is part of a press release dated Sept. 4 from the Centre for Independent Studies. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590. Telephone ph: +61 2 9438 4377 or fax: +61 2 9439 7310

Bosses hit new Leftist unfair dismissal laws use as costly

EMPLOYERS have criticised the operation of Labor's new unfair dismissal laws, fearing claims will balloon out to 10,000 a year, a level pre-dating John Howard's Work Choices regime. While the new system is just two months old, employers claim a new telephone conciliation system aimed at resolving claims is being dominated by lawyers, with suggestions the cost of settlements has increased.

The business concern comes as unions attacked a new set of modern awards released yesterday, warning proposals for the offshore oil and gas industries risked "industrial chaos" in the vital sector. Union leader Paul Howes will demand Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard intervene on behalf of workers, accusing the Australian Industrial Relations Commission of allowing employers to exploit the current economic climate to have entitlements cut.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the number of unfair dismissal cases being filed with Fair Work Australia showed "that there's probably going to be at least 10,000 dismissal cases a year". "That would be about the number that was there prior to Work Choices," ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson said. "The greater problem will be if the system puts employers to costs and expense which is comparable to the previous system. The number of cases should fall, not remain the same or grow."

A spokeswoman for Ms Gillard, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, last night hit back at the claims, saying the "government understands that there are some in the business community who wanted Work Choices retained". The spokeswoman said there had been 1233 unfair dismissal applications made nationally since July, and 417 claims had already been resolved.

When Mr Howard introduced Work Choices in 2006, he removed unfair dismissal rights from most workers by exempting firms with fewer than 100 employees from claims. Labor has largely restored the Paul Keating model, but extended the probation period for new workers in small businesses.

Mr Anderson said employers were concerned that the new conciliation process was dominated by legal representatives. "The practical impact of the conciliation process is it has a substantial bearing of what ultimately is paid by way of 'go away' money," he said. "There have been representations that price settlements have gone up because (the conciliator) had not been able to directly express an opinion where the employer felt if he had expressed an opinion to the worker, then the worker would have withdrawn the application."

Ms Gillard's spokeswoman said "the majority of cases have actually been resolved successfully at this stage, which means employers don't have to leave their businesses to attend a formal hearing, reducing costs and inconvenience for all parties involved".

The Australian Industry Group said its experience had been reasonably positive. The AIRC yesterday released stage three of the government's award overhaul, with the ACTU claiming thousands of workers would be left worse off.

Mr Howes, national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, said the new award for the offshore oil and gas industries proposed dramatic changes to pay rates and rosters. For decades, employees have worked a two weeks on and two weeks off roster that required a majority workforce vote to be changed. But the commission had proposed that the roster could now be altered at the discretion of the employer. Mr Howes said casual employees also stood to have their pay cut by 75 per cent.


Dispassionate history an impossible ideal?

That it is difficult does not excuse the ideological abuses of it that so frequently come from the Left. As Windschuttle has shown in detail, a lot of "history" emanating from Leftist historians is just a farrago of lies. We CAN do better than that -- JR

KEVIN Rudd's speech launching Thomas Keneally's Australians: Origins to Eureka has left me scratching my head. It is an odd piece. For example, it includes the statement: "The love for history is, I believe, the handmaiden of country." I have thought hard about what this means but I still do not have a clue; it is just meaningless sludge.

Rudd wants to go beyond "the arid intellectual debates of the history wars". But surely the study of history moves forward only when it engages in intellectual debates, when present interpretations of the evidence are challenged and their inadequacies exposed. Rudd wants to bring the two interpretations, the "black armband" and the "three cheers", together in a love-in. He wants a history that "unapologetically celebrates the good. A history that unapologetically exposes the bad." The problem with this is that he is perpetuating the facile view that the study of history is all about making moral judgments. For him, history is about alternately cheering and booing the past.

This was, in fact, the starting point for the history wars. Some historians in the 1970s and 80s forgot that their role was to inquire into the past and provide as accurate a view of it as possible. For them history was the handmaiden of politics, to be used to support contemporary causes.

Many of those historians who practised the black-armband approach acted as if they were the modern equivalent of Old Testament prophets. They saw themselves as the conscience of the nation. Their role was to scourge the nation by presenting its past in the worst light so that it would repent and right its wrongs.

Manning Clark was the first to don the prophet's mantle. But it was in the area of Aboriginal history, with Henry Reynolds in the lead, that this approach really took off. Historians could influence contemporary politics by making people ashamed of the past. In reaction, the three-cheers brigade, led by Geoffrey Blainey, said: "Hang on, Australia wasn't such a bad place. There were a lot of good people who did good things. After all, they built Australia. We should celebrate their achievements."

The history wars to which Rudd refers long predate the prime ministership of John Howard. They came to public prominence because the agenda of the black-armband brigade was taken up by Paul Keating as part of his "big picture". Their willingness to use history for political purposes provided useful ammunition for Keating on matters such as indigenous affairs, the republic and multiculturalism. Howard was essentially reacting to what he saw as the extreme nature of Keating and his ideological supporters. Rather than going beyond this division, Rudd's approach indicates that he is intent on entrenching it. He seems to think that historical inquiry consists of a constant cycle of celebration and condemnation.

This is not the purpose of studying history. Historians seek to understand the past, to gain an appreciation of how and why people acted in the way they did.

Historians who begin with moral presuppositions, whose concerns are primarily with contemporary political issues, will invariably fail in their endeavour. They will lack the empathy to understand the actions of humans who were quite different from them.

The division of the past into good and bad events is futile. Sometimes bad things happen through no one's fault. For example, the British settlers were not responsible for the diseases they carried with them that wreaked havoc in the indigenous population.

It is not the job of the historian to right the wrongs of the past. They are not prophets, nor will the nation be redeemed if it collectively repents the actions of a past generation. Responsibility for actions in the past lies with the individuals who made them, not with those living decades or centuries after those actions.

The reduction of historical inquiry to moral instruction is not the only piece of muddled thinking in Rudd's speech. He claims that "history is the memory of a nation", that memory "informs and shapes behaviour" and that this "collective memory of the past" is the foundation on which the future is built.

The only problem is that memory is not history. Memory is simply unreliable. The role of the historian is to interrogate the past, to inquire and investigate, to check if the "memory of the nation" is true or false. Their job is to establish, as far as they can, what actually happened. Often they will disagree because they will interpret the available evidence in different ways.

In this sense there will always be history wars because historians, as with scientists, will invariably differ about the interpretation of evidence. This sort of disagreement is a healthy aspect of a liberal democratic society.

Unfortunately, Rudd's speech does nothing to assist Australia's history wars to move from an unhealthy obsession with cheering or booing the past to one in which there is informed intellectual debate. If anything, his speech encourages the unhelpful idea that the real purpose of history is serve moral and political concerns.


Australians 20 per cent more likely to get married than Britons

The number of Australians tying the knot has hit a 20-year high, throwing the equivalent numbers in Britain into stark relief. Figures released by the Australian bureau of statistics on Monday suggested that 118,756 marriages took place there last year, up 2.1 per cent on 2007 and up 12 per cent on a low of 104,000 in 2001. Australia has an estimated population of about 21,885,000. By comparison, there were 270,000 marriages in 2007 in Britain, from a population of roughly 60.5 million at the time (it is now estimated to be closer to 61 million). This was the lowest since statistics on this subject were first compiled in 1862. It puts the marriage rate an estimated 19 per cent higher in Australia than in the UK.

Frank Bongiorno, a senior lecturer in Australian studies at King’s College London, said that the Australian propensity to settle down may be linked to financial inducements. “There is government encouragement in Australia to form households in the shape of first time home buyers’ grants. And then there are grants for when children are born. Both of those things would tend to encourage people to marry. “When I took advantage of it the home buyers’ grant was about $7,000 but now I believe it’s much higher – up to about $21,000 I think.

“There has been concern in Australia about an aging population – how it would support the pensions of the increasing number of elderly. You heard more about it five years ago than you do at the moment. But perhaps the policies it led to have fed through and caused this boom.”

Bernard Salt, a demographer for financial consultants KPMG in Melbourne, said that the marriage rates were least part of this trend. “The divorce rates are also down and the birth rate is up according to the last set of stats, which were for 2008. “The economy in Australia didn’t really start to take a hit of any kind until earlier this year, in January or February. So it might be that some of this is due to optimism about people’s prospects and their lives in general. Their optimism might have made them more prepared to take on a genetic liability in the form of a child. “Plus I think that the present generation of twenty-somethings are more conservative than their parents were. They are into serial monogamy and are less promiscuous.”

The data, which were released on Monday, also suggested that 80 per cent of couples lived together before heading down the aisle.


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