Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Barnaby becomes Labor's problem

Barnaby is a Queenslander and in good Queensland style is something of a populist. And populism has always played well in Queensland -- witness the long reign of Sir Johannes Bjelke-Peterson. And a rout in Queensland would tip Federal Labor out of power. From memory, the Whitlam Labor government retained only one out of 17 Queensland Federal seats in 1975 and that was the end of them. And that rout was largely the doing of the populist "Sir Joh"

THE Rudd government is clearly determined to create a media image of the opposition's finance spokesman, Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce, as totally compromised in his new frontbench role, the economic village idiot or a combination of both. Unfortunately for Labor this spin isn't working. In fact there are signs of growing public concern at the bully-boy tactics that Rudd and his cabinet colleagues have used to demonise anyone who dares to criticise the Prime Minister's policies.

Those who questioned the logic of Rudd's emissions trading scheme, and Joyce led this political assault, were denounced as climate change dinosaurs and economic vandals who should be cast into the wilderness because of their lack of support for Rudd's compassion over the future of the planet. But in immediate response to the Liberals' rejection of this scheme, after months of painful internal soul searching, the Liberal Party's stocks rose, as the last Newspoll showed.

The Liberals' decision to dump Malcolm Turnbull and support for the government's ETS, which he had fought tenaciously to preserve, vindicated the stand taken by Joyce. It also meant that the Rudd government had to carry its tattered ETS banner off to Copenhagen on its own. It can blame this humiliation more on Joyce than Abbott, who defeated Turnbull by the narrowest margin. So it is no wonder that when Joyce put his head up to raise the spectre of the US and some Australian states defaulting on their massive debt repayments, Rudd and his ministers tried to kick it off.

Joyce was variously condemned for shooting from the lip, advocating whacko economics and being an extremist. He also was attacked for urging a ban on investment in the resource sector by Chinese government-owned enterprises.

There is undeniable downside potential from the huge debts that have been run up by governments across the world in response to the global financial crisis. And there is considerable concern in Australia that the government is going out of its way to accommodate a resource-hungry China by softening foreign investment rules.

Nevertheless, Joyce seems to be well aware that he strayed into a minefield and, while not recanting his opinions, says he will now focus on his portfolio responsibilities. You only have to look at the wide area covered by Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner to see the potential for Joyce to shake up the government. To start with, he need go no further than the government's much vaunted national broadband network, where administrative responsibility is shared between Tanner and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

This project has enormous financial implications for the whole country, including rural Australia, which will have to rely on satellite delivery for high-speed services instead of the fibre-optic cable the government plans to roll out into all homes and businesses in large cities and other high-density areas. Yet again the Nationals' rural constituency faces being relegated to second-class status in this latest attempt by government to create a communications superhighway. This assumes, of course, that the NBN gets off the ground.

But so far the taxpayer is being asked to take on trust the government's grand $43 billion scheme which, as yet, has no business plan. On a magic carpet ride of rhetoric recently, Rudd said the national broadband fibre-optic caravan, which is still to roll out of Tasmania, would create a platform for future innovation, drive new business efficiencies, support smart infrastructure, open new trade opportunities and contribute to productivity growth across the economy.

It also would address the challenge of greenhouse gas emissions, which it could reduce by 5 per cent, Rudd assured a government-organised forum designed to pump up the NBN's image. Part of this effect would come through the use of video-conferencing, reducing the need to travel for face-to-face meetings.

Clearly this option does not extend to the office of a Prime Minister who is highly sought after on the global diplomacy speaking circuit. Rudd's assessment of the NBN's positive effect on climate change ignores the increased energy demands that would be required to meet a substantial take-up of this high-speed service. Undaunted, Rudd says the NBN and the government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme go hand in glove in Labor's policy on climate change.

Now this is a worry, looking at how the ETS has blown up in the government's face. But what we are witnessing is an attempt by Rudd to wrap the NBN in the same blanket of political correctness he used to shield his ETS policy from its critics.

Considering Joyce's successful strike rate against this flawed ETS policy, it is no wonder that Rudd is pulling out all stops to try to knock him off his perch before the campaign begins for the next federal election.


Conservatives call for new estimate on cost of emissions trading scheme to families

KEVIN Rudd is under pressure to come clean on the likely cost-of-living impact of an emissions trading scheme if Australia goes it alone before other nations act.

The failure of the Copenhagen talks to deliver a binding treaty has prompted warnings from the opposition that the impact of an emissions trading scheme could now be greater on families. Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said the government should commission modelling on the true impact of the scheme and whether it would go beyond original estimates of $1100 for families on average. “The real thing now is to release the impact on the cost of living of the ETS. Will the cost rise from $1100 to $1500 to $2000. Because his system was designed to fit in with an international scheme,” Mr Hunt said.

He said the existing Copenhagen Accord was a very weak document. “They've removed all the timeframes. The reason why the document has failed is because it was lower than the lower of expectations. I have to confess I was surprised at the result of the conference. That's because it removed all developed world commitments and therefore developing world,” he said. “In the draft document that was available in the hours before the so-called accord there were targets and timeframes for 2020 and 2050 - both of those disappeared in the final hours.”

Mr Hunt's call for modelling on the likely impact on families came after Climate Change Minister Penny Wong yesterday vowed to continue with the government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bill in February.

The government's chief climate adviser, Ross Garnaut, has also warned that "deep cuts" in carbon emissions would be necessary to keep the Copenhagen aim of limiting a rise in global warming of 2C.

Greens' leader Bob Brown said the government's only option was to negotiate with the Greens in the Senate to get the ETS through in February.


A government that cannot pay its hospital bills -- even tiny ones

It tells you a lot that it sends its own employees to a private hospital rather than one of its own public hospitals. You can see why when you note the waiting mentioned below

AN injured prison officer waited five hours for treatment in a public hospital after she was turned away from a private centre contracted by the Government because of overdue bills. The State Government has a long-standing agreement with the Wakefield Emergency Centre to treat public-sector workers.

On Saturday, a female officer from the Adelaide Women's Prison with minor head injuries was denied treatment because government bills from early October had not been paid. The bills, totalling $196, were paid yesterday.

"Sometimes the government lapses a bit and the only recourse we have is to do that (deny treatment)," Dr Wolianskyj said. "We make sure it's nothing life-threatening (but) if the accounts are more than two or three months late . . . then we basically suspend the service."

All government accounts are the responsibility of the shared services department. Public Service Association general secretary Jan McMahon said she was "appalled that an injured corrections officer was unable to receive medical treatment because the Government has not paid its bills".


Political bias behind $15,000 funding cut to conservative magazine

THE conservative magazine Quadrant has accused the Australia Council of political bias after its annual grant for next year was cut by 30 per cent, from $50,000 to $35,000.

Quadrant's editor, the historian Keith Windschuttle, a key protagonist in the history wars who denies that the removal of Aboriginal children from their families was racist or deliberate policy, has written to subscribers saying the decision by the council's literature board was "patently political".

"Throughout the 11 years of the Howard government, its appointees never reduced the funding of overtly left-wing publications like Meanjin, Overland and Australian Book Review," Mr Windschuttle says in the letter. He says the entire Australia Council grant is used to pay writers and does not fund Quadrant's political commentary.

Grants to Meanjin ($50,000), Overland ($60,000) and the Australian Book Review ($115,000) are the same as they received this year.

Mr Windschuttle is appealing to readers to cover the $15,000 shortfall by renewing subscriptions or taking a premium $300 subscription which includes copies of Quadrant books such as his own new book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, volume 3, The Stolen Generations 1881-2008.

The Australia Council's director of literature, Susan Hayes, dismissed Mr Windschuttle's claims of bias as nonsense. "Politics simply doesn't come into it. It is all done on the literary merit, the skill of the editor and content." She said that this year Quadrant had received more generous funding because applications in another category had been substandard.

For next year funding had returned to its normal size but two new magazines, Griffith Review and Wet Ink, became eligible for funding and were successful. Griffith Review has been allocated $40,000 and the South Australian-based Wet Ink, which has the Nobel Laureate for literature J.M. Coetzee as an adviser, received $20,000.

Ms Hayes said that the board was also concerned that Quadrant and some other magazines were using too narrow a field of contributors, and it was not the only magazine to lose funding. "It is competitive and it's a small pot of money … There have been two chairs over the past two years and I have never seen a hint of political bias … One was a Howard government appointee and one was a Rudd Government appointee."


DC4 gets new lease of life

It's served time in the US Navy, lay dormant for years in the Arizona desert and was even seized for alleged drug-running in the Bahamas. But after a 16-month restoration, a historic 1943 DC4 World War II transport plane which has been out of action for 10 years, made its triumphant take-off at Archerfield Airport in Brisbane yesterday.

The military machine will become a flying museum to educate future generations about how air travel used to be.

Twenty volunteers from the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society, led by project manager Mike De La Hunty spent 5000 hours on the overhaul. "Sixteen months of hard work is about to pay off," a very excited Mr De La Hunty said before boarding. HARS executive member Ben Morgan said the society was proud to be able to restore historic aircraft.

It landed at Illawarra regional airport yesterday where its restoration will be finalised. It will be exhibited at air shows and the airport museum.


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