Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Barnaby Joyce phenomenon

Story below from a Left-leaning journalist but generally factual. Joyce is VERY independent but is also a man of the people. He is also an instinctive conservative rather than an economic liberal -- which gives him both strengths and weaknesses. His threat to reciprocate trade barriers is not economically rational, for instance, but it could work wonders politically. Mexico has just caused an Obama backdown through similar measures. So if an economic basket-case like Mexico can roll the legendary Teamsters Union, anything is possible

As 2009 comes to a close, ask yourself who have been Australia's most influential political leaders this year. Kevin Rudd, certainly, but who's next on the list? I nominate Barnaby Joyce. From the time he was elected to the Senate in 2004 until last week, the media and political mainstream refused to take him seriously. It's easy to see why.

He has a bumbling manner and a madcap style. He has described the Prime Minister as a "psycho chook". He called the emissions trading system "a political fascinator - a bit of fishnet with a few feathers you can stick on your head, but it's never going to keep the sunlight out." This is wildly original, but it's also wild. It's not what we are conditioned to expect from serious political figures.

How many heavyweight public identities are named after cartoon characters? His parents say they christened him after the hero of a comic strip they enjoyed as university students, Barnaby the Mathematical Genius. And Joyce himself is happy to invite ridicule. He says he has "a name that resembles a pet cow". He developed his manner of speech while working as a bouncer in an Armidale pub: "Talk as quickly as possible," was the first lesson.

Sure, he got lots of publicity. There are three reasons. First, his wacky manner makes him "good talent". He sputters quotes "like a verbal Catherine wheel," as The Australian Financial Review's Sophie Morris put it. Second, he is a media tart who will meet just about any media request. Third, and most important, he is a political insurgent.

News is about conflict and dissent and dysfunction, and Barnaby Joyce is all of those. He ostentatiously hops into both major parties, slaps the biggest political figures, and ridicules the conventional wisdom. He did all three in just five words in this comment about the positions of Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull on climate change: "They're both full of shit." He got air time because he was a contrary voice, not because he was a powerful officeholder as leader of the National Party in the Senate, a leader with exactly four followers.

But Joyce has now upgraded from maverick to force majeure. Consider what he achieved, almost single-handedly, this year. To start with, he gave the National Party new purpose and identity in rejecting the Rudd Government's emissions trading scheme.

The Nationals like to think of themselves as the third force in Australian politics but had become merely third-rate. They were the passive backseat passengers in the John Howard omnibus, sucking on their pork-flavoured pacifiers. The Nationals were in a long, slow decay. Their share of the vote federally had halved from 11.5 per cent in 1987 to 5.5 per cent in 2007 and their number of seats in Parliament fell from 19 to 10.

Then Joyce happened. Leading the uprising against the emissions trading scheme, the senator from Queensland split the Coalition. The Liberals negotiated themselves closer and closer to Labor while Joyce pulled further and further away. At the 2007 election, both Labor and the Coalition promised an emissions trading scheme. After the election, Joyce decided "to do everything in my power to stop this policy". At the very moment Malcolm Turnbull clinched his climactic deal with Rudd and linked arms politically, the Joyce rebellion reached critical mass in public opinion.

The conservative arm of the Liberal Party exploited the moment, overthrew the leader, overturned the policy, and installed a new leader, Tony Abbott, who had adroitly changed his public position on the ETS only a week earlier.

Joyce led, the Nationals followed, the Liberals came along behind. Australia's national consensus on climate change had been shattered. Rudd was suddenly in danger of losing the signature reform of his first term. "No one gave us a snowflake's chance of prevailing," says Joyce. "In the National Party, we knew what feedback we were getting on this. We had to make sure the pressure from outside the building [Parliament House] was felt inside the building. "The pressure built and built and one day it just went snap."

Joyce identifies two critical moments in his campaign to inflame public opinion. His main challenge was to simplify his case: "If you confuse the message, you lose the message. It was such a complex policy that if we drilled into the detail, we'd lose people." His theme was that a new tax would not change the global temperature. He satirised an ETS as an "energy taxation system". But he and his fellow Nationals searched long and hard for a simple illustration. "One media release just took off, and it was a bit of an odd one - a roast will cost $100. "Labor tried to ridicule it, but the more they ridiculed it, the more it reinforced the message that a roast would cost $100. The ferment built up."

Second was the mobilisation of what Joyce calls "the drivetime talkback community - this is your core constituency, people driving home from work, and they were hearing that they were going to get whacked with a big new tax." Again, there was a notable turning point: "I know exactly when it was. It was when Jason Morrison on 2GB said to his listeners, 'these senators have names - you ring them up and tell them what you think'. And fortunately, Sydney did."

Abbott, hailing Joyce as "probably Australia's most accomplished retail politician", has rewarded him with the shadow finance minister's job. This is notable because it is a post which allows Joyce to range across all portfolios. Finance, unlike families, for instance, or housing, will not corral Joyce into a single area of policy but will gives him freedom to continue to speak widely. He is Abbott's de facto deputy leader, and they share the same style of politics - populist, aggressive, reckless, economically unorthodox, angry and oppositionist.

Joyce was the opinion leader on the ETS, and Abbott the follower, even down to the details. Abbott has embraced the Joyce version of the ETS acronym - "energy taxation system" - for example. And Joyce has since led Abbott on other policy matters too. Joyce has long been vehemently opposed to investment in Australian resources by Chinese state-owned corporations. Now we hear Abbott taking the same position.

But wielding influence is one thing. Using it to produce good public policy is another. Based on what we know of Joyce's positions so far, is he an influence for good or ill?

He is a forceful enemy of the concentration of corporate power - he hates Australia's grocery duopoly and the anti-competitive behaviour of the big four banks. These are classic populist positions. But strict policing of anti-competitive behaviour is also a tenet of sound market-based economics. So far so good.

He is opposed to the Rudd-Turnbull ETS. But what would he do about global warming and carbon pricing? Nothing, seems to be the answer. But the world needs to wean itself off carbon fuels and cut carbon emissions. Joyce has no answer here - a failure of responsible policy. And what about Australia's competitive position? In the US legislation to introduce an ETS, there is a clause that would impose tariffs on goods imported from countries that don't have an equivalent carbon price to the US. Asked on Lateline what he would do in the face of US tariffs on Australian goods, Joyce replied: "I suppose in Australia we would have to put up protection mechanisms as well, similar carbon tariffs so we don't get imports from China and South-East Asia. "What goes around comes around. If we want to start setting up trade barriers, let's go."

This would be profoundly damaging to Australia, a trade-based economy, and a reversion to the destructive protectionism of the Great Depression. It certainly doesn't represent the interest of farmers.

Then there is Joyce's warning that the US Government could default on its debt. It's not a silly thing to say. It is within the realm of possibility. The US defaulted in 1933 and, unlikely though it is, many investors worldwide are anxious that it could happen again. But there are two problems with Joyce's pronouncements on this. First is that he is now a frontbench member of the alternative government of a serious developed economy. He's not a backbench bomb-thrower any more. Second is the prescription that flows from his fear: "Things you look for in that economic Armageddon are the capacity to feed ourselves, the capacity to provide the fundamentals in medicines and basic fundamental requirements for our nation," he told the Herald's Mark Davis this week. Now he is sounding like a member of a survivalist cult, digging bunkers and stocking up with canned food and shotguns. This is madness.

Someone - Joyce thinks it was the writer of a letter to the editor - described him as "the thinking man's Pauline Hanson". Geoff Cockfield of the University of Southern Queensland describes him as "Hanson without the racism".

From political insurgent, Joyce has taken a big step towards being a political incumbent. He will have to make the adjustment in a hurry. Otherwise he will go the way of Hanson, and for good reason. Joyce has become extremely influential. He also has the potential to be extremely dangerous to the national interest.


Australia in on the carbon scams too

The best-known of the carbon scams is the way Germany and Russia were allowed under the Kyoto treaty to count the meltdown of their former Communist industries as carbon reduction credits. And Britain was allowed to count the conversion of much of its electricity generation from coal to gas -- which was in fact done to save money. And America counts the relocation of much of its industry to China. And China and India were exempted altogether, of course. So it must be no surprise that Australia's negotiators found a comfortable little loophole too -- comfortable for the government but hard on Australia's farmers. The coverage below is, rather surprisingly, from the Green/Left blog "Crikey". I notice that they are very wobbly about the difference between "effect" and "affect". I think I have corrected most of the bloopers concerned. I have tamed a few excess apostrophes too

Over the coming week Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will attend the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference and be hailed as one of the world leaders on climate change action. The PM attends the meeting with Australia being one of a handful of developed countries to have met their Kyoto Treaty obligations. Australia’s Kyoto commitment was to limit the Nations Carbon Dioxide emissions to 108% of 1990 levels.

The Carbongate “Trick”

The “trick” is how Australia, with a rapidly growing economy over the last two decades, has been able to achieve this. Emissions from energy and transport have increased by 23% over 1990 levels. Australians might wonder how with our rapidly growing population and economy over the last two decades, as a nation we seemed to be in a position to claim that we only increased our total emissions by 9%. Well, we haven’t. Our emissions have increased by 30% but thanks to the “carbongate” swindle we can claim it’s only 9%.

Here is the “trick” and it is not PM Kevin Rudd’s “trick”, it was actually the Liberal / National Coalition Howard Government’s master stoke. At the Kyoto negotiations in November 1997 Senator Ian Campbell was able to negotiate into the agreement what controversially became known at the “Australian clause” . Clive Hamilton documents the trickery of the Coalition’s bargaining that brought about the inclusion of the Australia clause in his book “Scorcher”. Indeed he devotes a whole chapter to it – Chapter 6 Drama at Kyoto. From page 72: “As emissions from land-clearing had decline sharply since 1990, their inclusion in the base year would give us a cushion of ‘free’ emissions reductions. our fossil-fuel emissions would be able to increase to at least 120 percent of 1990 levels by 2010 while still coming in under overall target of 105 to 110% . The Australia clause represented a loophole in the Kyoto Protocol that a couple of Bulldozers with a chain between them could drive through.”

The brilliant “win” for the Federal Government at Kyoto was only the first part of the “trick”. To make it work the Howard Government then had to stop private property owners land-clearing. Not only did they have to stop them but as private property it had to be done at no cost to the Commonwealth. This in the face of the Constitution which states that if the Commonwealth takes a private citizen’s property for its’ benefit it must compensate the citizen on “just terms”.

The Howard Government then set about having the Carr and Beattie State Labor Governments introduce Vegetation Management laws that effectively locked up 109 million hectares of privately owned land into the world’s largest privately owned carbon sink. The “trick’ is with the Native Vegetation laws being passed by State Governments Under the Constitution the State Governments have no obligation to pay private landholders compensation. Brilliant, they’d created the world’s largest carbon sink – at no cost to the Commonwealth.

With the “trick” now in place Australia’s Greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by 22% when you add back in the 83.7 millions tonnes of CO2 that was not emitted from land that may have been cleared at no cost to the Commonwealth. This and this alone has allowed Australia to meet its Kyoto Protocol Treaty Obligations and in doing so has saved the Commonwealth tens of billions of dollars in compliance penalties by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Australian family farmers have never been compensated for this Kyoto “free kick” that the nation and in particular the energy and transport industries have received.

That is how the Liberal National Coalition government effectively “stole’ what has amounted to 83.7 million tonnes of Carbon Credits from private individual landholders and is the sole reason that todays Labor Prime Minister can be heralded as a true warrior of climate change with Australia having met its Kyoto obligation – cost free.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong being interviewed in Copenhagen on the ABC 7.30 report admitted that the only reason Australia was able to claim it had met its’ Kyoto commitments was thanks to the blanket ban on broad scale land clearing. “I think what you’re referring to is the way we account for emissions from land clearing, which was agreed at the Kyoto Protocol. And Australia did respond to that. We did reduce our land clearing. We took active steps, particularly in Queensland, and Queensland is to be congratulated for fact that the reduction in land clearing in that state and also NSW has reduced Australia’s national emissions.”

The affected Australian family farmers are not celebrating their contribution. The impact on the relatively few citizens who have been asked to bear this enormous burden should outrage each and every fair minded citizen of this country.

The lock-up of their land has caused great hardship and driven many devastated landholders to desperate measures including suicides. A symbol of the despair and desperation felt by those carrying the Nation’s entire Kyoto burden is New South Wales farmer Peter Spencer who is in the 20th day of a hunger strike on a two metre platform high up a 300 foot tower on his property just outside of Canberra. See Video ACA interview with Peter Wednesday 9th – Dec – day 18 of Peters Hunger Strike.

Peter says that Federal Government has declared his 5,385 hectare property a carbon Sink without compensating him. Peter had never wanted to clear his land, but under the vegetation management act the entire property is rendered off limits to any form of development.

These affected Australian farmers have been responsible for virtually the entire burden of the Nation’s greenhouse gas emission reductions but their efforts worth billions of dollars have not been recognized or financially rewarded.

These farming families have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by about 70 million tonnes since 1990 and by 2010 the saving will be about 83.7million tonnes. To put that into context that is equivalent to eliminating the entire annual emissions of New Zealand or Ireland. Over that same period of time emissions from energy and transport have continued to skyrocket.

Hide the takings

Peter’s hunger strike has gathered support from grassroots people from Australia, the US, UK, Pakistan and Malaysia. On the Peter Spencer Hunger Strike causes site over 150 people have been lobbying frantically to get the mainstream media to cover the story and for politicians to intervene on Peter’s behalf.

Peter’s supporters have been bombarding State and Federal Labor, Liberal and National Party Politicians and the mainstream media to bring attention to his cause. But Peter’s story is being stonewalled by the mainstream media and Politicians of all colours and creeds. So far they have managed to have Peter’s story covered by 2GB’s Alan Jones with a live interview with Peter Spencer and his barrister Peter King by mobile phone on Tuesday morning and one with Alastair McRobert who is at the property with Peter on Thursday morning and a 5 minute spot on Channel 9’s A Current affair on Thursday night (the video above).

Fairfax Media, News Corporation and the ABC have steadfastly refused to run the story except for The Telegraph which ran a small piece last Sunday on page 42 titled He’s the Darryl Kerrigan of Climate Change. There has been a small amount of coverage in regional media - see a full list here. The group knows that the mainstream media is stonewalling the story because a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald was due at the property Tuesday – but the story was pulled without any reason offered by the papers editor.

Peter’s supporters have contacted by phone or email or in many cases both, Andrew Bolt, Laurie Oaks, Miranda Devine, Paul Kelly, Kerry O’Brien, Tony Jones and every major metropolitan TV, Radio and Newspaper with no result. You can read all of there efforts on the Peter Spencer Hunger Strike group wall.

The response from politicians is equally frustrating. Liberal and National politicians for obvious reasons are ducking for cover, not wanting to get involved and saying it is a matter for the Rudd Government to sort out. The Prime Minister has referred Peter’s letter to him to the Federal Police. That is the extent of his response and Labor politicians State and Federal everywhere want nothing to do with the issue.

To his great credit one Federal Liberal Politician Alex Hawke the member for Mitchell was one of the earliest people to join and show his support.

Peter Spencer’s peaceful protest has the potential to embarrass a great number of politicians from all sides of politics , State and Federal, who have been complicit in the “Carbongate” great Carbon Credit theft. They are all keen to “hide the takings”.

How is it that they can all condone the taking of billions of dollars of benefit for the nation from private citizens, yet look at paying the huge polluters billions of dollars of compensation to cut carbon emissions through the Rudd Government’s proposed CPRS? “Carbongate” – is truly an incredible blight on our democracy and an embarrassment to our nation.

Peter's supporters, the majority of whom are from urban areas and from all walks of life, are desperate as time runs out for Peter.


Rudd is in the pocket of the "big two" Australian internet providers: Telstra and Optus

How to ensure that Australian internet users continue to be treated with contempt by their service providers. This whole thing is Rudd's pet idea so he can't distance himself from it

NETWORKING experts have discussed concerns that the national broadband network will put the nation on a $43 billion path "back to the future" by returning incumbent telcos to dominant market positions. Cisco Australia chief technology officer Kevin Bloch said that the NBN Co's minimalist approach to building the network would place an additional investment burden on access seekers that only dominant market players could bear.

Mr Bloch's criticism centred on the NBN Co's choice, revealed early yesterday, to build the network around a standard G-PON (Gigabit-capable Passive Optical Network), which lack technical smarts for routing data called "layer 3" services. He argued that traditionally the cost of building layer 3 services into telecommunications networks for consumers were subsidised by business and government.

He said that there was "not a network in the world for business and government built on G-PON" which would leave telcos footing the bill for the NBN service gap. "Who is going to fund the continual function of the NBN in the future if we don't have some sort of layer 3 service? "There is a fantastic opportunity, right now, which we're going to blow. "There's only one or two players that are going to bear that cost, and guess who that is," Mr Bloch said. "So we are absolutely going back to the future and making a deeper incumbency than we've ever seen before if we don't open this up and really look at what happens in the points of interconnect that's where it's going to hurt. Everybody seems to be skirting over the issue."

While Cisco stood to gain more by selling additional networking equipment to access seekers, Mr Bloch said it was not in the national interest to choose the path NBN Co had chosen.

The concerns were flushed out during a panel session on smart grids at the federal government's Realising Our Broadband Future conference in Sydney shortly after NBN Co chief Mike Quigley revealed detailed plans for the high-speed network for the first time.


Frustrated surgeons walk out of chaotic West Australian public hospital

ONE THIRD of the general surgery team at WA's biggest hospital are so disgruntled they have either quit or are poised to resign, frustrated medicos revealed last night. One senior surgeon, who quit her job at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital late last month, said she was being forced to compromise care because she felt pressured to "push patients" out the door as quickly as possible.

Senior surgeons, a number of whom have detailed a litany of concerns to The Sunday Times, said they are fed up with management, compromised patient care and unreasonable workloads. The surgeon who quit last month said her resignation from SCGH was one of "many fires burning in the department". She said the departures could be as many as eight - equal to a third of the hospital's general surgery team. "At least seven other surgeons have either left or are in the process of resigning and won't be around after December," the specialist surgeon said. "We're all high-calibre people. You're talking a big-time walkout."

She added: "There is so much pressure to push through patients just for the numbers that you're not being allowed to give the appropriate time to communicate and assist them to the level that they should be." Most of the departing medicos have found new jobs, either in other public hospitals or in the private sector.

Another surgeon said budget cuts were forcing doctors to cancel important surgery. The surgeon, who is planning to quit SCGH within months, said staff who complained were bullied by management. Another doctor, who said he went on leave and would not be returning to the hospital, alleged SCGH was recruiting overseas doctors and forcing them to work unfair hours. "The heads of department are hoping to get rid of local people and get overseas doctors because they're more vulnerable," he said. "They don't know the health system or the area and a lot of them are on special work visas."

Australian Medical Association state president Gary Geelhoed said doctors were finding it increasingly frustrating to work in the public hospitals. "We know that the hospitals are under pressure and it's getting more difficult," he said. "People are finding it harder to work within the public system."

The Sunday Times revealed in July that senior heart doctors at SCGH were locked in a bitter dispute after one doctor, John Alvarez, claimed two of his colleagues weren't qualified. SCGH suspended one of the doctors, Jaffar Shehatha, from duty pending an investigation into 18 of his patient files. The Health Department also launched an investigation into Dr Alveraz, over allegations of misconduct.

Opposition health spokesman Roger Cook called for an inquiry into the ongoing unrest among surgical staff at SCGH. "There is an emerging picture of disquiet at SCGH among the surgeons," Mr Cook said. "We need to make sure we're supporting our professional doctors and nurses as much as possible."

A spokeswoman for the hospital confirmed that three part-time surgeons would be leaving. "The timing of the departures is purely coincidental, and we are unaware of any other planned resignations in the near future," she said. "The hospital has not received a formal complaint from any of these surgeons." She said the hospital was looking to recruit two extra full-time general surgeons as soon as possible.


Conservative spokesman calls for debate on slashing immigration

SENIOR Opposition frontbencher Kevin Andrews has called for a debate on slashing Australia's immigration from 180,000 people a year to a "starting point" of just 35,000. In his first interview since returning to the shadow cabinet as spokesman on families and community affairs, the former immigration minister questioned the "blithe" acceptance of projections that the population will hit 35 million by 2050. "You look at the figures - 60 per cent of our population growth is in immigration. It's not as if we don't have any say over it," he told The Age. "Now, that obviously has to be balanced up in terms of the economic needs of the nation and what workers you need, but it's not as if this is just something that is inevitably going to happen."

Arguing that Australians were deeply concerned about problems such as urban sprawl, overcrowding, traffic snarls and dwindling water supplies, Mr Andrews challenged Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's advocacy of "a big Australia".

Risking stepping on the toes of his party's new immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, he called for a debate on cutting the permanent immigration program as one way to curb population growth, saying the levels were "pretty much" plucked out of thin air. "If you look at the 2008 data, you would need about 35,000 immigrants on top of births to replace the population (for that year). So I say the starting point should be replacement levels of population, then ask what additional population we need so the country can be economically and otherwise sustainable and growing," he said.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans branded it hypocritical for Mr Andrews to be complaining about the migration intake when the Howard government had welcomed more than 1 million migrants during its tenure. "In 1995-96, the Labor government set a migration program of 83,000. In their last year in government, Mr Howard and Mr Andrews set a migration program of 158,800 for 2007-08," he said. "It is hypocritical to now complain about the size of migration."

Senator Evans also rejected criticism of the setting of migration levels without adequate scrutiny, saying the Rudd Government had begun to construct a long-term planning framework to help set the size of intakes.

In a wide-ranging interview, Mr Andrews also objected to means-testing payments such as family tax benefits and the baby bonus. "The baby bonus is about two things - one is supporting people who have children, and seeking to raise the birthrate back to replacement levels. "If that is the purpose, then it's not a matter of something that ought to be means-tested."

He signalled plans to partly offset the $3 billion cost of axing Labor's means test - and restoring payments to wealthier families - by creating "one-stop shops" for government services such as Medicare, Centrelink and the Child Support Agency.


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