Sunday, December 06, 2009

New conservative leader challenges Prime Minister to debate climate change

Rudd is too smart to get sucked into that one -- he knows he will lose -- but a refusal will undermine his credibility

FEDERAL Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has challenged Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to a series of public debates on climate change.

The Government plans to re-introduce its emissions trading scheme (ETS) legislation into Parliament when it resumes in February, after the bills were defeated in the Senate last week.

Mr Abbott says most people want more information on the scheme. "That's code for saying that they don't understand it," he told the Nine Network on Sunday. "I'd like to challenge the prime minister to a series of public debates on this subject before Parliament comes back. "This big emissions tax, it's going to be not just for this year or next year, it's going to be forever if it comes in, and it shouldn't come in with(out) the public understanding exactly what it means."

Mr Abbott said the debates could be in a town hall and broadcast to the public or beamed live from a television studio. "We'll debate it up hill and down dale, we'll debate it once, twice, three times, four times, however many times is necessary until the public feel that they have had their questions answered to their satisfaction," he said.

Referring to former federal opposition leader John Hewson's inability to explain a Goods and Services Tax (GST) to the public, Mr Abbott said: "Perhaps he (Mr Rudd) can explain what the emissions tax will do to the price of a birthday cake".

Mr Abbott said he was prepared to allow the prime minister to choose the debate venue. "It's really up to him but he can't and shouldn't run away from explaining fully this great big new tax to the Australian public," he said.

He said Mr Rudd often sounded more like a public servant in a seminar than a "retail", or one-on-one, politician. "But look, I don't under-estimate him. He didn't get to be the prime minister by being foolish or by lacking the ability to communicate and I'm sure he would give a good account of himself."

Citing comments from Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) board member and economist Warwick McKibbin, Mr Abbott said Australia could reduce its carbon emissions by at least five per cent without an emissions trading scheme (ETS). "I haven't said it will be cost-free ... but I think there are all sorts of ways of paying for this that don't involve a great big new tax that we will live with forever," he said.

"Don't assume that I want regulation, what I want is appropriate incentives. "You could have a fund that would directly purchase emission abatements and that would be a lot less than the $10 billion or $12 billion a year money-go-round which Labor is proposing." Mr Abbott said tree planting and more energy-efficient buildings could make a significant contribution to slashing carbon emissions.


"There's no such thing as right and wrong" bears fruit

Huge rise in assault, drugs at schools as students are taught that everything is relative

NEW South Wales principals have reported more than 500 cases of serious assaults, threats and drug use in public schools this year. More than 109 students were caught bringing firearms, knives and other weapons to school in the first two terms of this year - up 300 per cent compared to the same period five years ago. The 526 cases of serious offences were logged by the Education Department's school safety and response unit hotline, a 24-hour line offering support and advice for principals. The number of students reported with illegal drugs has risen sharply - from nine in 2005 to 60 this year. South Western Sydney and the NSW north coast were the worst offending regions and accounted for 38 per cent of all drug busts.

NSW Parents and Citizens' Federation spokeswoman Helen Walton said there were anecdotal reports of students bringing heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and the drug ice to school. "I think people are silly if they're blind to the fact that it does exist," she said. "It really does happen. It's not just a one-off as some people seem to think. Anybody who turns a blind eye and says it won't happen in our school is just leaving themselves open to be very disappointed."

Ms Walton said the department needed to conduct an on-going review of their programs to address the issue of drug use in schools. "The department needs to make sure the programs are aimed at preventing this violence. Let's make it on-going and let's make it based on the needs over a period of time."

The figures, released quietly on the department's website last month, reveal assaults on students and teachers continue to be a major issue. Schools in south-western and western Sydney recorded the highest number of assaults and threats. In an incident earlier this year, an argument between two teenage boys over a female that began on the Internet spilled over at school when one held a knife to the other's throat. In another case, a mother allegedly paid a student to harm a Year Three boy who had been bullying her son. She also made threats towards the principal of the school.

The statistics don't include the death in August of 15-year-old Jai Morcom at Mullumbimby High School during a brawl over the right to sit at a playground lunch table.

Despite more than four in five schools not recording any serious incidents, 52 filed at least three cases of criminal behaviour. NSW Public School Principals Forum chair Cheryl McBride denied there has been a significant spike in school violence. She said only an "incredibly small percentage" of students were at fault, considering more than 735,000 students attended public schools. "Does this 109 number signal a great concern for us as school principals? No, because it's such an infinitesimal part of the population," Ms McBride said.


Crammed Christmas Island centre to cost extra $45m

Christmas Island will cost the Federal Government $45 million more than it budgeted for this year as the overstretched detention centre is expanded to house hundreds more asylum seekers. The Immigration Department said this week it would boost capacity on the island to hold as many as 2200 asylum seekers, more than double the permanent population. A new compound for 400 men will be completed at the high-security complex by March. There are plans to house asylum seekers in tents until then. "The tents may be used for accommodation or for recreation and education activities," a department spokesman said.

The extension provoked an angry response from the co-ordinator of A Just Australia, Kate Gauthier. Asylum seekers could be supported in the community for a fraction of the price, or $56 a day, she said.

After the budget, the Immigration Department was given an extra $34 million for infrastructure expansion on Christmas Island. It was also topped up for an additional $11 million in running costs, 2009-10 portfolio additional estimate statements showed. "That $45 million is throwing good money after bad," Ms Gauthier said. "When the Government came in, it agreed detention on Christmas Island was a bad policy but said it was obliged not to waste taxpayers' money and use the facility if they needed it. Now they are going one step further."

The detention centre was built by the Howard government to house 800 people but lay dormant until boat numbers began increasing last year. Despite numerous calls to process asylum claims on the mainland, Labor has adhered to an election promise to keep boat arrivals offshore.

The Australian Human Rights Commission said yesterday it was concerned about the level of community support and services available to people held on the small island. "Increases in numbers, of course, exacerbate our concerns," the president, Catherine Branson, said. "The detention centre itself was designed to accommodate a certain number so to have it now modified to take a larger number raises issues we would like to know more about."

Some dongas from the now closed Baxter detention centre had arrived on the island and more would follow, the Immigration Department said.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said asylum seekers would be brought to the mainland if the island filled up.

The Opposition said more beds would not stop the dangerous and criminal activities of people smugglers. "The Government must reintroduce measures and messages that make it clear people smugglers will not be tolerated as the de facto selectors of Australia's newest residents," the immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone, said. The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said he supported former leader Malcolm Turnbull's pledge to reintroduce temporary protection visas.


Yet more government meddling in people's lives proposed

Walk the dog or face time behind bars

PET owners could be punished for not walking their dogs, under radical new laws being proposed by the RSPCA. Under the legislation, they would have to regularly exercise dogs, ensure animals are not kept chained up and give their pets adequate food and water.

If the proposal becomes law, dog and cat owners across Australia would face prosecution, fines of up to $12,000 fines for animal cruelty and magistrates could consider jail in extreme circumstances.

Dr Hugh Wirth, head of RSPCA Victoria, is one of four experts the Federal Department of Agriculture's welfare division has appointed to draft national animal welfare guidelines. "The draft will tell people what they have to do rather than what they want to do," Dr Wirth said. "The new standards would be regulatory, therefore a breach of the standards is a breach of the law." The proposed new laws are designed to formalise the national code, which states dogs must be walked at least once a day.

Dr Wirth said jail sentences would not be handed out for a first offence, but it would something available for magistrates to consider. "I would be amazed if a magistrate ordered jail time on the first offence, but, like every other offence under cruelty legislation, jail is an option," Dr Wirth said.

The proposed laws would be designed to help overcome the problems animal inspectors have had penalising bad owners. The working party is designed to create a national standard, but ultimately the laws would be have to be passed by State Governments.

A spokesman for the federal Department of Agriculture said the working group was one of six set up to look at animal welfare. "One of the goals of the Australian Animal Welfare Strategy is to develop national standards and guidelines for the care of different kinds of animals," the spokesman said. "The states and territories are ultimately responsible for legislating for animal welfare, not the Commonwealth."


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