Thursday, December 31, 2009

Turn the boats away, says Tony Abbott

TONY Abbott says he will turn asylum-seeker boats back out to sea if the Coalition wins the next election, accusing Kevin Rudd of lacking the "steel" to fulfil his promise to do the same. As authorities intercepted another refugee boat - the 59th this year - the Opposition Leader said asylum-seekers must know what a risky business it was coming to Australia by boat.

Mr Abbott attacked the Prime Minister over his lack of "steel" in handling the issue, The Australian reports. "If the circumstances permit it, you've got to be prepared to turn boats around," Mr Abbott told The Australian yesterday. "John Howard was fiercely criticised for this. Nevertheless, Kevin Rudd said he would be more than tough enough to turn boats around were he prime minister, but he singularly failed to show any steel whatsoever since becoming our leader."

The Opposition Leader's comments were accompanied by a fresh broadside against the Rudd Government's proposed emissions trading system. Mr Abbott challenged Mr Rudd to release Treasury modelling on who would be worse off under the scheme. Given that this is dribbling out piecemeal, I think it's high time that Mr Rudd came clean with the Australian people," Mr Abbott said.

The remarks prompted a government counter-attack, with Acting Climate Change Minister Peter Garrett challenging Mr Abbott to provide evidence for his claim the ETS would cost the average household an extra $1100 a year.

Mr Abbott's comments on boats echo a promise made by Mr Rudd in the dying days of the 2007 election campaign. "You'd turn them back," Mr Rudd said of approaching asylum boats. In the interview, given to The Australian, Mr Rudd acknowledged such an approach was contentious, but emphasised the importance of deterrence. "Deterrence is effective through the detention system but also your preparedness to take appropriate action as the vessels approach Australian waters on the high seas," the then opposition leader said.

Mr Abbott acknowledged the electoral potency of the asylum-seeker issue, saying the spike in boat arrivals had registered in the electorate. Perhaps in a measure of how the debate had evolved since the Tampa crisis of 2001, Mr Abbott indicated the refugee issue was unlikely to dominate next year's election campaign. "I think it's an important issue," the Liberal leader said. "I'm not saying it's the most important issue, I'm not saying it's necessarily a decisive issue. "But I think it has been a significant issue in terms of illustrating the comparative weakness of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister."

When asked if he was prepared to turn boats back to sea, Mr Abbott replied: "I think you've got to be prepared to turn boats around, as Kevin Rudd said he would be."

Mr Abbott's comments came as 16 Tamil asylum-seekers rescued by the Customs vessel the Oceanic Viking touched down in Australia. A total of 18 have flown to Australia, while the remainder have been taken to a UN transit facility in Romania where they will be vetted by Canadian and American immigration teams.

The Australian understands Canberra will admit more of the 23 Tamils still in detention, although it is not clear how many. The Tamils have been resettled under a special deal underwritten by the Rudd government to find them homes in the West within four to 12 weeks, in exchange for ending their month-long stand-off aboard the Oceanic Viking with Australian authorities.


School building fiasco

Bureaucatic waste again

THE Federal Government should suspend its $16.2 billion school building program until the Auditor-General's office delivers its findings on whether the stimulus money is being spent efficiently, the Opposition said yesterday. The call follows the Herald's report of a public school in Wollongong that was told it could not build a hall large enough for 320 students within its $2.5 million budget from the Commonwealth. This was despite a nearby Catholic school building a hall for 1000 students at less than half that price.

The Opposition spokesman for education, Christopher Pyne, said the Federal Government appeared to be spending twice as much as it needed on school building projects. "The so-called education revolution was more of a spending revolution," Mr Pyne said. "The story about the school in Wollongong is just another example of where the Government is spending twice as much to get half the value for taxpayers' money. "I will be referring this to the Auditor-General's inquiry. The Government should [suspend the program] until the Auditor-General has reported his findings in the … new year."

Mr Pyne said the program was riddled with problems of "profiteering, skimming by states and inflated prices. Taxpayers are probably getting about $8 billion of value for $16 billion in spending." "This is a once in a generation opportunity being wasted. "It should have been properly controlled by the minister [for education, Julia Gillard]."

The Acting Minister for Education, Kim Carr, said the Opposition has made it clear that it does not support the building of infrastructure in thousands of Australian schools. "Mr Pyne should explain to parents and students which schools he'd like to see miss out," Mr Carr said.


Paint roofs white, says "Green" mayor

FORGET painting the town red - Lord Mayor Robert Doyle wants Melbourne's roofs painted white. Cr Doyle believed slathering the tops of inner-city buildings with a white coating would make them cooler and more energy efficient, according to a report in the Herald Sun. He said the whitewash could reflect the sun's rays, reducing temperatures inside skyscrapers, apartment towers, shopping centres and other city structures.

Cr Doyle hit on the city-wide paint job idea after talking to New York mayor Michael Bloomberg at the Copenhagen climate summit. Mayor Bloomberg recently launched a "Cool Roofs" pilot scheme backed by former vice-president and environment campaigner Al Gore. Volunteers in New York will daub 10,000sq/m of roof space white to reduce air-conditioner use.

Cr Doyle has asked Melbourne council officers to investigate how the scheme could be implemented here. "I think it is a real alternative for us," Cr Doyle said.

US President Barack Obama's green guru has encouraged Americans to consider white roofs for the environmental and economic benefits. The special reflective white surface is rolled or sprayed on roofs and dries like rubber. White roofs are easier and more affordable than roof-top gardens, which are also promoted as a way of reducing a city's carbon footprint.


Even sparklers banned

This seems like overkill

With fire bans in place across South Australia today, the Country Fire Service (CFS) advises that sparklers cannot be used in open-air New Year's Eve celebrations tonight.

Temperatures are expected to soar in Adelaide and other regional centres, with severe or extreme fire danger ratings for most regions.

Brenton Eden from the CFS says only professionals are legally allowed to use fireworks and today sparklers can only be used indoors. "Sparklers are also not to be used in the open without a permit during the fire danger season," he said. "So for tonight, for celebrations for the New Year, sparklers not to be used out in the open because we are in the fire danger season."


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