Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rudd's hot air over global warming

THE great fraud has been found out, and his country saved - for now - from the greatest of his follies.

Here's the worst lie that Kevin Rudd, perhaps our most deceitful Prime Minister, once told about global warming and his Emissions Trading Scheme: "The biggest challenge the world faces in the decades ahead is climate change. "It is the great moral and economic challenge of our time."

But on Tuesday Rudd decided "the great moral challenge" of our time wasn't, after all. It was just "a" challenge, he said.

And with public trust falling in his ETS "solution" - a great green tax on gases - he cut and ran. His ETS would be shelved until at least 2013. Two elections away. Yet only last year this same Government claimed "delay was denial", and we could not wait to save "our jobs, our houses, our farms, our reefs, our economy and our future". To stop "700,000 homes and businesses" on our coast from drowning. (Another lie.)

Rudd had his excuses, of course. The naughty Opposition now opposed the ETS in the Senate, and other countries were "slower to act" on global warming themselves. But it was just more Rudd spin.

For years he's mocked warnings from sceptics and some Liberals that it was reckless for small Australia to make cuts that almost no other country would make. As I've often argued, we'd just export jobs overseas without making a scrap of difference to any warming, which seems to have halted since 2001 anyway.

Rudd pretended then that such arguments were mad. Almost criminal. "The clock is ticking for the planet," he said six months ago. "The resolve of the Australian Government is clear - we choose action, and we do so because Australia's fundamental economic and environmental interests lie in action. Action now. Not action delayed." The costs of delay would be "severe".

So why does Rudd only this week agree that waiting for the world is not mad, after all, but responsible? Was he spinning then, or is he spinning now?

Almost as empty is Rudd's excuse that his hand was forced by the Opposition's rejection of the ETS since the accidental rise of Tony Abbott to the Liberal leadership by a single vote.

IF Rudd truly believed his ETS was so desperately needed to meet the world's "biggest challenge", why didn't he fight like sin to get it through the Senate, as President Barack Obama fought to get his health reforms through his Senate?

Why didn't he throw everything into cutting a deal with the Greens and the two independent Senators to vote through an ETS to "save" the planet?

That deal may yet come, of course. Rudd's ETS is not yet a corpse but a zombie, and with an election looming, Rudd wants that zombie down in the crypt, so timid voters won't tremble.

You may think I'm harsh on Rudd, but I say little that he hasn't said himself - and of delayers just like him.

I remember his speech last November to the Lowy Institute in which he vilified me and a few other sceptics he named: "The third group of climate deniers are those who pretend to accept the science but then urge delay because they don't want their country to be the first to act. "What absolute political cowardice. What an absolute failure of leadership. What an absolute failure of logic."

You said it, Prime Minister. Or were you just spinning then, too?


'Lenient asylum' pulls Sri Lankans

AUSTRALIA'S "lenient" asylum policy, easy access to citizenship and generous welfare benefits are the main pull factors attracting Sri Lankan asylum-seekers, says the head of Colombo's anti-human-trafficking operation.

Prabath Aluthge, chief of Sri Lanka's National Counter Human Trafficking Resource Centre, told The Australian the recent wave of boat arrivals was driven by success stories spread by Sri Lankans who had travelled to Australia.

But as authorities intercepted another boat carrying 41 asylum-seekers near Ashmore Reef on Monday, Mr Aluthge said a crackdown by the Sri Lankan authorities and the toughening of Australia's asylum regime had led to a decline in the number of boats leaving Sri Lanka.

And Malaysian authorities announced they had stopped an Australia-bound boat carrying 75 Sri Lankans from leaving Malaysia on Friday.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Aluthge said he expected the changes in procedure, which include the suspension of processing of all new Sri Lankan asylum claims for three months, would have a deterrent effect, as would the deportation of people whose claims had been unsuccessful, a move foreshadowed by the Rudd government.

Australia was considered to be a soft option by prospective Sri Lankan boatpeople, Mr Aluthge said. "I think you have a very lenient asylum policy," he said. "These people, they want to go to a country where asylum policy is very lenient, where it is easy (to obtain) citizenship, easy to get welfare benefits from the host government," the Sri Lankan official said.

Mr Aluthge said neither Tamil nor Sinhalese Sri Lankans had any grounds for claiming asylum in Australia now the country's bloody civil war had ended.

Since 2009, almost 1000 Sri Lankans, mostly minority Tamils, have arrived in Australia by boat.

All told, they comprised about 20 per cent of the total number of boatpeople to arrive as part of the present surge.

"The successful people informed their friends about Australia - to come there and you can earn something and you can get political asylum very easily," Mr Aluthge said. "They motivate with this information."

However, Mr Aluthge said there had been a decline in boats leaving Sri Lanka for Australia. "We have an awareness campaign. There are police very alert. We have established a coast guard department," he said. "And . . . now the war is over, the entire navy can work with the coast guard."

Most smuggling rings in Sri Lanka were organised out of Colombo or the Negombo region north of the capital, he said. But the market is mostly Tamils in the northern part of the country.

Mr Aluthge said the organisers paid agents across the country to recruit passengers, sometimes even guaranteeing their debt for the journey, which could run from $5000 to $10,000. "They sometimes mortgage their properties, sometimes they get bank guarantees," he said.


Token Crackdown on disability pension racket

WITH around 778,000 Australians on disability pensions and the number rising steadily, the Rudd government will today announce tougher rules that will make 6500 people ineligible for the payment.

Paying disability pensions costs the commonwealth more than $11 billion a year, and that sum is expected to reach $13.2bn in just two years.

Under today's changes, 6500 disability support pensioners will be judged to be capable of work but an additional 1500 people will become eligible to receive the welfare benefit.

The net reduction in DSP recipients by 5000 is a first step in slowing the rate at which the system is ballooning. Those no longer eligible for the payment may be able to apply for the dole.

The government will also close a loophole for people on the DSP who live permanently overseas but who return to Australia every 13 weeks in order to retain their pension. That will take effect from January next year.

The new assessment process includes an overhaul of so-called impairment tables used to measure how a person's disability affects their ability to work.

Impairment tables are used by doctors to make their assessment of a person's work capacity, with points allocated to particular disabilities. A person must accumulate a certain number of points to be granted the DSP.

The growing number of people on disability pensions is a growing problem for the Rudd government because it has become a parking lot for those who are out of work, particularly mature workers, in times of rising unemployment.

During the recession between 1990 and 1993, the number on disability pensions rose from 300,000 to 400,000. At the end of December last year, 777,725 Australians were on the DSP.

Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin said it was essential that the level of a person's impairment was assessed using the most up-to-date medical information.

The current impairment tables were last comprehensively reviewed in 1993 and were not consistent with contemporary medical and rehabilitation practices, she said.

Ms Macklin will also establish a new Health Professional Advice Unit within Centrelink to give DSP assessors independent advice. That would include advice on suitable treatment to help someone return to work and on assessment of borderline claims.

The government believes that over the years, the impairment tables have led to anomalies and inconsistencies which have distorted the assessment process.

For example, when hearing impairment is assessed, a person with a hearing aid is not required to wear it, but someone who is having sight assessed must wear glasses.

Ms Macklin said an advisory committee was being established to provide advice on updating the tables, drawing on consultations with the medical, allied health and rehabilitation sector, disability peak bodies, mental health advocates and government agencies, with the revised impairment tables to be used from January 1, 2012.

Ms Macklin said the DSP was an essential element of Australia's safety net. But she said it was vital it supported the people who needed it -- those Australians who, through disability, are unable to work to fully support themselves.


Rising wave of voter anger over housing

High prices are mainly the result of Greenie-inspired land-use restrictions. There is not enough land on which to build all the new houses needed

Pity the prophet who gets it wrong on housing. Economics professor Steve Keen recently marched from Canberra to the top of Mount Kosciuszko – while also wearing a shirt that read "I was hopelessly wrong on house prices" — after losing a bet for claiming that housing prices would drop by 40 per cent after the global financial crisis. Instead prices fell in the single digits before climbing again in double digits last year.

But Labor wasn’t forced to wear a T-shirt — maybe just a metaphorical hair shirt — when it announced it was reversing some of the Foreign Investment Review Board changes made last year that controversially relaxed laws on foreign home ownership. This was in the face of admitting that it had no hard figures of sales of existing homes being sold to temporary residents since the changes, exact details of cases of possible rorting and previously claiming that the FIRB changes had had any significant impact on the market.

"The re-imposition of compulsory notification, screening and approval at the front end, and the forced sale of properties when temporary residents leave Australia, will ensure that investment is in Australia’s interests, and in line with community expectations," assistant Treasurer Nick Sherry said.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and state leaders also announced a review into housing affordability and availability at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in April, with a view to seeing whether such factors as zoning and planning, taxation and the first home owners grant had affected the market, and possible measures to alleviate the situation.

Kudos to the government for moving on the FIRB changes. But what does all this activity on housing mean? It means that Labor has figured out what many already know — that there is a voter groundswell of anger over housing in Australia. But it’s not the sort of transitory anger that one might have over many issues of the day — it’s a deep anger, a bitter anger that extends not only to those trying to buy their first house but also the parent who sees his children potentially locked out of the market forever, a fear his children share.

A widely quoted survey by the Mortgage and Finance Association of Australia and Bankwest Retail claimed that the majority of the Generation Y polled thought they would never own a home and were doomed to a life of renting. "We have never seen such pessimism among prospective first-time buyers throughout the past five indexes," said Victoria Shortt, chief executive of Bankwest Retail.

It is an anger that grows as prices continue to spiral upward, rising to higher, ridiculous multiples of average yearly wages. It is an anger that festers over the outrage of negative gearing. It is an anger that grows as mortgage stress sweeps the land. It is the impotent anger of letters to the editor and calls to late-night radio programs, desperately searching for answers and reassurance.

It is the resentment towards endless weekends spent futilely searching for an affordable place. It is a fury upon hearing interest rates are rising while overexposed banks are cutting back on home loans, creating a perfect storm for first-home owners. It is an outrage that burns over the scandal of "land banking" by companies, drip-feeding bits of real estate into a market with acute housing shortages.

It is, one might say, an electorally significant anger. Upon such angers are elections won and lost. The majority of votes may be home owners, but it only takes a small swing to unseat a government. And the army of the angry and dispossessed is growing by the day, seeing no solution in sight and paralysis at a state and federal level. And parties of both sides take heed – that army isn’t going anywhere. Not until you fix the problem.


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