Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Greens push for anti-corruption watchdog to probe MPs and Commonwealth agencies

There are already watchdogs galore but most are pretty toothless so I applaud this idea. A new one might bite for a while

BOB Brown will today announce plans for a federal anti-corruption watchdog to tackle misconduct by commonwealth agencies and federal politicians.

Law enforcement agencies would also be targeted by the Greens leader's proposed national, independent integrity and anti-corruption commission.

The body would oversee prevention and investigation of misconduct and corruption in commonwealth agencies, among federal parliamentarians, in the Australian Federal Police and in the Australian Crime Commission.

Senator Brown said he would also legislate for a code of conduct for lobbyists, ministers and ministerial staff, including “in house” lobbyists from government agencies.


Electricity shortages and prices rises looming because of "Green" dithering by ALP

JULIA Gillard faces new pressure over the failure to develop a credible response to climate change. A new survey has found electricity generators have slashed capital spending on power stations by $10 billion because of uncertainty over carbon policy. The finding has fuelled business concerns about the adequacy of energy infrastructure and likely further price rises.

The new survey by the Energy Supply Association of Australia has found that continuing uncertainty over greenhouse policy, combined with the upheaval in financial markets, are "severely" restricting the access the electricity generators have to much-needed funds.

Overall, the survey finds, the energy sector will need to find more than $94.1bn for refinancing over the next five years to replace ageing networks, connect new wind farms to the grid and service a growing population.

Electricity generators now plan capital spending of $4.7bn on existing power stations and $3.5bn on new power stations over the next five years -- down from the total $18bn forecast a year ago -- and the plunge is "overwhelmingly" because of uncertain future carbon policy. A further $15.33bn is planned in operating and maintenance for the power stations.

The generators have to refinance $9.4bn in debt and raise a further $3.9bn in debt over that time, but they fear they may not secure it because investors and lenders are spooked by uncertainty over climate change and the state of the financial markets.

ESAA chief executive Brad Page said the uncertainty over greenhouse policy had undermined the credit quality of carbon-intensive generators. Mr Page said the survey was done during the first quarter of the year -- a time when Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme was shelved and there were still concerns about the problems with the renewable energy target before the scheme was overhauled.

The findings also add to pressure on Tony Abbott, who has vowed there will be no price on carbon if the Coalition comes to office.

Business Council of Australia president Graham Bradley warned that unless investment in electricity generation was encouraged, "we're heading for real problems".

Mr Bradley urged the new government to produce the green and white energy papers, promised in 2008, which have been delayed. Mr Bradley also told The Australian: "We would consider that white paper to be deficient if it does not canvass the merits of nuclear power as one of the longer-term options for Australia for the future economic generation of electricity and reduction of carbon emissions."

He also warned that the renewable energy target, coupled with other rising input costs, could lead to the need for higher power prices. "Australian industry has had a huge national advantage from low-cost electricity generation, and society as a whole has benefited from low-cost domestic prices for electricity," Mr Bradley said.

"We are now faced with the prospect of higher electricity prices partly driven by our national commitment to invest in higher-cost renewables such as wind and solar. "This cost trend will be exacerbated if we don't have a clear strategy soon to replace our ageing baseload coal-fired power stations."


All eyes on Queensland

Everyone agrees this election will come down to Queensland. But can a state with only one fifth of the country’s seats (30 out of 150) really be that important?

New South Wales has 48 seats and Victoria 37. Queensland is very important, for several reasons.

One is that it has a history of swinging - big time. Usually the massive shifts have been to the Coalition (for example 1975 and 1996), but in 2007 Queensland went by seven and a half percent, and nine seats, to the ALP led by Kevin Rudd. Without Queensland’s swing contribution, John Howard would still be prime minister. (Ok, maybe Peter Costello.) But 2007 was also off the 2004 Mark-Latham-induced low base.

In addition, unlike the other mainland states (but like Tasmania), the ALP doesn’t have much of a “heartland” in Queensland. After a wipeout little remains. The 1975 post-dismissal election saw Labor retain only Bill Hayden’s seat of Oxley. In 1996 Pauline Hanson took Oxley and Labor was left with Brisbane and Rankin.

The other states, particularly NSW and Victoria, have a solid set of (mostly low income) seats which stay with the ALP no matter what.

There is also the fact that 2007, when Queenslanders gave a touch over half the two party preferred vote (50.4 percent), was a once in a generation occasion. The graph below shows nationwide and Queensland Labor two party preferred votes since 1949. (The pre-1983 numbers are AEC estimates rather than actual.) Red is national, purple is Queensland.

The last time Labor got a Queensland vote majority was in 1990, before that in 1961. These were also the only elections at which Queensland’s Labor vote was higher than the rest of the country’s. On all three the ALP vote was just a touch over half, but they got more than half the seats.

Unless Queensland’s electoral persona has drastically changed, the only way in 2010 is down for Labor, and there are more marginal Labor seats in Queensland than any other state. For example, of the seats (notionally) held by Labor by five percent or less, 10 are in Queensland and 18 in the rest of the country.

Queensland should not go back to its 2004 result or anything like it, but it will go part of the way and seats will topple. The Coalition will probably also make gains in New South Wales, and one or two in Tasmania.

So making up ground elsewhere, and minimising the Queensland losses, is crucial to the government’s survival. Just how a party goes about wooing a particular state (or indeed seat) is never clear. Whisper sweet nothings without annoying the other states. Throw money around.

You could call Queensland a large state with a small state mentality in the way it sees its place in the country. It has more people than South Australia but “thinks” more like Western Australia and Tasmania. That’s why having a Queensland leader added value for Labor. Labor is not helped by his demise, or by an ageing, unpopular state Labor government.

But we can anticipate that other Nambour boy, deputy prime minister and treasurer Wayne Swan, will be making many appearances in the most volatile mainland state.


Tony Abbott staunch on Israel support

TONY Abbott yesterday accused Labor of weakening the bipartisanship on Israel. The Opposition Leader vowed a government led by him would never "overreact" to international incidents and said the Coalition's support for Israel was "unshakeable".

"Of course, the Israeli government from time to time makes mistakes -- what government doesn't from time to time make mistakes? -- but Australians should appreciate that a diminished Israel diminishes the West; it diminishes us," Mr Abbott said.

"I have to say it's a little disappointing, given the deep affinity between the Australian people and the Israeli people, that the current Australian government has somewhat weakened our long-standing bipartisanship on Israel."

Mr Abbott appeared to be referring to Labor's expulsion of the Mossad station chief in retaliation for the Israeli intelligence agency's use of counterfeit Australian passports in the Dubai assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in January.

He said a Coalition government would never support a one-sided UN resolution against Israel.

In a wide-ranging economic speech to the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne, Mr Abbott attacked the mining tax, arguing Labor was sending a signal to every business in the country of "do not succeed" -- the economic version of the "tall poppy syndrome". "Don't let anyone say that the mining industry somehow wants this tax . . . they don't," he said.

When it came to the economy, he conceded the Hawke-Keating government "got it", but the Rudd-Gillard government did not.

To appease business concerns about his paid parental leave scheme, he described it not as a threat but an important reform.

He said lower spending was the only way in which government could deliver lower taxes.


Australian health authorities in denial over serious disease threat

A SYDNEY woman has been awarded a Supreme Court injunction to have her dead husband tested for a disease the Health Department says does not exist in Australia.

Mualla Akinci's husband, Karl McManus, died last Wednesday - three years after he was bitten by a tick she says carried Lyme disease, a bacterial infection which, if left untreated, can cause profound neurological damage.

Mr McManus, 43, from Turramurra, was bitten on the left side of his chest during filming for the television show Home and Away in bushland in Waratah Park, northern Sydney. Within six weeks he lost mobility in one of the fingers on his left hand. That quickly spread to paralysis in his left arm and across to his right arm.

Mr McManus was diagnosed with multifocal neuropathy after testing negative for Lyme disease, but Ms Akinci, a pharmacist, insisted he be tested again at clinics in the US and Germany. Both tests returned positive for Lyme disease.

She argues that Australian tests are inadequate because pathologists looks for antibodies in the blood, rather than for proteins in specific bacteria within tissue.

"Lyme doesn't usually live in the blood. It lives in tissues unless someone's system is flushed with it so it stands to reason that every test will come back negative," Ms Akinci said.

The Health Department maintains that no case has been transmitted in Australia and the organisms that cause it - three species of the genus borrelia - are not carried here by wildlife, livestock or their parasites.

The NSW Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, said in May there was not enough evidence to support the existence of ticks carrying the borrelia organism.

"Until there is solid evidence to indicate that locally acquired Lyme disease is a significant public health matter in Australia, specific measures to educate the general public or clinicians are difficult to justify," she said.

But Tim Roberts, of Newcastle University's school of environmental and life sciences, said that it was becoming more difficult for the government to deny the problem.

"Westmead Hospital [where most testing is performed] categorically says there are no Lyme organisms in Australia, but a significant number of people certainly look like they have the signs and symptoms," Associate Professor Roberts said.

His view is supported by Peter Mayne, a GP from Laurieton who says he has 12 patients with the disease. Western blot testing, the standard used in Australia for 25 years, missed most cases because patients on antibiotics did not have antibodies to the disease, he said.

"It is a very, very difficult diagnosis to make in a lab. But I believe it does exist and there are many doctors who agree."

Last week, hours after Mr McManus died by choking from his paralysed tongue, Ms Akinci sought to have an autopsy performed on his body but was told by Glebe Morgue a backlog of more than 46 bodies meant that was impossible.

"I was also told he had died from natural causes so an autopsy wasn't needed," she said.

Ms Akinci then applied to the Supreme Court and was granted permission to have the autopsy done at Royal North Shore Hospital. Preliminary results are expected tomorrow. "He wanted answers, I want answers," she said.


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