Sunday, August 22, 2010

My home State did its bit for conservative policies

As it has often done in the past. Queensland is also a big mining State and Labor hostility to mining would have been a factor

IN the end, Queensland did matter. The bloodbath in New South Wales turned its focus north and it became a juggernaut. A sizeable swing south of the Tweed River was always probable but when it arrived it wasn't quite as large as many, including those in the LNP, thought.

But the smash-up in Queensland arrived fast and furious - a vote of 38 per cent mid-week was not just endorsed but dumped to 33 to 35 per cent. In terms of seats, Queensland will offer up more seats than New South Wales - now nine against four or five - which is many more than imagined.

And it foretells a serious problem for Anna Bligh as Queensland Premier - there is a reckoning coming for her as there was for federal Labor at the weekend.

Right now, this means there is almost no chance of Labor framing its own majority - there's a new Greens MP in Melbourne and a greenish MP in the Tasmania - and someone will have to negotiate a workable majority.

The nastiness is all around: there's no majority for Tony Abbott or Julia Gillard but there is a strong anti-Labor message.

Regardless, this is now a victory for Tony Abbott. He has not just exceeded expectations but has made himself the most likely leader of the country.


The independents set to hold the balance of power

RURAL Australia and disgruntled former members of the National Party have won enormous sway over national affairs, with up to four rural independents set to win the lion's share of the balance of power in the lower house.

But two left-leaning MPs - a Green and a former Greens candidate - will also need to be factored into the calculations of any party that hopes to form government.

The horse-trading has begun already, with a number of the new independents saying they had already been approached by major party representatives late last night.

There has not been a hung parliament in Australia since 1940.

The characters in this drama are rural independents Tony Windsor and Robb Oakeshott from NSW, Bob Katter from Queensland and, possibly, Western Australian National Party MP Tony Crook, who has vowed to act as an independent if he succeeds in knocking off the Liberals' Wilson Tuckey in the seat of O'Connor. Given the independents' backgrounds with the Nationals, it is more likely they would side with the Coalition, but it is not certain.

On the left are the Greens' new member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, and Andrew Wilkie from Tasmania, a whistleblowing former intelligence analyst who ran as an independent, but who, in 2004, ran in the seat of Bennelong for the Greens. Mr Bandt has already vowed to back Labor in the event of a hung parliament.

Mr Katter is a former federal MP for the Nationals, while Mr Oakeshott was a Nationals member of the Queensland Parliament. Mr Windsor turned independent after being passed over for preselection by the Nationals. All three were returned last night with comfortable majorities.

All three now have a combative relationship with the Nationals, but also hold seats that require them to be committed to regional infrastructure and primary industry. Last night they were all keeping their cards close to their chests.

Mr Windsor said he had received a phone call of congratulations from Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and a phone message from opposition treasury spokesman, Joe Hockey, asking him to "call him".

Mr Oakeshott told The Sunday Age he had already held "informal" talks with both major parties. He said he would spend today with family but planned to head to Canberra tomorrow. He also said he would make no decision until he had spoken with the other independents and Mr Bandt. He did say, however, that his decision about which side to deal with would not necessarily be influenced by who had won more seats.

Mr Windsor echoed Mr Oakeshott's comments, but also said one of the most important considerations would be who would provide the most stable government. Other considerations could be who won the most seats, who got the most votes and what would be good for rural Australia. He has experience with being in a hung parliament - he entered the NSW Parliament as an independent in 1991 and gave then Liberal Premier Nick Greiner the extra vote he needed to form government.

Mr Katter said last week he held no allegiances and would give his support to whoever gave more to rural communities.

Analysis for The Sunday Age of the last parliament by the Parliamentary Library shows that Mr Oakeshott voted on second reading legislation (the most accurate measure of support) with the Labor government on 28 occasions and with the opposition on nine.

Mr Katter, the least likely to support Labor, voted with the Labor government five times, and with the opposition eight times. Mr Windsor was the most even-handed, siding with the government 19 times and with the opposition 16 times.

In Western Australia, Mr Crook was well placed to claim Mr Tuckey's seat on the back of Labor preferences, ending the combative Liberal MP's 30 year stint in parliament.

Mr Crook's party, the WA National Party, has vowed not to join either the Liberal or the mainstream National parties unless they agreed to a special funding deal for WA's regions based on the mining royalties generated by the state. It's a deal that both the Liberals and Nationals around the rest of the nation have until now vowed not to accept.

Mr Wilkie, a former intelligence analyst who blew the whistle on dodgy Iraq war intelligence, was another surprise package last night. Polling more than 20 per cent of the primary vote, he was looking a strong chance to win the Tasmanian seat of Denison, after preferences.

Mr Bandt, who ended a century of Labor rule in finance minister Lindsay Tanner's seat of Melbourne, becomes the second Greens member to win a seat in the lower house.

Further complicating the situation, there was an outside possibility that Greens member Sam Byrne might pull off a shock victory over Labor minister Anthony Albanese in the Sydney seat of Grayndler.


Lots of uncertainty in Western Australia with many votes still not counted

WA's marginal electorates are looming as crucial as the federal election heads towards a nail-biting finish. In at least two crucial electorates, Greens preferences could decide the result, while the nation's longest serving MP looks likely to lose his seat.

With about 69 per cent of the WA vote counted, there has been a swing away from Labor on primary votes of 5.5 per cent, though much of that has been picked up the Greens. On a two-party basis, the Coalition has garnered a swing of 2.55 per cent.

In O'Connor, Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey is having a tough battle against Nationals challenger Tony Crook, with Mr Tuckey holding a narrow lead on primary votes, but his challenger drawing ahead on preferences. Labor preferences could yet decide the seat, and it has preferenced Mr Crook ahead of Mr Tuckey, an MP for 30 years.

A close race looms in the state's most marginal seat, Hasluck, where Liberal challenger Ken Wyatt is bidding to become the first indigenous MP in the House of Representatives. Early results have a 1.6 per cent swing to Mr Wyatt on a two-party preferred basis, but with 67 per cent of the votes counted, the Greens preferences look likely to be crucial to sitting MP Sharryn Jackson.

Mr Wyatt told ABC Television he would only be confident after seeing the final figures. "I think we will fall over the line," he said. If elected he would feel as though he had broken the "brown glass ceiling".

Ms Jackson told Radio 6PR the race was still too close to call, although if she got 70 per cent of the Greens preferences, as she did in 2007 she would expect to get up. However, she believed a high level of pre-polling and postal voting in the seat could still decide the result. "It's been a tough fight for me in Hasluck in every election but I'm in no way at a point to concede," she said.

Despite a big effort, high-profile Labor challenger Alannah MacTiernan is likely to just miss in Canning, with sitting MP Don Randall, even with the help of Greens preferences. Ms MacTiernan has gained a swing of 2.8 per cent on a two-party basis, with the Greens getting about 8 per cent of the primary vote.

Ironically, the Greens showing is one of the party's poorest in the metropolitan area. It has 13 per cent of the statewide vote.

Mr Randall is likely to be the beneficiary of the Christian Democratic Party and Family First preferences, which combined are about half the Greens but with 73 per cent of the vote counted have him just in front. He has also been polling better than Ms MacTiernan in the most recent booth counts.

A seat that is notionally Labor but is actually held by the Liberals is Swan, where sitting MP Steve Irons has garnered a swing of 3 per cent against Labor challenger Tim Hammond and looks likely to hold the seat.

The previously marginal Liberal-held seats of Stirling and Cowan look likely to re-elect Michael Keenan and Luke Simpkins with sharply increased majorities.

While Labor would need to lose 13 seats to lose its absolute majority after the electorate redistribution, effectively it would lose the balance of power if nine MPs fall.

With the overall result still close to call, Foreign Minister and Perth MP Stephen Smith said three seats could decide the result. Mr Smith told ABC Television Labor had "clearly lost" six or seven seats, and was at risk in 10 or 11 more. "We could end up looking at how we go in Hasluck and Swan and Canning as being really crucial," he said.

"On all the available evidence you would proceed from the starting point that we would just fall below (a majority). "Those three (seats) may end up being quite crucial to the overall complexion of the night."

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert, who looks certain to be re-elected as a WA senator, told Radio 6PR there could be a party room of 10 in Canberra.


Vocational colleges to offer degrees

More attempted verbal magic that will just downgrade all degrees. Will it get to the point where you get a Ph.D. for being able to read and write? That's the direction of travel

TAFE institutes are to offer bachelor degrees and could compete with universities for students under a bold plan aimed at combating skills shortages.

The government-owned institutes want funding from next year to offer degrees in areas such as accounting, community services, finances and information technology.

In February next year, TAFE's Sydney Institute will begin offering a bachelor of design through its Enmore Design Centre. More bachelor degrees are expected to be offered by TAFE's Northern Institute and Western Institute in 2012.

NSW TAFE was last month accredited by the state government, under national guidelines, to become a higher-income education provider, allowing it to follow Victoria's TAFE, which is already offering a limited number of degrees.

The head of TAFE in NSW, Pam Christie, said she was reluctant to name specific degrees because the board had yet to approve those that would go ahead.

TAFE wanted to extend opportunities to all communities to gain the sorts of degrees industry was demanding, she said. "We're not trying to compete with universities; we're trying to build relationships with them," she said.

This would include associate degrees offered in conjunction with universities across many of TAFE NSW's 10 institutes and 130 campuses, as well as bachelor degrees.

TAFE bosses in Victoria say enrolments so far are small, and their ability to offer a wider range of degrees to more students is being stymied by a biased funding system that means TAFE students pay more for their degrees than university students - the federal government subsidises only university degrees.

TAFEs say they have also been approached by industry to provide degrees in areas such as optometry, psychology, dentistry, project management, architectural design, technology, social work and aviation.

The head of TAFE Directors Australia, Martin Riordan, said TAFE degrees would give poor and regional students better access to higher education. "Many students in TAFE are from low socio-economic areas and are motivated to go beyond a diploma and do a degree," Mr Riordan said. "This is a way to help them get the degrees they deserve."

He said the plan would also help the federal government achieve its goal to increase the number of people aged 25 to 34 with a degree, from about 32 per cent now to 40 per cent by 2025.

Universities Australia boss Glenn Withers said it would be difficult to ensure the quality of a TAFE degree and the sector's fragile international reputation could be damaged.

"We've already suffered enough from problems with colleges collapsing and international student issues," Dr Withers said. "While we support the idea of TAFEs offering degrees to address skill shortages … the quality-assurance mechanisms just aren't good enough yet."


Australian Pacific island RISING, not sinking!

Discussing: Dawson, J.L. and Smithers, S.G. 2010. Shoreline and beach volume change between 1967 and 2007 at Raine island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Global and Planetary Change 72: 141-154.


The authors note that low-lying reef islands are widely perceived to be particularly sensitive to ongoing and projected sea level increases; but they add that "a number of geomorphologists have argued that rising sea levels do not always cause reef islands to erode." For example, they state that "a rise in sea level may promote reef island growth by: i) increasing accommodation space for new sediment; ii) reinvigorating carbonate production on reef flats where further reef growth has been inhibited by a stable sea level; and iii) increasing the efficiency of waves to transport new and stored sediment to an island depocentre (Hopley, 1993; Hopley et al., 2007; Smithers et al., 2007; Woodroffe, 2007)."

What was done

Working on Raine Island (11°35'28"S, 144°02'17"E) at the northwest end of a planar reef on the outer edge of Australia's Great Barrier Reef -- which is one of the world's most important nesting sites for marine turtles -- Dawson and Smithers employed three historic survey maps and five topographic survey datasets of earlier researchers, supplementing them with digital elevation data collected in 1998, 2006 and 2007, to reconstruct a 40-year (1967-2007) shoreline history of the island.

What was learned

The two Australian researchers report that their "detailed quantitative surveys and analyses demonstrate that Raine Island increased in area (~6%) and volume (~4%) between 1967 and 2007," and that "in the 40 years between 1967 and 2007 Raine Island underwent a net accretion of 68,400 ± 6,700 m3."

What it means

In summing up their findings, Dawson and Smithers write that "contrary to perceptions, Raine Island did not erode but instead modestly accreted during the 40-year study period," and they therefore conclude that "future management strategies of Raine Island and other islands of the Great Barrier Reef should recognize that perceptions of reef island erosion can arise from large short-term seasonal and storm-derived sediment redistribution from one part of the island to another or to a temporary storage on the adjacent reef flat," but that these phenomena do not necessarily lead to "a net permanent loss from the island sediment budget."

And considering the similar positive findings of Webb and Kench (2010), it can be concluded that the most likely effect of a rising sea level is to actually add to the area and volume of low-lying reef islands.


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