Saturday, August 21, 2010

Voting day in Australia's Federal election today

I have already cast my vote for Tony Abbott but I live in a safe Labor electorate (Griffith) so it is my Senate vote that could count for something. The polls are divided on who will win but Abbott obviously has a chance.

The Labor party has as usual campaigned on lies and deception -- constantly warning people that Abbott will bring back the unpopular "work choices" laws even though Abbott has emphatically denied any such policy. As Hitler knew, however, lies and deception do sometimes work.

Some people in the Australian Labor Party still put the jobs and wellbeing of the workers ahead of "Green" obsessions

A rather mournful comment from a Leftist writer below

Will Michael O'Connor, powerful forestry division secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, block an effective Australian response to climate change?

It's a worry for our economy because O'Connor is a key figure behind the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and soft left factional allies Martin Ferguson and Penny Wong - who, for one more day at least, control the portfolios that really matter: energy, water and climate.

O'Connor helped both Gillard and Ferguson into Parliament. In her maiden speech, Gillard acknowledged him as her "closest confidante", the "most committed of them all" to her Labor values, going back to her student days.

O'Connor should not be underestimated. If the secret of the Ferguson Left is its willingness to do deals with the Right, O'Connor has a record of going further and abandoning the ALP to support the Coalition. He helped bring down Paul Keating, organising (with the National Association of Forest Industries) the loggers blockade of Parliament House in January 1995 - a bitter protest during the regional forest agreement negotiations.

In an article for The Australian at the time, headlined "Green agenda full of myths", O'Connor railed against the environment movement's campaign to "cripple the forest and forest products industry by denying it access to native forests".

The 350-truck blockade took place just as John Howard was ushered in as opposition leader and helped establish his image as the battlers' friend, according to Australian National University forest economist Dr Judith Ajani, author of The Forest Wars (2007): "Australian voters witnessed the first display of Howard's battlers versus Keating's 'special interest elites': the core of a meticulously crafted election strategy."

O'Connor features heavily in Ajani's book, although he would not be interviewed for it. Others would. At one point, a bitter Keating calls O'Connor a "Labor rat" who should be "excommunicated" from the party.

Asked why he wasn't kicked out, Keating said: "Because people are too gutless, that's why. And nobody these days likes the fights. They all want consensus results. Well you don't get big issues resolved like this, just by consensus."

O'Connor also helped sink Mark Latham's tilt at federal office in 2004, swinging the CFMEU behind John Howard as the two main parties went toe-to-toe on Tasmanian forests policy. "It is clear that the jobs of workers, the welfare of families and the future of timber communities are to be sold off to appease Bob Brown and the Wilderness Society," O'Connor said of Latham's forest policy.

It was a spectacular betrayal of the party, but Gillard later lined up with O'Connor, saying she was "devastated" by Latham's stance on Tasmanian forests, calling it a "dreadful policy" and a "shocking, shocking error". O'Connor is the type of Laborite who sees the environment as a fashionable obsession of inner-city elites … job-destroyers hostile to the interests of workers. O'Connor calls it "real Labor". "Real Labor doesn't sell out workers," he said once.

In Ajani's telling, O'Connor is one of the forestry union's "economic troglodytes", endlessly perpetuating a false industry-versus-environment movement conflict.

Behind that conflict, according to Ajani, is a deeper struggle of industry versus industry, between native forest logging and the plantation sector which grew so fast between the 1960s and the 1990s that it can now provide all of Australia's sawn timber and pulp and paper needs.

Ajani argues O'Connor and the CFMEU, by fighting trenchantly to protect the old native forest logging sector, have sacrificed workers' long-term interests, which lie in the growth of a sustainable plantation industry. That's the win-win solution - more jobs, and our remaining native forests saved (with all the greenhouse and other immeasurable benefits that entails) - if the CFMEU could see it.

Instead of pushing for the win-win solution, O'Connor fights a rearguard action to preserve native forest logging. For example he fought against the Green Building Council's star ratings system, which gave extra points for use of timber accredited under the internationally recognised Forest Stewardship Council scheme.

He wanted points to be given for timber accredited under an industry-backed scheme, the Australian Forestry Standard, which allows native forest logging. Late last year he got it, calling the decision a "great breakthrough".

His quotes were instructive. "This took four years to achieve. I have little faith in the covenant of the Green Building Council and they have no credibility with us," he told The Australian Financial Review. O'Connor cannot abide a market-based scheme for tenants who want to occupy a green commercial building - or landlords who want to build one - which stipulates no timber from native forests.

O'Connor also has been deputy chairman of the Innovation Minister, Kim Carr's, pulp and paper industry strategy group, which wants to promote burning waste from native forest logging as renewable energy, and is arguing to ensure international carbon accounting rules do not count emissions from native forest logging.

The forest wars have a parallel in the energy sector, where the fossil fuel industry faces competition from an emerging renewables sector. Under Martin Ferguson, over the course of Labor's first term a stream of decisions have favoured the incumbents over the challengers. The saving grace was that the government finally established the 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020.

Ferguson sees the parallel, accusing the Australian Greens leader, Bob Brown, of "seeking to demonise the coal industry in the same way he has sought to demonise the forest industry".

The pity is that, despite the rhetoric about saving jobs, when these Labor figures are duchessed by the captains of old industry, the result is public handouts to employers, and no focus on retraining or assistance for employees, as we saw during emissions trading scheme negotiations.

O'Connor and his allies will fight tooth and nail for the industries of the past. They do not see the potential of the green industries of the future.

So Gillard has gone out of her way to avoid a mandate for action on climate change, with a deeply cynical platform comprising the citizens assembly (a joke), misleading slogans about "no new dirty coal-fired power stations" and bitsy ad-hockery on renewables, energy efficiency and "cash for clunkers". Her best mandate comes - almost in reverse - from Coalition warnings that Labor under Gillard would bring in a carbon tax "as night follows day".


The major Australian political parties seem agreed on reduced immigration

Elections define nations. This one has already redefined Australia even before the first vote is counted. Indeed, the most important changes could well be the ones that aren't actually on the ballot paper but have already been agreed through political osmosis.

The main political parties entered the campaign with four big, freshly agreed points of concurrence, areas of bipartisan consensus for changes that will shape Australia's destiny for years.

For the first time since 1947, Australia has abandoned its bipartisan consensus in favour of a “big Australia.”

“It started with Kevin Rudd's remark in favour of a 'big Australia'” in October “and though it was off the cuff it started an uncontrollable explosion,” says James Jupp, director of the Australian National University's centre for immigration and multicultural studies. “What we see at this election is a complete reversal of the origins of the postwar immigration program, which was all about a big Australia. Since then, our population has tripled from 7million to 21 million.”

Instead of gearing our population towards a national vision of Australia's place in the world, we have surrendered to the failures of state governments to accommodate growth.

Of the three biggest parties – Labor, the Coalition and the Greens – none will defend the current immigration program, none will defend the current rate of population growth of an average of 2.4 per cent a year over the past decade, and all promise a dramatic cut to the immigration intake.

Tony Abbott's Coalition has pledged to cut the intake from 270,000 last year to 170,000 within its first term. Julia Gillard has replied by saying that the government was already taking the intake to that level or below in any case.

The Coalition promises to slow the rate of population growth to 1.4 per cent. Labor doesn't yet have a target. It has created a Minister for Population, Tony Burke, to think about population policy, in the meantime temporising with Gillard's view that “Australia should not hurtle down the track towards a big population. We need to stop, take a breath and develop policies for a sustainable Australia.”

With serial and cumulative failures of policy planning in housing, transport, water, hospitals and just about every other areas of service delivery across most states, public tolerance reached a fragile point. Rudd inadvertently applied the final straw.

Instead of a bipartisan consensus in favour of big immigration intakes and strong population growth, we now have a contest between the parties to see who can appear more convincingly to be the party of a not so big Australia.


Are they serious? Defence Forces banned from wearing berets

Australian soldiers always wear their traditional broad-brimmed hats with great pride but such hats are not suitable for all environments and circumstances. I have worn both hat and beret myself when I was in the army

The ABC reports today the Defence Force has banned Australian soldiers from wearing traditional berets.

Australian Defence Association spokesman Neil James told the ABC the ban would not apply for Special Forces or on ceremonial occasions.

The reasons for the ban include worries about exposure to the sun and ensuring the rightful place of the traditional slouch hat, Mr James told the ABC.

"Look I think it's a reasonably unpopular measure to an extent," Mr James said. Mr James warned that wearing a slouch hat inside a tank could be problematic.


More high-handed behaviour from the bureaucrats at Qld. Health

They are utter animals -- and that's defaming animals

Queensland Health has controversially terminated the contract of a respected surgeon operating on public hospital patients in Bundaberg with complex foot and ankle problems.

The decision to end orthopedic surgeon Michael Lutz's contract without explanation or consultation has re-ignited tensions between the Bligh Government and visiting medical officers (VMOs) - doctors who work part-time in the public health system.

Brisbane-based Dr Lutz had worked half a day a month at Bundaberg Hospital for the past two years but received a letter from Queensland Health last week terminating his services there.

Dr Lutz, who grew up in Bundaberg, said the decision would mean more Bundaberg patients would have to travel to Brisbane. "I was concentrating on things the surgeons in Bundaberg felt were beyond their capacity," he said. "There are surgeons up there who have special interests in other areas like hips and knees, but not foot and ankle. "I've certainly never had a shortage of patients. I've had a full session every time I've been there.

"It's not easy for someone in Bundaberg who's a public patient and might not have enough money or the ability to travel down to Brisbane for this care. They'll either not have care or be severely inconvenienced."

The incident has incensed VMO committee chairman Ross Cartmill, who has been negotiating a new agreement for Queensland Health's 850 VMOs. Dr Cartmill said better conditions for VMOs providing services in provincial areas were key to the negotiations. "We're struggling to get people to go to these places," he said.

Dr Lutz is still contracted to work at the Princess Alexandra Hospital one day a week.

"Michael Lutz is the type of young man we should be encouraging to be a VMO," Dr Cartmill said. "He's a young surgeon we should be proud of. When Queensland Health treats a person like this, inevitably he asks himself why does he bother? "This Bundaberg issue is to us a symptom of a disease that we've got to fight."

Dr Cartmill said Queensland Health's decision to send Dr Lutz a letter ending his contract without explanation, rather than informing him face-to-face, was indicative of the department's "notoriously poor" management style.

Australian Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons Queensland chairman David Hayes said the way Dr Lutz had been treated would discourage other surgeons wanting to provide services in regional areas. "It's just another example of how detached we feel Queensland Health is on a number of issues," Dr Hayes said.

In a statement, Queensland Health said the Bundaberg Hospital's orthopedic services were being provided by local specialists.


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