Monday, October 04, 2010

Labor fights 'old Europe' over trade

CRAIG Emerson has declared the Gillard government will not bow to the Greens on trade policy. Mr Emerson said the government would fight European threats to erect trade barriers around countries not imposing carbon pricing, dismissing them as "old protectionism".

The Trade Minister said Labor's alliance with the Greens would not alter its free trade agenda, even as Regional Development Minister Simon Crean conceded that the Greens' rise was behind Julia Gillard's decision to put a carbon tax on the table for consideration by the government's multi-party climate committee.

As the Prime Minister prepares for a round of meetings with world leaders in Brussels this week, Dr Emerson attacked European threats to impose trade retaliation against countries not prepared to price carbon as protectionism designed to shield European industries from international competition.

"We won't cop governments cloaking protectionism in this sort of green cloak of respectability, where it's just old protectionism," Dr Emerson told Australian Agenda on Sky News.

Last year in the US, then prime minister Kevin Rudd warned that France was leading a movement to restrict trade from countries without a carbon emissions trading scheme and warned of potential trade imposts on Australia.

But Dr Emerson said Australia would use the World Trade Organisation rules "to rail against this". "Of course we are committed to putting a price on carbon, but let's not believe that this is all about climate change. There is a very clear European old protectionist instinct under this green cloak of respectability and we won't cop it," he said.

But Dr Emerson said a recommendation from the climate change committee to put a price on carbon "would help us somewhat in the international arena in terms of this sort of green protectionism".

However, his comments about fighting environmental protectionism were seized on by opposition industry spokeswoman Sophie Mirabella, who said the government's green car innovation fund was what Dr Emerson had accused other governments of doing -- protectionism under a so-called green label. "The poorly targeted $35 million for the hybrid Camry was an expensive photo opportunity . . . Even the government has admitted the fund is a dog by cutting $400m from it," Ms Mirabella said.

Dr Emerson also sympathised with US moves to pressure China to revalue its exchange rate, saying if China wanted to present itself as having market economy status, "let's have a few market forces applying to the exchange rate".

He said the government would not be swayed by its alliance with the Greens by bowing to their policies to insert environmental and labour standards into trade deals. He specifically declared he was against including labour standards in trade agreements. "I think what'll happen is that the Greens will articulate a Greens platform. Labor will articulate a Labor platform," he said. "On some matters, we may agree with the Greens. On other matters, we won't agree with the Greens. And that is understood."

Dr Emerson said the government would look at good policy proposals from the Greens, "but we will not be in a position obviously where the Greens say, 'This is what we want', and then Labor says, 'Because you want it, we'll implement it' ". "They understand that, we understand that," he said.

The Greens have previously warned that Australia may face trade sanctions unless it takes action to price carbon but have mainly campaigned on biosecurity issues on Australian trade policy as well as inserting human rights clauses into trade deals.

Greens deputy leader Christine Milne campaigned strongly against allowing apple imports from countries with the disease Fireblight and has also opposed beef imports from countries with BSE.

Senator Milne said Dr Emerson was quite right -- the Greens' and Labor's trade policy differed "to the extent that the Greens want fair trade considerations, including environmental standards and human rights conditions, taken into account in negotiating trade deals".

Regional Development Minister Simon Crean defended Ms Gillard's backflip on consideration of a carbon tax. He said her pre-election position of ruling out a carbon tax was because the government had come to the conclusion the most efficient way forward on pricing carbon to address emissions was through a market mechanism.

"Because a tax doesn't actually deliver you the reduction in the greenhouse emission," Mr Crean said, adding that the Greens would now hold the balance of power in the Senate after July next year and it was important for the climate change committee to meet to identity the best way to price carbon.


Kokoda Campaign paintball competition 'disrespectful'

I think this is a bit over-sensitive but the old diggers should have their feelings respected

WAR veterans have slammed a paintball competition dubbed the Kokoda Campaign. They say it exploits the sacrifices of soldiers in one of Australia's toughest battles abroad.

RSL WA president Bill Gaynor said it was "inappropriate" and "insensitive" for the organisers of yesterday's tournament to use the Battle of Kokoda to promote the paintball game.

His comments were backed by Premier Colin Barnett, who said it was "disrespectful" and could offend veterans who had risked their lives in the bloody campaign.

WASP Paintball ran the paintball competition _ a battle between "Australia and the Axis powers" _ at Clackline, 80km east-north-east of Perth, yesterday.

Mr Gaynor said veterans would be disappointed "that a company has gone down the path of exploiting the sacrifices of Kokoda to sell a game". "People should be sensitive to the sacrifices that were made by Australian troops and treat it with some degree of respect," he said. "To actually use that as a promotion for selling their game is, in our view, inappropriate. I'd call upon them to stop and think about those who have loved ones who perished on the Kokoda Track. It's just one of those things that you don't go near."

But WASP Paintball marketing manager Leonie Moore defended the decision yesterday, saying combatants "instinctively need a battle or an adventure to drive them". "It is a battle re-enactment but we are always trying to be respectful of the fact that it's not a real battle and there are people it can offend," she said.

"We are always conscious of that but at the same time we are trying to re-enact a battle. It's hard because I see it as a positive... they're not just going out and trying to be aggressive. It's strategic and I think it's healthy for boys especially to be involved in this and follow orders and do the right thing. That's how I see it.

"It's better than shooting people in a video game... this is more wholesome."

More than 600 Australians were killed and 1000 wounded in the Kokoda campaign_ considered the most significant battle fought by Australian troops in World War II.

Mr Gaynor said he had a duty to remind today's generation that their forefathers risked their lives to ensure they enjoyed the lifestyle they did today. "Were it not for the people in the Kokoda campaign turning the Japanese back, then we could be in entirely different circumstances today," he said. "I would have thought it would be treated with a bit of reverence... a lot of Australians perished on the Kokoda Track."

Mr Barnett said: "I believe this is disrespectful and could easily offend those who fought in the Kokoda campaign, their families and the RSL".


Local council mergers INCREASE bloat and waste

LOCAL government bureaucracy has ballooned more than two years after controversial mergers to make councils leaner and less costly. Staff levels for Queensland councils grew twice as fast this year compared with 2007 – the year before the State Government's forced amalgamations transformed the local government landscape, slashing the number of councils from 157 to 73.

A new workforce census released to The Sunday Mail by the Local Government Association of Queensland shows the number of local government workers grew by 6 per cent in 2010, compared with 2.75 per cent in 2007 and less than 2 per cent in 2006.

Staff numbers in 2008 and 2009 rose by about 3.9 per cent a year. But by March this year, that had soared to 6 per cent, compared with the same time last year, with an extra 2392 employees joining the state's 57 non-indigenous councils.

The rise in staff is estimated to have added more than $119 million to council wage costs. It comes despite State Government promises to make local government more efficient through the mergers, with then local government minister Andrew Fraser predicting it could save ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Merger critics, such as former Aramac Shire Mayor Gary Peoples, have seized on the figures. "A lot of what was said by councils and mayors has probably come to fruition, in that there is not going to be increased efficiencies, but there is probably going to be a loss in services," he said.

At Logan City another 454 people have started work since 2008, taking the total number of workers to 1371, even after losing 218 staff to the area's new water business Allconnex.

Staff levels at several councils, such as Cairns and Maranoa Regional Councils, stagnated. Townsville City Council shed more than 2000 staff.


Carbon tax not a done deal: Crean

A SENIOR federal government MP has insisted that a carbon tax is by no means a done deal - a shift that could threaten the alliance between Labor and the Australian Greens.

Minister for Regional Australia Simon Crean says the decision to put a carbon tax back on the table does not mean Australia will go down that path in response to climate change.

In the days before the August 21 election, Prime Minister Julia Gillard twice ruled out a carbon tax.

But she has since changed course on the issue after the Greens found an unlikely ally in BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers, who called for it to be considered as part of Australia's answer to climate change.

Mr Crean on Sunday defended the change in direction, saying the political landscape had altered since the failed Copenhagen summit. "At the time we, along with the rest of the world, had come to the conclusion the most efficient way forward was to do it through a market mechanism," he said, referring to Labor under Kevin Rudd and the failed attempt to introduce an emissions trading scheme.

He said that "simplistically put", the point could be made that placing a carbon tax back on the table amounted to a policy reversal, but added that the prime minister had also consistently stated that a price on carbon was needed.

Mr Crean said that while the political landscape had changed since the election, it was wrong to suggest the prime minister had "caved in" to the Greens on climate change, saying they would not necessarily get their way on a carbon tax. "She hasn't caved in. She hasn't said she's supporting a carbon tax. What she has said is we will have a carbon tax on the agenda," he said.

Mr Crean's comments were echoed by Trade Minister Craig Emerson, an indication Labor is attempting to put a little distance between itself and the Greens. "We will not be in a position where the Greens say this is what we want and then Labor says because you want it we will implement it," Mr Emerson said.

The caution from two senior Labor ministers that the government is not wedded to a carbon tax despite the alliance with the Greens could put a strain on the relationship between the two parties. Labor needs the support of the Greens in the lower house to preserve its one-vote buffer.

Mr Crean also conceded the government, under Mr Rudd, had failed to effectively explain its climate change policy. The former Labor leader, however, backed Ms Gillard to be able to manage the difficult policy area, as well as the issue of asylum seekers. "We've got to develop more effectively the message," he said.

"Trying to achieve (progress) in the context of an election campaign was difficult. Now that she's negotiated the basis of the government going forward, I think you will see progress on these areas. "I think that she is a conviction politician. She's clearly a skilled negotiator, which is going to be pretty important over the course of the next three years."

Mr Crean said the economy would also remain a chief focus for the government. "You need a robust economy. Without strong economic growth you can't resource the things that are needed." "You also need productivity in that economy because without lifting productivity you can't lift real wages."



Ruby said...

Everybody knew that the amalgamation of Councils was not going to be a success but the Govt went ahead and did it despite strong opposition from
all Counsils.

Then the Govt substantially reduced the funding which was promised to help Councils cope with the extra costs.

Just another massive Labor bungle which has left country people disadvantaged.

Ruby said...

By the way, Mr Ray I wish to thank you for your articles which are clear and concise and very easy to understand.

I hope many bloggers are reading them.