Friday, December 31, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has repeated his New Year cartoon from last year -- on the grounds that we still have all the same problems

Julia Gillard faces backlash on "clean" power

THE government's push to mandate clean power stations could backfire as electricity generators threaten to delay upgrades to dirty coal-fired plants.

In a submission to the government obtained by The Australian, the power generators say tough new carbon pollution standards could apply to expansions to old power stations.

This is despite Julia Gillard's vow during this year's federal election that the standards would not apply to existing projects and were aimed at ensuring a dirty power station was never again built in Australia.

The electricity generators have joined Australia's big miners and banks in warning that the government is raising sovereign risk concerns that could spook investors. "Owners could be deterred from improving the performance of existing plant if an expansion could trigger new and costly regulatory requirements," the National Generators Forum states in the submission.

The forum - whose members produce 95 per cent of Australia's electricity - warns that the plan for cleaner power stations repeats mistakes made in the US, where a crackdown on emissions from new power stations has deterred investors from building them and led to greater use of coal-fired plants that are, on average, 44 years old.

They also complain that the plan is based on technologies that are highly uncertain and say it is probably doomed to fail in Western Australia.

The backlash from the generators adds to the government's woes over its handling of climate change policy. The government wants to put a price on carbon next year and has maintained this is a crucial economic reform to encourage cuts to pollution and provide greater certainty for business investment.

A multi-party climate change committee is expected to make recommendations on a carbon price by the end of next year.

But the National Generators Forum warns that policies such as an emissions standard for coal generators are redundant when the government has promised to a carbon price.

The group says it is "alarmed by the proliferation of ad hoc policies, at all levels of government, which distort otherwise efficient electricity markets for what are often ill-defined or marginal environmental aims". "These policies are rarely complementary to a future carbon price and are usually token policies announced by governments in order to be seen as 'doing something' to address climate change," it says.

The Prime Minister promised the draft emissions standards for new power stations during the election in a bid to restore Labor's climate change credibility, which had been damaged after Kevin Rudd shelved his plans for an emissions trading scheme earlier in the year.

The plan also includes requirements to prepare new power stations to capture and store the pollution caused by burning coal. At the time, business warned that the plan could inflate power prices and would do little to address a lack of certainty that has delayed power generation investment.

Since then, a discussion paper on the plan for cleaner power stations has angered the energy sector as it contains options that appear not to have been foreshadowed by the Prime Minister. Specifically, the industry is upset by suggestions the standards could apply to future expansions and upgrades and wants a clear exemption to this.

Submissions on the discussion paper, produced by a high-level interdepartmental committee, closed on Christmas Eve.

Power generators will need to invest up to $120 billion in new electricity assets over the next 20 years to cope with increased demand and a carbon price, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator. Queensland is expected to be the first state to require new investment, and could need it in 2013-14.

The generators say the plans for cleaner power stations will need to take account of Western Australia's special power needs. While WA uses natural gas to produce two-thirds of its electricity, contracts between generators and gas suppliers start expiring in 2015. With gas producers pursuing lucrative exports, generators are finding it difficult to lock in long-term gas supply contracts. Compounding the situation in WA is the fact that new coal-fired technologies often require a minimum size of operation, which the WA market is too small to support.

The generators are also critical of the plan to require new coal-fired power stations to be "ready" for carbon capture and storage as this is still an unproven technology, saddling investors with a significant but unpredictable cost.


S. Aust. public hospital doctors 'too slow to operate' -- woman dies

A WOMAN who died on the operating table could have survived if potentially life-saving surgery had not been "pointlessly and undesirably" delayed, a coroner has found.

Deputy State Coroner Anthony Schapel today handed down his findings into the death of Antonia D'Agostino, 59. She died on the operating table at Western Hospital, Henley Beach, on Sunday, March 25, 2007, as doctors attempted to repair her bowel which had been perforated during earlier keyhole surgery to remove an ovarian cyst.

She had been re-admitted on Saturday, March 24, nine days after the original operation, feeling bloated and in pain. During surgery the next morning to repair her bowel, Mrs Agostino suffered two heart attacks and died.

In his findings, Mr Schapel said doctors had "failed to appreciate fully and adequately take into account the risks that might be posed to Mrs D'Agostino as a result of delaying her surgery".

He said the need for further surgery could have been identified immediately after she returned to hospital about 6pm on Saturday, March 24. Instead, she waited 14 hours until 8am the following morning.

He said her "acute deterioration" about 6am on the Sunday "may have been avoided if Mrs D'Agostino had been operated on at a time prior to that". "The delay in conducting Mrs D'Agostino's surgery exposed Mrs D'Agostino to the risk of further deterioration to a point where surgery was not only immediately urgent but was very likely to jeopardise her life in and of itself.

"By the time Mrs D'Agostino underwent the further surgical procedure her condition had descended to a point where her life was being placed in jeopardy by that very procedure."

Mr Schapel said that delay was "pointless and undesirable" and she should have been operated on "before midnight on the Saturday night or in the early hours of the Sunday morning at the latest", before her condition had acutely deteriorated. "It is difficult to escape the conclusion that her chances of surviving the operation would have been significantly better if she had been operated upon in a much more favourable clinical state."

He said Mrs D'Agostino could have been operated on sooner and had better care at a hospital with an intensive care unit - which Western Hospital did not have.

In his findings, Mr Schapel made three recommendations, including advising members of the medical profession and Department of Health about the need to avoid or minimise delay in surgery.


Bosses attack populist agenda

LEADING company directors have called on big business to ramp up a public campaign in the new year. Their calls are against populist new laws that unnecessarily increase the regulatory burden on companies.

In the wake of Greens leader Bob Brown's push to toughen the government's proposed mining tax legislation and moves to give shareholders new powers to challenge executive pay and claw back bonuses, big business fears that worse is to come.

Australian Institute of Company Directors chief executive John Colvin said business no longer had a choice but to speak out on ill-conceived public policy because "the world has changed". "It is no good just indicating you have done a good job for shareholders and consumers because there are vested interests that will want to change the way businesses are working and they will want legislation," Mr Colvin said.

"We have a situation now with a hung parliament that could be dangerous for business if it is not handled properly. "Businesses have taken a view that governments in this country have traditionally been rather benign and positive. I don't think that assumption can be made going forward. There is a far more interventionist role by government and some of that is done either naively or without going through the proper consultation procedures."

Mr Colvin said many of his members believed that governments were now far more intrusive and interfering in the workings of businesses. A recent AICD survey found five of the eight states and territories failed its annual score card for business friendliness.

The annual report of the Office of Best Practice Regulation in the Department of Finance also revealed that a growing number of regulations were avoiding the government's mandatory screening process, which was introduced to cut unnecessary red tape.

The Business Council of Australia wants the government to review the regulatory impact statement process to ensure that new laws are not pushed through without review.

"One of the issues facing us in Australia at the moment is that business cannot afford not to be part of the debate, and when you have such a low number of politicians coming from business, it is a big problem," Mr Colvin said. "That is an important issue for business and I think business is just going to have to get more involved. Business can no longer stay away and say they are apolitical and don't want to get involved in the political process."

Business leaders are also concerned that the Greens are due to take the balance of power in the Senate from July, making them critical to the passing of government legislation that is opposed by the Coalition.

But NAB and Woodside chairman Michael Chaney said the real challenge in the new year would be for the federal opposition to maintain its commitment to reform. "This should not be a difficult parliament to get reforms through, because if the opposition votes with the government they'll swamp any minorities," Mr Chaney said. "The question is whether the opposition will be prepared to do that, in the interest of the nation, or whether they'll take the easier, populist route. "This assumes, of course, that the government is genuine about effecting real reforms -- and the jury is out on that."

Over the past month, the government has released a raft of reforms relating to superannuation, executive remuneration, the National Broadband Network and the mining tax. However, Senator Brown has already vowed to oppose the mining tax reforms, reiterating his support for the original version of the tax, which was tougher on the miners than the government's latest compromise.

A new national consumer protection and product safety framework is also set to begin tomorrow.

Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ralph Norris has said the bank spent $100 million complying with the new laws and has warned about the impact on smaller players in the sector. The major banks have also warned that the government's banking reform package, designed to increase competition in the sector, will force banks to recover their costs by imposing higher establishment fees or charging customers higher interest rates.

Company directors are also concerned about the slow pace of reform of more than 700 state and territory laws that impose personal liability on individual directors for corporate misconduct. The planned harmonisation of workplace safety laws is designed to simplify a complex system in which companies operating across borders face time and expense in dealing with different systems in each state. But the NSW government is holding out on the reforms.

"There is nowhere the view among politicians and bureaucrats that companies, owned by their shareholders, just need to get on with the game of making profits with as few impediments as possible," Westfield director Judith Sloan said. "And all this stuff plays into the hands of private equity that doesn't need to worry about all this box-ticking and legal advice just to operate."

KPMG chairman Michael Andrew said a number of pending government decisions would affect the investment decisions of companies, including the resource tax and a potential carbon tax or emissions trading scheme. "With a hung parliament, it is going to be very difficult to get policy decisions and you are increasingly going to see people looking for populist issues that are not in the national interest." Mr Andrew said.

But he expected business would have a greater voice in the year ahead. "I think you will see something of a seachange, though," he said. "I think everybody is so disillusioned with the last federal election and the lack of policy debate that people are now firm that it won't happen again, and that you will have to dictate an agenda for issues going forward."

However, one director of a major bank said the group had a good behind-the-scenes working relationship with the government, highlighted by the move to introduce covered bonds to help stimulate a corporate bond market in Australia. "We have been pushing for that for a long time," the director said.

Pacific Brands and Mirvac chairman James MacKenzie said business should be involved in public policy debates and that the key to sound reform was good consultation. "It is clear business wasn't properly involved in the first round of the resources super profits tax, but it is easy to see that business is involved in the latest round of the resources tax discussions," Mr MacKenzie said. "Good public policy and therefore good government comes from good consultation."


Victoria: Revolt looms over health shake-up

THE Baillieu Government says it will fight Julia Gillard over her health reform plan if Victorians oppose it. And it is demanding the Prime Minister explain how the reforms are in the state's interests. Health Minister David Davis said the public had so far been ignored, and the State Government would open the issue for debate.

Maps of the 46 primary care networks - down from former PM Kevin Rudd's original 150 - would be released, and Mr Davis said Victorians should examine them. "They look far too big to me," Mr Davis said.

Gisborne is classed in the same region as Deniliquin; Nhill is bundled with Bacchus Marsh; and Wonthaggi and Mallacoota are grouped despite being 455km apart.

"The Commonwealth needs to explain to Victorians exactly what these Medicare Locals will do," Mr Davis said. "It is hard to see any genuine community of interest between Gisborne and Deniliquin. "Valuable Victorian health services need to be protected in any change, and my job is to stand up to make sure that happens."

Medicare Locals and Local Hospital Networks are central to the nationalised plan. They would allow providers of primary, GP and community healthcare to be administered locally and paid directly from Canberra for services. All other states, except Western Australia, have agreed to the boundaries.

Former premier John Brumby signed a deal for the Commonwealth to provide 60 per cent of financing for the state's health system, in return for 30 per cent of Victoria's GST revenue.

But Victoria's deadline was extended until the end of January after the Coalition's election victory. The State Government is organising community forums from January 4-21 to gather feedback, before giving Canberra its answer.

Mr Davis said he was "very willing" to work with Canberra on health reform, but he was determined to stand up to Canberra if the community believed the deal was not in Victoria's interests. "There is a risk that Victorians will lose many of our unique health and social services, built up over many decades, through the wholesale reorganisation of primary care by the Commonwealth," he said. "Local communities should look at these maps and see if they meet their aspirations. "Will services improve when administered at such a distance and over such massive populations?"


1 comment:

Paul said...

Keyhole surgery.....again!