Friday, February 11, 2011

Hefty bill for Muslim women's privacy at public swimming pool

Why can't the local mosque pay?

RATEPAYERS could be stung up to $45,000 to install curtains at a public pool so Muslim women can have privacy during a female-only exercise classes. The City of Monash has won an exemption from equal opportunity laws to run the sessions outside normal opening hours. The council says the privacy screen is needed for "cultural reasons".

It follows moves by other councils to introduce women-only sessions for the Muslim community, such as Greater Dandenong asking a tribunal to approve a ban on uncovered shoulders and thighs for those attending a family event at a pool.

Special exercise classes for women will be held at the Clayton Community Centre every second Sunday evening after VCAT gave the green light this week.

Ross Buscemi, director of refugee charity group the New Hope Foundation, said his organisation had lobbied for the sessions on behalf of Muslim women, mostly from African countries including Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. Mr Buscemi said the women had sought separate classes for cultural reasons and curtains or blinds were needed to protect their privacy because the centre had glass walls.

"At night, when the lights are on inside, everybody in there can be seen - it's a broader privacy issue, not just for the women," he said. "It's stopping anybody perving on anybody in there really."

But Ratepayers Victoria president Jack Davis said it was disgraceful for councils to subsidise programs that segregated people. "People come to Australia because it's a better place," he said. "So then you should become Australian and abide by the customs of Australia, not change Australia to suit your customs from another country."

Monash councillors accepted that the women couldn't use the pool in normal hours for cultural and religious reasons. They were told the special classes would address issues such as "obesity, social isolation and lack of physical strength".

Monash mayor Greg Male said the council sought funding from the Victorian Multicultural Commission to help meet the $45,000 cost of curtains or blinds for the pool.

Similar women-only programs at public pools are run at Monash University, Dandenong Oasis recreation centre and the Don Tatnell Leisure Centre in Parkdale.


Climate adviser Garnaut misses the point

Henry Ergas

IN his recent report on Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Climate Change Action, Ross Garnaut argues that urgent action to reduce emissions by setting a carbon price would be in Australia's national interests.

To reach this conclusion, the report considers the costs and benefits to Australia of emissions reduction. It should be commended for doing so, as that brings vital discipline to the debate. Yet even accepting the report's account of the science, its assessment overstates the benefits of immediate action and understates its costs and risks.

The difficulties arise even if one assumes that effective international agreement on mitigation is reached, allowing Australia to reap long-term benefits from mitigation efforts. As the report recognises, it would still need to be established that those benefits outweighed costs.

Whether that test is met is affected by how costs, incurred now, and benefits, decades away, are converted into a comparable measure in the present. There are no easy answers as to how this should be done. It is obvious, however, that no one would accept an offer to invest $1 today in a project that would return only $1 70 years from now.

The compelling reason for rejecting that offer is its opportunity cost: were that $1 invested in government bonds, its value in 70 years (assuming, as per Australian experience, inflation-adjusted annual returns of 3.5 per cent) would exceed $11.

As a result, $1 in 70 years is only worth some 9c today: because a sacrifice of merely 9c can secure a riskless claim on $1 in the distant future. And if the relevant alternative yields higher risk-adjusted returns than government bonds, the offer is worth even less.

Future benefits must therefore be discounted in line with returns on alternative investments. Doing so need not involve placing less weight on future generations' welfare than on our own. Even if equal weight were placed on the welfare of all generations, opportunity costs would still be crucial.

Consider mitigation action costing $1 billion today but yielding an environmental benefit valued in 2111 at $50bn. Assume also the $1bn could instead be invested at an expected annual return of 6 per cent. Future generations would not want us to undertake that mitigation, as the alternative would yield over $300bn, compensating them six-fold for the foregone environmental gain. Choosing the mitigation investment would therefore be unethical and irrational.

This is not to deny it can be appropriate to discount long-term net benefits at a lower rate than net benefits next year. For example, future returns may be uncertain: the alternative might yield not 6 per cent but only 2 per cent. If the 6 and 2 per cent outcomes are equally probable, the correct discount rate gets closer to the lower value the further in the future one goes.

But even taking that into account, the report's discount rates are far below opportunity costs, especially if mitigation diverts resources from other investments. The effect is to greatly overstate the value today of mitigation's future benefits.

The report tries to justify this by reference to what it calls a normative approach to the discount rate. But there is nothing particularly normative about ignoring opportunity costs; nor does the report address the many distortions ignoring opportunity costs creates.

Rather, the report suggests that even if higher discount rates were used, mitigation could still be worthwhile if it reduced the likelihood of catastrophic outcomes. True, the possibility of catastrophic outcomes creates a case for insurance. But the question remains whether unilateral mitigation in fact provides that insurance.

This question is especially acute if two points are accepted: first, that it is uncertain whether effective international agreement will be reached; and second, that whether Australia imposes a carbon price may have some impact on prospects for international agreement but that impact is hardly decisive.

A scenario must therefore be considered in which we engage in unilateral mitigation, as the report recommends, but international agreement is not reached, and the catastrophic outcome it fears eventuates.

In that scenario, unilateral mitigation would certainly make us poorer. That is undesirable in itself. Additionally, by impoverishing us, it would diminish the resource pool on which we could draw in responding to the catastrophic outcome and increase the welfare cost of adjustment.

Unilateral mitigation would, in other words, be anti-insurance: it would increase the cost of the very risks the report paints. Faced with that possibility, the report's own logic, of maximising net benefits to Australia taking account of uncertainties, would command a prudent decision-maker not to undertake unilateral mitigation.

This is all the more the case as postponing mitigation allows costs to be avoided, but will have little effect on benefits.

That is obviously true in the scenario in which mitigation is and would remain unilateral, as in that scenario, mitigation cannot yield benefits. However, even in the alternative scenario, in which there is eventual agreement, delay will be worthwhile so long as the costs of mitigation do not increase more rapidly than the return on alternative investments.

Historically, annual returns on capital in Australia have been around 8 per cent real. Given continued rapid progress in low emissions technologies, delay is unlikely to cause Australia's mitigation costs to rise more quickly than that, particularly if the delay is relatively short.

Taking into account these benefits of postponement both in the scenario in which agreement is reached and in that in which it is not, the report's logic would again tell against unilateral action.

The report avoids this conclusion by not modelling costs and benefits in the scenario in which we abate but the world as a whole does not. It ignores that scenario altogether.

This is inconsistent with the risk assessment framework it rightly recommends.

The report's conclusions are therefore not properly made out. Until they are, its calls for immediate unilateral action, with all its costs, remain unconvincing.


Australia's scrap metal navy

Two-Thirds of the Royal Australian Navy fleet could not operate at full capacity at some stage of the first half of last year, putting the force under pressure to scale back its activities around the world.

The parlous state of the navy is revealed in full for the first time by figures that show 38 of the fleet's 54 vessels were at some stage hit by faults, repairs, operational restrictions or crew shortages in the first half of last year.

The navy was further embarrassed last week when it was unable to send any of its three main amphibious support ships - HMAS Tobruk, HMAS Manoora and HMAS Kanimbla - to Queensland to assist in recovery efforts after Cyclone Yasi because the ships were either out of action or unseaworthy.

According to the navy's figures, which were provided in response to questions on notice from opposition defence spokesman David Johnston, each of the navy's six Collins-class submarines spent between five and 12 months of the year to last June in dock undergoing repairs or maintenance.

On average, the submarine fleet was seaworthy for only 32 per cent of the year because of faulty diesel engines, broken generators, crew shortages and maintenance. The troubled fleet cost $325 million to sustain during that period.

The navy's surface ships were also hard hit by problems, with eight of its 12-frigate fleet running on "lower levels of operational readiness" as "crewing gaps" affected trials, training and regional engagement in the six months to June last year.

Likewise, its fleet of amphibious, replenishment and hydrographic ships was riddled with problems, ranging from engine and hull defects to shortages of crew.

Senator Johnston said the figures revealed a level of disrepair in the navy that was shocking and unacceptable. "I want to know who is accountable for this multi-billion-dollar mess and how have we come to this," Senator Johnston told The Australian. "Virtually all force element groups are about 70 to 80 per cent laid up through maintenance and are non-operational. Clearly this is not good enough."

Navy chief Russ Crane told The Australian last night that a shortage of trained crews had contributed to lower operational readiness levels for some ships. "We have some pressures in terms of manning," Vice Admiral Crane said.

While navy recruitment had bounced back strongly, there was an imbalance between the numbers of trained and untrained crew, which was limiting the options for the navy. "We have a lot of very young, inexperienced people in the training system," he said. "We need to train our way out of the surge of trainees we have at the moment."

A navy spokesman said the situation was improving with 496 more trained people now than at the same time last year.

Vice Admiral Crane said that, despite the pressures, he saw no immediate need to scale back the tempo of naval operations. "I am comfortable I have sufficient capacity to meet the requirement directed to me by the chief of the defence force," he said.

Navy figures show that all six hydrographic ships were affected in the first half of last year by either defects, crew shortages or upgrades. The navy said eight of its frontline Anzac and FFG frigates had operated "with managed crewing gaps and conducting lower levels of operational readiness activities such as scheduled maintenance, trails activities, training exercises and regional engagement activities".

The amphibious and replenishment fleet had crewing shortfalls, HMAS Tobruk had a hull defect, HMAS Sirius an engine defect and HMAS Kanimbla had unexpected maintenance delays.

Vice Admiral Crane said the availability of submarines and submarine crews had improved in the seven months since the 2009-10 financial year and that the navy would be creating a fourth submarine crew that would ease pressure further.


Must not mention that falafel is popular in the Middle East, apparently

McGuire is an influential figure in Australian radio, TV and sport

Eddie McGuire has been accused of peddling "disgusting" stereotypes over a jibe he made about Sydney's western suburbs during his breakfast show.

McGuire, who is president of Collingwood AFL club, was taunting Greater Western Sydney Giants coach Kevin Sheedy when he dismissed the ethnically diverse part of the city as "land of the falafel".

He said any recruits signing to the Giants would soon get tired of living there. "I've just a put a team together of your 17-year-olds who'll be sick of living up in the land of the falafel in western Sydney playing in front of a 12,000-seat stadium that's still not put up," McGuire said.

The jibe, although meant jest, has angered listeners. Mazhar Hadid, a councillor for the Sydney west suburb of Liverpool, described the comment as "completely inappropriate".

"Eddie McGuire is supposed to be a very respectable person but this comment is just insulting to the residents of the western suburbs," he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

An official from Greater Western Sydney Giants said the comment was "disgusting" and sent the wrong message.

Kevin Dunn, an academic at University of Western Sydney and expert on racism in Australia, said: "It's a flippant remark and a silly stereotype. It just betrays an ignorance.”


High cost of the Australian Federal Left's weak-kneed immigration policy

The cost of Labor's border protection policy has blown out by $480 million as a stretched Immigration Department struggles to cope with a record 6000 detainees. Taxpayers are forking out tens of millions of dollars in extra staff and to bolster patrol boat operations in northern waters, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Customs has also been forced to employ an extra 37 full-time staff to cope with the influx of asylum seekers who are mainly from the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The blow-out - which the Coalition claims could more than double in the next 12 months - follows last year's record arrival of 134 boats carrying 6535 asylum seekers.

It comes amid reports the first funeral will be held shortly following December's Christmas Island tragedy that killed up to 40 asylum seekers.

The high costs of processing people fleeing their homeland was highlighted with an additional $290 million outlay for the immigration agency, announced yesterday. Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said this reflected "a rise in the estimated number of asylum seekers requiring processing in 2010-11, the extra time to be spent in detention as a consequence of [last year's] High Court decision, and the increasing number of people found not to be genuine refugees".

Another $190 million will be spent on building two new detention centres, including the new facility at Inverbrackie in the Adelaide Hills.

"As a result of the Government's failed border protection policies, more boats are coming, more people are in detention in record numbers and people are staying longer in detention." Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said.

Mr Morrison said the Government will now spend more than $760 million on people arriving illegally in Australia in 2010-11, compared with less than $100 million annually when the Howard Government left office in 2007. "The total budget blow-out since Labor started rolling back the strong border protection regime they inherited is now more than $1.4 billion and counting," he said.

Documents obtained through FOI show the number of patrol days involving Customs and border protection vessels has grown from 3092 in 2008 to 3529 last year. An extra 23 marine crew have been hired since August 2008, when the Labor Government abolished temporary protection visas - a decision the Coalition claims has contributed to the record arrivals.

"We do not apologise for requiring asylum seekers to undergo the required health and security checks before being released from detention," Mr Bowen said. "We will not apologise for providing alternative accommodation for vulnerable families and children, rather than the high-security detention centres and the barbed wire solutions of the Howard Government."


No comments: