Wednesday, March 02, 2011

MPs attack anti-Bible 'madness'

OPPOSITION MPs have strongly attacked the ban on Bibles and other holy books being handed out at citizenship ceremonies, with Tony Abbott describing it as outrageous.

Tasmanian Liberal senator Guy Barnett told the Coalition party room this was "political correctness gone mad. There should be freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."

Previously, local councils and community groups gave people at citizenship ceremonies Bibles, which they could keep. But under rules that the government says came in during the Howard years, people can bring their own Bibles or other holy books but they can't be handed out.

Senator Barnett last night described the ban as "an extremist US approach to the separation of church and state" and called for its overturn. Under the old practice, people were not obliged to accept the books, he said.

Nationals MP Paul Neville, from Queensland, told the Coalition meeting that Bibles were still used in courts and tribunals and the Bible was the centrepiece of the oath. But people no longer put their hand on the Bible at citizenship ceremonies.

Former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull said if people wanted to offer Bibles and other holy books they should be able to do so. Mr Abbott said the government was interfering with the long-established practice to offer holy books.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the minister would look at the code's "appropriateness".


Degree target aims too high

Who sets these arbitrary and absurd targets anyway? And based on what reasoning, if any?

THE government's target for 40 per cent of young Australians to be graduates by 2025 is not realistic, according to a leading demographer, Bob Birrell.

One scenario would require the number of domestic students completing degrees to rise 82 per cent between 2009 and 2025, Dr Birrell and colleagues say in a new paper in the journal People and Place. "Neither Australia's higher education sector nor the government departments that administer it appear to understand that their target will require such an enormous increase," they say.

But a spokesman for Tertiary Education Minister Chris Evans said the government was confident its demand-driven system would deliver the university places needed to meet the target.

Dr Birrell said more realistic targets, funding and campus building should be aimed at poorly serviced regional and outer suburban areas.

The target for 25 to 34-year-olds was seen as ambitious when floated by the Bradley review in 2008 and adopted in modified form the following year by the government.

But as statistics revealed dramatic growth in young degree holders between 2006 and 2009, some commentators said the 2025 target looked easy. "The government's 40 per cent target could be reached naturally, well before 2025, allowing for enrolment pipelines, and without accounting for the contribution of degree qualified immigrants," the Group of Eight universities said in 2010.

The Birrell paper says the Go8 and others have misread the 2006-09 growth spurt. Domestic graduates and migrants with professional qualifications together account for just half this growth, according to modelling done by Dr Birrell and his colleagues. Their modelling takes into account the number of graduates who enter and leave the 25 to 34 age group as time passes.

Migrant professionals tend to be older and leave the age group more quickly than domestic graduates, meaning that on present trends their net contribution to the target would be nil before 2025.

The Birrell analysis suggests "that the recent rapid rise in the proportion of 25 to 34-year-olds with degrees is not a precursor to an easy pathway to achievement of the 40 per cent target, as asserted by the Go8". The paper concludes that overseas students who have graduated or arrived with undergraduate degrees are the most likely reason for the remaining half of the growth seen in 2006-09.

The survey that revealed the 2006-09 growth covers people who were residents in Australia for at least 12 months, meaning it would also pick up overseas students on temporary visas such as the graduate skills visa.

The authors say the growth represented by overseas students "is about to come to an end given that the government has largely removed the carrot of permanent residence as an inducement to study in Australia".

Between 2006 and 2009 the share of 25 to 34-year-olds with at least an undergraduate degree rose from 29.2 per cent to 34.6 per cent but another 410,000 graduates were needed to meet the 2025 target.

Even a 35 per cent increase in immigration would deliver only an extra 124,000 graduates over the period, the authors say. Relying on local students would require an 82 per cent increase from 98,732 domestic graduations in 2009 to 179,600 in 2025.

Senator Evans's spokesman said updated 2010 estimates suggested the demand-driven system would deliver an extra 195,000 domestic undergraduate places between 2010 and 2013.



Three current articles below

Dirty little lie on carbon tax

By economics professor Sinclair Davidson

THE government has announced its carbon tax will commence in July 2012. Consumers and taxpayers should be very concerned about this new tax.

The announcement is even vaguer than either of the mining taxes announced last year. All we know is that a new and complex tax will be introduced next year. So far, we can't even be sure how much revenue it will raise, except that it will be budget neutral; not even revenue neutral.

This should not inspire confidence. The government has shown itself capable of spending more than the revenue it already raises, and now it is promising to spend all the revenue from the new tax.

There is a dirty little lie at the centre of the government's plan to introduce a carbon price. That is the notion that carbon isn't already priced. The government must be hoping nobody has noticed the plethora of programs that have contributed to rising living costs while minimally reducing carbon emissions.

Some of these programs have enjoyed a high profile. For example the home insulation scheme, which resulted in numerous house fires and four deaths. Solar panel rebate schemes have proven as expensive as they are popular, while others, such as the Green Car Innovation Fund were probably just old-style protectionism.

The fact is the Australian government has introduced several expensive carbon prices. The best that can be said for the proposal to introduce a fixed carbon price is that it will be cheaper than many existing programs.

The test the government faces is in abandoning the more expensive programs. In the presence of a well-defined, well-designed carbon tax all those other schemes simply become corporate welfare. Keeping them in place is a double hit on consumers. That means mandated renewal energy targets, and windmills, and all those boondoggles so beloved by politicians will have to go.

The whole argument for a carbon tax is that it represents the most efficient way to achieve a given outcome. If that is true, then it should substitute for all existing programs.

But that is not what the government seems to have in mind. The carbon price mechanism announced last week makes no mention of substitution; in fact the mechanism does not preclude other measures. In other words, this price is not a substitute for other higher, yet less effective, prices, it is an additional price to those already in place.

How often will consumers have to pay for the same carbon? Not often enough it seems.

There is another problem with this scheme. It has the potential to generate vast streams of revenue to the government. Governments quickly become addicted to easy money. The whole idea of a carbon price is, over time, that revenue should decline. But the government has spending plans. It is going to be very difficult to increase spending when the funding source is expected to decline.

Making the tax budget neutral invites future deficits as revenues decline. Conversely it gives government the incentive to stymie carbon substitution in order to maintain revenues. In short the vagueness of the proposal introduces sovereign risk.

The vagueness of the proposal also means that its effects have not been modelled. The government cannot know what impact it'll have on the economy and as such cannot have designed any compensation packages.

In their Shitstorm: Inside Labor's Darkest Days, Lenore Taylor and David Uren recount how then climate change minister Penny Wong came to the conclusion that business was quite serious about the adverse impact the emission trading scheme would have had on the economy.

There is nothing in last week's announcement to suggest any of those problems have been addressed or resolved. If anything a less developed proposal has been announced to commence next year. The community is being asked to pay its money and await developments.

The challenge this government faces is that it has no track record in delivery of programs. Its 2007 promises are yet to be achieved from healthcare reform through to the rather simple task of delivering computers to schools. It has failed at every turn. The community is now being invited to trust that they can successfully introduce a tax on every aspect of the Australian economy from a standing start to implementation in less than 16 months.


Carbon tax is poll poison for NSW

VOTERS have rejected Julia Gillard's carbon tax, Coalition polling across NSW state seats found, with almost two thirds of people against it. In a sign of the battle ahead for Julia Gillard in selling the new tax to voters, only 18 per cent of NSW voters said they were in favour of a tax. About the same number said they had not yet made up their mind. But 62 per cent said they were firmly against it. The remainder claimed to have no knowledge of it.

The polling was conducted in NSW as part of the Coalition's campaign for the state election on March 26. It polled 1200 people at the weekend, just days after Julia Gillard announced she would seek to introduce a carbon price in July 2012 before a market-based emissions trading scheme by as early as 2015.

The decision by the State Opposition to poll on carbon tax revealed Liberal leader Barry O'Farrell's plans to use it as a key weapon against Labor in the election.

"A carbon tax will lead to higher power bills, but a carbon tax will also threaten jobs - whether your company is selling into the Australian market against imports, or whether it is trying to sell overseas against countries that don't have a carbon tax," Mr O'Farrell said yesterday. The sentiment was supported by some federal Labor MPs in marginal seats.

Several of Ms Gillard's caucus said the carbon tax would hurt them locally and they were concerned federal Labor's strategy of recapturing its left-wing base through climate change policy would cost them middle-class Australian votes. "If petrol is included, it will kill us," one NSW Federal MP said yesterday. "It really is a divided issue and anyone in a marginal seat in NSW will be in trouble."

Carbon tax dominated Federal Parliament yesterday, with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott continuing his attack on Ms Gillard's broken election promise.

Ms Gillard said Mr Abbott's threats of winding back the tax would cripple the Australian economy. She tried to inflame divisions within the Coalition over climate change, following admissions by Liberal MP and former leader Malcolm Turnbull that he still supported the idea of a carbon tax and an emissions trading scheme.

"If this fear campaign fails and we price carbon on July 1, 2012, as I intend to do, then [Abbott] will go to the next election with a plan to wreck the Australian economy with economic vandalism," Ms Gillard said.

Federal Climate Change Minister Greg Combet say Australian households would be poorer by an average of $720 a year under the coalition's direct action plan. "The new figures demonstrate that direct action is so environmentally ineffective that it will deliver only 25 per cent of carbon pollution abatement required for the Coalition to meet the bipartisan target of minus five per cent (by 2020)," Mr Combet said in a statement today.

"This means that the Coalition would need to purchase 75 per cent of the required abatement from international permits at a cost of over $20 billion - which currently has no funding allocated." The cost of the Opposition's plan would eventually leave a $30 billion Budget shortfall by 2020, Mr Combet said.


Nationals polling shows Rob Oakeshott's support is shot

He is a traitor to his voters: A Green/Leftist who got elected by pretending to be a conservative

VOTER support for Rob Oakeshott has fallen through the floor according to confidential polling conducted for the NSW Nationals since the independent MP pledged his support for Julia Gillard's carbon tax.

Mr Oakeshott has lapsed into net negative approval, according to the poll, details of which have been revealed exclusively to The Australian.

Anger towards Mr Oakeshott and his fellow independent NSW MP Tony Windsor, who also backs the minority Labor government and the Prime Minister's carbon tax, is now threatening the viability of several state independent MPs at the March 26 election.

The telephone poll of 400 voters in the state seat of Port Macquarie, which lies inside Mr Oakeshott's federal seat of Lyne on the NSW mid-north coast, was conducted last week and found 40 per cent of voters viewed Mr Oakeshott favourably, while 52 per cent viewed him unfavourably. A further 7 per cent of voters were neutral, while 1 per cent had never heard of him. The 12 per cent net negative approval for Mr Oakeshott is in stark contrast to his earlier popularity with voters, which catapulted him from the seat of Port Macquarie into Lyne at a by-election in September 2008.

Polling by the Nationals three months before the by-election showed Mr Oakeshott was regarded favourably by 71 per cent of voters, and unfavourably by 8 per cent, yielding net positive support of 63 per cent.

The 75-point turnaround follows the decision of Mr Oakeshott to back a minority Labor government last year, and his role in Ms Gillard's carbon tax backflip last month.

Directly in the firing line as a result is Port Macquarie MP Peter Besseling, a protege of Mr Oakeshott who advised him during his negotiations over minority government six months ago.

Senior Nationals sources have claimed the blowback will also hurt the chances of independent MP Peter Draper in Tamworth, which lies within Mr Windsor's New England electorate.

Dozens of voters in Port Macquarie have told The Australian they will be less likely to vote for Mr Besseling as a result of Mr Oakeshott's support for Ms Gillard and her program.

Nationals candidate for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams said Mr Oakeshott's growing unpopularity would "absolutely" hurt Mr Besseling's chances at the election. "I do lots of doorknocking out in the electorate and certainly the feeling is pretty strong out there," she said. "They're not happy with Rob and they make it quite clear, time and again. This isn't a Labor seat and so they're still quite miffed about why Rob would have taken that path rather than go down the conservative path."

A senior NSW Nationals source said Mr Oakeshott's relationship with Mr Besseling, who succeeded him in the state seat, was so strong that "there is going to be some blowback".

Another state independent, Dubbo MP Dawn Fardell, has been distancing herself from Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor as she struggles to fight off a concerted challenge from the Nationals on March 26. "I was very disappointed in Windsor and Oakeshott," Ms Fardell said. "If they want things for their community, you can do those things along the way and lobby. I've done no deals with the (state) Labor government."

Mr Draper's margin over the Nationals is 4.8 per cent, Mr Besseling's is 4.5 per cent, and Ms Fardell's is just 0.9 per cent.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour. New posts on both today

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