Thursday, March 03, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG ridicules the claims of "Independent" MP Tony Windsor

Julia Gillard hit by gay marriage rebellion

JULIA Gillard is facing a backbench rebellion over fears the government would support a Greens Bill that could enable gay marriage and legal euthanasia. Three senior MPs - Steve Hutchins, Don Farrell and John Hogg - confronted the Prime Minister yesterday to express concerns about the Greens' Bill.

Greens leader Bob Brown said his proposed law would make an Act of Parliament necessary for the Commonwealth to override legislation in the Northern Territory or the ACT. It would abolish ministerial vetoes.

The Herald Sun has been told the delegation, led by Mr Farrell, the so-called "Godfather" of the Labor Right, met Ms Gillard at 11.30am after the Greens claimed to have secured government support for the private member's Bill.

It is believed the PM said she had no knowledge of it and she would not back legal euthanasia. Treasurer Wayne Swan also told them he had no knowledge of the issue.

Angry Labor MPs yesterday said the issue had brought to a head amid growing concerns the Greens had too much influence on Government policy. "I just hope this is not a harbinger of what life will be like after July 1, when the Greens have control of the Senate," one concerned senior Labor MP said.

MPs also have privately criticised the PM's decision to introduce a carbon tax without consulting the full Labor caucus. Labor figures, particularly in outer city electorates, have been fielding "virulent" emails and phone calls from voters complaining of a "sellout" to the Greens. "People are really angry - they feel they've been deceived," a senior Labor MP said. "It's adding to a growing view out there that Labor is dominated by the Greens."

Labor MPs have also confessed to being "savaged" by irate voters over the carbon tax. Some said their offices had received abusive phone calls from people fearful over the impact of a carbon tax on family living costs. "One was pretty vicious," a Sydney MP said.


No happy ending for carbon tax fairytale

LIKE Goldilocks and the three bears, Australia's climate change response relies on believing that temperature changes (and their timing) are not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

It relies on believing the world can slow its production of carbon dioxide sufficiently to hold the temperature below a level at which catastrophic climate change can be avoided. The emissions forgone will come just at the right time, all going well.

There's not a lot of economics in it. Ross Garnaut, the government's climate change economic adviser, has thought about this a great deal. But his advice to government is to stick with an abatement strategy first and an adaptation strategy second.

In the update to his 2008 Climate Change Review, Garnaut argues: "There is still a chance of achieving strong mitigation objectives, and at worst we are headed towards materially less damage from climate change than would have been the case with no international mitigation effort at all."

The assumption of a reasonably direct relationship between the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the temperature level and damage arising from temperature change is a big call. To suggest that the world is heading towards materially less damage than would have been the case on the basis of present abatement is frankly heroic.

In 2008, Garnaut argued that "mitigation will come too late to avoid substantial damage from climate change". In his 2011 update he argues that "without in any way underplaying the importance of a large, well-designed and well-resourced adaptation effort, my own judgment is that there is no evidence at this time nor any danger of over-investment in mitigation at the expense of investment in adaptation".

There is, however, a strong connection between mitigation and adaptation. For droughts we build dams, for floods we build levees, for cyclones we rebuild stronger houses and replant crops. We have no option but to do these things. Indeed, when non-climate tragedies occur, such as earthquakes, we have no option but to rebuild. All of these things require energy. All of these things become more difficult if the price of energy rises.

Then there is the economics (and the politics).

Julia Gillard's bald-faced lying to the electorate that she would not introduce a carbon tax - as the central plank of an abatement policy - and then doing so is one thing. Her announcement that a carbon tax is an "essential economic reform" is quite another.

For the carbon tax to work, the price of carbon emissions will need to continue to rise, which means future governments will have to raise the tax. This is unlikely to occur. Certainty cannot be delivered under these circumstances.

I sympathise with economists that a price on carbon emissions would deliver the electricity industry and their customers secure power generation.

These things are not going to happen with a pricing mechanism that requires future governments to change the tax or the cap. Even with a carbon tax and a successful transition to a cap and trade system and future lowering of the cap, the likely medium-term changes to the Australian economy will be one or two power plants fired by gas and the de-commissioning of one or two coal-fired plants. Some reform, some abatement.

I sympathise entirely with economists that a price would work best, in lieu of subsidies for renewables. Linking solar and wind generation to the grid is proving a real headache. But a pricing mechanism will not solve the inadequacy of these technologies.

Australia's mitigation strategy has no hope of doing other than lining the pockets of gas and nonrenewable energy producers and risking any number of Australia's internationally competitive producers. The impact on global temperature will be nil.

There are no benefits in adopting low-emission energy production early, because we can easily pick up on what others do at a later time.

Australians buy television sets and computers, we do not invent them. We reap the rewards of adopting them. As we are unlikely to invent the low-emission, low-cost energy sources, we will not reap those benefits. Besides, inventors do not rely on the price of carbon for their reward. The patent alone will make them as rich as Croesus.

Tony Abbott's promise to overturn a carbon tax means a price mechanism is no longer an option. Of course, it never was an option because for the tax and-or the cap and trade to work effectively future governments would have to continue to raise the price of carbon emissions, which is a bit like asking them to raise the GST on a regular basis. It simply will not happen.

It is a brew that Goldilocks would find too hot to handle.


NSW as a police State

I've been thinking a great deal about the way NSW has taken on some of the flavour of a police state. The context is the run-up to the state election. I'm wondering what the Coalition will do about the police after it wins office on March 26. In NSW, we have the worst of both worlds, where the cops and the government are tough on hundreds of thousands of non-criminals going about their daily lives, while giving a free pass to real criminals.

This dysfunction is exemplified in Kings Cross, where the NSW government is complicit in the heroin trade while, as a result of this complicity, the police have all but given up arresting junkies in the Cross.

Darlinghurst Road has become entrenched as a place where drug and alcohol abuse flourishes. Meanwhile, just down the hill, on busy New South Head Road, the police stop thousands of motorists who are causing no problems. At this checkpoint, the presumption is guilt, the selection process is random, and the probable cause is non-existent.

Checkpoints, random stops, speed cameras and speed traps. This is the real face of the NSW Police. The force has been turned into petty bureaucrats charged with gouging revenue from taxpayers, while looking the other way as the heroin traffic flourishes in plain sight. Our legal system and state bureaucracy have turned the thin blue line into a bleached corps of tax agents, social workers, stress-leave jockeys and second-job jugglers, leaving a few hard units to do hard investigations into hard crime.

Look at Kings Cross. It used to be one of Australia's most sophisticated, cosmopolitan and pleasant precincts. Now it is a bogan paradise, a cathedral to bad taste, a product of the power of the alcohol, heroin and poker machine industries that have enjoyed unprecedented power or tolerance for 16 years under the Labor patronage machine and pork factory.

In the Cross, the core of the rot is sponsored by the NSW government itself. It is the blandly named Medically Supervised Injecting Centre, conveniently located on Darlinghurst Road opposite the entrance to Kings Cross railway station. Never have so many lies been fed to the public in support of this policy quagmire.

The argument justifying the centre is that has cleaned up the drug trade and saved "hundreds" of lives. This is propaganda worthy of North Korea. The reality is the opposite. The centre is directly responsible for hundreds of drug overdoses. It has created an environment where the most reckless and self-indulgent people in society - junkies - know they will be bailed out of their own risks.

The result is stratospheric rates of drug overdoses and interventions, which are then counted as lives saved. This is the basis on which more than $25 million in public funding has been requested and justified by the drug-legalisation lobby. Anyone interested in the non-North Korean view of this social experiment can find a blistering, highly detailed counter-view on the website of Drug Free Australia .

One of the leading figures behind Drug Free Australia, Gary Christiansen, told me: "The number of overdoses in the [Kings Cross] facility have been a staggering 35 to 42 times higher than the rate of overdose experienced by clients [drug-users] before they registered to use the room. Testimony by former clients in the NSW Hansard indicates that the overdose numbers are so high because clients experiment with higher doses of heroin and poly-drug cocktails, using the safety of the room as a guarantee."

As for the wider matter of dysfunctional policing, the opposition has announced that it finds the use of speed traps to be overbearing, deceptive and intrusive. Yesterday it announced it would review the entire process if elected to government. This is encouraging.

Another telling benchmark will come after March 26, when the new government decides what to do about the tax-funded heroin honeypot in the heart of Sydney.


Axemen advise O'Farrell

THE mastermind behind the sacking of more than 50,000 public servants during the Greiner and Fahey Liberal governments has been quietly advising Barry O'Farrell's team on how to streamline the public service when, as expected, the NSW Coalition takes power in a month.

Gary Sturgess now works for Serco, the multinational services company that runs Villawood detention centre and has recently replaced workers with robots in British hospitals. He has met shadow treasurer Mike Baird a number of times over the past 12 months.

Mr Sturgess engineered the dumping of 2000 teachers, 5000 school cleaners and more than 8000 rail workers within a year of Nick Greiner becoming premier in 1988.

The re-emergence of Mr Sturgess has heightened fears among the public service over what plans Mr O'Farrell might have for redundancies and the privatisation of government services. Mr O'Farrell is also being advised by Max "the axe" Moore-Wilton, John Howard's job-slashing department head.

Mr Sturgess confirmed he had met Mr Baird a number of times, the last time in November. "The message I've been giving them is there's an awful lot of interesting things happening in [Britain] . not just outsourcing, but some interesting private sector contracts where payment is dependent on outcome," Mr Sturgess said from London. "My job is to help explain how this stuff works so that government feels it can make voters and unions feel more comfortable about it."

Mr Sturgess was referring to the debt-mired British government, which recently revealed plans to open up virtually all public services to private companies. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron will cut about 500,000 British public servants by 2015. Serco is at the forefront of outsourcing around the world, managing everything from satellites to prisons and traffic light systems. Greens MP John Kaye memorably described Serco as like a "living organism that has found a very rich payload of nutrients".

In August last year, Serco put robots into a Scottish hospital to move waste, linen and clinical supplies at the expense of human workers. "Should NSW have robots in its hospitals?" Mr Sturgess said. "It might be good but it can't put them into existing hospitals. Like the experience in [Britain], you have to have a government wanting the best possible way to contain disease and waste and prepared to allow the private sector to solve the problem."

He stressed he was not lobbying on behalf of Serco Australia, rather sharing his expertise from the Serco think tank. "Serco doesn't have a view about what services should be put to the private sector, it's not for us to decide should be put to the market. When government makes that decision it's for us to tell them how we think it can be done. I've known a lot of the [Liberal] guys for a very long time so it would be improper for me to be lobbying on behalf of Serco and I don't."

Mr Sturgess conceded Mr O'Farrell had been "coy" about revealing any plans that could involve job cuts. The Coalition is still scarred from its experience at the 2007 election when then leader Peter Debnam announced he would target 22,000 public servants before crashing in the polls.

Mr Baird confirmed he had met with Mr Sturgess. "I'm open to any ideas to save money."

The Public Service Association supports Mr O'Farrell's plan for a new public service commissioner to de-politicise appoints but is still fearful of deep cuts to workers. "We'd like Barry to put on the record before the election what he intends to do because right now the message is mixed," said its assistant general secretary Steve Turner.

Last week, Mr O'Farrell said: "We don't have a default position that says privatisation is in our DNA." But when speaking to The Australian Financial Review, he said: "The public sector doesn't have all the ideas. The public sector certainly won't have the money to fix the problems in this state."

Another company that will be interested in service contracts is Veolia Environmental Services, whose executives include Peter Shmigel, Mr O'Farrell's former chief of staff.


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

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