Thursday, April 28, 2011

Anglican Church urges Government to cut baby bonus in attack on Australia's birth rate

C of E used to stand for Church of England. My late father was not a churchgoer but I remember him putting himself down -- with some satisfaction -- on forms as "C of E". These days it seems to stand for the Church of the Environment. If I were religious, I would describe it as the Devil's mockery of Christianity.

What the Bible says: "Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them" (Psalm 127)

THE baby bonus should be scrapped to rein in rampant population growth, the Anglican Church said yesterday. The church's key advisory group wants the Gillard Government to get rid of incentives that increase the birth rate and also called for a cut to immigration.

In a submission to a federal population inquiry, the General Synod's public affairs commission described population growth as a taboo subject and the "elephant in the room". The commission wanted a halt to "any policy that provides an incentive to increase population, notably the baby bonus".

A church spokesman said yesterday that a recent resolution by the general synod had asked the Government to carefully consider any such incentive, "while continuing to support low-income families and sustainable immigration". It has called for increases to paid parental leave.

The resolution also called on the Government to "avoid any reliance on continuing population growth to maintain economic growth".

The $5294 baby bonus is paid to families who earn $75,000 or less for the six months after the child's birth. Last year, there were 278,000 payments nationally.

Australian Family Association spokeswoman Terri Kelleher said it would be unjust. "Our fertility rate is under replacement level, I don't think families should be discouraged," she said.

The church said the migrant intake should be cut while being more generous to refugees and family reunion applicants: "The question must be asked whether our population growth is fair to future generations of Australians. "The growing congestion of cities, destined to become worse, means time lost in commuting, more polluted suburbs, denser housing."

The spokesman said, while the church wanted the Government to carefully consider population incentives, it was not questioning the baby bonus in particular. "The public affairs commission is an advisory body which does not carry the authority of the Anglican Church," he said.

But commission chairman and former Labor MP Professor John Langmore said a resolution based on the submission was passed by the general synod. "That clearly implies scepticism about the baby bonus," he said.


Tony Abbott backs use of force on rioting asylum seekers

As vigils by several asylum seekers continue at Villawood and on Christmas Island, Mr Abbott called for the Government to act. But Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it would not be appropriate for him to order authorities to kick protesters off a roof because it could endanger lives.

Mr Abbott told 2GB radio that it was not good enough for the Government to try to ignore protests in detention centres. "You can't have a situation ... where people are acting in consistent defiance of legitimate authority and these protests have to be ended," Mr Abbott said. "It just has to be sorted out and I think that the problem is that the Government is just not strong enough to do it."

Mr Bowen said a call for him to order police to take down asylum seekers was unrealistic. "I'm not going to say to people like the Australian Federal Police and Serco, I want you to get up on the roof, have an altercation with them and get them down," Mr Bowen told radio station MTR. "That's an operational decision, as to when the right time to do that sort of thing is."

Mr Bowen said it wasn't his job to meddle in operational matters. "I don't take the view that my job, sitting in my office, is to say, 'You get up on the roof and you have an altercation with them, you fight with them; if somebody falls off the roof as a result of that, it's not my fault'."

Last night three protesters remained on the roof of Villawood's detention centre, and five people were on a roof of the Christmas Island centre.


Dodgy figures, wrong questions plague carbon debate

Gary Johns

AUSTRALIA has had two chances to make a dignified exit from the foolhardy proposition of carbon abatement.

The first was Tony Abbott's proposal to then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull to pass then prime minister Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme, with the proviso that it not be invoked until there was an international scheme in place. An international scheme is a chimera. Second was Prime Minister Julia Gillard's promise to wait until Australians had achieved a consensus on pricing carbon: in other words, to talk it out until after yet another election. For the foreseeable future, these two options have been closed.

Having cost the political lives of one prime minister (Kevin Rudd) and two opposition leaders (Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull), Australia is now in the end game for pricing carbon. Pricing seemed like a good idea 10 years ago: it is now looking very sick.

Ask an economist the most cost-effective way to abate carbon and they will tell you market pricing. Right answer, wrong question. Ask an economist the most cost-effective way to prepare for the risk of climate change and you will get answers about priorities and adaptation. You hear about research and development, and spending money on things to make people (especially in developing countries) more able to cope with change: health infrastructure, skills, cheap energy.

Instead, the Gillard government walks headlong to its political death with its Climate Change Minister Greg Combet spruiking nonsense. For example, Combet is softening up the electorate for Labor's carbon tax by arguing China puts a higher price on carbon than Australia.

Combet, on ABC's Lateline this year, cited the Chinese and Australian implicit price for carbon from the 2010 Vivid Economics report for The Climate Institute: $8 per tonne for China and $2 per tonne for Australia. The idea is to tell Australians they are not pulling their weight. The Chinese must think Gillard a fool. Vivid Economics has been colourful with its analysis. They wildly overstate China's and wildly understate Australia's implicit carbon price. For a start, Chinese energy policies have not been developed with the aim of promoting greenhouse gas emission reductions.

The primary effort is to harness energy to create jobs and deliver improved living standards. The majority of renewable energy being built in China is large-scale hydro. Chinese power companies are interested in harnessing energy. Greenhouse gas abatement rarely rates a mention. Moreover, the Chinese subsidise coal fuel. As most new generation in China is coal, this implies that at the margin, China has a negative carbon price. Combet, the Climate Institute, and the Climate Change Department are knowingly feeding the electorate complete bunkum.

Australia's average carbon price is assessed by Vivid across a variety of programs, including feed-in tariffs, Renewable Energy Target (the old scheme), the Qld Gas scheme and the NSW GGAS scheme.

There is no assessment of the state government policies opposing coal-fired power stations that make gas the fuel of choice for non-renewable generators. At the margin this imposes a significant carbon price particularly in NSW and Queensland. Even in Victoria it implies a marginal cost of carbon in excess of $10 per tonne. Vivid ignores these policies. The current marginal cost of carbon in the generation sector would be well above $10 per tonne and for some parts of the sector (in particular RET) more than $40 per tonne.

Typically socialist, the development of small plant generation until very recently was largely promoted by Chinese government policies to dispatch all plants equally, that is, regardless of efficiency. Australia's efforts, which Vivid and Combet criticise, have always promoted efficient merit-order based dispatch. Australia has chased the best technology such that no small coal plant was installed here in the last two decades (with the possible exception of Western Australia).

That China is just now scheduling plants in merit order (from lowest cost to highest cost), which means that more competitive plants are built over conventional plants is simply the way it happens anyway in market-based economies in order to minimise the cost of production and maximise welfare. In essence, 94 per cent of the implied carbon price estimated for China is based on removing a mandate to dispatch plants inefficiently and then promote action to shutdown plants that would probably not have been built in the first place on efficiency grounds.

The Productivity Commission has been asked to report on the price of carbon production in other countries. Already, chairman Gary Banks has warned about the difficulties of comparison, and that proper comparison will not deliver the government the picture it wants.

The electorate is becoming less enamoured with the climate change cause. Once they sniff brumby figures, Gillard will be the fourth political life lost to carbon abatement.


Gillard channels her inner Howard

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and partner Tim Mathieson visit the Forbidden City in Beijing yesterday. Picture: AFP Source: AFP
JULIA Gillard should count her northeast Asia tour a modest success. There were no big breakthroughs but neither were there significant stumbles.

This is doubtless a relief for her advisers after the Prime Minister's ill-judged revelation that she lacks a passion for foreign policy. Indeed, Gillard's trip to Asia marks a return to many of the key tenets of former prime minister John Howard's foreign policy.

Despite Paul Keating's gibe that Asian leaders would never deal with him, Howard left office with an enviable record as a statesman. He achieved his aim of revitalising the US alliance while strengthening our most important regional relationships, particularly those with Japan, India, China and Indonesia.

This grid of bilateral partnerships formed a solid platform for regional multilateral successes, such as securing Australia's inclusion in the East Asia Summit and the formation of the Bali Process to counter people-smuggling.

This week, Gillard turned to the Howard foreign policy playbook. Her itinerary was constructed to avoid her predecessor Kevin Rudd's error of bypassing our oldest and most important regional partner, Japan, in his enthusiasm to visit China.

The timing of her visit to Japan was serendipitous, coming just as the country starts to return to a semblance of normality and making Gillard the first foreign leader to make a substantive visit following the earthquake and tsunami disaster.

In my two days of talks with Japanese officials and scholars, many were genuinely touched by the Prime Minister's gesture of support in visiting the scene of the disaster, an event that received extensive coverage in the Japanese media.

The Japanese government was initially reluctant to accept outside help, but there is real appreciation in Japan of Australia's rapid assistance, which included a seasoned disaster relief team and three military transport aircraft. Operating out of US air bases, these have played an important role in ferrying much-needed equipment and supplies to the disaster areas, a tangible dividend from three-way strategic links initiated in 2002 and a bilateral defence relationship that started to accelerate after Australian and Japanese military forces operated together in southern Iraq.

Even before the earthquake, Japan was an anxious nation, unable to throw off more than a decade of economic stagnation and political sclerosis and increasingly spooked by China's growing economic and military muscle. Japan has an even bigger mountain to climb following the disaster. But Gillard's visit provided important reassurance to a friend at a time when it was much needed.

In opposition Labor dismissed the bilateral free trade agenda of the Coalition government, yet the most substantial policy outcome from Gillard's stop in South Korea was her agreement with President Lee Myung-bak to wrap up a bilateral agreement by the end of this year. It was unfortunate that foot-dragging on the part of the South Koreans meant that it was not possible to finalise the negotiations before the visit.

But Gillard's pragmatic focus on bilateral trade and security co-operation and her strongly expressed solidarity with South Korea in the face of the North's belligerence were clearly appreciated in Seoul.

It was in Beijing, though - which loomed, after a spate of recent bilateral difficulties, as the toughest leg of Gillard's tour - that the return to a more modest and realistic foreign policy approach was most evident.

The Howard government got off to a bumpy start with Beijing after firmly backing Washington in a military stand-off over Taiwan and cancelling a development assistance program, and after Howard met the Dalai Lama.

It was only when the then prime minister met then Chinese president Jiang Zemin in Manila in the margins of the 1996 APEC leaders meeting (described in Howard's recent memoir as one of the most consequential meetings of his prime ministership) and laid out a clear and durable conceptual framework for the bilateral relationship that strains between the two nations started to ease.

In essence, Howard told Jiang that Australia wanted a constructive relationship, with a particular focus on the enormous potential of the economic relationship. But he made clear Australia had different values and institutions and would not compromise on those or on vital strategic interests, such as the US alliance.

Howard's tacit understanding with the Chinese leadership provided the political foundation for the explosion of trade that has seen China overtake Japan as Australia's largest trading partner, accounting for one-quarter of all Australian exports.

Gillard's China visit this week seems deliberately modelled on the visit made by Howard in 1997. The Prime Minister came to Beijing bolstered by having already visited the US, Japan and South Korea, Australia's most important strategic partners.

She reportedly told Premier Wen Jiabao that Australia would retain its strong links to the US as well as pursue a constructive relationship with China. The business leaders were there again, as they had been in the 1997 tour, to highlight burgeoning commercial links between the nations.

And when Gillard rightly raised Australia's legitimate concerns about human rights with Chinese leaders she reportedly did so frankly and directly but privately and in a measured way.

An unnamed Australian official, who briefed journalists on the talks, stated explicitly that she did so more in the mould of Howard than Rudd.

Gillard's visit could scarcely have marked a more sweeping renunciation of Rudd's China policy. Gone, apparently, is the romantic conceit that Australia can form a special relationship with the Middle Kingdom. Gone are the mixed messages and the disappointed expectations on both sides. Gone, too, is the notion that political, cultural and strategic differences can be brushed over and that a sustainable relationship with China can be based on anything other than a sober, hard-headed assessment of Australia's long-term strategic and economic interests.

Yet the Prime Minister cannot afford to rest on her newly acquired foreign policy laurels. She can build on her success by remaining clear-eyed in her dealings with China: there will be further tests, whether on foreign investment, human rights or China's military muscle-flexing.

Her dealings with China will be reinforced, rather than impeded, if she continues to develop the US alliance and further strengthens defence and security links with Japan and South Korea.

She should press ahead to conclude free trade agreements with both countries as soon as possible. She also has to find a way through the uranium impasse with India, which is holding back Australia's engagement with Asia's other rising power and the world's largest democracy.

She also needs to make sure her Foreign Minister is fully behind her agenda rather than pursuing his own, which may be her hardest foreign policy test of all.


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