Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Carbon tax 'will destroy' major centres such as Port Pirie and Whyalla

THE state's two key industrial cities will be "wiped off the map" by a carbon tax, a major union warns. The tax would strip thousands of jobs from Whyalla and Port Pirie, the Australian Workers Union state secretary Wayne Hanson said.

The internal revolt from Labor's industrial heartland threatens not just the reform but the Government's survival.

Mr Hanson yesterday stepped up his union's opposition to the tax, claiming the future of both cities would be in serious doubt because both had economies based on the high-emission production of steel, iron ore and zinc. "Goodbye. They will be off the map," he said.

His opposition to the tax appears to be a calculated manoeuvre by the AWU and follows last week's surprise about-face by the union's national secretary, Paul Howes, who declared the AWU's support would be conditional on absolutely no jobs being put at risk in the steel sector.

The Gillard Government's support base now appears to be fracturing, threatening the future of the Prime Minister's signature reform for this term.

With Whyalla's main employer, OneSteel, and fellow steelmaker BlueScope in Canberra today for talks with the Federal Government over the proposed tax, the fact that such an important union has broken ranks and is openly campaigning against the Government is highly significant.

The AWU, the oldest and most influential union in the ALP, is demanding either an outright exemption for the steel industry or a 100 per cent compensation package.

An estimated 3000 to 4000 jobs are dependent on OneSteel's Whyalla operations alone. The company produces some 1.3 million tonnes of steel per year from its operation there, accounting for around 20 per cent of the national industry.

Adding to Ms Gillard's woes, food manufacturers are now also seeking special treatment. "We don't oppose a price on carbon, but industry is opposed to a tax that will increase the cost of food and grocery manufacturing in Australia, which is already under intense pressure," the Australian Food and Grocery Council's Kate Carnell said in a statement yesterday. "Whatever decision is made, the Government must ensure that Australian-manufactured food and groceries will not be made less competitive."

The Government now faces a wall of opponents as groups across the political spectrum from employers and industry bodies, to unions and the welfare sector, seek exemptions or more compensation.

The unpopular tax, which the Government is struggling to sell - not least because it has not designed it yet - is also a factor driving Labor's support into the basement. The latest Neilsen poll showed Labor at its lowest level in 15 years.

Mr Hanson said union members at Whyalla's OneSteel plant, and at Nyrstar's lead and zinc smelter at Port Pirie were rightly worried. "It's ridiculous to consider (a carbon tax) when you don't have other countries that are prepared to adopt a common approach," he said. "To allow your steel industry to disintegrate is just reckless. Should we be the trail-blazer?"

That argument appears to be straight out of Tony Abbott's anti-carbon tax playbook after he called for a people's revolt on the tax on the grounds it would destroy jobs and send investment off-shore.

However, the state Labor MP for Giles, Lyn Breuer, said the Federal Government understood what was at stake. "Why would the Federal Government send an industry broke, put in jeopardy the jobs of thousands of workers, particularly in my area in Whyalla? ... I'm confident that we'll be able to make some sort of arrangement that will satisfy everyone," she said before acknowledging: "without the steel making operations at OneSteel, the town (Whyalla) would not have a future."


More Gillard stupidity

JUST as even her friends felt free to stab her in the front, and it appeared impossible she could alienate another single person or group, given that pretty much everybody who could be, had been, Julia Gillard has united the most vulnerable and the most venerated in the community against her government.

It takes a rare kind of talent to contemplate a measure that compels three outraged mums from Bendigo to jump on a bus for Melbourne, or for a couple whose son had just been diagnosed with a brain tumour to travel from Bathurst to Sydney to join terminally ill patients, researchers in lab coats and office workers in their thousands in cities across Australia.

Only a truly methodical approach could weave together such a coalition, including Nobel Prize winners, the Greens, the independents and the opposition. Yet the government has achieved just that thanks to plans to slash $400 million from medical research funding in the May budget.

And it is happening as Tony Abbott attaches a plus to his name and minimises the negative by addressing issues such as welfare reform, indigenous intervention and infrastructure spending.

It could take a while for his approach to penetrate and his next chance to prove he is serious will be his budget reply speech, but if he persists, people could begin to think he has the odd good idea and maybe is a viable option. Stranger things have happened.

As a former health minister, Abbott is well acquainted with the value of medical research and also the potency of any campaign that its supporters may mount, so he found it difficult to believe, as did others, that the government would even think about cutting research funding.

Let's assume it is not true. One simple sentence from the Prime Minister would have killed the story stone dead.

She could have said: "I'm not in the business of ruling things in or not, but just let me say I have always placed a high premium on the work done by our medical researchers. It has been recognised internationally and it is valued highly here, and as a government we would not do anything that would endanger that."

End of story. Literally end of an extremely damaging story. Spare us the twaddle about refusing to rule in or out any pre-budget speculation. They do it when it suits and usually in those terms.

In fact, Gillard used a bullhorn last week at Luna Park to rule welfare reform into the budget.

Unless the reason it could not be denied was that it was true. Which, unhappily, it was.

The pre-budget season is always marked by different varieties of leaks. Portfolio ministers brief friendly journalists on their success in saving pet projects from the razor gang's slicing and dicing.

Occasionally the Prime Minister's office or even the Treasurer's feeds out juicy titbits to generate excitement, or unsavoury ones to prepare people for the worst, saving the best for the budget.

The leak on medical research was different, and what it revealed was deep frustration and divisions in the government over its operations, priorities and political risk assessments.

According to sources, the leak to the medical community came first from within cabinet then was backed up by the bureaucracy. It was leaked to them deliberately to warn that a $400m cut was on the way and if they wanted to stop it they had better mobilise quickly because they had only about a week to stop it.

They were told the government had decided medical research was ripe for cutting because it was not a "front of mind" issue for "ordinary Australians" that would trigger angry calls to Alan Jones, Neil Mitchell, Ray Hadley, Howard Sattler and the rest.

Let me declare an interest here and also provide an anecdote to illustrate a couple of points. In 1999, when I was Peter Costello's media adviser, I received a phone call from Jonathan Cebon, head of the Ludwig Institute cancer centre at Melbourne's Austin Hospital.

Cebon had overseen treatment for my sister Christina, who had died a few months before. He rang because he was concerned that a big report recommending a boost to medical research funding would be overlooked.

We arranged a meeting with medical researchers who pleaded with Costello to nurture the culture that had produced such greats as Howard Florey (penicillin) and Frank Macfarlane Burnet (Nobel Prize in medicine).

Costello doubled funding for medical research in the May 1999 budget, and I pinched the line about nurturing the culture from the researchers for his speech.

In those days the Liberal Party's pollster Mark Textor conducted focus groups each budget night. Tex produced a tape of the audience reaction using people with Worm-O-Meters attached as they watched the speech. The worm went off the chart when Costello announced the medical research funding.

It was gratifying but unsurprising, given the high regard in which Australia's medical research community is held.

A succession of surveys confirms this, including a study last year commissioned by Research Australia, which found 90 per cent of Australians rated support for health care and hospitals above stopping asylum-seeker boats, reducing government debt, reducing taxes or introducing an emissions trading scheme to fight climate change, and that most people thought spending on research was already too low.

Australians are well acquainted with the calibre of research here and the life-changing and life-saving discoveries it has brought, from the early humidicrib, to spray-on skin for burns victims, to a vaccine for cervical cancer.

So why this government thought it would be able to cut $400m and nobody would notice is perplexing.

If the Gillard government had been more prudent in its spending and more rigorous in its administration, the budget would not be in the parlous situation they would have us believe it is in now, but even so, cutting medical research will not save, it will cost. Every dollar spent on Australian medical research results in savings on health spending of $2.17.

Late last week the size of the cut was "being negotiated". If it comes in at half the $400m planned, the government thinks it will be able to placate its critics with another well worn post-budget tactic: see, it wasn't so bad after all.

Here's a hot tip. It won't work. There is zero tolerance for any cut in this area. Long after the headlines have disappeared, the patients, their families and those who try to help them remember.

A young woman with Parkinson's disease told one of the rallies that what the researchers gave her, and she thanked them for it, was hope. That is priceless. Money helps keep it alive. Wayne Swan of all people should know that.


Save us from the gamble of living

Paul Syvret gets fired up by an attack on two-up, Australia's traditional gambling game

THE world can be a dangerous place. Luckily though, we have the forces of law, order and social engineering to guide us through its perilous waters.

Thus it was a relief last week to see our authorities threaten a Cairns hotel with all manner of perdition should the publican persist with thumbing his nose at the law by hosting a two-up game on Anzac Day.

Two-up is, after all, one of the most villainous of gambling pursuits in that it is one from which the Government can't rake any tax revenue.

But why stop at the Red Beret Hotel in the north, given that on Monday there will hundreds of pubs and clubs across Queensland openly flouting the laws of our land?

We should have squads of crack police mobilised across the state ready to swoop at the first sign of a couple of pennies spinning through the air in a lazy arc; ready to batter down the doors of any drinking den from within which can be heard the beery cries of "head 'em up".

Normal policing duties should be suspended for the day, so that our officers can once and for all wipe this scourge from our midst. Federal Independent Andrew Wilkie has the right idea with his fixed-bayonet charge at the poker machine lobby.

Mind you, it's all very well to propose we issue "licences" to people who want to have a flutter, set pre-determined spending limits and decrease the amount you can wager but we're still being sort of half-pregnant here, aren't we?

Even we casual punters, who don't mind the occasional bet on the silly things, would be better off with that $20 in our pockets than the coffers of some rapacious leagues club which will only squander the money on yet more sporting facilities or subsidised Sunday roasts for the nannas.

If pokies are such a pestilence, wreaking misery on the hapless minority who don't know when to stop, why not ban the things altogether?

Then we could return to the good old days when pokies were illegal, and the gaming machine business was run quietly and efficiently (and out of the public eye) by organised crime rings and certain entrepreneurial elements of the Queensland Police Service.

One thing I don't understand though is why some forms of gambling (the pokies) are considered so much more evil than others.

The long-suffering Mrs Syvret and I were at the local leagues club on Saturday night to watch the mighty Broncos flog the Roosters rather than for the purposes of the punt and sitting in the sports bar.

At the next table was a posse of very well lubricated young men who had amassed a spectacular collection of losing TAB and Keno tickets, which eddied in great swirls around the empty pot glasses.

They looked to be having a whale of a time (and had a thirst you could photograph), but surely there lay in those piles of discarded betting slips the same seeds of ruination that were being planted by the purseful by the little old ladies in the gaming room next door?

And booze is part of the problem here. With the tobacco industry fighting a rearguard action and Andrew Wilkie's war on the pokies being prosecuted with brutal resolve, the demon drink appears to have slipped under the radar of those tireless social engineers whose self-appointed task it is to save us from ourselves.

We need labelling akin to that planned for a pack of smokes, depicting diseased livers and torn, bloodied faces of glassing victims.

And if a licence to gamble, accompanied with pre-set bet limits is good enough for the punters, then perhaps similar self-harm minimisation mea- sures should apply to tipplers.

Why not a licence to drink, accompanied by a weekly ration card that would allow no individual more than two standard drinks a day with a couple of days off the grog altogether? Admittedly there could be a just a wee problem in controlling the subsequent black market in ration card trading, but it would certainly make shouting a round of drinks at the local pub a lot more affordable.

The protectors of our physical and moral fibre also need to cast their eyes farther afield than the so-called sin industries of smoking, drinking and gambling, for there are myriad other traps lurking amid our everyday lives.

While much attention and debate has been devoted to the hazards of junk food, what of seemingly innoc- uous foodstuffs that harbour potential nastiness?

Why, for example, is the carton of full cream milk in my fridge not plastered with confronting health labels warning me about the dangers of cholesterol? Surely some photos of diseased arteries from the cow juice would save lives?

And salt. You can buy the deadly stuff by the kilogram with not so much as a single cautionary word of warning to be seen on the packet.

So please, someone, take responsibility for our lives and remove the temptations of all potentially risky life choices. We clearly don't know what's good for us and are incapable of making our own decisions.


Opposing gay marriage doesn't mean I'm barking

By Barry Cohen, who is homosexual and who happens to be my favourite Australian politician, sadly now ex. His book, "The Yartz" must be about the funniest book I have ever read -- JR

I'M in love with Jamie and Hamish, before that it was Fergus and Dougal. Now that I've got that off my chest I sense an enormous feeling of relief. No more regrets. No more hiding my preferences. Everyone knows now. I can relax.

Despite that, I don't plan to marry any of them, primarily because I don't like nails down my back during the night even if they are those of a border collie. Which brings us into the topic du jour: gay marriage.

When I first saw it mentioned about 20 years ago I nearly had a conniption. What a wonderful sense of humour these boys and gels have. Then I realised they were serious. My amazement was exceeded only when I saw recent polls sponsored by the gay movement to show the majority of Australians actually support marriage between same-sex couples. My, how things have changed.

If I had any doubts, they were removed while watching a recent episode of ABC1's Q&A. The subject was raised and any doubts as to whether Q&A stacks its audience with a Left bias were dismissed by the sneering, booing and ridicule at any member of the panel who was less than enthusiastic about gay marriage. The inference was that those who opposed it were homophobic and-or barking mad (no pun intended).

This tactic has been used by the Green-gay lobby because they are well aware there is nothing the cognoscenti and commentariat dislike more than to be called right-wing, neo-conservative or redneck. One's views on same-sex marriage, climate change, hatred of Israel and the US guarantees you acceptance by the cafe latte set. Just in case you hadn't realised it by now, I'm of the view that the idea of two people of the same sex being "married" is absurd. But homophobic, I think not. Unlike many of the "in" crowd I have runs on the board.

Let me take you back to October 18, 1973, in the House of Representatives.

John Gorton, member for Higgins: "I move that in the opinion of this House homosexual acts between consenting adults in private should not be subject to the criminal law."

A stirring address by the former prime minister was followed by Moss Cass (Maribyrnong), John Cramer (Bennelong) and Bert James (Hunter). The debate was cut short due to the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Please, no jokes about queens.

The question was put and carried by 64 to 40. Among those who voted yes were Les Bury, Jim Cairns, Clyde Cameron, Moss Cass, Don Chipp, Frank Crean, Kep Enderby, Gorton, Bill Hayden, Phil Ruddock, Ian Sinclair, Tom Uren, Gough Whitlam, Ralph Willis and you guessed it, yours truly.

On the "no" side were Lance Barnard, Kim Beazley Sr, Lionel Bowen, Rex Connor, Cramer, Fred Daly, Paul Keating, Jim Killen, Phil Lynch, Billy Snedden, Bill Wentworth. Gradually the states followed suit.

My philosophy was simple. It is enshrined in a column I wrote in The Australian (January 25, 1995) when gays started to get serious about what most Australians thought was a huge joke.

I wrote: "It concerns me not at all what adults do in the privacy of their own bedroom or for that matter their kitchens, bathroom or laundry. Should they choose to stand on their heads, wave their legs in the air or swing from chandeliers, providing they do not do each other a serious mischief, it is, or should be entirely a matter for them."

Having held that publicly expressed view for as long as I can recall, it will not surprise readers that on those occasions when I was called upon to vote in the House of Representatives on such matters I voted against legislation that discriminated against homosexuals. I have since applauded any measure by any government or institution that has broken down the prejudice against those with a different sexual preference.

A lot has happened in the past 40 years that has been of benefit to the gay community. Some I agreed with, others went too far, but marriage between people of the same sex giving them equal status with heterosexual couples, in my view, goes way beyond the pale. They argue that the present law discriminates against them. It does. And it's the same reason why I can't marry Jamie or Hamish.

And how about the discrimination against pedophiles, prohibiting sexual relations with children? Why do we discriminate against 15-year-old girls and boys for what used to be called carnal knowledge? Why do we ban men from entering women's toilets or vice versa? I could go on but I'm sure you discern my drift. We discriminate because society believes it is the right and moral thing to do.

Marriage was considered, until recently, sacrosanct. Bigamy and polygamy are banned. Why should we discriminate against men who want more than one wife, or wives who want more than one husband?

With all its flaws, and few marriages are perfect, marriage is the bedrock on which our society is based. It won't be if these twerps have their way.

The time has come for us "neocons" to fight back and tell the gay community that we've gone from prohibition to tolerance to acceptance, but we won't accept that gay marriage and conventional marriage is the same thing.

They might have got some of what they wanted if they had asked for a gay marriage act, quite separate from conventional marriage but can you expect them to accept a gay marriage certificate proclaiming them to be a gay couple?

It is to be hoped that those who support conventional marriage as one of the building blocks on which our society is built will stand up and tell the gay community it's not going to happen. Not even if hell freezes over.


No comments: