Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Labor rebuffs Greens on coalmines

RESOURCES Minister Martin Ferguson has slapped down a demand by the Greens for a ban on new coalmines, declaring the coal industry has a bright future as a driver of economic prosperity, despite moves to tackle climate change.

Mr Ferguson has also championed the emerging coal-seam methane industry, which the Greens also oppose. He noted that if Australia abandoned coal and coal-seam gas exports, its customers would be forced to use lower-quality coal from overseas that would cause greater global levels of carbon pollution.

And as the minister accused the Greens of trying to "undermine and destroy" jobs and export revenue, one of Julia Gillard's hand-picked climate change commissioners warned that a sudden phase-out of coalmining would spark economic and social chaos.

Economist Roger Beale, a member of the Prime Minister's Climate Commission, which is charged with promoting rational debate on climate change, told a forum in Canberra that coal would be a part of world energy production for decades.

"So coal is with us," Mr Beale told a Climate Commission forum. "We can produce coal close to the markets that are demanding it. And we can do it in an efficient way. And it is high thermal-efficiency coal and it's generally low-sulphur coal."

Mr Beale's comments came as senior Labor Party sources scoffed at the Greens' demands on coal and said no Labor government would be "silly enough" to embrace the end of an industry that provided tens of thousands of jobs, often in areas traditionally favourable to Labor.

The Greens have lately sharpened their anti-coal rhetoric as they continue their negotiations with the Prime Minister about the design of a carbon tax.

Ms Gillard agreed to work with the Greens on the issue after last year's election produced a hung parliament, forming a multi-party committee to give the minor party input in return for its support for her minority government.

On Monday, Greens deputy leader Christine Milne, who favours a swift switch to renewable energy sources and believes lost jobs would be replaced by clean energy jobs, made clear she had no patience for a long transition away from fossil fuels.

"The Greens have said very clearly: no new coalmines, no extension of existing coalmines; let's invest in renewables - the technology exists," Senator Milne said. She also attacked the emerging coal-seam gas industry as "a disaster for Australia", despite it creating thousands of jobs.

Mr Ferguson yesterday rejected the Greens' view, issuing an unambiguous vote of confidence in the resources sector. "Not only does the coal-seam methane export industry have a great potential for Australia over the next 10 to 20 years, but so has the coal sector, and I might say the iron ore sector," he said. "That's despite, I might say, when it comes to coal-seam methane, LNG and the coal industry, the best endeavours of the Greens to undermine and destroy that industry in Australia."

In a veiled attack on the Greens' contention that jobs lost could be replaced by new positions in the renewable sector, Mr Ferguson said coal and coal-seam gas would deliver "real jobs and training opportunities" and "real export earnings" that would strengthen the overall national economy. Later, Mr Ferguson told The Australian that Australian coal was relatively clean by international standards and, if its exports ceased, customers such as China would be forced to use coal that would discharge greater levels of carbon.

Earlier, Mr Beale, the executive director of economics and policy at PricewaterhouseCoopers, told the Climate Commission forum - staged to promote rational debate based on facts - Australia needed to accept "the hard fact" that coal would be an unavoidable part of the global energy mix for up to the next three decades.

Mr Beale, a former secretary of the Department of Environment and Heritage and a lead author for the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the answer to reducing carbon emissions was providing incentives for the market to drive change at a pace that was economically and socially sustainable.

"If we simply cut coal off, we would have economic and social chaos," Mr Beale said.

"These things shouldn't be planned, they should emerge through an efficient marketplace, and that will get you the best-paced, best adjustment, providing around the world we are given the right incentives to use coal in as clean a manner as is possible."

Mr Beale said the coal industry would continue to grow and remain an important power source for the world.

Shutting down the Australian industry, he said, would not necessarily "save the world" because its customers would simply take their business elsewhere.

Yesterday's forum came as several Labor Party MPs, asking not to be named, said that Labor was realistic enough to know that agreeing to the Greens' positions on coal would be politically unsustainable.

They said Labor had lost seats in mining areas in last year's federal election, such as the Queensland seats of Flynn and Dawson, and understood it wold not regain the seats if it shut down the industries that underpinned their local economies. "We want to do the right thing by the environment, but we're not silly enough to put people out of work, particularly when they are our supporters," said one Labor backbencher.

"Everything I am hearing from our leaders is that we want to put in place a process that will allow the market to drive the changes. So we are hardly going to tell people they can't build new coalmines." Another MP said it would be "political suicide" to embrace the Greens' position.

"At some point, the Greens will have to moderate their demands," the MP said. "I'm hoping they will be realistic enough to accept they can't have everything."

Australian Petroleum and Exploration Association chief executive Belinda Robinson said Senator Milne's attack on the coal-seam gas industry was a risk to the transition to a low-emissions economy. "Outright opposition to viable and sensible energy options . . . impedes the thoughtful and intelligent energy debate that we need to have," she said.


Leftist denial of immigration realities reaches new heights (or depths) in Australia

LABOR is so confident its refugee swap with Malaysia is going to slow the flow of boats that it has budgeted for the arrival of only 750 asylum-seekers next financial year, despite more than 6000 having arrived last year.

Immigration Department secretary Andrew Metcalfe said the figure was in line with arrivals in 2002 -- after the Howard government's introduction of the Pacific Solution.

Speaking in a Senate estimates hearing yesterday, Mr Metcalfe said the prediction of 750 boatpeople for 2011-12 had been made because "the government believes its policy will work". He was referring to the latest announcements by Labor that involves a five-for-one refugee swap with Malaysia and the possible reopening of an offshore processing centre on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island.

"As a result of policy measures put in place, the figure of 750 was decided," Mr Metcalfe said. "The government is confident policy changes made will have a significant impact on boat arrivals. "The figure is purely a figure identified for financial planning purposes . . . that was the same number as the people who came in 2002, which was also after a major policy change."

Mr Metcalfe said the 750 figure would include asylum-seekers sent to any offshore facility, but would not include "up to 800" to be sent to Malaysia as part of the planned deal.

Australia will take 4000 certified refugees from Malaysia even if fewer than 800 asylum-seekers are sent there.

The Immigration Department's chief accountant, Stephen Sheehan, said the budget measures included an average occupancy of about 6500 detainees. "We are budgeting for 750 arrivals as part of our modelling process and an average occupancy of 6556 -- including those IMAs (irregular maritime arrivals) who are sent offshore but spend a few days in Australian detention," Mr Sheehan said.

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said the 750 figure "proved" the government would indeed send all 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia. "It just means back to business as usual," he said. "This is further evidence of why we need a parliamentary inquiry into the immigration detention network."

Mr Morrison on Sunday announced the Coalition's plan for a "warts and all" inquiry into immigration.


Desperate and hypocritical Labour Party grab for taxes

Western Australia is in the midst of what has been described as one of the biggest mining and resource booms in our nation's history.... This has greatly increased economic activity in Western Australia, but it has also brought significant pressures.

Population growth is one factors that has placed great demands on services provided by the State Government and local governments throughout the State.

The entire Australian economy benefits from this strong economic growth, and the Federal Government has an important role to play in ensuring the investment environment is attractive .

It must also provide sufficient support to the State Government as it battles with the large infrastructure demands.

This was the case until the Rudd/Gillard Labor Governments ran into budgetary strife due to its reckless and wasteful spending and turned their sights on the Western Australian mining sector.

In a desperate search for further sources of funding, then Prime Minister Rudd announced last year that he would introduce a Resources Super Profits Tax – a new federal tax on mining company profits.

This additional 40 per cent tax would have made Australia a far less competitive investment environment, and for the first time in living memory the issue of sovereign risk was raised among international investors.

As events transpired, this tax was the final straw for Kevin Rudd's leadership and it was scrapped by Julia Gillard after she toppled Rudd for the Labor leadership on June 24.

Julia Gillard then negotiated a Minerals Resource Rent Tax with three of the largest mining companies, excluding thousands of smaller miners from the negotiations.

These big 3 miners extracted a key concession in this pre-election "fix" that meant all existing and future State royalties would be credited against any MRRT liability – the Federal Government picks up the tab for State royalties, now and into the future.

It is an undeniable fact that Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett announced more than 12 months ago that he intended to gradually eliminate all existing discounts from the State's standard royalty rate of 7.5 per cent.

These discounts had existed for many years and were implemented decades ago so as not to discourage investment, particularly in the fledging Pilbara iron ore industry.

So when Premier Barnett announced in this year's State Budget that he was removing the discount for iron ore "fines" so that they were treated in the same way as iron ore "lumps" with all iron ore products having the same applicable royalty rate of 7.5 per cent, he was doing precisely what he said he would do.

Yet, astoundingly, his announcement came under hysterical attack from Treasurer Wayne Swan.

Mr Swan claimed not to have been given any prior warning, that Premier Barnett "did not communicate that he was going to do this..." and that the announcement came "suddenly out of the blue".

He has threatened retribution through the Commonwealth Grants Commission and to withdraw GST from WA. He has threatened to slash infrastructure funding from the State.

The Treasurer would have us believe that the Premier's announcement was a "black swan" event - unpredictable, unexpected, out of the blue.

This simply defies belief. There are numerous media articles over the past 12 months in which Premier Barnett has stated his intention to lift the royalty rate for iron ore fines from July 1 2011.

The Federal Treasury advised Mr Swan in a formal briefing document in May 2010 of the WA timetable for eliminating royalty discounts, with these documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws.

An official Federal Government fact sheet dated 2 July 2010 regarding the details of the MRRT stated "State royalties are assumed to be equal to 7.5 per cent of sales revenue and are credited against the MRRT liability to produce the net MRRT liability" .

In other words, Treasury were already factoring in to its calculations the fact that WA would lift all its royalty rates to 7.5 per cent. Even more damning is the fact that two days prior to Treasurer Swan's claims of total ignorance, Barnett's chief of staff personally informed Swan's chief of staff of the decision.

The question arises as to why Treasurer Swan had such a vociferous reaction to the WA Premier formally announcing something that has long been flagged.

It has all to do with the fragility of his Budget and the smoke and mirrors surrounding his claim that he will return the Budget to surplus in two years' time.

Having made the utterly unbelievable claim that he knew nothing about WA's intentions, Treasurer Swan must now explain the full implications for the federal Budget bottom line. His four Budgets to date have produced cumulative deficits of $150 billion and Treasurer Swan is yet to deliver a surplus.

Even during a period of strong economic growth and record terms of trade, a Swan surplus is a fast-fading mirage.


Commandos finally get justice

A soldier guides the lead convoy vehicle in Afghanistan.
Troops can again have confidence in the legality of their combat operations.

LAST week in Sydney, the military's chief judge advocate dismissed the charges against two Australian commandos over the deaths of Afghan civilians. I hope his decision is taken seriously and that we never see such charges again.

In October, when the charges of manslaughter by criminal negligence were laid against the army reservists, aspersions abounded. Many Australian media outlets were quick to allege that the incidental killing of civilians in Afghanistan was the inevitable consequence of a large proportion of reserve soldiers who were inadequately trained, gung ho and poorly led.

Those aspersions are all fallacious and have been extremely hurtful to the subjects of the charges, to their mates and to the 1st Commando Regiment, with its distinguished operational record.

What a profoundly disappointing contrast to the initial media scrum to see a solitary media representative in the courtroom on Friday for the duration of Brigadier Ian Westwood's decision to dismiss the charges against Sergeant J and Lance Corporal D.

Australian Defence Force legal officers have been taught for years that the law governing combat operations is international humanitarian law (or the law of armed conflict) implemented into Australian domestic law through Commonwealth legislation.

Rules of engagement are drafted in strict compliance with that body of law, ensuring troop confidence in the legality of combat operations.

Late last year, the Director of Military Prosecutions, Brigadier Lyn McDade, challenged that orthodoxy by laying charges without reference to an alleged violation of international humanitarian law.

Colonel Tom Berkeley, representing McDade in court-martial proceedings, repeatedly stated that the prosecution did not allege a war crime in the deaths in February 2009 of six Afghan civilians, including five children, in an Australian attack on a compound in Oruzgan province.

But the implication was that Australian criminal law apparently imposed a higher standard on ADF members, who could no longer assume that compliance with international humanitarian law would guarantee lawful conduct.

The chief judge advocate's decision to dismiss the charges in last week's pre-trial hearing restores the orthodoxy.

Negligence has never been an acceptable fault element for the perpetration of a war crime. At the International Criminal Court in The Hague, for example, the minimum requirements are intention or recklessness.

I spoke with senior military lawyers in the US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand during the course of this case, and none of them could understand why these charges had been laid. They were uniformly emphatic that none of their soldiers would be charged with negligence in combat operations.

But our military prosecutor claimed that these two soldiers owed a duty of care to the civilians in the compound in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that the ADF contingent was subjected to sustained bursts of fire from an AK-47 from within the compound, the prosecutor insisted that the alleged duty of care was demonstrably breached by the two ADF members.

The chief judge advocate thought otherwise. In a meticulously reasoned decision, Westwood found that Australian law does not impose an enforceable duty of care on ADF members in the context of combat operations.

He did not suggest that combat is a law-free zone. International humanitarian law regulates the conduct of ADF members. Of course, if the ADF contingent that entered the compound in Oruzgan province on the night of February 12, 2009, had taken the civilian inhabitants out of their rooms, lined them up against the compound wall and shot them, multiple war crimes of murder would have been committed and Australian society would rightly demand that those responsible be brought to justice. Nothing of that sort happened.

I was encouraged by Westwood's closing exhortation - that the dismissal of the charges does not alter the tragedy of the deaths of civilians taking no part in the hostilities in Afghanistan.

International humanitarian law seeks to protect civilians from the scourge of war, even though the reality of some loss of civilian life is reluctantly accepted. The Australian Defence Force must continue to comply with that body of law in all its military operations. Members who violate the law should be held accountable.

But when our government sends ADF contingents into conflict, asking our young men and women to risk their lives in the conduct of military operations, compliance with international humanitarian law in the professional performance of their responsibilities is all that we should ask of them.


1 comment:

Paul said...

"Economist Roger Beale, a member of the Prime Minister's Climate Commission, which is charged with promoting rational debate on climate change"

I probably don't need to comment here.