Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cattle export compromise?

Cattle held in quarantine could be exported to Indonesia within days under a $9 million industry plan being considered hy the Gillard Govemment. The plan was put to Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig by peak industry body Meat and Livestock Australia as an alternative to paying $5 million in compensation to cattle graziers who have been hurt by the ban on live exports.

Senator Ludwig is considering the plan but also wants MLA to pay compensation to cattle producers. Govemment sources said a compromise deal could be announced within days.

Under the industry plan, cattle would be traced and Australian animal welfare officials would be present in each abattoir to train workers and ensure cattle were humanely slaughtered.

The MLA claims there are now ll Indonesian abattoirs with equipment to stun cattle before slaughter and another three facilities could soon have stun guns. The plan includes an audit of Indonesian abattoirs to make sure they comply with intemational standards, and improvements to facilities.

MLA managing director David Palmer said the plan could be tested by a partial lifting of the trade ban. “The industry has told us clearly they don’t want contingency funds, they want an export facility," Mr Palmer said last night

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday said he had discussed the trade ban with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa during a recent trip to Europe. “We discussed this matter thoroughly,” Mr Rudd said. “We will manage this one through, although there will be some challenges on the way,”

Mr Rudd also confirmed he had discussed the trade halt with Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Thursday, after which the pair were seen walking in an awkward silence together.

The export ban caused emotional debate in Federal Parliament this week, with the Greens securing another inquiry into animal welfare and Independents Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie calling for urgent intervention by the Govemment to send stun guns to Indonesian abattoirs.

The above report appeared in the Brisbane "Courier Mail" on 18 June

Digital TV a nightmare for the bush

THE switch to digital television in Australia comes with a promise by the Gillard Government of DVD quality pictures, CD quality sound and a widescreen format. However, I fear the benefits of digital have been oversold, with little warning of hidden costs and possible disruptions, especially in Queensland.

If you live in regional or remote towns, your reception may suffer or you may get none at all. And you will be forced to pay hefty charges that pampered metropolitan viewers will escape.

Digital television comes with a nationwide warning that reception can be disturbed in areas that experience turbulent weather such as heavy rain or frequent storms. That is most of Queensland. "Bad weather can result in freezing of the picture, pixellation or a temporary loss of signal," says the Australian Government's information website.

If freezing picture and pixellation occurs, simply contact your endorsed antenna installer, it urges. What if you live in the Outback and he's 500km away? Too bad.

The website also advises: "Not all digital TV receivers automatically detect the arrival of a new digital TV channel. As a result, some receivers will require a 're-tune' or 're-scan' every time a new channel is launched."

Despite the spin, the picture remains blurred, especially for those who live in the bush. Up to 22,000 Queenslanders in rural areas face disruptions in the switch from analogue in 2013. The change will also be a blow to outback tourism operators such as motel owners, who will face bills of hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide television to each room.

For more than two decades in Queensland, 56 councils have re-transmitted analogue television signals to rural and remote communities.

That is about to change, with outback communities crushed in the rollout. Towns where trouble is likely include Cunnamulla, Thargomindah, Weipa, Normanton, Winton, Quilpie, Richmond, Augathella, Surat, Injune, Camooweal, Ilfracombe, Bollon, Dirranbandi, Barcaldine, Blackall, Muttaburra, Bamaga, Tully Heads and all the Torres Strait Islands.

Grey nomad tourism will be hit with a reception blackout, with each caravan or camper having to install not just a dish but an expensive satellite finder to receive a signal. There are costly implications, too, for caravan parks, motels and mining camps and anyone renting.

A motel in Bedourie, for example, would have to pay about $25,000 for a satellite and decoder equipment to make digital television available to guests.

The Local Government Association of Queensland is on the warpath, accusing Communications Minister Stephen Conroy of stubbornly sticking to a model that will penalise the bush. "The councils want to upgrade existing sites to carry the digital signal, but the feds won't buy it," says the association.

Conroy's blind adherence to a socialist-style, one-size-fits-all approach won't work in a country as vast and diverse as this. "It's a wasteful plan that is starting to sound like a rerun of the pink batts controversy," an LGAQ spokesman said. "It's typical Canberra arrogance. They're saying, 'We know best'."

Independent MP Bob Katter fears the social and economic cost in his sprawling northern electorate of Kennedy. The potential waste of taxpayers' dollars is enormous. In Normanton, for instance, Katter says it will cost the council an estimated $110,000 to $270,000 to upgrade communal rebroadcasting equipment for 550 households.

But it would cost $600,000 in subsidies to install single satellite units in the same households. What waste.

More here

Labor Party has fingers crossed that they can eventually sell a carbon tax to the electorate

THERE'S a sense of a parallel universe happening in Canberra, where the carbon-pricing debate is very up close and personal. Meetings upon meetings are held among politicians, staffers and bureaucrats at what is the business end of an almost five-month process. People from all sides report progress, albeit often agonisingly slow.

At the same time, Tony Abbott's relentless, 24/7 campaign against the carbon tax - as the "market mechanism" is universally and somewhat misleadingly known - grinds on.

To many observers who spend their thankless days inside Malcolm Fraser's monumental Parliament House there is progress, although some pointy, potentially deal-breaking issues are emerging and being fought over.

The idea the Government is "making ground" in the debate is becoming the accepted wisdom, but this bubble is soon burst after just a few conversations in any of the capital cities around Australia.

Among voters, Abbott is well and truly winning the carbon tax debate. Almost any discussion about anything in national politics quickly turns to a gripe about the proposed action on climate change. "You talk to anyone in the street and after the first sentence they'll say 'And I don't like the carbon tax'," says one Labor MP. "And because we haven't got any detail to put to them, their fears and concerns just hang there."

Every day he is in Canberra, Abbott finds a new way to attack the tax proposal. He goes to every kind of shop - from bakers to greengrocers to cafes - and every small workshop that makes things ("This tax will kill manufacturing in Australia," he warns) and even to childcare centres, which he claims will have to increase fees because of higher power bills.

When Parliament is not sitting Abbott takes this never-ending election campaign on the road, taking his case to factories, mines and any other location which has large numbers of people who in days gone by might have looked like Labor voters.

He's getting a warm reception - something acknowledged tacitly by the two unions most likely to have members affected by a carbon price, the Australian Workers Union and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which are both lobbying to minimise any impact on jobs.

Coalition strategists say Abbott's carbon tax campaign is cutting through and a series of important political messages are sticking. "The public are acutely aware of anything that adds to their cost of living at the moment - everyone feels they are running fast just to stand still in dealing with the weekly bills," says one Liberal official. "Everyone hates new taxes and have locked on to the idea of a carbon tax like a laser. They just don't like the idea which makes them hungry for information."

Because it is Abbott who's talking about the carbon tax the most, he appears to have more detail even if, as the Government says, it is highly speculative and may not match the reality if and when the carbon scheme is decided.

Abbott, who is a campaign manager's dream with a steely discipline to sticking with simple, punchy lines, has drilled three propositions into the collective consciousness of the electorate. People believe a carbon price will be a new tax on everything (a stunningly simple line first coined by Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce).

The idea that no matter what the starting price is for carbon - expected to be $20 a tonne of emitted carbon at most - it will go up year after year. This is a feature of a market mechanism to price carbon although, as the Europeans have found, the price can also go down.

The third killer line Abbott has delivered is that any compensation will disappear as quickly as it's given out.

The Government acknowledges Abbott is winning the carbon war but they remain confident that if they clinch a deal with the Greens (the other key Independents, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, are ready to sign up to the basic design of the scheme) they will be able to match the Coalition's arguments. "No one is kidding themselves people don't hate the idea of a carbon tax right now," a senior government figure says. "But in 18 months the story could be very different - at least we hope it will be."

A senior minister involved in the negotiations with the Greens and Independents says there will be plenty of hard factual information to push back against Abbott's campaign. "The policy is solid with much of the work having been done when we designed the carbon pollution reduction scheme in 2009," the minister says. "We can answer every point Abbott is making and, as long as people are engaged, we think it will hit home."

More here

Only a specialist US school can help autistic Australian boy, say family

A MELBOURNE family is moving to the US for "emergency education" because it believes the Victorian school system has failed their 11-year-old son. The autistic boy is from one of at least nine families suing the Education Department through the Federal Court for discrimination and what they claim is inadequate education.

Some families say they have spent up to $100,000 on therapy, tutoring and legal fees in their bids to get their "left behind" disabled children up to speed.

While experts warn parents their court battles could come with big financial and psychological costs, the desperate mums and dads say legal action has become a last resort.

The mother moving her family to the US next month said she sent her "severely autistic" son to three Melbourne schools before researching overseas options.

The family will continue Federal Court action against the Education Department after settling in a US school that specialises in teaching autistic children. "It's very hard going to court, but it's also very hard not to. We're hoping to avoid a ghastly outcome for our son," the mother said.

"It's a pretty lonely life for him at the moment. He does not have grade-five language and he doesn't have much confidence around his peers. But he's a learner, so we're excited about him making progress."

Documents lodged with the Federal Court show the family's claims include expenses for "emergency education" in the US. Other students with discrimination cases in the Federal Court include:

A GIRL, 13, with several diagnosed learning disabilities who, according to her mother, has been denied funding for an aide despite "having the reading and writing skills of a grade one (student)".

A BOY, 16, allegedly suffering low self-esteem, anxiety, bullying and victimisation because his learning difficulties were not properly addressed by a Melbourne high school.

Bendigo mother Anne Maree Stewart is also considering legal action against the state education system. She claims her son Matthew, 9, who has a form of autism called Asperger's syndrome, has at times been "treated like a piece of dirt" because of his disability.

Children with a Disability Australia executive officer Stephanie Gotlib said education standards were the chief concern for parents of disabled children.

But child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg urged parents to think carefully about legal action. "I can certainly understand their frustration. But the psychological impact of having your shortcomings paraded in the public arena may not be in the best interests of these kids."

An Education Department spokeswoman said its $550 million Program for Students with Disabilities supported 20,000 students.


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