Monday, June 06, 2011

Julia Gillard feels the heat over carbon tax backlash as voters call for new election

AUSTRALIANS are demanding Julia Gillard call a fresh election, saying she has no mandate for a carbon tax. With less than a third of all voters now claiming to support the tax, the federal government is facing a nationwide backlash if it proceeds.

An exclusive Galaxy poll commissioned by The Daily Telegraph has revealed 73 per cent of people claim they will end up worse off under the tax. Just 7 per cent believe they could end up better off in some way.

More fatal for the Prime Minister, however, was the overwhelming support for an election to be called on the issue - confirming widespread anger over her broken election promise not to introduce a carbon tax. A total of 64 per cent said they wanted a fresh election. Only 24 per cent believed the PM had a mandate.

And in a growing sentiment that the tax would not help solve the climate change problem, 75 per cent believed it would have only a minor impact on the environment - or no impact at all.

The devastating poll results, showing total opposition now at 58 per cent, confirm the government has so far failed to make an effective case for its tax.

They also reflect Liberal Party internal polling showing support for Tony Abbott's campaign to force the government to an early election, despite analysis showing the Coalition's alternative direct action plan would be even more costly.

Galaxy pollster David Briggs said opposition to the tax was entrenched. "The problem for the government is that most voters believe the personal cost outweighs the environmental benefits," he said. "Such is concern over the carbon tax that the majority of voters believe Julia Gillard should call an early election to seek a mandate for the tax rather than have the legislation passed in this parliament."

The federal government is expected to announce details of the tax within weeks. It will not only set the carbon price - believed to be between $20 and $30 per tonne - but also the level of compensation households will receive to offset the cost of living rise that will accompany the tax.

The carbon tax is only planned to be an interim measure before a transition to a market-based price - an emissions trading scheme.

Opponents of the scheme have succeeded in casting fears that the price is likely to rise significantly no matter what is set in the short term. The government has tried to assuage fears by assuring people that lower and middle-income families will be compensated for the associated price rises - particularly around electricity bills, which could rise by between $300 and $500 a year in Sydney. Ms Gillard has said the political fight over climate change policy was "a long game". The poll was conducted between June 1 and 2, based on a national sample of 500 voters.

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Illegal immigration: Has there ever been a policy fiasco this bad?

Greg Sheridan

Cane with dignity and respect cartoon. Picture: Bill Leak Source: The Australian
IS the Malaysian solution now unravelling in the same way as the East Timor solution, bearing witness to the astonishing amateurism of Julia Gillard and Immigration Minister Chris Bowen in international diplomacy?

Among a bewildering plenitude of chaos and confusion in the asylum-seeker/illegal immigrant imbroglio the Gillard government has created, one acute operational dilemma is obvious. How can it send unaccompanied minors, boys and girls, to an uncertain fate in Malaysia, with all the risks to them that this involves?

Yet if the government grants an exception for unaccompanied minors, it will create a massive incentive for people-smugglers. If a family sends a son or daughter on a boat, perhaps with secret supervision of an uncle or cousin on the boat, the kid will probably get permanent residency in Australia.

This will entail in due course, in fact probably in short order, the right to sponsor the rest of the family to come to Australia. In terms of the business model of the people-smugglers, this is the gold jackpot. Come on down, send the boats and send the kids.

This is an astounding mess the government has created. As soon as it announced the Malaysian solution, politicians and journalists asked about children. The government responded with customary contemptuous bluster, and refused to answer the question.

But it was always a critical question and it cannot be fudged. It now turns out that the government, in a positive rapture of incompetence and amateurism, had not even decided its own attitude to the question.

It certainly had not sorted out the matter with the Malaysians. It finally deigned to answer the question on the children only when confronted with a leaked draft agreement by the ABC's Lateline. Then the hapless Bowen said yes, kids would be sent to Malaysia. Cue the predictable outrage from the Greens, the illegal immigrant lobby and even sections of the Labor Party. And the Tony Abbott-led opposition, with Scott Morrison landing heavy blows at every turn, was able to contrast the superior human rights guarantees in its Pacific Solution and in the Nauru detention centre the Howard government ran.

So lickety split, Bowen started on his familiar confused retreat. Only some kids would be sent to Malaysia after all. There was nothing automatic about it. Kids in danger would be individually assessed and perhaps not sent.

Meanwhile the boats still come, the people-smugglers having worked out that this government is all bluff and no delivery. Since the government announced the deal with Malaysia a month ago, about 200 boatpeople have arrived. A quarter of the Malaysian solution has already gone, and the Malaysian solution does not yet actually exist because no agreement has been finalised.

Why did the government publicly announce the Malaysian solution before the details were negotiated and the framework worked out?

Surely not because it had to announce at the same time that the East Timor solution was finally dead? Surely not because there had just been a series of riots, fires and assaults in the detention centres, and it needed to look as though it was doing something? Surely after the slow-motion debacle of the East Timor solution collapse, this government could not possibly have been stupid enough to put spin, and an attempt to win one day's good media coverage, ahead of important diplomatic matters of real substance?

The contradictions in the government's position abound. Gillard fiercely assured the parliament the Malaysians would not have power of veto over which 800 individuals were sent to Malaysia.

Problem was, this contradicted the Malaysian government's view. And a moment's thought bears out the reasonableness of the Malaysian position. No government welcomes people to its soil without any power of choice, without even knowing who they are, leaving the choice to another government.

The Gillard government's inability to finalise the deal with Malaysia suggests it may be falling apart, and will certainly discourage other nations from engaging in such deals with it. At first there was some interest from the Thais and even the Indonesians. After all, it was a five-for-one swap to Australia's detriment, and Canberra was willing to splash out any amount of money to buy a result.

But the Thais and Indonesians saw how Malaysia's good name has been dragged through the mud in Australia on this business, and suddenly they lost interest.

The Malaysians should brace themselves for months, perhaps years, of relentless negative publicity and attack in Australia and internationally if this deal goes ahead. Because suddenly every aspect of Malaysian policy on illegal immigrants will be seen by the media as Australia's business.

I'm sure that's not what Kuala Lumpur had in mind when this deal was first broached with them, but it's what they'll be putting up with if the deal goes ahead.

At the same time the Malaysian opposition is starting to get serious about criticising its government on the deal.

But wait, there's more. The Gillard government did not even tell the UN High Commissioner for Refugees of its plan to send unaccompanied minors to Malaysia, and now the UNHCR says it can't support the deal.

Has there ever been a policy fiasco as comprehensive as this? Will they teach it at the Harvard Business School as the definitive case study of mismanagement?

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, sensibly, left for Europe and the Middle East at the weekend. This humiliating fiasco belongs to Julia Gillard and Chris Bowen.

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Anna Bligh presides over more than 4000 extra bureaucrats, public service wage bill $320 million

MORE than 4000 extra bureaucrats are strolling Brisbane's George St since Anna Bligh was appointed premier. An analysis by The Courier-Mail has revealed a 12 per cent spike in non-frontline State Government positions over the past three years. The blowout has forced up the taxpayer-funded wage bill by about $320 million annually.

In an effort to rein in wage costs, the Bligh Government will now spend $250 million on lucrative golden handshakes to convince 3500 non-frontline bureaucrats to retire.

The hiring of about 4300 additional public servants since 2007 coincided with the global financial crisis, which wreaked havoc on the Budget and forced the sale of state assets.

Ms Bligh yesterday conceded "backroom" positions had grown but it was critical to get the balance right. "Non-frontline staff are essential to carry out jobs like filing police reports and maintaining patient records in our hospitals, and operational duties like cleaning and maintenance," she told The Courier-Mail. "The highly trained medical staff should be treating patients not filing paperwork."

But Liberal Nationals Leader Campbell Newman said the figures exposed the "reckless financial management" costing Queenslanders. "This is why the Government is so busy raising taxes because they are desperately looking for money to pay for this out-of-control organisation," he said.

The Government has consistently argued that the growth in the public service has been driven by additional frontline positions, particularly doctors, nurses and police. But Queensland Public Service Commission statistics show the percentage of employees in positions classified as frontline has remained static.

In 2007, there were 179,872 public servants in Queensland, with 79.85 per cent classified as being in frontline positions. The remaining 36,244 employees were predominantly doing department desk duties.

By 2010, the latest figures available, the public service surpassed 200,000 full-time employees with 79.72 per cent serving on the frontline. This leaves 40,561, meaning more than five extra non-frontline staff were employed every working day over the three-year period.

Ms Bligh said the percentage of non-frontline staff would fall under voluntary redundancies.

Mr Newman also promised to rein in administration and instead deliver frontline services such as doctors and nurses.

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In Queensland, 335 robbers were convicted last year but 100 of them escaped jail

ARMED robbers are walking free from court as angry Queenslanders say they have had enough of lenient sentences for violent crimes.

Of the 335 adults and juveniles convicted of armed robbery offences last year, 100 were let loose with no time behind bars.

The startling figures come as an overwhelming 91 per cent of people told a Sunday Mail Queensland Speaks survey they were concerned our courts were too soft.

Many offenders who were locked up got out early after judges gave them partially suspended sentences.

Attorney-General Paul Lucas yesterday said he would ask the new Sentencing Advisory Council to look at abolishing suspended sentences as part of a crackdown on armed robbers.

In an epidemic that has officers, retailers and victims demanding action, there have been at least 394 armed robberies in Queensland in 2011, latest police figures show.

In an interview with The Sunday Mail, Chief Justice Paul de Jersey said drugs were at the root of most armed robberies and violent crimes.

"It's either because the person committing the offence is under the influence of drugs, hence the lack of fear ... or they're after money to purchase drugs for themselves, or they're after money to pay off drug debts," Justice de Jersey said.

Some people "will never think sentences are severe enough" but judges had to balance deterrence with rehabilitation and each case differed, he said.

"If there is clear evidence that the frequency of ... a particular category of crime is significantly increasing, the Court of Appeal could be asked to ratchet up the level of sentencing for that particular crime," he said.

Southport District Court judge Clive Wall is already on a collision course with appeals judges after declaring in April that armed robberies were so bad in the region he would start increasing sentences.

But lawyer and civil liberties spokesman Terry O'Gorman said it was a myth courts were too soft. He said sentencing figures were misleading because they may involve minor incidents.

Citing a series of recent cases of armed robbers going to jail, he said prison or detention should be a last resort.

"It is not the sentence that armed robbers think of when they're committing an offence. It's the likelihood of apprehension," Mr O'Gorman said.

But the Queensland Police Union and the United Retailer Federation want mandatory jail time for armed robbers.

"When you're at the other end of a gun, you don't know if it's a replica or real, irrespective of how 'minor' courts make out an armed robbery was," union president Ian Leavers said.

"Letting people off with a lenient sentence for threatening violence because they're a juvenile is telling them their behaviour is OK. We're pushing them into a life of crime."

Queensland Homicide Victims' Support Group manager Ross Thompson said there had been long-standing concerns about sentencing.

"They need to get the message across to these people committing these offences that they will not be treated lightly," he said.

Victoria recently abolished suspended sentences for serious crimes including armed robberies in a move met by strong resistance from the judiciary.

Queensland's Sentencing Advisory Council is already examining serious crimes that could be subjected to minimum non-parole periods and will ask for public submissions from later this week.

Bond University criminologist Wayne Petherick agreed the community was fed up with armed robberies but urged authorities to focus on the causes.

"You've got to look at it and go 'we've got a drug problem or a self-esteem problem and that's where you've got to focus your efforts'," he said.

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Australia's high prices

Australians visting the USA certainly note the difference in prices there. Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich finds it is similar in Germany

It was in a busy shopping street in the city centre of L├╝beck where I spotted them. Glowing in bright yellow, the fruits at the market stall looked exactly as I remembered them from Australia. But when I saw the price of 79 Euro cents per kilo (approximately AU$1), I wondered whether they were really bananas.

I am currently on vacation in Germany. As usual, it’s a trip down memory lane to the country where I grew up. But this time, I am more puzzled than ever before. Though I always knew Germany as a country of penny pinchers, it had never struck me as cheap as it presents itself to visitors from Australia today.

And it’s not just bananas. Swiss chocolate bars, offered at a premium price in Australia, are selling dirt cheap at discount shops. You can stay at five-star hotels at rates that would just about get you a grubby motel room in East Maitland. And the other night, I had a large beer at a local microbrewery for the equivalent of $2.50. In Germany, it seems to be happy hour all year round.

Part of the phenomenon may be explained by the Aussie dollar’s dazzling exchange rate and the Euro’s ongoing crisis. However, that’s not the full story. Germany may be exceptionally cheap, but Australia has become very expensive.

Nowadays, Australian politicians seem physically unable to deliver speeches without paying homage to either hard-working or forgotten families. Yet from this lip-service, little concrete action ever follows.

Bananas are a case in point. After cyclone Yasi destroyed three-quarters of Australia’s banana crop, prices skyrocketed and may soon reach up to $17 a kilo. But even this extreme price increase was not enough to loosen restrictions on banana imports from other countries.

Tragic as the cyclone disaster was for Australian banana growers, the world market price for bananas has barely budged, as German prices demonstrate. Germany of course does not grow bananas and so there is no need to protect local farmers.

Talk is cheap in Australia. Everything else is not. I better enjoy my affordable bananas while I am still on holiday.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 3 June. Enquiries to cis@cis.org.au. Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Can't speak for all but growth in Public Servant numbers has NOT been driven by more Doctors and Nurses in terms of bed numbers. In fact they are barely keeping up.