Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Muslims can't help themselves

What they are comes out all the time: Aggressive and obnoxious

All causes need a strong narrative, and anti-Muslim and anti-burqa sentiment just got one. Carnita Matthews, 47, had a conviction for a false accusation against a cop overturned because the court could not be sure it was indeed her that walked into a police station and made the complaint.

It all started, and finished, with a burqa. Read all about it here, here and here.

So this hysterical woman started it all when she verbally abused the policeman who was just doing his job. He asked her to remove her niqab (her face veil) and she refused. "You are racist. all cops are racist," she said, and threatened to go to court.

She should probably have been a little more sanguine about the fine she received - it was far from her first, and she has a history of not paying them.

And just like that she is the woman who cried `racist', who makes it harder for genuine claims of racism and discrimination to be taken seriously, who ruins it for people who face serious obstacles.

She could have overcome religious laws in this one instance. If it was impossible for her to show her face to a male police officer, she could have argued quietly and reasonably for a female police officer to attend so she could prove her identity. She didn't.

The next culprit is the burqa-clad woman who walked into a police station with a statutory declaration saying the police officer had torn her burqa away from her face. A judge originally decided that woman was indeed Ms Matthews, at which point she was convicted of making a false allegation, of committing a "deliberate and malicious and, to a degree, a ruthless crime". This is the conviction that was overturned this week because another judge said he could not be absolutely certain it was Ms Matthews.

Whoever that woman was set out to bring down that police officer. What she did was commit a crime that gives far too much fuel to all those who hate the burqa with a visceral hate; who would ban it because it rouses the beast of their xenophobia. Who turn to arguments about security and identifying people to justify their desire to prohibit the full face veil.

She made it that much harder for every other burqa-wearer and their defenders.

Then we come to Ms Matthews' supporters, the angry and aggressive mob outside the court where the conviction was quashed. They apparently could have walked peacefully past the waiting media, but chose to swear and charge at them instead.

It's as though they decided to incarnate an angry Muslim stereotype, to deliberately shore up the negative images that haunt Islam. At the risk of sounding like a finger-waggling old nanna; they all ought to be ashamed of themselves.

The burqa should not be banned. Banning it is as bad as forcing someone to wear it.

It shouldn't be so hard to be sensitive in this debate without either side being hypersensitive. Clarify the laws. Ensure people know their obligations under Australian law, and that police can carry out their job sensitively, but unhindered by futile political correctness. Fingerprint people if you have to prove their identity. Or ensure female police officers are available. Or carry a device and take a picture.


Garnaut: Just another deceitful Greenie

An exponent of that old Green/Left skill: How to convey false impressions without actually lying

Professor Ross Garnaut recently compared Australia and Norway in the context of climate change policy and a carbon tax. It is both curious that he should choose this comparison and that no journalist, as far as I am aware, has thought to question it.

In his report, Prof Garnaut states that Norway is the "only other developed country with endowments of fossil fuels that are in any way comparable to Australia's" (The Garnaut Review 2011, p. 52).

He also set the stage during his speech in Perth at the John Curtin Institute of Public Policy breakfast meeting, 2 June 2011, by stating that Norway has a larger endowment of hydrocarbons per capita than does Australia, and yet exhibits lower per capita emission.

The argument then led to the fact that Norway has had a carbon tax since 1991, with the clear implication being that the lower emissions were due to the tax.

Is this point of comparison relevant to the debate? Should we make a comparison with a country that Australia may actually emulate? If so, Norway definitely is not the country of choice.

While Norway may be comparable in terms of fossil fuel endowment, it uses virtually none of this endowment to generate its electricity. It primarily exports its produced hydrocarbons.

By contrast, the electricity generation sector of Australia is heavily fossil fuel reliant. Perhaps more importantly for the thrust of Prof Garnaut's argument, Norway has not used its fossil fuel endowment to produce electricity since well before it introduced a carbon tax.

This is relevant for policy comparisons because the thrust (at least implicitly) of Prof Garnaut's argument is that Norway's introduction of a carbon tax has led it to be a relatively lower emitter than Australia.

Norway produces nearly all of its electricity from hydroelectricity projects. In 2008, 98.5% of Norway's electricity production came from hydro, and less than 0.05% came from fossil fuels of any form.

Just over 0.75% percent of Norway's electricity production came from geothermal, solar, and wind renewable sources, whereas these sources represented 1.6% of Australia's production. Neither country registered any geothermal, solar, or wind capacity in 1990. These numbers are readily available in the International Energy Agency publication Electricity Information 2010.

In terms of installed capacity by generation type, in 1990 (the year before the introduction of a carbon tax) hydro accounted for 99.1% of capacity in Norway. In 2008, the share was 96.6% of total installed capacity.

Given the relative status between installed generation capacity and actual production, the non-hydro installed capacity was relatively underutilized; 98.5% of production coming from 96.6% of the capacity.

Both coal and natural gas generation capacity increased over this period with the carbon tax in place.

It is also useful to note that Australia's population is about 4.5 times larger than Norway's. Australia consumes about 9.9 TWh of electricity per million population, while Norway consumes about 23.5 TWh per million population.

Finally, an article published in the peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy in 2004 (Greenhouse gas emissions in Norway: do carbon taxes work?", A. Bruvoll and B.M. Larsen) shows that total CO2 emissions in Norway continued to increase after the imposition of the tax. While CO2 emissions intensity declined by 14%, the carbon tax could only be credited for 2%.

According to this study, there were a range of carbon taxes, differing according to the type of fuel. In 1999, the highest tax was US$51 per tonne of CO2, which led to the carbon tax constituting 13% of the purchaser price. Coal was assessed at US$24 per tonne and US$22 per tonne for auto diesel.

Hence, with higher carbon taxes than those contemplated by the Australian Government emissions continued to rise and only a small fraction of the reduction in CO2 emissions intensity are be attributed to the tax.

The Norwegian carbon tax failed to produce a reduction in CO2 emissions even in a country with almost no hydrocarbon-based electricity generation.


Illegitimate government propaganda

Julia Gillard can keep the $12 million. I'll write the Prime Minister's carbon tax ads for free. Here's how they go. Cue suitably sincere, earnest voice over: "The carbon tax not only offers a better future for the planet, but also offers a better future for all Australians. Most of us will soon be financially better off. Businesses will be compensated, along with hard-pressed families. Dirty, filthy polluting industries will disappear, while a vast array of wonderful, new, environmentally clean industries will now have the necessary funding to flourish. New jobs will be born, as we enter a clean, happy, financially secure new world. The carbon tax. A better future for us all."

The visuals will feature "real" people, although they will of course be actors - but hopefully not ones you recognise from other ads. There's nothing worse than seeing an attractive young woman (representing our future) living in a bright, carbon-free world and then suddenly popping up with a heavy period or irritable bowel syndrome in the next ad break.

But one thing we all agree on. No Hollywood stars. We don't want a repeat of the Cate and Michael charade.

Finding a few familiar renewable schemes - windmills, solar panels and so on - will be important, although we might give Kevin Rudd's pink batts a miss. Instead, we'll have lots of fun showing the industries that will be created by the proceeds of the carbon tax. Because they don't actually exist yet, we have creative license to show pretty much whatever fanciful jobs we please.

And therein lies the problem. I'm sorry, PM, but I have to come clean. Our ad campaign ain't gonna work.

Why? Because you can't advertise the benefits of something that doesn't exist. Imagine if McDonalds were to come out with an amazing ad about their new, healthy, fat-free, low-cholesterol, awesome-tasting burger and then just when everyone was salivating like crazy the company admitted that the kitchen was still struggling with the recipe. Not only would they would be in breach of every aspect of the advertising code and ethics, but the punters would tear them apart.

The carbon tax ads would be every bit as dishonest. The multi-party climate change committee (comprised of Labor, Greens, and independent MPs) has yet to agree on any of the specifics of the tax, whether it be the cost of carbon or who gets compensated. Forget the recipe - these guys are still squabbling over the ingredients.

The brutal truth is that if you have to rely on advertising to persuade the public at this stage of the game, then you've already lost the argument. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn from the government's announcement that they have awarded $12 million to an advertising agency to spruik the not-yet-finalised carbon tax. It is - not to put too fine a point on it - a scandalous abuse of process, reminiscent of NSW Labor at their very worst.

Independent Tony Windsor was quick to bell the cat. Displaying a praiseworthy (and hitherto well-camouflaged) sense of propriety on the carbon tax debacle, the member for New England labelled the decision as "spending public funds for the purposes of propaganda". Rob Oakeshott also displayed hitherto equally unseen qualities of brevity and conciseness: "This is dumb."

Governments have every right to advertise. But the justification has always been the necessity to let people know specifically how certain projects or laws apply to their particular circumstances. This is the only acceptable criteria for government (as opposed to party political) advertising. There is no point introducing complex legislation that people either don't understand, or simply aren't aware of. Whether it be the ill-fated WorkChoices campaign, the more successful GST ads, campaigns about government rebates, tax concessions, health regulations or travel advice, government advertising is a worthwhile tool for imparting the right degree of information in a palatable format. Of course, the rules have been cynically bent over the years, by all governments, so that a political (or persuasive) narrative is allowed to creep in, blurring the lines between what is partisan political ideology and what is practical, objective information.

Depressingly, in what now appears to be an all-too-familiar pattern, Julia Gillard is doing precisely what she vowed in opposition that she would never do; waste taxpayers' money on expensive, superfluous ads - to promote a tax she vowed during the election campaign that she would never introduce.

The ethics are clear; government advertising must never be political. Up until now, the worst offenders have been the former NSW government, who time and again brazenly flouted this convention. Two years ago, I watched first-hand as Macquarie Street asked numerous advertising agencies in Sydney to pitch on a campaign to sell the wonders of the government's new multibillion-dollar underground Metro. This amazing piece of infrastructure would be a godsend to Sydney, ran the brief, and would change all our lives for the better. An amazing list of benefits were trotted out on beautifully art directed power point slides. The catch? The first clink of a shovel hitting bitumen had yet to be heard. We were being asked to sell the benefits of something that didn't exist. Sound familiar?

Describing in advertising terms why the consumer needs such-and-such a new piece of legislation is where that threshold from advertising to propaganda is crossed. The "why" is the job of the politicians, and to a lesser extent, of the media, to sell. The "how, what, when and where" is the legitimate job of government advertising to explain.

Party political advertising, on the other hand, is entirely about the "why". It is about forging an emotional connection to a candidate or a party, based on shared values and a vision for the future. "Kevin 07" was a marvelous piece of advertising because, much like Gough Whitlam's "It's Time" campaign in 1972, it managed to capture the spirit and euphoria of the times without actually giving away any policy details.

And this is what, inevitably, the carbon tax ads will do. They will seek to persuade the consumer why a carbon tax is a good thing, rather than how a carbon tax will work. Naturally, the ad agency would use all the tricks of the trade to dress up an overtly political message as an informative one, but in doing so they may be pushed by a desperate government into flouting the rules. And what our $12 million dollars may buy us is an emotional, feel-good message that unacceptably crosses the line from government information to political spin.


Recall elections for NSW?

A PANEL of constitutional experts will investigate introducing California-style recall elections in NSW to give voters a "safety valve" to dump unpopular or corrupt governments.

The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, yesterday announced he had appointed David Jackson QC, constitutional expert George Williams and politics academic Elaine Thompson to report on the issues around introducing recall provisions.

The Premier said 18 US states had a recall mechanism, including California, which saw Arnold Schwarzenegger become governor in 2003 as a result of a recall election, as well as the Canadian province of British Columbia.

Mr O'Farrell proposed examining recall elections last year as voter anger with the former scandal-plagued Labor government intensified but there was no mechanism to force an early general election. "People across this state were desperate for an early election so they could throw out an incompetent, disastrous and corrupt government that NSW had," Mr O'Farrell said yesterday.

"While we supported fixed, four-year parliamentary terms, what became clear during the last parliament was the need for a safety valve to rid voters of corrupt, incompetent governments in NSW. "A recall provision would give power back to the people."

The recall provision would allow for the sacking of a government based on public petitions, triggering an early election.

The Premier said that currently the only way to allow an early election was a vote of no confidence in the government or the failure to pass supply.

Mr O'Farrell said the panel would be asked to consider the viability of introducing a recall provision in NSW and the relevant requirements to force an early election. The panel will report by September 30.

To establish a recall procedure in NSW, the Constitution Act 1902 would need to be amended by a referendum.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

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