Saturday, June 11, 2011

A tragic opera that never seems to stop

'Urgent' sub defects shame navy. NOT ONE of the 6 subs is now seaworthy. They have suddenly gone from being too new to too old -- without ever working properly at any time

MORE than 40 serious defects have been discovered on one of the navy's Collins-class submarines during the past six months, highlighting the growing challenge of keeping the fleet seaworthy.

The defects, described as "urgent", have been found aboard HMAS Dechaineux, which limped back to Perth 10 days ago from Singapore after problems were discovered in the boat's propulsion system. The problems forced Dechaineux to cancel its involvement in a five-power defence exercise in the South China Sea last month.

The Australian revealed yesterday that none of the six Collins-class submarines was able to be put to sea, with four submarines in long- or medium-term maintenance and its two remaining "operational" submarines, Dechaineux and Waller, currently undergoing inspections for mechanical problems at HMAS Stirling in Perth.

Navy chief Ray Griggs said yesterday the two submarines "were currently in their operating cycles" but declined to say whether they were immediately deployable. "The Collins-class submarine is a complex capability," he said. "As with any piece of complex machinery operating in a harsh environment, unscheduled mechanical failures will occur."

The $10 billion Collins-class fleet has been undermined by breakdowns, accidents and the vessels' growing unreliability.

Opposition defence spokesman David Johnston said yesterday: "Our broken submarine fleet is of enormous concern. At a total cost of operating, sustaining and upgrading our submarines fast approaching $800 million per year, we are not getting much in return. The minister needs to sit up and take notice that our broken submarine fleet is no longer a maintenance issue but an issue of national security."

Australian Defence Force chief Angus Houston has warned that the Collins-class fleet was ageing and this would have an impact on the availability of the boats.

"The fleet of submarines is going to take a lot more maintenance than it did back in (former defence minister) Robert Ray's time when it was brand new, or back five or 10 years when it was travelling really well," Air Chief Marshal Houston said in a Senate estimates hearing in February last year. A Senate estimates hearing heard last week the fleet now costs more than $1m a day to maintain.

When they were built in the 1990s, it was envisaged that four submarines would be available at any one time, with two in maintenance. Recent reality has seen an average of one or two submarines available at any one time.

The government plans to build 12 new submarines to replace the Collins fleet in the 2020s, but critics say this project is behind schedule and the life of the Collins fleet may need to be extended.


European pissants, humbug hypocrisy

Gary Johns lets 'em have it, using some good Australian slang. He is a former Labor Party parliamentarian and minister. He clearly still has a good command of that party's characteristic language. His rejection of any cultural cringe by Australia will be widely applauded by Australians across the board

So that's decided, then, is it? Australia is a pissant nation of tossers, too afraid to throw in its lot with European carbon traders and open its borders to boatpeople.

Australia's critics - among them the BBC, The Economist, Ross Garnaut, Julian Burnside QC and Michael Grubb of Cambridge - have really had a field day in the past fortnight.

Apparently, we are pissants because we are in the middle of deciding public policy responses to two particularly tough issues: climate change and boatpeople.

Our elders and betters worry we may be coming down on the "wrong side" of those issues.

By the way, pissant is an offensive term meaning regarded as being of no importance, significance or consequence. And tosser is an offensive term meaning a person (usually male) regarded as unintelligent or contemptible.

Well, let this pissant tosser explain what is happening in Australia. Many Australians question the benefit of being part of a nonexistent global carbon-trading scheme and almost all want to control their borders to deter illegal immigration.

These are perfectly intelligent positions and are of great significance to Australians.

Australians are aware of the consequences of their actions on both issues. Australia does not want to be at the negotiating table with the important European Union or UN forums when the table involves trading its freedom for few benefits. Australians prize sovereignty. In every conceivable sense of the term Australia is a successful liberal democracy.

Australians are great joiners but they do not regard themselves as being at the arse-end of the world and therefore desperate to please important forums.

Many Australians have not been impressed by Europe's heroic climate change response of far-fetched targets for the reduction of greenhouse gases. Australians know the only way Europe meets its target is through the displacement of manufactures to Asia.

Europeans may produce less carbon dioxide, allegedly a result of their carbon trading scheme, but Europeans consume increasing amounts of embedded carbon in their goods and services.

Indeed, it was reported in The Economist last year that emissions made on their citizens' behalf elsewhere in the world add a third or more to most European countries' emissions.

Pissant is Britain, by subsuming the greatest common law jurisdiction in the world under European human rights law.

Pissant is a Europe that cannot hold together the euro much longer because some of its countries - Greece and Portugal come to mind - cannot balance a budget.

Pissant is a European open-door immigration policy that, combined with its multicultural policy, has been so badly handled that what were once tolerant societies have become far less so.

Pissant is a Germany that has vowed to close its nuclear power stations - talk about a failure of nerve.

Pissant is Britain which, while announcing ever-more heroic targets to decarbonise its economy, cannot collectively boil a kettle after the evening episode of EastEnders because its own power stations cannot cope. It draws on French nuclear power to fill the load. Swapping power across borders is clever; pretending the source of power is part of decarbonisation is not.

Let me provide a little geography lesson to those in the metropolitan capitals where the great and the good gather.

Britain, for example, sends delegates to the European Commission at Brussels. The poor old Belgians are falling apart, unable to decide whether they are Flemish or French. Nevertheless, if ever there were an equivalent EU commission in Asia, Australian delegates would meet in Beijing. The "AU" commissioners would be heavily weighted to China.

Australia does not want to be locked into an Asian forum that resembles the straitjacket the EU has become. Australians choose carefully.

The statement by former prime minister John Howard at the 2001 election, "We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances under which they come", has bipartisan support.

Julia Gillard is belatedly attempting to re-create the Howard doctrine on illegal arrivals. The number of people who wish to seek Australia's protection will again be determined by Australian officials, in conjunction with UN High Commissioner for Refugees officials, and not people-smugglers.

It is craven to believe that when a UN human rights official, and soon maybe a carbon cop, walks in the door Australians have to stand to attention and salute.

Australia helped write the human-rights rule book. Australia has among the cheapest and cleanest carbon sources in the world. Australia will not pretend to decarbonise its economy.

Australia perforce may outsource some of its manufactures; it cannot outsource its resources. Australia will sell these to Asia and in the process lift millions from poverty.

Australia's carbon production will drive consumption in the Third World, and in time developing countries' carbon footprint will grow and then, like ours, moderate when they have solved the needs of their people.


Australia's migrant intake to be more 'English'

AUSTRALIA'S migrant intake is set to become more "English" and less Asian because of a tough language test.

An Immigration Department report says fewer than one in five skilled migrants comes from major English background nations such as Britain, the United States, South Africa and Canada.

The skilled program is dominated by people from Asian countries including India, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka -- many of whom struggle with English. "This selection strategy has profound implications for employment outcomes in a knowledge economy," the report said.

But report author Prof Lesleyanne Hawthorne, from Melbourne University, said yesterday that things would change when tougher English standards for skilled migrants were introduced by the Federal Government from July 1.

Prof Hawthorne said people with high English fluency would get extra points and employer-sponsored migrants would move to the front of the queue. "So we will see a high proportion of our skilled migrants in the next few years from English-speaking backgrounds," she told the Herald Sun.

The make-up of the skilled migration program was being strongly influenced by employers, who tended to pick Anglo-background workers for temporary skilled visas. "Employers ... in the knowledge economy are picking people basically from OECD countries," she said.

The report, prepared for the Immigration Department, compared the skilled migration policies of Australia and New Zealand. It found that in recent years about 17 per cent of skilled migrants to Australia were from Anglo-background nations compared with almost half in NZ.


Barnaby prescribes a reality pill

Barnaby Joyce is leader of the Nationals in the Senate

Australia has to take a reality pill about its position in the world and our effective relationship with our near neighbours. It is fantasy to believe the people of India, China, Indonesia and so many other places will be inclined to have their people stay one minute longer in poverty or hunger because of a self-indulgent internal political debate about an impossible outcome, cooling the planet, from Canberra.

If we want to be relevant and, more to the point, survive in what is our region, Southeast Asia, then we need to help them get the power on and provide them with the resources to do it, provide them with the reliable high-quality food that we take for granted and realise that trading gets Australia far more brownie points than preaching.

We have taken decades trying to get our nation to understand that we do not live in Europe. Why are we now so intent on putting ourselves back there?

We compare our carbon policy with Britain's, our debt with that of Spain or Greece. Many in the US can speak Spanish but how many in Australia can speak a second language from our neighbourhood?

An education revolution will not occur once an Australian child can turn on an iPad but when they leave Year 10 competent in three languages. Shutting down the Murray-Darling Basin so Southeast Asia feeds us rather than we feed them is so naive it is culpable. Bringing in a carbon tax so that we can start making our streets dimmer and our people poorer will collect contempt rather than admiration from a region that is focused on precisely the opposite.

Telling Indonesians they will not eat any Australian beef, even after the more conscientious have invested millions in upgrading many abattoirs to our standards, sends a clear message that it does not matter what you do, Australia is out of touch, and even when you do engage with Australia it cannot really be relied on to understand.



Three articles below

Climate policy costs large yet still underestimated

Henry Ergas

TO get an intelligent answer, ask an intelligent question. It was the failure to do so that undermined the modelling of the carbon pollution reduction scheme. From the snippets Wayne Swan released on Wednesday of carbon modelling 2.0, it has exactly the same weakness. Not that the snippets lack interest. Most striking is just how large the costs of the new scheme are estimated to be.

According to the Treasurer, per capita incomes will grow by 1.2 per cent annually. The scheme is expected to reduce that growth rate by 0.1 percentage point. That reduction, Swan claims, is a mere trifle. But it amounts to a permanent 8 per cent cut in our long-term growth rate. To see what that implies, consider the present value of the forgone income; that is, the absolute value of the cost to 2050. That present value is in the order of $1.4 trillion. The proposed policy would therefore cost Australia about 1 1/2 years' national income. But even that large amount is a significant underestimate, assuming the modelling is similar to that done for the CPRS.

First, it assumes moving to the scheme involves no transition costs. But resources are not infinitely malleable. Substantial costs would be incurred not merely in moving to the scheme but also if we eventually wanted to abandon it.

Second and even more important, the modelling assumes our commercial rivals are implementing a similar scheme. Given that assumption, the modelling does not assess the government's proposal. Rather, it models an entirely different policy: that of introducing an emissions trading scheme when such a scheme is being introduced by our competitors.

To cost the government's proposal, one therefore needs to ask a more sensible question: what are the consequences for Australia of acting unilaterally? If doing so only doubled the adverse impact on our growth rate, the policy's cost would exceed three years' national income. Of course, the government denies it is acting unilaterally. Rather, pointing to the Productivity Commission's just released report, it says many countries are implementing climate change policies.

But the PC did not examine Australia's mining competitors. And in those countries it did examine, the policies adopted are often ineffectual and inefficient. Moreover, those countries generally exempt their trade-exposed, carbon-intensive industries from paying for carbon emissions. By imposing a carbon tax on those industries, we would truly be flying alone. The government's response to this involves six arguments that are individually incorrect and collectively incoherent.

* First, it asserts, contrary to all evidence, that the world is on track to achieve credible, enforceable agreement on reducing carbon emissions.

* Second, it argues that whatever the difficulties, action by Australia would significantly speed global agreement.

However, even if the scheme did advance global agreement, the question is whether there are not cheaper options for achieving that goal. Spending even a tiny fraction of the policy's cost scaling up our participation in the global process would surely be every bit as effective in advancing international agreement. And if those efforts failed, we would not be left with a costly scheme entrenched by constituencies with an interest in its perpetuation.

* Third, the government says its proposal would reduce uncertainty and promote investment, notably in electricity generation. Uncertainty about carbon prices does create issues for electric power investment. But that uncertainty is inevitable given the absence of international agreement. Trying to deal with it by imposing needless costs on the economy as a whole is neither sensible nor sustainable. And the government's scheme, with its multiple decision points and timeframes, only adds risks to those investors already bear.

* The government's fourth tack is to cast the issue as a matter of morality. Of course, appealing to our better instincts sits uncomfortably with the government's mantra that it won't hurt a bit. But, even putting that aside, there is nothing particularly ethical about wasting resources. Nor is it especially noble to squander them on climate change.

* Fifth, the government argues that without an ETS, other countries will impose punitive tariffs on our exports. Whether that would be legal is questionable. It overlooks the fact those countries are exempting their exports from carbon imposts, making it implausible any claim against us could succeed. Even more importantly, it makes no sense: if Germany taxed imports of our low-cost ores, its industries, not ours, would mainly suffer, losing sales to competitors that did not impose such taxes. Not even the Europeans are that irrational. Even were there a risk that they are, trashing a year's national income is surely not the most cost-effective insurance policy.

* Sixth and last, the government says an ETS is more economically efficient than the alternatives. True, the wealth transfers that masquerade as climate policy are an insult to common sense. But the government is not intending to eliminate those schemes: indeed, its modelling has assumed they would stay in place. And the government and Ross Garnaut propose adding new wealth transfers, compounding the waste. Even were a completely clean-skin ETS preferable to what we have now, that is irrelevant to evaluating what is actually on offer.

Rather, if government is sincere about enhancing efficiency, let it release modelling comparing its proposal, including the existing and proposed handouts, to the wait-and-see option and to the schemes proposed by Warwick McKibbin and Geoff Carmody. Let it, in other words, address the issue of policy relevance: given global uncertainties, how does adopting this scheme compare with alternatives, including that of eliminating the wasteful policies currently in place?

That would be to answer the intelligent question. If it refuses to tackle that question, the government will doom the Treasury's modelling, no matter how competent it may be, to ultimate irrelevance.


Mine union digs in over compensation under a carbon tax

ONE of Australia's largest unions has threatened a blue-collar revolt should the nation's dirtiest coalmines fail to receive the same level of assistance as they were promised under the original emissions trading scheme.

With industry compensation still being thrashed out behind closed doors, the national secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, Tony Maher, said he is worried coalminers will be dudded to appease the Greens. "They want to single out mine workers as some sort of trophy hunt," he said of the Greens.

Mr Maher told the Herald that unless the government stood firm and secured the same compensation package as before, "they'll have a big problem with us".

Under the Rudd government's emissions trading scheme, there was to be assistance for 23 of the nation's 150 coalmines.

Most coalmines are open-cut, low-emitting projects, and a price on carbon would have only a minor effect on the price of each tonne of coal they produce.

But there would be a significant increase on the price of coal produced by the 23 so-called "gassy" mines, which emit large amounts of methane.

Rather than giving the gassy mines free permits as compensation, which would allow them to go on polluting, the original scheme proposed to allocate $1.5 billion to help them implement measures to lower emissions.

The Minerals Council and the coal industry have been insisting that the same deal be guaranteed, and now Mr Maher has joined the fray.

Industry compensation for the Gillard government's carbon tax is being negotiated by the government, the Greens and the independents which make up the multi-party climate change committee.

It is understood the government is again pushing for the gassy mines to be looked after, but the Greens, who are hostile to coalmining, are resisting.

Mr Maher said 5000 jobs were at stake if the Greens prevailed, and he warned that the backlash would extend beyond the mining sector.

He likened the potential reaction to the abandonment of Labor by blue-collar workers after Labor's botched Tasmanian forestry policy during the 2004 election campaign. "Australian blue-collar workers won't be salami-sliced on job security," Mr Maher said. "It's mine workers one day, oil workers the next day, cement the next." He said everyone involved in designing the carbon tax needed to realise its success depended on community acceptance.

"Job security and household compensation are paramount. The Greens are in la-la land. I am calling on all the members of the [multi-party committee] to say where they stand on miners' jobs in gassy coalmines. "The government's been really silent about coal. The Greens have been silent; they have been poisoned by prejudice."

Mr Maher's reaction is similar to that of the Australian Workers Union boss, Paul Howes, who demanded in April that the steel sector be exempted altogether from the carbon price. He also insisted that not one manufacturing job be lost.

The union pressure is indicative of fears which are building on the shop floor and being fuelled by the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott.


End renewables fantasy now

AUSTRALIA'S biggest carbon emitters have called for the immediate withdrawal of commonwealth and state renewable energy programs that the Productivity Commission has found cost billions of dollars for little result.

States that refused to wind back generous rooftop solar and other programs should be denied Grants Commission funds or GST payments, the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network said.

The AIGN, which represents industries responsible for more than 90 per cent of Australia's carbon emissions in mining, manufacturing and energy production, has lobbied the federal government's multi-party climate change committee for reform.

"It may be that punitive action needs to be taken through a reduced distribution of Grants Commission funds or GST revenues to states that fail to make the required reforms to existing programs or continue to adopt new ones," the AIGN says in a letter to the multi-party committee.

AIGN chief executive Michael Hitchens said this week's Productivity Commission report strengthened the case for reform.

The report found schemes such as state-based feed-in tariffs for rooftop solar cost between five and 10 times as much as a market-based scheme to cut the same amount of CO2 emissions.

All parties, including the Greens and independent MP Tony Windsor, have criticised the ad hoc approach to "complementary measures".

The issue of reform is understood to be on the table for discussion within the multi-party committee, but state reform can be achieved only through the COAG process.

The AIGN yesterday called for the so-called complementary measures to be phased out immediately to concentrate on a market-based scheme.

Mr Hitchens said the Productivity Commission report confirmed that if an economy-wide pricing approach was taken in Australia most of the 237 other policies needed to be abolished.

A spokesman for Climate Change Minister Greg Combet yesterday said the federal government's Renewable Energy Target scheme had already been scaled back to a significant degree. "Once we introduce a carbon price, the Renewable Energy Target will not need to do the heavy lifting in transforming our energy sector," he said. "That's because the carbon price will provide additional strong incentives for investment in renewable energy. "Final details of a carbon pricing mechanism are yet to be determined and remain the focus of negotiations in the multi-party climate change committee."

Mr Hitchens said a key challenge for the implementation of a single economy-wide carbon price was the concurrent removal of most of the other measures adopted by all governments. "In the electricity sector, on the most optimistic estimates, the Productivity Commission shows that, globally, all these policies are saving just 210 million tonnes of CO2-e for a total cost, as measured by subsidy equivalent, of over $18,000 million a year," he said.

A Greens spokesman said the party was keen for complementary measures, but it had always been critical of the ad hoc approach. The Greens have said the state-based feed-in tariffs have been very poorly designed and they wanted to see a carbon price.


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