Saturday, July 30, 2011

Stepping in for the PM

President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus visits the CIS, but Prime Minister Julia Gillard couldn’t find the time to welcome the head of the country to Australia. On Monday, The Centre for Independent Studies did something that the Australian government did not deem necessary: We provided a very warm welcome to Vaclav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic.

Klaus is a true friend of Australia. One of his first international trips after the fall of the Iron Curtain was to Australia in 1991, when he delivered the John Bonython lecture to the Centre.

Ten years later, he returned to participate in a CIS conference; he also has close relatives here.

Despite all this, the Prime Minister’s Office found no way to accommodate a meeting between the President Klaus and her. Maybe she was genuinely too busy. Or maybe Klaus’ views were too unpalatable for her.

President Klaus is a rare bird: He is an economics professor, a former finance minister and prime minister, and now a head of state. But despite this impressive career, he has maintained an outspokenness and independence of mind rare in politicians these days.

Maybe Klaus does not hold back his views because he had to do so for too long under communist rule. He does not conform to modern standards of so-called ‘political correctness,’ which he thinks is ‘a misnomer for officially sanctioned hypocrisy.’

So he speaks out where other politicians rather bite their tongues. Whether it is against the intrusive regulations coming out of the European Union, against the drive towards supranationalism, or indeed against programs to impose draconian measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Our exchange of views with the President was most informative and refreshing. It’s a pity the Prime Minister missed the opportunity to experience the same.

Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies. Click here to watch a conversation between President Klaus and Dr Hartwich.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 29 July. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Crackdown on welfare claimants who are "too sick" to work

APPLICANTS for the disability support pension will no longer be able to claim they are too fat to work or are unable due to other ailments that would previously have led them to claim benefits.

Instead, 815,000 people on the pension will be assessed using new impairment tables on what work they could potentially do based on their disability, The Daily Telegraph reported.

A Centrelink study of claims in the first half of this year showed 38 per cent of applicants would have been ineligible.

If their claims were lodged after the reforms are introduced in January they would have been rejected and would be able to apply for the Newstart allowance.

The government tailored Newstart assistance to guide people with mild disabilities to suitable work.

"The new tool will make sure people applying for the disability support pension will be assessed based on what they can do and not what they can't do," Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin said. "I want to see people who have some capacity to work doing so. Work provides purpose and dignity and a greater sense of achievement and pride."

Disability support groups and medical professionals consulted with the government on the tables, which comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

They also reflect improvements in rehabilitation and medical treatment since the tables were last revised in 1993.

The government found current impairment tables were inconsistent, including assessing people with a hearing problem while they were not wearing their hearing aids. People with cardiovascular and respiratory problems can also self report but will now have to provide evidence from their doctor.

Back complaints had been assessed based on loss of movement but new tables will determine what the condition prevents a person from doing, such as sitting down for a period of time.

A miscellaneous table from which people made claims for obesity and pain will be abolished so people will instead be assessed on how it affects their capacity to function at work.

A table covering mental health, among the fastest-growing reasons people apply for the pension, will also be tightened after people with minor psychiatric impairments were classified the same as those severely incapacitated.

A total of 30 points, down from 40, will be allocated for mental health issues.


Empty-headed slogans won't help Aborigines

Noel Pearson

Borrowing straight from Tony Blair's New Labour play book, the prevailing policy paradigm in our country is called social inclusion, and, as deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard established a Social Inclusion Board to advise government. It is now astounding to think about Australian perceptions of the social policy revolutions taking place under Blair. Young policy wonks would wax lyrically about the work of the Social Inclusion Unit, and the rhetoric of New Labour was so compelling.

I would look askance when east London social entrepreneur Andrew Mawson visited us in Cape York every few years and gave the thumbs-down on Blair and Brown. Mawson's view was that social change agents who have only a plane-seat view of the problems can produce great visions, but his advice rang true: "The devil is in the detail."

Politicians and public servants who have never built anything from the ground up in such communities never really get it. Most people in social policy live in a world of programs and plans, bearing scant relation to realities.

Goods and services in the marketplace respond to the daily realities of human lives, their needs and desires. When the people and organisations producing and selling these products fail to understand and respond to demands of the public, they soon lose custom and disappear. Government goods and services are different: they can fail to understand and respond to what the public needs and demands, and they never go out of business. The production line of useless or half-useless programs and services built by erstwhile social policy designers in government keeps producing because there is no nexus between stratosphere-level policy design and ground-level demands of people who need opportunity.

Not surprisingly, the government services system ends up, in the words of US senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "feeding the sparrows by feeding the horses".

This week I met former British Conservative leader and present Minister for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith, who was in Australia as a guest of the Menzies Research Centre and delivered the John Howard Oration. He is the first politician, and first senior public servant, who has struck me as having a profound understanding of social disadvantage at the ground level. Through the think tank he founded, the Centre for Social Justice, Duncan Smith has accumulated a vast and detailed understanding of the many facets of social disadvantage in Britain. He used his long years in opposition to start to design a policy and political program aimed at putting his revolution into effect.

The striking thing is Duncan Smith claimed social justice for the Conservatives. In his Sydney speech he said: "For too long Conservatives had left this area to the Left, only occasionally making forays to attack spending on welfare, and everything was viewed through the lens of saving money or catching scroungers . . . it remained a wholly negative message and allowed the Left to characterise Conservatives as simply interested in cutting benefits."

Duncan Smith's claiming of social justice may cause some discomfiture to his antipodean counterparts, but his view is that "these terminology arguments were utterly detached from the British people, and they marginalised Conservatives even further in the eyes of the electorate". They conducted polls on the public's understanding and found that "they rejected the notion that it meant a bigger state or increased spending on welfare. Instead they felt it meant support for people in real need and support for those who are helping them."

In my view Duncan Smith aims to give real meaning to social justice. It is not about the failed welfarism of the Left but social policy aiming to transform the lives of the disadvantaged. As he says, "income matters, but the root causes of poverty and the source of income matter more".

In our work in Cape York Peninsula we have focused on three dimensions to our staircase of social progress where passive welfarism has created problems.

First, there is the crumbling effect that unconditional welfare and long-term disengagement from the economy has had on social foundations.

Second, governments invariably distribute resources from the state to citizens in ways that create dependency and fail to enliven them to engage in society and the economy. Instead of distributing opportunity, the state ends up delivering passive services that are ineffective in addressing needs and problems, and create new needs and problems.

Third, there is, at the bottom of the staircase, a pedestal that is priced higher than the first step on the staircase. The disincentive effect of the welfare pedestal on individuals moving from welfare to work, or avoiding welfare in the first place, remains a fundamental reform challenge in Australia as throughout the Western world.

We have developed innovative approaches to the first and second dimensions of the welfare reform challenge. It is in relation to the welfare pedestal that we are still bereft of solution. It requires a response that moves from the basis that it must pay to work. Then there is the requirement that jobseekers take available jobs.

Australian welfare reforms have still not counteracted the effect of the pedestal.

This is where the solution hammered out by Duncan Smith to simplify the benefits scheme into a single "universal credit" most interests me.


Live cattle shipments to resume

THE first shipment of live cattle is expected to leave Australia for Indonesia in a week's time after the federal government signed off late yesterday on the final impediment to resuming the suspended trade.

The Secretary of the federal Agriculture Department, Conall O'Connell, approved a notice of intent to export cattle to Indonesia for Elders, the country's largest live exporter, accounting for 60 per cent of the market.

Receipt of the final export permit is contingent on Elders having the first shipment of cattle undergo routine quarantine and health inspections, and then loading the beasts. "These steps are nothing new and are expected to follow quickly," a source said.

Elders has a ship anchored off China, which could be here and ready to load by the end of next week. "We're bloody happy for the trade, all the cattle producers in the Northern Territory and our customers in Indonesia," Elders chief executive Malcolm Jackman told the Herald yesterday. "Northern Australia is desperately awaiting recovery in the trade and it is vital that the volumes can be increased as rapidly as a sustainable solution will permit," he said.

Not a single beast has been shipped to Indonesia since July 6 when the Agriculture Minister, Joe Ludwig, announced the lifting of the month-long suspension.

The suspension, prompted by public and caucus outrage about the mistreatment of cattle in Indonesian abattoirs, stranded about 275,000 cattle that were ready for export.

Mr Jackman said the first ship could take about 3000 cattle from Darwin but it would only take "two or three phone calls" for him to have another 20,000 ready to go.

The president of the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association, Rohan Sullivan, said it could take two years before the negative impacts of the backlog have been dealt with.

Elders was given approval to resume shipping to Indonesia after satisfying the department that new humane conditions governing live exports would be met. This meant, primarily, that Elders could guarantee supply-chain assurance, meaning the fate of each beast could be accounted for, from the point of departure to slaughter. This is designed to ensure that Australian cattle do not "leak" from Indonesian feedlots to substandard abattoirs.

The company has also arranged for an independent audit of the entire process - another requirement before exports could resume.

A survey of affected cattle-growers by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) released this week says the suspension had cost 326 jobs. This comprised workers who had either been laid off, or those who would otherwise have been hired.

Of the 597,000 cattle that the industry expected to sell to Indonesia this year, 375,000 were unsold at the time of the export suspension.

ABARES forecasts that about 278,000 beasts could be available for export by the end of the year if trade resumes by the end of this month.

Another cattle exporter, the Wellard group, is in the process of applying for an export permit.


What Bravery! Flannery Lectures on Looming Sea level Disaster from Waterfront Home!

Tim Flannery head of the Climate Commission and major doom-sayer in Australia recorded an interview with WWF saying that "James Hansen - who is the world's leading thinker in this area with the Goddard Institute of NASA - believes we're on the brink of triggering a 25m rise in sea level. So anyone with a coastal view from their bedroom window or kitchen window is likely to lose their house as a result of that change. So any coastal cities, coastal areas are in grave danger."

From Andrew Bolt it is reported that Mr Flannery has a waterfront home at Coba Point showing what he thinks of his own predictions . Greg Combet the Climate Change Minister also does not seem too worried with his luxury waterfront home.

It brings to mind Animal Farm with the "four legs good two legs bad" brainwashing being fed to the common animals while the ruling pigs walked around the farm house on two legs! Methinks Orwell was very clever with his choice of animals.

Maybe Flannery just checked the Envisat satellite data and found that current sea levels were the same as 2004, a fact that he failed to point out to the general public!


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