Thursday, August 18, 2011

Green tax convoy a revolt of working people

Gary Johns

THE "convoy of no-confidence" in the federal Labor government, a convoy of trucks, trailers and campervans sponsored by the National Road Freighters Association started out from all over Australia yesterday and will be converging on Canberra on Monday.

The convoy will be carrying a petition calling for a federal election. Thousands will be streaming in from regional Australia in no fewer than 11 different convoys.

They are coming from Bendigo and Mildura, Warragul and Colac, Norseman and Wyong, Rocklea and Rockhampton, Atherton and Charters Towers, Port Hedland and Halls Creek.

The petitioners assert that "the 43rd executive government of Australia has been compromised into wilfully and intentionally misleading the Australian people [by] introducing a carbon tax without the consent of the Australian people and that would be normally decided by a free and unencumbered ballot".

Of course, governments are entitled to govern as they see fit. Nevertheless, a carbon tax was not only directly ruled out by the Prime Minister shortly before the last election, the evidence supporting the impact of the tax has been so opaque and deceptive that it amounts to lying.

Perhaps the petitioners don't count; after all they probably represent rural electorates already held by the Coalition.

Labor can rest easy. Then again, this convoy is not the protest of the Britons that the world witnessed last week, aptly dubbed "the first bludger uprising".

Australia's uprising is from workers. Workers, who every day drive trucks and travel in aeroplanes all over Australia to work in mines and on cattle stations and in hundreds of industries that service them.

They may be a little unkempt; they could afford to stand a little closer to a razor blade and a little further away from a tattoo gun, but what they lack in inner-city elegance, they more than make up for in a sense of proportion and reality. They do not like being treated as fools.

The federal Labor government has indeed treated them and millions of others as fools.

Simon Crean may have visited Latrobe Valley, Geelong, Wagga Wagga, Shellharbour, Port Kembla, Gladstone, Mackay, Rockhampton and Newcastle, Whyalla and Mount Gambier, but he's dreaming if he thinks anyone is buying his "clean energy future" sell-job.

Crean says that "pricing carbon is another fundamental but necessary economic reform from a Labor government" in the mould of Bob Hawke's floating of the dollar in 1983. Bollocks.

What Crean, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan will not tell the electors is that the cost of the carbon tax in cold, hard dollars is the equivalent of an entire year's gross domestic product.

Just let that soak in for one moment. Across the scope of this scheme, 2012 until 2050, Australians will lose the equivalent of an entire year's income.

The cost of failing to abate carbon dioxide sufficient to change the temperature one iota, is one entire year's income.

In its report, Strong Growth, Low Pollution Modelling a Carbon Price, Treasury modelling has deliberately hidden the real cost of the carbon tax.

The modelling has not added together each of the GDP losses as a result of the tax in each year. On Treasury's best case, the number representing the costs to the Australian economy of the carbon tax for the period 2012-2050 is $1.35 trillion, a year's worth of GDP. Treasury presents these figures only as a percentage loss from a base case of an economy with no carbon tax.

Even using the "Labor economists" Garnaut-Stern-Quiggin discount rate, the figure Treasury believe Australians would be prepared to pay to forgo present income to "solve the problem", is $873 billion across the period. But the most realistic discount rate that common-sense Australians would actually be prepared to pay, one closer to zero, delivers the figure $1.35 trillion.

Added to this failure to reveal the true cost of a carbon tax is the other big lie, pointed out by my colleague Henry Ergas (among numerous other failings in the scheme), that the carbon tax "job growth" does not exist.

The jobs growth as such is not a result of the Treasury model; it is an assumption of the model. It relies on lower real wages to make good the assumption of full unemployment.

All other things considered, the real outcome of the carbon tax will in fact be both job losses and real wage decline. Treasury knows this and the Treasurer knows this, or at least he should.

The petitioners are angry because they have been told that the carbon tax will save the world from climate change, and that the carbon tax will not cost more than they can be compensated for.

According to Newspoll, only 30 per cent of Australians support the government's "plan to put a price on carbon".

I am certain that if they were aware of the true cost of the carbon tax, that number would fall even further.


Warning: Those Facebook rants can get you fired

Fair Work Australia has upheld the right of an employer to sack a worker over an expletive-filled Facebook rant against a manager that was posted out of hours on his home computer.

In a case that highlights the hazy line between work and private lives, computer technician Damian O'Keefe was dismissed after posting on Facebook last year that he "wonders how the f *** work can be so f***ing useless and mess up my pay again. C***s are going down tomorrow."

Mr O'Keefe's employer, a Townsville franchise of the retail electrical goods business, The Good Guys, believed the post constituted a threat to Kelly Taylor, an operations manager responsible for processing the pay of employees. Mr O'Keefe admitted the target of his comments was Ms Taylor.

The day after the comments were posted, employer Troy Williams told Mr O'Keefe that "I am taking it you resigned. You can't work here - you made threats against us."

Upon Mr O'Keefe requesting a termination certificate, Mr Williams said: "I can't keep you employed. What do I do if there are females who want to sue for harassment? It's best for you to just go."

The employers argued there was an intimate link between Mr O'Keefe's Facebook post and his work. What was published "was about a co-worker and was published so that some of his co-workers could see what he had written".

Mr O'Keefe said he had been angry at not being paid commissions owed to him and his comments were not intended to be seen by Ms Taylor. He said his Facebook privacy settings meant only his select group of 70 friends could see his comments, but admitted 11 were co-workers.

The tribunal's deputy president, Deidre Swan, said "common sense would dictate" that a worker could not publish insulting and threatening comments about another employee. "The fact that the comments were made on the applicant's home computer, out of work hours, does not make any difference," she said.

She found Mr O'Keefe had engaged in serious misconduct and dismissed his unfair dismissal application.


Pay teachers on merit, OECD tells Julia Gillard

TEACHERS' skills should be linked to career structure and pay, so that advancement is based on competency rather than years spent in the job.

An international report on Australia's school system, to be released today, endorses the direction of the Labor Government's education revolution, including national tests, reporting of school performance on the My School website, national curriculum and "commitment to transparency".

The OECD report also praises the introduction of national teaching standards, performance goals and the system's strong focus on students' results.

But it urges the Government to go further and identifies "a number of missing links", including that career structures for teachers are not tied to teaching standards.

"This translates into a detrimental separation between the definition of skills and competencies at different stages of the career, as reflected in teaching standards, and the roles and responsibilities of teachers in schools, as reflected in career structures," it says.

The report highlights the need to broaden the use of student assessment, including the National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy, and warns against using the results to identify problems in individual students.

It says government has focused on using assessments to hold schools accountable but is yet to look at how the data can be used to make improvements in the classroom.

"The national education agenda has placed considerable investment in establishing national standards, national testing and reporting requirements, while it provides considerably less direction and strategy on how to achieve the improvement function of evaluation and assessment," it says.

The report recommends the performance of non-government schools be scrutinised more closely, saying the reporting of outcomes in private schools is "still limited to a simple set of compliance statements and does not focus on performance".

It also calls for independent reports evaluating schools to be published on My School to provide more comprehensive information about the quality of teaching and warns teachers against using the national literacy and numeracy tests to identify problems in individual students.

The report into student assessment in Australia is part of a broader review by the OECD of the different systems around the world for assessing and evaluating students and schools, and the way they can improve outcomes.


Dissent makes a smarter society

BY most measures over the past 35 years Australia has been an amazingly successful country. We've increased national wealth, become cosmopolitan, remained egalitarian, fight above our weight diplomatically and win more Olympic gold per capita than anyone else. But that success is under threat.

Openness has been the key. While openness in internal and external commercial markets has driven a big increase in wealth, the ability to capitalise on it has been driven by an open society that allowed new ideas, new structures and new entrepreneurs to bubble up to meet the challenges.

Now it seems that reform has reached its limit and the forces of reaction are trying to close up society and the economy, and while their goal may be partly to limit division in the community they are actually increasing it.

We've seen various legislative curbs on free speech, such as religious or racial vilification laws. These depart from traditional and legitimate curbs such as defamation in that they invent novel group rights and punish thought rather than action, often making the offence a subjective rather than objective one.

These are increasingly allied to overt attempts to enforce conformity of thought by a variety of state and non-state organisations and individuals, frequently amplified by the new media.

I'm not talking about legitimate rhetorical techniques used to convince people and change their minds, but coercive techniques to intimidate, silence and suppress.

Calls by political parties to investigate alleged media bias are the most recent front in this war....

Take the global warming debate. On one side we have the government, government-funded organisations such as the CSIRO, government appointees such as the chief scientist and various activists, non-governmental organisations and academics asserting that the science is settled and debate is over.

This reaches beyond the uncontested claim that CO2 is a greenhouse gas to demanding acceptance of any number of conflicting and widely varying modelled predictions and policies designed to mitigate their effects.

They've even invented a new type of science called "sustainability science" where if you can think of a threat large enough you are justified in dealing with it as a fact before you have experimental evidence to prove it.

Opponents are tagged as "deniers" or "denialists" in a clear attempt to demean scepticism as immoral and irrational, equivalent to holocaust denial, and the Prime Minister berates sceptical journalists telling them not to "write crap".

We even have high-profile academics such as ethics professor Clive Hamilton and federation scholar John Quiggin claiming that to even publish sceptical stories is evidence of bias.

On this basis Hamilton urged a boycott of my journal On Line Opinion, while Quiggin spends some of his time altering the Wikipedia entries of opponents to imply they are tobacco lobbyists.

If the government had been more open to entertaining contrary advice, and there are some from within its own ranks who could give it, it might not be facing a carbon tax rout that has some of the hallmarks of its very own Bay of Pigs.

And our collective problems do not stop there because dissent that is denied a legitimate place in debate can become explosively destructive.

An earlier outbreak of political correctness under Paul Keating led to the creation of Pauline Hanson. The most common reason I ever heard for people supporting Hanson was "I don't agree with everything she says, but I agree with her right to say it."

And that was before the internet. Now the new media make it easier for both the in and the out crowds to talk to themselves in an echo chamber amplifying their own group thinks.

While theoretically the internet brings all the online "thoughts" of the world within one click of each of us, it simultaneously breaks down the institutions that brought us face to face with challenging facts.

Now we can all get the "Daily Me" via Facebook, Twitter, email lists and favourite chat rooms, which reaffirms our world view.

More, the new media allow the potential for explosion to be organised via brown-shirt activism using flash mobs and new institutions like GetUp to target not politicians but innocent bystanders (as they did in the case of Harvey Norman), who may profit from a particular lawful pursuit that they disapprove of.

In this atmosphere a good government, rather than trying to delegitimise dissent, would be reaching out to institutionalise it, recognising that what's crap to one, may be fertiliser to another, and that institutions that foster dissent thrive.


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