Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tony Abbott launches stinging attack on Prime Minister Julia Gillard over carbon tax

THE parliamentary battle over the Government's carbon price scheme has begun with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott launching a ferocious attack on the Prime Minister.

Mr Abbott opened his 30-minute speech by declaring the package of clean energy bills amounted to a bad tax, based on a lie, that should be rejected.

He finished by declaring it "the longest suicide note in Australian history".

Julia Gillard sat stony-faced opposite him throughout the speech, which was delivered to a nearly full chamber.

But the chamber emptied when parliamentary secretary for climate change Mark Dreyfus started the Government's counterattack in a debate that will dominate today's proceedings. Mr Dreyfus accused the opposition of "being in hysterics" over a policy that was essential to save the world from catastrophic climate change.

Mr Abbott began with a sustained attack on Ms Gillard, calling her claim to be on the side of history "arrogant presumption". In fact, she was on "the wrong side of truth".

He said she'd sabotaged Kevin Rudd on the issue, had a variety of positions herself and finally said there'd be no carbon tax, a promise that haunts the Government and makes the debate "fundamentally illegitimate".

The Opposition Leader moved on to say the scheme would make the essentials of modern life, like power and fuel, more expensive. Now, when the world economy was so fragile, was not the time to add to the burdens of business and families.

Mr Abbott jeered at the Government's claim the policy would create jobs, calling it "nonsense on stilts".

However at the heart of his objections was that the scheme wouldn't reduce emissions. All the bold claims about emissions cuts were disproved by the government's own figures, he said.

Mr Abbott finally turned to a "much better way" - the Opposition's direct action plan which encourages Australians to do intelligent, sensible things like plant trees. Businesses were reducing their power and fuel bills.

Mr Abbott said part of the Government's motivation was to satisfy the Greens.

"Also, deep in the DNA of every Labor member there is an instinct for higher taxes and more regulation and that's exactly what we're getting," he said.

Mr Dreyfus said the scheme would curb pollution and increase investment in clean energy. It would mean a better, cleaner place for our children's children. Mr Dreyfus said carbon pollution could no longer be free and the Government had to act to correct "the greatest market failure the world has seen". A carbon price would "break the link between pollution and economic growth".

"If we don't reduce emissions, the world risks catastrophic climate change," he said.

Mr Dreyfus said the Opposition was pandering to climate change deniers while attacking scientists and economists.


Tiny crab v $900m mine - the money's on the crab

A NEWLY-discovered crab about the size of a 10c piece might stop mining giant Rio Tinto's new $900 million Cape York bauxite mine.

Scientists contracted by Rio to prepare an environmental impact statement on the project 50km south of Weipa have found what is thought to be a new species of freshwater crab.

They have also discovered a shrimp not previously recorded in Australia, prompting conservationists to call on federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to immediately halt the project.

The Wilderness Society's Glenn Walker said yesterday the crab would be threatened, nearly 30,000ha of bush cleared and a river destroyed if the big mine was approved.

"Incredibly, Rio Tinto still plans to mine in this area and threaten this new species, so greedy are they to make an extra buck," he said.

"The crab hasn't even yet been assessed for protection under federal environment laws, which would likely list the species as endangered and potentially stall approval of the mine."

The find has been referred to Peter Davie, Queensland Museum senior curator of crustacea.

Mr Davie said he believed it was a new species, although it would be about two years before this would be confirmed.

"We have very little information for (about 20 species of) freshwater crabs but they are all potentially endangered or vulnerable," he said. "There's a bit of detective work to go but many are restricted to single catchments. They may well be vulnerable to climate change and all sorts of things."

A Rio Tinto Alcan spokesman said it was now up to the State and Federal governments to assess the findings. "We've had the best experts out there studying the area ... and we're pleased to have been able to make a contribution to understanding the ecology of the cape," the spokesman said. "We're being quite open about this. It was our people that turned this up."

Rio's EIS said a total of six species of crustacean were found. "These species are unlikely to be significantly impacted by the project," it says. If any species are found to be which the crab could be Mr Burke will have to rule on whether the project can proceed. A comment has been sought from Mr Burke.

Rio Tinto Alcan Weipa employs about 870 staff and wants to begin what is known as the South of Embley mine in about two years.


Don't blame sexism for the PM's woes

Janet Albrechtsen

SEXISM again? Think again.

Tonight, our national broadcaster will air the second of a four-part comedy series called At Home with Julia. When the first episode screened last week, immediately we heard the whispering lament of sexism at work. The Prime Minister is being mocked and ridiculed because she is a woman. Alas, as with most claims of sexism used in the same sentence as Gillard, this one is also off the mark.

Before it becomes part of the political orthodoxy, take a closer look at Aunty's new political sitcom. Described by Radio National's Fran Kelly as part of "the great tradition of Australian political satire", At Home with Julia is far less political than it is personal. But it's certainly not sexist. The real problem is that the comedy invades a private space that even our most public figures deserve to keep to themselves.

But again and again, sexism rears its outdated head as the knee-jerk reaction to so much about Julia Gillard's travails. Indeed, from the moment she became Prime Minister, sexism claims have been fast and furious. Each claim is a diversion from the main event, a refusal to take the analysis a little deeper.

Take this from independent MP Rob Oakeshott. Trying to extend his moment in the political sun by skating over the real problems of minority government, he tried to explain Gillard's woes on the basis that "Australians are still trying to come to terms with the fact that they have a female leader".

Ditto, some in the media. In a radio interview, The Sydney Morning Herald's Phillip Coorey put the vocal unhappiness of a female voter down to "a large element of misogyny because the Prime Minister is a woman, people feel they can go harder at her than if she was a bloke and treat her with less respect". More again from Fairfax when The Age's Shaun Carney explained Gillard's fall from political grace on the basis of sexism.

Even the international press has climbed aboard the sexism train, with Chloe Angyal in Slate accusing the Australian media of hitting "all the sexist notes about Gillard", reserving a "special level of censure for ambitious, high-achieving women". Apparently, Australian voters are a bunch of "pearl clutching" conservatives who cannot cope with a single woman in a de facto relationship setting up house in the Lodge.

A more intellectually curious look at the waning popularity of Gillard points to a realisation in the electorate that the PM has failed to put a stamp of authority on her prime ministership.

From her history of opportunistic factional twists, to policy backflips and failed policies, Gillard simply lacks legitimacy and credibility as a leader. Her lack of convictions, not her gender, is the reason voters have turned away.

Yet the more unpopular Gillard grows, the louder are the claims that sexism is bringing down and denigrating our first female Prime Minister. A few weeks ago, on ABC1's Q&A program, Graham Richardson described the tendency to refer to the PM as Julia as appalling. And "Yes, I do think it's because we haven't had a woman prime minister before."

Once again, the sexism charge is too shallow. Even a cursory look at Gillard's own campaign strategy - when she unveiled "the real Julia" - reveals that the PM invited us to think of her as Julia. Just as Kevin Rudd said, "My name is Kevin and I'm here to help", at his first ALP national conference as opposition leader and then went on to become Kevin07. There is a reason John Howard was not known in the electorate as John and it has nothing to do with gender or sexism.

Neither does sexism explain ABC1's At Home with Julia. Yet we seem to have reached a point where any strident commentary or even comic send-up of the PM is now sexist just because the PM is a woman. The national broadcaster's latest foray into political satire is hardly sexist when tested against the torrent of political send-ups aimed at former prime minister Howard. Count the weeks that comedy duo on the then 7.30 Report, John Clarke and Brian Dawe, aimed their Friday night fire at Howard. It became tiresomely predictable.

What marks out At Home with Julia as different from previous satires is that it intrudes into a private arena that is, to be blunt, none of our business. By focusing its lens, even a comical one, on the private lives of Gillard and her partner, Tim Mathieson, the show crosses the privacy line. Even politicians are entitled to a private life and the partners of politicians are especially entitled to be spared such intrusions.

Satirising private moments between "Jugs" and "Teacup" may amuse some by exploiting our natural inclination to treat comedy as just that. Inevitably, critics will be seen as humourless killjoys. In fact, the ABC's At Home with Julia is not a clever political satire in the league of the BBC's 1980s classic Yes, Minister and later, Yes, Prime Minister. That series was clever because it was generic. Parodying the political class as a whole, the British sitcom will stand the test of time.

By contrast, by poking its nose into even a fictional lounge room of Gillard and Mathieson, At Home with Julia is a series of short-term gags that offends an important principle best described by former PM Paul Keating.

Speaking at the Centre for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne last year about privacy and the media, Keating said "the social contract we are subject to involves the surrender of certain rights in exchange for other societal benefits and protections. But at the core of that contract there must never be derogations such that the notion of individuality is materially or permanently compromised. The essence of the dignity of each of us goes to our individuality and our primary need to be ourselves."

Yet, even here, one has to ask, have our politicians, particularly Gillard, invited the intrusion that breaches a contract that should allow politicians to be themselves away from prying, prurient eyes?

From dressing up for a glossy spread in Women's Weekly to giggling for the 60 Minutes cameras outside Mathieson's shed at the Lodge, Gillard has encouraged a level of voyeurism into her private life that does nothing to educate or inform us about the things that really matter. Gillard is not alone here. By trying to manage the media with carefully controlled puff pieces about their private lives, politicians invariably fuel intrusions that may not be so carefully controlled.

And therein lies the reason the ABC is now screening At Home with Julia. If you invite the cameras into your private life, don't be surprised when the cameras also appear without an invitation. The shame is that our politicians are not more careful to guard their privacy. We might respect them more if they did.


Breakfast food bans could be counterproductive

IF you buy junk food at a drive-through in NSW it may astound you to learn from new mandatory labelling that popcorn chicken is basically fat suspended in a superstructure of chicken eyeballs. This will no doubt shock the people who missed the memo that health food doesn't come in buckets.

Last week the Cancer Council NSW continued its war on fast food with an assault on Bubble O'Bill, the Paddle Pop lion, the Coco Pops monkey and Toucan Sam, long-serving avian ambassador of Froot Loops cereal. Should the Cancer Council succeed, parents can rest assured any food promoted by a jungle creature in drag will be taken off the shelves and replaced, presumably with a plain olive green box.

Once again the food nannies will have succeeded not only in taking the fun out of another meal but in removing what effectively has served as a warning sign for parents that products are junk food. Foods such as Nutri-Grain, many mueslis and "healthy breakfast spreads" such as peanut butter and Nutella are promoted not by cartoons but by sports people.

If Nutella had a cartoon bird on it perhaps people would have worked out faster that just because a marathon runner promotes it, chocolate isn't a breakfast food. Certainly the San Diego mother who sued Nutella for selling her fake health food would have had a harder time proving she was not a complete idiot.

Bans on food and beverage advertisements for products that are high in fat, salt and sugar are defended with studies such as the 2006 Access Economics report on obesity in Australia that claimed it cost us $8.3 billion. Obesity certainly is a serious health problem with links to cancer and diabetes, but picking on the fun foods as the sole culprits and treating parents like idiots reveals an agenda based as much on cultural prejudice as health consciousness.

Mass-produced, commercial junk food is easy to recognise; certainly the mascots help. However, posh food is often as bad for your health but is rarely marketed with anything as crass as a cartoon toucan. Wagyu beef has become increasingly popular in part because it has a high fat content and consequently is full of flavour. Perhaps a Pokemon-style cow mascot would help us remember at the butcher that Wagyu is not a healthy alternative to lean beef, fish or lentils.

At the ice cream fridge the poshest ice creams have the highest milk fat content. That's why they are so delicious. While Paddle Pops are clearly labelled junk food by the presence of the Paddle Pop lion, Maggie Beer's ice cream has a picture of very dignified and grown-up looking treats on the box. Eating a little of either won't hurt you but if you're planning to watch The Notebook, the Lion represents more value for your money.

My waistline has been enhanced by a range of foods both healthy and unhealthy, gourmet and gourmand. There are a remarkable number of kilojoules in fast and slow, fancy and plain, wholesome and junk, the amount of sugar in "diet" foods being an obvious case in point.

The Cancer Council's bans won't address the avalanche of kilojoules available in our prosperous society. What they can look forward to is enabling parents such as the San Diego Nutella mum to blame food producers or the government for their failure to meet a basic parenting requirement: feeding their kids properly.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Have you noticed subtle attempts by Labor and its mouthpieces the ABC and SBS to portray the carbon tax as being about controlling pollution?