Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Carbon tax vote clears Lower House

AFTER more than a decade of political argument, the House of Representatives has this morning passed legislation to put a price on carbon, paving the way for Australia's most dramatic economic reform in more than a decade.

After claiming two prime ministers, two opposition leaders and severely wounding the authority of Julia Gillard, a carbon price is now on a clear path to being entrenched in law.

The government's carbon tax package was passed 74 votes to 72, with applause from the government benches as legislation was passed with the support of independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, and Greens MP Adam Bandt.

Labor frontbenchers embraced the Prime Minister following the vote, while Coalition MPs jeered and urged Kevin Rudd to congratulate her. Mr Rudd then kissed Ms Gillard on the cheek and offered his congratulations, to cheers from opposition benches.

Speaking before the final vote, Ms Gillard said future generations would enjoy the benefits of the historic reform.

But as the 18 carbon tax bills head for a vote in the Senate before the end of the year, Tony Abbott gave his “pledge in blood” to dismantle the tax in government.

Ms Gillard said 160 million tonnes of carbon would be cut from the atmosphere by 2020 under her carbon tax. “You'll be able to see the biggest polluters changing their conduct and behaviour,” Ms Gillard told ABC Radio.

Ms Gillard says Mr Abbott will be unable to dismantle the tax because it would involve taking associated compensation measures from pensioners and families.

But Mr Abbott said he was more determined than ever to axe the carbon price if he became prime minister. “We will repeal this tax, we will dismantle the bureaucracy associated with it,” Mr Abbott said. “I am giving you the most definite commitment any politician can give that this tax will go. This is a pledge in blood this tax will go.

“If the bills pass today this will be an act of betrayal on the Australian public. We will repeal the tax, we can repeal the tax, we must repeal the tax.”

The government's related $300 million steel transformation plan also passed the House, 75 votes to 71, with the additional support of Queensland independent Bob Katter.

Former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull - a carbon price supporter - voted with the Coalition as expected. But he sat stony-faced on the back bench for the votes, next to opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey.

Mr Rudd and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson sat chatting on the Labor back bench for the divisions. Greens deputy leader Christine Milne sat in the chamber's guest seats to witness the vote.

Under the government's package, a fixed carbon price of $23 a tonne will be imposed from July 1 next year, rising at 2.5 per cent a year in real terms for three years.

In 2015, the package will convert to an emissions trading scheme with a floating price.

When the floating price starts in 2015, a floor price of $15 will be imposed and a ceiling price, $20 above the expected international price, will also be imposed to prevent volatility.


Australian union leaders out of step on carbon tax

Now, here's a test. Name one leading trade union figure in the US or Canada who is calling for a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme (including the cap-and-trade version). Just one.

The fact is that no prominent member of any North American union is advocating such policy. Nor has action on climate change been embraced by the employee organisations' key bodies - the American AFL-CIO and the Canadian Labour Congress.

The story is quite different in Australia. Barely a week passes without the president of the ACTU, Ged Kearney, or its secretary, Jeff Lawrence, publicly endorsing Labor's carbon tax, which will eventually become an emissions trading scheme.

Yesterday the formation of Manufacturing Australia was announced. Funded by some of Australia's leading manufacturing companies, it is headed by well-known businessman Dick Warburton. In his first interview, on Radio National Breakfast, Warburton declared it would be "quite wrong" for Australia to go ahead with a carbon tax when the rest of the world was pulling out of carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes. His case was if Australia introduced a carbon tax or scheme before its competitors it would suffer a commercial disadvantage "that would lead to probable losses of jobs and probable plant closures".

A statement by a prominent business figure expressing concern about possible job losses might be expected to have a certain appeal to trade union leaders who, in the final analysis, are dependent on workers paying union dues to maintain their positions. But apparently not where what is termed "action on climate change" is concerned.

The national secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, Dave Oliver,took the first swing. He accused Warburton of being a "mouthpiece for Tony Abbott".

Next up was the national secretary of the Australian Workers' Union, Paul Howes, one of Australia's most impressive union leaders and among the first of his colleagues to realise that a carbon tax or trading scheme could cause manufacturing job losses. On April 14 this year, Howes said: "If one job is gone, our support is gone." Within a couple of months, however, he was reassured. On July 18, he went on the Lateline program to declare the AWU's support for the carbon tax legislation, saying that "no matter who's in government, carbon pricing is an inevitability".

He argued that the AWU had to get the best deal for its members and he was "confident that the package, as announced by the government, will not cost the jobs of any of our members". (Howes is particularly pleased by the proposed $300 million package for the steel industry, scheduled to last for four years.)

The position of union leaders such as Kearney, Lawrence, Oliver and Howes is built on faith. They maintain that Australian businesses will not suffer if a carbon tax is imposed upon them because, in the short to medium term, other nations will do the same. Viewed in this light, Australia will benefit from being first and, as Oliver put it yesterday, Australian manufacturing can benefit from catching the new wave of climate change jobs.

On the available evidence, this is mere wish fulfilment. Of all the OECD economies, Australia most closely resembles that of Canada. There are also similarities between the Australian and US economies. There are few similarities between Australia and the economies of the European Union, including Britain.

Thomas Nides, who is a deputy secretary of state in the US and reports directly to Hillary Clinton, addressed The Sydney Institute on September 6, saying: "I wish I could say that we could pass climate change legislation in the United States. I couldn't. I can't. We can't get that through."

In view of this quite emphatic statement, it is difficult to see how the US will be trading emissions at a national level any time soon. Under Barack Obama's administration, an emissions trading scheme is off the agenda. If a Republican happens to defeat Obama at next year's presidential election, it is even less likely. The recently re-elected Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has indicated that Canada will not introduce a scheme before the US, its major trading partner.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration's commitment to alternative energy has been significantly discredited by the collapse of the solar panel firm Solyndra. Solyndra received a staggering $US530 million loan from Washington in March 2009 and filed for bankruptcy in August this year.

When the conservative New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, visited Australia recently he was praised by Julia Gillard for overseeing New Zealand's emissions trading scheme. The Prime Minister made no mention of the fact that, not long after coming to office, Keys scaled it back. On September 15, Wellington announced that the implementation of the scheme had been slowed down.

Last week the governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, warned that the world could be facing its worst-ever financial crisis. This is hardly a time for Australia to be a world leader in implementing a carbon tax. Warburton understands the potential job losses involved in such a risk strategy. His position seems to be understood by trade union leaders in the US and Canada - but not in Australia.


Insane killer OK to drive a Victorian cab??

How can ANYBODY be certain that he won't have another bad turn for some reason?

A REFUGEE who butchered his wife in a fit of insanity could be back driving a cab in as little as three weeks. The Court of Appeal yesterday cleared the way for him to hit the road in a ruling that sparked outrage.

His passengers will never know his past because his identity has been kept secret during his four-year fight.

Last night angry Department of Transport officials were considering a High Court appeal, in a last bid to keep the killer out of Victoria's cabs. Others called for immediate changes to the law to prevent the man ever getting behind the wheel of a cab.

A taxi directorate spokesman said factors such as how quickly he registered for driver training, whether he passed and if he had a driver's licence, would determine how quickly he was back on the road.

In a unanimous decision, three Court of Appeal judges dismissed an appeal by the Director of Public Transport against a VCAT ruling that allowed the man - known as XFJ - to be accredited as a cabbie.

XFJ repeatedly stabbed his wife in 1990 after being granted refugee status. A jury found him not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.

The man sought work as a cab driver to earn money while caring for a sick son.

His application for accreditation in November 2007 was refused by a Director of Public Transport. On review, another delegate decided that, while he was "technically competent" and "sufficiently fit and healthy" to drive a cab, his application should be rejected because he was still not suitable.

XFJ then took his fight to VCAT. Two psychiatrists wrote that he was of sound character and unlikely to re-offend and VCAT judged he was suitable for a taxi licence for 18 months. An appeal to the Supreme Court was unsuccessful.

In their Court of Appeal judgment yesterday, justices Chris Maxwell, David Harper and Philip Mandie dismissed a further appeal.

"What counts decisively against the director's argument ... is the sheer implausibility of the proposition that a decision to accredit one driver could have any material effect on public confidence in the taxi industry," Justice Maxwell said.

"As both the director and the tribunal found, (XFJ) is technically competent and in good health and capable of meeting reasonable community expectations." XFJ's lawyer, Barbara Shalit, said the case highlighted the importance of considering all the circumstances before drawing prejudicial conclusions about risk to the public.

A Department of Transport spokeswoman said the the decision was being reviewed before considering any possible next steps.

RMIT transport academic Dr Paul Mees said: "The (court) decision seems to be based on an idea there is some sort of inherent right to hold a taxi licence, but this is not like the right to vote," he said. "The burden of proof ought to be on why you are a fit and proper person to hold a licence."


Hatred of non-government schools at work?

A lot of Leftists resent the fact that non-government schools get varying degrees of financial support from the Federal government

A GIPPSLAND Catholic school is questioning whether it is being discriminated against by being banned from a generations-old community campground. The St Kieran’s school community in Moe is gutted by a decision by government-run Somers School Camp to allow only state schools to access Woorabinda School Camp in Yallourn North from next year.

The camp said today its priority was for government schools programs, but hinted today that Catholic and Independent could still have access on weekends and school holidays.

St Kieran’s acting principal Lisa Broeren said children from the low-income area would have nowhere else to go if shut out from the local camp. “I guess why we’re so upset is it’s the kids’ parents and grandparents here who actually built it, and it’s their family members who ran it all those years and now they’re saying ‘bad luck’. And we’d like to say ‘bad luck’s just not good enough’,” Ms Broeren, who also attended the camp as a child, said.

She questioned Somers’ motive for shutting independent schools out of the facility. “We would just love to know what their justification is – is it discrimination against Catholic schools?,” she said.

A letter to the school from Somers School Camp Principal Denise Anthony says Woorabinda is now funded to provide educational programs for state government school students across Victoria. “You can see that Woorabinda has changed and although Catholic and independent schools, such as St Kieran’s, will not have access past the end ... ,” Ms Anthony says in the June letter.

Today, Ms Anthony rejected claims of discrimination, telling the the move to only allow public schools to use the site was not discriminatory, and stressed Catholic and independent schools had known of the move since the site was taken over by the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in April last year.

“Since 2010 the landscape has completely changed – Woorabinda was once a quasi-private camp, who opened its doors to everybody because they needed to get support in the local area, and they also needed to raise funds to self-manage. “The Department of Education now owns and operates this site, which means we have a commitment to provide programs to government primary school students,” she said.

She said it may be possible for the independent and Catholic schools to use the site on weekends and during school holidays, “but with being a fully-funded government primary school, we can’t provide programs for the government sector and for the private sector at the same time.”

“I believe that we are doing our job as a government primary school by providing high quality education programs to the people that we are meant to be providing to. In other words: the Department of Education, the State Government is funding us to provide programs to State Government students,” she said.

The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development funded several infrastructure improvements to the camp in the past year.

Somers School Camp provides an outdoor education program for children in Years Five and Six, for nine days a year on the Mornington Peninsula. It includes activities like bush cooking, orienteering and ropes courses.

Children have written to state and federal ministers, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard – as well as the media – in a plea to stop the shut out.

In a letter to the Herald Sun, Year 6 student Matthew Pearce said the Catholics were being discriminated against. “Are they destroying the dreams of the next generation? Well St Kieran’s Catholic Primary School Moe thinks they are,” the letter reads.

"Because Somers are not letting Catholic and private schools attend Woorabinda school camp. Would you like to know why? Just because they can and they want to, which is pure discrimination against Catholics. "We are not living in the 1800s, when people were judged by their religion or the colour of their skin."

A spokesman for Education Minister Martin Dixon said the minister would be asking the Department of Education to look into the matter.

Parent Melissa Ballantine, who attended the camp as a child, said her youngest son, Jaxon, would miss out on the camp because of the ruling. “The kids are gutted, the parents are gutted, the whole school community - we just can’t see how it’s fair to these kids, should all kids have access to these things,” Ms Ballantine said.


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