Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Labor's secret $100 million deal with the Greens

THE Government is keeping secret the $100 million pay-off it has made to get Green votes for its mining profits tax.

The House of Representatives passed the $11 billion Mineral Resource Rental Tax (MRRT) early this morning after a night of negotiations with the Greens leadership. It will go through the Senate next year.

But the Government is keeping secret the details of the deal with the Greens until the release of the Treasury’s latest assessment of the economy, the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, expected next week.

“There seems to be a pact between the Labor Party and the Greens that the rest of Australia is not part of,” said Opposition resources spokesman Ian Macfarlane.

The Greens demanded fresh negotiations on the tax after the Government this week increased the tax threshold – the point when the levy starts – to win the support of independent MP Andrew Wilkie. The complaint was that this reduced the revenue and could affect funding of schools and hospitals. Senator Bob Brown said there had been a “$100 million win for the public” which he said would balance a similar concession to mining companies.

“The Government has agreed to an additional revenue measure at least equivalent to the $20 million a year ($100 million over five years) lost from raising the mining tax threshold to $75 million,” he said in a statement.

But Treasurer Wayne Swan this morning said the deal amounted to “something like $60 million over the forward estimates”. “That’s not a big call on the Budget,” Mr Swan told ABC radio. He called it “a perfectly reasonable thing to do”.

Whatever the amount, the Government will have to find further savings at a time when it already has said it will make billions in cuts with the MYEFO statement to ensure Australia gets a Budget surplus in 2012-13.

Treasurer Swan said today called the deal with the Greens - and expected passage of the bill - a win for the public. “But this isn't so much a win for the Government as it is for the Australian people and for the cause of economic reform amid an ocean of negativity and fear from (Opposition Leader Tony Abbott) and a handful of vested interests,” he said.

“Australians are entitled to share in the wealth that our natural resources bring and deserve to have extra superannuation savings to help ensure dignity in old age.

“Small business owners who work day in, day out to provide for their families and make our economy strong, also deserve to benefit from the wealth of the boom.

“It means tax cuts for 2.7m small businesses and an increase in the retirement savings for each one of our 8.4m working Australians. Much of those extra retirement savings will in turn be reinvested into Australian businesses which means more Australian jobs.

“The increase in the super guarantee from 9 to 12 per cent means that if you’re a 30 year old worker on average earnings, you’ll retire with an extra $108,000 in superannuation savings.

“It’s great news for 3.6 million low income workers, who will be given a total of $800 million in concessions each year on their employer superannuation contributions. These are the Australians who need fairness and this genuinely Labor reform will help deliver it.

“Australians know how important the mining industry is, but they also know that we can only dig up Australia’s resources once. “The MRRT will help us lock in the benefits of the boom and help those parts of our economy that aren’t in the mining boom fast-lane.”


Another blunder by Australia's defence procurement agency

Submarines that have never worked, helicopters that never flew -- and now this

DEFENCE has awarded a multi-million-dollar navy tender to a businessman who is blacklisted in the US and whose banned status shows up in even basic Google searches.

A Herald Sun investigation has found navy top brass had no idea William Thomas Rae, 38, was on the US blacklist when they selected him. Defence bosses did not require Mr Rae to disclose his status at any stage, and it was not uncovered by lawyers or probity advisers during the tender process.

The revelation of a significant gap between Australian and US vetting procedures comes as Prime Minister Julia Gillard and US President Barack Obama move to strengthen our military alliance.

Mr Rae's company Raecorp International Pty Ltd was chosen to provide logistics support to navy ships and submarines in Australian and foreign ports from April 2011 until 2014.

The supply role involves providing vessels with fuel, food, cars, security and any other required service here and overseas. He already has earned more than $3.4 million.

Queenslander Mr Rae - a director of the planned Brisbane Bombers NRL club - had been on the US government's "Excluded Parties List System" for almost a year when he won the navy work. The list is used by agencies worldwide to check for suspended or disqualified contractors.

One of Mr Rae's companies, Pure Blue Meats Pty Ltd - which once boasted of selling wagyu beef to the White House - was added to the list in June.

Defence bosses admit they did not know of Mr Rae's appearance on the list when they awarded the Standing Offer for Naval Port and Agency Services tender to his business RCI Military Logistics in April. A Defence spokeswoman said Mr Rae was not required to disclose his blacklisting in the US as part of the process, and his tender had been "fully compliant".

Defence was made aware of the issue only after the tender was awarded. The matter was investigated with no further action deemed necessary. "Raecorp International Pty Ltd has been awarded a number of contracts to provide support to ships locally, nationally and internationally over the past six months. The performance ... has been to the standards required," she said.

The Opposition's defence spokesman, David Johnston, called on Defence Minister Stephen Smith to tighten probity processes.


Single-sex class trials in Queensland state schools to be extended after good results

The old ways were not so silly after all

TRIALS of single-sex classes in some Queensland state schools will be extended after reports from teachers, parents and students of improved results.

The move is set to kickstart the debate on co-education after the State Government proposed single-sex state schools in 2008 and this week floated individual schools being given more say over how children are taught.

Pilot classes at Kedron State High School, Milton State School and Earnshaw State College will continue next year, with Education Queensland's Brisbane regional director Chris Rider citing higher student engagement and better results.

Mr Rider said student feedback at Milton - which has been trialling gender divisions in some subjects in Years 5 to 7 - was "very supportive, with the majority indicating that they have enjoyed the single-gender classes for certain subjects, have been able to engage in a more focused way and feel they have personally achieved better results".

Mr Rider said the majority of parents who responded to a survey supported the trial continuing, as did most staff.

At Kedron State High School, boys in a trial Year 9 English and iPad class have done particularly well, surpassing the girls in some tasks.

KSHS English head of department Chrissie Coogan said having only boys narrowed down what they talked about and how she taught things. "Their academic performance has improved and their level of confidence and willingness to perform at school has improved too," she said.

Principal Myron McCormick said analysis of individual students' Year 3, 5, 7 and 9 NAPLAN results showed a more significant jump among boys in the single-sex and iPad trial than any other group this year, including the adjacent girls' trial, which had also shown improvement.

"Parents are astounded that their 14-year-old son has asked to be taken to the library to get another book because he has finished the book he is reading," he said.

Griffith University School of Education's Dr Wayne Usher, who has taught Health and Physical Education for 20 years in both single-sex and co-ed schools, said there was merit in split classes with students more focused in single-sex schools.

But University of Queensland's School of Education Professor Martin Mills said it was the quality of the teacher and their engagement of students that really mattered.

In a statement last night, Education Queensland deputy director-general Lyn McKenzie said there were no plans to introduce single-gender classes throughout Queensland. "However, the issue of single-sex classes has been included in the Local decisions: stronger school communities discussion paper, which was released this week," she said.

She said seven schools in the metropolitan and southeast regions were trialling same-sex classes and proposals made in 2008 were now outdated. "Decisions on single-sex classes are best left to principals in conjunction with parents and wider school communities."

The Queensland Association of State School Principals, Queensland Teachers Union and Queensland Secondary Principals Association agreed.


Australia's forgetful Green/Left

When the American president addressed joint Houses of the Australian Parliament back in 2003, Greens Senator Bob Brown interjected. In fact so worked up was he that the Speaker ordered his removal from the chamber. He was yelling about Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

This time Brown joined a conga line of MPs clamouring to shake hands with the President, Barack Obama. He had to jostle with Greens MP Adam Bandt (who has a PhD on Marxism) to get his chance. Both of them were beaming. It was a good speech. The President declared America's commitment to a military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, including a new proposal to train up to 2500 marines in the Northern Territory. One can only imagine what Bob's reaction would have been had George Bush announced that 2500 US marines would be stationed on Australian soil. They would have had to cart him out of the House of Representatives.

What a difference a few years and the election of a Democrat as president makes. Once upon a time the left railed against joint Australian-American military bases. That was one of the main issues that made the left the left. It was a key dividing line between the ALP Right wing, which backed such bases, and the Left wing, which opposed them.

But those were the days of the Cold War. In those days the bases were part of the Western alliance against the Soviet empire. Some on the left were Soviet supporters who wanted to help the communist cause, but most were fellow-travellers who fell for the line that somehow these bases were provocative and would tempt the Soviets to do something they would not do if only people were a whole lot nicer to them. The left never seemed to worry about Soviet military power. It was only the Americans that got them agitated.

In the end the policy of American military strength cracked the Soviet Union - not the policy of disarmament. When the Soviet Union collapsed so too did the disarmament movement and the "peace rallies". Back in those days there were enormous marches on Palm Sunday to protest over the American military build-up. You'd have to look hard to find a Palm Sunday peace rally these days. Most of the demonstrators and left-wing church leaders have moved on to climate change. When peace rallies were all the rage in the 1980s, Peter Garrett was writing songs against US bases and running for the Senate as the candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party. It was long before he joined this government and long before this government decided it was in favour of ramping up uranium mining and the number of US marines on Australian soil.

I sometimes wonder how all those people who voted for Peter back then feel about him now. Have they taken the same pragmatic political journey or do they feel betrayed? Should he write a "Sorry" song - for demonising the uranium industry that the government now wants to promote? Or were his previous views just a stage persona - part of the leftist costume of rock'n'roll.

Which is better? To hold sincere beliefs that are proved wrong or to be insincere about your views in the first place? I guess a person who has genuinely changed would explain their reasons. But we are not going to get that from Bob or Julia or Peter.

Bob Brown was all worked up about Guantanamo Bay when George Bush visited Australia, but he does not seem to worry so much now that Obama is in charge. Julia Gillard used to complain that Australia was subservient to America. Now she claims she has made our alliance stronger than ever before.

In opposition, Labor harvested votes on the left. In government it wants to appeal to conservatives. The Coalition should not be tempted to switch sides just because Labor has done so. The Coalition supported joint bases when the youthful Garretts and Gillards were against them. It supported uranium mining and the sale of uranium to India. It should see Labor's about-face as a massive vindication. It was proved right.

Labor MPs may feel happy to see Obama and Gillard standing in front of troops in the Northern Territory - it is a great photo opportunity for their side of politics. But alliances are between countries. They are designed to outlive the political office-holders of the day. In the future it could be Newt Gingrich and Tony Abbott standing there being cheered by US marines in the NT. The principle is either right or it is wrong and it doesn't turn on who happens to be in office.

That is why it is so useful to have the left of Australian politics now locked in to traditional Coalition policies. Bipartisan support has been firmly established. And in the future if there is ever a complaint about marines based in Australia, just pull out the footage of a beaming Bob Brown grasping the hand of the president who announced it.


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