Saturday, November 05, 2011

Qld. Conservative leader to open up some wilderness areas to mining

THE Steve Irwin Reserve set up by former Liberal PM John Howard will be opened up to mining, under plans by LNP leader Campbell Newman to restrict Queensland's landmark Wild Rivers Act.

Mr Newman announced yesterday that statutory protection of rivers would be repealed. It means major developments such as mining will potentially be allowed much closer to rivers under an impact assessment system.

Mr Newman will remove Cape York's Wenlock, Stewart, Archer and Lockhart rivers from legislative protection but - at this stage - leave others to stand. Mr Newman said the changes would give Cape York locals greater control of their economic future.

Terri Irwin, wife of the late Steve Irwin, said she had tried unsuccessfully to talk to Mr Newman about the issue. "Considering that a child dies every 20 seconds ... from drinking polluted water, I think it's absolutely ridiculous to be considering anything other than supporting wild rivers," Ms Irwin said.

Environment Minister Vicky Darling said Mr Newman described his scheme as a pilot plan, which made her wonder what would be next. "I'd urge Mr Newman to go up country and see what people say about wild rivers," she said.

Mr Newman said Cape York would be better protected by his plan. "It is clear wild rivers was designed more to capture green preferences, rather than for genuine, balanced environmental and development outcomes on Cape York," he said.


Nanny state taxation

The nanny state’s irresistible urge to meddle in peoples’ choices, combined with government’s voracious appetite for revenue, is producing a new class of highly targeted behavioural taxes. France recently announced a new tax on sugary soft drinks (which has the typically French twist of harming mostly non-French companies). Meanwhile, Denmark has introduced a new tax on the saturated fat content of food (the ‘fat tax’).

Australia has its own examples. The Labor government introduced the ‘alcopops’ tax in 2009 and imposed a 25% increase in the excise on cigarettes last year. Both of these actions built on the existing excise system in the traditional domain of ‘sin taxes,’ but their motive was the same as the more recent and less traditional French and Danish taxes. Our government is also toying with the idea of using the tax system to jack up the price of wine so that the minimum price would be considerably above existing prices at the low end.

The recent tax forum in Canberra was held just as Denmark’s fat tax hit the news. There were calls from predictable quarters at the forum for Australia to follow suit. In contrast Gary Banks, Chairman of the Productivity Commission, sounded a strong note of caution against behavioural taxes, saying that much of the detail on how to change behaviour through taxation is unresolved and that behavioural taxes may produce perverse results.

Quite apart from Banks’ technical arguments about the effectiveness of behavioural taxes, there are other reasons for Australia not to follow France and Denmark:

* Such taxes take the state too far into the territory of attempting to influence choices freely made by individuals.

* By penalising the great majority who eat and drink in moderation, such taxes use a sledge hammer to crack a nut.

* They make the tax system more complex and more expensive to comply with – the Henry tax review rightly emphasised the need for simplification and broader tax bases.

* The unstated motive is often revenue-raising, but if more revenue is needed it should be raised more efficiently.

When new or increased behavioural taxes are announced, governments invariably say that the increase in revenue is incidental to the main motive. The test of their sincerity is whether they pocket the revenue or hand it back through cuts in other taxes. I have never known the latter to happen. I do not want to see Australian governments go further down the road of nanny-state taxation, but if they do then they should commit themselves to equivalent cuts in other taxes.


Local parks are not free

COUNCILS fear the death of the local park, with the state's pricing regulator finding green spaces are forcing up house prices in new estates.

An analysis of three new land release areas in Sydney's northwest found land for open space and recreation came at a high cost, lifting developer levies by as much as $60,000 per block, which was then put on homebuyers.

However, Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils president Alison McLaren said slashing parks in new neighbourhoods would not solve the housing affordability crisis.

"Western Sydney already has significant problems with unhealthy lifestyles and obesity issues; reducing the access to local recreational space will worsen this problem.

"Without green spaces and parks, these new estates will become unbearably hot, placing a huge new demand on our energy supplies for air conditioning and cooling."

IPART wants a whole-of-government review of the requirements for open space with the aim of scrapping housing levies for parks.

Urban Development Institute of Australia NSW CEO Steven Albin said the industry well understood the importance of parks but much of Sydney's western development had a 60 per cent open space requirement including river corridors, bushfire zones and stormwater management.

"It also has the effect of reducing the total number of dwellings that can be produced and that directly (affects) housing affordability," Mr Albin said. IPART acting chairman James Cox said the review had shown the "particularly high costs" of land set aside for open space.

"The cost of infrastructure should be borne by different groups in proportion to the benefits they receive from them," he said.

An online poll on found 90 per cent of 2980 readers did not want local parks sacrificed to keep house prices down.


What a horror! Musical garbage imposed on music students

Because it's Australian it's good??? Just aint't so, I am afraid

An HSC music syllabus focusing on contemporary Australian music presented an odd problem for Alice Chance.

Not only did she have to find a piece composed in the past 25 years for the performance component of the course but it also had to be written for a string instrument developed in the 15th century and largely confined to the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Her instrument of choice is the unusual viola da gamba and she is the first student in 25 years to perform on it for the HSC.

"I eventually found a piece and had to make a few adjustments to make it a bit HSC-friendly and put in a few more show-off bits," Alice, 17, a student at MLC Burwood, said.

The viola da gamba, a relative of the Renaissance vihuela, which preceded the plucking guitar, largely fell out of favour after the 17th century and is a far cry from the modern compositions she and 739 other students will encounter in their Music 2 HSC paper today.

The mandatory area of study is Australian music of the past 25 years and teachers draw upon musical styles from recordings, YouTube and live performances.


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