Thursday, December 08, 2011

Labor Party now practises what Greens preach

When the Australian people voted in last year's federal election, most of them did not vote for the Greens nor did they endorse a Coalition government involving the Greens. But that's what they got.

In the vote for the House of Representatives, where government is decided, 94 per cent of the adult population voted and 88 per cent of their collective primary vote went to parties other than the Greens. Yet in the ensuing 15 months all the big policy shifts by the Gillard government - none of which was put to the electorate - have been towards core policies of the Greens.

The Prime Minister said no to a carbon tax. We have a carbon tax. She said no to open borders. We have de facto open borders. She said no to gay marriage. Support for gay marriage is now Labor Party policy. She put off indefinitely any substance of an emissions trading scheme. The machinery for such a scheme has been legislated. She said little about giving trade unions sweeping new rights. The unions are now acting on sweeping new rights.
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Yet another brick in the Green wall was put in place this week when Gillard and her cabinet made a mockery of the tender process, reversed itself again, and wasted millions of dollars again, giving the running of the Australia Network to the ABC, indefinitely.

The Greens, utterly wedded to big government, wanted this tax-funded Australian overseas TV network to be part of the ABC. The Greens will propose legislation seeking to make this happen next year.

It already has, effectively. The network will operate as part of the ABC despite losing the tender process to Sky News and despite the ABC's dreadful 24-hour news network being grossly inferior to Sky News.

On a much larger scale, the government's decision this week to expand the refugee intake from 14,000 to 20,000 a year was another capitulation to a core Green policy.

Having inherited no asylum-seeker problem when it took office in 2007, the Labor government promptly changed the policy, softened the language and reinvigorated the people-smuggling industry.

It then embarked on achieving the worst of both worlds by maintaining a punitive detention policy, opening and filling detention centres around the country, detaining more people for longer than ever before. All while not stopping the boats.

The cost of this debacle has blown out to $1 billion a year. The government has given up, blamed the opposition and will now process asylum-seekers onshore in Australia - Greens policy. It will release them into the community more quickly - another core Greens policy.

To absorb the inevitable increase in asylum-seeker arrivals, it is simply increasing the refugee intake.

Had Julia Gillard taken this policy to the people in August last year, she would have lost the election.

Had she been forthcoming about her views on a carbon tax, she would have lost the election.

Had she revealed her desire to commit Australia to an emissions trading scheme as soon as possible, she would have lost the election.

Another telling detail emerged this week, from Durban, South Africa, where Australia is participating in the latest round of global talks on climate change. The government is supporting a binding agreement to set limits on global emissions.

It is anxious not to become isolated in its commitment to a global emissions trading scheme, which does not yet exist. But the only two governments that really matter on this subject, the United States and China, the world's two greatest polluters, have both been blocking binding commitments.

The week began with another shift to Greens policy with the formal endorsement by the Labor Party of support for gay marriage.

Another core Gillard policy was set aside by her party, if not by its leader, as Labor moved ground on the issue that probably matters more to the Greens than any other.

Now the government is shifting on another Greens issue, increasing the power of the unions. It is reviewing the Fair Work Act, the building block of industrial relations law.

The inevitable result will be that it seeks to make the law more union-friendly than it already is.

The Prime Minister's commitment to paying her debts to the unions was laid bare when she agreed to dismantle the highly effective Australian Building and Construction Commission, which was cleaning up an industry plagued by violence, blackmail and collusion.

The campaign to get rid of the commission (replaced by a building industry inspectorate with far less power) was led by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which had been fined $3 million by the commission for numerous corrupt practices.

The union's campaign was supported by the Greens, an unsavoury alliance given the industry's long history of corruption.

Unsavoury, but effective within the larger alliance Julia Gillard has made with the Greens.


Rooftop solar panels overloading electricity grid

THE runaway take-up of rooftop solar panels is undermining the quality of electricity supplies, feeding so much power back into the network that it is stressing the system and causing voltage rises that could damage household devices such as computers and televisions.

Power distribution lines and home wiring were designed for electricity to flow from power stations to appliances, but households with solar panels do the reverse of this.

One of Australia's biggest electricity network providers, Ausgrid, yesterday warned that there was a "significant likelihood" that costs would have to rise because of the impact of the solar photovoltaic cells.

In a letter to the NSW pricing regulator, obtained by The Australian, Ausgrid warns that in areas with a high concentration of solar cells, voltage levels can rise and this can have "consequences for appliances and equipment in customers' homes". It can also cause solar systems to switch off.

In Queensland, some new applications for rooftop solar systems have been rejected and Energex now urges customers to check that a solar PV system can be installed without threatening the operation of the network.

In Western Australia, Horizon Power has set limits on how much renewable energy can be installed in a system without affecting the power supply. Horizon is rejecting applications for new renewables installations in Exmouth and Carnarvon, and accepting them only from households, schools and not-for-profit organisations in Broome and Leonora.

Energex spokesman Mike Swanston said it was becoming difficult for electricity distribution authorities to set up the power system to ensure correct voltages when some houses in a street had solar and others did not.

"It is similar to the water network - the pipes get smaller and the pressure is designed to be lower as you get closer to the house," Mr Swanston said. "Start pumping water backwards into the smaller household pipes, and all sorts of strange things happen."

Energy Networks Association acting chief executive John Deveraux said the problem would only get worse as more rooftop solar panels were installed and the systems got bigger.

In southeast Queensland alone, more than 22,300 rooftop solar systems were installed in the first three months of this financial year - more than the 19,000 installed in the 2009-10 financial year, according to Energex.

Federal Labor's target of producing 20 per cent of electricity from renewable sources such as solar power by 2020 has pushed up demand for the rooftop PV systems. So, too, have state-based schemes that pay generous feed-in tariffs to households for injecting power back into the grid.

Meanwhile, a flood of cheap solar panels being made in Asia and imported into Australia has offset moves by the government and some states to wind back their subsidies.

Power quality problems are worse in rural areas as the network is sometimes weaker and there is generally more space, meaning that bigger solar PV systems with capacities of 5 kilowatts or more are being installed, compared with the 1kW-3kW systems more common in urban areas.

Essential Energy, which operates powerlines in country NSW and parts of southern Queensland, wants NSW to follow Queensland's lead on introducing a cap on solar PV systems of 5kW to avoid power quality problems.

Endeavour Energy, which runs the network in Sydney's greater west, warns that some solar panel installers have not done voltage checks and other measurements to ensure the solar PV system operates adequately. "The biggest problem we've got with the accelerated rollout is making sure every installation is fully compliant," Endeavour's general manager of network development, Ty Christopher, said.

Adelaide solar panel installer Chris Hart said the problems were worse in the summer months, when airconditioner use added to the stress on the system. Mr Hart, who owns EcoSouth Solar Electricity, said areas with a lot of solar panels pushed the voltage up to the maximum allowable level, triggering shutdowns in the individual systems and taking the load off the grid.

He said solar systems "drop out for a few minutes" when voltages get too high, a phenomenon known as "tripping out". "Then they try to come online again and it pushes the voltage up again and it's very wearing," he said. "That's the problem with having too much solar in an area where the local authority hasn't got enough wires or copper in the street to hold the voltage down."

Mr Hart said the size of conductors and cables in the streets would have to be upgraded "so it can handle lots of solar, versus times when there's lots of load and no solar".

"If you get a very, very hot night and there's obviously no solar, the mains voltage is going to drop a lot," he said. "If your wires aren't up to it, you've got a problem."

The network companies say measures such as retrofits and battery storage can stop the "tripping" but can be costly. In Western Australia, Horizon Power has set "hosting capacity limits" for renewable energy installations.


Coal seam gas industry fires back at Greenies

THE coal seam gas industry mounted a strong defence of its actions yesterday, claiming it had spent about $10 billion, most of it in Australia, and created about 9000 jobs. It also backed its environmental controls and standards and vowed that it could operate to the benefit of Queensland.

At the Queensland Gas Conference yesterday, Treasurer Andrew Fraser labelled the industry as a once-in-200-year opportunity.

Mr Fraser said it was helping to create a "meat and three veg" economy compared with the sugar hit of the credit binge.

Premier Anna Bligh said the industry was at the centre of the rise of China and would help stabilise the Asia Pacific. "Queensland resources are helping to lift millions of people out of poverty at a rate unprecedented in human history and these results have a global significance."

Adding to the promise of billions for an education fund from the CSG royalties, the industry yesterday outlined mammoth investment, including $13 million for community infrastructure in Gladstone.

Queensland Gas Company has funded a $150 million community management plan and said it had so far spent $3.7 billion in Australia as it builds a $15 billion plant in Gladstone. The company has estimated it will add $32 billion to the economy in its first 10 years.

The spending was announced at a gas conference where the industry hit back against claims it was damaging the environment, particularly the Great Artesian Basin.

"The negative impacts on water are overstated," QGC boss Jim Knudsen said. "We are going to generate a huge amount of value. "We are making the communities a better place to live."

About $160 million from QGC had also been awarded in contracts to local businesses.

Santos's Mark Macfarlane said his company's GLNG project had committed $31 million to the Gladstone and Maranoa regions and had employed 386 Gladstone locals for its Curtis Island development.

Santos also announced a CSG training centre with SkillsTech at Acacia Ridge to train up to 90 people at a time to work in the gas fields.

The Queensland University of Technology has also teamed up with Schlumberger, the world's largest oilfield services provider, for a research centre in unconventional gas while the University of Queensland will develop a centre for CSG with $20 million from the industry.


Serious neglect of dementia sufferers' in care homes

DEMENTIA sufferers' complaints are being routinely ignored in Queensland nursing homes as management struggles to provide the care residents need.

Nurses and carers have told The Courier-Mail resident complaints go unanswered as home management write the complaints off as simply a result of their illness.

Other residents and family members have complained of heavy-handed treatment at homes, including calling the police to remove patients and carers who raise concerns.

"Complaints got residents nowhere if they had mild dementia or no regular visits from family," one care assistant wrote to The Courier-Mail detailing her time on nursing homes. "They were just dismissed as not knowing what they're talking about.

"I saw them humiliated and intimidated, spoken about offensively as if they weren't even in the room.

In its submission to the Productivity Commission's aged-care report, Alzheimer's Australia, which lobbies on behalf of all dementia sufferers and their carers, said dementia was one of the most common reasons for entering a nursing home.

"Dementia can no longer be considered an issue affecting a small population of older adults in aged care but must be seen as part of the core business of aged-care provision," it says.

"Dementia-specific services should not simply be a way of locking away difficult individuals from other residents.

"For the vast majority of residents with dementia there is no need to separate them from individuals who do not have cognitive impairment in dementia specific care.

"Facilities should be designed according to dementia-friendly principles and the quality of dementia care in mainstream facilities should be improved."

A Courier-Mail investigation recently found dozens of nursing homes had failed to meet basic government care standards.

Failures included bungled fire safety evacuations, residents forced to share prescription drugs, frail and elderly residents soiling their beds because there was no help, and homes where staff and volunteers had not passed police checks.

Chronic wounds were being left untreated, and residents were at risk of malnutrition and dehydration, audits by the Aged Care and Accreditation Agency say.


Internet stymies government control

Broadly speaking and subject to constitutional limits, the Australian Parliament has powers to make laws for Australia. It can make laws that might affect Australian interests but enforcing them abroad is problematic, to say the least. Australian law cannot be enforced on businesses located outside of Australia that are not breaking the country in which they operate. The internet has enabled such businesses to provide services to Australians without being subject to Australian law.

Take, for example, the Interactive Gambling Act (IGA), which bans the advertising or provision of casino-style gambling to Australians. The ban applies to any person anywhere in the world and criminalises the directors of foreign companies that supply gambling services to Australians, thereby exposing them to arrest should they ever come to Australia. The IGA has been in place for 10 years but according to a recent Productivity Commission report, it has largely failed. The report estimates that in 2008 some 700,000 Australians — or about 4 per cent of the population — played online casino games. This number is thought to have increased since.

To date there have been no prosecutions of foreign casino gaming providers. Australians are therefore able to bet offshore with unregulated providers, and the tax from those services goes overseas.

Other laws that do not apply when Australians use online services based overseas include laws relating to privacy, content regulation and consumer protection. Access to those overseas services diminishes the power of government - not only because Australians can elect to use a service that is not regulated here, but also because our lawmakers must have regard to local businesses who are disadvantaged when trying to complete with online services.

If lawmakers make rules that are onerous or expensive they can inhibit local businesses and encourage international companies providing services to Australians to remain offshore.

The internet also diminishes government power in two other important ways. The first is that it facilitates unregulated communication. The power of unregulated communication is amply demonstrated by the Arab Spring and, for Australia, the release of sensitive diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks. An important issue for the independent media inquiry is how online sources of news and information are affecting traditional media and how the traditional regulatory framework for newspapers and journalism should respond.

The second comes from the distributed nature of the internet. Now that we rely on the internet for so much communication and economic activity, it has become critical infrastructure. As a network of networks, the internet places government in a position where information sharing, co-operation and quick response by regulatory agencies (rather than set and forget regulation) is the only way to exercise control.

Our information infrastructure is protected by constant monitoring, intervention and international co-operation. In a new and significant way our national security is in the hands of others. An example of this is the difficulty that copyright rights holders have in preventing infringement of copyright over the internet. The rights and penalties in the Copyright Act have had little impact on the level of infringement so rights holders have turned to ISPs to develop a co-operative enforcement regime that they believe will be a more effective solution.

Is any of this really new? Reliance on the internet and exposure to the risks associated with its nature as a shared network is new. For a long time Australians have been able to buy mail order from overseas. It is new that a market place of foreign providers is now competing on product, price and service 24 hours a day in the family home. In relation to communication, telephones and mobiles are hardly new. What is new is the power of social media. Instant multimedia publication by anyone to the world at large or selected interest groups is a new and powerful tool.

So what should our politicians do? Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy has called for blocking of access to refused classification material online and the Broadcasting Services Act and the IGA can both order internet service providers to block illegal content. The problem is that prohibition doesn't have a great and glorious history of success. The idea of governments preventing access to lawful overseas services can have trade implications and blocking on the internet can be circumvented.

How to regulate the electronic economy is a live subject in a number of important government reviews under way such as the Convergence Review, the independent media inquiry and the review of the IGA. How the issue is handled is a significant and ongoing challenge. The response we need is a measured adjustment to the new environment. Lawmakers need to be prepared to give up control of matters that have previously been the subject of direct regulation and instead secure industry co-operation and facilitate user self help as substitutes. The response we may get is heavy handed regulation with little practical effect.


1 comment:

Paul said...

"Failures included bungled fire safety evacuations, residents forced to share prescription drugs, frail and elderly residents soiling their beds because there was no help, and homes where staff and volunteers had not passed police checks."

And they think there's anything new here? Australians expect top-shelf care and expect not to have to pay for it, and there's only so much the quality charity organizations can stump up for.