Monday, December 19, 2011

Lucky me!

I have received a Christmas card from Kevin Rudd (below). Not that you would know that it was a Christmas card as Kevvy mentions the C-word nowhere on it. It is a child's drawing of Christmas in Brisbane, I gather. At least the child put Christmas into the drawing. It at first reminded me of "The Scream" by Edvard Munch and I would not be surprised if Kevvy is feeling that way

Local growers get Pacific guest workers

And who is going to make sure that they go home at the end of their work? Polynesians are a high-crime group

FRUIT and vegetable growers will be able to employ seasonal workers from the Pacific region and East Timor from the middle of 2012. But they will have to show they can't find local workers at harvest time before accessing a $21.7 million program.

The program, announced by the Federal Government today follows a successful pilot scheme. The Government will also conduct a small-scale, three-year trial with the tourism industry. Cotton and cane growers as well as fishing operators will be included.

The Government says growers in the horticultural sector will be able to access a reliable, returning seasonal workforce from July 1.

The program would contribute to economic development in participating countries, such as East Timor, Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson described the trial as a "win-win" outcome for Australian tourism operators and regional workers who would be able to improve their skills through education and training.

There are about 36,000 vacancies in the tourism industry, as the sector faces severe labour shortages brought about by a booming resources sector competing for workers.

Seasonal workers taking part in the permanent program will be employed in accordance with Australian work standards. Employers will contribute to travel costs.


Households could be forced to find an extra $1400 for non-electric hot water under Labor green scheme expansion

I have had experience with both types of gas hot water systems and they are all prone to blowing out when it is windy -- which is hugely pesky

HOUSEHOLDS could be forced to find an extra $1400 for hot water under a massive expansion of another federal Labor green scheme.

The state government has warned that some families could struggle to comply with the little-known scheme, which bans electric systems in favour of expensive solar units and other systems.

NSW families will most likely have to pay $1.7 billion over the 10-year life of the scheme.

Under the second phase of the plan, about 70 per cent of NSW households will have to find up to $1400 for new solar, heat pump or gas systems if their energy-intensive electric hot water units break down and can't be repaired.

A spokeswoman for the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency said the scheme would help the "hot water industry to move to a low emission future" within 10 years.

Phase one of the scheme started last year, when electric water heaters were banned from being installed in new detached, terrace or town houses.

Phase two, which extends the ban to existing homes, was slated for next year but is likely to be delayed because the majority of households that rely on electric hot water systems do not have access to reticulated natural gas and only 7 per cent have solar.

The scheme was greeted with caution yesterday. "Before making a decision on implementation in NSW we need to be satisfied that the industry has a clearly demonstrated capacity to supply and install alternative technologies and that there are means available to assist lower income householders to manage the higher upfront costs of a solar or heat pump systems, where gas is unavailable," a NSW Office of Environment and Heritage spokeswoman said.

Industry bosses said plumbers need more training before the program is fully rolled out. "You can't just remove hot water systems without there being greater access and availability of gas as a cheaper alternative to going solar," Master Plumbers Association chief executive officer Paul Naylor said.

The Clean Energy Council said substantial rebates would need to be provided, backed by a strong educational campaign, to ensure households did not simply install the cheapest system with no environmental benefits.


A world of offers for Australia's brightest students

I tried to persuade my son to go to Oxford for his doctoral studies because of its recognition factor but he eventually decided that an Australian university was the best one in his field

THE answer to the ritual question among school leavers - "where are you going?" - is throwing up some startling answers, as well as a challenge to Australia's leading universities. What began as a trickle is now a small stream of outstanding academic talents using their HSC as a passport to travel.

Rowena Lazar, 18, first in the state in Italian beginners, couldn't pick up her award from the Education Minister last week; she was in Oxford, interviewing for a place for next year. Timothy Large, 17, first in extension two maths, had flown in on the morning of the ceremony from his interview at Cambridge. Harry Stratton, 18, first in classical Greek and Latin, has his heart set on Harvard or Yale.

Large and Stratton, from Sydney Grammar, both secured the highest possible ATAR ranking of 99.95 but neither will complete their undergraduate degree in Australia. And they will be followed by many of their peers. Schools such as Grammar and Queenwood run information nights at which US colleges make their pitches. This year as many as 30 Grammar school-leavers have applied to overseas universities, a figure which has alarmed Australian rivals.

Record numbers of Australians are now studying their first degree in the US, with about 1500 undergraduates at American colleges and universities in the 2010-11 academic year, an increase of 14.6 per cent.

Many leading schools report a growing trend among their best and brightest to aim immediately to begin their tertiary study overseas. "It's definitely increasing and it's confirmation that we measure ourselves on global standards, not on regional or even national ones," said Tom Alegounarias, the president of the NSW Board of Studies.

James Harpur, the principal of Queenwood, said numbers were rising. "This year we've got five UK applications and two to the US," he said. "It's often fuelled by ambition and a desire to broaden their horizons. That's the confidence they have which students didn't have several generations ago. It wasn't on our horizon."

The trend has disturbed domestic universities, which attempt to attract the sharpest minds with lucrative scholarships. But Mr Harpur said departures were motivated by ambition rather than a belief there was "anything inherently wrong with Sydney universities".

Sydney University and the University of NSW target top performers with scholarships, some exclusively for those with the highest ATAR in the state.

The University of Sydney Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education), Derrick Armstrong, said: "We would argue that we were one of the leading universities in the world. The education here is very high quality in a research intensive environment." However, he said it was understandable students would seek the opportunity to study overseas.

Peter Taylor, the executive director of the Australian Mathematics Trust, said an increasing number of Maths Olympiad students were heading overseas, particularly to Cambridge University, but they were not necessarily getting a better education.

"It's a perception they've got, but I can't see why, because for instance Sydney University runs an outstanding course for high flyers. They're absolutely in as good quality company as anywhere else."

Professor Taylor said some were attracted to a degree from Cambridge's Trinity College as a status symbol. "If someone's determined to go to Trinity, it's pretty hard to stop them."

Tyson Churcher, 17, from Northern Beaches Christian School, wants to study maths at Cambridge. He's just back from an exam and interview. "The opportunity to study at Cambridge would be enormous. You can't really call any university the best but it's certainly up there," he said.

Tyson, shortlisted for a scholarship at UNSW, has applied for a scholarship at Cambridge. He's unsure what to do if he is accepted. "I would have to think about it because the cost is certainly daunting but the opportunity is great," he said.


A Trojan Horse to empower the unions

It may be the season of political peace, if not goodwill, but the NSW and Victorian governments will be lax and naive if they allow the conviviality of the next two weeks to let a Trojan Horse enter their gates on January 1.

This Trojan Horse is a sly and toxic law that will begin germinating the seeds of industrial bastardry from the first day of 2012.

Just as the federal government's Fair Work Act opened up a host of grounds for industrial dispute - and we are seeing the result - the new national health and safety legislation coming into law on January 1 will allow unions greater power to shut down worksites without even having to go on strike.
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Greg Pearce, the NSW Minister for Finance and Services, who has responsibility for industrial relations, needs to stop this potential for manipulation. So does his Victorian counterpart, Richard Dalla-Riva, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations.

They need to lock out the Trojan Horse, more drily known as the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety (WHS) Bill 2011 and its "harmonised" WHS regulations. It is the first stage in creating a uniform national workplace health and safety code.

Only union-based governments could love this entire law, which is why the federal, Queensland, South Australian and Tasmanian governments, plus the ACT, will implement the bill in its entirety on January 1.

NSW and Victoria have opted for a twilight zone, adopting the bill but delaying its implementation for a year until January 1, 2013.

They should follow the lead of Western Australia, which has rejected elements of the bill outright. For good reason. Under this legislation, unions will have a new set of powers to exercise control of industrial worksites. It gives them an avenue to bypass the risks of industrial action and costly lockouts. They will have greater leverage to use workplace safety to take employees off a site while leaving them on full pay.

The WHS bill gives union officials the right to enter workplaces without notice. They need only to inform employers of their presence "as soon as practicable". They will have the right to "direct" employees to cease work on safety grounds. Workers will be entitled to full wages during such stoppages.

Further, the bill places the onus of proof on employers to prove there is no safety issue justifying a work stoppage. For an employer to get staff back to work, it would have go to the Industrial Relations Commission to prove the case that the worksite is safe.

The bill also sets more punitive penalties for safety breaches.

These problems are pointed to by the WA Department of Commerce on its website: "WA has highlighted four areas that it did not agree with [in the WHS bill] and consequently would not be adopting as law in this state: penalty levels; union right of entry; capacity to direct the cessation of work; reverse onus of proof in discrimination matters."

This legislation will compound problems already exposed by the Gillard government's Fair Work Act, which has seen an outbreak of strikes, lockouts and formal disputation via Fair Work Australia.

The industrial relations climate is contributing to the stagnation in productivity now hindering the economy and the government's ability to extract itself from its panic spending in 2008 and 2009 when, having inherited a budget surplus, it created Australia's biggest budget deficit since World War II.

Julia Gillard's dependence on union power and union officials is personified by her continued support for the slow-motion political disaster known as Craig Thomson, who can now add questions over plagiarism and junketeering to the laundry list of questions he was already facing.

The government's legitimacy and survival thus rests on the shoulders of a former union official, Thomson, who appears unable to survive another election, and the two MPs whose electorates recorded the lowest Labor/Greens votes in the entire 2010 election: Robert Oakeshott and Tony Windsor.

We also have a Treasurer, Wayne Swan, whose political career appeared cooked during the Godwin Grech affair in 2009 until a miscalculation by the then leader of the opposition, Malcolm Turnbull.

On the subject of Turnbull, I received an email from him at 5.59am last Thursday in response to my column setting out the stark new political divide in Canberra over gay marriage.

Turnbull: "Paul … your statement that I am a vocal supporter of gay marriage is false … In fact while

I have said I am re-examining the issue with an open mind I have quite expressly said that I have not changed my position stated many times that marriage is a permanent union between a man and a woman …"

I replied: "The offending sentence has been removed from the online edition of the SMH. The sentence now reads: 'The former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, whose electorate has a large gay population, is advocating a conscience vote for the Liberals.'

"I wrote what I wrote because you have been having a bet each way on gay marriage, deviating from [shadow] cabinet solidarity and undermining the Opposition Leader's unambiguous position. But … I will correct that in my column on Monday."

To which Turnbull replied: "I am not having a bet each way on gay marriage - I am doing exactly what I undertook to my electorate I would do and re-examine the issue … the assertion in your amended copy that 'Malcolm Turnbull … is advocating a conscience vote for the Liberals' is also not correct … As a shadow cabinet member I would vote in accordance with the shadow cabinet's decision - so the wording would be 'has advocated a conscience vote.' "


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