Monday, February 28, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says Julia should get an Oscar for her role as puppet of Bob Brown

The Labor party's spending spree is now coming home to roost -- and shitting on the battlers

Particularly first home buyers and would-be first home buyers

First home buyers have just cause to feel betrayed by the Rudd-Gillard government as they struggle under the strain of seven consecutive interest rate rises which have been exacerbated by loose fiscal policy.

After the amount of Saturday's Kelly and Andrew had spent thumping the pavement looking for a house, they felt ready to kill the person who snapped up this one. Photo:

A disturbing new survey by Mortgage Choice has found that 10 per cent of first home buyers, who purchased their homes in the past two years, have either sold their homes or are considering selling because of financial hardship, caused by interest rate hikes.

The survey also found that another 6 per cent would sell if interest rates climbed a further one per cent, while another 14 per cent would sell if they rose another 1.5 per cent.

Many of these first home buyers were lured into the market through generous first home buyer grants at a time of historically low interest rates.

The Rudd-Gillard Government was more than happy to artificially stimulate the lower end of the housing market so as to give the impression that they had done a wonderful job staving off the effects of the GFC.

Of course they didn't alert all the first home buyers they suckered about the inevitable interest rate rises that would follow their totally over-the-top $87 billion stimulus spend.

The seven consecutive interest rate rises included four last year alone. We now have by far the highest interest rates in the developed world with a current cash rate of 4.75 per cent whereas Canada is at 1 per cent, Hong Kong .5 per cent, UK .5 per cent and Japan .1 per cent.

As a consequence, the current average variable home loan rate is around 7.7 per cent, which Loan Market says has resulted in first home buyers becoming an "endangered species". By comparison first home buyers were dominant in the market in 2009 due to the beefed up first home buyer incentives and the historically low interest rates.

While first home buyers are particularly vulnerable, mortgage stress of course extends to those on higher incomes, who have upgraded their homes on the strength of increased equity built up as property prices boomed.

Growth has now certainly flattened and prices have dipped in some parts, although the economists remain optimistic that we will avoid a US-style property market crash. The last thing we need is the nightmare scenario where home owners are forced to sell properties for less than they paid for them and for less than they owe.

The irony of the difficult current environment is how Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were elected in 2007 on a promise to ease cost of living pressures for "working families" and to keep downward pressure on interest rates.

Their embarrassing Fuel Watch and Grocery Watch schemes have become the hallmarks of Labor's dismal attempts to deliver on their pledge.

Instead families have copped a double whammy because not only have interest rates added about $6,000 a year in repayments to the typical mortgage, but cost of living continues to soar, with electricity prices up almost 40 per cent in three years, water up 27 per cent and rates up 15 per cent.

Latest ABS statistics in fact show that living costs are up 4.5 per cent compared to the official inflation rate of 2.6 per cent. Wages are simply not keeping pace with mounting household expenses.

Add to this the further threat posed to household budgets by Julia Gillard's new carbon tax, including annual increases in power bills of at least $300 and 6.5 cents extra per litre of petrol.

What we have seen is a government that has dudded those who are most financially vulnerable to interest rate hikes and increases in everyday living costs.

The most frustrating thing is how Kevin Rudd and now Julia Gillard have ignored repeated and sustained warnings to rein in spending and borrowing and to pay off debt. And the warnings haven't just come from the Coalition, they have come from Treasury, Finance, the RBA, economists and business.

Reserve Bank board member Donald McGauchie took the extraordinary step of rebuking the government for its loose fiscal policy. He said "we are spending money on fiscal stimulus and other things we shouldn't be spending money on and that means higher interest rates than we would otherwise have."

This government simply lacks the discipline to tighten its belt, to stop all the needless spending and to trim the fat in the budget. Instead we have the perverse situation where fiscal policy is working at direct odds with monetary policy.

Until this government starts living within its means, first home buyers and other struggling households will continue to pay the price.


Telstra makes broadband warning: NBN laws 'create new monopoly'

Why won't Julia abandon this dog of a thing? The fact that it's the only idea Kevvy ever had should not hold her up

TELSTRA says the Gillard government's proposed laws for the National Broadband Network threaten to wipe out the public benefits of the $36 billion project by allowing the NBN Co to monopolise new areas and strangle future competition.

Even as Telstra negotiates remaining hurdles to the $11bn deal to join the nation's biggest infrastructure project, it is demanding changes to the next set of NBN legislation, which sets the rules for the NBN Co building the national network.

Last night, the office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the government was "keeping an open mind to any amendments" and was in discussions with Telstra about the legislation.

The telco giant has told a parliamentary inquiry that the so-called Companies Bill and the Access Bill for the project have deficiencies that put "the benefits of the NBN in jeopardy".

It has savaged rules designed to stop commercial operators from "cherry-picking" to serve customers in the most lucrative areas, declaring this would discourage investments in new super-fast networks that would give consumers lower prices by providing competition to Labor's NBN. This would limit future competition and innovation - the very benefits the NBN is supposed to achieve.

On top of this, the telco fears the way the laws are drafted could allow the NBN Co to provide services directly to companies such as Woolworths, miners, shire councils and government agencies - undermining the government's policy that the NBN Co should offer only wholesale services and not deal directly with customers.

The development comes as Senator Conroy yesterday defended the level of government intervention in the project, declaring Australia had had "some of the most expensive and the slowest broadband in the world". "We've had the least reformed telecommunications sector anywhere in the world, virtually," Senator Conroy told Sky News's Australian Agenda program.

The laws are not only critical to the rollout of the NBN but are also necessary to finalise the proposed $11bn infrastructure-sharing deal with Telstra so they can go to a vote of Telstra's 1.3 million shareholders on July 1.

Yesterday, a Telstra spokesman said the negotiations were continuing and on track. But the push for further changes to the Companies Bill and the Access Bill could add more pressure to the timeline.

Senator Conroy's spokeswoman said yesterday the government was "committed to debating and passing this important legislation".

Telstra stresses in its submission that it wants to see the bills pass through parliament - but amended first. The legislation has been introduced into parliament and referred to a Senate committee.

In its submission to the Senate, Telstra criticises the planned "cherry-picking" rules to stop the NBN's less regulated rivals building their own super-speed networks in metropolitan areas before the NBN is rolled out.

The government has said the cherry-picking provisions create a level playing field making other suppliers subject to the same regulatory requirements as the NBN Co.

According to Senator Conroy's spokeswoman: "NBN Co would be hindered in delivering its objectives if it is subject to strict regulatory requirements while competing against other, less-regulated providers of super-fast broadband."

The McKinsey-KPMG implementation study recommends protecting the NBN Co from cherry-pickers because it has to provide affordable services across all areas including regional and remote Australia.

The NBN Co forecasts that if it were "cherry-picked", returns on the project could fall to below 5 per cent - less than the long-term government bond rate. But Telstra says the provisions will make it "almost impossible" for other networks to compete with the government-funded NBN Co and discourage investment in infrastructure as they impose regulation.

Competition from other super-fast networks would encourage lower prices and more innovative products, the company insists. "If by 'cherry-picking' the government means competitive entry in areas where this is efficient, then it is not clear why this should be discouraged," the submission states.

"This type of so-called 'cherry-picking' has been a feature of telecommunications markets in Australia and around the world for the past two decades. "The government should be seeking to encourage efficient entry in all its forms, and thus promote competition. "Discouraging new entry where this is economically efficient . . . will not benefit consumers over the long term."

Internet provider Internode says the provisions will mean that no new fibre is deployed in Australia other than by NBN Co.

And Carrier Pipe Networks says commercial operators should not be subject to the same regulation as NBN Co, which enjoys advantages including $27.5bn in government funding and "opt-out" laws in some states to automatically connect homes to the NBN.


NSW public hospital chaos gets even worse

Guess why nearly 50% of Australians insure themselves for private hospital treatment, despite the government hospitals being "free"

A LACK of recovery beds is forcing thousands of NSW public hospital patients to be sent home without having their operations.

Most are suddenly told to leave after they have been lying in a hospital bay, having fasted and had blood taken in preparation for surgery.

Figures obtained by the Herald under new public access laws reveal that for four years hospitals have consistently failed to meet the state government's benchmark on same-day cancellations, despite the federal government's $600 million elective surgery "blitz" in 2009 and last year.

The last-minute cancellations are occurring regularly at three times the accepted standard.

The chairman of the hospital practice committee of the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association, Brian Owler, says the cancellations waste time and money. "Theatre resources are not being properly used because the doctors and nurses present in the operating theatre have no patients to operate on," he said.

"It comes down to beds. We do need to have a certain number of beds, particularly in places like Westmead and Nepean, where demand is high," Associate Professor Owler said. "It's unusual for us to cancel patients because we've run out of time." Another 1450 beds were needed to address the problem.

This year, almost 9000 patients are expected to have their operations cancelled on the day they are booked in, according to NSW Health.

Last September, 65,944 patients were booked for surgery in NSW some time within the next year. The so-called Surgery Dashboard data, a monthly snapshot of surgery performance, shows the only time the benchmark for same-day cancellations was met was when it was set at 5 per cent in early 2007. The benchmark was tightened to 2 per cent in March 2007, and since then six of the nine former area health services have failed to meet the monthly target.

Last year, only Northern Sydney Central Coast, which includes Royal North Shore, and Greater West area health services met the benchmark - and then for only two months and one month respectively.

A Herald analysis of four years of data shows:

- The average rate of same-day cancellations was at least double the 2 per cent benchmark for six of the nine area health services every year;

- The benchmark was met only 22 per cent of the time since March 2007 and usually during the holiday shutdown periods;

- Sydney West Area Health Service, which includes Westmead and Nepean hospitals, was the worst-performing area with an average same-day cancellation rate of 5.4 per cent in 2010 and 6.3 per cent in 2009.

Last year, South Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Area Health Service, which includes St Vincent's Hospital, not only failed every month to meet the 2 per cent benchmark for same-day cancellations but was at least double that rate every month.

Professor Owler said the figures represented "only a fraction" of the cancellations.

"If the patient has not been put on the operating list in the first place, it will make the figures look better," he said. "I think [the benchmark] 2 per cent is ambitious but clearly double or triple of that figure is unacceptable."

A deputy director-general of NSW Health, Tim Smyth, estimated 40-45 per cent of the cancellations were for "patient reasons", such as not turning up or being unfit for surgery because of illness.

"The other reasons are related to the hospital side: an ICU bed is not available due to trauma cases etc, so the procedure has to be rescheduled; a bed is not available as planned due to overnight demand; or there has been an unexpected problem with a supplier providing a necessary piece of equipment," Dr Smyth said.

He stressed that the 2 per cent benchmark was an "aspirational target" set by surgeons on the Surgical Services Taskforce because hospitals were generally meeting the previous 5 per cent target.

A statement from the department said: "A cancellation rate of around 4-5 per cent overall is generally the picture in other states as well, so NSW is not materially different. Across Australia we are all working on getting the rate lower."

A departmental spokesman said 400 more beds were funded for 2010-11. He defended the department's record on elective surgery by saying 91 per cent of patients overall had their operations on time.


"Racist" Baa Baa Black Sheep put out to pasture

BLACK sheep are on the endangered species list as some children in north Queensland learn to sing Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep.

The English nursery rhyme may have survived for 200-plus years but political correctness could finally put it out to pasture. Some schools in Britain have banned the song for being racist, but Pelicans Innisfail Child Care allows children to sing about black sheep or rainbow sheep.

Director Pam McLaughlin said some teachers sang the changed lyrics, and some children already knew the changes. "We just go with whatever the children want," Ms McLaughlin said. "The kids are just singing and having fun. Some sing black sheep, some sing rainbow sheep. It's just a song. "We don't have anything that says, 'You have to sing it this way'."

The BBC reported in 2000 that Birmingham City Council had banned the song for being racist. It was later overturned after a backlash from parents.

The council said it had obtained the guidelines, which stated: "The history behind the rhyme is very negative and also very offensive to black people, due to the fact that the rhyme originates from slavery".

Six years later in 2006, a nursery in Sutton Courtenay in Britain banned the nursery rhyme.

Australian National University social psychologist Michael Platow said he doubted Baa Baa Black Sheep would teach racism.

"I don't know why a child would associate a black sheep with a black man," he said.

The Office of Early Childhood Education and Care associate director-General Zea Johnston said no direction had been given and centres were responsible for their own education programs.

Pelicans has indigenous and non-indigenous children, and recognises diversity. Children play with white dolls, darker-skinned dolls and dolls of both sexes.

Ms McLaughlin said she thought changing the lyrics was a bit confusing for children. "You can get a black sheep but you can't get a rainbow sheep."



Three current articles below

Carbon tax a pledge of suicide

Terry McCrann

JULIA Gillard is embarked on introducing two new taxes. he first is the big lie that last week was turned into a big tax: her Julia carbon tax, the tax you have when you promise not to have that tax. The second is the reworked resources tax.

One is designed to force us to cut our emissions of carbon dioxide. To stress, emissions of the life-enhancing gas, not the so-called carbon pollution of bits of grit subconscious image that Gillard and Co deliberately promote.

The other is based on the assumption that China, in particular, but also India will continue to increase exponentially their emissions of that very same carbon dioxide.

Needless to say, except it does apparently need saying repeatedly, the increase in their emissions will dwarf any reduction we achieve. Rendering any reduction by us utterly pointless.

Indeed, China for all its claimed commitment to aggressive world leadership in alternative energy, plans to get most of its electricity from coal-fired power. Not just today, but tomorrow and, indeed, the day after tomorrow.

Over the next 10 years, it plans to install net new capacity of coal-fired power equal to 10 times our entire power generation sector.

To stress, that's net additional generation. Its existing coal-fired power sector is already 14 times our entire power sector. To the extent it does close down any -- really -- grit-emitting old dirty coal-fired generation, that means even more replacement plants. All fired increasingly by coal from . . . you fill in the blank.

Our real "assistance" to increased Chinese CO2 emissions, though, won't be centred on shipping energy coals from Newcastle. But in pouring hundreds of millions of tonnes of iron ore and coking coal every year into Chinese, and increasingly, Indian mills. And not to forget our old customers in Japan and South Korea.

Gillard's proposed resources tax doesn't just assume huge increases in these exports but is designed specifically to encourage their maximum expansion. Along with -- dare I say it, carbon-based -- natural gas.

Does the Prime Minister have the slightest self-awareness of a certain hypocrisy, but even more an incongruity between her two taxes and the underlying hopes and realities they are based on?

That on the one hand, she has to turn every light switch in the country into a tax collection point, to cut emissions to save the Barrier Reef, if not indeed the planet? Yet, on the other hand, she says a silent, secular, prayer that China and India go gangbusters emitting, to utterly swamp any such domestic emissions cuts; to save her budget from deficit? And not just save her -- or her successor's -- budget; that the foundation of the entire Australian economy will rest increasingly on those increasing emissions?

There is a further point of damning intersection with reference to China that has utterly eluded the Prime Minister. To say nothing of the massed brainpower of Treasury and our down under 21st century da Vinci, Ross Garnaut.

There she was at it again on Wednesday, saying that we had to move to a post-carbon economy. That "the global economy is shifting". That "Australia is at risk of falling behind the rest of the world." That "the longer we wait, the greater the cost to the economy, and the greater the cost to Australian jobs".

Somehow this message seems to have escaped the Chinese. And the Indians. They are making every effort to move to a carbon economy. Indeed, that's precisely the reason argued for giving them a pass on their exploding emissions.

If indeed the future, and the jobs of the future, lie in a post-carbon economy, wouldn't the very canny Chinese go straight to "that bountiful future?"

What idiots they are for trying to build the carbon economy that our down under smarties Gillard, Garnaut and (Treasury secretary Ken) Henry want to discard like yesterday's worn-out snakeskin.

So what is Gillard "saying" with her two taxes? That we should feed the Chinese and Indian carbon addiction? We should profit from the destruction of the planet? Literally, in the case of the government's tax revenues?

The truth is that Gillard and Co have taken policy into the realm of the surreal. She and her cabinet have moved beyond incoherence. Guided you have to say by a Treasury that has lost utterly any semblance of rational analysis and advice.

She makes Kevin Rudd, who had firmly established himself as a prime minister worse than Whitlam, look like the very model of prudent thoughtful judgment in comparison.

His rush to lock in an Emissions Trading Scheme before the Copenhagen conference was ridiculous and mad. It would have left Australia right out there like the proverbial shag on the rock when Copenhagen collapsed without even the most basic binding commitments.

To say nothing of the whole bureaucratic imposition of the ETS. More complicated and more onerous than the GST and open to far more rorts than the building insulation fiasco.

But at least before Copenhagen, you could argue the hope of some global agreement requiring an Australian commitment.

Not so now after both its failure and even more the gas-emitting farce of Cancun. Gillard doesn't even have that excuse. She embarks on this destructive absurdity knowing that the world -- read: China, India and the US -- are not going to follow.

If we had a Treasury that retained any of its traditional competence, it would be telling the government that an attack on carbon dioxide emissions is an attack on Australia's core and pervasive national comparative advantage.

Why are we among the biggest emitters per head of CO2? The biggest by far, if we include the indirect emissions from the use of our resource exports?

Because we benefit from our bountiful coal and iron ore. Gillard's attack on the so-called carbon economy is not just designed to hurt every Australian. Permanently. It is effectively a national suicide pledge. From the nation's leader. Incredible. Surreal. All-too real.


Tony Abbott hints he'd roll back carbon tax if he wins the 2013 election

Tony Abbott has signalled he will scrap Labor's carbon tax if he wins the next election.

And in a blow to the Gillard government, the Greens have suggested they will not support cent-for-cent cuts to the petrol excise to compensate for petrol price rises under the tax.

The Opposition Leader declared this morning: "We are against this in opposition and we will be against this in government."

The next election is not due until August 2013 - a year after Julia Gillard's carbon tax is scheduled to come into effect.

Mr Abbott said voters should be "crystal clear" that he was opposed to the tax, but said he had to consult with shadow cabinet before announcing his formal policy response. "What I am not going to do is totally pre-empt due process, as Julia Gillard did," Mr Abbott told radio station 2UE. "She didn't send this off to her cabinet, she didn't send this off to her party room and I have to do all those things."

The approach flagged by Mr Abbott appears similar to that taken by Kim Beazley with the GST. The former Labor leader went to the 2001 election promising to "roll back" elements of the GST, but the pledge was dropped at subsequent elections.

The government says no decision has been taken on whether petrol will be included in the scheme. But Greens deputy leader Christine Milne suggested this morning that compensation for petrol price rises should not be given across the board. "We need to be sure that we are compensating low income earners, the people who are most vulnerable," she said. "I want to make sure that we do that because our job is to make sure that they are not suffering because of this."

Selectively compensating voters for petrol price rises could prove difficult for the government, because of sensitivities over bowser prices.

Coalition MPs arriving at parliament this morning accused Ms Gillard of "lying" to the Australian people by reneging on a pre-election pledge not to introduce a carbon tax. "She's trying to weasel her way out of the fact she lied," Liberal MP Dennis Jensen said. "The simple point is she went to the election and quite explicitly stated on not just one occasion that there would be no carbon tax under her government."

But Labor MP Andrew Leigh accused Mr Abbott of running a fear campaign. "It's going to be a strong scare campaign and he's going to run hard on it, but it's not what I think the Australian people want," he said. "Direct action is very, very expensive. How do you pay for that? Probably a big new income tax rise."

Labor MP Janelle Saffin said the transition to a clean energy economy would create more jobs. A report to be released later today by the Climate Institute suggests a $45 a tonne carbon price could create almost 8000 permanent jobs in the electricity sector.

Another 26,000 temporary manufacturing and construction jobs would also be created, according to the research, which predicts billions of dollars would be invested in clean energy projects.


Unilateral action on carbon creates costs without benefits

Henry Ergas

"Hawke and Keating floated the dollar; we will price carbon," Julia Gillard said just prior to last week's deal with the Greens.

The comparison is inaccurate, however, for floating the dollar, like cutting tariffs, was desirable even if Australia acted alone; in contrast, a carbon tax can only yield benefits if major emitting countries do the same.

Moreover, the Hawke-Keating reforms, including floating the dollar and reducing protection, enhanced our long-standing comparative advantage, which is based on our resource wealth. So did those of the Howard government. This policy undermines it.

Indeed, in terms of Australia's national interest, it is difficult to think of a policy more harmful than such a unilateral tax.

This is because a high share of Australia's emissions are accounted for by export-oriented activities: some 33 per cent, compared with 8 per cent for the US. These activities include mining, where large fugitive emissions occur as resources are extracted.

Given the ready availability of alternative sources of supply, including Canada, the US and Brazil, a unilateral tax on these exports cannot cut global emissions: it merely alters their location.

But it would reduce Australian incomes, transferring overseas gains we would otherwise obtain from the resources boom. This policy therefore imposes costs without any obvious benefits.

In its defence, supporters of unilateral action make four claims. None of these stands up to scrutiny. The first is to deny our tax would be unilateral, pointing to carbon abatement policies elsewhere, notably Europe.

In reality, those policies are costly and ineffectual: the abatement they secure could be obtained by a carbon price well below that envisaged here. But even putting that aside, our export industries do not compete with the European economies. So whatever their carbon policies may be, they do not make our action any less unilateral in its consequences.

The second claim is that even if unilateral action did cause income losses, the creation of green jobs would offset them. The whole notion of a green job is confused: jobs are no more colour-coded than are people. And it is even more confused to think low-emission jobs are inherently preferable to those that are emissions-intensive: rather, what matters is each activity's contribution to wealth creation, assessed taking proper account of the social cost of emissions.

The extent of that wealth creation does not depend on whether a job is green, blue or purple; it depends on opportunity costs, that is, on what society gives up to generate a dollar of output in that activity. A well-functioning economy specialises in those activities in which its opportunity costs are lowest: that is what specialisation in line with comparative advantage means. Because we are so abundantly endowed with natural resources, Australia's opportunity costs are especially low in mining. That is why our share of world mineral exports is more than 25 times greater than our share of world exports overall.

And it is that specialisation in line with comparative advantage that makes us well off, as it allows us to import the many goods in which we have a comparative disadvantage from wherever their costs of production are lowest.

Given how pronounced our comparative advantage is in mining, shifting resources to other activities must make us substantially poorer. The claim that jobs tending windmills or speculating on emissions permits could offset those losses is implausible.

It is especially implausible as our pattern of comparative advantage is becoming more pronounced: in the nine years from June 2000, the net present value of Australia's mineral assets more than trebled. With the world placing ever higher value on our natural resources, relative to our other factor endowments (such as capital and labour), the income loss from unilaterally taxing mining exports must rise.

That loss is all the greater because the carbon tax acts like a supplementary royalty, as the amount to be paid rises with volumes produced. It therefore compounds the distorting effect of existing royalties and of the new mining tax. How the government can stridently criticise mining royalties because they tax production but want to aggravate their impact is yet to be explained.

The third claim defenders of the tax make is that by acting now, we increase the prospects of global agreement. That claim is also implausible. It accords Australia an influence at odds with the experience of international negotiations, not least at Copenhagen. Additionally and importantly, it ignores the fact that by undermining our own exports we make preventing agreement even more profitable for our rivals.

That the government has no plan for repealing the tax should international agreement not eventuate in a set time frame makes our rivals' incentive to delay even greater. To believe altruism will trump self-interest in determining their negotiating stance involves a considerable leap of faith. Fourth and last, supporters of a unilateral carbon tax claim it will bring certainty.

However, the only certainty for the community as a whole is that incomes will fall. What is left uncertain is just how great that fall will be, as that depends on what happens when the time comes to shift from a fixed carbon tax to a scheme based on emissions permits.

It is, for example, widely rumoured that the carbon tax will be around $20, increasing annually by 4 or 5 per cent more than inflation. Given that starting point, were the government, at the end of the three year period, to set the number of permits so as to cut emissions in 2020 to 15 per cent below 2000 levels, the implied carbon price would treble, causing enormous dislocations.

The government knows that; little wonder it is determined to postpone those decisions to a later date. But far from providing certainty, thus multiplying decision points, with fuzzy decision criteria at each juncture, compounds uncertainties and invites rent-seeking. Finally, would these problems be ameliorated were the tax only on domestic consumption, exempting exports but taxing imports, as Geoff Carmody has proposed?

Of course they would. But that is only because we are acting unilaterally, damaging our exports. Shifting the burden on to domestic consumption reduces the harm. But the harm does not go away: it is just diminished. The question remains, therefore, why we would act unilaterally, creating costs for so few environmental benefits. To that question, the community still awaits a sensible answer.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

"The skull" is still a bonehead -- repeating the failed Latham hostility to private schools

The genius himself

Mark Latham's attack on private schools is generally regarded as a major factor in his 2004 election wipeout. Around 40% of schoolkids in the swing State of Queensland go to private High Schools so that's a big demographic to piss off. The Green/Left Peter Garrett was a huge liability as an environment minister. Looks like he is still as thick as a brick and doomed for more follies in education

THE Federal Government is set to launch a new war with private schools this week as pressure intensifies on the country's richest education establishments to reveal their assets. Education Minister Peter Garrett told The Sunday Mail that he wanted to force public and private schools to reveal their true wealth, including assets, reserves and profits.

The launch of the revamped My School website on Friday will reveal financial information including income through private fees for the first time, but not assets.

The website will also show that wealthy private schools are spending 50 per cent more to educate each student than the average spend on a child at a public school. But some high-performing, low-fee Catholic and independent schools are spending a similar amount per student to comparable public schools, when private and taxpayer-funding is combined.

The launch of the site was delayed after private schools complained some of the complex data used to arrive at a per student spend was misleading. The average government school recurrent cost for a high school student is about $12,000.

"This is all about fair dinkum transparency," Mr Garrett said. "This is all about giving people information that they deserve to have. "And it's about providing that information in a way that allows them to make valid and reasonable comparisons."

Mr Garrett will take his proposal to extend the financial disclosure requirements of My School to include assets to the next meeting of state education ministers in April this year. Some private schools securing millions of dollars in taxpayer funding have retained earnings or assets of $100 million or more. But there is no current requirement for many schools to disclose their assets, profits or financial information.

For the first time, the new version of the My School website will provide information on funding from fees and donations to public and private schools. But Mr Garrett stressed it was "not about ranking".

My School 2 will also reveal for the first time which schools are showing improvements in literacy results for children in their care and which schools are falling behind.


We've been Rudded: Labor MPs decry lack of consultation

THERE are rumblings of discontent among Labor MPs who are angry Julia Gillard didn't first consult caucus before announcing the government's backflip on a carbon tax.

"She talked the talk about including us when we gave (Kevin) Rudd the boot, but that's not what she has done. You would have thought (the Prime Minister) would want to know what her marginal seat MPs think about controversial ideas before she announces them," one Labor MP said.

The Weekend Australian has spoken to three Labor MPs, all of whom supported Gillard's challenge against Rudd last year.

They expressed frustration that the she had acted with a similar disregard for the views of her party colleagues that her predecessor Rudd did.

"We got rid of Kevin (Rudd) because he didn't listen, now she isn't talking to us before acting," another Labor MP said.

The three Labor MPs, who did not want to be named, are more concerned about the lack of process behind the carbon tax announcement than the substance of the plan.

Although at least one also had reservations about the backflip: "Julia said there would be no carbon tax, Now there will be. We have to try and sell this in our electorates, which won't be easy."

When Gillard assumed the Labor leadership she committed to being more consultative than Rudd had been. Gillard's failure to consult with Labor MPs on her carbon tax announcement, coupled with her refusal to accept the Labor review's proposal that the caucus choose the front bench, is a sign that perhaps not much has changed from the way Rudd ran the government.


Militant unions set to rock boat

BUSINESSES will be forced to deal increasingly with militant unionists this year as the individual contracts of their employees expire and unions exploit generous right-of-entry clauses in Labor's Fair Work Act.

In a speech today, former Howard government minister Peter Reith says he expects the industrial relations climate to worsen.

Mr Reith, who led the former government's fight against the Maritime Union of Australia during the 1998 waterfront dispute, highlights recent strike action by the MUA as well as attempts by unions to "muzzle" the construction industry watchdog.

As the ALP has stopped the making of new Australian Workplace Agreements, he points to the transition provisions that allow individual agreements to operate to their expiry date. "Many of those arrangements come to an end in 2011 and as the unions have generous right-of-entry clauses it is certain that in 2011 many businesses will be forced, against the interests of the business and the employees, to negotiate with militant unionists," Mr Reith says.

He attacks comments made by the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes, who last week declared war on Rio Tinto and unveiled an ambitious strategy to totally unionise the mining giant's aluminium operations.

"Paul Howes and the AWU resort to the politics of hate, envy and class warfare because they have nothing else to throw at good employers," Mr Reith says.

"His threats to Rio and, by implication, others in the resources sector, will always be counter-productive when employers and employees work together. The frustration for the AWU is that it just can't keep or recruit members with a good employer who offers safe work, higher remuneration and the chance to be treated as a valuable member of a good team.

"The union's . . . opposition to AWAs was never about workers, it was always all about the powers of union bosses. AWAs were abolished by Labor because they had been too successful for workers."

The union is targeting Rio's aluminium operations in Queensland and Tasmania, claiming the pay and conditions at these plants is about 30 to 50 per cent lower than for aluminium employees in unionised workplaces. The union's goal is to recruit a majority of the workforce at the three Rio aluminium operations within two to three years, and then use the federal workplaces laws to force the company to negotiate. Unions claim Rio Tinto Alcan had a record of denying workers at its smelters and refineries representation on health and safety.

The AWU claims to be the nation's fastest growing blue-collar union, with membership increasing over the past three years.


White parasites feed on black misery

IGNORANT outsiders are not helping to end the spiral of drunkenness in Alice Springs.

Many people live on the gravy train that runs on Aboriginal suffering. And there is no shortage of suffering. We are up to our necks, swimming in misery.

I don't write from a distant perspective of an observer. I write from deep within the misery. I am the one burying nieces and nephews on a regular basis and crying for a brother dead far too early from the abuse of drugs and alcohol. I'm the one who, after a long night on the streets of Alice Springs two weeks ago, was called down to the hospital because my niece was in intensive care after attempting suicide.

Yet one of the problems in Alice Springs is that people feel free to comment on contemporary Aboriginal society from the safety of their computer keyboards without venturing on to the streets of the town and observing the nightlife.

These people object that recent media reportage has all painted the same bleak picture of life in Alice Springs. There is a reason for that: it is because there is only one view late in the evening around KFC Cross, the junction of Todd and Stott streets.

Some claim that there are effective services already working hard to treat the problems. But there is nothing effective about youth services in Alice Springs. The Youth Action Plan, the result of bipartisan commitment and consultation across the sector, and the Youth Hub have never materialised.

Yes, petrol sniffing has been targeted through the introduction of Opal fuel. This program has been a boon for BP. Unfortunately, our youth have just moved on to other drugs, especially ganja. The underlying issues remain the same.

Aboriginal people don't need to be saved by the legions of outsiders who have come to Alice Springs to speak for us, to hold our hands, to encourage us to pursue their romantic vision of a traditional Aboriginal lifestyle. We can speak for ourselves.

The Aboriginal leaders in central Australia know that we have a deep crisis on our hands. We want action. We back local businesses and the local community's call for change.

At a meeting in Alice Springs on Tuesday, the business community was present in droves. So, too, were Lindsay Bookie, chairman of the Central Land Council, and Sid Anderson, my brother, president of MacDonnell Shire. All people of standing in central Australia want to see this crisis resolved by strong action.

Potential solutions include: real truancy programs, schools adequately funded for the full cohort of Territory children, implementation of the Youth Action Plan, business community input into the management and funding of the Gap Youth Centre, normalisation of the town camps; putting Night Patrol and Day Patrol services out to tender, significant welfare reform and land tenure reform.

Even more important will be establishing a new culture of accountability in the Territory. Our problems may be complex, but they are not insurmountable. Government must be accountable, bureaucrats administering program funding must be accountable, youth service providers must be accountable.

I expect a hostile reaction to these observations and proposals from those on board the gravy train. Too bad.

Aboriginal people are not lesser human beings and we are not animals. We want an end to segregated "animal bars" that allow members of our community the humiliation of lower standards of behaviour and dress. We do not want our children scared into obedience by dogs with gnashing teeth. We want to be treated with the same high expectations, rights and responsibilities as any other human being.

We cannot wait any longer for change. I am tired of the funerals. I am frustrated with those who refuse to act. The pain of living with the ongoing loss of our young people is almost unbearable.

I am no longer shocked by life in central Australia, but I am sad and extremely concerned about our future.


Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Skibbereen Eagle warns the Tsar....

The Greens have threatened a trade boycott against the world's second-largest economy in an attack on China by one of its high-profile NSW candidates. Marrickville Mayor Fiona Byrne, who is running for the state seat, has revealed her council would consider boycotting China out of sympathy for Tibetans.

Labor labelled the policy as "stupid and dangerous" and warned such a ban could threaten Chinese trade with NSW - worth more than $3.2 billion to the state's economy - and damage cultural and student ties with China. "This is one of the most destructive policies announced by any mayor in Australia's history," Labor's campaign spokesman Luke Foley said. He has called for Greens Leader Senator Bob Brown to step in and rule out suggestions of a boycott of Australia's largest trading partner.

Mr Brown, however, could not be contacted by his office yesterday to seek clarification on whether he would back Ms Byrne's proposal or not.

A spokeswoman for Mr Brown said the Greens did not have a "written" policy on Tibet. But Greens Senator Christine Milne, who this week shocked Labor MPs with her claim that the Greens' "power sharing" deal with the Federal Government had delivered the carbon tax, has previously questioned Australia's free trade agreement with China based on its human rights record in Tibet.

Ms Byrne's backing for a China ban follows her boycott of Israel last month over its treatment of Palestinians. In retaliation, Labor and Liberal councillors have already joined forces on neighbouring Randwick Council to boycott Marrickville Council.

Her latest threats against China were recorded at a candidate forum on Wednesday night in Sydney. Ms Byrne said her council had expressed solidarity with the local Tibetan community. While the Tibetan community had not asked specifically for a boycott, Ms Byrne said council would adopt one if asked.

"If the local Tibetan community came to us and asked us to look at boycotting China, I'm sure council would do that," Ms Byrne said. "So we actually have done things [for] our local community ... provide action, and support our local community around those issues and I'm quite proud of that, quite proud to do that."

Mr Foley said: "It's hard to believe that anyone could come up with such a stupid and dangerous policy. "If she had her way, it would cost hundreds of thousands of Australian jobs. Bob Brown needs to step in, disown the policy and disown the candidate."

The seat of Marrickville is held by Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt by a 3 per cent margin. The Greens have consistently raised the issue of human rights in Tibet and have called for China to recognise Tibet's autonomy. Almost 35 per cent of people living in Marrickville were born overseas, many of them Chinese.


Muslims are not the same as earlier immigrants

ALMOST everything George Brandis said this week about Australia's successful creation of an inclusive society "receptive and respectful of people of race and faith" is true.

In an opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald, the senator paid tribute to Australian tolerance by recalling his experience growing up in the suburbs in the 1960s. Amid the colonial terraces and semi-detached houses of Petersham in Sydney's inner west, Chinese, Greek and Italian families lived happily alongside their Anglo-Celtic neighbours, and half the youngsters at his local school came from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

The idea that Australia under the rule of Robert Menzies did not resemble apartheid South Africa or the segregated south of the US will shock those who subscribe to the popular view that the coming of Gough Whitlam changed everything.

Brandis usefully reminded us that a multicultural Australia pre-dated the official invention of that policy by the Whitlam government in the 1970s. He also reminded us that our proud and enviable history of integrating migrants since the end of the World War II is attributable in part to the essential decency of the overwhelming majority of ordinary Australians.

Australia became a successful nation of immigrants because the egalitarianism that is central to its national character -- the principle that Jack is as good as his mate -- was extended by "old Australians" to include "new Australians".

Hence there was no white flight from Petersham or other suburbs in response to the influx of migrants from southern Europe in the 50s and Indochina in the 70s because newcomers of all colours and creeds were made welcome and accepted into the workplaces, the schools, the churches and the sporting clubs of suburban Australia.

Brandis was also right to suggest that these achievements should not be put at risk by cheap populism that seeks to exploit prejudice for political advantage. However, the senator for Queensland went too far in trying to shut down the debate about multiculturalism.

The debate was sparked in Coalition ranks by the publication of Scott Morrison's alleged remarks in shadow cabinet about Muslim immigration and community concerns in western Sydney.

"I can still remember the playground taunting of Italian kids, from which I formed my lifelong detestation of bullies who pick on a vulnerable minority," Brandis wrote in a thinly disguised rebuke to his colleagues. "Whether they realise it or not, the same sentiment that drives those who bullied those kids then, animates those who beat up on Muslims now."

This is a variation on a common grievance aired by many members of the multicultural industry: "Australia is a racist country because kids teased me about what was in my sandwiches at lunchtime."

Judging how a civilisation treats minorities based on what eight-year-olds call each other is ludicrous. To equate this with a legitimate debate about the success or otherwise of Muslim integration is just as ludicrous.

This is especially so when this debate is belatedly being had in Britain, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Scandinavia, now that the evidence of non-integration and the failures of multicultural policy are undeniable.

Europe has discovered that a nation of tribes united by a common welfare state does not create the harmonious society multicultural theorists said it would.

Instead, divisions between native and immigrant populations have been entrenched and the social fabric frayed. Australia does not confront challenges on the same scale, but we are kidding ourselves if we think we have nothing to worry about.

From Petersham, it is a 15-minute drive southwest to Lakemba. It is 30 years since [mostly Muslim] refugees fleeing the civil war in Lebanon received asylum in this country, and still Lakemba and its surrounds remain ghettofied.

The usual pattern of dispersal by first-generation children of immigrants has not occurred to the same extent and the area is plagued with poor educational achievement, high unemployment and crime.

The community concerns that exist in western Sydney about Muslims and multiculturalism are based on these jarring realities on the disintegration of some parts of Sydney from the mainstream, and the failure to repeat the successful patterns of integration of other ethnic groups.

To blame racial or religious prejudice, whether formed in the playground or otherwise, is avoiding the real issue. So is reaffirming the national commitment to multiculturalism, as the Gillard government has done, as if that and the proposed anti-racism campaign will be a cure-all.

The conventional wisdom among most elites is that we should not discuss these issues because it will unleash the racist sentiments that still lurk in the hearts of most Australians.

I think the opposite is true. It is because most Australians believe in the immigration and integration of all comers that what is going on in southwest Sydney is of concern.

Perceptive politicians have picked up on this. Effective politicians will honestly address the issues and propose solutions. Ineffective ones will shut their eyes and lecture an unimpressed electorate about respecting "diversity".


Amazing! Unless you die, Qld. Health is unlikely to admit it made a mistake!

ALL Government hospitals should be privatized, with the government picking up the bill for the poor

A TOWNSVILLE man is suing the State Government after claiming he was the victim of a hospital blood transfusion bungle. Glen Roy Feeley, 54, who worked as a fabricator, was involved in an industrial accident in 2008 and has lodged damages against the Townsville Hospital and Nursing Agency Australia Pty Ltd. The damages are yet to be finalised but they could exceed $1 million.

Mr Feeley claims he was given the wrong type of blood after he received a blood transfusion at Townsville Hospital following the workplace accident.

Documents lodged in the Supreme Court of Townsville show the man's blood type was O positive, but when he was admitted to hospital on February 25, 2008, he received an A positive blood transfusion by medical staff.

He underwent surgery on his right hand which included reattaching the index and middle fingers.

Mr Feeley claims he suffered shock, required further surgery and suffered a psychiatric and/or psychological condition and this condition has been aggravated. He also claims he suffered exacerbation of his injuries.

Court documents said the blood transfusion of blood group A were an "incompatible transfusion" and the defendants "failed to use reasonable care, skill and diligence in and about the plaintiff's medical treatment". The documents state, as a result of being given the wrong blood type, Mr Feeley suffered an "incompatibility transfusion reaction".

The documents claim he continues to suffer pain and discomfort, loss of amenities and enjoyment of life.

The incident was not recorded in the Government's patient safety report, From Learning To Action III, which detailed hospital errors during 2007-08. But Queensland Health on Friday said it was because the defendant did not suffer "permanent injury" or die as a result.


Gillard's greenhouse tax to push prices higher

Petrol, groceries and electricity bills could soar from July 1 next year under Julia Gillard's new carbon tax.

Ms Gillard vowed that consumers and businesses would be shielded from higher prices, but she has not yet outlined how compensation will work.

Key details of the new tax - including how much polluters will be forced to pay per tonne of carbon emissions and concessions for some industries - are still to be agreed between Labor and the minor parties. The energy, transport, manufacturing and mining sectors could all be hit by the new tax.

The plans drew a strong rebuke from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who said Ms Gillard had broken an election promise that she would not introduce a carbon tax.

But Ms Gillard said she was forced to work out a compromise with the Greens and Independents to get a scheme to fight climate change through the hung parliament. Ms Gillard conceded in Parliament yesterday that her new plan was "effectively like a tax".

The Prime Minister said energy prices had to rise to force polluters to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But she insisted "we will do it in a fair way" by compensating low income households. "It has price impacts. It's meant to, that's the whole point," Ms Gillard said. "If you put a price on something, then people will use less of it."

She warned Australia would miss out on new green jobs and be left behind the rest of the world if it did not create a "low carbon economy".

Farmers have been spared from the new tax, but there will be a separate carbon farming credits scheme for the agriculture sector.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet yesterday confirmed petrol could be covered by the new tax. But he said the price impact could be phased in over a longer period.

Under the deal, the Government will impose a fixed price on carbon from July 1, 2012 for between three and five years. After that, the price will be set through an emissions trading scheme linked to international carbon markets.

Labor has left itself scope to delay the move to a cap and trade system by promising a review 12 months before the scheme is due to start.

Mr Abbott said he would argue against the plan. "I think there will be a people's revolt against this carbon tax," he said. The Opposition Leader warned petrol prices would rise by 6.5 cents a litre and the average electricity bill by $300 a year if there was a $26 impost per tonne of carbon emissions.

But Ms Gillard said these figures were not accurate because the carbon price and compensation arrangements had not been set.

Labor faces a battle to get the scheme through the parliament.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

Friday, February 25, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG accuses Julia of breaking an election promise with her current push for a carbon tax

Australia's coral reefs threatened by climate change, say armchair modellers

Attempting to model something as complex as the earth's climate is a ludicrous enough enterprise but at least there is quite a lot of data against which one can check the model output -- with uniformly dismal results, of course. NO model predicted the temperature stasis of the last 13 years, for instance.

But when it comes to modelling another very complex phenomenon -- such as worldwide coral reef growth -- where there is virtually no worldwide data available for checking purposes, one knows that the results will simply be whatever the modellers want them to be. And when one notes that the report of the modelling has a foreword by Al Gore, laughter is almost inevitable.

That actual scientific findings run directly contrary to Al Gore's little scam should of course surprise no-one. The media (below) have of course swallowed the hokum wholesale.

The Australian public will however be more skeptical than their media. "Coral reefs threatened" has been popping up regularly in the Australian media for many decades -- long predating the global warming scare. There are constant natural changes in coral reefs and there have always been attention-seekers getting a scary headline out of it

Shocking evidence has been released claiming that nearly all of Australia's coral reefs are at risk of being wiped out in less than two decades.

The report by the World Resources Institute claims that by 2030, 90 per cent of Australia's reefs will suffer from the overwhelming effects of climate change like warmer seas and acidification.

It also outlines the threat to the rest of the world's coral reefs, with research suggesting that many could be obliterated by 2050 due to pollution, climate change and over-fishing.

The report encourages Australia not to waste any time in fighting the prediction, particularly becuase of the impact reef degredation will have on tourism and the economy.

Dr Clive Wilkinson, the United Nations sponsored Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network coordinator, urged Australia "to be part of the global solution to climate change, as our reefs will suffer like others around the world and this will threaten the $5 to $6 billion per year that the Great Barrier Reef means to the Australian economy."

"Australians have no right to be complacent as the vast majority of our reefs will be seriously threatened by rising sea temperatures and increasing acidification in less than 20 years," he said.

Today, 40 per cent of Australia's reefs are under pressure from rising sea temperatures and other threats linked to climate change.

However, 75 per cent of the reefs are in marine protected areas, which is a contributing factor to the improvement in fish numbers and reef resilience.


Most illegal immigrants arriving in Australia by boat win legal residency eventually

Nearly every asylum-seeker who arrived in Australian waters during the past three years was granted refugee status, according to figures released under Freedom of Information laws and reported on by The Australian.

According to the report, the figures show that the Immigration Department approved fully 94 per cent of all refugee claims from people arriving by boat between October 2008 and December 22 last year.

Compared with other forms of refugee claims, those seeking asylum by boat had a significantly higher success rate. The Immigration Department approved only 39 per cent of visa requests for non-boat asylum-seekers in the first half of the current financial year. In 2009-10, the department refused 49 per cent of non-boat asylum seekers, and rejected 55 per cent the year before.

Opposition politicians argue that overseas refugee smugglers are keenly aware of the success rate of those arriving by boat, and said the figures will only further contribute to the problem. A spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said refugee claims are processed independently of how they arrived in Australia.


Taxpayers' cash to smooth Labor's path of broken promises

This is just an opening shot, of course. What, if anything, gets through the parliament remains to be seen

STRUGGLING families will be compensated with cash for rising energy costs when the Federal Government imposes a carbon tax on Australians from July 1 next year. But most households won't be able to escape Prime Minister Julia Gillard's new emissions trading scheme, with forecasts that it will push power bills higher by between $300 and $500 a year.

Accused yesterday by the Opposition of betraying Australians, Ms Gillard formally broke a key election pledge and announced that the Government would impose a price on pollution from July 1, 2012, with a full emissions trading scheme to be operating as early as 2015.

It will be the most complex and broad-ranging carbon tax of almost any country in the world. The actual carbon price has yet to be set, but industry experts claim that the flow-on costs of a moderate $26 price per tonne of carbon would result in a $300 rise in electricity bills due to the country's reliance on coal-fired power generation. The price could be as high as $40 a tonne by 2020, adding anywhere up to $500 a year to bills. Petrol prices would also be expected to rise by 6.5c a litre.

The fixed carbon price would operate for between three and five years before a full market-based emissions trading scheme would come into operation between 2015 and 2017, with a floating price then to be set by the market.

Welfare groups demanded that low-income families be protected from the inevitable rise in the cost of living, as the Australian Council of Social Service warned that low-income households would be affected by climate change first and worst. "They have little capacity to cope, adapt or move," ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said.

Australia's business lobby attacked the lack of detail in the plan and warned it threatened jobs and would fuel uncertainty with Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief Peter Anderson labelling it "a blow for the competitiveness of Australian business, especially small and medium-sized enterprises".

Ms Gillard, flanked by Greens Leader Bob Brown and the NSW rural independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, tried to head off the inevitable backlash, claiming the money raised from the tax would go back into compensation but admitted it would affect households.

"That's the whole point. Every cent raised from pricing carbon will go to assisting households, helping businesses manage the transition and funding climate change programs, and the Government will always support those who are in need of assistance with cost of living pressures," Ms Gillard said.

Before the August election Ms Gillard declared: "There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead." Yesterday she said: "This is the parliament the Australian people voted for."

Ms Gillard said some elements of former prime minister Kevin Rudd's abandoned emissions trading scheme - one of the triggers for his sacking - might be taken up in the new scheme. Under the old ETS, more than eight million households would receive compensation payments of up to $600 a year. Some low-income families would have ended up better off than before an ETS.

But Opposition Leader Tony Abbott accused Ms Gillard of the ultimate act of "betrayal". "The price of this betrayal will be paid every day by every Australian," he said. Mining giant BHP and big energy players welcomed the move but one of Australia's biggest manufacturers, BlueScope Steel, was scathing saying it was "potentially killing manufacturing in Australia". Leading price comparison website chief executive Ben Freund said households would pay higher costs for electricity and locally manufactured goods.


Paul Howes's recent speech to the Sydney Institute

Howes is the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, one of the largest trade unions affiliated with the ALP and a stanchion of the NSW Right. In his speech Howes, a member of the ALP's national executive, makes two key points. First, he rejects the calls made by Rodney Cavalier in Power Crisis to reform the unions' gerrymander over the ALP and, second, he calls for a new culture of debate to flower in the ALP. He wants Labor to "openly, fearlessly, debate ideas" and to "compete in the marketplace of ideas".

What Howes will not recognise is that his two points are irreconcilable. The ALP can never have a genuine culture of debate while it is controlled by union bloc votes. Free debate is part of a democratic culture, but the ALP's structures are designed to exclude democratic participation. It is worth considering the details of how the ALP bear hunt is organised.

Despite the fact affiliated trade unions represent only a "bare" 10 per cent of the workforce, these unions still insist on holding 50 per cent of the votes at the ALP's annual conference. These votes are distributed among the various unions according to the size of the affiliation fee that the union pays. The union that pays the most money will be rewarded with the most votes to play with at the conference: the bloc votes.

Having purchased 30 or 40 votes, a union secretary has the unchallenged authority to decide who will exercise these votes. The union membership has no say in who will represent them at the conference. The union secretary decides that and will go to great lengths to ensure that whoever they send will vote exactly as the union secretary tells them to. What a union secretary will not tolerate is delegates who listen to debate, decide issues on the merits of ideas and arguments, and vote accordingly: so much for openly and fearlessly debating ideas. The power of the union secretary depends on having complete control of all the votes purchased and voting them in a bloc.

To eliminate any risk the union secretaries employ shameful contrivances such as double voting by union delegates. This allows union delegates to vote twice, to cast two ballots and ridicule Labor's commitment to one vote, one value. It may not be attractive, but double voting by their delegates is a bluntly effective way for the union secretaries to maintain their stranglehold.

It is no wonder that Howes likes the present system of union control so much. It delivers him and his union secretaries immense political power. But it is not political power earned by persuasion or through effective debate or the power of ideas. It is political power crassly purchased with other people's money and then activated via bloc votes and double voting.

Once people understand that the ALP is a fix, that nothing they say or contribute really matters, that a handful of union secretaries have got a lock on proceedings, they simply exit themselves from the farce. Why would they stay and have their time wasted once they know the whole show is rigged against their contribution counting for anything?

This is exactly what happens. Branches close and collapse and the membership dwindles away. The number of living former members of the ALP must stand at well over 100,000. The NSW ALP is a party of mass ex-membership.

If Howes genuinely wanted Labor to compete in the marketplace of ideas he would support winding the bloc votes down from 50 per cent to 10 per cent. He would speak out against repulsive tricks such as double voting and he would support democratic reforms such as election by the ALP membership for all positions on the national executive -- including his own.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour. New posts on both today

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Federal government coverup of union corruption

THE federal government has blocked Fair Work Australia from answering questions about an investigation it is conducting into allegations of financial irregularities involving the Labor backbencher Craig Thomson.

Appearing before a Senate estimates hearing, Fair Work Australia's director of tribunal services and organisations, Terry Nassios, said he had interviewed 12 people about the finances of the Health Services Union.

But when the opposition senator Michael Ronaldson asked if Mr Thomson was one of those interviewed, the government's Senate leader, Chris Evans, intervened to stop the official from answering.

Mr Thomson, the MP for the central coast electorate of Dobell, was federal secretary of the HSU for five years before he was elected to Parliament in 2007.

The Herald reported allegations in 2009 that Mr Thomson's HSU credit card had been used to make cash withdrawals totalling more than $100,000 between 2002 and 2007 and to make payments to Sydney escort agencies.

Mr Thomson strenuously denies the allegations and is suing Fairfax Media for defamation.

Fair Work Australia has been conducting an investigation into the union's national office for about a year. It is examining if there have been any breaches of the rules on the union's financial management, including when Mr Thomson was federal secretary.


Muslims lose one

No cash to fund privacy curtains for female-only pool classes. How come nobody is asking the local mosque to fund this? Why should it be a bite on the taxpayer? Do we fund everything Muslims want?

THE State Government has refused a council's bid to help fund $45,000 curtains at a public pool so Muslim women can have privacy during female-only exercise classes. There were calls yesterday for the City of Monash to dump the controversial plan amid claims it promoted segregation and was a waste of ratepayers' money.

Monash Council confirmed the Victorian Multicultural Commission had knocked back a grant application to fund half the curtains' cost. Two weeks ago, the Herald Sun revealed that VCAT had given the green light for Monash to bypass equality laws and run the fortnightly women-only sessions.

Monash Mayor Greg Male said yesterday that the council still wanted to introduce the program, but it would have to pass the budget review process.

But Ratepayers Victoria president Jack Davis called on the council to scrap the plan, given the VMC's decision to reject the grant application. "They have made a wise decision - it only leads to segregation and we don't need that in Australia," Mr Davis said.

A spokeswoman for Multicultural Affairs Minister Nick Kotsiras said Monash had received a $1 million grant for a separate program and the VMC encouraged the council to re-apply for the privacy screen grant next time.


Poseurs in uproar over David Williamson's play "Don Parties On"

The "superior" people despise anything that is popular. The fact that Williamson is as Leftist as they are doesn't save him. Being popular is the unforgiveable sin to their envious minds.

That any theatre company would knock back the opportunity to stage a new Williamson play is almost inconceivable, particularly a sequel to his most famous play. It shows how deep their hate and envy is.

Although he is a Leftist, Williamson is a brilliant and accurate observer of Australians, so when he puts our follies in front of us, that makes us laugh.

Miranda Devine

At the opening night last week of David Williamson's latest play, Don Parties On, the Sydney audience was laughing so much at times the actors had to repeat their lines. Bruised from a bashing by Melbourne's black turtleneck theaterati, Williamson - Australia's most successful playwright - laughed along and looked utterly delighted at the reaction to his sequel to the iconic 1971 Don's Party.

During the curtain call and extended applause, Garry McDonald, who plays Don, gestured at Williamson from the stage. The applause ratcheted up so much that Williamson got to his feet and waved at the cheering crowd. Bob Hawke - one of a dozen politicians in the audience - even stood to applaud the maligned playwright.

The reaction was hardly what one snide reviewer the next day described as a few cheap chuckles. And what a difference it was to the thin-lipped, crossed-armed reaction on Melbourne's opening night.

But disparaging Williamson has become a badge of belonging in the arts world, despite the fact his plays have kept Australian theatre solvent for more than 30 years. His work is slammed as too bourgeois, too commercial, too accessible to mainstream audiences.

One particularly bilious online critique described Williamson as an "ageing irrelevance" whose writing was "fat, lazy and stupid". Williamson was so wounded he wrote hundreds of words in blog comments in reply, his graciousness being a credit to him.

It is an indictment of our taxpayer-subsidised theatre industry that Don Parties On, which, despite the critics, ended up a smash hit at the Melbourne Theatre Company, was rejected by the Sydney Theatre Company, whose artistic directors are Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton.

Instead, Williamson had to hunt around for an independent commercial producer to take it on. Enter Rachel Healy, who had just left her post as Opera House performing arts director. She found a private investor and put a chunk of her own money into the production in Sydney for 21 performances.

"The critics and the arts community have a response to Williamson you would never see elsewhere," she says. "He brings thousands of people out from their couch to (be) incredibly entertained. But it's bizarre that being entertaining is something to be ashamed of (when) the prime motivator for people to go to the theatre is entertainment."

But of course, if you are an insecure philistine posing as a sophisticated arts appreciator, you won't trust art that is entertaining, beautifully constructed, and coherent. Poseurs like to consume obscure niche art -- no matter how bad -- because it marks them as superior.


NSW hospital emergency waiting times fall further behind benchmark

THE performance of emergency departments in NSW hospitals has deteriorated, falling further behind the official target for how long people with potentially life-threatening conditions should wait for treatment.

Only 71 per cent of such patients began treatment within the recommended 30 minutes in the December quarter, figures from the NSW Bureau of Health Information reveal, compared to 73 per cent in the same quarter of 2009.

The benchmark for the measure - the most politically sensitive of a suite of emergency department standards - is 75 per cent within 30 minutes.

At 10 hospitals, most of them major facilities, 60 per cent or fewer people in this urgency category were seen within 30 minutes. It was six hospitals in the same period last year.

And the performance of the two specialist children's hospitals declined dramatically during the year. The Children's Hospital at Westmead and Sydney Children's Hospital both fell below the benchmark, which they had met in the 2009 quarter.

At Sydney Children's in Randwick the proportion of triage category-three patients treated on time plummeted from 91 per cent to 70 per cent. It experienced a 5 per cent rise in emergency attendances across all triage categories between the two reporting periods.

A hospital spokeswoman said there had been "an increase in the complexity and number of [emergency] patients," and teething problems in a new computer system for recording attendances had also contributed to the lower performance.

Royal Prince Alfred Hospital experienced the biggest fall in its on-time treatment of triage-three emergency patients - from 73 per cent to 60 per cent - despite a rise in attendances of only 1 per cent.

A spokesman for Sydney Local Health Network, which administers Royal Prince Alfred, said the quarter had been its busiest on record. The emergency department would be refurbished and expanded, he said, and transfer times from ambulance trolley to emergency would be reviewed.

A spokeswoman for the Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, said "attendances at NSW emergency departments reached a two-year high, exceeding the peak of the swine flu pandemic in 2009."

The government had budgeted for 80,000 more emergency patients this financial year, she said, and it was adding urgent care centres in some hospitals to take the pressure off emergency departments and medical assessment units to fast track patient admissions.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Survey finds many Australians are critical of Muslims and Jews

This report was of course headlined as showing "racism". It does nothing of the sort. As psychologists have known for decades, negative attitudes about various groups do NOT predict any wilingness or intention to treat the groups concerned badly (See e.g. here and here. Andrew Bolt has some sarcastic comments )

Half of Australians harbour anti-Muslim sentiments and a quarter are anti-Semitic, according to the biggest survey ever done on racism in this country. One in three also admit some level of racist feelings against indigenous people, reported the Herald Sun.

The survey of 12,500 people, conducted by leading universities, found Victoria to be one of the most tolerant states. But comparisons between 15 regions statewide show stark differences.

People in Melbourne's outer north, including the shires of Nillumbik, Whittlesea and Hume, recorded Victoria's highest rates of negative sentiments against Jews (31.4 per cent), Asians (26.8 per cent) and Britons (12.8 per cent).

Anti-Muslim feelings were highest in outer western council areas of Melton, Wyndham and Brimbank, but these areas also reported the state's lowest rates of racist attitudes to Asians and Italians.

The 12-year study found 84 per cent of people have seen evidence of racial prejudice. And more than 40 per cent believed "Australia is weakened by people of different ethnic origins sticking to their old ways".

Study co-author Dr Yin Paradies, from the University of Melbourne, said racism against minorities was most common in areas that were more highly populated by those minorities. "There is a general finding across the world that ethnic density tends to be related to levels of racism, but not always," he said. "The inner (Melbourne) suburbs tended to have very tolerant attitudes, but there is quite a bit of ethnic diversity there."

The council areas of Melbourne, Port Phillip, Stonnington and Yarra boasted Victoria's highest levels of "cross-cultural relations" and fewest calls for "pro-assimilation". However, inner Melbourne residents surveyed for the Challenging Racism Project also recorded the highest rates of anti-Christian (21.3 per cent) and anti-Italian (12.6 per cent) sentiments.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Szoke praised Victorians generally, but admitted concern at some of the findings. "Multiculturalism isn't an end point. It's something we have to keep working on," she said.


Crooked NSW "crime fighting" body terrified of the light of day

In an extraordinary move, the NSW Crime Commission has turned to the courts to stop its oversight body holding a public inquiry into its handling of the assets of criminals and the conduct of particular officers. The Police Integrity Commission had been holding a secret inquiry into the Crime Commission, over which it was granted oversight two years ago.

In a private hearing in December it announced plans to extend the scope and purpose of the hearings to examine the Crime Commission's actions and practices when acting under the Criminal Assets Recovery Act.

The Herald recently reported on criticism of how the Crime Commission has used its powers to seize criminal assets.

On Friday, the Supreme Court issued an injunction against the PIC, ruling that the Crime Commission had a prima facie case in questioning the PIC's powers.

The Crime Commission's lawyer, Ian Temby, QC, had argued the PIC had exceeded its powers under the Police Integrity Commission Act in extending the scope of its investigation. But the PIC had argued the investigation was governed by another section of the act. Justice Monika Schmidt ruled there was ''a serious question to be tried'' in the interpretation of the act.

The PIC is also at war with its oversight body, the Inspector of the PIC, which has issued scathing reports criticising it for its lack of procedural fairness and accusing it of breaching officers' privacy. The PIC's last public hearings - into alleged misconduct of police officers - were held two years ago.


Senator Joyce slams 'budgie' bullbars

A PROPOSAL to change bullbars on vehicles from metal to polymer to improve pedestrian safety may increase the danger to car passengers, Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce said.

Senator Joyce said a proposed Federal Government review into manufacture of bullbars could affect the safety of car occupants in a crash. "Steel bullbars stop impacts with wildlife," he said. "They may also stop the car, the car might break, it might smash, but the people inside walk away. "In the past we had things with polymer which we called 'budgie bars', because we reckoned that was about all they could stop."

Under a review of Australian design rules, the Government is examining the case to apply a standard for pedestrian safety established by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

"It is designed around improving pedestrian safety in terms of any impact on the vehicle, in terms of trying to soften the impact on pedestrians," Department of Infrastructure and Transport spokeswoman Karen Gosling told a Senate estimates committee yesterday.

But Senator Joyce questioned the strength of an European standard polymer bullbar. "Without trying to sound trite, what do they expect to hit in Europe and is it a comparison to what we hit all the time over here?" he said.

Senator Joyce said drivers in the bush hit animals regularly, especially at dusk and dawn, so steel or aluminium bullbars were needed.

Vehicle Safety Standards general manager Robert Hogan said he was confident that building bullbars and vehicles to absorb more energy would reduce the risk of pedestrian deaths and injuries. "We are certainly confident that metal bullbars can be manufactured to meet the proposed Australian standard," Mr Hogan said. "We're very confident polymer bullbars can be manufactured to meet that standard."


Power sale inquiry condemns NSW Govt

An inquiry by a New South Wales Upper House committee into the sale of state electricity assets has called for the contracts to be rescinded. The committee, dominated by the Opposition and cross-benchers, has criticised Premier Kristina Keneally for attempting to shut down its investigations.

The Government's decision to prorogue parliament scared off some inquiry witnesses because of questions over whether their evidence would be protected.

The inquiry has found the rationale for the sale process is flawed and that taxpayers have been left exposed to significant risks. Committee chairman Fred Nile says even Treasurer Eric Roozendaal has admitted the $5.3 billion sale price is likely to be substantially reduced. "We estimate that probably the state's taxpayers are probably receiving between $600 and $700 million," Mr Nile said.

"So all the fanfare of the Treasurer was just based on a fallacy. Obviously it was an attempt to impress the voters of New South Wales as to how efficient the Labor Government had been, but it's been a disaster."

The committee has also called for a full judicial inquiry to examine the sale.

Ms Keneally dismissed the inquiry's findings, even before they were handed down. "What we will see today is a politically motivated report, one that could have possibly been written before any inquiry was held," Ms Keneally said.

Mr Roozendaal also pre-emptively attacked the report.

It is expected the committee's Labor members will issue a dissenting report.

Under the deal made late last year, the Government sold three energy retailers, Energy Australia, Country Energy and Integral Energy, to two private companies. The negotiations also included selling the generation trading contracts to take the output of power stations owned by Eraring Energy and Delta Electricity.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A self-serving union crook

Labourers earning $2,000 a WEEK are not being paid "a liveable wage"???

IT WAS a $20 note and it came with the admonition from my father "not to spend it all in the pub". I was on strike at the time and down to my last few dollars. It was the last of the big newspaper strikes in an era when workers of all sorts went "out on the grass" in support of their claims for better wages and conditions.

I was on strike at the time and down to my last few dollars. It was the last of the big newspaper strikes in an era when workers of all sorts went "out on the grass" in support of their claims for better wages and conditions.

It was a time of great bitterness between workers and management and if you peer deeply enough into the hearts of those journalists who went through it, you might see the scar tissue still.

It was all a long time ago but I was reminded of the $20 note by Paul Howes, secretary of the Australian Workers Union, when he launched an extraordinary attack on the mining company Rio Tinto last week.

Howes, speaking at the union's national conference, announced he was declaring war on Rio Tinto and accused chief executive Tom Albanese of "sucking out the blood, sweat and tears of blue-collar workers". Monkeys, he said, would do a better job of running the company than its present management.

"I have got a message for Rio Tinto," he said. "You don't own this Government; you don't own this country any more. Your workforce has the right to be represented. You cannot hide behind the law. You cannot hide behind the lawyers.

"You cannot hide behind your slimy, grubby mates in the Coalition because we're coming after you. We are going to take Rio Tinto on, and we are going to make sure that they pay a liveable wage to the workers who make the wealth that these shiny arses sitting in the boardroom in London enjoy."

Howes wasn't wearing a sweat-stained blue singlet, shirts and work boots at the time. A suit is his preferred garb and he spends a lot of time sitting on his backside in an office, but his fiery rhetoric was calculated to illuminate a poster of an honest worker prostrate beneath the shiny jackboot of an overseas mining executive.

Howes was playing to the gallery, his eye-bulging theatrics designed to reassure his band of brothers that he was taking the fight to the enemy, those evil capitalists who ripped babies from the breasts of working-class mothers and sold them into child slavery.

It was an appalling performance and one that must have left many a union member, and I am one, squirming with embarrassment.

That Treasurer Wayne Swan should praise Howes as payback to him for helping organise the numbers in the move against former prime minister Kevin Rudd speaks volumes for his character.

The organised labour movement has come a long way since the days of class warfare for which Howes would have us believe he pines.

The days of workers downing tools, or computer keyboards, and walking off the job are gone. While Howes was ranting from atop his soapbox, labourers working for Rio Tinto in the Pilbara region were earning $2000 a week plus employer superannuation contributions. Truck drivers with no mining experience were getting $120,000 a year and train drivers $200,000.

Most work seven days on and seven days off and get free meals and accommodation, while only about 15 per cent of them think highly enough of Howes and his ilk to bother to join a union.

In Howes' world, however, they labour in William Blake's dark, satanic mills.

Rio Tinto made $14 billion last year, so you would have to concede that if Howes is right and monkeys could do better, for a bunch of idiots they're not doing a bad job.

You could also argue that the company, and others like it, should contribute more than they do to the nation's treasury.

They would be if Rudd and Swan hadn't comprehensively stuffed up the introduction of the mining tax, ambushing and enraging the industry by hatching the plan in secret and then declaring it was non-negotiable.

The miners fought back, the Government started to lose the PR battle, Rudd was sacked, Swan and Julia Gillard went to water and we now have, to borrow one of Howes' favoured anatomical references, a half-arsed tax.

That's a political failure and not one that can be laid at the feet of the miners, no matter how much Howes may shake his fist in the general direction of the Pilbara and shriek that he is "coming after" the mining companies.

In the 1970s, if a union representative walked into a newspaper newsroom and declared we were on strike, you got up and walked out the door. To do otherwise would see you labelled as a scab, the lowest form of life.

If one was to do so now, people would raise their heads for a moment to see who the crazy person was and then resume working.

People want to work hard and earn a better life. They are not interested in manning the barricades and burning the boss in effigy.

Howes' theatrics and his doomed attempt to fan the cold ashes of class warfare in this country are self-serving, designed to boost his profile and perhaps help propel him along the road to a nice, safe Labor Party seat in federal Parliament.

Once ensconced, he can put his feet up on the desk and as he tots up his perks and entitlements, sing the words to that popular "working class" song, the more memorable lines of which go: "The working class can kiss my arse, I've got the foreman's job at last."


NSW elections: Beware hard Leftists in Green clothing

It is true that there has been a move to the Greens in inner-city areas of the capital cities. But this has not spread to the suburbs, regional centres or rural areas. The latest Herald/Nielsen poll indicated that NSW voters who are proposing to junk Labor are moving straight across to Barry O'Farrell and the Coalition, by-passing the Greens. .

Interviewed this month on Meet the Press, O'Farrell was asked whether the NSW Liberals would give their preferences to Labor ahead of the Greens, as the Victorian Liberal Party did successfully in last November's state election. The Opposition Leader made the point that, unlike Victoria, NSW has an optional preference voting system and that it is not necessary for political parties to advise supporters about how to allocate preferences.

O'Farrell added that the Liberals in NSW "haven't preferenced the Greens in the past" and he could not "imagine us doing it in the future". He also advised that the Liberal Party's state director, Mark Neeham, "will make the decision [on preferences] in due course".

In the four years he has been Opposition Leader, O'Farrell has been very successful in unifying the Liberal Party and in cementing a viable coalition with the National Party. Both are real achievements. Also, during this time O'Farrell has obtained a significant grasp of detail over all areas of administration. However, he has yet to establish his standing as a conviction politician. This may occur if, as seems very likely, O'Farrell is elected premier on March 26. .

In the meantime, O'Farrell and his colleagues would be well advised to take a stance on the Greens. For starters, there would be some political benefit in acknowledging that some of Labor's candidates are preferable to the Greens. Then there is the fact that O'Farrell is closer to the Premier, Kristina Keneally, on a range of economic, foreign and social policy issues than he is to the Greens.

It is widely recognised that the Greens' best chances of winning seats in the Legislative Assembly turn on the electorates of Marrickville and Balmain - now held by high-profile Keneally government ministers Carmel Tebbutt and Verity Firth respectively. The mayor of Marrickville, Fiona Byrne, is standing against Tebbutt and the mayor of Leichhardt, Jamie Parker, is contesting Balmain for the Greens.

Any Liberal voter would be crazy not to preference Labor ahead of the Greens in Marrickville and Balmain. There are Greens who are primarily environmentalists - like Senator Bob Brown and Senator Christine Milne. And then there are hard-left Greens - like Senator-elect Lee Rhiannon, who graduated from the Communist Party to the Greens. Byrne and Parker are close to the hard-left Greens camp.

As mayor of Marrickville, Byrne has led the charge to sign up ratepayers to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. This global movement, driven by the left, aims to boycott all goods made in Israel and prohibit all sporting, academic, government or cultural exchanges. The campaign does not distinguish between Israel's pre- and post-1967 borders and is aimed at Jewish and Arab Israelis alike.

Byrne and her Greens comrades seem unaware that Israel and increasingly Iraq are the only two democracies in the Middle East and that Arabs who are citizens of Israel have more democratic rights than Arabs domiciled in Arab nations. They also seem unaware that, historically, the left in Australia has supported Israel - as documented in Daniel Mandel's H V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel and Philip Mendes's article in the November 2009 issue of Labour History.

The Liberal Party, like Labor, has always supported the right of Israel to exist within secure borders. It is the Greens, not Labor, who challenge Israel, question the Australian-American alliance and are soft on counterterrorism legislation. Moreover, the Greens are well to the left of Labor on economic and social issues.

It makes sense for Liberals in inner-city Sydney to give their preferences to Tebbutt ahead of Byrne and to Firth ahead of Parker.


Greenie disaster for Australian electricity users

The Gillard government's renewable energy scheme will saddle consumers with more than $1 billion in extra electricity costs this year, and uncertainty created by its failure to implement a carbon pricing regime is forcing power bills higher than they would otherwise be.

Research to be released today by the Australian Industry Group finds that a "well-designed" carbon price would ease some of the pressure on energy prices, which are forecast to rise over the next decade.

However, a carbon price of $26 a tonne is still estimated to increase electricity costs for households by 17.6 per cent in 2012-13, taking an annual bill for a Sydney home to $2000 from $1700.

But the report warns that a failure to implement a well-designed climate change policy could entrench higher power prices.

"Without decisions in this area over the next couple of years, damaging uncertainty is likely to lead to sub-optimal investments that leave both prices and emissions higher than they need be - with serious and uncompensated impacts on trade-exposed firms," the report says.

The research attacks the government's renewable energy scheme - particularly subsidies for household solar photovoltaics panels - as not offering value for money in terms of either emissions abatement or support for innovation.

The report comes as the government's multi-party climate change committee is locked in negotiations over the shape of a carbon pricing scheme, with the government preferring a fixed carbon price beginning from July 1 next year with an emissions trading scheme beginning three or four years later.

But the Greens and the government are on a collision course over compensation for energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries. Julia Gillard argues that she will not throw out the "good work" on compensation in her predecessor Kevin Rudd's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and the Greens have declared the levels negotiated in that regime unacceptable.

The AIGroup research concludes that a decision on carbon pricing could reduce the reliance on the government's "high-cost" renewable energy target scheme - which aims to source 20 per cent of the nation's power from renewable sources by 2020 - and break an "investment drought" in new electricity generation.

AIGroup chief executive Heather Ridout said the government's renewable schemes were splurging on the most expensive renewables instead of the cheapest and warned that the nation could "get stuck with the equivalent of a Rolls when a hatchback would do". The report - based on a survey of more than 150 companies - warns that consumers would be forced to pay $1.12bn in 2011 just to cover the cost of household-level renewable systems, particularly rooftop solar photovoltaic panels.

The government's scheme for small-scale generators such as household solar panels was "not offering value for money in terms either of emissions abatement or support for innovation", the report warns. If the same funds were invested in big wind farms, four times as much renewable energy could be produced each year. Investing the money in large-scale solar plants would produce twice as much energy, the report finds.

On top of this, the future costs of the government's scheme to encourage commercial-scale renewables would be "substantially higher" than forecast if a price was not eventually put on carbon.

The government last December moved to wind back subsidies to households installing solar schemes as it sought to lower pressure on electricity prices. The move followed a decision early last year to reform how renewable energy certificates were issued to deal with a glut caused by a flood of solar panel installations.

Under the new scheme, renewable energy certificates generated from solar panels and solar hotwater schemes were separated into a discrete market from those generated by large-scale enterprises, such as wind farms, in a bid to drive up the price of RECs to encourage investment in large-scale renewables.

And last month, in a bid to deal with the glut, the renewable energy regulator increased the number of certificates that power retailers had to buy - a move that would lift electricity prices by an estimated $5 a household each year.

The AIGroup research finds that while renewable-related costs have been "higher than necessary", they are only a "relatively small" driver of price rises because other factors are so significant. These include the need to fund tens of billions of dollars worth of investments in network infrastructure, as well as likely rising coal prices, and escalating labour and materials costs that would make new electricity supplies more expensive.

The AIGroup report urges the government to address climate policy and carbon pricing, and to use the introduction of a national policy to "trim the thicket" of inefficient green programs that are "adding somewhat to energy prices for insufficient benefit".

It also says that the government's energy white paper - which was promised in 2008, but delayed after Mr Rudd shelved his ETS last March - should be completed as soon as possible.

Ms Ridout said there was "no end in sight" to rising electricity and gas prices over the next decade. "Australian industry is already grappling with the challenges of a strong dollar and an economy nearing capacity." She said it was crucial a carbon price was well-designed because a badly-designed carbon price "will put even more pressure on energy costs" .

She stressed her group was anxious to work with the government to ensure its carbon policy protected the ability of manufacturers to compete with offshore rivals. While a well-designed climate change policy would "soften the blow" of a carbon price, it "would be a big hit on business".

As well as the findings on renewables schemes, the report warns that bankers are baulking at supporting coal-fired power stations because of the uncertainty around carbon policy. The problem with this is that there could eventually be a rush of open-cycle gas turbine generators rather than more cost-efficient baseload combined-cycle gas plants.

According to the survey, most companies were expecting electricity price rises of between 11 and 20 per cent over the next two years.


Camouflage uniforms (!) for prisoners

IF QUEENSLAND'S highest-security prisoners escape from custody, they could be difficult to recapture for one reason - their uniforms. Queensland Corrective Services has "camouflaged" 5470 of the state's 5631 inmates since issuing new-look green, khaki and denim uniforms last year.

The uniforms were designed by Brisbane TAFE students as part of a competition which provided $1000 prizemoney to three students.

While prisoners around the world are forced to dress distinctly to hinder their escape, Queensland prisoners could blend into their mostly rural surrounds. US prisoners wear orange or yellow jumpsuits and violent offenders wear red and white striped uniforms, while escape-risk inmates in the UK wear bright-coloured boiler suits.

But Queensland prisoners had the choice of a two-tone green T-shirt, singlet or jumper with shorts, tracksuit or cargo pants, which were made by prisoners at Lotus Glen, Townsville, Woodford and Brisbane Women's Correctional Centres. This colour scheme more closely resembles what armed forces wear to help them avoid detection in battle.

Opposition corrections spokesman Jarrod Bleijie said the gaffe was symbolic of the problems within corrective services. Mr Bleijie said escaped inmates would blend into the bushland surrounding most jails and would also be indistinguishable from non-prisoners in crowded spaces.

"Having just completed a comprehensive induction to Queensland prisons I was shocked to see first-hand the camo-like prison-issue uniforms," he said. "Many an eyebrow was raised when I mentioned the issue with prison staff and it was clear frontline prison officers had no input into the design. "You should be able to distinguish between an average `Joe Blow' walking down the street and a prisoner."

Corrective Services Minister Neil Roberts said the uniform would not be changed. "The words `Correctional Centre Issue' are clearly marked on the new uniforms in upper-case, white lettering, which is also slightly reflective," he said. [And those not in the know could well assume that the lettering describes STAFF!]

Mr Roberts said that some prisoners wore bright orange uniforms within workshops at high-security jails. "There has not been an escape from a high-security prison in Queensland since the Nationals were last in power in 1998," he said.