Thursday, June 30, 2011

Government regulation puts childcare centres out of business

CHILDCARE operators have begun to sell off their businesses to avoid a barrage of new fines and regulations that are expected to force fees up by an average $13 per child per day, more than 20 times what the government had predicted.

Kerry Lada, who ran the Hardy's Road Early Childhood Centre at Mudgeeraba on the Gold Coast for 12 years, sold up two weeks ago. "It was too hard, I was going to have to increase fees by at least $13 a day," she said.

Under national reforms to start on January 1 childcare centres will have to decrease the ratio of babies to carers from various state-mandated levels to four to one.

The full cost will not be felt until 2016, when centres will have to be hiring one staff member for every five children aged 25 to 35 months, and one carer for every 11 children aged three to school age.

Ms Lada said her 55-place centre would have had to drop eight childcare places or hire two extra staff next year as a result of the new regulations.

Nerida Campbell, who trained as a teacher and has two young children, runs a centre in Katanning, Western Australia. She said she could not find the extra qualified staff she needed to meet the regulations in a rural area and her fees would have to rise by $10 a day next year. "In the next six months we'll be thinking about selling," Ms Campbell said.

Staff who had worked in childcare for years were also considering resigning ahead of new regulations that will make staff and centres subject to fines if they did not meet new standards, Ms Lada said.

Childcare Minister Kate Ellis insists independent modelling from Access Economics shows the reforms will have a minimal cost impact of just 57c per child a day in 2012 and $8.67 in 2014-15. But a new survey of 414 private and community-based childcare centres shows operators will raise their fees by an average of $13 a day after the new regulations are introduced.

One in five of those surveyed was contemplating rises of $25 a day.

The survey found 70 per cent of proprietors were not fully aware of their responsibilities under the new laws and 64 per cent said they would have to cut the number of places they offered.


The pay debacle at Qld. Health continues

A star example of bungling bureaucracy

QUEENSLAND Health is under fire for botching calculations of wage overpayments amid claims at least one bill was sent to a deceased employee. Health workers caught in the long-running payroll debacle yesterday detailed a litany of problems with the troubled department's attempts to recover overpaid wages.

One retired nurse, who did not wish to be named, was issued with a bill for 1c - well below the supposed $200 waiver and dwarfed by the $66,000 Queensland Health spent posting glossy repayment brochures to staff.

Some said they did not even work on dates the alleged overpayments occurred. Others believed they were slugged for debts they had already fully or partly repaid.

For Gold Coast Hospital nurse Susan Dale, a letter claiming she owed almost $7000 in overpayments has added "insult to injury". The 50-year-old was last year awarded compensation for psychological injury after being bullied by management but is still waiting for about $1600 of her subsequent payout.

In a further blow, each of the alleged overpayments occurred weeks after she stopped working for QH last April. "All that stuff that I've already gone through with them, it's just like it's never going to go away," she said. "I shouldn't be owing them anything, they should be paying me."

Ms Dale is on stress leave but said she "won't go back" to Queensland Health. "Why would you go back to a company that treats you so bad and then does something like this on top of it all," she said.

Mudgeeraba MP Ros Bates said the latest bungle was "just another assault on nurses". "There seems to be no end in sight; the Government seems to have no idea," Ms Bates said.

Health workers were incensed by QH human resources deputy director-general John Cairns's assertions on Tuesday that the overpayments were accurate as the payroll system had now "stabilised".

A Brisbane payroll worker yesterday told The Courier-Mail that was "totally incorrect". She said she knew at least one letter was sent to an employee who had passed away, while another staffer had paid all but $2 on an $800 debt but received a letter asking her to repay the full amount. "It's horrible for us . . . we've seen what people have gone through, we're just starting to get the trust back and then they go and do this," she said.

Mr Cairns yesterday defended the process, saying figures quoted in letters included only repayments made before May 15 and staff could tick a box to show more had subsequently been repaid.

He said test runs were done to check accuracy and 10 per cent of the 38,000 letters were also manually checked before being sent to staff, with no errors detected. He said an overpayment reconciliation process was done fortnightly during the year and overpayments were "explicitly stated" on all payslips.



Four current articles below

Attempts to silence Monckton

A CONTROVERSIAL climate change sceptic who likened chief climate adviser Ross Garnaut to a Nazi will deliver his Perth lecture tonight despite fierce opposition by academics.

Lord Christopher Monckton is in Perth to deliver the Lang Hancock Lecture at Fremantle’s Notre Dame University with a speech titled The Climate of Freedom. The lecture is sponsored by Australia’s richest woman and Mr Hancock’s daughter, Gina Rinehart.

Lord Monckton is also addressing the Association of Mining and Exploration annual conference at Burswood this morning.

He is also booked to deliver a lecture at the University of WA on Monday at the Wilsmore Lecture Theatre.

The British aristocrat’s views have divided the science community and more than 50 Australian academics have signed a letter calling on Notre Dame to cancel the lecture. The letter was organised by University of Western Australia political science postgraduate student Natalie Latter, who is studying climate ethics.

Ms Latter said the letter started as a “modest gesture” but she now had 56 signatures. “I just wanted to express my disappointment with the university and I sent it around to some colleagues and realized there was a lot of anger out there,” she said.

“Monckton has consistently undermined the work of lots of scientists. He’s misrepresented their work, misquoted their work, basically has no respect for the scientific or academic process, and so for a university to then be endorsing him is quite a betrayal of the academic community. “He undermines and abuses the values of academic integrity and I think it's important for us to defend that.”

Curtin University sustainability professor Peter Newman labelled the upcoming lecture “disgraceful” and said Lord Monckton had no credibility. “It’s not offensive to have differing points of view, its offensive for a university to put him on as though he were a scientist, as though he’s representing the kind of thing that universities stand for which is that you do try to find the truth in things rather than just opinion,” he told 6PR.

“He’s never published anything in a refereed journal. “To have a university say this is a distinguished person who is representing a point of view that needs to be heard, this is not right. “It gives credibility to a point of view that is purely representing a reaction to change, it’s not actually looking at evidence.”

Notre Dame defend Monckton booking

Notre Dame business school dean Chris Doepel said the university was happy to host Lord Monckton because it wished to provide a forum where "rigorous discussion of contentious public issues can take place".

He told ABC Radio that the university acknowledged that Lord Monckton's views on climate change were widely contested and he expected a vigorous question time at the end of his speech. "The university does not take a view one way or the other on the positions advocated by Christopher Monckton," Professor Doepel said.

Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt said he would be attending the lecture. “This will be a controversial lecture and I will be there to challenge him on the facts,” Mr Pettitt wrote on his blog. “While Lord Monckton has the right to his own opinion, he does not have the right to his own facts.”

'We did not invite Monckton' - UWA vice chancellor

The University of WA has also distanced itself from the controversial speaker, and vice-chancellor Professor Alan Robson has said an event booked for Monday at the campus with Lord Monckton in no way reflected the views or values of the University.

Prof Robson said UWA had not invited Lord Monckton to speak at the University, he had simply booked the venue for a lecture. “I reject the position put by Lord Monckton and find his anti-science stance and related comments offensive,” Prof Robson said. “His views denigrate the values of universities, such as ours, where the quality of evidence-based and peer-reviewed science is paramount.

“However, in any one year, hundreds of non-university activities are booked by groups or individuals who are looking to hire a venue for their events. “This is a service the University provides to the community and in no way does it mean that any of these events are endorsed by the University.”


Academic study demolishes the coral reef scare stories

The reefs have been going to hell in a handbasket for years -- according to the Greenies
Disturbance and the Dynamics of Coral Cover on the Great Barrier Reef (1995–2009)

By Kate Osborne et al.


Coral reef ecosystems worldwide are under pressure from chronic and acute stressors that threaten their continued existence. Most obvious among changes to reefs is loss of hard coral cover, but a precise multi-scale estimate of coral cover dynamics for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is currently lacking.

Monitoring data collected annually from fixed sites at 47 reefs across 1300 km of the GBR indicate that overall regional coral cover was stable (averaging 29% and ranging from 23% to 33% cover across years) with no net decline between 1995 and 2009.

Subregional trends (10–100 km) in hard coral were diverse with some being very dynamic and others changing little. Coral cover increased in six subregions and decreased in seven subregions. Persistent decline of corals occurred in one subregion for hard coral and Acroporidae and in four subregions in non-Acroporidae families. Change in Acroporidae accounted for 68% of change in hard coral.

Crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) outbreaks and storm damage were responsible for more coral loss during this period than either bleaching or disease despite two mass bleaching events and an increase in the incidence of coral disease. While the limited data for the GBR prior to the 1980's suggests that coral cover was higher than in our survey, we found no evidence of consistent, system-wide decline in coral cover since 1995. Instead, fluctuations in coral cover at subregional scales (10–100 km), driven mostly by changes in fast-growing Acroporidae, occurred as a result of localized disturbance events and subsequent recovery.

PLoS One. 2011; 6(3): e17516.

Greenie leader's economic xenophobia will cost us dearly

FOR a man who so warmly embraces every foreigner seeking asylum in Australia, Bob Brown is strangely xenophobic when it comes to foreigners who want to lend us money or invest here.

Yesterday, at the National Press Club, Brown did his best to stoke up anger against investors from "Switzerland, London, Calcutta, Beijing" and foreigners who, according to a study commissioned by the Greens and released yesterday, own 83 per cent of Australian mining companies. It was not a pretty sight.

Economic debate in Australia will take a turn for the worse once the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate. Brown may have good intentions but he is economically illiterate. That illiteracy is likely to cost ordinary Australians dearly; many will lose their jobs and their standard of living is likely to fall. It is surprising given their well-developed economic policies that the Greens have managed to avoid careful scrutiny of their party platform. Their industry policy should worry many Australians.

The Greens have long run a campaign against the mining industry and particularly the coal industry. In fact their stated party policy is no new coalmines and no expansion of existing mines. They fully intend to close down the Australian coal industry. Sooner rather than later.

Brown makes two arguments in defence of this policy. First, that renewables would replace coal. Second, that the Australian mining industry is largely foreign owned. Presumably that means the Australian government can destroy foreign investments with impunity.

Economic illiterates make several mistakes in their analysis. Because of his anti-foreign bias, Brown overlooks the benefits of interaction with foreigners. Unfortunately, he is not alone in exhibiting "capital xenophobia".

Australia has long had to borrow money from the rest of the world to finance our economic prosperity. The local economy has grown and foreign investors got their money back. This arrangement has benefited everybody; Australian savings are simply too small to finance our economic growth and standard of living. Foreigners invest in those economies with good prospects and low levels of sovereign risk.

Australia has a good reputation as an investment destination. But Brown is placing that hard-earned reputation at risk. Suggestions by a major political party, in a formal partnership with government and holding the balance of power in the Senate, that foreign investment can be taxed with impunity, or even shut down, raises perceptions of sovereign risk. What's worse, he is not alone. The ill-fated resource super-profits tax also raised serious concerns about sovereign risk.

Remarkably, Brown admits that Australia gets "jobs, export income, royalties and company tax" from mining. But that is not enough; he wants it all. He seems to object to foreigners, in return for their loans and investments, getting "profits, dividends, [and] capital appreciation". There is also a bit of double counting going on; dividends and capital appreciation amount to profits. Or perhaps Brown doesn't know that.

Brown is worried that foreign investors will earn $265 billion from their Australian investments over the next five years and, of that, $50bn will leave the country and $205bn will be reinvested.

Putting those figures into context, the Australian Taxation Office reports for the 2008-09 financial year that the mining industry paid $13.3bn in corporate tax. Of that amount coalmining paid nearly $3.6bn. So the industry paid more in tax in one year than the $10bn Brown suspects will leave the country in dividends each year.

What Brown imagines is that all that money going to foreigners could be diverted into a Norwegian-style sovereign wealth fund. It's not clear what he thinks will happen to the jobs and export income once foreign investment has been withdrawn because it no longer earns any profits, but Brown imagines that Australia could then be like Norway. However, unlike the Norwegian government, the Australian government does not hold large ownership stakes in the minerals industry. So the establishment of a minerals sovereign fund would not mean the diversion of existing government revenue into a fund but rather higher levels of taxation, discouraging work, saving and investment. After all, why do these things if the government is just going to tax away your money?

Economic illiterates believe that with some tweaking the world can be made a better place. In Brown's case the existence of a carbon tax and the demise of the coal industry would make the world a much better place. Yet he has given little thought to how that world would be powered. It's all very well talking about "renewables", but which renewables and how much would they cost?

As the Productivity Commission recently flagged, renewables are expensive; wind power costs $150-$214 a megawatt hour, solar costs $400-$473 a megawatt hour. By contrast, coal-fired electricity costs less than $100 a megawatt hour.

A coal-free Australia would be a lot more expensive, with lower standards of living.

Brown quoted the UN statistic that for every year of delay on climate change $1 trillion of costs will be incurred. What he hasn't explained is how undermining the Australian economy would reduce that cost and why Australians should bear that cost when the UN hasn't managed to convince its members to act in concert on climate change.

The biggest problem Brown faces is that you can't intervene in the economy on the scale he desires without a massive reduction in our economic wellbeing. The problem Australia faces is that Brown doesn't understand that point.


Sydney council's Greenie policies are sending businesses away from the CBD

CLOVER Moore's crazy council policies has big businesses fleeing the Sydney CBD. As they poach billions of investment dollars from the City of Sydney, western suburbs councils are urging business to forget the "weird leadership" and move on.

Parramatta won more than 21 business headquarters in the past five years and is now home to the Commonwealth Bank, Deloitte, Suncorp, Sydney Water, QBE, Westpac, St George Bank, NSW Police, the RTA and the Attorney-General's Department.

Further west, the Blacktown Council area drew Sony, Sharp, Aldi, Asics, LG Electronics, Coca-Cola, Arnotts, Myer and Fujitsu. And 800 national and global groups, including Woolworths, Price-WaterhouseCoopers and IBM, have fled for The Hills.

"Forget about the CBD and move to The Sydney Hills. Forget about the weird leadership. Forget about the extreme agendas. Come to where your council looks after your interests," Hills Mayor Mike Thomas said yesterday.

Owner of CBD lingerie store Arianne, Douglas Reedy, pays thousands of dollars in rent but cannot vote for the council as a business. He said Ms Moore's council was "killing" Sydney with controversial policies such as the bike lanes. "The little people are going broke everywhere over the (CBD). She's disrupting traffic and trying to get people out of the city," Mr Reedy said. He said this year was a "shocker" for revenue - the worst in 25 years: "She's just driving money out. All the developers have left."

Urban Taskforce CEO Aaron Gadiel blasted the council for driving business to despair with red tape, preventing development, and failing to represent all the community. "People want to invest in other places to save themselves the difficulty in dealing with the City of Sydney."

Parramatta Economic Development Forum CEO Christopher Brown said business realised the encumbrance of working in the CBD. "Parramatta is a willing player. It's not only laying out the welcome mat, it's knocking on people's doors," Mr Brown said. "Gone are the days if you didn't have your office in Martin Place it wasn't a real office."

Meriton managing director Harry Triguboff said Sydney's councils had a reputation for stalling projects. "Sydney is notorious for being hopeless, the planners do not want development, the aldermen do not want development, the politicians do not want development," he said.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How an Australian Leftist government looks after blacks

A Leftist State government is abandoning poor children who have vision and hearing problems

There has been only passing mention of this in the media so I thought I might flesh it out a little.

Ever since 1911 Queensland has had specially trained nurses going around all the schools testing children's vision and hearing and keeping an eye out for any other health problems that they might detect.

This has been especially important in lower socio-economic areas where parents are often not alert to such problems in their children or do not have the confidence to do anything about problems that they are aware of. In such communities the nurse can often galvanize action on a child's vision or hearing loss at an early age and thus remove very large roadblocks to the child's educational progress.

This has been particularly so where Aboriginals (native blacks) are concerned as hearing loss is something of an epidemic among Aboriginal children and the parents are usually far too timid to do anything about it.

So what is the latest from Queensland Health on the centenary of this invaluable service? They are cancelling it. As a substitute they have agreed to pay local GPs a small sum to carry out such testing on anyone who comes in for it

So for a start they have just lost the Aborigines. Many Aborigines won't be alert to the problems concerned and in any case will rarely have the confidence to approach local GPs about such problems. The people who need the assistance of school nurses the most are now having it taken away from them.

And few GPs have the experience and equipment to do a job as good as the job that the specialized nurses do.

And it will just lengthen the already long waits to see a doctor in lower socio-economic areas. In such areas it can take a couple of weeks to get an appointment with a GP. So Queensland Health is just putting a new burden onto already overstretched GPs and stretching out waiting times for appointments even further.

So why is Queensland Health doing this dastardly deed to the poor families of Queensland? Budget cuts. They have spent hundreds of millions on getting their botched payroll system working and the money has got to come from somewhere.

But why take it away from frontline services? 20 years ago the school nurses had only a couple of employees in addition to the nurses themselves. Now there is a great bureaucracy that is more numerous than the nurses. If there have to be cuts, why not cut back the bureaucracy to what it was 20 years ago? The sevice ran perfectly well for many decades without a huge bureaucracy on top of it and could easily do so again.

But Leftist goverments regard their bureaucracies as sacred for some inscrutable reason so that is the last thing they will consider. I guess it gives them a feeling of power to have so many people dependant on them. Pity about the poor, though.

The Minister for Health in the Queensland State government is Hon. Geoff Wilson MP

You can email him here

The unfixable bureaucracy again

Queensland Health in more payroll trauma

FURTHER angst over the Queensland Health payroll system has erupted after complaints over cases of inaccurate overpayment letters distributed to staff in the past weeks. The state government has spent $90 million fixing the system, which left thousands of workers overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all.

But the saga is not over yet. Affected nurses have been sent letters asking them to look at their pay records and determine if they owe Queensland Health any money.

Department Deputy Director General John Cairns defended Queensland Heath's payroll system, saying it had vastly improved since the trouble last year.

"You can appreciate there's been a lot of water under the bridge since what happened last March, our systems are vastly improved on where they are and we're confident about the data in our pay roll system - keep in mind the complexity of what we're talking about 80,000 staff," he said.

"For our staff who do have concerns and wish us to explain it in more detail, we will sit down and talk with them about what the issues are. "When we stopped recovering overpayments last year at the request of our staff and the Queensland Industry Relations Commission - we always said we would have to engage in this process so there should be no surprise with where we are."

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle says an already sensitive issue is now completely out of hand. "In the light of what happened in the last 15 months, now forwarding out these letters is traumatic for many people and their families," he told ABC Radio on Tuesday. Health Minister Geoff Wilson must clarify what documents should be used to establish a debt to Queensland Health, how debts would be negotiated, if mediation would be offered, and who would pay for it, Mr McArdle said. "The language in the letter is very poor," he said.

"Anybody claiming money is owed to them has a legal obligation to establish that claim. "It's not up to the person that money is being sought from."

Queensland Nurses Union secretary Beth Mohle said it was unfortunate workers needed to scour their records but there was no other way. "We are strongly urging our members to check what Queensland Health is claiming," she told AAP. "They're going to have to because I wouldn't trust them with the system the way that it is, given that it was so unstable." She said staff should be allowed to make those checks on work time.

Ms Mohle said union members had been urged to record their work hours since last year to match with what they'd been paid. "They could have been underpaid as well," she said. "And Queensland Health has given a commitment that they'll correct the underpayments before they recover overpayments."


Saving the planet will destroy the economy

MARGARET Thatcher's one time right-hand man Nigel Lawson is not so much a climate sceptic as sceptical of the necessity for action, let alone the ways we are tackling climate change.

Lawson will be in Sydney in six weeks to expound his views at a public debate on the proposition: "We need a carbon tax to help stop global warming."

The combatants themselves should raise temperatures. The former British chancellor of the exchequer and energy secretary will lead a negative team comprising former Keating government minister Gary Johns and University of Adelaide geologist and author of the sceptic's bible Heaven and Earth, Ian Plimer.

The affirmative will be put by two former opposition leaders, John Hewson and Mark Latham, backed by University of NSW climatologist Benjamin McNeil.

Lawson says it is scientifically established that increased carbon dioxide emissions will warm the planet, but adds, "it is uncertain how great any such warming would be and how much harm, if any, it would do". He urges governments "to consider the damaging economic impact of blindly following the climate change agenda".

He dismisses as "complete nonsense" the argument that Australia has a special responsibility as a carbon-intensive economy and big coal producer to show global policy leadership.

"If China wants to develop and wants to increase productivity through, among other things, increasing electricity output rapidly and has been building coal-fired power stations and wants to import the coal to fuel them from Australia, I think you would be mad if you didn't supply it," he tells The Weekend Australian.

Lawson sees continuing strong demand for Australian coal despite promises by China and India to reduce their energy intensity, calling the pledges "cover". "Economic development happens because of increased economic efficiency," he says. "That means increasing labour productivity and that also means increasing the productivity of the other factors of production of which energy is one of the most important."

Lawson adds the development of a less energy-intensive services sector is one of the characteristics of economic development. But he adds: "That doesn't mean energy consumption will decline. Energy consumption will rise. Carbon consumption will rise because economic growth will trump the lesser amount of energy used for each particular unit of output."

He calls energy intensity promises by China and India "convenient cover for their saying, quite rightly, 'no way are we going to impede or in any way slow down our economic development by having restrictions on the use of carbon energy'. They go for carbon intensity rather than carbon emissions, which they can be perfectly confident is bound to decline through a process of development as it has in every country in the world."

Lawson warns our politicians not to hold up his own party's policies as exemplars.

Julia Gillard regularly points to British Prime Minister David Cameron's environmental plans to embarrass the Coalition, but Lawson says Tory backbenchers "are increasingly uncomfortable and indeed hostile to policies [that] are being proposed on the climate change front, which mean higher energy costs, which are bad for consumers ... and bad for British industry".

He points out Cameron and his ministers have a plan B. "The government has said it will review the matter in January 2014 in the light of what other European countries are doing and this is clearly a get-out clause, this is clearly new, and it was clearly put in at the behest of the Treasury as both the Treasury and Treasury ministers are very concerned at the cost of going it alone."

Economics and energy security are at the core of Lawson's critique of the climate policy debate. "The world relies on carbon-based energy simply because it is by far the cheapest available source of energy and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future," he says. "The major developing countries, in particular, are understandably unwilling to hold back their development and condemn their people to avoidable poverty by moving from relatively cheap energy to relatively expensive energy."

Lawson heralds new developments that permit extraction of gas from shale in an economic way as "one of the most remarkable technological developments there has been", saying the shift from coal to gas that is set to follow will cut emissions.

"This is carbon energy but the amount of carbon dioxide produced per terawatt of energy generated from gas is half that from coal," he says. "You don't eliminate carbon emissions but you reduce them quite considerably by moving from coal to gas. Of course the environmentalists are appalled by this because they believe that carbon energy has to be eliminated altogether but that's not going to happen."

Lawson returns once again to the cost of renewable energy. "If renewable energy is cheaper than carbon energy, then that's fine," he says, "but for the present time and in the foreseeable future most forms of renewable energy are massively more expensive."

Lawson dismisses as economic illiteracy claims of a green jobs boom powered by renewables that will mop up unemployment from the structural adjustment to a low-carbon economy, recruiting one of the great classical liberals to back his case.

"The French 19th-century economist Frederic Bastiat said you might as well go round breaking windows saying you're creating jobs for glaziers. The fact is you can't look at just one sector. The government can create jobs by employing large numbers of people to build statues of prominent politicians. You can always create jobs in a particular area.

"What you've got to be concerned about are jobs in the economy as a whole and you don't create jobs in the economy as a whole by promoting something [that] is wholly uneconomic and has to be subsidised."

Lawson has strong views about what decarbonisation means. "The plain fact is the total economy will be harmed. A lot of these green jobs will be in China. The Chinese can see there is a market in the West for solar panels and other things so they are producing them very much more cheaply. In so far as there are jobs they will be there, not in the consuming countries."


Fibre network to bring higher costs and new monopoly, Victoria warns

THE $36 billion National Broadband Network could saddle consumers with unnecessarily high internet costs and hold back competition, the Victorian government warns in a scathing assessment of federal Labor's broadband plans.

As pressure on the Gillard government grows from conservative states over the NBN, Victoria's Technology Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips has warned that taxpayers could "pay multiple times" if the NBN duplicates existing fibre connections to schools, hospitals and businesses.

In a submission to the House of Representatives inquiry into the NBN, Victoria has warned Canberra that it appears to have given "excessive" protections to the NBN Co against competition and cautions about the risks of setting up the network as a large public monopoly.

"After over two decades of national economic and financial reform, the NBN proposal in its present form represents a very serious threat to the long-term competition in the telecommunications sector," the submission warns.

"The increasingly apparent risk is that the commonwealth could, over time, fully replicate a dysfunctional telecommunications market structure that has hindered investments in the current broadband market. This would be the result if it simply replaces Telstra's market power with an NBN Co infrastructure monopoly with all the attendant inefficiencies and constraints on investment, innovation and future policymaking."

Victoria describes information about the NBN rollout as "ad hoc" and says there was "minimal effective engagement" with the states in developing the National Digital Economy Strategy, even though they deliver key services such as health and education.

The comments are the strongest challenge yet by a state government to Labor's NBN plans, which represent a key plank of Julia Gillard's reform agenda.

They come as the conservative governments of Victoria, NSW and Western Australia challenge the Prime Minister on other reforms such as the carbon tax, the mining tax and health.

Late yesterday, Paul Broad, incoming chief executive of the new independent body Infrastructure NSW, pledged to do what he could to avoid a costly broadband rollout. "We understand that NSW has an enormous amount of fibre already," Mr Broad told The Australian. "We understand that NSW businesses, hospitals, schools are connected to fibre today. NSW will use that to the benefits of the NSW economy and access the NBN only to those parts where they are not covered today."

The office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy last night insisted the government did not expect NBN Co to inefficiently duplicate existing infrastructure that could support high-speed broadband.

"It should also be noted that the definitive agreements between Telstra and NBN Co allow for re-use of existing infrastructure, which will avoid infrastructure duplication," Senator Conroy's spokesman said.

In its submission, the Victorian government stresses that ubiquitous high-speed broadband could deliver substantial benefits, that existing services are inadequate in some areas and that Canberra's objectives to reform the telecommunications market are important. But risks are emerging.

On cost, Victoria argues cheaper alternatives to Labor's fibre-to-the-premises model should be available where this would meet broadband needs.

On competition, the submission cites concerns about Telstra and Optus removing broadband services provided over their pay-TV networks as well as the ban on potential NBN rivals cherry-picking lucrative areas.

Victoria also argues that states and local governments have faced uncertainty about the rollout and its priorities.

NBN Co is conducting a study into extending the fibre rollout to Julia Creek in outback Queensland. The move comes after a backlash from residents angry that the main cable passes the town, but does not connect them because there are less than 1000 premises.

McKinlay Shire Mayor Paul Woodhouse said: "I appreciate they are rolling out a multi-billion-dollar program, but it comes back to our planning, our inability to plan. "It's just a nightmare as far as our future planning goes."

Senator Conroy's spokesman said it was "completely absurd" to claim there had been minimal engagement, while an NBN Co spokeswoman said it was "keen to engage with all levels of government to discuss our plans".

"This engagement is continuing and is likely to ramp up as the network rollout accelerates," Senator Conroy's spokesman said.


Abortion furore rages after church sacks hospital board

Sacked St Andrew's Toowoomba Hospital governors are planning legal action after the Presbyterian Church of Queensland abruptly removed them from their posts amid tensions over the hospital's abortion policy and the church's influence on operations.

The PCQ dismissed 12 of the hospital's governors last week.

Yesterday, former board members said they were planning a legal challenge to their dismissal and bristled at perceptions they took a pro-choice stance on abortion.

Former board member Paul McMahon said the sacked governors refused to back a motion suggesting the hospital not perform abortions unless the mother was threatened with immediate death. But he said the hospital's current position on abortion was "hardly a loose policy".

"The hospital already has very, very strict termination laws such that there were only two terminations last year," he said. "One related to a dead baby in the womb and the other related to a baby that would not survive outside the womb. "What's happened now is that the hospital and past governors are being painted as pro-choice. That sickens me."

Mr McMahon said the sacked governors were considering defamation proceedings and also believed the church contravened corporations law when it asked governors up for re-election to sign a nomination form pledging to act according to the tenets of the church. "[The law] says that a director's first duty is to the organisation, you can't have two masters," he said. "We said we couldn't sign them because in our view they contravene corporations law."

PCQ moderator Graeme McKay told ABC radio yesterday morning media reports of the sackings had focused too heavily on the abortion issue. He said the governors were removed last week because they were trying to limit the church's influence on the hospital. "The reason they were removed is some of these governors were seen to be taking steps to remove the church from the hospital," he said.

"The Presbyterian Church does have a statement on abortion and some of the board members took an issue with the church's position on abortion."

Former St Andrew's vice-chairman Jock Lambie said he still hasn't been notified by the church of his dismissal. He said he received a phone call from Mr Fairweather last Monday saying he had been sacked three hours before a board meeting he had expected to attend. Dr Lambie said he expected a review of the hospital's abortion policy to be the new board's first order of business.

However he defended the existing stance on abortion. "The only abortions that are done are when the baby is not expected to survive," he said. "They [the church] leave that up to God. That's alright except none of them are women, so they don't know what it's like carrying a monster in their belly.

"The two most recent terminations that were done, the babies had no heads. How would you like to carry that, knowing it was there, for an extra 20 weeks to go through a painful labour and produce a child that lives for five minutes?"

Yesterday, St Andrew's chief executive Ray Fairweather said the hospital would follow the wishes of the new board of governors, which is expected to review the hospital's abortion policy. Mr Fairweather said he would have no problem working with the new board appointed by the PCQ.

"[A change in abortion policy] is up to the board of governors," he said. "I have 35 years' experience working with boards of directors, I've established new boards, I've worked with any range of boards and this is just another situation that I have to work with."


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Left-run City of Sydney officially declares white settlement of Australia an invasion

SYDNEY is rewriting the history books, declaring the arrival of white settlers an "invasion". After City of Sydney's Aboriginal advisory panel threatened to quit, councillors capitulated, wiping the words "European arrival" from official documents and declared the arrival of white settlers to be an "invasion".

During a long debate, Deputy Mayor Marcelle Hoff argued that the term "invasion or illegal colonisation" should be used in the council's official documents and statements. She read out dictionary definitions of invasion as "to take possession, to penetrate, to intrude upon, to overrun". "They came in and they did not leave," she said.

When other councillors described the term as offensive, Ms Hoff said: "It's intellectually dishonest to not use words that offend some people."

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said she had tried to remove the word "invasion" but said she had underestimated the depth of feeling on the issue. She said Aborigines were the original custodians of the land and the term was important to them. "In respect to the Aboriginal community, it's something that is very important and needs to be used," she said. After a 7-to-2 vote in favour, the term "this invasion" will be used in the council's Aboriginal policy, which appears in many of its official documents.

Ms Moore read out the new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Statement which says: "In 1788 the British established a convict outpost on the shores of Sydney Harbour. "This had far reaching and devastating impact on the Eora Nation, including the occupation and appropriation of traditional lands. Despite the destructive impact of this invasion Aboriginal culture endured and is now globally recognised as one of the world's oldest cultures."

Ms Moore also deleted a paragraph she proposed last week which said: "British settlement of Sydney and its surrounds is interpreted by some people, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, as invasion. For others it is colonisation. History is interpreted by people differently according to their experience of its consequences." Ms Moore asked a packed public gallery if they agreed with the new wording - and nearly all put up their hand.

However, councillor Phillip Black, who is on Ms Moore's team of independents along with Ms Hoff, said the council should moderate using emotive language. "Healing the past will not be achieved by alienating others. The word invasion has served its useful life. I do not believe it should be used in our documents," he said. He was lambasted for suggesting in emails that Aborigines were also migrants. [They were. They all but wiped out their pygmy predecessors]


Cool heads needed for climate talk

It's a case of double standards when it comes to Christopher Monckton

It's just two sleeps until Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, addresses the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies in Perth. The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, will open the conference today.

The Australian media invariably latches on to controversial individuals visiting from overseas - left and right, foreign-born and expatriate. This reflects the fact that Australia has a large and competitive media along with a relatively small population. Visitors enhance the opinion pool, for a while at least, and controversial ones tend to get covered in the print and electronic media.

Monckton, who is perhaps best labelled as sceptical or agnostic to the idea that global warming is generated by humans, received wide-scale coverage when he visited Australia in February last year. Commercial radio and television, along with the tabloid press, tended to report him seriously. However, he was ridiculed on some ABC programs and in parts of the broadsheet press.

For example, The Age ran a story that Abbott would talk to the visiting hereditary peer under the heading "'Mad Monk' Meets Monckton". This was accompanied by a large colour photo of Monckton's face from forehead to nose only, replete with protruding eyes. He suffers from Graves' disease. It is impossible to imagine journalists mocking a sufferer of breast or prostate cancer in such a way.

Monckton, a mathematician, understands that one sure way to get coverage in the media is to ham it up and, on occasions, throw the switch to hyperbole. Last week news reached Australia that, in a recent speech in the United States, Monckton had accused the Australian economist Ross Garnaut of exhibiting "a fascist point of view" with respect to climate change policy and commented: "Heil Hitler - on we go."

Monckton's trivial and ahistorical exaggeration was met by predictable - and justified - criticism. It makes no sense to compare Western democracies with the excesses of fascist totalitarian regimes - or indeed communist dictatorships of the Lenin/Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot varieties. Monckton has seen the error of his ways. On Channel Ten's Bolt Report on Sunday, he apologised for having made the point he was trying to make in "such a catastrophically stupid and offensive way".

Monckton's original comment was reported in depth on Lateline. Last Wednesday Tony Jones interviewed Professor Ian Chubb, who in April was appointed as Australia's chief scientist. Asked about the Monckton outburst, Chubb spoke out against the use of "emotive language" and declared that "calling people names … ought not to be acceptable in a flourishing democracy like Australia".

Fair enough, provided the reprimand is universal. In the lead-up to the 2007 election, Chubb was vice-chancellor of the Australian National University. On November 19, 2007, The Canberra Times ran an article by Dr Bruce Kent - then an ANU visiting fellow - in which he alleged that there were similarities between some of John Howard's policies and those of the Third Reich. In particular, he linked Howard with such mass murderers as Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels.

Kent's analysis was so exaggerated that he even saw aspects of the Nazi regime in the Coalition's policy on - wait for it - the Murray-Darling Basin. There is no evidence that Chubb - or any of his colleagues at the ANU - distanced themselves from Kent's rave in their local newspaper.

Similar double standards prevail today. Monckton is rightly bagged for linking Garnaut with Hitler. Yet there was virtually no outcry when Mark Dreyfus, one of the better performers in the Gillard government, wrote an article in March where he accused Abbott of "Goebbellian cynicism". In a calm moment, Dreyfus well understands that Goebbels's evil was not located in cynicism but rather in his advocacy for genocide.

In his Lateline appearance, Chubb targeted the likes of Monckton. However, when interviewed by Chris Uhlmann on 7.30 in April, he commented that "we lost a bit of civility in the debate from time to time" and appeared to blame all participants for such an occurrence. If this is what Chubb was trying to say, he has a point. Take Garnaut, for example. He is a paid part-time consultant to the Labor government. No problem here. However, traditionally, it was accepted that individuals on the government payroll - whether in a full-time or part-time capacity - would moderate their language in the public debate.

This is not a stance adopted by Garnaut. He addressed the National Press Club in May in his capacity as head of the Garnaut Climate Change Review. In this talk he accused "parts of big business" of having taken the "role of spoiler" in the climate change debate and implied that those who declined to embrace his views were neither informed nor thoughtful. Garnaut also suggested that his critics believe that Australia is a "pissant country" and then accused his opponents of "shouting ignorant slogans".

Such an outburst is emphatically not consistent with a call for moderation in language. It was more of the same when Garnaut was interviewed by Deborah Cameron on ABC Radio 702 last week. The presenter introduced her guest as "Australia's leading economist" and suggested that unnamed economists who disagreed with Garnaut had "sold their souls" and become "handmaidens to climate science deniers". This was followed by the leading question: "Do more economists need to get out and actually be honest?"

In response, Garnaut said that there was a tendency for economists "to tailor the analysis to what their client wants". In other words, Garnaut was suggesting that economists employed by business cannot be taken at face value. But, apparently, economists who are engaged as consultants by governments are completely credible. I asked both Cameron and ABC management why Garnaut's role as a paid consultant to the Gillard government was not mentioned during the interview. There was no reply.

Of course Garnaut says what he believes. However, so do most of his critics. Of course Monckton was irresponsible to link Garnaut with Hitler. But so were those who linked Howard with the Third Reich. Any cooling of the political debate will require contributions from all parties.


Christians not vilified by Islamic billboard

I see the billboard as a rare positive recognition of Christianity from Muslims

PROCLAIMING Jesus to be ''a prophet of Islam'' on billboards is a statement of belief and does not discriminate against or vilify Christians, the Advertising Standards Bureau has found.

The billboard, one of several in an awareness campaign by Islamic group MyPeace, was the subject of a series of complaints to the bureau on the grounds that the statement was insulting to those who believed Jesus to be the son of God.

Other complaints included the charge that Jesus ''must not be associated with such [an] aggressive religion'' and another claiming the advertisement was upsetting to children. ''What [my child] knows of Islam she has learnt from watching mainstream news broadcasts and to have her saviour identified as being part of this malicious cult was very traumatic!'' one complaint stated.

But the bureau found that while some members of the community would be offended by the statement, which would be inconsistent with Christian beliefs, ''such a statement does not, of itself, discriminate against or vilify people who hold different beliefs'' and was not a breach of the Advertiser Code of Ethics. ''The board acknowledged that the Islam faith does consider that Jesus is a prophet of Mohammed,'' it read.

It found the billboards did not suggest violence or contain frightening material ''and that it is not unreasonable for children to be exposed to a variety of information in their daily lives, some of which may conflict with the views with which they are raised''.

MyPeace founder Diaa Mohamed confirmed earlier this month that two billboards - one at Rozelle and another at Rosehill - had been vandalised.

Another reading ''Mary and prophet Jesus: read about their lives in the [Koran]'' was erected on Fairfield Road, near the M5 at Padstow at the weekend, he told the Herald.

In a written response to the Advertising Standards Bureau, he said misunderstandings about Muslims and Islam prompted the campaign, which aimed to reduce discrimination and vilification of certain sections of the community - and in particular Muslims.

''[The advertisement] conveys the message that, like Christians, we the Muslims also regard Jesus with extreme reverence,'' it read. ''The idea being that the people will see beyond the words in the advertisements and recognise that Islam and Muslims are not much different from any other ordinary Australian.''


Half a million dollars to build a roof over a BBQ area!

Governments never stop wasting the people's money

IT'S the mother of all barbecue stoppers - a $542,190 bill to construct a roof on a gourmet barbecue area so that federal public servants are protected from the glare of the sun. The Attorney-General's Department has confirmed a roof has been built over the entertainment areas, but said this was necessary to "address potential OH&S issues''.

Staff will now be able to enjoy their snags and steak in comfort, instead of being subject to the elements including "reflection of light from the pavement''.

The Courier-Mail can reveal a further $66,000 has been spent on an aluminium shelter over another "BBQ patio'' used by the A-G's Department.

According to the department, tender documents said the contract awarded last August was to cover a "BBQ area'' at the department, located just down the road from Parliament House in Canberra.

As well as enjoying their gourmet meals, the A-G staff will be able to use the outdoor area for training and other "functions''.

But one public servant familiar with the barbecue site suggested it reflected a "spend, spend, spend'' culture within the A-G's portfolio.

The Opposition has been pursuing the high costs of the barbecue area through parliament. In response to questions, the A-G's Department said staff were unable to use the area "due to the extreme hot or cold conditions, reflection of light from the pavement and exposure to the elements''.

But Eriz Abetz, the Opposition's Senate Leader and Workplace Relations spokesman, said a highly paid QC must have been hired to come up with the "spin'' on this story. "Chances are that even Kevin Rudd would say 'fair shake of the sauce bottle' on this one,'' Senator Abetz said. "One wonders how this is justified at all,'' he said. "The spin that surrounds this is just phenomenal. "Clearly this is for their recreational use.''

In a statement, A-G's said it had taken the "opportunity to convert'' the outdoor space to an area that can now be used for training, meetings, staff inductions and functions. And it stressed taxpayers only forked out about $340,000 of the total cost with building owner Melbourne-based ISPT picking up more than $200,000.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Poll finds only 41 per cent of Australians think climate change is a serious problem

A LEADING climate change advocate maintains public sentiment for climate change action is improving despite a poll showing support has dropped to a record low.

According to the Lowy Institute poll, 75 per cent of Australians believe the federal government has done a poor job addressing climate change. Just 41 per cent think the issue is a serious and pressing problem, down five points from last year and 27 points since 2006. Australians are also much less willing to pay a price to tackle climate change, with 39 per cent not prepared to pay anything extra.

John Connor, chief executive of The Climate Institute, a non-partisan and independent research organisation, said the polling was undertaken in April. "It's a worrying trend but not a surprising trend," Mr Connor said. "We've picked up at least a change in the momentum since we launched the Say Yes campaign."

Analysis of talkback radio by the institute showed an improvement in support for climate change action since February, Mr Connor said. "I'm not at all relaxed but I think we are seeing a turning point."

The polling had tracked the decline of the debate over the years into one that is now extremely partisan. "There was bipartisan support for action and the emissions trading scheme and an international legal agreement (in 2007)," Mr Connor said.


U.S. no help to Gillard and her carbon tax

JIM Sensenbrenner, the most senior Republican in the US House of Representatives, is a long-term friend of Australia but he has just delivered the most lethal external blow yet to the Gillard government's plans to introduce a carbon tax.

The Gillard government has gone to vast and expensive lengths to convince the people of what is essentially a fiction: that the rest of the world is taking action on greenhouse gas emissions commensurate with that which Australia would take if it introduced the biggest carbon tax in the world.

As all the legal international frameworks for carbon pricing agreements have collapsed, the Gillard government has had to resort to taking the vague aspirational ambitions of nations as if they were concrete, settled policy.

In the US case, the Obama administration failed to get a cap and trade system through Congress in 2009. The US Democratic Party then lost nearly 100 congressmen and senators in the next congressional election in 2010.

The Obama administration, having abandoned cap and trade, has made a general pledge to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its 2007 level by 17 per cent by 2020. No one believes that will happen, unless the US is going through such a catastrophic depression that emissions fall as a consequence of a collapsing economy. As Sensenbrenner told The Australian: "As the US economy comes back, emissions will rise."

Sensenbrenner has held a series of key congressional committee chairmanships and has been a central figure in the politics of climate change. He believes that any attempt to price carbon in the US is now dead.

The state-based initiatives for carbon pricing in the US are either collapsing or cover only a small section of the economy, with little impact. Sensenbrenner believes there is no prospect of carbon pricing coming back in the US.

In this critical judgment he is borne out by Democratic strategists who believe neither Barack Obama nor congressional Democrats will campaign for a cap and trade scheme at the next election next year. Dozens of pro-cap and trade Democrats lost their seats at the Republican slaughter of 2010.

This begs the question: if all the big resource-producing countries that compete with Australia are not going down a carbon tax route, and if the US and Canada are not going down a carbon price route, how can it be that a carbon price would not put all Australian industry at a significant competitive disadvantage?


Senior police are demanding prosecutors appeal the aquittal of Carnita Matthews

SENIOR police are demanding prosecutors relaunch legal action against the veiled Muslim woman cleared of lying about being attacked by an officer.

Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas told The Sunday Telegraph new material had emerged about the case over the past few days and a fresh appeal had to be mounted against the acquittal of Carnita Matthews.

"The NSW Police Force is obviously disappointed with the outcome of the appeal," Mr Kaldas said. "The force will examine the judge's reasons for his decision and has requested the Director of Public Prosecutions consider another appeal. "NSW Police will examine further information that has come to light in the media since the appeal judgment."

Ms Matthews was sentenced to six months' jail in November for falsely accusing a policeman of attempting to rip off her niqab during a random breath test conducted in June.

An appeal court last week quashed the conviction on the grounds there was no proof she was really the veiled woman who walked into a police station to make the complaint, a few days after the alleged incident.

Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione, who has been at a conference in Europe, will meet Police Minister Mike Gallacher this week to discuss possible law changes that could give police the power to fingerprint veiled women, or insist upon removal of headgear including helmets or veils.


Australian scientists in snakebite ointment breakthrough

Rubbing snakebites with an ointment that slows the functioning of lymph glands could boost survival times by 50 per cent, according to new research by Australian scientists.

In experiments on humans and mice, researchers showed a class of compounds called nitric oxide donors delays the entry of toxins from potentially deadly snakebites into the blood stream.

Nitric oxide (NO), a molecule involved in regulation of blood pressure and the control of brain activity, has been shown to lower blood pressure in patients who suffer acute strokes.

The new finding is of more than academic interest: every year, 100,000 people worldwide die from snakebites, and another 400,000 must amputate limbs that have been injected with poison.

It has long been known that many snake venoms contain large molecules that transit the human body's lymphatic system before entering the bloodstream.

Separately, scientists have also established that nitric oxide slows down a pumping mechanism within the lymphatic system, a part of the body's immune system that carries a clear fluid - called lymph - toward the heart.

Dirk van Helden, a researcher at the University of Newcastle, put these two facts together to suggest a possible treatment for snakebites.

"We hypothesised that a nitric-oxide-releasing agent applied topically would slow lymphatic transit time and entry of the venom into the circulation, delaying onset of toxicity," he and his colleagues wrote in the study.

To test their theory, the researchers injected a venom-like substance into one foot of 15 volunteers, and measured the time it took for the toxin substitute to reach lymph nodes in the groin.

The experiment was later repeated, except this time the drug-laced ointment was spread around the puncture within one minute of the injection.

The transit time dropped from an average of 13 minutes to 54 minutes, four times slower. Further experiments using real toxins in rats yielded roughly the same results.

Finally, the researchers compared the survival time in rats injected with venom that were treated with the ointment against those that were not, and found the nitric oxide rats kept breathing 50 per cent longer.

"These results point to a new method of snakebite first aid that may also be useful for bites to the torso or head," the researchers concluded.

Currently, the most common treatment is to immobilise the patient and restrict blood flow as much as possible until medical assistance is available.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Another day, another ban

Alexander Philipatos

Banning is supposed to be an extreme policy, used in severe circumstances with great caution. Today, however, it seems to be the first tool politicians reach for amid public protest. Our representatives are banning everything – from live cattle exports to cigarette advertising, from mortgage exit fees to swearing in public. In the time of focus group politics and governance by poll, the ‘ban’ is the new ‘in thing.’

While some may think this is harmless, the real economic and social ramifications of knee-jerk policies are repeatedly underestimated.

The recent ban on Spanish cucumbers thought to be contaminated with E. coli cost Spanish farmers $306 million per week. The suspension of live cattle export to Indonesia has already cost $10 million to the Australian Agriculture Company and threatens to shut down many smaller Aussie farmers. Melbourne’s 2am lockout trial in 2008 cost many bars and clubs thousands in lost revenue with no reduction in violence.

Of significant concern is the estimated $3 billion in lost revenue to be borne by pokies if Independent MP Andrew Wilkie gets to put limits on gambling, not counting the flow-on effects.

Apart from the retrospective economic costs of wrongheaded restrictions, there are social costs to individual liberty. Discussions of whether Ban A will reduce smoking or whether Ban B will reduce gambling ignore the fundamental issue of individual rights.

The real question is whether Australia is committed to a free society or whether we are prepared to have the government decide for us what we can advertise, how we may do business, how we manage risk and health, what mistakes we may make, and how we speak to each other.

The more the public offloads individual decisions and responsibilities to the state, the less say we have in governing ourselves.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 24 June. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

There's a bad mood rising for Julia Gillard

IT'S extraordinary that, a year after Julia Gillard stood in Labor's caucus room and introduced herself as the nation's 27th Prime Minister, engaged and interested people still ask who she is and what she stands for. But it is happening in streets around the country, during public meetings and forums and at dinner parties and in cafes.

There has been plenty of attention on Gillard - especially in this anniversary week of her becoming Australia's first female PM - but nothing she's been able to do or say has brought her any closer to the public she strives to lead.

Twelve months and an inconclusive election on, the public is in as bad a mood as the Labor Party. People are unsure of Australia's direction (although a clear majority think it's headed in the wrong way); they are grumpy about making the weekly household budget balance (even though for most, living standards have risen during the past five years); and they cannot understand the big issues that are supposed to matter. The carbon tax is as toxic with the public as Tony Abbott says it is; the mining boom is treated with suspicion; and a rational conversation about asylum seekers is as far away as it ever was.

It's easy to understand why Bob Katter launched his Australian Party - he is as good a barometer of a bad mood as anyone in politics - seeking to tap into the failure of political leadership, the sense of national drift and seeming financial pressure as well as a deepening and acknowledged community cynicism. Katter knows instinctively the public is crying out for leadership and direction.

The Economist's John Grimond said in the magazine's recent annual survey of Australia that the current crop of politicians couldn't pull the skin off a rice pudding. "Many, if not most, of Australia's politicians, like those in other countries, now emerge from the murk of their party apparatus rather than from the wider world," he wrote. "When they rise to the top, they surround themselves with henchmen, read polling results and tea-leaves and subordinate policy to the art of winning elections. "If they happen to gain power, they do not seem to know what to do with it. If they take action, it is because they want to be seen to be doing something."

It is a harsh assessment and not only falls short of the truth but also denies the good work being done by many ministers in the Gillard Government. It is, however, an appraisal that is met with nodding heads and grumbles of agreement.

At the Noosa Longweekend festival last week, two forums on politics this columnist took part in revealed universal evidence backing the sentiments expressed here. Conservative voters think they've had their worst fears confirmed; Labor voters are in deep despair; and those in the middle range between frustrated bewilderment and annoyed disgust.

As well as questions about the character of the Prime Minister, people couldn't understand what the mining boom was about and had no idea what our politicians wanted for the future of the country.

At a breakfast on political leadership at Noosa Springs Country Club, there was a unanimous view in a packed room that we had none and people were sincerely despondent about where we might find any.

Of course, members of the Gillard Government believe they can find a way through this national bad mood if there's a perceptible change in economic fortune, and things such as this week's National Broadband Network deal with Telstra continue to get done.

The NBN deal, which represents one of the few really positive agenda items Labor has on its plate, can help Gillard in two ways. It counters the perception nothing gets done in Canberra because of the minority government propped up by the Greens and Independents; and it is about delivering on promises - many left over from the time when Kevin Rudd was leader.

The next big-ticket item is pricing carbon, a policy as unpopular as John Howard's deadly WorkChoices, which should be wrapped up as soon as next week or by the middle of July at the latest.

Bedding down some kind of agreement with Malaysia on asylum seekers is also essential, although the hard bargain being driven by the Government in Kuala Lumpur is making that more difficult than it should have been.

One Labor veteran this week suggested a comparison between the current national malaise and a similar period that ran from about 1994 to just after 2000 - reflected in big swings at three national elections in a row and the rise and fall of Hansonism. "If you think this gloom cycle really began in about 2004-05, benefited Rudd at the polls in '07 and then was given a booster shot by the financial crisis in '08, we could be nearing its end," says the Labor figure.

If that's the case next year could be one of turning the corner and the one after - the scheduled election year - even better again, both in terms of the mood and the economy.

Of course, a second global slump could blow all that optimism out the window and, with it, any faint hope Labor might have had.


Telstra forced to pay costs, compensation after worker Dale Hargreaves slips while working at home

Being blamed for something over which you have no control is a parody of justice

EMPLOYER groups are outraged by a legal decision that makes employers responsible for injuries suffered by staff working from home. Telstra will be made to pay legal and medical costs in a multimillion-dollar ruling by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Telstra worker Dale Hargreaves, 42, said she slipped down the stairs twice in two months while working on marketing campaigns from her Brisbane townhouse. Telstra denied liability because the falls occurred outside Ms Hargreaves designated workstation.

But the tribunal found the shoulder injuries she suffered were work-related. Telstra will also have to pay compensation for lost income.

In the first fall at 6pm on August 21, 2006, Ms Hargreaves was going to get cough medicine from the fridge in her sock-clad feet. In the second at 8.40am on October 9 the same year, she was locking the front door in line with Telstra's instructions following a break-in at her home.

The tribunal found both falls "arose out of Ms Hargreaves' employment with Telstra" which made them workplace injuries.

Legal experts said the ruling could force employers to conduct workplace health and safety audits in the homes of the one-in-four Queenslanders who regularly work from their private residence for lifestyle reasons.

The Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry said that would be "a bad outcome for everyone concerned". "An employer has no capacity whatsoever to determine and influence workplace health and safety arrangements at a person's home office," QCCI policy manager Nick Behrens said. "What the ruling essentially does is significantly discourage an employer providing workplace flexibility. It could be a catalyst for a significant change in employer behaviour."

Under the terms of the ruling, Ms Hargreaves could receive millions of dollars in compensation if she is unable to work again.

Solicitor Rachael James, of Slater and Gordon, said it was a significant win for her client who had left Brisbane to live with her parents in Victoria because of her medical and financial circumstances. "She can't dress herself for work. She is unable to do up a bra or a shirt, or carry a laptop," Ms James said. "She's going to get a whole back payment from the date of the injury up until today, and depending what the medical evidence says going forward, she could continue to receive those payments until she's 65."

A Telstra spokeswoman said the company was still examining the ruling.

Queensland University of Technology Dean of Law Michael Lavarch said employers "should not enter lightly into home work arrangements". "Homes are inherently dangerous places," he said.

David Miller from the Australian Industry Group said working from home had the potential to create problems for employers. "What the tribunal has done is extend beyond what the employer thought was reasonable in terms of their liability for an employee's safety. That's always going to be a difficult judgment," he said.


The delusion of human climate control

The Puyehue volcano in the Andes mountains of southern Chile blows up. It poses the question, whatever carbon tax we impose on industry in Australia - on businesses who pump carbon into air as a waste product - how are we going to fine the Andes mountains or the real culprit, Puyehue, for spewing all that carbon dust into the air as if it were a giant candle on Guy Fawkes night?

Bob Brown was rubbing his hands together in glee - as they also do in Tasmania with the purpose of warming them in the freezing cold of Hobart - when he extracted the last ounce of tax from red-bobbed Julia Gillard on the carbon issue. Then, after it had waited 50 long years to blow its top, Puyehue sent millions of tonnes of sulphur and ash teeming with carbon into the skies, where it continues to circle - disrupting flights and raising carbon levels in the atmosphere to choking point. In a final insult it is believed that no one in the Australian government, including Brown, was consulted before it blew its stack.

It makes a mockery of serious governments around the world who are seeking to pass significant legislation controlling the levels of carbon and sulphur that industry can pump into the air, when a dummy spit by Puyehue spoils everything.

Australia was going ahead with carbon taxing legislation, as a leading nation, when most of the world was not thinking that the atmosphere surrounding Australia might magically stand still and not wander around the rest of the globe where non-taxed carbon molecules frolic free in proportions dwarfing our taxed molecules. God is poking his tongue through the Puyehue volcano, whose carbon output dwarfs industry's.

Although Australian governments have an impressive history of being able to tax virtually everything - goods and services, imports, exports, mining, and super mining - it would test even Peter Garrett to tax the volcano for breaching emissions policy. The same thing happened when the unspellable volcano in Iceland decided to blow its top and send millions of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, interfering with European air traffic. Iceland was bankrupt at the time and could have used the hefty fine but found it couldn't pay itself.

The Earth is not playing ball with its inhabitants, although we are practically family, having been created by God. It's like trying to fill the bath by the leaving the hot and cold taps running but someone has pulled the bath plug and no matter how much we turn the taps on, the water disappears down the plughole. Did God do this deliberately, playing a trick on Earth, or did he devise a huge reality game show called Survivor Earth?


Saturday, June 25, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says Gillard's anniversary has been so sullied by her subservience to the Greens that there is nothing worth celebrating

Non-compete clause exposes flaws of fibre network

Consumers must not be told that a wireless connection could give them a better deal

THE entire basis of the National Broadband Network has been exposed as fundamentally unsound by the "wireless non-compete" clause in the deal between NBN Co and Telstra. At its simplest, it's a clause that is completely unacceptable and arguably illegal. What would be, what was, objectionable with cardboard boxes should also be so with broadband services.

Broadly, but simply and accurately, NBN Co and Telstra agree not to compete. Worse, NBN Co is actually paying Telstra for that agreement. Indeed the Communications Minister himself no less, Stephen Conroy, all but put it in exactly those terms on Melbourne's MTR radio yesterday.

He explained, indeed justified, the non-compete clause as being a "perfectly sensible corporate decision". "A commercial arrangement." That Telstra agreed not to "take NBN Co's money and sledge (the) NBN". Conroy was all but saying that NBN Co was paying Telstra not to compete with it.

Indeed. Where was Conroy when the late Dick Pratt needed him to explain that his Vizy group had a "perfectly sensible commercial arrangement" with Amcor for each not to "promote" their boxes as a "substitute" for the other's?

The relevant clause in the deal is that Telstra can't promote "wireless services as a substitute for fibre-based services for 20 years". But it otherwise remained free to compete in the market for the supply of wireless services.

Telstra explains this clause by saying that it can't put flyers in letterboxes saying buy our wireless broadband instead of NBN Co's fixed broadband. But we're perfectly free to put flyers in letterboxes saying buy our wonderful wireless broadband that can do all these wonderful things. And that further, it didn't see the clause -- insisted on by NBN Co -- as limiting in the slightest its ability to sell wireless. Except and absolutely crucially, that's wireless against wireless. Not against fixed.

Two points. Except of course it does limit its ability to sell wireless. And does so for 20 years. An awful lot of technology can be invented and developed in that timeframe. Right now Telstra might not want to sell wireless broadband instead of fixed fibre. But in 10 years?

The second point is exactly that. Telstra doesn't want to sell wireless instead of fixed broadband in the new world of the NBN. It wants to sell wireless and fixed together, in a package.

Why? Because it sees the NBN as finally freeing it to use its market dominance across the telco space in a way that it has been limited in doing under the existing competitive regulation. Given that the NBN is coming at it whether it likes it or not, it's perfectly happy to share monopolies, so to speak, with it. Rather than competing head to head with the NBN -- my wireless network against your fixed fibre network.

The combination of the fact that Telstra already has a pervasive national wireless network that really could compete head to head with the NBN in its slow 10-year build-out phase, and our increasing desire for mobile broadband, makes this anti-compete clause vital to NBN Co.

The promoters of the NBN keep saying that wireless just can't compete with fixed fibre, because of the immutable laws of physics and the way they play out with spectrum. That only fibre can give the sustained guaranteed speed; that wireless degrades quickly depending how far you move from the base station and how many are hooked up and what they are downloading.

That's all true. At least it is, right now. But in 10 or even five years' time? The science of physics might be "settled". But the technology of data compression might not be. But in any event, it's not the science of physics which is in play here. But the science of arithmetic and the social science of choice. Both go to the fundamental unsoundness of the fixed NBN.

What NBN Co and its CEO Mike Quigley are afraid of is what might be termed the Inverted (Kevin) Costner Effect. Build it, the NBN (at a cost of $40 billion going on $50bn and then they don't come. That huge spend requires NBN Co to set a certain minimum figure for wholesale access to the NBN. You then have to add the retail margin and costs.

It does not want the other elephant in the telco space, and the one with not only a huge existing cashflow but up to $11bn of its money, offering a pervasive and cheaper wireless alternative. Yes, it might not be a sustained warp-speed 100Mbps. But it might be a 4-20Mbps that is all most of the people want most of the time. Quigley doesn't want to spend $50bn and then find out. He doesn't want you to find out.

The fact that Telstra itself seems perfectly happy not to go down that path is hardly a cause for endorsement of the non-compete clause. It suggests that Telstra sees more upside in building a packaged mobile-fixed dominance.

That's to stress, more upside for Telstra profit. Which means one or both of: Telstra being able to migrate its market power to the 21st century world of the NBN, or the consumers of broadband services in the future collectively paying more than they would with real infrastructure-based competition as well as simply retail. As Henry Ergas pointed out yesterday, this is central to the deal and the whole NBN concept. Agreeing non-compete with wireless and shutting down Telstra's and Optus's HFC cables.

At core it highlights the two great flaws of the NBN. That we have a government (and an enthusiast in Quigley) mandating a technology and a service -- fixed fibre to a fixed location -- as the broadband for Australia for the next 20 to 40 years.

I wish I could be as confident as Conroy and Quigley, and in a different context Ross Garnaut, about knowing that far into the future.

Secondly, the $50bn has to be serviced. By definition that means paying more for broadband in the future, than if you didn't spend it.

By further definition, alternatives could deliver broadband cheaper. So you have to ban them.

So consumers will pay more than they would otherwise. It is entirely rational for Telstra to aim at its biggest possible slice of that.


Why rational optimism beats ephemeral happiness

Janet Albrechtsen

FASHIONABLE academics, activists and politicians presume to tell us how miserable we are to justify their notions about the sunny path to human happiness.

The British Office for National Statistics now asks people whether they are happy. British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to draw up a happiness index to govern policy, while a group called the Action for Happiness, launched in April by the Dalai Lama, has set down its own rules for riding the road to happiness. Bhutan, we are told, is the happiest place on earth, which is curious given that hordes of refugees are not crossing the borders into the small landlocked kingdom. These clever chaps promise to make us happy if only we would follow their clever ideas

Here's a better idea. Rational optimism beats ephemeral happiness. While there is something familiarly depressing about a grand leader promising to make us happy - Stalin did it, so did Hitler - the best form of contentment comes from learning some history.

Enter Matt Ridley. On a grey, wintry Sydney morning last week, the author of The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves delivered a fast-paced, fact-laden history lesson about the extraordinary trajectory of mankind.

Speaking at the Centre for Independent Studies, Ridley quoted British historian Thomas Babington Macaulay, who once asked: "On what principle is it that when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?" That was in 1830, even before the industrial revolution delivered vast improvements to the way we live. Two centuries later, after even greater innovation and progress, it is passing strange that rational optimism remains such a rarity.

Asked about this conundrum, Ridley points to the intelligentsia. Calamitous predictions about the future, not calm reasoning about the past, sell books and sustain careers. And "there's more of the intelligentsia around now so you hear more from them". The "apocaholics" predict doom and gloom from Malthusian population explosions, AIDS epidemics, bird flu pandemics, peak oil problems, depleting ozone layers, acid rains, deforestation, urbanisation, and over-consumption. The list is long.

By contrast, Ridley, a lanky, dry-witted Brit, an Oxford-educated scientist, former editor at The Economist, author of a string of books about evolution and all-round polymath, takes the rational road. Looking at the past to predict the future, he finds a rising line of glorious human triumph.

Start with one simple measurement. Appropriately fitted out with a CIS tie covered in small light bulbs, Ridley asks how long you have to work today to earn an hour of reading light. On an average wage today, half a second of work will pay for an hour of light. In 1950, the average wage earner worked eight seconds to run a conventional filament lamp; in 1880, 15 seconds of work was needed for a kerosene lamp; and more than six hours of work for an hour of light by tallow candle in the 1800s. In 1750BC, your average ancient Babylonian needed to work more than 50 hours to get an hour of light from a sesame oil lamp. That 43,200-fold improvement, says Ridley, signifies "the currency that counts, your time".

By any other measure, too, we are also better off. The world population has multiplied six times since 1800, yet on average we live twice as long and, in real terms, earn nine times more money.

Even in the space of 50 years, from 1955 to 2005, as Ridley writes in his book, "the average human being on Planet Earth earned nearly three times as much money (corrected for inflation), ate one-third more calories and could expect to live one-third longer. She was less likely to die as a result of war, murder, childbirth, accidents, tornadoes, flooding, famine, whooping cough, tuberculosis, malaria, diphtheria, typhus, typhoid, measles, smallpox, scurvy or polio. She was less likely, at any given age, to get cancer, heart disease or a stroke. "She was more likely to be literate . . . to have finished school . . . own a telephone, a flush toilet, a refrigerator" and so on and so forth.

All this when the world population more than doubled. As Ridley notes, the UN estimates that poverty was reduced more in the past 50 years than in the previous five centuries.

Anyone can recount the facts of human progress, even the doomsayers were they more curious. What marks out Ridley is his explanation of our success. After looking back at thousands of years of evolution, natural selection and culture, he finds that we started to prosper not when our individual brains grew in size - Neanderthals had bigger brains that we do - but when our collective brain grew. Ridley traces the start of our extraordinary cultural revolution to a time, about 100,000 years ago, when, unlike other species, we started to exchange goods and ideas with people beyond our own communities.

"At some point in human history, ideas began to meet and mate, and to have sex with each other." Culture quickly became cumulative. "Exchange is to cultural evolution as sex is to biological evolution," writes Ridley.

By a process similar to natural selection, sound ideas triumphed and will continue to triumph so long as we enable them to "meet and mate". Looking back on history, Ridley rediscovers the ideas of Adam Smith and Friedrich von Hayek, and adds evolutionary biology to explain why homo sapiens progresses at a much faster rate than any other species. Constant innovation comes from a free market for ideas - not to mention goods and services.

Look at your computer mouse, says Ridley. No single person knows how to make one. The factory worker who assembled it didn't drill for oil to make the plastic. "At some point, human intelligence became collective and cumulative in a way that happened to no other species."

That's Ridley's reason for being a rational optimist. At every juncture, humans have adapted, innovated and changed in the face of dire predictions. Prosperity depends on a bottom-up process from people learning from and sharing with others.

No wonder the happiness gurus, eager to impose their idea of happiness upon us, eschew history. As Ridley explores in his 400-page plus race through history from the Stone Age to the 21st century, government departments and bureaucracies, whether we're talking Egyptian pharaohs or British Rail, didn't drive innovation. People do.

And consider how technology has ramped up the pace at which people can share with and learn from others. Ridley, the rational optimist, predicts innovation will accelerate at a much faster pace than ever. Which is happy news if only we can steer clear of the Scylla and Charybdis of modernity, the imposers of happiness who favour top-down diktats about happiness and the apocaholics who shudder at technology, scoff at globalisation and regard free trade in anything - even ideas - as an abomination.



Three current articles below

Meltdown imminent, solar industry warns

The solar industry has warned it will cease to exist in New South Wales within eight weeks without action from the State Government.

Lobbying by the industry, along with disquiet on the Coalition's own backbench, contributed to the Government's backdown earlier this month on changes to the Solar Bonus Scheme.

The Government had announced it would retrospectively cut the tariff paid to households with solar from 60 cents per kilowatt hour to 40 cents. That plan was abandoned but the industry is still crying foul after the Government closed the scheme to new applicants.

Energy Minister Chris Hartcher says alternative proposals for keeping the industry afloat will be considered at a second solar summit in a week. He says one option would be for electricity retailers to pay for the solar energy they receive.

But John Grimes from the Australian Solar Energy Society says by then it may already be too late. "We've seen companies that have gone from 19 employees to two. They're holding on to see what's going to happen," Mr Grimes said. "If we don't get a one-for-one feed-in tariff in place in NSW immediately those companies will close altogether and that would be a huge tragedy."


World Government: Not a conspiracy it’s actually Greens policy

Like Germany but unlike most other countries, Australia has a "Green" party that is politically influential. Their policies (below) are therefore instructive

To the people who say that those pushing the global warming agenda are using it and carbon taxes for “World Government” is a conspiracy theory, I think should take a look a “The Greens” policy titled: Global Governance. (see here)

I want to basically abolish the UN or at least remove any legal powers it has. I want to ensure the sovreignty of Australia and want Australians to be governed by a democratically elected Australian government. The Greens want to strengthen the UN and want a world government. Here are some points their policy covers:

* The system of global governance must be reinvigorated.

* A stronger UN capable of dealing with threats to international peace and security.

* Support the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and ensure that all nations are subject to its decisions.

* Major structural reform is needed to provide stronger, more effective and more representative multilateral institutions.

* The leading role of the United Nations (UN) in the maintenance of International peace and security must be recognised and respected by all countries.

* The international financial institutions that govern aid, development, trade, and transnational financial movements require extensive reform to enable them to provide global economic justice
A stronger UN capable of dealing with threats to international peace and security.

* Support the establishment of an international environmental court and an environmental council at the UN, with similar decision-making powers to the Security Council to deal with environmental issues of global significance.

These very fighting polices must be kept in mind when they move to give land to the United Nation when they list “word heritage” areas, When they want open borders with some of their refugee policies and when our carbon taxes are paid to the United Nations.

And to those who will email me saying is says governance not government, here is the dictionary definition of both words.

Governance: The action or manner of governing.
Government: The governing body of a nation, state, or community
They are one and the same.


Blow for wind farms as senators push probe into noise and health fears

URGENT research should be undertaken into the potentially damaging health effects of wind farms on nearby residents, says a landmark Senate report released yesterday. In a dramatic win for residents' groups who have raised widespread concerns about the impact of wind farms on rural communities, the committee recommended that noise measurements be expanded to include low-frequency noise, or infrasound.

Campaigners welcomed the report and said there should be an immediate halt to wind farm developments until the potential health impacts were better understood.

According to the Clean Energy Council, there are 53 wind farms operating in Australia, with 1089 operating turbines that can reach the height of a 45-storey building and have blades up to 50m long. Wind turbine capacity has increased by 30 per cent a year over the past decade and wind now supplies about 2 per cent of Australia's electricity needs.

There are more than 9000 megawatts of large-scale wind farm energy projects proposed around the country, propelled partly by the federal government's Renewable Energy Target scheme, which subsidises power from renewable sources.

The majority Senate report yesterday called for tougher rules on noise, new rules to govern how close wind farms can be built to houses, and an independent arbitrator to hear complaints. It said arbitrary setbacks - the distance that a wind farm must be built from a residence - may not be adequate and each situation may need to be considered on its merits.

But the most dramatic findings were in the area of potential harm from low-frequency noise. The committee said the commonwealth government should initiate as a matter of priority "thorough, adequately resourced epidemiological and laboratory studies of the possible effects of wind farms on human health".

"This research must engage across industry and community, and include an advisory process representing the range of interests and concerns," the committee said. It said a National Health and Medical Research Council review of research should continue, with regular publication.

The committee recommended that the National Acoustics Laboratories conduct a study and assessment of noise impacts of wind farms, including the impacts of infrasound. It said the draft National Wind Farm Development Guidelines should be redrafted to include discussion of any adverse health effects.

The Senate inquiry was initiated by Family First senator Steve Fielding and attracted more then 1000 submissions both for and against wind farm developments. The inquiry was chaired by Greens senator Rachel Siewert and included Labor senators Claire Moore and Carol Brown and Liberal senators Judith Adams, Sue Boyce and Helen Coonan.

Sarah Laurie, medical director of the Waubra Foundation, a national organisation set up to raise awareness of the health effects of wind farms, said an immediate moratorium should be called for wind farm developments. "Given the Senate recommendations and strength of evidence to the inquiry, the precautionary principle should be adopted," Dr Laurie said.

She said the report's recommendations were exactly what concerned health professionals had called for. "Investigation of low-frequency noise, or infrasound, had not been properly conducted anywhere else in the world," Dr Laurie said.

The Senate committee was told that Denmark had flagged regulation of infrasound at wind farms and that Japan last year started a four-year study into the effects of infrasound from wind farms.

Sheep farmer Dean West and his partner Geri McHugh live in the shadow of the Starfish Hill Wind Farm at Delamere, 100km south of Adelaide, and often hear the turbines on a windy day. Mr West, whose sheep wander the paddocks under the 100m-high turbines, is in the paddocks daily, but has no concerns for his health. "I can't see that more studies would do any harm, though," Mr West said.

The couple moved to the farm 10 years ago, at the same time as the 23 turbines were being built on the grazing land. The closest tower is 500m away. Although they do not think they suffer because of the turbines, Ms McHugh has tinnitus and is sensitive to the turbine noise. "It's just a woof, woof, woof sound, you just can't tune out," Ms McHugh said.

Clean Energy Council policy director Russell Marsh said the renewable energy industry believed the Senate inquiry report was a balanced review of issues. "It acknowledges the important contribution that wind energy makes to employment and economic development," Mr Marsh said. "There is no reason to slow the development of new wind farms based on this report."