Saturday, March 24, 2012

Julia's carbon tax is way higher than the price in Europe

See the chart below. For all of 2012 the price has been below 10 Euros (approx $15) and is heading down. Julia charges $23. What have we done to deserve that?

Minimum wage means job-seekers wasting time

Of the many dumb ideas of the left, the minimum wage is one of the dumbest. In The End of Certainty, Paul Kelly identified compulsory wage arbitration as one of the five principles of the "Australian Settlement" after federation. We caught this virus early and, after 100 years of sandbagging by vested interests, it has been welded into our subconscious concept of "Australian decency".

The most dangerous ideas often have some merit. In the absence of an umpire, there is a risk of exploitation of workers in unequal bargaining relationships.

Your average North Shore matron with one string of pearls and a cashmere knit will support the idea of a minimum wage because of ghastly memories of women in the sweat shops having their babies on the factory floor.

But the human costs of this idea massively outweigh the benefits. Because while it may benefit workers, the minimum wage is prejudicial to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community - the unemployed.

Industrial relations is not just a contest between management and workers, but between job-seekers and those already admitted to membership. There are 100,000 Australians unemployed for more than a year. For them, the minimum wage acts as a raised drawbridge, separating them from their most fundamental aspiration. Every small increase is a higher jump for them to clear.

In international terms, the Australian labour market is like the high rollers room at the casino. You have to be able to make a starting bid of $15.50 an hour before you are allowed to join the tables. If you are a new arrival to this country, a refugee, with no English, low levels of education and few marketable skills, a courteous but firm doorman will advise you "I'm sorry sir or madam, but you can't make the minimum bid. You will have to go back downstairs to the welfare room where someone will give you enough chips to survive but not enough to get in the game".

Getting started is always the hard part. Like a first kiss, the first pay packet is a big deal. It comes with the revelation that "somebody wants me". There is a formative power in the knowledge that a person unrelated to me places a high enough value on my skills and labour to cut a cheque. That is a critical moment in the formation of what the Harvard professor Robert Putnam calls "social capital". Imagine if you got from one end of your life to the other, and never had that experience.

For a case study of the damage done, see Gough Whitlam's well-intentioned decision to legislate for indigenous wage parity after the Wave Hill walkout. The Cape York indigenous leader Noel Pearson has cited it as one of the most destructive of any government, forcing thousands of employed Aborigines off the stations and onto sit-down money. The ego destruction that followed their forced withdrawal from the dignity of paid work saw many self-medicate with grog and dope and some to beat wives or girlfriends, as report after tragic report has shown.

Trade unions represent workers in jobs, paying union dues - job-seekers are only going to put downward pressure on wages and conditions. The ACTU looks after those inside the lifeboat, grabbing the minimum wage as a club to smash the knuckles of those trying to clamber out of the water and over the gunwales.

The premise of the minimum wage is that Australians cannot be trusted to figure out how much to pay each other. So we have this intensely bureaucratic process when some wise soul hands down from on high the annual determination. Beforehand, affected parties are consulted and make submissions. This week we saw another outbreak of hostilities over how much it should be increased, as we entered the final days of consultation between the competing groups before Fair Work Australia hands down its decision on June 30.

Who do you think is most likely to get crushed in this to and fro out of the following list - the Australian Industry Group, the federal government, the state governments, the Australian Council of Trade Unions or the Farsi-speaking refugee who just stepped off the boat?

When the chairman of Fair Work Australia gets home from work and the kids say "what did you do today?", the truthful response will be "I did everything in my power to make sure that 100,000 Australians will never get a job."


Aborigines wiped out Australia's large animals

HUMAN hunters were mainly responsible for wiping out Australia's megafauna, a study has concluded.

The reasons behind the demise of the giant animals that once roamed the continent – such as rhinoceros-sized diprotodons, towering kangaroos, marsupial lions and birds twice the size of emus – have long been hotly debated, with hunting, the human use of fire, and climate change blamed.

Chris Johnson, of the University of Tasmania, said his team had solved the extinction mystery by studying fungi that thrive in the dung of large herbivores.

The team examined two cores of sediment from Lynch's Crater, a swamp in north-east Queensland, dating back 130,000 years.

They counted the spores of these fungi and looked for pollen and charcoal in the sediments as indicators of vegetation change and fire.

Professor Johnson said the research showed megafauna numbers were stable until about 40,000 years ago, despite several periods of drying.

"This rules out climate change as a cause of extinction," he said.

The giant herbivore population crashed soon after humans arrived, with the number of spores in the sediment virtually disappearing. "So it seems that people did it."

The study, published in the journal Science, showed that after the demise of the megafauna, the vegetation changed and fire activity increased, with rainforest species disappearing and grassy eucalypt-dominated forests expanding.

But Judith Field, of the University of NSW, challenged the conclusions of the study. She said it was merely assumption that the ancient spores reflected the abundance of the giant animals.

"The only evidence we have from Queensland for megafauna indicates that they were gone before humans arrived."

There was also little archaeological evidence from any site in Australia to show humans co-existed with megafauna, and none to show they hunted them.

"The results of this paper are interesting. The interpretations drawn from it are unsubstantiated and can be explained by other mechanisms," Dr Field said.

But John Alroy, of Macquarie University, described the data as "superb and decisive".

The debate had dragged on for almost 50 years because people thought it "incredible" that stone-age hunters could have had such a big impact as to wipe out the megafauna.

Gavin Prideaux, of Flinders University, said the study was an important contribution and supported mounting evidence that climate change was not to blame.

"To test the inferences from this paper we might look at similar lake records from other regions of Australia and seek fossil deposits in the north-east that preserve bones of the giant animals themselves," Dr Prideaux said.


Historian uncovers Australia's censored books

A literary historian has uncovered thousands of banned books buried seven storeys underground in the National Archives of Australia building in Sydney.

It's a prude's nightmare but a book collector's dream: Nicole Moore found 793 boxes filled to the brim with books Australians were never allowed to read. The books were banned by authorities for various reasons between the 1920s and 1980s.

Associate Professor Moore has now written her own book - The Censor's Library - explaining why so many publications were deemed unfit for consumption, including novels that are now highly acclaimed.

The ghostly collection, including copies of the Karma Sutra and first-edition comics from the 1950s, reveals attitudes towards sexuality, politics, birth control, reading, pleasure and race.

Associate Professor Moore says she was astonished to find the confiscated stash in 2005. At the time, she was completing a fellowship at the national archives.

"Some of those archivists knew there was a big collection in the Sydney office that was catalogued under the category of 'miscellaneous', including hard-copy books," she told the ABC's 666 Drive program.

"The Chester Hill archives in western Sydney has seven floors underground - huge amounts of material - and when we started to look there there were 793 boxes of books in fairly good order, all full.

"It was really just astonishing to see them coming out on the trolleys, to think here they all are collected from the late 1920s through to 1988 in its entirety, and just been sitting there for more than 30 or 40 years of people having just forgotten what it was."

She says the books were confiscated for a range of reasons. "The main reason in Australia for censorship was 'offensive obscenity' as it was classified," she said. "More than 90 per cent of titles were banned for obscenity and the rest were banned for sedition or blasphemy, although the number of titles banned for blasphemy in Australia has actually been very few.

"We can break that down to all kinds of representations of intimacy and sexuality, that for many contemporary readers now seem like ordinary parts of our lives."

Associate Professor Moore says there were no guidelines for what was appropriate or inappropriate, and that the decisions were made by Customs officials. "The Customs officers were the frontline, looking in people's bags and looking in boxes being imported into book shops," she said.

"It was very difficult for them to make a clear set of rules and we didn't have a classification code like we do today, which actually tries to explicitly tell us what is offensive and what is not. "So before that Customs officials just had to look at material and think, 'oh that looks a bit off, that looks a bit naughty'.

"They had the power to ban things on the spot if they thought it had no claim to literary merit or artistic merit or scholarly merit."

Books vetoed by Customs officials were then referred to a panel of literary experts.

"Those books that were thought to have no claim were then sent on to a panel of literary experts who then get to decide what is the literary merit of a book like Lolita, like Lady Chatterley's Lover or like The City And The Pillar - Gore Vidal's breakthrough book about gay men from 1948 which was banned until 1966 in Australia," she said.

Associate Professor Moore says things finally began to change in the late 1960s and early 1970s. "Change began with Don Chipp, the Customs minister in the Liberal government. He was the first Customs minister to really stand up and be anti-censorship in Parliament," she said. "From then he began demolishing some of the Customs control over censorship.

"But then what really undid it all was the election of the Whitlam government in 1972 and by the end of 1973 the literary ban was reduced to absolutely zero."


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