Friday, March 02, 2012

Wasteful energy

Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich on Greenie logic

Sometimes a little economic logic can save a lot of money – $10 billion for starters, which is how much the federal government will commit to its flagship climate change policy, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).

By providing capital to subsidise clean energy projects, the CEFC aims to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions. But the government has multiple climate change policies, including the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to cap greenhouse gas emissions from 2015, a situation in which the CEFC cannot succeed.

Economic logic says if a fully implemented ETS will determine the total amount of emissions for the economy, why subsidise alternative energies at all? By its very construction, the amount of carbon emissions would not change but the price of the right to pollute would be reduced. This may be good for polluters but it is of no consequence to the environment.

In terms of ineffectiveness, the CEFC is going to beat all previous programs – such as Pink Batts, school halls, or Roads to Recovery – that produced dubious outcomes. Under a comprehensive, fully functioning ETS (big assumptions, of course), the CEFC will yield a carbon dioxide saving of precisely zero grams.

A $10 billion cost for a non-existent benefit should secure the Australian government a place in the Guinness World Records for the most wasteful climate change policy. Alas, the German government has already usurped that honour.

For more than a decade, Germany has been trying to combine subsidies for renewable energies with the European Union’s cap-and-trade scheme at a cost of more than $15 billion per year. Even the German government’s own economic advisors have repeatedly stated that these subsidies cannot lower overall emissions as they are locked in via the European Union’s ETS. Unfortunately nobody is listening to them. What do economists know about the environment anyway?

Given Germany’s disastrous experience with this so-called energy policy, it is astonishing that any other country would want to copy it.

Australia is trying to return the budget to surplus, so a saving of $10 billion would be handy. But blinded by activism and without a sense of economic logic, Australia is bound to waste both money and energy.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 2 March. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

An old trick: Waiting lists to get on hospital waiting lists

Prompt non-emergency surgery is a dream in Qld. government hospitals

A PEAK doctors' group has accused Premier Anna Bligh of lying when she says Queensland has the shortest elective surgery waiting lists in the country.

Australian Medical Association state president Richard Kidd said unless something was done to radically change the way the public health system was run, some people would never get their surgery.

"The Premier lied when she said that we had the shortest waiting lists," he told journalists today.

Dr Kidd said public hospitals were returning thousands of referral letters to general practitioners telling them they could not see their patients in a timely way.

"Those patients don't get counted on the waiting list," he said.

Dr Kidd said other patients languished fpr many years before getting an appointment to a public hospital specialist for assessment, making up the so-called "waiting list to get on the waiting list".

"We need to talk about the waiting list, the waiting list for the waiting list and the I'm never going to get onto the waiting list, waiting list," he said.

The AMA Queensland today called for sweeping changes to the way public health was run in the state, including removing absolute power from the Health Minister.

Instead, the AMAQ wants a task force to run public health policy, including politicians from both major parties, senior bureaucrats and clinicians.

"Every time there's a restructure in health, every aspect is changed except the leadership model. It's time to take the politics out of health decision-making to allow a focussed, long-term approach," Dr Kidd said.

"The task force would have access to a set budget, provided by the government of the day and be run similar to a corporate board.

"It would meet regularly and have the power to make and sign off on policy decisions that would be enacted by the department.

"The day-to-day running of health will belong to the Health Minister and the Director-General of Queensland Health but both will report to the task force which will act as a panel of review as well as the ultimate decision makers.

"The health haemorrhage must be stopped from the strangulation of clinical services by the massive and burdensome beast of bureacracy to the starvation by decades of underfunding of frontline services. It's time for a new approach.

"It's time for both sides of government to recognise doctors, nurses and other clinicians can provide valuable insight, feedback and a refreshing point of view."


Strange defence priorities

TUMMY tucks, nose jobs, liposuction and even a sex change have been paid for on the public purse as thousands of Diggers go under the knife, cutting into Defence's health budget by $3.5 million.

The Courier-Mail can reveal the Australian Defence Force approved more than 1500 taxpayer-funded plastic surgery procedures for its personnel in the past three years - on medical or psychological grounds - including breast reductions, varicose vein surgery and eye-lifts.

Defence was unable to provide a breakdown of how many procedures related to injuries sustained during training or combat or were approved on psychological grounds, including depression and low self-esteem.

Defence, which provides comprehensive health care to its 58,000 personnel, said cosmetic procedures solely for the purpose of preserving or improving a person's appearance were not provided at public expense.

However it provided plastic surgery for its soldiers, sailors and airmen or airwomen "under certain circumstances", a department spokesperson said.

"Compelling psychological or psychiatric reasons may also be considered. In these cases, service personnel are referred to a psychiatrist who provides professional advice. The specific operations provided (in the past three years) all had identified, justifiable and well-documented clinical indications and all have been managed in accordance with Defence policy."

Serving military personnel said they had found it "amusing" in the past when female navy officers had received breast enlargements due to "low self-esteem". "It's a bit of a joke that you hear about every 12 months or so," one navy officer said.

But unlike breast enlargements, reductions were commonly associated with medical complaints such as back pain or difficulty exercising due to their size.

Breast reconstruction surgery was commonly undertaken following breast cancer.

In the public health system, Medicare would meet about 75 per cent of the scheduled fee for such procedures if it was deemed medically necessary.

Opposition defence spokesman Stuart Robert said it would be near impossible for military personnel, who were all excluded from Medicare, to misuse their health entitlements.

"These guys (ADF) are incredibly conservative. "If Defence has spent money on plastic surgery, you can be pretty sure there was a compelling reason," he said. "We (ADF) hurt a lot of (our) people and it's not a normal (working) environment.

"You can be almost certain that every decision (for plastic surgery) has been made because they've been given a strong recommendation from a medical professional of some sort."

RSL Australian Capital Territory state president John King said he experienced the rigorous vetting process first-hand while serving in the military two decades ago. "I had a procedure and it took a good 12 months of appointments before they approved it," he said.

The amount spent on plastic surgery has blown out from $670,000 in 2004-05 to an average of $1.2 million a year from 2008-11. Defence's total health budget for 2011 was $296,603,000.


Crowding of the welfare state is detrimental to everyone

Dr Jeremy Sammut

Prime Minister Gillard’s victory speech after defeating Kevin Rudd for the leadership of the Labor Party on Monday raised some important issues for those interested in public administration.

To emphasise that the federal government was now ‘moving forward,’ the prime minister spoke of her devotion to finding ways to improve the lives of all Australians. She also reiterated the government’s commitment to ‘getting on’ with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to help the most vulnerable members of the community.

Mentioning support for the NDIS has become a common refrain in political interviews. Any politician looking to humanise their image and identify with the underdog gives the disabled a metaphorical hug.

The notion that politicians have discovered how useful the NDIS is as a rhetorical prop is certainly cynical. There is of course a genuine need for greater awareness of the challenges facing people with disabilities and to recognise how inadequate disability services often are.

Hence it is a good thing that doing things differently in this sector is on the national agenda. Yet this begs a question that has received insufficient attention: Why is it that government has grown so large in the name of creating a welfare state that has demonstrably failed to properly secure the welfare of those who require the greatest assistance?

The obvious answer is that instead of targeting assistance towards the genuinely needy, politicians prefer, as per the prime minister’s speech, to operate universal or quasi-universal programs that help ‘all Australians’ and are most likely to harvest the all-important ballots of marginal voters come election time.

Hence in this country we have the spectacle of government doling out generous family, pension and health entitlements to the middle classes and above who ought to be self-reliant, while the most disadvantaged, including the disabled and the mentally ill, receive well below par support.

Those on the Left have hailed the NDIS as another great leap forward for social justice. They ignore the incongruity of piling a new welfare scheme for the disabled on top of the existing welfare state. Similarly, the problem of ‘middle class welfare’ only attracts the Left’s attention in relation to pet ideological hates – such as the private health insurance rebate.

The Left also downplays the obvious problem of cost. It is entirely likely that despite expressions of bi-partisan support, both sides of politics will baulk at the hefty price tag of the NDIS. In other words, all of the unnecessary but politically important welfare provided to those who don’t need it will continue to crowd out assistance to those who do.

Those on the Right who criticise ‘big government’ are often called heartless and accused of not wanting to help the disadvantaged. But it is only by limiting the role of government, and ending the charade that is the contemporary welfare state, that we can help those most in need.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 2 March. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

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