Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Empty-headed Anglican archbishop

Ill-informed attack on miners and banks

There is a pattern to the media cycle that is as predictable as the seasons. Before Anzac Day the press will be looking for stories of sacrifice by those who have served in the defence forces. During Melbourne Cup week, the jockey - largely ignored for most of the year - finds he is king of the airwaves. And during the quiet news periods of Christmas and Easter, church leaders have the opportunity to make headlines with their sermons and pronouncements.

Of course, there are many churches and many leaders, so there is a bit of competition. This year that competition was easily won by the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, who published an opinion piece that inspired headlines such as: "An Easter roasting for banks and miners."

The archbishop began his Easter article with a mention of Christ and the obligatory mention of migrants and asylum seekers, but his real purpose was to call for a new social contract "about a sense of mutual obligation". Mutual obligation has been a buzzword in politics for some time and usually means that just as the state looks after those down on their luck, those receiving assistance should put back into society.

The archbishop was not making that point. He wanted to make the point that the government and opposition are failing us. Apparently they focus too much on the news cycle. And other institutions and corporations "need a reality check" - that is where the attack on the miners and banks came in.

The archbishop's gripe with miners is they are "reluctant to share a fair proportion of the wealth" which belongs to all Australians. Really? Did the miners say that?

What the miners did say is that after they have paid state royalties, payroll taxes and 30 per cent company tax, that is a fair share and - what is more - a fairer share than miners are paying in other comparable parts of the world.

I have heard the government say it isn't enough and they should pay an effective tax rate of 55 per cent. But it got its sums all wrong and had to back down on that proposal. It has now negotiated a more modest tax increase, which will affect junior miners but the big ones hardly at all.

Now, the archbishop might have strong views on the applicable mix of royalty rates and company taxes and, if so, he should argue them. But to characterise the debate as simply being about whether one industry should pay a "fair" share or not is to avoid the question, not to answer it. What is that share?

The archbishop also complained the banks have not made a case for increasing interest rates. He is referring to the February rises in home mortgage rates of between 0.06 and 0.1 per cent.

The banks argue they increased lending rates because their funding costs have risen. I am not usually in the business of defending banks but on this occasion they were right. As the Reserve Bank's February Statement of Monetary policy noted: "Bank funding costs have increased relative to the cash rate over the past six months."

So the archbishop was wrong to attack them on this issue. Banks did have a case for increasing rates. He may have been trying to say they did not explain their case adequately. But, if so, what is he complaining about? Some kind of PR failure?

The archbishop's Good Friday article seemed to echo the argument of another person who has been railing against the banks and the miners: the Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan. He attacks miners and banks as a way of shoring up Labor's support base - a little bit of class warfare to get the faithful back into the fold. When your primary vote is about 30 per cent, there is some method in that madness.

But I don't think it is going to work for the archbishop. Are people going to flock to church to hear sermons against miners and banks? Bank-bashers are a dime a dozen. You don't have to wait until Sunday to get an earful of that.

When the church speaks of its unique message - the life, death and resurrection of Christ - it draws on centuries of Christian thought and theology. I doubt Christendom has done nearly as much work on the taxation of mining profits and modern banking policies. If the clergy want to get into that area, they had better do some deeper thinking. Archbishop Freier's Good Friday publication is not going to spark a new social contract any time soon. It might pay to work out the details before we decide to ditch the present one.


Churches and religious schools fight to maintain homosexual ban

CHURCHES are battling to keep their right to refuse to employ gay, lesbian and transgender people.

The Federal Government has thrown open for debate the laws which exempt religious organisations from court action if they refuse to employ or have as volunteers gay, lesbian and transgender people - if this conflicts with the organisation's religious beliefs, reported The Advertiser.

Many religious groups no longer discriminate when they employ people but some have bans, most commonly in the employment of teachers.

South Australian Equal Opportunity Commissioner Anne Burgess said if the exemption to discriminate was continued, it should be limited to jobs directly involving spiritual or religious activities.

"A number of people are saying the ability of religious groups to discriminate should be reduced to a minimum, so it should only be appropriate if it is a person teaching religion or carrying out some religious duty," she said. "When it comes to whether the cleaner or the librarian (is gay, lesbian or transgender) why should it matter?"

The Labor Party made a 2010 election promise to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in a consolidation of anti-discrimination laws.

The religious exemption is the most contentious of the 30 questions proposed by the Federal Government in public consultation.

Question 22 states: "How might religious exemptions apply in relation to discrimination and gender identity?"

Many church groups have defended the need to discriminate including the Australian Catholics Bishop Conference, which has told the Federal Government: "The right to freedom of conscience and religion should be upheld as there is scope for the attributes of sexual orientation and gender identity to undermine the freedom of Catholic bodies to have the right to employ or admit those who are committed to Catholic teachings and beliefs".

Uniting Care Wesley Adelaide spokesman Mark Henley said the organisation did not believe the right to discriminate was needed.

The South Australian Bar Association, in its submission by president Mark Livesey QC, says: "A religious organisation which is contracted by the government to provide a welfare service should not be permitted to discriminate by refusing to employ homosexual or lesbian staff."



Four current articles below

Carbon tax is 'unconstitutional', says tax expert

A PROMINENT Australian legal expert says he believes the Gillard government's carbon tax is unconstitutional and that the three largest states stand a chance of successfully overturning the legislation in the event of a High Court challenge.

The University of New England academic and practising barrister, Bryan Pape, has provided legal advice to conservative policy think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, that says the carbon tax legislation — due to come into effect on July 1 — could be challenged on several grounds including that, "the Commonwealth cannot tax State property: Legally carbon dioxide emissions are State property".

The advice goes on to say that, in Mr Pape's legal opinion, "the Commonwealth cannot impose a carbon tax and other related penalties within the same Act. The Commonwealth cannot introduce a carbon tax within its external affairs powers".
Advertisement: Story continues below

Mr Pape — a specialist in taxation and administrative law — made headlines in 2009 when he mounted a High Court challenge over Labor's $42 billion stimulus package, arguing that the $900 payments to individuals exceeded the federal government's taxation powers.

"These greenhouse gases are property owned by the States and it is impermissible for the Commonwealth to impose any tax on any property of any kind belonging to a State," Mr Pape said.

The full bench of the court ruled in favour of the Commonwealth by a margin of 4-3.

IPA Climate Change policy director, Tim Wilson, told the National Times today that the think tank had commissioned the advice in a bid to prod the states into action against the carbon tax, a piece of legislation the conservative body has long opposed.

"The IPA commissioned a legal opinion because state governments have sat on their hands and let the Gillard government introduce a tax that they could potentially stop," he said.  "Only the High Court can decide the constitutionality of the carbon tax, but there are clear grounds to challenge it according to one of Australia's top administrative law minds."

Mr Wilson said the full text of the legal opinion would not be released "pending a possible legal challenge."

"A copy has being provided to the Premiers and Attorneys-General of the states with the best legal standing for a potential challenge – New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia," he said.

The legal advice will arrive on the desks of state premiers as they prepare to travel to Canberra this week for Friday's Council of Australian Governments meeting, where, for the first time in 4½ years in office, Labor will be outnumbered at the negotiating table.

NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland are  all under conservative rule and a new opinion poll has today revealed that federal Labor now trails the Coalition in every state and territory on both primary votes and on a two-party preferred basis.


Companies urge war on environmental 'green tape'

THE business community has united to demand Julia Gillard and the premiers slash unwieldy environmental assessments and approvals processes, warning "green tape" is jeopardising $900 billion in resources and infrastructure projects.

In a rare move, the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry last night issued a joint plea for the Prime Minister and state leaders to declutter the bloated national reform agenda so that it focused on fewer areas that would have the biggest impact on improving the economy.

The business groups said the new priorities should include scrapping the double-handling of environmental assessments on projects between the commonwealth and the states, fast-tracking the approvals for major projects including by quarantining some areas for resources exploration and exempting light industrial and residential developments from costly assessment processes.

The groups have also called for governments to axe more than 240 federal and state policies related to climate change and energy efficiency before the July 1 start of the carbon tax, revive the stalled energy reform agenda and cut business red tape.

On top of this, they want a new scheme for rewarding the states for making good on significant reforms after an impasse at last week's treasurers' meeting over the expiry of "national partnerships" agreements that trigger hundreds of millions of dollars in federal payments.

The groups have released their call in a discussion paper for the Council of Australian Governments business advisory forum that meets tomorrow with Ms Gillard and the premiers in Canberra, and will include BHP Billiton's Marius Kloppers, Rio Tinto's David Peever, Telstra's David Thodey, Wesfarmers' Richard Goyder and Pacific Brands chairman James MacKenzie.

In the paper, the groups cite the case of one major resources project that took more than two years to get environmental approvals, involved more than 4000 meetings and presentations with interest groups and prompted a 12,000-page report. The project was approved with more than 1200 state conditions and 300 federal conditions, with a further 8000 sub-conditions.

The BCA estimates that a 12-month delay to a 10 million-tonne coking coalmine in Queensland would cost the state $170 million in royalty revenues.

Last night, BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott said all businesses were "absolutely on the same page" about the need to cut business costs. "With the economy in transition and many businesses struggling to stay competitive, it is vital COAG is helped to look at all of its reforms through the lens of what is going to make it easier to do business, and reducing unnecessary business costs so the economy can grow faster."

The move is all the more significant as it is a rare show of unity by the business groups.

The BCA spans the top 100 chief executives, ACCI represents 350,000 large and small businesses and the AI Group represents more than 60,000 businesses. The politically sensitive small business lobby also provided input into the paper. It comes as the Gillard government attempts to improve its relations with the business community.

Corporate Australia's relationship with the government has been at a low point after disagreements over key policies, including the carbon tax, mining tax, industrial relations and the threat of new taxes on business in next month's budget.

Yesterday, Australian Securities Exchange chief executive Elmer Funke Kupper, who used to run gaming company Tabcorp, said his clients the 2223 sharemarket-listed companies were rendered less competitive because of the stalled reform agenda. "I'm a great supporter of my clients. National businesses and international businesses demand the most efficient model in Australia and there's no excuse for not having it, particularly in an environment where the economy is slowing and our competitiveness is under threat from the high dollar."

Mr Peever, the managing director of Rio Tinto Australia, said the COAG business advisory forum had to increase competitiveness and tomorrow's meeting should help establish a "proper framework" to develop a more effective way to create policy.

"Australia needs a proper policymaking process to ensure key reforms are delivered in the right way," he said. "A lack of proper process can inhibit good policy development and hold back the reform drive crucial to creating a more competitive Australia."

ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson said tomorrow's meeting should give political leaders a "reality check" on the regulatory reform plans.

The paper by the business groups signals they will escalate their campaign against green tape.

Business wants to avoid the situation where Canberra knocks back assessments conducted under bilateral agreements with the states that are supposed to reduce the duplication in green approvals. It wants the federal government to commit to making a decision within six months of state approvals, and for the states to reserve areas for certain activities such as exploration.

"These reforms are essential to removing the double-handling of environmental assessments that do nothing to improve environmental outcomes but risk the cost-effectiveness and competitiveness of Australia's unprecedented investment pipeline. There are around $900bn of committed and prospective investment opportunities in large-scale projects, mostly in resources and economic infrastructure," the paper states.

On development assessment reforms, business wants the states to commit to a target where 50-70 per cent of applications for low-risk residential and light industrial developments are exempted from the process, with Canberra to consider reviving reward payments to states that update their planning systems.

The Productivity Commission has estimated this reform could deliver $225m in benefits to the economy.

Business figures cite the lengthy approvals and consultation processes that have hindered coal-seam gas projects, potentially adding to the costs of energy.

This could also be on the agenda at tomorrow's meeting as one participant is Origin Energy boss Grant King, who has accused the Greens of ignoring scientific consensus in its attack on CSG.

Wesfarmers's Mr Goyder is also likely to be well versed on the issue as the company's Coles supermarkets chain has raised concerns previously about inflexible and outdated planning controls on the size of stores.


New Qld. government  to slash real estate "green"  tape

SCRAPPING real estate red tape will be the Newman Government's first legislative priority as it aims to kickstart Queensland's ailing property industry.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney yesterday confirmed laws to jettison sustainability declaration forms would be the initial legislation introduced by the new administration when Parliament resumes in mid-May.

The controversial mandatory forms aimed at tackling climate change have dogged home sellers since their introduction in 2010.

Despite revisions and a fine amnesty, the real estate industry has argued vehemently for the forms to be scrapped, insisting they add nothing to what is already a testing time for buyers and sellers.

The Newman Government will also streamline home sale contracts, as well as reinstate the $7000 residential stamp duty concession, in a bid to breathe life into the industry that has not fully recovered since the global financial crisis.

It comes as Premier Campbell Newman's Cabinet meets formally for the first time today to map out a broad first-term agenda after the LNP annihilated Labor at last month's election.

Other priorities for the Government's first month in office include freezing vehicle registration and commencing the introduction of the flood inquiry recommendations.

Mr Newman will also travel to Canberra on Friday to attend his first Council of Australian Governments meeting.

Mr Seeney yesterday told The Courier-Mail that the declaration form had become symbolic of all that was wrong with the Bligh Government.  He said the forms added red tape without providing any real benefits to buyers.  "It was just about feel-good green preferences rather than any sort of outcome at all," he said.

Mr Seeney said the LNP had recognised the importance of helping the property sector to aid the recovery of the overall Queensland economy.

Along with ditching red tape, Mr Seeney said getting more efficient decision-making would also help the sluggish industry. "What the industry wants is timely decisions," he said. "If it is 'yes' let them get on with it, and if it is a `no' then let them know so they can get on with something else."

Originally proposed in 2008, the sustainability declarations were pitched as a way buyers could easily compare the energy efficiency credentials of competing properties.

However, amid threats of fines of up to $2000 for failing to complete the forms, the former Bligh Government was forced to ditch some of the confusing questions amid an outcry from sellers and the real estate industry.

The initial two-page form required sellers to detail everything from the star rating of appliances to the width of hallways before they could put their property on the market.

Questions, such as one requiring sellers to detail whether "at least one entry from outside to inside the dwelling is provided by either a level entrance, no more than three steps, a ramp or a lift", were later erased.

However, even the current simplified version continued to court controversy with questions about the number of east and west-facing windows, the colour of the roof and the star rating of toilets.

Property Council Queensland executive director Kathy MacDermott said the measures promised by the LNP would help restore confidence in the residential market.

Ms MacDermott also backed plans to establish a Cabinet sub-committee and a "go to" person for the industry.  "That will help interstate investors know who to go to so there is a clear direction," she said.

However, Ms MacDermott urged the Newman Government to go further by eliminating the temporary land tax surcharge introduced after the GFC and scrapping stamp duty from off-the-plan sales.

"If the property industry is allowed to operate at its full potential through great transparency and certainty in processes, it will go a long way to helping restore Queensland's balance sheet," she said.


Salvation Army opposes carbon tax

CHARITIES will be forced to cut back essential services for needy families as the carbon tax adds millions of dollars to operating costs.

In the latest challenge to the Gillard government's carbon tax, the Salvation Army estimated it would add $3.5 million to the annual landfill costs for charitable organisations.

The Salvation Army says it is bracing for an avalanche of useless household goods, dumped by people unwilling to pay higher rubbish tip fees as a result of the carbon tax.

In a confidential briefing note, it labelled the carbon tax "unjust and unfair" and said it would lead to "more dumping from a price-sensitive public".

Federal Finance Minister Penny Wong has assured charities that government assistance will be available to help them deal with the impact of a carbon tax which comes into effect from July 1.

"We have put in place a fund for charities to help them with the transition to the carbon price," she told ABC Radio today.

Opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt said it was absurd that programs such as support for victims of domestic violence and the homeless could be at risk.

"This hit on charities shows the stupidity of this carbon tax and exposes it as a policy failure," he said in a statement.

The Salvation Army warns the new tax will encourage struggling families to use the charity shops as a dumping ground for their unsaleable furniture and clothing rather than pay the cost of rubbish tips.

From July 1, the cost of going to the local tip will rise as the carbon tax hits landfill facilities.

About 25 per cent of pre-loved furniture and clothing collected by the Salvos, St Vincent de Paul Society and other charity organisations ends up at local rubbish tips.

"It is of considerable concern to us," National Association of Charitable Recycling Organisations executive director Kerryn Caulfield said.

The Salvos said they would be paying between $687,000 and $1.25 million in additional landfill fees after July 1.

While the charity had about $300 million in annual revenue, Salvos Stores chief operating officer Frank Staebe said it was "another impost on our bottom line".

"What that really means is that less goes into social programs," Mr Staebe said.

St Vincents is also working out the costs of the carbon tax on its network of outlets and other services.

While charities would be hit inadvertently by the carbon tax, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the government's Community Energy Efficiency Program would be used to lower the energy use of community organisations.

Charities are preparing to open a new front in their campaign against the tax, warning it would lead to a reduction in services to the community's most vulnerable.

"The underlying issue here is that this is not waste which we generate," the Salvos said in the internal document.

"The carbon price is based on a 'polluter pays' philosophy and yet, once again, charitable recyclers will face soaring costs."


1 comment:

Paul said...

So perhaps if they followed through on their principles they should sack homosexuals as well upon discovery, which would leave them with a lot of empty pastoral positions.