Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Death threats" to Australian climate scientists were all hokum

Scorn is not a death threat

The death threat saga has reached parliament, with questions being asked at a Senate Estimates Committee of Prof Ian Chubb, current Chief Scientist, but Vice Chancellor of the ANU until March 2011. Most amazingly, Chubb confirms there were no death threats until the journalists got hold of the story!

The Australian reports that Liberal senator Scott Ryan questioned Chubb, who responded that, in 2010: "A senior member of his staff came to him with concerns from the institution's climate scientists over emails they had received and said they had also had "a couple of visits from people who had walked in off the street".

The staff member expressed a desire to have the climate scientists moved from their then-location, Professor Chubb said. "We looked at what we could do and we moved them. Senator, we did not make a fanfare, we did not go public. We simply moved them and got on with our business,"

Basically they were given swipe card access. So does this incident refer to the "kangaroo cull" incident, or another? He goes on to confirm he never read the emails:  "They were at least abusive but let me be clear . . . I didn't read the emails. I trusted the man who came to me, he was a senior member of the staff and he represented concerns of the staff to me," Professor Chubb said.

Yes, it has been accepted all along that the emails were offensive. However, Chubb saves the best until last:  "For the record, there were no alleged death threats except when journalists picked up the story."

So is this a media beat up? Can we now assume that this means that during Chubb's watch as Vice Chancellor, which ended in March 2011 with the appointment of Ian Young, there were no death threats to climate scientists at ANU? If so, why are the ANU still insisting, through the ABC correction, that they did, in fact, receive such threats?

The window during which such threats must have been received is closing rapidly, and is now restricted to the period March - June 2011. I am still awaiting a response to the questions I sent to the ANU's media office on Friday, seeking clarification.

Time, I think, for the ANU to finally come clean on this mess.


New Gillard government red tape 'risks mega-projects'

BUSINESS and the Coalition have accused Julia Gillard of making policy on the run at the behest of union leaders after reports she was considering requiring a cabinet subcommittee to oversee new Enterprise Migration Agreements to protect Australian jobs.

The attacks came last night as unions rejected business warnings that more red tape would smother the new EMAs, specifically designed to meet labour shortages in the booming resources sector by allowing the engagement of foreign workers.

Controversy over the new agreements continues just days after Immigration Minister Chris Bowen outraged trade unions by granting the Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia, which is 70 per cent owned by billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting, a permit to hire up to 1700 foreign workers for its construction.

While the design of the EMA, which can be used on megaprojects requiring more than 1500 workers and $2 billion in investment, simply delivered on a Labor decision announced more than a year ago in the 2011-12 budget, Ms Gillard amended the plan on Friday after union complaints, creating a Jobs Board to ensure Australian workers have the first opportunity to seek the mining-sector jobs.
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Yesterday the Prime Minister went further, telling parliament that although she backed the Roy Hill EMA she planned further "oversight" of the new system.

While she offered no detail, sources said last night a cabinet subcommittee could be used to monitor the situation. Although no details have been finalised, there was speculation the committee could include Wayne Swan, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten and Mr Bowen.

However, senior government figures were last night backing away from the move amid a backlash from Ms Gillard's colleagues about the message the establishment of such a cabinet sub-committee would send.

Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott said last night the new committee and the Jobs Board were "complete overkill".

"Since Friday's announcement about the Roy Hill EMA, various union bosses have been lining up with the usual and over-the-top class war and anti-migration rhetoric," Mr Knott said. "The fact that the PM is jumping in to appease this union ranting by announcing further red tape to an already complex EMA approval process highlights the shallow depths of government decision making.

"The after-announcement decision of a government jobs board is bordering on ridiculous, at best a waste of taxpayers' money, at worst a plot for joint government-union control of critical labour supply pipelines for such mega-projects."

The Business Council of Australia was also concerned about the changes, taking the unusual step of going around Ms Gillard to appeal directly to Labor MPs ahead of a caucus meeting today. Tony Abbott last night seized on the ongoing transformation of EMAs chaos to accuse Ms Gillard of succumbing to panic.

"Julia Gillard is losing control of her ministers and losing control of government policy," the Opposition Leader told The Australian.

"This is just further evidence Julia Gillard can execute a prime minister but she cannot execute a policy or a program."

The opposition spokesman on immigration, Scott Morrison, said the latest changes would make Mr Bowen's position untenable.

"Such oversight was not part of the policy when announced more than a year ago and would be another slap in the face to Mr Bowen, from a desperate Prime Minster who simply can't get her story straight," Mr Morrison said.

While Labor has made much of the economic upsides of the mining boom, Mr Bowen's announcement last week highlighted concerns about whether the nation would be able to supply the construction workers and engineers that resources mega-projects needed.

With Left faction convenor Doug Cameron having foreshadowed a caucus attack on EMAs, BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott wrote to all Labor MPs yesterday warning them not to give in to the "knee-jerk temptation" to smother the EMAs in red tape.

"The successful delivery of these projects is far from assured and one of the major barriers is the current shortage of labour," she wrote. "The government

has made the changes to the migration system in recognition of this very real risk."

She said employers agreed that Australians should be filling the jobs being created by the mining boom. "But the reality is that skilling-up Australian workers for these often specialised projects will take time, and even for workers who do have the right skills many simply don't choose to take (jobs) for understandable lifestyle reasons," she said.

"At a critical time for a number of major projects, the EMA program is all about helping Australia overcome temporary and acute labour shortages in high-performing sectors of our economy."

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies said the EMA's design had been settled through previous consultation. "If the government is now going to go back and revisit all the conditions and make the hurdles higher in terms of qualifying for an EMA, then we would be seriously concerned," said chief executive Simon Bennison. "I think that there are sufficient safeguards in there for the government to feel quite comfortable that the companies have got to be very diligent in making sure that they provide every opportunity to Australian workers in taking up those positions. So I would like to think that the government does not have a knee-jerk reaction to activities by a number of the unions."

Union leaders stood firm. New ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said he would push the government to ensure the Jobs Board was used to require companies to prove they had tested the local market and interviewed local applicants before winning approval to engage overseas workers.

Mr Oliver said the union movement had been telling the government for 18 months that mining companies should not be able to take the "lazy option" of importing labour.

Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes maintains that the Roy Hill agreement "stinks".

He said while EMAs could be a "smart way" to proceed in principle they should not be approved until the local labour market was thoroughly tested.

Mr Howes said the Jobs Board should have been functioning before the Roy Hill deal was approved rather than being announced simultaneously.

Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union boss Peter Tighe declared the government would face a backlash if it did not require a Jobs Board for every project. "And if the government doesn't do that they'll have a political problem with the Australian workplace," he said.

"We just think that the arrangements around the EMAs are that loose you could drive a truck through them."

In parliament, Mr Bowen said Mrs Rinehart was proposing a $9.5bn project at Roy Hill and needed to be able to satisfy financiers that she could deliver the workforce to build on schedule. He said the EMA allowed the company to hire up to 1700 foreign workers, but they would work alongside 6700 Australians.

Mr Ferguson said Australians needed to understand that, without foreign workers filling construction vacancies to build the new mines, projects that would employ thousands of Australians over the long term might not be built.

Ms Gillard faced heavy opposition questioning over her position on EMAs in parliament. She said she supported the Roy Hill project, but in meetings with Mr Bowen and Mr Shorten last week had agreed to stronger oversight of the agreements.

Mr Shorten told The Australian that the Jobs Board would put the onus on employers to show that they had considered local workers before taking overseas workers for a project.

The union push is focused on the Jobs Board to be set up for Mrs Rinehart's project, but would also be applied to a looming agreement for several big LNG export facilities including Chevron's Gorgon project in Western Australia and Inpex in the Northern Territory.


Queensland hospitals postponing elective surgery and temporarily closing beds to get budgets back in the black

KEY Queensland hospitals have postponed elective surgery and temporarily closed beds as they battle to get overblown budgets back in the black before July.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has had to intervene to protect frontline workers amid reports some health regions were cutting too hard, but he has sanctioned reductions to some services.

Although insisting urgent surgery and emergencies would not be affected, Mr Springborg said some cuts were necessary to ensure new Hospital and Health Services were not lumbered with "Labor's debt" when they come into force from July 1.

"We're imposing a very, very strict financial discipline, otherwise taxpayers are the losers," he told The Courier-Mail.

Townsville Health Service will likely be $12 million in the red come June 30 and a leaked email shows District CEO Andrew Johnson has suspended temporary and permanent appointments, including frontline positions, for the rest of the financial year.

But Dr Johnson said in a written statement that permanent frontline vacancies continued to be filled, despite later stating the district's full-time equivalent staff had grown by an "unsustainable" 221 since December.

On the Gold Coast, six beds were closed and about 50 elective surgeries cancelled after senior theatre and ward staff resigned, with management deciding not to replace them until the new financial year.

Mr Springborg said Queensland Health was $300 million behind by the close of 2010-11.

In a memo to QH boss Tony O'Connell, he warned health regions could not defy an order that frontline workers be protected from a wider government freeze on appointments.

Together secretary Alex Scott accused the Newman Government of taking a "slash and burn approach" to balance budgets and said the union would lodge a complaint with the Industrial Relations Commission.

Queensland Nurses Union secretary Beth Mohle said she would write to Dr O'Connell detailing workers' concerns.


Liberal Party State government approves Gina Rinehart's $6b Alpha Coal mine in Galilee Basin

THE Newman Government has approved the $6.4 billion Alpha Coal Project in Queensland's Galilee Basin owned by Indian conglomerate GVK and Gina Rinehart's Hancock Coal.

The mine is expected to generate 3600 jobs in construction and 990 in operation.  It is also expected to be one of the biggest in Australia and is the first for the Galilee Basin.

Announcing the approval in parliament on Tuesday morning, Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney welcomed the decision and said the project would produce significant economic benefits for the state and nation.

"There'll be an estimated $11 billion boost to the economy during the mine's three year construction phase - 80 per cent of that will be retained in Queensland," Mr Seeney said.

"Once operational, Queensland's economy should see an economic boost of $1 billion per year from this mine alone.  "Australia can expect an $80 billion dollar rise in exports over the life of the mine."

Mr Seeney said the Coordinator-General had approved the mine with strict conditions and the move was a major step towards opening up the Galilee Basin's coal deposits.

"The proposal is for a 30 million tonnes per year open-cut coal mine and a 495km railway line from the mine to the Port of Abbot Point near Bowen," he said.

Mr Seeney made no mention of the possibility of the controversial enterprise migration schemes Ms Rinehart needed at her Roy Hill mine in the Pilbara.


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