Thursday, June 07, 2012

Laborite takes credit for mining boom

A boom that they are still trying their best  to block.  But the mine employees  are now clearly spending the very high wages they earn.  And some  spending generally  will have been brought forward to beat the  onset of the carbon tax

GLOATING over a "stunning set of numbers", Treasurer Wayne Swan yesterday said Australians should have a "bounce in their step".

March national accounts showed households had driven the country to record economic growth of 1.3 per cent for the first quarter - double the forecast and the strongest in five years.

The numbers pointed to annual growth of 4.3 per cent - normally considered an overheating economy - and left economists bewildered.  Even the Treasurer's Office asked they be double checked.

"They are proof that something special is happening in our country," Mr Swan said.

But retailers and business groups expressed horror at the Treasurer's claim that it was a "great day for Australia", saying few people outside the mining sector were likely to share his enthusiasm - particularly with the carbon tax due to start within four weeks.

"We're having a horrible time in retail ... there's certainly no bounce in our step," Harvey Norman boss Gerry Harvey said.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry boss Greg Evans said the figures did not reflect most people's experience: "Most parts of the economy including retail, hospitality, manufacturing, construction and tourism are all still finding it so tough."

Aussie Home Loans founder John Symond said there was a long way to go before the Treasurer could make such claims: "The lack of confidence has been horrendous. There's been this build-up of uncertainty and the carbon tax plays a big part.  "We're nowhere near the bounce Mr Swan believes. I think he's beating his chest."

In the city yesterday, shoppers might have been jumping over puddles to get to the sales but few thought the economy was doing so well that they had a bounce in their step.

Lizanne Kohler, Ottilie Wouters and Juliette Cleton agreed the Australian economy was in good shape but thought their "bounce" was thanks to the bargains, and not Wayne Swan.

"There have been a lot of sales - and that's good for us," Ms Wouters said. Ms Cleton said she had a budget for discretionary spending and would not break it.

The ABS figures revealed the primary driver of the growth spurt was household consumption, which made up 0.9 per cent, followed by private business investment.

"What a stunning set of figures," Mr Swan said.  "I think these figures send the loudest possible message to the world that Australia is the strongest performing developed economy, bar none."'

The figures ran counter to the Reserve Bank's decision to drop interest rates by 0.25 points only a day earlier on the basis of only "modest" growth and fears of deteriorating global economic conditions.

Opposition spokesman Joe Hockey said: "Imagine how well our country could do if we had a good government?"

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the figures proved "doomsayers" wrong.

Australian National Retailers Association chief executive, Margy Osmond said: "I think across the sector there are pockets of good news but ... it'd be very, very rash to suggest a bounce."


Support grows for dobbers

AUSTRALIANS overwhelmingly support protections for whistleblowers and their right to go to the media, according to a landmark poll.

Debunking the notion that Australians dislike "dobbers", the nationwide survey also adds impetus to calls for the federal government to introduce promised legislation to safeguard whistleblowers.

Sampling the views of 1211 people, the survey found four out of five endorsed the principle that people should be "supported" in revealing inside information that exposed wrongdoing.

Even more people - 87 per cent of respondents - said whistle blowers should be able to use a media organisation to draw attention to corruption and other illegal, unethical and unsavoury activities.

Most felt that whistleblowers should first go through official channels. However, half of those surveyed believed "too much" information was kept secret. Twenty-six per cent felt the "right amount" of information was disclosed, while 7 per cent said more information should be under wraps.

A.J. Brown, the leader of a team of academics from Griffith and Melbourne universities examining whistleblowing, said the survey contradicted the notion that Australia had an "anti-dobbing" culture.

"There has been a fair amount of opinion that values like loyalty and mateship are so much part of the national psyche, Australians are hostile to recognising whistleblowing," Dr Brown said.

According to the survey, 60 per cent supported whistleblowers going public, even if it involved exposing the misconduct of a family member or friend. Approval was higher if a fellow staff member (77 per cent) or boss (82 per cent) was the target.

Andrew Wilkie, the independent MP and former intelligence analyst who was sacked after he accused then-prime minister John Howard of misleading the public before the Iraq War, said whistleblowers usually paid a heavy price for going public.  Stress, lost income, former colleagues' hatred, and family breakdown were the lot of the whistleblower, Mr Wilkie said.

Australia has a patchwork of whistleblowing protections at the state and territory level but many are seen as inadequate.  Last year, Victoria's ombudsman, George Brouwer, said "extensive alterations" were needed to the state's Whistleblower Protection Act.

At the federal level, there is no legislated protection for whistleblowers in government agencies, despite the reform's inclusion in the agreement of the three independent MPs with the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to form a minority government in 2010.

The legislation was supposed to be introduced in July last year. A second deadline of December 31 was also missed.

The Herald understands the proposed bill has already been redrafted more than 100 times, such is the sensitivity of the topic, particularly among bureaucrats.

The Special Minister of State, Gary Gray, has told Mr Wilkie and others that the government hasn't dropped the reform entirely. His spokesman told the Herald it would be delivered before the next election.


Queensland Environment Minister  is a climate change sceptic

QUEENSLAND'S new Environment Minister says he is not "100 per cent convinced" that humans are causing climate change.

Andrew Powell said he believed the climate was warming and humans needed to stop polluting and reduce their reliance on non-renewable energy sources.  But he said he was "sceptical" human activity was to blame for all the changes.

"I think I represent a view that is fairly consistent across a certain percentage of the population, that until I'm 100 per cent convinced I'm always going to be a bit sceptical," he said, speaking during a press conference at Newmarket.

He was backed by Premier Campbell Newman, who first registered "surprise" that Mr Powell had been questioned over his stance.  "I mean the sea-level rise predictions have changed constantly over the last 15 years and I think that's what he's saying," Mr Newman said.  "(Mr Powell's) saying something that a Labor Minister would never have had to the honesty to say - we don't know what the impacts are precisely."

Asked whether he believed humans were responsible for climate change, Mr Newman said: "In terms of what the precise impacts will be of climate change anybody who says they know is having a lend of you."  He said it was "refreshing" Mr Powell was "prepared to tell the truth".


"Clean" energy users may still have to pay carbon taxes

FAMILIES relying on 100 per cent "green power" may still have to pay the carbon tax, the prices watchdog says.

The Gillard Government's chief carbon cop, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims, predicted the surprise green power hit would become one of the "big issues" needing to be resolved.

"You could be charged the carbon price even if you've got 100 per cent green power because of the way the product is put together," he told the Herald Sun.

"It does depend on the structure of the contract. The way these products are traditionally structured, they could well be liable for the carbon price."

Consumers should first discuss the issue with their power companies but he urged anyone who was unhappy to contact the ACCC.   "I'm quite happy for them to elevate it to us," he said.

The ACCC had become involved because some customers had already received an "ambiguous answer" from power companies.

"People on 100 per cent green energy have been complaining they're getting charged a carbon price and they are saying what's going on here?" he said.

Mr Sims said it was a complex billing system but under some green energy schemes, power companies charged customers for "black power" and then charged a premium for a renewable energy certificate.

"They stick that on top of the black price," he said. "So because the carbon price is going to increase the black price, then they're increasing your price as well.

"It depends how the product was sold to them. If someone told them the energy you're getting is coming only from renewable sources, then I think there's a problem.

"If someone's told them you are underpinning investment in renewables then I think they could be liable to the black charge."

Mr Sims also revealed the ACCC was investigating a gymnasium that had added what appeared to be too much to its post July 1 membership fees and blamed the carbon tax.

"It didn't look right for a gymnasium," he said. "The amount of the increase was beyond what we would think was right, so we're looking into that."

Mr Sims said consumers should contact the ACCC where they think people were putting up prices excessively due to the carbon price. In most cases working out prices for business was straight forward.


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