Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tony Abbott vows to clear way for giant Olympic Dam mine

FEDERAL Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has committed to removing all obstacles to the Olympic Dam mine's expansion and making its success a priority of the Coalition if it wins government.

He also said that Prime Minister Julia Gillard must give BHP Billiton a written assurance that the Minerals Resource Rent Tax will never be imposed on copper, gold and uranium - which are central to the expanded mine's operations.

Speaking to The Advertiser before a two-day visit to South Australia from today, Mr Abbott, right, said yesterday the Government should simply "abolish the bloody thing" to ensure the project went ahead.

"No one could be more enthusiastic about the Olympic Dam expansion than I am," he said.

"I want to do everything I humanly can to help this expansion to go ahead by not having a carbon tax, not having a mining tax, and trying to ensure that we don't have bloated construction costs because of union militancy through the restoration of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

"So there are three major incentives to go ahead that I could provide BHP were the Coalition in government."

Mr Abbott said the project was crucial to the SA economy, creating thousands of jobs and adding up to $7 billion a year in gross state product. It was "hanging in the balance", he warned. BHP Billiton was threatening to put the project on hold, citing the rising costs of doing business in Australia. While the resources giant will be one of the main contributors to Labor's multi-billion-dollar MRRT from next month, this will apply only to super profits made on coal and iron-ore mines.

Mr Abbott, however, says the company and its backers now increasingly are worried about sovereign risk - the future danger of profits being eroded by expanded taxes or more new taxes.

"No one thinks a re-elected Labor government will continue to restrict the mining tax to just those two minerals (coal and iron) and BHP now regards Australia as having serious sovereign risk issues, thanks to the Gillard Government," he said.

"The only way to persuade the mining industry the tax will not be extended to other minerals is to abolish the bloody thing and that's what we'll do."

Mr Abbott, who will visit resources industry businesses while in SA, said the Government should admit it now was putting up barriers to wealth generation.

BHP Billiton has revealed it is unlikely to go ahead with all of its major resources projects as it grapples with declining commodity prices, slowing growth in China and higher operating costs.

"If the Government were serious it would say, 'look, we got it wrong on the carbon tax, at the very least we'll bust it down to the European price rather than have it sitting there at $23 a tonne'," Mr Abbott said.

"They would also enter into a project agreement with BHP to explicitly exclude, for the life of the Olympic Dam expansion, any mining tax application to this project."

With just weeks before the carbon price and the MRRT take effect on July 1, Mr Abbott warned they might force the company's hand.

"Well, you'd have to say based on what (chief executive) Marius Kloppers and (chairman) Jac Nasser have said recently, that the project is hanging in the balance at the moment," he said.

Marius Kloppers recently said on Lateline that because of a whole range of factors including the carbon tax, Australia had moved from being a low-cost to a high-cost place to do business and Jac Nasser said "no" when asked if BHP was going to go ahead with the $80 billion worth of investment.

On the ABC's Q&A program on Monday, Ms Gillard compared Mr Abbott's unrelenting campaign against the carbon price with fears generated by the High Court's Mabo decision.


No homosexual marriage and watered-down civil unions in Qld

AFTER much speculation, Premier Campbell Newman has announced the Civil Partnerships Act recognising gay relationships will be retained in Queensland but couples will have to do without a "state-sanctioned declaration ceremony".

Mr  Newman said the "amendments" to the act will provide certainty for couples who have entered into civil unions and bring Queensland into line with other states.

But he said what was most offensive about the legislation to Christian churches was that the provisions of the act sought to "emulate marriage".

"There were two ways people could go about registering a civil partnership. They could simply fill out some forms, submit them, then a partnership would be registered or alternatively there was a state sanctioned voluntary ceremony," Mr Newman said.

"That was the bit that, for people in Christian churches has been unacceptable to them because it sought to emulate marriage."

He said since the act's introduction, a total of 609 civil partnerships were registered of which just 21 had held declaration ceremonies.

"We made a commitment to Queenslanders we would revisit the Civil Partnership Act and my government feels making these changes is the best outcome for everyone and now it's time to move on," Mr Newman said.

The law will change to remove the option of a state-sanctioned ceremony, without removing the option of registration of the civil unions.

The changes were welcomed by both Christian lobby groups and gay rights activists.

Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays national spokeswoman Shelley Argent said the group had feared the laws would be repealed completely.

"He could have done much more damage than what he has done. And I think what he's tried to do, to be fair to Campbell Newman, he's tried to placate both sides," she said.

"It's not ideal but still it's much better than what we were expecting."

But Ms Argent said the decision to remove state-sanctioned ceremonies amid pressure from Christian groups was disappointing because the ceremonies were not religious.

"Removing the ceremony is disappointing but at least it's providing the protection that our lesbian daughters and gay sons need in these relationships," she said.

Ms Argent hoped the decision not to fully repeal civil unions was a "step forward" and would help put gay marriage on the federal agenda.

Australian Christian Lobby Queensland director Wendy Francis was "pleased" the decision pulled Queensland into line with other states.  "They have reversed some hastily put through legislation," she said.  "We now have what is equal to a relationship register so the parts of this legislation that had been mimicking marriage have been removed. For that I'm very grateful."

But Ms Francis said she would have preferred the laws be repealed completely.  "I think the legislation itself is bad legislation so when you start tampering with bad legislation it's hard to start from a fresh point of view," she said.

Christian lobby groups have been vehemently opposed to the laws, labelling civil unions a stepping stone to gay marriage.

But gay rights activists have argued that the unions are necessary to ensure same-sex couples have equal legal rights.

Mr Newman hinted during the election campaign that the LNP would act if it won power.  Former deputy premier Andrew Fraser introduced the legislation in what many saw as a blatant attempt to retain his marginal Mt Coot-tha seat.

As at May this year, 460 Queensland couples had entered into civil unions.


Education review leader Professor Brian Caldwell claims teacher quality remains key to improving student outcomes

And because there aren't enough good teachers to go around,  larger class sizes are needed.  That's heresy but decades of evidence support it

EDUCATORS have warned teacher quality remains the key to improving student outcomes amid concerns about the basic literacy and numeracy knowledge of aspiring primary school teachers.

The Courier-Mail revealed yesterday about 40 per cent of higher education students who sat a trial Pre-Registration Test for Aspiring Primary Teachers failed one of three components of the exam.

The exam tested basic literacy, numeracy, science content and teaching strategy knowledge in the three areas required for a primary school level.

Third and final-year teaching students from around Queensland sat the trial, although the test was designed for graduates.

However, it is understood there was a high failure rate on some basic questions primary school students would be expected to know.

The LNP has postponed the pre-registration test over cost concerns despite saying the trial results were "concerning".

Professor Geoff Masters, who recommended the former Bligh government run a pre-registration test and whose organisation helped developed the exam, said the trial results were the reason a test was needed.

"It just underlines the importance of moving ahead and using this in practice to see what percentage of the entire graduating cohort is not meeting the standards that the QCT (Queensland College of Teachers) is setting," Prof Masters said.

Professor Brian Caldwell, who co-led a review of teacher education in Queensland, said teacher quality remained the key to improving student outcomes.

"If one was looking for a single factor that would make an impact on outcomes for students and closing the gap between higher and low-performing students, we would be doing everything we can to raise the academic standard of those entering the teaching profession," he said.

"Around the country we are accepting many students of low academic ability and then teacher education faculties proceed to pass more than 90 per cent of them.

"And that is not the kind of profession teaching is now - it is a highly sophisticated profession that calls for a high capability to analyse complex data about students and diagnose the kind of teaching support that they need."

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said he would work with universities and higher education to ensure quality teachers entered the classroom.


Electricity bills to go up again - by 21 per cent in Sydney

Household electricity prices are to rise by as 21 per cent from July 1 - or about $7 a week - due to the carbon tax and the cost of renewable energy schemes.

Gas prices are also to rise, by up to 15 per cent, again largely due to the carbon tax.  AGL customers will pay an extra $2.03 a week, on average, equal to $104 a year, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal said.  All rises, both gas and electricity, are to take effect from July 1.

In its final decision released today, IPART said heavy spending to upgrade the electricity network, coupled with the impact of the carbon tax, is driving electricity prices higher.

The tribunal called for changes to limit future price rises.

Prices will rise by an average of 18 per cent across the state, which is higher than the interim decision of an average 16 per cent, with this increase due to higher than expected costs to generate electricity.

Customers of EnergyAustralia, who mostly live in the inner city and eastern suburbs, will face the highest rises of 20.6 per cent, or $364 a year for most households.

Most rural households will face rises of up to 19.7 per cent ($8.21 a week, or $427 a year), while customers of Integral Energy, who mostly live in Sydney's western suburbs, face an 11.8 per cent rise ($4 per week, or $208 a year).

These rises will hit customers who are still on regulated tariffs, although not those who have switched accounts to rival suppliers. Households still on regulated tariffs account for around half of the total.

"There are aspects of the National Electricity Rules and the National Electricity Law that could be changed to reduce pressure on prices and to make sure that expenditure on the electricity network is efficient," IPART Chairman, Dr Peter Boxall said.

"We've also outlined some areas around reliability standards, green schemes, and subsidies that could be reviewed to limit future price increases."

The primary driver in the rising prices is heavy spending to upgrade the electricity network, the so-called "poles and wires", he said. This accounts for around half the price increase.


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