Thursday, September 06, 2012

Bjelke-Petersen (the son) to challenge Newman's deputy

That's a magic name in Qld. politics, particularly in the country.  He sounds like old Joh too.  This may be only the opening shot of a long career

The son of former Queensland premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen says he wants to challenge Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney for Liberal National Party (LNP) preselection.

John Bjelke-Petersen has previously run for state and federal parliament for the Nationals and LNP.

Now he wants to challenge Mr Seeney in his central Queensland seat of Callide.

"As far as I'm concerned, all we want is our fair share of what the state has and we want the issues addressed," Mr Bjelke-Petersen said.  "We had 20 years under Labor where cuts took place and yet we're still having cuts."

Mr Bjelke-Petersen says regional areas are missing out on funding and facing staffing cuts.

"It has sort of been irritating me that it doesn't seem to be too much trouble to do things in the south-east corner, but when you get out into rural and regional areas it's a lot harder," he said.

Premier Campbell Newman says he does not think Mr Seeney's grip on Callide is under threat.

"I'm just simply saying good luck to John, if that's what he wants to do. That's the wonderful thing about a democracy," Mr Newman said.

"I'll tell you what; I can confidently predict Jeff Seeney will be opposed at the next election by somebody, and I can tell you so will Campbell Newman.


Survey finds majority of Australian parents think it's OK to spank but most opt for other methods

MANY parents believe smacking is an effective way to deter children from misbehaving, but most do not use the controversial method.  Instead, they discipline their children with time-outs and technology bans, a survey suggests.

An adelaidenow poll of almost 1400 people found 39.7 per cent of respondents thought smacking was a useful deterrent, while 36 per cent believed it should be used only in extreme situations.

A further 39.5 per cent said they would be furious if a friend smacked their misbehaving child.

Parent Wellbeing director Jodie Benveniste said the aim of any discipline was to "teach kids to be decent human beings".

"Smacking just doesn't do this and should be avoided," she said.

"Time out, for example, is a much better idea than smacking, as is taking something away the kids value."

Almost 70 per cent of respondents said they verbally told off their children as a method of discipline, while 63.1 per cent said they opted for time-outs.

More than 60.6 per cent ban the use of TV, technology and games and 61.9 per cent deny their child treats.

Smacking ranked fifth on the list, with 43.6 per cent of parents, who said they smacked their children with an open hand.

Dr Justin Coulson, a University of Wollongong research fellow and author of What your child needs from you: Creating a connected family, believes most children misbehave because they are not receiving enough attention from their parents.

Smacking was back in the spotlight last week when a Queensland magistrate ruled that parents fighting for custody of their daughter - diagnosed with a defiant behaviour disorder - must not threaten to smack her.

Almost 60 per cent of respondents to the adelaidenow poll believed courts should not have the power to dictate discipline to parents.

Willunga mum Kate Burr, 37, has recently started using time-outs to discipline her daughter Lily, who turns three on September 20.

"We've been using time-outs for about three weeks now and it's going reasonably well," she said.

Ms Burr said she does not smack her daughter because she cannot justify hitting her.


Ex-Treasury boss defends foreign investment

Former Treasury boss Ken Henry has delivered a strong defence of foreign investment in Australia, arguing the current public debate has been "frequently misinformed" and skewed by "populist instincts".

Dr Henry says Australia has benefited from several waves of foreign investment over hundreds of years; first from Europe, then from the United States and more recently from Asia.

"Every wave in our history has been controversial for a period of time," Dr Henry told a forum in Canberra.  "It is perhaps inevitable that people would be concerned about Chinese investment, especially because it's occurred so recently and because it's grown so rapidly."

The most recent debate about foreign investment has been sparked by the proposed sale of Australia's largest cotton farm to a consortium of Chinese and Japanese investors.

Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce has described the decision as a "farce" and questioned how it is in the national interest to sell the 93,000-hectare Cubbie Station in southern Queensland.

Dr Henry says there are robust tests in place to assess foreign investment proposals, but they are at risk of being undermined by a lack of public confidence.

"We have strong mechanisms in Australia to oversee foreign investment, but it's important that we make an effort to explain that framework and to build confidence in it," he said.

"Without confidence in the regime and common sense in the formulation of foreign investment policy, there is the risk of Australia damaging its ability to attract foreign capital and limiting its economic potential in the longer term."

Asked whether he thought there needed to be any change in how the Foreign Investment Review Board considers proposals, Dr Henry said defining the national interest was always going to be difficult and would change depending on the circumstances.

"Writing out a formula to guide foreign investment decision-making in respect of what is or is not contrary to the national interest is, I think, simply impossible," he said.

"So, if you're going to have something which is... more transparent, then we're going to have to remove the national interest test, and I don't think there's a lot of support for removing the national interest test."

There have been frequent public debates about an appropriate level of foreign investment in Australia, particularly in agricultural land.

Earlier this year, the Government bowed to public pressure and established a working group to consider whether there should be a foreign ownership register of farm land.

Dr Henry, who has authored a white paper on Australia in the Asian Century, says the debate surrounding the issue has been sidetracked by "myths".

"Very little, only a tiny proportion, of Australia's agricultural land is in foreign ownership, and so... concerns about foreign ownership of land, and especially agricultural land, in Australia have, I think, been greatly exaggerated.

"I hear quite often that people in the bush are outraged about foreigners buying their land.  "Well, they're the people who are selling the land to the foreigners. "I just don't quite know what is the formula for cognitive dissonance that squares that circle."


An air con: when the poor pay to cool the rich

Some class war below.  It seems true as far as it goes but it overlooks that the rich subsidize the poor in other ways -- notably via taxes.  Striving for some predetermined class balance in everything is an absurdity

It's time to put an end to airconditioner injustice. This summer, the two-thirds of NSW households with airconditioners will be cross-subsidised by about the one-third that don't. It's an unfairness that gets much less attention than it deserves.

Temperature control at home was once considered a luxury but most now seem to view it as a modern necessity. Australian households have installed 1.7 million airconditioners in the past five years and the total number of units has doubled in the past decade to about 6.3 million.

But the way the electricity market works means our airconditioner fetish comes with hidden costs.

Because each unit draws a lot of electricity they put major demands on the power generation and distribution system when many are switched on at once (a single airconditioner can use the same amount of electricity as 40 fans).

The companies that own and maintain the state's electricity poles and wires have invested huge amounts upgrading the distribution network to cater for the peak demand caused by airconditioners on hot days between 4pm and 8pm. High energy appliances - especially airconditioners - have a bigger impact on peaks in electricity demand than population growth, household size or income.

Every airconditioning unit installed in a home can cost $5000 to $10,000 in network improvements, depending on where the house is located. The surge in demand caused by airconditioners also forces electricity generation companies to temporarily ramp up production on hot days using more expensive methods of making electricity.

But the way Australian electricity consumers are billed means the huge costs of catering for peak demand are spread across all small users through higher average prices. The extra generation and network costs are passed onto every consumer. In effect, those switching on the airconditioner at times of peak demand are not paying for the full cost of their actions and those without airconditioners are paying more than they should.

This system isn't just unfair, it's wasteful because more and more capacity is being installed at great expense but rarely used. About a quarter of retail electricity costs come from peak events over a period of less than 40 hours a year. You don't have to be an electricity industry economist to work out that's inefficient. Last month Julia Gillard likened it to building a 10-lane freeway with "two lanes that are only used or needed for one long weekend".

The state's Independent Pricing and Regulatory Authority estimates the state's poles and wires are costing typical households $654 more a year than five years ago, a rise of 72 per cent above the rate of inflation. Residential consumers in NSW are now paying more than $1100 a year just for the upkeep of the distribution network.

Many households have responded to the recent price spike by moderating electricity use when it's convenient. But on the dozen or so hottest days of the year, those lucky enough to have household cooling still switch on all at once. These two trends in consumer behaviour have made the electricity distribution network even more inefficient because even more capacity is left unused for most of the year.

But there's another pernicious side effect. The less well-off, who generally don't run multiple airconditioners, are cross-subsidising consumers who do. Vulnerable families making do without airconditioning are being put under added financial stress so that others can have their room temperature-controlled.

In parts of Europe households that pay more than 10 per cent of their income on energy costs have long been deemed "fuel poor". This category is now growing in NSW because of the recent surge in electricity prices. Earlier this year, IPART said the proportion of households in the state paying more than 10 per cent of their income in power bills was on the rise. About one in nine households in regional areas will slip into the fuel poor category after the latest round of power price rises.

The airconditioner cross-subsidy exposes a major policy failure. Rather than finding ways to encourage consumers to reduce peak demand, authorities have allowed network distribution firms to build more and more capacity at great cost.

In July, economists at AGL Energy warned that the electricity market was in danger of a "death spiral" as wealthy households use less power on average while poorer families bear the brunt of big network investments to cope with peak demand.

The growing electricity price pain has created some momentum for change. The Australian Electricity Market Commission - the body that makes the rules for the national electricity market - will release its "Power of Choice" review tomorrow aiming to help families and businesses make informed choices about the way they use electricity and manage their bills. Last month Gillard demanded that all Australian governments act on the commission's recommendations "as soon as they are made".

One aim of the review is to reduce the need for additional peak generation and network infrastructure. The business sector, which consumes about 70 per cent of the electricity generated in Australia, could also be encouraged to do much more to reduce electricity use during peak demand periods.

A shift away from flat prices and quarterly billing to smart meters that allow more "time-of-use pricing" will help over time.

But it is worth remembering that if we had resisted the collective desire for household temperature control - like most families in the 1970s and 1980s - every consumer would now have a much smaller electricity bill. The billions spent by state electricity companies catering for electricity demand on a few hot days each year could have been spent improving schools, hospitals and transport infrastructure. And of course, we'd be emitting less carbon pollution.

It is surprising how little the airconditioner boom has been questioned, considering its economic, environmental and social costs.


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