Thursday, October 11, 2012

Another "green" firm bites the dust

AUSTRALIA'S largest manufacturer of clean energy producing wind turbine towers has collapsed spectacularly, sending another 156 workers home yesterday.

They joined a further 154 who were laid off immediately on Monday after the company called in voluntary administrator Ferrier Hodgson.

Ferrier Hodgson confirmed the 156 Wacol workers were told to report back to the facility on Monday.

The loss of clean energy jobs enraged the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union, which warned that without strong anti-dumping laws and tougher industry participation more manufacturers would shut down.

AMWU State Secretary Rohan Webb said imported turbine towers for major wind farm projects endangered local manufacturing jobs.

"Sadly for these areas, skills and technology will now also be lost to Australian manufacturing," Mr Webb said.

Ferrier Hodgson partners Peter Gothard, Jim Sarantinos and Timothy Michael were put in charge of four companies in the RPG Group on Friday: RPG Holdings, Rollpress Proplate Group, RPG (SA), and RPG Pipe.

"The business is primarily involved in the construction of large steel structures, such as wind power-generation towers, the pilings for wharfs and bridges, pipes and other steel structures for the mining and renewable energy sectors," Ferrier Hodgson said in a statement.

"The administrators are hopeful that ongoing support from all stakeholders will allow for a sale of the remaining businesses to take place and the employment of staff preserved."

Dismissed staff were yet to discover if they would receive their full entitlements, with creditors due to place their claims before administrators at a meeting on Wednesday.

RPG is a 60-year-old Queensland company, which began life as GM Gurr - a small fabricator - before expanding into heavy steel processing and fabrication, and production of wind turbine towers.

A statement by federal member for Oxley Bernie Ripoll, whose electorate encompasses the Wacol facility, said "to date 83 per cent of projects for wind turbines have been locally manufactured. RPG has supplied in excess of 50 per cent of these towers".


Qld. Government considers jail for out-of-control children

The Queensland cxhild protection inquiry has formally asked the Crown to provide advice on what work has been done on a 'containment model' of care for unruly children. Picture: Tim Marsden Source: The Courier-Mail

A RETURN to juvenile detention is on the cards in Queensland as the child protection inquiry looks at a containment policy to house unruly kids who can't fit into a foster home.

The inquiry has heard previous Queensland governments examined a return to a form of institutional care for children removed from parents, but shelved it as too politically sensitive.

Now it has formally asked the Crown to provide advice on what work has been done on a "containment model - a more structured and restrictive placement of a child".

Counsel Assisting Ryan Haddrick said the inquiry wanted to know "what was considered, when was it considered and what structure was considered".

Commissioner Tim Carmody has expressed no view on the proposal but agreed to examine it and possibly include the issue in a forthcoming positions paper.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists backs a proposal relating to a new form of care, somewhere between juvenile detention and residential care in suburban homes.

"Such models provide secure therapeutic facilities for such young people where they can receive the therapeutic help they need before they are on a trajectory towards long term incarceration in the adult prison system," the institution said in a submission to the inquiry.

Largely abandoned by the end of the 1990s, institutional care for "wards of the state" was replaced with residential care, foster caring and juvenile detention only for those convicted of a crime.

The Forde Inquiry delivered a damning indictment of institution-style care more than a decade ago.

But a senior police officer last week made a powerful case for some form of legislatively-backed restraint for troubled kids unable to access one of the dwindling number of foster carers.

Detective Senior Sergeant Peter Waugh, officer in charge of the Logan District Child Protection Unit, revealed police resources throughout the Beenleigh/Logan districts were constantly deployed to residential homes - one home receiving more than 140 visits in six months.

Sen-Sgt Waugh, with nearly three decades policing experience, said a facility was needed where troubled kids were forced to reside to receive the attention they required.

Ian Hanger, QC, representing the Crown, told the inquiry a proposal similar to Sen-Sgt Waugh's suggestion had already been examined by a former state cabinet.

"There was a proposal along these lines a number of cabinets ago," he said. "It wasn't adopted. "

Mr Hanger suggested such a decision might require political courage.

The inquiry which sat in Aurukun yesterday is expected to hear further public evidence in Mount Isa early next week.


Reef Alarmists Jump The Shark

The Great Barrier Reef is doomed again. A recent widely publicised scientific study reports the dramatic finding that it has lost half its coral in the last 27 years. Forty-eight precent of the loss is attributed to storm damage, with bleaching and crown-of-thorns starfish being responsible for 10% and 42% respectively. The average annual rate of coral loss over the 27-year period was estimated to be 3.38% and growth was put at 2.85%, leaving a net decline of 0.53% per year. Further effort and research on starfish control is suggested to be the most promising means of reversing the decline. Elimination of the loss due to starfish would leave a net gain of 0.89%.

While the news reports present the appearance of scientific precision and certainty, examination of the study itself reveals a number of doubtful assumptions, undisclosed conditions and instances where strong conflicting evidence is unmentioned. Examples of this include:

*    The margin of error in visual surveys of coral cover is high and unassessed; yet, they are presented to hundredths of a precent without any qualifying explanation, as if they are precisely accurate. Coral cover is highly variable between reefs and over different areas or at different years on the same reef. Visual estimates of the percentage of coral cover can differ significantly, depending on  where, when  and by whom  the observations were made. Also, many of the observers doing the surveys upon which this study is based were inexperienced students primed by learned expectations of threats to the reef.
 *   The reef is vast and in any given year surveys sample only a small portion. The reported sudden decline in coral cover in the last couple of years is almost certain to have been exaggerated by surveys made to assess the damage from severe cyclones crossing the reef in 2009 and 2011, with few or no surveys in unaffected areas in those years.
*    The study states, “Cyclone intensities are increasing with warming ocean temperatures….”

This statement is unsubstantiated and contrary to available evidence. The most definitive recent studies find no increase in tropical cyclone frequency or intensity. On the GBR severe cyclone activity for the past century has also been well below the level for the preceding century. The study also states:

“The recent frequency and intensity of mass coral bleaching are of major concern, and are directly attributable to rising atmospheric greenhouse gases.”

No evidence exists for this claim. The mass-bleaching events of recent decades have coincided with surface water warming resulting from periods of extended calm associated with strong El Niño events. This impedes normal evaporative cooling as well as wave driven mixing. There is no evidence of any increase in the frequency or strength of El Niño events, and climate models project increased wind speeds from warming, not more calms. The report further states:
“Water quality is a key environmental driver for the GBR. Central and southern rivers now carry five- to ninefold higher nutrient and sediment loads from cleared, fertilized, and urbanized catchments into the GBR compared with pre-European settlement.”

No actual measurements of pre-European sedimentation rates exist. These are only estimates and extrapolations from unverified proxies which may or may not represent what is claimed. What is certain is that the inshore areas of the GBR are heavily blanketed in sediments that have accumulated over thousands of years and turbidity in coastal waters is overwhelmingly governed by re-suspension of these sediments through wave action, not by current day runoff from the land.

The most widely cited study purporting to show a large increase in sedimentation after European settlement was based on an increase in barium in coral skeletons just after 60,000 head of cattle were introduced into the Burdekin area in 1870. This was attributed to an increase in erosion caused by the cattle. But this period also coincided with the ending of an extended period of extreme drought and no explanation has ever been offered for why the barium level has subsequently decreased despite the million head of cattle now in the same catchment.

The assumption that levels of turbidity in flood runoff events are almost entirely attributable to farming and grazing is unwarranted, and it is readily observable that runoff turbidity from crop and grazing areas is often markedly less than from undisturbed natural areas. Crops and grasses are simply better at retaining soil than is either the rainforest or open eucalypt woodland they have replaced. Sediment-trapping by dams and cessation of the widespread annual burning practiced by the pre-European inhabitants of the area can also be expected to have reduced sediment outflows.

There is good reason to expect that agriculture and grazing may well have resulted in a net reduction in levels of sediment discharge, compared to pre-European condition. The claims of multi-fold increases in sedimentation are simply speculation wrapped in techno-waffle and presented as fact.....

The core claim is that the reef has lost half of its coral in the past 27 years and that: “Without significant changes to the rates of disturbance and coral growth, coral cover in the central and southern regions of the GBR is likely to decline to 5–10% by 2022.”

If this is true, the implications for future research and management are profound. It means that the current condition of the GBR is essentially no better than that of the heavily exploited and effectively unmanaged reefs of the Caribbean or SE Asia. It means all the money and effort that has gone into management and research has been an abject failure. It means that the promised “resilience” to environmental impacts that was the major justification for greatly expanded green zones and sundry other stringent and costly restrictions on productive usage have achieved nothing, and that the vaunted resilience has been just another theoretical academic fantasy. It means that the claims of having the best managed reefs in the world have been only a self-serving delusion. It means that all the past assertions of successful management have been untrue and the research supposedly supporting it has been either grossly incompetent or a deliberate misrepresentation.

Worse still, this all took place when, for nearly three decades the reef,  was supposedly dying off in clear view of all the experts and they even had the surveys to confirm it. Were they too slack to look at their data until now or did they hide it because it didn’t suit their agenda at the time? If they were that incompetent or dishonest in the past, why should we now believe them now? 

On the other hand, if the whole business of threats to the reef has simply been grossly exaggerated then it is also time to end the charade. In addition to rent-seekers there is abundant evidence of a variety of other unhealthy influences being involved as well. These include media sensationalism, political pandering for green votes, postmodern scientific corruption, “noble cause” corruption, ill-informed eco-evangelism and bureaucratic empire building.  

Regardless of the reef-salvation industry’s industry’s motives, its efforts can only be viewed as either honest but incompetent or duplicitous and self-serving. It is time to severely cut the funding for this elaborate and costly farce. By their own reckoning the reef saviours have failed miserably and we can no longer afford them.

Personally, I suspect that the surest way to save the reef would be to cut funding for management and research by half and link future cuts or increases to the balance of economic and environmental outcomes. I have little doubt that would soon effect a miraculous recovery.

Much more HERE

I won't back off PM, says Abbott

TONY ABBOTT has accused Julia Gillard of playing the gender card to deflect legitimate criticism as the sexism row between the opposition and government escalates following the resignation of Peter Slipper.

Mr Abbott, who was excoriated by Ms Gillard as sexist and misogynist in a speech on Tuesday that made international headlines, said he would not be backing off one bit.

"Just because the Prime Minister has sometimes been the victim of unfair criticism doesn't mean she can dismiss any criticism as sexism, that she can dismiss any criticism on gender grounds," he said.

"When she does wrong, as she did yesterday by leading the Peter Slipper defence team, she will be criticised."

As senior ministers backed the Prime Minister, she gave notice that she, too, would not be backing off. This included no longer tolerating what she described as "catcalls" frequently made by Mr Abbott across the dispatch table during question time.

In question time yesterday, Mr Abbott called Ms Gillard "a piece of work". Ms Gillard complained to the new Speaker, Anna Burke, who made Mr Abbott withdraw.

"I've had enough, Australian women have had enough, when I see sexism and misogyny, I will call them for what they are," Ms Gillard said.

Mr Abbott also accused Ms Gillard of milking the outrage caused by Alan Jones's offensive comments about her late father and said Labor had to "stop hyperventilating" about Jones.

Relations between Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott have reached a nadir after Mr Slipper resigned as Speaker on Tuesday night. His resignation followed a no-confidence motion moved by Mr Abbott. It failed by just one vote.

It was moved on the basis that Mr Slipper was unfit to occupy the position of Speaker because of text messages denigrating female genitalia that he had sent to his former aide James Ashby, who is suing him for sexual harassment.

As the Herald revealed yesterday, Mr Slipper resigned after being prevailed upon by the independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, with the imprimatur of the leader of government business, Anthony Albanese.

Mr Windsor said yesterday he and Mr Oakeshott voted with the government to defeat the motion because Mr Slipper deserved first to be given a chance to resign.  "I think he's entitled, as any of us are, to come in and explain the situation and he did that."  But Mr Windsor said had Mr Slipper not resigned, the independents would have voted him out next time.

A senior source told the Herald the government had also come to the view that Mr Slipper should resign but did not want to hand Mr Abbott a victory by supporting his motion.

Mr Abbott was accused of hypocrisy yesterday for saying he would accept Mr Slipper's vote while refusing to accept that of Craig Thomson, the former Labor MP sent to the crossbenches due to allegations he rorted his union credit card before entering Parliament in 2007.

Despite Mr Slipper still being subject to the sexual harassment case and a separate investigation into criminal allegations he rorted Cabcharges, Mr Abbott said the two cases were fundamentally different.

"Craig Thomson has been found by a quasi-judicial body to have misappropriated some half a million dollars in low-paid union members' money," he said.

Mr Slipper, he said, "was elected as a Coalition member" and "his electorate would expect him to vote with the Coalition, but I think he will be highly unpredictable on the crossbenches".


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