Friday, March 22, 2013

And the winner is … Abbott

Julia Gillard called a party room meeting to settle the Labor leadership matter, and the winner was Tony Abbott.

Labor managed to inflict serious new damage on its present leader, fatally wound its only real alternative, expose itself as deeply riven, and subject itself to ridicule.

It was the first time that an Australian prime minister had called a party-room meeting to settle the leadership, only to discover that there was no challenger.

"This has never happened," said ANU political scientist John Wanna. "The closest thing would be when John Curtin died and Frank Forde was put in for a week while they sorted themselves out."

But nobody had died. Labor was suffering an internal crisis of confidence in the Prime Minister.

After more than 2½ years of being consistently in a losing position in the Nielsen poll, the great bulk of Labor MPs did not believe the government could win the election that Gillard had called for September 14.

Supporters of Kevin Rudd started to organise a bloc of votes to elect him leader in the hope of salvaging the government. Three things went horribly wrong for them.

First, they were unable to amass a majority of the caucus. They were within a handful of votes, but needed fresh impetus. They thought they could overcome this, but for the other two problems.

The second failure was that the man who was supposed to deliver the critical votes for a winning tally, Simon Crean, turned out to be carrying no more votes than his own.

Crean was supposed to break the stalemate by declaring that he had lost confidence in the Prime Minister. In the leadership spill that would eventually follow, he was counted on to bring three or four other votes to give Rudd a winning edge.

But while he certainly broke the stalemate, he turned out to represent a faction of one.

And third, their candidate, Rudd, refused to fight on his own behalf. He had sworn that he would not challenge Gillard but would only take the Labor leadership again if drafted by an overwhelming majority, and if the position were vacant.

Gillard turned out to be prepared to vacate the leadership to settle the matter, but Rudd was not handed the overwhelming majority he demanded.

"If he had actually lifted the phone" to lobby for votes, said one of his dismayed allies, "he'd be prime minister now." But he insisted on the sanctity of his pledge, even though it doomed his cause and exposed his supporters to the wrath of the Prime Minister. Rudd kept his promise, but he has destroyed his credibility as a leadership candidate.

As he entered the caucus room, he paused before the TV cameras and announced that he would not be a candidate. It was a moment of gut-wrenching disappointment for his supporters and gleefully comical anti-climax for his detractors.

By Thursday night, at least three Rudd supporters had paid the price of openly supporting Rudd; Crean had lost his cabinet post, Richard Marles had resigned as parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, and Joel Fitzgibbon was reconsidering his position as government Whip.

More than 40 MPs had allowed themselves to be counted as his supporters in a caucus of 100 available members. Few will consider repeating that exercise.

One of his most important and effective lieutenants declared: "I'm over Rudd." But in the process, Labor has revealed that almost half the caucus was prepared to vote for Rudd even without him asking. This indicates that Gillard suffers a major deficit of confidence.

And Crean confirmed publicly what others have realised - that Gillard cannot win an election, and that she is basing her strategy on divisive "class war". Labor's Prime Minister, its alternative leader, and the government itself have been damaged. It looks ridiculously dysfunctional, and it is exactly as it appears.


The RET: Just more proof Labor couldn’t organise a stiff drink in a brewery

Labor’s management of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) is a massive failure, Queensland Senator Ron Boswell said today.

“Labor’s mis-management of the RET ranks right up there in terms of massively expensive, wasteful, policy and administrative failures as the carbon tax, the mining tax, debt management, illegal boat arrivals, pink batts, and their so-called Building the Education Revolution program,” Senator Boswell said.

“Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has announced that the government will stick with the 41,000GWh target for large scale renewables by 2020 – despite the fact that it will represent closer to 27% than 20% from renewables, even as the target rapidly moves out of reach because of Labor’s serial mismanagement of the policy.

“The government totally undermined the target when it promoted a huge blow-out in roof top solar installations through ridiculously generous subsidies that created vast numbers of effectively worthless Renewable Energy Certificates,” Senator Boswell said.

“The companies that have to acquit the target simply bought tens of millions of these phantom certificates, for next to nothing, and now have enough in the bank to not need to go back to the market until, at the very least, the end of next year.

“As a result, wind farm development has collapsed, and the target is disappearing over the horizon.”

Senator Boswell said the spot prices for both large scale generation certificates, and small scale technology certificates, were languishing at well under $40 – with no sign they will go significantly higher for a very long time.

“Wind energy, which is the government’s only hope of meeting the target, needs a certificate price of much closer to $60. A certificate price at that level could be years away.

“Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and, if the target is going to be met, there will have to be an even greater injection of taxpayer cash than has been wasted to date, so rent-seekers can get their turbines built and reap massive profits in the future.

“If this government was re-elected in September, it would then be hurling billions at the problem from the $10 billion clean energy fund that the likes of the Greens and the Member for New England foisted on us. It’s just more proof, if any were needed, that this mob could not organise a large drink in a brewery.”

Via email

Teachers told to fall into line and use the same teaching methods across a subject

HOW children are taught in the classroom is set to be transformed in state schools.

Principals have been told the same teaching method must be used across a subject schoolwide.

Education Queensland deputy director-general Lyn McKenzie said the new "pedagogical framework" - a teacher practice plan - requires state schools to have a consistent teaching approach for the first time.

Ms McKenzie said the move, to be coupled with a push for parents to become more involved in their children's schoolwork, would help lift students' results and take schools from "good to great".

"The research is showing that there needs to be a consistent practice across the school when you are teaching the way you do multiplication, the way you do reading," Ms McKenzie said.

She said it wasn't beneficial for students "to have to learn a whole new way of doing something because that teacher teaches it slightly different".

"Teachers bring their personality and their energy and their professional ideas of how to re-explain something, but there needs to be a consistent approach," Ms McKenzie said.

She said teachers would then be able to work together better to help boost student results.

"We know from the research that if you get consistent teaching practice within the school and that teachers work collaboratively to learn the skills from each other, that students' results will lift," Ms McKenzie said.

"So this is the next piece of the puzzle to go from good to great. This, and working with parents, will take us to the absolute next step."

Schools have until the end of the year to have a pedagogical framework in place, with each state school able to use different methods across subjects.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Hilary Backus, Queensland Secondary Principals' Association president Norm Fuller and Queensland Teachers' Union president Kevin Bates said some schools already had this in place and agreed it could help results.

But Mrs Backus said it was important to remember teacher-student relationships were the most important element of teaching, while Mr Bates said the framework's success would depend on how it was implemented.

The framework has been launched alongside the parent and community engagement plan, following research showing teachers have less of an effect on students than parents.


NBN rollout delayed, again

White elephant

Australians will need to wait a little longer for faster and universal broadband, after the company building the NBN again delayed delivery of the project.

NBN Co announced on Thursday afternoon it was revising down its forecast for the rollout of fibre optic cable from the June 2013 target of 341,000 premises to between 190,000 and 220,000 premises. It is the third time the target has been revised.

NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley said: "We are accountable for the delay and are disappointed it has occurred.

However, he laid the blamed squarely with contractors who he said were responsible for meeting the targets.

"The problem is we are just not seeing the ramp up of construction workers on the ground that would be needed to deliver these targets," Mr Quigley said.

On Wednesday, during question time, the opposition asked Communications Minister Stephen Conroy if he was using carrier pigeons to seek updated information about connections from NBN Co.

Mr Conroy was being grilled on whether NBN Co would achieve is June 30 targets.

Senator Conroy said there had been ''workforce mobilisation issues'' in Western Australia, South Australia and Northern Territory.

He said NBN Co had taken control of construction of the NBN in the NT because contractor Syntheo, a joint venture between Service Stream and Lend Lease, had failed to meet rollout targets.

Syntheo, told the Australian Securities Exchange on Wednesday it had "pulled out" of construction in the Northern Territory ahead of an expected announcement on significant delays, according to the Australian Financial Review. The company is also responsible for all construction work in Western Australia and South Australia, under a separate contract.

The NBN Co will now take over the rollout in the Northern Territory including training and employing "additional specialist telecoms workers ('fibre splicers"') to help recover lost time in the rollout of the network".

Last month, Mr Quigley blamed Syntheo for NBN Co needing to lower its forecast of existing premises to be passed by optic fibre cable this June to 286,000. There were 52,014 premises passed at the end of 2012.

Senator Conroy said the information about the connections was detailed and complex and involved multiple construction partners. ''It's not simply a question of NBN Co pushing a button,'' he said. On Wednesday he said 40,000 Australians were using the NBN.

The opposition spokesman for communications, Malcolm Turnbull has condemned the delay.

"This is just 14 per cent of the December 2010 target and barely more than 50 per cent of the target announced last August. It is also just another forecast," Mr Turnbull said.

He has said Australians would have faster and cheaper broadband under the coalition and promised to release the coalition's NBN policy "months before the election".

Last week a new report by a consultancy group, outlined the policy options for the coalition should it win the federal election in the interest of "informing and invigorating" the policy debate.  The report by Allen & Overy and Venture Consulting reiterated major elements of the NBN, "not just the total project", must be subject to a clear cost and benefit analysis. And among other things, it said existing assets that can be effectively deployed, should be made available by the government at low cost, not be paid to be shut down, as is the case with the Telstra copper network.

The NBN Co has said its remit is to deliver fibre to 93 per cent of premises, as asked by the government, not to explore alternative existing methods of delivery.

The report also recommended the role of the NBN Co be reviewed to perhaps act more as a coordinating agency, than a builder, contracting out design, build and maintenance responsibilities to third parties.

NBN Co also announced the replacement of chairman Harrison Young with Siobhan McKenna as of today. Mr Young resigned today after three years as chairman. Ms McKenna is a managing partner of Ten Network.


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