Friday, March 01, 2013

Freezing asylum visas not racist: Abbott

CALLING for the freezing of bridging visas for asylum seekers is not a form a racial vilification, federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says.

His immigration spokesman Scott Morrison is pushing this policy idea after a Sri Lankan asylum seeker was charged this week with indecently assaulting a university student in Sydney.

But Mr Abbott denies this would racially vilify asylum seekers.

"I just think that's wrong," he told reporters in Brisbane on Friday.  "It's very important that people whose status is yet to be determined are being monitored by the government. The government needs to know where they are."

He stood by Mr Morrison's comments.  "Of course. The government has to maintain control of the system," Mr Abbott said.

Cabinet minister Penny Wong denies the decision to give asylum seekers bridging visas is creating an underclass in the community.

The finance minister told Sky News the government is providing more initial support than the Howard government did under its temporary protection visa regime.

"There is no easy answer, and anyone who says there is, is wrong," she said on Friday.

The government needed to implement policies that prevented asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat and risking their lives.

"No one can forget the tragedies we have seen in this area in past years," Senator Wong said.


Another State government rejects Federal grab for control of schools

Queensland has joined Victoria in telling Julia Gillard to "butt out of education" as it revealed it would follow Premier Ted Baillieu in hatching its own school funding reform plan.

In the latest setback to the Prime Minister's hopes of striking a deal with the states, the Queensland government declared on Thursday the Prime Minister should "give up" on her Gonski school funding reforms.

Queensland is the second conservative-run state to go its own way, despite Ms Gillard's insistence that they sign up to the federal plan at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in April.

Queensland Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said on Thursday he was frustrated by the federal government's failure to detail how it would fund the Gonski reforms and accused federal Labor of using education as a "wedge" during an election year.

He said while Queensland wanted to work with the Gillard government, it would follow Victoria's lead in preparing its own plan.

"The Premier [Campbell Newman] has already expressed that he sees some merit in the Victorian plan but most importantly, we are our own jurisdiction with our own challenges and that's why we need to come up with our own plan that suits us, not have some sort of Australian government idea that they have come up with that they want to impose on the states," Mr Langbroek said.

Federal Schools Minister Peter Garrett condemned the move and said it was wrong of the Queensland government to suggest it did not have details of the plan.

"They have had details of the model for months and state officials have been working through it with Commonwealth representatives," he said.

Mr Baillieu announced last Saturday that the Victorian government would pursue its own education reforms, which included a voucher system for disadvantaged students.

Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos accused Coalition leaders in Queensland and Victoria of putting politics ahead of the needs of children.

Ms Gillard has placed the plan to inject an extra $6.5 billion annually into school funding at the centre of her re-election pitch.


Stress among conservatives over renewable energy goal

Pressure is mounting within the federal Coalition to abolish or scale back the 20 per cent renewable energy target, with Nationals senator Ron Boswell claiming his party backs his demand the policy be axed.

While pledging to abolish the carbon price, the Coalition has always offered bipartisan support for the RET, which remains the biggest driver of investment in renewable energy.

But Senator Boswell told the Senate on Thursday that the RET should be abolished because it was increasing electricity prices and was "costing jobs in western Sydney".

"The whole of the National Party agrees with me, although we haven't got a formal policy on it yet, and I suspect many Liberals do also," Senator Boswell said.  "If we want to have a manufacturing sector in Australia, we have to dump the carbon tax and abolish the RET."

A high-profile Liberal candidate in the New South Wales seat of Hume, Angus Taylor, said last week that the RET was an inefficient and expensive way of reducing emissions, and argued it should be restructured, possibly to include projects generating electricity from gas.

The Coalition climate change spokesman, Greg Hunt, has said there are no plans to change the RET, but the Coalition would consider a review to be held in 2014.

Meanwhile, Greens senator Christine Milne will use a speech on Friday to take aim at the Coalition's Direct Action climate policy, which she claims is a "sham".

Direct Action proposes to spend more than $1 billion a year, mostly on competitive government grants to companies or farmers who "bid in" ideas for how they might reduce emissions.

But Senator Milne will outline why she believes the scheme has no chance of working.

"The Coalition expects more than 60 per cent of the abatement to come from soil carbon - but the science to back this up is not yet solid, so this abatement would not be recognised in international treaties. That's a show-stopper," she will say.

And she will quote Coalition frontbencher Malcolm Turnbull to make the point that "assessing the tenders to ensure that they involve genuine reductions in emissions is fraught with difficulty.

"As Malcolm Turnbull has said, and I quote, 'If a scheme operates whereby the government pays the firm to reduce its emissions intensity … there is firstly going to be a substantial and contentious debate about what the correct baseline is, and then whether it will actually be reduced …

"Arguments of considerable ferocity will arise as to whether a new piece of equipment would have been bought anyway, with the risk that the government ends up funnelling billions of dollars to companies to subsidise their profit without achieving any real additional cuts in emissions.' "


Chinese cows get taste for Aussie hay

Three hay processing companies from Australia are now supplying stock feed to a fast-expanding dairy industry in China.

All three are from South Australia; Balco, based at Balaklava, JT Johnsons of Kapunda and Lithgow Enterprises of Tailem Bend.

Between them, they exported about 18,000 tonnes of oaten hay to China last year.

"When you look at the markets we supply fodder to - Japan, Korea and Taiwan - they are basically full markets, stable markets," said Balco managing director, Malcolm May.

"For our industry to grow, we have to sell hay somewhere else and China has got an absolute appetite for our hay, we believe, in the long term."

Mr May said there were 13 companies registered nationally to sell oaten hay to China for dairy cattle feed, but only the three SA companies had successfully entered the market.

Dairy food is not traditional in the Chinese diet, but over the past decade per-capita consumption has increased four-fold.

In 2000, the average annual consumption was just 7.3 kilograms for the Chinese, but in 2011 it had risen to 28.4 kg, said peak industry body Dairy Australia.

There are now about 12 million dairy cattle on farms in China, which is 10 times the size of the Australian herd.

Australia exports hundreds of thousands of breeding stock to the Chinese.

Stock feed supplies had been limited and of low quality in China, creating the demand for overseas hay.

The United States is the biggest exporter of stock feed, sending alfalfa hay (known as lucerne in Australia).

But Chinese dairy farmers are finding their cattle also like the taste of Australian oaten hay and produce a better-quality milk when it is used in conjunction with other feed.

Oaten hay is harvested when green and baled after drying in the paddocks.

"We have been using oaten hay ever since it entered the Chinese market," said Jing Dehua, a dairy farmer and deputy president of the Shanghai Dairy Association.  "The fibre is beneficial to a dairy cow.

"More dairy farms will use it as their facilities and management improve."

A sticking point is price. A high dollar makes Australian-grown hay expensive compared with supplies from other countries.


No comments: