Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Pauline back in the political game

One Nation will be renamed "Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party" in a bid to harness public recognition of Ms Hanson, the party's co-founder - and newest recruit.

Ms Hanson confirmed to Fairfax Media that moves were afoot to add Pauline Hanson to the One Nation brand.  A change would revive the original name of 1997.

ABC election expert Antony Green said getting the "pulling power" of Pauline Hanson's name above the line on the ballot paper would give the party its best possible chance of getting a candidate elected in September.

Mr Green believes One Nation will fall short but her presence on the ballot will give the "minor and micro parties" a better chance of election to the Senate.

Ms Hanson said her name would cut down on any confusion among voters that wanted to vote for One Nation.

Ms Hanson will run for a NSW Senate seat in the federal election.

"Pauline Hanson is the brand of One Nation," she said on Monday. "I'm so proud to be back with them."

The former federal member for Oxley co-founded One Nation in 1997, but left the party in 2002 saying she had been forced out.  She said she has now been welcomed back with "open arms" and will run on a One Nation ticket with candidates who have yet to be decided.

"I think now's the time for me to go back and finish what I haven't finished," she said. "I believe that I'm the redhead [voters] can trust."

The Queenslander said she believed the NSW Senate race was the right place for her.  Ms Hanson explained her partner was from NSW and she owned property in the state. She also said it was hard to stand for a lower house seat, as the preferential voting system was "weighted in favour of the major parties".

Ms Hanson was elected to the seat of Oxley as an independent in 1996 after she was disendorsed by the Liberal Party for comments on government assistance for indigenous people. She lost the seat in 1998, and has since made six unsuccessful attempts at re-election at both state and federal levels.

She dismissed the suggestion that she was contesting the election for the money, saying she was one of the first people to come out against the federal government's proposed boost to party funding last week.

In 2007, Pauline's United Australia Party received $213,095 in electoral funding and in 2004, Ms Hanson individually received $199,886. These figures do not reflect what may have been spent during the course of the campaigns.


Australian conservatives duck for cover over climate

(The next election is only months away)

The report below refers to various claims of sea-level rise.  They may or may not be well-founded. Either way, no sea-level rise has been caused by global warming  -- because there has been no global warming over the period concerned

The delegation of parliamentarians from four tropical Pacific Islands nations braved the Canberra cold last week, and that wasn't the only climate shock they suffered.

They watched the impressive intellectual exchange of question time in the House of Representatives on Wednesday and then moved on. But almost as soon as they left, Parliament started to debate a motion on whether the science of man-made climate change was real. This came as a bit of a jolt to the legislator visiting from Kiribati, a country of about 100,000 people on 33 small, low-lying islands strung along 5000 kilometres of the equator.

"Climate change is real in our places," Rimeta Beniamina, a government MP and vice-chairman of his parliament's climate change committee, told me, expressing surprise at what was going on in the chamber a few metres away.

"A few years ago it was not taken very seriously. But now quite a few villages are experiencing hardship. Beaches are eroding, houses are falling down, crops are damaged and livelihoods are destroyed.

"The intrusion of salt water is very evident. The sea level may be rising millimetres a year, but it is still rising. The strong winds and rising tides are the worst part. Once the salt water enters the land, that's it. Trees are falling along the coast, crops dying, pigs and chickens are affected."

A US study published over the weekend in the journal Nature Geoscience found the global sea level had risen by 16.8 millimetres between 2005 and 2011.

Clark Wilson, a co-author of the study and geophysicist at the University of Texas at Austin, says: "There was an increase in the melting rate in Greenland starting in 2005 and that is probably the underlying story why," according to the Wall Street Journal. The academic study was funded by NASA and the US National Science Foundation.

The rising seas are whipped up by increasingly severe El Nino weather cycles, damaging the coastlines of countries including Kiribati, pronounced kee-ree-bas.

"Some communities have been forced to move backward from the coast," Beniamina says. "The problem is, there is not much land to move back to."

People are jamming into the overcrowded main island, Tarawa. Its centre has a population density estimated at three times that of Tokyo, says an April report by Australian journalist Bernard Lagan in the Global Mail. Fresh water supplies are at risk and there is not enough land to bury the dead.

Kiribati President Anote Tong has declared a policy of orderly evacuation that he calls "migration with dignity". The nation is a proverbial canary in the carbon emission coal mine, and the prognosis is unhappy.

Beniamina says: "I'd be very surprised if people here were not aware of the science of climate change." But, of course, it's not awareness that is in question in the Parliament but conviction.

The Parliament was debating a motion put by NSW independent Rob Oakeshott to try to clear that up: "That this House expresses full confidence in the work of Australia's science community and confirms that it believes that man-made climate change is not a conspiracy or a con, but a real and serious threat to Australia if left unaddressed".

Why did Oakeshott think it necessary? "I thought it was important to get everyone on the record. Some of the Coalition members run around the country playing to an audience of conspiracy theorists and deniers."

The record does show that about a quarter of the Coalition's federal MPs have, at some point, expressed disbelief or outright denial that man-made climate change is real. Among them is Tony Abbott, who, before becoming Opposition Leader, said he was "hugely unconvinced by the so-called settled science on climate change", and famously called it "absolute crap".

The proportion of scientific papers published on the subject that reject the man-made origins of climate change is, however, far smaller than the proportion of sceptics on the Coalition benches.

Of about 12,000 scientific papers published worldwide in the 20 years to 2011, only 1.9 per cent did, a survey last month by James Cook University showed, and 97 per cent argued that climate change was real and man-made.

But when the Oakeshott motion was put to the House, the sceptics were nowhere to be seen. No one spoke against it in the bright glare of full national scrutiny: "We accept the science, we accept the targets and we accept the need for a market mechanism; we just happen to clearly, absolutely, fundamentally disagree over the choice of those mechanisms," Coalition spokesman Greg Hunt said. Prime among them, the carbon tax.

And when it came to the vote, the motion was carried on the voices, without dissent. This is taken as a unanimous vote. It "positions the deniers and the conspiracy theorists where they should be - on the fringe," Oakeshott says.

The topic of what to do about climate change is returning to the centre of the agenda for the world's two biggest economies and biggest carbon emitters, the US and China. It's one of the half dozen top issues at their coming California summit.

The problem will not go away for the planet, even after the Australian election, even if some would prefer to ignore it, although it's probably too late for Kiribati.


VW Australia are getting really stupid now

They seem determined to create more Toyota buyers.  The VW reliability reputation is shot

It started with a faulty car. But soon Levon Kara's battle with Volkswagen Australia spiralled into more than the usual travails of a disgruntled customer. He never expected a multinational car company to threaten his job.

In 2010, Mr Kara wanted Volkswagen to replace his 2007 Golf. The car had suddenly lost power on the road - an unnerving failure that has affected many Volkswagen owners and may have led to the death of Melissa Ryan, who died on the Monash Freeway in 2011.

Mr Kara did his homework and knew Volkswagen had issued a recall in the US related to the high-tech automatic transmission called the direct shift gearbox (DSG). This had followed a safety investigation by American authorities.

Mr Kara, whose car had the same type of transmission, mentioned the American recall and threatened to take the company to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Then the threatening legal letters started to arrive.

But it was one email from Mr Kara that Volkswagen's lawyers appeared to jump on. Mr Kara, who worked as a government IT contractor, had used his government email address in one correspondence to Volkswagen. Volkswagen accused Mr Kara of trying to use his position to intimidate the company.

Volkswagen's lawyer researched the public servant's code of conduct and, in a letter to Mr Kara, told him that the code prohibited the use of a person's position for private benefit. "I am currently awaiting my client's instructions as to whether I should lodge a formal complaint with [Mr Kara's employer] concerning your conduct."

The car was repaired three times. In the end, it lost power suddenly about 10 times, once when Mr Kara was in the middle lane of a freeway, another when he was about to cross train tracks.

He took Volkswagen to VCAT but, faced with the legal might of the company, decided to give up.

"I was worried about my employment," he said. "I've got this big organisation that is threatening my livelihood and I thought, 'I'm not sure I've got the stomach for this'."

Volkswagen Australia did not return Fairfax Media's calls on Monday. The company has pulled much of its advertising from across Fairfax Media following reports on the problems with the cars' sudden deceleration.

Almost 100 people have come forward to confirm they experienced sudden power loss while driving Volkswagens, particularly Golfs, Passats and Polos. Of the 92 who contacted Fairfax Media, many were driving automatics, but about 10 per cent were driving manuals - the type of car Melissa Ryan died in. Her family and the truck driver who hit her believe the car suffered a sudden loss of power. The coroner will hand down her finding on Ms Ryan's death next month.


A Lebanese politically unpalatable in The Shire

Michael Towke is 34. He attended Marcellin College, Randwick. He is a Lebanese Christian, a practising Catholic and the eldest of eight children. He has a first-class honours degree in engineering and a BA, both from the University of Sydney, and won the Alan Davis Prize, the top prize for sociology.

He has an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. At 17, he joined the Army Reserve and served for 20 months. He is president of the Sylvania conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society and has been volunteering for Vinnies since he was 15. He works as a telecommunications engineer. He has lived in the Sutherland Shire for 10 years.

Towke is also a long-serving member of the Liberal Party. In July 2007 he won preselection for the then safe federal Liberal seat of Cook. He was set to replace the outgoing member, Bruce Baird. The contest attracted a large field, including Paul Fletcher, who recently won Liberal preselection for Bradfield (vacated by the former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson), and a former state director of the NSW Liberal party, Scott Morrison.

Towke won easily. On the first ballot, he polled 10 times as many votes as Morrison, 82 votes to 8, who was eliminated in the first round. His victory meant that a Lebanese Australian would represent the Liberal Party in the seat where the Cronulla riot and revenge raids had taken place 18 months earlier, in December 2005. "The campaign against me started four days after preselection," Towke said.

Two senior people within the Liberal Party, whose identity is known to a widening circle within the party, went through Towke's nomination papers to find every possible discrepancy and weakness. Then they started calling selected journalists to tell them Towke was a liar. The first story appeared in The Daily Telegraph on July 18, 2007, under the headline, "Liberal ballot scandal in Howard's backyard." Three days later, on July 21, a second story appeared in the Telegraph: "Towke future on hold." The next day, in The Sunday Telegraph, a third story: "Party split as Liberal candidate faces jail."

"That was the story that sent my mother to hospital," Towke told me.

Then came a fourth story in the Telegraph, on July 25: "Towke lied, but just by degrees." Four different Telegraph journalists, two of them very senior, wrote those four stories, so the campaign of leaks and smears was assiduous. There is insufficient space to detail all the claims made and disputed. Towke was portrayed as a serial liar, an exaggerator. He disputed every such imputation with factual evidence. After it was obvious his political credibility had been destroyed by these stories, he started defamation proceedings. A year of legal attrition ensued.

Shortly before the matter was to begin in court this month, Nationwide News paid and settled.

It is telling that experienced Telegraph journalists appear to have based their stories on sources they trusted, suggesting those doing the leaking were both senior figures and seasoned in dealing with the media.

Though Towke would eventually win his legal war, the damage had been done. The adverse media coverage set in train a reaction within the party to get rid of him. A second ballot was ordered, in which the balance of power was shifted away from the grassroots in Cook and to the state executive. The second ballot gave the preselection to Scott Morrison. Amazing. He had been parachuted into the seat over Towke's political carcass. Morrison clearly had backers who wanted him to get the seat. "These guys were prepared to ruin my life," Towke said.

Why? There was a view among some senior Liberals that a Lebanese Australian could not win Cook in a tight election.

Two years later, Towke's honour has been restored. His name has been cleared, his standing in the party rehabilitated, and his ties to the electorate broadened.


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