Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Wind power 'terrorising' rural communities, rally hear

FARMERS from across the country have described a constant rumbling and pulsing in their heads and a feeling of oppressive anxiety they attribute to wind power.

About 150 people from small towns across the country turned up to a three-hour rally at Canberra's Parliament House hosted by shock jock Alan Jones, who was keen to keep the tone polite.

In scenes very different to the infamous carbon tax protest on the same spot in 2011, where protesters held offensive placards including "ditch the witch", Mr Jones reminded those gathered "to be very peaceful and make sure the argument wins the day".

"So be careful of your placards and make sure they are all in very good taste."

He told the crowd companies were terrorising rural communities and if there were no issues with wind power, turbines should be erected in his home Macquarie Street in Sydney.

But the rally also heard from everyday farmers upset with turbines in their communities.

Retired Naval electronics engineering officer and beef farmer David Mortimer said he and his wife had been "wind turbine tragics" when they accepted a $12,000-a-year deal to host them on their land at Millicent, SA.

They now have four turbines 2.5km from their home they say have robbed them of their health and 17 more are planned for close by.

Mr Mortimer now suffers night-time panic attacks, acute anxiety, heart palpitations, tinnitus, earaches, headaches and angina-like pains and his wife has dizzy spells, although both have been cleared by doctors.

"I get this sensation of absolute acute anxiety and it feels like someone is pushing an x-ray blanket over me and weighting me down into the chair and I can't get out ... I feel like I'm on narcotics," he said.

"We've got this constant turmoil, constant pulsing in our head, constant rumbling ... deep, drumming rumbling."

"The new ones they want to put in are going to kill us."

Clean Energy Council Policy Director Russell Marsh dismissed the claims, saying no international research had attributed health impacts to wind power.

When away from home, the silence was like a vacuum, he said.

Lyn Jarvis, from Wellington, is fighting plans for turbines across from her NSW stud beef farm, said she was saddened to see so many people in her position.

"The wind industry, they brand us," she said.  "I'm not a bloody activist, I'm a farmer. I don't want to be here.  "We're not activists, we're trying to protect what's ours."

She said there was not enough research into the effects of wind energy.

Coalition senators who spoke promised an Abbott Government would review the renewable energy target that at least 20 per cent of Australia's electricity will come from renewable sources by 2020 and claimed wind energy was costly and received too many taxpayer subsidies.


Union tail wags the Labor dog

In February 2006, when NSW Labor assistant secretary Luke Foley told union bosses over a Chinese meal that he wanted to remove the faction's support for Macdonald to remain in the NSW upper house, he was overruled.

Two powerful Left-aligned unions, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, would not wear it.

Macdonald was endorsed for another term in the upper house. This is how power is exercised in the Labor Party. To truly understand where power lies, it is necessary to examine the party's structural link with trade unions. Trade unions select 50 per cent of the delegates to the party's state conferences. Delegate numbers are allotted to a union based on that union's number of members.

The delegation's composition is determined by the union secretary. At the conference, these delegates sit together and vote as one, as directed by the union secretary, enabling the secretary to bargain with other powerbrokers to win their hoard of votes.

Conferences decide on policy, elect party officials and determine Senate and upper house pre-selections. Unions regard spots on the party's executive bodies as theirs. They expect to have their delegates to the party's national conference elected by state conferences. They demand seats in parliament for their candidates. And they get them.

This power is partly informal. Joel Fitzgibbon, the convener of the NSW Labor Right in Canberra, told me last December that "trade union blocs" are able "to control individual MPs". Anybody in a position of power who challenges this -- an MP, a party official, a conference delegate -- will find their own position under threat.

A faction, or faction boss, has power only because of the votes they control at party conferences. This is why reducing the proportion of union delegates to conferences is critical. Without a reduction from 50 per cent to perhaps 20 per cent, no reform will ever transform who exercises power and how they exercise it.

More broadly, the influence of unions throughout the party is pervasive. Most members of the government's frontbench have worked as a union representative or as a lawyer for unions.

Unions send their staff to marginal seats to campaign. They pump money and other resources into local, state and national campaigns. At the coming federal election, unions affiliated to Labor are expected to draw on a war chest of about $5 million.

The hollowing out of the party's membership -- from 150,000 in the 1930s to 50,000 in the 90s, to 31,000 with two years' standing today -- has been coupled with a rise in the influence of unions.

As members have been squeezed out from participating in the party's key councils or standing as candidates for parliament, the influence of a political class dominated by unions and political staff has grown inexorably.

Concomitantly, the party in government has become vulnerable to policies that prop up old smokestack industries, that re-regulate the labour market and denigrate skilled migration.

The great party-union partnership for reform in the 80s and 90s has dissipated. As former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty argues, unions today lack leaders who are prepared to advocate trade-offs in return for economic reforms that are in the national interest.

Prime ministers Whitlam, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating were never beholden to unions to support their leadership. Kevin Rudd was undone, in part, by unions that witnessed his instinctive distrust of union powerbrokers.

Julia Gillard's leadership has been supported by trade union leaders who do not resile from their right to publicly state who should lead the party.

At the recent Australian Workers Union national conference, Gillard paid tribute to its long-time strongman Bill Ludwig and aligned her government to the union cause.

"I'm the leader of the party called the Labor Party deliberately because that is what we come from," Gillard said. She rejected the moderate, progressive and social democratic labels that Whitlam, Hawke and Keating embraced. Gillard led a union party. "That is what we believe in and that is who we are," she said.

Gillard has encouraged, even courted, an expansion of union power. No leader since Calwell has been more beholden to, or more of an advocate for, union power.

The party was formed by the trade union movement in 1891.

In 1986 NSW premier Neville Wran warned the party not to break its links with organised labour. But in 2011 he told me in an interview that Labor had "lost its way", as its candidates no longer represented the community.

"On our side, it is university, union, ministerial or MP's office and then stand for an election," Wran said.

"If you've been in that cloistered world, how can you expect to know what the real world is like?"

Labor does not need to sever its links with unions but it does need to reinvent them. Partly, it is about modernising the structure of the party to reflect the community.

Whereas union density in the workforce was 40 per cent in 1990, today it is just 18 per cent and falling. If unions no longer represent even one-fifth of the workforce, how can they represent half of delegates to Labor conferences?

A few weeks after Whitlam became Labor leader, he addressed a Labour Day dinner in Melbourne. His speech was the polar opposite to Calwell's banquet oratory a few weeks earlier.

Whitlam argued union participation in the party "must not merely be rhetorical but real and representative of the whole trade union movement". Entrenching the power of union bosses, who propped up Calwell's leadership (as they do Gillard's today), was not what he had in mind.

Whitlam wanted Labor once more to be a mass party that represented the broad community.

Labor should consider how to encourage the one million affiliated union members to play a role in the party, rather than be ruled by 100 key union apparatchiks.

Grassroots trade union members could play a role in selecting local candidates, participating in policy development and helping to directly elect the party leader.

But the critical structural link between unions and the party, cemented at state conferences with a 50 per cent bloc vote, should be reduced to about 20 per cent.

Unless the party is prepared to slash the proportion of trade union delegates at its conferences, the grip that union and faction bosses have on Labor will not be broken.


Watchdog lacking any bite as scammers fleece us

Get caught nicking a $5 T-shirt from Big-W and the police will take you down the station. Get caught stealing a $500 washing machine via a credit card fraud perpetrated on an online merchant and the police, well, they have a lot of other things to do. Keep the white goods.

As for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission – it's a joke. The ACCC yesterday published the grandly titled Targeting scams: "Report of the ACCC on scam activity 2012" – a self-incriminating document that demonstrated the alleged consumer watchdog is earnestly whistling Dixie while ignoring 99.9 per cent of scamsters.

The report received an amazingly facile level of media coverage. Organs reputable and otherwise published and broadcast and blathered on about little more than the accompanying ACCC media release, apparently not bothering to read the actual report and certainly not considering what it meant.

Typical was the tame AAP copy reproduced on these august pages:

"Scammers fleeced Aussies out of more than $93 million in 2012, a 9 per cent jump from the previous year.

"In a statement on Monday, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said losses reported to it totalled $93.4 million in 2012, but the actual losses were likely to have been higher."

The $93 million nonsense figure was what individuals and businesses had bothered reporting to the ACCC – heavens knows why they bothered as the ACCC seems to have managed just two prosecutions, both involving pyramid schemes.

The body of the report exposed just how silly that $93 million headline figure is: "Reports of financial losses to the ACCC are just the tip of the iceberg as victims of scams are often too embarrassed to report their experience. In April 2012 the Australian Bureau of Statistics' Personal Fraud Survey 2010-11 found that Australians lost an estimated $1.4 billion to personal fraud (which includes credit card fraud, identity theft, and scams).

"The survey results showed that 2.9 per cent (514,500) of Australians were victims of scams ... In addition to scams, the survey found that 3.7 per cent (662,300) of Australians were victims of credit card fraud, and 0.3 per cent (44,700) of Australians were victims of identity theft."

So nearly 7 per cent of Australians, one in every 14 of us, are victims of scams and fraud worth $1.4 billion in a given year and the ACCC managed two pyramid scheme prosecutions. Oh, and lest I be accused of overlooking an important detail, there also was this: "The ACCC also assisted the Essex Police obtain evidence from an Australian victim of a global scam, for which some of the perpetrators were subsequently sentenced to jail and some money was returned to victims."

The ACCC doesn't even try to lumber fraudsters and scam artists – it just hopes to "disrupt" them with a little education of us mugs. Education is indeed a good thing and that deserves a tick, but locking up the very nasty little perpetrators wouldn't be a bad idea either. They're not even trying.

Responsibility for that of course should be shared with the various police fraud squads – but they are rather hopelessly under-manned, under-skilled and really only interested in the big stuff, preferably if it's rather simple, old-fashioned fraud.

Many of the online and telephone con artists are based overseas, but there are plenty of low-life locals as well. Successful fraudsters keep their jobs relatively small and remain mobile. That way the police and ACCC won't bother taking an interest, even when a case is handed to them on a platter.

At last month's Retail World conference (disclosure: I was paid to chair it), online retailers told how completely frustrated they were in trying to get any authority to take action over fraud.

For example, a fridge is purchased online by someone using a credit card. Fridge is delivered. The owner of the credit card phones his or her bank claiming they did not authorise the purchase – perhaps claiming a child used the card without permission. The bank refunds the money to their customer and hits the retailer with a charge-back. In the words of the Queensland Police website, the retailer then becomes the complainant – nearly all the time, police don't want to know about it.

What's more, from the same website: "If the cardholder is reimbursed for the loss, financial institutions have agreed that they do not require the cardholder to report the matter to police for investigation."

The banks are treating this sort of fraud as merely a cost of business. The retailers are getting nothing in return for their merchant fees.

A major online white goods retailer told me one of the fraudsters tried to hit them a second time. The retailer attempted to interest the local gendarmes in catching the thief in the act – but they weren't interested.

The scale of the problem and the lack of action are rather breathtaking. As well as the ABS survey, the ACCC document mentions a 2012 Australian Crime Commission report on the nature and threat of "serious and organised" investment fraud in Australia – as opposed to the merely light-hearted and disorganised investment fraud.

"The report found that more than 2600 Australians may have lost over $113 million to serious and organised investment fraud in the previous five years. Financial losses could be even higher because people tend not to report this kind of crime."

Which again is understatement. This is an area where ASIC occasionally bans someone, but mainly the perpetrators get away with it.

The ACCC report goes into exhaustive detail in analysing the 83,803 notifications of scam-like activity it received, 88 per cent of which were from individuals who suffered no loss but were just passing on the information. But for all crime being committed, aside from those two prosecutions, our public guardians' best effort came down to this:

"Disruption activities may allow law enforcement agencies to restrict or even discontinue the activities of a scammer, and to prevent the harm that they may otherwise cause, often without having to identify or locate the scammer. One such example was the ACCC's work with dating website operators to develop voluntary industry guidelines."

Ah, a voluntary industry guideline – that'll strike fear into the hearts of crooks every time.

The supposed authorities have been overwhelmed by this class of crime. The law is too complicated in dealing with it, the manpower to tackle it is not forthcoming, there is yet again no sign of anyone having fire in the belly, a desire to kick heads. The scumbags who prey upon the gullible effectively have a free hand to go forth and defraud while police will visit a pop star's hotel room to inspect a half a joint.

The report isn't entirely depressing though. In the breakdown of various types of cons, there was $444,895 attributed to "psychic and clairvoyant" scams – how would they know?


Bernardi: I was right on gay marriage and bestiality

Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi says he has been "proved correct" that legalising same-sex marriage would lead to demands to endorse polygamy and bestiality.

"I stand on the record and say, well I was right," said Senator Bernardi, who resigned last year as Tony Abbott's personal parliamentary secretary following public outrage about his comments.

Senator Bernardi's latest comments come as a Greens bill to recognise internationally sanctioned same-sex marriages is set to be debated in the Senate on Thursday.

The same sex-marriage bill was also debated last night in the Federation Chamber, with Labor MPs Greg Combet, Stephen Smith and Bernie Ripoll all saying they supported legalising gay marriage. As Kevin Rudd did recently, Mr Ripoll said he had changed his mind and would now support the bill.

Amid these developments, Senator Bernardi told Fairfax Media that some sections of society were now moving in the "abhorrent and disgusting" direction he had predicted.

"There is actually now a petition been put together for the House of Representatives by Green activists to legally recognise multi-member unions," Senator Bernardi said.

He was referring to a recent petition by the Polyamory Action Lobby in which the group said: "We demand nothing less than the full recognition of polyamorous families".

"Now I said that would happen," Senator Bernardi said. "It's happening."

"I think there should be alarm . . . If you're going to re-define a word to satisfy demands of a minority then you're going to face continuing demands in that space."

Senator Bernardi also stood by his controversial comments last year that the "next step" after recognising same-sex marriage was to support "creepy people" who chose to have sex with animals.

"Bestiality, of course it was an extreme example, but once again it's linked to the radical agenda of the Greens Party," he said.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Senator Bernardi's comments demeaned all Australians with friends and family in gay relationships.

"Linking the love that thousands of Australians have for each other to bestiality is disgraceful," she said.

"Once again Cory Bernardi has attacked gay and lesbian Australians and has humiliated his party."

The Greens want marriage to be between two people regardless of their gender, Senator Hanson-Young said. The party does not support any other changes to the Marriage Act.

Senator Bernardi said he was simply speaking his mind and he accused other politicians of changing their positions for political convenience.

"[Kevin Rudd] used to hold the doorstops outside of church and now he's suddenly had this epiphany about same-sex marriage," Senator Bernardi said.

Mr Rudd is among a number of Labor politicians who support the legalisation of same-sex marriage, though Prime Minister Julia Gillard maintains her personal opposition.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has refused to allow a conscience vote within the Coalition despite party members including Kelly O'Dwyer, Malcolm Turnbull, Wyatt Roy, Simon Birmingham and Sue Boyce all supporting same-sex marriage.


1 comment:

Paul said...

AT first I was caught up a bit in the anti-Bernadi blather, but I've looked carefully at his words without any emotional attachment, and I conclude that he has indeed been culpably misrepresented. Unfortunately "Gay" is a word that has been redefined "yet again" to mean anything the activists want it to mean (a bit like "refugee").