Thursday, October 10, 2013

APEC summit wraps up with new commitments to free trade

Tony Abbott has acknowledged that his government needs to do a lot more work to sell the idea to Australians that a new, United States-sponsored free trade agreement is a good idea.

But after speaking with American secretary of state John Kerry at the tail end of the APEC meeting yesterday, Mr Abbott said he thought a deal could be done on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement within the next three months.

The APEC summit in Indonesia wrapped up yesterday with new commitments to freeing trade in the region and building infrastructure.

Mr Abbott will visit the Bali bombing memorial in downtown Kuta on Wednesday morning, and then flies out to the another international conference, the East Asia Summit in neighbouring Brunei.

The Prime Minister declined to comment on his own success or otherwise at his first big international conference, saying: "I'm not in the business of big-noting myself and I'll let others judge, but certainly I've very much appreciated the chance to meet . . . with the significant leaders of our region."

Among his exchanges over two days was an apology to the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak for things said about his country during the political dispute over Labor’s Malaysia Solution.

Mr Abbott also said he had confirmed with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill the "strength of our commitment to working together", after jarring the relationship with his suspicion of former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s PNG solution.

Meanwhile, on the sidelines of APEC, wrangling continued into the third year over the "pluri-lateral" TPP trade pact, which some suspect is as much a projection of US foreign policy as a free trade agreement.

The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which involves Australia among 12 nations representing 800 million people and 40 per cent of the global economy seeks to cut tariffs and non-tariff barriers. But it also contains a number of contentious elements from the US foreign policy wishlist including extended benefits for big pharma and copyright holders, the right of private businesses to sue governments over their policies, as well as environmental and labour safeguards.

A communique released late on Wednesday said the leaders of the 12 nations would push for an agreement by the end of the year. But deep divisions remain.

Mr Abbott said after his meeting with Mr Kerry that "there’s a lot of painstaking negotiations still left", but if the TPP could be completed, it would "represent an historic trade breakthrough".

"Nevertheless, I think the public do need to get their head around the fact that we're talking . . . about this pluri-lateral agreement,"Mr Abbott said.

Australian civil society groups are sceptical about the deal, with Dr Patricia Ranald from the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network said "extreme US demands" would likely push out the timetable.

"The US wants to impose regulatory frameworks in the TPP which suit its largest industries and corporations, but tie the hands of other governments . . . and these are rightly being resisted," Dr Ranald said.

The fact that president Obama was not in the negotiating room cast a pall over proceedings. Despite this, Mr Kerry urged the TPP nations (which do not include China or the APEC host, Indonesia) to hasten towards a deal.

However, Malaysian Prime Minister Razak, who is inside the TPP tent, said on Monday that some of the areas encompassed by the proposal "impinge fundamentally the sovereign right of the country to make regulation and policy".

"That is a tricky part and that is why we ask for flexibility," he said.

And Chinese President Xi Jinping warned that the world should work together towards a "regional co-operation framework" and avoid the "spaghetti bowl effect" of different, overlapping agreements.


Time for a quiet word about rowdy classes

EVEN the students admit it: Australian schools tend to be on the rowdy side.

About one-third of 15-year-old high school students say their class often ignores what their teacher is saying and about two in five characterise their classrooms as noisy and disorderly.

For almost one in five students, their classroom is so disruptive they find it difficult to work.

Among the 65 countries surveyed by the OECD group of industrialised nations, Australia ranks No 34, just above the average level of disciplined classrooms but behind the US and Britain as well as many Asian and eastern European countries.

Australian classrooms are slightly worse than the average in terms of listening to the teacher, as is Finland, which is one of the top nations in international literacy and numeracy tests including those run by the OECD.

In fact, Finnish classrooms are some of the noisiest in the world, with half the students reporting noise and disorder occurs frequently, bucking the trend that an orderly and quiet classroom is most conducive to high student performance.

The OECD's monthly newsletter focusing on findings from its three-yearly test of 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science -- known as the Program for International Student Assessment -- says the test results show students in orderly classrooms tend to perform better. The impact is more marked for students from socially disadvantaged families, where a well-managed classroom can help students close the gap on their more affluent peers.

Teachers such as Reema Ali say the key to an orderly classroom is ensuring students are engaged in what they are learning.

A social sciences teacher at Randwick Girls High in Sydney's east, Ms Ali says a noisy and out-of-control classroom is more a reflection on the teacher than the students. "I thoroughly believe that classroom management goes hand-in-hand with a range of teaching strategies," she said yesterday. "I care for all types of students, and I adapt what I do for individual students. I try to meet every student's needs."

Some schools that have radically changed the way they teach in recent years, introducing open-plan classrooms enabling students to work in small groups on projects, have counter-intuitively resulted in quieter schools and better behaved students.

For Australian teachers, noise is not necessarily a bad thing; the distinction is between noise that is disruptive from students mucking up, and noise that is constructive from students talking about their work. After more than 40 years teaching, Parramatta Marist High School principal Brother Pat Howlett has had to adjust his expectations of acceptable decibel levels in the classroom.

"I used to think that a quiet classroom was a good classroom, but it gives you no earthly idea to gauge what they're learning," he said.

The deputy principal at Randwick Girls High School, Lance Raskall, agrees. "It's a fine line. You don't want a hush-hush classroom, and constructive noise is good. Engaged students are going to ask questions of the teacher and each other," he said.

Mr Raskall said the technological invasion of schools, particularly the introduction of laptops and interactive whiteboards, had improved students' interest in their lessons, but also raised noise levels.

"It's not chalk and talk anymore; students are exploring as they're talking, they're using the internet and finding out what you're talking about while you're talking," he said. "They're very engaged because it's very relevant and it's in front of them. It's immediate."

Mr Raskall said disadvantaged students were often the highest performers and best behaved, because they knew education was a way to improve their lives, while some students that came from private schools "have not been the best students in the class by any stretch".

The OECD survey is conducted among students who are mostly in Year 9, widely acknowledged as the most challenging year for managing student behaviour and keeping them interested in school.

To address this, Parramatta Marist introduced "project-based learning" in Year 9 about five years ago, in which students work in small groups on projects in their subjects or across more than one subject over a period of weeks. It has been so successful, the school has since expanded the approach to years 7, 8 and 10.


Dr Karl’s klimate krap

(Karl Kruszelnicki is an Australian-based Jewish funnyman who frequently broadcasts on scientific matters.  He sometimes broadcasts for the ABC, Australia's major public broadcaster)

Every science presenter on the ABC is a fully paid-up climate alarmist.

But because of the 16-year temperature stasis that nobody wants to acknowledge, Dr (for a doctor he is*) Karl resorts to spouting krap:

Even before this report was released, some of the news media (such as the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom) recklessly claimed that this latest IPCC report revealed that global warming was over — and that in fact, the world was now cooling. This was very wrong.

Krap. The four major temperature series, GISS, HadCRUT, UAH and RSS (take note, Dr Suzuki) all show either stasis, imperceptible warming or cooling (see image below). And whether global warming is “over” or not is irrelevant – that’s just a tabloid newpaper making a story.

The real issue is why there has been such a divergence between models and real-world temperature. Despite fudging the graph in the IPCC Summary for Policymakers to give the impression that the models are still on track, the truth is that the models have spectacularly failed to predict the current stasis in global temperatures. Climate sensitivity to CO2 has been overestimated and natural forces ignored.

For one thing, nine of the 10 hottest years on record have happened in the last decade.

True, but irrelevant. Yes, the planet is warming, and has been for a couple of centuries, so it’s no great surprise that each decade is, generally, warmer than the last. The old “on record” chestnut is wheeled out, despite the fact that records barely cover 150 years. Dispassionate? Krap!

The trouble is, the surface of our planet has many many square metres. So that extra heat reflected back down to the ground is roughly equivalent to exploding a few hundred thousand Hiroshima-sized nuclear weapons in our atmosphere — every day.

This is recycled krap. Recycled by Dr Karl, from John Cook of Un-Skeptical Pseudo-Science, who in turn recycled it from James Hansen. Despite sounding terrifying, because the Sun is so powerful and the Earth so huge, this amount of energy approximates to half a watt per square metre (your average light globe is 60 watts), which would be lost in the downwelling radiation of approximately half a kilowatt. Cheap alarmist krap.

The overwhelming majority of the heat trapped by the extra carbon dioxide in our atmosphere enters the oceans.

Since 2007, we have been monitoring the oceans with small drifting oceanic probes — ARGO probes. Today, there are some 3,600 of these robotic probes in the oceans of the world. They continuously float up and down, rising to the surface and then diving down to a depth of 2 kilometres on a roughly 10-day cycle.

These ARGO probes have measured the heating of the oceans caused by that 93.5 per cent of the heat energy reflected back down by the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It turns out that about two thirds remains in the upper ocean between the surface and a depth of 700 metres, while the remaining one third of that heat energy goes deeper into the ocean — between 700 and 2000 metres.

Dr Karl trots out the buzzword du jour (see yesterday), ocean heat. The dog ate my warming. They seek it here, they seek it here, they seek it everywhere. Everywhere it can’t be measured, that is.

The ARGO probes have been around less than a decade, and the changes in temperature are of the order of a few hundredths of a degree. But here’s a thought – perhaps the warming over the last twenty years was caused by the oceans releasing heat (that couldn’t be measured) into the atmosphere, and was nothing to do with CO2?


Aussies the world's richest people: Credit Suisse

Australians remain the richest people in the world, by one measure at least.  The median wealth of adult Australians stands at $US219,505 ($233,504) - the highest level in the world, according to the Credit Suisse 2013 Global Wealth Report, released on Wednesday.

Median wealth is the midpoint between richest and poorest, meaning that 50 per cent of the population has more than $233,504, and 50 per cent less than that.

By the measure of average wealth, Australians fall back to second with $US402,578 per person, ranking behind the Swiss who were the world’s richest on $US513,000.

Credit Suisse chief investment strategist, Australia, David McDonald said the nation’s household wealth per adult grew by 2.6 per cent in the past year. That was slower than the global average of 4.6 per cent, but Australia still had the best distribution of wealth among developed nations.

"Although we are up there at a high level of wealth per adult we’ve also got a better spread than a lot of the other developed countries including, obviously, the Swiss, but also places like the US," Mr McDonald said.

The number of Australian millionaires increased by 38,000 to 1.123 million people. About half of the rise in  Australian wealth is due to exchange rate appreciation.

The millionaire calculation includes the value of real estate owned outright.

Australians were shown to have a much higher level of wealth held in property and non-financial assets - 58.5 per cent compared to the world average of 45 per cent and just 38 per cent in the US.

The US remains the millionaire capital of the world, with 13.2 million people topping the seven-figure mark and nearly 46,000 people in the ultra-high net worth $US50 million-plus category.

Australia has 2,059 ultra-high net worth individuals, 2.1 per cent of the global total.

While the Land Down Under has maintained its place at the top in median terms for three years running now, Credit Suisse reported that North America has regained its title as the wealthiest region in the world.

Rising house prices and stock markets fuelled a 12 per cent rise in North American wealth to $US78.9 trillion from mid-2012 to mid-2013, putting the region ahead of the Asia Pacific and Europe for the first time since before the global financial crisis.

Credit Suisse global head of research for private banking, Giles Keating, said Japan’s economic slump had dragged down the Asia-Pacific region.

"The fourth annual Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report shows an $US11 trillion rise in (global) wealth to $US241 trillion, with the US as the clear winner, overtaking Europe, while Asia Pacific fell back due to sharp depreciation of the yen," Mr Keating said.


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