Monday, December 09, 2013

You can't win:  Tony was said not to get on with women.  Now he is said to have a woman helper who is too powerful

There is no doubt that Peta Credlin is a fiercely effective offsider to Tony Abbott

Senior coalition minister Mathias Cormann has urged unnamed colleagues to “back off” from their destructive media attacks on the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Peta Credlin.

“The people that are briefing are disgruntled people,” Senator Cormann told Fairfax Media on Sunday. “They are certainly not interested in maximising our chances of success in the future”.

Senator Cormann, the Finance Minister and one of the most powerful figures in the Abbott government, came to the defence of Ms Credlin, who has been criticised by coalition MPs as a “control freak” in anonymous briefings to journalists.

The West Australian senator said coalition MPs should be thanking Ms Credlin for the central role she played in getting them into power, rather than resorting to cowardly anonymous attacks through the media.

“People that are out there briefing against her in the shadows should just back off,” Senator Cormann said.

Fairfax Media has been told that Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who has been running tightly controlled weekly briefings about the Coalition's "stop the boats" policy, Operation Sovereign Borders, was chided by Ms Credlin as they left a cabinet meeting last month.

In the exchange Ms Credlin spoke about Mr Morrison's poor performance during a recent news conference.

According to cabinet sources, Mr Morrison did not take the criticism well and expressed frustration that he was not allowed to say much at his press appearances.  According to one source who witnessed the exchange, Ms Credlin shot right back at Mr Morrison with: "We will tell you what you can say and what you can't say."

Mr Morrison's spokesman said the account was "complete rubbish".  The office of the Prime Minister described the account of the meeting with Mr Morrison as "untrue".

In a rare public outburst last week, coalition Senator Ian Macdonald used a speech in the senate to complain of a culture of "obsessive centralised control" exercised by Mr Abbott's office.

Coalition MPs have privately expressed similar concerns after Senator Macdonald's accusations that "unelected advisers in the Prime Minister's office" were meddling too much in the minutiae of day-to-day proceedings.

Senator Cormann said the bitter MPs were criticising Ms Credlin for simply doing her job, which was to ensure the government worked as efficiently as possible and the best possible candidates were selected as staff for MPs.   

“Peta Credlin has done an outstanding job for us in opposition,” Senator Cormann said. “She’s been central to get us back into government… She obviously has a very important job at the heart of the government and she will be central to our success”.

Ms Credlin has been Tony Abbott’s most trusted confidant since he took over as opposition leader in the lead up to the 2010 election.

Ms Credlin has been widely credited for coordinating a highly effective office and media strategy. She is seen by many as the most capable political operator in the Abbott government and on election night Mr Abbott described her as “the smartest and fiercest political warrior” he has known.


Australia's classrooms among world's noisiest

Australia has some of the noisiest classrooms in the world and is wasting teaching time but experts agree a quiet class is not always a good thing.

An international study has found 43 per cent of Australian students reported "noise and disorder" as factors in their classrooms.

One-third said they had to "wait a long time for the students to quiet down" and 38 per cent said students "don't listen to what their teacher has to say".

Sue Thomson, director of educational monitoring and research at the Australian Council for Educational Research, said the results - higher than in almost all comparison countries - were a cause for concern.

"Not only does it make it harder for students to learn when they're in a noisy classroom … they also have the problem of the teacher spending 10 minutes extra with classroom discipline issues and quietening the class down," she said. "If you accumulate that over a year, it actually makes quite a difference."

But Michael Anderson, associate professor in education and social work at the University of Sydney said it was important for teachers to distinguish between productive noise and distracting noise. "Noise can be productive when it comes out of collaborative learning opportunities that the kids are involved in," he said.

Leonie Burfield, principal of St Bernard's Catholic Primary School in Botany, likes to hear noise coming from her classrooms.  "A good teacher can tell whether or not it's an on-task noise," she said.

The school has designed its classrooms with a range of different desk options so that collaboration is encouraged and students can choose their own learning style.

"You might see some children on the floor with lap desks, you might see some at individual tables," Ms Burfield said. "You'd see some children on lounges, other children might even be standing."

President of the Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, Kim Beswick, said that she would like to hear more students discussing maths in class.

"I don't think noise has to be a negative thing," she said. "It only becomes negative when it's undermining the teaching."

She said many discipline problems stemmed from a lack of respect for teachers.

"In Australian culture, there is a lack of valuing of education relative to other countries," she said.

"The Australian community views making the AFL draft as a higher achievement than going to university and doing a PhD. So that's the sort of environment teachers have to operate in."


Tax office deciding if anti-wind farm group Waubra is a charity

The tax office is deciding whether an anti-wind farm group linked to former Liberal MPs should retain its favourable tax treatment.

The Waubra Foundation has been classified a "health promotion charity" by the tax office, meaning its "principal activity is promoting the prevention and control of disease in humans".

It has also been granted deductible gift recipient status by the Australian Taxation Office, and donations of more than $2 to it are tax-deductible.

In the ATO's words, obtaining the status is a "relatively difficult process, for obvious reasons."

Donations to Waubra have helped fund legal challenges against wind farm developments.

Former health minister Michael Wooldridge is a director of Waubra, and former MP Alby Schultz is its patron.

The foundation says its main aim is to "educate others about the known science relating to the adverse health impacts of infrasound and low-frequency noise."

The health effects of wind farms has become an increasingly vexed question in the countryside, where there are dozens of farms operated by companies including AGL and Origin Energy.

Sydney academic Simon Chapman says the number of health problems linked to wind farms has reached 216. He has argued that bad publicity about the farms makes it more likely people will report feeling sick around them.

"Wind turbine syndrome" - health problems ranging from headaches, dizziness and insomnia, purportedly the result of the turbines' low-frequency sounds - is not recognised as a medical condition.

But, said Sarah Laurie, Waubra chief executive: "Whatever label is given to that range of symptoms, whether it is 'wind turbine syndrome' or 'annoyance' or 'infrasound and low-frequency noise syndrome' or something else, the facts remain that there are serious health problems occurring in some people which have been known to the wind industry for nearly 30 years."

A spokesman for Greens senator Richard Di Natale expected the review into Waubra's status by the tax office and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission to be finished this month.

The tax office has refused to comment, but described Waubra's situation as "curious".

In a recent Senate Estimates, Senator Di Natale asked how the tax office determined that an illness a group purported to prevent was actually an illness.

Tony Poulakis, the ATO's assistant commissioner, small and medium enterprise, replied: "I have to admit to not knowing the procedure in which we made those determinations well enough to answer your question."

Chris Jordan, ATO commissioner, responded that "It does sound a curious situation, but we will certainly take that on notice."


Figures put Labor Party under pressure to axe the carbon tax

LABOR'S $6 billion carbon tax reduced Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by less than 0.1 per cent.

As PM Tony Abbott ratchets up the pressure on Labor's Bill Shorten to axe the carbon tax by Christmas, the new figures will be released this week by Australia's National Greenhouse Gas Inventory.

They reveal that the introduction of the carbon tax coincided with a reduction of greenhouse gases of around 300,000 tonnes in the first full financial year of operation.

While the carbon tax is now $24 a tonne, the effective cost of the emissions reduction on the basis of revenue raised is $21,000 per tonne.

The official register of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions will reveal that in the financial year before the carbon tax was introduced Australia produced 546.2 million tonnes of emissions. After the carbon tax was introduced, the emissions dropped to just 545.9 million tonnes. These figures do not include fuels and refrigerants.

Climate Change Minister Greg Hunt said the best Christmas present Labor could give voters was axing the carbon tax.

"Bill Shorten simply refuses to accept the outcome of the election. He doesn't care about rising power bills or the will of the Australian people,'' Mr Hunt said.

"As we enter the final parliamentary sitting week of the year, Bill Shorten needs to get out of the way and allow the government to scrap the carbon tax.''

Opposition climate change spokesman Mark Butler said Labor supported axing the carbon tax but not replacing it with a slush fund for polluters.

"We went to the election with a policy to get rid of the carbon tax. The debate is over what you replace it with. That's why we are arguing the case for an emissions trading scheme,'' he said.

"The biggest contributor to carbon pollution is the electricity sector and so that's where you want to see change. And we did see change in that sector during the first year. The Coalition's policy is a dressed-up slush fund to pay polluters that is supported by no one."

The new figures reveal NSW produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other state. But Queensland has the most companies paying the tax upfront. The cost of the carbon tax on electricity generators and other polluters is then passed on to consumers through higher electricity prices. Victoria is closely behind Queensland in total emissions.

In NSW and the ACT, there were 72 companies paying the carbon tax and overall the state produced 78.6 million tonnes of emissions. WA produced 42.2 million tonnes with 63 companies forced to pay the carbon tax. In SA just 11 companies paid the carbon tax, producing a modest 4.4 million tonnes of liable emissions. Tasmania produced just 1.7 million tonnes.


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