Tuesday, January 07, 2014

No penalty for carbon polluters

COMPANIES will not be punished if they fail to meet their carbon emissions targets under the Coalition's Direct Action plan.

Instead, the government will introduce "flexible compliance arrangements", some of which are more generous than those argued for by industry.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt told The Australian yesterday the Direct Action scheme, outlined in a green paper now open for comment, was not designed to be punitive.

But acting opposition environment spokesman Tony Burke said Direct Action was "a dressed-up slush fund, which is ineffective and costly".

"What is clear in the green paper is that there is no requirement for business to reduce carbon pollution," Mr Burke said. "The policy offers no response for businesses that increase pollution."

Under the Direct Action proposal, companies would be expected to meet individual baseline targets for carbon dioxide emissions. To reduce national emissions, the federal government would purchase the lowest cost carbon abatement from a range of projects under a reverse auction scheme.

A set amount of money had been set aside to buy carbon abatement to meet the national commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.

The federal government has been widely criticised for using taxpayers' money to buy carbon emission reductions, as opposed to Labor's carbon tax, which raises money direct from business.

However, Mr Hunt said Labor and the Greens had announced schemes worth $30 billion to prop up businesses under the carbon tax. These included the Clean Energy Finance Corporation ($10bn), Jobs and Competitive Program ($9.2bn), Energy Security Fund ($5.5bn), Australian Renewable Energy Agency ($3.2bn), Coal Sector Jobs package ($1.3bn) and Clean Technology programs ($1.2bn).

Mr Hunt said additional benefits from the Coalition's Direct Action approach would come about through the creation of new carbon abatement businesses and innovation. Since the release of the green paper, shortly before Christmas, industry groups have been considering their response.

The Australian Industry Group has said it was "time for the real work for business and government on a final policy design that can achieve the bipartisan emissions reduction goals at least cost to the economy and without compromising competitiveness".

A key issue would be how to encourage business to meet its emissions targets.

Failure by individual companies to meet baseline targets would increase the task for the federal government, and taxpayers, to meet Australia's national target. But the green paper said the government had a clear objective not to raise revenue from companies that did not meet their carbon-reduction target.

"Consistent with this intention, in the event that an entity did exceed its baseline, there would be flexible compliance arrangements available," the green paper says. "One approach that could be considered would be to set an initial transition period during which compliance action for exceeding baselines would not apply. This would enable businesses to make investments in emissions-reduction projects, potentially with support from the Emissions Reduction Fund."

The government said the period of non-compliance would need to be limited to avoid the risk of locking in increases in emissions that would make the task of reducing national emissions more difficult and costly.

The green paper says another approach could be to allow a multi-year compliance period, where a facility could exceed a baseline in one year as long as its average emissions over the compliance period remained below the baseline.

Further flexibility could be provided by enabling businesses to "make good" by purchasing emissions reduction credits to bring their net emissions back within baselines.

These credits could be used as an offset for emissions growth occurring at a facility.

Some companies have argued they should be able to buy international carbon permits to satisfy any penalty obligations incurred from the government.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the inclusion of overseas abatement credits in the policy mix "would be prudent and makes sense ... These international units are vital to reduce the costs and risks of climate policy for Australia, which faces higher domestic abatement costs than most other countries."

Mr Hunt said the issue of overseas permits was still being considered. But the Ai Group and the Business Council of Australia want the Productivity Commission to design the Coalition's direct action plans.


Unionism:  How sweet it is

Why don't unions pay tax?   Why do unions have monopoly rights to provide services that members are forced to pay for?   Why do unions get government grants?   Why do union officials enjoy protections that company directors don't?

And when will the Federal Government do something about the rorts?

No unions pay tax. None whatsoever, and never have. All unions receive significant government grants to carry out their work. They all live in a tax-free, loosely regulated bubble. The rest of us can only dream of such a blessed existence.

There are a few key differences between the employee unions and the employer unions.

The employee unions are much more effective. Their people are more cunning, tougher, braver, stronger and far better organised. When employee union people tire of the game, they have their own political party, the ALP, as well as an entire industry superannuation sector, in which to seek a job.

If they can't get a safe seat or a job on a super fund, they know the ALP will look after them with some other appointment somewhere. This means they don't have daily work worries over silly things like always obeying the law and being nice to the employers they deal with. They know as long as they are a faithful union warrior, they will always be looked after.

The people in the employer unions, when they tire of the game, don't have any guaranteed future career. They hope to be "looked after" by the Coalition, but know they are unlikely to be. The Coalition doesn't look after its friends very well at all, which is - I suppose - why it has far fewer friends than the ALP does. This means employer union people have to safeguard their future by doing a lot of sucking up to the people in the ALP and employee unions at the same time they are supposed to be opposing them. This makes them rubbish at their job.

When you work for an employer union, you can't run around kicking unions out of workplaces or winning against them or anything crazy like that. It doesn't matter if your member (business client) is virtually bankrupt and needs you to, if you do things like that, your career is over.

So what employer union people have to do is justify their hopeless performance by convincing their members that the legislation is so slanted against them that giving in to the unions is the only lawful option.

Employee unions pay their leaders much less than the employer unions do. The community is horrified if a union leader earns $500,000 but wouldn't blink to hear that an employer union leader earns the same or much more.

Despite this, employee unions never complain about employer unions. Employee union people think of employer union people the way you and I think of pets. Employer union people think of employee union people the way you and I think of a gang of muggers.

Employee union people always make sure they appoint employer union people to the boards of their superannuation funds. This throws them a bone and guarantees that when the Liberals get in, they are less motivated to properly reform the sector.

The AI Group holds a privileged position in our country. Its financials for the year ending June 30, 2012, show tax exempt revenue of $78,182,988. Employee costs of $58,727,554 for an estimated 350 staff show an average spend of $167,793 a person. The AI Group has net assets of $59,564,648.

An employee union in the manufacturing sector, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, also has a healthy set of books. Its report for the year ending September 30, 2012, shows tax-exempt income of $54,350,676, including $11,844,175 of income from other ventures. The AMWU has net assets of $102,500,297.


Australia 'forces' asylum seeker boat back to Indonesia: reports

Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has refused to comment on reports an asylum seeker boat headed for Australia has been "driven" back into Indonesian waters by the Australian navy.

There are conflicting accounts of when the boat or boats were allegedly turned back, with the Jakarta Post referring to an incident on Monday, while other reports say the turn-back happened shortly before Christmas.

It is unclear whether the news outlets are referring to the same incident, and the Abbott government has refused to confirm or deny that the incident took place.

The Jakarta Post says a boat carrying 45 "illegal immigrants from Africa and the Middle East" was about to enter Australian waters on Monday but was "immediately forced into Indonesian waters". The ABC quotes Indonesia's government newswire Antara as reporting that a boat carrying 47 asylum seekers was intercepted by the Australian navy on December 13 and "forced back" to Indonesia.

Both news reports are attributed to the Indonesian police chief Hidayat.

In a statement on Tuesday morning, Mr Morrison said the government would not comment on reports of "on-water activities" for "operational security reasons".

"Australia respects Indonesia's territorial sovereignty and will continue to do so, just as Indonesia has stated it respects Australia's territorial sovereignty," he said in a statement.

"It is not the policy or practice of the Australian government to violate Indonesian territorial sovereignty. Any suggestion to the contrary is false.

"People should not seek to come to Australia illegally by boat. It is dangerous and the Australian government's strong border protection policies under Operation Sovereign Borders mean that they will not succeed in what they set out to achieve."

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said Mr Morrison needed to clarify today what had happened and the circumstances in which the alleged incident occurred.

"We should not be finding out from the Indonesian media before we find out from our own government," Senator Hanson-Young said.

The asylum seekers "could have drowned", she said, adding that the towback practice was dangerous and legally questionable.

When the Abbott government took office Mr Morrison said he would give weekly briefings to update the public on his "Operation Sovereign Borders" asylum seeker policy and the number of boat arrivals.

He established a routine of holding a press conference every Friday, in which, accompanied by Sovereign Borders commander Angus Campbell, Mr Morrison would give a statement and then answer journalists' questions.

But the Friday before Christmas, Mr Morrison told journalists that would be his last question and answer session for the year and he would be issuing written statements instead.

Mr Morrison's promise to "turn back boats where it is safe to do so" was a key plank of the Abbott government's election promise to "stop the boats".

But the Indonesian government does not accept the turn-back policy, and Jakarta's irritation with the plan was inflamed further during the recent diplomatic feud over revelations that the Australian government monitored the phones of the Indonesian president and his wife.

Mr Morrison tried to return a boatload of asylum seekers to Indonesia in early November but failed to convince Indonesian officials to accept its return.

The Abbott government capitulated and ordered a Customs boat to take the asylum seekers to Christmas Island.


Another brick in the wall of Gen Y cultural decline

Schools need to inspire an appreciation of high culture in the younger generation

Christopher Bantick

In this age of selfies and X-Factors, spare a thought for the insidious damage being done to Australian serious culture. Given that Pink Floyd may have sung, "Teacher, leave them kids alone", should we be bothered? Yes, very bothered indeed.

The reality that is hidden from many in the Australian community is just how pervasive the celebrity culture is in changing young people's thinking. Moronic introspection is celebrated as significant and worthwhile. If you think I am overstating the case, well consider this.

The vanity that is lauded as virtue pervades the culture to a corrosive extent. Young people have lost the capacity to actually know when something is art, and worthy. Instead, they hang on every word of their latest celeb mouthing inanities.

Taiwan-born director Ang Lee says he makes films to, wait for it, "understand more about himself". If that isn't a 70-millimetre selfie, what is? Then there is the toe-curling indulgence of those music stars, like Sydney singer-songwriter Josh Pyke. He's a 36-year-old who claims that he now "feels he has learnt to sing". Oh please! Can you imagine Pavarotti saying anything so crass?

Or how about this kind of Pyke self-centred twaddle: "I know I can write a song every day and sing it in my voice and it will be OK, but that is not what I do it for. It's about figuring out what your reason is for doing what you're doing."

The kids lap up this kind of self-conscious exhibitionism as a "serious" statement, as they have precious little comparative comment beyond what is shouted out to them from fanzines and blogs of banality.

So who's at fault? Schools need to do more about bringing a little elitism back into the awareness of culture. High culture: fine art, opera, serious drama and music that requires patience and understanding needs to be embedded into the curriculum.

In Australia, elitism is a dirty word. But maybe our jingoistic egalitarianism has gone too far with the sense of cultural equity. Who knows what a sonnet is, a partita, a motet, or who was Goethe or Christopher Marlowe? As for ballet, forget it. There are many other examples.

Why this matters is that without a sense of cultural elitism, then the high cultural markers will atrophy. We'd rather get all teary with Leonard Cohen than concentrate, really concentrate, on Mahler.

The impact this will have on audiences is cause for concern. In the next two decades, the elders or keepers of the cultural treasures will be gone. Their patronage at the box office, let alone their philanthropy, will end. Then what?

Where are the audiences going to come from if today's students have no urbanity and cultural background other than popular cultural indulgences? This is already happening. Ticket prices are not the cause either. Top rock acts are far dearer than most classical musical performances and one Rolling Stones concert ticket would buy a brace or two of good theatre tickets.

What is clear though is that if you go to an opera, a concert of searching classical music or an art show that is not a blockbuster, you'll soon see who's there. Grey hairs and blue rinses. Why? Because they have had the cultural background today's youth lacks.

Sure, private schools are in effect nurseries, or, if you like, the last bastions of elitism. I teach in one and I teach serious, classically demanding literature. Yes, it is elite, consciously so, but anything is elite if it is not pandering to the lowest common denominator. How can a book about a vacuous Sydney teenager reflecting on school, like Melina Marchetta's Looking for Alibrandi, be compared with Jane Eyre? It can't.

This goes beyond subjective taste. Does Lou Reed compare with Segovia? It's a no-brainer. Still, Lou Reed took endless column inches of adulatory, valedictory prose recently because of what he achieved (not a lot).

The callow kids suck up their smoothies of cultural pap when anyone says something "pithy" out of an inarticulate, drug-fuelled haze. But "pithy" is a relative term. Listen to Kurt Cobain who sprayed a generation with teen spirit and left this "mortal coil" (Shakespeare in case you didn't know) with the following memorable statement:

"I don't have the passion any more, and so remember, it's better to burn out than to fade away. Peace, love, empathy."

Compare the immortal lyrical beauty of John Keats, who also died young and said, "I feel the daisies growing over me."

The ambivalence Australia has to any mention of cultural elitism is reflected in its suspicion of what appears to be difficult to understand. In this sense, schools have opted out of their responsibility to simply lift the cultural standard from Banksy to Hogarth.

The fear I have, is that ignorance will be seen as preferable, even desirable, while serious theatre is unviable, serious literature is not published, concert programs are reduced and other forms of cultural elevation are lost.


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