Sunday, May 11, 2014

Tony Abbott appoints climate change sceptic to review energy target

Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, has appointed a climate change sceptic to review the nation’s renewable energy target in his latest foray against measures to combat global warming.

Following his move to repeal Labor’s tax on carbon emissions, Mr Abbott has announced a review that is expected to scale back renewable energy production.

The review will be conducted by Dick Warburton, a businessman and self-confessed “sceptic”. Another sceptic, Maurice Newman, has been appointed as the government’s top business advisor; he has stated publicly that the renewable energy target should be scrapped.

Mr Abbott has insisted he will stick to Australia’s commitment to the United Nations to cut emissions by 5 per cent by 2020, though critics say his current policies will make it impossible.

Business groups have been urging the government to reduce or abolish Australia’s current renewable energy target, which aims to produce 20 per cent of power by 2020. Critics say the target is driving up power prices and that current planning may exceed the target because electricity demand has been dropping.

The government said the review would be “extensive” but would not say whether the target could be abolished.

"Renewable energy has a role to play and it is now time to see where this scheme is going," said Ian Macfarlane, the energy minister.

Mr Abbott, who once described climate change as "absolute crap" – a comment he later recanted - is abolishing the carbon tax and instead introducing a plan to pay polluters to reduce emissions. Many analysts believe the so-called “direct action” plan will fail to meet Australia’s emissions targets.

Touring drought-ridden farmland, Mr Abbott dismissed suggestions that climate change was causing the low rainfall.

“If you look at the records of Australian agriculture going back 150 years, there have always been good times and bad times,” he said. “This is not a new thing in Australia.”


NBN still bleeding cash

Kevvy's bright idea still staggering on

NBN Co has asked the Federal Government for up to $1.4 billion more in taxpayer funds to adjust its fixed wireless and satellite business.

According to NBN Co's review into its $3.5 billion fixed wireless and satellite program, the company underestimated the demand for its services in the bush by 400,000 homes and businesses.

The increase in funding requirements was first revealed by The Australian Financial Review .

Where NBN Co's 2012 Corporate plan was geared to cover 1 million premises by 2021 with satellite and wireless broadband services, it only expected 200,000 premises to actually take on a service.

But the review into the fixed wireless and satellite program predict that more than 600,000 premises will request access to the NBN by 2021.

NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow will Wednesday announce the company has four options to fix the shortfall - all of which will cost between $900 million and $1.4 billion and require the company to install hundreds more broadcast towers across rural and regional areas than previously planned.

This will bring the capital expenditure from $3.5 billion to up to $4.9 billion. Operating expenditure is also set to rise from $1 billion in the current plan to around $1.5 billion.

But the review censored the amount it would cost NBN Co to buy the vital spectrum it needs to service customers with wireless broadband.

Spectrum is the valuable electronic airspace that is needed by all broadcast technologies.

Optus holds most of the spectrum NBN Co requires at the edge of metropolitan areas. Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has previously revealed that fixing the issue would force NBN Co to take a $1.2 billion hit to its cash flow by 2021.

Under scenario one the shortfall in serviced homes and businesses is made up for by more than doubling the number of mobile towers built by NBN Co from 1,400 in the current plan to 2,900 towers by 2021 and costs around $4.7 billion to roll out.

Scenario two would cost up to $4.7 billion and increases the use of the Coalition's favoured fibre to the node technology for three per cent of the rural customers, which relies on the existing copper network for connecting homes and businesses to the NBN. It is understood to be the favoured option by NBN Co.

But scenario three is the most expensive and involves the construction of a third satellite. Capital expenditure would reach $4.9 billion by 2021 with 47 per cent of rural homes covered by the technology.

Scenario four also demands the launch of a new satellite but looks to build it in partnership with a private operator.

A spokesman for Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the review's advice would be considered as part of the company's corporate plan, due later this year.

While internal corporate plans suggested two satellites should be able to cover 580,000 homes and businesses by the end of the decade, a ­strategic review released in December revised that figure down to 206,000 by 2020.

It included a potential addition of 100,000 premises from 2021 onwards, presumably by adding a satellite.

The December strategic review also estimated the cost of the satellite program could increase from $1.9 billion now to as much as $4.3 billion.

Moving to more fixed wireless towers would be a cheaper option to serve more users on the NBN than satellite, but that rollout has run into its own problems. Mr Turnbull has warned that NBN Co had not acquired enough broadcast airspace, known as spectrum, to serve all intended areas.


A man who can save the Senate

THE trick of running a business, or a government, is to keep a lot of balls in the air.  And some of the biggest balls at the moment are in the Senate — six new crossbenchers arriving in July.

They represent the will of the people, who voted in ­record numbers against the major parties. One in four people. Record numbers, record disillusionment. It’s a message neither party has heard.

So far the newbies have had little attention from the government, despite the fact that they will have the power to block or pass legislation.

That’s because the Coalition will have just 33 seats in the 76 member Senate. So if Labor and the Greens gang up against them, in order for the government to get its legislation through, it will need the support of six of eight crossbenchers, of whom at least four will be newbies.

There are the three Palmer United Party members, Glenn Lazarus, 49, a former footballer, Jacqui Lambie, 43, a Tasmanian ex-soldier, and Dio Wang, 32, a Chinese-born ­engineer; the Motoring Enthusiasts Party’s Ricky Muir, 34, an unemployed sawmiller, and the Liberal Democrats’ David Leyonhjelm, 61, a libertarian former vet.

Last, but not least, is one of the most impressive thinkers ever to hit Parliament House, Family First’s Bob Day, 61, a former plumber from Adelaide who became one of Australia’s most successful home builders.

Dismissed by some of the media as “a mishmash, grab bag, barnyard, licorice allsorts, flotsam and jetsam, motley crew of Star Wars aliens” who don’t belong in the hushed corridors of Parliament House, it is the newbies’ very apartness from political insiders that voters wanted. Mr Smith Goes To Washington times six.

The newbies are there to hold to account an increasingly out of touch political class. That’s a big responsibility. But in the vacuum before they take their seats on July 1, these very important new crossbenchers have been ­quietly organising themselves into a formidable force.

They have been meeting and getting to know one ­another, united in a modest ­desire to do some good, forming an alliance that will likely determine the fate of the ­Abbott government. Since it is human nature to forget ­demanding benefactors once you have gained power, it’s ­unlikely Clive Palmer will exert much influence for long.

The senator-elect most ­likely to be their natural leader is Day. A one-time Liberal, Day quit the party in 2008 after losing in a pre-selection against Jamie Briggs, a 31-year-old political apparatchik.

As a crossbencher he will have far more influence.

“My job is to try to plead with the powers that be,” he said. “I think I can be a great help to the government.”

He still lives in the same house in the Adelaide Hills he built when he married Bronte 33 years ago, and where they raised three children. Friends say he is honest, smart, lives modestly, and is as dynamic as “a little Energizer bunny”. His mentor was Bert Kelly, the farmer turned politician of the 1960s and 70s who almost ­single-handedly brought about the transformation of Australia from high tariff protectionist to prosperous free trader.

Day wants to emulate Kelly’s success in bettering the nation. His aim, and the platform of his Christian party, is to ensure “every family has a job and a house”.

“If you have a job and a home and kids you don’t need the government. High taxes, urban planning, industrial ­relations all [present] barriers that prevent people from working ... there are laws that are not just economically stupid but morally wrong.”

Of his crossbench allies, he says: “We have two things in common: we are all brand new and we all want to do a good job.”

Far from being a rabble, the newbies may surprise us. Along with established crossbenchers, independent Nick Xenophon, a 55-year-old lawyer, and former boilermaker John Madigan, 47, of the DLP, they are ­allergic to cynical political expediency.

If Day can help them hang together, they will represent the concerns of ordinary Australians and steer the government in the right direction.

In an era in which voters have switched off Bob Day, Liberal party reject, is the “humble member” who might just set Canberra alight.


Standby for the ABC to lose the plot - The (Anti) Australia Network to be shut down

Get ready for the ABC to lose its mind when the Government cuts the high priced and useless Australia Network in the Budget.

The Abbott government is set to scrap the ABC’s Australia Network international broadcasting service in next Tuesday’s budget.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who has oversight of the network, has said there are more cost-effective ways, including social media, to promote Australia abroad.

The ABC gets $223 million from the taxpayer over the term of the contract to run the network – $20+ million a year.

90% of its shows are repeats of existing programming or buy-in shows from commercial TV.

The hidden truth is the Australia Network has become a sly, additional income source for the ABC to subsidise other services and indulgences.

Australia Network money has helped the ABC become a media monolith.

It now operates 5 radio networks, 4 TV channels, and a substantial online news presence, as well as up to 6 additional digital radio channels in capital cities. It's official budget has grown 50% since Labor came to power in 2007.

Like usual, the ABC management is allowing the usual scare tactics – linking this to cuts to regional services. You wait, children’s TV will be next.

 ABC board member and veteran journalist Matt Peacock argues even a small reduction to ABC funding will threaten jobs and lead to cutbacks in regional areas.

The Australia Network has become an embarrassment and an expensive joke. It's meant to promote Australia's diplomatic values into Asia - "soft diplomacy".

Instead it pushes ABC values.


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