Thursday, November 20, 2014

Vladimir Putin says he was surprised by ‘warmth’ of everyday Australians during G20 visit  -- and praises Mr Abbott

This will be a teeth-grinder for the Leftmedia (Fairfax, ABC, SBS).  They must have just about exhausted their vocabulary of abuse in being negative about everything Abbott did and said at the summit

RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin has praised the Australian government for the atmosphere at the G20 summit in Brisbane.

“(Our) Australian partners created an extraordinarily welcoming atmosphere for work. I was surprised by the warmth with which normal Australian citizens received our delegation,” Mr Putin told a forum of supporters in Moscow, according to an official transcript.

Mr Putin also added praise for Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Mr Putin’s comments defied media reports that the Russian president was so frustrated at being sidelined and subjected to tough talk by Western leaders that he left the summit early.

Australia, the United States and Japan used the G20 to jointly criticise Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its actions to destabilise eastern Ukraine. The criticism was made in a statement following a trilateral meeting involving Mr Abbott, Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the summit.  They also called for those responsible for the downing of flight MH17 over the Ukraine to be brought to justice.

Mr Putin had told reporters he was leaving before the release of the G20’s communiqué because of the long flight to Russia and he wanted to get some sleep.

As he left on Sunday, he praised the “constructive atmosphere” at the summit and thanked Mr Abbott for hosting the event. He described the Prime Minister as “a very businesslike person”.

Far from shirt fronting Mr Putin, Mr Abbott said he was happy to welcome the Russian President to Brisbane.

“When all is said and done, President Putin was a guest in our country.  “President Putin is a member of the G20 and I was happy to treat him with respect and courtesy while he was here in Australia.”


Scott Morrison cuts off access to Australia for people who already have refuge

They are in no danger in Indonesia

Australia has taken its stand against boat arrivals to a new level, saying it will no longer resettle asylum seekers found to be refugees by the United Nation's refugee agency in Indonesia who registered after July 1.

But Fairfax Media understands the decision could be wider than this, and may be applied to all asylum seekers found to be genuine refugees recommended by UNHCR in transit countries such as Syria, Iran, Malaysia and Iraq.

Although a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison denied this, Mr Morrison has made plain that virtually all of Australia's humanitarian program for people overseas this financial year will be selected by Australia from countries of first asylum.

"In 2014–15, Australia's Humanitarian Programme will provide 13,750 places. These will include 11,000 places for people overseas, nearly all of whom will be in countries of first asylum," Mr Morrison said in a statement.

A well-placed source has told Fairfax Media that exceptions to the new policy direction would be women at risk and emergency rescue cases.

The waiting period in Indonesia will also increase for people who have been granted refugee status and who registered at the UNHCR before July, according to a statement issued late Tuesday afternoon by Mr Morrison.

In the statement, titled "Another Blow for People Smugglers", Mr Morrison said the decision was designed to stop the flow of asylum seekers travelling by boat to Australia, despite only one boat successfully arriving in Australia this year. The humanitarian intake of 13,750 will also not be increased.

"These changes should reduce the movement of asylum seekers to Indonesia and encourage them to seek resettlement in or from countries of first asylum,"

"While nine of 10 months of 2014 have passed without a successful people smuggling venture to Australia, we know smugglers continue to encourage asylum seekers to travel illegally to Indonesia for the purpose of seeking resettlement in Australia," Mr Morrison said.

But human rights advocates were appalled at the decision, questioning the real motives behind it. Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power said the decision was "absolutely outrageous."

"This will put Indonesia under even more pressure," he said.  "This a clear message that Australia does not care about its regional neighbours."

It is understood Labor will be seeking answers and clarification on the impacts of the decision.

Greens spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young said the decision was "narrow-minded" and "hard-hearted".  "This is the exact opposite of what the government should be doing," she said.  "We should be working with our neighbours, accelerating refugee processing and increasing Australia's intake from the region so that people are given a safe way to reach protection. That's the only way we can save lives at sea while caring for refugees."

Elaine Pearson from Human Rights Watch said: "If Australia really cared about saving lives at sea, then it would take more people from Indonesia, not less, because it would want to prevent people taking perilous boat journeys."  [The emptyhead has apparently not noticed that the boats have stopped coming]


ABC cuts: Malcolm Turnbull announces budget reduction of $250 million

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has detailed a $254 million funding cut to the ABC in a move that could result in job losses and the closure of foreign bureaux.

Mr Turnbull on Wednesday announced a slightly lower than expected budget cut for the ABC as well as a $25.2 million cut to the SBS.

He said the efficiencies represented a "modest saving in comparison to the government's continued investment in national broadcasting of more than $6.6 billion over the same five year period".

The cut represents 4.6 per cent of the ABC's budget and means it will receive $5.2 billion over four years rather than $5.5 billion.

The ABC has previously reported that a cut of this magnitude could lead to the loss of 500 jobs, the closure of foreign bureaux and the end of the state-based versions of 7.30.

In his speech in Adelaide, Mr Turnbull threw down the gauntlet to ABC management, arguing there was no need to cut programming because of the government's announcement.

"Let me be quite clear," he said. "The savings announced today are not of a scale that requires any particular change to programming.  "All of the savings can be found within operational efficiencies."

The Communications Minister said that it would be "cowardly" for management to blame the government for program changes, which he described as the "normal business of a media company".

"If the ABC or SBS want to make decisions to change or cease programming that is their choice."

Mr Turnbull announced that early next year, the government would introduce legislation to allow SBS to take a more "flexible" approach to advertising.

Under the new measure, the broadcaster would need to maintain its current average of five minutes of ads per hour each day, but could run up to 10 minutes in any given hour.

It is estimated this will provide SBS with an extra $28.5 million over five years.

Mr Turnbull also released an efficiency review that found the ABC and SBS could save millions of dollars a year by streamlining IT and marketing operations, changes in procurement and halting practices such as twice delivery of post to the desks of staff.

The opposition has attacked the funding reduction as another broken election promise and pointed to statements made by the Coalition in the lead up to the 2013 election in which cuts to the ABC's funding were ruled out.

Mr Turnbull dismissed claims that the government had broken an election promise with the cuts to the ABC and SBS.

He said both he and Treasurer Joe Hockey had made it "quite clear" there were no Coalition plans to cut on-air or online activities.

"But if there were to be savings made across the board, the ABC and SBS could not expect to be exempt."

Turnbull: Change ABC structure

Mr Turnbull said he would be raising several matters with the ABC board about the way the organisation is run - although he noted that the board could ignore his advice if it chose to.

The Communications Minister said the ABC should have a chief financial officer, explaining he did not understand why the role was currently being undertaken by the chief operating officer.

He will also recommend that the position of editor-in-chief no longer be combined with that of the managing director, who is Mark Scott.

"It creates the impression that the managing director is directly in charge of ABC news and current affairs, which he is not, and given the wide range of his responsibilities, could not be."

In a further shakeup to both public broadcasters, Mr Turnbull said there should be more "granular detail" about how they spend their money in relation to their charter obligations.

He also called on the two boards to take more responsibility for accuracy and objectivity in reporting at the ABC and SBS.

"I have on occasions heard directors say 'they do not want to get involved'. Well, if they do not want to get involved, they should resign."

Earlier on Wednesday, Education Minister Christopher Pyne made a pitch for the ABC not to cut local production in his home state of South Australia.

"I think [managing director] Mark Scott and the board need to get out of [Sydney headquarters] Ultimo and go around Australia and find the place where the ABC is most popular is in regional Australia, where it's the lifeline of country towns and regional areas," Mr Pyne said.

Cuts to SBS 'sizeable'

SBS managing director Michael Ebeid said the cut to his organisation was anticipated but "sizeable" and would "naturally be felt" by the broadcaster.

"National efforts to unify Australia's diverse communities go directly to the reason SBS was established, and it is at a time when our social cohesion is being tested, that having a multicultural broadcaster is more important than ever," he said in a statement.  

Mr Ebeid said if the government's plans to make the SBS's advertising arrangements more flexible came into place the broadcaster would "only implement additional advertising in programs and timeslots where the advertising return could genuinely aid our ability to invest in more Australian content".

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the funding cut was another broken election promise from the Coalition.

"It is absolutely clear now that Tony Abbott stared down the barrel of a camera the night before the election and lied to the Australian people," Mr Shorten said.

The president of the Community and Public Sector Union, Michael Tull, said the announcement was "a sad day for all Australians who value the ABC and SBS".

"It is, frankly, gutless of Malcolm Turnbull to shun responsibility for these cuts and pass the buck to ABC management. There is no way that cuts of this size can be confined to 'back office' savings. Make no mistake, programming, services and jobs will have to be cut to accommodate these cuts."


How Narendra Modi turned Parliament House into a rock star's stage

You got the sense there was something about Modi when world leaders had their official handshakes with Tony Abbott at the G20 summit.

While the other leaders offered brief handshakes and stiff smiles, India's Prime Minister strode out of the wings to greet his Australian counterpart with an exuberant hug.

You got the same sense about Narendra Modi when he was later mobbed by chanting fans at the unveiling of a statue in Brisbane and then tweeted about how touched he was. And again when thousands of Indian Australians spent a day dancing, drumming and partying in anticipation of his speech in Sydney.

But when Modi began to address the parliament in Canberra on Tuesday, we knew for sure there was something about the Indian Prime Minister.

It wasn't just that he acknowledged Indigenous Australians when Mr Abbott did not.  Or that he wondered how MPs were surviving a third address to parliament by a world leader in as many days.  "Maybe this is Prime Minister Abbott's way of shirtfronting you," he suggested with the hint of a wink.

It wasn't even the fact that – although he had an autocue – he appeared not to be speaking from prepared notes. He was eyes up all the way through.

It was because as soon as Modi got stuck into the substance of his address, he had the normally rowdy House of Representatives hypnotised.

"I come to you with the greetings of 1.25 billion people … and today I have come to unite in spirit, as we once were in geography," he declared.

In cadences befitting of someone who is a published poet as well as a politician, Modi spoke of how democracy offers "the best opportunity for the human spirit to flourish" and loaded praise on Australia, whose cities are "alive with [the] richness of this world's diversity".

But his stylish words also carried a serious message: India is open for business.  There are 800 million Indians under the age of 35, "eager for change, willing to work for it because, now they believe that it is possible".

Young Indians want energy that "does not cause our glaciers to melt," cities that are "smart, sustainable and liveable" and villages that "offer opportunity". And they want Australia's help to get there.

"India will be the answer to your search for new economic opportunities … your source for world class skills at home or for a manufacturing location abroad," he said with all the polish and confidence of a new car salesman.

As he concluded with a simple "thanks a lot," the chamber rose in a standing ovation.  They were not just being polite. If Madam Speaker had let them, they would have whistled, whooped and charged the stage.  That's what you do when you see a rock star perform.



Education Act Amendments Benefit All Independent Schools

All Independent schools will see some benefits flow through from today’s passage of the Australian Education Amendment Bill 2014, according to Independent Schools Council of Australia (ISCA) Executive Director, Mr Bill Daniels.

“Education Minister Christopher Pyne should be congratulated for moving quickly to make important improvements to the current funding and operational arrangements for Independent schools,” he said.

The amendments will ensure the timely payment of an extra $6.8 million for many non-government schools with a large number of Indigenous boarding students from remote areas. “These schools service some of Australia’s most needy students and will welcome the extra injection of funds this year to assist in improving the educational outcomes for Indigenous students,” Mr Daniels said.

“Many Special schools and Special Assistance schools faced a potential reduction in funding from the beginning of 2015 and now provision has been made in the legislation to allow them to transition towards the Student Resourcing Standard, consistent with other schools funded under the Australian Education Act,” he said.

“The implementation of the new school funding model in 2014 has put considerable administrative pressure on Independent schools and the additional burden to have School Improvement Plans in place by 1 January next year had to potential to add to this pressure,” Mr Daniels said. “The amendments have now relieved some of this pressure and moved the commencement date for Improvement Plans to 1 January 2016,” he said.

The amendments also ensure that the correct application of indexation is included in the total amount of capital funding for Block Grant Authorities for 2014, ensuring additional funding is available to support needy Independent schools to provide facilities that will enhance their educational outcomes.

Mr Daniels said that ISCA looks forward to working closely with the Australian Government in the coming months to explore other improvements that can be made to the way in which funding arrangements impact on Independent schools.


Comment from an old China hand

The Chicken Littles of Australia have been clucking about the Climate agreement between China and the U.S.

What they don't know is that while China may be a world leader in the use of solar heating, has extensive hydroelectric power and plenty of wind turbines, it is still installing one new multi megawatt coal powered plant every ten days.

While the pace may drop over time, China's dependence on coal power will only drop from from 79% at present to 75% by 2030. At that time China promises to be able to reduce its dependence on coal but even then nuclear will still be only 5% and hydropower much lower than at present.

On the other hand the U.S. Is a postindustrial economy with a bonanza in natural gas due to new technology. As a result it has seen a 20% drop in CO2 emissions in the last decade by switching from coal to gas powered electricity stations. In the future this can be accelerated which will make the U.S. The world leader in emissions reduction.

Of course CO2 is not the pollutant, but the particles from coal powered plants and petrol powered vehicles are. CO2 is good for plants up to 4000ppm as any greenhouse attendant will tell you.

The lack of correlation between climate and CO2 is demonstrated clearly by the current steady increase in ppm while the global temperature (HADCRUT/RSS) has stabilized for almost 20 years.


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