Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Yippee! Australia ranked worst-performing developed nation on climate policy

And Canada is not far behind

Australia is the worst-performing developed nation when it comes to climate-change action, with the Abbott government's scrapping of the carbon price cementing its lowly ranking, a survey by European non-government organisations shows.

Australia ranked 57 out of 58 nations reviewed by the survey, which has been done each year since 2005 by Climate Action Network Europe and Germanwatch. Only Saudi Arabia fared worse.

The ranking is based on indicators ranging from carbon dioxide emissions per capita to share of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Australians emitted about 16.7 tonnes of CO2 per person in 2012.

"While the developed world is going in one direction, Australia is going in the opposite," said Guy Ragen, a climate change campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation, which helped compile the findings.

Mr Ragen, who was formally an adviser to Labor's Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, said Australia's relatively modest emissions reduction goals and high per capita pollution made the country a poor performer even before the carbon price was scrapped in July.

That move caused Australia's policy rating to slump 21 places in the latest survey.

The government has also been attempting to win Senate support to cut the Renewable Energy Target, set at 41 tarawhata-hours a year by 2020.

"You'll have to assume [the policy rating] will get worse," Mr Ragen said.

The introduction of the carbon price had led to a reduction of emissions from the power sector, a process being reversed now. Pitt & Sherry, an energy consultancy, estimated last week the rise in emissions from the electricity industry since the end of the carbon prices would lift the nation's CO2 pollution level by 1.4 per cent if the increase was to continue for a year.

The report's release comes as key talks take place in Lima, Peru, on getting a climate treaty finalised by late next year.  Australia will be represented during this week's high-level section of the talks by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Trade Minister Andrew Robb.

Fairfax Media sought comment from Environment Minister Greg Hunt, who was not sent to the Lima talks.

Because emission indicators account for about 80 per cent of the evaluation, Australia has tended to be among the laggards on the survey. The introduction of the carbon tax in 2012 only resulted in Australia's ranking improve to 50th among the nations.

 Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom are the top-ranked nations in the survey. Australia and Saudi Arabia share the bottom four slots with Canada and Kazakhstan.


Abbott government to cut university support; fund theological colleges

And the religion-hating Left are ropeable -- though funding Madrassas would be OK

Taxpayers would subsidise the training of priests and other religious workers at private colleges for the first time under the Abbott government's proposed higher education reforms. 

As well as deregulating university fees and cutting university funding by 20 per cent, the government's proposed higher education package extends federal funding to students at private universities, TAFES and associate degree programs.

Religious teaching, training and vocational institutes would be eligible for a share of $820 million in new Commonwealth funding over three years.

Labor and the Greens attacked the policy, saying it breaches the separation of Church and State. Earlier this year the government controversially announced it would provide $244 million for a new school chaplaincy scheme but would remove the option for schools to hire secular welfare workers.

In correspondence with voters, Family First Senator Bob Day has singled out funding for faith-based training institutes to explain his support for the government's reforms.

Eleven theological colleges are currently accredited by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) to provide courses designed to prepare students to enter religious ministries.

Institutes such as the Sydney College of Divinity, Brisbane's Christian Heritage College and the Perth Bible College, which currently charge students full fees, would be eligible for an estimated $4214 funding a year each student under the reforms.

The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne, which offers course units including "Theology and Practice of Natural Family Planning" and "Marriage in the Catholic Tradition", would also be eligible for federal support.

The institute says on its website its mission is "promote marriage and the family for the good of the whole Church and the wider community".

The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne requires all trainee priests to receive theological training at Ridley College or the Trinity College Theological School, both of which would likely be eligible to offer Commonwealth Supported Places under the government's changes.

Labor higher education spokesman Kim Carr said: "This raises serious questions about relationship between Church and State. The Church has traditionally funded the training of its own personnel."

Mr Carr said there was a difference between federal funding for theoretically-focused religious studies courses and courses designed to prepare graduates for the priesthood.

Greens higher education spokeswoman Lee Rhiannon said: "Mr Pyne has gone one step further than robbing Peter to pay Paul – he is attempting to rob Australia's public and secular university system to pay private, religious colleges.

"Courses that Mr Pyne wants to extend funding to include those teaching prescriptive Christian ideology on sexuality and marriage – is this really the best use of the higher education budget?"

On its core values page on its website the Perth Bible College says, "We believe in the urgent need to reach our broken world with the gospel of Jesus Christ and to train men and women to be effective servants for God."

A spokesman for Education Minister Christopher Pyne said courses offered by private colleges would have to be approved by the independent regulator to gain access to federal funding.

"Consistent with current practice, the government will not distinguish between faith‑based and secular higher education institutions for registration and funding purposes," the spokesman said.

Family First Senator Bob Day said, in a letter to a member of the general public, that it is unfair that public universities receive federal funding but religious colleges and other private providers do not.

"The Government's proposals … reduce the subsidies given to universities, while for the first time addressing inequity by providing significant subsidies for non-universities (but still less than universities)," he wrote. "Some of these non-universities that will receive funding for the first time - if this Bill passes - are faith-based training, teaching, theological and vocational institutions."

University of Divinity Vice-Chancellor Peter Sherlock declined to comment, but in a recent Senate submission the private university said federal funding would bring down course fees for its students.

The government's reforms were voted down by the Senate this week but will return to Parliament, with some amendments, next year.

Figures released on Thursday by the Universities Admissions Centre showed a slight increase in year 12 applications on last year despite claims of vastly increased fees under a deregulated system.


No harsh penalties for illicit downloaders under copyright reform

Australians will be blocked from accessing popular overseas websites hosting pirated movies and TV shows but would escape punishment for downloading illicit content under copyright law proposals being presented to federal cabinet on Tuesday.

Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull have developed a minimalist set of reforms to be debated at the final cabinet meeting of the year that avoids harsh penalties such as throttled speeds for repeat illicit downloaders.

If approved, the changes will disappoint rights holders who had been lobbying for tougher legislative action.

Fairfax Media understands the ministers' joint submission argues that internet providers and rights holders should work together on a code registered with the communications regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority. This code would include a scheme in which repeat illicit downloaders are warned via written notices that they are breaching copyright.

The government would retain the option of using the "big stick" of legislative change at a later date if internet providers and rights holders cannot agree on such a scheme.

Past negotiations on a voluntary code have broken down over the question of who would pay. Internet providers have been pushing for costs to be paid for by rights holders, while copyright owners like Village Roadshow are pushing for a 50-50 split.

The government's discussion paper on copyright infringement, released in late July, proposed creating a new legal framework, known as extended authorisation liability, to make internet companies more liable for their customers' illicit downloading. Mr Turnbull admitted in September that the proposal, as outlined in the discussion paper, had drawn unanimous opposition from all sides of the debate as too broad.

Cabinet will be asked to approve the creation of a mechanism allowing rights holders to seek a court injunction ordering internet providers to block overseas websites such as The Pirate Bay hosting illicit material.

While the blocks would stop most people accessing illicit material, they are unlikely to stop tech-savvy Australians who use virtual private network (VPN) software to bypass them.

In a submission to government, peak telecommunications industry body Communications Alliance backed a site-blocking scheme with appropriate safeguards despite the risk of "collateral damage". Legitimate sites could inadvertently be blocked and blocked sites may quickly reappear at a new address, the submission said.

Most telecommunications companies would welcome the light-touch approach outlined in the Cabinet submission but are concerned that determined lobbying by rights holders will sway the government to adopt a tougher approach. Since 1998, Village Roadshow, a strong advocate of an online copyright crackdown, has donated almost $4 million to the Labor and Liberal parties.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus has yet to announce Labor's position on online copyright infringement. In a recent interview with Fairfax, Dreyfus said he believed something needed to be done.

"I think we need to look at practical measures of which there is some evidence of them working somewhere in the world," he said. "The government should look to do what it can to assist in what is a real problem.

"We have a very high rate of internet piracy in Australia, particular in film and TV product. At the same time – and Malcolm Turnbull himself has commented on this – I think we need to see more being done to make content more readily and more cheaply available. That's not something the government can be responsible for."


Greenie academic soft on sharks

Greenies and sharks have a similar regard for morality.  And Greenies hate people anyway

A paper published in the Australian Journal of Political Science has described the West Australian government's response to shark attacks as relying on "movie myths" and having "striking similarities" to the 1975 movie Jaws.

The research describes what the author calls the "Jaws Effect", which he describes as "a political device based on three themes from the film: the intentionality of sharks, the perception that all human-shark interactions are fatal and the idea that killing a shark is the only solution".

The author of the research, Dr Christopher Neff is a lecturer in public policy at the University of Sydney's Department of Government and International Relations and has previously been critical of the WA government's approach to sharks.

The paper went on to say "This fiction serves an important political purpose because films allow politicians to rely on familiar narratives following shark bites to blame individual sharks in order to make the events governable and to trump evidence-based science".

When discussing the situation in WA, where eight fatal attacks have occurred since 2000, Dr Neff wrote: "I suggest that politicians used movie myths to support their policies in order to use intent-based narratives that are well known and blame sharks in order to lower thresholds for policy action and favour quick policy solutions."

He said this happened in WA following four shark bite incidents in 2000, 2003, 2011 and 2014, when action was taken in an attempt to kill sharks following encounters with humans.

In regard to his findings Dr Neff said "politicians do not have a right to their own set of scientific facts about sharks, no matter how popular the movie".

In the past Premier Colin Barnett has repeatedly cited "public safety" as the reason for killing sharks.


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