Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Australia to deploy more than 300 troops to Iraq for training mission

More than 300 troops will ship out from Australia from tomorrow to train the Iraqi military, in a mission expected to take two years.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott made the announcement from Canberra today, stressing it was not a combat mission, but an operation to train the local military.

It is part of the wider effort to combat the threat of ISIL, in addition to 600 Australian personnel already in the air and on the ground.

"This is not a combat mission, but Iraq is a dangerous place," Mr Abbott said. "I can’t tell you that this is risk free."

The deployed troops will partner with 100 New Zealand military personnel in the mission, which is at the "express invitation" of the Iraqi government.

"What we’ll be doing is comparable to what other countries are doing," Mr Abbott said.

They will be based at the Taji military complex north of Baghdad.

Having slowed the advance of ISIL, the operation's aim is to support Iraq's Security Forces to reclaim and hold its territory.

The size and nature of Australia's overall commitment in Iraq would also remain under regular review, Mr Abbott said.

Australian personnel will not be working with local militias. "We don't work with irregulars, we don't work with informal, armed groups," Mr Abbott said.


Australia's renewable energy investment grinds to a halt

Still the lucky country.  No more waste of precious investment funds

Australia's large-scale renewable energy industry has entered an investment freeze, with just one project securing finance in the past six months amid political uncertainty, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The lone venture in the first three months of 2015 was worth just $6.6 million and following a complete drought during the December quarter, BNEF said. The project was a floating solar photovoltaic (PV) plant being developed in Jamestown, South Australia, by Infratech Industries.

The Australian large-scale clean energy industry has become practically uninvestable.

For the year to March, investment totalled $206.9 million, which was 90 per cent lower than the previous 12 months, the consultancy said.

"Investment has been stifled by policy uncertainty for over 13 months since the Abbott government's [Renewable Energy Target] review was announced on 17 February 2014," BNEF said. "The Australian large-scale clean energy industry has become practically uninvestable due to ongoing uncertainty caused by the government's review."

Pressure remains on the Abbott government to compromise over its plans to cut the current 2020 target by more than one-fifth to 32,000 gigawatt-hours a year by decade's end. The renewable energy industry, business groups and Labor have settled on a reduction to 33,500 gW-hours in a bid to resolve an impasse with the government.

"The government is determined to ensure the Renewable Energy Target is on a sustainable footing by recalibrating the target to a realistic and achievable level, which will ensure renewables continue to contribute to Australia's energy mix," a spokeswoman for Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said.

The 32,000 gW-hour offer "would see around 23 per cent of Australia's energy coming from renewables by 2020, and would lead to a doubling of large-scale renewable generation", she said.

Jobs go

The dive in investment comes as the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that more than 2000 jobs had been lost in the industry over the past two years. Some 12,590 people were employed full-time in the wind, solar and other renewable energy industries last year, down from almost 15,000 two years earlier.

The chill descending over the large-scale end of the sector has so far not extended to smaller-scale investments, such as rooftop solar panels. Australia added about 195 megawatts of new solar PV capacity in the March quarter, about 7 per cent more than a year earlier, Bloomberg said.

The consultancy also noted that Banco Santander, the world's third-largest clean energy lender, departed the Australian market in the March quarter in another sign of waning investor interest.

Globally, investment in clean energy totalled $US50.5 billion ($66.3 billion) in the first three months of 2015, down 15 per cent on a year earlier, Bloomberg reported last week. Weaker investment in China, Brazil and Europe accounted for the slowdown.

The government has said the electricity sector is already oversupplied because of a drop in power demand. Advocates of renewable energy say the government faces sovereign risk issues by unilaterally changing investment targets that affect existing projects.


Affordable housing shortage drags Australia down social rankings

These rankings are very subjective so should not be taken too seriously. Unduly high housing costs are a reality, however

Australia is the world's 10th most socially advanced nation but a lack of affordable housing is holding it back, a survey shows.

However, while Australia scores well on personal rights - such as freedom of speech, freedom of movement and political rights - it is falling well behind in housing affordability.

The study comes as spiralling real estate prices in Sydney fuel fears about a potentially dangerous housing bubble, especially if the Reserve Bank cuts interest rates again in the coming months.

The report also underscores that the end of the resources boom, illustrated by the falling iron ore price, has the potential to damage the living standards of Australians.

The Social Progress Index, which is published by the US not-for-profit group Social Progress Imperative, ranks Norway as the world's most socially advanced nation.

Norway is followed by Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand and Canada.

At number ten, Australia is in the middle of the rankings focussed on 20 advanced economies, but it is ahead of bigger economies such as Britain, Germany, Japan and the US.

Housing affordability

However, Lynne Pezzullo, lead partner of health economics and social policy at the accounting firm Deloitte, said Australia only ranks 19th in the world when it comes to shelter and 51st in terms of housing affordability.

"Access to affordable housing is a key issue and Australia is not doing particularly well in that area, even though we have very low interest rates at the moment," Ms Pezzullo told AM.

"But importantly it's our housing pricing and our access into the housing market, both in terms of rent and also in terms of purchase, which are driving the poor performance we have in that area."

Ms Pezzullo said deepening worries about housing and basic shelter have potential psychological impacts that could ultimately lead to suicide.

"There's a link between housing affordability and homelessness and then through to domestic violence and suicide rates," Ms Pezzullo said.

"Australia performs particularly poorly relative to other countries in relation to our high suicide rates."

Ms Pezzullo also warned that the fallout from declining commodity prices could ultimately hurt living standards in Australia.

"Australia has had a really good free kick in the last three decades from particular factors, which have been very gracious to us," Ms Pezzullo argued.

"But this coming decade we've got the baby boomers exiting the population and therefore reducing participation rates, we haven't had major investments in infrastructure or micro reforms to benefit from and, of course, we've got the iron ore price in particular falling and the coal price falling.

"Other commodity prices are falling which means we have got particularly issues across the Australian economy - particularly in the Western Australian and Queensland economy."

The Social Progress Index is closely-watched because it does not use gross domestic product as the sole factor in measuring a nation's wealth.


Today Tonight Reports on Senate Inquiry Into the Great Wind Power Fraud

The Australian Senate Inquiry into the great wind power fraud kicked off on 30 March. And, fitting it was, that this band of merry men – Queensland National Senator, Matthew Canavan, WA Liberal, Chris Back, independents Nick Xenophon and John Madigan, Liberal Democrat, David Leyonhjelm, Family First Senator, Bob Day (and one, not-so-happy, Labor women, and wind power fraud apologist), Tasmanian ALP Senator, Anne Urquhart – set to work taking the lid off the wind industry’s “stinky pot”, at Portland, Victoria: the town next door to Pacific Hydro’s Cape Bridgewater disaster.

The hall was packed with people from threatened communities from all over Victoria and South Australia; and long-suffering wind farm neighbours from there – and from elsewhere – keen to hear Steven Cooper’s exposition on the findings of his groundbreaking study (see our posts here and here and here).

The hearing was the first opportunity for wind farm victims to lay out, in tragic detail, their misery and suffering before the Inquiry; and, despite efforts by Pac Hydro to derail the Inquiry by loading it with patsies and ‘friendlies’, the victims’ stories were heard, loud and clear.

Channel Seven’s Today Tonight put together a truly notable piece of journalism, in a report compiled by Rodney Lohse: a report that not only covered the Inquiry, but also Pacific Hydro’s scurrilous efforts to bury the evidence of its legal liability to its Cape Bridgewater victims; and the horrendous impact of its wind farm disaster on those long-suffering people. It’s the kind of report you’ll never see on your ABC

The Clean Energy Council (the PR arm of Infigen, aka Babcock and Brown – it’s now conveniently headed up by Infigen’s Miles George) is just the local spearhead of an International system designed to perpetuate the lies and myths needed to keep the greatest Ponzi scheme in history alive. Not able to go it alone, at Cape Bridgewater, Pac Hydro tried (without success) to use a shadowy PR outfit called “Futureye” to suppress local outrage

These Orwellian spruikers and media manipulators are backed by millions of dollars of money from wind power outfits; union super funds; and struggling giant fan makers, like Denmark’s Vestas. All of them are hell-bent on preventing anyone from getting any where near the true facts, especially in relation to incessant turbine generated low-frequency noise and infrasound

Notwithstanding the wind industry’s superior skills in the art of deception and subterfuge, Rodney Lohse has managed to not only smash into a few of the more critical wind industry lies, he’s helped to turn up the heat on people like Pac Hydro’s Andrew Richards

In Rodney’s report, the focus is clearly on the groundbreaking work of Steven Cooper; and Pac Hydro’s skullduggery aimed at covering it up


Australia a world leader in female representation on banknotes

TAKE a bow, Australia. You’re a world leader when it comes to the representation of women on banknotes.

Each note of the Australian currency features a woman on one side and a man on the other, apart from the five dollar note, which depicts the monarch on the front (who is, of course, currently a woman) and an image of Parliament House on the back.

Our legal tender hasn’t always been this female-friendly, of course. Before the introduction of polymer notes in the 1990s, the Australian currency was dominated by masculine faces, with the only exceptions being the Queen and Caroline Chisholm.

A survey by BBC News Magazine found that Australia now rates alongside Sweden when it comes to the equal representation of women on its currency, while other western nations including the US, the UK and Canada lag a long way behind.

The United States, in fact, rates alongside China, India, Indonesia and Israel for its representation of women on banknotes, with a grand tally of zero.

Other nations — including Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa — feature just one man on all their banknotes, and no female figures.

Another group of countries feature just one woman on their money. There is but one woman on the Japanese yen (out of four notes in circulation), one woman on the Swiss Franc (out of six notes) and one woman on the New Zealand dollar (out of five — although one of the other notes also features Queen Elizabeth).

How does the rest of the western world stack up? Pretty poorly.


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