Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Colin Barnett’s ‘tea party’ revolt over GST

With WA hard hit by the iron-ore price slump, it seems a strange time to hit them with something else.  Memories of Gillard hitting their cattle exports will also be stoking resentment

West Australian Premier Colin Barnett is threatening an unprecedented revolt over his state’s dwindling share of the GST, claiming he is preparing a policy of “disengagement” with the rest of the nation that would threaten federal programs and east-west trade links.

In his strongest comments yet on the issue, Mr Barnett said yesterday that his resource-rich state was facing its “Boston tea party ­moment” by being forced to give $3.7 billion in GST revenues to other states and territories this year.

“If the GST is not resolved, Western Australia’s future is not with the rest of Australia in a fin­ancial or economic sense,” he told The Australian in Singapore, where he is holding trade and ­investment talks. “Our future then shifts to Asia even more strongly than it is now.”

Mr Barnett’s comments came as federal Finance Minister Math­ias ­Cormann — a West Australian sen­ator — risked cabinet splits by advocating a proposal to divert more GST revenue to the state.

The potential rescue package to freeze the carve-up of $57.2bn in annual GST receipts at this year’s levels, first proposed by West Australian Treasurer Mike Nahan, is dividing the federal government ahead of Tony Abbott’s meeting with premiers on Friday.

State treasurers clashed at a meeting in Canberra on Thursday to discuss the tax proceeds, with Mr Nahan arguing for a federal ­intervention to overturn recommendations from the Com­mon­wealth Grants Commission released to the public that day.

It recommended Western Australia’s share drop from 37c of every dollar of GST collected in that state to 29.99c next year.

The Australian has calculated that the freeze advocated by ­Western Australia and Senator Cormann — and rejected by several treasurers from other states — would see Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania lose a combined $1.2bn in one year alone.

With the states at loggerheads over how to help Western Australia manage its dwindling revenues amid a collapse in iron ore prices, Senator Cormann said it was now up to federal parliament to resolve the issue affecting the state, ­although he pointedly warned Mr Barnett of the need to accelerate economic reforms.

The Prime Minister, however, has insisted that a resolution was up to the states, while Education Minister Christopher Pyne told The Australian yesterday his home state of South Australia would not back changes that left it worse off.

“The GST is a state tax and any changes to its distribution must be initiated by the states,” Mr Pyne said. “I can’t see South Australia supporting any change that reduces our share. Overall, every state is better off as GST revenue is up.”

In a hint of possible com­promise, Mr Barnett revealed he would settle for a 50 per cent floor in his state’s GST allocation — down from the 75 per cent for which he has previously lobbied. He warned Mr Abbott the Liberals would lose seats in Western Australia at next year’s federal election if its share of the GST continued to plummet below 30c in the dollar.

Mr Barnett said he believed that Mr Abbott had little idea of the anger in Western Australia over the issue and the ­potential implications for the ­federation.

“I think the commonwealth government grossly underestimates the tension that’s going to arise in the federation,” he said. “It’s not secession, but it will be tension and disengagement.”

Mr Barnett said his government would consider refusing to sign up to federal-state agreements and may slash its lucrative trade with the east coast. “Stand on the Eyre Highway one day and watch all the trucks and the trains coming from the east to the west full with products and cargo and going back empty — we are a huge customer of the east coast,” he said.

“If we shift to Asia then more of what is brought into Western Australia, more of our goods and services, will come from Asia and not from the east coast. Our Boston tea party will be shifting our economic focus to Asia at an accelerated rate.”

The Boston tea party was a resistance movement that culminated in the American Revolution and involved colonists protesting against paying a British tax on imported tea.

Mr Barnett also rejected “pathetic” suggestions by Joe Hockey, Senator Cormann and others that Western Australia should sell its electricity network and other assets as part of a GST rescue.

Senator Cormann told Sky News Australian Agenda yesterday that Western Australia needed to show “a sense of urgency” around microeconomic reforms, the sale of state-owned assets and the “deregulation of trading hours”.

“There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that the West Australian government has to do better in the pursuit of economic reform in Western Australia, in particular when it comes to the sale of government-owned assets that could perform better in private hands and where the capital release could be reinvested in productivity-enhancing infrastructure to boost economic growth in the future,” Senator Cormann said, adding that the issue was linked to the GST carve-up.

Mr Barnett was “personally offended by the attempts to link that to other areas of public policy and to try and intimidate”.

“The commonwealth is jealous of Western Australia. They are jealous of our economic success, they are jealous of our success in Asia and of the fact that the Australia-China relationship is essentially China-Western Australia,” he said.

Opposition Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen said the cabinet splits on the GST put the Treasurer “in the middle of an almighty mess of his own making”.

“A decision that is supposed to be for the Treasurer is now the subject of cabinet ministers mounting competing public arguments over what should be done,” Mr Bowen said.

The Commonwealth Grants Commission is tasked with applying a formula to allocate GST proceeds according to economic and social need to ensure “equalised” conditions for Australians. Western Australia has lost ground under the rules in recent years because of the wealth that flowed from the mining boom.

The formula revealed last Thursday would leave Western Australia with $1.9bn next year — a 14 per cent drop on this year. If Western Australia’s share was frozen at 4.2 per cent of the overall GST pool, as urged by Dr Nahan and endorsed by Senator Cormann, its payment would increase by $154 million.

NSW would also benefit from a freeze of distribution levels, with its payment forecast to be $535m more under last year’s carve-up. Queensland would be the biggest loser, with $577m at stake, followed by South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.

Because the GST pie is expected to grow by $3.5bn next year, all states would receive more than in 2014-15.


France urges Australia to keep climate commitment ahead of UN summit

What the bungling and unpopular French government says won't butter many parsnips in Australia  -- or anywhere else, I would think

The French government is urging Australia to stick to an international commitment to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels.

The appeal comes just a week before Prime Minister Tony Abbott sits down for talks with French president Francois Hollande in Paris, where climate is expected to be among the top issues discussed.

French ambassador to Australia Christophe Lecourtier told the ABC that France, which will host the pivotal UN Summit on Climate later this year, wanted Australia to put an "ambitious" commitment on the table sooner rather than later.

"Your country is a very influential country in the Asia Pacific region and you know that climate change is having tremendous consequences in the region," he said.

"We do believe Australia has a very important role to play during this conference, first of all because Australia has always been a strong promoter of the fight against climate change.

Have your say: do you think Australia should follow French advice and stick to the international commitments on climate change?
"Keeping temperature increase below two degrees in the coming years is a commitment and it's the commitment of 196 countries, so we do believe that it's the ultimate ambition for the world community if we want to leave a liveable planet for the next generation."

But it is unclear if the Federal Government remains committed to keeping long-term temperature rises below the two degree goal as agreed in Cancun in 2010.

The website for the Department of Foreign Affairs states that "governments agreed that emissions need to be reduced to ensure global temperature increases are limited to below two degrees Celsius".

However, the Federal Government's issues paper for the post 2020 targets released two weeks ago made no mention of the two degree goal.

Its Energy White Paper released last week highlighted the economic opportunities from predicted increases in fossil fuel use that the International Energy Agency forecasted could lead to a temperature increase of up to four degrees.

The Climate Action Tracker predicts that on current trends, the global mean temperature is expected to rise between 2.9 and 5.2 degrees Celsius by 2100.

When asked by the ABC, neither the Foreign Minister nor the Environment Minister would directly respond to the question of "whether Australia remains committed to the goal of keeping long-term temperature rises below two degrees".

On Friday, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Australia would play a "positive" role in the lead-up to the Paris talks.

"Australia contributes about 1 per cent of the world's global greenhouse gas emissions and so we will take action that is proportionate to our global greenhouse gas emissions," she said.

One target the Government is talking about is its 2020 Kyoto emissions reduction goal.

To meet it, Australia will need to reduce emissions from 2000 levels by 5 per cent.

It is a target the Government has been extremely confident about meeting and even potentially exceeding.  "Australia is on track to meet our 2020 targets," Ms Bishop said.  "Not every country, in fact not many countries can claim they will meet their 2020 targets.

"So Australia will attend Paris in a very good position having, I believe, made significant progress towards meeting our 2020 target."

The Government's confidence is based on the fact that Australia has met its previous international targets.


Put the acid on Great Barrier Reef doomsayers

By Patrick Moore (A co-founder and former leader of Greenpeace)

There is nothing more symbolic of the natural beauty of Australia than the Great Barrier Reef.

This makes it a powerful emotional tool to strike fear into the hearts of citizens. The “ocean acidification” hypothesis, that corals and shellfish will die due to higher levels of carbon dioxide dissolved in the sea, is often used to stoke those fears.

Here’s why I don’t believe there is a shred of evidence to support these claims.

When the slight global warming that occurred between 1970 and 2000 came to a virtual standstill, the doomsayers adopted ­“climate change”, which apparently means all extreme weather events are caused by human emissions of CO2.

Cold, hot, wet, dry, wind, snow and large hailstones are attributed to humanity’s profligate use of fossil fuels. But the pause in global warming kept on and became embarrassing around 2005.

Something dire was needed to prop up the climate disruption narrative. “Ocean acidification” was invented to provide yet another apocalyptic scenario, only this one required no warming or severe weather, just more CO2 in the atmosphere.

The story goes that as CO2 ­increases in the atmosphere the oceans will absorb more of it and this will cause them to become acidic — well, not exactly, but at least to become less basic. This in turn is predicted to dissolve the coral reefs and kill the oysters, clams, mussels and algae that have calcareous shells. It was named “global warming’s evil twin”.

Seawater in the open ocean is typically at a pH of 8.0-8.5 on a scale of 0-14, where 0 is the most acidic, 14 is most basic and 7 is ­neutral. Ocean acidification from increased CO2 is predicted to make the ocean less basic, perhaps to pH 7.5 under so-called worst-case projections.

How do I know that increased CO2 will not kill the coral reefs and shellfish? Let me count the ways.

* First, contrary to popular ­belief, at 400 parts per million (0.04 per cent), CO2 is lower now in the atmosphere than it has been during most of the 550 million years since modern life forms emerged during the Cambrian ­period. CO2 was about 10 times higher then than it is today.

Corals and shellfish evolved early and have obviously managed to survive through eras of much higher CO2 than present levels. This alone should negate the “predictions” of species extinction from CO2 levels nowhere near the historical maximum.

* Second, due to its high concentration of basic elements such as calcium and magnesium, sea­water has a powerful buffering ­capacity to prevent large swings in pH due to the addition of CO2.

This self-correcting capacity of seawater will ensure the pH will remain well within levels conducive to calcification, the process whereby shells and coral structures are formed. Marine shells are largely made of calcium carb­onate, the carbon of which is ­derived from the CO2 dissolved in the seawater.

* Third, and most interesting, there are freshwater species of clams and mussels that manage to produce calcareous shells at pH 4-5, well into the acidic range. They are able to do this because a mucous layer on their shell allows them to control the pH near the surface and to make calcification possible beneath the mucous layer.

The “ocean acidification” story depends only on a chemical hypo­thesis whereas biological factors can overcome this and create conditions that allow calcification to continue. This is corroborated by the historical record of millions of years of success in much higher CO2 environments.

* Fourth, ocean acidification proponents invariably argue that increased CO2 will also cause the oceans to warm due to a warming climate. Yet they conveniently ­ignore the fact that when water warms the gases dissolved in it tend to “outgas”.

It’s the same phenomenon that happens in a glass of cold water taken from the fridge and placed on a counter at room temperature. The bubbles that form on the ­inside of the glass as it warms are the gases that were dissolved in the colder water. So in theory a warmer sea will have less CO2 dissolved in it than a cooler one.

* Finally, it is a fact that people who have saltwater aquariums sometimes add CO2 to the water in order to increase coral growth and to increase plant growth. The truth is CO2 is the most important food for all life on Earth, including marine life. It is the main food for photosynthetic plankton (algae), which in turn is the food for the entire food chain in the sea.

For some reason, the proponents of catastrophic global warming ignore this fact. They talk of “carbon pollution” as if CO2 is a poison. If there were no CO2 in the global atmosphere there would be no life on this planet. Surely, that should be enough to permit questioning the certainty of those who demonise this essential molecule.

Many climate activists are telling us ocean acidification is decimating coral reefs and shellfish. Have they read the story of ­remote Scott Reef off Western Australia? The ARC Centre of ­Excellence for Coral Reef Studies reports that in a brief 15 years this huge reef recovered completely from massive bleaching in 1998. Reefs go through cycles of death and recovery like all ecosystems.

We are told CO2 is too high and we will suffer for it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We should celebrate CO2 as the giver of life it is.


Replacements named for Medicare Locals

Very fuzzy what good this will do anyone

THIRTY-ONE new Primary Health Networks will replace Labor's 61 Medicare Locals across Australia from July 1, the government says.

HEALTH Minister Sussan Ley said on Saturday the successful applications to run the new PHNs had been selected following a thorough tender process.

She said the 31 new PHNs would cost almost $900 million and generally align with state Local Hospital Networks to ensure better integration between primary and acute care services.

Ms Ley said the government wanted to ensure Australians could access the right care, in the right place, at the right time.

"Primary Health Care networks form a core part of our plan," she said in a statement.

Labor launched Medicare Locals in 2011 to better co-ordinate delivery of healthcare, making it easier for patients to negotiate the maze of services.

A review commissioned by the coalition found a few high performing Medicare Locals but most were not fulfilling their intended role. They were scrapped in last year's budget.

Ms Ley said many of the successful PHNs were consortiums harnessing skills and knowledge from a range of sources, including health providers, universities, private health insurers and some of the more-successful former Medicare Locals.

She said the new PHNs would concentrate on delivery of frontline services not backroom bureaucracy, improving the overall operational efficiency of the network by 30 per cent.

"By aligning PHNs with state Local Hospital Networks we also aim to reduce the merry-go-round for many patients with chronic or complex conditions between primary care and hospital treatment," she said.

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association chief executive Alison Verhoeven said a challenging job was ahead to get the new PHNs up and running by July 1.

"Maintaining patient services, for example in mental health, must be a priority as transition plans are implemented and organisations are developed," she said in a statement.

Shadow health minister Catherine King said the government had opened the door for a fundamental attack on Medicare by awarding contracts for four PHNs to consortia involving private health insurers.

She said that gave private health insurers a direct say in primary health care in these areas, opening the way for interference in relationships between doctors and patients and expanding their reach into general practice.

"Allowing private health insurers to run PHNs is the first step towards a two-tiered health system with health insurance members able to jump the queue," she said in a statement.


A REAL challenge

Cross-continent trip across Australia in 'world's worst car'

A group of European documentary film-makers will soon set out from Perth to cross the country in what could be the world's most notoriously unreliable car - a Communist-era East German Trabant.

Their Top-Gear style antics will be captured in a documentary film to be shown across eastern and central Europe.

The Czech, Polish and Slovakian car enthusiasts have already completed epic road adventures across central Asia, South America and South Africa and are now preparing to conquer 20,000 kilometres of harsh conditions in Australia and South East Asia.

What makes their transcontinental treks remarkable is that they are completed in a Soviet-era Trabants, an East German vehicle many consider to be the worst car ever made.

The Trabant is the cheapest car in Eastern Europe and the whole body of the car is made from plastic so it cannot rust.

The team's leader, Czech Dan Priban said the Trabant was is the laughing stock of the car world - but that is precisely why his team loved it.

"It's a very small car - it has a two-stroke engine. It sounds like old motorbike so it's very, very weak. It's [the] most horrific car in Eastern Europe and we love it!"

Since 2007 the antics of Priban and his team have featured in several documentaries, gaining them a cult following in central and eastern Europe.

"In South America we got a deal with Czech television and made a TV series —some compare [it] with Top Gear but [with a] very, very, very low budget," Priban said.

"People in Slovakia love it, and some people in Poland. People in Germany know about us. In our small countries people like it and people love it."

Over the next four months Priban and his drivers hope to drive their two yellow Trabants, a Polish Maluch and some motorbikes 20,000 kms across Australia, East Timor, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

However the team have already hit one hurdle ahead of their departure from Perth — Australian customs and quarantine.

"There is a lot [of] bureaucracy. We [have shipped] cars to Africa, shipped cars to South America and every time there's a problem in the port. But in Australia everything [is] very, very, very slow," Priban said.

The drivers hope to eventually depart Perth in the next week, driving across the country to Sydney and then up to Darwin.

Mr Priban is already making a preemptive plea to Australians for early roadside assistance.

"When somebody in Australia will see the funny yellow cars, stuck in the middle of the road please help us —because we can get stuck anywhere."


1 comment:

Paul said...

Huh, Trabant. obviously they've never owned a Lada.

(Yes I did, long ago. The dealer stopped fixing it and just lied to me instead because the warranty was bankrupting them)