Sunday, May 17, 2015
Shorten’s budget reply is a shocker from a failed past
Bill Shorten’s budget reply speech is the most outrageous example of political sophistry we’ve seen in a long time. His brazen performance on Thursday evening was unsurprising for its lack of detailed policy work, a no-go area for the Opposition Leader, and the attendant mystery of how he would fund gimmicky promises. Still, Mr Shorten’s lunge back into an ancient grab bag of loopy ideas and failed enterprises came as a jolt. It shows a political operator who is short-term, superficial and mulishly negative. Mr Shorten is recklessly skirting around recent economic and legislative history; he has not learned the lessons of the accident-prone governments led by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
Yet Mr Shorten has tried to distance himself and his team from the mistakes of Labor’s six years in office. Nowhere is this more ridiculous than in his attempt to portray Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey as fiscal delinquents. This newspaper is disappointed in the Coalition’s ability to master its budget narrative. We believe the Treasurer has been timid in his second fiscal blueprint, allowing bracket creep to cosmetically enhance the budget’s bottom line in the years ahead rather than through a bold assault on loose spending. But the main culprits for setting the budget on a deficit course are Mr Rudd, Ms Gillard and Wayne Swan, who vandalised the economy in the wake of the global financial crisis.
Not content with this fabrication, today’s Labor also seeks to justify its unprincipled stand on budget repair. The opposition has blocked in the Senate billions of dollars in savings measures it had actually proposed in office. Given his record, it took rhino-grade hide for Mr Shorten to couch his reply as a call for bipartisanship; he himself is the source of negativity and blockage. Sure, the Opposition Leader says Mr Abbott was a wrecker before he became Prime Minister but the comparison does not hold up. In the hung parliament, Ms Gillard was able to pass hundreds of bills without political bloodshed, including Mr Swan’s tax-and-spend budgets. Mr Abbott was indeed a brutal critic of Labor’s serial and spectacular missteps, including its own-goal new taxes. But only in government did the Coalition ditch Labor’s job-killing carbon tax and its mining tax. The notion that Rudd-Gillard Labor was destroyed in parliament downplays Labor’s policy failings, dysfunction and internal wrangles.
Mr Shorten’s fiscal manifesto is unworthy of an alternative government. By not even costing his show-stopping 5 per cent tax cut for small business, most likely $2.3 billion a year, he jettisons credibility. He announced a Labor government would scrap the HECS debts of 100,000 maths, technology, engineering and science students. Add perhaps another $3bn to cover that. Mr Shorten promises to train more teachers and to school all children in the wonders of computer coding — when the basics of literacy and numeracy elude many students. By not detailing cuts or taxes to pay for such eye-catching promises, the opposition cannot be taken seriously. Labor claims the Coalition plans to cut $30bn from schools and $50bn from hospitals yet does not outline how it would come up with those funds.
For good measure, Mr Shorten also threw in a $500 million “Smart Investment Fund”. Labor’s rhetoric on industry policy is predictable from a leader who has been forged by militant industrial struggles in the rust belt. If Mr Shorten were merely alluding to Mr Rudd’s nostalgic claims about leading a country that “makes things” or follies such as the “cash for clunkers” scheme hatched by Kim Carr, we’d be sceptical. But Mr Shorten has set his spluttering time machine to the dim 1980s, when “strategic trade policy” was all the rage and Adelaide was abuzz with a Multi-Function Polis rising out of suburban scrub. To harness innovation, history shows governments must get out of the way; reducing red tape and taxes helps budding capitalists. Silicon Valley arose as a hub for “creative destruction” and risk-takers; it was not a case of the meddling state picking winners.
Mr Hockey’s budget may have been dispiriting for the dwindling reform constituency, but Labor’s reply is simply frightening. Mr Shorten is worried by the Coalition’s populism and restraint and is trying to resurrect the overblown fairness scare of last year on paid parental leave. While Labor pays lip-service to confidence and optimism, its electoral tactics and polling are hitched to negativity and fear. Far from being a “positive speech”, as the ABC cheer squad called it, Mr Shorten’s policy tosh and low-grade messaging is best left to the Greens; it’s not worthy of an alternative head of government. In 2010 Ms Gillard made a political death pact with the Greens out of desperation. What Mr Shorten is doing puts him squarely in the Greens’ axis. It’s a dangerous place for Labor, as its forlorn counterpart in Britain can attest. Failed Labour leader Ed Miliband — everywhere and nowhere, old-school Keynesian interferer, Green-wise and welfare-friendly — was the author of his political demise. Under Mr Shorten, Labor is on the same road to ruin.
Australia considering hosting US Air Force airplanes, military analyst says
A top military analyst believes Australia and the US may be holding discussions about hosting the supersonic B1 bomber in northern Australia, where it could threaten Chinese ships menacing US allies in the South China Sea.
The Pentagon on Friday was forced to contradict one of its own top officials who said the US would be "placing additional Air Force assets in Australia … including B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft".
Australia and the United States have been talking about expanding aircraft and ship visits to Australia as part of efforts to strengthen the alliance that includes extra marines in the Northern Territory.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute defence analyst and Defence white paper consultant Dr Andrew Davies said it was "well known Australia and the US were discussing such issues".
"This may have been a case of an official getting out ahead of the negotiations ... it is not inconceivable that discussions over expanding links to include regular visits by B1 bombers have taken place," he said.
Dr Davies said he attended a defence conference where a senior Royal Australian Air Force officer said airbase runways in Northern Australia would need to be modified to accommodate larger US aircraft.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he was unaware of any US plan to base B1 bombers in Australia and the Obama administration had told him the US defence official had "mis-spoken".
He said he saw the US-Australia alliance as an overwhelming "force for stability" in the region.
"Our alliance is not aimed at anyone," he said on Friday. "It's an alliance for stability, for peace, for progress, for justice and it's going to be a cornerstone of the stability of our region for many decades to come."
Assistant US defence secretary David Shear outlined the plan to a Congressional hearing in Washington on Friday, suggesting the move would act as a deterrent to "China's destabilising effect" on the region.
He told a special Congressional hearing on the South China Sea that the basing of aircraft in Australia was in addition to the doubling of US marines bound for Darwin from their current base in Japan.
"So we will have a very strong presence, very strong continued posture throughout the region to back our commitments to our allies," Mr Shear said.
Later the US embassy in Canberra said on Twitter: "Contrary to reports, and to correct the record, the US has NO plans to rotate B-1 bombers or surveillance aircraft in Australia."
The B1 Bomber is the backbone of the US Airforce long-range strategic bomber fleet. It can deliver 84 500 pound (227 kilogram) bombs against adversaries and is now deployed in the US campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee called on the hearing to respond to concerns about China's construction of artificial land masses, including runways, in the South China Sea.
The retreat comes just days after a US navy combat ship completed its first ever patrol of waters near the hotly contested Spratly islands and indicated plans to beef up surveillance of Chinese construction projects in the area.
Angry response from China
Washington's moves prompted an angry response from China, which urged the US to clarify its position.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press conference in Beijing that the country was "extremely concerned".
"We think the United States has to issue a clarification about this," Ms Hua said. "China has always upheld freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, but freedom of navigation does not mean that foreign military ships and aircraft can enter another country's territorial waters or airspace at will."
The USS Fort Worth Littoral Combat ship was closely monitored by People's Liberation Army warships, according to an article published on the American Navy's website. Reports in the Chinese media said the warships monitored Fort Worth's patrol closely and followed the ship until it left the area.
Defence analyst Rory Medcalf said the US decision to indicate greater surveillance of disputed territory in the South China Sea showed it had run out of "risk-free" options. There is increasing evidence China has ramped up its construction activities across the Spratly archipelago over the past year, creating islands and building ports, fuel storage depots, accommodation and possibly two airstrips.
The extreme scenario is that China is building a series of island fortresses across six reefs, enabling it to refuel warplanes and support a large number of troops.
More likely in the short-term is that the islands will be used as posts for intelligence gathering and supporting maritime activities and housing a limited number of military personnel.
US secretary of state John Kerry will meet Chinese political leaders, including President Xi Jinping, this weekend in Beijing.
The Defence Department spokesperson insisted that military cooperation between Australia and the United States is "not directed at any one country."
However the spokesperson did not dispute the report that the US plans to deploy B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft to Australia and declined to answer specific questions about any such deployments.
"The specifics of the future force posture cooperation are yet to be finalised," the spokesperson said. "Details are subject to continuing discussions between Australia and the United States. A range of different US aircraft already visits Australia for exercises and training. Increased cooperation will build on these activities."
Warmists are wailing about the latest Australian budget
What the Warmist below says would make sense if there really were any climate danger but conservative politicians everywhere know it is a just another Leftist crock. It would be dangerous for them to say so but deeds speak louder than words -- we see some such deeds described below
As the Treasurer was finalising his Budget speech on Tuesday, the World Bank released a report on Decarbonising Development: Three Steps to a Zero Carbon Future and our Bureau of Meteorology announced that El Nino is back - a big problem for Australia as global warming puts our already extreme weather on steroids.
These are hardly 'radical' organisations. Yet the Treasurer's speech made no mention of policies to modernise and decarbonise our economy. There was no mention of climate costs and the physical impacts of climate change that CSIRO has now repeatedly warned are happening now, and will only grow. The Treasurer did laud the truly awesome power of our fossil fuel exports - sufficient to power Mumbai, Tokyo and Singapore apparently.
Last night's budget highlights a number of problems with the government's approach to climate and economic policy. The budget continued the assault on the institutions and policies that form the infrastructure necessary for decarbonisation and, in a new twist, for increasing climate resilience. It entrenched concerns about the ability of Australia to achieve even its minimum 2020 pollution reduction targets. It maintained the perversity of taxpayers rather than polluters taking responsibility for emissions reduction.
On the last point, Economist Frank Jotzo from ANU contrasts the around $400 million a year of taxpayers money being spent under the government's Emissions Reduction Fund with an estimated $2 billion of revenue per year from polluters under emissions trading. That's twice the recent foreign aid cut. Worth repeating - the budget could be $2.4 billion a year better off.
Perhaps more importantly, just the default declining pollution cap under the previous carbon laws would, with a high degree of certainty, have achieved pollution reduction of 15 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.
Now it is highly unlikely that the government can meet the insufficient emissions reduction target it's aiming for - 5 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020.
As UNFCCC head Christiana Figueres reminded Lateline on Friday night, this is the minimum of the 5 to 25 per cent reduction range both parties have supported in the past. Stronger reductions were supposed to follow if the world was acting, which by all accounts it more than is. And let's not forget that the independent Climate Change Authority recommended at least 15 per cent reductions as our fair contribution to global action underway.
Another problem with the budget is its funding shortfall for the government's inefficient policies.
The first auction under the ERF just weeks ago priced carbon at $13.95 per tonne of emissions. If the around $1.6 billion forecast to be spent in the ERF's first five years ($75 million was to be spent this year) is spent at the $13.96 average carbon price, then 115 million tonnes of pollution reductions is achieved. The government recently estimated that it would require an extra 236 million tonnes reduction by 2020 to achieve the minimum reduction target of 5 per cent below 2000.
In other words, the government will need to buy as much reductions in the final year before its 2020 target as it achieved in the combined five years before it.
And that depends on broader pollution remaining in check, which is questionable with the sustained assault on renewable energy and the loophole ridden pollution safeguard mechanism that is supposed to stop pollution from rising.
The programs and institutions that track our emissions and are there to facilitate the required economic transition are under continued assault. While the Climate Change Authority is given a welcome lifeline of an extra year till end-2016, it remains on the chopping block longer term, along with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
All of these agencies provide significant value for taxpayers, credible independent advice and support for economic innovations crucial for a modern, smart and clean economy.
It is welcome that the budget makes some allowances for drought and disaster funding, especially in Australia's regional areas. But at the same time the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility was added to the list of climate and clean energy agencies to be wound up in 2017 - an organisation that highlights best practice in building greater resilience to climate impacts.
The gutting of agencies like these occurs just as leading global and domestic scientists, and the CSIRO, are telling us that we're experiencing rising climate impacts here and in our Asia-Pacific region. The unconscionable slashing of the overseas aid budget, and its threat to a viable foundation for financing greater resilience and cleaner development in our region, was yet another problematic aspect of last night's budget.
The risks to our future prosperity in a world focusing on a zero carbon global economy are not going away. This week's World Bank report is part of a growing realisation not only that we must decarbonise the economies if we are to avoid the goal of avoiding two-degree warming that was highlighted in the recent Intergenerational Report. It is part of a growing realisation that the benefits of action far outweigh the costs.
The benefits of our fossil fuel past are fast turning into the liabilities of the zero-carbon future.
Curious Budget items
Politics, Weber once said, is the slow boring of hard boards.
The debate leading up to this week's budget certainly confirmed that. It was not dominated by issues calculated to set the pulse racing: alternative models of aged pension indexation, and cost-benefit analyses of two-tiered business tax systems.
It was, as the federal government hoped, a mostly "dull and routine" - some might say, frustratingly timid - budget. However, certain pockets of very interesting spending still managed to sneak through.
Take, for example, the quarter of a million dollars pledged by the federal government for Bathurst to erect a new flagpole, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first time white people decided to build a settlement in Australia without water views - a decision they must surely be regretting.
One wonders what these pioneers would think of their memorial. As local newspaper, the Western Advocate, had it: "There were more than a few raised eyebrows when it was announced that Bathurst's lasting bicentenary memorial would be a flagpole on a toilet block." After Tuesday night's Budget, there will surely be a few more raised eyebrows around the country at the fact that it could cost quite so much.
Or how about the nearly $8 million being spent on maintenance and renovations for the Governor-General's two houses in Canberra and Sydney? Determined to learn from their mistakes last year, and deliver a budget in line with Australians' expectations of fairness, the federal government has taken an interesting approach. What could possibly cost $8 million? Are the wine cellars not full enough? Do the doilies need to be taken to the dry cleaners?
Or, finally, how about the $2.4 million of additional funding that the federal government committed to the Australian honours and awards system? As the budget papers explain, the money will go towards "support[ing] the increasing number of Australians recognised each year for their outstanding achievements." $2.4 million is a bit stiff, though. How many more knights and dames do you reckon that'll get us?
Budget 2015: slow to produce, hard to read, but certainly not all boring.
Indian surgeon Jayant Patel barred from ever practising medicine again in Australia
Former Bundaberg surgeon Jayant Patel has been barred from ever practising medicine again in Australia.
Queensland's Civil and Administrative Tribunal handed down its judgment this morning, finding Dr Patel lied to be registered in Queensland and concealed matters which questioned his suitability.
Judge Alexander Horneman-Wren said he must never be registered as a practitioner in the medical health profession.
Judge Horneman-Wren said Dr Patel's competence to perform complex surgeries had been found to be lacking.
Dr Patel served time in prison for killing three patients at Bundaberg Hospital but won a High Court challenge against his conviction and was released from jail in 2012.
The Medical Board of Australia and the Health Practitioner Regulation Agency brought disciplinary action against him after all criminal proceedings had finished.
They argued he lied to be registered as a doctor in Bundaberg in 2003, and performed surgeries he knew he was not competent to do.
Dr Patel did not attend the hearing.
The Medical Board of Australia said it will advise international medical regulators about the findings against Dr Patel.
The board said the findings will also be on the public record and accessible to all regulators to whom Dr Patel may apply for registration.
Disciplinary action against Dr Patel began in 2005 and the board said it is now pleased the matter is closed.
In 2010, the High Court ruled there was a miscarriage of justice in the way Dr Patel was tried for three counts of manslaughter and another count of grievous bodily harm.
This meant the Queensland jury had heard evidence which prejudiced the case. The High Court ordered Dr Patel be re-tried, saying he had carried out surgery on patients, who later died, "competently enough".
Separate trials were ordered for each of the charges and in March 2013 Dr Patel was found not guilty of manslaughter in the first of these trials involving the death of Mervyn Morris.
In October 2013, a jury failed to reach a verdict in the second trial on the charge of causing grievous bodily harm to patient Ian Vowles.
In November 2013, Dr Patel pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud in relation to dishonestly obtaining registration and employment in Queensland. He was sentenced to two years in jail for fraud, wholly suspended.
Queensland's Director of Public Prosecutions decided not to pursue any other charges.