Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Popularity surge for Turnbull
Australia's new prime minister received a boost from a respected opinion poll on Tuesday, but the fallout lingers from a bitter party battle as the leader he ousted has attacked the credibility of his new treasurer.
A Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper on Tuesday found that Malcolm Turnbull is Australia's most popular prime minister in more than five years — a period that covered the terms of Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott.
The poll found 55 percent of respondents preferred him as prime minister — 18 points more than Abbott received when the last poll was taken two weeks ago.
Turnbull also opened a 34-point lead over opposition leader Bill Shorten, who had led Abbott in most Newspolls this year.
Newspoll also puts Turnbull's coalition government ahead of the center-left Labor Party's opposition for the first time since April last year. However, the government's 51 percent to 49 percent lead over the opposition is less than the survey's 3 percentage point margin of error.
In Abbott's last news conference as prime minister after he was ousted in a surprise leadership ballot of lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Party, he promised to make the transition to the new administration "as easy as I can."
"There will be no wrecking, no undermining and no sniping," Abbott said.
But in his first media interview since then, Abbott contradicted the new Treasurer Scott Morrison's version of events leading up to the leadership challenge.
Morrison has said he played no role in the challenge that resulted in his own promotion from social services minister to the senior economics portfolio, which is regarded as the most prestigious after the prime minister.
Morrison also said he warned Abbott's office days before Turnbull's challenge that "things were pretty febrile and they should be on high alert."
But Abbott told The Daily Telegraph newspaper in an interview published on Tuesday that there was no such warning.
"Not true, not true. Scott never warned anyone," Abbott told the newspaper after a morning surf in Sydney on Monday. "I'm afraid Scott badly misled people."
Abbott's version of events will likely heighten the anger of his allies within the government ranks who accuse Turnbull and his supporters of treachery.
The Newspoll was based on a telephone survey of 1,645 voters nationwide from Thursday until Sunday last week. The poll was taken after Turnbull was sworn in as prime minister but before his Cabinet was sworn in on Monday. His Cabinet is younger, more moderate and contains more women than the previous Cabinet chosen by the more conservative Abbott.
The poll mirrored two opinion polls last week that found Turnbull was more popular that Shorten.
Shorten says the poll bounce is just a short-term reaction to the removal of an unpopular prime minister.
Science and innovation front and centre for Turnbull Government
The Australian Academy of Science looks forward to working with the Turnbull Government to put science and innovation firmly at the centre of a strategy to build an agile and innovative Australia.
Academy President Professor Andrew Holmes today welcomed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement that the industry, innovation and science portfolio is one of his Government’s ‘most important agendas’. Professor Holmes also welcomed the appointment of Christopher Pyne as Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science.
“Prime Minister Turnbull has wasted no time in articulating a vision for an agile, innovative Australia with science and innovation at the centre of a whole-of-government strategy,” Professor Holmes said.
“We welcome his approach and look forward to working with the Prime Minister and Ministers across all science- and education-related portfolios to build a strong future for Australia.”
“We thank outgoing Minister Industry for Science Ian Macfarlane for initiating a national strategy for science and we look forward to working with Minister Pyne to ensure Australia takes a long-term, strategic approach to scientific infrastructure, careers and research funding.
“We welcome the news that Karen Andrews will continue her work with the sector as Assistant Minister for Science: Ms Andrews has proven to be astute and committed to the portfolio, and we look forward to continuing to work with her, and to working with the new Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy.”
The Academy also congratulated the new Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, on his promotion in the portfolio. “Having been Assistant Minister, Mr Birmingham knows the sector well,” Professor Holmes said.
“Minister Birmingham has been clear in his wish to build consensus in the tertiary education sector before moving ahead on any reform, which we believe will be crucial for Australia’s aspirations to reach and maintain the highest education standards internationally.”
Indonesia to take more beef cattle
An export industry almost destroyed by Gillard
Indonesia is expected to allocate permits for another 200,000 to 300,000 live cattle from Australia this year but warns it plans to import beef from other countries to end the virtual monopoly.
Acting director-general for international trade Karyanto Suprih told Fairfax Media Indonesia was considering importing live cattle and boxed beef from other countries such as India and the Philippines to reduce its dependence on Australia.
Australia is the only country to export live slaughter and feeder cattle to Indonesia and is the dominant boxed beef supplier with about 80 per cent market share.
However Indonesia already sources beef from foot-and-mouth-disease free countries such as the USA, Canada and New Zealand.
"All this time we have been always importing from Australia but recently we have been thinking of having more suppliers," Mr Karyanto said. "Limited options will only lead to greater dependence."
Australia, the world's third-largest beef exporter, supplied about 40 per cent of the beef consumed in Indonesia last year.
However, Indonesia shocked the Australian beef industry when it slashed the number of live cattle imports to 50,000 in the third quarter of 2015 in an attempt to move towards self-sufficiency.
The drastic cut – down from 250,000 in the previous quarter – led to soaring beef prices and butchers in Jakarta and Bandung walking off the job in protest.
Although the start of the fourth quarter is just two weeks away, the import permit allocation is still unknown, creating an agony of uncertainty for exporters who are forced to take a gamble on how many cattle they should buy.
The radical cut last quarter left farmers in the Northern Territory scrambling to find other markets for about 150,000 cattle.
Mr Karyanto said Indonesia expected to import 200,000 to 300,000 cattle in the fourth quarter but the final figure would be decided by a meeting held by the Co-ordinating Ministry for the Economy "in the near future".
The cattle would come from Australia because they were free of foot and mouth disease "but in the future we will plan to import from other areas", he said.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and the Australian Livestock Exporters' Council have called for an annual permit allocation system to end the uncertainty for exporters.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who is scheduled to meet the new Indonesian Trade Minister Thomas Lembong in Jakarta on Monday, plans to discuss the live cattle trade.
Australian Livestock Exporters' Council chief executive officer Alison Penfold said Australia had a competitive advantage because it was only five days by boat and seven hours by plane from Indonesia.
Australia provided high-quality, disease-free cattle that were fattened in feedlots in Indonesia, which also supported the local economy, she said.
"Buying product from other markets is not the answer to securing Indonesia's food security," Ms Penfold said.
"They have right on their doorstep the best partner in beef food security they could ever have."
Baby’s gender should be a choice
For an enlightened country at the forefront of cutting edge medical research, Australians can sometimes carry on like backward simpletons.
How can a country responsible for the invention of the cochlear implant, the first bionic eye and many advances in prenatal care be so restrictive in giving couples what they want?
And what an increasing number of couples want is to be able to choose the sex of their child.
Yet the practise of sex selection is illegal in Australia, forcing prospective parents to travel to the US for costly treatments.
Before you start blabbering about “social engineering” and “gender bias”, ask yourself what harm is done by giving parents the girl or boy that they are desperate for? What is wrong with allowing a couple who, for example, may already have three boys and are eager for a girl, to use available technology that makes their dreams of a daughter a reality?
Some argue it goes against nature, but then that same argument can be made about all medical intervention.
Indeed the entire IVF industry is about repudiating nature and giving people who are unable to conceive naturally the gift of bearing children.
As it stands, sex selection is banned unless it can be demonstrated that it is necessary to avoid the risk of a genetic abnormality or genetic disease in a child.
But the law of unintended consequences means that some people, anxious for a child of a particular gender, use methods that are highly undesirable.
Victorians were shocked in 2011 to learn that a mother chose to abort two healthy male foetuses because she wanted a girl after having three sons and losing a daughter soon after birth.
That case gained attention as the husband and wife took their case to VCAT after being denied by the Patient Review Panel.
However many medical professionals believe that it was not an isolated incident and abortions are routinely used to sidestep the ban on sex selection.
That’s a needlessly risky and potentially traumatic means of achieving something that can be done simply and safely before conception.
In Western countries like Australia and the US, there is no evidence that couples would show a bias towards male children.
In fact the gender bias heavily favours girls, with one IVF clinician estimating that about 80 per cent of Australian couples using sex selection opt for a girl.
Renowned American IVF specialist Dr Daniel Potter has been scathing of Australia’s regressive policies which have forced hundreds of couples to seek treatment at his HRC Fertility clinics in California. He said: “It is a reproductive freedom issue. You can have an abortion for whatever reason you want, but if you want to have a child, people question why.
“The technology is safe, it is there, so why not allow people to use it?”
Dr Potter sees about 20 Australian couples every month, people who are so determined to select the sex of their child that they spend tens of thousands of dollars for treatment in the US.
That figure is increasing rapidly and has doubled in the past five years.
For reasons that defy logic, sex selection has been banned in Australia for the past decade but the good folk at the National Health and Medical Research Council may change all that. The NHMRC will soon determine whether the ethical guidelines around assisted reproductive technology should be changed to allow parents to select the sex of their child.
Professor Ian Olver, director of the Sansom Institute for Health Research and chair of the Australian Health Ethics Committee, believes that having couples travel overseas for expensive procedures is problematic.
“The committee is aware that some Australians are pursuing sex selection in overseas clinics,” he wrote. “And because not all international clinics have the same standard of care that exists in Australia, this could be risky for both the woman and her child.”
Prof Olver also dismissed the slippery slope argument employed by many opponents of sex selection who believe it will lead to designer babies where parents pick the eye colour, height or special aptitudes of their progeny.
“There’s no natural progression between approving non-medical sex selection and approving being able to select other characteristics,” he said.
“Sex selection is a discrete choice around which a definite boundary can be drawn.”
It’s interesting how the natural reaction of some is to recoil at advances in science.
Even in cultures where male children are favoured, wouldn’t it be preferable to allow couples to choose the sex of their child at conception rather than have many Chinese girls aborted, abandoned or killed soon after birth every year.
China’s gender ratio is now so out of whack, thanks to the country’s one child policy and the preference for male children, that it is estimated by 2020 there will be an additional 35 million men with no female partners.
The demand for gender selection may be growing in Australia but the overwhelming majority of those using IVF just want a healthy child.
We should be able to accommodate the few who want to choose the sex of their child without forcing them to spend thousands of dollars travelling overseas or worse using termination as a means of achieving what can be done in a lab.