Friday, October 23, 2015

Coalition same-sex marriage plan changed?

Dumped cabinet minister Eric Abetz has unleashed a blistering attack on a proposal to have the current Parliament vote in favour of same-sex marriage ahead of a 2017 plebiscite, describing it as a "thought bubble" and "ambush to boot".

And Senator Abetz, a vocal opponent of gay marriage, warned the idea would do nothing to heal the wounds caused by the September leadership spill.

The Coalition's most prominent advocate of gay marriage, Queensland backbencher Warren Entsch, wants the current Parliament to introduce and pass legislation which would legalise gay marriage but only be triggered by public approval in a plebiscite. Mr Entsch has discussed his idea, which includes mandating a plebiscite within 100 days of the next federal election, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is considering the proposal.

"I have said to him that I think we need to be looking at progressing this issue," Mr Entsch told the ABC.

"Generally a plebiscite was not generally binding. In this case, it would be binding and that would become law."

Under the leadership of former prime minister Tony Abbott, the Liberal Party decided in a marathon party room meeting to retain the traditional definition of marriage until the next election and hold a plebiscite after that, possibly in 2017.

Senator Abetz was dumped from his cabinet position and role as leader of the government in the Senate following Mr Turnbull's ascension to the prime ministership.

In an interview with the ABC on Thursday, Senator Abetz said pre-empting the result of the plebiscite was an attempt to override the party room's decision to maintain the Coalition's support for traditional marriage until the next election.

"It seems a bit of a thought bubble and an ambush to boot," he said.

"To try to force MPs to vote for legislation contrary to that is against that which the party room so overwhelmingly decided.

"Secondly I believe we'd get into uncharted waters and very complicated situations if we try to bind the next Parliament by a vote of this Parliament."

Senator Abetz said Mr Entsch had put Mr Turnbull, who supports gay marriage, in a "very difficult situation" by proposing the idea.

"It is not the actions, if I might say, that will help unity...which will help to heal some of the wounds of that which has happened over recent weeks," he said.

Queensland Liberal National senator Matt Canavan also expressed concerns about the idea of a current Parliament dictating a future one. "I think it has some merit however I have concerns about how one Parliament could bind a future Parliament," he told Fairfax Media.

"I will respect the view of the Australian people whatever that view may be in the plebiscite but I don't pretend I can impose that view on a future elected member of Parliament."

And Liberal backbencher Bob Baldwin, who was also dumped from the frontbench, lambasted the idea.


The boom that’s sweeping Australia: why beef is the next iron ore

IT’S been a long time since Charles Wooley saw so many farmers with huge smiles from ear to ear.  The veteran reporter has grown rather more accustomed to telling stories about hard times on the land — the droughts, the tears, the uncertainty.

But on 60 Minutes on Nine on Sunday night, Wooley uncovered the new boom sweeping Australia that’s leaving cattle farmers very rich and very, very happy.  Beef is being hailed as the new iron ore, as Indonesia and the rapidly expanding Chinese market drive up demand for our cattle.

And that demand — coupled with favourable grazing conditions — is turning Top End livestock stations into multi-million dollar businesses.  It’s even been tipped to be as big as the minerals boom.

Wooley told he couldn’t remember the last time he saw so much optimism in rural Australia.  “Farming in Australia, especially in the outback, is where the heartbreak is. It destroys families, it destroys lives, it destroys fortunes. Only the banks survive. But suddenly there’s some good news,” he said.

“I haven’t seen such optimism across the Top End for a long time. The Top End has done it very tough and suddenly Asia can’t get enough beef. Everybody is delighted. And that’s nice to report back.”

Australian farmers are selling Brahman cattle for about a thousand dollars each, and about 400,000 have to be produced for Asia between now and Christmas.

Not surprisingly, smart money is jumping into the livestock industry, including advertising baron Harold Mitchell, whose West Australian cattle station, Yougawalla, is a whopping 1.4 million hectares — bigger than some European countries.

Wolley went out to visit the remote station, which Mitchell bought in 2008. “In 2008 he had 2000 cattle, and you can see how much the market has grown because he’s now running 45,000 and in the next few years he plans to get to 80,000,” Wooley said.

“The carrying capacity is enormous in the Kimberley because we’re not into the wet (season) yet, we’re coming out of the dry, and there’s more feed than the cattle can eat.

“The thing that had made life difficult there was water, but the technology to pull water up from 18 metres down is much better now. It doesn’t cost Harold anything, he’s got solar pumps and they just constantly pumping away using the sun. There are watering points everywhere.”

Mining moguls are following suit. Gina Rinehart recently outbid global and domestic interest in Western Australia’s iconic Fossil Downs cattle station, which was believed to be bought for $30 million, while Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest expanded his pastoral interests in August with the purchase of two stations near Carnarvon.

“The big dough is getting in on it and they say it will be bigger than the mineral boom,” Wooley said.  “Actually, because of that, our national herd next year will be at the lowest numbers it’s ever been.

“So there’s your problem — do you retain the herd in order to breed more, or do you go for the money while it’s available? Because you never know what will happen, with the cruelty allegations and the closing down of the live trade. There’s always a wildcard in there so I think people are saying let’s sell while we can.

“The shortfall then works its way up the market, and that’s why you’re paying so much for beef in Sydney. But that beef is not the same kind of meat.”

Australians generally consider Brahman beef too tough to eat — as Wooley points out, any attempt to barbecue it turns it as tough as leather in moments.  But Asian consumers love it for slow cooking.

Wooley said the big question was whether there was room for smaller family farms to cash in on the demand, or if the boom would only benefit big, corporate farming.

He met one couple who have managed to elbow their way in — Damian and Kirsty Forshaw, whose station occupies a strip from the edge of the Sandy Desert to the Indian Ocean.

“The Forshaws are very happy folk,” he said.  “They’re a lovely family and theirs is only a little family farm — it’s only a half million acres (200,000 hectares), which is small by Kimberley standards, but it’s still bloody huge. They’ve got 5000 cattle but that’s worth millions.

“They got into (cattle farming), lying awake at night worrying about the bank, and all the years of stress and strain, and suddenly things appear good for them and that’s nice.”

But will the good times last? Wooley said the live cattle export issue could complicate matters, and a lot was riding on Australia’s relationship with Indonesia.

And we have seen things go belly-up with the resources boom.  “I’ve reported rural affairs over the years and it’s like mining, it’s either boom or bust — going gangbusters or getting burnt,” Wooley said.

“Drought doesn’t help but we don’t seem to be having a dough in the Kimberley, but I wouldn’t want to be trying to produce a hell of a lot of beef in the southeast at the moment, especially in this El NiƱo year.

“These animal cruelty issues are always a problem … In the interests of the industry Australia should monitor and encourage where they can practices which are more acceptable to the Australian public.

“But when the country is going well it is reflected in the overall economy, as it will be here. It will take a lot of heat off the economy from the slowdown of the minerals and suddenly you can stop digging into the ground and graze on top of it, and it’s certainly good news.”


Australia: the not-so little economy that can

Reserve Bank deputy governor Philip Lowe says we shouldn't succumb to "chronic pessimism" about this country, and he is right. Australia has been getting a lot of things right for a long time, and has a good chance of continuing to do so.

Lowe began a speech in Sydney on Tuesday by noting that while real income per capita is much the same as it was in 2008 when the resources boom was raging, it is still  60 per cent higher than it was in the early 'nineties.

That's a result of more adults being in work, more jobs being offered, and two special trends: above-average productivity growth in the nineties, and the resources boom in the noughties, and the huge increase in Australia's terms of trade and income that it served up.

That was then, however. The terms of trade doubled during the resources boom as commodity export prices soared, but half of that gain has now been given back. Lowe says you can't dismiss the possibility that the commodity price boom will return, but that you would be a mug to rely on it.

Demographics are also bearing down on the labour market participation rate, and undermining income that way.

That puts the weight squarely on getting productivity up, like the glory days of the 'nineties when Australia cashed in on its first big wave of economic reform.

Can we do it? Well, Lowe says we have several things going for us.

We have what he calls a strong institutional framework – government, regulations and law that work, in other words. We also have a high quality population: we might not have world-leading education, income, savings, innovation and risk-taking credentials and have been sliding a bit on the league tables, but we aren't dead-beats,either.

Our minerals wealth is a less important economic factor than it was when the resources boom was happening, but is still a huge asset that on its own brings in enough income to cover half our import bill.

The value of our agricultural base is also becoming increasingly apparent as Asia's middle class expands, and our proximity to Asia is a comparative advantage for our services sector,which has not only covered a net loss of about 100,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector since the early nineties, but led the creation of about 4 million new jobs.

Working the advantage

It is one thing to know what Australia's advantages are, and another thing entirely to work out how to leverage them, however. That's because the future is very difficult to predict. A Reserve Bank publication in 2000 that gathered the thoughts of geniuses of the day about the future didn't mention China once, for example.

Lowe's conclusion is that if you can't know what's around the corner, you need to be able to react quickly when you find out – and he says there are four golden keys, none of which his organisation holds: competition, innovation, the labor market, and education.

So it's complicated – but in my opinion, we are well placed. We are actively talking now about how to get the economy growing at its potential again for starters, just as we did at crucial times in the past. And while Lowe agrees with the Productivity Commission that Australia's industrial relations system should be simplified and updated, he also appears to agree with the commission that it does not need to be junked.

It displayed its flexibility during the global crisis, when jobs were saved by a shift towards part-time employment. It showed it again during the resources boom, when a wage explosion in the resources sector was largely quarantined from the rest of the economy. It is doing it now, as employment is supported by a moderation in wage growth during a period of economic weakness.

Lowe's comment that competition rules need to encourage new entrants, innovation and rapid competitive responses is also broadly in line with reality. The small size of Australia's economy has resulted in companies building what by international standards are large market shares, but the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is an active, pro-consumer regulator under chairman Rod Sims, and will be even stronger if the Turnbull government backs changes recommended by the Harper Review including  the prohibition of conduct that has the effect of substantially lessening competition.

Innovation is a harder nut to crack. Not so much at the research stage where Australia is finding niches, but at the development stage, where domestic market size and depth are missing.

Overall however we are in with a chance. You only need to spend time overseas to know that in many respects, Australia is already a modern economy, with fewer rules, regulations and roadblocks than many of its peers.


Peanut allergy breakthrough: New Flinders Medical Centre technique letting at risk kids munch on nuts with ease

CHILDREN who were so allergic to peanuts they needed emergency adrenaline injections are now happily munching nuts daily as a result of a world-first medical trial in Adelaide.

The Flinders Medical Centre project by paediatric allergist Dr Billy Tao uses a two-step technique, initially boiling peanuts for two hours to make them less allergenic.

Children are fed these peanuts to partially desensitise them, then when they show no signs of allergic reaction, the children are fed roasted peanuts to further increase their tolerance.

Of 14 participants aged under 16 who all had serious allergic reactions, 10 have completed the first stage and are now eating roasted peanuts daily, while four continue to eat boiled peanuts daily. The ethically approved trial has not been attempted anywhere else.

“One patient who had to be administered three adrenaline injections after consuming peanuts is now eating roasted peanuts every day without problems,” Dr Tao said.

His idea was based on German researcher Professor Kirsten Beyer’s observation that peanut allergies are less prevalent in China than the western world, and Chinese children tend to eat boiled peanuts rather than roasted.

Dr Tao was on the verge of retirement but instead decided to pursue this project, remembering that babies in his native China are fed peanuts boiled for so long they become soft, before progressing to roasted nuts when older.

Dr Tao’s partnership with Dr Tim Chataway, Head of the Flinders Proteomics Facility and Professor Kevin Forsyth from the FMC Paediatrics Department proved peanuts boiled for at least two hours are much less allergenic.

He cautioned against families trying the method at home and stressed children with a nut allergy should see an allergist.

The team is planning a project where peanuts are boiled for 12 hours to treat the most severe cases of allergic reaction.

“Desensitisation is temporary — if the patient stops eating peanuts the protective effect will gradually wear off,” Dr Tao said.

“However, if the patient continues to eat peanuts regularly, they may reach the status of oral tolerance and be considered as cured. This is the holy grail of allergy treatment.”

About three per cent of Australian children have a peanut allergy.

Kirstin White, of Cumberland Park, has constantly worried about son Rory, 12, having contact with peanuts after he was diagnosed as a baby and he has carried an EpiPen adrenaline needle as a precaution.

“It is quite terrifying — you worry there will be some minor contact causing a reaction, and now he is almost a teenager there is a bit of stigma about it, worrying about going on excursions and to parties,” Mrs White said.

“He now eats a handful of roasted peanuts a night and has a letter from Dr Tao that he no longer needs the EpiPen — we are thrilled.”


No comments: