Thursday, November 12, 2015
Australia makes a small concession on global warming
Agreed to talk about refrigerant gases. But Warmists overjoyed by even that small validation for their beliefs
Australia has been applauded by delegates at climate change ministerial talks in Paris for returning to active climate diplomacy.
With the major UN climate summit set to begin at the end of this month, some 60 countries have sent ministers to Paris for advance talks.
Climate activists have praised Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt's work for achieving a breakthrough in a six-year-old deadlock on a side protocol, delivering a bonus cut equal to two years' total global carbon emissions.
And Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has negotiated for Australia to become one of two co-chairs of the UN's Green Climate Fund, a body that Tony Abbott once derided as a "Bob Brown bank".
"We bring a new energy and a new commitment to these processes," Mr Hunt told Fairfax Media.
"At the first plenary session in the ministerial meeting, of all the countries that spoke only two countries received strong applause – Australia and Canada," in response to their opening statements, Mr Hunt said. The session was closed to the media.
A prominent Australian activist, the Climate Institute's John Connor, said: "There's an audible sigh of relief around the world when everyone realised that two countries with formidable diplomatic corps are not going to be ridden on mandates to be difficult."
Both countries have recently replaced conservative prime ministers with more centrist ones.
The Paris meeting is not expected to meet the international commitment to restrain global temperatures to 2 degrees above the pre-industrial average.
Hopes of achieving this by the end of the century now depend on a follow-up process that the Paris meeting is to design.
"Paris will produce an outcome of about 2.7 degrees but everybody is committed to the Paris process to review national targets," said Mr Hunt.
"The only figure being talked about is five years - we will probably come back every five years, in 2020, 2025 and 2030, for subsidiary rounds of new pledges" for the pledging period to 2030.
"The Paris meeting won't deliver 2 degrees, but the Paris process will," he said.
Last week Mr Hunt led a breakthrough in a deadlocked effort to cut greenhouse emissions through the Montreal Protocol.
Set up 30 years ago to cut ozone-depleting gases, the international Montreal Protocol was hailed as a success. The looming ozone problem was averted.
But the replacement gases that were embraced, hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs, have become a new problem because they add to the greenhouse effect of global warming.
Countries have been trying to phase these gases out through the Montreal Protocol but have been stymied by a negotiating standoff.
Mr Hunt brokered an agreement at a meeting of 197 countries in Dubai last week. That has started the process of planning the phase-out of HFCs.
The process is expected to take over a decade. But it is expected to eliminate the equivalent of at least 90 billion tonnes of carbon emissions, equal to two years of total global carbon output.
The Climate Institute's Mr Connor said: "We think it's a really important move and the Australian government played a good role. For too long it's been shoved around. India was a blockage."
Radical reforms to health insurance flagged by Turnbull Government
Private health insurers would be allowed to cover GP visits and common tests such as X-rays under radical reforms being canvassed by the Turnbull government that would shift Australia towards a more US-style health system.
Health policy experts say the move, flagged in a government survey of Australians about private health insurance, would reduce pressure on GPs to bulk bill their services at the Medicare rate of payment, inflating prices for patients.
The government has also opened the door to private health insurers charging higher fees for people who smoke or are overweight, and Health Minister Sussan Ley said she may slash subsidies currently provided for health insurance policies that include "extras" such as dental and optical services because "they may not be best value for money".
"There are all sorts of policy options on the table when we get through this process," Ms Ley said on Sunday after launching the survey.
Health economist and former secretary of the Commonwealth Department of Health, Stephen Duckett?, said allowing insurers to cover GP visits could undermine universal access to healthcare - the fundamental principle of Australia's Medicare system.
At the moment, Dr Duckett said high rates of bulk billing (around 80 per cent of GP consultations) encouraged other doctors to follow suit. If health insurers could cover GP visits, they may pay doctors more than the Medicare rate, changing the market dynamics.
"About 50 per cent of the population has general insurance, so this may encourage doctors to charge those people higher rates on the function that they will be fully rebated from health insurance. That would be inflationary and it might have a flow-on effect to people without health insurance who will be expected to pay," said Dr Duckett, from the Grattan Institute.
Health policy expert at the University of Sydney, Lesley Russell, said allowing insurers to cover GP visits would be like opening "Pandora's box" on fees.
"We know that in the hospital sector they (insurers) do deals with specialists around what they will pay, and in many cases they pay more than the Medicare reimbursement rate," she said.
Associate Professor Russell said the change would also reduce efficiency because GPs, radiologists and pathologists would be dealing with a raft of insurers with different rules, rather than just Medicare.
At the moment, private health insurers are not allowed to cover community based health services such as GP visits, pathology services such as blood tests and diagnostic imaging which includes X-rays, CAT scans and MRIs.
The government's survey, launched on Sunday, asks: "If insurers were permitted to extend coverage to health care services not currently covered, and knowing that this would lead to an increase in the price of premiums, which services should be covered?"
It also asks people if higher insurance fees should be charged based on age, gender, health conditions, smoking status and other "health risk factors".
Health insurers are currently not allowed to discriminate against people based on their health history or behaviour, so everybody pays the same premium for the same product, and insurers must provide cover to anybody who seeks it. About 50 per cent of Australians have health insurance, making it a $19 billion industry.
Ms Ley said that while she did not want any Australians to be excluded from health insurance, she wondered if people should be rewarded for avoiding unhealthy behaviours such as smoking.
"I'm really about incentives, not exclusions. For people that have private health insurance now, they can be reassured that we won't be changing the way we look after them in a whole of community sense," she said.
"We understand that sometimes you get sick and it's not your choice, but when I talk to young people who say 'Well I'm going to keep fit and I don't want to pay as much for my private health insurance because I'm going to do everything right. Is there a way I can get some incentive?', these are the sorts of things we want to explore".
Opposition health spokeswoman Catherine King said the move should sound alarm bells for every health fund member in Australia (about half of the population), and would shift more seriously ill patients into public hospitals.
"If the poll endorses charging smokers more for health insurance, how long before the government moves to look at charging people more based on their age, weight, alcohol consumption, general fitness, genetic testing or family history of cancer?" she said.
Western Australia Police Minister concedes major cases could have been mishandled
This is all about the poor relationships between Aborigines and W.A. police. Aborigines in custody will often agree to almost anything so special care has to be taken in interviewing them. The case below would seem to be about police NOT taking such precautions. They need to aim at justice, not convictions
A scathing review of the bungled police investigation into the death of Josh Warneke could indicate other major crime squad cases have been mishandled, Police Minister Liza Harvey has conceded.
The Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) last week released its report into the police handling of the case, in particular flawed 2012 interviews with Kimberley man Gene Gibson, who later pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Mr Warneke, 21, was bashed with a metal pole and left to die by the side of a road in Broome in August 2010.
The report found "the errors of individuals reflect a deeper malaise and systemic weakness, which permeates criminal investigations in this state".
Mrs Harvey was asked if the case raised doubts about other major crime investigations in Western Australia.
"It's quite possible and I would put to members of the community, if they feel that they are aggrieved with the respect to the way their matter has been investigated, that they should contact police," Ms Harvey told reporters.
Gibson, from the Western Desert community of Kiwirrkurra, was charged in August 2012 with murdering Mr Warneke in Broome in 2010.
But police questioned him without a translator and the Supreme Court ruled his interviews were involuntary and inadmissible.
Gibson's lawyers then negotiated with prosecutors who accepted a plea of guilty to manslaughter.
The CCC was highly critical of the Major Crime Squad, which headed the investigation and conducted the interviews.
The watchdog found detectives failed to follow procedures and breached the Criminal Investigations Act.
It said the squad needed to urgently review its capacity to conduct admissible interviews and the way it dealt with people with language difficulties.
Five officers have been stood aside as an internal investigation into police conduct continues.
The CCC did not publicly release any opinions of misconduct regarding the case but gave a separate report to police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan, who has said he was considering the report.
Mrs Harvey said she did not believe Mr O'Callaghan should be sacked, but all the CCC's recommendations should be adopted and it was his responsibility to enact change.
She said he had already taken steps to change the management structure in the Major Crime Squad.
"It is up to the commissioner, he's been in the role for a long time, to sort any of these issues out," Mrs Harvey said.
"If there's a cultural issue, I expect him to address it. He's given me his assurance that he will."
Useless education not helping young Australians to get jobs
Today's graduates are facing the worst job prospects in a quarter of a century - and perhaps even longer, the latest research shows.
"I wouldn't use the word 'bleak' . but these are the toughest labour market conditions since the early 1990s, that's for sure," says Graduate Careers Australia strategy and policy advisor Bruce Guthrie.
"The demand for graduates has dropped away."
The figures are even worse when looking only at new bachelor degree graduates. Among this group, the proportion unable to find full-time work four months after graduating is at its highest since the 1970s.
In 2014, only 68 per cent of new bachelor degree graduates were working full-time four months after graduating, compared with 85 per cent in 2008, research from Graduate Careers Australia shows.
Like previous generations, Generation Y has been raised with the belief that a good education would lead to a good job. But they're the first generation for which that promise may not hold true, according to Johanna Wyn, director of the University of Melbourne's Youth Research Centre.
"It's a global phenomenon. We're going into a phase where work is precarious," she says.
"For the first time in history, people who are qualified are struggling to get a foothold ... professionals are now on contracts or doing casual work, whereas becoming a professional of some sort used to mean you'd get a proper job."
In 2011, 26 per cent of 18- to 34-year-olds had a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with only 5 per cent in 1976, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Having a university qualification is more important than ever, but it has never provided less of a guarantee against job insecurity or even unemployment, says University of Melbourne sociologist and senior lecturer Dan Woodman.
"For this generation's parents, if you had a bachelor's degree, that was your ticket. You didn't have to worry about graduate employment rates because you were in a very elite minority," he says. "Now, more and more people are seeing one degree as not enough."
Among them is Ms Wenham, who will complete a combined BSc in Pharmacology and Master of Nursing at The University of Sydney over just four years.
"The more pieces of paper you have saying 'I have this degree and this degree', the better. I think jobs are going to people who can show they've put in the hard work," she says.
The urge to amass degree after degree is understandable, experts say, but it's far from given that it will bring you closer to your dream career.
"There is a mistaken view that getting more qualifications will improve your employment prospects. I think many employers value experience over qualifications," Grattan Institute higher education program director Andrew Norton says.
Postgraduate courses, which are mostly full-fee-paying, are significantly more expensive than undergraduate courses, he warns. "You've really got to be confident that it's going to pay off."
Unpublished Graduate Careers Australia figures suggest people coming out of postgraduate degrees without previous full-time work experience have very similar employment prospects to bachelor degree graduates, Guthrie says.
Gen Ys also seem ambivalent about whether more university is the answer to their woes. Paradoxically, nearly two-thirds of those surveyed in the Future Leaders Index said universities weren't equipping students with enough practical skills for the workplace - even though half said they were considering further study.
However, Guthrie says these beliefs are a reaction to the poor jobs market and not a reflection of university teaching. "Universities haven't changed how they teach overnight. The issue is not the quality of supply; it's demand from recruiters," he says.
"I suspect graduates aren't seeing that. They're just thinking they're under-prepared for employment."
Besides, the role of universities is to train people to think and understand the world, not just to prepare them for jobs, Professor Wyn says. "In fact, our longitudinal studies show the graduates most likely to be in full-time work by the age of 27 are those who have done an arts degree", she says, probably because they have the skills to "think outside the box".
As for those at university now, Guthrie says it's important to put current conditions in perspective. For one thing, unemployment among university graduates is half that of the general population, according to Bureau of Statistics figures.
"Our own research shows that three years after [graduating], their employment figures have improved markedly. So it's not that they're not finding work, it's that they're taking longer," he says.
"I talk to students regularly; I know it's difficult for them. I just tell them to hang in there. Keep trying."
British doctors moving to Australia
"More cash, fewer hours, less pressure"
Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Commons health committee, revealed last month that her daughter, a junior doctor, and eight of her friends had all quit the NHS to find work in Australia. It's a disturbing trend: but as the dissatisfaction over hours and conditions in the NHS grows, it may be one we have to get used to.
Australia has long attracted doctors from Britain. Depending on their seniority, doctors can earn up to 50% more in Sydney or Melbourne, despite generally working less overtime. With the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, now threatening to impose a tough new contract on junior doctors - one that would see their working hours increased and pay cut - the lure of Australia is growing.
This should be particularly worrying for the NHS, given that a review published last week found the UK would need 26,500 more doctors and 47,700 nurses to match the OECD average.
The UK provided Australia with 13% of its GPs and 22% of its specialists in 2011. The crisis could see these numbers rise. The latest General Medical Council figures show that in the 10 days after the Hunt contracts were confirmed, doctors made 3,468 requests for a certificate to practise medicine outside of the UK. The regulator normally gets between 20 and 25 requests a day.
Associate professor Brian Owler, who is head of the Australian Medical Association, said junior doctors should be "highly valued" and is critical of the NHS contract changes.
"Junior doctors are almost the engine room of the hospital system," he said. "They're the ones that are there every day waiting on patients and sorting out tests, they're the ones that are still there at night, and without them the whole system grinds to a halt. They're a bit undervalued sometimes in the services they provide - they're training as well as working - and people forget how essential they are. Without them, care would suffer."
Doctors came to Australia from the UK for a number of reasons, he said, including Australia's high training standards and beaches-and-sunshine lifestyle.
"And there have also been quite a number of general practitioners and other doctors come to us because they found conditions under the NHS difficult," he said. "Yes, we have our challenges here, but we know that there have been quite a number of challenges, particularly in general practice, over a number of years in the UK."