Thursday, May 31, 2012

The "yellow peril" again?

Much of the world --mainly the vast countries of India and China  -- is undergoing rapid economic development.  The raw material of that  developent is of course people  -- followed closely by steel.  Steel is needed for everything, from machinery to buildings.  And steel is made from coal and iron ore.  So the demand for those two inputs is growing exponentially. 

Providentially, Australia is relatively close to both East and South Asia.  And Australia's West coast has gargantuan reserves of readily recoverable iron ore while Australia's East coast has gargantuan reserves of readily recoverable coal.

So Australian companies are digging like crazy and will pay almost anything to get the workers who work the digging machines and do all the associated tasks.  But the demand for skilled workers willing to work in isolated areas is so difficult to meet that it is hampering the development of new mines.  Solution:  Import skilled workers.  And the Australian government has agreed to that -- issuing "EMA" permits.

Enter the unions.  And enter  people with the traditional Australian fear of "cheap" workers from China.  The result is a deeply unattractive debate.

JULIA Gillard's concessions to unions over skilled migration in the mining sector have inflamed xenophobic sentiments, sparking business warnings of potential damage to Australia's relations with its Asian trading partners.

As the Prime Minister last night strongly defended her policy of putting Australian jobs first, the mining sector complained that "racist innuendo" surrounding Labor's new Enterprise Migration Agreements had taken politics to "a new low".

Former Queensland Labor treasurer Keith De Lacy, a former Macarthur Coal chairman, said "a fair bit of xenophobia" had underpinned the debate over EMAs, while the chief executive of the Australian Mines and Metals Association, Steve Knott, likened it to the debate over the White Australia policy. And in an address to the Minerals Council of Australia's annual dinner last night, Rio Tinto managing director David Peever warned against the dangers of divisiveness.

While the opposition yesterday demanded the Prime Minister pull her backbench into line or risk alienating Asian giants including China and Japan, former federal MP Pauline Hanson told The Australian that mining sector jobs had to be reserved for Australians.

The former One Nation leader declared she had "grave concerns" about EMAs, as north Queensland independent MP Bob Katter warned on his website: "Most Australians do not believe our country should be run by foreign interests who are determined to enforce a master-slave situation and undermine our workers' wages."

The highly charged rhetoric follows Immigration Minister Chris Bowen's decision last week to allow the Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia's Pilbara - which is 70 per cent owned by Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting - to hire up to 1700 foreign workers for the proposed $9.5 billion mine's construction.

Despite the design of EMAs having been settled months previously, Ms Gillard told union officials last Friday she was "furious" about the Roy Hill EMA and on Tuesday she agreed to the formation of a Labor caucus committee to oversee Mr Bowen's handling of future agreements.

Yesterday, the debate took a fresh turn as business leaders and the opposition warned that Labor had opened the door to a rise in xenophobic and racist sentiment. Pointing to comments from Mr Katter and Labor MPs including Kelvin Thomson and Doug Cameron, they said the debate about foreign labour had taken a distasteful turn that was against Australia's interests.

Mr De Lacy attacked the involvement of the Labor caucus committee, declaring the government had already taken two years to work out EMAs, which can be awarded to mega-projects with more than $2bn in investment and 1500 employees. "It is just economic vandalism to fiddle with it in this way for all the wrong reasons," Mr De Lacy told The Australian.

"And the wrong reasons are: it's not as though there's people there; there's a fair bit of xenophobia involved with it. It just proves once again that the resources sector increasingly is feeling that it is being treated as the enemy. "Are we the only country in the world that treats as the enemy that sector driving the economy and driving prosperity?"

Mr Knott accused critics of the agreements of resorting to "racist innuendo" that he likened to the debate over the White Australia policy. "The embarrassing political discourse surrounding Australia's need for a targeted migration policy to address peak construction labour demands has taken politics to a new low," he said.

"We're deeply concerned a number of our elected politicians appear to have joined the current campaign of negativity, lies and self-interested fear-mongering, complete with recurring misinformation about migrant rates of pay and sub-standard treatment.

"The racist innuendo and slurs against these workers is abhorrent and divisive, and must stop."

Mr Peever last night told the MCA dinner that "divisiveness can have no future in the vibrant Australia to which we aspire, where all Australians can be better off and continue to enjoy the unique fruits of this great land".

"Mining has a pivotal role to play in creating this future for all Australians and for our country," he said. "Complacency and inadequate understanding of the drivers for the sector are our enemies."

Howard government foreign minister Alexander Downer said the reaction from the unions and some elements of the Labor Party to the EMA was a profound embarrassment for Australia.

"It was a really ugly outbreak of xenophobia, and if Australia wants to work with Asia and work with its region, it's got to get over this sort of behaviour," he said.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said she believed Labor MPs, including Senator Cameron, had framed their recent comments about the EMA to appeal to racist and xenophobic sentiment.

"It sends a very poor message to our region that we don't welcome foreign workers," she said.

"These projects will not go ahead unless we are able to access workers from overseas. We should be welcoming them."

Ms Bishop said Ms Gillard should reprimand members of her caucus for resorting to "inflammatory and racist language". Ms Gillard said last night Australia would always need skilled workers and that demand would increase as the economy continued to grow.

"While grappling with that challenge, Labor will do what we have always done - put Australian jobs first," the Prime Minister said through her spokesman.

"This is an important policy matter, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition shouldn't be trying to exploit it. If the Liberal Party genuinely cared about Australian jobs, they would join with the government in supporting the Australian car industry; the Australian steel industry; as well as the retail sector, through tax cuts and cash payments."

South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon warned that while he welcomed skilled migrants, it was fair for people to ask whether policies were configured to ensure that Australians were given every opportunity to access work.


A face behind the "yellow peril"

Chinese worker is a good man - and a godsend

TO his boss, Chinese boilermaker Yong Jun Li is a godsend.  The 40-year-old is part of a small team of tradesmen, some Australian, some Chinese, who are busy in Perth's southern suburbs making mechanical anchors for the Gorgon gas project in Western Australia's far north.

Mr Yong, his wife Lan Hua Wang, 42, and their 16-year-old daughter Xi Li came to Australia in stages, starting with Mr Li in 2007 on a 457 work visa.

He rejects the accusations that migrant workers like him are cheap labour or are taking jobs away from Australians.  He understands he is needed, and does not feel any resentment from his co-workers.

Mr Yong's view is straightforward: work should be based on merit regardless of where a person comes from or the colour of their skin. If the Australian is better at the job, he should get the job. If the Chinese 457 visa worker is better, the gig should be his.

"If my work is good I deserve the job, if it's no good I should go home," Mr Yong said.

Blake Engineering manager Dave Gibney said his business would be in trouble without him.  "He's the best boilermaker we've had come through here by a long shot," Mr Gibney said.

In turn, the Li family has grown to love their new life in Perth.   Their daughter is doing well at high school and wants to study business at university.  His wife is working six days a week as a cleaner and she and her husband save enough each week to pay for extra tutoring.

They also hope to buy a house one day if they are accepted as permanent residents so they can grow old in the country they say gave them the biggest opportunity of their lives.  "I like Australia. I am very happy," said Mr Yong, who also studies English at TAFE.

Mr Gibney said he tried hard, and for a long time, to fill his workshop with local workers before turning to 457 visas to top up its workforce.

WA, which has an estimated $225 billion worth of projects under way or in the pipeline, accounts for almost one-quarter of the 457 visas issued in Australia.

The WA government's Workforce Development Minister Peter Collier says the top priority in his portfolio is to prepare West Australians for work but that skilled migration "will be a necessary strategy to fill those jobs unable to be filled by the local workforce".

He says research by the state's Department of Training and Workforce Development suggests the state could have 150,000 fewer skilled workers than it needs within five years. By 2020, the deficit could be 210,000 workers.

The WA Chamber of Commerce and Industry has watched the state's labour market tighten, and says temporary skilled migrants play a vital role in helping fill the short-term needs of many projects in the construction phase where there are shortages for workers with specific skills.

"WA faces labour and skills shortages in many industries," a chamber spokesman said.  "If we don't boost the current growth in the workforce, WA will fall 210,000 workers short by the end of the decade.  "In certain industries, there are simply not enough workers locally to meet demand."

Mr Yong has put in his application for permanent residency and expects to receive an answer within a week.  "I hope I can live in Australia," he said.


Gillard turns policy gold into ugly national debate

IMMIGRATION Minister Chris Bowen, in parliament this week, has outlined an indisputable rationale for an unambiguously good policy of the Gillard government. In promoting the economic advantages that will accrue to all Australians through the first Enterprise Migration Agreement, struck for the massive Roy Hill iron ore project, Mr Bowen has correctly pointed out that the option of recruiting up to 1700 temporary foreign workers will underpin the creation of 6700 jobs.

"This project is vital for Australia's future," he said, "and this agreement is vital for delivering it."

The logic is sound, the decision was sensible and the arrangement should prove a win for the mine developers, national economy, and local and guest workers.

Yet the government has contrived to turn this decision into a political own goal, which now has revived the ugly strains of 1990s Hansonism. Australian Workers Union boss and ALP national executive member Paul Howes said the deal helped the mining magnates that Labor was supposed to be attacking and ALP senator Doug Cameron led the xenophobic charge. "I just think that in the week where Australian workers are being marched off the job in Kurri Kurri and Tullamarine," he said, "that we're marching Chinese workers on to Roy Hill -- it just defies logic to me."

Other union leaders, Labor MPs and independent MPs have echoed these sentiments, descending into the sort of anti-foreign worker rhetoric we thought the labour movement had outgrown. This is disappointing, retrograde and could damage the national consensus that has developed around our immigration program.

Julia Gillard should have been able to condemn this reaction. But, rather, it was she who had encouraged it by expressing her anger about the EMA decision, behind closed doors to union leaders last week. So the Prime Minister has put herself in a humiliating and ambivalent position on this crucial national issue -- trying to give sustenance to the policy and, simultaneously, its critics.

This failure of leadership has resulted in an ALP caucus committee on EMAs to keep the executive in check. The independents have followed by forcing parliamentary committee scrutiny for EMAs. Potential investors, who have been encouraged by the EMA policy as a way to address skills shortages and provide bankability, must now consider added layers of red tape, administrative uncertainty and political doubt before committing to major projects.

Given the government's need for traction, a wise Prime Minister would have seized this announcement herself and revealed it at a media event in the Pilbara, with fully briefed union leaders, a premier and the world's richest woman by her side to add their endorsements. This way, Ms Gillard would have shown national leadership and demonstrated to the country that she had faith in our workers, our investors, our immigration program and our economic future.

Instead she has rankled her union backers, sown division in her ranks, unleashed populist independents, triggered a debate against foreign workers, complicated the process and created doubts in the business community.

In a perverse reversal of the alchemy of the mining industry, Ms Gillard has taken policy gold and turned it into dirt.


Chancellor slams Australia's university fee system as 'communist'

AUSTRALIA'S higher education system is akin to communism, one of the country's leading academics said yesterday.

Monash University chancellor Alan Finkel told the National Press Club the "centralised" system, in which the federal government sets course fees, was hampering Australia's research and innovation promise.

"What's happened in the last few years is they've freed up student demand so we've gone from a controlled sector … [that sets student numbers] but they've maintained central control, what I like to think of as a communist system in terms of how the universities are controlled from the federal government, which means we can't set fees," Dr Finkel said.
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"And if you can't set fees you can't increase the fees in order to have more money to invest in higher quality.

"So we need to allow diversification across the sector in terms of quality of research, quality of education."

Dr Finkel's comments come as Times Higher Education magazine published its inaugural "100 under 50" list.

The list is designed to showcase the "best" global universities aged 50 years or less. Australia performed strongly on the list, with 14 universities in the top 100.

Editor Phil Baty said the list was "brilliant news". "Only the UK has more representatives in the top 100 list than Australia, which beats the US, France, Germany and Canada," he said.

Australia's entries include Macquarie University and the University of Wollongong (tied at 33), and the Queensland University of Technology (40).


Another 1000 jobs cut from South Australian public sector

A FURTHER 1000 public sector jobs will be lost over the next three years.  The cuts - across all departments and agencies - are in addition to the 4100 public service job losses announced in last year's State Budget.

The latest cuts are expected to save the Government up to $160 million over the three years.

The Government aims to shed the jobs through a combination of targeted separation packages and natural attrition, but the move has sparked a storm of protest from public sector unions.

Public Service Association general secretary Jan McMahon warned that SA families would pay the price for job cuts.

Ms McMahon said the cuts would affect "real services" including social workers, youth workers and park rangers.  "We can't continue to lose the skills and capabilities and resources that are needed to deliver services to ordinary South Australian families and that's not to mention the loss of investment," she said.

"The public sector is not some faceless conglomerate, it's a critical cog in the wheel of our society.  "If it can no longer effectively deliver the services it is responsible, for then all South Australians will feel the pain."

Unions are already campaigning against previous job cuts they consider to be an assault on their members.

Treasurer Jack Snelling said he was doing everything in his power to ensure frontline services were not affected.

"Savings measures are needed to reduce the size of the Government, reducing the pressure on the state's finances while creating a leaner government," he said.  "Any full-time equivalent reductions will result from a mix of targeted separation packages and natural attrition and have been allocated across government agencies."

Treasury anticipates the separation packages will cost about $60 million, reducing the savings.

Business leaders and the Opposition have been highly critical of public service numbers in recent months.  The Motor Trade Association and Business SA called for widespread job cuts in their pre-Budget submissions.

Yesterday, the Australian Industry Group released its pre-Budget submission, calling on the Government to ensure the number of SA public sector employees, as a percentage of total employees, was the equivalent of the average of the other mainland states, and to deliver on its promise last year to reduce the public sector by 4100 jobs.

On June 1 last year, there were 84,882 full-time public sector employees, making up 12.6 per cent of the state's workforce. The numbers were as low as 66,933 in 2002.

The Advertiser reported in December last year that SA's public sector had grown by almost a quarter in the past decade, adding $1.3 billion to the Budget bottom line.

Less than a month later, the Government admitted the exact number of public servants was unknown because the last official report on workers was more than 12 months old.  The public service wages bill is predicted to grow from $6.6 billion in the current financial year to more than $7 billion in 2014-15.  Superannuation expenses will add another $400 million a year to that bill.

In its pre-Budget submission, MTA chief executive John Chapman said the Government needed more commitment to reducing public sector workforce numbers than it had shown to date.

After her recent re-election, PSA general secretary Jan McMahon said she would make the fight against public service cutbacks a priority.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Death threats" to Australian climate scientists were all hokum

Scorn is not a death threat

The death threat saga has reached parliament, with questions being asked at a Senate Estimates Committee of Prof Ian Chubb, current Chief Scientist, but Vice Chancellor of the ANU until March 2011. Most amazingly, Chubb confirms there were no death threats until the journalists got hold of the story!

The Australian reports that Liberal senator Scott Ryan questioned Chubb, who responded that, in 2010: "A senior member of his staff came to him with concerns from the institution's climate scientists over emails they had received and said they had also had "a couple of visits from people who had walked in off the street".

The staff member expressed a desire to have the climate scientists moved from their then-location, Professor Chubb said. "We looked at what we could do and we moved them. Senator, we did not make a fanfare, we did not go public. We simply moved them and got on with our business,"

Basically they were given swipe card access. So does this incident refer to the "kangaroo cull" incident, or another? He goes on to confirm he never read the emails:  "They were at least abusive but let me be clear . . . I didn't read the emails. I trusted the man who came to me, he was a senior member of the staff and he represented concerns of the staff to me," Professor Chubb said.

Yes, it has been accepted all along that the emails were offensive. However, Chubb saves the best until last:  "For the record, there were no alleged death threats except when journalists picked up the story."

So is this a media beat up? Can we now assume that this means that during Chubb's watch as Vice Chancellor, which ended in March 2011 with the appointment of Ian Young, there were no death threats to climate scientists at ANU? If so, why are the ANU still insisting, through the ABC correction, that they did, in fact, receive such threats?

The window during which such threats must have been received is closing rapidly, and is now restricted to the period March - June 2011. I am still awaiting a response to the questions I sent to the ANU's media office on Friday, seeking clarification.

Time, I think, for the ANU to finally come clean on this mess.


New Gillard government red tape 'risks mega-projects'

BUSINESS and the Coalition have accused Julia Gillard of making policy on the run at the behest of union leaders after reports she was considering requiring a cabinet subcommittee to oversee new Enterprise Migration Agreements to protect Australian jobs.

The attacks came last night as unions rejected business warnings that more red tape would smother the new EMAs, specifically designed to meet labour shortages in the booming resources sector by allowing the engagement of foreign workers.

Controversy over the new agreements continues just days after Immigration Minister Chris Bowen outraged trade unions by granting the Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia, which is 70 per cent owned by billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting, a permit to hire up to 1700 foreign workers for its construction.

While the design of the EMA, which can be used on megaprojects requiring more than 1500 workers and $2 billion in investment, simply delivered on a Labor decision announced more than a year ago in the 2011-12 budget, Ms Gillard amended the plan on Friday after union complaints, creating a Jobs Board to ensure Australian workers have the first opportunity to seek the mining-sector jobs.
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Yesterday the Prime Minister went further, telling parliament that although she backed the Roy Hill EMA she planned further "oversight" of the new system.

While she offered no detail, sources said last night a cabinet subcommittee could be used to monitor the situation. Although no details have been finalised, there was speculation the committee could include Wayne Swan, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten and Mr Bowen.

However, senior government figures were last night backing away from the move amid a backlash from Ms Gillard's colleagues about the message the establishment of such a cabinet sub-committee would send.

Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott said last night the new committee and the Jobs Board were "complete overkill".

"Since Friday's announcement about the Roy Hill EMA, various union bosses have been lining up with the usual and over-the-top class war and anti-migration rhetoric," Mr Knott said. "The fact that the PM is jumping in to appease this union ranting by announcing further red tape to an already complex EMA approval process highlights the shallow depths of government decision making.

"The after-announcement decision of a government jobs board is bordering on ridiculous, at best a waste of taxpayers' money, at worst a plot for joint government-union control of critical labour supply pipelines for such mega-projects."

The Business Council of Australia was also concerned about the changes, taking the unusual step of going around Ms Gillard to appeal directly to Labor MPs ahead of a caucus meeting today. Tony Abbott last night seized on the ongoing transformation of EMAs chaos to accuse Ms Gillard of succumbing to panic.

"Julia Gillard is losing control of her ministers and losing control of government policy," the Opposition Leader told The Australian.

"This is just further evidence Julia Gillard can execute a prime minister but she cannot execute a policy or a program."

The opposition spokesman on immigration, Scott Morrison, said the latest changes would make Mr Bowen's position untenable.

"Such oversight was not part of the policy when announced more than a year ago and would be another slap in the face to Mr Bowen, from a desperate Prime Minster who simply can't get her story straight," Mr Morrison said.

While Labor has made much of the economic upsides of the mining boom, Mr Bowen's announcement last week highlighted concerns about whether the nation would be able to supply the construction workers and engineers that resources mega-projects needed.

With Left faction convenor Doug Cameron having foreshadowed a caucus attack on EMAs, BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott wrote to all Labor MPs yesterday warning them not to give in to the "knee-jerk temptation" to smother the EMAs in red tape.

"The successful delivery of these projects is far from assured and one of the major barriers is the current shortage of labour," she wrote. "The government

has made the changes to the migration system in recognition of this very real risk."

She said employers agreed that Australians should be filling the jobs being created by the mining boom. "But the reality is that skilling-up Australian workers for these often specialised projects will take time, and even for workers who do have the right skills many simply don't choose to take (jobs) for understandable lifestyle reasons," she said.

"At a critical time for a number of major projects, the EMA program is all about helping Australia overcome temporary and acute labour shortages in high-performing sectors of our economy."

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies said the EMA's design had been settled through previous consultation. "If the government is now going to go back and revisit all the conditions and make the hurdles higher in terms of qualifying for an EMA, then we would be seriously concerned," said chief executive Simon Bennison. "I think that there are sufficient safeguards in there for the government to feel quite comfortable that the companies have got to be very diligent in making sure that they provide every opportunity to Australian workers in taking up those positions. So I would like to think that the government does not have a knee-jerk reaction to activities by a number of the unions."

Union leaders stood firm. New ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said he would push the government to ensure the Jobs Board was used to require companies to prove they had tested the local market and interviewed local applicants before winning approval to engage overseas workers.

Mr Oliver said the union movement had been telling the government for 18 months that mining companies should not be able to take the "lazy option" of importing labour.

Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes maintains that the Roy Hill agreement "stinks".

He said while EMAs could be a "smart way" to proceed in principle they should not be approved until the local labour market was thoroughly tested.

Mr Howes said the Jobs Board should have been functioning before the Roy Hill deal was approved rather than being announced simultaneously.

Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union boss Peter Tighe declared the government would face a backlash if it did not require a Jobs Board for every project. "And if the government doesn't do that they'll have a political problem with the Australian workplace," he said.

"We just think that the arrangements around the EMAs are that loose you could drive a truck through them."

In parliament, Mr Bowen said Mrs Rinehart was proposing a $9.5bn project at Roy Hill and needed to be able to satisfy financiers that she could deliver the workforce to build on schedule. He said the EMA allowed the company to hire up to 1700 foreign workers, but they would work alongside 6700 Australians.

Mr Ferguson said Australians needed to understand that, without foreign workers filling construction vacancies to build the new mines, projects that would employ thousands of Australians over the long term might not be built.

Ms Gillard faced heavy opposition questioning over her position on EMAs in parliament. She said she supported the Roy Hill project, but in meetings with Mr Bowen and Mr Shorten last week had agreed to stronger oversight of the agreements.

Mr Shorten told The Australian that the Jobs Board would put the onus on employers to show that they had considered local workers before taking overseas workers for a project.

The union push is focused on the Jobs Board to be set up for Mrs Rinehart's project, but would also be applied to a looming agreement for several big LNG export facilities including Chevron's Gorgon project in Western Australia and Inpex in the Northern Territory.


Queensland hospitals postponing elective surgery and temporarily closing beds to get budgets back in the black

KEY Queensland hospitals have postponed elective surgery and temporarily closed beds as they battle to get overblown budgets back in the black before July.

Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has had to intervene to protect frontline workers amid reports some health regions were cutting too hard, but he has sanctioned reductions to some services.

Although insisting urgent surgery and emergencies would not be affected, Mr Springborg said some cuts were necessary to ensure new Hospital and Health Services were not lumbered with "Labor's debt" when they come into force from July 1.

"We're imposing a very, very strict financial discipline, otherwise taxpayers are the losers," he told The Courier-Mail.

Townsville Health Service will likely be $12 million in the red come June 30 and a leaked email shows District CEO Andrew Johnson has suspended temporary and permanent appointments, including frontline positions, for the rest of the financial year.

But Dr Johnson said in a written statement that permanent frontline vacancies continued to be filled, despite later stating the district's full-time equivalent staff had grown by an "unsustainable" 221 since December.

On the Gold Coast, six beds were closed and about 50 elective surgeries cancelled after senior theatre and ward staff resigned, with management deciding not to replace them until the new financial year.

Mr Springborg said Queensland Health was $300 million behind by the close of 2010-11.

In a memo to QH boss Tony O'Connell, he warned health regions could not defy an order that frontline workers be protected from a wider government freeze on appointments.

Together secretary Alex Scott accused the Newman Government of taking a "slash and burn approach" to balance budgets and said the union would lodge a complaint with the Industrial Relations Commission.

Queensland Nurses Union secretary Beth Mohle said she would write to Dr O'Connell detailing workers' concerns.


Liberal Party State government approves Gina Rinehart's $6b Alpha Coal mine in Galilee Basin

THE Newman Government has approved the $6.4 billion Alpha Coal Project in Queensland's Galilee Basin owned by Indian conglomerate GVK and Gina Rinehart's Hancock Coal.

The mine is expected to generate 3600 jobs in construction and 990 in operation.  It is also expected to be one of the biggest in Australia and is the first for the Galilee Basin.

Announcing the approval in parliament on Tuesday morning, Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning Jeff Seeney welcomed the decision and said the project would produce significant economic benefits for the state and nation.

"There'll be an estimated $11 billion boost to the economy during the mine's three year construction phase - 80 per cent of that will be retained in Queensland," Mr Seeney said.

"Once operational, Queensland's economy should see an economic boost of $1 billion per year from this mine alone.  "Australia can expect an $80 billion dollar rise in exports over the life of the mine."

Mr Seeney said the Coordinator-General had approved the mine with strict conditions and the move was a major step towards opening up the Galilee Basin's coal deposits.

"The proposal is for a 30 million tonnes per year open-cut coal mine and a 495km railway line from the mine to the Port of Abbot Point near Bowen," he said.

Mr Seeney made no mention of the possibility of the controversial enterprise migration schemes Ms Rinehart needed at her Roy Hill mine in the Pilbara.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Defence Force to remove Rising Sun badge from Grade 2 Slouch Hat, deeming it ‘disrespectful'

Adding a clip to the "Grade 2" hat would make more sense and be more respectful.  As I have worn a digger hat myself in my time, I feel rather strongly about this.  It just seems a snide way to downgrade a very proud tradition.  Men died under that badge

The Australian Defence Force has made the controversial decision to remove the badge from the downward brim of the Grade 2 Slouch Hat from July 1, deeming it "disrespectful".

A Defence spokesman said the decision had nothing to do with widespread cuts announced in the Budget.

"The Rising Sun Badge should never be hidden from view or worn pointed to the ground as is the case when worn on the downturned brim of the Grade 2 Slouch Hat, as this may be viewed as disrespectful," the spokesman said.

"This decision was made in respect of army's symbol."

Lieutenant General Morrison told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra today that it was his decision alone to ban the badge from the Grade 2 hat.

"The Grade 2 Slouch Hat is constructed in a way that its side can never actually be put up," he said.  Lt Gen Morrison said there was no interlocking latch on the top of the hat so it could never be worn up showing the Rising Sun badge. It had always been on the underside of the brim.

"It seemed to me to be inappropriate and I made the decision as the chief of army to take the badge off the hat," he said.  "It seemed disrespectful to me."

Lt Gen Morrison said most soldiers understood the logic behind his decision.  "I know that there have been a few people that have said that they don't agree with it," he said.  "It was on my shoulders to make the decision and I did."

The Rising Sun Badge will remain on the upturned brim of the Grade 1 Slouch Hat during ceremonial duties.

Soldiers will be allowed to keep the Rising Sun hat badges they currently own.

The Rising Sun badge was originally known as the General Service Badge but is now officially called the Australian Army Badge.


Queensland Health's 14,859 workers employed on temporary contracts could face cuts by Campbell Newman's government

About time.  They could cut twice as many without losing a single doctor or nurse

QUEENSLAND Health workers look set to bear the brunt of job losses ordered by the Newman Government as it continues slashing costs.

New figures show the department has 14,859 workers employed on temporary contracts - many of whom could face unemployment after the government ordered a freeze on extensions.

Education Queensland will also be heavily affected, with 13,774 temporary workers, followed by 1908 within Communities and 972 in Transport and Main Roads.

The exact job losses may not be known until August, when the Public Service Commission prepares its next quarterly workforce report.

The commission's report shows the average female temporary employee is paid $63,265 a year, while the average male is paid $73,838 - about $10,000 a year less than the average wage for full-time permanent employees.


University of Queensland nepotism inquiry completed by Crime and Misconduct Commission

THE Crime and Misconduct Commission has completed its investigations into the University of Queensland nepotism scandal and its report will be tabled in Parliament.

Vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield and his deputy Michael Keniger were forced out after The Courier-Mail revealed a "close family member" of Prof Greenfield's had gained entry to the medical faculty without the proper entry requirements.

A CMC spokeswoman said yesterday the report would contain a number of recommendations, but declined to elaborate.

"The public report will also incorporate recommendations from two ongoing reviews announced earlier by the CMC and associated with the forced offer for entry."

Prof Greenfield has denied any wrongdoing saying the relative was admitted to the medical school as the result of a misunderstanding.  [It was a "misunderstanding" that his daughter was admitted???  Pull the other one.  Greenfield is a smart bootlicker who got just a bit too smart  -- JR]


Mining triumph turns into own goal

YVETTE Cooper, a British Labour MP who served in Gordon Brown's Cabinet as Work and Pensions Secretary, must have been thoroughly confused as she watched Question Time from the Speaker's Gallery yesterday.

A government sending out $700 million worth of pension bonuses and stitching up a $9.5 billion mining deal, securing at least 6758 Australian jobs, was under attack and on the back foot at the kick-off of the week's Parliament.

With an economy named by the OECD as the best place to be in the world, Australia was last week rated as the number one investment destination, attracting half a trillion of planned project spending.

Figures from Geneva confirmed Australian households enjoyed the sixth highest per capita income of any nation.

Against this, it's hard to imagine how a government could stuff up the Western Australian Roy Hill mining deal but Julia Gillard's Labor administration achieved it - and not just because it's a Gina Rinehart project.

Through a combination of poor internal and external communication, a sorry mistake in timing, a decision-making process that seems to involve more looking over the shoulder than targeting voters and plain dumb political tactics, what should have been an unalloyed good news story became one that spanned just about every perceived and imagined problem besetting the Labor Government, leaving the impression of leadership instability and ministerial rivalries while making it appear foreign workers were getting a preference over locals.

As Immigration Minister Chris Bowen explained in Question Time, Roy Hill involved the "biggest single debt-raising on the planet this year" which will create more than 8000 jobs in the construction phase alone.

Instead of providing simple, unambiguous answers, Gillard chose to channel former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty's criticism of her government and made it all too hard - taking three questions to give an unequivocal statement of support to the Roy Hill project.

A former senior Labor staffer who worked for Bob Hawke in the mid-1980s recently remarked this Prime Minister's office only finds out what's going on after it happens - a damning criticism of a political operation.

That analysis is very acute in light of this Roy Hill episode. As has been said before, it takes a special genius to kick own goals like this.


Coldest May in 51 years hits Australia's national capital

But they still think we'll die of global warming without a carbon tax

Canberrans have shivered through the coldest May in 51 years – and the second coldest on record, according to meteorologists.

Forecasters Weatherzone, which is owned by Fairfax, said overnight temperatures dipped below zero this month, more than 3 degrees below the average.  The average overnight low in May was -0.2 compared to the normal 3.1 degrees.

The last time Canberra suffered through a cold-spell like this was in 1961, when May also averaged -0.2 of a degree.

"The weather pattern has been dominated by high pressure systems," Weatherzone meteorologist Brett Dutschke said.  "Skies have been clearer than normal and the air drier than normal, which have combined to make most nights dip below freezing."

The only colder May on record was in 1957, when the average minimum was -2.6 degrees.  "This freezing weather is more typical of July, when the average minimum is -0.1 of a degree," Mr Dutschke said.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Furore over allowing  skilled legal immigrants into Australia

It is only uselesss illegal immigrants who must be accepted without question

JULIA Gillard faces a split within her Cabinet after she distanced herself from her Government's decision to allow Gina Rinehart to import 1700 foreign workers.

The move has infuriated Immigration Minister Chris Bowen and his supporters.

They insist he followed standard processes before the decision to permit migrants to work on a major West Australian iron ore project, 70 per cent owned by Mrs Rinehart's Hancock Prospecting.

Ms Gillard told union leaders on Friday she was not comfortable with the deal and had only learned of it when she returned from overseas last Wednesday.

But Mr Bowen's office said it had been in regular contact with Ms Gillard's senior staff, as well as the offices of senior ministers Bill Shorten and Wayne Swan, about the deal.

Other Government sources accused Ms Gillard of trying to blame Mr Bowen and Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, who both backed former prime minister Kevin Rudd in the last leadership challenge, for the decision.

But Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes, who has described the decision as "sheer lunacy", yesterday accused Mr Bowen of accepting an "ambit claim" from Mrs Rinehart without question.

Ms Gillard refused to comment on when she became aware of the deal, despite saying she demanded new conditions just before the announcement on Friday, to ensure it could not be used if there were Australians willing and able to do the work.

This has not been enough to calm anger among the Labor Caucus, with Senator Doug Cameron threatening a fiery debate at tomorrow's meeting.

Amid renewed leadership tensions, chief Government whip Joel Fitzgibbon gave only a vague denial that he had been actively canvassing support for Mr Rudd, tweeting: "no one does more to support the PM and the Government than me!".

Ms Gillard said Mr Fitzgibbon's words "speak for themselves".

But some of her allies said Mr Fitzgibbon had made it clear he no longer supported the Prime Minister after he was overlooked for a promotion.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the tweet "put in flashing neon lights the division ... inside the national Government right now".


Former Qld. Labor party government  commissioned, covered up report into excessive red and green tape

A SECRET report has emerged, exposing the reams of red tape and irrational regulation strangling Queensland business across an array of industries.

Obtained by The Courier-Mail, the two-volume report compiled from interviews with 80 business leaders was commissioned and then kept secret by the former Bligh government.

The highly embarrassing report, conducted in partnership with the Australian Industry Group, contains detailed case studies of businesses forced to shed staff, cancel contracts and incur huge costs because of bureaucratic bungling and random government rules.

It is understood the only action taken on the May 2010 report was to establish a new business commissioner at a cost of $1 million a year, condemned by some sectors as more bureaucracy.

The Newman Government has inherited the responsibility of untangling a series of red-tape disasters as it seeks to meet an election commitment to reduce regulation by 20 per cent.

Premier Campbell Newman described the decision to commission and bury the report as "extraordinary", saying it exposed how business was drowning in red tape.  "This report provides some stark examples of how ridiculous rules and regulations waste the time and money of businesses," he told The Courier-Mail.  "Unlike Labor, which put this report on the shelf to gather dust and did nothing to ease the burden on business, the LNP is determined to change the culture of government from one that promotes red tape to one that actively reduces red tape."

The report breaks down the issues that business faces in interacting with state and local authorities across nine key areas, including case studies and recommendations.

One prime area of complaint involved environmental regulations - so-called "green tape".  In one case study, a major fertiliser company spent millions of dollars improving its water efficiency, but then complained that government-enforced reporting requirements focused on how much water it had used flushing toilets.

In another, a waste recycling company operating in the Torres Strait had to report to 42 state and local authorities.

Fire safety requirements were also a bugbear, with two firms revealing they were forced to post "exit" signs along open-sided 80m-wide workshops.

Workers' compensation requirements were also of concern, the report highlighting the case of an equipment manufacturing firm that paid an employee through WorkCover for a shoulder injury that was sustained at work.  "It was later found that WorkCover had paid the employee for the same injury to the same shoulder when with a prior employer," the report said.

Other problems were reported across areas including planning, procurement and government grants, along with everyday issues such as regulations and other rules being out of date or unavailable on department websites.

It is unclear whether Business Commissioner Blair Davies was ever made aware of the report.  His office did not return calls to The Courier-Mail.

AiG Queensland director Matt Martyn-Jones said while the report was two years old, the issues were still relevant and red tape remained a "dead weight" on the shoulders of business.  "We are very encouraged that the Newman Government has committed itself to reducing red tape by 20 per cent," he said.  "Close consideration needs to be given to how this target is measured and how it's achieved."

Mr Martyn-Jones said the best way to help business was with practical steps resolving issues highlighted in the report.

Consideration should also be given to setting up a task force of industry leaders.

The Courier-Mail has highlighted many examples of red tape, including a requirement for piggery operators to install illuminated exit signs inside pigpens.


The Qld. Labor party water debacle

Rather than build the new dams needed to cope with a rising population they grabbed at any and all alternatives  -- too bad about what they cost.  Dams are of course anathema to Greenies

THE LNP Government is struggling to meet a key election commitment to bring down water charges as miserly Queenslanders scarred by a decade of drought save every drop.

The state's refusal to squander water will cost the Government about $400 million in the next five years as water revenues dry up.  The LNP had also inherited a water debt of about $9 billion rather than the $7 billion it was prepared for.  The annual interest on the debt now exceeds half a billion dollars.

Premier Campbell Newman is trying to hammer out a plan to manage the water debt while still honouring his commitment to bring down water costs for Queenslanders by about $80 a year.  "This is going to take a bit of working through," a Government spokesman said.  "But the Government remains committed to reducing water bills for Queensland households."

The previous Labor government ran up a huge debt attempting to drought-proof Queensland with large-scale projects, including the Gold Coast desalination plant and the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project.

The Western Corridor was the largest such project in the southern hemisphere and included 200km of large-diameter pipe as well as advanced water treatment plants at Bundamba, Gibson Island and Luggage Point.

Revenue forecasts on the capital works program, completed when the state consumed more than 300 litres a day per individual, have proven wildly inaccurate.

The latest figures show daily residential water consumption across southeast Queensland for the 14-day period ending May 9 was 151 litres per person.

With water usage well below forecasts, about $400 million is predicted to be lost by 2016-17.

The LNP is examining a plan flagged during the election campaign that involves spreading the debt repayment plan over 40 years rather than 20 years.

A plan to restructure the state's water infrastructure involving the handing back of water distribution and retailing to councils is expected to go before Cabinet soon.

The plan will also involve amalgamating the four bulk water entities into one entity to reduce the cost of supply.

The Local Government Association of Queensland says it expects the pre-election pledge to lower water costs to be honoured.


Must not mock the New Zealand accent?

The NZ accent is a very strange version of English.  It is the only version of English to have lost an entire vowel.  They pronounce "Fish and chips" as "fush and chups".  And the other vowels are not too healthy either.  "Battered" is pronounced as "bettered"

A disgruntled Kiwi has been hit with a string of charges after losing his cool over a local TV advert poking fun at the New Zealand accent.

The 44-year-old Griffith man allegedly assaulted and intimidated a WIN television employee on Friday in an apparent payback for the station airing a Knockonwood television advert that features two animated kookaburras speaking with thick New Zealand accents, the Area News reports.

The satirical ad shows the kookaburras saying “sweet as, bro” and “choice, bro” – slang terms often associated with our trans-Tasman neighbours.

The man allegedly abused the furniture store's staff over the phone on Friday before turning up at WIN's Yambil Street offices and demanding to know who authorised the advert.

Police claim he assaulted a male member of the station's advertising staff during the altercation.

He was later arrested and charged with misuse of a telecommunications device, intimidation, common assault, resisting arrest and intimidating police.

Paul Pierotti, managing director of Knockonwood's parent company, the Caesar Group, said the incident had not convinced him to take the advert off air.

“We had no intention of offending anyone ... if anything, it's just a bit of light-hearted fun,” Mr Pierotti said.  “It's part of the culture of both Australia and New Zealand to poke fun at each other.

“At the end of the day, we wanted to create an ad that cut through and sometimes to do that you have to go for a novelty angle.  “We are really sorry if anyone found that offensive.”

The accused has been released on conditional bail and will front Griffith Local Court on June 13.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Children to be given a taste of danger at new childcare centre

CHILDREN would be given trees to climb in, a creek to explore and material to build cubby houses under proposals for a new childcare centre and kindergarten which aims to buck the trend of wrapping them in cotton wool.

The proposal by C&K, which runs a string of childcare centres, comes as the organisation dedicates an entire weekend conference to the topic of "children's right to childhood" and the consequences of risk aversion.

International speakers, including New York's Lenore Skenazy who was dubbed America's worst mum after she let her nine-year-old travel by himself on the subway, will address the C&K early childhood annual conference at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

C&K chief executive Barrie Elvish said that over the past decade there appeared to be an increasing emphasis "on creating what the regulators and the governments like to say is safe environments for children to play in".

"By making it too safe we are actually not giving children the opportunity to build resilience," he said.

"What C&K is doing about it, apart from this conference . . . we have just purchased part of the old Ithaca TAFE at Ashgrove and we intend creating an outdoor environment which challenges not just the existing regulations and future regulations, but also the perceptions of what might be safe and unsafe environments for children.

"We are not talking about blindfold bungy jumps.

"We are talking about the ability for a child to learn through mistakes and a child to learn through failure - a child to learn if you do jump off something too high it might hurt you when you land."

Mr Elvish said it was part of a risk-benefit, rather than just risk, approach championed by conference keynote speaker Tim Gill, who helped change the way the United Kingdom Government viewed playground risk.

Yesterday Mr Gill said the journey to being a capable adult involved "a few bumps and scrapes and knocks".


Australia's chief climate commissioner Tim Flannery calls for the removal of toxic teeth from dead people

Mercury in teeth is bad but mercury in CFL light bulbs is OK??

CLIMATE change campaigner Tim Flannery says mercury tooth fillings should be removed from corpses before they are cremated.

The practice should be made law, Australia's chief climate commissioner said.

"You don't want to poison people when you are cremated," Prof Flannery said.  "No one would want that."

Addressing the Australian Medical Association's national conference in Melbourne yesterday, he said an awareness campaign was needed.

"I think people would be comfortable with removing the fillings, it is just a matter of awareness," he said.

Prof Flannery said undertakers should be required to remove the fillings and families also could request it.

"You just need a pair of pliers," he said.  "It is a $2 solution."

He said the mercury in teeth fillings was not a problem in people alive because it was not in a methylated form.

"For mercury to become dangerous, it has to get into the atmosphere, which happens when we are cremated, then blow over the oceans (and) go into the ocean depths, where there is very low oxygen, and then transform by bacteria into a methylated form of mercury," Prof Flannery said.

"This is then ingested by fish and the fish get put on the dinner plate."

He said he had not raised the issue with the Federal Government, but he felt it was significant and could be dealt with easily.

While talking about health and environment at the AMA conference, he also raised concerns about a lack of readiness for extreme weather events.

Prof Flannery said deaths from heat were increasing and the community needed to be better educated about the health risks.

"Deaths from heat is a silent killer that is increasing around the world," he said.  "The most vulnerable in our community are most at risk."

Prof Flannery said the loss of respect for science in the climate debate had been "one of the most damaging aspects".


Threat to Victorian kindergartens

A VICTORIAN preschool was forced to close its popular three-year-old kindergarten because the Federal Government did not fully consider the consequences of its new childcare standards, management claims.

Templeton Orchards Preschool in Wantirna says its three-year-old kinder service is a casualty of Labor's National Partnership Agreement on Early Childhood Education.

New regulations will be introduced nationally from next year.

And a survey of kindergartens in Victoria has found more would close or reduce services for three-year-olds because of the agreement.

On Tuesday a lobby group representing thousands of Victorian families will meet the Minister for Early Childhood Peter Garrett and the Federal Minister for Childcare Kate Ellis.

Kindergarten Parents Victoria said it was hoping to get a better deal for Victorian families at the meeting. Chief executive Emma King said she wanted a sensible, staged implementation because Victoria's kindergarten system was unique and valued by many.

Templeton Orchards Preschool vice-president Lelania Currie said its service for three-year-olds was closed because it could not get staff.

"Our teacher and assistant resigned at the end of last year," Mrs Currie said.  "It was because of the uncertainty about their jobs."

She said her preschool had offered the program for 20 years: "The logistics of what the government wants . . . leaves no time or staff for a three-year-old program."

The agreement provides 15 hours of kinder for four-year-olds every week - a move that has wide support - but experts say putting it in place will have the most impact in Victoria because of unique circumstances and they want a flexible timeline.

But Mr Garrett - who has previously threatened to withhold almost $100 million in funding if the State Government failed to stick to the agreement signed in 2008 - said there was a large degree of flexibility under the agreement with the states: "I am yet to see compelling evidence from the Victorian Government as to why they need more time to implement this commitment, or why three-year-old kinder would need to be cut as a result of the Universal Access agreement."

Mr Garrett said the Gillard Government was providing a major boost in funding to help Victoria achieve universal access, of $210 million over five years.

Victoria is the only state to offer a kindergarten for three-year-olds, a service that is fully funded by parents.

It has also one of the highest rates of four-year-olds attending kindergarten - 95.2 per cent - but Victorian Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development, Wendy Lovell, says most services are at capacity.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the Government's implementation of childcare reforms had been botched.


Greek crisis sees new wave of migrants to Australia

The face of Australia's Greek community is rapidly changing because of the economic crisis crippling Greece.

Immigration statistics show around 280 expatriates - mostly families and skilled migrants - have come back to Australia over the past year but the total number of Greek citizens in Australia is expected to be higher, with many more here on holidays.

The Honorary Consul for Greece in the Northern Territory John Anictomatis says there has been a huge influx of new Greeks in Darwin.

"For the last six months, the figures show that on average about 10 new arrivals a week are coming back to Darwin, whether it's family groups or people coming back on their own before they bring their families back to Australia," he said.

Drossos Tavlarios, 27, came to Darwin from his home on a Greek island after being unable to get work.  He says he is one of the lucky ones.  "Everything, everything is okay, very nice in Darwin," he said.

Mr Anictomatis says he gets desperate calls from Greece every week.  "They're mainly desperate about employment, their children's future," he said.

The influx to the Top End has prompted Territory Government minister Kon Vatskalis to call on the Federal Government to consider special working visas for Greeks who have been affected by the economic crisis.

Mr Vatskalis says the Territory is set to face a major skills shortage when a major gas project starts.  He says it makes sense to bring Greeks over on working visas to help fill the gap. "We're talking about an exodus of people from the industry now because they are going to get well paid jobs with Inpex," he said.  "How are we going to replace these people? We can't replace them out of nothing."

Meanwhile, the British government is drawing up emergency immigration controls to combat any surge in economic migrants from Greece and other European Union countries if the euro collapses.

Interior minister Theresa May has told a UK newspaper that it is right for Britain to do some contingency planning, but did not say what steps could be applied.

An increasing perception that Greece or other debt-laden countries might have to leave the eurozone has brought concerns that millions could lose their jobs and go abroad in search of work.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

A qualified victory for new electricity generator in Victoria

New power station approved but only when an old one shuts down.  Excerpts from a Greenie report below

A recent decision by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has meant that Victoria’s environment continues to be at great risk from coal pollution.

The company Dual Gas went to VCAT seeking approval to build a 600MW coal-fuelled power station in the Latrobe Valley using ‘syngas’ – a combination of coal and gas to make electricity – which would see Victoria generate dirty coal power for at least another 30 years.

As the environmental regulator, the Environment Protection Authority should have led the charge in standing up to a project that flies in the face of good environmental protection policy.

Instead, in a classic example of failure of leadership, the EPA lacked the mettle to deny the application entirely, instead taking an awkward middle ground of approving a 300MW plant, leaving the door wide open for Dual Gas to push for the full 600MW plant.

One of the key points that VCAT had to consider is the idea of best practice in generating electricity.

VCAT defined best practice by considering syngas electricity as compared to power generated by brown coal, comparing Dual Gas’ project to the profoundly dirty Hazelwood. The trouble with that comparison is that almost anything would be an improvement.

Ultimately, the EPA boxed itself into a corner, unable to justify its compromised position, and lost, with Dual Gas getting approval from VCAT for the full 600MW plant. Fortunately, VCAT listened to DEA’s recommendations and put some conditions on the power station to limit some of the more toxic emissions.

In a twist of fate, VCAT also put a condition on the power plant that has put a freeze on the whole project until some of the more dirty power stations are shut down under the government’s Contracts for Closure scheme.

With uncertainty about the time frame for the closures under the scheme, Dual Gas has put a hold on the development.


Irresponsible court official has  actions nullified

THE recent case involving a Braybrook landowner who fell foul of the Sheriff’s Office offers lessons both for people with unpaid debts and for the authorities tasked with collecting outstanding amounts.

The Supreme Court of Victoria this week overturned the sale of Zhiping Zhou’s family home for the not-so-princely sum of $1000 after the Sheriff offered it at a no-reserve auction in its attempt to recoup $100,000 that Mr Zhou had failed to pay after three years.

For anyone receiving a warrant for the seizure and sale of land, the message flowing from Mr Zhou’s case is simple: when the Sheriffs Office says it is coming for your land, assume it means business and seek immediate legal advice.

For the Sheriff, the message is equally clear: in executing a warrant for seizure and sale you have a common law duty to act reasonably in the interests of both the judgment creditor and the judgment debtor to obtain a fair price.

In this case, a fair price - according to Supreme Court Justice Peter Vickery and Mr Zhou’s lawyers - would have been significantly higher than $1000 and probably closer to the property’s $630,000 market value.

While these type of auctions regularly fetch sale prices well below market value – due to the property owner’s inability to hold out for a better price – one might find it reasonable to assume that the sale of a house valued at over $600,000 would be enough to cover a $450,000 mortgage and the $100,000 Mr Zhou owed to other creditors.

In giving the reasons for his decision, Justice Vickery acknowledges that, while “a fair price is not necessarily the market value”, there should be some floor level, a reserve, below which a sale should not be allowed to proceed.

Under the Sherriff Act 2009, the Sherriff is empowered to sell property seized in accordance with relevant court rules.

To recover a debt, the creditor can apply for a Court judgment classifying the outstanding amount as a judgment debt. A further application can then be made for a warrant of execution – enforceable by the Sherriff – to seize and sell personal property like motor vehicles and household items.

If that personal property is insufficient to cover the judgment debt, the judgment creditor can issue a warrant of seizure and sale, enabling them to sell any land owned by the judgment debtor.

While that process appears to have been followed in the Zhou case, Justice Vickery determined that the judgment debtor is entitled to some protection under common law. In his reasons he states that if it becomes apparent to the Sherriff that the highest bid received at auction is “far below” the true value he would be acting “unreasonably” and in breach of his common law duty to accept it and should therefore pass the property in.

Fortunately these cases are extremely rare and the clarification around common law rights provided by this Supreme Court judgment is likely to make them even rarer.


Carbon tax fight reignites after smelter closure

The Federal Opposition has savaged the Government over the closure of an aluminium smelter in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, blaming the carbon tax.

Norsk Hydro posted a statement on its website saying, among other factors, its long-term profitability would be affected by "increasing energy costs and the carbon tax".

This prompted Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to launch a series of attacks on the Government in Question Time on Wednesday, calling on the Prime Minister to apologise.

Julia Gillard rejected the carbon tax was to blame, instead referring to other reasons cited by the company, including a plunge in global aluminium prices.

Politics aside, for Norsk Hydro workers the closure is a "slug in the guts".

The smelter at Kurri Kurri employs 344 people directly, but Australian Workers Union spokesman Richard Downie says many more will be affected by the closure.  "We've got 400 to 500 women and men up there and they're not all at a retiring age," he said.  "They need to keep working and putting bread on the table, and this is just a real slug in the guts for the Hunter Valley - Newcastle and the Hunter Valley."

On its website, Norsk Hydro says despite extensive efforts to improve the plant's cost position, it has been unable to improve profitability.

"The profitability of Hydro's Kurri Kurri plant has suffered as a result of the continued weak macro-economic conditions, with low metal prices and an uncertain market outlook, as well as the strong Australian dollar," it reads.

"Following a thorough review, it is clear that the plant will not be profitable in the short term with current market prices, while long-term viability will be negatively affected by a number of factors, including increasing energy costs and the carbon tax."
'Final straw'

That statement was seized on by the Opposition's environment spokesman, Greg Hunt.  "What we've seen today is confirmation that the carbon tax is the straw that broke the camel's back for the Norsk Hydro plant at Kurri Kurri," he said.

Liberal Bob Baldwin is the Federal Member for Patterson, which adjoins Kurri Kurri Hydro.  He says previous job losses there have been due to the high dollar and low aluminium price, but says today is the first time Norsk Hydro has blamed the carbon tax.  "But it's not too late. Mr Combet can bring an urgent bill to the house to suspend the carbon tax, because this is the start of things to come," Mr Baldwin said.

The closure arose in Question Time when Mr Abbott asked Ms Gillard to apologise to the Norsk Hydro workers.  "Given that the carbon tax is already a wrecking ball swinging through the aluminium industry, the coal industry, the steel industry and the aviation industry, will the Prime Minister apologise for the 344 workers whose livelihoods are now imperilled by her broken promise never to have a carbon tax?"

Ms Gillard responded with sympathy but not an apology, blaming the closure on the low aluminium price and the NSW Government's refusal to reach agreement on a long-term electricity supply contract.

"So if the Leader of the Opposition is really concerned about these jobs, as opposed to his mock political concern, then he may consider getting on the phone and speaking to his Liberal counterpart, Premier (Barry) O'Farrell, about that matter," she said.


Council carbon tax double standards 'ridiculous'

Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce says it is unfair for some councils to have to pay the carbon tax while others do not.

A number of councils have been included in the list of organisations that will be subject to the price on carbon.

To help clear up confusion, the Clean Energy Regulator has written to more than 100 councils, generally all with populations above 20,000 and that have landfills, to help them determine whether they will have to pay for the greenhouse gases they produce.

The Federal Government says councils will not have to pay anything next financial year and most of them would not be liable after that.

But Senator Joyce says making a distinction between councils does not make sense.  "This is ridiculous - now we have the concept of righteous lawn clippings and naughty lawn clippings," he said.  "Quite obviously righteous lawn clippings are to be found in the botanical gardens of Sydney, and bad ones are to be found in the Maranoa Regional Council in the middle of Roma."

Among those councils that are investigating if they have to pay the carbon tax are six central-western New South Wales councils - Dubbo, Orange, Bathurst, Mid Western and Young.

A spokesman for Orange City Council says it is not anticipating any impact because it will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through recycling organic waste, while staff at Bathurst have concluded it will not have to pay.

Lithgow City Council spokesman Andrew Muir says it has engaged an expert to help work out if it faces any liability.  "We got to the point where we thought we needed some help from someone who had experience," he said.  "We had certainly gone through the process, even some time to try to work out if we may be liable.  "Those initial calculations led us to believe that we wouldn't be, but we need to be 100 per cent sure."

Mr Muir says the issue is confusing and needs expert advice.  "Basically a person who is expert in land-filling and also has experience in dealing with the Clean Energy Regulator's (web)site and the calculator, they put together [the numbers] to ascertain the liability," he said.  "We certainly believe we can have that calculation done by the end of the month."


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Australia the happiest OECD nation in the world, survey finds

Happiness is associated with conservatism and Australia is a very conservative country by world standards  -- but which is the chicken and which is the egg here is moot

AUSTRALIA is living up to its nickname of "the lucky country", with a new survey marking it as the happiest industrialised nation in the world based on criteria such as jobs, income and health.

Having sidestepped the economic malaise gripping much of Europe and with near full employment owing to a once-in-a-century resources boom, Australia has come out on top ahead of Norway and the US in the annual Better Life Index compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The findings come despite fresh signs that not every Australian is enjoying the benefits of the resources boom, with tourist attractions seeing a drop in visitors and many manufacturers rethinking their Australian operations because the strong local currency has made exports uncompetitive.

A rising cost of living also is weighing heavily on consumers, who are tightening their purse strings or using the internet to hunt for bargains on items that can be purchased overseas.

The OECD survey - which rates its 34 member countries on categories like housing, jobs, education, health, environment and work-life balance - shies away from explicitly giving any one nation an overall top ranking, but if each of the 11 categories is given equal weight, Australia's cumulative rank rises to No.1, according to the OECD website. It is followed closely by Norway and the US.

Australia's high rank - based on data from the United Nations, individual governments and other sources - is largely due to its strong economic performance despite the economic turmoil in Europe and anemic growth in the US.

Strong demand for iron ore and coal exports means Australia's unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in April, compared with 10.9 per cent in the eurozone and 8.1 percent in the US. More than 72 per cent of the working-age population in the country is employed, compared with the OECD average of 66 per cent.

Unlike many of its developed peers, Australia's government plans to return a budget surplus in the next fiscal year and forecasts its net debt to peak just below 10 per cent of GDP, a fraction of the borrowings seen elsewhere.

The Australian dollar has recently dipped below parity against the greenback, though it remains at historically high levels and is also strong against the euro and pound, giving shoppers firepower if they travel overseas.

Despite a minority government that's sinking in the polls after a series of scandals involving key lawmakers and policy missteps, 71 per cent of Australians trust their political institutions, compared with an OECD average of 56 per cent.

In addition, 85 per cent of people in Australia described their health as good, well above the OECD average of 70 per cent. The survey also found that Australian men spend nearly three hours every day cooking, cleaning or caring - one of the highest scores across the OECD's 34 member countries and ahead of men in the US, Germany and Canada.


Green-Left climate change bias easy as ABC


MALE climate-change deniers are like terrorists, pedophiles and slave owners, claimed a contributor on BBC Radio 4's religious affairs slot Thought for the Day last week. By the BBC's lamentable standards, I'm afraid, this is what constitutes reasonable, fair and balanced commentary on the climate-change debate.

But as I've only now begun to appreciate after a month's tour of Australia, the greenie-lefty bias of your own ABC is, if anything, even worse.

In Melbourne, I had a run-in with prickly ABC talk radio host Jon Faine, who kept insisting how "professional" he was being during the course of a brusque, hugely unsympathetic interview in which he interrupted my every answer and tried to tar me as a card-carrying agent of Satan in the pay of Big Oil. Why? Because I have had the temerity to suggest that there is no strong scientific evidence to support the theory of man-made global warming. (Which there isn't).

My reception at Brisbane's local ABC branch was only marginally less frosty. Before I went on, the host actually felt compelled to apologise to his audience for having a "contrarian" such as me on the show. He was doing so in the interests of "balance", he cringeingly explained. "Gee, thanks, mate!" I thought. "With an intro like that anyone would think I was a kiddie-fiddler or a Nazi, not a climate sceptic!"

Now it's not that I'm afraid of tough interviews. Actually -- as I hope I showed to my new best mate Fainey -- I find them rather fun. Rather, my objection to the ABC, as it is to my own country's BBC, is that it acts clearly and persistently in violation of its obligations as a publicly funded national broadcaster. It's supposed to be fair and balanced -- and it is. But only so long as your definition of "fair and balanced" is greener than Christine Milne and further left than Julia Gillard. Which, in my book, isn't very.

Shortly before my interview with the ABC in Brisbane, I had the contrasting pleasure of a live encounter on 2GB with Australia's most popular talk radio host Alan Jones. Well, obviously I was going to enjoy it more: Jones, like me, like most of his listeners, is a climate-change sceptic. Of course, I realise that for some Australians Jones is more toxic than a blue-ringed octopus. But here's the difference between Jones and his ABC counterparts: if you don't like him you don't have to pay for him, not one cent.

Whereas with all the ABC's vast battery of presenters, of course, you do -- no matter how much you may dislike their almost uniformly green-left-progressive politics. (The single exception, as far as I'm aware, is Paul Comrie-Thomson's consistently superb Counterpoint: the ABC's equivalent of one of those Potemkin villages the Soviets used to build to impress visitors with just how free and lovely their country was.)

And you don't only pay for the presenters (and their battalions of support staff), either. You also pay -- out of the $1 billion-plus of your money spent by the government on the ABC each year -- for their lavishly appointed work environments. The studios in which I met the ABC's Steve Austin and 2GB's Jones couldn't have been more different. Austin's was spacious and state-of-the-art in an office building you could have mistaken for that of a law firm or a bank; Jones was squeezed into a shoebox like the Black Hole of Calcutta at the back of an anonymous industrial estate.

Does this reflect their audience size and reach? Of course not: Jones's show is many times more popular than Austin's. Rather, what this illustrates is the massive difference between public and private-sector budgeting. As the ABC shows, if it's coming out of the taxpayer's pocket then money is no object. In the real commercial world, on the other hand, not even the mighty Jones gets the gold star treatment because profligacy is the enemy of profit.

But the fact the ABC offers relatively poor value for money to its shareholders -- Australian taxpayers -- should be the least of your worries. What's of far more concern is the way that for years this fatly overindulged organisation, with its stranglehold on the Australian broadcast media, has been given carte blanche to skew the political debate in a relentlessly leftwards direction.

It's the same in Britain with the ABC's ugly elder sister, the BBC: on any given subject you know what the organisation's position is going to be -- anti-business, pro-regulation, credulous and uncritical on all green issues, slavish in its endorsement of politically correct pieties, always in favour of ever-expanding government.

Which is fine if you believe in that sort of thing but if you don't you have a problem: here you are, forced to dig into your pocket every year to help people whose politics you violently disagree with campaign for all the things you hate. Not only that, but people who are actively seeking to close down alternative points of view.

In Britain we've seen this with the Leveson inquiry, in Australia you've had a (bitter) taste of it with the Finkelstein report, and in the US it's evident in the ongoing attempts by the Left to hamstring (mostly conservative-leaning) talk shows with the Fairness Doctrine. Whatever their professed aims, each one of these represents a bullying attempt by the statist establishment -- fully endorsed and often orchestrated by its friends in the left-leaning mainstream media -- to gag any broadcast organisations that dare dissent from the prevailing politically correct orthodoxy.

One of the things that has always puzzled me about the Left is that for all its fine talk about the virtues of free speech, it's often at least as eager as any authoritarian Right regime to close it down.

Nowhere is this tendency better exemplified than by the behaviour of those two gruesome siblings, the BBC and the ABC: despite their pretensions of even-handedness and social responsibility, the way they abuse their near-monopolistic domination of their country's broadcast media owes more to statist tyrannies than free democracies.


Pesky "Green" car

Some customers have "failed" a Nissan test to see if they were suitable for the new Leaf electric car.

Nissan has knocked back some customers interested in purchasing its first electric car, the Leaf, because they have been deemed “unsuitable” for ownership.

The plug-in electric vehicle officially hits the market on June 1, but interested customers need to pass a two-stage approval test before being issued with a certificate that will allow them to purchase the $51,500 car from one of Nissan’s special EV dealerships.

The test involves answering five questions about their intended usage for the car, followed by a visit from Nissan’s electrical supplier Origin Energy for an assessment of the suitability of the customer’s home electrical network.

Speaking at a promotional event at Melbourne’s Federation Square designed to raise awareness of the Leaf’s non-reliance on petrol, Nissan Australia model line manager James Staveley told Drive the company had approved about 100 customers with another 100 undergoing the process.

Some intending customers have also been declined. “If you answered that you regularly drive from Melbourne to Sydney, then we might have politely informed the customer that this is not the car for them,” Staveley says.

“The majority of customers we have declined have been because they don’t have off-street parking available to them, which we consider essential for a safe and convenient recharging environment.”

When Mitsubishi brought the only other mass-produced electric car available in Australia to market, the i-MiEV, it initially appointed leases only to high-profile corporate customers.

As supply restrictions eased it later placed the car on general sale, although Nissan says it intends to maintain its selection criteria “to ensure our customers have a great experience with the Leaf”.

Nissan Australia is only holding one firm order on its books for the Leaf. “We chose to do it that way. We held a competition to be the first person to own a Leaf in Australia, and the family that won now holds the first and only order,” Staveley says.

For customers who pass the two “toll gates” of the selection process, the car will retail for $51,500 (plus on-road and dealer costs). That includes a recharging cable, but not a wall-mounted recharging station.

A package including the telephone book-sized station adds a minimum of $2700 to the price, or more depending on the logistics involved in its installation.

Staveley says the recharging station isn’t a mandatory purchase, but that plugging the car directly into a 15-amp power outlet – which is the minimum infrastructure required and costs several hundreds of dollars to install – will take five hours longer to fully charge the car.

“It’s the customer’s choice but we’d really prefer that people take the option of the recharging station because then we know it’s being properly and appropriately installed and minimises the risk of anything going astray,” he says.


Labor party captive to undemocratic union bosses

Labor's crisis is not about rorting of union treasury but unrepresentative union power at the heart of the party's political councils

Craig Thompson is only the most pathetic part of the gift which keeps giving to the Liberal Party. Even were he out of the picture, the Health Services Union would still be a gaping sore, as the Australian Council of Trade Unions has realised too late. But even if the ACTU, or a completely fresh HSU reform group throw all the current rascals out and return the HSU into the industrial mainstream, the union would still serve as an emblem of one of the cancers eating the heart of the political and industrial Labor movement.

The internecine brawling in the HSU is not only about which group of professional suits get access to the union treasury, so that they can give jobs to their friends and relations, pay each other fabulous sums, jet around the nation with their spouses and lovers, extract personal tolls from organisations doing business with the union, and, if needs be, buy sex on the union credit card.

It is also very much about power in the political Labor Party. Labor's incapacity to move resolutely past its Thomson crisis is not only a measure of the fact that it is a minority government, unable to face a by-election. It is because real action to rid itself of the underlying problem would strike at the way the party is now organised.

At issue is not the close and probably unseverable links between political and industrial Labor. It is about how union bosses can in effect, vote on behalf of all of their members, in the higher councils of political Labor. To vote as though their own opinion was the reasoned opinion of all of their members, determined after close consultation, meetings or even focus groups within the union itself.

In most unions, however, there's no pretence of such consultation or discussion. Just most union officials are now part of a professional elite, unlikely ever to have themselves physically performed work of the type their members perform, the viewpoint of the officials is generally determined through the councils of factional systems, and the self-interests of a few key players.

It is particularly at the interface of party and union that one usually sees the most obvious nepotism, or blatant patronage, and how it is dragging down the performance as well as the reputation of the party. When a party is in power, particularly at state levels, union officials expect to be appointed to statutory boards and authorities, the beneficiaries of grants supposed to achieve public purposes and to have their lovers, sons and daughters placed in ministerial office jobs.

Family is almost always a part of it. One of the late powers of the HSU, Mike Williamson is a former national president of the ALP though he has never had a thought, or insight, or said a thing which has helped fight the good fight. He and some of his allies are the subject of allegations, as yet unresolved, of receiving six-figure kickbacks from people providing seven-figure services to the union.

As a key operator in the Sussex Street Labor machine, and vice president of the NSW branch of the party, he would have been involved in its decision to pay Thomson's legal bills, lest he fall into bankruptcy. His daughter, Alex, is on Julia Gillard's staff.

Williamson is personally close to Leo McLeay, the former Labor speaker who famously had to be compensated from the public purse when he fell off a parliamentary bike. The McLeay dynasty might by itself illustrate how some have turned Labor into a family business. Leo, in heavily publicly pensioned retirement, is "ombudsman" for the HSU. His job has been to prevent the sorts of abuses which are so prevalent. Leo's son Mark is an HSU organiser. Another son, Paul, was a NSW Labor minister, until he joined the long list of ministers who had resigned in disgrace, in his case over accessing pornography.

Another national official of the HSU is Natalie Bradbury, whose brother, David, is Assistant Treasurer. He holds the marginal seat of Lindsay, near Penrith, on which Gillard lavished so much personal attention, and party moral credit, in 2010.

The Jacksons represent another faction of the HSU fighting over the rich spoils of office. Kathy Jackson is the present HSU national secretary, but has in recent times lacked the confidence of the Williamson faction, about whom she is now a "whistleblower". Her claims of complete moral purity might be more credible if she did not have a history in union affairs when her former husband Jeff, was the Victorian branch secretary.

All outsiders always insist they are acting only on behalf of the members, and she is no exception. In bodies such as the HSU actual corruption - in the sense of witting diversion of money to one's own interests - is usually preceded by a corruption of the spirit. Thinking the best interests of the membership come from becoming entrenched in power, and in resisting the entry of those who want entry into the cosy club. A reason to fill the office with relations, mates, and others so interlocked with other power groups that betrayals have serious consequences. Nothing should be too good for the workers, or the workers' representatives.

But the problem is by no means confined to the HSU, nor to patronage and nepotism. It comes as much from the tendency of senior union officials to think that they are, ex officio, senior statesmen of the party, ex officio wise, and from their tendency to think that public policy, public appointments and even public appropriation can be handled much as it is inside the cosy councils of union Labor.

The power of a Joe de Bruyn comes, essentially, from the shop assistants' union. He and his group may, or may not be good stewards of SDA interests, and modest in their draw on the union's funds. In that sense, they may be better than the HSU group, even if they have often had common cause with it.

But de Bruyn has strong personal moral views, sincere ones deriving from his Catholic faith. His power in Labor, including his power over Labor social policy, comes from the fact that he can "vote" his SDA membership as though every unionised shop assistant in Australia shares his view, though there is no reason whatever, to think that any but a minority do. To be fair there are other unions whose votes cancel his out, if again without reason to think them representative of their memberships, or cast on that account.

One might remark that at least de Bruyn believes in something. There are any number of factional chiefs, particularly in NSW, not known for believing in anything very much, apart from their own self-advancement or, in some cases, celebrity status. Some of these lack even an understanding of what was once agreed as a necessary separation of powers between union and caucus, as well as platform and aspiration versus practical reality.

The union-party interface can be used legitimately to advance the broad causes of the industrial labor movement, the reason why the two link between political and industrial wings has been so strong since the formation of Labor parties in the late 1800s. But it needs to be modernised, and made accountable and transparent.

That's not going to happen under Gillard Labor. Gillard is a creature of the present system. Her very being there is a result of the judgment and the power of that system. Labor is trying to sell the HSU, and Thomson, as an anomaly, rather than an evidence of its condition.