Friday, July 19, 2013

Kevin Rudd faces uphill election battle on asylum seeker issue

AFTER his quick political fix on the carbon tax, Kevin Rudd must now turn his attention to the tougher problem of asylum seeker policy.  But this could prove a unsolvable dilemma.

Rudd was always planning to announce a crackdown on refugees soon after seizing back the nation's top job.

The new Prime Minister knows he has to find some way of distancing himself from the policy failure that is emphasised every time another boatload of asylum seekers arrives in Australian waters.

The latest deaths at sea after another boat disaster have only heightened the urgency for Rudd to convince voters he has a solution.

At a policy level, the Government needs to find a way of meeting its aim of stopping asylum seekers arriving by boat.

But at a political level, Labor needs to ensure the debate does not dominate the election campaign.

Labor has learned through bitter experience that it has little to gain from electoral battles over border protection.

The Coalition already has an natural advantage on the issue because voters tend to trust them more on national security.

When his opponents can point to a history of stemming boat arrivals the last time they were in government, Rudd's task is even tougher.

So Rudd is under immense pressure to neutralise the Coalition's campaign on asylum seeker boat arrivals before calling the election.  But that is easier said than done.

The Prime Minister's chief problem could come down to one of believability.  He has changed his position on asylum seeker policy before.

And the government he was a part of has gone through a series of policy contortions without finding a solution.

Unauthorised boat arrivals ballooned under Rudd's last time in power, after he dismantled the Howard government's Pacific Solution and moved asylum seekers into the community.

Rudd has since blamed other "push" factors of conflicts in other countries increasing the numbers of people willing to risk their lives on a boat to escape persecution.

The closest he has come to admitting to a mistake was "in perhaps not being quick enough to respond to the new change in external circumstances with an outflow from Sri Lanka from a civil war in 2009-10".

He has not accepted that changes in Australian laws when he was the leader have acted as "pull" factors by making Australia a more marketable destination for people smugglers.

But this is the focus of the Opposition's criticism that, in the reported words of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Australia needs to take "the sugar off the table" for people smugglers.

Julia Gillard appeared to admit the Rudd government had made mistakes on border protection when she rolled him as prime minister.

Asylum seeker policy was one of the three areas where Gillard said the government had "lost its way" and required a change of leader.

But after Gillard's failed ideas of sending asylum seekers to East Timor and swapping them with refugees in Malaysia - and a series of capitulations to the Opposition by reopening processing centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island - the Government has little credibility left.

Rudd's political effort so far has been twofold.  First, he has accused Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of lying when he says he can stop the boats.

Rudd used his first press conference after becoming prime minister to lambast Mr Abbott for using meaningless three-word slogans, and raise the spectre of a conflict with Indonesia if a Coalition government enacted its threat to turn around boats at sea.

Rudd is now entering the second phase of his attempt to take the sting out of the issue for Labor.

He has flagged new policies to make it harder for asylum seekers to be assessed as refugees in Australia, suggested he could change Australia's application of the Refugee Convention, and will push for better regional co-operation on people smuggling.

He has raised concerns in recent trips to Indonesia and PNG, and he could make another visit to Jakarta to take part in a planned summit with source countries including Iran, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

We are likely to soon see the Government announce a tougher process for weeding out economic refugees from those genuinely in fear of persecution.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr has been laying the groundwork for his change, and has recently claimed the vast majority of recent asylum seekers are "economic migrants".

But none of these options is likely to have any immediate impact on the rate of boat arrivals.  Labor has made similar suggestions before.  Now the Government is running out of time.




PEOPLE cheer Kevin Rudd because they cannot believe a Prime Minister would trick them so brazenly.  But never has Mr Rudd - a genius at seeming, a disaster at doing - been as brazen as he was this week.

No, he did not "terminate" Labor's carbon tax.

No, his planned emissions trading scheme cannot start next year - or not without spending billions he does not have to buy off the hostile Greens.

No, it won't save families $380 each year.

No, your electricity bills might in fact soar, not fall.

In fact, Mr Rudd will be the second Labor Prime Minister to go to an election promising "there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead".

If re-elected he will be the second Labor Prime Minister to claim "changed circumstances" made him break his solemn word.

On Tuesday, Mr Rudd made the following false claims, or almost certainly undeliverable promises in announcing he'd move to an emissions trading scheme one year earlier than Labor planned:

"The Government has decided to terminate the carbon tax ... From July 1 next year Australia will move to an emissions trading scheme ...

"The modelling from Treasury shows that in the financial year 2014-15 an average family will receive a cost of living relief to the value of $380 per year ...

"We expect the change that we are bringing in will see the price on carbon fall from an expected $25.40 a tonne by next July to around $6 a tonne."

Not one of those claims can be trusted. Some are outright fabrications. Here are the facts.

First, it is very unlikely Mr Rudd could get his plan through Parliament in time, because the Senate, in which Labor can be out-voted by the Coalition with the Greens, stays until June 30 next year.

The Coalition is against this switch to an emissions trading system, in which the European Commission effectively sets our carbon price by manipulating its market in permits to emit carbon dioxide.

Europe's price is now an unusually low $6, but European politicians plan to ramp it up.

The Greens are opposed for different reasons. For one, they don't want the carbon price to fall by as much as Labor promises.

"The Greens do not support making it cheaper for the big polluters to pollute," Greens leader Christine Milne said.

IF the Coalition sticks to its guns, Mr Rudd's plan is dead - unless it can bribe the Greens with billions of dollars of more dud green schemes just like the ones Mr Rudd says he needs to cut.

Second, Mr Rudd is dead wrong in claiming his change would save families $380 "per year", as he stated five times on Tuesday. In fact, he is merely bringing forward by one year Labor's planned switch to emissions trading, so any savings are also for just one year, as Treasurer Chris Bowen tried to point out to him: "It is a one-year figure based on the Treasury's view of the carbon price."

Third, Mr Rudd's claim of $380 in savings for each family is a wild exaggeration at best.

That figure assumes that our carbon price will next year drop to the $6 set by Europe's trading system today.

But the European Commission this month voted to increase that $6 price, with analysts at Point Carbon expecting it to perhaps double in the near future. Add the likely depreciation of the Australian dollar, and half Mr Rudd's $380 in claimed savings could be wiped out.

In fact, in a few years we might not be saving but instead spending a lot, lot more.

Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on 2GB this week not only conceded the obvious - that the price set by Europe could well rise - but refused to rule out it rising to a level much higher than our carbon tax today.

Indeed, the Government's own Budget, released just two months ago, worked on a "modelled price of $38 at 2019-20" - which the Government needs to pay for its hugely expensive disability scheme and Gonski education changes.

People with short memories may find it unbelievable that a Prime Minister could tell them such untruths with such moral conviction.

But Mr Rudd has long traded on seeming something he is not. He is a genius at seeming to fix what he's actually broken, like border laws.

And here he is again, pretending to fix a tax that pretended to stop a global warming Mr Rudd pretends is dangerous, even though it's now paused for more than 15 years.

Pretending, too, that he'll save you money when he's costing you a fortune.

The King of Seeming in an Age of Seeming. Not worse than Julia Gillard, but a greater indictment of Australia and our times.


A solar slum

IT'S the residential "solar farm" fracturing friendships in a quiet Gold Coast street and the council can't stop one popping up in your suburb.

Despite already having 23 solar panels on his roof, Hope Island retiree Graham Drew has caused a furore by erecting a purpose-built frame along the length of his property to hold a further 40 panels.

At least five neighbouring households have repeatedly raised safety and aesthetic concerns with council but it says it is powerless to act as the structure was approved by an independent certifier and the city's planning scheme does not regulate the installation of solar panels.

Property owner Kate Lockyer, whose home overlooks the panels, said the "eyesore" would have an enormous impact on the resale value of her house.

"The view from our kitchen window, dining room and decks has been destroyed," she said.  "We can barely look into the yard in full sun because of the glare radiating from this solar monstrosity.  "People shouldn't be allowed to build things like this in a standard suburban block . . . it makes a mockery of building regulations and local building codes."

Another neighbour, Norma Serradura, said she was more concerned about safety than esthetics.  "I'm not anti-solar panels. We have 20 ourselves but the difference is they're on our roof," she said.

"The frame is already showing some movement and flexing. If it came off in a severe storm it would cause serious damage to nearby homes and put lives at risk.  "He has essentially created a massive wind sail . . . it's a potential death kite."

Mr Drew said he had invested in the panels to "make a few bucks" but laughed at claims he had boasted about earning $100,000 a year from selling the power back to the electricity grid. "Geez, I wish it was," the 73-year-old said.

"There aren't monstrous amounts of money in it. If there was I'd have acres of it . . . it's just going to give me a bit of cashflow to help my super(annuation) keep up with inflation.

"It's not an eyesore. It's a very tastefully constructed patio roof that has solar panels on it.  "It's not impeding anyone's view ... I had even planned to build the frame with steel but changed it to timber to blend in."

Council records show the approved building plan was for a "metal structure (patio) with solar panels as roof cover" but after council told the independent certifier the structure had been built of timber with metal purlins attached to the panels, he discontinued his services.

Mr Drew then engaged another certifier, who signed off on the project.  "I've put this up 100 per cent legally ... as for safety concerns, a brick shithouse is not going to push it over," he said.

Division 3 councillor Cameron Caldwell said while he sympathised with Mr Drew's neighbours, the council's ability to regulate solar panel installations was limited.

"Given the circumstances that have arisen, this could be a matter for investigation by the State Government for possible legislative change," he said.


Governments fail to reach deal on education funding despite optimistic phone calls

HOPES of a Queensland deal on Gonski seem to have been dashed with state Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek saying he sees no point in meeting his Commonwealth counterpart again.

Mr Langbroek had initially been positive about a potential deal after holding a phone hook-up with federal Education Minister Bill Shorten yesterday afternoon.

But it is understood things changed after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's office sent a letter to Premier Campbell Newman's director-general Jon Grayson suggesting a funding model adjustment and a revised offer.

"The impact of this adjustment, and the new funding profile for Queensland, is a reduction to its base funding of $1.3 billion over 2014-19," the letter states.

But it did not address Mr Newman's concerns including his request for the increased bureaucracy involved in the reforms to be wound back.

Just hours after the Premier's department received the letter, Mr Langbroek issued a statement saying he saw no point in meeting Mr Shorten again. Mr Shorten, however, said he would push on with negotiations despite Mr Langbroek's declaration.

"We're not going to walk away from the negotiating table because of some intemperate language from Mr Langbroek," Mr Shorten said.

"Our priority has always been to get more resources into Queensland schools so that Queensland kids get the best start in life."

He said his offer to fly to Brisbane and meet with Mr Langbroek remained.


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