Thursday, September 12, 2013

Labor at odds over carbon tax repeal

CRACKS have emerged in federal Labor ranks with two party MPs conceding the incoming government's plan to scrap the carbon tax should be allowed to pass parliament.

Backbencher Nick Champion and Richard Marles, Labor's most recent trade minister, on Wednesday broke the party line which has promised to block moves in parliament to repeal the impost on emissions.

"We do need to acknowledge the fact that Tony Abbott won the election, and we lost," Victorian MP Mr Marles told Sky News.

The coalition classified Saturday's election as a referendum on climate change and say they come to power with a mandate to remove the tax.

"If the majority of people vote for bad policy, then they simply need to see that experiment fulfilled," Mr Champion told ABC radio.

"It's not our job to save the Liberal Party from bad policy and it's not our job to save the Australian people from bad policy if that's what they choose and vote for in an election."

Incoming climate action minister Greg Hunt welcomed the "good sense" of the Labor duo.

"There can be no reason and no excuse for the ALP not to honour a fundamental, central referendum question," Mr Hunt told reporters in Canberra.

But others in Labor remained steadfast in their opposition of the coalition's intention to shift to a direct action plan to combat climate change.

Sydney MP Michelle Rowland said the plan, which includes using soil and trees to soak up emissions, is an "absolute figleaf".

"I'm not voting for a policy about planting trees and magic soil," she said.

Mr Champion did not agree with the coalition policy and said it should be opposed in the lower house, but allowed to pass the Senate, to expose the shortcomings of the incoming government.

"In effect, I think the Liberal Party want to hang themselves," Mr Champion said.

"Well, we should give them as much rope as they need."

Asked if the coalition would push ahead with its threat of a double dissolution election to see its policy pass the parliament, Mr Hunt said "there is a long way to travel" before reaching that consideration.

When Labor came to power in 2007 Mr Hunt said the coalition accepted and honoured the new government's mandates including signing the Kyoto Protocol, shifting away from WorkChoices and the government apology to indigenous Australians.


Premier Campbell Newman asks prime minister-elect Tony Abbott to push through approvals for new coal mines in Galilee basin

QUEENSLAND premier Campbell Newman has asked prime minister-elect Tony Abbott to push through approvals for massive new coal mining projects in the Galilee basin.  Campbell Newman said Mr Abbott called him on Monday to find out what the "blockers" were for the Queensland government.

"I said without any hesitation the need to see the massive Galilee Basin coal projects approved as soon as possible," Mr Newman told ABC radio.  "Because they will see thousands of jobs created over the next few years and billions of dollars' investment in the state."

He said he'd kept the message about what Queensland wanted from Mr Abbott very simple.  "And it's really just to get out of the way and let this government get on with taking the state forward economically," Mr Newman said.

He said Mr Abbott had also raised his desire to get on with jointly funded major road projects, including the Bruce Highway upgrade.


Coalition to take axe to NBN Co

The biggest certainty facing the country's national broadband network is that it will undergo a complete metamorphosis in the next 12 months with a new board, a new management team, a new culture and strategy, new cost structures and a new set of relationships in the telecommunications sector.

Three separate reviews and a forensic audit of NBN Co will be undertaken immediately, which will effectively give the incoming Abbott government a get-out-of-jail-free card to oust the existing board and take the national broadband network in any direction it wants - and it will.

Critics have described the NBN in its current form as "overstaffed", a "bottomless pit of taxpayer funding" and a "quagmire wrapped in a minefield".

Besides providing political fodder to humiliate the Rudd government, the reviews will look at the NBN's ownership structure and its regulatory protections. This could result in the private sector being invited to take equity to help fund the rollout. It could also precipitate a review of the role of the competition watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in administering the current open access regime.

NBN Co has suffered more than its fair share of scandals in the past few years, including massive cost blowouts, timetable delays, board disharmony, asbestos scares and some unhappy contractors who are losing money and want out.

Critics have described the NBN in its current form as "overstaffed", a "bottomless pit of taxpayer funding" and a "quagmire wrapped in a minefield". But its own figures are the most damning. In 2010 the target was for almost 1 million homes and premises to be hooked up. By June 2013 fewer than 175,000 homes and businesses were connected. In simple terms after almost five years and $5 billion later the NBN is only 2 per cent built.

The first change a Coalition government is likely to do is appoint Ziggy Switkowski to take charge of the audit and reviews and negotiations with key vendors. His appointment will be followed by others with a depth of experience in the telecommunications and/or construction sectors. Kerry Schott is likely to be one of the few board members to keep her job.

But the biggest change will be the relationships with retail service providers, ISPs and others as the new government switches from a fibre-to-the-home NBN to a cheaper fibre-to-the-node and fibre-to-the-basement network.

This will require a new and published business plan coupled with analysis, which will be used to renegotiate the Telstra/NBN deal to arrange copper access and compensation in the fibre-to-the-node footprint as well as redesigning the rollout. It will also mean holding discussions with Optus and other industry players as well as contractors.

It will make for interesting times for Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which was blackballed from tendering for the NBN due to national security issues. That was the only explanation given at the time by the then Gillard government. Instead, it appointed Alcatel-Lucent as the main broadband technology provider.

Huawei is currently doing the equivalent work on the British version of the NBN, which is a combination of fibre-to-the-home and fibre-to-the-node using a new technology called vectoring, which increases the bandwidth of traditional copper lines. As one former senior telco executive said: "There is plenty of run left in copper." Alcatel-Lucent is also an expert in vectoring, a technology that communications minister-elect Malcolm Turnbull has made clear will be used in its cheaper version of the NBN.

Turnbull has said he will revisit the banning of Huawei if elected to government, which means if Huawei gets the all-clear in terms of national security issues, it could end up with a role in the NBN.

The change from fibre-to-the-home to fibre-to-the-node will have profound implications for Telstra, contractors and other telco players including Optus. But at the end of the day the aim is to have a network that costs less, is finished sooner and is more efficient. The aim is to create a hybrid fibre, copper, wireless and satellite network with components brought together that offers affordable prices and has a configuration similar to that being adopted in other countries.

With so much change, the new government will need to be mindful that the right industry structure emerges. It was a need to change the structure that inspired the creation of the NBN in the first place. This is an area Switkowski will be well versed in given his background as a former chief executive of Telstra.

Turnbull and Switkowski will have their work cut out for them unpicking some of the contracts put in place by their predecessors and making sure the right industry structure, regulation and entity is created. But given the current state of play, it seems they are starting from a low base.


Another set of university rankings

ANU at 27th in world university rankings

The US has come out on top in an authoritative list of international university rankings, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University leading the way.

MIT came top of the QS World University Rankings for the second year running, while Harvard displaced Britain’s Cambridge University to take second spot in the 2013 table, which was published on Tuesday.

US institutions made up six of the top 10, with the remaining four places being filled by British universities.

The QS rankings included a record number of British institutions in the top 20, with University of Edinburgh and King's College London making their first appearances.

Four Australian universities made it to the top 50. The Australian National University came in at 27, dropping three places; the University of Melbourne at 31 (up five places); The University of Sydney at 38 (up one place); and the University of Queensland at 43 (up three places).

According to the study, graduates from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge were the most employable in the world.

The rankings take into account the subject range, research results and academic reputation offered by 3000 institutions internationally.


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