Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Govt's tough message on carbon tax repeal

THE federal government has issued a blunt warning to Labor and the Australian Greens as it prepares to introduce its carbon tax repeal bills to parliament.

"Do not stand in the way of the will of the people," Environment Minister Greg Hunt told ABC radio on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott will deliver a long-held promise to abolish the carbon tax, introduced by Labor in 2012, when he presents his government's first major piece of legislation shortly after 9am (AEDT).

After that Mr Hunt and Treasurer Joe Hockey will introduce seven more bills repealing other aspects of Labor's clean energy laws.

While the government has the numbers to pass the legislation through parliament's lower house, Labor and the Greens have the numbers in the Senate to block the bills.

Mr Hunt would not be drawn on whether the government will pursue a double-dissolution election if its legislation is blocked by parliament.

The alternative is to wait until July 2014 for a likely more favourable Senate to repeal the tax.

An alliance of industry groups says any delay will achieve nothing for the environment and hurt businesses.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group, the Business Council of Australia and the Minerals Council of Australia is urging parliament to approve the repeal bills.

Labor is not backing away from its position to oppose the repeal of the carbon tax without its replacement by an emissions trading scheme.

"We're going to the parliament to do exactly what we told the Australian people what we'd do," frontbencher Tony Burke told ABC radio.

He dismissed as "simply untrue" business claims that delaying repeal of the tax would damage the economy.

A Senate vote on the repeal bills is unlikely before twin upper house inquiries into the legislation and the government's direct action plan to reduce carbon emissions.

"If Tony Abbott is committed to throwing out the baby with the bath water on climate change, it is reasonable for the parliament and the community to expect a reasonable level of detail about their alternative climate change policy," opposition climate change spokesman Mark Butler said.


Vegetation clearing rules to be eased in fire-prone parts of NSW

The NSW government plans to loosen planning rules to give residents in bushfire-prone regions more freedom to clear vegetation around their homes without a permit.

The new rules, to be introduced next year in the next session of Parliament, would allow homeowners in designated areas to fell trees within 10 metres of their homes and clear shrubs and other vegetation out to 50 metres on their own land without requiring planning permission.

The proposal comes weeks after early-season bushfires in the Blue Mountains and elsewhere destroyed more than 200 homes and damaged 120 more.

"Residents in designated bushfire prone areas will not need to seek permission to sensibly clear vegetation from around their property that is posing a fire risk," Premier Barry O'Farrell said in a statement.

"This will need to be done in an environmentally responsible manner."

Homeowners will be encouraged to "responsibly manage fire risks on their own properties", Mr O'Farrell said.

"Our changes will ensure the rules regarding hazard reduction are based on protecting lives and property – and not satisfying a narrow Green agenda that seeks to put trees before people."

While the clearing rules won't go before the Parliament this year, the government will this week introduce laws giving the Rural Fire Service Commissioner the power to carry out hazard reduction burning on private land without consent of the owner if "reasonable attempts to contact the landowner have failed", the statement said.

The RFS Commissioner will also have the power to direct a Bush Fire Management Committee to amend its Bush Fire Risk Management Plan if it is considered to be inadequate, the statement said.

"We need to ensure the community is as prepared as it possibly can be for future bushfires and that authorities have the powers they need to conduct essential hazard reduction work," Mr O'Farrell said.

Council view

Jennifer Anderson, mayor of Ku-ring-gai council on Sydney's northern fringe, welcomed the proposed changes.

"I place a high priority on the safety of our residents, and if it’s going to be improved through these initiatives, then I think they’re very worthwhile," Ms Anderson said.

At present, tree preservation orders require residents to apply for tree removal, which can be a lengthy procees. "If there are a lot of requests then it can take several months," she said. "If there’s an emergency imperative, that process can be too lengthy."

"I’d certainly support (permission to clear land around houses) in an emergency situation."

Care, though, must be taken where endangered species are involved, with state and federal laws protecting such areas, Ms Anderson said.


Research conducted for the previous Labor government by Risk Frontiers in 2010 found the distance of houses from the bushland boundary to be the most important factor in determining vulnerability to fire.

Based on major blazes in the past, houses within 200 metres of at least half a hectare of bush are at-risk properties, the research found.

By that gauge, about 37,893 addresses in the Blue Mountains local government area were vulnerable, the most exposed of any region in NSW, Risk Frontiers found.

The research group, based at Macquarie University, found that, in significant blazes in the past, the probability of loss in the first 50 metres of the bush was about 60 per cent.

In the 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria, "60 per cent of losses occurred within 10 metres of bushland".

Separate laws will also include two new offences for littering involving cigarettes and matches. Police and enforcement officers will be able to issue penalty notices for such littering on days when a total fire ban is in place.

Fines will be $330 and $660 for an aggravated offence, the government said.


Should union members’ super funds really be invested in yet another Left-wing news outfit?

It’s one thing for rich benefactors to subsidise loss-making on-line news services that push the Leftist line. Greens donor Graeme Wood is perfectly entitled to splash his cash on the struggling Global Mail. Britain’s Scott Trust can squander the last of its cash on a Guardian Australia site.  And Fairfax is entitled to preach all day about the sins of Tony Abbott.

I’m less happy, of course, that taxpayers must also spend $1.1 billion a year for the ABC to run a virulently Left-wing news organisation, plus another $200 million for the Left-wing SBS. It is surely too much of a good thing that Labor made taxpayers also subsidise the Left-wing Conversation, now busily promoting an agenda very close to Labor’s own.

But has a line just been crossed? Surely this is a highly inappropriate use of the superannuation funds of union members, especially when the market for on-line Leftist journalism is now so very, very crowded:

    "Some of Australia’s biggest industry superannuation outfits are using member funds to quietly bankroll a new online news venture guided by Crikey backer Eric Beecher, with plans to promote the venture to their millions of members.

    The site, to be named The New Daily, is set to launch this week – the latest entrant to an increasingly crowded online news field in Australia.

    The industry super funds ploughing $3 million into the venture include AustralianSuper, the country’s biggest superannuation fund, United Super, the trustee of construction industry fund Cbus, and Industry Super Holdings, a company that owns various industry fund entities.

    Former Age editor Bruce Guthrie is understood to be the site’s editor-in-chief. Several Labor, union, media and industry fund identities – including industry funds stalwart Garry Weaven, former Victorian premier Steve Bracks – are believed to be, or have recently been, connected to the venture."

The directors include former ACTU official Garry Weaven and former Labor Premier Steve Bracks. Guthrie is, of course, of the Left, as is Beecher.

By the way, note one critical difference. Conservative journalism tends to survive on the support of its audience. Leftist journalism tends to survive on the support of taxpayers and rich benefactors.


Cut in minimum wage would boost job but hit the poor

CUTTING Australia's minimum wage would spark a jobs bonanza, giving a much-needed boost to some of the nation's biggest employers, but economists warn it would also widen the gap between Australia's rich and poor.

A call from the head of the Prime Minister's Business Advisory Council for a reduction in pay rises for the nation's lowest-paid workers has drawn a mixed reaction from economists.

AMP chief economist Shane Oliver said the nation's sluggish hospitality and retail industries would benefit most from a reduction in the $16.37 an hour minimum wage.

"It would create a lot of jobs in retail where low-skilled workers tend to work," Mr Oliver said.

"You would see an increase in demand for workers, labourers and shop workers. Flowing from that would be a more competitive retailing environment.

"Manufacturing has been at the pointy end of the loss of competitiveness in Australia. Relatively high wages and relative high US dollar; those factors have worked against manufacturers and that is why they are closing up shop and moving offshore."

About two out of five Australian workers are employed in manufacturing, retail or hospitality travel and tourism, Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show.

The youth unemployment rate in Australia for 15 to 24-year-olds hit 13 per cent last week, its highest rate since June 2002.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's chief executive Peter Anderson said "a safety net minimum wage is generally supported by industry."

"Industry isn't pushing for a reduction in the minimum wage but restraint in the future is needed to help businesses reduce costs and employ people, especially young people, he said."

But Mr Oliver and Swinburne University housing expert Dr Wendy Stone believe a drop in the minimum wage would increase the already widening gap between rich and poor.

Australia's minimum wage workers earned 54 per cent of the median income wage in 2011. In 2001 it was 59 per cent.

Dr Stone believes there would be a worsening geographical divide between the haves and the have-nots.

"With a drop in the minimum wage we would see an exacerbation of the significant problems we find in the private rental sector, which would be insecure housing and higher housing stress (paying more than 30 per cent of their income on housing costs)," Dr Stone said.

"Home ownership is already so problematic for low-income people and low-waged people are having to buy further and further away from jobs and public transport.

"The costs associated with living a long way from those (well-serviced) places is having a crippling effect on households."


Wrong parking fine costs Melbourne City Council  $2200

Melbourne City Council has apologised for issuing a fine to the wrong person after it was challenged in court.

The council fined Tony Tuohey $70, claiming he had parked in a bay between 12.05pm and 6.09pm on August 13, 2012.

Mr Tuohey said he presented the Melbourne Magistrates Court with his parking receipt that showed he parked his BMW at 5.07pm and the ticket was valid until the end of paid period at 6.30pm in Gisborne Street, East Melbourne.

"This was the result of officer error, not any issue with the parking technology," the council said in a statement.

"City of Melbourne now believe that Mr Tuohey’s vehicle was incorrectly identified by the officer and the infringement should have been issued to the car in the adjoining bay," it said.

"The charge was withdrawn yesterday by the City of Melbourne. We apologise for any inconvenience.’’

Mr Tuohey had been at the Park Hyatt for a business meeting.

The court awarded him $2200 in costs.


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