Friday, February 28, 2014

Paid parental leave: NSW Senator John Williams says Abbott's scheme is too costly

Abbott's aim is to get mothers back into the home but is this the best way to do it?  A drastic decrease in the cost of housing (which is very high in Australia) would have a similar effect.  Such a reduction could be achieved by sending home all  unassimilated immigrants (essentially welfare-dependant ones).  That would free up (say) 100,000 dwellings -- and the law of supply and demand would do the rest

A Government senator says the economy is too weak to support Prime Minister Tony Abbott's $5.5 billion paid parental leave scheme.

It follows earlier reports today that the Commission of Audit has warned the policy is too expensive.

New South Wales Senator John Williams has told the ABC he wants to personally raise his concerns with the Prime Minister before stating publicly whether or not he will cross the floor.

The Australian Financial Review is reporting the Commission of Audit's first report, which the Government received nearly a fortnight ago, says the scheme is too costly and cannot be afforded with the budget in deficit.

The ABC has been unable to verify the report and a spokeswoman for Treasurer Joe Hockey says the Commission of Audit's "recommendations are confidential".

Senator Williams says he is concerned the economy is not currently strong enough to support the scheme.

"I've said all along, I don't have a problem with the paid parental leave scheme. That is our policy so long as the economy is strong, but I do have concerns about the strength of the Australian economy," he said.

"To me a strong economy in Australia [has] a four in front of unemployment – that's currently got a six in front of it and a four or close to four in front of economic growth - and we're currently growing at 2.5 per cent.  "So I do have concerns that the economy is not strong enough."

Asked if he would cross the floor, Senator Williams said he would not be making his position public until after he had the chance to talk personally to Mr Abbott about his policy.

"I'm going to have discussions with the Prime Minister prior to any decision I make and I think that's the right thing to do by the Prime Minister," he said.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen seized on the report in the Australian Financial Review and urged the Prime Minister to dump his "excessive, gold-plated paid parental leave scheme".

Abbott defends his 'signature' policy

Mr Abbott told Parliament that he still "absolutely" stood by his policy.  "It's good for women, it's good for families and it's very good for our economy because if we can get the participation rate up, we will get our productivity up, we'll get our prosperity up, it'll be good for everyone," he said.

Mr Abbott says the time for his scheme, which would award new mothers six months at their full wage, capped at $75,000, had come.  "This is a policy which we took to the election and I have to say this is a policy that the Australian public well and truly understood when they voted in last year's election," he said.

But Senator Williams said there would have to be amendments to Mr Abbott's scheme because the Government did not have the majority in the Senate.

The Greens are refusing to support the scheme unless the cap is lowered to $50,000.  "If the Greens stick to their guns then I can't see it getting through the Senate," he said.  "We'll have to wait and see what comes up in front of us."

Several Government sources, who did not want to be named, told the ABC the Prime Minister's policy was friendless within the Coalition and some argued even within the Cabinet.

One Liberal says the policy was the first concern raised at every business function they had attended since the Prime Minister announced his policy to his surprised party room in 2010.


Move to limit ideological objections to Qld mining projects

The Queensland Government is looking to restrict who can object to mining applications, in a bid to crack down on what it calls philosophical opposition to projects.

Currently any group or person can object to applications, potentially sending the decision to the Land Court.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said it was "frustrating" for the Government.  "It's obvious that the current process allows individuals or groups who are fundamentally opposed to the coal industry - for whatever reason - to use the objection process to frustrate and delay those projects," he said.

"The people of Queensland have elected us as a Government based on developing our coal industry to supply the world markets and our processes need to allow us to do that."

In the next few weeks, the State Government will release a discussion paper looking at who can object to applications.

"What we're looking at is a process that will have an assessment process that is relative to the risk the project poses," Mr Seeney said.

"So for the really big projects I think it should be open to almost anyone, but for the smaller projects and for the lesser approvals ... there is a much different requirement."

Mr Seeney declined to spell out the definition of a big project.

The changes in the latest paper are broadly similar a 2013 discussion paper called Reducing Red Tape for Small Scale Alluvial Mining.

It suggests restricting objections to mining leases to "affected landholders" and local governments.

EDO chief solicitor voices reservations about changes

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland principal solicitor Jo Bragg says she has grave concerns about the impact this could have.  "It's hard to see what the Government means, but it appears to mean just a person where the mine is on their land," she said.

"But the community ... concerned about endangered species, groundwater - they should also be able to object as they can now."

As the discussion paper has not been publicly released, the Deputy Premier also declined to define an affected landholder.

In the Darling Downs community of Acland, some locals are concerned about how any potential changes could affect them.  The New Acland Coal Mine wants to expand to export up to 7.4 million tonnes of coal a year.

Veterinarian and farmer Nicki Laws is a member of the Oakey Coal Action Alliance and lives 30 kilometres away from the mine itself.

She says she wants to make sure her voice is heard.  "These ecosystems underpin us all, they underpin our communities, our living, our health, our prosperity as a district - so if we're threatening it, anyone should be allowed to comment on that," she said.

Mr Seeney said he would encourage everyone to participate in the discussion once the discussion paper is released.

"This proposal is about reviewing the assessment process, understanding the Government has a mandate from the people of Queensland and ensuring that the process allows us to fulfil that mandate," Mr Seeney said.

He did not provide specific examples of philosophical or vexatious objections.  "This review is not about any particular circumstance," he said.

"It's part of a broader commitment that we've given to the people of Queensland to review the assessment processes to ensure the projects the Queensland economy needs can proceed and respond in a responsible and appropriate way."


Bill Shorten apologises over mistaken comments to Parliament in defence on Stephen Conroy

A Leftist who makes up "facts".  How surprising!

Bill Shorten has apologised for mistakenly telling Parliament that Liberal frontbencher Michael Ronaldson called the former Chief of Army Ken Gillespie a "coward".

The Opposition Leader apologised on Wednesday night, after receiving a letter from Senator Ronaldson demanding to see the evidence for his "coward" claim. It also  came after a day spent trying to deflect attention from comments made by Labor frontbench colleague Stephen Conroy.

During Tuesday's Senate estimates, Senator Conroy sparked controversy by accusing Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell of participating in a "political cover-up" by citing operational reasons for not answering questions about the Abbott government's secretive border protection policies.

Trying to deflect attention from Senator Conroy's attack on General Campbell, Mr Shorten told the House on Wednesday: "What I also know is that . . . when Chief of Army General Gillespie was at estimates it was Senator Ronaldson who called him a coward," during debate on a motion to admonish Senator Conroy.

"I'm sure that, given his time again, Senator Ronaldson might have chosen his words differently," Mr Shorten said.

But the Special Minister of State, Senator Ronaldson, had no recollection of calling General Gillespie a "coward" at an estimates hearing in 2011. And when he phoned the General to check, the former Chief of Army also did not recall the exchange.

Senator Ronaldson wrote to Mr Shorten's office asking to see evidence for his claim.  "I wrote to Mr Shorten asking him to provide me with a copy of the transcript showing me where I allegedly said this," Senator Ronaldson said.

Mr Shorten's staff could find nothing in the parliamentary record to support his "coward" claim.

It is understood Mr Shorten received the letter from Senator Ronaldson at 7.20pm and at 7.26pm he entered the House to correct the record and apologise.

"This afternoon I referred to the Special Minister of State," Mr Shorten said. "At the time I had been advised that the minister had made the remark I attributed to him.

"Tonight at 7.20pm, I received a letter from the Special Minister of State advising that he has no recollection of making that remark.  "Therefore, I wish to correct the record and I apologise to the Special Minister of State."

Mr Shorten got the "coward" tip from his Victorian Labor colleague David Feeney. Mr Feeney had passed a note to the Opposition Leader telling him about Senator Ronaldson's alleged exchange with the Chief of Army in 2011.

When Fairfax Media called Mr Feeney on Thursday morning, the member for Batman admitted he might have unwittingly misinformed his leader.

"I witnessed a couple of sharp altercations [between Senator Ronaldson and General Gillespie]," Mr Feeney said, though acknowledging there was a difference between a "sharp altercation" and calling the Chief of Army a "coward".

"But the critical point here is that this is a device for the Liberal Party to avoid talking about issues that actually matter," Mr Feeney said, citing "secrecy, Manus Island, cuts to Defence and the difficulties that Senator Nash is experiencing".

Senator Ronaldson said he wanted a "formal retraction" from the Opposition Leader.  "The only way the record can be properly corrected is for a full and unequivocal retraction of the allegation and this must be done in the House by Mr Shorten," he said.  "Notwithstanding the rough and tumble of Parliamentary proceedings, Mr Shorten's accusation went way beyond acceptable standards."

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who initiated a parliamentary censure of Senator Conroy believes he can remain opposition defence spokesman provided he apologises to General Campbell.

Mr Wilkie said it was entirely appropriate to quiz General Campbell about Operation Sovereign Borders.  "But what happened was, Senator Conroy accused General Campbell of being complicit in a cover-up when there is no evidence," he told ABC radio on Thursday.  "It was a direct attack on his character and it was entirely unwarranted," he said.

Mr Wilkie said Senator Conroy should face the media and publicly apologise to General Campbell.  "Say he made a mistake, that he’ll learn from it and he’ll get back to work," he said.


NSW Government resists Commonwealth push for independent government funded schools

New South Wales is resisting any further embrace of the Federal Government's new $70 million Independent Public Schools initiative.

The reforms, launched earlier this month, include a goal of 25 per cent, or approximately 1500 existing public schools to become Independent Public Schools by 2017.

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said on Sunday that he had letters from every state and territory, except South Australia, wanting to be part of the program.

But NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli says his state has already substantially gone down the road of school autonomy and is not planning to go any further.

"We've made it clear and New South Wales has gone substantially down the road of increased school autonomy. Public schools in NSW will manage 70 per cent of their budget up from the current 10 per cent," he said.

"So we have gone substantially down the road of school autonomy, New South Wales has done a lot.

"The Commonwealth have got their views and I have met with Christopher Pyne to talk about where our reforms actually meet the kinds of changes that he would like to see and we continue those negotiations."

He says it is powerful for public schools to be part of a system and he does not want that to change with more autonomy.

"You have got to have a balance between the power of principals to make decisions about their schools but also keeping the power of a system in place, " he said.

Mr Pyne says NSW wants to be part of the independent schools program and he will continue to work with Mr Piccoli.

"I'll be working with him to develop the kind of autonomy in schools that we both think is of an advantage to students, particularly, in bringing about good outcomes for students," he said.

Mr Pyne has denied there are any tensions between himself and the NSW Education Minister saying he feels "very positive toward Adrian Piccoli".

Political lobbying

The Federal Education Minister has urged MPs to talk to parents and teachers to encourage schools in their communities to become independent public schools.

Mr Piccoli says he does not have a problem with federal MPs lobbying schools.  "Federal MPs are entitled to write to their local schools," he said.

But the the Director-General of Education and Communities Dr Michele Bruniges has taken issue and written to the state's public school principals.

" NSW public schools operate as part of a school system. Individual schools are therefore unable to enter into any such arrangement with the Commonwealth government," she wrote.  "Any discussions about independent public schools will be conducted at a departmental level."


Thursday, February 27, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG wonders why Qantas is in such a pickle


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks the ALP should apologize for its unfounded attacks on the Australian military

John Singleton calls Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett a ‘prick’, and CEO Greg Hywood an ‘idiot’ in extraordinary radio spray on 2GB

Fairfax are slimy Leftists and Singleton is libertarian but also in this case Singleton seems to be backed up by key players in the matter

IT would have to go down as the spray of the year: Sydney radio tsar John Singleton unleashed yesterday on his one-time would-be business partners at Fairfax Media, calling its chairman a “pompous pr..k” and the CEO an “idiot”.

Just months after the larrikin millionaire horse owner blew up a lifelong friendship with trainer Gai Waterhouse in the More Joyous scandal, Singleton has now declared war on struggling Fairfax.

And yesterday’s 20-minute spray on Sydney’s top-rating Alan Jones program on Singleton’s own 2GB can only be described as spectacular.

The Macquarie Radio Network’s majority owner ridiculed Fairfax’s management and share price, saying the company had “deliberately misled” shareholders over the collapsed merger talks between 2GB and 2UE.

Singleton suggested Fairfax chairman Roger Corbett should be president of the “Avoca bowling club” and claimed CEO Greg Hywood was a “third-rater” who had phoned him “almost in tears” over the money in consultancy fees down the drain when the talks fell over.

Fairfax Media and Macquarie Radio have ended protracted negotiations over a $200 million merger of radio assets. The deal would have combined Macquarie’s powerful Sydney station 2GB with Fairfax’s Melbourne-dominant 3AW to deliver pre-tax earnings of $32 million.

Singleton accused Mr Corbett of professing Christian values while buying into pubs and poker machines as CEO of Woolworths.

“I don’t profess Christianity and I don’t bash the bible. Nor do I ring people on Sunday nights sounding drunk outta my head. If he doesn’t drink, he certainly does a really good impression late on Sunday night. Let’s assume he was just tired. I am not making any allegations there,” Singleton said on air.

“If you are a proper chairman, a decent human being, not a precocious, pretentious pr..k — I apologise for that word — precocious, pretentious little whipper snapper like Roger Corbett.

“Roger wants to be chairman. Give the little bloke his chairmanship … he’s only got a year to go and then he can be president of the Avoca bowling club or rotary or something, some self-important, pompous, puffed-up job for him.

Of Mr Hywood he said: “He doesn’t know what he’s doing so he just hires consultants to tell him what to do. Obviously he does nothing except do what they tell him.”

The tirade was unleashed on air to Jones — who owns 12 per cent of Macquarie — yesterday morning after Fairfax newspapers on Monday published a report that the deal fell over “after it became clear star Macquarie shock jocks Alan Jones and Ray Hadley would not be part” of it. Singleton suggested the story was “verbatim” what Mr Hywood had told a key executive advising Gina Rinehart on her $200 million investment in Fairfax.

Mr Corbett and Mr Hywood declined requests to be interviewed yesterday.

However, in a statement yesterday Fairfax said that without certainty on whether Jones and Hadley were going to be part of the merger, the deal could not move forward.

“Anyone who had the misfortune of hearing John Singleton’s deluded and self-indulgent sprays on 2GB and elsewhere this morning can only feel sorry for the man,” the statement said.

“Amongst the myriad nonsense and highly defamatory remarks, Mr Singleton also failed to mention that his fellow shareholder and Macquarie Radio deal-maker, Mark Carnegie, refused to facilitate meetings with Mr Jones and Mr Hadley and walked out of a meeting with Fairfax representatives.

“Mr Hadley and Mr Jones are the key assets of any value in Macquarie Radio and without an opportunity to meet with them there was no point in Fairfax Media pursuing talks with the highly volatile and emotional organisation.”

Jones and Hadley both denied yesterday being the cause of the failed merger.

Singleton claimed Mr Hywood had wanted $300 million in the deal, making it financially unviable for Macquarie and denied reports that he could not finance it.

“The shareholders of Fairfax have been deliberately misled,” Singleton said.

Jones said on air yesterday: “Fairfax radio could hardly negotiate from any position other than weakness. But to suggest that I wasn’t prepared to be part of a proposed deal and that I couldn’t be persuaded to be part of a ... ‘joint-venture controlled by Fairfax’, I thought was laughable.  “No-one at Fairfax has ever spoke to me. The story is, to use a harsh word, another lie.”

Hadley said yesterday: “I have never had a conversation with anyone either at 2GB or Fairfax about any such matter. I have never spoken to Singo about it. It is a downright lie. I can only assume the (Herald) reporter got it from his masters.”

Mr Singleton also questioned Fairfax’s assertion it is independent, saying Mr Hywood and Mr Corbett wanted to meet Jones and Hadley “because before they made a firm offer they wanted to make sure they would be able to get on ... that they could control them, despite the charter of independence that they go on about.”

Mr Singleton is a lifelong friend of Gina Rinehart, who owns a $200 million stake in Fairfax and has been critical of its poor share price, which closed yesterday at 94 cents.


Businesses, residents hit by NBN switch

Spiro Kourkoumelis was shocked to learn this week that the telephone services vital to the operation of his bicycle shop in Sydney Road, Brunswick, would soon be dead unless they were reconnected to the national broadband network.

Mr Kourkoumelis' business is one of 2800 premises in Brunswick that will have their analogue internet and phone services shut down when NBN Co decommissions Telstra's copper network on May 23.

The switch-off will occur in the 15 towns and suburbs across Australia that have had the NBN's fibre cables in place for at least 18 months. About 2200 premises in South Morang will be among those affected.

Mr Kourkoumelis, who owns Ray's Cycles and AvantiPlus, and who played football for Carlton and St Kilda, said he heard about the imminent copper switch-off only two days ago, when a sales representative from the Summit IT group told him that he would have to switch over to a new system.

"Either I haven't been paying attention or I'm just too busy running my own business," Mr Kourkoumelis said. "I'm going to have to look into it because I need to get phones, my business relies on it."

Of the approximately 250 businesses approached by Summit IT, about 90 per cent weren't on the NBN and were surprised to learn that their telco services would soon be switched off.

Summit IT director Greg Lipschitz said over the past month his organisation has targeted small-to-medium enterprises in Brunswick's NBN catchment area.

"The interesting thing is that people don't particularly want to change. People are either confused because they're under contract with an existing provider or they don't understand what the change means to their business - the cost, the contractual obligations," Mr Lipschitz said. "The reality is that people have overlooked, in its entirety, the fact it's going to deliver your traditional service."

Access to the wholesale NBN network is sold via retail telcos, such as Telstra and Optus, which will usually bear the cost of installing the utility box required to connect to the network.

It took Katerina Angelopolous nearly 10 months to get a working NBN connection for her elderly mother living in Brunswick.

Ms Angelopolous said that she first ordered a new fibre service in April 2013. Her mother Anastasia, 80, requires a fixed telephone line to support a Mepacs personal alarm, a monitoring device whereby users press a button to call emergency services.

Telstra said it would be installed by October but it wasn't until last Friday that a technician visited her mother's house. Ms Angelopolous said elderly residents, particularly migrants, weren't capable of navigating the red tape required to get an NBN connection.

NBN Co spokesperson Trent Williams said that since November 2012 it has advertised the shutdown via local media, community information sessions and direct mail, as well as engaging local council and advocacy groups. The company has more information about the steps residents and businesses need to take to switch to services provided over the NBN as well as a list of service providers here.

Telcos such as Telstra, Optus and iiNet are also embarking on their own marketing campaigns.


Big Queensland shark catch

RECORD numbers of monster sharks are being caught off popular Queensland beaches as controversy rages about Western Australia’s new shark cull.

About 80 sharks have been snared by State Government shark hunters off the Queensland coast in the last two months alone, including a whopping 3.8m great hammerhead caught last month at Miami Beach. That’s the same length as a small car such as a Nissan Micra, which measures 3.78m in length.

The 80 sharks caught in the last two months include 50 classed as “particularly dangerous” because they are more than 2m long.

While last year’s catch of 686 sharks was down on the previous year the catch included the highest number of these “dangerous” sharks in three years.

Among the haul last year were six white pointers, including a 3.3m monster caught off Currumbin Beach.

Sharks caught so far this year include a 4.2m tiger shark at Rainbow Beach, a 3.95m tiger at Kelly’s Beach (Bundaberg), a 3.85m tiger shark at Tannum Sands and a 3.8m great hammerhead at Miami.

Shark Control Program head Jeff Krause said the figures prove culling helps protect swimmers from potential man-eaters.

His comments came amid ongoing protests over the WA shark cull prompted by a series of fatal attacks in the state, including that of Queensland surfer Chris Boyd who was mauled to death by a Great White in November.

Mr Boyd’s partner, Krystle Westwood, revealed last week she had been subjected to “disgusting” online attacks from anti-cull activists. WA Premier Colin Barnett said he was shocked at the “violence, threats and intimidation” by some protesters.

But Queensland’s shark cull has been running since 1962 and tens of thousands of sharks have been killed.

Mr Krause said an average of 500 to 700 sharks a year were caught by the network of baited drumlines and nets running between the Gold Coast and Cairns.

“Human safety must come first and that’s why the Queensland Government is committed to the shark control program,’’ Mr Krause said.

“The combined use of shark nets and drumlines in Queensland is effective in ­reducing the overall number of sharks close to popular beaches, making it a safer place to swim.’’

Mr Krause said not all sharks caught were killed, with threatened and “non-dangerous sharks released where possible”.

But Australian Marine Conservation Society director Darren Kindleysides said the shark control program was “effectively shark fishing” – killing and trapping large numbers of sharks and other marine creatures including whales, dolphins, dugongs and turtles.

“Just because it’s been in place for a long time doesn’t make it any better from an environmental point of view,’’ he said.

“It’s an expensive program and not necessarily effective. It is certainly not a complete barrier between sharks and swimmers and there are better alternatives with less adverse environmental impacts, such as better beach patrols.’’

Mr Kindleysides said Queensland was the only state that used both baited drumlins and nets to catch sharks.  He said NSW authorities at least removed its nets in winter during the annual whale migration.


Greenie polluters

A FAULTY switch and instruction manuals written entirely in Japanese have been blamed in court for why a ship owned by conservation group Sea Shepherd dropped up to 500 litres of diesel into the Trinity Inlet.

The environmental organisation, whose Australian arm is chaired by former politician Bob Brown, yesterday pleaded guilty to the marine pollution offence in the Cairns Magistrates Court.

Defence barrister Tracy Fantin admitted the irony of the charge given Sea Shepherd's charter to protect and preserve marine life around the world.

She said the spill, which took place while the ship was moored alongside a wharf at the Cairns Port on October 13, 2012, happened after a crew member named Gabor Nosty failed to manually flick the "low level" switch during a fuel transfer, despite being aware the switch was faulty.

The court heard Sea Shepherd Australia had only bought the boat, named New Atlantis, from Japan a week earlier and had yet to translate signage and manuals or repair the switch.

According to court documents, crew members had been given basic handover information but the chief engineer had to work out the ship's systems "by his own devices" due to instruction manuals and other materials all being in Japanese.  All crew members were volunteers and were either German, Dutch or American.

The court was told a passerby noticed diesel flowing into the sea about 6.30pm and tried to alert crew members before notifying the master of a ship moored alongside who boarded the New Atlantis and told them.

"She noticed a strong smell of diesel fuel and saw liquid running from the New Atlantis into the water," the court document read.

"The smell was so strong the passerby had to put a jumper over her nose ... "

It was estimated between 100 and 500 litres spilled out.

Magistrate Kevin Priestly called the amount "not insignificant" and questioned why a crewman was performing the fuel transfer and not the chief engineer.

Department of Transport and Main Roads prosecutor Anne Roseler called for a penalty of between $15,000 and $30,000. Mr Priestly adjourned the decision to a date to be fixed. Charges against Mr Nosty were dropped.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Muslim rip-off

Australia caught in 'cash-for-Halal' claim

THE body governing halal meat in Indonesia is accused of demanding tens of thousands of dollars in "donations" and travel expenses from Australian businesses.

Indonesia's Tempo Magazine reports that meat entering the country must be certified halal - that is, prepared under Islamic guidelines - by groups licensed by the Indonesian Clerics Council (MUI).

Tempo reports that Australian groups seeking certification must pay large "donations" to the MUI, and foot the bill for groups of its representatives to visit.

Head of Halal Certification Authority based in Sydney, Mohammed El-Mouelhy, told Tempo that even though he agreed to the terms, he never got a halal label and was never told why.

Tempo reports seeing receipts for one business' deposits to the head of the MUI, Amidhan Shaberah.

The largest was $10,000, apparently to stop the MUI revoking the license of a business called Australian Halal Food Services.

Australian abattoirs are also being made to pay hundreds so the approved groups can inspect their facilities.

Director of meat processors JBS Australia, John Berry, told the magazine the high cost of halal certification was limiting business and concerning meat exporters who deal with Indonesia.

AAP has approached the MUI for comment.

Indonesian Twitter users expressed outrage at the report.

Some called for the end of the MUI "monopoly" and many called its conduct "haram," or forbidden by Islamic law.

"Heart & conduct must be halal too," user Rudy tweeted.


Tim Flannery: Greenie Psychopath

It is typical of psychopaths to show no consistency in what they say.  They say whatever suits the moment

Former Chief Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery in 2007:

"We’re already seeing the initial impacts [of man-made global warming] and they include a decline in the winter rainfall zone across southern Australia, which is clearly an impact of climate change, but also a decrease in run-off. Although we’re getting say a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall in some areas of Australia, that’s translating to a 60 per cent decrease in the run-off into the dams and rivers. That’s because the soil is warmer because of global warming and the plants are under more stress and therefore using more moisture. So even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and our river systems, and that’s a real worry for the people in the bush."

Tim Flannery yesterday:

"To return to heavy rainfall and flooding, we have seen a real change in Australia, along with heat waves, in terms of rainfall and flooding. And just to remind people this comes with an economic cost, that’s Brisbane a couple of years ago (reference to a presentation slide). I still remember paying my flood levy, it should be known as the first climate change tax that we paid in this country. The Queensland floods in December 2010 was the wettest December on record in Queensland. Floods broke river height records at over 100 observation stations. And again just think of that graphic with normal distribution of the weather and how it has shifted where we’re going into that area now of record breaking events."

Flannery predicted global warming would give us fewer floods, now he says we’re getting more.


Rogue union want a cut of something they did nothing to deserve

Waterfront operator Patrick Stevedores has been secretly handed $18.5 million to compensate for disruptions caused by the expansion of the Port of Melbourne.

The Maritime Union of Australia is furious, claiming the secret deal underpins a taxpayer-funded push to casualise the port workforce.

In a report to the Australian stock exchange, Patrick's parent company, Asciano, last week confirmed it had received the payment because of the early termination of its lease at Webb Dock, an area of the port that is being redeveloped.

Patrick has already announced that as part of the redevelopment it will be offering redundancies to its 260-strong stevedoring workforce. The union says 80 jobs are likely to be lost with 73 per cent of the remaining workforce being employed as casuals.

In a leaflet for members, the MUA said the move was a repeat of the 1998 waterfront dispute, calling it a publicly funded payout "negotiated in a dodgy backroom deal with the state Coalition government and port corporation".

MUA assistant secretary Ian Bray said it was disgraceful that the state government had refused to reveal the size of the payout, with the money transferred directly to shareholders rather than being used to retain staff.

"If Patrick gets its way, three out of four workers at … Webb Dock will have to sit by the phone to be told two hours before a shift that they will be required, and there will be different start times for shifts each day," Mr Bray said.

The state government is keen to avoid inflaming the situation. Ports Minister David Hodgett said the payment was a commercial settlement between the Port of Melbourne and Asciano.

"Matters between the Maritime Union of Australia members and Asciano are best resolved between the two parties," he said.

Port of Melbourne spokesman Peter Harry said the payment was settlement for the early termination of Patrick's lease.

Asciano declined to comment, with a spokesman referring The Age to a footnote in the company's report to the stock exchange.


Warning to Michael Mann: apologise for your lie or risk facing from me what you’ve done to Steyn

Andrew Bolt

Open and shut case. Michael Mann is a liar:

Normally I do not sue, but this seems to me a special case.

Mann, the climate alarmist who gave the world his dodgy ”hockey stick”, is now suing sceptic Mark Steyn for mocking him and his lawyers have produced deceptive legal documents in his defence.

Mann has published an outright lie that defames me, and should face the same punishment he wishes to mete out on Steyn for mere mockery.

I do not lie and Murdoch does not pay me to do so. Nor has Mann singled out a single “lie” I’m alleged to have committed.

In fact, Mann is so reckless with the facts that his tweet links to an obvious parody Twitter account run by one of my critics, clearly believing that it’s actually mine.

I have sent Mann the following email:

Dr Mann:

I note your publication of the following defamatory tweet:

You have published an outright lie that defames me.

I do not lie and am not paid by Rupert Murdoch to lie. You have not identified in your tweet a single example of an alleged lie, which suggests you simply made up this defamatory claim.

Indeed, you were so reckless with the facts that your tweet links to an obvious parody Twitter account run by one of my critics which you have clearly believed is mine.

Your other link is to the website of a warmist journalist who for years was a Murdoch columnist, too, writing on climate change. Was he, too, paid by “villainous” Rupert Murdoch to “lie to public”?

I’ve since learned that you last year retweeted another defamatory comment: “No other media organisation in any other civilised nation would employ #AndrewBolt as a journalist”.

As it turns out, that, too, is incorrect. I am not only employed by News Corp but by Australia’s Network 10 and Macquarie Radio Network, where I host a weekly television show and co-host a daily radio show respectively. I have also appeared as a commentator on other media outlets, including the state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Al Jazeera, the BBC and Canadian radio stations. I am very confident I would be able to find work as a journalist in another “civilised nation”.

I note this because repeated defamations under Australia’s law is evidence of malice – and your history of defaming me shows a complete disregard for the facts.

It is appalling that you could be so reckless, so spiteful, so destructive and so ill-informed. I have long doubted the rigor and the conclusions of your work as a climate scientist and often deplored the way you conduct debate, but even I had never before today considered publically calling you a liar.

I demand you delete your tweet and issue a public apology on the same Twitter account within 24 hours. Failure to do so will not only cast doubt on your commitment to truth in debates on global warming, but expose you to legal action.


Mann gives a very grudging “not necessarily” apology for his brazen lie (and follows it up elsewhere with a string of insults):

Too late. His mask has slipped. What else has he repeated - whether “science” or personal calumnies - that was false and motivated by spite or self-protection?


Tuesday, February 25, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says that the Greens and Labor are like Alice in Wonderland


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says that Medicare should be means-tested

Illegal immigrants turned back to Indonesia by Abbott government in lifeboat

AUSTRALIA has sent a group of asylum seekers back to Indonesia in a lifeboat, in the latest “turn back’’ under the Abbott government.

Senior Indonesian sources have told the ABC that the large orange lifeboat was discovered at about midday on Monday on the south coast of Central Java.

It said local media had reported that about 26 asylum seekers were on board, but it was unclear whether that figure also included the boat’s Indonesian crew.

The unsinkable lifeboats were purchased by the government as part of Operation Sovereign Borders, but it has refused to confirm their use in sending asylum seekers back to Indonesia.

The turn-back policy has angered the Indonesians, who have rejected it as a solution to people smuggling in the region.

Discovery of the lifeboat comes as the government is under fire over its border policies, following the riot at the Manus Island detention centre and the navy’s incursions into Indonesian waters.

A spokesperson for the Immigration Minister refused to confirm the report:  “In accordance with the Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Task Force policy regarding public release of information on operational matters, the government has no further response on the issues raised.”


Coal seam gas debate has no place for scare campaigns

Peter Reith

Until last week I thought the NSW government had in effect banned the coal seam gas industry. The O'Farrell government has certainly abandoned public debate and as a result the greenies and Alan Jones have filled the vacuum with a lot of nonsensical claims.

But last week, the government designated a coal seam gas project in Narrabri as a ''strategic energy project'' which is meant to cut back on red and green tape.

Jones is in a different class to the greenies. He is a strong supporter of free enterprise. He supported me and Chris Corrigan over the waterfront dispute and he has been a strong voice for many good causes. But, for reasons I do not understand, Jones has a bee in his bonnet over the gas industry.

I became interested in natural gas at the request of the Victorian government, which was concerned at the impact of gas sales to China and its implications for the eastern Australia gas market. The massive developments in Queensland are already imposing transitional effects. There is a real prospect Sydney could suffer gas shortages causing major dislocation to business. Gas prices are already rising and it could take at least three years to supply additional gas to Sydney if everything goes well and if the government holds its nerve.

I do not discard community concerns about the gas industry. The NSW government has comprehensive regulations to manage it. Whatever the risks, they need to be addressed. But some activists are totally opposed to the gas industry regardless of the regulations and of the consequences.

The Greens also oppose coal and nuclear power and claim that solar and wind power can make the difference. It's hard to fathom why they oppose natural gas which has half the emissions of brown coal.

We all face risks every day. It's a risk to drive down the street or walk across the road. The question is whether the risks can be managed. Managing risk is the reality in Queensland, especially between farmers and the gas industry.

Professor Peter Hartley from Rice University in the US said: "There is no proven case of fracturing fluid or hydrocarbons produced by fracturing diffusing from the fractured zone into an aquifer." I believe you would be hard pressed to find any independently confirmed cases of water contamination as a result of drilling by the gas industry after more than 2 million fracking operations in the US.

There is a revolution in the US gas industry, to the extent that manufacturing plants that were established by the US in China are now popping up back home.

The US will soon have energy independence because of new technologies, such as fracking and horizontal drilling. In NSW and Victoria you would think the new technology is some form of plague.

The Santos project will face Jones leading the charge, microphone at the ready.

There are big changes under way in the NSW, Victorian and Queensland natural gas markets. Some big decisions will need to be made and they should be premised on the facts, the science and the public interest. The industry can provide jobs and rising living standards but for that to happen, there needs to be sensible debate, not a scare campaign.


Qld. Premier attacks penalty rates as too great a burden on business

PREMIER Campbell Newman has urged the Federal Government to consider a review of penalty rates, saying they are too great a burden on business owners.

Speaking in far north Queensland at the Mission Beach Visitor Information Centre, Mr Newman said ­operators were telling his ­Government that penalty rates made it uneconomical to open on public holidays, impacting the state’s tourism industry.

“Particularly restaurant ­operators will say they often get complaints from people who want to know why they’re not open on public holidays,” Mr Newman said.  “What they’re telling us is they’re paying people $50 an hour and it’s just not economical to open.  “I’m stating what the problem is and the Federal Government are the ones who need to have a look at it.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has asked the Fair Work Commission to look at penalty rates as part of its four-year review of the award wage system.

The move has angered ­unions, who say penalty rates make working in traditionally low-paid jobs in the hospitality industry worthwhile.  John Battams from the Queensland Council of Unions said Mr Newman’s support for the abolition of penalty rates showed he had learnt nothing from Saturday’s Redcliffe by-election defeat.

“That result was people openly and actively saying the Government doesn’t consult, and it doesn’t have compassion for real people in society,” Mr Battams said.

“The fact is, the people who work in hospitality are among our lowest-paid ­employees and many would not survive without the ­payment of penalty rates.”


Cardinal Pell promoted to Rome

His Eminence is Australian-born and educated so it is a credit to Australia that one of its sons should rise to such a senior position.

In a sign of the times I notice that the COMUNICATO DELLA SALA STAMPA DELLA SANTA SEDE (Press release) appears to have been  issued in English and Italian only.  Latinists will mourn

POPE Francis has appointed Australian Cardinal George Pell to one of the church’s most senior positions in Rome.

Cardinal Pell will become the prefect for the economy of the Holy See and the Vatican — supervising the tiny city state’s economic and administrative affairs.

Pope Francis made the announcement­ at midnight (AEDT).

Cardinal Pell will be responsible for preparing the Holy See and Vatican’s annual budget as well as financial planning and enhanced internal controls, the Vatican said in a statement.

Cardinal Pell’s new position will rank on a par with the Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin — an Italian.

Both men are likely to rank equal second behind the Pope, The Australian reported.

Cardinal Pell — the Archbishop of Sydney and formerly the Archbishop of Melbourne — will relocate to Rome.

No Australian cardinal has ever been appointed to such a senior position within the Catholic Church.

Pell has been close to all three recent popes.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Qld Premier rejects fizzy drink hysteria

PREMIER Campbell Newman has described his chief health officer’s call for parents to deny children soft drinks at weekend sporting events as over the top.

“We shouldn’t just be coming over the top and saying ban this and ban that,” Mr Newman said.  “It’s a free country. It was when I last checked and frankly these sorts of proposals are over the top.”

Mr Newman said people needed to “take a reality check” on the issue.  “I totally acknowledge that we have an issue about healthy living and obesity but I think that it’s about time we also took stock of how far we go with these things,” he said.  “When we were kids we did drink soft drink but we probably didn’t guzzle it every single day.

“I just think blanket bans, punishing the many for the sins of well maybe more than a few in this case is just not the way to go.

Qld Health's latest anti-obesity campaign addresses the "health age" of people. Are you eating yourself to an early grave?

“Let’s start in our homes with education so that people know how to properly bring up their kids and feed them.”

Overnight, The Courier-Mail reported that chief health officer Jeannette Young, who has targeted obesity as her major health challenge for the past two years, had called for parents to stand firm against children being allowed soft drink, whether it was in the home, at school or sporting events.

She said soft drink sales were already banned at state school tuckshops, but called on parents to extend that to weekend sporting activities.

“I can’t ban it, I’m not a member of the sporting clubs’ organising committees, but parents can call for a ban,’’ Dr Young said.

Queensland Health's latest anti-obesity campaign addresses the "health age" of people. Are you eating yourself to an early grave?

“You go along on a Saturday and there’s all these kids playing netball, soccer, cricket. It’s fantastic. They’re doing great physical activity and then they go and get a big can of soft drink.

“It’s reinforcing great behaviour with bad nutrition. There’s no nutritional benefit at all from drinking soft drink.’’

Dr Young’s plea comes with 27 per cent — or about 200,000 Queensland five-to-17-year-olds — classed as overweight or obese, and the figure is rising.

She said excess weight in children put them at high risk of adult obesity, bringing with it an increased likelihood of developing cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

“Unfortunately, it sets them up with bad habits that last a lifetime,’’ she said.

Dr Young said parents should stick to giving their children water and milk.


Dangerous new credit laws

Ominous changes to information held on your credit file will come into effect from the 12th of March this year.

What is most concerning about these new credit file laws is that credit providers can issue an “opinion” on whether you genuinely intend to repay a loan... and without your knowledge.

That “opinion”, may be arrived at by a snotty nosed kid who doesn’t like the colour of your eyes and that “opinion” may ruin your life without you knowing why.

Information and an “opinion” about you can, and will, be exchanged between credit providers and banks. There is also no doubt that employers, police, lawyers, partners, media, private eyes and the next door neighbour will be able to access that information without you knowing.

“Oh, we promise we will keep the data to ourselves”, say the credit providers. I say, “What a load of frog droppings!”

Forget Dun & Bradstreet, for less than $1,000 I can find out everything I need to know about you right now, and that’s without these new laws!

So, next time you apply for credit, be nice to the snotty nosed kid taking down your details because his/her “opinion” of your future intentions matters. And if you have a bad credit rating, $1,000 could change his “opinion” of you altogether.

Of course credit providers do explain that this new information they will hold on you should lead to overall lower credit card rates.

Wanna bet?


AFP drops Somlyay fraud claims

Accusations by the Leftist "Sydney Morning Herald" come to nothing

THE Australian Federal Police have dismissed fraud allegations against former Liberal MP Alex Somlyay.

There were claims the 23-year Queensland political veteran had billed taxpayers for his wife's employment but she had never been seen at the office during the past three years.

The AFP has reviewed documents related to the matter.

"The assessment of this matter did not identify any conduct by Mr Somlyay that would constitute a criminal offence," the AFP said in a statement.

It also looked at Mrs Somlyay's employment under her maiden name and receipt of payments for work performed.

Officers spoke to Mr and Mrs Somlyay.

"The AFP found no evidence of criminality relating to fraud against the Commonwealth to warrant an investigation," the AFP said, adding the matter was finalised.

In January, the Liberal Party banned MPs employing family members.


Like it or not, national character owes much to the mother country

It is safe to assume that the academics responsible for the Australian Curriculum would disagree with Daniel Hannan's proposition that the English-speaking people are blessed with an exceptional virtue.

Hannan, as it turns out, disagrees with national curriculums, and says the Coalition government will come to regret its decision to support one.

More of that in a moment, but first a warning: politically correct readers may find the views expressed in this article offensive.

Hannan is a British member of the European parliament and author of Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World. His unfashionable claim is that the British Empire was a force for good, and that far from saying sorry for colonial settlement we should be saying thank you.

The civic system to which Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US owe their stability and success began with a quirky idea that took hold on a damp isle on the western edge of Europe: the state should be subject to the law rather than the other way round.

Australia's most important resource is not natural but imported: the spirit of liberty under the rule of law brought here by the early settlers.

"It was a way of arranging their affairs that elevated the individual above the state and that elevated the rule of law above the power of the executive," Hannan told Inquirer in a phone interview from Brussels this week.

"That's the magic ingredient that led to modern capitalism and modern freedom. Everybody does better under that system.

"The reason why a child of Greek parents in Melbourne is better off than a child of Greek parents in Mytilene has nothing to do with race and everything to do with political structures."

The idea of Anglosphere Exceptionalism would have seemed too obvious to need stating in Australia a generation or two ago.

With the abandonment of the White Australia policy from the late 1960s onwards, however, and Britain's rejection of Commonwealth in favour of joining the EU, British patriotic sentiment became distasteful to the Australian intelligentsia, who came to view it as akin to racism. It is a criticism with which Hannan is familiar.

"That's the opening gambit of somebody who can't be bothered to read the thesis.It's demonstrably false. The Anglosphere is why Bermuda is not Haiti. It's why Hong Kong is not China. It's why Singapore is not Indonesia."

The notion that the dynamic qualities of Britishness were racially determined was a heresy that took hold in the 19th century and flourished until World War II, says Hannan.

"When I was last in Australia, I was struck, and quite moved, by the multi-ethnic make-up of the people who had come to listen to me hymning the virtues of the Anglosphere," he says.

"Personal freedom, free contract capitalism, the common law are things people want to buy in to. They cross half the world in order to find a better system."

The enabling principle of personal liberty was imported from Britain and then improved upon in the colonies, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted in his study of the US in the 19th century. "The American," Tocqueville wrote, "is the Englishman left to himself."

Australia, in Hannan's estimation, is "not a spill-over Britain, but an intensified Britain". The defining Australian character of egalitarianism, often seen as a rejection of the British class system, may owe more to the mother country than we are inclined to imagine.

"The British had, historically, been remarkably ready to defy their rulers," Hannan writes in his latest book.

"Australians took these characteristics much further. Any visitor to Australia is struck by the endurance of these characteristics: informality, bloody-mindedness, individualism, self-reliance, in short, is (John Stuart) Mill's libertarian philosophy made flesh."

Conservative critics of the national curriculum say it skates too lightly over the virtues of Australia's colonial heritage, a tradition they commonly describe as "Judeo-Christian". Hannan's conclusion is subtly different. Christianity, and particularly the Protestant tradition, may have provided the seedbed for personal liberty, but it was principally in Britain that it flourished.

"There is a unique lineage of liberty that you can trace back in the English-speaking world that is qualitatively different from the Polish experience, the Russian experience or the Italian experience," he tells Inquirer.

"It is true that it can't be wholly divorced from the religious context but the outcome of that has long since transcended its denominational roots. There is an Anglosphere culture that is as strong in Ireland or, for that matter, Singapore, as in Australia or Britain."

Yet, says Hannan, having developed and exported the most successful system of government known to the human race, the English-speaking intelligentsia is now walking away from its own creation.

Britain's intellectual elites see Anglosphere values as an obstacle to European integration. Contentiously, he concludes: "Their equivalents in Australia see them as a distraction from their country's supposed Asian destiny."

The Conservative Euro MP from Britain is keen to clear up any misunderstanding.

"To be absolutely clear, I do not mean that you should not be profiting from the economic growth of Asia -- you would be crazy not to do that," he says. "It doesn't follow that you need to redefine your political system. On the contrary; yours has demonstrably worked better than most of those on the Asian mainland.

"I was really struck when I was in Australia last that the kind of people who saw Asia as kind of alternative to the Anglosphere were the precise equivalent to British Europhiles, politically and socially. They were equally dominant in the same fields, in parts of the media and parts of academic life, and they had exactly the same attitudes British Euro fanatics have."

Nevertheless, he insists, the flight away from individualism has been slower in Australia and the US than in Britain, leaving us in a stronger position.

The marshalling of national resources by the British government during World War II was the precursor for the welfare state.

"Powers given to the government, supposedly contingently for the war effort, were not returned when the peace came," he says.
Since the early 1970s, Britain has faced a "huge additional nightmare": the EU.

"Being in the EU means accepting the primacy of EU law over national law. It's meant a revolution in our legal system and it's meant a revolution therefore in the assumption of what the government does," he says.

Hannan will be at the forefront of the campaign for a decision to withdraw from the EU at the referendum that David Cameron's government has promised.

"The great advantage of us leaving, apart from us being able to trade with the wider world, is that we would, I hope, rediscover the libertarian tradition that used to go with the common law," Hannan says.

In retrospect, Britain could not have timed its entry into Europe more badly.  "We joined in 1973 and Europe's growth came to end with the oil shock of 1974," he says.

"And just at that moment was when the Commonwealth began the economic take-off that continues to this day. It was a calamitous error economically, let alone the ties of sentiment and affection that bound us to the old dominions."

The challenge for Australia is to learn from the European experience and to resist the tyranny of an ever-expanding state, he says.

"It's very, very odd to have what you and we have, which is this system where nobody really wrote the law down, it just kind of emerged. It grew like your Great Barrier Reef, coral by coral, each case leading on to the next one.

"A consequence of that is that it is assumed that you are completely free except in so far as a law has had to be developed to protect somebody else's freedom. And that leads to a completely different mentality that, up until very recently, served to keep the state small.

"The other great civilisations of the world, the Mings or the Moguls or the Ottomans, all ended up going down the road towards high taxes, uniformity, bureaucracy and over-regulation. And they all went into decline.

"The Anglosphere was always a diverse plurality based on elevating enterprise and individualism. I'm not sure that this uniqueness will survive the expansion of the size of the state that we are now experiencing."

The expansion of the state, particularly the deadening hand of the permanent bureaucracy, is at the heart of Hannan's objections to national curricula.

"We introduced our national curriculum in 1988 when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, supposedly as a way of stopping loony Left teachers," he says.

"In fact it was immediately captured, totally predictably, by the very people it was supposed to deter."

We discussed the draft Australian Curriculum's priority themes of sustainability and Asian engagement.

"I can't imagine that the current Prime Minister of Australia would design a curriculum along the lines you suggest," says Hannan.

"Inevitably, if you give them a national curriculum, no matter how huge the conservative majority might be in parliament, it is going to be taken over by the cultural relativists and the politically correct."

Hannan's solution demands the exercise of personal liberty.

"The answer is not to get your guys in charge of it," he says. "The answer is to scrap it and let parents pick what schools they want, because they can invigilate the system a billion times better than any conservative politician."


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Treasurer Joe Hockey warns age pension age may be raised to 70

AUSTRALIANS have been warned they will have to work longer, possibly to 70, before they have a chance of getting an age pension on retirement.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has backed moves by the British Government to hike the state pension age to 70 for those now aged under 30 and says Australia should consider doing the same.

As the Government looked for ways to rein in health and welfare costs as part of its ­Budget repair job, Mr Hockey warned the aged pension was becoming unaffordable.

He said the eligibility age of 65 for the age pension had not changed since it was introduced despite most people living much longer.

"It was set at that level in Australia in 1908 when life expectancy was 55," Mr Hockey said. "Now life expectancy is 85 and as of today, it’s still pension age 65."

Under changes introduced by the former Labor government, the pension age will increase by six months every two years from July 2017 and hit 67 in July 2023. Mr Hockey said he wanted the pension age to rise even higher.

UK Chancellor George ­Osborne recently outlined plans to lift the state pension age from 65 to 70 by the 2050s, in line with increases in life ­expectancy.

New Zealand is planning to lift its pension age to 66 in 2036 and Canada to 67 in 2023.

Increases in the pension age could have a flow-on impact on the age at which retirees can access superannuation without paying tax.

Mr Hockey did not mention super, but called for a debate about the cost of the age ­pension.

The Government currently spends about $39 billion on the age pension, and this is rising by about $3 billion a year.

The Productivity Commission last year argued that lifting the pension age to 70 would save taxpayers $150 billion from 2025-26 to 2059-60.

Seniors groups warned an increase in the pension age would hurt older people who struggled to find work, and could force more people on to the dole or disability pension.

"Without tackling mature-age unemployment first, government will be shifting people from one form of welfare to another," National Seniors chief executive Michael O’Neill said.

"Raising the pension age is a simplistic approach to a deeper problem, and it is not a solution to the national welfare bill."

Amid signs the Government is also planning to introduce means-testing or co-payments to Medicare, Prime Minister Tony Abbott vowed to find better ways to spend the health budget.

Mr Abbott said he would keep his election pledge not to cut health or education funding in total but flagged changes to the way this money was spent.

"If we find a more efficient way of spending money ... we’d be crazy not to adopt it," Mr Abbott said.

"Plainly there are efficiencies that are possible in health and in a whole host of areas."


Sexism debate rages over all-male Athenaeum Club in Tasmania

DEBATE fired up yesterday over whether gender-specific clubs should be condemned to the sexist pages of history or preserved in the interests of the perfect scone.

Food critic Matthew Evans recalled being refused membership to the Tasmanian branch of the Country Women’s Association on the grounds he is a male.

"But I make a pretty bad scone, my wife makes a better scone," he lamented.

Following an article in the Mercury revealing that high-profile Tasmanian women are trying to prise open the doors of the gentlemen-only Athenaeum Club, opinions lined up on both sides of the issue yesterday.

Comments from readers exploded on the Mercury’s website, some demanding the club be "dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century" while others said it was no worse than female-only gyms.

The head of the Athanaeum Club issued a thundering private memo to all club members yesterday, expressing his deep concerns that a club member had leaked the issue to the media.

President Michael Dyson wrote: "We all should be gravely concerned that any member would cause this issue to be raised in the news media. The fact that it has occurred without any consultation with the committee or members of the club, and with complete disregard for the rules and conventions of the club is, in my view, disgraceful conduct that shows complete lack of regard for the club and its members".

The stoush follows club member and Denison MP Andrew Wilkie nominating Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks and author Heather Rose for membership — to be decided at a committee meeting on Monday.

Feminists called for the club to drop its stance, while the Country Women’s Association spoke in support of clubs that wanted to preserve tradition.

CWA Tasmania state president Shirley Morrisby said the female-only rule of her association dated back to early last century, when the wives of outback Queensland farmers needed a network.

She said husbands had a place with the CWA, but in a helping capacity.

Mrs Morrisby said she believed there was still a need for women to meet without men.

"Personally, I think it is still important because there are things women talk about, which they wouldn’t talk about in front of a man," she said.

University of Tasmania Associate Professor Imelda Whelehan said male-only clubs were a throwback to our colonial past and Hobart should move with the times, as was the case in the UK.

Prof Whelehan, a feminist cultural critic, said even the London Athenaeum Club had started allowing entry to women members more than a decade ago.

"The world moves forward and these clubs are increasingly out of step," she said.

Mr Evans said he hadn’t pursued the CWA on the issue because he "has a millions other things on" and he recognised he probably didn’t have the attention span for all the good work they did.

Mr Dyson said he had taken a lot of calls of support yesterday from people who believed the club should uphold its tradition.

But he did not want to comment any further on the issue because members’ interests had to be kept private.

"We are a gentlemen's club, we don’t like to get into arguments," he said.


Business figure to help lead sweeping review of Fair Work laws

The federal government is finalising plans for a sweeping review of the nation's workplace laws, and could hand-pick an industrial relations expert from outside the Productivity Commission to help lead it.

Before the election, the government promised a "genuine and independent review" of the Fair Work laws by the economically dry commission, to consider their impact on productivity, the economy and jobs, with a view to raising flexibility in the workplace.

The review comes as Employment Minister Eric Abetz revealed plans to introduce new laws next week that would allow workers to trade off conditions such as penalty rates in return for more flexible hours. Fairfax Media has learnt former Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson, a critic of the Fair Work laws, was informally sounded out late last year about participating in the review.

Mr Anderson is a respected former industrial relations lawyer who has worked for both Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Howard government workplace minister Peter Reith on industrial relations policy, but he is said to have turned down the opportunity.

Sources familiar with the government's plans said at least one senior figure from the business world could be drafted in to assist the commission with the review, with the government seeking "people with industry experience, not academics" to review the laws.

The terms of reference for the review have not been signed off by cabinet but will be finalised before the government's self-imposed March deadline.

The move comes after Fairfax Media revealed the government urged SPC Ardmona to reduce workers' wages in exchange for government assistance and signalled it would give Qantas a debt guarantee while welcoming the company's tough stance on industrial relations.

Mr Abbott was heavily critical of Labor's 2012 review of the Fair Work Act, which he said was "conducted essentially by the department and, naturally, the government reviewing the government has decided that the government doesn't have a problem".

The commission has six other reviews under way and there is a view in government that it would benefit from one or more outsiders being brought in.

The commission has six full-time and six part-time commissioners, though the terms of two members - Siobhan McKenna and Wendy Craik - are due to expire in June. Industry and business figures suggested to Fairfax Media that the Australian Industry Group's Innes Willox, Australian Mines and Metals Association chief Steve Knott and former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella could be brought in, though government sources dismissed all three.

Speaking at Melbourne University on Thursday, Senator Abetz said his new bills were likely to be brought to Parliament next week, implementing the Coalition's pre-election promises on industrial relations.

Among them would be changes to the Fair Work Act's "individual flexibility arrangements", brought in under former workplace relations minister Julia Gillard.

The laws dictate how employers and their staff negotiate conditions, and Senator Abetz said changing them would allow employees "to be able to work hours that suit them and their family-life balance".

Senator Abetz confirmed, when asked about the changes, that they would allow workers to trade off penalty rates for family time.

He stressed it would be employees who decided if this trade-off suited them, and not employers dictating that penalty rates be signed away. "If the worker is better off overall as determined by the worker, why should some collective agreement seek to deny the individual that right?"

The union movement leapt on the proposed changes, saying they were the first sign the Abbott government would restore the sort of individual contracts that were the hallmark of the Howard government's WorkChoices laws.

ACTU president Ged Kearney said the government had given employers the green light to cut wages, under the guise of greater flexibility.

"This is a blatant attempt to cut pay and conditions … despite all the pre-election promises," she said. "Minister Abetz talks about imaginary workers that want to give up penalty rates for nothing. We're yet to find a worker that thinks this is a good deal."



Childcare: a case study in regulatory capture

In recent weeks, the media has been saturated with solutions to the childcare problems Australia faces. With the Abbott government's Productivity Commission Inquiry into the sector (set up due to persistent complaints about lack of availability and prohibitive costs) planning to release a draft report in July, such 'solutions' are likely to continue.

In the meantime, childcare operators and stakeholders have come out of the woodwork to suggest magic bullets for the problems faced in the sector. Making childcare costs fully tax-deductible is a popular argument, though its advocates have not presented strong reasons why the benefits outweigh significant costs to the budget in terms of foregone revenue. Another chestnut is extending the childcare rebate (the non-means tested benefit which covers fees per child up to $7,500 per annum) to nannies and other in-home carers.

What's more interesting in this discussion, however, is what is not being said. The national conversation has been about fundamental changes to taxation law and/or a higher burden on taxpayers, instead of what's driving the problem: regulation.

Approved childcare services (that attract the childcare rebate) are regulated through a federal and state compact - the National Quality Framework (NQF). The NQF mandates minimum conditions for long day care and family day care services; conditions include 'improved educator to child ratios' and 'educators with increased skills and qualifications.' The Regulatory Impact Statement for the NQF, the Henry Tax Review and the Productivity Commission have all conceded that these conditions have a negative impact on the cost and availability of childcare.

Other regulations exist in addition to those in the NQF. Individual councils, through which family day care programs are run and educators employed, have their own, varied regulations. Local councils also arbitrate where centres can be established - and have the power to prohibit employer-provided childcare located in densely populated urban areas or industrial areas. A 2006 Inquiry into Work and Family found that fringe benefits tax legislation means there is little incentive for small- or medium-sized employers to jointly provide on- or near-site childcare for their employees.

It is important to look at how we can create a functional and accessible childcare system to free parents up to engage in work. If we take childcare seriously, we mustn't commit the grave error of thinking that writing a blank cheque constitutes a workable solution.


Friday, February 21, 2014

LOL: Tax Office forced to pay Rupert Murdoch $880m

Rupert is a hard man to toss

An $880 million payout to Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation has reignited the debate over whether global companies pay their fair share of tax in Australia.

News was paid the money after winning a long-running legal battle with the Tax Office relating to a 1989 restructure of the media empire involving billions of dollars and a company in the tax haven Bermuda.

The ATO had refused to allow the deduction but News Corporation defeated the ATO in the Full Federal Court in July and the money began flowing to the company over the Christmas-New Year break.

Mark Zirnsak, who is the Australian representative of advocacy group Tax Justice Network and was a member of a panel set up by the previous government to review the low tax paid by some multinational companies, said the payout "highlights the urgent need for reform of the global tax rules".

"Multinational companies should not be able to use their legal structures involving tax havens to dodge tax in ways that nationally based companies cannot," he said.

The payout represents a significant proportion of the $16.8 billion deterioration in the federal budget announced by Treasurer Joe Hockey in December.

It all but wipes out $1.1 billion in savings announced by Mr Hockey when he unveiled the midyear economic and fiscal outlook on December 17.

Mr Hockey did not mention the payout at the time, instead blaming the budget's "fiscal deterioration" on a softer economic outlook, downgraded exports forecasts and the previous Labor government.

Asked why Mr Hockey did not mention the financial blow, a spokeswoman said: "The speech on the day was about detailing the broad fiscal mess the government had inherited."

Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos declined to comment because of laws protecting taxpayer secrecy.

In 1989, following years of rapid overseas expansion, News Corporation was in the grip of a debt crisis which the following year would bring it to the brink of collapse.

News owed about $239 million more than it had in assets, with most of the debt due to companies within the group.

By taking out fresh loans funded by moving around ownership of the US operation and its half-stake in Bermuda-registered News Publishers Limited, which owned part of the South China Morning Post, News hoped to make itself more attractive to banks.

The restructure was funded by two cheques, totalling $3.27 billion, drawn on the account held by subsidiary News Finance at the Pitt Street, Sydney, branch of the Commonwealth Bank.

However, the money flowed back into the account the same day the cheque was drawn.

News subsequently claimed deductions for foreign exchange losses incurred because it later paid back loans denominated in US dollars in Australian dollars, which had fallen in value.

A panel of judges decided in favour of News Corporation on July 25, but the money did not immediately flow because the ATO was still able to appeal to the High Court.

The ATO's 28-day window to mount an appeal coincided with the federal election campaign, during which Mr Murdoch's newspapers ran heavily against the Labor Party and the then prime minister Kevin Rudd.


Failed asylum-seekers in U-turn to Malaysia

BOATLOADS of asylum-seekers who have failed to make it to Australia are being intercepted trying to return to Malaysia from Indonesia, says the head of Malaysia’s border command.

Mohd Amdan Kurish, director-general of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, said Australia’s crackdown on boatpeople was having a dramatic impact further up the people-smuggling chain, in Malaysia.

“We have seen a number of attempts for those boats that have failed to make it to Australia re-tracking back and Malaysia is seen as the possible destination for them to retreat to,” Admiral Amdan said yesterday in Sydney.

“We have managed to intercept these people returning back from this adventure that they are trying to undertake to Australia, which they fail, and they re-track back their positions into Malaysia through the Straits of Malacca. We have seen this trend quite dramatically increasing in the Malacca Straits.”

He said the boats intercepted had been carrying asylum-seekers from the Middle East and South Asia.

Admiral Amdan’s comments came after The Australian revealed Australia’s crackdown on boatpeople had caused a substantial drop in the number of asylum-seekers arriving in Indonesia.

Monthly applications for asylum-seeker registrations handled by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Jakarta fell 71 per cent between February last year and last month.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said Australia’s policies were benefiting the region by disrupting the people-smuggling chain.

“What those figures from the UNHCR already indicate is that drying up of the pipeline,” Mr Morrison said. “When we stop the boats, you help the region ... if we have stronger borders then that relieves the pressure on our neighbours.”

A senior Indonesian immigration official said yesterday the steep drop in UNHCR asylum-seeker registrations correlated with the department’s experience of unregistered “illegal immigrants”.

In the 12 months to January, the number of unregistered asylum-seekers detected by Immigration had fallen 25-30 per cent.

“The number of people who have not been registered at UNHCR is also clearly declining,” said the officer, who asked not to be identified.

The officer said it was clear asylum-seekers’ preference for Indonesia as a transit country had declined since Australia began taking a hardline against boatpeople resettlement last July.

Indonesia remained concerned about thwarted asylum-seekers “stacking up” in the country.

Agus Barnas, the spokesman for Politics Security and Law Co-ordinating Minister Djoko Suyanto, acknowledged the UNHCR Indonesia figures showed a reduction in asylum-seeker arrivals.

“Yes, but actually it still becomes problem for us because many (asylum-seekers) are stranded here,” he said.

“It can create social conflict.”

Jakarta wanted Australia to return to a regional, multilateral approach to refugee flows, Mr Agus said, “not just Australia getting the benefit without thinking about the impact in transit countries”.

Malaysian officials yesterday inspected an Australian Customs Bay-class patrol vessel in Sydney, one of two such vessels to be given to Malaysia next year at a cost of $1.2 million to taxpayers.

The vessels will be used to patrol the Straits of Malacca, which separates the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Mr Morrison said the Straits of Malacca was a key pathway for people-smugglers making their way to Australia and other transnational criminals moving between Malaysia and Indonesia, and the vessels would support Malaysia’s efforts to police the crossing point.

“When we make our region’s borders stronger we make Australia’s borders stronger,” he said.

Malaysian Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid said that Malaysia and Australia had been co-operating to combat transnational crime, including people smuggling and terrorism. He said Mr Morrison would travel to Malaysia to sign a new memorandum of understanding, which would broaden the spectrum of transnational crimes the nations would work together to combat.


Health and physical eduction national curriculum proposes sex, alcohol and drug education for children as early as age eight

SEXUALITY, alcohol and drugs will be studied by schoolchildren as young as eight, while CPR will be mandatory in Years 9 or 10, under the Health and Physical Education national curriculum.

It is suggested children as young as 10 rehearse how to refuse drugs and be taught about products they can use to help manage puberty.

The final version of the HPE Australian Curriculum, which has been mired in controversy over issues such as puberty and sexuality, has been released this week, even though it has not yet been endorsed due to a review that is under way into the national curriculum.

One prominent think-tank is calling for the entire curriculum to be scrapped.

Institute of Public Affairs research fellow Chris Berg said the HPE curriculum focused on “diversity, social justice and consumerism” under the cross-curriculum priority (CCP) of sustainability and the IPA had concerns about “blatant ideology” in all of the CCPs.

“It is absurd that instead of using scarce school hours kicking a ball around, students will be taught the evils of consumerism,” Mr Berg said.

But an Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority spokeswoman said there was only one reference to consumerism in the content elaborations and it, along with the CCPs, did not have to be taught.

She said consumerism included children understanding health messages like “slip, slop, slap”, reading nutrition labels and examining body image.

“The focus of health and physical education is about helping children to develop the skills to lead active, safe and healthy lives,” she said, adding it was up to teachers how the curriculum was implemented.

Sexuality is first mentioned as a focus area in Years 3 and 4 in the curriculum, which the spokeswoman said was about “helping children to manage physical and social changes, such as children learning about how friendships change as they grow older” in the younger year level.

Alcohol and other drugs is also listed as a focus area for the first time in Years 3 and 4.

Puberty will have to be taught from Years 5 and 6 after complaints from lobby groups pushed it up from Years 3 and 4.

A push for mandatory swimming lessons has not been successful, but water safety is mentioned in content elaborations for educators.

The state is expected to roll out the HPE national curriculum next year and in 2016.

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said his ­office welcomed feedback.


AMAQ boss Christian Rowan sidelined after backing Newman Government doctor contracts

Doctors want their gravy

THE Queensland boss of the Australian Medical Association has been sidelined by his own organisation after telling doctors he supported the Newman Government’s public hospital contracts.

AMA federal president Steve Hambleton has taken over from Queensland president Christian Rowan as the public face of a campaign to force the Government back to the negotiating table.

Dr Rowan triggered doctor unrest by saying he was willing to sign one of the contracts, which he said had the “capacity to drive productivity, efficiency, value for money and enhance transparency of outcomes for the public hospital system’’.

The AMAQ is understood to have silenced Dr Rowan over talking publicly about the issue, referring all questions to his president-elect Shaun Rudd, or to Dr Hambleton, a Brisbane GP.

Dr Rowan, who has previously stood for LNP preselection, said last night he stood behind his previous comments.

He said he was in negotiations with the Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service CEO about his own individual contract.

A meeting attended by hundreds of public hospital specialists at Brisbane’s Pineapple Hotel this week unanimously opposed the proposed contracts, bar one dissenting vote.

Doctors say key sticking points included inadequate dispute resolution procedures, the potential for doctors to be dismissed without cause and forced transfers.

Dr Rudd told the meeting by phone the AMAQ was 100 per cent behind the doctors’ campaign, describing the contracts as ``unjust and unfair’’.

Premier Campbell Newman and Health Minister Lawrence Springborg have pounced on differences within the ranks of the AMA to refuse to reopen talks.

In a stinging letter to Dr Hambleton this week, they wrote: ``The State Government has no intention of reopening negotiations on contracts for medical officers which have been concluded with your state arm, the AMAQ, with significant concessions.

``Notwithstanding that we will not be reopening negotiations on doctor contracts, the AMA, like its state arm the AMAQ, is always able to meet with the Minister for Health on health issues.’’

Dr Hambleton brushed aside the controversy as “a distraction’’.

He said meetings of doctors at hospitals throughout the state had strongly criticised the contracts.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Campbell Newman questions John Quiggin's power privatisation review

Quiggin is an old far-Leftist from way back.  His conclusions were perfectly predictable the moment he was hired

Economist John Quiggin's scathing review on energy sector privatisation across Australia is a "nice and interesting" academic exercise, Premier Campbell Newman says - but he urges people to examine the motive behind it.

Professor Quiggin's report found energy sector privatisation had been a "dismal failure" with increased power prices for consumers and large fiscal losses for tax payers.

It was commissioned by the Victorian branch of the Electrical Trades Union.

Despite not reading Professor Quiggin's report, Mr Newman turned his findings into an attack on the union.

"The first thing I ask, is what purpose has it been done for? As an academic exercise, it is nice and interesting, I look forward to having a look at it," he said.

"But why has the ETU spent their members’ money on this?  I'll answer the rhetorical question - we've already said we are not selling Ergon, Energex or Powerlink.  We've said that and down in Redcliffe today and yesterday and the day before, the ETU continue to run this deceitful campaign.  We are not selling the distribution and transmission entities, so what are they on about? Why do they waste their members’ money on this report?"

Mr Newman focused his attack on Redcliffe, where a byelection will be held this Saturday and said it was time for the union to "pack up and go".

"We have made a very clear commitment about asset sales, and yet the ETU down there in Redcliffe running a misinformation campaign," he said.

"It is just not true.

"... It is time for the ETU to tell the truth.  It is actually time for the ETU down in Redcliffe to pack up, stop harassing the people down there.

"The feedback we are getting are people are sick and tired of the ETU people being in their face and telling them these falsehoods.  They may as well pack up and go back to the various parts of Queensland they have come from, certainly most of them don't live in Redcliffe."

ETU state secretary, Peter Simpson, said the premier had "sour grapes".

"We are not harassing people, we have people in our ‘Not for sale’ campaign shirts, on the side of the road with street stalls," he said.

"If that is harassment, well I think the LNP are a lot worse than that.

"We are not harassing anyone, the feedback we are getting in Redcliffe is fantastic and I suggest the Premier has a taste of sour grapes from what I am hearing."

Mr Newman could not promise that power prices would go down if the government was given a mandate to sell the generating corporations, as it has planned.

But he said if "crazy schemes" such as the carbon tax and the Renewable Energy Target were scrapped, he could guarantee prices would decrease.

The federal government announced earlier this week it was reviewing the nation's RET, set by the previous Labor government at a fixed 41,000 gigawatt hours by 2020, with a report due to be delivered later this year.

"If the RET goes, I can assure people their prices will come down," Mr Newman said.

"That's the trouble.  We've had all these crazy schemes, but they actually haven't cut the nation's carbon emissions anywhere near what they would need to. In terms of the cost on the economy, we need to see these crazy Labor schemes going, we need to see people like Yvette D'Ath, call out to her federal colleagues and say 'well let's get rid of them' and then we will make a meaningful impact on people's cost of living.  That's what I can promise people."

The government will consider a win at the next general election, expected to be held early next year, as their mandate to sell assets.


PM  downplays role of climate change in current drought

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has played down the role of climate change in the drought ravaging much of inland eastern Australia.

And he has indicated that the coming relief package for farmers will not take into account future increases in extreme weather events predicted in a new report by scientists.

At the end of a two-day tour taking in Bourke and Broken Hill in NSW and Longreach in Queensland, Mr Abbott said the present period of extreme heat and dry conditions – broken in part during his weekend visit – was not unusual for Australia.

"If you look at the records of Australian agriculture going back 150 years, there have always been good times and bad, tough and lush times," Mr Abbott said.

"This is not a new thing in Australia.  "As the seasons have changed, climatic variation has been a constant here in Australia."

Mr Abbott, who has previously dismissed a link between climate change and October’s early-season bushfires in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, ruled out taking the issue of a warming planet into consideration when preparing his drought-aid package for cabinet later this week.

"Farmers ought to be able to deal with things expected every few years," Mr Abbott said.

"Once you start getting into very severe events – one-in-20, 50, 100-year events – that’s when I think people need additional assistance because that is ... beyond what a sensible business can be expected to plan for."

A new report by the Climate Council – formed with public funding from the ashes of the Climate Commission, which the Abbott government abolished – says heatwaves are becoming more frequent, more intense and lasting longer.

It says Melbourne, Canberra and Adelaide were already experiencing the number of annual hot days that had been forecast for 2030 in the first decade of the century.

The report, by Professors Will Steffen and Lesley Hughes and UNSW researcher Sarah Perkins, said: "Record hot days and warm nights are also expected to increase across Australia over the coming decades.

"For both northern and southern Australia, one-in-20-year extreme hot days are expected to occur every two to five years by the middle of the century."

Records melt

Those three cities, as it happens, have each broken heat records this summer.

Adelaide has had 13 days of 40 degrees or more, beating the previous record set more than a century ago, of 11 such days. Melbourne has hda seven days above 40 degrees, the most in any calendar year just six weeks in, while Canberra has had 20 days above 35 degrees, the most for any summer, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

The Climate Council report highlights the effect that increased heat is expected to have on agriculture, including reduced crop yields and lower livestock productivity.

The three regions  Mr Abbott visited all had their hottest six-month period between August and January, with rainfall as little as one-fifth of normal levels.

Cabinet is expected to consider an extra $280 million in low-interest loans for farmers, among other measures. 

Touring the Mount Gipps cattle and sheep station north of Broken Hill on Monday, he said there was  "a world of difference" between companies seeking handouts and farmers needing help to get through the drought.

Graziers have been offloading their livestock throughout much of inland eastern Australia as they battle to cope with drought and declining feedstock.

John Cramp, the owner of  Mount Gipps,  said the recent extreme heat in his region had seen his cattle remain near their water troughs rather than go in search of remaining grass.

"They won’t leave their water, they won’t poke out and get some feed," Mr Cramp said, adding that in his view "climates have always changed".


Trans-Pacific Partnership is a big deal, but hardly anyone knows

The Trans-Pacific Partnership could be Australia's biggest trade deal for decades, but most people have not even heard of it. A new survey by the Australia Institute found 55 per cent of respondents did not know about the TPP, as it is known. Another 19 per cent said "I'm not sure."

Consumer groups say the trade pact - which involves 12 Asia-Pacific nations including Australia and the US - could have a significant impact on consumers across the region. There are claims it will increase the cost of medicines, films, computer games and software. Critics believe it could compromise environmental protections and allow foreign corporations to sue Australian governments if their policies reduce future profits. A leaked draft suggests the US is pushing for criminal penalties, even jail, for illegally downloading popular television shows.

With issues like those at stake, you would expect debate about the TPP to be raging. But the Australia Institute survey found just one in 10 voters had even heard of it.

If the TPP is such a big deal, why is public awareness so low?

One reason is that trade pacts like the TPP are never hot topics. It's hard for the media to sustain interest in such an arcane and slow-moving process - the TPP negotiations have already been going for nearly four years. They are also shrouded in secrecy. It's become a convention for international trade agreements to be discussed behind closed doors. The TPP negotiating texts remain confidential under an agreement signed by the previous Labor government when the talks started. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade claims this confidentiality "safeguards our negotiating positions and strategies, which cover sensitive national interests in relation to market access and Australia's trade and commerce more broadly".

The Abbott government claims there has been "a lot of consultation" across industry sectors affected by the agreement, but consumer groups say they have been excluded from any meaningful dialogue. They've had to rely on leaked draft texts to get a sense of what is going on. Choice says it doesn't know what the final agreement will contain.

When voters were informed of the TPP's agenda they had strong opinions about many of the issues, the Australia Institute survey revealed. Nearly nine out of 10 surveyed wanted the public to have a say before the agreement was signed (only 5 per cent disagreed).

So far, both major parties have been strong supporters of the TPP. Australia joined negotiations when Labor was in power and the first round of negotiations was held in Melbourne in 2010. The Coalition government has been an enthusiastic participant since taking office last year. Trade Minister Andrew Robb claims many conspiracy theories are being peddled about the TPP. His spokesman said the claims of secrecy were overblown and a "straw man set up by anti-traders" in an attempt to undermine the negotiations.

Robb argues the TPP will promote regional economic integration in the Asian Century and give Australian businesses big trade opportunities. The countries involved in the TPP are responsible for 40 per cent of the world's gross domestic product and 26 per cent of its trade.

Robb says the text of the TPP will be "publicly released and subject to parliamentary scrutiny prior to its ratification" once the negotiating parties come to any agreement.

But consumer groups fear that process will not allow adequate public consultation.

They are not the only sceptics. The benefits of regional trade deals such as the TPP have been questioned by some economists who champion free trade but favour broader multilateral agreements. A study by the government's own Productivity Commission Report on Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements concluded that the benefits of such agreements "have been oversold" and called for an improvement in the process.

A deal as significant as the TPP should be fully debated in the community. It's not good enough that just one in 10 voters know about it.


Drop in asylum seeker boat arrivals hits charter operator's bottom line

Prime Minister Tony Abbott's mission to 'stop the boats' has taken a toll on airlines that once racked up big business flying intercepted asylum seekers across the region.

Fly-in fly-out and charter operator Alliance Aviation Services is searching for new clients to offset a downturn in ad hoc charters from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection now that unauthorised boat arrivals are at a standstill.

The Brisbane-based airline reported a 34.2 per cent fall in half-year underlying earnings to $7.1 million in the first half, based on a 9 per cent fall in revenue during the period as flight hours per aircraft fell.

Chief executive Scott McMillan attributed the lower earnings in part to the airline doing "a lot fewer charters" for the government since Prime Minister Tony Abbott was elected in September.

"It is a change in government policy," Mr McMillan told Fairfax Media of the loss of work, which he said had also affected other airline charter groups.

The Immigration Department reported maritime arrivals of asylum seekers had reached the lowest level in five years in the fourth quarter of 2013 and were 85 per cent lower than the same period of 2012. No new boats have arrived since December 19.

Mr McMillan said charters for the government and other businesses had typically brought in 20 per cent of Alliance's revenue, but he was seeking to reduce that by gaining exposure to more long-term resources contracts even though they tended to carry lower margins.

Alliance is currently in exclusive negotiations on a major contract in the mining sector which it could service with its existing fleet of Fokker aircraft following the return of a wet leased Boeing 737 in December. Mr McMillan said the new contract would help boost utilisation and profitability.

Alliance has forecast underlying earnings of $16 million to $17.5 million this year, down from $23.4 last year, but expects to return to beat the 2012-13 figure in the 2014-15 financial year.

Alliance declared a fully-franked interim dividend of 3.6¢ a share, down from 4.8¢ the prior year, but said the current payout was at the top end of the approved dividend policy.

The company's shares have fallen by 37 per cent over the last 12 months, compared with a 6 per cent rise in the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index over the same period.

Mr McMillan said his airline had been able to hang onto all of its contracts, despite some being put out to tender when they were up for renewal. Alliance competes against the regional/FIFO arms of Qantas Airways and Virgin Australia Holdings as well as other operators like Cobham Aviation Services.

Mr McMillan said he was more positive about the state of the mining market now than he was six months ago and expected it to improve again in six month's time.

"On the back of BHP and Rio's results they have done a pretty good job improving the efficiencies of the operations and getting costs down," he said. "The lower Australian dollar is helping everyone. Projects that probably were marginal are coming back."

Cobham Aviation Services chief executive Peter Nottage said he didn't think the resources sector would dive further, but expected a plateau for a point.

"It is a tough cycle, but we are riding the cycle okay," he told the Financial Review this week. "We are seeing fairly intense competition for new business and when renewals come up. That is compounded by competition between the two major airlines to get corporate accounts."