Wednesday, July 01, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is unhappy with the Pope's backing of what Zeg insists on calling "anthropological" global warming. 

Zeg seems to be a bit of a Latinist too.  That gobbledegook above the Pope's head in the toon is not dog Latin  but real Latin.  It translates as, "The crack-brained poison of Rome".

Charleston shooting massacre should prompt us to consider another gun amnesty and buyback (?)

Jane Fynes-Clinton (below) must be desperate for something to say.  The gun scenes in Australia and the U.S. have virtually nothing in common.  Our rate of gun deaths is about a thousandth  of theirs and you are already not allowed to own a gun for self-defence in Australia.  They are allowed to members of gun clubs for sporting purposes only. She is using the fact that the police trace and seize a lot of illegal guns to argue that more illegal guns should be seized.  But do not the seizures show that illegal gun ownership is difficult already and  that a lot is  being done to enforce that?

WE NEED to go back to 1996: a new-age firearm buyback and amnesty is needed. And we need it now.

The US President Barack Obama lauded Australia this week for the success of the hard line stance the federal government took 19 years ago in banning semiautomatic and automatic weapons and buying back the newly illegal firearms, but those on the front line say Australia is again on the edge of unthinkable horror.

After witnessing yet another shooting massacre in the US – this time in Charleston, South Carolina in which eight people died as they attended church – we must act. We must not wait for our own mass shooting tragedy to make us sit up.

Victoria Police said this week they are stumbling on illegal firearms every two days in the course of their other work. [so if you make them doubly illegal how is that going to help?]

But if you break down the statistics, Queensland’s situation is possibly worse than in Victoria. The most recent Queensland Police Service annual report shows between 2012 and 2014 the Firearms Investigation Unit seized 804 unlicensed weapons and 4.2 tonnes of ammunition, or more than five weapons a week.

The dedicated Gold Coast Firearms Investigation team recovered 158 unlawful firearms in 2013-14.  Queensland’s part of Operation Unification, a nationwide two-week police operation to recover illegal weapons in June last year, netted 59 firearms.

The Australian Crime Commission last month told a senate committee inquiry it believed there are about 260,000 illegal guns out there.

The ACC last month detailed the emergence of new threats from the illicit supply of firearms, with crims taking advantage of digital technology to open up new supply networks and making guns using 3D printers. Surely taking the standard weaponry out of circulation would free law enforcers to get on with tackling these new threats?

The massacre at Port Arthur, Tasmania was, at the time, the worst mass killing by a single gunman anywhere. Within weeks of Martin Bryant’s horrific murder of 35 people, the law was changed to ban rapid-fire weapons, implement a market-value buyback and open up a firearm amnesty on those guns.  Incredibly, 643,726 newly illegal guns were then bought by the government. We have not had a mass shooting since – using the international measure of five people or more being shot.

In the decade up to and including Port Arthur, Australia experienced 11 mass shootings. In these 11 events alone, 100 people were killed and another 52 wounded. But police are telling us of warning shots over our bow and we have to heed them.

The numbers of stashed, illegal firearms is creeping up. These are not box cutters or Tasers: guns have what scientists call a “high lethality index”.

We need another buyback, another amnesty. It would not hurt the responsible owners of the 25,000 registered handguns in Queensland, but would keep us all safer.

And we need to detain those found with illegal, unregistered weapons until their day in court.

Getting tough and calling in illegal weapons worked before . It is worth giving it another whirl, 20 years after its first run.
Let us not have a bloodbath to remind of us of what we should have done.


No Greek tragedy for Australia

Australia itself is not a parasite nation and the Greek parasites have not been bleeding us

Australia is as distant in an economic sense as it is in geography from the financial tsunami in Greece.

The fact that both countries are part of global debt and equity markets means that we get caught up in the contagion effect to some degree – hence local shares fell on Monday by more than 2 per cent as a generalised hysteria hit most stock markets.

World markets will remain skittish until there is some certainty on what happens in Greece, and this means we will retain a seat on the markets rollercoaster ride.

The spectre of Greek mums and dads unable to access their bank accounts, and long queues outside ATMs, is a scary graphic but Greece's problems will not lead to a worldwide financial armageddon. 

The outcome of this week's game of chicken between the Greek government and other European governments, Europe's central bank and the International Monetary Fund won't have a significant impact on the Australian economy.

Australia's trade relationship with Greece is tiny – some olives and a bit of tourism. Greece makes up about 2 per cent of the European economy and 0.3 per cent of the world economy.

Australian private holdings of Greek government bonds is also almost non-existent. Thus it won't really affect our financial system.

Treasurer Joe Hockey believes Australia is "well placed" for a Greek exit from the eurozone.

"Treasury has been engaging with the Reserve Bank, Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and Australian Securities and Investments Commission, and we are monitoring the situation closely," he said.

That said, to suggest that a Greek exit is on the cards may prove premature. Plenty of economists and market experts take the view that the parties will blink rather than see a true Greek tragedy.

History has shown during the past six years that debt-laden European economies that have been on the brink of default and whose membership of the European Union has been under threat have seen their various crises averted.

There has been too much at stake in the past for the rest of Europe to allow member countries to undermine the European Union by leaving it.

Until last Friday there was a willingness from other European countries, the ECB and the IMF to thrash out some kind of deal with Greece.

The latest drama emerged because Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras moved the goal posts on Friday by announcing he would leave it to the Greek people to vote on whether they would accept the austerity-heavy bailout package on offer.

Complicating the matter is the fact that before the Greeks even get the chance to vote, they will also have defaulted on loans due for repayment this week.

There is plenty of tough talk from the European lenders and the IMF about an act of default leading to an end to providing Greece with financial assistance.

This unravelling could end in the Grexit and, with it, the introduction of a new Greek currency. But under this scenario the European lender governments, the European Central Bank and the IMF would have little chance of being repaid the €243 billion ($351 million) they have lent.

Thus there is plenty of incentive for Greece's creditors to keep negotiations rolling and kick the can further down the road.

Germany is owed €57 billion, France €43 billion, Italy €38 billion and Spain €25 billion – on top of those countries' contributions to the IMF loans. However, many of these are long-term loans.

And while the Greek people hate the European-imposed austerity sanctions, recent polls suggest most remain in favour of staying in the European Union.

If it loses Greece, the EU also risks losing some of the other national "hospital case" governments that might see leaving as a viable outcome.

But as AMP economist Shane Oliver points out, even the weaker economies within the EU have become stronger in recent years and many have been removed from life support thanks to getting their economic health in order.

There is less toxic debt in Europe than there was a few years ago, in part because the European Central Bank's quantitative easing measures have been soaking up European government bonds.

Thus, there are plenty of compelling reasons for all parties to work out a solution and there would be very few parties (other than the Greek government) that would want to see a true default and a Grexit.

And even though a Greece secession from the EU would be painful, it might at least bring to a close the drawn-out negotiations, which have been going on since 2010.

Even if Greece were to exit, the ripple effect in Australia – or in many other countries – wouldn't be particularly meaningful.

Indeed, the weakness in the Australian currency against the euro should provide an opportunity to book a cheaper holiday in Europe.


Marriage Battle Picks Up Steam in Australia: ‘No Parliament or Court has the Authority to Repeal Biology’

“No parliament or court has the authority to repeal biology,” an Australian pro-family campaigner said at the weekend as the ripple effects of the U.S. Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling lent additional momentum to a growing campaign to redefine marriage in Australia.

Australian Marriage Forum president David van Gend said decisions like the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling declaring same-sex marriage is a right was a reflection of “the moral dementia of the West.”

Describing the court decision as an “historic act of social self-mutilation” akin to Roe vs. Wade, van Gend warned it will lead to “a new era of civil discord.”

“We must not let that happen here.”

“If same-sex couples cannot marry, that is because they do not meet nature’s job description for marriage and family: marriage and childbearing is a specifically male-female phenomenon in nature, and no parliament or court has the authority to repeal biology,” he said.

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision America’s biggest LGBT civil rights advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), is throwing its backing behind the Australian campaign.

The HRC expressed support for the activist group Australian Marriage Equality, whose national convenor Rodney Croome says his country is “now the only developed, English-speaking country that doesn’t allow same-sex couples to marry.”

“We welcome the Human Rights Campaign’s support for the Australian campaign because it will muster support across the world and highlight how far Australia is falling behind,” said Croome.

“Now marriage equality has been achieved in the U.S., all eyes will be on Australia with the hope we are next.”

The leader of Australia’s official opposition Labor Party, Bill Shorten, recently introduced a bill that would alter the definition of who can be legally married by replacing the words “man and women” with “two people.”

“Those eight words [‘the union of a man and a woman’] maintain a fiction that any other relationship is somehow inferior,” Shorten said when introducing the bill on June 1.

The issue was thrust into the political spotlight a decade ago, when Australians who had solemnized same-sex marriages in Canada tried to get courts in their own country to declare those unions to be valid and legal.

In response, the federal parliament in 2004 defined marriage explicitly as a union between a man and a woman.

The next skirmish occurred in 2013, when the federal parliament defeated a bill that would have allowed homosexuals and lesbians to marry. At that time both the then-Labor prime minister, Julia Gillard, and center-right opposition leader Tony Abbott opposed the bill, and it was voted down 98-42.

That same year the legislature of the Australian Capital Territory, which comprises Canberra and the surrounding area, passed the nation’s first same-sex marriage legislation. It was challenged by the federal government, and just five days after it came into effect in December 2013 the High Court overturned it, declaring it “a matter for the federal parliament.”

In the face of the new parliamentary push, Abbott – now prime minister – remains opposed to same-sex marriage.

“What happens in the United States is obviously a matter for the United States, just as what happened in Ireland a few weeks ago is a matter for the Irish,” he said in Melbourne on Saturday, referring to the Supreme Court decision and to Ireland’s May 22 referendum legalizing same-sex marriage.

“As for our own country, obviously there is a community debate going on,” Abbott said. “I have views on this subject which are pretty well known and they haven’t changed.”

‘The dominos are falling around the world’

Parliament is expected to take up Shorten’s bill when it resumes after the current winter recess.

“This is a joyous day in America,” Shorten said in response to the Supreme Court decision. “In Australia, let us make it a call to action.”

It was the Irish referendum that prompted Shorten to introduce the measure. He told reporters on Saturday that if a “famously religious society” like Ireland could take the step, “why couldn’t we in Australia?”

“America is another society which is very influential in Australia from its media, its culture, to its system of government in many ways,” Shorten added. “So now America too has moved on the path of marriage equality.”

“The dominos are falling around the world at an ever increasing rate, and it’s well beyond time that Australia caught up,” said Nick McKim, a lawmaker with the Australian Green Party.

“Marriage in Australia is a civil institution that belongs to our people, not to the churches which continue to oppose marriage equality,” he added.

But the Australian Christian Lobby slammed the decision by “five unelected judges,” charging that the necessary flow-on effect of making marriage available to same-sex couples is to deny a child either its mother or its father.

“The five judges overturned the democratic votes of more than 50 million Americans in 31 states which have voted to keep marriage as between one man and one woman,” said ACL managing director Lyle Shelton.

“Only 11 states [10 states and DC] permitted same-sex marriage through legislative or voter action. Everywhere else, judges have made the decision for the people on behalf of the homosexual lobby.

“America, the land that gave us ‘we the people,’ has ceded its democracy to ‘you the judges.’”


Big Greenie Pow wow may lead to more moderation in demands

The set of policy principles released by the Australian Climate Roundtable yesterday are extraordinary for two reasons.

First, the principles themselves offer some calm common sense in an arena that has been dominated by ferocious partisan politics and dramatic policy reversals. They could therefore offer a way to break the current policy deadlock and re-establish a bipartisan approach to climate change.

Second, the principles are the product of a highly unusual alliance of ten organisations, representing business, unions, environmentalists, and the community. It is unusual that such disparate groups can sit down together to talk, and downright extraordinary that they can agree on a common set of principles. So what is going on here?

A principled approach to policy?

On the first point, the principles state that: Our overarching aim is for Australia to play its fair part in international efforts to achieve this while maintaining and increasing its prosperity.

The Roundtable’s ideal policy would lead to “deep reductions in Australia’s net emissions”, using policy instruments that are well targeted, well designed, based on sound risk assessments, internationally linked, operate at least cost, and are efficient.

On the environmental side, there is a demand for net zero emissions in the long run, an acceptance that there are market failures that need to be fixed, and a call for long-term planning based on climate change scenarios.

On the economic side, there are statements about achieving reductions at the lowest cost, avoiding regulatory burdens, ensuring no loss of competitiveness for trade-exposed industries, and the need for a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy, without undue shocks for investors.

Finally, on the social side are concerns about providing decent work opportunities, protecting the most vulnerable people, and helping communities to make the necessary transition.

While there is apparently something here for everyone, the contentious issues are avoided.

There is no mention of the Government’s Direct Action Emissions Reduction Fund, the former Government’s price on carbon, or the recently reduced Renewable Energy Target. This is clever politics, as it allows for the establishment of a broad consensus without the need to quibble over policy detail.

An unlikely alliance

The roundtable’s membership is remarkably diverse: the Australian Aluminium Council; the Business Council of Australia; the Australian Industry Group; the Energy Supply Association of Australia; the Investor Group on Climate Change; the Climate Institute; WWF Australia; the Australian Conservation Foundation; the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU); and the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS). How and why did these disparate groups form such an alliance?

It is clear from the principles themselves that all the member groups want some policy consistency that will survive regardless of who is in Government. The last thing they want is for the recent cycle of major policy changes to continue.

Such reversals impose waves of new compliance costs on industry and create uncertainty for investors, which is why business is so heavily represented in the Roundtable. Policy changes also make it difficult to consolidate significant emissions reductions, which is where the environmentalists come in. Finally, policy uncertainty has implications for employment options and the cost of living, which is why the ACTU and ACOSS are also on board.

There are also some specific strategic advantages to being involved in the Roundtable for each of the participants.

Business groups that have been getting bad publicity about their contributions to climate change might use the Roundtable to improve their image and frame the future policy debate in a way that suits them (for instance, by calling for a strong focus on costs and competitiveness).

Environmentalists, who have effectively been sidelined by the Abbott government on climate change, might see this is a way to deal themselves back into the policy game and make some progress in reducing emissions.

Unions concerned about their members' future employment might see this as a way to manage the transition by creating new “green-collar” jobs that will offset the loss of employment opportunities in the older polluting industries.

Finally, ACOSS is clearly worried about the impact of climate policies on low-income households, and being part of the Roundtable ensures that their concerns are heard.

A precedent for influencing policy?

While unusual, alliances such as the Australian Climate Roundtable are not unknown in Australian environmental policy. Sometimes they have led to the creation of effective long-term policies; other times they have fizzled out, leaving little more than rhetoric.

One positive example is that of Landcare. In 1989 the Australian Conservation Foundation and the National Farmers' Federation proposed a grant scheme that would empower communities to rehabilitate their local environment. More than a quarter of century later, Landcare is still going strong with the support of all four leading political parties.

On the negative side, an extensive consultation process involving all levels of government, business, unions and environmentalists led to the creation of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development in 1992. It is still on the books and referred to by current legislation, yet we don’t appear to be much closer to sustainability.

So will this be a Landcare moment or not? Only time will tell.


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