Thursday, September 03, 2015

Obama takes veiled shot at PM Abbott on Climate?

Speaking to a global leadership conference on the Arctic, President Obama says that those who want to ignore the science 'are on their own shrinking island' and any world leader that doesn't take climate change seriously is 'not fit to lead.'  

As the highest profile leader to rebuff Obama's pressure on climate, Australian prime minister Tony Abbott famously called much of the science behind catastrophic climate change 'absolute crap' and successfully repealed Australia's deeply unpopular carbon tax.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: "So the time to heed the critics and the cynics and the deniers has passed. The time to plead ignorance is surely passed. Those who want to ignore the science they are increasingly alone. They are on their own shrinking island. [...] Any leader willing to take a gamble on a future like that, any so-called leader who does not take this issue seriously or treats it like a joke, is not fit to lead."

Australia set to rack up world’s longest growth streak

Australia is on track to surpass 26 consecutive years of growth, according to its treasurer, swiping the modern-era record from the Netherlands despite a slowdown in its biggest trading partner, China.

In a bullish forecast, Joe Hockey said the economy was benefiting from capital inflows from China in response to recent stock market volatility and dismissed concerns that Australia was now too reliant on trade with Beijing.

“Cassandras are loud, whereas optimists are getting on with the job. We are going to break the record and go beyond the Dutch,” he said. “Our growth is somewhere between 2 and 2.5 per cent and that’s with the biggest fall in the terms of trade in our history.”

The Netherlands enjoyed 26 years of economic growth between 1982 and 2008 on the back of discovery of North Sea oil. In comparison, Australia has enjoyed 24 years of uninterrupted growth driven, in part, by reforms put in place after the last recession in 1991, and China’s rapacious appetite for its resources over the past decade.

However, a slump in iron ore prices, falling mining investment and slower than expected growth in China are prompting some economists to warn the good times may be over Down Under where the unemployment rate increased to 6.3 per cent in July, from 6.1 per cent in June.

Morgan Stanley forecasts Australia’s economy shrank 0.1 per cent in the second quarter, when compared with the previous three months, due to a weather-related drag on exports, weak business investment and domestic demand.

Authorities will publish second-quarter growth figures on Wednesday. But in an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Hockey said commentators warning of a possible economic bust in Australia were “dead wrong” and the economy was much more diversified than many foreign observers understood.

“If our economy was deteriorating then why is there overwhelming consensus that unemployment has peaked? I see positive signs and I can see where our growth is going to come from,” he said.

Mr Hockey said Australia was uniquely placed to benefit from China and Asia’s long-term growth by exporting resources, agricultural produce and services to the region. “Our services industry, which is 70 per cent of our economy, provides everything that the emerging middle class wants in healthcare, education, tourism and financial services,” he said. “It is starting to lift quite significantly.”

He said Australia was experiencing a surge in foreign investment into real estate and this would continue while China’s stock market remained volatile.

For the first time in 2013-14, China became the largest source of foreign investment in Australia, leapfrogging the US. Total investment in real estate was $74.6bn, up from $51.9bn a year earlier.

“There is a Chinese middle class looking for stability and certainty in returns and the more volatile the Chinese stock market, the more likely they will go searching around the world for investments they understand, in countries they understand,” he said.

He said the boom in property investment was helping the economy’s transition from a decade-long mining investment boom by creating jobs in housing and apartment construction.

Analysts agree that despite Australia’s mining recession, there is room for cheer on the broader economy.  “There is a bit of a paradox here as in part the economy is being driven by strong Chinese investment into real estate and new apartment building, strong tourism numbers and strong foreign student numbers,” said Ivan Colhoun, an economist with National Australia Bank. “It is important to remember that the non-mining economy is much bigger than the mining economy in Australia. A weaker Australian dollar is helping to support the transition of the economy from mining.”

Mr Hockey said Australia welcomed investment from China, as long as it complied with rules prohibiting purchases of established properties by foreign buyers while allowing investment in new buildings. “It is helping to fuel a construction boom in Sydney, Melbourne, increasingly in Brisbane and I think we will see it spread around the country,” he said.

A housing shortage meant fast-rising house prices in Sydney and Melbourne were not a “bubble”, he said.

Mr Hockey said Chinese investors were targeting Australian infrastructure and were welcome to buy electricity assets, which are being leased by states to raise cash for investment. State Grid Corporation of China is one of several Chinese companies considering a bid to lease New South Wales’ electricity network.

Mr Hockey said economic recovery in the US, a big investor in Australia, and Japan — Australia’s second-biggest trading partner — would help cushion the country from a slowdown in China.
“We are not so large an economy that we have all our eggs in one basket with one trading partner,” he said.


Municipalities: Bigger not better

A recent advertisement in Sydney papers proclaims “It’s time to get councils working better for local communities”. So says the state government’s Office of Local Government. The ‘a’ word did not appear, but the ad was clearly the start of a softening-up campaign for the Baird government’s local council amalgamation policy, which few citizens seem to want.

No government should use taxpayer money to promote policy proposals through advertising. Every opposition agrees, but only until they get into government. But that’s not the main point of this commentary.

Sometimes governments are justified in pushing a policy hard against public opinion – that’s what leaders do. But just why the Baird government is determined to push hard in this instance is unclear. Why does bigger have to be better? The functions local government performs in Australia don’t require huge scale for effective delivery.

Many small communities welcome the greater accessibility and responsiveness of councils that are close to them, want to keep their own identity, don’t want to be absorbed by a large, impersonal entity, and are willing to pay if having their own local council means overhead costs are a bit higher.

Judging by the advertising, the state government’s case is tendentious. It tells us that New South Wales has “nearly twice as many councils as Victoria or Queensland”, as if this is shocking. But can’t NSW be right and the others wrong?

“The system is not working as well as it should.” What system of government is? Local government has it problems, but why is amalgamation the answer? In some cases it may be, but not as a generalisation.

You know they’re scraping the barrel when they assert the happy outcome will be that councils “can invest in better services and facilities.” Investment always sounds good, but there is no evidence that fewer, bigger councils would ‘invest’ more in the true meaning of that word, or on better things.


Dyson Heydon’s decision: confected outrage loses to common sense

The decision by royal commissioner Dyson Heydon marks a definitive win for law and reason over confected outrage and brute politics. Did the unions really imagine they could exploit a trivial incident to destroy the reputation of a sitting royal commissioner and shut down the royal commission into union corruption? Did they really believe they could pull the strings of a royal commissioner in the same way they pull the strings of Labor politicians? Did they expect they could resort to the kind of intimidation in the royal commission hearing room that they have resorted to in workplaces?

They were wrong on all counts. In an age of confected outrage, where emotion trumps reason with increasing frequency and intensity, the decision by Heydon was a win for old-fashioned common sense and facts. Curiously, you wouldn’t have learned the salient facts from the ABC radio’s premier news program PM last night. Instead of reporting the real reasons claims by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, ACTU and other unions failed, the ABC’s Mark Colvin and Brendan Trembath spent most of their report ridiculing the fact Heydon said he did not have a computer and did not use email. Sinking to new levels of poor journalism, the national broadcaster chose to report how Heydon’s disclosure was mocked on Twitter.

So let’s do what the $1bn-funded ABC couldn’t manage to do: consider the facts. The various unions argued the agreement by Heydon to give the Sir Garfield Barwick address signalled he had “an affinity with, and partiality in favour of, the Liberal Party”, that he “had a political persuasion or allegiance toward the Liberal Party” or that he held “a political prejudice against the Australian Labor Party”. The unions based their apprehended bias claims on two arguments : first, that he accepted an invitation to address a Liberal Party event; second, that Heydon had the intention of raising funds, or generating support for the ­Liberal Party.

Heydon found the facts did not support either assertion. His decision was what you would expect from a judge who has earned a reputation as a “black-letter” lawyer: it was a dry, factual, carefully reasoned judgment. He found that a fair-minded observer, operating reasonably, with knowledge of all the relevant circumstances, could not conclude that a willingness to give a legal address such as the Barwick address indicated any predisposition on the speaker’s part towards the Liberal Party or against the ALP or the unions.

Addressing the claims in detail, Heydon pointed to an August 12 email confirming the Barwick address. It stated: “As you know, although nominally under the auspices of the Liberal Party lawyers’ professional branches, this is not a fundraiser — the cost charged is purely to cover dinner …” So much for the unions’ bogus argument that this was a cosy little Liberal Party event. As Heydon found, “nominal” means “in name only, not actual or real”. The lecture was purely legal. It was open to anyone. And it was widely publicised by the NSW Bar Association. Needless to say, Heydon didn’t point out that the NSW Bar Association was hardly a hotbed of conservative politics.

To prove the absence of bias, apprehended or otherwise, in agreeing to give the legal lecture, Heydon presented more facts, including a short precis of his intended address. Titled The Judicial Stature of Chief Justice Barwick Viewed from a Modern Perspective, Heydon intended to look at how the High Court operated under Barwick, the legal doctrines it followed, which subsequently have fallen out of fashion, changes in constitutional construction since Barwick’s day and how Barwick used his experience as a trial lawyer on the bench. There’s not a scintilla of politics in Heydon’s intended address. Heydon pointed to other facts that demolished union claims of apprehended bias: Michael Kirby gave the Alfred Deakin lecture while he was chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission, the Earle Page lecture while he was president of the NSW Court of Appeal and the Neville Wran lecture when he was a High Court judge.

Indeed, he found that “if it was enough to disqualify a person from a role because a fair-minded observer might conclude that the person held political views, there would be no one who could occupy the role”. And as for the equally contrived claim of the legal lecture being a fundraiser, the same August 12 email knocks that claim over too.

The campaign to remove Heydon for apprehended bias marks one of the darkest episodes of hysteria-fuelled politics in Australia. It is an apt reminder the abuse of union power in Australia has never been more insidious.

Union leaders sunk to new levels of desperate and debased tactics to remove Heydon and derail the royal commission because they have so much to lose.

Their chorus line of confected outrage is meant to distract us from evidence to the royal commission of union thuggery, intimidation, secret deals, secret payments (including an undeclared $40,000 paid to Bill Shorten by construction company Unibuilt when he was a union leader to fund his 2007 political campaign), bogus memberships to boost the power of unions, and deals where employers paid for membership dues. Even current Victorian boss of the Australian Workers Union, Ben Davis, told the royal commission he was “decidedly uncomfortable” about the creation of bogus memberships and said deals where employers paid membership dues undermined the negotiating power of unions.

This episode is a reminder too that the abuse of union power extends beyond the workplaces of union members and deep into the Labor Party. Union influence over Labor means the alternative government and alternative prime minister of Australia cannot take a responsible stance against union corruption in the national interest. How can they when most Labor MPs, including Shorten, are products of the union movement, owe their positions to union patronage and the party depends on union money to win elections?

Had Heydon decided to step down on Monday and effectively rewarded the brazen attempts at character assassination by the unions and Labor, it would have set a dangerous precedent for the future. It would have been a shot in the arm for further abuse of union power and, more broadly too, a boon for a growing industry of activists who use emotion to drown out facts.

Heydon’s decision showed that facts can trump confected outrage. More important, Heydon’s decision proves the abuse of union power that reaches into workplaces and into the Labor Party does not extend into the hearing room of the royal commission.


The next step in the attack on Dyson Heydon

In a squalid stunt Labor has debased any claims to principle in the Dyson Heydon dispute and will now ask the Governor-General to act improperly, trash the principles of responsible government and violate the conventions of his office.

The Senate has no role and no powers in the Royal Commission on Trade Union Governance and Corruption. The recommended “address” Labor proposes from the Senate has no legal standing whatsoever. It will be rejected by the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove. This is a stunt designed to put the Senate’s imprimatur on the campaign to destroy Heydon and the royal commission.

Opposition legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus said that next Monday when the Senate sits Labor will proceed with “a petition to the Governor-General to remove Dyson Heydon from this office”. On what basis? There is no finding against Heydon. There is no illegality or act of impropriety committed by him. The argument is that Labor and the unions and, perhaps a majority of the Senate, think he is biased. The evidence is that, like many judges, he agreed to talk at a party event.

Have no doubt, what is proposed is an abuse of the Senate’s power and an abuse of the Governor-General’s powers.

How desperate is the Labor Party? How far will Labor go in this campaign? What next? Perhaps a Labor delegation to Buckingham Palace given that the letters patent establishing the royal commission are issued in the name of “Elizabeth The Second” who is “Queen of Australia”.

If the Governor-General won’t intervene to protect the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, then might the Queen?

This decision is a serious blunder. It reveals Labor as a party prepared to play with the idea of vice-regal sabotage merely to extract more publicity in its campaign to protect the unions.

It is extraordinary that Labor’s Senate leader, Penny Wong would venture down this path. It terminates any Labor claims to ethics and public interest in this issue.

The principles here are exactly the same as in the 1975 crisis. On that occasion the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, acted on a motion passed by the Senate, defied the advice of the prime minister, broke the conventions surrounding his office and took a unilateral decision to preference the wishes of the Senate over the position of the executive government.

This issue is different this time but the principles are the same.

The propaganda line that this is merely another application of the long-established method of Senate “addresses” is hogwash for the reason that this seeks an executive decision from the Governor-General that defies the Prime Minister.

Does this sound like routine Senate business? If Cosgrove acted on such a Senate address then, as an honourable man, he would have to resign as well.

If he did not resign, then Tony Abbott would approach the Queen to dismiss the Governor-General for violating the most important conventions surrounding his office.

Yes, it’s all ludicrous. But that is merely a judgment on how ludicrous Labor has become with this idea.

The royal commission was established on March 13 last year with Heydon as commissioner flowing from an executive council minute signed by then governor-general Quentin Bryce, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister.

The governor-general acted on advice. Any motion by the Senate requesting that Cosgrove, as Bryce’s successor, remove Heydon is tantamount to the Governor-General defying that advice.

For what reason? This is the ­really gobsmacking part. There is, in fact, no case beyond pure politics. Understand what Labor is proposing. It is telling the Governor-General that the views of the Senate must take preference over the views of the House of Representatives where the Abbott government has the numbers.

Dreyfus said on Monday that “it is now left for the parliament to act”. That is a false statement. Labor is asking the Senate to act. The parliament will not be acting because the House of Representatives supports Heydon.

It is entirely open to Abbott to pass his own motion through the house for dispatch to the Governor-General.

If the unions want, they can pursue their case against Heydon through the proper legal channels.

That means going to the courts to challenge Heydon’s dismissal of the union applications that he stand down. This is now a test not just for Heydon but for the unions.

They have shouted from the rooftops his decision on Monday is wrong. Is it? Or are the unions and the ALP wrong? If the unions don’t go the courts they admit they don’t believe in their own case.

In that situation neither the public nor media should believe in it. Heydon has called the union bluff and the ACTU must make the next move.

Any Senate action, of course, beyond grandstanding, would be pre-empting the proper legal processes that should be employed if Labor and the unions were serious about pursuing Heydon.

The notion of a Senate “address” is the traditional method of communication with the governor-general or monarch. Occasionally it is used for “non-standard” issues such as in 1931, when the Senate addressed the governor-general, Sir Isaac Isaacs, on the issue of regulation making. It is the best precedent for the current proposal and Isaacs did not comply with the Senate’s request.

The truth, however, is that there is no real precedent for what Labor proposes: a disreputable Senate inviting the Governor-General to abuse the terms of his office and break his obligations to the Australian public.

What is happening with the Labor Party?

Its behaviour is now obsessive in seeking to protect unions from the documented exposure of criminality and in threatening the Australia-China FTA on behalf of a misleading union campaign on the issue of jobs protectionism.

Labor insists that it opposes union corruption wherever it is found. Sorry, that claim doesn’t stand up. You cannot pretend to be the enemy of union corruption and simultaneously seek to destroy the royal commission on union corruption.

It’s a zero-sum game: achieving one comes at the price of the other.

The sad reality, it seems, is that Labor is now bound and hostage to the political, financial and institutional power of the unions.

It is the sheer nakedness of its campaigns to destroy the royal commission and risk the FTA in the course of union interests that is so astonishing.

It reminds that the biggest issue in politics today, outside the mounting implosion of the Abbott government, is the political and policy dependency of the Labor Party and the unions.

The unanswered question is: what is the price for the country?


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