Sunday, December 09, 2018

Again:  There's no such thing as a happy Greenie. Following Woolworths and Coles getting rid of single-use plastic bags, there is now a push for the supermarkets to go even further

Greenies are a standout example of the old warning:  Give them an inch and they will take a mile

There was much fanfare yesterday as it was announced that supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths had stopped 1.5 billion bags being dumped into the environment.

The remarkable statistic came about because of a ban on single-use plastic bags by Australia’s two largest supermarkets and the retail industry is signalled that this is only the beginning of a long journey towards ridding our lives of unnecessary plastic.

It’s undoubtedly good new for our planet’s ailing marine life, but there’s one statistic both supermarkets are not telling you about and it’s deeply concerning for environmentalists.

Both supermarkets continue to offer customers thicker reusable bags at 15 cents a pop and they’re not saying how many of these they’ve sold since ditching single-use bags earlier this year.

The director of environmental group Boomerang Alliance’s, Jeff Angel, said that supermarkets still had much more to do to wipe out plastic usage completely.

“We said to the supermarkets good on you for ending the flimsy give away bags but don’t replace them with the plastic bags that cost 15 cents. That is what is happening and still ending up in landfill and the environment,” he told Today this morning.

“It is good that we have made that first step and 80 per cent of the free flimsy lightweight bags are gone from the checkout.

“We really have to reduce single use plastics. These bags aren’t reuseable. They might be used once or a couple of times then they are ending up in landfill.

“What we want the supermarkets to focus on are the thicker bags, cloth, other types of material that you can use hundreds and hundreds of times.

“That’s what is good for the environment not producing billions. This is an accurate figure. Billions more of these replaceable bags and dumping them in landfill.”

However, Woolworths said shoppers had embraced the switch to using reusable bags or buying thicker canvas bags for $1 each.

And, Coles responded by saying it will continue to offer reusable plastic bags “to customers who forget to bring their bags from home”.

Both supermarkets’ decision to stop offering single-use disposable plastic bags midway through the year was initially met with swift public backlash. But three months on the radical change has translated to an 80 per cent drop in the consumption of plastic bags nationwide, according to the National Retail Association.

“Indeed, some retailers are reporting reduction rates as high as 90 per cent,” NRA’s David Stout said on Sunday.

Mr Stout says the ban was a “brave” move from the major supermarkets and it’s paving the way for smaller businesses, who typically can’t afford to risk the wrath of their customers, to follow suit.

“For business, for the environment, for the consumer and of course even for councils which have to work to remove these things from landfills, there’s a multitude of benefits on a whole to doing this.”


'Outlandish' encryption laws leave Australian tech industry angry and confused

The Australian technology industry is "incredulous to fuming mad" after the Government's controversial encryption bill passed the Senate.

Under the new laws, security agencies have greater powers to get at the encrypted messages of criminal suspects — in some cases they can demand companies build new capabilities to allow them access.

Labor members called the bill flawed during debate on Thursday, but the Opposition later pulled its amendments at the last minute and voted to support the Government.

The situation has left Australian technology companies struggling to understand the potential impact on their global standing and bottom line.

John Stanton, chief executive of the Communications Alliance, said the bill's passing was a "magnificent triumph of politics over policy".

Partner at M8 Ventures Alan Jones argued the bill will have unintended consequence for the security reputation of Australian businesses — "crippling" attempts to export their technology.

"It could be just enough to lose a deal to a competitor in Israel and the US," he said.

The 'perception of mistrust'

Prior to the bill's passing, members of the Australian technology industry argued the bill's technical capability notices (TCNs) would undermine the perceived trustworthiness of Australia-made hardware or software.

TCNs could force a company to make a secret modification to its product to help a government agency access a suspect's messages.

Such a notice must be "reasonable and proportionate". Neither can it cause a "systemic weakness", although there is debate about the protection the bill's definition of the term affords.

The bill proposes three key powers:

A technical assistance request (TAR): Police ask a company to "voluntarily" help, such as give technical details about the development of a new online service

A technical assistance notice (TAN): A company is required to give assistance. For example, if they can decrypt a specific communication, they must or face fines

A technical capability notice (TCN): The company must build a new function to help police get at a suspect's data, or face fines

"I hope that it's possible for some of these companies to move offshore before they are tainted with the stain of originally being an Australian company," Mr Jones said.

This echoed the warning of Francis Galbally, chairman of the encryption provider Senetas, who told a Senate inquiry last month Australia was currently regarded as being among the world's most trustworthy countries for cybersecurity products.

But not if the bill passed. "This bill gives a perception of mistrust," he said.

Chris Duell, the chief executive of the customer onboarding start-up Elevio, said the bill was "so outlandish and stupid I didn't think it would get this far".

While his company does not handle communication data, he said some European customers had already reached out to query the potential impact of the new legislation.

Mr Duell said if served with a notice, his company could potentially be in breach of European privacy law as well as provisions in its own contracts that demand it notify customers of any security breach.

The head of Girl Geek Academy Sarah Moran, who teaches cybersecurity, said local start-ups were angry the laws were rushed.

Like Mr Jones, she suggested it could now be more difficult for Australian technology companies to sell their products overseas.

"Something is either secure or it just isn't, and giving the keys to the government is not something that makes your business easy to sell to customers," she said.

A lack of oversight

Many Australian technology leaders expressed concern the bill was being rushed during the last few days of Parliament.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, the co-founder of Atlassian, tweeted that "rushing such complex legislation through in days is reckless".

The Communication Alliance's Mr Stanton, who represents companies such as Telstra and Verizon, said amendments to the bill had improved it "marginally". "It still holds enormous potential to damage our IT industry and the thousands of people who work in it," he said.

In particular, he is concerned about the bill's secrecy provisions that mostly prevent the disclosure of a notice. "A network can be compromised and the people on those networks won't even know," he said. "If they don't know there's a vulnerability in their system, they can't guard against it."

Mr Stanton also described the lack of a warrant framework around the issuing of notices under the bill as "extraordinary".

In most cases, authorities would still need an "underlying warrant or authorisation" to access the actual content of encrypted communications, but not to issue a notice.

Amendments at the last moment added additional safeguards to the TCN regime, but fell short of requiring judicial scrutiny each time one is issued.

"Given the risks and the power associated with those notices, we think that there's a severe lack of oversight," he added.


Fuel tax exposes class divide

Charismatic French President Emmanuel Macron has made a political faux-pas: his decision to jack up taxes on vehicle fuel as an environmental initiative to reduce auto emissions.

The plan has hit a raw nerve with French citizens — at least those outside the chic 6th Arrondissement of Paris — and unleashed a torrent of opposition and public protest nation-wide.

Obviously, no tax policy can ever justify public violence and vandalism, as witnessed in recent days (French citizens’ opposition to the tax plan has been shamelessly exploited by anarchists). However, peaceful opposition to the tax hike is understandable. As media reports have noted, the crisis has exposed the class divide between the metropolitan and political elites — living in their ‘green’ bubble — and the rest of the French population who rely on diesel cars to get around.

But even more concerning is Macron’s apparent ignorance of basic economics. Fuel excise is a regressive tax. This means that it tends to hit the poor disproportionately. As in Australia, many families in France rely on cars if they live in outer suburbia and regional areas. For them, fuel is not an optional extra but an essential purchase.

Therefore, their demand for fuel is likely to be price-inelastic: people will not necessarily reduce their purchase of fuel when the price goes up.

Instead, families will be forced to cover the hike by cutting their spending elsewhere; such as food and clothing. Hence, raising tax on fuel will hurt the poor but won’t necessarily reduce fuel consumption — which defeats the whole point of the policy.

And this reflects an even greater problem facing not just France, but other advanced economies including the United States and Canada: the growing tension between ‘going green’ and avoiding regressive polices that disproportionately impact the poor.

We are grappling with the same problems in Australia — we want to reduce our emissions but don’t want rising energy costs for families.

In a partial back-down, Macron has now agreed to suspend the fuel tax increase but it may not be enough. This latest French revolution should be an economics 101 lesson for President Macron on the fallacy of regressive green policies — and a warning to our own politicians in the Canberra bubble.


Education inequity isn’t just about money

It's also about chaotic classrooms

Opponents of non-government schools often claim Australia’s school system is grossly inequitable. But this is not true.

Multiple international OECD reports have concluded the same thing: Australia has lower inequity than the OECD average. That is, student socio-economic status has less of an impact on student achievement in Australia than it does on average in the OECD.

A recent OECD report attributed 11.7% of the variation in Australian students’ science scores to socio-economic status, compared with the 12.9% OECD average and 16.8% in top-performing country, Singapore.

While on average, students from lower socio-economic backgrounds tend to have lower academic performance, many students — known as ‘resilient’ students — buck this trend and perform relatively well.

So how can we produce more resilient students? An OECD study on the topic found there is no significant relationship between school resources and the proportion of resilient students in Australia. While extra money for schools would certainly help in some developing countries, in countries like Australia — which already has relatively high school funding levels — more funds are unlikely to spark significant improvement, due to diminishing marginal returns on spending.

However, the same OECD study found there is a significant relationship between having a classroom climate conducive to learning — in other words, orderly classes and less student disruption — and student resilience in Australia. We know that Australia’s school system appears to have an issue with student misbehaviour. So perhaps the best policy approach to help disadvantaged students, is to focus on improving school climate in Australia, which wouldn’t necessarily require much more taxpayer funding.

It’s unfortunate that the political discourse about educational disadvantage is limited to ‘fairer funding’. In reality, there are other important issues being neglected.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

1 comment:

Paul said...

The rise in French fuel taxes isn't the cause of the riots, it's merely the final trigger.