Sunday, August 18, 2019

Scott Morrison firm on climate change, in shades of Donald Trump

Scott Morrison has mirrored Donald Trump’s tough stand with G20 leaders in his negotiations with the Pacific Island Forum over climate change and coal — and emerged stronger as a result.

Australia refused to accept a communique that might satisfy the emotional needs of some regional leaders but would jeopardise Australia’s economic and regional security interests.

The red lines set by Australia were met and the final communique did not overstep progress made by the UN conference regarding the IPCC’s report on 1.5C warming.

The communique pulled back from mentioning coal or what actions member countries should take. Instead, leaders reaffirmed climate change as the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific and their commitment to the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Leaders acknowledged the challenge for the forum would be maintaining regional solidarity in the face of more intense political engagement, which may serve to divide the forum collective.

Along with other nations, Australia is being called upon to lift its ambition on climate change action before an already agreed timetable set for next year.

Mr Morrison’s challenge is not to allow Australia’s position to be misrepresented by vested interests. Australia has a story to tell on climate change action that is at stark odds with how it is often portrayed. Last year, Australia was among the world’s top investors in renewable energy in absolute terms and the biggest on a per capita basis.

Billions of dollars have been set aside for land-based programs, which are a big new focus for the IPCC.

A telling point before the backdown of demands at the Pacific Island Forum was that leaders asked for Australia to provide details on what it actually was doing.

The understanding of some leaders had to that point been informed by media reports.

The lack of support shown by New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern for Australia will no doubt be remembered, but is of little real consequence.

In terms of regional politics, the bigger concern is the disconnect between demands being made of Australia on fossil fuels and those of its strategic competitor, China. Australia is reducing coal use and providing cleaner alternatives for regional neighbours. But there is no meaningful demand that China cut its fossil fuel use or begin to reduce emissions until 2030.

Between January and June, China’s energy regulator has given the go-ahead to build 141 million tonnes of new annual coal production.

Chinese coal output rose 2.6 per cent in the first half of this year to 1.76 billion tonnes, and the China State Grid Corporation last month forecast that total coal-fired capacity was to grow by 25 per cent.

Given the rising stakes in the “Blue Pacific”, Mr Morrison would have been foolish to accept any invitation to accelerate Australia’s self-harm.


School Choice means more than a public-private pick

The Australian Scholarships Group (ASG)’s flagship annual publication — the Parents Report Card — dishes up some choice findings about school choice in Australia. It provides a sober account of what matters to parents and dispels the claims of school choice opponents.

For detractors, choice in schooling is scorned as synonymous with educational ‘segregation; into gated school communities. They argue choice is a luxury enjoyed by the rich, while the rest are ‘stuck’ with their local school.

But choice is about more than those who can afford to fork out for private school. Parents in NSW enjoy more options than in other states — for instance, with more selective schools and specialist performing arts and sports schools, all under the public school tent. But when it comes to choice, more is more.

And choice in public schools is now threatened by the crackdown on the number of out-of-area enrolments permitted in NSW. This makes it harder for parents to send children to schools on their way to work, or to where their siblings go, or where their needs are best served.

To be sure, for some parents, choice is a non-starter. And, by all means, parents are free to choose not to choose. But, most parents — and increasingly, their children — value choice and don’t take it lightly.

Many already opt for private school. Over 40% of students in high school and 31%  in primary attend a non-government school. Enrolment growth in independent schools, in particular, has been outpacing that of public schools.

A lot goes into the process, but the top considerations according to the ASG are a prospective schools’ reputation, sector, and performance. ABS data shows that for those at private school, reputation is by far the primary reason for choosing a school. For those at public schools, being close to home is the decisive factor.

ASG emphasises that ‘choosing a school with confidence’ is about finding the ‘right’ school, not necessarily the so-called ‘best’ school. This reflects that school reputations are formed by more than scouting the MySchool website ­­— though the tool certainly doesn’t hurt.

For many, choosing a school is also not a decision hatched overnight. 42% considered their high school before commencing primary school — including 61% of those in independent schools, though only 33% in public schools. Another study found one in four consider schools from the time of a child’s birth.

It’s true that choice is not enjoyed equally and fully by everyone. The main barriers reported are cost, waiting lists, and zoning — with barriers more commonly reported by parents of children in public schools.

Cost of some schools is prohibitive for many parents; more than two-thirds report feeling the pinch financially. More efforts to make private school affordable can relieve some of this pressure and make it a viable option.

Waiting lists are tough to nudge, but it pays to remember that they are an indication of demand. One way waiting lists could be reduced is for there to be a greater supply of desirable schools.

The zoning of school catchments compels students of public schools to go local – even if they would prefer to go out-of-area. Zoning also means the composition of schools is less diverse than they would be otherwise – since local areas tend to share demographics. Zoning hurts those living in disadvantaged areas the most — forcing them to pick between public and private, rather than weighing up diverse school offers.

OECD research has argued that to deliver on its promise, choice must be ‘real, relevant, and meaningful’. In Australia, choice needs to be more than just a public-private pick.


Let us now praise masculine men

(Alludes to Wisdom of Sirach 44:1)

On Tuesday afternoon a handful of men ran into the face of danger. Going about their business only seconds before, they confronted a man brandishing a bloody knife, pinning him down in the middle of a bustling Sydney street. The men who stopped further bloodshed have been called heroes, and they will be recognised for their courage. In passing, can we praise masculinity too? Or is that too controversial in an age when masculinity is raised only to condemn what is wrong with men and to preach how to change them.

Today, any celebration of masculinity is limited to praising men who do more housework and get involved with their kids, men who are able to cry, empathise with women and express their feelings. All very important stuff. But none of that would have restrained a crazed man who was threatening more violent carnage in Sydney’s CBD. Can we praise men who do both please?

Lawyer John Bamford picked up a wicker chair from the cafe he was in, raced outside and chased the attacker, 21-year-old Mert Ney, who was bloodied, jumping on a car bonnet while wielding his knife and screaming at passers-by. Ney was jammed to the ground by men using a milk crate and two chairs. Bamford returned the chair to the cafe and ordered a pie.

Traffic controller Steven Georgiadis tried to tackle Ney to the ground. “As soon as I saw the knife I moved to the side so I could crash tackle him sideways so he wouldn’t stab me,” said Georgiadis, who managed to stand on the bloody knife.

From their office window, brothers Luke and Paul O’Shaughnessy saw the mayhem unfolding in the street below and raced down to help. They followed a trail of blood to the man who is alleged to have murdered one woman and stabbed another. “(We) were like ‘Right, where is he? Where is he?’ … I’m shouting, because I’m a bit more risk-averse than Luke, (who is) straight in there.”

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller described these men as heroes of the highest order. It is also true that the heroes were all men exhibiting traits now routinely derided as part of traditional masculinity — brute force and ­aggression, taking charge, adrenalin pumping, taking risks.

Do we fear praising masculinity in case it leads to a scolding for encouraging toxic masculinity?

It’s not an unreasonable fear because the conflation of masculinity with toxic masculinity, to use the phrase favoured by the roving gender police, has become routine. This common sleight of hand to use gender to confect some crudely defined phenomenon stokes pointless gender wars and risks harming both men and women.

No one in their right mind endorses or condones or whitewashes genuinely toxic behaviour, let alone violence. A beautiful woman, Michaela Dunn, died on Tuesday allegedly at the hands of a man. Another innocent woman, Lin Bo, was stabbed, allegedly by the same man. But condemning violence should not be conflated with a male pathology.

The conflation of traditional masculinity with the poorly defined “toxic masculinity” won’t stop bad behaviour because when words lose their meaning, they lose their punch. Take the Gillette ad, “The Best Men Can Be”, where Procter & Gamble tried to hijack this latest fad to turn a profit. Proving that consumers are not fools, it didn’t work. This month, P&G reported a net loss of $US5.24 billion ($7.73bn) for the quarter ending June 30. The company said men today like more facial hair. The company could have added that men today don’t like being told that masculinity needs to be redefined by a preachy razor ad showing a series of men behaving badly. While whoops of delight came from Jane Caro and Clementine Ford, more thoughtful viewers saw an advert with as much nuance as a lightning bolt from God.

Perhaps Gillette’s next foray into “The Best Men Can Be” will include some vision of those brave men saving Sydneysiders from further violence earlier this week. It does no one any favours when gender is used as a cheap weapon, a stunt for ulterior motives.

This week, for example, former foreign minister Julie Bishop fronted a camera, again, to talk about her time in politics, again, this time on Andrew Denton’s Interview program on the Seven Network.

Repeating a story she has told many times, Bishop said that if a woman was the only female voice in the room, men showed a “gender deafness”. “It’s as if they just don’t seem to hear you,” she said.

How often has this happened to her? If it was once, maybe it was an innocent oversight? If it’s more than once, then that deserves a bit of prodding too. For every Julie Bishop who complains, in sweeping terms, about “gender deafness”, there is someone like me who has sat in many board meetings over many years as the only female voice and never experienced gender deafness, only respect and courtesy. But, because I don’t talk about my thoroughly normal experiences in all-male meetings, and Bishop complains endlessly about hers, we are encouraged to treat “gender deafness” as a widespread, deeply entrenched phenomenon that treats women as second-class ­citizens.

Predictably, the movement against toxic masculinity has become an open invitation for some women to grandstand about all kinds of silly, unproven claims, warping our understanding of the true state of affairs between men and women. And as Franklin D. Roosevelt said: “Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.” Even if it is not a lie, repeating the tale of a single experience over and over again does not turn it into a wicked gender-based phenomenon either.

There is only one thing worse than Julia Gillard making claims about misogyny when her leadership tanked: that is hearing Bishop say this week that she was disgusted by the treatment of Australia’s first female prime minister, when Bishop said nothing about it when it was apparently happening. It’s like Bishop’s recent conviction that the Liberal Party has a problem with women, expressed only after she lost the leadership contest last year.

It’s time for the former foreign minister to draw stumps on her stage show because her smiling stage face can’t disguise the sour grapes. When men treat women poorly, it should be called out. And vice versa, if equality means anything. But credibility comes from acting on these matters when you have the power to change things, not afterwards as a stunt to get attention. After all, the bystander is sometimes as bad as the bully.

Bishop’s diminishing credibility aside, there is a far more serious side to the gender zealotry unfolding today. As The Australian reported this week, there are real concerns that NSW crown prosecutors are running sexual assault trials with insufficient regard for the strength of the evidence. One of Sydney’s most prominent criminal lawyers, Greg Walsh, who has acted for alleged victims and defendants, told this newspaper that the “hysteria”, the “zealous” and “activist” prosecutions had “gone too far”. “They (sexual assault cases) are becoming a cause celebre, they are just out of control,” Walsh said.

Lawyer Chris Murphy, another well-known Sydney criminal lawyer, said prosecutors were undoubtedly feeling the potential threat of public condemnation if they didn’t proceed to trial, and go hard in court. It was leading to especially aggressive tactics, Murphy said, with critical evidence being withheld from the defence in some trials.

Murphy cited the recent rape trial of Wolf Creek star John Jarratt, who was acquitted within hours of the jury retiring to consider the verdict. Murphy, who acted for Jarratt, said he had never seen “a more undeserving, weak” crown case go to trial.

Last week, a District Court judge implored the NSW parliament to consider changing laws that are aimed at protecting rape victims but are causing a serious injustice for defendants. The judge is presiding over a case where a man accused of rape is not allowed to bring evidence of 12 incidents in which his female accuser has made false complaints about sexual abuse. On two separate occasions, the woman made false reports to the police, and after being investigated she admitted fabricating the sexual assault allegations. The judge was precluded by law from allowing evidence of the woman’s history of making false claims of sexual assault because of laws that were introduced to stop “offensive and demeaning” cross-examination of an accuser’s sexual history. He described this as an “affront to justice”.

Gender zealotry is having a real impact on our culture and our legal system. It stops us publicly praising the kind of masculinity that unfolded on King Street in Sydney this week. And a fixation with gender is not a win for women either because when women make silly claims, they lose credibility.

The legal consequences are even more troubling given the pressure on prosecutors to proceed with flawed sexual assault trials. If it makes it harder to reform unjust laws, then surely it is time for more women to reconsider their role in stoking gender zealotry. After all, women who make false claims do real damage to genuine victims, and they should face the music for their lies.


Council's new 'meat-free Mondays' to cop BBQ protest

You do get a lot of ratbags on local councils

A meat-eating councillor plans to protest an inner-Melbourne local government meeting next week by hosting a barbecue after the council voted to ban meat on Mondays.

The Greens-led City of Moreland on Wednesday agreed to change its catering contracts to only serve vegetarian food at all council events held on Mondays.

Locals attending council-run events will be affected, as well as councillors at their weekly Monday briefings which are held over a buffet dinner.

The move comes amid a push by a crossbench MP for the Victorian Parliament to go vegan every Monday to stymie greenhouse emissions. Moreland councillor Oscar Yildiz, who quit the Labor Party last year, voted against the motion, labelling it "ridiculous". On Friday morning, he floated the idea of setting up a barbecue across the road from the Coburg council in protest during next Monday's briefing.

"I think we're becoming a sort of dictatorship council," he told The Age. "I didn't get elected by the people of Moreland to ban meat or ban Australia Day or ban parking down Sydney Road."

Animal agriculture is a major polluter and reducing meat consumption is considered a way for individuals to reduce their impact on climate change.

City of Moreland declared a climate emergency last September, and supporting councillors say having meat-free Mondays is a simple way to take action.

"We've declared a climate emergency, but what are we actually doing about it?" said mayor Natalie Abboud at the Wednesday night meeting. "I think it's acceptable that we put our mouths where our money is."

Greens councillor Dale Martin, who moved the amendment, said it was one of the few things Moreland Council could do to reduce its emissions. "Council has a very, very limited sphere of influence in the agriculture space, especially being an inner city council," he said. "We can't be going around expecting our residents to be reducing their emissions without first trying to reduce our own."

He said his colleagues should recognise this would generally impact just one meal a week for the Monday night briefing. Caterers would also need to serve only vegetarian options at other functions or events held on a Monday.

Cr Martin had the support of Cr Abboud and councillors Mark Riley, Jess Dorney and Sue Bolton. The amendment was opposed by Cr Yildiz and councillors John Kavanagh, Ali Irfanli and Lambros Tapinos.

"In September last year council unanimously declared a climate emergency, while some on council are happy with climate platitudes," Cr Martin told The Age on Friday.

"I hope this amendment inspires all councillors to attend future briefings as the data on our website currently shows attendance from some councillors has historically been very poor on a Monday night."

Cr Yildiz said ratepayers often didn't realise councillors were not full-time staff on cushy salaries. "I leave work at 5.30pm to go to council, get there by say 6pm and this is not exactly an a la carte silver service meal we get.

"It's only one meal, but it's only once a week anyway. It's the only meal that we have.

"And you want to deny my freedom of having meat on that day, like really?"

Cr Yildiz said he first got the idea of a barbecue from a ratepayer on Facebook. If it goes ahead, weather permitting, he said he would have vegetarian options and would hope to feed local rough sleepers.

It comes as crossbench MP Andy Meddick, from the Animal Justice Party, campaigns for the Victorian Parliament to go vegan every Monday. Mr Meddick, who is vegan, cited a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report as evidence that food production needed to change for the good of the planet.

The proposal is set to be debated in the upper house and could eventually go to a vote. However, it could proceed without the support of a majority of MPs.

Mr Meddick’s team will lobby the Victorian Parliament’s house committee to make the change, but they believe the proposal would carry greater gravitas if it were passed in the upper house.

His motion says raising animals for human consumption “is a leading cause of the climate emergency” and meat-free Mondays would be a step towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


PNG’s debt overture to Beijing rings alarm bells

On a cold Canberra morning 18 days ago, Scott Morrison stood alongside Prime Minister James Marape at Parliament House, declaring Australia had “no truer friend” than Papua New Guinea.

Marape, on an official visit with full red carpet treatment, said he came to Australia as “friend and family”, and that for PNG there was no relationship “more important than our relationship with Canberra”.

But back on home soil this week, Marape indicated PNG’s relationship with China could soon rival its ties with Australia, in crude financial terms at least.

After a meeting with Chinese ambassador Xue Bing in Port Mores­by on Wednesday, Marape made a series of announcements that would have set heads spinning in the Australian government’s new Office of the Pacific.

Most alarming for Australia was a request — publicised in an official statement from Marape’s office — by PNG for Chinese help to refinance its entire $11.8 billion government debt.

In a statement, Marape said he had asked the ambassador formally to convey the request to Beijing, and for PNG’s central bank to work directly with the People’s Bank of China “in ensuring that consultations are under way”.

Also concerning was the foreshadowing of new deals with China to build ports and airfields, to be discussed on Marape’s imminent state visit to Beijing.

Wider play

The idea that PNG could consolidate its government borrowings under a single Chinese loan would seem to be a bizarre move for a leader who pledged to “take back” PNG’s economy from foreigners, leading some to see a wider play.

As one long-time PNG observer says: “It looks like a massive China-sanctioned shit-stir for Australia.”

Marape back-pedalled on his statement yesterday, saying his government also would look to the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and “some other ­possible non-traditional partners”, to secure low-cost and concessional loans to restructure his ­country’s debt. He says there will be “no more unnecessary loans except to refinance our expensive loans and for key enabling economic infrastructure”.

But strategic experts say the prospect of PNG becoming ensnared in a Chinese debt trap is not one that can be taken lightly.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings says there is now a familiar pattern of China luring developing nations to accept loans they cannot afford, forcing them to make political commitments to Beijing or hand over key assets.

He cites Sri Lanka’s experience, where it was forced to surrender the southern port of Hambantota to Beijing on a 99-year lease after defaulting on a Belt and Road Initiative loan, as well as surging Chinese debt in Africa.

“Given our geography, this is something we have to pay very close attention to,” Jennings says. “Frankly, PNG is of immense strategic importance to us. We saw that in World War II. It is the first buffer of any big strategic threat that might develop for Australia.

“And for that country to find itself under the thumb of Chinese financiers I think would be extremely dangerous.

Morrison, who will meet regional leaders in Tuvalu next week at the Pacific Island Forum, avoids directly addressing the question of Chinese influence in the Pacific.

But he has a simple message for Pacific leaders that succinctly sums up the problem, without antag­onising Beijing.

Australia, he says, wants to ­ensure “each and every one of those nations are as independent and as sovereign and as much in charge of their future as they ­possibly can be”.


 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

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