Thursday, February 27, 2020

Neo-Nazis among Australia's most challenging security threats, ASIO boss Mike Burgess warns

If so, where are they?  We've seen nothing of them.  I think this is just a red herring to deflect attention from the real threat: Muslim Jihadis

Neo-Nazis are emerging as one of Australia's most challenging security threats, according to the country's top intelligence chief.

In a rare public address from inside ASIO's heavily fortified Canberra headquarters, Mr Burgess said foreign espionage and interference activities against Australia were higher now than at any time during the Cold War.

While delivering ASIO's annual threat assessment, the director-general warned a terrorist attack on Australia was still "probable" and it was "truly disturbing" to see extremists trying to recruit children as young as 13 or 14.

And he said "violent Islamic extremism", embodied by Islamic State and al'Qaida, remained ASIO's top concern.

"The number of terrorism leads we are investigating right now has doubled since this time last year," Mr Burgess told an audience of diplomats and intelligence officers.

"The character of terrorism will continue to evolve and we believe that it will take on a more dispersed and diversified face."

Mr Burgess said right-wing extremism had been in "ASIO's sights for some time", but had obviously come into "sharp, terrible focus" following last year's Christchurch mass shooting.

"In Australia, the extreme right-wing threat is real and it is growing," he said.

"In suburbs around Australia, small cells regularly meet to salute Nazi flags, inspect weapons, train in combat and share their hateful ideology," he said.

Far right-wing groups are now more organised and security conscious than they were in previous years according to the ASIO boss, who has revealed Australian extremists are seeking to connect with like-minded individuals in other parts of the world.

In a previously undisclosed case from earlier this year, ASIO advice led to an Australian being blocked from leaving the country to "fight with an extreme right-wing group on a foreign battlefield".

"While these are small in number at this time in comparison to what we saw with foreign fighters heading to the Middle East, any development like this is very concerning," Mr Burgess observed.

"Meanwhile, extreme right-wing online forums such as The Base proliferate on the internet, and attract international memberships, including from Australians."

The ASIO boss said his organisation expected such groups would "remain an enduring threat, making more use of online propaganda to spread their messages of hate".

"While we would expect any right-wing-extremist-inspired attack in Australia to be low capability — i.e. a knife, gun or vehicle attack — more sophisticated attacks are possible."


Exploration under the gas pump in Victoria

Green/Left ban on gas exploration is costing Victorians

As gas emerges as the politically palatable alternative to coal, pressure is building from within the Andrews government to end the five-year moratorium on onshore conventional gas exploration in Victoria. The shift by Labor figures follows mounting pressure from unions, industry and consumers.

It comes after Scott Morrison issued a passionate plea for gas supplies in NSW and Victoria to be unlocked, declaring there is “no credible energy transition plan for an economy like Australia which does not involve greater use of gas as an important transition fuel”.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair Rod Sims has repeatedly called on NSW and Victoria to lift their bans, declaring in August: “If we really want permanently lower prices in the south we need more gas in the south.” Santos’s Narrabri project, with potential to fill half of NSW’s domestic supply, has been a particular bone of contention, with approvals continually delayed by the state.

The federal government is pushing for a national gas reservation policy to improve supplies for manufacturers and heavy industry, along with a price measure to the gas export trigger to ensure the national market is operating efficiently. The Australian Energy Market Operator predicts that offshore gas supplies in Bass Strait are unlikely to meet Victoria’s needs ­beyond the next five years. AEMO estimated late last year that coal would contribute less than a third of power supply in the grid by 2040 as demand for gas and other ­renewables surges.

The Morrison government has struck a $2bn deal with the NSW government to pay for carbon abatement and energy projects in return for increased production of natural gas. It says it will not fund a similar deal with Victoria unless the ban on onshore gas exploration is lifted.

With the results of a geological survey of the state’s onshore ­conventional gas resources expected next month, ahead of the expiration of the moratorium on June 30, energy experts say the Victorian government faces a stark choice: it can either cease being the only state with a ban on conventional gas exploration or import more expensive, less environmentally friendly gas from ­interstate.

Far from banning conventional gas exploration, Queensland allows all forms of unconventional gas exploration, including fracking, and is home to almost 90 per cent of Australia’s 2P (proven and probable) gas reserves, and about 63 per cent of Australia’s 2C (best estimate of contingent) reserves. NSW permits conventional and unconventional exploration but the Berejiklian government frequently declares it has the “toughest” regulations in Australia, particularly in relation to fracking of coal-seam gas.

In 2014, the then O’Farrell government froze new CSG exploration licences and introduced exclusion zones, making residential areas in 152 local government areas of the state, including Sydney, “off limits”. While the freeze has since been lifted, no new licences have been granted.

The West Australian, South Australian and Northern Territory governments have all recently lifted their moratoriums on fracking, except in the southeast of South Australia where it is still prohibited. Tasmania maintains a fracking moratorium but allows conventional and unconventional gas exploration.

While Victorian state Labor MPs remain publicly tight-lipped about which way they are leaning on the conventional gas moratorium, internal sources say there is significant support within the right of the party for its overturning, including from Treasurer Tim Pallas, Resources Minister Jaclyn Symes and key factional powerbroker Adem Somyurek.

Energy and Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio — of the Socialist Left faction — has previously supported the moratorium but declined a request from The Australian to clarify her present position.

One source said they would “bet London to a brick” D’Ambrosio would continue to support the moratorium but others said they believed she could be persuaded to support its overturning should more senior members of her faction, including Premier Daniel Andrews, do so. The decision sits within Symes’s resources portfolio.

Australian Workers Union Victorian secretary Ben Davis is one ALP member who has been publicly critical of the moratorium since its inception, saying it is ­costing jobs. “It sends a terrible ­investment signal to gas companies and manufacturers alike,” Davis says. “I look forward to the review of the moratorium, and we’ll be campaigning and agitating to get it lifted.”

NSW-based federal opposition resources spokesman Joel Fitz­gibbon is another within the Labor camp who does not mince words in calling for the Andrews government to not only lift the moratorium on onshore conventional gas but also overturn its ban on ­unconventional gas exploration. “Every project, whether it involves fracking or not, should stand on its merits,” Fitzgibbon says. “Blanket bans make no sense.”

While all forms of gas mining involve the extraction of methane from kilometres below the earth’s surface, conventional gas extraction involves releasing gas trapped in sandstone, under solid rock, with minimal impact on the surrounding geology.

Unconventional gas is trapped in a coal seam or shale and is more difficult to extract, often but not ­always requiring fracking, or fracture stimulation, which involves pumping fluid down the gas well at high pressure to produce small cracks in the target rock reservoir.

Victoria’s moratorium on conventional onshore gas exploration dates back to May 2014, when Napthine government energy minister Russell Northe opted to suspend decisions on all onshore gas exploration in the state until after the November state election, which was won by Labor.

At the time the Coalition feared punishment at the ballot box if it approved a controversial application from Lakes Oil to drill for gas 1500m below Seaspray, in then Nationals leader Peter Ryan’s South Gippsland electorate. Far from lifting the suspension post-election, the new Andrews government maintained it, intro­ducing legislation in 2017 that placed a moratorium on all conventional onshore gas exploration and production until June 30 this year, and permanently banning all unconventional gas mining and exploration, including fracking.

Ahead of the 2018 state election, Andrews went a step further, making a yet-to-be-delivered promise to enshrine a ban on fracking in the state’s constitution. The state Coalition continues to oppose all unconventional gas ­exploration but this week renewed its calls to lift the moratorium on conventional onshore gas.

Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor says the “great irony” of Victoria importing ­increasing amounts of gas from Queensland is that 20 per cent to 40 per cent of Queensland gas is from coal seams.

“That’s exactly what they’re objecting to with their ban on unconventional gas — which they’re not even considering lifting — and yet they’re OK with importing coal-seam gas,” Taylor says.

Anti-fossil fuels groups are ramping up their campaigns ahead of the moratorium expiring. Friends of the Earth campaigns co-ordinator Cam Walker says he is “very concerned” about the possibility of the ban being lifted. “The greatest concern is the climate change implications of the methane that comes from fugitive emissions,” he says. “Looking to mainstream science, it’s clear that we need to stop producing new ­reserves of fossil fuels if we want to have the hope of keeping temperature rises under 1.5C globally.”

Grattan Institute energy program director Tony Wood says that unless one takes the Friends of The Earth approach of opposing all fossil fuel extraction, there is “no scientific justification” for banning conventional or even all unconventional gas exploration. He concedes lifting the ban on fracking is “too politically sensitive”.

As the June 30 sunset clause on the moratorium approaches, Victorian Lead Scientist Amanda ­Caples, a stakeholder advisory panel and a team of scientists have been commissioned by the Andrews government to complete a three-year, $40m inquiry into ­onshore conventional gas as part of the Victorian Gas Program.

One of the key questions they are addressing — which gas companies say they would have ­answered at no cost to the taxpayer had the moratorium not been imposed — is how much ­unconventional gas there actually is under Victoria, and therefore what impact it might be able to have in terms of keeping a lid on prices, creating regional jobs and saving manufacturing jobs.

As part of the gas program, scientists from the Victorian Geological Survey are developing comprehensive 3D geological models of the Otway and Gippsland basins, where most of Victoria’s onshore gas is believed to be located. The results of that investigation are expected to be made known next month.

Recent discoveries in the South Australian section of the Otway Basin, near Penola, have encouraged companies with acreages in western Victoria, including Beach Energy, Cooper Energy and Vintage Energy, to hold out hope of finding more gas on the eastern side of the state border.

While the decision on whether to lift the moratorium will be made by the politicians, and not the scientists, The Australian understands the Geological Survey team is working to compile “pre-competitive data” on prospective locations for gas wells.

Should the moratorium be lifted, this would allow the industry some minimal compensation for five years of lost work, in the form of being able to restart ahead of where it was when the moratorium was imposed.

‘Plenty of gas’

The gas program stakeholder advisory panel includes representatives from a wide range of interest groups, including the manufacturing industry, AWU, Victorian Farmers Federation, gas company Beach Energy, the Australian ­Industry Group, the Great South Coast Group (which represents councils in the Otway Basin, some of which have publicly voiced their support for lifting the moratorium), as well as green groups ­including Frack Free Moriac and Environment Victoria.

State Resources Minister Jac­lyn Symes says the gas program work will “inform decisions about potential onshore gas exploration”. Symes maintains that Australia “has plenty of gas”, blaming escalating prices on an ­increase in gas exports over the past five years and calling on the federal government to activate its domestic gas security mech­anism to put Australian consumers first.

But as AEMO forecasts a 34 per cent decrease in Victorian winter gas production by 2023 because of dwindling supplies in Bass Strait, it is clear the Andrews government is under pressure to increase supply, with new offshore exploration and production licences recently approved at state and commonwealth levels.

The state government, which has jurisdiction to three nautical miles (5.56km) from the coast, ­recently gave the go-ahead to two onshore-to-offshore wells being drilled by Beach Energy in the Otway Basin.

The wells are permitted under the moratorium, despite beginning on clifftops before extending 1.5km out to sea, kilometres under the earth’s surface.

While Victoria does import some gas via pipelines that connect it to the rest of the east coast gas market, it is a net exporter, with about two-thirds of the gas processed locally being used in the state, and the rest sent to neighbouring states.

If the state cannot produce enough of its own gas in coming years — or refuses to do so by maintaining the moratorium — it will need to import gas, predominantly via a pipeline from southwest Queensland, which AEMO has found would need to be seriously upgraded to carry larger volumes to Victoria.

As the ACCC has highlighted, Queensland gas already costs $2-$4 a gigajoule more than Victorian gas — or up to 50 per cent more.

Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association chief executive Andrew McConville says the industry remains hopeful that the Andrews government will “see sense” and lift the moratorium, given Victoria’s longstanding requirement for more natural gas, with 80 per cent of the state’s homes connected to more than 31,000km of gas mains distribution pipelines.

“The Victorian government’s renewable energy target (of 50 per cent by 2030) will also see the ­demand for natural gas increase,” McConville says.

“Modelling undertaken for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in 2017 assumes that as other sources of baseload power (coal) no longer become viable they are replaced by natural gas generation capacity.

“Under every scenario modelled for the department, natural gas has a bigger role to play in ­delivering energy stability to Victoria out to 2050.

“Unless new gas resources in Victoria are developed, families and businesses in the state will pay more than those in states continuing to develop new supply.”


Activist chief executives are ‘stealing’ from shareholders

It's not their money to spend on "good" causes

Every other day a corporate chief somewhere will declare, in sombre tones and often for applause, that business must take a stand on an issue for the sake of the community. These big-noting corporate chaps justify their grand plans for humanity in many ways.

They claim businesses have a legitimate interest in matters affecting the wider community in which they operate. Political leaders are not doing enough, they say. Workers and consumers want us to do this, they assure themselves.

While it is not evident how they canvassed the views of workers or consumers, it is patently clear these new activist chief executives are endearing themselves to other activists with the same ­visions for the planet.

These reasons for corporate activism were, more or less, laid out last week by John Denton, the first Australian to head the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce. He waved away as “completely ridiculous” the notion that corporate leaders should stick to their knitting. “This is our knitting,” Denton declared.

This is also the same tedious click-clacking sound emanating from many self-important business people who make up the Business Roundtable in the US, and swan around at Davos. They imagine their own beliefs are so brilliant they form a modern-day list of corporate commandments.

Like the harm that’s done to the human body from ingesting too much sugar, Denton’s attempt to encourage corporate bosses to be more activist is loaded with so much corporate saccharin it threatens to kill off the company as a vehicle to pool people’s money.

If activist chief executives, and their Paris-based spokesman, are impatient with politics, they could, of course, stand for parliament and spend other people’s money as a politician. In choosing much ­higher-paid gigs running companies and managing shareholders’ money, credibility comes from ­explaining how, at law, an activist chief executive fits in the company model. But this is where modern-day ­corporate preachers fall silent.

When was the last time any chief executive, let alone the bloke running the International Chamber of Commerce, discussed the agency costs of activist chief executives?

When did any of them last mention the importance of rules that govern how managers spend other people’s money?

Talking about such matters is painfully dull compared with setting out your vision for ­humanity. But the bigger reason they don’t ­address this dry issue of agency costs is that it might cramp their activist style. If chief executives admit to the agency costs they have created for shareholders by spending shareholders’ money on issues that have nothing to do with running a company, they might have to stop doing what earns them applause from their friends. It could even jeopardise them receiving an AO or an AC on Australia Day.

There is a deadly serious issue. Soon after the earliest companies were formed, separating the ownership of business ventures from management, agency costs were recognised as a critical issue.

How do the owners of a ­company stop management using shareholders’ money to feather their own nest? Or to put it more simply, how do owners stop ­employees stealing from them?

While some agency costs might be inevitable, others are ­entirely avoidable.

Doctrines of fiduciary duty evolved to regulate how managers use shareholders’ money. While managers learned they shouldn’t use shareholders’ money for their own benefit, they grew more creative about how they used shareholders’ money.

It was clearly wrong to take money from the petty cash tin and use it to buy yourself a new TV. And it was equally wrong for a manager to use the petty cash tin to pay for a romantic dinner with a lover. But what if the manager used shareholders’ money to pay for a big party for employees? This was probably legitimate because keeping employees happy makes for a more successful business. Similarly, using shareholders’ money to sponsor a local football or netball team might be good advertising, buying local goodwill that helps a business thrive.

But, of course, that way danger lay. As shareholders’ money began to be used in a wider range of ways, it became even clearer that some red-line rules were needed to separate legitimate uses of shareholders’ money from ­illegitimate ones.

To deal with these agency costs, company law established some sensible rules for managers, imposing duties on them to act in the best interests of shareholders, and the company, and basically preventing them from using other people’s money to line their own pockets.

Importantly, English and Australian common law dating back to the 19th century recognised that managers needed some flexibility to use shareholders money in a way that doesn’t directly benefit shareholders but does benefit the business, and thus shareholders, indirectly.

Courts apply the notion of shareholder primacy to separate legitimate from illegitimate uses of shareholders’ money by management. It means that the financial benefit to shareholders of expenditure for social purposes does not need to be immediate or direct or even terribly obvious — but it does need to exist, and be able to be demonstrated.

It is a deliberate furphy when activist chief executives and their spruikers claim that shareholder primacy must be dismantled because it ­requires managers to seek short-term profits. That is a straw man concocted by those who want no rules restraining chief executives from their glorious plans for the world.

The other straw man put up by activist chief executives is the claim that capitalism needs a clean-out. In fact, the clean-out is needed among the vainglorious chief executives, and their chamber of commerce boosters, who are creating a new, and egregious, set of agency costs for shareholders.

They want free rein to use other people’s money, not to line their pockets but to warm their hearts, and to earn kudos from other people like them.

Frankly, it is theft — idealistic theft, perhaps — but still theft. The fact Robin Hood stole money for noble purposes did not change the nature of his act: taking money from others without their consent.

Managers could ask shareholders to donate the profits they receive as dividends to a climate change fund. But to simply use company money on management’s pet causes without so much as a “by your leave” from shareholders is theft.

If activist chief executives think society should be putting more money into climate change or other noble causes, they should use their own money rather than shoving their sticky fingers into the retirement nest eggs of superannuants and ­investors.

And let’s be honest here. Much of the confiscation of shareholders’ money is done not for noble causes. There is a sizeable bullshit factor where chief executives seek self-aggrandisement rather than tangible outcomes.

It is not at all sexy to talk about rules that manage, and minimise, agency costs inherent in a public company where ownership is divorced from control. But this is a critical issue. And not just to protect today’s shareholders from a new form of theft.

If we allow chief executives and other activists to chip away at these foundations, they will end up destroying the company as a proven way to pool money from many people in order to do business.


Not learning to teach

As students returned to school recently, a new crop of graduate teachers was well-equipped to talk to them about the politics of diversity and the deconstruction of traditional education.

Sociology, diversity in education and debates over education funding have taken precedence over the teaching of literacy, numeracy and basic classroom management skills for new teachers.

At UTS, cultural competence is the chief goal of Beyond Culture: Diversity in Context. The subject analyses different features of culture like multiculturalism, indigeneity and disability which it claims are vital to the practice of teaching.

Critical Studies in Education and Practice at Charles Sturt University critiques traditional education methods through the prism of sexuality, ethics, citizenship and social sustainability. These are all put forward as necessary ways to modernise education.

Similarly, Teachers as Educational Innovators and Agents of Change at the University of Queensland tells students they need to bring a technological edge to their role as innovators of change. The outline states that this is a vital part of being “a future educational innovator and agent of change in classrooms and schools”.

These are just some of the baseline requirements universities have deemed essential for teacher education degrees across the country.

Before the 1990s, teachers were educated in specialist institutions before they were absorbed by the university sector.

Salisbury Teachers College – now part of the University of South Australia – outlined the necessities of teaching in the student handbook of 1968. The only time social institutions are mentioned is in the context of class management and child interaction.

In the course outline of 1960, Newcastle Teachers College summarised the importance of good social development of kids, child pedagogy and perception. It also looks at how to avoid straining the attention of young children for too long.

The modern belief that technology, cultural diversity, learning needs or even globalisation has changed the nature of teaching is fundamentally misguided.

The only thing that has changed is Australian universities and the decision to minimise the importance of teaching methods that work. This has reduced the quality of teaching degrees and with it the quality of teachers themselves.


Viewers unload on Eddie McGuire for DEFENDING Sam Newman over his blackface stunt

Viewers of a documentary featuring AFL great Adam Goodes have slammed Eddie McGuire for defending Sam Newman's infamous Footy Show blackface stunt. 

The Australian Dream, which had its television premiere on the ABC on Sunday night, focused on Goodes, who turned his back on the game after he retired in 2015 in the wake of an ugly racism row and years of booing from opposition fans.

The film includes a clip from a 1999 episode of the AFL Footy Show showing Newman with his face painted black as he imitated St Kilda champion Nicky Winmar, who had failed to turn up for a guest slot.

In the documentary, McGuire defended his long-time friend and colleague, who was born in 1945. 'He [Newman] didn't understand the nuance. He was a product of those times,' he said. 'He was a 60s 70s vaudevillian who was sending up Nicky Winmar because he didn't turn up on the show that night.'

McGuire's defense of Newman was criticised by some viewers on Sunday night. 'Sam Newman is disgusting, but Eddie McGuire is equally vile. Making excuses for his behaviour creates space for it to exist. Gutless to the end,' Seb Conway said on Twitter.


 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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