Monday, October 24, 2022

The problem of politics in sport again

This was raised but never settled decades ago, with boycotts of the Springboks in the Joh Bjelke Petertsen era.

I can see some reasons why the political opinions of sports people should be respected but this latest episode is absurd. Why is the political views not of the person but of that person's FATHER critical?

There is a basic judicial principle that a person is responsible for their own actions only, not for the actions of others -- even when the "other" is an ancestor. So it is simply unjust to hold Gina Rinehart responsible for something her father said in 1985. Yet so doing was what lost the Netballers their sponsorship. Their loss of their sponsorship was simple justice and a proper response to political fanaticism

There has been a tsunami of support for Gina Rinehart’s decision to walk away from her $15m sponsorship deal with Netball Australia. Rightly, outrage has been directed at players spurning an exceedingly generous and altruistic deal for reasons that range from the businesswoman’s own political views to offensive remarks made by her father 50 years ago.

Australians have clearly had a gutful of overpaid but under-informed sportspeople who think their personal opinions on matters outside their areas of expertise are worth inflicting on sport.

Sky News host Cory Bernardi says Australia’s sport is becoming controlled by “woke whingers” and “public… displays of virtuous hypocrisy”. “You’ve seen a bit on Sky News this week about sporting cancel culture, only this time it’s not the punters cancelling sports, it’s the players,” Mr Bernardi said. More
If only Woodside would likewise demand the Fremantle Dockers either stand up proudly for their sponsor or stop taking its money.

It’s high time too that Cricket Australia told the hitherto sainted Pat Cummins to put a sock in his criticism of Alinta Energy, the company that pays at least part of his enormous salary. Ricky Ponting was brave to point out the political posturing of older, richer players hurts young players who have not had the luxury of sponsorship deals that pay for big lifestyles replete with first-class flights and shiny four-wheel-drive cars. There is no doubt politics and sport cannot be completely divorced but it is tiresome to watch everything from netball to footy being subjected to, and damaged by, zealotry from undergraduate political activists dressed in green and gold.

It has now come to pass that every two-bob political opinion from every minor sport star not only deserves to be aired but indulged. Hypocrisy is no barrier. Jetsetting ex-footballers whose carbon footprint is surely only just less than Al Gore’s think they are entitled to chide Woodside for keeping the lights on in Western Australia and employing so many of their fellow West Australians. Woodside, whose activities are regulated to within an inch of its corporate life, and which pays a big chunk of the taxes Mark McGowan is now using to build everything from mental health facilities to desalination plants, is entitled to tell these sporting politicians to keep their personal political views out of sport.

Likewise, netballers are free to harbour whatever political views they wish, and indeed to act on their individual consciences. They can leave sport and enter politics if they are passionate about changing the world off the field. But for so long as they are on the field, and receive sponsorship money, the decent thing would be to say thank you to Rinehart for her generous deal.

Alas, good manners and gratitude are now apparently optional extras for our pampered players. No wonder so many Australians might be thrilled that Rinehart called their bluff.

Rinehart has been a terrific supporter of Australian sports from rowing and swimming to volleyball and synchronised swimming. And, of course, netball. Hancock also inked a deal with the Australian Olympic Committee to sponsor Australian teams at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, Paris 2024 Summer Olympics, the Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics in 2026, as well as the Youth Olympics and Pacific Games. Dismal results at the London Olympics led many sponsors to withdraw funding from Swimming Australia. After Rinehart stepped in with financial help, Australian swimmers in Tokyo produced best-ever performances.

Rinehart’s money goes directly to sports people so they can focus on their sport, rather than try to hold down a job and train too. During the Tokyo Olympics three-time Tokyo medallist Cate Campbell recognised the businesswoman’s contribution: “I don’t say this lightly, but Gina Rinehart saved swimming.”

The Hancock deal with Netball Australia would have provided a significant pay increase to players at a time when NA has millions of dollars of debt and the country faces a challenging economic outlook. The objections to Rinehart’s deal need to be understood against behind-the-scenes shenanigans by some players who apparently want NA to revisit a private equity deal rather than take money from Rinehart.

Diamonds players driving this fiasco have shown themselves to be both selfish and foolish. Imagine telling those who care for children afflicted with cancer to refuse $2m donated by the Hancock Group to the WA Telethon this past weekend. In total, mining companies donated millions more to the same terrific fundraiser, as did the WA government, using mining royalties.

Now it is over to NA to hold out the begging bowl in search of suitably woke corporate sponsors who will both indulge every political thought bubble an individual player has and keep paying the bills when those thought bubbles insult or injure the sponsor. Or will taxpayers be forced to foot the bill for the misdirected political activism of their players?


Australia's collapsing electricity system

Climate catastrophists are very keen to talk about tipping points. So let me steal their thunder and talk about the tipping point of the National Electricity Market (NEM) that connects five states and the ACT.

We were given a preview of the potential for collapse earlier this year when the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) suspended the market and took control as a last resort. Don’t think for a minute that this exercise was costless. There was an ex-post settling up with the companies ordered to provide power, adding several hundred million dollars to the escalating electricity bill that is then divvied up between households and businesses.

It’s worth pointing out here the ineptitude of AEMO. Most of us thought its leadership couldn’t get any worse than the now replaced American lawyer, Audrey Zibelman. (She left to join Google). But the current chief executive, Daniel Westerman, is even more committed to decarbonisation than Audrey, who at least placed a great deal of store on keeping the lights on.

Note here that there is a very small pool of potential candidates for this job – virtually all of them are big supporters of renewable energy. Because the states effectively own the NEM, they decide who gets the job. In other words, any reservation that the Coalition minister, Angus Taylor, might have had about this appointment would have made little difference.

The totally unbelievable modelling that AEMO puts out – see the latest Integrated System Plan – is a classic case of garbage in-garbage out. The assumptions ensure that there is no problem with the electricity grid quickly transforming to being almost totally reliant on renewable energy. In particular, heroic (and convenient) guesses are made about the average capacity factors of wind and solar – much higher than actual data from overseas – as well as the likelihood of lengthy periods in which wind and solar won’t work at all.

But when it comes to grid management, it’s not just about averages but also about catering for the tails of distributions – unlikely events but with potentially serious consequences. A grid cannot be deemed robust unless it is able to provide reliable power in these circumstances.

The alternative approach that AEMO uses is to hope these unusual events won’t occur but, in any case, some new affordable technology will miraculously emerge that should eliminate any problems. The more cautious approach to ensure continuous power is to insist that firming capacity is available on a 1:1 ratio – that is, enough firming capacity to fully stand in place of renewable energy for potentially lengthy periods. Needless to say, this redundancy makes the system very expensive, which is one of the reasons why higher electricity prices are inevitable.

Absent a capacity mechanism – the states won’t agree – and the ongoing early exit of 24/7 coal-fired plants, the NEM is becoming extraordinarily fragile. Where once it was extremely uncommon for AEMO to intervene in the daily operations of the grid, it is now a frequent occurrence. Further pressure will be felt with the closure of the Liddell coal-fired plant next year – at its peak, it had a capacity of 2000 megawatts.

Just three years later, the coal-fired and largest power plant in Australia, Origin Energy’s Eraring plant, is expected to close. Its current capacity is close to 3000 MW and supplies a quarter of New South Wales’ electricity demand. (It’s likely that the NSW government will have to step in to ensure that this plant continues to operate, in a deal akin to the secret arrangement that the Victorian government has with Energy Australia in respect of the Yallourn plant.)

The extremely badly run AGL Energy, egged on by major shareholder, Mike Cannon-Brookes (who holds just over 11 per cent of the registry), has announced that it will shut its coal-fired plant in Victoria – Loy Yang A – ten years earlier than expected, in 2035. This plant has a capacity of over 2000 MW, which is 30 per cent of Victoria’s demand. Not only is this plant relatively new but it also runs off brown coal for which there is no export potential. What this means is that a relatively low-cost input is guaranteed for this plant.

The broader point to be made is that the hastened exit of coal from the NEM – I haven’t mentioned that Queensland expects to be out of coal-fired generation by 2035 – should be ringing serious alarm bells right now. But if anything, the federal Climate Change and Energy Minister, Chris Bowen, seems to regard these developments as good news. After all, he keeps telling us about the importance of emissions reduction and the government’s legislated targets.

What he seems to be blissfully unaware of is the sheer impossibility of replacing coal-fired generation with alternative affordable and reliable sources within the necessary timeframe – if ever. He talks about the need for 10,000 additional kilometres of transmission lines. But given the need to obtain necessary easements (often in the face of strenuous local objections) and the shortage of workers and materials, that ain’t going to happen any time soon.

Even the rollout of renewable energy projects, including the growing popularity of the much more expensive offshore wind turbines, is likely to be slow notwithstanding the substantial subsidies that are on offer.

The decision by the states to essentially go their own ways by devising their own energy plans is further undermining any integrity the planning of the NEM may have had. It’s easy to see that, in the event of blackouts and power rationing, it will be each state for itself, with interconnectors possibly disabled.

The chief executive of one of the big energy operators, Alinta Energy, has belled the cat on what is going to happen with electricity prices. After rising by around 25 per cent this year, the expectation is that they will rise a further 35 per cent next year – figures endorsed by the Australian Energy Regulator. He points out that a coal-fired plant that cost his company $1 billion will need $8 billion in replacement expenditure on renewable installations and the necessary supports.

Of course, we can kiss goodbye to the $275 cut to the annual household electricity bill promised by our ‘I stand by the modelling’ Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese. But that loss may prove small beer in the future scheme of things.


Tasmania's Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous defends Bible reading at a school graduation

Opposition to a planned biblical reading about marriage at a girls' school graduation mass shows society is becoming "increasingly hostile to Christian beliefs", according to Tasmania's Catholic archbishop

Hobart Catholic school St Mary's College made headlines last week when concerns were raised about the chosen reading for its graduation mass — Ephesians 5: 21-23 — which includes:

"Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord, since as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife; and as the Church submits to Christ, so should wives submit to their husbands, in everything."

After concern among staff, students and parents, and backlash on social media, Archbishop Julian Porteous agreed to change the reading, and provided an alternative.

The section of Ephesians 5 is the reading for the day, but, being an ordinary weekday, those choosing the readings have freedom to choose something else.

Questions were also asked about whether a reading about marriage was the best choice for an occasion that is celebrating academic achievement.

In his homily during Sunday's mass at the Guilford Young Chapel in Hobart, Archbishop Porteous said it was "not unusual for the teaching of sacred scripture to be at variance with the attitudes and ethos of our age".

"We now find ourselves as Catholics, as Christians, being criticised and persecuted because we believe what the scriptures teach and we desire to live by its imperatives, even when they are at variance with the ethos of our times," he said.


Teenagers will now be forced to study MATHS for their HSC exams after years of the often subject dreaded by many being optional

It's an important subject dreaded by thousands of students, but mathematics is soon to be a compulsory in the Higher School Certificate across New South Wales.

New senior syllabuses coming into effect in 2025 mean all Year 11 and Year 12 students must study maths from the following year.

The change means all students currently in Year 8 or younger will have to study maths to pass their HSC including sitting maths exams.

To prepare students for HSC level maths, the schools will reform maths courses between Year 7 and Year 10.

NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the change is happening to improve school leavers' career hopes. 'Maths helps develop skills for life, providing students with fundamental skills in problem-solving, analysis and reasoning that are essential no matter what career they choose,' she said.

She said it is her 'vision' that every child has the maths skills they need in life, echoing what then-Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in 2019.

Maths has long been optional for senior students in NSW. In 2001 HSC students in Australia's most populous state had to choose either maths or science.

In 2019 the NSW Curriculum Review was released signalling a change. That year Ms Mitchell announced maths would be reintroduced as a compulsory subject in Years 11 and 12. But she stopped short of saying it would be a mandatory subject for the HSC. It will be in four years time.

There was increasing concern about the impact of declining numeracy amongst high school graduates because of waning interest in the subject.

The worry was school-leavers were beginning to display worsening skills in basic life functions such as budgeting, calculating shopping costs and account-keeping.

'Whether you are a carpenter or a software engineer, maths is a companion for life, we want to make sure that the new curriculum provides a level of maths concepts that will help every NSW student succeed in life after school,' Ms Mitchell said.

In 2019 nearly a quarter of NSW students opted against studying maths in their HSC




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