Thursday, February 23, 2023

Government plans to protect marine area the size of Germany around Macquarie Island

This is pretty reasonable as environmental lockouts go. The only habitation on the island is a government research station -- so people in general will not be affected. And allowing use of the existing fish resource is unusually realistic too. Allowing some possibilty of expanding fishing would however have been desirable

image from

The federal government has confirmed its commitment to tackling Australia's extinction crisis by announcing a plan to strengthen protections of globally important waters off the south-east coast.

An area roughly the size of Germany is set to be added to Australia's protected marine zones, safeguarding the future of millions of penguins, seals and sea birds on Macquarie Island.

The remote and rugged island, halfway between the main island of Tasmania and Antarctica, hosts up to 100,000 seals and 4 million penguins, including the royal penguin, which is found nowhere else in the world.

Its shores are the breeding ground for several species of albatross, including the endangered Grey-headed Albatross, and an abundance of sea life that visit its waters, including whales.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek today announced the plan to triple the size of the marine park, most of which will have high-level protections and total fishing bans.

The plan aligns with the government's pledge to protect 30 per cent of Australia's land and 30 per cent of Australia's oceans by 2030.

"Our proposal is that the waters around Macquarie Island — the whole exclusive economic zone — will become marine park," Ms Plibersek told the ABC.

The proposal, which will open for public consultation in March, has been celebrated by conservationists. "Minister Plibersek said last year that the Albanese government wants to re-establish Australia as a global leader in ocean conservation," Richard Leck from WWF Australia said. "This is the type of proposal that will help re-establish our leadership."

Fiona Maxwell from Pew Charitable Trusts said the proposal "opens the door to a once-in-a-decade opportunity to increase protection for one of the most unique environments on the planet".

Seafood industry unhappy with proposal

The waters are also home to a fishery which is operated by two companies that catch the expensive and boutique Patagonian toothfish and which the minister says is "operating at world's best practice on reducing bycatch".

"It shows that a sustainable fishery is compatible with conservation."

The government's proposal allows fishing to continue in areas the companies currently operate in, and also allows room for the industry to move or expand in the future.

But the surrounding waters would be off-limits to all fishing.

Veronica Papacosta, chief executive of Seafood Industry Australia, said the proposal sidelined the fishing industry, and the government had been "hijacked" by an environmental group.

Ms Papacosta did not raise any problems about the proposal itself, but said she was angered by "the process" which "sidelined" the industry's views in favour of environmental organisations.

"It puts chills down our spine to think that this is how we're going to move forward with the Albanese government," Ms Papacosta said.

She said the fishing operations in the area were best practice, and should have been rewarded for that.

"What else is on their agenda? What else is it that we're going to have to be OK with and we're going to have to accept as a decision?"

Asked about the industry's response, Ms Plibersek said: "They'll have an opportunity to make any comments they would like to, just as other members of the public will have an opportunity to make any comments during this consultation period in March."

Marine park 'a good start'

Ian Cresswell was a co-chief author of the recent State of the Environment report and led the oceans flagship at the CSIRO as well as sustainable fisheries assessments for the Commonwealth government.

He said the design of the park was well justified by science and it struck the right balance by allowing the existing fishing to continue.


Climate minister Bowen concedes gas rather than coal will be key in the transition to renewables

Following tense negotiations with the states ahead of Christmas, Albanese and Bowen unveiled a one-year plan imposing gas and coal price caps and providing rebates to some households and small businesses. The long-term fix was a post-2025 capacity mechanism, which dictates future investment in the grid and locks in supply for customers. After a five-hour meeting with energy ministers in December, Bowen announced the mechanism would support dispatchable renewables ahead of coal and gas.

Bowen acknowledges that reducing emissions by 43 per cent before the end of the decade and having 82 per cent renewables in the grid within 84 months is “ambitious”. But with the right policy settings in place, he believes Australians “have shown they’ll take it up”.

“That’s why the capacity mechanism is so important because it only supports dispatchable renewables. Just coming along and saying ‘I’ll build a solar farm’ is not enough to get support out of the capacity mechanism. You’ve got to show we can call on it when we need it. Hence, you need storage.”

Bowen warns that not having enough renewables in place when coal exits the grid is a recipe for disaster.

“We’ve got to be getting it on before (gas exits). Gas will play a role … for the foreseeable future. Because the one thing about gas, I don’t regard it as a low-emissions fuel or a transition fuel, but what I do regard it as is a flexible fuel.”

“Whereas once you turn a coal-fired power station on, that baby’s burning for the foreseeable future; you can turn gas on and off for 15 minutes. That’s necessary for peaking and firming with renewables. For the entire grid, having gas there at least as a fallback is important for the foreseeable future.”

Despite his ambition, Bowen wants to stay put “for several terms … to bed down what we need to do. If the prime minister came to me tomorrow and said, ‘You know, there’s a chance to do another job’, I’d say, ‘Thanks, boss, but I’m happy doing what I’m doing’.”

“We’ve got a lot more to do. And I hope and intend and expect to be in this job for much more than three years. Yes, we’re accountable to the people in three years’ time for what we’ve done. But I see that as a report back to the people.”

Bowen speaks with scientists, retired bureaucrats and academics for input on “policy conundrums or just general challenges and opportunities” but seeks out Keating for his political advice.

“I still talk to Paul a lot. Obviously, he has strong views about life but you’re never worse off from a conversation with Paul. Even if you don’t agree with what he said. (On climate, he says) ‘Mate, this is the main game. This is the 2020s equivalent to what Bob (Hawke) and I did in the 1980s. You’ve got to get this right’.”


Australians experienced their largest real wage decline on record in 2022

One of the great evils of inflation

Australians have experienced their largest real wage decline on record, with nominal wages growing by 3.3 per cent in 2022, well below inflation of 7.8 per cent.

The Wage Price Index (WPI) rose by 0.8 per cent in the December quarter, lifting annual wages growth to 3.3 per cent, according to new Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

It means the annual pace of wage growth increased slightly by the end of December, up from 3.2 per cent in the September quarter, which was smaller than expected.

And that means the 'real' value of wages declined by 4.5 per cent in 2022, the biggest deterioration on record.

Economists say it's obvious that workers aren't to blame for Australia's inflation, and the Reserve Bank should stop fixating on them.

"To blame workers for current inflation while they experience unprecedented real wage drops, and companies post surging profits, is economic gaslighting of the highest order," said Matt Grudnoff, senior economist at the Australia Institute.

"This data shows fears of a 'wage-price spiral' similar to the 1970s are a speculative fantasy.

"That story is now itself a risk to the Australian economy. Australians are not living in the 70s. We are falling behind on the cost-of-living in 2023."

Inflation continues to erode the real value of wages
With annual inflation running at 7.8 per cent, wages need to be growing by 7.8 per cent to maintain their purchasing power.

But since nominal wages only grew by 3.3 per cent in 2022, workers have been unable to purchase the same amount of goods with the wages they're being paid.

The "real" value of workers' wages declined by 4.5 per cent over the last 12 months as prices — and some profits — have run well ahead of aggregate wage increases.

David Bassanese, the chief economist at BetaShares, said the "marked acceleration in consumer prices" over the past year cannot be blamed on runaway wage growth.

"Households have faced a drastic cut in real wages," he said.

"Instead, the lift in inflation has reflected a range of non-wage cost factors and the relative ease with which business has been able to pass on these costs without overly crimping their profit margins.

"This reflects strong underlying consumer demand but also areas of the economy where competition is arguably not as strong as it should be," he said.

Callam Pickering, APAC economist at global job site Indeed, has also highlighted the predicament facing workers.

"While Australian wages are growing at their fastest pace in a decade, the reality is that the purchasing power of Australian incomes has crashed," Mr Pickering said.

"The disconnect between wage growth and inflation is devastating for households across the country, with cost-of-living pressures easily outstripping wage gains."

RBA's fortnight-old forecasts already wrong
However, economists still expect the RBA to keep hiking interest rates in coming months.

In its February Statement on Monetary Policy, the RBA said consumer spending was still robust, and it was being supported by households saving less than they had been.

It said the household saving ratio has been declining as a result, to be closer to, but still slightly above, the average levels that prevailed prior to the pandemic.

In its latest forecasts, published less than a fortnight ago, the Reserve Bank also predicted the December WPI number to show annual growth of 3.5 per cent, with annual wage growth to reach 4.1 per cent by the end of June and 4.2 per cent by the end of the year.

"We expect to see rate hikes at the next three meetings," said Sean Langcake, head of macroeconomic forecasting for BIS Oxford Economics.

The politics of wage increases

However, despite the RBA's concerns about a pick-up in wages feeding into higher inflation, business lobby groups and the Albanese government are claiming credit for wages increasing.

Andrew McKellar, the chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said employers had just delivered the strongest rate of wages growth in more than a decade.

"Business is leading the way with private sector wages up 3.6 per cent in 2022 compared to just 2.5 per cent in the public sector," Mr McKellar said.

"Annual private sector labour cost growth has increased to levels not seen since the 2007 mining boom.

"Employers continue to see significant pressure on wages, and can expect further wage increases in the year ahead. Enduring labour shortages mean businesses are working to recruit and retain staff through regular and ad hoc wage reviews, bonuses, promotions, and other incentives.

"With responsible nominal wages growth outcomes being achieved, further effort is now needed to reduce inflationary pressures and supply chain constraints."

Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers, and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Tony Burke, said people should note that wages growth had picked up even further since the change of government in May last year.

"Our economic plan is all about getting wages growing again in responsible ways. We’re pleased that it’s already starting to work, but we know that we need to see inflation moderate to secure real wages growth," they said.

"This is the fastest through-the-year growth rate since the December quarter of 2012.

"The former government spent a decade trying to deliberately suppress wages growth. Now it’s turning around."


Support for Indigenous Voice falls, voters call for more detail: Poll

A clear majority of the electorate wants more detail about the Indigenous Voice to parliament after months of political argument about the principle at stake, with 63 per cent of voters saying they would like more information than is currently available.

Voters in marginal electorates show a stronger desire to know more about the reform – with 69 per cent wanting more information – in an exclusive survey that finds the same view has a majority whether voters back Labor, the Greens or the Coalition.

The findings heighten the debate about the amount of detail that can be offered before Australians decide on reform at a referendum later this year, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese warning against “misinformation” and saying it would be up to parliament to decide crucial details after the vote.

Advocates for the change will gather in Adelaide on Thursday to launch the Yes campaign after revealing a new logo and message aimed at unifying their alliance when Opposition Leader Peter Dutton questions the proposal and some of his Liberal and Nationals supporters reject it outright.

Activist group GetUp on Wednesday called for more effort to win support for the Voice, saying in a statement: “What we are hearing is that too many First Nations people have little understanding of what the referendum is trying to deliver. There are incredible barriers to information.”

The new survey, conducted by Resolve Strategic, shows majority support for the Voice when people are asked about the wording Albanese aired last year as the possible referendum question, but it also shows support has fallen from last year.

In the first question about their support, respondents were asked about the exact wording of a possible change to the constitution issued by Albanese at the Garma festival in the Northern Territory last July.

Albanese said the amendment would say: “The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice may make representations to parliament and the executive government on matters relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.”

The next sentence in the amendment would be: “The parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws with respect to the composition, functions, powers and procedures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.”

The survey shows 46 per cent of voters favour this wording, while 26 per cent are against and 21 per cent are undecided. Support is down from 53 per cent on the same question asked in August and September.

In a second question, voters were asked to choose “yes” or “no” on the same wording without an option to be undecided, showing that 58 per cent are in favour and 42 per cent is against.

The results confirm the slip in support for the Voice when debate over the reform has intensified, particularly after Dutton called for more detail during weeks of debate in January. The support fell to 58 per cent in February compared with 60 per cent in December and January and 64 per cent last August and September.

The comparison is complicated by the way the Resolve Political Monitor has sometimes combined the data over two months. Month by month, support for the Voice on the Yes or No question has fallen from 63 per cent in August and 64 per cent in September to 62 per cent in December, 58 per cent in January and 58 per cent in February.

The latest Resolve Political Monitor surveyed 1604 eligible voters from Wednesday to Sunday, producing results with a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

The results show the responses over a single polling “track” in February, in contrast to earlier Resolve Political Monitor findings on the Voice that combined results for two months in order to produce a bigger sample size, reduce the margin of error and allow a breakdown of the results in each big state.

Asked about the debate over detail, 63 per cent of voters said they would like more information than was currently available. This result included 56 per cent of Labor voters, 73 per cent of Coalition voters and 58 per cent of Greens voters.

However, 25 per cent said they were happy to vote on the principle and the current information.

The question was: “There has recently been some debate about how much detail about the Voice should be released before the referendum vote. Some say that people should know what they are voting on, even if this could be changed in future years, so that they can make an accurate judgment. Others have said that there is too much detail and too many options to communicate, that this would be decided by parliament anyway, and instead we should just vote on the principle of having a Voice. As someone who may vote in the referendum, would you prefer more detail is released before you vote or are you happy to vote on the principle and let parliament decide on the detail afterwards?“

“It’s too early to tell if this marks a turning point or simply a hiatus, but it confirms the gradual drop in support we’ve tracked since last year,” said Resolve Strategic director Jim Reed.

“The onus is on the Yes and No campaigns to explain why they deserve people’s vote. That particularly applies to the Yes case because they are asking for the change.”

A key finding in the Resolve Political Monitor is that many voters expect the Voice to be about practical benefits. On this question, 42 per cent said it was about practical outcomes, 24 per cent said it was more about symbolic recognition and 34 per cent were undecided.

Albanese has sometimes answered questions about detail by referring to the report on the Voice issued by University of Canberra chancellor Tom Calma and University of Melbourne professor Marcia Langton, but the survey found 68 per cent had not heard of this document.

Only 32 per cent had heard of the report and this included 7 per cent who had read a summary and 1 per cent who said they had read the report in full.

“People are already on board for recognition, but the Yes campaign needs to convert a public prejudice to want to help fellow Australians into practical support for the Voice,” said Reed.

Given those results, Reed said Albanese had adopted an effective approach in recent weeks to build that support. “Voters are asking for more information about the Voice but reject long-form documents,” said Reed.

“The prime minister is now the prominent figure in the debate, and he is using a simple mantra of recognition and consultation to attempt to frame the choice.”

Albanese said on Wednesday the functions and structure of the Voice would be determined by parliament after the referendum, if Australians approve.

“That’s the whole point here. It’s subservient to the parliament,” he said.

“And people can choose to try to spread misinformation or pretend that they don’t know about issues which are so clear even though they all know that it won’t have a right of veto, it won’t be a funding body, it won’t run programs.

“It’s not going to sit around the cabinet table. It is just a request for consultation.”




No comments: