Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Brendan Nelson's Climate Change

Federal Liberal and Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson has again been rolled by his shadow cabinet, this time on climate change. What follows represents an interview that might have been:

John: Dr Nelson, what's your policy on climate change?
BN: Well, John, today's policy is what the shadow cabinet told me.
John: What about tomorrow?
BN: Well, tomorrow will be a new "today", so it will still be "today's policy".
John: Last year, then Prime Minister John Howard told you, and everyone else in his government, what the policy would be. After the Coalition lost government at the election you changed it.
BN: Yes, go on ...
John: Is that different from "today's policy"?
BN: No, it's almost the same.
John: What about the rest of your shadow cabinet?
BN: Let me make it clear, my policy is almost the same as theirs.
John: What about Malcolm Turnbull's policy?
BN: Almost the same.
John: Peter Costello's? The Labor Government's?
BN: Almost the same. I told you, it's almost the same.
John: Is their anyone's policy that is different??
BN: ... um ... The Greens!
John: But aren't their policies good for the environment? Isn't that an image you want?
BN: Let me make it clear, my policy today is almost the same as theirs. And tomorrow's "today's policy" will be almost the same. Nearly. It depends on what I'm told.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

QLD Lib, Nats Unite

Yesterday the Queensland branches of the Liberal Party and the National Party each passed separate resolutions to unite, becoming the LNP - Liberal National Party.

There is some irony in the name: the National Party was never really about 'liberalism', at least not in the way that Liberal Party icon Sir Robert Menzies envisioned it. They have always been about the "free market", as long as there are protectionist policies, government handouts to farmers, and monopoly organisations. AWB springs to mind. However, perhaps Menzies is already turning in his grave over the damage the (rather extreme) right wing of the Liberal Party has already done to his party.

Queensland's Mal Springborg, former leader of the Qld National Party, and new leader of the LNP said that (instantly) State Opposition MP's from the Liberal & National Parties were now automatic members of the LNP. It remains to be seen if they all want that: perhaps the politically expedient desire to be re-elected will ensure they do. Not so for former Howard Government Minister Mal Brough. He lost his seat at the last election, and they found a job for him as State President of the Queensland branch of the Liberal Party. He is unhappy at the merger, and unsure of his political future. He walked out of the Liberal Party State Convention after the vote.

The Federal Coalition opposition will now consist of 3 parties. there might be a minor reshuffle if the Federal Liberal and National Parties want to exert their superior numbers. Expect further tension as some conservative Queensland MP's and Senators are asked to reflect different priorities, set by the new LNP.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Libs Want Costello, But Does He Want Them?

Speculation continues in the media about whether former Howard government Treasurer, Peter Costello, will be recruited to the leadership of the Opposition. (photo: abc.net.au)

Costello, as Treasurer, was described by many as an accomplished Parliamentary performer, known for: his evil-looking smirk; his quick wit; and his theatrics.

Speculation about his future is driven by the retirement of several former senior members of the Howard government: Alexander Downer, Peter McGauran, and Mark Vaile. John Howard lost his seat of Bennelong at the election in November.

While a number of Liberal right-wing members have thrown their support behind Mr Costello. But would he want it? He will have gone from treasurer, and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party in government, to lowly Opposition backbencher, to leading an Opposition likely to remain there for at least two parliamentary terms. The Opposition is fragmented, current leader Brendan Nelson is seen as ineffective, they can't decide on their current policy on carbon trading and pollution reduction, many of it s potential leaders, including Costello, will be tainted for years by John Howard's WorkChoices, funding cuts to public education, and a legacy of rising inflation from an overheated economy: an economy that Peter Costello didn't control in the last 3 years.

Having already declined the leadership after the election, leadership of the Federal Liberal Party, and Opposition Leader, might well be a poisoned chalice not to Peter Costello's liking.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Murray-Darling Water Flow And Solar Energy

An Open Letter to:
The Rt Hon Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister of Australia
Senator, the Hon Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change and Water

In April 2000, Germany passed the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) to boost the planned switch to renewable energy sources. Producers of renewable energy are paid for each kWh (kilowatt-hour) of solar power, or wind energy, generated and fed into the grid. Companies embrace it because there are economic advantages for them, and the payments are not tied to a budget, but funded from a fraction of a cent rise in the costs.

It is now 2008, and Australia and the world face significant threats from climate change and the effects of global warming. Australia also faces catastrophic long-term effects of drought on rivers, farms, and communities in the Murray Darling Basin.

Australia has the greatest amount of usable solar energy of any country in the world. Kevin Rudd’s Federal Labor Government has some related problems it needs to address:
One of its very first actions was to sign the Kyoto Protocol, committing it to reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases by Australians, and by commercial enterprises operating in Australia.

It has just released a “Green Paper” on reducing carbon pollution. A Green Paper is used for discussion, and later adjustment, as Government finalizes its policy. The proposal includes huge subsidies for the biggest carbon polluters, including owners of coal-fired power stations, contrary to the recommendations of the Garnaut Report.

It has had ongoing discussions about how to put more water into the Murray-Darling Basin river systems. This area has significant long-term drought effects, little water flow, and much land is becoming marginal for farming. There are high-water-use irrigation crops, including rice and cotton being grown in dry inland Australia.

The Federal Government ought to consider the following:
  • Maintaining, or extending, incentives for individuals to add solar panels to their homes.
    Adding a “payment” for electricity fed into the grid by companies and individuals, such payment to be funded by a fraction of a cent rise in the cost of electricity, and therefore borne by all users. Companies can offset the increased costs by installing their own solar or wind generators and connecting them to the grid.
  • Implementing, even legislating, changes to Australia’s farming industries in dry, inland Australia. Farmers should be encouraged to cease growing low-yield, high-water-using crops to implement “solar farms”. Cotton and rice farms spring to mind. In the 1990’s Australia restructured the sugar industry, effectively removing inefficient producers. One of the advantages of solar farms is that they generate electricity when it is most needed – in the daytime. Such a scheme would also help to secure water, and employment (infrastructure) for towns and cities along the rivers systems. Such a scheme also means that fewer farming families would need to leave unproductive land that is increasing their levels of debt.

A reduction in water demand from inefficient farms in the Murray-Darling Basin, and development of large-scale "solar farms" could result in increased water flow, and a reduction in greenhouse gases as increasing amounts of electricity are generated. It will be a costly exercise, and will require commitment, explanation and vision from a government that genuinely wants to improve Australia, provide alternate sources of farm income for those in marginal areas, wants to reduce the carbon pollution generated by Australians, and which wants to make best use of Australia's abundant solar energy potential.

The states, the National farmers Federation, and the Liberal & National Parties, must not be allowed to be obstructionist.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Church Abuse - Call For Compensation

Yesterday, during a World Youth Day ceremony to consecrate the altar at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, Pope Benedict XVI apologised to victims of sexual assault.
"Indeed I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the
victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in
their suffering "
Following the apology,Hetty Johnston, Executive Director of Bravehearts (a child sexual assault advocacy group) , called for compensation for the victims. That would be fair and just. However, the issue is more complex than just making the Catholic Church pay. Or any other church. Most victims of child sexual assault or abuse know the perpetrator. They either have some connection to the family, or are family members. They, too, ought to have rights to compensation.

Nor is the issue that Catholic priests, or members of other religious orders, are unmarried, and take vows of celebacy. Rod O’Conner, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Health Program Evaluation, in 1991 wrote that

"Child sexual abusers are predominantly male. Other than that they are unlikely to be readily identifiable. Abel et al (1987), on the basis of ... subjects studied over a nine years period, concluded that they came from a broad spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds, and were unremarkable in terms of age, education, or marital status."
Compensation to victims ought to be independent of organisations and people. Having said that, it might well be appropriate for courts to order compensation for victims from a central (State) source, and impose fines on perpetrators and organisations that breach their duty of care. At least, then, all victims can be compensated, irrespective of the perpetrator. Further the Catholic Church, and other churches, ought to establish proper protocols to facilitate police investigation of all allegations of sexual abuse, and to resolve outstanding matters. This would fit with Christ's edict to "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew, 22: 19-21 )


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

World Youth Day Sydney 2008

Sydney has begun hosting World Youth Day (WYD) events. There has been much contrary discussion from some Sydneysiders, and some groups. Yes, there is disruption to people's routine. So did the Olympic games, so do football grand finals, international one-day cricket games. Yes, some groups oppose the goodness of religion, apparently just because it's religion. They have closed their minds, and will run with a confrontational agenda.

Our city hosted pilgrims before they went to Sydney. I had social contact with some of them, and those attending were were both inspired, and inspiring. I hope that other people find them so - the media have shown images and sounds of people enjoying themselves, and behaving well.

While there are no longer 12, Australia has its own "apostles", on the Victorian coast, and aren't they magnificent!!



Saturday, July 12, 2008

UN Nobbled by Russia And China

A UN Security Council resolution, S/2008/447, that would have imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe, has been vetoed by China and Russia. The vote was 9 For - 5 Against. Belgium, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Italy, Panama, United Kingdom, United States voted for the resolution, while China, Libya, Russian Federation, South Africa, Viet Nam voted against, with Indonesia abstaining. China and Russia vetoed the resolution. A press release from the UN can be found here. It includes a copy of the draft resolution.

China issued a statement attempting to justify its veto. It said that "a sanctions resolution against Zimbabwe would not help...".

In April this year, a Chinese vessel carrying 3 million rounds of ammunition (for AK47 assault rifles, also supplied by China; and Russia), and rocket-propelled grenades was interrupted by South African dock workers, who were concerned about their intended use, just after Robert Mugabe lost the March election. {subsequent violence by the military, and others, against Mugabe's opponents would seem to justify their concerns}

The UN resolution would have, among other items, required an embargo on the supply of arms, and financial transactions. China 's significant arms trade with Zimbabwe/Mugabe would have to stop immediately, and payments due for past shipments would be effectively forfeited.

China's veto was much more about China's self-interest than any concern for processes aimed at ending the violence (& need for arms!). Russia vetoed to protect its growing trade with Zimbabwe, and to support its communist ally.

{See also the Human Rights Watch pages on Zimbabwe's abuses of its people.}


G8: We Met,We Talked, We Did Nothing

This week the G8 summit was hosted by Japan. The G8 includes the leaders of the world's biggest polluters: Russia; France; Germany; Italy; Japan; Russia; the United Kingdom; and the United States.

High on their agenda was climate change, and the reduction of greenhouse gases that contribute to it. That was driven, in part, by the sudden large increase in the price of crude oil. In July 2007, the price was about US$75 /barrel. In July 2008, it is just over US$140 / barrel, an increase of more than 85% in 1 year! (see chart)

In real terms it is almost the same price as during the oil crisis in 1979-80.

They listened to the opinions on climate change of other "non-G8", countries, including Australia. Their responses to climate change, from their joint Statement included:

  • "we urge oil producing countries to increase production"
  • "we ... encourage all countries to enhance (oil) refinery capacity"
  • "We ask relevant national authorities to examine the functioning of commodity
    futures markets and to take appropriate measures" - it's all the market's fault!! ?
  • "We are convinced that urgent and concerted action is needed and accept our responsibility to show leadership in tackling climate change."
    and they
  • "note that market mechanisms, including emission trading and tax incentives, have the potential to deliver economic incentives ... "
Their proposed action now: Nothing, although they have a "vision" of a 50% reduction in greenhouse gases in 2050. This inaction is driven by the recognition that it is right that something should be done, but we're not doing it as a majority. China and India would not agree to it, and the others, led by US President (& oil company owner) George W Bush, decided to do nothing. The politics is dirty, and the world will continue to be so, because of the leaders of Russia; France; Germany; Italy; Japan; Russia; the United Kingdom; and the United States.

Real leaders of the world would have stood up and said: "It is right to implement policies to reduce greenhouse gases. WE will do it." They didn't, and we must question their leadership.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

NSW In Need Of New Ministers

The NSW Labor Government continues to squabble. The latest backbencher to express unease, MP for Drummoyne, Angela D'Amore, suffered a tirade from Premier Morris Iemma for more than an hour. Media report that he threatened to withdraw government projects in her electorate if she didn't do as she was told - at about the same as Mr Iemma told the press of the "industrial terror tactics" of the rail union. (it had threatened strike action during World Youth Day in Sydney, and it would have been reprehensible). mmm ... must check the meaning of 'hypocrite'.

The NSW Treasurer, Michael Costa, in a fit of pique, withdrew from a Labor Party fundraising event. He is at odds with his party executive over the Government's desire to sell taxpayer-owned electricity assets. Backbenchers continue to tell senior Ministers that they are out of touch. Hospitals are never far from the news, and hospitals routinely go "code red"; meaning only life-threatening cases are accepted by ambulance, or admitted.

In February, I wrote that the NSW Labor Government was ready to supernova - other media seem say "implode". So what Ministers should go? My list is:
  • Morris Iemma, Premier: incompetence; lack of leadership; conflict with ALP State Executive
  • Michael Costa, Treasurer: workplace bully; ready to "retire" with a nice pension; conflict with ALP State Executive
  • Reba Meagher, Minster for Health: incompetence
  • Frank Sartor, Minister for Planning: incompetence; has problems identifying conflict of interest; wants to micromanage everything. When he was Minister for Water, his nicknames within Sydney Water were "The Big Drip" (if he had an 'idea'), or "Cranky Franky (in his 'usual' mood)
  • David Campbell, Minister for Police: too much political involvement with Police matters; WYD "annoyance" legislation!
  • Joe Tripodi, Minister for Small Business: incompetence; too many dubious "connections", including from the sacked Wollongong Council
  • Graeme West, Minster for Gaming & Racing: incompetence-Clubs NSW bypass him, and go straight to the Premier and the Treasurer.
  • I'm sure arguments could be made for others.
There are not many possible replacements! Nevertheless, the best hope for the ALP is that backbenchers continue to express their views, and make them known to the media. That will be the only way to change the dictatorship that runs the NSW Government.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Rudd's Short Term Inaction

The Federal Liberal/national Coalition has criticised Prime Minister Kevin Rudd over his handling of flows in the Murray-Darling Basin. The ABC reported it as "an illusion of government action". Earlier this year the Federal Labor Government completed an agreement with the states; an agreement that the previous Coalition Government, under John Howard, did nothing for 11 years, and was unable to bring to fruition at the last minute.

The Coalition now says (without John Howard) that the agreement will not increase flows to the ailing system, but fails to indicate what would be required. What is required is significant rainfall, and a fundamental restructuring of some irrigation-based farming industries. Questions about the wisdom of growing high-water-use crops such as rice and cotton in dry, inland Australia need to be addressed. So too, do questions about the amount of water that properties can farm out of the system. Cubbie Station, in SW Queensland, has previously been named as a cause of significantly reduced flows into the upper Darling River.

Again, the ABC reported Mr Rudd as saying:

"Medium term, the Basin plan and Basin cap and a more aggressive approach to the purchasing of licences" and "Longer term, acting responsibly nationally and globally on climate change. That's our three-phase strategy."

The Government would be buying back (irrigation) water licences - but not yet. But medium and long-term policies are not enough. Mr Rudd, as part of his responses to Climate Change, Environmental concerns, farming practices and regional planning needs short-term responses as well. He needs to have some actions now, for the sake of people who live and work there, and for all Australians.


Saturday, July 05, 2008

Garnaut's Draft - Wake Up!

Professor Ross Garnaut released the Garnaut Climate Change Review Draft Report yesterday.

While there appears to be nothing starkly different from what had been expected, it outlines the very significant and stark effects of climate change if we do nothing. For excample:

  • "major declines in agricultural production across much of the country, including a 50 per cent reduction in irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin. By 2100, irrigated agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin would decline by 92 per cent."
  • "(a fall of) 4.8 per cent of Australia’s projected GDP, around 5.4 per cent of projected household consumption, and 7.8 per cent from real wages by 2100" (Media Release)
Professor Garnaut paints a picture of significant effects on economic, cultural, and physical environments. He aslo has some salient advice, indiectly aimed at politicians and nay-sayers:

"We will delude ourselves should we choose to take small actions that create an appearance of action, but which do not solve the problem." Yet, this is so often how politicians react!


"it is neither rational nor helpful to reject conclusions because we do not like them. The conclusions will only be ‘wrong’ if the premises or logic leading to them are wrong. The Review aims to be clear in its premises and methodology, so that they can be contested transparently. If the subsequent public policy debate follows these lines, we will improve the prospects of Australian governments taking good decisions." (Draft Report)

Politicians should not choose political expediency as the basis of policy, and Industry groups, lobbyists and other groups and individuals should not engage in scare campaigns to suit their short-term financial or poitical interests. Liberal/National Opposition politicians were already crying "wolf", even before the release of the draft report; and NSW Labor Treasurer Costa is already demanding exemptions for coal-fired NSW power stations. He wants to sell them, and a carbon-trading scheme would mean the sale price would be less!

Already, then, some of our politicians are ignoring Professor Garnaut's wise advice, and are acting in a short-term, politically expedient, and irrational manner; for their own selfish purposes. We don't want such politicians any more, and they have no part to play in rational discussion leading to proper, appropriate public policy.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

World Youth Day - What's 'Annoying'?

The NSW Government, just before Parliament rose for several months, passed a law to stop behaviour that "causes annoyance or inconvenience to participants in a World Youth Day event".
Police will have "discretionary" powers to arrest and/or fine people. While some, including Anna Katzmann, SC, President of the NSW Bar Association is reported as saying that the laws are "unnecessary and repugnant".

People in Australia do have a right to free speech and to protest, and a law that relies on non-specific, vague terms such as "annoyance" must be bad law. I suspect that many courts would struggle to define it. I could not find a general, stand-alone legal definition for it.

WYD is unpopular with some people. It will inconvenience many. But so do/did other cultural events: consider the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, for which streets are closed, and which promotes lifestyles practised by about 10% of the community (http://www.uqu.uq.edu.au/queer/faq_gl#7) In the 2006 ABS YearBook, 34% of Australians identified themselves as Catholic. Some/many Sydney and NSW Catholics will attend some or all WYD events. They should not now be denied that opportunity.

I'm not attending WYD, but participants in WYD should be free to do so without torment or disruption. Those who wish to protest should do so away from those specific areas being used by WYD, and respect it as a (world, and local) community event that will happen just once in their city. That is, they should be tolerant, and inclusive, in the same way that they demand of others.

Issues surrounding whether or not Sydney, or any other metropolitan city, should host large events that cause disruption, and bad legislation from our governments, should be addressed by the community, by contacting your local politician. APEC springs to mind. Look them up at www.nsw.gov.au and www.aph.gov.au