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Monthly Archives: February 2011

If you were to ask people what they want out of their politicians, most people will say clear and open leadership. The problem for politicians is that that the moment they attempt to provide leadership, the same people will argue any initiative into non-existence. Why? I dunno.

I think there is an argument and it is persuasive (I have presented all over the country on this theme, mostly to senior HR managers, about the new roles for HR managers in a climate change reforming world), that responding to climate change will create jobs, make some jobs and occupations obsolete, and add to the labour market woes confronted by employers. Hopefully we will see the genius of the market system, coupled with government intervention to prompt the development of the right skills, research, innovation and diffusion, and far-sighted employers looking after their medium term interests with their employees and unions, in operation here….

Rant Over. Back to work gerry, you verbose malingerer. No, blogging is not work.

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Setting price will create ‘34,000 jobs’
Adam Morton
February 28, 2011

A CARBON price aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent by 2020 could help create 34,000 jobs in regional Australia, research says.

To be launched today by independent MP Tony Windsor, the report by the Climate Institute predicts that a substantial carbon price, backed by renewable energy policies, would trigger tens of billions of dollars of investment in geothermal, large-scale solar, bio-energy, hydro, wind and gas.

In Victoria, the number of people employed in the electricity industry was projected to increase over the next two decades despite some job losses as coal-fired power plants closed.

 The new jobs would be concentrated in the state’s Western District, central highlands and the Mallee.

Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said the report, based on work conducted by consultants SKM-MMA and Ernst & Young, showed that clean-energy projects could provide an economic foundation to support strong regional populations.

It challenged claims that tackling climate change would cost jobs and hurt the economy.

“It is important we have a discussion about the costs and how to manage them, but it is also important to look at the benefits and how you achieve those,” Mr Connor said.

Mr Windsor said the report showed regional Australia could be a big winner as renewable energy projects were developed.

It is estimated nearly 6900 new electricity industry jobs could be created in Victoria by 2030.

Nearly 4600 would be in power plant construction and about 1200 in manufacturing. More than 1000 would be permanent roles running new plants.

The total number of jobs in the industry would rise over the next five years as wind and gas plants were built, dip in the second half of the decade, but then grow dramatically after 2020 as more clean-energy technologies became commercially viable.

The report suggests about 40 per cent of Victoria’s electricity could come from clean sources by 2030, up from 5 per cent today.

Gas-fired power, with about a third the emissions of brown coal, would also expand dramatically to provide about a third of the state’s electricity.

Specific projections for Victoria include:

■ More than 1500 jobs created in wind and geothermal energy in the south-west around Warrnambool, Portland and Hamilton.
■ Nearly 1200 new jobs relating to building and running large-scale solar plants in the Mallee.
■ About 600 new jobs in wind in the central highlands around Ballarat and Bendigo.
■ In the Latrobe Valley, the loss of about 500 permanent jobs in coal power, but the creation of 720 construction jobs building new gas and renewable plants.

The modelling does not consider the impact of the possible implementation of carbon capture and storage technology.

The jobs figures are based on a carbon price starting at $47 in 2012, the national 20 per cent renewable energy target, and policies to encourage clean technologies, including loan guarantees and tax credits.

The research won the support of the ACTU and several energy companies.

Tony Maher, the president of the mining and energy union, applauded the Climate Institute for focusing on jobs, skills and training as the key to Australia cutting emissions.

http://www.climateinstitute.org.au

Huh, a misleading heading. Annoying.

Anyway, looks like this will be a rerun of the GST debate, with two issues being sorted out simultaneously.

(1) Do we have the scheme at all? The Coalition currently says no, along with ACCI, predictably. It will be interesting to see how long the Coalition will be able to continue its Policy-free, Say-No-to-All-Change Policy. The Greens and Labor are now on the same page, arguing for a hybrid scheme: carbon tax now, emissions trading scheme later. The scheme is set for a right/left debate, with the middle ground of Australian politics deciding the issue. The ALP, once it has neutralised the short-run dissapproval of Rudd’s backdown and Gillard’s promise not to do it, will at least be able to count on a greater share of the youth vote, and the dissaffected middle-class urban vote that drifted to the Greens after Rudd’s withdrawl from the debate.

(2) What gets covered? Apparently agriculture may not be included. Dunno how much Co2 argriculure emits, but the sector will be a major player when the debate hots up about tax-funded abatement programs (schemes set up up to capture and absorb carbon dioxide, a task where agriculture will be the major player…). The next two sectors to spit the dummy will be the coal industry and the petrol industry. This is the biggest threat to the carbon tax scheme. These two industries account for at least 50% of CO2 emissions. But they directly impact on household costs and living standards. Will Australians accept the medium term pain of a new household cost structure, if it means that the global community can start reducing the amount of CO2 we are pumping into the atmosphere? Or will the major polluters plead, supported by penny-conscious people out there in community, that they cannot afford precidely the competitive pressure that a carbon tax will bring?

Time will tell…gjmt
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Jobs real reason behind carbon tax – Labor MP Janelle Saffin

February 28, 2011 9:08AM

JOBS rather than the environment are the reason the Government wants to tax carbon, one Labor backbencher says.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has proposed a carbon price regime to begin in July 2012 as a means of tackling climate change.

But when asked whether the plan was about jobs or the environment, Janelle Saffin was firm.

“It’s about jobs,” the backbencher said today.

The development of the regime is in its very early stages and already agriculture, a large carbon producer, has been made exempt.

Now a debate has erupted over whether petrol will be taxed.

“It’s really important that we have the debate,” Ms Saffin said.

In a tolerant society, racists hear this: your race is run
Gabriella Coslovich
February 26, 2011

Saddened and galled. That’s how I felt when I read this week’s news about Australians’ attitudes to racial and cultural minorities, their prejudices against Muslims, Jews, Asians, and, most ludicrously of all, the original inhabitants of this country, the Aboriginal people. I wasn’t even consoled by the fact that anti-British, Italian and Christian sentiments across Australia were recorded at less than 10 per cent. With so many different cultures and nationalities being distrusted, who was there left to detest? And who were all these ”Australians” doing the detesting?

I was so dispirited with the University of Western Sydney’s findings on racism that I had to read the results for myself. But when I went to the university’s website, an unexpectedly heartening picture emerged.

The findings weren’t all bad. In fact, read another way, they could be seen as a tribute to the decency and humanity of Australians.

The university found that ”Australians are largely tolerant people who are accepting and welcoming of other cultures. The survey data indicates that a large majority of Australians are positive about living in a multicultural society. Most Australians feel secure and comfortable with cultural difference”. (My emphases.)

When asked ”is it a good thing for a society to be made up of people from different cultures?”, 86.8 per cent of Australians agreed it was (in Victoria, 89.5 per cent agreed). When asked ”do you feel secure when you are with people of different ethnic backgrounds?”, 78.1 per cent of Australians said they did. (In Victoria, 81.4 per cent responded positively.)

”Racists”, it emerged, were the real minorities in this country: ”about one in 10 Australians have very problematic views on diversity and on ethnic differences. They believe that some races are naturally inferior or superior, and they believe in the need to keep groups separated. These separatists and supremacists are a destructive minority.”

(Interestingly, those most likely to hold racist attitudes tend to be older, non-tertiary educated, do not speak a language other than English, are Australian-born, and male.)

And while one in 10 may still sound like one too many, it seemed to me that these statistics suggested that Australia must surely be one of the least racist countries in the world. I rang Professor Kevin Dunn, one of the chief researchers, and asked him if this was correct. His response was galvanising. He and his team had asked this very question, and comparative studies confirmed that Australia did indeed fare well. In parts of western Europe, three in 10 people were racists, and the figure was higher in parts of eastern Europe. The only place Dunn had found that was less racist than Australia (and then only a little less so), was Canada.

”But that’s about it,” he said. ”I can’t find many other places in the world that would outperform Australia on positivity to diversity.”

This is the other side of the racism story, an encouraging, uplifting and crucial side that needs to be broadcast – loudly. It is important that the ”destructive minority” of racists in Australia realise that they are just that, a deviance from the norm, and that the silent majority of Australians are open-minded and accepting. Significantly, research into racism shows that if people with racist views are made to feel as though their views are ”mainstream”, they are emboldened in their racist behaviour (and, let’s be clear, it’s not just people of ”Anglo” backgrounds who may hold racist views). Politicians who insist on denying that racism exists and who pass it off as ”normal” or even ”patriotic” to be intolerant, are playing an ugly and dangerous game. Is this ringing any bells?

In the past decade, we have seen some political parties and politicians, and some sections of the media, insidiously bolster the egos of racists and make them feel as though their attitudes were not only acceptable but widely held.

As the University of Western Sydney’s research points out: ”Social norms are considerably powerful and can legitimise poor attitudes. There is mounting evidence that telling people that their views were not consensually shared can help reduce prejudice.”

Rather than being a challenge to federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen’s affirmation of Australia’s commitment to multiculturalism, the university’s findings reinforce his position. Bowen is showing genuine leadership. He and the Gillard government are refusing to pander to people’s baser instincts for short-term political gain. And it’s about time.

”It’s overdue,” says Dunn. ”For 15 years [multiculturalism] has withered and that’s a dangerous place to be in how you manage cultural diversity.”

This does not mean that people should not feel free to express their concerns and anxieties about the customs of certain cultures, and to condemn practices and values that are anathema to a contemporary, secular and democratic Australian society. Indeed, the University of Western Sydney’s research emphasises that one way to combat racism is to encourage people to express their differences and fears. But a discussion about multiculturalism – and racism – must not be hijacked by political expediency or the likes of shock jocks and sensationalist scribes who are not at all interested in sincerely debating the issues, but who wish only to fan the flames of hatred and misunderstanding, and who would have us believe that the deviant minority is the majority.

Gabriella Coslovich is an Age senior writer.

Pell does not have the gospel truth on climate change

Senate Hansard (read pp. 104-109)
Malcolm Farr

24 Feb

Cardinal George Pell has been a spiritual adviser to Tony Abbott and he would have provided welcomed guidance to the Opposition Leader over the years.

Cardinal George Pell, good on God maybe not on climate.

But a mild-mannered weather forecaster has raised the prospect that Cardinal Pell might have misled his closest friend in his political flock on the secular issue of climate change policy.

Dr Greg Ayers is director of the Bureau of Meteorology and on Monday night he used a Senate estimates committee hearing to take on the cardinal, his scientific adviser, and a handful of senators who thought they could talk him down.

In reserved and measured fashion, he wiped the floor with the senators.

Cardinal Pell doesn’t believe in the the concept of human-induced global warning and bases his non-belief on a book by professor Ian Plimer, the geologist who feeds much of the argument used by skeptics.

On Monday night Ayers quoted a review of Plimer’s book, Heaven and Earth—Global Warming: The Missing Science.

It read: “The book is largely a collection of contrarian ideas and conspiracy theories that are rife in the blogosphere. The writing is rambling and repetitive; the arguments flawed and illogical.’‘

Ayers’ own view was: “The contents of the book are simply not scientific.

“I am concerned that the cardinal has been misled by the contents of this book and I do not think it should stand on the public record for that reason.’‘

Tony Abbott accepts the globe is warming but says there should be more debate on the extent to which humans are contributing to the process.

He is concentrating on the narrower and more potent political approach of making climate change response a cost-of-living issue.

Yesterday in Question Time the Opposition pressed the Government on calculations that a carbon tax would add $300 a year to the price of household electricity, and 2.5 cents a litre to the price of petrol for every $10 of a carbon price.

It is effective politics, particularly as the Government has no firm answers. After dumping its emissions trading scheme timetable early last year, then proposing a laughable citizens’ committee to decide the issue, Julia Gillard is now waiting on a climate change commission to rescue her on this issue.

George Pell and Tony Abbott think it is a waste of time and an expensive response. The cardinal has made that clear in his newspaper column and in letters to the environment committee last year.

Greg Ayers and his Bureau of Meteorology disagree, particularly when it comes to Ian Plimer.

“The cardinal, I do not anticipate would be an expert in these fields of science, so he has quoted very heavily from this book and the book is, frankly, misleading to all Australians in terms of what it represents,’’ he told the committee.

“I will read you one scientific review to give you a sense of what one scientist from the University of New South Wales said about the book.

“He said: `Plimer has done an enormous disservice to science, and the dedicated scientists who are trying to understand climate and the influence of humans, by publishing this book’.

“It is not merely atmospheric scientists that would have to be wrong for Plimer to be right. It would require a rewriting of biology, geology, physics, oceanography, astronomy and statistics.’‘

Plimer didn’t have a prayer at Ayers’ hands, even when Queensland Liberal senator Ian Macdonald tried a secular intervention.

“I wonder whether it might not be more appropriate for Dr Ayers to do a written response which can be tabled,’’ said the senator.

“I can assure Dr Ayers that I will be making sure his comments are passed on not only to Cardinal Pell, but also to Professor Plimer who says these same sorts of things about the people you are quoting.’‘

Nationals Queensland senator Ron Boswell suggested the committee call Prof Plimer to reply in person. That would substantially alter the role of estimates hearings, which are used to grill public servants, not private citizens.

Ayers would not be stopped and continued his demolition job, which was all recorded by Hansard.

In the week before cyclone Yasi struck north Queensland, the Bureau of Meteorology had six million online hits by almost three million people seeking forecast information.

A lot of people trust the BOM, and many of them will back the chief forecaster as he engages in climate change debate with the cardinal.

Carbon price to start July 2012: Gillard
February 24, 2011 – 2:10PM

Australia will set a carbon price from July 1, 2012, as an interim measure until a full emissions trading scheme can be introduced three to five years later, Prime Minister Julia Gillard says.

But Ms Gillard said no decision had yet been made on what the price would be, or how much industry and households would be compensated for the new costs.

“This is an essential economic reform, and it is the right thing to do,” Ms Gillard told a news conference. “Carbon pollution is a threat to our country, and a threat to our future prosperity.”

The new deal has the backing of key Green and independent MPs in the lower house of Parliament but could still face obstacles in the upper house where three earlier schemes were defeated.

“I do not believe that Australia needs to lead the world on climate change, but I also don’t believe that we can afford to be left behind. That is why the time is right and the time is now,” she said.

Coalition leader Tony Abbott, meanwhile, has attacked the carbon tax plan as an ”utter betrayal” of the Australian electorate, which will raise household costs.

Transition is key

Nathan Fabian, chief executive of the Investor Group on Climate Change, welcomed the starting date in July 2012.

“The key issue is the transition from fixed to flexible pricing to give certainty to investors for the long term,” he said. “We think the transition should be three years as we need a target as soon as possible so the economy knows how much it has to adjust.”

A climate change committee – which involves the government, Greens and independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott – has held four meetings since it was set up in September last year, in the aftermath of the election.

The government abandoned its previous emissions trading scheme last year after it failed to get it through the Senate.

The Greens sided with the Coalition to vote against an emissions trading scheme, arguing the carbon reduction targets were too low and industry compensation was too high.

The abandonment of the ETS breached a promise by former prime minister Kevin Rudd to tackle climate change and was blamed for his drop in opinion polls and eventual toppling by Ms Gillard.

The opposition has said it would block any new “carbon tax”, so the government will rely on the votes of the independents and Greens to secure the passage of its legislation.

Time’s ripe

Ms Gillard said it was time to put a price on carbon emissions.

“I’m determined to price carbon,” she told reporters.

“History teaches us that the countries and the economies who prosper at times of historic change are those who get in and shape and manage the changes.

“The time is right and the time is now.”

Ms Gillard said a fixed carbon price would start on July 1, 2012, before moving to a cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme within three to five years.

Putting a price on carbon was the most efficient way to cut carbon pollution, she said.

“If you put a price on something, people will use less of it.”

Review plan

One year before the end of the fixed price period, a review would consider if there were any reasons to delay moving to a cap-and-trade scheme.

“The hard-wired mechanism here is to move to cap and trade,” Ms Gillard said.

“But there would be a review one year in advance to assess whether there were any real reasons not to take that step.”

Agricultural emissions will not be included in the carbon pricing system.

“The measures and mechanisms for counting agricultural emissions are simply too complex,” Ms Gillard said.

“But we do want to work with farmers with our agricultural community to make sure that they get the benefits of changing practices and changing carbon.”

Ms Gillard said the carbon price set by the government would be fair.

“Every cent raised from pricing carbon will go to assisting households, helping businesses manage the transition and funding climate change programs,” she said.

“And the government will always support those who are in need of assistance with cost of living pressures.”

Carbon pollution threatened Australia’s future prosperity, Ms Gillard said.

“We need to ensure that Australia has a low-pollution economy for the future – we can’t afford to be left behind.”

Abbott view

Ms Gillard said she would not back down during what she predicted would be a tough fight ahead with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

He would immediately be spruiking a fear campaign “and talking to Australians about a great big new tax on everything”.

“[But] can I make it very clear that in the debate that will ensue I am not intending to take a backwards step.

“We are a confident nation and we are good at change. We’ve proved it in the past.”

Ms Gillard said more work needed to be done on the details of industry assistance and household compensation.

The government’s failed carbon pollution reduction scheme had already achieved some good work in that area, she added.

“It’s not my intention to just put that work to one side,” Ms Gillard said.

“But there are discussions to come and there will be some difficult conversations to come.”

Matters of compensation would be worked through with the multi-party climate change committee.

Household impact

Greens leader Bob Brown said his party would be lobbying to get a good deal for householders.

“It isn’t just a matter of compensating industry – particularly polluters,” he said.

“What we want to do is compensate those people who are suffering the outcome of long-term carbon pollution of the atmosphere.”

Greens climate change spokeswoman Christine Milne said there could only be a price on carbon because the Greens held the balance of power in the Federal Parliament.

“It’s exciting [and] it’s happening because we have shared power in Australia,” she said, adding that majority government would not have delivered the outcome.

“It is because the Greens are in the balance of power working with the other parties to deliver not only the aspiration but the process to achieve it.”

However, Senator Milne sounded a note of caution, declaring a carbon price would only become a reality if all parties could reach agreement on the details.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet left the door open for fuel to be included in the scheme.

The proposal from the multi-party climate change committee includes a list of sectors which could be included – one of which is the transport industry.

Mr Combet said the committee would consider phasing in the ETS for different sections of the economy.

“That [including fuel] is not a settled issue at this point in time, but it is an issue the committee will consider,” he said.

Miners and banks star in mixed earnings season
Clancy Yeates
February 25, 2011

THE corporate earnings season has underlined the widening gap between the mining industry and the rest, as non-resources companies are squeezed by higher costs and a thrifty household sector.

As the flood of company results nears its end, analysts said the bumper mining profits and weaker performance from many industrial companies underlined the emergence of a two-speed economy.

After record profits from mining giants, figures released yesterday show mining investment is estimated to hit $55.5 billion this year, a 34 per cent rise on the estimate for 2009-10.

But highlighting the tough conditions facing many manufacturers, Pacific Brands shares were pummelled after the clothes maker warned sales would continue to slump in the second half.

Fairfax Media shares also fell 5 per cent after the Herald’s publisher gave an uncertain outlook for the second half, owing to the weak retail advertising market.

While brokers say this season has held fewer surprises, outlook statements remain guarded, with companies reluctant to promise too much.

Wilson Asset Management’s principal, Matthew Kidman, said that outside the mining and banking sectors, many smaller industrial companies would find it hard to post growth this year.

”Overall the outlook statements have set people back a bit. The majority of companies have said it’s going to be tougher for a bit longer.”

A fund manager at Pengana Capital, Rhett Kessler, said growing competition for labour also meant rising costs were starting to bite – a trend that is likely to intensify.

”We have a number of cost pressures starting to emerge, including labour and energy,” he said.

The engineering company United Group complained this week about rising wages as it was forced to compete with the mining boom.

While the banks are able to pass on some of the pain because of their dominant position, Mr Kidman said many smaller companies were being forced to absorb the costs – as discounting remained common.

He said that there was not much scope for ”top-line growth”.

A $60b riddle: how miners took taxpayers to the cleaners

February 18, 2011

Could this be the biggest con job ever visited on the Australian public?

Forget Ern Malley, the campaign waged by the mining companies against the original mining tax emerges as Australia’s most costly national swindle, both in terms of the cost of the heist – $22 million for a six-week television advertising campaign – and the continuing hit to budget coffers – $60.5 billion in revenue lost over 10 years.

To put that in perspective, for every dollar the mining lobby spent fighting the tax with emotive ads, featuring wholesome-looking miners, it saved another $2750.

But far from cutting back on investments, BHP Billiton this week revealed its true intentions. In fact it plans to invest an additional $80 billion over the next five years, mainly in Australia, to expand its production capacity, despite the proposed, watered-down, mining tax.

Sure, this sum could have been even bigger if there were no tax at all, but $80 billion is still a substantial investment program, particularly in an economy running at close to full capacity.

To put that in perspective again, BHP Billiton will be spending more each year on new mines and equipment than the federal government will spend on the nation’s primary and secondary schools (about $14 billion a year).

How did we let ourselves be convinced taxing miners’ ”super profits” would force them to walk away from some of the world’s richest resource deposits? That so-called sovereign risk concerns would forever deter foreign investment in Australia? That is now the $60.5 billion question.

It is all too easy, albeit appropriate, to blame politicians. Tony Abbott opposed the tax to feed his ”great big new tax” scare campaign. Kevin Rudd failed to consult the mining industry and then failed to sell the need for the tax to an uncertain public. The fledgling Prime Minister Julia Gillard caved in to the mining industry in an attempt to ”clear the decks” of a policy and electoral headache.

Nor should it be a surprise that the mining companies decided to fight tooth and nail against the tax. Their obligations to shareholders all but demanded it. But why did ordinary Australians shun the tax? As collective owners of the rich iron ore and coal deposits we stand on, why was it so easy for the mining industry to convince us the tax was a dud?

I suspect it was because, fundamentally, the original super profits tax was too complex to understand. Which is not to say it was a bad tax; it wasn’t. Just that it involved mastery of a few theoretical arguments, like uplift rates and the present value of future tax concessions. It was structured so that the government in effect became a silent venture partner with miners, taxing them more heavily in good times, but granting them concessions in bad times. Theoretically pure, but hard to understand without an economics degree.

The price of our ignorance is now abundantly clear, with Treasury’s estimates that the new tax will raise just $3 billion a year towards the second half of this decade, down from $10 billion plus in the original design. Of course, these are just projections. They depend on a number of factors including commodity prices and movements in the Australian dollar. But the loss will be substantial.

Having walked away from billions of dollars, perhaps the best we can hope for now is that we get the $40 billion the new mining tax is forecast to raise.

The resource super profits tax was a good tax. But so is the mineral resources rent tax, for a host of reasons.

Firstly, it meets a fundamental principle of good tax design, that you should tax most heavily the things that can’t move, so you don’t create incentives for tax avoidance. It’s why broad-based consumption taxes, such as the GST, are good, and transaction taxes, such as stamp duties, are bad.

What could be more immoveable than minerals buried hundreds of metres below the ground?

Secondly, it continues, albeit somewhat less effectively, the idea of replacing state-based royalties, which tax miners as heavily in bad times as in good, deterring investment in some riskier projects with long lead-in times.

The new mineral resources rent tax also satisfies the criteria that it only kicks in when miners are earning a ”super-normal” profit, that is those above a certain deemed commercial rate of return.

Importantly, taxing the super-profitable mining industry also has benefits for the wider economy. By capturing a greater share of profits, (assuming the money is saved, not spent) it helps to take some of the heat out of a strong economy, easing pressure on inflation.

In a speech this month a senior Treasury official, David Gruen, predicted rising living standards in China and India would continue to power the Australian economy for years to come. Rising urbanisation means rising demand for the metals and minerals needed to build roads, railways, homes and appliances, everything a modern Chinese or Indian family could want.

”China and India should continue strong catch-up growth for at least a few more decades – and certainly for the next 15 years,” Dr Gruen says.

By keeping interest rates lower than otherwise would have been the case and easing upward pressure on the dollar, taxing mining can also help to even up the two-speed economy.

Make no mistake, manufacturing is still likely to decline in relative terms as mining booms, but higher taxes from mining can be spent on helping some people adjust to new careers, new lives.

But there remains considerable political work to do before even the new version of the mining tax passes Parliament, ready for its proposed start date of July next year.

Mining companies are threatening all-out war again if Gillard does not agree to reimburse them all future state royalty increases. But to do so would be to write a blank cheque to state governments to increase royalties, potentially eating up a large portion of the revenue raised through the mining tax.

BHP’s record profit suggests it is mining companies that should shoulder the risk of higher royalties, not taxpayers.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

levy gains majority voter support

Published 6:42 AM, 7 Feb 2011 Last update 1:15 PM, 7 Feb 2011

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QUICK SUMMARY | FULL STORY | POLITICS | ECONOMY

AAP

Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s flood levy has gained majority support among voters, but Labor has recorded is lowest support since Ms Gillard took office, according to the latest Newspoll.

The poll, published in The Australian newspaper, shows 55 per cent of voters are somewhat or strongly in favour of the $1.8 billion proposed flood levy.

A total of 41 per cent said they were somewhat or strongly against the levy, with the remaining four per cent uncommitted.

Labor’s primary vote has slipped two points since the last poll in early December to a low of 32 per cent in February.

Primary support for the coalition surged three points over that period to 44 per cent.

Labor’s two-party preferred support slipped two points to 48 per cent while the coalition gained two points to 52 per cent.

Ms Gillard’s job performance approval rating remained stable at 45 per cent.

Voter satisfaction for Opposition Leader Tony Abbott also went unchanged, staying at 42 per cent.

On the question of who would make a better prime minister, Ms Gillard’s support slipped four points to 48 per cent while Mr Abbott’s support increased three points to 35 per cent.

Not getting excited

Federal Labor has played down the poll, saying it is nothing to get “over-excited” about.

Government frontbencher Anthony Albanese said a poll two-and-a-half years out from the next election should be put into context.

“To get over-excited about it is I think a wrong response,” he told ABC Radio.

“It’s pretty clear what the polls have been (since the August election) is 50-50.”

Mr Albanese preferred to emphasise Ms Gillard’s 13-point lead over Tony Abbott has preferred prime minister, notwithstanding her satisfaction rating falling four percentage points to 48 per cent.

“It shows once again, she’s considerably ahead of Tony Abbott,” he said.

Mr Albanese said he expected voters to react negatively eventually to Mr Abbott’s “constant opposition, opposition and then more opposition”.

“Tony Abbott’s problem is that he doesn’t nuance on anything,” he said.

Mr Albanese defended the prime minister from criticism during the summer floods crisis.

“None whatsoever,” he said when asked whether the party was concerned about her demeanour which critics said lacked empathy.

“Julia Gillard has shown leadership and governed through a very difficult period.”

When asked whether the prime minister’s position was safe, Mr Albanese said: “Absolutely, absolutely.”

Newspoll chief Martin O’Shannessy said the poll findings reflected a “very tough December-January” for Ms Gillard.

“Her personal rating is really suffering,” he told Sky News of a four-point lift in the level of dissatisfaction (42 per cent) with the prime minister.

“That’s a pretty tough position for her.”

It was Ms Gillard’s worst rating since becoming Labor leader.

Labor’s primary vote support was in the “very dangerous” territory and lower than it was when Kevin Rudd was prime minister, Mr O’Shannessy said.

Parliamentary Secretary Richard Marles said Australians would judge very harshly Mr Abbott’s response to the floods recovery effort.

“We know that his political strategy is to pick a fight with us whenever and wherever he can, but to do so over a national tragedy is tacky,” he told Sky News.

Charities say flood levy critical

Charities and community groups helping Queenslanders rebuild their lives are demanding federal MPs support the levy.

Groups, including the St Vincent De Paul Society and Salvation Army, say the levy is crucial for people and communities shattered by the summer floods and cyclone Yasi.

“Our call for parliament to act quickly is motivated by the need to ensure people receive the help they need,” Australian Council of Social Service CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie told AAP.

Ms Goldie will join other community sector representatives in Canberra on Monday to lobby politicians to support the legislation.

They are also seeking assurances services and benefits, including the disability support pension (DSP), will be spared further budget cuts.

The sector has been critical of government cuts to climate and low-cost housing programs to help fund the rebuild and ensure a budget surplus in 2012-13.

And it is concerned further savings will come from cuts to the DSP payment, after Prime Minister Julia Gillard vowed to do more to get recipients back into work.

Close to 800,000 people claim the benefit, costing taxpayers $11 billion this year.

A group specialising in social security law warned the government against slashing the payment by $130 a week to bring it in line with the unemployment benefit.

“If the government’s participation agenda is little more than simply moving people with disabilities onto the lower-paying Newstart Allowance it will fail,” National Welfare Rights Network spokeswoman Maree O’Halloran said.

St Vincent de Paul Society chief executive officer John Falzon says long-term workforce participation cannot be achieved by keeping people on benefits below the poverty line.

“The people on the edges of the labour market deserve to live with dignity. The government knows this,” he said.

“We call for genuine welfare reforms that flow from this reality.”

Minister lobbies Opposition

The Sunday Telegraph February 06, 2011 12:00AM In

Extraordinary: Tourism Ministers Jodi McKay has asked the Coalition to overturn one of her own Government’s decisions.

A STATE Labor minister has written to the Coalition asking it to overturn her own government’s decision to close a disabled residential facility after the election.

The extraordinary move by Tourism Minister and Member for Newcastle Jodi McKay has left Opposition MPs scratching their heads.

In the letter to Opposition ageing and disability services spokesman Andrew Constance last week, Ms McKay referred to her government’s plans to close the Stockton Centre for disabled people, which is in her electorate. She asked the Opposition to commit to continuing disability care and services on the site.

“This issue is above politics, as the residents and their families need certainty,” Ms McKay said. “Your advice of support for the Stockton Centre would be appreciated by me and the centre’s residents and their families.”

The centre is earmarked for closure in 2018 as part of a disability services plan called Stronger Together.

The plan has been backed by Premier Kristina Keneally, who has announced several funding commitments towards achieving its goals.

Ms McKay is fighting to save her seat against Tim Owen, who has been preselected by the Liberal Party.

Although she holds the seat with a 17.9 per cent margin, the anticipated backlash against Labor has put some of the State’s safest seats in doubt.

Wild weather could help blow in the new carbon tax
by Mal Farr

04 Feb

05:55am
The Gillard Government is determined to get a victory on carbon emission penalties within 12 months, and a key factor in this political process could be the latest weather reports.

Scenes like this devastation in Cardwell may yet pave the way for a shift in public sentiment on the carbon emissions penalties. Image: AFP
The general public was more receptive to the arguments for global warming the last time the weather was big news, when Australia was dealing with record drought and lethal bush fires.

They might be willing to listen again following the counter events of massive flood and wild winds across much of the continent.

There is no broadly accepted direct link between climate change and Australia’s natural disasters of the past month, but they fit the theory of global warming causing “severe’’ weather.

The theory says that a hotter world generates more energy in the atmosphere and draws up more water, which falls as rain or snow, at times accompanied by powerful winds.

It’s not the appearance of floods and cyclones, it’s the intensity of their effect which global warming backers argue is important.

The oversized and destructive meteorological features in Australia and elsewhere – such as the freak “thundersnow’’ hitting Chicago – have encouraged claims that the forecast consequences of global warning have started.

It’s not just that a cyclone has hit Queensland. There have been some 60 of them in recorded history. The stark factor is the size of the blow.

And it’s not just that there has been heavy flooding in Queensland, NSW and Victoria. This is a regular event. It’s the magnitude of the inundations that is the additional element.

The recent disasters are producing some forthright comments. Resources Minister Martin Ferguson, in today’s Australian, made his strongest public endorsement of nuclear power in this country—unfortunately, perhaps, doing so just a few weeks short of the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl reactor catastrophe in the Ukraine.

Greens leaders Bob Brown and Christine Milne have made clear they blame coal miners for the horrors in Queensland.

As the advance gales of cyclone Yasi were about to breach the north Queensland coast on Wednesday, Climate Change Minister Greg Combet was giving reporters a confidential briefing.

There was little new in what he said. The intention appeared to be to reinforce the pledge from Prime Minister Julia Gillard earlier in the week that the Government would get a price on carbon emissions.

And that it would be done this year.

Combet reaffirmed the Government’s preference for the so-called hybrid mechanism, which would see a price put on carbon – effectively a tax – and the evolution of an emission trading scheme later.

Details will be put to the Greens and cross-benchers as the debate gathers pace.

The expressions of determination by Government figures underlined the key difference between now and the last time voters, in general, were ready to hear about climate change.

Back in 2006-2008, the Coalition also believed in global warming caused by human activity, and had policies to deal with it. Remember Malcolm Turnbull? Remember, indeed, John Howard?

Today the Coalition under Liberal Leader Tony Abbott is hostile to the theory of global warming and the Government’s response.

Gillard will have to bring a majority of cross-benchers, and the Greens in the Senate after July 1, with her if she is to fulfill that legislative pledge, because Abbott will not help her.

The Government will have to convince voters that global warning must be addressed, and that Australia must take action because it is more vulnerable than most nations to climate change.