February 23, 2014 | Graham

Redcliffe an opportunity for Newman

The Redcliffe byelection provides the Newman government with an opportunity.

Like most oppositions who win government, particularly with a large majority, they have been having trouble justifying themselves.

At the last election electors’ preoccupation was with ridding themselves of the Bligh government. They didn’t give a lot of thought to what the LNP would do when elected. The LNP didn’t encourage them to either, as it might have moderated their voting intention.

So they won government without a compelling positive narrative, with a huge and naive backbench, and with little experience in coordinating a multi-pronged policy assault.

That has seen them perform creditably, but without gaining public kudos for it because their achievements have been obscured by poor media management.

A sixteen percent swing in Redcliffe is savage. It’s hard to know how much is due to the corruption of the previous LNP member, Scott Driscoll, and how much to concerns about the Newman government, but a proportion of it is certainly an attempt to send Newman a message.

The LNP also ran a poor campaign, and it would appear Labor ran a better one. This repeats the relative performances of the parties in the Griffith byelection, although there the LNP result, though not as good as it should have been, was certainly better than Redcliffe.

The LNP campaign message to electors was that there was no point voting for Labor’s Yvette D’Ath because if elected she wouldn’t be in government and couldn’t do anything for them. They also promised to spend up big on a number of projects including $12 million for Redcliffe Hospital, $900,000 for state schools, and $400,000 to turn the Redcliffe Fire Station into an arts and volunteer hub.

The problem with this approach is that electors feel they are being bribed, and while you can buy electors, they have enough self respect that they don’t want to feel like they’ve been bought.

In addition the LNP promised to get the GP Super Clinic that Kevin Rudd promised going and deliver on the Moreton Bay Rail link.

As the former federal Labor member D’Ath can claim responsibility for the rail link, as it was Labor federal funding that made it possible, after 119 years of it being promised. Federal Liberals ridiculed the GP Super Clinics, so it doesn’t make much sense that state Liberals are going to prove it was a good decision! Both of these policies are counter-productive to winning votes.

So the first opportunity Newman has is to fix up his campaign team. Whoever designed this campaign is not up to the job at the moment. They need to shape up, or ship out.

His second opportunity is to refashion his message.

Inasmuch as voters are sending him a message it is about perceptions. People do not like Newman, and that is why his picture wasn’t on the how-to-vote cards. Inexplicably (another question of campaigning) he was dominant in the physical campaign during the last weeks.

Newman and his handlers have to accept this as a given. What they need to understand is that “like” isn’t what it is about. Voters never liked John Howard, the odd mobbing aside, but they tolerated him over more popular opponents because he delivered.

The “Cando” man has to rediscover “Doing” and forget about trying to be likeable, and he has to focus on what he is achieving whilst comparing and contrasting with Labor’s inept performance in government. He’s tough, and that’s why he will deliver, and a tough politician would never try to buy his way to success in a byelection.

His third opportunity is to look for structural change in how his parliamentary party operates.

One thing I find strange is that there is no ginger group within the parliamentary LNP. Some members have jumped ship and joined Palmer United, but that has been flaky behaviour.

In the past there have always been ambitious and/or principled members who have acted as an internal check on party decisions.

Some of the members of those ginger groups have been promoted into cabinet, despite, or perhaps because of, their devil’s advocacy.

Where the Newman government has made policy mistakes it has often been questions of fine-tuning. When convicted paedophile Robert John Fardon was likely to be released on parole they tried to stop him being released by giving the executive power to extend his sentence.

This offended notions of separation of powers, as well as the idea of habeas corpus, and was over-turned by the courts. A different process, such as reversing the onus of proof in applications for parole in particular cases, could have returned the desired result without offending the law.

But the consultation process was truncated, or non-existent. An active ginger group, encouraged by the leadership, could have saved the government this embarrassment.

They might have also adjusted the bikie legislation, where the biggest problem appears to be the length of sentence for what appear to be minor infractions, so that sentences are more moderate, decreasing the leverage available to bikie publicists, and increasing the chances of judges and juries convicting.

The next election is due in around 12 months.

Now is the time to make the changes that have to happen, and the Redcliffe byelection result provides a narrative to make that change acceptable to supporters, and swinging voters, alike.

Posted by Graham at 9:39 pm | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Australian Politics

February 17, 2014 | Graham

How much assistance does mining really get?

“If the ‘end of the age of entitlement’ has come, why does the mining industry get so much assistance?” is a question I’ve seen raised lately by activists. It’s a curious question, because as the Productivity Commission shows, mining receives virtually no assistance at all, as you can see from the following graph and table from their Trade Assistance Review 2010-2011 demonstrates.

Perhaps the lack of assistance is part of the secret of mining’s success.



The first graph shows budgetary assistance by sector contrasting two periods. As the report notes:

The manufacturing and primary production sectors, which together contribute about 10 per cent of value added, received around one third of total estimated budgetary assistance in 2010-11, while the mining sector received relatively little measured assistance.

Combined_Assistance_Industry_PCAThis table shows the net assistance by industry. If you click on it you can see that mining receives a net $150.7 m worth of assistance, while producing somewhere around 10% of GDP. Motor vehicle manufacture receives around 8 times that, but only produces a very small fraction of national wealth.

In fact, mining is penalised by the assistance given to other industries so that you could argue that virtually all the resistance that it receives is necessary to even-up the ledger.

Posted by Graham at 7:28 am | Comments (7) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

February 11, 2014 | Graham

Spinning (that’s polite) to a win in Griffith

I said in some recent analysis that the Labor campaign in Griffith had been dishonest. Yesterday I received an email from the winner, Terri Butler, which is exhibit “A”.

Her opening statement was:

We’ve sent a strong message to Tony Abbott that Australians won’t stand for his cuts to healthcare, his cuts to super fast broadband and his cuts to our childcare.

So, which cuts to healthcare, super fast broadband and childcare are these?

It’s completely clear cut on healthcare and childcare – there is nothing on the table at the moment.

On the “super fast broadband”, that would be the broadband that was being constructed around Australia in anything but a “super fast” manner, and whose top speeds were of little use to most of us.

Under Abbott and Turnbull we’ll be getting faster broadband sooner.

Her statement isn’t a clear cut lie, but it isn’t the truth either.

I’m surprised the government wasn’t campaigning against the ALP on the basis that they still hadn’t learned the lesson of last election – you can’t steer a country by spin.

Posted by Graham at 11:54 am | Comments (1) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

February 05, 2014 | Graham

Cannery good news story shows way for ABC coverage.

The ABC’s role is to fill the gap where commercial news providers falter, and there is no bigger gap than that for good news.

“If it bleeds it leads” has long been a maxim for newspaper editors. So most of the news that we get is about famine, flood, fire, war and pestilence, but little of it is positive.

The result is that we live in a neurotic half-world where everything seems to be in permanent decline, despite the fact that conditions for humanity are the most benign that they’ve ever been.

Coverage of industry assistance is a good example of the problem.

The only businesses that you tend to hear about are those that are in decline. And when issues are covered the framing tends to again be in terms of doom and disaster.

This framing has been applied to the motor vehicle industry and now the food processing one.

The proposition which is uncritically put, and almost universally accepted, is that if the government does not give SPC Ardmona $25 m, jobs will be lost.

But the truth is that jobs and money will actually be saved and wealth boosted, if SPC Ardmona receives no government assistance at all.

The critical concept is opportunity cost. The $25m that Ardmona wants is $25m that will not be available to someone else with a viable business plan.

No better demonstration of that is the announcement today that a $40m cannery is to be built in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley by a group of farmers without any contribution from the taxpayer.

Company spokesman Colin Dorber says:

…the company will not go the way of other failed canneries such as SPC Ardmona.

Their struggles are about old technology, old ideas, and allegedly inappropriate employment conditions…

The reality is that a modern, technologically superior cannery and processing facility, purpose-built, is clearly viable and clearly profitable.

What the advocates of funding SPC-Ardmona’s Shepparton plant want to do is to take money away from profitable enterprises through taxes, to prop-up a company whose shareholders can fund the development, if they think it will be sufficiently profitable.

If not, they should think about selling the undertaking to someone who shares the views of Mr Dorber and his colleagues.

Full marks to Brisbane ABC Radio, and my colleague, Steve Austin, for finding this good news story.

When you look around, as he did on air this morning, there are myriads of other good news stories of innovative manufacturing businesses who are prospering, making a profit, and exporting all over the world.

I noted wryly last year that the ABC established a Fact Checking unit – wryly, because I thought fact checking was what journalism should be all about.

Perhaps they could consider an Optimism unit, whose job would be to check all of the sad stories, not for facts, but to see what the upsides of them are.

Posted by Graham at 3:49 pm | Comments (6) |
Filed under: Uncategorized

February 05, 2014 | Viv Forbes

Green energy not fit for purpose

Germany’s wind and solar power generation came to a standstill in late 2013. More than 23,000 wind turbines ran out of wind and most of the one million photovoltaic systems ran out of sunlight. For a whole week, coal nuclear and gas-powered plants generated an estimated 95 percent of Germany’s electricity.

Britain has 3,500 wind turbines, but during a period of extreme cold they produced just 1.8% of UK’s electricity. But, gluttons for punishment, politicians intend building more.

When electricity demand peaked at the height of the recent heatwave in Southern Australia, the total power output from the fleet of wind farms across Victoria and South Australia was almost zero. Solar panels worked at their peak for a short time during the heat of the afternoon, but waned as the sun moved on and smokiness increased.

At dinner time on any still, cold winter night, when all suburban stoves, lights, TV’s and heaters need power, solar panels sit in the dark, powerless. And the idle wind turbines are probably drawing power from the grid for heating, lubrication, electro-magnets, hydraulics and start-up.

Despite the expenditure of trillions of dollars on conferences, green energy subsidies, research, carbon taxes, carbon trading, solar and wind subsidies, plant construction, additional transmission lines and back-up power, wind and solar only produce a derisory share of world energy (“zero” to the nearest whole number).

We keep hearing how “research” will solve the key green energy problems, but no amount of research can alter the fact that solar energy will always be variable, intermittent and dilute.

Even if solar panels collected 100% of the solar energy that fell on them, and no dust or snow ever covered the panels, the output is always variable and intermittent, with the rise and fall of the sun, the long night and the variable clouds, snow and dust.

Similarly the wind is variable, often too weak, sometimes too strong, and even when it is just right, there may be no demand for that surge of power. Germany has 23,000 wind turbines – they produce an average of about 17% of their installed capacity; on some days, they harvest nothing except subsidies (and they are good at that).

And crucially, both wind and solar energy are very dilute, so large areas of land are required to collect significant energy and to build the spider-web of roads and transmission lines required to connect to each other and to the grid. Solar panels rob green plants underneath of their sunlight. Wind turbines annoy neighbours with their noise, devalue their properties and slice up eagles, bats and migrating birds. These are very significant human and environmental costs never mentioned by green energy disciples and promoters.

No amount of research can change the key intermittent and dilute nature of green energy. We should stop wasting ever-increasing amounts of money on pointless research.

Even if we invented magic batteries (small with massive capacity, low cost, no energy losses and everlasting life), the green energy plants would still need to spend over 60% of the energy they generate to charge the batteries in order to produce 24/7 power.

There are places when green energy is appropriate and useful, and people should be free to use it at their own expense. But for grid power, it is not fit-for-purpose.

All of this explains why Green Germany is now using more coal than it did in 2009 and its power supply is more expensive and less reliable.

Posted by Viv Forbes at 10:34 am | Comments (13) |
Filed under: Environment

February 04, 2014 | Sev Ozdowski

Kids in detention: New AHRC Inquiry

Yesterday the Australian Human Rights Commission has announced the second inquiry into the human rights of children in immigration detention. See:  www.humanrights.gov.au/national-inquiry-children-immigration-detention-2014

Between 2002 and 2004 I as the Australian Human Rights Commissioner have conducted the first inquiry that resulted in a report ‘A Last Resort? National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention’ tabled in Parliament on the Budget day 2004. This report found that the mandatory immigration detention of children was fundamentally inconsistent with Australia’s international human rights obligations and that detention for long periods created a high risk of serious mental harm. In response the Howard Government released all children and their families from immigration detention few months later.

Certainly the repetition of my inquiry is the highest form of flattery but timing is very odd. When the boats were arriving in large numbers and Labor was at its peak of cruelty towards the boat arrivals AHRC almost did not see the problem and the newly appointed Children Rights Commissioner was proclaiming that her jurisdiction is limited to domestic matters.

It would be interesting to learn what AHRC jurisdiction is over Manus and Nauru. Also, how its findings will add to the 2004 report’s findings and recommendations. Let’s hope the inquiry is not only a political exercise in consciousness raising but that it will bring a permanent end to the long term immigration detention of children.

Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM Australian Human Rights Commissioner (2000-05)

Posted by Sev Ozdowski at 6:29 am | Comments (1) |