Australian Politics 2015-01-28 16:01:00



In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is having a laugh at Al Gore and the freezing weather on the American East coast

Wild speculation masquerading as research

No regard for the facts at all below

AUSTRALIA’s two biggest science and weather bodies, CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have released new climate change data and information on how it will affect Australia.

“There is very high confidence that hot days will become more frequent and hotter,” CSIRO principal research scientist, Kevin Hennessy said.

“We also have very high confidence that sea levels will rise, oceans will become more acidic, and snow depths will decline.

“We expect that extreme rainfall events across the nation are likely to become more intense, even where annual-average rainfall is projected to decline.”

According to the CSIRO report, in Australia specifically, oceans will become much warmer and more acidic [Impossible.  It's one or the other]. Cyclones will decrease, but when they do occur they will be significantly fiercer and occur further south.  Droughts will become more intense and ‘severe’ bushfire ratings will become more common.

Water temperatures will also continue to rise, which means storms can suck up more moisture resulting in heavier rain and snow fall.

Dr Karl believes there are also two lesser-known phenomenons that we should all get our heads around because of their impact on the future: permafrost and arctic meltdown.

“Permafrost is defined as any ground that has been frozen for at least two years, with one quarter of all the land mass in the northern hemisphere being permafrost,” he says.

The problem with permafrost is that with temperatures rising and more permafrost thawing, enormous amounts of harmful [??] carbon contained within the ice are being released into the atmosphere. About 1.7 trillion tonnes of organic carbon, or four times the amount humans have dumped in modern times, could be released, says Dr Karl.

Since 1980, 80 per cent of the Arctic summer ice has been lost which is resulting in more extreme weather across the world and new areas for oil and gas companies to drill.

How will this affect us?  Homes will be destroyed, food will become more expensive and lives will be lost.

According to the National Climate Council, hundreds of thousands of coastal homes are at risk, with 80 per cent of the Victorian coast and 62 per cent of the Queensland coast at risk of being wiped out by 2100.

One of the hardest hit areas could be the Gold Coast, a massive tourist drawcard and an economy worth $1.5 billion per year.

With droughts intensified, farmers will struggle to grow crops, resulting in them losing their livelihoods. But on top of that, our food will become much more expensive, for everything from meat to Weet-Bix.

The government’s Australian Climate Change Program warns that an increased number of bushfire days could result in more homes and lives lost as they become harder to fight.

Dr Karl points out that in Australia, our biggest issue will come from heatwaves caused by rising temperatures.  “Heatwaves have killed more Australians than all other natural hazards combined,” he says. 

“In the European heatwave of 2003, some 70,000 people died. The Russian heatwave of 2010 killed around 55,000 people.”

“Back in 1961, heatwaves with temperatures significantly above average covered 1 per cent of our planet’s land area. By 2010, this had risen to about 5 per cent. By 2020, it’s expected to rise to 10 per cent — and for 2040, to 20 per cent.”

What can we do about it?

“We have to move to a 100% renewable energy based country,” says Matthew Wright, the Executive Director of Zero Carbon Australia and 2010’s Young Environmentalist of the Year.

“We need more resilience on our buildings so they consume energy more efficiently and also move towards using electricity in its place.”

Our government also has more work to do. “We need to make sure governments put in legislation that make sure energy companies don’t block people from installing solar panels,” says Mr Wright.

“It’s also risky for the Australian people that our government has clearly steered towards an economy for coal producers.”


Qld. ALP all at sea over spending

QUEENSLAND always had a reputation for being a fiscally conservative state. In 2003-04, Queensland’s general government debt was only $2.7 billion and the debt held by the government owned corporations was just above $10 billion.

General government debt is now close to $50 billion and another $30 billion is held by the GOCs. That’s more than $17,000 for every man, women and child in Queensland.

The Queensland Opposition’s Fiscal Strategy isn’t so much a strategy for paying back debt, but a recipe for a Fiscal Magic Pudding.

It is designed to prove that Labor has a plan, while justifying its opportunistic opposition to asset leases and keeping key public sector unions happy. But electors should not take it seriously.


To start with, it double counts income, proposing to direct already-committed dividends to repaying debt. If it is going to repay debt, where is the money going to come from for already-committed programs as well as the promises Labor is making to increase spending in other areas?

Either promises will be broken, cuts made or taxes raised. If the document were serious, these possibilities would be detailed.

It also relies on the unlikely proposition the Opposition, should it be elected to government, will run surpluses in each of the next 10 years amounting to $12.142 billion.

There hasn’t been a budget surplus in Queensland for 10 years under the Bligh, and now the Newman governments, and this year’s projected surplus is a tenuous $188 million.

So impossible was the situation, the last Bligh government itself privatised $18 billion worth of assets. But here’s the thing – the debt continued to rise because Labor, in government, found it impossible to rein in spending.

Labor’s plan doesn’t address the issue of whether the Government should be in these businesses or not.

At a time when Labor is spruiking “new green industries” it seems quaint that they are proposing to fund Queensland’s future using what is effectively a geared sovereign wealth fund based on legacy assets in only one industry subject to environmental and financial risk. Ironically, the Queensland government will be one of the biggest carbon emitters in the country.

If your investment adviser suggested you should put all your eggs into the one high-risk basket and borrow heavily to do so, you should probably call the corporate cops, because they could be another Storm Financial. But this is the course local Labor is “seriously” suggesting that Queensland take – and without any attempt to look at alternative returns that might be available, or the risks that they are undertaking.

Labor also has an extraordinarily optimistic view of the course of dividends from the GOCs. Treasury, by contrast, regards the dividend flow to be highly uncertain and subject to potentially unmanageable risks, particularly given the concentration of the assets in electricity. If Labor were serious about the government running investments to pay back government debt, then it would set up a structure like the QIC or the Future Fund, have transparent arms-length management and reporting, targeted returns and a conservative attitude to portfolio risk.

What they wouldn’t do is hold on to assets, just because they are the assets they hold now. With capital markets the way they are, it is likely that, second rate as these assets are, they would find a buyer at top dollar who would be prepared to back their ability to make the organisations more flexible and efficient and get a good return on their investment.

They can also do this whilst reducing costs for consumers. Queensland, with government owned power, has some of the highest bills in the country, higher than states such as Victoria with privatised power generation. The sale of Medibank Private at the top range of estimates shows just how hungry capital markets are at the moment.

The Opposition also discounts the flexibility they would gain by paying down debt now in the event that another financial crisis were to occur.

As the biggest per capita debtor state in the country Queensland is dangerously exposed if lending conditions tighten.

And as the Government is demonstrating, there are alternative community investments, such as transport infrastructure, which some of the funds raised from privatisation can fund.

In reality, Labor’s plan to repay the enormous government debt will not work. There is no way that two thirds of dividends can be quarantined while running operating surpluses. And bear in mind, there is absolutely no scope to make needed investments in the state other than by raising more debt.

Higher taxes might be part of the mix but that would kill the growth prospects that Labor is so keen to promote.

The end result would be taxpayers left holding unprofitable assets, paying much higher taxes for the privilege and with debt again on the ascendant.


In Index of Economic Freedom, U.S. Is only 12th Freest Economy

Australia (4th), New Zealand (3rd)  and Canada (6th) much freer.  USA only just pips bureaucratized Britain

There is no single formula for overcoming challenges to economic development and maintaining economic dynamism, but one thing is clear: Around the globe, governments that respect and promote economic freedom provide greater opportunities for innovation, progress and human empowerment.

The 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, released today, tracks policy developments affecting economic freedom across the world by looking at four primary areas: rule of law (property rights, freedom from corruption), government size (fiscal freedom, government spending), regulatory efficiency (business freedom, labor freedom, and monetary freedom), and market openness (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom).

Here are five key points you should take away from this year’s Index:

*    The United States continues to be only the 12th-freest economy, seemingly stuck in the ranks of the “mostly free,” trailing such comparable economies as Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland. Although the downward spiral in U.S. economic freedom since 2008 has come to a halt with modest gains in six of the 10 economic freedoms, the 1.6-point decline in overall economic freedom over the past five years reflects broad-based deteriorations in key policy areas. Increased tax and regulatory burdens, aggravated by favoritism toward entrenched interests, have undercut America’s historically dynamic entrepreneurial growth. As Americans more than ever look to their future with growing frustration, 2015 should be the year of action to put America back on the path to freedom and revitalize its entrepreneurial pulse.

*    The global average economic freedom score has advanced to its highest level ever. Despite the continuing challenges that confront the world economy, the global average economic freedom score has improved over the past year by one-tenth of a point, reaching a record 60.4 (on a 0-to-100 scale) in the 2015 Index. Although the rate of advancement has slowed in comparison to last year’s near record 0.7-point increase, the world average has now reached a level a full point higher than that recorded in the aftermath of the financial crisis and recession.

*    101 countries, the majority of which are less developed or emerging economies, showed advances in economic freedom over the past year. 37 countries, including Taiwan, Lithuania, Georgia, Colombia, Israel, Cabo Verde, Montenegro and Côte d’Ivoire, achieved their highest economic freedom scores ever in the 2015 Index.

*    Competition for the top spot in the Index rankings has intensified more than ever. The 2015 Index has recorded a number of noticeable realignments and achievements within the top 20 global economic freedom rankings. For example, although Hong Kong has maintained its status as the world’s freest economy, a distinction that it has achieved for 21 consecutive years, the gap between that territory and Singapore, the second-freest economy, has further vanished.

*    Countries with higher levels of economic freedom continue to outperform others in reducing poverty, achieving greater prosperity, and ensuring broader progress in many dimensions of social and human development. As the Index has catalogued, nations with higher degrees of economic freedom prosper because they capitalize more fully on the ability of the free-market system not only to generate, but also to reinforce dynamic growth through efficient resource allocation, value creation and innovation. Policies that promote freedom, whether through improvements in the rule of law, the promotion of competition and openness, or suitable restraints on the size and economic reach of government, turn out in practice to advance practical solutions to a wide range of economic and social challenges.

A recurring theme of human history has been resilience and revival. The country profiles in the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom include many examples of countries that have accelerated their economic and social progress in the face of difficult challenges and a sometimes harsh international environment. Their successes can be emulated by others. The Index charts not just one path to development, but as many as the ingenuity of humans can produce when they are free to experiment and innovate.


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): A Game Changer?

In 2013 the University of Queensland joined edX, the international consortium led by Harvard and MIT whose goal is to create and deliver learning through MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. UQx, the University of Queensland's title for its MOOCs, was born. By the end of 2014 there were nearly a quarter of a million enrolments from more than 250 countries and regions in UQx courses. That is nearly five times the University's current regular enrolment.In MOOCs all content, exercises and assessment are delivered on-line on the Web. The courses are free and available to anyone anywhere. They provide a marvellous way to showcase the University's teaching, and to help the University reach of the implied goals in its name: a universal learning resource.

But MOOCs also constitute a challenge to existing teaching and learning practices. Around the world many leading university teachers are putting their current course content on-line in mini-MOOCs, exploiting the "flipped classroom" to secure contact time with the students for discussion and tutorial work.

There is a broad shift towards student-driven "active" learning. Some MOOCs are now available for university credit. And there are degree courses taught entirely through MOOCs.

These are potentially disruptive influences. The University of Queensland is among an elite international group of universities leading the exploration of the possibilities of edX and online courses. But what will our University look like if the lecture is effectively replaced by online learning, and if students can study from anywhere on the planet?