Tiny Tonga sends troops to Afghanistan

The tiny Pacific kingdom of Tonga has agreed to send troops to Afghanistan, saying “it looks safer than Iraq” and that fighting the Taliban will provide much needed jobs.A contingent of 55 Tongan soldiers is expected to begin service in Afghanistan in November, the first of 275 soldiers committed over a two-year period following a request from Britain to get involved.”It looks safer than Iraq. Our soldiers will not be doing street patrols where there have been a lot of deaths,” Tongan Defence Services commander, Brigadier Tauaika ‘Uta’atu, said.”This is an invitation from the British army who saw our soldiers work in Iraq and the then prime minister Gordon Brown wrote to our Prime Minister and asked for support.”This is something we think is an honour to be a part of.”Tonga, which has suffered negative economic growth for the past two years, sees a continuing role in UN peacekeeping missions as a way to build up defence force numbers.But ‘Etuate Lavulavu, one of the few popularly elected legislators in Tonga’s semi-feudal political system, expressed misgivings about the government’s stated advantage of the deployment providing jobs.”If it is to find employment, the unemployed can get jobs if they are given skilled training, rather then sending them out to the battlefield to get killed,” he said.He was also not happy a soldier would only be paid £30 (83 Tongan pa’anga, or $52) a day, which he said was not enough “considering he is risking his life and I earn 50 pa’anga an hour and I am not at risk”.However, Brigadier ‘Uta’atu said he was happy with the decision made by parliament which voted 22-0 in favour of the deployment.”The British government will pay £2.6 million to cover all the costs over the first year,” he said.”This will include the uniforms, stores, ammunition, accommodation, travel expenses and a stipend of £30 a day for each soldier every day in Afghanistan.”Brigadier ‘Uta’atu has already been to Afghanistan to look over the camp where the Tongans will be based with about 20,000 British troops and US Marines.”We will be doing force protection and security on the boundaries of a camp, which is in the desert,” he said.Tongan soldiers served in Iraq from 2004 to 2006, and again from 2007 to December 2008.AFP
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Beautician accused of smuggling night scopes from US to Moscow

Just weeks after breaking up a Russian spy ring that included a 28-year-old woman, federal authorities have charged a Dallas-area woman of a similar age with trying to smuggle three night-vision rifle sights to Russia.A federal court affidavit filed in New York accuses 24-year-old Anna Fermanova of suburban Plano of trying to move the scopes in March without the proper export licences.The devices were seized as Fermanova was boarding a plane for Moscow at JFK International Airport, according to the document.She was allowed to complete the trip but was arrested after her return on a charge of attempting to export US munitions.She was arrested at her parents’ home in Plano on July 15. She was released to home detention after posting $US50,000 ($56,000) bail.The case, first disclosed on the website thesmokinggun南京夜网, offers a mix of glamour and international intrigue similar to that of Anna Chapman, who pleaded guilty on July 8 to being a Russian spy.Like Chapman, Fermanova has a Facebook page that includes provocative photos of herself. Chapman lived in New York, where she appeared to work in real estate.But Fermanova’s lawyer, Scott Palmer, said Fermanova’s case does not involve spying. He said Fermanova bought the rifle sights online for a friend of her husband, who lives in Moscow, and that they were to be used for hunting.”There’s no terrorism, no spying, nothing that remotely touches these recent concerns,” he said. “She’s one woman who bought something on the internet, put it in her luggage and this apparently violates federal law.”Palmer said Fermanova was a US citizen who was born in Latvia and raised in the Dallas area. She splits her time between Dallas and Russia, where her husband has a job in the country’s financial industry, he said.The federal affidavit states that Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel are investigating Fermanova and others for attempting to export US military commodities to Russia without the proper licences.The affidavit details how agents found the scopes in Fermanova’s luggage on March 1. Some identification markings on the devices were covered with black marker pen, according to the document.Fermanova told the agents she covered the markings “so they would be less noticeable” when she tried to take them overseas without a licence, the affidavit states.Palmer said Fermanova has been studying to become a cosmetologist. She has a Texas cosmetologist’s licence that expires next year, according to the state’s Department of Licensing and Regulation.AP
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Motorists failing to heed speed warning

CHRISTMAS motorists aren’t drinking, but they sure are driving fast.
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Motorists are taking no notice to speed warnings being issued by police, despite double demerit points during ‘Operation Safe Arrival’.

Police in the Chifley area command have charged 169 drivers so far with speeding offences and this is an increase on the total of 143 from last year.

While general offences are down over the Christmas period, drivers are still exceeding recommended speeds issued on regional roads.

Highway Patrol Sergeant Bob Moulden said police are still being vigilant in targeting holiday motorists.

“Police are still sending out the warning that Operation Safe Arrival is still in full swing so motorists should slow down when they are taking to the roads,” he said.

“Speeding is of particular concern to police at the moment because of the volume of traffic over the holidays.”

Full story in the Western AdvocateCHRISTMAS motorists aren’t drinking, but they sure are driving fast.

Motorists are taking no notice to speed warnings being issued by police, despite double demerit points during ‘Operation Safe Arrival’.

Police in the Chifley area command have charged 169 drivers so far with speeding offences and this is an increase on the total of 143 from last year.

While general offences are down over the Christmas period, drivers are still exceeding recommended speeds issued on regional roads.

Highway Patrol Sergeant Bob Moulden said police are still being vigilant in targeting holiday motorists.

“Police are still sending out the warning that Operation Safe Arrival is still in full swing so motorists should slow down when they are taking to the roads,” he said.

“Speeding is of particular concern to police at the moment because of the volume of traffic over the holidays.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

Can we afford to keep people alive?

WHEN my 79-year-old mother died peacefully in St Vincent’s Hospice, we were thankful we were with her. At home until just a few days earlier, she remained in control as much as anyone dying from cancer could. In the hospice, the morphine made the last few days bearable – and killed her. This is what ethicists call double effect: the intention is good but it has a foreseeable bad outcome.Hospices help people die with dignity. My mother was lucky she was not in hospital – they are not designed to help people die but to keep them alive.The earliest hospitals treated injured soldiers in Roman times. Perhaps this is why we like military metaphors in health so much. We fight diseases and lose the battle against them when we die. Until recently – the past 50 years – most people died in the company of family, friends, priests or faith healers. Today, if we die in hospital, we are more likely to die alone or in the company of strangers.In the 19th century, people were expected to live for half as long as they do now. Most families would mourn the death of at least one child, sometimes more. Medical advances and a better standard of living mean we are no longer reminded of death each day.Hospitals with advanced technology and medical specialisation still fight diseases and frequently win. But there is one fight they cannot win: the one with death.Hospitals are filled with elderly patients at the end of their lives. People over 65 make up an eighth of the population but comprised about 37 per cent of all patients in public hospitals last year. Twenty per cent were over 75 and about 5 per cent over 80.Doctors always include age in an oral summary of a patient but other factors are also important, such as lifestyle, psycho-social factors and a capacity for relationships. Some people in their 70s are fitter and healthier than those in their 50s.I was at a public lecture last month when a 95-year-old woman spoke wise words from the front row. She was as sharp as a tack. If she got sick, she should have all the medical care needed to get her well – but only if she understood the risks and was able to state a preference. A person’s capacity to enjoy life and make decisions is what counts.Because hospitals are designed to treat and save patients, healthcare professionals follow protocols designed to maintain and sustain life, often without considering the patient’s circumstances. The sanctity of life underpins the ethics of hospitals. They use expensive, often invasive, treatments when basic, humane medical and nursing care is more appropriate.The full range of interventions – heart monitors, ventilation machines and other vastly expensive technologies – are given to patients admitted to intensive care units. Expensive imaging equipment, such as MRI machines, can range in cost from $1 million to $3 million, with each scan costing between $500 and $3500.Whether a patient wants any of this is frequently unknown. Patients may be unconscious when admitted, or deteriorate suddenly. The miracles of medicine allow life to be maintained even in the frailest humans. Many die during treatment and the lucky ones have palliative care for their remaining days. Many who recover are incapable of interacting with others and unable to say what they would like to happen. They are incapable of enjoying life or relationships. Is this how we want to die?While affordability is a big consideration, my arguments for limiting treatments for the elderly at the end of their lives are based on the potential for harm from those treatments and avoiding unnecessary suffering – be it for weeks, days or hours.If an elderly patient’s heart or lungs stop working, they will usually be given cardiopulmonary resuscitation by an ”arrest team”, regardless of how likely they are to survive. This is the default treatment. Only patients who have expressed a preference and had it recorded in their medical records are not given the treatment.Many doctors and nurses who are critical on ethical grounds of the requirement to revive elderly patients will go through the motions of CPR. Others give it their best and keep the patient alive, only to wonder later if they did the right thing.The fallback position of extending life seems proper but is, in fact, tragic. Until the mid-1990s, patients in NSW had red or blue codes inserted into their records to show whether were to be resuscitated. Often, neither those patients nor their relatives knew which colour applied to them. They didn’t know that doctors had already decided not to resuscitate. Such information should be shared with patients and carers – a necessity for both them and clinicians.Confusion about policy regarding treatment of the elderly in hospitals means many terminally ill patients are kept alive unnaturally and suffer unnecessarily. It allows the personal biases of doctors to dictate treatment. Some doctors may act on their own moral and religious convictions and try to save every life. Others will not offer treatments when they should on the basis of the patient’s chronological age alone.Why are we reluctant to talk about caring for the dying? Some patients worry that if they refuse high-tech treatment, they will be left without any care. Some doctors see little that’s heroic in caring for the dying – their skills lie, and are better used, elsewhere. Patients need a warm hand and comfort rather than a scalpel.Notwithstanding the clinical complexities of treating the elderly, who often have multiple problems, surely the goal of treatment is to relieve pain and reduce symptoms while not over-treating or causing undue suffering by prolonging life.Palliative care clinicians should be discussing the options with patients and carers to determine what is best for them. Sadly, they are often called only after more invasive treatments have failed – perhaps because palliative care is not well understood by the community.In 2006, for instance, the government report Community Attitudes Towards Palliative Care found it was raised by just 1 per cent as a health issue. While hospices are the alternative to hospitals, palliative care is the alternative to life-saving treatments. A palliative approach treats the whole person by focusing on their quality of life, not just treating the disease. Yet it was not specifically mentioned in the health and ageing budget statements for this financial year. The government did allocate $500 million for more sub-acute care services, which enable many older people to leave hospital earlier. But we need to keep them out of hospital in the first place. Hospitals can be dangerous for the frail elderly, who are at risk of over-treatment, infection and adverse events. If a family member wants ”everything done”, doctors are likely to agree – the fear of litigation ensures that. Doctors respond to family demands, even when the patient will suffer.Yet the cost of treating the elderly in hospital is enormous. This year, $64 billion was allocated to public hospitals and reducing pressure on emergency departments. A disproportionate amount of that money will be spent on those in the last few months of life. This money could be better spent on patients who would benefit and on health prevention.In a NSW hospital, one bed costs about $450,000 a year – $1233 a day. The average cost nationally for each admission to a public hospital is about $4500. Older patients generally stay longer than younger ones – 7.3 days compared with 4.5 for the rest. Apart from toddlers under the age of one, patients over 75 stay longest. Most elderly patients are admitted to hospital for circulation problems, then cancers and tumours.Coronary heart disease and stroke account for 30 per cent of deaths of those over 65. Surgery and general anaesthetic are too much for some. About 10 per cent of aged patients are transferred from hospital to a residential care facility, including those who were admitted with only a broken bone.Where should the elderly go when dying if not to hospital? If a person cannot die at home, the next best place is a hospice.We arranged for my mother’s admission to the hospice when she had difficulty breathing and strong pain. There are too few hospices; of the 78,000 elderly people now in nursing homes, a significant number are transferred to hospital for symptoms similar to those experienced by my mother. Yet the average cost of an aged-care bed is about $100 a day – less than a tenth of the cost of a hospital bed. The cost of a hospice bed is also significantly less than a hospital bed.Keeping the dying out of hospital is better for family, friends and the patient. It’s much easier to have meaningful conversations in a hospice.In the past half-century, we have handed over responsibility for dying to doctors – and we’ve incurred the costs. Accepting death as natural is necessary for imposing limits on treatment. We need more discussion on how we die, how we care for those approaching death and on whether the goal of medical treatment for the dying is to relieve suffering or extend life.This problem is not one of medicine’s making; it is a conceptual one about how we use medicine on the inevitable journey to death.Merrilyn Walton is professor of public health at the University of Sydney.
Nanjing Night Net

Can politicians develop policy before engaging their mouths?

THE lead up to this election campaign did not follow the usual script. Sure, everything that came out of Julia Gillard’s and Tony Abbott’s mouths was scripted and, most likely, focus group-tested as well. But when it comes to the content of the campaign – the policy, the things they promise to do – there seems to have been almost no script. It seemed as though our leaders were ad libbing, or at least making stuff up in a hurry.Gillard and Abbott may have been forced into an extraordinary level of political improvisation because of the unusual tumult of this political term.Labor knifed one leader and the Coalition two in the space of one parliament, during which the policy agenda was consumed with the tumult of the economic crisis. Both leaders came to their jobs late in the term.Because of what Labor did to manage that crisis, Labor and Liberal entered an election campaign with restrictions on how much money they can spend. Everything they spend has to be cut from somewhere else, which may come as a shock after the past few elections.The aftermath of the economic crisis casts uncertainty over the economic outlook.In normal political cycles, the weeks before an election are full of demands that the alternative government reveal its policies. These are rebuffed on the grounds that the alternative government has not yet seen the final budget figures and will release its policies when it is good and ready and when it is sure the voters are listening.But this year, the final weeks before the campaign were consumed by the Labor leadership change and demands that the government explain its policies, devised on the hop by the new Prime Minister to try to neutralise political problems inherited from her predecessor.First, Gillard pulled off a ”deal” to end the war with the mining companies over the resource super profits tax. It emerged with a new name, slightly smaller revenue projections and three big mining companies mysteriously happy. We now know forecasts of higher commodity prices have driven this outcome. The government is delighted Abbott is locked into opposition to a tax supported by the companies set to pay more than 80 per cent of it.Second, she unveiled a new asylum policy – a regional processing centre in East Timor – which unravelled almost as soon as she announced it because of East Timor’s grave reservations. The East Timor solution was preferable to John Howard’s Pacific Solution, she said, because unlike Nauru, Timor was a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Refugees. When Nauru said it was not only keen to reopen its processing centre, but would also consider signing the convention, the policy reasons for shunning it became less clear.And third, Gillard worked up policies on climate change to make up for the fact she was sticking with Kevin Rudd’s decision to delay Labor’s central climate change policy – the emissions trading scheme – even though Labor still believes a carbon market is the cheapest way to bring emissions down.Abbott got to the election starting line having released very few policies at all. And most of those also had a seat-of-the-pants quality to them.He announced a generous paid parental leave policy, which he didn’t take to the shadow cabinet or the opposition party room despite his promises to his colleagues and in contradiction to his attacks on the former prime minister Kevin Rudd for disregarding normal decision-making processes.He once said such a scheme would be implemented ”over my dead body”, but by May he was so convinced it was necessary he was prepared to introduce a ”temporary” levy on big business of 1.7 per cent to pay for it. Then he said the levy would be permanent, but might one day be offset by a cut in company tax which would leave small business even further ahead.He said the paid parental leave would be followed by a generous policy for stay-at-home mothers – like the policy he laid out in Battlelines, and the one he unsuccessfully proposed for inclusion in his budget-in-reply speech, before he was rolled by his shadow cabinet. The Coalition said such a scheme could not yet be afforded.He also released a ”direct action” climate change plan, proposing to reduce greenhouse emissions through government grants and regulation.Most of the emission reductions are supposed to come from storing carbon in the soil. The only major planned industrial emission reductions come from paying hundreds of millions of dollars to the dirtiest brown-coal-fired power stations, to subsidise their owners to replace the stations with gas-fired ones and to subsidise the power produced so the prices don’t rise.Another promise is for a 15,000-strong ”green army” to tackle feral animals and weeds. Initially it was estimated to cost $750 million a year. Now it is costed at $400 million over four years, with the ”army” more likely to total about 3000 workers.Both parties had policy processes under way – the Liberals’ chaired by Andrew Robb and Labor’s – until her ascent to the leadership – by the then deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard. So possibly, the policies we will get in rest of the campaign will be a little less rough and ready.As fascinating as the presidential-style personality race between Gillard and Abbott will be, as fulsomely as it will fill media sound grabs, both sides owe the voters some ideas that are fully costed, and fully thought through.Lenore Taylor is the Herald’s national affairs correspondent.
Nanjing Night Net

Finding jobs for homeless women is a Big Issue

THEY are among the legions of Australia’s less-visible poor: the 46,000 women who, on any given day, are homeless. Yet Sheynell Perry and Clarissa Hall have been more visible than most because they have worked as street vendors, selling The Big Issue.About 85 per cent of the magazine’s vendors – who must be homeless, vulnerable or marginalised to qualify for the job – are men. It is not a job that usually suits homeless women, most of whom have fled domestic violence. Many lack the confidence for such public displays; many consider standing on street corners too dangerous; others worry about the sex-worker connotations; and many have children in tow. Two-thirds of children seeking refuge in a homeless service last year were in the care of a woman escaping a violent partner.Yesterday, Ms Perry and Ms Hall joined a ”round table” discussion in a plush boardroom in Sydney where they were introduced as the real experts on homelessness. Here they met the federal Minister for Housing and the Status of Women, Tanya Plibersek, who acknowledged their bravery.And here, with $1.2 million of seed money from Ms Plibersek, The Big Issue announced an employment project to keep women off the streets – as a place of work, and hopefully as a place for sleeping. It is pioneering a program that will rely not on charity or more government money but on profits to address a big social problem.The fortnightly magazine launched its ”women’s subscription enterprise” under which it hopes to sell – on top of its 30,000 street circulation – at least 9000 more magazines to corporate and other business subscribers. For every 100 extra magazines it sells, it will give one homeless woman a part-time job, with flexible hours, as a dispatch officer in its distribution centres. The 9000 sales would pay for 90 self-sustaining jobs, and provide the women with training for work in the wider market.Westpac has signed up for 100 copies and its general manager of corporate affairs and sustainability, Sally Herman, told the meeting that the bank hoped to one day employ some of the women. Other subscribers include NAB, Telstra and AXA. Doctors’ surgeries will be targeted. Ms Perry, 29, and Ms Hall, 44, will be among the first women recruited.Ms Perry, who left home at 14 to escape abuse, hopes her new job will allow her ”to throw most of my baggage behind”. For the past 15 years, she has literally carried her baggage around Sydney, night after night, while sleeping rough in parks or ”couch surfing” with friends or family. She has spent time in jail for assaults committed while under the influence.Two years ago, a Big Issue vendor called Ronnie took her under his wing. She cleaned up her act. Still, her jail record prevented her getting work, until now.”This is not a charity,” said another woman at the table yesterday, Cheryl Kernot. ”This is a for-profit, social-purpose business.”Ms Kernot, a former leader of the Australian Democrats and Labor shadow minister, is now the director for social business at the Centre for Social Impact at the University of NSW. She showed the meeting a water bottle made of composted corn starch, another example of a successful social enterprise. Filled bottles are sold for profit, 100 per cent of which goes to clean water projects around the world.Also at the table was Kirstie Papanikolou. As a child she was shunted between foster homes. But she was one of 35 young homeless people taken on as retail trainees at The Body Shop. Two years later she went to work inThe Big Issue’s administration and has been there for 14 years.”I’m married,” she said. ”I’ve got two young boys. I own my own home. I have a full-time job and I have a wonderful family-and-friends support network. If someone had have said that 16 years ago, I would have said, no, I would probably be dead by now.”
Nanjing Night Net

Is there time to spare in the fight against climate change?

SO much heat, so much wasted time and energy.That could be a description of the political debate on climate change, or of the state of Australia’s energy and climate change predicament. Either way, climate change has already proved its political potency. Now we need our governments to prove its transformative and economic power. We have no time to waste.Waste is at the core of the problem. Over the past three years the climate change debate has been stranded by politics and the language of fear, blame, cost and complexity. Precious time has been squandered in the politicisation of climate change. It descended into a campaign against climate scientists, replete with assertions that controlling waste and pollution would cripple the future prosperity of the country.Addressing climate change is a question of leadership. Right now we need our leaders to take decisive and clear action, to change the language and to get on with the task of transforming our economy. Moving beyond the politicisation of climate change will be the 21st century leadership test.When the government we elect sits down to map out its priorities, there will be many strong signals to support putting policy leadership on climate change at the top of the list. We have to hope the new cabinet will listen to those signals.First, the power of the issue in the hearts and minds of Australians continues to be underestimated. Politicians and many commentators have refused to take proper measure of public opinion research on the issue, preferring to advocate caution, and delay.The social research I follow to understand what people are thinking on the issue is the Thermometer Survey on Australian Attitudes to Climate Change. Led by researcher Randall Pearce, with a team of behavioural experts from several universities, it has consistently discovered strong support across Australia for early and direct action on climate change.In February last year, 83 per cent of all Australians favoured immediate action instead of waiting for our big trading partners to announce their plans. One respondent stated what many believe: ”If they’re not going to do it, who else is? An issue like that; they’re the reason you have a government in the first place.” Only last week, the pollster PureProfile found 80 per cent of NSW residents want action on climate change now.Second, the impacts of climate change continue to develop both here and around the world. As noted in The New York Times recently, hot is the new normal. This year is shaping up to be the hottest on record, with nine countries already recording their hottest temperatures. Six nations in Asia and Africa set new all-time hottest temperatures last month, and Pakistan recorded Asia’s hottest temperature ever, 53.5 degrees, on May 26.We are heading into another hot summer of our own. Australia is one of the countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, with high risks of drought, summer heat stress, severe storms and coastal inundation.Third, the global race to shift to low-carbon and clean economies is on, and we are missing out on this boom. More people are now employed in clean energy than coal, a trend rapidly increasing across the globe.Australia is increasingly left exposed in the worldwide move to carbon competitiveness and productivity, preferring to rely on the historical experience of exporting fossil fuel. We’ve excelled in the high-carbon political economy since coal first left Australia’s shores in 1793. The question unanswered is whether we will play so well in the global low-carbon economy.Fourth, more Australian businesses are expressing their frustration and anger at the failure to commit to a carbon price and to long-term policy plans so they can make significant investment decisions.And most importantly, the next cabinet needs to consider climate change inextricably linked to other societal problems – the pace of urban growth and development, food and water security and building sustainable economic resilience.The interplay of these issues will define Australia’s long-term prosperity. The connected challenges demand a new way of looking at opportunities and solutions. A government acting strongly and clearly on climate change can help create innovative solutions for myriad problems.For all the talk of moral challenges, the most pressing climate change story is rapidly building national resilience to the unavoidable effects of extreme weather and climate events, while transforming our energy, water and waste systems to take advantage of the economic benefits of the new low carbon economy.What could a government prepared to lead on climate change do?The first priority must be to set a clear, market-based carbon price with a long-term plan to limit carbon pollution. There will be some losers in this decision, but in this time of tremendous economic transformation we need political leadership to provide certainty to investors, businesses and communities as they move to build a clean and efficient economy.The government then needs to change the language of climate change. It must move from the era of challenge, compromise and expense, to the world of opportunity and economic resilience. The change in behaviour required to waste less energy and water is much harder than first thought. We need the help of social sciences to teach and encourage us, as we wean ourselves off our addiction to cheap dirty power and to become less wasteful generally. Rather than assuming that our power and water bills will be more expensive as our energy systems transform, our communities need to know that we can save money, save resources, and have a far more efficient economy.As part of that reimagining of our clean-energy future, the government needs to promote a national clean, low-carbon growth plan, underpinned by comprehensive regulation for large commercial and industrial process to deal with waste, water and energy. This should encompass a nation-building energy efficiency program, encouraging all levels of society to participate. We have the technological solutions to achieve this and lead the world. Australia just needs long-term enduring policies and clear transition plans, not token programs and early picking of technology winners.There is a strong connection between regional economies, climate science and urban planning, but it is often neglected. A leading government could implement incentives for local governments to develop planning regimes to build climate resilient and low-carbon towns and cities.This was suggested last year by a parliamentary inquiry into climate change and environmental impacts on coastal communities, and provides a strong foundation for a national plan for climate adaptation. Australians should be able to expect the government has national disaster resilience plans in place, to ensure we are adequately preparing for the unavoidable impacts of climate change.Finally, a cabinet with foresight and imagination would underpin these policies and initiatives with a strategy to develop skills and support for innovative investment in building new businesses in the low-carbon economy.We all aspire to be good ancestors for the future generations who deserve to enjoy our nation’s beauty. This begins with the actions of the government we will elect to office shortly.Those most affected by the climate change decisions taken in the next three years of government will be today’s children. Only by the time they reach the middle of their lives will they know if our leaders acted just in time.Samantha Mostyn is director of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at the University of Sydney.
Nanjing Night Net

Does the lucky country need migrants?

UNLESS there is a sharp change in immigration policy, Australia’s population is likely to exceed the latest Treasury projection of 35.9 million by 2050. This is the ”big Australia” vision. The projection’s core assumption was that net migration will average about 180,000 a year. By 2008-09, however, it was estimated to be 298,000.Continued migration is not at issue. For 2009-10, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship expects 45,000 visas to be issued to partners alone. Australia is an attractive destination and, once here, migrants and their children, especially those from Asia, tend to return home for a spouse. Few would wish to deprive residents of their choice of spouse. Likewise, the humanitarian program of about 13,000 is not an issue – only the mode of entry is controversial.What is at issue is the policy of successive governments of actively recruiting permanent-resident skilled migrants and their families via the skill program. This is currently set at 113,850 places. The parallel policy of encouraging temporary entry programs – including the 457 visa temporary worker, working holiday and student programs – is largely responsible for the surge in net migration.What is the point of such programs? To judge by responses to opinion polls, few Australians seem to think there is a valid rationale. One earlier this year asked people if they favoured increasing Australia’s population and 72 per cent said they did not.This reaction probably stems from awareness of implications for cities. Most know if the population grows from 22 million to 35.9 million in 2050, Sydney and Melbourne will have an extra 2 million people and Brisbane will nearly double to about 3.7 million.These metropolitan areas are not coping with the recent influx. Why encourage more arrivals? These cities are entering a phase of diseconomies of scale in providing infrastructure and state governments do not have the funds to keep up.A recent report by the Water Services Association illustrates the point. Under the assumptions used for the 35.9 million projection, Sydney’s water use will increase by 121 gigalitres by 2026 and 217 gigalitres by 2056, or by 25 per cent and 44 per cent respectively. As in other capitals, this will soon require another expensive desalination plant or a recycling plant on an equivalent scale. Water bills will grow accordingly.Metropolitan governments have expressed their conviction that, faced with huge growth, they will not accommodate the extra people in outer suburbia. Even in south-east Queensland, residents are told they will have to accept a combination of small-lot houses and apartment living.In effect, young Australians are being told the costs of population growth are such that they cannot expect to live the traditional Australian suburban lifestyle. Why do they have to make this sacrifice?The answer from industry and government is that severe skill shortages will increase with the next phase of the minerals industry boom. They argue Australia needs a strong migration program if these shortages are not to put a break on industrial capacity. Advocates argue these shortages will worsen as baby boomers retire. The ratio of retirees to workers will increase and migrant workers need to shoulder the tax burden.It is true that industries dependent on growth in metropolitan markets need high migration. Almost all new migrants are settling in these metropolises. If the big-Australia scenario eventuates, about 9-10 million of the projected growth of 14 million by 2050 will be attributable to migration and the rest to natural increase. The migrants, as customers, will be the main source of the demand driving the metropolitan housing development and city building industries.The truth is, migration has little to do with the resources industries. The operations workforce in the mining industry constitutes barely 1.5 per cent of Australia’s employed workforce. The industry’s need for construction workers could be much larger during the start-up phase of the many mineral projects on the drawing boards. But even here, the workers required will be a small fraction of the construction workforce employed in Australia’s metropolises.Paradoxically, immigration is a problem for resources industries in this start-up phase because it is a leading contributor to growth in demand for housing, hospitals and roads in the cities. The minerals industry is trying to attract construction workers when their services are in demand in their home cities.Proponents of immigration do not acknowledge that employment growth is dominated by service industries in the cities. Their rapid growth is largely because of an increasing population – as might be expected, given their function is people-servicing. Most of this growth is occurring in health, education, welfare and community services and business services, which includes property. Most skilled migrants work in cities in these industries. Many temporary migrants are employed in lower-skilled retail and other service industries.The Australian economy is like a dog chasing its tail. More migrants fuel growth in the building and people-servicing industries, which then demand more migrants for labour.Most other advanced Western societies are not experiencing, and do not want, population growth on this scale. Unlike Australia, they have avoided being lured into an industrial structure so reliant on population growth.The most extreme example is Melbourne. It is a parasite city whose economy has remained vibrant through the global financial crisis (relative to Sydney) because of record population growth and a consequent boom in city-building and people-servicing.Employment in its manufacturing industries has contracted and Victoria has little mining activity. The city is thriving, yet exports of goods and services from Victoria are barely half the value of imports of goods and services. It depends on Commonwealth funds to accommodate and service its growing population. Successive premiers, from Jeff Kennett to John Brumby, have lobbied for more migration. They understand how central migration is to Melbourne’s population growth and the short-term health of its economy.Should population growth slow, there will be severe adjustment pains for some. But the big-Australia model is not sustainable in economic terms. Australia’s total foreign debt is about $650 billion, with interest payments requiring 4 per cent of gross domestic product. Most of this has been raised overseas by banks to lend to home-owning mortgagees. This is one reason why interest rates are so high in Australia. As with competition for construction labour, industries competing to sell products against international competition have to compete for capital against the city building industries.What will Australia have to show economically for the enormous effort of accommodating an extra 9-10 million migrants by 2050? More debt and a more daunting greenhouse emissions challenge. Meanwhile, much of the fiscal benefit from selling off Australia’s non-renewable heritage, which could have helped fund industrial restructuring, will be spent on accommodating migrants.If overseas migration declined sharply to about half that proposed, it would take much of the heat out of the city building boom. With only 90,000 a year, there would be fewer migrant workers available but far fewer would be needed. With less recourse to skilled migrants, governments and businesses would have to put more effort into preparing young and older residents with the required skills.In this economy, Australians will be twice as rich by 2050 as today. This population will be older but so wealthy that older people will be able to look after their own welfare.Bob Birrell is founding director of the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University.
Nanjing Night Net

Should Australia give up on the bush?

AS the 2010 election looms, the fate of rural Australia seems all but politically irrelevant. It’s been decades since the bush had a strong political voice and neither major party really understands or is committed to the country.If push comes to shove, they will always act on behalf of their urban base. And that urban base is more alienated from regional Australia than ever before, its understanding going no deeper than the stories of drought, fire and farmer suicide that pepper our media.For most of our history, white Australia’s relationship with the bush has been a kind of rape and pillage. During the 19th century, vast flocks of sheep and cattle were driven on to the inland plains and overgrazing destroyed entire ecosystems. The soil simply blew away, painting the snowfields of New Zealand pink.For a century, agriculture was then a series of booms and busts. Each cycle left the inland more degraded. One of the biggest booms occurred in the 1950s, when wool was worth a pound sterling per pound in weight. The country rode upon the sheep’s back and, in the Mallee towns, graziers drove prize rams about in Rolls Royces. What are now dimly remembered places to most – Dimboola, Birchip and Patchewollock – had enough young men to field several football teams.Yet all the while, the underpinnings of regional prosperity were being nibbled away – by poor stock and farm management, by rabbits and by the collapse of the ecosystem. By the 1980s, they had transformed once productive countryside into a moonscape, along the way driving 10 per cent of Australia’s native mammals to extinction.But now a revolution is occurring in regional Australia. Innovative land managers are finding ways to undo the damage, restore rural prosperity and contribute to the fight against climate change. Their success can be measured in part by the increased production of beef and grain during the past two decades – despite the drier climate – and in the rebounding populations of native plants and animals wherever the new practices take root.At the heart of the revolution lies a recognition that paddock and plough, as traditionally used, are weapons of mass destruction. Traditionally, livestock is kept in paddocks for weeks or months. They nibble away at the most nutritious plants, giving the noxious weeds an advantage, destroying both biodiversity and profitability.A new, holistic approach reverses this. The herds are moved from one small cell to another, as often as every day. The livestock eat everything in a cell but, over the following months, the pasture is rested and the grass grows back luxuriant and sweet. Cattle are better fed, less worried by parasites (because the moving disrupts the parasite cycle), calmer and seemingly happier (perhaps because the animals live in a more natural herd structure). And farmers are happier, too, because their workload is more evenly spread and their businesses are more profitable.In times past, ploughing was a declaration of war on biodiversity. Everything was killed, leaving a bare surface into which the crop was sown. Chemical fertilisers were then applied and pesticides and herbicides sprayed to keep other species out. That destroyed not only plants but soil fungi and bacteria, which are essential for healthy soil. If the rains didn’t come, the soil could end up in Sydney or across the Tasman.Traditional ploughing is being replaced by kinder methods such as ”zero kill”. Michael Inwood, a farmer near Bathurst, showed me how it works. You can’t see where the plough has been in his fields, for the native grassland remains thick and green, and his crops spring healthy from among the tussocks. You might think the wheat or oats would suffer from competition with the grass but instead they benefit from the extra soil moisture and soil carbon.Inwood has gone a step further. He’s done away with fossil fuels, dragging his specially modified plough behind a solar-powered ute. His entire property runs on energy from the sun and it remains as profitable as ever. Life is a lot richer than it was before because the environment is now home to fantastic biodiversity and includes hawks – which accompany him as he shifts his sheep between grazing cells – lizards and other wildlife, which all benefit from the luxuriant native grasses.In pioneering such changes, it’s as if the best Australian farmers have discovered Norman Lindsay’s legendary magic pudding. The more productive they make their farms, the more the pudding that feeds them grows. The secret is using biodiversity and soil carbon as allies rather than as foes or resources to be mined. We are seeing the first steps of a movement to restore the bush as an economic and environmental powerhouse of the nation. This time, it will be a sustainable one.The future Australian farm will not only be sustainable but it will draw income from diverse sources. This year, Simon Holmes a Court launched Australia’s first community-owned wind farm, near Daylesford in Victoria. In future, wind farms owned by farmers’ co-ops may be an important source of energy. Farmers are also looking towards biochar as a means of generating electricity. It can be made from any crop waste to form a syngas, a bio-oil and charcoal. The oil and gas can be burnt to generate electricity, while the char can be returned to the soil. The potential scale of carbon storage using biochar is vast but more research and development is required before we’ll know its full extent.Preserving Australia’s biodiversity is a national imperative. Last year, we lost a mammal species – a bat, the Christmas Island pipistrelle – the first to become extinct in 75 years. For a continent that has already lost so much, this is a tragedy but ordinary Australians are now doing something about it.The Australian Wildlife Conservancy, a non-profit organisation, controls 1.5 million hectares throughout Australia and employs scientists to study and manage ecosystems. By controlling fire, livestock and feral cats and foxes, it has achieved amazing things. After a few years of management, surveys a record presence of native animals and, with their return, the ecosystem flourishes. Plants not seen for years spring up, soil structure changes and a tortured ecosystem returns to health.With innovation and potential, the bush is a national opportunity but governments need to become more engaged.The endless energy resources of the inland – including solar, geothermal and wind – could be unlocked by the development of a high-voltage direct-current power line connecting the continent from east to west. This would bring renewable energy to the grid and it would do away with two of the nation’s four daily peaks in energy demand. We should develop a city in the Cooper Basin – a Geothermia – as a hub for minerals processing dependent entirely on clean, renewable energy.There is so much government could do. The Wentworth Group’s suggested water reforms – including large purchases of water licences and diverting funds from infrastructure such as pipelines to broader community support – would hasten a return to economic and environmental health of the Murray-Darling basin.Placing a price on carbon is indispensable in the climate-change fight and strengthening co-operatives would help farmers harness new energy resources. Most of all, however, we need a new kind of politics. Nation-building initiatives such as an east-west electricity interconnector are important not just for the opportunities they create but for the message they bring: we’re a nation united and by working together we can bring opportunity to all.Professor Tim Flannery is an author, scientist and was Australian of the Year in 2007.
Nanjing Night Net

Infrastructure scheme a barrel of pork, says opposition

A REPORT into a key plank of the government’s stimulus package has sparked a clash between Labor and the Coalition over whether administration of the $550 million infrastructure scheme amounts to pork-barrelling.The Australian National Audit Office report found the spending was evenly spread across seats held by the government and the opposition, but the proportion of applications approved was much higher in Labor-held seats.It also pointed to several cases of the government cutting corners in its attempt to distribute stimulus funds, and the fact that just a month ago two-thirds of the cash had yet to be spent, even though it was intended in part to ward off recession.The report looks at the Regional Local Community Infrastructure Program, which allowed local councils to apply for access to $550 million in funds for ”strategic” infrastructure projects to be spent from April last year.The report found that 42.1 per cent of project applications in Labor-held seats were approved, while only 18.4 per cent of projects in Coalition-held seats were approved.But local councils in Coalition seats were far more prolific in lodging applications, meaning that the total amount of funding provided a ”reasonable geographic spread” and was ”largely consistent with the proportion of electorates held by the major parties and independent members”, the report found.In total, the 55 per cent of seats held by Labor received 57 per cent of the funding, the 43 per cent of seats held by the Coalition received 37 per cent and the 2 per cent of independent-held seats gained 6 per cent.The report said that the awarding of funding disproportionately favoured Labor held seats when considered in terms of the projects’ ability to be quickly begun to achieve the economic stimulus objectives.The opposition said the report showed government spending was a pork-barrelling attempt to shore-up Labor electorates.”The Rudd-Gillard Government broke its own rules, funnelled money to Labor electorates and punished Australian families based on where they live,” the opposition spokesman on finance, Andrew Robb, said.The Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese, rejected claims of impropriety.”To ensure the program’s integrity, funding decisions were made based on departmental advice and following independent viability assessments of the proposals submitted.”
Nanjing Night Net