Sex Party could help Pauline slip into senate

While Labor seems to be sailing to a fate similar to the original Titanic come September 7, a swirling maelstrom of murky Senate preference deals could provide life jackets to a very mixed bag of Senate hopefuls including Pauline Hanson, writes John Mikkelsen 

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Massive storm hits new Marine Parks proposal

John MikkelsenJohn Mikkelsen examines the controversy surrounding the Federal Government's decision to lock up much of the Coral Sea as "Marine Parks" :

A massive storm of controversy has hit plans by the Federal Government to lock up much of the Coral Sea in a series of huge marine parks in Australian waters.

Most commercial and amateur fishing organisations are strongly opposed to the plans announced by Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke on the eve of a major international environmental conference in Rio, while some tourism and environmental groups gave it a guarded tick of approval.
Opponents see it as an attempt by Mr Burke to save face in the wake of the damning draft report by UNESCO, which has threatened to place the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area on the endangered list after visiting major expansion projects at Gladstone, Mackay and other northern ports in March.
Mr Burke this week was forced to delay his planned trip to Rio to promote the marine parks proposal so that he could face Opposition questions in Parliament.
 Some Green groups say the planned changes don’t go far enough, and various marine experts claim the closures more than 100 km offshore will do little to boost coastal fish stocks threatened by pollution from dredging and other major development.
Federal Member for Flynn Ken O’Dowd and LNP Senator Ron Boswell, who have been pushing for proper recognition of displaced commercial fishers in Gladstone, yesterday launched a strong attack on the new proposals, which follow another controversial  decision to allow a huge foreign trawler to operate in Australian waters.
They said the move by the Gillard Government to allow the 142-metre long Dutch-owned Margiris super-trawler to fish Australian waters was a slap in the face for our commercial fishermen who would soon be forced out of the proposed marine parks.
“Tony Burke is attempting to shut down the Australian commercial fishing sector with the world’s largest marine parks, and at the same time the Government has approved what will be the largest trawler ever to fish in Australian waters.
“This is stupidity at its best and again highlights the dysfunction in the Gillard Government and how again their policies are at cross purposes,” Senator Boswell said.
Mr O’Dowd said
the Government was sending mixed messages.
 “They must decide if they are for fishing and jobs or not.

 “I have been told that fish are the best renewable resource that we have, and if a reef or bommie becomes crowded, the fish actually stop breeding.

 “They are territorial and don’t like moving far away, thus catching a few actually helps numbers to regenerate,” Mr O’Dowd said.

He also claimed there was no scientific evidence to support change, no fish species were under threat in Queensland, 80 percent of fish products were imported already, and the new boundaries would open flood gates to other nations to  plunder our fishing grounds.

“How will we control these extra 3.1 million sq. km of waters when we can’t patrol existing protected waters?” Mr O’ Dowd asked.

Commonwealth Fisheries Association spokesman Brian Jeffriess said the plan showed a lack of cooperation between state and Federal Governments, to avoid duplication.

"What is symbolic about this is in the Minister's statement itself – all this about the biggest and best, the biggest and best in the world and you have to believe that's what it's about, beating your chest in front of the rest of the world rather than good ecosystem management”.

Mr Jeffriess said the changes would threaten the livelihood of fishing crews and their communities.

Rather than the $100 million compensation suggested by the Government, the amount needed was closer to between $250 and $300 million, he said.

A James Cook University scientist has also hit out at aspects of the proposal. Dr Terry Hughes, a Federation Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, writes in acadamic  blog, The Conversation:

“….Marine reserves rebuild depleted stocks of fisheries, but they do not address the impacts of coastal developments and pollution. While today’s announcement ….is a big step forward, it won’t change how we affect the marine environment from land. The number of major coastal development projects along the Great Barrier Reef has grown hugely in the past decade, and the new Queensland government has promised to reduce “green tape” in the future….

“In response, the UNESCO report has formally requested that the Australian Commonwealth prohibits the construction of new ports along the Queensland coast, and that all future coastal developments must not affect the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area….

“The rush to get as much fossil fuel out of the ground as quickly as possible, before the transition to alternative sources of energy occurs, has pushed environmental concerns far into the background. The Commonwealth has been complicit in the damage coal mining is causing to the inner Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area by allowing an unprecedented level of dredging and dumping within the boundaries of the World Heritage Area….”

Aquaculture expert Rangi Faulder, who has been assisting with research on seafood disease in Gladstone Harbour, says that the new marine parks will place more pressure on other areas where fishing is permitted.

“The right way to approach it would be to manage all areas that produce seafood sustainably, not take a path where areas are badly managed, so you offer up areas that can be kept free of all commercial fishing.

“Making (more) marine parks is a sign of losing areas because of bad management. Gladstone has ‘gone’ for fish, now we will lose the new marine parks for fishing too. 

“There are many instances of areas in the world not being too heavily fished and not being degraded and they will produce seafood forever. Let’s hope someday that is the way we work it all out, but I don't see this new move as a win at all. It's a con, epic fail.

“As for UNESCO, I'm certain they will see past this attempt and will be looking at how their specific recommendations are dealt with,” Mr Faulder said. 

John Mikkelsen is a long-term journalist, former regional newspaper editor (Gladstone Observer) now regular columnist and freelance writer. This article first appeared in the Queensland Telegraph & The Mackay Telegraph  and is reproduced with permission. 

UNESCO shock waves

John MikkelsenJohn Mikkelsen reports a UN report calling for more "environmental" regulations and a halt to new port developments in QLD:

SHOCK waves are still reverberating from UNESCO’s long-awaited draft report calling for a halt to new Central Queensland  port developments, greater environmental offsets and improved management practices to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Gladstone, with coal and liquefied natural gas projects totalling more than $70 billion, was squarely in UNESCO’s sights after it expressed “extreme concern” last year at not being informed in advance. The broadside it delivered last weekend provided a trigger for new Queensland Premier Campbell Newman to promise changes to management of the Gladstone Ports Corporation (GPC), and has sparked a bitter war of words between Mr Newman and the Federal Government over a major coal development in the Alpha region.

The report coincided with another period of excess turbidity in Gladstone Harbour, where the Southern Hemisphere’s largest dredging program is underway in the Reef’s World Heritage Area, against a tide of international controversy.

Bad timing for the GPC; At a media conference on Tuesday, when Mr Newman was asked if action would be taken over high turbidity levels, he replied: "You (bet) there will be some changes to the Gladstone Port Corporation. Watch this space.

"I do not have confidence in the current management of the Gladstone Ports Corporation and there will be changes."

This aroused intense speculation over how far the changes would extend and whether they would include board chairman  Ian Brusasco or CEO Leo Zussino, both long-term Labor Party stalwarts, but the Premier would not elaborate. However in Parliament the next day he announced Mr Brusasco would be replaced and he would work with a new chairman to appoint new board members, who would look at environment and financial management issues, including the fishing industry.

Again, he did not say whether  Mr Zussino would also be stood down.

In a recent article in The Australian Financial Review, former premier Peter Beattie admitted his appointment of Mr Zussino was a “political appointment” but claimed he had performed the job in a non-political manner and in Gladstone’s best interests.

But the current dredging project has been blamed by commercial fishermen and others including independent scientist Dr Matt Landos for causing continuing disease in fish and other seafood. About 300 turtles plus several dugong and porpoises have also died in the harbour since initial LNG access dredging started in October 2010, while about 60 commercial fishermen and others have presented with skin rashes, or serious infections requiring hospitalisation.

The GPC and other state authorities have always maintained that dredging has not adversely affected water quality, and  can not be linked  to these problems.

The court hearing of a compensation claim by commercial fishermen will resume mid-July to hear a GPC submission to have the claim struck out.

Environmental physician and Queensland Greens member Dr Andrew Jeremijenko has hit out at the ports corporation for frequently allowing turbidity trigger levels to be exceeded.

On World Environment Day (Wednesday), he said the turbidity had been higher than the stipulated “99th Percentile” for about 12 days. 

“It should only be over for one day in a hundred and in the last month they have been over for 38 percent of the time.

”This is damaging the great Barrier Reef world heritage area and the UNESCO report specifically states,
"Reduced water quality from dredging, inadequate independent,  scientific oversight  in monitoring water quality, suggested lack of government response when water quality targets are  exceeded…

Dr Jeremijenko also claimed the Premier and Queensland Cabinet were constitutionally bound to protect the Great Barrier Reef and its World Heritage listing.

However, he conceded that, “It is not the economy versus the environment.  You can have both”.

The state government recently raised the turbidity threshold at the request of the ports corporation, which had claimed the original levels were too conservative.
It blamed the latest high turbidity on “large spring tides”.

Meanwhile, a war of words has erupted between Campbell Newman and Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke, after he suspended approval of the $6.4  billion Alpha coal mine project in the Galilee Basin. This escalated yesterday with Prime Minister Julia Gillard accusing the Premier of threatening the Reef by cutting corners on the proposed Galilee Basin development .

But Mr Newman said the Federal Government was just playing politics to attract Greens’ support and challenged Mr Burke to specify what he was objecting to so it could be addressed and the project approved.

The squabble  has also raised concerns  with the Whitsunday Regional Council which yesterday called on the Federal Government to provide clear time frames

and certainty for the expansion of Abbot Point to handle the coal exports.  

Mayor Jennifer Whitney, accused Mr Burke of “looking at this with a glass half empty point of view”.

“Abbot Point is an existing facility that is being expanded and it sits outside the

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.  Therefore, it should be given the green light,” she said. 

The council welcomed UNESCO’s recommendation for a long-term sustainable development plan, and protection of the Great Barrier Reef, but not at the expense of projects in the final stages of approval.

“It is crucial to the future prosperity of our region that the expansion of the port occurs,” Cr Whitney said.

John Mikkelsen is a long-term journalist, former regional newspaper editor (Gladstone Observer) now regular columnist and freelance writer. This article first appeared in the Mackay Telegraph last Saturday and is reproduced with permission. 

Elvis has left the House, but ‘Return to Sender’ is about to flood it

John MikkelsenJohn Mikkelsen reports on the Return to Sender campaign:

The Labor Government, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and some left-wing elements of the mainstream media haven’t quite realised it yet but a current of discontent rippling below the surface of communities throughout Australia is about to be unleashed in a torrent of peaceful protests which may be too big to ignore.

One ripple is already headed to its first intended destinations, you and me. But that won’t be the end of it, rather a new beginning as it gathers strength and surges back to Parliament House with the ghost of Elvis giving a lop-sided leer of approval.

Across the nation, many ordinary Australians plan to take The King’s advice and mark their own copy of the government’s $4 million carbon tax propaganda mail-out “Return to Sender”; or to Prime Minister Julia Gillard or Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, care of Parliament House, Canberra.

Don’t take my word for it, there’s been a case of spontaneous combustion in cyber space since Climate Change Minister Greg Combet announced the the mail-out  last Thursday. By Friday, the Return to Sender campaign had grown legs on at least four different blogs, most with links to Facebook:

Polls indicating almost 80 percent of Australians opposed to the Gillard- Greens carbon dioxide tax have assured the work of postmen and women across the country won’t be finished until many of the “information brochures” have travelled back to Canberra and the PM.

For all those who accepted Julia Gillard’s word when she said, “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,” it is a much more effective protest at the waste of their tax dollars, than tossing the package in the bin. They will be mindful that another $21million is being spent on trying to sell a tax they now feel is being forced on them without the chance to vote on the issue at an election.

Not all are climate sceptics or climate realists who don’t accept continued assertions that “the science is settled”  or the latest example of Prime Ministerial “hyperbowl” that “ the evidence for a carbon price is as high as Mt Everest”.

Many just don’t accept that cutting Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions by five percent by 2020 or even the now-expanded target of 80 percent by 2050 will have any effect on global climate as Australia produces just 1.4 percent of global emissions. They know emissions will keep expanding regardless while we increase coal exports to countries without a carbon price.

They don’t accept that “the time is right” for a carbon tax in light of rising inflationary pressures and a warning from the Reserve Bank that the “Good old days are probably gone for good,” with a drastic drop in consumer spending masked by the mining sector which the tax will target. The time is not right while the US and some EU nations are facing huge financial problems likely to reverberate around the globe.

But a flood of mail clogging the corridors of power in Canberra  is not the only message about to be delivered.

Just over a week ago I wrote about the Convoy of No Confidence in the Federal Government which had grown from the concept of a single protest convoy planned by the National Road Freighters Association, to a total of eight in a matter of days.

Now the number of separate convoys leaving multiple centres in every mainland State has grown to 11, with thousands of trucks, motor homes, private cars, utes, caravans and charter buses converging in Canberra on August 22 for what promises to be the biggest mobile protest Australia has ever seen.

Organisers of the protest convoys are quick to point out that the expression of no confidence in the Gillard Government and the call for an early election are not based on any single issue, but a need to achieve clear leadership and a democratic voice which many Australians now consider to be lacking.

According to spokeswoman Cate Stuart, there is widespread belief that there is no certainty under the present Federal Government.

“The thrust of this is for an election and to let the politicians listen to the people. I am all for democracy, I am just a mum but many thousands of people are thinking the same thing,” Mrs Stuart said.

She said the Prime Minister Julia Gillard had recently stated that “Democracy is not an opinion poll”.

“Quite right, Prime Minister, democracy is a vote,” Mrs Stuart said.

For all those who claim we had that opportunity last year, tell that to the majority who remain firmly convinced they were misled by Ms Gillard’s promise six days before they cast their vote.

That is an abiding image which the spin doctors can’t erase.

John Mikkelsen is a long-term journalist, former regional newspaper editor (Gladstone Observer) now regular columnist and freelance writer. Originally published in The Punch and reproduced with permission. 

Is it “Time” again? Protest convoys call for election

John MikkelsenJohn Mikkelsen reports on the Convoy of No Confidence in the Federal Government:

“BREAKA, breaka Rubber Ducky, looks like we’ve got us a convoy…” 

 Well actually we’ve got eight of them now and soon the wheels will be turning across the length and breadth of Australia in what promises to be the biggest mobile protest Australia we have ever seen, with the Labor Government and an early election as the targets.

 The “Convoy of No Confidence in the Federal Government- Coalition of Industries” will rumble towards Canberra next month from every mainland state.

What originated as a plan for a peaceful protest starting from Darwin and calling for an early election has gone viral in the space of less than a week. Organisers, the National Road Freighters Association, soon realised from expressions of interest and promises to participate that Darwin would not be able to cater for the expected numbers, and routes have now been planned for eight separate convoys including several in Queensland and others in all mainland states.

The massive response gives some indication of the level of discontent which has been reflected in every major opinion poll in recent weeks and which shows no signs of improving any time soon.  Various factors have contributed, with the controversial carbon tax and its $25 million promotion and advertising campaign topping the list.  Backing this are issues such as the still unresolved live cattle export trade, the Malaysian refugee deal apparently about to be announced with a country which is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, plus mixed messages about the effectiveness and likely costs of the NBN service to consumers if and when it is finally rolled out to communities across the nation.

Then there are the latest calls for an inquiry into the conduct of the Australian media following the News Corp phone tapping scandal in the UK, with a perception that attempts by Greens leader Senator Bob Brown and some Labor figures  such as Communications Minister Stephen Conroy to investigate claimed media bias are borne more out of spite than any true belief there are serious breaches of privacy laws in Australia.

Organisers of the protest convoys are quick to point out, however, that the expression of no confidence in the Gillard Government and the call for an early election are not based on any single issue, but a need to give the people clear leadership and a democratic voice which many Australians now consider to be lacking.

That  seems to be indicted by the overwhelming response, with the first  convoy scheduled to start from Port Hedland in WA on August 16, two days before another from Cairns. A Rockhampton convoy will leave on August 20, the same day as two from Brisbane. Others will get their motors running as far afield as Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne.

The convoys are not confined to trucks although each is expected to be led by NRFA board members. More trucks and other vehicles including cars, utes, or any other roadworthy vehicles are expected to join in along each route as they eventually converge in Canberra on August 22 during the next sittings of Federal Parliament.

Spokesman for the organisers, Cate Stuart, confirms the protest is not aimed at any single issue but a belief that there is no certainty under the present Federal Government.

“The thrust of this is for an election and to let the politicians listen to the people. I am all for democracy, I am just a mum but thousands of people are thinking the same thing, “ Mrs Stuart said.

She said the Prime Minister Julia Gillard had recently stated that “Democracy is not an opinion poll”.

“Quite right, Prime Minister, democracy is a vote,” Mrs Stuart said.

Mayors from some major regional centres had indicated they would also travel to Canberra to speak to the crowd.

Convoy participants would each be required to display an Australian flag to identify them, but other appropriate banners and slogans representing every issue that affects any industry, business or individual such as the proposed carbon tax, property rights, coal seam gas  and live cattle trade could also be displayed. Offensive banners would not be welcomed.

“This protest was totally borne out of frustration, but we don’t want any one political party to make out it was their idea. It is a people’s convoy and a lot of grey nomads towing caravans are expected to take part. Some people have told us they will be towing horse floats to sleep in,” Mrs Stuart said.

“I am so encouraged that so many are saying yes, we want to be part of history here, we care about our country, and we want an election. Australians are problem solvers, Australians are workers,  Australians are proud people. Australians demand an election,” Mrs Stuart said.

A call had also been made for volunteer paramedics to join each convoy as a safety precaution.Hopefully the convoys will be able to proceed safely without interference to their destination and a clear message will be delivered for the people’s voices to be heard and democracy will be the eventual winner. A final word from the master of quips, Winston Churchill : “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all the others that have been tried”. 

John Mikkelsen is a long-term journalist, former regional newspaper editor (Gladstone Observer) now regular columnist and freelance writer. Originally published in The Punch and reproduced with permission. 

Verbal battle lines drawn on carbon tax

John MikkelsenJohn Mikkelsen gives us his take on the carbon tax battle:

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”

Hey Tony, pull your socks up.

Those are the most famous fighting words in modern history, uttered by Britain’s war-time Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill.

They inspired a nation to ultimate victory, but these days if he were an Australian Prime Minister or Opposition Leader, he could be talking about the Gillard Government’s controversial carbon tax.

In our case, Opposition leader Tony Abbott and his troops are fighting in the fish markets, they are fighting in the coal mines and in the construction trenches; Julia Gillard is leading the defence in the shopping malls, she is fighting in the town hall forums and right there on our TV screens.

But so far according to the opinion polls, the Opposition has taken the high ground and the pro-carbon tax forces are fighting an uphill battle. Just like Winston, both sides have declared they will never surrender.

I’ll probably cop flak for comparing Britain’s darkest hour with the carbon tax debate, but the PM provided some inspiration for that herself during the Brisbane public forum on Wednesday night when she attributed another quote to Churchill.

Asked why she was now introducing a carbon tax when she had promised on the eve of the last election, “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,” she replied: “I think it was Winston Churchill who said, ‘When the facts change, I change my mind, what do you do?”

Oops. She has recently admitted that the changing facts in this instance were represented by Bob Brown and the Greens pushing for a carbon tax.

But it wasn’t Churchill who said that in the first place. It was famous British economist John Maynard Keynes and it was used more recently by a prominent Australian scientist Dr David Evans to explain why he had changed his mind on the issue of climate change.

Dr Evans was a former global warming true believer who worked on computer carbon modelling for the Australian Greenhouse Office until he eventually came to the conclusion there was no evidence in the upper atmosphere to support the theory of man-made climate change.

But quotes don’t win or lose a war and we are all in for a continuing verbal assault until the matter is eventually resolved by an election. Hopefully.

Meanwhile, journalists who were told by Ms Gillard to “stop writing crap” about the proposed carbon tax have found an unlikely ally in Federal Member for Flynn, Ken O’Dowd.

“If she wants the media to stop writing crap, maybe she should stop speaking it,” O’Dowd said. He has repeatedly referred to his electorate as “ground zero” in terms of likely impacts from the carbon tax.

Ms Gillard was asked about how the media had handled the debate over the government’s planned tax during her address to the National Press Club last week.

“I think we will have a long debate about media ethics in this country but if I could put it as clearly as I can, I would say to you, ‘Don’t write crap. Can’t be that hard’,” she said.

But O’Dowd said yesterday that apparently any reporting which did not support the carbon tax was regarded as “crap” by Ms Gillard even though all major opinion polls continued to show a big majority of Australians were opposed to it.

“It explains why the government plans to spend $12 million of taxpayers’ money on an advertising campaign in a desperate attempt to try to sell their dodgy Greens – Labor carbon dioxide tax,” O’Dowd said.

Another $13 million would be spent on “propaganda mail-outs” and pro-carbon tax websites.

“People aren’t stupid, they know this new tax will increase their cost of living, threaten their jobs, their small businesses and our major mining and manufacturing industries.

“They know it will not change the world climate while our major competitors do not have a carbon tax.

“As Australia emits just 1.4 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, how can reducing that by 5 per cent, 20 per cent or even 100 per cent change anything?” he asked.

It’s a question which many ordinary Australians would like answered, faced with the confusing prospect of a government hell-bent on a scheme which will apparently taketh with one hand, giveth with the other while many receiveth nought and the climate changeth regardless.

Or as O’Dowd added: All pain for no gain.

John Mikkelsen is a long-term journalist, former regional newspaper editor (Gladstone Observer) now regular columnist and freelance writer. Originally published in The Punch and reproduced with permission. 

Mature-age workers ‘collateral damage’ under carbon tax?

John MikkelsenMenzies House Contributor John Mikkelsen demonstrates how mature-age workers will be especially disadvantaged by the Gillard-Brown carbon tax:

Some older Australians are now less worried they could become collateral damage under the Labor Government’s carbon tax, but there is still one group who feel they may slip through the compensation cracks.

Up until last weekend, details of the compensation package revealed by PM Julia Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan had referred to a “battlers’ buffer” in the form of increased pension and welfare payments plus tax cuts for low and middle income earners. But what of those already struggling to meet increased living costs on fixed incomes, who do not receive a pension and pay little or no tax?

They know the costs of food, transport, housing and a raft of manufactured goods will rise further under a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme, because that is the flow-on effect a price on carbon dioxide emissions will have. It is why the government is attempting to make the controversial plan more palatable by giving sneak peeks at the compensation package while details of the actual carbon price, payments to households and trade-exposed industries are still being negotiated with the Greens and Independents.

Self-funded retirees initially appeared to have been left on the shelf, along with mature-age workers, particularly part-time employees who qualify for the seniors’ tax offset. But then Miss Gillard revealed another snippet which should help the retirees sleep more easily: Self-funded retirees would receive quarterly cash payments to make up for rises in household costs associated with the tax.

As the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee limps towards a final deal on the tax, the government will apparently match the sweetener delivered to pensioners.

That’s good news for almost 300,000 self-funded retirees who hold a Seniors Health Card. Singles who earn up to $50,000 a year and couples earning $80,000 a year combined from their superannuation or other investments would receive a dollar-for-dollar payment equal to any indexed rise in the pension.

Well, fine, but that still leaves the mature-age workers, in particular the part-time employees who may have decided to keep working to boost their super after seeing  values slashed drastically during the global financial crisis.

Have they just been overlooked by the spin doctors behind the sales pitch or can another announcement be expected in the final sprint to the carbon tax chequered flag? Now we are told all will be revealed on Sunday.

Hopefully, it’s an oversight which will be rectified so that this segment of the grey brigade who have paid tax throughout their working lives can at least look forward to the same measure of assistance offered to the other low and middle income earners, pensioners and retirees.

Ms Gillard has already been forced to back-pedal from her initial promise that 7 million Australian households won't be worse off under her carbon tax.

She had told ABC Television that "7 million Australian households won't see a cent lost through carbon pricing''.

In announcing the initial assistance package, which did not mention retirees or older workers, Ms Gillard said "the vast majority we assist actually won't pay any price because of the assistance that they receive.

But when questioned, her office was quick to point out she had meant to say that of the nine out of 10 households to receive assistance, the "vast majority" would not be out of pocket.

Households earning more than $120,000 would receive limited or no compensation, with the compensation package aimed at low and middle-income households. Those earning between $65,000 and $160,000 are deemed middle income.

After this announcement at least one Federal MP took up the cause for independent retirees and older workers.

Based in Gladstone, the Central Queensland mining and major manufacturing centre now also playing host to the multi-billion dollar Liquified Natural Gas industry, the LNP Member for Flynn, Ken O’Dowd called for an assurance that this significant group would not be forgotten.

“I challenge the Prime Minister or the Federal Treasurer to confirm they will not be overlooked,” he said in a media release last week.

 “There are many throughout the Flynn electorate who are worried about the impact of the carbon tax and whether they will be forgotten”.

Tax cuts or small pension increases would not help these people who faced rising living costs which would keep on rising under a carbon tax.

He said his electorate was at “Ground Zero” in terms of the carbon tax because it stood to lose most with the threat to thousands of jobs in the aluminium, coal, and cement industries.

Many workers in the electorate’s major mining and aluminium industries, whose jobs were most at risk, would also be ineligible for compensation, according to O’Dowd.

“The cost of living is already very high here and unless older residents are all compensated under any carbon tax, many will be forced to leave – some are already leaving,” he said.

It’s a compelling argument which would also apply in other parts of Australia, so was the PM listening?

Hopefully his challenge will be answered in full and all members of the grey brigade will be able to sleep a little easier as the controversial carbon tax limps towards the finish line on Sunday.

John Mikkelsen is a long-term journalist, former regional newspaper editor (Gladstone Observer) now regular columnist and freelance writer. 

The Climate Commission report is full of it

John Mikkelsen It should come as no great surprise that the Federal Government’s Climate Commission has produced a new report with dire warnings backing Labor and the Greens’ case for a carbon tax.

The report would really have created headlines if it said climate change was not real or that a carbon tax was not a necessary part of measures to prevent it, along with carbon sequestration.

There was nothing much new, apart from a claim that sea levels could now rise up to one metre by the turn of the century, which is higher than even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s top range forecast of 0.18m to 0.76m.

The commission said the oceans around Australia were rising faster than the rest of the world – and they were rising fastest on the northern coastline, placing infrastructure such as Brisbane Airport under threat.

Interviewed on the ABC with report author Prof Will Steffan, chief climate commissioner Prof Tim Flannery said reasons for variations were “complicated” and depended on various factors, one of which could be land sinkage.

If some Pacific islands are gradually disappearing, is the sea rising or the islands sinking, as some sceptic scientists have long claimed?

And while Brisbane could be in for a hard time with more frequent flooding, ports further north apparently won’t be at much risk judging by planned massive expansions to coal export facilities including Gladstone, Abbott Point and Hay Point. This will cater for increases in exports of more than 90 million tonnes to a total of 250 million tonnes of coal a year by 2015, or more if rail infrastructure could also be developed.

At Gladstone, existing stockpiles sit on reclaimed land just a couple of metres above sea level, a big new coal terminal is planned on low-lying Wiggins Island and less than a kilometre away, land clearing is progressing on Curtis Island near the water’s edge in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. This will cater for the first of several huge Liquified Natural Gas plants costing a total of around $60 billion, with the blessing of State and Federal Governments.

All this seems at odds with the Climate Commission’s predictions about sea level rises and the effects of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels driving climate change.

How can the Federal Government justify a plan to tax Australia’s 1000 worst polluters, compensate those that are “trade exposed”, over-compensate low and middle-income earners for rising costs and somehow expect all of this to have some effect on world climate?

Unlike the Greens, I would not advocate curtailing the coal industry which now contributes an essential $50 billion a year to our economy. But it must be rank hypocrisy or stupidity for the government to continue exploiting what it says it accepts is a major culprit in driving climate change.

You can’t have it both ways. We do not live in a bubble where we can control our own climate such as the futuristic world depicted in the old sci-fi film classic, Logan’s Run, yet we continue to ship as much coal to countries without our stringent emission controls as our ports can handle.

We also plan to ship most of our lower-emission LNG overseas to places such as Japan and China for a few cents a litre when much more could be utilised domestically to convert older coal fired power stations and even power our national car and truck fleets rather than relying on diminishing and expensive OPEC oil supplies.

Our massive reserves of coal seam gas could push concerns about Peak Oil into the background as it can be readily converted to petroleum products or used directly as a fuel, with companies such as Ford, Mercedes and Honda producing models overseas running successfully on compressed natural gas.

That should be a topic on its own which I hope to revisit, and which both governments and Opposition should consider if they are serious about tackling our carbon dioxide emissions.

Meanwhile, the Climate Comission again emphasised there is no question about global warming, claiming the science is settled and most world governments accept it is happening.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently said this was accepted “by every reputable climate scientist in the world”, but there are many who would disagree, including emininent international scientists Profs Richard Lindzen, Henrik Svensmark, John Christy, Dr Ferenc Miskolczi, Dr Miklos Zagoni, our own Profs Bob Carter, Ian Plimer, Dr David Evans plus more than 30,000 US scientists who have signed a petition refuting man-made global warming.

With so much at stake, it highlights the fact we really do need a proper scientific debate at a national level rather than another report by a government-sanctioned commission to sort out these claims.

The latest report will do virtually nothing to convince the many sceptics and others opposed to a carbon tax who will regard it as just more hot air.

John Mikkelsen is a long-term journalist, former regional newspaper editor (Gladstone Observer) now regular columnist and freelance writer. The above article was posted on the Punch on May 25.

Have I got a post-budget deal for you!

John Mikkelsen Supporters of the Green Gospel of Global Warming, have I got a post-budget deal for you which can help you save the world.

Don’t be deterred by the fact a consensus over a carbon tax seems further off than ever. That’s no longer on Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s wish list and you know we’re going to get it by July next year, come Hell or high water.

It’s a shame the sceptics seem to be gaining the upper hand in the continuing debate.  Maybe they are rigging the poll results, judging by the latest Newspoll in The Australian, which found 60 per cent of voters were opposed to the tax.

It’s all that damned wrecker Tony Abbott’s fault. He keeps attacking poor Julia’s carbon tax plan and treasurer Wayne Swan’s budget when he knows it’s not even really a plan yet – more a thought bubble. The least he could do is wait until the PM and her Green’s partner Bob Brown sort out the tax rate and how most of us will be over-compensated while the 1,000 worst polluters pay up.

No need to worry about job losses either, because the unions have all that covered and the trade-exposed polluters will be compensated too.

It already sounds like a win-win deal and we only have until July to wait for all to be revealed.  Wayne in his wisdom has included $15 million in the budget to advertise the carbon tax and the negative polls will be reversed when more voters realise they will be better off accepting that carbon dioxide really is a nasty pollutant responsible for driving global warming or “climate change” as the better-informed advocates call it these days.

This really does make a lot of sense as it covers all bets – rising temperatures, falling temperatures, droughts, fires and floods. Heads you win, tails you can’t lose; everyone knows that climate changes, and if you gain a few more believers by dropping confusing words like “anthropogenic” from the title, how good is that?)But one of the downsides of being a true believer is knowing that every breath you take is adding to the problem. It’s a sad fact of nature that living, breathing organisms which depend on oxygen for survival, expel carbon dioxide.

Yes, this includes you and me, even oxygen thieves like Tony Abbott, with the average human expelling about 1kg each day or 365 kg per year of this dangerous “carbon pollutant” CO2.

According to the US Census Bureau, the earth’s human population now numbers more than 6.9 billion, so do the math. My calculator doesn’t have enough zeroes, let’s just say it’s an awful lot of CO2 and don’t be put off if some damned sceptic tells you that even adding all the extra spewed out by volcanoes, cars, trucks, power stations and big industries, the total amount of CO2 represents a piddling 0.038 percent or 388 parts per million, of the atmosphere.

It’s powerful stuff and we know it’s causing climate change, right? We may not be able to prove it yet (see Take the Climate Change Challenge), but just like Julia Gillard, we know it’s happening.

Now for the really good news for all those who lie awake at night with guilty thoughts about breathing. You don’t have to worry, there is a living Green Screen mask available which will sequester every breath you take.

This is no joke The Green Screen was one of five finalists in Project Greenway, a design competition organised by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture.

Made from fungal spores which eventually sprout, the living mask resembles a green beard covering the nose and mouth. Not only will it capture your polite personal greenhouse gas contributions, but it filters out bacteria as well. Moisture in the breath helps the seeds to germinate and the CO2 plant food does the rest.  Great for blokes particularly on St Paddy’s day, members of the fairer sex should be able to accessorise by going the full matching collar and cuffs, if green is their thing.

And that’s not all. Brazilian designers Martina Pagura and Pedro Nakazato Andrade have also got in on the clean air act. As part of a two-week workshop on wearable, interactive responses to climate change, they created the W/Air, an oxygen-filtering breathing “necklace” and veil which removes carbon dioxide from the air, stores it in a battery-like device, and then converts it into electricity sufficient to power a cell phone, iPod or other small personal device.

The mask also monitors ambient air quality and when pollution levels spike, it sounds an alarm to tell the wearer to raise the nose-and-mouth hood. It then pumps in life-giving oxygen, while distilling carbon dioxide from respiration and the environment.

How cool is that? 

Should be a real hit among all those concerned about their personal carbon footprint. Maybe Julia and Bob should make these items compulsory as part of the CO2 tax roll-out and compensation package.

“Every breath you take, I’ll be watching you” would make a very catchy slogan for the next election campaign.

John Mikkelsen is a long-term journalist, former regional newspaper editor (Gladstone Observer) now regular columnist and freelance writer.

Racking up the billions with the Budget Blues

John Mikkelsen WHO had the Budget Blues this week?

Give or take, there would probably be about 13 million Australians with their hands up. Okay, I’m exaggerating, there are lots of children and doubtless quite a few non-masochistic adults who would have spared themselves the ordeal of watching the political bunfight over Treasurer Wayne Swan’s Federal Budget as the billions were bandied about.

There are probably even some who thought it was great – apprentices for example will get more financial incentives to complete their training, while Uni students could be wondering why they didn’t choose to become boiler makers, sparkies or plumbers as they struggle with their more punitive HECS repayments. Tradies and those working for some of our major mining and manufacturing industries could be scratching their heads over how they suddenly became classed as rich because their household income is more than $150,000 a year. If they are wondering where all the money has gone, spare a thought for all those families who haven’t reached the cut-off limit.

I’m all for skills training and vocations, but we could be heading for a situation where there are too many Indians, not enough chiefs to cope with demands for engineers, architects and medicos, especially with the rapid growth forecast for Gladstone.

Mr Swan’s big selling point is that the budget deficit of $50 billion this year will drop to $22.6 billion next year followed by a $3.5 billion surplus the year after – providing China keeps buying our resources.

But don’t confuse “budget surplus” with net debt, which is expected to peak at $106.6 billion next year. At the same time, our national borrowing limit has also been raised by $50 billion to $250 billion.

Opposition leader Tony Abbott in his Budget reply speech, accused Labor of borrowing $135 million a day. One cost cutting measure he proposed involved the NBN. “The Coalition supports better broadband services but we’re not reckless enough to spend upwards of $50 billion on a National Broadband Network without a cost benefit analysis… That $50 billion could fully fund the construction of the Brisbane rail loop, for instance, the duplication of the Pacific Highway, the Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail link… and 20 major new teaching hospitals as well as the $6 billion that the Coalition has proposed to spend on better broadband”.

Regardless of political leanings, an email I received puts all these “billions” in some perspective: “A billion seconds ago it was 1959. A billion minutes ago, Jesus was alive. A billion hours ago, our ancestors were living in the Stone Age. A billion days ago, no one walked on Earth on two feet…”

And using Tony Abbott’s figure, it should take the Gillard Government  just over a week to borrow another billion…

John Mikkelsen is a long-term journalist, former regional newspaper editor (Gladstone Observer) now regular columnist and freelance writer.