Monday, January 24, 2011

A failed attempt to impose guilt on ordinary Australians

The intelligentsia claim to feel guilt about events in Australia's past and present as a way of making ordinary Australians feel guilty too. It has been an epic fail. It just makes the intelligentsia look as out-of-touch as they are. So the hatred for ordinary people behind the guilt crusade remains unsatisfied, rather pleasingly

At the Australia Day lunch in Sydney last Friday, Germaine Greer delivered a brief and dignified address. She spoke on behalf of the four prominent women honoured as recipients of Australia Post's Australian Legends awards - Greer, Eva Cox, Elizabeth Evatt and Anne Summers - and whose images appear on the 50¢ stamp.

Ever the thespian, Greer gave a polished performance. However, she felt compelled to make one broadly political comment when referring to "the guilt that hangs over this country".

The reference was clearly to the events of 1788 and after - when those sent from Britain (then one of the most developed societies on Earth) began to interact with indigenous Australians (then among the most traditional of cultures).

The concept of guilt is a phenomenon felt by many members of the Australian intelligentsia. But there is unlikely to be much evidence of guilt when the increasingly popular Australia Day celebrations take place tomorrow. Guilt for the deeds, or rather misdeeds, of others is essentially a condition embraced by intellectuals.

The novelist Tom Keneally has taken a stance between guilt and celebration. On The Late Show on SBS TV last week, he saw reason for Australians to commemorate the existence of a highly successful contemporary society while not forgetting that errors were made in the past.

It's just over five years since the Cronulla riots of late December 2005. The attacks by an intoxicated group of Australians of Anglo-Celtic background on Australians of Muslim Lebanese background were an unpleasant manifestation of tensions which exist within all democracies.

But, as the scholar James Jupp pointed out at the time, they were not the worst racially motivated incident since the Lambing Flat attack on the Chinese in 1860. He commented that "the Kalgoorlie riots of 1934, directed against southern Europeans, and the Battle of Brisbane during World War II, directed against US servicemen, were worse and lives were lost". There were no fatalities during or following the Cronulla riots.

December 2005 was a time for high theory from guilt-obsessed intellectuals. From London, Greer predicted riots and counter-riots from the Gold Coast to Perth. This "looks like being a bloody summer in Australia", she prophesied. It wasn't. From La Trobe University, Professor Marilyn Lake saw the events as evidence of Australian support for "racial exclusion in the name of the nation". In fact, nothing occurred at Cronulla in Australia's name during 2005.

Soon after, journalist academic Peter Manning depicted the occasion as a "seminal event" in Australian history which demonstrated "the true face of Australian fascism". Yet more hyperbole. The years after the Cronulla incident saw one of the largest, and most diverse, inflows of immigration in Australian history. This took place during the final period of John Howard's Coalition government and the early years of Kevin Rudd's Labor administration. What has been remarkable about Australia during the time of the global financial crisis has been the lack of ethnic tension.

Meanwhile, rates of inter-marriage between ethnic groups remain very high. In other words, the intelligentsia misread the times.

It was much the same with the dismissal by the governor-general Sir John Kerr of Gough Whitlam's Labor government, 35 years ago last year.

Monash University academic Max Teichmann put out a pamphlet in which he presented Australia in November 1975 as being in much the same pre-fascist condition as existed in Germany just before the Nazis came to power. Teichmann even predicted that the election of Malcolm Fraser's Coalition would lead to a dictatorship, since it was most unlikely that he "would merely surrender office" after losing an election. Fraser surrendered office in March 1983.

There were a few who rejected Teichmann's hyperbole at the time. Professors Hugo Wolfsohn and Rufus Davis, both of Jewish European background, wrote to The Age that "Australian democracy is not in crisis nor has it come to an end". They queried the "alarming statements" of many fellow academics and described the constitutional crisis of 1975 as a "temporary technical difficulty in the working of our parliamentary system". And so it turned out to be - Wolfsohn and Davis understood what real fascism was like.

It was much the same with the dismissal of the Lang Labor government in NSW in 1932 by governor Sir Philip Game. Despite the view of some historians, Australian democracy was not threatened at the time.

All too many members of the intelligentsia want to project their disillusionment - or sense of guilt - on to the society at large. But the success of Australia's continuing democracy suggests that this is an empirical society in which there is little room for high theory and scant feelings of collective guilt.


Australian cities to more than double in size under current immigration levels

AUSTRALIA'S capital cities will more than double in size within 50 years under current immigration rates, dramatically affecting quality of life and cutting food production.

Research for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has found more than 430,000 hectares of land will have to be found for housing in both Sydney and Melbourne if net overall immigration remains above 260,000 a year. Even with zero migration, the capitals will grow in size by roughly 50 per cent, costing residents an extra $1000 a year due to added congestion within the next two decades.

Under current migration rates, each capital would become an estimated one and a half times bigger, with massive gridlock-induced costs.

Posted on the department's website before Christmas, the National Institute of Labour Studies research reveals the extent of the policy problems facing the Gillard government as it plans for a “sustainable Australia”.

“The magnitude of the impacts at all net overall migration levels suggests that unless substantial and timely actions are taken to address these impacts, some impacts have the potential to disrupt Australia's economy and society,” the paper warns.

Lead researcher Dr Jonathan Sobels, from Flinders University, said farms and public land would be consumed as bulging cities expanded. He said Sydney would lose about half of its productive land used for fresh fruit and vegetable production.

“Sydney and Melbourne will rise to something of the order of seven million people. We've got something in the order of half of that now,” he said. “Where are they all going to go? They're not going to all go into 50-storey apartment blocks. “Physically, the demand on land is going to be immense.”

Affluence is forecast to rise faster under higher immigration scenarios, driving up the use of space and resources. Per capita wealth would rise by about 2.3 times by mid-century with migration at the level of 260,000 a year. Without migration, per capita wealth would double over the same timeframe.

Consumption is forecast to rise with affluence, contributing to growing levels of waste, congestion and use of environmental resources.

Sydney would need an extra 2.5 landfills for every one required today under higher migration scenarios, with much of the extra waste resulting from demolition of old buildings.

The report suggests agricultural production would increase toward 2030, and then decline.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was a supporter of a “Big Australia”, arguing for a population of 36 million-plus by 2050.

Julia Gillard modified the approach amid a growing suburban backlash, calling instead for a sustainable Australia.

Net overseas migration was running at almost 300,000 but is expected to fall when the latest figures become available in about six months, after changes to cut the number of overseas students staying in Australia following their studies.



Three current articles below

Another huge "Green" hit on the pocket of the taxpayer

SHORTLY before Christmas, federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson announced seven proposals were being assessed for two spots in the first round of subsidies for large-scale solar power.

Though dwarfed by the waste demonstrated in the $42 billion Building the Education Revolution, the government's Solar Flagship program aims to provide $1.5bn to assist in the creation of intrinsically uneconomic large-scale solar electricity generation.

Infigen, created out of the carcass of Babcock & Brown, has received preliminary approval from the NSW government for a 100 megawatt capacity solar farm at Nyngan in the northwest of NSW, the cost of which is $300 million.

The simple arithmetic on the investment costs, assuming an 11 per cent return on capital, suggests the project would require its output to be sold at a price of more than $240 per megawatt hour if it were to be viable. But $240 per MWh is more than eightfold the average spot market price in the 2010-11 year to date. So how can the proposal be contemplated?

Well, first, it will receive a subsidy of about $80m from the financially beleaguered NSW government. In a triumph of hope over experience, the Keneally government hopes the project will "contribute to the development of the utility scale renewable energy industry in NSW". An ambitious Victorian solar scheme sponsored by the previous Labor government was to create a new industry and 10,000 jobs, but was mugged by reality and abandoned, with considerable loss to its commercial sponsor.

Second, the Nyngan proposal aims to get another $100m courtesy of the taxpayer from the commonwealth government. To earn an adequate return on the $120m of private capital invested would still require a wholesale market price for electricity of $100 per MWh, compared with the prevailing $30 to $40 price. To bridge the gap, there are further subsidies paid by the consumer as a result of government regulations.

The first of these is the renewable energy requirement, which compels energy retailers to incorporate a rising proportion of uneconomic renewable energy into our electricity supply. Under present legislation this proportion will be 20 per cent by 2020. To meet the commitment, the retailer has to buy Renewable Energy Certificates, which represent electricity supply that is not derived from any commercial supply source such as large-scale hydro. The REC price is presently low due to the overfulfilment of rooftop solar systems (another subsidised renewable scam), but if the REC price rises to $55 per MWh, large-scale solar power systems would start to look profitable if they could sell their electricity at $45 per MWh.

This is feasible since, as a result of the government-created risk of a carbon tax, there is precious little investment in new electricity generation from commercial sources. The upshot is that prices must inevitably rise for electricity as a whole. If they rise from the present (somewhat depressed) level of $30 per MWh to $60 per MWh, this would provide a cushion and allow a large-scale solar plant to turn a profit. Hence, to convert a $300m sow's ear that would produce electricity for a cost that is eightfold its value into a silk purse requires four waves of the governmental magic wand:

* A NSW government grant of $80m.

* A commonwealth Solar Flagship grant of $100m.

* The subsidy from the "20 per cent by 2020 renewable energy" requirement, which doubles the venture's returns.

* And, bringing home the proposal's bacon, the government-created risk of a carbon tax, which prevents new commercial supplies being built and is likely to increase the ex-generator national electricity price by about 50 per cent ($20 to $30 per MWh).

Government regulations and subsidies therefore leverage an investment with a market value of $30m to one that can be profitable at a cost of $300m. The Solar Flagships scheme may not be the most extravagant piece of government expenditure, but the "mere" $1.5bn it is budgeted to squander in taxpayer resources serves to illustrate just how inured we have all become to misused government spending. Moreover, combined with other government distortions of the marketplace, the Solar Flagships scheme is destabilising the commerciality of the electricity supply industry.

As such, it is undermining what was arguably the world's most efficient electricity supply industry, bringing adverse consequences directly to the consumer and to industry competitiveness.


An embarrassing $150 million "clean coal" flop

Two Bligh Government bureaucrats went on a $30,000 round-the-world trip to tell the world Queensland's $150 million clean coal dream was in tatters. In a final "sayonara" for the Japanese-backed ZeroGen project, Department of Economic Development associate director-general Dan Hunt and Queensland Treasury official Lloyd Taylor embarked on the 10-day business-class jaunt in late-October across Japan and the United States.

The move came only weeks before The Sunday Mail revealed in December the government would give ZeroGen to the coal industry and can its proposed $4.3 billion clean coal power plant in central Queensland after taxpayers pumped $150 million into the initiative.

However, there are conflicting claims for the purpose of the trip to Tokyo, New York and Washington DC. Mr Hunt yesterday said the $30,285 trip satisfied government guidelines and was designed to brief technology vendors, including representatives from ZeroGen backer Mitsubishi, personnel of other investors and government officials.

"(The briefings were about the) Government's future investment strategy in low-emission coal technologies and its implication for the ZeroGen and Wandoan Power projects," he said.

However, former premier Peter Beattie wrote in a newspaper column on October 23 the trip was held to try to sell ZeroGen. "The Queensland Government is now selling this project," Mr Beattie wrote. "Dan Hunt and a key Treasury officer have been dispatched this past week to Japan and US to begin negotiations for ZeroGen's sale."

However, this is contradicted by a departmental annual report released at the time which shows the government had already written off its portion of the $150 million investment as a loss.

ZeroGen sources have told The Sunday Mail the Tokyo leg of the trip was essentially to say sorry after it was thought damage had been done to the relationship with the state's key trading partner. "They went there to apologise to the Japanese," a source said. "The government was so rude to them by stuffing them around over the past year before finally abandoning the project."


Green scheme in the red

TAXPAYERS are spending millions of dollars to subsidise the electricity bills of Cate Blanchett's Sydney Theatre Company and replace in-room fridges with "green" Eskies on Heron Island.

Designed to demonstrate solar power and save water, the Gillard Government has spent $15 million on the Green Precinct program at just a dozen "high profile" demonstration projects.

They include a grant of $1.2 million towards the Sydney Theatre Company's Greening The Wharf project that will reduce energy costs by just $100,000 a year. The total program cost is $5 million.

The cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is sky high under the scheme compared to the Government's failed bid to introduce an emissions trading scheme with a carbon price of around $30 a tonne. Based on the projected savings under the scheme, the Opposition estimates the Green Precincts Fund comes with an estimated price tag of $2022 per tonne of carbon dioxide saved.

Coalition spokesman on Scrutiny of Government, Jamie Briggs said: "If there is a more expensive way of delivering a government program this Labor Government will find it." "While Australians are wrestling with increased power bills, Labor is finding new ways to burn money."

First announced in the 2008 Federal Budget, the projects are designed to save 142 megalitres of water and 9 million kilowatt hours of energy.

The scheme has proven a winner for lucky recipients including the Sydney Theatre Company, whose general manager Patrick McIntyre confirmed he hoped to slash the company's $140,000-a-year electricity bill by 70 per cent.

The Department of Sustainability disputed the Coalition's calculations on the cost of the scheme in terms of the cost of carbon abatement per tonne, but was unable to provide its own estimate. A spokeswoman said, for example, if the Sydney Theatre Company saved 555 tonnes per year over 20 years, the cost per tonne would be $108 per tonne, not $2162.


* Sydney Theatre Company: For solar power and rainwater harvesting: $1.2 million (Expected to save $98,000 a year on power bills during next decade . total investment of $5 million)

* Wide Bay Water Corporation of Heron Island: To generate solar power and 'replace in-room refrigeration with coolers' at the Heron Island resort: $1.29 million

* Blue Mountains Sustainable Precinct: For rainwater harvesting and rooftop rain gardens: $1.5 million

* Perth's Shire of Peppermint Grove's Library Project: Rainwater harvesting, climate-sensitive building design, including thermal maze and double glazing: $1.5 million

* Essendon Football Club: $1.5 million

* Australian National University: $1 million


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