by Alan Thornhill
“Australia has always had bushfires,” fireman David Livingtone declared.
“But our parents didn’t see anything like this.
Addressing a climate change rally in the national capital, Canberra, Mr Lvingstone described Australia’s recent fires as “some of the most dangerous in our history.”
These have included unseasonally early – and devastatingly widespread – fires in the Blue Mountains region of Australia’s most heavily populated State, New South Wales.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 2,000, at one of at least 100 similar rallies throughout Australia, another speaker, spoke also of the catastrophic typhoon, Haiyan – which struck the Philippines – and recalled that scientists had warned, 25 years ago, that we would soon be seeing such events.
“And it is happening now,” he said.
The crowds – at rallies throughout the nation – exceeded an estimated 40,000.
Typhoon Haiyan, which had devastated the Philippines just days before, with the loss of almost 4,000 lives, added urgency to the rallies.
Organisers declared that the aim of these demonstrations was to “turn the Prime Minister’s weathervane in the right direction,” on climate change.
Australia’s newly elected Conservative Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is an arch climate change sceptic, who once famously declared the whole issue to be “crap.”
Although he had moderated his language since then, Mr Abbott has not retreated from his core belief.
In this, he differs sharply from his Conservative counterpart in Britain, David Cameron, who is making no secret of his concern about the warnings scientists are giving, on climate change.
Mr Abbott, by contrast, has abolished the Climate Authority set up by the previous Labor government and is presiding over hundreds of forced retrenchments at the nation’s premier scientific organisation, the CSIRO.
He has also abolished the post of Science Minister.
Mr Abbott has confirmed his Coalition’s policy of cutting Australia’s carbon emissions by 5 per cent, by 2020.
But his “direct action” plan, to reach that target, has attracted no visible support from scientists, as it consists largely of subsidising the nation’s big polluters.
by Alan Thornhill
A dry winter.
A warm Spring.
And then the fires came.
They hit the Blue Mountains – and other Highland areas in New South Wales.
And an uncounted number of houses – certainly more than 200 – were destroyed.
By any standards these fires produced “a human tragedy.”
And in October, too.
This kind of thing is not meant to happen, so early.
Our new Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, has some wise advice.
He said attempts to link the bushfires to the need for greater action on climate change amounts to “politicising a human tragedy.”
The Minister Hunt spelt it out, very plainly.
“There has been a terrible tragedy in New South Wales,” he said.
“And no-one, anywhere should seek to politicise any human tragedy, let alone a bushfire on this scale,” Mr Hunt added.
Who could disagree with that?
Or stop wondering, perhaps, if terrible events like these fires are, actually, painting a picture of what is to come, as climate change advances.
Mr Hunt, of course, was responding to comments by the Greens Deputy, Adam Bandt, who had made that link, in a radio interview late last week.
Mr Bandt noted, then, that scientists and firefighters had already been warning that extreme weather events, like those which produced these fires, could become the norm, in future.
Mr Hunt says we needn’t worry about that.
He supports Tony Abbott’s plan to scrap the carbon tax.
But he assures us that the Coalition’s direct action plan will not only reduce Australia’s emissions, but protect the competitiveness of local industry as well.
Critics say that, essentially, amounts to paying polluters, and argue that, as such, it is not likely to succeed.
There had been some empirical evidence, though, that the old carbon tax was, in fact, encouraging polluters to revise their plans.
This showed up in data produced by the Bureau of Statistics.
Tony Abbott doesn’t yet have the numbers he would need, in the Senate, to abolish the carbon tax, as he has promised to do.
And he won’t have until July 1 next year, when the new Senators take their seats in the nation’s upper house.
Labor is saying it won’t vote to abolish the tax before then, unless Mr Abbott agrees to replace it with an emissions trading scheme.
The Prime Minister is not likely to do that.
Some might argue that our politicians, like Nero, are fiddling while Winmalee, at least, if not Rome, burns.
Mr Hunt is very comforting, of course.
But it’s hard to stop wondering, isn’t it?
Especially as the stakes are so high.
by Alan Thornhill
All Australians will, ultimately, contribute to the cost of the devastating fires that have swept through New South Wales.
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, says the Commonwealth will be picking up “about half of the tab” for the joint funded Commonwealth-State Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.
These will provides assistance to individuals and families, including emergency food, clothing and accommodation.
However Mr Abbott says it is still too early to say what that cost is likely to be.
The fires have been so severe, though, that Australia’s insurance companies will be forced to review their premiums, in the months ahead.
The fires, themselves, which have already left hundreds of Australians will little more than the clothes they were wearing, at the time, will also be a stark reminder of why no-one, in this sunburnt country, can afford to be without insurance.
Large parts of the country, like the Blue Mountains, where the fires were, perhaps, at their worst, are tinder dry, at present.
And summer hasn’t yet started.
Mr Abbott has extended his sympathy – and that of his government – to those whose homes have been devastated by these fires.
Meanwhile, he is offering a little help.
He said the Federal Government will provide much needed assistance to those affected by the devastating bushfires still raging in New South Wales.
Mr Abbott said it would do that by making available the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment (AGDRP).
“While the full extent of damage caused by the bushfires is still unfolding, the payment of $1,000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child will assist those already affected, particularly those who have lost their homes or suffered damage, are seriously injured or have lost an immediate family member,” Mr Abbott said.
Need to know more?
Go to www.disasterassist.gov.au or ring 180 2266
by Alan Thornhill
Senior Republicans are now saying they’re ready to throw in the towel and accept a Senate deal.
This has led to hopes of a breakthrough, in the budget and debt crises that brought much of the US government to a standstill – and threatened to force the United States into its first default since the 17th century.
That could still happen if the government’s debt ceiling is not raised by Thursday, American time.
But there are now signs of hope, for the first time in weeks.
The biggest risk now arises from the likely response of the most extreme Republicans, including those in the Tea Party.
No-one yet knows how they will respond to these developments, or how much damage they can still do.
The emerging hopes rest largely upon urgent talks that have been taking place in the US Senate.
America will not be able to pay its bills if the present debt ceiling is not lifted by Thursday, American time.
That could still throw the world’s financial markets into turmoil and trigger a new Depression.
President Obama is saying that there is still time to avoid a historic – and potentially disastrous – default.
Republicans have already brought much of the US government to a halt, by blocking budget legislation.
And they have been threatening to block attempts to raise the US debt ceiling, as well.
They started these actions, hoping to force President Obama to abandon, or at least restrict, his new health care system, commonly called Obamacare.
But the President has stood his ground, declaring that the new system is already in place and will stay.
However he was showing signs of impatience, late yesterday, with the US House leader, John Boehner, who he has been meeting, in an attempt to reach a compromise.
“… there have been repeated situations where we have agreements, then he goes back and it turns out that he can’t control his caucus,” the President said.
“ So the challenge here is can you deliver on agreements that are made,” he said, referring to Mr Boehner.
by Alan Thornhill
Share prices tumbled on Wall Street overnight as investors stared at the grim prospect of a US debt default.
President Obama, has warned of “devastating” consequences if the US debt crisis is not resolved by the now rapidly approaching deadline of Thursday, American time.
And the Dow Jones index fell by 133.25 points overnight, as US investors took that warning to heart.
Meanwhile, talks in the US Senate, aimed at finding a way out of America’s twin budget and debt crises, have been put on hold.
The financial newswire, Bloomberg, said that was done as the House considers its own plan.
The Republicans blocked US budget measures, to force the Obama administration to abandon, or at least restricts, its health care scheme, known as Obamacare.
That brought most government operations in the US to a standstill.
The Republicans later sought to increase their pressure on the Obama administration by threatening to keep the US debt ceiling in place, when a key deadline arrives later this week.
That would leave America unable to pay its bills.
The IMF is warning that this could plunge world financial markets into “turmoil.”
And a new Depression is possible.
by Alan Thornhill
President Obama urged reluctant Republicans today to lift America’s debt ceiling, days before the deadline for a potentially catastrophic default.
In his weekly address to the nation, Mr Obama started by noting that the Republican’s refusal to pass his budget had already brought much of America’s government to a standstill.
“Our government is closed for the first time in 17 years,” the President said.
And he warned that things could quickly get much worse.
“A political party is risking default for the first time since the 1700s.
“This is not normal.
“That’s why we have to put a stop to it.
“Not only because it’s dangerous, but because it saps everyone’s faith in our extraordinary system of self-government.
“And that hurts us all,” Mr Obama said.
America will not be able to pay its bills, if its debt ceiling is not raised by Thursday, October 17.
This could stop even the modest global recovery which has been slowly gathering strength since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 set off the global economic crisis.
The IMF has warned that a default by the US would tip the global financial system into turmoil and economists have declared that it could set off a new Depression.
President Obama was speaking after his talks with Republican leaders broke down, without pointing to an agreement which might end the US budget crisis, or allow America’s debt cap to be lifted.
Efforts to sort out these affairs then moved to the US Senate, once again without producing an immediate result.
A Republican Representative John Carter of Texas accused Mr. Obama as “acting like a royal president.”
“He’s still ‘my way or the highway,’ ” Mr Carter said.
However American voters appear, plainly, to be blaming the Republicans for the twin blockages, now in the nation’s political system.
An opinion poll, published late last week, showed US voter support for the Republicans plunging to its lowest level ever.
by Alan Thornhill
Talks between US President Barack Obama and senior Republicans have failed to resolve America’s looming debt crisis, just seven days before a critical deadline.
The Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, had offered to extend the US government’s borrowing authority – now due to expire on October 17 – to November 22.
If it is not lifted by the original date, the US government might well be forced into default.
And that could tip the recovering global economy into Depression.
So far, the President has not accepted the Republicans’ offer.
However talks between the two sides are expected to continue.
Share prices on Wall Street surged overnight, rising almost 323 points, on hopes of a resolution to the looming debt crisis, after the Republicans made their offer.
It was regarded as a potential breakthrough in the bitter stand-offs, that now grip Washington, even though it would have left the now 10 day old partial shutdown of the US government in place.
Hopes were initially raised, too, by a meeting of a Republican delegation, led by John Boehner, with the President.
The Republicans are said to have sought a review of Federal spending and other concessions in that meeting.
However, President Obama did not accept their approach.
The President’s decision surprised observers in Washington, as both Republicans and Democrats had expected him to accept the “clean” offer, which came without conditions.
The International Monetary Fund has warned that the world’s financial markets could be thrown into “turmoil” if the US debt cap is not lifted by the present October 17 deadline.
And several economists have said it could reverse the present slow global recovery, tipping the world into outright Depression.
The partial shutdown, which has severely affected the American government, was forced by the Republicans’ decision to block US budget legislation.
The Republicans had offered to extend the US government’s borrowing authority until November 22.
The New York times reports that in exchange, they sought the President’s commitment to negotiate a deal for long-term deficit reduction and a tax overhaul.
Mr. Boehner and his colleagues left the President’s office after about an hour and a half without speaking to waiting reporters.
The Republican proposal could come to a vote as soon as Friday, Washington time.
But the White House and Congressional Democrats remained sceptical that House Republican leaders could pass the proposal.
A large faction of Tea Party conservatives campaigned on promises never to vote to increase the nation’s debt limit, and say they do not believe the warnings — including from Republican business allies — that failing to act could provoke a default and economic chaos globally.
And House Democrats vowed not to support the proposal without a companion measure to fully fund a government now shuttered for 10 days.
by Alan Thornhill
President Obama has rejected a Republican offer of a six week extension of the October 17 deadline for raising the US debt cap.
The New York Times said he did so, because the offer would have left the partial shutdown of the US government, caused by the Republican’s refusal to pass budget measures, in place.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
Friday December 13
The Dow Jones index falls 105 points to 15,739.
The $A drops to US 89.39US cents shortly after 8am, Sydney time
The Senate rises for the year, without passing government bills to abolish the carbon tax
Car industry workers’ plight to be high on the agenda, when the Prime Minister meets State premiers today
Australia’s unemployment rate rises slightly to 5.8 per cent in November 2013 (seasonally adjusted):ABS
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|Bramb Ltd Fpo||8.630||+0.060||+0.70%|
|Rio Tinto Fpo||65.090||-0.050||-0.08%|
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