Browsing articles in "Environment"
Tuesday 24th March 2015 - 5:30 pm
Comments Off on PM quails – and survives

PM quails – and survives

by Alan Thornhill

Tony Abbott quailed – before a determined woman – and survived.

The drama began yesterday, with a story predicting that there would be “a small cut” in Australia’s foreign aid funding, in the upcoming May budget.

It appeared in the Prime Minister’s favourite newspaper, The Australian, and his Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop was embarrassed when she had to admit, on air, that she had no knowledge of it.

But – just back from the cyclone devastated Pacific Island state of Vanuatu – Ms Bishop also let it be known – in no uncertain terms – that she was having none of it.

She did that in her now legendary eye-rolling episode in Federal parliament later that day, as the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, spoke warmly of Malcolm Fraser’s cost cutting razor gang, the Expenditure Review Committee.

Ms Bishop’s grim response, which also included dropping her head into her hands, quickly went viral on the net.

To his credit, Mr Abbott saw that he was beaten.

So envoys were sent to Ms Bishop, to assure her that Australia’s foreign aid funding wouldn’t be cut, in the upcoming May budget, after all.

Naturally, there is a political price to be paid for such reversals.

That soon became clear, as question time opened in parliament this afternoon.

This happened as the Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, and other Labor MPs, pressed the government repeatedly for similar assurances, declaring that spending wouldn’t be cut on pensions, education, schools or hospitals, either.

Mr Abbott replied that pensioner couples are now receiving $78 a fortnight more than they were, when his government came to power late last year.

So that kind of spending was not being cut.

In fact it was rising, Mr Abbott said.

He said, too, that his government it would be spending more, not less, on schools in New South Wales, too, over the next three years.

These replies were true enough, as far as they went.

But Mr Abbott – and other ministers omitted so much from what they said that Labor MPs described their replies as “misleading.”

But that’s another story.

And having yielded to Ms Bishop, Mr Abbott deftly evaded other action that might have been taken, at today’s Liberal party meeting in Canberra.

There was no move, in the party room today, for another spill of leadership positions.

That’s important, because today’s meeting was the last scheduled one for Liberal MPs, before the government presents its budget to parliament in May.

Indeed today’s party meeting proceeded so peacefully that the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, was able to present a slide show to his colleagues, explaining why he would be making fresh cuts, in his upcoming budget.

He insisted, though, that these – unspecified – cuts would be both “fair and reasonable.”

The Treasurer expanded on that – a little – at question time, later in parliament.

He said, then, that families looking for a little help, to get mothers back into the nation’s work-force, would not be disappointed.

But the Liberal party’s all-too-apparent leadership issues, both with Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey, were quietly put aside, for another day.

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Saturday 21st March 2015 - 5:26 pm
Comments Off on Extra $100 million to protect reef

Extra $100 million to protect reef

by Alan Thornhill

The Federal government is boosting efforts to save the Great Barrier Reef by setting aside an extra $100 million to fund a stronger plan to protect it.

The revised plan – announced jointly today by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk – will not permit dredge spoil dumping anywhere in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Mr Abbott and his Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the Federal government had already committed $40 million to measures needed to protect the reef.

They said:”The work that’s being undertaken to improve water quality builds on the Commonwealth Government’s total and permanent ban on the dumping of capital dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

“There will be zero capital disposal anywhere in the entire 345,000sq km Marine Park,” they added.

All of Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area would be protected in this way.

The Federal government also appointed its Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, to chair an independent scientific panel to advise on funding priorities for the $140 million Reef Trust.

Mr Abbott and Mr Hunt said this would assist with qualitative monitoring on achieving targets under the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan as well as the overarching vision to improve the Outstanding Universal Value of the Reef every decade between now and 2050.

In a joint statement, the Prime Minister and Queensland Premier declared: “the Great Barrier Reef is an incredibly diverse and rich environment – a maze of 3000 coral reefs and 1050 islands stretching for over 2300 kilometres.

“It is already regarded as being among the best managed marine parks in the world. We’re determined to keep it that way.

“We know that the reef still retains the outstanding values for which it was listed as a World Heritage Property in 1981,” they added.

However the new plan has already been sharply criticised.

Senator Larissa Waters, Australian Greens environment spokesperson, said:“This plan won’t stop the Reef becoming a coal ship super highway.

She said it does recognise that climate change is the biggest threat facing the Reef.

“But it ignores the climate impacts of digging up one the world’s largest undeveloped coal basins and shipping it out through the Reef,” she added.

Thursday 5th March 2015 - 3:33 pm
Comments Off on Some effects of climate change “might be beneficial” Treasury

Some effects of climate change “might be beneficial” Treasury

by Alan Thornhill

The Opposition asked today if a new report, which says there “might be beneficial effects” in climate change, reflects the Prime Minister’s own views.

It based its questions on the Federal government’s Intergenerational report, which said some effects of climate change might be beneficial, while others would be harmful.

Labor speakers told parliament that the report, compiled by people Tony Abbott calls “Treasury experts” said nothing on what should be done about climate change.

Mr Abbott once famously described climate change as “absolute crap,” a view he has since moderated.

The Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, asked him, in parliament today: “Does the government believe that climate change might be beneficial?”

Mr Shorten based the question on material on Page 42 of the report.

Mr Abbott responded, saying he is now happy to confirm that “climate change is real.”

“And it is very important that the government has put in place strong and effective policies to deal with it,” the Prime Minister added.

He said Australia needs “an intelligent and sensible conversation” on the issue.

Mr Abbott acknowledged that the Treasury report had, indeed, said that some effects of climate change might be economically beneficial and others might be harmful.

He read out the relevant passages, noting that the beneficial effects might include making some agricultural land more productive.

But the Prime Minister also said the government’s performance, on reducing carbon emissions had been “remarkably strong.”

“We want to achieve the best climate outcomes,” Mr Abbott said.

And the government wants to do that without “damaging economic outcomes,” he added.

Monday 9th February 2015 - 12:57 pm
Comments Off on Tony Abbott’s last chance

Tony Abbott’s last chance

by Alan Thornhill


Tony Abbott said, at the weekend, that he would take defeat of the spill motion, moved against him today, as a strong endorsement of his government.

He said, too, that if this happened – as indeed it did today – he would swiftly get on with the business of “cleaning up Labor’s mess” and restoring Australia’s “prosperity.”

Liberals believe those are admirable goals.

But let’s take a closer look at what actually happened today.

The 61-39 vote against the spill certainly appears to be – and is – decisive – at this time.

But, viewed differently, it also confirms that almost 40 per cent of all Liberal MPs already believe Mr Abbott should no longer be Australia’s Prime Minister.

That is not an insignificant number, by any standards.

One MP who was entitled to vote didn’t because he was at home, welcoming a new baby.

Another cast an informal ballot, in the yes or no vote.

And no, despite a colleague’s speculation, it probably wasn’t Kevin Andrews, trying to vote for Julia Gillard, even though he did say, on television last week, that Tony Abbott and Ms Gillard would be the best team to lead Australia.



It’s all so confusing.

Statistically, though, these two lost votes were probably insignificant.

Mr Abbott, himself, has acknowledged, as recently as yesterday that he is still “on probation,” as he says, all prime ministers are.

Accused of making too many “captain’s calls” and erratic decisions, without consultation, he has also promised to be more “consultative” and “collegial.”

But what Mr Abbott is promising, there, is to change the habits of a lifetime.

And those are hard, for anyone, to break.

Of course, critics can be unreasonable.

And there are, indeed, some who say that Mr Abbott, himself, doesn’t have a particularly good record when it comes to breaking promises.

Anyway, the Prime Minister would be wise to assume that today’s vote is nothing more than just one more chance to show that he can be trusted.

Especially as a core group of Liberal backbenchers has already declared that it intends to be much more “assertive,” in government decision making, in future.

And – after all – as Mr Abbott’s mentor, John Howard has said, Liberal leadership – and all that goes with it – including the job of Prime Minister – is “the gift of the party.”

The gift, that is, of backbench Liberal MPs like Luke Simpkins, Don Randall and Dennis Jensen, who have already declared, in no uncertain terms, that they have had quite enough of this Prime Minister and his sometimes odd ways.

They are far from alone.

But those, perhaps, who are most pleased about today’s decision are Labor MPs.

Putting Bill Shorten up against a newly minted, devastatingly articulate Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in parliament is enough to give the strongest of them nightmares.

But Labor MPs are also facing a fresh temptation.

Looking back to last month’s stunning rejection of Campbell Newman’s Liberal government in Queensland, they may well slip, all too easily, into thinking that they can just to sit back idly and wait for a similar result, in the 2016 Federal elections.

That could be a fatal mistake.

Australians, above all, in a weak economy, are looking for a government with policies – and leaders – that work.

Wednesday 4th February 2015 - 7:27 am
Comments Off on PM facing a back bench revolt

PM facing a back bench revolt

by Alan Thornhill


So, Tony Abbott is facing a backbench revolt.

A West Australian Liberal, Dennis Jensen, has declared that it is time for the Prime Minister to resign.

If he doesn’t, Dr Jensen says he is prepared to move for a leadership spill, when Federal parliament resumes next week.

He has experience in these matters.

It was, after all, Dr Jensen who moved, successfully, along with former WA Liberal MP, Wilson Tuckey, against the former Liberal Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, back in 2009.

And, as he told his home town newspaper, The West Australian, Dr Jensen is prepared to do it all again, if necessary.

“I wouldn’t like to again,” he said. “I really hope someone else does.

“Because otherwise I just look like a bloody assassin.”

All this trouble, before Mr Abbott has even reached the half-way mark in his first term in office.

One man will not be surprised.

The man who interviewed the Prime Minister, for the job he now holds, after the 2010 elections.

They produced a hung parliament, with four independents, including Tony Windsor, holding the balance of power.

Representing a conservative electorate, in Northern NSW, Mr Windsor might have been expected to support Mr Abbott, back then, for Australia’s top job.

But he didn’t.

He – and his three fellow independents – backed Labor’s Julia Gillard – and made her Prime Minister, instead.

So, clearly, they had decided – even then – that Mr Abbott – the man known in parliament as “the Mad Monk” – wasn’t up to the job.

Mr Windsor later revealed – quite publicly in Parliament – what had happened in that selection process.

During his speech, this, now retired, independent, revealed that putting a price on carbon, for the sake of the planet, had been “a condition of the formation of a government,” for the four independents.

Mr Abbott had known that “very well, because on a number of occasions he actually begged for the job.

“Begged for the job.”

Amid the predictable uproar, at the time, Mr Windsor turned to address Mr Hockey directly.

“You would well remember, and your colleagues should be aware, that the only codicil you put on that, was that: ‘I will do anything Tony (Windsor) to get this job.

“‘The only thing I wouldn’t do is sell my arse.'”

Hansard records that there were “guffaws” at this point.

Windsor continued:” I’m very proud to have supported doing something about climate change.

“And I think history will judge those who have had the guts to stand up and actually try and address what is a difficult issue, in a difficult parliament, that this man, the Leader of the Opposition (Abbott), was quite prepared to do that if he’d been given the nod on that particular day.

” ‘I will do anything, anything to get this job.’

“They were the comments and people know that and they should know it because you are an absolute disgrace in the way in which you’re wandering around on this particular issue.”

That, too, is what Mr Windsor said that day.

Listening to what our MPs say in Parliament, is an essential part of the way democracy works.

So we were warned about our present Prime Minister.

Tuesday 13th January 2015 - 2:53 pm
Comments Off on Wind farmers blame PM

Wind farmers blame PM

by Alan Thornhill

Wind farmers are blaming the Federal government for a sudden collapse in investment in their industry.

The Australian Wind Alliance’s National Coordinator, Andrew Bray, said the government’s “uncertainty” is “annihilating” the industry.

Bloomberg has reported that investment in large-scale renewable energy projects, such as wind farms, has fallen by 88 per cent in Australia .

It reported, too, that, overall investment in the industry is at its lowest level since 2009.

Mr Bray said: “weak and uncertain policies will see regional communities losing critical investment.”

He said: “the renewable energy sector is crucial for many farmers and their local communities that rely on wind farms for secure employment.

“Wind farms provide investment in regional areas, as well as income and employment certainty for those regions,” Mr Bray said.

Labor supported his remarks.

The Acting Shadow Environment Minister, Anthony Albanese, said Tony Abbott’s anti-renewable energy agenda and his broken promise to keep the Renewable Energy Target had caused the damage.

“While there has been a massive decline in investment in Australia, other countries are enjoying surge in investment,” he said.

Indeed China had recorded a 32 per cent increase to $89.5 billion, Mr Albanese added.

Sunday 23rd November 2014 - 2:36 pm
Comments Off on UN rebukes Australia on climate change

UN rebukes Australia on climate change

by Alan Thornhill


Australia is no longer meeting a pledge it made to reduce carbon emissions –  and the Federal government’s decision to abolish the carbon tax is to blame.

An Emissions Gap report, by the UN Environment Program, is adamant about that.

It says: “…Australia is no longer on track, due to the abolition of its carbon pricing mechanism.”

The pledge made by Australia – and many other countries – emerged from the 2009 Climate Accord in Copenhagen.

Others are doing better than us, in keeping their word.

The UN report makes that clear, saying: “Several studies indicate that Brazil, China, the EU and the Russian Federation are on track to keep their pledges.”

But not us.

The report noted that Australia promised to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide to 555 million tonnes by 2020.

On our present path, though, our emissions, then, are likely to hit 685 million tonnes.

In terms of the percentage gaps, that would put us among the world’s four worst performers at that time.

The gap between our promise and performance at that time would be 23.4 per cent.

Only Mexico, with a 23.9 per cent gap, looks like doing worse.

Predictably, the other two likely laggards are Canada, which is looking at a 20.5 per cent gap, and the United States, with a likey 15.1 per cent overkill, in its emissions.

The UN report was written before United States and China signed an ambitious agreement, earlier this month, to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.

Australia’s low ranking, in likely performance, was not a complete surprise.

After all, on OECD figures, Australians have the highest per-capita emissions in the world.

Labor says the Abbott government is directly responsible for the low marks the UN report gives Australia.

Its environment spokesman, Mark Butler, said: “Australia, once more. looks like an international embarrassment on the global stage under Tony Abbott,” Mr Butler said.

He said the report was written after the release of Tony Abbott’s “Direct Action slush fund.”

Mr Butler said that would l use billions of taxpayer dollars to pay polluters to pollute.

It would also increase cost of living and increase power bills.

Mr Butler said the UN report confirms that Australia was on target to reduce its emissions “until Tony Abbott started winding back the clock on climate change.”

Under the carbon price mechanism, Australia’s carbon emissions had been reduced by 7 per cent.

“Tony Abbott is taking Australia backwards, while the rest of the world moves forward,” he said.

Mr Butler also noted that, earlier this week, Mr Abbott had claimed, in front of world leaders that “We do deliver on our reductions targets, unlike some other countries.”

But the UN report has found otherwise.

“Tony Abbott is the only person who is yet to realise Australia is missing out while the rest of the world looks towards clean energy futures,” Mr Butler said.

“All of the experts, economists and climate scientists, agree that Tony Abbott’s so-called Direct Action plan won’t work.

“It won’t lower carbon pollution, but it will cost households billions of dollars,” he added.

So far, the Prime Minister has not replied, directly.

However he made no secret of his dislike for the Copenhagen Accord, at a joint press conference with the French President, Francois Hollande, earlier this week, calling it “disastrous.”

But both leaders said then that they hope that “binding” agreements will emerge from the Paris climate summit, next year.

Friday 21st November 2014 - 3:42 pm
Comments Off on We’re among the four worst:UN report

We’re among the four worst:UN report

by Alan Thornhill

Australia is no longer meeting a pledge it made to reduce carbon emissions,  according to a United Nations report.

The report, by the UN Environment Program, says:”…Australia is no longer on track, due to the abolition of its carbon pricing mechanism.”

The pledge was made at the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change in 2009.

The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has made no secret of his dislike of that summit.

In a joint press conference with the French President, Francois Hollande, earlier this week, Mr Abbott said it had been a “disaster.”

The two leaders both said then that they are looking for binding agreements from the next climate summit, to be held in Paris in 2015.

But the report UN has brought sharp criticism from Labor.

Mark Butler, the Opposition spokesman on the environment, noted that Mr, Mr Abbott had told world leaders: “We do deliver on our reductions targets, unlike some other countries.”

But the UN report showed that was not true.

Mr Butler said Mr Abbott’s views, on climate change, are now “an international embarrassment.”

Indeed, the UN report had placed Australia in the four worst nations in the world.

He said the UN report had been written “after the release of Tony Abbott’s Direct Action slush fund.”

That would use billions of taxpayer dollars to pay polluters to pollute.

It would also increase both the cost of living and power bills.

Mr Butler also said the UN report confirmed that Australia was on target to reduce its emissions until Tony Abbott “started winding back the clock.”

“The United Nations report demonstrates that under the carbon price mechanism, Australia’s carbon pollution reductions reduced by seven per cent – for the first time in history,” he said.

“Tony Abbott is the only person who is yet to realise Australia is missing out while the rest of the world looks towards clean energy futures.

“All of the experts, economists and climate scientists, agree that Tony Abbott’s so-called Direct Action plan won’t work.

“It won’t lower carbon pollution, but it will cost households billions of dollars,” Mr Butler said.


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Alan Thornhill

Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.

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