Rudd, ETS and the environment:

Jim Hart writes: Re. “Rudd’s no reformer, he’s an economic conservative to the core” (Wednesday, item 2). We started the week with Kevin’s CO2 reduction plan that was so good even the Australian called it “responsible”. And in case even a soft target is too hard we’re going to subsidise the coal producers, the power stations that burn the stuff and the working families that might see their power bills go up — so life can go on as before and no one has to feel any pain.

Then yesterday morning Minister Garrett says he is cancelling the direct subsidy for solar electricity panels because it is too successful. Instead he has a new plan which apparently will help boost installation of solar panels through higher prices for Renewable Energy Certificates. When you install a solar system you get a quota of RECs to reward you for the non-renewable power you won’t be using. You sell these RECs to reduce your installation cost. And who buys the RECs? The coal-burning power stations of course. (To understand more about RECs the Alternative Energy Association has a good article here.)

No one in Canberra seems to consider that maybe we should all be burning less carbon and wearing the costs and consequences. Instead they are just finding new ways to shuffle subsidies. So it’s another great week for the coal industry. Thank you Kevin, thank you Peter.

Alan Kerlin writes: Well doesn’t Kevin John Winston Howard Rudd’s 5% on 2000 levels target look silly now? Just days later the EU have agreed to their “20-20-20” proposal for a 20% emissions reduction by 2020. The bit most in the media won’t grasp is that this is a reduction to 20% below the levels of the more commonly-used greenhouse baseline date of 1990. So that’s 20% plus all of the further increases that have happened in the 18 years since then. This makes the EU target that much higher compared to Rudd’s 5% on 2000 levels squib. Who else thought the last election would see an end to Australian cringe on the international stage?

Tim Hollo, Media and Communications Adviser for Senator Christine Milne writes: Re. “The solar wars — more hidden handouts for polluters?” (Yesterday, item 12). After a valiant dissection of the complications of water policy, Bernard Keane unfortunately made a couple of errors in his analysis of the new solar credit system yesterday.

Bernard said “It plugs solar power directly into the Renewable Energy Target, meaning the solar industry has an assured growth trajectory between now and 2020. It also links credits to actual energy production.” Neither of these is the case. Yes, solar is plugged into the RET, but it is to be phased out over the first 5 years, disappearing altogether by 2015. Far from an assured growth trajectory, this is a sure-fire recipe for boom and bust. As for linking credits to actual production, well, no, the credits are linked to deemed life-time energy production in advance.

There is a beautifully simple policy to assure a long-term growth trajectory and to link payments to actual production, as well as to meet the two benefits of this scheme which Bernard did get right — applying the assistance to everyone and shifting the cost of the Budget papers. It’s called a feed-in tariff and it works by guaranteeing a set price for renewable energy sources for a set period of time. Various State Governments have introduced Claytons’ feed-ins which, by limiting payments to net generation and to small scale solar power only will do very little to help the industry grow.

A gross national feed-in tariff, supplementing a strong RET, would deliver real, sustainable growth in the renewables sector, creating jobs and investment and making it easier for Australia to tighten our future emissions reduction targets. This scheme will certainly help, but it’ll be marginal support, not transformative policy.

Bernard closed his water article with “You couldn’t have designed a worse federal structure if you tried.” The solar scheme isn’t that bad, but it certainly is a case of snatching mediocrity from the jaws of brilliance.

Channel Nine and Microsoft:

John Donovan writes: Re. “Does Nine’s cosy relationship with Microsoft prevent truth emerging?” (Yesterday, item 5). Channel Nine actually called me for a comment on this. I used to do a large amount of media commentary on IT security, as I ran the Pacific office of one of the largest security software companies in the world. I was still on Channel Nine’s spokesperson database, and even though I am currently in Boston, took the call and directed them to the relevant people that could comment.

Based on my experience with mainstream news and media organisations, they have very little technical appreciation for what occurs with many of this infrastructure vulnerabilities and malicious code attacks. Quite often I would have camera crews wanting to come into our labs “to film the virus destroying the computer”.

I would suggest in the case of this recent vulnerability exploit, is that the spokespeople from the local companies took a calm and reasonable line (no one would have suggested just turning off your computer as a defence), but no one would have gone too hard on Microsoft. There is a degree of reasonable balance and tone that has been adopted by the security companies, as predictions of worst case scenarios are labelled as beat ups and revenue generating exercises.

Channel Nine, like all other media agencies, would have looked for an angle that would resonate with the viewers — not the most technically literate of viewers — and a suggestion to swap web browsers would have further complicated the issue. There are inherent risks within the Mozilla/Firefox systems as well (admittedly reduced) and they do not provide the same browsing experience.

The suggestion that the cosy relationship between PBL and Microsoft may have influenced the report I would suggest is probably wide of the mark.

Letter from… Kuala Lumpur:

Luke Hughes writes: Re. “Letter from… Kuala Lumpur” (yesterday, item 14). Oh dear, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing, and so it is with your Thursday from Malaysia, Arne Wrattan, in his illuminations about Malaysia and yoga. While his intent seems sound, his little item from KL is full of basic errors, suggesting Arne might need some work to meet Kevin Rudd’s goal of making Australia an Asia nation.

  1. The various forms of yoga are of Vedic origins from the Indian sub-continent, which evolved into practices associated with Hinduism, not “Hindi” as Arne describes it. Hindi is a language. Hinduism is a religion, or a “way of life” as the devout prefer to regard it. You compound this error a few times aka instructors are of Hindi origins etc. Hindi and Hindu are two very different things. Maybe it’s a typo, but its several of them.
  2. The Malaysia PM, for the time being, is Abdullah Ahmed Badawi.
  3. And 65% of Malaysians are not Muslims. It’s more like 55-60%. The non-Malay indigenous peoples of the Eastern Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah are indeed “bumiputra” (princes of the earth) but many of them are not Islamic as your numbers suggest, but rather Christian or even animist. It’s an important distinction as those states are becoming the kingmakers in determining whether the mostly Muslim UMNO-led coalition stays in power for much longer, as its margins of victory reduce.
  4. And what is this term “matsalis”. Is it Greek? You claim it means “white people” in Malaysia. No, that’s “orang putih” in Malay. The term you are looking for is “mat salleh”, so adopted by Malaysians in irony after a colonial-era rebel local in North Borneo (modern-day Sabah) who sold out to the British.
  5. You ask why a country would try to ban yoga but sell magazines on it. The country didn’t try to ban it. The fatwa council is of the mosque, not the state.

A better understanding of where you are in Asia before you pontificate about it can be helpful.


John Addis writes: The headline on Wednesday’s SMH was “Billions for the clever country”, concerning an announcement on education. Can someone please explain to me why we are giving all this money to Sweden?