More rubbish from Crikey:

Tony Mahar, Director Sustainable Development, Australian Food and Grocery Council, writes: Re. “Independent study reveals whingers and rentseekers owe taxpayers $1 billion” (yesterday, item 10). Friday’s report in Crikey on the environment ministers meeting in Hobart demonstrates they can’t be bothered reading, cant do primary school maths and clearly don’t understand the issue of packaging recycling.

Claims the industry “conjured” an inconvenience cost to return drink containers are simply ill-informed. Crikey conveniently failed to mention that the report into the merits of a national container deposit system was a government initiated report conducted by independent researchers. The issue of a container deposit system is consistently raised as a simple solution to a complex problem and as most people know simple solutions are really popular and nice to have — but unfortunately rarely work.

The costs (and benefits) were included by the researchers as part of the investigation into the issue to determine the impact of a scheme that seeks to address only beverage container packaging i.e. cans and bottles, and requires consumers to treat them differently to other packaging waste by returning them to a central depot to obtain a deposit paid for at the point of purchase.

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The industry opposes such a system because it is inefficient and costly. By the way — this is exactly what the independent report found.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council stands by its support for the National Packaging Covenant — a cooperative arrangement between industry, governments and non government organisations to manage all packaging waste not just beverage containers.

The indisputable facts are this — the existing Covenant arrangement which expires in 2010 has contributed to the increase in the level of ALL packaging recycling increasing from below 40% in 2003 to 56% in 2008. All levels of government, industry and NGO’s are signatories to it – which is a feat in itself. These facts have been agreed to by all stakeholders including NGO’s and state and local government. End of story. To say that it isn’t working is rubbish!

Crikey goes on to suggest the industry has conjured up something called the “inconvenience cost” of a container deposit scheme — (this is wrong — industry didn’t). Nonetheless — it is simply bad maths to say that removing the $223m a year inconvenience cost from the analysis results in a net economic benefit? The report clearly quotes the following in terms of costs and benefits of the national container deposit scheme:

Summary of economic costs and benefits of a national CDL system ($m/yr)

Handling/transport $517
Administration $21
Inconvenience costs $223
Commercial collection costs $26
Total costs $787
Material values $242
Savings to kerbside collection $24
Avoided landfill costs $13
Unredeemed deposits (tourists) $15
Total benefits $294
Total economic cost $492

(Source p.93 Beverage Container Investigation Report)

Any primary school child will tell you that if you remove the $223m inconvenience cost there is still a cost of some $270m to operate the scheme.

The facts are that CDL is seriously expensive and there are other options that are more effective and provide better return for taxpayers’ money.

It’s also important to note and make very clear that the report does not recommend one policy option over another (as alluded to in some media). The Exec Summary includes, for all options modelled (there are seven in total):

  • Economic cost of each option.
  • Additional packaging that each option would recover for recycling; and
  • Cost per tonne for each option of recovery for recycling.

It’s amazing that facts and simple maths can get in the way of a good yarn.

Industry supported this investigation to try and answer this issue once and for all. We will continue to support the Environment Ministers’ decision to assess shoppers and taxpayers willingness to pay for a duplicative and competing system to the one they already have out their back door because, at the end of the day, they are the ones that will pay one way or another.

The National Broadband Network:

David Havyatt writes: Re. “Alston’s cold, dead hand still controls broadband” (yesterday, item 3). I might be mistaken but I vaguely recall that at the time of the relevant events described Bernard Keane was a staff member in the broadcasting section of Alston’s Department. It has certainly been a frustrating decade and a half for policy makers in this area, especially as Ministers seemed to be more drive by the craven interests of the media and telco sectors or the political requirements (think Telstra sale or the local content concerns of the Nationals in media law). The good news for all and sundry is that the Government is ready to consider all the consequential changes in communications policy, as chapter five of their discussion paper on regulatory reform for the 21 st century shows.

However, Bernard needs to be corrected in his understanding of the NBN. The architecture being proposed for the NBN is probably GPON, and all the displays at the Fibre to the Home Council in Melbourne last week showed how this technology doesn’t result in “just one pipe” coming into the house. While there is one piece of glass it is typically configured to provide multiple Ethernet ports which can be structured in different ways. In fact to do IPTV rather than just downloads you’d use a different port that accessed a local server. But the technology also allows the fibre to be used for an RF signal as well.

TV is successfully deployed over GPON in new estates, meeting all the existing broadcasting laws.

Politics and religion:

Peter Lloyd writes: Re. “Suckering the right into chk-chk culture wars” (yesterday, item 14). Jeff Sparrow makes a few good points in his missive about the increasingly whacky and lunar beliefs of American conservatives, and for those of us in Tasmania the pattern is instantly recognisable. Key Liberals such as Senators Guy Barnett and Richard Colbeck, and former Bass MP and probably future state MP Michael Ferguson make a virtue of their close ties to mainstream evangelical churches.

None of this would matter — after all, it’s only Tasmania and anyway abortion-obsessed ALP senatorial non-entity Helen Polley would fit into the Liberals well — except the family powerbase is in the other party.

But all this begs the question of why the Federal Parties allow themselves to be controlled in relation to policy by these small-minded anti-intellectuals. The day will come — if it hasn’t already — when our own leaders cannot profess “belief” in the truth of evolution by natural selection, and the Kevin Rudds, Peter Garretts and Malcolm Turnbulls will be the ones responsible as our country regresses from being one marked by social progressiveness, education and truth, to a God-fearing, ignorant, insular vegetable state.

Those who want to make a few easy dollars by smashing every forest they can had better re-read Sparrow’s point about “corporate Republicans” losing control of their party to “gap-toothed snake handlers”.

Our economic future:

Joshua Smith writes: I agree with Ava Hubble (yesterday, comments) regarding the pointlessness of increasing the age pension when there are increasingly no jobs for older people. However I would add that having had the experience of my father getting laid off from his “lifetime” job in the early 90’s at the age of 55 whilst he was helping support me in an Engineering degree (being the first and subsequently only member of my family to attempt University, which I was forced to quit being unable to undertake full-time study of 40+ hours per week class time plus the need to do additional study and support myself away from home in the middle of a recession) and his subsequent inability to attain work for many years which led to the breakdown of our family.

I’ve already planned ahead for the coming years and have secured sufficient supplies of Metoclopramide 10mg tablets and Nembutal so that I never have to again experience the joys of dealing with the social security system we have in place. I would suggest older workers who wish to keep their dignity and sanity might wish to adopt a similar approach.

The government should consider subsidising these two drugs (I had to buy mine on a trip offshore) as a much more cost effective method of dealing with an ageing population and workforce in an age where government policies have destroyed job security and hope.

Politician bashing:

Steven McKiernan writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s political bite-sized meaty chunks” (yesterday, item 17). As much as I appreciate Richard Farmer’s pithy comments, yesterday he had me confused. Politicians are elected to serve an electorate, and also to represent in the Big House in Canberra. The ability to do both is a compromise, air travel and second residences are two ways of reaching this. Heaven help the representative who has a partner, children, dependants and extended family.

The Glenn Milne story and Farmer’s response is little more than politician bashing, next week they will both bemoan the lack of time spent in the Chamber — and the lack of value the electorate get out of them. For the record my father Jim did a fantastic effort remaining in contact with his children (six) and grandchildren (one at the time), being caring and responsive during his stint in the Senate.

The surprise to me from Farmer’s meaty chunk is that he hadn’t considered the possibility that politicians have families at all.

To delegate or not?

Alan Phillips writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Crikey wrote:

There has been much muttering and sniping within government circles about Kevin Rudd’s micro-management of Australia over the past 18 months. Rudd, we know, is a details person. Despite the undoubted quality of his cabinet and his senior public service, the PM insists on being involved in all major discussions and decisions. He pre-empts and second-guesses his ministers and bureaucrats. He is the dominant presence at all major announcements. His office runs the government’s daily media cycle with ruthless precision and control.

If Kevin Rudd wasn’t this way, what should he do? A Whitlam? He delegated and look what happened to him!

Climate change cage match (now with its own blog):

Tamas Calderwood writes: Re. “The world’s meteorologists report from the frontline of climate change” (yesterday, item 1). Amanda Gearing explains that the following have been caused by climate change: rising temperatures in India; hurricanes, flooding, drought, record high temperatures and cold outbreaks in the USA; frequent and intense forest fires and more droughts in Russia; forest fires, heat waves and floods causing crop failures in France … yadda, yadda, yadda.

So a zero increase in global temperatures for over 10 years, 0.4C in 30 years and 0.7C in the past hundred years explains rain, drought, cold snaps, heat waves, cyclones — you name it. This theory is so powerful that it explains everything. Of course scientifically speaking that would mean that it explains nothing. But we all know that climate change is no longer about science — as proved by these absurdly hysterical stories in Crikey.

Michael James writes: Ken Lambert (yesterday, comments) is taking cheap shots at his own straw men and has simply restated something I can agree with but which is irrelevant to my argument. I strongly believe that every household in Australia should have solar hot water roof installations, and it should be mandated by law. Solar-HW is cheap with practical payback times and can remove a huge load from the grid and thus the need for burning more coal.

On the other hand I do not advocate the widespread installation or subsidy of domestic solar-PV (photovoltaic) even though some countries have apparently made it work with high feed-in tariffs (e.g. Germany) and a case can be made on the basis of supporting the nascent industry. So I agree solar-PV is too expensive and still too inefficient but more importantly, the cost is coming down steadily (not quite Moore’s Law but not too far off) so it is better to wait until the technology is more mature.

My point was that the government should be using some — most — of that $7B subsidy to the coal industry towards, amongst other initiatives, research on solar-PV, and an area in which we once were world leaders. But I applaud the Rudd governments’ commitment to building 1GW of solar-thermal power generation, another Australian research success story that was allowed to wither and go offshore. Unlike the dismal prospects and huge price tag of CCS solar-thermal and wind power are ready for serious use today and solar-PV and geothermal are ineluctably closing in on economic feasibility. We would already be there if the massive fossil fuel subsidies over the decades had instead been put into renewable energy research.

Along the way Australia could generate an internationally competitive export industry, which I am confident to predict will never happen with CCS (even if others pursue it). So it would be win (clean energy), win (new export industry) and win (jobs). And that would be my industrial policy.

Bruce Graham writes: Ken Lambert is correct that at current list retail prices photovoltaics do not make economic sense to a city dweller. Additionally, global photovoltaic production will continue to be too small to make any major impact for a decade on even the most rosy industry forecasts. If you look closer at some of the figures he quotes, however, it is much more favourable than he implies.

To start with, there is probably about $3000 of profit (not including instalment labour costs and PV manufacture capital depreciation) within that $12,000. Sometimes people install their own (illegally) and save money despite missing out on the subsidy, but it does take a bit of skill. The PV costs themselves are around 1/2 of the total, and this part continues to fall in price. Installing designed product to new houses is substantially cheaper than retrofitting.

The cost effective usage of PV in Australia is in new house anywhere outside a capital city, and especially in the north of Australia. Transmission costs substantially increase the cost of delivering power in this setting, and rural customers are already receiving a hidden subsidy because of this. A well targeted, efficient PV subsidy in an ideal world would be administered by transmission or generation companies, who are best situated to judge such benefits.

Mr Lambert also observes that the payoff times are long compared to the warranties. This is no different than any other capital investment. If you thought a new car would last only three years before it died, you would not buy it. Photvoltaics are ceramics. They last as long as roof tiles. They can be broken by large hail stones, and they need to be cleaned if birds sh-t on them. Their function does degrade with time, but not by much. N

obody knows how long they work for, because they have only been made in volume for a few decades, and old data does not reflect current product. Useful life might be only 40 years. It might also be 200. In retrofitted installations, the quality of the mountings is much more likely to cause grief. The most important disincentive to installing PV now, is that the price will certainly continue to fall for a very long time. So from a purely self interested point of view, wait.

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