Carbon tax and a double dissolution trigger:

Jackson Harding writes: Re. “Carbon tax: for Abbott it’s appalling policy or appalling hypocrisy” (yesterday, item 10). Matt Grudnoff overlooks one possibility; this government is poised on a razor’s edge and Craig Thomson appears to be sliding down it at a rapid rate of knots.

If Thomson is forced from the Parliament by whatever means the Government will surely fall at the subsequent by-election.  The Australian community will be subjected to something that most living Australian’s would not be aware of, namely that a Westminster style Government can fall without an election, the last time this happened in Australia was in our last hung parliament when Menzies was replaced by Curtin in 1941. Tony Abbott will get his chance to be PM and can introduce his direct action legislation twice, which the Greens in the Senate will examine, enquire, refer to committee, decry loudly, and then reject each time.

Let’s suppose if Mr Thomson leaves the Parliament. If he’s going to go it will be within the next four weeks, if he can hang on that long the media will have moved on to the next story, so if it’s going to happen, it will happen soon, we then have a by-election which will consume another month.  Let’s say Mr Abbott is PM by late October 2011. It would probably not be until early 2012 until the new Government managed to get its Direct Action legislation before the Parliament and it would be mid 2012 at the earliest that they presented it a second time.

But then Mr Abbott has a double dissolution trigger and what’s more he can claim that the election is needed to give himself a mandate, the memory of the Rudd-Gillard government will still be fresh in the voters’ minds and the Coalition is sure to get a handsome majority in the Reps. He’ll need it, at a double dissolution the Greens will get one Senate seat at least in every state and in several states it will be in with a chance of two Senate seats. That large majority in the Reps will then ensure the bill gets through the subsequent joint sitting.  By mid 2013 at the latest Direct Action is a reality.

This brings us to the second intriguing possibility. If this government does fall, Labor strategists may realise that their best hope lies in letting the Coalition see out the rest of this term.  They can white ant the Coalitions legitimacy by saying they came to power without an election and by 2013 the global economic position may go from bad to worse.  As a consequence at the next federal election the “illegitimate”

Coalition government may once again find themselves in opposition. To do this Labor would have to side with the Coalition and not allow the Greens to exercise their balance of power. Strange times indeed.

Tamas Calderwood writes: Matt Grudnoff ties himself in knots explaining why the carbon tax is inevitable and says no matter what the election result it is difficult to undo anyway.  It apparently escapes Matt that almost three-quarters of Australian voters say they won’t vote Labor and it’s the carbon tax (amongst a plethora of other stuff-ups) that is the government’s primary problem.

Yes, it’s possible there may be no election until 2013 (although that looks increasingly unlikely).  And perhaps the Coalition won’t win a Senate majority, although given the current polls they just might.  And yes, even if they do win the Senate, new members cannot not sit until the previous members’ six year terms expire. Yes, yes, yes…

But if Labor is given the drubbing the polls indicate, how would it be in their interest to stick with the Greens and block the clear will of the Australian people? If Labor did stick with the Greens a double-dissolution would surely result, along with a repeat (and perhaps worse) drubbing for them.  And given that all Senate positions would be up for election (not the usual half), the Greens would only need half the usual votes to win each seat and would likely increase their numbers, most likely at Labor’s expense.

Thus the Greens and the Coalition may want Labor to continue with its pig-headedness and I can see Matt desperately wants this tax. But if the ALP take that route it could well destroy them, so surely their more sensible members would reject Matt’s scenario as a comeback strategy.

The steel industry:

Gavin R. Putland writes: Re. “I’m not a protectionist, but … more help for the steel industry” (Monday, item 2). The simplest way to help the Australian steel industry is to levy royalties on iron ore and coal at the point of exportation instead of the point of extraction.

In the domestic market, a royalty on exportation of a raw material is a deduction from the global price, allowing domestic industries to get that material more cheaply than foreign competitors. The argument applies not only to the steel industry, but to all industries that process Australian minerals.

Problem: State mineral royalties are not taxes; if they were, they’d be excises and therefore unconstitutional. So the royalties are imposed using the power of ownership rather than the power of taxation. Hence the States can’t impose royalties on exports if the ownership changes before the point of exportation.

Solution: The Commonwealth imposes a tax on mineral exports and remits the revenue to the respective States from which the minerals came, on the condition that the states abolish their own royalties. Try calling an export tax “protectionist”!

Martin C. Jones writes: Pre-July, BlueScope Steel representatives appeared on virtually every business media in country screaming bloody murder about the ruinous effects carbon pricing would have on them.

It’s therefore interesting to note how Paul O’Malley, BlueScope’s CEO, explicitly stated on Monday morning that BlueScope’s “decision is a direct response to the economic factors affecting our business and is not related to the Federal Government’s proposed carbon tax.” Scant hours later, the Government announced it was bringing some of its $300m sop to the steel industry forward — the same $300m that, in July, O’Malley described as “pragmatic”.

I’m not suggesting that BlueScope so radically changed its tune in July, or is trying to stay on the Government’s good side, because of the significant overcompensation it will be getting — actually, wait: that’s exactly what I’m suggesting.

Offer a company $60 million a year to compensate them for costs of $20 million, and they may stop slagging you off; isn’t politics wonderful?

RMIT:

Maree Curtis, Program Director, Journalism, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 7). RMIT’s journalism program continues to offer a full suite of practical production courses that teach the radio and television skills necessary for all young journalists working in a multimedia newsroom.

Yesterday’s Crikey report is wildly inaccurate. There is no reduction in practical courses in RMIT’s Bachelor of Communication (Journalism) program and production courses will continue to be offered to both second and third year students.

The key change from 2012 is our second-year production courses will focus on skills development, while third-year students will produce live-to-air radio and television news. This will enhance the quality of student news production and our live-to-air broadcasts for RRR and Channel 31.

RMIT’s journalism program has one of the lowest student-to-staff ratios in the sector. Just one staff member took a voluntary redundancy last year — not five, as per the Crikey “tip”.

Jill Singer, Television Lecturer, RMIT, writes: The rumour in Crikey that Melbourne’s leading journalism school at RMIT has “apparently” announced it will halve its radio and television reporting courses, is ludicrous. If we want to announce something, we know how to do it.

I coordinate and teach the television journalism courses for RMIT journalism undergraduates and post graduate students. All television courses will again be offered next year and there are no plans to cut them.

As for the big scoop that five lecturers have taken redundancies — just one of these lecturers was from the journalism school and not a single journalism course has been cut.

The suggestion that “RMIT journalism appears set to follow lesser schools and teach only print journalism” is utterly absurd — an absurdity that potential students tell us they’re being fed from — lesser schools.

John Wallace, Program Director, Asia Pacific Journalism Centre, writes: Your RMIT insider is way off when he/she says: “RMIT journalism appears set to follow lesser schools and teach only print journalism — as it did 20 years ago.”

I used to head the journalism program there 20 years ago (from 1985 to 1991), and I can assure you that we had several subjects in broadcast journalism, so the program was never just a print journalism program. Also, I don’t know of any journalism program in Australia that teaches only print journalism.

I don’t know what the current RMIT regime is doing to the program, but there’s no need for those supporting the retention of broadcast subjects to change the facts in support of the cause, notwithstanding its merit. We used to deal with this kind of issue in first year!

Live exports:

Jenny Morris writes: A number of ALP MPs, including Kelvin Thompson, spoke out about the Gillard government’s policy on live exports, to wit, seemingly in support of a ban, or at least a bit more effort towards humane treatment by a callow industry that puts profit before animal welfare, and can’t read the economic signs of its own future.

How shameful, then, to see the lot of them moving across the House of Reps to stand and vote against the two bills to ban live export. Historic opportunity missed to end the cruelest trade that shames Australia. Only Andrew Wilkie and Adam Bandt can hold their heads high following the votes last week.

So, Gillard wouldn’t give a conscience vote, and none of the ALP MPs had the guts to vote with their conscience anyway. I heard the penalty for voting contrary to party lines is being kicked out of the ALP.  I doubt Gillard would have the guts to do that, when her majority hangs on one vote.  A perfect opportunity to vote for what’s right.  But no, none of them had the courage to do it.

In all, a disgraceful day for the Australian Parliament, and as a result, for our nation.

I’m ashamed of the lot of them.

Gunns:

Robert Musk writes: Re. “Mayne: where to for Gunns, logging and the pulp mill?” (Friday, item 10). Why is it that you continue to report on matters environmental with very little apparent interest in verifiable facts? Why don’t you bother checking with somebody before you publish this stuff?

Stephen Mayne is mistaken when he says that the ongoing discussions in Tasmania around the future of the native forest timber industry are designed to end old-growth logging. The areas proposed for reservation by the conservationists never included all of Tasmania’s unreserved old growth forests. The areas eventually reserved under the Intergovernmental Agreement do not either.

However, they do include over 23 thousand hectares of silvilcultural regrowth. That’s the technical moniker for those forests that have already been “slaughtered” (to use Stephen’s colourful term). A reasonable person might ask why these forests might need reservation given that current management practices have evidently maintained their high conservation values.

On a final note, it seems quite strange that Stephen believes that Gunns is owed monies by the taxpayer when it is still a matter for resolution as to whether Gunns has a contract to trade in return for this largess. Still, from the timber industry’s viewpoint, it is heartening to see that Stephen is prepared to engage in such a spirited defence of one company’s behaviour for such a low price. He only owns ten shares! For the industry’s sake, I hope he invests more widely in the future.

Peter Fray

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