As indicated by its failure to have the Senate re-instate the powers of the Australian Building & Construction Commission, and by anti-coal groups’s revealed use of legislation to stop coal projects and purporting thereby to protect “the environment”, the Abbott government is facing increased difficulties in implementing existing policies, let alone maintain policies which have hitherto been widely accepted as important to on-going development and employment. As Greg Sheridan points out (see “Shutting the door to growth” below), “Australia has created a public–political culture in which the avenues to block something from happening are endless”. More strictly, it is that certain groups, not Australia itself, which have created this culture and are now actively moving to apply it.
At present, this move partly reflects the attempt by opponents to cause a loss in the Canning by-election to be held on 19 September. The polling for this suggests the Coalition now holds a TPP of only 51/49 after being well ahead under the recently deceased holder of the seat. There is no doubt that Labor, union leaders, Fairfax media and environmental institutes will use every possible means to put Abbott’s leadership at stake. If that is to be retained, there is a need for Abbott to make at least one major policy announcement when Parliament resumes on 7 September.
Workplace Relations & Heydon
I have previously suggested that the attack on Heydon is in fact drawing attention to the need for reform of existing regulatory arrangements, although that has had only limited recognition to date. The accusation of “bias” by Heydon should now be switched to highlighting the biased regulatory arrangements, which were established under the union-driven Gillard government. This is largely “overlooked” by media such as the ABC in particular and, after a recent “burst” by the Fairfax Press, that group seems also to have quietened down on union misbehaviour and focussed instead on the alleged Heydon “bias”.
The unwarranted and destructive extraordinary powers acquired by trade unions, as identified by the Heydon royal commission and outlined by Judith Sloan as “particularly conducive to inappropriate and corrupt conduct on the part of trade unions” (see article by Sloan which I have titled Heydon Inquiry), provides an opportunity for Abbott to make a major policy announcement on workplace relations. This could identify the major existing problems and what the government presently considers doing about it when it is re-elected. That would allow time for further debate in the community before the election and before any legislation is actually introduced. Indeed, that debate has already been started by the attack on Heydon and by Tony Abbott’s strong attack last week on the opposition in Parliament on various pertinent issues and its union connections.
In short, there is no need to await Heydon’s final report: the problems are already identified and are there for all the fair-minded to see. Indeed, it would be surprising if Minister Abetz has not already drafted a possible such statement.
The defeat of IS in the Middle East is an important component of foreign policy and in respect of which the US has asked Tony Abbott to take an increased role. But, in a letter sent yesterday to The Australian, I have argued that overcoming excessive trade union power is the IS for domestic policy.
Having announced a target for reducing emissions by 26 per cent by 2030, is it feasible for the Abbott government to publish a critique of the reductions approach being adopted by some countries? As it appears that the Paris talks will involve a “pledge and review” that will be highly unlikely to involve legally binding commitments by (at least) major developing countries, there would seem no reason to forego publishing a critical review and to indicate that Australia will not adopt policies that would reduce potential economic growth (now acknowledged by the one-eyed Climate Change Authority under former Treasury Head Bernie Fraser) until major emitters have all agreed to substantive reductions.
Such an approach would allow action to be attempted to prevent the anti-coal and other environment groups which are acting to reduce economic growth. That should involve a more comprehensive approach than the very weak present proposal by Brandis designed to ensure that such groups could not initiate legal action to delay or stop a project unless they have a direct interest in the environment close to a proposed project such as the Adani coal. In short, the test for a project should include an assessment of whether it has favourable implications for economic growth. Even if the government was unable to legislate this, an announcement that it should be a criterion would draw attention to the need to at least qualify environmental assessments.
As to any critique, this should be undertaken by the departments of Prime Minister, Treasury and Environment ie not by the latter alone. I note here that there is increasing evidence that there is little connection between increased emissions of CO2 and increased temperatures. A recent article in Science by a lead author of IPCC reports (Kevin Trenberth) has acknowledged that since 1910 there have been two lengthy periods (“hiatuses”) when temperatures have not risen despite increasing emissions (this is consistent with the analyses I have published with the assistance of Dr Tom Quirk). Trenberth makes highly unconvincing attempts to explain the disconnection which I cannot explore here, but in which prominent sceptic of the dangerous warming thesis, Dr Richard Lindzen, has taken an interest (in any review by PM&C, Treasury and Environment Dr Lindzen should be consulted).
I have previously referred to doubts about the accuracy of temperatures published both here and overseas. Such doubts are increased by the claim by US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that July temperatures were the warmest in 136 years. This has attracted world-wide media coverage. However, analysis by William Kininmonth (incorporated in a letter sent to The Australian) suggests that this appears to be based on recent revisions to NOAA’s temperature data which are inconsistent with data derived independently from satellite records. The suspicion must be that institutions which support the dangerous warming thesis are themselves warming up for Paris. NOAA will have in mind the need to provide Obama with supporting analysis.