Special treatment for environmentalists corrupts the rule of law


Legal affairs editor Chris Merritt in The Australian today:

The next time some lobby group demands special treatment by federal law, keep in mind how things turned out when politicians caved in to green activists. It cost taxpayers dearly.

The losses are real but they are not the only problem. [A] fundamental tenet of the rule of law has been corrupted by the special treatment of green activists. The most obvious consequence is the ease with which these groups have been using the courts to delay major development projects.

By giving green activists automatic standing to challenge major developments, the politicians in Canberra have given them a level of access to the courts that is denied to everyone else.

This has made it possible for millions of dollars in taxpayers’ funds — and shareholders’ funds — to be lost.

Continue reading here.


Electric cars – powered by coal

electric-cars-chargeProving again that government intervention rarely goes quite as intended, yesterday’s Australian Financial Review featured an article which explained how Dutch tax incentives to increase the use of electric cars has led also to an increase in coal-fired power to charge them:

Three new coal-fired power plants, including two here on the Rotterdam harbor, are supplying much of the power to fuel the Netherlands’ electric-car boom.

… Alongside the boom has come a surging demand for power to charge the vehicles, which can consume as much electricity in a single charge as the average refrigerator does in a month and a half.

The adoption of electric cars throughout the world will significantly increase demand for electricity. Given the intermittency problems of wind and solar, this is much more likely to be fuelled by coal or gas.

Environmentalists typically offer no solution to this dilemma and, as in this article, instead choose to talk up car batteries as an additional source of, or storage mechanism for, electricity. Of course, batteries don’t create electricity and can only store the excess that someone else has to create.


Judges are not perfect


Michael Sexton SC

Michael Sexton SC makes a good point ($) in The Australian today:

…the Tasmanian legislation — and similar legislation in some of the other states and territories — poses real problems on its face for churches and other religious groups.

To take an example, as anyone who has read Brideshead Revisited will recall, it is Catholic teaching that unmarried heterosexual couples are “living in sin” and so doomed to the eternal fires of hell.

Why is it not open to such a couple to complain that they are offended and insulted by church publications to this effect because those publications are made on the basis of their relationship status?

It then would be up to the church to argue that a reasonable person would not have this reaction but that decision might depend very much on the personal views of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner.

This last paragraph is an important point, and it’s one that tends to be missed by lawyers. Judges are not automatons. Judges are people that bring their own values to bear on legal decisions they are required to make. They are not infallible, and personal biases often play a role.

The correct response is to ensure that contentious decisions about thoughts, ideas, and the limits of public debate are not left to judges, but are debated freely by individual citizens.


Historic home demolition could be FIRB’s fault

The leafy suburbs of Australia’s major cities are full of laments about historic homes being knocked down and replaced by McMansions or units.

One of the chief recipients of blame for this phenomenon is overseas buyers, particularly the Chinese. However, an article about a historic federation home slated for demolition in the Melbourne suburb of Kew has highlighted the fact that one of the causes of demolitions is actually a measure designed to restrict foreign ownership.

Current foreign investment rules only allow foreign investors to buy residential property if they intend to construct a new dwelling on the land. They cannot buy property just to live in, or rent out, the existing dwelling. This distinction is designed to increase the housing stock and stimulate the building industry but, as with so many government regulations, this one is having unintended consequences.

Kew locals have perceptively pointed out that the restriction is one reason for the spate of demolitions of historic homes in their neighbourhood. The particular house in this case was recently renovated and has a tennis court and swimming pool, so would seemingly be very liveable for the new overseas owners, who bought it for $9.4 million.

However retaining the historic home is not an option for the owners when FIRB rules state that “the existing dwelling must be demolished and continuous substantial construction of the new dwellings must commence within 24 months”. Further, if the owners fail to comply, FIRB will take a dim view of any application for residency they might subsequently make.

Who knows whether these owners might demolish anyway, but next time you see a beautiful historic home being demolished, please consider the real culprit might be the federal government, not the overseas owners.


Health activists don’t like freedom, which is why they want to redefine it


Christopher Snowdon

An excellent article by Christopher Snowdon in The Spectator today:

Nobody wishes to be seen as being against freedom and yet the ‘public health’ lobby has an endless list of taxes, prohibitions and restrictions which implicitly assume that there is too much of it. The answer, as ever, is to redefine what liberty means.

He continues by looking at recent efforts by so-called health experts to turn true freedom into freedom from fear of such things as speeding drivers, exposure to cigarette smoke and the “fear that our children will be harassed by cigarette and alcohol advertising”:

That this all amounts to an assault on personal liberty should be obvious. The freedom to live your life as others think you should live it is no freedom at all. If it were freedom, it would not require a never-ending stream of new criminal offences to be created.

Continue reading here.


How the ‘home of renewables’ struggles with renewable energy


While FreedomWatch has covered the UK’s current struggles with renewable energy, we mustn’t forget Germany, the so-called home of renewables.

German newspaper Die Welt reported on Sunday that a leading German transmission grid operator will spend €500 million in 2015 on “stabilization measures” when the wind blows too much. Yes – while not enough wind is a perennial problem, so is too much wind, as some needs to be taken offline (though still paid for) and balanced with imported fossil fuel power from elsewhere.

Wind power is also playing havoc with the viability of Germany’s energy companies. EON recently reported a quarterly loss of €7.25 billion, and RWE is also losing money, as government policies and low wholesale electricity prices continue to destroy electricity industry economics.

Not that low wholesale prices mean low consumer prices. German power bills are among the highest in the world because they are half taxes and fees, with the costs of renewables recovered through taxing consumers. Over one million Germans have had their electricity cut off over the last three years, unable to pay bills that have doubled since 2002.

Yesterday’s Australian cited a 2014 study which found that nearly one in three Australians had missed an electricity bill payment in the previous twelve months. Given the German experience, this problem will likely become even more acute as renewables take a greater share of the Australian market.


Kennard: Australia should become a tax haven to encourage investment and job creation


Sam Kennard, LDP candidate for the North Sydney by-election

We couldn’t agree more with Sam Kennard’s comments reported in The Australian today:

Mr Kennard, who is the managing director of the $1 billion self-storage company that bears his name, said a dramatically lower tax regime and less red tape would foster economic growth, even if it brought increased competition to the sector that Kennards Self Storage now dominates.

… “I personally would like Australia to be a tax haven, the kind of place where companies want to set up their offices,” Mr Kennard told The Australian.

“It would encourage investment, job creation and high wage growth.”

… Moreover, he said, most regulation favoured incumbents which already dominate the market, and new red tape rules prevented small business from increasing competition in the marketplace.

“Regulation doesn’t benefit consumers — it makes it harder for competition to come in and generates higher prices and operating costs, and consumer’s suffer,” he said.

Sam is the Liberal Democratic Party candidate for North Sydney, the seat vacated by Treasurer Joe Hockey.

If you’d like to reach out to Sam his email is [email protected].


A costly venture into tobacco nationalisation

It has been reported by major press outlets today that the federal opposition plans to radically increase the tobacco tax burden, should it be elected to government. In the Australian Financial Review today:

The cost of cigarettes will surge to more than $40 a pack under a future Labor government and put Australia back in line with the world’s most aggressive anti-tobacco jurisdictions.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will announce on Tuesday Labor’s plans to increase the excise rate by 12.5 per cent for four years from mid-2017, raising an extra $47 billion over a decade for Canberra’s coffers.

According to World Health Organisation data, tobacco excise accounts for 49 per cent of the retail price of a pack of 25 cigarettes in Australia. With the GST adding another nine per cent, total taxes represent 58 per cent of retail tobacco prices.

With reports saying the proposal aims to set tobacco excise at 75 per cent of the retail price of a pack of 25 cigarettes, what we have here is little more than a cynical exercise in tobacco product nationalisation.

Governments in recent years have effectively taken complete control over the packaging attributes of cigarettes sold in formal markets, and are steadily exerting price control over the product itself.

Politicians paternalistically exhort Australians to give up their smokes, but not too many all at once because government itself is becoming hooked on tobacco revenue to close its overspending budget gap.

The continuing existence of smokers also gives health bureaucrats an alibi to control the features of tobacco products themselves, despite plain packaging proving ineffective in reducing smoking.

The irony of this situation would not be lost on most Australians.


State law makes it unlawful to argue in support of federal law


FreedomWatch has mentioned before the chilling effect of anti-discrimination laws on free speech, but the Archbishop Porteous case in Tasmania goes even further. The Archbishop’s booklet ‘Don’t Mess with Marriage’ makes the argument which is currently reflected in federal law.

Sinclair Davidson explains at the Catallaxy Files:

To make the argument for heterosexual marriage is to make an argument for the law of the land as it currently stands. To make the argument for the law of land as introduced in 2004 and reaffirmed by a vote in the national parliament as recently as 2012. The issue is now so controversial that the Federal Parliament has decided to abrogate all responsibility for marriage and to allow a plebiscite on the matter. Yet a State government – that has absolutely no constitutional authority in the matter – has decided the issue already. At least the unelected bureaucrats of that State government have decided the matter already.

The message is clear – anyone who wants to argue against same-sex marriage and for the current law of the land in a federal plebiscite will be prosecuted under State government laws. Sounds crazy? It is crazy.


Public versus private wage growth is the latest budget blow

Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics points to some economic developments that will make a return to balanced government budgets even more difficult.

In the three months to September 2015, private sector wage growth has grown at 0.5 per cent (or 2.1 per cent over the previous year), making it the slowest rate of growth in 17 years.

Slowing wage growth – a significant cost of employment – could encourage business to hire additional staff. But a persistent trend could hit government budgets on the revenue side (as well as adverse terms of trade effects).

Of at least equal concern is that public sector wages keep growing despite a subdued Australian economy. The ABS wage index shows public sector wages increasingly a little more rapidly, at 0.7 per cent over the last three months (2.7 per cent), adding pressure to government budgets on the spending side.


The main culprits for the rising public sector wages bill appears to be the state and local governments. During 2014‑15 the federal government cut its wages bill by $462 million compared with the previous financial year, whereas states and councils increased their wages bill by $2 billion and $458 million, respectively.

Putting the three levels of government together, we find the total wage bill to have hit a record $141 billion in 2014‑15, up from $139 billion in 2013‑14.

Since the 2013 election the federal government has done its bit to reduce its bureaucracy and wage costs, albeit too slowly, but we also need to keep a closer eye on profligate states and local governments.