No, India still wants coal


Despite Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) claims in today’s Australian, India is not seeking to “get away from its reliance on fossil fuels.”

In fact, the best part of the ACF’s opinion piece was its reference to the IPA’s June paper which found that increasing Australian coal exports to India would allow at least 82 million extra people each year to access a safe and reliable supply of electricity.

India’s power capacity has quadrupled over the past twenty five years and is expected to more than triple again over the next fifteen as it tries to get over 300 million people on to the electricity grid. This massive increase in electricity demand and plans for India to become a manufacturing powerhouse is not going to be met by localised renewables.

While India aims to have 175 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity (note that this is capacity, not output) by the early 2020s, the International Energy Agency has found that India will also build an additional 342 gigawatts of coal-fired electricity capacity by 2040, and become the world’s second largest coal-fired power producer behind China.

Yes, more than 2,000 people died in this year’s tragic heatwave, but less people would have died if they had access to air conditioning, refrigerated medicines and better quality housing.

Malcolm Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg’s recent comments on coal appear to have put the environmental movement into a state of shock, derailing its plans for a crescendo of one-way propaganda in the lead-up to the Paris climate change talks.

If the Indian market had no interest in Australian coal, then Indian companies wouldn’t be coming to Australia to develop mines – and environmentalists wouldn’t be so desperate to lock them out. The solutions to energy poverty are complex but are not advanced by unilaterally banning electricity from selected sources.


Ban first, ask questions later


Earlier this year, Australia’s medicines and medical devices regulator published a 134-word introduction to e-cigarettes on its website:

Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) or e-cigs, are devices for making mists for inhalation, that usually simulate the act of cigarette smoking. Electronic cigarettes are sometimes marketed as an option to help people quit smoking, or as a tobacco replacement.

Unlike Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) products, which have been rigorously assessed for efficacy and safety and, therefore, approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for use as aids in withdrawal from smoking, no assessment of electronic cigarettes has been undertaken and, therefore, the quality and safety of electronic cigarettes is not known.

The Australian Government is concerned about the use of electronic cigarettes in Australia. The impact of wide scale use of these devices on tobacco use is not known, and the outcome in the community could be harmful.

The claim that “no assessment of electronic cigarettes has been undertaken and, therefore, the quality and safety of electronic cigarettes is not known” is simply false. There have been hundreds of studies testing the quality and safety of e-cigarettes. Any search in a medical journal database yields countless results. Some people have even helpfully summarised and provided links to the various studies, and published them online (like this one covering the hundreds of studies published in 2014 and 2015.)

The more fundamental issue is the assumption – “The impact of wide scale use of these devices on tobacco use is not known, and the outcome in the community could be harmful.” Obviously that’s true. But the wide scale use of e-cigs could also be massively beneficial.

And in fact that’s precisely what’s borne out in the research. Overwhelmingly, the evidence points towards very significant health benefits, particularly to current smokers.

The TGA’s guiding philosophy is one of banning first, and asking questions later. And as we’ve discovered recently sometimes they don’t even bother asking the questions:

British and American Tobacco has launched legal action against the Therapeutic Goods Administration claiming that the health authority did not even consider an application to have its Voke nicotine inhaler listed, much like other nicotine products that could help smokers quit the habit.

BAT’s nicotine product arm, Nicovations, has filed a claim in the Federal Court claiming that the TGA erred by not even reviewing­ the application, with Britain’s Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency recently allowing the product to be licensed like other nicotine-quitting products.


Enrol now or else!


Alex Greenwich MP

Almost every parent will at some stage applied the “if you don’t do a) you won’t get b)” formula with their children. Most parents also realise that, at some point, they need to stop the “if you don’t tidy your room you can’t watch TV” or “if you don’t eat your vegetables you won’t get dessert” routines and trust that, as their children reach adulthood, they can work out for themselves whether they want tidy rooms or vegetables.

However, at the same stage in young people’s lives that parents are moving away from using the formula, the independent member for Sydney in the NSW parliament, Alex Greenwich, wants the government to spring into action and adopt it.

At a recent meeting organised by the pop culture website Junkee, Greenwich suggested applying the formula to enrolling to vote. Under Greenwich’s plan, young adults would not be allowed to get a driver’s licence, or proof of age card, unless they have done the political equivalent of tidying their rooms and eating their vegies, by proving that they are on the electoral role.

Paradoxically, Greenwich is a supporter of lowering the voting age to 16, believing that young people have the maturity to vote, but then he wants to infantilise them, by saying that they need to be forced onto the roll.

Greenwich has suggested that one reason why young people were reluctant to enrol was fear of getting fined if they failed to vote. Of course, the obvious solution to this problem would be to make voting voluntary. However, politicians like Greenwich never err on the side of people making their own decisions when the opportunity to dream up a more coercive solution is available.


The ‘left-wing conspiracy’ in teacher education courses


High-quality teaching is fundamental to student learning, and research shows that it is the largest in-school factor influencing student outcomes.

That is why Dr Jennifer Oriel’s warning ($) that university courses are shaping a generation of teachers to champion postcolonialism and neo-Marxism should be taken very seriously. Dr Oriel cited recent IPA research which showed that from 2004 to 2014, the number of Australian universities offering postcolonialism as a subject increased from 15 to 21, and of the 34 universities surveyed, post­colonialism/imperialism was the third most commonly offered history subject.

Dr Bill Allen however, disagrees. In an article in The Australian yesterday, Dr Allen argued that no ‘left-wing conspiracy’ exists inside teacher education courses ($) to create teachers hostile to Western Civilisation and Australian values. He claimed that in his own experience, most students studying teaching have never heard of neo-Marxist educational theorists Paulo Freire or Herbert Marcuse, and that even though students knew of Karl Marx, it didn’t matter because they don’t know ‘how Marx’s ideas might apply to their thinking about being a successful teacher’.

My own experience studying teaching has been Oriel’s reality, not Allen’s.

In one subject, an entire week was devoted to Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy, and how from the 1970s to today, ‘important social movements such as feminism’ have ‘blossomed’ as teachers ‘started to actively resist schooling structures that were seen to privilege a typically white, male and European viewpoint.’

We were told that as educators, we have an ‘important role to play as “public intellectuals”, who should fight the forces of social and economic oppression within which schools operate’. This is informed by critical pedagogy advocate Henry Giroux, who contends that neoliberal politics, pop culture, and corporations are negative ideological forces which must be fought in schools.

Only last week, I sat in classes that denigrated non-government schools, argued for trigger warnings in the classroom, and derided the idea of individual responsibility.

If there is no left-wing conspiracy in teacher education courses, I must be confused.


Racing integrity commissioner to have access to retained data?


Sal Parna, Victoria’s Racing Integrity Commissioner

Politics, like comedy, is about timing. This week Melbourne has been under its usual racing induced fever. So Victoria’s Attorney-General Martin Pakula took the opportunity on Monday to publicly appeal to the federal government that the Victorian Racing Integrity Commissioner be reinstated as one of the authorised agencies for warrantless access to telecommunications data under the data retention scheme.

Under the data retention bill passed earlier this year, the number of agencies with access had been strictly limited to criminal law enforcement agencies. As the IPA argued at the time, this was almost certain not to last – regulators across the country have been chomping at the bit for years to get a hold of our internet records, and it would be trivially easy for this or future governments to quietly reinstate these agencies into the data retention scheme.

Mandatory data retention is a rolling violation of our privacy. Is such a violation justified in order to protect the “public confidence” in the racing industry?  There are more fundamental issues of public confidence here – the public’s confidence that the government is not routinely harming the privacy of its citizens just to make regulatory enforcement slightly less bureaucratically onerous. If the Victorian Racing Integrity Commissioner needs to access data, they ought to get a warrant.


One child policy discarded as population bomb fears unfounded


Last week the Chinese Communist Party issued a statement indicating that couples would now be able to have two children, signalling the end of the infamous one child policy. Whilst this is still an almost unimaginable transgression on the freedom of the Chinese people, it is nonetheless a step in the right direction.

China’s one child policy was introduced by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 and is thought to have prevented some 400 million births. The government incorrectly believed that a growing population, at the time approaching one billion, would have a negative impact on China’s economic ambitions.

Those who complied with the policy were sometimes encouraged with employment and financial incentives, while those who did not were fined. At times, forced abortions and mass sterilisation measures were also practiced. Traditional Chinese cultural preference for male children meant that a large number of female babies were abandoned or placed in orphanages. Notoriously, sex-selective abortions and female infanticide took place.

Unfortunately, the Chinese government has amended its one child policy for practical, rather than philosophical reasons. By 2050, more than a quarter of the population will be over 65. By 2020 China will have 30 million single men who will remain that way for the rest of their life.

Now is an appropriate time to re-state the basic truth that the best form of population control is economic growth. As people become richer, they simply have fewer children. In an excellent piece in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, Dr Patrick Carvalho from the CIS pointed out that China’s spiralling fertility rate over the timespan of the one child policy roughly matches that of other nations who enjoyed similar per capita income growth.

He goes on to say that ‘population bomb’ fears generally are unfounded. Most demographers think the world’s population will stabilise at 10 billion in 2050 as more economic growth takes place. In 1960 a woman had on average 5.02 children. Today, that figure is 2.51.

In other words, population fears are another doomsday scenario that human innovation has averted.


One-size-fits-all legislative approach not the solution


Strata law isn’t the sexiest issue, but it has significant consequences for an increasingly large proportion of the urban population in Australia.

Last month, the NSW parliament passed a raft of amendments to the strata regime that operates in the state. Perhaps the most significant change contained in the bill was a provision allowing for the demolition of an apartment block where 75 per cent of owners agree.

Concerns were raised about the impact of the proposed laws back in July this year:

One of the most controversial proposals will be the ability of strata owners to terminate the scheme – and sell or redevelop the building – and if 75 per cent of the strata owners agree, based on one vote per unit, not on different unit entitlements.

At the moment 100 per cent agreement is required and many apartment owners, particularly older residents, will be discomforted by the thought that the building could be sold from under them – even with safeguards on the fairness and transparency of the process.

It’s clear that certain apartment blocks are in desperate need of urban renewal. However, the issue of imposing development on apartment owners via strata law is one that raises questions about property rights.

What is the appropriate threshold point at which the majority can override the wishes of the minority?

This is obviously a question that needs to be resolved in a strata agreement, but is it a question that needs to be resolved by government?

To my mind, this is something that ought to be left to contracting parties. There’s no need for a one size fits all legislative approach – allow for different strata to determine their own thresholds. Choosing to buy into an apartment building is a decision based on a range of factors, and the rules of the strata agreement should be one of those factors. Those with a preference for development are likely to want to buy into a building that stipulates a lower majority than those who wish to buy and hold over the long term.

The current 100 per cent threshold is not for everyone. But neither is the new 75 per cent figure. The NSW government should give more room to strata flexibility.


The fossil fuel subsidy myth

Henry Ergas in yesterday’s Australian cited a letter from the former chief economist to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that describes that organization’s claim of $5.3 trillion of world fossil fuel subsidies as “highly questionable” and “dubious”.

The IMF, like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has jumped on the subsidies bandwagon in recent years. This is especially disappointing in the case of the OECD, given that it exists solely to promote economic growth.

A true energy subsidy is a payment, or other measure, that reduces prices below the true market price. Energy subsidies, like all subsidies, distort the natural flow of investment, demand and supply in markets, and should not be supported, especially given that the long-suffering taxpayer is the one that ultimately foots the bill.

While there are governments around the world that do genuinely subsidise energy (e.g. Venezuela, or Iran), these subsidies are in fact dropping.


In September the IPA published The Fossil Fuel Subsidy Myth which found that the phrase “fossil fuel subsidy” in the Australian context had been used by environmentalists as a political weapon to demonise the mining industry and artificially bolster the case for renewables.

A refund of overpaid tax is not a fossil fuel subsidy, and neither is a campaigner’s calculation of what a company or consumer “should” have paid. Tax systems exist to raise enough revenue to pay the government’s bills, and should not be used to pursue political vendettas.


We need permissionless innovation to grow and prosper


Upon becoming prime minister Malcolm Turnbull outlined a desire for Australia to become a more innovative country, unlocking the inherent potential for greater entrepreneurship and ingenuity.

To be certain, most people see an innovation policy as being synonymous with more government subsidisation and tax breaks of a limited range of activities seen to be innovative. But is greater public sector activity in economic activities needed to encourage innovation?

In a piece published in the Canberra Times on Saturday weekend, I say no, not at all. A slice:

If Prime Minister Turnbull and his eager cabinet colleagues wish for a more innovative Australia that is readily embraced by every resident, better for them not to game the market process by forcing us to accept bundles of new economic knowledge we would prefer not to produce and buy ourselves.

The best innovation policy, in other words, is one which frees up the economy in every way imaginable so that innovation is generated by entrepreneurs in the marketplace.

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