Saturday, 5 March 2016

More pokies not less on ACT Government's agenda

The chief political adviser to the ACT government has told me that increasing the number of poker machines in Canberra is being considered as part of a redevelopment plan for the city's Canberra Casino.
The casino owner Aquis Entertainment wants 500 pokies as part of its plan to invest $330 million in what it calls "Canberra’s entertainment, leisure, dining, retail, gaming, accommodation and social infrastructure."
Official policy of the Labor/Greens coalition government is for a phased reduction in the number of gaming machines operating in the Territory. While machines can be traded between clubs, for every four authorisations traded, one is forfeited and taken out of operation.
Yet Chief Minister Andrew Barr's chief of staff Jamie Driscoll raised the prospect of giving the Casino permission for extra machines when I met with him on Friday on behalf of my client the Mawson Raiders Club to discuss the Casino redevelopment proposal.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Abbott-Turnbull conflict goes nuclear

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

It’s ON between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull – the political equivalent of nuclear war.

Escalating hostilities have come to a spectacular head over Wednesday’s story in The Australian. It reported the Turnbull government’s defence white paper had delayed the acquisition of new submarines compared with the draft produced under Abbott, with the former prime minister saying he was “flabbergasted at this decision”.

The story, by The Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan, quoted sections of a draft of the white paper from Abbott’s time. The draft was a classified national security committee (NSC) document. When Abbott was prime minister the Turnbull forces often accused the then prime minister’s office of leaking NSC documents.

Responding to a question from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Turnbull announced that the secretary of the Defence Department, Dennis Richardson, had asked the Australian Federal Police to investigate the leak.

Shortly before, Turnbull, Defence Minister Marise Payne, Richardson and the head of the Australian Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, had met in Turnbull’s office to discuss the leak. It was agreed the police should be called in.

The Australian story referred to the public statement from then-defence minister Kevin Andrews a year ago that it would be necessary for the first submarine to be built by the mid-2020s. The draft white paper had “the first submarines likely to begin entering service in the late 2020s”, Sheridan wrote. Despite the caution in the draft, Abbott and Andrews were determined to get the first submarine built by 2026-27, the report said.

In parliament Turnbull also took aim at the Abbott timetable. He said Richardson and Binskin had advised him and Payne that the advice to the government since 2013 “has been that it was highly unlikely the first of the future submarines could be delivered by 2026”.

The day before The Australian’s story appeared Binskin was asked, at a briefing for journalists on the white paper, whether its reference to the early 2030s had changed since the switch of minister and prime minister. He said: “No, no, not at all. No.”

Some days prior to that Binskin told The Australian extra time was needed because the process of selecting, designing and building the new submarines could not be rushed.

Sources confirm that Abbott when prime minister was set on the 2026 date but this had been regarded as unrealistic and was against all professional advice.

Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said that “whatever happened between the draft and the final document would have happened on the basis of the advice from Defence".

Abbott denied having leaked the document. “I don’t leak, I don’t background against colleagues. If I’ve got something to say, I say it.” But he stood by his comments about the delay. Sheridan also denied Abbott was the source.

On the precedents, as all the players know, there would seem zip chance that the origin of this leak will be traced. It looks so obviously political that finding it could make things worse.

The subs story follows Abbott’s Tuesday high-profile partyroom intervention in the tax debate, when he warned against changes, especially to negative gearing, and said there should be a fresh effort to cut spending.

One close-in observer says: “Today’s story has nothing to do with submarines – it has everything to do with Abbott turning into Rudd”.

A Liberal MP sees him as motivated by hatred of Turnbull and going “full bore” to try to destroy the man who destroyed him. “This guy is going to blow up the place,” he says. Another Liberal parliamentarian describes Abbott’s latest action as a “huge strategic blunder” by the former leader.

The question now is how far Abbott is willing to go in his attacks on Turnbull – whether this has turned into a crusade for which the government will pay an increasingly high price in an election year. The cost to Abbott will also spiral if he persists – but what frightens some Liberals is that he may not care.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A shady, bombastic liar is hardening the image of the Republican party as a symbol of intolerance and division and other political news and views

The Party of Trump, and the Path Forward for Democrats - NY Times editorial: "The Republicans seem to be reeling, unable or unwilling to comprehend that a shady, bombastic liar is hardening the image of their party as a symbol of intolerance and division."

Planet on the Ballot - We now have a pretty good idea who will be on the ballot in November: Hillary Clinton, almost surely ..., and Donald Trump, with high likelihood ... . But even if there’s a stunning upset in what’s left of the primaries, we already know very well what will be at stake — namely, the fate of the planet.

Inside the Clinton Team’s Plan to Defeat Donald Trump - In the days after Donald J. Trump vanquished his Republican rivals in South Carolina and Nevada, prominent Democrats supporting Hillary Clinton arranged a series of meetings and conference calls to tackle a question many never thought they would ask: How do we defeat Mr. Trump in a general election?

Big-Donor Money Has Not Worked in the 2016 Campaign. Yet.

When Coal Companies Fail, Who Pays For The Cleanup? - For decades massive, open-pit coal mines have been feeding the country's appetite for energy. Once coal companies are done with the land, they're supposed to restore it. But as America's coal industry declines, it may not have the funding to keep its cleanup promises.

Why Warren Buffett Doesn't Think Climate Change Is His Problem - The world would be smart to prepare, but Berkshire Hathaway shareholders shouldn't worry

Berkshire Hathaway Inc Annual Report 2015 - Warren Buffett's letter to shareholders Pages 25 and 26
I am writing this section because we have a proxy proposal regarding climate change to consider at this year’s annual meeting. The sponsor would like us to provide a report on the dangers that this change might present to our insurance operation and explain how we are responding to these threats.
It seems highly likely to me that climate change poses a major problem for the planet. I say “highly likely” rather than “certain” because I have no scientific aptitude and remember well the dire predictions of most “experts” about Y2K. It would be foolish, however, for me or anyone to demand 100% proof of huge forthcoming damage to the world if that outcome seemed at all possible and if prompt action had even a small chance of thwarting the danger.
This issue bears a similarity to Pascal’s Wager on the Existence of God. Pascal, it may be recalled, argued that if there were only a tiny probability that God truly existed, it made sense to behave as if He did because the rewards could be infinite whereas the lack of belief risked eternal misery. Likewise, if there is only a 1% chance the planet is heading toward a truly major disaster and delay means passing a point of no return, inaction now is foolhardy. Call this Noah’s Law: If an ark may be essential for survival, begin building it today, no matter how cloudless the skies appear.
It’s understandable that the sponsor of the proxy proposal believes Berkshire is especially threatened by climate change because we are a huge insurer, covering all sorts of risks. The sponsor may worry that property losses will skyrocket because of weather changes. And such worries might, in fact, be warranted if we wrote ten- or twenty-year policies at fixed prices. But insurance policies are customarily written for one year and repriced annually to reflect changing exposures. Increased possibilities of loss translate promptly into increased premiums.
Think back to 1951 when I first became enthused about GEICO. The company’s average loss-per policy was then about $30 annually. Imagine your reaction if I had predicted then that in 2015 the loss costs would increase to about $1,000 per policy. Wouldn’t such skyrocketing losses prove disastrous, you might ask? Well, no.
Over the years, inflation has caused a huge increase in the cost of repairing both the cars and the humans involved in accidents. But these increased costs have been promptly matched by increased premiums. So, paradoxically, the upward march in loss costs has made insurance companies far more valuable. If costs had remained unchanged, Berkshire would now own an auto insurer doing $600 million of business annually rather than one doing $23 billion.
Up to now, climate change has not produced more frequent nor more costly hurricanes nor other weather related events covered by insurance. As a consequence, U.S. super-cat rates have fallen steadily in recent years, which is why we have backed away from that business. If super-cats become costlier and more frequent, the likely – though far from certain – effect on Berkshire’s insurance business would be to make it larger and more profitable.
As a citizen, you may understandably find climate change keeping you up nights. As a homeowner in a low-lying area, you may wish to consider moving. But when you are thinking only as a shareholder of a major insurer, climate change should not be on your list of worries.