Friday, 17 April 2015

Focusing on Australia

Abbott government gives $4m to help climate contrarian set up Australian centre
Bjørn Lomborg has been given money from the hard-pressed federal budget to set up a ‘consensus centre’ at the University of Western Australia

Danish professor Bjorn Lomborg poses at
 Danish professor Bjorn Lomborg argues that climate change is not a top priority for governments and that its importance has been overstated. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

16 April, 2015

The Abbott government found $4m for the climate contrarian Bjørn Lomborg to establish his “consensus centre” at an Australian university, even as it struggled to impose deep spending cuts on the higher education sector.

A spokesman for the education minister, Christopher Pyne, said the government was contributing $4m over four years to “bring the Copenhagen Consensus Center methodology to Australia” at a new centre in the University of Western Australia’s business school.

The spokesman said the “Australia Consensus Centre” was a proposal put forward by the “university and Dr Lomborg’s organisation”.

Sources have told Guardian Australia the establishment of the centre had come as a surprise even to senior staff in the business school, who were unaware that the centre was being established until shortly before it was announced this month.

The University of Western Australia vice-chancellor, Prof Paul Johnson, confirmed the money had been offered specifically for the centre, telling Guardian Australia it was “an opportunity that arose in discussions with the department and the minister”.

As we all know it is difficult to get federal dollars to flow across the Nullabor,” he said.

Bjørn Lomborg was in WA last year and called in at the university. He had separate conversations with the minister … I have been having conversations about this for six or seven months.”

As Lomborg explained in a Freakonomics podcast last year, his consensus centre was defunded by the centre-left Danish government in 2012 and he was searching for a long-term funding solution. In the meantime his centre had moved to the US and was relying on private donations for a budget of about US$1m a year.

We used to be funded by the Danish government, from 2004 until 2012,” he said. “One of the things that the Danish government did not like was that we said, ‘Yes global warming is real, it is a challenge, but the typical way that we solve it turns out to be a pretty poor investment of resources.’ When there was a change of governments here we went from a centre-right to a centre-left government, they actually cut off our funding.

We moved to the US where we get funding from private individuals and we’re trying to find a long-term solution for actually getting funding. So we’re a … nonprofit in the US. We used to have a budget of about $2m a year. Right now, we probably have a budget of a little more than $1m a year. And we get it from private donations.”

Pyne’s spokesman said the federal government’s $4m was “around a third of the total cost” of the new Australia Consensus Centre, with the university also contributing and “committed to raising external funds.

Johnson said the university’s contribution would be in kind, but that it was seeking more funding from the state government or the private sector.

The centre would have three or four staff and be operational by June or July. Lomborg had been appointed an adjunct professor, as well as co-chairing the centre’s advisory board, with Johnson.

I anticipate he will contribute to the intellectual life of the university when he is in Western Australia,” Johnson said.

Lomborg uses cost-benefit analysis to advise governments what spending produces the best social value for money spent, concluding that climate change is not a top-priority problem. It says the seriousness of the issue has been overstated, that subsidies for renewable energy make no economic sense, that we should stop spending as much foreign aid on climate projects and that poor countries need continued access to cheap fossil fuels.

He was also appointed to advise the Abbott government on foreign aid as one of 14 people on an international reference group for the new “Innovation Xchange” which aims to find ideas and encourage more private sector involvement in delivering aid.

Labor’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Tanya Plibersek, questioned what kind of message the appointment sent to Pacific countries who are deeply concerned about the impact of climate change.

In the Freakonomics podcast Lomborg described his policy on taking private donations.

There’s no strings attached,” he said. “We’re very clear on saying we take no money from fossil fuels, and we do not let anyone direct what we’re going to do. So we have only taken money from private individuals and foundations that have accepted that.

With that said, almost all of them have wanted to remain anonymous. There are a few like the Kaufman Foundation, for instance, who have accepted to say that they’ve given money to us. We’ve also got money from New Ventures Foundation, from the Randolph Foundation and from Rush Foundation.”

The Rush Foundation looks for new policy on HIV Aids and the New Ventures Fund is financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates has backed Lomborg’s views that wealthy countries should not try to stop poor countries using fossil fuels to alleviate poverty.

According to Graham Readfearn’s Desmogblog, the Kaufman and Randolph foundations have links to fossil fuel interests.

But the communications manager for the Copenhagen Consensus, David Lessmann, denied funding links with such interests.

Kaufman is America’s largest private economic foundation, funded with money from pharmaceuticals, and Randolph is a charitable foundation funded with money from Vicks chemical company,” he said.

He pointed out the Copenhagen Consensus Center had recommended the elimination of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and increasing investment in RD&D for green energy technologies.

UWA said the Australia Consensus Centre would have “three main projects” – advising on the “smartest” post-2015 UN international development goals, advising on what policies would best “keep Australia prosperous in a generation’s time” and “setting global priorities for development aid and helping Dfat and development agencies produce the most good for every development dollar spent”.

It was a standard funding agreement with a series of deliverables,” Johnson said.

He said the centre would hold a major conference in 2016 or 17 on Indo-Pacific development goals. It would also do cost benefit analyses of investment in agriculture, which could inform the debate about the development of northern Australia.

Last year Lomborg spoke at an event on “energy poverty” in the leadup to the G20 in Brisbane, sponsored by Peabody Coal.

Tony Abbott quoted Lomborg in his 2009 book, Battlelines, writing: “It doesn’t make sense, though, to impose certain and substantial costs on the economy now in order to avoid unknown and perhaps even benign changes in the future. 

As Bjørn Lomborg has said: ‘Natural science has undeniably shown us that global warming is manmade and real. But just as undeniable is the economic science which makes it clear that a narrow focus on reducing carbon emissions could leave future generations with major costs, without major cuts to temperatures.’”

And in a speech to the Grattan Institute in 2013, the then shadow environment minister, Greg Hunt, used Copenhagen Consensus Center findings to support his policy to abolish the carbon tax.

The Institute of Public Affairs responded to Lomborg’s new Australian operation by saying, “Bjørn, it’s great to have you!”

Lomborg will be the co-chair of the Australia Consensus Centre Advisory Board with Prof Johnson, the university’s vice-chancellor.

Australia to authorize guards to 'beat asylum seekers to death' – report
An inquiry by the Australian Supreme Court has proposed new powers to officers at immigration centers, granting them right to resort to violence, should they find it necessary, according to a former Victoria supreme court judge.

A secruity guard keeps watch outside one of the compounds at the Baxter Immigration Reception and Processing Centre near Port Augusta (Reuters / Mark Baker)

16 April, 2015

Following a Senate hearing of an amendment to the new migration bill Stephen Charles SC, who was the Victoria court of appeal judge until 2006, told the Guardian on Thursday that it would inevitably encourage violence by guards against asylum seekers” by considerably expand their powers.

The new powers, applying to immigration officers, would let them use reasonable force against any person” to maintain order and security, which in fact could lead to beating asylum seekers to death.”The immunity from civil and criminal liability will include private contractors – people, who are less trained than police officers.
Time and again police in the United States have been acquitted in circumstances such as these,” Charles said. These amendments to the Migration Act will in effect authorize guards to beat asylum seekers to death on the basis they reasonably believe it is necessary … to do so.”

Australia keeps its asylum seekers at the Nauru refugee detention center, and human rights violations including rape and physical abuse have been going on since November 2013. Reports of harsh conditions at the center, consisting of two fenced-off tent camps with up to 1,200 detainees, have been recently passed to the Australian government.
Legal action against human rights violators in immigration centers could only be possible if it is proven that a guard was in bad faith,” which is quite difficult to demonstrate.

The President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs said:Senior courts have ... explained the very high threshold that you must prove to demonstrate bad faith. It’s very hard to show a subjective intent of bad faith of a serving officer acting in the course of their employment.”

On Wednesday, Wickham Point Detention Centre in Darwin saw unrest, with 20 inmates reportedly harming themselves in order to avoid transfer to Nauru Island. Police responded to the rioting, though authorities denied any major mayhem”.

This February, Australians held candle light vigils to commemorate Iranian man Reza Barati, 23, who was beaten to death while being held at the Manus Island detention center in Papua New Guinea. He was allegedly killed by the staff during three days of attacks by locals and rioting he was not involved in.
View image on Twitter
Australia's Geneva Consulate, vigil for first anniversary of Rezi Barati's death in detention on Manus
Following the rise in violence at the Australian detention centers, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, examined Australia’s asylum seeker policies. He reported various violations of the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, signed 30 years ago at the UN Human Rights Council.

The Government always assures the Australian people that it complies with its international human rights obligations. But here we have the United Nations once again, in very clear terms , telling the Government that Australia’s asylum seeker policies are in breach of international law,” said Human Rights Law Centre Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb in a press release.

Public concern over the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal mounts
Aid group Médecins Sans Frontières says a soon-to-be-sealed trade deal will not only push up local medicine costs, but place life-saving ones out of reach for millions of patients in developing countries.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb is negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb is negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Photo: Reuters
16 April, 2015

At a public forum organised by critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Thursday, Médecins Sans Frontières Australia's advocacy manager Jon Edwards said leaked chapters showed it granted pharmaceutical companies extended patents, allowing them to charge higher prices.

The regional trade pact, which involves 12 countries covering 40 per cent of the world's economy, has also come under fire for containing a clause that allows multinationals to sue governments if new laws harm their profits.

A late-stage draft of the Investment chapter, leaked in March by Wikileaks, showed some public health carve-outs, specifically the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Medicare Benefits Scheme, Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

But Mr Edwards told a crowd of more than a hundred at NSW Parliament House that these exemptions were "seriously flawed".

"MSF is not convinced that they will protect countries like Australia, let alone Vietnam, Malaysia or Peru, from the threat of pharmaceutical companies exercising legal threats or action to enforce monopolies they are afforded in the TPP," he said.

Patricia Ranald, co-ordinator of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET), who organised the forum, said the carve-outs showed the government's assurances about general safeguards embedded in the TPP did not hold water.

"The fact they've named those specific institutions means that the general safeguards are not effective. If we have to name those institutions, how about the other ones such as in food regulation, environmental protections?"

Trade Minister Andrew Robb refused to answer questions about the exemptions, saying he would not engage in debates over "leaked, outdated documents". He said the only text that mattered was the final text.

On Thursday, the Australian Council of Trade Unions joined counterparts from the 12 negotiating countries in calling for trade talks to cease unless they were conducted with "genuine, transparent, public mandates that place people front and centre, not big corporations".

It criticised the government for conducting the negotiations in secret.

Additionally it raised concerns about indications in leaks that some countries are attempting to reject protections of workers' rights and that the deal will not cover the United Nations International Labour Organisation conventions on rights at work.

"The TPP makes corporate profits more important than protections for clean air, clean water, climate stability and workers' rights," said ACTU president Ged Kearney. "A fair trade deal needs to recognise and protect workers' rights, environmental standards and access to quality public services – this is not happening with the TPP."

Mr Robb described the call as the latest round of scaremongering by anti-trade groups. He said the ACTU had taken part in 14 separate consultations on labour issues.

"It beggars belief the ACTU is opposing efforts to create jobs for Australians. By criticising the approach to TPP labour chapter negotiations, they are criticising themselves given they have been actively involved in guiding this approach," he said.

Mr Robb questioned whether Ms Ranald was being up front about her links with trade unions.

At the forum, Ms Ranald said AFTINET represented church, union, public health, environmental, and women's groups, amongst many others.

"I don't think being accused, being associated with unions is such a crime. We're diverse," she said to loud applause.

Mr Edwards said MSF was far from anti-trade.

"MSF is not anti-trade, quite the opposite. MSF is pro-trade and pro-competition in the pharmaceutical business, where it can reduce prices and bring benefits to our patients and others in need of essential medicines," he said.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.