Tuesday, 4 September 2007
The veteran Southeast Asian foreign ministry official, who asked not to be named, said talks to craft a separate leaders' statement on climate change at this week's APEC are expected to be "bloody."
China and a group of developing countries that are gravitating towards Beijing's position on the thorny issue are ranged against developed nations such as summit host Australia and its ally the United States.
"There's going to be a very big debate," the official told reporters as officials prepared to draft the statement for their leaders. "The debates will just accentuate the differences."
Presidents and prime ministers of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum are to issue a statement on climate change at the end of their September 8-9 leaders' meeting, but differences remain significant.
China and other developing countries feel Australia and the United States -- the only two developed nations to have refused to ratify the Kyoto accord on curbing global warming -- are trying to undermine the treaty, the source said.
Australia has proposed that APEC set a goal of reducing "energy intensity" across the region by 25 percent by 2030, but developing countries have opposed this, saying it would change the rules under Kyoto.
Setting quantitative targets "is the most contentious," the source added. "They are essentially changing the rules," he said, adding that APEC was not a negotiating body.
His remarks followed criticisms by Malaysian Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz that Australia and the United States should not hijack the APEC summit to discuss climate change.
The two countries did not have the credentials to use APEC as a place to tackle climate change because they are not signatories to the Kyoto accord, said Rafidah, who will attend the meetings in Sydney.
Climate change activists were also making their presence felt despite the stringent security here.
Four environmental protesters staged a pre-dawn break-in at an Australian power station in the southeastern state of Victoria, chaining themselves to a coal-carrying conveyor belt.
A police search and rescue crew used metal cutters to free the demonstrators -- who said they belonged to a group called "Real Action on Climate Change" -- before arresting them.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard has made climate change a key focus of the summit, normally devoted to trade issues, but conceded Sunday there is no hope of the 21 APEC nations agreeing on binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
The source said Australia only informed APEC members of a special meeting, starting Tuesday, of officials responsible for climate change issues three weeks ago, sending some economies scrambling for people to send to Sydney.
The APEC meeting is just one of three international conferences this month that will tackle a problem which scientists warn could lead to increasingly dangerous storms, heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.
It will be followed in two weeks by a special UN meeting called by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a few days after that by a conference in Washington called by President George W. Bush.
In December, the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol will meet on the Indonesian resort island of Bali to plan strategies after the protocol runs out in 2012.
APEC's economies account for 56 percent of the world's GDP and cover 41 percent of the world's population.
Sunday, 2 September 2007
SBS advertising executive Sarah Keith observed last week that Canberra had become the pot of gold that no one in the industry had seen coming.
"August is traditionally not the best month in terms of bookings and revenue, but not this August," she said. "The Federal Government is our biggest client and it's putting a smile on the face of many people in the industry."
No wonder. Barely an ad break passes on TV without some spruiking of the Howard Government's brilliance on a range of policy fronts.
The ads are clean and simple. Nothing so crass as "Vote 1 John Howard", but still a less subtle attempt to reinforce the perception that his Government is doing good things for superannuation, national security, the "war on drugs" and workplace relations.
Such is the power of incumbency.
The way the High Court reads the law, the Commonwealth has virtually unlimited power to spend however much money it sees fit on information campaigns it deems to be in the public interest. Spending on advertising campaigns does not have to be approved by the Senate in the way other forms of appropriation do.
Yet the repeated use of taxpayer funds to promote government programs raise broader issues for voters as they ponder their choices for the next election.
Is the Federal Government misusing taxpayers' money to send a blatant party-political messages? And do the advertisements overstep the official guidelines, which say they should strictly inform taxpayers only of their "rights and responsibilities"?
And given the inherent cynicism that colours many a journalist's copybook, do government spin doctors have a point when they argue that taxpayers would never get a true understanding of how to access government programs if they relied only on media reports.
The rate of spending on advertisements increases in an election year. In the four months before the 1998 election, the Howard Government spent $32 million on advertising; before the 2001 election, it was about $78 million.
Before the 2004 election, that figure topped $100 million and about eight weeks away from the 2007 poll, the ad spend is threatening to surpass $200 million.
"So which ads would you pull?" asked one frustrated Government adviser last week. "The cervical cancer campaign? Drugs awareness? Asthma awareness? Drought assistance?"
It's a fair point. There are some areas where the Commonwealth has an undeniable responsibility to inform taxpayers of how it is spending their money and to give them the best chance possible to access relevant programs.
But how can it be appropriate that taxpayers fund advertising campaigns defending the Government's workplace relations laws?
Government spin doctors say they have to do something to counter the ferocious campaign being mounted by the ACTU.
However, the ACTU is spending its own money.
The Coalition's current campaign carries a blatant political message and ought to be paid for by the Coalition and its supporters.
Even Max Moore-Wilton, the man chosen by Prime Minister John Howard as head of the public service when he came to power, has had difficulty with the appearance of Workplace Authority executive director Barbara Bennett as the face of the current advertising campaign.
When questioned about it at a recent address to the National Press Club, Mr Moore-Wilton declined to say what he thought of the advertisements.
Perhaps the most damning aspect of the Government's advertising orgy is the attitude of Mr Howard before he came to office in March 1996.
Back then, Mr Howard was outraged at the Keating government's apparently blatant use of taxpayers' money for political purposes.
"This government has effectively allowed the Labor party to get its fingers into the taxpayers' till," Mr Howard said in December 1995.
"In any other form of business, the shareholders would revolt and throw out the management which wasted their money.
"The problem for this government is not communication.
"The problem is that it is tired, it has broken too many promises and it has hurt too many people."
How right those words might have been then, and how they have come back to haunt Mr Howard now.
Another question for voters is whether this is really a disease peculiar to the Coalition, or is it more a function of incumbency?
The trend line suggests that government spending on advertising is something we'll all just have to get used to.
What else you could do with $2 billion
■ Cut the top marginal tax rate from 47 cents to 42.
■ Buy 25 F/35 Joint Strike Fighter jets.
■ Buy two Air Warfare Destroyers.
■ Fund two-thirds of a new Melbourne to Brisbane rail link.
■ Upgrade all rail tracks in Victoria.
■ Complete duplication of the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney; complete the Deer Park bypass; complete duplication of the Calder Highway; complete the Geelong bypass.
■ Pay for 178,000 elective surgery operations at an average cost of $11,250 each.
■ Pay for 3200 new medical school places at a cost of $1.6 million each.
■ Pay for 11,428 new places at the Federal Government's Australian technical colleges.
PRIME Minister John Howard has spent nearly $2 billion on government advertising and information campaigns since coming to power 11 years ago.
A Sunday Age investigation has found that just weeks from calling an election, the Government has 18 advertising campaigns on the air, with a $23 million climate change campaign to air after this week's APEC conference.
The Sunday Age investigation has also shown that since the last election in 2004, Mr Howard has spent a record $850 million of taxpayers' money on government advertising. The Government disputes this figure. "It's probably closer to $400 million," said Peter Phelps, chief of staff to Special Minister of State Gary Nairn.
Spending this year is expected to peak at $200 million before Mr Howard calls the election. After that, the Government will be prevented from airing any communication campaigns because they could influence the election.
The record spending comes despite Mr Howard being elected on a pledge to cut it back.
In 1995, Mr Howard promised that if elected he would instruct the Commonwealth Auditor-General to draw up guidelines on appropriate use of taxpayers' money for advertising. "There is clearly a massive difference between necessary government information for the community and blatant government electoral propaganda," Mr Howard said at the time. "Propaganda should be paid for by political parties."
Despite 11½ years in power, Mr Howard has never instructed the Australian National Audit Office to inquire into government advertising.
According to Melbourne University academic Sally Young, the author of Government Communication in Australia, the Howard Government's spending on advertising is among the highest per head in the world. "It's up there with only a few other countries," she said.
"It's also worth noting that the Howard Government is not the only offender, because our state governments are huge spenders as well."
Dr Young said there was no doubt that the advertisements had an impact.
"We tend to see more government advertising campaigns in the lead-up to an election," she said.
"So that on its own would suggest that the governments believe they can influence voters.
"We know they do focus group research to find out what gets through to the key audience, which also suggests a political motive."
But Mr Phelps said the Government's spending was reasonable. "If you consider that in the final years of the Keating government they spent on average $100 million in real terms, the amount of $1.8 billion is not excessive," he said.
"If you have a look at the campaigns we do, it's quite reasonable, especially when you consider that one state government, NSW, spent more than $110 million on advertising last year."
Federal Labor's public accountability spokeswoman, Penny Wong, said the $2 billion spent was wasteful self-promotion and a sign of the Howard Government's growing culture of entitlement.
Senator Wong said that, if elected, a Rudd Labor government would cut waste on government advertising and ensure the Auditor-General vetted all advertising campaigns costing more than $250,000.
"Federal Labor will also put government advertising on the COAG agenda and work with the states so that all governments in Australia have the same principles on how taxpayers' money should be used for government advertising," she said. Among the biggest items are about $92 million to promote the controversial workplace relations laws, $69 million on this year's superannuation campaign and $133 million on information campaigns related to GST.
Greens leader Bob Brown said he would move an amendment when Parliament resumed to ensure that all government advertisements disclosed how much the campaign was costing taxpayers.
"As government advertisements carry an 'authorised by' line, so they should carry information about how much the campaign is costing taxpayers," Senator Brown said.
"What we need is an independent arbiter, and I think it would be worthwhile to have an information ombudsman to make sure that future advertisements meet a public-interest test."
Andrew Johns was rugby league's time bomb. Joey's decade-long drug habit alarmed teammates and officials, some of whom confronted him angrily and publicly over his cocaine- and ecstasy-addled state.
The Queensland State of Origin coach Mal Meninga and the former Broncos five-eighth Kevin Walters challenged Johns at Star City Casino after a legends match about five years ago, the two recently retired champions lacerating him over his drug use.
There was also an ugly scene during the Magic Millions on the Gold Coast in 2005 when the St George Illawarra coach Nathan Brown and his assistant coach, Steve Price, reminded Johns, who was "off his face", of his responsibilities as a role model.
When the Gold Coast incident was put to Johns's management at the time the reaction, predictably, was denial. Joey was more candid, using humour to detour the debate. "You know all that about being a role model," he told me back then. "It's just that sometimes you forget."
Defamation laws prevented these details being printed and it is only now, with Johns's frank admission of drug abuse, following pressure from his family, that the story can be told.
Aware that a partial admission would trawl up other examples of rampant drug use, which may be revealed anyway in a forthcoming biography, the three-times Dally M winner made a detailed disclosure on the Nine Network.
Wearing the uncomfortable look of a man fighting an infection that won't go away, he admitted sustained use over his stellar career.
Johns's revelation that Newcastle club officials were aware of his problem stunned rugby league circles, with the current administration of the club moving quickly to absolve themselves.
NRL clubs are obliged to conduct a minimum 70 random tests a year for illicit drugs of the type found in Johns's possession after he left The Church nightclub in London.
However, Newcastle was one of only two clubs that did not test for illicit drugs in the period.
That led to the NRL's 70-test rule. Some might suggest tight budgets drove this decision, but that is simply untrue. They did not want to catch Johns.
When he loomed as the obvious candidate to assume the role of captain of the national team, Australian Rugby League officials were reluctant to appoint him, fearing a drugs scandal would embarrass the code.
Brisbane's Gorden Tallis became captain towards the end of Johns's representative career and is rumoured to have confronted management on a tour of England, demanding action be taken over use of party drugs by some teammates.
Tallis is now a director of the NRL board, with the responsibility of enforcing a drugs code where a first positive results in a suspended fine of 5 per cent of a player's contract, and compulsory counselling. A second positive attracts a mandatory 12-match ban.
The Johns revelation will fuel claims that drug use is widespread in the code.
It is probably worse in the Australian Football League, because the NRL began testing for illicit drugs almost a decade earlier, and alcohol is a more popular substitute in the less aerobically demanding game of rugby league.
Johns blames depression for his use of ecstasy, seeking an escape from his leaden, sullen lows.
But his brooding, dark days are probably as much the result of habitual use, as an excuse for taking illicit drugs.
He also admits to being a heavy drinker.
NRL officials are concerned at a binge culture in the code. At an alcohol summit nearly 10 years ago in Sydney, Newcastle's current coach, Brian Smith, probably summed it up best. "My players are as horrified to learn I had three beers a day as I am horrified to be told they drink 30 beers in one night and nothing for the rest of the week."
There will be a push for a similar drugs summit, but clubs insist their testing does not reflect epidemic use, with the Storm recording only two positives for cannabis four years ago.
However, a player's first positive is kept confidential and is known to only three club officials, who are not bound to report it to the NRL.
When the Herald raised the question of two players testing positive at a Sydney club last month, the club chairman, chief executive and doctor all said they were not required to comment.
Johns's confession was a desperate attempt to gain absolution from his adoring public, but many in the league world believe his friends at Nine were more interested in ratings than his recovery.
The revelations certainly raise more questions than they answer, particularly the link between champion players and illicit drugs.
With the AFL Brownlow medallist Ben Cousins sent to California for rehabilitation, two sublimely gifted players from a Melbourne club being treated for addiction and Johns now revealed as a long-term drug taker, are the on-field performances of these champions chemically fuelled, or are they simply born risk-takers?
Johns's revelation was an ominous soundtrack to a life that has fallen off a cliff, with his fans praying there will be no sickly thud, particularly for a man without an enemy in the world, if you overlook the demon of addiction.