Saturday 28 February 2015

Hounding Tony Abbott

On his Twitter account Prof. David Flint wrote
The right wing commentariat's unwise over-reaction to Prince Philip's AK helped trigger the spill motion 
and added this cover photo

Meanwhile Prime Minister Tony Abbott is in New Zealand, where he addressed the Australia-New Zealand leadership forum in Auckland:

"It is great to be here, it is a sign of the strength of the Trans-Tasman relationship that so many people at the summit of business and indeed of government are here today. I’m delighted to acknowledge my friend and colleague the Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, the Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, has spent much time here today and also with many of you over the last few days. We have Parliamentary Secretary Fletcher here as well and I should also acknowledge a former constituent of mine who left Australia to make good in New Zealand, a fellow called John Key. You have done quite well since you left my electorate, John.

"When you consider the relationship between Australia and New Zealand there are no two juridically separate entities anywhere in the world that are as close as our two countries. Yes, we are legally independent but we don’t feel like separate entities, we feel like family, not just distant cousins, we feel like close siblings. The problem with sibling relationships is that they can sometimes be taken for granted and the challenge for all of us is not to take the Australia-New Zealand relationship for granted just because Australians can get on a plane and come to New Zealand and Kiwis can get on a plane and come to Australia. That’s the challenge.

"I’ve got to say, John, that certainly since the advent of your government there has been a very great interest in New Zealand on the part of Australians. I think it would be fair to say that for the first time in many years – in recent years – the economic performance of New Zealand has been making Australians sit up and take notice. Any sense of superiority that might have been felt on one side of the Tasman certainly has been dispelled by the economic performance and indeed the governmental performance of New Zealand in recent times. I’m very conscious of the fact that over the last few years you have gradually taken the size of government from 35 per cent to 30 per cent of gross domestic product. A magnificent, practical demonstration in how to be a prime minister who doesn’t just believe in smaller government but delivers it and there are some lessons here for us in Australia.

"I’m conscious of the fact that while my Government has made a good start there is a way to go. I don’t want to underestimate just what good a start we have made. We’re releasing an intergenerational report in a week or so’s time and while the intergenerational report that we are releasing will reveal the ongoing budgetary challenge that Australia has, it will also demonstrate the progress that has been made in just 18 months.

"It’s not often that an Australian prime minister needs to stand before a New Zealand audience and trumpet Australia’s economic achievements, but you would allow me for a moment to do so and economic growth in Australia today is 2.7 per cent – not quite as good as yours, John but certainly a lot better than it was a year ago when it was just 1.9 per cent. Over the last 12 months, our export volumes are up seven per cent, our housing approvals are up nine per cent, consumer confidence is up, business formation is up, the number of new business registrations are at an all-time record high in Australia. All of this, in the end, feeds into economic growth which is the key to everyone’s success. ..."

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key friendlier with each other than some of their parties colleagues with them.

Monday 23 February 2015

King and Queen of Norway welcomed by Australia's Prime Minister

Visit by Their Majesties King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway

King Harald V of Norway and Prime Minister Tony Abbott
"I am pleased that Their Majesties King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway will visit Australia from 22 to 27 February 2015 at the invitation of the Governor-General, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd).

"Their Majesties will visit Canberra, Sydney and Perth, accompanied by a high-level delegation of senior government and business leaders.

"Australia and Norway share a warm relationship. Trade between our nations last year was worth over $1.2 billion.

"We both have strong oil, gas and mining sectors. Significant Norwegian companies have invested in Australia’s energy, metals and agriculture sectors.

"More than 23,000 Australians have Norwegian ancestry.

"I look forward to meeting Their Majesties during their visit to Australia and welcome the growing strength of the ties between our nations.

The King and Queen of Norway were welcomed to Australia at the Hyatt Hotel on Sunday night in the company of an acclaimed Norwegian choir, a war hero, and children in traditional dress.

King Harald V, who turned 78 on Saturday, was joined by Queen Sonja as the Norwegian vocals of the touring Kori I choir echoed through the atrium of the Yarralumla hotel.

Norwegian flags were raised on Commonwealth Avenue on Sunday afternoon to mark the arrival of the king and queen on their first official trip to Australia.

Their Majesties met Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek, the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

Sunday 22 February 2015

Royal Australian Mint turns 50 today

Today the iconic Royal Australian Mint in Canberra is turning 50. Royal Australian Mint CEO Mr Ross MacDiarmid said the anniversary marked a significant time for what was a monumental occasion for Australia back in 1965 when the Mint was officially opened by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, along with Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies and Federal Treasurer Harold Holt.

Prince Philip, who was bestowed an Australian knighthood on Australia Day 2015, had opened the new Royal Australian Mint on Monday, 22nd February 1965 by pressing the button which started the production run. The flow of 1.2 million coins a day built up stocks of the new decimal curency for release in February 1966. The Duke of Edinburgh kept a one cent piece (and no republican cried "robbery!)" which he had made. He was also given a presentation box containing the two, five and ten cent pieces struck at other mints

This 1 $ coin was issued in 2010 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Australian coinage.
The Royal Australian Mint was purposefully built to make Australia’s new coinage in time for the introduction of decimal currency the following year,” said Mr MacDiarmid. “Over one billion coins had to be made and they unveiled not only a new system of currency, but also six new coin designs 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins showcasing Australian wildlife. Since that time the Royal Australian Mint has produced about 15 billion circulating coins, as well as circulating coins for other nations and millions of collectible coins."

To mark the golden anniversary, a golden (gold-plated) collectible coin has been produced and will be available for only 50 days from 21 February retailing for $20. The total number made matches the anniversary date - 22,265 and can be purchased from 21st February.

The limited edition, gold-plated collectible coin.

Saturday 21 February 2015

King Harald of Norway celebrates his 78th birthday in Australia

King Harald (r.) at a state banquet with Camilla Duchess of Cornwall and Norway Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.

King Harald V of Norway can celebrate his 78th birthday on 21st February. And he is actually down under with Queen Sonja. The royal couple arrived in Canberra from Antarctica, where he was the first monarch to set foot on the continent.

The official state visit officially kicks off on Monday 23rd February. The King and Queen will be Australia until 27th February. The main purpose of King Harald and Queen Sonja’s Australia tour is to promote Norwegian economic and business interests in the country. During their trip, the couple will be visiting both Sydney and Perth besides Canberra.

Before flying to Australia The King has been visiting Queen Maud Land – a Norwegian dependency in the Antarctic. The King was paying a visit to the Troll research station, which is celebrating ten years of year-round operations.

King Harald has been given a close-up introduction to Norwegian research in the Antarctic, learned more about the management framework of this enormous area, and experienced some of the majestic scenery of the world’s coldest continent.

Part of the King’s visit took place at the Troll observatory, an air monitoring station operated by the Norwegian Institute for Air Research. Antarctica has the cleanest air in the world, yet the impact of emissions from other parts of the globe is felt here as well. The King and his entourage were given a presentation on the work being conducted at the observatory, where important climate measurements are taken.

I think the children of today will be much wiser than we have been,” said the King following the visit, and he pointed out that we have much more knowledge and awareness now on which to build.

King Harald also visited the Troll Satellite Station, a ground station for polar orbiting satellites. Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSTAT) owns the station, which is located not far from the Troll research station. With a similar station at Svalbard, KSTAT can deliver up-to-date climate, environmental and meteorological data to the satellites’ owners.

Kong Harald på breisen i Antarktis.
The Norwegian research station in the Antarctic, located at Queen Maud Land, lies 1 270 meters above sea level and 235 kilometres from the coast. It was first established in 1989–1990, and in 2005 it was upgraded to year-round operations.

The Troll research station carries out meteorological observations and ultraviolet radiation monitoring, and serves as a field station for various programmes on glaciology, biology and physics. Much of the research conducted here revolves around various aspects of the climate and the impacts of climate change.

Special priority is given to minimising the environmental impact of activities at the Troll research station so as not to diminish the value of Antarctica as a reference point for climate research. For example, surplus heat is not released into the environment, but is used to melt snow and ice for use as drinking water and in the central heating system. Waste that cannot be treated in any other way is compressed and transported out of the Antarctic. Electric cars are used to reduce vehicular emissions at the station.

Upgrading the Troll research station to year-round operations expanded the opportunities to conduct research and environmental monitoring, and enhanced Norway’s presence in the Antarctic. 

King Harald also had the chance to experience some of the area’s majestic scenery during his visit. The Troll research station is located on the mountain known as “The Giant’s Seat”. The station is located 1 270 metres above sea level, while the highest peak on the continent is 2 370 metres above sea level. The climate at the Troll research station is more stable than along the coast, and has an annual mean temperature of about minus 25 degrees Celsius, which is considered a moderate temperature for the continent as a whole.

Following the visit to the Troll Satellite Station, the station crew took King Harald on an excursion into the landscape. Using a terrain vehicle, the team gave the King a tour of the area which included icebergs, snow formations and towering mountain peaks.

The only permanent animal life consists of small invertebrates that live under the rocks. Birdlife reaches a peak in the warmest time of the year, when the temperature may climb to about zero degrees Celsius. Large colonies of snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea)and Antarctic petrel (Thalassoica antarctica) have their breeding grounds in the Giant’s Seat, as does the South Polar skua (Stercorarius maccormicki), which is considered to be the world’s southernmost bird.

Queen Maud Land
Queen Maud Land lies on the Antarctic continent at 20° West and 45° East, and is a Norwegian dependency. The area comprises one-sixth of the continent, and is almost seven times larger than Norway. It borders the British sector on the west and the Australian sector on the east.

Queen Maud Land was annexed by Norway on 14 January 1939, and was named after Norway’s Queen Maud, a daughter of King Edward VII, who had died the previous year. Norway’s claim on the area was based on the country’s whaling interests and research activity. Norway had been active in polar research since the 1800s, and while whaling was gradually discontinued, Norwegian research in the Antarctic carried on. The year-round Troll research station has given Norway a stronger presence than ever on the continent.

King Harald’s visit to Queen Maud Land marks the first time that a Norwegian King has visited Norway’s dependency in the Antarctic.

Sunday 15 February 2015

Denmark's Queen Margrethe II on the Copenhagen shooting

In connection with the weekend’s events, HM The Queen states the following:

It is with sorrow that I learn of the extent of the incidents of the last 24 hours. My thoughts go out to the killed film director and the young security guard from the Jewish community who became targets of the perpetrator’s acts. I send my deepest sympathy to the relatives and to the wounded police officers.

I wish to direct thanks to the police and the authorities for their quick and effective efforts.

It is important that we, in such a serious situation, stand together and uphold the values that Denmark is founded upon.

Published 15th February 2015

The Danish Film Institute stated that the 55-year-old man killed in a shooting at a free speech event in Copenhagen was documentary filmmaker Finn Noergaard. The institute's chief Henrik Bo Nielsen says he was shocked and angry to find out Noergaard was gunned down while attending a discussion on art and free speech.

Noergaard directed and produced documentaries for Danish television, including the 2004 "Boomerang boy" about an Australian boy's dreams to become a world boomerang champion and the 2008 "Le Le" about Vietnamese immigrants in Denmark.

The victim of the shooting at Copenhagen's main synagogue has been named as Dan Uzan, 37. He was guarding the celebration of a bat mitzvah at a Jewish community building near the synagogue when he was shot dead.

King and Queen of Tonga watched on as the first Tongan Cardinal was created

Newly-created Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi of Tonga received the red three-cornered biretta hat from Pope Francis
Among the 20 new Church leaders that Pope Francis made members of the College of Cardinals on Saturday was Bishop Soane Patita Mafi from the Polynesian archipelago of Tonga in the Pacific Ocean. At just 53 years of age, he becomes the youngest member of the College of Cardinals, as well as the first man in the history of this young Church to receive this honour.

He heads a small scattered diocese in a population of about 106,000 people with Catholics making up just 15% but they are very active in the faith. Almost the whole nation is Christian, he said, with Methodists as the majority denomination. Tonga's royal family are also Wesleyan Methodists.

Cardinal Mafi tells Radio Vatican the story of how he met the King and Queen of Tonga for a regular New Year greeting on 1st January and learnt that they were planning a trip to Rome in February. When he heard the news that he had been appointed a member of the College of Cardinals, he realised that the consistory would take place during the same time as their visit, thus they were able to share in the joy and celebration for all the people of the Kingdom of Tonga.

Pope Francis received Their Majesties King Tupou VI of Tonga and Queen Nanasipau’u Tuku’aho in an audience in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican Monday, 17th February 2015.

A statement released by the Vatican’s Press Office said:

His Majesty first expressed his satisfaction at the election of the first Cardinal from the Pacific archipelago, Cardinal Soane Patita Paini Mafi, underlining the enthusiasm of the population and the presence of Her Majesty the Queen and numerous Tongans at the Ordinary Public Consistory held on 14th February. During the cordial discussions, attention was paid to the recent political developments in the country and on a number of aspects of social and economic life, as well as the positive contribution of the Catholic Church in various areas of society. There was subsequently an exchange of opinions on the international situation, with particular reference to the insular States of the Pacific and the environmental problems that some of them are compelled to face.

Pope Francis meets Their Majesties King Tupou VI and Queen Nanasipau’u Tuku’aho of Tonga

Monday 2 February 2015

Tony Abbott: "Standing up for Australian values is something I have done all my life"

The republicans of all colours - but especially those from within his own Liberal Party - are out to get the Prime Minister. They portray Tony Abbott as their perfect scapegoat.

Prime Minister Abbott tried today to re-gain ground and spoke at the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra.

He stressed:

2014 was a tumultuous year that’s reminded us to expect the unexpected.

Thirty eight Australians were shot out of the sky by Russian-backed rebels.

A death cult, claiming justification in Islam, is creating a new dark age over much of Syria and Iraq.

And the terrorism it inspires has hit Melbourne and Sydney.

It was an anxious year for our well-being, as well as for our security. ...

In troubled times, people expect more of government, not less – and we have to deliver.

That’s why a government with the plan and the will to strengthen our economy and to protect our nation is so important.

This government is more determined than ever to make the changes our country needs.

This government will deliver Australia’s economic future because only a Coalition government can.

As Liberals and Nationals, sound economic management is in our DNA.

We’ve done it before and we are doing it again.

More than ever, in troubled times, government has to protect our people and stand up for Australian values.

This government would hardly have taken the political risks it has without the conviction that some change is absolutely unavoidable if our country is to flourish.

To create more jobs and more opportunities for families, we simply have to build a stronger economy.

A stronger economy is the foundation of a stronger Australia.

And if the economy is stronger, everyone’s life is better.

A stronger economy helps everyone who’s doing it tough:

parents wrestling with school fees and health costs;
small business people anxious to keep their staff;
seniors whose superannuation has to fund their retirement;
volunteers wondering if they can still afford to serve the community; and
young people looking for their first job and their first home.

Building a stronger economy is the fairest thing we can do because it means more jobs, higher wages, and more government revenue to pay for the services we need.

During 2015, our priority will be creating more jobs; easing the pressure on families; building roads; strengthening national security; and promoting more opportunity for all – with a new families policy and a new small business and jobs policy.

But we need to be candid about the challenges we face.

The drift of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years cannot continue.

Standing still on reform means going backwards on living standards.

Just a few years back, under the Howard government, we were quite literally the envy of the world.

In 2007, we had a strong and sustainable budget with a $20 billion surplus and $50 billion in the bank.

After six years of Labor, the deficit had blown out to $50 billion and gross debt was skyrocketing towards $667 billion.

Under Labor, government was spending too much; borrowing too much; and paying out too much dead money in interest alone.

We can’t wait for a crisis – like Europe – to address this problem because the solutions then will be much worse than the solutions today.

Our problem is not that taxes are too low; our problem is that government spending is too high.

We are writing cheques that our children and grandchildren will have to meet through higher taxes, higher interest rates and poorer services.

Right now, we’re borrowing $1 billion a month just to pay the interest on debt that the former Labor government ran up.

That’s right – one thousand million every month to pay Labor’s interest bill – that’s a brand new tertiary hospital that could be built every single month if Labor’s interest bill did not have to be paid.

And without structural change, within a decade, we’d be borrowing $3 billion a month just to pay the interest on Commonwealth debt.

So – let’s spend the money we have to on the things we really need; and let’s borrow where we must, to invest judiciously in a stronger Australia for the future – but let’s stop borrowing just to meet the ordinary expenses of government.

Reducing the deficit means that interest rates will stay lower.

Reducing the deficit means that taxes can be cut.

Reducing the deficit means more confidence in the economy.

And reducing the deficit is the fair thing to do – because it ends the intergenerational theft against our children and grandchildren.

We’ve never been a country that’s ripped off future generations to pay for today.

And under my government, we never will.

On election night, I declared that Australia was under new management and once more open for business.

Since then, new projects worth over $1 trillion have received environmental approval.

The carbon tax is gone – so every household, on average, is $550 a year better off.

The mining tax is gone – so Australia once more is seen as a good place to invest.

Big new road projects are now getting underway to overcome commuter gridlock – and the new Western Sydney Airport is finally to be built after 50 years of indecision. ...

Today, despite headwinds overseas, the economy is stronger, the budget is improving and the jobs market has strengthened.

Jobs growth in 2014 was triple the rate in 2013 – with 4,000 new jobs a week.

New housing approvals are at record levels.

The registration of new companies is the highest on record.

Economic growth is now 2.7 per cent, up from 1.9 per cent a year ago.

Petrol prices are nearing 15 year lows, home loan interest rates are low and stable, and the September quarter had the biggest fall in power prices on record.

But I’m not here to defend the past – I’m here to explain the future.

People are sick of Australian citizens – including people born and bred here – making excuses for Islamist fanatics in the Middle East and their imitators here in Australia.

It’s not good enough just to boost the police and security agencies, which we’ve done – by restoring the millions ripped out by Labor – and to improve data retention, which we’re doing.

We have to tackle the people and the organisations that justify terrorism and act as its recruiting agents – such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

We have already made it an offence to advocate terrorism and made it easier to ban terrorist organisations.

If cracking down on Hizb-ut-Tahrir and others who nurture extremism in our suburbs means further legislation, we will bring it on and I will demand that the Labor Party call it for Australia.

The police and the security agencies have told me that they need access to telecommunications data to deal with a range of crime, from child abuse to terrorism, and – as far as I am concerned – they should always have the laws, money and support they need to keep Australia safe.

And with the world still feeling the global financial crisis, people are anxious about our economic sovereignty.

I am a friend of foreign investment but it has to come on our terms and for our benefit.

The government will shortly put in place better scrutiny and reporting of foreign purchases of agricultural land and better enforcement of the rules against foreign purchases of existing homes so that young people are not priced out of the market.

These laws were not legally enforced by the former Labor government – not once.

This year, the government’s budget focus will be on strengthening the economy.

Because we have done much of the hard work already, we won’t need to protect the Commonwealth budget at the expense of the household budget.

As the intergenerational report will show, more is needed to put the budget on a credible path to a sustainable surplus – but as New Zealand has demonstrated, a good way to achieve this is not to make any unnecessary new spending commitments.

We will always be looking for ways to make government more efficient and to crack down on waste.

Governments should never spend more than they must because every dollar government spends is a dollar you don’t spend, now or in the future.

So any new spending will strictly be directed to making the economy stronger so that long-term revenue increases. ...

I hope that 2015 will see a more honest national conversation between all of us with Australia’s best interests at heart.

I want this year’s white paper process – on reforming the federation and on tax – to demonstrate Australians’ potential for change for the better rather than just politics as usual.

Finding ways to make every level of government more efficient, more effective and more accountable is in every Australian’s best interest and shouldn’t be an excuse for cheap shots.

Everyone who wants members of parliament to lift their game has an interest in governments taking more responsibility for the services they provide, instead of passing the buck.

We will also be inviting constructive debate across the political spectrum on all options for a better tax system to deliver taxes that are lower, simpler and fairer.

Unlike previous debates, we won’t pre-empt the outcome by ruling things in or out before the process has properly begun.

I do assure you, though, that this government wants to be remembered for cutting the overall tax burden, not for increasing it – for abolishing existing taxes, rather than imposing new ones.

As for the GST – it can’t and it won’t change unless all the states and territories agree.

It can’t and won’t change unless there is political consensus.

That means – leaving aside any minor administrative changes – that the base and the rate of the GST won’t change this term or next unless it’s supported by the likes of Bill Shorten and the Labor premiers.

Both white paper processes will be open and constructive: stakeholders will be consulted, submissions will be published; any hearings will be open, and the states will have senior representatives on steering committees.

Everyone who wants a say will have one – and the people will have the last word at the ballot box.

Sooner or later, all responsible members of Parliament have to put the long term national interest ahead of their short term political interest and there’s no better time to start than now.

So far, this government – and only this government – has had the courage to tackle the deficit, to protect our borders, and to build a stronger and more prosperous economy.

As I said so many times before the election, we will end the waste, stop the boats, scrap the unnecessary new taxes and build the roads of the 21st century. ...

You elected us to make the decisions needed so that everyone who works hard gets ahead, aspiration is rewarded, and our children can look forward to more opportunities than we had.

You elected us to keep you safe and, with every fibre of my being, I am focussed on our national security challenges here and overseas.

Standing up for Australian values is something I have done all my life.

Leadership is about making the right decisions for our country’s future.

It isn’t a popularity contest.

It’s about results; it’s about determination; and it’s about you.

Australia deserves the stable government that you elected us to be just 16 months ago.

You deserve budget repair, no return of the carbon tax, no restart of people smuggling, and no in-fighting.

We promised that we would do our best to keep you safe.

We promised you hope, reward and opportunity.

That’s what the Abbott government is working to deliver for you.