Rebekah Brooks in court over phone hacking

The 44-year-old was at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday accused over an alleged conspiracy to illegally access voicemails.

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Brooks appeared in the dock to face one general charge, which prosecutors claim could affect more than 600 victims, and two other specific charges linked to murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler and former union boss Andrew Gilchrist.

She has been accused alongside six other former members of staff from the now-defunct tabloid the News of the World (NOTW) and private investigator Glen Mulcaire.

Former NOTW editor, and ex-spin doctor for David Cameron, Andy Coulson has been charged, along with ex-managing editor Stuart Kuttner, former news editor Greg Miskiw, former head of news Ian Edmondson, ex-chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck and former reporter James Weatherup.

Brooks, wearing a navy blue jacket and skirt, spoke only to confirm her name, date of birth and address during the short hearing.

She was told to appear with her co-defendants at Southwark Crown Court on September 26.

Brooks, from Churchill, in Oxfordshire, was released on bail on the condition that she lives at her given address, does not contact her fellow accused and gives the police seven days’ notice should she wish to travel abroad.

As part of her bail conditions, Brooks was told she could not contact former NOTW reporter Dan Evans and the paper’s former executive editor Neil Wallis, who are on bail following the Scotland Yard investigation into phone hacking.

Brooks, who appeared before District Judge Howard Riddle on Monday, faces a charge of conspiring with others to intercept voicemail messages between October 3, 2000 and August 9, 2006.

The former newspaper executive is also accused in relation to Milly Dowler between April 9 and 21, 2002 and Andrew Gilchrist between December 3, 2002 and January 22, 2002.

Brooks is already due at Southwark Crown Court on September 26 to face three charges of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

This relates to the alleged removal of boxes of material from the News International archive and trying to conceal documents, computers and other material from police.

Mubarak shadows Egypt elections

Egyptians have headed to the polls in historic presidential elections contested by Islamists and secularists promising different futures for the country after the overthrow of veteran dictator Hosni Mubarak.

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Queues formed outside polling stations long before they opened at 08:00 am (0600 GMT), with voters in a festive mood.

“It’s a beautiful day for Egypt,” said Nehmedo Abdel Hadi, who was voting at the Omar Markram school in Cairo’s Shubra neighbourhood.

“Now I feel this is my country and I have dignity,” said the 46-year-old woman, who wears a full-face veil.

Across the city, in the leafy Mohandesseen neighbourhood, Rania, wearing gym clothes and a ponytail under her baseball cap, was at the front of the line.

“It’s the first time in Egypt’s history we choose our president,” she said, preferring to keep her choice “a secret between me and my ballot box.”

More than 50 million eligible voters have been called to choose one of 12 candidates wrestling to succeed ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Voting over two days is taking place at 13,000 polling stations, with initial results expected on Sunday. Voting ends at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT) on both days.

A senior interior ministry official said police were on standby across the country and helping soldiers secure polling stations.

The election marks the final phase of a tumultuous transition overseen by the ruling military council after Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising last year.

After decades of pre-determined results, for the first time, the outcome of the vote in the Arab world’s most populous nation — which also pits revolutionaries against old regime members — is wide open.

According to pollsters, the large number of voters undecided between candidates reflecting radically different trends and the novelty of a free presidential vote make Wednesday’s election almost impossible to call.

Among the leading contenders is former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who is seen as an experienced politician and diplomat but like Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, is accused of belonging to the old regime.

The powerful Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohammed Mursi faces competition from Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a former member of the Islamist movement who portrays himself as a consensus choice with a wide range of support.

The next president will inherit a struggling economy, deteriorating security and the challenge of uniting a nation divided by the uprising and its sometimes deadly aftermath, but his powers are yet to be defined by a new constitution.

Islamist candidates have promised an Islamic-based project that will meet the revolution’s goals, prompting fears among secularists and Egypt’s Coptic minority over personal freedoms and raising questions over the future of the country’s lucrative tourism industry.

Shafiq and Mussa have vowed to maintain stability and restore law and order but their ties to the old regime sparked fears of renewed protests by those who will feel their revolution threatened.

The election caps a rollercoaster transition, marked by political upheaval and bloodshed, but which also witnessed democratic parliamentary elections that saw Islamist groups score a crushing victory.

Candidates have been campaigning across the country for weeks in an unprecedented democratic exercise made possible by the early 2011 revolt.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), in power since Mubarak’s ouster, urged Egyptians to turn out en masse to the polls, while warning against any “violation.”

The SCAF has vowed to hand power to civilian rule by the end of June, after a president is elected, but many fear its retreat will be just an illusion.

The army, with its vast and opaque economic power, wants to keep its budget a secret by remaining exempt from parliamentary scrutiny, maintain control of military-related legislation and secure immunity from prosecution.

Mubarak, 84 and ailing, may watch the election from a military hospital on the outskirts of Cairo as he awaits the verdict of his murder trial on June 2.

The former strongman is accused of involvement in the killing of some 850 protesters during the uprising and of corruption.

Form favours AFL’s winless Giants: Craig

Greater Western Sydney coach Kevin Sheedy can’t believe his winless AFL side will start a game as favourites but Melbourne’s Neil Craig admits the Giants deserve it more than the Demons.

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With Saturday’s Skoda Stadium clash the Giants’ best chance of a win in the run home, if they can’t salute they face the prospect of becoming the biggest losers in an AFL/VFL season ever.

No club since Fitzroy in 1964 has gone through an entire season without a win and that was when the season lasted only 18 rounds.

For the Demons, the consequences of a loss would be almost as dire.

Already this year they’ve lost their coach, their president, their chief executive and suffered some huge thrashings, including last round’s listless 122-point loss to North Melbourne.

To also become the first club this season to lose to the Giants would heap further indignity on them.

But betting agencies and punters believe it’s on the cards, with the odds pointing to a Greater Western Sydney win.

And Craig admits that’s fair enough.

“If you looked at GWS’s form last week and you looked at our form, I know who I’d have favourite, wouldn’t you?” Craig told reporters on Wednesday.

But Sheedy, whose side led the Demons at the last change in round four before falling away and who led Collingwood for the best part of three quarters last round before also fading, isn’t convinced.

“I doubt that will happen, what are you talking about?” Sheedy said of the Giants’ favouritism.

“It makes no sense. All I’ll say is that it will be a tight game.”

Sheedy admits the sniff of a rare Giants win brings its own pressure.

“There’s a fair chance we need to win,” he said.

“We played probably our best game for the year last week I would have thought.

“Two points down against a finals team at three-quarter time and it was probably our best performance at the MCG.

“We actually looked like we were an AFL side.”

Craig says the Demons also sense an opportunity but admits he’s unsure how his troops will bounce back from their deflating performance against North.

“The Melbourne Football Club at the moment is in no position to guarantee they’re going to win any game,” he said.

“If you don’t believe that, just look at our past performances.

“What we’ve got to do is make sure to the best of our ability about our response this week.

“We need a much fiercer response than we actually put on show against North Melbourne.

“That was a classical day, absolutely classical day of a team that was playing football as distinct from performing.”

“We want to get away from that standard as quick as we can.”

British PM vows immigration curbs in Queen’s speech

British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged a fresh clampdown on immigration in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday, seeking to bolster his right-wing credentials against the rise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

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Measures to restrict migrants’ rights to healthcare and make it easier to deport foreigners were at the heart of the solidly Conservative proposals in the speech, which sets out the government’s legislative plans for the year ahead.

Written by ministers from the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, it was read out by Queen Elizabeth II at the state opening of parliament in a ceremony full of historical symbolism.

Heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla attended alongside the queen, in a sign of their increasing role as the 87-year-old monarch scales back some of her duties.

Ministers drew up the address before the anti-immigration, eurosceptic UKIP won a quarter of the vote in local elections last week, but its key themes appeared designed to confront the growing threat to Cameron’s Conservatives from the upstart party.

The speech offered a strong conservative message likely to appeal to the traditional and often older voters who have flocked to the UKIP, many of them former Tories alienated by Cameron’s shift to the centre ground.

“We are in a global race and the way we will win is backing families who want to work hard and do the right thing,” Cameron told lawmakers afterwards.

This involved slashing the deficit, helping small businesses, reforming welfare and pensions “so it pays to work and pays to save”, and reforming the immigration system “so we attract people who will benefit this country”, he said.

One of the bills proposed was a law to restrict migrants’ use of the free-to-access National Health Service (NHS), tighten the use of human rights law to make it easier to deport foreigners and introduce fines for landlords who rent homes to illegal immigrants.

The Queen’s Speech takes place every year or so at the start of a new parliamentary session, and contains all the pageantry expected of a state occasion.

The monarch arrives at parliament in a horse-drawn carriage, dons a crown and sits on a throne to deliver the address to elected lawmakers and peers clad in scarlet, gold and ermine robes.

This year’s speech — read out by the monarch in a stately monotone — was relatively short, and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband said it had “no answers” to Britain’s problems.

He said the Tory-led coalition was a “failing government — out of touch, out of ideas” with two years to go before the general election in 2015.

Miliband added that proposals on immigration were “limited measures that they have announced before”, and which failed to tackle the problem of cheap migrant labour which drives down wages.

One trade union leader, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, said the measures were “more about trying to head off UKIP and quell a backbench (Conservative) revolt than deliver a legislative programme to get Britain back on track”.

A new YouGov survey found public concerns about immigration are high, with 57 percent of respondents ranking it among the top three issues facing Britain currently, up from 13 percent when the coalition came to power in 2010.

UKIP has capitalised on this public concern and a separate YouGov poll on Wednesday gave them 16 percent of the vote, putting them in third place ahead of the Lib Dems.

As expected there was no mention in the Queen’s Speech of the EU, which has shot up the political agenda following the crisis in the eurozone and has contributed to UKIP’s surge in support.

Cameron has been resisting pressure to bring forward a promised referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU to before the next election in 2015, and any such vote would put his Tories at odds with their pro-EU coalition partners.

Former finance minister Nigel Lawson this week became the first senior Tory to call for Britain to leave the EU — something 46 percent of voters would support, according to a new YouGov poll.

Hingis rules out playing singles despite doubles return

Hingis is teaming up with Slovak Daniela Hantuchova at this week’s Southern California Open with the pair slated to play an evening match on Wednesday against Julia Goerges of Germany and Darija Jurak of Croatia.

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Hingis, who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of fame just two weeks ago, has not played a WTA-level match since 2007.

She and Hantuchova are also intending to compete at Toronto, Cincinnati and the U.S. Open but have not made any plans beyond that.

“If it’s a complete disaster, I would not want to continue, but I hope that’s not the case,” Hingis told reporters.

“I don’t have any expectations, but I wouldn’t put myself in this position if I didn’t feel that I couldn’t compete at this level.

“In (world) Team Tennis I was good enough, but is it good enough to be able to compete at this level? We’ll see.”

Hingis retired in 2002 with five Grand Slam singles titles to her credit only to launch a full-scale comeback in 2006. She called it quits for the second time in 2007, but said she always had it in the back of her mind that she might return again.

She barely picked up a racket from 2008-2011, but has played a lot of exhibitions and senior doubles during the past two years and has also coached, mostly notably world number 25 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, whom she stopped coaching after this year’s French Open.

However, even though she would not completely rule it out, Hingis said she has no plans to return in singles again.

“Not at this point,” she said.

“You have to put so much effort into it. Playing tournaments is the easy part, but it’s all the behind the scenes training that people don’t see, the six to eight hours of training and really the older you get, the harder it gets.

“I wouldn’t want to come out and play one or two matches and lose in the third round. That’s not my type of personality.”

While Hingis feels that top level singles play may be beyond her, she does not feel that way about doubles.

There are three players in the WTA doubles world top 20 who are older than she is – Lisa Raymond, Kveta Peschke and Liezel Huber – and a handful of others just slightly younger than her.

“It’s different as when we used to play there were so many more singles girls who played doubles: the (Williams) sisters, me Anna (Kournikova) and Lindsay (Davenport),” she said.

“There were like six to eight of the top 10 who played doubles. Now it’s just a few girls in the top 10 who play doubles. There is much more of an opening now.”

(Editing by Julian Linden)

Crime report details asylum seeker deaths at sea

In a little over 10 years, almost 1000 asylum seekers have died at sea while trying to reach Australia by boat, a new report says.

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The Australian Crime Commission’s biannual report into organised crime says 964 people died, or are presumed to have died, between October 2001 and June 2012.

The figures do not include the recent spate of asylum seeker deaths on boats that foundered in Australian waters or on their way here.

Of the 964 deaths cited in the report, 605 died since October 2009 – more than one every two days.

The Organised Crime in Australia 2013 report says most asylum seekers arriving from boat hail from Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka and Pakistan or are stateless.

While most of the boats depart from Indonesia due to its proximity to Australia, the report suggests the problem is both regional and global.

“People smugglers use highly-organised international networks to make logistical arrangements for the travel of irregular migrants and typically demand exorbitant fees for their services,” the report says.

“The impact of people smuggling extends beyond domestic law enforcement and border protection capability and dealing with it requires mutual cooperation and international engagement.”

The deaths included the sinking of an unseaworthy vessel off the Indonesian island of Java in 2001, with the loss of 350 lives, and a vessel that crashed into rocks at Christmas island in 2010, claiming 50 lives.

The report shows 111 boats arrived in Australia in 2011-12, compared to just 23 in 2008-09, 117 in 2009-10 and 89 in 2010-11.

There were 8092 asylum seekers on the boats that arrived in 2011-12, compared to 985 in 2008-09, 5327 in 2009-10 and 4750 in 2010-11.

The report also notes asylum seekers arriving by boat accounted for 51 per cent of all applications for protection in 2011-12, up from five per cent between 2002-03 and 2007-08.

Insults to Islam ignite violence in Pakistan

At least 17 people were killed and more than 200 wounded during violent protests in Pakistan Friday against a US-made film insulting Islam, officials said.

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Twelve people were killed in Karachi, the country’s largest city, and five in the northwestern city of Peshawar, hospital officials said, after the eruption of violence defied a government call for only peaceful demonstrations.

The combined total of wounded in Karachi, Peshawar and in the capital Islamabad was 229.

A doctor at Karachi’s Jinnah hospital told AFP they had received five dead and 65 people with injuries, while the city’s Civil hospital said it had also had five bodies, including that of a police officer, and at least 40 injured.

The policeman was killed in an exchange of fire with protesters in Karachi, the country’s largest city, police official Mohammad Shakeel said.

A doctor at Abbasi Shaheed hospital in Karachi told AFP they also received two dead bodies, including that of a police official, and 10 wounded.

Thousands took to the streets in a series of demonstrations across Karachi, home to an estimated 18 million, to condemn the film, “Innocence of Muslims”.

Scuffles broke out when protesters tried to march towards the US consulate, throwing stones at police and trying to remove shipping containers that blocked the road, police said.

Officers launched tear gas shells and fired into the air to disperse the crowd, but three policemen were wounded by gunfire from an unknown direction, Shakeel said.

Police said three cinemas were set on fire and a number of shops including a KFC restaurant were ransacked.

In the northwestern city of Peshawar, the Lady Reading Hospital said it had four dead, including a TV station employee shot when protesters set alight and ransacked a cinema.

Doctor Farman at Khyber Teaching Hospital, who used only one name, confirmed that another body had been brought in after the demonstrations.

Hospital doctors in Peshawar gave a combined total of 79 people wounded.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said he had ordered an investigation into the TV station employee’s death and repeated government calls for protests to remain peaceful.

ARY, the man’s employer, accused the police of murder.

“We consider this incident murder. We strongly condemn it. The policeman involved in the firing incident should be arrested immediately and sacked,” said senior ARY executive Owais Tohid.

The channel broadcast disturbing footage of its employee, clearly in a critical condition and receiving urgent medical care in hospital.

In Islamabad, a doctor at the Services Hospital said 35 people were brought in with injuries, including eight policemen and four civilians with gunshot wounds.

Overall, 19 people have been killed in Pakistan during protests over the past week against a trailer for the crudely made film, made by extremist Christians in the United States.

Comment: Teens ‘over’ Facebook – The future of social media

By David Glance, University of Western Australia

It seems that Facebook is coming to terms with the fact that teenagers are fickle and are unlikely to stay interested in anything for long – even Facebook.

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In their annual report, Facebook admitted that“some of our users, particularly our younger users, are aware of and actively engaging with other products and services similar to, or as a substitute for, Facebook.”. This, together with anecdotes of teenagers being questioned about their attitude to Facebook, has led the media at least to speculate that teenagers are tossing both their iPhones and social networks into the same category as everything else their parents are involved with.

Facebook at least, has apparently become uncool and boring.

Facebook is so over! 南宁桑拿网,tapastic.com/episode/2267

The fact that specific social networks should become passe is hardly surprising. Social network sites like MySpace are a testament to how quickly a network can be abandoned and forgotten. There are also an ever increasing number of sites and mobile applications that allow sharing, leading to a corresponding decrease in time spent on any one platform. At the same time, social networks like Facebook and Twitter are trying to find ways of making money which has led to an increase in the amount of content that is pure advertising masquerading as shared content. This has recently been made worse with the announcement) by Facebook of a revamped news feed that will make the page look more like a personalised newspaper or magazine.

For teens at least, social networking sites have never been the primary means of communication. In a Pew Internet study in 2012, 63% of teens used text message to communicate with others on a daily basis compared to only 29% who used social networks to communicate daily with others. 37% of teens surveyed had participated in video chats on platforms like Skype, Google+ and iChat. In other words, teens will employ a range of modes of communication with their friends and will be driven by what peers are doing collectively above any sense of loyalty to a brand. The recent phenomenon of the popularity of photo sharing network, SnapChat is an example of this. Sharing photos that only exist for few seconds before disappearing supports a novel way of using images to communicate that is different to posting photos to Facebook or Instagram. Teens will use SnapChat in preference to the same feature hosted on Facebook.

Ultimately, for a group of teens to change social networks altogether would just be a matter of a collective decision (ironically coordinated on that network) and it could happen overnight.

Social Networks of the Future

In a way, for social networks to survive, they need to be all things to all people and provide a range of communication and sharing options. At the moment, users of social network sites are all treated as being uniform. Even our sharing options usually default to treating everyone on the network as a single group, even though connections will consist of friends, family, acquaintances, work colleagues and strangers. These groups are then a mix of different genders and ages. Although some networks allow a manual sorting of people into categories, very few people would do this and so sharing things that are relevant to even a small number of connected friends is made that much harder. Given that it is a small percentage of people produce the majority of the content and activity on social networks like Facebook, finding relevant and interesting things in a news feed or stream is a challenge.

Social network sites are trying to solve this challenge for advertisers by analysing audiences and deciding what to show to any given individual. This technology is likely to improve over the next 5 – 10 years to the point where relevance is assessed not only by your profile and interests but your actual needs. For normal users, the technology would allow them to have content selected for them and sharing tailored to people who would actually want to see the content. So teenagers posting pictures of drunken parties would automatically hide this content from family – especially parents.

A Personal Data Cloud

Of course, to get the level of sophistication in social networks making these decisions or even suggestions on our behalf, we would have to agree to provide a great deal of private information. This has often been a red flag to privacy advocates who see the benefits being far outweighed by the risks. There is a way around this however where individuals set up a private “personal data cloud” to store all of the information about themselves provided by social networks, apps and websites that they had interacted with. When a software system wants to decide what to do in terms of a person’s social connections, they could then just ask the user’s “personal data cloud” to give them suggestions without revealing anything about the information held in that cloud.

Social networks are likely to remain for the foreseeable future as part of the way in which we interact with others on the Internet. The degree of their relevance however will depend on how sophisticated they can become in filtering content that we consume and send. The technical challenges posed by this is the easy part. It is solving the privacy issue that will be the biggest challenge. This will have to start with giving individuals complete control over that data and when and how it is accessed.

David Glance does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Sights set on price gougers in wake of carbon tax

By Julie Clarke, Deakin University

In the lead-up to the introduction of the carbon tax on July 1, there has been considerable focus on the potential for price gouging – inflating prices beyond the cost increases reasonably attributable to the tax.

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In recent days, this has been fuelled by a letter sent to small business from the opposition, urging them to place flyers in their shops apologising for any carbon-tax related price increases.

What business can and cannot claim following the introduction of the carbon tax

Businesses are generally free to increase or lower their prices as they choose. In the context of the carbon tax, there are no specific laws preventing price gouging. However, the law does prohibit false or misleading claims regarding the cause of any price hike. For example, if a business reasonably estimates that its costs have increased by 5% as a result of the carbon tax then:

• it can increase prices by 5% and advise customers that the increase is attributable to the carbon tax;

• it can increase prices by more than 5% provided it does not attribute the additional increase to the carbon tax;

• it can not increase prices by more than 5% and advise customers that the increase is attributable to the carbon tax.

Consequently, a business wishing to increase prices after July 1 may do so in two ways. First, they may claim that they have raised prices (or will raise prices) because of the tax. Second, they may simply raise their prices following the introduction of the tax. If they adopt the first method, and their claims are false, they run the risk of detection and enforcement action. If they adopt the second method, the ACCC will have no action against them.

The ACCC’s powers

The ACCC’s role is not to stop price increases which occur following introduction of the carbon tax; rather, it is to ensure that businesses do not make misleading claims when they attribute any price increases to the carbon tax. The prohibition relied upon by the ACCC is s 18 of the Australian Consumer Law, which prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct.

Where such conduct occurs, the ACCC has the power to issue warning notices, infringement notices (imposing penalties of up to $66,000 for listed companies) and substantiation notices (requiring business to substantiate any carbon price increase claims). It can also ask the Federal Court to impose penalties of up to $1.1 million per contravention and adverse publicity orders. However, to obtain this penalty the ACCC must bring legal action before a Court; the Court must be satisfied that the corporation engaged in false or misleading conduct in contravention of the Act; and the Court must be satisfied that a penalty of $1.1 million is appropriate ($1.1 million is the highest penalty available and not likely to be imposed frequently).

It is more likely that the ACCC will make use of its power to issue warning, substantiation and infringement notices, which are faster and can effectively “name and shame” offenders.

To assist in identification of false carbon claims, the ACCC has recently established a hotline for customers to report any concerns.

Price gouging in the lead-up to the tax

Despite the carbon tax not yet being in force, the ACCC has received hundreds of complaints which have led to approximately 20 initial investigations, with several cases currently being looked at more seriously. Some of the complaints have included allegations that the carbon price was responsible for the increased price of: a slab of beer; the cost of constructing a swimming pool and other building work; petrol; taxi trips (reports of “carbon levies”); wedding costs (charging a $5 per head “carbon tax fee” for a post July 1 wedding).

Some businesses have also encouraged customers to “buy now” or lock into long term contracts to avoid the carbon price. Solar panel companies have also been scrutinised for exaggerating likely energy price increases to attract custom.

Will the ACCC be effective?

The experience of the ACCC following the introduction of the GST is instructive. Although the ACCC’s powers in relation to price gouging were more extensive for the GST, the ACCC concluded that there had been no evidence of “significant opportunistic pricing by business” to increase margins. More importantly, they concluded that most infringements that were identified involved some form of misleading conduct.

In addition, in relation to most goods and services, the market will provide a competitive discipline on any attempt to price-gouge over and above the real cost of the tax. Businesses that operate without competitive discipline may already increase their prices. Although the carbon tax might provide them with increased incentive to do so in the short term, it is not something that should be regulated for the long term; this should be left to market forces.

It is, however, appropriate to investigate false and misleading conduct surrounding the introduction of the carbon tax, and enhanced investigation and enforcement powers under the Australian Consumer Law mean that the ACCC is well placed to pursue offenders.

Julie Clarke does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Comment: The market won’t stop China’s polluting state industries

By Philip Andrews-Speed, National University of Singapore

When officials in the northern Chinese province of Hubei recently declared their dedication to cleaning up air pollution by giving up smoking, few were impressed by their grasp of the problem.

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But China has demonstrated it is taking steps to tackle air and wider climate change-related pollution, most recently by rolling out an emissions trading scheme (ETS) in its industrial heartlands.

China accounts for more than 20% of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide generated by energy use, just ahead of the USA at 18%. Its carbon intensity – the quantity of carbon dioxide emission per unit of GDP in purchasing power parity – is more than twice that of both the USA or India, and 80% higher than that of South Korea.

China’s high carbon intensity arises from a combination of an economy dependent on heavy industry, the predominance of coal, which accounts for 70% of primary energy consumption, and the inefficient nature of much of the industrial plant. Nevertheless, it must be recognised that some 30% of the country’s carbon emissions derives from the manufacture of goods which are exported.

China’s government has pledged to reduce carbon emission intensity by 40-45% between 2005 and 2020. This will require an equivalent reduction in energy intensity. Between 2005 and 2010 the government achieved considerable success in reducing energy intensity by 19% against a target of 20%. The intensity of carbon emissions from energy fell by a similar amount. This was accomplished principally through greater regulation of the mainly state-owned heavy industries such as steel, cement and chemicals.

But what works for a limited number of energy-intensive enterprises is unlikely to be effective across the whole economy, not least because of the sheer number of enterprises, many of which are privately-owned. So the Chinese government has had to introduce economic carrots and sticks tackle the problem.

Emissions trading and carbon tax

The Draft Law on Addressing Climate Change, published in March 2012, includes both cap-and-trade-style emissions trading schemes and a carbon tax. In April this year the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) announced that seven pilot emission trading schemes would be launched this year, with a focus on energy intensive industries such as petrochemicals and power generation. The even more energy-intensive and polluting industries such as steel and cement do not appear to have been included, probably because they are critical for the construction sector and employ so many people. The pilot schemes are to be held in seven industrial cities and the first was launched in Shenzhen in June.

The Xinhua Press announcement of the government’s plan to introduce a carbon tax in February referred to an earlier Ministry of Finance suggested rate of 10 Yuan (US$ 1.6) per tonne of carbon dioxide rising to 50 Yuan (US$ 8.0) per tonne by 2020. The proposed carbon tax was to be only one component of a package of tax measures aimed at energy and resource consumption and environmental damage.

This proposed tax package implies the direct involvement of the Ministry of Finance, apparently in opposition to the National Development and Reform Commission’s proposed emissions trading scheme. Running both tax and trading scheme together for the same emitters would be unnecessarily complex, but nothing more has been said on the matter since February.

Institutional constraints

Whilst China’s ambition to introduce such economic instruments is to be applauded, implementing them in such a way that they are effective will face a number of serious obstacles. First, the major energy users are large state-owned enterprises which have significant political and market power, soft budgetary constraints and a low cost of capital. Additionally they are protected from hostile take-overs or bankruptcy, which would require government approval.

Second, the limited capacity and authority of the governing agencies may restrict their ability to monitor and administer the scheme, or impose penalties on offenders. Antagonistic local governments are likely to find ways to undermine central government initiatives, for example by compensating local enterprises for financial losses arising from these schemes, removing any economic impetus to change.

Finally, most energy prices are still subject to direct or indirect government control, and Beijing is reluctant to allow the price of energy and industrial products to rise too rapidly.

In the terms of institutional economics, there’s a profound mismatch between the emissions trading scheme and carbon tax on the one hand, and the prevailing institutional inertia and the manner of governing the heavy industry sectors on the other. Essentially, this means that where the state dominates ownership and price controls, such instruments based on market forces are unlikely to have any significant effect.

Until the state releases its grip on major energy producers, energy consumers and energy prices, the aim of reducing carbon emissions may best be achieved by further regulation and by allowing energy prices, for everyone, to rise.

Philip Andrews-Speed does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Israel press bemoans price of peace talks

As Israeli and Palestinian negotiators head to Washington for the resumption of peace talks, most Israeli newspapers hit out at the decision to free 104 prisoners in return.

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“The murderers will go free,” was the top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot’s front-page headline after the cabinet agreed to release the veteran Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners, many of them convicted militants.

In a tense session lasting more than five hours, ministers on Sunday endorsed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to release the 104 prisoners imprisoned before the 1993 Oslo peace accords as a gesture to the Palestinians.

Media reports say that many of them have Israeli blood on their hands and that while the vast majority are Palestinians, a few are Israeli citizens.

The names of those to be freed have yet to be officially published, or even revealed to cabinet ministers, but Israeli and Palestinian groups have published their own lists of those in prison for more than 20 years.

They include petrol bombers whose attacks on buses killed Israeli women and children, perpetrators of fatal stabbings on city streets and the makers of bombs planted on buses and in the main Jerusalem produce market.

Yediot columnist Nahum Barnea compared the release to the October 2010 exchange of 1,027 prisoners for the freedom of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

“The early release of terrorists is disturbing to any decent person,” he wrote.

“The images of remorseless murderers celebrating on the way to the bus are a humiliating, agonising, infuriating sight.

“The Palestinians did not give anything this time, except the willingness to hold talks on holding talks. It does not take much imagination to guess what Netanyahu would have said about this, had someone else been prime minister,” Barnea added.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to meet in Washington later on Monday, along with US officials, after months of dogged shuttle diplomacy by US Secretary of State John Kerry secured a resumption of talks after a three-year hiatus.

“Here we go again,” the Jerusalem Post headlined over an analysis by its diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon.

“These murderers will be hailed as heroes in Hebron and Ramallah and Jenin,” he wrote.

“Parades will be held in their honour, flowers thrown at the bus carrying them home, poems written about their ‘glorious’ exploits.

“If the Palestinians are indeed serious about the upcoming round of talks, they need to make that apparent to the Israeli public,” he added.

“One way to do this is not to celebrate the release of terrorists who threw petrol bombs into buses and incinerated innocent men, women and children.”

Maariv analyst Shalom Yerushalmi shared the general media sense of outrage.

“As always, the government has chosen the worst option,” he wrote.

“Prior to going to the negotiations in Washington, the Israeli government made a decision to free terrorists who have committed terrible crimes against innocent civilians, many of whom were teenagers and children.

“This tears at the heart of each one of us, regardless of political views.”

The left-leaning Haaretz daily grudgingly welcomed the cabinet decision.

“The Israeli government bumped into reality on Sunday,” diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid wrote.

“Like a drunk driver heading for a wall at full speed only to get a grip on himself at the last moment and hit the brakes, most government ministers came to their senses and voted in favour of releasing prisoners in order to enable the renewal of talks with the Palestinians.”

Same-sex couples: Smarter, richer and growing

There were 33,700 same-sex couples in Australia in 2011, a 32 per cent increase since the 2006 Census, representing 1 per cent of all couples in the country.

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17,600 were in male same-sex couples, 16,100 in female. Interestingly, the age difference of those people in same-sex relationships was greater than that in opposite-sex relationships. The age gap for female same-sex couples was an average of 4.8 years, while for males that difference was 6.5 years. The gap average for opposite-sex relationships was 3.7 years. Furthermore, in around a quarter of male same-sex relationships, there was an age difference of 10 years or more. More same-sex couples are also having children, with 6,300 kids living with same-sex couple families, up from 3,400. The ABS says people in same-sex relationships tend to be more highly educated, have higher labour force participation rates, and have higher personal incomes than opposite-sex couples. Around 67 per cent of male same-sex couples, and 58 per cent of female same-sex couples had a combined household income of $2000 or more per week, compared with 42% of opposite-sex couples. The ACT had the highest rates of both male and female same-sex couples of any state or territory, but in terms of number, 32 per cent of the nation’s same-sex couples live in NSW. The top 10 suburbs for male and female same-sex couples were all in inner Sydney. Of all couples living in Darlinghurst, 17.9 per cent were in male same-sex relationships, 17.8 per cent in Potts Point, 17.3 per cent in Surry Hills, 16.3 per cent in Elizabeth Bay and 14.5 per cent in Redfern. Female same-sex couples, form 6 per cent of all couples in St Peters, 5.7 per cent in Newtown, 5.4 per cent in Erskineville, 5.3 per cent in Enmore and 4.2 per cent in Lewisham.

Chiefs pip Crusaders to reach Super final

The Chiefs delivered more playoffs heartbreak for the Crusaders on Saturday night, setting up a second successive Super Rugby home final with a thrilling 20-19 win in Hamilton.

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Outplayed in the first half and trailing 9-3, the home side produced an inspired second spell to mirror last year’s 20-17 win over the same opponents in the same fixture.

Seventeen points in the first 17 minutes of the second period – including tries to winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma and five-eighth Aaron Cruden – set up victory over a Crusaders side who dominated most facets.

The visitors had crushed all before them in their previous five games, including a 43-15 hammering of the Chiefs in Christchurch on July 5.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie was in no doubt why his team had improved so much in three weeks.

“While you don’t want to talk about those things at the time, our attitude (in Christchurch) wasn’t quite right and maybe we weren’t quite as desperate because we had qualified for the playoffs,” said Rennie.

“It was a massive effort in the second half. We’re really proud of the effort but we need another one next week.”

The seven-time champions lost their nerve when it counted to continue a dreadful recent playoff run.

They have reached the semi-finals in each of the last five seasons but have failed to add to their trophy cabinet. Four exits have come at the semi-finals stage.

Blackadder admitted to a sinking feeling of deja vu.

“The Chiefs showed real pride and guts and courage, and we didn’t nail our opportunities,” he said.

“The fact that we didn’t quite take them – I don’t think it’s the reflection of a bad team.”

Crusaders five-eighth Dan Carter landed three penalty goals to Cruden’s one in the first half, reflecting the visitors’ early superiority.

It was all Chiefs throughout the third quarter as Cruden’s second penalty was followed by a try to Japan-bound Masaga, who powered through the heart of the Crusaders pack from a standing start 15m out.

Cruden put the Chiefs 11 points clear with an intercept try, gleefully collecting a blind pass from centre Ryan Crotty and scooting 50m.

Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg hit straight back with a brilliant solo try, defeating the Chiefs’ front-line and cover defence with two memorable outside swerves.

Carter’s sideline conversion, followed by his fourth penalty with six minutes to play, set up a classic finish.

However, Carter’s second missed dropped goal attempt of the game was the closest they came to regaining the lead.

The Chiefs will host the final next Saturday against either the Bulls or Brumbies, who meet in the second semi-final in Pretoria on Sunday morning (AEST).

It will be the Chiefs’ third final. They lost to the Bulls in Pretoria in 2009 but won last year at home to the Sharks 37-6.