Who wins, who loses when the carbon tax goes?

‘Back to ground zero’ after repealCarbon price was working: ANU studyRenewable energy investments hit the wall

Now that the Abbott government has succeeded in repealing the carbon price, who stands to win and who stands to lose?

On the face of it, the winners from the repeal of Australia’s carbon price will be the 371 liable entities paying the tax and consumers who forked out more for goods and services as the emissions charge was passed on.

Losers will include firms that have profited from their relatively low carbon output compared with rivals, such as Snowy Hydro and Hydro Tasmania. Accounting and corporate advisory firms are also likely to cut jobs as demand for their expertise dims.

The effects of the Senate’s repeal of the carbon price – $25.40 a tonne as of July 1 – will take some time to play out.

Since the carbon price fell most directly on the power sector, its removal should produce winners in that industry, save for the hydro plants and wind farms which operate at near-zero emissions.

However, as former Citi analyst and clean energy campaigner Tim Buckley notes, the coal-fired power producers have been stoked with billions of dollars in compensation to ensure they absorbed the carbon hit.

“The government gave almost 100 per cent free permits to the generators, who were allowed to bank the cash,” Mr Buckley said. “Then they’ve charged consumers for the cost of the carbon and taken the difference as a profit.”

AGL on Thursday (July 17) said the repeal of the carbon price would reduce earnings before interest and tax by about $186 million. The sum includes the loss of $100 million in “transitional assistance arrangements” for its Loy Yang A power plant in Victoria and about $86 million from anticipated falls in its wholesale power prices paid to its renewable energy and gas generation units.

Perverse result

Likewise, the big trade-exposed energy users, such as the aluminium and cement industries, were given 94.5 per cent of their permits.

Perversely, since allocations were made on industry averages, some aluminium producers actually profited from the carbon price. That benefit will presumably evaporate along with the tax’s demise.

“Australia’s aluminium smelters were heavily protected from the carbon price and in some cases were over-compensated,” said Hugh Bromley, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, noting the industry’s effective carbon price for the 2013-14 financial year ranged from minus-$34 per tonne of carbon-dioxide equivalent, to $6 a tonne.

“A plant such as [Rio Tinto’s] Bell Bay effectively made an additional $220 for every tonne of aluminium produced, while some plants on the mainland faced a cost of around $115 per tonne of aluminium,” Mr Bromley said.

Industrial beneficiaries of the end of a carbon price include the chemicals industry, particularly sectors such as refrigeration that use chemicals with a high greenhouse gas potency. Land-fill operators are other winners since many would have collected large upfront costs for waste they may not now need to manage.

“You’re talking 50 years of emissions that they are passing through,” Mr Bromley said.

Other producers of greenhouse gases, such as coal miners and gas producers, will also benefit from the absence of a carbon cost.

These sectors, particularly the new LNG exporters, happen to be among the fastest growing sources of carbon-equivalent emissions, with their expansion likely to make it harder for Australia to meet its goal of reducing 2000-level emissions 5 per cent by 2020.

Firms able to tap the Abbott government’s alternative to a carbon price to achieve that target – the direct action plan to pay polluters to curb emissions – will also be beneficiaries, assuming workable legislation supporting the policy can get through the Senate.

Details of the policy – including how baselines will be enforced – remain unclear, as is the precise amount of money available. Environment Minister Greg Hunt insists he will have access to the full $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund for the plan, although the May budget allocated only $1.14 billion over the four-year forward estimates.

Consumer view

Consumers are also potentially winners from the repeal of the tax, but by how much remains less clear than the precise $550 per household this year routinely pledged by the Abbott government.

As Fairfax Media has reported, the annual savings may come in closer to $250, with electricity the main item to change. The fabled roast leg of lamb that was to have cost more than $100, is selling at about a fifth of that price in the supermarkets. After the repeal it may be all of 20 cents cheaper.

While some power companies say they will fully repay any carbon tax collected on electricity bills since July 1, how carbon-linked prices for other parts of the economy will be reset remains uncertain.

Tony Wood, an energy expert at the Grattan Institute, cites the case of a dairy producer sourcing milk derived from several states – each with a different carbon profile in their power sectors. How much should milk prices fall once the tax goes?

“I wouldn’t be Rod Sims for quids,” Mr Wood said, referring to the head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

As Fairfax Media reported, Qantas, a major fuel user, has ended its “carbon surcharge” but said competition meant it had not been able to recover the carbon costs as intended. Post-tax fares may hardly budge.

Shadow price

Meanwhile, any cheering in corporate boards might not reach the accounting departments. Companies will have no choice but to maintain a “shadow carbon price” no matter the current Australian policy, analysts say.

“Regardless of what happens today, we will have a lot of uncertainty in the market, and that creates a shadow carbon price in power futures,” said Mr Bromley.

Peter Castellas, chief executive of the Carbon Market Institute, said a survey of 82 companies liable to pay the carbon price last year found almost three quarters assumed a future carbon price on their investments.

The estimated carbon price ranged from the low price for Certified Emissions Reductions, worth around 20 cents a tonne, to more than $50 a tonne, surveyed companies said.

“Any company looking at any long-term investment will be thinking of factoring in a carbon price,” Mr Castellas said, noting this is particularly true for firms with international operations.

Globally, the assumed carbon price is $20-$60 a tonne, Mr Buckley, a director of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said.

One place where losses have been mounting for some time is in the area of carbon-related jobs.

The big banks scaled back or halted their carbon trading desks “a long time ago,” said Michael Green, director of Bradman’s carbon and energy recruitment unit. Business is “as dead as doornail”.

The uncertainty has spread to the renewable energy industry, the next area likely to be hit by an Abbott government roll-back.

Bradman has recently sent offshore one of Australia’s most experienced wind farm construction managers.

“He’s just bitter about the situation in Australia and he won’t be back some time soon,” Mr Green said.

Little wonder, with Bloomberg New Energy Finance noting that Australia’s investments in large-scale renewable energy plunged to just $40 million in the first half of 2014 from about $2.7 billion for all of 2013.

The carbon industry is about to enter a period of pause which will see firms like Bradman devote their efforts to expanding in Asia or elsewhere.

“It is hibernation but at the same time [we’re] going to suffer a brain drain,” Mr Green said. “We’re just tired of the ups and downs.”

Disability advocates speak out against any slowdown of NDIS rollout

Disability advocates have warned against any delay to the full rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, following a speech by the scheme’s architect which has been widely interpreted as foreshadowing a slowdown.

The chairman of the board of the National Disability Insurance Agency, Bruce Bonyhady, told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday the ultimate success of the scheme should not be jeopardised ”just for the sake of meeting deadlines set before the scheme started”.

Mr Bonyhady said building the scheme up too quickly carried a risk that prices would be inflated if demand for services outstripped supply.

Under the current timetable, the scheme’s first full year of operation will be 2019-20. In that year, the scheme is expected to provide support to 460,000 people at a cost of $22 billion.

Mr Bonyhady and the agency board are finalising advice to Commonwealth, state and territory disability ministers on whether this timeframe should be changed.

Mr Bonyhady, whose submission to Kevin Rudd’s 2008 ideas summit kickstarted debate about a National Disability Insurance Scheme, said he expected the board to provide that advice in about a month’s time.

The Gillard government decided to launch the scheme in July 2013, a year ahead of the timetable proposed by the Productivity Commission, and a review released in March found the ambitious timeframe had compromised planning.

In May, the Abbott government’s Commission of Audit recommended the rollout be slowed, warning the financial sustainability of the scheme was at risk on the current timetable.

Mr Bonyhady said the board would recommend ”taking as long as it takes to build an NDIS that will last”.

”In this current phase of the scheme’s development, in the trial phase, about 30,000 people are going to access the scheme, so at a rate of about 10,000 per annum. In the next three years, according to the current timeframe, 400,000 people are scheduled to access the scheme.”

”What we’re looking at is what is the best way to get those 400,000 people into the scheme. I’ve already said today we’re going to do that as quickly as possible. There are aspects of the scheme that we think we can bring forward, such as investment in housing, because we know there is a long lead time before that housing is available. But the other aspects of the scheme are really going to depend upon how quickly the market develops – how quickly that supply grows in response to the growth in demand.”

Disability advocates responded to Mr Bonyhady’s speech by urging against any change to the rollout timetable.

The president of People with Disability Australia, Craig Wallace, tweeted:

Our disabilities can’t be delayed or put on hold, neither should the NDIS— Craig Wallace (@CraigWtweets) July 9, 2014

If there is a compelling case to delay NDIS I have not heard it.— Craig Wallace (@CraigWtweets) July 9, 2014

Every Australian Counts campaign director John Della Bosca said any delay to the rollout would leave Australians with disabilities and their families struggling without the support they needed.

”The starting point for any conversation about the NDIS has to be focused on the real crisis,” Mr Della Bosca said.

”People with disability are currently denied access to participate in our community and economy. They are treated as second class citizens. Rolling out the NDIS is a big job, but it’s hardly sending someone to the moon and it should not take a decade to deliver,” he said.

Ken Baker, the chief executive of National Disability Services, said it would be ”premature” to extend the rollout timeline for the scheme at this stage.

”Having been a student, if I was given six weeks to do an assignment, and after week one I was given an extension, I would probably slow down my pace of work,” he said.

”We don’t want to slow down the effort because we’ve put in huge effort to get this far.”

Labor’s spokeswoman on disability reform, Jenny Macklin, who oversaw the launch of the scheme as the minister for disability reform in the former Labor government, said the rollout was proceeding as planned, with 5000 people with disability receiving support packages, costs coming in under budget, and client satisfaction at around 90 per cent.

”For the first time in our nation’s history, people with disability are getting the care and support they deserve,” Ms Macklin said.

”There is no excuse for delay. People with disability have waited long enough.”

The minister responsible for the NDIS, Mitch Fifield, said the timing of the rollout could not be altered without the agreement of state and territory governments.

”The Commonwealth will be guided by the advice of the independent Board of the NDIA in relation to the optimal rollout schedule,” he said.”

The scheme was launched a year ago with trials in the Hunter region of NSW and the Barwon region of Victoria as well as South Australia and Tasmania, while trials started in the ACT, Perth and in the Barkly region of the Northern Territory in July this year.

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Nikki Campbell rings the changes in preparation for British Open

Nikki Campbell is taking a fresh approach into the British Open. Photo: SMP ImagesNikki Campbell has tweaked her ball, her clubs and her training regime, and is in some of her best form in recent years for the start of the British Open on Thursday.

Campbell finished second at the Ladies European Masters in England last Sunday, the result putting her in second place on the European Tour money list and rocketing her back into the top-100 in the world, up 21 places to 95.

It’s a way off her best ranking of 35, but the Royal Canberra golfer is hoping for a personal best at Royal Birkdale this week.

“I’ve never made the cut in a British Open, so that’d obviously be great,” she said.

“The US Open [last month] was the first major cut I’ve made … it’s different golf, majors, so I just want to keep getting better each time.”

After a practice round on Monday, Campbell said the coastal course just north of Liverpool could present some headaches for the field.

“It’s very tough, if you are off-line it’s really brutal, it’s chip out sideways, so it’s going to be very hard. If it blows, I think anything under par is going to be pretty good.”

Campbell joined the European Tour last year after a decade playing in Japan, but admits she “didn’t play very well last year.”

She subsequently switched her ball from a Titleist Pro V1x to a Pro V1, upgraded her Ping clubs to the i25s, and is “going to the gym more”.

“It’s nice to be in contention again in tournaments,” she said. “I don’t really want to play golf if I’m not able to compete, if I’m just making up numbers it doesn’t really interest me that much.”

While she said the European Tour is “a lot of fun,” there are downsides to the move from Japan.

“Financially it’s not as good; I don’t have any sponsorship at the moment, so it’s tough to pay costs and things, but last week helped a bit.”

Campbell will be one of nine Australians chasing the British Open’s prize purse of $US3 million ($3.2 million). Karrie Webb will lead the charge, with Sarah-Jane Smith, Sarah Kemp, Stacey Keating, Stephanie Na, Bree Arthur and amateurs Minjee Lee and Su-Hyun Oh also in the field.

Dank could have answered the one burning question

If there was one question Stephen Dank could have answered during his radio interview with friend and former Adelaide Crows coach Graham Cornes on Tuesday night, it was this.

Dank was asked whether he could detail what peptides had been given to the Essendon players during the club’s 2011-12 supplements program. He was asked specifically about Thymosin beta 4, the banned drug the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority alleges was given to the 34 former and current players.

Dank’s response: “Obviously, I can’t because of the impending court action.”

Well, that’s not right. According to lawyers consulted by Fairfax Media on Wednesday, if Dank knew categorically what had been administered, and those drugs were not prohibited, then there was nothing which could “prevent or inhibit” him clearing up the question those interested in this saga want to know.

Instead, Dank provided a general response, declaring all drugs had been WADA approved, leaving listeners to wonder yet again where things really sat in this football (and political) mess.

This appears to be the lie of the land. Dank has told the Australian Crime Commission he had not administered anything illegal, declaring last year “they said they didn’t think that I’d done anything wrong”. The players are of the belief they were given nothing illegal but, if they had, it was only because they had been duped.

The Bombers share that view. Last year’s AFL charge sheet listed 16 supplements (one redacted) given to the players. But there is still some confusion over whether players were given Thymosin beta 4 or the legal Thymomodulin (a spreadsheet detailing the use of Thymomodulin was found on Dank’s computer at Essendon).

Dank, himself, told Fairfax Media’s Nick McKenzie that he had given the players Thymosin beta 4 but was then shocked to be told by McKenzie it was on the banned list. ASADA has sought this transcript, sparking questions about just how strong is its case against the players – and Dank.

This is sure to be scrutinised in a book on the Essendon mess that one closer observer is seeking funds to write under the working title of: Black Optics – The Darkest Days of Australian Sport And Administration.

Dank also took aim at the club’s damning internal report conducted by former Telstra chief Ziggy Switkowski last season. Dank was not interviewed or asked to contribute to the report.

Switkowski described the program as a “pharmacologically experimental environment”. While this doesn’t necessarily mean there were illegal concoctions, it surely doesn’t sound good. Going on that report, and where the Bombers now stand in that they believe nothing illegal was administered, it could appear the club is having a bob each way.

Switkowski did not wish to comment when contacted on Wednesday.

Dank wants his day in court because he claims it’s unfair he is subjected to ASADA’s burden of proof laws, he having been issued with a show-cause notice. In court, it will be up to ASADA to prove he is guilty of any alleged breach. That is Dank’s right but if the Bombers and Hird lose their cases against ASADA in the Federal Court, players almost certainly will then have to prove why they should not be placed on the Register of Findings, the first step towards an infraction notice.

If that does happen, Dank challenging ASADA through the courts will be of little comfort to the players.

Dank says there has been a “clear breach of what ASADA is supposed to do” as the names of the club, players and drugs had been made public. In that regard, he has a point.

Clearly, there have been governance failures by all parties.

Dank, for his part, says he has no regrets, and “to be perfectly honest, I have got better things to do with my life than have to submerge myself amongst all of this” .

Wonder how the players, their families, the AFL, the Bombers and even James Hird feel about that? This is an issue that AFL chief Gillon McLachlan, who could yet be caught up in the court action alleging an unlawful joint probe, and chief medical officer Peter Harcourt stress involves the health and welfare of the players. This is an issue that has hijacked another AFL season. It has cost the Bombers millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, and Hird a one-year suspension and a personal need to challenge the process in the courts.

McLachlan, rightly, wants his focus, and that of the 18 clubs, including Essendon, to return purely to football matters. Unfortunately, that won’t happen for some time yet.

Big Money makes it a Ramornie double for Robert Thompson

Lucky 4000-and-something: legendary bush hoop Robert Thompson added another Ramornie Handicap to his resume on Wednesday with Big Money. Photo: Dean OslandBig Money, only a four-day old foal when his mother died of a snake bite protecting her progeny, did what Lyn’s Money couldn’t after creating history for champion jockey Robert Thompson in Grafton’s Ramornie Handicap.

The Scone-based Big Money gifted 56-year-old Thompson back-to-back Ramornie wins on Wednesday, etching his name alongside the late Cecil Kelly as the only other hoop to win the time-honoured feature in consecutive years twice.

But it is amazing the remarkably consistent Big Money, which hasn’t finished outside the top two in 11 career starts, is even around to carry on his mother’s legacy considering the trauma he endured as a foal.

“She died of a snake bite four days after he was born,” winning trainer Rod Northam recalled of Lyn’s Money, who he also trained while she raced on the track. “She won nine races and actually ran in the Ramornie, but struck a wet track and finished mid-field.”

Big Money was actually raised by a foster mother at owner-breeder Phil Gunter’s property.

“I won a couple in Sydney on her and she’s actually smaller than him,” Thompson said referring to the pint-sized Big Money.

But what he lacks in size he certainly makes up for in ticker after Thompson angled off the fence turning for home and quickly rushed past his rivals to surge away with the time-honoured listed race.

Tegan Harrison, who had a Grafton homecoming to remember on Royal Scribe in the Guineas, gave Big Money something to catch aboard Rocky King. But the $2.40 favourite eased past the leader to score by three-quarters of a length.

Northam, who combined with Thompson to win the South Grafton Cup with Myamira earlier in the carnival, even hinted at Perth’s group 1 Winterbottom Stakes as a long-term plan for Big Money.

“He’ll have to come back in the late spring and race really well,” Northam said. “If he’s up to it we’d take him across. He’d be the best horse I’ve had, for sure, and he’s untapped.

“[Robert’s] helped my career so much and he’s just a genuine bloke. And you know the horse is going to come back in one piece. If something goes wrong during the race you know he’s not going to kill the horse. He’s done some really amazing things for these horses over the years.”

Harrison thought she might have had enough petrol in the tank to thwart the challenge of Big Money, was left to lament the early work Rocky King ($14.70) was forced to do to find the lead.

“They were actually not going to come here after last start and I begged [trainer] Tom [Bourke] to come,” she said. “His run first-up was terrific and I was confident he could beat Big Money if he got it easy enough early and that’s pretty much how it panned out, but we had to work that little bit more early.”

Sydney visitor Territory ($7.70) charged home from the tail to finish third.

Meanwhile, Con Karakatsanis’ Klisstra will be free to start on Thursday after he was temporarily dragged into a fresh tubing drama at Grafton.

Karakatsanis, who has only recently returned from a nine-month ban after being found guilty of conspiring to tube his star sprinter Howmuchdoyouloveme before the Salinger Stakes on Victoria Derby Day in 2012, again fronted stewards at Grafton on Wednesday.

Stipes caught Karakatsanis with tubing equipment at the Grafton stables of Mark Lynch on Wednesday morning, but later testing confirmed Klisstra hadn’t been treated.

“Shortly after 8am our Northern Rivers-based stewards found Con Karakatsanis with tubing equipment in his stables,” Racing NSW’s deputy chief steward Greg Rudolph said.

“He stated the process of post-race gallop tubing was within his normal stable practices. [Results have] come back at normal levels and consistent with the evidence Klisstra wasn’t treated. She’s clear to race as usual and business as usual.”

Don’t go there: the destinations you need to avoid

Every day Australians jet off to where they could be killed, imprisoned, kidnapped, robbed or fall victim to other harm. But what are the most dangerous places on the planet and which destinations should be off your travel plans?

Hardly a day passes without a conflict breaking out in various parts of the globe. The focus right now is on Syria, Egypt and the Ukraine, but Central Africa and Iraq are other conflict zones where disputes between different ethnic and religious groups have escalated into all-out war.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) warns against travel to Egypt, following the imprisonment of an Australian journalist, citing “current instability”.

Etihad has suspended flights to Peshawar in Pakistan due to an ongoing security risk.

Danger junkies

Danger doesn’t always stop intrepid travellers though. For some it’s an added attraction.

Terrorism and civil war haven’t stopped certain tour operators from promoting travel to areas officially deemed off limits. Take Kashmir, for example. For some, it’s a Shangri-La – for others, a contentious conflict area between India and Pakistan.

Afghanistan has never been high on travel wish lists, but that has not put some operators off conducting tours. Among them is Untamed Borders and Wild Frontiers, both operating out of London.

For a brave breed of travellers, only the world’s most unstable regions will do. Warzone Tours caters to this obsession – even the website of this US travel operator features explosions and a gun battle.

Iran, a favourite with Traveller’s own Ben Groundwater who said he felt extremely safe there, is another country on DFAT’s ”reconsider your need to travel” list. However, tours are still on offer from Intrepid, G Adventures and others, along with Egypt.

Intrepid’s Amanda Linardon said destinations like Iran are beckoning adventurous travellers.

“We may go to places perceived as no-go zones, such as Iran, that are not really dangerous,” she said.

“If a situation becomes volatile, we will cancel or reroute tours in line with travel warnings and advice on the ground.”

Australia’s leading adventure travel operators – Intrepid, Peregrine and Geckos Adventures – all report an increase in demand for countries once considered dangerous that are slowly shaking off their bad reputations. Small group tours in Iran, Colombia, Central America, West Africa, Ethiopia and Georgia have recently surged in popularity.

“Algeria has the potential to be the next Sri Lanka or Burma – countries that were also off-limits to most travellers and where tourism is now booming,” says Linardon.

Don’t go there

For most of us, the daily grind of war automatically catapults some places right to the top of the Do Not Travel list. Baghdad has been unstable since the US invasion. Until recently, Somalia’s capital Mogadishu was considered the world’s most dangerous city. Al-Shabab militants still stage random attacks there. No amount of US intervention and troops on the ground has made Afghanistan and its capital Kabul, any safer – on the contrary, it’s still one of the world’s most dangerous spots.

Thailand – in particular Bangkok – was something of a no-go zone earlier this year until a May 22 military coup put an end to seven months of street protests. In mid-2012, an Australian woman was killed in a bag snatch in Phuket. Around 50 Australians die every year in Phuket due to motorcycle accidents, drugs, drink spiking or natural causes. These events only put a minor dent in the numbers of fun-seeking Australians heading there. Though 122 Australians died in Thailand in 2013, it remains as popular as ever. DFAT advises to ‘Exercise a High Degree of Caution’ due to the possibility of civil unrest and threat of terrorist attack, including Bangkok and Phuket.

Dicing with death

Latin America is on most tour brochures, despite being one of the places you’re most likely to get murdered; 40 per cent of the world’s murders occur in this region.

According to one study, 40 of the 50 most dangerous cities are Latin American, including a number in Colombia, Brazil, El Salvador, Venezuela, Honduras and Mexico; such as popular Chihuahua. Ciudad Juarez in Mexico is one of the most violent places outside of a war zone.

Brazil just staged the World Cup, but you’re advised to exercise a high degree of caution there because of its high levels of serious crime, including muggings, armed robbery, express kidnappings and carjackings, common particularly in major cities like Rio.

Violence can occur between gangs and drug cartels sporadically, so it’s not a region you want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Not that you need to be in Latin America for that to happen.

Surprisingly risky

Anywhere on the planet can be just as dangerous, as shown by the random deaths of Australians overseas in what are normally considered safe destinations.

Random shootings are reasonably commonplace in the good old gun toting US of A. Just last week An Australian girl was shot in the face during a New Orleans gun streetfight.

Another Australian, college baseballer Christopher Lane was shot dead in August last year in Oklahoma in a random drive-by shooting by teenagers on a “killing spree”.

A number of US cities also make the top 50 most dangerous cities list, led by New Orleans at 17th, along with Detroit, St Louis, Baltimore and Oakland.

Who knew that Mumbai would “explode” in 2011? An underlying threat lurks in Sri Lanka, despite recently making its way back onto travel itineraries. Even the Philippine island of Mindanao was off-limits due to Muslim insurgency activity, until recently.

Something as simple as a bag theft, taking part in an extreme sport or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time can place tourists at risk.

A number of tourists died river tubing in Vang Vieng until Laos authorities moved in and closed down the river bars in late 2012.

At one time New York was considered a crime risk. Similarly Italy, where bag snatching was once rife. Violence, muggings and robberies are still commonplace in Capetown and Durban in South Africa.

Kidnapping hot-spots

There is an ongoing threat of kidnapping in many parts of the world. Australian woman, Fiona Wilde, was kidnapped while visiting north-eastern Ecuador bordering Colombia and Peru.

DFAT’s travel advisories specifically warn Australians of kidnapping threats (for ransom, political reasons or by pirates) in a staggering 35 countries including: Colombia, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Kenya, Peru, Pakistan, Tunisia, and the Philippines as well as the Indian Ocean, particularly around Somalia.

In South America, terrorist groups kidnap for ransom. Colombia has one of the highest rates of kidnapping in the world, often perpetrated by groups such as the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) in rural areas. Foreigners, including children, have been kidnapped and murdered.

Humanitarian workers and tourists in Kenya have also been kidnapped by militants and held in Somalia.

A number of foreign nationals have been kidnapped In Syria. Ongoing conflict puts the whole of Syria, including Palmyra and Damascus with its amazing bazaar and crusader castle, off bounds.

A conscience choice 

Sometimes it’s not danger so much as conscience that dictates where we travel. Some destinations are deemed not only dangerous but also questionable. There are calls to boycott travel to Egypt because of the imprisonment of an Australian journalist. Many editors will no longer publish stories on the country; others will stay away to register their objection.

It was only in 2012 that Burma came back strongly as a mainstream travel destination after years languishing on travel editor’s blacklists. This year The European Council on Tourism and Trade will hand Burma the “World Best Tourist Destination Award” for 2014.

Last week in this paper, former minister Peter Reith called for Australians to stop going to Egypt. “Apart from anything else, the security situation in Egypt is only going to get worse as the government killings promote retaliation….So Aussies should not go to Egypt because it’s not safe”.

The World Press Freedom index highlights other countries that have journalists locked up, including: North Korea, Cuba, Sudan, Yemen, Laos, Brazil, India, Russia, Myanmar, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Mali, Oman, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Japan and Malaysia. According to the Guardian the top three countries with journalists in jail are Turkey, Iran and China. Should we boycott these too?

Reconsider the risk

Some places are probably best avoided altogether.

DFAT, through its Smartraveller website issues a stern DO NOT TRAVEL warning for 11 countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Niger, Mali, Chad and Central African Republic.

Reconsider Your Need To Travel is the next highest warning level (Egypt, Ukraine and Iran are on it) followed by Exercise A High Degree of Caution. Indonesia (including Bali) is on that list, along with Thailand.  So surprisingly, is Costa Rica, a current favourite of the eco-travel set.

Just watch an episode of What Really Happens In Bali to see why Bali is dangerous. One Australian dies every nine days in Bali from incidents including drink spiking, violent crime, bike accidents and other fatalities.

Despite its safe reputation, even Australia can provide a “deadly” holiday with more than a few incidents of tourists succumbing to accidents. In comparison, however, it is probably a safe bet.

Prince George learnt how to walk in Australia, says Vanity Fair

A new magazine feature suggests Prince George may have started walking in Australia. Photo: Kate GeraghtyPrince George’s first major magazine cover story has a distinctly Australian feel.

On the eve of his first birthday, the young prince appears on the cover of the upcoming issue of Vanity Fair with his parents Prince William and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.

The cover shot is of the family enjoying the bilby enclosure at Taronga Zoo back in April, while the feature, written by the Daily Mail’s royal correspondent Katie Nicholl, hints the third in line to the throne may have taken his first steps on Australian soil.

According to a preview of the story published on Tuesday, Prince George learned to ”cruise” during the family’s official tour of New Zealand and Australia, and was reportedly shuffling along while holding onto furniture inside Admiralty House and Government House in Canberra.

The feature also details his ”colicky beginnings” and outlines how it wasn’t until the baby was introduced to solid foods that he began sleeping through the night.

”For the first few months the prince cried loudly and frequently, and he was not sleeping through the night. Nanny Jessie Webb tried hard to get him into a routine, but the baby prince, who was still breastfeeding, was permanently hungry,” Nicholl writes.

News of the baby being a handful for the royal couple is nothing new. During an interview with CNN just weeks into fatherhood in August last year, Prince William called his newborn son ”a rascal”.

”He’s growing quite quickly, actually. But he’s a little fighter. He wriggles around quite a lot and he doesn’t want to go to sleep that much,” he said.

After Prince George began sleeping regularly earlier this year, Ms Webb, who was also Prince William’s nanny, reportedly told the couple she was unable to accompany the family on their tour to Australia and New Zealand. The Duchess then hired a new nanny who was recommended by a friend.

According to Vanity Fair, to ensure she was up to the task, prospective carer Maria Teresa Turrion Borallo ”spent a week bonding with George at Kate’s family home in March under the watchful eyes of the Middleton grandparents, while Will and Kate jetted off to the Maldives for a second honeymoon”.

Kensington Palace are yet to reveal if there are any plans to celebrate Prince George’s upcoming first birthday.

Prince William marked his special day back in 1983 by playing with his favourite blue plastic whale without his parents as Princess Diana and Prince Charles were touring Canada at the time.

Baby elephants captured, mistreated, to supply Thailand’s tourism industry

An elephant, purported to  have come from Myanmar, confiscated from the illegal trade in Thailand,. Photo: TRAFFIC Baby elephants are a tourist attraction in Thailand. Photo: TRAFFIC

A baby elephant caught in a pit trap in Myanmar. Photo: TRAFFIC

An elephant camp in Chiang Mai province, Thailand, that is home to seven illegally caught elephants. Photo: TRAFFIC

A wild baby elephant at a holding camp on the Thai/Myanmar border. Photo: TRAFFIC

Bangkok: Baby elephants are being illegally captured in horrific conditions to supply Thailand’s lucrative tourism industry, prompting calls for Thai authorities to tighten animal trafficking laws.

Before reaching tourist centres, juvenile elephants caught in neighbouring Myanmar are being subjected to torture rituals to “break” their spirit ahead of training to entertain tourists, according to a new report.

After being smuggled across the border into Thailand, young elephants are paired with surrogate mothers that are forced to accept them, according to the report by wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC.

“The female may refuse to accept the calf, or vice versa, requiring the animals to be tethered together using a rope or chain,” the report said.

Conservationists said that even as tourists clambered atop elephants at Thai camps or hotels, few of them had any understanding of the terrible journey the elephants may have taken to get there.

Poachers In Myanmar’s jungle use domesticated elephants to corral wild elephants into pit traps, the report said.

“Mothers and female minders are often extremely protective of wild infants they are guarding, making it difficult for the poachers to capture them,” it said. “Using automatic weapons, the protective members of the herd can be easily killed and the infants removed … the body parts from the slain individuals can then also be sold for profit.”

According to researchers, the rituals to break the young elephants include starvation, chaining and savage beatings.

A two-year investigation by TRAFFIC into Thailand’s live elephant trade provides details of between 79 and 81 illegally captured wild elephants that were sold in Thailand for up to $US30,000 between 2011 and 2013.

“The actual trade could be very well higher than this, especially considering the clandestine nature of the business,” the report said.

TRAFFIC said the capture of elephants in Myanmar and the number of animals slaughtered by poachers threatened the future survival of the country’s 4000 to 5000 Asian elephants.

The report says the poaching of wild elephants in both Myanmar and Thailand is almost exclusively due to the elephant tourism industry.

TRAFFIC identified 108 tourist camps, government elephant facilities and hotels in Thailand where there were 1565 elephants.

“There is strong argument to consider either developing robust systems that prevent poaching and illegal trade or phasing out elephant tourism in Thailand altogether as a mechanism for safeguarding the wild populations of an already endangered species,” the report said.

Thai authorities announced a clampdown against the illegal elephant trade in 2012 after environmentalist Edwin Wiek warned that baby elephants were being taken out of the jungle at any cost. A video sponsored by Mr Wiek’s Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand showing the mistreatment of elephants went viral on the internet.

But under a myriad of Thai laws and regulations, only female domesticated elephants are required to be registered with the government and then only when a calf turns eight. Owners are not asked to prove an animal was born in captivity.

“There are gaping holes in the current legislation which do little to deter unscrupulous operators passing off wild-caught young animals as being of captive origin and falsifying birth and ownership documentation,” said Joanna Cary-Elwes, campaign manager for Elephant Family UK, an organisation that sponsored the TRAFFIC investigation.

TRAFFIC recommends urgent reforms so wild and domesticated elephants are governed under one law and that authorities use microchips and DNA tests to register them.

The report said existing penalties were “woefully insufficient” to act as a deterrent to elephant traffickers.

There are estimated to be between 40,000 and 50,000 Asian elephants in 13 countries which the International Union for Conservation and Nature considers endangered.

Myanmar’s government acknowledged after the report’s release that elephants were being illegally traded across the border into Thailand, but said smugglers were well organised and that no arrests had been made.

Thai authorities have not yet responded publicly to the report.

25 killed as Israel prepares for ground assault

Jerusalem: Israel intensified its bombardment of Gaza, launching air and naval strikes up and down the besieged coastal strip that medical officials say killed 25 and wounded more than 140, while militants from Gaza fired a barrage of rockets at cities in Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Gaza’s hospitals were struggling to cope with the flow of seriously injured people, doctors said, with video footage showing Palestinians desperately digging through the rubble of collapsed apartment blocks searching for survivors as ambulance sirens wailed in the distance.

Israel vowed to continue its bombardment and on Tuesday the government of Benjamin Netanyahu approved the call-up of an extra 40,000 reservists in preparation for a possible ground assault.

The IDF said militants from Gaza launched a barrage of more than 100 rockets on Tuesday night, with one long-range missile reaching as far as 99 kilometres into Israel. Some were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile system, others landed in fields or unpopulated areas.

There were no reports of casualties although the attacks sent terrified Israelis running for bomb shelters, with air raid sirens sounding in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv late on Tuesday.

Israeli forces say they prevented an attack by armed Palestinians who crossed from Gaza into Israel, killing five militants in the incident.

The IDF says it had hit “dozens of terror sites across the Gaza Strip, including concealed rocket launchers, launching infrastructures, a weapon storage facility, training bases, terror tunnels’ shafts and further targets”.

But the pictures coming out of Gaza told another story – that of civilians, including at least eight children according to Defence of Children International, dying along with the militants.

“We are preparing for a battle against Hamas which will not end within a few days,” Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said.

It is the heaviest fighting between Israel’s powerful military and militants in Gaza since the eight-day war in November 2012 in which 167 Palestinians, including 87 civilians, and four Israelis were killed.

Tensions  escalated sharply last week after the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who had been kidnapped in the occupied West Bank were found, and a Palestinian teenager was abducted and burned to death in what police believe was a revenge attack.

Washington condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza, while the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned both the “indiscriminate fire into Israel by militant groups in the Gaza Strip” and the “growing number of civilian casualties, reportedly among them children, caused by Israeli retaliatory fire”. She called on Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza “to do their utmost to achieve an immediate ceasefire”.

Palestinian media reported that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and pledged to work on a ceasefire, although there are no signs that hostilities will end any time soon.

Israeli forces killed six children when a missile struck the home of alleged Hamas activist Odeh Ahmad Kaware in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, Defence of Children International reported.

The five families living in the building evacuated after an Israeli aerial drone fired a warning missile, however a number of neighbours gathered on the roof in an effort to prevent the bombing.

Despite their presence, an Israeli air strike levelled the building, killing seven people including the six children and injuring 28 others.

Others killed in the air raids included four Hamas members who died in Gaza City when their car was struck, including Mohammed Shaaban, a senior militant.

Mr Netanyahu said “Hamas bears full responsibility for any harm that comes to Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike”: “In recent days, Hamas terrorists have fired hundreds of rockets at Israel’s civilians. No other country lives under such a threat, and no country would accept such a threat.”

But some citizens in southern Israel begged their government to avoid further escalation, saying air strikes would only lead to more civilian deaths on both sides.

Julia Chaitin, who for 41 years has lived on Kibbutz Urim, 14 kilometres from the border with Gaza, described life as “insufferable and dangerous”.

“As a resident of the region, it is extremely important to me that people on both sides of the border will have peace and quiet and the real possibility to live lives of dignity without existential fear,” she wrote in a letter to the Israeli parliament this week.

Like many Israelis living close to the Gaza border, Ms Chaitan, who represents the Israeli non-governmental organisation Other Voice, hears both the Israeli air strikes on Gaza and the rockets fired on Israel from Gaza.

“It is all around me,” she said. “We have been trying to maintain contact with our friends in Gaza but it is difficult to keep communications going.”

On the other side of the border, Palestinians described the constant bombardment that shook buildings and shattered windows throughout Gaza – a 42-kilometre long strip that is under a sustained land, air and sea blockade from Israel that prevents most of Gaza’s 1.7 million population from leaving.

Egypt has also kept its border with Gaza closed for most of the last year, although it announced it would open the Rafah Crossing to allow Gazans critically injured in the Israeli attacks to reach medical help.

“There has been no respite, not even for one hour,” said Nasser, a student, speaking on the phone from his home in Gaza City. “They are hitting all over Gaza, there seems to be no area that’s been spared.”

“Shattered windows, terrified children, we are on the floor,” Dr Mona Qasim al-Farra said from her home near the Gaza Port.

“Right now it is Ramadan, the month of fasting, and an increasing number of families have difficulty to get basic food, survival is a constant fight. The military operation continues with threats of its expansion in the coming few days, and no news about any ceasefire.”

In a letter to the United Nations, Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour called on the UN Security Council to act against Israel’s bombardment.

“The intensification of Israel’s aggression against the 1.7 million Palestinians imprisoned in the Gaza Strip by Israel’s immoral blockade threatens to further destabilise the dangerous situation on the ground and fully ignite yet another round of deadly violence,” Dr Mansour wrote.

No tall order for Fremantle Dockers coach Ross Lyon

First year Fremantle player Michael Apeness has found himself fit and in the right place at the right time of the year.

The 199cm key forward made his AFL debut last weekend in the Dockers 63-point win over Melbourne in Darwin and it seems the Dockers may opt for him to assist captain Matthew Pavlich in attack.

Apeness appears to have jumped to the front of the queue by default – and will be given a chance to stay there.

Coach Ross Lyon was happy with his first-up efforts.

“I thought he was really good, really good. It was tough conditions,” he said of the 21-year-old.

“I thought he competed really strongly. It’s a bit of what we’re after. He’s an exciting young talent.

“Last week he was outnumbered a bit and brought it to ground and he brings (Hayden) Ballantyne and those guys into the game.

We’re not a super tall front half. Matthew (Pavlich) is 191-192cm, (Chris) Mayne is 188cm, (Zac) Carke is our tallest when he’s there at 200cm.

“So we could do with some more height.

“He’s a bit of a beast. He competes. So we’re looking for that in our front half.”

Lyon said he thought Apeness did enough against the Demons to earn his place in the side that will play GWS at Patersons Stadium on Sunday.

However, he warned that even some of the best tall forwards found it tough at the start of their careers.

“It’s not going to be a smooth ride for him the whole time. He’s got a lot to learn. It’s hard for young talls,” Lyon said.

“If you go back, I think Drew Petrie for his first few years averaged four touches or something, so it’s a tough business being a young tall forward.

“It’s never been tougher in the AFL being a power forward, particularly a young one.”

Matt Taberner, at 197cm, is one of the unlucky players. He was given an opportunity after kicking 16 goals in eight games in the WAFL this season – however with key defenders sidelined through injury he was forced to play in the backline for the round 15 victory over West Coast.

Unfortunately, he suffered a hamstring injury, which allowed Apeness into the side the following week.

“He’s a bit unlucky because he would’ve played if he hadn’t been injury really. He would’ve stayed in and just gone forward. He’s a bit unlucky,” Lyon said of Taberner.

At 197cm and with 35 AFL games under his belt, Scott Gumbleton was potentially the player to add that much-needed height into their forward line this season.

However, a hamstring injury in the pre-season saw the former Essendon forward sidelined for the first 11 rounds of the season.

He has played the past five games with Peel Thunder in the WAFL, but has yet to hit his straps and has returned 4.6 in that time.

Time may be running out for him to push for a place in Fremantle’s finals line-up.

Kepler Bradley is another option for Lyon if Apeness doesn’t rise to the occasion. Bradley, at 198cm, has played in the WAFL since round six, having recovered from a knee reconstruction.

He has kicked 87 goals in 117 AFL games after 10 seasons at the elite level, although he has been playing mainly as a key defender in the twos.

Opportunity may be the problem for those Dockers not currently in the side though.

With a second bye added to this season’s schedule (after round 18 for Fremantle), Lyon may not have to find games in the run home where he can rest players.

When the Dockers return from a week off after meeting St Kilda in Melbourne, they will have five home and away fixtures to finalise their preparation for the finals.

Lyon said that is one reason why he did not rest Pavlich for last week’s game against Melbourne.

The Dockers skipper flew to Darwin with the side but returned home to Perth before the game started after waking up feeling sick.

“Last year there was one bye and I think that is getting forgotten a little bit,” Lyon said.

“We’ve had a bye early in the year and a bye four weeks out… is ideal really for everyone.

“I suppose in the seat I sit in I don’t have the luxuries (of resting players); I would love to have seen the headlines had I rested Pav. That would be a nice headline for me, wouldn’t it?

“I tend to pick the best team available, you know.”

That team to meet GWS on Sunday is likely to include All-Australian defender Michael Johnson, who will return after four weeks on the sidelines.

Fremantle was without Johnson and Luke McPharlin for three of their past four games, McPharlin having returned last weekend.

Lyon said it was important to get him back on the ground as soon as he was available.

“He hasn’t played for I think this will be his fifth week,” Lyon said. “You don’t want to miss too much of league footy – it’s a brutal competition.

“He’s obviously a valued leader around the place and a real general down there and a pretty good player, so we’re keen to get him up and going.”