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February 2019

How much would you expect to pay for a Snowy 2.0?

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From Professor Judith Sloan writing in The Australian today:

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is stretching the truth when he calls Snowy 2.0 fair dinkum power.

Surely pumping water up hill to then be released to generate electricity, with a net loss of energy of at least 20 per cent, is more fairy story than fair dinkum?

But evidently it’s OK because taxpayers, whether willing or not, will have to invest only $1.4 billion into the project with the rest “self-funded’’ by the Snowy corporation itself. Let’s be clear about this: we either pay for this through taxes or through electricity prices.And bear in mind the final cost of the project remains extremely uncertain. It was going to cost $2bn and then it was $4bn. Or was that $4.5bn?

We are not sure whether this includes the cost of the additional transmission infrastructure required. We could easily add another $2bn.

Don’t forget the federal government had to buy out NSW and Victoria because there could be no guarantee those state governments would be as keen on this fairy story (sorry, fair dinkum project) as the Coalition.

Let’s be clear about the economics of this project: it rests on very high and variable wholesale electricity prices. Water can be pumped up the hill when prices are low and released when prices are high. That might be a good deal for the corporation, but it’s not a good deal for consumers.


The endorsement no conservative wants to see.

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Lawyer Greg Craven on the media (ABC/Fairfax), Victoria Police and Cardinal Pell

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The main institutions involved here are the media and the police. The media must report cases fairly, abide by the letter and spirit of the law, and not barrack for either side. The police present evidence impartially, working for justice, not conviction. Media and police never combine to form a pro-conviction cheer squad.

This is where the Pell case has gone terribly wrong. Impartial judge and jury accepted, parts of the media — notably the ABC and former Fairfax journalists — have spent years attempting to ensure Pell is the most odious figure in Australia. They seemed to want him in the dock as an ogre, not a defendant.

Worse, elements of Victoria Police, including Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton, co-operated in this. Ashton’s repeated announcements of impending charges and references to “victims” rather than “alleged victims” were matched only by the coincidences in timing between police pronouncements and favoured media exclusives.

The result was that when the trial judge imposed a blanket media order against reporting the trials themselves, it was like a ban on reporting that Vladimir Putin is a rather nasty chap. The damage had already been done in a conscious, timely and thorough way.

Victorian suppression orders being what they are — Victorian — the case was being reported increasingly freely overseas. Foreign reports were all over social media, freely available in Australia. The trial was being “protected” less by a suppression than by a diversion order.

But the most significant challenge to the court’s attempts for due process was ABC journalist Louise Milligan’s book, Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, which was rushed into publication last May by Melbourne University Press, apparently to get it on the streets before any trial and suppression order could commence.

Of course, when the suppression order was made, MUP withdrew the book from sale in Victoria. But it remained available in other states, and on the internet.

So what we have witnessed is a combined effort by much of the media, including the public broadcaster, and elements of Victoria’s law enforcement agency, to blacken the name of someone before he went to trial. And remember, Victoria’s prosecutorial authorities never determined to proceed. They returned the police brief three times, before the police forced the case to go forward.

This reputational blackening works in two ways. First, at the most human level, is there any Australian who does not now associate the word “Pell” with “child abuse”? Second, is there any public official in Australia who does not understand that any action, no matter how appropriate, that might tend towards Pell’s acquittal, will meet swift, public retribution?

This is not a story about whether a jury got it right or wrong, or about whether justice is seen to prevail. It’s a story about whether a jury was ever given a fair chance to make a decision, and whether our justice system can be heard above a media mob.

New York Post opinion piece on the Pell conviction (under appeal)

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No one with a sense of justice can fail to be outraged when, in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a jury in Maycomb, Ala., bows to social pressure and convicts an innocent man of a crime he couldn’t have committed.

Something similar took place last month in real-world Melbourne, Australia, where Cardinal George Pell was falsely and perversely convicted on charges of “historic sexual abuse” dating to the 1990s.

The facts of the case have been hard to come by, owing to a media gag order issued by the trial judge. A journalistic feeding frenzy has long surrounded Pell, the former Catholic archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney and later the Vatican’s chief ­financial officer.

The trial judge was rightly concerned that opening the proceedings would make it impossible for Pell to get a fair trial on charges he forcefully denies. That order has left Australians largely in the dark. But certain facts are known, and others can be reasonably inferred.

The cardinal’s first trial ended in a hung jury, with 10 of 12 jurors in favor of acquittal.

In the retrial, the defense again demonstrated that it was physically impossible for the alleged abuse of two choirboys (one now deceased) to have occurred, given the layout and security ­arrangements of Melbourne’s Catholic cathedral and the fact that the choir and Pell were in two different places when the abuse was alleged to have occurred.

Pell, moreover, was always surrounded by others at the cathedral that day in 1996. Why the Melbourne police never took the trouble to investigate these exculpatory facts is one of several mysteries in this sordid ­affair.

The retrial jury took days to reach a verdict, during which the jurors asked the trial judge for ­instructions on how evidence should be considered. That an overwhelming vote for acquittal at the first trial was then flipped to a unanimous verdict for conviction invites the inference that the jury chose to ignore evidence that the alleged crimes couldn’t have happened.

Legal authorities can debate some of the curiosities of the criminal justice system in Melbourne. Why, for example, can’t a defendant request a bench trial by a judge alone, when a prejudicial public atmosphere makes the ­selection of an impartial jury virtually impossible?

How can a crime alleged to have been committed 22 years ago be prosecuted without any corroborating evidence that it occurred?

How can charges be brought when the public authorities could have easily determined that the ­alleged abuse couldn’t have happened, because the victims and the alleged perpetrator were never in close proximity, much less by themselves without witnesses?

Any judgment on the Pell verdict must also take full account of the atmosphere in which the cardinal’s case was heard. Anti-Catholicism has been a staple of Australia’s culture for decades. Local media long misrepresented Pell, a Church ­reformer, as a power-hungry ecclesiastical politician, and that caricature made him a convenient scapegoat for the grave crimes of other priests and bishops.

Yet as archbishop of Melbourne, Pell set up Australia’s first process for investigating and compensating claims of clerical sexual abuse. And as archbishop of Sydney, he applied strict protocols to himself, stepping aside until previous spurious abuse charges against him were thoroughly investigated — and dismissed — by a former Australian supreme court justice.

For partisans of various sorts, however, none of George Pell’s ­effective work in cleansing the Church of the horror of sexual abuse counted.

Aggressive secularists couldn’t forgive him for his robust Catholicism. Most Catholic progressives couldn’t abide his orthodoxy. Some of Pell’s enemies had the ­integrity to dismiss the charges against him as ludicrous, and a few said afterward that his conviction was a travesty. But the foul ­atmosphere in Melbourne was reminiscent of rural Alabama in the 1930s.

One other facet of this miscarriage of justice deserves investigation by enterprising reporters. Pell was brought to Rome by Pope Francis to clean up Vatican ­finance, a Herculean task in which he was making progress. Then, just as he was getting down to the ­really serious corruption, which involves hundreds of millions of euros and the shadow worlds of global ­finance, these abuse charges were laid, and Pell had to return to Australia to defend himself.

Was that timing sheer accident? Rome-based supporters of Pell’s ­reforming efforts with whom I’ve spoken think not. Just as in Harper Lee’s Maycomb, something is rotten in this business. And it isn’t the character of Cardinal George Pell.

George Weigel, John Paul II’s ­biographer, holds the William ­Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Pell charges dropped today as prosecutor's case collapses

You'd be aware that earlier this year Cardinal Pell was convicted on historical charges alleging he'd molested two boys.  That case is subject to an appeal.

Today further charges against the Cardinal were dropped for want of evidence.

Here is a statement from the surviving witness in the earlier case which Australian media were ordered not to report on - until today.

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That case can't be considered as final until the appeal has been heard.

Here is The Australian's report on the dropping of charges today.

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George Pell’s trial on charges that he sexually assaulted two boys at a Ballarat swimming pool in the late 1970s has collapsed after prosecutors dropped their case.

It was alleged Pell molested the boys while playing with them and throwing them in visits to Ballarat’s Eureka swimming pool in the late 1970s.

But Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions today dropped the charges after a judge, in an earlier hearing, disallowed tendency and coincidence evidence from other complainants.

The removal of the “swimming pool” charges means suppression orders on Cardinal Pell’s recent conviction for abusing two boys at St Patrick’s Cathedral have been lifted.

The allegations of sexual assault by Pell around water were the first to be raised publicly and attracted a number of alleged victims.

One of the alleged victims however died before committal, and charges related to him were dropped.

Charges relating to another complainant were thrown out in the Magistrates Court after the committal hearing.

A charge relating to another alleged victim was withdrawn during pre-trial argument in the County Court and prosecutor Fran Dalziel sought to proceed with two charges of indecent assault relating to two complainants.

Ms Dalziel asked Chief Judge Peter Kidd to allow for tendency or coincidence evidence to link the two complaints with a third man who also made a complaint against Pell but lacked the evidence to substantiate a criminal charge.

Judge Kidd rejected the application for tendency and coincidence evidence at a hearing in February.

EXTRACT ENDS - There's more at The Australian