The New South Wales Minister for Local Government, Don Page, has hit out at the expected cost increases that the state’s councils will face after the Federal Government’s Carbon Tax comes into force in July.
Mr Page said the Federal Government has not factored into account the ‘significant impact of the tax on the local government sector.’
Mr Page released the following estimates:
- Dubbo City Council, which has estimated that its power bill alone will increase by $500,000;
- Tamworth Regional Council, which will see its electricity costs increase by $300,000;
- Camden Council, which is budgeting for Carbon Tax costs of $155,000;
- Wagga Wagga City Council, which has already put aside $660,000 to pay for the tax; and
- Shellharbour City Council, which estimates that it could pay up to $800,000 per annum or $15,000,000 over the life of their local tip.
“As Minister, I believe it is appalling that an already struggling sector like local government will have no direct compensation for the huge costs it will face due to the imposition of the Carbon Tax,” Mr Page said.
“Councils have been left confused and uninformed, leaving councils to play a guessing game as to how much the tax will cost them.”
Mr Page’s comments come after it emerged that two local councils in NSW, Shellharbor and Wagga Wagga, will be featured on the country’s top 500 polluters and will have to pay the $23 per tonne of carbon.
The Western Australian Government has announced it will wind back a recent decision on decreasing penalty interest rates to support families.
The move to increase the rates was initially proposed to support families by reducing penalty rates on late payments, but the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) successfully argued that the move would be counter-intuitive and would result in increased costs for the average ratepayer.
The move would have seen the penalty interest charged by Local Government on late rates payments from 11 per cent down to seven per cent.
“While the move was well intentioned, WALGA demonstrated to the Minister that it would actually have the opposite effect to helping families,” WALGA President Mayor Troy Pickard said.
“WALGA estimated it would have created a $6 million shortfall which would have had to be recovered through rates increases which would actually result in most ratepayers having to pay more.”
The Queensland Government has formed an expert panel to review the Cross River Rail Project with an aim to ensure the next major investment in rail is “affordable and meets the future needs of South-East Queensland.”
State Transport and Main Roads Minister Scott Emerson said the panel would help deliver a ‘realistic solution’ for the region’s needs.
The expert panel will consist of:
- Mike Scanlan, Specialist Rail Advisor with more than 35 years in rail transport
- Scott Lennon, Partner of PWC Economics and Policy Group
- Barry Broe, Co-ordinator General
The panel will deliver a report on 13 June 2012 that will properly analyse and confirm the problems facing the rail system, consider the options available, assess the business case already prepared for the project and provide recommendations for consideration by the State Government.
“This project has already cost $40 million, half of that contributed by the Federal Government to develop a business case and determine feasibility,” Mr Emerson said.
The Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings has released the Government’s blueprint for energy reform, announcing that power retailing will be privatised, but the wholesale electricity market will be kept in public hands, despite a recommendation by the Expert Panel that it be open to competition.
Under the reforms, the customer base of the state-owned electricity retailer Aurora Energy will be sold off in two or three tranches to mainland power retailers.
The Government has also decided to simplify the structure of Tasmania’s energy businesses, reducing the number from three to two which, it says, will save at least $8 million annually.
Aurora’s Distribution Business and Transend Networks will be combined into one State-owned business responsible for the transmission and distribution of electricity.
Ownership of the Tamar Valley Power Station will be transferred from Aurora to Hydro Tasmania.
The Government will also consider selling the power station if it does not compromise the State’s energy security and is more valuable under private ownership. A final decision will be made by June 30 next year.
Ms Giddings said Government was “steering a responsible and well considered course through the issues facing the electricity supply industry and is also determined to ease pressure on power customers”.
“The Expert Panel concluded after its 18-month review that major reform was needed, Government agrees and now we can act.”
Ms Giddings said following consideration of the Panel’s work the Government would immediately move to limit the effect of steep power price rises expected in July.
“Reducing the wholesale price on electricity together with the Government’s ongoing commitment to index energy concessions will provide relief across the board, particularly for Tasmanians on low and fixed incomes.
“The fact is that instead of facing power price rises as high as 26 per cent on July 1 Tasmanians will now have the second lowest increases of anywhere in Australia.
Ms Giddings said the Government has accepted most of the Panel’s findings but has addressed key issues that will deliver improved outcomes for Tasmanians in a lower cost, and less risky and complex way.
“The Government will achieve this without privatising or breaking up Hydro Tasmania and by retaining ownership of our network of poles and wires.
“This will ensure our power generation and distribution remains in public hands and continues to provide significant value to Tasmanians who have invested in these assets over generations.
Ms Giddings said the introduction of a price on carbon from July 1 would also mean Tasmania will begin to realise the true value of its renewable energy reflected in the price Hydro Tasmania receives in the national market for its energy.
“Future returns from Hydro Tasmania are forecast to be strong, as a result of both its business model and the Federal Government’s carbon pricing policy, and this will allow the State Government to spend more money on priority areas like health, education and police,” Ms Giddings said.
Mr Green said strict and independent regulation of prices that can be charged by Hydro Tasmania, and a decision to sell Aurora’s retail customer base would enable competition to be introduced for all Tasmanian households and small businesses by a target date of January 1, 2014.
“The Government agrees with the Panel’s conclusion that to facilitate competition there must first be reform of the energy sector.
The Panel concluded that “Simply removing Aurora Energy’s monopoly over supply to non-contestable customers will not deliver competitive retail outcomes, because such a policy would lack the foundation of a competitive wholesale market in which new retail entrants could source contracts. The likely outcome would be piecemeal and unsustainable retail entry that would provide only small benefits to consumers while undermining the value of Aurora Energy’s retail business.
In short, gains for customers would not be widespread and any such gains would probably be short-lived, while Tasmanian taxpayers, as the ultimate owners of Aurora Energy, would lose value.
Deputy Premier Bryan Green said the Expert Panel found there was a compelling case for the sale of Aurora’s customer base to further facilitate competition and choice for consumers.
“At the same time, it is extremely important to the Government to provide certainty as quickly as possible to all employees likely to be affected. We are determined to minimise any job losses.
“We are looking to maximise opportunities for Aurora’s retail personnel and assets, including the call centre and customer care and billing services, in the Momentum business.
The new WA Office of Bushfire Risk Management (OBRM) is now operating to independently assess the risks of prescribed burns undertaken by the Department of Environment and Conservation, following the release of the Keelty report into the Margaret River bushfires.
Emergency Services Minister Troy Buswell said the new office reported directly to Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) CEO Wayne Gregson.
“Once fully-established, the OBRM will assess the risks of all prescribed burns, as well as the level of resources available should such burns flare out of control,” Mr Buswell said.
“This office reports directly to the FESA CEO to ensure the prescribed burning process is independently scrutinised before ignition of the burn, and has the authority to direct a burn to be delayed or even cancelled if it deems the risks to be too great.”
The Minister said prescribed burning had an important role to play in protecting local communities and important economic, social, ecological and heritage assets from bushfire, but had to be carefully managed.
“The Government is committed to achieving the benefits of prescribed burning while ensuring it is conducted in such a way that the associated risk is understood and is as low as is reasonably practicable,” he said.
“Once fully-established, the OBRM will ensure that the future approach to bushfire risk mitigation programs and decision making is consistent with international risk management practice.
“In line with the Keelty recommendations, it will also facilitate greater information sharing and co-ordination between agencies involved in prescribed burning and management of bushfire-related risk generally.”
The interim director of the OBRM is Mark Webb, who will return to his role as CEO of the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority once a permanent appointment is made in the coming months.
Appreciating the Risk - The Report of the Special Inquiry Into the November 2011 Margaret River Bushfire is available here.
The Western Australian Government’s submission to the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission’s State Wage Case has recommended the State minimum wage be increased in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
WA Commerce Minister Simon O’Brien said the Government recognised the importance of ensuring the incomes of workers who were dependent on minimum wages or award rates kept pace with the cost of living.
“It’s also important in the current economic conditions that we support the viability and competitiveness of our small businesses,” Mr O’Brien said.
“An inflation-based adjustment represents a balanced and sustainable outcome for employers and maintains the standard of living of workers in this State.”
A copy of the WA Government’s submission will soon be available on the Department of Commerce’s Labour Relations website: http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/LabourRelations
In 2011 the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission granted a $19.90 per week increase to the State minimum and award pay rates. This resulted in the current minimum wage of $607.10 per week, or $15.98 per hour.
The South Australian Government has signed an agreement with the Centre for Automotive Safety Research (CASR) to extend funding for its road safety research for another five years.
Minister for Road Safety Jennifer Rankine said the funding - more than $1 million each year until 2017 - demonstrates the State Government’s ongoing commitment to road safety in South Australia.
CASR’s research has been the catalyst for successful road safety initiatives, including the implementation in 2006 of the default 50 km/h urban speed limit, which is credited with preventing five fatalities each year.
CASR Director Professor Mary Lydon said the State Government’s ongoing support and confidence was vital in order to build on the expert knowledge and ongoing research that is being undertaken at the centre.
CASR was formally established by the South Australian Government in 2002, and has since been invited to collaborate with international organisations from France, Japan, Malaysia and the United States.
CASR is also the only research organisation in Australia that attends the scenes of road crashes, in order to collect data. The group has 20 staff members and seven postgraduate research students. CASR is also home to a new purpose-built Vehicle Safety Laboratory – the only facility of its kind in Australia.
The Laboratory is the official testing facility for pedestrian impact testing, a major part of the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) crash testing process.
Upcoming projects include monitoring young driver travel patters, evaluating the effects of the Graduated Licensing Scheme and monitoring the implementation of the South Australian Road Safety Strategy 2020.
For more information about CASR visit www.casr.adelaide.edu.au
The Productivity Commission (PC) has published a report examining the impact of the reforms implemented by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
The Commission’s role was to assess the economic impacts of the reforms and, where practicable, examine whether the reforms potential were being met and opportunities properly explored.
For the first report in the series, the Assistant Treasurer has directed the Commission to focus on the impacts and benefits of two reform areas:
- aspects of the 'seamless national economy' deregulation priorities
- the vocational education and training (VET) reforms and initiatives that support young people make successful transitions from school to further education, training and employment.
The report concluded that COAG reforms in the VET area include the potential to:
- Increase GDP by a total of 1.95 per cent
- Boost productivity by 0.35 per cent
- Increase completions by 1.29 million over the period 2010-2020
- Increase the gross payments to individuals over their working life by more than $108 billion.
The Productivity Commission report identified the following reforms were needed, which align with the Commonwealth’s reform agenda announced by the Prime Minister ahead of COAG last month:
- Better quality through regulation – the Commonwealth established the Australian Standards Quality Authority to ensure nationally consistent regulation of VET providers;
- Greater transparency for users – the Government is developing the My Skills website, to be launched later this year;
- Better information available for students – the Commonwealth’s Unique Student Identifier will allow students to build a online skills passport that tracks their training history;
- Increased completions - The Commonwealth has set completion targets in the agreement with the States to tackle low completion rates in the VET sector.
The Commission’s report can be found here
Australia has once again featured in the top 10 highest polluting countries after the WWF released its 2012 Living Planet Report, showing that Australia’s carbon emissions are the top contributors to securing the dubious honour.
The biennial report, which measures the impact of human demands on nature, found that humans are using 50 per cent more resources than the Earth can provide for, and that we will need two planets by 2030 if the current rate of consumption continues unabated.
The WWF has urged Australia to stay the course with its current legislative progress in implementing a tax before rolling out a full emissions trading scheme in 2015.
"Australia has some of the world's best renewable energy resources and know-how to be able to significantly reduce our carbon footprint. The Carbon Price and Renewable Energy Target are key mechanisms that together will drive the shift from coal to renewables,” said WWF Australia’s Climate Change Manager Kellie Caught.
“Just like the industrial revolution brought benefits to society, the carbon price will drive a new clean revolution that will have health and economic benefits but critically give our precious environment a fighting chance.”
Topping the list of the most polluting countries was Qatar, followed by Kuwait, the UAE and, surprisingly, Denmark.
The full report can be found here
The South Australian Government has released a draft roadmap aimed at maximizing the potential of the state’s unconventional gas resources in an environmentally sustainable way.
The roadmap, believed to be the first of its kind in Australia, will lay out crucial information for the sector’s stakeholders.
“It’s about starting a conversation about the benefits of unconventional gas to South Australia and we encourage all stakeholders including APPEA members to be engaged in that discussion,” State Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy Tom Koutsantonis said.
“Even in its infancy the unconventional gas sector has the potential to deliver hundreds of millions, if not billions of investment dollars to this State and provide a new lease of life to the Cooper Basin.”
“The aim of the road map is to not only inform South Australians but also set a course for the environmentally sustainable development of this State’s large endowment of unconventional gas.”
The draft establishes the factors that will be taken into account in considering the approval of unconventional gas projects in considering compatibility with existing natural, social and economic environments.
The draft Road Map is open for public comment until 5pm Friday 27th July 2012, so that people and enterprises can influence the final form of the document.
For downloads of the draft road map and online lodgement of submissions go to: www.petroleum.dmitre.sa.gov.au/environment/register/comment
Federal Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Bernie Ripoll, has announced the appointment of Belinda Gibson and Ian Purchas as Members of the Financial Reporting Council (FRC).
Ms Gibson’s appointment will last until May next year, while Mr Purchas will be appointed for a three year term.
Ms Gibson was nominated by ASIC, of which she is the Deputy Chairman. Her responsibilities at ASIC include the supervision of corporations (and consequently their financial reporting practices), as well as the financial reporting and audit and insolvency practitioner teams within ASIC.
Mr Purchas was nominated by the Institute of Public Accountants. He is a Principal at RMG Partners Business Solutions, a Sydney-based insolvency and accounting practice, and is a Registered Liquidator and an Official Liquidator of the Supreme Court of NSW and Federal Court of Australia. He has practised in the insolvency profession for in excess of 26 years, including over 10 years' experience in a Principal/Senior Manager position in a specialist insolvency practice and 10 years' experience in a senior role at Coopers and Lybrand.
Mr Ripoll welcomed Ms Gibson and Mr Purchas to the FRC. "On behalf of the Government, I am very pleased to appoint them as Members. I am sure they will bring significant financial experience to the Council".
The Victorian Government has appointed three members to the Sustainability Victoria (SV) Board. The new members are Mr Ron Lovett and Mr Tony Hinton. An existing member, Ms Suzanne Evans, has been reappointed to the board.
"Now that the SV review has been considered and a new strategy developed that reshapes the organisation's focus, the new SV board will be working to deliver on this new vision for greater resource efficiency across Victoria," said board Chair, Dr Gillian Sparkes.
"With several board positions lapsing in April this year, it was important to ensure appointments to these positions could achieve a balance between board continuity and renewal."
The three appointed members replace outgoing members Ms Carolyn Lloyd, Dr Tony Marxsen, Ms Tanya Ha and Dr Nicholas Gruen. Dr Sparkes, Mr Mike Hill, Mr Ross McCann and Ms Cheryl Batagol will continue as board members until July 2014.
The Sustainability Victoria Board is: Dr Gillian Sparkes, Chair (PhD, MBA, GAICD) ; Mike Hill, Deputy Chair; Cheryl Batagol, Chair of the Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and is a member of the Victorian Catchment Management Council; Suzanne Evans; Ross McCann, Executive Chairman of Qenos and President of the Plastics and Chemicals Industry Association; Ron Lovett, Executive Manager - Business Strategy and Management of Abigroup; and Tony Hinton, consultant in economic policy and public policy issues.
The Federal Government has announced future contracts for the Disability Employment Services-Employment Support Service, which will run for the next five years.
Minister for Employment Participation Kate Ellis said the spending will allow for an unprecedented level of support in helping people with disabilities find work.
“All Australians have a right to the dignity and self respect that employment brings and without access to paid employment, people with a disability risk life on the margins of our community,” Ms Ellis said.
The announcement comes after the Australian Government released the Disability Employment Services Star Ratings – which reveal the services that are performing well and those that need to improve.
These March quarter Star Ratings will be used as a basis to determine, which service providers will be required to re-bid for their existing business later this year.
Services performing at the 4 and 5 star level will not be required to re-tender but will be given the opportunity to expand and assist more job seekers in new areas.
The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and the Industry and Disability Employment Australia welcomed the announcements.
“The additional two years will allow DES providers to develop and maintain supportive relationships with employers and most importantly with the over 75,000 people with enduring disability in the program,” Lynette May of Disability Employment Australia said.
View the performance ratings at www.jobsearch.gov.au/provider
Construction of Tasmania’s largest ever irrigation project is ready to start in the state’s Midlands region after the Federal and State governments gave final approvals for the $104 million Midlands Water Scheme.
Major design and construction contracts have been awarded and work will begin next month, creating 130 direct jobs during the two years it will take to build the scheme.
Federal Minister for Water Tony Burke said the project will significantly boost food production and employment throughout the region.
“Once complete, this scheme will provide a strong foundation for Tasmania’s growing food processing sector. Based on experiences elsewhere around Tasmania it is expected to create up to 300 on farm jobs over time,” Mr Burke said.
The Midlands Water Scheme takes water from Arthurs Lake before distributing it to farms within an irrigable area of 55,680 hectares.
Water from Arthurs Lake will be taken by 34km of mostly buried high pressure pipeline down the Western Tiers to a new mini-hydroelectric plant and small holding dam west of Tunbridge. From there a network of 103km of mostly buried pipelines and sections of waterways will get the water to farmers for productive agricultural use.
The Federal Government will contribute $55 million to the project, while the private sector has contributed $37 million and $12 million from the State Government.
Major contracts were awarded to Tasmanian companies Hazell Bros Group and Zest Pty Ltd with Australian-based contractor, Fulton Hogan Construction Pty Ltd the other successful tenderer.
Treasurer Mike Baird today announced the NSW Government has successfully refinanced the Sydney Desalination Plant for $2.3 billion, a result which is well above the book value.
The proceeds will be used to repay the debt held against the asset, with net proceeds of more than $300 million to be invested in the NSW Government’s infrastructure fund – Restart NSW.
Mr Baird said the NSW Government has accepted a binding offer to refinance the desalination plant from a consortium including the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, Hastings managed infrastructure funds Utilities Trust of Australia and The Infrastructure Fund.
“The selection of the consortium for the long term lease of the Sydney Desalination Plant is a great outcome for the people of NSW,” said Mr Baird.
As part of the transaction, Sydney Water has entered into a 50 year water supply agreement with SDP. Prices in this agreement are regulated by IPART.
The Australian Public Service Commission has released its snAPShot summary of employment for the calendar year to December 31, 2011.
The report shows that at 31 December there were 167,721 staff in the APS. This total comprised:
- 153,881 ongoing staff (up by 1.7% from 151,380 in December 2010)
- 13,840 non-ongoing staff (up by 13.4% from 12,205 in December 2010)
- 12,713 ongoing employees were engaged to the APS
- 10,155 ongoing employees separated from the APS
The snAPShot summary is available here.
The NSW parliamentary inquiry into workers compensation, undertaken by a Joint Select Committee established on May 2, is underway.
The Committee, chaired by Robert Borsak of the Shooters and Fishers Party, will inquire into and report on:
- the performance of the Scheme in the key objectives of promoting better health outcomes and return to work outcomes for injured workers,
- the financial sustainability of the Scheme and its impact on the New South Wales economy, current and future jobs in New South Wales and the State’s competitiveness, and
- the functions and operations of the WorkCover Authority.
The Committee will also examine the WorkCover NSW Actuarial valuation of outstanding claims liability for the NSW Workers Compensation Nominal Insurer as at 31 December 2011, and the External peer review of outstanding claims liabilities of the Nominal Insurer as at 31 December 2011.
Submissions have been called for and the Committee will be holding public hearings on Monday 21st and Friday 25th May 2012.
More information is here.
Engineers Australia has called for urgent action to help counter the ‘unbalancing effect’ of the dramatic expansion of the resources sector within Western Australia.
The group has warned that the continuing boom within the sector is destabalising the state’s economy, threatening its long-term viability.
Engineers Australia has published a report calling for a more inclusive and strategic approach, including fostering a long-term approach to innovation, developing a State-wide engineering capability plan to counter skills shortage and attracting more engineers from other States and overseas.
The report makes 14 key reccommendations as part of the group’s strategic vision to meet the State’s engineering workforce needs in 2020.
The report argues that, given the importance of engineering to the State, more must be done to ensure that the resources boom doesn’t compromise the engineering requirements of other sectors, such as that is already being experienced within the local government sector.
“While efforts are underway to graduate more engineers, WA will not produce sufficient numbers to meet the level of demand in the foreseeable future,” says Chris Fitzhardinge, a former president of the WA Division of Engineers Australia and a contributor to the report.
“The consequence of the shortages, coupled with the high Australian dollar and other factors, are causing increased costs for locally supplied engineering goods and services, loss of work to overseas countries and the postponement of projects due to a lack of economic viability”
The full report can be found here (PDF)
The Federal Government has appointed Dr Justin Lee as the country’s new Ambassador for Climate Change, after outgoing ambassador Louise Hand departs the role to take up her new appointment as High Commissioner to Canada.
Dr Lee will act as the country’s lead negotiator within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, having recently completed his appointment as High Commissioner to Bangladesh, as well as having served in a number of foreign affairs positions.
"I look forward to working with Dr Lee in steering Australia's efforts towards the realisation of a global solution to the grim reality of climate change,” Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Bob Carr said.
Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet, also welcomed Dr Lee’s placement.
"Dr Lee will be at the helm of Australia's ongoing negotiations to support a robust, binding new global agreement to provide a significant outcome for global carbon markets over the short, medium and long term,” Mr Combet said.
"I am confident Dr Lee will excel in this challenging role, securing outcomes that will help efforts to tackle climate change and help establish Australia as a key player in a new global clean energy economy."
Senator Carr thanked Ms Hand for her service in the role, which she occupied since 2009.
"As Ambassador for Climate Change, High Commissioner Hand was integral to Australia's contribution to international negotiations, including the Durban outcome,' he said.
The Climate Commission has published a NSW specific section of its Critical Decade report, detailing the expected impacts of climate change on the state.
The report found that the state is becoming hotter and drier, with record breaking hot days having doubled since 1960, and the number of days above 30 degrees almost doubling.
The report also found that while wet periods are expected, the norm will trend towards declining rainfall, jeopardizing Sydney’s water security.
The trend towards hot and dry weather has also made the state substantially more bushfire prone, with very high fire danger days becoming more frequent.
The report found that coastal infrastructure in NSW is vulnerable to flooding from the anticipated 1.1 metre rise in sea levels by the end of the century, with between 40,000-60,000 houses, 1200 commercial buildings and a 250 kilometre stretch of highway at risk of inundation.
The Climate Commission has continued to strongly argue for the decarbonisation of the country’s economy, finding that the longer the country depends on fossil fuels the more costly it will be.
The Commission concluded that the state is well-placed to capitalise on the global trend towards clean energy, with the sector attracting $263 billion worth of investment in 2011, representing one of the fastest growing sectors in the world.
The full report can be found here (PDF)
Mr Greg Bourne has been appointed acting chair of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency board (ARENA).
ARENA commences on 1 July 2012 as a key component of the Australian Government’s Clean Energy Future package, consolidating $3.2 billion in funding for renewable energy innovation.
The Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson AM MP has also appointed Dr Brian Spalding to the ARENA board, in addition to the ex-officio appointment of Mr Drew Clarke, Secretary of the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (RET).
“ARENA’s independent board will have a mix of skills in renewable energy technology, business investment, commercialisation and corporate governance,” Minister Ferguson said.
“Mr Bourne and Dr Spalding’s experience and drive will ensure ARENA gets off to a good start and maintains momentum in Australia’s renewable energy sector.”
Mr Bourne brings to the board an extensive background in renewable energy development and project commercialisation, including as a former director of Carnegie Wave Energy and chief executive officer of the World Wildlife Fund Australia from 2004 to 2010.
Dr Spalding is a current Australian Energy Market Commissioner with more than 30 years’ experience in power system operations, as well as providing continuity from the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy board.