Thursday, June 30, 2011

Government regulation puts childcare centres out of business

CHILDCARE operators have begun to sell off their businesses to avoid a barrage of new fines and regulations that are expected to force fees up by an average $13 per child per day, more than 20 times what the government had predicted.

Kerry Lada, who ran the Hardy's Road Early Childhood Centre at Mudgeeraba on the Gold Coast for 12 years, sold up two weeks ago. "It was too hard, I was going to have to increase fees by at least $13 a day," she said.

Under national reforms to start on January 1 childcare centres will have to decrease the ratio of babies to carers from various state-mandated levels to four to one.

The full cost will not be felt until 2016, when centres will have to be hiring one staff member for every five children aged 25 to 35 months, and one carer for every 11 children aged three to school age.

Ms Lada said her 55-place centre would have had to drop eight childcare places or hire two extra staff next year as a result of the new regulations.

Nerida Campbell, who trained as a teacher and has two young children, runs a centre in Katanning, Western Australia. She said she could not find the extra qualified staff she needed to meet the regulations in a rural area and her fees would have to rise by $10 a day next year. "In the next six months we'll be thinking about selling," Ms Campbell said.

Staff who had worked in childcare for years were also considering resigning ahead of new regulations that will make staff and centres subject to fines if they did not meet new standards, Ms Lada said.

Childcare Minister Kate Ellis insists independent modelling from Access Economics shows the reforms will have a minimal cost impact of just 57c per child a day in 2012 and $8.67 in 2014-15. But a new survey of 414 private and community-based childcare centres shows operators will raise their fees by an average of $13 a day after the new regulations are introduced.

One in five of those surveyed was contemplating rises of $25 a day.

The survey found 70 per cent of proprietors were not fully aware of their responsibilities under the new laws and 64 per cent said they would have to cut the number of places they offered.


The pay debacle at Qld. Health continues

A star example of bungling bureaucracy

QUEENSLAND Health is under fire for botching calculations of wage overpayments amid claims at least one bill was sent to a deceased employee. Health workers caught in the long-running payroll debacle yesterday detailed a litany of problems with the troubled department's attempts to recover overpaid wages.

One retired nurse, who did not wish to be named, was issued with a bill for 1c - well below the supposed $200 waiver and dwarfed by the $66,000 Queensland Health spent posting glossy repayment brochures to staff.

Some said they did not even work on dates the alleged overpayments occurred. Others believed they were slugged for debts they had already fully or partly repaid.

For Gold Coast Hospital nurse Susan Dale, a letter claiming she owed almost $7000 in overpayments has added "insult to injury". The 50-year-old was last year awarded compensation for psychological injury after being bullied by management but is still waiting for about $1600 of her subsequent payout.

In a further blow, each of the alleged overpayments occurred weeks after she stopped working for QH last April. "All that stuff that I've already gone through with them, it's just like it's never going to go away," she said. "I shouldn't be owing them anything, they should be paying me."

Ms Dale is on stress leave but said she "won't go back" to Queensland Health. "Why would you go back to a company that treats you so bad and then does something like this on top of it all," she said.

Mudgeeraba MP Ros Bates said the latest bungle was "just another assault on nurses". "There seems to be no end in sight; the Government seems to have no idea," Ms Bates said.

Health workers were incensed by QH human resources deputy director-general John Cairns's assertions on Tuesday that the overpayments were accurate as the payroll system had now "stabilised".

A Brisbane payroll worker yesterday told The Courier-Mail that was "totally incorrect". She said she knew at least one letter was sent to an employee who had passed away, while another staffer had paid all but $2 on an $800 debt but received a letter asking her to repay the full amount. "It's horrible for us . . . we've seen what people have gone through, we're just starting to get the trust back and then they go and do this," she said.

Mr Cairns yesterday defended the process, saying figures quoted in letters included only repayments made before May 15 and staff could tick a box to show more had subsequently been repaid.

He said test runs were done to check accuracy and 10 per cent of the 38,000 letters were also manually checked before being sent to staff, with no errors detected. He said an overpayment reconciliation process was done fortnightly during the year and overpayments were "explicitly stated" on all payslips.



Four current articles below

Attempts to silence Monckton

A CONTROVERSIAL climate change sceptic who likened chief climate adviser Ross Garnaut to a Nazi will deliver his Perth lecture tonight despite fierce opposition by academics.

Lord Christopher Monckton is in Perth to deliver the Lang Hancock Lecture at Fremantle’s Notre Dame University with a speech titled The Climate of Freedom. The lecture is sponsored by Australia’s richest woman and Mr Hancock’s daughter, Gina Rinehart.

Lord Monckton is also addressing the Association of Mining and Exploration annual conference at Burswood this morning.

He is also booked to deliver a lecture at the University of WA on Monday at the Wilsmore Lecture Theatre.

The British aristocrat’s views have divided the science community and more than 50 Australian academics have signed a letter calling on Notre Dame to cancel the lecture. The letter was organised by University of Western Australia political science postgraduate student Natalie Latter, who is studying climate ethics.

Ms Latter said the letter started as a “modest gesture” but she now had 56 signatures. “I just wanted to express my disappointment with the university and I sent it around to some colleagues and realized there was a lot of anger out there,” she said.

“Monckton has consistently undermined the work of lots of scientists. He’s misrepresented their work, misquoted their work, basically has no respect for the scientific or academic process, and so for a university to then be endorsing him is quite a betrayal of the academic community. “He undermines and abuses the values of academic integrity and I think it's important for us to defend that.”

Curtin University sustainability professor Peter Newman labelled the upcoming lecture “disgraceful” and said Lord Monckton had no credibility. “It’s not offensive to have differing points of view, its offensive for a university to put him on as though he were a scientist, as though he’s representing the kind of thing that universities stand for which is that you do try to find the truth in things rather than just opinion,” he told 6PR.

“He’s never published anything in a refereed journal. “To have a university say this is a distinguished person who is representing a point of view that needs to be heard, this is not right. “It gives credibility to a point of view that is purely representing a reaction to change, it’s not actually looking at evidence.”

Notre Dame defend Monckton booking

Notre Dame business school dean Chris Doepel said the university was happy to host Lord Monckton because it wished to provide a forum where "rigorous discussion of contentious public issues can take place".

He told ABC Radio that the university acknowledged that Lord Monckton's views on climate change were widely contested and he expected a vigorous question time at the end of his speech. "The university does not take a view one way or the other on the positions advocated by Christopher Monckton," Professor Doepel said.

Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt said he would be attending the lecture. “This will be a controversial lecture and I will be there to challenge him on the facts,” Mr Pettitt wrote on his blog. “While Lord Monckton has the right to his own opinion, he does not have the right to his own facts.”

'We did not invite Monckton' - UWA vice chancellor

The University of WA has also distanced itself from the controversial speaker, and vice-chancellor Professor Alan Robson has said an event booked for Monday at the campus with Lord Monckton in no way reflected the views or values of the University.

Prof Robson said UWA had not invited Lord Monckton to speak at the University, he had simply booked the venue for a lecture. “I reject the position put by Lord Monckton and find his anti-science stance and related comments offensive,” Prof Robson said. “His views denigrate the values of universities, such as ours, where the quality of evidence-based and peer-reviewed science is paramount.

“However, in any one year, hundreds of non-university activities are booked by groups or individuals who are looking to hire a venue for their events. “This is a service the University provides to the community and in no way does it mean that any of these events are endorsed by the University.”


Academic study demolishes the coral reef scare stories

The reefs have been going to hell in a handbasket for years -- according to the Greenies
Disturbance and the Dynamics of Coral Cover on the Great Barrier Reef (1995–2009)

By Kate Osborne et al.


Coral reef ecosystems worldwide are under pressure from chronic and acute stressors that threaten their continued existence. Most obvious among changes to reefs is loss of hard coral cover, but a precise multi-scale estimate of coral cover dynamics for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is currently lacking.

Monitoring data collected annually from fixed sites at 47 reefs across 1300 km of the GBR indicate that overall regional coral cover was stable (averaging 29% and ranging from 23% to 33% cover across years) with no net decline between 1995 and 2009.

Subregional trends (10–100 km) in hard coral were diverse with some being very dynamic and others changing little. Coral cover increased in six subregions and decreased in seven subregions. Persistent decline of corals occurred in one subregion for hard coral and Acroporidae and in four subregions in non-Acroporidae families. Change in Acroporidae accounted for 68% of change in hard coral.

Crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) outbreaks and storm damage were responsible for more coral loss during this period than either bleaching or disease despite two mass bleaching events and an increase in the incidence of coral disease. While the limited data for the GBR prior to the 1980's suggests that coral cover was higher than in our survey, we found no evidence of consistent, system-wide decline in coral cover since 1995. Instead, fluctuations in coral cover at subregional scales (10–100 km), driven mostly by changes in fast-growing Acroporidae, occurred as a result of localized disturbance events and subsequent recovery.

PLoS One. 2011; 6(3): e17516.

Greenie leader's economic xenophobia will cost us dearly

FOR a man who so warmly embraces every foreigner seeking asylum in Australia, Bob Brown is strangely xenophobic when it comes to foreigners who want to lend us money or invest here.

Yesterday, at the National Press Club, Brown did his best to stoke up anger against investors from "Switzerland, London, Calcutta, Beijing" and foreigners who, according to a study commissioned by the Greens and released yesterday, own 83 per cent of Australian mining companies. It was not a pretty sight.

Economic debate in Australia will take a turn for the worse once the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate. Brown may have good intentions but he is economically illiterate. That illiteracy is likely to cost ordinary Australians dearly; many will lose their jobs and their standard of living is likely to fall. It is surprising given their well-developed economic policies that the Greens have managed to avoid careful scrutiny of their party platform. Their industry policy should worry many Australians.

The Greens have long run a campaign against the mining industry and particularly the coal industry. In fact their stated party policy is no new coalmines and no expansion of existing mines. They fully intend to close down the Australian coal industry. Sooner rather than later.

Brown makes two arguments in defence of this policy. First, that renewables would replace coal. Second, that the Australian mining industry is largely foreign owned. Presumably that means the Australian government can destroy foreign investments with impunity.

Economic illiterates make several mistakes in their analysis. Because of his anti-foreign bias, Brown overlooks the benefits of interaction with foreigners. Unfortunately, he is not alone in exhibiting "capital xenophobia".

Australia has long had to borrow money from the rest of the world to finance our economic prosperity. The local economy has grown and foreign investors got their money back. This arrangement has benefited everybody; Australian savings are simply too small to finance our economic growth and standard of living. Foreigners invest in those economies with good prospects and low levels of sovereign risk.

Australia has a good reputation as an investment destination. But Brown is placing that hard-earned reputation at risk. Suggestions by a major political party, in a formal partnership with government and holding the balance of power in the Senate, that foreign investment can be taxed with impunity, or even shut down, raises perceptions of sovereign risk. What's worse, he is not alone. The ill-fated resource super-profits tax also raised serious concerns about sovereign risk.

Remarkably, Brown admits that Australia gets "jobs, export income, royalties and company tax" from mining. But that is not enough; he wants it all. He seems to object to foreigners, in return for their loans and investments, getting "profits, dividends, [and] capital appreciation". There is also a bit of double counting going on; dividends and capital appreciation amount to profits. Or perhaps Brown doesn't know that.

Brown is worried that foreign investors will earn $265 billion from their Australian investments over the next five years and, of that, $50bn will leave the country and $205bn will be reinvested.

Putting those figures into context, the Australian Taxation Office reports for the 2008-09 financial year that the mining industry paid $13.3bn in corporate tax. Of that amount coalmining paid nearly $3.6bn. So the industry paid more in tax in one year than the $10bn Brown suspects will leave the country in dividends each year.

What Brown imagines is that all that money going to foreigners could be diverted into a Norwegian-style sovereign wealth fund. It's not clear what he thinks will happen to the jobs and export income once foreign investment has been withdrawn because it no longer earns any profits, but Brown imagines that Australia could then be like Norway. However, unlike the Norwegian government, the Australian government does not hold large ownership stakes in the minerals industry. So the establishment of a minerals sovereign fund would not mean the diversion of existing government revenue into a fund but rather higher levels of taxation, discouraging work, saving and investment. After all, why do these things if the government is just going to tax away your money?

Economic illiterates believe that with some tweaking the world can be made a better place. In Brown's case the existence of a carbon tax and the demise of the coal industry would make the world a much better place. Yet he has given little thought to how that world would be powered. It's all very well talking about "renewables", but which renewables and how much would they cost?

As the Productivity Commission recently flagged, renewables are expensive; wind power costs $150-$214 a megawatt hour, solar costs $400-$473 a megawatt hour. By contrast, coal-fired electricity costs less than $100 a megawatt hour.

A coal-free Australia would be a lot more expensive, with lower standards of living.

Brown quoted the UN statistic that for every year of delay on climate change $1 trillion of costs will be incurred. What he hasn't explained is how undermining the Australian economy would reduce that cost and why Australians should bear that cost when the UN hasn't managed to convince its members to act in concert on climate change.

The biggest problem Brown faces is that you can't intervene in the economy on the scale he desires without a massive reduction in our economic wellbeing. The problem Australia faces is that Brown doesn't understand that point.


Sydney council's Greenie policies are sending businesses away from the CBD

CLOVER Moore's crazy council policies has big businesses fleeing the Sydney CBD. As they poach billions of investment dollars from the City of Sydney, western suburbs councils are urging business to forget the "weird leadership" and move on.

Parramatta won more than 21 business headquarters in the past five years and is now home to the Commonwealth Bank, Deloitte, Suncorp, Sydney Water, QBE, Westpac, St George Bank, NSW Police, the RTA and the Attorney-General's Department.

Further west, the Blacktown Council area drew Sony, Sharp, Aldi, Asics, LG Electronics, Coca-Cola, Arnotts, Myer and Fujitsu. And 800 national and global groups, including Woolworths, Price-WaterhouseCoopers and IBM, have fled for The Hills.

"Forget about the CBD and move to The Sydney Hills. Forget about the weird leadership. Forget about the extreme agendas. Come to where your council looks after your interests," Hills Mayor Mike Thomas said yesterday.

Owner of CBD lingerie store Arianne, Douglas Reedy, pays thousands of dollars in rent but cannot vote for the council as a business. He said Ms Moore's council was "killing" Sydney with controversial policies such as the bike lanes. "The little people are going broke everywhere over the (CBD). She's disrupting traffic and trying to get people out of the city," Mr Reedy said. He said this year was a "shocker" for revenue - the worst in 25 years: "She's just driving money out. All the developers have left."

Urban Taskforce CEO Aaron Gadiel blasted the council for driving business to despair with red tape, preventing development, and failing to represent all the community. "People want to invest in other places to save themselves the difficulty in dealing with the City of Sydney."

Parramatta Economic Development Forum CEO Christopher Brown said business realised the encumbrance of working in the CBD. "Parramatta is a willing player. It's not only laying out the welcome mat, it's knocking on people's doors," Mr Brown said. "Gone are the days if you didn't have your office in Martin Place it wasn't a real office."

Meriton managing director Harry Triguboff said Sydney's councils had a reputation for stalling projects. "Sydney is notorious for being hopeless, the planners do not want development, the aldermen do not want development, the politicians do not want development," he said.


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