Thursday, March 22, 2012

More Greenie waste

FROM the centre of Byron Bay, a 2.5m-wide, uneven asphalt bike path stretches 750m to the west.

This is what $370,000 - half of it federal government money - and 56 workers gets you in this green-leaning coastal hamlet in northern NSW.

The Australian National Audit Office has fingered the project to illustrate its major concerns about the number of jobs created under a nationwide $40 million regional bike path scheme, conceived in the wake of the financial crisis.

The audit office blamed sloppy or non-existent government analysis for a wide gap between the number of jobs it was claimed would be created and the actual figures. In its application for funding, Byron Shire Council initially stated the bike path would create two short-term jobs and two work experience positions. Despite the small number of extra jobs forecast, the federal government contributed $185,000.

The final report prepared by the council on completion of the path claimed 56 short-term jobs had been created "on a part-time employment basis".

But, on further examination, that number was found to include 30 existing council employees, rather than reflecting a real increase in job creation.

The audit of the bike path stimulus program - which delivered only half of its projects on time - found the federal government failed to make a series of crucial checks, such as whether value for money would be delivered, before assigning tens of millions of dollars under the scheme.

Wayne Swan yesterday tried to play down suggestions of waste under the bike paths program, stating it was an "expenditure of $40m . . . in a $1.4 trillion economy".

"We had the most successful stimulus of just about any developed economy in the world," the Treasurer said. "This country avoided recession because of the measures that we put in place."

The bike path stimulus scheme was announced in April 2009 as part of the federal government's $650m Jobs Fund investment scheme, which accompanied other stimulus measures of the time, such as the $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution program.

The audit office is concerned the government failed to assess the functionality of the paths, the usage the paths were expected to generate and the "proposed dimensions accorded with accepted standards for such facilities".

The bike path component to the stimulus package - and a separate $60m scheme aimed at heritage projects across the country - was included by Labor to satisfy deals the federal government had made with the Greens regarding the stimulus programs.

Under the program a total of 167 bike path projects have been delivered, with those projects distributed across each state and territory.

Byron Shire Council's executive manager of community infrastructure, Phil Holloway, said yesterday that the council's reporting had been "flawed". He said that, in measuring the success of the project, "it would have been better to list the number of full-time-equivalent jobs over the construction period".

Opposition Senate leader Eric Abetz likened the waste under the bike path scheme to the waste that emerged under the BER, and the pink batts insulation debacle.


Routine Leftist corruption

SENIOR Labor Ministers including Jenny Macklin, Anthony Albanese and Tanya Plibersek have been caught out signing off on millions of dollars worth of grants for their electorates without reporting them.

Eight Labor ministers approved grants of $8 million in 2009 and 2010 without reporting them to the Finance Minister as required by strict rules.

The revelation yesterday followed a drawn-out dispute over whether the details should remain secret.

It comes after Labor has been highly critical of former Howard government ministers who used grants to secure support in their electorates but avoided scrutiny.

The Rudd government introduced rules to improve transparency in the area but an audit this year revealed not enough had been done.

Auditor-general Ian McPhee revealed that in the 18 months between January 2009 and June 2010, there were 33 instances of MPs awarding grants in their own electorates without submitting documentation to the Finance Minister.

In the same period, there were 11 cases of ministers approving grants the departmental agency had recommended be rejected.

Bill Shorten, now the Financial Services Minister, signed off on a $16,900 grant for the Muscular Dystrophy Association of WA despite the application being received late and not being recommended for funding.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard insisted Labor was more transparent than the Coalition had been under Howard.

"We have seen a considerable improvement from the free-for-all we saw under the Howard government," she said in Question Time.

The auditor-general found in January that in most cases, grants complied with the rules.

But Tony Burke, Peter Garrett, Kate Ellis, Robert McClelland and former parliamentary secretary Laurie Ferguson were named in the document as having approved grants in their own electorates without reporting them to the Finance Minister.

Mr Albanese, now the Infrastructure Minister, failed to report grants worth $3.1 million to councils in his electorate in 2009 but defended himself in Question Time, saying the program gave money to every council.

Ms Macklin did not report her approval of 10 grants, mostly for emergency relief, within her electorate. They totalled $343,349.

Mr McClelland, at the time the attorney-general, failed to report four approvals for natural disaster mitigation grants totalling $141,000.


Australian electricity price high, and rising

With Greenie levies in them and Greenie obstruction of new generation capacity, it's no surprise

AUSTRALIANS pay 130 per cent more for electricity than Canadians, according to new research - a power premium to rise to 250 per cent once the carbon tax and locked-in price increases take effect.

The research, which will be made public today, claims household charges are already 70 per cent higher than the American average, a figure that will grow to 160 per cent in two years. Japanese, British, French, Irish and New Zealanders all pay less than we do.

The research forms the basis of a report to the Energy Users Association of Australia - which represents 100 big power users including BHP, RailCorp, Coles, the Commonwealth Bank and Brisbane City Council - and argues the way power prices are set must be urgently reformed.

The EUAA will also use the research to claim it exposes as a myth that Australian electricity is relatively cheap.

Energy Minister Martin Ferguson recently said Australians pay less than the OECD average, relying on a document called Energy In Australia 2012, which his department's Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE) published three weeks ago. The document uses electricity prices from 2009-10.

"That data is old," EUAA executive director Roman Domanski told The Daily Telegraph last night. In 2010-11 alone the national price rose by 16 per cent; the NSW jump was 23 per cent. The numbers used to compile the document Mr Ferguson relied on put the NSW average at 18.55c/kWh. But in the real world, households are paying regulated rates as high as 28c/kWh.

The average NSW household's annual cost for electricity would fall from $1700 to less than $700 if our prices were the same as in Canada.

Mr Domanski said: "Add in the carbon tax from July, further network price increases and renewable energy subsidies and inevitably our prices are pushed to the point where they are challenging Denmark and Germany as the most expensive in the world." The report to the EUAA, produced by Carbon Market Economics, found Australian power prices had risen about 40 per cent since 2007 and would rise by another 30 per cent over the next two years.

It found that, even using 2007 currency exchange rates, Australian households still paid more than those in Japan, US, Canada and the average of the EU. Carbon Market Economics' comparison of prices in 92 jurisdictions - including more than 35 countries, American states and all Australian states and territories - found NSW ranked fourth behind Denmark, Germany and South Australia. Victoria was fifth and Western Australia was sixth. The ACT was 21st.

In explaining why BREE used figures dating back to 2009, energy manager Allison Ball said Australian Energy Market Commission data wasn't available until late 2011 and global 2011 statistics from the International Energy Agency were still not available.

However, The Telegraph understands Carbon Market Economics used 2011 IEA figures published before Mr Ferguson claimed Australian prices were below the OECD average.

Melrose Park mother-of-two Leanne Imbro said her family's last bill had jumped to about $700. She said she has been reassessing her children's extra-curricular activities.


Victorian Government gives power to school principals

PRINCIPALS are being given greater power to run their own schools under measures to remove red tape.

Education Minister Martin Dixon has announced a series of measures he claims will cut bureaucratic interference and provide more support for schools that are struggling, in line with the recent Gonski review.

The State Government's reforms include handing responsibility for teacher professional development back to principals, as well as funding leadership arrangements.

Principals will also be in charge of the purse strings for services such as speech therapy, psychological services and behaviour therapy.

Mr Dixon said onerous reporting requirements would be abolished to free up principals' time, while new roles would be created to monitor underperforming schools and intervene where required.


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