Thursday, March 21, 2013

Green light for farmers to clear land under vegetation management laws

QUEENSLAND farmers will again be able to clear their own land as they see fit under changes to vegetation management laws being introduced to State Parliament today.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney and Natural Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps travelled to Hughenden in the state's north-west to announce the changes designed to boost food production and deliver jobs.

They visited sheep and cattle farm Dunluce where owners Ninian and Anne Stewart-Moore have been unable to expand their dam under existing laws.

Mr Cripps said landholders would have to present a business case to support their application for land clearing.

"I stress that these reforms are not a signal that the Newman Government is relaxing environmental standards and do not give the green light for landholders to carry out indiscriminate clearing," said Mr Cripps.

A group of local farmers and councillors immediately welcomed the changes as a much needed easing of "unnecessary restrictions".

"It's an injection into agriculture that's definitely needed," said Mr Stewart-Moore.

"We hope to see a balance between some sensible clearing of trees to make way for some development."

"We're not talking about broad scale clearing of massive amounts of hectares, we're just talking about being able to use the best landforms to do the development that is potentially available to us."

Irrigator Corbett Tritton said the changes would "lift the cloud" under which farmers had been living for the past 10 years.

"We're not living with a cloud over us, feeling like criminals any more," said Mr Tritton.

"What the Minister's told us today is really going to stimulate the bush. "Everybody's so frightened to do anything in the bush you can't move without having to fill out forms and people coming to tell you what you can and can't do."

Mr Seeney said the government would also make changes to the over-policing of the vegetation management act that had occurred under Labor.

"The infringement provisions within the Vegetation Management Act have gone way out of kilter with everything else that it could be reasonably compared with," he said.

"We will be using this opportunity to amend the act and normalise those happenings and bring them in line with infringements in other acts."


Sir Lunchalot was corrupt

Sir Lunchalot (Ian Macdonald)

FORMER minister Ian Macdonald granted a mining lease to his union mates despite senior members of his own department urging him to reconsider, ICAC heard yesterday.

The corruption watchdog is investigating the reasons Mr Macdonald granted the "hot property" Doyle's Creek mining lease to ex-union boss John Maitland and a group of investors with no competitive tender in 2008.Alan Coutts, the former deputy director-general of the primary industries department, said he never considered the training mine to be "a particularly good idea". Another described it as a "thought bubble" and a "very poorly detailed proposal".

ICAC heard the former national president of the CFMEU turned the $165,000 Doyle's Creek investment into a $15 million windfall.

The inquiry heard Mr Macdonald's justification was the site could be a training mine, a decision that went against department and industry advice.

"I saw (the training mine idea) as being a bit of a stalking horse to get access to a major coal resource in the Hunter Valley," Mr Coutts told ICAC.

"Your concern was that the real reason for a direct allocation to Mr Maitland or his associates would be because of who he was?" Peter Braham SC, counsel assisting the inquiry, asked.

"Correct - I think there wasn't a reason to give a direct allocation to Mr Maitland. I just couldn't see any reason why you would do that," Mr Coutts said. "The only reason you'd allocate it to John Maitland was because of who he was and Maitland was a very senior and influential past figure of the union movement and known to be reasonably close to the minister."

Mr Coutts said he was contacted by one of Mr Macdonald's staff after the department disagreed with the proposal. "It was suggested that the submission wasn't along the lines that the minister was hoping for and could we have another look at it," he said.

A previous ICAC hearing was told Mr Coutts was removed from his senior post after questioning the Bylong Valley mining lease.


Australian carbon tax contributes to record number of businesses insolvencies

As U.S. lawmakers debate imposing a tax on carbon dioxide emissions, evidence is emerging that Australia’s carbon tax has hit businesses hard.

News Limited Network reported the country’s carbon tax was contributing to a record number of firms facing insolvency. Data from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission showed that a record 10,632 businesses faced insolvency for the 12 months to December 31 2012 — up from 10,481 for 2011.

Australia’s largest manufacturing firms asked the central government to scrap the nation’s carbon tax as it disadvantages local companies that are attempting to compete on a global market.

Critics argue that the carbon tax is putting Australian businesses at a disadvantage and will lead to job losses.

“In the absence of similar schemes by major trading partners, Australia’s carbon tax places tremendous pressure on Australian manufacturers and inevitably leads to job losses and business closures,” said the group Manufacturing Australia.

Origin Energy managing director Grant King said that the carbon tax as well as other green programs made up as much as 30 percent of small and medium sized businesses’ electric bills.

“No wonder (companies) are saying it is hurting us,” said King.

Australia has been taxing carbon emissions since July 1 of last year at a rate of $23AUD per ton. The system will become a full-blown cap-and-trade scheme in three years and will be integrated with the European cap-and-trade system.

Australia’s tourism industry has also been impacted by carbon pricing. A study commissioned by Tourism Accommodation Australia says the carbon tax will add $115 million in costs to hotels and motels.

“The additional costs imposed on hotels from the carbon tax are coming straight off the bottom line,” said Rodger Powell, TAA managing director.

However, the Australian government defended the carbon tax, saying that the effects on businesses and consumers would be modest.

“The Federal Government has always been up front that there would be a modest impact on the accommodation industry, such as small electricity price increases flowing through the economy under carbon pricing,” said a spokesman for Australian Climate Change Minister Greg Combet.

Minister Combet also said that the government was “acutely conscious of the pressures on parts of Australian manufacturing which are due to the high value of the dollar and intense competition on world markets.”


A crooked Customs & Excise service

The shock arrest of four customs officers since late last year for alleged collaboration with a crime ring importing illicit drugs through Sydney Airport would have come as no surprise to senior members of the Customs and Border Protection Service.

Files released to Fairfax Media under freedom-of-information laws logging more than 700 allegations of staff wrongdoing between 2007-08 and 2009-10 are saturated with references to bribery, corruption and suspected associations with crime figures or motorcycle gangs. It is, as one file note says, a "systemic issue".

Last month, in evidence before a Senate committee, customs chief executive Mike Pezzullo warned senators that the worst was not over and that more officers would be arrested in the months ahead.

He admitted that internal investigators had been severely under-resourced for years, with only a handful of internal affairs officers to monitor thousands of staff until mid-2007.

The investigation summaries reveal repeated references to officers under suspicion for links with crime syndicates or bikie gangs - the latter referred to as OMCGs or Outlaw Motor Cycle Gangs.

In one case, the files allege an officer helped import monkeys, snakes and lizards "allegedly being handed from … [the] Customs and Border Protection officer to OMCG members in the car park of Sydney international airport".

Another was "allegedly assisting an Italian organised crime syndicate" while a third was suspected of tapping into computer systems and passing on intelligence to drug traffickers and Asian crime syndicates.

While this man had resigned by 2009 before formal action could be taken, the files warn "concerns still exist into what his activities were prior to his resignation and what threat he still poses to the border".

Numerous entries reveal concerns that customs officers are aiding key figures in the black-market tobacco trade.

In 2009, an informer wanted money to unmask five customs officers allegedly working with illegal tobacco importers. The file notes a government agency would "run" the mole as an informant but all further details are suppressed.

An officer suspected of assisting tobacco scams comes to attention in NSW for "a transhipment entry for a container later found to contain approximate (sic) 6 million sticks of counterfeit cigarettes". Audit data suggests she "accessed a suspect container some days before it was selected for an X-ray examination".

Reports of bribery or attempted bribery were another constant headache for investigators. In 2008, one officer was offered $80,000 for help with importing "precursors", the raw ingredients from which illegal drugs sold on the street are made.

Another was caught allegedly asking a bank teller how to deposit a large sum of cash without the money being reported. Several amounts of $9900 went into his account - each deposit just shy of the $10,000 threshold for mandatory reporting of financial transactions.


No comments: