Sunday, January 19, 2014

Coalition set for clean sweep as year of elections begins

Lara Giddings' announcement of a Tasmanian state election for March 15 sets up the first quarter of 2014 as something of an election fiesta for Australia.

You may have sighed a sigh of huge relief when the clock ticked over on New Year's Eve, putting 2013 and all its electioneering firmly in the “last year” bin.

But 2014 is the new 2013 when it comes to elections.  The new year begins with a byelection in Kevin Rudd's old seat of Griffith on February 8.

They're already off and racing there. Today alone, we had Labor leader Bill Shorten campaigning in the seat, outrage over a Bill Glasson volunteer blocking a disabled spot and the Bullet Train Party posting spoof Kevin videos online.

Along with Griffith and Tasmania, South Australians will also vote in a state election on March 15.

And with the High Court currently considering what to do about the dud WA Senate result, there is a sporting chance there will be yet another vote out West in time for the new Senate to bump in on July 1.

On paper, the tide is coming in for the Coalition across the country.  Giddings and SA Labor Premier Jay Weatherill will have to fight hard and cross their toes to hang on to government.

Giddings on Thursday described herself as the proverbial underdog – and for good reason. The most recent EMRS opinion poll showed the ALP with just 22 per cent backing, compared to the Greens' 19 per cent, and the Liberals' 49 per cent.

In South Australia, Weatherill weathered a frosty Newspoll just before Christmas that had Labor at 33 per cent and the Liberal Party at 40 per cent.

So come the next COAG meeting in April, Prime Minister Tony Abbott could be blissfully facing Coalition governments all around the table, with the exception of Katy Gallagher's Labor government in the ACT.

(Although the full set of states may not last for long, with a one-seat margin in Victoria and a state election set for November 29.)

And yet, things aren't all cupcakes and rainbows for the Coalition in Canberra.

The week began with yet another opinion poll putting Shorten's Labor convincingly in front. Roy Morgan had Labor at 52.5 per cent two-party-preferred, compared to the Coalition's 47.5 per cent.

It would appear that the only honeymoon period Tony Abbott has had was with Margie in 1988.

No wonder Giddings was quick to frame her pitch to voters this afternoon around her opposition to Tony Abbott.

“We have an enemy before us called Tony Abbott, and the Liberal Coalition Government nationally, that is taking away reforms that we fought so hard for,” she said, nominating the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the National Broadband Network, health and education as key areas of concern.

Politicians are always at pains to stress that “the only poll that matters is election day”.

Lucky, then, that we have at least three such days coming soon


Businesses eye Holden factory

A number of international automotive manufacturers have expressed interest in Holden’s Adelaide factory following its closure in 2017, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill has revealed.

Premier Weatherill revealed the news just before Christmas, following a meeting by key industry leaders to identify job-creation projects to absorb some of the 1600 job losses at the Elizabeth plant in Adelaide’s north.

“We're receiving unsolicited propositions from a range of companies and others that we've gone out and pursued ourselves. We're obviously working through them,” said Weatherill.

“It is sensible to consider other options and it's not just car manufacturers.

“There's also armoured vehicle manufacturers and other whole sectors that have completely different industry opportunities, for instance in the food industry.

“All of those things are on the table and they're being given consideration, too.”

Weatherill said an official response would be made this year and the SA government would also consider targeted support, including regulatory and financial assistance, to accelerate the expansion of existing companies.

The SA premier said he believed "tens of thousands" of jobs could be created to help counter the losses at Holden and its independent component suppliers.

The federal government announced a $100 million ‘transition’ package on December 11, including $60 million from the commonwealth and $12 million from the Victorian government, and called on the SA government to add $8 million.

Weatherill said his state government was prepared to put forward $50 million for the cause and challenged the federal government to increase support to $375 million.


Tenants feel heat after Housing NSW crackdown on pools

This seems excessive.  Safety should be the only concern.  Stuff "permission"

Housing NSW has demanded public housing tenants remove backyard swimming pools within 48 hours, after accessing the government's new swimming pool register to launch the crackdown on families.

Kim Sinclair has five children and five grandchildren using her above-ground pool to cool off in Sadleir, near Liverpool, when the mercury climbs in summer. The pool is fenced, has been at the property for six years and is well known to housing inspectors, she said.

But, after registering the pool online at a NSW government website to comply with new safety laws, she received a letter from Housing NSW declaring the pool was unauthorised.

"You must remove the structure within 48 hours of receipt of this letter," it said.

Ms Sinclair knows of other families who have received the letters despite their pools, some in-ground, being at the property for up to 20 years. An in-ground pool can cost $6000 to $10,000 to remove.

Housing NSW says public tenants are not allowed to install any pool, including inflatable and portable pools, unless they receive authorisation from the department on medical grounds.

Ms Sinclair's youngest children, aged 12 and 14, have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and another has asthma.

"I have a doctor's certificate saying the kids need the pool," she said.

The opposition has criticised the policy and the removal blitz.

Liverpool's Labor MP, Paul Lynch, said Community Services Minister Pru Goward was denying western Sydney families who lived far from the beach and could not afford frequent trips to the local pool the chance to swim.

"It's as if Housing NSW tenants have to be treated as though they're 'the undeserving poor'," Mr Lynch said. "In Minister Goward's view, it's a crime not to be rich and therefore you have to suffer through a Liverpool summer without a pool."

A Department of Family and Community Services spokesman denied Housing NSW had used the NSW government's pools register to initiate the crackdown.

Housing NSW used information obtained during regular property assessments to identify if properties complied with recent changes to the Swimming Pools Act, he said.

"Only unauthorised and potentially unsafe pools have been requested to be removed," the spokesman said. "This information was cross-checked against the pools register."

Tenants who had not sought permission to install the pool were asked to remove it, he said.

"Only a small percentage of public housing residents have installed swimming pools," he said. "Data is not yet available on the number of pools removed as many of the tenants voluntarily removed them without necessarily notifying Housing NSW."

Ms Sinclair has since been told a council inspector needs to approve her pool before Housing NSW will give permission for it to remain on medical grounds.


Cost no barrier for some as unis lose students to Oxford and Harvard

The number of Australians heading to the world's most prestigious universities such as Harvard and Oxford for their undergraduate degree is swelling, as students are lured by reputation and rich scholarly traditions.

But a leading education expert says the immense costs, up to $90,000 a year, will remain a barrier for all but a privileged minority or those with scholarships.

While 55,000 students received offers this week to study at NSW universities, many others were preparing for a year abroad.

Kim Zhang, who graduated from Pymble Ladies' College last year, will soon join an impressive list of Australians to have studied at Oxford University, including Tony Abbott and three other Prime Ministers.

The 18-year-old, who received an ATAR of 99.95, will travel to the oldest university in the English-speaking world to study the classics.

"It's one of the best places in the world for classical literature and philosophy and history," she said.

Australia is Oxford's fifth-largest source of international talent, with more than 300 Australians currently enrolled, of which less than a quarter are undergraduates.

In the US, two-thirds of the Australians studying at university are undergraduates or on exchange programs, figures from the Institute of International Education show.

Between 2012 and last year, more than 4000 Australian students were studying at American universities.

And, while there are more than 3000 institutions, Australians are well represented at the eight elite Ivy League universities in the US, with Harvard University the equal second most popular place for undergraduates to study and Princeton University equal sixth.

The most recent enrolment data from Columbia University in New York shows there were 116 Australian students in 2012, almost double the number in 2006.

Last year, the University of California, Berkeley had 65 Australians enrolled, Princeton had 30 undergraduates and 21 graduates and Yale had 42 students, including 15 undergraduates.

US consulate general public affairs officer David McGuire said the Ivy League universities were "highly selective".

Acceptance rates are as low as 5.69 per cent at Stanford University and 5.79 per cent at Harvard. In Britain, only 12 undergraduate Australians were accepted to study at Cambridge University in 2012 out of almost 100 applicants.

As well as competitiveness, Grattan Institute higher education program director Andrew Norton said cost would be a barrier for most students without scholarships.

"You'd expect some growth but I think the cost and social implications of studying overseas are still going to keep most people here," he said.

It is estimated Harvard costs an international student $73,000 a year. Cambridge ranges from $55,000 to more than $90,000.

By comparison, studying law at the University of Sydney while living at one of the prestigious on-campus colleges would cost about $30,000 without a government loan.

Jane McNeill, director of Hays recruitment in NSW, said a degree from a top university did not carry the advantage it once did.

"Today many employers value candidates with experience as well as a degree," she said. "The biggest advantage of a degree from a prestigious university is probably the alumni network and the connection you make with fellow students."


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