Friday, February 28, 2014

Paid parental leave: NSW Senator John Williams says Abbott's scheme is too costly

Abbott's aim is to get mothers back into the home but is this the best way to do it?  A drastic decrease in the cost of housing (which is very high in Australia) would have a similar effect.  Such a reduction could be achieved by sending home all  unassimilated immigrants (essentially welfare-dependant ones).  That would free up (say) 100,000 dwellings -- and the law of supply and demand would do the rest

A Government senator says the economy is too weak to support Prime Minister Tony Abbott's $5.5 billion paid parental leave scheme.

It follows earlier reports today that the Commission of Audit has warned the policy is too expensive.

New South Wales Senator John Williams has told the ABC he wants to personally raise his concerns with the Prime Minister before stating publicly whether or not he will cross the floor.

The Australian Financial Review is reporting the Commission of Audit's first report, which the Government received nearly a fortnight ago, says the scheme is too costly and cannot be afforded with the budget in deficit.

The ABC has been unable to verify the report and a spokeswoman for Treasurer Joe Hockey says the Commission of Audit's "recommendations are confidential".

Senator Williams says he is concerned the economy is not currently strong enough to support the scheme.

"I've said all along, I don't have a problem with the paid parental leave scheme. That is our policy so long as the economy is strong, but I do have concerns about the strength of the Australian economy," he said.

"To me a strong economy in Australia [has] a four in front of unemployment – that's currently got a six in front of it and a four or close to four in front of economic growth - and we're currently growing at 2.5 per cent.  "So I do have concerns that the economy is not strong enough."

Asked if he would cross the floor, Senator Williams said he would not be making his position public until after he had the chance to talk personally to Mr Abbott about his policy.

"I'm going to have discussions with the Prime Minister prior to any decision I make and I think that's the right thing to do by the Prime Minister," he said.

Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen seized on the report in the Australian Financial Review and urged the Prime Minister to dump his "excessive, gold-plated paid parental leave scheme".

Abbott defends his 'signature' policy

Mr Abbott told Parliament that he still "absolutely" stood by his policy.  "It's good for women, it's good for families and it's very good for our economy because if we can get the participation rate up, we will get our productivity up, we'll get our prosperity up, it'll be good for everyone," he said.

Mr Abbott says the time for his scheme, which would award new mothers six months at their full wage, capped at $75,000, had come.  "This is a policy which we took to the election and I have to say this is a policy that the Australian public well and truly understood when they voted in last year's election," he said.

But Senator Williams said there would have to be amendments to Mr Abbott's scheme because the Government did not have the majority in the Senate.

The Greens are refusing to support the scheme unless the cap is lowered to $50,000.  "If the Greens stick to their guns then I can't see it getting through the Senate," he said.  "We'll have to wait and see what comes up in front of us."

Several Government sources, who did not want to be named, told the ABC the Prime Minister's policy was friendless within the Coalition and some argued even within the Cabinet.

One Liberal says the policy was the first concern raised at every business function they had attended since the Prime Minister announced his policy to his surprised party room in 2010.


Move to limit ideological objections to Qld mining projects

The Queensland Government is looking to restrict who can object to mining applications, in a bid to crack down on what it calls philosophical opposition to projects.

Currently any group or person can object to applications, potentially sending the decision to the Land Court.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said it was "frustrating" for the Government.  "It's obvious that the current process allows individuals or groups who are fundamentally opposed to the coal industry - for whatever reason - to use the objection process to frustrate and delay those projects," he said.

"The people of Queensland have elected us as a Government based on developing our coal industry to supply the world markets and our processes need to allow us to do that."

In the next few weeks, the State Government will release a discussion paper looking at who can object to applications.

"What we're looking at is a process that will have an assessment process that is relative to the risk the project poses," Mr Seeney said.

"So for the really big projects I think it should be open to almost anyone, but for the smaller projects and for the lesser approvals ... there is a much different requirement."

Mr Seeney declined to spell out the definition of a big project.

The changes in the latest paper are broadly similar a 2013 discussion paper called Reducing Red Tape for Small Scale Alluvial Mining.

It suggests restricting objections to mining leases to "affected landholders" and local governments.

EDO chief solicitor voices reservations about changes

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland principal solicitor Jo Bragg says she has grave concerns about the impact this could have.  "It's hard to see what the Government means, but it appears to mean just a person where the mine is on their land," she said.

"But the community ... concerned about endangered species, groundwater - they should also be able to object as they can now."

As the discussion paper has not been publicly released, the Deputy Premier also declined to define an affected landholder.

In the Darling Downs community of Acland, some locals are concerned about how any potential changes could affect them.  The New Acland Coal Mine wants to expand to export up to 7.4 million tonnes of coal a year.

Veterinarian and farmer Nicki Laws is a member of the Oakey Coal Action Alliance and lives 30 kilometres away from the mine itself.

She says she wants to make sure her voice is heard.  "These ecosystems underpin us all, they underpin our communities, our living, our health, our prosperity as a district - so if we're threatening it, anyone should be allowed to comment on that," she said.

Mr Seeney said he would encourage everyone to participate in the discussion once the discussion paper is released.

"This proposal is about reviewing the assessment process, understanding the Government has a mandate from the people of Queensland and ensuring that the process allows us to fulfil that mandate," Mr Seeney said.

He did not provide specific examples of philosophical or vexatious objections.  "This review is not about any particular circumstance," he said.

"It's part of a broader commitment that we've given to the people of Queensland to review the assessment processes to ensure the projects the Queensland economy needs can proceed and respond in a responsible and appropriate way."


Bill Shorten apologises over mistaken comments to Parliament in defence on Stephen Conroy

A Leftist who makes up "facts".  How surprising!

Bill Shorten has apologised for mistakenly telling Parliament that Liberal frontbencher Michael Ronaldson called the former Chief of Army Ken Gillespie a "coward".

The Opposition Leader apologised on Wednesday night, after receiving a letter from Senator Ronaldson demanding to see the evidence for his "coward" claim. It also  came after a day spent trying to deflect attention from comments made by Labor frontbench colleague Stephen Conroy.

During Tuesday's Senate estimates, Senator Conroy sparked controversy by accusing Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell of participating in a "political cover-up" by citing operational reasons for not answering questions about the Abbott government's secretive border protection policies.

Trying to deflect attention from Senator Conroy's attack on General Campbell, Mr Shorten told the House on Wednesday: "What I also know is that . . . when Chief of Army General Gillespie was at estimates it was Senator Ronaldson who called him a coward," during debate on a motion to admonish Senator Conroy.

"I'm sure that, given his time again, Senator Ronaldson might have chosen his words differently," Mr Shorten said.

But the Special Minister of State, Senator Ronaldson, had no recollection of calling General Gillespie a "coward" at an estimates hearing in 2011. And when he phoned the General to check, the former Chief of Army also did not recall the exchange.

Senator Ronaldson wrote to Mr Shorten's office asking to see evidence for his claim.  "I wrote to Mr Shorten asking him to provide me with a copy of the transcript showing me where I allegedly said this," Senator Ronaldson said.

Mr Shorten's staff could find nothing in the parliamentary record to support his "coward" claim.

It is understood Mr Shorten received the letter from Senator Ronaldson at 7.20pm and at 7.26pm he entered the House to correct the record and apologise.

"This afternoon I referred to the Special Minister of State," Mr Shorten said. "At the time I had been advised that the minister had made the remark I attributed to him.

"Tonight at 7.20pm, I received a letter from the Special Minister of State advising that he has no recollection of making that remark.  "Therefore, I wish to correct the record and I apologise to the Special Minister of State."

Mr Shorten got the "coward" tip from his Victorian Labor colleague David Feeney. Mr Feeney had passed a note to the Opposition Leader telling him about Senator Ronaldson's alleged exchange with the Chief of Army in 2011.

When Fairfax Media called Mr Feeney on Thursday morning, the member for Batman admitted he might have unwittingly misinformed his leader.

"I witnessed a couple of sharp altercations [between Senator Ronaldson and General Gillespie]," Mr Feeney said, though acknowledging there was a difference between a "sharp altercation" and calling the Chief of Army a "coward".

"But the critical point here is that this is a device for the Liberal Party to avoid talking about issues that actually matter," Mr Feeney said, citing "secrecy, Manus Island, cuts to Defence and the difficulties that Senator Nash is experiencing".

Senator Ronaldson said he wanted a "formal retraction" from the Opposition Leader.  "The only way the record can be properly corrected is for a full and unequivocal retraction of the allegation and this must be done in the House by Mr Shorten," he said.  "Notwithstanding the rough and tumble of Parliamentary proceedings, Mr Shorten's accusation went way beyond acceptable standards."

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who initiated a parliamentary censure of Senator Conroy believes he can remain opposition defence spokesman provided he apologises to General Campbell.

Mr Wilkie said it was entirely appropriate to quiz General Campbell about Operation Sovereign Borders.  "But what happened was, Senator Conroy accused General Campbell of being complicit in a cover-up when there is no evidence," he told ABC radio on Thursday.  "It was a direct attack on his character and it was entirely unwarranted," he said.

Mr Wilkie said Senator Conroy should face the media and publicly apologise to General Campbell.  "Say he made a mistake, that he’ll learn from it and he’ll get back to work," he said.


NSW Government resists Commonwealth push for independent government funded schools

New South Wales is resisting any further embrace of the Federal Government's new $70 million Independent Public Schools initiative.

The reforms, launched earlier this month, include a goal of 25 per cent, or approximately 1500 existing public schools to become Independent Public Schools by 2017.

Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said on Sunday that he had letters from every state and territory, except South Australia, wanting to be part of the program.

But NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli says his state has already substantially gone down the road of school autonomy and is not planning to go any further.

"We've made it clear and New South Wales has gone substantially down the road of increased school autonomy. Public schools in NSW will manage 70 per cent of their budget up from the current 10 per cent," he said.

"So we have gone substantially down the road of school autonomy, New South Wales has done a lot.

"The Commonwealth have got their views and I have met with Christopher Pyne to talk about where our reforms actually meet the kinds of changes that he would like to see and we continue those negotiations."

He says it is powerful for public schools to be part of a system and he does not want that to change with more autonomy.

"You have got to have a balance between the power of principals to make decisions about their schools but also keeping the power of a system in place, " he said.

Mr Pyne says NSW wants to be part of the independent schools program and he will continue to work with Mr Piccoli.

"I'll be working with him to develop the kind of autonomy in schools that we both think is of an advantage to students, particularly, in bringing about good outcomes for students," he said.

Mr Pyne has denied there are any tensions between himself and the NSW Education Minister saying he feels "very positive toward Adrian Piccoli".

Political lobbying

The Federal Education Minister has urged MPs to talk to parents and teachers to encourage schools in their communities to become independent public schools.

Mr Piccoli says he does not have a problem with federal MPs lobbying schools.  "Federal MPs are entitled to write to their local schools," he said.

But the the Director-General of Education and Communities Dr Michele Bruniges has taken issue and written to the state's public school principals.

" NSW public schools operate as part of a school system. Individual schools are therefore unable to enter into any such arrangement with the Commonwealth government," she wrote.  "Any discussions about independent public schools will be conducted at a departmental level."


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