Tuesday, March 25, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is cynical about the sudden retirement of a prominent unionist

Parents cheat 85% of childcare centres: survey

Fees have got very steep because of the costs of complying with ever more government regulation

Parents have cheated 85 per cent of childcare centres nationally by "centre hopping" without paying their bills, even though they still claim the 50 per cent federal government childcare subsidy.

A survey of 700 childcare operators by industry website CareforKids found two-thirds of centres used debt collectors to chase parents. One centre reported it was $600,000 out of pocket.

Childcare centres want parents who do not pay their bills to be blacklisted, and are calling on the federal government to pay the childcare rebate direct to the centres to eliminate potential fraud.

Australian Childcare Alliance president Gwynn Bridge said bad debts were growing as childcare became unaffordable.

"The debts are really increasing," Ms Bridge said. "It seems families aren't coping financially. It's right across Australia."

Childcare fees have risen 7 per cent a year in the past decade, more than double the rate of inflation. Fees are now up to $170 a day in some Sydney suburbs.

"The cost of childcare has gone up substantially," CareforKids founder Roxanne Elliott said. "Parents are looking to see what they can do, and they're being quite unscrupulous about it."

Australian childcare is among the least affordable in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, with gross fees for a two-year-old in full-time care equal to half the average wage. Only the Netherlands and Ireland are more expensive, while childcare is most affordable in Sweden, accounting for just 5 per cent of the average wage.

The federal government will spend $6.5 billion on childcare this financial year, including $2.4 billion on the childcare rebate and $2.6 billion on childcare benefits.

Assistant Minister for Education Sussan Ley said she was "very sympathetic" to the industry's concerns about bad debts.

"There's no doubt families are doing it tough at the moment, and it doesn't help that childcare fees skyrocketed 50 per cent under Labor, but there's no excuse for parents deliberately ducking their bills," Ms Ley said.

Operators said centre hopping forced services to put up fees for other parents, and was unsettling for the children who were moved from centre to centre. To stamp out the practice, they are calling for a debt register of parents who skip centres without paying their bills.

"Something desperately needs to be done, because in no other industry can you walk away without paying," said one respondent. "It's not fair these people are able to rort the system and get away with it."

But experts said a name-and-shame register would probably contravene privacy laws, and there was too much potential for it to be abused.

The industry wants the government to pay the childcare rebate, which covers the cost of 50 per cent of fees up to $7500, directly to the services instead of to the parents.

Sixty per cent of parents receive the childcare rebate directly, with the balance opting for the payment to go straight to the services.

"Make it compulsory for the childcare rebate to be assigned to the centre involved, so the parents' debt is legitimately offset by CCR and the temptation for parents to pocket the CCR and leave the debt unpaid is removed," another centre operator said in the survey.

The national convener of Australian Community Children's Services, Prue Warrilow, agreed, saying: "If the government changes nothing else, pay the childcare rebate directly to services, so at least the services get some money."

Another suggestion is for centres to ask enrolling parents for a verification from their previous centre that they have no outstanding debts.

Ms Warrilow blamed poor management by the centres for allowing parents to run up large debts, and said centre-hopping was more likely to hit smaller operators, who did not have the credit control systems of the big chains.

"No parent should be able to get behind on fees," she said. "Most centres invoice in advance. I suspect there might be some poor management practices in there."

Parents whose children attend Bunny Cottage childcare at Bexley must pay their fees by direct debit. Owner Sharon Graham introduced the direct-debit policy after "many years of bad debts", with some families running up thousands of dollars in unpaid fees.

Ms Graham said outsourcing the collection of fees to EziPay took the pressure off her as centre director.

"Having to be the money collector as well as the educator was a really difficult juggle," she said. "Outsourcing has made a huge difference in the time I spend chasing fees, and it's more transparent for families."


Why did Paul Howes really quit as Australian Workers’ Union boss?

UNION boss Paul Howes has been unable to shake the image as one of the “faceless men” that installed Julia Gillard in the prime ministership and now his resignation is being painted as just another move from a political manipulator.

The Australian Workers’ Union national secretary has been angry since February when his ideas for a “grand compact” for peace between unions and employers were painted as political manoeuvring.

Mr Howes wanted to cut the ties between the unions and Labor that has existed for 123 years, but the strongest response to his ideas was that he was positioning himself for a jump to a political career.

And the leaking of his resignation from the Australian Workers’ Union won’t do much for his temper. He had planned a controlled release in a day or so but the rumours were flying.

Mr Howes today told Sky News getting into Parliament had never been a priority.  “It has never been my principal motivation,” he told David Speers, arguing he’s looking forward to being a “little bit more faceless” for a while.

Mr Howes’ anger was fuelled in February by the broad opinions within the ALP that, after seven years leading the AWU, Mr Howes, at just 32, wanted to cast the dice and his talents at Federal Parliament.

He’d already given that path a try just after the September election in his unsuccessful attempt to replace former Foreign Minister Bob Carr in the Senate.

Mr Howes said his support for same-sex marriage was used by Labor’s NSW right to remove him from the list of contenders.
His over-prominent role in the dumping of Kevin Rudd tagged him — fairly or unfairly — as a political manipulator.

Mr Howes future already had been the focus of speculation after his romantic partnership with Qantas executive Olivia Wirth, soon to become his wife, became public knowledge.

It could be Mr Howes wants a few years earning a better salary. He’s on about $140,000 a year plus a car as AWU leader.

He might want to put some distance between his trade union career and his potential move to politics. His predecessor Bill Shorten is frequently under attack for his past union links, and Mr Howes might wish to prevent being hit by a similar prejudice.

But he genuinely believed in his prescription for economic stability, delivered to the National Press Club, to end the “blood sport” of industrial relations in Australia, and was furious it was all being seen as a career manoeuvre.

It’s a measure of his ambitions that many observers of Mr Howes think he might be up to something, and he hasn’t disappointed with his sudden decision to quit the AWU in July.


Environmentalists take government to court over Barrier Reef plans

Environmentalists will launch court action against the Abbott government and its decision to allow dredging and spoil dumping in Great Barrier Reef waters for the expansion of coal export terminals.

The Mackay Conservation Group, backed by $150,000 raised by activist group GetUp!, will file documents in the Federal Court on Monday challenging the decision on the grounds the government failed its legal obligations to protect a world heritage site by approving the project.

It is the second legal challenge to the proposed Abbot Point development. Last month the North Queensland Conservation Group launched an appeal against a separate decision to allow the dumping of dredge spoil in reef waters by the authority which oversees the marine park protecting the site.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt approved the Abbot Point project in December under strict conditions, including the dredging and dumping of three million tonnes of sludge in the reef's waters to expand coal export terminals.

The Abbot Point development is one of many resource projects proposed for the coast along the Great Barrier Reef. Industrial development and other threats have raised the concern of the World Heritage Committee, which has asked the Australian and Queensland governments to install several measure to better protect the reef or else risk it being considered world heritage ''in danger''.

The Mackay Conservation Group is challenging the Abbot Point decision through a provision in the national environment laws that allow for a judicial review by the Federal Court of any decision.

Group campaigner Ellen Roberts said the review would be the first test of national environment laws protecting world heritage sites.

"If we are successful then potentially the decision could have implications for other world heritage areas as well,'' Ms Roberts said.

Brad Fish, chief executive of the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation, said the focus on dredging had taken the debate about the reef's future away from the real issues threatening its survival.

He pointed to an article by University of Central Queensland coral ecologist Alison Jones and marine scientist and consultant Brett Kettle posted on The Conversation that said green groups had wrongly argued dredging and dumping were major threats to the reef.


Experts warned Rudd government its batts rollout was … insane

HOME insulation industry experts warned the Rudd government that rolling out its stimulus program in two years was “insane”.

Technical expert James Fricker told the royal commission into the troubled scheme that insulation representatives believed the rollout was too fast to be done safely.

Mr Fricker said those who attended a meeting on February 18, 2009 – just weeks after the scheme’s announcement – advised that the two-year time frame was “insane”.

They said it did not allow enough time for new installers to be properly trained, ­exposing them to safety risks including electrocution, falling through plaster ceilings and fire.

Mr Fricker said experts also believed the demand for insulation would exceed the ability of Australian manufacturers to maintain supply and that the rollout was too quick to allow authorities to perform adequate quality checks.

He also told the inquiry that installing foil insulation incorrectly was so dangerous it was like “sitting in a frying pan”.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s home insulation scheme, launched as an economic stimulus measure during the global financial crisis, has been blamed for four deaths, one serious injury and at least 100 house fires.

Installing foil insulation incorrectly was so dangerous it was like sitting in a frying pan

Statement reveals Peter Garrett expressed “extreme frustration”
Witness Matt Levey said foil insulation was not suspended ­immediately after the death of

Witness Matt Levey said foil insulation was not suspended ­immediately after the death of Matthew Fuller because there were conflicting views about its use.  Matt Levey, former policy adviser to then environment minister Peter Garrett, also gave evidence at the hearing yesterday, revealing that ­installer safety was not raised as a “fundamental” risk.

“What about political risk?” Richard Perry, QC, who is representing families of men killed, asked. “That was raised by the ­department as a significant risk, yes,” Mr Levey replied.

“But what about installer safety? Was that a risk seen by the department as being fundamental?” Mr Perry asked.

“Not that I recall … That is not to say they did not think there was a risk, but it may well have been they thought it was being adequately addressed,” Mr Levey said.

Mr Levey said foil insulation was not suspended ­immediately after the death of Matthew Fuller because there were conflicting views about its use.  The advice at the time, he said, was to ban metal staples.

Counsel Assisting, Keith Wilson, asked why the use of foil insulation was not immediately suspended, given there was doubt about its use.

“I think in hindsight that makes absolute sense,” Mr Levey replied.

The inquiry has heard bureaucrats devising the scheme were warned that three New Zealanders had died while securing foil insulation in 2007.  But Mr Levey said those warnings never filtered through to him or Mr Garrett.

He said Mr Garrett was shocked to learn of Mr Fuller’s death.  “Until the first fatality was reported, we certainly weren’t assuming that there was that level of risk out there,” Mr Levey’s statement read.

The royal commission hearing ­before Ian Hanger QC continues.


Working women must stop blaming men for their troubles, says Sunrise presenter Natalie Barr who has ‘never been discriminated against’

AM I the only woman who’s not angry at men? I’m a woman and I have never felt discriminated against. There. I’ve said it.

I’m not angry at men. I can’t remember being passed over for a promotion because of a man and I have never felt undervalued ­because I’m a woman.

I went to a co-ed country Catholic school and the boys were my mates. Just like the girls. Maybe that’s where it started — my view that I was just as good as the opposite sex.  No one ever told me I wasn’t. And they still haven’t.

That doesn’t mean by any stretch that I’ve been positive and confident and happy every day of my life. It just means I don’t blame men for my troubles.

When I was 20 I missed out on a cadetship at the ABC, but I didn’t for a second think it was because I was a girl.  I just had no bloody idea what I was doing; and they could tell.

Through the end of high school and university, I volunteered to work for free at the local TV station in Bunbury during my holidays.

I couldn’t have known less about TV news or being a journalist.

Every day I was there taught me something new, gave me a little bit more confidence in myself and made me realise that I had to take a leap and start applying to every news organisation in Western Australia for a job.

Work experience shaped my future and I still believe it’s one of the most productive things a kid can do.

As a result of one of those letters, a very nice person, who just happened to be a man, finally gave me a ­cadetship with a local Perth newspaper. The pay was $142 a week. That was for a D-grade cadet, man or woman.

I loved it, worked my way up to senior reporter (in charge of a man) and then headed to Kalgoorlie for my first TV job.

I worked overseas for a few years and, of this ­December, I’ll have been at Channel Seven for 20 years.

For nearly half that time I was a reporter for the 6pm news. I started off doing very low profile stories, because I was a pretty inexperienced journalist.

I don’t remember the other junior male reporters being given better stories than me.  They were learning too. Some days I got a good story, other days the boys did. They were the days where the producer yelled at you if you stuffed up a story, and I can tell you it was ­definitely equal opportunity yelling.

I yelled back when I thought I was right, and I went home with my tail ­between my legs when I missed something the other journos had in their stories.

When my contract was up I forced myself to walk in and ask for a better deal.

Not a lot of women I know jump for joy when they have to negotiate with the boss but I don’t think that’s the boss’s fault.

Isn’t it ours? I chose to take just a few months off after I had each of my boys.

I wasn’t earning much but I sat down with my husband and we decided that it was worth taking a financial hit, paying a big chunk of my wage on childcare.

Our reasoning was if I kept working and was able to climb up the ladder, I might get paid more.

I’ve always thought that if you take years off work to raise your kids, whether you’re a man or a woman, it’ll be hard to get back into the workforce and certainly at the level you were before.

It’s great that many ­people have the choice to stay home with their children, but I also personally ­believe each choice we make comes with consequences that we have to live with.

For 11 years I’ve worked with some exceptional men on Sunrise.

But if I felt undervalued and ripped off, I’d leave.

I know there are many women out there who are trapped in situations where they do feel disadvantaged, discriminated against and overlooked because they are women.

In no way am I underestimating their pain and frustration and helplessness and the need for change in ­industries where that’s  happening.

In the past few weeks though, I’ve felt that there has been a growing tide of women attacking men in general.  I’m starting to wonder if many of us need to find a better drum to beat than the one that blames men for most of our problems.  Isn’t it about time we took some ownership?

If a man got the job ahead of you, was it because he was better?  That can’t be impossible … can it?

Should we be brutally honest with ourselves and ask if we need to change the way we approach things?

I just don’t think “us” against “them” helps anybody in the long run.


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