Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bentley coal seam gas drilling suspended, referred to ICAC

Stupid attempt to win favour with the Greens

Resources company Metgasco's plans to drill for coal seam gas at Bentley on the NSW north coast are in disarray after state energy minister Anthony Roberts referred the project to the Independent Commission Against Corruption and announced its licence would be suspended due to insufficient community consultation.

Mr Roberts announced the decision on Thursday morning, just days before police were due to be called in to break up a long-standing protest on the site at Bentley, near Lismore.

Up to 800 police were due to enter the protest camp as early as Monday to disperse thousands of people who have been blockading the site for several weeks.

Mr Roberts said the Office of Coal Seam Gas (OCSG) had told Metgasco the licence would be suspended because the company "did not fulfil a condition of its exploration licence, namely to undertake genuine and effective consultation with the community as required."

“OCSG is conducting an ongoing audit of all Petroleum Exploration Licences across NSW and is focused on ensuring company compliance with title conditions,” Mr Roberts said.

“I have been advised by OCSG that fundamental concerns have been expressed by members of the affected community about the way in which Metgasco has characterised its activities."

He said  he has written to the ICAC Commissioner "following receipt of information concerning shareholdings and interests in Metgasco Limited."

“In accordance with Section 11 of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act, I have referred this to the Commissioner to ensure that any decisions pertaining to PEL 16 have been made entirely properly and without any undue interest or influence.”

Comment is being sought from Metgasco.

"I'm overjoyed and impressed," said Rob Watson, a retired hydrograher from near Mullumbimby who has attended the protest site with his wife and had been planning to visit again on Saturday.


Another Pratfall for Wickenby 'Keystone cops'

A decision to drop tax and money laundering charges against three high-profile Sydney businessmen is "another humiliating defeat for the Project Wickenby Keystone Cops", according to a lawyer close to the trio.

Charges attracting jail of up to 25 years, laid against former CVC Limited chairman Vanda Gould, former Sunland chairman John Leaver and Swiss resident Peter Borgas, were withdrawn by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions in Sydney Local Court on Tuesday morning.

The men asked the court to order the Crown to pay their costs in defending the charges and a mention date was set for June 10.

They were arrested in October after an investigation by Project Wickenby, the joint Taxation Office-Federal Police taskforce that attacks the use of tax havens by rich Australians.

It was alleged they used a complex network of companies in tax havens including Vanuatu, the Bahamas and Singapore, to avoid millions in Australian tax.

Barrister John Hyde Page, who represented the companies in a related Federal Court civil case, said the amount of public money spent on Wickenby was a "scandal".

"Their contempt for civil liberties and due process is disgusting," he said. "At the very minimum there needs to be full public inquiry into every aspect of how this unit operates and in particular the people who run it."

He declined to comment on the Federal Court case, in which a network of offshore companies associated with Mr Gould challenged Tax Office bills of about $40 million. Hearings are completed and the parties are awaiting judgment from Justice Nye Perram.

The ATO alleged the network of companies invested in Australian shares, including those of companies chaired by Mr Gould, and then sent the proceeds offshore without paying any Australian tax.

Mr Gould has long denied any wrongdoing or tax avoidance, saying the majority of the proceeds of the offshore network were distributed to charities in Australia, Africa and Asia.

The civil case also caused ructions in the relationship between Australia and the Cayman Islands when formerly secret company documents showing Mr Gould controlled two Caymanian companies were tendered as evidence despite a court in the Caribbean tax haven ruling they could not be used.

Mr Gould was on Tuesday reappointed as chairman of investment company CVC, a role he resigned following his arrest.

In a statement, Mr Gould's solicitor, Justeen Dormer, said the charges had caused "months of disruption to Mr Gould's life".

"I am pleased that the charges against Mr Gould have been dropped and he can now return to the work and philanthropic pursuits to which he has dedicated his life," she said.

In addition, he was chairman of CVC spin-off CVC Property Fund and biotechs Cyclopharm and Vita Life Sciences.

Mr Leaver, who resigned as a director of CVC, does not intend to rejoin the board.

The ATO regards Project Wickenby as a success, boasting on its website it has raised more than $786 million in cash from targets.

However, it has been bitterly opposed by targets including actor Paul Hogan and music promoter Glenn Wheatley, and criticised by the Australian National Audit Office for taking too long and costing too much.


Boswell warning to farmers: maintain control over your industry

QUEENSLAND Nationals Senator Ron Boswell has warned primary producers to take action now to maintain control over production and marketing.

In what Senator Boswell described as his last substantial speech in the Senate, he said: “What I want to do is leave all Australian primary producers with a warning: take action now to maintain control over the production and marketing of your product.

“Primary producers are under threat from a long-term strategy by a powerful and sophisticated combination of environmental zealots and major corporations that would effectively control primary production practices worldwide.”

Senator Boswell said the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, an organisation created by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and dominated by non-producer bodies, was an example of the threat.

“I regard WWF and other environmental activists teaming up with major corporations to impose conditions on producers as a dangerous development,” Senator Boswell said.

“Management of primary production is being taken away from producers and from elected governments by environmental non-government organisations. They are doing it via environmental conditions enforced by corporations.

“This was encouraged during the six years of the previous Labor Government. That government was in effect a Labor-Greens alliance, and Labor surrendered to environmental lobbyists time and again. It is time the Australian Government re-asserted its legitimate role in management of primary production.

“WWF and other environmental activists are increasingly trying to dictate what can and can’t be caught, harvested, grown or mined in Australia.

WWF is an organisation with a turnover in the hundreds of millions of dollars and 5,000 staff spread across offices in 60 countries. It is a huge multi-national business with enormous resources. What’s more, it is handling the likes of roundtables and stewardship councils on a daily basis.

“By contrast, producers are often developing responses on the run, responding as best they can to a sophisticated, well-rehearsed strategy from WWF. Let’s not pretend that, individually, any single commodity or industry representative body can handle an organisation as powerful and sophisticated as WWF.

“I call on everyone involved in productive toil in our primary industries to address this issue. Work together, and with the Australian Government, to retain the influence you deserve to have over the way your industries operate.

“Producers have a fundamental knowledge of how their operations should be conducted. Government has the scientists, economists and resource managers to assist producers. Together, they can guarantee sensible, rational, sustainable management of this nation’s natural resources.”

Via email

What you missed from the Federal Budget 2014

IT’S being hailed as the toughest budget in a decade with a $7 payment to see the doctor, debt tax on high-income earners and massive cuts to family benefits all due to become a reality.

But hidden behind the headline grabbing changes are a host of other measures designed to bring the government back into surplus. Here are some of the crucial items you might have missed:


They might call it “reprioritising” but foreign aid is one of the biggest sacrifices in this year’s budget, providing $7.6 billion worth of savings as the government freezes the amount of money Australia gives in overseas development assistance (ODA).

It includes spiking plans to join the African Development Bank Group and International Fund for Agricultural Development, as well as capping ODA at five per cent of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s budget.

World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello said it’s a massive blow for a sector that is already struggling.

“It is disheartening to see that the poorest people in the world will foot the bill for Australia’s fiscal repairs,” he said.

Charity groups are also reeling with Australian Council for International Development executive director Marc Purcell saying it’s “incredibly disappointing” to see people struggling on $2 per day hit even harder by Budget cuts in Australia.


No matter which way you cut it, the arts community in Australia just got a bollocking. The government has pulled a whopping $97.1 million in funding over four years which had been slated for the arts.

Screen Australia, the primary body for local film and production is set to lose $25.1 million. The $10 million Australian Interactive Games Fund will also be killed.

Meanwhile, the Australia Council, which provides funding and grants to local artists, will have $28.2 million slashed from its ledgers. The Attorney-General’s department will also drain $33.8 million in arts funding.

There are fears gems like Muriel’s Wedding might not make it to the screen under cuts to

There are fears gems like Muriel’s Wedding might not make it to the screen under cuts to arts funding. Source: News Corp Australia

Giving people money to throw specks of paint at a canvas may seem frivolous in comparison to healthcare cuts but let’s not forget its place in a national culture. President Lyndon B Johnson, on creating the US National Endowment for the Arts said: “Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is on our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Screen Producers Australia executive director Matthew Deaner said: “Their investments trigger millions of dollars of local and international financing into productions which employ thousands of Australians.”


The Gonski school funding agreement will be unwound, amid plans to slash $80 billion from health and education funding over a decade.

This includes cutting $20 million from the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, scrapping a $21 million centre for quality teaching and learning Labor had promised, reducing funding for the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, as well as a host of other measures that will affect students and teachers.

Federal funding for education and health will be cut.

Federal funding for education and health will be cut. Source: Supplied

States have hit back at the news this morning, claiming federal funding cuts from health and education are a “hospital pass” that assumes they will pick up slack.

“What they did was pass a spending problem to the states — they didn’t provide the income solution,” New South Wales Premier Mike Baird told ABC radio.


Treasurer Joe Hockey has said 16,500 jobs will go but there are fears this number could be as high as 25,000 once budget cuts, asset-sell offs and outsourcing are taken into account.

The Australian Tax Office will take the lion’s share with 4700 positions gone in a series of wideranging cuts which will affect organisations from the National Library to the Defence Force.

Hockey has said 16,500 jobs will go but unions fear it could be much more.

Hockey has said 16,500 jobs will go but unions fear it could be much more. Source: Supplied

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood said the Budget was a “con job” for workers with organisations like the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, Customs and CSIRO already groaning under their workloads.

The public broadcaster is also in the firing line, with the ABC losing $120 million from their bottom line over four years. It comes on top of cuts to SBS and the Australia Network and ABC managing director Mark Scott said it would inevitably lead to redundancies and fewer services.

“We will need to make funding cuts while trying to also save money to invest in new priorities to ensure the ABC remains a compelling feature of the Australian media landscape.”


Nearly a quarter of a billion dollars went to a program that provides chaplains for schools, despite the fact its future is before the High Court.

The school chaplain scheme will provide $243.8 million over four years to allow schools to apply for a $20,000 grant towards the cost of employing a chaplain. An additional $4000 is available to schools in remote areas.

Nearly quarter of a billion dollars will go to providing school chaplains, but the move m

Nearly quarter of a billion dollars will go to providing school chaplains, but the move may be blocked in the High Court. Source: News Limited

But Queensland father of six Ron Williams has fought the issue in court, saying “there is no place in public schools for any form of missionaries or evangelists or anything that isn’t secular.”

Experts think the case will have far-reaching effects for the Commonwealth’s ability to provide funding for a range of programs. Even the Scripture Union’s chief executive Peter James acknowledged it’s controversial.

“People are divided on it. But I am not sure that people who are opposed to the program necessarily understand what chaplains do in schools. It’s not a clerical role, it’s not a theological role — it’s a caring role.”


Currently, if you’re overseas while you’re studying, you still collect Youth Allowance. Not anymore.

Going on holiday and keeping your Youth Allowance won’t be possible anymore.

Going on holiday and keeping your Youth Allowance won’t be possible anymore. Source: Supplied

The government will not pay you for time spent overseas unless you’re on exchange with another educational institution or it’s a family emergency. Wandering through Hogwarts at the Harry Potter theme park does not count as exchange.


Indonesia will receive nearly $87 million over three years to manage the asylum seeker population living in the country, as the government turns their attention to processing the back log of asylum seekers in Australia.

The government claims the success of Operation Sovereign Borders has reduced the number of boats which will allow them to save $2.5 billion over five years and close nine detention centres around the country. One in South Australia could even be turned into an aged-care facility, according to Assistant Infrastructure Minister Jamie Briggs.

Tony Abbott’s government says Operation Sovereign Borders will allow them to make billion

Tony Abbott’s government says Operation Sovereign Borders will allow them to make billions in savings. Source: Getty Images

Migration Institute of Australia’s President Angela Chan said while some of the changes are positive, there are some “dark shadows” that need explaining.

“While the Institute is pleased that the Family Stream will focus on meeting the increasing demand for close family reunions by having additional partner and child places, it is alarming that these additional places will be made available as a result of the cessation of new applications from the other family and parent (non-contributory) places,” she said.

Overall, Australia’s migration intake will remain at 190,000 in the 2014/15 financial year.


Plans to scrap eight programs worth $845 million over five years will cut the local start-up scene and send more Aussie entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley, according to advocates.

The Budget includes plans to scrap Commercialisation Australia, which has provided more than $200 million in funding to local start-ups, as well as the Innovation Investment Fund, which connects start-ups with venture capital.

Becoming a tech start-up just got a little bit harder with plans to cut funding groups.

Becoming a tech start-up just got a little bit harder with plans to cut funding groups. Source: News Limited

Instead, an Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program will cost $484.2 million over five years but

start-up accelerator River City Labs boss Steven Baxter is not convinced.

“Australia invests a fraction of what other developed countries do funding tech start-ups, and the budget has provided no solid proof that the government intends to rectify this,” he said.

The government also revealed plans to stop funding the technology research body National ICT Australia (NICTA) from 2016.


 *  $90 million to find missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. It’s the first time the government has put a number on the search cost.

* Up to $500 million for a new icebreaker ship and $9.4 million to maintain Australia’s presence in Antarctica.

 *  The School Kids Bonus will be scrapped.

* Three kids is no longer a “large family.” It’s been redesigned to be one with at least four kids before you start getting the large family supplement on Family Tax Benefits.

Large family? I don’t think so. It takes four children to be eligible for large family su

Large family? I don’t think so. It takes four children to be eligible for large family supplements nowadays. Source: News Limited

 *  $19 million over four years will go to the Australian Drug Commission to continue the Good Sports Programme aimed at building a culture of responsible drinking at a grassroots level.

* It’s been revealed the cost of someone losing a few bits of paper at the WA Senate election cost $23.2 million. No wonder heads rolled at the Australian Electoral Commission over the debacle.


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