Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Flood insurance premiums slashed by up to 90% as levees relieve high cost of cover

QUEENSLAND householders are receiving hefty price cuts on insurance premiums as the rebuilding program following the Summer of Disaster helps protect towns from floods.

Suncorp is the latest insurer to declare premium reductions of up to 90 per cent in Roma as a 5km earthen wall ringing the town nears completion.

Suncorp Personal Insurance chief executive Mark Milliner believes Australia could learn a lesson from Queensland’s approach to risk management.

“Communities throughout Australia could be paying less for insurance if they were better protected from natural disasters,’’ he said.

Community Recovery and Resilience Minister David Crisafulli says more than 10 communities, including Maryborough and Mundubbera will soon also have flood levees.

Mr Crisafulli, who has been monitoring insurance premiums to ensure cost is reduced along with risk, said the levee program was just one example of the LNP Government’s practical approach to the multi-billion dollar rebuilding program following the 2010/11 floods and cyclone.

“This vindicates the position the Government took in ensuring Queensland communities are better protected when the next floods arrive,’’ Mr Crisafulli said.

Mr Milliner said Roma residents protected by the levee could now be paying around $1000 a year for flood insurance – a reduction on average of about 45 per cent.

But in extreme cases, a typical $400,000 homeowner in Roma could see insurance premiums reduced by up to 90 per cent – a decrease of up to $7000 a year.

Mr Milliner said the Maranoa Regional Council and Mayor Rob Loughnan had made a sensible decision to invest in flood mitigation.

“Suncorp promised that if disaster risk levels came down, so would the price of insurance, and we honour that commitment,’’ Mr Milliner said.

The completion of the levee means up to 90 per cent of Roma properties are considered to have no flood risk.

Further west, St George’s levee program completed this year has resulted in an average 15 per cent drop in premiums.

Mr Crisafulli said the Roma project was a great example of work he hoped to see replicated around the state in the next 12 months.

The Roma levee, expected to finish next month, runs from north of the Roma airport, crosses the Carnarvon Highway to traverse the eastern side of the town ending above Lovell St.

The levee will cost about $16 million with the bulk of funding coming from state programs such as Royalties for the Regions and Local Government Grants and Subsidies.


Giant Galilee coal mine gets Canberra nod

The federal government has approved a giant Queensland coalmine that it says will generate as much as $300 billion for the economy, but which environmental groups say will contribute to a “carbon bomb” and risk causing significant damage to the Great Barrier Reef.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt on Monday said that he had approved the Carmichael Coal Mine in the Galilee Basin and its associated rail link to the coast with “the absolute strictest” environmental conditions.

The 36 conditions, which include offsets of about 30,000 hectares for habitat destroyed, water returns for the Great Artesian Basin and $1 million for further research in protecting threatened species, will ensure the mine owner, India’s Adani, “meets the highest environmental standards”, Mr Hunt said in a media statement.

At full capacity, the Carmichael mine would produce as much as 60 million tonnes of coal a year, with a “resource value of $5 billion per annum over 60 years”, the statement said.

Apart from the boost to the local economy to the tune of 3920 jobs for operations and 2475 during construction, the mine will also “provide electricity for up to 100 million people in India”, Mr Hunt said.

Environmental groups including Greenpeace, though, warn the mine’s output would generate almost 130 million tonnes of carbon dioxide when burnt each year, or equal to about a quarter of Australia’s current annual emissions.

Billionaire MP Clive Palmer also owns two Galilee coal reserves that may produce as much as 80 million tonnes of coal a year if those mines get developed. Australia’s richest person, Gina Rinehart also holds a minority stake with India’s GVK in mines with a similar annual capacity.

“History will look back on the Abbott Government’s decision today as an act of climate criminality,” said Greens Senator Larissa Waters, the party’s environment spokeswoman. 

“The proponent, Indian-owned Adani, is in financial dire straits and has already faced complaints about breaches of environmental laws in its home country

“There’s no guarantee Adani will be able to pay for the environmental conditions attached to the approval and with the Abbott and Newman governments slashing environment department staff, there’s no capacity to enforce them."

'Coffin' for the Reef

The mine, if it proceeds, would also increase the number of ships entering the Great Barrier Reef by about 450 a year, according to Felicity Wishart, a spokeswoman for the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

“This is yet another nail in the coffin for the Great Barrier Reef,” said Ms Wishart, adding that Carmichael and other proposed coal mines and gas plants in the region would likely increase the number of ships entering the reef area from about 4000 a year to 7000 by 2020.

Paul Oosting, campaigns director at social organising group GetUp!, said the approval was an “outrageous decision”.

“GetUp! will fight tooth and nail to make sure it will never occur,” Mr Oosting said. He said campaigns had succeeded in discouraging the involvement of banks such as Deutsche Bank, Barclays and RBS in the Abbot Point coal export terminal that will link to Carmichael.

The government should also have taken greater account of Adani’s “proven and documented track record of bribery, corruption and environmental degradation” in India, Mr Oosting said.

Water watch

One of the government’s conditions is that the mine will return a minimum of 730 megalitres of water to the Great Artesian Basin every year for five years.

However, Lock the Gate’s Central Queensland spokeswoman, Ellie Smith, said the mine would do “great damage to ground and surface water systems and the communities that depend on them”.

“Environment Minister Greg Hunt has ignored his own panel of top water scientists and is putting the Great Artesian Basin at further risk by allowing mine dewatering to drain the Basin,” Ms Smith said.

Adani has said the Carmichael mine would extract as much as 12.5 gigalitres of water every year, Lock the Gate noted.

Market hurdle

Getting government approval may be easier than winning over markets that have soured on coal, with prices of the commodity dropping about 50 per cent over the past five years.

Concerns about over-supply as nations such as Russia, Indonesia and Mongolia join Australia in preparing to ramp-up production have lately been complemented by signs that global action on climate change will see carbon costs imposed on coal to curb its usage.

South Korea, for instance, this month slapped a coal tax of about $18 per tonne of coal and will introduce a broad carbon price from 2015. Neighbouring China, easily the world’s largest producer and consumer of coal, has also unveiled plans for a national carbon emissions market and may aim to curb coal consumption within coming years.

Tim Buckley, a former Citibank analyst and now a director at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said the environmental approval itself was no surprise.

“I never expected [Mr] Hunt to go against Premier [Campbell] Newman nor Prime Minister [Tony] Abbott's desire to promote foreign firms trying to sustain Australia's coal industry,” Mr Buckley said.

“Ironically, should the Galilee proceed, it will actually accelerate the longer-term destruction of our coal export industry by dramatically expanding the capital invested, whilst at the same time taking coal prices globally down another 10-20 per cent.”

Adani, though, said it was standing by its longstanding guidance that the first coal from the mine will be produced in 2017

"The Carmichael mine, together with North Galilee Basin Rail and Abbot Point, will be an enduring provider of more than 10.000 jobs, ongoing partnerships with our small and medium business suppliers, and long-term export opportunities for Queensland," an Adani spokesman said.

"All commodity prices are by their nature subject to volatility," the spokesman said. "Having said that, Adani is an integrated mining, infrastructure and power company that is both the miner, infrastructure owner and operator, and eventual customer for the cost efficient and high quality coal exported from our Carmichael mine."


Hard sugar: Australian job seekers must search for 40 jobs each month and do 25 hours' community work to keep the dole

Assistant Employment Minister Luke Hartsuyker [Rather fittingly, that surname means "hard sugar" in Dutch] says there is no reason why all eligible Australians shouldn't be looking for work

Jobless Australians will be forced into working more for their welfare payments under tough new Government measures designed to get the nation's unemployed back to work.

As part of a crackdown on Australia's jobless, The Federal Government will introduce the $5.1 billion job placement scheme from July 1 next year which will make it mandatory for all Australians under 50, unless they are working part time or undertaking approved training, to look for work.

Australians under 30 will be required to do the heaviest lifting in order to keep their dole payments.

Those in the youngest working age bracket will be asked to work a minimum of 25 hours community service a week and apply for at least 40 jobs a month.

Australians aged between 30 and 49 will be required to contribute 15 hours of weekly community service and those 50-60 will need to do 15 hours a week of an approved activity.

Those older than 60 will not have to do an approved activity but are encouraged to volunteer if they opt to work for the dole.

Assistant Employment Minister Luke Hartsuyker said it was 'most important that jobseekers look for work.'  'A job seeker's primary responsibility is searching for that all important job,' he said.

Most of the new arrangements will be put in place without introducing new legislation, however some elements of the $5.1 billion package will require new laws.

Mr Hartsuyker said he will negotiate with Government cross benchers to ensure that the package is implemented 'for the benefit of job seekers and employers and to improve employment outcomes for people looking for work.'

'Work for the dole has the ability to impart on job seekers the important skills to assist them in the workforce.'

Many employers, he said, are telling him job applicants are 'presenting at the gates to their business'  without adequate skills.  'Simple skills such as turning up on time, being appropriately presented, being able to get on with work mates ... work for the dole has the ability to impart those very skills.'

He said the new measures are the least the taxpayer expected of those on welfare.

As part of the reforms, all job seekers will be encouraged to look outside of their immediate area for work and take advantage of funding that supports moving to take up a new job.

Job service providers, such as Mission Australia, Sarina Russo and Ingenues, will be rewarded for getting people into short-term work for periods of four, 12 and 26 weeks.

In essence, the scheme aims to cut red tape and reward job providers for finding unemployed people work.

Changes to wage subsidies will also be included in the overhaul of the welfare system and will be expanded for mature age workers, and extended to young job seekers under 30 and the long-term unemployed.

Wage subsidies are payments made to employers to help cover the costs of wages and training in the first few months of employment of a person  experiencing  barriers to employment.

Labor accused the Government of tearing apart the principles of the mutual obligation system.

The new arrangements it claims will mean jobseekers under 30 will receive no welfare for six months but still be required to door knock for jobs.

'They will not receive a cent, even if they look for work each day, each week, for six months,' Opposition Employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor told ABC radio.

'Yet now they're having to keep their side of the bargain.'

Mr O'Connor supported the idea of removing red tape for job service providers, but only if it was done properly in consultation with industry.


Is it a space noodle? Is it dental floss? No, it's the $3.5 million planned public artwork being ridiculed on social media

Locals are mocking a $3.5 million sculpture set to be erected in the Sydney CBD, comparing the 50-metre artwork to dental floss, a rubber band and Mr Burns from The Simpsons.

City of Sydney Council today unveiled plans to install an 'elegant cloud-shaped arch' above George Street in front of Sydney's Town Hall.

The council will spend $9.3 million on the Cloud Arch, designed by Tokyo-based artist Junya Ishigami, and other works including a giant fibreglass milk crate to be installed near Central Station a set of 60 bronze bird sculptures which will be perched around the Kent Street underpass.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore said the artworks would help transform George Street, which is also set to get a light rail and a pedestrianised boulevard.

'We're delighted to announce such an exciting group of artworks by some of the world's leading artists,' she said.  'I have no doubt they will become iconic landmarks of our city for today and future generations.'

But Twitter users were more sceptical, especially of the Cloud Arch, dubbing it the #spacenoodle and comparing the curvy steel sculpture to Jessica Rabbit, dental floss and a rubber band.

Others noticed out a likeness to Mr Burns as an alien in the Simpsons, and a giant car yard balloon.

But some people on social media were quick to point out that other Australian capital cities have been given much stranger public artworks in the past, such as Canberra's Skywhale or Adelaide's pig and giant ball sculptures.

The Cloud Arch sculpture will be built with steel plates to rise diagonally across from the Queen Victoria Building to the Woolworths building.

In his artist's statement, Mr Ishigami said the Cloud Arch embodied Sydney's new 'Green, Global and Connected' characteristics and would evoke 'comfort, openness and freedom'.


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