Friday, August 01, 2014

Dole overhaul: Employment Minister Eric Abetz hints at 40 job applications policy backdown

Federal Employment Minister Eric Abetz has given a strong indication the Government is willing to back down on its plan to make unemployed people apply for 40 jobs per month.

The idea has been criticised by crossbench senators and several business groups who warn it will put an unfair burden on small businesses.

The current requirement is for jobseekers to apply for 20 positions per month.

Senator Abetz has told the ABC's PM program that there has been some "pushback" to the Government's plan.

"It would be fair to say ... that there's been some pushback in relation to the requirement of asking people to apply for 40 jobs per month," he said.

Senator Abetz said the Government is willing to listen to alternative views as it considers reform of the dole system.
The Government might scrap plans to make the unemployed apply for 40 jobs per month. Have your say.

"We undertook what we believed would be a fair consideration of an application of a job every morning and every afternoon - [that] should not be too onerous," he said.

"There doesn't seem to be a community complaint with the cut-off of 20 job applications per month, so one assumes one might be able to increase that without too much extra community concern.
Audio: Abetz admits 'push-back' on dole plans (PM)

"We will take that all into account and if we have been over ambitious with a figure of 40 - and we'll come to that conclusion after all the community consultations have taken place - we will consider that."

The Opposition says businesses will receive a deluge of fake job applications under the proposed reforms.

The Business Council of Australia has previously said the Government should allow jobseekers to focus on applying for jobs they have the best chance of winning.


Hostages to a renewable ruse

IF there is a sound more pitiable than the whine of a pious environmental activist, it is the wail of a ­financier about to do his dough.

The mournful chorus now wafting from Greg Hunt’s waiting room is the sound of the two in unison, pleading with the Environment Minister to save the life of their misshapen bastard child, the renewable energy target.

You have to hand it to Hunt, who either has nerves of steel or is stone deaf, for he has retained both his cool and his fortitude.

The RET review by Dick Warburton on the government’s behalf has brought the rent-seekers out in force, for billions of dollars of corporate welfare is resting on its outcome.

As it stands, the RET will produce a bounteous return for a small group of investors shrewd enough to get into the windmill game while the rest of us are slapped with four-figure power bills.

Wind farms may be ugly but they are certainly not cheap, nor is the electricity that trickles from them. No one in their right minds would buy one if they had to sell power for $30 to $40 a megawatt hour, the going rate for conventional producers.

But since the retailers are forced to buy a proportion of renewable power, the windmill mafia can charge two to three times that price, a practice that in any other market would be known as price gouging.

As if a $60 premium were not reward enough, the transaction is further sweetened with a renewable energy certificate that they can sell to energy producers who insist on generating power in a more disreputable manner.

The going rate of $40 a megawatt hour means the total income per megawatt for wind farms is three to five times that of conventional power, and unless the government changes the scheme that return is only going to get better.

In an act of rent-seeking genius, the renewable lobby managed to persuade the Rudd government to set the 2020 target as a quantity — 41 terawatt hours — rather than 20 per cent of overall power as originally proposed.

Since the target was set, the energy generation forecast for 2020 has fallen substantially, meaning the locked-in renewable target is now more like 28 per cent.

That will send conventional producers scrambling for certificates, pushing up their price beyond $100. It’s a mouth-watering prospect for the merchant bankers and venture capitalists who were smart enough to jump on board, and brilliant news for Mercedes dealerships on the lower north shore, but of little or any benefit to the planet.

The cost of this speculative ­financial picnic will be about $17 billion by 2030 or thereabouts, ­according to Deloitte, which produced a report on the messy business last week.

Since the extra cost will be added to electricity bills, the RET is a carbon tax by another name, a regressive impost that will fall most heavily on those with limited incomes, such as pensioners.

The lowest income households already spend 7 per cent of their disposable incomes on energy, according to the Australian Council of Social Service. Energy takes just 2.6 per cent of the budget of those on high incomes.

Thus under the cover of responding to climate change — “the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time” — billions of dollars are taken from the poor and given to the rich investors in the unsightly industrial turbines that are blighting the lives of rural communities and stripping value from the properties of people who just wish to be left to live in peace.

If the anti-Abbott budget bashers who are squealing about a minor adjustment to pension indexation were serious, they would demand the end of the RET’s iniquitous transfer of wealth.

Yet ironically they find themselves on the side of crafty merchant bankers in the romantic expectation that this complex ­financial ruse is doing something to assist the planet.

To speak up in opposition to this social injustice is to find oneself condemned as a climate change denier, right-wing ideologue, apologist for the coal industry or, worse still, to be ignored altogether, as the ABC’s Four Corners managed to do in its renewable energy special last month.

The corporation flew reporter Stephen Long to California to tell us how wonderful the renewable energy bonanza is going to be and how foolish Tony Abbott’s government is to even question the proposition that too many windmills are barely enough.

“This government has an ideological agenda,” insisted John Grimes, chief executive of the Australian Solar Council.

“They want to carve out the impact of renewable energy on the network and they want to stop renewals in their tracks.”

Jeremy Rifkin, author of a book called The Third Industrial Revolution, told Long: “Australia’s the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy. There’s so much sun; there’s so much wind off the coast, and so it makes absolutely no sense when you have an abundance of renewable energy, why would you rely on a depleting supply of fossil fuels with all of the attendant ­consequences to society and the planet?”

Fatuous arguments of this kind are rarely challenged on the ABC, nor are the purveyors of renewable energy subjected to the degree of scepticism that others with corporate vested interests can expect. Instead they find themselves in the company of a cheer squad.

“The new developments with renewable energy and storage seem to have passed the Prime Minister by,” Long editorialised halfway through his dispiriting ­report.

Finally, however, as Long was about to run out of time and throw back to Kerry O’Brien, he let slip the awkward truth he had managed so far to avoid.  “Yes, it costs money to create the infrastructure for renewable energy,” he says. “A lot of money.”

Indeed it does, and if the arbitrary, inefficient and regressive mechanism of the RET is all that is left to overcome that hurdle, we may as well give up.

It is through this complicated method that the consumers are forced to pay a subsidy to wind farms without the need for a ­carbon tax.


Appalling transport bureaucracy in NSW

Every Herald reader should know about the Guangzhou Metro because it provides an insight into the mind-boggling mediocrity of Transport for NSW, for which we all have to pay, including those who don't use public transport.

In 1992, the Guangzhou Metro did not exist. Construction began in 1993 and Metro Line 1 began operating in 1997. There are now nine interconnected lines and 164 stations, providing more than 2 billion passenger journeys a year in one of the largest cities in China.

Last year, I bought a ticket card from a machine at one at Guangzhou Metro stations and it was easy.

During the 20 years it took Guangzhou to go from having no metro system to operating one of the largest in the world, with a simple-to-use automated travel card system, the NSW transport bureaucracy achieved nothing, while spending millions on bureaucrats studying the issue.

This obdurate commitment to impracticality transcends politics. It defeated the Greiner, Fahey, Carr, Iemma, Rees, Keneally, O’Farrell and Baird governments, eight governments that could not conquer the culture of Transport NSW and state rail on the issue of ticketing.

In Hong Kong, the Octopus card was introduced for mass transit in 1997. It has proved so successful and intuitive that 95 per cent of the population use the card. It became the model for the Oyster Card used on the London Metro.

The Octopus card was introduced 17 years ago. NSW Transport has been talking about its own card for longer. The problem is the same as it has ever been: an iron-bottomed, process-fixated, micro-managing bureaucracy unable to implement what most major cities now take for granted.

If the government wants to outsource and privatise the entire ticketing process the public will not care. They want to buy cards at railway stations and bus terminals. They want a simple fare structure that can be used across the system. They want cards that are easy to top up. As they have in Melbourne.

Card machines in stations. Simple fare structure. Transportable across the system. Easy to use, even for tourists and occasional users.

In the past month, I have bought a Metro card at a ticket booth in a New York subway station and topped it up on machines in subway stations; I bought a BART card from a ticket machine in a San Francisco subway station and topped it up at other ticket machines; I bought a Myki card at a train station in Melbourne and topped it up at Myki machines.

But, oh no, that’s not good enough for Sydney. Instead, in the past week, we have seen all the people with new Opal cards who, having waited a week to have the card mailed to them after applying online – more bureaucracy – got on a bus only to discover that a new Opal card does not work on a bus. They had to go to a railway station, and run it through an Opal machine, before the card will activate. This is absurd.

Thousands of others have had to line up to buy Opal cards at the one of the grossly inadequate number of venues where card machines are installed. The bureaucrats have no intention of fixing this problem. They want people to buy Opal cards online. The front-page headline of the Herald on Monday, on a story describing the rollout of the $1.2 billion Opal system, used the term "fiasco".

Instead of providing an intuitive card system that builds on the one that exists, the NSW Minister for Transport, Gladys Berejiklian, wants to push customers to buy Opal cards online. She wants people to have "registered" cards. She wants to maintain a complex fare structure, which grinds commuters who travel at peak times so that they not only have crowded public transport they also have to pay the highest prices for the privilege.

Everyone knows that Minister Berejiklian is dedicated to the job and devotes more hours to the transport mission than anyone in the state. But the political reality she has to deal with is that not having ticket machines for the Opal card at railway stations and bus terminals is a political problem because it is so contemptuous of commonsense and utility.

It has always been the problem that instead of installing an existing card system that works the NSW transport bureaucracy wanted an advanced system with a complex fare mix. So it took 20 years to get nothing. Now it has finally made a billion-dollar move that creates more problems for consumers.  

This goes way beyond teething problems. It illustrates the disconnect between the bureaucracy and its customers. It is also a failure of political direction. Gladys, your Opal is no gem.


Victoria bans religious groups from running prayer groups, handing out Bibles in state schools

Victoria has banned religious organisations from running prayer groups, handing out Bibles and delivering other unauthorised information sessions in state schools during school hours.

The directive has been issued by the Education Department under recent changes to the delivery of Special Religious Instruction (SRI) to students in public schools.

A government spokeswoman said the directive only affected religious activities that were run by unaccredited teachers or external groups.

But Dan Flynn from the Australian Christian Lobby said the guidelines appeared to cover all activities by students.

"In the SRI policy, the formal wording appears to ban prayer groups, youth groups, clubs, info sessions or workshops," Mr Flynn said.

"It says that those forums or the events constitute promotion of specific religions in schools outside SRI and are not permitted.

"It's one thing to say that education in state schools should be secular - we agree with that - but it's quite another step to drive any religion out of schools, particularly at lunch time when the children are free to form their own clubs and do their own activities.

"This is a serious limitation on freedom of association, freedom of religion for high school students and state school students."

Parent Lara Wood from Fairness In Religions In Schools (FIRIS) said the claim that students' rights were being infringed was "absurd".

"It's not against any individual students of faith expressing their faith or bringing a Bible into school and praying," Ms Wood said.

"These new clarifications of the law are saying that religious groups and corporations can not use our schools as mission fields to come in and use the schools as an extension to operate their youth ministry.

"This is really no different then if the Minister of Education said to the Liberal or Labor Party that you can't go into schools at lunch time and hold political rallies."

Distributing Bibles to students banned in schools

The changes to the religious instruction policy were prompted by a report that found the state's key provider Access Ministries had breached its guidelines by handing out a so-called "Biblezine" containing homophobic material.

Under the guidelines, which came into effect this month, accredited instructors are permitted to teach a maximum of 30 minutes religious instruction per week, as part of the scheduled curriculum.

But the Government's School Policy Advisory Guide stated that religious instruction could not be taught in schools outside of these approved classes.

    SRI cannot and does not take the form of prayer groups, youth groups, clubs, information sessions, or workshops... Any other forums or activities as noted above, would constitute promotion of specific religions in schools outside SRI, and are not permitted.

It would also be against the guidelines for anyone, including approved providers, to distribute "religious texts (e.g. Bibles)".

However the rules would not stop students from learning about religious celebrations, such as Christmas, Eid or Hanukkah.

    Students may be taught about a religious celebration, festival, special event etc., as part of the general religious education curriculum at a school by government school teachers.

    This may include recognition of and educational activities relating to key religious celebrations such as Christmas, Eid, Hanukkah and others.

And students would not be prevented from praying.

    For the avoidance of doubt, students engaging in prayer in observation of their religion at lunchtimes is not SRI as there is no element of "instruction".

    Such prayer cannot be led, conducted by or at the instruction of staff or parents/visitors/volunteers.

Ms Wood said under the new guidelines, parents must also now give their written consent for their children to attend SRI via a new government-approved form.

She said that while religious instruction had been opt-in in Victoria since 2011, the new forms would make it clear to parents the difference between religious education and instruction.

"Many parents have been under the false impression that it's education about many religions, and we've always believed that once parents know the facts they'll make an informed choice," Ms Wood said.

"It does give informed consent now to parents and lets them know that it is instruction in how to live according to that particular faith that they're learning about, not education."


1 comment:

Paul said...

I don't think they should be handing out Bibles in State Schools anyway. That's something for parents and Church to be doing. Schools are already doing too much parenting.