Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Murray Darling Basin Plan's on-farm Water Efficiency Program axed by government

This is one step in the right direction. Sending dammed water out to sea when farmers need it is an obscenity

No more water will be taken from farms to be returned to the environment under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan following a policy shift announced today by the federal government.

"We think we can do better with off-farm efficiencies," Water Minister Keith Pitt said.

Speaking from a dairy farm in Victoria, Mr Pitt told the ABC he had axed the Water Efficiency Program (WEP), which provided irrigators in the basin with funds to upgrade and improve water infrastructure on farms.

The program helped to fund projects such as lining irrigation channels so water savings could be shared between the irrigator and the environment.

But Mr Pitt said it had been a failure, and the government would instead allocate $1.3 billion from the Water for the Environment Special Account to fund off-farm water efficiency upgrades.

He would not yet say what off-farm projects the government would fund.

"This is a significant change in terms of a pivot on policy," the minister said. "I am terminating the WEP. It hasn't delivered what it was supposed to or what was expected."

What is the Murray-Darling Basin Plan again?

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan has remained controversial ever since its introduction back in 2012. So, what is it again and why is it back on the agenda?

The policy was not legislated and could contradict the Murray-Darling Basin Plan if enough water was not returned to the environment by 2024.

However, that decision, together with the termination of WEP, almost certainly rules out the prospect of any more water being recovered from farming to meet the plan's water savings targets.

South Australian senator Rex Patrick has been critical of The Nationals' handling of the water portfolio and said he believed willing farmers should be allowed to sell their water back to the government so the environment can receive the water.

"The most efficient way for taxpayers to recover water for the rivers is buybacks from willing sellers," Senator Patrick said.

"The Water Act makes it very clear that the only consideration, in relation to the execution of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, is in the environment."

But Mr Pitt maintains he does not believe any more water should be removed from agriculture. "As a former farmer I get it. This is what absolutely affects your profitability, your confidence in terms of investment. I think this is a good shift in terms of policy," he said.

Mr Pitt said that since 2019 the WEP had recovered 0.2 gigalitres — or 0.4 per cent — of the 450 gigalitres of additional water the government was committed to recovering under the basin plan.

"The numbers are the numbers are the numbers are the numbers," Mr Pitt told the ABC when asked if axing the program proved the program was a failure.

Under the new off-farm water efficiency program to replace the WEP, the government set aside $1.3 billion "for state-led projects, as well as $150 million in direct grants".

Mr Pitt said the government had identified 50 off-farm projects that would form the core of the new program, with at least 10 ready to commence over the next year.

A total of $60 million would remain in the WEP program for projects that had already been committed.

The government said it was committed to delivering 450 gigalitres of water saving for the environment by 2024.


Doctor’s vaccine post slams TGA warning Aussie medicos against spruiking virus vaccine

A furious Australian doctor claims health experts have been “literally left powerless” thanks to a ridiculous COVID vaccine rule.

An Australian doctor has hit out at a rule that prevents medics from encouraging people to get the coronavirus vaccine, claiming their “hands are now tied”.

Dr Preeya Alexander, a GP and mother of two behind the popular The Wholesome Doctor Instagram account and blog, lifted the lid on the “ridiculous” gag in a social media post.

She claimed the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has warned doctors not to share their opinion on the jab on social media, in case it encourages people to get the vaccine.

Under the Therapeutic Goods Act 1989, doctors are prevented from promoting the use or supply of therapeutic goods, and according to the TGA, doctors voicing their opinions on the vaccine online risk breaching Australia’s ban on advertising prescription medications.

But Dr Alexander says that gag rule is ridiculous during a pandemic.

She also made a thinly veiled swipe at anti-vaxxer Pete Evans, pointing out the double standards that allowed those with no medical qualifications whatsoever to spout vaccine conspiracy theories while doctors were “silenced”.

“A former celebrity chef can widely spread misinformation regarding the COVID-19 and other vaccines … as can a ‘WAG’ or former model. But a qualified health professional can’t share their expert views on the COVID-19 vaccine?” she posted.

“We are held to different standards and it’s a problem. “Our hands are now tied and we are silenced, literally left powerless to fight the absolute nonsense and health misinformation.”

Dr Alexander insisted doctors discussing the vaccination was not an example of advertising or coercion. “It’s an attempt to give you information so that you can make an informed choice,” she continued. “It’s giving you information so you can sift through the absolute hogwash.”

Dr Alexander’s post was met with overwhelming support, with followers outraged by the situation.

“When those with the actual knowledge and expertise are silenced … then the leftover info is the rubbish we all too often see,” one Instagram user posted.

“This makes me furious. Any thoughts on how we as consumers can help create change?” another asked, while a third urged Dr Alexander to “keep fighting”.

“You’re doing an amazing job. So sick of these ‘influencers’ spreading misinformation. We need more professionals like yourself speaking out.”

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Karen Price told the organisation had been in conversation with the TGA over the issue.

“We were in discussion with the TGA this morning, saying we need more clarification here, and they agree – for example, I retweeted something from the WHO with a comparison of different vaccines, so am I going to get into trouble?” she said.

“They told me no, that was providing information – the problem would be if I went on to say ‘Come to my clinic’ – it’s about the inducement.

“But doctors can say they are going to offer COVID vaccines on this date, and clearly if you come into a clinic you can discuss it as you would normally.”

Dr Price said she was confident the two groups would be able to work together to provide greater clarity for doctors.

A TGA spokeswoman told the arrangements for advertising COVID-19 vaccines were no different from what is in place for the advertising of other prescription medicines, which the Act prohibits from being advertised to consumers except where such advertising has been authorised or approved by the Australian Government or an Australian state or territory government.

“The TGA has published guidelines to provide additional clarity for healthcare professionals and others on the existing protocols for advertising of prescription medicines and vaccines,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.

“Doctors, pharmacists and others are able to use a range of advertising content produced and authorised by the Australian Government to inform consumers about, and facilitate access to, the vaccines.

“Doctors and pharmacists will also be able to add to this material to advise consumers of when and where the vaccines are available. In addition, they may promote the merits of being vaccinated as long as they do not promote individual vaccines.”

The spokeswoman said that arrangement “allows for the critical dissemination of consistent, accurate and contemporary information around COVID-19 vaccines and vaccination.”

“It is important to note that discussions and information shared between a health professional and their patient during a course of treatment (eg during a consultation) are not subject to the advertising requirements for therapeutic goods,” the statement continued.

“The TGA accepts however that not all information (including in social media posts) is advertising within the meaning of the Act. Distinguishing between factual, balanced and non-promotional information, and the promotion of the use or supply of therapeutic goods (ie. advertising) can be difficult and needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis and in the context in which it is presented.

“For example, the Act could not prohibit a doctor from giving their view in relation to vaccination generally (which is a service rather than a product) however if that view extends to identifying particular vaccine products discussed in a favourable way it would likely be captured by the Act.”


Second half comeback almost erases Australia's COVID recession

Economic activity declined by 1.1 per cent over the calendar year, new Bureau of Statistics data show.

However, gross domestic product (GDP) grew strongly in the last six months of the year, by 3.4 per cent in the September quarter, and by 3.1 per cent in the December quarter.

The strength of the resurgence in activity took economists by surprise, and it was the first time in the more than 60-year history of the National Accounts that GDP has grown by more than 3 per cent in two consecutive quarters.

It means the economy has rebounded sharply from its record deterioration in the middle of last year, when the June quarter data recorded a historic decline of 7 per cent after the first lockdowns.

Government payments boost GDP

The ABS data shows the federal government's JobKeeper and boosting cash flow for employers schemes provided significant support to the economy.

JobKeeper payments accounted for $11.9 billion in the December quarter, down from $35.8 billion in the September quarter.

Boosting cash flow for employers contributed $6.7 billion, down from $13.5 billion in the September quarter.

Spending by households rose by 4.3 per cent in the December quarter, as Victorians came out of lockdown and people around the country started going out more to buy goods and services.

Spending on services jumped 5.2 per cent in the quarter as recreation and culture, hotels, cafes and restaurants and health all continued to rebound.

Purchase of vehicles rose a record 31.8 per cent, reflecting higher household disposable income and shifting spending patterns, with continued limitations on other expenditure items such as overseas travel.

Economists say rebound is 'extraordinary'

Commonwealth Bank economist Gareth Aird said 2020 will arguably go down as "the most unique year to date in the history of the Australian economy."

"Government interventions in the economy were radical and the policy response was unparalleled," he said. "In many ways an experiment of sorts was conducted in real-time and the results surprised everyone in a positive fashion. "Put simply, the economic and health outcomes were generally much better than what intuitively seemed likely almost a year ago."

Dr Brendan Rynne, KPMG's chief economist, said Australia looks on course to be back to pre-COVID GDP levels by the middle of this year, if not earlier. "That is an extraordinary comeback from the depths of mid-2020," he said.

"Confidence is returning and it seems the 'wealth effect' too is playing its part, which may be why the Reserve Bank is unconcerned about the surge in house prices."


AGL Energy reveals its transgender employees are entitled to six weeks' extra paid leave so they can work on 'affirming their gender' by attending counselling and changing their wardrobe

Transgender employees at one of Australia's largest energy providers can now take an extra six weeks' paid leave to give them time to 'affirm their gender'.

AGL Energy made the announcement on LinkedIn last week, revealing the new initiative was for workers who needed time away from the office.

'The leave can be used for things like medical or legal appointments, recovery periods, changing dress and presentation or attending counselling,' AGL said.

The energy provider has a employee-driven network called AGL Shine with 558 members dedicated to building an inclusive workplace for its LGBTI+ workers.

Working professionals were quick to congratulate AGL for making the 'bold' decision to support its transgender employees. 'What a bold step,' wrote one lawyer, before asking for clarification on whether the leave was only for workers recovering from a medical operation.

'The leave is available for social gender affirmation,' AGL replied, without directly answering whether workers undergoing 'social transition' were entitled to the same leave.

'I think this is a step forward compared to many employers. As an employee, I would seek out employers who think along these lines. To me, that’s an employee value proposition. These are the things I value,' wrote graduate lawyer Angela Tydeman.

According to their current workplace diversity statistics AGL Energy has 5.1 percent of employees identifying as LGBTI.

AGL Energy is not the first Australian company to offer gender transition leave for its employees.

In 2018, Westpac implemented a similar leave program allowing its employees to access up to four weeks of paid leave and 12 months of unpaid leave to undertake a gender transition.

Deakin University also allows its continuing and fixed term staff to have ten days of leave while to undertake their gender affirmation or define their gender identity.

Origin Energy also offers up to six weeks of paid leave or 12 weeks leave at half pay for employees going through a medical gender affirmation.

AGL Energy was contacted but no comment was made at the time of publication.




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