Saturday, August 28, 2021

Port Kembla power proposal deemed critical for the environment

This is tokenism. The new plant will rely 95% on natual gas -- a "fossil fuel"

A hydrogen-gas turbine power station proposed for the Illawarra region of NSW has been declared "critical state significant infrastructure", meaning the project will be fast tracked.

The plan by businessman Andrew Forrest to build the $1.3 billion project at Port Kembla will still need environmental approval, but will not be subject to third party appeal rights.

The project is in an area marked as a potential hydrogen gas hub.

The proposed power station has committed to using up to five per cent cent green hydrogen.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the plant was a step towards safeguarding the state's energy needs while providing jobs.

"The Port Kembla power station will be a game changer, not just for NSW but Australia," Mr Barilaro said in a statement.

"It will provide the energy capacity our state needs as existing coal-fired power stations reach their end of life, and household power bills will be the big winner as the project maintains downward pressure on prices."

The coal-powered Liddell Power Station near Muswellbrook, in the NSW Hunter region, is due to come offline in 2023.

Planning Minister Rob Stokes said the proposed power station would produce up to 635 megawatts of electricity on demand and create 700 construction jobs.

"The Port Kembla power station will be a critical part of the NSW energy mix as we move to cleaner, greener renewables," Mr Stokes said.

The power station would sit adjacent to the import terminal the Forest-owned Squadron energy group is already building. It has the capacity to handle both LNG and green hydrogen.

The federal government has previously committed $30 million to support initial works for the Port Kembla power station, and has shortlisted it for future funding support.

The final approval will rest with Mr Stokes.


‘Sledgehammer': Plan to force university staff to reveal foreign political history

More China hysteria

A confidential plan to force tens of thousands of university staff to reveal a decade of foreign political and financial interests has met with such fierce backlash that the federal government is now reviewing the proposal.

New draft foreign interference guidelines for universities are proposing to demand academics disclose their membership of overseas political parties and any financial support they have received from foreign entities for their research over the past 10 years.

Multiple university sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said there was widespread concern about the requirements, with one university executive describing it as "a sledgehammer, blanket approach" to the issue.

The proposed guidelines, which have been drafted by the University Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT), represent a major ramping up of scrutiny of academics' backgrounds in response to concerns within the federal government about research theft by the Chinese Communist Party and other foreign actors.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson, who serves on the UFIT steering committee, confirmed on Friday afternoon that "UFIT members have agreed that the relevant section will be reconsidered and redrafted". The decision to review the controversial section was made on Friday after a zoom consultation with NSW universities.

The taskforce, set up to address foreign interference issues in the university sector, includes vice-chancellors, government department officials and representatives from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. It has held zoom sessions with university leaders on the new guidelines over the past fortnight.

University of Sydney professor Duncan Ivison, deputy vice-chancellor for research, said universities had made clear to the government that the requirement for staff to disclose membership of political parties was "very, very problematic".

"We don't think it is reasonable to ask our staff their political affiliation. We've made that really clear, and government have agreed to take on board our concerns and come back to us," he said.

Professor Ivison said the consultation process was working and it was important the guidelines were proportionate to the risk security agencies were attempting to address.

"We also want to make sure they are compatible with the mission of universities. We're not ASIO, we're not a security agency."

Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge said he would not comment on "what is or isn't in the draft guidelines" but stressed that security agencies had made clear that universities were targets for foreign interference and espionage.

The decision to refresh the UFIT guidelines, which were first implemented in 2019, comes as the federal government has grown increasingly concerned about espionage at universities involving the theft of critical research and sensitive data by foreign actors. Under laws enacted last year, the government has the power to cancel research contracts between Australian universities and overseas universities controlled by foreign governments. They were widely viewed as targeting Chinese universities.

Security agencies have also repeatedly flagged their concerns. ASIO boss Mike Burgess warned earlier this year that the scale of foreign interference in universities was higher than at any time since the Cold War.

Under the current draft, which has been seen by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, the guidelines include a template of three "core declaration of interest questions" that universities must ask academic staff, including that they "outline any associations with foreign political, military, policing and/or security organisations". They must also declare whether they are receiving "any financial support (cash or in-kind) for research-related activities from a country outside Australia" and any "obligations that you have to any foreign institutions (including other academic bodies, research entities or private industry) or governments".

The draft stops short of imposing the same disclosure requirements on other university staff, including casuals and higher degree research students, proposing instead that the need for disclosures be "assessed based on risk level of activity."

Universities are also concerned about the potential legal complications of collecting such information from thousands of academics across every university, including whether it would breach anti-discrimination legislation or privacy laws. The guidelines contain no direction on what universities should do with the information once it has been collected.

One university executive described the measure as "McCarthyist", saying the guidelines had adopted "a sledgehammer, blanket approach" by requiring all academics to make disclosures on their overseas political links irrespective of risk.

"There's no sense of proportionality or any kind of risk profiling at all," the academic said.

"How is it possibly appropriate for this to apply across an entire university? You're requiring your lecturer in medieval poetry to declare her political affiliations and other foreign affiliations, in the same way that you would ask a researcher on missile guidance technology to disclose theirs."

The blanket disclosure approach means all foreign political links are captured, rather than those of particular interest to security agencies. For example, links to authoritarian governments, such as the Chinese Community Party must be disclosed, as must membership of British Labour or Conservative parties.

The Australian Research Council, which administers grant funding for research projects, has already adopted similar disclosure requirements. As first reported by The Australian, in its latest funding round the ARC required academics to disclose their affiliation with a "foreign government, foreign political party, foreign state-owned enterprise, foreign military or foreign policy organisation".


Finally, the age of lockdowns is over

Delta has changed everything

The age of the lockdown is over. The only catch is we can’t quite celebrate yet because half the nation is in lockdown.

And there is perhaps no more fitting final act of the coronavirus saga than this tragi-comic theatre of the absurd.

After more than a year and a half of Orwellian doublespeak and Machiavellian powerplays, Australia has finally come to its senses. Unfortunately it has only done so in theory, not practice.

From the very beginning of the pandemic there were those of us who could clearly see that mass lockdowns were never going to be a long-term solution, let alone a humane one.

We pleaded the vital importance of children going to school and adults going to work and thus were naturally condemned as granny-killing capo-fascists.

It would be unbecoming to crow now that we were right but, well, we were right.

Victoria subjected its citizens to four months of lockdown across the bitter winter of 2020 in an effort to beat the bug. But the bug came back and the state went into lockdown again.

And again. And again.

Meanwhile NSW showed that with a well-managed and well-resourced contact tracing system you could beat Covid-19 without city or statewide lockdowns.

The Casula outbreak, the Northern Beaches outbreak, the Croydon outbreak, the Berala outbreak and countless other leaks from hotel quarantine were all contained and crushed.

This all changed with the Delta variant.

NSW officials clearly thought they could beat it as they had the others, first with just contact tracing, then with local lockdowns, then with a citywide “lockdown lite” and lastly with some of the harshest measures ever seen.

None of it has worked. As every health expert and Blind Freddy himself now knows, we will not be getting back to zero ever again.

The predictable Pavlovian response from the hardliners was that this was because we didn’t lock down fast or hard enough.

And sure enough when Delta went down south Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews locked down hard and fast. After a couple of weeks he announced they had reached zero overnight cases.

That very same day Melbourne went into lockdown again. For the sixth time.

On Wednesday it looked like Victoria might have again started to bend the curve, posting just 45 overnight cases. The next day that number almost doubled.

An exasperated Andrews finally admitted there were “not many more levers we can pull”.

In short, he has gone as hard and fast as possible and still the virus is circulating and still Melburnians are living under the yoke.

Maybe it was just bad luck but if so there’s an awful lot of that going around.

In Fortress New Zealand, the global poster girl for ultra-hard lockdowns, they shut down the country at one single case. On Thursday there were more than 60 new cases.

Sure, Delta might possibly be held at bay for a while in some sparser scenarios but unless these jurisdictions are planning on becoming hermit states it is difficult to see what their long-term strategy is.

It is also true that both the Victorian and New Zealand outbreaks were caused by people from NSW — sorry about that! — but NSW could equally argue that its outbreak came from somewhere else too.

Or indeed that Sydney’s big second wave scare came from Victoria. The problem with the finger of blame is that it always ends up pointing in a circular direction.

The important thing is that even the most reluctant and recalcitrant are now finally seeing the light: Hard and fast or soft and slow, lockdowns now belong in the same historical dustbin as eugenics and ether theory.

They were never truly necessary in Australia, as its most populous state proved time and again, and when it comes to the current outbreak they clearly don’t work.

The NZ and Victorian governments are now subtly suggesting what NSW has been shouting from the rooftops — that it is not possible to beat the Delta variant with such medieval measures.

It is also worth noting that as of Thursday NSW and Victoria had reached almost the exact same number of Covid cases – around 21,500.

In Victoria 820 people died, in NSW just 133.

That is the difference vaccination makes and that is why even with record high case numbers NSW is now lifting restrictions instead of tightening them.

Indeed, new Doherty Institute modelling confirms this will not increase the death toll but anyone who can count could see that with their own eyes.

Even one of the Andrews government’s key lockdown advisers, epidemiologist and former staunch eliminationist Tony Blakely, is now advocating a softening of the current lockdown.

Likewise federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese has now endorsed the national pathway out of lockdowns. And NSW Labor’s Chris Minns has delivered from opposition what some of his counterparts have failed to deliver in government: Leadership.

With Labor MPs representing virtually all the Sydney Covid hotspots, Minns last week instructed every local member to ensure their communities were getting vaccinated.

And this week he threw his weight behind a strategy to get kids back to school next term, for which opposition support will be critical.

This is Labor at its best, putting people ahead of pointscoring.

Meanwhile the isolationist premiers of Queensland and WA are looking increasingly like the apocryphal last Japanese soldier on the island, fighting a solitary long lost war.

The final irony in all of this is that those who are locked down now will perhaps be the longest free, as vaccination rates surge in NSW and Victoria and stagnate in the separatist states.

Soon we will be reunited with the world while the wallflowers chew their nails in the corner.


Young face ‘prolonged disruption’ as degrees no longer guarantee careers

The value of higher education in launching young Australians into the career of their choice is being eroded as universities churn out record numbers of graduates who are increasingly forced to take on low-paid, insecure work.

A report by Monash University’s new Centre for Youth Policy and Education Practice argues young people face “the breakdown of a long-held assumption that higher education qualifications will lead to desirable and secure work”.

Instead, the report points to data that shows jobs for young people are increasingly concentrated in fields that are “seasonal, part-time, casual, low-wage and insecure”.

“The link between attainment of higher education qualifications and the movement into certain professions is not happening in a linear way any more,” centre director and report author Lucas Walsh said.

The link between post-school study and a higher income is also eroding, the report shows.

Higher education participation rates have risen by 41 per cent in the past decade, as more and more high school graduates defer full-time work. At the same time, the “earning premium” of a bachelor’s degree has shrunk, from 39 per cent in 2005 to 27 per cent by 2018.

Higher education has long involved an “opportunity bargain” in which high school graduates put off full-time work to gain qualifications that will lead to “a fulfilling career of one’s choice”, Professor Walsh said.

But that bargain has started breaking down in the past 20 years, putting young Australians in a position of “prolonged disruption” that has only got worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, Professor Walsh argues in a new report titled Life, disrupted: Young people, education and employment before and after COVID-19.

The pandemic has “exacerbated existing” precariousness, Professor Walsh says.

“If you look at previous downturns, young people are the first to go and the last to come back in. We saw that profoundly during the pandemic.”

In the first six months of 2020, 157,000 teenagers lost work, and 13 per cent of women under 25 left the Australian labour force, the report states.

Even though the world of work is changing, for university students such as Meena Hana, study and qualifications are still the path to the job of their dreams.

A survey of more than 40,000 people has revealed which courses and universities landed graduates in jobs.

Ms Hana has wanted to work in healthcare ever since she did a stint of work experience inside a hospital while in high school, and says pharmacy appeals to her because it offers a stable and satisfying career, even if the pay is modest.

“Studying pharmacy is not just for the income, I’d rather do it and enjoy it than do something else and not have the same feeling about my career,” she said.

She said she was prepared to do further study beyond her bachelor’s degree to advance her career.

The Monash University report argues that schools that focus too heavily on academic performance and students’ tertiary destinations and not enough on careers counselling were doing their students a disservice.

“Schools have long been criticised as demoting careers education, of viewing it as extra-curricular activities taking time away from the curriculum that really matters and is assessable,” the authors say.

Leon Furze, the director of teaching and learning at Monivae College in Hamilton, said some schools were moving away from a focus on the ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) for this reason.

He said today’s students faced a jobs market where employers want a broader skill set, not just a graduate with a degree in a particular field.

“We tell students to be open to the idea that you’re going to change courses, change qualifications part-way through and even that when you come out the other end you’re not guaranteed that you are going to cruise into the industry that you had your heart sent on when you were leaving year 12,” Mr Furze said.




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