Thursday, August 31, 2023

Tyrannical childcare regulator blasted

Determined to make childcare unaffordable

A HUNTER child care service facing up to $50,000 in fines for failing to comply with "inequitable and impractical" Department of Education regulations has hit back, and won.

St Nicholas Early Education services, which operates 33 out-of-school-hours OOSH services for children at Catholic schools in the Maitland-Newcastle Diocese, as well as 12 early childhood learning centres, caters to about 5,200 children.

The service was taken to task over allegations it failed to properly manage children with asthma at six of its OOSH centres in Abermain, Branxton, Lochinvar, Maitland, Rutherford and Scone.

However, Supreme Court Justice Des Fagan criticised the department for inflicting "impractical burdens" on St Nicholas rather than adopting a sector-wide standard.

He described the laws regulating the industry as a "superstructure of minute regulation" which comes at "significant cost, and with considerable burden and absorption of resources - for government, for approved providers, and for the users of their services".

"The burden of heavy regulation is illustrated in this case by evidence of the manner in which authorised officers of the secretary have scrutinised the operation of some of the plaintiff's centres and by the documentary evidence of the plaintiff's painstaking and protracted efforts to reason with departmental offices about the impracticability of their enforcement directions," Justice Fagan said.

As it was, the centres operated on a not-for-profit basis, and there was evidence before the court that many of the clients of the business are "families wherein both parents work".

"There is a strong inference that the scope for the plaintiff to increase its charges, in order to cover additional operating expenses including the cost of complying with statutory requirements and departmental directions, is very constrained," he said.

In this case, the department was seeking for St Nicholas to keep on the premises asthma-related drugs which were only required to be taken once per day, at home.

"It appears unsatisfactory, to say the least, that medically untrained personnel should, in the name of the secretary, formally allege on medical grounds that an offence has been committed ... carrying a $50,000 fine, and issue a statutory notice for which non-compliance attracts a $30,000 fine ... (when) 'online research' was considered (upon review) sufficient to show that by following parental instructions, which accorded with the nature of the medication, the plaintiff (St Nicholas) took 'every reasonable precaution' as required by the Law," Justice fagan said.

"It is difficult to see why the inspector and (department) should not have been sufficiently trained either to refrain from making medical judgments beyond their expertise or to make the online inquiry themselves, before imposing upon an authorised provider the risk and burden of dealing with a compliance notice that was unjustified in this material particular."

The department's requirements were outside of accepted industry practise, medical advice and community standards.

Being forced to approach parents for updated asthma plans in an effort to appease the department, St Nicholas reported that four families withdrew their child's asthma plans saying they had outgrown them, and two families left the service citing the requirement of a new asthma plan where it was not a requirement at other services.

"A significant number of parents have expressed concerns around the cost and availability of accessing their GP/specialist to request a further update to the plan and whether this accessibility issue will threaten the ability of their child/children to continue attending care," the department's legal counsel said.

"Out of the responses received, less than 14 per cent have been able to provide updated plans that [meet] the requirements [the department] have outlined. We believe this to be further evidence that the department's current approach with the approved provider's services is outside of accepted industry practice, medical advice and community standards."

Justice Fagan ordered the department to pay St Nicholas's costs, saying the money it had spent on its approach to enforcement could probably have funded "an appropriately qualified medical specialist" to advise on standardised directions to all approved operators, taking into account the autonomy of parents to choose the extent to which they will authorise or require childcare staff to administer medication.

"The department's relationship with this provider has been one of enforcement, penalisation and legal disputation rather than guidance and support," he said.


Cyber Attack Cost Medibank $46.4 Million

Australia's largest insurer Medibank has sustained a $46.4 million (US$30 million) loss due to a cyber attack, according to the company's 2023 financial year (FY) results.

Last year, Russian cybercriminals launched a hacking saga against Medibank, stealing personal data from nearly 10 million Australians and posting them on the dark web.

In the results released on Aug. 24, the insurer revealed it incurred $46.4 million of costs associated with cybercrime, largely related to its incident response and the customer support package.

They added that it was expected to cost another $30 million to $35 million in FY24 for an IT security uplift, as well as legal and other costs related to regulatory investigations and litigation.

This, however, does not include the impacts of any potential findings or outcomes from regulatory investigations or litigation.

Following the cyber attack, Medibank lost nearly 13,000 out of about four million policyholders in the December quarter.

However, the company is swiftly recovering, with reported net resident policyholders increasing by almost 11,000 (0.6 percent) and net non-resident policy holders increasing by 78,400 (39.9 percent) in FY23.

The growth mainly came from families, younger people, and those taking out cover for the first time.

“In what was a very challenging year for our customers and our people, policyholder growth is back on track following the cybercrime event," Medibank CEO David Kiczkar said.

"Health insurance customers have surpassed 4 million for the first time in our 47-year history, and they continue to prioritise their health and wellbeing by using their cover more than in recent years."

Mr. Kiczkar said while many Australians were scaling back spending in many areas, health has not taken the same hit.

“People are still opting for private health insurance in record numbers," he said.

“We expect further policyholder growth in FY24 in what will continue to be a highly competitive market.

“We recorded our largest increase in non-resident policyholders in seven years, with policy unit growth of almost 40 percent bringing the total number to nearly 275,000."

Medibank also reported a net profit after tax of $511.1 million.


Minns warns giant overhead cables only way to deliver renewable energy future

Premier Chris Minns has vowed to push ahead with the construction of gigantic overhead power cables across the state, warning a delayed rollout of transmission lines could undermine the renewable energy transition and threaten supply and prices.

In an unusually blunt intervention into the fraught debate over how to connect regional wind and solar projects to the east coast grid, Minns said burying the cables below ground as some landholders have demanded could triple the cost and delay the government’s urgent effort to plug a looming hole in the state’s power supply caused by the retirement of coal-fired power stations.

Labor will have to consider how to resolve a stand-off with vocal community groups – including farmers and environmentalists – who strongly oppose overhead powerlines. This could see new policy measures to give more state control over local planning.

Speaking at a Business Sydney event, Minns acknowledged that regulatory and planning changes would be needed to accommodate above-ground transmission, but overhead powerlines were the only cost-effective option available to the government.

He warned that delays in connecting renewable energy projects in regional NSW to the eastern seaboard through new transmission could threaten energy supply and the cost of power bills.

Minns said the government could not “pretend that the difficulties of renewable energy can be just wished away, we gotta get on with those projects”.

The NSW Labor government has warned of delays and increased costs to many renewable energy zones.
The NSW Labor government has warned of delays and increased costs to many renewable energy zones.CREDIT:JANIE BARRETT

“Part of that is us looking at the impact and cost of underground cabling to get renewable energy projects to the eastern seaboard,” Minns said.

“Unfortunately, we’re going to have to go overland and the reason for that is it is three times the cost. If you do it underground, that’s going to add cost [and] is going to add delay.”

Minns and energy experts are increasingly worried that time is running out to build the thousands of kilometres of high-voltage transmission lines needed to connect renewable energy zones in regional areas to major cities.

Time to accelerate the development of renewable alternatives

The federal government wants to reach 82 per cent renewables by 2030 and to hit net zero by 2050. The Australian Energy Market Operator calculates the grid needs to grow by 10,000 kilometres.

However, transmission methods have been hugely divisive in NSW amid concerns from some groups that overhead powerlines would have negative impacts on property values, the environment and the landscape.

Those concerns prompted an upper house parliamentary inquiry into the feasibility of transmission infrastructure being built underground. A report from the Labor-controlled committee is due to be released on Thursday.

“We’ve got renewable energy zones in regional NSW, we have to transmit that power onto the east coast energy grid, which is largely hugging the eastern seaboard,” Minns said.

“The best way we can execute the renewable energy revolution while keeping prices as low as possible and ensuring supply is ensuring we get those connection points.”

The renewable zones were the brainchild of the former NSW Coalition government as part of its ambitious energy road map but costs and timetables of some projects have blown out.

The Labor government has said the capital costs for the zones are estimated to be about $9.3 billion, and warned some of those projects are likely to be delayed.

Costs for the Orana renewable energy zone in the state’s Central West have increased from $650 million to $3.2 billion, while the Hunter Transmission Project has risen from $880 million to $990 million.

As well as boosting supply to the grid by fast-tracking transmission infrastructure from the renewable zones, the government may be forced to intervene to help keep Australia’s biggest coal-fired power station open beyond 2025.

The government’s electricity network review is being finalised, but Minns has previously indicated extending Eraring’s shelf-life might be necessary because “the pace of renewable energy coming online in NSW has been so slow”.


Meta ends partnership with RMIT FactLab amid voice referendum bias claims

Slippery "facts"

Sky News presenter Peta Credlin says Meta’s decision to suspend its partnership with RMIT’s fact-checking program amid complaints of voice referendum bias has exposed the “sinister use of so-called fact-checking to deny legitimate debate”.

On Tuesday, the tech giant distanced itself from RMIT’s Fact­Lab amid a furore after a “false information” label from “independent fact checkers” was slapped on Credlin’s reports about the Uluru statement posted on Facebook.

Her editorial stated that the Uluru Statement from the Heart was not a single-page document but 26 pages long.

Meta executives said they had suspended their partnership with RMIT FactLab, “effective ­immediately”, after receiving complaints about bias and unfairness relating to the voice to parliament referendum.

The FactLab’s failure to have a current certification by the International Fact-Checking Network was also blamed for Meta’s decision to suspend ties with FactLab.

Credlin, a columnist at The Australian, said: “It is a vindication of my concerns about a lack of transparency from the Prime Minister and Yes proponents about what a vote for the voice really means, given what we now know is contained in the full Uluru statement.

“It is simply not credible for Uluru co-authors, like Professor Megan Davis and Pat Anderson, to have tried to deny the breadth of the document’s Aboriginal sovereignty ambitions when they have been on the record so comprehensively for over six years.”

She also said this applied to journalists, including ABC host Leigh Sales, who last week said in an email to staff at the public broadcaster that the Uluru statement was a one-page document and they should refute any arguments contrary to this.

The FactLab, which said it worked “hand in hand” with RMIT ABC Fact Check. claimed this month that Credlin’s reporting and commentary about the Uluru statement’s length were incorrect, despite Credlin, receiving a response to a Freedom of Information request from the National Indigenous Australians Agency confirming its length as 26 pages.

Meta’s regional director of policy, Mia Garlick, responded on Tuesday to an inquiry sent by Liberal senator James Paterson questioning the FactLab’s conduct.

“We have recently become aware that one of our Australian fact-checking partners – RMIT – did not have current IFCN ­accreditation and that there have been complaints made to the IFCN about possible bias or unfairness in some of the fact checks being applied by RMIT with ­respect to content relating to the upcoming referendum on the voice to parliament,” she said in the correspondence.

“In light of these allegations and the upcoming vote on the voice referendum, we are suspending RMIT as a partner in our fact checking program, effective immediately.”




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