Thursday, October 26, 2017

AFP raids Australian Workers' Union headquarters as part of Shorten and GetUp investigation

Bill Shorten's union days coming back to haunt him?

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) have rushed to conduct raids on the Australian Workers' Union offices, amid concerns documents could be destroyed.

The raids are part of an investigation into payments made when Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was secretary.

The investigation relates to whether donations made to activist group GetUp and to federal Labor campaigns were authorised under union rules.

In a statement, the ROC confirmed it launched the sudden raids because it was concerned evidence could be "concealed or destroyed".

"Since the investigation commenced, the ROC received information which raised reasonable grounds for suspecting that documents relevant to this investigation may be on the premises of the AWU…and that those documents may be being interfered with (by being concealed or destroyed)."

The ABC understands the payments under investigation include $100,000 paid by the AWU National Office to GetUp in 2006.

Another is a $25,000 payment by the AWU National Office to Bill Shorten's election campaign in the Melbourne seat of Maribyrnong in 2007, and two other payments to campaigns in the seats of Petrie (Queensland) and Stirling (WA).

The AWU's National Secretary Daniel Walton described the raids as an "extraordinary abuse of police resources" by the ROC and the Federal Government.

"Malcolm Turnbull, when he's under pressure, calls the police," Shadow Employment Minister Brendan O'Connor told reporters in Parliament House.

"Today we learnt in Senate estimates there are resource issues with the Australian Federal Police.

"At the same time that that was uncovered, we have a situation where the Government is treating the police as its plaything — using the police to investigate a civil matter, an allegation that was made 10 years ago."

A spokesman for the Federal Government argued the AFP is "completely independent of government".

"It is absurd and false to suggest the AFP is in any way politicised," he said.

"Labor is attacking the independence, integrity and professionalism of the AFP and its officers. This is an offensive slur and a disgraceful distraction.

"This matter was referred to the Registered Organisations Commission weeks ago and it is important it is allowed to investigate without hysterical smears from Labor."

Separately, the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) has asked GetUp to abide by disclosure laws that would require it to outline what funding it receives and how it is spent.

Groups subjected to such obligations are known as "associated entities", which are defined as a group controlled by one or more political parties, or operating to a significant extent for the benefit of political parties.

In a letter obtained by the ABC, the AEC said there were grounds to suggest GetUp's activities last year could be seen as having benefited Labor and the Greens.

GetUp has denied the claims and insisted it is an independent movement.


We are still paying for Rudd's follies

Electricity customers face an extra burden of between $3.8 billion and $7.5bn in “windfall” subsidies for renewable power generators in the next decade ­because of the stroke of a pen in the last months of Kevin Rudd’s prime ministership.

Against advice from consultants, energy companies and the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Rudd government in 2010 extended the phasing out of the renewable subsidies for existing operators from 2020 to 2030.

The 10-year extension beyond the contracted 2020 phase-out under the Howard government is estimated to cost households and businesses up to an extra $7.5bn.

Based on a pre-2010 renewable generation estimate of about 9500 gigawatts an hour — and cost of certificates of about $80 — the highest estimated cost of the subsidy is $7.5bn. Under estimates based on the generation of 8300GW/h and a certificate price of $47, the total cost would be $3.8bn. The subsidy is coming into focus as the Turnbull government unveils its plans to stop subsidies for new renewable energy projects from 2020 because wind and solar power are becoming “cheaper than coal” and can survive without subsidies. Subsidies for existing projects will continue to be paid to 2030, in line with the Rudd government’s commitment.

The Turnbull government has estimated that not adopting a clean energy target suggested by the Finkel report will cut $11bn in potential renewable subsidies through renewable energy certificates.

Malcolm Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg are promoting the Coalition’s new energy plan as not adopting taxes or new subsidies.

“We call upon our political ­opponents to accept the National Energy Guarantee as recommended by the Energy Security Board,” Mr Frydenberg said. “It is a credible, workable, pro-market policy that delivers lower power prices and a more reliable system.”

After the election of the Rudd government in 2007, a series of changes was made to climate-change policy, including increasing the Howard government’s renewable energy target five times to 45,000 GW/h a year, splitting the then mandatory renewable energy target (MRET) into two, and trying to implement an emissions trading scheme by mid-2010.

In 2003, a Howard government review of the MRET, which recommended expanding renewable energy and emissions reduction targets, said the subsidies should not be extended beyond 2020.

Most of the political and parliamentary debate concentrated on ramifications of rapidly expanding rooftop solar systems and splitting the MRET into large and small sections.

Former Labor ministers cannot recall cabinet discussion or parliamentary debate over the extension of the subsidies for existing renewable generation to 2030, which was seen as a minor part of the massive changes to renewable energy policy.

But between 2008 and 2010, a Senate review, government advisers, the ACF, energy companies Origin and AGL as well as aluminium producer Rusal told the Labor government not to extend subsidies for existing renewable energy producers beyond 2020.

The Rudd government was told of the perception of “windfall profits” for existing renewable energy generators, was urged to keep the Howard government 2020 cut-off for subsidies and was reassured there was no sovereign risk because existing contracts and solar and wind farms had been built with the clear agreement that subsidies would end in2020.

Even Greenpeace and the ACF argued against windfall profits.

“Facilities built between 1997 and 2007 should only be eligible for incentives due under the existing MRET,” the ACF said in a submission to the Climate Change Authority.

The Australian Meat Processor Corporation said stations built before the introduction of MRET should not be allowed to access the scheme beyond 2020 because it “does not create a level playing field for these to be included”.

The Rudd government’s own discussion paper — Design Options for the Expanded national Renewable Energy Target Scheme — said the treatment of existing ­renewable energy generators could have large ramifications for climate change policy.

“Treatment of pre-existing power stations under the expanded national RET has implications for the supply of RECs in the market after 2020 and for the cost of the scheme,” the paper found.

“Treatment of pre-existing generators could also have implications for the credibility and effectiveness of the scheme in driving additional generation, if it is perceived that windfall gains after 2020 could accrue for business-as-usual generation by investments made in the expectation that a RECs revenue stream would be available only until 2020,” the paper said.

Despite the warnings the Labor government gave existing renewable energy generators access to the “windfall profits” beyond 2020 and locked in huge subsidies for a decade longer than contracted.


Productivity Commission report highlights tensions between university research and teaching

An old issue that grinds on

THE obsession with research at universities is helping to create an oversupply of graduates in certain areas and potentially bad outcomes for students and taxpayers.

That’s according to a Productivity Commission report, Shifting the Dial, released Tuesday which set out a broad agenda for reform spanning health, schools, universities, transport and energy.

It noted that universities were being encouraged to churn out students in “high-margin courses”, which are cheap to teach but have high fees, so they can funnel more money into research.

This risks creating an oversupply of graduates, wastes both students and taxpayers money, and could ultimately affect Australia’s productivity and economic growth.

“Many university staff are more interested in, and rewarded for, conducting research,” the report said.

This is due partly due to its importance of research in international rankings as well as the culture in universities that gives prestige to research and sees teaching-focused positions as a “low-pay, low-progression and low-value career pathway”.

“Teaching therefore plays second fiddle to research, with consequences for student satisfaction, teaching quality and graduate outcomes,” the report noted.

The commission found that student fees that should be used for teaching, were instead being directed towards research and this was undermining student outcomes and teaching quality.

About 80 per cent of teaching-only staff at universities in 2015 were working as casual employees, and many teachers were part-time workers who were themselves students.

“It seems likely that a system where a significant share of the teaching is provided by junior staff with limited long-term teaching interest will not generate the best educational outcomes for students,” the report said.

It noted that the use of money for teaching to cross-subsidise research was also creating an oversupply of certain graduates and there was evidence this was already happening.

One study found nearly 45 per cent of recent law graduates who were employed were actually working in clerical, sales and service occupations.

On the flip side, universities may also be discouraged from providing more student places for “low-margin” or loss-making areas that can create an undersupply of graduates in essential professions including dentistry, veterinary science, health sciences and engineering.

While the commission has not made any recommendations because it acknowledged the complexity of the system and did not want to create unintended adverse outcomes, it did suggest options that should be considered.

It said one solution could be to change government funding so that it more closely reflected expected teaching costs, and the public and private benefits.

“For example, disciplines with a high degree of personal benefits and limited positive spillovers (such as a degree in finance) could require students to pay most (or even all) of the cost of tuition,” the report said.

However, it said this would need to be offset by other changes to how research was funded.

It has also supported the Federal Government’s plans to introduce a form of performance-contingent funding from 2019, which would make 7.5 per cent of funding contingent on the university’s teaching performance.

The exact design of this plan is still being developed but the commission said this was a “step in the right direction, although there are a range of challenges with making this approach fair and effective”.

The commission was also sceptical about the benefits of the Turnbull Government’s plan to lower the income threshold that students need to start paying off their HELP debts.

Instead it believes outstanding HELP debts could be collected from deceased estates from those aged over 60 years and potentially only from estates worth over a certain amount.

This would also allow HELP debts to be recovered from the increasing number of students aged 65 years or over, who are accessing these loans but are less likely to pay them off.

Other suggestions from the commission include relaxing restrictions on the use of the term “university” so that institutions don’t have to do both teaching and research to qualify.

The commission believes this could be dropped to encourage some institutions to focus on teaching.

It said universities should also assess students carefully to ensure they start the right course and are more likely to finish it.

The commission found there was a link between how high a student’s Australia Tertiary Admission Rank was and whether they were likely to drop out of uni before finishing their degree.

Students with an ATAR above 95 had an annual attrition rate of less than 5 per cent in 2014 but this jumped to about 20 per cent for those whose score was between 50 and 59.

Similarly nearly 40 per cent of those with an ATAR between 50 and 59 had left uni without a degree after nine years, while just 4 per cent of students with an ATAR above 95 had done so.

However, the commission noted the ATAR score was just one reason why students quit and others include the student’s motivation levels, financial security and personal or health-related factors.

Group of Eight, which represents Australia’s leading research intensive universities that account for two-thirds of all research funding to universities, is supportive of the commission’s findings.

“The Productivity Commission rightly questions how we do our job, how we use our funding and our focus,” Go8 chief executive Vicki Thomson told “We would expect no less.

“It has therefore been particularly pleasing to concentrate on the substance of the report and find that the Commission is in agreement with the Go8’s consistent advocacy push for an end to the current dysfunctional and distorted funding model for research, and to our call for an independent review of how the sector is financially structured, and on our outcomes.”



Doctors warn of dangerous rise in use of 'nangs'

A girl in her 20s struggles to walk. She has nerve damage to her spinal cord and may never recover

What is a 'nang'? A "nang" is the street name given to a small canister of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas. It is available over the counter, and has various uses including in medicine and hospitality. 

However, selling it for non-medical human consumption is illegal in NSW. It can cause brain damage, memory loss, a weakened immune system and incontinence

The cause? Bingeing on "nangs" — small canisters of nitrous oxide gas designed for whipping cream, but being misused as a recreational drug.

The female student was inhaling 360 nangs a week. Her future is bleak.

Partygoers buy nangs (also known as nozzies, bulbs and whippets) to inhale the nitrous oxide inside the canister. It is a 20-second high.

In a medical setting, nitrous oxide is useful. Dentists use it as an anaesthetic and it is administered to women in labour.

But doctors warn recreational use carries serious risks. "Very recently I had a 20-year-old patient whose brain appeared to have the same level of damage as an alcoholic who had been drinking for 40 years," toxicologist Dr Andrew Dawson told 7.30.

Dr Dawson, who is Director of the Poisons Information Centre at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, said the number of cases had risen alarmingly. "We have had a doubling of the number of calls from hospitals about significantly affected people from nitrous oxide exposure," he said. "Those effects are severe nerve injury, or sometimes brain injury.

"There has been a real spike over the last two years."

Although deaths are rare, Dr Dawson said they were "certainly" reported within Australia.

"Those deaths can relate to anything from the exploding of the small cylinders, to people becoming hypoxic — that is, short of oxygen, from overuse," Dr Dawson said.

Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, has been around for hundreds of years.

It has been used to get high for just about as long, beginning with the British upper class "laughing gas parties" in the 1700s.

Now it is back with a vengeance.

According to the Global Drug Survey, nitrous oxide is the seventh-most popular drug in the world.

In Australia, canisters are sold in packs of 10 for $10 in corner stores, or in bulk online, with multiple sellers advertising 24/7 weekend delivery.

The situation has prompted doctors, including Dr Dawson, to call for the supply of nitrous oxide to be limited, and a public health education campaign to warn about the risks.

"Kids are intelligent," Dr Dawson said. "It is an issue about actually getting that message across in an appropriate manner.


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

1 comment:

Paul said...

I think Getup's funding from George Soros should be worthy of its own investigation.