Thursday, October 01, 2020

A controversial gas project in northern NSW has been given the green light to go ahead

A controversial gas project in northern NSW has been given the green light by the state’s independent planning authority.

The NSW Independent Planning Commission has given “phased approval” for Santos’ $3.6 billion Narrabri gas project in the north east of the state.

The decision allowing the coal seam gas project comes more than six months after the state’s planning minister referred it to the regulatory body.

Phased approval has been granted for the project with 134 attached conditions.

Santos has said the project will create up to 1300 construction and 200 operational jobs.

“Following its detailed deliberations, the commission concludes the project is in the public interest and that any negative impacts can be effectively mitigated with strict conditions,” the commission’s statement said.

“The commission has granted a phased approval that is subject to stringent conditions, which means that the applicant must meet specific requirements before the project can progress to the next phase of development.”

During the hearing process communities and scientists raised concerns the project would put the area’s water resources at risk.

In its consultation phase, the project attracted approximately 23,000 submission, with opposing views that it would hinder the quality of the groundwater and concerns surrounding greenhouse gas emissions.

Australian Workers’ Union national secretary Daniel Walton said the Narrabri project would ensure NSW was provided with lower gas prices, which would mean cheaper electricity for households.

“Our union has never accepted the false choice between gas and renewables – you need the reliability of the former to allow the latter to flourish,” he said.

“New South Wales should be a thriving global heavy manufacturing hub, and that’s exactly what we can become if we better harness our gas wealth. This approval is an excellent step.”


State Government funds research into ‘game changer’ in fight against COVID-19

Aussie scientists are on the verge of a major breakthrough in the fight to track and control coronavirus that could see a return to normal life.

A leading coronavirus expert in the UK has pointed to research showing children display a different set of COVID-19 symptoms to adults.

Researchers at Xing Technologies are developing an ultra-rapid coronavirus test that can detect whether a person is infected and contagious within moments.

The State Government has already invested $1.5 million into the project and the company has also received $1 million from the US Government.

The Courier Mail reports that trials for the test are already underway in the US.

Brisbane-based Xing Technologies CEO Tom Esplin told the newspaper that a rapid test could pave the way for a return to normal pre-COVID activities, including travel.

“People are saying we need a rapid point-of-care test to let people get on aeroplanes,” Mr Esplin said.

“We’d like to be able to offer it. The highest viral loads occur in the three days before you develop symptoms. This test is perfectly suited for those who’ve got the highest risk of spreading it.”

The test has been designed to use a nasal swab that those who have taken COVID-19 tests are familiar with.

A solution would then be applied to the swab to produce a rapid result.

The Today show reports the test “could be used to test people before they go into high risk areas” like “aged care facilities, shopping centres, planes and hospitals”.

Queensland Innovation Minister Kate Jones told the Courier Mail that funding the project through the Palaszczuk Government’s Industry Tech Fund was an important step in moving forward with the lingering threat of COVID-19.

“It could be a real game changer in the fight against this pandemic,” Ms Jones said.

The test could cost as little as a cup of coffee, 9 News reports.

There are hopes that it could be used in a spray to be applied to personal protective equipment like face shields and face masks.


Why ‘micro’ courses are catching on

When Michael Elwan’s commute disappeared when Covid-19 prompted him to work-from-home in March, he decided to invest his freed-up time in a 10-week “micro-masters” in leadership at the University of Queensland (UQ). The contracts manager at the not-for-profit Uniting WA was already completing a Masters in Social Work but wanted to focus on leadership for more immediate career progression plans.

Despite the entire course being online, he was “amazed” by the networking opportunities he had with fellow students from all over the world.

“The course taught me how to lead teams from different backgrounds in turbulent times, which was especially relevant,” he says.

Elwan isn’t alone.

UQ’s leadership course saw a jump of almost 300 per cent in enrolments this year compared to the first half of last year. A total of 40,000 people have enrolled in the university’s top three micro-masters courses in 2020.

It comes as hundreds of thousands of Australians stare into one of the grimmest consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic: higher unemployment and underemployment, and greater anxiety about job security.

Like in previous recessions, demand for higher education and skills training is tipped to rise – in part because there aren’t many well-paying alternatives, but also due to necessity in a more competitive and changing jobs market.

However, not everyone has the financial means or appetite to tackle an entire degree. And with many industries undergoing profound upheavals, it’s difficult to know whether the skills learnt will be relevant by the time they are acquired.

Micro-credentials, by contrast, offer a short, sharp and cost-effective opportunity for learning. Course length varies from a couple of hours to several months and anything from email etiquette to data analytics can be learned.

“Micro-credentials offer a way to rapidly refresh your professional profile. It could help you scale some kind of career hurdle, get a pay rise, change jobs or move into an adjacent area,” says Dr Robert Kay, Executive Director of Incept Labs.

In April, Education Minister Dan Tehan announced that the government would subsidise six-month micro-credentials in nursing, teaching, health, information technology, with fifty-four universities responded by creating micro-credential courses. The government is now creating a nationally consistent digital platform to compare micro-credential course outcomes and credit point value, among other things.

This is important, because a current lack of standardisation means that outcomes and even quality can vary, says Kay.

“Ultimately, the value of a micro-credential is determined by who recognises it and for what. The risks relate to their currency at present, because micro-credentials aren’t mapped to the Australian Qualifications Framework. It’s therefore difficult to find an equivalence with other forms of qualifications,” Kay says.

Nonetheless, many employers already recognise the value of micro-credentials as a form of professional development. For example, Westpac in 2018 rolled out The Business Institute, an internal “school” for business bankers developed in consultation with leading business schools that delivers educational content, access to world-class teachers and credits towards external qualifications.

Laura Tien, digital content and partnerships associate at co-working hub Workit, says micro-credentials can help differentiate businesses from competitors, “especially during tough times like now”. She recently completed a six-hour micro-credentials course in Google Analytics, using her newfound skills to help Workit leverage data to make better decisions on ad spending. She also has a digital badge to add to her Linkedin profile.

“It was really interactive – I had to click through the actual application before being able to move onto the next part, which helped me retain the information,” she says. “My university degree taught me theories of marketing, but it wasn’t useful in terms of technical skills, which are so important these days,” she says.

UQ Associate Professor Tim Kastelle, who runs the corporate innovation micro-masters course, believes that micro-credentials will be a disruptive force in Australia’s education system and much needed add-ons for professionals.

“The idea that an undergraduate degree gives you the skills you need for the rest of your career is obsolete – if it was ever really true. The nature of work is changing and there is an almost constant need to be learning new things: and shorter forms of learning can accommodate that,” he says.

“Someone might say to themselves, ‘I’ve just been promoted to team leader, so I’ll do a course on leading high performing teams.’ It’s about figuring out how to do a specific thing, rather than wanting to develop an integrated body of knowledge as you get from a degree.”


Why your health fund premium is rising

Health fund premiums will rise by as much as $400 a year from tomorrow with many fund members slugged more than twice the promised average 2.9 per cent increase.

The nation’s largest health fund Medibank is raising the price of some of its Gold policies by 6.7 per cent and many Silver Plus policies by 5.9 per cent.

Bupa, Australia’s second largest insurer is raising the cost of one Silver policy by 5.6 per cent.

Some HCF members are facing premium rises of 3.2 per cent on their family cover, while

NIB’s Silver and Basic plus policies will increase an average of 4.3 and 3.9 per cent respectively.

It comes as News Corp can reveal the so called “average” 2.9 per cent premium rise figure – used by the government — is not an average of the premium rises of the policies offered but instead the percentage rise in premium income health funds receive.

“The percentage change in forecast contribution income is considered to be the most appropriate way of reflecting the price change in premiums that will be received by an insurer,” the Department of Health said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt and the insurance industry used the 2.9 per cent figure to boast that this year’s average annual premium rise was the lowest in two decades.

“From 1 April 2020, a single person will pay an average of $0.68 extra per week ($2.72 month $35.36 a year) family on average will pay $1.99 ($7.76 month $103 a year) more a week,” Mr Hunt claimed when he announced the premium rises.

But consumer group Choice said the five to six per cent rises most fund members face from tomorrow will hurt far more than advertised.

“That figure is almost, I guess, misleading it’s definitely not how people will interpret that figure,” Choice health spokesman Dean Price told News Corp.

“And it helps explain some of the shock that people feel when they get that notice from a health insurer notifying them of the increase, which is above the publicly stated average increase that there fund is passing on,” he said.

Health funds delayed their annual April 1 premium rises for six months after the government imposed surgery bands due to COVID-19 so now their members face two rises in six months.

Insurers have saved hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns and surgery bans.

Professor of Health Economics, University of Melbourne Yuting Zhang has calculated payouts for hospital treatment fell 7.9 per cent in dollar terms between December and March and a further 12.9 per cent between March and June.

Payouts for extras cover plunged 32.9 per cent between March and June this year.

Private Healthcare Australia chief Dr Rachel David said since the surgery bans were lifted in states outside Victoria surgery rates lifted to up to 124 per cent above normal as doctors sought to catch up on their treatment lists.

Health funds have offered their members hundreds of millions of dollars worth of rebates for telehealth consultations, automatic coverage for COVID-19 illnesses and discounts if members lost their job and could not pay premiums.

Medibank’s said across its hospital products, the lowest premium increase is 0 per cent and the highest is 7 per cent.

Seventy one per cent of Medibank customers on a singles policy will get an average increase on their premium of $3 or less per week ($12 per month), while 77 per cent of family policies will get an increase of $6 or less per week ($24 per month), the fund said.


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

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