Friday, September 09, 2022

Opposition mounts against bid to abolish cashless debit card

Independent senator David ­Pocock has expressed concern over Labor’s legislation to abolish the cashless debit card, urging the government to establish a clearer pathway to transition away from compulsory to voluntary income management.

The calls come as several senators challenge Labor over the Bill, arguing there has not been enough consultation with Indigenous communities despite a promise to have done so before proceeding with legislation.

A Senate inquiry into the government’s Bill to abolish the CDC – which quarantines 80 per cent of a person’s welfare payments on a debit card – last week heard evidence from federal bureaucrats warning it could take at least a year to find a technologically equal replacement for the CDC.

Indigenous leaders have also said the government risks leaving a “vacuum” if it rushes the abolition of the CDC, calling for an adequate replacement and warning of “dire” impacts for Aboriginal people if there isn’t one.

Labor passed legislation through the lower house in ­August to abolish the card amid concern it was unfairly stigmatising First Nations people, fulfilling a promise it made during the election campaign.

The legislation will end compulsory income management in most of the CDC’s program areas, other than in the Northern Territory and Cape York. Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth says communities outside the NT and Cape York can “self-determine” ­whether or not to accept a new form of income management following the abolishment of CDC. However, Indigenous leaders have grave concerns about a return to the BasicsCard which was used before the CDC was introduced.

Senator Pocock called on the government to undertake consultation with communities and ensure there was an equivalent card with appropriate technology for those who wished to use it.

“We have to ensure we have the best technology and it is clear it is not the BasicsCard which is very limited and limiting,” he said. “It’s a big problem to resolve and has to be done in a way that’s managed appropriately. “There needs to be consultation with First Nations communities and how that is managed with additional services.

“For people in Cape York, the system that they developed relies on the technology of the CDC and it is important that they have access to an equivalent.”

Senator Pocock supports the CDC model in place in Cape York, initiated by Noel Pearson and Queensland’s Family Responsibilities Commission. Mr Pearson told the Senate hearing that abolishing the scheme in Cape York would wipe out 20 years of work.

“You will repeal the card and then you will walk away and leave us to the violence, leave us to the hunger, leave us to the neglected children,” he said.

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie and United Australia Party’s Ralph Babet both expressed concern about the removal of the CDC without a clear transition plan.

Senator Lambie called on Labor to “reassure” communities about the next steps. “The Cashless Debit Card is going, but there’s thousands of people on it who are afraid of what comes next,” she said. You can’t just rip the card out of these communities and expect them to be OK. Labor needs to reassure these communities that there’s a plan for what comes next.”

Senator Babet advocated for a “clear” solution needed to address drug and alcohol problems in Indigenous communities, after meeting with Indigenous Country Liberal Senator Jacinta Price, who is a strong proponent of the CDC program.

“I have spoken with Senator Jacinta Price and Aboriginal leader Warren Mundine, who both have real-life experience living and working in remote Aboriginal communities,” Senator Babet said.

“From those conversations it is clear that a solution is needed to address the very serious problems of drug and alcohol abuse and the resulting domestic violence. I will be liaising with Senator Price to visit remote Aboriginal communities in the coming weeks where I will be speaking with members of the Aboriginal community for their views on the CDC.”

Opposition health and aged care spokeswoman Anne Ruston is preparing to introduce amendments to the Bill next week in a bid to suspend all debate and force the government to undertake community consultation.

Senator Ruston said the Coalition’s CDC was built on very advanced technology that allowed users to access welfare payments through a superior banking platform, while the BasicsCard operated as a pre-loaded gift card that required merchants to opt in.

“The government needs to come back with what their long-term income plan is,” she said. “There is about 4500 people in the NT who voluntarily chose to go on the CDC who will overnight have nothing. What’s going to happen to them? Will they be forced back on to the BasicsCard? “We have no information as to what’s going to be put in place to support these people.”

An Australian Nat­ional Audit Office report in June highlighted a lack of evidence to demonstrate the ­effectiveness of the CDC.

Implemented in 2016, the scheme was designed to encourage socially responsible behaviour by quarantining 80 per cent of a person’s welfare payments on a debit card to prevent it being spent on alcohol and gambling.

It was introduced in Ceduna, South Australia, East Kimberley and the Goldfields in Western Australia, and then ­expanded to Bundaberg and Hervey Bay in Queensland. The cost reached $36m in 2020-21, with nearly 17,000 ­people participating as of February this year.


No realism in sight about Australia's electricity supply

In their frantic efforts to avert a long forecasted but never arriving climate disaster, activists have managed to bring on a very real energy Armageddon plunging Europe back into a new dark age, and Australia may yet follow.

Australia has so far been spared scenes of citizens queuing for hours to buy coal (Poland), reverting to wood fires to heat their homes (Germany), or businesses facing closure due to energy costs (the UK), but power prices have skyrocketed, the grid has become considerably less reliable and it is set to get worse.

When the Liddell power station in NSW closes in 2023, almost 2 gigawatts of reliable supply will vanish from the system. That may not sound like much compared to the almost 60 GW of generating capacity in the National Energy Market, but it represents firm, dispatchable (that is, it can be switched on and off at command) power in a market that is increasingly dominated by renewables, the output of which is dictated by the sun and the wind.

Even with Liddell still operating the grid’s problems are bad enough. As previously noted in this publication (‘Transition to Lunacy’, 30 July) the government is expected to pay perhaps $1.7 billion to major power users who agreed to stay off the grid during a full-blown power crisis mid-year, and electricity prices still spiked. In Queensland wholesale power prices more than doubled to an unheard-of average of $323 a megawatt-hour in the June quarter. When brown-coal-fired power stations ruled the old state grids 20 years ago, wholesale power might have cost about $40 a megawatt hour.

More closures are to follow Liddell. Origin Energy will shut the 2,880 megawatt Eraring coal-fired power station in 2025, and Victoria’s Yallourn power station (1,480 MW, brown coal) is scheduled to close in 2028. To put those closures in perspective, when Victoria’s Hazelwood power station representing just 1,600 MW closed in 2017, the Australia Energy Regulator later noted that average electricity spot prices increased between 85 and 32 per cent across the eastern states.

The new Labor government has not only proved oblivious to this looming crisis, it has placed near impossible conditions on the one major, reliable generator to be built, a $600 million 660 MW gas-fired plant at Kurri Kurri in the Hunter region of New South Wales.

The Morrison government pushed through construction of this generator, designed as a fast-reaction plant to meet peaks in demand, in the teeth of opposition from activists and Labor. Since then Labor has reversed its opposition but only on the condition that 30 per cent of gas used by the generators is green hydrogen from day one of operation, expected to be in December 2023. Further, all of the plant’s gas supply has to be hydrogen by 2030, or in just eight-years time.

Although the plant can run on hydrogen as opposed to vastly more convenient natural gas, there are no sources of green hydrogen in that region or any significant sources anywhere else in Australia. During the federal election in February, Labor declared that it would set aside another $700 million for the Snowy Hydro Authority, which will run the plant, to make green hydrogen on the site. In other words the government wants to build a renewable energy power plant on site to generate power which will then use scarce fresh water to create hydrogen. The resulting hydrogen will be used to power the gas plant to produce electricity.

To have any chance of meeting the 30 per cent target consistently, the project will also need some so far undiscovered means of storing hydrogen safely in large enough quantities, to tide the gas plant over long periods when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine.

One of those who tried to convince the government, specifically the Federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen, that this eccentric approach just would not work was Snowy Hydro chief executive Paul Broad. As well as publicly declaring that the commercial use of hydrogen as a fuel was years away, Broad also tried to tell the government that, with Liddell closing, the grid needed several peaking plants, not just one. Those plants could then be powered up very quickly when the wind dies over large areas of the eastern seaboard, which is expected to happen all too frequently, and turned off when it starts to blow again. This is not an efficient way to run any grid, and will certainly not be cheap, but activists will still have their wind farms and the lights will remain on, for now.

All that sensible advice seems to have fallen on deaf ears with Broad resigning in late August, citing clashes with Energy Minister Bowen.

Another problem contributing to friction between the two men was that of the Snowy 2.0 project. Conceived as a giant water battery using existing dams by the conservative government of Malcolm Turnbull in 2017, the capital cost of the project has blown out from the original estimate of $2 billion to more than $5 billion, not counting extensive work on transmission lines to connect the project. The project is now expected to cost more than $10 billion, with no hope of recovering even a portion of that cost from revenue.

With the National Energy Market, the grid for Australia’s east coast, heading towards potential disaster when Liddell closes in 2023, drastic measures are required. Coal and gas plants must be kept open and, if necessary, diesel plants found and put into service, just as the South Australian government did in 2017 in response to a massive state blackout. The SA plants are still there as backup generators and, at 276 megawatts available at any time, they can contribute vastly more power in an emergency than the much-vaunted Hornsdale battery at Jamestown.

However, the Federal government shows little sign that it understands the problem, let alone the need to devise a workable solution. To date the new Labor government has only made things worse.


End prosecution of ATO whistleblower, Dreyfus urged

Legal groups and former senator Rex Patrick have renewed calls for Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus to stop the prosecution of Tax Office whistleblower Richard Boyle.

Mr Boyle, a former public servant, spoke publicly in 2018 about aggressive practices by the Australian Taxation Office, including hardline use of so-called garnishee notices, used to claw back tax debts from individuals and business.

ATO whistleblower Richard Boyle is facing 24 charges. Ben Searcy

He was charged with offences related to the misuse of sensitive information, telephone tapping and recording of conversations without consent. The case will be the first time a provision under the federal whistleblower law, the Public Interest Disclosure Act, is tested in a criminal case.

The Human Rights Law Centre this week called on Mr Dreyfus to discontinue the prosecution, following his move to end the case against lawyer and whistleblower Bernard Collaery.

“Whistleblowers should be protected, not punished. There is no public interest in this prosecution going ahead,” Human Rights Law Centre senior lawyer Kieran Pender said. “Richard Boyle did the right thing – he spoke up about wrongdoing taking place within a powerful government agency.

“Boyle has been vindicated by three independent inquiries, which collectively found that the ATO had misused its debt recovery powers, and that the ATO’s internal investigation of Boyle’s whistleblowing was superficial. Yet, he finds himself on trial for telling the truth.”

Earlier this month, legal groups and whistleblower advocates commended Mr Dreyfus for ordering the end of the prosecution of Mr Collaery over national security leaks, ending a four-year saga sparked by Australia’s efforts to spy on the government of East Timor.

The former ACT attorney-general was charged in 2018 with offences under the National Security Information Act for allegedly seeking to help his client, the intelligence operative known as Witness K.

The former Morrison government spent almost $6 million on the prosecution of Mr Boyle, and the Collaery case, according to figures released earlier this year.

“Like the Collaery case, the prosecution of Richard Boyle is unjust and will have a chilling effect on prospective whistleblowers,” Mr Pender said.

“This case warrants the Attorney-General’s intervention to end it.”

Mr Boyle’s case is being heard in the District Court of South Australia and is expected to last at least two weeks. If he is unsuccessful, a full trial before a jury is expected in October. It was due to start on Tuesday but has been delayed due to COVID-19.


Peter Dutton warns miners their projects could be 'vetoed' by the Indigenous Voice, pushes nuclear power and 'delights' in knowing more mining needed for electric cars

Peter Dutton has mocked climate activists and warned mining bosses the Indigenous Voice to Parliament could have their projects 'vetoed'.

The opposition leader issued a call to arms to the industry to attack the Voice and other key policies at a Minerals Council of Australia lunch in Parliament House.

He also ramped up his push for nuclear power in Australia and celebrated that electric cars just meant more mining. 'We have no idea what it means for the mining sector,' he said in a fiery speech to an appreciative crowd.

'We don't know whether a Voice that doesn't represent the elders that you negotiate with or that your agreement is with in a particular location, now, they might be usurped and [the Voice will] exercise a veto, right? 'That would damage your employees, that would damage your business.'

Mr Dutton said Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was asking the industry to support the advisory body 'sight unseen' without knowing the ramifications. 'We're all in favour of reconciliation and we're all in favour of sensible reforms and we'll stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the government to do that,' he said.

'But this preparedness to sign up to please others I think is a disease within corporate Australia at the moment.'

Mr Dutton said he took joy in knowing environmental activists were conflicted about the need for more mining to produce green technology.

The inconvenient truth for activists is that decarbonisation will require more mining. I take some delight knowing it must keep them up at night,' he said.

He also warned mining and construction projects, and even critical infrastructure would 'increasingly become prey to green activism and warfare'.

Mr Dutton claimed the government's climate bill that will cut Australia's carbon emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 'ceded control to climate advocates'.

He said many of the more than 2,000 climate court cases worldwide were the result of national emissions targets like the one that passed parliament on Thursday.

Mr Dutton argued those who didn't like coal or gas should support Australia creating a nuclear power industry, especially as the country had so much uranium.

'The imperative on all of us to create affordable and reliable and where possible emissions reduced energy necessitates that we at least have a conversation about nuclear,' he said.

'I think especially since Australia is home to one third of the world's deposits of uranium, we have a wonderful opportunity to add value to that resource.

The opposition leader cited left-wing leaders who supported nuclear power as evidence that Labor should get on board. 'Bob Hawke was strongly in favour of nuclear energy and couldn't get it through the left of his party,' he said.

'That crazy right-winger in Canada, Justin Trudeau, is embracing small modular reactors.

'If you don't like coal and you don't like gas, unless you believe clean hydrogen is about to be a reality, then what else firms up renewables? And I don't know the answer to that question beyond nuclear.'

Mr Dutton also raised the spectre of unions disrupting the mining industry or driving up costs with bargaining agreements across multiple companies. He said industry leaders needed to speak out against Labor empowering unions, even if, he claimed, the government retaliated against them.

'The Labor Party is great at retribution, I get that, particularly at state level, particularly where you have contractual arrangements where part of the business relies on consideration of applications, so I instinctively understand that,' he said.

'But it is frustrating if the view is that 'well, we'll just leave it to the Liberal Party to argue for there to be an adherence to what was even a Rudd-Gillard model, we'd settle for that.'




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