Thursday, September 21, 2023

Qld. Deputy Premier slams ‘rich inner-city elites’ for trying to stop flights

He is referring to the Greens -- accurately

Deputy Premier Steven Miles has let fly at “wealthy inner-city elites”, accusing them of trying to clip Brisbane Airport’s wings by restricting flights and driving up airfares.

In an extraordinary attack, Mr Miles said the “elites” don’t want planes flying over their own homes or “working people” to be able to afford to fly.

His comments follow a bid by the Greens to impose a curfew and flight caps at Brisbane Airport “to bring peace and a good night’s sleep to thousands of Brisbane residents impacted by flight noise”.

Brisbane-based Greens federal MPs Elizabeth Watson-Brown, Max Chandler-Mather and Stephen Bates have championed a bill to introduce hourly flight caps and a late night curfew at the airport for non-emergency flights.

Ms Watson-Brown has proposed a radical plan to divert planes to Toowoomba’s Wellcamp Airport and put passengers on high-speed trains to Brisbane.

The bill – set to be debated in federal parliament next month – has been estimated to come at a cost of $3b a year to the state economy if enacted.

Sharing the stage with Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner at a major aviation industry conference in Brisbane last week, Mr Miles joined forces with his political foe to slam the plan.

“Our airport is just so critical to our region’s economic prosperity, and I can’t think of anything more hypocritical than the Greens political party’s campaign against the airport,” he told a panel discussion at the CAPA (Centre for Aviation) Australia Pacific Aviation Summit.

“The blokes running this campaign are just about the most frequent travellers from Brisbane Airport to their engagements on (ABC show) Q+A and down to Canberra for the parliament.

“I’m an environmentalist, former environment minister and former conservation activist but the Greens are not a party of the environment – they’re a party of wealthy inner-city elites.

“And what they’re saying is that planes shouldn’t fly over the homes of wealthy inner-city elites, they should only fly over the homes of working people.

“And that only wealthy inner-city elites should be able to afford to fly but working people shouldn’t be able to afford to fly.

“That’s despite the fact that it’s those wealthy inner city elites who benefit disproportionately from the economic opportunity and prosperity that the airport delivers.”

Cr Schrinner said the Greens’ proposal was simplistic and would drive up travel costs and concentrate aircraft noise.

He said Brisbane City Council received far more complaints about barking dogs, loud parties and noisy air-conditioners than it did about airport noise.

“Offering simplistic solutions to this is not going to cut it,” he said.

“It’s a reminder that living in a large city is about managing impacts and noise. There are other ways to achieve that other than what’s being proposed.”

Meanwhile, the Senate inquiry into the federal government’s controversial decision to block extra Qatar Airways flights into Australia is due to sit in Brisbane next Tuesday.

The decision has also been blamed for helping keep international airfares sky-high, particularly out of Brisbane.

Brisbane Airport Corporation is understood to have made a submission to the inquiry.


Auditor-General urged to probe the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency

The Auditor-General has been urged to probe the alleged misuse of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds within Australia‘s largest Indigenous legal organisation, following explosive allegations of corruption and fraud amongst senior staff, two of whom are still employed.

Opposition legal affairs spokesperson Michaelia Cash referred the matter to Commonwealth Auditor-General Grant Hehir and the Australian National Audit Office earlier this month, pressing an investigation into the near-$20m provided to the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency every year.

The referral comes following extensive reporting in this masthead that revealed dozens of serious allegations of criminal conduct amongst NAAJA’s leadership team.

Those allegations included that finance chief Madhur Evans made a secret $20,000 payment into chairperson Colleen Rosas’ bank account, and former chief executive Priscilla Atkins used company funds to purchase artworks, flights, and vehicles including a $129,000 Range Rover.

NAAJA is currently receiving $83m over a five year period from the National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP), which is helmed by the federal government.

Senator Cash requested Mr Hehir consider “an audit of arrangements under the NLAP that may result in the payment of Commonwealth money to NAAJA.”

“I refer to reports recently published in The Australian newspaper setting out claims regarding the administration of the NAAJA,” Senator Cash wrote in a letter to Mr Hehir, obtained by The Australian.

“The reports raise serious concerns about the potential misuse of Commonwealth money provided under the National Legal Assistance Partnership, and the efficacy of governance arrangements under that agreement.

“Among other things, the allegations give rise to concerns that Commonwealth money may have been used to support behaviour which, if proven, may constitute corruption or potential criminal conduct.”

Senator Cash continued: “Specifically, I ask that you consider a performance audit to assess the adequacy of data collection, performance monitoring and other governance arrangements under the NLAP, and whether adequate safeguards are in place to ensure that Commonwealth money is not being misused.”

She said if improvements to NAAJA were identified through the audit “I ask you to consider whether they ought to be implemented more generally in respect of funding to other service providers that is governed by the NLAP.”

Senator Cash said there was a “degree of urgency” to the issue, considering the government will reassess the NLAP next year ahead of its expiry in 2025.

“If the next iteration of the NLAP is to take account of any recommendations you may make about the adequacy of existing funding arrangements, it would be highly desirable for all parties to have the benefit of any ANAO report before negotiations commence,” she said.

Senator Cash took aim at Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus for shifting the onus onto the NT government and claiming the territory was responsible for administering the NLAP funds.

“With respect, if that is the case, that is all the more reason for an audit,” she wrote.

“If NLAP arrangements are such that the administration of Commonwealth funding is done at arm’s length, as the Attorney-General appears to contend, then the governance provisions in the intergovernmental agreement that allow the Commonwealth to appropriately monitor expenditure (and respond to any misuse of Commonwealth funds) are all the more important.”

NAAJA conducts the lion’s share of Indigenous legal cases in the NT, where crime has increased by double digits in the past year. The organisation employs 200 workers across Darwin, Palmerston, Katherine, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.

The Australian understands the NT Commission Against Corruption is investigating the allegations, many of which have come to light in a Federal Court case filed by Ms Atkins, who alleges she was fired from NAAJA after discovering the corrupt conduct of Ms Evans and Ms Rosas.

Ms Atkins claims Ms Rosas appointed her friends to senior positions within NAAJA, and requested her pay be given to her on a credit card so as not to alert the tax office and threaten her Centrelink pension.

Along with making the discreet $20,000 payment to Ms Rosas, Ms Atkins alleges Ms Evans left her mobile phone in offices to record unsuspecting colleagues, and bullied NAAJA workers.

NAAJA denies allegations that Ms Evans and Ms Rosas engaged in deceptive conduct, and claims Ms Atkins was fired for forging Ms Rosas’ signature on her contract extension document, securing her position as CEO – and its $350,000 salary – for a further five years.

NAAJA has also alleged Ms Atkins used company funds to buy nine vehicles, flights, clothes and artworks. Ms Atkins denies all allegations of misconduct.

Ms Rosas and Ms Evans continue to work for NAAJA.

Sources believe NAAJA will spend up to $1m on the trial, after it recruited global firm King & Wood Mallesons to represent them.

The matter is scheduled for trial from October 23.


Labor’s immigration hypocrisy: young and vulnerable hit hardest

Chris Minns – who lives in a house – seems to think you should live in an apartment, and the Labor Party doesn’t want any further questions on the subject.

Speaking at the Sydney 2050 Summit in May this year, he told the audience that ‘we have to get more comfortable with the idea of going up’.

But unfortunately for most people, Minns’ idea of ‘going up’ means their living standards going down, especially for the young people and workers who will likely be the ones getting crammed into these new apartment buildings.

Two recent polls show that people aren’t too happy about Minns’ idea, with more people preferring to cut migration than they would downsize into apartments.

A Twitter poll run by ABC’s Q+A showed that 65 per cent of Australians think the government should reduce the immigration intake to ease pressure on housing – matching roughly with several other polls showing similar results.

Meanwhile, less than half of people polled support Minns’ policy to increase supply through more apartments in city suburbs, coming in at a rather disappointing 48 per cent.

And is it any wonder, with a 2021 study by Strata Community Association NSW showing nearly four out of every ten new apartment complexes in NSW contained major flaws…

Sydney’s population growth, driven almost entirely by Federal Labor’s record overseas migration intake, is placing mountains of stress on the New South Wales housing and rental market.

To ease this pressure, state Labor is proposing building higher unit blocks alongside main roads and above train stations – perhaps not exactly what we had in mind when the party campaigned on ‘A Better Future’.

And though it may certainly sound like a solution, Minns’ ‘house for me and dog box for thee’ approach to fixing the housing crisis, reeks of elitism and political favouritism, as it completely ignores the community-preferred option of lowering migration.

Yet it’s no surprise really, because the truth is that maintaining high levels of migration is advantageous to Labor’s union and business mates, giving them an endless supply of job sites and workers.

Only it hurts the very people that voted for them, and Labor knows it.

In a recent sitting week, NSW Independent MP Rod Roberts asked Housing Minister Rose Jackson whether she would liaise with her federal counterparts to lower migration to help the housing crisis. Her response said it all.

Instead of conceding community concern about immigration, Rose instead resorted to calling the question a ‘dog whistle’.

One can only assume the 50 per cent of Labor voters who also want lower migration are dog whistling too.

The hypocrisy is astounding. Rose Jackson is also the Minister for Youth and Homelessness, two areas heavily affected, and least benefited, by mass migration.

On the youth front, young Australians, who are most likely to be renters or first-home buyers, are being squeezed out of both a housing market and rental market by record migrant arrivals of nearly 400,000 in the last year alone.

For example, recent data released by the Institute of Public Affairs shows that an incredible 70 per cent of new homes built last year were filled by international students alone.

And homeless numbers are up 5 per cent, with tent cities popping up around the state, as rental availability drops below 1.8 per cent.

This brave new Australia comes with deep social ramifications, including the delay of family formation, worsening of fertility rates, and even worsening mental health, as the stresses of trying to find a place to live weighs heavily.

And sadly, if you have a question about it, you’re dog-whistling.

On the altar of the housing market, working and young Australians are being sacrificed for the greater good of economic growth, and the Labor Party is using culture war tactics to silence any opposition to it.

With no end in sight, people will undoubtedly look for more radical solutions and fringe parties to show their anger, while parties like Labor will continue to try and grapple with this dual allegiance of the wealthy few, and the voting many.

In a way, Minns is achieving his goal of going up, except so far the only things ‘going up’ in New South Wales are the number of migrant arrivals, corporate and union profits, and the stress levels of people trying to find a place to live.

Everything else – living standards, birth rates, and young people’s patience – will continue declining.

If Labor ever truly does want to achieve their election promise of solving the housing crisis, they’ll first have to reconcile these deep hypocrisies of wanting high migration and low housing demand.

But don’t hold your breath, because right now all they’re doing is building castles in the sky, without any regard for what people really want.


Rollout rage: power struggle and a ‘shocked minister’

Infrastructure Minister Catherine King joined farmers, councils and environmentalists in attacking consultation on the Victorian-NSW Interconnector transmission project, which will plug renewables into the grid and help achieve Labor’s 2030 emissions ­reduction target.

Amid growing concerns in ­regional Australia about transmission line upgrades and offshore wind turbines, Ms King told the Australian Energy Market Operator to “engage thoroughly and honestly with impacted communities … from project conception, to construction and beyond”.

Ms King’s extraordinary intervention heaps pressure on Energy Minister Chris Bowen to urgently address rising community anger over government consultation on renewable projects and massive transmission lines integrating solar and wind farms into the electricity system.

In her submission to AEMO, which is overseeing a project plagued by delays and cost blowouts, Ms King said parts of her electorate would be significantly impacted if a Western Renewables Link transmission station was built by VNI West north of ­Ballarat.

“Throughout this process, I have been shocked and disappointed by the lack of respect that has been shown to local communities and the lack of consideration of their land uses, local government views and landscape,” Ms King, writing in her capacity as Ballarat MP, told AEMO.

“In my view, a significant amount of the anger felt by the community could have been avoided if their views and interests were considered from the very start of the project, rather than four years down the fact.”

AEMO has established TCV, a wholly owned subsidiary, to progress early works on Victoria’s centrepiece $3.3bn electricity transmission project, finalise the route and consult with landholders, community groups and traditional owners. It will not physically construct or own the high-capacity 500Kv double-circuit overhead Victoria-NSW transmission lines.

Mr Bowen, who is working to “improve” renewable energy project engagement with stakeholders, received a hostile reception on Tuesday when he ­arrived at a closed-door meeting in Nelson Bay to discuss the NSW Hunter Offshore Wind Zone with hand-picked community representatives.

Community leaders who ­attended the meeting in Labor MP Meryl Swanson’s battleground seat of Paterson, where the Liberals secured a 4.2 per cent swing at the 2022 federal election, claimed Mr Bowen rejected their request to reopen consultation.

The government’s rapid push to meet its 82 per cent renewables and 43 per cent emissions ­reduction targets by 2030 has sparked anxiety in coastal and regional communities earmarked for transmission line projects and offshore wind zones.

Confirmed and proposed projects in NSW, Victoria and South Australia have united seafood producers, fishermen, boaties, farmers, environmentalists, tourism operators, local governments and community groups who are demanding better consultation and independent analysis.

Major concerns raised by stakeholders about offshore wind turbines and transmission projects include negative impacts on endangered and at-risk wildlife, tourism and whale-watching, the seafood industry, sacred ­traditional Indigenous sites, visual amenity and farmland.

In her submission published by AEMO on May 27, Ms King welcomed an “increased focus … on social license” but warned VNI West proponents to “engage fully with the communities around ­Bulgana who will be impacted by this proposal and to mitigate any negative impacts it may have on their lives or livelihoods”.

“More broadly, I welcome the focus on cultural heritage, land use and the environmental impacts of the proposed route. The region north of Ballarat is not only home to the finest potato-growing country in Australia, but is a region of notable heritage and natural beauty,” she wrote.

“It has always been an inappropriate location for a development of this type as I, and many in the community, have been saying from the start. As Australia continues its transition to net zero, there will be increasing need for new projects just like this one in order to maintain a stable electricity grid.

“In rolling out these projects, it will be important to engage thoroughly and honestly with impacted communities all throughout the process – from project conception, to construction and beyond.”

Ms King’s intervention preceded a review ordered by Mr Bowen in July to “bolster reforms in community engagement around renewable energy infrastructure upgrades and new developments”.

A spokeswoman for Mr Bowen said Ms King “is a strong advocate for the energy transition, and for listening carefully to local communities about its opportunities and impacts – and the minister agrees”.

“Our traditional energy assets are ageing – with over 4GW of dispatchable power leaving the grid over the past decade and only 1GW to replace it because of chaos on climate and energy,” she said.

“Australia has needed much better consultation around energy infrastructure for years – so with the states we are making the overdue changes to electricity rules to ensure proponents of all energy projects must engage properly with communities – and landholders and communities have better guidance about their rights and entitlements.”

Regional Victorian councils, environmental groups and farmers have lodged concerns with AEMO about the route of VNI West’s overhead transmission lines. The project will connect the Western Renewables Link, north of Ballarat, with Project EnergyConnect at Dinawan.

Concerns about the VNI West and Western Renewables Link projects focus on vegetation loss, land clearing, threats to woodland bird species, impacts on cultural sites and economic damage to agricultural production and tourism.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said Mr Bowen must explain the true cost and impacts of Labor’s renewables plan. “If Chris Bowen pretends that his policy is going to cost less than $1.2 trillion, he needs to provide the detail because the experts … are saying that the Labor plan will cost between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion – and Australians will pay for that through increased electricity bills. People are going to end up with 28,000km of new poles and wires, which is a considerable eyesore through many communities.

“People in metropolitan areas, or outer metropolitan areas like mine in my electorate … don’t want those wind turbines. So why should people in regional areas be forced to take them when they’re not reliable, and you need to firm them up?”

After the Bureau of Meteorology on Tuesday confirmed that Australia had entered an El Nino phase, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the government was taking the long-term climate change threat seriously. “Part of that is a shift in the energy mix to 82 per cent renewables by 2030,” Mr Albanese said. Mr Bowen this week said transmission projects like VNI West and Hume Link were “absolutely essential for the country, for our plans for emissions reduction, but also communities deserve proper engagement”.

Mr Bowen, who released departmental modelling this week claiming the Coalition would need to spend $387bn to replace coal-fired generation with nuclear small modular reactors, on Tuesday said it “never hurts to do a bit of engagement”.

“I understand people’s concerns. But I also understand the jobs that will be created,” he said. “I understand people in the Hunter want to see action on climate change. They want to see local jobs created as well. These are things to be balanced.”




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