Sunday, December 31, 2023

Why new engine emission rules quietly introduced just before Christmas will change Australia's most popular utes, SUVs and 4WDs forever

This will cause outrage in the country. Country people need their large utes

Australia's bestselling cars like the Toyota HiLux ute, popular SUVs and giant American pick-up trucks will become a thing of the past under new laws mandating strict emission standards.

Transport Minister Catherine King last week announced new cars sold from December 2025 - including four-wheel drives and utes - would be required to comply with European 'noxious emissions standards'.

The pollution-slashing move could force manufacturers to sell European versions of their bestselling cars in Australia to comply with the new Euro 6d rules - meaning fully electric or hybrid versions.

Next generation light cars, SUVs and commercial vehicles being introduced in Australia from December 2025 will all have to comply with the Albanese government's strict climate change requirements.

Existing production models will be allowed to be sold until 2028, but would then be banned unless the petrol or diesel engines were replaced with modern versions that emitted less carbon.

In a statement, Minister King said: 'Following thorough consultation with industry and the community, new versions of new cars – including SUVs and light commercial vehicles – sold from December 2025 will need to comply with Euro 6d noxious emissions standards.'

Cars would pass this rule if they produced less than 162 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre, based on the vehicles that have complied with the Euro 6d rules in the EU.

That would mean the Toyota HiLux, Australia's tradie favourite, would no longer be available as a just a petrol or diesel.

Australia's bestselling car overall in 2023 produces 210 grams for every kilometre.

The Ford Ranger - Australia's bestseller during six months of this year - emits 202 grams of CO2 per kilometre.

But next year, Toyota is introducing a hybrid HiLux in Australia while Ford from 2025 be selling a plug-in hybrid version of the Ranger.

Several SUVs fall foul of the Euro 6d rule, including even the small Mitsubishi ASX, with Australian Automobile Association testing showing it produced 186 grams of CO2 per kilometre.

The Hyundai Tucson produced 164g/km while the MG ZS, a regular in the monthly top ten, emitted 174g/km, the same test showed.

The Toyota LandCruiser's future would be in doubt as a large four-wheel drive without a hybrid version, because it puts out 253 grams of carbon per kilometre, a separate analysis by the National Transport Commission found.

The six-metre long Ford F-150 American pick-up truck emits 256 grams of carbon a kilometre, which means it would only survive if the fully-electric Lightning version was imported into Australia.

The EV versions of the Dodge RAM and Chevrolet Silverado would also have to come to Australia to continue being sold at dealerships.

Private imports of even larger pick-up trucks, like the Ford F-350, could also be in jeopardy under these new rules.

But medium hybrid cars like the Toyota RAV4 would pass for now, with this SUV emitting 111 grams per kilometre.

The 2.0 litre petrol version would also get through with Australian Automobile Association testing showing it emitted 155 grams of carbon per kilometre.

Some hatchbacks, however, could be in danger with a late model Hyundai i30 emitting 172 grams per kilometre.

The Toyota Corolla hybrid produced 97 grams per kilometre, compared with 139 grams for the petrol version.

The typical car sold just two years ago would fail to pass the new emission rules.

The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics estimated new vehicles sold in Australia in 2021 emitted 173.6 grams of carbon per kilometre on average, down from 181 grams in 2019.

By comparison, the typical new European car produced 115 grams of CO2/km compared with 169 grams in the US.

A National Strategy on Energy Efficiency in 2009 recommended the introduction of CO2 emission standards for light vehicles.

It is the second measure the Albanese government has introduced in a matter of weeks to crack down on hybrids and less fuel-efficient cars.

The government announced earlier this month that from July 1, 2025, a car selling for more than $76,950 will incur the luxury car tax unless it used less than 3.5 litres for every 100km.

That means a Lexus RX 350h front-wheel drive hybrid, priced from $87,500, would incur a 33 per cent for every dollar above the $76,950 threshold - adding up to $3,481.50 - because it used more than five litres per 100km.

The existing rule allows cars to escape the luxury car tax threshold if they use less than seven litres per 100 kilometres. The new measure is designed to push Australians to consider electric cars.

Like Australia, the EU has a net zero by 2050 target. But unlike Australia, the European Parliament in February passed a law banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035.

Even if Australia doesn't copy this approach, large four-wheel drives and utes face extinction within five years unless they are sold as hybrids or fully-electric cars.

From January to November, Australia's three bestsellers - the Toyota HiLux (55,968 sales), Ford Ranger (55,589 sales) and Isuzu D-Max (28,369 sales) - were all available as a diesel.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries data also had the LandCruiser at No.7 for the year to date with 24,055 sales.

The fully-electric Tesla Model Y, however, outsold it with 27,418 sales.


‘Short-Sighted’: Peak Body Criticises Decision to Ban Oil, Gas Development in Lake Eyre Basin

A peak industry association representing Queensland’s minerals and energy producers has criticised the state government for banning new oil and gas development in the country’s largest drainage basin.

The ban came a few days after Queensland Premier Steven Miles assumed the position of the state's leader following the resignation of predecessor, Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Under the ban, the Queensland government will prohibit all future oil and gas production in the Lake Eyre Basin's rivers and floodplains.

However, the ban will not cover existing approved conventional gas developments, and holders of existing petroleum exploration permits can apply for a production lease until Aug. 30, 2024.

Lake Eyre Basin is one of the largest drainage basins in the world. It covers an area of 1.2 million square kilometres, including parts of Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory and New South Wales.

Large tracts of the Basin is considered arid, supporting just 60,000 people, with the major land use (82 percent) being for low-density grazing.

It is also well-known for containing significant oil and gas resources.

Following the announcement, Queensland Resources Council CEO Ian Macfarlane criticised the state government for not considering the social and economic impact of preventing further expansion of Australia’s gas reserves.

“Reports this week indicate Australia’s East Coast is facing another gas shortage over the next few years and will rely on Queensland producers to ensure supply to millions of homes and businesses,” he said in a statement.

“Less supply means higher gas prices for Australians already struggling with cost-of-living pressures.

“Unless governments are prepared to allow and support new gas projects to be developed, not only will energy prices continue to climb, but southern states are going to run out of gas.”

The CEO noted that the decision was a blow to the energy sector, which had engaged in good faith with the Queensland government and other stakeholders and was willing to work with them to maintain the highest standards to protect the environment.

“The Queensland gas industry has developed alongside agriculture and other regional industries over the past six decades, supporting regional communities, and providing a benefit to all Queenslanders,” he said.

“There is no reason why the gas industry can’t continue along the same regulated and sustainable path that provides new opportunities for the communities of South West Queensland.”

Mr. Macfarlane also believed the ban would create more policy uncertainty for the resources sector and hinder new investments while impacting the livelihood of local communities relying on oil and gas extraction.

Mr. Macfarlane's remarks come after a June report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission indicated that Australia’s southern states would likely experience a gas shortfall in 2024.

The consumer watchdog warned that the shortfall risk would remain unless there was considerable transport and storage capacity to deliver Queensland’s surplus gas to those states.

Queensland Government’s Response

Meanwhile, Mr. Miles said the new policy would protect the Lake Eyre Basin for future generations of Queenslanders.
“The changes strike a good balance in preserving the Queensland Lake Eyre Basin region while providing industry with the tools they need to grow and develop,” the premier said in a statement.

Echoing the sentiment, Queensland Environment Minister Leanne Linard highlighted the importance of preserving the Basin.

“Maintaining clean and uninterrupted flow of the waterways in the basin is critical to the survival of the wildlife and the businesses and communities in the region,” she said.

“The Miles government is committed to the ongoing preservation of the ecological and cultural values in the rivers, watercourses and floodplains of the Queensland Lake Eyre Basin and First Nations Peoples’ connection to the land.”

Environmentalist group Lock The Gate welcomed the ban and hoped to see more similar policies from the government.

“Unconventional oil and gas extraction can require thousands of wells to be drilled across a landscape, with each well requiring millions of litres of water for a single frack,” Lock the Gate Alliance national coordinator Ellen Roberts said.

“This sort of development would have decimated the fragile and unique rivers and floodplains of the Channel Country. It would have pushed out existing sustainable industries and wreaked havoc on cultural sites.”


Labor’s family law changes ‘go too far’, says Michaelia Cash

The Coalition is preparing to revamp the Family Law Act to undo Labor’s overhaul amid concern the changes “send a very disturbing message” to Australian families.

The Weekend Australian can reveal the opposition is looking to repeal Anthony Albanese’s changes to family law – including the removal of the presumption of shared parenting in court disputes – if it wins the next election.

Opposition workplace relations spokeswoman Michaelia Cash said Labor’s changes go too far and “simply do not make sense”.

“Labor’s changes to the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility simply do not make sense,” Senator Cash said.

“This was a rule which said that, unless it is unsafe, the starting point is to presume that children benefit where both parents are involved in major decisions about their lives.”

The government last month passed laws to abolish the presumption of shared parental responsibility, which direct a court to apply the presumption that it is in the best interests of a child for the parents to have equal shared responsibilities.

The new laws also slash from 15 to six the “best interest” considerations used by courts when deciding the best parenting arrange­ments for a child.

But Labor’s changes were criticised by some legal experts, who warned the amendments may take Australia back to a time when mothers were granted primacy in court battles.

Domestic violence advocates welcomed the move, saying the changes were long overdue to stop perpetrators using the family law system and parenting arrangements to prolong conflict and coercive control over shared decision-making.

However, a major 2019 inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission did not recommend removal of the presumption of shared responsibilities but proposed the clause be reworded to allow “joint decision-making about major long-term issues”.

Senator Cash said Labor had ignored the “explicit recommendations of Australia’s leading law reform body”, and warned the changes “send a message to the courts that parliament no longer considers it beneficial for both parents to be involved in decisions about their children’s lives”.

She also criticised Labor’s removal of the word “meaningful” from the Act, arguing the change sent a clear message to the courts that it was no longer important to look at the benefits of a meaningful relationship between a child and their parents.

The Weekend Australian understands the policy has not been taken to shadow cabinet but it is looking to overturn the changes to bring the laws in line with the ALRC review recommendations.

The opposition is concerned the changes will lead to more delays and higher rates of litigation for families, drawing out the cost and pain for separating couples.

Family law expert Patrick Parkinson said he welcomed the opposition’s interest in producing a better-balanced and fairer set of provisions for parents who have not engaged in serious violence.

Professor Parkinson, a key adviser to the Howard government that amended the Act in 2006 following lobbying from fathers’ groups, warned Labor’s changes were too heavily focused on dealing with violent perpetrators rather than serving the population as a whole.

“I think the law that the government has passed is very imbalanced and doesn’t adequately support the role of both parents in children's lives when it is beneficial for them,” he said. “It is very focused on the issue of violence to the detriment of other issues the courts should consider.”

But Griffith University Law School senior lecturer Zoe Rathus said the shared parental responsibility provision had created a lot of confusion and had been poorly understood in the community. She said the provision was highly problematic and caused significant difficulties for victims of family violence.

However, Ms Rathus expressed some concern that rigid guardrails within the law around equal responsibility had been removed and there may be an information vacuum as the courts and community adjusts to the change.

She also said it was impossible to know whether there would be more confusion but hoped judges could use innovative ways to ensure children have meaningful relationships with both parents in cases where it is safe to do so.

“There were previously very constrained pathways … judges had to follow and now it’s all gone, and there is no discussion for when you might make an order for joint decision-making and there’s no mention of equal time.”


Labor tips scales in favour of plaintiffs and their lawyers with sexual harassment bill

The Australian Labor Party sure knows how to wish its friends a happy new year. If there were any doubt about Mark Dreyfus’s place in the plaintiff lawyers’ Hall of Fame, his latest gift to them puts it to rest.

Labor’s Attorney-General has introduced a bill giving employees who claim their employers have sexually harassed or discriminated against them a free pass to trot off to court. Under Dreyfus’s proposed bill, claimants who lose in court won’t have to pay their bosses’ legal bills unless the claim is so ridiculous that a judge labels it vexatious. And judges are not known for spotting even the most obvious vexatious claims.

Opposition legal affairs spokeswoman Michaelia Cash rightly points out that this straps a rocket booster to the litigation industry. The ALP’s old friends at firms such as Maurice Blackburn and Slater & Gordon will be licking their lips with new year glee. No more worries about meeting budgets or winning cases – if your billings are down, just find a claimant who has even the slightest sniff of a claim and bingo, billings are up.

Employers who thought the cult of disgruntled employees demanding “go away” money had at least arrived at a plateau will realise it is about to hit the sunlit uplands of litigation nirvana.

It’s not uncommon – indeed, it’s almost standard operating procedure – for employers to face fake claims of workplace harassment from an underperforming employee. It’s bad enough for big business, but what about small businesses or not-for-profits such as religious schools? They have little choice but to pay even a bogus claim as soon as it arrives in the inbox for fear of mountainous legal bills.

There are at least two rich veins of ALP policy history being mined here. The first is that old standby of Labor folklore – cash for policy. The second is a slighter newer tradition of trashing the legal fundamentals underlying the rule of law.

Cash for policy is the core of the ALP business model and works at many levels. We saw it in full swing from the outset of the Albanese government when Assistant Treasurer and Financial Services Minister Stephen Jones tried to sneak through regulations that would have concealed the amounts of money industry super funds paid to the unions.

The biggest policy thankyou to the unions that fund the ALP came in the form of industrial relations reforms such as redefining casual employment to the edge of extinction, the “same job, same pay” laws that aimed to gut the use of labour hire by BHP and Qantas and vastly increased powers and privileges for union delegates.

The Albanese government said an early thankyou to plaintiff law firms when, soon after being elected, it relaxed the rules governing litigation funding. Happily for class action law firms, Jones, early in his tenure, released litigation funders from the need to hold financial services lic­ences. Prominent donors to the ALP such as Maurice Blackburn would no doubt have been suitably grateful.

Now comes this further boon to plaintiffs and their lawyers. It will indeed be a happy new year for them.

In some respects, the second trend is more worrying. In Australia, the usual expectation is that “costs follow the event”. In other words, the loser pays the winner’s costs. This rule creates in-built sanctions against bringing unworthy actions, offering society at least some protection from bottom-feeding lawyers.

Abolishing this rule, even in limited ways, guarantees that more disgruntled employees will try their luck at litigation lotto. Worse, the proposal to protect complainants against costs orders is evidence of something more – an increased desire by the Labor government to place a finger on the scales of justice to tilt them against unpopular defendants.

This government regards all employers with suspicion. Whether you are a family running a small business or BHP, this government wants to multiply claims against you as an instrument of policy.

BHP may be able to afford it – indeed, BHP’s army of lawyers, HR people and compliance officers will rejoice at the chance to engage in more empire building to deal with these rotten measures. BHP’s boneheaded embrace of the Albanese government is already coming back to bite it, but it is protected from the consequences of its board’s folly by the undeserved but seemingly endless rise of the iron ore price.

Small businesses do not have the buffer of such dumb luck. They already have to take a deep breath before hiring new staff, knowing what paperwork burdens await them, and will now have another category of claims and claimants to worry about. How does this help productivity – except at law firms?

The constant drip of measures reversing the onus of proof, measures making life tough for unpopular classes of defendant and measures encouraging speculative claims undermines confidence in our legal system.

When NSW judge Robert Newlinds recently called for an end to the “lazy and perhaps politically expedient” referral of baseless rape claims to courts, he touched a nerve already exposed by similar claims.

In August this year I wrote about the demonstrably false claims of domestic violence brought against boxer Harry Garside. Except that Garside had the good fortune, or foresight, to record a critical interaction with his accuser, this decent and somewhat quirky young man would have lost a promising career to a claim totally lacking in merit. Making it easier to launch legal actions is no guarantee of justice – indeed, the opposite may be true.

Dreyfus may argue, though he tabled no empirical evidence in support of this view, that measures to turbocharge claims of harassment and discrimination may help a claimant who would not otherwise get legal assistance.

Mind you, even Kate Jenkins, on whose Respect@Work report the Dreyfus proposal was based, did not go as far as the Dreyfus proposal. Jenkins recommended a hard cost-neutrality approach in line with the Fair Work Act where parties bear their own costs unless the claim was vexatious or unreasonable.

Given the voracious appetite of lawyers and litigation funders to find and run new claims on a no-win, no-fee basis, or similar, this now familiar Dreyfus overreach is even more dubious. There is no justice in turbocharging an inevitable torrent of “pay me to go away” claims and adding another Labor brake on productivity.

Centuries of legal experience have told us the right balance is to allow costs to follow the result. The Albanese government’s desire to ring in the new year by giving presents to its friends is no reason to ignore the wisdom of the ages.

Dreyfus’s ill-conceived changes are also a thankyou to big Australian companies and their boards for being stupid, for keeping their head down and thinking Labor wouldn’t come for them.

What fools these highly paid executives and board directors were – and are. Almost all of them signed on to Albanese’s signature policy of a constitutionally entrenched voice even before there was any wording around it. For months and months they flaunted their faux virtue over a policy that would not help them or their shareholders one iota – a policy that was overwhelmingly rejected at the referendum because ordinary Australians understood what was at stake. This stand of corporate Australia was the biggest single act of collective corporate negligence in many, many years.

It was made much worse by the fact that concurrently these same big companies ignored the larger and more real risk of Labor’s workplace policies being legislated with the help of the corporate-hating Greens – polices that directly hurt companies, big and small. Their negligence is economy destroying. And their public whinging now about Labor policies should be greeted by Peter Dutton with a cold shoulder.

The Opposition Leader should fashion himself as the saviour of small business and leave those people on big corporate boards to live with the consequences of misusing their power.




Thursday, December 28, 2023

Left/Right policy switches

TIMOTHY LYNCH notes below that what were once conservative policies have become Leftist and vice versa. So is there any condistency in ideologies? There is but it is not at the policy level. The lasting Left/Right identities are at the psychological level. The essence of conservatism is caution. The essence of Leftism is anger. Applying those attitudes to differing life circumstances will produce different policy preferences

The first woman I ever loved was an eco-feminist. She was radicalised by the 1984 British miners’ strike, listened to Billy Bragg on a C90 cassette tape, marched for women’s rights, admired communist East Germany and refused on principle to visit the US. In the 33 years since she dumped me, I don’t think she ever has.

In those decades, the left of which she was a proud and, I thought, typical member has been transformed.

Barbara (name changed) would now march not to keep coalmines open but to close them. Bragg would be too old/white male/working class (and thus need decolonising). The women’s rights marches Barbara joined in the 1980s she would now condemn as anti-trans. Only her anti-Americanism – the second most durable hatred on the left, after anti-Semitism – would endure.

The right has switched, too. Not as completely as the left but in important ways we often elide. This transposition of left and right conditions much of our contemporary politics but goes mostly unremarked.

In the ’80s, the Conservatives effectively closed the British coal industry. Barbara sent the picketing men blankets and goodwill. Today, “beautiful, clean coal” (Don­ald Trump’s phrase) is deified by those on the right. It speaks to man’s independence from the forces of cold nature. Scott Morrison held aloft a lump in parliament.

In the 2020s, it is the left that has assumed the four-decade-old Conservative position.

In Australia, Anthony Albanese and Energy Minister Chris Bowen vilify coal. Like Margaret Thatcher and Ian MacGregor, Thatcher’s head of the National Coal Board, Labor is plotting to throw every miner out of work.

Then, the right stood for middle-class values: marriage, family, low taxation, strong defences. Now, Australian Liberals trade on their working-class bona fides. In the US, Republicans tell defenestrated coalminers that they will be their voice. Democrats blame them for climate change. Barbara wept with the injustice of Thatcher’s assault on mining communities. Hillary Clinton now derides them as deplorables.

The right stood against the sexual revolution, free love and the consequences of the pill. Now it is the left that polices sex. Brittany Higgins, a young conservative woman (at least until Network Ten got to her), has become a poster child of the left’s obsession with sexual misconduct. The sex re-education programs on every university campus, warning of the perils of physical intimacy, are mandated by progressives, not by conservatives.

It used to be the religious right that told us to avoid sex. Now it is the cultural left. It was conservatives who criticised feminism. Now it is trans activists on the left. Indeed, it is Liberal women (such as Moira Deeming) who have paid the highest price for upholding a traditional conception of women’s rights. Many left-wing feminists have gone missing in action.

The left-right transposition is especially evident when it comes to race. It was small-C conservatives (often southern Democrats) in the US who wanted to maintain racial distinctions. Now it is the left that upholds race as the basic determinant of societal relations.

Conservative segregationists scoffed at Martin Luther King’s vision of a colourblind constitution. Now it is the left that condemns the reverend for his colour-blindness. We should hire, fire, promote and condemn based on race. MLK, left-wing anti-racists now tell us, was guilty of “content of character racism”.

Yes campaigners for the Indigenous voice wanted race written permanently into the Australian Constitution. No campaigners, representing most conservative voters, wanted it written out. When I was growing up near Leicester, then and still one of the most ethnically diverse cities in Britain, the far right demanded rights for indigenous Brits. In modern-day Australia, it is the left that makes the equivalent claim for First Nations people.

In Britain, asserting “indigenous rights” is racist. Here it is anti-racist. I have never been able to hear an acknowledgment of country here without thinking how bizarre it would sound in the English Midlands. “Sovereignty was never ceded!” sounds like an anti-EU Brexit slogan.

Why this ideological transposition? Losing wars changes the loser. And the left lost the biggest in its history in 1989.

My year with Barbara began the night the Berlin Wall fell (the other 9/11: November 9). We drank Blue Smirnoff, she in bemused sorrow, me in joyous irony; vodka was one of the few things the Soviet Union did well.

That night, the left lost the key economic argument of the 20th century: command economies don’t work, free-market ones do. People crave the opportunities of the latter. They will flee the former when given the chance.

My bearded university lecturers spent the ensuing years in a state of deep agitation. For many, the fall of communism coincided with their own midlife crises. It was wonderful. Today, zealously held but weak arguments are protected by speech codes and de-platforming. Then, men and women who had backed the Soviet project were subject to debate. Many did not like it.

The game plan thereafter was to establish a leftist catechism, grounded in a cultural revolution, the challenging of which would be heresy.

This “long march through the institutions”, as Rudi Dutschke, the young disciple of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci, described it, is reaching some sort of destination now. And what a scene of tedium and enervation it is.

Instead of debating big questions, we fly rainbow flags. Safe spaces have taken precedence over dangerous ideas.

When class war didn’t work, new kinds of oppression, to paraphrase the Communist Manifesto, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones, were found.

Climate, race and gender have replaced class as the source of left-wing fervour. These wars have been waged much more effectively. Their dialecticism – you are with us or against us, anti-racist or racist, pro-trans or transphobic – has enabled their colonisation of social media.

Marx claimed class war was inevitable. It proved not so. But culture war may well be. The US has been in a protracted one since Roe v Wade in 1973. Australia is flirting with its own version because of the voice debacle.

Climate denialism, structural racism, rape culture and transphobia. Collectively, these progressive priorities now have the quality of crisis. They are spectres haunting the West, to again adapt Marx’s rhetoric. Their negation now mobilises whole campuses and workplaces. Denying their salience, let alone standing against them, is hard to impossible.

In the US, if you want a university job, you will likely have to affirm, in writing and at interview, your contribution to their fighting. Australia is not quite there but we are inching closer. It is one of the forms of American cultural imperialism to which we are most susceptible.

I don’t know what Barbara would make of this transformation of the left. Sadly, dear reader, finding out would be a research project too far for me. I suspect she would be in sympathy with some of it. But much of it she would not recognise as the natural evolution from her 1989 platform.

She did teach me something vital, a lesson too few on the right imbibe. Those on the left are not bad people. They are not evil. But they are naive. They insist on realities that are fantasies. They seek final solutions to problems insoluble. They imagine better worlds while creating worse ones.


It’s an underdog eat underdog world in the Sunshine State

In a post-Christmas press conference on Tuesday, Queensland’s shiny new Premier, Steven Miles, ducked and dodged a few questions on polling before leaving to see a man about a dog. Not just any dog. An underdog.

Nine months out from an election, the 46-year-old has decided that he and his government are “underdogs”. Taken literally, this means Miles believes Labor is unlikely to win the state election on October 31.

A poll conducted by UComms for The Courier-Mail, the first of its kind since Miles became Premier, shows Labor’s dire position has not changed since Annastacia Palaszczuk tapped the mat on December 10.

Outside Brisbane where it has been raining cats and dogs, the Labor Party appears even more on the snout. Thus begins the Premier Miles’s vainglorious descent into mathematical probabilities and animal metaphors.

Almost anything can happen in a two-horse race but, by definition, only horses can win. Dogs cannot, but the underdog is somehow a chance against the odds.

Why the political obsession with underdog status? Why is there perceived value in politics entering a contest as the least likely candidate or party to win? What potential advantage might be gained by portraying oneself as the ugliest cur in the pet shop?

Is Miles barking up the wrong tree or did the underdog eat his homework? He is desperately hosing down expectations after enjoying another oft-used political metaphor, the honeymoon.

Miles’s honeymoon was so short it made Britney Spears and Jason Alexander, who entered into a state of holy matrimony for just 55 hours in 2004, look like a breeding pair of rainbow lorikeets.

Labor sources were saying as early as May that Palaszczuk would be gone by Christmas and so it proved. In August Labor kingmaker and United Workers Union secretary Gary Bullock gave a “no comment” response to a question on whether he believed Palaszczuk should take Labor to the next election, and the end for the three-time election winner was nigh.

By any measure it was unseemly, with the UWU and the Australian Manufacturers Workers Union not only calling the shots but being seen to call the shots. Labor’s Queensland caucus is little more than a rubber stamp. Bullock and others might argue they don’t run Queensland but it is evident they pick the people who do and tell them how to do it.

Obviously, winning four elections in a row in Queensland is a Himalayan task, but replacing a winning premier with one who classifies himself as an underdog is not exactly the gold standard in succession management.

In 2019, Scott Morrison said it was “fairly clear” he and the Coalition were the underdogs to win that year’s federal election and we all know what happened there. As the votes rolled in on election night, Morrison eschewed canine symbolism and pronounced his victory “a miracle”.

He laid claim to being the underdog again last year but found himself outdogged by Anthony Albanese, who spent much of the campaign referring to himself and his party as the one true underdog. The federal election last year was a battle not only for the hearts and minds of voters but also a dogfight to prove who was the mangiest, puniest mutt on the block.

It’s unsurprising therefore that the underdog won, but then it is equally obvious that another underdog lost. Therein lies a statistical anomaly that provides no strong evidence that underdogs, by sporting definition outgunned, outsmarted and outmuscled, find themselves by some weird trick of the universe standing atop the podium.

But wait. Ahead of the Aston by-election in April, deputy opposition leader Sussan Ley clamoured to assume underdog status despite the fact the last time an opposition had conceded a seat to a government in a by-election was 100 years ago.

“So the Liberal Party will start this (by) election race as the clear underdog, we know that,” Ley said.

The Libs lost the seat with a neat 6 per cent swing against them.

Political communications remain mired in coded euphemism. In political terms an underdog is a political party that believes it is about to be taken to the cleaners and its parliamentary members understand it at a deep, instinctive, cellular level but lack the honesty to say it out loud.

Assuming underdog status in politics is becoming tiresome, a hackneyed regurgitation of language that made little sense when it was first used and makes even less now.

Surely we can do better than underdog. Where are the dark horses, the longshots? What ever happened to the rank outsider battling the odds? Where are the Davids bringing Goliaths to their knees? Where are the Bradburians who triumph by being the last man standing at the finish line? Let’s hear some Cinderella stories – the former greenkeeper out of nowhere about to become the Masters champion etc.

Winning four elections would be a remarkable feat. But Premier Miles has no right to refer to himself as an underdog. He has the keys to the state Treasury, with all the largesse therein to spread around. Roll out the barrel. Put some pork on your fork. He has access to media and news coverage that his opponent can only dream of. He has the ability to drive a political agenda, to shape policy discussions in Queensland.

Instead he clings to a form of passive victimhood. By the look of his polling he seems not to understand one other less well known rule of politics – that every dog does not have its day.

Not to mention that there’s a fine line between an underdog and just a dog.


Industrial relations reforms will threaten jobs, says Kmart managing director Ian Bailey

Ian Bailey, the managing director of the nation’s largest department store chains Kmart and Target, says new industrial relations reforms will neither reduce complexity in the workplace nor deliver a kick to productivity in Australia.

Instead Mr Bailey says the federal government’s laws could threaten employment growth.

Participating in the The Australian’s 2024 CEO Survey, Mr Bailey said customers, from high-income earners to low-income households, were changing their shopping habits to reflect the rising cost of living.

He expected that in the year ahead the Australian economy would experience a small increase in unemployment and immigration would stabilise or even reduce slightly, which would offset the decline in individual spending levels and consumer expenditure tightening in 2024.

In the wake of the federal government just before Christmas winning legislative support for labour hire changes, new rights for union delegates and the criminalisation of wage theft following a surprise deal between the government and the Senate crossbench, Mr Bailey said other reforms on the agenda could do more harm than good.

“Much-needed industrial relations reforms are currently being contemplated. Unfortunately, the current proposed reforms will do little to reduce complexity in an already complex system, nor will they contribute to increased productivity in the wider economy – both of which are very much needed,” Mr Bailey told the survey.

“Undertaken correctly, we can return to an environment where effective bargaining between team members and employers delivers beneficial outcomes for all stakeholders, which should always be our starting point.

“As society and customer behaviour changes, this is important for businesses to evolve effectively.”

Mr Bailey underlined the importance of industrial relations reforms that also maintained flexibility in the workplace and for employers.

He said taking a casual job at Kmart or Target after school or while working through university or TAFE was how many Australians began their career – and it was a path that created economic opportunity for a diverse mix of people from across the full socio-economic spectrum.

“What we don’t want to see is reform that ends up resulting in fewer people being employed because we can’t offer the same flexibility or choice to team members,” he said.

“Casual positions are common in retail because they provide the flexibility needed for both the team member and the business.

“What’s important to us is ensuring that team members can still have the right to choose – at the same time as having clear and fair pathways for a team member to request a casual conversion to a permanent position. That balance is an important and constructive principle that is worth the investment of effort in getting right.”

Key Senate crossbenchers have declared the government’s changes to casual employment and the gig economy must not add more red tape for small business, as employers prepare to seek new amendments to Labor’s industrial relations bill.

Ahead of the government seeking to pass the second part of its Closing Loopholes Bill from February, Senator Jacqui Lambie said she would spend most of early January going over the workplace law changes “with a fine-tooth comb”.

“My worry with the more complex parts of the legislation is that our economy is fragile, and changes to casualisation and the ‘gig’ economy need to be carefully considered,” Senator Lambie said.

Turning to the broader economy, Mr Bailey said higher interest rates combined with inflation have had a “material impact on consumers” and many were experiencing these dynamics for the first time.

For these and other shoppers across the income spectrum they were focused on maintaining their lifestyles in the face of tougher economic conditions,” Mr Bailey said.

“With mortgage repayments and rent becoming a much larger cost, consumers are becoming increasingly creative to maintain the lifestyle they aspire to. In this context, value has become and will continue to be a critical driver for consumer spending. We are seeing this behaviour across all income levels in retail, which demonstrates that these same drivers are important for the vast majority of Australians.

“We are undoubtedly in a period of significant disruption due to the cost of living pressures facing Australian households, but with disruption comes the opportunity for significant innovation.

“New business models will emerge finding new ways to deliver value to customers and there is potential for material market share gains and losses.”

Of the national ambition to meet 2030 targets for a 43 per cent reduction in baseline emissions Mr Bailey said a successful energy transition would demand unprecedented levels of collaboration between governments, consumers and industry to meet commitments under the Paris Agreement.

“We all must play our part in that. We know this is an issue that matters to our customers, and our communities want to see real action on climate,” he said.

“Kmart is committed to achieving net-zero emission from our own operations from 2030, and 100 per cent of the electricity used in our own operations will be from renewable sources by July 2025.

“That will come from reducing energy use and using more energy efficient technologies across our stores and distribution centres, working with landlords to generate more energy from behind-the-metre solutions like solar panels, but also looking for ways to collaborate and create demand for greener services in our facilities, such as airconditioning systems with a lower emissions footprint.”

As for the contentious issue of staff working from home or requiring them to come back into the office, Kmart and Target was finding the right balance between flexibility and ensuring staff weren’t isolated at home, he said.

But Mr Bailey expected that workers would spend more time in the office in 2024.

“One of the positive things that came out of the pandemic was the opportunity to set a new operating rhythm – and facilitate greater flexibility amongst Australian workplaces,” Mr Bailey said.

“We also know that flexible work practices have a positive impact on diversity and inclusion, notably increasing engagement with female leaders and emerging talent. Equally, the isolation that can occur for those who work from home frequently is a real problem for mental health as well as the essential skill development required to progress careers.

“2024 will see an increase in the amount of time spent in the office and a greater clarity of the long-term ramifications of high levels of working from home for both individuals and businesses.”


Problematical aged care "reforms": Expensive "mandates"

The residential aged care sector has greatly increased its use of short-term contract workers in a bid to fulfil Anthony Albanese’s stringent staffing reforms, rapidly escalating the cost burden on aged care providers and threatening their viability.

Providers’ reliance on expensive agency workers has quadrupled, with externally contracted staff employed by a third party now delivering 7.5 per cent of total direct care hours worked, compared with just 1.8 per cent in 2019.

The aged care industry is warning Labor’s push to get more nurses into residential homes is a “farce” and has become a “multimillion-dollar burden” for large providers which is focused on box ticking rather than improving the livelihoods of elderly residents.

The new figures emerged as workplace relations expert ­Andrew Stewart warned providers could be disadvantaged under the proposed industrial relations reforms as they would have less flexibility in managing their workforce.

Under the bill expected to come before parliament next February, Mr Stewart said some of the temporary workforce would have to be hired permanently, leading to increased insurance costs and superannuation payments.

Despite the Prime Minister’s promise before the May 2022 election to fix the aged care sector, The Australian can reveal a University of Technology Sydney report found Labor’s nursing targets were worsening the sector’s financial viability, with ­providers forced to pay up to 34 per cent more to recruit nurses.

The research conducted by UTS Ageing Research Collaborative before Labor’s staffing requirements were brought in in July also found only 45 per cent of homes were meeting the rule, well below the government’s figures of 86 per cent. Only a fifth of residential aged care facilities were meeting the direct care minutes target at the end of last financial year, just three months before the laws’ came into effect in October.

The report noted differences between the Department of Health and Aged Care and UTS figures might be because the university based its figure on quarterly data while the government’s were based on monthly reports.

The sector is scrambling to implement a suite of reforms including mandated minutes of care per resident, quality and safety standards, and full-time nursing requirements as it adjusts to a new funding model brought in last year as recommended by the aged care royal commission.

The overhaul comes as financial troubles plague the sector, with the latest figures from the Quarterly Financial Snapshot of the Aged Care Sector revealing 66 per cent of private providers were operating at losses.

On average, the financial position of homes had deteriorated, with homes losing $19.56 per resident per day at the end of last financial year compared with earning $2.51 per resident per day in 2019.

Residential facilities’ expenses increased higher than forecast, with the report noting administration costs surged by 14 per cent as providers raced to comply with the government’s new rules.

The new figures have prompted providers to criticise the government’s push to get more nurses into aged care homes as “a farce”. Aged Care Industry Association chief executive Peter Hoppo warned Labor was “fixated on counting minutes rather than reporting on outcomes”.

“It is extremely disappointing that, despite so much thought and effort going into improving aged care, we now have organisations fixated on counting minutes rather than reporting on outcomes,” Mr Hoppo said.

“We know that thousands more registered nurses are needed for providers to be able to meet their mandatory targets, and that number is only going to grow, which makes the whole situation a farce.”

Aged care provider Whiddon’s chief executive, Chris Mamarelis, warned the sector was now largely dependent on labour hire arrangements to meet 24/7 nursing targets and mandated care minutes, as he questioned why providers had to pursue a legislated target rather than improved care outcomes for residents.

Mr Mamarelis said Whiddon, which runs 19 homes mostly across NSW, paid 50 per cent more for agency staff but could pay up to 80 per cent in regional centres.

“Continued use of agency staff places more pressure on already-stretched resources, requiring ongoing on-boarding and training,” Mr Mamarelis said.

“For large providers, this is a multi million-dollar burden, remembering that we are essentially 100 per cent funded by the federal government.”

A spokeswoman for Aged Care Minister Anika Wells said the government’s figures showed 88 per cent of facilities had a registered nurse on site at all times and that the UTS report was based only on a sample of providers rather than data from 97 per cent of aged care facilities. The government said it was committed to reducing the sector’s reliance on agency staff and believed its $11.3bn wage rise for aged care workers would help.

A government taskforce, chaired by Ms Wells, is scrutinising ways to make the sector more sustainable and has flagged support for making wealthier Australians pay more for their care. The UTS report welcomed the taskforce but warned “the transparency of its processes fell short of best practice”.

Opposition health and aged care spokeswoman Anne Ruston called on the government to release a comprehensive care workforce strategy to address significant staffing challenges and help providers comply with tough regulations.

“Whilst this Labor government is on Christmas holidays, more and more aged care homes are going into the red despite providers desperately working around the clock to try and comply with expedited regulations that are forcing them into further financial difficulties,” Senator Ruston said. “This government promised to change the aged care sector, but over the past year we have seen 40 aged care homes forced to close, more than $2bn wiped from the aged care budget, home-care reforms pushed out to 2027 and a workforce shortage of 5122 registered nurses.”

Aged care expert Paul Sadler backed the figures produced by the University of Technology Sydney rather than the government’s targets. “We’ve seen a massive increase in agency workers in residential aged care and home care which has really been throughout the period of Covid then its continued to go up with the new staffing requirements,” Mr Sadler said.




Wednesday, December 27, 2023

P-plater loses license over little-known rule

A P-plater has lost her licence after being fined for using her mobile phone as a GPS.

Chiqui Eseque was pulled over by NSW Police on May 20, 2022, after officers noticed her car's headlights were not turned on. Officers noticed her phone was placed on a hands free phone holder inside her car showing a map on the screen.

Learner and provisional licence holders under NSW law, are not permitted to use their phone at all while driving - even if it's just for directions.

The law catches many drivers out because there are no restrictions on L and P-plate drivers using a dash board GPS device.

Eseque was charged with using a mobile phone while she was driving.

However she fought the charge arguing she was just using it for directions and that there was no SIM card in the phone. Magistrate Hugh Donnelly found Eseque not guilty of the charge as the phone could not make or receive calls because it wasn't connected to a mobile network.

'I find in this case that I am to accept that the definition of a mobile phone just cannot be anything, there has to be some limitation to what the expression means,' Magistrate Donnelly said. 'This is a case where the phone itself, there was evidence of having no SIM card.'

The ruling however was overturned after the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) appealed against the decision and brought the case before the NSW Supreme Court in December.

Justice Monica Schmidt ruled last week that Eseque broke the law despite the phone not having a SIM card.

'A communicative capacity is not required in order for a user to look at everything that can be displayed on such a phone, as the rules recognise,' Justice Schmidt said.

'It cannot sensibly be concluded that a mobile phone only becomes one when a SIM card is placed into it and ceases being one, whenever such a card is removed.'

Eseque was ordered to pay the DPP's costs.

Learner, P1 and P2 drivers are not permitted to use a mobile phone under any circumstances in most states and territories.

Motorists can only use a mobile phone if it's mounted to a phone holder or can be used hands free.

Drivers in NSW who have a full license can only use a mobile phone if it's hand free or in a phone holder.

Motorists in Victoria face a $545 fine and a loss of four demerit points for illegally using a mobile phone.

Those in Queensland face a massive $1,161 and a loss of four demerit points. Learner and P1 drivers under the age of 25 in the sunshine state are not permitted to use a mobile phone under any circumstances.


After my mum’s death, I couldn’t believe what the bank did to my 93-year-old dad

My mother died recently, leaving my 93-year-old father, who had relied on her to do his internet banking, all alone. It’s not like he could easily pop into the bank either. His local branch has closed, and his nearest one is 38 kilometres away, and opens only on weekday mornings.

What’s more, without Mum to drive him to the station, the train journey is nigh-on impossible.

But Dad, ever keen to do the right thing, went all the way to the bank to tell them his wife had died. And what did they do as a result? A day later, without any warning, they locked him out of his online account.

There’ve been many people, over the years, who’ve described Australian banks as bastards. Today, they make it absolutely impossible not to agree.

We all know about the big four’s cash earnings hitting a record $32.5 billion this year. Meanwhile, staff cutbacks have reached a new high and phone helplines, the only route left to many customers, have extended to incredible wait times. I sat for two hours listening to dismal music on repeat before finally giving up on the attempt to have his access unlocked.

Indeed, the Australian Customer Experience Professionals Association found just in August that the performance of the bank call centres of our main retail banks was less than 26.7 per cent effective – the worst result of any business sector.

All this has a huge human cost. Go to any remaining bank branch in Australia, and the scene will be exactly the same: queues of forlorn elderly people, who haven’t been brought up with computers, waiting gloomily in line in understaffed offices to see stressed-out, overworked and impatient tellers.

As the banks race zealously towards a cut-price, online future, a big tranche of their loyal – yet not so technologically literate customers – are left behind; out-of-touch, voiceless and, as a result, often utterly stripped of power, confidence and the capacity for self-determination.

Dad is careful with his money, as people of that generation are, and he looks after it closely. But he paid dearly for his conscientiousness in telling the bank his joint account holder was no more.

Now, distressed that he can no longer have us show him his account on the internet, check the money going out and coming back in, he has no idea what to do. Hours on the helplines eventually yielded the advice that I should go physically into a bank branch.

So I went into the city, as my nearest branch has also closed, only to be told they couldn’t talk to me because my father wasn’t there – despite all my power of attorney documents. I explained he didn’t live in Sydney, but that also fell on deaf ears.

I was told to phone another number. When that was finally answered, I was told they couldn’t speak to me because my father’s account was private – forget those POA papers.

So what to do next? Who knows? Do we just wait and see and hope that one day they might sort out the mess and miraculously unlock his account, so he can reclaim a semblance of his independence?

Or do we keep bashing our heads against a brick wall in the hope that the sight of all the blood might stir someone, anyone, to action?

Every teller and phoneline person I’ve so far spoken to, always expresses their sympathy and regret that my mother, and his wife, has passed away. I struggle not to tell them, however, that we don’t want their sympathy. We just want them to stop being such bastards.


Treasury’s 2023 report card leaves little to boast about

Needless to say, the year has been a challenging one for many Australians, particularly those with large mortgages.

The Reserve Bank of Australia lifted the cash rate on five occasions, taking the cash rate to 4.35 per cent. This figure is still low compared with most developed economies. Note also that our cash rate is lower than the current inflation rate, which is 5.4 per cent – another international point of difference.

Notwithstanding the restrictive action of the RBA, there was no recorded recession affecting the Australian economy, defined as consecutive quarters of negative growth.

Having said this, there were three quarters of negative per capita GDP growth, which in turn reflected the relative anaemic growth in combination with strong population growth. Real retail sales also have been sluggish, recording three quarters of negative growth.

The extraordinarily high growth in the population, spurred almost entirely by migration, was a key element of economic developments this year. Annual net overseas migration to the year ending in June exceeded 500,000, with the net result being a population growth rate of 2.4 per cent. The actual NOM exceeded Treasury’s revised estimate by more than 100,000.

Parallels have been drawn with the post-war years of “populate or perish”, in particular the large migrant intakes that occurred during the 1950s. The truth is there is really no comparison because all the migrants in that earlier period were permanent and many of them initially were settled in already built migrant hostels. The vast bulk of these migrants were from Britain and Europe.

Most of the migrant intake now is made up of temporary entrants, mainly international students. The most common source countries are China and India, but recent rapid growth has come from Nepal, The Philippines and Colombia. The most common courses undertaken by international students are business and IT.

The failure of Treasury to anticipate this surge in the population is unforgivable. After the hiatus of the pandemic, there was always going to be a catch-up, with migrant arrivals vastly exceeding migrant departures. The modelling should have picked this up.

The pressures on the housing sector, in particular, and other infrastructure were easy to predict.

It was incumbent on Treasury to recommend action to ensure the migrant intake was manageable. Its ideological adherence to a big Australia and the supposed fiscal and demographic benefits of a large migrant intake seemingly prevented officials from offering this sage advice.

The fact is that Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil dithered about the stance of migration policy for most of the year, swinging from endorsing the historically high migrant intake to finally taking some very modest measures to rein in arrivals. In particular, the delay in ditching the Covid visa was inexcusable.

One defining feature of the Australian economy during the year has been the strength and resilience of the labour market. By every measure – the unemployment rate, the rate of underemployment, the employment-to-population ratio, the participation rate – the labour market was extraordinarily buoyant.

Reflecting in part the financial pressures many households encountered, there was a leap in the first half of the year in the number of multiple jobholders. In September, 6.6 per cent of employed people were multiple jobholders, higher than the long-term average of between 5 and 6 per cent.

Another defining economic event of 2023 was the ongoing slump in productivity. It hasn’t been simply a case of slow growth; there have been actual falls in observed labour and multifactor productivity. In the year ending in the September quarter, for instance, labour productivity fell by 2 per cent across the year.

We are now back to levels of productivity experienced well before the pandemic.

The point is often made that poor productivity is an international phenomenon, with global factors the likely explanation. The remarkable growth in work from home often is cited as a common reason. The reality is more complex, with the US, in particular, experiencing quite strong growth in productivity whereas Australia has gone backwards.

According to research undertaken by the Reserve Bank, labour productivity in the US this year was nearly 5 per cent higher than in December 2019, whereas in Australia it was 3 per cent lower.

Indeed, the only other country to experience such poor productivity performance was Canada, which incidentally has a similar large migrant intake and rapid population growth.

The argument is that the influx of relatively unskilled migrants, given the dominance of international students, has allowed businesses to take on available staff rather than make labour-saving investments. Weak business investment seems to be a key factor holding back productivity in both countries.

Another defining event of the year was the blowout in the cost of major infrastructure projects, with higher labour and material costs putting paid to the original estimates.

This has been a significant issue in Victoria with the cost of the government’s so-called Big Build program increasing by between 30 and 50 per cent from the initial estimates. Just one project, the North East Link, has gone from its original cost estimate of $10bn to $26bn.

The Snowy 2.0 pumped-hydro project also has been dogged by huge cost overruns and delays. The same applies to the construction of the transmission lines that are needed to connect this project to the main grid.

This development has significant implications for the economy as well as the energy grid. It’s now clear that the proposed timeline for new renewable energy projects and transmission lines is way behind schedule and the costs have exploded.

Given the tight labour market, the completion of these enormously expensive infrastructure projects is draining workers from the more prosaic task of building new homes that are needed to accommodate the expanding population courtesy of migration.

Simply setting targets for new home completions as the Albanese government has done – 1.2 million new homes across five years – achieves nothing much by itself.

Towards the end of the year there were some emerging signs of slight economic weakness, including sluggish retail sales and home approvals as well as subdued consumer sentiment. While commodity prices eased somewhat, the terms of trade remained at historically high levels through the year.

Given ongoing strong population growth, it seems likely that Australia will avoid a technical recession. But the collapse in real household disposable income, which takes into account tax and mortgage payments, means many Australians have felt worse off during the year.

A central issue is now the speed at which inflation declines, paving the way for lower interest rates. In the US and Britain, inflation has fallen sharply and, in both cases, is within their target range.

The fear here is that services sector inflation may prove sticky, which would prevent us following suit. At this point it’s premature to predict cuts to interest rates next year, particularly given some of the damaging developments noted in this column.


‘No credibility’: Northern Territory Chief Minister Eva Lawler lashed over schools

Two of the Northern Territory’s most experienced educators are calling on new Chief Minister Eva Lawler to fix the schools crisis she failed to resolve when she led the Education Department, warning she was seen as a “same horse, different jockey” leader and had “no credibility” with Indigenous teachers and parents.

The former schoolteacher surprised Territorians last week when she was elected unanimously as Chief Minister by the Labor caucus, after Natasha Fyles quit over undisclosed shares in a mining company.

But The Australian previously revealed, during her time as education minister, one in five children was effectively unfunded, the majority of students failed to meet minimum standards of literacy and numeracy, and attendance rates were as low as 18.7 per cent.

Yipirinya School principal Gavin Morris said there was a “real danger” in the new NT leadership promoting the “same message” on education, particularly nine months before an election when the government’s focus tended to become shortsighted.

“It feels like we’ve got the same horse but a different jockey with Eva Lawler as Chief Minister,” said Dr Morris, also a councillor at Alice Springs Town Council. “Don’t just throw a different jockey on there and expect a change in results, it’s not going to happen.

“Given the state of education in the Territory, what’s the problem with the horse and why aren’t we addressing the underlying problems with the education system?”

The Australian’s NT Schools in Crisis series revealed an annual funding shortfall of $214.8m for Territory schools, with less than half of the NT Education Department’s $1.2bn budget going directly into school spending.

Dr Morris pointed to the “total ballsing up” of the $40.4m federal funding in the 2023-24 budget to improve Central Australian school attendance and education outcomes, of which, he said, they had “not seen a single cent”.

“The minister for education was totally left out of that conversation, and there’s been a disconnect between the NT government and the commonwealth, and we’ve had a huge fallout in terms of education … There’s no respect and recognition for the voice on the ground,” he said.

“Now that we’ve got an ex-school teacher and ex-minister for education in the top job, that whole sector needs to be held to higher standard … Ms Lawler needs to ensure that doesn’t happen again.”

Dr Morris said there needed to be more innovation in Central Australian schools to deal with disengagement, anti-social behaviour and youth crime. “Go and talk to people on frontlines who are innovating – Yipirinya is humbly one of those – and address the barriers to education and why kids are refusing to go to school in Central Australia,” he said.

“Also, resource schools appropriately to deal with that. One school councillor for every 500 students 20 years ago was acceptable, today that’s negligence.”

Gary Fry, who spent 23 years as a principal in the Northern Territory before he moved into academia in Queensland, said he didn’t hold much hope that Ms Lawler could turn around the “depressingly sad state of affairs” in education as Chief Minister.

“Labor has no depth if it’s seeking to elevate someone to Chief Minister of the most underperforming jurisdiction and the most educationally backward system in Australia, who denies that there’s even a problem in the education system,” he said. “Someone who has not acknowledged the true state of First Nations children in both urban and remote areas around the Territory.”

He referred to an interview on ABC Radio ­Darwin in September in which Ms Lawler, then education minister, said the Territory had a “very strong, very robust education system”. “Lawler doesn’t have any credibility for Aboriginal people in town, and people like me … She presided over the failed state of education and the economy,” Mr Fry said.

He said while one part of the story related to funding, the other was ideological. “How do you take children that are struggling and how can the education system liberate them so that they see the pathways in their life.”

Mr Fry, however, said appointing Mark Monaghan as Education Minister was positive and hoped he could “embark on an agenda of inclusive education, which means including Aboriginal people in decision-making, policy and program design”.

NT Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro said: “Eva Lawler’s mismanagement of the education system has resulted in an alarming decline in school attendance rates since 2016 under the Labor administration … The dire state of affairs continues with a concerning number of teacher injuries, unrecorded police callouts to schools, a high rate of student suspensions, and an alarming number of school break-ins.”




Monday, December 25, 2023


A few pix just for fun

Sunday, December 24, 2023

How much do the stories by Alice Duncan-Kemp tell us about Aborigines before white settlement?

The article below is rather hagiographic but considerable skepticism about it is warranted. The author claims that the stories concerned tell how the First Australians lived. But ignores the salient fact that Duncan-Kemp was a 20th century author, writing long after 1778. And there are many indications that her stories were romanticized and in part possibly imaginary

So her stories at best describe a late period in the influence of white settlement on Aborigines. They describe Aborigines who were the product of contact with whites. Were the activities she described white-adapted or "original"? "A bit of both" is the obvious verdict and disentangling them would be a very speculative enterprise. They tell us NOTHING certain about Aborigines before white settlement

It’s hard not to be enchanted by the lost books of Alice Duncan-Kemp when they resonate so deeply with the nation Australia would become. A photograph of her, on a winter’s day 90 years ago, shows her tapping out tales of her childhood on Mooraberrie station, a speck in the red dirt of southwest Queensland’s far-flung Channel Country. The story of boom and bust in the bush, of hope given over to despair, of cattle dying of thirst one day and drowning the next in a frothing flood, is as old as the Outback ­itself. We know it by heart.

What sets Duncan-Kemp apart – and why the rediscovery of her work is causing a stir in academe and out in the field where scientists use it like a “road map” to unlock the secrets of how the First Australians lived – is the detailed and partly disputed account she provides of the contact era. A voice like hers was rarely heard at the time: ­admiring of the tribal ­Aborigines she grew up with, heavy of heart for a way of life in its death throes. Recalling the Aboriginal nanny who helped raise her on the family beef run, 1200km west of Brisbane, she wrote in 1933:

The seed of my knowledge, of that corner of sand-hills, was implanted within me as a mere babe straddling Mary Ann’s hip, or toddling with little black mates after the billy-cart. In later youth the seed grew and fruited. The secret lay in a profound respect for the aborigines (sic) and their customs. In return, these trusty folk taught me to read, with wonder and pleasure, in Nature’s Infinite Book of Secrecy, the reading of which was as simple as ABC to them.

Duncan-Kemp’s name and oeuvre – running to five out-of-print volumes and many more unpublished manuscripts – was forgotten by all but her family until a new generation of Australian historians dusted them off. Tom Griffiths, of the Australian National University, was 14 when he chanced across her second book, Where Strange Paths Go Down. He loved it, inspiring a lifelong passion for her work. Decades later the W.K. Hancock Professor of History would extol “the exciting truthfulness of her memoir – one tinged by innocence and nostalgia and prey to the glitches of memory, but faithfully told. A precious possibility emerges that Alice’s books comprise one of the richest ethnographic sources Australia possesses”.

University of Queensland archaeologist ­Michael Westaway began tracking down the scenes and places she described. There were dead-ends, of course. (“Alice was a bit airy-fairy on distances,” her grandson Will explains.) But in instance after instance, 21st-century technology and old-fashioned legwork confirmed her observations. Traces of sizeable Indigenous villages were found where she said they had been; a thriving trade in the narcotic pituri leaf did indeed span the length of the great inland ­rivers, from northwest Queensland to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, just as she described it; the jarra-jarra millstones she saw Aboriginal women sweat over to grind grass seed and other bush “grains” came from vast quarries dotted across the nearby desert; rare medicine plants continued to flourish in the out-of-the-way spots she had documented.

“It’s a bit like following the Iliad to find Troy,” says Westaway, referring to Heinrich Schliemann’s 1870 feat to unearth the ruins of the fabled city in Turkey through clues in Homer’s text. “You know … we’ve been able to go through what she wrote and test it as a hypothesis: here’s a site or activity or plant she mentions, so let’s go and find proof of it.”

But some things haven’t changed. The critics are still at it, chipping away at Duncan-Kemp’s credibility. Take this 1961 review of book three, Our Channel Country. “Mrs Duncan-Kemp ­proceeds to unfold improbable tales of her childhood which dwarf most previous ‘tall ­stories’ of the outback,” the Sydney Morning Herald’s man sniffed. “It is impossible to take many of them seriously.”

These days, the carping is couched in more academic terms. The revival of interest in Duncan-Kemp engaged serious people in serious research that underpinned a successful Native Title claim by the Mithaka people of southwest Queensland in 2015. At the same time she was quoted approvingly by Bruce Pascoe in his polemic Dark Emu, which challenged the ­orthodoxy that Aborigines were “hapless” hunter-gatherers prior to European settlement and argued that they had developed the makings of an agricultural society. That willing skirmish, as we will see, has spilled into the reappraisal of Alice Duncan-Kemp’s work and legacy and in turn the national debate over the Voice, with its denouement at today’s referendum.

Linguist Dr David Nash has picked apart her writing phrase by phrase. An honorary senior lecturer at the Australian National University’s School of Literature, Language and Linguistics, Nash compiled dozens of examples of her ­appropriating Aboriginal vernacular and plagiarising text from other writers. “Users” of her work need to be wary, he cautions.

Will Duncan-Kemp is a keeper of the flame, carefully tended in a two-bedroom cottage in Toowoomba cluttered with his grandmother’s manuscripts, papers and family memorabilia. Bearded and full-bellied, the retired geologist, 66, wouldn’t look out of place in the sepia-tinged photos we’re looking through. He points to a faded image of Alice and her sister, Laura, as young women, standing beside a flooded river, backs to the camera, about the time she started on her debut book, Our Sandhill Country. “It was a hard life out there,” he says quietly.

Then as now, the vast chameleonic landscape on the edge of the Simpson Desert defied the efforts of mere mortals to tame it. The region, cut by intermittently-running rivers such as the Diamantina, Thomson, Barcoo and Cooper Creek, wasn’t even explored by Europeans until the 1860s; Burke and Wills would have approached the western boundary of Mooraberrie on their ill-fated trek through the interior. The pioneering Durack family settled there before embarking on a cross-continental cattle drive to open up the Kimberley in 1883. When Alice’s father, William Duncan, ­arrived eight years later to manage the 93,000ha station, ­violence with the Mithaka clans was still an ever-present threat. Native Mounted Police ­detachments – death squads in all but name, ­according to the ANU’s Griffiths, made up of Aborigines from outside tribal groups under the command of a white sergeant – would roam the Channel Country terrorising the black population.

Occasionally the young warriors would strike back and spear an unlucky squatter, unleashing a fresh round of bloodletting. The Mithaka refused to lie down. In her celebrated memoir Kings in Grass Castles, Mary Durack captured the raw brutality of late colonisation, citing the settlers’ belief that far southwest Queensland would only be made safe when the last of the Indigenous inhabitants had been killed off, “by bullet or by bait”.

Still, some graziers were sympathetic. What became known as the Debney Peace was ­brokered by a friend of William Duncan in 1889, ending the vicious frontier war. Scottish-born Duncan was himself an enlightened figure among the hard-nosed settlers, well-read and deeply interested in the emerging science of ethnography. After securing the leasehold to Mooraberrie, he would refer to the Aborigines as his “landlords”, making them welcome on the property. Alice, the second of the couple’s four children, became “twice born” at the age of two during a midwinter drama on a raging Bulloo River. Negotiating the flood in 1903, her father had slammed their horse-drawn buggy into a semi-submerged tree, nearly overturning the carriage. Then a heavy bough crashed down on where the infant lay swaddled, gravely injuring a harnessed colt. Somehow, Alice emerged unscathed. The astonished black stockmen accompanying them, Wooragai and Bogie, lit a ceremonial fire and started up a chant: from then on, she would be the reincarnation of a spirit sacred to the Aborigines.

In due course, she was initiated and given the name Pinningarra, or leaf spirit. But there were limits even for her open-minded parents. Duncan put his foot down after the red-hot stone tip of a naming spear was drawn across the little girl’s chest, leaving a welt. There would be no more ritual scarring, he insisted. But for the rest of her life, Alice wore the faded mark above her heart with immense pride, a visible link to the Mithaka.

The death of her father in a riding fall when she was six reinforced their role as her second family. Between showering her with affection, Mary Ann Coomindah – Bogie’s wife and the sisters’ nanny, who possibly breastfed them as infants – taught her to see the world through different eyes. Years later, Duncan-Kemp would write of the day Mary Ann took her on a long walk through the bush with Laura and ­little Beatrice. (Their older brother, David, had died of diphtheria aged four.) They were hours from the homestead when the sky clouded over. Mary Ann sniffed the air and told the children a wildfire was bearing down on them. Hurry! Their only chance was to get to Teeta Lake, 2km away. Running through the reed beds, they were overtaken by Indigenous families and wildlife fleeing to the shallow water. Mary Ann ushered the frightened girls into the deepest part of the lake, leaving only their heads exposed, shielded from the radiant heat and falling ash with strips of wet bark and sacking – and when that failed, with her own body. Leading the children home, testing every step to make sure the scorched ground was safe, the selfless woman said nothing of the second-degree burns she had incurred. Instead, she whispered to Alice: “This is our country, missee.”

You can only shake your head at how the ­settlers clung to their heavy British clothes and customs that were as out of place as could be in this remote corner of the Outback. One ­summer, Duncan-Kemp would write, the ­thermometer hovered between 123F and 125F (50.5-51.6C) for three endless days and nights. Her mother, now managing Mooraberrie on her own, hung blankets set in tubs of water across the doorways and windows in an attempt to cool the place down.

The homestead was built of pale anthill clay, the 60cm thick walls paired with 3.6m high ­ceilings. Drinking water was hand-drawn from an outside tank; what was needed for cooking, laundry and personal care came from the waterhole at the back, past the open-sided kitchen shack that was washed away the year Farrar’s Creek erupted. Regardless of the outside temperature, meals were prepared in enervating proximity to the wood-fired range; well into the 20th Century, carbide-powered lamps lit the living spaces after dark.

Young Alice would sit on the canegrass ­veranda listening to the stockmen talk of epic ­cattle drives and the characters they met along the way; for the women, life was a drudgery of caring for children, cooking and housework. The nearest town, Windorah, lay 210km away across the empty blacksoil plains. Yet where other Europeans saw arid desolation, Alice perceived beauty and the promise of renewal; when they complained about the heat and the interminable, all-consuming waiting for rain, she enthused about “one of the healthiest ­climates” going, dry and clear unlike the “clammy” coast, in the “great heart of Australia stretching away for hundreds of lonely miles beyond the Cooper, Diamantina, beyond Birdsville, Bedourie and Alice Springs; destined yet, with the advent of railways and population, to pour out through countless channels a hidden wealth that will command wonder and envy”.

Yet to the Mithaka, the world was held in Yamma-coona’s net, tethering every living thing by invisible silken threads to a mythical witch. Yamma-coona held court with the spirits of the trees and the air beneath a needle bush, while her left hand spun the lives of people. Those who strayed too far felt a tug at the heart that made them ache for home. Her net, the blue sky, was set in the morning; at night, the spirits drew it in and gathered the souls of the dead, Alice recounted.

At first the bush frightens and repels; the loneliness of the open spaces, lack of companionship, the hardships, dangers and privations, seem too big a price for so little a gain. Then by degrees the bush awakens interest; the open spaces begin to have a magnetic charm all of their own; the ‘bush sense’ develops. At last, it holds men’s souls in an iron clasp that relaxes only with death. The woman wizard makes magic and entangles them … spinning, spinning, always spinning her net until the strands of her captives’ lives run out.

Along with her sisters, she spent most of World War I at boarding school and then worked on another station as a governess. On returning home, she married a bank clerk, Fred Kemp, but was adamant she would preserve the family name to become Alice Duncan-Kemp. They moved from post to post in southwest Queensland with Fred’s bank, raising cattle and sheep on the side. But Duncan-Kemp, by now a softly-spoken woman in her thirties, busy with her own family, never let go of her childhood with the Mithaka. As a girl, she had always jotted her thoughts down in a notebook and now she began writing her memoir in longhand, ­typing and retyping drafts until she felt ready to approach a publisher, Griffiths discovered.

Our Sandhill Country, completed while she was staying at Mooraberrie with Laura, who’d taken over from their mother, was released in 1933 by Angus & Robertson and did well enough to be reprinted. But Duncan-Kemp wasn’t finished yet, not by a long way.

Scattered over the river-flats and highlands maybe seen the remains of humpies, circular impressions where a one-time humpy stood with earth scooped out and piled around the back and sides to form a moat or drain for river waters; yerndoos, or cracking stones, where they cracked their shell food before or after cooking; jara-jaras, or large sandstone grinding slabs, some with elaborate hieroglyphics and carvings upon them; stone chisels and bluestone tomahawks; burnt-out clay ovens; charcoal ridges in the soil that denote middens and the dead ashes of many campfires; a few battered wooden or flint weapons; old wooden coolamons and smaller pitches corroded by age and sands; mounds of red and yellow ochre, in chalky slices of lumps mixed ready for some long forgotten corroboree; glittering mounds of crab and mussel shells bleached white by sun and winds – are all that remain to record the passing of the original owners of this bushland. To anyone who troubles to read them, these mute records unfold a poignant story.

Michael Westaway made it his business to absorb just about every word Duncan-Kemp had published. The 52-year-old archaeologist reached out to Griffiths in 2017, keen to recruit him to what would become a multifaceted exploration of the region’s pre-colonial history. Supported and guided by Mithaka elders, field teams comprising dozens of scientists and support staff from three universities have been busy excavating sites and cataloguing native plants identified through her writings. What they found partly vindicates the Dark Emu ­theory that Aborigines developed village-like settlements and technology beyond that of ­nomadic hunter-gatherers. Westaway, however, stops short of Bruce Pascoe’s contentious conclusion that they were early agriculturalists who behaved much like subsistence farmers the world over to till the soil, sow crops, irrigate, and build dams and permanent stone homes, their lives rooted to a single spot.

The reality, he believes, was more nuanced. An ever-changing landscape, never far from those extremes of feast or famine, demanded mobility and quick-stepping adaptability for these people to survive, let alone thrive. In the absence of written records – rock art and artefacts such as stone tools or weapons can only say so much when there was no textual ­language, Westaway says – the observations of the explorers and first settlers are critical. Sadly, detailing their experiences, if any, with Indigenous populations wasn’t a priority for most of them. This is where Duncan-Kemp comes in. She grew up only a generation removed from the fraught contact period in the Channel Country, schooled by Mithaka teachers still steeped in the ancient ways. “She provided a ­diverse social history of these communities at a time when they were basically disintegrating, when all of this accumulated knowledge of the country, traditional practice and lore was being lost,” Westaway says. “You would never see any record of that in the archaeology alone; we could never hope to reconstruct it from the archaeology. So what we’ve done is go, ‘OK, Alice says people did this or that at a given place we can identify from her books’. We treat that as a hypothesis we can test – we go out on country and look for the proof. We’ve been doing this for seven years now and I feel we’re very much in the early stages. But … there’s nothing really that we’ve been able to detect to say that she was bullshitting. Nothing substantial at all.”

One eye-opening finding was that the ­Mithaka practised “industrial-scale mining” – Westaway’s words – for millstone. The quarry fields contained tens of thousands of pits, so vast their scope could only be seen with satellite imagery. The scale of the enterprise suggests the completed grindstones, typically weighing 6kg-7kg, and often elaborately carved, would have been traded up and down an Indigenous silk road tracking the great inland rivers. ­Nicotine-laced pituri leaf, prized for ceremonial use and as an everyday pick-me-up, was carried on human backs to destinations as far north as Arnhem Land and south to the red-rock Flinders Ranges. The footsore porters returned with rock axes, red ochre and razor-sharp stone knives.

Duncan-Kemp’s account of the Debney Peace is the only known record of the 1889 agreement to end the frontier war in the ­Channel Country. A ceremony to seal the deal brokered by George Debney, manager of ­Monkira station, was attended by more than 500 people from the local clans. ANU’s Tom Griffiths, who is writing a biography of ­Duncan-Kemp, says the colonial authorities kept the accord secret, probably to avoid having to acknowledge the standing it conferred on the Indigenous parties to the peace.

Clearly, Duncan-Kemp could not have been writing from first-hand knowledge. But her ­father kept a meticulous journal, which she had access to. (Griffiths believes the Debney Peace might have been one of the factors that drew William Duncan to Mooraberrie, after which he married Laura, the daughter of a ­Sydney ­solicitor. Her sister also wed a local grazier.) Duncan owned an impressive library filled with the books and journal articles of early Aboriginal anthropologists such as Walter Roth, one of the many unattributed sources Duncan-Kemp would later use and, in some cases, ­appropriate. This brings us to the thorny new question that hangs over her writing: how much of it was the work of others?

After the release of Our Sandhill Country, she struggled to find a publisher for the planned ­follow-up. In the event, life would have intruded on the busy young mother’s time: while she juggled family responsibilities with managing the cattle properties that she and Fred acquired, the 1930s devolved into the Great Depression and a Second World War. Her next book, Where Strange Paths Go Down, building on her experience of growing up with the Mithaka, didn’t come out until 1952, almost 20 years later. It was followed by Our Channel Country in 1961, Where Strange Gods Call in 1968 and People of the Grey Wind, published privately by the family after her death in 1988, a few months short of her 87th birthday.

The dismissive reviews continued. The commissioned historians of western Queensland’s Barcoo Shire scoffed that she had been “only a child or a very young woman” during the period she was writing of, and couldn’t possibly be taken seriously. It must have hurt. Yet Duncan-Kemp kept at it, typing and retyping drafts on her old Remington Rand.

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The feminist hatreds of Clementine Ford


On December 16, The Weekend Australian published my review of Clementine Ford’s new book, I Don’t: The Case Against Marriage. My review was unflattering. I underscored the hatred Ford has exhibited toward men, the inconsistencies in her feminist scholarship, and her glaringly white, middle-class point-of-view.

“All men must die.”

“Have you killed any men today? If not, why not?”

“Honestly, the coronavirus isn’t killing men fast enough.”

These are some of the things Ford has published. As I wrote: “While there is no question that some of the points she makes in I Don’t are accurate, the degree of disgust she expresses for men is more than disturbing; it should be illegal.”

I also criticised Ford’s abusive attacks on Zionist women, many of whom have been waiting since the 7 October attack on Israel for a show of solidarity from Western feminists like Ford. It is not disputed that Hamas terrorists raped and shot Jewish girls attending a music festival, taking some hostage, and leaving others to die in the desert.

Ford has described Zionist women, most of whom are Jewish, as “enthusiastic supporters of a murderous regime that has been killing children for over 70 years’. She has also said: “I don’t care that you felt betrayed or let down, and I especially don’t care that you want to have a big crybaby rant ... You’re pathetic, you disgust me, and I pity you for being so basic and gross”. She has referred to Jews as “colonizers” — they have been worshipping in Israel since the time of King David — and she has said of their desire to remain in Israel: “Honestly, you actually can’t get any whiter than that.”

After my piece was shared online, Ford’s fans — mostly young, white Australian women – began to weigh in on my Instagram page. In the main, they ignored the points that I — a Catholic by birth; white, left-wing and unrelated to any Jew — had made about Ford’s inadequacies as a thinker, and focused instead on Ford’s campaign for a “free Palestine.”

An Instagrammer calling herself “Reanne” wrote: “For the record, people like ‘me’ couldn’t give two shits about the Jews ... Jew women are supposedly not centre of attention (because) the thousands of babies slaughtered are. Grow up you imbecile.”

Ford is not the only high-profile white mummy blogger figurehead abusing “Zionist women” while manipulating their predominantly female followers with emotive footage of dead or dying babies.

On December 11, Lauren Dubois, a 42-year-old mother of three and formerly of 2GB and the ABC, posted a video to Instagram in which she said: “If somebody touched my child ... I would be homicidal. I wouldn’t need an army. I would hunt them down myself. I would find them and I would tear them limb from limb with my bare hands” (a relatively unlikely threat?) After some tear-jerking melodrama about how she would never survive the death of her own child, Dubois carefully asks: “What kind of bloodthirsty, primeval creatures think this way?”

Why, the Jews, that’s who!

Historically, Dubois’s dehumanising adjectives – bloodthirsty, primeval, and so on – are, of course, resonant. As she stresses in her post, such monsters “don’t belong in a civilised society”.

In a November 13 post, Dubois was photographed wearing a keffiyeh, a Palestinian scarf, protesting with a placard at Parliament House. One side read, “ALBO WONG YOU WILL NEVER WASH THE BLOOD OF PALESTINIAN BABIES OFF YOUR HANDS”; and “BOMBING BABIES IS BAD”.

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Sperm donor issues

Bridgette Chesters had always longed for a house filled with children. But seven years ago there was a hitch: her husband John discovered he had a condition that made it difficult to conceive and he also carried the cystic fibrosis gene. A sperm donor would be their only hope of having a family.

So the couple got sperm from an Australian donor through an IVF clinic and Chesters fell pregnant with Lola, now four, on the first attempt. Settling on a donor through the clinic was easy, she says. Full blood tests and screening were done and she was matched with three compatible donors.

“There’s no photos and very basic information about them. We chose one that we thought from the description might look most like my husband,” the ­Sunshine Coast mum explains. “We must have chosen well because when our daughter was born people who didn’t know the situation said how much she looked like him.”

Eager to grow their ­family, they returned to the clinic in January 2019. But this time it was not so easy. Chesters endured three full rounds of IVF and suffered four miscarriages. “Each time I was left questioning myself and if it was something I was doing, if there was something wrong with me,” she recalls. “It was devastating.”

Over the following two years it cost the couple upwards of $60,000 for IVF, which included $900 to buy each package (known as a “straw”) of sperm as well as legal and counselling costs – mandatory when using donor sperm. With credit cards maxed out and superannuation depleted, Chesters decided a new approach was needed. In January 2021 she took a deep breath and put an ad on the Facebook group Sperm Donation Australia explaining her story.

“It was quite overwhelming at first and you feel very vulnerable, but there are so many men out there looking to help and expect absolutely nothing in return,” she says. “John was a bit apprehensive initially, but once we met our donor, he was fine. It cost us nothing aside from some road tolls and a bottle of scotch,” she laughs, cradling seven-month-old Lawrence who was born from this union.

“Using our donor through the group was hands down the ­easiest thing we’ve ever done. No invasive procedures, no ­medications, no pressure over numbers. It was relaxed and easy, done at home using a kit we bought for $50 from Sperm Donation Australia with an insemination cup and a syringe. Our donor was willing to go above and beyond for us.”

“Each time I was left questioning myself and if it was something I was doing, if there was something wrong with me. It was devastating”

Chesters, 37, says she and her husband drew up their own ­agreement with the donor, who from the outset made it clear he wouldn’t seek parental rights. Genetic testing was not undertaken but she was assured he had been tested for other diseases.

“Our donor has been open and honest with us, and if he wasn’t we wouldn’t have proceeded,” she says. What started as writing long missives to the donor before meeting has now blossomed into an ongoing, friendly relationship with him and his partner. “We gained a family when we made the decision to use a known donor, something we will always be grateful for.”

But although the Chesters’ experience was positive, others warn of the risks involved in private donor arrangements. The legal situation is murky. In the case of “prolific donors” there’s a risk of sexual relationships occurring between siblings.

Women and couples are turning to assisted fertility in ever increasing numbers, and demand for donor sperm has soared. In the first nine months of this year, Monash IVF received 60 per cent more inquiries for donor sperm than for all of 2021, and reported a 25 per cent increase in donor sperm inquiries in 2021 compared with the previous year.

As for those using private sperm donors or going ­overseas for egg donation, exact numbers are impossible to know – it’s ­unregulated, after all – but there is no question that more and more people are doing that, too. Professor Fiona Kelly, Dean of La Trobe University law school and an expert in family and health law, says lockdowns exacerbated existing low numbers of Australian sperm donors in clinics.

“We have seen an increase year on year of sperm and egg donors, but we’ve seen a bigger increase in demand, largely due to the increase in single women seeking ­treatment. Single women are the biggest users of donor sperm in Australia,” she says. “As demand outstrips supply in clinics, an increasing number of Australians are turning to the private online market for donors. Private donation has always existed, particularly in the lesbian and gay communities, but the scale of what’s happening now is new. Private sperm donors are donating to many women, easily brought together online through web pages that resemble online dating sites.”

A key player in the online boom is 37-year-old Adam Hooper, a father of two with more than 15 donor children throughout ­Australia and the world to his name – a number that deeply ­concerns regulators and some donor-conceived people. Hooper, from Perth, lives a nomadic life travelling around Australia and internationally on “sperm tours”, donating to women and recruiting men. He established Australia’s largest donor community, Sperm Donation Australia, in 2015. The group has more than 15,000 members, and a backlog of people waiting to join. Similar groups exist in the UK and the US.

Hooper began on this path after meeting a lesbian couple who explained how expensive it was for them to use a fertility clinic. “Everyone in my family lived until their 90s so I thought it was something I could do,” he says. He makes his money ­selling home insemination kits and says he’s motivated by helping others and becoming an “icon” in the donor world. His group allows donors and recipients to meet, connect and determine the type of ongoing relationship, if any, they wish to have. In contrast, with a clinic there’s a presumption of anonymity that cuts both ways. “If you donate in a clinic, you don’t have the peace of mind or fulfilment you get donating privately,” Hooper says. “Many men say they donated at a clinic and didn’t think about it, but four years on they wonder about the child.”

In cases where a clinic is used, there are laws regulating contact between donors and the recipient ­family – but they differ from state to state. Under Victorian law, recipients with minor children can apply at any time for the donor’s identity and, if the donor ­consents, the information will be released. Donors can also apply for identifying information which will be released if the recipient or donor-conceived offspring consents. If the donor-conceived child is over 18, the donor’s identifying information can be released without consent. In other states, children conceived after 2005 must wait until they are 18, except in Western Australia where it is 16. Parliamentary inquiries in South Australia and Western Australia have recommended legislation similar to the Victorian model and Queensland recently held a hearing covering early contact.

Hooper says his recipients are all connected through a private Facebook group and meet regularly, allowing the donor siblings, or ­“diblings”, to grow up knowing they are part of an extended family. “When I ask my own children if they want me to stop donating, they say, ‘No’,” he says. “They have a cool life getting to go out with their friends and hold babies and were brought up knowing they would have more siblings than normal.”

Hooper says he vets every member before they join Sperm Donation Australia, as well as enforcing procedures and moderating the group. “We want to see they are decent people,” he explains. “Sometimes I’ll even call them to get a feel for them. Many of the men are already fathers and appreciate the gift of life and how ­special it is to be a parent.” However, he won’t advise on the laws regarding donor family limits. “When we get enough donors, no donor will have to be relied on to help as many people,’’ he says.

Greta French-Kennedy is typical of many of the women searching online for a sperm donor. The 37-year-old yoga teacher and health coach from Adelaide spent her 20s focused on her career. When she began thinking about having a family in her 30s, the fairytale story of meeting a man, falling in love and having a baby didn’t happen. “I don’t want to put pressure on myself or a man to have a baby immediately. That’s not how love works,” she says. “Ninety-five per cent of men my age or older have had kids and don’t want any more. It’s the reality for me and a lot of women.”

Ready to go it alone, she went to a clinic – but as there were ­virtually no local donors, it was only able to offer her sperm from California at a price of about $2000, with the total cost rising to $10,000 when IVF fees were included. French-Kennedy looked at the overseas donor database. “I saw these photos of the men as babies. They were total strangers and I thought, ‘This little human [I will carry] is going to be a part of someone else and I have no idea who they are’,” she says. The reality of having to go through the highly medicalised process of IVF also hit home. “My whole business and life is built on natural health and even though my cycle was regular, I’d be injecting hormones into my body, going under a general anaesthetic and creating an embryo in a clinical setting, and it just didn’t sit right,” she says.

She’d been following a lesbian couple on Instagram, and through them she found Sperm Donation Australia. In March this year she put her ad up seeking a donor and 15 men replied. “Adam [Hooper] has very clear guidelines about what to put in a post about the method you want to use, artificial insemination or natural, ie sex, and whether you want to co-parent,” she explains.

French-Kennedy settled on a man who lived nearby and they chatted online before meeting. “He is married and has no children. We had some mutual friends on Facebook. He was fit and healthy, which was most important, and he is a part of a group which looks at the needs of the donor child,” she says. They drew up an agreement stating he was not liable for child support and didn’t want to co-parent but was happy for updates. Unfortunately, after trying for three cycles, she has not been successful. She plans to wait now until the summer and her donor gets more tests done.

The increasing use of overseas egg donation is also provoking an angry response from clinics. Natalie Hart, a 47-year-old from Melbourne, met Glenn, the man she wanted to marry, seven years ago; desperately wanting to start a family, she came off the pill – only to experience her first hot flush. Blood tests showed she was perimenopausal. “It was gut-wrenching. It’s not the news you want to hear when you are trying to start a family,” Hart says. “You know straight away you’re running an uphill battle.”

She began aggressive IVF, but her body didn’t respond to the medication and resulted in two cancelled cycles. Her doctor suggested donor eggs. Hart knew someone who’d used donor eggs in South Africa, so the process was not a complete mystery to her. “The specialist basically said don’t bother buying frozen eggs from the World Egg Bank [the main source of donor eggs at clinics in Australia]. You could try to find a donor here, but it could take some time. She advised us to just go overseas,” Hart explains.

“It was a journey Glenn and I had to research, and work out if that was the right path… when you are new into a world, you know nothing about it – it’s very overwhelming. You don’t know what to take as truth and you are dealing with the loss of your own genetics, but your desire to be a mum is so strong.”

After settling on South Africa, Hart went through an egg donor agency and was able to search its online database and see pictures of the donors as babies or young children, as well as a little biography. “It felt like online shopping in a weird way, but once you start reading the profiles you emotionally connect with them,” she says. Once she had chosen a donor, the agency advised the clinic. The donor underwent testing before Hart started IVF and the donated eggs were then fertilised with Glenn’s sperm.

As Jenson, now four, has grown, Hart has reflected on how much he looks like the donor from the pictures she’s seen of her as a toddler. “He has the donor’s nose and beautiful blue eyes,” she beams. “I feel he’s a very good mix of all three of us and I’m just happy because he’s a beautiful little boy. I do love seeing parts of the donor in him, because if it wasn’t for her, he wouldn’t be here, and I couldn’t imagine life without him.”


Was Calide C blown up?

There are some very destructive Greenies

Private investors in Queensland’s Callide C power station have launched legal action to force a fresh independent investigation into the explosion that crippled the Queensland grid in 2021, after the failure of its state-owned operator to deliver results from its own review of the debacle.

The explosion of the C4 turbine at Callide C in May 2021 forced the evacuation of the plant, and immediately stripped about 10 per cent of Queensland’s generating capacity out of the east coast grid.

The loss of the plant – which is still yet to return to the electricity market – helped push up household and business energy prices, and has indirectly contributed to the energy shortfall facing NSW amid soaring summer temperatures.

Callide C suffered a second mysterious catastrophe in October 2022, when part of the cooling towers collapsed. The generator is due to return to partial service on January 24, but on current estimates will not be able to deliver its full 990MW capacity into the grid until July 2024.

The plant was operated and half-owned by the Queensland government’s CS Energy, and half by the privately held Genuity Group – which in turn is 25 per cent-owned by Czech energy investor Sev.en, with China Huaneng Group and Guangdong Energy Group controlling the rest.

Genuity called in Deloitte as administrators in March 2023, after a dispute between its owners over funding for the estimated $390m cost of returning Callide C to service.

But, more than two and a half years on from the explosion at the coal-fired plant, an expert review of the incident – commissioned by CS Energy, and being conducted by forensic engineer Sean Brady – has still not been delivered, and Sev.en has headed to the Federal Court to demand answers, and potentially prepare the way for a damages claim against CS Energy and the Queensland government.

Sev.en’s lawsuit asks the Federal Court to appoint FTI Consulting’s John Park and Benjamin Campbell as special purpose administrators to Genuity subsidiary IG Power Callide (IGPC), giving them the power to “conduct investigations into the cause or causes of the two catastrophic incidents at the Callide C power station”.

Their powers would include the ability to hire independent technical experts to conduct an investigation, as well as significant powers to demand the production of documents related to the power plant failures, and seek court orders allowing compulsory examinations of witnesses – potentially including CS Energy executives – that had knowledge of the events.

Court documents show Sev.en is also seeking to give the special purpose administrators the power to “commence and prosecute any legal proceedings” on behalf of the collapsed company.

Deloitte is understood to be considering a number of potential offers for Genuity’s half of Callide C, after a process to take bids for the company closed in mid-­December.

Documents filed by Deloitte with the corporate regulator in November show a CS Energy subsidiary had expressed an interest in taking full control of the plant, through pre-emptive rights triggered by Genuity’s collapse into administration.

Under the terms of the agreement, the documents show, CS Energy has the right to buy Genuity’s half of Callide at the lesser of either its fair value or book value – as set by independent valuers and auditors.

Energy market sources say Deloitte is also considering other offers to recapitalise Genuity through a deed of company arrangement, with Sev.en and its Chinese former partners seen as the most likely alternative ­bidders.

Deloitte declined to comment on Friday, as the matter is before the courts, and will not file its submissions in response to Sev.en’s application until early in January.

It indicated that it is likely to oppose the application, however, given it is still considering offers for the company and believes the imposition of special purpose administrators could delay its ability to put those offers to creditors.

But the court documents filed by Sev.en suggest the outcome of any investigation into the causes of the explosion and subsequent collapse of the cooling towers could also be a critical factor in any valuation of the Genuity group of companies.

If an investigation found that CS Energy was responsible, potential legal claims against the state-owned company could be a potentially significant avenue for returning cash to the company’s creditors – including Sev.en, which claims to be owed about $88m from the group, according to Deloitte filings to ASIC.

The claim by Sev.en also seeks to prevent Deloitte from agreeing to any sale terms which include provisions giving up the right to sue over the causes of the explosion or cooling tower collapse.

The report commissioned by CS Energy is still to be finalised. But an 2021 report into the incident by the Australian Energy Market Operator hinted at failures by the state-owned company, noting that maintenance to backup power supplies appeared to be a contributing factor in the disaster as it meant sensors and protection equipment at the plant were not operating.

In October 2023 the Australian Energy Market Regulator fined CS Energy $67,000 for running the Callide C power station without the proper regulatory registration required by market participants – which CS Energy dismissed at the time as an “apparent historical oversight”.

The chief executive of CS Energy at the time of the disaster, Andrew Bills, left the company in February to take up a role running SA Power Networks. Its chairman, former Brisbane lord mayor Jim Soorley, stepped down in July, shortly after CS Energy flagged further delays to the return of Callide to service. He was replaced by Adam Aspinall.

Queensland Energy Minister Mick de Brenni said on Friday he was “fully confident” in the leadership of CS Energy. “The newly appointed Chair of CS Energy is absolutely focused on rebuilding the Callide plant, as safely and quickly as possible,” he said.