SearchArchives for February 200924 February, 2009
Law on contracts to be expandedNew laws to protect consumers from unfair contracts are to be fast-tracked.
Consumer Affairs Minister, Chris Bowen, said the new laws would provide Australian consumers with increased protection from unfair contract terms and bestow greater enforcement powers on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
Mr Bowen said the legislation would give Australia-wide protection similar to that already enjoyed in Victoria and, overseas in the European Union.
“This means that for the first time, all Australian consumers will have protection from unfair contract terms,” he said.
“The new Australian Consumer Law will allow consumers and the consumer watchdog to take action against contract terms that cause detriment or a substantial likelihood of detriment to consumers.”
Mr Bowen said the regulation would cover standard-form contracts that consumers signed for their utilities, mobile phones and bank accounts.
“There is no sensible reason why Australians should have to wait any longer for protection from unfair contract terms,” he said.
New powers for the ACCC include civil fines, disqualification orders, infringement notices, substantiation notices, public warning notices and Court orders to seek redress for consumers who aren't party to a particular action.
Mr Bowen launched an information and consultation paper on the new laws at the Monash Centre for Regulatory Studies in Melbourne.
“The creation of the Australian Consumer Law fulfils the agreement reached by the Australian, State and Territory Governments at the Council of Australian Government meeting last October,” he said.
“There is no question that the consumer protection provisions of the Trade Practices Act can be enhanced and I look forward continuing to talk with State and Territory Ministers as well as business and consumer groups about how this can be done most effectively.”
Mr Bowen has proposed changing the name of the Trade Practices Act to the Competition and Consumer Act to better reflect the protections the law gives to Australian consumers.
Submissions on the Australian Consumer Law are due by the 17 March with copies of the paper available from www.treasury.gov.au and www.consumer.gov.au
24 February, 2009
All hands on hand for hand outsThe Australian Taxation Office is on track to deliver its part of the Government’s economic stimulus package with the Taxation Commissioner expecting to be able to begin dispersing the tax bonus progressively from early April 2009.
Centrelink was also working towards distributing payments.
Tax Commissioner, Michael D’Ascenzo said recipients of the tax bonus who had already lodged their 2007-08 tax returns would not to have to do anything to receive the payment but those who had not lodged a return needed to do so by 30 June 2009.
Mr D’Ascenzo said he had given bushfire and flood victims who had not yet lodged returns an extension to 30 June 2010.
“When people are ready to focus on this we can help them or their agent with their return,” he said.
“This includes helping people who no longer have any or few records, by using information we already have, including the past year’s tax return, to make a reasonable estimate of their assessment.”
Mr D’Ascenzo said the Tax Office may not have the personal bank account or postal address details of people who used a tax agent to manage their payments and correspondence.
“If you want us to make this one-off payment into your personal bank account or send a cheque to an address other than the one you usually use through your tax agent, please contact us as soon as possible,” he said.
Mr D’Ascenzo also warned of unsolicited emails claiming to be from the Tax Office. “We are worried that unscrupulous people will use the interest surrounding the payments as an opportunity to try the usual scams,” he said.
“The Tax Office never sends emails asking people to provide personal information…if you receive an email claiming to be from us, delete it immediately.”
The Minister for Human Services, Senator Joe Ludwig, said Centrelink was working hard to deliver the bonus payments but were already busy processing claims from people caught up in bushfire or flood emergencies.
“Centrelink staff at Recovery and Relief Centres, backed by about 330 staff in processing teams across Australia, are processing claims as fast as possible,” Senator Ludwig said.
Mr D’Ascenzo said people who needed to update their contact or bank details should contact the Tax Office by the middle of March.
He said for security reasons, bank account details can only be updated by calling the Tax Office’s automated phone service on 1300 686 636.
Addresses could be updated online at www.ato.gov.au
24 February, 2009
Selection circular chosen for reviewThe Australian Public Service Commission has issued a Circular announcing that the policy and guidelines for the merit-based selection of Agency heads and statutory office holdershave been revised.
According to the Circular, the policy and guidelines entitled Merit and Transparency: Merit-based selection of APS agency heads and APS statutory office holders were originally released in February 2008 to assist in implementing transparent and merit-based assessment in the selection of most Australian Public Service (APS) agency heads and other statutory office holders working in, or in conjunction with, APS agencies.
The policy is to ensure that existing office holders enjoy sufficient notice as to whether or not they are to be reappointed, that vacancies are advertised well in advance of reappointments falling due and a list of positions requiring merit selection - as well as those that don’t - is readily available.
According to the new APSC Circular, the changes made during the revision process are mainly to clarify wording but a number of new guidelines have been introduced.
Among the changes are;
24 February, 2009
Complaints scheme almost faultlessA follow-up audit of Centrelink’s complaints handling procedures has found that the Agency introduced 13 of 15 recommendations made in 2004-05 and had continued to improve and develop its client feedback system.
The audit, by the Australian National Audit Office, found the improved scheme was a good example of better practice.
The latest audit found that during 2007-08 the Agency dealt with 6.5 million clients and administered $70.5 billion in payments. To do this it received over 32 million phone calls, completed 6.6 billion transactions, received over 50,000 complaints, 7,300 compliments and 1,900 suggestions for improved service.
In its earlier report the ANAO found that while the Centrelink complaints handling procedures were ‘well developed,’ it had opportunities to improve its effectiveness, efficiency and economy by addressing issues relating to the methods it used for gathering, measuring, reporting and responding to complaints.
The ANAO made 12 recommendations at that time and Parliament’s joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit made three shortly afterwards.
The latest audit found that by adopting 10 of its 2004 recommendations (and partially implementing the other two) as well as adopting all three of the JCPAA’s, Centrelink had improved its customer feedback system.
“Centrelink’s customer feedback system provides for, and demonstrates, the characteristics of better practice such as accessibility, responsiveness and objectivity,” the ANAO says.
It says Centrelink has now developed a public policy on feedback; has revised the way it handles it; now promotes its feedback system; has introduced a variety of methods for clients and others to offer feedback; and has conducted a number of surveys to measure client and staff satisfaction with the feedback system.
According to the ANAO however, there are still areas in which improvements can be made, in particular by:
24 February, 2009
Suicide report goes to GovernmentAn independent review into suicide among ex-service personnel has been completed and a report presented to the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin.
The study, conducted by Professor David Dunt, examined broad issues of suicide in the ex-service community and a number of specific cases in the past three years.
The Dunt Review also helped identify the extent of suicide in the ex-service community, common contributing factors, veterans who may be at risk and what administrative changes could be made to help combat the problem.
Mr Griffin said Professor Dunt and his team held extensive consultations with ex-service organisations, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) and members of the Australian Defence Force.
He said as the report made detailed recommendations on complex matters it would take time to develop the Government’s response.
“Importantly, it will guide us in further refining our programs to better help those current and former service personnel who are at risk,” Mr Griffin said.
There are already several mental health programs available to current and former serving members and their families.
He said these included access to the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service and the At Ease initiative which provided a suite of health promotional materials to raise awareness of the importance of veterans’ mental health.
24 February, 2009
Corruption talks on straight and narrowThe 2009 Australian Public Sector Anti-corruption Conference is to be held in Brisbane in July.
Billed as the country’s leading anti-corruption conference, APSACC is a joint initiative of Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC), NSW’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and WA’s Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) and has the support of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, the Police Integrity Commission (NSW) and the Office of Police Integrity (Victoria).
According to the Chair of the CMC, Robert Needham the conference will provide the latest information on how to enhance integrity in the public sector and fight the risk of complacency about corruption.
He said it would improve delegates’ ability to identify, prevent and manage corruption in the public sector by learning from major anti-corruption bodies and other experts.
“It will help delegates realise they don’t have to battle corruption alone,” Mr Needham said.
“We have an unprecedented line-up of high profile speakers and presenters and the conference will provide a unique opportunity to network and share experiences with peers.”
He said included in the line-up of speakers were the Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Paul Kennedy; the Chief Justice of Queensland, Paul De Jersey; Queensland Integrity Commissioner Gary Crooke; former ICAC Commissioner Barry O’Keefe; and prominent journalists Chris Masters, Kerry O’Brien, Quentin Dempster and comedian Bryan Dawe.
The first APSAC Conference was held in Sydney in 2007 and attracted more than 500 delegates with organisers hoping for even more delegates this year. They expect interest not only from the host states with anti-corruption Commissions, but also from Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria and the Northern Territory.
Mr Needham said the 2009 conference would be of particular interest to health administrators, tertiary institutions and Agencies providing services in remote locations.
He said potential delegates could find out more about the conference, and register, by visiting www.APSACC.com.au
24 February, 2009
Old Parliament to be m(o)ad houseThe Old Parliament House in Canberra is to be reborn as the Museum of Australian Democracy in May of this year.
Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner, announced the change saying the Museum would be the only one in Australia dedicated to telling the story of Australian democracy.
Senator Faulkner said visitors would be able to celebrate the distinctive character of Australian democracy while continuing to enjoy the history and heritage of the building.
Old Parliament House, home of the Federal Parliament for 61 years, will include new exhibitions in the former Parliamentary Library, interactive technology and substantial enhancements to visitors’ experiences.
Senator Faulkner said care would be taken to preserve the unique historical and architectural significance of Old Parliament House.
“Over the years there have been discussions about how best to use and present one of our country’s most historic and best loved heritage listed buildings, with people from around the country sharing ideas,” he said.
“After three years of intense preparation, plans for the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament Houseare becoming a reality.”
Senator Faulkner said the museum would encourage visitors to understand and participate in democracy by showing them it was about ordinary people “using their voice to do extraordinary things.”
“Visitors will discover that democracy isn’t words on a page, or numbers on a ballot paper, but a day-to-day lived experience,” he said.
Senator Faulkner said the museum would look at democracy in Australia in relation to the history of democracy.
“It'll be a place, I think, where Australians can come and renew their knowledge of our history and be inspired and be challenged in many ways by the new museum's exhibits,” he said.
“We may be a young nation, but our democracy is an old one by world standards. And that's something to celebrate.”
In the lead-up to the opening of the museum on 9 May this year, a national campaign, What’s On Your Mind?, has been being launched to engage Australians in the democratic process in a fun and entertaining way.
Australians have been invited to decide the social and cultural topic most on their mind by voting at a new website, www.whatsonyourmind.moad.gov.au
The topic that receives the most votes will be presented at the What’s On Your Mind? debate on 8 May.
The Director of Old Parliament House, Jenny Anderson, said the building’s new role would enhance it as part of the Australian story, and a place that “captured the essence of our democratic way of life.”
The announcement coincided with Newspoll research commissioned by Old Parliament House, indicating almost every adult Australian (94 per cent) valued living in a democratic society, yet 76 per cent did not understand the relevance of democracy to their everyday life.
24 February, 2009
New games deal is serious businessThe Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Screen Australia have announced a joint initiative to develop educational computer games.
The new ‘Serious Games Initiative’ aims to take games beyond entertainment, to highlight their educational value and their ability to raise awareness of important contemporary issues.
Launched at the Australian Independent Documentary Conference in Adelaide, the initiative calls for game ideas that explore their chosen topic in an imaginative, creative, entertaining and innovative way, with strong game play and solid underlying educative features.
Executive Head of Content Creation at ABC TV, Courtney Gibson, said games were about play, stories, participation and cleverness.
“Adding ‘serious’ to the mix allows us to explore contemporary real-world issues in an interactive and social way,” Ms Gibson said.
“This will make a fantastic learning opportunity, not just for players, but for local program makers to collaborate with local game developers as they create unique game play experiences.”
Head of Development at Screen Australia, Martha Coleman, said Australia was “a nation of gamers” and that an initiative centred on gaming would be received by a large audience.
“We’re excited about providing opportunities for Australian filmmakers to work with game and web specialists and provide new avenues in creative expression, production, career development, distribution and potential international exposure,” Ms Coleman said.
ABC TV and Screen Australia have sought creative collaborations by asking filmmakers to team with games developers or web designers for the initiative.
Three teams will be selected to attend a workshop with development funding on offer.
One of these teams will then be selected to go into full game production with their game played via ABC online once completed.
The selected game will be eligible to be showcased on an international games web portal under discussion as part of a partnership between the ABC in Australia and its counterparts in the United Kingdom and Canada.
Applications close on 24 April.
Further information was available from www.abc.net.au and www.screenaustralia.gov.au
24 February, 2009
Stimulus package stimulates scamsThe public has been warned to be on the lookout for a hoax email campaign using the Government’s economic stimulus package to seek personal information.
The Minister for Human Services, Senator Joe Ludwig issued the alert saying the email was a fake.
The alert followed a similar warning from the Tax Commissioner, Michael D’Ascenzo.
Senator Ludwig said the email suggested people needed to complete an attached application form to receive payments under the Federal Government's Household Stimulus Package
The form requests a person's name, date of birth, address and bank account details.
“This email is a fake,” he said.
“Anything that suggests you need to submit an application form to get the Household Stimulus Package one-off bonus payments should set off alarm bells.
“Centrelink already has the information it needs.”
Senator Ludwig said Centrelink and the Australian Federal Police were investigating the hoax email and were making every effort to ensure the community was adequately protected.
“I would urge anyone who has received this email and already disclosed their personal information to call Centrelink urgently so it can act quickly to safeguard people's privacy and stop fraudulent activity,” he said.
For further information or to report receipt of the email, contact Centrelink on 1800 050 004.
24 February, 2009
Service provided for Anzac DayThe Departments of Veteran’s Affairs and Foreign Affairs and Trade have issued information about Anzac Day commemorations around the world complete with practical advice, cautions and details of the events for travellers planning to attend.
The Departments notified travellers of the different locations and customs and cultures they could expect to meet on their way to and from the commemorations.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s travel bulletin provided advice on the local conditions visitors were likely to encounter and advised them of what they could do to ensure they were well-prepared, informed and kept up to date.
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs said each location represented a different story of Australian courage and that attending one of the overseas services could enhance a visitor’s experience of the country they were visiting.
It said attending a Dawn Service on Anzac Day at an historic site alongside people from different nations could be “a very moving experience.”
Among the sites specifically mentioned were Hellfire Pass in Thailand; Isurava on the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea; Sandakan in Malaysia; Gallipoli in Turkey; and Villers-Bretonneux in France.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued special advice for visitors to the Anzac Day Service at Gallipoli.
It said the commemorative services would be held from 24 to 25 April and that during April, the Gallipoli Peninsula could experience extreme weather conditions and overnight temperatures below zero.
It said there was no shelter available at the commemorative sites and urged visitors to be prepared for extended periods of exposure to the elements.
DFAT reminded travelers to organise travel insurance, register their contact details with smartraveller and subscribe to free email services that provide updated information on different countries.
Further information was available from www.dva.gov.au and www.dfat.gov.au
Enquiries about other overseas services could be made at the Australian Embassy or High Commission.
24 February, 2009
Pacific Forum is win for sportsThe first Pacific Island Sport for Development Forum has been hosted in Canberra by the Australian Sports Commission.
Twelve delegates from Vanuatu, Nauru, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji and Papua New Guinea attended to discuss how sport could be used to achieve social benefits such as the promotion of health, leadership and community cohesion in the Pacific nations.
Convener of the ASC’s International program, Geoff Howes, said the Forum was an integral part of the Australian Sports Outreach Program (ASOP) managed by the ASC and funded by AusAID.
Mr Howes said Australia was recognised as a world leader in promoting international community development through sport.
H said a key aim of ASOP was to help build the capacity of Pacific communities so they could deliver their own sporting programs.
Mr Howes said the forum was a great example of Australia working in partnership with Pacific nations to improve sports participation and physical activity levels in developing regions.
“Delegates from Pacific nations will determine how they can benefit from Australia’s world leading expertise in using sport as a vehicle for community development,” he said.
Mr Howes said one of the Forum’s highlights was a debate on how sport could make a difference in developing communities in the Pacific.
The Forum also featured a demonstration of the ASC’s Active-After-School Communities program at Gilmore Primary School, Canberra when delegates were shown how sports programs could be adapted for local communities in the Pacific.
24 February, 2009
Watchdog has phone companies’ numberThe Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has expressed its frustration at Australia’s phone companies for continuing to engage in poor practices despite strong enforcement actions against them.
Chairman of the ACCC, Graeme Samuel, said the industry continued to frustrate consumers by failing to be upfront and clear in its advertising.
Mr Samuel highlighted plans, phone cards and mobile premium services that often failed to properly disclose the true costs and other important terms upfront.
“Some deals are confusing and feature busy, distracting visuals and hard-to-read fine print, which on closer scrutiny may be misleading,” he said.
“Phone service providers must lift their game and recognise the overall impression created by advertising has to be a true and accurate reflection of the service delivered.”
Mr Samuel said complaints to the ACCC indicated consumers were fed up with getting charged more than they bargained for and getting less value than they were promised in the case of phone cards.
“This affects people from all walks of life – young people who are attracted to mobile premium services like ringtones and games; travellers and others who see phone cards as a great opportunity to make international calls and then find they don't get the value they think they've paid for; Australians in regional areas who might find they're paying for services they can't access – the list goes on,” he said.
“The costs to consumers can have a devastating impact on personal and household budgets.”
Mr Samuels said recently the ACCC had taken enforcement action against a number of companies for offences relating to phone cards and misleading advertising.
He said publishers and broadcasters needed to take note of warnings, as in some circumstances they could also be liable for running advertisements which they knew to be misleading and deceptive.
Conduct that is misleading or deceptive, or is likely to mislead or deceive is outlawed under the Trade Practices Act 1974.
Mr Samuels said two major magazine publishers had undertaken to improve the overall standard of advertising for mobile premium services.
“The ACCC supports that response and encourages other media to be responsible in their advertising,” he said.
The ACCC has also written to mobile and wireless broadband providers reminding them that broadband speed claims should reflect typical customer experience.
Mr Samuel said advertising of mobile broadband speeds should avoid references to theoretical or peak speeds, particularly when those speeds could not always be achieved using the devices available on the network.
24 February, 2009
Phones report taps into surveillanceThe 20th Annual Report on phone tapping has been tabled in Parliament with information included for the first time on data interception.
Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, said the report covered the activities of 45 law enforcement Agencies.
Mr McClelland said the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 related to three types of investigative tools available to law enforcement agencies.
He said it gave them telecommunications interception powers, access to stored communications and access to telecommunications data.
“Telecommunications interception is a vital and important tool against serious crime,” Mr McClelland said.
He said the Act enabled Agencies to access information such as subscriber information and the date and time of communications in the enforcement of laws resulting in prison sentences or fines, and for the protection of the public revenue.
Mr McClelland said information obtained under stored communications warrants led to 45 arrests in 2008.
“This is an increase of 96 per cent on last year’s figure, demonstrating that it is an extremely effective tool for enforcement agencies investigating serious crimes,” he said.
“2,542 convictions were recorded as a result of the lawful interception of telecommunications services, an increase of 13 percent compared to last year.
“In the same year, lawful interception also assisted in 2,056 arrests and the progression of 3,916 prosecutions, representing increases of 18 percent and 47 percent on last year’s figures respectively.”
Mr McClelland said this was the first year agencies could access telecommunications data under the Act.
24 February, 2009
Cashing in on free trade dealA draft feasibility study on a Free Trade Agreement between Australia and Indonesia has found the initiative would lead to worthwhile gains for both countries.
Australian Minister for Trade, Simon Crean, and Indonesia’s Minister for Trade, Dr Mari E Pangestu, welcomed the draft report when they met in Sydney last week.
Mr Crean said the draft study found a comprehensive FTA would build on the foundation of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)/Australia/New Zealand FTA.
Mr Crean said the proposed FTA would be a “major step forward in the bilateral trade and economic relationship” between the two nations, which had not kept pace with many other aspects of the overall bilateral relationship.
“We agreed that an FTA which covers trade, investment and capacity-building issues would be the best way to build a new economic partnership between Indonesia and Australia,” he said.
Both Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to a liberal international trading environment, ensuring that trade played a positive part in dealing with the global economic crisis.
“We agreed on the importance of concluding a comprehensive, balanced outcome in the World Trade Organisation Doha Round of trade negotiations in 2009,” Mr Crean said. During the Ministerial meeting with Dr Pangestu, Mr Crean raised a number of market access concerns of Australian industry, relating to goods and services exports and investment
The Ministers also discussed the implementing regulations to be promulgated under Indonesia’s Mining Law.
With total two-way trade in 2007-08 of $10.3 billion, Indonesia is Australia’s fourth largest trading partner in ASEAN and its 13th largest trading partner overall.
Australia exported $4 billion of merchandise goods and close to $1 billion in services to Indonesia in 2007-08, with Australian investment in Indonesia growing strongly.
It was valued at $3.4 billion at the end of 2007.
24 February, 2009
Library embraces speed datingThe National Library of Australia has hosted a ‘speed dating’ session for book lovers and those interested in romance.
The session, titled Literary Lovers: Speed Dating for Book Lovers, involved potential daters bringing their favourite book to act as an ice-breaker and prevent any awkward pauses in conversation.
They were given a complimentary glass of wine on entry to help oil the social wheels while the jazz trio ‘As Famous as the Moon’ provided some smooth tunes to act as the perfect background.
Events Manager at the National Library, Heidi Pritchard, said the event was not just for singles.
“It was for people who wanted to meet like-minded folk and discuss the pleasures of books,” Ms Pritchard said.
“If we get one romance out of this, it will all have been worthwhile.”
She said the days when libraries were serious, rather forbidding places where the only conversation you were likely to get was a ‘shush’ if you dared to open your mouth, had long gone.
“We are now actively encouraging canoodling,” Ms Pritchard said.
She said she had provided one piece of advice for those attending: “Although we’re told not to judge a book by its cover, I think one can judge people by the books they read.”
24 February, 2009
Tough super rules are pensioned offThe rules governing access to superannuation funds have been relaxed in the face of the global economic downturn.
Treasurer, Wayne Swan and the Minister for Superannuation, Senator Nick Sherry, announced jointly that the minimum account-based pension draw-down requirements would be reduced by 50 per cent for the second half of 2008-09.
The Ministers said it was currently a requirement that minimum payments be made from a superannuation account-based pension, determined by age and the value of the account balance as at 1 July each year.
The minimum payment rule was designed to ensure that retirees drew down on their superannuation capital over their retirement, thereby recognising that superannuation was designed as a retirement savings vehicle with substantial tax concessions.
The announcement responded to concerns that meeting the minimum draw-down amount in 2008‑09 would mean retirees would have to sell investment assets at a loss due to a depressed market.
Mr Swan said the Government recognised the downturn in global financial markets had had a negative effect on retirees' superannuation capital in account-based pensions.
Senator Sherry said these were legitimate concerns and the Government would suspend the minimum drawdown requirement for account-based pensions for the second half of 2008-09.
The temporary relief has also met concerns that the minimum draw-down requirement was set based on asset values as at 1 July 2008, when equity values were higher.
Mr Swan said people who had already taken half of the current minimum draw-down would not have to make another draw-down until the end of the 2009-10 year.
“The Government will continue to closely monitor market conditions and examine options for a longer term solution to this issue following the Australia's Future Tax System Review,” he said.
Mr Swan said the temporary suspension of the minimum payment requirement would apply to account‑based annuities and pensions (payable since 1 July, 2007); allocated annuities and pensions (pre-dating the Better Super changes); account-based and allocated pensions payable from Retirement Savings Accounts; and market-linked (term allocated) annuities and pensions.
24 February, 2009
Tax program published
A forward work program for taxation measures the Government plans to introduce in the first half of 2009 has been released by Assistant Treasurer, Chris Bowen.
Mr Bowen said the work program provided greater transparency in the tax design process and was a key recommendation of the Tax Design Review Panel's report Better Tax Design and Implementation.
He said the Government intended publishing a forward work program for announced tax measures at the start of each sitting of Parliament and it would be available on the Treasury website www.treasury.gov.au
Electoral study starts
Redistributions of Federal electoral boundaries in Queensland and NSW have begun.
Electoral Commissioner, Ed Killesteyn said redistribution committees would be formed in the two States to begin the task of creating electoral boundaries containing similar numbers of electors.
The committees will undertake community consultation and provide opportunities for individuals and organisations to have input on matters affecting the drawing of Federal electoral boundaries and the naming of divisions.
It is expected Queensland will gain a seat in the House of Representatives at the next Federal Election while NSW will lose one due to population changes.
New publication at APRA
The first edition of a new quarterly statistical publication on life insurance has been published by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.
The Quarterly Life Insurance Performance publication was developed in consultation with industry and follows the introduction of updated reporting requirements for life insurers from 1 January 2008.
According to APRA it provides a more detailed overview of the Australian life insurance industry than was previously available.
Joint delegation a first
The first joint Australia-New Zealand business mission to the United States and Chile will showcase the clean energy industries of both nations.
Announcing the mission, the Minister for Trade, Simon Crean, said there were major opportunities for the renewable energy sector in the US after President Barack Obama promised to invest $US150 billion ($A233 billion) in clean energy over the next 10 years.
The mission will be involved in a series of trade shows, conferences and private meetings beginning in San Francisco later this month.
De facto laws introduced
New laws for the division of property for people in de facto relationships that break down have been passed by the Commonwealth Parliament.
The new laws bring separating de facto couples, on the division of property and the payment of spouse maintenance, within the Federal family law regime under the Family Law Act 1975.
The new laws will enable de facto couples to access the Courts for property and spousal maintenance matters as well as child-related proceedings as married couples currently can.
The new laws come into force on 1 March.
The Department of Finance and Regulation has published an updated flipchart showing all Agencies under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997.
The flipchart also shows bodies subject to the Commonwealth Authorities and Companies Act 1997.
The flipchart can be accessed at www.finance.gov.au
ABC appoints strategist
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has appointed advertising agency Whybin\TBWA to develop marketing strategies for its digital assets.
The ABC invited a number of agencies to respond to a brief on how to reach audiences in the new digital landscape and the Sydney-based agency was judged the front-runner.
Materials Centre opened for Defence
The $85 million Defence Materials Technology Centre has been launched in Bendigo, Victoria with the task of researching futuristic materials for the Defence industry.
The DMTC is Australia’s first public-private partnership dedicated to developing smart materials for use in the Australian Defence Force’s next-generation of ships, aircraft and combat vehicles.
The Australian Government provided $30 million funding with collaborating partners contributing a further $55 million.
Emissions paper out
A guidance paper for the assessment of activities aimed at qualifying for the Emissions-Intensive Trade-Exposed (EITE) assistance program has been released by the Minister for Climate Change, Senator Penny Wong.
Senator Wong said the paper outlined the assessment process and provided guidance to industry on the requirements.
“It will inform the Government’s decision on which activities in the economy are eligible to receive EITE assistance, the rates of assistance that will apply to eligible activities and the basis for allocations to these eligible activities,” she said.
The paper was available from www.climatechange.gov.au
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade, John Murphy, is to stand down from his position for family reasons after being a Front Bench member of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party since 2001.
For the past 7 years, Mr Murphy served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing, the Leader of the Opposition and the Minister for Trade.
His position will be taken up by Senator Mark Arbib.
Indon relations conference held
A conference on the future of the Australia-Indonesia relationship in Sydney brought together leading Indonesians and Australians from Government, industry, academia, the media, community organisations, faith groups and youth.
It was the first time such a diverse group from both countries met with the aim of strengthening the bilateral networks and generating ideas to help shape future cooperation.
Conference participants considered how the two countries might effectively address common challenges, including strengthening democratic institutions and protecting the environment.
Ingenious new stamps
Australia Post’s new Inventive Australia stamp issue has celebrated the ingenuity of Australians with eight Australian inventions being featured on five stamps.
The inventions: the Esky, the wine cask, the Hills Hoist, Speedos, zinc cream, the Ute, the B&D roll-a-door and the Victa rotary lawnmower were selected as they had stood the test of time.
Australian illustrator Stuart McLachlan depicted the inventions in a typical Aussie backyard of the 1980s.
New gear sweeps into Broome
State-of-the-art weather office and radar facilities have been launched at Broome (WA) Airport by the Bureau’s acting Deputy Director, Research and Systems, Dr Sue Barrell.
Dr Barrell said the facilities were expected to improve the Bureau of Meteorology’s capacity to observe and track tropical cyclones and thunderstorms in the Kimberley region.
The new radar, which replaced one that had been operating at the site since 1975, uses the latest technology to provide clearer radar images at a higher resolution than previously possible.
Literary awards open
The 2009 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, the nation’s richest literary prizes, are now open.
Minister for the Arts, Peter Garrett, said Australian authors, publishers and literary agents were invited to submit fiction and non-fiction works published in 2008.
The judges will recommend fiction and non-fiction shortlists and winners to the Prime Minister with winners receiving a tax-free prize of $100,000.
Entries close at 5pm, 20 March, with more information available from www.arts.gov.au
17 February, 2009
Frank and fearful: PS faces policy problemsThe Chairman of the Productivity Commission, Gary Banks, has questioned the fitness of the Australian Public Service to produce high-quality policy advice, describing some Departmental project teams as ‘lower calibre and consultants as ‘risky.”
As part of his address to the Australia and New Zealand School of Government, calling for a more evidence-based approach to policy making (reported in last week’s PS News) Mr Banks outlined his concern that the APS may not be up to the task anyway.
He said long periods of Budgetary constraints had robbed the APS of much of the capability and expertise needed to find the evidence to support good policy with the result that it was beholden to consultants of varying quality.
He said while people with skills in quantitative and other research methods were particularly valuable, it was “ironic” that there had been a decline in the numbers of staff who possessed those skills “at the very time when (the PS) has been called upon to provide an evidence-based approach that relies on them.”
“You can’t have good evidence, you can’t have good research, without good people,” Mr Banks said.
He said he had been struck by a number of ‘manifestations’ the absence of capable staff had led to.
“One is the lower calibre of some of the Departmental project teams that I have observed trying to do review and evaluation work.
“Secondly there appears to be increased poaching of research staff within the public sector, or at least pleas for secondments.”
He said the shrinkage of the pool of economics graduates in recent years had sparked new initiatives to train staff and there had been a major increase in the contracting of policy related research to non-PS business consultants rather than to academics.
While acknowledging that contracting out was not a bad thing, Mr Banks said the character of the practice had changed recently.
“The focus seems to be broadening from provision of inputs to policy-making, to preparation of outputs – the whole package.”
He said despite some payments to consultants being “surprisingly large” they came with significant risks.
“Consultants often cut corners,” he said.
“Their reports can be superficial.
“And more fundamentally, they are typically less accountable than Public Service advisers for the policy outcomes.”
He called on the PS to recruit more graduates in the social and economic sciences and to pay more attention to how contractors could be of best help in making good public policy.
“I would suggest that in many cases it is better to go directly to the experts rather than to the big jack-of-all-trades management consulting firms,” he said.
Mr banks said while the big companies were often willing to tackle any task, they generally had “an indifferent performance record” in policy related work.
17 February, 2009
Auditor works over Works CommitteeThe quality and standard of submissions lodged by Departments and Agencies with Parliament’s Public Works Committee for major building works have been found wanting by the Auditor-General.
In his audit of the extent to which agencies complied with the PWC’s legal requirements, Auditor-General Ian McPhee has recommended the Department of Finance take a greater role in preparing and oversighting the submissions.
In a report entitled Approval of Funding for Public Works which was tabled in Parliament earlier this month, Mr McPhee says the Committee was required to approve most projects in excess of $15 million but the information provided to it had been inconsistent and incomplete with changes made after gaining PWC approval posing particular problems.
He said differences between operating and budgetary environments in different agencies meant it was reasonable to expect planning and delivery practices would vary from one to the next but those differences had led to variable standards in the financial information being provided to the Committee.
As a consequence, he said, the budgets and estimates for some projects excluded amounts relevant to the project; contained inconsistencies in the financial information provided; were insufficiently clear about the level of confidence attaching to the estimates; and made insufficient allowance for risk.
“(There is a) need for the administering agencies to apply greater rigour to their scrutiny of infrastructure projects,” the Auditor-General said.
“Greater discipline is required on the part of Agencies.”
He said a standing requirement of the PWC was that it be informed of significant changes made to a project after it was approved.
“Existing arrangements have not resulted in timely advice of project changes being provided to the Committee,” the Auditor said.
“Accordingly, benefits would be expected to result from a more active role by Finance in monitoring and coordinating advice to the Committee.”
The Auditor-General made four recommendations to “encourage the application of greater discipline to the planning, budgeting, scrutiny and delivery of public works projects.”
He said as the Department of Finance already played a role in referring projects to the Committee it enjoyed “a degree of authority over the nature and quality of the referrals made.”
“Accordingly, a number of recommendations are focused on Finance working more closely with proponent Agencies.”
The recommendations were either agreed to or noted by most of the agencies involved in the audit and the full report was available from www.anao.gov.au
17 February, 2009
Wage agreement not easy at ABCThe Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been accused of refusing to a pass on an agreed pay rise.
Members of the Community and Public Sector Union, (CPSU), the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), and the Association of Professional Engineers,
Scientists and Managers, Australia (APESMA) have described the decision as “extraordinary.”
The CPSU said Managing Director of ABC, Mark Scott, invited it and the MEAA to a meeting late last year to inform them the ABC was withdrawing its offer of a 4 per cent wage increase from April 2009 because the “economic circumstances had changed dramatically.”
The CPSU spokesperson said the offer was made a few months earlier and had been taken to membership meetings and a national ballot had been held.
“The offer made by management and agreed to was a 12 month agreement with a 4 per cent increase from April 2009, and good faith negotiating on forms of employment, work level standards and performances management.”
The spokesperson said ABC management was now making a reduced offer of 1 per cent from April to June 2009.
“They have described this increase as a ‘non recurrent payment’ that does not form part of base salary. They have then said that they will pay the 4 per cent from July - in other words they will take the 1 per cent away and start afresh in July with the 4 per cent,” the CPSU spokesperson said.
“The CPSU has calculated that this would leave members approximately $500 worse off before tax.”
The spokesman said the reduced offer would also mean the agreement was extended for 15 months rather than 12.
The CPSU has demanded management reconsider its position and has encouraged all ABC members to attend meetings to discuss the CPSU response, with non-members also invited to attend.
The CPSU spokesman said that as walking off the job was not permitted under the Workplace Relations Act, alternative options would be discussed including enforcing the offer through the Courts, accepting the revised offer, or rejecting the reduced offer.
The MEAA said ABC members in Victoria, Queensland and other regions who were unable to attend a meeting should vote online at www.alliance.org.au
The MEAA said the national meeting would vote on a resolution condemning management’s decision to withdraw the offer, but that the resolution recommended the revised offer be accepted following further negotiations.
17 February, 2009
White hot response to bushfire tragedyThe Commonwealth Government has announced a national day of mourning for the victims of the Victorian bushfire disaster as part of its response to the tragedy.
Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said the latest response measure would help the nation mourn its loss.
“In recognition of the terrible events of the past few days there will be a National Day of Mourning and a National Service of Mourning for the victims of Victorian bushfires,” Mr Rudd said.
“It is very important that the nation grieves.”
In a speech to Parliament, Mr Rudd outlined the Government’s response to the fires, saying hundreds of Public Servants had been deployed to Victoria to provide emergency services, logistical support and counselling to the victims of the fires.
He said around 270 Centrelink workers had arrived to help, along with over 200 Defence Personnel, Australian Federal Police Officers and staff from Medicare and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA).
Mr Rudd said financial programs such as the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment (AGDRP) had been implemented, with AGDRP supplying eligible adults and children with $1,000 and $400 respectively.
“The Australian Government is putting together a jobs and medium-term income support package to assist those whose workplaces have been destroyed by the fires, or whose businesses/employers no longer have an income,” he said.
“We will use all our resources to help those people who have lost so much in the fires and will be constantly monitoring the situation to respond to and meet their needs.”
Mr Rudd said a $10 million Community Recovery Fund had been established while the government had given $2 million to the Victorian Bushfire Appeal fund and allocated $5 million for emergency relief for Queensland’s floods and the fires.
He said Government Financial Assistance Grants had been accelerated, a Farming and Small Business Assistance Fund would be established and communities could reprioritise their projects under the $250 million Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program.
Mr Rudd said funeral assistance would also be provided to the immediate families of those who had died in the fires and the Commonwealth Disaster Plan had been activated, with the ADF providing assistance under the plan.
The Prime Minister said a new Authority would coordinate bushfire recovery activity across Victoria and would be headed by out-going Commissioner of Victorian Police, Christine Nixon.
“The Authority will determine what immediate action is required - like temporary government offices so residents can continue to access vital assistance from Centrelink and Human Services, to temporary doctors’ clinics and pharmacies to ensure prescriptions are written and able to filled, and other essential services,” he said.
Mr Rudd said information lines had been set up to help friends and families locate each other and to receive emergency assistance.
He said the task of rebuilding communities would be difficult, but that the Government had resolved to fulfilling it.
“Our first response as Australians must be as it has been, to extend the open hand of friendship, of empathy and of giving,” he said.
“The people of Victoria are not alone in this disaster because the entire nation is with them.”
17 February, 2009
Union in tribute to emergency workersPublic Service union leaders have paid tribute to the contribution being made by members of the Public Service following the Victorian bushfire tragedy.
Federal Secretary of the State Public Services Federation and joint National Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, David Carey, said the dedication shown by PS workers following the disaster was “humbling”.
“Working through extremes that would be unimaginable in most of our working lives, our friends and colleagues and public workers are working to save, protect and preserve vital public services while fighting the terror of the fires,” Mr Carey said.
“While many public workers have suffered the worst possible personal loss themselves, they work on.”
He said staff were working to heal and counsel the injured and bereaved, as well as feeding and clothing the displaced and housing thousands who had lost homes.
“They are being literal heroes - there is no other word- in the face of horror and trauma on a scale never seen in Australia,” Mr Carey said.
“Our movement, the trade union movement, tens of thousands of other Public Sector workers and the whole community thank you and praise you.
“You are emblems of the selflessness and community we aspire to be. We are with you, in our prayers for your safety, our hope for your recovery.”
Mr Carey encouraged union members who knew of a colleague or relative experiencing hardship due to the bushfires to contact Unions Australia on 1300 486 466, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, so that support could be arranged.
He said a special page had been set up on the ACTU website, www.actu.asn.au to provide up to date information about unions’ support for bushfire victims.
17 February, 2009
Bushfire savings spark super ideaBushfire victims have been reminded that they may be eligible for early access to their superannuation following the recent tragic disaster that occurred in Victoria.
Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law, Senator Nick Sherry, said depending on their circumstances, fund members could also be able to claim on the death or Total and Permanent Disablement (TPD) insurance often included in superannuation schemes.
“The circumstances in Victoria are simply appalling and I would like to express my condolences to all those who have suffered and lost loved ones,” Senator Sherry said.
“I have spoken with the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), and asked it to communicate with super funds and their insurers about prioritising bushfire-related life insurance and TPD claims.”
He said usually superannuation savings could not be accessed before an individual was at least 55, but that under limited circumstances the law allowed early access.
Senator Sherry said this included applications under “severe financial hardship” provisions, which had to be made directly to super funds and met strict conditions.
“APRA separately administers applications for early release of superannuation on prescribed 'compassionate grounds',” he said.
“These grounds include mortgage assistance in the case of threat of foreclosure, certain medical expenses, modifications to a home or vehicle in the case of severe disability, and expenses associated with a dependent's death or funeral.”
Senator Sherry said he had asked APRA to prioritise any access requests arising from areas where the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery arrangements applied.
“This will include Victorian bushfire-related and Queensland flood-related applications for early access to superannuation on specified compassionate grounds,” he said.
Affected members or their families could contact the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme for help with proof of identity, processing claims and more information.
Teams would be available to help with death benefit claims, invalidity and other superannuation related claims.
To contact the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme phone 1300 000 277 or contact the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme on 1300000377.
Further information was available from Centrelink on 131021 or www.centrelink.gov.au, or by visiting www.apra.gov.au
17 February, 2009
Bushfire donors get fingers burnedThe Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has issued a public warning that false charity collectors may be taking advantage of the Victorian bushfires.
The Commission has posted tips on how to avoid the scammers on its SCAMwatch website, www.scamwatch.gov.au
Chairman of the Commission, Graeme Samuel, said scams were constantly evolving as fraudsters thought up new ways to extract money from their targets.
“It has already been reported in the media that people are being approached by rip off merchants attempting to exploit the Victorian bushfire tragedy,” Mr Samuel said.
He urged people to watch for any warning signs indicating charity scams saying they included unknown charities, well-known charities operating via a fake website, letters and emails; collectors without proper identification; and collectors unable to provide details about the charity.
Mr Samuel said fake collectors often became defensive over questions about the charity, asked for cash, wouldn’t accept cheques or asked for cheques to be made out to them rather than to the charity.
He said online collectors would insist on cash money transfers and would not provide receipts with details of the charity.
“Protect yourself from charity scams by approaching charity organisations directly to make a donation or offer support,” Mr Samuel said.
“Don’t rely on any phone number or website address given by the person who first called, visited or emailed you because they could be impersonating a legitimate charity.”
He warned the public never to give out credit card or online account details to a non-trusted source and to check the legitimacy of the charity with a Fair Trading Agency.
“Consumers who believe they have been approached by someone impersonating a legitimate charity, or by a fake charity, can report the scam to the ACCC Infocentre on 1300 302 502 or through the SCAMwatch website,” Mr Samuel said.
17 February, 2009
Border study shows Customs cutting edgeA recent study into the efficiency of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service has shown the time it takes to process and release imported cargo compared favourably with similar measurements in other economies in the Asia-Pacific region.
Chief Executive of the Service, Michael Carmody, said the study found the average elapsed time from arrival to release for sea cargo in Australia was 1.3 days and for air cargo, 0.3 days.
Mr Carmody said the Time Release Study (TRS), the first conducted by the Service, was a World Customs Organisation endorsed method recognised for identifying bottlenecks and improving performance in import processes.
“The TRS results indicate that Australian Customs and Border Protection’s processes are not a significant impediment to import trade,” he said.
“Rather, factors such as the relative efficiency of business to business communications and the arrangement of inland transport appear to be greater influences on the timing of cargo delivery.
“This was confirmed by industry at the Customs National Consultative Committee (CNCC) meeting last year.”
Mr Carmody said regular time release studies would be conducted to monitor Customs and Border Protection’s performance.
He acknowledged the contribution of industry members, the CNCC, Japan Customs and Tariff Bureau, Korea Customs Service and other Government Agencies, in providing extensive advice, support and assistance in undertaking the Time Release Study 2007.
The study could be accessed from www.customs.gov.au
17 February, 2009
Aviation Agencies to be powered upNew measures to strengthen Australia’s two key aviation safety agencies have been put before the Parliament.
Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese, introduced the Bills which propose new governance arrangements for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).
Mr Albanese said the Government was taking “decisive action” to preserve public confidence in the safety and reliability of air travel.
“While Australia has an enviable safety record, we cannot take past success for granted,” he said.
Mr Albanese said the Civil Aviation Amendment Bill would create a small expert board of five members for CASA and provide direction to the organisation’s regulatory and safety oversight role.
He said it would also improve CASA’s ability to oversight foreign carriers flying into Australia; strengthen provisions to prevent operators from continuing to operate services if CASA considered it unsafe; and close gaps in current legislation by introducing an additional offence of negligently carrying or consigning dangerous goods on an aircraft.
Mr Albanese said the Transport Safety Investigation Amendment Bill sought to reinforce the independence of the ATSB by establishing it as a separate statutory Agency with a full-time Chief Commissioner and two part-time Commissioners.
“Under the proposed changes the ATSB would have operational independence from the Infrastructure Department with respect to the exercise of its investigation powers and administration of its resources,” he said.
“The legislation also gives the ATSB new powers to compel Agencies and operators within the aviation industry to respond to its formal recommendations within 90 days, giving the public greater confidence that the lessons from past accidents will be acted upon in a timely manner.”
Mr Albanese said there was still more work to be done and that further measures to strengthen the safety and reliability of air travel will be outlined in the Australia’s first Aviation White Paper which was expected to be finalised by the second half of 2009.
“I encourage anyone with an interest in the future of the nation’s aviation industry to have their say by going to: www.infrastructure.gov.au,” he said.
Public submissions to an Aviation Green Paper close on 27 February.
17 February, 2009
Computer contract worth plugging intoThe Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, has congratulated the Department of Defence on being the first Commonwealth Agency to enter a contract as part of the Government’s Coordinated Procurement Contracting Framework.
PS News reported last week that Defence was to sign up with Microsoft to obtain set-price software and other products under a centralised procurement arrangement that was recommended by the Gershon review of Australian Public Service Information Communication and Technology practices.
Mr Tanner said establishing the Volume Sourcing Arrangement (VSA) with Microsoft was a vital first step in advancing the Framework.
“It is expected to deliver an annual reduction in Agencies’ costs of at least $15 million, each year for four years commencing in July 2009,” he said.
Mr Tanner said the reductions would be a combination of price discounts and administrative savings.
“The Microsoft VSA provides Agencies with access to substantial discounts off the price for Microsoft products and reduces the need for protracted negotiations between individual Agencies and Microsoft,” he said.
“The discounted prices, combined with process efficiencies in the VSA, will provide a considerable cost reduction for Agencies.”
Mr Tanner said this example of cooperation between Agencies, supporting the Coordinated Procurement Contracting Framework that the Department of Finance and Deregulation was progressing, was very encouraging and demonstrated the benefits of utilising the Government’s collective purchasing power and reducing administration.
“Microsoft was selected for the initial VSA due to the large volume of its products currently in use throughout Australian Government environments,” he said.
“I commend Microsoft on their willingness to work with us on this important agreement. We look forward to working with other businesses in negotiating further VSAs in the future.”
17 February, 2009
Tax changes to take toll on agentsAmendments to taxation rules that would protect taxpayers from mistakes made by their tax agents have been recommended to Parliament by the Assistant Treasurer, Chris Bowen.
Mr Bowen said a new regulatory regime governing the activities of tax agents was in the process of being completed but in the meantime, transitional provisions should apply.
Public comment was being invited on the transitional arrangements.
“The draft Tax Agent Services (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill 2009 provides transitional arrangements to allow tax agents and nominees registered under the current law to transition smoothly into the new regulatory regime,” Mr Bowen said.
He said the Bill would allow certain entities to be taken as registered Business Activity Statement (BAS) agents under the new regime.
Mr Bowen said it also introduced two ‘safe harbour’ provisions to the Taxation Administration Act 1953, which would protect taxpayers who engaged an agent from liability for administrative penalties for mistakes and omissions due to the agent’s carelessness.
He said amendments to existing legislation would be necessary upon the enactment of the Bill, such as the repeal of Part VIIA of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936, which relates to registering tax agents.
“Comments received during previous public consultations on the new regulatory regime, including on the key transitional and consequential provisions exposed in mid‑2008, have led to significant improvements being made,” Mr Bowen said.
“The Government now seeks submissions from interested parties on the exposure draft transitional Bill and explanatory material.”
He said copies of the consultation materials were available from www.treasury.gov.au or could be obtained by phoning (02) 6263 3116.
Mr Bowen said submissions closed on 25 March 2009.
17 February, 2009
Job seekers get disaster holidayThe rules governing job seekers in the disaster-affected areas of Victoria and Queensland are to be relaxed for the next 13 weeks and longer in exceptional circumstances.
Minister for Employment Participation, Brendan O’Connor, said that where job opportunities had been destroyed, job seekers would not be required to look for work or undertake job search activities to justify their income support payments.
Mr O'Connor said job seekers living in non-affected areas who volunteered to help with the clean up and recovery effort, coordinated by an approved agency such as the Country Fire Association or State Emergency Service, could also be granted an exemption from looking for work and meeting their usual participation requirements for up to 13 weeks.
“Job seekers who need to access these special participation arrangements are encouraged to approach Centrelink as soon as feasible,” he said.
“Centrelink is providing additional resources in affected areas to ensure job seekers can easily access assistance.”
Mr O’Connor said the natural disasters in both Victoria and Queensland had a devastating impact on the people in the regions.
He said while the measures would take effect immediately, he would consult with the Government on further ways it could help affected people.
17 February, 2009
CPSU spearheads Indigenous pushThe Community and Public Sector Union has established a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cabinet (NATSIC) as a way of increasing the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in union affairs and developing strategies to boost Indigenous employment in the Public Sector.
National Secretary, Stephen Jones, said the first step in the process would be to increase the involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers in their union.
“NATSIC will be a united voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members, delegates, activists and workers and make recommendations to Governing Council and National Executive in relation to all issues affecting them,” Mr Jones said.
He said the Commonwealth and Territory Governments were important employers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, providing around 25 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment.
However, Mr Jones said there had been a steady decline in employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers in the Australian Public Service since 1996.
At June 2008, just 2.1 per cent of ongoing APS staff identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
He said the level of Indigenous employment in the ACT Public Service was also low, with only 0.6 per cent of ACTPS employees identified as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander in June 2008.
“Improving the employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers is vital,” Mr Jones said.
“The establishment of the NATSIC is the first step in having Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members engage with their union to achieve real outcomes.”
He said Public Servants who identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and wanted to be involved in the Cabinet should register their interest at www.cpsusurveys.org.au
17 February, 2009
Website clicks with stolen generationsA new website has been unveiled by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies to mark the first anniversary of the national Apology to the Stolen Generations.
Acting Principal of AIATSIS, Dr Luke Taylor, encouraged all Australians to use the site to revisit, research and reflect on the Apology which was delivered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on 13 February last year.
“A new comprehensive online collection of audio, visual and printed materials enables Australians to recapture the mood of the day of the Apology, to reflect on the significance of the Apology and to research the unique, rich and diverse cultural heritage of the First Australians,” Dr Taylor said.
“It was a shared experience for all Australians, with thousands of people gathered within and around Parliament House in Canberra and around the nation to witness this historic moment.”
He said the AIATSIS online exhibit included the historic Welcome to Country speech by Ngambri Elder, Matilda House, at the opening of the 42nd Parliament at Parliament House in Canberra the day before the Apology.
The online resource features links to stories from the Stolen Generations, photos from around Australia on the day of the Apology, and videos, music and media articles. A video from the SBS series, “The First Australians” includes footage not featured in the television series.
The 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations came just over 10 years after the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families and Bringing Them Home Report, tabled in the Parliament of Australia on 26 May 1997.
The report recommended all Australian Parliaments - State, Territory and Federal – apologise to the Stolen Generations for the laws and practices of past Governments, which had led to the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families.
The online exhibit for the Anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generations could be accessed at www1.aiatsis.gov.au/exhibitions/apology/home.html
17 February, 2009
Defence census paints personnel pictureThe findings of a 2007 Census of Defence personnel have been released by the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon.
According to Mr Snowdon, the Census has captured demographic information on the permanent and active reserve members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) as well as Public Servants engaged in the Department of Defence.
“While response to the Census is voluntary, the data provides valuable information on the Defence workforce and Defence families that is not available from other sources,” Mr Snowdon said.
“The data plays an important part in framing personnel policies and initiatives that make a difference to Defence people, particularly ADF families, and allows Defence to better target its programs, ensuring value for money.”
Mr Snowdon said the Census, which has been conducted every four years since 1991, was distributed to over 90,000 ADF permanent, reserve and civilian employees across the Department of Defence in Australia and overseas.
He said the Census aimed to establish an authoritative and credible profile of all Defence members and their family circumstances to provide them with support, and help those balancing work and lifestyle issues.
Mr Snowdon said the data obtained from the Census was also invaluable in Defence workforce planning and infrastructure initiatives.
Deputy Secretary for People and Strategy Policy at the ADF, Phil Minns said the information allowed the Department to examine issues such as time away from home and the effects of removals on schooling and spouse/partner employment.
“Accommodation standards and the availability and suitability of infrastructure such as sporting facilities, childcare and schooling are other areas where the Census provides Defence with accurate and up-to-date data that will assist in the development of future personnel policy,” Mr Minns said.
“This data will be invaluable in a range of projects, from Defence housing, to Service accommodation, childcare and the needs of dependents with special needs.”
He said the Census was essential to provide Defence personnel with the support they needed and helped recruit and retain the people the ADF required to meet its capability requirements.
The Census, conducted by Roy Morgan Research on behalf of Defence, was anonymous.
The next Defence Census is planned for 2011.
17 February, 2009
Innovative call for good ideasMembers of theCommonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management (CAPAM) have been invited to contribute articles, research and details of Public Service innovations to the Association’s publication Commonwealth Innovations.
Membership and Communications Manager at CAPAM, Ada Wong, issued the invitation saying the publication was circulated to 1,100 international members and electronically transmitted to affiliate organisations and other interested professionals.
Ms Wong invited articles that highlighted new innovative approaches to policy, service delivery and leadership as well as research and academic articles on leadership, service delivery, human resources, management, innovation in policy and practice, Public Service reform and other topics in the field of public administration.
She said country, regional or international case studies, conference papers, reports and other recently published articles or reports would be considered for publication.
Ms Wong said Commonwealth Innovations would accept articles of various lengths provided they were submitted prior to the four 2009 issue deadlines of 13 March, 15 June, 18 September, and 13 December.
To view previous editions of Commonwealth Innovations, visit the e-library at www.capam.org
17 February, 2009
AAT seeking members
Applications for positions of Deputy President, Senior Member and Member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in all States and Territories except the Northern Territory have been called by the Attorney-General’s Department.
Information packages for the positions can be found on the AGs website www.ag.gov.au and the closing date is 6 March.
Briefings in doubt
Official Treasury briefings for Opposition members may be banned by the Australian Capital Territory Government following attacks on the briefings made in the Territory’s Legislative Assembly.
ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope threatened to withdraw the briefings after the Opposition ridiculed the information it received during question time recently.
Mr Stanhope said the tactics were ‘cowardly and unfair” and politicised the Public Servants involved.
Geoscience gets new name
Geoscience Australia's Geospatial and Earth Monitoring Division's Remote Sensing Group has been renamed the National Earth Observation Group.
The group will continue to collect satellite data, build and maintain the national remote sensing archive and distribute data, with scientific data analysis the main focus.
Sports future probed
An independent expert panel is to investigate the reforms required to ensure Australia's sporting system remains prepared for future challenges.
The Australian Sports Commission said the panel would look at sport at the elite and grassroots community levels as part of a top-to-bottom examination of Australian sport.
It said the panel would investigate better ways to run, promote and manage sport in Australia.
Tax accounts for buckets
People who give money to “bucket donations” can claim a tax deduction for their contribution up to $10 in their tax return for 2008/09 without the usual need to keep a receipt.
The Australian Tax Office said it was using a practical approach to ensure those donating to help the victims of the Victorian bushfires and Northern Queensland floods can do so with minimum fuss.
Further tax information relating to natural disasters was available from the Tax Office on 13 28 61 or by visiting www.ato.gov.au
Search for researchers
The Australia Council for the Arts is seeking expressions of interest from tertiary researchers looking to build industry partnerships to support applications for Australian Research Council funded research projects.
Parties should submit expressions of interest outlining the proposed project and the nature of the partnership by Friday 20 March 2009.
Further information was available by contacting (02) 9215 9369.
Bulk-billing hits new high
GP bulk-billing for over-65s reached record highs in the last quarter of 2008, with 88.5 per cent of Medicare services bulk-billed.
The overall Medicare bulk-billing figures also soared, reaching near-record highs of 73.8 per cent of all Medicare services.
GP bulk-billing rose in all States and Territories except NSW, where it remained level.
Foreign takeovers overhaul
The Commonwealth Government has sought to amend the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act 1975 to clarify the operation of the foreign investment screening regime.
The Act provides the basis for the Treasurer to examine proposed foreign investments in Australian businesses and assets to ensure they are not contrary to the national interest.
The Government plans to amend the Actto ensure it applies equally to all foreign investments irrespective of the way they are structured.
Plant design paper
The Australian Safety and Compensation Council is seeking public comment on a discussion paper proposing strategies to address issues associated with the design and manufacture of industrial plant.
The ASCC is seeking comment on whether the proposed approaches to improve the safety and regulation of plant design are appropriate.
Further information was available from www.ascc.gov.au, with the public comment period open until 15 May.
Australian writers have been encouraged to enter the 2009 Prime Minister's Literary Awards for fiction and non-fiction books.
Authors, publishers and literary agents are eligible to enter books written by living Australian citizens and permanent residents.
The literary awards recognise the contribution of Australian literature to the nation’s cultural and intellectual life, with tax-free awards of up to $100,000 on offer.
Entries are due by 20 March, with further information available from www.arts.gov.au
More freedom in ACT
New Freedom of Information laws have been passed by the ACT Legislative Assembly removing the Government’s ability to withhold documents by using Ministerial certificates.
Airports set records
After achieving “impressive growth” last year, airport operators and airlines are bracing for turbulent economic times ahead, according to the Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese. Mr Albanese said a report on the Australian Aviation Industry found during 2007/08 the industry’s contribution to the economy rose, the number of travellers flying into and out of Australia increased, all of Australia’s major airports recorded higher passenger numbers and freight carried on international flights rose to a new record.
He said a copy of the Avline 13 report was available from www.bitre.gov.au
Free trade goes Chilean
A Free Trade Agreement between Australia and Chile is expected to come into force on 6 March.
The agreement would immediately eliminate Chile’s tariffs on almost 92 per cent of tariff lines covering 97 per cent of goods currently traded between the two countries, including coal, meat, wine and key dairy exports.
Tariffs on all existing merchandise trade are expected to be eliminated by 2015.
Ban Bill goes international
A new Bill is expected to ensure individuals who are disqualified from managing companies in foreign countries will also be disqualified in Australia.
The legislation will initially operate only in relation to banned company directors from New Zealand, although other jurisdictions may be added in the future.
The Bill also prohibits a corporation from indemnifying a director for the legal costs of an unsuccessfully defended action brought by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
Malaria under microscope
Australia is to host the launch of a new regional network established to increase efforts to fight malaria in the Asia Pacific region.
The Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network has met for the first time in Brisbane and would give countries the opportunity to share their experiences and progress towards malaria elimination.
Representatives aim to prevent over 4 million deaths due to malaria by 2015.
Crime payments open
Community organisations have been invited to apply for funding under the Proceeds of Crime grants program.
The Australian Government is using proceeds generated from crime to help Community and Local Government organisations working with Indigenous offenders and to prevent crime in their local areas.
The program also allows non-government organisations to apply for up to $500,000 in funding for projects.
Applications close on 20 March, with further information available from www.crimeprevention.gov.au
The life of Charles Darwin has inspired a Seminar to be run by the National Maritime Museum and the Australian Research Council
The Seminar is to look at Darwin’s life, his scientific discoveries and research into natural history.
It will be presented at the National Maritime Museum to coincide with the opening of the museum's exhibition Charles Darwin - Voyages and ideas that shook the world.
A symposium will be open to everyone from 20 to 21 March from 9.30am to 6pm for a registration of $50. Phone (02) 9298 3644 or visit www.anmm.gov.au/charlesdarwin for more information.
10 February, 2009
Productivity call for more polished policyA call to improve the quality and professionalism of policy making in the Public Sector has been made by the Chairman of the Productivity Commission, Gary Banks.
Speaking in Canberra earlier this month, Mr Banks said that with the range of national challenges facing the nation and the world, the importance of a rigorous and professional approach to policy making could not be underestimated.
He called, in particular for all Public Sector policy decisions to be based on evidence, and rational analysis rather than “intuition, ideology or conventional wisdom.”
According to Mr Banks, the Productivity Commission has been proposing policy on the basis of evidence for over 30 years but not every branch of Government has been so committed.
In that time, he said, the Commission had uncovered many examples of public policy gone astray, from immigration and birth rate policies aimed at countering the ageing of the community which achieved nothing; to rail and road pricing policies based on presumptions that were factually incorrect; to zero waste policies that proved to be economically costly and environmentally unsound; and industry bidding wars between States that produced no benefits whatsoever for the winning State.
“Without evidence, policy makers must fall back on intuition, ideology or conventional wisdom - or at best, theory alone,” Mr Banks said.
“Among other things, policies that haven’t been informed by good evidence and analysis fall more easily prey to the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’ - in popular parlance, Murphy’s Law – which can lead to costly mistakes.”
He said as the Council of Australian Governments rolled out its National Reform Agenda basing policy decisions on evidence had become even more important.
“This has ‘upped the ante’ on having good analysis and good processes to help avoid making mistakes on a national scale,” he said.
Mr Banks identified seven essential ingredients to obtaining, evaluating and acting on the evidence required to inform policy decisions.
He said the evidence needed to be collected with the appropriate methodology; be based on reliable data; be open to scrutiny; allowed enough time to collect and prepare; be evaluated by capable people; be independent of vested interests; and be welcomed by the policymakers.
“It is actually very demanding,” he said.
Mr Banks called on the Public Service to move more towards evidence-based policymaking by recruiting more graduates in the social and economic sciences; steering away from the big ‘jack-of-all-trades’ consultancies and go direct to experts; building in more time for the policy making process; and moving to improve political understanding of the importance of the evidence based approach.
Mr Banks’s comments were welcomed by the National Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, Stephen Jones who said Public Servants were eager to help tackle the big policy issues facing the nation, but felt constrained by budget cuts, efficiency dividends and other restrictions.
“We also share Mr Banks’s concerns about the excessive use of external consultants on policy work,” Mr Jones said.
10 February, 2009
Annual FOI report is released to publicThe latest annual report on the operation of the Freedom of Information laws has been released by the Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner.
According to the report, Australian Government Agencies received 29,019 FOI access requests in 2007-08, spending $29.5 million processing them at an average cost of $940 per request.
Senator Faulkner said just two per cent of the cost of the scheme was recovered in fees and charges.
“The majority of requests were directed to Centrelink (9,849), the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (7,912) and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (6,491),” Senator Faulkner said.
He said 85 per cent of the requests received by Agencies were for personal information about the applicant or other people.
“The remaining 15 per cent were for documents containing other information, such as documents concerning policy development and government decision-making,” he said.
“Some 96 per cent of FOI requests finalised in the reporting period were granted in full or in part.”
Senator Faulkner said 38 per cent of the FOI requests for non personal information were granted in full, 53 per cent in part and nine per cent were denied
He confirmed the Government intended introducing a Freedom of Information Commissioner and that it would abolish the power of Ministers to issue conclusive certificates preventing document disclosure.
“The Government is committed to enhancing access to information under FOI, consistent with its view that the best way to enhance Government accountability is through greater openness and transparency,” he said.
Senator Faulkner said the Government would also introduce wide ranging reforms to promote a more pro-disclosure culture across Government.
“These reforms will be included in exposure draft legislation which will be released shortly for public comment,” he said.
The FOI Annual Report 2007–2008 was available from www.pmc.gov.au
10 February, 2009
Achievements flagged in national awardsUp to 1600 individual Public Servants and teams across Australia were awarded Australia Day Achievement Medallions this year, acknowledging the contribution they each made to nation through their public service in the past year.
Made available by the National Australia Day Council, the Achievement Medallions are exclusive to Government Departments and Agencies and recognise outstanding performance in special projects or simply in the performance of core duties.
Many of the Agencies who took part in the program presented their medallions at special Australia Day activities.
A selection of achievers is published below and a full list of all recipients can be accessed at the National Australia Day Council website: www.australiaday.org.au
Aboriginal Hostels Limited
Human Rights Comm
10 February, 2009
Bonds loosened to tie up fundraisingThe Australian Office of Financial Management (AOFM) has announced an acceleration of its Treasury Bonds issues to match the Government’s updated economic and Budget forecasts and to assist in funding the $42 billion economic stimulus package.
The AOFM is also to consider the resumption of Treasury Note issues.
Until the end of this financial year, the AOFM will increase its Treasury Bond tenders to twice a week (Wednesday and Friday) with the amount offered at each tender between $500 million and $700 million.
“Total issuance over this period is expected to amount to between $22 billion to $24 billion,” the Office said in a statement.
It said details of the issues for a particular week would be announced at noon on the Friday of the preceding week.
The AOFM said details of the issues would be decided in consultation with bond market participants, who would also be contacted in relation to the recommencement of the shorter term Note issues.
A tender for the issue of $600 million in April 2015 Treasury Bonds was announced last Friday.
“There will continue to be a large within-year financing requirement as a result of differences in the timing of Budget receipts and expenditures,” the AOFM said.
“In the period ahead, Treasury Notes will be used to assist with the management of short term financing requirements.”
It said the Office would also consider repurchasing some of its financial assets as well.
10 February, 2009
Stimulus package has tax appealStaff at the Australian Taxation Office have hit the ground running to ensure the tax bonus component of the Government’s recently announced economic stimulus package can be paid out from early April.
Tax Commissioner Michael D’Ascenzo urged taxpayers to lodge their latest tax return quickly so the office had information on where to pay the bonus to.
“At this stage we believe most eligible people won’t have to do anything to receive the proposed payment,” Mr D’Ascenzo said.
“By using information in people’s 2007-08 tax return we will work out who is eligible and the best way to get the payment to them.
He said the proposed tax bonus would only be paid to those who had their 2007-08 return in by 30 June 2009.
“We will send the payment to the address or bank account people nominated as their preference for the 2007-08 tax return,” Mr D'Ascenzo said.
He said to ensure money went into the right bank account or the cheque was delivered to the correct address, people should contact the Tax Office to change their details by mid March.
“If you have not provided bank details in your return, you may provide them now so that we can pay the bonus directly to your bank account,” Mr D'Ascenzo said.
“Those who use a tax agent may also wish to use a different address or personal bank account for this one-off payment.”
He said the ATO was setting-up a working group with representatives from across the Agent industry and would provide information and updates on its website.
Further information was available from www.ato.gov.au or 1300 686 636.
10 February, 2009
Aid program gets a handAustralia’s overseas aid program has received a positive report card from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, said the Organisation had reviewed the program and was particularly impressed with its targeting and effectiveness.
“In particular, the OECD acknowledges the Government’s strategic focus on the Asia Pacific, including assistance to East Timor and the Solomon Islands; Pacific Partnerships for Development as a key feature of the aid program; commitment to a targeted engagement with Africa; and integration of gender equity into the aid program,” Mr Smith said.
He said the OECD welcomed the Government’s renewed commitment to reducing poverty, its promotion of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and its support for international agencies like the United Nations.
“Australia’s Agency for International Development, AusAID, was also commended for its efforts to promote aid effectiveness including by opening up contracting arrangements to global competition,” Mr Smith said.
“The establishment of the independent Office of Development Effectiveness, to report on the effectiveness of Australian aid and identify areas of improvement, was also highlighted as an important step in improving the aid program’s efficiency.”
He said the review also commended Australia’s commitment to increasing its support for developing countries to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income by 2015.
“Development assistance provided by Australia has meant that polio has been virtually eradicated in the Pacific; 380 new Indonesian schools have been built; more than 1.5 million children in Papua New Guinea have received measles vaccinations; almost 9,000 teachers were trained in the Philippines; and more than 980 schools have reopened in East Timor,” Mr Smith said.
A copy of the OECD review was available at www.oecd.org/dac/peerreviews/Australia
10 February, 2009
Water Commissioner dives in deep endThe National Water Commissioner has joined the debate over water management by releasing a report on the use of underground water to secure much-needed supplies.
The Commissioner, Chris Davis, said the Waterlines report on Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) was intended to advance its uptake as an innovative water supply and treatment process.
“At a time when we need to look to new ways to secure our water supplies, managed aquifer recharge is an increasingly valuable option within our water supply portfolio,” Commissioner Davis said.
He said MAR involved the deliberate addition of an existing water source to underground aquifers under controlled conditions.
He said the stored water could later be withdrawn and used for purposes such as irrigating parks and ovals.
“MAR can provide effective storage for desalinated seawater, recycled water, excess
storm water and even mains water,” he said.
Commissioner Davis said schemes using the process could cut transportation and infrastructure costs, reduce water loss from evaporation, improve water quality and alleviate flood problems.
“MAR is being used at varying scales and in different forms around Australia, from backyard systems to large-scale augmentation of drinking water supplies,” he said.
“The recent development of Australian Guidelines for Managed Aquifer Recharge will ensure that MAR schemes can be established without compromising public health or the environment.”
Commissioner Davis said MAR contributed 45 gigalitres to irrigation supplies and seven gigalitres to urban water supplies in Australia in 2008.
“The report also highlights barriers to the wider adoption of MAR,” he said.
“These include lack of certainty around rights and entitlements, and the need for clear and nationally consistent assessment and approval approaches.”
The Managed Aquifer Recharge Waterlines report was produced by CSIRO and funded under the Australian Government’s Raising National Water Standards Program.
The Commission also invested in projects to improve understanding of MAR and its possible applications in water scarce regions.
10 February, 2009
Citizens’ Parliament takes law unto itselfAustralia’s first “Citizens’ Parliament” has met at Old Parliament House in Canberra.
Made up of 150 citizens randomly selected from each Federal electorate, the gathering deliberated on the question: “How can Australia’s political system be strengthened to serve us better?”
The three-day Parliamentary session was opened by Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary, Senator John Faulkner with members of the public viewing the proceedings in the House of Representatives Chamber.
The event was a “Delivering Democracy” process and aimed to provide citizens with information and the opportunity to discuss topical issues.
Senator Faulkner said the Parliament aimed to encourage citizens to let their views be heard so a report could be presented to the Government.
He said participants discussed 47 ideas that included everything from a Bill of Rights to having a publicly-funded media and banning paid political advertisements.
Senator Faulkner said the initiative was becoming increasingly popular in a number of countries.
The University of Washington’s Professor John Gastil, was one of a number of international observers at the Citizens’ Parliament.
Professor Gastil said he believed if the success of the Citizens’ Parliament could be proven, it should be replicated around the world.
“This Australian model combines different ways of discussing and listening to ideas and opinions in a very pragmatic way so that the wisdom of the participants, the people from the previous online deliberations and the experts can converge into well reasoned recommendations,” he said.
The Citizen’s Parliament was funded by the newDemocracy Foundation and an Australian Research Council grant.
It was managed by a team from the newDemocracy Foundation, the Australian National University, Curtain University, Sydney University and the University of Tasmania.
10 February, 2009
Wrinkles ironed out in ‘seamless’ dealsThe Productivity Commission has reported that ‘mutual recognition schemes’ that link procurement and other policies of Australian States and Territories and New Zealand, have contributed to creating a ‘seamless’ national economy and trans-Tasman market.
The Commission presented its findings to the Australian Heads of Government and New Zealand Prime Minister earlier this month.
According to Productivity Commissioner Judith Sloan, the Commission assessed the two main mutual recognition schemes - the Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) and the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement (TTMRA) – and found that they led to benefits through increased mobility of labour and greater movement of merchandise between the jurisdictions.
“Mutual recognition retains the scope for regulatory competition between jurisdictions,” Commissioner Sloan said, “while removing unnecessary barriers to the movement of goods and workers.”
The study found that the scheme worked better on the sales and purchases side than the jobs side due to differences in occupational standards, and it also found ambiguities and omissions in the legislation setting up the schemes which had led to friction in their operation.
Commissioner Sloan said the schemes also suffered due to a lack of awareness and support at the business level.
“A lack of awareness of mutual recognition means that businesses, individuals and regulators do not always use the schemes fully or appropriately,” she said.
Commissioner Sloan said the Commission made a number of recommendations to improve the administrative, regulatory and legislative arrangements of the schemes.
Among the recommendations was the call for two specialist units to facilitate the operation of the schemes through the provision of advice, complaint resolution, monitoring and awareness raising.
“If implemented in the near-to-medium term, (these) would reinvigorate the schemes and allow them to reach their full potential,” Commissioner Sloan said.
Full details of the Productivity Commission report can be found at the Commission’s website: www.pc.gov.au
10 February, 2009
New drugs policy is good medicineA new advisory structure to support the National Medicines Policy has been announced by the Department of Health and Ageing.
According to the Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, the new arrangements reflect the current medicines policy environment better and will make an important contribution to better health for Australians.
“Since 1999, the National Medicines Policy has provided a framework for medication access, safety and quality in Australia,” Ms Roxon said.
“The new structure better allows National Medicines Policy partners, including individual experts, related organisations and committees, Government representatives and stakeholder groups, to provide input into the principles, policy and practice of the policy.”
She said the new three-tiered structure comprised of a National Medicines Policy Executive, a National Medicines Policy Committee, and an annual National Medicines Policy Partnerships Forum.
Ms Roxon said the National Medicines Policy Committee would provide advice on emerging medicines policy issues and would undertake or consider projects and research as requested by the executive.
“The National Medicines Policy Executive will advise the Government on implementing the National Medicines Policy within the health portfolio,” she said.
The new advisory structure will commence with a meeting of the executive, expected to be held in early March.
A meeting of the National Medicines Policy Partnerships Forum will follow, providing an opportunity for stakeholders to exchange information on the policy and to discuss its implementation, partnerships, challenges and opportunities.
Planning for the first Partnerships Forum will be an early priority for the committee and the executive.
Professor of Pharmacy (Aged Care) at the University of Sydney, Professor Andrew McLachlan, will chair the National Medicines Policy Committee and the National Medicines Policy Executive will be chaired by Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing, David Learmonth.
10 February, 2009
Law reformers bid goodbye to JusticeThe President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, Professor David Weisbrot, has paid a glowing tribute to retiring High Court Judge, Justice Michael Kirby.
Justice Kirby was the first Chairman of the ALRC in 1975 and retired from the High Court last week.
Professor Weisbrot said Justice Kirby had definitive views on law reform and, in Kirby’s own words, said ‘reform’ did not simply mean change but meant “change for the better.”
“The ALRC still carries Kirby’s intellectual DNA deep within its institutional core, ethos and processes,” Professor Weisbrot said, “and the strong emphasis on pursuing evidence-based reform remains to this day.”
“Justice Kirby has laid the foundations for the ALRC and we acknowledge and thank him for his outstanding contribution to law reform in this country.”
Professor Weisbrot said under Justice Kirby, the ALRC had taken a broader and bolder approach to law reform.
He said the most important contribution Justice Kirby had made to the Commission was the strong emphasis he placed on widespread public involvement in the policy making process.
“Other bodies - such as law reform agencies, Royal Commissions, Government Departments and ad hoc inquiries—had long been in the habit of calling for submissions,” Professor Weisbrot said.
“However, under Michael Kirby the ALRC went well beyond this passive approach, entrenching the active engagement of the community as part and parcel of its basic approach to law reform, under the rallying cry that ‘law reform is too important to be left to the experts’.”
He said many reports produced as a result of Justice Kirby’s tenure at the ALRC, including those on admiralty, evidence and recognition of Aboriginal customary laws, had proved to be “of enduring value as scholarly treatises.”
10 February, 2009
Legal profession to be brought to bookRegulation of Australia’s fragmented legal profession is to be reformed following an agreement by all States, Territories and the Commonwealth to cooperate.
The Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, said the Government believed there were significant efficiencies and cost savings to be gained through the reform.
“Compliance costs would be significantly reduced for the profession and consumers of legal services, especially those operating across borders, and Australia’s international competitiveness would be strengthened,” Mr Tanner said.
“The Government will pursue this important initiative through the Council of Australian Governments’ regulatory reform agenda.”
He said regulation of the legal profession had been the subject of many changes in recent years.
“However, the regulation remains overly complex and inconsistent and each jurisdiction maintains its own regulatory structure,” Mr Tanner said.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the Commonwealth looked forward to working closely with the States and Territories, the legal profession and other stakeholders on the initiative.
“It is likely that the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General will be called on to assist with the reform process,” Mr McClelland said.
A spokesman for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) said that the current diversity of regulators added unnecessary costs and red tape for lawyers and consumers.
“The legal services are a critical part of Australia’s economy and require clear and efficient national regulation,” the spokesperson said.
The initiative was an important step towards strengthening the economy in the face of the global financial crisis and delivering a “seamless national economy.”
The spokesperson said papers for discussion were to be prepared for the next COAG meeting.
10 February, 2009
Medicare claims 25th birthdayMedicare turned 25 on 1 February and has been congratulated on a quarter of a century of success jointly by the Ministers for Health and Human Services, Nicola Roxon, and Senator Joe Ludwig.
Senator Ludwig said since its inception, Medicare Australia’s primary aim had been to improve Australians’ access to health services through payments and information.
“This often means working in close partnership with an array of health professionals,” he said.
“Medicare Australia continues to work hard to ensure people feel confident and supported when doing business with the agency.”
Ms Roxon said the Medicare program came into being on 1 February 1984, when Medicare offices across Australia joined the existing Medibank Private network.
“Over Medicare’s 25-year history more than 4.7 billion services, including for GP visits, specialist appointments, pathology, diagnostic imaging and operations have been provided to the community,” she said.
Ms Roxon said over $160 billion had been dispersed in benefits, including $57 billion for GP services.
“The Medicare program continues to provide Australians with access to affordable, high quality health care,” she said.
Senator Ludwig said Medicare Australia had worked hard to keep up with the ever-changing face of technology for the benefit of the community and health professionals.
He said expanding technology offered health professionals and their practices new opportunities for greater efficiencies.
“Back in 1984, health professionals were required to claim their Medicare rebates via a manual paper-based processing machine, known as a ‘click clack’ machine,” he said.
“The recent integration of electronic Medicare claiming systems with practice management software has already benefited many by offering a faster, paperless way to send and receive payments.”
Senator Ludwig said Medicare Australia, formerly the Health Insurance Commission, continued to administer a range of initiatives to make it easier for health professionals to offer effective, convenient health care initiatives.
He said the initiatives included the Practice Incentives Program, Prescription Shopping Program, online claiming for Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule, and rural retention programs.
10 February, 2009
Ozco research takes pain out of artsThe Australia Council for the Arts has announced five new research priorities it says will strengthen its role as an arts “knowledge centre”.
Chief Executive Officer, Kathy Keele, said the priorities focused on the economic performance of the arts, public consumption and participation, private sector support, the effects of digital technologies on arts production and consumption, and development of an online research hub.
Ms Keele said the three-year research agenda underlined the organisation’s leadership role to the arts sector.
“The Australia Council has long been at the forefront of research into Australia’s arts and culture,” she said.
“We currently have more than 40 formal research projects in progress across the organisation, including 13 Australian Research Council linkage projects.”
Ms Keele said the Council’s new research priorities would help it focus on these activities.
“They will provide us with the hard data to drive our advocacy and planning into the future,” she said.
“And we might find out some interesting facts along the way.”
Ms Keele said the Australia Council's agenda built on current research into practising professional artists, welfare, occupational health and safety and the creative workforce.
She said the Council was currently an industry partner in three large projects receiving ARC Linkage grants – the five-year “large screens project” studying cross-cultural big screen events, a three-year study of arts education and student achievement, and a five-year project into orchestral musicians’ health, safety and injury prevention.
10 February, 2009
Failed students on top at CentrelinkThe Minister for Human Services is encouraging school students who missed out on their preferred university offers to contact Centrelink for advice and support as they considered other options for success.
The Minister, Senator Joe Ludwig, said Centrelink’s Career Information Centres provided expert advice and support on a range of options for Australian job seekers.
“Last year, more than 60,000 people took advantage of the services offered by Centrelink’s Career Information Centres,” Senator Ludwig said.
He said Career Information Centres were located at 12 sites around Australia, including in capital cities and regional centres.
“The Centres are equipped to provide career information to school leavers and help them look at a range of study, training or work options,” Senator Ludwig said.
“Many students wait until results and university offers come out to really decide what they want to do.
“This means that now is the time to see how the Career Information Centres can assist them to get where they want to go.”
Senator Ludwig said the Career Information Centres had details on education and training pathways from around the country, including Australian apprenticeships in a wide range of industries.
“One of the great programs available at many centres is Career Voyager, which is a career assessment tool that allows people to explore career opportunities based on their interests,” he said.
“I encourage school leavers, in particular those in rural areas who may not be able to visit a centre in person, to take advantage of the remote servicing options.”
Each Career Information Centre has its own dedicated Freecall 1800 telephone number and email address for such inquiries.
For further information visit www.centrelink.gov.au
10 February, 2009
Cash watchdog hits big note on birthdayAustralia’s cash transaction reporting Agency, AUSTRAC has celebrated its 20th birthday.
Established on 6 February 1989, AUSTRAC has contributed to thousands of law enforcement investigations into serious and organised crime including money laundering and terrorism financing.
According to Chief Executive, Neil Jensen, the 20th anniversary allows the Agency to reflect on its service to the community.
'This is a significant milestone for AUSTRAC and allows us to reflect on our achievements as an Agency, of which we are immensely proud,” Mr Jensen said.
“Our committed work as a Financial Intelligence Unit and regulator means we continue to be recognised as one of the world leaders in Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing.”
Shadow Minister for Justice and Customs, Sussan Ley, said many Australians would not be aware of the importance of AUSTRAC’s role in the fight against global crime and protecting the integrity of the Australian financial system.
“AUSTRAC has been at the forefront of high profile cases such as Project Wickenby, the whole-of-Government taskforce investigating tax avoidance, tax evasion and large-scale money laundering,” Ms Ley said.
Mr Jensen said events such as the attack on New York’s Twin Towers on 11 September 2001, and the continuous technological advances criminals have available to them, reinforced the need for AUSTRAC to continue into the future.
“Particularly in the current global financial climate where the opportunities for financial crime will increase, AUSTRAC will keep pursuing its vision of an Australian community hostile to money laundering and the financing of terrorism,” he said.
10 February, 2009
Secrecy phone-in this week
A national two-day day phone-in and online discussion forum are being conducted by the Australian Law Reform Commission this Wednesday and Thursday as part of its community consultation on the reform of Commonwealth secrecy laws.
According to the ALRC, the initiatives will allow anyone who has ever handled Commonwealth information the chance to speak out about their personal experiences and concerns.
ALRC President, Professor David Weisbrot, said “The online forum and national phone-in together comprise the next critical steps in the ALRC’s consultation process following the recent release of the Issues Paper, Review of Secrecy Laws.”
To take ppart in the secrecy phone-in call 1800 760 291 between 8am and 8pm (EST) Wednesday and Thursday (11/12 February) and the Talking Secrecy online forum can be accessed at http://talk.alrc.gov.au
Landline calls to the phone-in are free but from mobiles will incur a cost.
Sad past for Future Fund
The Board of Guardians of the Future Fund has announced a return of minus 5.86% on its investments for the three months to 31 December 2008, and a six-month result for the financial year so far of minus 7.56%.
Its return for the calendar year was minus 8.49% and the Fund’s total annualised return since it began investing in July 2007 has been minus 4.13%.
The Fund is now free to trade its 2 billion Telstra shares but their returns for the December quarter were minus 8.49% and minus 5.54% for the first six months of the financial year.
The Australia Council for the Arts is warning people about a new scam involving a caller who claims to be from “Australian Grants”.
The caller tells people they have won a grant from the Government, asking them to deposit money into a bank account before accessing their grant money.
The Council said the caller referred to the Australia Council website for clarification that the grants were legitimate.
The Australia Council said it would never ask grant recipients to pay them money before being able to access their grant.
The Australia Council said anyone with inquiries could contact them on (02) 9215 9000 or toll free 1800 226 912.
Club members welcomed
The Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV) is welcoming Naval and Military Club (N&MC) members to join its ranks after the N&MC closed its doors.
RACV will waive all joining fees for current N&MC members and will not charge a subscription fee until 1 July 2009.
Under the deal, N&MC members will be given access to all RACV resorts at discounted member prices.
The Federal Court of Australia is to host a conference on Investor Class Actions on 10 March in Sydney and Melbourne.
The conference will feature guest speakers such as New York University Professor, Geoffrey Miller, Chief Justice Michael Black and Professor Tyrone Carlin and Dr Peter Cashman from Sydney University.
More information was available from www.fedcourt.gov.au
New houses going up
The Government is to construct over 20,000 new social housing dwellings and 802 new houses for Australian Defence Force personnel under a new Defence Housing Australia program worth $252 million.
The program, due to commence in April, is a key element of the Government’s $42 billion National Building and Jobs Plan to support up to 90,000 Australian jobs over the next two years.
The majority of houses are expected to be completed by December 2010 and will be constructed in Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Darwin, Melbourne, Hobart, Townsville, Cairns, The Hunter, Ipswich, Sale, Sydney, Wagga Wagga, Wodonga, Nowra and Toowoomba.
The DHA currently manages around 17,000 properties across Australia.
Microsoft signs up
Software giant, Microsoft is the first supplier to sign up to a coordinated procurement arrangement with the Commonwealth.
Recommended by the Gershon Review, the centralised procurement arrangement will allow most Departments and Agencies to source Microsoft products at the same price.
The Department of Defence has already signalled that it will be among the first to do so.
Human rights extension
The National Human Rights Consultation Committee has been granted a one-month extension for its report into how the community thought Australia should protect human rights and responsibilities.
Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, said the extension would enable the Committee to consult with more Australians from city, country and remote areas.
The Committee will now report to Government by 31 August 2009.
A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed between the Australian Defence Force and the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority to improve traffic conditions associated with Defence’s new Headquarters Joint Operations Command facility.
The HQJOC facility, located off the Kings Highway in NSW, around 10 kilometres east of Queanbeyan, has led to an increase in traffic flow.
The MOU provides for a program of work to make safety and efficiency improvements to sections of the Highway, due to be completed by 2011.
Poetry on call
Poetry fans can listen to their favourite spoken word artists in a unique partnership between ABC Radio National and the Australia Council for the Arts.
A Pod of Poets, inspired by the ABC's Poetica audience saw 11 poets read their work and talk about their writing.
Each of the forty-minute Pod of Poets episodes was read by the author and recorded and produced by Poetica.
The episodes are to be played on ABC Radio National on Saturdays at 3pm (repeat Thursday 3pm) throughout 2009.
Eureka Prize taking entries
Entries are now open for the 2009 Australian Museum Eureka Prize.
Australian universities, science organisations and the Defence industry are invited to submit nominations for the Prize with entries closing on 1 May.
Hosted annually by the Australian Museum, the Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, science leadership, school science and science journalism and communication.
More information can be found at www.austmus.gov.au and winners will be announced at a dinner in Sydney on 18 August 2009.
AIS names top athletes
The winners of the 2008 AIS Athlete of the Year Award have been announced, with two athletes sharing the award.
Heath Francis (Track and Field) won three gold medals in the men’s amputee class 100, 200 and 400 metre sprints.
Ken Wallace (Flatwater Canoe) won a gold medal in the men’s K1 500-metre kayak and a bronze medal in the K1 1000 metres at the Beijing Olympics, becoming the first Australian to win a medal in both kayak events at a single Olympic Games.
Mental Health review
An independent for the Department of Defence has highlighted the successes and gaps in the delivery of mental health and transition services for Service personnel.
The report: Review of Mental Health Care in the ADF and Transition through Discharge, made several recommendations to improve the delivery of the services, and will be considered by the Government before being released for public discussion.
The report was conducted by Professor David Dunt.
Violence Council extension
The National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children has been granted an extension to finalise its National Plan.
The National Plan is now expected to be delivered to Government in early March.
Advice about the delivery date for the Plan will be posted on the Council's website, with the plan being placed on the site once it has been presented to the Government.
Investment Academy pays off
The Commonwealth Government is to support a finance industry initiative to set up a ‘Responsible Investment Academy.’
Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law, Senator Nick Sherry said the Government would help fund the Academy which would be a world-first academic-level centre for responsible investment education, training and innovation.
He said the Association of responsible investors, which will run the academy, brought together investors and financial advisers who were interested in the impact of environmental, social and governance issues on investment practices.
3 February, 2009
Federal Police to be ranked by auditA special audit is to be conducted of the Australian Federal Police to create a more sustainable approach to police resources.
Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, announced the review saying it would be led by former Secretary of the Department of Environment and Heritage, Roger Beale.
“The Australian Federal Police has had to meet increasing demands in recent years and it’s important we take a comprehensive look at its resources and how it can meet the Government’s priorities into the future,” Mr Debus said.
“The audit will also examine the effectiveness of the AFP’s human resources, workforce planning, equipment and technology and current funding.”
He said the audit would provide States and Territories with the opportunity to have input through the Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency, ANZPAA, a policy body led by police commissioners.
“This audit is a vital step in a wider pre-election commitment from the ALP on national police workforce planning issues,” Mr Debus said.
“The AFP calls upon all police jurisdictions and Governments to play an active role in the process.”
Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, said the review was part of the Government's $200 million five-point plan for policing which also aimed to help increase the number of officers, establish a National Crime Database, create a recruitment and retention program, and expand the recruitment of Indigenous Australians.
The Federal Opposition said however that it was concerned the review could leave the AFP with a smaller budget.
Shadow Minister for Justice and Customs, Sussan Ley, said she was worried “the Government will use this audit as an excuse to cut the AFP’s funding once again.”
Mr Beale is expected to begin the audit this month, with support from a team drawn from the AFP and relevant Agencies.
He is to report to the Government by 30 June 2009.
3 February, 2009
Retirees on the job for representationThe Superannuated Commonwealth Officers Association is continuing to call for representation on the Australian Reward Investment Alliance (ARIA) and the proposed single trustee board that is to replace it
ARIA manages the main Commonwealth superannuation schemes the PSS, CSS and PSSap and in 2010 is to be merged with the Military Superannuation and Benefits Scheme (MSBS) and the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme (DFRDB) to form a single trustee board with 650,000 beneficiaries.
President of SCOA, Annette Barbetti said the Association was taking all possible opportunities to press its case for representation on the ARIA Board and, eventually, on the merged single trustee board.
“At present, SCOA is not represented on the ARIA Board,” Ms Barbetti wrote in the latest edition of the SCOA newsletter, SuperTime.
She said letters written to the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner in February and March 2008 were finally answered – by the Minister for Superannuation, Senator Nick Sherry – saying “I have asked my Department to discuss this matter with the ACTU and consider whether the definition can be broadened to include CSS beneficiaries and PSSap scheme members.”
She said when announcing the merged entity the Government said “civilian and military interests would continue to be represented on the new board.”
3 February, 2009
Union puts heat on workplace conditionsThe Community and Public Sector Union has urged its members to take action when working conditions became unbearable as they did in the recent heat wave.
“Your health and safety is not optional or negotiable,” the union told its members as more of them reported excessive temperatures in offices where air conditioning systems failed to cope.
The union said Departments and Agencies had an obligation to ensure the health and safety of their employees at work and that if they couldn’t, “work should cease until its safety can be assured.”
The union said working in unsafe temperatures could have serious effects including immediate or lasting illness.
It warned workers to be aware of risk factors such as air temperature; air movement and humidity; sources of radiant heat; office temperatures exceeding 20 to 25 degrees; levels of fluid loss and dehydration; and failed air conditioning units.
“Don’t wait if it’s unsafe,” the union said.
“If it’s warmer than usual the Department needs to provide fans, cold water bottles and regular work breaks.”
The union encouraged members to contact their local CPSU delegates and health and safety officers if safe conditions were not being met.
“Ensure new safe work areas are found or that the Department sends employees home on miscellaneous leave until your safety can be guaranteed,” it said.
“Should managers not respond to your CPSU delegates or HSR representations your union will call for an emergency Comcare site inspection.”
Further information was available by contacting the CPSU on 1300 137 636.
3 February, 2009
Performance report is hard act to followThe 14th report into Government services has been released, covering the performance of Australian Governments across a range of services.
Published by a Steering Committee of senior officials from the Federal, State and Territory Governments for the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), the Report on Government Services 2009 covers such issues as health services, education, community safety and housing and is designed to promote open and informed debate about Government performance.
The Steering Committee is chaired by the Chairman of the Productivity Commission, Gary Banks, who said it was an important document for all Australians.
“Everyone relies on Government services at different stages of their life,” Mr Banks said, “And services are particularly important for the more disadvantaged members of society.”
“Governments spent over $132 billion on the services covered in this year's Report,” he said, “More than 70 per cent of their recurrent expenditure, equivalent to around 13 per cent of Australia's gross domestic product.”
Mr Banks said this year’s report included a number of improvements, including a revised ambulance indicator framework - with reporting against four new indicators - and it reported for the first time on hospital readmissions and community follow up after an episode of mental illness; maintenance of individual functioning from the Transition Care Program for aged care; response times for child protection services; and school attendance data for students in years 1 to 10.
He said reporting on services to Indigenous Australians remained a priority and this year’s report included school learning outcomes for Indigenous students by remoteness area for each State and Territory and information on Indigenous preschool attendance.
“There has also been further improvement in the reporting of Indigenous hospitalisations data.”
Mr Banks said that during 2008, COAG emphasised the importance of performance reporting in its reform of Specific Purpose Payments.
He said it set out agreed objectives, outputs, outcomes and performance indicators for new National Agreements that would be monitored by the COAG Reform Council.
“The Steering Committee will provide relevant performance information to the Council,” he said.
“COAG has initiated a review to ensure this Report is appropriately aligned with the National Agreements, and to examine improvements to the Report's scope and processes.”
Information on what the Steering Committee found in its studies is summarised in the Fact Sheets attached to the report and the whole publication can be accessed at www.pc.gov.au
3 February, 2009
Jobs audit shows job well doneThe Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has received a positive audit report following a study of the payments it makes to employment agencies for finding people jobs.
The Auditor General concluded that after 11 years of operating the national $1.03 billion Job Network Program, DEEWR was administering it effectively and had adopted a successful approach to paying Job Network agencies their entitlements.
According to the Auditor, employment agencies working as part of the Jobs Network were eligible to receive payments for placing job seekers in work, receive reimbursement for any costs associated with helping them find work and also receive service fees for providing training, assistance and other aids.
They were also eligible for ‘outcome payments’ when job seekers remained in their new jobs for three and six months and the audit specifically looked into these payments.
In a positive report for the program, the Auditor General said the controls being used by DEEWR to administer outcome payments were effective.
“These controls provide sufficient assurance that the outcome payments are made in accordance with contractual obligations,” the report said.
It said as part of its controls, the Department had produced a series of Job Network companion guides that specifically addressed outcome payments.
“Overall, the quality of the guides in terms of clarity and consistency with the relevant clauses of the contract was good.” He said employment agencies working in the network confirmed his view.
The Auditor found some room for improvement however, saying that the Department’s reporting of its Job Network costs could show how much it was paying for outcomes compared to what it was paying for services better.
“A key feature in the management of the Job Network has been an increasing emphasis on paying for outcomes (placements) rather than paying for services (process),”
“DEEWR could strengthen its reporting of Job Network performance... through disaggregated and appropriately disclosed Job Network financial and performance information in the Department’s Portfolio Budget Statements and Annual Reports.”
The Auditor also suggested the Department make greater use of Centrelink information to substantiate claims a job seeker has been in the paid workforce for the required amount of time.
He said in some cases employment agencies were being asked to furnish the same information Centrelink had already collected.
“It (DEEWR) does not make optimal use of other information held by Centrelink,” the Auditor said.
DEEWR welcomed the report and accepted the recommendations.
3 February, 2009
TV trial sets up test patternA pilot program to help disadvantaged Australians switch over to digital television has been announced by the Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy.
The trial will held in the Sunraysia district of Northern Victoria, near Mildura, and will ensure free-to-air digital television is made available to all households in the area.
“Digital television delivers many benefits to viewers and this package will help achieve the smoothest possible transition as we switch-off analog signals,” Senator Conroy said.
He said the program included in-home assistance to help targeted households; a new satellite service to extend access to digital TV; improving awareness and understanding of the switchover; a labelling scheme to help consumers easily identify digital ready products; and a national call centre and website providing switchover information.
Senator Conroy said the Government had “designed a progressive timetable for digital television switchover starting with Sunraysia in 2010.”
“Switching to digital TV is a straight forward and inexpensive task for the vast majority of Australians, however, we understand that some viewers may need practical, in-home assistance to make the move to digital,” he said.
“That is why the Government will provide an assistance package to households in the Mildura licence area where at least one resident is a recipient of the full Aged Pension, Disability Support Pension, Carers’ Payment or equivalent payment from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.”
Senator Conroy said the package included a new satellite service, which, with the cooperation of broadcasters, would extend viewer access to digital TV throughout the Mildura area.
“Some Australians live in areas where the broadcasters have not built transmitters or the terrain prevents signals reaching them, but this is no reason for them to be denied access to TV,” he said.
Senator Conroy said the Digital Switchover Taskforce would work closely with the broadcasters, retailers and antenna installers in the Mildura area to drive digital TV take-up by consumers.
“The lessons learned from the switchover in Mildura will help to inform the approach to the broader digital switchover around the country,” he said.
“Digital switchover is important for all Australians as it not only provides access to better picture and sound quality, and additional channels, but it will also free-up spectrum which can be used for the delivery of new and improved broadcasting and communications services.”
3 February, 2009
Fed Court plugs into electronic documentsThe Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, Michael Black, has issued a Practice Note on the use of electronic documents in Court cases.
In the note, Chief Justice Black sets out the framework for the use of electronic documents in proceedings before the Federal Court and directs litigants and practitioners to a number of protocols and checklists.
He says the aim of the Practice Note is to encourage the effective use of technology in Court proceedings by setting out the Court’s expectations of how the technology should be used in Court as well as in the lead-up ‘discovery’ process.
The Chief Justice said the Practice Note would apply in proceedings in which 200 or more documents relating to the case had been created or stored in electronic form and the use of the technology would assist the Court in coming to a quick, inexpensive and efficient resolution of the matter.
Acting registrar of the Federal Court, Philip Kellow said the Practice Note also referred parties to a Document Management Protocol, Pre-discovery Conference Checklist and Pre-trial Checklist which would help them use the technology efficiently and effectively in the Court context.
“The aim of the document management protocols is to ensure that parties and their lawyers have sufficient information to be able to manage documents and related technology issues in light of what is expected by the Court,” Mr Kellow said.
“If the protocols are not suitable in the circumstances of a particular proceeding, it is open to the parties to agree to alternative protocols subject to the Court being satisfied that they are appropriate to its needs as well.”
He said newly designated ‘eRegistrars’ had been nominated in each Federal Court registry to provide advice and assistance in relation to the Practice Note and their contact details at www.fedcourt.gov.au
Copies of the new Practice Note were available from the same site.
3 February, 2009
New direction for Transport CommissionStakeholders in the transport industry and members of the public have been invited to provide input to a review of the future direction of the National Transport Commission (NTC).
Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese, announced the review, commissioned by the nation’s Transport Ministers, meeting as the Australian Transport Council.
“The ATC has asked an expert panel to review the operations and effectiveness of the NTC, the independent statutory body established to advise Governments on the development and implementation of uniform or nationally consistent transport regulations,” Mr Albanese said.
He said the Review Steering Committee would examine the NTC’s effectiveness in delivering regulatory and operational reforms to improve road, rail and intermodal transport.
Mr Albanese said it would also look at the future of the NTC in light of transport policy and regulatory challenges and would provide recommendations on the future of the NTC, including possible amendments to the relevant legislation.
The review’s findings and recommendations are due to be presented to the ATC in the middle of the year.
The ATC is expected to report to the Council of Australian Governments in September.
Mr Albanese said the Steering Committee would consult with industry and key transport organisations, and encouraged anyone interested in the future of the NTC to make a submission.
Written submissions close on 6 March 2009 with further information available from www.ntc.gov.au
3 February, 2009
Councils signed up for climate changeLocal Government Councils are to be given assistance to prepare their communities for the likely impacts of climate change.
Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong, said the Councils were “crucial” to the task of helping communities tackle climate change and the Local Adaptation Pathways Program had been set up to help them do it.
Senator Wong said that as an example, the Brisbane City Council was helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging sustainable transport options, generating renewable energy, and using water and energy more efficiently.
“The Council is doing this with the assistance of the Australian Government’s Cities for Climate Protection Program – demonstrating the great practical results that are generated when different levels of Government work together,” she said.
However, Senator Wong said more action was needed to help Local Governments around Australia support their communities as they adapted to the effects of climate change that were already being noticed.
“Councils may apply for a share in $500,000 of funding to help them develop the information and skills required to identify climate change risks and develop strategies to manage those risk,” she said.
Senator Wong said potential risks included increased severe weather events such as cyclones, flooding and storm surges, along with changed rainfall patterns and the negative effects on residents’ health.
“Local Governments play a key role in how we manage the climate change risks to our communities,” she said.
“They have a wide range of responsibilities for the communities they serve, including planning and development, natural resource management, property and infrastructure, and for health and recreational facilities.”
Senator Wong encouraged Local Government areas to work together to apply for the funding, with a focus on remote and regional councils in this funding round.
Up to $75,000 will be available for a single Council, $120,000 for two Councils and $140,000 for three or more Councils.
Expressions of interest for grants under the Local Adaptation Pathways Program are due by 25 February 2009.
Further information was available from www.climatechange.gov.au
3 February, 2009
Sky’s the limit for Year of Astronomy2009 is the International Year of Astronomy and Australian space communication facilities at Parkes (NSW) and Tidbinbilla (ACT) which played a role in the first moon landing, are to be among those taking part to mark 400 years of modern astronomy.
Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, said Australia would participate in several global programs run by the International Astronomical Union, while a range of further initiatives would mark Australia’s contributions to astronomy and space science.
“Events include the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing in April and the role of the Parkes and Tidbinbilla facilities,” Senator Carr said.
He said a working group chaired by the Director of the Anglo-Australian Observatory, Professor Matthew Colless, was developing a comprehensive program to commemorate the anniversary.
“Astronomy remains one of Australia’s highest impact sciences, and the working group will produce also a booklet featuring prominent Australian astronomers and their work and discoveries,” Senator Carr said.
He said the booklet would include two of Australia’s most internationally respected astronomers, Brian Schmidt and Naomi McClure-Griffiths, who had both won the Australian Government’s Malcolm McIntosh Prize for Physical Scientist of the Year.
Senator Carr said an estimated 20,000 Australians owned telescopes for observing the night sky, about 4,000 people belonged to amateur astronomy clubs and many subscribed to astronomy magazines.
He said it was generally accepted that modern astronomy began in 1609 when Galileo Galilei built the most powerful telescope the world had ever seen.
“He sketched what he saw and published his illustrations in a book in March 1610.
“His observations confounded prevailing theories about the nature and motion of the planets, representing a milestone in the history of evidence-based science.”
Senator Carr said the Government would provide $255,000 towards Australia’s participation in the International Year of Astronomy.
3 February, 2009
AIATSIS spearheads Indigenous talksThe Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra is to throw open its doors for a series of public seminars to explore what it means to be an Indigenous Australian in Australia today.
The seminars are to be presented by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from across the country and will give participants the opportunity to hear what it means to be an Indigenous Australian in remote, regional and urban modern-day Australia first-hand.
Deputy Principal of AIATSIS, Kerry Arabena, said the weekly seminars would run until July and would offer a range of topics celebrating Australia’s Indigenous culture, heritage and identity.
“These seminars will be presented by Indigenous Australians who will each offer their own perspective on their experiences, knowledge, values, cultures and identity,” Ms Arabena said.
“AIATSIS is very pleased to host these free public seminars for the people of Canberra, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to come together and hear from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from all walks of life.”
The seminar series, entitled Giving an Account of Ourselves: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander philosophy, knowledge and view, will be held each Monday between 12.30pm and 2.00pm in the Mabo Room at the AIATSIS office, on the Acton Peninsula in Canberra.
The full program and list of speakers was available from www.aiatsis.gov.au/news
3 February, 2009
DAFF goes to town for rural womenFunding grants for events that help build the leadership and representation of women in primary industries have been offered by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
As part of the Government’s Australia’s Farming Future initiative, the Recognising Women Farmers grants were designed to strengthen primary industry productivity and build rural, regional and remote community resilience to a changing climate.
According to DAFF, RWF offers support for a number of different events for women living and working in regional, rural and remote Australia.
Events that build and share knowledge and experience; increase access to planning tools and resources; develop leadership and management skills; develop programs to increase participation in agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries; develop skills to contribute to government and industry decision making; and build networks among rural, regional and remote Australians would be considered for funding.
Under the RWF grants round, the Government will provide funding of up to $50,000 for eligible events and will seek either a cash and/or in-kind contribution.
Applications will be accepted from clusters of organisations joining together to hold an event.
Applicants have been encouraged to consider the type of event that would achieve the best results for women involved in primary industries.
Funding could also support an additional component to an existing event that focuses on building the leadership and representative capacity of women and increasing their awareness of a changing climate.
Applicants must also consider timing the event to fit in with family and work requirements, providing child care, and targeting a range of skill levels.
Applications close 16 February 2009, with further information available from the Australia’s Farming Future hotline on 1800 638 746.
3 February, 2009
Air travellers get higher standardsInternational air travellers are to receive fairer and speedier compensation for lost luggage, delays, or other accidents under new international arrangements agreed to by the Government.
Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, announced the new deal saying almost six million Australians travelled overseas every year and could now do so with more confidence.
Mr Albanese said the new arrangements followed Australia’s ratification of the Montreal Convention which included tougher liability regimes for the death or injury of a passenger; loss or damage to a passenger’s baggage; loss or damage to a freight shipment; and delays to the scheduled arrival of a passenger, baggage or freight.
“Under the convention, airlines can be required to compensate passengers for all proven damages,” he said.
“This compares to the old system where compensation was commonly capped at an amount set in the 1920s in a currency that no longer exists. The compensation cap has been removed entirely in the case of death or injury.”
Mr Albanese said 86 countries had already ratified the convention, including most major destinations for Australian travellers.
He said the United States, Japan, China and New Zealand all ratified it in 2003, while the United Kingdom and most European Union countries signed on in 2004.
“The convention was negotiated in 1999, is administered by the International Civil Aviation Organisation and applies to flights between signatory countries,” Mr Albanese said.
He said further information was available from www.infrastructure.gov.au
3 February, 2009
Cybersafety course to untangle webA national program to train teachers in ‘Cybersafety’ is being rolled out by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
Chairman of ACMA, Chris Chapman, said the program included information and awareness-raising campaigns, activities and programs for developing cybersafety education materials for use in schools and homes and researching current trends in cybersafety.
“This interactive and cutting edge program is aimed at equipping educators to teach their students about cybersafety,” Mr Chapman said.
“It forms part of the Australian Government’s commitment to cybersafety education and is free to participants.”
He said Cybersafety Outreach – Professional Development for Educators was designed for primary and secondary level educators and had been developed through extensive consultation with key stakeholders and was based on research from Australia and overseas.
He said the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations would work with the ACMA to promote the program through the Australian Government Quality Teaching Program network.
Mr Chapman said the program was trialled during a two-day pilot attended by over 50 practising teachers and industry stakeholders.
“There has been incredible interest in this very targeted program with the pilot oversubscribed, booking requests for workshops and presentations flooding in and additional trainers engaged to meet the demand,” he said.
He said over the next two years the national outreach program would offer professional development for school teachers and educators; a national program for trainee teachers; presentations to parents, students, library staff and other stakeholders; education products for school aged children; guides for libraries; a cybersafety website and contactcentre; a complaints hotline; internet safety publications on social networking, mobile phone use and safe use of the internet; and research into young people’s use of online media.
The contact centre could be contacted on 1800 880 176, with the website available at www.acma.gov.au/hotline
3 February, 2009
Finance counsellors right on the moneyThe creation of 20 new financial counselling positions around the nation has been approved to increase the public’s access to free counselling sessions as the global financial crisis takes hold.
Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, announced the new positions saying they would help people make informed decisions about their financial situation and how best to manage their affairs.
“We know that many families are facing mortgage stress, credit card debt and cost of living pressures - often as a result of unemployment, sickness or family breakdown,” Ms Macklin said.
“It’s important that we reach people early so that we can provide the support needed to reduce the likelihood of problems escalating.”
Ms Macklin said the new positions included telephone financial counselling and specialist positions to assist with housing debt.
She said they were located in high need areas where there was previously little or no access to services.
“These areas have been identified in consultation with State and Territory Governments and other stakeholders,” Ms Macklin said.
“These positions will provide additional resources to the non-profit sector which is coping with the impact of the global financial crisis.”
She said the counselling services would be provided by the Granville Multicultural Community Centre in Western Sydney; Anglicare on the NSW North Coast, Northern Territory and Tasmania; Lismore and District Financial Counselling Service in the NSW Richmond-Tweed areas; FMC Relationship Services for North-West Melbourne and the Greater Dandenong; The Salvation Army in Greater Geelong; Youth and Family Services in the Logan City area of Queensland; Lifeline in Toowoomba, Ipswich, Upper West and Lower West Moreton, and Scenic Rim; Palm Beach Neighbourhood Centre for the Gold Coast;
UnitingCare Wesley Bowden Inc in North and West Adelaide; UnitingCare Inc Wesley Port Pirie and the Centacare Catholic Family Services in Whyalla, Pirie, Port Lincoln, Tumby Bay, Ceduna, Streaky Bay, and Port Augusta; and the Financial Counsellors Association in Western Australia.
3 February, 2009
Youngsters speak up in youTHINK programRegistrations are now open for the first ever Australian Youth Forum event, youTHINK, which is to be held over 10 locations across the country on 20 February 2009.
Minister for Youth, Kate Ellis, said the topics to be discussed would be 'Violence and Safety' and 'Contributing to our Democracy'.
“In an Australian first, the 10 events will be linked by satellite joining 1,000 young Australians aged between 15 and 24 in a conversation about the issues that matter most to them,” Ms Ellis said.
Senator for the ACT, Kate Lundy, said it was a great opportunity for young people to have their voices heard by taking part in the nation-wide forum.
Senator Lundy encouraged all youths to register for the event at www.youth.gov.au
“I also urge young people who may not be able to attend the event – to consider hosting their own local youTHINK event – to be a part of the action,” she said.
“Kits are available online to help young people work with their parents and schools to set up their own forum.”
Ms Ellis said youTHINK was part of the Government’s $8 million Australian Youth Forum initiative that aimed to take Government to young people “on their own turf.” “The ideas and comments from youTHINK will be used by the Government to help inform future policy development.”
To register for the event or for more information visit www.youth.gov.au
3 February, 2009
PS secrecy review
The Australian Law Reform Commission is to conduct a phone-in on the secrecy provisions of Commonwealth laws that apply to Public Servants.
To be conducted next Wednesday and Thursday, 11/12 February, the phone-in will allow participants to share their experiences and register their concerns.
More information is available from http://talk.alrc.gov.au.
Summit to aid planning
The Australian Public Service Commission is to host a workforce planning summit to help Agencies to advance and strengthen their workforce planning efforts.
The summit will bring together the latest research and best practice approaches to help participants examine workforce planning opportunities and barriers.
It would also explore Standards Australia’s Guidelines on Workforce Planning and how to retain mission-critical skills in times of economic downturn.
Further information was available from (02) 6202 3589 or email@example.com
Science archive out
An archive of the top 100 CSIRO science activities has been released to celebrate the CSIRO Education’s free weekly e-newsletter, Science by Email’s ‘30,000-subscriber’ milestone.
Editor, Mike McRae, said Science by Email activities used simple household materials to explore a range of scientific concepts.
Mr McRae said the activities featured were favourites which aimed to help children and parents discover science through news, quizzes, competitions and multimedia.
New citizens tossed coins
Australia’s newest citizens who joined the community in Canberra on Australia Day, have received a special new citizenship 60th anniversary coin.
Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law, Senator Nick Sherry, said the 2009 uncirculated $1 citizenship coin featured the faces of Australian citizens from different countries and heritages.
“In releasing this coin, the Government and the Royal Australian Mint acknowledge the importance of Australian citizenship and the more than four million people who have taken part in the affirmation ceremony,” he said.
Indigenous nominations called
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been called on to nominate people to participate in discussions about a new national Indigenous representative body.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, said the national workshop would be limited to about 100 people and would focus on reviewing submissions and the outcomes of the Federal Government’s consultations on creating the new body.
The workshop will be held in Adelaide from 11 to 13 March and nominations close on 13 February. More information was available from
Health help announced
$12 million is to be invested in rural and regional health infrastructure under the new National Rural and Remote Health Infrastructure Program (NRRHIP).
The first 53 projects were announced by the Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon who said they were aimed at improving access to essential health infrastructure and equipment for rural and remote communities.
The new program is a competitive grants program and will fund projects in communities where a lack of infrastructure was hindering the establishment of new health services or enhancement of existing services.
Sailors learn leadership
Three graduates of the Indigenous Leadership Program have completed a 10-day sailing journey across Bass Strait on the sailing ship Young Endeavour.
The graduates - Arlene McInherny, Dianna Wright and Rebecca Richards – received scholarships to take part in the trip from George Town, Tasmania, to Williamstown, Victoria.
The first-time sailors learnt teamwork and leadership skills as well as gaining a sense of community responsibility as they helped sail the Young Endeavour.
Further information about the training opportunities available on the Young Endeavour was available by phoning 1800 020 444 or visiting www.youngendeavour.gov.au
Public Service coming to TV
Creators of TV’s comedy show The Office have announced that their next project is to be a series called “Public Service.”
The first episode of the American produced sitcom is due to air on 9 April, starring Amy Poehler as a middle-level Local Government official.
TSI fishery locally run
The Torres Strait finfish fishery is now 100 per cent controlled by Torres Strait Islanders. The reallocation of finfish fishery resources is expected to provide more employment and economic opportunities for Torres Strait Islanders.
The change came about after a $10.6 million buyback of 100 per cent of non-indigenous finfish fishing licences, an initiative of the Protected Zone Joint Authority which is the governing body responsible for managing commercial and traditional fishing in the Torres Strait Protected Zone.