27 July, 2010

Government commits
to greater openness

The Minister for Finance and Deregulation has delivered a ‘Declaration of Open Government’ as a step along the path towards public sector openness and transparency.
   Making the declaration on behalf of the Government, the Minister, Lindsay Tanner, said it was also an important inclusion in the Gov2.0 agenda.
   “The central recommendation of the Gov2.0 Taskforce was that a declaration of open Government be made,” Mr Tanner said.
   “The Declaration is about making Government information available to the public online and encouraging reuse of that information in new, valuable and potentially unexpected ways.”
   The Declaration states that Agencies are to reduce barriers to online engagement, undertake social networking, crowd sourcing and online collaboration projects and support online engagement by employees.
   It says that the innovative use of new internet-based technologies is crucial to expanding the possibilities of open Government and there were three key principles to the Government’s support for openness and transparency in Government.
   The first principle of ‘informing’ aims to strengthen citizens’ rights of access to information, establish a pro-disclosure culture across Agencies and make Government information more accessible and useable.
   The second principle of ‘engaging’ centres around collaborating with citizens on policy and service delivery to enhance the processes of Government and improve outcomes, while the third, ‘participating’, aims to make Government more consultative and participative.
   Mr Tanner said that the Government’s commitment to action on each of these principles had been demonstrated by legislation reforming the Freedom of Information Act, and its responses to the Government 2.0 taskforce report and the Ahead of the Game report.
   The Declaration says that effective collaboration between citizens and Government requires timely sharing of the information held by Government.
   The Declaration requires the Department of Finance and Deregulation to report annually on the implementation of the Government 2.0 Taskforce’s recommendations through the Secretaries’ Information and Communications Technology Governance Board.
   The full Declaration can be seen at www.finance.gov.au


27 July, 2010

Caretaker rules made
clear by Commission

The Australian Public Service Commission has detailed the conventions applying to the Public Service during the Federal election caretaker period.
   With the Government in caretaker mode, the Commission advised public sector employees to familiarise themselves with the constraints and conventions in place.
   “During the caretaker period, the business of Government continues and ordinary matters of administration still need to be addressed,” the Commission said.
   “However, successive Governments have followed a series of practices, known as the ‘caretaker conventions’, which aim to ensure that their actions do not bind an incoming Government and limit its freedom of action.”
   The Commission said that the conventions were that the Government avoided making major policy decisions that were likely to commit an incoming Government; making significant appointments; and entering into major contracts or undertakings.
   It said that the caretaker conventions and practices have developed in the context of the relationship between Ministers and their Departments and, by extension, Executive Agencies.
   It said that while the relationship between Ministers and other bodies, such as statutory authorities and Government companies varied, those bodies should observe the conventions and practices unless to do so would conflict with their legal obligations or organisational requirements.
   The APSC has identified several publications available on the issue, including Guidance on Caretaker Conventions, which could be accessed from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website – www.pmc.gov.au – and section four of APS Values and Code of Conduct in Practice, which could be found at www.apsc.gov.au
  
It also said that the Charter of Budget Honesty outlined arrangements under which the Secretaries to the Treasury and of the Department of Finance and Administration may be requested to cost Government and Opposition election commitments. The Charter was  available at www.finance.gov.au
   The APSC also held a special event on 23 July to educate Public Servants on caretaker period practices featuring presentations from Acting First Assistant Secretary at PM&C, Dr Wendy Southern, and Paul Dworjanyn of the Department of Finance and Deregulation.
   The Commission also advised that APS Agencies, non-APS authorities and relevant Ministers would be required to implement the Employment Bargaining Framework, which sets out the Government’s workplace relations policy in relation to its employees.
   The Commission said that where final Ministerial approval of an enterprise agreement had not been obtained prior to the commencement of the caretaker period, the agreement making process should be deferred until after the election.


27 July, 2010

Auditor-General issues
2010 work program

The Auditor-General has released his work program of audits for 2010 and beyond.
   Published as the Audit Work Program July 2010, the schedule covers portfolio and agency audit strategy overviews, performance audits in progress and potential future audits.
   As part of the Audit Office’s assurance audit services, the Program includes audits of the 2009-10 financial statements for some 259 Australian Government entities.
   Dividing the work program into four sections - performance audits by portfolio, cross-portfolio audits, better practice guides and financial statement audits – the Auditor-General said he expected to publish or table in the Parliament four better practice guides, one Defence Materiel Organisation Major Projects Report and 56 performance audits, including cross-agency audits.
   He said past performance audits and reviews were examined to identify areas of continued weaknesses which he believed could have widespread effects on public administration.
   He said these areas included risk management in governance, the use of human and financial resources, project management, information systems and performance measurement and reporting.
   New areas mentioned in the Program for 2010 were largely in reforms and policy.
   The Auditor also identified for examination some specific aspects of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) reform agenda and the design and delivery of whole-of-Government policies and programs.
   He said he would also consider the impact of the APS reform report, Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, as well as its intended outcomes.
   Following the transfer of the Office of Evaluation and Audit (Indigenous programs) (OEA) to his office, the Auditor has established a series of Indigenous-focused audits.
   He said these audits would be based on seven strategic areas for action, as set out by COAG.
   According to the Auditor-General,  there was an overall increase of nine in the total number of audits from last year, showing the audit program was back to performing at its previous levels and had effectively integrated the functions of the former OEA.
   The full publication, The Audit Work Program July 2010 was available at www.anao.gov.au


27 July, 2010

Caretaker advice for
Tabling Officers

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has issued a Tabling Circular setting out the rules for tabling documents in Parliament during the Federal election caretaker period.
   The Circular states that during the caretaker period, reports of an administrative nature, such as annual reports, can be presented out of sitting to the Senate.
   It says that Departments and Agencies should finalise reports for transmittal to the Minister and arrange for the report to be presented out of sitting by the due date, in accordance with the legislative requirements of individual Agencies.
   PM&C reminded Departments and Agencies that when transmitting reports to the Minister for approval, they should comply with the Guidance on Caretaker Conventions.
   The Circular says that on resumption of Parliament, the 2009-10 annual reports and other Government documents presented out of sitting to the Senate would be formally tabled in the Senate, and on the next available tabling day in the House of Representatives.
   “Reports and other Government documents which have not been presented by the end of the caretaker period should be taken up with the Minister after the swearing in of the Ministry,” the Circular says. “Any documents presented following the resumption of the new Parliament will revert to the usual arrangements.”
   The Circular says that during the caretaker period, the PM&C Tabling Officer would undertake the internal distribution of all documents for the Press Gallery, House of Representatives Table Office, Senate Table Office and the Parliamentary Library.
   It says that Departments and Agencies were responsible for ensuring that packaging, labelling and delivery requirements were complied with.
   Documents must be appropriately boxed or packaged, and weigh no more than 16kg, while they must be clearly labelled using the appropriate labels.
   All bulk copies must be delivered to the Parliament House Loading Dock, Brisbane Avenue, between 8am and 2.30pm, Monday to Friday.
   The Circular included a checklist for presentation of a document out of sitting; a form transmittal letter to the President of the Senate; and a covering memorandum to the PM&C Tabling Officer.
   Tabling Circular No. 4/2010, was available at www.dpmc.gov.au


27 July, 2010

Numbers wanted
for telco inquiry

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has called for as many examples of customer service problems with telecommunications companies it can find to include in an official inquiry into the industry.  
   Chair of ACMA, Chris Chapman said the aim of the telecommunications industry inquiry was to improve outcomes for consumers.
   “We want to understand what the problems are,” Mr Chapman said. “The way the telecommunications industry is dealing with its customers and the root causes of those problems.
   “And critically, we want to identify enduring solutions that will improve customer service and complaints-handling, both now and into the foreseeable future.”
   Mr Chapman said ACMA wanted to gather evidence to explain the reasons for the high number of complaints being made to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, problems which were broadly corroborated by strong anecdotal feedback.
   He said the Authority would also be looking for ways to facilitate best practice customer service in what was an increasingly complex communications environment.
   “We want consumers to regain confidence that they will receive the services they need in a way that meets their expectations,” Mr Chapman said.
   Releasing a consultation paper and the inquiry’s Terms of Reference, Mr Chapman urged members of the public, consumer groups, telecommunications companies and other regulatory Agencies to have their say.
   He said it was important for ACMA to work with industry players and other key stakeholders, including other regulators, in order for the inquiry to succeed.
   He said the paper was designed to allow for both general and more detailed, targeted responses and workshops and other forums would be held to engage with consumers.
   More information is available from  www.acma.gov.au or phone 1800 062 130.


27 July, 2010

Call for changes
to Family Law

Academics involved in an official study of the Family law have called for changes to the legislation.
   Associate Professor Dale Bagshaw of the University of South Australia and Professor Thea Brown of Monash University in Victoria were commissioned by the Federal Attorney-General to look into the impact of reforms to the Family Law Act that were introduced in 2006.
   They surveyed more than 1,000 adults and 112 children, concluding that the system required a major overhaul if it was to give children’s safety the highest priority.
   Associate Professor Bagshaw said the study revealed that parents who reported family violence were often not believed, while many children were not consulted or asked for their input into new parenting arrangements. She said if they were, their views were often disregarded.
   “Putting the needs of children first was said to be a priority in the 2006 family law reform, yet the children we spoke to felt powerless and that they had no voice,” Professor Bagshaw said.
   “There are children who are being subjected to serious abuse and neglect because under the current system, shared parenting is given higher priority and children’s voices are often not heard.”
   Professor Bagshaw said children wanted to be consulted about parenting arrangements, particularly where there was family violence.
   She said there are some cases where parents have separated, and the children are put in a dangerous situation when they spend time alone with the perpetrator.
   The 2006 changes to the Family Law Act were supposed to restructure and expand services to promote a change of thinking and behaviour in post-separation parenting.
   Instead the study found that, where there was family violence, both men and women were very dissatisfied with responses from lawyers, Family Relationship Centres, Centrelink, the Child Support Agency and the Family Courts.
   Professor Bagshaw said respondents to the survey did not think the services understood family violence, its impact on them or on their children regarding their care, both before and after the 2006 legislation.
   The study also found that a presence or a history of family violence affected mothers, fathers and children in terms of their decisions to separate, to access services, how they used them and how they parented post separation.
   The report is available at www.apo.org.au


27 July, 2010

Indonesian agreement
dries up fishing boats

An international partnership between Australia and Indonesia to clamp down on illegal foreign fishing vessels in Australian waters has achieved a ‘dramatic’ reduction in numbers, according to the Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor.
   Mr O’Connor said while 367 foreign fishing vessels had been apprehended in Australia’s northern waters in 2005-06, there were just 23 in the last financial year.
   “This dramatic reduction has been achieved in large part by the hard work and close co-operation of Australian and Indonesian Agencies,” Mr O’Connor said.
   “Over the last three years our relationship has strengthened with both countries engaging in reciprocal visits, training activities and sharing information about maritime security.”
   Mr O’Connor said illegal foreign fishing vessel apprehensions in the north had rapidly declined over the last five financial years, with the 23 in 2009-10, 27 in 2008-09; 156 in 2007–08; 216 in 2006–07; and 367 in 2005–06.
   He said 1,218 people had been prosecuted for illegal fishing since 2005-06.
   “These figures show that our cooperative response to detecting and deterring illegal foreign fishing within Australia’s maritime domain is working,” Mr O’Connor said.
   MP for the Northern Territory electorate of Solomon, Damian Hale said it was important to protect the nation’s fishing resources within the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone.
   “Maintaining the integrity of our borders and protecting our natural resources is vital to Australia’s economic and biosecurity as well as to proper environmental management,” Mr Hale said.
   “Just like the people of Indonesia, Australians love seafood and love fishing and we also care passionately about the sustainability of our oceans.
   “Working together, we can make sure that our respective territories are respected and protected in the long term.”
   Mr O’Connor said nine coordinated Australian-Indonesian operations targeting illegal foreign fishing had been undertaken since late 2007, along as other measures to reduce illegal foreign fishing, including education and aerial, sea and land patrols.
   He thanked Indonesia and Customs and Border Protection staff for their commitment to combating illegal fishing.


27 July, 2010

Post Office delivers
mentors for refugees

Staff of Australia Post are to mentor a number of young refugees in a new program that introduces them to social and business networks.
   Ucan2 is a collaboration between Australia Post and Foundation House, a leading support organisation for refugees in Victoria.
   Under the program, refugees aged between 16 and 24 will be mentored by 13 Australia Post staff, with the aim of increasing education, training and employment opportunities in their first 15 months of settlement into Australia.
   CEO of Australia Post, Ahmed Fahour, and Executive Director of Foundation House, Paris Aristotle, signed a memorandum of understanding that set out the Agency’s intention to provide ongoing in-kind support of the Ucan2 program.
   Mr Fahour, who moved from Lebanon to Australia at the age of three, said Ucan2 was a practical way that businesses could help refugees settle into the Australian community.
   “Our workplaces and our employees at Australia Post provide a magnificent window on the role that business can play as an enabler of social integration,” Mr Fahour said.
   “We want to lead by example, and I appeal to other corporations to open up their networks for the refugee community to access new social, education and employment contacts.”
   Outgoing Minister for Finance, Lindsay Tanner officially launched the Ucan2 program, saying it demonstrated strong business and community leadership.
   “For minimal financial investment, this high social return partnership between business and community delivers enormous benefit for refugees and has a ripple effect for generations to come,” Mr Tanner said.
   Mr Aristotle said the partnership with Australia Post was far more valuable to his organisation than any cheque, and symbolised the way that business could make a real and lasting difference to the refugee community.
   “Half of the 13,750 refugees who arrive each year are under 18 and upon arrival most have incredible aspirations for their careers and lives,” Mr Aristotle said.
   “It’s important to engage with them at this pivotal time and facilitate connections with the community.
   “The support Australia Post is providing in allowing access to its staff and its workplace is something that money can’t buy.”


27 July, 2010

Youngsters anxious
in stats report

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released figures showing that one in four young Australians suffered from a mental disorder in 2007.
   According to the Bureau, anxiety disorders were the most common among youths, affecting 15 per cent of young people.
   It said Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was the most commonly experienced Anxiety disorder at 8 per cent.  
   The ABS said substance use disorders affected 13 per cent of young people, with harmful use of alcohol the most common cause at 9 per cent. 
   The statistics showed about 6 per cent of young people had an affective disorder with bipolar disorder and depression (3 per cent each) the most common.  
   The figures revealed almost one-third of young women had a mental health disorder compared with around one-quarter of young men. 
   The Bureau said young people with a mental disorder were more than five times as likely as those without mental disorders to use illicit drugs or misuse legal drugs, were twice as likely to be current smokers and about 1.5 times more likely to drink alcohol at least weekly.
   The ABS found that while the prevalence of mental illness was relatively high in young people, their use of mental health services was relatively low, with just under a quarter of those affected using the services in the previous year.
   It said young people with a severe level of impairment were more likely to use mental health services (51 per cent) than those with milder levels of impairment (18 per cent).
The figures showed general practitioners were the service most frequently accessed (15 per cent) followed by psychologists (10 per cent).
   Of young people who did not access services, 85 per cent did not feel that they had a need for any type of assistance.


27 July, 2010

Research funding
under microscope

Universities and other institutions of higher education have been invited to apply for funding under the Collaborative Research Networks (CRN) scheme.
   Minister for Innovation, Senator Kim Carr said the CRN scheme provided up to $51 million from 2011 until mid-2014 to help smaller and regional universities which were less research-intensive to strengthen their research capacity by teaming up with other institutions in areas of common interest.
   “This scheme is all about promoting and supporting Australian based research,” Senator Carr said.
   “While successful eligible institutions will receive funding under an agreement with the Commonwealth, this funding may flow to partner institutions for the purpose of facilitating and supporting the collaboration.
   “This means that the benefits of the scheme will flow right around Australia.”
   Senator Carr said one of the scheme’s best features was its flexibility.
   He said the guidelines allowed projects to involve existing or emerging areas of research capability, as long as they were relevant to the participating institutions’ strategic directions.
   “Projects need not be limited to specific research fields and may have more than one element with different partner institutions for each,” Senator Carr said.
   “I fully expect that this scheme will encourage and assist some really exciting and cutting-edge research programs across a number of institutions.
   “The great thing about these guidelines and the scheme is that the Australian higher education sector has been engaged in their development right from the start.
   “The result is guidelines that match the sector’s needs.”
   Expressions of interest close on 16 August, with CRN projects to be selected via a competitive process.
   More information is available from www.innovation.gov.au


27 July, 2010

Privacy agreement
covers long distances

A new agreement between Australia and members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to enhance international cooperation on privacy enforcement has come into force.
   Special minister of State, Senator Joe Ludwig, said the APEC Cross-Border Privacy Enforcement Arrangement (CPEA) would allow the Australian Privacy Commissioner to give and obtain assistance from foreign privacy enforcement authorities to resolve complaints against overseas companies.
   Senator Ludwig said the arrangement was developed because of the importance of having trusted flows of information when conducting business in the global economy.
   “The Government’s proposed Australian Privacy Principles include a principle dealing with cross-border disclosures of personal information,” Senator Ludwig said.
   “This is the first part of a package of significant reforms to Australia’s Privacy Act that will be referred to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee for consultation and report.
   “The APEC Arrangement will enhance these reforms by making it possible for privacy enforcement authorities to call upon their international colleagues for assistance.”
   He said under the arrangement, participating authorities are able to contact each other for help with collecting evidence, sharing information on an organisation or matter being investigated, enforcing actions, and transferring complaints to another jurisdiction.
   The Australian Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the United States Federal Trade Commission and the New Zealand Office of the Privacy Commissioner are participating in the Arrangement, with other APEC member authorities preparing to join.
   Senator Ludwig said the CPEA also encouraged cooperation between privacy enforcement authorities in APEC and non-APEC countries, as the Arrangement had been designed to work with other regional and global schemes.
   The Minister said Australia was closely involved in the development and implementation of the agreement, which came into effect on 16 July.
   Chair of the Data Privacy Subgroup of APEC’s Electronic Commerce Steering Group, Colin Minihan described the arrangement as groundbreaking.
   “It demonstrates that privacy enforcement authorities are engaging with the realities of global data flows and the associated risks of privacy violations that transcend national and jurisdictional boundaries,” Mr Minihan said.
   “The CPEA reflects the commitment of APEC privacy and consumer protection authorities to work together and across borders in enforcing consumer privacy protections.”
   For more information, go to www.apec.org


27 July, 2010

Flouro recyclers
get green light

A new national scheme to recycle used fluorescent lights has been announced by the Minister for Environment Protection, Peter Garrett.
   Mr Garrett said the FluoroCycle Scheme would be administered by the Lighting Council of Australia, with the Government to provide $600,000 in support over three years.
   “Given that commercial and public lighting accounts for approximately 90 per cent of all lighting waste in Australia, taking it out of the waste stream and putting it into recycling means that we are increasing the recycling of mercury containing lamps and reducing the amount of hazardous waste, like mercury, going to landfill,” Mr Garrett said.
   “FluoroCycle is the latest instalment in our commitment to better work with industry and with the States and Territories to improve our waste management, cut red tape and better deal with emerging issues to ensure a more sustainable future.”
   The Minister said that with the National Waste Policy, the Government was looking at waste from a national perspective.
   He said the first nationally-supported program to recycle used computers and televisions would commence next year, while experience gained from rolling out FluoroCycle would help with the design of future strategies to keep household waste lamps out of landfill.
   Mr Garrett said a key part of FlouroCycle was an outreach program to recruit new members to the Scheme.
   Recycling programs would also be developed with industry to ensure they were in line with business models.
   Under the scheme, businesses and organisations responsible for commercial and public lighting in office blocks, shopping malls, streets, highways, industrial sites and sporting venues can become signatories.
   Mr Garrett urged businesses and organisations to get involved.
   He acknowledging the support of stakeholders such as CMA EcoCycle, Chemsal, SITA, Lamp Recyclers, the Property Council of Australia, the Facility Management Association of Australia, the National Electrical and Communications Association and the Australian Council of Recyclers in the development of the scheme.
   More information is available from www.fluorocycle.org.au


27 July, 2010

Students nail trade
cadetship scheme

A new National Trade Cadetship scheme has been announced for students in years 9 to 12.
   The Government has promised that if its wins the upcoming election, students wanting to pursue a trade career will be able to learn technical skills through the program, which would commence in 2012.
   In a joint statement, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Minister for Education, Simon Crean said students, employers and industry would benefit from the initiative.
   “The Cadetships will ensure students at school who want a career in the trades have a clearly defined pathway, equal in quality, value and rigour to traditional academic pursuits,” Ms Gillard and Mr Crean said.
   “The Cadetships will equip young people with the necessary skills and experience to make positive contributions to the workplace.
   “Employers and industry will benefit from a better skilled workforce and in particular, from less worker turnover as young people will be better prepared for work and their apprenticeship.”
   As part of the commitment, National Trade Cadetships would be nationally recognised and would provide credit towards an apprenticeship or further training.   
   Ms Gillard and Mr Crean said the National Trade Cadetship would have two streams - a foundation stream to focus on essential work readiness skills and lay the foundation for further training and a pre-apprentice stream to focus on a specific trade or occupation area.
   The Ministers said while there were currently about 220,000 students participating in Vocational Education and Training (VET) in schools, they often completed different components of a VET course with little ability to carry the training into a higher qualification.
   “The new National Trade Cadetship will benefit these students by giving them, for the first time, training and skills that can contribute to their further training and careers,” Ms Gillard said.
   “The Cadetships will provide students with general basic skills and competencies that can be easily transferred within and between industries.”
   The National Trade Cadetships would be developed by the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority, in partnership with Industry Skills Councils and with States and Territories.
   The Cadetships would be delivered in the Government’s new Trade Training Centres.


27 July, 2010

Doctors prescribe
cuts to PBS red tape

Changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme have been announced to cut the red tape involved in doctors writing prescriptions.
   Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon said under the changes, the criteria for streamlining ‘authority required’ medicines would be expanded to include medicines used to treat short-term conditions, where patient safety would not be put at risk.
   Ms Roxon said this would mean that when prescribing one of those PBS medicines, doctors and other prescribers would no longer have to obtain telephone or written approval from Medicare Australia.
   She said the changes would allow GPs to spend more time with their patients.
   “This is a regular irritant for general practitioners who have persistently told me they don’t want to waste time that can be spent with patients,” Ms Roxon said.
   “We have heard this complaint and acted on it.”
   The Minister said other recent changes in response to requests from local GPs and their national organisations included doubling the number of general practice registrar training places, infrastructure grants of up to half a million dollars for around 425 existing practices, and an increase to general practice supervisor payments.
   She said other initiatives included increasing the number of placements for new doctors to gain experience in general practice, expanding rural infrastructure grants and regional training facilities, and investing in a personally controlled electronic health record.
   She said from 1 December next year, Medicare Australia would also capture further data to allow improved monitoring of the usage of streamlined authority medicines.
   The Minister said she had asked the Chair of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, Professor Lloyd Sansom, to recommend which medicines could have streamlined authorities under the revised criteria and under the improved monitoring arrangements.
   She said the changes were expected to increase the number of streamlined medicines from about 110 to 160.
   “The change to the criteria for streamlining, and improved data capture, will be of particular benefit for doctors treating palliative care and cancer patients,” Ms Roxon said.
   “It will allow doctors to spend more of their time caring for their patients, and less time on the phone to Medicare Australia and filling out paperwork.”


27 July, 2010

Long arm of law
reaches India

The Australian Federal Police have opened a new office in India.
   AFP Commissioner Tony Negus said the new office in New Delhi would strengthen the law enforcement relationship between the two countries.
   He said the AFP was committed to working with India to combat criminal threats affecting both Australia and India.
   “In an increasingly globalised world, transnational crime is a growing threat,” Commissioner Negus said.
.   “As regional partners, Australia and India face common threats related to transnational crime, including drugs, human trafficking, terrorism and cybercrime.
   “Recent agreement on the reciprocal hosting of law enforcement liaison officers and the successful delivery of a joint police training program will benefit police in both countries.”
   Commissioner Negus said the initiative would build the capacity of Australian and Indian law enforcement Agencies to fight crime in their respective jurisdictions.
   He said discussions with Indian authorities had been highly productive.
   He said with the opening of the new post, the total number of AFP International Network liaison officers was now 98, stationed in 33 international posts.


27 July, 2010

Weather Bureau’s
new baby is a buoy

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has commissioned a new high-tech buoy in the Southern Ocean to provide better weather and climate observations.
   Bureau of Meteorology scientist, Dr Eric Schulz said the floating station was a first for the Southern Ocean, and would relay measurements of wind, temperature, humidity, air pressure, sunlight, and rainfall to the Bureau every few hours.
   He said ocean surface properties such as salinity, carbon dioxide, oxygen, fluorescence, currents and waves would also be measured, with the information to be made available to forecasters, researchers and the general public via the internet.
   “This buoy, deployed from the Marine National Facility Research Vessel Southern Surveyor, has been able to give up to the minute information on the conditions in the Southern Ocean that influence our weather,” Dr Schulz said.
   He said while it was not fully clear how the Southern Ocean interacted because of its remote and inhospitable nature, he expected that the information from the Flux Station would greatly improve scientific understanding.
   He said the vast ocean region south of Australia played a critical role in the global climate system, acting as a buffer to smooth out extremes in the atmosphere by soaking up and releasing heat and carbon dioxide, while transporting changes in the ocean around the southern hemisphere.
   “We will be able to better understand the role of the ocean in climate variability and the impact on biological processes,” Dr Schulz said.
   The Southern Ocean Flux Station is part of the Australian Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) which is funded through the Federal Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) and the Super Science Initiative.


27 July, 2010
Override call
A Senate candidate in the ACT has called for an end to the Commonwealth’s power to override Territory laws.
   Greens hopeful Lin Hatfield Dodds criticised the Commonwealth Government for using its powers in 2006 to veto the ACT’s civil union laws, saying that the Greens wanted to ensure it did not happen again.
   Ms Hatfield Dodds said the Greens had previously tried to legislate against this, but had been blocked in the Senate.

Native Title on hold
The Attorney-General’s Department has suspended community consultation on possible reforms to native title for the duration of the election caretaker period.
   Consultation sessions on the native title agreements discussion paper to be held in Canberra, Darwin and Perth will not proceed.
   The Attorney-General’s Department also said that because the Government would not be in a position to consider submissions, the 5 August deadline would no longer apply.

Disability forum on
The Australian Public Service Commission and the Australian Network on Disability will hold a ‘best practice forum’ in Canberra on 12 August.
   The event aims to give Agency representatives an opportunity to share information and experiences that can help them develop and implement more strategies for “Tapping the Talent of People with Disability”.
   Speakers include Australian Public Service Commissioner, Steve Sedgwick, and CEO of the Australian Network on Disability, Suzanne Colbert.
   RSVP by 2 August by emailing events@and.org.au or phoning 1300 363 645.

Computer clash
The Department for Immigration and Citizenship is to change the date of implementing its $200 million System for People project because it would clash with the Federal election.
   While the Department had yet to decide on an alternative date, a spokesperson said it was just as likely to be earlier as later.

Broadcast guidelines
The Australian Communications and Media Authority has released draft Community Broadcasting Not‐for‐Profit Guidelines for industry comment.
   It is expected that the draft Guidelines will be discussed at the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia’s annual conference in October this year.
   Submissions close on 1 November 2010.

Artistic scam
The Australia Council for the Arts is has warned of a scam involving callers who claim to be from the organisation.
   The scammer tells people they are eligible to be reimbursed for overcharged bank fees or a refund, quoting the name and ABN of the Australia Council.
   The Australia Council said it never reimbursed bank fees or phoned people to offer refunds’, and advised anyone concerned about scams to go to www.scamwatch.gov.au

School energy grants
Local schools are to play an important role in the fight to cut Australia’s carbon emissions and tackle climate change.
   Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, Greg Combet said the National Solar Schools Program, which reopened on 15 July, would see grants of up to $50,000 ($100,000 for multi-campus schools) awarded to primary and secondary schools to install solar and other renewable power systems.
   Mr Combet said the grants would also be available for rainwater tanks and a range of other energy efficiency measures.
   Applications close on 20 August.
   Program guidelines can be found at www.climatechange.gov.au or by calling the National Solar Schools Program hotline on 1800 703 831.

Singles in court
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has taken an internet singles website to Court for creating fictitious ‘profiles’.
   The Federal Court ordered the operator of www.redhotpie.com.au, to disclose that it created and operated over a thousand of its own profiles.
   Chairman of the ACCC, Graeme Samuel said the ACCC would not hesitate to take “swift and decisive action” where consumers were exposed to misleading tactics by website operators.

Robbery stats issued
The National Armed Robbery Monitoring Report released last week by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) has revealed there were 6,086 reported armed robberies committed  in 2007.
   The figure represented an eight per cent fall in reported armed robberies from the previous year. 
   The report is the fifth since the AIC began monitoring the crimes under the National Armed Robbery Monitoring Program in 2003.
   To view the paper visit www.aic.gov.au

Questacon wins again
Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, has won the Best Tourist Attraction Award at the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) 2010 Hospitality Awards for Canberra.
   The Award recognises Questacon’s position as an iconic Canberra tourist attraction.
   General Manager of Operations, Lorraine Neish said during 2009-10, Questacon achieved record annual visitation of more than 446,000 people, produced new exhibitions and undertook major building refurbishments.

Flat spot for 3D TV
The Australian Communications and Media Authority has announced that trials of 3D television have ended .
   In May, the Nine Network, SBS and WIN sought ACMA authorisation for temporary trials of 3D TV in Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.
   ACMA authorised trials for only a limited, two-month period.
   ACMA said it expected to publish the trial reports in the near future, while it would likely release a paper on future 3D TV trials in the next few months.


20 July, 2010

PS election promises
are polls apart

The major political parties have made their positions clear on their respective visions for the future of the Australian Public Service in the first few days of campaigning for the 21 August Federal election.
   According to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, there are no new plans for the PS in Labor’s promises although the efficiency dividend will stand.
   Opposition challenger, Tony Abbott said the Liberal/National Coalition would cut 12,000 positions in its first two years as well as $45.8 billion anually from ongoing programs.
   According to Ms Gillard, cutting the Public Service would mean cutting services to families.
   “I believe Australians want to see a Public Service that is efficient and effective and gets the job done,” Ms Gillard is reported as saying in the Canberra Times.
   “We made announcements about the efficiency dividend at the time of the Budget and those announcements stand,” she said.
   Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott announced his party’s proposed cuts to Public Service numbers in his Budget Reply speech in May.
   Mr Abbott pledged not to replace 6,000 APS members who retire or resign in each of his first two years in power. The full story is here.
   In his speech, Mr Abbott said his plans for the PS did not include any redundancies and would apply on an Agency-by-Agency basis and would exclude uniformed and frontline service positions.
   National Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, Nadine Flood welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement that the Government would not implement indiscriminate cuts to Agency budgets by increasing the efficiency dividend.
   Ms Flood said the efficiency dividend was “bad public policy” and a “blunt arbitrary instrument” as it did not cushion vital services from cuts but involved across-the-board savings.
   Ms Flood said the CPSU welcomed the Government’s plan to implement the reforms in the Moran Blueprint for the APS to find a “better solution to funding essential services.”
   Greens Senate Candidate in the ACT, Lin Hatfield Dodds welcomed Labor’s stance and criticised the Opposition’s saying the Greens were committed to protecting PS jobs and would “open a dialogue” with the newly elected Federal Government to discuss ways to do so.


20 July, 2010

PS off track for
Indigenous staff

Agencies need to do more to increase the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the APS according to the findings of the Australian Public Service Commission’s 2009 census of Indigenous employees.
   The 2009 Census Report: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APS Employees asked Indigenous employees about their experiences as Public Servants in the APS.
   The census also aimed to determine if current initiatives for the employment, development and retention of Indigenous staff were meeting their needs.
   According to the census report, while the decline in Indigenous representation had halted with representation remaining steady at 2.1 per cent, this was still 0.6 percentage points below the Council of Australian Governments’ target of 2.7 per cent.
   The census report highlights four major areas it says require further attention by APS Agencies: retention, recruitment, increased job opportunities and career development.
   It says as Indigenous employees with graduate qualifications were more likely to leave the APS or be unsure of their future plans, Agencies should focus on efforts to retain them.
   It also recommends providing effective supervisors, creating a positive work environment and reducing discrimination, harassment and bullying to improve overall retention.
   “Two of the most commonly cited reasons as to why employees intend to leave (i.e. a lack of job satisfaction and feeling under-valued) can be described as ‘push factors’,” the report says, “(i.e.) negative aspects of the Agency that are within the Agency’s control rather than outside ‘pull factors’ drawing staff away to other employment opportunities.”
   It says current approaches to recruiting Indigenous employees were most effective at attracting APS 1 to APS 4 staff and more needed to be done to attract Indigenous Australians to join the APS at higher classification levels.
   The census found Indigenous employees were twice as likely as employees APS-wide to work in service delivery positions and recommended encouraging Indigenous employment in a wider range of areas.
   It also recommended improving opportunities and awareness of career development and advancement, with Indigenous employees saying limited vacancies, a lack of self confidence and not holding necessary qualifications prevented them from climbing the ranks.
   “While it is essential to increase recruitment of Indigenous Australians to the APS, the key to such improvement lies also in retaining and developing career pathways for Indigenous staff,” the report says.
   According to the census, there have been no major changes in what Indigenous staff report about their experience of working in the APS since the first survey was undertaken in 2005.
   The census report was available from www.apsc.gov.au


20 July, 2010

Comcare tightens up
stress management

The Commonwealth rehabilitation and workers’ compensation Agency, Comcare, has embraced ‘Stress Down Month’ as a way of reducing stress among its workforce.
   It said its ‘Stress Down Month’ was inspired by Lifeline’s ‘Stress Down Day’, to be held on 23 July.
   With figures showing that nine out of 10 Australians were ‘stressed’, the Lifeline campaign aimed to reduce the burden on the community by encouraging schools and workplaces to have fun with their friends and family to reduce stress levels and raise funds for Lifeline.
   Funds raised through the event will go to Lifeline’s 24-hour telephone counselling service which costs $31 million a year to operate.
   As part of Stress Down Day, Comcare employees will help raise funds for Lifeline by receiving sponsorship to wear their slippers to work.
   In a statement, Comcare said that throughout its Stress Down Month it would educate employees to help them understand the effects stress can have on the body and what they can do to reduce high stress levels.
   The Agency will hold Stress Free Workplace Seminars, with topics including healthy body/healthy mind, motivation and goal setting.
   It will also be offering Zumba Fitness classes, along with yoga and massage sessions to highlight the importance of exercise and relaxation in reducing high stress levels.
   Ambassadors for Lifeline’s event include television presenter Shelly Craft; actor Steve Bastoni; TV personality Rove McManus; Professor Ian Hickey, Australian idol winner Kate DeAraugo; and former Rugby international Joe Roff.
   Lifeline urged those in need of help to talk to a trusted family member or friend, a professional such as a GP or a psychologist or to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
   Further information on Stress Down Day was available from www.stressdown.org.au


20 July, 2010

Business reporting is
right on the money

A new whole-of-Government reporting system that enables businesses to electronically lodge paperwork with the Government has commenced.
   The system, Standard Business Reporting (SBR), offers Australian businesses, accountants, bookkeepers, tax agents and payroll professionals a simpler way to complete and submit Government reports.
   Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner and Minister for Financial Services, Chris Bowen said SBR cut reporting requirements for businesses and brought Australia a step closer to a seamless national economy.
   Mr Bowen said SBR enabled businesses and reporting professionals to pre-fill and complete Government forms directly from their own accounting system and lodge them electronically to participating Agencies using a single secure sign-on AUSkey.
   “In just over five weeks over 51,000 AUSkeys have been issued, to over 36,000 Australian businesses,” Mr Bowen said.
   “AUSkey is positioned to be the single key to access Government online services.”
   Mr Tanner said AUSkey was co-designed with businesses, accounting professionals, software developers and Government Agencies as a key component of SBR.
   “Using SBR-enabled software, businesses will spend less time and effort gathering, analysing and re-keying information and will be provided with an electronic receipt for their transaction in real time,” Mr Tanner said.
   “As software developers progressively update their products to support SBR, businesses will realise the benefits of lodging forms through their software directly to Government Agencies, including the Australian Taxation Office, Australian Securities and Investment Commission and all State and Territory revenue offices.”
   Other SBR partner Agencies to be phased in include the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (from July 2011).
   Mr Tanner said reports that could be lodged via SBR included Business Activity Statements, Tax File Number Declarations, PAYG payment summaries, payroll tax returns and financial statements.
   He said SBR simplified business-to-Government reporting by removing unnecessary or duplicated information from Government forms; using business software to automatically pre-fill forms; and adopting a common reporting language.
   SBR is being run by Treasury and is expected to deliver around $800 million in savings to business each year once it is fully implemented.
   The Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research is providing trust broker services.
   Mr Tanner said adoption of SBR would be voluntary and no legislative changes would occur as a direct result of the initiative.
   SBR is governed by an SBR board chaired by the Secretary to The Treasury and includes the Heads of all Agencies involved in the program and representatives from business and industry.
   Further information on SBR was available at www.sbr.gov.au


20 July, 2010

Plan to share custody
of custody details

A new protocol allowing the Commonwealth to share information about child custody arrangements with State child protection Agencies has been announced by the Minister for Families and Community Services, Jenny Macklin.
   Ms Macklin said the new arrangements would help protect and support children at risk of abuse or neglect.
   She said following the successful inclusion of Centrelink and Medicare in the information sharing protocol, the Child Support Agency had now also been included.
   “The information sharing protocol formalises the process for passing on client details to child protection Agencies, where a child is at serious risk of harm or in the interests of their health or welfare,” Ms Macklin said.
   “With the inclusion of the Child Support Agency,” she said, “information about the custody arrangements for a child, addresses and information about other children in a person’s care, can now be shared.”
   The Minister said the shared information could help State child protection Agencies locate a family, assist in their investigations of abuse and neglect or help them arrange suitable care for a child who had been removed from his or her parents.
   Ms Macklin said information sharing across jurisdictions made it easier for child protection Agencies to remain in contact with vulnerable children if families changed addresses or moved interstate.
   She said by allowing authorities to access a child’s history of doctors’ visits, the changes would also help investigations of cases of serious abuse or medical neglect.
   “The protocol clearly establishes what information can be requested, and under what circumstances it can be provided,” Ms Macklin said.
   “Improved information sharing between Government Agencies is an important tool in child protection.”
   She said since the introduction of the information sharing protocol, child protection Agencies had made numerous requests for information from Centrelink and Medicare.
   She said between 1 January 2009 and 30 June this year, Centrelink received 4,795 requests for protected information, most seeking addresses to locate a family.
   Medicare received 243 requests for Medicare card numbers between 1 November 2009 and 30 June this year.
   Ms Macklin said the Government was considering extending the protocol for use with other Commonwealth Agencies.
   Further information was available from www.fahcsia.gov.au


20 July, 2010

Discussion paper
lobbed at lobbyists

A discussion paper proposing options to reform the lobbying industry has been released for public comment by the Special Minister of State, Senator Joe Ludwig.
   Among the proposals in the discussion paper, Possible reforms to Lobbying Code of Conduct and the Register of Lobbyists, are the creation of an industry association for lobbyists and harmonising State and Federal codes of conduct for the industry.
   Senator Ludwig said the suggested reforms aimed to strengthen and maintain the integrity of the Lobbying Code of Conduct and Register of Lobbyists.
   “The Australian Government has always said it would keep the Code and Register under review, to maintain openness, transparency and accountability in Government,” Senator Ludwig said.
   “The proposals in this paper are intended as a starting point for discussions on the way forward for future reforms.”
   He said the Government would look at amending the Code and Register after considering public feedback on the discussion paper.
   Senator Ludwig said the paper proposed establishing an industry association with membership contingent on ongoing professional education and the Government’s probity requirements.
   He said other recommendations included reducing red tape for lobbyists by harmonising State and Federal lobbyist schemes; introducing administrative efficiencies; and revising existing processes for investigating and dealing with alleged breaches of the Code and Register.
   Senator Ludwig said the discussion paper followed a roundtable meeting of lobbyists held earlier in the year and encouraged debate on the matters it raised, saying it would help improve the Government’s scheme.
   “We need to ensure that contact between lobbyists and representatives from Government are conducted in accordance with public expectations of integrity and honesty,” he said.
   Senator Ludwig said submissions closed on 20 September and the discussion paper could be downloaded from lobbyists.pmc.gov.au


20 July, 2010

Forces to merge
for fusion centre

A new Criminal Intelligence Fusion Centre is to be established within the Australian Crime Commission.
   Announced jointly by the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland and Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor, the new Centre will bring together experts from Agencies such as the Australian Federal Police, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink, Customs and Border Protection and State and Territory law enforcement authorities.
   In a joint statement, Mr McClelland and Mr O’Connor said the $14.5 million initiative would enhance the prevention and detection of organised crime, which is estimated to cost Australia $15 billion each year.
   They said the Fusion Centre would provide in-depth criminal intelligence and analysis.
   Mr McClelland said the Centre would boost the capability of law enforcement Agencies to identify high risk cash flows and patterns of crime as well as the individuals, businesses and corporate structures involved in criminal enterprises in Australia and overseas.
   “The links between organised crime and terrorism are well-established,” Mr McClelland said.
   “In recent years evidence has also emerged that organised criminals have both financed and organised people smuggling operations.”
   Mr O’Connor said the Fusion Centre’s capability reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to fighting organised crime, including people smuggling, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, illegal financial transfers, fraud and identity crimes.
   He said the Centre was part of the first coordinated national security Budget and was a key element of the Government’s Organised Crime Strategic Framework.
   Mr O’Connor said the framework aimed to provide a more integrated and collaborative response to combat organised crime.


20 July, 2010

Centrelink well off
after welfare checks

Over 3.8 million reviews of welfare payments conducted by Centrelink in the 2008-09 financial year uncovered debts worth more than $536 million.
   Minister for Human Services, Chris Bowen said the Centrelink payment reviews led to reductions in 641,000 payments and the cancellation of 110,000, saving taxpayers $87.4 million a fortnight.
   Mr Bowen said the review process had led to over 5,000 cases being referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for consideration of prosecution action.
   “The strong message from these figures is that our review processes are working,” Mr Bowen said.
   He said Centrelink had a robust review and compliance program in place to ensure its clients received the correct payment, with the Agency randomly selecting a sample of recipients from each major payment and checking their details and payment records on a quarterly basis.
   Mr Bowen said during the 2008-09 financial year there were 898,491 reviews of the Age Pension, 874,158 reviews of the Newstart Allowance, 500,089 reviews of the Disability Support Pension, 486,234 reviews of the Parenting Payment Single and 340,932 reviews of the Youth Allowance.
   He said in most cases where debt had occurred, a recipient had failed to inform Centrelink of changes in their circumstances, such as starting a new relationship or taking on additional hours at work.
   “I encourage Centrelink customers to make sure they give Centrelink the correct information when applying for a payment and to update their details when their circumstances change to avoid overpayment,” Mr Bowen said.


20 July, 2010

Green thumbs up for
‘LivingGreener’ site

The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency has updated its ‘LivingGreener’ website, expanding information to include every household energy rebate available from the Commonwealth and all States and Territories.
   The website also provides a wide range of information on energy, water, waste and transport, along with other Government assistance.
   Director of the LivingGreener Team at DCCEE, Bronwyn Pollock said the new information on the website was not available elsewhere and aimed to address public confusion over what rebates and assistance were available from which Departments across different levels of Government.
   Ms Pollock said the website was created following User Centred Design principles and based on public consultations.
   She said during the consultations, members of the public were asked what they wanted to know, what they understood, what confused them, what language they used, and how they searched for and used information.
   She said it was written in clear, non-technical language, was easy to navigate and had been rated by Vision Australia as one of the best Government sites.
   “LivingGreener is attracting positive responses because it is written with the user in mind,” Ms Pollock said.
   “Living Greener is being changed and improved regularly, with an exciting major revamp currently being designed.”
   She said the site had the potential to become the central hub for Government sustainability information and action in Australia.
   “We invite all who hear of it to explore the resources available and return as more content and features become available,” she said.
   The LivingGreener website site could be visited at www.livinggreener.gov.au


20 July, 2010

Search engine stalled
by privacy watchdog

An investigation into alleged breaches of the Privacy Act by internet giant Google has been completed by the Australian Privacy Commissioner, Karen Curtis.
   Ms Curtis said she believed any collection of personal information by Google’s street view cars would have breached the Australian Privacy Act.
   “Collecting personal information in these circumstances is a very serious matter,” Ms Curtis said.
   “Australians should reasonably expect that private communications remain private.”
   She said Google admitted it had unknowingly recorded ‘payload’ data from unsecured wireless networks via its street view cars as they travelled around Australia over the past four years.
   Payload data is information sent over the WiFi network.
   Ms Curtis said in response to her investigation, Google had provided a written assurance that it would publish an apology on its official Australian blog and would conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) on any new Street View data collection activities in Australia that included personal information.
   Ms Curtis said Google would provide a copy of its PIAs to her office and had committed to regularly consulting with the Privacy Commissioner about personal data collection activities arising from product launches in Australia.
   “These steps will ensure Google’s future products have privacy protections built in rather than bolted on,” she said.
   “Google’s undertakings will last for three years. These undertakings will be reviewed following any reforms to the Privacy Act.”
   The Privacy Commissioner said under the current Privacy Act, she was unable to impose sanctions on organisations when she had initiated the investigation.
   She said her role was to work with the organisation to ensure ongoing compliance and best privacy practice.
   She said this issue was identified by the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into Australian privacy laws, which recommended the enforcement regime be strengthened.
   “My Office supports these recommendations, and the Australian Government has announced its intention to adopt them,” she said.
   Ms Curtis said as other privacy authorities and law enforcement Agencies could still be investigating the collection of WiFi payload data by Google, she would not comment on the matter in more detail.
   She thanked her international counterparts in New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong, who worked with her Office in examining the matter and acknowledged Google’s cooperation.
   Ms Curtis said a guide to help organisations undertake PIAs was available at www.privacy.gov.au


20 July, 2010

Compensation study
pays dividends

A study of workers’ compensation claims by Safe Work Australia has revealed that people in the health and community services sector are the most stressed, with those in education not far behind.
   Chair of Safe Work Australia, Tom Phillips said the data showed around 7,000 claims were made each year for mental stress, each costing as much as three times more than other claims because of processing times.
   “It is concerning to find that there are many Australian workers suffering from mental stress, which can have a very significant impact on people’s ability to function at work and at home,” Mr Phillips said.
   He said the study found health and community workers such as law enforcement officers, nurses and ambulance personnel were the most stressed, along with male train and bus drivers.
   Mr Phillips said mental stress claims cost an average of $15,500 compared to the $5,400 average for other claims and entailed more time off work – around 11 weeks compared to an average of 4 weeks for other claims.
   He said Safe Work Australia supported Lifeline’s ‘Stress Down Day’ which aims to raise awareness of stress in the workplace and to focus on ways to reduce it.
   Chief Executive of Lifeline, Dawn O’Neil said her organisation was proud to be working with Safe Work Australia to improve the community’s awareness of mental stress.
   “At the end of the day, Australians are too stressed and we are not managing our stress well enough,” Ms O’Neil said.
   “That’s why we are bringing these facts into the light today, we want people to better manage their stress.”  
   Ms O’Neil encouraged people to wear their slippers, dress up or dress down for Stress Down Day.
   Mr Phillips said Stress Down Day – to be held on 23 July – was a great opportunity for Australian workers and employers to assess their current working environments to help recognise when a colleague needed support.
   Further information on Stress Down Day was available from www.stressdown.org.au


20 July, 2010

Audit has pop at
family centres

An audit of the 65 Family Relationship Centres set up between 2006 and 2008 to provide families with parenting information and support has made recommendations aimed at improving performance monitoring and record-keeping.
   The Auditor-General, Ian McPhee said his audit report, Implementation of the Family Relationship Centres Initiative, explored the effectiveness of the two Departments involved in setting up and running the Family Relationship Centres (FRCs).
   Mr McPhee said the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) was responsible for policy and funding while the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) looked after the administration and management of the Centres’ day-to-day operations and negotiated funding with the FRC non-profit service providers.
   Mr McPhee said the overall success of the FRCs was difficult to establish due to the absence of a common approach to data storage and collection, data integrity issues and a lack of key performance indicators.
   The Auditor-General said the FRCs had commenced operations within expected timeframes and within budget.
   “This achievement by both the Departments and the providers was particularly significant given the FRCs were a new initiative providing national coverage,” he said.
   “The Departments effectively assisted the FRC providers to meet the often tight establishment deadlines.”  
   However, the Auditor-General said while initiation was successful, there were some “notable gaps” in the selection, implementation, ongoing administration and performance monitoring phases.
   “These gaps, particularly in the performance monitoring component, have limited the ability to assess the success, or otherwise, of the FRC network in achieving its objectives and delivering a value-for-money outcome,” Mr McPhee said.
   He said improved documentation and greater transparency around recommendations and decisions were needed when deciding on locations for the centres.
   Mr McPhee said the effectiveness of the risk management register developed by AGD to identify key risks and mitigation strategies was limited, as was FaHCSIA’s performance framework.
   The Auditor-General said a new performance framework issued by FaHCSIA in 2009 was a “positive development” towards assessing the performance of individual FRCs.  
   He recommended FaHCSIA undertake an assessment of the quality and integrity of cost and client data provided by FRCs; adopt a common data collection and storage approach; develop a complaints management system; and improve the effectiveness of its performance framework.
   The report was available for download from www.anao.gov.au and was compiled by an audit team of Alex Wilkinson, Isabelle Favre, Kate Cummins and Nathan Williamson.


20 July, 2010

Defence partners to
get shot at education

A new education program for partners of Australian Defence Force personnel has been developed through a partnership between Defence and Open Universities Australia.
   The Partner Education and Employment Program (PEEP) was launched by the Minister for Defence Personnel, Alan Griffin last week.
   Mr Griffin said the program aimed to minimise the difficulties frequent moves and disruptions posed to partners of ADF members as far as employment and education went.
   He said PEEP would offer eligible partners access to funding of up to $12,000 over 10 years for undergraduate and postgraduate units and programs.
   “Distance learning through Open Universities Australia will permit partners of Australian Defence Force members to continue their education regardless of where in the world they are posted to,” Mr Griffin said.
   “It will also provide an opportunity for a partner to study during postings to areas where it may be difficult to find employment.”
   Initiatives under PEEP include personalised resume preparation, the cost of education courses, professional registration expense payments, childcare reimbursements and textbooks.
   Mr Griffin said while only ADF partners were eligible to apply for the funding, Open Universities Australia had also agreed to provide an additional level of support to ADF members and their children as well as Defence’s APS employees and their families.
   He said this support included a priority corporate support team, financial support for the purchase of text books and tutorial support.
   “Enhancing study and employment prospects is an important part of supporting Australian Defence Force members and their families,” the Minister said.
   Funding is capped at $6,000 per posting and further information could be obtained from www.defence.gov.au


20 July, 2010

Builders hammer out
disability agreement

An agreement between leaders in the housing and disability sectors to establish new accessibility targets for newly-built homes has been welcomed by the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, Bill Shorten.
   Mr Shorten said the target that all new homes be built to disability-friendly Liveable Housing Design standards by 2020 was an outcome of last year’s National Dialogue on Universal Design, which aimed to improve the availability of liveable housing and get industry and disability groups working together to promote it.
   Mr Shorten said Australia’s ageing population meant it would become increasingly important to ensure houses were easier to live in and could be adapted more cheaply.
   “Liveable Housing Design is housing which meet the needs of all people, including people with disability and senior Australians,” he said.
   “Families with young children, anyone who suffers a temporary injury, or has a friend with disability to stay the night, will also benefit from Liveable Design.”
   Mr Shorten said a few simple design features such as a reinforced bathroom walls, a flat entry to the house and wide corridors and doorways could make a home suitable for an older person or a person with a disability.
   “A Liveable house can give a person with disability a life of independence and dignity, and improve their chance of employment and involvement with the community,” he said.
   Mr Shorten said Liveable Design aimed to build houses that could be adapted to meet the changing needs of residents over their lifetime.
   The voluntary Liveable Housing Design guidelines consist of three levels - Silver, Gold and Platinum - and outline the key features required to meet each standard.
   Mr Shorten said industry had agreed to a set of voluntary guidelines for housing, which would be used to inform consumers and the industry about Universal Design and to increase its application.
   He said the Government would invest $1 million over four years to drive a partnership with leaders of the construction and property sectors to promote Liveable Housing.
   While the standards are voluntary, key industry groups including the Property Council, Master Builders Australia and the Housing Industry Association have supported them and committed to the 2020 target.
   The guidelines were available from www.fahcsia.gov.au


20 July, 2010

Research scientists
to study together

A new partnership between researchers in the field of accelerator science has been announced by the Minister for Innovation, Senator Kim Carr.
   Senator Carr said the Australian Collaboration for Accelerator Science (ACAS) would bring together the country’s best researchers from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), the Australian Synchrotron, the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University.
   Senator Carr said ACAS would improve opportunities for global engagement and allow Australian researchers to operate at the forefront of their scientific field.
   “Collaboration is the engine of innovation,” Senator Carr said, “It fosters cutting-edge research and effective knowledge-sharing and pushes the boundaries of science.”
   “By bringing together our best minds, the ACAS will increase our participation in visionary international projects, such as the world’s largest physics project, the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).”
   The Senator said accelerator science used advanced technology to tackle a range of challenges, from the birth of the universe to finding new treatments for cancer.
   He said over the past four years, the Government had invested $85 million in the four ACAS partners for accelerator science infrastructure, research and innovation.
   Senator Carr said ACAS would also establish training programs and a specialised accelerator school for graduate students to nurture the next generation of scientists, with the first school to take place this December.


20 July, 2010

Thin blue line
thicker in NT

Eight new community engagement police officers are to be assigned to remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory following an injection of funds by the Commonwealth.
   The additional $3.4 million in funding was announced jointly by the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, the Minister for Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin and Northern Territory Chief Minister, Paul Henderson.
   The eight police officers are to focus on community engagement in an effort to build public trust and confidence in the justice system and to strengthen local safety and security.
   Mr McClelland said the officers would audit and map criminal activity, identify factors for offending and responses needed to address crime and liaise with Agencies to follow up on service provision.
   He said the increased police presence would allow officers to spend more time encouraging locals to report violence and substance abuse.
   Mr McClelland said he hoped the measure would also improve relations between Indigenous communities and the police and develop a shared understanding of priority justice and safety issues.  
   Ms Macklin said funding for the eight new officers was part of the ‘Closing the Gap’ strategy to reduce Indigenous disadvantage.
   The announcement followed a commitment by Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers at last year’s Indigenous Justice Roundtable to improve policing, strengthen the co-ordination of service delivery and better support Indigenous victims of crime.
   Mr McClelland, Ms Macklin and Mr Henderson said the Federal and Northern Territory Governments would consult with relevant communities to determine priority areas for the deployment of the additional police officers.


20 July, 2010
Transfer register supported
The introduction of a Mobility Register for staff interested in changing jobs at the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations will not lead to any involuntary redundancies, according to the Community and Public Sector Union.
   On 8 July DEEWR announced the register for ongoing staff who need a transfer at level.
   The CPSU said staff on the register would be considered first for all temporary and permanent positions that arise, would not be made excess but would continue to work and receive training and support.

Uniform tax refund
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard has announced a tax refund for school uniforms.
   Under the expansion of the Education Tax Refund scheme, families will receive up to $779 per child each year to help with the costs of sending their kids to school.
   Ms Gillard said about 2.1 million children would be eligible for the refund.

New honour at Defence
The Defence Honours and Awards Tribunal has recommended that service in an online Tactical Assault Group (TAG) should be recognised by the award of the Australian Service Medal.
   The recommendation, arising from the Tribunal’s Inquiry into Recognition of Australian Defence Force Service for Special Air Service Counter Terrorist and Special Recovery Duties will make the medal available with a new clasp, to be entitled Clasp ‘CT/SR’.
   To be eligible for a medal, recipients must have served in the online TAG for a minimum of 60 days and been a member of the TAG and a specialist member of the Australian Defence Force. Further information is available from www.defence-honours-tribunal.gov.au

Literacy shortlists revealed
The four shortlists for the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards have been announced.
   Minister for the Arts, Peter Garrett said 29 books had earned their place on this year’s shortlist, with winners of each of the four categories (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Young Adult Fiction and Children’s Fiction) taking home a $100,000 prize.
   The shortlists could be accessed at www.arts.gov.au

F-111 call
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has encouraged F-111 maintenance workers involved in fuel tank maintenance between 1973 and 2000 to come forward as they could be eligible for compensation and health care.
   In its 2010-2011 Budget the Government announced $55 million in funding over four years to ensure more F-111 fuel tank maintenance workers, including pick and patch workers and others, had easier access to compensation and health care for conditions relating to their service.
   Further information was available by phoning 1800 555 323 or visiting f111.dva.gov.au

Defence signs Fujitsu
The Department of Defence has entered into a new contract with IT product and services giant, Fujitsu.
   The three-year contract for routine operational services will cost approximately $151.3 million.  
   Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Support, Dr Mike Kelly said Defence aimed to have fewer suppliers of ICT services within a few years.

Art code launched
Applications have opened for the Indigenous Australian Art Commercial Code of Conduct.
   Minister for the Arts, Peter Garrett said art centres, galleries and art dealers could show their commitment to fair and honest trading with Indigenous artists by signing up to the Code.
   Mr Garrett said the voluntary code specified a set of minimum standards, rights and responsibilities for commercial dealings with Indigenous artists.
   Application forms and more information on the Code were available from www.indigenousartcode.org

Veterans’ health week
War veterans and their families are being encouraged to take part in Veterans’ HealthWeek this week, with the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin saying the event focused on good nutrition, health and wellbeing.
   “Veterans’ Health Week is an opportunity for veterans to get involved in some entertaining and educational activities, reflect on their diet choices and learn how to make some positive changes that will improve their health and fitness in the long term,” Mr Griffin said.
   Visit www.dva.gov.au or contact 133 254 for information on activities.


13 July, 2010

Time limits squeezed
in deadline review

The time limit for lodging applications to review workplace decisions in the Australian Public Service has been shortened from 12 months to 120 days.
   Merit Protection Commissioner Annwyn Godwin announced the change in an APSC Circular saying the reduced timeframe was designed to ensure reviews were conducted “quickly, fairly and impartially” and would encourage a productive and harmonious workplace.
   Ms Godwin said the Public Service Regulations had been amended following consultation with Agency heads and unions.
   In Circular 2010/3: Changes to timeframes for lodging Review of Actions, she said APS employees were entitled to a review of any action relating to their employment, but must ensure they lodged their application within the required timeframe.
   “The changed arrangements will impact all non-SES employees who seek a review of an employment action that occurs on or after 2 August 2010,” Ms Godwin said.
   She said the changes would not affect actions occurring before 2 August and would not apply to promotion reviews.
   She said the changes meant the staff member must apply for the review within 120 days unless there were “exceptional circumstances.”
   Ms Godwin said employees must apply first to the relevant Agency Head for a primary review for the majority of employment-related decisions and actions.
   “For a primary review involving a breach of the APS Code of Conduct the timeframe will be 60 days from either the determination of the breach or from the imposition of the sanction,” she said.
   She said if an APS employee was dissatisfied with the outcome of the Agency’s review or was advised by the Agency the matter was not reviewable, she or he could apply to the Merit Protection Commissioner for a secondary review.
   “The timeframe for an application for secondary review to be lodged with the Merit Protection Commissioner will be 60 days,” she said.
   Ms Godwin said the 120 day timeframe for primary review was longer than the secondary review to enable informal dispute settlement methods to be considered and managed.
   “Agencies will need to ensure that their guidance material on review of actions is updated to reflect the new timeframes,” she said.
   The APSC Circular could be downloaded from www.apsc.gov.au and further information was available by phoning the Merit Protection Commissioner’s Helpline on (02) 6202 3849.


13 July, 2010

Greens cash in on
pension displeasure

The Greens political party has thrown its weight behind moves to improve the pension indexation arrangements for retired staff of the Australian Public Service and the Defence Forces.
   Senate candidate for the Greens in the ACT, Lin Hatfield Dodds has committed the party to adopting the indexation proposals put forward by the Superannuated Commonwealth Officers Association and the Defence Force Welfare Association.
   Ms Hatfield Dodds said the Greens would link the superannuation pensions to indexation, not the Consumer Price Index, bringing PS pensions into line with the Aged Pension.
   “Commonwealth and Defence Force retirees have devoted their lives to public service,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.
   “Fairer indexation of superannuation pensions will also mean less reliance on the Aged Pension. That’s better for the Budget’s bottom line in the long run.”
   Ms Hatfield Dodds said although the Superannuated Commonwealth Officers Association (SCOA) and the Defence Force Welfare Association had been working on this issue for years, the current and previous Governments had failed to act on the issue.
   She said under the current superannuation indexation system, Public Servant superannuation pensions were indexed to CPI rather than a measurement of wages.
   Ms Hatfield Dodds said the Greens agreed with SCOA and the Defence Force Welfare Association when they said CPI was not the most appropriate way to index pensions.
   She said social security pensions such as the Age Pension and Veterans Pension were linked to the Male Total Average Weekly Earnings, which had grown at a faster rate than CPI in recent years.
   The Greens said a number of Senate inquiries over the past 10 years had found the CPI did not adequately reflect the actual increases in the cost of living for superannuants.
   The Government decided against changing the indexation measure following a review of the current system.


13 July, 2010

ASIC’s stock rises
with share market

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission is to take over responsibility for Australian stock exchanges from 1 August.
   The date was announced by the Minister for Financial Services and Corporate Law, Chris Bowen.
   Mr Bowen said the decision to transfer market supervision responsibilities from market operators, such as the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), to ASIC during the third quarter of 2010 had been announced last year.
   “I have previously said that I would only provide for the transfer of supervision to take place once I was completely satisfied that all the necessary preparations have been made,” Mr Bowen said.
   “I am pleased to say I have spoken with industry bodies and market participants and they have expressed to me their broad support for ASIC’s readiness to take on the new role on 1 August 2010.”
   Making the announcement at the formal opening of ASIC’s new Sydney office on Market Street, Mr Bowen said ASIC had worked closely with industry to prepare for the change.
   He said as a result of these efforts, particularly ASIC’s close engagement with the ASX and key stakeholders, Australia’s financial market was well-prepared for the handover.
   Mr Bowen also announced his intention to consent to ASIC’s market integrity rules and to the consequential changes to the operating rules of the ASX Group, providing certainty to the market.
   “The market integrity rules and the new operating rule books for the ASX and Sydney Futures Exchange will together form the new rules for the ASX and SFE markets from 1 August,” He said.
   Mr Bowen said formal approval would be granted once the Corporations Amendment (Financial Market Supervision) Act 2010 commenced on 1 August.


13 July, 2010

Business hotline does
roaring trade

A telephone hotline to offer support to small businesses has passed the 15,000 call milestone.
   Minister for Small Business, Dr Craig Emerson said this meant the Small Business Support Line had exceeded expectations of how popular it would be with business owners.   “It’s fantastic that business owners are utilising this service in such large numbers,” Dr Emerson said, “and getting the answers they need.
   “It’s an initiative we put in place anticipating it would be popular – but the fact that we now have more than 400 calls a week shows just how great the demand is for such a service.”
   Dr Emerson said 89 per cent of queries were resolved by Support Line staff, with the remaining 11 per cent referred to third parties such as the Australian Taxation Office.
   He said almost 60 per cent of callers were starting a new business, something that could be a daunting experience but was made easier with the assistance provided by the Support Line.
   “The fact that so many people are having a go at starting a business is encouraging in the aftermath of the global recession,” Dr Emerson said.
   “Through the links the Support Line has with Government agencies, both State and Federal, small business owners now have a simple way to get the information they need.”  
   He said the Government recognised many small businesses were still struggling with low margins on their sales, and would “continue to support them.”
   The Small Business Support Line could be contacted on 1800 777 275 from Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm.


13 July, 2010

Super result for
super watchdog

The Cooper Review of Australia’s Superannuation System has recommended the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority be given greater powers to oversee and promote the efficiency and transparency of the national superannuation system.
   The Review into the Governance, Efficiency, Structure and Operation of Australia’s Superannuation System, proposes APRA be given the power to make standards in superannuation and highlights concerns with superannuation regulation.
   It says many of the 450 submissions it received pointed to issues that arose because APRA, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Tax Office and AUSTRAC were all playing a role in superannuation regulation.
   “A common example was regulatory overlap in reporting obligations to multiple regulators in relation to identity fraud, regulatory breaches, changes in directors, officers and details, and audited accounts,” the review says.
   “Another example was duplication and significant costs in time and administration for trustees arising from the collection of similar data from the same entity by different Agencies.”
   The review recommends APRA be given an “increased mandate” to oversee the superannuation system.
   “To this end, APRA would be given a standards‐making power in superannuation as a tool for driving transparency and comparability of member outcomes,” it says.
   According to the review, the Australian financial services regulatory regime currently does not assess the suitability of products for retail investors which can result in members choosing risky investments.
   It recommends that a trustee be required to carry out appropriate due diligence and monitoring of the investment options they offer.
   “The details of this new duty would be fleshed out in standards to be developed by APRA in consultation with the industry,” the review says.
   The review recommends improved cooperation between ASIC and APRA; that the act governing superannuation, Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act, be re-structured; and the Productivity Commission review the effectiveness of the report’s recommendations after five years.
   It also suggests that the ATO take sole regulatory responsibility for superannuation contributions and undertake an enhanced role in creating a more efficient back office for superannuation.
   Minister for Financial Services, Superannuation and Corporate Law, Chris Bowen welcomed the report and said the Government would consider its recommendations before providing a response.
   The Report was commissioned in May 2009, and was undertaken by a panel chaired by Jeremy Cooper.
   Mr Bowen said the Cooper Review was the third stage of reforms to superannuation and followed a financial advice reform package and the recently released Stronger & Fairer Superannuation reforms.
   Copies of the report were available from www.supersystemreview.gov.au


13 July, 2010

Internet filter
blocked

Planned moves to introduce an internet filter have been put on hold for a year to allow a more detailed review of the content the filter would block.
   The delay was announced by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy who said the State and Federal Governments needed to take another look at what would be blocked in the Refused Classification (RC) category.
   Mr Conroy announced a number of other modifications to the filtering policy including an annual review of blacklisted content by an independent expert.
   He said clear avenues for appealing against classification decisions would be included, as would a policy that referred all content considered for blacklisting due to public complaints be the existing Classification Board.
   Mr Conroy said anyone affected by blocked content could appeal against the decision and that a standard page block notification would be used to inform users that the site they were trying to access was blocked.
   “The public needs to have confidence that the URLs on the list, and the process by which they get there, is independent, rigorous, free from interference or influence and enables content and site owners access to appropriate review mechanisms,” he said.
   Mr Conroy said some people had expressed concern about whether the range of material included in the RC category correctly reflected current community standards.
   “In order to address these concerns, the Government will recommend a review of the RC classification to State and Territory Ministers, be conducted at the earliest opportunity,” he said.
   Mr Conroy said major internet service providers (ISPs) such as Telstra, Optus and Primus would voluntarily block a list of sites which specifically serve child abuse and pornography content (at the ISP level), until the mandatory filter is implemented.
   He said the list would be compiled and maintained by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.


13 July, 2010

PM&C painters
in big picture

The artistic skills of staff from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the National Archives and Old Parliament House will be on show in Canberra this week with the top five entries in a recent competition on display at the national Archives.
   Staff from the three agencies were invited to enter the PM&C’s art show which included three categories: photography; painting or drawing; and people’s choice.
   More than 50 entries were received in various media including oils, charcoal, pencil and photography and included landscapes, portraits and abstract art work.
   The winner of the photographic category was Hilary Rowell from the Archives for her work Misty Morning, while second place went to Nick Morgan from PM&C for The Search.
   Jane Ellis, also from the Archives won first place in the mixed medium painting/drawing category for Ribbon Gum 2 and Debbie Woods from PM&C took out second place for her work Room for One More.
   The People’s Choice award went to Annette Marie from the Archives for Canberra Winter Sky.
   The winning entries will be on show at the National Archives, Queen Victoria Terrace showrooms until Friday 16 July.


13 July, 2010

Workers cool after
asbestos training

Workers trained in health and safety issues are more likely to understand the dangers of asbestos according to a report issued by Safe Work Australia.
   Following up a 2009 study Asbestos Exposure and Compliance Study of Construction and Maintenance Workers the findings of which were published in February, SafeWork Australia said the focus had been on four trades - electricians, carpenters, plumbers and painters.
   The follow up report reviewed the literature on worker safety behaviour and the factors that influenced their understanding of the health risks of asbestos exposure.
   According to the Chair of Safe Work Australia, Tom Phillips, it also examined the factors that influenced compliance with safe work practices when working with asbestos.
   “This report provides reliable information that can influence the safety behaviour of workers,” Mr Phillips said, “however further research is needed to identify additional behavioural factors that may affect the safety of workers.
   “It is vital for the safety of all Australians to ensure access to the most current and reliable information to protect workers from exposure to workplace hazards including asbestos.”
   He said the report found carpenters were more likely to report an understanding of the risks of asbestos than painters and that workers who had completed asbestos health and safety training were more likely to report an understanding of the risks of exposure to asbestos than those without such training.
   Mr Phillips said workers who reported receiving information on risks of exposure to asbestos from trade training, trade associations or trade unions were more likely to report having a greater understanding of the risks compared to workers who received information from the media.
   He said according to the report, a person’s age and whether they worked alone or with others did not significantly influence their understanding of the risks of asbestos.
The Asbestos Exposure and Compliance Study of Construction and Maintenance Workers: Follow-up Report was available at www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au


13 July, 2010

Discussion paper
to set fax right

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has released a discussion paper on the development of a national standard for marketing faxes.
   Chairman of ACMA, Chris Chapman said a national standard for the fax marketing industry would form an important part of the Do Not Call Register scheme, which was recently expanded to allow fax numbers to be listed.
   “The development of a national fax marketing industry standard is intended to provide the community with greater certainty regarding the minimum level of behaviour they can expect from fax marketers,” Mr Chapman said.
   “It is also intended to encourage best practice in fax marketing.”
   He said the discussion paper, Developing an Industry Standard for the Fax
Marketing Industry, covered minimum standards of conduct for the industry.
   He said it would include standards such as the days and times marketing faxes could be sent and the kind of information marketers could be obliged to divulge about themselves and the organisations they represented.
   He urged consumers and industry stakeholders to comment on the discussion paper.
   Mr Chapman said ACMA would hold information forums for members of the fax marketing industry in Queensland, NSW and Victoria this month.
   The discussion paper was available at www.acma.gov.au and submissions close on 9 August.
   Further information on the forums was available by contacting Mellanie Shaylor on (03) 9663 6867.


13 July, 2010

Law reformers to
uncover ‘discovery’

The Australian Law Reform Commission is to conduct an inquiry into the ‘discovery’ of documents to be used in Federal Court cases.
   The ‘discovery’ of documents relates to the legal right of one party in a Court case to be given access to documents held by the opposing party.
   President of the ALRC, Professor Rosalind Croucher said the Commission would look at options to improve the operation and effectiveness of the discovery of documents.
   “We are being asked to consider alternatives to discovery, the role of the Court in managing discovery, as well as the implications of the cost of discovery on the conduct of litigation, amongst other matters,” Professor Croucher said.
   “The ALRC will be undertaking consultations with key stakeholders throughout the inquiry and will set up an e-newsletter for all those interested in both contributing to the Inquiry as well as those wanting to be kept informed of the ALRC’s progress.”
   Under the Terms of Reference, the ALRC will look at the law, practice and management of the discovery of documents in litigation; the cost and time needed for discovery of documents; the effectiveness of different types of discovery orders; identifying and disclosing critical documents as early as possible; and different costs orders.
   The Terms of Reference also cover the overuse of discovery, ensuring key documents are identified as early as possible and the impacts of technology.
   The inquiry is a result of a 2009 report by the Access to Justice Taskforce, A Strategic Framework for Access to Justice in the Federal Civil Justice System, which examined access to civil justice in the Federal system.
   The report identified the high and often disproportionate cost of discovery as a problem.
   Professor Croucher said the ALRC planned to release a consultation paper for the inquiry in October and would be calling for submissions from stakeholders at that stage.
   She said the ALRC had launched a Discovery Blog to promote discussion on discovery at talk.alrc.gov.au
   The report is due to be provided to the Attorney-General by 31 March 2011.
   To receive a copy of the e-newsletter or to view the terms of reference, visit www.alrc.gov.au


13 July, 2010

Court to open and
shut its own cases

A program that brings together a range of professionals to manage cases in the family law system is to be trialled in the Dandenong Registry of the Federal Magistrates Court.
   Attorney-General, Robert McClelland said the trial, known as the ‘Dandenong Project’, aimed to improve collaboration in the family law system.
   Mr McClelland said as part of the pilot program, new case management powers would be established for the Court to actively manage all matters filed at Dandenong Registry.
   “To get the help they need separating families often need both legal and non legal advice and support,” he said.
   “By bringing together a range of professionals, the Project will ensure that people get the advice and support they require.”
   Mr McClelland said a ‘triage’ process would be put in place to establish the issues in a dispute and whether the matter was suitable for dispute resolution.
   He said the Dandenong Project also aimed to help self-represented litigants by working closely with community legal assistance providers to ensure sufficient information and support was provided.
   The Federal Magistrates Court and the Victorian Family Law Pathways Network will participate in the Project, with assistance from Victoria Legal Aid, the Peninsula Community Centre, local providers of family relationship services and students from the Monash University Family Law Assistance program.
   Mr McClelland said the organisations would provide information, referrals and links to a broad range of community services to help families.
   Chief Federal Magistrate, John Pascoe said the Court had worked closely with local legal practitioners and community Agencies to develop the Project.
   “We are looking forward to implementing the initiatives,” Mr Pascoe said.
   Mr McClelland said the pilot program would run until the end of December this year, after which the possibility of it being rolled-out in other locations would be examined.


13 July, 2010

Warning injected
into PBS drugs

Travellers heading overseas have been reminded to take care when packing drugs subject to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) following a customs crackdown on exporting taxpayer-subsidised medication.
   Both the Minister for Human Services, Chris Bowen and Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O’Connor issued the reminder after more than 300 pills were confiscated in a recent exercise.
   “This is a timely reminder for travellers to follow the rules about travelling with PBS drugs, which can only be taken overseas for personal use by you or someone travelling with you,” Mr Bowen said.
   “Illegally exporting PBS drugs misuses taxpayer dollars and undermines the integrity of the PBS system, which protects us all from high pharmaceutical costs.”
   Mr O’Connor said Medicare Australia administered the PBS and worked closely with Customs and Border Protection in regular operations targeting illegal PBS drug exports.
   “Customs and Border Protection officers are always on the lookout for the illegal export of PBS medicine, in both intensive operations and everyday checks,” Mr O’Connor said.
   “When our officers detect large quantities of medicine, they ask passengers to provide proof that it is for personal use, such as a prescription or letter from a doctor.”
   The Ministers said people who intentionally sent PBS drugs overseas faced fines of up to $5,000 and two years in prison.
   For more information on the rules for travelling with PBS medicine, contact 1800 500 147 or visit www.medicareaustralia.gov.au


13 July, 2010

New paper wraps up
consumer reforms

A green paper on the second phase of national consumer credit reforms has been released by the Minister for Financial Services and Corporate Law, Chris Bowen.
   Mr Bowen said the paper, National Credit Reform - Enhancing confidence and fairness in Australia’s credit law, would build on the new National Consumer Credit Code which commenced on 1 July this year.
   “The Government has delivered Phase One of the consumer credit reforms by bringing together the different State and Territory legislation on financial services into a single, standard, National Consumer Credit Law,” Mr Bowen said.
   “This Green Paper outlines the options for enhancing the new National Consumer Credit Law in particular areas such as credit cards, small business credit, reverse mortgages, and fringe or payday lending.”
   He said while Phase One had been delivered successfully, there was more work to do to strengthen credit protections for consumers.
   Mr Bowen said the Green Paper featured a coherent and comprehensive package of issues and reform proposals that the Council of Australian Governments was considering as part of Phase Two of the agenda.
   He said projects to be considered for the phase included regulation of the provision of credit to small business, regulation of credit for investment loans other than margin loans, and a review of the regulation of credit advertising directed at vulnerable consumers.
   Mr Bowen said State approaches to interest rate caps and other mechanisms would also be considered to address predatory or fringe lending, and a review of credit licensing requirements for debt collectors could be undertaken.
   The Green Paper was developed through consultation with industry and consumer groups.
   Legislation is expected to be in place for some projects by mid‑next year while those requiring more consultation are expected to be legalised by mid‑2012.
   The Green Paper could be downloaded from www.treasury.gov.au and submissions close on 6 August.


13 July, 2010

Tax Office promises
taxing time ahead

The Australian Taxation Office has released its compliance program for the coming year and is to concentrate on refund fraud, the cash economy, wealthy Australians, employer obligations and tax secrecy havens.
   Tax Commissioner, Michael D’Ascenzo said the program outlined the ATO’s top priorities for the year ahead.
   “This year, we will data match more than 500 million transactions to ensure taxpayers are declaring their income, including from bank accounts, investments, overseas transfers and property transactions,” Mr D’Ascenzo said.
   “We have new risk filters and upgraded technology in place to better detect incorrect or fraudulent refund claims this year.”
   He said the ATO would crack down on businesses using cash transactions to hide income and evade tax, use benchmarks for over100 industries and review or audit the activities of more than 26,000 micro businesses.
   “We will also focus heavily on employers – ensuring they lodge their business activity statements on time, meet their pay as you go withholding obligations and make correct super payments to employees,” the Commissioner said.
   Mr D’Ascenzo said the ATO expected to take action on more than 17,500 employee complaints about unpaid super and would undertake 800 compliance reviews of business in industries showing a pattern of non-compliance.
   He said the ATO would continue to focus on highly wealthy individuals, with more than 360 risk reviews of people who control $30 million or more in net wealth.
   “We will maintain a strong focus on working with international revenue authorities and domestic law enforcement to stop the abusive use of tax secrecy havens,” Mr D’Ascenzo said.
   He said the compliance program had been guided by the ATO’s new strategic statement, which focused on encouraging and supporting taxpayers to do the right thing.
   “We realise some businesses are still experiencing financial hardship as a result of the economic downturn and we will extend the measures to assist small businesses announced last year,” the Commissioner said.
   “Businesses having difficulty paying their tax debts should contact us early to work out how we can help them, for example with flexible payment arrangements or interest-free payment deferrals.”


13 July, 2010

Medals pinned down
in display upgrade

The Australian War Memorial in Canberra has announced that its Hall of Valour is to be redeveloped.
   The Hall holds the world’s largest collection of Victoria Cross medals.
   Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, Alan Griffin said the Hall of Valour project was the latest in the decade-long redevelopment of the AWM’s galleries.
   “It has been 30 years since the original Hall of Valour gallery was opened, and it was important that the gallery be dignified, uplifting and an engaging space for visitors to learn about the Victoria Cross and the deeds of those who had been awarded it,” Mr Griffin said.
   Architect Richard Johnson has designed the new Hall which the Director of the AWM, Steve Gower said delighted the War Memorial’s Council and management. Major General Gower said the new design would use the same sandstone and granite already in the fabric of the building.
   “The Victoria Cross is the highest form of recognition that can be bestowed on a Service person for valour,” Major General Gower said.
   “The entire nation can draw pride and inspiration from the deeds of these men.”
   He said upon completion, the gallery would feature the 63 VC medals held by the Memorial and would tell the individual stories of all 97 Australians who have been recipients of the VC.
   Major General Gower said George Cross recipients, recognised for valour while not in contact with the enemy, would also be featured.
   He said the $4.5 million project would be funded from reserves.
   The Hall of Valour gallery will close temporarily, but the Memorial will remain open during the redevelopment, which is due to be completed by December this year.
   The AWM also announced that its touring exhibition - This company of brave men; the Gallipoli VCs – would be extended to include a venue in Tasmania.


13 July, 2010

Legal survey to
be by the book

A public survey to gather community opinions on the creation of a national legal profession has been welcomed by the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland.
   Mr McClelland said the survey would provide a clear and accessible way for consumers to contribute to the consultation process.
   He said the aim of the National Legal Profession Reform Project was not only to create a single national market for legal services, but to simplify and increase the effectiveness of regulation of the legal profession.
   Developed by an independent consultant engaged by the National Legal Profession Reform Taskforce, the survey is part of a consumer consultation process which includes consumer panels and workshops, telephone interviews and submissions.
   “We are interested in views on the draft legislation, including ideas on how the reforms might better enhance consumer protection,” Mr McClelland said.
   The Attorney-General said survey responses would be used to form part of a consumer report to the Taskforce.
   He said responses would be confidential and people would not be required to provide their name or other personal information.
   “I encourage everyone with an interest in Australia’s legal profession to complete the survey and to make submissions to the Taskforce, as both will form an invaluable part of the reform process,” Mr McClelland said.
   The survey was available at www.ag.gov.au as was further information on the National Legal Profession Reform Project.


13 July, 2010
Loans scheme defaults
 The Green Loans scheme is to be replaced after three reviews found a lack of compliance with Government regulations on procurement, an absence of effective program supervision and poor financial controls.
   Under the scheme, householders were offered free energy efficiency audits by registered assessors, $50 vouchers to spend on green products and access to interest-free loans to make improvements on their homes.
   The program is to be replaced with a grants scheme for accredited assessors and community groups who help low income earners improve their energy efficiency.

Gear upgrade for Defence
The Department of Defence has upgraded its 90,000 desktop PCs from version 6 to version 7 of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) web browser.
  
The Department is also planning to upgrade its overseas deployed restricted desktops to IE7 by 2010.
   IE7 is a more modern browser than IE6, introducing new features such as tabbed browsing, an anti-phishing filter and enhanced support for web standards.

New website for GG
The Office of the Governor-General has updated its website to make it easier to navigate and find information about the Governor-General’s program.
   The website, www.gg.gov.au, reports around 1.2 million hits a month and includes photos of events attended by the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, speeches and details of the Honours and Awards system.
   The new website includes a strong emphasis on visual material such as photos and videos in a bid to appeal to younger visitors.

Witynski first SC
The Commonwealth has appointed its first Senior Counsel in Deputy Chief General Council of the Australian Government Solicitor, George Witynski.
   Attorney-General, Robert McClelland said the appointment was “appropriate recognition” of Mr Witynski’s expertise and abilities in Commonwealth Law.
   Mr McClelland said Mr Witynski’s appointment to Senior Counsel was the first since the replacement of the Queen’s Counsel title in Australian States.

Defence fights back
The Defence Force has rejected a media report that suggested Australian troops in Iraq and Afghanistan were addicted to prescription drugs.
   The newspaper report included an analysis of a Military Health Outcomes Survey that included issues raised by Defence personnel over the past 19 years.
   Defence leaders said they acknowledged the content of the survey and had already investigated or resolved many of the issues raised.
   The report contained a number of errors and highlighted personal opinions that were out of context and did not reflect the true picture.
   The quoted survey formed part of Defence’s broader commitment to improve health care for ADF members.

Tax advice for youths
Young people have been advised to take advantage of Government support and information services available to help them lodge their tax returns.
   Assistant Treasurer, Senator Nick Sherry and Minister for Youth, Kate Ellis said there were various ways for people to lodge their return, along with simple tips to help them prepare a return for the first time.
   The Ministers advised young people to visit www.ato.gov.au/youth for more information.

NBN locations announced
NBN Co has announced 19 second release sites at 14 locations for the next stage of the National Broadband Network (NBN) roll out.
   The locations include Bacchus Marsh and South Morang in Victoria; Brisbane (inner north), Springfield Lakes and Toowoomba in Queensland; Riverstone (Western Sydney) and Coffs Harbour in NSW; Modbury and Prospect in South Australia; Victoria Park (Perth), Geraldton and Mandurah in Western Australia; Casuarina in the Northern Territory; and Gungahlin in the ACT.
   Further information on the sites, which were chosen for their engineering, network design and logistical criteria, was available from www.nbnco.com.au

Helicopters grounded
A squadron of Army helicopters are to be dispatched to towns across the nation to serve as tourist attractions.
   The 11 Iroquois helicopters will become local tourist attractions in Townsville, Point Cook in Victoria, Darwin, Holsworthy, Oakey, Enoggera, Bandiana and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra after flying the skies for over 40 years.
   Another five Iroquois helicopters are to be kept by the Australian Defence Force as training aids and another two will be offered for sale to national returned service organisations.

Record for Questacon
The National Science and Technology Centre in Canberra, Questacon, has enjoyed a record year for visitors with numbers reaching 446,038 in 2009-10, a six per cent increase on the previous financial year.
   Director, Professor Graham Durant said the past year had been significant for the Centre, with new exhibitions and major building refurbishments.
   Information about the facility, which awarded another Australian Tourism Award earlier this year, was available from www.questacon.edu.au

Hollows in the money
The legacy of eye surgeon, Professor Fred Hollows has been celebrated on a new $1 collector coin released by the Royal Australian Mint.
   It is the third coin to be released in the Mint’s Inspirational Australians series.
   Chief Executive of the Mint, Ross MacDiarmid said the campaigning eye surgeon was an advocate for social justice and gave prominence to the rights of all people to quality health care.
   Further information on the coin was available from www.ramint.gov.au

FAST fights disease
Australian and French researchers will work together to fight neurodegenerative diseases as part of the 2010 French-Australian Science and Technology (FAST) Program.
   In total, Australia and France will work together on 14 new projects ranging from screening tools for new generation antibiotics to new water techniques for treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease.
   Further information on the FAST Program was available from grants.innovation.gov.au


6 July, 2010

Value to be added
to APS values

The Australian Public Service Commission has called for comment on a revised set of APS Values.
   The Commission has released an issues paper discussing the Values in response to the recently released blueprint for APS reform, Ahead of the Game, which recommended the Values be revised and embedded Service-wide.
   The proposed new Values will be fewer, more meaningful and will drive change within the Service.
   The APSC paper, Refining the Australian Public Service Values, supports the blueprint for reform, “particularly as part of the commitment to reinvigorate strategic leadership.”
   “The objective behind the proposal was to create ‘a smaller set of core values that are meaningful, memorable and effective in driving change’,” the paper says.
   It looks at what behaviours should be included in the Values to encourage performance improvement, integrity and professionalism.
   To encourage discussion of the Values, an online forum has been launched so that everyone can have a say on the changes.
   The forum, Our Values, will be open until 2 August and is only accessible to APS employees. It is being hosted by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
   After the forum closes, the APSC is expected to review the submissions and use them to draft the new set of Values.
   “When we’ve got that ready, we’ll be asking for your views again,” the APSC said.
   “We want you to let us know if we've got them right.”
   The APSC said while the content of the current values was “broadly right”, the language was too complex and difficult to remember and apply.
   It said the current Values needed to include new values more closely aligned to the modern business of Government.
   “As a Public Service, we now have a rare opportunity to make real and systematic improvement to how we serve the Government and the community,” the APSC said.
   The paper and discussion forum could be accessed at www.apsc.gov.au


6 July, 2010

Website guide hits
button on access

New guidelines that make Government websites more accessible for people with a disability have been released for implementation.
   Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, and the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, Bill Shorten, released the guide entitled Website Accessibility National Transition Strategy which allows Departments and Agencies four years to upgrade their sites.
   Mr Tanner said the guidelines provided details on how to make websites more accessible to people with disabilities.
   “In order to provide services that are fair and equitable, in order to fully engage and participate with citizens, Government websites must be accessible to all,” Mr Tanner said.
   “This transition strategy sets out a four-year plan that will guide Agencies in upgrading to new accessibility standards that are internationally recognised best-practice.”
   He said the Transition Strategy included a reporting component aimed at improving the transparency of online communication accessibility.
   Mr Tanner said Agencies would be required to report to the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) at regular intervals on their progress on implementing the new guidelines.
   Mr Shorten said people with a disability had a right to equal treatment and equal services.
   “New technology has huge potential to make life better for people with disability, but we need to make sure that it is as easy to use as possible for all members of our community,” Mr Shorten said.
   He said a National Disability Strategy was being developed and was expected to be released this year to provide an outline of how the rights of people with a disability would be further protected.”
   State and Territory Governments have been invited to opt-in to the Transition Strategy.
   The guide was available from webpublishing.agimo.gov.au


6 July, 2010

APSC takes strong
stand on disabilities

The Australian Public Service Commission has issued a Circular creating greater flexibility for Agencies to hire people with a disability.
   From this week (7 July), Agencies will be able to create, design or identify a position for a person with disability who would find it difficult to win a job through traditional merit selection processes.
   In the Circular, Engagement of people with disability through disability employment service providers, Acting Manager of the APSC’s Workforce Policy Group, Damian West said the Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 1999 had been amended to allow the changes.
   Mr West said the amendments allowed Agencies to design a position, consistent with existing work level standards, for a person with disability based on their “individual strengths, capabilities and capacity.”
   He said positions must be created and filled in consultation with a disability employment service provider.
   He said a person with a disability could be engaged under the new rules provided they had been assessed by a disability employment service provider as being “unable, or likely to be unable” to compete successfully in usual selection processes due to their disability.
   “If an Agency identifies an individual with a disability who may be suitable for engagement under the new arrangements, the Agency should refer the person to a disability employment service provider for further assessment and assistance,” Mr West said.
   “The mandated use of a disability employment service provider is intended to remove the expectation that the Agency can make an assessment of an individual’s disability, as Agencies may not have the expertise to determine a person’s capability and capacity for a particular employment position.”
   He said any position that was created must be sustainable and meet a business need.
   “The designed and created position must be consistent with the Public Service Classification Rules 2000 and the relevant Agency’s Work Level Standards, as well as capacity assessment requirements that may be a part of an Agency’s enterprise agreement,” Mr West said.
He said Agencies could employ the recruit in an ongoing or non-ongoing position without advertising or testing the person against the claims of other applicants.
The changes came after statistics showed just 3 per cent of APS employees self-identified as having a disability in 2008-09 compared to 4.9 per cent in 1999.
   Mr West said resources to help Agencies employ people with a disability were available from www.apsc.gov.au, as was the Circular (2010/02).


6 July, 2010

Public airing for
privacy principles

New principles for dealing with privacy issues have been proposed in an ‘exposure draft’ referred to a Senate Committee for community consultation.
   Released by the Special Minister of State, Senator Joe Ludwig, the principles have been described as a “cornerstone of the Australian Government’s privacy reforms” and are expected to lead to amendments to the Privacy Act.
   Senator Ludwig said the Australian Privacy Principles built on initiatives to restore trust and integrity in the use of Government information.
   “The new single set of principles will replace the two existing sets of principles governing dealings with personal information, streamlining and harmonising obligations and drawing on existing standards,” Senator Ludwig said.
   The Senator said the new principles were part of the Government’s response to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC’s) report into the nation’s privacy laws.
The report, For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice, was released in October last year and contained 295 recommendations aimed at improving Australia’s privacy framework.
   Senator Ludwig said the new Privacy Act would be drafted in parts, with each part to be referred to a Senate Committee for consideration and public consultation.
   He said three further parts were expected to be released for public consultation and would cover credit reporting, health information and the powers of the Privacy Commissioner.
   Senator Ludwig said the principles were the first part of a two stage response to the ALRC report.
   He said the first stage also included redrafting and updating the Privacy Act and addressing the impact of new technologies.
   He said stage two of the Government’s response would include clarifying exemptions from the Act, introducing statutory causes of action for serious invasion of privacy and decision making issues for children.
   The Australian Privacy Commissioner, Karen Curtis welcomed the exposure draft of the new principles, saying they were an important step towards national consistency in privacy regulation.
   "While providing a high level of privacy protection, the aim of the single set of principles is to ease the compliance burden, make it simpler for people to understand their rights, and encourage national and international consistency in privacy regulation", Ms Curtis said.
   “Our Office looks forward to participating in the Senate inquiry process and to further debate on this important legislation".
   The exposure draft and a link to a companion guide were available from www.dpmc.gov.au


6 July, 2010

Offices join up for
separated parents

New arrangements for separated parents dealing with the Child Support Agency and the Family Assistance Office have been announced by the Ministers for Human Services, Chris Bowen, and Families, Jenny Macklin.
   Under the changes which came into effect on 1 July, most separated parents receiving child support and family assistance will only need to have their level of care assessed through one of the two Agencies.
   Mr Bowen and Ms Macklin said the Agency that received the information would advise the other of any changes, automatically updating details about family assistance and child support assessments.
   “This means that the Family Assistance Office and the Child Support Agency will use the same consistent set of rules to work out the level of care each parent provides and ensure greater consistency with the data collected,” Mr Bowen and Ms Macklin said.
   The Ministers said the changes were in line with plans to ensure Australians only had to give their information to the Government once, with it then being automatically updated across the relevant Agencies.
   Mr Bowen said under the changes, parents who chose to estimate their income for child support purposes would only need to prove that estimate over a single financial year.
   He said the estimate would be automatically reconciled against their actual income and updated when parents lodged their tax return, helping the CSA to ensure the correct amount of child support was paid.
   “Currently, CSA customers are required to estimate their income over a period of up to 15 months, which can include income from up to three financial years,” Mr Bowen said.
   “This has led to delays as the CSA needs to wait until all relevant tax returns are lodged before they can update an estimate.”
   Ms Macklin said the changes would help ensure children received the appropriate level of financial support from their parents in a timely manner.
   “The Government has listened to parents’ concerns and improved the income estimate provisions for child support and aligned care determinations across Government Agencies to cut red tape and provide easy, high-quality and more efficient service delivery to separated families,” she said.


6 July, 2010

Infrastructure plan
builds on disasters

A new critical infrastructure strategy has been released to ensure important community facilities continue to operate in the face of a major disaster or emergency.
   Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the nation’s critical infrastructure assets underpinned the delivery of essential services such as power, water, health, communications and banking.
   Mr McClelland said the Critical Infrastructure Resilience Strategy coordinated planning across sectors and networks; provided responsive, flexible and timely recovery measures; and encouraged organisations to provide a minimum level of service before returning to full operation in the case of disaster.
   “Risks – from natural disasters, to equipment failure and crime – can damage or destroy critical infrastructure,” Mr McClelland said, “as well as disrupt the essential services that are provided by these assets, networks and supply chains.
   “A resilience based approach to critical infrastructure is vital so we can better adapt to change, reduce our exposure to risk and learn from incidents when they occur.”
   He said the Strategy outlined the activities undertaken by the Government, including how it engages with business, community and individuals.
   According to the Strategy, a significant proportion of Australia’s critical infrastructure is privately owned or operated on a commercial basis.
   It said in most cases, the owners and operators were best placed to manage risks to their operations and determine the most appropriate mitigation strategies.
   “The Australian Government recognises that the best way to enhance the resilience of critical infrastructure is to partner with owners and operators to share information, raise the awareness of dependencies and vulnerabilities, and facilitate collaboration to address any impediments,” the Strategy says.
   The Government established the Trusted Information Sharing Network (TISN) for Critical Infrastructure Resilience (CIR) as its primary avenue for building a partnership approach between business and Government.
   Mr McClelland said the Strategy built on the previous Critical Infrastructure Protection Program and was developed with key stakeholders including members of the Critical Infrastructure Advisory Council, State and Territory Governments and owners and operators of critical infrastructure.
   “Through a range of initiatives, the Strategy enables organisations to better manage both foreseeable and unexpected risks to better protect their critical infrastructure assets, supply chains and networks,” he said.
   The Critical Infrastructure Resilience Strategy could be downloaded at www.tisn.gov.au


6 July, 2010

Fair year’s work for
Fair Work watchdog

The Fair Work Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson, has marked the first anniversary of the Fair Work Act with a summary of the past year’s activities and his inspectors’ achievements.
   Mr Wilson said since March 2006, when Fair Work inspectors first became independent, more than $100 million in underpaid wages had been recovered for over 77,000 employees.
   He said he was “enormously proud” of the Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman’s recoveries.
   “If you took $100 million in dollar coins and laid them end-to-end, the trail would stretch from my office in Melbourne to our office in Townsville,” Mr Wilson said.
   He said while many employers had mistakenly underpaid workers, some had deliberately ripped off their staff.
   He said more than 250 employers had been prosecuted, with over $5 million in Court penalties obtained as a result.
   The Fair Work Ombudsman said his role had changed markedly over the first year of the Office’s operation under the Act and that he and his staff had been taken “far beyond” their starting point.
   Mr Wilson said his office was “independent, impartial and accountable.”
   “We work very closely with unions and industry associations and constantly recommend people join them to access their extremely helpful and valuable advice and representation,” he said.
   “Since July 2009, we have moved into some new realms and occasionally into direct debate with those same unions and industry associations when we need to investigate their behaviour.
   “In every case, we do this totally independently.”
   Mr Wilson said in the Office’s first nine months, more than 575 discrimination complaints had been considered and he expected his first prosecution for discrimination would commence shortly.
   “At the end of my first year, I am very proud to be the Fair Work Ombudsman, as are the 1,000 staff who work for us nationally,” he said.


6 July, 2010

Measurement office
to measure up

The National Measurement Institute has taken on the responsibility for trade measurement across Australia, creating a national team of inspectors to monitor the accuracy of weights and scales used in business.
   Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation and Industry, Richard Marles said the new system would cut red tape for business and give consumers confidence that they are getting what they paid for.
   “Consumers need to know the meat, firewood or petrol they buy has been weighed and measured correctly,” Mr Marles said.
   “That means having properly calibrated scales and fuel flow meters and accurately labelled packaged goods.”
   He said the National Measurement Institute’s (NMI’s) inspectors would monitor compliance right across industry, from manufacturing plants to retail outlets.
   Mr Marles said those in breach of the law could receive penalties ranging from warnings and infringement notices to prosecutions carrying fines of up to $110,000.
   Chief Executive Officer of the NMI, Dr Laurie Besley said although penalties were not new, there was now national consistency after 109 years of separate State and Territory regimes.
   “Importantly, a national system will allow NMI to track non-compliance among industries, resulting in better access to statistics and information,” Dr Besley said.
   Mr Marles said trade transactions relying on some form of measurement were estimated to be worth over $400 billion a year to the national economy.
   He said information about the new trade measurement arrangements was available from www.measurement.gov.au


6 July, 2010

High marks for
drug ads paper

A position paper recommending stronger self-regulation in the pharmaceutical and therapeutic goods industries has been released for comment by the Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Mark Butler.
   The paper addresses product promotion to doctors and health professionals.
   Mr Butler said doctors and other health professionals should prescribe drugs or medical devices because of the benefits to their patients, not because they could receive an incentive or a gift.
   “Our position paper gives the therapeutic goods industry an opportunity to adopt an industry-wide approach with the highest ethical benchmarks, to eliminate the problem of improper incentives,” Mr Butler said.
   He said while the Government would have to legislate if the industry could not provide the self-regulation that consumers deserved, there was broad acceptance in the industry that reforming existing self-regulatory arrangements was necessary.
   Mr Butler also released a consultation paper that called for the therapeutic goods industry to work together to develop “high-level principles” as the basis for their codes of conduct and featured possible ways to improve the current arrangements for advertising therapeutic goods.
   He said options being considered included simplifying current arrangements, increasing transparency and providing more effective sanctions for those who breach the advertising requirements.
   “I encourage members of the industry and the public to take this opportunity to consider the options set out in the paper and provide their feedback on how to improve therapeutic goods advertising,” Mr Butler said.
   Comments on the advertising consultation paper are open until 27 August, with the paper available from www.tga.gov.au
   The position paper on promotional activities is available for comment until 30 July from www.health.gov.au


6 July, 2010

United input for
UN report

A national consultation process on the success or otherwise of Australia’s services for people with disability has been launched by the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland and Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, Bill Shorten.
   The consultation will inform an Australian report under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
   Mr McClelland said the convention requires Australia to submit a comprehensive report every four years on measures taken to promote the rights and freedoms of people with a disability.
   He said the draft report, Australia's Initial Report under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, was Australia’s first since it became a party to the Convention in 2008.
   He said the draft included information about the development of the National Disability Strategy and explained policies, programs and laws relating to the rights of people with disabilities.
   “This report demonstrates the Australian Government’s commitment to removing barriers and accommodating the needs of persons with disabilities to enable them to enjoy their rights on an equal basis with all Australians,” Mr McClelland said.
   He said significant steps had been taken towards enhancing and promoting the rights of people with a disability, including acceding to the Optional Protocol to the Convention, developing disability standards for access to premises and reforming the Disability Discrimination Act.
   Mr Shorten urged members of the public, non-Government organisations and people with a disability to comment on the draft report.
   “People with a disability are still too often treated as second-class citizens in this country,” Mr Shorten said.
   He said the National Disability Strategy would be released this year and would outline the Government’s approach to further protecting the rights of people with disabilities and encouraging their inclusion in society.
   “The NDS will play an important role in protecting and promoting the human rights of people with a disability,” Mr Shorten said.
   Submissions close on 6 August 2010 and copies of the draft and supporting documents were available from www.ag.gov.au


6 July, 2010

School bells ring for
emergency lessons

New educational materials to help school students better understand and prepare for natural disasters and emergencies have been released.
   Attorney-General, Robert McClelland said the new materials included an interactive media game, examples of student experiences and lesson plans aimed at teaching children how to prepare for an emergency.
   “Using the latest technology to encourage students to understand their community, and what happens during and after a natural disaster – be it a bushfire, hailstorm, flood or even a tsunami – is a great way to ensure young people become more self-reliant if a natural disaster occurs,” Mr McClelland said.
   He said the materials focused strongly on personal stories and experiences and included Living with Disasters - 10 digital stories from young people who experienced the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria.
   Mr McClelland said the stories would help students learn how families and communities were affected by the fires.
   He said other materials included Dingo Creek – The Recovery, which raised awareness of local risks and impacts of disasters by introducing the recovery process and People, Get Ready, which featured four activities to build understanding of emergency issues before a natural disaster occurred.
   The Attorney-General launched the materials at Jerrabomberra Public School in NSW with the local MP, Dr Mike Kelly.
   Dr Kelly said the people of his electorate frequently had to prepare for natural disasters, such as fires, floods and severe storms.
   “These innovative resources will be a valuable addition to the important work that local Emergency Service Agencies, volunteer groups and non-Government organisations are doing to help Australians cope with disasters in the future,” Dr Kelly said.
   The materials were available from the www.ema.gov.au/schools


6 July, 2010

ASIC cashes in on
bank crackdown

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission is to be given stronger powers to pursue banks over unfair mortgage exit fees.
   Minister for Financial Services, Chris Bowen said some banks were using mortgage exit fees to lock customers into their home loans.
   Mr Bowen said some fees were so high there was no incentive to switch to another lender, even if their interest rates were substantially lower.
   “These new powers will make it easier for borrowers to switch to a competitor who offers a cheaper rate, providing a major boost for competition in the mortgage market,” Mr Bowen said.
   He said the Government was determined to make the banking system work for families, and had released a consultation paper for public comment.
   He said from 1 July ASIC was able to take action against any bank which charged a consumer an early exit fee considered to be unfair or unconscionable.
   He said consumers would also be able to challenge unfair early exit fees.
   The two new laws giving ASIC the additional powers are the Australian Consumer Law – reflected in the Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001 – which bans any 'unfair' term in a standard consumer contract and the National Consumer Credit Protection Act, which gives ASIC further powers to take action on any fee which it considers to be ‘unconscionable’.
   “If any bank seeks to simply re-badge their current mortgage exit fees as upfront entry fees, ASIC will have the power to pursue the bank if it appears that the fee is 'unconscionable' under the National Credit Code,” Mr Bowen said.
   “ASIC is most likely to take action against banks which try to profit from exit fees or establishment fees – rather than fees which merely recover a fair level of costs.”
   The Minister said any mortgage exit fee or other term found to be unfair by a Court would be declared completely void and ASIC would be able to seek refunds on behalf of customers who had paid the fee.
   Mr Bowen said ASIC had released guidance on how it intended to tackle unfair terms and would consult with the banking industry and other stakeholders before developing a specific framework on how it would regulate early mortgage exit fees.
   Members of the public have been invited to comment on ASIC’s guidance by 9 August, with further information available from www.asic.gov.au


6 July, 2010

Space website
has lift-off

A new website linking internet users to the Australian space effort has been launched by the Minister for Innovation, Senator Kim Carr.
   Senator Carr said the web portal would raise the national and international profile of Australia’s growing space activities and services.
   “The new portal will provide information on activities, policies, and funding opportunities in the Australian space sector, and links to space-related research organisations, events and our international partners,” Senator Carr said.
   “Australia plays a big part in space, from our 50 years of space-tracking collaboration with the United States.”
   He said the portal would help inform people about how space activities and technologies such as satellite navigation and communication affected their day-to-day lives.
   Senator Carr said the site would also support the efforts of his Department’s Space Policy Unit to coordinate the nation’s civil space activities.
   He said it would ensure international organisations knew who to contact when looking to collaborate with the Australian space sector or the Government.
   “The portal will make it easier to find the things you need, including how to apply for a grant under the Australian Government’s $40 million Australian Space Research Program,” Senator Carr said.
   “It will also provide links to space education organisations like the Victorian Space Science Education Centre, and international space agencies such as NASA.”
   Senator Carr said $48.6 million was being invested in the Australian space sector through the Government’s new Space Policy Unit and Australian Space Research Program.
   The portal was established following a recommendation from the Senate Economics Committee’s Inquiry into Australia’s Space Science and Industry Sector.
   The Australian Government Space Portal could be accessed at www.space.gov.au


6 July, 2010

Health draws line on
network boundaries

A set of proposed boundaries for the new primary health care organisations have been released for public comment.
   To be known as Medicare Locals, the entities will serve their local communities, health professionals and service providers, and are a key component of the new National Health and Hospitals Network.
   Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon said the Australian General Practice Network (AGPN) had provided an independent report into potential geographic boundaries for primary health care organisations.
   Ms Roxon said Medicare Locals would be independent legal entities with strong local links to enable them to respond more effectively to local need.
   “Medicare Locals will continue the excellent work of the AGPN Divisions and support health professionals to provide more co-ordinated care, improve access to services, and drive integration across the primary health care, hospital and aged care sectors,” Ms Roxon said.
   “They will be responsible for improving and co-ordinating GP and primary care services in local communities.”
   The Minister said the report provided a comprehensive geographic analysis, based on Local Government Areas, where GP, primary care services and local hospitals currently existed.
   “While the Australian Government acknowledges the comprehensive work of the independently commissioned report, the report does not represent a Government view of the number or boundaries of Medicare Locals,” she said.
   Ms Roxon said consultation on Local Hospital Network (LHN) boundaries would also be undertaken by States and Territories.
   She said it was likely that the final number of LHNs would be significantly greater than Medicare Locals.
   Ms Roxon said the first group of 15 Medicare Locals would commence operation mid-next year tasked with their first assignment of improving access to after-hours GP services.
   She said the first group would be drawn from the Divisions of General
Practice network.
   Submissions on potential boundaries for LHNs and Medicare Locals could be made online at www.yourhealth.gov.au up until 30 September.


6 July, 2010

Defence enlists more
industry allies

A successful program of collaboration between the public and private sectors in Defence is to be expanded.
   Minister for Defence Materiel and Science, Greg Combet said 17 companies, academic institutions and Government Agencies would join the existing complement of 179 in the collaborative program known as the Rapid Prototyping Development and Evaluation Program (RPDE).
   Mr Combet congratulated the new RPDE Members and Associates on qualifying for the program.
   “The 2010 Defence Industry Policy, Building Defence Capability, highlighted the importance of the RPDE program to Defence, particularly in supporting current operations,” Mr Combet said.
   “RPDE was established to help Defence resolve difficult and challenging problems in the delivery of Defence capability to the warfighter and continues to break new ground in the area of Government-to-private sector cooperation and collaboration.”
   He said the commitment by the new companies to work collaboratively with Defence would ensure that service men and women received the best capability possible.
   Mr Combet said with a pool of 196 companies, universities and Government Agencies, the RPDE could source the “intellectual horsepower” necessary to tackle some of the most complex and diverse problems faced by Defence in the delivery of capability.
   He said all 196 organisations had to meet two key criteria – they have to be Australian companies, and must undertake ongoing research and development as part of their core operations.
   A full list of companies now supporting the RPDE program was available at www.rpde.org.au


6 July, 2010

Paper has data on
research workers

A new strategy to develop the nation’s workforce of researchers has been proposed in a consultation paper released by the Minister for Innovation, Senator Kim Carr.
   Senator Carr said the paper aimed to focus discussion on the Strategy and to generate ideas to rejuvenate and expand Australia’s research workforce.
   “It is about planning for the future and making sure that we have the highly skilled researchers we need to stay competitive, to maintain living standards, and to fulfil the aspirations of working Australians,” Senator Carr said.
   “Everyone with an interest in the future of Australian research should take part in this process.”
   He said the consultation paper highlighted challenges and opportunities that should be considered when planning to expand Australia’s research workforce.
   Senator Carr said it had been developed with advice from a reference group established to support the Strategy development process, which included members from universities, research institutes and peak industry and representative bodies.
   He said the Government was investing in innovation, science and research as the industries of the future would be more knowledge-intensive and technology-driven.
   Senator Carr said public information sessions on the Strategy would be held in Sydney on 12 July, Brisbane on 13 July, Melbourne on 14 July, Perth on 19 July and Adelaide on 20 July.
   Submissions close on 6 August, with the final Strategy expected to be considered toward the end of the year.
   The consultation paper and locations of the information session were available at www.innovation.gov.au


6 July, 2010
Record for donations
Organ donations have reached a 10-year high, with June recording the highest rate of donations for the same month over the past decade.
   Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Mark Butler said there had been 31 Australian organ donations nationally in June, bringing the year-to-date total to 149 donations.
   Mr Butler said the next highest donation rate for the same period was 120 in 2008.

ATSI lawyer awards
Nominations have opened for the inaugural Indigenous Legal Professional of the Year Award.
   The award recognises outstanding Indigenous lawyers who have made a special contribution to the rights of Indigenous people or who have an exceptional commitment to providing legal representation, advice or assistance.
   The Award recipient will receive $5,000 to further their professional development.
   To nominate or access more information, visit www.ag.gov.au before 6 August.

ACMA sets music quota
The Australian Communications and Media Authority has registered a new commercial radio Code of Practice relating to Australian music.
   Code 4 sets quotas for the broadcast of Australian music by commercial radio licensees, following an extensive review of the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice 2004.
   Commercial Radio Codes 1-3 and 5-8, registered earlier this year, relate to matters such as material that should not be broadcast, requirements for accuracy in news and current affairs and privacy protections.

Bosses to Solomons
Twenty-two employers of Defence Reservists are travelling to the Solomon Islands this week as part of Exercise Boss Lift, a program designed to encourage employer support for the reserves.
   Defence Reservists in the Solomon Islands have been urged to take advantage of the opportunity to show their bosses the skills they develop while on deployment and how they can be utilised in the workplace.
   Employers participating in the four-day Boss Lift program will visit soldiers from the New South Wales-based 5th Brigade who are currently on a four-month deployment.

Money laundering booked
A report examining the way criminals launder funds and commit serious crimes in Australia has been released by the national anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regulator, Austrac.
   The AUSTRAC Typologies and Case Studies Report 2010 highlighted risks faced by businesses and how they could help detect and prosecute money laundering and other serious crimes.
   The report was available from www.austrac.gov.au

More pay for bush doctors
A strategy to encourage more doctors to work in remote and regional communities has been boosted with significantly increased incentives and rewards.
   Under the scheme, doctors who move from cities to regional or remote areas will receive up to $120,000 in relocation payments.
   More than 2,400 doctors across the country are eligible to receive retention payments for the first time, while almost 500 communities will newly be classified as regional.

Access scheme changes
Reforms to the rules governing access to nationally significant infrastructure have been passed by Parliament to promote new investment and competition.
   The changes to the National Access Scheme aim to speed up decision-making processes when third parties seek access to monopoly infrastructure of national significance, such as ports and railways, when it is uneconomical for them to be duplicated.
   The changes also allow infrastructure owners to seek upfront decisions about third-party access before the infrastructure is built.

Dental truck for NT
A new mobile dental truck, to be based in Alice Springs, will provide services to 8,000 people in surrounding communities including Utopia, Lake Nash, Papunya and Epenarra.
   Federal Minister for Indigenous Health, Rural and Regional Health and Regional Services Delivery, Warren Snowdon said for many communities it would mean the difference between people seeing a dentist and not being able to get treatment at all.
   Mr Snowdon said the program pilot was part of an $11 million program, Closing the Gap - Indigenous dental services in rural and regional areas program.

Relief for Super
Drawdown relief for account-based superannuation pensions is to be extended to 2010-11 to help self-funded retirees recoup capital losses on their pension portfolios as markets recover.
   Drawdown relief has been provided over the past two years to help retirees reduce their need to sell assets at a loss in order to meet their minimum payment requirements.
   The relief will be in the form of a 50 per cent reduction in the minimum payment amounts for account-based, allocated and market linked pensions.

Newcastle for research
A new institute is to be established at the University of Newcastle to research energy and sustainability.
   The Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources will receive $30 million from the Sustainability Round of the Education Investment Fund and will research coal and minerals processing and transport, carbon emissions and alternative energy sources.