SearchArchives for November 200825 November, 2008
Family Court courted in merger movesPublic consultation has been invited on plans to combine the Family Court and the Federal Magistrates Court and improve Australia’s family law system.
Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, released a report that made the recommendation and a related discussion paper prepared by his Department with the former head of the NSW Department of Community Services, Des Semple.
Mr McClelland said the report, Future Governance Options for Federal Family Law Courts in Australia - Striking the Right Balance, recommended the move that would help the Federal Courts focus on helping people resolve their differences in a fast and cost-effective manner.
He said it found current arrangements were financially unsustainable and had led to confusion among litigants, conflicts over resources and administrative inefficiencies.
“This is impeding the delivery of family law services to Australians,” Mr McClelland said.
The report made several recommendations, including combining the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court to create a single Federal Family Law Court and streamlining administration to generate savings to enhance family law services.
Mr McClelland said the discussion paper called for public comment on the report’s recommendations and emphasised any changes would preserve and build on the existing service culture of the Federal Magistrates Court.
He said the report and discussion paper also proposed recognising the constitutional status of Federal Magistrates as Chapter III judges under any changes.
Mr McClelland said input into a range of proposed initiatives including simpler and more limited rules of evidence and procedure would be welcomed.
“Court resources should be deployed at an early stage to enable parties to resolve their dispute as quickly as possible,” he said.
“I would like to thank my Department and Mr Semple for the extensive consultation that has been undertaken with the Courts, legal professional bodies and key stakeholders in the development of the proposals.”
To make a submission or to access the report and discussion paper visit www.ag.gov.au
Submissions and comments were due by 6 February 2009.
25 November, 2008
Phone complaints a major hang-upSkyrocketing levels of complaints against telecommunications companies have prompted the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman to launch a campaign to get them to lift their game.
Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy launched TIO’s new ‘connect.resolve’ campaign, saying it would help service providers connect with their customers and resolve their concerns fairly and efficiently.
Ombudsman, Deirdre O’Donnell, said most complaints were regarding poor customer service and compliant handling practices.
Ms O’Donnell said complaints to the TIO rose from 102,463 in 2006/07 to 149,742 in 2007/08, the largest increase in the past 10 years.
“Customer service is now the top complaint issue, with 52,527 complaint issues recorded in 2007/08, and another 28,821 complaint issues recorded about complaint handling,” she said.
Ms O’Donnell said customer service and complaint handling issues formed over 30 per cent of all complaint issues recorded over the last financial year.
“These complaints are often about basic matters such as waiting a long time to speak to someone or getting the run-around between Departments,” she said.
“Or they can be about service providers not following up straightforward requests, such as a change of address or cancelling a service.”
Senator Conroy said consumers had the right to receive the services they were promised by their telecommunication provider and to have any complaints dealt with efficiently and courteously.
“There has been a worrying increase of consumer complaints and I congratulate the TIO for its efforts to arrest that trend with the connect.resolve campaign,” he said.
Senator Conroy said the TIO would work with service providers and industry to address complaints throughout the campaign.
He said connect.resolve would run until June 2009 and aimed to create awareness of the volume of complaints; encourage the telecommunications industry to improve customer service and complaint handling; and decrease the number of complaints received by the TIO.
Ms O’Donnell said the TIO was an independent dispute resolution service for consumers and small businesses unable to resolve problems with their telecommunications or internet service provider.
25 November, 2008
PS cutbacks as WA gropes for savingsThe Western Australian Treasurer has set up a committee to slow the growth of the State’s Public Service which he said was increasing by 5,000 new Public Servants a year.
Treasurer, Troy Buswell, said the new Economic Audit Committee had been established to identify ways to cut recurrent expenditure in the PS.
He would not say if it was a ‘razor gang’ or not.
“We can't continue to employ 20 full-time equivalent staff every working day,” Mr Buswell said.
He would not confirm whether Public Servants would face job losses or if Agencies would be closed, but said he would wait until the Committee released their report in March next year before commenting.
“For too long now the Public Sector of WA has effectively been gathering moss,” he said.
“It's time to take a serious look at how public services are delivered in WA.”
Mr Buswell said the committee would help conduct a four-month review of finances and the processes of Government.
“It's important we act now so we don't find our State in three or four years time in the situation that States like New South Wales are in today,” he said.
“It's about doing the responsible thing, no matter how hard, and taking the steps necessary to keep our heads above water in difficult times ahead.”
Mr Buswell said initial State Government cuts of 3 per cent across the Public Service were “belt-tightening”.
“There will need to be subsequent rounds of belt-tightening to help Western Australia deal with the financial issues which currently confront the State,” he said.
Opposition leader, Eric Ripper, said Mr Buswell had inherited one of the “strongest set of finances that any incoming Government had inherited in the past”, and needed to do his job to ensure money was spent wisely.
25 November, 2008
Navy returns fire at stand-down criticsThe Royal Australian Navy has defended its two-month close down over Christmas assuring the community it would not have an adverse impact on national security.
Deputy Chief of Navy, Rear Admiral Davyd Thomas, said the stand down was a feature of the ‘New Generation Navy’ program which was designed to make Navy service more attractive to new recruits and existing personnel.
The stand down would see sailors who would otherwise be at sea on exercises, home for Christmas.
“This is about nurturing our people,” Rear Admiral Thomas said, “and working smarter not harder.”
“The stand down will not impact operations and is to ensure that our people who are not required on operations are able to take a meaningful period of time off and spend time with their families.”
He said the Navy had to balance its responsibility to Australia and its personnel.
“Operational requirements will still be met and Australia's national security remains our first priority,” Rear Admiral Thomas said.
“Our ships will continue to undertake border protection duties and meet our commitments in the Middle East Area of Operations.”
Rear Admiral Thomas said 500 Navy personnel would remain on active duty over the Christmas period and that HMAS Parramatta, the team in the Persian Gulf, and personnel deployed throughout the Middle East Area of Operations would continue their activities.
He said an operational response vessel on the East and West coasts of Australia would be on standby should the Government call for an emergency response at sea.
He said ‘New Generation Navy’ was a Chief of Navy initiative aiming to increase retention and recruitment by making the Navy an employer of choice.
The NGN program has sought to implement cultural reform, a leadership and values program and structural reform to achieve its objectives.
25 November, 2008
ICT review is hard rebootRecommendations from the review of the Government’s use of information and communications technology by Sir Peter Gershon are to be implemented in full.
Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner has announced that the Government would adopt the recommendations in full, saying they would improve the Commonwealth’s use of ICT for public administration and service delivery.
He said the move to streamline ICT use and management across the APS was part of the ongoing Razor Gang process designed to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and coordination of Government expenditure.
“This decision represents the most significant change in the use and management of ICT in the Australian Government to date,” Mr Tanner said.
“We will act decisively in applying Sir Peter’s recommendations.”
He said the recommendations made in the review provided a new model for the use of ICT in the APS and was a turning point. He said it rebalanced the decentralised administration of Government ICT and focused instead on efficient and effective expenditure and management.
“The goal is to return efficiencies to the Budget and to reduce expenditure on ICT business-as-usual while freeing up money for service delivery capability,” Mr Tanner said.
He said a Ministerial ICT Committee would be set up as part of the Expenditure Review Committee to provide leadership on whole-of-Government ICT issues at both Ministerial and at senior official levels.
The new Committee would provide the strategic vision for ICT so that it supported Government policies and programs.
Mr Tanner confirmed that the number of ICT contractors would be cut by 50 per cent but not at the speed recommended in the Gershon report. He said the cuts would be phased in between 2009 to 2011 to line up with other initiatives being introduced to build ICT capability.
He said ICT Review Teams would be set up to work with Agencies to reduce their ICT Budgets and save around $400M annually when fully implemented. He said half the savings would be reinvested to improve Agency ICT capability.
“This savings exercise will be done in a way that does not impede service delivery to citizens and businesses,” Mr Tanner said.
“Reductions averaging 15 per cent for larger agencies and 7.5 per cent for mid-sized agencies are expected and achievable.”
He said the implementation phase of the recommendations would begin immediately.
More detail on the Review’s recommendations can be found at
25 November, 2008
DSTO guidance system is new advisory boardA new Advisory Board has been set up to support and guide the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).
Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, announced the new independent Board, saying it would support the Chief Defence Scientist on issues relating to the development and application of science and technology to Defence.
Mr Snowdon said the Board was being established as part of the White Paper process, and would include a mix of people with academic, commercial, military and senior Public Service experience.
“The Board will play an important role in advocating DSTO with stakeholder communities,” he said.
“I have selected candidates who are recognised leaders in their respective fields, are familiar with DSTO and have strong advocacy and strategic planning skills.”
Mr Snowdon said the Board would be chaired by former Secretary of the Department of Defence, Dr Allan Hawke who was now Chancellor of the Australian National University.
He also announced that the Chief Scientist, Professor Penny Sackett, would sit on the Board and the academic and research community would be represented by Professor Paul Greenfield, Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Queensland.
“Industry will be represented by Neil Edwards, Chief Executive, Chifley Business School and a former Secretary of the Victorian Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development,” Mr Snowdon said.
He said Defence would be represented by Lieutenant General David Hurley, Vice Chief of the Defence Force and Mike Pezzullo, Deputy Secretary.
An ex-officio member would be the Chief Defence Scientist, at the moment Professor Robert Clark.
“This is a highly qualified and experienced group of experts who will provide advice on the DSTO research program in line with policy and relevance to Defence capability,” Mr Snowdon said.
“They will advise on maintaining an appropriate balance between short term research to address immediate needs, and long range research to anticipate future requirements.”
He said the Board would also provide guidance on DSTO’s national and international engagement and ways to attract and retain staff.
“I warmly welcome the members of the Board and look forward to working with them.”
The Board is expected to meet four times a year, with members appointed for two year periods.
25 November, 2008
Risk managers take chance on crimeAustralian risk management professionals have been urged to take more notice of organised crime.
Chief Executive of the Australian Crime Commission, Alastair Milroy, told the Risk Management Institute of Australia’s 2008 Conference in Perth that they should be developing effective responses to threats and vulnerabilities posed by organised crime, which could have a serious effect on Australian industry and business.
Mr Milroy said organised crime was adaptable, sophisticated and could carry significant consequences.
“The risks posed by organised crime are real and costly,” he said.
“Unidentified or unmitigated, these risks can result in reputational damage, financial loss, operational disruption, diminished customer trust and even personal harm.”
Mr Milroy said it was important to understand trends in organised crime and to take action to protect businesses from risks such as compliance breaches and unfair competition advantage caused by the use of criminally gained funds.
He said while the ACC responded to risks by working in partnerships with other Australian law enforcement agencies, law enforcement alone could not mitigate the risks posed by organised crime.
“Countering the complex and adaptable nature of organised crime depends on strategies that combine the strengths of operational law enforcement activity, responsible regulation, legislative reform and business and community involvement,” Mr Milroy said.
He said the ACC had identified several central trends which had implications for risk management in industry and business.
Mr Milroy said the trends included criminal expansion into new industries, hi-tech or ‘cyber’ crime, the growing influence of transnational organised crime, the overlap between criminality and terrorism, the increasing use of professionals and service providers, identity crime and money laundering.
25 November, 2008
Ministers tied up in White Ribbon DayThe Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans and Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, Laurie Ferguson, have been appointed ambassadors for the White Ribbon Foundation.
The Foundation’s goal is to eliminate violence against women and many prominent Australian men have already accepted ambassadorial appointments.
Senator Evans said violence against women was unacceptable in Australian society and he encouraged all men to take a stand on the issue.
“We are all role models with a voice, whether as fathers, brothers, uncles, community members or workmates and we can all make it clear that we will not condone the violence,” Senator Evans said.
“Within the broader Australian community and within Australia’s increasingly diverse population, we still have much to do to change attitudes and behaviour that condone domestic violence.”
He said Australia’s humanitarian program offered specific protection to refugee women in particularly vulnerable situations.
“The ‘woman at risk’ program helps women who are in danger of victimisation and serious abuse because of their gender,” Senator Evans said.
He said 13.7 per cent of the 13 014 refugee visas granted in 2007-08 were for the “woman at risk” category, well ahead of the program’s 10.5 per cent target.
Senator Evans said the Government had also recently approved $553 000 in funding for a project in Syria conducted by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to support Iraqi women and girls who were the victims of sexual or gender-based violence.
Mr Ferguson encouraged all men to support White Ribbon Day by wearing a white ribbon on 25 November to show their personal opposition to violence against women.
“We want an Australia in which everyone benefits from our diverse society and in which people work towards a socially progressive, fair and united country,” Mr Ferguson said.
“I commend those community leaders from Australia’s migrant and ethnic communities, under the leadership of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia, who have recognised and addressed problems of violence within our communities.”
Chairman of the White Ribbon Foundation, Andrew O’Keefe welcomed Senator Evans and Mr Ferguson as ambassadors.
“It's a campaign that reaches out to all men, of all backgrounds and all stations,” Mr O’Keefe said.
25 November, 2008
Australia stands up against disabilitiesAustralia’s international aid program is to be revised to make people with disabilities a priority.
Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Bob McMullan, said it was the first time such a strategy had been adopted by Australia but would guide its aid program in supporting people with a disability in the developing world.
Mr McMullan said an estimated 10 per cent of the world’s population, or around 650 million people, lived with a disability and of these, 80 per cent lived in developing countries.
“Australia is committed to including people with disability in the fight against global poverty and supporting them to improve the quality of their lives,” Mr McMullan said.
“People with a disability are among the poorest and most vulnerable in developing countries,” he said.
He said the new strategy, Development for All, aimed to improve quality of life for people with disabilities, strengthen prevention efforts and promote international leadership on disability and development.
He said it also sought to improve understanding of disability and development across the Asia Pacific region.
“With good leadership, attitudes towards people with disability can change, services can be improved and people’s lives can be transformed – not only the lives of the person with a disability, but their families and those around them,” he said.
Mr McMullan said people with a disability faced many barriers preventing them from participating in society, and were more likely to be socially excluded.
He said women and children with disability often faced the greatest challenges.
He said Australia had recently ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and, in addition to launching the strategy was also preparing a national disability policy to be released in 2009.
25 November, 2008
Ombudsman signs on to workplace warningThe Workplace Ombudsman is to circulate thousands of printed flyers to secondary school students warning them to take care they don’t get ripped off when taking on summer jobs.
The Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson said the flyers would be distributed at schools, shopping centres, cinemas and cafes.
Mr Wilson said young people shouldn’t allow the excitement of a new job and a pay packet deprive them of their minimum legal entitlements at work.
“The fact is that young people and first-time workers are vulnerable to being unwittingly exploited by dishonest employers if they don’t know their rights,” Mr Wilson said.
He said he hoped to grab the attention of students before they signed on to new jobs by targetting schools and popular youth venues with relevant information.
“There are some important things first-time workers should know, so we have
decided to run a national campaign to try to get the message across to both young people and their parents,” he said.
Mr Wilson said some key points to remember included the boss could not deduct money from wages if customers left without paying or if the cash register was short; unpaid ‘trials’ were generally against the law and they should be paid for every hour spent at work, including attending meetings or training, and time spent opening and closing.
He said a special section on the Workplace Ombudsman’s website had been created for young workers and he called on parents to encourage their children to keep a simple work diary.
“Keeping a record of all these things will help a young worker to check that their pay slip adds up correctly,” Mr Wilson said.
“It’s also a good idea for the diary or calendar note to include any time taken off work for sick days or leave.”
Mr Wilson said new fact sheets printed by the Workplace Ombudsman provided a
handy check-list for young people to find out exactly what information should be on their pay slips.
“Thousands of school students around the nation, in country towns, regional Centres and capital cities, will be getting their first jobs these summer holidays and it’s important they know their workplace rights.”
He advised them to go to his Office’s website, www.wo.gov.au for more information
25 November, 2008
Mint looks up with astronomy coinsThe Royal Australian Mint has launched its range of collectible coins for next year by joining with the Canberra Astronomical Society in recognition of 2009 being the International Year of Astronomy.
Chief Executive Officer at the Mint, Janine Murphy, said two coins had been designed to pay tribute to the contribution Australia had made to science and technology.
“In 2009 the world celebrates the exploration of our universe,” Mrs Murphy said.
“It marks the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s first use of the telescope and recognises his revolutionary discoveries that began modern astronomy.”
She said next year’s one dollar coin featured the radio telescope in Parkes, NSW that was symbolic of Australia’s place in international astronomy.
Mrs Murphy said the 20-cent coin represented community involvement, one of the goals of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA), and featured three stargazers observing the night sky.
The IYA was an initiative of the International Astronomical Union and was endorsed by the United Nations and UNESCO.
Its theme will be ‘The Universe, Yours to Discover’.
To launch the project, a light show of local astronomer’s photography was projected across the walls of the Mint building and scouts from Mount Taylor hosted a BBQ.
Scouts Australia and the Mint had previously worked together to celebrate the Centenary of Scouts Australia with the release of a range of coins throughout the year.
The Mint is open to the public from 9am to 4pm on weekdays, and 10am to 4pm on weekends and public holidays.
25 November, 2008
Paint scientist has brush with excellenceA scientist with a penchant for paint is this year’s winner of the Minister’s Award for Achievement in Defence Science.
Dr Lindsay Wake from the Defence Science and Technology Organisation won the award for improving the performance and durability of military vehicles through his research into paint.
Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, presented Dr Wake with a trophy and $15,000 cash prize at an award ceremony in Melbourne.
“For over 40 years, Dr Wake’s scientific and technical innovations have directly benefited Defence by improving capability and reducing maintenance requirements on ADF vehicles,” Mr Snowdon said.
He said Dr Wake had developed high performance coating systems for aircraft, ships, submarines and land vehicles which combined camouflage with high durability and low toxicity.
He said Dr Wake had also developed a helium leak detection system that identified fuel leaks in F-111 aircraft and increased aircrew safety.
“Dr Wake’s expertise and excellence in the field of camouflage and coating systems is well recognised by Defence personnel and his scientific peers in Australia and overseas,” he said.
“Dr Wake is a worthy recipient of this award and his achievements have significantly improved the performance and protection of Defence platforms and delivered huge cost savings.”
Dr Wake’s research on low solar coatings contributed to the development of a paint that reduced thermal heating and was adopted as standard for Defence vehicles in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
The Minister’s Award for Achievement in Defence Science is presented annually to a DSTO scientist who has made an outstanding contribution to defence science.
In the meantime, 30 Australian Defence scientists and military personnel were also recognised for their contribution to international defence technology projects during 2007 and 2008.
The annual awards under the Technical Cooperation Program, brought together defence scientists from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Among the projects that won Defence Science and Technology Organisation scientists their awards were researching an environmentally friendly ‘glue’ for construction and repair of military equipment; improving helicopter flight safety; smarter detection methods for cracks and corrosion damage in aircraft; and enhancing the performance of individual protection equipment.
25 November, 2008
Watchdog unleashes population dataThe Australian Human Rights Commission has published its 2008 edition of its Face the Facts resource, containing factual information about the social make-up of Australia today.
Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tom Calma, launched the resource, saying it was full of information such as how many Australians spoke Cantonese and how diverse Australia was.
“Face the Facts continues to be the Commission’s most requested resource and I know it is used extensively by school students, educators and a wider number of professionals for reliable and up-to-date information about our society,” Mr Calma said.
“Like its previous editions, 2008’s Face the Facts is a user-friendly resource written in a plain English style that provides a snapshot of social, demographic and population data relating to Indigenous Australians, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.”
Mr Calma said Face the Facts drew on Federal Laws, Government policy, academic research and data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics to make it reliable and easy to use and access.
He said key statistics featured in the latest edition included a recorded increase in the Indigenous population of 11 per cent between the 2001 Census and 2006 Census.
Mr Calma said the publication included an array of information from the 2006 Census including that England, New Zealand, China, Italy and Vietnam were the top five countries of birth other than Australia; the three highest-rating religions were Catholic (25.8%), Anglican (18.7%) and No Religion (18.7%); WA had the highest proportion of residents born overseas; and the top six languages spoken at home were English, Italian, Greek, Cantonese, Arabic and Mandarin.
Face the Facts could be downloaded from www.humanrights.gov.au
25 November, 2008
Charters chart the way aheadOfficial charters outlining the freedoms and responsibilities of public research agencies have been activated to rebuild confidence in the sector.
With the Charters now signed, the rights of the Agencies have been entrenched for the first time, as have the obligations on Public Sector scientists and other researchers to participate in public research debates.
Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, signed the Charters with the Chairs of the Boards of CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).
Prior to finalising the charters, some research was censored and many researchers did not take part in public debate.
Senator Carr said he was pleased the rights and obligations of researchers to engage in public research debates had been formalised.
“If ideas are to be successfully applied, they must be debated in public,” he said.
“Robust debate on research issues is a sign of the health of Australia’s innovation system.”
Senator Carr said the charters entrenched a set of General Principals which included encouraging open communication and dissemination of research; encouraging debate on research issues; recognising the role of researchers in communication and debate; the contestability of ideas; independence of public research agencies; and Government responsibility for policy formulation and implementation.
He said the charters were developed throughout the year following consultation with research Agencies.
Senator Carr said they varied slightly to reflect the specific needs and circumstances of the Agencies
He said the charters were developed during 2008 following extensive consultation with research agencies and varied slightly to reflect the specific circumstances of each Agency.
Further information was available from www.innovation.gov.au
25 November, 2008
Northern exposure for rural task forceThe recently revamped Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce has been set new directions to explore the potential for sustainable economic development in northern Australia.
Earlier this year six Coalition MPs on the taskforce, including former Chair, Senator Bill Heffernan, were replaced by representatives from business, the Indigenous community and farming groups.
The new group’s role has been refined to look beyond expanding agricultural production in the north of Australia, to the impacts on water resources and diversification.
Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia, Gary Gray, said the revived task force had met to discuss its new role.
“The Taskforce will contribute to the unique quality of life in northern Australia by drawing on its members’ experience from a diverse range of interests, including business, Indigenous, conservation, agriculture, mining and science,” Mr Gray said.
“I look forward to the Taskforce’s continuing engagement and consultation with northern communities and its final report to Government by December 2009.”
He said the foundations laid by the 2007 Taskforce would form an integral part of the work ahead of the new group as it tackled the challenges presented to it.
Chair of the Taskforce, Joe Ross, an Indigenous leader from Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia, said the group’s first meeting had been productive, and acknowledged the contribution made by the original Taskforce.
“I think there was a misunderstanding and that people seemed to think that the previous task force focused specifically just on agriculture,” Mr Ross said.
“Much to the credit of this Government, it has now refined it to the impacts on the water resources and I think that's going to be very important not only in developments like the Ord and the gas developments, mining but also urban expansion.”
Mr Ross said the Taskforce also discussed the importance of close cooperation with the Governments of the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia and undertook to engage with each of their northern jurisdictions as soon as possible.
He said the first mid-term report would be released by the end of January 2009.
25 November, 2008
Anti-drink campaign let out of the bottleAn advertising campaign to discourage young people from binge drinking has been launched by the Department of Health and Ageing.
Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, said the campaign was designed as a wake-up call for young Australians about the dangers of binge drinking.
Ms Roxon said the campaign theme, Don’t turn a night out into a nightmare, showed the violence, injury and humiliation that could result from binge drinking.
She said the campaign would run at the forefront of the Government’s National Binge Drinking Strategy and targeted teenagers aged 15 to 17, young adults aged 18 to 25 and their parents.
Ms Roxon said the first television ad had been broadcast on the weekend and that the campaign would include ads on the radio, internet, in newspapers, in pubs, outside nightclubs and on street furniture.
“These are hard-hitting ads – that’s because we are dealing with a group of people who think they are bullet proof,” she said.
“Binge drinking among young people has been a problem for a long, long time in Australia – and it’s time to act.”
Ms Roxon said the ads were designed to confront young people with the facts about binge drinking.
She said the ads showed four Australians under 25 would die due to alcohol related injuries each week; one in four hospitalisations of people 15-24 was due to alcohol; 70 Australians under 25 would be hospitalised due to alcohol-caused assault in an average week and that 50 per cent of Australians aged 15 to 17 would do something they regretted due to alcohol consumption.
Ms Roxon said the $20 million campaign would run over two years and be executed in two stages, with the first year launching and establishing the campaign theme.
She said the National Binge Drinking Strategy included funding to support community partnerships to tackle the problem, early intervention and diversion programs and looking at the tax on alcopops.
25 November, 2008
Safety Commission holds last meeting
The Australian Safety and Compensation Council has met in Canberra for the last time as it prepares to hand responsibility for national policy on occupational health, safety and workers’ compensation to the new independent national body Safe Work Australia.
ASCC Chairman, Bill Scales, said arrangements had been made to ensure consultative mechanisms were in place for the transition.
Mr Scales said the Council’s final meeting was productive and included the approval of a design for a high hazard plant for public comment.
More training for musicians
Funding for the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) is to be cut at the end of 2008 to make way for a new training program for classical musicians.
The Australian Institute of Music Performance, a new independent organisation is to operate in conjunction with the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Arts and Music and the Victorian College of the Arts to deliver the new elite training program.
Arts Minister Peter Garrett said the changes were developed from recommendations of two independent reviews of ANAM, which found more flexible tailored training, development of professional skills and international-class training were needed.
Super justice sought
Law firm, Slater and Gordon is planning a class action for Public Servants potentially disadvantaged by incorrect advice on superannuation.
The action follows a High Court decision of earlier this year which found the Commonwealth liable for incorrect advice given to a former temporary employee whose super was significantly lower than it could have been when he retired.
Staff who retired or sought access to their superannuation in the past six years who feel they may have a claim can contact the company on (07) 3220 2555.
Mint in the money
The Royal Australian Mint has won two awards from the Print and Graphic Excellence Awards thanks to design agency, CRE8IVE.
The Mint enlisted CRE8IVE to develop websites for two of its commemorative collector coins – The Don: 100th Anniversary of Sir Donald Bradman’s birth and Australia II: 25th Anniversary of America’s Cup Victory.
The agency took out both digital categories with the websites, with Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Mint, Graham Smith, saying he was pleased the Mint was getting involved in new media and web development.
The winning websites could be visited at www.greatestcentury.com.au and
New look for Immigration
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship will have its refreshed website online by December 2008.
The Department said the website would have a new look with clearer and easier navigation and greater accessibility to information and online services such as Visa Wizard, eVisa and Citizenship Wizard.
Skin cancer guide sees light of day
The Australian Safety and Compensation Council and the Cancer Council Australia’s National Skin Cancer Committee have released a guide on how to protect workers from ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
The Guidance Note for the Protection of Workers from the Ultraviolet Radiation in Sunlight provides employers with practical advice on how to minimise exposure to UV radiation at work.
The guide suggested measures such as staying in the shade and wearing appropriate clothing, hats sunglasses and sunscreen.
Air war opens at memorial
The Australian War Memorial is to open its new permanent exhibition Over the front: the Great War in the air on Friday of this week.
The exhibition would highlight the role of young men in the Australian Flying Corps and the risks, actions and drama of the First World War aerial battlers.
It features five restored aircraft and multimedia displays produced by filmmaker Peter Jackson, Wingnut Films and Weta Digital.
ACCC gets mergers right
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has issued its revised Merger Guidelines 2008.
The guidelines outline the general principals underpinning the ACCC’s approach to merger analysis under section 50 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.
Last reviewed in 1999, the new guidelines have been developed with greater emphasis on the competitive theories of harm and provide for greater predictability, transparency and certainty to merger parties, the business community, their advisers and the public.
Further information was available from www.accc.gov.au
Centrelink has made special arrangements for clients living in areas affected by the recent storms in South East Queensland.
The Agency has announced that people living in some areas of the Moreton Bay Shire Council and the north-western suburbs of Brisbane City Council could lodge their fortnightly Continuation of Payment forms over the phone.
Centrelink also reminded people affected by the storms who were unsure if they could receive reimbursement for damage to contact the South East Queensland Storms Hotline on 180 2266.
Paper on airwaves market
The Australian Communications and Media Authority has called for comment on the effectiveness of the secondary market for radiofrequency licences in Australia.
ACMA has released a discussion paper about trading of radiofrequency licences with the aim of improving the regime created in the 1990s.
An implementation plan would be released in 2009 summarising the results of the consultation process and informing the public of any changes to be made.
Further information and details of how to make a submission were available from www.acma.gov.au
Fire trucks for Canberra
Airservices Australia has commissioned three new high visibility Mk8 (Mark 8) Rosenbauer fire trucks valued at over $1 million each for the ACT’s Canberra International Airport.
The Mk8s are able to carry around 10,000 litres of water and foam and empty their tanks in less than two minutes.
The fire trucks are part of a nation-wide roll out of 76 new fire fighting vehicles to be introduced to airports around the nation within the next three to five years.
Review for Arbitration Act
The International Arbitration Act 1974 is to be reviewed to ensure it remains an effective form of dispute resolution for Australian businesses engaged in the world economy.
Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, announced the review, saying it coincided with the release of a discussion paper outlining key areas up for review.
Mr McClelland said submissions would be accepted until 16 January 2009 and that further information was available from www.ag.gov.au
Grainy ideas wanted
The Grains Research and Development Corporation has challenged farmers and anyone with ideas on how to help grain growers compete more effectively in the international grain market to submit their ideas.
The E-concepts initiative allows people to put forward their ideas at anytime, with ideas being assessed three times a year on 15 June, 15 October and 15 February.
The GRDC stressed E-concepts was for innovative ideas only, and not traditional research proposals or extensions to existing projects.
Three themes have been concentrated on by the GRDC – climate change, increasing productivity and responding to higher agricultural input costs.
Further information was available from www.grdc.com.au
18 November, 2008
Transparent policies show the way ahead
Australia’s policy making processes were the most transparent in the world and produced better outcomes according to new research officially unveiled by Assistant Treasurer, Chris Bowen. Mr Bowen is also Minister for Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs.
He said the study Policy Transparency: Why Does it Work? Who Does it Best? examined how more transparent policy-making, particularly relating to trade policy, could bring better economic, social and environmental outcomes.
Mr Bowen said the report was prepared by the Centre for International Economics for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) and promoted the removal of trade barriers in global trade talks.
“Australia stands to gain substantially from reform of global trade, particularly in agriculture where protectionist policies in other countries distort the market and drive down prices for our highly efficient farmers,” Mr Bowen said.
He said the report found Australia was a standout example of transparent policy-making processes and that the Productivity Commission produced high quality, independent and credible economic analysis to help Government decision making.
“This report highlights that when the public is informed of the true costs and benefits of particular policy decisions, the national interest is best served,” he said.
“Australia can use this report and our own experience of reforming the economy, particularly during the 1980s, to argue that removing barriers to trade is in our own interests.”
He said the report argued that better policy-making processes would make it easier to find a conclusion to the ongoing Doha round of World Trade Organisation trade negotiations.
“Australia's economic resilience over the past two decades owes a lot to our transparent policy processes and the reforms we have undertaken in that time,” he said.
“This report is a useful contribution to the debate about economic policy and how more transparent decision-making can benefit all sectors of an economy.”
Mr Bowen said the report was one of several produced by RIRDC to contribute to trade policy and help Australian farmers receive a better deal internationally.
He said the report was available at www.rirdc.gov.au
18 November, 2008
PS ethics drive is value judgement
The Australian Public Service needs a new ethics educational drive to combat the ethical challenges of misusing information and communications technology and the harassment and bullying that occurs in the workplace, according to the APS Commissioner, Lynelle Briggs.
Delivering the David Hawkes Oration to the Northern Territory chapter of the Institute of Public Administration Australia, Commissioner Briggs said public sector ethics affected all Australians, and the general public expected, and were entitled to, a particularly high standard of stewardship of their resources.
She said although by most indications the APS “looks pretty good” there were some areas in which it was vulnerable to ethical failures, mainly including the misuse of information and ICT, and harassment and bullying in the workplace.
She said the ability to identify and think strategically about ethical challenges and have systems in place to equip staff to meet them was the best guarantor of ethical health.
“In response to this key challenge, to encounter better ethical decision making in increasingly diverse situations, I believe that the APS needs to foster a new ethics education drive,” she said.
“Let me be clear, I am not proposing simply that we do more of the same stuff that we have been doing off and on for years.”
Commissioner Briggs said improving ethical decision making in the workplace turned on the role of Public Sector leadership.
“I want to encourage our leaders to be more proactive in promoting ethics in the workplace,” she said.
“The APS legislation requires our leaders – Agency heads and the Senior Executive Service – to promote the APS Values and the APS Code of Conduct, including by personal example.”
Commissioner Briggs said the new drive should include a mandatory ethics component in all APS courses; upgrading of APS and SES induction training; encouraging Agencies to better integrate ethics into their management systems; and more analysis of reports and investigations that were critical of APS performance.
She said the Australian community expected their Public Service to be outward looking, flexible, innovative and adaptive in the way in which it shaped policies and delivered programs.
“According to a range of indicators, the Australian Public Service looks pretty good,” she said.
“We have a clear ethical framework in the APS Values and APS Code of Conduct… we also have a broad body of policy and good practice in guidance available to APS Agencies and employees on the interpretation and application of the Code and the Values.”
She said an international index had found Australia to be the ninth least corrupt nation out of 178, but there were some problem areas.
Commissioner Briggs pointed to the escape of equine influenza from Eastern Creek Quarantine Station as an example of carelessness and incompetence that damaged the APS’s reputation and contravened the APS’s ethical framework.
“I cannot emphasise too strongly that our Values and the Code are fundamental to what keeps us sound, professional and safe,” she said.
“The APS Values require us to be apolitical and impartial but they also require us to be responsive.”
The full text of Commissioner Briggs’s address can be accessed on the APSC website www.apsc.gov.au
18 November, 2008
Odds with Stats in reconciliation plan
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has launched its Reconciliation Action Plan.
Statistician, Brian Pink, unveiled the plan saying it outlined how the Bureau would forge relationships with Indigenous people, enhance respect of Indigenous culture and acknowledge the contributions of Indigenous Australians.
“It also builds on the ABS's commitment to leading and coordinating statistical activity involving and relating to Indigenous Australians,” Mr Pink said.
“As well, it states our commitment to recruiting and retaining Indigenous staff and our intention to increase statistical literacy in the Indigenous community.”
He said the ABS had been involved in Indigenous engagement as a “bridge between Indigenous communities and the ABS” for a number of years.
“This collaborative approach has drawn considerable interest from other statistical Agencies and reflects the leading role that the ABS has taken in improving indigenous outcomes - both in a statistical and in a community sense” Mr Pink said.
Chief Executive Officer of Reconciliation Australia, Barbara Livesey, welcomed the commitment, saying as the nation’s statistical authority, the ABS was well placed to record and report changes in issues affecting Indigenous people.
Ms Livesey praised the long term dedication of the ABS, saying it had developed its approach following broad consultation.
She said the Bureau would join over 100 other Australian organisations that had Reconciliation Action Plans in place.
18 November, 2008
Deem team drops rates
The Department of Veterans Affairs has lowered the ‘deeming rate’ on pensioners’ financial investments to reflect the slowdown in the world economy and recent reductions in interest rates.
The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin, said the new rate, which ‘deemed’ that a particular interest rate was earned by an investment, regardless of what the true amount was, would take effect from 17 November.
Mr Griffin said the deeming rate would be reduced from 4 per cent to 3 per cent for the first $41,000 of a single pensioner’s financial investments or $68,200 for a couple and it would shift from 6 per cent to 5 per cent for the balance of financial investments over these amounts. The difference would be included in payments from 4 December.
Mr Griffin said payments affected by the deeming rate would include service pension and the income support supplement.
He said the lowering of the deeming rates meant part rate pensioners paid under the income test with investments mainly in term deposits, shares, managed investments and other accounts could receive an increase in their pension payments.
He said no changes would be made to pension payments for veterans who were already paid at the maximum rate.
Mr Griffin said the decision would help ease the financial pressures placed on DVA pensioners and complemented the one-off payments announced as part of the Government’s Economic Security Strategy.
“I have also asked DVA to update the value of pensioners’ listed securities and managed investments,” he said.
“As a result, on 20 November, nearly 18,000 DVA income support pensioners will receive an average increase of $10 per fortnight.”
Further information for affected pensioners could be obtained by phoning the Department on 133 254.
18 November, 2008
Lawyers put case for more legal aid funds
Lawyers were becoming more and more reluctant to take on legal aid work because of the low rate of remuneration and the President of the Law Council of Australia, Ross Ray QC has called for something to be done.
Mr Ray told the 2008 National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference in Sydney that a survey commissioned for the Attorney-General’s Department revealed that one in three law firms currently practising family or criminal law in Australia had moved away from providing legal aid services.
Mr Ray told the conference that 33 per cent of firms that had provided legal aid in Australia in the past had ceased, while a further 19 per cent had never provided it in the first place.
“The key reason cited in both situations is the rate of remuneration,” he said.
“According to the study, in most cases, the rate for legal aid work is, at best, 50 per cent less than if the work was paid for commercially.”
Mr Ray said the latest pro bono figures revealed the legal profession had “generously donated its time and expertise to the community for many years.
“However, the current low level of legal aid fees can’t be allowed to continue,” he said.
Mr Ray said the Law Council had written to Attorney General, Robert McClelland, outlining seven key policy principles they had developed, which included increasing fees for private practitioners.
He said the principles covered a range of legal assistance sector issues, including breaking down the Commonwealth/State divide, incentives for lawyers to practice in remote areas and increased funding for Commonwealth Legal Centres and Indigenous legal services. “The Law Council believes that these key policy principles should be considered by the Government in any reforms to legal aid and access to justice issues,” Mr Ray said.
The conference featured the launch of a report commissioned by the Victorian Bar which revealed that over the past 15 years, Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) fee increases had not kept pace with CPI and the general expenses of running a practice.
“Unless the main issue affecting practitioners is addressed – the rate of remuneration – there will be a steady decline in the number of practitioners willing to take legal aid cases over the next five years,” Mr Ray said.
18 November, 2008
Ombudsman whips into horse flu probe
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has found that decisions by Centrelink and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry that denied financial assistance to people affected by the August 2007 equine influenza outbreak had been wrong.
The Ombudsman, Professor John McMillan, investigated complaints from five businesses whose claims for the third Equine Influenza Business Assistance Grant (known as EIBAG) had been knocked back.
He concluded that the claims had been incorrectly rejected and should be reconsidered.
“Our investigation established that many other claimants had also been prevented from submitting proper applications for the third EIBAG,” Professor McMillan said, “as a result of incorrect decision making and advice by Centrelink and by DAFF inaction.”
He said Centrelink and DAFF had made a number of mistakes handing the claims, including:
He said he was pleased with the cooperation he received from both Centrelink and DAFF in conducting his investigation and with their prompt and complete approach to implementing the recommendations in his report.
Centrelink said it had identified all the affected claimants and was in the process of contacting them to review their claims.
18 November, 2008
Tax system is too taxing says tax man
The Secretary to the Treasury, Ken Henry, has labelled Australia’s taxation system “extraordinary complex” and has vowed to simplify it in his role as Chair of the Future Tax Systems Review Panel.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra, Dr Henry said Australia’s tax system had more than 125 taxes and 5,700 pages of income tax legislation, and Australians spent too much time and money on their tax returns.
He said the tax system needed an overhaul to make it more practical and workable and called on his fellow tax policymakers to consider the views of practical people, which could be too easily dismissed.
Dr Henry said a holiday conversation with a rural businessman changed his thinking on the tax system.
“The conversation got me thinking how seldom policy people approach issues from the perspectives of everyday citizens,” Dr Henry said.
“At some point on that long drive home, it occurred to me that our tax-transfer system, designed for humans, now vastly exceeds human scale.”
He said the tax system should be understandable to everyday people.
“Australians should not need to consult an accountant to decide whether to return to work or put their kids in childcare,” he said.
“Their retirement planning, too, should be a lot easier.”
Dr Henry said the cost to Australians of managing their tax affairs was significant and was growing.
He said that cost should be reduced as a matter of urgency, because as a complex system, it was a waste of resources.
“It diverts resources from more valuable uses; many high-achieving tax agents could be school teachers, for example.
“It wastes time that people could be spending with their family, volunteering in their community and relaxing with friends.”
He said Governments should do two things to simplify the system.
He said they should think about the transaction costs of the system as a whole, with an eye to reforms that could not only simplify the system, but meet other economic, social and environmental objectives, and secondly they should look at the system from the perspectives of the citizens for whim it was designed.
He said improving the tax system would not be easy.
“Recognising that, the Review Panel has committed to a few ground rules,: he said.
“First, we must remain open to new ideas; second, the review is both too complex and too important to rush; and third, we cannot make good progress without engaging the community.”
He said the review Panel would report to Government at the end of next year.
18 November, 2008
Self defence course takes hard knock
A self-defence course for Customs Officers has been modified following injuries to a number of participants.
According to a report in Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper, up to 146 trainees had been injured in the two years to December 2007, prompting the workplace safety authority Comcare to call for modifications.
Since the course was redesigned in April of this year, however, the newspaper reported another 28 injuries had occurred.
Customs’ Deputy Chief Executive for Border Enforcement, Marion Grant, said she was surprised Comcare had intervened in the course.
“The use-of-force course is designed as a safety training course to provide our officers with a safer set of skills for the high-risk environment in which they're working,” Ms Grant said.
Deputy President of the Community and Public Sector Union, Michael Tull, said the Union was concerned about the high level of injuries.
“We recognise it is strenuous and serious training, but it appears the level of injuries remains unacceptably high and further work needs to be done,” Mr Tull said.
He said it was worrying that Customs had ignored staff concerns and had only responded after Comcare intervened.
According to the newspaper, officers suffered injuries ranging from fat lips to broken bones and concussion while undertaking the hands-on defensive tactics training.
Around 34 of the 146 incidents were regarded as ‘slight’, and included soreness and soft-tissue damage.
Eleven people tripped over exercise mats, with six officers needing time off work from fractured arms, fingers, knuckles and wrists.
The training course was introduced following the 2005 decision to increase the number of Customs Officers allowed to carry guns.
The number of customs officers carrying guns increased from 200 in 2005 to 1,000 this year.
18 November, 2008
Medicare mentors go back to school
Canberra-based staff of Medicare Australia have completed a three-month leadership program that involved mentoring young children at a local primary school.
Senior Agency staff took part in the ‘Spark’ reading program, holding one-on-one reading sessions with children from Calwell Primary as part of the Australian Business Community Network (ABCN).
Acting Chief Executive of Medicare Australia, Philippa Godwin said the Agency was pleased to be part of the initiative.
“Medicare Australia prides itself on being a valued part of the community and taking part in this program was just another way to demonstrate that commitment,” Ms Godwin said.
“The feedback has been so positive, many staff have commented on the successful transformation they saw in their student during the three month reading sessions.”
Calwell’s Principal, Linda Neeson, thanked the staff for their dedication to the Spark program.
“It was inspiring to see people giving back to the community so generously,” Ms Neeson said.
“Thank you for taking the time out of your hectic work schedules to read with the children who enjoyed every minute.”
Ms Godwin said through its membership with the ABCN, Medicare had commenced a number of community volunteer initiatives aimed at broadening staff experience, giving staff an increased sense of achievement and expanding communication skills.
“Medicare Australia recognises the importance of equipping our leaders with a diverse range of skills and experiences,” she said.
“We certainly look forward to taking part in such a worthwhile, rewarding program once again in the future.”
18 November, 2008
Fraud control study is the real thing
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has called on the Child Support Agency to improve its fraud control procedures after an investigation revealed the CSA did not have a workable plan to detect, investigate and prevent fraud.
According to the Ombudsman, Professor John McMillan, the integrity of the child support scheme hinged on the reliability of the evidence used to assess child support obligations and it was incumbent on the CSA to ensure the evidence was accurate and substantiated.
In his report, Responding to Allegations of Customer Fraud, Professor McMillan said the CSA’s fraud control plan “does not adequately manage the risks associated with customer fraud”.
He said the plan, which had been implemented in 2006, focused almost exclusively on the risks posed by internal staff fraud.
Professor McMillan said complaints to the Ombudsman’s office suggested the CSA did not regard investigating and prosecuting customer fraud as an efficient use of its resources.
He said it was “important that the CSA review its policies and practices concerning customer fraud allegations.
“False or misleading information can result in children and supporting parents being seriously disadvantaged by a CSA assessment,” he said.
“The investigation of CSA complaints discussed in this report indicates that some CSA frontline staff do not understand the importance of this preliminary assessment role.”
Professor McMillan said in response to some allegations, staff had suggested administrative means to address the dispute, that the person making the allegation take legal action, or promised to look into it without the intention of doing so.
One complaint discussed in the report was made by a mother who believed her former husband had provided the CSA with incorrect pay slips as proof of his income.
The report found the CSA did not conduct any meaningful investigation into her allegation, and relied on the pay slips as evidence to assess his child support payments.
After taking Court action against her former spouse, it was discovered she had paid thousands of dollars of child support she was not liable to pay.
Professor McMillan made five recommendations in his report, all of which were agreed to at least in part by the CSA.
He recommended the CSA review its Fraud Control Plan to manage customer fraud risks; develop new fraud allegation procedures for staff; educate staff about identifying cases for referral to the Director of Public Prosecutions; consider further action regarding the mother who complained about forged pay slips; and educate staff on authenticating documents and investigating contradictory evidence.
During the investigation, the Minister for Human Services, Senator Joe Ludwig, told the Ombudsman the CSA was developing new arrangements for investigating customer fraud that included an increased emphasis on criminal investigation and prosecution.
Senator Ludwig, thanked Professor McMillan for his report, saying he expected any evidence of deliberate fraud to be referred to the Commonwealth DPP
“I am committed to a tough compliance strategy that ensures all paying parents meet their child support obligations in full and on time,” Senator Ludwig said.
18 November, 2008
Authority signs on to release AWAs
One thousand Australian Workplace Agreements have been made available to researchers by the Workplace Authority for use in evaluating the impact they had on Australian workplaces and workers.
The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Julia Gillard, announced the release saying it was the first time AWAs had been made available for public scrutiny.
Ms Gillard said the AWAs, made between 1 January 2004 and 31 March 2007, had been “manually cleansed” to ensure all personal information was removed.
She said the Authority would release the de-identified material to interested researchers this month, enabling them to analyse the agreements and compare them to the provisions of relevant awards.
Ms Gillard said over half the AWAs being released were lodged with the Office of the Employment Advocate in the 14 months between the implementation of Work Choices and the introduction of the Fairness Test in May 2007.
She said the sample included AWAs that were approved following application of the former no-disadvantage test and those that were made under Work Choices, but before the fairness test.
Ms Gillard said from the 810,000 AWAs made during the period, the sample had been chosen to represent industry and employer size and was proportionally representative of the total number of agreements.
She said during this period employers could make AWAs with a safety net of only five conditions and that award conditions could be removed or modified by an agreement without compensation.
On 20 February 2008 the Government released data compiled and analysed by the Workplace Authority from a sample of 1,748 AWAs lodged between April and October 2006.
Ms Gillard said the newly released data confirmed that overtime penalty rate conditions were reduced in Work Choices AWAs, such as in the retail industry where overtime penalty rates dropped by almost 15 per cent.
Researchers could obtain the agreements by following the instructions given on the Authority’s website: www.workplaceauthority.gov.au
18 November, 2008
Audit report is plain sailing for Customs
The Australian Customs Service has received a positive report from the Auditor-General who revisited a 2003 audit to follow-up progress on implementing recommendations relating to the National Marine Unit.
On his return visit, the Auditor found four of his seven main recommendations had been implemented and the remaining three were partially in place.
In his report, Auditor-General Ian McPhee said the implementation of the recommendations had improved NMU’s management of marine crew, specifically in the development of the interim rostering system and management of training resources.
“Further, it enhanced the quality assurance for maintenance contractors, and encouraged the development of an asset management framework for replacing the Australian Customs Vessels,” Mr McPhee said.
“The previous audit’s recommendations relating to the analysis and evaluation of staffing data, maintenance of marine crew qualifications, and financial management have
been partially implemented.”
He said the audit’s objective was to assess the extent to which Customs had implemented seven of the nine recommendations made in the previous audit.
Two recommendations relating to strategic and tactical taskings and dissemination of intelligence would be considered in the context of the planned performance audit of Illegal Foreign Fishing in Australia’s Northern Waters.
The three recommendations found to have been partially implemented were that Customs regularly analyse and evaluate staffing data and associated crew travel costs; maintenance of a current marine crew qualifications ledger; and the development of a financial management framework.
18 November, 2008
Election aid bites the ballot
Australia is to give more than $6 million to Indonesia to help it prepare for and hold its Parliamentary and Presidential elections in the early part of next year.
Involving 150 million voters and 585,000 polling stations on 17,000 islands, the Indonesian Presidential election was one of the largest single-day national elections in the world.
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, said the task of conducting the election presented unique logistical challenges.
Mr Smith said the funding would be provided by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) and would support the work of the United Nations Development Program, which was coordinating donor assistance for the election.
He said the AEC would work with its Indonesian counterpart to train election officials by analysing training needs and developing training manuals.
Mr Smith said the funding would help develop Indonesian electoral procedures and administration, train election workers, establish an elections results centre and promote accurate and transparent reporting.
He said funding for international partners such as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs would help improve voter registration and awareness of electoral procedures.
Mr Smith said the new funding allocation built on the support Australia had shown for democratic elections in Indonesia over the past decade.
He said in 1999 Australia provided $15 million in election assistance; in 2004 it provided over $12 million; and since 2005 had given around $7 million to support civil society observation, voter education and voter registration audits for provincial elections,
Mr Smith said Australia would provide an estimated $462 million in development assistance to Indonesia in 2008/09.
He said significant improvements in the capacity of Indonesian Electoral Agencies had reduced their reliance on international support to run elections, but that the Indonesian Government recognised broader improvements were still required and had requested international assistance in this case.
The funding announcement coincided with the visit of Indonesian Ministers to Australia for the Australia-Indonesia Ministerial Forum.
18 November, 2008
First wage forum is money in the bank
The first Minimum Wage Research Forum has been judged a “resounding success” with policymakers, researchers and academics adding to the nation’s knowledge bank on the role of minimum wages in the Australian context.
Organised by the Australian Fair Pay Commission, the two-day Forum brought together leading local and international experts and stakeholder organisations to debate the role of minimum wages in Australia.
Commission Chair, Professor Ian Harper said the discussion, debate and presentations were all of a high quality.
Professor Harper said the proceedings from the Forum, including keynote speeches and papers from local researchers would be published to create further discussion and debate on aspects of minimum wage-setting in Australia
He said the Commission organised the Forum as it believed research had a central role to play in informing wage-setting and decision-making.
“In its brief history, the Commission has established a new approach to setting minimum wages in Australia – an approach that is based on a commitment to evidence based decision making, and draws on information that is gathered through research, consultations and submissions,” Professor Harper said.
Forum delegates were addressed by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for
Employment and Workplace Relations, Julia Gillard, who spoke about the establishment of a new Minimum Wages Panel within Fair Work Australia.
Professor Harper said Ms Gillard’s comments were encouraging as the Fair Work Australia Minimum Wages Panel would be able to commission research to help inform its decisions.
He said a key outcome of the Forum was to encourage further research and discussion among academics and stakeholders.
“The papers presented at the Forum provide decision makers with an invaluable resource that can be drawn on for future wage-setting decisions,” he said.
Further information about the forum was available from www.fairpay.gov.au
18 November, 2008
Post Office delivers on Indigenous work
Australia Post’s Indigenous Employment Program has been honoured at the Diversity at Works Awards held in Melbourne recently.
Group Manager of Human Resources at Australia Post, Rod McDonald, said the award had extra significance this year, seeing the 4,000th Indigenous employee hired since the corporation began its Indigenous Employment Strategy.
“Australia Post is one of the largest Indigenous employers in the country and this award is recognition of the hard work our Indigenous employment consultants do every year in the areas of recruitment, retention and development,” Mr McDonald said.
“We have an Indigenous employment consultant in every State and it’s a big part of our success in this area.”
He said Australia Post would continue to offer opportunities for Indigenous Australians through 100 traineeships over the next 12 months which would build on a successful trial in Queensland, NSW and Victoria last year.
“Australia Post is involved in every community in Australia and we believe in providing opportunities for the whole broad spectrum of diversity which exists in Australia,” Mr McDonald said.
“There is nothing more Australian than the notion we all get a fair go and this is reflected in the way we employ people.”
Under the Australia Post Traineeship program, Indigenous Australians would be able to join Australia Post in a number of entry-level positions.
As part of their traineeship, employees would undertake study in certificate courses such as transport warehouse distribution, retail management and postal management.
The Diversity at Work national awards recognised the efforts of individuals, teams and organisations that encouraged diversity and inclusion in their workplaces.
There were nine award categories: Mature Age Workers; Recognising Today's Youth as the Future of Tomorrow; GLBTI; Indigenous Australians; People with a Disability; Work Life Balance; Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Australians; Women in Leadership: and Diversity & Inclusion Champion.
Diversity at Work is a provider of consultancy services, resources and training for organisations involved in diversity management, workforce planning and cultural transformation.
It has advised Government and businesses at the local, national and international levels since 1994.
18 November, 2008
Ripple of interest in water publications
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has released three new publications to help traders in water understand their rights and responsibilities under the Trade Practices Act.
ACCC Chairman, Graeme Samuel, said the volume of water trading had increased in recent years, with many irrigators relying on brokers or exchanges to make decisions regarding buying and selling water and to organise paperwork.
“The Trade Practices Act establishes fair trading obligations for water brokers and exchanges when they are dealing with their customers,” Mr Samuel said.
“The ACCC's publications assist all parties understand where they stand.”
He said Water trading – a guide to your fair trading rights when using brokers and exchanges included tips for irrigators when looking for a broker or exchange, examples of conduct likely to contravene the Act, information about remedies, and penalties for breaches of the Act and steps to resolve disputes.
Mr Samuel said the ACCC had also issued a shorter overview of the rights, Water trading – an overview of your fair trading rights when using brokers and exchanges and a third publication, Water brokers and exchanges – your fair trading obligations, would help brokers and exchanges understand their obligations when dealing with irrigators.
Irrigators, water brokers and exchanges could contact the ACCC Infocentre on 1300 302 502 or visit www.accc.gov.au to access a copy of the publications.
18 November, 2008
Childcare easy as ABC at Defence
Defence families have been assured that ABC Learning Centres would remain open.
Minister for Defence, Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, said Defence had a contract with ABC Corporate Care for the management of 18 Defence-owned childcare centres and although administrators had been appointed to the company, families need not worry.
Mr Snowdon said Defence families could call 180 2003 or visit the Defence Community Organisation and the National Welfare Coordination Centre for more information.
Union elections on
Elections in the Community and Public Sector Unionare to begin on Wednesday 19 November and financial members should be posted ballot papers by the Australian Electoral Commission in the coming week.
More information on the election, including candidate statements for National Officers, Governing Councillors, Section Secretaries and eligible Section Officers could be found at www.cpsu.org.au
CrimTrac nabs another award
The law enforcement information-sharing Agency, CrimTrac has received another accolade, this time being nominated for an e-Government award at the Asia Pacific ICT Awards.
The nomination was for CrimTrac’s National Police Reference System which has already won an award for Excellence in e-Government, as well as an i-Award from the Australian Information Industry Association.
Arts council runs with kids’ protocol
The Australia Council for the Arts has made the consultation draft of its protocol for working with children available for public comment.
The Council has developed a set of protocols to address the depiction of children in artworks, exhibitions and publications that receive Government funding.
More information could be found at www.australiacouncil.gov.au
Stamp album posted
Australia Post has released its 2008 Collection of Australian Stamps album, which includes the last 12 months of stamps and depicts the year that was.
A highlight of the 2008 Collection was the Gold Medallist sheetlet which is not available separately in any other philatelic product.
The Collection was released on 10 November and could be obtained from Australia Post outlets.
Bush telephones installed
Public telephones are to be installed in remote Indigenous communities under the Backing Indigenous Ability (BIA) Telecommunications program.
Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy said the first wave of installations would see 20 phones for 24-hour community use in remote communities in the Northern Territory by the end of 2008.
Community grants announced
The National Library of Australia has announced $366,800 worth of grants to 70 community organisations and groups under the 2008 Community Heritage Grants program.
The groups included museums, libraries, archives, historical societies, art galleries and migrant, Indigenous and religions organisations, each of whom received funds to help preserve nationally significant heritage collections.
Shell shocked PM at Archives
Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has opened a new exhibition entilted Shellshocked: Australia after Armistice, at the National Archives of Australia.
The exhibition explores the future impact of World War I on Australians and was supported by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Migrant scheme report issued
A review into the integrity of the temporary skilled migration program has been released by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans.
The review was commissioned in April this year and made a number of recommendations including abolishing the minimum salary level in favor of market rates of pay; developing an accreditation system to ensure rapid visa processing; developing new lists setting out the occupations temporary work visas could be granted for; and allowing visa holders to stay for a maximum of eight years in Australia without permanent residency.
Senator Evans said paying market rates for temporary workers would ensure they were not used to undermine the wages and conditions of Australian workers.
Champions win funding
Over 1,800 individual athletes between 12 and 18 and over 200 teams across Australia are to be awarded grants under the Local Sporting Champions Program.
Minister for Sport, Kate Ellis announced that eligible sportspeople could apply for grants of $500 per individual and $3,000 per team to help cover the costs of attending sports events and purchasing equipment, uniforms and accommodation.
She said the Australian Sports Commission had been charged with managing and coordinating the program.
Better advice for career advisers
Seventy-six careers advisers have been awarded $5,000 ‘Study scholarships’ to undertake post-graduate studies to upgrade their skills and qualifications.
Another 20 have been given ‘Industry Scholarships’ worth $10,000 each to undertake short-term placements in a range of workplaces, occupations and industries.
The placements and study opportunities are expected to expand the career advisors’ knowledge of various industries, and should benefit students and other clients assisted by the adviser.
Insurance talks to pay off
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has started to consult with industry on the first of two proposed new statistical publications on life insurance.
APRA has introduced new reporting requirements for the industry from 1 January 2008, and has called for feedback on the updated Quarterly Life Insurance Performance publication and a new Half-yearly Life Insurance Bulletin.
Wash-up for money laundering
he final set of obligations to be introduced under the first phase of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 is planned to come into effect on 12 December.
Austrac Chief Executive, Neil Jensen said financial, bullion, gambling and money transfer services would have new obligations under the Act from next month.
He said the reporting entities would need to incorporate ongoing customer due diligence systems and processes into their AML/CTF programs from this date.
Workers to win student prize
Nominations for the 2008 Australian Vocational Student Prize, which recognises exceptional skill, commitment and achievement while participating in a Vocational Education and Training (VET) program, have opened.
School principals can nominate students and up to 500 students could be recognised, with each winner awarded a certificate and a $2,000 prize.
The most outstanding student recipients would also be eligible to receive the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award for Skills Excellence in School.
Nominations close on 24 December 2008.
11 November, 2008
Surplus funds dry up in fiscal drought
The Treasurer has released his Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook for 2008-09 with a warning that he expected Budget income to be severely impacted by the world-wide financial crisis.
Treasurer, Wayne Swan, said tax receipts were expected to be almost $40 billion lower over the forward estimates than were expected in the lead-up to the May Budget.
Mr Swan said the financial crisis had seen over 30 financial institutions across the world fail or be bailed out, while global stock markets had suffered significant losses.
He said as a result, more moderate Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employment growth had been forecast for the Australian Economy.
“Real GDP growth has been revised down to 2 per cent in 2008-09, three quarters of a percentage point lower than expected at Budget,” Mr Swan said.
“The unemployment rate is forecast to rise to 5 per cent by the June quarter 2009 and 5.75 per cent by the June quarter 2010 as the impacts of the global financial crisis flow through.”
He said in the face of the challenges arising from the crisis, the Government would continue to budget for surpluses in 2008-09 and across the forward estimates.
Mr Swan forecast an underlying cash surplus of $5.4 billion for 2008-09 (0.4 per cent of GDP) and in accrual terms, the fiscal balance was expected to record a $5.8 billion surplus in 2008-09 (0.5 per cent of GDP).
“Almost all of the decrease in the surplus beyond 2008-09 is due to the significant reductions in revenue associated with the global financial crisis,” he said.
“Policy decisions have had relatively little impact on estimated expenses and revenues in these years.”
Mr Swan said expected taxation receipts had been revised down by $4.9 billion in 2008-09, $12.2 billion in 2009-10, 12.4 billion in 2010-11 and $7.9 billion in 2011-12 and were largely due to lower forecasts of capital gains tax.
“These revisions also reflect the substantial negative impacts on company profits of the credit market turmoil, weaker global growth, and from 2009-10, falling terms of trade.” He said the Government had taken decisive action to strengthen the economy and support people during the difficult global times, in particular by securing Australia's banking system through guarantees its $10.4 billion Economic Security Strategy.
The Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook was available from www.budget.gov.au
11 November, 2008
PM barracks for new US President
The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd has pledged that Australia would work closely with the new administration of the United States following the election of incoming President, Barack Obama.
Mr Rudd said Australia had been a strong ally of the United States since 1941, under 13 Australian Prime Ministers and 12 American Presidents.
“Our alliance has truly prospered in the past and this alliance will prosper into the future,” he said.
“Australia looks forward to working in the closest possible way, in the closest possible partnership with an Obama Administration, acting together to deal with the great common global challenges we face as democracies.”
Mr Rudd said the two nations would work together to face the international financial crisis, global warming and national security.
He acknowledged the role of the Republican Presidential Candidate, Senator John McCain, saying he was a “strong friend of Australia and a strong advocate in the fight against climate change”.
Mr Rudd said until Senator Obama took up the presidency, the Australian Government would continue to work closely with President Bush, primarily on tackling the global financial crisis.
“I would also congratulate US Ambassador McCallum on his service to the Australia-US relationship, noting Ambassador McCallum’s decision to resign from his position,” he said.
Mr Rudd said the world had relied on American leadership for much of the century and in light of new global concerns, would continue to rely on it in the future.
11 November, 2008
Numbers’ up for OBPR calculator
The Office of Best Practice Regulation (OBPR) has released an improved Business Cost Calculator to calculate the costs of regulatory proposals.
The Calculator is an IT based tool that was developed by the Government and provides an automated process for quantifying compliance costs of regulation on business using an activity-based costing methodology.
Compliance costs included the direct costs to businesses for activities related to complying with Government regulation.
OBPR said the compliance costs for proposals likely to involve a medium compliance burden for businesses would need to be quantified using the BCC or an OBPR equivalent.
It said a Regulation Impact Statement would be required for proposals that could have a significant impact on business, individuals or the economy.
The Office said if the impacts included medium or significant compliance costs, compliance cost estimates needed to be included in the Impact Statement.
The BCC could be downloaded from https://bcc.obpr.gov.au or for a CD version and installation details contact OBPR at www.finance.gov.au
OBPR said for regulatory proposals containing Cabinet-in-Confidence or other high classification data, only the CD version should be used.
11 November, 2008
Stats cuts back on cut report
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has reversed its decision to produce a cut down version of its monthly Retail Business Survey in light of the growing international financial crisis.
Australian Statistician, Brian Pink, announced the reinstatement saying that global developments had heightened public interest in economic and market analysis and the Survey, which was a casualty of the increased efficiency dividend, would be costly to the Bureau to rebuild.
However, Mr Pink said despite the extra costs, the ABS would not be offsetting them with cuts to other parts of its statistical work program.
He said more robust monthly retail trade data was also a top priority for key macroeconomic statistics users who needed improved economic statistics.
Mr Pink said while month-on-month changes in retail sales were difficult to measure reliably, even with the best survey designs and large and varied samples, reinstating the full monthly sample would reduce uncertainty levels.
He said originally, the cuts to the Retail Business Survey sample were part of a set of program cutbacks to help the Bureau balance its 2008-09 budget.
He said the future ABS budget was being reviewed with the Department of Finance and Deregulation, and that future work programs would be framed within the resulting budget allocations and through consultation with stakeholders.
Results from the reinstated sample were expected to be available in early 2009.
Mr Pink said further information about the sample reinstatement would be included in the Retail trade publications: Retail Trade Trends, Australia, which was due for release on 2 December and Retail Trade Quarterly Indicators, Australia, which was due to be released on 17 November.
11 November, 2008
Ombudsman signs up with no complaints
The Commonwealth Ombudsman, Professor John McMillan, has been elected inaugural Chair of a new alliance of Ombudsmen from 11 South Pacific countries.
The Pacific Ombudsman Alliance was established last week in Brisbane and includes Ombudsmen from the Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu, and New Zealand.
Professor McMillan and the NSW Ombudsman, Bruce Barbour, are its Australian members.
The Alliance was established as part of the Pacific Islands Forum ‘Pacific Plan’ initiative, which was put in place to promote good governance.
Professor McMillan said a part of that aim included strengthening ombudsmen services throughout the region.
“A key aim of the Alliance is to support the development of legislation and programs that recognise the right of citizens to transparent and accountable Government services,” he said.
“The Alliance aims to foster integrity in the delivery of Government services by supporting the creation and maintenance of strong ombudsman and allied institutions in the Pacific.”
He said Alliance Membership was to expand beyond Ombudsmen’s offices, to any statutory or constitutionally-based organisation protecting people from maladministration, violation of rights, unfairness, abuse of power, corruption or any injustice or lack of procedural fairness by a public authority.
The Alliance has been providing advice and support to Palau, Nauru, and Niue as they consider establishing Ombudsmen’s offices.
Professor McMillan said the Alliance would be supported by a small secretariat initially located in his office.
He said the secretariat would report to a board predominantly made up of Pacific Island representatives.
The launch of the Alliance was assisted by funding from the Australian Agency for
International Development, AusAID and it hoped to attract further funds from Australian and New Zealand development agencies to allow it to carry out work in the Pacific over the next five years.
11 November, 2008
Sports losing race in obesity stakes
Australian sport was at a fork in the road according the Australian Sports Commission and unless strong leadership, more funding and widespread reform weren’t forthcoming, mediocre international performances and health implications lie ahead for the Australian people.
In a submission to the Government’s Independent Review of Sport in Australia, the ASC said the current sport system was struggling to adapt and compete with modern challenges and inactive leisure activities.
It said a well planned, structured and nationally coordinated approach was needed to boost the system and realise sport’s potential to deliver improved physical and mental health, a sustained national identity and social cohesion.
“Having looked at the evidence gathered from around the world, the Australian Sports Commission is convinced that unless the major issues of leadership, structure, strategy and resources are effectively dealt with, over time there will be a gradual deterioration in community and elite sport outcomes and significant unrealised potential in sport’s ability to contribute positively towards community health, social cohesion and national identity,” it said.
The ASC said in order to remain competitive, Australia needed to overcome its small population base, the trends towards less physical activity and Australia’s geographical isolation and the resulting cost of travelling to competitions.
“There is a need to streamline the system and form a confederation of the Australian Institutes of Sport, under an inter-Governmental agreement, to create a single point of responsibility and accountability,” it said.
‘”Greater involvement from the peak bodies for the major multi-sport Games would also benefit the sporting pathways.”
The Commission said to achieve the Government’s goals of a healthier Australia and sustained elite sporting success, it was crucial to increase sports education in schools, which it said had waned over time.
It said it was important that “every person, everywhere in Australia has access to affordable, quality and safe opportunities to participate in community sport”.
“To this end there is urgent need for a national plan to be developed with clear aims, objective, roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders.”
The ASC said innovative thought was needed to find new ways of resourcing sport and that reform was necessary to address leadership, strategy, structure and resourcing issues.
“In the short to medium term, without an increase in Government funding, Australian sport is headed for mediocrity in high performance outcomes, in the quality of sporting organisations and the product they deliver, and in the physical activity levels and health of Australian people,” the Commission said.
“Strong leadership is essential in driving the sport system forward.”
The independent expert panel was appointed in August this year to investigate possible reforms and is chaired by David Crawford with Mark Bouris, Sam Mostyn, Pam Tye and Colin Carter.
11 November, 2008
Crime chief pays out after PS values breach
The Chief Executive of the Australian Crime Commission, Alastair Milroy, has publicly apologised to the Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, following the actions of an ACC employee who breached the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct.
Mr Debus was deeply embarrassed by the employee’s actions, which included making a dossier of personal notes on what type of alcohol and how much the Minister drank, his political views and concerns about police corruption and words he used that caused personal offence to his wife.
Details of the document were leaked to the media last month, which resulted in an investigation into the incident.
Mr Milroy said the employee who had breached the Code of Conduct had received a range of disciplinary sanctions, but declined to say what they were in accordance with ACC practices and legal advice.
He said the employee had apologised for causing Mr Debus, his wife and his family embarrassment, and had said it was inappropriate for him to have created the document.
Mr Milroy said it was “deeply regrettable” the Minister’s reputation had been tarnished by the observations in the document.
“The references to the Minister’s drinking were particularly inflammatory and out of context, resulting in an unfair portrayal of the Minister,” Mr Milroy said.
“The creation and leaking to the press of the unsanctioned document has caused the Minister, his wife, family, friends and the ACC great embarrassment, and for that I am deeply sorry”.
Mr Milroy said he was concerned over the damage to the ACC’s reputation, but stressed it was not ACC practice to collect or maintain files on politicians for any reason other than for the legitimate functions of the Agency.
“It is simply wrong for anyone to imply that there is a culture or a practice in the ACC that encourages the acquisition, retention or use of material that is beyond our mandated roles and functions,” he said.
“The creation of the unofficial personal ‘notes’ of the function at which the Minister was a guest was not officially requested or condoned by the ACC and I can only condemn the officer’s actions in this matter.”
Mr Milroy said investigations under the Law Enforcement Integrity Commission Act into the unauthorised access and distribution of the document by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity and the ACC was continuing with assistance from the Australian Federal Police Forensic Services.
11 November, 2008
Free trade agreement drives hard bargain
The desirability of a Free Trade Agreement with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates has been raised at the highest levels by the Minister for Trade, Simon Crean, during a recent visit to Riyadh and Dubai.
Mr Crean said the Australian Government was committed to advancing trade negotiations with the States of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
“The GCC as a whole is Australia’s eleventh largest merchandise export market,” he said.
“This is true in the case of automobiles where the GCC took $2.2 billion in Australian exports in 2007-2008 - and also in a host of other sectors, including services, infrastructure, mining, energy and agribusiness.”
Mr Crean said the rapidly growing market between Australia and the GCC was important to the trading future of the nation.
He met with His Royal Highness, Prince Salman, the Governor of Riyadh; the Saudi Ministers for Trade and Industry and for Economic Planning; and with the United Arab Emirates’ Minister for Trade earlier this month.
“I left our hosts with no uncertainty as to Australia’s interests in making progress in these negotiations”, Mr Crean said.
“I also had an opportunity to meet directly with a number of Australian and Saudi business people doing business in Saudi Arabia and the region.”
He said services in areas such as education, where there had been a large growth in student numbers to Australia, project management, infrastructure development, health-care, mining, agriculture, and financial services were a crucial part of the trading relationship.
“My view is that Governments have an obligation to catch up with the rapid growth of the private sector relationships,” Mr Crean said.
“That’s the message I conveyed in my meetings in Riyadh and Dubai - because it’s in the interests of both sides to allow these relationships to continue to flourish.”
Mr Crean said he took the opportunity to stress the need to work together in the G20 to ensure an effective international response to the global financial crisis.
“In both countries we discussed the essential importance of concluding the Doha Round as a contribution to the global response,” he said.
11 November, 2008
Staff scrape through for Movember at DHS
The hair-raising efforts of staff in the Human Services Department have been acknowledged by their Minister who congratulated them on taking part in the 2008 ‘Movember’ moustache-growing challenge.
Human Services Minister, Senator Joe Ludwig, said staff from the Child Support Agency, Centrelink, Medicare Australia, Australian Hearing and the HSA Group had vowed not to shave this month to help raise money and awareness of men’s health issues.
Senator Ludwig said funds raised would go towards increasing awareness and research into health issues with a primary focus on prostate cancer.
“Movember is a fun challenge for people to get involved in, raising money along the way for a serious issue,” he said.
“Every year, more than 18,000 Australian men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and 2,900 die from the disease.”
Senator Ludwig said he was pleased to see the Agencies under the Human Services Department were participating in the charity event, which was held every November.
“All the money raised this month will go to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and beyondblue, the national depression initiative,” he said.
“The combined Human Services Agencies are set to make a strong contribution with fundraising efforts and special events.”
Senator Ludwig said last year Centrelink had been in the top 50 Movember fundraisers in Australia, contributing more than $14,000 to the $15 million raised nationally.
“Movember is a great chance for work places to come together and contribute to a worthy cause,” he said.
“It’s also pleasing to see that during November, the HSA Group will be providing additional men's health seminars, screenings, assessments and advice to its corporate clients.”
More details on Movember were available from www.movember.com
11 November, 2008
Customs opens door on SmartGate
An information campaign to raise public awareness about Customs’ automated border processing system ‘SmartGate,’ has been launched by the Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus.
Mr Debus said over 100,000 passengers had already been processed through SmartGate, and that the new campaign was expected to increase the number of passengers using the system.
“SmartGate has been successfully operating in Cairns and Brisbane international airports and is now available at Melbourne airport,” he said.
“It will be gradually introduced into all major Australian international airports by mid 2009.”
Mr Debus said an in-flight video explaining the SmartGate option to self-process through passport controls would be screened on all flights arriving at Brisbane, Melbourne and Cairns international airports.
He said self processing was also available to eligible holders of an Australian or New Zealand ePassport who were over 18 and that eligible travellers could complete the first stage of the SmartGate process at Auckland airport before departure.
Mr Debus said SmartGate used face recognition technology to verify a person's identity and performed the face-to-passport checks that were usually conducted by a Customs officer.
He said the technology compared an image of the passenger with the stored image of the person encrypted in the ePassport.
“SmartGate is the future of simple, secure and efficient passenger processing,” Mr Debus said.
“SmartGate has been effective in Brisbane and Cairns where it has been operating successfully since last year and feedback from the public has been encouraging.”
He acknowledged Customs technology partner, Sagem, for their role in developing and implementing SmartGate and praised the cooperation between Customs and various airport operators that had played key roles in SmartGate's successful roll-out.
11 November, 2008
ASIC banks on money guide
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has unveiled a new financial literacy program to help young people make decisions about insurance and superannuation.
Launched by the Chairman of ASIC, Tony D’Aloisio, and Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law, Senator Nick Sherry, the program Your Money Starter - Insurance and Super: a financial literacy resource for secondary schools, would be distributed to every secondary school in Australia and included interactive online games.
Senator Sherry said the program had been designed to enhance financial literacy across a range of areas and provided opportunities for curriculum links in all States and Territories.
“We believe financially literate young Australians are more likely to become informed adult consumers and investors,” he said.
“Young Australians who understand insurance as a way to protect their assets, and superannuation as an effective way to save for retirement, will get a head start on two key areas of personal finance.”
Senator Sherry said young people looking to buy a car or go on a holiday needed to think about the insurance they might require and should look at their superannuation needs.
Mr D’Aloisio said ASIC was committed to improving financial literacy for all Australians, young and old.
“Using innovative models to deliver information is essential to encourage engagement with young Australians,” he said.
“Your Money Starter includes a variety of innovative classroom materials, activities and multimedia elements designed to make learning about financial services relevant and attractive to teenagers.”
According to research by the Financial Literacy Foundation, almost 80 per cent of Australians aged 12 to 17 recognised the need to learn more about insurance and 85 per cent recognised the importance of planning for their financial future.
Your Money Starter includes an animated movie about superannuation, an interactive game about buying a car and choosing insurance cover, fact sheets and teaching units and investigations.
The financial literacy resource as available free of charge from the ASIC website www.fido.gov.au
11 November, 2008
School partners hang hopes on framework
A new framework to help schools build effective partnerships with families and their communities has been released by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
The Department’s Minister, Julia Gillard, has promised that all Australian schools and parent associations would soon receive a copy.
Ms Gillard said the Family-School Partnerships Framework set out the principles of effective partnerships and highlighted strategies that schools and parents could use to guide and develop partnerships.
She said evidence showed children were influenced by their family and tended to do better in school, stay in school longer and enjoy it more when schools and families worked in partnership.
She said the Framework underpinned the ideals of the newly established Family-School and Community Partnerships Bureau and would complement the work of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Productivity Agenda Working Group.
She said COAG had identified boosting parental engagement as a key policy direction to try to improve school participation and achievement, reduce educational disadvantage and promote social inclusion.
Ms Gillard said the new Framework had been developed in consultation with the Australian Council for State School Organisations, the Australian Parents Council, schools and other stakeholders.
A copy of the Framework was available from www.deewr.gov.au and www.familyschool.org.au
11 November, 2008
Emergency database no website disaster
A new internet database to allow emergency services organisations to share community education programs is to be set up under the Australian Disaster Information Network.
Established with the agreement of the nation’s emergency services Ministers, the new database would enable the States and Territories to share their knowledge about emergency education programs.
Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, said the initiative was practical and would make community resilience more effective.
He said by freely sharing education initiatives across the country, State and Territory Governments would be able to utilise resources more efficiently.
“This project is particularly important because many Australian families move around the country every year, with their children changing schools,” he said.
“We can’t afford to keep these very worthwhile education programs just in the one State. We require a more cooperative and national approach.”
Mr McClelland said when the website was developed, it would be “an excellent resource for teachers, students and parents.”
He thanked the States and Territories for their work in improving community education and said the website would help apply it as broadly as possible.
Mr McClelland said some outstanding projects developed in different regions of Australia would be highlighted at the annual National Safer Communities Awards, which he would present.
He said nominated projects included a fire education program for remote community school children, an interactive game to encourage learning about natural disasters and a DVD of disaster stories narrated by teenagers to help others learn about cyclones, bushfires and floods
11 November, 2008
Shipwreck plan shows deep commitment
Increased support for the Government's Historic Shipwrecks Program has been announced by Heritage Minister, Peter Garrett, in a beefed-up bid to protect the nation's underwater cultural assets.
Mr Garrett said $440,000 in funding would be used to run 29 protection programs, three of which would be carried out in Launceston, Tasmania, from where the announcement was made.
“The Historic Shipwrecks Program provides valuable financial assistance to State and Territory Agencies who manage, protect, identify and raise awareness of historic shipwrecks on behalf of the Commonwealth,” Mr Garrett said.
“Shipwrecks are virtual underwater libraries of information from our past, and the secrets and insights our shipwrecks hold tell a story about our nation, revealing information about the people that travelled to our shores and the times in which they lived.”
Mr Garrett said it was important to preserve Australia’s historic shipwrecks and their artefacts for the future.
“Through this year's funding, experts here in Tasmania will visit new sites and re-inspect known wreck sites, as well as continue detailed recording of relics held in State museums so the information can go into the Australian National Shipwrecks Database,” he said.
Mr Garrett said other projects would include conservation of shipwreck artefacts in Western Australia; developing local shipwreck trails in Southeast Queensland; continued archaeological documentation of the Japanese midget submarine M24 in NSW; a search for 12 shipwrecks in Apollo Bay, Victoria; locating three whaling shipwrecks in South Australia; and developing the HMS Sirius website.
“One example of significant national interest is this year's discovery off the Western Australian coast of the HMAS Sydney II and the HSK Kormoran,” he said.
Mr Garrett said HMAS Sydney II had sunk after a fierce battle with the HSK Kormoran on 19 November 1941.
He said further information on the protection program was available from www.environment.gov.au
11 November, 2008
Green Corps boost shows true colours
Fifty-four new Green Corps projects have been given the go ahead by the Minister for Employment Participation, Brendan O’Connor.
Mr O’Connor said the projects would provide young people between 17 and 20 the opportunity to volunteer to conserve, preserve and restore Australia’s environment and cultural heritage.
“Green Corps provides participants with training in recognised skills that are designed to help young people to gain work opportunities in related fields,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Participants will be trained under the supervision of a qualified team leader and will gain a Certificate I qualification in horticulture, conservation and land management.”
He said the latest round of projects would be spread across regional, rural and remote areas of Australia.
Projects would focus on ensuring sustainability of vegetation near Toowoomba, Queensland; Spring Creek Dam Wetlands rehabilitation in Orange, NSW; preservation of cultural heritage in the Albany, Western Australia; community education in Kingsborough, Tasmania; costal care in Alexandrina, South Australia; and cane toad eradication in the Northern Territory.
Mr O’Connor said the Central Victorian Training Group, Conservation Volunteers Australia, Greening Australia, Job Futures and Mission Australia would coordinate the Government-funded projects.
He said the Government had recently reviewed current employment services, including Green Corps.
“Following extensive consultation, the Australian Government has designed a new, streamlined employment service that will provide more tailored services for job seekers,” he said.
“From 1 July next year, Green Corps activities will be a work experience option in the new employment services.”
Mr O’Connor said the activities would include an additional focus on water and climate change.
“Green Corps will also continue to provide the opportunity to integrate work experience with training, but will be expanded and now available to job seekers of all ages,” he said.
11 November, 2008
Treadmill warning makes progress
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has issued a Safety Alert on the dangers treadmills pose to children.
ACCC Deputy Chair, Peter Kell, said the alert followed a report by the NSW Product Safety Committee that treadmill users urgently needed to be educated about the hazards treadmills could pose to young children.
Mr Kell said in the past three years, over 100 serious accidents associated with treadmills had occurred in Australian homes, most of which happened while the treadmill was being used.
“The best way to prevent injury is to use your fitness machine in an area that is not accessible to a young child,” he said.
“Serious friction burns can occur extremely quickly when small hands or fingers become trapped against moving parts - by the time the treadmill user can react, it's too late!”
The Safety Alert warned treadmill users to keep young children away from fitness machines and supplemented other ACCC safety alert brochures on products which were dangerous to children and the elderly.
“The ACCC is working with State and Territory consumer protection agencies to publicise the dangers of treadmills to small children,” Mr Kell said.
“It is also consulting industry and other stakeholders on a proposal to introduce mandatory warning labels on treadmills.”
Mr Kell said the ACCC was developing a Regulation Impact Statement for a new mandatory safety standard requiring treadmills to carry a warning label alerting users to potential hazards.
The Safety alert was available from the ACCC's website, www.accc.gov.au
11 November, 2008
Christmas stamps out
Australia Post has released its 2008 Christmas Stamp series, which includes 3 stamps with traditional religious subjects and a stand-alone stamp depicting decorative baubles.
Two of the stamps are valued at 50 cents each, with one at 55 cents and the other at $1.20 for international cards.
Complementing the series, two Christmas Island Christmas stamps (50¢ and $1.20) have also been published, featuring humorous illustrations of Christmas Island animals.
The Traditional stamps were designed by Melinda Coombes and the Australia Post Design Studio while the Christmas Island stamps were illustrated by Rob Kiely.
Licences go smart
Australian driver’s licences were set to move into the digital age, with information stored on new smartcard licences.
Transport Ministers from all States and Territories have agreed on how the information would be stored and have signed the Smartcard Licence Interoperability Protocol to ensure the information contained on the card would be accessible to all traffic and law enforcement authorities.
The Smartcard technology was aimed at making it harder for stolen or fake cards to be used and consequently, harder for identity theft to succeed.
The first state to introduce the cards would be Queensland which was set to release them in 2010.
Companies show female bias
Research uncovering a bias against women in the boardrooms of big business has been released by the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency.
The independent study found women chaired just four Boards in Australia’s top companies, a rate of 2% and held 8.3% of board director positions.
The Director of EOWA, Anna McPhee said this was a decline from 8.7% in 2006 and just 0.1 percentage point higher than in 2004.
She said just over half of all ASX200 Boards had no women directors at all and Australia now lagged behind USA, UK, South Africa and New Zealand.
The newest member of the Royal Australian Air Force’s Task Group 633.2 in the Middle East has been named after Olympic gold medallist swimmer Stephanie Rice.
The AP-3C Orion from Edinburgh’s Number 11 Squadron was welcomed to the task group with a naming ceremony and a bottle of non-alcoholic sparkling wine.
Corporal Andrew Summers likened the AP-3C Orion to the Olympian, saying it was long, smooth and built for speed and manoeuvrability.
Relief in store
A partnership between the Australian Government and three humanitarian relief agencies has led to a warehouse full of essential emergency supplies being opened in Queensland.
The Joint emergency Stores Warehouse in Brisbane is to contain around 100 tonnes of supplies and help lower administration costs and ensure more aid was delivered to those in need.
Use of the warehouse was made possible through Government partnership with the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), World Vision and the Australian Red Cross.
Expo pavilion going up
The Parliamentary Public Works Committee has approved construction plans for the Australian Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo 2010.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been leading the expo project in collaboration with Commonwealth Agencies, State and Territory Governments and private sector stakeholders.
The Pavilion is to be built by Bovis Lend Lease in conjunction with Melbourne exhibition designer Think!OTS, and is valued at around $49.15 million.
The Australian Pavilion is expected to raise Australia’s profile in the China market, showcase Australian innovation and design expertise, and support Australia’s broader trade and investment interests in China.
DNA paper to beat theft
The Minister for Home Affairs has called for public consultation on a discussion paper about new DNA theft laws.
The Minister, Bob Debus said the development of genetic technology had made tighter laws necessary and the proposed new offences did not interfere with the use of DNA testing by Police, Courts or lawful access to private paternity testing.
The paper followed a 2003 Australian Law Reform Commission Report recommending offences on DNA theft be developed due to concerns about privacy, discrimination and the possible misuse of samples.
Air Force Officers graduate
A graduation parade for 40 students of the Initial Officer Course held at the Royal Australian Air Force East Sale base has been staged to welcome them to the Force.
Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, congratulated the students on their graduation and then met 20 RAAF Gap Year Cadets who successfully applied for permanent Air Force Positions at the end of their gap year.
The Gap Year program offered young school leavers between 17 and 24 the chance to experience military training and lifestyle for up to 12 months.
IP Guides published
IP Australia has teamed up with Design Victoria to develop two intellectual property ‘how to’ guides to help industrial and graphic designers understand IP.
Protect Your Creative – A guide to Intellectual Property for Australia’s Graphic Designers and Make Your Mark – A guide to Intellectual Property for Australia’s Industrial Designers contain information and case studies explaining IP protection and related issues.
They were available online at www.designvic.com.au or www.ipaustralia.gov.au
Top exporters named
The finalists for the 2008 Australian Export Awards have been announced by the Minister for Trade, Simon Crean.
Mr Crean said there were 84 finalists, who had been selected for their outstanding achievements in international business.
He said the winners of the 13 industry categories and the overall Prime Minister’s Australian Exporter of the Year would be announced on 5 December 2008 at the National Gallery of Victoria.
A full list of finalists was available from www.exportawards.gov.au
4 November, 2008
PS policy wash-up reveals spin cycle
A study of Public Service policy-making has found that high levels of political ‘spin’ have found their way into the ‘core business’ of policy development.
The report, Marketing Government: The Public Service and the permanent campaign, waswritten by former head of evaluation at the Australian Public Service Commission, Kathy MacDermott, and explored the role of Public Servants in Government marketing amid claims they had become politicised.
Dr MacDermott prepared the paper for the Australian National University’s Democratic Audit of Australia and said it found Public Servant engagement with government marketing activities extended beyond the activities of Agency public relations units to the core business of Government, policy development and program design.
“As a consequence the distinction between administrative support and political support has been weakened,” Dr MacDermott said, “in some of the cases examined in the study it has disappeared altogether.
“If there is a politicisation iceberg out there, then marketing is its tip, because it is the aspect of the Government/Public Service relationship that is most available to public scrutiny and analysis.”
Dr MacDermott said political parties had progressively reduced their reliance on grass-roots support and increased their reliance on market research, polling and media advertising, drawing on public resources for public information campaigns.
She said successful Government programs and policies depended on a positive public relations environment and that Agencies were expected to “take this into account as part of the ongoing risk management of their work”.
“When marketing becomes part of the fabric of Public Service work, what suffers is the distinction between explaining and marketing Government policy; between genuine data and politically tailored data; between legal advice and political direction,” Dr MacDermott said.
She said the public had a right to know where taxpayers’ money was going as increasing amounts were being spent on Government advertising.
She said since the Labor Party was elected in 2007, some “significant” organisational changes to Government advertising activities had been undertaken, but recommended further changes could be made.
“Recent initiatives should make a substantial contribution to rebalancing Public Service responsiveness and accountability,” she said.
“For this to occur, however, the Government would have to maintain its reforms as it moves from the perspective of opposition to the perspective of incumbency.”
Dr MacDermott recommended the Government make use of forums such as the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to encourage the adoption of similar reforms in other Australian jurisdictions.
A copy of the report was available from www.arts.anu.edu.au/democraticaudit
4 November, 2008
Super scheme changes to pay dividends
The management and governance of the APS superannuation schemes are to be overhauled with a package of major reforms announced by the Government.
Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, and Minister for Superannuation, Senator Nick Sherry, said the new arrangements would apply from 1 July 2010.
The Ministers said the reforms would improve and consolidate the governance and administration of APS Superannuation schemes.
They said the boards of Australian Reward Investment Alliance (ARIA), the Military Superannuation and Benefits Scheme (MSBS) and the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme (DFRDB) would merge to form a single trustee board in 2010.
Mr Tanner and Senator Sherry said the new board would act as trustee of the main civilian and military super schemes and would work towards the best interests of its members.
Senator Sherry said civilian and military interests would continue to have representation on the new board as the Government strove to ensure governance arrangements for its superannuation schemes were effective and consistent with the superannuation industry.
“The reforms will not affect members' superannuation benefits in any way,” Senator Sherry said.
“Each scheme will retain its own legislative base and provisions.”
Mr Tanner said the outcome of the overhaul would be a more efficient trustee operation and improved service delivery to members.
“Consolidation will bring more than 650,000 members and pensioners under a single trustee board, establish a greater pool of assets for investment purposes and apply best practice management approaches across all the schemes,” he said.
Mr Tanner said his Department planned to undertake a comprehensive review of administration arrangements for the main civilian and military schemes which would include long-term IT requirements for administration.
He said the study would include specialist advice and identify further improvements that could be made to deliver “sustainable and effective” administration services for the future.
However, Mr Tanner said as a consequence of the study, ComSuper's current IT procurement would be terminated.
He said the Government would strategically assess future IT needs following the conclusion of the study.
4 November, 2008
Regulation review is par for the course
The international economics body, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has been invited to examine Australia’s processes for making and reviewing Regulations.
The first-of-its-kind, the high-level review was announced by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner.
Mr Tanner said the review would build on the Government’s deregulation targets and help improve the quality of Australia’s regulation.
He said the OECD had already reviewed the regulatory frameworks of all but three of its member Governments.
Mr Tanner said the OECD’s international perspective would complement the regulatory reform initiatives currently being pursued at a national level across Australia and through forums such as the Council of Australian Governments.
“This Review will not only provide valuable insights that will support the Government’s ongoing commitment to strengthened processes for regulation making and review and better regulatory outcomes, but will also support deregulation efforts in other countries that will be able to share and learn from our experience,” he said.
Mr Tanner said the Review would examine Australian regulatory management frameworks and processes following best practice in other OECD member countries.
He said a comparative assessment would also be made of the quality and regulatory impacts of Australia’s competition policy and trade and investment settings.
He said a chapter on Commonwealth-State relations would examine cross-jurisdictional reform and aim to include work from COAG to reform 27 regulatory ‘hotspots’ and deliver a “seamless national economy”.
Mr Tanner, co-chair of the COAG Business Regulation and Competition Working Group, invited States and Territories to participate in the Review.
He said the OECD would begin the Review before the end of 2008 and would report its findings to the Government in December 2009.
4 November, 2008
Regulators banking on extra funding
The Department of the Treasury, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission are to receive additional funding to ensure they can maintain the strength of Australia’s financial system during the current global financial crisis.
Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and Treasurer, Wayne Swan, announced the funding boost saying it would allow the Australian people to continue to have absolute confidence in the performance of the financial regulators during the crisis.
Mr Rudd said the regulators had stepped up their monitoring and other activities as the crisis unfolded, ensuring the strength of Australia’s financial system in the face of the “most significant upheaval in global financial markets since the Great Depression”.
“The intensification of the global financial crisis over recent weeks has resulted in a greatly increased workload for our regulators,” he said.
“This additional funding will ensure that the regulators continue to have sufficient resources to fulfil their roles in light of global developments.”
Mr Rudd said the additional funding to APRA would enable it to respond to applications from entities looking to become authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADIs) that meet Australia’s prudential regulatory requirements.
He said as ADIs the entities would be able to take deposits and would be eligible for the Government’s deposits guarantee.
The increased funding would total $83 million over four years with $21.5 million in 2008-09, $43.5 million in 2009-10, $9 million in 2010-11 and $9 million in 2011-12.
APRA would receive $9 million in 2008-09, $18.5 million in 2009-10 and $9 million in each of 2010-11 and 2011-12.
ASIC would benefit from the funding, receiving $10 million in 2008-09 and $20 million in 2009-10 to help it manage the domestic and international implications of the global financial crisis.
ASIC’s additional funding would give it ‘front-line’ resources for market monitoring and enforcement activities.
Treasury would receive $2.5 million in 2008-09 and $5 million in 2009-10 to ensure Australia’s regulatory environment continued to be world class and to pursue reform of the global financial architecture through the G20 and other international forums.
“The Government will ensure our regulators remain appropriately resourced throughout the global financial crisis and will continue to review funding requirements as the crisis unfolds,” Mr Rudd said.
He said the funding would be provided from the Budget rather than being recovered from levies on the financial sector and would be reviewed in the 2009-10 Budget in light of developments in global financial markets.
4 November, 2008
Defence women to soldier on
The challenge of recruiting more women into the Australian Defence Force has prompted the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, to meet with a number of serving ADF women to explore the issue.
The 17th national round table meeting held in the northwestern suburb of Brisbane, Enoggera, provided the perfect opportunity for Mr Snowdon to raise the issue.
Mr Snowdon said he had travelled the “length and breadth of the country”, speaking with service women about the challenges of a career in Defence.
“Women’s representation in the ADF workforce has remained fairly static at about 13 per cent of the permanent force for the last 10 years despite military employment opportunities opening-up,” he said.
“It is simply not acceptable.”
Mr Snowdon said over 200 women from the Public Service, Navy, Army and Air Force attended his informal discussions.
““Many of the matters raised are not gender-specific and participants were very clear in their view that they should not be considered to be solely ‘women’s issues’,” he said.
“Nevertheless, they are issues that affect women disproportionately more than men.”
Mr Snowdon said the issues raised included access to flexible working arrangements, career management, training and professional development, work/family balance, support services, childcare and schooling, housing and recruitment initiatives.
He promised to pass the comments and feedback to the Secretary of Defence, Nick Warner and the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.
“I have also requested that the feedback be given to CDF’s Reference Group on Women and the Service Chiefs so they may use it to challenge current approaches to issues facing women in Defence,” Mr Snowdon said.
He thanked participants for their perspectives and participation in the discussions.
4 November, 2008
Tide turns for tsunami centre
A new Tsunami Warning Centre has been officially opened in Melbourne.
Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, and Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson, welcomed the launch of the Centre which would be operated by the Bureau of Meteorology and Geoscience Australia.
The Ministers said the Centre had been developed under the Government’s $68.9 million Australian Tsunami Warning System Project.
“The launch of this Centre is a major milestone in establishing Australia's self reliance in detecting and issuing tsunami warnings,” Mr Garrett said.
“With state of the art technology, it will enable an assessment of any threat to Australian shores within 30 minutes from the time an undersea earthquake is detected.”
He said the early warning would allow the Bureau to quickly quantify the level of threat posed to the Australian coastline and its communities before developing its response.
Mr Ferguson said the joint operations centre brought together Geoscience Australia's expertise in seismic detection and risk assessment and the Bureau of Meteorology's expertise in sea level monitoring, tsunami forecasting and weather warnings for severe hazards such as cyclones.
“It is particularly pleasing to see such a constructive working relationship between the two science agencies in Australia which between them monitor and report on all natural hazards,” he said.
“The majority of Australians live along our coastal strips, and the project will help save lives and mitigate the effect of tsunami on our coastal communities.”
The Ministers said the new enhanced warnings would include detailed information such as which areas of coastline would be affected and whether the impact of a tsunami would be confined to the marine environment or include the coastline.
They said the Bureau would install a network of sea level monitoring infrastructure including coastal tide gauges and Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami buoys.
The Centre would join the global warning network which included Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii and the Japan Meteorological Agency in Tokyo.
4 November, 2008
Staffers seen in transparency report
Cabinet Secretary, Senator John Faulkner has announced the Government is to publish an annual report of its Ministerial and Parliamentary staffing.
Designed to improve transparency in the appointment and ongoing employment of personal staff, he said the new report would publish the numbers of Ministerial staff and the costs of their employment and be tabled in the Parliament.
Senator Faulkner said the Members of Parliament Staff annual report would include:
“While the number of Ministerial Staff has greatly increased since the early seventies, there has until recently been little thought given to the need to formalise their role and responsibilities.”
He said the new annual report followed the introduction in July this year of a code of conduct applying to Ministerial staffers which set out requirements of personal integrity and demanded they provide statements of their private interests and declared any gifts or sponsored travel they received.
Senator Faulkner said the Code of Conduct also required staffers to recognise that executive decisions were the preserve of Ministers and Public Servants, and not Ministerial staff acting in their own right.
“This last obligation ensures that executive decisions are made by those who are accountable to Parliament or its Committees, and that Government powers are exercised appropriately and by appropriate persons,” Senator Faulkner said.
He said the new Government had accepted the challenge of being more transparent and accountable in the Parliament and had made a deliberate decision to be more responsive to Questions on Notice.
He said last financial year, during which the Government changed, the average response times to Questions on Notice was 161 days for the House of Representatives and 70 days for the Senate.
“This compares positively to the last full financial year of the Howard Government, 2006-7, where the figures were 182 days for House of Representatives questions and 152 days for Senate questions,” he said.
“In the 2007-8 financial year, the average time to answer House of Representative questions on notice was 207 days before the change of Government but only 26daysafter the change of Government.
“Similarly, in the Senate, average response time was 115 days before the change of Government but reduced to 55 days after.”
4 November, 2008
Defence takes aim at dependents’ health
The Australian Defence Force has announced its intention to introduce free health care for the dependents of ADF personnel from next year.
The Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, said the scheme would be launched in the Singleton, Cairns, Katherine, Karratha/Pilbarra and East Sale regions in May 2009.
He said the initial trial would cover 2,700 ADF dependents, and was set to include a total of 16,000 by the end of 2009 following expansion into Townsville, Darwin and Puckapunyal.
“Approximately a quarter of the total ADF dependent population will be eligible to participate in the trial by the end of next year,” he said.
“Australia asks a lot of its ADF families, and we are committed to easing the pressures on them.”
Under the scheme, every dependent would be able to visit general practitioners for standard consultations for free and would be given $300 for basic dental treatment annually.
“One of the biggest challenges currently facing the ADF is the shortage of the right people with the right skills,” Mr Snowdon said.
“The Family Healthcare initiative forms part of the Government’s retention and recruitment strategy.”
He said the trial would give ADF families flexibility, accessibility and an alternative to the originally proposed health clinics.
“I know some people will be disappointed that it’s not happening in their location straight away, but we need to develop a health care model that will best serve Defence Force spouses and dependents,” Mr Snowdon said.
“We are committed to progressively extending free basic health care to ADF dependents.”
4 November, 2008
New aircraft flight was plane sailing
The recent maiden flight of the giant Qantas Airbus A380 saved thousands of kilograms of carbon emissions thanks to a joint initiative from Airservices Australia and a group of air service regulators in Asia and the South Pacific.
Billed as ‘ASPIRE” - Asia and South Pacific Initiative to Reduce Emissions – the scheme involved Airservices Australia, the United States Federal Aviation Administration and Airways New Zealand working with airlines on a series of demonstration flights to show the potential for reducing emissions on trans-Pacific flights.
Qantas’s inaugural A380 service between Los Angeles and Melbourne used electrical power on the ground in Los Angeles rather than running its auxiliary power unit.
It was given priority clearance from air traffic control for taxiing and departure; priority departure from Los Angeles and allowed to reach its optimum cruise altitude as efficiently as possible; a user preferred route to ensure it took the most efficient path; and current weather and wind updates that allowed crew to modify their flight path.
Qantas Chief Risk Officer, Rob Kella, said the flight demonstrated what a high level of cooperation between all sectors of the aviation industry could achieve.
“Airlines like Qantas are investing billions of dollars in the most fuel efficient aircraft and in reducing the environmental impact of their operations,” Mr Kella said.
“By working with key industry partners like Airservices Australia, we can fly the most fuel efficient flight paths which, if translated across our fleet, would deliver significant reductions in fuel burn and reduced impact on the environment.”
Chief Executive of Airservices Australia, Greg Russell, said the demonstration flight showed the development of new technologies and advanced air traffic management techniques meant aircraft fuel efficiency could be improved.
“Today there are many examples of new aviation technologies offering significant environmental benefits, and we have invested heavily in a number of research and development projects to further our efforts in this area,” Mr Russell said.
Mr Kella said the Qantas Group had an established fuel conservation program and improvement targets that included a 25 per cent improved fuel efficiency target by 2020.
“Since 2000, the Qantas Group has invested an average of $2 billion per annum in upgrading its international and domestic fleets,” he said.
“With the introduction of the A380, and other new generation aircraft, we will be able to deliver significant improvements in emissions efficiency and noise.”
Mr Kella said partnerships such as ASPIRE would allow them to work towards a “more sustainable and efficient future”.
4 November, 2008
Centrelink antidote for poison scare
Senior management at Centrelink has defended its actions following a health scare at a call centre in Northern NSW.
PS news reported last week that the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) had called for staff to be housed at alternative accommodation after renovations to the centre’s kitchen led to a staff member being diagnosed with poisoning from toxic fumes.
According to Centrelink General Manager, Hank Jongen, management acted swiftly when the situation arose, encouraging staff to leave the building while the problem was investigated and granting them paid leave until mid-afternoon when they were recalled to work.
“The safety of our staff, and having a safe working environment, is of paramount importance to Centrelink,” Mr Jongen said.
He said external doors were opened and extractor fans were used to ventilate the building.
“Independent air quality tests were also undertaken and subsequent results showed that no airborne contaminate exceeded Worksafe Australia’s permissible levels.
“In fact, the results were less than half the permissible eight-hour exposure standard. Our decision to ask staff to return to work was based on this technical advice.”
Mr Jongen said of the 130 staff scheduled to work in the Tweed call centre that day, only a “very small number” could still smell the odour upon their return.
“Staff could also elect not to return to work if they were at all concerned,” he said.
Mr Jongen said since the incident had occurred, Centrelink had spoken to the Community and Public Sector Union and responded to its questions.
He said the Agency had also checked air conditioning ducts and cleaned carpet and chairs to ensure the odour was gone.
“The incident has been reported to Comcare and Centrelink will cooperate fully with the Agency,” Mr Jongen said.
“We will also assist any staff member who lodges a compensation claim with Comcare, as per our normal procedures.”
4 November, 2008
ASIC hits note with unclaimed melody
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has called on the owners of $500 million in unclaimed money to come forward and stake their claim to it.
The Commission recently added 33,994 records to its list of unclaimed amounts after it collected $151.2 million in new money from banks, life insurance companies, credit unions and companies who were the subject of a takeover in 2007.
ASIC Senior Executive Leader, Consumers and Retail Investors, Delia Rickard, said the money owed to individuals and businesses ranged from amounts of $1 to more than $3 million.
She said the Commission had returned $36 million to its rightful owners in the past six months.
She said last year the Commission ran an awareness campaign that resulted in one Australian being reunited with $742,000.
“Unfortunately, most Australians haven’t checked to find out if they too have unclaimed money,” Ms Rickard said.
“People can ring or email ASIC’s Infoline and speak to one of our customer service consultants who conduct a comprehensive search for forgotten funds, including unclaimed money from shareholdings where the company has been unable to contact a shareholder, old bank accounts and forgotten insurance policies.”
She said the public could also log onto ASIC’s free online database (www.fido.gov.au) to look up their own or the names of deceased relatives.
“Some information, however, is unable to be published online for privacy reasons, so we encourage people to use the Infoline service to check whether they are entitled to any unclaimed funds.” Ms Rickard said.
“We ask, however, that people be patient when telephoning our Infoline staff. If you fail to get through the first time, email us at email@example.com and we’ll respond as soon as possible.”
She said some consumers may have received a letter advertising them that a particular company had located their lost money.
“These companies will offer to reunite you with your funds but will charge a fee or commission for this service” Mr Rickard said.
“Searching via ASIC is free and there’s no cost involved in claiming your lost money – the only thing you need to do is provide proof that you are the owner or beneficiary.”
Further information could be accessed from www.asic.gov.au or by contacting 1300 300 630.
4 November, 2008
ACMA has numbers for digital media resource
The Australian Communications and Media Authority has unveiled a new online resource that brings together information, research and activities about digital media literacy.
Chairman of ACMA, Chris Chapman, said the resource was aimed at promoting participation in, and understanding of, media literacy.
“As digital media and services become an important prerequisite to effective participation in the digital economy and Australian society more generally, people need to be media literate,” Mr Chapman said.
“They need to be able to navigate an expanding range and choice of content, while at the same time understand how they might protect themselves and their families from exposure to harmful or inappropriate material.”
Mr Chapman said it was important to know how to manage security and privacy risks online and to be able to make informed decisions between competing service providers.”
He said the new resource added to ACMA’s consumer protection awareness and education programs and contained information about the Authority’s programs and activities that promoted media literacy.
He said the website targeted the group of organisations that promoted media literacy within the Australia community.
“ACMA recognises that many organisations are actively promoting media literacy in Australia or contributing to understanding media literacy needs, through education, research, or provision of consumer information,” he said.
‘ACMA invites organisations whose work might already be contributing to understanding or promoting media literacy levels in Australia to share information by making it available in the online resource.”
The website was available by following the links from www.acma.gov.au
4 November, 2008
Environment review gets green light
An independent review of the nation’s environment laws has been ordered by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett.
Mr Garrett announced the review at a recent conference of the Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand, saying it would be the first since the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act commenced operation almost 10 years ago.
He said the review came as the threat of climate change and environmental degradation put Australia’s natural assets at risk.
“From the savannahs of the north, to the Great Barrier Reef and down to the rainforests of Tasmania – we all have a responsibility to protect our environment and rich biodiversity and this review will help ensure that we have the settings and balance right,” Mr Garrett said.
He said the Government was aware of the environmental challenges ahead and had called on stakeholders across the nation to present their views about the proposed review and changes to the legislation.
He said the review was a statutory requirement and would be led by Dr Allan Hawke and a panel of experts including Paul Stein, Professor Tom Bonyhady, Professor Mark Burgman and Rosemary Warnock.
“This panel, led by Dr Hawke, will assess the effectiveness of the Act in meeting its objectives, including the protection of the environment, biological diversity and natural and cultural heritage,” Mr Garrett said.
“They will also examine the way Federal legislation interacts with relevant State and Territory laws with a view to ensuring that environmental regulatory regimes in different jurisdictions are harmonised to operate in a streamlined and efficient manner.”
He called for members of the public to submit their views on the changes until 19 December details on how to participate in the review were available from www.environment.gov.au
4 November, 2008
Medicare service lives up to claims
Medicare Australia’s customer service has been recognised as the ‘Best of the Best’ in awards presented by the Customer Service Institute of Australia last week.
Medicare shared the Best of the Best honour with the airline Virgin Blue, but also won the Large Business award for organisations with more than 500 staff and its Business Operations Manager for Tasmania, Don McVilly, was named that State’s most outstanding customer service manager.
Chief Executive of Medicare Australia, Cathy Argall, and the Executive General Manager, Public and Provider Services Division, Ellen Dunne, received Australian Service Excellence Medals and Lifetime Fellowships from the CSIA for their achievements and commitment to service excellence in Australia.
Ms Argall received the award just days before retiring from the Public Service following a 38 year career.
“Over the course of my career it’s been a pleasure to work with the Government on initiatives which have improved service delivery for health care providers and the Australian public, and while I never expected any recognition for this work, it’s nice to be recognised nonetheless,” she said.
“Ellen and I consider it a privilege to work at Medicare Australia and we’re immensely proud of what our staff have achieved over the years.”
Ms Argall said the number of awards won by Medicare showed the importance the Agency placed on delivering “outstanding service to health care providers and the Australian public”.
“Our staff at all levels work tirelessly to ensure the high levels of friendly, timely and accurate service we’ve built our reputation on are consistently maintained throughout these changing times,” she said.
The CSIA Australian Service Excellence Awards showcased achievement in customer service, acknowledging high standards of management, training and commitment to excellence.
Medicare was also recognised at the Annual Commonwealth Rehabilitation Scheme’s Employer Awards for its commitment to helping job seekers gain and maintain employment.
Medicare has worked with CRS since 2006, providing work experience placements for people with disabilities, injuries or health conditions.
Ms Argall said the program allowed jobseekers to gain the confidence and skills they needed to enter the workforce, with many placed with Medicare later finding full time employment with other companies.
“Medicare Australia relishes the chance to partner with CRS Australia, placing job seekers into meaningful roles within the Medicare office environment,” she said.
“Medicare Australia looks forward to providing ongoing opportunities in
partnership with CRS Australia.”
4 November, 2008
Fee relief pays off for Uni students
Full fee university degrees for Australian students were on the way to being phased out following an injection of funds by the Commonwealth Government.
Minister for Education, Julia Gillard announced the Government had approved the allocation of 2,607 new Commonwealth supported places and $9.76 million in transitional assistance for public universities in 2009.
Ms Gillard said the Government was fulfilling an election promise by phasing out full fee paying places for domestic undergraduate students at public universities.
“The Government is committed to phasing out full fee degrees to ensure Australian students gain entry to university on merit, not ability to pay,” she said.
Ms Gillard said the Government was committed to ensuring young Australians had the skills to make Australia a more productive and prosperous nation.
She said $26.45 million had been allocated to 18 universities for the new Commonwealth supported places.
“These places are expected to grow to 7,382 places by 2012 and funding is expected to amount to $192 million,” she said.
Ms Gillard said the 13 universities that had not requested Commonwealth Supported Places to replace full fee paying places were not offering full fee paying places or only a small number that could be absorbed due to under-enrolment in their existing allocation of Commonwealth supported places.
She said six universities sought less than a one-for-one replacement place while seven requested one-for-one and five sought more than one-for-one.
Ms Gillard said transitional assistance would help universities offering replacement Commonwealth supported places in activities such as Indigenous medicine, nursing and health initiatives at Monash University, improved law teaching facilities at the University of Sydney and the provision of medicine places at the University of Queensland’s Ipswich campus.
Transitional assistance of $9.76 million was allocated to nine universities for 2009 and $249 million was set aside for Commonwealth Grants for up to 11,000 Commonwealth supported places by 2011.
“This funding is being used flexibly to support the places requested by universities and to provide transitional assistance,” she said.
“The Government will consider changes to funding arrangements that may be required following the Review of Higher Education and the negotiation of mission-based funding compacts to take effect from 2010.”
Ms Gillard said the review would provide its final report and recommendations to the Government in December.
The following universities would receive the new supported places: Deakin University, The University of New South Wales, Monash University, RMIT University, The University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney, Swinburne University, Macquarie University, Australian Catholic University, The University of Melbourne, The University of Newcastle, La Trobe University, The University of Queensland, Griffith University, Southern Cross University, Flinders University, The University of Adelaide and the University of Western Sydney.
The universities set to receive transitional assistance funding were: Monash University, Deakin University, The University of Sydney, University of Technology, Sydney, University of New South Wales, The University of Melbourne, University of Queensland, Flinders University and the University of Newcastle.
4 November, 2008
Health card insert is stroke of fortune
Centrelink’s News for Seniors magazine is to be used to circulate important advice on how to recognise the signs of stroke to almost two million older Australians.
Minster for Human Services, Senator Joe Ludwig, used last week’s World Stroke Day to announce the move saying it could save some one’s life.
Senator Ludwig said almost 2 million older Australians would receive a wallet card explaining how to recognise the signs of a stroke and what to do.
He said the FAST wallet card formed part of the National Stroke Foundation’s awareness campaign message and stood for Facial weakness, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time to act FAST and call 000.
“This public health message is important to everyone – especially older Australians who are at a greater risk of having a stroke,” he said.
“The FAST wallet cards with the News for Seniors inserts means the message is reaching more than three million Australians.”
Senator Ludwig said News for Seniors would also tell readers about potential risk factors for stroke, Australia’s second biggest killer and a leading cause of disability.
One Australian suffers from a stroke every 10 minutes.
National Stroke Foundation Chief Executive Officer, Erin Lalor, said all Australians needed to be able to recognise the signs of stroke and what to do should one occur.
“Even people who may not be at risk themselves can still help a friend or family member experiencing the signs of stroke,” Dr Lalor said.
“Calling an ambulance as soon as the signs of a stroke are recognised could mean the difference between death, disability or a full recovery.”
The Foundation’s campaign to distribute free FAST wallet cards was sparked by research showing at least 1.3 million people didn’t know any signs of stroke.
4 November, 2008
Care training goes up
Up to 7,700 new training places for aged and community care are to be created over the next four years under a $41 million training plan announced by the Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot.
Mrs Elliot said 2,700 community training places would be available through the Community Aged Care Workforce Development program and up to 5,000 aged care training places available through the Better Skills for Better Care program.
The number of Australians aged 65 and over was expected to triple over the next 40 years from 2.8 million to around 8.4 million.
No PS in safety awards
Commonwealth Agencies were noticeably absent from the winners list at the 8th annual Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission Safety Award winners announced in Canberra last week.
Despite the awards being open to all organisations under Comcare’s health and safety jurisdiction, including all the APS and some private sector licensees, the five categories all went to non-PS winners. Medicare Australia and Defence managed commendations however.
Chairman of SRCC, Les Taylor said a record number of entries were received from Government and private sector organisations and the winners showed the highest safety standards, fewest work related injuries and most effective rehabilitation of injured employees.
The five winners were Visionstream, the National Australia Bank, John Holland, Jerome Gubbels from John Holland and K&S Freighters.
Post Office delivers profit
Australia Post has achieved record financial results for 2007/08
According to the corporation’s Annual Report it earned a pre-tax profit of $592.2 million, an increase of 5.4 per cent on the previous year, and met or exceeded all its community service obligations which included delivering over 94 per cent of domestic letters on time.
Growth in its three core business areas – letters, parcels and retail – boosted overall revenue by 5.3 per cent to $4.96 billion.
Australia Post is due to celebrate its bicentenary in 2009.
Exercise survey reports activity
The 2007 Exercise, Recreation and Sport Survey (ERASS) Annual Report has found most Australians participated in physical activity during 2007.
A joint initiative of the Australian Sports Commission and relevant State and Territory Government Agencies, ERASS found 7.1 million Australians 15 years and over (43.5 per cent of the population) engaged in exercise at least three times a week, compared to just 5.6 million in 2001.
The Annual Report found the age-group with the highest rate of regular participation for women was 55 to 64 (51.3 per cent) while the age-group with the highest participation rates for men was 15 to 24.
Police Institute redesigned
The Australian Federal Police has released plans to redesign its Australian Institute of Police Management in Manly, NSW, to create a more environmentally sensitive complex.
Under the plan the current buildings would be moved away from the shoreline to protect the natural environment of the Long Nosed Bandicoot and Little Penguin.
The AFP has followed the requirements outlined by the NSW Department of Planning and the Federal Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts in relation to the revised design.
Another inquiry into gambling
The Productivity Commission is set to update its 1999 inquiry into Australia’s gambling industries.
The new inquiry is to commence on 24 November 2008, with a draft to be completed by mid 2009 and a final report by the end of next year.
The update comes after almost a decade of changes to the industry, including the growth of internet and sports betting and regulatory changes such as bans on credit gambling and limitations on access to cash.
Disability discussion paper
A discussion paper on the National Disability Strategy has been launched jointly by the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin and Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, Bill Shorten.
Mr Shorten said public consultation sessions were being held across Australia to encourage people to have input.
Submissions needed to be received by 1 December and could be made by visiting www.fahcsia.gov.au or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Defence back to Anzac park
The ANZAC Park West building in Constitution Avenue, Canberra is to be leased out after sitting idle for almost 10 years.
The Department of Defence is to occupy the building after reaching an agreement with the Department of Finance and Deregulation.
The heritage listed office building was initially refurbished for use by the Australian Federal Police, who later decided it was too small to meet its demands.
Commemoration funding offered
The Commemoration of Historic Events and Famous Persons grants program has called for people wanting to conserve the memory of famous people or events to apply for funding.
The program, designed to help commemorate people, events and places of national historical significance, was offering small grants to help with grave conservation and the construction of monuments, plaques and statues with historical significance.
Not-for-profit bodies, Australian citizens and Local Government Authorities were eligible to make a submission by 12 December.
Further information was available from www.environment.gov.au
Reactor shuts down
The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) has announced its OPAL research reactor would be shut down for two weeks for regular maintenance procedures.
The Agency said the monthly fuel change and the replacement of heavy water in its reflector vessel were major steps towards recommencing full nuclear medicine production and irradiation of silicon for the semiconductor industry.
The reactor was recently returned to full operation following a 10 month shut down due to a fuel design fault.
Terrorism still a threat
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’s Report to Parliament 2007-08 says Australia still faced a real threat from terrorism.
The report, which was tabled in Parliament, highlighted ASIO’s role in countering espionage and foreign interference, saying technological advances had increased the threat of espionage in Australia.
The report said during 2007-08 ASIO had conducted 3,224 intelligence and threat assessments, an increase of 17 per cent from last year, 72,688 visa security assessments, 82,290 counter-terrorism checks and 21,386 personnel security assessments.