27 May, 2009

Librarians throw book
at shared service

The Victorian Government Libraries Association has challenged aspects of the Department of Treasury and Finance plan to share public sector services.
   The Association, known as ViGLA, said the proposal, as it currently stands, “exposes the Government to significant financial risk and the Departments to the risk of service deterioration”.
   “The DTF model fails to take account of current multi-jurisdictional arrangements that embody Whole of Government shared services in a much broader context than presented in the proposal,” the Association said in its formal response to the plan.
   DTF recently released consultation draft proposals for shared services in ancillary functions such as facilities, accommodation, carpools - and library services.
   The latest Budget provided funding for the changes, which are being made under the Efficient Government Policy.
   Change proposals have already been finalised for some Departments and the in-scope agencies of Victoria Police, VicRoads, the Environment Protection Authority and the State Revenue Office.
   The Government’s proposal presented in the draft for consultation included the establishment of a new shared Government library service within DTF, to be staffed via Machinery of Government transfer of existing library staff; co-location of a number of nominated in scope libraries; and the creation of a Library Strategic Projects Unit (SPU) for the development of key aspects of the future whole of Government Library Service.
   ViGLA’s response was based on extensive consultation with its members, the staff of Victorian Government libraries.
   The Association said the Government’s commitment to improving access to library services for Government employees is commendable.
   “However ViGLA believes that the work of the SPU needs to be completed prior to any changes to employment arrangements for Government library staff.”
   It challenges the assertion that “a simplified…library service across Government” is a benefit and will save money, warning instead of a degradation of specialised knowledge, research and information services, with corresponding negative impact on Department and Agency output.
   “Efficient provision of information services requires tailored and specialised knowledge and information resources delivery for individual departments,” it says.
   “Interstate and overseas attempts to establish centralised government library service have been costly and largely unsuccessful. Not only have they failed to deliver an improved service for their user groups, the costs associated with disbanding previously amalgamated collections has lead to reduced access and loss of budget and staffing in government libraries.”
   ViGLA’s response made the following recommendations:
  1. DTF establish the Library SPU within the Department of Premier and Cabinet with the task of planning a whole of Government library service model.
  2. Government library staff remain as employees of their host Departments pending the completion of the work of the Library SPU.
  3. Potential co-location of libraries and collections be addressed as part of the SPU, enacted following identification of benefits and mitigation of risk.
   The establishment of the Library Operations Manager position be deferred until the outcome of the SPU projects are complete.

27 May, 2009

Education audit to
inform regulators

Victorian and Commonwealth agencies are to work together to conduct a rapid audit into the State’s private international education providers.
   The Minister for Skills and Workforce Participation, Jacinta Allan said the operation would involve the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority (VRQA), the Commonwealth Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) and the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) in an Australian first aimed at ensuring the State maintained its reputation as a leader in Australia’s $15 billion education export industry.
   “The rapid audit responds to a recommendation of the Overseas Student Education Experience Taskforce established by the Victorian Government last year and will focus on a sample of education providers,” Ms Allan said.
   “The majority of education and training providers in Victoria operate at the highest standard, but those that do not meet these standards will not be tolerated.
   Ms Allan said “immediate action” would be taken against providers found to be operating outside of legislative requirements.
   The Minister noted that between 2007 and 2008, the total number of overseas student enrolments in Victoria had increased from 132,000 to 161,000. This included an additional 19,000 enrolments in vocational education and training courses – creating hundreds of jobs for Victorians, she said.
   “Victoria’s overseas student enrolments have grown by 22 per cent from March 2008, with education being Victoria's largest export earner, contributing nearly $4.5 billion to the State economy last year.
   “Between 2002 and 2008, overseas student enrolments in Victoria more than doubled. It is timely that we ensure that our compliance mechanisms keep up with that growth.”
   The findings of the rapid audit will be provided to the Victorian Government later this year.

27 May, 2009

County Court to set
new benchmark

Melbourne’s old County Court on William Street, vacant since 2002, is to get a $33 million makeover.
   The project, designed by V Arc architects, provides for the refurbishment of the five existing courtrooms and the fitting out of a new courtroom on the building’s third level.
   Attorney-General, Rob Hulls said the contract had been awarded to construction company Hansen Yuncken and would create 140 jobs for the local economy.
   “This substantial investment in court infrastructure demonstrates the Government’s commitment to providing modern facilities and increasing the capacity of the precinct to manage Court caseloads, while at the same time securing jobs and providing a boost to the economy,” Mr Hulls said.
   “Level 3 will be converted into one flexible multi-use trial space and large meeting and mediation space.
   “The design will enable the two spaces to be combined to form an area capable of accommodating various large hearings that require significant space to accommodate multiple counsel, equipment and members of the media.”
   Mr Hulls said the refurbished Court would also be a leading example of environmentally conscious design.
   “Once completed, the Court will look quite spectacular and incorporate a number of environmentally friendly measures, including a 4-star energy rating, 4½-star emissions rating, and water savings through efficient fittings and harvested rainwater for toilets,” he said.
   Mr Hulls said the refurbished Court would also provide a link between the Supreme, County and Magistrates’ Courts buildings – a reflection of the Government’s vision for a unified and engaged Court system.
   “Each corner on the William Street-Lonsdale Street intersection will house a Court when this project is completed, with 223 William Street providing a flexible, open space for the three jurisdictions to use.”
   The redevelopment includes a new entry with reception, security scanning point and control room, as well as meeting and mediation rooms for increased appropriate dispute resolution. Other floors will house the Judicial College of Victoria, the Sentencing Advisory Council and other justice-related Agencies.
   The old Court was vacated in 2002 with the opening of the new County Court.

27 May, 2009

Office hits back
at violence

Victoria’s Office of Women's Policy is coordinating the development of a 10-year State Plan to prevent violence against women.
   Project Officer, Renee Imbesi said the plan aimed to stop violence before it began, by building cultural values that rejected violence and promoted respectful, gender-equitable relationships in communities and homes.
   “This will be achieved through a whole of Government approach with particular emphasis on the areas of education, workplaces, sports and recreation, Local Government and media and the arts,” Ms Imbesi said.
   Senior Policy Officer at the OWP’s Family Violence Reform Coordination Unit, Lara Fergus said the evidence showed women were overwhelmingly the victims of intimate partner and sexual violence.
   “Most violence against women occurs in the home or private setting, and is perpetrated by a man known to them – usually a partner or ex-partner,” Ms Fergus said.
   “Compared with male victims, women are three times more likely to be injured as a result of violence, five times more likely to require medical attention or hospitalisation and five times more likely to report fearing for their lives.”
   Working with men and boys is a critical component of the Plan.
   “Non-violent men have a positive role to play in helping end men’s violence against women, and in shaping the attitudes and behaviours of children and other men, including peers, colleagues and friends,” Ms Fergus said.
   The Plan will build on a framework co-funded by the Victorian Government and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) in 2007: Preventing Violence Before it Occurs.
   The framework suggests that the prevention of violence against women should be guided by three interrelated themes: promoting equal and respectful relationships between men and women; promoting non-violent social norms and reducing the effects of prior exposure to violence; and improving access to resources and systems of support.
   Ms Fergus said the Plan would be overseen by the Victorian Government’s Family Violence Interdepartmental Committee, with additional representatives from Government Work Areas specifically relevant to prevention (including the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Workforce Victoria, Sport and Recreation Victoria, Local Government Victoria and Arts Victoria).
   An Indigenous Family Violence Prevention Strategy is being developed in parallel with the State Plan to Prevent Violence against Women, as part of the Indigenous Family Violence Ten-Year Plan.

27 May, 2009

Children’s services
come of age

Childcare standards will be toughened and staff numbers increased under the Victorian Government’s new Children’s Services Regulations 2009.
   The Premier, John Brumby said the new Regulations would also increase minimum qualifications for staff and regulate all childcare sectors.
   “We want Victorian parents to have access to top quality, affordable childcare services that provide a safe, enjoyable and educational experience for their children and that’s why we are bringing in new Regulations to improve the quality of the early childhood care provided,” Mr Brumby said.
   “The new Children’s Services Regulations will boost childcare standards whilst ensuring childcare remains affordable for families, adaptive to their changing needs and attractive to quality childcare workers.
   The Premier said the new code would:
  • Regulate Outside School Hours Care and Family Day Care to ensure a minimum standard of quality care;
  • Increase the staff-to-child ratio from 1:5 to 1:4 in standard children’s services for children under age three and the diploma qualified staff-to-child ratio from 1:15 to 1:12 by January 1 2012;
  • Require qualified early childhood teachers to be employed in long day care by January 1 2014;
  • Increase the qualifications for all staff and carers to a minimum Certificate III level by January 2014; and
  • Ensure all staff and carers undergo First Aid training.
   The Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development, Maxine Morand said the new Regulations were the result of a comprehensive review and public consultation process.
   “Research shows that the most rapid period of brain development occurs in the first few years of life, so providing high quality early years’ education and care services have a profound impact on our children’s futures,” Ms Morand said.
   “We have consulted widely with parents, industry and the early years’ workforce in drafting the new Regulations with widespread support for this comprehensive proposal to improve the quality of early childhood services.
   “These new Regulations strike the right balance between improving childcare standards, maintaining affordability for families and the long-term viability of the childcare sector and its workforce.”

27 May, 2009

Mediators talk way
through course

Sixteen Gippsland residents have graduated as Mediators after completing a course at the new Gippsland Dispute Settlement Centre.
   The Attorney-General, Rob Hulls said the graduating Mediators were chosen from across Gippsland for their community involvement, local knowledge, life experience and interest in Appropriate Dispute Resolution.
   “Through these Mediators, residents will not only be provided with alternatives to costly court-based dispute resolution, they will benefit from a dispute resolution service which uses local knowledge, local Agencies and local solutions,” Mr Hulls said.
   “The aim is to increase residents’ capacity to resolve their own disputes through the application of early intervention strategies and by teaching conflict management skills.”
   Mr Hulls opened the Gippsland Dispute Settlement Centre, the first in the State Government’s planned regional expansion for Appropriate Dispute Resolution services, in January.
   Since then, Mediators have been working with the community to resolve a range of interpersonal disputes, including neighbourhood disputes over fence and tree issues and common property usage, family disputes and sporting clubs’ disputes with officials.
   “The aim of this program is to reduce the number of interpersonal disputes which appear before Gippsland courts, by diverting them to mediation,” Mr Hulls said.
   The Gippsland expansion is part of a $17.8 million Victorian Government funding package dedicated to introducing Appropriate Dispute Resolution initiatives across Victoria.
   The Barwon South West and Hume regions are next in line as part of the expansion of the Dispute Settlement Centre of Victoria into eight Victorian regions.
   The Gippsland Dispute Settlement Centre is based at the Morwell Justice Service Centre and provides an outreach service throughout the Gippsland region.

27 May, 2009

Place in the sun for
VicUrban project

VicUrban’s mixed-use development in Cardinia Shire is among 16 projects around the world invited to join the Climate Positive Program.
   Another Victorian project, the Lend Lease Victoria Harbour development in Melbourne’s Docklands precinct, also made it onto the list.
   The announcement was made by former US President Bill Clinton at the recent C40 Large Cities Leadership Group Summit in Seoul, Korea.
   CEO of VicUrban, Pru Sanderson said the Agency was honoured to be invited to join the Program, which aims to make a substantial positive impact on climate change.
   “Australia is one of the most urbanised societies in the world, with the highest per capita carbon pollution of any developed country,” Ms Sanderson said.
   “The Climate Positive Development Program will help us to address one of our greatest challenges – making our cities more resilient in the face of climate change.
   “These projects highlight the climate change benefits from the innovative delivery of Melbourne@5million.”
   Ms Sanderson said President Clinton’s announcement recognised the significant climate change benefits that could be achieved from an integrated approach to the planning of jobs, services and housing in high quality urban growth and renewal projects, as VicUrban was doing in the Shire of Cardinia.
   “The Officer Project will be a town with up to 6,000 jobs and homes for 15,000 people, which will demonstrate the climate change outcomes that can be achieved by bringing jobs, services and transport solutions closer to where people live,” she said.
   “The second decade of development at Docklands will need to make climate change a priority.
   “ Lend Lease already has a good track record in building some of the most environmentally sustainable buildings in Docklands. I am delighted that they will be continuing to lead through the Victoria Harbour project.”
   The announcement was also welcomed by the Victorian Government Architect, Geoffrey London.
   "I am delighted that the Clinton Climate Initiative has recognised the potential of these two projects to make a step change in the way Victoria addresses climate change in its urban development," Mr London said.
   "I am very pleased that both the Officer and Victoria Harbour projects have committed to the excellence in urban design needed to successfully address climate change.”
   VicUrban is the Master Developer of Docklands.

27 May, 2009

Media mugged in
mugshot pay plan

Media organisations will have to pay hundreds of dollars to get access to photographs of any convicted offender, under proposed new regulations for Victoria.
   Victoria Police says it needs the money to offset its own costs in processing the applications following a decision by the Victoria Civil and Administrative Tribunal that effectively ended the historical practice of police releasing “mugshots” under the Freedom of Information Act.
   A convicted criminal claimed this breach the Information Privacy Act.
   VCAT’s judgment found that, in general, Section 33 of the FOI Act requires that Victoria Police should notify a person whose photograph it intends to release and advise the person of their right to appeal against the decision to release the photograph.
   The Government responded to the VCAT decision by amending the Police Regulation
Act, inserting a new section dealing specifically with this issue. This new section, which came into effect on 1 June last year, stipulates a range of explicit criteria to be weighed in deciding whether a particular photograph should be released.
   Media organisations will have to apply directly to the Chief Commissioner of Police, firstly for accreditation as an “authorised organisation”, and secondly for each photograph.
   The Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Bob Cameron said the proposed regulation allowed two fees to be prescribed in respect to applications for the release of agency photographs: A fee of 11.6 fee units (currently $131.70) to accompany an application for approval as an authorised media organisation; and a fee of 33.7 fee units (currently $382.50) to accompany an application for release of an agency photograph.
   The reasoning is that applicants should bear the full costs themselves, although the media is expected to counter that it uses the photos in the public interest.
   Mr Cameron said full cost recovery was determined by applying the Government’s fees and charges guidelines to the specific circumstances to which relevant legislation and the proposed regulations relate.
   The Department of Justice recently released a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) on the proposed changes.
   The RIS concluded that the benefits of the proposed Regulations outweigh their costs and that any alternative does not provide a practicable means of achieving the necessary objectives.
   Copies of the RIS and the proposed Regulations may be obtained from www.justice.vic.gov.au
   All comments and submissions on the proposals must be received by 5pm on 11 June.

27 May, 2009

River policy to dry
up green flows

Environmental flows from the Yarra and Thomson rivers may be suspended to maintain Melbourne’s water supplies unless catchments receive significant rains over winter.
   The Minister for Water, Tim Holding announced Melbourne Water and the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority had begun preparing such a plan to secure the city’s water supplies.
   He said it was important contingencies were in place but every consequence would need to be considered.
   “While we have to see what inflows eventuate over the coming months it is important that we understand the impact of suspending some environmental flows should one of these options be needed,” Mr Holding said.
   “We are particularly conscious that the Yarra River has been under stress as a result of the recent bushfires and the ongoing drought. This will be carefully assessed as part of this process.”
   Mr Holding said with water storages currently at 26.7 per cent and with the possibility of extremely low inflows into Melbourne’s major reservoirs, it was vital that authorities had back-up plans ready.
   Melbourne’s storages currently have more than 470 billion litres of water – Melbourne used on average almost one billion litres a day last year.
   For the year to date, the major catchments have received 38 per cent less rainfall than the long-term average (186.7mm this year compared to 302.9 mm). Inflows into water storages are 43 per cent below the long-term average for the year – down 33 billion litres.
   The traditional filling season for Melbourne’s catchments is June to November. The Bureau of Meteorology has forecast a 40-45 per cent chance of exceeding median rainfall between May and July.
   Mr Holding said it was more important than ever that the Government continue with the major water projects contained in its Water Plan to boost Melbourne’s water supplies, including: 15 billion litres of water per year from the Tarago Re-connection from mid-2009; 75 billion litres from the Sugarloaf Pipeline in 2010 and a third of the water savings from Stage 1 of the irrigation upgrades in northern Victoria ever year after that; and 150 billion litres of water from Victoria’s Desalination Plant from the end of 2011.

27 May, 2009

EPA turns heat
on wood heaters

Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority has reminded homeowners with wood heaters to make sure they don’t become a neighbourhood nuisance this winter.
   EPA Victoria’s Dandenong manager, Susanna Young said this began with steps to ensure smoke was kept to a minimum.
   “It’s a good idea to have your flue professionally checked and cleaned before winter really gets going, to make sure it’s clean and clear of obstructions,” Ms Young said.
   “Get a hot fire going quickly with plenty of paper and small kindling, and make sure the air controls are set to keep the fire burning brightly.
   “Don’t overload your wood heater and only use dry, untreated wood for fuel.
   “Damp wood creates more smoke, as it takes more heat to evaporate the water before the wood will burn. More efficient, less smoky fires also have the benefit of warming your house better,” she said.
   Ms Young said that although some people liked the smell of wood smoke, other people with breathing difficulties and respiratory conditions did not find it so pleasant.
   “If you live in the city and are thinking about getting a wood heater, maybe think about a natural gas heater instead. Gas heaters produce less pollution than wood heaters.”
   Ms Young said people should never burn the following in their wood heaters: household rubbish or driftwood; treated wood such as green logs used for constructing garden edges and playground equipment (treated wood can release toxic substances when burnt); and old painted wood, which is likely to contain lead-based paint.
   If you are purchasing a wood heater, ensure it is certified to Australian Standards and installed by a licensed person, she said.

27 May, 2009

War veterans’ kids
win bursary battle

Ten Victorian children of Vietnam veterans have each been awarded $9,000 bursaries to help them complete tertiary studies.
   The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin said the money was being awarded as part of the Long Tan Bursary, named after the Battle of Long Tan in which 18 Australians were killed.
   “The Long Tan Bursary scheme aims to help dedicated students achieve their long-term study goals by easing the financial cost of their tertiary study,” Mr Griffin said.
   “More than 250 sons and daughters of Vietnam veterans have benefitted from the Bursary scheme since it was introduced in 2000.”
   The Bursaries are available for tertiary students, including mature age students, who have achieved good academic results and have overcome personal challenges to successfully complete their secondary education.
   “These students have proven their determination to pursue their studies and I congratulate them on their determination and perseverance to succeed in their chosen career paths,” Mr Griffin said.
   This year’s Victorian winners are: Leah-Naomi Farnham-Quain, Warragul, Bachelor of Arts, Deakin University; Samuel Goodrich, Berwick, Diploma of Audio Engineering, JMC Academy; Clark Lavery, Surrey Hills, Bachelor of Information Technology, RMIT University; David Ludlow, Mount Eliza, Bachelor of Communications, RMIT University; Miko Morell, Watsonia, Bachelor of Engineering, Melbourne University; and Rebecca Mountford, Wantirna, Bachelor of Social Science (Counselling), Australian Catholic University.
   Mr Griffin said Long Tan Bursaries totalling more than $500,000 would be presented to 56 Australian students this year.
   Mr Griffin said two new scholarships were added in this year’s Budget under the Veterans’ Children Education Scheme and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act Education and Training Scheme. These provide a start-up scholarship of $2,254 a year and a relocation scholarship worth $4,000 in the first year and $1,000 each year after, for those students who have to move away from home to study.

27 May, 2009

Housing boom goes
through the roof

More Victorians bought homes in April than at any time in the past seven years, according to new statistics.
   Victorian Treasurer, John Lenders said the boom was due to State and Commonwealth grants for first-home owners – 4,452 Victorians applied for grants worth more than $77 million in April alone.
   “Victoria has the most generous first-home owner package in Australia which is helping to create jobs at a time when economies around the world are being hit by the global financial crisis,” Mr Lenders said.
   "We are working shoulder to shoulder with the Rudd Federal Government to help Victorians into their own homes and create thousands of jobs across the state," Mr Lenders said.
   "Since the start of this year we have jointly provided over $250 million to help Victorian families get a foothold in the housing market.
   "Last month 227 Victorians applied to build a new home in regional Victoria with our Regional First Home Bonus - only slightly lower than the record set just the previous month of 230.
   "Building new homes with assistance from our Governments will also help increase Victoria's housing stock, taking pressure off the rental market."
   The Federal Minister for Housing, Tanya Plibersek said Victorians were helping to create jobs for other Victorians by building new houses with financial support from the Federal and State Governments.
   "Each of these new homes means more jobs for electricians, builders, plumbers and other tradespeople all over Victoria as we fight the impact of the global recession," Ms Plibersek said.
   Mr Lenders said the State Government’s First Home Owner Scheme offered $22,500 for first home buyers purchasing a new home in regional Victoria, $18,000 for a new home in metro Melbourne and $9000 for an existing home as of 1 July this year.
   He said the Government would invest $125 million to extend the scheme for an additional year.

27 May, 2009

Netballers sign on
for violence campaign

Netball Victoria will join forces with the State Government in a new $1.5 million campaign that says Enough to family violence.
   CEO of Netball Victoria, Sue Crow said the organisation was ideally placed to raise the awareness of the insidiousness of family violence in communities across the State due to its predominantly female member base covering a range of ages.
   “Netball Victoria is pleased to support the Government’s Enough campaign and the fight to stamp out family violence in our communities by spreading the message that it is unacceptable regardless of socio-economic status, culture or gender,” Ms Crow said.
   The Attorney-General, Rob Hulls said Melbourne Vixens co-Captain Sharelle McMahon would become an ambassador for the Enough campaign as part of the partnership.
   “Netball is the highest female participation sport in Australia and Netball Victoria has more than 110,000 members throughout the State,” Mr Hulls said.
   “This partnership uses the connections of a strong sporting association and the influence of an Australian netball champion like Sharelle McMahon to spread the very important message that family violence is not acceptable to the Government or our communities.”
   As part of the partnership, posters and information cards will be disseminated through Netball Victoria’s 235 associations and 5,000 clubs. The partnership also incorporates website branding and signage opportunities at sporting venues across Victoria.
   Women’s Affairs Minister Maxine Morand thanked the association for supporting the campaign.
   "Cultural and attitudinal change are important factors in influencing behaviour," Ms Morand said.
   The Family Violence Protection Act 2008, which came into effect last December, broadens the definition of family violence to include physical, sexual, emotional, psychological and economic abuse and recognises the potential impact of family violence on children.
   The new legislation also establishes a system of Family Violence Safety Notices where police can issue notices after-hours to remove alleged perpetrators from family homes and contains initiatives to prevent victims experiencing further trauma by the court experience.

27 May, 2009

Veterans remember
with new memorials

Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital unveiled three new commemorative projects as part of its recent Veterans’ Day celebrations.
   The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin said the belltower, stained glass chapel window and flagpole would honour the service and sacrifice of the Australian servicemen and women who had been treated at the hospital.
   “Since 1947 Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital has been serving the veteran community,” Mr Griffin said.
   “My Department has provided more than $20,000 to help fund the projects being unveiled today.”
   Designed by local artist Simon Normand, the Heritage Bell Tower in Heidelberg’s Remembrance Garden will house its Heritage Bell – donated by an ex-Navy Vietnam veteran.
   “When the Heritage Bell sounds during commemorative services at Heidelberg, I ask you to remember those who did not return from war and those who have suffered and sought treatment here,” Mr Griffin said.
   Mr Griffin also unveiled a piece of stained glass symbolising a $100,000 four-year project to install stained glass windows in the Heidelberg Chapel.
   “Designed by Alison McMillan, this project has been helped by $10,000 from my Department and the generosity of the veteran community. The last piece of stained glass will be installed on Remembrance Day 2011 and I look forward to seeing the end result.”
   The final project involves the removal, renovation and relocation of a flagpole donated by the Red Cross in the 1940s.
   “The flag pole, Heritage Bell Tower and stained glass window projects are welcome additions to Heidelberg’s rich commemorative heritage.
   “The veteran community has also contributed generously to these projects and I congratulate them on their efforts,” Mr Griffin said.

27 May, 2009

Transport routes
making progress

VicRoads will be casting a wider net over Melbourne’s outer west as it investigates the best transport routes for proposed developments there.
   The Government has announced a plan to extend the western Melbourne investigation area for the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) after new studies on the presence of nationally listed Volcanic Plains Grasslands near Mt Cottrell found they were not as prolific as originally thought.
   “This allows the Government to consider land use and transport that may be improved by the current investigation area,” said the Planning Minister, Justin Madden.
   He said the Government was determined to keep Melbourne’s housing the most affordable on the eastern seaboard.
   “In conjunction with the changes to the UGB investigation area, VicRoads is extending its study area for the Outer Metro Ring Transport Corridor in the Rockbank and Werribee areas,” he said, adding this would mean better alignment of town planning with planning for major transport infrastructure.
   Mr Madden said this would allow VicRoads to investigate a broader area, ensuring the best transport route possible could be identified to service this vital growth area.
   Consultation on the revised UGB would now occur from mid-June to mid-July this year and all property owners within the Troups Road extension of the western investigation area would be notified that the Growth Areas Infrastructure Contribution (GAIC) may apply should their land be included in the UGB.
   “This second stage of consultation will allow the public to comment on the proposed UGB changes,” Mr Madden said.
   It is expected that the final boundary will be presented to Parliament in November this year.
   Mr Madden said based on Victorian Government population projections, an estimated 600,000 extra dwellings would be needed in Melbourne over the next 20 years.
   Almost 316,000 of these would be in Melbourne’s established areas, while more than 284,000 new dwellings are anticipated in growth areas.
   The investigation into new growth areas would resolve a number of issues including land supply, ensuring local employment for communities, and the protection of environmental assets, he said.

27 May, 2009

School building
plan top class

Many non-Government schools in Victoria will now be able to proceed with major new building work without the need for building permits.
   This follows a Victorian Government decision to slash red tape so projects being funded through the Commonwealth Nation Building and Economic Stimulus Plan can be fast-tracked.
   Minister for Planning, Justin Madden said the changes would pave the way for the largest number of simultaneous education and housing projects to be undertaken in Victoria’s history.
   “It will mean that new social housing and school building projects can start sooner, without being held up by red tape,” Mr Madden said.
   “The Government is taking action to ensure this funding stays in Victoria to deliver jobs, homes and nation-building projects.”
   Mr Madden said the new streamlined planning process would bring non-Government schools into line with Government schools, which are already exempt from the requirement for planning permits.
   “Without these measures, some non-Government school projects would have taken up to 18 months in the normal planning system, preventing them from accessing Commonwealth funding,” he said.
   The Victorian Planning Provisions have been amended to make the Minister for Planning the responsible authority for the Social Housing Initiative and Building Education Revolution projects.
   Mr Madden also said for these projects there would be no public notification or review.
   “The Social Housing Initiative will see $1.5 billion of Commonwealth funding providing 5,000 social housing dwellings,” he said.
   The conditions of the funding require that at least 75 per cent of all new social housing projects built under this initiative must be completed by 31 December next year.
   Under the National Partnership Agreement of the Nation Building and Jobs Plan, all State and Territory Governments have agreed to take urgent action to support the timely and effective delivery of key projects and infrastructure funded under the Plan.
   Mr Madden said the new planning provisions will be a temporary streamlining measure to support the projects and their access to commonwealth funding and will expire on 30 June 2012.

27 May, 2009
Health check for hospitals
The Productivity Commission is to compare the relative performances of the public and private hospital systems.
   The Assistant Treasurer, Chris Bowen said the study followed the Council of Australian Governments agreement in November last year to reform the health and hospital system and introduce a nationally‑consistent approach to activity-based funding for public hospital services.
   The study will compare treatment costs, including out-of‑pocket patient expenses and rates of fully‑informed financial consent. Rates of hospital‑acquired infections and other indicators will also be considered. 

Principals get vision
More than 60 Principals and other school representatives heard Federal Minister for Education, Julia Gillard outline her vision for Building the Education Revolution at a seminar in Narre Warren recently.
   Ms Gillard used the session at Don Bosco Catholic Primary School to outline the next steps for rolling out the $14.7 billion program and how local schools could participate in new National Partnerships on Quality Teaching, Literacy and Numeracy and Low-SES School Communities to share in more than $2 billion of resources.

Fire levy under fire
The Victorian Liberal-National Coalition has pledged to review the State’s current Fire Services Levy to implement “a fairer system” if it wins Govenment.
   The Insurance Council of Australia welcomed the announcement by the Leader of the National Party, Peter Ryan.
   It claimed the current Fire Services funding model was not efficient and sustainable because not all Victorians financially contributed.
   “The current FSL system places an unfair and inappropriate burden on insurance. General insurers contribute the overwhelming bulk of the funding to Victorian Fire Services,” the Council said.

Screeners bust out in Ballarat
The Grampians BreastScreen Screening and Assessment Service has a new home in Ballarat.
   Minister for Health, Daniel Andrews officially opened the new BreastScreen service at Ballarat Health Service’s Queen Elizabeth Centre.
   He said the Government provided more than $1.3 million to equip the service with the latest digital technology and renovate the facility at the Queen Elizabeth Centre.
   The Grampians service screens about 10,000 women a year, with most cancers caught when they are small and treatable.

Tourism push strikes gold
The tourism campaign for central Victoria’s Goldfields region – postponed by the February bushfires – has been relaunched.
The Minister for Tourism and Major Events, Tim Holding said the Leave a little richer campaign using national print, radio and online advertising was aimed at interstate visitors.
   “The campaign focuses on the rich artistic culture of Victoria’s Goldfields, including the numerous antique stores, architectural heritage, art galleries, wineries and cafes that the Goldfields region is famous for,” Mr Holding said.

Polly is a cracker
Melbourne’s iconic tall ship Polly Woodside will be open to the public for the first time in three years at the Melbourne Convention Centre’s free public open day on Sunday, 31 May.
   The barque, built in 1885, is returning to her home berth at Duke’s Dock following a $13 million restoration.
   The Minister for Major Projects, Tim Pallas said the dock dated back to 1875 and was one of the few surviving relics of Melbourne’s extensive shipbuilding and repair industry.

Scientists named
Two of Victoria’s leading scientists, Sir Gustav Nossal and Professor Suzanne Cory, will have schools for high-achieving students named after them.
   Minister for Education, Bronwyn Pike said Nossal High School would open in Berwick next year, while Cory High School would open in Werribee in 2011. She said both new selective-entry schools would take an initial enrolment of up to 200 Year 9 students, including places for highly able students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
   Former Mt Erin Secondary College Principal Roger Page will be Nossal High School’s first principal.

Tide turns for stem cells
Victorian researchers are to join forces with Californian scientists to investigate therapeutic uses for stem cells.
   Minister for Innovation, Gavin Jennings announced the $28.7 million three-year collaboration between the Victorian Government and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
   He said the deal would fund four strategic projects on stem cell research aimed at accelerating treatments of diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
   Under the arrangement, the State Government would fund the Victorian researchers, while the Institute would pay for the Californian team.

20 May, 2009

Federal guarantee is
security for States

Details of the Commonwealth’s offer to guarantee State and Territory borrowing have been released by the Federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan.
   The Guarantee is to be administered by the Reserve Bank of Australia.
   The Commonwealth announced the Guarantee in March to protect infrastructure development from the ravages of the global financial crisis by providing a time-limited, guarantee over State and Territory borrowing.
   According to Mr Swan, the measure recognised that pulling back on nation-building infrastructure investment under current circumstances would hinder a recovery from the global recession, resulting in slower growth and higher unemployment into the future.
   Mr Swan said that as most States and Territories provided their own guarantee over borrowings of their issuing entities, the Commonwealth would guarantee the obligations of the States and Territories rather than the obligations of the issuing entities directly.
   He said the guarantee would be voluntary and unconditional but would not be able to be applied to borrowings of non‑Government owned entities.
   Mr Swan said the States and Territories would have 28 days from the date they first apply to guarantee new issuances to decide whether to cover existing securities, allowing them to assess market conditions and determine whether they need to use the Guarantee.
   He said the Guarantee would cover bond lines of up to 15 years including indexed securities and those with cross default clauses.
   “This will cover the majority of the States and Territories' actively traded stock and will support liquidity in the secondary bond market.”
   He said the Guarantee would commence once an Appropriation Bill to be introduced into the Federal Parliament during the Winter sittings receives Royal Assent and a Deed of Guarantee is executed.
   The Treasurer said the Government was working closely with the States and Territories to finalise the Deed of Guarantee and the Scheme Rules.
   He said the arrangement would operate until market conditions normalize and full details of the Guarantee could be found at  www.stateguarantee.gov.au

20 May, 2009

Science agreement is
formula for success

Victoria’s Department of Primary Industries will enter a new era of cooperation with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, following the signing of a collaborative agreement on exploration for energy resources.
   Minister for Energy and Resources, Peter Batchelor said that under the new agreement, the DPI and CSIRO would share information, data, technology and expertise – reducing exploration risk and attracting new investment and jobs.
   “Finding new energy reserves and potential geological carbon storage and geothermal resources is a challenge of national importance,” Mr Batchelor said.
   “The three-year collaborative agreement between the CSIRO and the Victorian Government will help established and emerging industries address this challenge by sharing information and expertise through research.
   “Our complementary skills, expertise, facilities and background are expected to lead to an increased understanding of energy resources, which will attract industry to invest in Victoria.”
   Mr Batchelor said while the Victorian Government and CSIRO had previously shared information, expertise and technology, formalising the arrangement would mean projects were jointly resourced by both organisations, significantly increasing the ability to solve geological problems
   “A steering committee, initially chaired by CSIRO Project Leader, Dr James Underschultz, will guide both organisations’ involvement in projects under the agreement,” he said.
   “One major study under the agreement will address the hydrology of the Gippsland Basin, including how water in the basin moves, how the water bodies offshore and onshore are linked and examine the potential for carbon capture and storage in the Basin.
   "Other studies will examine a wide range of other energy-related issues, such as work to better understand how petroleum is generated and trapped and how geothermal resources can be best developed.”
   DPI’s Earth Resources Basin Studies Manager, Dr Geoffrey O’Brien said the Victorian Government had broad expertise in understanding the geological framework of sedimentary basins, where petroleum reserves might be found.
   “We also have extensive data that will allow a 3D model of the State’s sedimentary basins to be created,” Dr O’Brien said.
   “Collaboration between the two organisations will enhance our capabilities so that we can conduct a more comprehensive analysis of petroleum systems.”

20 May, 2009

Victorians reel in
illegal fishing

The Victorian public has been an enthusiastic fighter against illegal fishing.
   The State Government’s 13-FISH (13-3474) offence reporting line recently received its 5,000th call since its launch in 2003.
   The Minister Responsible for Fisheries, Joe Helper, said the community’s help had resulted in more than 500 infringement notices, 91 prosecutions launched or completed, and more than 1,200 intelligence reports generated.
   “Recreational fishing is a valued activity that can be enjoyed by all Victorians and it is therefore imperative that we have a sustainable fishery into the future,” Mr Helper said.
   “The number of calls about illegal fishing activity has risen steadily every year since the program was introduced six years ago.”
   Mr Helper said the success of 13-FISH was a strong sign the community of Victoria was serious about protecting fish stocks and sticking to the rules designed to ensure fishing can be enjoyed well into the future.
   “The Government is committed to managing fisheries resources according to ecologically sustainable development principles, and enforcing management arrangements is vital in achieving this outcome,” he said.
   “The 24/7 reporting line is a cost-effective mechanism for collecting intelligence on illegal fishing activity by getting the public to help monitor fisheries and provide vital information to assist Fisheries Victoria operations.
   “There have also been many other calls associated with fisheries management matters.”
   This year Fisheries Victoria is planning an increased emphasis on targeting inland fisheries crimes based on the intelligence gathered through 13-FISH.

20 May, 2009

No tiers for Senator
in nation reform call

The Leader of the National Party in the Senate, Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce has called for reform of Australia’s three tiers of Government.
   In an address to the National Press Club in Canberra, Senator Joyce said the inability by some States to manage their affairs meant they were untenable.
   “More and more the affairs of our Nation are run by the Federal Government,” Senator Joyce said.
   “Whether we like this or not, it has become the natural course of the political stream.
   “In the near future, States for all intents and purposes, will be irrelevant.”
   He said there were Australian States who were “effectively bankrupt” and had lost the capacity to deliver basic services which was their core function.
   He said it was only the Federal Government’s underwriting of those troubled States that kept them viable.
   While Senator Joyce said he supported the Federal Parliament’s upper and lower House structure, he thought changes were needed to ensure better representation in the Senate.
   He said Senators should be selected to represent regions within a State, rather than the whole State.
   Senator Joyce criticised the current system, pointing to Tasmania’s 12 Senators and comparing them to Queensland’s Gold Coast which had roughly the same population but no Senators based in the region.
   He said regional Australia would be better served if each region selected two Senators.
   “If New York can only have two Senators, the same as Montana, then Brisbane can have two Senators and North Queensland [can] have two Senators and four other regions in Queensland two each as well, elected at each election,” he said.
   Senator Joyce also called for Constitutional recognition of Local Government as essential in keeping the “spread of power” in Australia.
   He said the Federal Government should directly appropriate Councils for the provision of certain services, with strong oversight to stop “nepotism and corruption” at the local level.

20 May, 2009

Passengers zoom
onto fast rail

The Regional Fast Rail program appears to be succeeding with new V/Line figures showing record numbers of passengers making use of the services.
   The figures for March showed 12,000 more trips were made that month than the previous record, for a total of almost 1.19 million.
   The Geelong, Bendigo, Traralgon and Echuca lines all achieved their highest ever passenger numbers in March.
   Minister for Public Transport, Lynne Kosky said the V/Line fleet was growing to meet the increase in passenger numbers with 50 new VLocity carriages to be on the tracks by 2012, adding an extra 50 per cent in capacity on Regional Fast Rail corridors.
   “The good news is that the investment in more trains is already starting to pay dividends with more Victorians taking up regional train travel as a better, cheaper and more comfortable alternative to their cars,” she said.
   Ms Kosky said a campaign to encourage more Melburnians to travel by train to the country and the International Airshow at Avalon also contributed to the March record.
   She said the Traralgon line continued to be V/Line’s fastest growing, following a 27.2 per cent jump in March to 120,506 passenger trips –26,000 more than the same time last year.
   The Geelong, Ballarat and Traralgon lines all saw growth of more than 20 per cent compared to the same time last year.
   The Geelong line – up 21 per cent on the same time last March, saw almost 50,000 more passenger trips to a new record of 283,746. The Bendigo (220,688 passenger trips) and Echuca lines (27,253 trips) also set new records in March.

20 May, 2009

Heart of city home
for new health Agency

The Australian Health Workforce Ministerial Council has decided to make Melbourne the national headquarters for a new Federal Agency overseeing health professionals.
   The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) will be responsible for registering and accrediting practitioners in 10 health professions – nurses/midwives, doctors, dental professionals, optometrists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, psychologists, podiatrists, osteopaths and chiropractors.
   It will be the first time health professionals have had a single national registration and accreditation system. Each profession will also have a single national board located alongside the AHPRA in the Little Collins Street offices now occupied by the Nurses Board of Victoria, replacing individual boards in each State.
   Victorian Minister for Health, Daniel Andrews, said the new Agency was to begin operations from 1 July next year.
   “The decision through the Australian Health Workforce Ministerial Council to base the national office in Melbourne is good news for Victoria,” Mr Andrews said.
   “Basing the national office in Melbourne will create 67 jobs.”
   Mr Andrews said the decision recognised Melbourne’s advantages in terms of accessibility, the labour market and other costs.
   “Victoria also provides an important base of expertise which the agency will be able to call upon,” he said.
   Each state will also have its own office of AHPRA. Victoria’s State office of the Agency will be based in the Little Collins Street headquarters.
   The Nurses Board of Victoria, which owns the Little Collins Street buildings, will hand them over to the Government, which has pledged the program of grants, scholarships and research funding previously provided through the Nurses Board of Victoria will continue.
   “In addition, funding will be provided for the Victorian Nurses Health program to be continued for at least three years,” Mr Andrews said.
   “We also expect that this program will be rolled out across the country through the National Nurses & Midwifery Board.”
   The Agency’s formation sprang from a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Intergovernmental Agreement signed in March last year.
   The Health Practitioner Regulation (Administrative Arrangements) National Law Act 2008 received Royal Assent on 25 November 2008, giving effect to the new national law.
   The National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for the Health Professions consists of a Ministerial Council, an independent Australian Health Workforce Advisory Council, a national Agency with an Agency Management Committee, national profession-specific boards, committees of the boards, a national office to support the operations of the scheme, and at least one local presence in each State and Territory.

20 May, 2009

Awards take teachers
to head of the class

Long-serving Victorian Government school teachers and staff were honoured alongside the State’s current high-achieving educators at the recent Victorian Education Excellence Awards.
   Tributes were paid to the school personnel who had worked in the field for between 40 and 50 years, while awards worth $230,000 were presented to the winners in 11 categories.
   The winners included Lalor West Primary School’s Huong Thi Tran, who was named Most Outstanding Primary Teacher despite arriving in Australia at age 15 unable to speak English, and Shepparton High School teacher Louise Duncan, who won the $50,000 Lindsay Thompson Fellowship for an innovative approach that included using the iPod to revolutionise learning and create tech-savvy students.
   The Minister for Education, Bronwyn Pike and the Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development, Maxine Morand congratulated all the award winners.
   “These awards celebrate the unique and outstanding contributions of the very best teachers, school staff and school leaders, and early childhood teachers in our kindergartens and government schools,” Ms Pike said.
   “We have great teachers, volunteers and support staff in Victorian schools and children’s services helping provide young Victorians with every opportunity to succeed. These awards are a great way of acknowledging their priceless contribution to an ever-changing education system.”
   The individual category winners were:
  • Lindsay Thompson Fellowship, Louise Duncan (Shepparton High School);
  • Outstanding School Leadership Award, Colin Simpson (Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School);
  • Outstanding Primary Teacher Award, Huong Thi Tran (Lalor West Primary School);
  • Outstanding Secondary Teacher Award, Brendan Murray (The Pavilion, Banksia Latrobe Secondary College);
  • Outstanding Business Manager Award, Tracey Smith (Maryborough Education Centre); and
  • Outstanding Early Childhood Teacher Award, Catherine Russo (Coolaroo South Kindergarten).
   The schools winning awards were:
  • Outstanding School Leadership Team, Wallan Primary School;
  • Curriculum Innovation, Courtenay Gardens Primary School;
  • Outstanding Education Support Team, Bendigo Senior Secondary College;
  • Partnership with Parents and Communities, Buninyong Primary School; and
  • Pathways and Transition, Ballarat Secondary College.

20 May, 2009

High-tech roads
a path to success

New technology has been introduced to Victorian roads to ensure extra-heavy vehicles travel only on approved routes.
   Minister for Roads and Ports, Tim Pallas, said the Intelligent Access Program (IAP) – administered by Transport Certification Australia – used the Global Position System to track mobile cranes and concrete pump trucks, making sure they stuck to approved roads and times so as not to damage infrastructure.
   “With the commencement of IAP, most heavy mobile cranes and concrete pump trucks in Victoria must be fitted with IAP capability,” Mr Pallas said.
   “By keeping heavy mobile cranes and concrete pump trucks on approved routes, IAP will deliver better efficiency and productivity for the road transport industry alongside improved road safety and access for all road users.”
   Mr Pallas said that IAP would also protect roads and bridges that were unsuitable for these heavy vehicles.
   “On the wrong routes, the weight of heavy cranes and concrete pump trucks has the potential to damage the roads on which they drive,” he said.
   “Approved routes for these vehicles are assessed to ensure their service capacity. IAP will monitor compliance of these heavy vehicles in using approved routes, enabling the wider road network to remain efficient and in a good state of repair.”
   Mr Pallas said that heavy mobile crane and concrete pump truck operators previously carried the administrative burden of fitting their own GPS units.
   “Heavy mobile cranes and concrete pump trucks operators have been responsible for making their own arrangements to monitor these vehicles’ movements. With IAP, certified service providers will monitor these vehicles and reduce the administrative onus on the operator.”
   Transport Certification Australia requires all IAP-certified service providers to meet strict quality and performance standards.
   Transport operators or interested parties can request the IAP requirements or information kits by emailing iap@roads.vic.gov.au

20 May, 2009

Government and AFL
to tackle violence

The Victorian Government, Victoria Police and AFL coaches have joined forces in a new campaign that challenges young men to be “a real champion” and keep their mates out of trouble.
   Their combined Your Move and Championships Move information campaign is the latest initiative to help curb alcohol-fuelled violence, but tackles the problem by appealing to entrenched values like personal choice and mateship – “Anyone can start a fight but a champion can spot trouble early and prevent it from escalating”.
   The $2 million campaign is part of the Victorian Government's Restoring the balance – Victoria's Alcohol Action Plan 2008-2013.
   Minister for Police, Bob Cameron joined Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe for the launch at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
   "Real champions respect everyone’s right to a good time," Mr Cameron said.
   “Real champions look out for their mates, avoid violent confrontation and make sure their mates do too – that is the key message of the Your Move/Championship Moves campaign.”
   The Department of Justice website Your Move (www.justice.vic.gov.au/yourmove) features the television advertisement being used, while the police-sponsored Championship Moves (www.championshipmoves.com.au) has videos on various scenarios that it said could “save lives, keep everyone safe and on the right side of the law”.
   Mr Cameron said the new campaign sought to “restore the balance between our vibrant nightlife and the increase in alcohol-related violence, anti-social behaviour and alcohol-related health problems”.
   It was designed to reach men aged 18-25 because research showed they were the most likely to become involved in confrontations in pubs, clubs and on the street.   Mr Cameron said AFL coaches would become ambassadors for Your Move/Championships Moves by taking the campaign message to clubs and players across the State and making it an important element of the successful Growing the Game program.
   “Coaches are leaders and mentors in our community and are in a position to have a positive influence on young men,” he said.
   “Our AFL coaches are to be commended for volunteering their time to support the campaign and I am delighted they are partnering with the Victorian Government and police to help in this important new campaign.”
   Young males will be targeted through youth media outlets including the internet and gig guides, as well as the development of partnerships with organisations.
   Advertisements have been developed in consultation with Victoria Police, the liquor industry and community groups such as Step Back, Think.
   The advertisements will be launched on commercial television networks with print, online, viral and outdoor advertising on public transport routes and indoor advertising in licensed venues and other locations in which there are large groups of young people, including TAFEs and universities.

20 May, 2009

Lenders to broker
more active role

Mortgage lenders should take a more active role in helping borrowers in financial difficulty, according to a new report from the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and Consumer Affairs Victoria.
   The report, Helping home borrowers in financial hardship, found many lenders did not have processes in place to adequately identify and help those struggling with repayments, leaving the matter to collection officers who may not be trained for that purpose.
   Some had even adopted policies inconsistent with the rights and remedies available to borrowers under the Uniform Consumer Credit Code by refusing hardship assistance once payments were more than 60 days overdue or limiting variations in repayments to a maximum period of six months.
   ASIC’s Senior Executive Leader (Deposit Takers, Credit and Insurance Providers), Greg Kirk, said the report highlighted the importance of industry taking an active role in dealing with hardship.
   “With forecasts of growing unemployment, we can expect to see increasing numbers of borrowers experiencing mortgage stress,” Mr Kirk said.
   “In many cases, however, financial difficulties will be temporary, allowing problems that arise to be resolved.”
   Mr Kirk said it was important for lenders and intermediaries to have processes in place to provide constructive responses to financial hardship.
   “These include procedures to identify customers in hardship, to provide clear and timely information to customers on their right to seek relief, and to engage sufficiently with a customer’s circumstances in order to provide appropriate and flexible assistance,” he said.
   The report found that information about financial hardship was usually only provided following payment default, making it very difficult for borrowers to take positive action at an early stage.
   Equally concerning, said Mr Kirk, this information was often insufficient for borrowers to understand their options and make informed choices.
   “Lenders appear to prefer offering short-term assistance, such as a three month payment moratorium, rather than genuinely engaging with, and responding to, a borrower’s specific situation,” Mr Kirk said.
   “For example, a home loan borrower who has lost income through reduced overtime may need their loan to be extended with lower repayments over a longer period. In such circumstances, a short moratorium is a very temporary fix leaving the borrower likely to default when repayments resume.
   Mr Kirk said despite clear industry standards, mortgage brokers generally had a limited understanding of their role in responding to financial hardship.
   “While most brokers say they offer assistance, there is little evidence of formal policies and procedures to ensure it is done effectively or constructively,” he said.
   “ASIC is confident industry will welcome the guidance provided by the report, and we’ll continue to work with them to promote better outcomes for borrowers.”

20 May, 2009

New rail link on
the right track

The planned Regional Rail Link, which secured $3.2 billion in funds from the recent Federal Budget, will “create a generational shift in Victoria’s rail network”, according to Victoria’s Premier, John Brumby.
   The Premier said the project would construct up to 50km of new track between West Werribee and Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station – “the first major new rail line for metropolitan Melbourne in 80 years” – to improve capacity by separating regional and metropolitan trains.
   “Regional Rail Link was Victoria’s highest priority project for action submitted to Infrastructure Australia,” Mr Brumby said.
   “It will improve reliability for Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo V/Line services and free up capacity for more trains on the Werribee, Craigieburn and Sunbury (Sydenham) lines.”
   The new rail link will serve the growth suburbs in Melbourne’s west of Tarneit and Wyndham Vale and include the rebuilding of Sunshine station with new platforms and a new rail bridge over the Maribyrnong River.
   The Premier said works were to start before the end of the year to commission platforms 15 and 16 at Southern Cross Station, with major construction of the new track to start in 2010.
   The Minister for Public Transport, Lynne Kosky said several bottlenecks where suburban and regional trains intersect would be removed to improve service reliability and allow more trains to operate at the busiest times.
   “Regional Rail Link provides capacity for more than 20 extra train services every hour across the Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Werribee, Craigieburn and Sunbury (Sydenham) lines, providing capacity for more than 9,000 extra passengers every hour,” Ms Kosky said.
   “This significant project means that for the first time regional trains coming from the west and suburban services from the north and west will travel on separate lines, removing conflicts where metropolitan and regional services cross tracks in the inner city.
   She said V/Line’s punctuality and reliability would be bolstered with the completion of Regional Rail Link as many V/Line trains currently got stuck behind suburban services when they entered the metropolitan network.
   Regional Rail Link is expected to take five years to complete.

20 May, 2009

Awards give back
to volunteers

Minister for Health, Daniel Andrews paid tribute at the inaugural Minister for Health Volunteer Awards to those across the State who made selfless contributions to public healthcare.
   “Among the tireless volunteers honoured include individuals who brighten the lives of sick children and senior citizens who have undertaken remarkable fundraising efforts,” Mr Andrews said.
   “The calibre of finalists and nominees shows that there is no shortage of dedicated, enthusiastic and caring volunteers in every part of our health system.”
   The Alfred ICU Volunteer Team and Kinglake Community Emergency Response Team were among those recognised for their outstanding response to the Black Saturday bushfires.
   Mr Andrews said volunteers were at the heart of the healthcare system in Victoria and made a remarkable difference to the health and well-being of many patients.
   “These awards are a first for this State, and they recognise the vital role of volunteers and the impact they have on the quality of care to patients, clients and their families and the community,” he said.
   Mr Andrews presented nine awards to individual and team winners, and highly commended or special commendation awards to another 17 finalists.
   The winners were:
  • Metropolitan Health Service – Team award, The Alfred Hospital ICU volunteers and Ambulance Victoria’s Kinglake Community Emergency Response Team; individual award, Bev Piper, a play education volunteer at Southern Health who has helped sick children in hospital for 45 years;
  • Primary Health Service – Team award, North Yarra Community Health’s Community Liaison Committee; individual award, Dennis O’Sullivan, an unpaid Board Director for Central Bayside Community Health for 23 years;
  • Regional Health Service – Team award, Barwon Health ‘s Cancer After Care Group; individual award, Pat Mackay, an entertainer who has cheered elderly nursing home residents within Ballarat Health Services for 28 years;
  • Rural Health Service – Team award, Seymour District and Memorial Hospital’s Volunteer Team; Jack Lappin, a 16-year-old who provides weekly support to the aged residents of The Kilmore & District Hospital

20 May, 2009

Veterans brush up
for art competition

Victorian veterans, war widows and their families are once again being asked to pick up their paintbrushes, pens and cameras for the annual Veterans’ Story Writing and Art Competition.
   The Federal Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin said this year’s competition featured a special writing category, “Women and War”, commemorating the various roles undertaken by women during wartime.
   “The competition provides all of the Victorian ex-service community with an opportunity to share their experiences and demonstrate their creative skills,” Mr Griffin said.
   “The well-being of the veteran community is enriched by participating in activities that are meaningful and enjoyable, such as story writing, art, craft and photography.  
   “I encourage all veterans, their families and war widows in Victoria to participate in this competition. Entries are encouraged from beginners through to the more experienced artists and writers.”
   Entries in the art, craft and photography categories will be displayed at a public exhibition at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital in October. All winning entries will be included in a special annual publication.  
   Cash prizes, trophies and other awards for the best entries in each category will be presented at a ceremony in November. 
   Entries close on 31 July. Further information and entry forms are available from: 
Story Writing & Art Competition Coordinator, Department of Veterans’ Affairs, GPO Box 87A Melbourne VIC 3001. Email swac@dva.gov.au or phone 1300 132 515

20 May, 2009

Higher education
comes out on top

Far-reaching reforms to the Australian higher education sector have been announced in response to the Bradley Review of Australian Higher Education.
   A package of $5.7 billion over four years was announced in the Federal Budget to go towards a number of measures, including an additional 55,000 university places across Australia for students from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds by 2020.
   Other reforms include resources to promote equity and performance funding tied to quality; an increase to university indexation; a phased move to address the gap in funding for the indirect cost of research; and changes to student income support to help needy students and increase postgraduate stipends.
   There would also be a $3 billion investment in infrastructure through the Commonwealth’s Education Investment Fund and recurrent funding of $2.1 billion over the forward estimates for higher education teaching, learning and research.
   In a joint statement, the Federal Ministers for Education, Julia Gillard and Innovation, Victorian Senator Kim Carr said the investment was a key part of the Government’s “education revolution”.
   “By investing now, the Government will prepare Australia for growth beyond the global recession with that growth driven by high skilled and environmentally sustainable jobs,” the Ministers said.
   They said the announcement would mean less red tape and micromanagement for universities and improved facilities for teaching, learning and research.
   “These reforms will drive a greater focus on students and their needs, an increased emphasis on quality teaching and learning and increased participation by students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Ms Gillard and Senator Carr said.
   “These changes will allow more Australians, irrespective of their socio-economic circumstances, to access a quality higher education qualification.”

20 May, 2009

Lawyers stretch legs
for Justice Walk

Some of Australia’s top judicial authorities joined forces with Victoria’s legal community for the second annual Melbourne Walk for Justice.
   The Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Robert French led the early morning procession from the steps of Parliament, through the legal precinct to the County Court of Victoria.
   He was joined on the Walk, which coincided with similar events around Australia as part of National Pro Bono Day, by patrons including Victorian Attorney-General, Rob Hulls; the Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, Justice Michael Black; the Honourable Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, Justice Diana Bryant; the Chief Magistrate of the Magistrates Court of Victoria, Ian Gray; the Chairman of the Victorian Bar Council, John Digby QC; and the Managing Director of Victoria Legal Aid, Bevan Warner.
   National Pro Bono Day celebrates the work undertaken by organisations like the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) and the pro bono commitment of the legal profession in ensuring access to justice for marginalised and disadvantaged Victorians.
   Established in 1994, PILCH is a leading not-for-profit organisation committed to furthering the public interest, improving access to justice and protecting human rights by facilitating the provision of pro bono legal services and undertaking law reform, policy work and legal education.
   PILCH’s Executive Director, Kristen Hilton, said the body helped more than 2,000 individuals and organisations every year to access free legal and related services.
   “PILCH provides much-needed services to Victorians who would otherwise find it impossible to navigate the legal system,” Ms Hilton said.
   “These services include legal assistance to community groups and not-for-profit organisations, people experiencing homelessness and elderly Victorians at risk of elder abuse.
   “PILCH is also at the forefront of public policy and law reform debates and has worked closely with the Victorian Government to help nurture a human rights respecting culture in the State.”
   Ms Hilton said PILCH had also played an instrumental role in helping people affected by the Black Saturday bushfires access pro bono legal services.
   “It is a wonderful opportunity for all of those who care about access to justice and achieving justice to come together in recognition of the work done by community lawyers, pro bono lawyers and other advocates in assisting disadvantaged Victorians.”

20 May, 2009

Expanded register
hangs up on callers

Proposed expansions to the Do Not Call Register will help protect businesses, fax users and emergency service providers, according to the Federal Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Victorian Senator Stephen Conroy.
   Senator Conroy said the scope of the register would be widened to include all telephone and fax numbers, including the numbers used by businesses and emergency service operators.
   He said the 2009-10 Budget had provided $4.7 million of funding over 4 years to improve the service, but that around $3.5 million would be recovered from Register access fees paid by the telemarketing and fax marketing industries.
   “This is consistent with the (Commonwealth) Government's election commitment that industry will bear the full direct costs of the Register,” Senator Conroy said.
   He said at present the Register did not allow telephone numbers used primarily for business, emergency service numbers and fax numbers to be registered.
   “Community consultation indicated that these telephone and fax users want protection from unsolicited commercial telemarketing and fax marketing representations,” Senator Conroy said.
   “It was particularly concerning to me that these unwanted calls and faxes are wasting business resources and adversely affecting the operation of emergency services.”
   He said the changes responded to the productivity and privacy concerns of those who had been excluded from the register.
   Senator Conroy said the changes would require legislative amendments and would make allowance for legitimate business-to-business telephone calls.
   He said the amendment Bill would not be introduced into Parliament until community and industry consultation.
   Senator Conroy said the register was operated by the Australian Communications and Media Authority  and that registered telephone account holders could lodge a complaint at www.donotcall.gov.au or by phoning 1300 792 958 if they had received an unsolicited telemarketing call.

20 May, 2009
Police review boundaries
Victoria Police is reviewing its regional boundaries in an effort to make them more consistent with those of other Public Sector Agencies, especially Emergency Service organisations.
   The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) understands the plan is to realign the boundaries in accordance with the Department of Human Services boundaries which differ significantly to Victoria Police's configuration.
   CPSU says the net impact is unclear but it has been contacted by concerned members from all five regions.

Transport workshops
The Department of Transport is to conduct public workshops in six Melbourne municipalities to discuss bus services with Councils, residents and bus operators.
   The Department will also accept written submissions from individuals and groups as part of the review into services in the Melbourne, Port Phillip, Yarra, Banyule, Darebin and Moreland municipalities.
   Minister for Public Transport, Lynne Kosky said feedback from the community would be used as the basis for improvements, which could include longer hours of operation, more frequent services, extended routes, new routes and improved links with connecting trains.

Children weed about pests
Weed Warriors, a program showing Victorian school children how to identify and combat pest plants, has received $1.4 million funding for another four years’ operation.
   Landscape Protection Manager of the Department of Primary Industries, Brendan Roughead said the program encouraged children to learn through a hands-on approach as well as helping them develop a sense of responsibility for the natural landscape.
   “It gives students a unique opportunity to research and map the weed’s origin, identify its natural enemies, breed biological control agents and monitor local infestations,” Mr Roughead said.

Solar briefing
More than 80 delegates attended a recent industry briefing session about how to bid for Victoria’s planned $100 million solar power station.
   Minister for Energy and Resources, Peter Batchelor said the turnout showed the strong interest in the project, funding for which would be allocated following a competitive process.
   “With funding potentially available from both the State and Commonwealth funding, we are extremely well positioned to attract strong and innovative projects which will substantially boost our solar industry in Victoria,” Mr Batchelor said.

VCAL Awards presented
Minister for Education, Bronwyn Pike presented awards to 34 students, 19 teachers and four community organisations at the recent Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning Achievement Awards.
   Achievements by this year’s winners included a fashion parade to raise money for disadvantaged children and a 35-metre boardwalk memorial to three students killed in road accidents.
   Ms Pike said 7,678 students successfully completed their VCAL certificate last year, with 66 per cent going on to secure an apprenticeship, traineeship or job.

Export entries open
Entries have opened for the 30th annual Governor of Victoria Export Awards.
   Minister for Industry and Trade, Martin Pakula said the awards celebrated Victoria's export achievers across 13 different categories, with winners automatically progressing as national finalists to the 2009 Australian Export Awards.
   “These Awards offer the industry role models and demonstrate the range of achievements that are possible,” Mr Pakula said.
   Applications close on 17 July and entries can be made through the Export Awards website: www.export.business.vic.gov.au/awards

13 May, 2009

Difficult Budget is
right on the money

Victoria’s reliable export markets, strong financial institutions and stable housing forecasts gave reason for optimism despite the grim situation of the global economy, Secretary of the Treasury and Finance Department, Grant Hehir told the recent State Budget Briefing Breakfast.
   Mr Hehir said it was a difficult Budget to prepare under the circumstance “and certainly the most difficult for this Government”.
   "This is only the second time since the pre-war period that the global economy has sunk so low,” Mr Hehir said.
   More than 1,100 Victorian Public Servants attended the Budget Briefing Breakfast, organised by the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) to hear presentations from Mr Hehir, Chairman of Allen Consulting Group, Dr Vince FitzGerald and Chair of Barwon Health, Claire Higgins.
   Mr Hehir explained how, in keeping with recent G20 and International Monetary Fund recommendations, the 2009-10 Budget would invest heavily in infrastructure, particularly social housing and education projects that could be rolled out immediately.
   "Rather than just dig holes and fill them in, it is important to bring forward plans already in place to stimulate demand and build on production capacity," he said.
   The $11 billion expenditure stands to create 35,000 jobs across the State, a move Budget commentator Dr FitzGerald said compensated for the rising job losses in the private sector.
   A 13-year veteran of the IPAA Budget Breakfast, Dr FitzGerald praised the Budget for resisting tax hikes carried out by other States and for infrastructure spending with real social and economic benefits.
   While Victoria has become the leanest spending State, it still manages to invest strongly in vocational training, emergency services, non-urban transport and in particular, mental health, he said.
   As regional Budget commentator, Ms Higgins evaluated the Budget against the needs of communities in rural and regional Victoria.
She praised health care, education and transport initiatives supported by the Budget but would have liked to have seen more support for regional businesses.
   In highlighting “hidden gems”, such as funding for a volunteer recruitment scheme and support for rural sporting clubs, Ms Higgins outlined the significance these initiatives hold for bringing communities together.
   "Overall this Budget is as fair as possible for as many people as possible across the State," she said

13 May, 2009

Ombudsman report
sparks probe team

A dedicated Investigative Unit is to be established within Local Government Victoria in response to an Ombudsman’s investigation into Brimbank City Council.
   The Minister for Local Government, Richard Wynne said the Government accepted all of the recommendations of the Ombudsman, George Brouwer and would take decisive action to ensure the community could have faith in the conduct of all Councillors.
   “Local Government plays an essential role in the life of our communities and the people of Victoria need to have the utmost faith in their elected representatives,” Mr Wynne said.
   He said he would immediately instruct LGV to impose a rigorous system of monitoring and monthly reporting on the conduct of Brimbank City Council.
   A Manager of Investigations and a Senior Inspector for a dedicated LGV Investigative Unit had already been recruited.
   Mr Brouwer said his investigation was triggered by disclosures made under the Whistleblowers Protection Act 2001,alleging that:
  • Councillors placed Brimbank at financial risk by directing that the Chief Executive Officer remove funds from a project in retaliation for a Councillor’s failure to gain Australian Labor Party pre-selection for the Kororoit by-election;
  • A Councillor knowingly released a confidential resolution to the media; and
  • A Councillor threatened staff, late in the Budget process, that the Budget would not be carried if approximately $680,000 was not allocated to a sporting ground connected to the Councillor’s family.
   Mr Brouwer said the evidence revealed a Council that was generally dysfunctional and marked by in-fighting and interpersonal conflicts.
   “It was clear that the Council had split into two groups, the ‘ruling faction’ and the minority Councillors, and that the Council was unable to govern as a whole,” he said in his report. “One Councillor referred to there being a ‘cold war impasse’ between the factions since May 2007. This impeded the Council’s ability to function effectively.”
   The Ombudsman said he was particularly disturbed by the influence on the Council of unelected people.
   “It became evident early in my investigation that the operation and governance of the Council was influenced by individuals who held no elected Local Government office, including individuals who would be, or were in the past, precluded from holding office because of criminal convictions,” he reported.
   “Their influence was exerted behind closed doors and at times for their own personal or political motivations.”
   Mr Wynne said LGV would be funded to undertake an ongoing program of spot audits of the governance arrangements of Victoria’s Local Governments.
   “The Inspector will initially be assigned until the next Council election in November 2012, after which a decision will be made as to whether the monitoring should be extended,” he said.
   Mr Wynne said the Government would also review penalties under the Local Government Act “so they match the expectations of the public and of this Government”.

13 May, 2009

Auditor ticks off
2009 check list

The Auditor-General has released his hit list of audit targets for the coming year.
   VicForests, the Office of Housing, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, teacher performance, irrigation efficiency programs and biotechnology development along with the management of major rail projects, State parks, hazardous waste and water are all on the list and will be in the Auditor’s spotlight in 2009-2010.
   In his recently released Annual Plan for the year, the Auditor-General, Des Pearson has highlighted these areas as being of broad performance audit interest relating to the Government’s Growing Victoria Together vision and goals.
   Rail safety, the rollout of advanced metering infrastructure, vehicle fleet management, services for students and pensioners, and deals with non-government service providers are among other issues earmarked for investigation but of a more limited scope.
   Mr Pearson noted VicForests’ key responsibilities included the sale and supply of timber resources in State forests, developing and managing an open and competitive sales system for timber resources, and pursuing other commercial activities as agreed by the Treasurer and responsible Minister.
   “The audit will examine the organisational efficiency and effectiveness of VicForests in meeting its legislative objectives,” Mr Pearson said.
   Regarding biotechnology development, Mr Pearson said Victoria had been at the forefront of Australia’s biotechnology-based industry for more than 80 years.
   “The Department of Innovation Industry and Regional Development reports that the value of biotechnology deals signed from 2004 to 2007 exceeded its target of $1 billion by at least $3 billion, and estimates that the biotechnology sector is worth $21 billion to the State’s economy.”
   He said the audit would examine the transparency, accountability and value-for-money of outcomes delivered by public sector investment in the biotechnology sector.
   “It will include an examination of whether investments in the Bio21 biotechnology precinct and the Synchrotron project have delivered intended outcomes,” Mr Pearson said.
   On the management of major rail projects, the Auditor-General noted the Victorian Transport Plan (VTP) underpinned the State’s continued economic growth and liveability.
   “It includes a $12 billion commitment for additional track capacity and rail extensions, and $3.2 billion for new trains,” he said.
“Completing these major rail capital projects on time is critical to achieving the VTP’s objectives. Previous audits of Regional Fast Rail, Rail Gauge Standardisation and the Restoration of Country Rail Passenger Services have highlighted the need to improve the management and delivery of rail projects.”
   Mr Pearson said the audit would assess whether selected projects were well managed and whether intended project outcomes were achieved.
   Among other matters for investigation, the Auditor-General will examine how the Office of Housing’s strategy of transferring ownership of Government-owned housing stock to not-for-profit housing associations has improved access to housing for low-income Victorians; the application of the teacher performance and development process in Government primary and secondary schools; how well the concessions ‘system’ for pensioners and beneficiaries responds to changed circumstances; the Environmental Protection Authority’s enforcement of regulations; and the Department of Sustainability and Environment’s management of ground and recycled water.
   The Auditor-General’s full plan can be viewed at www.audit.vic.gov.au

13 May, 2009

Financial standards
add up, report finds

The finances of Victorian Public Sector entities are overwhelmingly in line with approved accounting standards and reporting frameworks, according to a report by the Auditor-General, Des Pearson.
   His report to Parliament on the finances of entities with a balance date other than 30 June – mainly universities, TAFEs and Alpine Resorts – found only four of the 115 audit opinions given required qualification.
   “The major conclusion in the report is that Parliament can be confident in the accuracy of the financial statements of the total group covered by this audit, but there are financial management issues emerging that will need to be monitored closely,” Mr Pearson said.
   A qualified audit opinion means that a statement has not been prepared in accordance with the relevant reporting framework and, therefore, is less reliable and useful as an accountability document.
   The type of qualification issued to the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria is one generally attached to the financial statements for entities that have significant “public appeal” based fundraising activities, where it is particularly difficult to meet the evidentiary standards for revenue verification, Mr Pearson said.
   “Deakin University and the University of Melbourne have again had their financial statements qualified. This is because their accounting policies for recording non‑reciprocal research grants do not accord with current Australian accounting standards.
   “These universities are not recording this revenue when received, which is when they gain control, consistent with Australian Accounting Standards Board AASB 1004 ‘Contributions’. Rather they are recording grant receipts as a liability until they spend the grants.”
   The AASB has not issued any amendments to the applicable accounting standards, so the qualifications remain.
   A qualified opinion was also given for the Meanjin Company, an arm of the University of Melbourne, for similar reasons.
   Mr Pearson said clear audit opinions were also issued on the 19 performance statements submitted for audit. However he was critical of the fact that preparing audited performance statements was not mandatory for TAFEs, with Holmesglen Institue of TAFE not submitting one.
   The Report concludes that this leads to a lack of consistent, creditable performance information across the sector and recommends reporting be mandated.

13 May, 2009

SSA forums put PS
challenges to test

The State Services Authority is to conduct four forums in regional Victoria in May to show Public Sector organisations and their staff how it can help them.
   Entitled Building Better Workplace Practices, the forums will include presentations and workshops to address current challenges faced by Public Sector managers and their organisations.
   At each event the Chief Executive Officer of the SSA, Karen Cleave will provide an overview about some of the Authority’s more recent products and current work plans, including Attracting and Retaining Staff – A guide for the public sector in rural and regional Victoria and the Managing Poor Behaviour in the Workplace Guide.
   Other topics will include Getting the best value from workforce reports (analysis, benchmarking and action) and Synopsis of an integrated conflict resolution system.
   There will also be an interactive presentation using segments from an e-learning guide on managing conflicts of interest, while an interactive workshop will help participants identify and mitigate their organisation’s most pressing succession risks by utilising a risk-management approach.
   A further presentation will outline future directions for the Indigenous Public Sector Employment Strategy, on which the Premier, John Brumby has requested the Authority to lead development.
   The forums this year build on the success of a similar series in regional Victoria last year.
   It is part of the SSA’s charter to work in collaboration with Public Sector entities to develop innovative responses to workforce management and development challenges.
   The forums will be held in Benalla on Thursday, 21 May; Traralgon on Monday, 25 May; Ballarat on Tuesday, 26 May; and Bendigo on Friday, 29 May. All venues have wheel-chair access.
   For more information or to register for one of the events, visit the SSA web site (www.ssa.vic.gov.au) or contact the Authority on 9651 1397.

13 May, 2009

Call to balance
Budget books

The chairman of the Allen Consulting Group, Dr Vince FitzGerald, has told Victoria’s senior Public Servants there is an urgent need for reform of “unbalanced” Federal-State financial arrangements.
   Speaking at the recent 2009-10 State Budget Briefing Breakfast, he said this should include a share of the base – income tax.
   “The States have constitutional freedom to derive a share of income tax so long as the Commonwealth ‘makes room’,” Dr FitzGerald told about 1,100 VPS staff at the event.
   "The fact is the States are chained to Commonwealth financial dominance, which is not good for their ability to plan for the future."
   Hence a fundamental test of the new Commonwealth-State environment would be whether the states could achieve more secure revenues under tax reform
   “The States have only one ‘good’ broad tax – the payroll tax, which is distorted by exemptions and hard to increase,” Dr FitzGerald said.
   “The States are over-reliant on ‘bad’ taxes on gambling and on transactions, among others.”
   He said the obvious direction for reform was to share income tax.
   “This I see as an acid test for the new Federalism,” he said.
   Dr FitzGerald gave a positive assessment of Victoria’s Budget and the direct way it sought to avoid a “bust” scenario by stimulating growth in the midst of a severe global financial crisis and economic downturn.
   He said its economic assumptions were within the consensus range although these relied on wage restraint in the VPS, and there were few sources of increased revenue – a one-off $193m from taxi licences and $230m over four years from levies on developers in Growth Areas.
   “As usual in such circumstances, ‘administrative efficiencies’ feature in achieving projected figures of $655m over four years,” he said.
   “But the other challenges remain: ‘playing catch-up’ as social and economic infrastructure and services fell behind the needs of a growing population; ensuring adequate water supply; and so on.”

13 May, 2009

Schools study opens
lending loophole

Victoria’s Auditor-General, Des Pearson has warned that schools borrowing money via school cooperatives may be breaking the law.
   However he recommends the law be changed rather than the practice, removing a “legislative anomaly” of the Education and Training Reform Act 2006.
   Mr Pearson recently tabled in Parliament his Report into the Management of School Funds, which examined 21 Government schools.
The Report assessed whether Government schools were managing their funds appropriately and whether the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) was giving schools adequate support.
   It also looked at whether using school cooperatives to borrow funds was in line with legislation and whether this function was being adequately managed and disclosed by schools.
   “Under Australian Accounting Standards, a school cooperative is a controlled entity of the school that sets it up,” Mr Pearson said. “While the school cooperative has legally entered into the loan agreement, essentially the school has borrowed the funds.”
   The Auditor-General notes that the Education and Training Reform Act does not allow school councils to obtain loans or credit facilities.
   Mr Pearson also observed that schools may be exposed to financial risk when new buildings are jointly funded with DEECD.
   “This is because DEECD may not fully replace the facility if it is destroyed. While school facilities are fully covered under DEECD’s insurance policy, in the event that a jointly funded asset is fully destroyed, DEECD may choose to pay only to the school’s entitlement. This creates a financial exposure for the school.”
   Mr Pearson recommended DEECD guides schools on the insurance implications of jointly funded facilities and suggested the Department explore ways to minimise insurance costs for schools.
   Overall, Mr Pearson found DEECD was adequately supporting and monitoring schools with an effective quality assurance regime.
   The full report can be found at www.audit.vic.gov.au

13 May, 2009

Realism injected into
diabetes campaign

Health Minister, Daniel Andrews has launched a graphic new television advertising campaign warning Victorians that diabetes could cost them an arm and a leg.
   The $20 million campaign features a woman with an amputated leg and urges people at risk of type 2 diabetes to take preventative action before it’s too late.
   “Diabetes is one of the most serious health issues we are facing today, but it can be avoided,” Mr Andrews said while launching the Life! – Taking Action on Diabetes campaign during a recent visit to Royal Melbourne Hospital.
   “Amputations are 15 times more common in people with diabetes and about 50 per cent of all amputations occur in people with diabetes.
   “This commercial urges Victorians at risk of type 2 diabetes to ring 13 RISK (13 7475) for advice and support in preventing the onset of the disease. Telling the story of a woman with a leg amputation, it highlights the need for people over 50 and at risk of type 2 diabetes to get help before it is too late.”
Mr Andrews said about 275 adults developed diabetes in Australia every day, and that within 25 years Australia faced a massive 600 per cent increase in the disease. It is estimated about 368,000 Victorians aged 18 and over have type 2 diabetes, half of whom don’t know they have it. Another 700,000 Victorians are ‘pre-diabetic’ and at risk of developing type 2.
   “The TV campaign will encourage people to visit their GP or take part in the Life! – Taking Action on Diabetes program run by Diabetes Australia-Victoria,” Mr Andrews said.
   “The program will provide an intensive lifestyle behaviour change course to 25,000 Victorians at high risk. Participants in the course work towards a weight loss of at least 5 per cent and 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per day.
   “The course is modelled on successful programs trialled in Australia and internationally which have found that the number of new cases can be halved in high risk people.”

13 May, 2009

Legal help to
aid the poor

Twenty law firms have been appointed to the new Legal Services Panel that will provide free legal help for disadvantaged Victorians over the next four years.
   Attorney-General, Rob Hulls said the firms that successfully tendered had all committed to do significant pro bono work.
   “To make it on to the Panel, applicant firms had to commit to providing pro bono legal services equivalent to between five and 15 per cent of their fees from Government,” Mr Hulls said.
   “Ninety per cent of successful firms have committed to offering that top 15 per cent threshold, which means many disadvantaged people will get the legal representation they might otherwise not receive. This compares to 45 per cent of firms tendering the top rate for the Panel in 2002-2008.”
   The previous Panel arrangements provided about $12.4 million in free legal services in 2007-08 and approximately $30 million between 2002 and 2008.
   The firms on the new Panel are Allens Arthur Robinson, Baker & McKenzie, Blake Dawson, Clayton Utz, Corrs Chambers Westgarth, Deacons, DLA Phillips Fox, FAL Lawyers, FOI Solutions, Freehills, Guild Lawyers, Herbert Geer, Holding Redlich, Lander & Rogers, Maddocks, Middletons, Minter Ellison, Moray & Agnew, Rigby Cooke and Russell Kennedy.
   Under a new structure for the Legal Services Panel they will serve on nine sub-panels – a general panel, a commercial projects panel and seven specialist panels covering property, intellectual property and technology law, personal injury, coronial inquests, prosecutions, freedom of information, and privacy and resources.
   “This new structure is now simpler and more focussed,” Mr Hulls said. “It also promotes the use of smaller, regional firms by allowing the Government to source legal services outside the Panel if the matter relates to a specific region, the expected cost is less than $25,000 and a regional firm can offer same or better value for money.
   “At the same time, we have been able to use our tender process innovatively to promote key justice initiatives, such as the requirement that Panel firms report on the status of women in their firms and a commitment to appropriate dispute resolution.”

13 May, 2009

Consumer paper out
for consumption

A discussion paper on the future direction of consumer research and advocacy has been released by the Federal Consumer Affairs Minister, Chris Bowen.
   The paper, entitled Consumer Voices, Sustaining advocacy and research in Australia’s new consumer policy framework, is part of a national program aimed at fostering more effective consumer advocacy and research.
   Mr Bowen said it was prompted by a 2008 Productivity Commission recommendation that the Commonwealth, in consultation with the Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs, move to provide additional funding for the purpose.
   “The Australian Government, with the States and Territories, is undertaking the most far-reaching changes to Australia’s consumer laws for a generation,” Mr Bowen said.
   He said new consumer law reforms, including a national Unfair Contract Terms provision would soon be introduced into the Federal Parliament.
   “The Council of Australian Governments has wasted no time in developing and beginning to implement a single, national consumer law,” he said.
   “Effective consumer advocacy and research highlights the issues that affect and concern consumers and assists in ensuring that Governments can make sound and timely consumer policy interventions.”
   Mr Bowen encouraged interested parties from the consumer movement and industry to make a submission by 17 July 2009.

13 May, 2009

Services upgrade for
fairer Victoria

The State Government is to recruit up to 280 extra mental health workers and boost child
protection services as parts of this year’s program to tackle social disadvantage, A Fairer Victoria 2009.
   Premier John Brumby said the $926 million package would also strengthen services for the disabled, unemployed and Indigenous in an effort to build a “stronger and more cohesive community”.
   “For Victoria to continue to be the best place in Australia, it also has to be the fairest place in Australia,” Mr Brumby said.
   He added that the A Fairer Victoria program, now in its fifth year, was of greater importance than ever because of the increased pressures bought about by the global financial crisis.
   Highlights of the $926 million A Fairer Victoria 2009 include:
  • Record investment of $160.8 million in child protection services, including $134.7 million for out-of-home care, $14.6 million for after-hours crisis services and $10.5 million for sexual assault counselling;
  • Recruitment of up to 280 mental health workers as part of a $182 million package to reform mental health services in Victoria. This includes $66 million to expand mental health facilities provided by Dandenong Hospital and $8 million for two purpose-built facilities at Bendigo and Frankston for young people recovering from mental illness;
  • An investment of $86.9 million in disability services, including a $59.1 million package to help Victorians with a disability to live independent and fulfilling lives through the provision of a choice in services;
  • An investment of $38 million in a range of programs designed to increase workforce participation and reduce barriers to work. This includes $13.8 million to fund more than 6,400 additional training places for people from disadvantaged backgrounds;
  • A further $26 million for Neighbourhood Renewal and Community Renewal programs designed to help vulnerable Victorians into jobs and their communities;
  • An investment of $47.4 million to close the gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal Victorians and non-Indigenous Victorians;
  • Extra support for people with autism, through the $8.3 million State Autism Plan.

13 May, 2009

Water feedback gets
reform flowing

Feedback from the community consultation process of the Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy has helped frame proposed legislation to further reform the State’s water market.
   The State Government will now legislate to remove the 10 per cent limit on the volume of water entitlements that can be bought by non-land owners.
   Minister for Water, Tim Holding said the 10 per cent Non-Water User Limit had been introduced to allay fears among some people that non-irrigators, or “water barons”, could buy large volumes of water that had been dissociated from the land and drive up the trading price.
   “These fears have proven unfounded. There is no evidence of water barons entering markets in a big way in other jurisdictions that do not have this provision,” Mr Holding said.
   “Having evaluated the limit and reviewed community feedback, we will now begin work immediately to legislate to remove the 10 per cent limit. The limit is not yet an obstacle to trade, but if it is reached in the 2009/10 irrigation season, it may cause problems for willing buyers and sellers.
   “This will also enable water to be purchased from willing sellers as part of the Commonwealth Government’s buyback scheme to return water to the Murray River.”
   Mr Andrews said the issues surrounding the Non-Water User limit had been widely discussed with the community as part of the Northern Region Sustainable Water Strategy process.
   However he emphasised the Non-Water Users limit was separate from the four per cent cap on the permanent trade of water entitlements out of any district, which is being reviewed through the Council of Australian Governments process.
   The four per cent cap was introduced to help communities adjust over time to the social and economic impacts of irrigation water leaving their districts.
   There are no limits on the temporary trade of seasonal allocations of water.

13 May, 2009

Room to move in
land growth program

Melbourne currently has about 11 years’ supply of broad-hectare land across its growth areas, according to the Annual Report of the Urban Development Program.
   The situation is easier with industrial land, where future supply is estimated to be about 25 years.
   Releasing the 2008 UDP Annual Report, Minister for Planning, Justin Madden said the body’s research helped the Government, planning and development sectors make informed decisions on growth, development and investment opportunities.
   “The release of Melbourne@5million in December last year highlighted the need for Melbourne’s future growth to be well managed and for it to respond to the needs of our future population,” Mr Madden said.
   He said several “investigation areas” had been identified across Melbourne’s five growth areas to accommodate an additional 284,000 dwellings over the next 20 years, as well as major opportunities for new employment.
   Mr Madden expected the 2009 UDP Annual Report would be released after planning for the investigation areas had been undertaken, to determine areas designated for inclusion within the Urban Growth Boundary.
   He said that since the end of last year, the Growth Areas Authority had put in place nine precinct structure plans (PSPs), including six new community PSPs for residential development.
   “These cover over 25,600 lots, and three employment PSPs over 950 hectares. The status of these approvals will be reflected in the figures for the 2009 UDP Annual Report,” Mr Madden said.
   He said the work on the Urban Growth Zone and Precinct Structure Planning was underway and that he was fast-tracking land for housing and employment within Melbourne’s growth areas.
   The report and maps of the 2008 UDP are available at www.dpcd.vic.gov.au
   The 2008 UDP Annual Report is available from www.bookshop.vic.gov.au or can be collected in person from Information Victoria, 505 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 1300 366 356.

13 May, 2009

Teachers in line
for scholarships

Almost 80 scholarships and incentives for early childhood teacher graduates and childcare workers have been awarded to Victorians so far this year – and applications are still open.
   The Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development, Maxine Morand said the bursaries were part of a $10 million investment in the State’s early years’ workforce to boost its numbers and skills.
   “These scholarships and incentives will help boost the number of qualified early childhood teachers in long day care and rural kindergartens, as well as increasing the qualifications of child care workers,” Ms Morand said.
   Early Childhood Teacher Scholarship recipient Shameem Misra said the award allowed her to focus on her studies without worrying about debt.
   “The scholarship will help me with my course fees. Without this help, I was worried about how I would manage to pay my course costs,” Ms Misra said.
   Berna Ali, who also received an Early Childhood Teacher Scholarship, said it would have been very hard to complete her studies without it.
   “It has helped me to extend my knowledge and skills in early childhood development and for that I am really grateful,” Ms Ali said.
   The 79 scholarships for early childhood teacher graduates and childcare workers awarded so far this year include 29 incentives of $12,000 each to early childhood teachers to work in a kindergarten program in a long day care centre for two years; 25 incentives of $6,000 to early childhood teachers to work in a rural sessional kindergarten for two years; and 25 scholarships worth $6,000 to childcare workers already employed in a long day care centre to upgrade their qualifications from a diploma to an early childhood teaching degree.
   The Federal Government is also matching the incentives to early childhood teachers starting work in disadvantaged areas and committing to stay for at least three years.
   This current round of scholarships and incentives come on top of 57 awarded last year.
For information about scholarships and incentives still on offer visit: www.education.vic.gov.au

13 May, 2009

Cancer facility
a growth centre

A $1 billion world-class cancer centre is to be built in Parkville to drive the next generation of progress in the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer.
   At the University of Melbourne's Medical Faculty today, Premier John Brumby and the Federal Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon said the Parkville Comprehensive Cancer Centre would speed up the discovery of new treatments, house the nation's leading cancer researchers and provide a centre of excellence for people affected by cancer.
   The Centre will be jointly funded by the Commonwealth and Victorian Governments, contributing $853.2 million, with the remainder to be funded from the sale of surplus land, the private sector and philanthropic donations.
   "This purpose built Centre will ensure Australia stays on the global forefront of cancer care," Mr Brumby said.
   "The new Centre will draw together the very best in cancer research and education, but will also ensure that cancers, including rare and complex cancers, are able to be treated at the very highest standard.
   "Over 100,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that one in three men and one in four women will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 75.
   "Investment in the Parkville Comprehensive Cancer Centre will enable Victoria and Australia to save lives and improve quality of life for thousands of people.
   "This project is another example of the Victorian Government working shoulder to shoulder with the Commonwealth Government to deliver world leading health facilities."
   Ms Roxon said Australia had a leading reputation in the provision of cancer care.
   "While there have been significant increases in survival rates over the last 20 years for most types of cancer, the number of new cases and deaths from cancer is steadily rising with the ageing of the population," Ms Roxon said.
   "This new facility will accelerate the development of new cancer treatments and improve cancer care for sufferers.
   "Today's investment of $426.1 million by the Rudd Government is the second investment from the Health Hospital Fund, with the Prime Minister announcing in April $100 million for Lifehouse at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
   "The Rudd Government established the Health and Hospitals Fund to support strategic investments in health," said Ms Roxon.
   Built on the former dental hospital site in the Parkville precinct, the new Centre will bring leading cancer research and treatment institutes under one roof. These include the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre; the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research; Melbourne Health; the University of Melbourne; the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research; and the Royal Women's Hospital
   Victorian Minister for Health, Daniel Andrews said this alliance would provide a unique environment for the sharing of ideas and knowledge, which will in turn translate into improved patient outcomes.
   "The Centre will improve patient access to clinical trials, and improve care for patients with rare tumours and others forms of cancer," Mr Andrews said.
   "It will also give young cancer specialists, researchers and medical staff first-rate training and experience, helping us develop a new generation of world class cancer experts," Mr Andrews said.
   Victorian Innovation Minister Gavin Jennings said the new facility would include 194 in-patient beds, 110 same-day treatment places and eight medi-hotel beds.
   "It will have more than 30,000 square-metres of research space capable of accommodating up to 1400 researchers and a clinical trials facility with 24 treatment places," he said.
   "There will be educational and training facilities, an outpatient clinic and six radiation therapy bunkers."
   Demolition works on the site will commence in June with construction of the comprehensive cancer Centre to begin in the first half of 2011. It is expected to be completed in by 2015.

13 May, 2009

Audit responses
one for the books

Two major Victorian projects – the channel deepening and the Royal Children’s Hospital redevelopment – have received positive assessments from the State’s Auditor-General, Des Pearson.
   However there were still lessons to be learned from each case to improve the delivery of similar projects in future, his Report to Parliament noted, with recommendations for more coordinated involvement by Government Departments and Agencies.
   On the $969 million Channel Deepening Project, Mr Pearson said the Port of Melbourne Corporation had effectively reported on and responded to environmental incidents in line with its environmental management plan, put in place sound procurement and contract processes and complied with better practice guidelines.
   “The project was complex, high risk and directly affected wide sections of the community,” Mr Pearson noted. “There are lessons to be drawn from this project. First, the proponent should complete the work required to be able to assure the Government and the community that it has effective plans for managing the project risks. Second, projects of this nature require the coordinated support of Government Departments and Agencies during their development.”
   Mr Pearson said the project fell short on both counts in mid-2005.
   “However the subsequent assessment addressed these shortcomings, albeit at some cost in financial and reputation terms,” he reported.
   On the Royal Children’s Hospital redevelopment, scheduled for completion in late 2011, Mr Pearson said the investment planning for the project was “thorough and sound”.
   “There was a detailed analysis of redevelopment options and clear and sound advice was provided to Government at major decision points,” he said.
   “A competitive tender process was used to select the preferred consortium to deliver the project.
   “Effective tools were employed to assess value for money during the procurement process, including the Public Sector Comparator and other value for money tests.”
Mr Pearson made several recommendations for the Department of Human Services (DHS).
   Among these were the development of models of care beyond high-level statements at the service planning and business case stages for any future major hospital investments; a comprehensive understanding of its service demand forecasting model; and a strategic “network response” framework for the future development of paediatric health services in Victoria when finalising its current service plan review.
   He also recommended DHS and the hospital promptly execute a Memorandum of Understanding setting out their respective responsibilities in relation to the project.
Both reports are available on the website, www.audit.vic.gov.au

13 May, 2009

College lines up for
Architecture award

The Australian Technical College in Sunshine is one of six finalists in the World Architecture Awards.
   The purpose-built college was designed by Melbourne architectural firm Spowers, which won last year’s Premier’s Sustainability Award for Public Buildings for the Williamstown High School project.
   The Australian Technical College can accommodate up to 350 students studying year 11 and 12, with an emphasis on trade-based subjects including automotive, construction and engineering. It has the front of a Holden ute as its reception desk and burnout designs on its polished concrete floors.
   Spowers managing director, Ross Magee said the college incorporated best practice passive design principles.
   “The building is naturally ventilated with no air-conditioning and incorporates an underground earth canal to bring tempered air into the building,” Mr Magee said. “The abundance of natural light through roof skylights minimises the need for artificial light.”
   Mr Magee said student participation in the building’s construction process was encouraged, with subcontractors taking on school apprenticeship students, and interior furnishing projects being incorporated into the curriculum.
   The listing as a finalist in the World Architecture Awards for the Australian Technical College follows a series of major awards for Spowers’ work in the design and rebuilding of Williamstown High School. Apart from the Premier’s Award, the project also won the Australian Interior Design Award for Sustainable Buildings and the 2007 Best Secondary School and Best Overall School Design in the Victorian School Design Awards.
   The Federal and State Governments have announced plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars revamping Victorian schools.

13 May, 2009
Fixing the news
The Community and Public Sector Union was quick to ask PS News to correct its story last week about the new Heads of Agreement with the Victorian Government.
   State Secretary, Karen Batt said she was concerned that the article incorrectly reported that the agreement was for three years when it would only be for two.
   “This is wrong,” Ms Batt said.
   “As this is yet to be voted on by the Public Service, I demand that you issue a correction. I would be extremely distressed if your incorrect story became the basis for false information about the content of this EBA.”
   PS News corrected the item immediately and apologised.

Leaders look at PS
The challenges of an integrated public sector will be explored at the Institute of Public Administration Australia’s upcoming Emerging Leader’s Forum.
   Now in its third year, the program entitled Being Whole of Government features seven Departmental Secretaries – Penny Armytage, Jim Betts, Yehudi Blacher, Richard Bolt, Peter Dawkins, Peter Harris, Howard Ronaldson – along with IPAA President Fran Thorn, CEOs, Local Government leaders and senior Commonwealth officers.
   The seminar at Melbourne’s Park Hyatt starts on the evening of 28 May and continues the whole following day.

Police welcome safety move
Victoria Police has welcomed the announcement that the State Government will increase the number of road safety cameras and man-hours to operate the camera network.
   In the recent Budget, the Government announced an additional 3,000 hours would be funded for the operation of the mobile speed camera network. In addition, 22 wet film red light cameras will be converted to digital technology.

SSA backs info campaign
The State Services Authority has thrown its weight behind the latest information campaign from the Office of the Victorian Privacy Commissioner.
   The campaign, Think before you upload, which was reported in last week’s PS News, uses a video animation to remind young people about the dangers of putting personal information on the internet, particularly through gaming and social networking sites.
   Privacy Victoria targeted children and young people with the message during the recent Privacy Awareness Week activities.

Boost for business
Small business advisory services in the Central Highlands region of Victoria will be boosted with $100,000 of funding from the Federal Government.
   Minister for Small Business, Craig Emerson said the Government was providing the money to BRACE Education, Training and Employment to help it support small businesses dealing with the economic consequences of the global recession. This investment is in addition to its commitment of $1.2 million over four years to Eureka Business Enterprise Centre. Both have offices in Ballarat.

DPI names young farmer
The Department of Primary Industries’ 2009 Young Farmer of the Year award has gone to Gippsland Water’s farm manager, Michael Bannon.
   Mr Bannon, of Dutson Downs, was presented with the award by Minister for Agriculture, Joe Helper during the recent Farm Business Awards Ceremony at the Melbourne Showgrounds.
   “I am pleased to see him officially recognised for his dedication, teamwork and ability to successfully manage Gippsland Water’s 12 properties covering more than 12,500 hectares from Drouin to Stratford,” Mr Helper said.

Trade trip to China
The Victorian Government is to lead an automotive industry mission to China in June.
   Minster for Industry and Trade, Martin Pakula, said the mission would showcase the high standard of innovation in Victoria’s auto components sector.
   Delegates on the trip will come from components manufacturer Futuris, Air International Thermal Systems, Prodrive, MSX Automotive CRC and Toll Logistics.
   Mr Pakula said the mission was part of the Technical Visits Program being delivered through the Government’s $6.7 million Victorian Automotive Manufacturing Action Plan.

Peninsula Link attracts 5
Five consortia have expressed interest in building the 25km Peninsula Link freeway.
   Minister for Roads and Ports, Tim Pallas said the project would deliver a much-needed transport link and thousands of jobs, helping Victoria weather the global financial crisis.
   The consortia are ConnectSouth (principal contractors Fulton Hogan and John Holland); Peninsula Gateway Consortium (led by Leighton Contractors); Urban Connect (Acciona and BMD Constructions); Southernway (led by Abigroup); and Connect 11 Partnership (Thiess and McConnell Dowell).
   An environmental effects statement for the project is expected mid year.

6 May, 2009

New VPS Agreement
is good bargain

A landmark industrial agreement between the State Government and the Community and Public Sector Union is expected to deliver pay increases and improved conditions of employment to 32,000 members of the Victorian Public Service.
   Signed on 4 May, a Heads of Agreement has been entered that extends the 2006 Agreement to June 2011 with new provisions to begin on 1 July this year.
   According to the CPSU’s Karen Batt and Jim Walton, the task of reaching agreement with the Government was "herculean" and there was a sense of "excitement and achievement" at its resolution.
   Under VPSA 2009, an immediate 0.8% bonus would be payable to all employees except casuals on lodgement of the HoA and a further 2% to apply from1 July 2009.
   Additional pay increases of 1.25% on 1 February 2010 would also apply as well as an extra 3.25% on 1 October 2010.
   The Agreement would be renegotiated during 2011 with the parties agreeing to determine a negotiation schedule by December 2010.
   The Government and the Union also agreed to abolish the first four increment levels of the VPS Grade 1, making entry at Grade 1.5 and reclassifying all Grade 1 staff below that level upwards. The 2% pay increase is to apply to the higher level salary.
   A range of VPS aligned structures and non-VPS aligned structures is to be reviewed within six months that will include classification and progression principles as well as value range descriptors and performance standards. Exceptional Matters Orders are to cease after the current progression round.
   The agreement also extends superannuation entitlements to staff over 70, renames recreation leave “annual” leave, permits purchased leave below 44/52 weeks and clarifies that 38 hours of sick or carer’s leave is in addition to 38 hours with a medical certificate.
   Drafting of the formal agreement is to be completed by a committee of CPSU representatives and WorkForce Victoria with a 15 May deadline if possible.
   The Government has agreed that there will be no retrenchments during the life of the agreement and that saving jobs will be its top priority during the course of the Global Financial Crisis.
   The Heads of Agreement document can be accessed at www.cpsuvic.org

6 May, 2009

VicRoads parked with
Transport in review

VicRoads is set to work more closely with the Department of Transport following a review by the State Services Authority that the Government has largely endorsed.
   Recommendations made in the Final Report of the Review of the Governance and Operational Capability of VicRoads include changes to VicRoads’ governance that would see it reporting through the DOT Secretary.
   Although it would remain a separate authority, all transport policy (except for road safety) and system planning functions would be the responsibility of DOT. In addition, a Council for Integrated Transport would be established to enhance community engagement on long-term transport policy options.
   Minister for Roads and Ports, Tim Pallas welcomed the findings, saying closer cooperation would allow a more efficient implementation of the Government’s $38 billion Victorian Transport Plan.
   “We want to ensure we have the right approach to ensure we can deliver key projects,” Mr Pallas said.
   “The Transport Plan is about integrating our transport system; therefore it makes sense that we also integrate the relevant divisions of our transport agencies to ensure our planning is coordinated across roads (for private vehicle use and public transport use), rail, freight and cycling.
   “The report recognises that our different organisations have become experts in different areas and we need to be able to continue to grow this expertise in a way that ensures this transport planning is integrated.”
   Mr Pallas said the SSA was complimentary of VicRoads in several key areas including the work undertaken in registration and licensing to address the recommendations of the Ombudsman; VicRoads’ capabilities in project management; and its improvements in customer service through the implementation of the new Channel Management Strategy.
   “The SSA acknowledged there had been a marked improvement in collaboration between VicRoads, DOT and other agencies in terms of transport planning and project implementation,” Mr Pallas said.
   “That collaboration will be strengthened further, with the Department of Transport now responsible for strategic policy for the transport system, consulting with VicRoads on road-related policy.
   “DOT and VicRoads will also work in collaboration with the Department of Planning and Community Development, local government and other stakeholders to ensure integration of land use and transport planning,” he said.
   Mr Pallas said before making any final decisions the Government would undertake a review of existing advisory boards and councils in the roads, ports and public transport portfolios.
   “That will begin immediately with a decision to be made by the end of 2009,” he said.
   The SSA report can be found at both the SSA and DOT websites.

6 May, 2009

Razing taxes is
raised in paper

Victoria would consider abolishing some State taxes to improve the overall efficiency of the Australian tax system – but only if the Commonwealth ensured there was still sufficient funding for vital Government services.
   The idea is raised in the Victorian Government’s submission to the Australian Future Tax System Review
   Victoria’s Treasurer, John Lenders said the submission urged the Federal Government to secure a new revenue stream for State Governments from one of the existing Commonwealth taxes.
   “Right now State Governments account for 43 per cent of Government spending on things like schools, hospitals, police and other essential government services but we only collect 15 per cent of the nation’s taxes,” Mr Lenders said.
   “Since 1999, Victoria has announced $5.5 billion worth of tax cuts, abolished eight taxes and made major improvements to a range of other taxes.
   “We were the first State to meet all our obligations to cut taxes as required by the agreement between the States and Commonwealth when the GST was introduced – and there’s only been one other State to join us in what seems to be a fairly exclusive club.”
   Mr Lenders said Australia’s taxation system had to be simpler and provide more incentives to workforce participation and productivity to help the nation through a tough economic forecast.
   “A better tax system can help Australia respond to the current global economic crisis by encouraging economic growth and stimulating employment,” Mr Lenders said.
   “The need for further tax reform is clear and State Governments must have access to a balanced system that provides revenue for our schools, hospitals, police and transport systems.”
   Mr Lenders said any changes must not leave Victorians financially worse off or reduce the State’s fiscal independence.
   To read the submission visit www.premier.vic.gov.au

6 May, 2009

Report card gives
Councils a tick

The latest Local Government in Victoria Report quantified the key issues at the heart of good local governance and sustainability, the Minister for Local Government, Richard Wynne has told Council Mayors and CEOs.
   He launched the Report – which drew on data compiled by Local Councils, the Department of Planning and Community Development, the Auditor General and the Productivity Commission – at the recent Local Government Ministerial Forum in Melbourne.
   “This Report brings together a range of information to show how Councils are performing over time and how their communities are responding,” Mr Wynne said.
   He said this year's Report showed continuing improvement in Councils’ overall performance, including stable debt levels, increased capital and infrastructure renewal expenditure and growth in operating surpluses.
   Over the longer term, community satisfaction continued to be positive and trends in asset management indicated councils were working hard to manage infrastructure renewal for their communities, Mr Wynne said.
   “As well as measuring trends across the entire Victorian Local Government sector, this Report enables Councils to conduct their own analysis to track performance and community sentiment.”
   This year’s Local Government Ministerial Forum was attended by more than 160 Mayors, Council CEOs and peak body representatives. Over the course of the two-day event, the State Government and Councils discussed issues such as climate change, intergovernmental relations, governance and financial sustainability.
   Mr Wynne also released A Guide to Councillor Conduct Arrangements, a companion to the recently published Conflict of Interest in Local Government Guide. These Guides help Councillors and Council staff to meet the standards of behaviour set out in last year’s strengthening of provisions in the Local Government Act.
   All the local government publications can be downloaded from www.localgovernment.vic.gov.au

6 May, 2009

ID scheme looks
at gaining access

A safer and more secure ID authentication system has been developed by Centrelink and is being offered to the rest of the PS and private industry free of charge.
   According to the Minister for Human Services, Senator Joe Ludwig, Centrelink’s Protocol for Lightweight Authentication of Identity system (PLAID) is used with ID cards for staff access to secure buildings and computer systems and allows fast, flexible, private and secure authentication as well as inter-operability within and between users.
   Senator Ludwig said until the development of PLAID, existing technology in the ID field had been at risk due to hackers.
   “PLAID will prevent the cracking of authentication systems and foil the cloning of smartcards and other system-access devices,” he said.
   “With a vast database including millions of Australians, Centrelink takes a very serious approach to customer privacy and employee access.”
   Senator Ludwig said Centrelink was making PLAID freely available on the internet for Government Agencies and private corporations concerned about staff security.
   “The idea is that commercial operators will build on PLAID by developing security software and hardware for other organisations to purchase and use,” he said.
   “Centrelink will save money buying an ID authentication system, rather than building and maintaining a system in-house.”
   Senator Ludwig said Centrelink had around 26,000 employees and administered over $70 billion in payments and services to millions of customers annually.
   “That’s why it is so important Centrelink has a reliable and strong IT system in place,” he said.

6 May, 2009

Privacy watchdog in
computer drive

Victoria’s Privacy Commissioner, Helen Versey has launched an online video warning young people about the dangers of uploading onto the internet content with personal information.
   The Think before you upload! campaign carries the key message: “Once it’s out there, it’s everywhere!”
   The three-minute online video features a series of animated scenarios that illustrate the potential consequences of posting personal information online.
   Ms Versey said that for many young people accustomed to regularly using social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, posting very personal information, thoughts and photographs was routine. But it could be dangerous.
   “This video aims to highlight for those born in the digital age and who increasingly conduct so much of their social life online – today’s ‘digital natives’ – the potential pitfalls of sharing personal information on the web,” Ms Versey said.
   Education and internet safety specialist, Robyn Treyvaud joined Ms Versey for the launch at Brentwood Secondary College in Glen Waverley,
   Ms Treyvaud, from the Centre for Strategic Education, applauded the video’s message.
   “Young people, the elders of their own digital generation tribe, need to realise that their ‘virtual’ life, including everything they post on the web, can catch up with them in real life, and have very real consequences,” Ms Treyvaud said.
   The launch was part of a program of events for Privacy Awareness Week.

6 May, 2009

Emergency warnings
ring alarm bells

A national emergency warning system, based on the telephone network, is to be introduced across all States and Territories for use in major natural and other disasters.
   The new initiative will send warning alerts by recorded voice and text to landline and mobile phones, advising the public of any looming major emergency.
   The new system would add to the existing range of warning measures that included television and radio alerts, public address systems, doorknocking, sirens, signage and the internet.
   Under an agreement made by the Council of Australian Governments at its recent meeting in Hobart, the new system will be operated by State and Territory authorities and developed following an open tender process.
   The Commonwealth will inject up to $15 million to assist the States and Territories set it up.
   According to COAG, the system will be developed to ensure it can work during periods of heavy telephone traffic but would be limited to sending alerts to mobile phones based on their billing addresses, rather than where the handset was at the time of the emergency.
   A research project is to be conducted to overcome this limitation.
   The Federal Government has changed the law to allow access to the Integrated Public Number Database of up-to-date telephone numbers, while protecting the identity of individuals.

6 May, 2009

National law puts
heat on arsonists

Attorneys-General from around the nation have agreed to strengthen the penalties for bushfire and arson offences in every State and Territory.
   Commonwealth Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, presented the proposals for new offences which carry penalties of up to 25 years for bushfire arson causing death or serious harm.
   State and Territory Attorneys-General have commissioned a report for the next meeting of their Standing Committee of Attorneys-General dealing with incorporating the offences into the Model Criminal Code.
   Mr McClelland said jurisdictions which had not yet done so would also examine implementing existing model bushfire and arson offences that included up to 15 years imprisonment.
   “Given the incredible damage to property and loss of life that can be caused by bushfires, it is critical that offences across Australia are consistent and effective, and those sentences reflect the seriousness of this crime,” he said.
   Mr McClelland said while each State and Territory had its own laws covering arson and bushfires, there was considerable variation in the scope of the offences and penalties that applied.
   “I am hopeful that the agreed program of work will make it easier to prosecute a person who lights a fire that results in death or causes serious harm to a person,” he said.
   “People who deliberately light fires must face tougher penalties, particularly when those fires result in loss of life as occurred recently in the Victorian bushfires.”
   The Attorneys-General also agreed to consider enabling Courts to order a person convicted of arson to pay compensation for the damage caused by their offence.

6 May, 2009

Farmers have field
day with DPI demos

Department of Primary Industries staff will set up demonstrations and field days in Victoria’s north to show farmers how new technology will improve their irrigation efficiency.
   Neil McBeath, the Department’s Program Manager for Sustainable Irrigated Landscapes, said the demonstrations would showcase a variety of soil moisture monitoring equipment, the Total Channel Control system and new highly accurate electronic water meters that provided real-time data to the farmer’s computer and could be remotely controlled.
   “Equipment will be installed across a range of crop types including permanent pasture, annual pasture, winter/summer cropping and lucerne,” Mr McBeath said.
   “This is an excellent opportunity for landholders to get more information and advice on the operation of the system.”
   Mr McBeath said equipment installation had already begun and the aim was for all irrigation areas in the region – Murray Valley, Shepparton, Central Goulburn, Rochester, Pyramid-Boort and Torrumbarry – to be complete by spring this year.
   Agriculture Minister, Joe Helper said 12 new sites would be established for an initial period of two years throughout the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District as part of the Government’s $205 million Future Farming Strategy.
   “By assisting farmers to make on-farm changes to their businesses and infrastructure, they can capture the benefits of irrigation modernisation,” Mr Helper said.
   He said the Total Channel Control system would allow lead times for ordering water to be reduced to the point that water could almost be provided “on-demand”, enabling irrigators to accurately schedule irrigations to match plant requirements.
   A project panel consisting of Murray Dairy, Victorian Irrigated Cropping Council, NVIRP, Goulburn Murray Water, Water Technology Cluster and Fruit Growers Victoria has been established to provide advice, monitor and report the outcomes of the new trials.

6 May, 2009

Developments boost
economic growth

The Victorian Government has announced another five major developments it will fast-track to stimulate the economy further.
   Planning Minister, Justin Madden said the second round of projects to be facilitated by the Department of Planning and Community Development (DPCD) would create almost 5,000 jobs and pump $862 million into Victoria’s economy.
   “These next five key projects include housing, retail and office space developments, tourist and sporting facilities with open space areas that will now be delivered in the timeliest manner possible,” Mr Madden said.
   The Minister made the announcement at the site of a proposed multi-level residential development in Chapel St, South Yarra, where he said an earlier intervention to ensure the project went ahead had saved 164 construction jobs.
   “This is the second time in as many weeks the Government acted to secure jobs and providing certainty on jobs, for the community and the development industry,” Mr Madden said.
   “We will continue to fast-track key building projects, whilst ensuring transparency and job creation to help Victoria through these tough global economic times.”
The five new projects to be fast-tracked are:
  • 173 Elizabeth St, Coburg (former Kodak site). The 20-hectare site will be rezoned for residential and business use. A development plan will be prepared to address affordable housing, environmental sustainability and traffic management.
  • 568 St Kilda Road. The $150 million project will create 152 residential apartments, 122 serviced apartments, a 90-seat restaurant and private gym.
  • 69-77 River Street, South Yarra. The $55 million project will construct 214 apartments.
  • Chirnside Park Golf Course. An independent Advisory Committee will consider options for a $300 million residential development of about 450 homes on the existing golf course.
  • Avalon Airport. The planning approval process for airport-related development will be streamlined without a planning permit, subject to Commonwealth approval.
   Mr Madden said reasons for each intervention and the role of the DPCD’s Development Facilitation Unit were published on the website www.dpcd.vic.gov.au

6 May, 2009

Finance plan
on the money

The Victorian Government is boosting the number of financial counsellors on its payroll to help bushfire survivors and those suffering due to the global financial crisis.
   It has allocated another $2.9 million to hire 11 new State financial counsellors and five staff for a dedicated call centre to help with the general population seeking independent financial advice.
   A further $1 million will be spent specifically on providing financial counselling to those affected by February’s bushfires.
   Consumer Affairs Minister, Tony Robinson said it was vital those seeking to rebuild their lives and communities after the fires received good advice.
   “Financial counsellors will be sent to areas hit hardest by the bushfires to advise residents on how to make the most of their Rebuilding and Recovery Grants from the bushfire appeal,” Mr Robinson said.
   “From deciding how to use their grants to dealing with problems with personal loans and insurance claims, residents of bushfire-affected areas need extra support.”
   Financial counsellors will assist affected residents assess their financial position, access key services and rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
   The $1 million investment will pay for 12 extra financial counsellors through the Community Service Hubs operated by Department of Human Services.
   Mr Robinson said an information resource kit would also be produced to complement financial counselling services. It will contain advice on financial decision-making and debt management.
   Regarding the longer-term $2.9 million investment, Mr Robinson said requests for financial counselling had soared since the global financial crisis began.
   He said calls to Consumer Affairs Victoria from people needing financial advice had increased by a third on the previous year, to around 3,250.
   For more information on debt management and financial counselling, contact Consumer Affairs Victoria on 1300 558181.

6 May, 2009

Dogs out in force
for crime awards

Victoria’s top dogs in crime fighting were honoured during a recent ceremony in Melbourne.
   The animals, 13 from the Victoria Police Dog Squad and 22 from the Corrections Victoria Security and Emergency Services Group, were acknowledged with a Canine Medal.
   Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Bob Cameron said police dogs had helped in 970 arrests last year and more than 340 arrests so far this year, while Corrections Victoria dogs helped prison officials detect 68 drug finds in prisons in the nine months to March.
   “The skills these dogs bring to crime-fighting and prison security are second-to-none and have never been able to be matched by technology,” Mr Cameron said.
   “It is very fitting and important that we acknowledge these special canines for their efforts.”
   For the first time ever, dogs who had served more than five years were also formally recognised with medals by the Australian Defence Force Trackers and War Dog Association.
   Among the police dogs honoured were Donna and Delta, who detect firearms/explosives; Trakka, who detects narcotics; and general purpose dogs Xtra, Inka, Ink, Titan, Saleem, Zac, Boss and Ilk.
   Corrections Victoria dogs honoured included K9 Rajh from the Metropolitan Remand Centre, K9 Coby from Barwon and K9 Deke from Loddon.
   Corrections Victoria and Victoria Police recruit labradors for drug detection and German shepherds and malinois for other general duties. The drug-detection course is 12 weeks for the dogs and other courses are 16 weeks.
   Dogs are selected for their solid temperaments. They must be bold but not aggressive, in good health and have good gait and structure.
   “These dogs are a great asset to Victoria and it’s important we acknowledge the contribution they make to sniffing out crime,” Mr Cameron said.

6 May, 2009

Seniors awards to
iron out wrinkles

The search has begun for this year’s Victorian Senior of the Year.
   Opening the nomination process, Minister for Senior Victorians, Lisa Neville urged the public to put forward the names of older people who had made an outstanding contribution to the community.
   “We all know at least one older person whose achievements and contribution are truly inspirational,” Ms Neville said. “I urge you to nominate these people so that we as a community can recognise their achievements and show our appreciation for their contribution.”
   To be eligible the nominee must be an Australian citizen, a resident of Victoria, aged 60 years or more, and have achieved something extraordinary or performed exceptional service to the community.
   There are a number of awards for which seniors can be recognised.
   The Premier’s Award for Victorian Senior of the Year is presented to the individual who has made the most significant contribution to their local community and Victoria.
   All nominees for the Premier’s Award are also eligible for Council on the Ageing (COTA) Victoria Senior Achiever Awards.
   The Go for your life Award recognises a senior who best personifies the key messages of the Victorian Government’s Go for your life initiative: to keep active, eat healthy food and maintain social contacts with friends and family.
   A new award has also been established this year. The Veteran Community Award will acknowledge the significant contribution of an individual to the veteran community.
   The Victorian Senior of the Year Awards will be presented at a special reception at Government House on 2 October.
   The ceremony is timed to align with the UN International Day of Older Persons and the Victorian Seniors Festival, which runs from October 4 to 11.
   Nomination forms can be obtained from Seniors Information Victoria, phone 1300 135 090 or downloaded from the Office of Senior Victorians website: www.seniors.vic.gov.au
   Nominations for all awards close on 24 July.

6 May, 2009

Innovation the key
to homelessness

Victoria will develop a new strategy in an ambitious attempt to break the cycle of homelessness.
   Housing Minister, Richard Wynne has announced a consultation process to find innovative solutions to the problem.
   “Consultation will be central to the development of the strategy and I will be hosting roundtable discussions with a range of key stakeholders over the coming months as we develop this important document,” he said.
   Mr Wynne said with the Federal Government naming homelessness as a national priority, it was an ideal time to deliver a strategy to break the back of homelessness, its causes and the issues that cause people to be trapped in a cycle many can find hard to break out of.
   “It is this new emphasis and priority which present an opportunity we cannot afford to miss,” he said.
   The Minister cited the Elizabeth St Common Ground project as an example of how the State, Commonwealth and private sector were working together to deliver a $57 million, 160-unit facility to provide accommodation to Victorians who had suffered from long-term homelessness.
   Mr Wynne said the development of the new strategy would build on the work already undertaken in Victoria’s response to homelessness and the additional joint Commonwealth/State investment through National Partnership Agreements on Social Housing; Homelessness; Remote Indigenous Housing; and the Commonwealth Nation Building and Jobs Plan.
   These agreements provide around $1.8 billion in additional investment for Victoria to address homelessness and increase the supply of affordable housing.
   “Over the past 10 years, the Government has invested substantially on cutting homelessness and providing better, more targeted services through the existing Victorian Homelessness Strategy,” Mr Wynne said.

6 May, 2009

Eco-design tool hits
nail on the head

RMIT University’s Centre for Design has developed an Australia-first online interactive tool to help designers make sustainable choices when selecting materials.
   The “What is Eco-Design” tool provides sector-specific guides about the environmental impacts in a products’ lifecycle across materials, manufacture, use and end of life.
   Minister for Environment and Sustainability, Gavin Jennings applauded the development, saying it was something all designers should consult during their planning.
   “This tool provides designers with quick, easy-to-understand information which will assist them in integrating eco-design strategies into the lifecycle of the product at the design stage,” Mr Jennings said. “It will also contribute to the ongoing pursuit of excellence and innovation in the Victorian design industry.”
   The “What is Eco-Design” tool was developed by RMIT in conjunction with consulting firm WSP Environmental as part of the Victorian Government’s $14.9 million Design Victoria strategy.
   Mr Jennings said incorporating eco-principles into design meant products could be made with a reduced environmental footprint without compromising on quality, functionality, aesthetics or costs.
   “With around 80 per cent of a product's environmental impacts locked in at the design stage, and over 76,000 designers in the State, there is significant potential for better resource efficiency and product innovation when eco-principles are widely incorporated,” he said.
   The tool was officially launched as part of the recent Design for Sustainability (D4S) showcase at the designEx and Form and Function exhibitions at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre.
   The Victorian Government, through Sustainability Victoria and Design Victoria, is a leading supporter of D4S.
   To see the “What is Eco-Design” tool visit www.designvic.com

6 May, 2009

Cinema upgrade
a reel-to-reel hit

More Victorian cinemas will be fitted with special equipment to enable those with hearing and vision impairment to enjoy the latest film releases.
   The upgrades to Carlton’s Cinema Nova, the Sale Cinema and Mildura’s Deakin Cinema will include headsets providing detailed “audio description” of visual elements in each scene for those who can’t see clearly and more detailed captioning for those who can’t see.
   Until now the Jam Factory in South Yarra has been the only cinema with these capabilities.
   The upgrades are being funded as part of the Federal Government’s expanded Accessible Cinemas plan.
   Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot recently launched the $390,000 national program – Helping Older Australians Enjoy the Movies: Accessible Cinemas – at Cinema Nova.
   She announced 12 cinemas around the nation that would be installed with the latest equipment, bringing the total of accessible cinemas to 24.
   “I want to help throw open even more doors in Australian cinemas to people with hearing and visual impairments,” Ms Elliot said.
   “For many, it could be their first movie in a cinema in years, as many DVDs are now subtitled.
   “We recognise that this is a first step – but this is about allowing people to spend more quality time with their families and friends at the cinema.”
   Under the program, the Australian Government has funded new equipment – special “audio description” equipment, captioning and headsets.
   Captioning is the reproduction of a soundtrack in text format. Similar to subtitles (which are simply a foreign language translation of the dialogue), captions are a transcription of the entire soundtrack, including sound effects, into the same language.
   Audio description (AD) is a service in which additional commentary is provided to narrate the visual elements of a movie. AD guides the listener with concise, objective descriptions of new scenes, settings, costumes, body language, and “sight gags”, all spoken between existing portions of dialogue.
   Each cinema will be supported by promotional activities such as a website that is fully deaf and blind-accessible and shows the location of the cinemas with accessible screening schedules; community service announcements for radio; and advertising through an in-cinema display in the foyer area of all sites.
   The plan also complements a Screen Australia announcement that all Australian features it funds will be captioned.

6 May, 2009
Instruments updated
The State Services Authority has upgraded its online Register of Instruments to provide greater information and detail.
   The Register contains up-to-date versions of codes of conduct and standards issued by the Public Sector Standards Commissioner, Orders made by the Governor in Council, and regulations issued pursuant to the Public Administration Act 2004.
   The Authority is required to maintain the Register electronically, accessible to the public at all times without charge, and on the internet.
The Register can be found on the SSA website, www.ssa.vic.gov.au

Interpreting awards
The Minister Assisting the Premier on Multicultural Affairs, James Merlino has presented 40 Victorians with scholarships for RMIT University’s Diploma of Interpreting course.
   He awarded 26 scholarships to students studying Karen – a language spoken in Burma and Thailand – and 14 to those studying Nuer – widely spoken in southern Sudan and Ethiopia.
   “These important scholarships not only open up doors for students to work as interpreters but will assist in ensuring greater access to vital services for many people in the community,” Mr Merlino said.

Regulator provides certainty
The Australian Energy Regulator’s decision on allowable rates of return for electricity transmission and distribution networks will provide certainty for investors, according to Victoria’s Energy and Resources Minister, Peter Batchelor.
   “The reliability of current and future energy supplies depends on huge amounts of investment in all parts of the energy industry over the next decade,” Mr Batchelor said.
   He said setting the benchmark rate for the next five years meant electricity networks could continue to invest to maintain reliability, meet growing demands for electricity, and comply with climate change policies.

Emergency applications called
Emergency services groups have been urged to apply for a share of $3.76 million, available under the latest round of the Community Safety Emergency Support Program.
   Police and Emergency Services Minister, Bob Cameron said the CSESP grants program was open to all Country Fire Authority brigades, VICSES Units, Life Saving Victoria Clubs, Australian Volunteer Coastguard flotillas and Community Emergency Response Teams.
   He said local CFA brigades could also apply for the Government’s special allocation for slip-on tanker units.

Grampians popular
Tourism in the Grampians region has received a boost with the opening of a new Visitor Information Centre at Halls Gap and the launch of a new Northern Grampians Official Visitor’s Guide.
    Tourism and Major Events Minister, Tim Holding said both would prove assets to the region.
   The Visitor Information Centre was funded through a $250,000 grant from the Government’s Small Towns Development Fund and $225,000 from the Northern Grampians Shire Council.

More help for bushfires
The Australian Government's Income Recovery Subsidy – for farmers, small businesses and employees affected by February’s Victorian bushfires – has been extended by 13 weeks
   The subsidy provides fortnightly assistance equivalent to the maximum rate of the Newstart Allowance to Australian residents or eligible foreign nationals.
   The Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, said more than 3,300 claims for the subsidy had been paid, totalling $5.8 million.
   For more information visit www.centrelink.gov.au or contact the Bushfires Hotline on 180 2211.

Lawyers regulated
The Australian legal profession is to be regulated nationally with the Council of Australian Governments appointing a special taskforce to draft uniform legislation.
   A consultative group advising the taskforce will include members from each State and Territory, representing peak legal, business and consumer groups.
   The legislation will be presented to COAG for consideration by May 2010, and will replace the 55 different regulations which currently operate across the nation.

Toora gets station
 The town of Toora in South Gippsland has a new fire station.
   Opening the modern station recently, Police and Emergency Services Minister, Bob Cameron paid tribute to the fire crew’s work.
   “The Toora Fire Brigade provided an outstanding service to the community during the recent Black Saturday fires, with crews working tirelessly to contain the Delburn Complex fires that ravaged central Gippsland,” Mr Cameron said.
   The Victorian Government provided $950,000 towards the construction.

ESSSuper chief resigns
ESSSuper Chief Executive Officer, Don Kofoed has resigned owing to ill health.
   The Board said in a statement that it had accepted his resignation with understanding but also regret.
   “Don has been a tremendous asset to ESSSuper over the last 12 months,” Board President, Frank King said.
   The Board praised Mr Kofoed for his “drive, leadership and total commitment” to the organisation.
   The Board has commenced a search for his replacement, with Chief Financial Officer Michael Dundon acting as CEO in the interim.