Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Bob Katter says there is an 'unpleasant odour' to Adani-linked airport

Townsville and Rockhampton councils to spend $34m on airport hundreds of kilometres from either city

In October Townsville and Rockhampton councils announced they would spend $18.5m and $15.5m respectively on an airport, hundreds of kilometres away from either city, at the Carmichael coalmine, as part of a funding deal with Adani.
Parts of the deal are now subject to an investigation by Queensland’s local government department, and last week the Guardian revealed that despite previously claiming they were paying to own the airport, the two councils will merely lease it from Adani.
Now Katter has weighed in. The Katter’s Australian party MP represents the seat of Kennedy in Queensland’s far north, including the city of Townsville. He said the fact the councils were being asked to pay for the airport raised questions about the mine’s viability.
“I did not believe the news item when I heard it, that ratepayers of Townsville were going to be building an airport 200 to 300km away for a foreign corporation,” he said.
“If the foreign corporation needs $18.5m, then I think we can safely assume the project is in real trouble.”
Townsville council has argued the financial contribution to the airport was necessary to secure 900 jobs for the city as one of Adani’s fly-in, fly-out (fifo) hubs and the location for the company’s headquarters.
But the council has refused to release the terms of the deal with Adani, and Katter questioned how the agreement will guarantee job numbers.
“We have written a letter to the council, asking specifically whether they have secured any agreement in writing with respect to jobs,” he said.
“Have they asked the Adani corporation how many jobs they will control? How many will be controlled by contractors?
“Have they had a legal opinion of what their chances would be enforcing a contract against one of the bigger corporations on Earth? Why does Mr Adani need $18m off the Townsville city council for a project when he is purportedly outlaying $6,000m?”
The Guardian has previously asked the council whether the terms of the deal restrict Adani from flying in workers from airports outside of Rockhampton or Townsville such as Brisbane, but did not get a direct response.
Instead, a spokesman for Townsville council said there were “conditions in place to make sure the fifo jobs, and positions in Adani’s headquarters, go to people living in Townsville”.

“There are also protections to ensure council doesn’t spend money on the airstrip if the mine does not go ahead,” a Townsville council spokesman said. “Townsville ratepayers will not be financially penalised if the mine does not proceed.”

Monday, 22 January 2018

Top 1% of Australians own more wealth than bottom 70% combined

Extract from The Guardian

Over the same period, the household wealth of average Australians grew by just 12%, with wage growth slowing to record lows, barely keeping up with the cost of living.
Despite efforts by the treasurer, Scott Morrison, to portray Australia as a country in which income inequality is not worsening – contrary to the belief of International Monetary Fund officials – Oxfam Australia has released a new report revealing wealth inequality is still on the rise.
The report comes as new data shows the wealth divide in Sydney is becoming increasingly pronounced, with doctors and lawyers clustering in neighbourhoods close to the central business district, and essential services workers such as police, nurses and teachers being forced to settle in outer suburbs where property is more affordable, as reported by Fairfax Media.
The Oxfam Report, Growing Gulf Between Work and Wealth, has been released on the eve of the annual World Economic Forum, a gathering of the world’s political and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland.
The report, which relies on data from Credit Suisse, shows the level of wealth held by Australia’s richest 1% grew to 23% in 2017, up from 22% the year before, with the top 1% owning more wealth than the bottom 70% of Australians combined.
It shows wealth inequality in Australia has been on the rise over the past two decades, with the gulf between the amount of wealth held by the top 1% and the bottom 50% now the greatest at any time over this period.
The wealth share held by the top 1% in Australia has been growing almost continuously over the past two decades, while the wealth share held by the poorest 50% of Australians has been falling almost continuously over the past two decades.
The report also says income inequality has steadily climbed in Australia over time and, despite some fluctuations, is higher than at any time before the global financial crisis in 2008.
Australia’s income inequality compares poorly with other countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. The latest OECD data shows Australia’s Gini coefficient was 0.33 in 2014, ranking 22nd, behind the majority of the 35 OECD countries.
The Gini index is the most widely used measure of inequality. It looks at the distribution of a nation’s income or wealth, where 0 represents complete equality and 100 total inequality.
The report says last year saw the largest annual increase in the number of Australian billionaires and billionaire wealth since the start of the century – with an increase in total billionaire wealth of roughly $38bn.

The increase in wealth was enough to pay for more than half of Australia’s federal public health spending in 2016-17.
“Oxfam is committed to tackling poverty and inequality – but a broken economic system that is concentrating more wealth in the hands of the rich and powerful, while ordinary people struggle to scrape by, is fuelling an inequality crisis,” said Helen Szoke, Oxfam Australia’s chief executive.
“Over the decade since the global financial crisis, the wealth of Australian billionaires has increased by almost 140% to a total of $115.4bn last year. Yet over the same time, the average wages of ordinary Australians have increased by just 36% and average household wealth grew by 12%.
“The richest 1% of Australians continue to own more wealth than the bottom 70% of Australians combined. While everyday Australians are struggling more and more to get by, the wealthiest groups have grown richer and richer.”

Lost and found photographs give rare glimpse into working class pre-war Australia

Posted about 3 hours ago

A collection of striking and candid images of life in a remote mining town in the 1900s has survived time, heat and disappearing into obscurity in a dusty old shed.
The photos were taken by James Wooler, who migrated from Yorkshire, following his wife's family to Broken Hill.
He was in the town only three or four years, between 1908 and 1911, but in that time was a prolific photographer.
The photographs he took were distributed to universities and libraries around the country, and a selection was retained in the town's gallery and mining and minerals museum.
Senior museum officer John Fadden said the photographs were unique for their time.
"They show the working-class culture, whereas traditionally during this period the people who were photographed would have been dignitaries, mine managers," he said.
"What we're looking at here is a snapshot of life in the Hill."

Through the eyes of a self-made man

The photographs are a combination of candid snaps of daily life in a mining town and composed portraits of working class families, in the style associated with wealthier classes.
Mr Fadden said that perspective would have been helped by Mr Wooler's own working-class roots.
"He shows these people with a dignity," he said.
"The photographer himself comes from a working-class background. His parents were both factory workers.
"He's a self-driven person. He's educated himself. He was taught the basics of painting and composition, and this new medium of photography has grabbed him."

Early social media

Mr Wooler's talent as a photographer landed him many private commissions, and he also produced candid shots as postcards, an early form of social media, Mr Fadden said.
"The way people shared things then was through postcards," he said.
"The mines and the street parades were photographed and very shortly after turned into postcards and shared around; a very early social media."
The subject matter is much the same as you would find on any social media account these days — weddings, children, young people coyly holding drinks at a picnic.

Six hundred photographs lost and found

Eventually Mr Wooler landed a job at the local newspaper, The Barrier Miner, where he became a pioneer of duotone image reproduction.
"This allowed The Barrier Miner to sell itself as one of the first pictorial newspapers in Australia," Mr Fadden said.
Mr Wooler worked at the newspaper for two years before contracting typhoid, after which he moved his family to the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia, leaving all his photographs behind.
"Whether it was to do with his ill health, whether it was to do with copyright with the newspaper, he doesn't take any of his glass plates with him," Mr Fadden said.
"It was not until the mid-fifties 600 of his glass plates were discovered in a shed in Broken Hill.
"The dry heat of Broken Hill actually probably helped to conserve the images. The plates would have disintegrated anywhere else."

The images were split up at the time, given to various universities and libraries around the country.
Photographs from the era by Mr Wooler are still being unearthed in the town.
"Unfortunately, a local photographer, Douglass Banks, passed away quite recently. His wife when cleaning out his studio and came across 50 glass plates that were signed by Wooler.
"There are still more out there."

Royal Flying Doctor Service warns rural mental health services in 'crisis'

Extract from ABC News

Updated 39 minutes ago
The Royal Flying Doctor Service says mental health services in rural and remote Australia are in a state of "crisis".

Key points:

  • There are no registered psychologists in 15 of Australia's rural and remote areas
  • "There should be no excuse in a country of universal access to healthcare," RFDS CEO says
  • Mental health advocates are calling for a bigger financial commitment from the Government in this year's budget

The charity's chief executive Martin Laverty said major disparities between country and city services still existed, despite numerous government reviews designed to address the problem.
"We see [more remote] people only accessing mental health services at … 20 per cent the rate of those who access services in the city," Mr Laverty said.
"If that's not a crisis, I don't know what a crisis is."
The charity provides 24-hour medical care to people in rural and remote Australia, but its doctors are finding themselves overwhelmed by the amount of psychological support they need to provide to their patients.
"Last year the Flying Doctors saw 24,500 people to provide mental health counselling, but we could double or triple that service tomorrow and still not touch the surface," Mr Laverty said.
Data from the Department of Health showed the number of registered psychologists across the country increased in 2015/16. But there were no registered psychologists in 15 rural and remote areas.
Mr Laverty said areas like west coast Tasmania, central Australia, western Queensland and the Kimberley in Western Australia missed out.
"Areas where perhaps you're not surprised to see that there aren't health professionals in abundance," he said.

If you or anyone you know needs help:

"That should be no excuse in a country of universal access to healthcare."
Mental Health Australia chief executive Frank Quinlan said doctors were not always the best people to provide mental health support.
"It is not necessarily the best way for us to be spending our resources — to have GPs with 10 years or more of training — delivering basic brief interventions and counselling interventions that could be delivered by other professionals and trained peer workers," he said.
Suicide rates in rural areas are 40 per cent higher than in major cities, and in remote areas, the rate is almost double.

Mental health advocates call for greater commitment

The Coalition allocated $80 million for psychosocial support services in last year's federal budget.
The program would help people suffering from severe mental illness — who are not eligible for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) — find housing, education and better care.
But the Government will not release the money unless states and territories stump up funds too, and Mr Quinlan said that was yet to happen.

"That's in spite of the fact that we know that with the roll-out of the NDIS and the roll-back of previous Commonwealth programs, people are already starting to fall into the gaps," he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has acknowledged more assistance is needed for people in the bush.
"I do believe there is a very significant challenge and this is because there are four million Australians every year who have some form of mental health challenge and in the rural areas this is a significant challenge which is precisely why we are looking at additional services," he said.
The Federal Government recently announced more than $100 million for the youth mental health service Headspace.
It is also spending $9 million improving tele-health services in rural areas.
But mental health advocates are calling for a bigger commitment to such initiatives in this year's federal budget.
"The Minister — Greg Hunt — was relatively new to the ministry when the 2017 budget was released," Mr Quinlan said.
"So I think the sector quite broadly and quite rightly, now, 12 months on, will be looking to the 2018 budget to see whether the Government is actually able to prioritise a lot of the concerns and issues that have been addressed." 

Labor says use of lockouts and labour hire to undercut wages 'won't be tolerated'

Brendan O’Connor’s remarks signal opposition is considering further changes to Fair Work Act

The comments by the shadow workplace relations minister signal the opposition is considering further changes to the Fair Work Act as part of a suite of measures already announced to boost collective bargaining.
O’Connor told Guardian Australia Labor was “concerned, in principle, with workers in a workplace being paid less just because they’re employed by labour hire”.
“If you’re doing like work in the same workplace and paid less, that is of great concern to us,” he said, adding that it “won’t be tolerated”.
“We don’t want labour hire being used to undermine good faith bargaining,” O’Connor said.
“It’s hardly good faith bargaining if you strike an agreement and then bring workers in under different conditions. I don’t think that’s reasonable and fair.”
Labour law expert and University of Adelaide professor Andrew Stewart said the practice of striking a collective agreement with a small number of workers before a planned expansion or outsourcing to a labour hire company with a non-union agreement was “becoming one of the most effective methods of businesses to avoid collective bargaining”.
The Fair Work Commission can reject such agreements on the basis they have not been “genuinely agreed” but many were upheld, he said.
Labor has promised to: introduce a licensing regime for labour hire operators; raise the bar for termination of enterprise agreements; end all WorkChoices-era collective agreements, and crack down on “sham” enterprise agreements struck with an unrepresentative sample of the workforce.
In a speech in November, O’Connor also said Labor would “legislate to make clear that the workers who vote on an agreement must be representative of the workers who may ultimately be covered by [it]”.
But Stewart said Labor had so far stopped short of promising to legislate the principle of “equal treatment”, as many European countries had.
“The idea would be to legislate that labour hire workers have to be treated equally to directly hired workers,” he said.
If you’ve got employees who are entitled to the benefit of a collective agreement, the employer can’t bring in labour hire workers and pay them any less than directly engaged workers.”
The Australian Council of Trade Unions has cited two examples of what it describes as a pattern of “heavy-handed” employer responses to industrial action. In January workers at Glencore’s Oaky North site marked six months since they were locked out and management at Port Kembla locked out members of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union in January last year for about a week.​
O’Connor said Labor was “looking at a whole array of issues in bargaining, including workers’ and employers’ ability to take [protected industrial] action”.
The rights of both employers and employees were under examination, he said, before adding that Labor is “concerned when we see lockouts that go for six months”.
O’Connor said Glencore’s was a “disproportionate response to some industrial bans” and Labor had made its displeasure clear to the company.

“We want people to treat each other well,” he said. “It’s not always the case that changing the law can fix things – we need trust, not just punitive laws.”

The main problem with the NBN lies within the government’s intent

The poor regard in which Australia’s internet is held was displayed cuttingly this week by American journalist Ben Rothenberg, who is in Melbourne covering the Australian Open. He tweeted about a match in Auckland where it was suggested American Jack Sock had displayed a lack of effort. He then casually used our internet as a punch line: “(I’m working on uploading a video of Sock’s match but on this Australian wifi it’s going to take about an hour, bear with me y’all).”

(I'm working on uploading a video of Sock's match but on this Australian wifi it's going to take about an hour, bear with me y'all).
It was a nicely timed sentiment, given the news this week that only a quarter of those who connected to the NBN via fibre to the node (FTTN) would be able to access download speeds of 100Mbps (megabits per second) once the rollout was completed.
Now you might expect the government would be scrambling to explain what it is doing to improve the situation.
But you would be wrong.
Far from expressing concern, the minister for communications, senator Mitch Fifield, wrote an opinion piece for Fairfax newspapers essentially boasting about those numbers.
He claimed there was no failure because “given the choice, Australians have shown that 100Mbps speeds are not as important to them as keeping monthly internet bills affordable, when the services they are using typically don’t require those speeds” (Netflix was the service he cited).
Now you might think the fact that higher internet speeds are unaffordable for a majority of Australians is a problem. But again you would be wrong.
And it is all about policy objectives.
The government’s objective for the national broadband network was not to give Australians a world-class internet with speeds and prices equivalent or better than the rest of the world, which in turn would provide the country with infrastructure that would set us up for the next 100 years.
As the NBN’s own corporate plan puts it, “nbn’s key objective is to ensure all Australians have access to fast broadband as soon as possible, at affordable prices, and at least cost”.
But what is fast? Well, senator Fifield made it clear that it was 25Mps, as that was the speed recommended to download Netflix. He said “everyone will have access to speeds of at least 25Mbps” and “two-thirds of premises will have access to 100Mbps”.
When your objective is only to provide everyone with an internet that allows them to download Netflix, then that is what you deliver.
Policy objectives have long been a problem with the NBN.
The Labor party, for example, did wish to have the faster fibre to the home (FTTH) connections, but it too came with a caveat. Because the ALP was forever afraid of budget deficits, the NBN was set up to be eventually sold at a profit. As such it could be deemed an investment and spending on it was “off-budget”.
This led to pricing issues that have caused the price of top-end internet speeds to be out of reach for most people, and where internet service providers (ISPs) have in effect skimped on buying access from the NBN, which means your connection slows during peak times.
That may improve under a new pricing model the NBN has just released – which has already led to some ISPs reducing their prices.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has also cracked down on how ISPs advertise their speeds. Last year, Telstra agreed to compensate 42,000 customers because the limitations on their connections “were not capable of receiving the maximum advertised speeds of the plans”.
That is why most ISPs now refer to “standard/typical evening speeds” rather than the maximum possible speed.
But in the end it still comes back to policy objectives.
If your objective is an internet that is good enough to download Netflix in 2018, you can ignore what the requirements will be in 10, 20 or 50 years’ time, and you can also overlook the crucial issues of upload speeds that are vital for businesses.
If your objective is also to somehow make a profit from it all, then you try to do it as cheaply as possible by using sub-par technology such as FTTN rather than FTTH or FTTC (to the curb), , and under a structure that has people being either unable to afford plans with faster speeds or to access them.
And then to justify your objective, you claim that being unable to afford something is a matter of “choice” and proof that faster speeds are not needed.
At present, the objective is to roll out the national broadband network as fast as possible and to upgrade to FTTH or FTTC - as a representative from NBN Co told a recent parliamentary committee – “as and when consumers are willing to pay more because they need higher speeds”.
But we now have a system where the unwillingness to pay more is viewed as evidence that the need is not there, so does anyone expect that upgrade to occur soon?
And we all know that increased need will happen – but it will come at greater cost because, in effect, we will do the same thing twice – the first time on the cheap and the second time properly.
It’s why there may be fixes around the edges – some better pricing plans, maybe less buffering – but until the actual objective of the NBN changes, it will continue to disappoint and remain a punch line.

  • Greg Jericho is a Guardian Australia columnist

Coalition ignoring lack of job security in Australia, Labor says

The shadow finance minister, Jim Chalmers, said the Coalition was avoiding talking about the degree of precarious employment in Australia, and the level of underemployment and underutilisation.
With labour law experts warning that businesses are increasingly avoiding collective bargaining agreements with their workers by outsourcing to labour hire companies with non-union agreements, Labor said it was now prepared to consider legislative changes if it won government to make working conditions fairer.
With parliament due to return on 5 February, the treasurer, Scott Morrison, said the Coalition would keep pushing to legislate its $65bn tax cuts as a way to boost economic growth.
But Chalmers said the government had to stop fixating on tax cuts for big business and start focusing on deteriorating wages and working conditions.
“There’s no question that there are some practices that are emerging that are undercutting people’s wages and conditions,” Chalmers said on Sunday about businesses increasingly resorting to labour hire.
“[And] Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison are so out of touch that they want a round of applause when we have 730,000 Australians out of work and, for those in work, we have record low wages growth and more precarious working conditions as well.

"We won’t get the growth we need by showering largesse on the top end of town at the expense of middle Australia"
“We won’t get the growth we need in this economy by showering largesse on the top end of town at the expense of middle Australia and somehow expecting it to miraculously trickle down to those who work and struggle.”
Morrison said Labor never had anything positive to say about the economy.
He said, correctly, that 403,100 jobs were created last year – the largest absolute increase in jobs in a calendar year since 1978.
“That is great news for the hundreds of thousands of Australians ... who were able to get out there and find a job,” Morrison said. “We commend all the businesses that were out there making those jobs last year.”
He said parliament would be asked to vote on the government’s multi-billion dollar tax cut legislation when parliament returns this year.
When asked on Sunday about the problem of underemployment, Morrison did not answer the question directly.
He said the participation rate increased in 2017 to a level not seen since 2011, and that meant employers and workers were becoming increasingly optimistic.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions cited two examples of what it described as a pattern of “heavy-handed” employer responses to industrial action. In January workers at Glencore’s Oaky North site marked six months since they were locked out and management at Port Kembla locked out members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union in January last year for about a week.
In a speech in November, the shadow workplace relations minister, Brendan O’Connor, said Labor would “legislate to make clear that the workers who vote on an agreement must be representative of the workers who may ultimately be covered by [it]”.

He has said Labor was “looking at a whole array of issues in bargaining, including workers’ and employers’ ability to take [protected industrial] action”.