Final news summary for 12 February
We’ll close off our live news coverage for the day. Thanks to Royce Kurmelovs for covering the bulk of the day. And thanks to you for being with us.
Here’s what happened.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers does not foresee a budget surplus for the next four years and has rejected the country is heading for a “wage price spiral”.
Chalmers also said he expects Australia will avoid a recession.
New Zealand’s North Island is preparing for torrential rain and gale force winds between now and Tuesday as ex-Tropical Cyclone Gabrielle bears down on the region.
Firefighters in Queensland issued warnings for three blazes this afternoon, including an emergency alert for people to immediately leave the Montrose area in the south of the state.
Large parts of central and southern Queensland are in the first day of a widespread heatwave, the Bureau of Meteorology has said. Temperatures in some areas could hit the low 40s over the next three days.
Commuters across Victoria incorrectly charged after a peak-hour outage of the Myki system across the public transport network will be automatically refunded.
The NSW Liberal-led Coalition has promised 30,000 locations to charge electric vehicles by 2026 if elected next month. The state only has 1,000 chargers currently.
Deputy Liberal leader, Sussan Ley, wants a woman to be the party’s candidate at the upcoming byelection in Melbourne after Alan Tudge’s decision to quit.
Take care and if you can, enjoy the rest of your Sunday.
Heatwave warning for large parts of Queensland
Large parts of central and southern Queensland are in the first day of a widespread heatwave, the Bureau of Meteorology has said.
For the next three days, temperatures will be in the high 30s or low 40s with little relief at night where temperatures will stay in the low 20s.
Two fires in Queensland spark warnings to “watch and act” and “leave immediately”
Firefighters in Queensland are responding to two fires that are threatening properties with anyone close to one blaze being told to leave immediately.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Services have just issued an emergency warning for a “large, fast-moving fire” near Montrose in the state’s south, saying people should “leave immediately”. The warning says:
This fire may pose a threat to lives. It will soon be too dangerous to drive.
A “watch and act” warning has also been issued for a “fast-moving fire” at Wolvi, east of Gympie.
Anxious 48 hours for New Zealand’s North Island in the path of Cyclone Gabrielle
Here’s our full story on the next 48 hours facing North Island residents in New Zealand as ex-Tropical Cyclone Gabrielle heads their way.
Sunday's live news so far
Good afternoon. Graham Readfearn here to take you through the rest of your Sunday.
Here’s a summary of what’s happened so far.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers does not foresee a budget surplus for the next four years and has rejected the country is heading for a a “wage price spiral”.
Chalmers also said he expects Australia will avoid a recession.
New Zealand’s North Island is preparing for torrential rain and gale force winds between now and Tuesday as ex-Tropical Cyclone Gabrielle bears down on the region.
Commuters across Victoria incorrectly charged after a peak-hour outage of the Myki system across the public transport network will be automatically refunded.
The NSW Liberal party has promised 30,000 locations to charge electric vehicles by 2026 if elected next month. The state only has 1,000 chargers currently.
Deputy Liberal leader, Sussan Ley, says it’s important for a woman to be the party’s candidate at the upcoming byelection in Melbourne after Alan Tudge’s decision to quit.
On we go.
Queensland treasurer treads carefully after deputy premier’s controversial ‘rogue courts’ spray
The Queensland treasurer, Cameron Dick, said on Sunday he would not follow his colleagues in admonishing the judiciary over the release of more than 10 children from custody this week.
Magistrate Viviana Keegan released the children – all being held on remand in Townsville’s adult police watch house - amid growing human rights concerns about the extended detention of young people in the holding cells.
At least some of those decisions are being appealed by police.
The deputy premier, Steven Miles, on Friday said the bail decision was “a media stunt” and that Townsville residents were being “held to ransom by rogue courts and rogue justices”.
Those comments were roundly criticised by members of the legal profession and others.
Dick, who has previously served as attorney general, told reporters on Sunday he would not comment due to the likely appeals of bail decisions by police.
I understand the concerns Queenslanders have about crime.
But as a former attorney general I need to choose my words carefully and I need to be careful about what I say.
So the matters the subject of public discussion at the moment relate to ... decisions made by a magistrate in Townsville last Thursday.
As I understand it, those matters are now being considered for appeal.
So I’m not going to say anything that is going to impact on that process of considering appeal, of enacting or taking action on an appeal and I’m not going to say anything that’s going to potentially impact on the prospects of appeal as a result of those decisions.
Another look at tropical cyclone Gabrielle as it passed over Norfolk Island over night.
Ash Wednesday firefighters honoured 40 years on
Hundreds have gathered in Cockatoo, in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges, to commemorate the disaster and remember those lost in the fires.
The ceremony is being held at the town’s Ash Wednesday Bushfire Education Centre on McBride Street where more than 200 people gathered to shelter from the fire.
Within 12 hours, more than 180 fires, fanned by winds up to 110kmh, caused widespread destruction across the state.
The fires were among the deadliest in Australian history, until the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.
In Victoria, 47 people died, including 14 CFA volunteers.
In South Australia, 28 people died.
Victoria’s Country Fire Association’s chief officer, Jason Heffernan, opened the ceremony:
The day is permanently etched into the minds of several generations of Victorians.
These brave men and women focused on trying to protect life, to guard life as a primary purpose, as the day turned into night ... as the firestorm swept throughout the state ... Tragically 47 Victorians lost their lives that day.
We honour and remember all of those who lost their lives that day.
Many fatalities were a result of firestorm conditions caused by a sudden and violent wind change.
While the exact cause of the fires remains largely unknown, it’s understood years of severe drought and extreme weather fuelled them, according to Forest Fire Management Victoria.
Sparks from damaged electricity power lines and suspected arson were also cited as possible causes.
The memorial continues.
Performer’s dazzle at Victoria’s Pride Street Party
Thousands gathered in the city’s Gertrude and Smith Street precinct on Sunday for the annual block party formerly known as Melbourne Pride to celebrate Victoria’s LGBTQ+ communities.
Dressed in glittering rainbow-coloured ensembles, a variety of artists performed powerful ballads across two stages as crowds cheered on.
Headline act Australian/Nigerian musician Keiynan Lonsdale and former The Voice contestant Siala Robson made appearances.
The free event kicked off with a Welcome to Country by Uncle Colin, plus a smoking ceremony and tribute to the late Uncle Jack Charles.
It also featured guest speakers, comedy sketches and drag and art installations along with community stalls and roving street performers.
The Victorian government has invested $6.8m to make Victoria’s Pride an annual event to promote equality.
The equality minister, Harriet Shing, said Victoria was a national leader in supporting LGBTQ+ rights:
This is a celebration of our LGBTIQ+ communities – it’s an expression of our connection, inclusion and pride and a wonderful example of why we are the equality state.
Meanwhile, in Sydney, Anthony Albanese is set to become the first sitting Australian prime minister to march in Sydney’s Mardi Gras parade as part of the WorldPride festival later this month:
I’ll be the first prime minister not to watch the march on Mardi Gras, but to march.
Fines against WA climate protester ‘excessive’
Human Rights Watch says hefty fines imposed on climate activists in Western Australia are “absurdly excessive and disproportionate”.
Joana Veronika Partyka, 37, pleaded guilty on Friday to criminal damage after she spray-painted a Woodside Energy logo onto perspex glass protecting Frederick McCubbin’s work Down on His Luck at the Art Gallery of WA.
She was convicted in the Perth magistrates court and fined $2,637. Partyka was ordered to pay $4,821.08 in compensation to the art gallery.
It comes as state governments across Australia have increasingly looked to law enforcement to crack down on climate protesters, prompting warnings by lawyers, civil liberties groups and NGOs that the country faces a growing atmosphere of repression.
Sophie McNeill, Australia researcher at Human Rights Watch said the decisions form part of an “overly harsh and vindictive” response by Australian authorities that the organisation has been tracking.
Our research has shown that across Australia, climate protesters are receiving overly harsh and vindictive legal action from Australian authorities that is restricting the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression. Human Rights Watch is concerned these punitive penalties are being imposed for politically motivated reasons. This is totally unacceptable and undermines Australia’s ability to lead on human rights in the region.
Metro to Sydney’s new aerotropolis now a step closer
A major extension of Sydney’s metro rail project is on track, including the link to the city’s new airport.
While always part of the NSW government’s vision, the metro connection with the western Sydney aerotropolis is now a step closer to reality following the successful completion of other key sections of the network.
The government announced on Sunday it would undertake final business cases for four routes – Tallawong to St Marys, Westmead to the aerotropolis, Bankstown to Glenfield via Liverpool and Macarthur to the aerotropolis.
The process will help direct government spending and determine which line needs to be started first.
With Western Sydney International Airport due to open in 2026 the airport metro is being jointly-funded and delivered by the federal and state governments.
Premier Dominic Perrottet said in total the extension would add around 100km of track in Sydney’s west to the ongoing Metro project.
Sydney Metro is Australia’s biggest public transport project and is already reshaping this city and transforming how we move around.
These new lines will complete the missing links in the metro network in the west and connect our city like never before in what will be a major win for the people of western Sydney.
At the start of this month the final track was laid connecting the new Sydney Metro City and Southwest line with the existing North West line at Chatswood, which Perrottet described as a milestone in the project.
Services from Chatswood to Sydenham are scheduled to commence in 2024, then on to Bankstown the following year.
Commuters charged during Myki system outage to get refund
Frustrated commuters who were incorrectly charged following a peak hour system outage across Victoria’s public transport network will be automatically refunded.
Tens of thousands of Victorians using buses, trams and trains were impacted when Myki card readers across the state stopped working on 2 February from about 4.30pm–6.30pm due to a technical glitch.
Some passengers who tapped on were unable to tap off due to the outage and subsequently incurred a default two-hour fare for metropolitan Melbourne while some regional passengers were overcharged for travelling the full line.
Last week, Public Transport Victoria advised passengers who were incorrectly charged to apply for reimbursements, which can take up to 10 business days.
However, a spokesperson for the Department of Transport and Planning has since confirmed it would begin rectifying the error with automatic refunds.
We will be automatically reimbursing customers who were caught up in last week’s outage. We thank passengers for their patience.
The Public Transport Users Association said in most cases, the default fare is the same as the correct fare – a zone 1+2 two-hour fare, costing $4.60 for an adult.
This applies to people using metro trains, trams and buses in zone 1 or zones 1+2. In a few cases, people were overcharged because their trip was in zone 2 only [it should be $3.10 but they may have been charged $4.60] or they used V/Line, which has higher default fares [potentially up to $38.40 depending on which line].
The Myki card system officially replaced Metcard tickets in 2012 and is set to expire in November.
The system will be overhauled if the state government does not renew its $700m contract with Japanese technology group NTT Data.
Premier Daniel Andrews backed replacing Myki with a system that allows commuters to use bank cards and smartphones instead.
PTUA said the public transport ticketing system should be simplified.
This is also a reminder that the ticketing system needs to be easy to use, easy to understand, and reliable.
Return to sender: writers mourn loss of physical letters as Australia Post contemplates decline
Before email put them at risk and smartphones became an existential threat, handwritten letters played a vital role in everyday life. They could be used to declare love to a partner, or convey news of a tragedy. They united penpals from around the world. Sometimes, grandma slipped money into them.
“Letter writing is an expression that is necessary for wellbeing and I feel that digital communication takes that away,” says Melanie Knight, an avid letter writer from Melbourne.
This week, Australia’s government-owned postal service sounded an alarm for letter writing after reporting a $190m loss in its letter business over a six-month period. Every year it is costing Australia Post more to deliver fewer letters as a growing population demands more delivery points.
The chief executive of Australia Post, Paul Graham, said there are concerns over the viability of the letters business and that all options were on the table, including reviewing the frequency of deliveries.
The postal service expects the “unstoppable decline” will gather pace, making letters a peripheral form of communication by 2030.
Knight, an expressive arts therapist who runs creative letter-writing workshops, says society will be poorer for its demise.
Even though there’s thousands of emojis, [digital communication] is so homogeneous.
The way I might choose to share, from minutiae and mundane to something that feels very big and profound, just comes out so differently when you sit down and really pick the words that go down on paper instead of using your thumbs.
For more about the lost of letter read, read the full feature story here:
Dutton making ‘mockery’ of claim that Liberal party is for working class, Jason Clare says
Education minister Jason Clare says Peter Dutton is making a “mockery” of his claim the Liberal party is for the working class by opposing Labor’s $15bn manufacturing fund.
Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Clare refuted criticism from the Coalition that the government’s National Reconstruction Fund was too broad in its ministerial discretion, declaring their opposition as defying belief.
We had Peter Dutton this week saying that the Liberal party are the party of the working class, but now they’re going to oppose legislation that’s going to create more manufacturing jobs to help us to build more things here in Australia.
That just makes a mockery of that argument.
Clare said the manufacturing fund was addressing supply chains issues, with Australia needing to make more things after gaps emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The fund is a Labor election promise, which pledges to give businesses access to finance in a bid to improve innovation in areas including transport, medical science, and defence.
The Coalition has decided to block the proposed fund, which means the government will need the support of the Greens plus two crossbenchers in the Senate for the legislation to pass.
Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley said the national reconstruction fund was not responding to the needs of struggling manufacturers.
It’s answering the needs of the Labor party and the unions, because it’s not addressing right now what it needs to which is workforce shortages, a supply chain disruption, and of course, energy costs.
How fast are wholesale power prices retreating? Bases matter
Snowy Hydro’s woes (see earlier post) will eventually affect electricity prices because any delay beyond 2026 in the completion of the 2 gigawatt-sized storage generation plant will force a scramble for additional supplies including more big batteries.
Snowy reckons end-2027 is now the new commissioning date but industry (and governments) is starting to assume even that date is optimistic.
Meanwhile, it’s interesting to see how the energy markets are being reported on now, such as in today’s Sun-Herald and Sunday Age. This one draws a direct line between the Albanese government’s intervention to curb wholesale electricity prices (via price caps on black coal and gas) and recent price falls.
The report cites wholesale prices falling as much as 48% “on the back of the federal government’s price caps”.
One difficulty, though, is that lots of things go into the wholesale electricity market, including weather forecasts so it’s hard to prove causation in the price falls. (The article does note some of that.)
Another issue, of course, is what base to compare the prices with? The report cites 30 November prices (the closest I see is 2 December) which is a slightly ambitious call since the price caps were only announced on 9 December.
Sure, there was some speculation in the market before the final decision. The base comparison, though, does matter. If, say you take the week running up to 9 December, wholesale prices had already come down quite a bit
For example, 2023 prices for NSW were already down to $162 per megwatt-hour by then, compared with $203/MWh in the week to 2 December.
By the week to 3 February, the price was down to $119.22 for the state, a drop of 26% (versus the Sun-Herald/Sunday Age’s calculation of a 41% price fall.)
Another point worth making is that wholesale prices only account for about one-third of the final power bill. Nice to have, but it’s only part of the story.
Separately, ABC’s Insiders today discussed whether the economic models factor in Stage 3 tax cuts.
The short answer is yes: they are legislated and barring some intervention (most likely a modification rather than cancellation), the models assume they will proceed with their $250bn (and counting) impact on the budget over a decade.
We looked at what’s going in the economy now, including signs with the interest-rate sensitive construction industry that rising interest rates are yet to make a severe dent in demand:
The RBA, through its liaison with business, will be looking how much harder it might have to take those monetary brakes (via higher interest rates) to bring down demand and with it, inflation.
Worst possible conditions as ex-tropical Cyclone Gabrielle hits NZ
The residents of Auckland – still reeling from major late January flooding – are looking down the barrel of potentially devastating gale force winds and torrential from ex-tropical cyclone Gabrielle.
The city’s mayor, Wayne Brown, his deputy, Desley Simpson, and officers from New Zealand’s MetService and Auckland Emergency Management have just given a sobering briefing.
Rachel Kelleher, deputy controller of Auckland Emergency Management, said the entire Auckland region was at risk of flooding on Monday and Tuesday. She said:
We are looking down the barrel of a very severe and potentially devastating weather event.
Some six regions are under a red weather warning for rain and wind from the MetService, meaning major impacts are expected.
The warning comes in the wake of devastating flooding in the city of 1.7 million people in late January. Kelleher said 380 households were still in emergency accommodation from that event.
The cyclone that past over Australia’s Norfolk Island on Saturday night has been downgrade, but was expected to skirt the top of New Zealand’s North Island on Monday morning before intensifying.
Heavy rain and gale force winds would sweep the region and the northern parts of the island starting Sunday but peaking Monday.
But the low pressure of the system could cause a storm surge for low lying parts of the city that could coincide with a high tide at 2am on Tuesday, the MetService warned during the briefing.
NSW government promises thousands more EV chargers
Thousands more EV chargers will be installed across NSW if the government is returned to office next month, with red tape slashed and public transport hubs updated.
By removing barriers to the placement of private and public chargers the state could have 30,000 locations to plug into by 2026, according to Treasurer Matt Kean.
Currently NSW has just 1000 EV chargers, slowing uptake of the game-changing technology.
One of the features of the plan would be to reform strata rules making it unlawful to refuse reasonable requests to install chargers.
The Right to Charge strata reforms would give apartment owners willing to cover the cost and comply with strict safety requirements a fair chance to go electric.
Planning Minister Anthony Roberts said laws restricting the installation of public chargers on places like power poles and parking meters are also set to be changed within days.
We know 30 per cent of drivers can’t access off-street parking and will rely on public chargers, which is why we are cutting red tape to roll them out even faster.
Adding to the number of new chargers, the government will install charging points at public transport hubs including commuter car parks and train, bus and ferry stations.
Transport minister David Elliot said the government was set to begin the rollout, helping drivers who switch to electric save around $1000 a year in running costs.
Commuter car parks are a great option for EV drivers to recharge while at work, making sure they can hit the road fully charged by the end of the day.
Eight public transport hubs including Sydney’s Emu Plains, Revesby, St Marys and West Ryde have been slated for the first round of charger rollouts.
Kean said the government was already investing $209 million to ensure enough chargers for an estimated one million EVs on NSW roads by 2030.
We want all drivers to be able to recharge whenever and wherever they need to, whether it’s on a road trip, commuting to work or at home.
Other initiatives to encourage EV uptake include scrapping stamp duty on EVs under $78,000, offering $3000 rebates for vehicles under $68,750 and allowing EVs to drive in transit lanes.
Biting flight attendants, rowdy drunks – police crackdown on badly behaved travellers
Dozens of travellers behaving badly during the silly season were arrested and charged for a variety of offences including assault and drug possession.
The Australian Federal Police charged almost 50 passengers with 69 offences at major airports during the 2022/2023 Christmas and school holiday travel period as part of a nationwide crackdown on disruptive behaviour in the air and on the ground.
A 78-year-old woman accused of biting a flight attendant onboard a plane from New Zealand last month was among 49 travellers charged in separate incidents across the country.
Others include a 41-year-old man who allegedly downed 700ml of duty-free scotch on an international flight to Sydney before verbally abusing airline staff.
A 47-year-old man is among 24 people slapped with infringement notices during the same holiday period after his alleged disorderly behaviour caused a disruption on board a flight that was forced to turn back to Sydney on 10 January.
The number of incidents almost doubled this holiday season after the Covid-19 pandemic halted travel across the globe.
The AFP charged 28 people with 49 offences during the same period of the 2021-22 summer school holidays. Another 16 people were issued with infringement notices for a range of incidents including intoxication, smoking on planes and traffic offences around the airport.
AFP commander Geoff Turner said the spike in incidents was concerning.
In recent months we have seen thousands more passengers travelling through airports across Australia, as state and international borders reopened after the easing of Covid-19 travel restrictions.
The AFP was more than prepared to manage the expected spike in passenger numbers, with increased patrols resulting in teams responding to a range of incidents to assist the travelling public across the country.
Known as operation Sleigh, the crackdown was sparked after the AFP responded to about 20,000 incidents at AFP-protected airports across Australia last year.
The AFP charged more than 360 people with about 520 offences at airports during 2022.
NSW promises to cap road tolls
NSW Labor will cap road tolls to $60 a week if it wins the March state election, as the party seeks to overhaul the bloated toll network and press infrastructure operators for a better deal.
Over 50,000 drivers would be better off under the plan, saving around $147m over its initial two-year lifespan, the party said.
Prof Allan Fels, economist and former chair of consumer watchdog the ACCC, would be appointed to lead the review of the state’s toll system under Labor.
Opposition leader Chris Minns said deals made by the current government were driving record tolls.
This mess is Dominic Perrottet’s own making – they have signed secret contracts and privatised toll roads.
Toll companies can’t lose, Sydney drivers can’t win.
The change would be on top of the government’s existing rebate of up $750 for eligible drivers and M5 cashback scheme.
Prof Fels would lead a review into long-term reform options to overhaul the tolling system in NSW, including reviewing contracts with private road operators, the biggest of which in Sydney is Transurban.
A cap of $60 a week would commence on 1 January 2024 if Labor wins the March election and any tolls charged above the cap would be refunded on a quarterly basis by Service NSW.
Last week private operator Transurban, which controls 10 out of 12 of Sydney’s tolls roads, said the state’s drivers paid over $835m in tolls in just six months.
In a note to investors the company revealed earnings of $1.66bn for the back half of last year and said tolls would increase by around 20% over the next four years.
The government has conducted a review of Sydney’s tolling system, which was due for completion last September, but has been delayed for release until after the election next month.
Snowy delays set to blow out further as drilling ‘pauses’
Things aren’t going to plan with the country’s biggest energy project, the $6bn-plus Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro project being run by commonwealth-owned Snowy Hydro.
We report today about the latest delay, caused by the collapse of a tunnel near the Tantangara end of the monster project here:
Patience with Snowy Hydro’s former chief, Paul Broad, ran out last August when he resigned.
Climate change and energy minister Chris Bowen had already signalled concerns that the Albanese government had been dealt another timebomb. (The other one was the sneaky decision to delay the nearly 20% increase in default power prices until after the election, which we reported on in May.
In any case, expect more details about Snowy’s problems to surface this week.
One indication that not all is well is that the plant near Cooma making giant concrete segments for the tunnels has all but run out of storage space, a local (and independent political candidate) Andrew Thaler tells us.
Looking into the site from next door, Thaler reckons they’ll have stop making the 7-tonne segments or find another place to store them since Snowy 2.0 doesn’t seem to be doing much drilling lately
Wet and wild in country’s north-east following cyclone
From severe thunderstorms in Queensland, hazardous surf warnings off New South Wales and gentle showers in Victoria, here are the latest weather updates along the east coast.
Liberals' Melbourne byelection candidate should be a woman, Sussan Ley says
Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley says it’s important for a woman to be the party’s candidate at the upcoming byelection in Melbourne following Alan Tudge’s decision to quit.
Tudge announced his resignation from federal parliament on Thursday, citing health and family reasons after reporting death threats were made against his teenage daughters.
The former minister was also grilled at the robodebt royal commission in the last fortnight for his role in overseeing the scheme and his office’s part in releasing the personal information of people critical of the program to the media.
The announcement has triggered a byelection in Aston, less than a year after the Liberal MP narrowly held on to the outer Melbourne seat at the 2022 poll.
Speaking to Sky News, Ley said she had been calling for more women in parliament for “many, many years”.
We won’t reach parity if we don’t appoint a woman when a man retires.
So I look forward to a woman candidate in Aston. That decision is, of course, one for the Victorian Liberal party and they will have a great choice to make and I know they will select an outstanding candidate.
Opposition leader Peter Dutton has announced new shadow ministerial appointments.
– with AAP
HSU calls for royal commission into health spend in NSW
Health Services Union NSW secretary Gerard Hayes has called for a royal commission into the state’s health system after a report commissioned by the union found a $33bn misspend.
Hayes said the report – which found a misallocation of resources and “warped priorities” – showed the state’s health system was “just completely out of whack”.
Our health system needs to be fixed. But before we apply treatment we need to properly diagnose the illness and this report lays the groundwork for a royal commission.
Ambulance ramping and emergency wait times are obviously deeply concerning. These are symptoms of a deeper malaise that needs to be addressed.
Highly paid providers are often incentivised to provide expensive procedures that boost their earnings but don’t relieve pressure for the wider community. At the same time investment in preventative health is woeful.
Hayes said a royal commission would provide a holistic look at the healthcare system and would give proper scrutiny to “billions of dollars worth of spend” that could be better used to “have more impact”.
The HSU report found:
From July to September 2022, 10% of people who urgently needed an ambulance in NSW waited over two hours. Patient complaints about health care services increased 40% since the start of the pandemic, and 144% since 2011-12;
Figures from the NSW Government show that a thousand hospital beds in NSW are occupied by people staying longer than recommended who could have been in aged care facilities or are NDIS participants, costing the system close to $500 million per year;
Australia spends 85% less on preventative and community health than Canada, while NSW spends $100 less per person than the Australian average, resulting in a funding shortfall of $872 million per year on services that could prevent illness and hospitalisations;
Over $2.5 billion in 2021-22 was lost due to fraud in Australia’s Medicare Benefits and Pharmaceutical Benefits Schemes;
Over-servicing driven by Australia’s reliance on fee for service funding models is leading to more waste across the system. This waste includes rates of caesarean section which have reached 50 per cent in the private hospital system, over three times the levels recommended by the World Health Organisation, costing our health system $350 million a year;
A survey of almost 4,500 Health Services Union members found almost half were either unsure or definitely intended to leave their occupation within five years;
Impact Economics and Policy estimates that by the end of the decade the NSW hospital sector will need an additional 25,000 FTE medical, allied health and support staff to meet projected increases in demand.
Recycling researchers, advocates call for bigger role of government in sector
In the wake of the REDcycle scandal advocates say government must step up and play a larger role in helping to create recycling schemes.
Jennifer Macklin, a researcher from Monash University’s Sustainable Development Institute says REDcycle, which stockpiled large quantities of soft plastics collected from supermarket stores across Australia after a breakdown in its supply chain, suffered from predictable governance issues.
Why was REDcycle, set up by one woman, a mum who hated the amount of soft plastics in her bin, responsible for recycling the nation’s consumer soft plastics?
What you see overseas is direct intervention by government, regulations, mandatory requirements in Europe, particularly, also in some states in America and in a number of Asian countries.
Australia does not typically do that. And so the government is taking the supportive, collaborative approach and we’re seeing how slowly that transforms things, and how many issues arise
Head of the Boomerang Alliance, Jeff Angel, said the incident shows what happens when federal governments and supermarket operators are so distracted by positive public they don’t ask hard questions.
This is what happens when the packaging and supermarket sectors use a small recovery scheme to pretend the soft plastics problem is being solved.
The fundamental problem is the lack of a market to support an ongoing effort and this can only be fixed by mandatory recycled content rules, which to date have been opposed by industry and government.
Angel said REDcycle and other similar schemes have recovered just 4% of the soft plastics Australia generates.
So far 32 stockpiles of soft plastics have been found in three states, amounting to 12,393 tonnes of waste that will likely have to be buried in landfill.
The most recent was only found last week with the possibility for more as REDcycle has refused to identify all the locations of its plastic stockpiles.ed by other factors.
State and environment watchdogs have largely lost patience as the stockpiles represent a threat to public safety should they catch fire.
REDcycle has also been beset by legal challenges as unpaid contractors and authorities pick over the operation.
Meanwhile, Coles and Woolworths have been sent them draft clean-up notices to remove more than 5,200 tonnes of plastic from 15 sites by the NSW Environmental Protection agency.
Liz Kasell, who founded REDcycle in 2011 has said the program is not dead but paused and that the stockpiling was an attempt to ride out supply chain problems after a 350% jump in volume during the pandemic and the loss of its largest processor due to a fire, leading to a lack of capacity.
Kasell issued a statement saying “high value downstream processing solutions are emerging” and REDcycle was continuing to work on a solution.
– with AAP
Cashless gambling for NSW a ‘no-brainer’ to anti-gambling advocates
Gambling advertising is no different to cigarette advertising and should face heavy restrictions on free-to-air, anti-gambling advocate Mark Kempster says.
Speaking to the ABC on Sunday, Kempster said gambling advertising should face the same restrictions as cigarette advertising and that to claim the loss of revenue would compromise free-to-air TV was a “cop out” with the AFL and NRL able to find alternative sources of revenue elsewhere.
Gambling advertising does not add anything to the coverage and no one knows who still gambles once just because there is advertising on TV. The way it is set up now, it is difficult for people trying to get over gambling addictions and also people being induced into starting.
Kempster welcomed proposals for cashless pokies and cashless gaming cards ahead of the New South Wales state election saying it was a “no-brainer”.
Online gambling, they generally have a function where you can only deposit $1,000 a month and even that is a large amount of money and they have a universal limit on makers. Australia does not do that. You can have deposit limits which allows people to shop around and lose more money each day instead of having a system set up to monitor how much a person can deposit every month. Cash that debit clouds and cashless poker machines is a no-brainer to me.
Residents told to prepare as Cyclone Gabrielle approaches NZ
Ex-tropical Cyclone Gabrielle is tracking south towards New Zealand’s north island where locals are being told to prepare.
Ex-cyclone Gabrielle was downgraded as it moved off Norfolk Island but is still expected to whip up winds and create wild weather.
NZ residents in its path are being told to have enough supplies to last three days and domestic flights have been cancelled as a precaution.
Legal Fight Over EV Tax To Begin on Tuesday
Australia’s highest court will decide whether states have the right to tax citizens for the type of cars they drive and how far they drive them.
The High Court stoush this week in Canberra will attract lawyers, state, territory and federal attorneys-general, and two passionate electric car drivers.
If the states – led by Victoria – win the battle, drivers can expect a variety of charges for electric and hybrid cars in coming years.
Victoria introduced its Zero and Low Emissions road user charge in July 2021 which required drivers of electric and hydrogen car drivers to submit a photo of their odometer each year and pay 2.6 cents for every kilometre, whether inside or outside the state.
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle drivers are charged 2.1 cents per kilometre in recognition they also pay the national fuel excise on petrol purchases.
If one of these drivers fails to report their odometer reading, the Victorian government will automatically bill them for 13,500km a year, or up to $351. Their registration could also be suspended and then cancelled.
Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said the tax was designed to ensure “all motorists pay their fair share to use our roads” and set expectations early.
Introducing a road usage charge now, before take-up increases substantially, ensures that everybody pays a fair and sustainable charge for the use and the wear and tear on our road network and that means safer roads.
But EV drivers like Kath Davies, one of two drivers who brought the High Court challenge, say “it feels like a punishment”
The reason I’m driving an electric vehicle is to try to reduce fossil fuel use. To make me feel like I’m a criminal for trying to do the right thing is wrong.
The case also has constitutional implications for the way powers are distributed between the states and the federal government.
This element has resulted in state attorney-generals from Australia’s states and territories joining the matter to support Victoria, while federal attorney-general Mark Dreyfus has joined on the side of the plaintiffs.
The High Court case will be heard from Tuesday to Thursday.
- with AAP
Government ‘has not changed position’ on stage-three tax cuts: Chalmers
Chalmers also made a point to say the government “has not changed our position on those stage-three tax cuts” and said that they won’t come in “for more than a year now” meaning that “a decision on those tax cuts, of either nature, wouldn’t actually impact on the inflation challenge that’s in our economy right now”.
On the suggestion that Australia is entering a “wage-price spiral” (which is basically a re-run of the 1970s and was the product of a very specific institutional set up that no longer exists), Chalmers rubbishes the idea immediately, pointing to the global factors as the driving factor.
The Reserve Bank and the Treasury and others, all credible economic commentators know we’ve got inflation in our economy because of global conditions combined with weaknesses in our supply chains, and weaknesses in our energy market. That’s very clear. I think it’s very, very important that we get wages growing strongly and sustainably in our economy. I’m really pleased that we’ve seen the beginnings of that already. That is not the reason why we have this inflation challenge.
The treasurer points out that wages have remained flat over the last few decades – and that a little growth is actually a good thing.
I think it’s an important thing that we need to do in our economy to get wages growing again, in a strong and sustainable and responsible way. We deal with inflation by providing cost-of-living relief, dealing with the supply chain issues, and showing restraint in the Budget.
And that’s a wrap.
Treasurer says he does not foresee budget surplus for next four years
Chalmers says he does not foresee a budget surplus for the next four years despite a short-term boost on the back of rising commodity prices.
In other words: miners and fossil fuel producers are making big bucks as demand returns following the pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The treasurer says any bump in the budget will be saved rather than spent.
We’ll focus on that cost-of-living relief, we’ll focus on growing the economy and fixing our supply chains, but we will put a premium on restraint and we will try and bank most of the temporary revenue upgrade we get from higher commodity prices.
But Chalmers wouldn’t be drawn on what the government plans to spend more on at the May budget, saying it was yet to be finalised and he would not pre-empt it.
On the stage-three tax cuts – estimated to cost $254bn – the treasurer was asked whether the price tag would grow.
We expect the number to be bigger, obviously, because there’s another year in the forward estimates and another year in the 10-year horizon. Wages have been a bit stronger and unemployment has been a bit lower, and all of these things will matter when we update the various parameters. But, obviously, the number will be bigger than it was in October.
Productivity commission report will be released in March
Chalmers says he has received a five-year review from the productivity commission about how Australia can respond to flagging productivity across the Australian economy.
The treasurer says he is working through the 1,000-page report and its 70 recommendations and will release the report in March – though he’s not obligated to release it under legislation to May.
I’d like to do that sooner, ideally in May, so that we can have this national debate about our productivity performance and some of the recommendations in there. Now, inevitably, a government won’t pick up and run with every single one of the recommendations from the Productivity Commission, but there may be some that we can run with. There will be some that align with the government’s economic plan and our policy objectives.
The government has previously suggested it will review the role of the commission.
RBA governor will be questioned on decision to lift interest rates next week
Chalmers points to the upcoming appearance of RBA governor Philip Lowe at two parliamentary committees next week where he will have chance to ask questions around the decision to lift interest rates.
No doubt people will want to ask him about that and he can explain it. I think there’s a broader issue here about how the bank communicates the context for its decisions. This is one of the things that I have been discussing with the RBA Review Panel. I actually discussed it with them on Friday in one of the regular meetings that I have with the review panel, how they communicate their decisions and the context behind their decisions is one of the key focuses of that review.
Chalmers says he is awaiting the report of a RBA review at the end of March where a decision will be made about how decisions are communicated. The treasurer says he’ll respond to this review before the budget is delivering in May.
Treasurer says he ‘respects the independence of the Reserve Bank’
Chalmers will not be drawn on whether the government will re-appoint the governor of the Reserve Bank, saying instead that he “respects the independence of the Reserve Bank”.
I think some of the points that people have been making through the course of the week, you know, about the lag impact of interest rate rises or the fact that the Reserve Bank expects inflation peaked at the end of last year, I don’t think those points are especially controversial. And when it comes to the governor more broadly, you know, we’ll come to a view – as I’ve said a number of times – closer to the middle of the year, after consultation with the prime minister and my cabinet colleagues, about whether or not the governor is reappointed.
Chalmers says Philip Lowe “has a hard job to do”.
He’s got to balance getting on top of this inflation challenge without crunching the economy.
Economy to slow but Australia still expected to avoid a recession: Chalmers
The federal treasurer says the government still expects to avoid a recession, despite the Reserve Bank of Australia flagging more interest rate raises.
Chalmers says both Treasury and the Reserve Bank expect the economy to slow but not fall into recession on the current numbers.
He says the Australian economy is still responding to the “combination of consequences flowing through from higher interest rates and some tricky global conditions”.
What he is alluding to is Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine that sent the price of gas spiking as Europe sought to find alternative supplies.
‘Very encouraging’ signs on power prices falling: Chalmers
Chalmers says it’s not clear when power prices will fall but said the current numbers are “very encouraging”.
Well, it depends on the trajectory of the energy market from now. You know, we have numbers for the next year, we’ve seen some indications of that in the newspapers today, very encouraging indications that our energy plan will work through the course of 2023. But we’ll update the figures, the forecast for there is and for gas in the May Budget.
The Treasurer says a clearer idea about the forecast over the price of electricity and gas will be provided in the May budget.
Inflation remains ‘biggest challenge in our economy’: Chalmers
Federal treasurer Jim Chalmers says inflation remains the “biggest challenge in our economy” and the “major focus of the Albanese government”.
Prior to the election, Chalmers described inflation increases of 5.1% as a “full blown crisis” but after nine consecutive interest rate rises the treasurer would not be drawn on whether the crisis has deepened:
Well, it’s a very difficult time for Australians dealing with these cost-of-living pressures, which are coming at us from around the world but being felt around the kitchen tables of this country. And that’s why the primary focus of our economic plan is a combination of three things: cost-of-living relief, where it doesn’t add to inflation, dealing with the issues in our supply chains, including our workforce issues that we inherited, and, thirdly, showing some spending restraint in a responsible budget.
Chalmers also said the government’s energy plan is “taking the pressure off inflation”.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers is speaking to ABC Insiders this morning.
We will bring you the latest as it happens.
Dutton shakes up shadow frontbench
Opposition leader Peter Dutton has announced new shadow ministerial appointments after Alan Tudge announced he was quitting politics triggering an upcoming byelection in Melbourne.
In a statement on Sunday, Dutton said Victorian senator Sarah Henderson would move from the communications portfolio to become the Coalition’s education spokeswoman.
Former minister David Coleman will return to the frontbench as communications spokesman.
These new appointments will strengthen the Coalition’s representation in critical portfolio areas.
I look forward to continuing to work with senator Henderson and Mr Coleman as they carry out their new roles.
Dutton thanked Tudge for his service to the Coalition since his election in 2010.
Wild weather eases on Norfolk Island
Norfolk Island has avoided the strongest winds but still faced a wild night and widespread damage as Cyclone Gabrielle passed directly over the Australian territory.
The centre of the category two storm passed near the South Pacific island about 9pm local time on Saturday, with the ABC reporting residents downed trees, blocked roads and widespread power outages early in the night.
Gabrielle hit with sustained winds near the centre of 110km/h, with gusts to 155km/h, falling short of warnings of possible sustained winds up to 140km/h, the Bureau of Meteorology said.
Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Dean Narramore warned on Saturday that gale-force winds were likely to resume for a period early on Sunday after Gabrielle passes the island, it said.
We expect the centre of the circulation to move across Norfolk Island overnight and then start moving away from Norfolk Island [in the] early hours of Sunday morning.
But on the backside, we expect another burst of strong to destructive winds as well as some bursts of heavy rainfall and a continuing damaging surf and swell.
The storm is expected to continue to track southeast out of the tropics and is predicted to pass New Zealand on Monday night, according to Weatherwatch.co.nz.
Gale periods are expected over Norfolk Island into Sunday afternoon, with the bureau warning very heavy surf could also persist through most of Sunday.
A hazardous surf warning was in place for the Fraser Island coast, and waters off Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast until midnight on Monday.
Norfolk Island Regional Council controller George Plant told the ABC it wasn’t possible to evacuate the island’s 2,000 residents and an estimated 950 visitors remaining with an emergency evacuation centre had been made on Saturday morning,
There is no way to evacuate the island with weather like this [when] you can’t get aircraft in so we just have to ride it out.
Teams of military and emergency personnel were on standby to respond as needed.
And welcome to another Sunday morning Guardian live blog.
Norfolk Island residents have spent Saturday night hunkered down as Cyclone Gabrielle has passed directly overhead, reaching wind speeds of 110km/h with gusts 155km/h. Though the island avoided the worst of the storm, residents have been warned to show caution with gale-force winds expected to resume on Sunday morning as Gabrielle passes the island.
New South Wales opposition leader Chris Minns has pledged to cap tolls at $60 a week in his latest pitch ahead of the upcoming state election. The cap, which will be administrated by Service NSW, comes into effect from January 2024 and allow 50,000 drivers to get a refund on charges above the limit.
I’m Royce Kurmelovs, taking the blog through the day. With so much going on out there, it’s easy to miss stuff, so if you spot something happening in Australia and think it should be on the blog, you can find me on Twitter at @RoyceRk2 where my DMs are open.
With that, let’s get started ...