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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24233" align="alignnone" width="300"]Baird Maroons jersey_opt Commitments... he's made a few. pic: Facebook[/caption]

 

The Baird Government has moved to seize direct financial control of councils across New South Wales under sweeping new laws that hand ultimate power over local government spending to specially appointed “controllers”, with oversight duties handed to the State Auditor General.

Revealed in the immediate wake of this week’s NSW Budget, the new legislation — the Local Government Amendment (Governance and Planning) 2016 — proposes to impose the tightest controls yet on how elected representatives and council staff spend money and includes the right to shut out general managers from financial probes of expenditure and governance.

The new laws could also hand State Government appointed administrators the power to make ‘opt-in’ decisions on behalf of electors and elected representatives on controversial issues like the use of postal voting at merged councils thanks to the delay of polls until September 2017.

Rushed into the Legislative Assembly this week, the new controls won’t be debated until the August sitting of State Parliament but have already sent shockwaves across a sector still reeling from the sacking of 37 councils in May.

[quote]One of the legislative changes sure to raise hackles is a bid to “remove procedural requirements relating to the community strategic plan, community engagement strategy, resource ng strategy, delivery program and operational plan.”[/quote]

Local Government Minister Paul Toole is making no apologies and said the new laws make “important changes to ensure councils are always putting the interests of local communities first.”

That includes far greater powers for direct ministerial intervention.

“It will enable the Government to appoint a financial controller to councils that have a consistent record of poor financial performance and get those councils back on track,” Mr Toole said.

The hotly contested financial state and sustainability of local governments across NSW was the main trigger for forcing council amalgamations across the state, premised on the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s heavily disputed ‘Fit of the Future’ report card.

But many councils – amalgamated or otherwise – have attacked the financial assessments made of them in the run-up to mergers as flawed, particularly smaller and more buoyant local governments amalgamated with fiscally challenged neighbours.

 

Councils hit back

Local Government NSW (LGNSW), the peak representative body for councils in the state, is suspicious of the bid to parachute-in financial controllers as the Minister sees fit, cautioning some of the state government’s financial assessment methods simply lack credibility. “Many of these moves seem designed to establish new avenues for central oversight and control, rather than recognising that local government is an autonomous, elected sphere of government,” said LGNSW President Keith Rhoades. “There needs to be agreed parameters around the Government appointing a financial controller, and objective measures of "poorly performing" or "high financial sustainability risk" need to be established. Lack of specificity could allow the Government to apply the same discredited methods used to declare many NSW councils "not fit for the future," Cllr Rhoades said. City of Sydney Councillor Ed Mandla, a Liberal, also had reservations as the the efficacy of the new laws. "Surely the best oversight for council books is the ballot box," Cllr Mandla told Government News. [quote]"The real problem for for Councillors is if they have a problem with the GM (general manager) they have to tell the mayor and if they have a problem with the mayor they have to tell the GM — what if they are in cahoots?"[/quote]  

Questionable Timing

The latest laws are the second major tranche of legislation to hit this week, with another bill dealing with the donations and the pecuniary interests of councillors – the Local Government and Elections Legislation Amendment Integrity Bill – introduced on Budget night. The timing of the new legislation prompted Labor Opposition Leader Luke Foley to accuse Mr Toole and Premier Baird of trying to sneak through the new laws and of reneging on a promise to introduce limits on donations, especially from property developers. “Mr Baird has broken a clear and unequivocal commitment to introduce spending and donation caps for council elections,” Mr Foley said. [quote]“Caps on donations are not much use without limits on election spending. Predatory interests will be able to spend as much as they like to capture control of a local council.”[/quote] Shadow Local Government Minister Peter Primrose said while it was still too early to give a definitive assessment of the latest laws, people needed to remember that decisions at amalgamated councils – including ones that could flow from the new laws –were being made by government appointed administrators rather than councillors answerable to electors until September 2017. Mr Primrose also questioned whether the Baird Government was really committed to ensuring integrity in council decisions given Budget cuts meted out to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that had persistently uncovered graft and dodgy decisions. “The Premier who is behind this bill is also responsible for slashing staff at ICAC – one of the most important institutions that that maintains integrity in local government,” Mr Primrose told Parliament on Wednesday. Referencing State Budget papers, Mr Primrose said ICAC’s “corruption prevention presentations will drop from 160 to 100” and that the average time to deal with complaints would rise from 30 days to 42 days. "So much for promoting integrity measures,” Mr Primrose said.  

Massive Audit Office Workload

While the new legislation is yet to pass, a clear intention of the new laws is to remove the ability of councillors to appoint their own auditors and hand oversight power to the directly Auditor General. [quote]The changes mean that while the government will get a centralised and consistent view of local government finances, the Audit Office of NSW will need to compile literally hundreds of new council reports a year to perform its new duty.[/quote] A spokesperson for Mr Toole said changes brought NSW “into line with most other Australian jurisdictions and New Zealand and will provide greater consistency and certainty across the sector.” “It will also ensure that reliable financial information is available that can be used to assess councils’ performance and for benchmarking. Mr Toole’s Office also confirmed that the Auditor-General will have powers to “conduct sector-wide performance audits to identify trends and opportunities for improvement across the sector” in line with similar powers in relation to state agencies. The total cost of the audits – which are typically charged back to agencies – is still yet to be determined. A state public service source suggested that putting councils under the watch of the Auditor General was “unquestionably” the right move, but one that may not work in Macquarie Street’s favour if ministers relied on rubbery numbers. Premier Baird in February 2016 announced that Margaret Crawford,  who has been Deputy Secretary at the state’s Department of Family and Community Services, would become the new Auditor General of NSW.

Key changes as flagged by the Minister for Local Government

  • Appoint the Auditor-General as the auditor of all councils;
  • clarify roles and responsibilities of councillors, mayors, administrators and general managers;
  • introduce new guiding principles for local government;
  • improve governance of councils and professional development for councillors;
  • consolidate the ethical conduct obligations of councillors;
  • establish the framework for strategic business planning and reporting; and
  • streamline council administrative processes.
[post_title] => Best of 2016: Baird seizes financial control of NSW councils [post_excerpt] => Oversight powers sent to Auditor General. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => baird-seizes-financial-control-of-nsw-councils-under-new-laws [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-20 15:51:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-20 04:51:27 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24232 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 12 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23281 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-12-20 14:00:35 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-20 03:00:35 [post_content] =>   virtual-identity-69996_1280_opt   Australians will see an ‘alpha’ version prototype of a new, national opt-in digital identity credential for government services as early as August this year; with a fuller version likely to emerge in 2017 according to the new Head of Identity at the Digital Transformation Office (DTO). That’s the take from Rachel Dixon, the woman hand-picked to galvanise the agency’s efforts to develop a new user friendly, multi-agency key to provide secure and easy online access to government services and transactions for consumers. The recent appointment of Ms Dixon is a critical step forward for the DTO as it attempts to dramatically improve the public’s experience of dealing with government services by shifting to a so-called ‘user centric’ development model – one that is based on catering to the real world needs of citizens instead of forcing them conform to myriad of disconnected portals, passwords, information requirements and standards. Not everyone in the public service is happy with the DTO’s rapid and highly delivery focused schedule. But fewer, most of all agency customers, are satisfied with protracted waiting times and online services stuck a decade behind that of the mainstream digital economy. Notably, the revelation of the DTO’s big digital identity push comes hot on the heels of the disclosure that the existing myGov online access facility – which has been copping plenty of flak from users over recent months — is now be the subject of a formal audit from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) to determine its effectiveness. Few if any in government expect the latest ANAO probe into myGov’s performance to deliver any good news, especially after the monumental scale of dysfunction and chronic under-resourcing of welfare agency Centrelink’s call centres was laid bare in an excoriating audit report last year. Although the DTO’s big ramp-up on digital identity and the ANAO probe into myGov are not formally linked, the timing of the two announcements is so fortuitously close that it’s again rammed home the urgent need to arrest what DTO chief Paul Shetler has previously labelled the unacceptably high “failure cost” of poor and disconnected public services.   Public Services, private products The announcement of the rapid, ground-up development of a new national digital identity credential has far-reaching implications for the private sector too. Apart from the clear necessity for the federal government to urgently improve access to its services and transactions online, the appointment of a digital identity project chief has already aroused strong interest within the private sector, where online and offline identity verification requirements remain a significant cost and a major handbrake on rolling out integrated transaction services that can span business lines. Elements of the private sector – particularly banks, telecommunications carriers and other ‘identity regulated’ industries – have for at least a decade been hoping Canberra will get its act together on the digital identity front to replace costly paper and photographic based checks originally based on the 100 points identity verification scheme. Crucially, the DTO has confirmed it is actively evaluating the potential for a private sector digital identity marketplace here in Australia, hiring consultancy Deloitte to research and map the size of the opportunity. Getting business inside the tent to try and sell the idea won’t hurt either, especially given some banks have been more strident than others. Under a so-called ‘federated’ digital identity model such as that used in the UK, private sector organisations that provided trusted online services can also feed into customer verification mix – often using authorised private brokers – a model that at face value offers major synergies and cost savings across both government and private services and transactions. While the DTO’s Australian digital identity project is still in ‘discovery’ – that’s developer speak for researching and establishing core user and product requirements – Rachel Dixon is refreshingly frank about the challenges that Australia’s comparatively small population and complex system of government presents. “The thing I would say is that the market here is different than some other countries,” Ms Dixon told Government News. One of the key differences is that the federal government in Australia is already a market participant in identity verification services through the Document Verification Service (DVS) which is run out of the Attorney General’s Department and processed 21 million transactions last year. Originally an internal government facility, in 2014 the DVS was expanded substantially to offer checking services to the private sector, a move that created a sought-after new source of revenue for the government, especially the Attorney General’s Department. (In May 2014, Attorney General George Brandis cited a “study by the Secure Identity Alliance and Boston Consulting Group” that he said had estimated “that e-Government services, enabled by trusted digital identities, are set to yield an estimated $50 billion in annual global savings by 2020.”) While Ms Dixon flatly refused to discuss DVS pricing, Government News has previously attended presentations where the charge of an ID check – which is electronic – was outlined to be around $1 per transaction. That kind of turnover, especially at scale, has increasingly aroused the interest of private sector providers who are authorised to use the DVS to provide commercial identity verification services, a quagmire the DTO will soon have to navigate through. Although Ms Dixon candidly admits that a lot of people are now using the DVS, she’s equally unequivocal that commercial providers don’t always get it right when it comes to estimating the size of a market or the level of competition in it. “If you look at the experience in the UK, with that market, the original identity providers that went there with Verify, all overestimated the share of market they would get,” Ms Dixon said. “That is a risk in setting up a private market; unless they get to a viable business case, the boards of those companies are going to be unhappy with those business models. That’s a risk because at a certain point one … of the providers that is less successful may want to leave.” One of the problems for government is when a private provider does exit the market, what happens to its customers. Dixon makes no bones about the risk of taxpayers potentially propping up a half-broken business. “The issue then becomes do you expose the government to rent seeking at that point from a provider that wants to exit, but instead uses it to negotiate a better deal in order to stay in the market,” Ms Dixon says. “And that has happened where there has been monopoly providers. That’s something that obviously we’d want to take into account in our [DTO’s] commercial arrangements. If we were going to establish that market, that would be a big consideration in our negotiations.”   Opting in: what a Digital Identity will – and won’t – do It’s no secret that Australia two most recent attempts to launch a national, government issued identity credential or document ended in failure thanks to the complex and often toxic politics that surrounded them. Both Bob Hawke’s ‘Australia Card’ (essentially a national photo ID card) and later Joe Hockey’s ‘Access Card’ (a multi-agency government services smartcard also with a photo) died swiftly amid fears the instruments could give government new and invasive powers to keep tabs on citizens. Even the far less contested rollout of e-health has taken more than a decade thanks to the fractious politics of federation, privacy and various stakeholder groups. Although the debate around privacy in Australia has arguably changed (partly thanks to people increasingly putting more and more in the public domain through social media) two major problems that have endured are frustration with access to government services and stubborn rates of fraud and identity theft, also largely enabled by the internet. According to the DTO, a force fit is off the cards and foisting digital identity onto consumers is something Ms Dixon clearly doesn’t believe in. Rather she wants consumers to first buy-in to the functionality and convenience that any new credential can deliver, insisting it has to be designed to meet the public’s actual needs rather than the government’s. “If the history of successful systems tells us anything, it’s that just mandating something from on high – especially in Australia – that the government mandating a digital identity is not necessarily the path to success,” Ms Dixon says. “We have to give people a reason to want to have a credential to interact with government. In order for government to get the economic benefit of people doing things online, that comes back to consumers … what is good for people who use the system that are not in government.” That, Ms Dixon says, is why the DTO’s primary concern in terms of its research requires an “unpacking” of “where the problem points are in authentication and verification for consumers right now.” There is also a need to start defining how what is commonly called ‘identity’ works in enabling real-life transactions. “If you try and talk to consumers about identity it’s a difficult discussion because the question is ‘what is identity for?’ What is it used for and what are they exposed to?” Ms Dixon says, making a careful distinction. “Identity is better thought of as the ability to have trust online. That’s the key piece. The ability for the government to trust that you are who you say you are. And for you to trust that the government will deal with you in a fair and protective way … that they won’t spread your data around the universe or open you up to fraud.”   Brokering Trust A big part of the implicit bargain governments have to negotiate around trust, identity and online transactions is just getting the balance right in terms of what data needs to be provided to gain a credential for a service – or the number of hoops a customer has to jump through – versus the relative value of that service to a customer. Ms Dixon observes that while government services need a certain level of technical assurance in terms of you being who you say you are, the potential for friction starts in the trade-off between assurance and convenience. “Where you fall down is if the amount of data, or the amount of steps the government is asking people to go through – too much data or too many steps of verification – relative to what’s at stake in the transaction,” Ms Dixon says. “Different transactions need different levels of assurance,” she notes. “Do you need to know absolutely what the person looks like for this particular transaction?” Asked outright whether a photo will be part of a new digital identity credential, her response is forthright. “I think that’s the wrong question,” Ms Dixon says. “The first question is ‘what is the problem we are trying to solve’? The second one is ‘what are the tools we will use to do this?’” “There is a difference between the verification or the authentication of an identity versus the authentication of a transaction.”   Are Biometrics in the Digital Identity Mix? Of all the identity security and verification technologies that have climbed onto the digital bandwagon, biometrics was one of the fastest. For decades police and security services around the world have had access to electronic fingerprint matching, followed more recently by biometric photos and algorithms being embedded into passports and licenses. Despite being more and more pervasive, biometric technologies still attract their fair share of controversy ranging from the ability of surveillance cameras to spot and track faces in a crowd or mall to insurance companies using the tone of a person’s voice to detect if they are likely to be lying. What government agencies, as well as businesses, are now confronting is at what point consumers might opt to use biometrics as part of a digital identity mix or authentication ecosystem, especially if it’s easier than entering a password. Again, Ms Dixon stresses the distinction between authenticating a transaction and actually identifying a person. Apple’s iPhone doesn’t really care if it’s actually you putting your fingerprint on its scanner. “If you look at a thumbprint on an iPhone, that doesn’t have anything to do with your identity, Ms Dixon says. “That’s just a signal to a key that unlocks your phone. You don’t use the thumbprint for assurance, you use it for authentication.” The argument really comes down to what consumers are comfortable with and if it gets them into what they need more easily and reliably, especially if passwords become so onerous they risk locking you out of a service after multiple failed efforts (think iPhone and FBI). Dixon is clearly cautious about the implications of biometrics, but again defers to what consumers actually prefer to use as the real test. Certain biometrics could be convenient for people in authenticating access to something; that’s different than the establishment of an identity in the first place, which is the assurance. “The nice thing about thumbprints is that they get you over the hurdle of passwords,” Ms Dixon says. “You use the technology that suits the use case. The first thing to do is to map out what people want. Not the government mandating [what people must use]. Base it on some actual research with actual use cases.” One thing’s for sure. If the Digital Transformation Office’s research actually manages to accurately map consumer needs and sentiment, and then produces a working digital identity prototype that the public embraces in less than a year, banks will be queuing up to buy it. That may not be a bad thing. [post_title] => Australian Digital Identity ‘alpha’ launch by August: Digital Transformation Office [post_excerpt] => User centric rebuild of national online credentials. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 23281 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-02 15:08:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-02 05:08:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=23281 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24142 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-12-20 14:00:15 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-20 03:00:15 [post_content] => dd-buses-web_opt  

Double decker buses will soon become a common sight on Sydney’s streets once more after the New South Wales Government revealed it will commission a proper fleet of the high capacity vehicles to boost capacity on crowded runs as part of a $108 million service boost and refresh in the 2016-17 NSW Budget

Exact details on who will manufacture and how many of the new 80-seat beasts will be deployed are still to be finalised, but the firm commitment to reinstate double deckers into mainstream route service in Sydney cements major turnaround in public transport thinking 30-years after the last Leyland Atlantean made its from Wynyard to Avalon in May 1986.

While the Baird Government started trialling Bustech double deckers North-West T-Way at the end of August 2012, the pre-Budget essentially embeds the top deck vehicles as part of the city’s core fleet for the foreseeable future.

The announcement is also the second major public transport ‘back to the future’ flip for Transport for NSW after the commitment to reinstate light rail services (or heavy trams) in the city and eastern suburbs, with deployments in the West also highly likely to be commissioned.

Heavy crowding and more demand than capacity during peak-hour services for Sydney buses has been a serious and persistent problem for at least the last decade, as urban renewal and residential infill push more commuters onto the bus system. The biggest headaches for authorities and commuters alike include passengers who are closer to a bus route destination often missing out on scheduled morning trips because vehicles are filled to capacity well before they get near their terminus. Efforts to deploy more, larger single decker and articulated or ‘bendy’ busses have also created knock-on effects as busses get stuck long queues to unload passengers on approaches to the city and other major centres. A big benefit of double decker buses is that even though they carry 65 per cent more passengers than regular buses – 130 people when completely full on seated and standing capacity – they only occupy the space of a single bus making it easier to cram more services into smaller areas and tighter streets. leyland atlantean_optWith major residential developments now replacing industrial real estate on the city fringe, authorities are looking to boost both capacity and frequency. “Thousands of Sydneysiders rely on bus travel every day to get from A to B and we know demand for services is continually increasing, particularly in growth centres in the North West and South West, as well as in inner city areas like Green Square,” said NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance.

“Since coming to office, the NSW Government has delivered more than 15,800 extra weekly public transport services for customers and today’s announcement is further proof that we’re committed to putting on even more where and when they’re needed most.

“This is all about staying ahead of the curve to ensure customers have sufficient levels of service well into the future.”

sydney-bus-museum-vintage-bus-sydney-comedy-festiv1_optFor people that remember Sydney’s original double decker bus fleet, it’s actually more like replacing something many feel, like trams, should never have been taken away in the first place. Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian – who spearheaded many of the key public transit reforms when she held the Transport portfolio – said the upcoming NSW Budget would continue to fund more services and infrastructure. “These double decker buses have allowed us to deliver good customer outcomes and we are pleased to be rolling out more of them across Sydney,” Ms Berejiklian said before cataloguing where new money was going to be spent. The Treasurer said that under the NSW Budget 2016-16 commitment, 12 new or extended routes will come online. They include a new cross suburban link between the Inner West and Lower North Shore, all night services seven days a week for Green Square and Zetland as well as Abbotsford, Five Dock and Rouse Hill on weekends. The addition of new all-night services has long been called for by groups representing essential services and the hospitality sector where the availability and cost of labour have been hit by the shortage of car spaces and a lack of alternative transport options. Fleet renewal and replacement is also a strong focus, with older non-air conditioned buses finally dropped from service in favour of climate controlled accessible (or ‘kneeling’) busses that allow wheelchair users to roll-on and roll-off regular services – an important addition given many older Sydney railway stations still don’t have lifts.   Specifics for the 2016/17 Growth Bus Services Program Western Sydney (including Hills District and South West) More than 1,350 new weekly trips, including 5 new or extended routes.
  • New route 605 (North Kellyville to Rouse Hill Town Centre)
  • Extended route 751 (Marsden Park to Blacktown via Colebee)
  • Extended route T72 (Blacktown to Rouse Hill Town Centre via Alex Avenue)
  • Extended route T74 (Blacktown to Riverstone via Hambledon Road)
  • Extended route 783 (Penrith to Jordan Springs)
Enhanced services:
  • 607X (Rouse Hill to City via M2)
  • 610X/M61 (Rouse Hill and Castle Hill to City M2)
  • 611 (Blacktown to Macquarie Park via M2)
  • 615X (North Kellyville to City via M2)
  • 619 (Rouse Hill to Macquarie Park via Kellyville and M2)
  • 620X-621 (Castle Hill and Cherrybrook to Macquarie Park and City via M2)
  • 700 (Blacktown to Parramatta via Prospect)
  • 740 (Plumpton to Macquarie Park via M2)
  • 841 (Narellan to Leppington)
  • T65 (Rouse Hill to Parramatta via Westmead)
  • T80 (Liverpool to Parramatta via Bonnyrigg)
Sydney Metropolitan More than 1,950 new weekly trips, including 2 new routes.
  • New route 530 (Burwood to Chatswood via Five Dock, Hunters Hill and Lane Cove)
  • New route 985 (Miranda to Cronulla via Woolooware Shores)
Enhanced services on the following routes:
  • Various Northern Beaches routes between Mona Vale and the City
  • 197 (Mona Vale to Macquarie Park via Terrey Hills)
  • 270-274 (Frenchs Forest District to City)
  • 343 (Kingsford to City)
  • 370 (Leichhardt to Coogee)
  • 433 (Balmain to Railway Square via Harold Park)
  • 477 (Miranda to Rockdale via Sans Souci)
  • 506 (Macquarie University and East Ryde to City via Hunters Hill)
  • 518 (Macquarie University to City via Ryde)
  • M20 (Zetland to Wynyard via Central Station)
  • M41 (Burwood to Macquarie Park via Ryde)
New all-night services on the following routes:
  • 301 (Zetland to City via Surry Hills) – seven days
  • 438 (Abbotsford to City via Five Dock and Leichhardt) – Friday and Saturday only
  • 607X (Rouse Hill to City via M2) – Friday and Saturday only
Lower Hunter – More than 170 new weekly trips, including 2 new or extended routes:
  • New route 178 (Anambah to Rutherford)
  • Extended routes 260 and 261 (Minmi and Fletcher to Jesmond and University)
Central Coast – 45 new weekly trips, including 1 extended route:
  • Extended route 40 (Gosford – Wyoming)
  • Enhanced services on routes 67 and 68 between Terrigal and Gosford
  • Enhanced services on route 33 between Gosford and Mangrove Mountain
Blue Mountains – More than 30 new weekly trips on route 686 between Katoomba, Echo Point and Scenic World Illawarra – More than 240 new weekly trips, including 2 new or extended routes:
  • New route 75 (Tullimbar to Stockland Shellharbour)
  • Extended route 32 (Dapto to Brooks Reach)
  • Enhanced services on route 1 between Austinmer and Wollongong
  • Enhanced services on routes 31-33 between Wollongong and Dapto District
  • Enhanced services on route 34 between Warrawong and Wollongong
[post_title] => Best of 2016: High & mighty: double decker buses return to mainstream Sydney route service [post_excerpt] => Back to the Future II [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => double-decker-buses-return-to-mainstream-sydney-route-service [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-20 15:26:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-20 04:26:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24142 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 3 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23554 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-12-20 14:00:07 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-20 03:00:07 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_23555" align="alignnone" width="300"]800px-Cyclists_riding_in_Melbourne_for_350_Climate_Action_opt Bikes could soon be 25% of traffic. pic: Takver[/caption]   Talkback tirades and tabloid beat-ups about battles between drivers and cyclists are a staple of the debate over Sydney’s developing bike lane network; but it’s a completely different story in Melbourne, where even bigger steps to get people riding to work enjoy public and mainstream media support. In an intriguing tale of two cities, the Victorian capital has quietly emerged as a global leader when it comes embedding bicycle-friendly infrastructure into the fabric of its transport masterplan, just as broadly similar efforts in Sydney remain the target of sustained attacks that decry commuter cycling as a wasteful hipster folly that creates traffic gridlock and puts pedestrians in mortal danger. (And that’s before recent punitive increases in fines for NSW riders coupled with new requirements to carry photo ID are taken into account.) So what gives?

Bicycle bipolarity

The bipolar difference in media and public sentiment is now such a phenomenon that urban planners, government officials and policymakers are sitting-up and studying the chasm as cities and towns across Australia grapple with how to promote active lifestyles and deal with deal with traffic congestion. Almost any bike lane extension in Inner Sydney – proposed or real – is a sure fire candidate for a roasting on morning or drive time radio. Yet on the 15th March, the City of Melbourne and Lord Mayor Robert Doyle signed-off on the latest four year Bicycle Plan that now aims “to increase bike use to one in four vehicles entering the city in the morning” by 2020. That’s a quarter of inbound traffic, a target that would likely be laughed off the road by Sydneysiders still struggling to come to terms with separated bike lanes on city streets. In Melbourne the target barely rated a mention. On the surface, Melbourne’s sweltering summers and cold, often wet winters should to be enough to prompt the average cyclist to think twice about committing to serious two wheeled commuting. But cyclists are taking to Melbourne’s streets in their droves. The number of cyclists entering Melbourne’s CBD has maintained double digit annual growth and is now estimated by Bicycle Network – Australia’s peak national cycling advocacy body – to be clocking up between 12,000 and 15,000 bikes a day. Bicycle Network should know too, given the organisation routinely compiles bike counts on cycleways and streets – even if many traffic authorities still don’t collect such data. Bicycle Network’s chief executive, Craig Richards, acknowledges the stark difference in cultures between the two cities, but argues that mainstream acceptance of cycling as an integral part of commuting in Melbourne has been secured and reinforced in bite size chunks over a long time. “The transformation of Melbourne into a bike friendly city started many years ago,” says Richards. “The stages were incremental, not dramatic [and] that policy has been supported by political parties of both persuasions and most local governments and councils.” While cyclists commuting into Sydney appear to overwhelmingly support the introduction of physically separated bike lanes, that city’s comparatively rapid rollout, coupled with the forced changes and disruption as well as the publicity that has ensued, go a long way to explaining the heat being generated. In 2008, the City of Sydney committed a whopping $70 million to cycling works over four years. The backlash from increasing frustrated car drivers – not to mention the occasional minister – has been coming ever since. Part of that frustration stems from Sydney’s street planning (or lack of it) which has been ad hoc since colonisation. The ‘organic’ evolution of the city makes retrofitting of infrastructure like light rail and separate bus and bike lanes not just expensive, but awkward and often crowded when compared to Melbourne’s wide and purposeful grid system of roads. Down south, it’s been a slower and much quieter battle for cycling hearts and minds and one that’s been burning for decades. “There’s never been any huge spending announcements in Melbourne, it’s been drip fed,” says Richards. “There’s a 30 year history of encouraging bike riding.” “Most of the media has come on board [in Melbourne and this] reflects the very large numbers of people riding bikes. “We know it’s very different in other states.” Richards credits City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore for taking the “early running” on embedding cycling infrastructure into the commuting fabric of the city, but pointedly observes adjoining local government areas also need participate to definitively get things moving. “It hasn’t really spread through other parts of Sydney,” Richards says. “But councils are slowly responding.”

The Suburb-to-City (dis)connect

The suburb-to-city cycling disconnection that Melbourne has been progressively ironing is now increasingly becoming a big part of its success as a pedal powered city. The solutions are varied, sometimes a compromise, but at their core give riders sufficient demarcated space to feel confident and safe on their journeys. There is simply less fear of getting clipped by a car, as this video of an incident in front of Government News’ Sydney office illustrates (last 5 seconds). [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JX4tb9DncSI[/embed] The nirvana of an urban cycleway for riders is a physically separated, unidirectional lane or path that gets you from home to work (or wherever) in around the same or less time than a car or public transport. Richards says that as the quality of cycling infrastructure increases, so too do the distances that riders commuting to work are prepared to clock up. That means distances once constrained to around 5km can easily stretch out to 10km and sometimes extend to 15km for the more committed. If you consider most people working in offices tend to gravitate towards one or more concentrated points, the realistic opportunity of riding opens itself up to more and more people as cycling infrastructure extends. Corporate employers and property developers are also buying into and backing commuter cycling, and not just to gain a few corporate-social responsibility brownie points. [caption id="attachment_23559" align="alignleft" width="300"]Melb_bikepath_diagram_opt Safety in separation. pic: City of Melb.[/caption] The City of Melbourne has been getting developers to put cycling and active lifestyle facilities into offices for more than a decade, but Richards says such features are now becoming a staple in Sydney too. “Big corporate offices have bike parking for 400 to 500 bikes,” Richards says. Of course it doesn’t hurt that every bike potentially either saves a company the cost of a car space or frees one up for a driver that has far fewer transport options. And while few companies measure it, there’s no disputing the productivity downside that occurs when drivers parked in two-hour zones duck out to check or move their cars, or collectively rush from their desks when a group email about prowling parking inspectors goes around.

Safety the prerequisite for women

Although elements of the media frequently call out risk-taking behaviour by male cyclists on roads and at traffic intersections, the behaviour and perceptions of female cyclists are almost routinely ignored. Richards says that women place a very high value on the safety of their journey, a factor that in turn directly influences their uptake of riding. “Physically separated bike lanes are essential to get women riding,” he says, noting that on lower quality bike infrastructure (like painted lanes on roads) female participation tops out at around 25 per cent. [caption id="attachment_23557" align="alignleft" width="300"]150514 GSTC EIPD Public Domain_Portman St montage 1 without trees_opt Green Square embeds cycling. Pic City of Syd.[/caption] But the female participation rate almost doubles when there is full separation, like a physical buffer on the road or a dedicated off road path, with Richards estimating that female counts rises up to 45 per cent of riders. “That’s a major priority for Bicycle Network,” Richards says. “In Europe more females ride to work than males.” “Our surveys show that a large number of people would like to ride to work but don’t because they’re scared of the traffic.” If drivers prefer the comfort and convenience of their cars to public transport, the same motivation seems to be at least in propelling bike riders. Richards notes that congestion and increasing passenger density on public transport has many commuters looking for a more spacious alternative. “In the inner city, public transport infrastructure is already crowded,” Richards says.

 Council mergers a catalyst for coordinated change

Forced council mergers now sweeping across NSW are generating plenty of grass roots and political heat, but at the end of the day they could also present a once in a generation opportunity for new amalgamated entities to jointly plan much better cycling strategies. Richards won’t buy into the divisive politics of council amalgamations, but he’s certain a glass-half-full approach to bigger local governments can help overcome fragmented and disparate efforts to encourage riding. Bicycle Network has been a long-term critic of councils that talk big about sustainable transport but then only invest tokenistic amounts on cycling infrastructure that often only results in bike symbols being painted on bitumen. In 2012 the group outed Randwick, Botany Bay, North Sydney and Leichardt councils as just some of the local governments that wouldn’t even provide data for Bicycle Networks annual spending survey that year. With mergers now all but a done deal, Richards is urging stakeholders to come together to find a better way forward. “The amalgamations will provide an opportunity for a rethink on bike strategy,” Richards says. “[There will be] more opportunities for more collaboration between councils.” [caption id="attachment_23556" align="alignleft" width="300"]151126 Geddes Ave montage_opt Pic: City of Syd.[/caption] Better coordination between councils within 15km -20km of Sydney’s CBD is shaping up to be a critical issue as Sydneysiders increasingly mount-up to avoid several years of anticipated major traffic disruption caused by major projects that include the construction of a new Metro rapid rail network, the extension of light rail to the east and west and the massive new Westconnex toll road. One the biggest opportunities already sacrificed by both Labor and Liberal state governments is the construction of so-called ‘Green Way’ that would have provided a separated cycling and pedestrian trunk line that hugged the inner west light rail line and took self-powered commuters into the CBD. While a partial ‘GreenWay’ corridor has been constructed, for the time being it remains disconnected and isolated – like much of Sydney’s dedicated cycling and pedestrian commuting infrastructure.

Developers recasting the transport landscape

Given the high cost of retrofitting dedicated bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that property developers are quickly climbing on the non-car transport bandwagon. Proximity to high capacity public transport has always yielded a healthy premium, but as urban density becomes tighter and tighter the addition of dedicated cycling infrastructure is also becoming a must have for big infill projects such as Sydney’s Green Square redevelopment. [caption id="attachment_23558" align="alignleft" width="300"]GS Streets_Zetland_opt Pic: City of Syd.[/caption] Developers of course see a win-win scenario in replacing cars with bikes: authorisation to build blocks of units with a minimum or of dedicated off-street parking spaces can produce a far more lucrative yield because developments are not constrained by the number of car spaces. Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore is conspicuously talking-up the rare opportunity to put greenfields infrastructure into the central city area. “The cycleways through Green Square will give local residents and businesses an easy, comfortable and safe 15 minute ride to Central Station, with the capacity to transport more than 50 busloads of people a day,” Moore says. “Planning Green Square from the ground up has given us a unique opportunity to create a 36-metre wide central spine through the Green Square Town Centre – wide enough to accommodate a one-way separated cycleway on both sides. This is a first for Sydney, as all our other cycleways are retrofitted on narrower streets.” Wide streets and planned transport infrastructure… maybe not such a first for Melbourne, but at least things are moving. [post_title] => Best of 2016: Why Sydney hates cyclists and Melbourne loves them [post_excerpt] => Learning to live with bicycles as traffic. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => why-sydney-hates-cyclists-and-melbourne-loves-them [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-20 14:50:45 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-20 03:50:45 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=23554 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 7 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24524 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-07-25 19:04:04 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-25 09:04:04 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24525" align="alignnone" width="300"]Michelle Rowland_opt Michelle Rowland gets Communications. [/caption]   Labor leader Bill Shorten has revealed the Opposition’s full Shadow Ministry for the forthcoming Parliamentary term with a renewed emphasis on harnessing social equity issues to take the fight up to the Turnbull government. Following a campaign that was spearheaded by the so-called ‘Mediscare’ tactic, a reshuffle of key Shadow Cabinet positions has netted Deputy Opposition leader Tanya Plibersek the Education portfolio while her ally Penny Wong moves from Finance to Foreign Affairs and Trade. In terms of those who came up short, former Shadow Defence Minister Senator Stephen Conroy has pulled only Special Minister of State and Sports, a clear signal that Labor is muscling-up to try and take down government ministers on governance issues, a point Mr Shorten alluded to in his press conference. Rejecting suggestions that Senator Conroy – who is renowned for his verbal pugilism – had been was pushed over his stance on the South China Sea, Mr Shorten made it clear Parliament’s Committee process will be a renewed focus of attack. “As we all know he can be quite forensic and tough in terms of estimates performances, keeping the Government to account,” Mr Shorten said. “Stephen Conroy moving into Special Minister of State is not good news for slack and lazy Government ministers or for Government ministers try to cover up ineptitude or worse. This is not good news for the Government.” Conroy’s replacement in Shadow Defence is Richard Marles, While Catherine King retains Shadow Health, a striking cosmetic addition following the election campaign is the rebranding of the shadow portfolio to “Health and Medicare”, with Tony Zappia picking up a specific Medicare shadow assistant ministry to keep that fire alight. Linda Burney, the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the House of Representatives, didn’t make Shadow Cabinet but still scored well picking up the Human Services shadow ministry from Doug Cameron who gets expanded roles as Shadow for both Skills and Apprenticeships and Housing and Homelessness. As a seasoned minister and veteran of the NSW Parliament, Burney’s selection for the ‘issues rich’ Human Services portfolio – which persistently burned on talkback radio for Doug Cameron – will not give her opposite Alan Tudge or Social Services Minister Christian Porter any comfort. Another Turnbull Cabinet member, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, is also set for a bumpy ride after Michelle Rowland drew Shadow Communications. With a strong, frank and down-to-earth manner, Rowland’s ability to translate often technical issues around broadband into the plain English of outer suburbia is certain to hit hard. After a very public brawl within the left faction, socialist stalwart Kim Carr has kept Shadow Innovation, Industry, Science and Research despite a push to oust him from Shadow Cabinet. One of the numerical casualties of that stoush has been rising star and economist Andrew Leigh who remains outside Shadow Cabinet but gets Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Competition and Productivity, Charities and Not-for-Profits under Treasury and Shadow Minister for Trade in Services under Trade and Investment. After a stellar performance in the previous Parliamentary term, Leigh’s fate has again underscored the perils of hailing from the Australian Capital Territory that which carries little clout in terms of crucial factional numbers. Those keeping existing Shadow Cabinet posts and Ministries remain largely as anticipated. Chris Bowen retains Shadow Treasurer, Jenny Macklin retains Families and Social Services, Mark Butler keeps Climate Change, Anthony Albanese keeps Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development and Mark Dreyfus keeps Attorney General with National Security added in. Click here for full list of the Labor Shadow Ministry. [post_title] => Shorten’s new Shadow Ministry: Who to watch [post_excerpt] => Welfare, Medicare & Broadband key fronts [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => who-to-watch-in-bill-shortens-shadow-ministry [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-07-28 12:29:33 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-07-28 02:29:33 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24524 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24494 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-07-25 13:12:40 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-25 03:12:40 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24510" align="alignnone" width="300"]Shorten Head pic_opt Labor leader Bill Shorten. Pic :Facebook[/caption]

Federal Labor Shadow Ministry List as announced 23 July 2016

 
 TITLE  SHADOW MINISTER
Leader of the Opposition  Hon Bill Shorten MP
Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders  Hon Bill Shorten MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders  Senator Patrick Dodson
Shadow Cabinet Secretary  Senator the Hon Jacinta Collins
Shadow Assistant Minister for Family Violence and Child Safety  Terri Butler MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Digital Economy and Startups  Tim Hammond MP
Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader (Tasmania)  Senator Helen Polley


Deputy Leader of the Opposition  Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Shadow Minister for Education  Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Shadow Minister for Women  Hon Tanya Plibersek MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Schools  Andrew Giles MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Universities Terri Butler MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Equality  Terri Butler MP
Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development  Hon Kate Ellis MP
Shadow Minister for TAFE and Vocational Education  Hon Kate Ellis MP
Shadow Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships Senator the Hon Doug Cameron
Shadow Assistant Minister for Early Childhood Senator the Hon Jacinta Collins


Leader of the Opposition in the Senate  Senator the Hon Penny Wong
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs  Senator the Hon Penny Wong
Shadow Minister for International Development & the Pacific Senator Claire Moore


Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate  Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy
Shadow Special Minister of State Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy
Shadow Minister for Sport  Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy


Shadow Treasurer  Hon Chris Bowen MP
Shadow Minister for Small Business and Financial Services  Senator Katy Gallagher
Shadow Assistant Treasurer Hon Andrew Leigh MP
Shadow Minister for Competition and Productivity Hon Andrew Leigh MP
Shadow Minister for Charities and Not-for-Profits Hon Andrew Leigh MP
Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs Senator Sam Dastyari
Manager of Opposition Business (Senate) Senator Sam Dastyari
Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury  Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Small Business  Julie Owens MP


Shadow Minister for Environment and Water  Hon Tony Burke MP
Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Australia  Hon Tony Burke MP
Shadow Minister for the Arts  Hon Tony Burke MP
Manager of Opposition Business (House) Hon Tony Burke MP
 Shadow Assistant Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Australia   Senator the Hon Jacinta Collins
Shadow Assistant Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Australia  Julie Owens MP


Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy  Hon Mark Butler MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Climate Change  Pat Conroy MP


Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services  Hon Jenny Macklin MP
Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness Senator the Hon Doug Cameron
Shadow Minister for Human Services Hon Linda Burney MP
Shadow Minister for Disability and Carers Senator Carol Brown
Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities   Senator Louise Pratt


Shadow Minister for Defence  Hon Richard Marles MP
Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Hon Amanda Rishworth MP
Shadow Minister for Defence Personnel Hon Amanda Rishworth MP


Shadow Assistant Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC Hon Warren Snowdon MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security and Defence Personnel  Gai Brodtmann MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence Industry and Support   Hon Mike Kelly AM MP


Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development Hon Anthony Albanese MP
Shadow Minister for Tourism  Hon Anthony Albanese MP
Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government Stephen Jones MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Infrastructure  Pat Conroy MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories  Hon Warren Snowdon MP


Shadow Minister for Finance  Jim Chalmers MP


Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Hon Brendan O’Connor MP
Shadow Minister for Employment Services and Workforce Participation Ed Husic MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations  Lisa Chesters MP


Shadow Attorney General  Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP
Shadow Minister for National Security Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP
Deputy Manager of Opposition Business (House) Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP
Shadow Minister for Justice Clare O’Neil MP


Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection  Hon Shayne Neumann MP


Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research   Senator the Hon Kim Carr
Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing and Science Hon Nick Champion MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation Tim Hammond MP


Shadow Minister for Communications Hon Michelle Rowland MP
Shadow Minister for Regional Communications  Stephen Jones MP


Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry  Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP
Shadow Minister for Rural and Regional Australia Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Australia  Lisa Chesters MP


Shadow Minister for Resources and Northern Australia  Hon Jason Clare MP
Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment Hon Jason Clare MP
Shadow Minister for Trade in Services Hon Andrew Leigh MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Resources and Western Australia  Tim Hammond MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Northern Australia  Hon Warren Snowdon MP


Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare  Hon Catherine King MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Medicare  Tony Zappia MP


Shadow Minister for Ageing and Mental Health  Hon Julie Collins MP
Shadow Assistant Minister for Ageing   Senator Helen Polley
[Key] Bold: Shadow Cabinet Minister Plain: Full Shadow Minister Italics: Shadow Assistant Minister [post_title] => Labor Shadow Ministry List (Federal) [post_excerpt] => Full list with sensible formatting [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => federal-labor-opposition-shadow-ministry-full-list [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-07-25 19:08:58 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-07-25 09:08:58 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24494 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24472 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-07-19 17:44:13 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-19 07:44:13 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24473" align="alignnone" width="300"]Fiona Nash Local Government Minister Senator Fiona Nash[/caption]   Mayors across Australia are celebrating a tangible boost in political clout for their councils under the re-elected Turnbull Government after the Local Government ministry was elevated into Cabinet and given to Nationals Senator Fiona Nash. The move is the second substantial win for the grass roots sector since Mr Turnbull took leadership of the Coalition and builds on the previous restoration of a named Local Government ministerial function after it was conspicuously expunged by jettisoned PM Tony Abbott. Senator Nash takes over from Paul Fletcher who has been given a bolstered Urban Infrastructure ministry, a move that creates a clear differentiation between metropolitan issues and projects and those affecting regional areas. The Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) – the peak national body for councils which also retains a seat next to the states on the powerful Council of Australian Governments – has immediately applauded the move to Cabinet along with the retention of other key ministries. "This appointment illustrates the importance of preserving and strengthening the partnership between federal and local government to ensure the sustainability of local communities, and to ensure the continued and consistent coordination of national policies at the local level to deliver positive outcomes for Australian communities," ALGA President Mayor Troy Pickard said. "Senator Nash's appointment as Minister for Local Government will also be particularly significant when it comes to the Federal Government's regional development policy, which Minister Nash has stated will be released in 2017.” The ability of councils to influence federal policy and funding has been on a roller coaster ride over the past decade thanks to a revolving door of federal ministers set spinning by persistent leadership spills and reshuffles set off by changes in Prime Minister. Councils’ fortunes now look to be on the rise again, with not only a dedicated Cabinet Minister but also a Minister for Infrastructure and Transport – Darren Chester – and Minister for Urban Infrastructure – Paul Fletcher – to lobby in Canberra. "We look forward to continuing to work with Minister Chester and Minister Fletcher on the infrastructure and transport issues under their portfolios that are of critical importance to local government," Mayor Pickard said. The ALGA President also want to see money from Canberra more evenly shared around to stop regional areas falling behind. “ALGA's 2016-17 State of the Regions report, released at our National General Assembly last month, highlights the widening inequality in our regions,” Mayor Pickard said. “We must start the conversation now on how these issues can be addressed, how to accomplish a more even spread of prosperity for our communities and how to facilitate better coordination between the three levels of government to assist Australia's struggling regions." A major money issue that remains unresolved is the ongoing legality of Canberra directly funding projects at the Local Government level after pivotal High Court ruling created grave doubts over whether a raft of major schemes – including the $3.2 billion Roads to Recovery project – are now unconstitutional. Known as the Williams cases, the long-term impact of the precedents prompted a sustained but ultimately doomed push for a referendum to authorise a tweak to the Constitution that would create recognition for councils as financial entities. While the 2013 referendum push was conspicuously backed by key Nationals including Barnaby Joyce, support inside the Liberal Party eventually fractured amid fears by some Senators such a move would erode the standing of the States. Since then, ALGA and many state Local Government Associations have mounted a concerted campaign to not only keep federal funding channels open, but also halt the increase in so-called ‘cost shifting’ of functions onto councils’ books. [post_title] => Local Government promoted into Turnbull's Cabinet [post_excerpt] => Back at the big table. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => local-government-goes-to-cabinet [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-07-29 09:35:51 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-07-28 23:35:51 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24472 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24442 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-07-18 20:59:27 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-18 10:59:27 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24443" align="alignnone" width="287"]Frydenberg campaign_opt Environment & Energy: a Lycra Free Zone.[/caption]     When it comes to steady-as-she-goes reshuffles, it’s the subtle and incremental details that denote the real direction of the Turnbull ministry agenda for the parliamentary term ahead. That’s the take-out from the official cast list for 'Turnbull 2.0' after the Prime Minister survived a near death election after ruthlessly efficient negative campaigning from the Opposition inflicted far more damage than anticipated. Jobs and Growth? Most incumbent Ministers have kept their jobs, but there’s is anything but growth in government numbers essential to make policy into legislation. And you have to look right to the very end of the ministry list to see Turnbull’s real stamp of innovation.   Renewed Energy Listed literally last in the July 2016 class list, Victorian MP Josh Frydenberg has picked up what’s arguably the most eye opening ministry: Environment and Energy. The combination of those two policy areas under a single minister is clearly intended to send a firm message to stakeholders, industry and public servants. The message is this: what previously may have been opposing policy views must now pull together for a common good and a shared destiny. Sectoral cooperation must succeed sectoral conflict.If Tony Abbott went out of his way to punish the renewables sector through funding cuts and policies that favoured traditional energy sources like coal, gas and petroleum, Turnbull’s message is that both energy policy and industry needs look to a low emitting future to stay relevant. Sectoral cooperation must succeed sectoral conflict. If Tony Abbott went out of his way to punish the renewables sector through funding cuts and policies that favoured traditional energy sources like coal, gas and petroleum, Turnbull’s message is that both energy policy and the energy industry must look to a low emitting future to stay relevant. That's not so dumb. That's not dumb. Previously the portfolios had been split into Energy and Resources linking extraction, mining and generation while the development of the renewables industry was kept at bay by placing it in the Environment portfolio. Resources – read extraction and mining – now goes to ascendant Nationals Senator and former Barnaby Joyce staffer Senator Matt Canavan who also picks up the Northern Australia ministry for his talents and ambition. It’s a prescient move given the very public opposition of many farmers and Nationals to the encroachment of mining interests and polarising industries like Coal Seam Gas onto agricultural land. There is also a strong implicit message that any political debt owed to the mining industry following its relentless and generously funded anti-Mining Tax campaign during the Coalition's time in Opposition has been fully extinguished.   All regions are local Another Nationals winner is Senator Fiona Nash who – very logically – gets Local Government added to her duties alongside Regional Development. Local Government – which ministers to more than 500 Mayors under the thumb of state governments – had previously rested with Paul Fletcher, who now gets to devote his full concentration to Urban Infrastructure. Again, there’s a consistent theme in the new grouping of ministries along metropolitan and non-metropolitan lines. Having outlined a new federal interest in a coordinated approach to the development of cities and major infrastructure – think rail or major urban renewal – Turnbull has arguably returned policy for regional councils to a better fit.   Coordinating Infrastructure Although still in the outer ministry, Fletcher’s talent for understanding complex and technical industries and infrastructure can now be put to full use rather than being drained by distractions like unpopular local government mergers on his own doorstep. Fletcher’s role in demonstrating and selling Turnbull’s vision of cooperative federalism on the ground to voters – think opening roads and bridges – should also not be underestimated. Fletcher’s outer ministry also dovetails much more neatly with Angus Taylor’s Cities and Digital Transformation duties and provides two capable, younger and forward-looking junior ministers to help deliver coordinated national policies in areas that were previously largely left to the states. If both Taylor and Fletcher make headway, it will help Turnbull deliver on an agenda of national renewal and new industry creation that has so far proved evasive. The federal Local Government ministry didn't even get named under Abbott.   Defending votes South Australian MP Christopher Pyne’s move to Defence Industry Minister is about the strongest reflection yet of the urgent need to reinvigorate job creation in industrial sectors in transition. Pyne’s shift out of Industry, Innovation and Science (which goes to Greg Hunt) to building submarines, ships and warplanes may not be overtly upward, but it does underscore a rock solid intention to ensure that states like South Australia benefit directly from massive industries like military procurement in terms of jobs. Change management isn't always sexy, but it's crucial. Pyne’s other big challenge will be to ensure that big projects help create sustainable local industries like advanced manufacturing that can replace big losses in sectors like car building by spreading opportunities for local growth around, rather than just buying new kit off the shelf. The mission statement is clear: remake Defence into an industry that actually contributes to the economy rather than merely feeds off it. Shake down a few military industrial multinationals while you're at it. That’s no small task.   Revenue and Financial Services One of the real surprises in the mini-reshuffle is the replacement of the title of Assistant Treasurer with a sharply more contemporary post of Revenue and Financial Services – a role that goes to Kelly O’Dwyer who cedes Small Business to Michael McCormack. Fairly or otherwise, the relinquishment of one O’Dwyer’s previous ministries is certain to be regarded by many as a loss for the minister who remains in Cabinet. That interpretation could be missing the bigger policy picture. In recasting the former Assistant Treasurer ministry into a far more hands-on position, a capable plumber to ensure that the effectiveness of taxation works for the government and not against it isn't a glamour job, but it's prudent. In a digitised economy, where the physical location of payments and transactions have been routinely moved to minimise Treasury’s take, the development of effective revenue measures and mechanisms that tap into electronic commerce occurring in Australia remains a key challenge. Coupled with endemic transfer pricing and other tax minimisation techniques – of themselves part of the wider financial services market – it’s arguable a fully dedicated plumber minister unencumbered by other distractions has a better chance stemming revenue leakage. Given the Australian Taxation Office has already indicated it wants to eliminate the annual ritual of taxpayers filing an annual return through an agent when they have relatively simple affairs, an increase in the efficient targeting and collection of taxes could pay off in spades. If the likes of Google, Apple, Uber and other disruptors start paying the same level of tax locally as the industry players that came before them did it’s unlikely to hurt the Turnbull Government or O’Dwyer. [post_title] => Turnbull ministry tweaks quietly demolish Abbott’s policy agenda [post_excerpt] => Subtle, smart reforms lead rebuilding [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => turnbulls-ministry-tweaks-quietly-demolish-abbotts-policy-agenda [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-07-19 09:56:09 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-07-18 23:56:09 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24442 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24427 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-07-18 17:19:11 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-18 07:19:11 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24435" align="alignnone" width="300"]iStock_000024856222_Small_opt Legalising Uber will cost $250mil.[/caption]   The Baird Government has officially opened the door to its ambitious $250 million compensation package for New South Wales taxi and hire car licence holders hit by the biggest regulatory shake-up of the sector in the state’s history, urging those affected to apply for “transitional assistance payments” of up to $20,000. The much anticipated compensation cash package comes as Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance presses on with reforms revealed in December last year that effectively legalised ride-sharing operations like Uber in the state at the stroke of a pen –but sent the value of taxi and hire car plates plummeting. Already feeling the heat from competition regulators, the taxi industry in NSW – like other states – had been fighting a rear guard action to maintain what had been a crumbing legal monopoly under siege from online ‘point-to-point’ network operators which use private cars and drivers. Although widely embraced by passengers, the new services created a significant problem for the government because they not only flew under the regulatory radar, but stripped away valuable revenue as well. “We’ve ushered in a new era for the transport economy under the new Point to Point Transport Act, providing taxi, hire car and rideshare customers with more choice and increased competition,” Mr Constance said. “In recognition that these reforms have liberated the point to point market, we’ve put in place one of the most generous industry adjustment packages in the world for taxi licence holders.” While the changes undoubtedly legitimised newer ‘booked services’ operators and drivers who had previously faced stiff fines and prosecution, they also put the onus for compliance back onto network operators and businesses rather than leaving it to individual drivers. At the time Mr Constance vowed the creation of a new, stand-alone, watchdog in the form of a specific Commissioner would be “the toughest regulator the NSW point to point transport industry has ever had.” The Transport Minister also found himself getting some free advice from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak at a press conference that Uber should not be allowed to become a monopoly. Powers provided to the new Commissioner include ability to hit companies that fail to meet safety requirements with big, court imposed fines that are based on an offending firm’s profitability rather than a traditional sliding scale that typically hit drivers rather than their employers. The get tough push also included criminal sanctions and jail sentences of up to two years “for nominated directors and managers found guilty of serious safety breaches” to discourage corners being cut. “For the first time the buck will stop with the company making profit from the services – not just the driver,” Mr Constance said in December last year. But before the regulatory stick is applied, the Baird government wants drivers and operators that have been financially hit by the legalisation of ride sharing to access relief funds. Mr Constance said the NSW Government would now “write to more than 4,000 eligible licence holders” to let them know how to apply for the money, and would process each application “as quickly as possible.” More specifically the $250 million relief package includes:
  • $98 million for payments of $20,000 per ordinary and transferrable licence, for up to two licences, for licences held before 1 July 2015;
  • $142 million for taxi licensees facing hardship as a result of the changes; and
  • Up to $10 million for a buy-back scheme for perpetual hire car licensees.
Mr Constance said affected licence holders would be able to access “dedicated Taxi and Hire Car Business Advisors” as well as or the NSW Taxi Council to get help filing applications for financial relief. Applications for the money close on 13th January 2017 and can be made at www.transport.nsw.gov.au/pointtopoint/industry-assistance. [post_title] => Uber and Out: Claims for Taxi reform compensation cash now open [post_excerpt] => Sharing (the pain) economy. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => uber-claims-taxi-reform-compensation-cash-now-open [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-07-19 10:04:45 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-07-19 00:04:45 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24427 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24421 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-07-18 16:24:23 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-18 06:24:23 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24424" align="alignnone" width="300"]Turnbull Portrait_opt And now, on with the show. Pic: PMO[/caption]   Re-elected Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced his Cabinet and full Ministry list. TURNBULL MINISTRY 18 July 2016 (Source: Prime Minister's Office)
TITLE MINISTER
Prime Minister The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP
Minister for Indigenous Affairs Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion
Minister for Women Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Cabinet Secretary Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos AO
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counter-Terrorism The Hon Michael Keenan MP
Minister Assisting the Cabinet Secretary Senator the Hon Scott Ryan
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cyber Security The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Senator the Hon James McGrath The Hon Angus Taylor MP
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources The Hon Barnaby Joyce MP
Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister Senator the Hon Anne Ruston The Hon Luke Hartsuyker MP
Minister for Foreign Affairs The Hon Julie Bishop MP
Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment The Hon Steven Ciobo MP
Minister for International Development and the Pacific Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells
Assistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment The Hon Keith Pitt MP
Attorney-General (Vice-President of the Executive Council) (Leader of the Government in the Senate) Senator the Hon George Brandis QC
Minister for Justice The Hon Michael Keenan MP
Treasurer The Hon Scott Morrison MP
Minister for Revenue and Financial Services Minister for Small Business The Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP The Hon Michael McCormack MP
Minister for Finance (Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Special Minister of State Senator the Hon Scott Ryan
Minister for Regional Development Minister for Local Government and Territories Senator the Hon Fiona Nash Senator the Hon Fiona Nash
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport (Deputy Leader of the House) The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Urban Infrastructure The Hon Paul Fletcher MP
Minister for Defence Senator the Hon Marise Payne
Minister for Defence Industry (Leader of the House) The Hon Christopher Pyne MP
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC The Hon Dan Tehan MP The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Defence Personnel The Hon Dan Tehan MP
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection The Hon Alex Hawke MP
Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science The Hon Greg Hunt MP
Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Senator the Hon Matt Canavan
Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science The Hon Craig Laundy MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care The Hon Sussan Ley MP
Minister for Sport The Hon Sussan Ley MP
Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care The Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP
Assistant Minister for Rural Health Dr David Gillespie MP
Minister for Communications Minister for the Arts (Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield
Minister for Regional Communications Senator the Hon Fiona Nash
Minister for Employment Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Minister for Social Services The Hon Christian Porter MP
Minister for Human Services The Hon Alan Tudge MP
Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services The Hon Jane Prentice MP
Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs Senator Zed Seselja
Minister for Education and Training Assistant Minister for Vocational Education and Skills Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham The Hon Karen Andrews MP
Minister for the Environment and Energy The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP
  [post_title] => Turnbull Government 2.0 -- New Ministry full list [post_excerpt] => New Cabinet revealed. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => turnbull-government-2-0-ministry-refresh-full-list [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-07-19 10:10:23 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-07-19 00:10:23 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24421 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 4 [filter] => raw ) [10] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24397 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-07-11 22:43:24 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-11 12:43:24 [post_content] => Melbourne, Australia - Auguest 28, 2015: Sign of Australia Post outside its office in Bourke Street, Melbourne   [analysis] As the Prime Minister sets about recasting his Cabinet and the bureaucracy prepares for likely Machinery of Government changes, the challenge of rehabilitating the nation’s two highest risk legacy transactional systems from the inside is a dilemma that will only grow in complexity. The demonisation of outsourcing Medicare’s payments engine became the electoral lightning rod during the election campaign. By logical extension, that means replacement of Centrelink’s core ISIS system and what role payments outsourcing providers can play there is now also logically in the mix.
Prior to Labor’s brutally effective ‘Mediscare’ campaign, the outsourcing of transactional banking services and payments facilities was one of the least controversial procurement policy decisions on both sides of the political fence.
For better or worse, it’s now the most controversial – and destined to remain so until the next election. So where to from here?   Legacy’s long shadow Most federal agencies use a transactional bank to make or take payments. They could be payments to government suppliers and contractors, the collection of fees or even just access to petty cash for everyday sundries like booking a function room or ordering sandwiches for a meeting. Most state governments gave up on owning and running their own banks several decades ago (unless they were going broke). The Commonwealth Bank of Australia was sold off by the Labor Hawke-Keating government in three tranches between 1991 and 1996. Telstra’s privatisation under John Howard came next. In the intervening period, four Australian prime ministers have grappled with how to bring the federal government’s three biggest transactional systems – Centrelink, Medicare and Tax – up to the same speed and consumer utility as modern customer facing businesses like airlines, banks and retailers.
Few outside the payments industry or government appreciate it, but it’s the Reserve Bank of Australia that provides transactional facilities for the likes of Medicare – a role that many including the RBA itself have come to regard as at best ancillary to the core central banking role of steering monetary policy.
The RBA’s role in the mass distribution of welfare payments has an added complexity too. The institution also oversees regulation of the wider payments industry – a coalescence not all in the commercial banking and payments sector regard as optimal. As both Medicare and Centrelink’s mainframe based systems have aged, policymakers on both sides have contemplated how to harness commercial payments innovations, especially online technology, to reform and modernise government interactions with citizens. Despite citizen dissatisfaction growing with every month and year that welfare legacy systems replacement is put off, the political stakes surrounding outsourced procurement are now so high that internal solutions will need to be found within government. The pertinent questions are how that internal transactional capability will be sourced, built and delivered after more than a decade of moving in the opposite direction. The only certainty so far is that if doing nothing was not an option before the election, it’s even less of one now.   Medicare refunds are already partly outsourced If financial services players were keen to take on management of Medicare’s payments infrastructure, they prudently avoided parading their ambitions in public given the public sensitivity and political volatility surrounding the organisation. Despite pumping out more than $30 billion a year in payments, Medicare’s scale in terms of volume and value is still well below that of other sectors like groceries, fuel, utilities or even phone bills making it a sub-premium proposition.
Further diluting Medicare’s commercial value for banks is the fact that institutions already take a cut of many of Medicare’s transactions through the Easyclaim channel, which automatically refunds a Medicare rebate to a claimant’s account from practitioner payment terminals.
The initial clip banks struck with the Howard government a decade ago for Medicare Easyclaim was a robust 23 cents a transaction. Given that level of existing fee flow – which is in effect partially outsourcing payments processing of itself – it’s not hard to see why some institutions would question how much margin was left in picking up processing what’s left. Then there’s the infrastructure and ownership dynamics of the Australian payments industry. As both BPAY and eftpos are effectively owned by the banks as collective low-cost service providers to them, an automatic question arises as to the efficiency of institutions running individual bids. That’s not necessarily the case for former government monopolies like Telstra which has often toed new ways to diversify its infrastructure and services business, particularly around verticals like health and payments. Given the recent intervention of politics, those responding the Department of Health’s call for proposals must be wondering why they bothered spending the money to pitch in the first place.   Could Australia Post become Medicare’s ‘Giro Bank’? One government organisation keen to trade on its government-owned status to pull in new business is the structurally challenged loss maker Australia Post. Like Medicare and Centrelink, don’t expect to see a prospectus soon. Post’s various attempts to elicit work from other government agencies, for example its Digital Mailbox, haven’t exactly set the world on fire. But Post’s positioning could be its saviour as political winds change.
Led by former National Australia Bank’s local chief Ahmed Fahour, Post’s long game has been to try and establish a highly trusted mix of digital services and physical logistics as business lines that can help counterbalance terminally haemorrhaging mail revenues.
Ordinarily, Australia Post would face insurmountable competition from financial services players to pick-up a payments processing contract like Medicare, but the reversal away from outsourcing could conceivably work in its favour. With the Reserve Bank of Australia unlikely to want to build and operate a new welfare payments hub after cajoling the banking industry into reforming its own infrastructure it’s not beyond possibility that Post could pull off a Steven Bradbury gold medal performance by being the last institution standing. One model with miles on the clock is that of Britain’s ‘Girobank’ that took on the role of pumping electronic direct deposits of what were welfare cheques in the 1980’s. Although not an immediate success, the clearing house gained sufficient volume and business to eventually be sold-off. At a wider level, in Europe, the ‘Postal Giro’ model typically enables electronic payments across banks and their customers for the likes of bill payments and person-to-person transfers from accounts.
Now that both sides of Australian politics have publicly sworn off outsourcing Medicare payments processing – and by logical extension probably Centrelink’s too – the creation of an Australian Giro facility could tick the ‘within government’ box for welfare payments modernisation.
Such a move would be unlikely to go down well with banks. But it may be a lesser evil than institutions fronting a warts-and-all Royal Commission. And it would not be the first marriage-of-convenience prompted by political expediency. For Turnbull, Medicare, Centrelink and Post alike, doing nothing is simply not an option. [post_title] => Could Medicare make Australia Post become a Giro Bank? [post_excerpt] => Welfare payments modernisation...where to now? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => could-medicare-make-australia-post-a-giro-bank [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-07-15 09:07:48 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-07-14 23:07:48 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24397 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [11] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24378 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-07-11 13:06:41 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-11 03:06:41 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24381" align="alignnone" width="300"]Laval, Сanada - September 23, 2015: Drone Flying At Sunset over an onions field. The drone is a Yuneec Typhoon Q500+ equipped with a 4k camera. Airborne interception. Pic: iStock[/caption]   Criminals using drones, quadcoptors and other unmanned aerial systems to avoid detection by police and law enforcement will soon find their new toys hijacked to provide evidence against them if an ASX-listed technology developer and exported gets its way. As prison authorities, drug agencies and police try to get to grips with criminals and gangs flying everything from drugs and weapons over prison walls, ominously named company Department 13 (D13) has launched a new “Drone Intelligence and Forensic Service” it says will give prison, border control and drug enforcement authorities a critical upper hand. The plummeting price and increased sophistication of ‘off-the-shelf’ drones has created a huge new challenge for authorities when they fall into the wrong hands. One of the biggest problems is that remotely operated small aircraft, by their very nature, create an invaluable distance between their illegal operators and authorities, thus allowing arm’s length delivery of illicit goods or an early warning for when cops are approaching or about to pounce. Amateur drones, which often fly outside of aviation regulatory boundaries, have also become a growing nuisance at events with tight security like political rallies, major sporting events and festivals. While authorities can obviously just whack drones out of the sky, Department 13 reckons it’s the sophisticated electronics inside their software that can give law enforcement a far more valuable window into who’s using the technology and what they’re up to – without resorting to ballistics or jammers that can blow an operation’s cover. [caption id="attachment_24385" align="alignleft" width="300"] Low barrier to entry. Pic: Zully3P[/caption] “It’s critical that we understand the complete lifecycle of how adversaries fulfil their illicit missions using drones. Until we understand all of the available data about drones used for these illicit purposes we will be at a distinct disadvantage to our criminal adversaries,” said Department 13 chief executive Jonathan Hunter. Known as MESMER, the system uses snooping and surveillance software that Department 13 says “provides automated detection and finessed mitigation strategies that can be selected to function autonomously or with a man in the loop.” Put more simply that means drone sniffers can be actively monitored by people or left for days at a time to detect, record and drone activity. Government News understands that extends to covertly grabbing a feed from a drone’s camera, Of course, it would be nicer if you could, after gathering enough evidence, just take the drone over and safely bring it back to you or down in a safe place. After all, with UAV and autonomous vehicle ‘takeover’ now all the rage in the military –call it digital hijacking – why shouldn’t law enforcement authorities also get a slice of the action? Department 13’s official release seems to obscure that potent capability a little, referring to a “response stage” that’s based “on a technique that we call, protocol manipulation.” But it’s similarly understood that the remote take-over capability for drones is well advanced and being developed to deal with multiple targets or ‘swarms’ at once. A post from D13’s founder and CTO, Robi Sen, on the company’s website pulls fewer punches. In an examination of how lithium batteries that power drones can catch fire both in mid-air or on crash landing, Sen points out that just bringing down drones in an uncontrolled manner is a potentially deadly risk in itself – especially in urban areas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aRutyaxmdrs “Department 13 staff when assisting law enforcement in performing forensics on drones always [insists] on storing crashed or recovered drone’s batteries in protective and fire proof containers to prevent accidents and injury, Sen says. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwXpYLHyNf4   “It is also why we designed our Mesmer platform to maintain positive control of target drones to avoid creating hazardous situations that result from crashed drones.” Mind you, the Dutch National Police also have an eagle eye on drone control via interception, but using an avian solution. They’re training majestic eagles to swoop, capture and return target drones as part of a trial. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HifO-ebmE1s   [post_title] => Drone hijackings on police radar [post_excerpt] => Over the air apprehension. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => drone-hijackings-police-radar [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-07-15 09:10:24 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-07-14 23:10:24 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24378 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [12] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24321 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-07-05 00:01:02 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-07-04 14:01:02 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24323" align="alignnone" width="300"]Electoral roll_opt On a roll. Party databases are a data goldmine. Pic: AEC[/caption]     Every working day across Australia, a familiar scene is repeated in state and federal Electoral Commission offices that goes to the very heart of privacy, democracy and data in Australia. Seated at secure, stand-alone computer terminals, private investigators using just a pen and paper meticulously check the nation’s electoral rolls for details of persons of interest. It might be a spouse or relative who has unexpectedly disappeared or an executor looking for unknowing beneficiaries of a will. More often than not, it’s debt collectors and their lawyers looking for a physical address to deliver legal paperwork vital to commence proceedings. No electronic copies of the Electoral Roll information can be made, either by download or mobile device, making manually writing down elector details by hand the sole point of public access.
It’s an obstructive quirk that’s there to stop the mass harvesting of information and protect the privacy of individuals participating in Australia’s compulsory system of secret ballots that underpin our electoral system and democracy.
Yet the Electoral Rolls must be open for access and inspection. “Under section 90A in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, the right to access the electoral roll is integral to the conduct of free and fair elections as it allows participants to verify the openness and accountability of the electoral process,” the Australian Electoral Office says on its official description. “The AEC also protects personal information on the electoral roll from being misused under the provisions of the Privacy Act 1988,” the Commission adds. But there’s a catch – and it’s a huge one. The Privacy Act doesn’t extend to politicians or their parties. While private companies, banks and marketers are all legally barred from electronically accessing or using Electoral Roll information, it’s a very different story for political parties, candidates and their staff who mine, slice and dice voter information using their own proprietary software systems. And just what voter information is kept on those party and candidate systems, how it is collected and used and what, if any, safeguards are in place to protect it has so far avoided any independent or regulatory scrutiny.
The first rule about party electoral databases is that you don’t talk about party electoral databases.
And with even voters unable to access what is being kept on them, they remain the darkest corner of supposedly open democracy in a digital age.   Privacy Free Zone When the Australian Law Reform Commission released its landmark review of the Privacy Act in 2008, it delivered a cornerstone recommendation that both major parties were happy to let quietly die through lack of political support. With a strong sense of the increasing power and potentially intrusive reach of digital technology, the ALRC recommended that the exemption from the reach of Privacy Act for parties, candidates, staffers, contractors and volunteers be dropped. The move would have opened the secretive and murky way in which data is collected, held and used on electors to independent scrutiny and regulation for the first time. The ALRC review also suggested that, like with other government and business organisations, individuals should be able to access information held on them by political parties and be able to correct errors in party information holdings. Specifically, ALRC’s 2008 report said: “The ALRC is not convinced, however, that all (or even the majority) of information-handling activities undertaken by registered political parties and those engaged in political acts and practices warrant legislative immunity. In particular, registered political parties and those engaging in political acts and practices should:
  • collect information by lawful and fair means; ensure the quality and security of the information;
  • set out their policies on the management of personal information;
  • let individuals know what personal information is held about them; and
  • allow individuals the right to access and correct such information.”
The recommendations went nowhere. [quote]With a legislative amendment needed to cement any new access and oversight regime, both major parties were happy for the change to not even make it past first base.[/quote] It’s not hard to see why.   Digital campaigns give privacy the finger With Labor having commandingly won what was then Australia’s first truly web-powered and social media driven election contest – better known as Kevin 07 – data-driven campaigning, targeting and fund raising from voters wasn’t just a new political weapon; it was seen as the must have tactical campaigning advantage. Since then, both Labor and the Coalition have invested heavily in powerful new analytical, modelling and outreach software that fuses together elector details, demographics, views and concerns and interactions with candidates...and mostly paid for by taxpayers. [caption id="attachment_24322" align="alignleft" width="300"]Magenta Campaign Monitor Street by street. Pic: Magenta Linas website.[/caption] So-called “Robo-Calls” and “War Diallers”, political text messages, online advertising, social media targeting and influencer outreach all, in some way or another, rely on party electronic access to electoral rolls because they quite literally tell them where the votes are.
They know where you live, what keeps you up at night and whether or not you’re likely to donate.
But as the party database systems get bigger, more powerful and arguably more intrusive, the secrecy around their operation and holdings intensifies.   Closed window on democracy at work Because information about electoral databases is so highly guarded, and independent scrutiny completely absent, when information does surface into their operation it’s usually because of a row or an internal dispute. What is known is that Labor uses a platform derived from its UK cousin known as Campaign Central alongside the longstanding Electrac system. The Liberal Party uses a system named Feedback. [caption id="attachment_24324" align="alignleft" width="143"]polling-official_opt Data rules. Pic: AEC[/caption] Such is the paucity of information on electoral databases that even the ALRC – the statutory body specifically tasked with reviewing the legitimacy and efficacy of laws – had to reference a 2004 paper by academic Peter van Onselen, now the contributing editor of The Australian newspaper and a former adviser to Tony Abbott during his terms as Workplace Relations minister. In the paper, van Onselen’s assessment is scathing. “Compulsory registration to vote coupled with compulsory AEC handover of voter information to political parties is also a violation of individual voters’ privacy. Political party databases storing voter information are excluded from privacy laws which prohibit the retention of such information by private organisations other than political parties,” van Onselen wrote.
“However they are not subject to freedom of information rules either. Until this situation is remedied, political databases will continue to present a threat to key values of the Australian political system.”
And if you’re getting bombarded by unwanted texts and emails from candidates, there’s no stopping that either. Politicians conveniently wrote themselves out of the Spam Act too.   Eroding political trust If Australian electors are cynical already about the motivations of political messaging and how policy is formed, recent incidents involving both sides of politics and electoral databases won’t do much to restore confidence. In 2013, three Fairfax journalists – Royce Millar, Nick McKenzie, Ben Schneiders – made an unreserved apology to both the Australian Labor Party and the Victorian Electoral Commission for breaching laws surrounding unauthorised access to electoral data in the course on an investigation into how parties use databases. Compiled in the run-up to the Victorian state election of 2010 the story, published in The Age, revealed that Labor had “secretly recorded the personal details of tens of thousands of Victorians - including sensitive health and financial information - in a database being accessed by campaign workers ahead of this Saturday's state election.” Some of those contacted by The Age journalists expressed dismay at the kind of information being held on them without their permission and the manner in which it was collected. There are also problems in NSW. In May this year the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7.30 Report reported that former “NSW Labor Party general secretary Jamie Clements had been charged by the New South Wales Electoral Commission for allegedly improperly accessing the state’s electorate roll.”
Labor by no means has a monopoly on controversy over electoral databases.
Federal Western Australian Liberal MP, Dennis Jensen, tipped a bucket on his party’s use of the Feedback database after being dumped as the candidate for the safe seat of Tangney after what he called a dirty tricks and smear campaign that included the release of an unpublished book that allegedly included explicit descriptions. Among the questions Mr Jensen put to the Liberal Party was whether any third parties other than his staff had access to “confidential constituent information” put into Feedback.   Ringing up the cash The Liberal’s otherwise inconspicuous Feedback database exploded onto the political stage during the 2016 federal election campaign after a flurry of accusations that the developer selling the software to members for around $2500 a year, Parakeelia, was effectively funnelling parliamentary allowances back to the Liberal Party itself. For a database so sensitive that its users are reportedly told not to discuss its operation outside the Liberal Party, the sudden spotlight of attention, accusations and questions to Cabinet ministers over sensitive funding details was yet another unwanted headache in an already toxic election campaign.
The raft of accusations and counter claims over party database funding quickly moved to the software used by Labor, which is provided by a company called Magenta Linas, founded by Bob Korbell and Andrew Navakas around 20 years ago.
Headquartered in Melbourne, Magenta Linas certainly doesn’t hide its work with the ALP, or unions on its websites and also lists a raft of other corporate and government clients. Sometimes it even leaves its dummy drafts up online.   Decade-long row While Labor leader Bill Shorten stressed that Labor did not 'own' Magenta Linas in the way Parakeelia operates for the Liberal Party, the reality is that bitter rows over the public funding of electoral database software funding have been blazing for more than a decade. So too have allegations over access controls and the potential misuse of elector information. In 2006, with the Liberals seeking to switch to the then new Feedback systems from a system known as EMS (Electoral Management System) provided by (you guessed it) Parakeelia, recriminations flew hard and fast in the Western Australian Parliament [pdf: the fun starts p10] over access to taxpayer funds to deploy software. Also in the mix was what access union members working helping out on Labor campaigns would have to elector information. Then WA Liberal Opposition Leader, Paul Omodei, took aim at Labor over why the ALP’s Electrac system could be funded by the state government but the Liberal’s new Feedback system couldn’t
“The Labor Party developed its own Electrac system and then organised for that to be funded by the state, and the Liberal Party was not given the same benefit,” Omodei roared almost a decade ago.
In 2007, John Howard's Special Minister of State, Gary Nairn, had another go at Magenta Linas asking the AEC to investigate whether the Australian Council of Trade Unions getting access to Labor's electroal databases was a breach of the Electoral Act. The AEC found it wasn't. Better systems, bigger risks Ten years on, successive state and federal governments have changed while the names behind political party software have largely remained the same.
And while the power, reach, holdings and potential intrusiveness of Australia’s electoral software has increased many times over, public and regulatory scrutiny has remained static and inconsequential.
Who, if anyone, will intervene on behalf of Australian voters in the event electoral databases are hacked, or revealed to have been hacked is, is difficult to say. And there’s certainly little or no political interest in exposing that data to sunlight or the oversight of the Privacy Act. [post_title] => Political Databases: where privacy goes to die [post_excerpt] => Party time for unsupervised, unaudited records. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => political-databases-privacy-goes-die [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-07-06 16:46:45 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-07-06 06:46:45 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24321 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [13] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24313 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-06-30 22:42:04 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-06-30 12:42:04 [post_content] => Aspire-landscape   Councils that were sacked and placed under the control of administrators by the Baird Government are sneakily imposing hefty new taxes on property developments in direct contravention of state planning guidelines to prop-up their finances, a peak building industry body has warned. Urban Taskforce, whose members include developer giants like Meriton, Mirvac and Brookfield Multiplex, is demanding an immediate New South Wales Government intervention to put a stop to a cash grab it says is being foisted on the property industry under the guise of ‘value capture’. “The Urban Taskforce is concerned that a number of metropolitan Sydney councils are developing value capture policies as a way to earn income,” said the group’s chief executive, Chris Johnson. [quote]“As this is clearly against the Government’s practice note of 2005 the Department of Planning must either withdraw the practice note or update the practice note with clearer guidance.”[/quote] The shot over the State Government’s bow is yet another problem for embattled Local NSW Government Minister Paul Toole, to whom the newly merged councils will report until September 2017 – and potentially puts him on a collision course with Cabinet Ministers. With the forced merger of councils predicated on making them financially ‘Fit for the Future’, any cash raid under State Government appointed administrators is certain to ring alarm bells. Government News has been told that “imprudent” and “understated” integration cost estimates have started to blow out and will risk delivering big deficits instead of savings unless ancillary revenue streams or major cost cuts are quickly found. With ‘mum and dad’ rates and fees very strictly off-limits, the pressure to find new money is on: but it’s not a simple equation.   Peter vs Paul robbery A major drawback of councils levying land taxes using ‘value capture’ is that the money they extract from developers would otherwise flow back to the state government to offset big investments in infrastructure.
Those investments then act to drive-up property values, thus creating a capital lift that can be put to work. But it’s a finite pot.
The established value capture model works by releasing land (often compulsorily acquired) that’s nearby rail, light rail or major road projects to developers who cash-in on strong demand for property close to new transport corridors and hubs. The project owner, usually the State Government, then takes a cut of the property sales, usually through a floor space ratio levy, and puts the money towards the project to minimise the cost and maximise the use of public funds. Urban Taskforce is now warning that with councils now under State Government control, taking a big second bite out of the value capture cherry will simply make some major projects non-viable. Aspire-night-portait New Parramatta Council under fire [quote]The new City of Parramatta Council is cited as a prime offender, a rather embarrassing situation in the midst of a federal election campaign where urban infrastructure in Sydney’s marginal Western Suburbs has become a key battleground.[/quote]   Urban Taskforce isn't stupid. It knows when to pounce. “Of particular concern was that the City of Parramatta Council included in their levy the collection of a state tax of $200 a square metre for housing alongside the proposed light rail. There is some confusion as to how State Government value capture taxes are to be collected,” Mr Johnson said. “The overlap of State Government value capture with council value capture levies is also occurring on sites near new stations proposed for the Sydney Metro. Urban Taskforce members with projects near the proposed Crows Nest station are being asked to provide value capture levies by North Sydney Council as well as the State Government.” Mr Johnson also accused the City of Parramatta Council of “selling bonus floor space at a fixed price irrespective of the individual qualities of a development site.” He said developers held fears that despite “negotiating projects over a number of years the unexpected imposition of the proposed [council] tax would make their projects unviable.
“This is a huge unanticipated cost which throws out the feasibility of many developments,” Mr Johnson said.
  Parramatta stands its ground [caption id="attachment_24316" align="alignleft" width="147"]Amanda-Chadwick Amanda Chadwick[/caption] Amanda Chadwick, City of Parramatta Council’s Administrator, isn’t letting Urban Taskforce’s claims – especially the accusation that imposing value capture levies or ‘value sharing’ is against state planning guidelines – go unchallenged. “I have received advice to the contrary,” Ms Chadwick plainly told Government News.
“What I have asked for is an independent peer review of all of the work that was done by the City of Parramatta [and] Parramatta City Council to ensure that a good decision is made and informs that.”
“I have also asked for independent legal advice,” Ms Chadwick said, adding that those two documents were now being prepared and would go on to inform consultation documents that will be released. “While I accept [Chris’ Johnson’s] concerns in relation to ensuring that that there’s a good framework around value sharing, I think what we really need to do is ensure that council’s options are on the table in the form of a document for consultation. “And that industry have the opportunity to respond to that, together with the good ratepayers and everybody else who has an interest in Parramatta’s future,” Ms Chadwick said.   Consultation imperative The next step in that process, Ms Chadwick says, is to release two discussion papers for consultation so that “the planning work, the policy work, the economic work and the legal work can be tested by industry.” Ms Chadwick also firmly contested any notion that harnessing value sharing (or value capture), was a new idea linked to councils recently being put into administration. “The CBD planning proposal of the former Parramatta City Council has been in the public domain for almost a year,” Ms Chadwick said, noting the big increase in population around the corner. “That document – if it is accepted as a planning proposal as the new LEP – would mean a quadrupling of the current dwelling entitlements for the CBD,” she said. “Now that document has a lot of supporting information behind it, including this concept of value sharing, including the infrastructure that that [Parramatta] CBD would need. It’s been a long process that’s led to this.”
The next step, according to Ms Chadwick, is to ensure “a proper and transparent document” is released for consultation “so that that the whole of the industry has the opportunity to respond.”
Equally, the Parramatta Administrator insisted, “ratepayers and residents” must to have their say as do “the businesses that are already in Parramatta” in terms of “the way in which infrastructure for the city should be funded, and the shape of the city that they want to live and work in.”   Muzzled administrator label rejected One of the biggest risks of the NSW forced council merger process is the growth of a palpable public perception that council administrators are simply doing the State Government’s bidding at arm’s length, thus circumventing local democracy in the process. Ms Chadwick rejects that notion in its entirety. She says she’s satisfied with her freedom to speak out and challenge Macquarie Street in the interests of the local community under her control.
“On this issue, what I see myself as doing is continuing the policies of the former Parramatta City Council. They were very clear about the city that they wanted to see, very clear about the way they thought that city could be funded.
“What I am in fact doing is continuing that policy direction… wrapped around it with good transparency and integrity in decision making, which is exactly what you should expect to see from an administrator.”   Ratio Decidendi Prior to being put into administration, Parramatta’s elected representatives had resolved to place a dual ‘value sharing’ mechanism into place. It reflected gains that would be generated not just from increases in land value, but also increasing density and floor space ratios ranging from 6:1 to 10:1 attracting a levy and a so-called ‘bonus’ rate that applied to developments with ratios of up to 15:1. Upscaling density at 15:1 isn’t just a number, it’s a high-rise goldmine for developers, but one that places real pressure on underfunded municipal services. Bluntly put, multiply a population by a factor of 15 and the rubbish that needs to be collected increases by the same proportion. With the scale of development in Parramatta planned being so substantial, as well as the creation of planned creation of a ‘Dual CBD’ by the State Government, the reasoning behind fixing value capture levies was to make planning responsibilities to developers abundantly clear and consistent.
A major advantage for councils in adopting a consistent approach – or a flat rate – is that projected payback received does not have to be negotiated on an individual project-by-project basis.
It is also understood that since administration took effect in Parramatta the levy rate for the ‘bonus’ range of much bigger buildings was set at 46 per cent – but took into account the possibility of a state infrastructure levy being imposed, with the rate then being dialled down to not less than 20 per cent. With so much at stake, the politics of the creation of Sydney’s second CBD is certain to remain a hot issue.   [post_title] => Unelected & Merged: NSW councils' sneaky new property taxes [post_excerpt] => Value capture row erupts. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => unelected-merged-nsw-councils-sneaky-new-property-taxes [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-06-30 22:42:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-06-30 12:42:04 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24313 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 14 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24232 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-12-20 15:50:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-20 04:50:00 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24233" align="alignnone" width="300"]Baird Maroons jersey_opt Commitments... he's made a few. pic: Facebook[/caption]   The Baird Government has moved to seize direct financial control of councils across New South Wales under sweeping new laws that hand ultimate power over local government spending to specially appointed “controllers”, with oversight duties handed to the State Auditor General. Revealed in the immediate wake of this week’s NSW Budget, the new legislation — the Local Government Amendment (Governance and Planning) 2016 — proposes to impose the tightest controls yet on how elected representatives and council staff spend money and includes the right to shut out general managers from financial probes of expenditure and governance. The new laws could also hand State Government appointed administrators the power to make ‘opt-in’ decisions on behalf of electors and elected representatives on controversial issues like the use of postal voting at merged councils thanks to the delay of polls until September 2017. Rushed into the Legislative Assembly this week, the new controls won’t be debated until the August sitting of State Parliament but have already sent shockwaves across a sector still reeling from the sacking of 37 councils in May. [quote]One of the legislative changes sure to raise hackles is a bid to “remove procedural requirements relating to the community strategic plan, community engagement strategy, resource ng strategy, delivery program and operational plan.”[/quote] Local Government Minister Paul Toole is making no apologies and said the new laws make “important changes to ensure councils are always putting the interests of local communities first.” That includes far greater powers for direct ministerial intervention. “It will enable the Government to appoint a financial controller to councils that have a consistent record of poor financial performance and get those councils back on track,” Mr Toole said. The hotly contested financial state and sustainability of local governments across NSW was the main trigger for forcing council amalgamations across the state, premised on the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s heavily disputed ‘Fit of the Future’ report card. But many councils – amalgamated or otherwise – have attacked the financial assessments made of them in the run-up to mergers as flawed, particularly smaller and more buoyant local governments amalgamated with fiscally challenged neighbours.  

Councils hit back

Local Government NSW (LGNSW), the peak representative body for councils in the state, is suspicious of the bid to parachute-in financial controllers as the Minister sees fit, cautioning some of the state government’s financial assessment methods simply lack credibility. “Many of these moves seem designed to establish new avenues for central oversight and control, rather than recognising that local government is an autonomous, elected sphere of government,” said LGNSW President Keith Rhoades. “There needs to be agreed parameters around the Government appointing a financial controller, and objective measures of "poorly performing" or "high financial sustainability risk" need to be established. Lack of specificity could allow the Government to apply the same discredited methods used to declare many NSW councils "not fit for the future," Cllr Rhoades said. City of Sydney Councillor Ed Mandla, a Liberal, also had reservations as the the efficacy of the new laws. "Surely the best oversight for council books is the ballot box," Cllr Mandla told Government News. [quote]"The real problem for for Councillors is if they have a problem with the GM (general manager) they have to tell the mayor and if they have a problem with the mayor they have to tell the GM — what if they are in cahoots?"[/quote]  

Questionable Timing

The latest laws are the second major tranche of legislation to hit this week, with another bill dealing with the donations and the pecuniary interests of councillors – the Local Government and Elections Legislation Amendment Integrity Bill – introduced on Budget night. The timing of the new legislation prompted Labor Opposition Leader Luke Foley to accuse Mr Toole and Premier Baird of trying to sneak through the new laws and of reneging on a promise to introduce limits on donations, especially from property developers. “Mr Baird has broken a clear and unequivocal commitment to introduce spending and donation caps for council elections,” Mr Foley said. [quote]“Caps on donations are not much use without limits on election spending. Predatory interests will be able to spend as much as they like to capture control of a local council.”[/quote] Shadow Local Government Minister Peter Primrose said while it was still too early to give a definitive assessment of the latest laws, people needed to remember that decisions at amalgamated councils – including ones that could flow from the new laws –were being made by government appointed administrators rather than councillors answerable to electors until September 2017. Mr Primrose also questioned whether the Baird Government was really committed to ensuring integrity in council decisions given Budget cuts meted out to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that had persistently uncovered graft and dodgy decisions. “The Premier who is behind this bill is also responsible for slashing staff at ICAC – one of the most important institutions that that maintains integrity in local government,” Mr Primrose told Parliament on Wednesday. Referencing State Budget papers, Mr Primrose said ICAC’s “corruption prevention presentations will drop from 160 to 100” and that the average time to deal with complaints would rise from 30 days to 42 days. "So much for promoting integrity measures,” Mr Primrose said.  

Massive Audit Office Workload

While the new legislation is yet to pass, a clear intention of the new laws is to remove the ability of councillors to appoint their own auditors and hand oversight power to the directly Auditor General. [quote]The changes mean that while the government will get a centralised and consistent view of local government finances, the Audit Office of NSW will need to compile literally hundreds of new council reports a year to perform its new duty.[/quote] A spokesperson for Mr Toole said changes brought NSW “into line with most other Australian jurisdictions and New Zealand and will provide greater consistency and certainty across the sector.” “It will also ensure that reliable financial information is available that can be used to assess councils’ performance and for benchmarking. Mr Toole’s Office also confirmed that the Auditor-General will have powers to “conduct sector-wide performance audits to identify trends and opportunities for improvement across the sector” in line with similar powers in relation to state agencies. The total cost of the audits – which are typically charged back to agencies – is still yet to be determined. A state public service source suggested that putting councils under the watch of the Auditor General was “unquestionably” the right move, but one that may not work in Macquarie Street’s favour if ministers relied on rubbery numbers. Premier Baird in February 2016 announced that Margaret Crawford,  who has been Deputy Secretary at the state’s Department of Family and Community Services, would become the new Auditor General of NSW.

Key changes as flagged by the Minister for Local Government

  • Appoint the Auditor-General as the auditor of all councils;
  • clarify roles and responsibilities of councillors, mayors, administrators and general managers;
  • introduce new guiding principles for local government;
  • improve governance of councils and professional development for councillors;
  • consolidate the ethical conduct obligations of councillors;
  • establish the framework for strategic business planning and reporting; and
  • streamline council administrative processes.
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