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                    [post_date] => 2017-05-25 15:19:03
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                    [post_content] => 

 

Last weekend’s myGov makeover has improved the troubled website but has the federal government missed an opportunity to cheer up myGov users after all the past frustrations they have endured?

In a joint announcement last week, Digital Transformation Minister Angus Taylor and Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, said the website overhaul made myGov easier to navigate, less information dense and more responsive when accessed on smartphones and tablets.

The government claimed that it was now easier for users to sign in and to unlock their own accounts when they had been suspended, reducing incorrect logins by 37 per cent.

The changes were ostensibly in response to the rapid expansion of the numbers of people using myGov, around ten million, while log-ins doubled over the last two years to 242,000 per day.

The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) said it had conducted ‘hundreds of hours of research’ into the experiences of users and responded to their complaints, including that myGov used difficult language, complex instructions and frequently left them locked out of their accounts.

Joe Russell, Director of User Engagement at Victorian company Buzinga, which specialises in web and mobile app development, acknowledged the changes were positive but said that the government had missed the chance to speed up and really improve the experience for users.

“It is basically functional: finally. Before it was hard to do any of the core things it was meant to do,” Mr Russell said. “It’s easier to use, yes, but there are still major issues. I wouldn’t call it a huge leap.

“Reducing incorrect logins by 37 per cent. I wouldn’t have thought that was something to brag about. Being able to log in is an assumption you make when you go into any site.”

While the DTA website talks about ‘reimagining’ the user experience and putting users’ needs first, Mr Russell said this had not been done to any great extent.

He said simple fixes that could have streamlined things for users had been ignored, such as not having to enter the same data twice and the cursor automatically moving to the next field to enter data.

Another deficiency was the lack of loading indicators after users submitted a form, so they were unsure of whether the form was loading or not. This often led to users hitting the back button and resetting and clearing fields they had already completed.

Mr Russell questioned whether the project had carried out sufficient usability testing. This is where an ‘average’ user is given tasks to complete while they are timed and any difficulties noted and comments taken on board to measure their experience and suggest improvements.

“It does what it claims to do. It’s an improvement, I will give them that” but he said the DTA had missed the chance to speed up user interaction with myGov and make data entry easier and faster.

“Usability testing could have solved these small things. This is basic best practice,” he said. “All these little annoyances can be resolved and hopefully will be next time.”

The DTA has said the website changes were a result of extensive research conducted in more than 20 metropolitan, regional and rural locations. The agency’s website says this research included usability testing, as well as visits to shopfront sites, support staff interviews and testing with users of assistive technology.

A DTA spokesperson said that any changes needed to be carefully considered and tested with users.

"A sensible approach, and one that's consistent with the Digital Service Standard, is to make iterative improvements based on user research," said the spokesperson. "The latest release builds on changes made last year. User research is continuing and will guide future improvements."

But just as myGov’s usability had not come on in leaps and bounds, Mr Russell said the look and feel of the website had changed slightly but was not ground breaking, “It’s basically black text on a white background. It’s as vanilla as you can get”, he said.

Nor was replacing service icons with text a positive change for people who were visually impaired, elderly or dyslexic and he disagreed with the assertion that member services logos and the Australian Government crest were more prominent.

MyGov was launched in 2013 to provide a single access point for ten different agencies providing services including Medicare, tax, Centrelink, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and My Health Record.

The rollout which occurred last weekend, was a joint project between the Department of Human Services, the Digital Transformation Agency and the Australian Tax Office.

It seems that the question posed on the DTA website, ‘what could good look like’ has morphed into ‘what could barely adequate look like’?

Further comment from DTA and DHS to follow. 
                    [post_title] => MyGov verdict: functional (just)
                    [post_excerpt] => ‘Little annoyances’ remain for users.
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                    [post_content] =>   
Bendigo Council's Presentation and Assets Director Craig Lloyd with Clean Cube.
Pic: supplied. 

 

A solar waste compactor that functions with an ordinary household wheelie bin will be trialled by a Victorian council keen to increase bin capacity, cut costs and reduce the number of rubbish collections the council makes.

 The City of Greater Bendigo Council is currently trialling Clean Cube, a smart waste compactor which runs on renewable solar energy and tells you when it is full.

The Clean Cube was developed by Korean start-up company Ecube and it can hold a 120 or 240 litre bin.  Bendigo Council’s Australian supplier is Smart City Solutions.

City of Greater Bendigo Presentation and Assets Director Craig Lloyd said it could help reduce the cost of waste collection.

“By reducing the frequency of collections there is the potential to reduce the costs and labour associated with providing waste collection services to public areas by up to 80 per cent,” Mr Lloyd said. “It’s important to look at the new technology that exists to see if it’s viable for our community.”

He said the Clean Cube used smart technology and multiple sensors to measure the bin’s fill level in real time.

“The sensors trigger the automatic compaction of waste inside the bin and by doing this the capacity of the bin is increased by up to eight times meaning it doesn’t have to be emptied as often,” Mr Lloyd said.

“However when it is full, the Clean Cube electronically notifies the city’s waste collection staff that it needs to be emptied.”

Mr Lloyd said the compactor’s smart technology also included safety features that could detect sudden temperature rises, such as a fire in the bin. 

Using the compactor bins at events would also reduce overflowing and litter.

Ecube Labs’ online marketing manager, Matti Juutinen, told IoTAustralia in June last year that the cube can hold up to eight times more rubbish than traditional bins.

“We are the only company in the industry to offer an ultrasonic fill-level sensor (with 10 years battery life) and a smart solar-powered waste compacting bin on a single real-time monitoring platform that generates optimised schedules and routes based on fill-level forecasting,” Mr Juutinen said.

He said the compactor could go for two to three weeks without sunlight once fully charged. Charging it takes three to four days if there has been at least four hours of sunlight on each day.

The Clean Cube is being trialled at Lake Weeroona, the city’s most popular recreation area, until June 13.
                    [post_title] => Korean solar waste compactor could slash councils' rubbish collection costs
                    [post_excerpt] => Victorian council trials Clean Cube.
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                    [post_content] => 

 

An audit of underperformance in eight Commonwealth agencies and departments, including the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), has found there is ‘significant room for improvement’ in dealing with poor performers and that managers avoided tackling the problem and encouraged workers to take redundancy or retire instead.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) looked into underperformance of eight federal government agencies and departments between 2012 and 2016, including the Attorney-General’s Department; Australian Taxation Office; Department of Agriculture and Water Resources; Department of Industry, Innovation and Science; Department of Social Services; Department of Veterans’ Affairs; IP Australia; and the National Film and Sound Archive. These eight were chosen to provide a mix of size and function, as well as a mix of how they had been rated for managing poor performers by their staff.

The audit focused on how well agencies managed underperformance through policies, procedures and management practices and said it was important to address because weak performance management could impact negatively on productivity, efficiency and morale.

“In most agencies underperformance is not being accurately identified and the proportion of employees undergoing structured underperformance processes is very low in all agencies," said the report, although it found that where it was addressed agencies stuck to procedural fairness.

“Probation processes are not generally used robustly to test the suitability of newly appointed employees (except in the Australian Taxation Office and the National Film and Sound Archive).”

The Audit Office said managers should not rely on encouraging badly performing staff to take redundancies or opt for retirement, “while these may be cost-effective approaches in situations of excess staffing or in particularly complex cases they should not be used to replace or undermine ongoing, robust underperformance management procedures.”

The number of staff going through structured underperformance processes was 'very low', with the lowest rate of the eight departments being 0.03 per cent of staff at the ATO. The highest was the National Film and Sound Archive at 0.28 per cent. 

It said management culture and the lack of support and training for senior and middle managers were the main barriers in dealing with underperformance in the workplace, noting an unwillingness to tackle poor performers, give feedback or set clear expectations from some managers. 

Staff perceptions of how well government departments and agencies were doing were also unfavourable. Between 70 to 84 per cent of staff thought their department did not do a good job of managing substandard workers, although around half considered their supervisors did a decent job.  

It acknowledged that the causes of underperformance could be complex and include mental health or physical problems and personal issues as well as lax recruitment processes that fail to hire the right person for the job.  Access to training and development could also play a role.

Main findings
  • Managers often avoided addressing underperformance, mainly due to lack of support, capability or incentives to do so
  • Managers shied away from confronting poor performers, relying instead on redundancies or retirement, against Australian Public Service Commission guidelines
  • The performance management process was being underused to manage poor performers
  • Probation procedures were deficient in every agency
  • Underperformance policies needed cleaning up and the procedures managing senior staff should be made more transparent
  • Managers in every agency need to make a stronger commitment to dealing with poor performance, including setting clear expectations and giving feedback to staff
Recommendations
  • More commitment from managers to tackle poor performance, rather than using retirement or redundancy
  • Better training and support needed for managers, including the early involvement of an HR professional to help 
  • Clearer guidelines to make it easier for managers to identify inadequate performance
  • Holding managers more accountable for the way they manage underperformance
  • Improve the performance management framework with more ‘check-ins’ between managers and staff
The audit used a variety of data sources including Australian Public Service Commission data from the annual employee census and annual agency survey; agency policies and procedures and interviews with employee representatives, corporate support staff and academics. It cost the ANAO $530,000 to conduct. [post_title] => APS underperformance ignored by managers, says audit [post_excerpt] => Poor performers encouraged to resign or retire. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => aps-underperformance-left-fester-managers-says-audit [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-25 16:23:14 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-25 06:23:14 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27207 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27192 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-23 12:20:08 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-23 02:20:08 [post_content] =>   The federal government’s troubled myGov website has had a digital makeover to make it more intuitive to navigate, nicer to look at and easier to access using mobile phones or tablets. The overhaul was made more pressing by the large jump in traffic to the government services portal over the last two years. The federal government said that myGov had 10 million users and dealt with more than 242,000 logins every day: twice the number of logins from just two years’ ago. It is a pivotal website that millions of Australian must interact with daily, dealing as it does with a huge range of services. MyGov was launched in 2013 to provide a single access point for ten different agencies providing services including Medicare, tax, Centrelink, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and My Health Record. The government has recognised that any failure of myGov or rising customer frustration with the system can be a very public and vocal affair. Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor said in March this year: “The public will ultimately judge us when they go on to the myGov website, when they pay their tax or ask for a refund, when they come through immigration, when they are engaging with the industry portfolio as a small business, they will judge us on how that goes. “They’ll accept that there are speed humps along the way. But they will be unforgiving if that experience doesn’t continually improve.” The changes were in response to ‘hundreds of hours of user research’ which revealed common complaints about the website, including the difficult language used, confusing instructions and dumping large swathes of information on users.   People also complained about how often they were locked out of their accounts and the difficulty in getting these unlocked. The joint statement by Mr Taylor and Human Services Minister Alan Tudge about the myGov revamp said this problem had been addressed to make signing in easier and to allow users to unlock their own accounts once they had been suspended.  They claimed the changes had resulted in incorrect logins being reduced by 37 per cent. Mr Taylor said: “We listened and we got it. The new look myGov also demonstrates how the DTA can partner with other agencies and departments to transfer skills and transform delivery.” The sign-in process had already been tinkered with over the past year to show users passwords as they typed them (to cut down on login failures and account suspensions) and allowing people to use email or mobile numbers instead of just alphanumeric usernames. Mr Tudge said the government had incorporated user feedback and collaborated with other departments to fast-tracked changes. “Our investment in myGov is transforming the way people do business with government - making life easier for 10 million Australians,” Mr Tudge said. “In response to user feedback, we’ve also made it easier for users to find and access the services they need.” The rollout, which occurred over the weekend, was a joint project between the Department of Human Services and the Digital Transformation Agency and the Australian Tax Office. The government said the Discovery and Alpha phases were completed by the Digital Transformation Agency while the prototype stage and the beta product were a partnership between the ATO and DHS. [post_title] => MyGov: “we listened and we got it” says minister after digital makeover [post_excerpt] => Users double over two years. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => mygov-listened-got-says-minister-digital-makeover [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-25 09:45:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-24 23:45:28 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27192 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27182 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-23 10:47:59 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-23 00:47:59 [post_content] => Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash. Pic: Colin Bettles.    Local councils have called upon the federal government to be transparent about its decentralisation drive and make it evidence-based and free from politicking, rather than leaving them to battle one another for government jobs, a public inquiry has heard. A public hearing in Townsville last week (Friday) was the first time most regional councils have been able to make their feelings known about the possibility of moving public servants from Australia’s capital cities out into rural and regional areas. The federal government decentralisation initiative, spearheaded by Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash and Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, has put government ministers on notice. Ministers have been told to justify why jobs and departments should stay in Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne or to nominate a region to move to by December. Ms Nash has said the criteria for assessment will be finalised by mid-2017. There are currently 155,000 public servants, or 14 per cent of the APS, located outside capital cities. The hearing was part of the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee’s inquiry into the relocation of Commonwealth departments and specifically into the potential impact of the controversial plan to move the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority’s (APVMA) form Canberra to the northern NSW town of Armidale, in Mr Joyce’s New England electorate, by 2019. The APVMA relocation, which involves about 190 staff, most of whom are highly specialised, failed a government-commissioned cost-benefit analysis and led to many staff walking out the door, including Chief Executive Kareena Arthy and some top regulatory scientists and lawyers. Ernst and Young estimated the move would cost at least $23.19 million. This includes redundancies for 85 per cent of the APVMA staff the report identified as unwilling to move to Armidale. The plan to move the agricultural chemicals regulator exposed the government to further ridicule after Ms Arthy​ revealed that Canberra-based public servants were working out of Armidale MacDonalds using the free wi-fi because they had nowhere else to work, at a February Senate Estimates’ hearing, a remark Ms Arthy later said was taken out of context. The situation blew up again after a document was leaked to Fairfax in April which gave APVMA staff suggested scripted replies to recite if they were asked about the relocation during "BBQ conversations" and other "social settings". The guidelines came from APVMA’s Chief Operating Officer Stefanie Janiec. Meanwhile, Committee Chair Labor Senator Jenny Mcallister said last week’s public inquiry showed that councils wanted the decentralisation process depoliticised ‘rather than agencies or departments being moved on a minister's whim’. She said councils also felt bypassed by the federal government, which had not spoken to them about its decentralisation agenda. She said that while every council wanted public service jobs they should not have to individually petition ministers for favours. “The community can't have that confidence in Barnaby Joyce's decisions,“ Ms Mcallister said. “The Nationals should back Cathy McGowan's proposal for a broad inquiry into decentralisation as a first step to rebuilding that trust.“ Acting Chair of Regional Development Australia Townsville and West Queensland, Frank Beveridge agreed that every region ‘would fight tooth and nail’ to have even one government department in their backyard but he said it was important to ’get away from the politics and actually have some legitimate figures backing it up, supporting it‘. Fears that regional councils could cannabilise each other’s growth look to be well-founded. All the councils spruiked their own areas at the inquiry, whether talking up their internet connectivity, educational institutions, transport links or affordable housing and insisted their area was unique and should get Commonwealth jobs. Toowoomba and Gatton (which has the University of Queensland) were both vying for APVMA before the decison to move the authority to Armidale was finalised. Cessnock City Council Mayor Bob Pynsent said the application process needed to be open and fair to councils. “The process would need to be transparent, so that every local government area has the opportunity to apply. And when those assessments are made, the decision would not be a political one but be based on the criteria that have been made available to the people who have applied,“ Mr Pynsent said. Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill said ‘transparency is extremely important to the community to provide confidence that we are doing the right thing‘ and Peter Hargreaves from Bendigo Council said the planned relocation ‘must be a planned process based on clear objectives’. Councils are keen to have the criteria for regional development made clear, for example, the importance of closeness to a university, internet speed or available office space, and for regions to be properly defined. The Senate Committee will issue its report on June 9. [post_title] => Play fair on decentralisation, say councils at APVMA inquiry [post_excerpt] => Don’t make us fight each other for jobs. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => play-fair-decentralisation-councils-say-apvma-inquiry [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-24 13:54:51 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-24 03:54:51 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27182 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27169 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-18 16:41:14 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-18 06:41:14 [post_content] =>     Former NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay announced his retirement from the Legislative Council of NSW after 28 years at the National’s Central Council meeting in Broken Hill this afternoon (Thursday). Mr Gay joined the NSW Nationals in 1974 and was made a life member in 2011. He spent six years as the state’s Roads Minister between 2011 and 2017 but lost his job during NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s Cabinet reshuffle in January. Mr Gay signalled at the time that he was likely to quit Parliament ‘sooner rather than later’. He was also the Leader of the Nationals in the NSW Legislative Council. Mr Gay said: “Since becoming Minister in 2011, I have spearheaded major motorway projects in Sydney like WestConnex and NorthConnex, championed movement of freight from ‘paddock to port’ and driven key road safety initiatives. “As a young grazier from Crookwell, I would have never dreamed of being one of the state’s longest serving Ministers for Roads. I could not be prouder of what I have achieved in my portfolio over six years.” Mr Gay said he had delivered the M5 West Widening project, mandated flashing lights at every NSW school and persuaded people to wear life jackets while out on the water. Meanwhile tributes poured in from the Liberals and Nationals. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Mr Gay was 'a key member of the team' when the Coalition was elected to power in 2011 and had overseen the creation of the Roads and Maritime Services, as well as accelerated upgrades to the Princes, Pacific and Newell Highways. "We enjoyed an extremely strong and close working relationship during my time as the Minister for Transport and Treasurer. Duncan was highly respected by both sides of the Legislative Council where he served as Leader of the House and Leader of the Government," Ms Berejiklian said. "He was valued for his wisdom and judgment, and his experience will be difficult to replace. I wish Duncan and his family all the best for the future." Deputy Premier and Leader of the NSW Nationals John Barilaro thanked Mr Gay for his years of service and for driving various infrastructure programs, many of which were targeted at regional Australia. “Under his guidance, more money has been invested in rural and regional roads in NSW than in any other state in the country,” Mr Barilaro said. “Programs like Bridges for the Bush, Fixing Country Roads and Fixing Country Rail mean that every person driving in regional NSW will benefit from Duncan’s leadership and legacy." He called Mr Gay a 'passionate advocate for road users and the improvement of the road network across the state' and welcomed his continued wisdom and guidance in the years to come while wishing him, and his wife Katie, well for the future. NSW Nationals Party Chairman Bede Burke said Mr Gay had delivered around $38 billion of investment for projects to country NSW – almost two-thirds of the total amount for the state - and country people had a lot to thank him for. “Right across NSW, drivers only have to look out their car windows to see all of the roads under construction – from Mulgoa to Molong to Moree. “Duncan has been a firm and unshakeable figure in the Nationals for more than 40 years,” Mr Burke said. "The lives of people in regional NSW are markedly better because of Duncan and the party is supremely grateful for his lifetime of service.” Deputy Leader of the NSW Nationals, Niall Blair said Mr Gay would be missed by all sides of the Chamber. “History will record Duncan as one of the giants of the Legislative Council,” Mr Blair said. “His contributions over 28 years are too many to list and his record for fighting for the best deal in regional NSW will serve as a great example for those of us who remain.” Mr Gay's last sitting day will be June 22. [post_title] => Nationals' leading light reaches end of the road: Duncan Gay calls it quits [post_excerpt] => Former NSW Roads Minister retires. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => nsw-nationals-leading-light-reaches-end-road [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-19 10:48:35 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-19 00:48:35 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27169 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27158 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-18 13:07:35 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-18 03:07:35 [post_content] =>   Fighting for deamalgamation: former Pittwater councillor Bob Grace. Pic: YouTube.   Residents are gearing up to push NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to deamalgamate NSW councils forcibly merged in May last year, galvanised by recent court successes of two councils opposing their mergers. Ku-ring-gai Council, on Sydney’s upper north shore, scored a victory against the NSW government in March when the Court of Appeal found it had been “denied procedural process” during its merger because delegate Garry West relied on a report from consultants KPMG, which contained financial modelling that the council could not access. The state government was ordered to pay the council’s costs and decided not to appeal the decision but Ms Berejiklian has made it clear she will not back down on the merger and her next move is uncertain. Rebel councils had another opportunity to celebrate after Woollahra Council was granted special leave to appeal against its forced merger with Randwick and Waverley in the High Court last week, reigniting the council’s hopes after a failed attempt to challenge the legality of its amalgamation in the Land and Environment Court in December last year. The Ku-ring-gai and Woollahra cases have helped inspire the recent formation of two residents’ groups, which are hoping to stop some mergers and deamalgamate others. Local Democracy Matters represents people opposed to the merger of Woollahra, Randwick and Waverley Councils, which is still on the cards. Protect Pittwater is pushing for the succession of Pittwater from the Northern Beaches Council, which emerged from the former Manly, Pittwater and Warringah Councils in May last year. Both groups are considering their options and legal challenges are likely. Protect Pittwater is also planning to submit a proposal to the NSW Local Government Minister to redefine council boundaries and reinstate Pittwater Council under the NSW Local Government Act but first the group must gather the signatures of 250 of the enrolled voters for the area; or 10 per cent, whichever is greater. Minister Gabrielle Upton, would then have to refer the proposal for examination and report to the Boundaries Commission or to the Departmental Chief Executive if the action was taken under Section 218E of the act, which deals with boundary alterations. This could kick off the whole delegate, public hearing process all over again. Bob Grace from Protect Pittwater, who served for three years on Warringah Council and 20 years on Pittwater Council, said the action was necessary to protect the area from high rises and dense development, similar to that already visited upon Manly and Dee Why. He said there would only be three councillors out of 15 on the Northern Beaches council after the September local government elections and Warringah would hold sway. “They’ve sold us out and I think everyone agrees with that. We will win this case if we go to court,” Mr Grace, a retired barrister, said. “There is really strong feeling up here. People in Pittwater are different. They don’t want a vibrant atmosphere like Manly and they don’t want high rise.” The group will crowdfund the money needed for legal fees. “Crowdfunding will enable the community to contribute and take action on their [own] behalf. They can get their council back if they want to contribute,” Mr Grace said. “People are realising that this Northern Beaches Council is all spin. Services are going down and staff are leaving.” Local Democracy Matters spokeperson Richard Horniblow said residents wanted to keep councils ‘genuinely local’ but some councils had not put up enough resistance to the government’s merger plans. “While Woollahra [Council] has been working hard to protect its residents from a forced amalgamation, we have seen too little too late from Randwick and dreadful complicity by the Liberal majority in Waverley,” Mr Horniblow said. “Our association has members from across the political spectrum who are coming together with one goal: to protect our right to genuinely local government that meets the needs of local residents.” NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said other councils where feelings still ran high could follow suit, for example Leichhardt, Gundagai and Tumbarumba.   “It is really heartening to see residents standing up so strongly for their councils and for their local democracy,” Mr Shoebridge said. “Residents in the east aren’t waiting for Waverley and Randwick Councils to come good and oppose the amalgamation but are now taking the state government to court themselves.” He said the Ku-ring-gai decision applied to all the government’s amalgamation proposals ‘on the face of it’ and this included Woollahra, Waverley and Randwick. Randwick Council agreed on Tuesday this week that it would mount a late legal challenge to its merger after two liberal councillors withdrew a rescission motion. Randwick Mayor Noel D’Souza said the council had received legal advice, which the council has said it will publish, which suggested it had grounds for appeal. “Randwick Council’s position has consistently been that we are financially viable and strong enough to stand alone,” Mr D’Souza said. “With the climate changing it’s prudent that we consider our options.” Merger court cases are still in progress for several hold-out councils, including Ku-ring-gai, Hunters Hill, North Sydney, Strathfield, Mosman, and Lane Cove. [post_title] => Residents clamour for NSW council deamalgamation after recent court wins [post_excerpt] => Randwick Council’s late legal challenge. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 27158 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-19 10:52:10 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-19 00:52:10 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27158 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27154 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-18 10:46:53 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-18 00:46:53 [post_content] =>     Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim. Pic: YouTube. A new Australian Public Service (APS) Privacy Code covering the data citizens give to the federal government will be in place by 2018, prompted by the outcry over Centrelink robo debt and data matching. Today’s [Thursday] joint announcement by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) said the two would work collaboratively on the new code, which aims to ensure a balance between data protection and privacy and data innovation and its use by Commonwealth agencies. Australian Information and Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim told the Senate Community Affairs References Committee, which is conducting a public hearing into the Department of Human Services’ Online Compliance Initiative (OCI) in Canberra today, that the code would cover how data should be ‘respected, protected’ and regulated into the future, consistent with community expectations. Mr Pilgrim said the code would be binding and failure to comply would be a breach of the Privacy Act. The current guidelines are voluntary. He said penalties could range from asking for a written undertaking that an organisation would change their processes and comply - ultimately enforceable in the federal court – to civil penalties in a federal court which could reach up to $1.8 million for serious breaches. The OAIC will lead on the code’s development due to the organisation’s specific privacy expertise and the code will be implemented APS-wide. All agencies will also need to have a privacy management plan in place under the new code. The Department and the OAIC said the code was vital to maximise the value of publicly held data. “The code can therefore be a catalyst to transform the Australian government’s data performance – increasing both internal capacity and external transparency to stakeholders,” they said. Commissioner Pilgrim said the code would ‘support government data innovation that integrates personal data protection’ while giving the APS the ‘skills and capabilities’ it needed to manage personal information. A storm over data privacy occurred after Fairfax published a piece by blogger Andie Fox in February which was highly critical of the DHS’ automated debt recovery drive, designed to claw back more than $1.5 billion over five years. In her article, Ms Fox claimed she had been pursued and ‘terrorised’ by DHS for money she did not owe after a relationship breakdown. In response, DHS disputed Ms Fox’s account and leaked some of her personal information to a journalist, including her Family Tax Benefit claims and relationship details. The government later defended itself arguing that it was allowed to release personal information to correct inaccurate public statements under social security legislation. Federal Labor MP Linda Burney later referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police but the AFP concluded that Human Services Minister Alan Tudge had not breached Commonwealth legislation. The government said the new privacy code would be developed in close collaboration with the APS and data stakeholders and it would apply to all Australian Government entities subject to the Australian Privacy Act 1988.   [post_title] => New APS privacy code on the back of Centrelink robo debt [post_excerpt] => Penalties of up to $1.8m for serious breaches. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => new-aps-privacy-code-back-centrelink-robo-debt [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-19 10:51:12 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-19 00:51:12 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27154 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27129 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-16 11:09:20 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-16 01:09:20 [post_content] => The Sydney bus war rages on.    Bus services in Sydney’s Inner West will be snatched away from State Transit and given to the private sector to run. NSW Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance said inner-west bus services had attracted the highest number of complaints in the Sydney metro area, “well above” complaints about buses operated by the private sector in adjoining areas. They also had some of the worst on-time running results, he said. “There have been improvements in recent years, but State Transit still lags a long way behind its industry competitors in measures like on-time running and reliability,” Mr Constance said. “If the bus industry can provide quality in western Sydney, the Inner West deserves the same, especially as Sydney grows.” The services that will go out to competitive tender are in Bus Region 6, which services suburbs from the city west to Strathfield and Olympic Park with the tender beginning in July 2017 and likely to be completed by July 2018. The government will retain ownership of the region’s buses and assets, including depots, continue to set Opal fares and timetables and regulate safety and operational standards. But while Mr Constance was talking up his prediction that the “world’s best operators” would compete for the tender, which will come up for renewal every five to ten years, and deliver better services for customers the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) of NSW is predicting disaster. RTBU Bus Division Secretary Chris Preston said the government’s decision to privatise bus services would slash routes, close bus stops and cost 1,200 public transport workers their jobs. He called the privatisation “a complete betrayal” of Sydney commuters and bus drivers. “We oppose privatisation because we know at the end of the day, it’s the commuters who’ll pay,” Mr Preston said. “Less popular, less profitable bus routes get the chop and commuters are left stranded. “Private bus operators put profits before the public. To make money they’ll slash services and cut back on maintenance. We’ve seen it happen before.” He said the State Transit Authority told bus drivers their jobs were safe for five years in December last year but they would now “get the chop”, something Mr Constance appeared to deny when he said the government would be “growing transport jobs because we want to grow and improve services”. Mr Preston said the government’s intention was to privatise all public transport across NSW. “Every Sydney commuter needs to be asking, ‘is my bus next on the chopping block?’ “. Sydney Buses will continue to operate regions seven, eight and nine, which includes the inner metropolitan areas of the eastern, and southern and northern suburbs, including the CBD. Meanwhile the Tourism & Transport Forum (TTF) waded into the debate and backed the minister.   Chief Executive of TTF, Margy Osmond, said competitive contracting would deliver “enormous financial and service benefits to both commuters and government”. “The management of bus networks is an area of transport policy in which the private sector has proven time and time again it can deliver quality services at best value for taxpayers’ money,” Ms Osmond said. “Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide and Darwin already have bus networks that are completely managed by private operators, not government, and their experience is that franchising has delivered significantly better results across their networks.” TTF’s 2016 report, On the Buses: The Benefits of Private Sector Involvement in the Delivery of Bus Services, claimed the government would save up to half a billion dollars over five years if Sydney Buses were run by a private operator. The report also said privatisation would improve customer experience, increase operational efficiency and save taxpayers money that could be reinvested into public transport. “Franchising also keeps the infrastructure, including the buses and depots, in public hands but contracts out the operation of these assets to experienced private operators for the period of the contract,” Ms Osmond said. “Today’s [Monday] announcement the NSW Government will franchise the Inner West STA region is a very good start that hopefully signals a shift towards franchising more and more regions in due course.” [post_title] => NSW Transport Minister throws State Transit under a bus [post_excerpt] => Sydney’s inner-west services to go private. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => bjus [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-17 13:40:57 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-17 03:40:57 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27129 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27117 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-15 17:25:03 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-15 07:25:03 [post_content] =>     NSW government can learn from other governments internationally about how to develop and promote a culture of open data and data sharing, says a report commissioned by the Information and Privacy Commission of NSW and the NSW Open Data Advocate. The UNSW Law report, Conditions Enabling Open Data and Promoting a Data Sharing Culture 2017, released yesterday (Monday) looks at the progress of five other countries – the UK, France, Canada, the US and New Zealand – towards recognising the importance of open data and doing something about it. All five are considered to be leading the way globally. Open data is data that can be freely used, shared and built-on by anyone, anywhere, for any purpose and offered free or at minimal cost. The data can come from a wide range of sources, including government departments and agencies; universities; corporations; charities; NGOs; groups and individuals and it can encompass statistics, maps, scientific research, reports, and weather amongst other things.   To qualify as open, data should be available in bulk and able to be processed by a computer. The UNSW Law report identified six main drivers for achieving open data and went on to show how the NSW government could use international best practice and put more emphasis on open data. These drivers included:
  • Leadership and public support by government, ministers and agency heads to create processes and a culture that encourage the release and sharing of data
  • Legislation that sets out the rights and responsibilities governing access, sharing and protection of data for those who want the data and those who keep it. For example, the UK, US and France have mandated that data be open by default and be machine-readable and in in a standardised format
  • Policies to guide agency and staff decisions and priorities around open data and privacy, data security and collaboration
  • Regulations to provide certainty and to set expectations and obligations, as well as providing oversight and punishing non-compliance. These should balance rights to data with concerns over privacy and anticipating risk
  • Promoting culture and collaboration that supports open data within government and with the public, for example co-operation between agencies and between international, national and sub-national levels of government
  • Developing strategies to make data open, including funding open data, sharing success stories and engaging communities and individuals, for example the UKAuthority.
NSW Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Tydd said the independent research report was the first of its kind in Australia. “The research demonstrates how open data is being achieved internationally through an examination of leading jurisdictions,” Ms Tydd said. “The research acknowledges NSW’s progress and, importantly, offers new and significant insights to inform our approach to opening up valuable NSW data resources.”   She said opening data was “an impactful, contemporary approach to opening government” that promoted “effective and accountable government and enables meaningful public participation”. A recent IPC community attitudes survey found strong support for Open Data in NSW with 83 per cent of people agreeing that de-identified information should inform government service planning and delivery. The report provides suggestions on how NSW can move further towards open government and open data. These include recommendations to:
  • Publish a complete catalogue of all datasets, including restricted datasets
  • Moving from a legislative framework authorising data release to one that proactively encourages it
  • Mandating departments to open specific datasets and set quotas for datasets to force collaboration
  • Identify which datasets are important economic drivers for growth in regional areas and prioritise these
  • Mandate departments to create machine-readable standardised formats for datasets to allow analytics and linked data applications
  • Explicitly fund departments opening up high-value datasets in machine-readable format
  • Adopt an anticipatory regulatory approach that promotes open data but ensures ongoing evaluation and assessment of security and privacy risks
  • Develop in-depth guidelines on anonymisation and de-identification
  • Identify workforce skills/knowledge gaps and opportunities to work with local government and other government agencies
  • Adopt an incubator model where an open data company is embedded with an agency to co-develop ideas and applications on models, or engage with entities such as Code for Australia to bring in ideas and expertise
The research underpinning the report was guided by a steering committee comprising NSW agencies and experts, including the Data Analytics Centre, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Data61, the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation and the Department of Justice.  [post_title] => Global open data leaders give NSW lessons in data sharing [post_excerpt] => Promoting a culture of open data and data sharing. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 27117 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-16 11:54:01 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-16 01:54:01 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27117 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [10] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27106 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-12 11:29:31 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-12 01:29:31 [post_content] => First medicinal cannabis import: CanniMed cannabis oil.    Seriously ill Australians can now access imported medicinal cannabis after the first licensed imports of the drug arrived in Perth last week. The drug was imported by Australian wholesale company Health House International and ASX-listed cannabis company Creso Pharma, a Swiss company. The cargo contained three different types of cannabis oil from Canadian company CanniMed, each designed to tackle different symptoms and retailing for about $350 a bottle, which should last patients about a month. The federal government gave the go ahead for companies to grow and manufacture medicinal cannabis late last year but it will still be a while before patients can access Australian product, said Health House Director Paul Mavor. Mr Mavor said it would take some time for companies to get permission to set up their operations and then get them reinspected and licensed. “Within 12 to 24 months we will be starting to see some really good [Australian] product and hopefully we will be exporting that,” Mr Mavor said. Health House International was granted one of the first medicinal cannabis import licences in February, soon after Health Minister Greg Hunt gave the go ahead to fast-track medicinal cannabis imports while local cultivation catches up. Australian product should be cheaper for patients as there will be much lower shipping costs and no freight duties but this will also depend on domestic (and possibly overseas) demand and whether companies can achieve economies of scale. Around 100,000 Canadians currently use medicinal cannabis and Mr Mavor is predicting about 70,000 Australians will eventually follow suit. Interestingly, Mr Mavor said that he had been speaking to some private insurance funds who had indicated they may be interested in subsidising the drug for some people, for example, those involved in car crashes or war veterans, because it could keep them out of hospital and keep costs down. In a few years it is possible that medicinal cannabis will be listed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, once it has been tested in the local market, says Mavor. “It is likely. Some conditions that some patients are using medical cannabis for, they don’t have any other options.” Cannabis is cost-effective because it has five different uses in one hit: it can relieve nausea, vomiting, anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain. Health House International's Paul Mavor. Pic: Supplied.   But Mr Mavor said while demand in Australia is strong, the process for prescribing medicinal cannabis had been made torturously difficult by the federal government, which has left states and territories to set their own rules. Many demand that patients get approval from both the federal and state or territory health departments because the drug is listed as a Special Access category B drug. Federal legislation to make the drug category A, which would have allowed doctors to complete online form and obtain instant approval, was blocked in the senate this week by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Nick Xenophon team. Australian Greens Leader Dr Richard Di Natale said he was deeply disappointed that politicians had put the needs of terminally ill patients second to “their own political games”.  “Patients are currently waiting weeks and sometimes months for access to these treatments. This motion could have reduced that to a day or possibly hours,” Mr Di Natale said. “For some of these patients, speedy access to medicinal cannabis is the difference between being able to eat or wasting away. These changes add time, stress, and difficulty for terminally ill patients accessing medicinal cannabis.” Mr Mavor says the strictest prescription regime is in Western Australia, where a huge amount of information is demanded and approval must be sought from federal and state health departments and from the practitioner’s ethics board. He said the easiest system was in South Australia, where doctors could prescribe the drug for two months for patients at any one time and Queensland, Victoria and NSW were passable. Once prescription problems are ironed out the industry looks set to have a bright future ahead of it. David Russell, Chief Operating Officer of Creso Pharma said the first successful import of medicinal cannabis products into Australia was “a ground-breaking moment for patients and the medical industry”.  “The Australian market has been catching up with community expectations while the regulatory framework around medicinal cannabis was being developed,” Mr Russell said. “Now these products will allow patients to have the option of medicinal cannabis treatments if it is prescribed by their physician. This is particularly important given the unmet but often immediate need to access a timely medicinal cannabis supply across Australia.” To be prescribed medicinal cannabis products, patients must see a physician who is an authorised prescriber, or apply for SAS Category B prescription under the Therapeutic Goods Administration regulations. [post_title] => First medicinal cannabis imports arrive in Australia [post_excerpt] => Prescription rules hold patients up. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => first-medicinal-cannabis-imports-arrive-australia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-12 11:29:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-12 01:29:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27106 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [11] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27098 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-12 10:42:57 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-12 00:42:57 [post_content] =>   Treasurer Scott Morrison delivers some welcome relief to local councils in his 2017 Budget speech.    Treasurer Scott Morrison has given Australia’s local councils a boost by unfreezing the indexation of federal financial assistance grants (FAGs) from July 1 and extending funding for local roads. The Abbott government decreed an indexation freeze of the grants in its 2014 Budget, much to the horror of councils, who saw inflation eat away at their bank balances. The government’s estimates indicate that the measure cost councils more than $600 million in lost income. FAGs are vital to councils, particularly regional and rural councils who tend to have a lower rates’ base and fewer revenue raising options, because they are not ring fenced and can be spent on community priorities such as parks, pools, roads and libraries. But councils are counting the cost of the three-year freeze at the same time, arguing that it has permanently reduced the grants and damaged local government’s ability to maintain community infrastructure, roads and services. Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades said the freeze had had a “harsh impact” on NSW councils, which were also dealing with rate capping and cost-shifting from other levels of government. Mr Rhoades estimated that it had cost NSW councils up to $300 million in lost funding over this period. “Unfortunately despite this welcome restoration, the freeze has resulted in a permanent base reduction of around 13 per cent.” Mr Rhoades said. “It is exactly these sort of financial constraints that make it almost impossible for councils to get ahead. “The significant financial losses sustained as a result of the FAGs indexation freeze cannot help but impact on the quality of local services and infrastructure councils currently provide.” Municipal Association of Victoria President Mary Lalios agreed that ending the freeze was good news for local government. “This will be good news for councils, particularly councils in rural areas as their communities have been hurting as a result of the lost funding,” Ms Lalios said. “The grants help councils to meet the costs of providing more than 100 essential services to local communities and maintaining $80 billion worth of community infrastructure. “However, councils will still be left playing catch-up as they recover from the $200 million that has been lost since the freeze began.” Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) President Mark Jamieson called the decision a “welcome relief” to the state’s councils. “Returning indexation to these grants has been an advocacy priority for the LGAQ and the Australian Local Government Association since the freeze on indexation in 2014. “We welcome the common sense decision by the government to return this vital funding to Queensland councils who now have some certainty in their ability to plan and invest in important infrastructure and projects in their communities”. Mr Jamieson said. Vice President of the Australian Local Government Association, Damien Ryan said councils could now begin to pick up the pieces. “Financial Assistance Grants are an important untied payment that councils invest in providing better infrastructure and better services for our local communities,” he said. “By restoring indexation to this important payment, the government is honouring its commitment to communities to ensure that, as far as possible, every citizen regardless of where they live can have equitable access to municipal services. “However, there is still a long road ahead before councils recover from the freeze as it permanently reduced the base level of the Financial Assistance Grants payments.” Local Government Association of South Australia’s Executive Director of Public Affairs, Lisa Teburea, said the freeze had cost the state’s councils 36 million over the past three years and wiped 13 per cent off the total value of the fund. “These grants are particularly valuable as they are un-tied, meaning councils can use this funding to provide the facilities and services most needed by their ratepayers,” Ms Teburea said. “The government’s decision to freeze indexation on FAGs in its 2014/15 budget has had a significant impact on South Australian councils, with regional communities – where the grants make up a higher proportion of councils’ total revenue – the hardest hit.” Roads  A further budget bonus for Australia’s local councils has been a two-year extension of federal government’s Roads to Recovery funding beyond the 2018-19 cut-off date. The fund is directed at local councils and is earmarked for maintaining and upgrading local roads.  It was introduced in 2000 to address the growing maintenance backlog. “Roads to Recovery provides much-needed funding to help councils maintain 85 per cent of Victoria’s road network, to achieve better safety, economic and social outcomes for their communities,” Ms Lalios said. Program funding is $700 million for 2017/18, $364.5 million in 2018/19, and increases to just below $400 million in 2019/20 in line with the government promise to boost funding for this program by $50 million per annum from 2019/20. Mr Rhoades said the funding extension was “very welcome recognition of the dire state of many roads across the nation” but added “it is important to note the delay before the additional funding kicks in, as well as the fact that the funding boost is spread nationally”. “It’s sobering to think that even if the entire $50 million for R2R was invested in NSW, it would still be insufficient to bring thousands of kilometres of particularly country roads up to the standard our communities need and deserve.” South Australia will receive supplementary road funding of $40 million over two years, after having this pulled in 2014-15. Ms Teburea called this “another significant win” for South Australian communities. “South Australian councils manage 11 percent (75,000km) of the nation’s local road network, have over 7 percent of the nation’s population, and yet receive only 5.5 percent of Identified Local Roads Grant funding,” Ms Teburea said. “This was rectified in 2004/05, through an annual ‘top-up” supplementary payment of around $18 million per annum to South Australia.  However, this payment was removed in 2014/15. “Over the past three years we’ve continued to advocate for the return of this payment, and we appreciate the federal government restoring fair and equitable road funding to South Australian councils in this year’s Budget.”   [post_title] => ScoMo’s Budget boost for local councils [post_excerpt] => Financial assistance grants unfrozen. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => scomos-budget-boost-local-councils [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-12 10:44:35 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-12 00:44:35 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27098 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [12] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27082 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-09 11:16:39 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-09 01:16:39 [post_content] =>     Labor’s most recent televisual forays have landed Opposition Bill Mr Shorten and renegade senator Sam Mr Dastyari in hot water with some voters. A shiny-suited Mr Shorten fronted a television ad previewed on 9NEWS on Sunday night, shown only in Queensland and appearing to pander to Pauline Hanson’s support base or persuade swinging voters. It featured the Trumpian slogan “Australia First” and attacked 457 visas and overseas workers. But trouble erupted after viewers noticed that of the twelve people in the ad supposed to represent Australian workers and variously decked out as tradies, admin staff and medics, only one was not white: an Asian women. Mr Shorten says in the ad: “A Shorten Labor government will build Australian first, buy Australian first and employ Australians first”, echoing the ads rather sinister undertones of the White Australia policy from the 1950s and 60s. Labor copped it on on social media yesterday with many people levelling accusations of racism, which Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen conceded was “appalling” but underlined it was a “rare misstep” for the Opposition leader on Lateline last night. One Facebook commentator said: “In this increasingly divisive "us & them" world, political campaigns like this peddle peoples' prejudices when they should be challenging them.” Another added:  “Is he trying Trump’s strategy? Attempting to appeal to the overwhelming number of redneck Australian voters that deep down really believe they are 'owed' something for having lighter skin.” However, others waded in to defend the Labor leader on social media. One person said: “Everyone tries their best to be offended these days, they call anyone who disagrees with them 'racist' so the word has lost all credibility now, and when something is genuinely 'racist' everyone ignores it, it doesn't take much to cause a race storm in a teacup these days, you can thank political correctness for that.” Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese called the ad “a shocker” and said “it should never have been produced and it should never have been shown”, intensifying speculation that he was jostling for the party leadership, a ballot he lost against Mr Shorten in 2013. It later emerged that it was highly probable that Mr Shorten’s office had seen and approved the ad before it aired. Mr Shorten himself would not confirm or deny this but called criticisms of the ad “a fair cop”. Meanwhile, Senator Sam Mr Dastyari caused his own social media storm after he hopped on board a Bill Shorten campaign bus to travel to three of Sydney’s outer suburbs and bemoan what $1 million buys in the city’s overheated real estate market. In the short film, which went viral, Mr Dastyari holds up examples of seemingly undesirable homes or locations which nevertheless attract a million buck price tag. He says: “Everyone loves talking about house prices but what does a million dollars in Sydney actually buy you? Not much.” In the northwest suburb of Ryde he stands outside a house and says:  “Immaculately kept, as it’s been told, and on one of the busiest roads in Sydney, to boot. “And you know if it’s got security shutters you’re onto a good thing”. The three-bed home on Lane Cove Road sold at auction for $1.3 million last weekend. The film then cuts to a vacant block in Toongabbie. “People like to talk about how a generation of young people are being picky. We are an hour and 20 away in peak-hour traffic from the CBD of Sydney and all a million bucks will buy you is essentially a block of land across the road from not only a power station but also the train line.” A scene filmed in Northmead is just as bleak, as Mr Dastyari sits atop a pile of furniture left out for kerbside collection to deliver his next tirade. "This is what a million dollars will buy you in Northmead but it's ok because it's described as having a functional kitchen. For a f---ing million dollars you'd like to think the kitchen would work," he says, before piling old furniture into the campaign bus. "If you gotta save a million bucks, you gotta be prepared to be a little bit frugal.” He goes on to calculate that a $1 million mortgage for a modest Sydney home would mean $1050 a week in repayments at today’s interest rates and if these went up by one per cent repayments would increase to $1200. But the video led to some viewers accusing him of snobbery and of ridiculing people’s houses while others criticised him for not offering a solution to the problem. “Seriously, imagine if that was your house and some halfwit stood outside it critiquing what you'd worked your whole life for,” said one. “This is offensive. Running around disrespecting peoples’ homes. And who hasn't salvaged furniture from the street? @samMr Dastyari is a snob” said another. However, others praised him for highlighting the affordable housing problem. “Sam, it's about time someone said the truth, the real estate agents have not only auctioned our homes to get higher prices, but they've auctioned our dignity away, and you're bloody right, a million dollar house should have a fully functioning … EVERYTHING… you said what we've all thought.” Mr Dastyari said that it was never his attention to upset anyone but to shine a spotlight on housing affordability. “If it takes me swearing on Facebook to draw attention to housing affordability, then I welcome it,” he told news.com.au. “It was never my intention to offend anyone,” he said. “It was only my intention to highlight how obscene house prices in Sydney have become.” Mr Bowen made reference to Mr Dastyari’s “edgy communication style” on Lateline last night but did not criticise the video. [post_title] => Labor’s adventures in TV land: Shorten’s 'white Australia', Dastyari’s $1m house hunt [post_excerpt] => Accusations of racism and snobbery. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => labors-adventures-tvland-shortens-white-australia-ad-dastyaris-1m-house-hunt [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-09 14:42:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-09 04:42:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27082 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [13] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27076 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-08 15:52:04 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-08 05:52:04 [post_content] =>   Public servants and local councils are hoping Treasurer Scott Morrison's 'good news' Budget really is. Pic: YouTube.     Housing affordability, a staged unfreezing of the Medicare rebate, infrastructure spending and Gonski 2.0 are all widely tipped to feature prominently in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s “good news” Budget tomorrow. Other likely announcements include a one-pay payment for pensioners to offset electricity price increases, funding for veterans’ mental health programs and dumping billions of dollars worth of education and health ‘zombie’ cuts. Meanwhile, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has already called Mr Morrison's Budget a “pale imitation of Labor policy” and said it is merely an attempt to save Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership by “trying to close down issues”, while warning Catholic schools will stage a rebellion against their recalculated, lower funding. “It is designed to save Malcolm Turnbull's leadership, desperate to get a positive Newspoll,” Mr Bowen told Barrie Cassidy on Insiders yesterday. “These half measures: one step forward, two step back, coming down the road towards Labor policy is [not] going to fool anybody. Of course, the fact Labor's led the policy agenda on health, education and housing affordability means the government is playing catch-up. “Whenever someone is playing catch-up with you, that’s better than not catching up with you, but they are still a long way behind on these policies.” But aside from the politics, what impact will the Budget have on local government and where will the inevitable spending cuts to fund the goodies come from? Local government wish list The biggest, most pressing issue for local government is the fervent hope that the federal government will finally end the freeze on the indexation of Financial Assistance Grants  (FAGs) to councils, a decision which Joe Hockey deferred for another three years in his horror 2014 Budget. Regional and rural councils have borne the brunt of this measure, since they are much more dependent on FAGs for their general funding than metro areas due to their weaker rates’ base. In April, the peak body for the nation’s local councils, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), mounted a social media campaign pressing the government to end the FAGs freeze, while pressing the government to increase the quantum of FAGs in proportion to Commonwealth tax revenue. In 1996 FAGs were equal to about 1 per cent of Commonwealth tax revenue; by 2013-14 FAGs amounted to around 0.67 per cent of total. A growing infrastructure maintenance backlog, particularly in NSW, has seen ALGA request that the Roads to Recovery program should be permanently doubled, the Bridges Renewal program made permanent and Fairer Roads Funding restored for South Australia, at $17.5 million per annum. The Association’s federal Budget submission also asked for $300 million a year over the next four years to fund community infrastructure which it said would stimulate long-term growth and build community resilience. Disaster funding and support to address climate change is also a priority for those councils in flood prone areas. ALGA has asked for a disaster mitigation program to be established funded at $200 million per year and an investment of $100 million over four years to support councils to manage their own climate risks. The Association also asked that the government to review municipal funding for services around indigenous housing, health, jobs and education. ALGA President David O’Loughlin said it was “an ideal time to invest in roads and bridges, community infrastructure and guarding against the world impacts of climate change” as well as the time “to start the discussion about the reality of the current funding constraints experienced by councils”. “ALGA understands the fiscal challenges facing the Commonwealth, however, expenditure on priorities does not wait for a convenient moment,” Mr O’Loughlin said. “Indeed, ALGA would argue that in times of fiscal constraint governments should focus on community priorities and investment in productive infrastructure through the most efficient processes to deliver programs.” Specific items expected in the Budget include a $2.3 billion state-federal package for Western Australia to pay for freeways, regional roads and the Metronet rail project; motorway upgrades for South East Queensland and progress on the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project, alongside $6 billion for a second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek. There is also likely to be an announcement of a further roll-out of City Deals, which focus on new infrastructure to help regional areas around urban centres. It will be fascinating to discover is there is any mention of the National Party-led push to decentralise government jobs, typified by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority’s move from Canberra to  Armidale, in tomorrow's Budget. The cuts One cut that has already been foreshadowed is reduced Commonwealth funding for universities, tighter rules around HECS repayments and a 2.5 per cent efficiency dividend that universities must meet. There may also be a series of smaller health programs that may be slashed or abandoned. Meanwhile, the Community and Public Sector Union is stealing itself for yet another round of public service job cuts, predicting that a further 4500 jobs could be slashed “if the government maintains its hard-line cuts” and adds to the 18,000 scalps it has already claimed. Instead the union is asking the government to target its money saving efforts at consultants and contractors and company tax avoidance and restore ATO jobs to prosecute this drive. CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said the relative silence before the Budget had been “strange and a tad unsettling” for government workers. “Treasurer Scott Morrison and the government in general have said much less about the national accounts than they normally would,” Ms Flood said. “That silence hasn't exactly been reassuring for the public servants who keep the wheels of government turning. This government has repeatedly used them as a political football while also making harsh and short-sighted cuts. “Let's hope the government puts ordinary Australians first with this budget, rather than shooting itself in the foot with another round of counter-productive public sector cuts.” We’ll have to wait and see. [post_title] => Budget 2017: Implications for local councils [post_excerpt] => Union fears further public sector job cuts.   [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 27076 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-09 11:48:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-09 01:48:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27076 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 14 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27225 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-25 15:19:03 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-25 05:19:03 [post_content] =>   Last weekend’s myGov makeover has improved the troubled website but has the federal government missed an opportunity to cheer up myGov users after all the past frustrations they have endured? In a joint announcement last week, Digital Transformation Minister Angus Taylor and Human Services Minister Alan Tudge, said the website overhaul made myGov easier to navigate, less information dense and more responsive when accessed on smartphones and tablets. The government claimed that it was now easier for users to sign in and to unlock their own accounts when they had been suspended, reducing incorrect logins by 37 per cent. The changes were ostensibly in response to the rapid expansion of the numbers of people using myGov, around ten million, while log-ins doubled over the last two years to 242,000 per day. The Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) said it had conducted ‘hundreds of hours of research’ into the experiences of users and responded to their complaints, including that myGov used difficult language, complex instructions and frequently left them locked out of their accounts. Joe Russell, Director of User Engagement at Victorian company Buzinga, which specialises in web and mobile app development, acknowledged the changes were positive but said that the government had missed the chance to speed up and really improve the experience for users. “It is basically functional: finally. Before it was hard to do any of the core things it was meant to do,” Mr Russell said. “It’s easier to use, yes, but there are still major issues. I wouldn’t call it a huge leap. “Reducing incorrect logins by 37 per cent. I wouldn’t have thought that was something to brag about. Being able to log in is an assumption you make when you go into any site.” While the DTA website talks about ‘reimagining’ the user experience and putting users’ needs first, Mr Russell said this had not been done to any great extent. He said simple fixes that could have streamlined things for users had been ignored, such as not having to enter the same data twice and the cursor automatically moving to the next field to enter data. Another deficiency was the lack of loading indicators after users submitted a form, so they were unsure of whether the form was loading or not. This often led to users hitting the back button and resetting and clearing fields they had already completed. Mr Russell questioned whether the project had carried out sufficient usability testing. This is where an ‘average’ user is given tasks to complete while they are timed and any difficulties noted and comments taken on board to measure their experience and suggest improvements. “It does what it claims to do. It’s an improvement, I will give them that” but he said the DTA had missed the chance to speed up user interaction with myGov and make data entry easier and faster. “Usability testing could have solved these small things. This is basic best practice,” he said. “All these little annoyances can be resolved and hopefully will be next time.” The DTA has said the website changes were a result of extensive research conducted in more than 20 metropolitan, regional and rural locations. The agency’s website says this research included usability testing, as well as visits to shopfront sites, support staff interviews and testing with users of assistive technology. A DTA spokesperson said that any changes needed to be carefully considered and tested with users. "A sensible approach, and one that's consistent with the Digital Service Standard, is to make iterative improvements based on user research," said the spokesperson. "The latest release builds on changes made last year. User research is continuing and will guide future improvements." But just as myGov’s usability had not come on in leaps and bounds, Mr Russell said the look and feel of the website had changed slightly but was not ground breaking, “It’s basically black text on a white background. It’s as vanilla as you can get”, he said. Nor was replacing service icons with text a positive change for people who were visually impaired, elderly or dyslexic and he disagreed with the assertion that member services logos and the Australian Government crest were more prominent. MyGov was launched in 2013 to provide a single access point for ten different agencies providing services including Medicare, tax, Centrelink, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and My Health Record. The rollout which occurred last weekend, was a joint project between the Department of Human Services, the Digital Transformation Agency and the Australian Tax Office. It seems that the question posed on the DTA website, ‘what could good look like’ has morphed into ‘what could barely adequate look like’? Further comment from DTA and DHS to follow.  [post_title] => MyGov verdict: functional (just) [post_excerpt] => ‘Little annoyances’ remain for users. 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