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By Linda Cheng This story first appeared in ArchitectureAu and appears here by kind permission of the author. In its 2017–18 budget, the federal government released what it called “comprehensive plan to address housing affordability.” While promising “no silver bullet,” the government claimed its plan was “designed to improve outcomes across the housing spectrum.” The plan includes measures such as a $1 billion National Housing and Infrastructure Facility (NHIF), releasing surplus Commonwealth land for housing, a Western Sydney City Deal that will provide opportunities for planning and zoning reform, as well as a range of financial incentives to assist first-home buyers, downsizing for older Australians and to encourage private-sector investment in affordable housing. The Australian Institute of Architects and the Planning Institute of Australian have cautiously welcomed the measures. Ken Maher, outgoing president of the Australian Institute of Architects characterized the government’s housing affordability plan as having “good intentions,” but said there were a number of “missed opportunities” on “critical” issues such as density, climate change and public transport. “There’s a real absence of mention in the budget of climate change,” Maher said. “In the built environment area, there’s quite a lot that can be done to reduce carbon emissions.” He pointed to the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council’s (ASBEC) Low Carbon, High Performance report released in May 2016, which outlined “the potential for the Australian built environment sector to make a major contribution to” reaching a zero-net emissions goal by 2050. The report called on policy makers to adopt a nation plan that includes minimum standards for buildings and targeted incentives. Read more here
[post_title] => ‘Good intentions’ or ‘cruel hoax’? Budget 2017’s housing affordability plan draws vexed reactions [post_excerpt] => Architects cautious, some critical. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 27196 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-23 12:42:51 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-23 02:42:51 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27196 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [1] => 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 ) [2] => 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 ) [3] => 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 ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27112 [post_author] => 658 [post_date] => 2017-05-12 11:41:48 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-12 01:41:48 [post_content] => By Charles Pauka   While Scott Morrison’s 2017 Federal Budget has been praised for some of its big announcements for freight and infrastructure, the shortage of immediate commitment has earned it the moniker of the “planning to plan budget”. The positive The Australian Logistics Council’s Michael Kilgariff heaped praise on the budget. “The Government should be commended for making clear commitments to two significant infrastructure projects crucial to the freight and logistics industry,” said the ALC managing director. “The transformative potential of the Inland Rail project has been talked about for decades, with incremental progress being made over the past several years, including a positive assessment of the business case by Infrastructure Australia. The $8.4 billion commitment announced in the Treasurer’s speech will finally allow its construction. At long last, we can stop merely talking about this project’s potential, and instead begin to witness it. “Establishing a safe, reliable port-to-port rail link for freight between Melbourne and Brisbane is the only way we can simultaneously meet Australia’s burgeoning freight task, alleviate congestion on existing freight networks, create regional jobs and boost growth,” he said. “To fully unleash the benefits of this project, the line must run to the ports of Melbourne and Brisbane, and comprise efficient rail linkages to the ports of Botany, Kembla and Newcastle in NSW. We must also support the development of intermodal freight hubs at appropriate intervals along the route.”   Read more here. This story first appeared in Transport and Logistics and News.  [post_title] => Budget 2017: wishful thinking [post_excerpt] => Infrastructure and freight announcements. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 27112 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-12 11:44:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-12 01:44:16 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27112 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27102 [post_author] => 658 [post_date] => 2017-05-12 10:52:13 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-12 00:52:13 [post_content] =>   By Associate Director, Business Intelligence & Analytics, University of Western Australia Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is under real pressure for the first time since the 2016 election, as the government attempts to wedge Labor with a circuit-breaker budget. Shorten used his budget-in-reply speech to appeal to middle Australia, putting forward an argument that Labor is the only party that can be trusted to deliver a fair go. He argued the government’s so-called “Labor-lite budget” is unfair, bringing benefits only to rich. Since the election, it seems everything – including the polls – has gone Labor’s way. The Turnbull government has been plagued by infighting and its messages have failed to resonate with the electorate. However, over the last few weeks – starting with changes to 457 visas and the expansion of the Snowy Hydro scheme – the Coalition has begun a new conversation with the electorate.

Shorten’s pitch

The 2017 budget positioned the government as more centrist. It contained several policy positions ordinarily associated with Labor. The government’s three-word slogan for the budget was “fairness, opportunity and security”. It has tried to position itself as a “doing government”, taking on good debt to invest in infrastructure, funding the NDIS into the future, and adopting measures from the Gonski schools funding plan. Shorten’s speech was framed around modern class politics. He claimed Labor is the only party that can be trusted to protect low-income workers, and look after the interests of the middle class in terms of Medicare, universities and schools. Shorten refuted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s claim that the budget is a fair one:
This prime minister of many words has learned a new one – fairness – and he’s saying it as often as he can. But repetition is no substitute for conviction … This isn’t a Labor budget – and it’s not a fair budget … Fairness isn’t measured by what you say – it’s revealed by what you do.
It is highly unlikely that this budget will be viewed as negatively as the 2014 budget. But Labor needs to convincingly discredit it to the point that the government cannot use it to help restore its standing in the eyes of voters. Labor will need to attack on two fronts. The first will be scare tactics. Voters will need to be convinced they are unnecessarily worse off under this budget. Shorten claimed:
There’s nothing fair about making middle-class and working-class Australians pay more, while millionaires and multinationals pay less.
He highlighted higher tax rates for low-income workers, as a result of the increase in the Medicare levy, as well as the traditional Liberal threat to Medicare. Shorten also posited schools would be much worse off due to the gap in promised funding between Labor and the government. The second line of attack will be providing an alternative set of policy options that voters view as more attractive than those put forward by the government.

What is Labor offering voters?

In his speech, Shorten promised a Labor government would remove the Medicare rebate freeze, rather than wait for indexation to begin in July 2020 – thereby reducing the cost of health care. Labor will also restore A$22 billion to the schools sector. As an alternative to the measures to assist first home buyers through a savings scheme, Shorten said Labor had a plan for affordable housing that would include the construction of 55,000 new homes over three years, and create 25,000 new jobs every year. He also noted Labor’s commitment to developing more public housing. In what is likely to prove a popular idea, Labor will seek to close the loopholes allowing multinational companies avoiding tax in Australia. Likewise, in an effort to halt tax avoidance by wealthy individuals, Labor plans to limit the amount an individual can deduct for the management of their tax affairs to A$3,000 per year. Shorten claimed that less than 1% of taxpayers would be affected, and that measure would save the budget A$1.3 billion over the medium term. Shorten continued to argue that a royal commission into the banking industry is required.

Where does Labor stand on individual budget items?

Labor needs time to review the proposed legislation resulting from the budget in order to determine what it is willing to support. But Shorten outlined Labor’s position on several measures.
  • It supports the additional Medicare levy to fund the NDIS. However, it wants to limit the levy to the top two tax brackets, so that only those earning more than $87,000 per year will be impacted.
  • It supports the bank levy – but simultaneously put pressure on the government, claiming it is responsible for stopping the banks from passing the cost onto customers.
  • It does not support the cuts to universities or the proposed increase in university fees for students.
  • It does not support the plan to allow first home buyers to use up to $30,000 in voluntary superannuation contributions. Shorten described the policy as “microscopic assistance”.

In this game, it’s the message that matters

This is a political budget, and so we should expect in the coming weeks that both parties will attempt to appeal to voters’ base instincts, rather than presenting considered arguments for or against policies. Thus, the government is focusing on forcing greedy banks to “pay their fair share”, secure in the knowledge that former Queensland premier Anna Bligh, as head of the Australian Bankers’ Association, is unlikely to be able to cut through the bank-bashing mentality of the average Australian voter. Likewise, Shorten will campaign hard on the natural end of the temporary budget repair levy, which was introduced in the 2014 budget. He is claiming this is a tax cut for the rich at the same time as the government is making everyday Australians pay more tax through a higher Medicare levy.

Interesting times ahead

Shorten is right: this budget is about trust. The government and the opposition both need to convince average working and middle class voters that their policies will provide Australians with the best outcome. In some ways, this is politics as usual. But, with the polls leaning to Labor and voters’ faith in the government’s ability to deliver low, the stakes seem higher than normal – especially as voters are presented with two positions not as divergent as they have been in recent years.   This story first appeared in The Conversation.  [post_title] => Shorten fights on fairness in budget reply, but will it be enough? [post_excerpt] => Labor's lines of attack. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => shorten-fights-fairness-budget-reply-will-enough [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-12 11:54:35 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-12 01:54:35 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27102 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => 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 ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27090 [post_author] => 658 [post_date] => 2017-05-09 11:46:02 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-09 01:46:02 [post_content] =>   By Professor Gabriele Suder, University of Melbourne Democracy has won. On Sunday 7 May 2017, France elected its new President - pro-EU political outsider Emmanuel Macron defeated anti-EU, xenophobic extremist Marine Le Pen. President-elect Macron beat his far-right competition easily, with roughly 65 per cent of the vote, to become the country’s youngest president. The election of Mr Macron is bad news for populist authoritarianism – at least for the moment. The looming dangers of extremism will remain in the background of Mr Macron’s presidency, at least until the French economy moves to growth and recovery. These elections have told us much about the current state of France and tell us even more about people’s attitudes towards the future of the EU. The majority of the French electorate has expressed its belief in democracy and with it, in the European project, and have rejected Marine Le Pen’s promise to hold a referendum on exiting the EU. President-elect Mr Macron is a leader who can play a constructive role in reform of the French and EU systems, they hope. The liberal centrist, 39-year-old President-elect, founder and leader of the recently created En Marche! (On the Move) movement, proclaimed his intentions to work on “the place of our country in globalisation”, and help solve the dysfunctions of the EU so it has a more positive impact on its member states and their economies. FULFILLING ELECTION PROMISES MAY BE CHALLENGING A major challenge will be a constitutional crisis that will come from the elections of the French parliament in June. Under the current system, Mr Macron will not have a majority in the lower or upper house, which will severely constrain his capacity for reform. It is likely we could see the emergence of a coalition of the type that functions in the rather different German system, but that has not been used in the same manner in France. Also, voters have expressed great concern about the economy and security, so they will very closely watch what their new President delivers, with no excuses accepted for that systemic challenge that he will face. Mr Macron’s promises include importantly, public investments worth €50 billion spread over five years for environmental measures, apprenticeships, digital innovation and public infrastructure budget savings of €60 billion so that France respects the EU deficit limit of 3 per cent of GDP (total output), and a reduction of the French corporate tax to 25 per cent (from 33.3 per cent) to stimulate private sector activity, and much more. In addition, he plans a boost of purchasing power by cutting social security contributions. Pro-Europeanism, that is, the willingness to work with and reform the EU, will also supports business through the exceptional cross-border trade and investment conditions that the EU provides to European business. President–elect Macron also endeavours to lead reform of the EU by giving the Eurozone a separate budget, finance minister and parliamentary group of the MEPs from the 19 countries that use the Euro. In addition, his plan is to promote the creation of a 5,000-strong force of EU border guards, but to continue freedom of movement of goods and labour across the EU because it boosts cross border revenue. This will disappoint rural and former industrial area voters who want their government to retake control of France’s borders from the EU, slash immigration, and who have little interest in mobility across borders. The President–elect will need to demonstrate that his plans will deliver solutions for unemployment caused by industry automation, and demonstrate that it is not necessarily caused by free trade and economic integration. GERMAN ELECTIONS AND GEOPOLITICAL TURMOIL MAY BRING HURDLES Since last year’s Brexit vote, the remaining 27 EU member states have found a new sense of solidarity and a new impetus to analyse and discuss new models of cooperation. This will influence the Brexit negotiations and the ongoing negotiation of free trade deals, with the UK and other partners. It will also influence the stance that will be taken on Greece’s debt. We can expect that President–elect Macron will oppose any further significant financial support to Greece. The Greece issue is also one of the main differentiating factors between the two most likely candidates in the German elections of November; and thus part of the issues of how far EU interdependence should go and how immigration issues are dealt with. Centre-right Christian Democrat Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democratic challenger Martin Schulz, who enjoyed a steep career progress through his role at the EU, are both pro-EU so there is no doubt on that front of Germany’s future with a focus on ongoing integration. What form this will take will be the centre of discussion and their manifestos. Mr Schulz argues that austerity requirements on Greece should be relaxed and more funds may need to be granted. This is unlikely to be supported by France unless conditions change, and some discords are likely if he were to become the new Chancellor. In particular, the southern EU members are also known to be more protectionist in the internal EU negotiations. This may hinder some, though not all, reforms that the EU needs to undertake – institutional and political reforms to allow for deeper integration of all or a part of the member states, or alternatively, adjustments so that some EU competences that were given by member states to Brussels in the past years, may even get repatriated back home to reinforce national sovereignty. It may therefore also hinder President-elect Macron’s plans. Consider also the vastly unpredictable geopolitical context, here to stay for several years through the current US Presidency; Russia’s increasing expansionism; China’s moves; and tension with North Korea – and we need more than ever a strong Europe that provides a level playing field for recovery and stability. Not an easy time to start one’s presidency in a country of France’s importance, and a great responsibility. Democratic values have won, but proving the electorate made the right choice is absolutely vital. This article has been co-published with the University of Melbourne’s Election Watch This story first appeared on Melbourne University's Pursuit website.  [post_title] => The new French President's role in saving Europe [post_excerpt] => Can Macron help shore up the EU? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => new-french-presidents-role-saving-europe [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-09 11:46:02 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-09 01:46:02 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27090 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => 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 ) [9] => 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 ) [10] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27059 [post_author] => 658 [post_date] => 2017-05-05 15:15:39 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-05 05:15:39 [post_content] =>   By Kymberley Martin Support for the Federal Government among small and medium businesses (SMBs) has dipped to its lowest level since Malcolm Turnbull took over as Prime Minister, according to the latest Sensis Business Index (SBI) survey. “After we saw Malcolm Turnbull take over as Prime Minister in 2015 we saw confidence in the government rise, with businesses telling us they were optimistic about the change, ” Sensis chief executive, John Allan said. However, since then the government’s approval rating has fallen nine points and is 20 points lower than the highest score under Tony Abbott, following the pro-business 2015 Federal Budget. “To find a lower score we need to go back to the March 2015 survey, which was taken after Tony Abbott had survived a leadership spill. While perceptions of the economy remain strong, less than one in seven businesses have faith in the government’s policies, with the biggest concerns being excessive bureaucracy and red tape, as well as there being too much focus on the interests of big business,” Allan said. The Index, which reflects the views of 1,000 small and medium businesses from across Australia, also revealed that despite a tough quarter for the Government the long term projections for the economy have improved to their best level in 2 ½ years. Read more here.   This story first appeared on Appliance Retailer.  [post_title] => Support for Turbull dips from small and medium businesses [post_excerpt] => State by state results. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => support-turbull-dips-small-medium-businesses [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-05 15:15:39 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-05 05:15:39 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27059 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [11] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27047 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-04 15:28:59 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-04 05:28:59 [post_content] => Corruption and Crime Commission head John McKechnie. Pic: YouTube.  Western Australia’s Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC) has denounced the former Chief Executive of Exmouth Shire Council for serious misconduct after he flouted local government tender rules on a multi-million dollar project; fraudulently charged booze, cabs and hire cars to the council’s credit card; approved his own leave; faked documents; lied and chucked sickies. CCC head and former Supreme Court Judge John McKechnie QC found that the council’s CEO, Bill Price, did not put a $32 million contract for a science hub and aquarium at Ningaloo Reef out to tender; charged personal expenses to the corporate credit card; approved his own leave or did not log any leave; did dodgy deals for friends and covered up his wrongdoing when he realised the CCC was onto him after council officers tipped them off. Mr McKechnie said: “Any good that he had done was overshadowed by his arrogation of power. He was a law unto himself. “Serious misconduct flourishes when there is inadequate governance, whether due to friendship, ignorance or some other reason. Serious misconduct flourished in Exmouth.” Disgraced Exmouth Council CEO Bill Price. Pic: LinkedIn He said the CEO should set standards of honesty and integrity for Exmouth Council staff, “If the CEO is rorting the system, how can council, ratepayers or staff have any confidence in the executive?” The report also slammed the council for showing “stunning indifference” to Mr Price’s egregious behaviour, despite being alerted to it by the CCC. In fact, the council gave him an extra two weeks’ annual leave while the investigation was in full swing. The council only acted when the Minister for Local Government and Communities, Paul Miles, intervened. The CCC found that Mr Price:
  • Saddled Exmouth Council with a possible $1 million debt after signing a contract with a new company with no assets that it had failed to investigate
  • Lied to the council about it and forged documents
  • Had never had his leave approved by any of the three councils he had worked in as CEO
  • Used the council’s credit card to pay for dinners, hire cars, alcohol and taxis while on leave or relaxing at the weekend
  • Faked a sick day and went to the Perth Caravan and Camping Show instead
  • Concocted a fictitious rental agreement to give his friend (also employed by the council) tax-free income he was not entitled to
Exmouth Council dismissed Mr Price in December 2016 and the CCC has recommended charges be laid against him. Councillors were suspended for six months and mandated to do training. A new CEO, Cameron Woods, was appointed on April 27. Mr McKechnie said that Exmouth Council’s failings were symptomatic of the ‘structural weaknesses in local government’ in the state as a whole and said that 34 of the state's local councils were at high or medium risk of corruption.  All of the 16 high risk councils were in regional WA and 16 of the remaining 18, which were classed as medium risk, were in rural areas. The structural weaknesses identified included:
  • A culture of entitlement
  • Flouting of local government policy
  • Very significant procurement and contract management left to administrators who were not necessarily properly qualified, experienced or monitored
  • Councillors ill-equipped to manage complex and often high-stakes activities, particularly in procurement and contract management
  • Confusion among councillors about what they can ask administrative staff
  • Difficulty and conflicts arising for people aware of potentially corrupt activity but reticent to speak up
Mr McKechnie told ABC radio that procurement was the area of council business most vulnerable to corruption, probably because of the risk created by close friendships, particularly in smaller places. "The issue is in procurement, lax governments and often people who are friends and, quite bluntly, incompetence - people who have not got the skills to manage budgets of many millions of dollars or oversight a CEO who may arrogantly assert power," Mr McKechnie said. "If I give you tickets to shows, pay for holidays or renovations at your house at cut prices, who's to know? "You have to recognise that friendship is one thing but when you are elected to a position, ignorance is no longer an excuse. You are responsible for governance of that local authority and cannot let friendship or ignorance get in the way of good governance." The scandal has led to WA Auditor-General Colin Murphy being given powers to audit local councils in the future. But WA Local Government Association president Lynne Craigie said the report unfairly tarred all WA local councils with the same brush and she rejected suggestions of widespread mismanagement among the state’s regional councils. “The local government sector accepts significant issues with a small number of councils and does not set out to defend those who have done wrong, but also should not share in the blame,” Ms Craigie said. “For the CCC Commissioner to claim that councils have very little idea of their responsibilities or don’t have the required skills is an unfair generalisation and an insult to most who work hard for their communities.” [post_title] => Council CEO ‘a law unto himself’ says Corruption and Crime Commission head [post_excerpt] => Ratepayers pay for council boss’ booze, cabs and dinners. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 27047 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-04 15:28:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-04 05:28:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27047 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 2 [filter] => raw ) [12] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27006 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-05-02 12:33:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-05-02 02:33:00 [post_content] =>     Woollahra Council is bracing itself for a High Court showdown with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian as it continues to struggle against the government’s plans to merge it with Randwick and Waverley Councils. The Eastern Sydney suburbs council will head to the High Court on May 12 in an attempt to secure leave to appeal a decision that went against it in the NSW Supreme Court of Appeal last December when three judges unanimously threw out its appeal against the forced merger. Woollahra Council has already faced the NSW government in the Land and Environment Court but its case was dismissed out of hand by Chief Judge Brian Preston in July 2016, who also awarded costs against the council. Save Our Councils Coalition spokesman Phil Jenkyn, an ex-barrister, said the council’s success in being granted an appeal rested on demonstrating that it was arguing an important point of law that had implications for other cases – an argument that he said was reasonable - and whether there had been an error of law in the December court judgement. The council has argued before that the full KPMG report, which the government relied upon to make its case for the savings from council mergers, should have been given to councils and delegates before public hearings. Delegate reports containing recommendations on whether councils should merge or stand alone were given to the Boundaries Commission after the hearings. If Woollahra Council is blocked from appealing Government News understands that there are plans to form an Eastern suburbs residents’ group that could take up cudgels, emboldened by Ku-ring-gai Council’s win in March. It has been an expensive battle for those councils who have stood up to the government. Woollahra has spent more than $1 million battling the merger, including community consultation costs.   Liberal mayor of Woollahra, Toni Zeltzer, has justified the council’s court cases saying that the majority of residents are opposed to the amalgamation and rates would soar between 20 and 50 per cent for Woollahra residents if it were amalgamated. Greens MP David Shoebridge, also an ex-barrister, said it was possible for a third party to run a fresh case based on the Ku-ring-gai decision, which he said showed the illegitimacy of the government’s forced merger agenda based on secret documents. “[Woollahra Council] know they got a job done on them, they have got their residents’ support. I would be surprised if they didn’t throw their support around a viable legal challenge,” Mr Shoebridge said. The KPMG report took centre stage during a NSW Court of Appeal case in March when Ku-ring-gai Council argued that the government’s suppression of part of the report had denied it procedural fairness. The council won its case and the court decided that the delegate’s report to the Boundaries Commission, which recommended a merger with Hornsby Shire, be thrown out. The NSW government has yet to state whether it will abandon the merger or commission a new delegate’s report. The Ku-ring-gai decision, which the government chose not to appeal, has given renewed hope to councils still fighting mergers in the courts, including Hunters Hill, Lane Cove, Mosman, North Sydney and Strathfield. These councils had their cases heard at the beginning of April and are waiting to hear their judgements, which could take months. Mr Shoebridge said the government’s failure to appeal the Ku-ring-gai decision was telling. “The Ku-ring-gai judgement doesn’t just give the councils hope, it gives them an extremely strong legal basis to impugn every one of those cases of forced amalgamation. It’s a compelling decision which supports all those councils that have maintained the fight,” Mr Shoebridge said. “The basic political truth is that if you don’t fight you lose. I think residents should be very critical of their former council leadership if they didn’t take up the legal fight.” But Mr Shoebridge conceded that the courts would be unlikely to unpick the council mergers last May, when more than 40 local councils were forced to merge into 19, because of the complexity, upheaval and expense. Mr Jenkyn said the Ku-ring-gai judgement demonstrated that forced mergers had not be a fair dinkum process. “How can you say there are all these billions of dollars being saved when all these expert reports say that what happened on the ground in Victoria, Queensland, NSW and Canada [after mergers] say rates grew and there were big inefficiencies?” He said Woollahra’s High Court challenge could lead to the full KPMG report being subpoenaed, which he said could “bring down the government” if the contents showed the government colluded with KPMG. Meanwhile NSW Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton said the government was committed to the merger of Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai Councils 'given the clear benefits it will have for the local communities'. "There are a series of matters before the courts, including the High Court matter in Woollahra, which is why the government is not considering one case in isolation," Ms Upton said.    Want the latest public sector news delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up the Government News newsletter.    [post_title] => Woollahra Council set for High Court showdown with Berejiklian over merger [post_excerpt] => Residents could take up the fight if council loses. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => woollahra-council-set-high-court-showdown-berejiklian-merger [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-03 10:03:59 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-03 00:03:59 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=27006 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [13] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26990 [post_author] => 658 [post_date] => 2017-04-28 11:36:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-04-28 01:36:28 [post_content] =>   By Charles Pauka To misquote Mark Twain ‘reports of the death of developments in the international trade agenda have been greatly exaggerated’ with the recent announcement that Australia has successfully concluded negotiations with New Zealand and 12 Pacific Island countries in Brisbane to implement the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations Plus (PACER Plus). Australia was a party to the original PACER for some time but the development of PACER Plus has taken longer than anticipated and most recently a prospective date for completion of negotiations of June 2016 did not come to fruition. However, these types of negotiations rarely run to an exact timetable and the announcement comes at a welcome time, even though the deal has been struck without Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Fiji who had earlier withdrawn from the negotiations due to their reservations on what economic benefits would actually be delivered to them. It is not clear whether the deal would allow for PNG and Fiji to join before the final agreement is entered into. Interestingly the absence of PNG and Fiji from the deal does not appear in the press release by our Trade Minister. The specific details of the agreement have yet to be released ahead of signing in Tonga in June.  However, according to the press release from the Minister of Trade: “PACER Plus is a landmark agreement covering goods, services and investment. It will remove barriers to trade, including tariffs, increasing the flow of goods and investment in the region, generating growth, jobs and raising living standards.  This agreement will drive economic growth and raise living standards in our region.” Read more here. This story first appeared in Transport and Logistics News.  [post_title] => PACER Plus: a ray of sunshine in a gloomy trade world [post_excerpt] => PNG and Fiji's position unclear. 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By Linda Cheng This story first appeared in ArchitectureAu and appears here by kind permission of the author. In its 2017–18 budget, the federal government released what it called “comprehensive plan to address housing affordability.” While promising “no silver bullet,” the government claimed its plan was “designed to improve outcomes across the housing spectrum.” The plan includes measures such as a $1 billion National Housing and Infrastructure Facility (NHIF), releasing surplus Commonwealth land for housing, a Western Sydney City Deal that will provide opportunities for planning and zoning reform, as well as a range of financial incentives to assist first-home buyers, downsizing for older Australians and to encourage private-sector investment in affordable housing. The Australian Institute of Architects and the Planning Institute of Australian have cautiously welcomed the measures. Ken Maher, outgoing president of the Australian Institute of Architects characterized the government’s housing affordability plan as having “good intentions,” but said there were a number of “missed opportunities” on “critical” issues such as density, climate change and public transport. “There’s a real absence of mention in the budget of climate change,” Maher said. “In the built environment area, there’s quite a lot that can be done to reduce carbon emissions.” He pointed to the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council’s (ASBEC) Low Carbon, High Performance report released in May 2016, which outlined “the potential for the Australian built environment sector to make a major contribution to” reaching a zero-net emissions goal by 2050. The report called on policy makers to adopt a nation plan that includes minimum standards for buildings and targeted incentives. Read more here
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