Union fears further public sector job cuts.
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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 )  => 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 )  => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26966 [post_author] => 658 [post_date] => 2017-04-21 11:14:39 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-04-21 01:14:39 [post_content] =>By Vanessa Cavasinni, editor Australian Hotelier Hoteliers and the wider hospitality industry are on edge, as they await more details in regards to the Federal Government’s 457 visa replacement. Yesterday (Tuesday), Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the scrapping of the 457 visa program, stating: “We are ensuring that Australian jobs and Australian values are first, placed first. During the press conference, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, announced that 457 visa will be replaced with two alternate visas, that do not foster as much agency for permanent residency. “What we propose is that under the Temporary Skills Shortage Visa short-term stream there will be a two-year visa, with the options of two-years, but there would not be permanent residency outcomes at the end of that. “In relation to the medium-term stream, which as the Prime Minister pointed out, is targeted at higher skills, a much shorter skills list, that will be for a period of four years, can be applied for onshore or offshore, and it's a significant tightening of the way in which that programme operates. According to the Department of Immigration, in 2014 cooks represented the third-largest usage of the 457 visa, after software/application programmers and general practitioners and residential medical officers. The AHA has called on the Government to ensure that the needs of the hospitality industry are met within the new visa program. “The hospitality industry is growing at unprecedented rates at the present and the demand for skilled labour is at all-time highs with this complete transformation of Australia’s hotel industry,” said AHA CEO, Stephen Ferguson. Indeed, the Government’s own Australian Tourism Labour Force Report estimated that the tourism and hospitality sector will require an additional 123,000 workers by 2020, including 60,000 skilled positions. “Australia’s hospitality sector has responded with a wide range of training and career development programs, but with such a rapid increase in tourism it is impossible to meet the demand for skilled labour in the short-term through local channels, especially in regional and remote Australia.” With the exact details of the new Temporary Short- and Medium-Term Visa programs, yet to be revealed, most hoteliers are withholding judgment at this stage, but a few were wary of the additional strain the scrapping of the 457 visa would place on finding kitchen staff. “I am still waiting to hear the finer detail about the announcement from Turnbull so as to fully understand the implications of this for the hospitality sector. But on face value, it does not seem to be founded in a sound consideration of the facts attributable to the current skills shortages being experienced in the hospitality sector,” opined Christian Denny, licensee of Hotel Harry and The Dolphin. For Angela Gallagher, group general manager of Gallagher Hotels, the replacement of the 457 visa program will create another hurdle in finding quality staff. Read more here. This story first appeared in The Shout.[post_title] => Hospitality industry reacts to 457 visa scrapping [post_excerpt] => Chefs third most sought after under visa program. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => hospitaliy-industry-reacts-457-visa-scrapping [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-04-21 11:14:39 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-04-21 01:14:39 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26966 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )  => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26922 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-04-18 16:21:39 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-04-18 06:21:39 [post_content] => Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces the end of 457 visas. Pic: YouTube. By Madeline Woolway Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced today that his government would abolish 457 visas, replacing them with a new temporary visa. “We’ll no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians,” Turnbull said via a Facebook video. “However, it is important businesses still get access to the skills they need to grow and invest, so the 457 visa will be replaced by a new temporary visa to recruit the best and the brightest in the national interest.” Mr Turnbull said the 457 visa scheme had "lost its credibility". The new visa will require workers to have previous work experience, a police check, better English language proficiency and labour market testing. The government will also establish a new training fund with the aim of filling skills gaps. It is understood that there will be two types of visa: a two-year visa, with a 'substantially reduced' number of skills that qualify or a four-year visa, where better English skills will be demanded. In March 2017, the government cancelled fast tracked 457 visas for the fast food industry. Writing for Hospitality after Trump's election, Justin Browne said the 457 visa program was at its lowest level of approvals in five years, outlining the merits of utilising overseas talent under the program. With the hospitality industry in the midst of a skills shortage, a number of chefs have taken to social media to air their thoughts on the decision. On Bishop Sessa's Facebook page a message read: "Good luck Australia! Good luck finding Australians willing to work and be trained. "Who genuinely thinks we prefer to employee foreigners? "Who imagines investing time, money and effort in an employee with a finite future in our business is our preferred business model? "Who really believes that given an option between an Australian resident and a visa holder with the same experience/qualifications we would choose the visa holder? Eau De Vie's Sven Almenning said: "This has the potential of being absolutely devastating for the hospitality industry. Chefs in particular are in high demand with a very limited local 'supply' of trained chefs. As someone who sponsors a number of people I can testify to always looking for Australian residents first (sponsorships are both expensive and risky for us), but often there simply are not enough locals with the skill level or experience that we need that apply for these jobs. Personally I am quite concerned about what this populist election move will mean for our industry." This story first appeared in Hospitality Magazine. [post_title] => Turnbull abolishes 457 visas [post_excerpt] => Temporary visas come in. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => turnbull-abolishes-457-visas [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-04-18 16:46:19 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-04-18 06:46:19 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26922 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )  => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26709 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-03-31 11:06:38 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-03-31 00:06:38 [post_content] => Manchester city centre, UK. Three Australian cities will replicate a UK initiative designed to deliver economic growth, affordable housing and new infrastructure while devolve decisions away from federal government towards state and local government. City Deals is a UK initiative which began in 2012 with eight deals for cities outside London, including Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool and Leeds and covering a population of 12.7 million. They have now been introduced across 38 UK city-regions. Under City Deals, state government and local councils decide what needs to be done to lift economic growth locally and they set targets in areas such as jobs, affordable housing and emissions reduction. The deals also include the regional areas around cities. The scheme emphasises building infrastructure and aims to deliver long-term benefits, such as higher land values, bigger tax receipts, more jobs and increased productivity. In the UK, most contracts are for ten years and funding often comes from all three levels of government. Local councils’ contributions tend to be lower than that from the other tiers of government, around 10 to 20 per cent, and often includes contributions in kind, such as land transfers and council officers’ time. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is known to be a fan of City Deals for Australia and he has committed to early deals for Townsville, Launceston and Western Sydney. The process for future deals will be announced later. The Launceston City Deal, signed in September last year, promises to support education, employment and investment and this will include a new university campus in the city centre; revitalising the historic CBD and a new National Institute for Forest Products Innovation Hub. Under the Launceston deal, $140 million comes from the federal government and $60 million from the Tasmanian government. The Western Sydney City Deal, which includes the local government areas of the Blue Mountains, Camden, Campbelltown, Fairfield, Hawkesbury, Liverpool, Penrith and Wollondilly, seems to have a pretty broad remit. It will focus on public transport, employment and investment (particularly youth and indigenous employment); more affordable housing by boosting supply and diversity; biodiversity and conservation and arts and culture. There is no mention of who is paying what under the Western Sydney deal, which is up on the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s website. To find out more about the UK experience and what it could mean for Australia, Government News caught up with Scottish urban economist and affordable housing specialist Professor Duncan MacLennan, who has been involved with the Glasgow City Deal. What City Deals can do But first, let’s start off with what City Deals could do for Australia. Prof MacLennan explains that cities are ‘core areas driving national productivity’ and he says City Deals have been valuable because they have placed infrastructure at the centre of city thinking and coherent investment strategies. While cities drive growth, the income and tax receipts from this goes mainly to state or federate government - there is a disproportionate flow back - while cities are stuck with the problems stemming from growth, like congestion, pollution and a shortage of affordable housing. Indeed, Prof MacLennan says there is some evidence to suggest that some skilled workers are fleeing cities, fed up with long commutes and expensive housing. City Deals attempt to reverse this situation by channelling some of the money back into city-regional areas. Prof MacLennan says: “In the absence of changing the fiscal system, it’s a reasonably appropriate mechanism for getting money where it needs to be. “The main benefit to City Deals is the new focus on infrastructure [that has] raised local capacity to deal with it and more coherent investment strategies.” What they the deals don’t do, he says, is lead to a better system of sub-national government because they are uneven in their impact. In the UK, the deals are not open to everyone and they have not been rolled out evenly. Since City Deals began, Prof MacLennan says that metropolitan authorities have strengthened their capacity to do big infrastructure planning and they have got much better at making the economic case for infrastructure investment. “Big City Deals now know much more about infrastructure planning and how to do it well than central government,” he says. “There is work being done that wasn’t being done three or four years’ ago.” This point was picked up in the UK National Audit Office’s (NAO) report on the first wave of eight City Deals, calling them a ‘catalyst to manage devolved funding and responsibilities’. The report also commended the deals for cutting through funding complexities and giving cities direct access to central government decision makers, which in turn helped them secure funding and support from other government departments. “This helped cities agree deals aligned to their ambitions and local priorities,” said the NAO’s report. But the process is not without its problems. Resources, as ever, have not been there to help cities build their capacity locally. Local government was expected to pool its resources and given no funding to support additional management capacity. This can lead to skills shortages, for example in forecasting and modelling. “It is not clear, however, whether this approach is sustainable in the context of wider reductions in the government’s funding for local authorities. Departments’’ resource constraints have impacted on the government’s capacity to make bespoke, wide-ranging deals with more places,” The NAO noted. Other criticisms of the UK model have included the inherent difficulty of uneven power relations between the three levels of government; the centralised control exerted when deals are negotiated; the lack of transparency around the criteria for cities to be selected for a new; vagueness around the aims, monitoring and evaluation of some City Deals and extra pressure on the already highly constrained budgets of local councils. Another downside of the City Deals, says Prof MacLennan, is raising expectations. “People think this is going to solve all their problems and don’t pay attention to other programs that are reducing and changing.” It can also open up gaps between the haves and the have nots: those areas which have City Deals and those that do not. Prof MacLennan says: “The differences may become so great that the government may have to come in and think about what it does for lagging cities.” But the neediest areas are often those where councils that may not have the organisation or the skilled workforce to make their case for a City Deal. Recommendations for Australian City Deals Good economic modelling is important from the get go, says Prof MacLennan, because it helps predict how infrastructure investment decisions affect the behaviour of individual households and businesses over several years. This can involve leveraging expertise from the university sector. For example, northern English City Deals for cities like Greater Manchester and Newcastle saw local government teaming up with universities for economic modelling and analysis. But Prof MacLennan says Sydney does not appear to have any economic metropolitan modelling ready to use. “You need to pay more attention to what you need to know before you start,” he says. “Otherwise you rely on consultants’ reports that are rarely ever in the public domain and never peer reviewed so that nobody knows what’s in them other than the government.” Once projects are up and running, it is essential to monitor their progress against targets and evaluate them effectively, although it is not always easy to know what would have happened were a City Deal not in place. “What matters is the monitoring and the learning from good monitoring,” he says. Some benefits are fiendishly tricky to quantify. For example, gauging economic gains from sustainability initiatives is difficult when there is no carbon price in Australia. Milestones are part of funding deals and if they are not met it means the next tranche of cash could be held back. The UK now has its own dedicated evaluation panel for City Deals. Putting in enough capital initially is important. Prof MacLennan says the volume of capital going into growing cities like Edinburgh, London and Manchester is not currently enough to resolve the issues these cities face. Exploring innovative methods of finance or making use of old ones could prove useful for Australian City Deals. The Scottish city of Aberdeen recently launched its own government bond but Prof MacLennan points out that cities have limited control over their tax affairs (the key to paying back bonds) and says further fiscal reform would be needed. If this is fixed, he anticipates other major cities could follow suit. In general, he says the UK has not come up with very exciting alternative methods of funding under City Deals. On the whole, Australia is in a good position to implement City Deals and make them work. Prof MacLennan says that the Australian federal government and the states and territories have been much better at making infrastructure decisions than the UK. “I think there is a track record here off trying to think coherently about infrastructure … but the better City Deals, like Manchester, would have relevance to what happens in metropolitan Sydney.” “The images of Australia aren’t about the bush any more, it’s the cities.” [post_title] => What the UK can teach Australia about City Deals [post_excerpt] => Three Australian cities chosen for early deal. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 26709 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-03-31 11:58:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-03-31 00:58:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26709 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )  => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26567 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-03-17 12:23:16 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-03-17 01:23:16 [post_content] => Today (Friday) is the first day of rolling strikes by staff at Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency, as the union ramps up its fight for a new enterprise agreement for Human Services workers. Community and Public Service Union members (CPSU) begin a new round of strike action between 1.3 0pm and 8.30pm today in protest at what the union says is the federal government’s intractable stance on pay and working conditions, a dispute that has dragged on for three years. Asked how the strike would affect benefit claimants, a CPSU spokesperson said it was ‘difficult to predict’ what impact industrial action would have. “Based on past strike action there may be increased wait times at customer service centres and for telephone queries,” the spokesperson said, describing the strike as 'open-ended'. “The intention of the action is to pressure Department of Human Services’ (DHS) management and the Turnbull Government to fairly resolve enterprise bargaining.” He asked the public to be patient and advised them to access DHS services outside the notified strike times. “DHS staff are taking this action because they’ve been fighting for a new agreement since 2013 and have gone well over three years without a pay rise,” he said. Department of Human Services General Manager Hank Jongen said customer payments would not be affected by the strikes but he added that there may be 'reduced numbers' of staff in service centres and on the phones. He said DHS was working hard to minimise disruption to services. “We’re asking customers to use the self-service options available through myGov and the Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support mobile apps,” Mr Jongen said. “We will have arrangements in place to make sure that staff will still be available to help those in financial hardship and who need immediate assistance.” The union postponed strikes in February in order to negotiate with the Department, talks mediated by the Fair Work Commission. When the talks came to nothing, strikes were back on the table. CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said: “This protracted dispute had gone on for far, far too long. It’s bad for people working in Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support, it’s bad for their families and it’s bad for the essential services our members in DHS provide. That’s why our members are going back on strike. “We agreed in February to hold off on taking fresh industrial action and instead proceed with negotiations overseen by the Fair Work Commission. The CPSU has negotiated in good faith but unfortunately DHS stands out from other Commonwealth agencies where we are making progress.” Mr Jongen presented a starkly different picture of how negotiations between the department and the CPSU were going, saying “we are making progress”. “In its most recent offer, the department has committed to maintaining virtually all existing staff entitlements, including all its family friendly entitlements, and giving its staff a pay rise that is both affordable and in line with community standards,” Mr Jongen said. “The department is, however, disappointed that the CPSU has initiated further industrial action while we continue to bargain before the Fair Work Commission.” He said the strikes would not alter the Department’s bargaining position and added that staff would have the chance to vote on a new enterprise agreement as soon as possible. Meanwhile Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) staff are awaiting the Fair Work Commission’s decision on their enterprise bargaining agreement, after the Commission stepped in at the end of last year to arbitrate between the union and the DIBP. Want the latest public sector news delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up the Government News newsletter. [post_title] => Human Services’ ‘open-ended’ strikes begin today [post_excerpt] => It won’t change our stance, says Jongen. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => human-services-open-ended-strikes-begin-today [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-03-17 15:51:48 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-03-17 04:51:48 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26567 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )  => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26360 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-02-28 11:26:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-28 00:26:00 [post_content] => The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will be more closely involved in making the 2021 eCensus bulletproof before it is conducted, which will involve cyber security experts from the Australian Signals Directorate independently assessing ICT security and risk, the federal government has pledged. The Bureau will also and do a better job of talking to the public about any changes it wants to make to data collection, use and retention for future Censuses. The government published its response to the Senate Economic References Committee’s report, 2016 Census: issues of trust, yesterday (Monday) and agreed to all but one of the Committee’s recommendations. The Committee report, coupled with the MacGibbon Review, was triggered after the Census website was taken down on Census night (August 9) last year, following a series of Denial of Service attacks which blocked thousands of Australians from completing their Census forms online. The shutdown proved an international embarrassment for the government, trending globally on social media as #CensusFail, as well as denting public confidence in the government’s ability to deliver digitally. Besides the ICT meltdown on Census night, there had also been complaints from civil liberties groups and politicians ahead of the 2016 Census, concerned that the Bureau’s changes to data collection had not been properly publicised or consulted on and represented a privacy and security risk. These changes included matching Census data with other data sets to glean richer statistical data and keeping it for up to four years. The government has now agreed that the ABS will publish a final report on all future Privacy Impact Statements on the ABS website at least one year ahead of the Census. But it appeared to fudge any solid dollar commitment or specify any funding level for future Censuses in its 2017-18 Budget, saying only “the Government is committed to funding the Census and its associated activities” and that any decision would be “considered as appropriate during the annual budget cycle”. Other recommendations the government agreed to included: an open tender process for future censuses; ABS to manage ICT contractors and their work more closely and that the ABS would communicate clearly with the public on the repercussions of not completing a Census, including guidelines on fines, prosecutions and appeals. But the government did not accept the Committee’s recommendation that it intervene in filling vacant senior roles at the ABS, saying it was outside its remit, except when appointing the Australian Statistician. It also refused to take on board recommendations from the Nick Xenophon and Stirling Griff (also NXT), who wanted to make it optional for people to provide their names. Some Greens and independent politicians refused to write their names on last year’s Census forms. The government knocked back the request: “Mandatory provision of a person’s name in the Census is necessary for a high quality Census and consistent with international practice,” adding that it would hamper accurate population estimates and dilute information quality and range. The government also rebuffed the two senators’ request for making parliamentary approval necessary for any future plans to link Census data with other data sets, saying there were already strong protections around the use of Census data. Greens Leader Senator Richard Di Natale had also pushed for a new independent Privacy Impact Assessment for the next Census to be carried out within the next six months. This would include assessing the acceptability of data collection and retention changes made for the 2016 Census. The government denied his request and said “the ABS has already been subject to considerable external scrutiny about the management of personal information from the 2016 Census”. It said that the Bureau had already responded to community concerns by altering its policies and procedures. The MacGibbon Review, led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s ICT supremo Alastair MacGibbon, stressed the importance of renewing public confidence in the government’s digital transformation mission and highlighted why the 2016 Census failed. Criticisms included: inadequate preparation against predictable cyber security breaches; poor crisis planning; poor communication, particularly around security and privacy concerns; procurement bungles and an insular ABS culture with an overreliance on past strategies. The Review concluded: “The public’s confidence in the ability of government to deliver took a serious blow, more so than any previous IT failure.” [post_title] => Government answers #CensusFail recommendations [post_excerpt] => Australian Signals Directorate to assess 2021 eCensus cyber security. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => government-answers-censusfail-recommendations [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-28 13:36:37 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-28 02:36:37 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26360 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )  => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26143 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-02-01 16:32:29 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-01 05:32:29 [post_content] => Labor's 2016 Mediscare TV and YouTube ad featuring Bob Hawke. Pic: YouTube Labor has launched an online portal encouraging Australians to submit their experiences of Medicare and the impact of healthcare cuts, in a sign that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will continue to attack Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Medicare. Mr Shorten said the new portal – mymedicarestory.com - was established in response to complaints from Australians about ‘serious delays in Medicare processing’ under the Turnbull government. He said some people had reported a six-week delay getting a refund. “We know that because of this Government's cuts to vital services some people are falling through the cracks,” Mr Shorten said. “We want to know when that happens, so we can help ensure our health care system is strengthened now and in the future. “Labor will never stop fighting to protect Medicare from Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals. Today there is a clear message for Malcolm Turnbull - give Medicare the best birthday present by dropping the savage cuts to health which will see bulk billing drop, every Australian pay more and Medicare undermined.” Submissions using the portal are anonymous and can be confidential, if requested. Mr Shorten’s Mediscare message – warning voters that Mr Turnbull was trying to sell off or privatise Medicare through the back door - became central to Labor’s campaign during the 2016 federal election. The Opposition wheeled out former PM Bob Hawke to front the TV and YouTube advertising campaign, warning that the Liberals had set up “a Medicare privatisation taskforce” that would destroy the country’s healthcare system. Mr Shorten used the fact that the government was exploring outsourcing Medicare payments as leverage to suggest that the whole kit and caboodle could follow suit. Shortly afterwards, Mr Turnbull said Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, health, aged-care and related veterans’ payments would continue to be managed by the government and disbanded the $5 million Digital Payments Services Taskforce, which had been aided by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The Department of Health is understood to have held market briefings with IT providers in Sydney and Melbourne last month in a bid to select potential partners to help replace Medicare’s 30-year-old system ahead of the Request For Proposal. [post_title] => Labor continues to attack Turnbull on Medicare with new online portal [post_excerpt] => Medicare still major battleground. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => labor-continues-to-attack-turnbull-on-medicare-with-new-online-portal [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-03 09:56:19 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-02 22:56:19 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26143 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )  => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26080 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-01-27 10:21:22 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-26 23:21:22 [post_content] => Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop's cash splash on helicopters, chauffered cars and European tours launched a thousand memes on social media. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull needs to urgently act on his promise to reform politicians’ work expenses before another one gets busted, say academics. Parliamentary expenses have been under the spotlight again recently, with the high profile resignation of federal Health Minister Sussan Ley earlier this month. Ms Ley quit after it emerged that she had purchased a $795,000 Gold Coast apartment ‘on impulse’ during a taxpayer-funded trip. News of her chartering and flying planes to attend work meetings back in 2015 delivered the coup de grace. During the ensuing storm of negative public opinion and media commentary, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull committed to creating a new independent parliamentary standards authority to vet politicians’ expenses claims, similar to that established in the UK after the 2009 MP’s expenses scandal exploded. It is understood that the new body’s board would include the President of the Renumeration Tribunal, as well as former public servants, judges and politicians and an auditing expert; probably taking over from the Department of Finance, which currently administers the system of complex laws and rules around politicians' expense claims. Mr Turnbull has also pledged to address the 36 recommendations contained in a February 2016 Renumeration Tribunal Review into politicians’ work expenses led by Tribunal President John Conde and former Finance secretary David Tune. The review was commissioned by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott following Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop’s notorious Choppergate scandal the previous year. The Reviews’ 36 recommendations included making the distinction clearer between official and personal business and defining whether duties are party political, electorate or office duties. Prof Rodney Smith, who teaches Australian politics and public sector ethics at Sydney University’s Department of Government and International Relations, said immediate action was needed to dispel the ‘widespread public suspicion’ that politicians fiddled their expense claims, overlaid by the general idea that politicians were in it for themselves. “I think it’s probably at a point where if nothing happens or there are only superficial reforms, the government is only really going to be making a rod for its own back further down the track if someone else has been embroiled in another scandal,” Prof Smith said. But he said the public sometimes lacked understanding about what the job entailed. “[Australia’s] geography is very big. It’s inevitable that you’re going to need some kind of reasonable scheme for travel and associated costs for doing your job as minister.” AJ Brown, Professor of Public Policy and Law at Griffith University’s Public Integrity and Anti-Corruption in the Centre for Governance, said the task of reforming the system “really is very urgent” and creating an independent regulatory body was a good start. At the moment it was a system “that’s still fundamentally under the control of those who would stick their noses in the trough” leaving MPs to their own devices – and consciences. But despite the positive move to take expenses away from the purview of politicians, he said the new body should also adjudicate on broader corruption issues such as conflict of interest, code of conduct and interest registers. “I think they can get this moving but the pressure will mount for them to broaden its jurisdiction,” Prof Brown said. “It links in with having a stronger federal anti-corruption body generally because some of these issues are even more serious. “My big fear is that this new authority won’t have the jurisdiction to cover all of these things that are sometimes more important and controversial, in terms of parliamentary ethics and standards: issues of public confidence.” Prof Brown also backs creating a new role of Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner, one originally suggested by former PM Julia Gillard and the Independents, to cover all areas of parliamentary standards. Self-regulation has failed Whatever occurs, it is clear that MPs regulating their own expenses’ claims has manifestly failed. Prof Brown said that the independence of auditing and compliance needed to be upgraded because politicians had not been subject to sufficient checks and balances. The rules that exist are too complex and have been built up ad hoc over many years, “The Finance Department have had a terrible time trying to administer it”, he added. “I don’t think they’re [politicians] any more venal than the rest of the world and much of them are less venal but they have been the victims of weak systems. “Just the assumption they don’t need some extra policing to help them keep in line like the rest of the world,” he said. Australia had dropped the ball a bit when it came to clamping down on corruption. “Australia has been very complacent about allowing these issues about corruption generally, both small and large scale. We’re really just catching up with the rest of the world," Prof Brown said. “We need to make sure we’ve got our act together and our systems in place, especially because of how much more competitive the world is and how much faster we are operating.” Both men said that some politicians failed the pub test but still acted within the rules, partly because they belonged to a kind of insider community where what was viewed as convenient and acceptable to getting the job done could be at odds with broader public experience. Prof Brown said: “It’s so easy for people in positions of power to confuse what they’re doing in the public interest with what they want to do in their own personal or political interest. It’s not about individuals, it’s about human nature. “People set their standards on what they see other people do and think it’s ok or they see other people get away with it. The risk of people in high office losing their connection to the community is high.” Prof Smith said that, for the most part, politicians did the right thing but sometimes just got sucked in to what appeared to be the ‘rules of the game’ and slipped up. The big three areas of expense claims that need to be addressed by Mr Turnbull's government are probably: travel expenses, the definition of official business and family reunion allowances. Travel Prof Smith said parliamentary travel entitlements had long been one of the most problematic areas in Australian politics due to the sheer number of politicians caught up in questionable travel claims and because public opinion was often fierce around such debates. Prof Smith said the rules need to be tightened up in some instances and clarified in others. “They are much more specific than they used to be but there are still some fairly broad limits in the rules. An example is [the definition of] official business,” he said. Travel expenses have generated some of the most egregious and colourful scandals over the years. Federal MP Bronwyn Bishop famously fell foul of public opinion in July 2015. Choppergate put paid to her time in the Speaker’s chair in the House of Representatives and launched a thousand memes on social media after she charged the taxpayer more than $5,000 for a cheeky 80-km helicopter trip from Melbourne to a Liberal Party function in Geelong, rather than drive. Neither did it help when Ms Bishop blew $88,000 on a European trip, part of which included her campaigning for the presidency of Inter-Parliamentary Union; or charging taxpayers $600 for a return flight to fellow Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella’s wedding, an expense that Mr Abbott himself paid back and advised other pollies to do the same. What counts as official? A common argument from politicians is that their expenses claims – often relating to travel - are within the rules but later admitting that they would not have passed the ‘pub test’. The problem is, of course, that travel claims like these appear [in Labor Leader Bill Shorten’s words] ‘colossally arrogant’ and out of touch to the general populace, particularly when the government is in the middle of a highly flawed benefits crackdown and gearing up to reduce maternity leave. These stories feed the public perception that says politicians are ‘all the same’ and have their snouts in the trough, leading rarefied lives compared with the rest of us. It is not a good look; neither does it foster much public confidence in the political system or the people elected to serve inside it. Deciding on what constitutes official business clearly needs to be addressed and this is one of the recommendations of the Conde Review. Few things raise the hackles of ordinary folk more than politicians charging taxpayers when they attend major sporting or cultural events as guests of a private company. Tasmanian Senator David Bushby, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Steve Ciobo stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy after they charged taxpayers thousands of dollars to attend the 2013 AFL Grand Final, dubiously excusing themselves by saying they had important work chats with the companies that invited them. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop charged taxpayers $2716 to attend a polo match in the Mornington Peninsula last year as guest of beer maker Peroni and car company Jeep. Ms Bishop defended her expenses claim, saying she was attending in her official capacity. I miss my family Family reunion travel – designed to reduce the isolation many politicians experience from being on the road a lot – has also attracted a fair amount of negative attention. Labor’s Tony Burke spent nearly $13,000 on flights, a hire car and other allowances when his family joined him on a four-day trip to Uluru in 2012 when he was federal Environment Minister. Even the kids flew business class, which Mr Burke later admitted was 'indefensible'. While Mr Burke claimed the taxpayer bill was legitimate because he was on official business and visiting aboriginal communities, others did not see it the same way. The $90 Comcar to travel to a Robbie Williams concert also failed to endear him to a critical public. It is another area that the Review suggests needs changing, reiterating that family reunion travel can only be funded if the politician is at the location for work, underlining that it should not be used to sneak in a taxpayer-funded family holiday. How should reform proceed? Prof Smith said making data transparent is critical to good reform because it will increase public confidence in the system and keep MPs on their toes. At the moment, expenses are published every six months. The Review has recommended this reporting be narrowed to monthly to help open up and demystify the process, as well as to give the public a better understanding of politicians’ jobs. He said that abuses often came to light accidentally or through freedom of information requests from journalists. Many never came to light. “Politicians would be more careful just as they are more careful about accepting political donations or ministers having meetings with lobbyists, because they know there is greater transparency and greater understanding of what’s legitimate and what’s not,” Prof Smith said. The Conde Review’s key recommendations
- Define ‘parliamentary business’ to determine legitimate expenses claims
- ‘Entitlements’ or ‘benefits’ now to be referred to as ‘work expenses’
- Create a single legal framework to deal with work expenses and guide politicians
- Publish rules and details of work expenses on data.gov.au, quarterly and then monthly
- Principle of value for money to be central
- Helicopters cannot be chartered to cover short distances ‘in the absence of compelling reasons’
- A 25 per cent penalty to be paid where expenses claims are ruled invalid, not just those relating to travel
- Prohibit the use of car and driver, including COMCAR, for journeys that are primarily personal
- Abolish the $10 per night travelling allowance for partners accompanying ministers or office holders
- Explore the option of leasing vehicles, rather than buying private plated vehicles
- Tighten family reunion eligibility – only fund trips for partners and children when they join the MP or Senator who is there for the parliamentary business
- Reduced provision for former parliamentarians who don’t qualify for a Life Gold Pass
- Provide politicians from the Big Six electorates (over 500,000sq km) with a third staff office, second vehicle offset and extra travel allowance for stopovers on official business
- Minster for Health and Minister for Sport - Greg Hunt
- Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science - Arthur Sinodinos
- Minister for Aged Care and Minister for Indigenous Health - Ken Wyatt
- Assistant Minister to the Treasurer: Michael Sukkar
- The Keating government introduced decentralised agency-based enterprise bargaining into the APS in the early 1990s, ostensibly to allow agencies to improve productivity in ways that were difficult under centralised bargaining agreements.
- There is disagreement over whether or not this was intended to be a temporary arrangement
- John Howard reverted to agency-based bargaining after the 1996 election. Employment conditions were included within the bargaining framework along with an attempt to link any increase in remuneration to productivity gains.
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