September, 2019

Vic premiers failed with East West Link

Blame for the East West Link debacle sits squarely with Victorian premiers Denis Napthine and Daniel Andrews.


They and the state’s top treasury officials are culpable for wasting $1.1 billion in taxpayer funds for absolutely no gain.

The only thing Victorians have to show for three years of spending is an embarrassing list of failures.

Desperate to do something after the go-slow of the Ted Baillieu years, Liberal premier Dr Napthine rushed the East West Link proposal through.

The deal was bad – not that anyone knew, because the coalition refused to let even the federal government see it.

Dr Napthine signed a binding $6.8 billion contract just days before the November 2014 state election campaign started.

It was a foolish move.

Then-opposition leader and now Premier Daniel Andrews’ claimed the contract wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

But Labor got it horribly, obviously wrong.

When Mr Andrews won the election he had to pay $642 million to get out of the deal – that’s expensive.

The debacle also exposed a disturbing trend of Victorian Treasury officials telling politicians what they wanted to hear.

They didn’t warn the Napthine government of the flaws in the East West deal and they didn’t warn the Andrews government how it could be saved.

The “frank and fearless” advice the public service is known for went awol.

Between Dr Napthine, Mr Andrews and bureaucrats, Victorians got dudded out of $1.1 billion – and an actual road.

Most of the politicians and officials involved in the saga are still earning large, taxpayer-funded salaries.

Meanwhile, Melbourne’s inner north faces at least another decade of gridlock as a major truck and transport route across the city snakes down to a single lane.

The Tick’s no longer right for Aussies

The Tick’s going and the National Heart Foundation’s decision has been welcomed by leading nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton.


The sometimes-controversial logo was launched 26 years ago to help guide Australians to make healthier food choices.

But CEO Mary Barry says it’s time to retire the Tick, citing changing demands of shoppers and the government-initiated voluntary Health Star Rating (HSR) System being introduced over the five years from 2014.

Its credibility was attacked in recent years for matters including awarding the Tick to some McDonalds products and other fast foods.

Dr Stanton told AAP while the Heart Foundation did a lot of good work, the Tick had definitely served its purpose.

“The fact that people had to pay for it meant it was not always on all products,” she said.

“The products that had the Tick weren’t necessarily as good as those that didn’t have it.”

While the Tick program looked at saturated fat, salt and total kilojoules, it didn’t take account of the sugar content.

“So we had breakfast cereals with 30 per cent sugar that still had the Tick,” she said.

“The Heart Foundation has certainly come on board to thinking that sugar is a problem, but the Tick just didn’t recognise the separate adverse effects of sugar.”

Ms Barry said more than 2000 products currently carry the Tick across 80 food categories.

“While not perfect, no system ever is, as Australians and as consumers we are undoubtedly the better and healthier for its presence on shopping shelves over the course of the last two decades,” she said.

“Despite the perception by some, the Tick has never been bought, it was always earned.”

Dr Stanton said the HSR has a few anomalies that have to be ironed out, noting too many “discretionary” foods and drinks – products like confectionary, potato chips and biscuits – are getting stars.

“So it needs a bit of tweaking before it gets my tick.”

Consumer confidence improves over 2015

Consumers have finished 2015 feeling more confident compared to the start of the year.


However, worries about possible changes to the GST hurt consumer sentiment slightly in December, with the Westpac/Melbourne Institute index falling 0.8 per cent.

The indexed just managed to remain positive at 100.8 points, indicating there are still more optimists about the economy than pessimists.

“The index has held on to most of the gains from last month’s surprise four per cent lift and is 10.7 per cent above its levels this time last year,” Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said.

When asked to recall the top news story they heard, the number of respondents that named the topic of budget and taxation almost doubled since September.

Mr Evans said this topic was also viewed as considerably less favourable.

A proposal to raise the GST to 15 per cent could be up for review when Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull meets with state premiers this week.

“Presumably, speculation around tax changes, particularly with respect to the GST, is beginning to unnerve respondents,” he said.

News about economic conditions, interest rates and international conditions were the other top issues on consumers’ minds, the survey found.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia economist Diana Mousina said while news heard by consumers was negative across all categories, there was significant improvement in the employment and Australian dollar components of the index.

“This makes sense given the positive employment data of late, the higher Australian dollar over recent weeks and the stability in interest rates,” she said.

“Business and consumer confidence has improved over 2015 – a positive sign for activity in 2016.” Mr Evans said people’s assessments of their finances have almost fully recovered after deteriorating last month following mortgage rate rises from the banks.

“But expectations for the economic outlook have been pared back, albeit with these components still well above their October levels,” he said.

“All components have increased over the last year with gains ranging from eight per cent to 13.4 per cent.”

But confidence around the housing market continues to slip, with sharper falls in sentiment in NSW and Victoria, Mr Evans said.

December is only the fourth month out of the last 22 that optimists have outnumbered pessimists.

Morrison insists GST modelled for states

Federal Labor is demanding the Turnbull government come clean on its intentions for the GST.


Treasurer Scott Morrison insists Treasury modelling on options to raise the GST’s 10 per cent rate or broaden its base is a response to requests from the states and territories earlier in the year.

A leaked document, prepared for a meeting of the nation’s leaders on Friday, outlines a number of options for the GST and the Medicare levy.

Among the options were lifting the GST rate to 15 per cent, raising $32.5 billion annually, while extending it to all food, water and sewage would increase the take to $45 billion.

Raising the Medicare levy from two per cent to four per cent, as sought by some Labor states, would raise $15 billion.

Mr Morrison dismissed the revelations as nothing new.

“The commonwealth is having a discussion with the states and territories about how we make our tax system better, that’s what’s happening,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday.

But Labor says the treasurer should have the guts to admit he is driving a push to lift the consumption tax to 15 per cent.

“Scott Morrison has a pathetic excuse that the states made him do it,” shadow treasurer Chris Bowen told reporters in Sydney.

Queensland for one is not going to agree to any change in the GST.

“I would like to see the GST pushed to one side and look at all the tax reform options available,” Labor Treasurer Curtis Pitt told reporters in Brisbane.

Queensland, along with all other states and territories, was in a precarious position after the Abbott government’s first budget in 2014/15 cut about $80 billion in commonwealth funding for hospitals and schools.

“We haven’t seen anything from the commonwealth to indicate they are prepared to reverse that decision,” Mr Pitt said.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is grateful for a healthy and well-informed debate about tax.

“What we want to see is a tax system that is more modern, more supporting of innovation and investment and enterprise and jobs,” he told reporters in Perth.

Proposals to unify state and territory payroll taxes and an overhaul of property levies are also likely to be on the table at a meeting of national treasurers on Thursday, before Friday’s Council of Australian Governments gathering in Sydney.

Mr Morrison made clear his aim, saying the choice was between changing the tax system to grow the economy or raising taxes to pay for higher levels of expenditure.

“The commonwealth is not interested in the second discussion,” he said.

Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas also remains opposed to any changes to the GST and believes the best thing would be to increase the Medicare levy.

“The progressive nature of the taxing scales contained within the Medicare levy arrangements are in the best interests of a fair effort to raise revenue,” he told reporters.

Conversely, Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett, who is warning of a “horrible” mid-year WA budget review, blames the state’s woes on its GST share, saying it is being “ripped off” and describing it as “a commonwealth tax on Western Australia”.

Oil and taxes see IS make $110 million a month: report

A report by a United States security consultancy claims that IS militants generate up to AU$110 million a month through oil sales and taxation.


 The analysis by IHS Global Strategies is based on data found on social media and what it calls “open source intelligence” gathered by its monthy conflict monitor. “The majority of [the funding], around 50 per cent, comes from taxation and confiscation, while around 43 per cent comes from oil revenue,” the IHS said in a statement. “Drug smuggling, the sale of electricity and donations make up the remainder.”

 The report said IS controls several areas in Syria and western Iraq where they tax residents up to 20 per cent on basic services like electricity, mobile phone coverage and internet access. Understanding how IS makes and spends its money is playing a crucial role in the ongoing campaign to defeat the organisation. In a statement, senior IHS analyst Columb Strack said that unlike al-Qaeda, IS “has not been dependent on money from foreign donors, to avoid leaving it vulnerable to their influence.”  “Our analysis indicates that the value of external donations to the Islamic State is minimal, compared with other revenue sources.”Oil smugglingIn recent weeks Russia has accused Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family of directly benefitting from the illegal smuggling of oil from IS held territories. While he hasn’t attacked President Erdogan personally, Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi has accused Turkey of being the main conduit for IS oil smuggling operations. “We hope for international support to prevent terrorists entering Syria and Iraq and to stop Daesh smuggling of petrol among other things, including Iraqi antiquities,” he said. “Most of this smuggling, including that of terrorists, frankly happens via Turkey.” But the IHS report also noted that airstrikes have significantly degraded IS’s ability to both refine and transport oil. It said the group is still producing oil, but Turkish efforts to stop the smuggling, along with several battlefield defeats, mean IS has been forced to rely on local markets in Syria and Iraq. US jets have targeted and destroyed several hundred oil smuggling trucks in recent weeks. “We’ve seen a significant increase in the tempo of our strikes over the past couple of weeks,” said Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We estimate that approximately 43 per cent of the revenue stream ISIL derives from oil has been affected over the past 30 days.” But questions remain over why it took the US so long to target the trucks specifically. US state department spokesperon John Kirby said while the focus has always been on finding ways to cut off IS revenue streams, several other factors need to be considered as well. “It’s not like we’ve never been focused on their oil revenue, it’s something we’ve constantly focused on,” he said. “When you do that, just like every other set of targets you try to strike you have to be mindful of collateral damage, you have to be mindful of the infrastructure you’re hitting and the degree in which it should be or should not be preserved. “This is a very dynamic, fluid situation. This is an adaptive enemy, he’s agile and very determied. We have to be agile and adaptive as well, and we are.” Mr Kirby once again dismissed Russia’s accusations that the Turkish government is profiting off IS oil smuggling. But Richard Becker from the Answer Coalition protest group told Russia Today that the US appears reluctant to discuss its relationship with Turkey in detail. “These are not small scale operations that are being carried out, these aren’t smugglers with donkeys going over mountain passes or anything like that,” he said. “This is a huge operation that’s going on. “The United States is very protective about its relationship with Turkey, but at the same time in recent weeks it’s become more apparent that this is going on and the United States claims it’s fighting ISIS.”Financial difficultyWhile IS has managed to secure a steady stream of funding, the IHS report claims there are signs of financial strain. The security firm’s conflict monitor shows IS is spending almost as much as it’s making amid reports of cuts to fighters’ salaries and the introduction of new agricultural taxes. This report comes just months after a similar investigation by the Financial Times claimed IS made over $2 million a day through oil. While credible, the investigations’ results are almost impossible to verify.

Iraq plays down troop dispute with Turkey

Iraq’s ambassador to the UN is playing down a dispute between Baghdad and Ankara over the deployment of Turkish troops in northern Iraq, saying bilateral talks between the neighbouring states to end the row were proceeding favourably.


“We are solving it between Baghdad and Ankara bilaterally,” Iraqi Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told reporters on Tuesday after Russia raised the issue of Turkey’s deployment during a closed-door meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

“We have not yet escalated it to the Security Council or to the United Nations.”

“For us, what is helpful is the bilateral discussion going on right now between Baghdad and Ankara, and it’s going extremely well,” he said, adding that Moscow had not consulted with Baghdad before raising the issue in the council.

But Alhakim reiterated that Iraq wanted the Turkish troops withdrawn from its territory immediately, saying the deployment was “illegal,” and a violation of the United Nations charter.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had earlier telephoned NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg seeking support to have Turkish troops withdraw from Iraqi territory.

Turkey says the deployment was previously agreed with Iraq, a position US Ambassador Samantha Power said was her understanding. Ankara says its troops are training Iraqi soldiers to fight Islamic State militants, who have seized territory in Iraq and Syria.

Earlier, Russia is still seething over the November 24 downing by Turkey of a Russian jetplane near the Syria-Turkey border. Since then relations between Moscow and Ankara have nosedived and diplomats say this is the real reason Moscow raised the issue of the Turkish troops in Iraq.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the discussion on Turkish military action in Syria and Iraq was helpful, though he suggested he was disappointed that the 15-member Security Council did not issue a statement reaffirming the principles of territorial integrity and national sovereignty.

“Our idea was to call the attention of the members of the Security Council to the situation,” he said. “We believe that Turkey has acted recklessly and inexplicably, carrying out additional deployments on the territory of Iraq without the consent of the Iraqi government.”

He suggested that the Turks were simply following the example of the US-led coalition against Islamic State, which is conducting air strikes against the group on Syrian territory without the consent of the Damascus government.

Moscow has criticised the US-led coalition for not seeking the permission of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom many Western and Gulf nations want ousted.

7 cities that fight air pollution with driving restrictions

On January 1, the residents of New Delhi will only be able to drive in the city every other day depending on whether their license plate bears an even or odd number.


The Delhi government announced the measure last week in an effort to combat rising pollution levels in the Indian capital, considered among the worst in the world.

Restricting commuter travel as a way of lowering air pollution has been practiced in large cities in Latin America and other parts of the world, including the United States and Europe, for more than two decades with mixed results.

Below is a partial list of cities that have implemented similar clean-air driving restrictions:

Mexico City

In 1989, the city introduced the Hoy No Circula (“Today it doesn’t circulate”) program, in which cars are banned for one day a week depending on the last number of the license plate.

Bogota, Colombia

Under the city’s Pica y Placa (“peak and plate”) plan, cars were banned two days a week during peak traffic hours.


During the 2008 Olympics, China’s capital banned cars one day a week based on license plate numbers.


The LEZ (low-emission zone) program implemented in 1996 banned automobiles from designated areas in the Swedish capital if they fall below certain European Union emissions standards.


In 2003, the city implemented a 5-pound ($7.50) congestion charge to drive on streets in the most central part of the city. Five years later, the capital introduced an LEZ program that regulates the efficiency of trucks, buses and coaches for all of metropolitan London, but it does not include private vehicles.


In 2008, the German capital began an LEZ program that banned all diesel vehicles without a closed-loop catalytic converter.


After the French capital issued a license plate number driving ban in 2014 that lasted one day, in September it banned all cars – except buses, taxis and emergency vehicles – from driving in Paris’ central districts around landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees between 9am and 4pm.

Fear and abuse in Vic disability sector

A culture of fear within Victoria’s disability sector and an archaic system that asks people to report abuse via fax means the state’s most vulnerable are constantly overlooked.


A reluctance to report mistreatment and a lack of urgency in trying to stop it were noted in the Victorian Ombudsman’s second report into abuse in the disability sector, released on Wednesday.

People with disabilities and their families are often too scared to report abuse because they are worried they will be banned from using crucial services.

Under-reporting is further exacerbated by a system of incident reporting that fails at every level, the report says.

A reliance on fax machines reflects an “archaic” approach, the ombudsman’s report says.

Victims are sidelined during investigations when they should be prioritised.

“What we found was that the person at the centre of an incident – the person with disability – is largely absent,” Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass said on Wednesday.

Disability workers are reluctant to report seeing abuse because they are worried about intimidation from colleagues and managers.

In one instance, several workers at a home had seen a senior staff member twice abuse a resident, resulting in a broken leg the first time and a broken kneecap several months later.

The abuse was later reported anonymously, with the worker saying staff were afraid of retribution.

One father told the inquiry he was not confident disability workers know how to identify abuse.

“I’m tired of needing to educate government authority around what constitutes abuse,” he said.

The ombudsman has made 13 recommendations, including mandatory reporting of abuse in the disability sector.

The review was sparked by reports in 2014 that disability service provider Yooralla continued to employ abusive or corrupt staff despite warnings they preyed on disabled clients.

The community services sector says too many people with disabilities are subjected to abuse and neglect and it’s time that culture changed.

“It is paramount that we enshrine strong advocacy for people with disability at the heart of the service system,” said Mary Sayers, the deputy chief of the Victorian Council of Social Service.

Kiwis eye four quicks for Dunedin Test

New Zealand are eyeing a four-prong pace attack for the first Test against Sri Lanka with rookie Mitchell Santner assuming the spinning duties.


The opening clash, at Dunedin’s University Oval, starts on Thursday, and skipper Brendon McCullum says the pitch looked like it will have pace and seam movement early on. He will likely bowl first if he wins the toss.

The hosts have bracketed Neil Wagner and Mark Craig in their playing XI and will decide before the toss who will play.

“Obviously the hot Dunedin sun may be able to alter the grass which is on the wicket at the moment, but it looks good,” McCullum said.

However, they had to be wary about picking a side for the full five days, rather than the first one. If the pitch looked like it had dried out on Thursday morning, they may select offpsinner Mark Craig.

McCullum said Otago left-armer Wagner was bowling the best he has seen him recently, and would carry a workhorse role if picked.

He would probably bowl those long spells from one end, to allow McCullum to rotate Trent Boult, Tim Southee and Doug Bracewell from the other.

McCullum confirmed 23-year-old rookie Santner would bat at six, where he made his Test debut against Australia at Adelaide – top scoring with 45 in the second innings.

He also took a wicket in each innings with his slow left-armers.

McCullum was effusive about Santner’s future in the side.

“He’s an incredibly unflappable character for such a young guy. He’s really fitted in to this team quickly and I am sure over the next couple of years we are going to see a guy develop into a world-class allrounder.”

New Zealand are favourites to win over an inexperienced Sri Lanka side which has lost both veterans Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to retirement, and also fast bowler Dhammika Prasad to injury and Kusal Perera to a failed drugs test.

In contrast, McCullum was upbeat about his side’s recent performances, despite losing 2-0 to Australia last month.

“We’ve still got to put the Ws in the column but from a gradual improvement point of view, I think it sets us up nicely for what is a pretty eye-watering summer Test series for us.”

Trump defends plan to block Muslims in US

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has defended his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the US, comparing his plan to the World War Two detainment of Japanese-Americans and others in dismissing growing outrage from around the world.


The White House is calling on Republicans to say they won’t support Trump, currently the party’s front-runner for the November 2016 election. US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says his comments could undermine US security.

France, the United Kingdom, Canada, the UN and Muslims in Asian countries have all denounced the real estate mogul’s comments.

But Trump says his ideas are no worse than those of former president Franklin D Roosevelt, who oversaw the internment of more than 110,000 people in US camps after Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

“What I’m doing is no different than FDR,” Trump told ABC’s “Good Morning America” program.

“We have no choice but to do this,” he said.

“We have people that want to blow up our buildings, our cities. We have to figure out what’s going on.”

Trump told ABC’s “World News Tonight” the ban would be “short term” and could be lifted “very quickly if our country could get its act together.”

Trump also pressed his case in fractious appearances on MSNBC and CNN.

He says Muslims, including would-be immigrants, students, tourists and other visitors, should be blocked from entering the US following last week’s California shooting spree by two Muslims who authorities said were radicalised.

Homeland Security Secretary Johnson said Trump’s proposal could thwart US efforts to connect with the Muslim community, and the Pentagon issued a similar warning. Secretary of State John Kerry said Trump’s ideas were not constructive.

A Trump campaign spokeswoman, did not address their criticism.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Trump’s comments disqualify him from being president and said other Republican candidates should disavow him “right now.”

Trump leads the Republican pack seeking the White House in 2016 with 35 per cent of support in a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll. Nearly all of Trump’s rivals have criticised his proposal.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told the Washington Examiner the US must combat terrorism “but not at the expense of our American values.”

Two top officials in the Republican-controlled Congress – House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – criticised Trump but said they would support their party’s eventual nominee.

But other Republicans warned that if Trump is the party’s choice for the November 2016 election, his stance could hurt in a matchup with Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

“All this helps is his buddy Hillary Clinton, for sure,” presidential hopeful and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush told reporters in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“I don’t think Republicans are going to abide this language that guarantees that Hillary Clinton has a far better chance of winning.”

Democrats, meanwhile, blamed Republicans for Trump’s extreme language and warned it could help him with primary voters.

Polls have shown a stark divide between Republicans and Democrats in how they view Muslims, who number about three million or less than one per cent of the US population.

Some conservative commentators, such as Ann Coulter, have defended Trump and columnist Adriana Cohen wrote in the Boston Herald that Trump should push for a complete closure of US borders.

Trump has tweeted a link to a poll showing 68 per cent of his supporters would vote for him if he left the Republican Party and ran as an independent, while Thomson Reuters data showed sentiment on social media toward Trump became substantially more negative compared with that before his proposal.

Overseas reaction has been largely one of outrage.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Twitter, “Mr Trump, like others, is feeding hatred and misinformation.”

A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister David Cameron called Trump’s comments “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong.”

A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rejected Trump’s comments, and Muslims in Pakistan and Indonesia denounced him.

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