Monthly archives: September 2018

Labor moves to thwart Joe Hockey’s asset recycling scheme

Anthony Albanese says the Abbott government is trying to “con” Australians about its commitment to infrastructure spending. Photo: Andrew Meares Greens oppose privatisation: Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt. Photo: Wayne Taylor
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The federal government’s plan to spur state government asset sales through an asset recycling fund could be significantly modified by the Senate under a plan put forward by Labor.

The $5 billion fund, announced by Treasurer Joe Hockey in the lead-up to the budget, pays states a 15 per cent bonus if they sell old assets and reinvest the proceeds of the sale in new infrastructure.

But Labor infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese on Wednesday unveiled two amendments to the new laws that could limit the availability of that 15 per cent bonus payment.

The first amendment would give the Parliament the power to disallow the 15 per cent bonus payment to states on a project-by-project basis.

The second measure would require a cost-benefit analysis by Infrastructure Australia of a project before payment is approved.

Mr Albanese said the fund was an attempt by the Abbott government to “con” Australians about its commitment to infrastructure spending.

“On a superficial level, it sounds like the government is doing something . . . but there is a real problem here. The budget includes no new money for infrastructure,” he said.

“The few new projects are being funded by cuts to existing road and rail projects. But more than anything else, this bill is about an attempt by the Commonwealth to flick pass responsibility for nation-building to state governments.”

While the government’s plan is expected to pass the House late on Wednesday or early on Thursday, Labor could team up with the Greens to modify the bill when it comes to the Senate – expected next week.

The Greens and the Palmer United Party, who will hold a large share of the balance of power in the Senate after July 1, are opposed to privatisation of assets.

On Wednesday, the Greens called on Labor to vote down the proposal in the Senate. Deputy leader Adam Bandt argued the bill would create a “toll-roads slush fund at the expense of investment in public transport”.

Mr Bandt said the Greens would consider Labor’s amendments, “but Labor must refuse to aid and abet Tony Abbott’s privatised roads agenda and vote with the Greens to block this bill”.

If the Greens vote against the Labor amendments, then Labor, in turn, is likely to pass the government’s bill in unamended form.

Melbourne’s East West link and the Sydney West Connex project have, for example, not been subject to a benefit-cost analysis by Infrastructure Australia, but federal money has already been allocated for these projects.

However, the 15 per cent federal bonus funding for future projects could face being blocked in the Parliament if Labor’s amendments pass.

The NSW government is banking on up to $2 billion to flow from the fund if it is re-elected, in which case it will push ahead with its privatisation of the state’s electricity assets.

Finance minister Mathias Cormann said the government was determined to pass the fund as it had been designed in the Senate.

“As with all the government’s budget measures, we will work respectfully and constructively with all senators to ensure we pass the budget that Australia needs,” he said.

“In the end, Labor will have to make a decision on whether they really want to stand in the way of important additional investments in productivity-enhancing infrastructure designed to build a stronger more prosperous economy.”

Earlier on Wednesday, federal Labor frontbencher Richard Marles told Sky News that the ALP would not stand in the way of assets being recycled, such as the sale of the poles and wires proposed by NSW Premier Mike Baird.

“Privatisations can be good, they can be bad, they need to stand on their own two feet in terms of there being good public policy,” he said.

“So what we’re saying is this; we’re not standing in the way, we’re proposing couple of amendments.”

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia said if the asset recycling plan does not go ahead NSW would miss out on $1.9 billion on the ”poles and wires” privatisation.

Victoria would lose $750 million from the sale of the Port of Melbourne which has bipartisan support at state level.

Chief executive Brendan Lyon said a lack of state funds had slowed the delivery of infrastructure, describing the asset recycling program as ”one of the most sensible pieces of national infrastructure policy in years”.

“This policy has been a circuit breaker, because it puts real money on the table to reward state governments for undertaking potentially unpopular but necessary reforms, like the sale of the Port of Melbourne and the NSW electricity grid,’ he said.

“NSW  alone would miss out on nearly $2 billion in funding from the long-term lease of the poles and wires – money that is desperately needed to renew and repair the state’s ageing infrastructure.

“In Victoria, the state government could potentially miss out on around $750 million in payments from the sale of the Port of Melbourne.

“We have to be honest about the challenging and inflexible position states are in, and that failure to sell assets will see us fail to increase the pace and quality of transport and other infrastructure.”

with Heath Aston

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Former Police Inspector faces jail over drug lies to PIC

A former police inspector suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder could be jailed for lying to the Police Integrity Commission about a drug-fuelled ”boys weekend” with fellow officers.
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Court documents reveal that in October 2010 Matthew Mark Dennis, a former duty officer at the Hunter Valley Local Area Command, was secretly filmed by commission investigators taking ecstasy during a three-day trip to the Gold Coast.

”Have you had your pill … go and grab one if you haven’t had one,” a police superintendent and friend of Mr Dennis was allegedly recorded telling him.

”I just had one, put it in me gullet,” Mr Dennis replied.

When Mr Dennis was hauled before the commission the following year as part of its investigation into drug use and drug supply in the NSW police force, he denied that he or his colleagues had ever taken drugs.

When shown the footage, the inspector was forced to admit his evidence was wrong and he subsequently pleaded guilty to two counts of knowingly giving misleading evidence before the commission.

He was subsequently dismissed from the force.

On Wednesday, Mr Dennis’ lawyer, Karen Weeks, applied to have the two charges dealt with outside the usual provisions of the criminal law because of mental trauma he suffered during his years on the force.

Ms Weeks sought to have the matter dealt with under section 32 of the Mental Health Forensic Procedures Act, which would have allowed Mr Dennis to avoid the usual punishments for the offence, which includes possible imprisonment.

Ms Weeks said Mr Dennis had been diagnosed with untreated post-traumatic stress disorder from doing a job that “most of us can’t even imagine”.

“Picking up the parts of people who have committed suicide, dealing with families of people who have been killed in horrendous circumstances,” Ms Weeks said of the work.

But Magistrate Lisa Stapleton rejected the application, finding that the need to punish Mr Dennis appropriately outweighed the community interest in allowing mental ill offenders to be diverted from the standard criminal process.

”Those charged with the responsibility of investigating crime, proferring charges and giving evidence … must have absolute integrity – they must be irreproachable,” Magistrate Stapleton said.

”Giving false evidence to the Police Integrity Commission is a very serious matter and to my mind is made more serious when the person involved is an inspector of police.”

Her honour said that ”nothing less than a criminal conviction” was appropriate and that ”it may be the case that this leads to a custodial sentence”, though she was yet to consider an appropriate punishment.

The court documents reveal that in addition to taking ecstasy during the Gold Coast holiday, Mr Dennis was present when several of his colleagues ate cookies made with hashish.

”Here ya go … have another biscuit,” one officer allegedly said to the superintendent.

”Can you believe Mr Superintendent, two steps from the boss, eating your cookies?” another officer allegedly says.

”The only problem with that would be if I took two more steps and I was the boss … imagine doing cookies when you’re commissioner of police,” the superintendent allegedly replied.

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Rising From Ashes documents Jock Boyer’s uphill cycling battle in Rwanda

Jock Boyer and Adrien Niyonshuti in the documentary Rising From Ashes, about Rwanda’s first Tour de France team. Photo: Philippa HawkerMore on Rising From AshesMore movies coverageMovie session times
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Jock Boyer signed on for three months to teach cycling in Rwanda in a program that aimed to turn a group of young men who started with nothing into a team of international competitors. More than seven years later, he’s still there, determined to develop the Team Rwanda program into something that can endure.

“It’s the most difficult thing and the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done,” he says.

T.C. Johnstone’s documentary Rising From Ashes introduces us to Boyer’s first charges and the challenges they faced. Their story is strong and inspiring – and it’s also far from over.

Boyer (born Jonathan Boyer, but generally known as Jock) was the first American cyclist to enter the Tour de France, in 1981. He rode it five times; his best result was 12th.

He arrived in Rwanda for those first three months knowing virtually nothing about the country’s history and culture, or about the genocide of 2004. “I wasn’t interested in Rwanda until I got to Rwanda,” he says.

He did not plan to stay. In fact, there was no plan to begin with, and that was a good thing, he says. “It all emerged organically as the challenges came.”

Training the first group of cyclists was only the start. He is now involved in Team Rwanda, and with the Africa Rising Cycling Centre, which has been open for almost two months. “It’s been a game-changer for us and this country in regards to cycling, and going forward will ensure that it can have a future.”

Some of the riders we see in the film have “aged out of racing”, but they’ve gone on to take other roles: as a mechanic, a masseur, or a cook, for example, for which they have received additional training. “With the amazing riders that we spent so much time with, it’s so vital that they stay on the program. They’re the ones that had the experience at the beginning, they know how to travel and they are the mentors for the juniors we are bringing on board.”

Speaking on the phone from the centre, he now says he is there for the foreseeable future. His wife Kimberly Coats is also working with a women’s team.

“We don’t want to come home and have this fall apart because we haven’t trained and supported local riders and staff in order for them to take over,” he says.

His notion of the task has evolved over time. “It became much less about winning races and a lot more about teaching people to have hope, and the ability to provide for their families.”

There is still room to be ambitious, however. Boyer believes that Adrien Niyonshuti, one of the young cyclists we see in the film, might be the first rider from Rwanda to tackle the Tour de France. “We are also working in Eritrea and Ethiopia, and one of our plans is to have an all-African team in the next couple of years, to race in Europe.” They need to raise the level of expertise in the other countries, he says, “but the prowess is definitely there”.

The documentary has undoubtedly helped to raise awareness of Team Rwanda and its goals, but it took Boyer a while to feel comfortable with the production, he says. “I actually fought the film. I didn’t want it to be made; I just wanted to do my job, and I didn’t want to be above the radar again.”

For two years, he objected. “But it’s something a lot bigger than me, and I accepted that, reluctantly.”

Boyer’s wish to stay below the radar relates to something the film reveals: in 2002 he pleaded guilty to lewd behaviour with a minor, and was sentenced to a year in jail. He understood, he says, that this needed to be acknowledged in the documentary. “I came to realise that if I can be up front about my past and show that I am going forward, maybe that can help someone else.”

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Coles guilty over false ‘freshly baked’ bread claims

Furore: the case was triggered when former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett discovered his ‘freshly baked’ breads and muffins were made in Ireland.Coles has been declared guilty by the Federal Court of misleading shoppers with claims its bread and other baked goods were “freshly baked” when that was not the case.
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The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission launched proceedings against Coles in June last year, accusing the supermarket giant of misleading consumers into thinking bread was made on the day at the store when, in some cases, the bread had been partially baked months earlier in overseas factories.

Federal Court chief justice James Allsop said Coles had breached three sections of Australian Consumer Law, in his ruling, handed down on Wednesday.

“There has been, in my view, a misleading representation available to be understood that these goods have been baked on the day of sale, or baked in a fresh process, using fresh, not frozen, product. Thus, in my view, there has been a contravention of section 29, 1a, also,” he said in his judgement.

During the court case, Coles’ barrister Philip Crutchfield SC, said the supermarket did not intend to suggest the bread was baked on the day with the labelling.

“What is happening with this ‘baked today, sold today’ in a Coles supermarket is that a consumer is being given the choice between the juxtaposition, the commercially manufactured bread, which has preservatives and keeps for longer, with the bread that is baked in-store and doesn’t have preservatives,” he told the court earlier in the year.

“The bread that is baked in-store is crunchier, and smells and has the flavour of freshly baked bread. That’s what we submit it is.”

Coles could face fines of up to $1.1 million per breach.

The offending breads were sold under the brands ‘Cuisine Royale’ and ‘Coles Bakery’, with labelling and advertising claims that they were “Baked Today, Sold Today” and/or “Freshly Baked In-Store”.

ACCC investigators said the goods had in fact been made months earlier on the other side of the world, namely, Denmark, Germany and Ireland, before being frozen and transported to Australia.

The former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett triggered the furore after discovering his “freshly baked” Cuisine Royale breads and muffins were made in Ireland. He mailed the offending items to the chairman of the ACCC, Rod Sims, and vented on talkback radio for a year, garnering enough public support to prompt the watchdog into action.

Mr Kennett said he took no personal pleasure from the decision handed down today.

“The ramification is wider than just to Coles – it’s to every advertising agency, every marketer, every promoter of goods and services. They must accurately portray what they’re offering or be prepared to pay a penalty,” he said.

Mr Sims said: “Today’s decision confirms that Coles misled consumers about the baking of these bread products. Consumers should be able to rely on the accuracy of credence claims made by businesses like Coles to promote their products, especially where those claims are used to compete with smaller businesses which are genuinely offering a differentiated product.”

Coles said it accepted the guilty verdict, conceding that it could have done more to explain how products were baked.

“We certainly never set out to deliberately mislead anybody,” a statement by the Coles Group said. “We are already well advanced in changing product packaging and other information.”

In a separate legal battle launched by the ACCC in May, Coles is fighting allegations it engaged in unconscionable conduct towards 200 small suppliers to reap $16 million in rebates.

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TAMS expects more vandalism during the kangaroo cull season

Windows were smashed in the building. Photo: Elesa KurtzGovernment staff are bracing for more vandalism in the wake of two incidents this week protesting the kangaroo cull.
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Territory and Municipal Services media manager Geoff Virtue said no incidents of vandalism were reported on Wednesday, though staff members expected further property to be damaged in coming weeks.

”It’s guaranteed we’ll get more vandalism before the cull is over,” he said.

”We’ve had a history of it during previous culls and it wouldn’t surprise me at all.”

Animal activists broke through fences at the Parks and Conservation depot overnight on Monday to slash the tyres and smash windscreens of 10 government vehicles, before damaging the building itself and leaving a note declaring their opposition to the kangaroo cull.

The vandalism came after 18 sections of wire were cut open at the Jerrabomberra Grassland West Nature Reserve at the weekend, one of the planned locations for the kangaroo cull.

Mr Virtue said the vandalism significantly disrupted operations as staff attention was diverted to amending the vandalism at the depot.

Territory and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury said the “senseless act of vandalism” was disappointing.

“It’s not a protest against the cull. All it’s done is destroy government property and it will have no impact on whether the cull takes place or not,” he said.

“This all costs the government and it’s an unfortunate additional expense that is borne by the Canberra taxpayer.”

Meanwhile, the community legal centre that represented Animal Liberation ACT’s unsuccessful challenge of the kangaroo cull in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal has declined to condemn the vandalism at the Parks and Conservation depot on Tuesday.

An Animal Defenders Office spokeswoman said the legal centre “promotes the use of law to protect animals” and “encourages members of the community who wish to protect animals to pursue legal avenues of challenge”.

The spokeswoman said the non-profit organisation had no knowledge of who carried out the vandalism, which included the graffiti anarchist symbol on at least one government vehicle.

“Regarding the instances of property damage you refer to, we are not aware of any evidence linking the damage to any particular groups or individuals,” she said.

“Any conclusions regarding the damage should wait until police investigations into the matter are complete.”

The spokeswoman said she was disappointed that the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal had approved the cull despite evidence of serious animal welfare concerns, including the livelihood of young joeys.

”The tribunal admitted that as a small jurisdiction, the ACT should accept lower standards in terms of the administrative checks and balances in place to ensure the integrity of the culls,” she said.

”The Animal Defenders Office maintains, however, that the size of the jurisdiction should not affect government decision-making standards in sensitive matters such as deciding whether or not to kill thousands of healthy wild animals on public land.”

The Civil and Administrative Tribunal rejected Animal Liberation’s appeal and found the government’s kangaroo cull had a ”solid scientific basis”.

Animal Liberation ACT spokeswoman Carolyn Drew declined to condemn the vandalism when asked on Tuesday but said she had no knowledge of the event and maintained the group’s adherence to a philosophy of non-violence.

An ACT Policing spokesman said on Wednesday afternoon that the vandalism was still being investigated.

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