Friday, 24 March 2017

Turnbull and Co announce they are taking their ideological razors to the Racial Discrimination Act and Human Rights Commission legislation

During this decade there have been three cases close to the hearts of the far right of the political spectrum in Australia.

The first was Pat Eatock v Andrew Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times Pty Ltd in the Federal Court of Australia, the second the Cynthia Prior complaint to the Human Rights Commission and, the third was the complaint against Bill Leak lodged with the Human Rights Commission.

The Federal Court found against News Corp journalist Andrew Bolt, the Commission terminated the Prior complaint on the basis it was satisfied that there was no reasonable prospect of the matter being settled by conciliation (the complainant later commencing unsuccessful litigation) and, the complaint against cartoonist Bill Leak was eventually withdrawn by Ms. Dinnison.

The Racial Discrimination Act and the Australian Human Rights Commission Act appear to have operated as intended by the original law makers in all three instances.

Yet such was the angst in Liberal Party and ‘flying monkey’ circles that an attempt to significantly alter the Act and neuter the Commission is now underway.

Excerpts from Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Bligh Turnbull statements at a joint press conference on 21 March 2017:

Good afternoon. Today I am here with the Attorney and we are announcing changes to the Racial Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Commission legislation, which will strengthen the protection of Australians from racial vilification and strengthen the protection of free speech, one of the fundamental freedoms upon which our democracy depends.

We are defending the law by making it clearer. We are defending Australians from racial vilification, by replacing language which has been discredited and has lost credibility. It has lost the credibility that a good law needs.

So the changes we are proposing to section 18C will provide the right balance between defending Australians from racial vilification and defending and enabling their right of free speech upon which our democracy, our way of life, depends.

We are also amending the law so as to ensure that the Human Rights Commission will offer procedural fairness, will deal with cases promptly and swiftly and fairly. That's very important too.

We need to restore confidence to the Racial Discrimination Act and to the Human Rights Commissions' administration of it. The changes we're proposing have been supported from all sides of the political spectrum.

Granted, there will be many critics and opponents. But this is an issue of values. Free speech. Free speech is a value at the very core of our party. It should be at the core of every party.
Ensuring Australians are protected from racial vilification, likewise, is part of that mutual respect of which I often speak, which is the foundation of our success as the greatest and most successful multicultural society in the world.

We’ve struck the balance right. We've done this carefully. There's been a scrupulously careful examination of this matter by the Human Rights Committee and we thank the Chairman, Ian Goodenough, and the members for their work.

What we presented today strikes the right balance. Defending freedom of speech, so that cartoonists will not be hauled up and accused of racism. So that university students won't be dragged through the courts and had hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal costs imposed on them over spurious claims of racism.

The time has come to get the balance right, to get the language right, to defend our freedom of speech and defend Australians with effective laws, clear laws, against racial vilification. That's what we're doing today. We're defending Australians with a stronger, fairer law…..

The language, the new language will better and more clearly protect people from racial vilification, in a more generic term, from harassment or intimidation because the language is clearer.

The problem with the language at the moment - using the language insult and offend – the problem is that, of course, on its face, its natural and ordinary meaning, it includes very small slights. So people have said: “Oh, well, you know, there are court cases that say it only means really serious insults.” Well isn't it better that laws actually say what they mean? Isn't it better that laws are clear? Isn't it better when you’re dealing with freedom of speech and you're dealing with protecting people from racial vilification, that the law is clear and in language people can understand? That's what we're doing.

….. you have got to remember that if you have language that does not reflect the object, or the proper object of the legislation, it has a chilling effect on free speech. So let’s be very clear. Ask this question: “What is it we that we are seeking to prohibit”?

We believe that “harassment”, “intimidation” are the better terms. They are clearer and they clearly express the type of conduct that should be prohibited, not mere slights or the taking of offence or hurt feelings. That is not what the law should be about…..

….. We believe that the law has lost its credibility. I mean, all of you have seen the criticism that has come around recent cases, the QUT and the Bill Leak case being classic examples. When a law loses its credibility, it lacks its ability to achieve any of its objectives.

So this is why it’s important to restate the language in terms that better reflect the objects of the legislation. As the Attorney said, right from the outset, if you go back decades, it better reflects the object of the legislation then, and it clearly prohibits conduct of a kind that we condemn, that we abhor, that we do not accept.

We are the most successful multicultural society in the world. It’s built on a foundation of mutual respect, and that mutual respect - that foundation - is strengthened by stronger, clearer, fairer laws.


Excerpt from a paper by the Chair of Melbourne University Law School Professor Adrienne Stone in Melbourne University Law Review 926 on the judgment in Eatock v Bolt [2011] FCA 1103 (28 September 2011):

In a short judgment following his initial finding, Bromberg J granted two remedies: the Herald Sun (published by the Herald and Weekly Times) was required to publish a ‘corrective notice’ as specified in the judgment, and Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times were restrained from further publishing or republishing the offending articles.[67]

The remedies are notably insubstantial. They are considerably less onerous than damages, a fact which is especially notable given it seems entirely possible that Eatock could have successfully claimed damages in a defamation action.[68] The lenity of the remedy becomes even clearer in light of an additional order which allowed the Herald Sun to continue to make the offending newspaper articles available ‘for historical or archival purposes’, provided that the publication was accompanied by the required corrective notice.[69] The result of this latter order is that the offending articles remain available online.[70] The ready availability of the offending articles considerably weakens claims that Bolt has been silenced by the action, and more general claims that freedom of speech has been chilled. The ideas in his articles continue to be communicated to those who seek them out.

Indeed, this claim of silencing is at once made and disproved by  Andrew Bolt  himself. In his response to the decision, Bolt wrote ‘Silencing Me Impedes Unity’, a commentary in which he argues that his ideas have been ‘banned’ and yet goes on to repeat, at quite some length, his argument that Aboriginal people of mixed heritage should not claim Aboriginal identity.[71]

This irony deepens when one considers the common refrain amongst critics of 
s 18C (and the respondents in Eatock v Bolt in particular) that the complainants should have responded to the criticisms by defending themselves in public debate.[72] This suggestion taps into an important idea in the political theory of freedom of speech that the victims of harms caused by speech ought to ‘speak back’, and that the ‘fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones’.[73] The irony arises because, in effect, Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times have themselves been subject to a certain kind of ‘speaking back’.[74] They have not been required to apologise, to pay damages, or — crucially — to remove the material from the internet. The sum total in effect of the measure imposed on them is that the articles are labelled as having infringed the RDA.

In other words, the remedy imposed inEatock v Bolt was predominantly expressive  rather than coercive. It neither required compensation nor imposed any other sanction on the respondents. Rather, the state signals its disapproval of the message conveyed — labelling it as contrary to the RDA — but does not prevent its communication. The state’s action is akin to the ‘speaking back’ that the respondents and their defenders encourage. Moreover, just as the respondents and their defenders encouraged the complainants in this case, if the respondents are troubled by being labelled in this way, they are, of course, able themselves to ‘speak back’. Therefore, one way to understand the effect of Eatock v Bolt is that it makes a contribution to the public debate about racial identity (labelling the particular contribution of Bolt as discriminatory), but does not prevent Bolt’s message from being heard.

This argument will, no doubt, not satisfy those deeply committed to a strong libertarian vision of freedom of speech — in which the role of the state is to be minimised — and who will find even expressive remedies offensive to their underlying conception of liberty.[75] The state is an especially powerful ‘speaker’ and its intervention through expressive remedies might be cast as dangerously distorting.

However, libertarian conceptions of freedom of speech are themselves contested both in theory[76] and exceptional in practice.[77] So those campaigning to amend s 18C cannot simply claim to be defending freedom of speech against those who disregard it or prefer other values or interests. They are defending a particular, rather unusual, and strongly contested version of freedom of speech and they are doing so in the face of alternative conceptions that powerfully defended in theory[78] and widely adopted in practice.[79] By neglecting even to notice the expressive nature of the remedy, the opponents of the law have thus failed to see that it may advance, rather than chill, free speech values.

Legal meaning of 'offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate'

2.21 The Federal Court in Jones v Scully explicitly set out the dictionary definitions of the terms 'offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate' in an attempt to establish the meaning to be given to each word individually.14 The ordinary meaning of the words provided in Jones v Scully provide some guidance, but must also be consistent with the threshold established by Kiefel J,15 in Creek v Cairns Post Pty Ltd,16 that section 18C only applies to conduct having 'profound and serious effects, not to be likened to mere slights'. This standard has been affirmed in the case law.17

2.22 It is worth noting, however, that the Court generally does not consider each term in isolation. Although in McGlade v Lightfoot the relevant conduct was found to be reasonably likely to 'offend' and 'insult', the Court made it very clear that it was not  reasonably likely to humiliate or intimidate.18 This means that the legal meaning of 'offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate' does not wholly correspond with the ordinary or 'common sense' meaning of the terms. In other words, as interpreted by the courts, conduct that is merely offensive or merely insulting will not be captured by section 18C of the RDA, but only more serious forms of conduct on the basis of race. While some submitters suggested that the words used in section 18C created uncertainty, the committee received evidence from other witnesses that the legal meaning and judicial interpretation of section 18C was well settled as applying only to conduct at the more serious end of the range.19
14 [2002] FCA 1080.
15 Kiefel J is now the Chief Justice of the High Court.
16 [2001] FCA 1007, [16].
17 Bropho v Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (2004) 135 FCR 105 at 131, [70]
(French J) (Bropho); Jones v Scully (2002) 120 FCR 243, [102]; Eatock v Bolt (2011) 197 FCR 261
at [267]-[268] (Justice Bromberg) (Eatock).
18 McGlade v Lightfoot (2002) 124 FCR 106, 120 at [61]-[62].
19 See, for example: Law Institute of Victoria, Submission 184, 4; Mr Iain Anderson, Deputy
Secretary, Attorney-General's Department, Committee Hansard, 17 February 2017, 21-22.

Te Awa Tupua also known as the Whanganui River recognised as a living being by New Zealand

Photograph by Janette Asche

On 15 March 2017 the longest navigable river in New Zealand, Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui), was granted full rights as "an indivisible and living whole" (a living person) under the Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) 2016 and will be represented by two officials, one from the Whanganui iwi and the other from the Crown.

According to The Whanganui Chronicle the settlement included $80m in financial redress, $30m towards a contestable fund to improve the health of the river, $1m to establish the legal framework for the river and brings to closure the longest-running litigation in New Zealand history to an end – the Whanganui iwi having fought for recognition of relationship with the river since the 1870s.

Summary of settlement

Ruruku Whakatupua provides for the full and final settlement of all historical Treaty of Waitangi claims of Whanganui Iwi in relation to the River that arise from Crown acts or omissions before 21 September 1992.

Ruruku Whakatupua has the following 2 parts:
*Ruruku Whakatupua—Te Mana o Te Awa Tupua; and
*Ruruku Whakatupua—Te Mana o Te Iwi o Whanganui.

Te Mana o Te Awa Tupua

Ruruku Whakatupua—Te Mana o Te Awa Tupua is primarily directed towards the establishment of Te Pā Auroa, a new legal framework, which is centred on the legal recognition of Te Awa Tupua, comprising the River from the mountains to the sea, its tributaries, and all its physical and metaphysical elements, as an indivisible and living whole.

Te Pā Auroa comprises the following 7 principal elements:
*legal recognition of the Whanganui River as Te Awa Tupua and of Te Awa Tupua as a legal person (together, the Status); and
*Tupua te Kawa (Te Awa Tupua Values); and
*Te Pou Tupua, consisting of 2 persons, one appointed by the Crown and the other by iwi with interests in the Whanganui River, to a guardianship role to act on behalf of Te Awa Tupua; and
*Te Heke Ngahuru ki Te Awa Tupua, the River strategy; and
*Te Kōpuka nā Te Awa Tupua, the River Strategy Group responsible for developing the River strategy; and
*vesting of the Crown-owned parts of the bed of the Whanganui River in Te Awa Tupua; and
*Te Korotete o Te Awa Tupua, the Te Awa Tupua Fund. a $30 million contestable fund, the Te Awa Tupua fund.

The settlement provides that Te Pā Auroa is a relevant consideration for any person making statutory decisions relating to the Whanganui River or activities in the catchment affecting the River. Te Pā Auroa also contains legal weighting provisions that specify how decision makers will be required to "recognise and provide for" the Status and Values and "have particular regard to" the River Strategy when exercising and performing functions, powers, and duties under legislation listed in the Bill.

Other Te Awa Tupua arrangements

In addition to the key elements of Te Pā Auroa outlined above, it also provides for—
*the protection of the name Te Awa Tupua against unauthorised commercial exploitation; and
*establishment of the Te Awa Tupua register, maintained by Te Pou Tupua, of hearing commissioners who may be nominated for the register by Whanganui Iwi. Local authorities must consult the register when considering appointments to hear certain resource consent applications relating to the Whanganui River; and
*a collaborative process to identify how to improve the regulation of activities on the surface of the River, involving iwi with interests in the Whanganui River, Maritime New Zealand, and central and local government; and
*establishment of a fisheries co-ordination group (involving iwi with interests in the Whanganui River, the New Zealand Fish and Game Council, and central and local government) to advance the protection, management, and sustainable use of freshwater fisheries in the catchment; and
*a collaborative process to explore the development of a regulatory mechanism to provide for customary food gathering, involving iwi with interests in the Whanganui River and the Ministry for Primary Industries; and
*interim custodian arrangements instead of those that apply under section 11 of the Protected Objects Act 1975, giving Te Awa Tupua interim custody of taonga tūturu found in the Whanganui River.
To support Te Pā Auroa, the Crown will pay—
*$30 million to Te Awa Tupua for the establishment of Te Korotete o Te Awa Tupua, the Te Awa Tupua Fund; and
*$200,000 per year for 20 years as a contribution to the costs associated with the exercise of its functions by Te Pou Tupua; and
*$430,000 to the Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council for the development of the River Strategy.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Before anyone starts yelling about those big bad unions, take a look at these workplace fatality statistics

The following figures represent someone’s mother or father, son or daughter, brother or sister, niece or nephew, aunt or uncle, grandparent or friend.

The numbers also make clear that, averaged out, three people were killed each week in a workplace accident between 1 January and 14 March 2017.

This is no blip in workplace fatality statistics – averaged out four workers died each week of the year in 2015 and three workers each week in 2016.

Worker fatalities

As at 14 March, 32 Australian workers have been killed at work in 2017.

The number of worker deaths listed on this page is based on initial media reports and is a preliminary estimate of the number of people killed while working. Once the appropriate authority has investigated the death, more accurate information becomes available from which Safe Work Australia updates details of the incident.
Updated information is used to publish Safe Work Australia’s annual Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities report which includes finalised work-related fatalities from 2003 onwards.

Year-to-date 2017: Preliminary worker deaths by industry of workplacea
a Ranked in descending order, and then on alphabetical order for industries with no fatalities.
b Mining fatalities include fatalities that occur in the coal mining, oil and gas extraction, metal ore mining, gravel and sand quarrying, and services to mining sectors.
c Includes notifiable fatalities that occurred overseas.
Safe Work Australia also collects and reports on a range of other work health and safety and workers compensation statistics.

These figures are still too high. 

However if it wasn’t for the efforts of unions from the 1830s onwards to have wages, hours worked, sick leave, annual leave and workplace safety included in Australian industrial law, workplace fatalities would be much higher in this country today.

The climate change debate in Australia often focusses on temperature, rainfall and sea levels, but......

There’s more to climate change impacts than living in a markedly hotter, drier continent being nibbled at the edges by encroaching oceans or battered by storms - and it isn’t only the very real threats to the natural environment, biodiversity and water security.

There’s the risk of an increased incidence of disease outbreaks in humans and animals and, the economic and social costs rising levels of disease bring to families, communities, local economies and the nation.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 30 April 2015:

A range of tropical diseases will become more widespread in Australia due to climate change, including a dramatic increase in mosquito-borne illnesses, scientists warn. Their research has prompted leading doctors to call for a co-ordinated response from the federal and state governments to the pending crisis. 

In a paper released on Thursday, the Australian Academy of Science said diseases currently confined to the tropics would be unlocked and travel south. The incubation period for mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue would also be shortened.

Rising temperatures and changes to water availability were also likely to increase the prevalence of food and water-borne diseases. The scientists forecast an increased risk of respiratory diseases as more people spend time indoors to avoid extreme heat, and population density increases due to population growth.

"A clear problem facing Australia as it prepares to deal with the problem of the rise in infectious illnesses triggered by climate change is its lack of a single centre through which information about communicable diseases can be co-ordinated and disseminated," the paper said.

Excerpt from Australian Academy of Science report mentioned in the April 2015 news article:

Changes in disease burden anticipated in Australia’s future climate are:
* Vector-borne diseases (e.g. dengue, chikungunya) Breeding of vectors like the mosquito will probably alter because of ecosystem change and this will increase Australia’s susceptibility to outbreaks of vector-borne diseases. The expansion of disease ranges will put rising numbers at risk, while reductions in incubation times for vector-borne viruses will worsen the problem.
* Food-borne diseases (e.g. infections with E. coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella) Rising temperatures, changes to water supply and extreme weather events are likely to increase the incidence of human food-borne diseases. In addition, more prevalent animal bacterial infection and associated bio-security costs may disrupt food and livestock export markets. Increasing incidence of food-borne diseases could reduce the productive workforce.
* Water-borne diseases (e.g. Giardia, cholera) Changes to water availability and higher temperatures will increase the prevalence of water-borne diseases, while replication rates of bacteria will increase as temperatures rise, reaching higher densities and posing greater risk to more people.
* Respiratory diseases (e.g. influenza, whooping cough) As temperatures rise, more people will spend time indoors to avoid the extreme heat, increasing the risk they will pass on respiratory diseases. This problem will be exacerbated by changes in seasons, extension of peak transmission periods, and rises in human population density due to population growth. The displacement of people from other regions as a result of climate change will also increase the rate at which new diseases are brought into Australia and could add to population density.
* Zoonotic diseases (e.g. Hendra, leptospirosis) Climate change will alter the density and movement of both wild animals and livestock in Australia and affect human–animal contact patterns. This could promote transmission of existing zoonotic disease or increase the risk of novel diseases emerging., 5 August 2016:

A FLESH-eating ulcer that can result in limb amputations has made its way to Melbourne’s southeast suburbs, The Age reports.

The Buruli ulcer has hit record levels in Victoria with 45 cases reported this year. The disease has recently spread to inner Melbourne suburbs such as Bentleigh, Hampton and Cheltenham.

It’s believed the ulcer, also known as the Bairnsdale ulcer, can be contracted by contact with bodies of water, mosquitoes and even possums. However the exact mode of transmission remains unknown to researchers.

The disease eats at the skin and capillaries and can lead to gangrene if left untreated, resulting in amputation in extreme cases. It most commonly affects exposed skin areas such as arms and legs.

It was first recorded in Bairnsdale, Victoria in the 1930s, but has more recently been detected in the Mornington and Bellarine Peninsulas.
Austin Hospital’s Professor Paul Johnson told The Age the number of cases was “rapidly increasing. You’ve got this tropical disease in coastal temperate Melbourne.”

The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 September 2016:

Dozens of Australians have been infected with the Zika virus this year and there are concerns more will contract it while travelling in Asia where cases are proliferating.
On Friday, federal health authorities urged Australians to be careful while travelling to Zika affected areas, including Singapore where infections are soaring.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 14 January 2017:

Dengue fever cases in Australia reached a 20-year high last year, driven by travellers being infected in tropical areas such as Bali and bringing the virus back with them.

More than 2000 cases of the mosquito-borne disease were confirmed in Australia last year, federal Health Department data shows….

Microbiology professor Cameron Simmons, of the Peter Doherty Institute, said dengue fever was endemic (constantly being transmitted) throughout much of south-east Asia and the western Pacific, which were popular destinations for Australian travellers.

"Dengue has been a problem globally for 20 years, and in the last 10 years we have seen epidemic spread of the virus through many countries in our neighbourhood," he said. "The chance of travellers being infected may well be increasing."

ABC News, 9 February 2017:

Ross River virus cases are spiking in parts of Victoria and New South Wales this summer.

The Murrumbidgee Local Health District, which stretches from Albury to central-west New South Wales, has seen 264 reported cases of the mosquito-borne virus since the start of December.

It is a significant increase compared to other years — there were 96 cases across New South Wales over the same period in 2015-16.

Health authorities also are concerned about a potential increase in Barmah Forest virus and Sindbis virus.

"We're seeing a marked increase on what we would normally see," director of public health Tracey Oakman said.

"In January for [the health district] we had 148 cases, and in the month before we had 116, and that's a lot higher than what we would normally see.

There were 622 Ross River virus notifications across the whole of New South Wales in 2016, with 202 in December.

In January, there were 317 cases across the state.

Victoria had 314 diagnosed cases of the virus last year, and so far this year has had 548 cases up until Tuesday.

Heavy spring rainfall across north-east Victoria and southern New South Wales is one of the main contributing factors to the rise of Ross River fever cases.

The Australian, 12 March 2017:

A Victorian farm is in quarantine after a suspected case of deadly anthrax disease, the second case in the area in just over a week.
Agriculture Victoria confirmed on Saturday that a farm in Nyah, in the state’s northwest, has been quarantined and a suspected infected carcass destroyed. Results from testing are expected on Sunday and an Agriculture Victoria team will remain at the property until “no further infected animals are detected”. All at-risk animals have also been vaccinated.
The latest suspected case comes after a 34 sheep died at a Swan Hill farm on March 3, with testing confirming anthrax was present in one of the sheep. Anthrax is a bacterial infection commonly found in the soil during hot, dry conditions and it causes a rapid death once animals are affected. [my highlighting]

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, What is anthrax?:
Anthrax is a serious infectious disease caused by gram-positive, rod-shaped bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax can be found naturally in soil and commonly affects domestic and wild animals around the world…..people can get sick with anthrax if they come in contact with infected animals or contaminated animal products. Contact with anthrax can cause severe illness in both humans and animals.
Anthrax is not contagious, which means you can’t catch it like the cold or flu.
People get infected with anthrax when spores get into the body. When anthrax spores get inside the body, they can be “activated.” When they become active, the bacteria can multiply, spread out in the body, produce toxins (poisons), and cause severe illness.
This can happen when people breathe in spores, eat food or drink water that is contaminated with spores, or get spores in a cut or scrape in the skin.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

GAS SHORTAGE! GAS SHORTAGE!: Why on earth do you think we would believe you now, Malcolm?

“Santos now argues that its aim in CLNG was always as much about raising the domestic gas price, and therefore re-rating large parts of the portfolio outside of GLNG, as it was about the project…….What is more, with a ~0.8% drag on Australian GDP from every $2/GJ rise in the domestic gas price, this view certainly wouldn’t have been terribly popular with politicians who approved the project. [Credit Suisse, Asia Pacific/Australia Equity Research: Santos, 11 March 2014]

The reality for Australian householders is that on on average gas cost the same or more than electricity by 2012.

After managing to artificial inflate the domestic price of gas still further and wanting to reserve as much LNG as possible for the larger export market, now the Australian gas industry is crying shortages in order to blackmail state governments into opening up more conventional and unconventional gas fields across rural and regional Australia.

The fact of the matter is that since at least 1975 domestic energy consumption has been lower than energy production and export, while current gas domestic consumption remains significantly lower that current gas production.

According to the Australian Dept. of Industry, Innovation and Science’s Australian Energy Update 2016:

Natural gas production rose by 5 per cent in 2014–15 to 2,607 petajoules (66 billion cubic metres). Western Australia remained Australia’s largest producer of natural gas, producing nearly two-thirds of total gas production in 2014–15. Queensland production grew 45 per cent to become Australia’s second largest producer, overtaking Victoria, where production fell by 11 per cent. Production of coal seam gas increased by 50 per cent in 2014–15, to reach 462 petajoules (12 billion cubic metres), as new wells were drilled in Queensland to support the start of LNG exports from Gladstone. Coal seam gas accounted for 18 per cent of Australian gas production on an energy content basis, and nearly half of east coast gas production.

This Australia Institute graph makes the relationship between 2016 gas production and domestic consumption levels clearer:

Graph retrieved from Twitter

So why the alleged gas shortage?

The gas industry in Australia ignored signs that domestic gas consumption would rise and, in an excess of greed made commitments to export markets which appear to have been predicated on the assumption that it would be able to easily and profitably make up the competitive squeeze between domestic need, client country needs and its own commercial aims - because it would still be allowed open slather to drill or frack every available square kilometre of land with gas reserves beneath it.

This can all be explained in one sentence. The gas industry has been deliberately manipulating and starving the domestic market for years.

Mainstream media is finally looking at this problem a little more closely and explaining how businesses and consumers are being played for fools.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 March 2017:

Let's be clear: there is no gas shortage. Not in Australia, and not around the world. In fact, there's the opposite: a global glut of the stuff. BHP has already admitted there's enough gas in Bass Strait to supply the east coast "indefinitely". And globally, by the end of 2015 the gas industry was capable of producing about 25 per cent more liquefied gas than the world wanted to import.

By 2020, production capacity looks set to increase another 30 per cent. Even if demand is increasing – and that's not absolutely clear – it's not keeping pace with that. The world's biggest importer, Japan, has been reducing its demand for several years, and according to its own government, will be buying 30 per cent less gas by 2030 as it turns its focus to renewables….

So it was all very encouraging to hear Turnbull boasting this week about the size of his constitutional stick. "We have a responsibility – which we do not shirk from"; the industry understands the gravity of its "social licence" to operate. Et cetera. But the government has steadfastly refused to use that stick previously. And when you have gas companies slugging Australians record prices while charging their Asian customers record low prices, it's a little hard to believe they stay awake at night worrying about the terms of their "social licence".

What's much easier to believe, though, is that the gas industry is desperate to get its hands on gas supplies that are off limits – especially controversial ones like, say, coal seam gas. And if they have to offer a little more domestic supply to do it – at a time when global demand is slowing anyway – then it's hardly a sacrifice. Oh, and as it happens, that's exactly what Turnbull would like to offer them, hence his condemnation of the states' bans on further gas extraction.

It's a neat trick, really. Take a country with enough gas to supply itself "indefinitely", send the vast majority of it overseas, refuse to sell locally at a fair price, create a domestic shortage, then demand access to some of our most environmentally sensitive resources as though it's an emergency measure.
The Australian, 18 March 2017:
According to a report compiled by Energy Edge, the $US18.5 billion ($24.1bn) Gladstone LNG project, run by Santos, has at times been buying the equivalent of up to half of the whole east coast’s energy demand to meet a shortfall of gas to put through its two LNG production trains.
It is little wonder then that high up in the gentlemen’s agreement struck on Wednesday were commitments to supply, rather than deplete, domestic gas markets.
It is also clear that only two of the three Gladstone projects could agree to being net domestic gas contributors “as part of their social licence”.
The GLNG project has had to “take the matter on notice”, the agreement said.
The other two LNG projects — Queensland Curtis LNG run by Shell and Australia Pacific LNG run by Origin Energy and ConocoPhillips — have been consistently providing gas to the market (and GLNG, sometimes) on top of their export commitments.
“QCLNG and APLNG are currently either net long or balanced to the market, whereas GLNG is significantly short on equity supplies and must rely on third-party contracts,” Energy Edge said.
That was known by most observers.
But, using a range of public sources, Energy Edge says GLNG has sometimes bought a staggering 500-600 terajoules a day of gas on top of its own production.
Illustrating how substantial that volume is, the combined domestic demand from the pipeline-connected eastern states of Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania is about 1250 terajoules a day.
GLNG appears to already be averaging the use of about 300-400 terajoules a day of third-party gas — that is, gas outside the coal-seam gasfields it has developed specifically to feed its LNG project — for its LNG export.
With APLNG and QCLNG ­already fulfilling the demand, any short-term change will need to come from Santos and its GLNG partners Total and Kogas, although it might pay the rest of the industry to somehow provide some assistance.
After the meeting, Santos chief executive Kevin Gallagher, who was brought in last year to fix the problems, would not comment on exactly what the GLNG response could be.
“As an Australian company that has supplied the domestic market since its inception, we look forward to working with and supporting the government on this issue,” Mr Gallagher said.
“We are committed to working across all of our joint ventures to free up gas as well as continue to identify and develop new resources for the domestic market.”
As recently as December, at the company’s investor day, Mr Gallagher said the aim was to ramp up GLNG volumes to fill 6 million tonnes of the plant’s 7.8 million tonnes of annual LNG export capacity.
This could be potentially expanded by offering tolling services to other Australian gas producers who might want to export their gas but didn’t have the facilities, he said.
Enthusiasm for toll-treating has probably eased off in the wake of the meeting with Mr Turnbull and the current alarm around contract prices that Australian Competition & Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said this week “are apparently being offered at $20 a gigajoule, if they receive supply offers at all”.
East coast gas contract prices were $3 to $4 per gigajoule before the export plants were committed to and are said to now average $8 to $10, except in extreme cases.
The $70bn worth of Gladstone gas freezers and associated coal-seam gas wells have rapidly tripled east coast gas demand and opened the market up to international buyers.
This has ended an era of cheap Australian domestic gas supply, although the industry says this would have happened anyway because the cost of developing required resources was rising.
But the expected price hike has been exacerbated and come with shortages thanks to external factors and industry and government missteps, many of them flagged by observers before they were committed to.
Despite calls for industry to collaborate, three separate, almost identical plants were approved by Queensland and federal governments and, from 2010, built by the gas industry on Curtis Island.
This resulted in increased capital costs because infrastructure was not shared, cost blowouts as the remote construction market heated up and the building of six LNG production trains when the associated coal-seam gasfields could only really supply enough fuel for five.
To achieve efficiencies of scale, GLNG built two trains when it only had enough gas to comfortably fill one, admitting it would need to buy an unspecified amount of third-party gas to fill the second train.
After this, much that could go wrong has gone wrong.
Oil prices crashed, robbing gas developers of cash flow and investor funds that would have been used for extra LNG-related and domestic gas development, while community opposition to onshore gas production grew, resulting in bans or restrictions on new development in NSW, Victoria and now the Northern Territory.
At the same time, coal-seam gas resources did not perform as well as hoped at some Santos GLNG grounds, Santos’s Narrabri project in NSW (which was also hit by community opposition) and at the Bowen Basin ground of the Arrow joint venture between Shell and PetroChina.
It is not clear what the options are for GLNG, but Credit Suisse analyst Mark Samter has made repeated calls for it to close down one of its two trains — something Mr Gallagher ruled out last year.
Now an incredibly rich Liberal Party politician heading a Liberal-Nationals federal government – who was a failure as Minister for the Environment and Water, an abject failure as Minister for Communications and is a profound disappointment as Prime Minister of Australia – expects voters to believe that there is a genuine gas supply emergency which will leave local families and businesses going without unless the states allow indiscriminate gas mining.

Indue Limited, the Healthy Welfare Card and IBM

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Indue Limited has been awarded at least $324 million in Dept. of Human Services and Centrelink contracts since 2009, including contracts to supply the infamous Basics Card and Healthy Welfare Card income management cards.

In it 2015-16 annual report it boasted a $5.1 million profit before tax.

According to Indue it exists to deliver financial payment products and settlement services that impress our clients and holds an Authorised Deposit-taking Institution (ADI) licence.

Its subsidiaries are:

Indue Securitisation Pty Ltd
Indue Aggregation Services Pty Ltd
Indue Data Services Pty Ltd Australia
Ivey Pty Ltd
Trinity Securities Pty Ltd
Lynx Financial Systems Pty Ltd

Although the company’s 2015-16 annual report lists director on pages 12-14 and key personnel elsewhere in the document, it is rather coy about the names of shareholders.

From 2008 to 2013 National Party member Larry Anthony sat on the Indue board and for much of that period he was also Senior Vice President Australia of the Nationals.

The company also remains coy about its future direction:

Information on likely developments in the operations of the Group and the expected results of operations have not been included in this annual financial report because the Directors believe it would be likely to result in unreasonable prejudice to the Group.

Indue Limited currently operates the Centrelink Cashless Debit Card Trial (CDCT).

The Indue cashless debit card hold 80% of a Centrelink client’s pension, benefit or allowance and can be used for purchases via eftpos or online, but cannot be used to buy alcohol or to gamble.

On 9 February 2017 Orima Research reported:

Participation in the Trial is mandatory for all working age ISP recipients in the selected Trial sites. In addition, wage earners, Age Pensioners and Veterans’ Affairs Pensioners who live in the Trial sites can opt in to the CDCT.

More participants said the CDCT had made their lives worse than made it better (49% compared to 22%). Family members of trial participants gave a similar pattern of answers….

participants and family members both felt that the overall level of humbugging had gone up since the Trial started….

The Turnbull Government is extending this trial and there is talk of eventually rolling the cashless debit card out nationally.

International Business Machine Corp (IBM) is developing a global history of failure.

Currently IBM ‘expertise’ and software supports programs including the hapless myGov interface for the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink, Medicare and My Health Record.

Welfare payments and a company using yet more IMB software?

What could possibly go wrong for Centrelink clients?

A little Indue background

The company has its representatives on the following:

eftpos Payments Australia Limited (Indue has formed an alliance with Cuscal for representation on this board – Cuscal is representing both organisations until the October 2016 AGM)
ATM Access Australia Limited

APCA Committees
Australian Payments Forum
APCA Management Committee 2 (BECS)
Card not Present Fraud Implementation Steering Committee
APCA Fraud in Banking Forum

BPAY Committees
BPAY Management Committee
BPAY Fraud Sub-Committee
BPAY Marketing Sub-Committee

Visa Committees
Visa Client Operations Committee
Visa Regional Risk Executive Council

MasterCard Committees
MasterCard Advisory Council

New Payments Platform
Program Delivery Authority (PDA)
Design Authority (DA)
Planning and Reporting Working Group (PWG)
Testing Working Group (TWG)
Operational Procedures Working Group (OWG)
ICS Working Group (IWG)
Transition to Live Working (T2L)

Other Committees and Working Groups
Cashcard Network Advisory Council
Australasian Card and Risk Council
Cashcard Network Members Forum
Industry Security Steering Committee
eftpos Payments Australia Limited Member Advisory Council

Major partners
First Data International – Indue partners with First Data International for card switching and processing.
Visa – Indue is a principal member of Visa and licensed to issue all Visa card products including credit, debit, prepaid, commercial and premium cards. These cards can be used in ATMs and eftpos terminals throughout Visa’s global network of 24 million point-of-sale terminals and 2.1 million ATMs.
MasterCard – Indue is a principal member of MasterCard and licensed to issue MasterCard card products including credit, debit, prepaid, commercial and premium cards. These cards may be used in ATMs and eftpos terminals throughout MasterCard’s global network of 32 million acceptance locations, including 24 million point-of-sale terminals and in excess of one million ATMs.
eftpos – Indue is a member of eftpos and licensed to issue eftpos card products. These cards may be used in ATMs and eftpos terminals throughout the domestic Australian eftpos network.
Placard – We have partnered with Placard for the manufacturing and personalisation of all card products.
Computershare – Our statements and mail house services are provided by Computershare.
Westpac – Westpac provides clearing and settlement facilities to Indue as well as cheque reading services.
BPAY – Indue is a member of BPAY allowing us to offer both payer and biller facilities to our clients.