Saturday, 30 July 2016

Be shark smart on the NSW North Coast

Echo NetDaily, 28 July 2016:

Surfers and swimmers are being urged to be extra vigilant following numerous shark detections along north coast beaches this week.

The listening station at Evans Head buoy, off Main Beach, has pinged 15 times since Sunday, with alerts associated with tagged great whites. Sharks have also been detected at Sharpes Beach near Ballina, where two surfers were knocked off their boards this week, Clarkes Beach at Byron Bay, and also at Shelley Beach where a third surfer had a close encounter this week.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries has asked surfers and other ocean users to download the Shark Smart app from the Apple App Store or Google Play, or follow the @SharkSmart Twitter page for alerts.

Remember also that any day you enter estuary or ocean water in the early morning or from late afternoon onwards means that you may be sharing the water with large marine animals such as sharks foraging for food.

Which NSW coastal town has "world-class surf, more beaches than you can shake a stick at, friendly, easygoing locals and over 300 days of sunshine a year"?

Aerial photograph found at

Yamba, situated where the Clarence River meets the sea, received some well deserved media attention this week.

It is now a year round go to destination which helps produce tourism statistics like this for the NSW North Coast:

NSW destination preference: regional and Sydney, 2015 vs 2016
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), April 2014-March 2015 (n=15,913) and April 2015-March 2016 (n=15,074). Base: Australians 14+

Travellers who’d like to holiday on the NSW North Coast are also a high-value group (27.9% of them spent $200+ per night on their last holiday); just ahead of those with a preference for Sydney Surrounds – North (27.2%). The Murray Riverina (23.3%) is the least likely of the new Destination Networks to be on the radar of big-spending holiday-goers. [Roy Morgan Research, July 2016, Destination NSW: A Regional Perspective], 24 July 2016:


With world-class surf, more beaches than you can shake a stick at, friendly, easygoing locals and over 300 days of sunshine a year, Yamba has understandably been a longtime favourite for surfers in-the-know. However, since Australian Traveller Magazine named it “Australia’s best tourist town” back in 2009, word has quickly started to spread and the former-fishing village is now truly coming into its own.

Yes, it’s still populated by surfboard carrying, wetsuit clad beach bums but amid the salty surfers, the number of both visitors — and city slickers relocating — is increasingly annually and with this increase of stressed urbanites flocking to Yamba for a sea change, a burgeoning food scene has been born.
You can see this in action at Irons and Craig, a cafe where fresh produce rules and everything is made on site, from the bread to the custom-blended coffee.
In contrast to the jam-packed beaches of Byron, Yamba’s 11 pristine stretches of white sand, five of which are close to the town centre, are positively Robinson Crusoe-like and with 16 great surf spots, an empty break is virtually guaranteed.

But for serious surf-hounds, the nearby beachside enclave of Angourie — just 5km down the road — is bona fide surfing Mecca. A National Surfing Reserve — the second site in Australia to be recognised — it remains a fixture on the international surfing map.

Friday, 29 July 2016

In awe of the strength of first peoples protecting land

Sometimes two sentences hold a wealth of meaning.....

Post on the Facebook page No Yamba Mega Port announcing that the corporation which manages the two Native Titles over the Clarence River on behalf of the Yaegl People will not support Australian Infrastructure Development's scheme to industrialize the high environmental and cultural value Clarence River estuary.

Shop at Woolworths on the NSW North Coast? You need to read this

Trolley collection services procurement by Woolworths Limited,  media release date June 2016: 

In June 2014 we commenced an Inquiry into Woolworths’ procurement of trolley collection services.

For nearly a decade before this, we'd been investigating allegations of serious non-compliance with workplace laws involving businesses providing trolley collection services to Woolworths Limited (Woolworths).

In response to a perceived lack of improvement in compliance and disturbing allegations of violence towards workers at some Woolworths' sites, we started an Inquiry into their procurement of trolley collection services. It aimed to comprehensively identify and address the levels and drivers of non-compliance with Australian workplace laws by businesses involved in Woolworths' labour supply chains.

We examined around 130 Woolworths' supermarket sites across Australia and found indications of some form of non-compliance at 79% of them. The findings of this report indicate an entrenched culture of non-compliance in the Woolworths trolley collection supply chain.

At the time of publishing, as a result of the Inquiry, we've taken enforcement action against a number of businesses (and their Directors) involved in various Woolworths' labour supply chains, including:
commencing legal action against 2 businesses and their Directors, one of which we believe provided us with false and misleading records and the other for allegedly underpaying over $25 000 in wages
issuing 9 letters of caution for various Award contraventions, failing to adequately keep records, and misclassifying employment as an independent contracting arrangement.

We are also considering future legal proceedings against a number of other businesses providing labour to Woolworths for similar alleged contraventions.

Download the full report on our Inquiry into trolley collection services procurement by Woolworths Limited (PDF 1.1MB).


Examining 130 (or 13.5%) of Woolworths’ supermarket sites across Australia , the Inquiry found:

n more than 3 in every 4 (79%) of sites visited had indications of some form of non-compliance with workplace laws
n almost 1 in every 2 (49%) of sites visited presented serious issues, that is multiple indicators of non-compliance
n deficient governance arrangements contributing to a lack of Award knowledge and substandard record keeping
n false, inaccurate or misleading records
n failure to issue pay slips to workers
n workers being paid rates as low as $10 an hour
n cash payments which disguised the true identities of workers and actual amounts paid to workers
n manipulation of the identity card system implemented by Woolworths
n workers vulnerable to exploitation and often complicit in acts of non-compliance
n complex labour supply chains with networks of corporate structures and intermediaries to facilitate cash payments, recruitment of vulnerable workers and production of false records.

These characteristics are indicative of an entrenched culture of non-compliance in the Woolworths trolley collection supply chain......

We examined correspondence and the Trolley Collection Service Agreement from 2011 relating to 17 NSW and ACT supermarket sites. By dividing the agreed price by the weekly labour hours required to deliver the service, we found the cost per labour hour was below minimum pay rates at 15 of the 17 sites.

The casual cruelty of the Turnbull Government can leave one speechless

@bamboozled3 tweeted this snapshot on 24 July 2016 from Sue Robinson's Facebook page entry of 21 July:

The Australian Health Minister is reported as stating that we are now working through her situation in a bid to address her concerns.

A statement which does not deny that Ms. Robinson was refused this diagnostic test on the basis that she had no money to pay upfront. reported on 25 July 2015:
On Monday afternoon, Ms Robinson posted an update to say thank you for the support and revealed Ms Ley had made contact.
“It looks as if there might be some action on it, and that is a direct result of your response,” she wrote.
“As a result of the number of ‘shares’ and responses, the office of the Federal Health minister, Sussan Ley posted with contact details asking me to call.
“I did and was put through to a young man called Alex. We established two things. Alex assures me that the guidelines for bone scans haven’t changed since the election (I didn’t think they had, but I thought they might have since the last budget).
“He says there should have been no recent changes at all, and if I was eligible, for example, last year, I should still be eligible as I am still on the meds that compromise my bone density.
“However, according to the Medicare website I was shown this weekend my meds are on the list of those for which a bone scan is recommended, but not one for which it is reimbursed.
“There doesn’t seem to be any justification for this and it does specifically exclude cancer patients because the meds concerned are for cancer.
“I also asked Alex why are there guidelines at all? Surely if a cancer specialist regards such a test as necessary for a patient, that should be enough? After all, every case is different and the referring doctors are the only ones who can really know what is required in each case. Alex said that was a good question, but didn’t answer it, though he did tell me that these exclusions are worked out by a medical services advisory committee.
“We agreed that he would investigate further and I am sending him a link to the Medicare website so he may check the guidelines for himself.
“I also have a little more information on the charging system being used for these tests. I called other local practices who do such scans here and asked about bulk billing. They all had the same reply ... It’s complicated. It seems they can’t tell if you are eligible until you go in and then fill in a form.
“It is your answers in this form, and not the referral, which determine if you are eligible, so they say. They can’t tell you before you arrive whether or not you will be asked to pay. But if you are, the charges vary from practice to practice.
“For those of you who posted saying you are in the same boat, here are the costs you might have to pay if you are excluded from bulk billing. PRP will charge a $60 fee, Erina Radiology charges $85. Medical Imaging at Erina charges $50 for pensioners and $100 for the employed, but also states that they do whatever they can to bulk bill you. This practice was also recommended by one of my Facebook friends Maryellen Golden who said she had been bulk billed for a bone scan there herself. (Thank you Maryellen)
“I guess this isn’t unaffordable (unless you are on a limited income like a pension), and as long as you know it, you can save up. But I can’t help but wonder why it should be costed at all. I’m hoping this will be treated by the government as an unfortunate oversight that will be corrected.
And if it is, it will be your overwhelming response that brought it to their attention. Thank you again.”
For all low-income patients there are other pitfalls awaiting the unwary no matter what the diagnosis.

What it does not state is that the Medicare treats a patient’s claim involving multiple services differently from a claim involving a single health item and therefore the dollar amount a patient is reimbursed can be much lower.

As much as $65 lower in the instance of which I am aware, leaving the pensioner $125 out-of-pocket in total.

One of the more bizarre positions that the federal government takes is that the patient (or presumably the patient's estate if they left one) is responsible for the cost of the death certificate issued by an attending doctor - Medicare specifically includes this certificate in items not eligible for a rebate.

"Although Medicare benefits are not payable for the issue of a death certificate, an attendance on a patient at which it is determined that life is extinct can be claimed under the appropriate attendance item. The outcome of the attendance may be that a death certificate is issued, however, Medicare benefits are only payable for the attendance component of the service."

Medicare Benefits Schedules (Complete MBS and MBS by Category) operating from 1 July 2016 can be found here.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Another blow for Australian Infrastructure Developments: ACCC Chair reveals port privatisations not in the nation's best interests

Australian Infrastructure Developments Pty Ltd and its shadowy backers face more than a Lower Clarence community determined to fight its scheme to industrialise Port of Yamba situated in the high environmental value Clarence River estuary.

Now it has been revealed that its desire to extensively expand and privatise this small domestic port will in all likelihood increase freight costs for the Murray-Darling Basin farmers, graziers, agri-businesses and mining corporations that are supposed to be its future customers.

Financial Review, 26 July 2016:
The head of the competition regulator has called out governments for blatantly structuring asset sales to maximise profits at the expense of consumers and businesses.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said he had been a strong advocate of privatisation for 30 years because he believed it enhanced economic efficiency but he now believed "people in the street" who oppose privatisation because it raises prices had it right based on recent port sales in NSW. 
He said he was now "almost at the point of opposing privatisation" because state and federal governments were becoming increasingly blatant about structuring sales to maximise proceeds at the expense of competition.
"I am getting more exasperated. I just think governments are more explicitly now privatising to maximise the proceeds - including the Commonwealth," he said. 
"They are explicitly saying the reason they don't want to do this or this is that it'll damage the proceeds they are getting. They're not even playing the rhetorical game anymore. 
"I see it getting worse. I think a sharp upper cut is needed in this area. That's why I am saying, 'let's just stop the privatisations'. It is increasing prices - let's just call it out." …..
Mr Sims said ports privatisation was the best example of the approach that had turned him off privatisation as a policy. 
The ports of Botany and Kembla had been privatised together to limit competition, a big debate was under way in Victoria about making sure the Port of Hastings would be a competitor to a privatised Port of Melbourne in future, and "the same battle" was being waged over the Port of Fremantle, where  the WA government wants to give the buyer a right of first refusal over a future outer harbour port. 
The ACCC chairman last month criticised the way Port Botany was privatised, saying price monitoring of unregulated monopolies was ineffective. But this is the first time he has gone so far as the call a halt to sales of public assets. 
Mr Sims said he was less concerned about the NSW government's power poles and wires privatisations because the state has an independent pricing regulator. The NSW government has applied to the Australian Energy Markets Commission to draw out until 2024 an annual price hike of up to $520 per household that was scheduled take effect from July 2017 to avoid a "price shock" for consumers. 
Mr Sims said he was also concerned that monopoly ports were being privatised without any pricing regulation, leading to "lovely headlines in the Financial Review saying 'gosh what successful sales, look at the multiples they achieved'."
"Of course they bloody well did. The owners have factored in very large price rises because there's no regulation of how they set the prices of a monopoly. How dopey is that?" he said.  
'It's damaging our cost structure'
"I think it's a serious issue facing Australia. I think it's damaging our cost structure considerably. 
"And when you meet people in the street and they say, 'I don't like privatisation because it boosts the prices', and you dismiss them, no no, they're right. Recent examples suggest they're right." 

U.S. Politics 2016: A cry from the heart

GOPLifer, 22 July 2016:
Chairman Cuzzone:
We come together in political parties to magnify our influence. An organized representative institution can give weight to our will in ways we could not accomplish on our own. Working with others gives us power, but at the cost of constant, calculated compromise. No two people will agree on everything. There is no moral purity in politics.
If compromise is the key to healthy politics, how does one respond when compromise descends into complicity? To preserve a sense of our personal moral accountability we must each define boundaries. For those boundaries to have meaning we must have the courage to protect them, even when the cost is high.
Almost thirty years ago as a teenager in Texas, I attended my first county Republican convention. As a college student I met a young Rick Perry, fresh from his conversion to the GOP, as he was launching his first campaign for statewide office. Through Associated Republicans of Texas I contributed and volunteered for business-friendly Republican state and local candidates.
Here in DuPage County I’ve been a precinct committeeman since 2006. Door to door I’ve canvased my precinct in support of our candidates. Trudging through snow, using a drill to break the frozen ground, I posted signs for candidates on whom I pinned my hopes for better government. Among Illinois Republicans I found an organization that seemed to embody my hopes for the party nationally. Pragmatic, sensible, and focused on solid government, it seemed like a GOP Jurassic Park, where the sensible, reliable Republicans of old still roamed the landscape.
At the national level, the delusions necessary to sustain our Cold War coalition were becoming dangerous long before Donald Trump arrived. From tax policy to climate change, we have found ourselves less at odds with philosophical rivals than with the fundamentals of math, science and objective reality.
The Iraq War, the financial meltdown, the utter failure of supply-side theory, climate denial, and our strange pursuit of theocratic legislation have all been troubling. Yet it seemed that America’s party of commerce, trade, and pragmatism might still have time to sober up. Remaining engaged in the party implied a contribution to that renaissance, an investment in hope. Donald Trump has put an end to that hope.
From his fairy-tale wall to his schoolyard bullying and his flirtation with violent racists, Donald Trump offers America a singular narrative – a tale of cowards. Fearful people, convinced of our inadequacy, trembling before a world alight with imaginary threats, crave a demagogue. Neither party has ever elevated to this level a more toxic figure, one that calls forth the darkest elements of our national character.
With three decades invested in the Republican Party, there is a powerful temptation to shrug and soldier on. Despite the bold rhetoric, we all know Trump will lose. Why throw away a great personal investment over one bad nominee? Trump is not merely a poor candidate, but an indictment of our character. Preserving a party is not a morally defensible goal if that party has lost its legitimacy.
Watching Ronald Reagan as a boy, I recall how bold it was for him to declare ‘morning again’ in America. In a country menaced by Communism and burdened by a struggling economy, the audacity of Reagan’s optimism inspired a generation.
Fast-forward to our present leadership and the nature of our dilemma is clear. I watched Paul Ryan speak at Donald Trump’s convention the way a young child watches his father march off to prison. Thousands of Republican figures that loathe Donald Trump, understand the danger he represents, and privately hope he loses, are publicly declaring their support for him. In Illinois our local and state GOP organizations, faced with a choice, have decided on complicity.
Our leaders’ compromise preserves their personal capital at our collective cost. Their refusal to dissent robs all Republicans of moral cover. Evasion and cowardice has prevailed over conscience. We are now, and shall indefinitely remain, the Party of Donald Trump.
I will not contribute my name, my work, or my character to an utterly indefensible cause. No sensible adult demands moral purity from a political party, but conscience is meaningless without constraints. A party willing to lend its collective capital to Donald Trump has entered a compromise beyond any credible threshold of legitimacy. There is no redemption in being one of the “good Nazis.”
I hereby resign my position as a York Township Republican committeeman. My thirty-year tenure as a Republican is over.
Chris Ladd

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Fatal Extraction: how Australian mining companies exploit Africa

Australia is a giant in African mining, but its vast, sometimes deadly footprint has never been examined – until now….

Number of Australian-listed mining companies active in Africa:
more than 150* 
Market capitalization:
about $133 billion*
One of the earliest recorded mentions of an Australian mine worker in Africa:
Number of countries in Africa where Australian mining companies are active:
Number of licenses:
about 1500*
Country with the most licences held by Australian-listed companies:
Tanzania (about 360)*
Number of fatalities linked to Australian-listed mining companies in Africa (2004-2015):
more than 380
Country with the most fatalities during that time:
South Africa (more than 240)
Median minimum mining wage in South Africa:
about $5500
Average starting salaries for Australian mine workers:
about $60,000
Number of Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) filings consulted:
more than 1000
Number of kilometers traveled by reporters in the Fatal Extraction team:
about 33,000
Number of reporters, researchers, and editors in the Fatal Extraction team:
*Pertains to mining companies listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) that have mining licences in Africa as of December 31, 2014. Read more about ICIJ's data methodology for Fatal Extraction. Contributors to this story: Cécile Schilis-Gallego and Will Fitzgibbon

Australia’s Wild West – slide presentation.

The Productivity Commission states what those with even a modicum of intelligence knew instinctively

Apparently the Australian Government is going to learn the hard way that modern free-trade agreements rarely provide low manufacturing-high primary production & natural resource extraction economies such as ours with the anticipated level of additional income from international trade.

The Guardian, 25 July 2016:

A key economic policy adviser to the federal government has said the Trans-Pacific Partnership has provisions of “questionable benefit” – including an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause allowing foreign corporations to sue the Australian government if they think the government has introduced or changed laws that hurt their commercial interests.
The Productivity Commission made the comment in its annual trade and assistance review, released on Monday. The review quantifies the level of assistance governments give to Australian industry and this year criticises regional adjustment programs that have followed the exit of the carmakers, and also the Turnbull government’s big defence procurement spend rolled out in the countdown to the recent federal election.
On the TPP the commission says it is uncertain whether the US will sign the controversial pact before the presidential election in November 2016. While noting that, the commission says the TPP contains provisions of questionable benefit. “These include term of copyright and the investor state dispute settlement elements.”
The commissioner, Paul Lindwall, warned the success in defending a recent landmark ISDS case relating to tobacco plain packaging entailed reported legal costs of about $50m.
The tobacco giant Philip Morris used an ISDS provision in the Hong Kong-Australia bilateral investment treaty, signed in 1993, in an effort to sue the Australian government over the plain packaging laws implemented by the Gillard government in 2012. The case dragged on for years before an international tribunal ruled in Australia’s favour, saying Philip Morris Asia’s claim was an abuse of process.
“As it was resolved on a technicality, and costs are apparently yet to be recovered, this success should not be taken as an indication that ISDS is essentially harmless,” Lindwall said Monday…..

Australian Productivity Commission Trade & Assistance Review 2014-15 here.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 January 2016:

Australia stands to gain almost nothing from the mega trade deal sealed with 11 other nations including United States, Japan, and Singapore, the first comprehensive economic analysis finds.
Prepared by staff from the World Bank, the study says the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership would boost Australia's economy by just 0.7 per cent by the year 2030.
The annual boost to growth would be less than one half of one 10th of 1 per cent…..

World Bank graphs: Trans-Pacific Partnership

According to The Age economics editor Peter Martin, the three North Asia free-trade agreements (with China, Japan and the Republic of Korea) combined are only expected to increase total Australian exports by 0.5 per cent and local employment by less than one-half of one-tenth of 1 per cent by 2035. The agreements will boost imports into Australia from these countries by est. 2.5 per cent, sending Australia’s trade balance backwards.

NOTE: At the dissolution of the Senate and the House of Representatives on Monday, 9 May 2016 the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties ceased to exist.  Any inquiries that were not completed have lapsed and submissions cannot be received.