Showing posts with label government funding. Show all posts
Showing posts with label government funding. Show all posts

Thursday, 10 August 2017

If you're not feeling well but think things can't get any worse - you forgot to factor in the Australian Minister for Health's cost cutting ways


The Age, 4 August 2017:

State and territory health ministers say hospital treatments and services will suffer under a Commonwealth proposal to withhold budgeted funds and reduce spending.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has drafted a directive to the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority to review its public hospital funding method.

It would result in retrospective funds not being paid and reduced services in future, Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick said in a joint statement issued after the COAG Health Council meeting in Brisbane on Friday.

Mr Hunt drew condemnation from Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and the ACT when he confirmed he would uphold the direction.

"States and Territories have already funded services and boosted frontline staffing taking into consideration Commonwealth funding," the statement said.


Independent Hospital Pricing Authority (IHPA), media release, 17 July 2017:
IHPA releases Consultation Paper on Pricing Framework for Australian Public Hospital Services 2018-19
The Independent Hospital Pricing Authority (IHPA) today released its Consultation Paper on the Pricing Framework for Australian Public Hospital Services 2018-19. The consultation is open to the public until Thursday 17 August 2017.
The Pricing Framework for Australian Public Hospital Services 2018-19 outlines the major policy decisions which will underpin the National Efficient Price and National Efficient Cost Determinations for 2018-19.
This year IHPA will seek feedback regarding work that has been progressed on pricing and funding for safety and quality as well as canvassing options to enable new and innovative approaches to value based or preventative health care models.
The Chair of the Pricing Authority, Shane Solomon said, “IHPA has continued to work closely with the jurisdictions, clinicians and other stakeholders to make significant progress on the implementation of national reforms to incorporate safety and quality into the pricing and funding of public hospitals in Australia.
“A range of factors must now be considered including risk adjustment and how the approach can be embedded as part of broader system change.
“The success of a safety and quality pricing and funding mechanism is dependent on national, state, and local health systems working together to support the implementation of a model and ensure that it is working to improve safety and quality across all services,” he said.
“The Consultation Paper is an important opportunity for stakeholders to engage with IHPA on the approach to pricing and funding for safety and quality as well as the emergence of new innovative pricing models to help improve public hospital services across Australia. We strongly encourage all interested parties to provide feedback as part of this process,” concluded Mr Solomon.
The Consultation Paper on the Pricing Framework for Australian Public Hospital Services 2018-19 is available on the IHPA website.
Submissions should be emailed as an accessible Word document to submissions.ihpa@ihpa.gov.au or mailed to PO Box 483, Darlinghurst NSW 1300 by 5pm on Thursday 17 August 2017.
– ENDS –

Independent Hospital Pricing Authority (IHPA), Ministerial Direction, 16 February 2017:
Ministerial Direction
On 16 February 2017 IHPA received a Ministerial Direction from the Hon. Greg Hunt under section 226(1) of the National Health Reform Act 2011.
The Direction requires that IHPA undertake implementation of agreed recommendations of the COAG Health Council on pricing for safety and quality to give effect to:
  1. nil funding for a public hospital episode including a sentinel event which occurs on or after 1 July 2017, applying to all relevant episodes of care (being admitted and other episodes) in hospitals where the services are funded on an activity basis and hospitals where services are block funded; and
  2. an appropriate reduced funding level for all hospital acquired complications, in accordance with Option 3 of the draft Pricing Framework for Australian Public Hospital Services 2017-18, as existing on 30 November 2016, to reflect the additional cost of a hospital admission with a hospital acquired complication, to be applied across all public hospitals; and
  3. undertake further public consultation to inform a future pricing and funding approach in relation to avoidable hospital readmissions, based on a set of definitions to be developed by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care.
IHPA will incorporate the requirements under this Direction into the final Pricing Framework for Australian Public Hospitals 2017-18 due to be published on the IHPA website in early March 2017.
IHPA will undertake further consultation as part of its annual consultation process on the draft Pricing Framework for Australian Public Hospitals 2018-19 due for publication in June 2017 and provide a report back to the COAG Health Council by 30 November 2017.
Note: This follows on from a Direction received on 29 August 2016 which required IHPA to provide advice to the COAG Health Council on options for pricing for safety and quality.
More information
For any questions, please contact enquiries.ihpa@ihpa.gov.au
Links

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Fools on the Hill still vainly searching for viable large scale 'clean coal' technology


The Sydney Morning Herald reported on 30 May 2017:

Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the Clean Energy Finance Corporation [CEFC] would have its mandate expanded so it could back fossil fuel power plants that include the technology, sometimes described as "clean coal".

The technology, which involves capturing the emissions at the source and burying them underground, was explicitly banned when the CEFC was set up under a Labor-Greens agreement in 2011.

Unfortunately for the foolish, ideology-driven Liberal MP for Kooyong & Minister for Environment and Energy and his equally foolish Prime Minister The Australia Institute released this statement on the same day:

“The Australian Government has put $1.3 billion of taxpayers’ money towards Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) initiatives since 2003, with zero large scale operational projects to show for it. A new report from The Australia Institute’s, Money for nothing, has found that despite years of generous taxpayer funding, there are no large-scale CCS projects operating in Australia and no planned coal CCS projects at any stage of development. Several proposed coal plants with CCS received federal grants, but all have since been cancelled or liquidated.” 

Opening paragraphs of The Australia Institute’s discussion paper Money for nothing by Bill Browne and Tom Swann, May 2017:

In 2007, then-Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a $100 million grant for a proposed coal plant at Loy Yang “suitable for” CCS. Turnbull said “Projects like this one … will play an integral role in helping to reduce emissions in Australia”.  Five years later, the grant was withdrawn. The operator has been liquidated.
In February 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull put CCS back on the agenda. He argued as the world’s largest coal exporter, Australia has a “vested interest” in promoting clean coal, and lamented that despite substantial public investment over the years “we do not have one modern high-efficiency low-emissions coal-fired power station, let alone one with carbon capture and storage”.
 In 2009, the head of the Australian Coal Association promised that that we will “have commercial scale demonstration plants with carbon capture and storage in operation in Australia by 2015”.  In 2017 the chief national coal lobbyist said it is “pretty early days” with regards to CCS, which is “an evolving technology”.
 Despite the poor track record of coal with CCS, the Turnbull government is now proposing to fund it through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which has previously focused on commercial or near-commercial projects, mostly renewables.
In light of Turnbull’s proposal, this report outlines previous funding to CCS and how little Australia has to show for it.
Since 2003, successive Australian governments have backed their promises that CCS will preserve the coal industry with promises of public money. Over $3.5 billion has been committed towards a wide range of CCS-related projects, initiatives and programs. Over $1.3 billion was identified as actually distributed.
The government found it difficult to find projects to fund, and funded projects often failed. While funding was sometimes ‘clawed back’, other times this was not possible. ZeroGen, a proposed coal plant with CCS, went into administration despite at least $187 million in subsidies. The 99% Australia-funded Global CCS Institute backed more overseas projects than Australian ones and had extravagant operational spending.
The coal industry also announced a $1 billion CCS industry fund, which they said would match federal government spending. The fund has collected and committed only $300 million (mostly for CCS projects), and some of this fund has been spent on election campaign promotion of “clean coal”. Contributions to the fund were deducted against royalties in some states, meaning the fund was subsidised by the taxpayer.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

How soon will Adani go broke in the Galilee Basin?


Reading the information set out below leads me to wonder how the Federal Government and Queensland Government will cope, both politically and economically, if the Adani Group's Carmichael Mine and Rail Project leads to a massive derelict mine site with its twenty-six Australian subsidiaries under administration or in receivership.


2013


The Adani Group is highly geared:
 Against an external market capitalisation of US$5.17bn, The Adani Group has an estimated US$12bn of net debt, a significant portion of which is US$-denominated with limited hedging.
Adani Power is of particular concern, being loss-making with net debt over 300% of its current market capitalisation.

2015


The project would require a massive and improbable infusion of debt, but a growing number of global banks key to most major coal-mining investments have eschewed it, mostly because of the risk it would pose to the Great Barrier Reef. (The 11 banks that have taken a public pass on the project include Deutsche Bank; HSBC; Royal Bank of Scotland; Barclays; Morgan Stanley; Citigroup; Goldman Sachs; JP Morgan Chase and most recently Societe Generale, BNP Paribas and Credit Agricole. In May 2015 Bank of America announced it would move to exit coal lending entirely.


With the Carmichael coal proposal commercially unviable at current or forecast thermal coal prices, the project is increasingly unbankable. Fifteen of the world's largest financial houses have either ceased working on this proposal or ruled out involvement, including both CBA and Standard Chartered, where advisory mandates have expired.

Continued momentum in technological developments underpins the scaled up commercial rollout of renewable energy and energy efficiency globally. As such, the strategic 'moment' for large-scale export-focused greenfields coal mines has passed.

2017


Shareholders and financiers of Adani Enterprises face substantial risks due to the company's continuing development of the controversy-plagued Carmichael coal project in the face of major adverse structural shifts in market conditions.

The proposed mine, in Australia's remote Galilee Basin, remains a high-cost, high-risk project that is reliant on substantial public subsidies for it to be remotely financially viable. Even with concessional loans, IEEFA analysis shows the project is likely to be cash flow negative for the majority of its operating life.

Shifts in Indian energy policy and pricing have materially increased the risk of Carmichael becoming a stranded asset. Legal challenges and community opposition to the project persist and are likely to escalate if the project moves to construction.

With a market capitalisation of just US$1.9bn and net debt of US$2.5bn, Adani Enterprises Ltd will struggle to contribute equity for this A$5bn project. The project risks over-extending the balance sheet of Adani Enterprises to an extreme degree, creating a high level of financial risk to both shareholders and potential financiers……

In the years since Adani purchased the lease for the Carmichael mine, Indian government energy policy has shifted radically. Energy Minister Piyush Goyal has stated repeatedly that it is government policy to cease thermal coal imports—a policy that brings into question the very point of the proposed mine…..

* The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) conducts research and analyses on financial and economic issues related to energy and the environment. The Institute's mission is to accelerate the transition to a diverse, sustainable and profitable energy economy.
The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis receives its funding from philanthropic organizations.  We gratefully acknowledge our funders, including the Rockefeller Family Fund,  Energy FoundationMertz-Gilmore FoundationMoxie FoundationWilliam and Flora Hewlett FoundationRockefeller Brothers FundGrowald Family FundFlora Family FundWallace Global Fund,  and V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Hindu, 5 May 2016:

"PSU banks are owed about Rs 5 lakh crore by corporate houses and of this roughly Rs 1.4 lakh crore are owed by just five companies, which include Lanco, GVK, Suzlon Energy, Hindustan Construction Company and a certain company called the Adani Group and Adani Power," he said.

The amount owed by this group "called the Adani Group" both in terms of its long term and short term debt on Thursday is around Rs 72,000 crore, he added quoting reports.
"Yesterday it was mentioned that the entire amount that the farmers need to pay as crop loans is Rs 72,000 crore. The Adani Group itself owes to the banks Rs 72,000 crore," he said.

The Hindu, 8 May 2016:

The billionaire Gautam Adani's Adani group, with Rs 96,031 crore debt [est. AUD $1.9 billion], is under pressure to sell its stake in the Abbott Point coal mines, port and rail project. The Adani Group's debt stands at Rs. 72,000 crore [est. AUD $1.4 billion]. Last year, Standard Chartered bank had recalled loans amounting to $2.5 billion as part of its global policy of reducing exposure in emerging markets. Global lenders have backed out from funding the $10-billion coal mine development project. State Bank of India has also declined to offer a loan despite signing an MoU to fund the group with $1 billion. An Adani spokesperson declined to offer any comments on the issue.


S&P Global Ratings revised its outlook on Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. (APSEZ) to negative from stable. 

ABC News, 22 December 2016:

The business behind the planned Carmichael coal mine in North Queensland is facing multiple financial crime and corruption probes, with Indian authorities investigating Adani companies for siphoning money offshore and artificially inflating power prices

Companies under scrutiny for the alleged corrupt conduct include Adani Enterprises Limited — the ultimate parent company of the massive mine planned for the Galilee Basin.

Two separate investigations into allegations of trade-based money laundering by Adani companies are underway — one into the fraudulent invoicing of coal imports and the other into a scam involving false invoicing for capital equipment imports.

"They are very serious allegations and they are being conducted by the premier Indian government agency investigating financial crime," Australia's foremost expert on money laundering, Professor David Chaikin of the University of Sydney, told the ABC.

"The allegations involve substantial sums of money with major losses to the Indian taxpayer."

Adani denies wrongdoing.

Rediff, 10 January 2017:

For the past year, Adani Power has been undergoing an overhaul for its debt, including measures such as equity infusion and refinancing. These have helped the company survive the rough times since proceeds from the compensatory rates are yet to come by. 

The firm expects its recent equity infusion, debt refinancing and the compensatory rate to lead to a turnaround in its financial position….

On December 6, the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission granted a compensatory rate for Adani Power's Mundra unit on the grounds of changes in Indonesian coal policy and shortage of domestic coal. 

In the address to analysts, after the September quarter results, the management said: "Once we have clarity in the form of CERC orders, we would obviously have the reason to work with the rating agencies and then we will make our plans."

The CERC order, however, has not led to any change of credit ratings so far for the company as its implementation hinges on the required Supreme Court approval for the same. 

CatchNews, 14 February 2017:

Earlier this year, the State Bank of India reportedly approved a loan of around $1 billion (Rs 6,600 crore ) for the company's coal mine in Australia. However, after much hue and cry in the media due to the highly stressed balance sheet of the public sector bank, the approval was withdrawn.

Hindustan Times, 11 April 2017:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside an order by the Appellate Tribunal For Electricity allowing compensatory tariff to Tata Power Ltd and Adani Power Ltd, sending down shares of both companies.

Shares of Tata Power reversed early gains to fall as much as 6.78%, while Adani Power slumped up to 20% to its lowest since February 21.

The tribunal, in April last year, had said the two companies needed to be compensated as the change in Indonesian laws on coal export prices were outside the control of these companies.

Financial Review, 11 April 2017:

Indian billionaire Gautam Adani has told Malcolm Turnbull his company will seek a taxpayer-funded concessional loan of up to $1 billion to support his proposed $21.7 billion coal mine in Queensland......
Following a meeting with Mr Adani and his executives in New Delhi on Monday night, Mr Turnbull cautioned the loan – to help build a $2 billion railway line to link the mine to the coast – would have to be approved on its commercial merits by the independent board which administers the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund.

The Northern Star, 16 April 2017:

Shares for Adani Power Limited, the Adani Group subsidiary energy provider in India, were trading at 44.25 rupees (AU$0.9) on Monday, but dropped to 32.90 rupees by the end of trading on Friday.
Adani Enterprises, the subsidiary connected with the Carmichael Coal project, traded on Monday for 120.10 rupees ($AU2.46) a share, but has also dropped, reaching 116.85 by the end of Friday.


….the International Energy Association’s (IEA) modelling indicates that under a two degree scenario thermal coal demand will peak in the current decade and decline thereafter…..

However, for new thermal coal proposals we will: Limit lending to any new thermal coal mines or projects (including those of existing customers) to only existing coal producing basins and where the calorific value for that mine ranks in at least the top 15% globally. We define the top 15% as having a specific energy content of at least 6,300 kCal/kg Gross As Received. This value is referred to as the Newcastle high energy coal benchmark.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Left unchecked the gas & coal mining sectors will be the death of the Great Artesian Basin and what is left of the Great Barrier Reef


According to an August 2016 Report Commissioned By The Australian Government And Great Artesian Basin Jurisdictions Based On Advice From The Great Artesian Basin Coordinating Committee the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) is one of the largest underground freshwater reservoirs in the world. It underlies approximately 22% of Australia – occupying an area of over 1.7 million square kilometres beneath arid and semi-arid parts of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory. Approximately 70% of the GAB lies within Queensland…..

The first people to make use of GAB water were Indigenous tribes for whom it was critical to survival. Indeed, there is evidence that the GAB sustained Aboriginal people for thousands of years prior to European settlement.

The natural springs of the GAB provided a critical source of fresh water, and supported valuable food sources including birds, mammals, reptiles, crustaceans and insects, creating an abundant hunting ground for local tribes. The plants and trees around the artesian springs were used for food, medicine, materials and shelter.

The springs provided semi-permanent oases in the desert and supported trade and travel routes which evolved around them. The springs also played a key part in the spiritual and cultural beliefs of Aboriginal people. Ceremonies and other events were held at spring wetland areas which remain precious cultural and sacred sites. Numerous Creation stories feature a connection to groundwater.

This underground freshwater reservoir holds 65,000 million megalitres much of which fell as rain 1 to 2 million years ago, but not all of this water is in accessible layers.

For assessment purposes the GAB is divided into four regions – Carpentaria, Central Eromanga, Western Eromanga and the Surat Basin.

In 1878 the first bore was sunk to draw water from the Great Artesian Basin.

In modern Australia its economic values are shared by towns, agriculture, cattle & sheep grazing and industry/mining across the four basin regions.

The Courier map based on a 22 August 2016 report
                                                                                                                                              
The report points out that Water has historically been extracted from the GAB at a greater rate than recharge and this creates a problem for 21st Century Australia.

Professor of Environmental Sciences Derek Eamus, University of Technology, 18 June 2015:

As the pressure in the GAB has declined and the water table drops, mound springs (where groundwater is pushed to the ground surface under pressure) have begun to dry up in South Australia and Queensland. Associated paperbark swamps and wetlands are also being lost and it gets more and more expensive to extract the groundwater for irrigation and other commercial applications.

On average, rates of groundwater extraction across Australia has increased by about 100 per cent between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, reflecting both the increased population size and commercial usage of groundwater stores.

Despite the strain on water resources, the gas and coal mining industries are allowed virtually unlimited water extraction from within the Great Artesian Basin and where the few limits are placed on extraction it is poorly policed by government agencies.

This is a graph of coal seam gas, conventional gas and petroleum industry water use 1995-2015:

Source:.DNRM 2016, p. 62.

The Adani Group’s most recent water licence for the Carmichael coal project issued in April 2017 allows it to take a virtually unlimited volume of groundwater each year for the next 60 years, plus surface water – with minimum oversight.

The Environmental Defender’s Office (Qld) states that: It is expected that Adani may require up to 9.5 billion litres of groundwater every year for the Carmichael project.

Poor management by Adani of its Abbot’s Point coal waste has already led to a smothering of the vibrant, nationally important Caley Wetlands with run-off via its estuarine system expected to reach adjacent waters of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Satellite image of Caley Wetlands after emergency water release by Adani - now covered in coal waste.
A picture of the Abbot Point coal loading facility showing coal water run-off moving north-west into the wetlands and coal dust on the beaches. The Age, 12 April 2017, Photo: Dean Sewell
Coal dust on the beaches next to the Abbot Point coal loading facility  Photo: Dean Sewell/Oculi


On 10 March 2015 ABC News reported:

Hundreds of square kilometres of prime agricultural land in southeast Queensland are at risk from a cocktail of toxic chemicals and explosive gases, according to a secret State Government report.

A study commissioned by Queensland's environment department says an experimental plant operated by mining company Linc Energy at Chinchilla, west of Brisbane, is to blame and has already caused "irreversible" damage to strategic cropping land.

The department, which has launched a $6.5 million criminal prosecution of the company, alleges Linc is responsible for "gross interference" to the health and wellbeing of former workers at the plant as well as "serious environmental harm".

The 335-page experts' report, obtained by the ABC, has been disclosed to Linc but not to landholders.

It says gases released by Linc's activities at its underground coal gasification plant at Hopeland have caused the permanent acidification of the soil near the site.

Experts also found concentrations of hydrogen in the soil at explosive levels and abnormal amounts of methane, which they say is being artificially generated underground, over a wide area.

The region is a fertile part of the Western Darling Downs and is used to grow wheat, barley and cotton and for cattle grazing, with some organic producers.

Other documents, released to the ABC by the magistrate in charge of the criminal case, show four departmental investigators were hospitalised with suspected gas poisoning during soil testing at the site in March.

"My nausea lasted for several hours. I was also informed by the treating doctor that my blood tests showed elevated carbon monoxide levels (above what was normal)," one of the investigators said.

High levels of cancer-causing benzene were detected at the site afterwards.

On 9 February 2017 ABC News was still reporting on the contamination:

Flammable levels of hydrogen have been found at a number of locations near the site of a controversial gas project that has been blamed for contaminating huge swathes of prime Queensland farm land.

The ABC understands an ongoing Environment Department investigation has confirmed that the contamination is much more widespread than previously thought.

The Queensland Government has dispatched Environment Department officers to the Hopeland community, near Chinchilla in the state's south, and is setting up a call centre to help explain the situation to landholders…..

Due to fears about possible hydrogen explosions, the Government has been enforcing a 314-square kilometre "excavation caution zone" around the Linc plant, with landholders banned from digging any hole deeper than two metres.

The ABC understands further investigation by the Environment Department has now found flammable levels of hydrogen at locations outside the current caution zone.

The hydrogen has been detected underground and the department says it dissipates quickly in the open air.

Government sources have stressed the gas is not of an explosive concentration but landholders will be encouraged to exercise caution.

Left unchecked the mining industry will bring the Great Artesian Basin closer to collapse.

It is not as if either federal or state governments ever fully realise the supposed financial gains allowing this environmental degradation was supposed to bring to their treasuries.

In 2007-08 the Australian Taxation Office released taxation data which showed that 68.8 per cent of all mining companies on its books paid no tax in that financial year. In 2009-10 the percentage of mining companies paying no tax had risen to 73.1 per cent and in in 2010-11 the percentage of mining companies paying no tax was 72.2 per cent. By 2013-14 a total of 60 per cent of publicly listed energy and resources companies did not pay tax and again in 2014-15 60 per cent of all energy and resources companies paid no tax.

Add to this the fact that Adani in Australia in estimated to have paid only 0.008 percent in tax on their total income in 2014-2015 and is structured in such a way that its tax burden is artificially lowered and a significant proportion of its profits move offshore to the Cayman Islands tax haven.

It isn’t hard to see a pattern developing here.

Maximum environmental, cultural, social and economic risk for Australia with minimal financial return on risk.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Australian lawyers commitment to pro bono work cannot plug the gaps in legal assistance sector caused by federal government budget cuts


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 Medianet Release




23 Mar 2017 11:44 AM AEST - Australia's legal assistance sector facing Federal Budget disaster, and pro bono cannot plug the gap





The average Australian lawyer is contributing a full week of work every year for free, but even this is insufficient to fix Australia's legal assistance funding crisis, which is set to dramatically deepen after the upcoming Federal Budget.
Law Council of Australia President, Fiona McLeod SC, has told the sixth National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference in Adelaide today that although the crisis in legal assistance funding had been getting steadily worse over two decades, drastic cuts to take effect from 1 July this year will be particularly disastrous.
"Scheduled funding cuts to Community Legal Centres (CLCs) will amount to a loss of $35 million between 2017 and 2020 – that's a 30 per cent cut to Commonwealth funding for services that are already chronically under-resourced," she said.
"Last year CLCs were forced to turn away 160,000 people seeking legal assistance. These cuts will lead to 36,000 fewer clients assisted, and 46,000 fewer advices provided.
"We are talking here about real people, with real problems. People who thought their situation was serious enough to seek legal assistance. People who would not have had other viable options for legal advice.
"How many of those turned away now have exacerbated problems? How have those problems spread within their families, their social networks, their communities?
"The Productivity Commission has called for an extra $200 million for legal assistance, because research shows these problems cost the economy long-term. Legal problems are a lot like medical problems – without prompt attention they tend to get much worse.
"The Government needs to listen to the experts and reverse these catastrophic cuts."
Ms McLeod noted that pro bono cannot ever be a substitute for properly funded legal aid services, remarkable though this contribution of Australian lawyers is.
"The pro bono work undertaken by Australian lawyers should be a matter of enormous pride for the profession," Ms McLeod said.
"Australian lawyers give away literally hundreds of thousands of pro bono work hours every year to those who have no one else to turn to. 35 hours of pro bono legal services, per lawyer, per year.
"But if pro bono is to be truly effective it needs a strong legal assistance sector. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and CLCs assess cases and refer work to appropriate pro bono lawyers. Without proper funding this link is broken and many more people fall through the cracks."
You can access the Law Council President, Fiona McLeod's speech here.
To learn more about the legal aid crisis visit: www.legalaidmatters.org.au.


   Contact Us
© Australian Associated Press, 2017  


Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Australian Attorney-General Senator George Henry 'Soapy' Brandis finally obeys the court

For these reasons I consider that the decision communicated to the applicant by letter dated 13 June 2014 that a practical refusal reason exists because the work involved in processing the request(s) would substantially and unreasonably interfere with the performance of the Attorney-General’s functions should be set aside and, in lieu thereof, I decide that no practical refusal reason under s 24 of the FOI Act exists in relation to the request(s), with the consequence that the request(s) are required to be processed in accordance with the FOI Act. [Dreyfus  and Attorney-General (Commonwealth of Australia) (Freedom of information) [2015] AATA 995 , 22 December 2015]

With Australia’s British High Commissioner Alexander Downer not due to step down his post until around April 2018 and no other acceptable option to mothball the Attorney-General in sight, I fear that Australian voters will have to put up with the undistinguished legal mind Senator George Henry ‘Soapy’ Brandis until at least the next federal general election due sometime between August 2018 and May 2019.

Right now he is probably acting like a bear with a sore head in the corridors of power as, once he was forced to obey legal judgment, his diary entries appear to confirm that he never bothered to consult with any legal assistance services before he took a razor to government funding to that sector.

The Guardian, 20 March 2017:

George Brandis has finally released his ministerial diary and it shows no evidence he met with anyone working in the community legal sector before their funding was cut in the 2014 budget.
He handed his electronic diary to Mark Dreyfus, the shadow attorney general, late on Friday.
It took three years for him to release his diary after Dreyfus made his original freedom of information request.
The move came a week after Dreyfus threatened Brandis that he would push for contempt of court proceedings if Brandis did not release the diary immediately.
“Three years since the original freedom of information (FoI) request was made, and thousands of taxpayer dollars later – George Brandis has finally handed over his diary,” Dreyfus said on Monday.
“While the capitulation represents a victory for common sense, transparency and the principles of FoI, it is also ridiculous that it took such lengths to force the attorney general to comply with an act that sits within his own portfolio.
“In order for the attorney general to fulfil a simple request, it has taken an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, a hearing in the full court of the federal court, and the threat of contempt.
“It is absurd, and it shows once more Senator Brandis’s unsuitability for the role of attorney general and his contempt for the rule of law.
Labor has been seeking Brandis’s diary since February 2014 to discover what consultation he held before cuts to his portfolio in the 2014 budget.
Dreyfus lodged an FoI request to inspect Brandis’ electronic diary from September 2013 to May 2014.
The Labor frontbencher has had a string of legal wins, with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal rejecting Brandis’s refusal of the request in December 2015 and finding it had to be processed. In September 2016 a full federal court decision upheld the tribunal’s ruling.
But less than two weeks ago, Dreyfus’s lawyers wrote to the Australian government solicitor accusing Brandis of “continued avoidance of his obligation to process” the FoI request because he still hadn’t released his diary.
The letter said that Brandis had had six months since the full federal court decision to process the request but “has continued to behave in a manner that is contemptuous” of the decision and the FoI Act.
It threatened if Brandis did not process the request by 20 March, Labor would seek a court order to set a deadline for the attorney general, after which it could begin contempt of court proceedings.
“No explanation for this delay has ever been proffered nor have we been given any reasons why the application has not been processed,” the letter said.
On Monday, Dreyfus said the saga – which cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars – had been a “monumental waste of everyone’s time”.
“What a waste of of taxpayers’ money, of public servants’ time, of the court’s time just because of – apparently – the attorney general’s vanity,” he told ABC radio.
He said it was notable there was no evidence in the diary that Brandis had met with legal assistance services, including Environmental Defenders Offices and Community Legal Centres, before cutting their funding in 2014.
In September 2014 the Productivity Commission found that the federal and governments needed to inject an extra $200 million a year into legal assistance centres to better align the means test, maintain existing frontline services and broaden the scope of legal assistance services; with the majority of funding being the responsibility of the federal government.

Instead the Attorney-General has insisted on cutting funding wherever he could and the fight continues with deans of law schools joining in the push back against Brandis:
On his part Brandis denies the funding cuts and attempts to blame the former Labor federal government (which has not been in power for the last three annual budgets) as well as the states, in his speech to the Bar Association of Queensland Annual Conference on 25 March 2017:

"I've been asked this morning to say a few words about federal matters so I thought I'd take the opportunity to address a matter which I know has been of much interest to the Bar, and which was averted to briefly by the state Attorney and that is the question of the Federal Government's contribution to legal assistance funding. We should never forget that most court proceedings in Australia are conducted in state and territory courts under state and territory law. Appropriately, therefore, it is the governments of the states and territories which are the principal funders of legal assistance in Australia. That is as it should be, even acknowledging, of course, that a very large component of the budgets of state and territory governments is money provided to them by the Commonwealth Government under various Commonwealth grants.

Nevertheless, federal governments of both political persuasions have always acknowledged that there is an important role for the Commonwealth to play in supporting the states in the provision of legal assistance through direct payments to Legal Aid Commissions, to Community Legal Centres, and to Indigenous legal assistance bodies.

With that in mind, I note that in the recent past there have been a number of statements made about the size of the Commonwealth's contribution to the legal assistance sector.

So let me take the opportunity with these remarks this morning to put some facts on the table.

First, to date, there have been no cuts to payments to Community Legal Centres by the Commonwealth Government. It has been claimed by some that the Government is withdrawing $6.8 million annually. That claim is misleading.

That money, to which the state Attorney also referred, was money provided for under a four year program, announced by the previous federal government in the 2013 budget, which was deliberately designed to terminate on 30 June 2017. When that program terminates that money will no longer be available. This is what is being called by some - the "Dreyfus funding cliff".

In spite of those, and other claims, the reality of competing funding priorities and the necessity for budget repair across Government should not obscure the significant support that the Commonwealth provides and to which we are committed to continue to provide."

BACKGROUND

The Guardian, 27 March 2017:

The fight for adequate funding for community legal centres stretches back to 2013. When the Abbott government was elected in September 2013, it used its first mid-year budget update to cut $43.1m for legal assistance services over four years, including $19.6m from community legal centres.

Six months later, in its 2014-15 budget, it cut another $6m from CLCs.

A month later it made one-off grants worth $1.55m to just 14 CLCs. Then in March 2015, following intense community pressure, it reversed some of its 2013-14 budget update cuts, reinstating $12m in funding over two years for the sector.

A few months later, in mid-2015, it signed a new five-year national partnership agreement on legal assistance services. The agreement provided Australia’s 189 community legal centres with $42.2m funding in 2016-17, but that funding drops to $30.1m in 2017-­18, $30.6m in 2018-­19, and $31m in 2019-­20.

The reduction in funding levels from 2016-­17 amounts to $34.83m over three years, 30% of CLC funding.