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Federal Government minister Christopher Pyne’s comments during an after-party in Sydney have landed him – and the rest of the Liberal Party – in hot water from most sections of the political spectrum.

Reportedly released to far-right commentator Andrew Bolt, the recording of the comments were taken in the company of some of the other left-leaning members of the Liberal Party.

What got most people heckled was Christopher Pyne’s boasting about the early introduction of same-sex marriage.

“Friends, we are in the winner’s circle but we have to deliver a couple of things and one of those we’ve got to deliver before too long is marriage equality in this country.

"We're going to get it. I think it might even be sooner than everyone thinks.”

Malcolm Turnbull

The Prime Minister has distanced himself from the comments made by Christopher Pyne, that same-sex marriage would be introduced “sooner than everyone thinks.”

Mr Turnbull said gay marriage would only be law once the Australian public had voted on the issue.

“As far as the same sex marriage issue, our policy is very clear, it has not changed, we have no plans to change it,” he said.

Tony Abbott

As one can these days reasonably expect, former prime minister Tony Abbott was quick off the mark with the boot, saying Mr Pyne’s comments appeared to be evidence that the Defence Minister had been plotting behind his back.

"This appears to be the confession that he has made to his close colleagues in the Left faction," Mr Abbott told radio 2GB.

"Christopher Pyne wasn't just a member of my cabinet, he was actually in the leadership team and it's important that you show loyalty.

"But if he's to be believed on Friday night, that loyalty was never there which is incredibly disappointing."

Bill Shorten

Meanwhile Tweeting from Adelaide, Labor leader Bill Shorten kept his comments brief:

“Shame on Turnbull and Pyne. They play games whilst Australians wait for marriage equality. Get out of the way.”

But the Greens see hope

The Greens said Christopher Pyne’s comments about marriage equality over the weekend show just how impatient many members of the Coalition are for marriage equality to be achieved now.

“It’s staggering that Malcolm Turnbull is publicly standing by Tony Abbott’s plebiscite, meanwhile one of his senior ministers says equality will happen ‘sooner than everyone thinks,’ said Senator Janet Rice, the Greens’ spokesperson on LGBTIQ issues.

“Australian couples shouldn’t be forced to keep waiting for their love to be recognised.

 “The Coalition [members] are playing games with people’s lives. Mr Turnbull needs to stand up to the dinosaurs in his party and allow a free vote in parliament now.’

 
                    [post_title] => Christopher Pyne’s gay marriage comments land him in hot water
                    [post_excerpt] => Christopher Pyne’s comments about same-sex marriage  have landed him in hot water.

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                    [post_content] =>  
Public servants and local councils are hoping Treasurer Scott Morrison's 'good news' Budget really is.
Pic: YouTube.

 

 

Housing affordability, a staged unfreezing of the Medicare rebate, infrastructure spending and Gonski 2.0 are all widely tipped to feature prominently in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s “good news” Budget tomorrow.

Other likely announcements include a one-pay payment for pensioners to offset electricity price increases, funding for veterans’ mental health programs and dumping billions of dollars worth of education and health ‘zombie’ cuts.

Meanwhile, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen has already called Mr Morrison's Budget a “pale imitation of Labor policy” and said it is merely an attempt to save Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership by “trying to close down issues”, while warning Catholic schools will stage a rebellion against their recalculated, lower funding.

“It is designed to save Malcolm Turnbull's leadership, desperate to get a positive Newspoll,” Mr Bowen told Barrie Cassidy on Insiders yesterday.

“These half measures: one step forward, two step back, coming down the road towards Labor policy is [not] going to fool anybody. Of course, the fact Labor's led the policy agenda on health, education and housing affordability means the government is playing catch-up.

“Whenever someone is playing catch-up with you, that’s better than not catching up with you, but they are still a long way behind on these policies.”

But aside from the politics, what impact will the Budget have on local government and where will the inevitable spending cuts to fund the goodies come from?


Local government wish list

The biggest, most pressing issue for local government is the fervent hope that the federal government will finally end the freeze on the indexation of Financial Assistance Grants  (FAGs) to councils, a decision which Joe Hockey deferred for another three years in his horror 2014 Budget.

Regional and rural councils have borne the brunt of this measure, since they are much more dependent on FAGs for their general funding than metro areas due to their weaker rates’ base.

In April, the peak body for the nation’s local councils, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), mounted a social media campaign pressing the government to end the FAGs freeze, while pressing the government to increase the quantum of FAGs in proportion to Commonwealth tax revenue. In 1996 FAGs were equal to about 1 per cent of Commonwealth tax revenue; by 2013-14 FAGs amounted to around 0.67 per cent of total.

A growing infrastructure maintenance backlog, particularly in NSW, has seen ALGA request that the Roads to Recovery program should be permanently doubled, the Bridges Renewal program made permanent and Fairer Roads Funding restored for South Australia, at $17.5 million per annum.

The Association’s federal Budget submission also asked for $300 million a year over the next four years to fund community infrastructure which it said would stimulate long-term growth and build community resilience.

Disaster funding and support to address climate change is also a priority for those councils in flood prone areas. ALGA has asked for a disaster mitigation program to be established funded at $200 million per year and an investment of $100 million over four years to support councils to manage their own climate risks.

The Association also asked that the government to review municipal funding for services around indigenous housing, health, jobs and education.

ALGA President David O’Loughlin said it was “an ideal time to invest in roads and bridges, community infrastructure and guarding against the world impacts of climate change” as well as the time “to start the discussion about the reality of the current funding constraints experienced by councils”.

“ALGA understands the fiscal challenges facing the Commonwealth, however, expenditure on priorities does not wait for a convenient moment,” Mr O’Loughlin said.

“Indeed, ALGA would argue that in times of fiscal constraint governments should focus on community priorities and investment in productive infrastructure through the most efficient processes to deliver programs.”

Specific items expected in the Budget include a $2.3 billion state-federal package for Western Australia to pay for freeways, regional roads and the Metronet rail project; motorway upgrades for South East Queensland and progress on the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project, alongside $6 billion for a second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek.

There is also likely to be an announcement of a further roll-out of City Deals, which focus on new infrastructure to help regional areas around urban centres.

It will be fascinating to discover is there is any mention of the National Party-led push to decentralise government jobs, typified by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority’s move from Canberra to  Armidale, in tomorrow's Budget.


The cuts 

One cut that has already been foreshadowed is reduced Commonwealth funding for universities, tighter rules around HECS repayments and a 2.5 per cent efficiency dividend that universities must meet. There may also be a series of smaller health programs that may be slashed or abandoned.

Meanwhile, the Community and Public Sector Union is stealing itself for yet another round of public service job cuts, predicting that a further 4500 jobs could be slashed “if the government maintains its hard-line cuts” and adds to the 18,000 scalps it has already claimed.

Instead the union is asking the government to target its money saving efforts at consultants and contractors and company tax avoidance and restore ATO jobs to prosecute this drive.

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said the relative silence before the Budget had been “strange and a tad unsettling” for government workers.

“Treasurer Scott Morrison and the government in general have said much less about the national accounts than they normally would,” Ms Flood said.

“That silence hasn't exactly been reassuring for the public servants who keep the wheels of government turning. This government has repeatedly used them as a political football while also making harsh and short-sighted cuts.

“Let's hope the government puts ordinary Australians first with this budget, rather than shooting itself in the foot with another round of counter-productive public sector cuts.”

We’ll have to wait and see.
                    [post_title] => Budget 2017: Implications for local councils
                    [post_excerpt] => 
Union fears further public sector job cuts.

 
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                    [post_content] => 

 

By Kymberley Martin

Support for the Federal Government among small and medium businesses (SMBs) has dipped to its lowest level since Malcolm Turnbull took over as Prime Minister, according to the latest Sensis Business Index (SBI) survey.

“After we saw Malcolm Turnbull take over as Prime Minister in 2015 we saw confidence in the government rise, with businesses telling us they were optimistic about the change, ” Sensis chief executive, John Allan said. However, since then the government’s approval rating has fallen nine points and is 20 points lower than the highest score under Tony Abbott, following the pro-business 2015 Federal Budget.

“To find a lower score we need to go back to the March 2015 survey, which was taken after Tony Abbott had survived a leadership spill. While perceptions of the economy remain strong, less than one in seven businesses have faith in the government’s policies, with the biggest concerns being excessive bureaucracy and red tape, as well as there being too much focus on the interests of big business,” Allan said.

The Index, which reflects the views of 1,000 small and medium businesses from across Australia, also revealed that despite a tough quarter for the Government the long term projections for the economy have improved to their best level in 2 ½ years.

Read more here.

 

This story first appeared on Appliance Retailer. 
                    [post_title] => Support for Turbull dips from small and medium businesses
                    [post_excerpt] => State by state results. 
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By Vanessa Cavasinni, editor Australian Hotelier   Hoteliers and the wider hospitality industry are on edge, as they await more details in regards to the Federal Government’s 457 visa replacement. Yesterday (Tuesday), Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the scrapping of the 457 visa program, stating: “We are ensuring that Australian jobs and Australian values are first, placed first. During the press conference, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, announced that 457 visa will be replaced with two alternate visas, that do not foster as much agency for permanent residency. “What we propose is that under the Temporary Skills Shortage Visa short-term stream there will be a two-year visa, with the options of two-years, but there would not be permanent residency outcomes at the end of that. “In relation to the medium-term stream, which as the Prime Minister pointed out, is targeted at higher skills, a much shorter skills list, that will be for a period of four years, can be applied for onshore or offshore, and it's a significant tightening of the way in which that programme operates. According to the Department of Immigration, in 2014 cooks represented the third-largest usage of the 457 visa, after software/application programmers and general practitioners and residential medical officers. The AHA has called on the Government to ensure that the needs of the hospitality industry are met within the new visa program. “The hospitality industry is growing at unprecedented rates at the present and the demand for skilled labour is at all-time highs with this complete transformation of Australia’s hotel industry,” said AHA CEO, Stephen Ferguson. Indeed, the Government’s own Australian Tourism Labour Force Report estimated that the tourism and hospitality sector will require an additional 123,000 workers by 2020, including 60,000 skilled positions. “Australia’s hospitality sector has responded with a wide range of training and career development programs, but with such a rapid increase in tourism it is impossible to meet the demand for skilled labour in the short-term through local channels, especially in regional and remote Australia.” With the exact details of the new Temporary Short- and Medium-Term Visa programs, yet to be revealed, most hoteliers are withholding judgment at this stage, but a few were wary of the additional strain the scrapping of the 457 visa would place on finding kitchen staff. “I am still waiting to hear the finer detail about the announcement from Turnbull so as to fully understand the implications of this for the hospitality sector. But on face value, it does not seem to be founded in a sound consideration of the facts attributable to the current skills shortages being experienced in the hospitality sector,” opined Christian Denny, licensee of Hotel Harry and The Dolphin. For Angela Gallagher, group general manager of Gallagher Hotels, the replacement of the 457 visa program will create another hurdle in finding quality staff. Read more here. This story first appeared in The Shout. 
[post_title] => Hospitality industry reacts to 457 visa scrapping [post_excerpt] => Chefs third most sought after under visa program. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => hospitaliy-industry-reacts-457-visa-scrapping [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-04-21 11:14:39 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-04-21 01:14:39 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26966 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26922 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-04-18 16:21:39 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-04-18 06:21:39 [post_content] => Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announces the end of 457 visas. Pic: YouTube.   By Madeline Woolway   Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced today that his government would abolish 457 visas, replacing them with a new temporary visa. “We’ll no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians,” Turnbull said via a Facebook video. “However, it is important businesses still get access to the skills they need to grow and invest, so the 457 visa will be replaced by a new temporary visa to recruit the best and the brightest in the national interest.” Mr Turnbull said the 457 visa scheme had "lost its credibility".  The new visa will require workers to have previous work experience, a police check, better English language proficiency and labour market testing. The government will also establish a new training fund with the aim of filling skills gaps.   It is understood that there will be two types of visa: a two-year visa, with a 'substantially reduced' number of skills that qualify or a four-year visa, where better English skills will be demanded.      In March 2017, the government cancelled fast tracked 457 visas for the fast food industry. Writing for Hospitality after Trump's election, Justin Browne said the 457 visa program was at its lowest level of approvals in five years, outlining the merits of utilising overseas talent under the program. With the hospitality industry in the midst of a skills shortage, a number of chefs have taken to social media to air their thoughts on the decision.  On Bishop Sessa's Facebook page a message read:  "Good luck Australia! Good luck finding Australians willing to work and be trained. "Who genuinely thinks we prefer to employee foreigners? "Who imagines investing time, money and effort in an employee with a finite future in our business is our preferred business model? "Who really believes that given an option between an Australian resident and a visa holder with the same experience/qualifications we would choose the visa holder? Eau De Vie's Sven Almenning said:  "This has the potential of being absolutely devastating for the hospitality industry. Chefs in particular are in high demand with a very limited local 'supply' of trained chefs. As someone who sponsors a number of people I can testify to always looking for Australian residents first (sponsorships are both expensive and risky for us), but often there simply are not enough locals with the skill level or experience that we need that apply for these jobs. Personally I am quite concerned about what this populist election move will mean for our industry."   This story first appeared in Hospitality Magazine.  [post_title] => Turnbull abolishes 457 visas [post_excerpt] => Temporary visas come in. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => turnbull-abolishes-457-visas [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-04-18 16:46:19 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-04-18 06:46:19 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26922 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26709 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-03-31 11:06:38 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-03-31 00:06:38 [post_content] => Manchester city centre, UK.     Three Australian cities will replicate a UK initiative designed to deliver economic growth, affordable housing and new infrastructure while devolve decisions away from federal government towards state and local government. City Deals is a UK initiative which began in 2012 with eight deals for cities outside London, including Manchester, Bristol, Liverpool and Leeds and covering a population of 12.7 million. They have now been introduced across 38 UK city-regions. Under City Deals, state government and local councils decide what needs to be done to lift economic growth locally and they set targets in areas such as jobs, affordable housing and emissions reduction. The deals also include the regional areas around cities. The scheme emphasises building infrastructure and aims to deliver long-term benefits, such as higher land values, bigger tax receipts, more jobs and increased productivity. In the UK, most contracts are for ten years and funding often comes from all three levels of government. Local councils’ contributions tend to be lower than that from the other tiers of government, around 10 to 20 per cent, and often includes contributions in kind, such as land transfers and council officers’ time. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is known to be a fan of City Deals for Australia and he has committed to early deals for Townsville, Launceston and Western Sydney. The process for future deals will be announced later. The Launceston City Deal, signed in September last year, promises to support education, employment and investment and this will include a new university campus in the city centre; revitalising the historic CBD and a new National Institute for Forest Products Innovation Hub. Under the Launceston deal, $140 million comes from the federal government and $60 million from the Tasmanian government. The Western Sydney City Deal, which includes the local government areas of the Blue Mountains, Camden, Campbelltown, Fairfield, Hawkesbury, Liverpool, Penrith and Wollondilly, seems to have a pretty broad remit. It will focus on public transport, employment and investment (particularly youth and indigenous employment); more affordable housing by boosting supply and diversity; biodiversity and conservation and arts and culture. There is no mention of who is paying what under the Western Sydney deal, which is up on the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s website. To find out more about the UK experience and what it could mean for Australia, Government News caught up with Scottish urban economist and affordable housing specialist Professor Duncan MacLennan, who has been involved with the Glasgow City Deal. What City Deals can do  But first, let’s start off with what City Deals could do for Australia. Prof MacLennan explains that cities are ‘core areas driving national productivity’ and he says City Deals have been valuable because they have placed infrastructure at the centre of city thinking and coherent investment strategies.   While cities drive growth, the income and tax receipts from this goes mainly to state or federate government - there is a disproportionate flow back - while cities are stuck with the problems stemming from growth, like congestion, pollution and a shortage of affordable housing. Indeed, Prof MacLennan says there is some evidence to suggest that some skilled workers are fleeing cities, fed up with long commutes and expensive housing. City Deals attempt to reverse this situation by channelling some of the money back into city-regional areas. Prof MacLennan says: “In the absence of changing the fiscal system, it’s a reasonably appropriate mechanism for getting money where it needs to be. “The main benefit to City Deals is the new focus on infrastructure [that has] raised local capacity to deal with it and more coherent investment strategies.” What they the deals don’t do, he says, is lead to a better system of sub-national government because they are uneven in their impact. In the UK, the deals are not open to everyone and they have not been rolled out evenly. Since City Deals began, Prof MacLennan says that metropolitan authorities have strengthened their capacity to do big infrastructure planning and they have got much better at making the economic case for infrastructure investment. “Big City Deals now know much more about infrastructure planning and how to do it well than central government,” he says. “There is work being done that wasn’t being done three or four years’ ago.” This point was picked up in the UK National Audit Office’s (NAO) report on the first wave of eight City Deals, calling them a ‘catalyst to manage devolved funding and responsibilities’. The report also commended the deals for cutting through funding complexities and giving cities direct access to central government decision makers, which in turn helped them secure funding and support from other government departments. “This helped cities agree deals aligned to their ambitions and local priorities,” said the NAO’s report. But the process is not without its problems. Resources, as ever, have not been there to help cities build their capacity locally. Local government was expected to pool its resources and given no funding to support additional management capacity. This can lead to skills shortages, for example in forecasting and modelling. “It is not clear, however, whether this approach is sustainable in the context of wider reductions in the government’s funding for local authorities. Departments’’ resource constraints have impacted on the government’s capacity to make bespoke, wide-ranging deals with more places,” The NAO noted. Other criticisms of the UK model have included the inherent difficulty of uneven power relations between the three levels of government; the centralised control exerted when deals are negotiated; the lack of transparency around the criteria for cities to be selected for a new; vagueness around the aims, monitoring and evaluation of some City Deals and extra pressure on the already highly constrained budgets of local councils. Another downside of the City Deals, says Prof MacLennan, is raising expectations. “People think this is going to solve all their problems and don’t pay attention to other programs that are reducing and changing.” It can also open up gaps between the haves and the have nots: those areas which have City Deals and those that do not. Prof MacLennan says: “The differences may become so great that the government may have to come in and think about what it does for lagging cities.” But the neediest areas are often those where councils that may not have the organisation or the skilled workforce to make their case for a City Deal. Recommendations for Australian City Deals Good economic modelling is important from the get go, says Prof MacLennan, because it helps predict how infrastructure investment decisions affect the behaviour of individual households and businesses over several years. This can involve leveraging expertise from the university sector. For example, northern English City Deals for cities like Greater Manchester and Newcastle saw local government teaming up with universities for economic modelling and analysis. But Prof MacLennan says Sydney does not appear to have any economic metropolitan modelling ready to use. “You need to pay more attention to what you need to know before you start,” he says. “Otherwise you rely on consultants’ reports that are rarely ever in the public domain and never peer reviewed so that nobody knows what’s in them other than the government.” Once projects are up and running, it is essential to monitor their progress against targets and evaluate them effectively, although it is not always easy to know what would have happened were a City Deal not in place. “What matters is the monitoring and the learning from good monitoring,” he says. Some benefits are fiendishly tricky to quantify. For example, gauging economic gains from sustainability initiatives is difficult when there is no carbon price in Australia. Milestones are part of funding deals and if they are not met it means the next tranche of cash could be held back. The UK now has its own dedicated evaluation panel for City Deals. Putting in enough capital initially is important. Prof MacLennan says the volume of capital going into growing cities like Edinburgh, London and Manchester is not currently enough to resolve the issues these cities face. Exploring innovative methods of finance or making use of old ones could prove useful for Australian City Deals. The Scottish city of Aberdeen recently launched its own government bond but Prof MacLennan points out that cities have limited control over their tax affairs (the key to paying back bonds) and says further fiscal reform would be needed. If this is fixed, he anticipates other major cities could follow suit. In general, he says the UK has not come up with very exciting alternative methods of funding under City Deals.   On the whole, Australia is in a good position to implement City Deals and make them work. Prof MacLennan says that the Australian federal government and the states and territories have been much better at making infrastructure decisions than the UK. “I think there is a track record here off trying to think coherently about infrastructure … but the better City Deals, like Manchester, would have relevance to what happens in metropolitan Sydney.” “The images of Australia aren’t about the bush any more, it’s the cities.” [post_title] => What the UK can teach Australia about City Deals [post_excerpt] => Three Australian cities chosen for early deal. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 26709 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-03-31 11:58:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-03-31 00:58:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26709 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26567 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-03-17 12:23:16 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-03-17 01:23:16 [post_content] =>     Today (Friday) is the first day of rolling strikes by staff at Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency, as the union ramps up its fight for a new enterprise agreement for Human Services workers. Community and Public Service Union members (CPSU) begin a new round of strike action between 1.3 0pm and 8.30pm today in protest at what the union says is the federal government’s intractable stance on pay and working conditions, a dispute that has dragged on for three years. Asked how the strike would affect benefit claimants, a CPSU spokesperson said it was ‘difficult to predict’ what impact industrial action would have.  “Based on past strike action there may be increased wait times at customer service centres and for telephone queries,” the spokesperson said, describing the strike as 'open-ended'.  “The intention of the action is to pressure Department of Human Services’ (DHS) management and the Turnbull Government to fairly resolve enterprise bargaining.” He asked the public to be patient and advised them to access DHS services outside the notified strike times.  “DHS staff are taking this action because they’ve been fighting for a new agreement since 2013 and have gone well over three years without a pay rise,” he said. Department of Human Services General Manager Hank Jongen said customer payments would not be affected by the strikes but he added that there may be 'reduced numbers' of staff in service centres and on the phones. He said DHS was working hard to minimise disruption to services. “We’re asking customers to use the self-service options available through myGov and the Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support mobile apps,” Mr Jongen said. “We will have arrangements in place to make sure that staff will still be available to help those in financial hardship and who need immediate assistance.” The union postponed strikes in February in order to negotiate with the Department, talks mediated by the Fair Work Commission. When the talks came to nothing, strikes were back on the table. CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said: “This protracted dispute had gone on for far, far too long. It’s bad for people working in Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support, it’s bad for their families and it’s bad for the essential services our members in DHS provide. That’s why our members are going back on strike. “We agreed in February to hold off on taking fresh industrial action and instead proceed with negotiations overseen by the Fair Work Commission. The CPSU has negotiated in good faith but unfortunately DHS stands out from other Commonwealth agencies where we are making progress.” Mr Jongen presented a starkly different picture of how negotiations between the department and the CPSU were going, saying “we are making progress”. “In its most recent offer, the department has committed to maintaining virtually all existing staff entitlements, including all its family friendly entitlements, and giving its staff a pay rise that is both affordable and in line with community standards,” Mr Jongen said. “The department is, however, disappointed that the CPSU has initiated further industrial action while we continue to bargain before the Fair Work Commission.” He said the strikes would not alter the Department’s bargaining position and added that staff would have the chance to vote on a new enterprise agreement as soon as possible. Meanwhile Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) staff are awaiting the Fair Work Commission’s decision on their enterprise bargaining agreement, after the Commission stepped in at the end of last year to arbitrate between the union and the DIBP.   Want the latest public sector news delivered straight to your inbox? Click here to sign up the Government News newsletter. [post_title] => Human Services’ ‘open-ended’ strikes begin today [post_excerpt] => It won’t change our stance, says Jongen. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => human-services-open-ended-strikes-begin-today [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-03-17 15:51:48 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-03-17 04:51:48 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26567 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26360 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-02-28 11:26:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-28 00:26:00 [post_content] =>     The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will be more closely involved in making the 2021 eCensus bulletproof before it is conducted, which will involve cyber security experts from the Australian Signals Directorate independently assessing ICT security and risk, the federal government has pledged.  The Bureau will also and do a better job of talking to the public about any changes it wants to make to data collection, use and retention for future Censuses. The government published its response to the Senate Economic References Committee’s report, 2016 Census: issues of trust, yesterday (Monday) and agreed to all but one of the Committee’s recommendations. The Committee report, coupled with the MacGibbon Review, was triggered after the Census website was taken down on Census night (August 9) last year, following a series of Denial of Service attacks which blocked thousands of Australians from completing their Census forms online. The shutdown proved an international embarrassment for the government, trending globally on social media as #CensusFail, as well as denting public confidence in the government’s ability to deliver digitally. Besides the ICT meltdown on Census night, there had also been complaints from civil liberties groups and politicians ahead of the 2016 Census, concerned that the Bureau’s changes to data collection had not been properly publicised or consulted on and represented a privacy and security risk. These changes included matching Census data with other data sets to glean richer statistical data and keeping it for up to four years. The government has now agreed that the ABS will publish a final report on all future Privacy Impact Statements on the ABS website at least one year ahead of the Census. But it appeared to fudge any solid dollar commitment or specify any funding level for future Censuses in its 2017-18 Budget, saying only “the Government is committed to funding the Census and its associated activities” and that any decision would be “considered as appropriate during the annual budget cycle”. Other recommendations the government agreed to included: an open tender process for future censuses; ABS to manage ICT contractors and their work more closely and that the ABS would communicate clearly with the public on the repercussions of not completing a Census, including guidelines on fines, prosecutions and appeals. But the government did not accept the Committee’s recommendation that it intervene in filling vacant senior roles at the ABS, saying it was outside its remit, except when appointing the Australian Statistician. It also refused to take on board recommendations from the Nick Xenophon and Stirling Griff (also NXT), who wanted to make it optional for people to provide their names. Some Greens and independent politicians refused to write their names on last year’s Census forms. The government knocked back the request: “Mandatory provision of a person’s name in the Census is necessary for a high quality Census and consistent with international practice,” adding that it would hamper accurate population estimates and dilute information quality and range. The government also rebuffed the two senators’ request for making parliamentary approval necessary for any future plans to link Census data with other data sets, saying there were already strong protections around the use of Census data. Greens Leader Senator Richard Di Natale had also pushed for a new independent Privacy Impact Assessment for the next Census to be carried out within the next six months. This would include assessing the acceptability of data collection and retention changes made for the 2016 Census. The government denied his request and said “the ABS has already been subject to considerable external scrutiny about the management of personal information from the 2016 Census”. It said that the Bureau had already responded to community concerns by altering its policies and procedures. The MacGibbon Review, led by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s ICT supremo Alastair MacGibbon, stressed the importance of renewing public confidence in the government’s digital transformation mission and highlighted why the 2016 Census failed. Criticisms included: inadequate preparation against predictable cyber security breaches; poor crisis planning; poor communication, particularly around security and privacy concerns; procurement bungles and an insular ABS culture with an overreliance on past strategies. The Review concluded: “The public’s confidence in the ability of government to deliver took a serious blow, more so than any previous IT failure.” [post_title] => Government answers #CensusFail recommendations [post_excerpt] => Australian Signals Directorate to assess 2021 eCensus cyber security. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => government-answers-censusfail-recommendations [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-28 13:36:37 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-28 02:36:37 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26360 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26143 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-02-01 16:32:29 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-01 05:32:29 [post_content] => Labor's 2016 Mediscare TV and YouTube ad featuring Bob Hawke. Pic: YouTube     Labor has launched an online portal encouraging Australians to submit their experiences of Medicare and the impact of healthcare cuts, in a sign that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will continue to attack Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Medicare. Mr Shorten said the new portal – mymedicarestory.com - was established in response to complaints from Australians about ‘serious delays in Medicare processing’ under the Turnbull government. He said some people had reported a six-week delay getting a refund. “We know that because of this Government's cuts to vital services some people are falling through the cracks,” Mr Shorten said. “We want to know when that happens, so we can help ensure our health care system is strengthened now and in the future. “Labor will never stop fighting to protect Medicare from Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals. Today there is a clear message for Malcolm Turnbull -  give Medicare the best  birthday present by dropping the savage cuts to health which will see bulk billing drop, every Australian pay more and Medicare undermined.” Submissions using the portal are anonymous and can be confidential, if requested. Mr Shorten’s Mediscare message – warning voters that Mr Turnbull was trying to sell off or privatise Medicare through the back door - became central to Labor’s campaign during the 2016 federal election. The Opposition wheeled out former PM Bob Hawke to front the TV and YouTube advertising campaign, warning that the Liberals had set up “a Medicare privatisation taskforce” that would destroy the country’s healthcare system. Mr Shorten used the fact that the government was exploring outsourcing Medicare payments as leverage to suggest that the whole kit and caboodle could follow suit. Shortly afterwards, Mr Turnbull said Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, health, aged-care and related veterans’ payments would continue to be managed by the government and disbanded the $5 million Digital Payments Services Taskforce, which had been aided by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The Department of Health is understood to have held market briefings with IT providers in Sydney and Melbourne last month in a bid to select potential partners to help replace Medicare’s 30-year-old system ahead of the Request For Proposal. [post_title] => Labor continues to attack Turnbull on Medicare with new online portal [post_excerpt] => Medicare still major battleground. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => labor-continues-to-attack-turnbull-on-medicare-with-new-online-portal [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-03 09:56:19 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-02 22:56:19 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26143 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26080 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-01-27 10:21:22 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-26 23:21:22 [post_content] =>   Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop's cash splash on helicopters, chauffered cars and European tours launched a thousand memes on social media.      Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull needs to urgently act on his promise to reform politicians’ work expenses before another one gets busted, say academics. Parliamentary expenses have been under the spotlight again recently, with the high profile resignation of federal Health Minister Sussan Ley earlier this month. Ms Ley quit after it emerged that she had purchased a $795,000 Gold Coast apartment ‘on impulse’ during a taxpayer-funded trip. News of her chartering and flying planes to attend work meetings back in 2015 delivered the coup de grace. During the ensuing storm of negative public opinion and media commentary, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull committed to creating a new independent parliamentary standards authority to vet politicians’ expenses claims, similar to that established in the UK after the 2009 MP’s expenses scandal exploded. It is understood that the new body’s board would include the President of the Renumeration Tribunal, as well as former public servants, judges and politicians and an auditing expert; probably taking over from the Department of Finance, which currently administers the system of complex laws and rules around politicians' expense claims. Mr Turnbull has also pledged to address the 36 recommendations contained in a February 2016 Renumeration Tribunal Review into politicians’ work expenses led by Tribunal President John Conde and former Finance secretary David Tune. The review was commissioned by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott following Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop’s notorious Choppergate scandal the previous year. The Reviews’ 36 recommendations included making the distinction clearer between official and personal business and defining whether duties are party political, electorate or office duties. Prof Rodney Smith, who teaches Australian politics and public sector ethics at Sydney University’s Department of Government and International Relations, said immediate action was needed to dispel the ‘widespread public suspicion’ that politicians fiddled their expense claims, overlaid by the general idea that politicians were in it for themselves. “I think it’s probably at a point where if nothing happens or there are only superficial reforms, the government is only really going to be making a rod for its own back further down the track if someone else has been embroiled in another scandal,” Prof Smith said. But he said the public sometimes lacked understanding about what the job entailed. “[Australia’s] geography is very big. It’s inevitable that you’re going to need some kind of reasonable scheme for travel and associated costs for doing your job as minister.” AJ Brown, Professor of Public Policy and Law at Griffith University’s Public Integrity and Anti-Corruption in the Centre for Governance, said the task of reforming the system “really is very urgent” and creating an independent regulatory body was a good start. At the moment it was a system “that’s still fundamentally under the control of those who would stick their noses in the trough” leaving MPs to their own devices – and consciences. But despite the positive move to take expenses away from the purview of politicians, he said the new body should also adjudicate on broader corruption issues such as conflict of interest, code of conduct and interest registers. “I think they can get this moving but the pressure will mount for them to broaden its jurisdiction,” Prof Brown said. “It links in with having a stronger federal anti-corruption body generally because some of these issues are even more serious. “My big fear is that this new authority won’t have the jurisdiction to cover all of these things that are sometimes more important and controversial, in terms of parliamentary ethics and standards: issues of public confidence.” Prof Brown also backs creating a new role of Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner, one originally suggested by former PM Julia Gillard and the Independents, to cover all areas of parliamentary standards. Self-regulation has failed Whatever occurs, it is clear that MPs regulating their own expenses’ claims has manifestly failed. Prof Brown said that the independence of auditing and compliance needed to be upgraded because politicians had not been subject to sufficient checks and balances. The rules that exist are too complex and have been built up ad hoc over many years, “The Finance Department have had a terrible time trying to administer it”, he added. “I don’t think they’re [politicians] any more venal than the rest of the world and much of them are less venal but they have been the victims of weak systems. “Just the assumption they don’t need some extra policing to help them keep in line like the rest of the world,” he said. Australia had dropped the ball a bit when it came to clamping down on corruption. “Australia has been very complacent about allowing these issues about corruption generally, both small and large scale. We’re really just catching up with the rest of the world," Prof Brown said. “We need to make sure we’ve got our act together and our systems in place, especially because of how much more competiti­ve the world is and how much faster we are operating.” Both men said that some politicians failed the pub test but still acted within the rules, partly because they belonged to a kind of insider community where what was viewed as convenient and acceptable to getting the job done could be at odds with broader public experience. Prof Brown said: “It’s so easy for people in positions of power to confuse what they’re doing in the public interest with what they want to do in their own personal or political interest. It’s not about individuals, it’s about human nature. “People set their standards on what they see other people do and think it’s ok or they see other people get away with it. The risk of people in high office losing their connection to the community is high.” Prof Smith said that, for the most part, politicians did the right thing but sometimes just got sucked in to what appeared to be the ‘rules of the game’ and slipped up. The big three areas of expense claims that need to be addressed by Mr Turnbull's government are probably: travel expenses, the definition of official business and family reunion allowances. Travel Prof Smith said parliamentary travel entitlements had long been one of the most problematic areas in Australian politics due to the sheer number of politicians caught up in questionable travel claims and because public opinion was often fierce around such debates. Prof Smith said the rules need to be tightened up in some instances and clarified in others. “They are much more specific than they used to be but there are still some fairly broad limits in the rules. An example is [the definition of] official business,” he said. Travel expenses have generated some of the most egregious and colourful scandals over the years. Federal MP Bronwyn Bishop famously fell foul of public opinion in July 2015. Choppergate put paid to her time in the Speaker’s chair in the House of Representatives and launched a thousand memes on social media after she charged the taxpayer more than $5,000 for a cheeky 80-km helicopter trip from Melbourne to a Liberal Party function in Geelong, rather than drive. Neither did it help when Ms Bishop blew $88,000 on a European trip, part of which included her campaigning for the presidency of Inter-Parliamentary Union; or charging taxpayers $600 for a return flight to fellow Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella’s wedding, an expense that Mr Abbott himself paid back and advised other pollies to do the same. What counts as official? A common argument from politicians is that their expenses claims – often relating to travel - are within the rules but later admitting that they would not have passed the ‘pub test’. The problem is, of course, that travel claims like these appear [in Labor Leader Bill Shorten’s words] ‘colossally arrogant’ and out of touch to the general populace, particularly when the government is in the middle of a highly flawed benefits crackdown and gearing up to reduce maternity leave. These stories feed the public perception that says politicians are ‘all the same’ and have their snouts in the trough, leading rarefied lives compared with the rest of us. It is not a good look; neither does it foster much public confidence in the political system or the people elected to serve inside it. Deciding on what constitutes official business clearly needs to be addressed and this is one of the recommendations of the Conde Review. Few things raise the hackles of ordinary folk more than politicians charging taxpayers when they attend major sporting or cultural events as guests of a private company. Tasmanian Senator David Bushby, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Steve Ciobo stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy after they charged taxpayers thousands of dollars to attend the 2013 AFL Grand Final, dubiously excusing themselves by saying they had important work chats with the companies that invited them. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop charged taxpayers $2716 to attend a polo match in the Mornington Peninsula last year as guest of beer maker Peroni and car company Jeep. Ms Bishop defended her expenses claim, saying she was attending in her official capacity. I miss my family Family reunion travel – designed to reduce the isolation many politicians experience from being on the road a lot – has also attracted a fair amount of negative attention. Labor’s Tony Burke spent nearly $13,000 on flights, a hire car and other allowances when his family joined him on a four-day trip to Uluru in 2012 when he was federal Environment Minister. Even the kids flew business class, which Mr Burke later admitted was 'indefensible'. While Mr Burke claimed the taxpayer bill was legitimate because he was on official business and visiting aboriginal communities, others did not see it the same way.  The $90 Comcar to travel to a Robbie Williams concert also failed to endear him to a critical public. It is another area that the Review suggests needs changing, reiterating that family reunion travel can only be funded if the politician is at the location for work, underlining that it should not be used to sneak in a taxpayer-funded family holiday. How should reform proceed? Prof Smith said making data transparent is critical to good reform because it will increase public confidence in the system and keep MPs on their toes. At the moment, expenses are published every six months. The Review has recommended this reporting be narrowed to monthly to help open up and demystify the process, as well as to give the public a better understanding of politicians’ jobs. He said that abuses often came to light accidentally or through freedom of information requests from journalists. Many never came to light. “Politicians would be more careful just as they are more careful about accepting political donations or ministers having meetings with lobbyists, because they know there is greater transparency and greater understanding of what’s legitimate and what’s not,” Prof Smith said. The Conde Review’s key recommendations
  • Define ‘parliamentary business’ to determine legitimate expenses claims
  • ‘Entitlements’ or ‘benefits’ now to be referred to as ‘work expenses’
  • Create a single legal framework to deal with work expenses and guide politicians
  • Publish rules and details of work expenses on data.gov.au, quarterly and then monthly
  • Principle of value for money to be central
  • Helicopters cannot be chartered to cover short distances ‘in the absence of compelling reasons’
  • A 25 per cent penalty to be paid where expenses claims are ruled invalid, not just those relating to travel
  • Prohibit the use of car and driver, including COMCAR, for journeys that are primarily personal
  • Abolish the $10 per night travelling allowance for partners accompanying ministers or office holders
  • Explore the option of leasing vehicles, rather than buying private plated vehicles
  • Tighten family reunion eligibility – only fund trips for partners and children when they join the MP or Senator who is there for the parliamentary business
  • Reduced provision for former parliamentarians who don’t qualify for a Life Gold Pass
  • Provide politicians from the Big Six electorates (over 500,000sq km) with a third staff office, second vehicle offset and extra travel allowance for stopovers on official business
  Transparency International Australia will hold its National Integrity 2017 conference on March 16 and March 17 at the Novotel Brisbane. [post_title] => Crack down on politicians’ entitlements now, say academics [post_excerpt] => Travel expenses biggest rort. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 26080 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-01-30 17:05:22 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-30 06:05:22 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26080 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [10] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26036 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-01-18 16:44:06 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-18 05:44:06 [post_content] => were taken in hospital. Can new federal Health Minister Greg Hunt take the pressure?     Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has immediately been lobbied by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Opposition in his new job, in an early indication (if one were needed) that managing his new portfolio is going to be as tough as some of the seven marathons he has run.  Health was one of the key battlegrounds during last year’s federal election when Labor Leader Bill Shorten accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of having a secret agenda to privatise Medicare, holding up the possible outsourcing of Medicare payments as proof and wheeling out ex-PM Bob Hawke to star in an ad about it. The government denied the charge but damage was undoubtedly done to the Liberal vote. Decisions about health budgets and policies have often become political hand grenades, think back to the $7 GP co-payment in Joe Hockey’s 2014 budget or Tony Abbott attempting to wind back Kevin Rudd’s hospital funding agreements with the state and territories in the same budget. AMA President Dr Michael Gannon welcomed Mr Hunt’s appointment, beginning by buttering him up and listing his past achievements, including being named Best Minister in the World at the 2016 World Government Summit. There is no doubt that Mr Hunt represents a safe pair of hands and it doesn’t hurt that both his mother and his wife are nurses. Mr Hunt was Minister for the Environment between 2013 and 2016 and Shadow Minister for six years before that. He was appointed Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science in July last year. A major issue for the Association and its members is the ongoing freeze on Medicare rebates, begun by Labor in 2013 and projected to last until 2020. The Medicare Benefits Schedule lists all the services the Australian Government will pay rebates for and the rebate is a percentage of the Medicare schedule fee. For example, the rebate is set at $37 for a GP consultation. Doctors have argued that neither the Schedule fees that doctors who bulk bill agree to charge, nor the rebate, have kept pace with the real costs of providing these services by medical practitioners, squeezing them from both sides. While doctors who don’t bulk bill can set their own fees the Medicare rebate covers a portion of these, leaving the patient to cover the gap. For an excellent explanation of the Medicare rebate freeze on The Conversation click here. Dr Gannon said he was keen to meet Mr Hunt as soon as possible to discuss policy and funding, particularly in the context of the upcoming budget in May. “The AMA would like to see Mr Hunt get off to a flying start by scrapping the government’s freeze of Medicare patient rebates, which is causing great hardship for patients and doctors,” he said. Labor has pledged to end the freeze and restore indexation. Dr Gannon said Mr Hunt also needed to get across the reviews set in motion by former Health Minister Sussan Ley, principally the MBS, but also the review on private health insurance examining whether it is delivering value for money or not. He also flagged public hospital funding, indigenous health, mental health, and prevention as areas that needed fixing. Shadow Health Minister Catherine King also demanded the government abandon the Medicare freeze, which she said was “already having an impact on bulk billing rates and will drive up out-of-pocket costs”. She accused the Turnbull Government of ‘changing their salesperson’ but not their health policy by appointing Mr Hunt and said she would be taking the new minister to task on cuts to pathology and bulk billing and cuts to dental programs for children. She also challenged him to drop the zombie cuts, such as the planned increases to PBS co-payments for general patients, concession patients and those with chronic illnesses. [post_title] => Is the 'Best Minister in the World' a panacea for Health? [post_excerpt] => Hunt immediately lobbied. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => best-minister-world-panacea-health [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-01-20 11:07:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-20 00:07:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26036 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [11] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26025 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-01-18 12:15:39 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-18 01:15:39 [post_content] => Sussan Ley and Greg Hunt_opt Before the Gold Coast imbroglio: Sussan Ley and Greg Hunt.     New ministers
  • Minster for Health and Minister for Sport - Greg Hunt
  • Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science - Arthur Sinodinos
  • Minister for Aged Care and Minister for Indigenous Health - Ken Wyatt
  • Assistant Minister to the Treasurer: Michael Sukkar
  Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has done a mini-ministerial reshuffle - his fourth in 18 months - following the resignation of Sussan Ley on Friday last week over controversial travel expenses claims. Mr Turnbull had three gaps to fill as Ms Ley was Minister for Health; Sport and Aged Care. Greg Hunt, the former Environment Minister and most recently the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science takes on Ms Ley’s all-important Health portfolio and also gets the sought-after Sport Minister’s job. Health is a critical Cabinet position. Mr Hunt will need to deal with calls to dismantle the Medicare rebate freeze that GPs are up in arms about and confront Labor’s Mediscare campaign, should it reassert itself. Mr Turnbull noticeably avoided appointing Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos to the high profile Health job, probably in part because Mr Sinodinos’ reputation appears to have been somewhat tarnished by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption’s (ICAC) investigation into jailed Labor MP Eddie Obeid’s links to Australian Water Holdings (AWH), of which Mr Sinodinos was chairman. While no corruption findings are due to be presented against Mr Sinodinos, questions are likely to keep being raised about his poor performance as an ICAC witness and his responsibilities as AWH chairman. Mr Sinodinos, who was Acting Health Minister after Ms Ley resigned, will instead become the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, filling the vacancy left by Mr Hunt. The cabinet secretary function will now return to the Prime Minister's office, reducing the size of Turnbull's Cabinet by one to 22. Liberal backbencher Michael Sukkar becomes assistant to Treasurer Scott Morrison. Ms Ley’s departure also means there is now less women in the PM’s cabinet – nine out of 41 in the inner and outer ministry. Meanwhile, Western Australian MP Ken Wyatt has made history by becoming the country’s first indigenous federal minister as Minister for Aged Care and also Minister for Indigenous Health. He was previously Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care.  The new ministers will be sworn in by the Governor-General Peter Cosgrove on Tuesday.   [post_title] => List: Turnbull’s mini ministerial reshuffle [post_excerpt] => Hunt gets Health and Sport. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 26025 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-01-20 11:07:08 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-20 00:07:08 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26025 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [12] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25978 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-01-13 12:31:33 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-13 01:31:33 [post_content] => Group of people from the background tossing crumpled paper into a garbage can. Single agency bargaining: To bin or not to bin?   The Australian Public Service (APS) should dump its single agency bargaining approach to negotiating pay and conditions and re-introduce centralised bargaining, believes a former Public Service Commissioner, as the bitter three-year pay dispute between unions and the federal government grinds on for tens of thousands of public servants. While a number of government departments and agencies have signed enterprise bargaining agreements, many larger ones are holding out for a better deal, notably Human Services, the Australian Taxation Office and Immigration and Border Protection. The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) says that around two-thirds of APS workers remain without an agreement, with little possibility of back pay. Australian National University Professor Andrew Podger, who was Public Service Commissioner between 2002 and 2004, backs an APS-wide approach to bargaining because he says single agency bargaining has had serious, negative consequences for the public service which have outweighed the promised benefits, chiefly around flexibility. “This has caused very serious damage to the integrity of the whole pay system in the Public Service with tangible impact on mobility within the service, serious management problems for agencies affected by machinery of government changes, justified complaints of unfairness across and within agencies, and unknown impacts on attraction and retention of the skills the APS requires,” Prof Podger told the 2016 senate inquiry into APS bargaining. Prof Podger says single agency negotiations have created pay disparities for similar jobs  in different departments and agencies and has also damaged staff morale and caused resentment. “What’s happened is they’ve all gone their different ways and none of them have been able to focus on the market,” says Prof Podger. “Strict central rules led to different pay rates, not because they are useful but because they are forced to be there.” He argues that these differences have affected mobility between departments and caused problems attracting the best talent, intensified for departments that have suffered deep budget cuts and may not have the resources to match pay rates. “It really is making it very hard for the Department of Social Services to recruit a good person from Treasury [for example] and that’s silly. Treasury jobs aren’t more important than jobs in top policy positions in DSS or Education etc,” he says. “The very areas where you want to actually improve their performance are often the ones that are having the most difficulties.” He advocates “a serious market-based approach” and service-wide employment conditions, because the skills across most departments are similar. Dr John O’Brien from Sydney University Business School’s Work and Organisational Studies agrees that a centralised bargaining system would be “far more efficient” and says most public sector bargaining in the states and territories is already centralised. “The current system is operationally decentralised but controlled from the centre,” Dr O’Brien says. “Wage disparities reflect the capacity of each agency to pay.” Research and reports Pay inequalities within the APS and their impacts have long been the subject of fierce debate. A 2010 report Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration, said wage disparities had “increased significantly both within and between departments and agencies” since APS wages and conditions were devolved in 1997. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that growing disparity in wages and conditions across agencies has discouraged mobility and reduced the sense of a unified APS with a strong career structure,” said the report. It said that the APS classification profile had changed dramatically, reflecting the changing nature of work and the changing labour market. One of its key recommendations was that the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) should take over Australian government policies for agreement-making, classification structures, APS remuneration and workplace relations advice. The APSC’s 2016 Remuneration Survey revealed a 10 per cent disparity for similar work at every level in the APS in the salary range between the 5th and 95th percentiles. The gap reached 30 per cent or more for the Senior Executive Service; 26 per cent for graduates and 22 per cent for the lowest classification (APS 1). Machinery of government complications Machinery of Government changes when whole departments or parts of them have merged have thrown differences in pay and conditions in the APS into stark relief. For example, when Indigenous Affairs moved into the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and Border Force joining Immigration. Could these complications be an argument to retain single agency bargaining? Prof Podger says not, though he admits it takes ‘a couple of years’ to disentangle. “It would be a tricky process of transition to narrow these differences over time,” he says. “No cuts [to pay and conditions] but maybe a freeze or slow increases until these things are a little bit more aligned.” Dr O’Brien says centralised bargaining would probably need to be preceded by a round that attempted to reduce wage disparities before it was introduced.   Public V private A gap has also opened up regarding pay for similar skills and experience between the APS and the private sector, making it harder to attract outside talent. Prof Podger says the private/public sector gap may be felt differently depending on pay grades. He says public servants’ pay is probably above the market at the lower end of the pay scale, around APS1-4, and below the market at the higher end, above EL1. But he adds that most people are rising up through the public service to reach senior levels so it is internal fairness that matters most. As well, it may be necessary to be in line with the market to attract bright graduates in the first place. Pay is not the only issue, of course, when considering public service recruitment. “I think we forget often that people really are motivated to serve the public,” Prof Podger says. “It’s exciting and interesting work. People feel as if they’re having an influence and doing things that are good for the public. Pride in work is important for retaining staff. “Sadly there is still too much denigration and lack of respect for the public service from the likes of IPA [Institute for Public Affairs Australia].” Market forces and flexibility Prof Podger believes that the federal government needs to pay much more attention to market labour forces, linking this to departments which are having retention and recruitment problems, possibly involving extra strategies. He believes that it is more important for agencies to study the labour market than having strict rules on single agency bargaining, which he says were supposed to increase flexibility but had instead delivered differentiation in pay and conditions and made the government less flexible. But he says a whole of APS bargaining system would still need extra flexibility in order to attract good candidates to specialised roles or into areas of skill shortages, such as ICT, project management, policy and research or finance. Individual contracts could be offered in a limited number of cases, with clear agency policies and APSC checks on pay rates and merit-based recruitment to prevent abuse. “Agencies need some discretion or there’s a problem," he says. But Prof Podger qualifies that reflecting market forces more closely in the APS may not translate into higher pay or better conditions for public servants. “It won’t be easy. It might not be more generous. Its disciplines would be a different set of disciplines. You would be talking seriously about the attraction and retention of the skills you need, [though] productivity would still be there.” Productivity Pay rises in the APS have been tied to productivity offsets for many years, but Prof Podger believes this has blinded successive federal governments on both sides to what is most important: having the workforce needed to do the job. He says efficiencies and productivity can be pursued via workplaces changes, mostly technological, without totally wedding them to pay rates. “Certainly, you want the unions to agree to the new technology and change work arrangements required by the new technology but you still want to go back and see that the pay rates ought to reflect what the market requires. There could be a reduction in staff.” Dr O’Brien calls the emphasis on productivity trade-offs in the public sector “a zero sum game” but says that bargaining cannot be separated from the efficiency dividend, which makes bargaining even more difficult. He says that even past public service commissioners – with the exception of the current ‘hardliner’ incumbent John Lloyd - have pointed this out. “Wage increases equals staff losses or a freeze on appointments or decline of services,” Dr O’Brien says.   Breaking the APS industrial relations deadlock Asked who or what could break the current APS bargaining deadlock, Prof Podger says it will not be easy, given the government’s intransigence. The Union may also need to shift a little, he says suggesting the CPSU takes a “more careful look at market conditions and total remuneration” and shelves calls for domestic violence leave, relying on the discretion of individual managers instead. But he did not blame the union for being jumpy about the government trying to remove some points out of EBAs and into policy, where they could ultimately be changed. “Given the rhetoric coming from the likes of the IPA, taking super outside [EBAs] would understandably be seen as a threat,” Prof Podger says. “The government needs to loosen its wage outcome policy. This is unlikely that a below inflation wage adjustment is sustainable. Direct negotiations between the unions (coordinated by the ACTU) and government could lead to negotiated parameters for bargaining. Again unlikely!” Dumping single agency bargaining would also free up agency heads to do other work. Prof Podger says: “The system has required a very high transaction cost across the APS, requiring enormous effort by management in every agency, most of whom lack the specialist knowledge needed to get the best remuneration outcomes.” Timeline
  1. The Keating government introduced decentralised agency-based enterprise bargaining into the APS in the early 1990s, ostensibly to allow agencies to improve productivity in ways that were difficult under centralised bargaining agreements.
  2. There is disagreement over whether or not this was intended to be a temporary arrangement
  3. John Howard reverted to agency-based bargaining after the 1996 election. Employment conditions were included within the bargaining framework along with an attempt to link any increase in remuneration to productivity gains.
[post_title] => Dump single agency bargaining in the APS, says former Public Service Commissioner [post_excerpt] => Pay and conditions differ between agencies. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 25978 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-01-13 12:50:14 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-13 01:50:14 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=25978 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [13] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25964 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-01-10 11:31:03 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-10 00:31:03 [post_content] => Woman worried about financial problems. Jobless or to many bills   Pressure is escalating on the Turnbull government to suspend its $4 billion Centrelink debt recovery mission, as accusations pile up that Human Services wrongly targeted welfare claimants, or exaggerated the debts they owed, using inaccurate data. A social media campaign #notmydebt is sharing stories of individual’s debt letters and the effect it has had on them. One woman said she finally broke down while speaking to a third Centrelink employee after the agency incorrectly paid her the full-time benefit rate while she was a part-time student, despite her repeatedly advising them otherwise. She was wrongly told she owed $400. The woman told the Centrelink employee that the debt – which he later admitted was an error - had compounded the pressure she was already under as a single mum with a number of health problems who had only recently plucked up the courage to divorce her abusive ex-husband. She said the way she was treated by one Centrelink staff member was appalling. She said the employee was “spiteful” and did not show her compassion, leaving her feeling humiliated. “At the end of the day he took something from me as a human being. He also acknowledged that Centrelink had erred and he suggested that if ever it were to happen again, perhaps I should spend the money! “He suggested I appeal it but what more can I do? My health can't handle any more of this. I am scared they'd nit-pick for something else to add to my debt. My heart goes out to all those who received outrageously high amounts. I hope you take them to the cleaners and put up the fight that I'm unable to.” One man, who has Cushing Disease, said he “had a meltdown” after Centrelink told him he owed $5500. He said Centrelink overpaid him $440 in sickness benefits in 2013 but he forgot about it after he did not receive the promised Centrelink letter asking him to repay it. But the debt ended up morphing into a much larger amount. He said: “This makes my flight fight response work at high level 24 hrs a day 7 days a week. Any amount of stress and my body shuts down and I become ill. The last 4 yrs have been hell.” He later tried to report the inflated debt online but had terrible trouble trying to find out how he could give detailed, nuanced answers, instead being asked to respond yes or no to questions. “I can understand Centrelink wanting to ensure people getting benefits are getting what they are supposed to," he said. "Yes I am a taxpayer. But the way they are going about it is so wrong!! “They think it's ok to send out thousands of letters to people who have done the right thing. Yet here they are having panic attacks, chest pain and becoming physically ill when they receive such letters.” One student said that Centrelink acted act like “a giant debt collection agency with no proper process or justice” after being asked to repay $1200 of Newstart allowance and charged a 10 per cent recovery fee. The student said this figure was later reduced to 10 per cent of the original figure by the agency.  “I can barely breathe when I think about this. My time period to pay is up tomorrow. I asked them for proof before I pay and I have heard horror stories of debt collection agencies, people being asked to pay so much, people being told there will be a black mark on their credit. I am so terrified. It's so stupid for me to be terrified but I can't help it. I am a student, I can't afford anything!” Meanwhile, the Opposition and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) have called on the government to shut down the process, which has been driven by matching ATO and Centrelink data, while its 20 per cent error rate is examined. About 170,000 letters have been issued since the beginning of the financial year based on auto-matched data from the ATO and Centrelink. Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave has pledged to investigate the matter. A Commonwealth Ombudsman spokesperson said: “Commonwealth Ombudsman Colin Neave confirms he is aware of the concerns raised about the automated data matching system used by Centrelink. Mr Neave has commenced an own-motion investigation into the matter and is considering the issues on a systemic level. The Ombudsman conducts own-motions in private and accordingly, cannot comment on any specific details." The Ombudsman is responsible for investigating complaints about government officials, agencies and departments.  CPSU Assistant National Secretary Michael Tull called the scheme “an absolute nightmare” for thousands of innocent Centrelink customers and the agency's staff, who he said were already overstretched and attempting to cope with the fallout. “The serious problems with this debt recovery program are piling on even more pressure, and feeding more aggression from understandably frustrated customers,” Mr Tull said. “We hold very serious concerns about Centrelink’s ability to cope in coming months. There’s a perfect storm of work, with this debt recovery scheme likely to be just part of the problem. “This debt recovery scheme needs to be urgently suspended until the significant problems with it can be identified and fixed, and particularly with an even more heavy caseload coming for staff because of the pension cuts and as people need Centrelink’s support to commence their studies.” He said union members working at Centrelink had told the union that “in almost every case the poor customer ends up owing nothing, or just a fraction of the debt claimed.” “In at least one case an initial debt for $9,000 ended up being $90. That’s not a minor discrepancy but a clear sign of a failed system.” He called on the government to make Centrelink’s casual staff permanent so that they could be fully used to deal with the “deluge” of work. [post_title] => Social media campaign reveals misery of Centrelink debt recovery [post_excerpt] => Ombudsman to investigate. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => social-media-campaign-reveals-misery-centrelink-debt-recovery [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-01-10 11:31:03 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-10 00:31:03 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=25964 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 9 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 14 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 27476 [post_author] => 670 [post_date] => 2017-06-26 10:24:58 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-06-26 00:24:58 [post_content] => Federal Government minister Christopher Pyne’s comments during an after-party in Sydney have landed him – and the rest of the Liberal Party – in hot water from most sections of the political spectrum. Reportedly released to far-right commentator Andrew Bolt, the recording of the comments were taken in the company of some of the other left-leaning members of the Liberal Party. What got most people heckled was Christopher Pyne’s boasting about the early introduction of same-sex marriage. “Friends, we are in the winner’s circle but we have to deliver a couple of things and one of those we’ve got to deliver before too long is marriage equality in this country. "We're going to get it. I think it might even be sooner than everyone thinks.” Malcolm Turnbull The Prime Minister has distanced himself from the comments made by Christopher Pyne, that same-sex marriage would be introduced “sooner than everyone thinks.” Mr Turnbull said gay marriage would only be law once the Australian public had voted on the issue. “As far as the same sex marriage issue, our policy is very clear, it has not changed, we have no plans to change it,” he said. Tony Abbott As one can these days reasonably expect, former prime minister Tony Abbott was quick off the mark with the boot, saying Mr Pyne’s comments appeared to be evidence that the Defence Minister had been plotting behind his back. "This appears to be the confession that he has made to his close colleagues in the Left faction," Mr Abbott told radio 2GB. "Christopher Pyne wasn't just a member of my cabinet, he was actually in the leadership team and it's important that you show loyalty. "But if he's to be believed on Friday night, that loyalty was never there which is incredibly disappointing." Bill Shorten Meanwhile Tweeting from Adelaide, Labor leader Bill Shorten kept his comments brief: “Shame on Turnbull and Pyne. They play games whilst Australians wait for marriage equality. Get out of the way.” But the Greens see hope The Greens said Christopher Pyne’s comments about marriage equality over the weekend show just how impatient many members of the Coalition are for marriage equality to be achieved now. “It’s staggering that Malcolm Turnbull is publicly standing by Tony Abbott’s plebiscite, meanwhile one of his senior ministers says equality will happen ‘sooner than everyone thinks,’ said Senator Janet Rice, the Greens’ spokesperson on LGBTIQ issues. “Australian couples shouldn’t be forced to keep waiting for their love to be recognised.  “The Coalition [members] are playing games with people’s lives. Mr Turnbull needs to stand up to the dinosaurs in his party and allow a free vote in parliament now.’   [post_title] => Christopher Pyne’s gay marriage comments land him in hot water [post_excerpt] => Christopher Pyne’s comments about same-sex marriage have landed him in hot water. 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malcolm-turnbull

malcolm-turnbull