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Public servants ‘don’t need’ incentives to decentralise

Public servants at agencies picked for decentralisation don’t need special incentives to move to regional towns, the Nationals deputy says.
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Fiona Nash, who announced the federal government decision to decentralise the public service in Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney in April, said she took umbrage when people suggested departments needed incentives to move staff to bush towns.

“Moving to regions is the incentive itself. We’ve got cheaper rates, cheaper rents, we’ve got fabulous lifestyle, we’ve got everything on offer out in the regions you could possibly want to bring up a young family,” she said.

“The person down the road’s going to bring your dog back and if you get a flat tyre someone’s going to help you.”

Senator Nash, speaking at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia conference in Canberra on Wednesday, said decentralisation would stop public servants from narrowing their thinking when forming policy.

“You can getting a very insular approach to policy thinking about when we’re looking nationally, if we’re only looking through the prism of capital cities,” she said.

“People out in the regions are different, and they often have a different approach, which is great, it just brings into the melting pot of excellent policy thinking about where we want the nation to go.”

However she reiterated her leader Barnaby Joyce’s promise not to target all departments for relocation, and said the decentralisation project would have limits.

“Clearly they’re not going to go everywhere, and clearly we’re not going to move policy entities out, they’ve got to have a connect to ministers and government and other departments,” Senator Nash said.

“But there are obviously going to be some that can be moved and, why not?”

When asked how the government would measure the success of decentralisation, she said it would focus on the “psyche” of regional towns.

The National Party-led push to force relocations of departments and agencies will be considered by cabinet in August, and comes after Mr Joyce faced accusations of pork barrelling over the controversial relocation of the pesticides authority to his own electorate of New England.

The government is yet to outline its criteria for which departments and agencies face being moved, but non-policy related workforces were highlighted as a priority in the April 19 announcement by Senator Nash.

A template business case for relocations is being prepared by the Finance Department and cabinet will decide on who stays and who goes by the end of the year.

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ACT school suspends student for having ‘dangerous’ opinion

St Edmunds college student John-Paul Romano (centre) has been suspended this week after encouraging students at St Eddie’s to strike on Friday over changes to school logo. Pictured with Daniel Elix (left) and Jeremy Colbertaldo. Photo by Karleen Minney.A 17-year-old who tried to organise a student strike on Friday over changes to St Edmund’s College including to its crest, the uniform and, potentially, song has been suspended indefinitely after the headmaster allegedly said his presence at the school would be “too dangerous”.
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The suspension appears to point to a general malaise at the iconic Canberra school, with multiple sources telling The Canberra Times there are major concerns about falling student numbers, long-term staff leaving, changes affecting the identity and pride of the school, the academic achievements of the students and a lack of consultation around important decisions.

Complaints have been lodged with Edmund Rice Education Australia, the overarching body of the college.

Those close to the school say the suspension on Tuesday of Year 12 student John-Paul Romano was simply indicative of the autocratic leadership style of headmaster Daniel Lawler who, they say, does not permit alternative views to his.

“We’re bleeding students, staff members and board members all because the current administration won’t listen,” one said.

However, Mr Lawler has defended his leadership style and maintained that morale at the school is good and that the wider school community is consulted.

“I think I have a positive relationship with members of my community and share leadership collaboratively across the school, but don’t believe it is appropriate to comment further about my leadership style,” he said.

Mr Lawler also dismissed rumours that the school song would be changed or The Pines at Tuross, owned by the college for school camps, would be sold, saying both were untrue.

In a letter this week to John-Paul Romano’s father, Mr Lawler said the year 12 student was being suspended for “bringing the college into disrepute”.

The letter did not outline what the teenager was alleged to have done. The Education Act does not include inciting “disrepute” as a reason to suspend a student at a non-government school.

The suspension came just days after John-Paul created a Facebook page called St Edmund’s College Canberra Alumni Association and urged students to strike this Friday over changes to the school uniform, crest and, potentially, song. There have been concerns those cosmetic changes strike at the heart of the history of the school which opened in 1954 and are symptomatic of the lack of consultation.

“We were trying to start a conversation,” the 17-year-old said.

“I believe a lot of people, staff and students, don’t want to have that conversation because of the threat of the management.

“The protest wasn’t to be just a physical one. You could have walked out of class if you wanted. But it was just about making your voice and your opinion known.”

A college leader, house leader and SRC rep, John-Paul said he was shocked to be suspended.

“I was very surprised, for such a minor thing,” he said.

“There are students who have physically assaulted other people and don’t get suspended.”

John-Paul said in explaining the suspension, Mr Lawler had said his presence at the school would be too dangerous.

“I’m not sure why it’s dangerous. I haven’t assaulted or threatened anyone,” he said.

John-Paul said he believed the school wanted him kept clear of a meeting this week of principals from the Edmund Rice Education Australia network. He was due to serve canapes to the principals at a function on Wednesday night as part of an assessment for his hospitality studies.

“I believe part of the suspension was that the principals are at the school this week,” he said.

When asked to respond to those claims, Mr Lawler said student matters were “always treated confidentially”. He denied that students who had committed assaults were not suspended.

Mr Lawler was also asked if John-Paul was being shut down for expressing an opinion contrary to the school management.

“At St Edmund’s all students are encouraged to express their opinions and these opinions are valued by members of the staff and by me,” Mr Lawler said.

“The college has avenues that students can follow to make comment, and comment needs to be in respectful, appropriate and in keeping with the ethos of the college and the law.”

Fellow Year 12 students of John-Paul, including Jeremy Colbertaldo, said they had also been involved in planning the protest action, but had not been suspended.

“Our main prerogative was to create a platform where people felt comfortable they could speak out on what they believe in,” Jeremy, 17 said.

John-Paul said he had a meeting with Mr Lawler on Friday to discuss the suspension.

It was revealed earlier this year that the college was changing its crest. The school uniform was also changed.

Some school insiders who spoke to The Canberra Times said those changes were tinkering at the edges and the real focus should be on attracting students and improving the school’s academic record. Others believed the changes confirmed poor consultation and were central to the erosion of school pride.

John-Paul said he believed there were rumblings about changing the school song as it was “no longer relevant”.

“For me and Jeremy, both of our fathers attended the school. There’s a big sense of Eddies pride,” John-Paul said.

“To change the logo and to change the uniform are big things. This tie I’m wearing today is the same tie my father wore when he went to college and that meant a lot to me on my first day, when I was wearing the same uniform as my father.”

Several people raised concerns about falling enrolments and the departure of long-term staff. Mr Lawler would not going into specifics of how student numbers were going.

“Like all fee-charging schools, we face challenges with enrolment numbers. There are a number of factors which influence parental choice including shifting demographics, financial impost, and increased competition from other schools,” he said.

As to the academic record, Mr Lawler said: “We are a comprehensive non-selective school, which prides itself on an inclusive enrolment of students of all abilities. Some of our students do exceptionally well, and we are working with all students to maximise their learning opportunities and potential”.

Mr Lawler also denied 30 staff had left last year.

“Staff changes in a large school can fluctuate for various reasons each year. For example, last year some teachers retired, some went to promotional positions, some moved for family reasons and some were on short-term contracts that ended,” he said.

Mr Lawler maintained parents were consulted extensively about the uniform changes.

“The college always consults about key decisions on a regular basis. Sometimes this is internal and sometimes includes the broader community. We will shortly be releasing our new strategic plan which is based on broad consultation across the school community, including staff, students, parents and others such as the college board,” he said.

Others in the school community disagreed, saying alternative views to management’s were not welcome.

“Anyone who has the courage to say, ‘I disagree’ gets shut down or told to leave. And that’s board members, teachers and families,” one insider said.

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Public servants should be forced to move or face sack: LNP senator

Federal public servants should face the sack if they if they refuse to go to work in Darwin, a former Coalition minister says.
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Queensland Senator Ian Macdonald says federal bureaucrats in Canberra live “very privileged lives”, describing the capital as a place where buses run every five minutes and hospitals are dotted around the suburbs.

The former mining minister for regional services believes that public servants should be forced en masse to regional Queensland and the Northern Territory, where he says people are “less demanding” and expect fewer government handouts.

Senator Macdonald was responding to comments in Senate Estimates early this week by Treasury Secretary John Fraser who complained that none of his public servants had been willing to answer a call for help from the territory’s bureaucracy.

Mr Fraser said the NT’s public service requested the assistance of a federal Treasury official to work in Darwin for three months but no-one in the top economic agency had been interested, despite the posting being advertised twice.

The Treasury Secretary told the senators on the Economics Committee that it was sad his agency’s workers were not up for a “bit of adventure” in the top end.

But Senator Macdonald went further, saying he wants people sacked if they refuse to “get out of their very privileged lives” in Canberra Sydney or Melbourne and move to the regions, he told ABC radio Darwin.

“I would have thought that if a public servants had been asked by their boss, the secretary of the department, to go to Darwin, albeit only for three months, that person should do what was asked of them,” the Howard-era minister said.

“I wouldn’t have thought that person should be in a position to say ‘nah’ I”m not going to Darwin.”

“I was aghast to hear that no-one volunteered and that people wouldn’t go.”

The Northern Territory has lost a higher proportion, 15 per cent, of federal public servants since 2013, more than than any other state or territory, down to just 2,220.

But a suggestion this year from another NT Liberal figure, former Country Liberal Party Deputy Chief Minister Mike Reed, that large numbers of public servants from the Prime Minister’s department move to Alice Springs was met with silence.

Residents of the national capital might be surprised at Senator Macdonald’s impression of their city, which he says has a lifestyle very different to that of northern Australia.

“If you lived in Canberra, you’ve got a school down every street, you’ve got a hospital in the next suburb, you’ve got four-lane highways wherever you go, you’ve got the very best of telecommunications, of theatre, of whatever aspect of life,” he said.

“They just don’t get the feel of what it’s like to live and work and play in places that are far away from these privileged societies that they, from birth I guess, have always experienced.”

Senator Macdonald praised Mr Fraser for opening a Treasury office in Perth but said there should be outposts in Darwin and far north Queensland too.

“I think that if public servants did get out of their privileged lives in Canberra and Melbourne or Sydney and went to Darwin, they’d probably never leave,” Senator Macdonald said.

“We find that a lot in Townsville, those who are forced to come there suddenly become its greatest advocates, they love the place.”

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Mine games. Why Adani is banking on the unbankable

You would think Adani would have gone away by now.
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The giant Indian conglomerate can’t get a loan for its proposed $22 billion Queensland coal mine from an Australian bank, it can’t seem to get one from an Indian bank, the mine would be so big it would depress the world coal price, and the Indian government plans to phase out coal imports altogether.

In documents released to Fairfax Media under freedom of information laws, the Queensland Treasury as good as described the project as “unbankable”.

What is being proposed is breathtaking: a series of coal mines 60 kilometres long. If scrunched together they would be 40 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide – an area bigger than Paris, much bigger than Sydney Harbour.

It would be the biggest coal mine in Australia and the biggest export coal mine in the world. It and the neighbours in the Galilee Basin that would open up when the railway went through would double our export capacity. It’s more than important enough for the Australian government to take a serious interest in.

From a purely nationalistic point of view it causes problems. So much would the extra coal push down the world price that it would increase the use of coal and make it harder for the world to meet the emission reduction targets that Australia has signed up to.

“There is no avoiding the simple mathematics of it,” says Jonathan van Rooyen, who has a powerful interest to argue against the mine as the infrastructure manager of the half-owner of the Port of Newcastle in NSW. “If Turnbull succeeds in pushing between 25 and 60 million tonnes of subsidised new coal into a flat world market, the volume of coal mined and exported from the Hunter and Illawarra will decline.”

That means less coal mined using the infrastructure we already have, less use of the ports we already have, and an estimated hit to royalties received by NSW of nearly $50 million year.

So what are our leaders doing? Queensland has just offered Adani a discount starter-rate royalty, which it says isn’t a subsidy, just a deferral.

Malcolm Turnbull is considering spending almost $1 billion of his $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund on one project: a loan to a company controlled by the Adani family to enable it to build a 400 kilometre railway to get the coal to a deep water port near the Great Barrier Reef. By definition, such a loan wouldn’t be needed if the railway was commercially viable, which raises a disturbing question: if the railway isn’t viable, what about the mines it would rely on for business?

The coal Adani hopes to mine is poorly located and of low quality. India has announced plans to phase out thermal coal imports. In the past year it has cut them 20 per cent. They are not only being replaced by domestic coal, but also by solar plants. The price of Indian solar has been sliding 25 to 30 per cent per year. It’s now cheaper than power from new coal-fired stations. In India the Adani group itself is building new solar and wind-powered stations.

So why is it bothering? Why is it stringing along Australian authorities regardless?

Part of it is accounting. It is carrying a lot of debt. Against that on its books is an asset: the right to build a mine, which has got to be worth something. Walking away would destroy the value of that asset and make its books look worse.

Which might be what the whole thing is about. The Adani family might be more Australian than it thinks.

The Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss puts this way: “One of the most profitable activities in Australia is the magical act of getting things rezoned, and that’s just as true for the mining industry.” (It’s a point amplified in the new book Game of Mates.)

Dairy farmers who want to put houses instead of cows on rolling hills and retire rich do it by getting the government to change the zoning. The minute that happens, well before any houses are built, they get richer. They get an asset they can sell. Eight out of 10 of the names on the Financial Review Rich 200 list got there through property, mining, banking, superannuation or finance – all heavily regulated industries relying on government decisions.

If Adani gets environmental approvals and a licence to mine, the value of its asset will have soared whether or not it actually mines. It could even onsell the asset without mining.

Even better, if it did onsell the project, it could maintain ownership of the railway, without which the next owners couldn’t get the coal to port.

Patriarch Gautam Adani has put ownership of the railway (the one that would be financed by the Commonwealth) into a separate private company owned by the family in the Cayman Islands. Should the publicly listed company that owns the mine go bust and have to sell, the mine’s new owners would still have to keep paying him.

I reckon it’s why he is still pushing.

Peter Martin is economics editor of The Age.

Follow Peter Martin on Twitter and Facebook

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Hayne picks up where he left with symbolic celebration

Match Report: Fifita stars as Blues smash MaroonsPlayer Ratings: How New South Wales faredPlayer Ratings: How Queensland fared
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Jarryd Hayne, crowd surfing into a rapturous mob of Blatchy’s Blues with teammates on his tail? Wasn’t that supposed to be the last, enduring memory of NSW’s prodigal son in State of Origin, not a second coming of The Plane on a stage he lives for?

You can have your around-the-world adventures. The head-spinning NFL playbooks, blink-and-you-miss-it Olympic Games bids and summer slogs where an empty toilet might be a sanctuary from the latest lung-busting interval, this is what Hayne lives for. This is where he’s meant to be. Standing precisely on top of a Suncorp Stadium fence – ironically bearing Queensland’s famous XXXX signage – the conductor to NSW’s fan orchestra. Play it again, Jarryd.

Hayne’s just slithered through a creaking Queensland defence, the icing on a cake NSW had whipped up in the pivotal moments either side of half-time. Hayne goes straight for his standard pose, the only one any NSW fan cares to remember from a once-in-11-year celebration back in 2014.

It might have been Hayne’s moment of the match, but Laurie Daley will find another equally important one a few minutes later.

When he sprinted from his station on the left to the right flank after fullback James Tedesco had made a last-ditch tackle to stop a try and was out of position, Queensland still 24 points in arrears. And then back again on the same play. Bundling Dane Gagai into touch on the very same corner he was supposed to be. That means more to Daley than anything else.

So anonymous you might have thought he was still an NFL special teams novelty, called on once in a blue moon to steam back into man mountains who charged him like Queenslanders would the bar when last drinks are called at the Caxton bar.

Certainly the camouflage effect of his blue boots didn’t help his cause. But in one split second he showed why Daley just had to pick Hayne for Origin, a shimmy-shimmy-whoosh Mark Gasnier would have been proud of. Justin O’Neill looked straight ahead and Hayne was gone, setting up a slightly lame Brett Morris who was eventually collared inches short of the line. And then the next minute? The reason Kevin Walters wanted Laurie Daley to pick Hayne. The slightly hunched shoulders, gasping for breath, trying to keep pace.

Queensland flung the ball to Hayne’s edge with no obvious numerical advantage and Hayne stuck out an arm rather than apply a shoulder. Thin air. O’Neill and then Gagai burst downfield, Cooper Cronk kicking inch perfectly for Corey Oates to score on the next play. It was Queensland’s only joy.

The average fan was still salivating over Hayne’s effort with ball in hand a minute earlier. The hard-nosed rugby league coach knew it meant nothing in the context of the next 60 seconds.

But then Hayne pocketed a a desperate short dropout from the Maroons and Tedesco scored a few plays earlier. Laid a bone-crunching hit on another, forcing O’Neill to spill the ball on the next play. Andrew Fifita picked it up and scored. Job done.

Where are those Blatchy’s Blues again?

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