The Victorian government has directed train stations to stop broadcasting Sky News on television screens after the news channel aired an interview with far-right extremist Blair Cottrell.
Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan announced the decision on Thursday morning on Twitter. “I’ve directed Metro Trains to remove Sky News Australia from all CBD station screens,” wrote Allan. “Hatred and racism have no place on our screens or in our community.”
The channel’s news director Greg Byrnes has admitted that “it was wrong to have Blair Cottrell” on the Adam Giles Show, and that “his views do not reflect ours”.
In an interview with 3AW, Allan defended her decision to ban the channel over the interview with the “self-confessed Hitler fan”.
“As the public transport minister, where it’s a public asset being used to televise particular content, I think I’ve got a responsibility to make sure that content is appropriate,” said Allan. “That interview was unacceptable, indeed Sky News themselves have admitted they got it wrong.”
The channel received backlash after the interview, with former Labor MP Craig Emerson accusing it of “normalising racism and bigotry”.
The plan to build thousands of houses in Marrickville’s industrial land may still proceed despite the NSW government’s handover of planning control to local councils.
The Inner-West Council and the City of Canterbury Bankstown are now in charge of the strategic planning along the Bankstown rail line, which is set to be converted to a higher-frequency metro rail service by 2024. This effectively derailed the proposal from property giant Mirvac for a $1.3 billion apartment project in the zone, covering 20 buildings ranging from two- to 28-storey height, over 2,600 residential units and 17,300 square metres of new commercial and retail space.
“The community will develop the plans, where the buildings will go, where the new homes will go, where the new parks will be,” said Planning Minister Anthony Roberts.
Inner West mayor Darcy Byrne welcomed the return of planning powers to the local councils. “We’ve fought long and hard to put an end to developer-driven planning proposals in this corridor, and today we are thrilled to take back control of planning for Sydenham, Marrickville and Dulwich
Hill,” said Byrne.
“Today’s decision puts an end to Mirvac’s ridiculous proposal… Our new plans will be developed by the community, not multinational developers, because this is Marrickville, not Mirvac-ville.”
However, Toby Long, general manager for NSW residential development at Mirvac said the company will not give up on the project. “We are looking at many months of work ahead before the proposal will be ready, but we take a long view and we are prepared to take our time to get it right,” said Long.
Former US President Bill Clinton said he didn’t owe an apology to Monica Lewinsky after the 1998 scandal.
In an interview with NBC’s Today show, Clinton told Craig Melvin that he had never privately apologised to Lewinsky and did not feel any need to. Clinton was interviewed alongside his co-author James Patterson to promote their new novel, The President is Missing.
“I have never talked to her,” Clinton said. “But I did say publicly on more than one occasion that I was sorry. That’s very different. The apology was public.”
Public attention to Clinton’s scandal, along with the allegations of sexual harassment and assault from several women, has been renewed after the rise of the #MeToo movement.
Clinton praised the movement but admitted to having some reservations about some of its outcomes. “I like the #MeToo movement,” Clinton said. “It’s way overdue. It doesn’t mean I agree with everything. I still have some questions about some of the decisions that have been made.”
Considering the movement, Clinton said he would still approach the accusations made against him in the same way. “If the facts were the same today, I wouldn’t [handle it any differently],” said Clinton. “I don’t think it would be an issue because people would be using the facts instead of the imagined facts.”
In a Vanity Fair essay earlier this year, Lewinsky wrote that she had started to view the affair with Clinton, which she previously characterised as consensual, in a different light. “Now, at 44, I’m beginning (just beginning) to consider the implications of the power differentials that were so vast between a president and a White House intern,” she wrote.
It wasn’t a big budget for education this year, with schools funding already set in the last Budget, and the funding freeze for universities announced in the Federal Government’s mid-year budget update in December.
But the National Schools Chaplaincy program will become permanent, with A$247 million set aside over four years from 2018-19.
And there is some good news for students in regional, rural and remote areas, with:
A$96.1 million over four years for young people in regional, rural and remote communities to transition to further education, training and employment
A$14 million over four years for 185 Commonwealth Supported Places annually for students commencing a bachelor degree at university through a Regional Study Hub
A$53.9 million over four years to improve regional students’ access to youth allowance, and
A$123.6 million over five years to regional universities for additional Commonwealth Supported Places from 2017-18.
Schools and early education funding
Glenn Savage, Senior Lecturer in Education Policy and Sociology of Education at University of Western Australia
Despite ongoing political debates about school funding, most of the big news happened in last year’s budget, when the federal government formalised details associated with its Quality Schools reform package.
The package centres on a commitment to align school funding with the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) recommended in the 2011 Gonski report into school funding.
To achieve this, the government plans to progressively raise funding levels for government schools from 17% to 20% of the SRS and for private schools from 76.8% to 80% of the SRS by 2027.
The government argues that this delivers an additional $24.5 billion for Australian schools over the decade, and says it will be up to states as to whether they wish to fund the remaining amounts so that all schools reach the full SRS.
The government also claims its reform package provides more consistent needs-based funding when compared to the so-called “special deals” established under the Labor Gillard government.
Labor doesn’t agree, suggesting the Coalition is shortchanging the nation to the tune of A$17 billion (the initial claim was $22 billion) when compared to promises made by the former Gillard Labor government.
Labor has promised, if re-elected, to return to the Gillard model.
This ensures funding will be a defining issue at the next federal election, especially given last week’s Gonski 2.0 report has made a suite of recommendations that the federal government supports and could very well require an additional injection of federal funds to implement.
But any potential changes hinge on whether the Coalition is actually in power when next year’s budget is delivered. And, if so, whether it has any luck pursuing the new Gonski agenda with states and territories.
Aside from these ongoing Gonski wars, this year’s budget contains a few additional highlights.
• A$11.8 million over three years to expand the Early Learning Languages Australia program to more preschools and trial the program in 2019 and 2020 from the first year of school through to year two in primary schools.
• A$6 million over two years (from 2017-18) to continue and update the communications campaign to increase public awareness of changes to the Quality Schools package (aka public relations to sell the government’s reform package).
• A$1.3 million per year until 2020-21 to continued funding the MoneySmart Teaching program, designed to improve financial literacy education in schools.
Finally, the government has signalled its intention to continue exploring ways to deliver new and diverse pathways into the teaching profession, with the view to increasing the supply of quality teachers. This measure builds on previous work associated with the Teach for Australia program.
To pursue this aim, the government has suggested it will invite proposals in 2018 from providers to deliver alternative pathways into teaching.
Higher education and VET funding
Andrew Norton, Program Director of Higher Education at Grattan Institute
The long aftermath of the VET FEE-HELP loan fiasco is still being felt in the 2018-19 Budget. The government is planning to spend A$36.2M over fours years for a new IT system to ensure compliance in the replacement VET Student Loans program.
The VET Student Loans Ombudsman, given the task of receiving student complaints about vocational education lending, is to receive another A$1 million to help deal with the large numbers of people making complaints.
Higher education’s big Budget news came early, in the December 2017 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO). It announced a two-year pause in tuition subsidy growth, and a range of reforms to the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP). There is no major change to these decisions in the 2018-19 Budget.
The pause in tuition subsidy growth has been implemented. It was done without going back to parliament using university funding agreements. For domestic bachelor degree places, universities will receive the same total amount that they received for 2017 for each of 2018 and 2019. Previously, there were “demand driven”, meaning that the Government would fund every student the universities enrolled.
The government has also used the funding agreements to reduce the number of Commonwealth-funded diploma, associate degree, and postgraduate coursework places. About 4,000 allocated places were abolished, but some of these weren’t being used anyway, so the practical effect may be limited.
Soon after these policies were announced, partial exceptions began with the University of Tasmania, the University of the Sunshine Coast and Southern Cross University all receiving additional places. These are confirmed in the Budget at a cost of A$124 million over five years.
Including the new places, funding on Commonwealth contributions through the Commonwealth Grant Scheme will be just over A$7 billion for 2018-2019.
From 2020, the government says it will resume funding increases based on population growth for universities that meet yet-to-be determined performance criteria. The Budget paper shows predicted spending of A$7.3 billion in 2020-21.
But numbers this far out are moot. With an election due in the next 12 months, and Labor indicating it will go back to demand driven funding, the funding freeze could be over by then. If the Coalition survives in office, it may also make substantial changes.
The other major MYEFO announcement was to the Higher Education Loan Program (HELP) loan scheme. Unlike changes to total tuition subsidy payments, these need legislating and the relevant bill is still before the Senate.
The most important proposed changes to HELP are the income thresholds determining whether, or how much, a HELP debtor needs to repay each year. If it passes, the bill would lower the initial repayment threshold from A$52,000 a year to A$45,000 a year. HELP debtors earning between A$45,000 and A$52,000 would repay 1% of their income. But some other thresholds are more generous than now, and many HELP debtors would end up paying less per year than they do now.
The government also originally proposed a A$100,000 lifetime cap on borrowing under HELP for all courses except medicine, dentistry and veterinary science, rather than just the full-fee student FEE-HELP scheme. The Budget confirms that the cap would be A$100,000 of HELP debt at any one time, allowing people who have paid off some debt to borrow again.
Whether HELP reforms eventually pass the Senate remains to be seen. In either case, it is fortunate for the higher education sector that they were not rejected prior to the May 2018 Budget. The freezing of the demand driven system showed the government was not bluffing when it said it needed to reduce higher education spending. Like the demand driven system, equity programs and some research programs are vulnerable to cuts the parliament cannot easily stop.
As it turns out, these programs survive in the Budget.
Research funding will receive a modest boost, with nearly A$400 million extra over five years for research infrastructure.
Although the higher education sector gets off lightly in the Budget compared to MYEFO, higher education providers will be hit with extra charges. The Government plans to charge them more for the services of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency.
The government also plans to charge higher education providers A$10 million a year to recover costs associated with HELP. We can only hope some of this is used to improve on the current very unsatisfactory public reporting of HELP’s finances.
President Donald Trump’s pick for CIA chief, Gina Haspel, reportedly oversaw a secret prison in Thailand where terrorist suspects were tortured by waterboarding.
If approved by the US Senate, Haspel will become the first woman to lead the intelligence agency, replacing Mike Pompeo, who is reassigned as the secretary of state.
Haspel has spent more than 30 years working for CIA with extensive overseas experience, and is widely respected across the intelligence circles. However, she started receiving heavy scrutiny on her links to the secret prison after her appointment as Pompeo’s deputy in February 2017.
Associated Press reported that according to anonymous officials, Haspel briefly ran the black site prison in 2002, where two terrorism suspects, Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri allegedly underwent waterboarding and slamming. Three years later, Haspel ordered the destruction of the 92 videos of the interrogation.
Haspel’s nomination has been widely criticised by politicians from both parties. Republican Senator John McCain, who was tortured in the Vietnam war, said, “Ms Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process.”
Fellow Republican Susan Collins, who is a part of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she is undecided on whether to support the nomination. “[Haspel] certainly has the expertise and experience as a 30-year employee of the agency,” said Collins. “But I’m sure there are going to be some questions raised.”
Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, who served in the Iraq War, said Haspel’s nomination was “even worse” than that of Pompeo’s. “Not only did she directly supervise the torture of detainees, but she also participated in covering it up by helping to destroy the video evidence,” Duckworth said in a statement. “Her reprehensible actions should disqualify her from having the privilege of serving the American people in government ever again, but apparently this president believes they merit a promotion. I could not disagree more.”
Haspel has not addressed these concerns. “I am grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency,” Haspel said in a statement. “If confirmed, I look forward to providing President Trump the outstanding intelligence support he has grown to expect during his first year in office.”
Lambie has become the latest parliamentarian who fell victim to the section 44(i) of the Australian constitution, which rules that people who hold dual citizenship are disqualified from federal political office.
A compensation deal worth $70 million for over 1,300 current and former Manus Island detainees has been approved by Victoria’s Supreme Court.
The class action settlement, reached with Australia’s federal government and the Island’s Regional Processing Centre operators, sought to compensate the detainees for the illegal detention and negligence in housing and protection.
“I am comfortably satisfied that a figure of $70 million to be distributed without deduction of costs amongst participating group members is a fair and reasonable sum,” said Justice Cameron Macaulay on Wednesday.
“[We wanted] to put an end to this fiction the Commonwealth seeks to maintain for political purposes that it’s PNG [that] holds these people, that PNG has the duty of care for these people,” said Rory Walsh of Slater and Gordon, the firm who led the legal action.
“The Commonwealth settled this case and paid $70 million not to have that fiction tested in court.”
Out of 1,923 former and current detainees who are eligible for the compensation, 1,383 have registered to get their share by Monday.
However, more than 160 detainees have objected to the compensation amount, saying that it would not address the plights of those who remained in the Island. About 800 men are expected to remain at Manus Island after the detention centre closes next month.
“Getting that money is not the issue. It is not the matter of the amount of money,” Iranian refugee Amir Taghinia told ABC’s AM.
“We are still in the same situation, we are still suffering from the same conditions, under the cruel regime of the defendant, and the case is finished, the case says ‘yeah, that’s it, it is already settled’ … It is absolutely not in favour of any of the detainees in here, but it is in favour of the law firm and the defendant.”
Mole Creek residents can now drink tap water safely for the first time in 70 years, as boil water alert has been lifted.
Tasmania’s water provider TasWater said the alert lift was a significant step in addressing water quality issues in 24 towns across the state, which are expected to be cleared of boil water alerts by August next year.
“The Mole Creek water supply is just one of many projects in a fully-funded, affordable 10-year-plan to improve Tasmania’s water and sewerage infrastructure,” said TasWater chairman Miles Hampton.
However, Premier Will Hodgman remained sceptical about the provider’s ability to deliver the promise in time.
“There are plenty of communities across this state that for years have been calling out for boil water alerts to be lifted,” Hodgman said. “They were meant to be fixed by now. They’ve said in the past these communities would be fixed sooner and it hasn’t been the case.”
The state parliament is set to table a legislation after the winter break to enable the utility takeover from July next year. The government said the acquisition would allow speedier infrastructure upgrades.
Australia’s intelligence agency ASIO has warned major political parties against taking donations from two billionaires with links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
A Four Corners–Fairfax investigation found that ASIO has briefed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott as well as opposition leader Bill Shorten about the threat of CCP influence.
ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis also briefed officials from the Coalition and Labor parties privately in 2015 about billionaire property developers Huang Xiangmo and Chau Chak Wing, who have made a total of around $6.7 million in political donations along with their associates. While Lewis did not tell the parties to reject the funds, he said that the CCP has influence over businessmen, and donations might come with strings attached.
However, the parties went on to accept the money anyway. Since then, the Coalition has taken $897,960, while Labor took $200,000.
Labor senator Sam Dastyari was also found to have repeatedly assisted Huang in his citizenship application, which is currently temporarily blocked while ASIO investigation is still ongoing.
In light of the report, Turnbull ordered a major inquiry into espionage and foreign interference laws.
“The threat of political interference by foreign intelligence services is a problem of the highest order and it is getting worse,” Attorney General George Brandis said in a statement.
“Earlier this year the Prime Minister initiated a comprehensive review of Australia’s espionage and foreign interference laws, which he asked me to lead. I will be taking legislative reforms to Cabinet with a view to introducing legislation before the end of the year.”
Last night, the Liberal government announced its new 2017-18 budget for Australia, affecting millions of Australians over the country.
There have been criticisms of Turnbull’s Government and its decisions over the newly announced drug tests for Australians on welfare. Background checks are often a mandatory condition with most job applications in Australia, but is it morally right to initiate drug tests at random as part of a legal requirement?
Jacqui Lambie has welcomed the new drug tests for welfare recipients, but she said politicians should do the same. “It is about time politicians led by example and both on the Senate side and the House of Reps, there should be random drug testing as you come through the doors.”
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce defended the decision, saying to the ABC that “you can’t go to work if you are smashed or drugged out.”