Malcolm Turnbull aghast at Darwin Port sale a week before it was announced

December 15, 2015 – 8:54PM

Heath Aston

Political reporter

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was so concerned about the sale of the Port of Darwin to a Chinese company linked to the Communist Party that he asked for a review of Australia’s foreign acquisition law a week before the controversial deal was announced by the Northern Territory government.

An insight into the concern around the cabinet table when the port deal came before the national security committee was revealed by Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson on Tuesday.

He told a Senate inquiry into the much-criticised sale that Mr Turnbull had requested advice on whether the Foreign Acquisition and Takeovers Act needed to be changed.

The port of Darwin.

The port of Darwin. Photo: Fairfax Media

The takeovers law deems that the sale of a state or territory-owned piece of infrastructure does not have to be approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board – something Mr Richardson described as “an apparent systemic issue” with the act.

Due to the exemption, the Commonwealth would have been powerless to intervene to stop the sale even if federal security agencies had raised objections.

Both Defence and ASIO gave their blessing for the sale to proceed.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

But the signing of the 99-year lease over the port to Landbridge Group angered Australia’s key military ally the United States and led to a direct rebuke by President Barack Obama when he met Mr Turnbull in Manila recently.

The secretary of Landbridge, He Zhaoqing, is a former military officer and Landbridge runs what it calls “a people’s armed militia”.

Mr Richardson, a former Australian ambassador to Washington, conceded it was an “oversight” that the US was not briefed that Landbridge had won the 99-year lease but also argued it was the US embassy’s job to monitor a process that had not been kept a secret.

Department of Defence secretary Dennis Richardson.

Department of Defence secretary Dennis Richardson. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

“It was an oversight … Any criticism we should have advised the US in advance is fair and I take accountability,” he said.

He said Defence, which had been monitoring the port sale since early 2014, had cleared the deal as if a FIRB process was going to go ahead because Treasury had only alerted officials of the exemption on September 15, a month before Landbridge was named as the winning bid.

“We did our due diligence very carefully. Nothing that has been said since the announcement has given us pause for thought,” he said.

Of the October 6 discussion by the national security committee, Mr Richardson said: “Specific attention was drawn to the fact that, even if departments and agencies had have objected, there was nothing the Commonwealth would have been able to do about it because of the 1976 Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act,” he said

“As a result of that the Prime Minister asked the Treasurer [Scott Morrison] and the Attorney-General [George Brandis] to review that aspect of the legislation to see whether it should be changed.”

Earlier, Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said there were real security and intelligence concerns around the sale.

He said the Chinese would have a “deep driving interest” in watching the operations of “competent Western military organisations” and the Port of Darwin hosts about 100 naval vessels a year. Northern Australia is also to host up to 2500 US marines in coming years.

“I would see that as 100 intelligence-gathering opportunities in terms of the interest China would have to find out big things and little things about how naval forces operate,” he said.

He said the 99-year horizon is the same period into the future as the Gallipoli landings are in the past and there is no way to know what the defence relationships will be like between the US and China and their relationships with Australia, Mr Jennings said.

“It’s impossible to know how the broader strategic world is going to look over the broader term of the lease.”

Mr Jennings warned that the sale had the ability to affect the US alliance and the US Navy would “deep concerns” about tying up and unloading in a Chinese-run port.

Mr Jennings pointed out that the US had knocked back Dubai Ports from buying into American ports.

Later, Mr Richardson, who was Washington ambassador at the time, said the Dubai deal was cleared by authorities but was overturned after it was announced.

“It ended up being a political decision,” he said.

Michael Hughes, director of Landbridge Australia told the inquiry that company approached FIRB on June 19. He said there were “no issues raised through the entire process” by FIRB or Defence.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles has labelled the backlash to the port sale as “xenophobic”.

Source : Canberra Times

Trail of counterfeit cash hits North-West shops

TASMANIA’S North-West is in the grip of a currency crime spree with counterfeit money being circulated in shops across the region.

Tasmania Police has issued reports of counterfeit money being passed in takeaway stores, service stations and other businesses since May when an alert was first issued for people to look out for fake $10 and $50 notes.

Police investigations are continuing on the back of reports that a fresh batch of fake notes have hit the tills.

The latest investigation foc­uses on $50 notes that Detective Acting Sergeant Felicity Boyd from Devonport CIB says appears legitimate at first sight.

On closer inspection, all the notes have the same serial number – DF 13801448 – and a texture unlike genuine notes.

The fake currency also lacks the security features seen on the clear windows of legal Australian tender.

The fresh investigation comes just a few months after the son of Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie pleaded guilty to four counts of uttering counterfeit money but escaped jail on the condition he attend drug rehab in Queensland.

The court heard that in July Dylan Milverton, 21, had passed, or had attempted to pass, counterfeit $50 notes in supermarkets, service stations and takeaway outlets.

Yesterday, another man faced Devonport Magistrates Court on multiple counts of possessing counterfeit notes and having the instruments and material needed to make the fake currency.

The case against Marlon Castanares Laguador was adjourned for him to reappear in the Burnie Supreme Court on February 1.

Sgt Boyd said all offences relating to counterfeit money fell under Commonwealth law and if convicted, offenders could face heavy fines and jail.

Under the Crimes (Currency) Act 1981, those convicted of making counterfeit money could face up to 14 years in jail.

Offenders convicted of uttering counterfeit money and possessing fake currency could be given jail terms of 12 years and 10 years respectively.

Police have asked anyone with information about the source of the latest counterfeit notes to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

Source : The Mercury

RACV challenges fairness of Melbourne’s most lucrative red light camera

December 15, 2015 – 8:40PM

Adam Carey

Transport Reporter for The Age

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Prolific: The red light camera at the junction of Cemetery Road West and Royal Parade in Parkville.

Prolific: The red light camera at the junction of Cemetery Road West and Royal Parade in Parkville.

Photo: Justin McManus

The validity of Melbourne’s most prolific red light camera has been questioned by the RACV, which fears some motorists are being improperly penalised.

The camera monitors an intersection where the traffic signals disappear from the line of sight of approaching motorists as they close in on the intersection, potentially increasing the risk that drivers will run the red.

The camera, at the corner of Cemetery Road West and Royal Parade in Parkville, has caught more motorists since it was turned on in October 2011 than any other red light camera in Melbourne.

In the four years to October, 28,436 motorists ran the red light while turning right into Royal Parade, being penalised a total $10.04 million in fines, figures from the Department of Justice show.

But the validity of some of those infringement notices is being questioned by Victoria’s leading transport group, the RACV following an engineer’s review of the busy intersection this week.

The review found multiple problems, chiefly the poor visibility to motorists of the three right-turn signals.
Two overhead arrows at the stop line cannot be seen by motorists from close to the intersection and a third, on the far side of the intersection, is difficult to see clearly.

The RACV has written to VicRoads this week after concerns were raised by a member of the public, calling on the authority to review the operation and design of the signals.

Dave Jones, the RACV’s manager of roads and traffic, said the transport group wanted to see an extra traffic light built at the approach to the intersection, potentially in the median strip.

He said the poorly positioned traffic lights were one of three irregularities at the intersection that could contribute to the very high number of red light infringements there.

The right turn arrow has a three-second phase before the amber light turns red, which is standard and is based on a turning speed of 45 km/h. But Mr Jones said the layout of the intersection was such that many motorists could take the turn at higher speeds.

“The broad sweeping curve of the right turn means that turning speeds may be higher than normal,” Mr Jones said.
It may be appropriate to extend the amber phase time to reflect this, the RACV argues.

“A review of the timing of the yellow signal phase, between the green and red phases is needed,” he said.
Stuart Newstead, associate director of the Monash University Accident Research Centre, said that if there was a flaw with the intersection design that prevented motorists seeing the traffic lights, that was bad for safety and a more serious problem than the potential for motorists to be unfairly fined.

“If people are breaching the signal because they haven’t actually seen the signal then that is a problem regardless of whether there is a camera there or not,” Associate Professor Newstead said.
He said the traffic signal could be made more visible by installing high-intensity LED bulbs. Almost 60,000 vehicles a day cross the intersection on average, VicRoads data shows.

VicRoads said it had no current plans to review the traffic signals or signage of the intersection. A spokeswoman said there were two displays for right turn traffic on the far side of this intersection.
“Drivers taking a right hand turn should be approaching at an appropriate speed to stop safely if the signal becomes amber,” she said.

Amber times at all intersections are guided by the AustRoads Guide to Traffic Management and calculated using the approaching speed limit.

Melbourne’s highest infringement red-light camera intersections
Cemetery Road West and Royal Parade, Parkville 7526
Dandenong Road and Warrigal Road, Malvern East 4222
Mahoneys Road and High Street, Thomastown 4070
Cemetery Road West and Royal Parade, Parkville 7540
Flinders Street and William Street, Melbourne 6172
Springvale Road and Lower Dandenong Road, Braeside 5702
Flinders Street and William Street, Melbourne 6899
Cemetery Road West and Royal Parade, Parkville 6229
Springvale Road and Lower Dandenong Road, Braeside 4822

Source : The Age

Canberra cops MYEFO capital punishment

December 15, 2015 – 9:52PM

Noel Towell

Reporter for The Canberra Times

Flag of the Australian Capital Territory

Canberra is set to feel the pain from Tuesday’s mid-year economic and fiscal outlook amid more cuts and mergers for the public service and the turning of the funding screw on the city’s cultural institutions.

The capital’s cultural fixtures, including the National Gallery, Portrait Gallery, National Museum, National Library and Archives, will face a 3 per cent “efficiency dividend” hit to their budgets as the arts portfolio aims to trim $52 million over four years.

Another $192 million will be stripped from Australian Public Service spending and ACT operations look set to bear the brunt.

Canberra-based bureaucrats in the Department of Communications and the Arts will feel the pinch, which is expected to chop $6 million from their budget on top of the 2.5 per cent efficiency dividend being enforced across the federal bureaucracy.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has been praised for not imposing deep, across the board spending cuts as he grapples with a budget deficit that has blown out to $37.4 billion.

Nationwide, close to $2 billion is to be saved in a welfare crackdown, $930 million from changes to family day care, $650 million from discouraging bulk billing for diagnostics, $317 million from environmental projects and $472 million in savings from aged care.

While the Treasurer said he was careful to steer clear of “extreme responses” as he unveiled the mid-year outlook on Tuesday, Canberra looked set to feel much of the pain from cuts to government operations and programs.

In Canberra, $40 million worth of Australian Public Service “back room” operations are to be shifted from their departments and into the growing Shared Services Centre while six agencies in the health portfolio will be “merged and rationalised, saving another $70 million.

The operations of the Australian Federal Police’s overseas deployment hub in Majura are expected to be cut back as the government aims to save $30 million without reducing the scale of overseas policing and support operations.

Elsewhere, CrimTrac and the Australian Institute of Criminology will be swallowed up by the Australian Crime Commission, and other agencies in the Attorney-General’s portfolio will have to come up with savings of nearly $70 million.

The heads of Canberra’s federally funded galleries, museums and libraries will have been dismayed to read that $36.8 million will be saved by imposing a 3 per cent efficiency dividend on “cultural and collecting entities within the arts portfolio”.

Local MP and Shadow Assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh was unimpressed by the MYEFO cuts, accusing the Turnbull government of “twisting the knife” on the public service.

“The Liberals just keep twisting the knife when it comes to public service cuts,” Dr Leigh said.

“They promised no more than 12,000 job cuts at the last election, and yet, Tony Abbott slashed 15,000 jobs.

“Now Malcolm Turnbull wants to rip almost $200 million more from agencies like health and the Attorney-General’s Department.”

“Less than one month ago, Malcolm Turnbull pledged to stop ‘panning’ public servants and help them do their jobs better.

“This was a cruel promise to make when [we] now discover his real agenda is to cut many millions more from APS agencies that are already under intense pressure.”

Source : Canberra Times

States divided, doctors disappointed as National Clean Air Agreement sets air pollution thresholds

December 15, 2015 – 7:56PM

Lucy Cormack

Environment Reporter

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NSW will adopt air pollution standards that do not meet the levels recommended by the World Health Organisation, following a meeting of Commonwealth, state and territory environment ministers.

The meeting on Tuesday, to decide on a National Clean Air Agreement, saw state ministers divided on appropriate levels of coarse-particle (PM10) air pollution, resulting in the breakaway of Victoria and the ACT to adopt stricter standards than other states.

Ministers also unanimously voted on standards for dangerous fine-particle (PM2.5) emissions, however standards for these will be some of the toughest in the world.

"Disappointing": Doctors have expressed concern at air pollution standards in a new National Clean Air Agreement.


PM10 particles include coal dust and car exhaust and are associated with lung cancer in non-smokers and restricted lung growth in children.

The threshold of 25 micrograms was understood to be that advocated by NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman and was above the annual average standards of 12, 16 or 20, recommended last year in the National Environmental Protection Measure impact statement.

"I'm frightened:" Ruth Townley, who is concerned about the air pollution impacts for herself and her son Joey, from the WestConnex development.

“I’m frightened:” Ruth Townley, who is concerned about the air pollution impacts for herself and her son Joey, from the WestConnex development. Photo: Peter Rae

“I don’t think NSW have been particularly ambitious with this. I find it disappointing,” said Dr Elizabeth Hanna, from the Australian National University and president of the Climate and Health Alliance.

“I think we can quite fairly criticise it for being more relaxed than the World Health Organisation guidelines, particularly when we consider the known relationship between air pollution and respiratory and cardiac health burdens.”

However Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt described Australia’s first National Clean Air Agreement as a “bold step forward,” which would mean “our’s is cleaner, our health is better and our environment is improved.”

“It’s expected that the savings in costs to our health and our environment over the next 20 years will be about $6.5 billion,” he said.

Environmental Justice Australia CEO and lawyer Brendan Sydes said the agreement is “simply not good enough.”

“It does nothing to protect our health. It simply bows to the pressure created by the mining industry who put profits ahead of the health of communities struggling with air pollution.”

But NSW Environment Minister Mark Speakman rejected claims the threshold let the mining industry off the hook.

“The Minerals Council didn’t want any annual standard for PM10. We’ve gone to a standard that, when coupled with the daily standard, is as good as any major developed country in the world.”

The NSW-led standards for the especially dangerous PM2.5 emissions appear to be the toughest in the world. The PM10 standards are tougher than most other developed economies, including the EU, Canada and most of the USA.”

He added that the WHO recommendation of 20 micrograms was based on a ratio estimate and that the WHO advises a different value for the ratio may be employed when setting local standards.

“This has been a great achievement today and it really gives Australia some of the cleanest air in the world.”

While the national agreement set the annual average threshold for PM10 at 25 micrograms per cubic metre, jurisdictions on the ministerial council have the right to set their own threshold, particularly where they are more stringent than the nationally agreed standard.

It was for this reason that the ACT and Victoria took the opportunity to adopt a threshold of 20 micrograms, in line with World Health Organisation recommendations.

“We recognise not all jurisdictions are comfortable with that level and we accept that, but we believe we are in a position to pursue a more rigid standard,” said ACT Environment Minister Simon Corbell.

Victorian Environment Minister Lisa Neville said “we thought that as a nation we could work towards cleaner air with a tougher standard for PM10 than one being proposed.”

She added that Victoria had agreed to work with NSW to review the PM10 annual mean standard in 2018.

Greens NSW MP and Environment spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi criticised Tuesday’s agreement for being too lax, describing the result as a “Christmas gift for big coal companies.”

“Once again in NSW, the government has sided with the big coal companies to put their profits ahead of human health” Dr Faruqi said.

The government, states and territories also agreed on a voluntary phase-out of micro-beads, or micro-plastics as part of the agreement.

Damaging micro-plastics are contained in personal care products such as exfoliants and shower gels and are washed down the sink into the oceans.

The agreement decided on an annual average PM10 standard of 25 micrograms per cubic meter, while Victoria and the ACT opted to implement a stricter state-specific threshold of 20 micrograms per cubic metre.

Source : Sydney Morning Herald

Brisbane weather: Worst suburbs for storm damage

December 15, 2015 – 12:00AM

Jorge Branco


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It could be bad news for Brisbane’s inner-south as Queensland’s often-ferocious storm season intensifies, with insurance figures revealing a small band of suburbs are home to the highest number of claims.

Home owners in Annerley, Fairfield, Moorooka and Yeerongpilly copped the bulk of storm damage in south-east Queensland last year, according to major Queensland insurer Suncorp.

Highgate Hill, South Brisbane and West End were the next worst off, with nearby Buranda, Dutton Park, Woolloongabba and the suburbs around Aspley in the north rounding out the top five worst-affected postcodes.

New figures have revealed the suburbs most likely to be damaged by storms.

New figures have revealed the suburbs most likely to be damaged by storms. Photo: Alle McMahon

The 2014 figures don’t take into account the massive hail storm that tore through Brisbane on November 27, causing more than $1 billion worth of damage.

Interestingly, the claims figures for the rest of the year mirrored those of that one super cell storm, when Moorooka, Annerley, Highgate Hill, Fairfield and New Farm were the hardest hit.

This photograph of hail collected at Stanthorpe was posted to Facebook.

This photograph of hail collected at Stanthorpe was posted to Facebook. Photo: Kathleen Gaske/Higgins Storm Cha

But Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Peter Otto said he wasn’t aware of any individual suburbs more likely to suffer storm damage than others.

He said south-east Queensland’s most severe storms often developed on higher ground around the Darling Downs and Scenic Rim before tracking north-east but there was nothing meteorologically special about the small strip of Brisbane suburbs.

St Josephs College on Gregory Tce suffered heavy hail damage to its tiled roofs.

St Josephs College on Gregory Tce suffered heavy hail damage to its tiled roofs. Photo: Robert Shakespeare

Suncorp spokeswoman Melissa Cronin said 2014, while a relatively benign year for wild weather excepting the shock November hail storm, still saw severe damage.

She cautioned homeowners to be prepared for the worst, citing figures showing almost a fifth (18 per cent) of Queenslanders didn’t pay any attention to storm readiness messages.

“Each year, we see the devastating impacts of wild weather, and we want to work with Brisbane residents to help them prepare for severe storms and cyclones,” she said.

Many New Farm apartments were damaged in the storm.

Many New Farm apartments were damaged in the storm. Photo: Robert Shakespeare

“By doing simple things around your home before storm season, and when a severe storm is forecast, you can significantly reduce the risk of sustaining damage to your home – and your neighbours.”

RACQ executive manager insurance communications Mike Sopinski echoed the safety warning

“We’ve seen the developing patterns of supercell storms over the last couple of weeks,” he said.

“The way these supercells storms hit is very unpredictable.

“I’ve witnessed areas where they’ve hit where one side of the road is absolutely battered and the other side of the road is barely touched.”

Cars in the inner south also copped a battering from natural hazards last year.

When it came to vehicle claims, the postcodes comprising Brisbane and Spring Hill and Albion and Breakfast Creek topped the pile but Moorooka, Yeerongpilly, Yeronga and Rocklea in that same inner-south corridor rounded out the top five.

Source : Brisbane Times