Region the ‘guinea pig’ for widespread privatisation

It must sometimes seem that the Hunter is the guinea pig for the NSWCoalitiongovernment’s ideological experiments. Following the privatisation of Newcastle’s buses and ferries,the sale of the Belmont TAFE site is in the news again.The state government also still seems intent on privatising Maitland Hospital. Butthe Hunter’s fighting spirit may still prevail and stop or reverse thesell-off of public assets.
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MAITLAND ACTION: Community and union campaigns have forced the government to abandon privatisation plans for other state hospitals, Senator Rhiannon says. Photo: Marina Neil

TAFE NSW is already reeling from the privatisation of technical education with 100,000 fewer students and 5000 fewer teachers compared with five years ago. Thousands of those lost students live in the Hunter. TheAustralian Government Actuary has calculated that more thana billion dollars of public money has been lost due to corruption in the privatisation of technical education.

If TAFE NSW is to stage a comeback – and the Greens andLaborare pledged to restore a healthy TAFE system – it will need all its campuses. So far sell-offs have not takenplace, whichis a tribute to the campaigns of teachers and the public. But it is not time for complacency. The government is advertising for a TAFE ‘portfolio divestment manager’ to ‘coordinate the portfolio of divestment projects from initiation to closure’. That has to ring alarm bells.

The Hunterappears to be the bunny in hospital privatisationtoo.A year ago the state government announced the privatisation of five regional public hospitals – Bowral, Goulburn, Wyong, Shellharbour and Maitland. A year later, onlyMaitland hospital is still slated for privatisation. Community and union campaigns have forced the government to abandon their plans for the other hospitals.

Health MinisterBradHazzard is trying to allay fears by promising that the privatisationof Maitlandwill be undertaken by a non-profit. Yet, as unions have pointed out, guarantees about staffing, wages and conditions,and the quality of care,willlast only two years.

Yet all is far fromlost. The Hunter can do what other communities have done. Maitland Hospital and Belmont TAFE can be saved as public assets. Our buses can return to public ownership. Support for re-nationalising privatised public assets is emerging. Privatisation of our electricity sector has been a huge failure. Instead of the promised greater efficiency and lower prices we have had double-digit increases in power bills and failures in supply.

This has led to JohnQuiggin, professor of economics at Queensland University, proposing that the Commonwealth and state governments buy back the grid and manage it. The aim would be to guaranteereliable supply, modernisethe grid for renewables andchargereasonable prices for households and businesses.

Likewise,theGreens andLaborsupport the ‘re-nationalisation’ of the TAFE sector. This would be achieved by guaranteeing that 85% (or 70% in the case ofLabor) of government funding for technical and further education go to TAFE.

These are practical initiatives that would benefit the people of the Hunter.Electricity prices fell in the decades priorto privatisationwhen the electricity sector was government-owned. Investment in renewables could benefit the Hunter with thousands of new jobs in advanced manufacturing.

More investment in TAFE to supply the skilled workers needed for this renewables future would follow logically.

None of this will be easy as the present NSW government has a dogmatic belief in privatisations. Yet with a combination of community and union campaigns, leading to a change of government in 18 months, the ideological experiment which threatens the Hunter and its future can be reversed.

Lee Rhiannon, Australian Greens Senator for NSW

‘Reddy to go to war’: Share bikes dumped in blind man’s backyard

As a blind person, Alistair Lee was already having troubles with share-bikes on footpaths. Now he’s discovered two Reddy Go bikes dumped in his backyard.
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On Friday morning he found two bikes that had been thrown over the back fence of his home in North Sydney, landing in the yard and destroying a clothes line and damaging a table.

Mr Lee, who is profoundly blind, said he discovered the bikes were there when his partner walked into the back garden.

“Sarah went out and said ‘oh my goodness, there’s two bikes in your garden!'” he said.

“It’s literally happened overnight. I didn’t hear them and the dog didn’t either.

“Whilst I am extremely annoyed, I can see the funny side. I guess you could say I’m ‘Reddy’ to go to war with them.

“[The bikes] are still there. I probably won’t get any washing done today.”

The washing line wasn’t the only casualty of the dumped bikes.

“When they’ve thrown the bike over, it’s obviously hit the table so hard it’s bent the table as well,” he said.

He said that this was the first time anything had been thrown into his garden.

“Where we are, we’re in quite a busy area of North Sydney but we’ve never had anything thrown over the back fence,” he said.

A spokesman for Reddy Go said: “We are deeply sorry that the bikes been thrown into Mr Lee’s garden and hope the police would help us to find out who did this. Bad behaviours should be penalised.”

He said the company would collect the bikes, pay to have Mr Lee’s washing line repaired and replace the table.

This isn’t the first time the Reddy Go bikes have caused trouble for Mr Lee.

In early October, he tripped over two bikes that were left in the middle of the pathway near his house.

“I went around to see someone and fell over two of them within half a metre of each other,” he said.

“It is a problem. I’m all for people getting on bikes but I do have a problem with the council having no effective policies for these bikes to be stored. Pedestrian walkways are for pedestrians, not bikes.”

As an online company, Reddy Go only takes reports of misplaced bikes through app, social media and email.

Mr Lee’s partner Sarah Downie posted to the company’s Facebook last month asking for Reddy Go to do more when it came to bikes being dumped.

Alistair Lee’s partner alerted Reddy Go to issues he was having via their Facebook page in early October.

Reddy Go apologised in a reply and said that it employed staff to maintain and relocate bikes across Sydney.

North Sydney Council is set to introduce new policies, aimed at regulating where people can leave the bikes, at a council meeting on November 20.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

FACS fails to meet standards

Six months: Hunter New England FACS office has an extended deadline to meet Children’s Guardian accreditation standards or it will be stripped of its authority to oversee children in out of home care.
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THE Hunter’s Family and Community Services (FACS) office could be stripped of itsauthority to oversee out of home care for at-risk children after failing to meetaccreditation requirements.

The Hunter New England FACS district has beengiven a “six month lifeline”to meet the Office of Children’s Guardian standards or have its accreditation withdrawn.

The move could put the safety of “thousands of Hunter children” at risk, family and community services shadow minister Tania Mihailuk said, as the “under-resourced” officemonitoredthe most children in care, and the most children at risk of harm, of any FACS office.

The districtfailed to meet accreditation standards in September 2016, when itwas given a one-year extension.

MsMihailuksaid if itdid not meet thisadditional six-month deadline, the responsibility of overseeing out of home carewould be transferred to anotherFACS district.

“It would shifta serious under-resourcing burden on to another district, instead of providing FACS with the resources it needs,” she said.

FACS hasnot revealed what criteria the Hunter New England district havefailed to meet, but aspokesperson saiditwas not due to any child protection risks.

The Hunter office monitorsmore than 3200 children in care, receivesalmost 16,000 reportsof children at risk of harm,and hasthemost child protection caseworker vacancies,FACSstatistics show.It hadthelowest rate offace-to-face assessments, seeing21 per cent of childrenreportedat risk of harm in the June 2017 quarter.

“The lifeline given to the Hunter New England office will be pointless unless it receives an urgent funding injection to meet the Children’s Guardian’s standards,”MsMihailuk said.

A FACS spokesperson said the NSW Government was spending $63 million in four years toboost the number of caseworkers andsupport workers, including in Hunter New England.

“We will work to address thefeedback provided in the coming months as part of our ongoing effort to provide the best support to children and young people in out of home care and their carers.”

Kate Washington, shadow minister for the Hunter, said the number of children in out of home care in the regionwas at “levels we have never seen before.”

“The poor staff are doing all they can with the little they have got,” she said. “But the majority of children at risk of harm aren’t having caseworkers even contact them. For the agency that is responsible for the oversight of those children once they are in careto be found to have not met accreditation criteria, is just horrifying.”

The Herald

Health Department to cut 55 jobs, shift hundreds more to Social Services

The Health Department will cut jobs for the second time this year as it sheds 55 staff and moves hundreds more employees into the Department of Social Services.
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Health’s public servants learnt of the overhaul on Thursday afternoon as the department starts to transfer hundreds of staff over several years into Social Services, which will take over its grants administration work.

Among staff leaving Health in the latest shake-up, the department has identified 55 positions it won’t need after the restructure.

Department first assistant secretary Donna Moody told employees that redundancies would be forced on staff that Health could not redeploy.

New Health Department boss Glenys Beauchamp. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

It plans to move grants administration into the new community grants hub run by Social Services, forcing a restructure in its Canberra division where positions will be declared vacant and staff will be asked to send expressions of interest for available roles.

“This process will be run over the next month or so with the expectation that it will be finalised by mid-December and that the new structure will commence in mid-January,” Ms Moody said.

“As of today there is an opportunity for voluntary redundancies for all staff who are in scope for the EOI process. Staff not placed in the new structure will be supported to find redeployment opportunities, however involuntary redundancy processes will apply for those who are not able to be redeployed.”

Staff reductions in the Health department’s state and territory network are expected to be made through natural attrition.

The latest round of job cuts comes towards the end of a volatile year for the department, which announced it was shedding 250 staff through voluntary redundancies in February, parted ways with former secretary Martin Bowles in August and subsequently welcomed new boss Glenys Beauchamp.

A Health department spokeswoman said under reforms to improve grants administration across the Australian Public Service, the Department of Social Services was one of two hubs consolidating the grant process across government.

“The department has reassured staff that there will be open and fair processes and staff will be fully supported,” she said.

Community and Public Sector Union deputy secretary Beth Vincent-Pietsch said Health had told the union most if not all of the positions would be cut through voluntary redundancy and redeployment in its bid to overhaul how funding for health services was administered and monitored.

She said the second round of major job cuts in Health was compromising its work and said the Turnbull government was attacking the public service.

“Health is one of numerous agencies that’s no longer provided with enough funding to properly do the work expected of it by the Australian public. Budgets have been cut to the point where there’s no choice but to cut jobs, inevitably hurting the core functions and services agencies provide,” Ms Vincent-Pietsch said.

“Health staff understand the theoretical benefits of a restructured grants process, but they have well-founded concerns that years of reviews and ‘streamlining’ have in fact resulted in less efficiency and ineffective management of risk.”

Ms Moody told employees Health was talking with the Social Services department about how it would move grants administration there, and said no formal agreement had been made.

Health’s national office in Canberra would shrink from three branches to two and from 13 sections to seven, reducing jobs from 145 to about 90.

State managers will review their divisions and make adjustments, Ms Moody said.

“The state and territory offices will also need to continue contributing to the division’s required reduction in resources to ensure we live within our means.”

Mr Bowles told staff early this year the department was cutting jobs in a bid for “affordable” staff numbers amid federal budgetary constraints.

The announcement came after he flagged last year that budget and staffing issues would be the department’s largest challenges in 2017.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

How decline in bees affects global food production

Winnie the Pooh said, “The only reason for being a bee is to make honey. And the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it”, but indeed in the wider scheme of things most of our food depends on the pollination services that the worker bees offer to us as they buzz about their business of collecting nectar from the flowers to bring back to the hive to make honey.Famine would be widespread without such pollinators, and any decline in bee numbers is therefore of major concern.
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In the Northern Hemisphere beehives have been increasingly showing evidence of Colony Collapse Disorder where the worker bees, the foragers who bring the nectar and pollen to the hive, disappear leaving the queen and the juvenile immature bees without enough food for survival.There is no consensus as to the cause of CCD but a new class of insecticides, the neonicotinoids, are receiving much attention. These are the most widely used class of insecticides since pest insects have evolved resistance to traditional insecticides.

Scientific studies are underway across the world to categorise the levels of these chemicals that can be safely used and, at the same time, legislators are banning or restricting the use of some or all of this family of insecticides.Bans or temporary bans exist across Europe but not in the UK or Australia.

A recent study on 198 honey samples from across the world reported neonicotinoids in three quarters of all samples, although at levels below the maximum residue level authorised for human consumption.

Efficient food production relies on strong crop growth, which depends on keeping insect pests to a minimum but if the insecticides used also affect the bees, then pollination will be affected and food production will plummet.

Professor Tim Roberts is the director of the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment at the University of Newcastle