Showing posts with label Baird Government. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Baird Government. Show all posts

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

And so the spotlight hovers over Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair......

When both the NSW Coalition Government (2 April 2015) and Federal Coalition Government (21 September 2015) gave a minister dual responsibility for agriculture and water one could almost hear the political train careening wildly in the distance.

Unfortunately two years later the people of Australia woke to discover that handing over responsibility for water in a complex major river system to two National Party MPs meant it was also a social, economic and environmental train wreck as well.

All the audits and investigations in the world will not unmake the disaster that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has become under Barnaby Joyce and Niall Blair unless the political will is there, however this is a good start.

"The Auditor-General will investigate how Barnaby Joyce's Dept is monitoring use of environmental water by NSW." [@Tony_Burke]

In an effort to wrest back control of the situation Prime Minister Turnbull has reportedly 
ordered the Murray Darling Basin Authority to conduct an allegedly ndependent basin-wide review into compliance with state-based regulations governing water use. The review report will be presented to the December 2017 Council of Australian Government (COAG) meeting.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Northern Rivers Knitting Nannas visit Queensland gas field

The Clarence Valley Conservation Coalition Inc. website published this post on 30 November 2016:

Nanna Lynette's Report

I found that although I’d seen many photos and movies of gasfields and had heard people talk about them, nothing prepared me for visiting a gasfield and walking around the infrastructure and hearing the massive amount of noise. The size of the Kenya gasfield and the amount of infrastructure was mind-blowing.  
The gas from the field is piped to the Kenya processing plant and after processing is piped to Gladstone. The processing plant, which covers an area of a couple of acres, consists of three massive metal structures about five storeys high.  The noise coming from this was horrendous. We were standing about a kilometre away and where we were the noise was deafening.

The next part of the tour was a visit to the State Forest where some of the actual Kenya gaswells are. Initially they were about a kilometre apart but when production slowed they drilled other wells in between the existing ones so that the wells were then 500 metres apart.  Each well sits in a cleared pad of at least a quarter of an acre.  This means you’ve a fractured environment because the ground is bare except for some gravel over it.  And each well makes a horrific noise as well.

The whole area is massively noisy and dusty because of all the clearing.  
The cleared pipeline corridors are about 100 metres wide and have been taken over by weeds like fireweed.  Along the main pipeline there are vents – high point vents and low point vents about 400 metres apart. 

The high point vents vent raw gas 24 hours a day. Of course this smells.  It just goes straight into the atmosphere. The low point vents expel moisture which is collected in troughs and presumably evaporates if it doesn’t overflow….

Read the full post here.

This is a timely reminder of what could still happen here as the Baird Government has not guaranteed the permanent gas-free status of the NSW Northern Rivers region, has reserved the right to once again issue petroleum exploration licenses [PELs] and, As part of a deal that extinguished previous applications for CSG leases, the government agreed to insert a clause in legislation giving priority to previous claimants. This was on behalf of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, which had made four appli­cations for gas exploration leases.

As late as March 2016 the Baird Government has been telling overseas mining interests that "The Clarence-Morton basin has very good petroleum potential……Almost all wells drilled … have yielded gas and/or oil".

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Prof. Hugh Possingham quits NSW Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel in disgust at Baird Government's actions

The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 November 2016:

A leading adviser to the Baird government's proposed changes to native vegetation laws has quit in protest, warning the plans could lead to a doubling of broadscale land clearing in the state.
Hugh Possingham, a Queensland University conservation biologist, submitted his resignation letter to Premier Mike Baird and key ministers, saying his advice and those from a panel he had sat on were being ignored.
Instead of improving the existing legislation, the new biodiversity conservation package due to be put to Parliament as soon as next week will enable farmers to clear hundreds of hectares a property without having to find equivalent areas of offsets to preserve biodiversity under so-called "equity codes".
"It's not what we agreed to," Professor Possingham told Fairfax Media. "If you increase the quantity and quality of land clearing, you increase the chances of extinction."

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Tale of an unsolicited proposal approved by the NSW Iemma Government and distorted out of all recognition by Baird Government

When the people of New South Wales were told of a successful unsolicited proposal for a section of Darling Harbour foreshore land in 2007, this was what they were told the Barangaroo development would eventually look like:
Since then the approved development plan has undergone nine modifications until around a third of the total foreshore parkland area has been reduced to a “promenade” in order to satisfy the Packer family’s desire to build yet another private casino and hotel complex – this one 71 stories high at an estimated cost of $2 billion.

According to the Crown Resorts Limited website:

The Crown Sydney Hotel Resort will be world-class and will feature 350 hotel rooms and suites, luxury apartments, signature restaurants, bars, luxury retail outlets, pool and spa facilities, conference rooms and VIP gaming facilities.

This is what that est. 33 per cent of public parkland in the plan is now expected to look like per the June 2016 NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC) approval:
Millers Point Fund Incorporated has been formed by local Millers Point community groups and the matter is now before Justice Nicola Palin in the NSW Land & Environment Court with Minister for Planning Robert Gordon Stokes,  Barangaroo Delivery Authority, Crown Resorts, Lendlease, and the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority as respondents.

On behalf of the Millers Point Fund the NSW Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) will be arguing that the PAC was wrong to remove public parkland for private profit.

I suspect that the EDO could do with a little financial help as it takes on the legal might of the super-rich and politically powerful. Online donations can be made here.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Northern Rivers councils reject Baird Government's new land clearing legislation

It sometimes seems that every time we turn around in the Northern Rivers there is some politician or commercial interest wanting to diminish or destroy the land we live on and our enviable way of life.

This time it is a state government that has lost sight of what really matters……….

Echo NetDaily, 17 August 2016:

Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC), the peak body for the region’s local government organisations, has made a damning appraisal of the Baird government’s proposed new biodiversity and land-clearing laws.

The body has warned in its submission to the government review of land-clearing and threatened species laws the reforms would be bad for biodiversity and sustainability, and add administrative burdens and costs for local councils.

Key concerns raised in the NOROC submission

*The proposed legislation will lead to poorer biodiversity and sustainability outcomes on the far north coast as well as adding significant complexity, administrative burdens and costs for local government.
*The reforms will ‘interfere with the legitimate strategic planning functions of councils including their ability to implement development control policies that properly reflect the desires of their local communities.’
*The new regime will ‘lead to a very uneven distribution of biodiversity loss across the landscape.’
*The proposed reforms ‘represent a significant cost shift to local government. This is acknowledged in the Independent Biodiversity Legislation Review Panel report but not in any of the legislation reform public exhibition materials.’

Nature Conservation Council CEO Kate Smolski said, ‘Nobody supports Mike Baird’s deeply flawed package – not the scientists, not the conservationists, and not NOROC, who have a clear understanding that these laws threaten soils and water supplies and wildlife in the Northern Rivers region.

She called on the Premier to ‘scrap this flawed package of laws and either fund Local Land Services to make the Native Vegetation Act works as it was intended, or go back to the drawing board and come up with another way to provide workable, strong protections for nature in NSW.’….

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

For over 200 years in Australia we've been destroying the land that feeds us and we refuse to stop

"There's No Task Too Big · 24 Hour Service · Reliable Land Clearing · 25 Years Experience
Services: Crane Work, Land Clearing, Stump Grinding, Tree Surgeons, Tree Chippers, Tree Cutting,….."
[Online advertisement for an Australian business, 13 August 2016]

We have sand hills in Australia which were caused by overgrazing sheep and desert boundaries are slowly encroaching in semi-arid zones.

Two million hectares of land and 20,000 farms are affected by dryland salinity because of over clearing for cropping.
In 2000, some 1,600 km of rail, 19,900 km of roads, and 68 towns were at risk of damage due to salinity [Australian Bureau of Statistics, Measures of Australia's Progress, 2010].

Inappropriate land and water management resulted in exposure or drainage of acid sulfate soils on coastal floodplains and wetlands resulting in periodic outbreaks of fish disease and/or large fish kills.

Sections of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef are being smothered by topsoil washing into the ocean from agricultural land.

These are just a few of the mistakes we have made in the last 220 years, yet knowing of the problems caused we still do this with very little thought of inevitable consequences………

WWF Australia, media release, 12 August 2016:

An analysis by WWF-Australia reveals that an estimated 40.7 million trees were destroyed in Queensland in 2014-15.

"That's more than one tree bulldozed every second," said WWF-Australia conservation scientist Dr Martin Taylor.

Crucially, 16.1 million of the destroyed trees were in Great Barrier Reef catchments increasing the amount of sludge flowing out to reef waters and harming coral and sea grass.

"Tree clearing is out of control. If we want to save the Reef and stop the decline of koalas we cannot continue to destroy trees at such an alarming rate," he said.

Dr Taylor said the official Queensland Government figures for clearing in 2014-15 contained a disturbing statistic: 71% of the clearing was mature forests that had never been cleared or bushland and forests over 28 years old.

Methodology for the estimate of the number of trees destroyed

Dr Martin Taylor examined the SLATS map and removed any area that was not forest or woodland before the 2014-15 clearing.

Dr Taylor also removed any area of trees destroyed by natural processes such as cyclones (which is categorised by SLATS)

Then Dr Taylor applied the peer-reviewed eco-regional tree density model of Crowther et al and calculated the number of trees cleared.

What 296,000 hectares looks like

On 3 May 2016 the NSW Government released a draft Biodiversity Conservation Bill and draft Local Land Services (Amendment) Bill.  These bills will repeal and replace the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, the Nature Conservation Trust Act, parts of the National Parks & Wildlife Act; parts of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, and the Native Vegetation Act.

A report on vegetation clearing quietly released by the Baird Government has highlighted a disturbing trend of increasing illegal land clearing in NSW.
The data provides a report card on the status, regulation, protection and extent of native vegetation in NSW, and clearly shows the rate of land clearing is increasing even as Mike Baird readies his destructive reforms to weaken land clearing laws.
The report shows clearing skyrocketed from 40,500 ha in 2011/12 to 105,900 ha in 2012/13 (the most recent data available).
Illegal clearing that is defined as "unexplained" agricultural woody clearing is has increased, jumping by 52% in the last two years alone:

"Unexplained" agricultural woody clearing (hectares)

In 2012/13 there was 9,100 ha of clearing on private land, and a massive 60% of that clearing is unexplained.
Clearing is also increasing across the board, including clearing on farms, infrastructure, mining, forestry, and the impact of fire on vegetation.

The state's farmers have lopped paddock trees at an accelerating rate in the past 18 months even before a new land-clearing law eases controls further, government data shows.

The new figures, which reveal the rate of clearing of paddock trees has more than doubled since November 2014, come as the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists wrote to all MPs to call for a reversal of "retrograde changes" planned in the new Biodiversity Conservation act.

NSW farmers used a new self-assessment code to remove 21,716 paddock trees – or more than 50 a day – over the past year and a half.

The rate, at an average of about 50 per day, was 140 per cent more than the average over the previous seven years, data from the Office of Environment and Heritage showed. Paddock trees, judged to be single or small patches of trees, make up 40 per cent of remaining woodland cover, OEH says.

Satellite monitoring by OEH would probably have detected even more clearing but the public has been left in the dark because the O'Farrell-Baird governments had failed to release a native vegetation report since 2013, Mehreen Faruqi, the Greens environment spokeswoman, said.

The Greens had also sought information on the number of applications OEH received and what if any compliance of the self-assessment codes they conducted, Dr Faruqi said.

"If almost 22,000 trees can be removed under the existing law, then it will be a disaster when new laws that further facilitate land clearing are brought in," she said, adding the latest tree-felling numbers were "the tip of the iceberg".

A spokeswoman for Niall Blair, Minister for Primary Industries, did not address the scale of tree clearing on farms, but said "the proposed Biodiversity Conservation package aims to reverse the decline of biodiversity in NSW because the current system isn't working".
‎"The NSW Government is currently seeking feedback on the draft reforms and stakeholders including environmental groups and farmers are encouraged to put forward a submission before June 28," she said.

Labor's environment spokeswoman, Penny Sharpe, said the figures "ring alarm bells on how far the current biodiversity laws have already been watered down".

"If these laws proceed in their current form, there will be a return to land clearing on a scale unseen for decades in NSW with catastrophic impacts on native animals, soil, water and greenhouse gas emissions," Ms Sharpe said.

Director and Member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists Peter Crosier writing in The Guardian, 6 July 2016:

Laws to stop the broadscale clearing of large areas of native trees and plants in New South Wales have reduced land and water degradation, helped Australia meets its commitments to cut greenhouse emissions and slowed the rate of species extinction. The Baird government now plans to wind back all of these benefits.
At the 2015 election, the Baird government promised that a review of these laws would "enhance the state's biodiversity for the benefit of current and future generations." It was on this basis that the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists supported this review, because we saw an opportunity to modernise the current legislation leading to enhanced biodiversity outcomes, increased financial support for farmers to restore degraded land, while also promoting economic development across NSW.
However, the Wentworth Group has serious concerns about many of the changes announced recently. We believe that these changes, if not addressed, will breach the government's election promise.
Over-clearing of the landscape has resulted in NSW having some of the most degraded land in Australia, with only 10% of native vegetation across the state remaining in close to natural condition. The Native Vegetation Act was introduced in 2003 to address this problem.
This act has been remarkably successful in reducing the level of land clearing from as much as 100,000 hectares per year in the 1980s (the equivalent of half of Sydney's urban area) to less than 12,000 hectares per year now.
This legislation was supported by the NSW Farmers Association as well as environment groups such as WWF, because it brought an end to broadscale land clearing in a way that also promoted sustainable farming. As an example, since the Native Vegetation Act was introduced, approval has been given to manage over 7m hectares of native vegetation on farms across NSW (over 40 times the size of Sydney's urban area), including the eradication of weeds and management of invasive native scrub. This system was designed by farmers and scientists working together. It shows just how effective laws can be in securing the long-term protection of NSW's natural assets while also improving the viability of farming enterprises.
While some of the government's announced changes to these current laws are most welcome, we believe that other elements will substantially weaken existing protections. These retrograde changes risk overwhelming the positive changes, returning NSW to an era of unsustainable land clearing, resulting in more degraded land, more damage to river systems, increased carbon emissions, and the loss of habitat critical to the survival of threatened species.
This would not only be a clear breach of the government's election promise, it will also damage the reputations of those farmers who want to be good stewards, the vast majority of whom are unaffected by the current laws.
One of the positive elements of the announced reforms is a $240m five-year private land conservation fund. This money should be used to help farmers manage native vegetation of high conservation value that should not be cleared, and to offset the cumulative smaller losses that result from route agricultural practices, such as clearing along fence lines. It should not be used to subsidise the broadscale clearing that will result from weakening of the land clearing controls. That is simply a taxpayer subsidy to farmers to degrade land.
The increased greenhouse emissions that will result from these changes means that taxpayers will be hit twice, because it will make our national commitments to reduce Australia's emissions more difficult, resulting in higher costs to taxpayers and other sectors of the economy.
The vast majority of farmers in NSW are, or want to be, good stewards of the land – where healthy landscapes go hand-in-hand with a productive economy. A remarkable 93% of Australian farmers say they practice landcare on their farms.
There are many ways we can support our farmers to manage their land sustainably, by providing them with financial incentives to restore native vegetation on degraded land. This will improve the value of their farms, help reduce Australia's greenhouse emissions, slow the rate of species extinction, enhance rural productivity and create more prosperous rural communities.
We ask the Baird government to amend the draft legislation so that it truly does achieve their objectives of cutting red tape, facilitating ecologically sustainable development, and in doing so honour the promise to enhance the state's biodiversity for the benefit of current and future generations.
Written on behalf of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists

Friday, 12 August 2016

People Power on the Liverpool Plains: Caroona mine to go - will Shenhua Watermark be next?

Congratulations to the people of the Liverpool Plains. You deserve this victory.

ABC News, 11 August 2016:

The NSW Government will buy back BHP's licence for the Caroona coal mine on the Liverpool Plains, ending a decade-long fight by farmers to shut down the project.
inflation, meaning the total price tag is around $220 million.
The exploration licence was issued in 2006 for underground coal mining covering approximately 344 square kilometres in the Liverpool Plains — an area of prime agricultural land.
The State Government said after careful consideration it determined the mine posed too great a risk to the future of the food bowl and its underground water sources.
The Deputy Premier and Nationals leader Troy Grant said the decision was in the best interests of the local community….

Yahoo News, 7 July 2016:

The Mining Gateway Panel has flagged six deficiencies in BHP Billiton's Caroona Coal Mining Project.
NSW Farmers and local landholders have slammed the gateway's lack of authority to shut the project down.

Hopefully the Baird Government will resist federal government pressure and go on to address the issue of Shenhua Watermark open cut coal mine and associated coal seam gas project.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Moree Rail to Yamba Mega Port Scheme: "They probably want to fill the carriages up with water and take them back"

In 2012 Clarence Valley Mayor Richie Williamson probably thought he was sarcastically joking when he remarked about Australian Infrastructure Development Pty Ltd’s scheme to build a Yamba mega port at the end of an inland freight rail line: "They probably want to fill the carriages up with water and take them back".

We now know from presentations done by this company that it is actually spruiking the option of a water pipeline beside the proposed rail line from the port to Moree [Project 1: Port Yamba Regeneration, Slide 11 at].

We also know that this option is being taken seriously in some quarters.

The July 2016 ordinary monthly meeting minutes of Namoi Councils Joint Organisation (representing eight Murray-Darling Basin local government areas) show that this body is considering both the inland rail to port plan to industrialize the Clarence River estuary and a plan to build at least three to four dams on Clarence River tributaries, pipe the water over the Great Dividing Range into a purpose built hydro-electric scheme before discharging it into the inland river system for the use of irrigators and mining operations in the basin.

Map of Endersbee version of dam & divert proposal,

Although the scheme favoured by current Murray-Darling Basin lobbyists differs from the incredibly ambitious scenario Australia Infrastructure Developments appears to have briefly considered if this Facebook post by one of its named shareholders, Richard Wells, is any indication:

As the Namoi councils organisation appears to be favoured by the Baird Government and enjoys a close working relationship with the Dept. of Premier and Cabinet, Clarence Valley communities cannot afford to laugh off the lobbying being done in support of either of these two schemes.

Especially with regard to the Yamba port scheme as there are two planning documents, one state and one federal, which show that Liberal-Nationals governments may yet be inclined to entertain this appalling proposal:

Future strategic planning by Sydney Ports will include the regional ports of Eden and Yamba. [NSW Freight And Ports Strategy, 2013]

The national ports strategy suggests a focus on major ports; however smaller ports face similar challenges. Minor and regional ports play a vital role in the national economy and are encouraged to opt-in and participate. To the extent relevant, the plans should fit in with the Council of Australian Governments’ directions for city planning and the national land freight strategy which is being developed. [Australian Government, Infrastructure Australia – National Ports Strategy, 2011]

As for the Clarence River catchment dam and diversion scheme, it is well to remember that the last time the federal government entertained that idea both state and federal governments were Coalition - just as they are today.

The only real difference is that Malcolm Turnbull has gone from being Australian water minister in 2007 to Australian prime minister in 2016.

It’s time for concerned voters to make their views known to Premier Mike Baird and demand that the valley’s social, cultural and economic interests are not sacrificed to further the greed of private corporations, foreign investors and inland councils.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

NSW planning system and greenhouse gas emissions

Planning for climate change

Planning for climate change: how the NSW planning system can better tackle greenhouse gas emissions -  Download PDF

The NSW Government is proposing to make changes to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. This presents an opportunity to make amendments to address the most important and urgent challenge we face – planning for climate change.

Major projects such as CSG and coal mining continue to receive approval without proper consideration of the future climate impacts of those projects.

In this report, we make 14 key recommendations on how the planning system can be improved to help mitigate the future impacts and costs of climate change.

For more about why we have released this report, and what it means, read our blog post How can NSW better tackle greenhouse gas emissions?.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Another blow for Australian Infrastructure Developments: ACCC Chair reveals port privatisations not in the nation's best interests

Australian Infrastructure Developments Pty Ltd and its shadowy backers face more than a Lower Clarence community determined to fight its scheme to industrialise Port of Yamba situated in the high environmental value Clarence River estuary.

Now it has been revealed that its desire to extensively expand and privatise this small domestic port will in all likelihood increase freight costs for the Murray-Darling Basin farmers, graziers, agri-businesses and mining corporations that are supposed to be its future customers.

Financial Review, 26 July 2016:
The head of the competition regulator has called out governments for blatantly structuring asset sales to maximise profits at the expense of consumers and businesses.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said he had been a strong advocate of privatisation for 30 years because he believed it enhanced economic efficiency but he now believed "people in the street" who oppose privatisation because it raises prices had it right based on recent port sales in NSW. 
He said he was now "almost at the point of opposing privatisation" because state and federal governments were becoming increasingly blatant about structuring sales to maximise proceeds at the expense of competition.
"I am getting more exasperated. I just think governments are more explicitly now privatising to maximise the proceeds - including the Commonwealth," he said. 
"They are explicitly saying the reason they don't want to do this or this is that it'll damage the proceeds they are getting. They're not even playing the rhetorical game anymore. 
"I see it getting worse. I think a sharp upper cut is needed in this area. That's why I am saying, 'let's just stop the privatisations'. It is increasing prices - let's just call it out." …..
Mr Sims said ports privatisation was the best example of the approach that had turned him off privatisation as a policy. 
The ports of Botany and Kembla had been privatised together to limit competition, a big debate was under way in Victoria about making sure the Port of Hastings would be a competitor to a privatised Port of Melbourne in future, and "the same battle" was being waged over the Port of Fremantle, where  the WA government wants to give the buyer a right of first refusal over a future outer harbour port. 
The ACCC chairman last month criticised the way Port Botany was privatised, saying price monitoring of unregulated monopolies was ineffective. But this is the first time he has gone so far as the call a halt to sales of public assets. 
Mr Sims said he was less concerned about the NSW government's power poles and wires privatisations because the state has an independent pricing regulator. The NSW government has applied to the Australian Energy Markets Commission to draw out until 2024 an annual price hike of up to $520 per household that was scheduled take effect from July 2017 to avoid a "price shock" for consumers. 
Mr Sims said he was also concerned that monopoly ports were being privatised without any pricing regulation, leading to "lovely headlines in the Financial Review saying 'gosh what successful sales, look at the multiples they achieved'."
"Of course they bloody well did. The owners have factored in very large price rises because there's no regulation of how they set the prices of a monopoly. How dopey is that?" he said.  
'It's damaging our cost structure'
"I think it's a serious issue facing Australia. I think it's damaging our cost structure considerably. 
"And when you meet people in the street and they say, 'I don't like privatisation because it boosts the prices', and you dismiss them, no no, they're right. Recent examples suggest they're right." 

Friday, 22 July 2016

NSW households with feed-in tariffs on their rooftop solar power can expect no help with bill shock from the Baird or Turnbull governments

State of Play for NSW domestic solar power…….

REneweconomy, 1 September 2015:

The New South Wales pricing regulator has slashed the value of solar feed-in tariffs in the state in what appears to be a deliberate move to push consumers to adopt battery storage, and to lock in long-term deals with major retailers.
The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) on Monday announced in a draft determination that the recommended average tariff – which is voluntary anyway for electricity retailers  in NSW – had been cut by 14 per cent to an average 4.8c/kWh, the lowest in Australia.
The move will affect the more than 3,000 homes that add rooftop solar in NSW each month, and gives some indication of the tariffs awaiting the 160,000 homes on premium feed-in tariffs when those tariffs come to an end at the end of 2016.
IPART justified the cut – from an average 5.6c/kWh in the past year – on the basis that wholesale electricity prices had fallen because of a decline in expensive peak pricing events.
One of the principal reasons for this fall in wholesale prices is the proliferation of rooftop solar PV. IPART says solar PV has helped reduce the number of daytime peak pricing events in NSW and helped lower the average level of peak demand by 8 per cent….
But while solar households are having their tariffs cut because of falling wholesale prices, there is no sign that lower wholesale prices have been passed on to the general consumer. Retailers simply increase their margins on the “retail” component of the business to offset the lower revenue they get from their coal plant and other generators. All major retailers have increased their margins significantly in the past year.

ABC News, 19 July 2016:

Thousands of Australians will be hit by electricity bill shock of about $1,500 when generous solar feed-in tariffs are rolled back in coming months, consumer advocates have warned.

The tariffs were introduced for a set period to kickstart Australia's uptake of rooftop solar by offering money to solar users who fed energy back into the grid.

More than 275,000 households will be affected when the tariffs are unwound from September to January in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.

new report that crunches the numbers on the financial impact shows 146,000 NSW customers will be the hardest hit…..

In NSW, the tariff will be wound back from 60 cents for all solar generation to 5.5-7.2 cents per kilowatt hour.

In Victoria, consumers who were paid 25 cents per kilowatt hour for excess solar fed into the grid will have that reduced to five cents and in South Australia the 16 cent tariff will fall to 6.8 cents.

The current NSW 60 cents tariff for all solar generation - 20 cents feed-in tariff (FiT) - gives a discount of est. 7 per cent on domestic electricity costs.

Current solar FiTs are ending for 275,902 households in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.

The change occurs for households with FiT contracts which commenced in :

2011 (standard tariff) South Australia the change occurs on 30 September 2016 – new minimum tariff 6.8 cents per kWh;
2010 (“Solar Scheme Tariff”) New South Wales the change occurs on 31 December 2016 – up to retailer to decide the offer which is unlikely to exceed 5 cents kWh ; and
2011 (transitional tariff) & 2012 (standard tariff) Victoria the change occurs on 31 December 2016  - new tariff 5 cents per kWh. “Premium FiT” contracts do not expire until 2024.

According to the Independent Pricing And Regulatory Tribunal an average two-person household in NSW uses approximately 1,400 kWh of electricity per quarter (90 days) or 15.55kWh per day.

If a North Coast residence is lucky enough to receive a full 6 hours of sunlight daily on its rooftop solar panel and has installed a 3.0kw or 4.0 kw model it could produce between 11.7 to 16.8kWh of electricity per day.

Even the most basic maths indicates that from 1 January 2017 for many of these coastal households the dollar margin between output and consumption will fall and at the end of each billing period there will be less income to compensate for their actual energy use plus the usual energy retailer’s service fees and charges.

As both the Baird and Turnbull governments appear to be captives of the coal and gas industries, 2017 is going to be a year of unexpected adjustment for many of those older residents in the Northern Rivers who fondly imagined that they were future proofing their retirement by entering solar feed-in tariff schemes in 2010.

The Total Environment Centre explains Life after FiTs.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Australian Federal Election 2016: are Baird's forced council amalgamations hurting Team Turnbull's chances in NSW?

About 27% of the NSW population lives in one of the nineteen new councils created yesterday. Another 21% lives in the nine proposed councils which will be created once the current court action is resolved. If Newcastle is also merged and its council sacked, that will be a majority of the NSW population living in an area with no elected local representation. [The Tally Room, 13 May 2016]

Google Images March 2016

NSW Premier Mike Baird has been careful over the years to position himself as being in sympathy with the aims and major policies of the Abbott-Turnbull Government and, in its turn this federal government has supported his slashing of the number of local government areas which will see an est. 48 per cent of the state’s population being without elected councillors for at least twelve months.

That's up to 3.66 million individuals living in households who may be more than a little cranky with the Lib-Nats for what has happened to their local council and approximately another 3.97 million people living in local government areas that are in the firing line the next time Premier Baird decides to whittle away at the most immediate tier of democracy in Australia.

Coalition MPs hoping to retain their seats come 2 July must be hoping that none of them read the newspaper over breakfast (or click onto social media) between now and then.

How the NSW council amalgamation issue played out in mainstream media thus far......

The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 March 2016:

At Liberal party functions in his seat of Wentworth in Sydney's east, Malcolm Turnbull is fond of introducing his staff member, Sally Betts as the most powerful person in Sydney's east. It usually gets a chuckle, particularly since he became Prime Minister.

Ms Betts is the grandmotherly figure who works two days a week in his electorate office while also serving as Waverley Council's mayor……

If Betts had not got on board with the Baird government's amalgamations push, the state government would have faced a solid wall of opposition from Liberal councils. Instead Betts and her Liberal counterpart in Randwick offered the first chink in council resistance, giving the state government cause to claim the councils were divided on the issue……
Daily Telegraph, 9 May 2016:

Tony Abbott has thrown his support behind the formation of one northern beaches council under Premier Mike Baird’s amalgamation reforms.
“I can see the arguments both ways. I would probably lean towards a whole of peninsula council if we are going down the amalgamation path,” he said.
“It’s a question of balancing out the local attachment with the need for efficient service delivery.”….

However once Malcolm Turnbull called the double dissolution election for 2 July this year matters became more complicated and federal influence on the Baird Government more obvious.

The Australian

The state government initially put forward 35 amalgamations in what would have been the biggest reform of local government in NSW since 1948.

But it is likely that cabinet will drop some of the proposals, with suggestions that the process has been influenced by political considerations, including opposition from local MPs and concerns about whether they will affect the chances of federal MPs.

After state cabinet considers the mergers, a special partyroom meeting will be held to endorse them…..

But the state government has placed a potential bomb under the Coalition’s campaign by proceeding with mergers in a number of marginal seats, including the bellwether Eden-Monaro, and ­Dobell and Robertson on the NSW Central Coast.

In Eden-Monaro, held by the Liberals’ Peter Hendy on a narrow margin, the government has, among other mergers, approved the joining of the rural Palerang council with the Queanbeyan town council.

Former Palerang mayor Peter Harrison says his former council is a poor fit with Queanbeyan given the different demography. He says locals fear their rates will be consumed by Queanbeyan and that there will be less money for maintenance of local roads.

“Palerang is quite unique. The majority of people live in rural residential areas. It does not have urban centres,” Mr Harrison said.

The Baird government dumped a proposal to merge the Kiama and Shoalhaven councils, affecting the marginal seat of Gilmore, held by the Liberals’ Ann Sudmalis, and another affecting the seat of Macquarie, held by the Liberals’ Louise Markus, after a government-appointed delegate recommended against it.

It ignored its own proposal to merge Tamworth and Walcha councils in New England, where Mr Joyce is battling former independent MP Tony Windsor.

Deputy Premier Troy Grant said he had two calls from Mr Joyce about the amalgamations, but denied he had an influence.

Delegate Amanda Chadwick recommended Walcha and Tamworth councils merge, and the proposal was supported by the Boundaries Commission.

Mr Baird denied that the decision not to proceed with some of the mergers was driven by political considerations, saying it was purely a matter of what was in the interest of ratepayers.

The mergers will reduce the number of councils in NSW by 37. The number of councils in Sydney is to be slashed from 43 to 25. Yesterday the government sacked all councillors in merged councils, appointing ­administrators in their place, and delayed local elections in ­affected areas until September next year.

Mr Baird said he had “absolute confidence” the mergers would result in better outcomes for ratepayers.

But the Baird government limited the financial benefits of the mergers by demanding the new councils not sack any workers, except executives. Employees in towns smaller than 5000 are permanently protected….., 17 May 2016:

A few months ago people were talking up Mike Baird’s personal popularity, saying it could soften any swing towards Labor in NSW including in the eight marginal seats of Barton, Eden-Monaro, Dobell, Reid, Banks, Page, Gilmore and Lindsay.

But that was until the NSW government announced plans on Thursday to sack councils across the state and create 19 new ones……

Then the ugly underbelly of Mike Baird’s governance style was exposed for all to see.

The Sydney Morning Herald

In a potentially explosive development for the Baird government, the Land and Environment Court has ordered it to provide documents about the role KPMG played in implementing the council amalgamation agenda.

Strathfield Council and others are alleging a serious misrepresentation by the Baird government after discovering that KPMG has been involved in devising the merger proposals as early as July 2015 – before the government announced it was proceeding with forced amalgamations – yet it was deemed the independent arbiter of the financial benefits of the mergers.

A document seen by The Sydney Morning Herald entitled "Options Analysis: Local Reform" and marked cabinet-in-confidence was dated July 8, 2015.

"OLG [Office of Local Government] has commissioned KPMG to support development of a robust evidence base to support the NSW government's Fit for the Future agenda," the document says.

This was well before the government announced the results of the Fit for the Future review by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, which assessed the health of councils to either stand alone or merge. It was also before the government announced its plans to force mergers.

In a press release issued on the day the government announced its preferred mergers in January 2016, Premier Mike Baird and the Minister for Local Government Paul Toole described the role of KPMG, which calculated the savings of each merger, as "independent"……

The state government has defended the independence of the consulting firm whose sums were the basis for its controversial push to slash Sydney councils.

Accounting and consulting giant KPMG, whose figures have been used to justify the government's controversial merger policies, donated about $100,000 to the NSW Liberal Party shortly before the elections that brought the Coalition to power in 2011.

The firm was also paid about $870,000 to audit Liberal Party accounts in 2015…..

"How can you claim KPMG's report on your forced council mergers is independent," asked the opposition spokesman on Planning and Infrastructure, Michael Daley, in question time in the NSW Parliament on Thursday.
The attack comes a day after the Land and Environment Court demanded the government produce documents relating to KPMG's modelling, which has been central to making the case for the government's council merger policies.
That resulted from a legal challenge to the merger of Strathfield Council and two others in the inner west, which revealed KPMG had been working on merger proposals before the government announced it was proceeding with the policy.
"The lack of independence of KPMG has always been a central part of our case," said the lawyer for Strathfield Council, Tim Robertson.