Showing posts with label government funding. Show all posts
Showing posts with label government funding. Show all posts

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Murdoch has managed to deprive NSW Northern Rivers region of most of its local print newspapers & now Morrison is attacking our most reliable news source, the ABC


The Age, 25 June 2020: 

ABC chairwoman Ita Buttrose has lashed out at Communications Minister Paul Fletcher over the Morrison government's handling of its multimillion-dollar budget cuts and accused him of lying about the national broadcaster's efforts to collaborate with SBS. 

In a fresh war of words between the taxpayer-funded broadcaster and the Coalition government, Ms Buttrose has accused Mr Fletcher of twice failing to provide the ABC board and management with the critical data that informed an independent report proposing the closure of two broadcast channels and the sharing of back-office and support services with fellow public broadcaster SBS. 

Ms Buttrose has also said the government misrepresented the ABC's efforts to work closer with SBS. In a strongly-worded letter to Mr Fletcher, seen by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, Ms Buttrose said the ABC's board had asked her to "convey its concerns" about Mr Fletcher's lack of response to correspondence between the pair in September last year. 

"We raised a number of issues but were particularly interested in seeing 'the information - data, models and assumptions - which formed the basis for the savings estimates provided in the report'," Ms Buttrose wrote. "I appreciate you have a busy schedule but we would appreciate an answer to our queries." 

Ms Buttrose said several media reports, which ABC management believes were informed by Mr Fletcher, had suggested the ABC "had neglected to 'collaborate more closely with SBS'". 

"This is incorrect," Ms Buttrose wrote. "David Anderson has had several conversations with SBS about sharing costs". 

A Peter Tonagh-led review of the public broadcasters was handed to the Morrison government in March last year, but its details were kept confidential as the ABC developed plans to cut costs. Some recommendations - such as an increased focus on digital growth, improving the ABC's iview platform and reducing investment in products that are not central to the ABC charter - were effectively adopted in the plan announced yesterday, but an ABC spokesman said that if all had been implemented there would have been more cuts. 

In the September correspondence between the pair, Ms Buttrose said the board said several proposals in the review "lack enough detail to allow an evaluation of whether the suggested savings can be realised". 

"In some cases, the savings estimates are presented in aggregate for the two national broadcasters and it is unclear what proportion of them has been attributed to the ABC, rather than SBS," she said. 

In particular, the review estimates that the national broadcasters could together save "a minimum of $45 million" by reducing multichannel services and "between $80 million and $115 million per annum" through focusing expenditure on what it characterises as "core" activities and a greater focus on digital delivery. 

"However, it provides no information as to how these figures were derived or the proportions attributed to the ABC," she said. Sources said Ms Buttrose had also raised the issue with Mr Fletcher at a face-to-face meeting between the pair at ABC's Ultimo headquarters on Tuesday. 

Mr Fletcher and Prime Minister Scott Morrison staunchly defended the level of funding provided to the ABC, insisting the government has not cut its budget, and backed the national broadcaster's efforts to be more focused on regional and suburban Australia. "There are no cuts ... the ABC's funding is increasing every year," Mr Morrison said on Thursday. "The ABC would be the only media company or organisation in Australia today whose revenue, their funding, is increasing. It would be the only one in the country. We are seeing regional mastheads by commercial newspapers abolished." 

The ABC announced a range of cuts on Wednesday, including 250 job losses and the end of the 7.45am radio news bulletin, in a bid to save $40 million until 2022. Managing director David Anderson also announced plans to cut poor-performing content, reduce episodes of Australian Story and Foreign Correspondent and lease space at the ABC's Sydney headquarters in Ultimo. The measures triggered a wave of criticism about the funding squeeze imposed on the broadcaster by the Coalition in recent federal budgets.

ABC News, 27 June 2020: 

The ABC put forward two separate proposals offering to open more regional Australian studios, expand its coverage of remote communities and hire more journalists in rural areas in return for the federal government dumping its decision to freeze annual funding indexation. 

Correspondence between ABC managing director David Anderson and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher and seen by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, show the national broadcaster was prepared to invest tens of millions of dollars more outside capital city centres if the Morrison government was prepared to reverse its budget cuts. 

In a proposal made after the Black Summer bushfires in January, ABC management told Mr Fletcher the national broadcaster would be able to find $10 million a year to employ more regional journalists if indexation was restored

Mr Anderson's letter, sent to Mr Fletcher on January 24, said he was writing to ask the government to consider a reversal of the indexation pause, which is expected to cost the broadcaster up to $84 million over three years, to safeguard the future sustainability of the ABC. 

"If indexation was restored, combined with savings and efficiencies that the ABC has identified in recent months, the Corporation would be in a position to commit an additional investment of up to $10 million per annum to employ more journalists in regional Australia and generate more content from regions for the local and national stories," Mr Anderson wrote. 

Several government sources have confirmed Mr Fletcher did not reply to the letter, nor did he discuss the proposal with the ABC or his National Party colleagues, who have constantly raised concerns over the future of regional media outlets, following a spate of natural disasters including last summer's fires.... [my yellow highting]

The Saturday Paper, 27 June 2020: 

Two days before the ABC confirmed that up to 250 jobs will be cut across the organisation, the federal government finalised a $200,000 offer for consultants to prepare a report on news and media business models looking specifically at the impact of public broadcasters “on commercial operators”. 

An approach to market for the report was closed on Monday, with the federal Communications Department under minister Paul Fletcher requesting the successful bidder evaluate failed, successful and emerging news media operating models from around the world. 

As it happens, a key requirement of the research, due before the end of August, is also a hobby horse of the ABC’s commercial rivals. 

The tender asks consultants to examine “the role of publicly-funded (non-commercial) media organisations in the production and dissemination of news and media content in the comparable jurisdictions, and the impacts and interactions of publicly-funded entities with commercial operators”. 

This is the argument News Corp makes against the ABC: that it is cutting into the audiences of commercial enterprises such as Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, websites and pay television business. 

“The report will be used as an input to inform policy advice and decision-making in relation to the news and media sectors. The end-users of the report include Commonwealth officials, relevant Ministers, and their staff,” the tender documents say. 

“The report is not intended for public release.”......

BACKGROUND

ABC News, 26 June 2029: 

The ABC has not only helped shape Australia, we are the national voice that unites us. 

It’s about democracy. Without the ABC we would have a balkanised and parochial bunch of broadcasters that are in danger of being compromised by profit and more intent on dividing than unifying. 

Imagine what it would be like during the bushfire season if we had to rely only on state-based or even regionally based media outlets. When we are in the middle of bushfires, don’t we want to know that they are being covered by a knowledgeable and experienced network of journalists with all the supporting infrastructure of a large national network? 

The ABC, funded by all of us, regardless of our creed – race, age, political beliefs – is us. It’s the way we build cross-cultural understanding, the way we help each other in times of need. It’s who we are collectively. Why would anyone want to diminish that and make us less than who we are? 

This has been a devastating week for the ABC. With unemployment at an all-time high to have to inform up to 250 people they no longer had a job has been an incredibly difficult task. 

Cuts to services caused by the ongoing reduction in our budget forced this action upon us and although we knew what had to be done, our hearts were with our employees. 

Let me clarify the cuts because there seems to be some confusion in Government circles about them. The 2018 Budget papers clearly state that the Government’s savings measures reduce funding to the ABC by $14.623 million in 2019-20, $27.842 million in 2020-21, and $41.284 million in 2021-22. This reduction totals $83.75 million on our operational base. 

It is true that over the three years the ABC budget does still increase but by a reduced amount, due to indexation on the fixed cost of transmission and distribution services. Previously, it was rising by a further $83.75 million over the same three years for indexation on our operational base. This is the funding that has been cut and considered a saving by the government. 

These funding cuts are unsustainable if we are to provide the media services that Australians expect of us. Indexation must be renewed. 

The strength of the ABC and its relationship with the nation comes from the very people who work for us. They are passionate about public broadcasting and are prepared to work for less than they would be paid by commercial media to deliver it. The creativity in the programs they produce, the dogged and independent journalism they pursue and the connection with communities everywhere they provide through conversations is at the very heart of what the ABC delivers to our audiences. 

The ABC has a statutory requirement to operate as efficiently as possible. We have a strong track record in identifying savings and reinvesting them in services. This is how we created ABC News 24, ABC iview and a range of packages to boost services in rural and regional Australia. 

There is no other authority better placed to manage the ABC than the ABC itself. We know our business and we are determined to honour our commitment to independence. All Australians expect this of us just as they expect the Government to provide the appropriate funds to allow us to do so. 

The ABC is essential in generating and preserving Australia’s democratic culture. An independent, well-funded national broadcaster allows Australians, wherever they live, to connect. It is how we share our identity, how we tell our stories, how we listen to each other, how we ask for help and how we give it. 

 Ita Buttrose AC OBE 
 ABC Chair

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Quote of the Week


“We have done our best to convince the Government to reverse the indexation freeze...We've done our best to find efficiencies without affecting content, but we have said all along, since this (freeze) was announced in 2018, that after successive budget reductions to the ABC, there's only so much that can be gained through efficiency and in the end, content will be affected, and we've seen that roll out yesterday.”  [ABC managing director David Anderson, in The West Australian, 25 June 2020]

Thursday, 11 June 2020

Is the Morrison Government rushing like a bull at the gate in trying to roll back COVID-19 financial assistance at the earliest opportunity?



There were est. 1.3 million children in childcare and 200,000 staff in the early childhood education and care sector across Australia before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
On 23 March 2020 the Morrison Government announced it would help families with the cost of child care and provide support for child care centres to remain viable and pay staff during enforced COVID-19 closures.
On 2 April it announced the government had suspended its usual childcare subsidies and instead offered to pay 50% of childcare centres’ usual fees based on February enrolments, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison stating that “Around one million families are set to receive free child care during the coronavirus pandemic...This plan complements more than $1 billion we expect the sector to receive through our new JobKeeper payment to help ensure many of the 200,000 vital early education workforce can stay connected to services….The plan means the sector is expected to receive $1.6 billion over the coming three months from taxpayer subsidies”.
This announce meant that child care operators would be receiving in total $300 million more in government funding than they would otherwise receive over a three month period.
Then on 1 May the Morrison Government announced a boost for not-for-profit organisations and educators from family daycare and in home care services which are not eligible for the JobKeeper wage subsidy.
By 19 May it was being reported in The Guardian that:
...an education department report found that a quarter of childcare centres found the free childcare system – due to conclude at the end of June – had not helped them remain financially viable. Education department officials have blocked the release of the full report, claiming cabinet and commercial confidentiality.
Tehan claimed success because 99% of centres are still operating and said the government is consulting the sector “to make sure any changes will see the sector continue to thrive”.
Tehan said “no decision” had been taken on ending free childcare but “if demand continues to increase at the levels we’re seeing it, we have to understand that this system was put in place to deal with falling demand”.
Come 8 June 2020 and Minister for Education and Liberal MP for Wannon Dan Tehan issued a media release which stated in part:
As Australians return to their workplace, businesses re-open and children return to classroom learning, the Government will resume the Child Care Subsidy (CCS) to support families to access affordable child care.

Minister for Education Dan Tehan said the temporary Early Childhood Education and Care Relief Package, introduced on 6 April, had done its job and would be turned off on 12 July.

From 13 July, the CCS will return, along with new transition measures to support the sector and parents as they move back to the subsidy. To ensure Government support is appropriately targeted, JobKeeper will cease from 20 July for employees of a CCS approved service and for sole traders operating a child care service.

The Government will pay approximately $2 billion in CCS this quarter to eligible families. The CCS is means-tested to ensure that those who earn the least receive the highest level of subsidy.

In addition to the CCS, the Government will pay child care services a Transition Payment of 25 per cent of their fee revenue during the relief package reference period (17 February to 1 March) from 13 July until 27 September. Importantly, the last two payments scheduled for September will be brought forward to help with the transition and cash flow.

This additional Transition Payment of $708 million replaces JobKeeper and applies important conditions on child care providers.

Until 27 September 2020 child care fees will be capped at 17 February to 1 March levels and there will be an easing of the Activity Test.

So five weeks after this latest announcement there will be no free child care for sole parents or couples anymore and another two weeks after that eligible child care workers will not receive the $1,500 before tax fortnightly wage.

There is no explanation for why child care workers are losing JobKeeper payments eleven weeks ahead of schedule. One has to suspect that being a lower paid, predominately female workforce it is seen as easy pickings by the Morrison Cabinet.

With no employment ‘snapback’ in sight due to an Australian Bureau of Statistics Employment To Population Ratio, Australia Graph like this (left) as well as calls for the abolition of penalty rates and a general wage freeze, one wonders how a return to fee paying child care in July will assist the unemployed and underemployed to get their family finances back to pre-COVID-19 levels, if at the very least the average fee for one child would be in the vicinity of est. $84-$100 a week after subsidy coming out of a family income which for many may be between $388 to $468 a week by the end of September.

It is thought likely under these conditions that the increase in enrolments that Tehan talks about (which in reality has only reached 75% of normal capacity by his own admission) will fall away in the next two months.

In the last 30 days a total of 32 child care businesses were listed for sale at seekbusiness.com.au.


Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Rex Express walks away from its Clarence Valley airline route trying to blame others for its decision


Rex will stand by all regional communities that have stood by Rex during this global and national crisis” [Rex Express Holdings Deputy Chairman and former Nationals MP for Hume, the Hon John Sharp AM, company media release, 29 April 2020]

Stirring words in that quote at the top of this post.

The facts on the ground are somewhat different.

It appears that Rex Express Holdings* directors Kim Hai Lim, John Sharp, Neville George Howell, Christopher Hine, Thian Soo Lee, Ronald Bartsch, James Davis and at least one senior company executive David Brooksby are so offended by having their company's begging letters actually answered with increased funding/concessions from Clarence Valley Council that they have decided to remove the Clarence Valley’s only commercial air link with the outside world.


According to Rex Express on 20 April 2020 the RANS program is to ensure regional airline carriers will be provided assistance to maintain a minimal weekly schedule to regional and remote ports”. The COVID-19 Regional Airlines Funding Assistance Program is intended to assist airlines "to remain financially viable through the unprecedented downturn in aviationdue to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic".

Under revised RANS guidelines, Rex was eligible to receive funding to operate 2-3 return services a week to all destinations on the Rex Express network for up to six months. Rex’s application for the ports it wishes to provide services to has been approved and was signed off on 23 April 2020.

So it seems that the airline had a government funding offer to fly the Clarence Valley route until at least late September 2020.

So why did Rex Express spit the dummy and pull its Clarence Valley route commencing 3 July?

Admittedly Rex Express as airlines go is only a sprat in the aviation ocean, however it did turn a $17.5 million profit after tax in the 2018-2019 financial year and the board recommended an 8 cents dividend to shareholders.

Perhaps dropping Grafton Airport was because having a leg in again at Ballina Airport since early May 2020, the company board finds that market is more attractive.

Or perhaps it has more to do with the changed financial landscape created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the likelihood that the profit & loss statement it will present shareholders at this November’s annual general meeting - given it stated an expectation of a $10 million a month loss due to reduced flights - will not be welcome.

Total passenger numbers and revenue had been falling in 2019 but the fall was quite marked in January-February 2020 – numbers fell by -4 % in January & -3% in February and revenue fell by -6% in January & -5% in February.

By 17 March 2020 it was reported that Rex Express was anticipating bankruptcy and on 26 March its ASX share price had dropped to 0.400. Share price has since recovered to 1.100 as of Friday 5 June.

The regional airline is also now facing increased competition on some routes from Qantas which is expecting competition from Regional Express in 2021. Rex wants to expand its own operations on competitive/commercially viable routes.

It is possible that Rex Express abandoning its flights into the Clarence Valley will not be the only route it is either jettisoning or downgrading and other low volume regional areas are in the firing line – they just don’t know it yet.

It may be that the fig leaf Rex is hiding behind – alleged hostility during one Clarence Valley Council debate of a motion – is meant to forestall panic in other regions this airline services.

Either way, I have lost count of the times Rex Express has threatened to withdraw or did withdraw its passenger services from airports in the NSW Northern Rivers region. In my personal opinion it is an airline that fails to impress.

Note
* Rex Express is reportedly 58% owned by shareholders in Singapore.

BACKGROUND

The Daily Examiner, 8 June 2020:

Seven-line email to council over ‘hostility’ the reason Grafton stunned by Rex king hit

The words used in a Clarence Valley Council meeting last week are the reason Regional Express airlines will cease flying into Grafton from July 3.

The airline made the announcement to cease flying via a letter to Clarence Valley Council general manager Ashley Lindsay on Thursday afternoon.

A spokeswoman for the airline confirmed to The Daily Examiner that the reason for the cancellation of the route was due to the comments made by councillors in a debate over whether they would provide a credit note for the airline.

When pushed on other reasons for the closure of the route, and whether Rex’s Lismore and Ballina routes would continue, the spokeswoman declined to comment, and said that further questions from The Daily Examiner had been forwarded for consideration.

The motion for providing Rex a credit note of $8908, which was to be used in January 2021, was passed by Clarence Valley Council 7-2 after a debate ensued on whether councillors questioned council supporting the airline.

However in the letter, the company has stated it has rejected the offer, despite asking for it in earlier correspondence.

Written by Rex airports manager David Brooksby, it opens by thanking Clarence Valley Council for offering Rex a rebate of $8908.

Please note however that given the hostility of the councillors in relation to this matter, and following the call for Rex to ‘pull their finger out’, Rex will reject council’s offer. Full settlement has already been made last week,” the letter reads.

It concludes: “Please also be aware that Rex will cease all services to Grafton with effect from 3 July 2020.” Clarence Valley Council general manager Ashley Lindsay said the decision was “really surprising and disappointing”, and was seeking to talk to Mr Brooksby about the matter.

Council received correspondence from Rex on March 19 and requested that council provide a 50 per cent reduction of the head tax from April 1 to December 31, 2020,” he said.

Council in March resolved to give a reduction of 100 per cent unanimously. “We then received further correspondence on April 23 seeking a credit note over landing fees … that could used in January 2021 for their first lot of invoices.

This was passed 7-2 … and it seems the ‘pull your finger out’ (comment from the debate), that’s what has offended them…..

Monday, 8 June 2020

Riddle me this.....


Q: What do Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme, the federal drought relief plan, bushfire recovery response funding and COVID-19 pandemic response have in common?

A: It seems the answer to this riddle is Morrison Government mismanagement, parsimony and, an almost pathalogical inability to keep policy promises.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) commenced on 1 July 2013 and had an annual budget of $148.8 million. The initial 2013-14 budget was underspent by $18 million.

In the following financial years NDIS ran an operating surplus of $0.4 million in 2014-15, $15.8 million in 2015-16, $617 million in 2016-17, $146 million in 2017-18 and $ 694.4 million in 2018-19.

Despite growing concerns about the slow rollout of this scheme and allegations of poor services and needs not met, in 2018 est. $1.6 billion dollars was removed from NDIS and returned to federal government coffers to bolster that financial year's budget bottom line.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On 1 September 2019 the $5 billion FutureDrought Fund was created by siphoning $3.96 billion from the Building Australia Fund. It consists of the Future Drought Fund Special Account and the investments of the Future Drought Fund. Fund earnings are to be reinvested until the balance reaches $5 billion (expected in 2028-29).

As of 31 March 2020 the Future Drought Fund was holding $3.99 billion, of which a total of $23 million is net earnings – an investment return of only 0.7 per centFrom 1 July 2020 there is a Morrison Government undertaking that the poorly performing fund will transfer $100 million each financial year to the Agriculture Future Drought Resilience Special Account despite the fact that it does not have the required balance of $5 billion.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On 6 January 2020 Prime Minister & Liberal MP for Cook Scott Morrison announced the federal government would allocate $2 billion for the National Bushfire Recovery Fund (NBRF).

At the time of the announcement $1.6 billion was unallocated.

The 2019-20 bushfire season officially ended on 31 March 2020.

As of 15 May 2020 only a total of $1 billion of the $2 billion in NBRF funding has been spent.

Of the 26 programs being funded by NBRF: 6 do not commence until 1 July 2020; only 3 have fully spent allocated funding with another demand driven program running over budget (funding provided to farmers, fishers, and foresters located in declared bushfire affected areas); and, the remaining 16 programs have spent from 0% (mental health support for emergency services workers) to 89% (additional emergency relief delivered by charities, plus financial counselling) of their allocated funding.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On 20 March 2020 the Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians & Liberal Senator for Tasmania Richard Colbeck announced temporary funding to support Aged Care providers, residents, staff and families - including $234.9 million for a COVID-19 ‘retention bonus’ to ensure the continuity of the workforce for aged care workers in both residential and home care.
This retention bonus would have seen a total of $1,600 tax-free paid in two installments to direct care workers and $1,200 tax-free paid in two installments to those providing care in the home.

However, by 5 June 2020 and ahead of the first installment being delivered, the Morrison Government announced a change to the 'retention bonus'. The bonus will now be capped at $800 for direct care workers, $500 for those providing care in the home and will now be taxed at the individual's marginal tax rate with most aged care workers losing est. >30% of the bonus. 

This measure is expected to save the Morrison Government somewhere in the vicinity of $50 million.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

On 31 March 2020 Scott Morrison headed a joint media event with two of his ministers at which it was announced that the federal government was committing $50 million to fund 3.4 million meals for 41,000 older and/or vulnerable people for 6 weeks – the equivalent of two meals a day for which there is a cost to Meals-on-Wheels clients. In addition $9.3 million was set aside to buy 36,000 emergency food supplies boxes to assist this same group to stay safe at home.

The purchase cost to government of these food supply boxes averages out at ext. $258 per box. It does not appear to be value for money.

On 5 June 2020 The Guardian revealed that only 38 food supply boxes had been delivered to date. In all probability because the contents of these boxes were decided by individual grocery chains and came at a cost to vulnerable recipients of $80 per box from Coles and Woolworths.

An additional impediment was that the Morrison Government initially restricted food supply box eligibility to people over 70 years of age who were registered with the National Disability Insurance Scheme or My Aged Care. This locked out so many older Australians with health condtions which made potential exposure to COVID-19 infection high risk.

Now desperate to rid itself of the remaining 36,962 boxes the only eligibility requirement seems to be that you are a registered online customer of a supermarket chain.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~