Pensioners, unemployed, sport, schools and solariums to be hit by laws on New Year's Day
Thousands of seniors could lose access to the valuable Commonwealth seniors health care card from New Year's Day, as the income test for the seniors card becomes a lot stricter.
Account-based pensions and superannuation income streams will no longer be exempt from the seniors card income test.
Retired couples with an income of more than $80,000 a year or singles who earn more than $50,000 a year could lose access to the concession card, which provides discounts on utility and medical bills, pharmaceuticals and transport, as well as an $886 yearly payment.
The unemployed will also be subject to stricter conditions on their Centrelink benefits, which have already been tightened during 2014.
Since July, employers have been able to report to Centrelink employees who have failed to attend work. The move resulted in a 54 per cent increase in welfare payment suspensions, the Department of Human Services said.
Under the new laws from January 1 the number of suspensions looks set to rise again. If a person misses an appointment with their employer, their Centrelink support payment will be suspended until they attend another one.
From July the laws will become even tougher. Income support will be suspended if a person fails to provide an adequate excuse for missing an appointment.
"This is the same standard of behaviour that is expected of a worker if they can't make it to work, and it is an important principle that the same standard applies to job seekers in receipt of taxpayer-funded income support," Assistant Minister for Employment Luke Hartsuyker said.
In NSW, solariums will be closed on December 31, following years of criticism by health care bodies. "There is irrefutable scientific evidence that exposure to UV radiation in solaria is a high risk for melanoma and other skin cancers," the Cancer Council said. Solarium owners believe the laws will only encourage a black market of tanning bed operators.
In the sporting world, Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority's efforts to curb the doping market will step up a gear with amendments to the ASADA act. Sportspeople will be forbidden from associating with anyone in a professional capacity who has been banned, criminally convicted or disciplined by any doping body.
ASADA chief executive Ben McDevitt will also maintain a publicly available "violations list" of people who commit doping offences.
ASADA will also become responsible for the prosecution of offenders, because the previous system of having individual sports target doping cheats was found to be too cumbersome.
While ASADA will gain a broader spectrum, other sectors will have theirs slashed.
Schools, sporting clubs and other organisations that use microphones in the 700 MHz spectrum will have to re-equip themselves when the estimated 150,000 wireless microphones in that range become illegal on January 1. The spectrum is privately owned now by Telstra and Optus, after the former labour government sold it for more than $1 billion in 2013.
The sale might have boosted the government's budget temporarily, but one that will increase the coffers for years to come is the 50 per cent increase in the cost of a permanent partner visa for immigrants.
From New Year's Day Australians who marry or fall in love with a foreigner will have to pay up to $6865 for the right for them to live and work legally in the country. That fee is up from $4575 in 2014. The move is expected to bring in $373.6 million in revenue over the next four years.
First coal-seam gas loaded for export from Australia
The world's first coal-seam-gas to LNG facility starts up. Greenies hate coal seam gas, of course, but both the Queensland and Federal government support it
BG Group began loading the first cargo of LNG from its Queensland Curtis LNG (QCLNG) facility to the vessel Methane Rita Andrea December 28. The second cargo of LNG from the facility will be loaded onto the Methane Mickie Harper, which is expected in Gladstone in the first week of January.
QCLNG is the world's first LNG project to be supplied by coal seam gas. The start of production from the plant's first LNG train is the result of more than four years of development and construction on Curtis Island.
The project will expand further with the startup of the second train in the third quarter of 2015. At plateau production, expected during 2016, QCLNG will have an output of around 8 million metric tons of LNG a year.
Andrew Gould, interim Executive Chairman, said, "This is an immense achievement which demonstrates the company's ability to deliver a highly complex LNG project. The start-up of QCLNG is testament to the hard work, skill and dedication of all our employees, partners and customers including the thousands of individuals who have been involved in physically building the plant.
The ongoing support from both the State Government of Queensland and the local councils of our upstream region and in Gladstone has also been pivotal in this development. We thank them all."
Work and pay prospects for graduates deteriorated in 2014, a survey shows
More evidence that a university education is now not worth it for many. Catching up for years of lost earnings is now increasingly unlikely
Recent university graduates are more likely to be out of full-time work than ever before and starting salaries for graduates have stagnated, new figures show.
The latest annual survey by Graduate Careers Australia shows that full-time employment rates and the earnings advantage of completing a degree both hit record lows in 2014 for recent graduates.
Thirty-two per cent of university graduates who wanted a full-time job had not found one four months after completing a degree in 2014 - up from 29 per cent last year and topping the previous record set in 1992.
"These figures are really concerning," said Grattan Institute higher education program director Andrew Norton. "They are worse than the 1990s recession but without the recession."
Mr Norton said the decline was most likely due to the growing number of students enrolling at university and a reluctance among employers to take on new workers since the global financial crisis.
Undergraduate university enrolments have soared by 23 per cent, or 110,000 students, since 2009 following the uncapping of student places.
In 2008, before the global economic downturn, 85 per cent of university graduates had found a full-time job four months after finishing their degree, compared with just 68 per cent this year.
More than 100,000 recent graduates completed the Australian Graduate Survey (AGS).
"These figures indicate that the labour market prospects of new bachelor degree graduates, which fell in the 2009 AGS as a result of the global financial crisis and did not change notably between 2010 and 2012 before falling again in 2013, have again fallen," the report says.
Recent pharmacy, medicine and mining engineering graduates were most likely to have full-time jobs, whereas social sciences, chemistry and psychology graduates were among the most likely to be unemployed or underemployed.
Employment opportunities have deteriorated significantly for recent law graduates. A quarter of law graduates were seeking permanent employment in 2014 four months after finishing their degree, up from nine per cent in 2008.
The GCA report stresses that the medium and long-term job prospects for graduates remain strong despite the tough employment market for new graduates. Only 3.2 per cent of university graduates are unemployed compared to 8.2 per cent for those with no post-secondary qualifications according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data.
The latest figures also show that starting salaries for graduates have declined when compared to wage of an average Australian male.
The median starting salary for a bachelor degree holder aged under 25 was $52,500 in 2014 or 74 per cent of male average weekly earnings. This is the lowest proportion relative to the average male wage since records began in 1977 and is significantly down from the recent peak of 83 per cent in 2009.
The median graduate starting salary rose by just $50, or 0.1 per cent, from 2013 while the wage of an average male rose by $411 or 0.6 per cent.
The higher earnings potential for university graduates, which remains significant over a lifetime, has been a key selling point for the Abbott government in its bid to deregulate university fees. Education Minister Christopher Pyne has repeatedly cited the figure that university graduates will earn 75 per cent more over a lifetime than school leavers.
New male graduates earned a median salary of $55,000 in 2014 while new female graduates started work on a median salary of $52,000. The difference is largely explained by the fact men are more likely to choose degrees which lead to high starting salaries - such as engineering - than women, according to the GCA report.
Customs staff to be armed at airports, new Immigration Minister announces
Customs officers will be armed at airports in the new year, the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has announced as he cements his plan to crack down on crime gangs and drug traffickers in his new portfolio.
As of next year customs and border protection officers will be permitted to carry "personal defensive equipment", which includes firearms, while on duty at Australian airports, Mr Dutton announced on Tuesday in his first media release as Immigration Minister.
"This measure will not only increase the capability of our future Border Force officers, it will also add another layer of deterrence at our borders, and will ensure that the travelling public is as safe as possible," Mr Dutton said.
"This government is serious about border protection. People smugglers, transnational crime gangs and narcotic traffickers should be under no illusion. The government is committed to enhancing our nation's border protection arrangements.
"The border of the future will be far more complex than the environment we face today, however, and so the Australian Border Force must be well trained and well equipped if they are to deal with the range of new and emerging threats our nation faces."
The announcement comes as the immigration department prepares to merge with the Customs Service in July next year as the Australian Border Force, with increasing focus on deterrence at Australia's borders and continuing the Abbott government's resolve to "stop the boats".
One day after the former health minister was sworn in as the Immigration Minister this month he took to Facebook to list his priorities as the incoming minister.
"If you're an illegal bikie, if you're part of an outlaw motorcycle gang involved in organised criminal activity, you've just made it to the top of my list," wrote Mr Dutton on his fan page.
"Coming to Australia is a privilege and if you're coming here harming Australians, ripping off our welfare system, committing serious crimes, then you're at the top of my list for deporting."
What a silly old year 2014 has been for Left commentators
HAS there ever been a year so afflicted with massive exaggeration, wide-scale false prophecy, appalling judgment, wilful omission and narcissism? You be the judge, on a monthly basis.
In a faux encyclical, Fairfax Media religious reporter Barney Zwartz praises Pope Francis and calls for Cardinal George Pell to step down as archbishop of Sydney. Soon after, Francis promotes Pell to a senior role in the Vatican and Zwartz retires.
ABC presenter Jonathan Green declares he will never be able to convince himself that Tony Abbott is “a man of intelligence … while he keeps wearing those blue ties”. In The Canberra Times, Jenna Price discusses her “diseased uterus” and announces an intention to send immigration minister Scott Morrison one tampon a month. Price is an academic who teaches journalism.
Morry Schwartz’s The Saturday Paper is launched, stating its intention to be read by wealthy inner-city professional types who have Netflix accounts and are “lighthouse consumers”. In fact, it’s just another boring rant against the Coalition — an upmarket version of the Green Left Weekly. The Age’s Martin Flanagan asserts that Rupert Murdoch “has become Catholic”. He provides no evidence for his claim. In The Sydney Morning Herald, Mike Carlton describes Tony Abbott as “pure Vladimir Putin”, overlooking the fact Abbott does not lock up opponents.
On the ABC’s Q&A, Guardian Australia editor Katharine Viner depicts Australia as “a globally infamous human rights abuser”. Like North Korea or Syria, presumably. Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs objects to criticism of her organisation’s $60,000 Christmas party. The learned professor maintains she does not intend to “do things in some sort of shabby way” or “want to be in the village hall in Koo Wee Rup”. That’s a Victorian town where there are no “lighthouses” and few, if any, read The Saturday Paper. Hardly a place for human rights professionals.
Melbourne writer Helen Garner ventures to the Victorian town of Castlemaine to express solidarity with fellow leftists Arnold Zable, Robert Manne and Rai Gaita. All are opposed to the construction of a chicken factory in nearby Baringhup. You see, Gaita has said the “rhythm” of his “sentences” can be traced to his home town of Baringhup and he and his comrades do not want the land interfered with. Fair dinkum.
Film director Anna Broinowski talks about her recent visit to North Korea where she “had to educate” the communist regime “about coal-seam gas” as it educated her on “how to make a propaganda film”. She expresses no objection to human rights abuses in the totalitarian state.
Monash University academic and ABC TV presenter Waleed Aly appears on Channel 10’s The Project. Invited to describe the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, he fails to refer to its identification with the Islamist cause.
Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser identifies with the conspiracy theory that Israel consciously bombed the USS Liberty in 1967. Artist Maria Fernanda Cardoso argues that “spiders are artists themselves” since “they know how to make visual display … while mating”. She received a taxpayer-funded grant from the Australia Council to study the artistic merit of insect sex organs.
Carlton bags the Abbott government as a “gang of punishers and straighteners (sic), of cutters and slashers, run by the sort of bossy former private school prefects who enjoy enforcing dress codes at golf clubs”. Carlton attended Barker College on Sydney’s north shore, where he wrote appalling poetry in the private school’s magazine.
Guardian Australia journalist David Marr prophesises that “there is a very real possibility that the Arab world is going to respond to Australia’s unique stand on East Jerusalem by saying: ‘Well we won’t buy your wheat.’ ” It didn’t.
It’s time for false historical comparisons again. Palmer United Party supremo Clive Palmer labels Queensland Premier Campbell Newman a Nazi. Just like Heinrich Himmler, apparently. Fraser says that returning asylum-seekers to Sri Lanka is “redolent of handing Jews to Nazis in the 1930s”.
Australian National University professor Hugh White has another look at his crystal ball and sees a “most worrying parallel between 1914 and 2014”. There wasn’t, consequently a third world war did not begin.
Carlton steps down as a Sydney Morning Herald columnist after refusing to accept a suspension for abusing his readers, one whom he labelled a “Jewish bigot”.
He directed another reader to “kiss my arse”, an offer that was declined. Human Rights Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane says he is “agnostic” as to whether Carlton’s abuse is offensive.
But what if a conservative, say, had called someone a Muslim bigot?
Writer Frank Moorhouse attends outgoing ASIO director-general David Irvine’s address at the National Press Club where Irvine warns about the danger of lone-wolf terrorists. Moorhouse senses the “dangerous ‘for-us-or-against-us’ paradigm resting in the PM’s term Team Australia”.
Man Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan says he is “ashamed to be Australian”. He indicates his concern that the Prime Minister has supported the coal industry. Flanagan seems unaware that coalmines pay company tax and royalties that help to fund the artistic community. Jane Caro reckons that “traditional marriage … was a form of prostitution”. Anne Summers mourns the (greatly exaggerated) death of Mungo MacCallum, who hears of his passing while enjoying lunch.
The Age’s columnist Jonathan Holmes says there is no evidence to support the view that his employer runs lots of anti-Catholic diatribes.
The Age’s editor subsequently spikes a letter from reader Chris Curtis documenting 15 articles containing what he terms “anti-Catholic bigotry”.
The Saturday Paper’s Mike Seccombe debunks the Abbott government’s national security legislation, which is supported by Labor, with a smirk, saying: “This is very much taking a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.” Activist journalist Margo Kingston announces she has received a scholarship from Macquarie University to write about, wait for it, herself. It’s not clear whether Kingston’s analysis of herself will be assessed by herself. But, why not? After all, Kingston is the world expert on Kingston.
Not to be outdone in the narcissism stakes, former failed Labor leader Mark Latham uses his Australian Financial Review column to write about himself. He employs the words “I”, “I’ve”, “me” and “my” on no fewer than 20 occasions while whingeing about something that allegedly happened to him in 2007. Cate Blanchett puts in an Oscar-worthy performance at Gough Whitlam’s memorial service. She claims to have received “free” tertiary education under the Whitlam government, seemingly unaware that her campus days were paid for by taxpayers. In reviews of Whitlam’s time as PM, there is virtually no mention of his opposition to Vietnamese refugees, support for the Soviet incorporation of the Baltic States or decision to accept cash for Labor’s 1975 election campaign from Saddam Hussein’s regime.
The Left intelligentsia responds to Man Haron Monis’s Sydney siege with denial. Monis calls himself an Islamist terrorist but many commentators, especially on the ABC, choose not to believe him. Writing in The Conversation on December 16, academic Clarke Jones decries the “hype about terrorism”, declaring that if you took out the words “terrorism”, “Islamic” and “Islamic State”, the siege would have received scant attention. He seems to accept that the words “siege” and “hostage” could still have been used. Fancy that. The year ends with ABC chairman Jim Spigelman declaringthat critics want ABC personnel with whom they disagree “taken out at dawn and hung (sic)”. Enough said.