Australian Politics 2020-09-15 15:50:00

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Gas bills down and jobs up: Morrison government aims to cut household costs and boost employment with $53 million gas industry investment

Note that this investment will be a boost to Qld and NT, as they are the only places where their governments allow gas mining

Scott Morrison says a $53 million government investment in the gas industry will bring down household bills and support the creation of at least 4,000 jobs.

The prime minister wants to increase exploration to find new gas reserves and will set state and territories higher targets to encourage them to produce more.

It comes after The Australian Energy Market Operator warned that southern states could suffer shortages from 2024 as several Victorian gas fields run out.

Mr Morrison also wants to develop an Australian Gas Hub - where gas can be efficiently traded - at Wallumbilla in Queensland.

And he wants to set up code of conduct to help commercial and industrial buyers get fair prices when they buy gas from major suppliers.

Plans will be drawn up to develop five key gas basins starting with the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory and the North Bowen and Galilee Basin in Queensland.

The government will also set aside $10.9million to invest in pipelines and other infrastructure under a National Gas Infrastructure Plan.

Mr Morrison will work with state governments to accelerate three critical projects – the Marinus Link, Project Energy Connect and VNI West interconnectors.

'These links will help put downward pressure on prices, shore up the reliability of our energy grid and create over 4,000 jobs,' the Prime Minister said.

'Our plan for Australia's energy future is squarely focused on bringing down prices, keeping the lights on and reducing our emissions and these interconnectors bring us a step closer to that reality.'

Mr Morrison added: 'We'll work with industry to deliver a gas hub for Australia that will ensure households and businesses enjoy the benefits of our abundant local gas while we hold our position as one of the top global liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporters.

'This is about making Australia's gas work for all Australians. Gas is a critical enabler of Australia's economy.

'Our competitive advantage has always been based on affordable, reliable energy. As we turn to our economic recovery from COVID-19, affordable gas will play a central role in re-establishing the strong economy we need for jobs growth, funding government services and opportunities for all.'

Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor said reliable and affordable gas was more important now than ever.

'A gas-fired recovery will help Australia's economy bounce back better and stronger while supporting our growing renewable capacity and delivering the reliable and affordable energy Australians deserve,' Minister Taylor said.

'We are building a robust and competitive gas industry that will allow both gas producers and users to thrive, with lower prices and lower emissions benefiting all Australians.'

Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt said the Government's Gas Plan would drive job creation and economic growth in northern and regional Australia.

'This commitment will encourage investment to unlock Australia's vast resources potential – boosting exports, jobs and energy supplies,' Minister Pitt said.

'Developing Australia's untapped gas resources will help to deliver more affordable and more sustainable gas supply that supports households and businesses.'

Gas supports the manufacturing sector, which employs over 850,000 Australians and is an essential input in the production of plastics for PPE and fertiliser for food production.

In 2019, Australia was the largest exporter of LNG, with an export value of $49billion.

The International Energy Agency has found that coal-to-gas switching has saved around half a billion tonnes of emissions since 2010 – equivalent to putting an extra 200 million electric vehicles on the road running on zero carbon electricity.

In total, the government has set aside $52.9million for the gas industry in the 2020-21 Budget

It expects to comfortably meet its Paris emissions targets for 2030.

On Thursday Mr Morrison announced a $211million plan to keep fuel prices 'as low as possible' as the nation emerges from the coronavirus-caused recession.

The prime minister wants to protect the nation from any future 'price shocks' by increasing domestic fuel storage and supporting local oil refineries.

New domestic storage facilities to hold 780ML of diesel will be built at a cost of $200million, creating 950 jobs during construction.

The government will also pay refineries to stay open and turn oil into fuel when they may otherwise close because they are struggling to make money.

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PM claims Australia will hit 2030 emissions targets in 'canter'

Mr Morrison made the claim during a national energy address, where he encouraged accelerated development of gas fields and the continued use of coal for decades to come.

Under the Paris Agreement, Australia has committed to reducing emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Despite further investment into gas and coal, a move which environmentalists will likely criticise, Mr Morrison said his government was committed to reducing emissions.

Mr Morrison said $30 billion invested in renewables between 2017 and mid-2020 would help Australia hit its 2030 targets.  "We remain committed to (the 2030 target) and we will meet it in a canter."

"In Australia, you cannot talk about electricity generation and ignore coal," Mr Morrison said. "Coal will continue to play an important part of our economy for decades to come."

Some environmental groups have complained Australia will need controversial "carry-over" credits from previous agreements to meet the 2030 target.

Mr Morrison also announced Australia was boosting its national fuel storage capacity to protect against "low probability, high impact events". At a minimum, this means the national stockpile of petrol and jet fuel will cover 24 days, and diesel stocks to increase from 20 to 28 days.

The COVID-19 pandemic had highlighted supply chain threats, Mr Morrison said. Mr Morrison used his address to call on the gas industry to supply energy to Australia customers at cheaper prices.

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Students struggle as review finds writing skills neglected in NSW government high schools

A sweeping review of the teaching of writing in NSW schools found it has been widely neglected in the secondary years, leaving thousands of students struggling with crucial skills such as writing clear sentences or expressing complex ideas.

The review, commissioned by the NSW Education Standards Authority, found educators lacked knowledge, skills and confidence in teaching writing, as well as training and resources that could help them. Over recent decades, writing had been "forgotten" amid a strong public policy focus on reading, the report said.

Almost a decade's worth of NAPLAN data shows high school students struggle with writing more than with reading or numeracy. But without those skills, they "struggle to show what they know, and their learning remains untapped or unseen", the report said.

The report found year 9 students in NSW in 2019 were the equivalent of five months behind the level of year 9 students in 2011. On average, one in six of those students was below the minimum standard required to succeed in their final years of school. That compared with one in 20 below the standard in reading and in numeracy.

"The minimum standard isn't high to begin with," said education consultant Peter Goss.

NAPLAN writing assesses how students develop and structure a piece of writing, as well as how they structure a sentence and use punctuation, paragraphing and spelling.

The decline in writing has been more pronounced for advantaged students, whose parents are educated, than their disadvantaged peers, Dr Goss's analysis showed. Boys are twice as likely to be at or below minimum standard by year 9 than girls.

The Thematic Review of Writing, handed to NESA in mid-2018 and obtained by the Herald, found a focus on writing at primary level was followed by "a significant decrease in teaching writing in the early years of high school" across all three sectors.

In primary school, the class teacher teaches writing, but in high school it is shared across disciplines so no single teacher is responsible.

"It is core business in [kindergarten] to years three or four, but then you look at what the teachers self-report to us … the attention shifts away from the explicit teaching of writing," said lead author Claire Wyatt-Smith from the Australian Catholic University.

Research has shown that writing ability in year 9 is a strong indicator of success in year 12.

While there has been controversy over the quality of the NAPLAN writing test — including a recent high-level review that called for it to be redesigned — the report said it was a "reliable indicator for some key elements of student writing ability".

"Strident claims that NAPLAN assesses all the wrong things about writing have been unhelpful, and have likely done a disservice to teachers looking to improve their writing instruction," the report said.

Jenny Donovan, director of the newly established National Evidence Institute for education, said writing skills not only enabled students to demonstrate their knowledge but also involved a cognitive process that enhanced their learning.

"Like reading, writing is not a naturally acquired skill," she said. "It must be formally taught, not caught, and practised. As students progress through schooling, their writing needs to become more complex, so their instruction in how to write needs to be correspondingly more complex."

NESA chief executive Paul Martin said the review was commissioned in response to data showing NSW writing performance had been static since 2011, "with a marked decline consistently evident as students move through the junior secondary years".

NESA endorsed all six of the report's recommendations, including that it declare writing a priority area, improve the quality of teacher training in writing, develop requirements for teaching degrees, strengthen writing content in syllabuses and create resources that give teachers clear guidance.

Changes will be incorporated into the new curriculum. The first step is "a K-2 curriculum that makes explicit oral language development, early reading and writing skills and early mathematics skills, particularly for children who are less advanced in these areas," said Mr Martin.

Peter Knapp, an education consultant whose doctorate is in the teaching of writing, said it was a complex process that required extensive knowledge and experience, which teachers were not being given at university or during their years in the classroom.

Unclear policy and confusing standards also made it more difficult, he said. "Our national and state curriculum documents lack any real precision on how writing should be taught," he said.

"They constantly seem to be under review to change, re-orient and re-direct so that teachers, in all honesty, will have difficulty knowing what needs to be done, and there is a view that the changes will make no substantive difference."

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Almost one in 20 babies in Australia born through IVF

A new report by UNSW medical researchers sheds light on the latest IVF numbers, success rates and trends.

There were 14,355 babies born through IVF treatment performed in Australia in 2018, UNSW’s Assisted Reproductive Technology in Australia and New Zealand 2018 report shows. That represents almost one in 20 babies born in Australia, or about one in every class room.

There were 84,064 initiated IVF cycles in 2018, a 2.2 per cent increase on 2017. The overall live birth rate per embryo transfer has increased from 24.3 per cent in 2014 to 27.3 per cent in 2018, the most recent year from which data are available.

“The birth rate following frozen embryo transfer cycles (29.3 per cent) was higher than fresh embryo transfer cycles (24.6 per cent),” says lead report author, UNSW Medicine’s Professor Georgina Chambers.

There was a higher live birth rate in younger women: for women aged younger than 30 years, the live birth rate per embryo transfer was 40.4 per cent for fresh cycles and 34.9 per cent for thaw cycles.

For women aged 40 to 44 years, the live birth rate per embryo transfer was 9.5 per cent for fresh cycles and 20.1 per cent for thaw cycles.

“The reason for the higher live birth rate after thaw cycles in older women is mainly because the embryo was created in an earlier fresh cycle when she was younger and because preimplantation genetic testing is more frequently used in older women to select viable embryos,” says Fertility Society of Australia (FSA) President, Professor Luk Rombauts.

The proportion of twins and triplets born following IVF treatment is now 3.2 per cent - a record low in Australia and New Zealand’s 40-year IVF history. This all-time low is due to the increased proportion of IVF cycles where only a single embryo is transferred, up from 79 per cent in 2014 to 91 per cent in 2018.

“By comparison, the percentage of multiple births from IVF treatment was 8 per cent in the UK and 13 per cent in the US during the same period,” says Prof. Chambers.

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