Australian Politics 2020-12-22 07:42:00


Windfarm operators blamed for the big blackouts of 2016

Allegedly, the operators should have had in place cut-out switches etc that would have prevented the disaster, even though the storm was an exceptional event.

The real problem was the state's heavy reliance on wind after scrapping its coal-fired generators. It was the Greenie government that had no backup against rare events

A South Australian wind farm operator has been fined $1 million for contravening national electricity rules in the three years leading up to the 2016 statewide blackout.

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) launched legal action against Snowtown Wind Farms last year and was accused of supplying power to the grid when the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) had not approved it to do so.

The Federal Court today ordered the company — which has 90 wind turbines in the SA's mid north — to implement a compliance program and provide a written report to the court after six months, to ensure there is not a repeat.

Justice Richard White also ordered Snowtown Wind Farms to pay the regulator's court costs of $100,000.

Elite racism in Australia: Do as I say not as I do

The media was caned for its un-wokeness this year with university academics conducting a survey which found that 75 per cent of presenters, commentators and reporters were Anglo-Celtic with only six per cent of Indigenous or non-European backgrounds.

Most Australians have an Anglo-Celtic or European background so you might expect this predominance to be reflected in any survey but accusations of racism by the networks were not long in coming along with demands for quotas to be out in place to force them to hire Indigenous and non-Europeans presenters.

None of these accusations were directed at SBS where 76.6 per cent of reporters are non-European and only 0.7 per cent Anglo-Celtic.

Put another way, if you are a blue-eyed, pale-skinned lad by the name of O’Connor, you’ve got Buckley’s chance of getting a job at SBS.

The broadcaster, to no one’s surprise, did not see this statistic as evidence of reverse racism, proclaiming instead that it demonstrated “SBS’s leading role in including and representing the diversity of Australia across our news and current affairs”. Go figure.

SBS also employs two Indigenous Elders in residence to “provide support and cultural empowerment,” has created a voluntary register of staff with what is calls a range of lived experiences to sit in on job interviews to minimise unconscious bias and now gives employees who are promoted $10,000 to spend on “professional development.” How nice for them.

If they need ten grand’s worth of professional development you might wonder how they got promoted in the first place.

When I first set foot in a newsroom all those years ago, I was shown where the toilet and the cafeteria were located and told to find a desk and a typewriter. That was full extent of my employer’s contribution to my cultural empowerment and professional development and while others might differ, I’d like to think things haven’t turned out too badly in spite of an abysmal lack of hand holding, cosseting and empowering.

I get heartily sick of people who claim they deserve special treatment because of their colour, race or sexual preference. Stop whining and get on with the job.

The great tragedy of all this virtue signalling, diversity, empowerment and inclusion is that the young people who will provide our next generation of leaders exist in a cotton wool environment in which they are fearful of expressing an opinion that is not trumpeted by the mob.

If it looks like bull…t and smells like bull…t, the chances are it’s bull…t. Merry Christmas.

Open slather on foreign students has gone too far

As 2020 draws to a close, it’s pretty clear the last COVID-related restriction that will be lifted is the international movement of people in and out of the country.

The exact timing of international borders becoming fully open is unclear. The second half of 2021 is probably the best guess at this stage, but you wouldn’t bet your house on this. The take-up and effectiveness of the vaccine will be important in determining the outcome.

For an open economy such as Australia’s, the impact of the ­restrictions on the international movement of people is potentially substantial, with reduced international tourism as well as fewer international students and temporary workers.

Having said that, it’s not all doom and gloom, particularly on the tourism front. The fall-off in the international student population also provides a useful opportunity for a mature discussion about the appropriate role of international students in Australia’s education systems.

Consider tourism. Last year, 9.4 million tourists visited Australia from overseas. This was an ­increase of 2.4 per cent from the previous year. Those from China were the most likely to visit, followed by New Zealanders.

The number of visitor arrivals to Australia has fallen off a cliff. In October this year, for instance, there were only 6000 visitor ­arrivals, which was a 99.2 per cent decline relative to the same month last year.

The economic impact of the loss of international tourists is being offset, at least partly, by internal tourism, particularly given the restrictions on the departure of Australians to overseas destinations. Indeed, data indicates that Australians typically spend more going overseas than international tourists spend visiting this country — a gap known as the tourism deficit.

Needless to say, the border restrictions have not helped and the size and type of spending by domestic tourists are significantly different from international tourists. But the effective ban on outbound tourism does provide the opportunity for tourism-related operators to make up some ground for the loss of business because of the absence of international tourists.

When it comes to international students, the immediate effect of the restrictions on international arrivals was not as great as expected as the majority of students were in Australia at the start of March. (There had been a scramble to get Chinese students, in particular, back into the country in February by letting them transition through third countries.)

A reasonable proportion of international students who have not been able to return to the country have continued their studies online.

However, the mid-year intakes have pointed to bigger effects, with the Reserve Bank noting: “Australia’s education ­exports have fallen further in the second half of the year. The number of international student enrolments has declined.”

It is also mentioned that “the size of the fall in new enrolments has varied across different types of programs”. The largest decline has been in English-language and foundation programs that serve as pathways to higher education or vocational courses. This has implications down the track.

The universities, in particular, have reacted with angst, with a number of leaders pointing to the negative consequences for higher education and the economy.

What is less often mentioned is the fact that international student numbers had been growing at an extraordinary pace prior to the onset of COVID-19. In 2019, there were 11 per cent more international students in the country than in 2018. And in the five years ending in 2019, the number of international students had nearly doubled, with China being the biggest single source country.

That there have been negatives as well as positives associated with this rapid growth is a point too rarely conceded by senior managers in the education sector. In particular, the lack of language proficiency on the part of too many overseas students needs to recognised. The potential for domestic students to lose out due to large numbers of international students — contrived group assignments and lower standards being two examples — should also be acknowledged.

There is also the dubious figure of about $40bn of “exports” associated with international students, a figure often quoted by education lobbyists. In fine mercantilist style — exports good, imports bad — they bemoan the loss of export earnings associated with fewer international students.

Now most people understand the term export to mean the sale of domestically produced goods and services to overseas buyers — think iron ore, wheat, LNG. But because international students studying in Australia will use foreign currencies, at least in part, to pay for their education, the Australian Bureau of Statistics counts all spending by international students as export income.

The reality is quite different. About $17bn of the total figure are tuition fees, with the remaining being international students’ living expenses while living in Australia. But, given that many international students work while in Australia, particularly to cover living expenses, and are paid in Australian dollars, it is a conceptual mistake to equate the $40bn as being export income.

We know the majority of students from India and Nepal — there has been strong growth in their numbers in recent years — work while in Australia. We also know international student workers are more likely to be exploited than young Australian citizens, in part because of their strong need to work as well as the restrictions on their work patterns arising from visa conditions.

The lobbyists continue to press the case for establishing facilitated paths of entry for international students in early 2021. This push has seemingly been met with some sympathy by state governments. They also point to the increasing attractiveness of other destinations for international students, such as Canada and the UK, because of the ease of entry and the option of students becoming permanent residents in these countries. This latter point is unlikely to generate much sympathy here if international students are seen to be more interested in securing permanent residence than being educated.

It’s time federal and state governments came clean about the role international students should play in our education systems. Most people accept there are benefits of having a small proportion of language-proficient students from a range of countries at our schools, colleges and universities. But the open slather of the years prior to COVID-19 should not be repeated.

The insane bureaucracy that runs the government hospitals of NSW

In one day, Stephen Crerar's 33-year career was destroyed and he's still shocked by the reason his employer NSW Health gave him. Mr Crerar, a former human resources manager in the Mid-North Coast Local Health District (MNCLHD), was told to hand his pass in and leave the building immediately on February 4, 2019.

Six months later he found out why he was suspended — for communicating with his union.

"I was beside myself in disbelief," he said. "What kind of fool would suspend a HR manager for consulting with their union, it's just laughable, it's not a sane reason to give."

Mr Crerar contacted the Health Services Union in 2018 to suggest that the MNCLHD could be in breach of the health employees industrial award as there was a lack of consultation during a staff restructure.

He suggested the union initiate action in the Industrial Relations Commission.

NSW Health alleged this was "corrupt conduct" and accused Mr Crerar of failing to act with honesty and integrity, according to an official letter from the MNCLHD.

"The whole thing was devastating and a terrible ordeal," he said. "I tried to improve communication and consultation and look how they treated me."

Mr Crerar was also put on a staff blacklist, known as a service check register, which deemed him high risk and effectively made him unemployable elsewhere in NSW Health.

Six months after he was suspended, NSW Health was forced to admit Mr Crerar had been wronged.

"The MNCLHD decision to suspend you from the workplace was not in accordance with relevant NSW Health policy," Deputy Secretary of Health, Phil Minns, wrote in a letter to Mr Crerar.

Mr Minns went on to acknowledge Mr Crerar should have never been subject to a misconduct investigation and was denied procedural fairness. "The decision to commence the investigation was flawed, particularly in that Mr Crerar was not informed of the alleged behaviour for which he was being suspended and investigated," a summary of findings said.

Although MNCLHD told Mr Crerar he had been referred to ICAC at the time of his suspension, NSW Health later admitted that never happened.

Yesterday the ABC revealed two other employees are taking legal action against the MNCLHD for psychological distress relating to their alleged treatment in the workplace.

'I stood up and said the right thing'

Mr Crerar later received an apology from the chief executive of the MNCLHD for the suspension. "I acknowledge and sincerely apologise for the distress and anxiety these events have caused. I am sorry for the wider impact this has had on you and your family," chief executive Stewart Dowrick wrote in an official letter. "You remain a valued employee of MNCLHD."

But Mr Crerar said this was too little, too late. "It's been devastating for me personally ... I had a successful career that was smeared inappropriately, as was my reputation," he said. "My mental health, physical health has deteriorated rapidly and I'm still on medication for mental health issues."

Mr Crerar also feels he was targeted for something completely unrelated to his union involvement.

In a 2018 inquiry commissioned by NSW Health Mr Crerar was highly critical of employment practices within the MNCLHD. He told the inquiry that staff were being inappropriately disciplined and victimised for the most minor of issues. "I didn't shine a very good light on them," he said.

"I'm sure that's why I was targeted. Because I stood up and said the right thing and gave honest evidence with a view to improving practices ... and look at how I've been treated."

However, NSW Health strongly refutes Mr Crerar's suspension had anything to with his involvement in the inquiry.

An external investigation into the matter was also commissioned by the Ministry and found his suspension was unrelated to the evidence he gave.

Mr Crerar subsequently lodged a claim for workers compensation for bullying which has now settled.

Health says things have changed

The Health Services Union (HSU) says what happened to Mr Crerar "beggars belief" and warrants an inquiry. "This is clearly just yet another situation of bureaucracy gone mad," HSU NSW secretary Gerard Hayes said.

Under the NSW Industrial Arbitration Act, workers are afforded freedom of association, which means an employer must not victimise an employee for their involvement in a union.

However, Mr Hayes says the HSU is witness to a lot of union member intimidation and bullying inside NSW Health. "Senior managers get targeted, cleaners get targeted," he said.

"We would like to see an inquiry into NSW Health and the bad culture that everyone recognises and acknowledges. "It seems absolutely remarkable that in a situation like this it's just 'here's an apology, let's move on'."

SafeWork NSW investigated Mr Crerar's matter, and others raised by fellow colleagues in the MNCLHD, and decided to put the MNCLHD on a 12-month monitoring schedule.

NSW Health admitted Mr Crerar "experienced distress through what has been a lengthy process", a spokesperson said.

But MNCLHD chief executive Stewart Dowrick said many changes have since been made within the district to improve workforce culture and staff wellbeing, including a dedicated Director of People and Culture. "Improvements have also been made to how staff complaints are managed, including use of the service check register," he said.

Mr Crerar says he doesn't have any confidence he will find employment again, but wants the public to know what is happening within NSW Health. "I've seen a number of employees who were disciplined for minor matters whose careers are now ruined.

"I've seen a seriously toxic culture. There needs to be change at the top."

The 2019 People Matter employee survey found only 27 per cent of staff in the MNCLHD feel senior managers listen to employees.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard declined to be interviewed for this story.