October 2014

Let's keep our Noosa Hospital

The LNP state government is keen to shut down discussion of public hospital services in Noosa.

Government documents show that funding for the public hospital beds runs out in a few years. The government’s response has been to ridicule me for mentioning this. There is still no committed funding.

I don’t want Noosa to lose its public hospital. We’ve already seen public orthopaedic services disappear from Noosa. Will we wait until the emergency and intensive care services shut down, too? The documents show that these will go in 2017.

As an active mentor in the Business Mentors Noosa group, I see this all the time: if you’re not committed to continuous improvement, you accept constant decay.

The Noosa Hospital was originally designed to include two additional pavilions which were never built. One of these was intended for maternity services, which remains a major and obvious shortcoming.

Another area of pressing need is that of acute mental health. Patients requiring mental health services must now travel to Nambour or Gympie, and be treated in locked mental health units—an experience so traumatic that it can lead to worse rather than better mental health.

Will the big new hospital at Kawana mean the end of the Noosa Hospital? From the vantage point of Brisbane, the new hospital might look like it serves the entire Sunshine Coast.

The extra 30 or 40 minutes drive to Kawana is a big issue, especially if you’re suffering from a suspected stroke, or a heart attack, or a serious injury. If you need to visit anyone in hospital at Kawana you have no alternative but to drive and then pay big parking fees when you get there.

Do you want to keep the hospital in Noosa? You’ll have to vote Green.

At the last election, 60% of the primary vote went to the LNP candidate. That sends a clear message to the LNP government: you don’t have to do anything for Noosa, as that seat is rusted on.

The Greens are the alternative for Noosa. We’re serious and committed to keeping full-service hospital facilities here in the seat of Noosa.

If you vote for the LNP candidate because that’s what you did last time, you’ll be voting to send our hospital a long way south.

Think it through. Vote Green.

Abbott Government seeking to make it harder for people with disabilities

A proposed toughening of compliance and participation requirements for Disability Support Pension recipients could have significant adverse consequences for people with disability.

"It is very concerning that the Government is considering extending tough compliance and participation measures for people with disability. Taking this compliance driven approach to people with significant barriers to employment is flawed and could lead to a loss of income support," according to Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens disabilities spokesperson.

"Rather than genuinely focusing on employment or opportunity, this Government remains fixated on making it harder for people to access the support they need to avoid poverty, support themselves and find secure work.

"We found out during estimates that 143 people have been suspended from DSP since July for non-attendance of interviews, but when asked, the Department couldn't explain the reasons for non-attendance. That means that those people with disability had no support for that period of time.

"Tough compliance and participation requirements do not address the factors that can make it harder for people with disability to find secure employment, including a lack of accessibility or infrastructure in the workplace, discrimination and health or mental health issues. Extending the target age group to 40 or 45 also raises the issues of the barriers faced by older jobseekers, including age discrimination.

"Successive Governments have made it harder for people with disability to access adequate income support, and it is clear that our current Government has plans well beyond the budget cruelty we have seen this year.

"ACOSS has reported that 48% of households receiving the DSP are living in poverty, and making adequate payments harder to access will only make this situation worse. Living in poverty reduces your capacity to work and look for work, and it can compounding existing health and mental health conditions.

"The Government needs to get past this obsession with punishing people and actually work to address the needs of job seekers," Senator Siewert concluded.

Agricultural Green Paper misses the biggest threats faced by rural communities

The Australian Greens say they are shocked that the Federal Government's Agricultural Competitiveness Green Paper doesn't address climate change, one of the biggest threats posed to the future of Australia's agriculture and rural communities.

"The Federal Government and Minister Joyce have their heads in the sand when it comes to the realities of Australia's warming and drying climate. While the paper considers many important issues, it seems more like a grab bag of topics and the Government's pet projects" Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens agriculture spokesperson said today.

"The Government cannot claim that its agricultural policy is 'driven by one key objective: to achieve a better return at the farm gate to ensure a sustainable and competitive Australian agriculture sector', but at the same time ignore climate change and the role it plays in drought and extreme weather events. Ignoring climate change ignores the elephant in the room for agriculture.

"The Greens strongly support a sustainable, long term agricultural sector. This is vital for keeping our regional communities strong, for our economy and for our food security in the years ahead.

"Effective action to reduce climate change, measures to help the sector prepare for a drying climate, research, development and extension, increased investment in NRM and the use of renewable energy in agriculture should all form key planks of the Government's efforts to ensure this sector remains strong in the years to come and ensuring that the volume and quality of produce remains high, delivering strong returns at the farm gate.

"The Abbott Government's cuts in areas such as Landcare and NRM, biosecurity and their endless attack on effective climate action will ultimately undermine the agricultural sector.

"I am concerned by a focus on dams, while other options to address the water security are overlooked. We know that the impact of dams and water infrastructure projects can be significant, especially compared to smaller scale, smarter developments that are more sustainable and better match the reality of our drying climate.

"Sections of the paper read as wish list of measures such as weakening environmental protection and Government trumpeting things like the Green Army and infrastructure measures.

"A genuine, holistic approach to protecting Australia's agriculture must be taken by the Government, not one that focuses solely on their own predetermined policy objectives," said Senator Siewert.

Greens water spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon said "Time and again we have seen governments invest large amounts of public money in water infrastructure that serves vested interests. Dams are not the solution to maintaining and protecting Australia's future water needs."

Senator Larissa Waters, Australian Greens mining spokesperson, said "The Green Paper's coal seam gas principles about landholder rights and water protection were worthless without legislation to back them up."

"The Government cannot continue to ignore the realities facing Australia's agricultural communities," Senator Siewert said.

Abbott’s ‘coal is good for humanity’ comment ludicrous and dangerous

Tony Abbott’s comment today, that ‘coal is good for humanity,’ while opening the Caval Ridge coalmine in Moranbah shows the Prime Minister is completely out of touch with the reality of the climate crisis we face.

“People will be shaking their heads in disbelief at the Prime Minister’s alarming comment today, and future generations will wonder how our Prime Minister could be so short sighted,” Queensland Senator Larissa Waters, Australian Greens environment spokesperson, said.

“Every-day Australians are taking the lead on climate action, with more than one million installations of solar panels on homes and schools across the country.

“While our Prime Minister continues to ignore reality, Australians understand coal is threatening our very way of life and our planet, with global warming, sea level rise and acidification and more extreme weather events.

“I will be meeting young leaders from across Oceania this week, who are visiting Australia to protest against our mass export of coal, which is threatening their homes through sea level rise.

“But Tony Abbott is ignoring global pleas for Australia to stop digging up climate-destroying coal and instead ticking off on more mega mines to dramatically increase our national contribution to climate change and threaten job-rich industries which rely on a healthy climate.

“Tony Abbott and Campbell Newman’s insane coal-at-all costs agenda is destroying the climate and putting the sustainability of Queensland’s economy at great risk.

“Instead of waking up to falling coking and thermal coal prices, Tony Abbott and Campbell Newman keep pushing us along this dead-end road, which is full of job uncertainty.

“We have renewable alternatives that can provide sustainable, local jobs, but Tony Abbott is threatening renewable investment and putting the big mining companies ahead of Queenslanders and the climate,” Senator Waters said.

Greens call for national campaign to tackle mental health stigma

The Federal Government should establish a national anti-stigma campaign to tackle ongoing misperceptions and discrimination around mental illness, say the Australian Greens.

Australian Greens spokesperson for mental health Senator Penny Wright said Australia is one of the only English-speaking OECD countries without a national anti-stigma social inclusion campaign.

"It is time for the Federal Government to step up and get serious about tackling stigma in Australia," Senator Wright said.

"Many people say stigma and prejudice are as distressing as the symptoms of their mental illness. It is also one of the biggest barriers to recovery."

Senator Wright said despite significant awareness-raising in recent years, stigma around mental illness was still prevalent.

"Mental Health Week has started the conversation and I commend the ABC on their groundbreaking Mental As initiative, but there is still so much more to do.

"One survey this week revealed 40 per cent of employers would not consider hiring someone with a mental illness," Senator Wright said.

"We need leadership from the Federal Government to say we recognise the human and economic costs of stigma around mental illness are too high and we are going to do something about it."

The Australian Greens recommend a national anti-stigma campaign be modelled on New Zealand's Like Minds, Like Mine.

"There's strong evidence that ongoing, national anti-stigma campaigns change public attitudes towards mental illness and influence our behaviour," Senator Wright added.

China trade barriers a grim warning to LNP not to lock Australians into doomed coal future

Greens Leader Christine Milne says the reaction to trade barriers imposed by China on coal imports highlights the risks attached to the Abbott government’s determination to protect old industry and big business profits.

“It’s clear the main reason the Abbott government wants a Chinese free trade deal is to underpin coal mining expansion in the Bowen and Galilee Basins and expanded export volumes into the long term. Protecting the profits of the vested interests of the big end of town is his specialty,” Senator Milne said.

“In the age of global warming it is ridiculous to be pursing a dig it up and ship it away fossil fuel dependent economy, but that’s the only kind of economy Tony Abbott understands.

“By driving coal mines and coal ports the Abbott government is condemning investors to stranded assets and lost investment dollars.

“Divestment from coal and investment in renewable energy is the key for the future of the Australian economy but it is the opposite of what the Abbott Government wants to do.

“There is a serious financial risk to any organisation that invests in coal, which is why we have seen an avalanche of organisations and institutional investors divest from coal in the last few months. Moreland Council in Victoria has this week become the first local government to do so.

“Even BHP recognises that lessening exposure and divesting from coal makes economic sense,” said Senator Milne.

“Australians will view the Free trade Agreement with China with even more scepticism as they realise that large parts of the community will be exposed to competition from cheap Chinese imports in order to secure profits for coal.”

Abbott Government’s cuts could put uni out of reach for regional mature-aged student

The Senate Inquiry hearing into higher education in Brisbane has heard evidence that the Abbott Government’s planned university loan interest hikes could stop mature-aged students in regional areas from studying.

“The Abbott Government’s uni attacks, which the Greens will do all we can to block in the Senate, are designed to hit those struggling financially the hardest,” Australian Greens Senator for Queensland Larissa Waters said.

“We’ve heard evidence at the inquiry today from the Regional Universities Network that the Abbott Government’s planned uni loan interest hikes could put study out of reach for many mature aged students, especially those with families.

“For nurses trying to become registered through further study or teachers’ aids looking to become qualified, the Abbott Government’s uni interest hikes could mean they simply can’t afford to progress their careers.

“Many mature-aged students with families have all of the Abbott Government’s other budget cuts to think about when trying to make ends meet.

“Female students would be especially disadvantaged by the Abbott Government’s uni attacks, as they are more likely to take time off to have children, while the increased interest on their uni loans would continue to mount.

“The Greens are proud to be standing with students, university staff and the community against Tony Abbott’s interest hikes on uni loans and his deregulation agenda that would lead to $100 000 degrees.

“Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne’s vision for tertiary education in Australia is elitist and would exclude everyday Australians from the opportunities that university study brings.

“Labor is all talk and no action when it comes to standing up for students. Labor teamed up with Tony Abbott in the Senate last week to cut $400 million from student support so that students living in major cities, such as the Gold Coast, will not be able to apply for support to move to a capital city to study.

“The Greens believe education is a right not a privilege and will continue to stand up for that right in the Senate and the community,” Senator Waters said.

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Abbott takes us to war - without strategic plan, without national interest objective, without consent!

Image copyright: Australian Government Department of Defence

Australian Greens Leader Christine Milne says Tony Abbott has sent Australians to another war in Iraq with a claim that following the United States is in our national interest.

"The Greens stand with those Australians who are asking why is it in Australia's national interest to join in a another war in the Middle East without a clear strategic objective or risk assessment?" Senator Milne said.

"How will this war make us safer? Won't it make us a bigger terrorism target and a more attractive recruiting ground for jihadists?

"Why would we not be better served by a strategy to combat extremism with inclusion at home, whilst supporting global efforts to cut off financial and personnel support to ISIL?

"From day one, Tony Abbott committed to sending Australians to war in Iraq. For weeks the question has not been if, but when," said Senator Milne.

"The increased terror threat level, the new terror laws, the atmosphere of fear, the marginalisation of Muslim people and women in particular have all been consistent with a decision to go to war.

"At no point has the Prime Minister bothered to consult the community or their elected representatives, despite two attempts by the Greens to launch a formal debate in the Parliament.

"If Australian troops asked Tony Abbott why they were being deployed, what would the Prime Minister's answer be?

"Is following the United States into the Middle East going to make Australia safer? I don't think he can answer that question.

"Parliaments in both the UK and Turkey have endorsed military actions in recent days, but Tony Abbott seems to think that his executive government can do as it likes just, as the Howard government did.

"I commend the swift and vocal community backlash that is pressuring Presiding Officers at Parliament House to reverse the segregation of people wearing face coverings in the building.

"The Australian community has declared: We are better than this," said Senator Milne.

"The Prime Minister needs to pull his MPs into line and the Presiding Officers need to remember they preside over the people's parliament, not Tony Abbott's war cabinet."

Greens establish Senate Inquiry into Queensland electricty price rorting

The Australian Greens have today succeeding in establishing a Senate Inquiry into whether electricity companies, including Energex, have provided misleading data to the Australian Energy Regulator in setting their prices.

“With a whistle blower coming out in Queensland with claims that Energex manipulated data to hike up Queenslanders’ electricity bills, and with similar examples across other states, we need to get to the bottom of why our energy system isn’t serving households or the environment,” Senator Christine Milne, Leader of the Australian Greens, said.

“Poles and wires make up half the cost of electricity bills and have been by far the biggest cause of rising power bills over the past five years.

“This inquiry will uncover whether this infrastructure was really needed or whether the system is being used by electricity companies as a money spinner.

“The Greens want to drive reform in our electricity market so that Australians can control their own power bills through solar energy and we can enable the smart and local clean energy systems of the future.

“It is now clear that centralised, big business monopolies are a thing of the past,” Senator Milne said.

Greens Queensland Senator, Larissa Waters, said: “With Campbell Newman trying desperately to sell off public infrastructure, the Greens will be looking to find out whether Energex has been given the go ahead to fatten up the pig before the slaughter of privatisation.

“Our Sunshine State is leading the way in creating a localised clean energy future with more than 400 000 homes having solar, that’s one in five homes.

“More and more Queenslanders are controlling their own bills through solar and the Greens want to help expand the spread of solar to protect Queenslanders from Energex and Premier Newman’s privatisation plans,” Senator Waters said.

Inquiry terms of reference:

Leader of the Australian Greens (Senator Milne): To move—

That the following matter be referred to the Environment and Communications References Committee for inquiry and report by the first sitting day in March 2015:

(a) the manner in which electricity network companies have presented information to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), and whether they have misled the AER in relation to:

(i) their weighted average costs of capital,

(ii) the necessity for the infrastructure proposed,

(iii) their regulated asset valuations, and

(iv) actual interest rates claimed against actual borrowing costs;

(b) How electricity companies including State Government owned electricity companies such as Energex have calculated the weighted average cost of capital and how this measure has changed over time;

(c) Where anomalies are identified in relation to price structuring or allegations of price rorting by electricity companies including State Government owned electricity companies such as Energex are raised, that these matters are investigated by a national independent body created by the Federal Government with the required powers and reach to investigate and prosecute where necessary;

(d) to ascertain whether state-owned network companies have prioritised their focus on future privatisation proceeds above the interests of energy users;

(e) whether the arrangements for the regulation of the cost of capital are delivering allowed rates of return above the actual cost of capital;

(f) whether the AER has actively pursued lowest-cost outcomes for energy consumers;

(g) whether network monopolies should have the right to recover historic overspending that has delivered unwanted and unused infrastructure;

(h) how the regulatory structure and system could be improved;

(i) whether the arrangements for the connection and pricing of network services is discriminating against households and businesses that are involved in their own electricity production;

(j) whether the current system provides adequate oversight of electricity network companies; and

(k) any other related matter.

Aid budget robbed for Iraq war

The Greens have condemned the Abbott government's decision to abuse money allocated for overseas aid programs to pay for military operations in Iraq.

Greens overseas aid spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon said "Diverting aid money to pay for the war in Iraq will have fatal consequences.

"Funding humanitarian programs including health, education and sanitation are critical for peace, security and bringing stability to this region.

"Earlier this year the government ended all overseas aid funding to Iraq. Five years ago AusAID provided more than $360 million to Iraq.

"Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has shown that she is a poor advocate for the overseas aid component of her portfolio.

"Once again Australia's aid budget is being abused and treated like an ATM by the government that is thrashing around for funds for another ill-fated program.

"This decision goes against the strong public support for Australia to do its fair share to end global poverty," said Senator Rhiannon.

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Greens secure agreement to investigate Newman environment attacks and LNP/ALP coal seam gas rorts

Greens have secured an agreement with PUP to save federal environment protections from Tony Abbott’s one-stop shop and a Senate investigation into Newman and Bligh governments’ environment attacks

The Australian Greens are proud to have secured an agreement with the Palmer United Party to block Tony Abbott’s plan to hand federal approval powers over to state governments and to have improved the Senate Inquiry into Queensland so that it can investigate environmental attacks of both the Newman and Bligh governments.

“We now have the numbers in the Senate to protect our federal environment laws from Tony Abbott’s one-stop shop, which would have wound back environment protection in Australia by more than 30 years,” Senator Larissa Waters, Australian Greens environment spokesperson, said.

“After more than two years of fighting against handing federal environmental approval powers to the states, since Labor first proposed the plan, we can finally breathe a sigh of relief – our federal environment laws will remain safe from environmentally reckless state premiers.

“Tony Abbott’s one-stop shop would have left Campbell ‘we’re in the coal business’ Newman in complete control over the Great Barrier Reef and we’re so glad to have been able to avert the environmental disaster that would have been.

“We’re also proud to have secured improvements to the terms of reference for the Senate Inquiry into Queensland, which has just passed the Senate with our support.

“Our amendments include extending the Inquiry so that it can look at coal seam gas approvals of the Bligh Government, which a whistle blower revealed on ABC’s 4 Corners program were issued subject to political and industry interference.

“We’re pleased that not only have we protected national environment protection from Tony Abbott’s one-stop shop but to have also secured an investigation into the environmental attacks of the Newman Government and the dodgy coal seam gas approvals of the Bligh Government,” Senator Waters said.