by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government is putting aside an extra $82 million to ensure 150,000 cancer patients can get safe and effective treatment each year.
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, said the money – to be delivered through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme – would assist patients with essential chemotherapy drug infusions.
“Patients undergoing cancer treatment and their families will have certainty that timely access to safe and effective treatment will be available through their hospital or pharmacy,” Mr Abbott said.
“The Government will also improve patient safety and care by removing unnecessary red tape for clinicians prescribing, processing and claiming for PBS medicines,” he added.
“Clinicians in public and private hospitals will now be able to use a patient’s medication chart to dispense and claim PBS medicines,” he said.
Mr Abbott said these changes will enable clinicians to spend more time with their patients and less time completing duplicate paperwork.
“The new funding will be delivered from 1 January 2014 and will provide $152.66 per infusion to meet the higher costs of providing chemotherapy treatment,” the Prime Minister said.
“The new funding and simpler administration will deliver real benefits for patients, their families and friends, hospitals, pharmacies and health professionals in the fight against cancer,” he added.
by Alan Thornhill
“Australia has always had bushfires,” fireman David Livingtone declared.
“But our parents didn’t see anything like this.
Addressing a climate change rally in the national capital, Canberra, Mr Lvingstone described Australia’s recent fires as “some of the most dangerous in our history.”
These have included unseasonally early – and devastatingly widespread – fires in the Blue Mountains region of Australia’s most heavily populated State, New South Wales.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 2,000, at one of at least 100 similar rallies throughout Australia, another speaker, spoke also of the catastrophic typhoon, Haiyan – which struck the Philippines – and recalled that scientists had warned, 25 years ago, that we would soon be seeing such events.
“And it is happening now,” he said.
The crowds – at rallies throughout the nation – exceeded an estimated 40,000.
Typhoon Haiyan, which had devastated the Philippines just days before, with the loss of almost 4,000 lives, added urgency to the rallies.
Organisers declared that the aim of these demonstrations was to “turn the Prime Minister’s weathervane in the right direction,” on climate change.
Australia’s newly elected Conservative Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is an arch climate change sceptic, who once famously declared the whole issue to be “crap.”
Although he had moderated his language since then, Mr Abbott has not retreated from his core belief.
In this, he differs sharply from his Conservative counterpart in Britain, David Cameron, who is making no secret of his concern about the warnings scientists are giving, on climate change.
Mr Abbott, by contrast, has abolished the Climate Authority set up by the previous Labor government and is presiding over hundreds of forced retrenchments at the nation’s premier scientific organisation, the CSIRO.
He has also abolished the post of Science Minister.
Mr Abbott has confirmed his Coalition’s policy of cutting Australia’s carbon emissions by 5 per cent, by 2020.
But his “direct action” plan, to reach that target, has attracted no visible support from scientists, as it consists largely of subsidising the nation’s big polluters.
by Alan Thornhill
Australia’s construction industry is expanding for the first time in more than three years.
This is shown in the results of the latest study of the industry, recorded in the Performance of Construction Index.
The Australian Industry Group’s Director of Public Policy, Peter Burn, said the sharp lift in the index during October had followed a gradual easing of contractionary conditions over the past six months.
“This is a very welcome indication that we could be on the cusp of the long-awaited recovery in the construction sector,” Dr Burn said.
He said all sectors are now “back in the black.”
The strongest growth had been in the construction of apartments.
New orders had also risen.
This reflected an improvement in both confidence and overall demand.
Dr Burn said: “consolidation over the next few months will show whether a sustained recovery will be built on the combination of renewed confidence and low interest rates during the first half of 2014.”
He said the residential construction sub-sectors are showing most promise while commercial construction activity lifted from a low base and remains more fragile.
“Engineering construction recorded a welcome return to positive territory despite the cloud hanging over the near to medium-term prospects for this sub-sector as mining-related construction retreats from boom conditions,” Dr Burn said.
The Housing Industry Association’s Chief Economist, Harley Dale, also welcomed the latest results, describing them as “a milestone moment.”
The indications in recent months have been that this outcome was achievable,” Mr Dale said.
“But there was a false dawn earlier in the year so this confirmation is heartening news for the construction sector,” Mr Dale said.
by Alan Thornhill
Australia’s service industries are moving slowly towards growth.
This is confirmed in the latest Performance of Services Index produced by the Australian Industry Group.
The Group’s Chief Executive, Innes Willox, said: “October saw further signs of the services sector clawing back towards growth.”
However he is still cautious, saying: “…conditions remain fragile with slippage in both sales and new orders recorded after a promising recovery in September.”
Mr Willox said weak consumer demand is holding back growth.
“There is clearly a long way to go before our service industries make up for the weak conditions that have prevailed over the past two years,” Mr Willox said.
“A strong recovery is needed now and this will depend on a consolidation of recent improvements in confidence, a broad-based lift in business investment and greater levels of spending by households in the all-important lead-up to Christmas,” he added.
by Alan Thornhill
The Federal government has welcomed the High Court’s rejection of a compensation claim made by a female public servant, injured in a “vigorous” sexual encounter.
The Employment Minister, Eric Abetz, described the court’s split decision as a “victory for common sense.”
The woman, whose name has been suppressed sought workers compensation for an injury sustained on a work trip, after hours, while engaging in sexual activities, in a country motel.
The case has major implications for all bosses who send employees on work trips.
It has run since 2009, through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Federal Court and now the High Court.
Even today, two High Court judges disagreed with the majority of their colleagues.
They argued that the woman should have been paid out.
But Senator Abetz said : “The High Court has taken a very welcome common sense approach that will see a more sensible approach prevail in the future.”
He said: “This decision protects the currency of work place safety which was in serious danger of being trivialised by this claim.”
“This decision also means that the definition of ‘work-related injury’ is more clearly defined,” Senator Abetz said.
“It’s important in Australian workplaces that we have a form of ‘mutual obligation’ where employees and employers both work together and are prepared to accept personal responsibility.”
“Instances such as this where an employee seeks to stretch the boundaries of entitlements are of great concern and the High Court’s intervention is welcome,” Senator Abetz said.
by Alan Thornhill
A little scepticism about election promises is usually wise.
Voters should be realistic.
But these things need watching.
So how is our new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, measuring up against the promises he made, before last month’s Federal elections?
He was clear, above all, about trust.
“You could trust us in opposition and you will be able to trust us in government,” Mr Abbott promised in his policy speech, in late August.
“…This election is all about trust,” he said.
Mr Abbott then reinforced his message, saying: “’We will be a no surprises, no excuses government.”
This was the central message of his campaign.
Even before the September 7 election, though, some doubts were emerging.
The Liberal Leader had promised, repeatedly, for example, that the Coalition’s costings would be delivered in good time, well before the election.
But they were not published until the Thursday before the election, giving voters very little time to assess them.
There have been some surprises, too, in the early weeks of his new government.
Disclosures about expense claims, for example, have raised more than a few eyebrows, over that time.
Who knew, before the elections, for example that the costs of attending a colleague’s wedding, or entering an iron man competition, were being seen as legitimate electoral expenses?
Or that a West Australian Liberal MP, Don Randall, would charge taxpayers more than $5,000, for a trip he and his wife made to Cairns, where they had just purchased an investment property.
Mr Abbott’s explanation that Mr Randall had ”very important discussions” with the then Coalition whip, while he was there, looks, at least a little, like an excuse.
Mr Randall strengthened that impression, by later refunding the money.
Then there is the issue of debt.
The new Treasurer, Joe Hockey, spoke often, before the election, about Australia’s “debt crisis.”
Yet, already he has moved to raise the Federal government’s debt limit from $300 billion to $500 billion.
Mr Hockey explained that the blame, for this, lay with Labor.
However this, too, left many voters mumbling over the newspapers which carried this story.
Still, the Irish playwright, Oscar Wilde, had a point, when he said that: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
That observation has force in this debate as:-
• Some Labor MPs, too, have made questionable expense claims and
• Australia’s Federal finances have certainly been tested, in the wake of the global crisis, which arrived in 2008.
Mr Abbott has moved quickly, though, on other promises.
He has already prepared bills, for example, to scrap both the carbon tax and the mining taxes.
But the outcome of his promises to stop the boats is still clouded – and his plan to buy fishing boats, before refugees could use them, has been quietly forgotten.
There are other reasons, too, for concern about some of Mr Abbott’s promises.
His determination to scrap the carbon tax, for example, borders on the obsessive.
Yet the Prime Minister’s declaration that the carbon tax is just “….socialism masquerading as environmentalism” isn’t convincing everyone.
And, whatever else, the early bushfires that have struck New South Wales over the past week, are deeply disturbing.
The head of a United Nations committee on climate change, Christiana Figueres, saw a connection between those fires and climate change.
Mr Abbott responded, less than acutely, by accusing Ms Figueres of “talking through her hat.”
Who, though, is backing him, with reputable research, on this critically important matter?
by Alan Thornhill
A dry winter.
A warm Spring.
And then the fires came.
They hit the Blue Mountains – and other Highland areas in New South Wales.
And an uncounted number of houses – certainly more than 200 – were destroyed.
By any standards these fires produced “a human tragedy.”
And in October, too.
This kind of thing is not meant to happen, so early.
Our new Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, has some wise advice.
He said attempts to link the bushfires to the need for greater action on climate change amounts to “politicising a human tragedy.”
The Minister Hunt spelt it out, very plainly.
“There has been a terrible tragedy in New South Wales,” he said.
“And no-one, anywhere should seek to politicise any human tragedy, let alone a bushfire on this scale,” Mr Hunt added.
Who could disagree with that?
Or stop wondering, perhaps, if terrible events like these fires are, actually, painting a picture of what is to come, as climate change advances.
Mr Hunt, of course, was responding to comments by the Greens Deputy, Adam Bandt, who had made that link, in a radio interview late last week.
Mr Bandt noted, then, that scientists and firefighters had already been warning that extreme weather events, like those which produced these fires, could become the norm, in future.
Mr Hunt says we needn’t worry about that.
He supports Tony Abbott’s plan to scrap the carbon tax.
But he assures us that the Coalition’s direct action plan will not only reduce Australia’s emissions, but protect the competitiveness of local industry as well.
Critics say that, essentially, amounts to paying polluters, and argue that, as such, it is not likely to succeed.
There had been some empirical evidence, though, that the old carbon tax was, in fact, encouraging polluters to revise their plans.
This showed up in data produced by the Bureau of Statistics.
Tony Abbott doesn’t yet have the numbers he would need, in the Senate, to abolish the carbon tax, as he has promised to do.
And he won’t have until July 1 next year, when the new Senators take their seats in the nation’s upper house.
Labor is saying it won’t vote to abolish the tax before then, unless Mr Abbott agrees to replace it with an emissions trading scheme.
The Prime Minister is not likely to do that.
Some might argue that our politicians, like Nero, are fiddling while Winmalee, at least, if not Rome, burns.
Mr Hunt is very comforting, of course.
But it’s hard to stop wondering, isn’t it?
Especially as the stakes are so high.
by Alan Thornhill
All Australians will, ultimately, contribute to the cost of the devastating fires that have swept through New South Wales.
The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, says the Commonwealth will be picking up “about half of the tab” for the joint funded Commonwealth-State Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.
These will provides assistance to individuals and families, including emergency food, clothing and accommodation.
However Mr Abbott says it is still too early to say what that cost is likely to be.
The fires have been so severe, though, that Australia’s insurance companies will be forced to review their premiums, in the months ahead.
The fires, themselves, which have already left hundreds of Australians will little more than the clothes they were wearing, at the time, will also be a stark reminder of why no-one, in this sunburnt country, can afford to be without insurance.
Large parts of the country, like the Blue Mountains, where the fires were, perhaps, at their worst, are tinder dry, at present.
And summer hasn’t yet started.
Mr Abbott has extended his sympathy – and that of his government – to those whose homes have been devastated by these fires.
Meanwhile, he is offering a little help.
He said the Federal Government will provide much needed assistance to those affected by the devastating bushfires still raging in New South Wales.
Mr Abbott said it would do that by making available the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment (AGDRP).
“While the full extent of damage caused by the bushfires is still unfolding, the payment of $1,000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child will assist those already affected, particularly those who have lost their homes or suffered damage, are seriously injured or have lost an immediate family member,” Mr Abbott said.
Need to know more?
Go to www.disasterassist.gov.au or ring 180 2266
Weathercoast by Alan Thornhill
A novel on the murder of seven young Anglican Christian Brothers in the Solomon Islands.
Available now on the iTunes store.
Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
Private Briefing is updated daily with Australian personal finance news, analysis, and commentary.
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