Browsing articles in "rural"
Monday 30th September 2013 - 6:39 am
Comments Off on Trade talks clouded

Trade talks clouded

by Alan Thornhill

Tony Abbott’s high-powered visit to Indonesia this week will start under a dark cloud.

The loss of at least 50 lives – including those of up to 30 children – will hang heavily over trade talks planned for the coming week.

The disaster presented haunting images.

One survivor said only those who could swim escaped with their lives, after their boat, which had been bound for Australia lost power, turned back capsized and sank just 50 metres off the Java coast.

Another said the asylum seekers had telephoned Australian authorities, giving them the precise position of their stricken boat.

The Australians had said repeatedly “we’re coming, we’re coming.”

But they never arrived.

The Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’ confirmed that Australian authorities received that phone call.

However he rejected survivors’ claims that Australian authorities took more than 24 hours to respond.

Mr Morrison said Australian Maritime Safety Authority had coordinated the initial rescue effort and notified the Indonesian search and rescue agency.

This highly predictable emergency was the first in which asylum lost their lives since Mr Abbott became Australia’s Prime Minister on September 7, vowing to turn back the boats.

The disaster led to to sharp domestic criticism.

The Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, said: “The Government’s cruel and dangerous policy is putting more refugees’ lives at risk and hiding from the media isn’t helping save any lives.”

She called for a full inquiry.

“This is the second time this month that distress calls from a refugee boat are reported to have been dismissed and the rescuers failed to reach the striken boat in time to avoid tragedy,” Senator Hanson-Youmg said.

A senior Opposition figure, Bill Shorten, said Australia must build a sustainable relationship with Indonesia to secure its co-operation on asylum seekers.

He said Mr Abbott should not have walked away on Saturday from reporters who wanted to ask him about the latest disaster.

Mr Shorten also said that, sooner or later, the government would have to accept that “that three word slogans” don’t solve refugee or immigration issues.

Even before the latest drownings, Indonesia was making no secret of the fact that it is uncomfortable with aspects of the Abbott government’s policy of turning back refugee boats.

There is much at stake, in the talks Mr Abbott and his party will have with the Indonesia’s President, Yudhoyono and Indonesian authorities this week.

The Trade and Investment Minister, Andrew Robb, said their focus would be on enhancing bilateral trade, building stronger business and investment links with Indonesia and deepening regional economic integration.

“Indonesia is Australia’s 12th largest trading partner, with two-way trade worth $14.6 billion in 2012,” he said.

“Australian investment in Indonesia currently stands at $6.67 billion,” Mr Robb added.

“The first stage of the visit will include a senior delegation of 20 Australian business leaders across key sectors including agriculture, resources, banking and finance, infrastructure, manufacturing, healthcare and telecommunications,” he said.

“The trade of beef and live cattle is a fundamental component of our relationship with Indonesia,” Mr Robb added.

The previous government suspended live cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011, after reports that cattle sent there were mistreated.

Mr Robb said that had affected Australia’s relations with Indonesia.

“… the task…is to rebuild trust in that relationship after the deeply regrettable actions of the previous Australian government,” he said.

Mr Robb said that while he in Indonesia he would “also join regional counterparts at the 25th Ministers’ Meeting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Bali.

This would focus on free and open trade and investment and deeper regional economic integration.

“APEC economies account for 58 per cent of the world’s GDP and 71 per cent of Australia’s trade in goods and services,” Mr Robb said.

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Thursday 26th September 2013 - 6:02 pm
Comments Off on PM seeks to soothe fears on university reforms

PM seeks to soothe fears on university reforms

by Alan Thornhill

The Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, moved today to ease fears raised by his government’s proposed university reforms.

He told reporters in Melbourne that scrapping compulsory student service fees: “is not a priority for us and we have no plans for change in this area at this time.”

His Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, spoke on Tuesday of moving against this fee, which he called “a form of compulsory student unionism”

However a Nationals MP Michael McCormack said he and his colleagues are “surprised and shocked” at the proposal and worried about the impact on regional universities.

Mr Pyne has also been talking about re-imposing caps on student numbers, saying that might be needed to protect the quality of university courses.

But the Acting Labor Leader, Chris Bowen,regional universities and aspiring students from less wealthy families would be the big losers if the Coalition broke its promise, on this matter.

Mr Abbott said: “We are looking at this issue.”

But he added: “The important thing is to ensure we maximise access to universities while at the same time maintaining and, wherever possible, improving their quality.

“That’s why we are looking at this issue.

“But what we aren’t going to do is compromise the commitments that we took to the people at the recent election,” the Prime Minister said.

Wednesday 31st July 2013 - 11:03 am
Comments Off on Miner wins approval, but the devil’s in the detail

Miner wins approval, but the devil’s in the detail

by Alan Thornhill

Shree Minerals has won Federal approval to mine iron ore in North Western Tasmania, by agreeing to protect the endangered Tasmanian Devil.

The Environment Minister, Mark Butler, who made the announcement today, said he had insisted on special measures to protect the now rare creature.

He granted Shree Minerals Limited approval to proceed with its proposed iron ore mine on 152 hectares at Nelson Bay River in north-western Tasmania.

The company already has a mining lease for the project, from the Tasmanian Government.

However Mr Butler said the Federal approval is subject to 30 strict conditions, including special measures to preserve and protect the Tasmanian Devil.

Shree Minerals had agreed to make a substantial contribution to Tasmania’s ongoing efforts to protect the devil.

These include agreeing to engage suitably qualified experts to prepare and implement a Tasmanian Devil monitoring strategy, with specific focus on the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, at an estimated cost of $250,00.

Mine site traffic would also be strictly controlled, to protect the devils.

“Those conditions include prohibiting travel to and from the mine site outside daylight hours, except for emergency vehicles, a reduced speed limit, regular clearing of road ways and surrounding verges, and clear signage.

Mr Butler said mine workers would also have to travel to and from the site by a bus, unless his department gave special approval for use of another vehicle, to meet operational requirements.

“In the event that, in spite of traffic conditions I’ve imposed, more Tasmanian Devils are killed by vehicles, the company will be required to contribute an additional $48,000 funding for each Tasmanian Devil death, above two in any twelve month period,” Mr Butler said.

“I am confident that these conditions will greatly reduce any threat by vehicles to wildlife covered by the Commonwealth legislation, including the Tasmanian Devil,” Mr Butler said.

He said he had also required the company to make a substantial contribution to Tasmania’s ongoing efforts to protect the Tasmanian Devil.

These include agreement to engage suitably qualified experts to prepare and implement a Tasmanian Devil monitoring strategy, having specific focus on the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, at an estimated cost of $250,00.

Thursday 25th July 2013 - 11:39 am
Comments Off on More help for cash strapped farmers

More help for cash strapped farmers

by Alan Thornhill

Hard pressed Australian farmers are to get better access to financial counsellors.

The Federal government is rolling out an extra $5.9 million, to support needy farmers in this way.

Agriculture Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, said this would fund 17 extra full-time rural financial counsellors.

He said they will focus on regions and industries experiencing debt stress and where natural disasters have had a heavy impact on farm businesses.

This would be part of the Rudd Government’s Farm Finance Package.

“I know that many farm businesses are doing it tough and the Rudd Government is offering assistance so farmers can access free financial counselling services to help them manage debt and ease financial pressure,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“Rural financial counsellors provide a free, impartial service to support farmers, fishers and small rural businesses who are suffering financial hardship,” he added.”

“The program aims to provide clients with access to financial information and options, decision making support and referrals to other assistance to help them manage change.”

The extra $5.9 million – over two years – will fund five additional financial counsellors in Queensland, three in New South Wales, three in Victoria, two in Tasmania, one in South Australia and three in Western Australia.

“The program delivers an effective, flexible and responsive service to those in need of assistance,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“The program operates as a partnership between the Australian and state governments and non-government, not-for-profit organisations that employ rural financial counsellors, with the federal government providing around 85 per cent of the total funding.”

Farm Finance is an initiative of the Australian Government designed to build the ongoing financial resilience of farmers who are currently struggling with high levels of debt.

It also offers three other measures to help farmers.

These are:-

? concessional loans for debt restructuring or productivity enhancement projects;
? a higher non-primary production income threshold for Farm Management Deposits; and
? developing a nationally consistent approach to farm debt mediation.

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Alan Thornhill is a parliamentary press gallery journalist.
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