Google, Meta, TikTok and Twitter to appear before committee

SOCIAL MEDIA and technology industry giants Google, Meta, TikTok and Twitter will be appearing at public hearings examining online safety matters with the House of Representatives Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety.

These hearings will be held on Thursday, January 20, And Friday, January 21, 2022.

Committee Chair Lucy Wicks MP said these hearings would enable the committee to scrutinise the industry’s response to online harms and abuse faced by everyday Australians.

"The committee’s early hearings received powerful evidence from people who have experienced different types of online harm, and in these hearings the committee can examine how the industry intends to move forward and protect its users," Ms Wicks said.

Other witnesses across the two days include further stakeholders from the technology sector, including the Digital Industry Group (DIGI), Reset Australia and the Centre for Digital Wellbeing. The committee will also hear evidence from academics and researchers, mental health organisations and government agencies.

Programs for both hearings can be found on the committee’s website.

The committee will hold further hearings in coming weeks. Submissions have closed, and the committee is reviewing evidence received in from the community in addition to evidence gathered in the public hearings. The committee anticipates tabling its final report in the Parliament by February 15, 2022.



Union calls on Federal Government to pay everyday Australians to help solve aged care crisis

THE Health Services Union (HSU) is calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to fund a ‘home guard’ style system which would allow everyday Australians to provide support to the overwhelmed aged care sector.

The emergency initiative, similar to the Volunteer Defence Corps deployed during World War II, would help alleviate pressure on exhausted staff and provide a way for Australians who can and want to help to do so, a union spokesperson said.

It comes on top of requests from aged care providers and unions today to deploy the Australian Defence Force to support the sector and provide staff with an additional direct payment.

HSU national president Gerard Hayes said the sector was in the middle of an unprecedented crisis and requires immediate assistance.

“Conditions for both staff and residents are deteriorating rapidly as COVID cases in aged care continue to rise,” Mr Hayes said.

“We are hearing horrific reports from our members. Some facilities are so short staffed residents aren’t being showered for days. Others are experiencing food supply issues.

“The majority of staff are exhausted and many are quitting. It is an unmitigated catastrophe.

“The Morrison Government failed to prepare before letting Omicron rip and this is the disastrous result. The Prime Minister could help fix this crisis now by paying everyday Australians to provide support to aged care facilities in roles which don’t require training such as food delivery," Mr Hayes said.

“Australians could become ‘community angels’, helping facilities in dire need of assistance, particularly in regional and remote areas.

“The Morrison Government needs to do whatever it takes to relieve pressure on aged care. Rapid Antigen Tests should also be made free and available to all and the sourcing of adequate Personal Protective Equipment for all workers should be made a priority.

“Overworked, modestly-paid staff and aged care residents, who helped build this country, deserve better.”



Public urged to be cautious before donating to help those in the Queensland flood disaster zone

AUSTRALIA's charity regulator is urging people to be cautious when they make a donation to help people impacted by the disastrous floods in South East Queensland.

Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commissioner Gary Johns recommended donors check the ACNC Charity Register to verify that organisations claiming to support flood victims were real charities.

“Our hearts go out to everyone in South East Queensland, many of whom have been devastated by the floods around Bundaberg, Gympie and the surrounding region. We see images on the news of people who have lost everything and we want to help,” Dr Johns said.

“Unfortunately, we know scammers will often try to take advantage of our goodwill and generosity following a natural disaster. So, it is important to quickly check the Charity Register to make sure you are giving money to a legitimate charity, rather than someone pretending to be one.

“The Register will show you information including that a charity is officially registered, the kind of work it does, where it operates, its ABN and a link to check if donations are tax deductible. That means you can be confident that your donation is going to a really deserving organisation doing great work. Charities provide essential support to people at times like this and, in turn, rely on the community to support their work.”

Before you make a donation the ACNC recommends you:

  • Look for established, registered charities running verified appeals.
  • Do a quick check to see if the organisation is on the ACNC Charity Register and details about its main work.
  • Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails and social media posts which may take you to a fake, scam website. Find the charity’s website in a search engine or on the Charity Register.
  • Don’t give your credit card and bank account details on social media and be cautious online.
  • If you get a call claiming to be from a charity, say you’ll call back. Search the Charity Register and call back on the number shown there.

Dr Johns said cash donations are often of most value to charities, rather than material goods, as it allows them to provide the particular type of assistance most needed. He said many may also need extra volunteers at this time, as the pandemic is creating extra pressure on volunteer resources.

The ACNC has also announced that charities operating in the declared disaster zone will be granted an automatic extension on annual reporting deadlines. Affected charities should check the ACNC website for more information.


Everyone’s a critic, but small businesses need kindly customers

THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Bruce Billson is urging people to refrain from posting negative online reviews, as short-staffed small businesses struggle to stay open.

Mr Billson said many small businesses were working hard to keep their doors open and their employees and customers safe, as Australians learn to live with Covid.

“Small businesses are doing their best to serve their communities, despite the challenges that come with having staff in isolation and supply chain disruptions,” Mr Billson said.

“The best way to support small businesses is to be a kindly customer – patient and understanding, with good and generous intent. Small businesses are run by real people who deserve our respect and empathy.

“Negative online reviews can be devastating for a small business, particularly those that are struggling to recover from tough couple of years. So just put the phone away. Resist the urge to give that unfair one-star review.”

The Ombudsman’s comments about the lasting and damaging impacts of negative online reviews, follows a submission to the Federal Government’s social media inquiry calling for digital platforms to make it easier to remove fake reviews.

“Our office has assisted more than 30 businesses dealing with fake reviews in recent years,” Mr Billson said.

“These so-called reviews hurt business reputations and cause significant distress to staff and business owners.

“Unfortunately, small businesses have few avenues for recourse when a fake review is posted, which is why there needs to be a transparent review system in place.

“In the US, Google acted to protect the interest of the investment application Robinhood by removing hundreds of thousands of fake reviews on its Google Play Store. We believe small businesses should be afforded similar protections of their interests.

“We recommend digital platforms build tools to prevent fake reviews and be clear about the evidence small businesses need to provide to have fake online commentary reviewed and removed.

“Small business owners are under enormous strain as they work get their businesses back on track. Fake reviews are contributing to those mental health pressures. Digital platforms should be doing more to support the small business community.”



Banking services essential to rural and regional small businesses - Ombudsman

BANKING services are essential to small businesses in rural and regional areas and more should be done to support those impacted by branch closures, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Bruce Billson said..

In a submission to the Regional Banking Taskforce, the Ombudsman said bank branch closures are disruptive to small and family businesses and that can have a ripple effect on the wider community.

“Small businesses rely on banking services to operate in the modern economy and it is essential those in rural and regional areas have access to the full range of banking facilities,” Mr Billson said.

“Branch closures increase small business administrative costs, the level of risk for business owners, and have a community wide economic impact caused by business patronage moving away, along with reduced community amenity, particularly if it is the last remaining bank in town.   

“For some small businesses, the loss of a local bank branch, may even cause them to look for services outside the regulated financial system. That is a bad outcome and there is more that can be done to support small businesses when a bank branch closes.

“My office would welcome the opportunity to work with the Australian Banking Association (ABA) to amend the code of practice to ensure customers affected by a branch closure can move to any other bank with no cost penalties.

“We have also asked the taskforce to consider expanding programs such as the Regional Tech Hub to help rural and regional small businesses to secure safe banking services," Mr Billson said.

“Particularly in areas where there is no local bank branch, NBN connectivity is critical. My office has long argued that access to banking and vital communications services are essential and a greater focus is needed to set and adhere to deliverable service standards. Where these standards are not met, impacting a small or family business, some consequences and remediation steps should apply.

“Australian small and family businesses have faced many difficult challenges over the past two years – the pandemic has exacerbated the impact of bushfires, floods and drought. These businesses need support as they work to get back on their feet, including access to essential banking services.”


Parliament seeks views on access to regional news

A NEW online survey is seeking views on how Australians living in regional, rural or remote areas access news as part of a Federal Parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s regional newspapers.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts Chair Dr Anne Webster MP said, "Over the past 10 years news outlets in rural, regional and remote communities have closed their doors which has resulted in a substantial reduction of articles covering local issues.

"It is important that we listen to our communities about what's important to them. This survey provides an opportunity for these communities to express their views on whether the loss of their regional voice has directly affected them.


"I encourage anyone who lives in Australia’s regional, rural or remote areas to participate in the online survey."

The survey is open until February 11, 2022 and takes less than 10 minutes to complete.

The committee is continuing to accept new submissions until January 28, 2022.

Information about the committee may be found on the committee’s webpage.



Green Finance Framework's $300 million investment an Australian first

A NEW agreement will see $300 million in private funds invested in energy assets under a sector-leading Green Finance Framework.

Funding from the deal – the first to be made under the Framework – is intended to be used for electricity infrastructure assets, helping to ready them for increasing levels of renewable generation feeding into the grid.

General manager for corporate finance, Luis Castillo-Melendez said his team had worked with global investment bank Mizuho Securities to make the private placement of the eight-year medium-term note (MTN).

“We established our Green Finance Framework with the purpose of giving confidence to investors that they could back projects aimed at making a difference in lowering carbon emissions, so we’re very pleased to see the first investment made,” Mr Castillo said.

“It will also help us to respond to our customers’ preferences for renewable energy, and with upgrades to the network, how they use energy.”

Mizuho head of debt capital markets for Australia, Simon Ward said, “We are honoured to have executed this exemplary transaction – the first Green Bond by an Australian utility in global markets."

The Green Finance Framework applies to companies within the State Grid Singapore Power Australia Assets (SGSP Australia Assets) Group which include Jemena and engineering, project management, operations and maintenance company, Zinfra.

It aligns with Jemena announcing, earlier this year, its ambition to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and will see the business use funds raised from green instruments such as bonds, loans, and promissory notes to finance and/or refinance projects that aim to deliver a positive impact on the environment.

The Framework, believed to be the first of its kind to be delivered by a traditional energy company operating in Australia, was developed in collaboration with global investment banks HSBC and ING. Net proceeds of green instruments issued can be used to fund or refinance projects in four major categories: renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation, and climate change adaptation.


About Jemena

Jemena is an $11.5 billion company that owns and manages some of Australia's most significant gas and electricity assets. These include:

  • the Jemena Gas Network servicing 1.4 million customers around NSW;
  • the Eastern Gas Pipeline which delivers gas from Victoria's Gippsland basin to the ACT, Sydney and regional NSW;
  • the Queensland Gas Pipeline which supplies Gladstone and Rockhampton;
  • the Darling Downs Pipeline System which transports gas to the Wallumbilla gas trading hub, the 630MW Darling Downs Power Station, and to the feeder pipeline to the APLNG LNG liquefaction plant at Gladstone;
  • Jemena's Victorian electricity network which delivers electricity to over 360,000 homes and businesses in northern and western Melbourne
  • the Northern Gas Pipeline from Tennant Creek in Northern Territory to Mount Isa in Queensland.

Jemena also part-owns the ActewAGL electricity and gas distribution networks in the ACT and United Energy, which supplies electricity to more than 600,000 customers across south-eastern Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula.

More information about Jemena’s Sustainability Program is available in its 2020 Sustainability Report: Adapting to Change, available on the Jemena website:

The Framework is available at:


Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety commences public hearings

THE House of Representatives Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety began its public hearings on December 21-22, 2021.

Committee Chair Lucy Wicks MP said the hearings presented an opportunity for the committee to hear from a wide range of interested parties on matters relating to social media and online safety, with the focus in the initial hearings being on groups who can share their experiences of online harms.

"Online safety is a significant issue for a range of groups and individuals across the Australian community, and the committee will hear evidence from a variety of witnesses," Ms Wicks said.

Witnesses across the two days included advocates for children’s safety, including the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, the Alannah and Madeline Foundation and the Carly Ryan Foundation. The committee will also hear from representatives of minority groups, faith organisations and the Let Her Speak campaign. Programs for hearings can be found on the Committee’s website.

Public hearings are anticipated to continue in January 2022, with further dates to be advised soon. The closing date for submissions is January 12, 2022. The Committee’s findings from hearings and submissions will be contained in its report, to be tabled in the Parliament by February 15, 2022.



PJCIS to review listing Hizballah and the Base as terrorist organisations under Criminal Code

THE Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) has commenced a review of the listing of Hizballah and The Base as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code Act 1995 (the Criminal Code).

Hizballah is a Lebanese organisation with political, social and military components. The Australian Government had listed Hizballah’s External Security Organisation (ESO), an entity within Hizballah responsible for various terrorist activities, as a terrorist organisation since 2003 but has recently decided to list the whole organisation of Hizballah as a terrorist organisation, following a unanimous bipartisan recommendation of the PJCIS in June.

Founded in the United States, The Base is a nationalist and racist violent extremist movement founded in 2018. Its members believe in an accelerationist ideology of preparing for a ‘race war’ and inevitable social collapse which can be expedited through terrorist attacks. This group has been proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the governments of the United Kingdom and Canada.

Under section 102.1A of the Criminal Code, the committee may review listings of terrorist organisations and report its findings to each house of the Parliament within the 15 sitting day disallowance period. 

Members of the public are welcome to make submissions to this review. Submissions should be provided no later than 5pm Tuesday, February 1, 2022.

Further information on the inquiry can be obtained from the Committee’s website.


Westpac offers emergency support for customers impacted by Queensland floods

WESTPAC will provide emergency support for customers impacted by the floods in Maryborough and surrounding regions in Queensland.

Westpac chief customer engagement officer, Ross Miller said, “Westpac and StGeorge have customer teams standing by to help those in need of financial assistance resulting from the floods that have impacted the region in recent days.

“We know that the floods have caused damage to homes and businesses following significant rainfall over the weekend. We want our customers to know there are a range of tailored support options available to help them get back on their feet, including home and business loan deferrals and emergency credit card relief.

“We know these situations provide a great deal of stress and uncertainty for households and businesses. We want our customers to know we are only a phone call away if they need our help,” Mr Miller said.

Emergency support available:  

  • Affected customers with Westpac home loans may apply to defer repayments for up to three months.
  • Affected credit card customers may apply to defer repayments to their card for up to 90 days.
  • Affected customers wishing to purchase replacement goods may apply for a personal loan at a discounted interest rate with no establishment fee.
  • Westpac will waive interest rate adjustments for affected customers wishing to withdraw term deposits.
  • Affected customers experiencing hardship may also be offered a halt on all interest accrual on unsecured credit products for a period of up to three months.
  • Affected customers with Westpac business loans may apply to defer repayments for up to three months.
  • Affected businesses with existing loans can request loan restructuring without incurring the usual bank establishment fees.
  • Affected business customers with merchant facilities are eligible to receive assistance, including monthly terminal access fee waivers for up to three months.

 To access financial assistance:

  • Westpac consumer customers can apply online or call Westpac Assist on 1800 067 497. Business customers who need support can contact their Relationship Manager or call Westpac Assist on 1800 067 497.
  • St George consumer customers can apply online or call St George Assist on 1800 629 795. Business customers who need support can contact their Relationship Manager or call St George Assist on 1800 629 795.



Union says Carmichael mine operators refuse to bargain over 'poor food arrangements, safety problems and exhaustion'

SAFETY CONCERNS, poor access to food and limited accommodation for fly-in-fly-out (FIFO) miners are the sad reality behind the Carmichael mine’s rush to produce the first coal for export according to the Mining and Energy Union.

Workers on the ground have reported the first exported coal had come at the expense of food for famished shift workers, proper sleeping facilities for those flying off rotation and serious safety issues involving equipment damage and injured workers.

Members at Carmichael are concerned the operator is trying to avoid bargaining even though 70 percent of the workforce have voted to demand discussions and tabled it with the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

“It’s been a long time since someone told me access to food on a project was a problem, but that’s what I’m hearing from the Carmichael mine,” Mining and Energy Union Queensland District vice-president Shane Brunker said.

“When the mine operator and its principal contractor, MacKeller, is underreporting injuries and equipment damage alarm bells start ringing for me.

“The first thing for a mine operator to get right is the health and safety of their workforce, not headline grabbing production targets,” he said.

“The workers are 100 percent behind the Carmichael project but we are not seeing the same commitment to our members which frankly we would have expected.

“Issues include no consultation with workers on changes to rosters or health and safety matters, refused information on how their salaries are developed and no consultation on the working of Christmas or Boxing days as required in the Black Coal Industry Award.

“If you match the individual contracts against the Black Coal Award you will see serious deficiencies and members want that fixed up as a priority.

“What we’re seeing is all Bollywood-style show business and no fair dinkum commitment to the workers," Mr Brunker said.

“Our union has always said we support the Carmichael project but our priority would be to organise the workforce and make sure they are getting fair deal that meets the standards in the Queensland coal industry.

“Now the mine is up and running, Bravus and its principal contractor need to meet with their workforce and nut out an ongoing arrangement which will ensure they export form Queensland for many years to come,” Mr Brunker said.


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