A Way Forward after Juukan Gorge

THE Northern Australia Committee has tabled the final report of its Inquiry into the destruction of 46,000 year old caves at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. 

The report follows on from the work of the committee’s interim report Never Again tabled on the December 9, 2020. Despite the impact of Covid-19 the committee has produced a complete examination of the issues brought to light throughout the inquiry.

The final report titled, A Way Forward, emphasises that what happened at Juukan Gorge is not unique. It is an extreme example of the destruction of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage which continues to happen in this country.

Importantly, the report highlights the need for legislative change at Commonwealth, State and Territory levels to ensure the protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage.

Upon tabling the final report today, committee chair Warren Entsch said, "The destruction of the caves was a disaster beyond reckoning for the Puutu Kunti Kurrama People and Pinikura people, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage as a whole.

"This disaster was a wakeup call that there are serious deficiencies in the protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage. What is needed now is a way forward, for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and industry."

During the inquiry, the committee heard a great number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage protection issues. Each incident of heritage destruction or threat that was discussed compounded the clear need for change.

Mr Entsch discussed that, from the significant volume of evidence received by the committee, it was clear that extensive changes were required to ensure the protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples cultural heritage.

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been let down by the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments as well as industry," Mr Entsch said.

"In making these recommendations today, the committee and I want to bring about meaningful change. Failures to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage must stop here."

The report makes eight recommendations focusing on legislative change that will enhance Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s cultural heritage protections.

Among other things, the committee found:

"I am very proud of the hard work of the committee that went into the development of this report. I am very pleased with the recommendations that have been made to tackle the problem of inadequate cultural heritage protection for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples," Mr Entsch said.

"In tabling this report it is the committee's desire that we will Never Again see an event such as Juukan Gorge and that as a country we now have A Way Forward to protect the world’s oldest living culture."

A copy of the report can be obtained from the Committee’s website or from the secretariat on (02) 6277 4162.

Further details of the inquiry, including terms of reference, can be found on the Committee’s website.

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Accommodation Association applauds NSW Government’s practical support measures

THE NSW Government deserves applause for its ongoing practical support measures, including this week’s announcement of a $66 Million Alfresco Restart Package and extension of the Dine and Discover voucher scheme, according to the Accommodation Association.

According to Accommodation Association CEO Richard Munro, tangible measures which encourage people to get out and enjoy themselves and which recognise that the sector needs to operate differently to offset the ongoing COVID-constrained capacity are very welcome. 

“It’s fantastic to see the NSW Government thinking outside the square about what else can be done to support our sector," Mr Munro said. "The NSW Government’s $66 Million Alfresco Restart Package is a common-sense measure which will provide additional capacity outdoors allowing our members to accommodate more patrons, more safely.
 
“With venue capacity limits continuing until after lockdown ends, the opportunity to transform outdoor space into alfresco dining areas while capacity limits on venues continue is both practical and sensible for our members and customers.

"We’re moving into a very important peak period for our members and anything government can do to help our hotels, motels and accommodation providers boost capacity, get people through the doors and recapture some of that missing cashflow is very much appreciated.

“The Accommodation Association continues to work closely with the NSW Government to identify, recommend and support those practical steps which will bring our sector back to life as quickly and as safely as possible.”

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PJCIS recommends expanding terrorist listing of Hamas

THE Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) has recommended the government consider listing Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist organisation.

The PJCIS today tabled its report on the Review of the relisting of five organisations as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code. This review considered the relisting of al-Shabaab, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

While the committee supported the relisting of all these organisations under the Criminal Code it has gone a step further, recommending the government expand the listing of Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades to include the whole organisation of Hamas.

The committee made a similar recommendation in June 2021 in its Report on the review of the relisting of Hizballah’s External Security Organisation as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code that the listing of Hizballah’s External Security Organisation be expanded to the whole organisation of Hizballah.

PJCIS Committee Chair Senator James Paterson, said it was clear from evidence received during this review that the whole organisation of Hamas met the definition of a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code.

"Currently, the US, Canada and the EU list the whole organisation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation under their respective proscription regimes," Senator Patterson said.

"The expert evidence provided to the committee overwhelmingly rejected the idea that Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades operates independently from the rest of the organisation.

"There was agreement that Hamas operates as a singular entity with overlapping personnel, finances and structure. In addition, leaders of Hamas have repeatedly made statements which meet the advocacy test for terrorist listing, including direct incitement of acts of violence against Jewish people," Senator Paterson said.

Further information on the inquiry as well as a copy of the report can be obtained from the Committee’s website.

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AFP should retain counter-terrorism powers to keep Australians safe says committee

THE Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) has recommended the Australian Federal Police be allowed to retain a range of counter-terrorism powers to protect Australians.

The PJCIS has today tabled its review into counter-terrorism powers held by the AFP, recommending that the following powers be extended to December 7, 2025:

  • stop, search and seizure powers under subsections 3UK(1), (2) and (3) of the Crimes Act 1914
  • control order regime under division 104 of the Criminal Code Act 1995
  • preventative detention order regime in division 105 of the Criminal Code Act 1995.

The committee made 19 recommendations to improve clarity, oversight and interoperability of counter-terrorism laws, as well as amendments to the Intelligence Services Act 2001 to allow the committee to undertake further reviews of the powers prior to their extended sunset period.

The Intelligence and Security Committee Chair, Senator James Paterson said the extension of these counter-terrorism powers would help protect Australians from the evolving threat of terrorism.

"The committee has assessed the use and effectiveness of these powers and has found they will continue to provide law enforcement the tools they need to counter the threat of terrorism. Eighteen potential or imminent terrorist attacks have been disrupted by law enforcement and security agencies since 2014 thanks to powers just like these," Senator Paterson said.

Further information on the inquiry as well as a copy of the report can be obtained from the Committee’s website.

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Equity raise gains traction in Australian greentech marketplace

THE ONLINE green building marketplace, Planitree, is seeing strong early support from more than 280 investors in Australia and overseas with an equity crowdfunding campaign delivered by industry veterans, Birchal.

Building and construction is responsible for 39 percent of all carbon emissions, according to Plaintree, and this Australian start-up is on a mission do something about it.

Planitree aims to accelerate the adoption of green building products and services by making it faster and more convenient to find, purchase and deliver the world’s best solutions for each project – at no cost to the planet through freight carbon offset.

“To get to a net zero economy we need to build greener, faster,” Planitree founder, Jeremy Barnett said.

By setting out to bring together the best solutions for sustainability and wellness, and making it easy to specify and purchase, Planitree aims to accelerate the adoption of green building technologies.

The offer is available on the Birchal platform at https://www.birchal.com/company/planitree

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Qld Govt passes new renting laws but wait until 2024 for rental property minimum standards

TODAY the Queensland Government passed its new tenancy legislation with some amendments, calling it "striking the right balance between renters and property owners".

Advocates from the community sector have welcomed the long overdue rental reform acknowledging some amendments will improve Queensland renters’ rights.
 
Queensland Council of Social Service (QCOSS) CEO Aimee McVeigh said that some of the government’s reforms are an improvement for Queensland’s 1.8 million renters, but that more must be done urgently.
 
“The next stage of rental reforms must happen immediately in light of Queensland’s housing crisis," Ms McVeigh said. "Renters are competing in unbelievably tight rental markets with vacancy rates below 1 percent throughout Queensland and, even when they can find a place, there’s no guarantee that they’ll be able to stay in their home beyond six or 12 months.
 
“The reality is that the housing market is failing millions of Queenslanders, and government intervention is needed. Tenants need housing security and minimum standards like lighting, ventilation and energy efficiency and these protections must be provided by the law,” Ms McVeigh said.
 
A key element needed in the government’s next round of rental reforms is to permit tenants to make minor modifications to their homes.
 
CEO of Queenslanders with Disability Network (QDN), Paige Armstrong, said for many of their members, private rental is made all the more difficult due to the need for minor modifications to make a property accessible.
 
“It is disappointing to see that minor modifications have not been included in this round of rental reforms. There are over 900,000 people with disability living in Queensland, and a significant number rent in the private sector," Ms Armstrong said.
 
“It is really important for people with disability and many other people in our community to be able to carry out minor modifications. It helps people feel safe, to maintain their independence and carry out basic day to day tasks.  
 
“Renters with disability have been waiting years for these reforms and we need to see change,” Ms Armstrong said.
 
Penny Carr, CEO of Tenants Queensland, the state’s tenant advisory specialists, welcomed the finalisation of this first stage of the reforms which she said was long overdue and a welcome relief.
 
“Renters will find it somewhat easier to keep a pet and to have repairs attended to but they will wait until 2024 for minimum standards and will still be subjected to arbitrary evictions. These laws are not ones for a modern Queensland as they don’t offer strong enough protections from unfair evictions,” Ms Carr said.
 
Ms Carr acknowledged the government’s commitment to rental reforms and stated the changes included a number of positive changes for Queensland renters but overall were "still disappointing, falling well short of modernising the laws".
 
“Our focus will now be to ensure all Queensland renters understand the new laws, how to exercise their rights and meet obligations, without fear of eviction," Ms Carr said.
 
“We will be watching the impact of these reforms very closely to advise the government of any negative impacts on Queensland renters, then working hard to achieve greater outcomes in stage two."

The Housing Minister has committed to stage two of rental reform to begin in the first half of 2022 with minor modifications to be the top priority.

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Asbestos warning issued on fire-rated Boral board products

PLASTERBOARD manufacturer Boral has issued a warning to customers that some of their fire-rated plasterboard products may be contaminated with asbestos.

The contamination affects fire-rated plasterboards containing vermiculite imported from China and was discovered in routine testing. The company has told builders to quarantine any Boral fire-rated plasterboard products pending further advice.

“Workers using Boral board need to demand the company inform them whether the products they are using are asbestos free,” CFMEU national construction secretary Dave Noonan said.

“The company says the issue only affects its fire-rated plasterboard and that the level is 0.1 percent of the 3 percent vermiculite put into the board. Yet we know there is no safe level of asbestos exposure so construction businesses must take immediate steps to quarantine potentially contaminated products and ensure workers and customers are safe.

“The CFMEU will engage with the company to eliminate the risk of exposure from factories, distribution centres and construction sites.

“This latest asbestos contamination issue confirms the CFMEU’s repeated warnings that imported building products, particularly those from China, may not be safe," Mr Noonan said.

“We have seen too many instances of building supplies that are manufactured or sourced in poorly regulated markets like China failing basic safety requirements or exposing workers or end customers to unnecessary risk.”

Boral is advising customers to quarantine the following fire-rated plasterboard products and refrain from installing, distributing or supplying them to customers:

  • Firestop® Plasterboard
  • Fire WetstopTM Plasterboard
  • MultistopTM Plasterboard range (3/3HI, 4/4HI, 5/5HI)
  • ShaftlinerTM Mould Stop Plasterboard.

Boral said it had stopped using the Chinese-sourced vermiculite and will switch to another source and is arranging for the safe removal of all unused Chinese-sourced vermiculite from their facilities at Camellia, Port Melbourne, and Pinkenba, and is testing all finished products made using vermiculite as an ingredient.

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Hydrogen could fuel massive jobs boom - but only if gas mistakes are not repeated

THE Australian Workers' Union has today welcomed the momentum toward hydrogen by state governments, but has warned that the massive jobs potential of the zero-carbon fuel source will be squandered if governments don't learn from the lessons of natural gas.

The NSW Government says green hydrogen is essential to securing the long-term future of heavy industry such as steel and chemicals production and will create as many jobs as the coal industry by 2050. And the Queensland Government has given its blessing to the world's largest hydrogen manufacturing facility in Central Queensland. 

AWU national secretary Daniel Walton said the immediate jobs potential of hydrogen was obvious, but securing the many multipliers would require a proactive and strategic approach from government.

"Hydrogen is an incredibly exciting opportunity, because it offers fantastic opportunities to workers in the fossil fuel sector," Mr Walton said.

"So long as governments are proactive in making training opportunities available to workers there are obvious synergies and great opportunities to shift from one to the other."

However, Mr Walton warned that Australia's natural gas industry offered a salient warning to the government and voters.

"Australia is one of the most gas-rich nations in the world, but instead of using that wealth to provide affordable energy to our manufacturers, we've given multinationals a no-strings-attached license to pump it offshore to power jobs overseas," Mr Walton said.

"There is potential for the mistake to be repeated with hydrogen if we don't get our policy settings right. For example, if we're investing in hydrogen infrastructure, why not build the electrolysers here? We could be investing massively in Australian manufacturing capacity. 

"We also need a hydrogen reservation policy so a portion of the hydrogen we produce in this country is set aside to sell to Australian factories providing Australian jobs. We can become a renewable energy superpower, but we should be using that strength to help Australian jobs and Australian communities first and foremost.

"We know Australia can become a world leader in hydrogen export, as it has the natural resources for the production of both blue and green hydrogen. But if that's where our hydrogen ambitions begin and end we're leaving hundreds of thousands of quality jobs on the table."

Mr Walton also noted that if Australia was to develop a competitive hydrogen industry with the speed necessary it would need to take a pragmatic approach.

"Hydrogen is the fuel of the future, but we have to realistic in the present. The technology to produce pure green hydrogen at a commercially competitive price simply does not currently exist," Mr Walton said.

"To assist the industry in getting a foothold as soon as possible, hydrogen production in Australia must be from a mix of blue and green hydrogen. The green component can and should become a larger part of the mix as advances in technology permit.

"If we allow purists to insist that governments and industry focus solely on green hydrogen, the sector will remain in stasis for many years. Market demand does not exist for such expensive hydrogen.

"It is not realistic to insist on green hydrogen alone straight off the bat. No one will buy it and the industry will fail before it begins." 

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New lending options boost small business and the economy - Productivity Commission

CHANGES TO LENDING markets over the last decade means there are now a wide range of finance options available for small businesses that don’t require property as security, according to a new report by the Productivity Commission.

“Every year, one in six small and medium enterprises (SMEs) seeks finance to fund and grow their business. Traditional SME loans are usually secured by property. But spurred by new technology and new data, lenders now have more capacity and confidence to lend to SMEs using other forms of collateral or even lending unsecured,” Productivity Commissioner Catherine de Fontenay said.

There are 2.4 million SMEs in Australia employing more than 7.4 million Australians.

“These businesses are the engine room of the Australian economy and a healthy small business sector is vital to the economy, especially as we recover from the COVID pandemic,” Commissioner de Fontenay said.

The report points to a significant evolution in the lending market for SMEs over the last decade, driven by technology and new business models.

While SMEs still mainly obtain their finance from the major banks, there is now a much broader range of products available from traditional and new lenders.

“A broader range of products can provide SMEs with finance more quickly and flexibly, allowing them to seize opportunities. Some SMEs may even be able to borrow for the first time,” Productivity Commissioner Malcolm Roberts said.

SMEs may not be aware of all their lending options and may not feel confident about new options. Brokers can help match them with appropriate lending options.

“Finding the right product may be challenging, but the benefits can be significant,” Commissioner Roberts said.

The report found the finance market is increasingly competitive, which will drive further improvements in access to finance for SMEs.

The full report on Small business access to finance: The evolving lending market can be found at: www.pc.gov.au.

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Committee to scrutinise over $266 million in Defence Public Works

AT A PUBLIC HEARING on October 13, 2021 the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works will scrutinise a proposal from the Department of Defence for over $266 million in public works supporting Australia’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence program.

This hearing is part of the committee’s inquiry into the Department of Defence, Facilities to support LAND 19 Phase 7B Short Range Ground Base Air Defence at RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia, and will examine the need, scope, function and cost effectiveness of the proposed new operational support and training facilities. It will also explore how the proposed works will provide fit-for-purpose facilities and infrastructure for the 16th Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery to raise, train and sustain new defence capability acquired under the LAND 19 Phase 7B Short Range Ground Based Air Defence program.

 

Public hearing details

Date: Wednesday, 13 October 2021
Time: 11am to 12pm (AEDT)
Location: via teleconference

The hearing will be broadcast live at aph.gov.au/live.

Note: the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works is not involved in the tendering process, awarding of contracts or details of the proposed works. Inquiries on these matters should be addressed to the relevant Commonwealth entities.

 

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PJCIS recommends critical infrastructure bill split to tackle urgent threats

THE Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) has backed the passage of urgent reforms as part of a proposed two-step approach to protect Australia’s critical infrastructure from cyber threats. 

In its Advisory report on the Security Legislation Amendment (Critical Infrastructure) Bill 2020 and Statutory Review of the Security of Critical Infrastructure Act 2018 tabled in late September, the committee has recommended that emergency powers be swiftly legislated in a standalone bill, with a second, separate bill to be introduced following further consultation.

This recommended two-step approach will enable the quick passage of laws to counter looming threats against Australia’s critical infrastructure, while giving businesses and government additional time to co-design the most effective regulatory framework to ensure long-term security of our critical infrastructure.

The PJCIS has made 14 recommendations in relation to the Bill, including proposing a split in the current proposed framework into two amended Bills:

  • Bill One for rapid passage – to expand the critical infrastructure sectors covered by the Act, introduce government assistance measures to be used as a last resort in crisis scenarios as well as mandatory reporting obligations; and
  • Bill Two for further consultation – including declarations of systems of national significance, enhanced cyber-security obligations and positive security obligations which are to be defined in delegated legislation

Chair of the committee, Senator James Paterson, said, “The committee received compelling evidence that the complexity and frequency of cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure is increasing globally. Australia is not immune and there is clear recognition from government and industry that we need to do more to protect our nation against sophisticated cyber threats, particularly against our critical infrastructure.

“However, as the regulatory framework is still undergoing co-design with each of the eleven sectors and will not be finalised until after passage of the bill, many businesses have expressed concern about this uncertainty and asked for the entire bill to be paused in the current economic climate.

“While sympathetic to the concerns of industry leaders, the committee does not believe that pausing the entire bill is in Australia’s national interests given the immediate cyber threats that our nation faces.

“The committee’s recommended solution allows for the urgent measures to pass now to equip the government with the emergency powers it needs while allowing additional time for co-design to overcome the concerns of industry about the regulatory impact.

“The passage of both bills is essential because cyber-security is not just the government’s job. Industry has a role to play too and the second bill which imposes obligations on businesses is an important part of a comprehensive response to the serious challenges we face,” Senator Paterson said.

Further information on the inquiry as well as a copy of the report can be obtained from the inquiry website.

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