Fee Free University and TAFE: Greens Launch Transformational 5 Point Plan for Higher Education

The Australian Greens will be taking a transformational higher education package to the Federal Election aimed at breaking successive Labor and Liberal attacks on the sector and transforming Australia’s universities and TAFEs. The plan is the biggest investment in higher education Australia will have ever seen. The Greens plan will support students, staff and universities.

Senator Faruqi, the Australian Greens Education Spokesperson, was an academic at the University of New South Wales and the Academic Director of the Master of Business and Technology Program and an Associate Professor at the Australian Graduate School of Management for UNSW.

Our 5 Point Plan will:

1.      Provide fee free undergraduate university and TAFE for all students. The Greens will remove all student fees from University and TAFE across the country, making higher education universal and removing barriers to education for everyone.

2.      Boost university funding by 10% per student. The first real funding increase for universities in decades, this boost will improve learning and teaching conditions, reduce class sizes and enable researchers to pursue solutions to the big problems of our time.

3.      Link additional funding for universities with an increase in security of work for university staff, reversing the decades old trend of casualisation and insecure work.

4.      Tie the HELP repayment threshold to the median wage, which will immediately lift the 2019 repayment threshold from $45,881 to $52,990, meaning students with existing debts won’t begin repaying their debt until they are earning a decent wage.

5.      Raise student support payments like Youth Allowance, Austudy and Abstudy by $75 a week and make all postgraduate students eligible for Austudy the the first time.

The plan will be funded by ending fossil fuel subsidies for big mining companies and making offshore gas companies pay a flat 10% royalty rate for extracting gas.

Quotes:

Australian Greens Education Spokesperson, Senator Mehreen Faruqi, said:

Overall

“The Greens Plan to make universities and TAFE fee free, increase funding to universities and expand income support payments for students is transformational. It will change forever how we think about education. Whether you are starting out, have student debt already or are thinking of going back to study, the Greens plan will help you.

“For too long, education has been treated as a piggy bank by both the Liberal and Labor parties. As a result, higher education looks more like a business with students as customers, rather than as a way to build skills and knowledge to solve the problems of tomorrow.

Free University and TAFE

“It’s time to end the debt sentence. Young people are graduating from university and TAFE with crushing debts that take almost a decade to pay off. Under the Greens plan, over 1.3 million Australians will be studying fee free and and debt-free in TAFE and universities by 2023.

“Technology is rapidly changing the way we work and learn. Students graduating today will be working in industries we haven’t even imagined yet. If we are to take advantage of automation and technological change, we need to ensure that people are able to retrain and re-skill without incurring crushing debts over and over again.

“We need bold and transformational plans that shake up the status quo. Liberal and Labor governments have cut funds to universities and TAFE while giving massive tax handouts to their corporate donors.  Australians are sick of being told that they have to go without while corporations evade tax and dictate government policy. We are reclaiming education from the politics of austerity and neoliberalism.

“We have universal primary and secondary education. Free public higher education is the missing piece of the puzzle.

“No one should graduate with a decade of debt ahead of them. Australians have seen the benefits of free education, and we can have them again.

“Removing TAFE fees is a crucial part of this plan. TAFE is being decimated by state and federal governments. Fee free TAFE and the removal of the Gillard-era contestable funding requirements will rebuild TAFE as the vocational training provider of choice for students.

“Young people already face the prospect of high unemployment, high costs of living and a lack of affordable housing. Our plan will take away the crushing debts, giving students tens of thousands of dollars extra in their pockets to help them make the best possible start in life.

“Our plan to make education free for millions of Australians will be life changing for many, especially for people who want to change careers and re-skill later in life. By removing the crushing debts, people will be able to adapt to new and emerging careers without being penalised.

University Funding and Academic Job Security

“For too long universities have been asked to do more with less. It’s been decades since the last real increase in funding to universities. Our plan delivers an extra sixteen billion over the next decade for universities to improve learning and teaching conditions, reduce class sizes and and give researchers the resources they need. Importantly, we will work with universities to reduce casualisation in the sector to reduce job insecurity and improve staff working conditions.

“We are ranked 30th out of 34 in the OECD for public investment in tertiary education which shows how behind we are globally. We need to properly fund our public university system and reverse the cuts imposed by the Liberal-National Government.

“As a former academic, I know that we will not begin to address the challenges of the years to come unless our best minds are given the time, resources and support to tackle them.

Student Support Payments

“We know that debt isn’t the only barrier to higher education. Students, particularly those who move from regional and rural areas to the city to study, need extra support to make ends meet.

“We will increase youth allowance and expand access more people. For the first time all postgraduate students will have access to Austudy.

“We know that many students are under significant financial stress and  work multiple jobs as they study full time. We need to better support students to enable to them to focus on their studies and training.

Raising the HELP threshold

“Next year the HELP repayment threshold will be slashed to $45,881, well below median wage. That means most people will start repaying loans just when they are starting out in their career and need money the most. That’s completely unacceptable.

“For graduates with HELP debt, their first job often comes with the nasty surprise of extra tax to pay back debt. Our plan will ensure that people don’t begin repaying education debt until they are earning more than the median wage.

How we will pay for our plan

The plan is estimated at approximately $18 billion over four years, and $129.6 billion over ten years, based on Parliamentary Budget Office figures. Two measures will pay for the plan.

End Fossil Fuel Subsidies

When we fill up our cars at the petrol station, we have to pay excise on that fuel of 41 cents a litre. If you are a big mining company burning fossil fuels, the government pays the excise back to the mining company. It is one of the most expensive spending programs of the federal government, just below the funding they spend on child care and public schools. Instead of propping up the fossil fuel industry and slowing down the transition to off-grid renewable energy, the Greens want to see these subsidies redirected into paying for free TAFE and University education.

Make Gas Companies Pay

Our offshore gas companies don’t pay a cent in royalties or a cent in super profits tax. They get Australia’s offshore gas for free. The community gets nothing out of this but higher gas prices. The tax system has been rigged in favour of these gas companies so that they have $278 billion of tax credits to burn through until they finally have to pay tax. That is 15.9% of GDP in avoided taxes. The Greens plan is to make those gas companies pay a flat 10% royalty rate for extracting the gas and phasing out this mountain of tax credits by 10% a year over ten years to make sure they finally pay tax on their super profits. Liberal and Labor parties take millions in donations from the mining, coal and gas industries, which is why they would rather keep these current tax breaks in place than create a universal TAFE and University education with secure work for teachers.

Who will benefit from this plan?

·Students:

All students will enter university and TAFE fee free and Youth Allowance will be increased by $75/week to assist them with their living expenses. All postgraduate students will be eligible for Austudy.

Our plan will see more that 800,000 students attending university and 400,000 attending TAFE fee free by 2021. By 2023, over 1.3 million Australians will be studying fee and debt-free in TAFE and universities.

The average student graduating in 2019 will be repaying debt for ten years. Under our plan they will have twenty thousand extra dollars in their pocket in the decade after they graduate. That includes more than $5000 in the first four years after graduation they would have otherwise spent on debt repayments. That’s nearly $25 extra a week towards rent or food.

The immediate hip pocket savings under our plan are even higher for some of our most important professions. A nursing graduate will save more than $7000 in debt repayment in the first four years after they graduate. Early childhood education and care graduates earning the average salary will be saved from two decades of debt and more than $8000 dollars in fees.

 

Examples of students savings by degree or qualification

Graduate earning average graduate salary Current years it takes to pay of their debt Savings on cost of qualification (to nearest thousand) Their savings in the first four years after graduation
Female teacher 13 $20,000 $6,000
Male teacher 11 $20,000 $6,500
Female nurse 10 $20,000 $7000
Male nurse 7 $20,000 $10,500
Female social worker 10 $20,000 $6,900
Male social worker 12 $20,000 $5000
Female early childhood education and care worker 18 $8,000 $1,500
Male early childhood education and care worker 20 $8,000 $500

People with HELP debts

People with existing HELP debts will have the repayment threshold lifted and tied to the median wage, meaning debt repayments won’t happen until you have a good job.

Under our fee-free plan, students with existing HELP debts will be able to pursue a further degree or qualification at any time without accruing additional debt.

University Staff

According to the National Tertiary Education Union, “amongst the major industry groups, tertiary education is characterised by one of the highest levels of precarious employment in Australia. Less than 36% of all university employees have continuing employment….”

The Greens’ 10% increase in Commonwealth Grant Scheme base funding per student will improve conditions for staff, giving them the resources they need to research and teach.

Further, our commitment to working with staff and their unions to link funding under the Commonwealth Grant Scheme to reductions in the rate of insecure work in universities, will reverse the trend of casualisation and insecure work that threatens the work and livelihoods of university employees at all stages of their degrees.

Someone looking to retrain

The prospect of a decade or more of debt is a significant disincentive for older people pursuing further education. Under our plan, anyone wanting or needing to retrain, reskill and change career won’t be saddled with unsustainable debt for decades. They will have lifelong access to unlimited TAFE and university.

Universities

The Greens’ plan to lift the university funding freeze and increasing funding by 10% per student will mean universities receive an extra $16 billion over the decade to invest in teaching and learning, invest in research and guaranteeing their financial stability for decades to come.

TAFEs

Our plan will inject $45 billion into the TAFE system over the decade which has been neglected for far too long. In addition to seeing over half a million Australians training for free by 2023, our free unlimited TAFE plan will lead to a permanent annual boost in TAFE student numbers of 132,000 by 2023 as more students choose TAFE.

 

Australia sucks up to Trump at Katowice

Greens climate change and energy spokesperson Adam Bandt MP today said the Morrison government was sucking up to Donald Trump at the global climate change conference (the 24th Conference of the Parties) in Katowice, Poland. Instead of siding with countries who are serious about the transition away from coal, Australia overnight cosied up to representatives from Trump’s climate-denying administration who were spruiking fossil fuels, joining them on a panel to promote fossil fuels and Chevron’s giant Gorgon LNG project.

“Australia is now actively cheerleading for Trump. Campaigning for fossil fuels at a climate summit shows a wilful disregard for human life,” said Mr Bandt.

“This is no longer just about Australia’s international reputation. Now we’re an existential threat to our Pacific neighbours and we’re boasting about it.

“Australia is sucking up to Trump and spruiking fossil fuels when we should be joining countries who are trying to stop the climate emergency.

“Meanwhile, Melissa Price is already shaping up to be a wrecker at this climate conference, with Australia joining the oil cartel in remaining silent while the rest of the world defended the ‘1.5 degrees’ report by the world’s scientists from attack by the US and Russia.

“Meanwhile Labor is refusing to rule out using the Liberals’ dodgy accounting tricks to meet our already measly climate commitments.

“Labor needs to immediately rule out using any ‘carryover’ from Kyoto to meet Australia’s international obligations. If they refuse, they’ll be profiting from climate denialism and making it harder to stop global warming.”

Man charged after drugs and cash located – Newcastle

A man will appear in court today after being charged with numerous drug and traffic offences in Newcastle overnight.

About 1.15am (Wednesday 12 December 2018), patrolling police observed two motorcycles, without registration plates, travelling at high speed along Lambton Road at Broadmeadow.

Due to the speed of the motorcycles police lost sight of them, but continued to patrol the area.

One motorcycle was later detected travelling west on Lambton Road where it turned into Chilcott Street.

When officers turned into Pride Avenue they observed a man standing alongside a black and yellow motorcycle.

Police from Newcastle City Police District will allege that the man threw the bike to the ground and attempted to run away.

He was arrested and searched, with officers alleging they located $17,000 cash, and quantities of Cannabis and Ice in a bum bag.

The 27-year-old man was conveyed for mandatory blood and urine tests before he was taken to Newcastle Police Station.

He was later charged with drive recklessly/furiously, use unregistered vehicle, use uninsured vehicle, drive with license expired, deal with the proceeds of crime, supply prohibited drug and possess prohibited drug (x3).

The man was refused bail to appear at Newcastle Local Court today (Wednesday 12 December 2018).

Inquiries into the incident continue.

Man charged after allegedly threatening police with knives – Hunter Valley

Officers from Hunter Valley Police District have charged a man after he allegedly threatened two officers with knives at his Muswellbrook home overnight.

About 8.30pm (Monday 11 December 2018), officers were called to a unit on Skellatar Street after receiving a noise complaint.

On arrival two officers were confronted by a man, aged 44, who police will allege was heavily intoxicated and armed with two knives.

Police will allege the man threatened to stab the officers while walking towards them.

The officers retreated from the unit as they called for urgent assistance and commenced negotiations with the armed man.

Following short negotiations, the 44-year-old man dropped his weapons and was arrested without incident.

He was taken to Muswellbrook Police Station where he was charged with assault police, armed with intent to commit indictable offence and use offensive weapon to prevent lawful detention.

The man was refused bail and will appear in Muswellbrook Local Court today (Tuesday 11 December 2018).

COST OF LIVING SUPPORT: TOLL RELIEF BOOSTED

More than 300,000 drivers will benefit from hip pocket relief as the NSW Government expands its successful Toll Relief program, with major winners expected in Sydney’s west and northwest.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian today announced that from July 1, 2019, drivers who spend $15 or more a week on tolls will be eligible for half-priced vehicle registration. Drivers who spend $25 or more a week on tolls will continue to receive Free Rego. This more than doubles the number of people who can access the scheme.

“We know meeting cost of living pressures are a big challenge for many households and we are committed to doing everything we can to ease those burdens,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“In this year alone, we have given back more than $200 million to people in NSW in cost of living relief and we are always looking for more opportunities to ease pressures for households.

“The NSW Liberals & Nationals’ responsible management of the budget and economy has allowed us to put money back into the pockets of hard working people.”

Currently, more than 140,000 motorists are eligible to receive Free Rego. Under today’s announcement, this will increase to a total of more than 300,000 drivers who will be eligible for either half-priced or free registration.

Eligibility will also change to allow multiple tags on the one account to count towards Toll Relief, making it a more generous scheme. For example, families with more than one vehicle registered to an account can pool their total spend to qualify for one half-price or free registration.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the NSW Government was delivering savings for all motorists while also building the road and rail lines to ensure people can get to and from work more quickly.

“Labor’s cynical program will only benefit drivers on one road and cost taxpayers more than $2.2 billion over 10 years,” Mr Perrottet said. “Our program offers relief to drivers across all toll roads, no matter where they live.”

Minister for Roads Melinda Pavey said the program would be backdated, so eligible motorists will be able to count their toll spend from from July 1, 2018.

“This is about putting money back into the pockets of hardworking motorists,” Mrs Pavey said. “We’re delivering real cost of living savings, unlike Labor and the Opposition Leader who increased the toll on the Harbour Bridge by 33 per cent when he was Roads Minister.”

The program is available for all standard privately registered cars, utes, 4 wheel-drives and motorcycles. Drivers who are not aware that they are eligible will not miss out, as they will be informed when they renew online.

Since Toll Relief took effect on July 1, more than 46,000 drivers have saved about $20 million in Free Rego. The top 10 suburbs are:

  • Castle Hill
  • Baulkham Hills
  • Kellyville
  • Blacktown
  • Mosman
  • Quakers Hill
  • West Pennant Hills
  • Glenwood
  • Cherrybrook
  • Glenmore Park

The NSW Government has given back more than $200 million to people in NSW this year alone through its various cost of living rebates and incentives. Highlights include:

  • 400,000 people have downloaded the real-time FuelCheck app, which could save drivers $500 a year.
  • 665,000 Active Kids vouchers have been issued this year.
  • CTP reform is saving motorists around $120 per year on their Green Slips. The average premium is expected to drop to $500 from January 2019.

A RECORD $847 MILLION TO BE INVESTED IN SCHOOL MAINTENANCE

The NSW Liberals & Nationals Government will invest an additional $100 million in school maintenance this year, taking its total investment to an unprecedented $847 million over four years.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the extra funding today with Minister for Education Rob Stokes, ensuring that schools across NSW are maintained to the best standards.

The additional money is being allocated to schools with the highest maintenance needs and $260 million of the funding will be invested this financial year.

“This investment will ensure that every student, in every school, has an equal opportunity to achieve excellence,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“When the NSW Liberals & Nationals came to Government we inherited a large maintenance liability from Labor. Once again we are fixing the mess that Labor left for NSW.

“Boosting the school maintenance fund by another $100 million is only possible due to the strong economic management of the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government.”

Mr Stokes said that managing school maintenance is an ongoing challenge that the NSW Government is confronting head on.

“Just like any other buildings, schools need constant maintenance. We’re getting on with the job of ensuring our schools remain in tip-top condition because that is what our teachers and students deserve,” Mr Stokes said.

Ms Berejiklian and Mr Stokes made the announcement today on the NSW Central Coast.

Brian Perrem, Liberal Candidate for The Entrance added: “The additional funding announced today is a huge boost for the Central Coast. It will ensure that students and teachers can work in the best possible conditions. Only the NSW Liberals & Nationals can deliver this sort of major investment.”

Schools will take advantage of the long school summer break, with jobs such roof works to be completed at Bradbury Public School near Campbelltown.

Other examples of schools receiving roof repairs include Mayfield East and Woodland Road Public Schools, along with Singleton and Newcastle High Schools.

There will also be painting carried out at Glebe Public School, Binya Public School in Cootamundra and Seaforth Public School on the Northern Beaches.

Other jobs to be completed, among many others, include a new retaining wall at Austinmer Public School in Keira and new carpeting and flooring at Lindfield, Beecroft and Malabar Public Schools.

“Our public schools are some of the most important tools in building a bright future for NSW. We want communities to have pride in their schools, just like we have pride in their hard-working students and teachers,” Mr Stokes said.

In addition to prioritising maintenance in NSW schools, the Government has also announced the first 900 schools that will receive air conditioning under its record $500 million Cooler Classrooms program.

The NSW Liberals & Nationals Government is also undertaking a record $6 billion school building program over the next four years, which will deliver more than 170 new and upgraded schools to support communities throughout NSW. This is the largest investment into public school infrastructure by any State government in Australian history.

An additional 900 full-time teachers will also be hired this financial year, building on the 5340 teachers that the NSW Liberals & Nationals Government has added to the public school system since 2011.

B-LINE SUCCESS – 5.9 MILLION PASSENGER TRIPS IN FIRST YEAR

The NSW Government’s B-Line bus service has carried more people in its first year of operation than the population of Greater Sydney.

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance revealed more than 5.9 million passenger trips have been made on the ground-breaking turn-up-and-go service between the Northern Beaches and the Sydney CBD since it launched in November 2017.

“The B-Line has been a tremendous success since the first buses started travelling between Mona Vale and the Sydney CBD one year ago. Customer satisfaction is above 90 per cent – it’s certainly been a happy first birthday,” Mr Constance said.

B-Line services are turn-up-and-go, meaning customers travelling between Mona Vale and Wynyard have been able to throw away their timetable.

Member for Manly James Griffin said customers can catch a bus every five minutes during peak times in the peak direction, and every 10 minutes at other times of the day.

“The B-Line is the centrepiece of a rejuvenated Northern Beaches bus network which was designed to make it easier for customers to travel to-and-from the Sydney CBD, as well as around the local area,” Mr Griffin said.

State Transit CEO Steffen Faurby said patronage across the entire Northern Beaches has increased by around 11 per cent over the last 12 months.

“We’ve added around 4,200 extra weekly services to the network, including around 2,000 B-Line services and around 1,000 new weekly services to help customers get to the new Northern Beaches Hospital and growing Frenchs Forest area,” Mr Faurby said.

In another milestone for the project, the new commuter carpark at Manly Vale will open to the public later this month.

“Manly Vale is the last of six commuter carparks to be completed as part of this project. It will provide up to 150 spaces, bringing the total number of spaces available along the B-Line route to around 900,” Mr Constance said.

“The Manly Vale car park is also the first to feature the rotating ‘Breathing Wall’ technology developed by one of Australia’s leading living infrastructure specialists, Junglefy. This unique system incorporates around 9,000 plants which have been scientifically proven to remove harmful air pollutants and to provide a habitat for biodiversity and a beautiful looking façade.”

The B-Line project has included a number of road improvements in the Northern Beaches and Lower North Shore designed to ease traffic congestion and improve bus reliability.

“The road changes delivered by the B-Line team include new bus lanes, tidal flow systems and indented bus bays which have helped to reduce the journey time between Mona Vale and Wynyard by around nine minutes,” Mr Griffin said

FAST RAIL NETWORK TO TRANSFORM NSW

The NSW Government will start work on a fast rail network in the next term of government, linking regional centres to each other and Sydney, significantly slashing travel times across the State.

Four potential routes have already been identified and High Speed Rail expert Professor Andrew McNaughton has now been appointed to confirm the most appropriate routes, train speeds and station locations.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said a fast rail network will give people greater choice about where they live and how they commute to work.

“We know a fast rail network will transform NSW unlike any other project and we will make it a reality,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“We need to make it easier for people to consider moving to regional NSW and there is no better way to do that than building a fast rail network.”

The four routes identified by the Government are within 300 kilometres from Sydney:

  • Northern Route including the Central Coast and Newcastle.
  • Southern Inland Route including Goulburn and Canberra.
  • Western Route including Lithgow, Bathurst and Orange / Parkes.
  • Southern Coastal Route including Wollongong and Nowra.

“The expert will provide advice to Government on what is possible and what would be involved,” Ms Berejiklian said.

The delivery of fast rail on those routes has the potential to slash travel times by up to 75 per cent. Approximate travel times could be:

Journey Current Rail Time Faster Rail
<200km/h
High Speed Rail
>250km/h
Sydney to Canberra 4:07 3:00 1:00
Sydney to Goulburn 2:31 1:45 0:30
Sydney to Newcastle 2:35 2:00 0:45
Sydney to Gosford 1:19 1:00 0:30
Sydney to Wollongong 1:25 1:00 0:30
Sydney to Nowra 2:39 2:00 0:45

Deputy Premier and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro said a $4.6 million allocation from Snowy Hydro Fund to develop fast rail will further boost confidence in regional NSW.

“We need to do the work to gauge what is possible and when,” Mr Barilaro said.

“Making regional travel faster, safer and easier brings huge economic potential to NSW regional towns and cities by making it easier to invest, do business, build a lifestyle and visit our regional towns.

“We are delivering better water security, digital connectivity and freight connections from the Snowy Hydro fund and now developing game changing infrastructure to access regional NSW.”

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Andrew Constance said the NSW Government has a proven track record of delivering infrastructure.

“We are delivering rail to North West Sydney, a second Sydney Harbour Rail Crossing, completing the M4 and finishing the duplication of the Pacific Highway – all projects the previous Labor Government promised, but failed to deliver,” Mr Constance said.

“A fast rail network is another project which will only happen under the NSW Liberals & Nationals.”

The advice from Professor McNaughton will pave the way for the NSW Government to take a new approach to the delivery of fast rail by identifying immediate improvements to existing rail corridors, while undertaking long-term visionary planning.

This approach allows for significant improvements in travel times for customers in the coming years, while at the same time delivering the building blocks for a high speed dedicated rail network.

“In the immediate future, faster rail would see upgrades along existing rail alignments and provide services of at least 200km/h, slashing travel times by one third,” Mr Constance said.

“Ultimately, in the long term, high speed rail would see the development of new alignments and lines, providing speeds of over 250km/h, with examples overseas travelling up to 350km/h and higher – giving the potential to cut travel times by up to 75 per cent.”

For more information visit: www.nsw.gov.au/fastrail

Business improvement associations set for overhaul

Council will consider a recommendation to introduce competition for funding among local business improvement associations, to generate more events and initiatives throughout the city, tomorrow night.

More than $10 million has been paid since 2012 to the business improvement associations (BIAs) of the City Centre’s Newcastle Now, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, the Wallsend Town Business Association, the Mayfield Business Association and the New Lambton Chamber of Commerce.

This funding is made available from a special rate paid by commercial ratepayers to fund additional promotion and marketing of their local business area.

Four of the five BIAs have this year requested Council funding. Collectively, they propose to this year spend 46 per cent of their ratepayer funds on administration and salaries.

An annual contestable process for the $1.345 million in ratepayer funding is recommended following the finalisation of a report by AECOM (below). The report, which will be considered at the Council meeting tomorrow night, lists 34 issues relating to governance that require addressing by the BIAs.

Council will also consider a recommendation to replace the current model of funding agreements with a new framework that ensures funding is directed to events, local projects and infrastructure. BIAs will not be able to request funds from the City of Newcastle for administrative costs and staff salaries.

A separate, independent report by the Centium Group into funding provided to Newcastle Now will also be shared with Councillors Tuesday evening. This report was prompted by the discovery that around $7 million has been paid to Newcastle Now without a business plan submitted or approved, a requirement stipulated in the association’s funding agreement signed by its then and current Chairman Edward Duc in November 2011.

City of Newcastle’s Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Bath said the AECOM report found that the governance arrangements for BIAs require significant improvement.

“Earlier this year a BIA requested more than $100,000 with no explanation of how the money would be spent,” Mr Bath said.

“Another requested to spend all (and more) of their special rate funding on administration.

“More than $10 million of commercial ratepayers’ money has been provided to BIAs during the past seven years. During this time, the amount that is being diverted to administration and salaries has substantially increased.

“For example, every year for the past five years, Newcastle Now has spent at least 43 per cent of its funding on administrative costs and salaries. In 2016, this figure exceeded $600,000 out of total funding of $1,161,596. And in 2017, 56 per cent of Newcastle Now’s funding was diverted to administration and salaries, a record percentage.

“Every dollar that is spent on administration and salaries is a dollar that isn’t going towards on-the-ground delivery of events and programs that attract people to local shops and businesses.

“AECOM recommend that administration expenses instead be managed by a single independent third party on behalf of all five BIAs. Through economies of scale, this will ensure an estimated half a million dollars more is invested into local business areas in the form of events and programs rather than in red tape and bureaucracy.

“The City needs more events, and more focus on tourism and economic development. BIAs can play a critical role in achieving this.

“Significantly, Council will also introduce a more open and contestable process for at least a portion of the annual $1.345 million that is currently exclusively available to the BIAs.

“Competition will bring about a lift in the quality of events and projects that ratepayers’ money is spent on. It will encourage fresh, dynamic ideas for how we drive better visitation and spend in our local business areas.

“Wallsend and Hamilton BIAs have done an outstanding job cultivating events that draw large numbers to their areas and positively promote local shops. Going forward, successful events like the Wallsend Winter Fair, Hamilton Carnivale and China Week will be able to apply for funding in three-year blocks to ensure events have certainty from year to year.

“City of Newcastle is contacted every week regarding inspiring new ideas for events or activations that could promote Newcastle and increase economic activity. BIAs will now compete with these groups for the funds that commercial property owners pay annually in the CBD, Darby Street, Hamilton, Mayfield, Wallsend and New Lambton.

“To further improve governance, any funding request will now include KPIs that explain how the success of an event or program is measured.

“The proposed framework includes improved transparency around the boards of the five BIAs and a clear process for recruitment and selection to a board. A number of property owners who pay the special levy have indicated a view that BIA boards are a closed shop with limited turnover and visibility of how decisions are made.

“A vision and purpose must also be better articulated to ensure consistency in the evaluation of a BIA’s performance. For example, Newcastle Now has a goal to “help and encourage the city (of Newcastle) to live up to its name as Newcastle Business Improvement Association”.

“This goal is at best ambiguous, and at worst makes no sense. Either way, evaluating its performance in meeting its goals is impossible.

“Council will separately review the geographical boundaries of the BIAs. It’s clear that the City’s rapid transformation in recent years which has seen improved establishment of local business areas in Honeysuckle, Carrington, Waratah and the Junction, is an opportunity for the creation of new or expanded BIAs,” Mr Bath said.

Download the AECOM report (pdf)

Sanjeev Gupta shows up Coalition Government on energy leadership

GFG’s announcement to transform Whyalla into a renewable energy super power shows the Coalition Government’s lack of leadership is letting Australians down.

“This is the leadership Australia needs to transition to a new, clean economy,” Greens Senator for South Australia Sarah Hanson-Young said.

“Sanjeev Gupta’s announcement shows environmental responsibility for a typically dirty industry. This record-investment in renewable energy, sustainable horticulture and recycling thrusts Whyalla into the future and proves the Government wrong on renewables.

“This news is excellent for Whyalla and cements our state as a renewable energy leader. Our renewable energy industry is leading the way and showing the rest of the nation what ambition and good ideas look like.

“Australia is limping far behind on reaching our Paris targets because of this Government’s addiction to fossil fuels.  Reports today that show the largest investor group in history calling on action on climate change as Mr Gupta announces a historic investment in renewable energy and cleaner industry, shows that  the Liberal party has completely lost touch with corporate Australia.

“The Greens know that with a bit of ambition, like we’ve seen in Whyalla, Australia could be a leader, not a laggard, when it comes to cleaning up our act and saving the planet. The Coalition Government is simply not up to the task.”