‘No gas shortage’, says Santos boss

Santos chief executive Kevin Gallagher says Australia is not facing a gas shortage and has attacked government “distractions” and failure to support new development for high prices now threatening industry and household budgets.


“Gas prices have increased because all the cheap gas has been developed, so it is costing more to get gas out of the ground,” Mr Gallagher told a business lunch in Sydney.

“This therefore is a pricing problem, not a gas shortage problem.”

Mr Gallagher’s comments came on the same day EnergyAustralia blamed gas exporters as one of the causes of hikes in electricity and gas prices that will take effect in 2017/18.

The Santos boss – whose company is a partner in the GLNG gas export plant in Queensland – said the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) had confirmed that latest industry projections of domestic gas production were sufficient to meet expected gas demand.

As concerns grow that east coast manufacturers could run out of gas this winter unless the LNG industry is forced to divert gas exports to local users, Mr Gallagher said government intervention has distracted attention away from the underlying causes of the problem.

“We are being asked to believe that high prices and shortages in supply are the fault of the LNG exporters whilst at the same time state and territory governments have either banned or restricted gas exploration and production,” Mr Gallagher told the American Chamber of Commerce lunch in Sydney.

“Unfortunately the politics of the situation have now taken over.”

Mr Gallagher blamed “the failure by previous governments at all levels” to encourage the development of a steady gas supply.

On Thursday EnergyAustralia announced electricity costs for NSW households will rise by 19.6 per cent in 2017/18, while gas prices will rise 6.6 per cent.

Energy Australia chief customer officer, Kim Clarke cited higher wholesale costs caused by the closure of coal-fired power stations and increased demand for gas by LNG projects in Queensland as factors in the price rises.

Despite NSW importing 95 per cent of its gas, Mr Gallagher said politicians were reluctant to challenge the negative perception of coal seam gas and fracking and the role they could play in Australia’s energy security.

He called the situation a “national issue” requiring government to collaborate over a National Energy Plan.

Mr Gallagher said a record 23,000 public submissions were made to the NSW Planning Department for the company’s proposed $3 billion coal seam gas project in Narrabri.

Despite scientific research “consistently proving” that regulated fracking and CSG development is safe, Mr Gallagher said activism against gas development was strong in Australia and politicians would not expose themselves by association.

Santos has spent nearly a decade and over a billion dollars trying to get its controversial Narrabri Gas Project over the line, he said.

“Had Santos been able to develop this project in a suitable timeframe, we would not be talking about an east coast gas crisis today,” he said.

Fire-prone cladding on Vic CBD buildings

More than 20 high-rise Melbourne residential buildings and the Royal Women’s Hospital are still covered in potentially flammable cladding more than 12 months after a safety audit.


It is similar to the cladding that fuelled London’s deadly Grenfell Tower fire.

The Victorian Building Authority’s audit, released last year, found half of 170 high-rise residential apartments in Melbourne’s CBD and surrounding suburbs had non-compliant cladding.

Twenty-six buildings are still listed on the VBA’s non-compliance list a year later, including a building at Royal Freemasons Homes of Victoria and at the University of Melbourne.

Cladding is being removed at the Royal Women’s Hospital, which the VBA says is safe to occupy.

VBA chief executive Prue Digby said the hospital’s developer was working “to achieve compliance on that building”.

A Department of Health and Human services spokesman said 12 per cent of the exterior of the building was cladding but only a small amount of that would need to be removed.

He said the builder Lendlease would replace the cladding at no cost to the taxpayer in spring, and test panels had been successfully installed in May.

Ms Digby said although the non-compliant cladding remained on some CBD buildings, installing sprinklers and escape routes could make a building compliant with fire safety laws.

“Non-compliance can take various forms, you may have some buildings with a small amount of decorative aluminium composite panel, it may be on the third level and it is a low-level risk,” she said.

“It is still non-compliant, but the building is safe to occupy.

“Cladding is only one one part of that. It has failed in terms of the non-compliance we have found, but it does mean the other measures equal safety.”

The VBA’s audit was sparked after the Lacrosse building in Melbourne’s Docklands caught fire in 2014, and the owners and builders L.U. Simon have been ordered to remove its cladding by July 2018.

The Grocon-built AAMI Park sports stadium – where spectators occasionally light flares – had cladding stripped from the walls and roof in December 2015, and a small amount on the scoreboard was replaced in early 2016.

Planning Minister Richard Wynne said a fire like London’s would not happen in Australia as we had the “strongest building codes really of any first world country”.

UN investigators say civilian toll soaring at Raqqa

It comes as coalition-backed forces close in on the IS stronghold.


Despite the advance, there is increasing criticism of the casualties inflicted by coalition forces in both Syria and Iraq.

United Nations war-crimes investigators say intensified coalition air strikes have killed at least 300 civilians in the northern Syria city of Raqqa since March.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, a group of Kurdish and Arab militias backed by the United States-led coalition, began an assault to retake the city from IS a week ago.

The chairman of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry for Syria says the commission is deeply concerned about the rising civilian toll from the air strikes on IS-controlled areas.

And Paulo Pinheiro says the number being driven from their homes is a big concern as well.

“We note, in particular, that the intensification of air strikes which have paved the ground for an SDF advance in Raqqa has resulted not only in staggering loss of civilian life but has also led to 160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced.”

A commissioner on the independent panel, Karen Abuzayd, says it has documented 300 deaths from coalition air strikes in three months, most of them in the village of al-Mansoura.

“We’ve documented the deaths just caused by the coalition air strikes only, and we have about 300 deaths, 200 in one place, in al-Mansoura, one village. So, those are the figures that we have been able to record.”

The UN investigators do not have access to Syria.

Instead, their data is collected by interviewing survivors and witnesses in neighbouring countries or by Skype with those still in Syria.

The London-based monitoring group Airwars says the figure of 300 deaths is nearly twice as high as the deadliest strike in the Iraqi city of Mosul, (MO-zul) which the coalition has admitted to.

Sahr Muhammedally is the Middle East and North Africa director for the Washington-based Centre for Civilians in Conflict.

She has told SBS she is concerned with the coalition conducting operations in densely populated areas in both Iraq and Syria.

“The numbers that the coalition has put out is a little bit over 400 since 2014, both in Iraq and Syria, which I think is incredibly low, given the amount of munitions and bombs that have been dropped, and especially since the campaign intensified in October of 2016. Other external organisations are reporting much higher numbers of civilian harm attributed, like in the thousands. I think Airwars has reported around 3,000 or so.”

Airwars recently reported data from the coalition’s Operation Inherent Resolve showed a 34 per cent jump in munitions dropped by coalition forces in May alone.

Most of that was said to be around Raqqa.

Meanwhile, data released by Australia’s Operation Okra shows Australian planes dropped a record 119 munitions on IS in the month of May, all in Iraq.

The figures come as US defence secretary James Mattis has recently announced an accelerated coalition strategy.

“The bottom line is we are going to move in an accelerated and reinforced manner, throw them on their back foot. We have already shifted from attrition tactics, where we shove them from one position to another, in Iraq and Syria, to annihilation tactics, where we surround them. Our intention is that the foreign fighters do not survive the fight.”

But Sahr Muhammedally says the coalition needs to address the issue of civilian casualties as it moves forward.

“Sometimes, it’s not really the numbers. It’s about what the coalition is doing when these numbers are being reported, to assess, to see how they can change their tactics. And as the campaign is being undertaken in very densely populated areas, where the civilians are not being allowed to move, the likelihood of civilian casualties is just almost a given. So they really need to slow down and assess how slowly, block by block, they’re going to be engaging ISIS and trying to allow civilians to move to safer areas.”



Senate votes for rare inquiry into banks

Malcolm Turnbull is under renewed pressure to call a banking royal commission after the Senate voted to establish a rare form of parliamentary inquiry into the banks.


The vote came as bank executives prepare to face a Senate hearing on Friday into the government’s proposed $6.2 billion levy on the liabilities of five big banks.

A private bill co-sponsored by the Greens and crossbenchers – including One Nation, the Nick Xenophon Team, Derryn Hinch and Jacqui Lambie – to establish a commission of inquiry into banking and financial services passed the Senate with Labor support on Thursday.

The bill went to the lower house on Thursday afternoon, but did not progress to a debate despite the best efforts of the Greens and Labor.

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Greens MP Adam Bandt told parliament other inquiries and reviews into misbehaviour and systemic problems in the banks had failed.

“If the government won’t act, then the parliament will do the job for it,” he said.

Opposition manager of business Tony Burke sought parliament’s support to set a date for debate in August, hoping Liberal National Party MP George Christensen would back it.

With time running out on the final sitting day of the week, Mr Burke moved the motion be put.

Mr Christensen sided with government colleagues and, with the vote being tied at 70-all, Speaker Tony Smith cast his vote to defeat Labor and the crossbench.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said Mr Christensen was a “lion in Mackay and a mouse in Canberra”.

“Today we saw the vaguely comical scenes of poor old Member for Dawson, bracketed by the treasurer, bracketed by the leader of the National party, in a witness protection program that will do the FBI proud,” Mr Shorten said.

Mr Christensen said if Labor had moved to suspend standing orders, extend hours and bring on debate immediately on Thursday night he would have supported it.

“They almost had my vote,” he told Sky News.

Another related bill to be moved by independent Bob Katter had his support, Mr Christensen said.

Government backbencher Warren Enstch, who has previously called for a royal commission, said the proposed commission of inquiry didn’t address his concerns, describing it as political grandstanding.

He says he’s been working with Treasurer Scott Morrison on a mechanism for resolving historical cases of bank misconduct worth more than $5 million.

It’s understood up to six government backbenchers from rural electorates impacted by bank misconduct have been in discussions over recent months about potentially supporting the bill.

Nationals senator John “Wacka” Williams had vowed to cross the floor to support the bill in the upper house, but he wasn’t required to since it passed without a formal division.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said it was a historic moment, with the Senate voting only for the second time since Federation to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry.

The inquiry would hang over the prime minister and the banks “like a Damocles sword”, he said.

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Calls for better protection of elders

Australia’s law reform commission today issued more than 40 recommendations to stop financial and physical abuse of the elderly.


It is a problem advocates say is far too prevalent in Australia, with up to one in twenty senior Australians suffering some form of abuse.

But Council on the Ageing chief executive, Ian Yates, say elder abuse is difficult to track.

“Elder abuse is fairly widespread. It is a minority, but it’s in numbers in, you know, the tens of thousands a year, that are disturbing. And it’s disturbing that we don’t know about it. Elder abuse remains neglected, and it’s time that we picked up our game and did something really significant about it.”

Andrew Simpson from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers says elder abuse can be a family affair.

He says it be physical, emotional or financial.

“Financial abuse is very difficult to police because often it happens at the hands of a family member or friend. People help themselves to mum or dad’s money without authority, and ultimately depriving mum and dad of their own wealth. One of the problems with older people, is often they have compromised capacity, and they don’t have social networks around them that can provide the support that they need. And so often, by the time the abuse has occured and the money has been taken, it’s too late.”

The Australian law reform commission launched an inquiry into the elder abuse last year.

It has now released its findings, in a report that includes 43 recommendations.

Among them – improved responses in aged care homes, enhanced employment screening of care workers, and safeguard systems to support at-risk adults

It also pushes for banks to introduce better financial protection for vulnerable customers.

Mr Yates welcomes the report.

“We very much suffer at the moment from a bits and piecey approach. Inconsistent laws, gaps in laws, and no national framework at all.”

The report also calls for consistent laws across states and territories.

Age Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Kay Paterson, says that would help reduce confusion over matters like power of attorney.

“They’re absolutely vital. And I think people who are making powers of attorney need to understand what their rights are. And I think we know as well as we should that we can put conditions on it.”

In a statement Attorney-General George Brandis welcomed the findings, saying the government has committed to a national framework, and invested 15 million dollars to protect older Australians.

Kay Patterson believes that support is crucial.

“And it really requires action from all levels of government. From businesses, like banks, from health professionals, and anybody who comes in contact with older people.”