Medibank and Optus decline invitation to Senate hearing on privacy laws

Amy Remeikis

Amy Remeikis

Greens senator David Shoebridge is on this Senate committee looking at privacy laws and he makes a point of pointing out who is NOT in the room.

We have a number of other key stakeholders standing up today but I want to express my frustration that the committee invited Medibank and we invited Optus and we invited Woolworths, we invited Telstra to come because they clearly have experience relevant to what we’re considering.

And they all declined. And I think it’s a that is a failure, a collective failure of that part of corporate Australia to come and clearly explain to this committee right now, how this act would work.

Key events

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Adeshola Ore

Adeshola Ore

The Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) has referred its investigation into opposition leader Matthew Guy’s former chief of staff to the state’s anti-corruption watchdog.

In August, the Age reported that Guy’s former chief of staff had proposed during salary negotiations last year to ask a Liberal Party donor to pay more than $100,000 to his business. The investigation revealed that the proposed contract – which was never signed or actioned, but prompted Catlin to resign – had also been sent to Guy.

The VEC referred the matter to Ibac on Wednesday, saying on Thursday it had not received “full cooperation” from those connected to the investigation.

Electoral Commissioner, Warwick Gately, said:
It’s my responsibility to ensure compliance with all electoral laws and ensure all participants are held to the same standard. “Despite public statements to the contrary, the VEC has not received full cooperation from those connected to its investigation. While the VEC is not in a position to allege wrongdoing based on the allegations it has sought to investigate, the possibility of offences against the Act—including under section 218B—have also not been able to be discounted.

How quickly can flood waters submerge a road?

This road in Wellington in western New South Wales was submerged in minutes.

See for yourself.

NSW floods: road submerged by water within minutes in central west – video

Mining Council warns government against sector tax changes

Paul Karp

Paul Karp

The Minerals Council of Australia’s chief executive, Tania Constable, has warned the Albanese government against any changes to tax the sector to recoup windfall profits due to high resource prices.

Constable told reporters in Canberra:

What we’re doing is standing up for families, standing up for small businesses across regional Australia. We can’t afford to see jobs go in regional Australia. We can’t afford to see investment slow down … So when bad policies emerge, the mining industry is going to look at those individually and as a whole and what sort of impacts they’re having.

Asked how the council knew it would be bad policy, Constable said it is “already having discussions with the government”.

What we want to see is that taxes are ruled out on the mining industry in Australia – that’s all government needs to say.

Asked what options are on the table, Constable said that “power prices in Australia” should not be conflated with the export industry.

She said:

We’ve heard some commentary from the government that they don’t have a preference to tax the export industry at the moment, but they haven’t ruled it out. What we want the government to do is rule out more taxes on the export industry.

Constable said households would be helped not by “taxing industries” but by bringing on more supply of renewables and gas.

Asked about the fact coal prices are high due to the invasion of Ukraine, Constable said that mining is cyclical and coal had five bad years followed by two good years of profit.

She said:

It is nothing to do with the [invasion of] Ukraine in Australia. We expect to see prices level out in the next few years, that’s normal to the mining industry.

Mostafa Rachwani

Mostafa Rachwani

‘It’s Forbes, it floods, but this is different’: flood preparations under way in central west

The SES and NSW Police are on hand at a meeting point in Johnson Street on the north-west side of Forbes, ferrying essential workers and residents across the water.

As the hospital and medical services are on the southern side, many who require supplies or medical attention are transported across the water. Otherwise, authorities are discouraging residents from taking their own boats through the water.

That hasn’t stopped Tony Wallace, who says he wants to check on his retail business. He thinks it’s been completely inundated, and he wants to ensure there are no live wires and everything is unplugged.

It’s Forbes, it floods, but this is different, it’s never reached this height before. There’s only so much you can do from here though, its just devastating for the town.

I’d say the water is going to stay up until at least Monday or Tuesday, so I’m just heading down to take stock of the damage, unplug some chords, and see where the water is at. If it’s just in the warehouse, it’s OK, but if it hit the office, the carpet or the electricals, the damage will be substantial.

Peter Hannam

Peter Hannam

RBA and ASIC criticise ASX management

In a quick follow-up to ASX’s ditching of its CHESS platform upgrade plans (see earlier post), the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission have fired out an announcement of their own.

They call the abandonmenta significant setback to the replacement of critical national infrastructure for Australia’s cash equity markets and now brings into sharp focus the longevity of the existing CHESS platform”.

They’ve issued a joint letter of regulatory expectations to highlight what is required now. They want ASX to ensure “the current CHESS is supported and maintained to ensure its stability, resilience and longevity so that it can continue to service the market reliably”.

Also, they want the replacement program to be “brought back on track after the solution design has been completed so ASX’s commitment to deliver safe and reliable clearing and settlement infrastructure is fulfilled”.

The ASIC chair, Joe Longo, isn’t pulling his punches, saying:

“ASX has failed to demonstrate appropriate control of the program to date, and this has undermined legitimate expectations that the ASX can deliver a world-class, contemporary financial market infrastructure.”

The RBA governor, Philip Lowe, says: “The announcement by ASX after many years of investment by both ASX and industry is very disappointing.

“ASX needs to prioritise developing a new plan to deliver safe and reliable clearing and settlement infrastructure. The Reserve Bank of Australia also expects ASX to maintain the current CHESS so that it continues to operate reliably and support confidence in Australia’s cash equity markets.”

Not quite an endorsement of the current ASX management, you’d have to think.

Amy Remeikis

Amy Remeikis

Senate hearing on privacy laws considers tiered system

The data breach laws has moved on to privacy advocates, who are looking for a tiered system, so the focus isn’t just on the worst of the worst, but looks at all breaches to discourage lax behaviour.

That looks like something the senators who are on this committee seem interested in. These committee hearings form part of the final recommendations to government on how bills can be improved, or gaps in the legislation.

Peter Hannam

Peter Hannam

Checkmate for ASX’s CHESS project

Companies on the stock market have to brave shareholder sentiment on a daily basis but it’s notable when the operator of the exchange releases a special announcement about itself.

ASX, which runs the main Australian share exchange, said it will write down $245m to $255m on pre-tax profit for the first half of this fiscal year as it “derecognises” the investment it poured into replacing its clearing house electronic subregister system (CHESS) platform.

CHESS, given its mishandling of the upgrade, probably should be downgraded to “checkers”.

Anyway, CHESS has had a long pedigree as the way the markets shifted off paper and people stopped yelling at each other in an exchange about a quarter of a century ago.

The replacement effort began about seven years ago and since late 2017 focused on using blockchain (a digital register more commonly associated with cryptocurrency) as the way to go. That effort looks to have been abandoned today.

An independent review by Accenture “and its own internal assessment” triggered the end of the game.

That report identified “significant challenges with the solution design and its ability to meet ASX’s requirements”, the company said, adding, “current CHESS remains secure and stable, and is performing well. ASX will continue to invest in its capacity and resilience”.

The recent woes wracking the crypto world (think, the collapse of the FTX exchange) and rising cybersecurity threats probably haven’t helped bolster confidence in blockchain-related systems.

ASX shares will presumably open soon for trading. They haven’t had a great 2022, losing about 23% in value so far compared with about 6% for the top 200 share index.

‘Special support’ on the way for Eugowra, minister says

On the devastation in Eugowra, where 90% of homes have been affected in the community of 700 people.

Murray Watt says he understands the scale of devastation is in a different order:

You literally have got homes that have been washed away. Not just homes that are flood water through them, they have been dislodged and moved, in some cases, tens and hundreds of metres down the street.

It is a very big disaster. As I say, yesterday we activated the Australian government disaster payment for the community and the surrounding communities and I have no doubt there will be more support coming very soon. We will be working closely with the New South Wales government on that.

Asked about the fact most people in Eugowra are uninsured:

People living in Eugowra and other flood-affected communities can absolutely rely on the federal government to come to the party to provide disaster support. That is what we have done in every one of the floods we have seen over the last three months since we took office and will continue to approach it.

Everything I am seeing and hearing out of Eugowra is that it is a particularly badly affect the community and we are already in discussions with the New South Wales about additional support needed.

Yesterday afternoon I spoke to the New South Wales emergency management minister, Steph Cooke, and have been in contact with the federal member Andrew Gee. They have been very clear with me that there is going to be special support for the community and working with them on that right now.

Federal and state governments working on road and infrastructure repair after floods

Reporter:

“What negotiations are under way with New South Wales on a support package in this latest round of floods?”

Murray Watt:

We already activated a range of different disaster payments for communities in New South Wales in cooperation with the New South Wales government.

So far we have made available the $1000 payments that the federal governments makes to people who are affected along with 13 weeks of income support for people who can’t get to their work or can’t get to their business. There are grants in place for small businesses, farmers along with concessional loans. There are freight subsidies in place as well.

We are already starting work with the New South Wales and other state governments around repairing roads and other infrastructure as well.

There’s already been a significant amount of money going out the door from the federal government, as there should be, to support communities as they recover. Only yesterday I agreed to extend back $1,000 payment, the Australian government disaster recovery payment councils to four more council areas in NSW.

Emergency minister says cost of floods will be billions

The federal emergency minister, Murray Watt, has been speaking in Brisbane about the flooding disaster in eastern states:

The overall cost of the current flood disaster, I can guarantee you, it is going to be in the billions of dollars. What I said this morning in an earlier interview was before the budget, government had provisioned $3bn to cover at least some of the cost of disaster payments and repairers that were likely to see. That had just been the amount occurred already, they had been making a forward provision of what we might see. With each week these on and with each row damaged, the damage bill is going to go up. We will be working very closely with state governments and local governments to make sure those repairs are getting done quickly. Unfortunately, it is not going to come cheap.

Guardian Australia’s 2022 good gift guide is out!

Can you believe it’s almost the festive time of year? Before you break into a sweat at the idea that you have yet to do your Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa shopping, take a deep breath, it’s going to be all right.

The marvellous lifestyle team at Guardian Australia have put together this very fun and affordable (all under $50) gift guide to help you through this holiday season.

From culinary treats to draw-on nail polish, sunscreen that will make you excited and (my personal favourite) a koala, there are a range of gift ideas to show your loved ones you care without breaking the bank.

Check it out for yourself.

Amy Remeikis

Amy Remeikis

Green senator questions whether information commissioner has funding to cover investigations

Greens senator David Shoebridge wants to know how the office of information commissioner will have enough resources to cover all of the investigations related to this bill, given what has already happened in data hacks.

He said:

I can’t conceive of how you’re going to have the resources that you need to deal with the new powers and to deal with the new expanded role you’ve been given. If it’s $5.5m to deal with Optus, you’ve got about a $30m budget for all of your obligations.

He also raises the Medibank, MyDeal and the limited (comparatively) Telstra hack.

Given the costs involved in resourcing these investigations, Shoebridge wants to know how the OIC will actually be able to use these new powers the legislation would give the office.

I have got to be frank, if we give you this new penalty power, but you haven’t got the resources to do that for Medibank. Or for Woolworths because we already know that your office is slammed in other parts of the jurisdictions … We give you the penalty powers, but literally you’ve only got the resources for one shot and that’s with Optus.

The information commissioner, Angelene Falk, says the office will do what it needs to. She said:

In terms of the resourcing of the office, l we will always take the regulatory action that’s warranted in the circumstances and in this occasion, I’ve gone to government, I’ve sought the funding and it’s been provided and I’ll continue to raise the issue of the need to have access to a funding base that takes account of the need to bring litigations.

‘I could not receive better news’: Djokovic says after being granted visa

Novak Djokovic has spoken after the Australian government’s decision to grant him a temporary visa, allowing him to play the 2023 Australian Open.

(If you want to read the immigration minister’s statement, it was up earlier on the blog).

Djokovic was at the centre of international drama on the eve of this year’s event when he was held in a detention centre for attempting to enter the country while not vaccinated, before being deported.

The 35-year-old has now spoken publicly, revealing his delight that the decision to bar him from Australia until 2025 has been reversed.

Speaking in Turin after defeating Andrey Rublev at the ATP Finals, the Serbian said:

It’s a relief, obviously knowing what I and people closest to me in my life have been through this year with what happened in Australia and post-Australia obviously.

I could not receive better news for sure – during this tournament as well. Australian Open has been my most successful grand slams. I made some of the best memories there.

Of course, I want to go back there, I want to play tennis, do what I do best, hopefully have a great Australian summer.

I’m always thankful to go through experiences, no matter what the experiences are. I try to be optimistic and positive in life.

I look forward to starting the new year in Australia, and we’ll see how the next year goes.

The news arrived before one of his last performances of the year. He went on to deliver a very convincing win, beating Rublev 6-4 6-1 to qualify for the semi-finals of the season-ending event – and he reckoned it may have helped his game out on court.

Did it affect my game today? I would like to believe it did. Why not? I don’t think it did affect me too much because I’m familiar with what I need to do in order to prepare myself for every match.

Of course, knowing that I have clarity now, what I do in the off-season, starting the season in Australia, also of course it did relieve some of the pressure me and my team felt. Just giving that clarity makes it great for us.

– with AAP

Mostafa Rachwani

Mostafa Rachwani

Forbes braces for biggest flood in 70 years

Water is quietly lapping streets in Forbes this morning, as the anxious wait for the flood’s peak continues.

Lachlan River is expected to reach 10.8 metres today, matching its historical peak from 1952.

Locals arrive along the banks of the water in groups, saying they’re just checking the levels, adding that its higher today than it was yesterday.

Aaron Ratcliffe works and lives in Forbes, but got out in time. He works at a bakery in town, and has been sleeping in his car, waiting for the water to recede.

What can you do? There’s nothing we can do, we can only wait.

I’m going to stay in Parkes tonight, its around a half hour from Forbes, and stay with some friends, but I was sleeping in my car last night.

They reckon its going to get higher, but where is all this water going to go? Its crazy, Forbes has become a lake.

Medibank and Optus decline invitation to Senate hearing on privacy laws

Amy Remeikis

Amy Remeikis

Greens senator David Shoebridge is on this Senate committee looking at privacy laws and he makes a point of pointing out who is NOT in the room.

We have a number of other key stakeholders standing up today but I want to express my frustration that the committee invited Medibank and we invited Optus and we invited Woolworths, we invited Telstra to come because they clearly have experience relevant to what we’re considering.

And they all declined. And I think it’s a that is a failure, a collective failure of that part of corporate Australia to come and clearly explain to this committee right now, how this act would work.

Wyangala Dam to spill 350GL total: Water NSW

The dam across the Lachlan River in the central west has seen record flooding this week.

The spill is likely to end tomorrow with a total of 350GL water released, according to Water NSW.

Wyangala Dam’s spill during the present flood event is likely to total about 350GL, and looks likely to end tomorrow, WaterNSW says. (For comparison, lifting the wall 10m would probably cost $2bn-plus, and expand the dam a bit more than 600GL.) #NSWFloods #nswpol

— @[email protected] (@p_hannam) November 16, 2022

Amy Remeikis

Amy Remeikis

Proposed privacy laws come under Senate scrutiny

The Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee is holding a hearing into the government’s proposed privacy legislation. The office of the information commissioner is appearing and detailing why the bill, which gives the OIC more powers when it comes to companies found to not be adequately protecting people’s data is necessary.

The information commissioner, Angelene Falk, said she welcomed the bill.

We see this as a positive step towards updating Australians privacy law to ensure we have a regulatory framework that empowers individuals and ensures entities protect personal information, and best serves the Australian economy.

Victorian rail track cleared after train derailment

Shipping containers have been cleared from tracks near Geelong after a train derailed, blocking an important rail corridor between Adelaide and Melbourne.

Sixteen carriages from a 1.7km-long train went off the tracks at Inverleigh early on Monday, sending dozens of shipping containers tumbling.

No one was injured in the derailment and the cause is under investigation.

All the shipping containers and wagons have now been removed from the tracks, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) confirmed today.

Fifty workers will start repairing the one kilometre of damaged track, using 1500 new concrete sleepers and 2500 tonnes of rock ballast.

The track is expected to reopen next Tuesday.

The corporation said in a statement:

ARTC extends its thanks to the community and freight customers for their patience and understanding as works are carried out.

– from AAP





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