Monthly Archives: December 2018

Forecast El Nino dry forces Snowy Hydro to harbour water

It’s estimated 2750 jobs could go at NSW power companies. Photo: James Davies It’s estimated 2750 jobs could go at NSW power companies. Photo: James Davies
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It’s estimated 2750 jobs could go at NSW power companies. Photo: James Davies

It’s estimated 2750 jobs could go at NSW power companies. Photo: James Davies

Snowy Hydro is preparing for an El Nino dry that will extend well into 2016 by slashing power generation as it harbours its water reserves to avoid prospective shortages it encountered in the previous big dry a decade ago.

“Our forecasts are telling us the El Nino will extend well into next autumn and more recently it has been extended – month by month – into winter,” Snowy Hydro managing director Paul Broad said.

For keen skiers, a prolonged lack of precipitation may signal a poor start to the 2016 winter season but, for large power users the prospect of unseasonably low rainfall over the next six months or so, it may point to increased volatility along with higher wholesale power prices heading into 2016.

These concerns follows a steep fall in power generated by the Snowy in 2014-15 to historic lows of just 2605 megawatt hours, which was down by a third from the previous year.

Water releases also fell steeply, to 1251 gigalitres down from 1835 gigalitres.

A decade ago, during a prolonged drought, water reserves in the Snowy Hydro scheme fell to their lowest level since the scheme was finished in 1974. At the time, water inflows fell to 100-year lows, which prompted concerns that the continued lack of rainfall could result in power shortages.

“In the 2005-06 dry, we got ourselves caught with the very dry weather,” Mr Broad said. “So [this time] we’ve held back, which has put us in a good position over the next 18 months, when we expect some increased [wholesale power price] volatility.”

The Bureau of Meteorology has been warning for some time the El Nino weather pattern that is unfolding now may be the strongest since 1997-98 and its latest warning issued late last week ramped up its warnings.

Previously, the bureau had said the unfolding El Nino would peak around the end of the year followed by a rapid weakening heading into next autumn. However, last week, the weather bureau said “the strong El Nino that is likely to persist into early 2016”.

This is confirmed by the Showy Hydro in-house forecasters, who have become concerned the El Nino event could extend much further into next year than thought originally, Mr Broad said.

The concern also follows the end of the 50-year wet weather evident through much of eastern Australia from the early 1950s, with caution the more recent drier weather may be a return to weather patterns evident a century ago.

Snowy Hydro supplies less than 10 per cent of the national electricity market, although its role has become more important with the extended roll-out of renewable energy, which has made electricity generation more variable, boosting the need for generators able to commence production quickly to meet looming shortages.

In line with most other big power generators, Snowy Hydro has suffered from the extended low wholesale power prices coupled with limited price volatility, which has limited earnings.

The historically low power generated by the Snowy scheme in fiscal 2014-15 was due in part to increased environmental water releases, coupled with low wholesale power prices along with the decision to hold back water for possibly higher generation in the next few years.

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Hawthorn overflowing with premiership cups and cheer

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At a certain point on Hawthorn’s premiership lap of honour at the MCG on Saturday, some players gestured to the crowd with upswept arms, as if to ask for more noise. It was the sort of motion sportspeople use to summon support when they are in pinch, or at the start of a surge, not the climax. In that moment, it was possible to think that there is such thing as flag fatigue.

It’s virtually impossible to tire of winning premierships, of course, and more than 10,000 convened at Glenferrie Oval on Sunday, as they do annually, to bask in sun and premierships, to laugh and cheer with the players and to wait in long, patient queues at a merchandise stall.

On stage, captain Luke Hodge awkwardly juggled three premiership cups. A fourth, from 2008, discreetly was not mentioned, though it belongs to the same era and coach, and six of the same players. Momentarily, the Hawks had too much of a good thing.

Hawthorn’s third successive premiership had all the elements – mastery, joy, brilliance, satisfaction – but not the sort of sheer and innocent surprise that marks other clubs’ premiership (at least as far as anyone can remember them). As the goals were replayed at Glenferrie, fans were selective about which they cheered; after all, over three years, they’ve kicked 48.

President Andrew Newbold unwittingly summed up the mood. “We all know these things are incredibly hard to win,” he said, almost too humbly, because Hawthorn make them look easier than other clubs. That, said Newbold, did not lessen the wonder as each new one was added. “I walked across this morning and thought, did we actually do what we did yesterday?” he said.

This was an extraordinary premiership triumph. Saturday was 10 degrees hotter than the Boxing Day when Shane Warne took his 700th Test wicket. The Hawks had been to Perth and back twice in the finals series, and had no break, and were old. Between them, they have 16 children, with a 17th due any day; veritably they are a Daddy’s Army. Yet they annihilated hapless West Coast to claim not just this premiership, but pole position for yet another.

Some achievements are too big to be grasped in their moment, some teams too virtuoso for their own good. On Sunday, two players especially relieved that perception. One was Cyril Rioli, perhaps the first player to win the Norm Smith Medal on a show of hands. Now even his teammates bowed to him, and only half-mockingly. “We always put our faith in our system,” said Sam Mitchell, “and we’ve always got Cyril.”

The other was Brian Lake, the Bulldogs refugee who in three years at Hawthorn has won three flags. MC Mark Howard began to put to him a question about marking, but he said: “Don’t worry about ‘clunk’, what about the smother?” In the last quarter, he had bluffed former Bulldogs teammate Josh Hill by leaving the goal-mouth open for him, then dived and muffled his kick.

Too incoherently to quote here, Lake then satirised football cliche, saying he couldn’t have made the smother without his teammates. Dispossessed of the microphone, he protested: “I’ve got a crowd wrapped around my little finger.” So he did.

The celebrating Hawks let their hair down more this year than others. Mitchell and Hodge both spoke of getting back to work soon, but you knew that this day at least, they were mouthing platitudes. Even coach Alastair Clarkson, now among the greats with four premierships, was all out of gravitas. HIs speech to the team, attested Mitchell, consisted of one swear word, followed by “beauty”.

Other times, other clubs, on a day like this, the song would be on continuous loop, reflecting the novelty. For the Hawks and their fans, one chorus was enough before they separately went about their celebratory business.

In a memorable malapropism, Alan Joyce, coach of Hawthorn in a previous prosperous era, said after one grand final: “We’re just happy to get the four points.” Next year, it might be a case of “we’re just happy to get the four flags”.

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Wooden box built to ‘calm’ autistic students at day centre

Whistleblower Karen Burgess said the purpose-built box at Heatherton reflected the organisation’s heavy-handed approach to vulnerable clients. Photo: Meredith O’Shea Autism Spectrum Australia’s (Aspect) site at Heatherton. Photo: Meredith O’Shea
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EXCLUSIVE

Australia’s largest autism service provider is under investigation after staff built a large wooden box to lock up distressed clients at a Melbourne day centre.

Disturbing images show the box was fitted with a metal lock and kept inside a classroom at Autism Spectrum Australia’s (Aspect) site at Heatherton, in the city’s south-east.

The two-metre-tall box was to have had egg cartons fitted inside for soundproofing. Clients with autism had painted the exterior as decoration.

Internal Aspect documents refer to the structure as a “desensitising box” and say it was intended to be used as a calming device.

The enclosure, described as “coffin-like” by a whistleblower,  was erected last year and dismantled in April, but the company never reported its existence to authorities.

It is now part of a wide-ranging investigation by the Disability Services Commissioner into practices at Aspect’s Heatherton centre.

And Victoria’s Department of Human Services has separately launched a “quality of support” inquiry into Aspect after carers allegedly used excessive force to restrain a teenage client.

Whistleblower Karen Burgess said the purpose-built box at Heatherton reflected the organisation’s heavy-handed approach to vulnerable clients.

“It was just abhorrent,” the former Aspect site manager said. “The box epitomises the type of practices that were occurring at that site. There was a complete disregard for the clients as human beings.”

Other staff have echoed concerns to Fairfax Media about the quality of care.

The revelations are the latest to raise concerns over abuse and neglect in disability care after several inquiries were launched last year in the wake of a rape scandal at Yooralla.

A Canberra principal recently lost her job after approving a cage for a 10-year-old autistic boy, and similar allegations of forced restraint have been made against two Victorian special schools.

Nationally, Aspect has more than 10,000 clients and runs eight schools that receive government funding. The Heatherton centre runs programs for 30 people a day, aged 16 to 50, most of whom cannot talk.

In a meeting attended by Aspect employees and a client’s family in July, the Disability Services Commissioner heard that “everyone at the site knew about the box”.

“Staff were led to believe that it was an approved practice,” the meeting was told.

The box was dismantled in April within 24 hours of being brought to the attention of Aspect’s Sydney head office.

Chief executive Adrian Ford, who ordered the removal, condemned the use of illegal restraint.

“The site leader was directed to immediately arrange for the safe dismantling and removal of all materials from the site,” Mr Ford said.

“The structure was in no way, shape or form suitable for its purpose, nor was it consistent with any of the approaches used by this organisation.”

Mr Ford said the two staff members who built the box were stood down.

Fairfax Media has confirmed the pair were given the option to resign and left Aspect the following month. Meeting minutes show they were thanked for their service.

Head office subsequently failed to notify authorities, including the Department of Human Services, about the box.

Ms Burgess first raised alarm about the box after starting work at Heatherton earlier this year. She immediately ordered the dismantling of the box, but says the staff who built it ignored her.

“They laughed and said the box was staying … they thought it was a good strategy,” she said. “This type of thing is something you would find in a Third World country.”

Aspect said its internal investigation found no evidence the box was used before its removal.

Ms Burgess has brought an unfair dismissal claim against Aspect, alleging she was fired after speaking out about the box.

In sacking Ms Burgess, the company listed serious grievances with her performance, including not working within its policies, acting outside her authority and filing paperwork late.

After hiring a crisis public relations firm last week, Aspect said it was “impressed” with Ms Burgess’ decision to report the box.

“We rely on the openness and transparency of staff,” Mr Ford said in a statement.

The Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability, which referred a complaint about the box to the commissioner in July, has condemned Aspect.

Chief executive Kevin Stone said he was deeply concerned that clients’ families were not told about the box designed to contain their loved ones.

“VALID deplores the behaviour of this organisation, both for failing to consider and respect the human rights of its clients, and for failing to support the courageous actions of its staff.”

Mr Stone slammed Aspect’s treatment of Ms Burgess, saying she had been put under “enormous pressure, to the point of intimidation”. “It seems beyond belief, and certainly beyond coincidence, that this former senior staff member received a letter of termination on July 15, within hours of the Disability Services Commissioner advising the service of its involvement.”

The commissioner would not comment on its investigation.

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Manilla gets into pink for October

THEY’RE pink, they’re proud and they don’t care who knows it.
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FUNDRAISING POWER: Spreading the breast cancer awareness message in Manilla are Tamworth Regional Council staff, from left, Jeremy Walton, Belinda Laws, Robyn Fletcher and Rheece Gilbert. Photo: Gareth Gardner 021015GGC02

Tamworth Regional Council staff at Manilla have begun their annual Manilla in the Pink campaign, which raises awareness in the community about breast cancer.

They’re swapped their usual uniforms for pink versions and decorated the Manilla office in the candy colour theme.

It’s the 10th anniversary of the campaign and council’s Robyn Fletcher said it was hard to believe it had been going for so long.

“It started in 2005 when the council’s Manilla office staff decided to have a pink ribbon breakfast, then it became a week-long event and now it runs for the whole month and involves the Manilla Matters Committee and many local businesses,” she said.

“It has raised thousands of dollars for the NSW Cancer Council over the years and, just as important, it

has increased local residents’ awareness of breast cancer.”

The council staff and Manilla Matters Committee will hold a fundraiser in front of the council office in Manilla St on Wednesday October 21 at 11.30am, with entertainment, a trading table and a sausage sizzle cooked by Manilla Lions Club.

It will be followed by Pink Ribbon Day on Monday, October 26.

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University reform – ‘Wider consultation is needed’

UNIVERSITY of New England vice-chancellor Annabelle Duncan says there needs to be much wider consultation on any reforms to the tertiary sector to ensure regional universities don’t face the threats they did under the Abbott government’s proposals.
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Professor Annabelle Duncan

Professor Duncan was in Melbourne for Thursday’s speech by new education minister Simon Birmingham that signalled the end of contentious university reforms that had twice failed to get past the Senate under former minister, Christopher Pyne.

Included in the proposed legislation were the deregulation of university fees andgovernment funding cuts of20 per cent.

Senator Birmingham said the government was “accepting reality” that the reforms would not pass the Senate and would now begin a fresh round of consultation.

Professor Duncan said she was “relieved” by the ann- ouncement, having been a vocal opponent of the proposed reforms, and noted the new minister’s acknowledgement of the intrinsic relationship between a thriving society and the quality of its educational opportunities.

She and other regional university leaders argued the de- regulation of fees would disadvantage smaller institutions that couldn’t raise their fees by enough to cover the proposed cuts to course funding.

Professor Duncan said she was “optimistic” after hearing Senator Birmingham that the government would consult more widely than it had previously and “actually listen” to the tertiary sector.

“I’m very happy because he’s committed to consult … which is a very good move because there just wasn’t enough consultation before,” she said.

That consultation needed to include smaller universities and the minister “needs to be able to devote the time to get out into the regions”.

Professor Duncan said it seemed fee deregulation was not off the table entirely, but she’s hopeful a “fairer and more equitable” proposal willeventuate.

The previous proposal “discriminated” against the likes of UNE’s student population, she said, which has a larger percentage of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and a higher percentage of mature age students who were more likely to have a degree of debt already.

Any reforms also had to recognise regional university students, as opposed to their metropolitan counterparts, usually had to move away to study, racking up additional accommodation costs before they even started accumulating study debt.

“We have to fight for regional universities and make sure people understand just how different it is for students,” Professor Duncan said.

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