NBN is on its way

The Hamilton Spectator – October 20, 2015

THE National Broadband Network will be coming to thousands of local homes from early 2017 as part of the infrastructure project’s new three-year plan.

The plan, which was released on Friday, states that construction of wired NBN internet services for 4900 Hamilton premises will begin in the first quarter of 2017, along with 700 premises in Coleraine.

Casterton will see 900 premises begin to be connected from the second half of 2017. All three towns will get the NBN through the ‘Fibre-to-the-Node’ (FTTN) type of connection, which involves running optic fibre cable to each street and then using the existing copper phone lines to deliver
services to each household.

NBNCo’s Victoria spokesperson told The Spectator that the company expected local FTTN projects would be completed in “under a year, in most circumstances” once construction had begun.

FTTN was introduced by the incoming Coalition Government in 2013 as a
replacement for Labor’s original plan to run optic fibre directly to each household.

Then-Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the alternative technology would be cheaper and faster to roll out across the nation, but has faced claims that the decades-old copper network may
struggle to cope.

According to the report, construction has also begun on Penshurst’s fixed wireless NBN service, which will broadcast 4G-style internet to rooftop antennas.

Fixed wireless should be rolled out to 270 premises around Penshurst within the next 12 months, and is already available at nine locations within about 40 minute’s drive of Hamilton.

More remote users should also benefit from the launch of the new NBN satellite service, which will replace the notoriously slow interim satellite service that is almost unusable for many agricultural subscribers.

Wannon MP Dan Tehan said the new roll-out plan was “is a huge step forward” and “demonstrates the Coalition’s commitment to rural and regional Australia in closing the digital divide”.

“The Coalition Government understands that internet access is important for our community and will transform education, health care and other critical online services,” he said.

“The Coalition Government recognises that consumers want fast broadband as soon as possible. All services over the NBN will give Wannon businesses, agricultural producers and consumers a brighter future with the potential to be more efficient and productive.

“Families will also benefit from the vastly higher bandwidth available, delivering greater access and choices for educational resources for homework, study and entertainment.”

FTTN promises speeds up to four times faster than what is currently offered by the fastest ADSL2+ connections in Hamilton’s CBD.

Training course scam net could include our region

September 19, 2015

VOCATIONAL training promoters have been going door-to-door offering courses to vulnerable people in Warrnambool and Ballarat, leaving them deep in debt, and they may have also targeted Hamilton and Coleraine.

The Victorian Department of Education and Training says some training colleges are engaged in an “abuse” of a program that allows people to pay for their education with a Federal Government loan.

The Age newspaper this week published an investigation into training ‘brokers’ and door-to-door salesmen that were allegedly targeting disadvantaged people in country Victoria with promises of a better life through vocational courses.

Huge commissions are being offered to salesmen because the training college gets thousands of dollars in government-supplied fees upfront when a ‘student’ signs up.

A broker for a Melbourne-based training college allegedly told salesmen that they should target Housing Commission flats and other areas where residents would have no hope of ever repaying their debt the government under the FEE-HELP scheme.

Due to the huge profit margins for a successful sign-up, salesmen are offering ‘free’ laptops or iPad tablet computers to lure people into the deal.

This is despite a Federal Government ban on sign-up gifts that came into effect earlier this year.

Some new ‘students’ are being left with debts of up to $18,000 for training courses that they will have great difficulty in completing.

A Victorian Department of Education spokeswoman said “we are aware of activities where brokers have marketed VET FEE-HELP loans for training courses to people in Warrnambool”.

“The Department is aware of similar incidents in Ballarat but not in any other western Victorian communities. We have had complaints also in other regional communities over the past 12 months.

“These complaints have been referred to the national regulator, ASQA, and to the Federal Government.

“The Victorian Government has raised repeated concerns with the Federal Government about abuse of VET FEE-HELP loans and marketing practices by some providers.”

A couple from Euroa, who both have intellectual disabilities and struggle with reading and writing, told The Age that they were enrolled in vocational courses by a door-to-door salesman.

They claim the salesman coached them through the pre-enrolment literacy and numeracy tests.

a 'Scam Alert' uploaded to Wannon MP Dan Tehan's website on September 10
a ‘Scam Alert’ uploaded to Wannon MP Dan Tehan’s website on September 10

There is some evidence to suggest that the training course salesmen have targeted areas in south-west and western Victoria beyond the regional population centres.

One of The Spectator’s Facebook followers from Hamilton said she was targeted by a similar training course scam except that it took place over the phone.

On September 10 Wannon MP Dan Tehan posted a ‘Scam Alert’ on his website, writing that he had been “advised of a scam involving VET Fee Help Courses, operating particularly in the Coleraine area”.

“I have heard from a number of residents in Wannon that individuals are driving door to door taking personal information from people as part of a fake enrolment process under the guise of getting a free laptop. Personal information they are seeking includes your Driver’s Licence, Medicare card and your Tax File Number.

“If you encounter anyone who claims to be from a VET FEE HELP Course or Education provider, please do not provide them with any of your personal information or money. I would also encourage you to report any contact with the offenders to your local police.”

The Spectator asked Mr Tehan if this website post was connected to alleged rorts investigated by The Age.

Mr Tehan did not answer directly but highlighted previous federal regulation of training course salesmen and said greater penalties and restrictions would come into force next year.

“Since we came to government we have been working to ensure the system operates with greater security for students and less opportunity for manipulation,” Mr Tehan said.

“This has included the banning of inducements, banning course withdrawal fees, banning misleading statements around free courses, and providing greater compliance structures that include penalties for brokers and providers.

“In addition to the restrictions already being put in place, we will be banning the levying of the full debt load for courses in one hit and have the power to remit debt and recoup costs from providers with severe penalties from January 1, 2016.”

Hamilton Police Sergeant Paul Stanhope told The Spectator that no complaints had been received in the last two months concerning door-to-door training salesmen.

Freeze on federal grants a challenge to councils

September 12, 2015

SOUTHERN Grampians Shire Council will write to Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss in order to highlight the impact of a three-year freeze to federal Financial Assistance Grants to local government.

The letter will raise “the importance of the financial sustainability of local government for our communities, the importance of Financial Assistance Grants to our Council’s budget and sustainability”.

The Shire will urge Mr Truss to restore the indexation of the federal grants “as soon as possible”.

Councillor Dennis Dawson said the freezing of federal grants was a “significant challenge to councils, particularly regional councils such as us because we don’t have the ability of metropolitan councils to derive income from other areas and have the benefits of economies of scale.”

Cr Katrina Rainsford said that the federal government had a “responsibility” and “duty” to help maintain services in the community “and not just look after the marginal seats and try to follow the latest fashion”.

The motion to lobby Mr Truss was passed by unanimous vote on

Shire services director Bronwyn Herbert said that the council, like every other in Australia, had been asked by its representative bodies, Australian Local Government Association and the Municipal Association of Victoria, to consider the motion.

Ms Herbert said 250 councils had already passed similar motions and it was about “making a statement and letting the Federal Government know what this means”.

“I think council is very well aware of this issue, the freezing of Financial Assistance Grants for the three year period, and the impact it has.

“It has been a challenge to incorporate that impact in this financial year and it’s an issue for future budget processes.”

Councillor Paul Battista successfully asked for an amendment to the motion to send a copy of the letter to Wannon Federal MP Dan

Cr Dawson said the grants were a “particularly important component” of the Shire’s revenue and urged funding to be restored to “proper levels”.

“The impact of freezing of the grants over the three year period will see a reduction of $1.2 million over the period,” he said.

“In our Strategic resources plan it has much more of an impact thank just the $1.2 million; those reductions compound over time and further reduce our capacity.

“Rate capping, which is being proposed by the State Government, will also come in the financial year 2016/17, which is the last year that the assistance grants have been reduced.”

Cr Dawson said the Shire knew that its costs were going to go up and that finding that amount of savings in cash or savings was difficult.

“A result of these decisions made by other levels of Government, our ability to fund and deliver services has been reduced,” he said.

Cr Dawson also said the “community needs to begin to consider what level of service it will demand in certain areas, and what services might be achieved given the financial challenges in the future”.

Cr Rainsford said that “local government is very transparent, closest to the people” and therefore it was “more difficult to get away with the lurks and perks and misuse of community’s or taxpayers’ dollars than other levels of government”.

“It’s basically where the management and maintenance goes on and I keep saying that housekeeping doesn’t seem to be sexy,” she said.

“There are big buckets of money: billion dollar funds that everyone
has to bid for.

“Go through an election cycle, launch a new program and we all have to bid for it, which means that they are not actually paying for the maintenance of services, basic management and actual infrastructure that councils have.”

Cr Rainsford said there did not have to be “a new program with a new name and bells and whistles” to fix the federal grant issue.

Put ‘bombing’ question to Defence Minister: Tehan

An RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet F/A-18A Hornet in the skies over Iraq. Photo: Department of Defence
An RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet F/A-18A Hornet in the skies over Iraq. Photo: Department of Defence

September 10, 2015

WANNON MP Dan Tehan has refused to comment directly on a United States Military Central Command report that suggested the Royal Australian Air Force may have bombed a civilian area in Iraq last year.

Mr Tehan did say that avoiding civilian casualties would be “a key consideration” if Australia decided to expand its campaign of airstrikes against terrorist group ISIS from Iraq into Syria.

Last week the website Airwars.org, in conjunction with the ABC, published a US CENTCOM report into suspected civilian causalities in Iraq and Syria caused by nations participating in the US-led bombing of ISIS.

The report revealed that the US and its allies had internally investigated dozens of events involving at least 325 possible civilian deaths from airstrikes.

The report covered the period from August 2014 to May 2015, during which 16,193 sorties were flown and bombs, cannons or missiles were used on 3837 of those missions.

According to the report, on December 21 last year “two unknown individuals may have been wounded as a result of a deliberate strike conducted by the Australians on a suspected weapons factory in Fallujah”.

“Approximately 10 minutes after the last weapon impact, a probable female and probable child were observed on FMV (Full Motion Video, likely filmed by drone or fighter jet) to walk through the target area.

“A probable male arrived and carried the child to a motorcycle and transported him to the Fallujah hospital.

“The female walked to the median strip on the road and lay down, and was not observed any further.”

The “allegation” was listed as “cleared” in the report and the findings were passed on to an Australian liaison officer.

“Assessed to be insufficient information to determine CIVCAS (civilian casualties),” the report stated.

“The lack of urgency and the fact that the child walked normally suggest his injuries were not life threatening.

“There was no Iraqi allegation of CIVCAS and CAOC (Combined Air and Space Operations Center, US Air Force base, Qatar) recommends that there is insufficient information to warrant further inquiry”

The report also noted that the Australian Defence Force had also investigated the incident and “reached a similar conclusion”.

During a press conference on Friday, Mr Tehan said he was “not aware of that report”.

“It would be better if that question was directed to the Defence Minister,” he said.

Mr Tehan was asked if the Australian Government would consider the risk of civilian casualties if the RAAF started airstrikes in Syria.

“That is always a key consideration that any government considers when it makes decision as to whether it should join military action in
any country,” he said.

“That aspect, the rules of engagement, is always something that is taken into consideration.”

Mr Tehan has been at the forefront of a recent push for Australia to expand its anti-ISIS air campaign to Syria on the grounds that the international border was providing a safe haven for terrorists.

Australia is already bombing ISIS in Iraq at the request of that nation’s government, and bombing Syria would present additional legal issues.

Mr Tehan was asked if there should be more transparency in regard to civilian casualties caused by the US-led Coalition’s bombing of Iraq and Syria.

“I think there is transparency,” Mr Tehan said.

“Those that we are fighting are the ones who do not like transparency; they do not like democratic principles. They are the ones that are acting in ways that, frankly, beggar belief.

“The current situation in Syria, where you have nine million people internally displaced, is the greatest humanitarian crises we have seen in the word, and in my personal view, it is a very strong reason as to why we need to act in Syria and why we need the international community to be doing more.”

The US report into suspected civilian causalities was originally designated ‘SECRET’ and was on restricted release to governments of ‘Five Eyes’ nations, which includes Australia.

The report was subsequently declassified and released to a US journalist under Freedom of Information laws.

The Australian Defence Force said in a statement to the ABC that a routine ‘battle damage assessment’ was conducted following the airstrike.

“The assessment was consistent with the reports detailed in the Iraq/Syria CIVCAS Allegation tracker released by US Central Command under FOI legislation,” the statement read.

“As there were no reports or claims of any casualties from Australian airstrikes, no further action was undertaken.”

Tehan calls for RAAF to bomb ISIS in Syria


The Hamilton Spectator – August 15, 2015

WANNON MP Dan Tehan has called for the Royal Australian Air Force to expand its current bombing campaign against ISIS terrorists in Iraq to include Syria.


Mr Tehan made the call in an opinion piece published by the Herald Sun on Thursday, arguing that Australia had an obligation to act in Syria to prevent terrorism at home and stop atrocities overseas.

“We are acting in Iraq against Daesh (ISIS) with our Hornets launching air strikes on a regular basis. We should be doing the same in Syria,” Mr Tehan wrote.

“It is in our interests to end the suffering of its civilians and to degrade the Daesh ‘caliphate’, which continues to shine as a beacon for global terrorism.”

Australia currently has F/A-18 Hornet jets stationed in the Middle East to attack terrorist targets in Iraq at the request of that nation’s government.

Launching military action might involve a different legal process despite Australia not recognising the legitimacy of Syria’s government, which as been attacking its own people as part of a brutal civil war.

Mr Tehan is chair of the Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is mandated with reviewing spying and counter-terror laws.

The PJCIS does not have an explicit mandate to recommend military action but Mr Tehan invoked his recent meetings with security agencies in France, the UK and USA as part of his argument for bombing Syria.

The Spectator asked Mr Tehan if Parliament should vote on the proposal.

“Like our contribution to the effort in Iraq, any contribution to the effort in Syria would need to be decided by the National Security Committee in consultation with our allies,” Mr Tehan said.

“After doing this with regard to Iraq, the Prime Minister made a statement in Parliament.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he supported Mr Tehan’s suggestion, but no formal process had begun to expand Australian airstrikes to Syria.

When asked if Australia should also take military action against the Syrian Government, whose campaign of mass murder, torture and rape mirrors that of ISIS, Mr Tehan said an end to that conflict should come through the United Nations.

“Australia must do its part now to assist the fight against Daesh,” he said.

“On the broader question of the civil war in Syria, the international community needs to come together at the UN and bring about a resolution to the conflict, with leadership from the UN Security Council.”

Lowy Institute research fellow and former Army officer, Associate Professor Rodger Shanahan, has labelled Mr Tehan’s Syria call “bizarre” and argued it would stretch Australia’s military resources.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek told ABC radio that she agreed Syria was a humanitarian disaster but criticised how the push to expand RAAF bombing was announced.

“I think it’s extraordinary, frankly, that the Government sent out a backbencher to start floating ideas without any clear proposal, without any explanation to the Australian people of what the legal basis would be, what the mission would be, what success would look like,” she said.