Gas bosses guarantee local supply

Major gas exporters on Australia’s east coast have agreed to a two-year supply deal to ensure there is no shortfall of gas in the domestic market after talks with the federal government.

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says executives from Shell, Origin Energy and Santos, which run large gas export terminals in Queensland, had guaranteed local supplies over two years at a meeting on Wednesday.

“This is very good progress today,” Mr Turnbull said after the meeting with gas bosses and industry officials in Sydney.

“There is more work to be done but we have secured that guarantee from the three big gas exporters that they will provide the gas to meet the expected shortfall identified by AEMO and ACCC in 2018.”

The latest meeting follows the release of separate reports on the east coast gas market by the ACCC and the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) earlier this week.

Both reports warned that shortages of gas in 2018 could go as high as 108 petajoules – about three times larger than previously forecast.

The shortfall amounts to about one-sixth of the east coast’s total projected demand for gas.

Ahead of the meeting, the head of industry association APPEA told the Australian Financial Review that all the gas needed to avoid the shortfall is currently available for sale but buyers had to come forward and sign up to contracts.

The federal government has threatened to trigger export controls if gas companies fail to make more domestic supply available and is pushing the NSW and Victoria state government to lift curbs on gas exploration.

The details for the arrangement are being finalised and will be incorporated into an agreement, Mr Turnbull said.

Qld Labor hits out at One Nation gas plan

One Nation has revealed it would block the opening up of new gas reserves in Queensland, a plan slammed by both major parties in the state.

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Senator Pauline Hanson on Wednesday called on the federal government to make use of 31 retention licenses issued for WA’s offshore gas fields she claims are not being utilised.

“To say Australia needs more onshore gas wells is complete rubbish,” she said in a statement.

She says the gas could be shipped to the east coast, removing the need for new projects in Queensland, where One Nation has announced it will seek to shut down any expansion of the coal seam gas industry, citing environmental concerns.

State Development Minister Anthony Lynham hit out at the proposal, saying the region had been producing gas for 50 years and stopping it would increase electricity prices and result in up to 7000 jobs lost.

“Queensland has the strongest environmental regulation in the world when it comes to CSG,” Dr Lynham told AAP.

“The effect of coal seam gas on Queensland is heavily monitored, and the impacts are much less than what was predicted when the coal seam gas industry was first established in this state.”

Acting Premier Curtis Pitt again challenged the Liberal Nation Party opposition to say whether they would do a deal with One Nation at the upcoming state election.

Shadow treasurer Scott Emerson did not say whether his party would do a deal with the minor party but rejected their gas plan, agreeing with the government that it would cost jobs.

One Nation’s proposal came as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull met with gas companies Santos, Shell and Origin Energy on Wednesday, confirming they had agreed to offer domestic customers any uncontracted gas in the future as a priority.

Mr Turnbull told reporters the commonwealth could still restrict exports, but that would be their last resort in the case of an imminent shortage.

“As far as the views of other parties are concerned, our position is very clear – we need more gas in Australia,” Mr Turnbull said in Canberra.

One Nation is polling at 15 per cent across the state and experts tip them to pick up a handful of seats at the state election, possibly giving them the balance of power.

Labor has promised not to do any deals with the minor party, while the LNP has ruled out forming a coalition with them but could accept their vote to form a minority government.

Services questioned in Tas baby’s death

A coroner’s investigation into the death of a baby whose care was previously brought to the attention of authorities is clear proof Tasmania’s child protection system is under-resourced, a union says.

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The seven-month-old is believed to have drowned in a bathtub at a home in Launceston on September 19.

The baby was the subject of two child protection notifications in the fortnight prior.

Tom Lynch, secretary of Community and Public Sector Union which represents child protection workers, has described the death as an avoidable tragedy.

“Clearly it’s a fault of the system and evidence there were insufficient resources to respond to the notifications,” he said on Wednesday.

At a union rally this month, child protection workers said staff shortages had created a crisis in the sector.

Tasmanian Greens leader Cassy O’Connor and Labor opposition MP Josh Willie have also questioned the adequacy of child safety resources.

“I’m hearing stories about child protection workers who are extremely stressed,” Mr Willie said.

A health nurse visited the baby and the parent eight days before the death, police say.

A coronial investigation has been launched and records from “a number of agencies” are being examined.

Premier Will Hodgman told reporters he was unable to comment as the matter was before the police.

“This matter will be subject to police investigation, no charges have been laid to this point,” he said.

Human Services Minister Jacquie Petrusma has said the facts of the case were still unclear.

It comes three months after an inquest into the death of six-week-old baby Bjay Johnstone in 2012 found there had been “comprehensive failure” of child protection services, Tasmania Police and family members.

Bjay suffered a fractured skull, broken pelvis, broken ribs and legs and severe brain and eye damage at the hands of his violent father.

NSW healthcare a top performer: report

NSW hospitals outperform other countries and Australian states, but there is still room for improvement, a report has found.

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The Bureau of Health Information’s annual Healthcare in Focus report, released on Wednesday, compared how NSW performed with other Australian states and territories and 11 countries including the US, UK and Canada.

NSW outperformed comparable systems for 80 per cent of the measurable data.

It wasn’t all good news, with the report showing NSW patients wait longer for cataract surgery and for common procedures such as hip and knee replacements, and have higher rates of post-surgical complications than those in other parts of Australia.

However, a NSW Health spokesman said despite increased demand for services, the health system had continued to perform to a “high standard”.

“In the April to June 2017 quarter, 97 per cent of elective surgery procedures were performed within clinical time frames,” he told AAP on Wednesday.

“This high performance is above the state target.”

Bureau of Health Information’s acting chief executive Dr Kim Sutherland said “no country had lower spending and better health than NSW.”

“Healthcare is accessible to most people in NSW and patients generally receive it in a timely and safe way,” Dr Sutherland said.

But opposition health spokesman Walt Secord disagreed and blasted the Berejiklian government, saying the report “should serve as a wake up call”.

“The Berejiklian government claims that NSW had a world-class health and hospital system, which was the envy of the world, but we discover otherwise,” Mr Secord said.

NSW Health said the government had committed additional funding of $3 million in 2017/18 to reduce median wait times for cataract extraction, total hip replacement, and total knee replacement.

Call to buy off-the-shelf submarines ASAP

The federal government is facing calls to buy modified off-the-shelf submarines as soon as possible or risk a major capability gap in years to come.

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The warning comes in a new Insight Economics report, commissioned by Gary Johnston, an electronics retailer who has a blog about submarines.

Defence Minister Marise Payne has dismissed the report “as beat up”.

In December last year, Australia and France formally sealed a $50 billion agreement for French naval contractor Naval Group to design a new fleet of 12 diesel-electric submarines based on its nuclear Barracuda.

Australian National University professor Hugh White and former Australian Public Service head Michael Keating both contributed to the report and have sounded alarm bells over the project ahead of construction work beginning in Adelaide in 2022.

“We will pay far too much for a boat that will do far too little,” Prof White told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

“Our calculation in the report is that in 2016 dollars, these 12 boats will cost us $40 billion, plus $6 billion for the combat system – well over $3 billion a boat. In every major project like this, the costs escalate.”

He said the calculations in the report were up to three times the cost of other conventionally-powered subs.

Navy’s existing six Collins Class submarines will be withdrawn from service by 2036.

Prof White warned there was a serious danger of a capability gap if the new boats weren’t delivered in time before the present subs leave service.

The pair made the case that Australia needed to urgently make some trade offs and obtain some less-than-optimal vessels in order to make sure we have some submarines at all.

Dr Keating said Australia should acquire a fleet of six off-the-shelf modified submarines along with a mothership to re-service them that could be based at Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling.

He estimated the cost would be $10 billion and suggested the Germans and French should be approached, but not the Japanese who were the third bidder in the competitive evaluation process.

“We need insurance against the possibility that the (French) design proves to be inadequate or unsatisfactory or unable to provide value for money,” Dr Keating said.

However, Senator Payne dismissed the report.

“The consistent advice from Defence and actual experts in the field is that there are no military-off-the-shelf submarine options that meet Australia’s unique capability requirements,” she said.

“A ‘modified off-the-shelf’ submarine is an oxymoron.”

She said modifying an existing submarine to substantially extend its range would involve a complex and risky redesign process.

Kearney aims to win Garrett’s Vic seat

ACTU president Ged Kearney is making a tilt for the tight Melbourne seat of Brunswick after former Victorian minister Jane Garrett’s bombshell announcement she’ll move to the upper house.

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Ms Kearney told AAP she was approached to nominate for preselection on Tuesday and has Ms Garrett’s backing.

Despite having a national profile through her role with the ACTU, Ms Kearney said she could not pass up the opportunity to run for the state seat once it was offered.

“To be asked to run for Brunswick, a suburb I know and love – I call it the People’s Republic – I just think ‘what an honour’,” she told AAP on Wednesday.

“All the issues I fight for federally (through the ACTU) are pertinent issues on a state level.”

Labor’s hold on Brunswick is under threat from the Greens, who believe they have a chance of winning and have already started accusing Labor of “abandoning” the lower house electorate.

“They think by approaching me we’re giving up? That’s interesting,” Ms Kearney said.

Tim Read and Adam Pulford have nominated for Greens preselection.

“Labor might be abandoning Brunswick, but the Greens will work hard to deliver a local MP who stands up for their values,” state Greens MP Sam Hibbins said.

Ms Garrett, a former emergency services minister, is leaving Brunswick to chase the Western Metropolitan Region seat set to be vacated by the beleaguered Khalil Eideh.

Ms Garrett said she believed it was in the best interests of Brunswick voters to have a fresh voice and will pursue the upper house after colleagues and others recommended it.

“It is well known I have faced some significant challenges in recent times, including health issues,” Ms Garrett said.

“After very careful consideration and discussion with my friends, family and colleagues I have decided to take up this request.”

The former emergency services minister, who quit cabinet rather than sign a controversial firefighters’ union pay deal, also fought breast cancer in 2016.

Mr Eideh, who announced he is quitting at the 2018 election, is under investigation over allegations Labor MPs used printing entitlements to pay for branch stacking.

Ms Garrett is a member of the left faction but would likely need the support of the right to win a seat in Melbourne’s west.

Crows take heed of Walsh messages

Phil Walsh saw beauty in struggle.

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“Great art comes out of a level of frustration,” Walsh said.

Walsh made that comment on June 25, 2015, in the midst of his first season as head coach of the Adelaide Crows.

Nine days later, Walsh was stabbed to death by his son.

“It’s still tough to talk about,” Crows captain Taylor Walker told AAP this week.

“One of our coaches passed away but it created a unique bond for us.”

Ahead of Saturday’s AFL grand final against Richmond, Walsh’s presence still looms large at the Crows.

“It’s always in the back of your mind,” midfielder Richard Douglas said.

“He still gets talked about. And we joke about the time we had with him in the locker room, there’s obviously some great memories there.

“When anything tragic like that happens, it brings the group closer together.

“Obviously it was an awful time for everyone involved. But no doubt it brought us closer together as a footy club and a team.”

Douglas said much of Walsh’s blueprint for success remained intact within the club.

“He put some things in place that are still happening today, so that is very nice,” Douglas said.

And it’s not just Walsh’s football program. But also Walsh-speak.

Get the job done. Man conversations. Elite standards. One man down, another man up.

All were favoured phrases of Walsh, who died at the age of 55 – his son Cy was later found not guilty of murder by mental incompetence.

Adelaide’s chief executive Andrew Fagan readily, and naturally, used some Walsh-speak on Wednesday.

Fagan was in his first AFL season as the club’s chief when Walsh was killed – he was tasked with contacting Crows players with the news.

Some didn’t believe him. Some wouldn’t believe him. All were in shock.

Adelaide’s players had instantly gelled with Walsh, a self-confessed bogan from Hamilton in western Victoria.

Walsh enjoyed a fruitful playing career, playing 122 games at three clubs – Collingwood, Richmond, then Brisbane – from 1983-90.

In the mid-90s, Walsh went to Geelong as fitness coach and team runner; leaving in 1999 to become an assistant coach at Port Adelaide.

Walsh’s astute footy knowledge helped deliver Port their only AFL premiership in 2004. Five years later he joined West Coast as an assistant coach.

In 2014, Walsh returned to Port Adelaide as an assistant coach. Later that year, he was courted by the Crows and accepted their offer to become a head coach.

Walsh formed an immediate bond with his players, particularly Walker.

And, by midseason, the notoriously media-wary Walsh was starting to revel in his role.

Which is why, at a press conference at Adelaide’s West Lakes headquarters on June 25, 2015, Walsh was trying to explain his frustration at the inconsistency of his side, with six wins and five losses to date.

And he found himself talking about Vincent van Gogh’s painting, Sunflowers.

Walsh had looked at the painting at a gallery in Amsterdam.

And he couldn’t help but relate to van Gogh, thinking: “There is a man with great frustration.”

“I looked at that painting Sunflowers. And for a bogan from Hamilton like myself, I could actually see beauty in that frustration,” he said.

“I will sound again a bit like a weirdo.

“But great art comes out of a level of frustration.”

Walsh was killed the next week; he was lost to Adelaide’s quest to produce an AFL masterpiece.

On Wednesday, club chief Fagan was among 10,000 people who flocked to Adelaide Oval for the Crows’ last public training session on home soil before the grand final.

What would Walsh have thought?

“He would be looking down tremendously proud at what the boys have achieved so far,” Fagan said.

“But I also know that he would be absolutely focused on getting the job done come Saturday afternoon.”

Should the Crows get the job done, it will be in Walsh style.

He was a coach who demanding daring attack – the Crows have been the league’s highest-scorers for two seasons now.

And Walsh was so enamoured with the game, he famously pitted his then-star Patrick Dangerfield on Fremantle’s Nat Fyfe – just for the sheer spectacle of it.

“If you play that boring, sideways, lockdown footy and win a premiership, I don’t want to be a part of it,” Walsh had said.

“Simple as that”.

Fagan and the Crows know Walsh could be a defining chapter in a potential premiership story.

“It has been hard. But all clubs have their stories,” Fagan said of Walsh.

“Regardless of the result, but particularly if we win, it will be a really emotional day.”

Sydney trio jailed over $1m Iraqi bribe

The two Elomar brothers were successful, well-respected immigrant businessmen whose Sydney company became adversely affected by “the stain on the family name”.

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In a bid to reverse their fortunes the father and uncle of notorious ISIS recruit Mohamed Elomar handed over $1 million in cash to bribe an Iraqi public official in a bid to gain lucrative contract work.

In the NSW Supreme Court on Wednesday, Justice Christine Adamson jailed the late terrorist’s father Mamdouh Elomar, 63, his brother Ibrahim Elimar, 61, and businessman John Jousif, 48, for four years with a non-parole period of two years.

She also fined each brother $250,000, finding they knew it was both morally wrong and illegal to bribe an official, whether foreign or otherwise.

The Sydney trio pleaded guilty to conspiring with each other and with an Iraqi resident between July 2014 and February 2015 to pay a bribe to a foreign public official.

During 2013, Jousif approached the brothers about exploring Iraqi business opportunities for their company Lifese, which was involved in engineering, infrastructure and construction projects.

Their company was in “financial decay”, in part from losing deals after publicity about Mohamed Elomar and another relative jailed for terror-related offences.

At first, the Elomar brothers lawfully tried to become involved in projects but were soon told they would be blacklisted if payment was not made.

Numerous intercepted phone calls revealed that Jousif used various tactics to persuade the Elomars to transfer the money for the bribe, being “persistent” and showing “an almost daily commitment to the task”.

The judge also found the Elomars “were attracted by the glittering prizes of substantial infrastructure contracts in Iraq”, but could have walked away without transferring any money.

“They were seasoned, successful businessmen who calculated the risk and decided to transfer the money (to the Iraqi citizen).

“It was their greed which motivated them to do so.”

In early September 2014, more than $1 million in cash was provided to Jousif who transferred it to Iraq through a money exchange business in Auburn.

“Just as it could be said that Mr Jousif exploited the Elomars, they also used him.”

The Australian government had a ban on transferring funds to Iraq, but Jousif was the person at the money exchange business carrying a nylon sack containing over $1 million.

He was “understandably fearful” when told he had to produce certain documents after telling the assistant he had money to send to Iraq as a donation to help the Christians in the north.

The brothers ultimately did not receive any contract work and there was no evidence about what happened to the money after it was transferred to Iraq.

They had established Lifese in 1986, and over the years obtained significant government and private contracts in Australia and overseas.

“The company had a good reputation and worked on high-profile projects until its reputation was affected by the activities of Mamdouh’s family members,” the judge said.

Profile of drug-induced deaths has changed

The face of an Australian drug death is now a middle-aged man who accidentally overdosed on prescription drugs.

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Drug deaths have reached their highest level in two decades but the profile has changed from younger people overdosing from heroin to middle-aged Australians dying from the misuse of prescription drugs.

There were a record 1808 drug-induced deaths in 2016, surpassing the 1999 heroin-driven peak of 1740.

Australian Bureau of Statistics director of health and vital statistics James Eynstone-Hinkins said the 2016 deaths were most commonly associated with benzodiazepines and oxycodone, prescription drugs used to manage anxiety and pain respectively.

An individual who died from a drug-induced death in 2016 was most likely to be a middle-aged man living outside a capital city who was misusing prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines or oxycodone and using multiple drugs.

The death was most likely to be an accident, the ABS said on Wednesday.

Someone who died from drugs in 1999 was most likely to be younger – in their early 30s – and had taken morphine, heroin or benzodiazepines.

The ABS said while prescription drugs caused the highest numbers of drug-induced deaths, there had been a rapid increase in the number of methamphetamine deaths.

The death rate from psychostimulants including methamphetamines and ice has quadrupled since 1999, reaching 1.6 deaths per 100,000 Australians.

The ABS said while the total number of drug-induced deaths was the highest on record, the death rate per capita was lower than in 1999.

The rate reached 7.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016, compared to 9.2 in 1999.

The rate of drug deaths among younger people has fallen significantly since 1999 but is now much higher among older age groups, particularly those aged 45 to 64, the ABS says.

It says deaths from illicit substances like heroin and methamphetamines tend to occur among younger age groups, while deaths from benzodiazepines and prescription opiates tend to occur among older people.

More than 70 per cent of drug deaths last year were due to acute accidental overdoses.

Gas companies agree on supply for 2018

The country’s biggest gas companies have agreed to “put Australians first” and boost domestic supply next year to help avoid a potential energy crisis.

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But the prime minister warns that residents in Victoria and NSW will keep paying more for their power if their states don’t free up their own gas resources.

Santos, Origin Energy and Shell on Wednesday committed to offering enough gas to the local market to cover an expected shortfall in 2018, following a meeting with Malcolm Turnbull and senior ministers in Sydney.

They will meet again next week to nut out the details of the agreement and an intended similar guarantee for 2019.

It means the federal government won’t have to follow through on its threat to restrict exports, although it remains an option.

“They have stated that they will offer, as a first priority, domestic customers any uncontracted gas in the future,” Mr Turnbull told reporters.

He says if the deal is honoured and there is not a shortfall of gas then there won’t be a need for export controls – something that he doesn’t “relish”.

“We want to see more exports, but Australians have to come first,” Mr Turnbull said.

Two reports this week warned of a shortage of gas in 2018 of up to 107 petajoules – about three times larger than previously forecast.

Despite the deal, Mr Turnbull continued his push for Victoria and NSW to unlock their onshore gas resources.

Queensland produces most of the gas for the east coast, meaning those in the southern states have to bear the extra cost of transport.

“The failure of Victoria and NSW to get their onshore gas resources developed means residents of NSW and Victoria and businesses in those states are going to continue to pay more for gas than they otherwise would,” he said.

It accounts for about 11 per cent of the gas bill for a typical Melbourne household, and about five per cent for the average Sydney household.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the commitment from the gas companies didn’t mean states and territories were off the hook.

“The clear preference is to get gas produced in the areas in which it is needed for the families and for the businesses in those states,” he said.

The companies have also agreed to report regularly to the competition and consumer watchdog on sales, offers to sell, and bids they’ve declined to buy gas.

The prime minister labelled that an important step that will shine a light “on what has been a very opaque industry”.

“That sunlight will ensure more gas at better prices for Australians,” he said.

Labor’s energy spokesman Mark Butler said the agreement was not enough, arguing that similar assurances have been given in the past but not delivered.

The agreement only covered the minimum supply shortage and a legal guarantee was needed, he said.

“It appears that Malcolm Turnbull thinks that the way you get results is, instead of speaking softly and carrying a big stick, you talk a lot and you throw away the stick,” Mr Butler told reporters in Adelaide.

He said the only way to cover the shortage was to restrict gas exports.

The Australian Industry Group and Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry welcomed the announcement, but noted the need for a long-term solution.