Australian research funds falling behind

(Australian Associated Press)

 

The realisation Iceland spends more per person on important research and development than Australia has sparked calls for significant reinvestment in the sector.

Universities Australia says data from 2015/16 showed for the first time since figures have been kept, Australia’s research investment declined.

“Research expands Australia’s economy, research saves lives, research creates new products and industries that generate jobs,” chief executive Catriona Jackson said on Wednesday.

“But over the past three decades we’ve seen a worrying trend with governments conducting less and less R and D and universities have had to step into the breach to maintain national capacity.”

Australia now spends 1.88 per cent of gross domestic product on research and development, well below the OECD average of 2.38 per cent.

“Australia’s R and D spend as a percentage of GDP is less than Iceland’s. That’s a country with a population smaller than Canberra,” Ms Jackson said.

Universities Australia wants the federal government to keep the Education Investment Fund, after it was suspended in 2015 and slated for closure.

“We welcome the government’s budget commitment to rolling investment in current and new national research infrastructure,” Ms Jackson said.

“But Australia also needs capital funds to build research capacity at universities across the country.

“Closing EIF will deny our world-class researchers the proper resourcing and security they need to keep doing what they do best – making breakthroughs for the betterment of all.”

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Sydney harbour considered for new submarine base

Tom Rabe
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Two regional NSW ports have emerged as preferred options for a possible submarine base on Australia’s east coast amid reports Sydney Harbour was being considered for the new naval home.

The NSW government on Wednesday floated both Port Kembla and Newcastle as potential sites.

“We know there are a number of viable options for a new submarine base, including Newcastle and Port Kembla, and these are under consideration by the Navy,” a spokeswoman for NSW Trade and Industry Minister Niall Blair said.

“The NSW government strongly supports substantial future industry opportunities, such as an expanded naval presence in NSW, and in ports such as Newcastle and Port Kembla.”

It followed reports that Sydney Harbour was being considered as the best option for a new fleet of subs.

“Sydney Harbour provides the best three currently available options for a sustainable east coast home port,” a Defence Department study obtained by Fairfax Media and published on Wednesday says.

The study refers to a “two ocean policy”, under which some of the new fleet of 12 Hunter Class boats could be based at Fleet Base East at Garden Island, HMAS Waterhen at Balls Head Bay or Cockatoo Island and others at the submarine base in Fremantle, Western Australia.

Mr Blair’s spokeswoman said the NSW government understood the navy had been conducting comprehensive studies but it was “too early to speculate on what the final decisions might be”.

Defence Minister Marise Payne said the first vessel was not expected to enter service until the early 2030s.

“A range of initial submarine basing options are expected to be presented by Defence to government for consideration in late 2019,” Ms Payne told AAP in a statement.

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The return to a federal budget surplus could occur more quickly

Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics Correspondent
(Australian Associated Press)

 

The return to a federal budget surplus could occur more quickly than predicted in May after monthly government figures showed a deficit nearly $6 billion smaller than forecast.

As of May, the underlying budget deficit was running at $10 billion, $5.8 billion lower after 11 months of the 2017/18 financial year than expected.

This was the result of receipts being $3.2 billion higher and payments being $2.7 billion smaller.

The May budget forecast a deficit of $18.2 billion for the full 2017/18 financial year.

A deficit of $14.5 billion was predicted for 2018/19 and then a small surplus of $2.2 billion in 2019/20, which would mark the first time the budget has been in the black since 2007/2008.

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Australia staying put on UN Rights Council

Daniel McCulloch
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says Australia shares many concerns held by the United States about the UN Human Rights Council, but will not be pulling out.

The US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley described the council as a “cesspool of political bias” which ignores the atrocities of its members.

Ms Bishop is disappointed by America’s decision to withdraw, but shares its concerns about areas of contention, including the council’s “anti-Israel bias”.

“We are committed to progress effective and meaningful reform to enable the council to more effectively carry out its role,” the minister said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It was our strong preference for the US to remain a member of the UNHRC and I had made this known to senior members of the Trump administration.”

Ms Bishop said it was in Australia’s national interest to shape the work of the council and uphold the international rules-based order.

“Australia has pledged to be a principled, pragmatic and consultative member, bringing a unique Indo-Pacific perspective to our term and amplify the voices of our Pacific neighbours,” she said.

Australia’s second session as a member of the UNHRC began in Geneva this week.

Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong is concerned the US withdrawing from the council risks emboldening those who do not share Australia’s support for democracy and human rights.

“It’s entirely a matter for the US which international bodies it chooses to be a member of,” Senator Wong said.

“But Labor believes it is better to remain engaged in international organisations like the UNHRC in order to promote our values and protect our national interests.”

Amnesty International said Australia’s role on the council is now more important than ever.

“We should work towards having the US rejoin the Human Rights Council, but Australia also must now step up and fill the leadership gap, especially on human rights abuses in our region,” advocacy manager Emma Bull said.

“Protecting universal freedoms and fairness is vital in this global climate, and Australia must use its council seat to champion rights in our region and around the world.”

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Australia eyes role after Trump-Kim summit

Daniel McCulloch
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Australia is already looking at what role it can play in the denuclearisation of North Korea, following an historic summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.

The US president and North Korean leader pledged at a summit in Singapore on Tuesday to work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

Their commitment reaffirms an agreement struck between the leaders of North and South Korea in April.

The pair also promised to work towards building “a lasting a stable peace” on the Korean peninsula, and to repatriate remains of prisoners of war and those missing in action during the Korean War.

Mr Trump said he would end “provocative” annual joint military exercises with Seoul, and spoke of his hope to one day withdraw the 32,000 US soldiers stationed in South Korea.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop described the breakthrough summit and signed declaration as the first positive development involving North Korea in more than a decade.

“We are cautiously optimistic but of course the test will be verification of the denuclearisation,” Ms Bishop told the ABC on Thursday evening.

Complete denuclearisation would mean the verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

Ms Bishop expects the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency to take a leading role.

“We in Australia, the Australian government is currently assessing what we could offer in terms of expertise to assist in that verification process,” she said.

Tuesday’s summit was the first time a sitting US president had met face-to-face with a North Korean leader.

Mr Trump said he had formed a “special bond” with Mr Kim.

“We had a terrific day and we learned a lot about each other and our countries,” Mr Trump said.

“We’ll meet many times.”

Asked whether he would invite Mr Kim to the White House, Mr Trump said: “Absolutely, I will.”

Mr Kim, whose country is subject to a broad range of international sanctions – including from Australia – over its illegal weapons program, said he and Mr Trump had “decided to leave the past behind”.

“The world will see a major change,” the North Korean leader said through an interpreter.

After a 13-second greeting handshake, Mr Kim told Mr Trump through a translator: “Many people in the world will think of this as a form of fantasy … from a science fiction movie.”

Labor leader Bill Shorten said not many people would have predicted the summit would take place, so he was pleased it occurred.

“My view is always you achieve more by talking in the same room than yelling at each other through megaphones at a distance,” he told reporters.

“But I’m cautious. On this issue the national government and I are of one mind. We’re pleased to see it, but we’ve seen discussions before, in previous decades.”

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was among the first to respond to the summit.

“We should always be sceptical, but we should never allow our scepticism to suffocate the possibility of real progress here,” he said.

Australia has imposed sanctions on North Korea – covering travel, goods and services, banking and scientific co-operation – since 2006 in response to concerns about the regime’s weapons programs.

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Electronic voting comes to parliament

Paul Osborne
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Members of parliament will be able to vote on motions and bills at the press of a button or swish of a card under a new electronic voting system to start in 2019.

Leader of the House Christopher Pyne said the system, which would only cover the House of Representatives, would cut the time required for each vote and provide quick access online to the results of each vote.

A 2016 committee report called for such a system to be put in place.

It is understood under the new system members will still be required to vote in the chamber and “tellers” will still be appointed to play a role in the process.

However, whether MPs vote from their seat in the chamber, or with a separation as occurs now, won’t be known until consultation and the tender process is concluded.

The committee report recommended members still divide right and left of the Speaker’s chair and tellers still be available to do a manual count in case the system malfunctions.

Electronic voting was first discussed 48 years ago when MPs were considering a new Parliament House.

Labor has been briefed on the proposal.

The Department of Parliamentary Services will shortly call for tenders for the project.

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Vote needed to fix citizenship: senator

(Australian Associated Press)

 

The chair of a federal inquiry says a referendum is needed to change an “out of step” section of the constitution that has claimed the scalps of several MPs holding dual citizenship.

Liberal senator Linda Reynolds is head of a joint standing committee looking into section 44, which bans dual citizens from sitting in federal parliament.

Senator Reynolds said dual citizens were allowed to serve in the army or sit on the High Court, and a national vote was needed to fix the provision.

“While I will not pre-empt the findings of the committee, it is my personal belief that the cleanest way to resolve this problem is to remove sections of 44 … to determine both future qualifications and disqualifications,” she told Fairfax Media on Wednesday.

“The only way to do that would be through a referendum. Ultimately the issue of dual citizenship for MPs must be one for Australians to decide, not a parliamentary committee.”

Senator Reynolds’ view increases the chances the joint standing committee on electoral matters will recommend a referendum, possibly in tandem with the next federal election.

Labor leader Bill Shorten agreed that the rule doesn’t exist in other comparable first world countries.

“If we were drafting the constitution today … from scratch, you probably wouldn’t have this particular restriction,” he told reporters in Sydney.

But Mr Shorten said referendums were first needed to recognise indigenous Australians and to have an Australian head of state.

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Australia’s $100m Monash centre opens

Liza Kapelle
(Australian Associated Press)

 

The images and stories of Australians who fought in France 100 years ago are so vividly confronting and intimate there are tears in the eyes of some spectators in the Sir John Monash Centre at Villers-Bretonneux.

Australia’s museum in northern France will be officially opened on Tuesday with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in attendance.

But it was also open on Monday to family members of those involved in the war giving them a chance to experience the interactive displays before the formal launch.

The $100 million museum in France was announced three years ago by then prime minister Tony Abbott who wanted to raise the profile of Australia’s involvement on the Western Front.

It is named after Sir John Monash who led the Australian force to a succession of victories in the final months of the war and is now widely regarded as Australia’s greatest ever military commander.

The centre bills itself as an immersive experience and you begin to experience that just walking down a trench into the centre at the Australian War Memorial outside Villers-Bretonneux.

Once inside you don headphones and hear the stories of soldiers as you walk past the interactive displays.

It is an intimate and quite personal experience. Locked in their own private worlds on Monday, other people also appeared both moved and impressed.

The museum will be open to all from Anzac Day, when more than 7000 people are registered to attend the dawn service in the town, a century after the April 25, 2018 Battle of Villers-Bretonneux.

The little French town was captured on April 24, 1918, by German soldiers who began pushing west towards Amiens.

It was liberated the next day after two Australian units – the 13th Brigade of the 4th Division and the 15th Brigade of the 5th division – were set the main task of retaking Villers- Bretonneux.

The victory wasn’t achieved without significant casualties – 1464 dead and wounded – but it established the Australians as a premier fighting force on the Western Front.

Prince Charles is expected to deliver a reading at the dawn service at Villers-Bretonneux this Anzac Day after both Mr Turnbull and Mr Phillipe deliver their commemorative addresses.

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Budget on May 8 an opportunity for Turnbull revival

Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics Correspondent
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Next month’s budget provides the opportunity for a political reset for Malcolm Turnbull after his coalition government slumped to 30 consecutive Newspoll losses against Labor this week.

It was one benchmark the prime minister set for rolling Tony Abbott as Liberal leader in September 2015, although Turnbull’s position looks safe for now without a credible replacement.

Ministers like Peter Dutton and Treasurer Scott Morrison have indicated their prime ministerial aspirations “in the future”, however, opinion polls suggest they have quite a lot of work to do to get the electorate to back that idea.

The latest Essential Research survey found Turnbull is still seen as the best person to lead the Liberal party at 24 per cent, followed by Julie Bishop on 17 per cent, Abbott on 11 per cent, Dutton three per cent and Morrison and Christopher Pyne on two per cent.

‘Someone else’ scored 14 per cent, while ‘don’t know’ led the pack on 27 per cent.

The May 8 budget could well be the last before the next federal election, even though Turnbull insists a poll is at least a year away.

It will provide a platform for the government to congratulate itself over its economic management as a budget surplus draws ever closer.

Morrison is sticking to his forecast for a surplus by mid-2021, although recent monthly financial accounts show government income is running ahead of schedule.

As of February, the underlying budget deficit was $19.8 billion, $8 billion lower than had been anticipated after eight months of the financial year.

This was the result of tax receipts being $5.5 billion higher than predicted and payments $3 billion lower.

However, a budget surplus, whenever it occurs, doesn’t pay the weekly grocery bill.

The budget will be brought down at a time when there has been little improvement in wages growth, which has pay awards pretty much tied to the rate of inflation.

While the government can’t impose pay increases outside the public sector, Morrison is promising “tax relief for middle income earning Australians”.

What form this relief will take, Morrison says, we will have to wait until May 8 to find out.

Most recently, the government increased the middle-income 32.5 per cent tax bracket from $80,000 to $87,000, keeping 500,000 Australians from having to pay the second highest tax bracket of 37 per cent.

You would think personal tax cuts, in whatever guise, should pass through the parliament without a hitch, unlike the government’s business tax cut from 30 per cent to 25 per cent, which remains in the pending file for big firms.

Whether a tax cut, along with other potential initiatives in the budget, will be enough to change the mood of the electorate remains to be seen.

Both the government and the Reserve Bank face a major challenge from weak wages growth.

Central bank governor Philip Lowe says Australians are used to getting wage increases one or two per cent above the rate of inflation, but for the past four or five years there has been very little growth in real incomes.

This is a concern to Lowe because people had previously taken out home loans on the premise of above-inflation increases.

“So people are unhappy, not only just because the previous trend isn’t continuing … many people feel the cost of living pressures are very strong,” Lowe told a Perth conference this week.

For the Reserve Bank, slim wage growth is a problem because it is preventing it from achieving one of its goals of average 2.5 per cent inflation growth, keeping interest rates lower than Lowe would prefer.

“It’s a problem for me, but it’s a broader problem for the political class because people are angry and when they are angry, they kind of vote for different things,” Lowe said.

And probably why Turnbull can expect the 31st negative Newspoll in a few weeks time.

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Budget on May 8 an opportunity for Turnbull revival

Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics Correspondent
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Next month’s budget provides the opportunity for a political reset for Malcolm Turnbull after his coalition government slumped to 30 consecutive Newspoll losses against Labor this week.

It was one benchmark the prime minister set for rolling Tony Abbott as Liberal leader in September 2015, although Turnbull’s position looks safe for now without a credible replacement.

Ministers like Peter Dutton and Treasurer Scott Morrison have indicated their prime ministerial aspirations “in the future”, however, opinion polls suggest they have quite a lot of work to do to get the electorate to back that idea.

The latest Essential Research survey found Turnbull is still seen as the best person to lead the Liberal party at 24 per cent, followed by Julie Bishop on 17 per cent, Abbott on 11 per cent, Dutton three per cent and Morrison and Christopher Pyne on two per cent.

‘Someone else’ scored 14 per cent, while ‘don’t know’ led the pack on 27 per cent.

The May 8 budget could well be the last before the next federal election, even though Turnbull insists a poll is at least a year away.

It will provide a platform for the government to congratulate itself over its economic management as a budget surplus draws ever closer.

Morrison is sticking to his forecast for a surplus by mid-2021, although recent monthly financial accounts show government income is running ahead of schedule.

As of February, the underlying budget deficit was $19.8 billion, $8 billion lower than had been anticipated after eight months of the financial year.

This was the result of tax receipts being $5.5 billion higher than predicted and payments $3 billion lower.

However, a budget surplus, whenever it occurs, doesn’t pay the weekly grocery bill.

The budget will be brought down at a time when there has been little improvement in wages growth, which has pay awards pretty much tied to the rate of inflation.

While the government can’t impose pay increases outside the public sector, Morrison is promising “tax relief for middle income earning Australians”.

What form this relief will take, Morrison says, we will have to wait until May 8 to find out.

Most recently, the government increased the middle-income 32.5 per cent tax bracket from $80,000 to $87,000, keeping 500,000 Australians from having to pay the second highest tax bracket of 37 per cent.

You would think personal tax cuts, in whatever guise, should pass through the parliament without a hitch, unlike the government’s business tax cut from 30 per cent to 25 per cent, which remains in the pending file for big firms.

Whether a tax cut, along with other potential initiatives in the budget, will be enough to change the mood of the electorate remains to be seen.

Both the government and the Reserve Bank face a major challenge from weak wages growth.

Central bank governor Philip Lowe says Australians are used to getting wage increases one or two per cent above the rate of inflation, but for the past four or five years there has been very little growth in real incomes.

This is a concern to Lowe because people had previously taken out home loans on the premise of above-inflation increases.

“So people are unhappy, not only just because the previous trend isn’t continuing … many people feel the cost of living pressures are very strong,” Lowe told a Perth conference this week.

For the Reserve Bank, slim wage growth is a problem because it is preventing it from achieving one of its goals of average 2.5 per cent inflation growth, keeping interest rates lower than Lowe would prefer.

“It’s a problem for me, but it’s a broader problem for the political class because people are angry and when they are angry, they kind of vote for different things,” Lowe said.

And probably why Turnbull can expect the 31st negative Newspoll in a few weeks time.

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Tax cuts won’t pass this week: Cormann

Colin Brinsden and Katina Curtis
(Australian Associated Press)

 

The Turnbull government has given up on passing corporate tax cuts this week, but will make a fresh attempt in the May Budget week.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the Senate on Tuesday afternoon the government had been unable to convince nine crossbenchers to get behind the bill to reduce the corporate tax rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent across all-sized businesses.

Independents Derryn Hinch and Tim Storer have yet to lend their support to the bill, leaving the coalition with only seven of the nine crossbench votes it needs.

“We believe there is opportunity for the government to persuade the majority of senators of the merits of our argument … that is why the government is committed to keep working, to keep engaging,” Senator Cormann said.

The minister, who has previously been successful in negotiating other key pieces of legislation, said the cuts were in the interests of working families because they would pay for jobs and higher wages.

Labor frontbencher Don Farrell told parliament it was an opportunity for crossbenchers to reflect on their decision to support the bill.

“That’s not the way we create equality in this country. It won’t trickle down to those people who really need a wage rise in the current environment,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Shorten confirmed a Labor government would scrap the tax cuts for businesses with a turnover of more than $50 million.

However, Labor has yet to make a decision on what it will do about the already legislated cuts for small firms.

“Labor will consider its final position on that in the context of the information we receive in the budget,” Mr Shorten told reporters.

“What we are not going to do is promise business corporate tax cuts which this government cannot pay for.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the opposition wants to go to the election on a platform of “fewer jobs and less well-paid jobs”.

“Their latest policy on company tax is no more well calibrated than their shocking cash grab on pensioners,” he told parliament, referring to Labor’s plan to end cash handouts for non-taxpaying shareholders on their dividend credits, which was subsequently amended on Tuesday to protect pensioners from the change.

One Nation senator Pauline Hanson reiterated her party’s support for the tax cuts while predicting Labor wouldn’t deliver on its promise to ditch them in government.

“It will be political suicide for them if they do,” she told reporters in Canberra.

But shadow treasurer Chris Bowen said the reductions for firms above $50 million were neither “justifiable or affordable”.

“These changes don’t come in until 2019 and so it is appropriate that we are up-front about our plans and we’re doing that today,” Mr Bowen told ABC radio.

The latest Essential Research poll suggests voters have become ho-hum over the whole issue with 40 per cent backing the cuts, 30 per cent opposing and the remainder ticking ‘don’t know’.

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MP wants international driver crackdown

(Australian Associated Press)

 

Victorian authorities say drug and alcohol affected drivers are more of a risk to road safety than international drivers after a federal MP called for a crackdown on overseas motorists.

“These tourists are coming across from other parts of the world, getting into a hire car and they really are a moving time bomb,” government backbencher Sarah Henderson told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

Ms Henderson, whose electorate takes in the Great Ocean Road, said 20 per cent of crashes on the Great Ocean Road involve international drivers.

The Liberal MP said there were cases of tourists driving on the wrong side of the road, stopping in the middle of the highway to take pictures of koalas, and ignoring stop signs.

Ms Henderson has called for a review of international driver’s licences and for tourists to watch compulsory road safety video clips.

But Victoria’s Police Minister is unable to confirm the figures Ms Henderson used.

“I personally don’t have that evidence in front of me and would rely on Victoria Police to really provide that advice to us,” Lisa Neville told reporters in Melbourne.

“We know it’s dangerous drivers, of which are often unlicensed, disqualified drivers, and people who are drug and alcohol affected,” she said.

The minister and Victoria Police said they would need to look at data on international drivers before considering any proposals.

“This has not been an issue that has been highlighted as one of the critical issues for road safety improvement,” Ms Neville said.

Acting police chief commissioner Shane Patton said Victoria would also need to balance its international obligations.

“There are obviously international commitments that we’re required to fulfil from an Australian perspective,” Mr Patton said.

“So it needs to be assessed against what are our international requirements that we need to fill, as well as what is the extent of the issue, and what is the problem.”

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MP wants international driver crackdown

(Australian Associated Press)

 

Victorian authorities say drug and alcohol affected drivers are more of a risk to road safety than international drivers after a federal MP called for a crackdown on overseas motorists.

“These tourists are coming across from other parts of the world, getting into a hire car and they really are a moving time bomb,” government backbencher Sarah Henderson told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

Ms Henderson, whose electorate takes in the Great Ocean Road, said 20 per cent of crashes on the Great Ocean Road involve international drivers.

The Liberal MP said there were cases of tourists driving on the wrong side of the road, stopping in the middle of the highway to take pictures of koalas, and ignoring stop signs.

Ms Henderson has called for a review of international driver’s licences and for tourists to watch compulsory road safety video clips.

But Victoria’s Police Minister is unable to confirm the figures Ms Henderson used.

“I personally don’t have that evidence in front of me and would rely on Victoria Police to really provide that advice to us,” Lisa Neville told reporters in Melbourne.

“We know it’s dangerous drivers, of which are often unlicensed, disqualified drivers, and people who are drug and alcohol affected,” she said.

The minister and Victoria Police said they would need to look at data on international drivers before considering any proposals.

“This has not been an issue that has been highlighted as one of the critical issues for road safety improvement,” Ms Neville said.

Acting police chief commissioner Shane Patton said Victoria would also need to balance its international obligations.

“There are obviously international commitments that we’re required to fulfil from an Australian perspective,” Mr Patton said.

“So it needs to be assessed against what are our international requirements that we need to fill, as well as what is the extent of the issue, and what is the problem.”

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Aust on track for 2020 renewable target

Prashant Mehra
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Australia is set to achieve its renewable energy target for 2020 as a jump in the uptake of large scale solar projects drives growth in renewables, a senior regulatory official says.

The federal government has committed to generating 23.5 per cent of the country’s power, or about 33,000 gigawatt hours, from renewables by 2020.

Industry experts estimated in 2015 that Australia would need to commit to building 6,000 megawatts of new renewables capacity by 2018 in order to achieve the target.

As of November 1, about 5,589 MW of large scale renewable energy projects had been formally announced, Clean Energy Regulator executive general manager Mark Williamson said on Tuesday.

“The large scale renewable energy target is within reach. Utility scale solar has been the big surprise in the pipeline,” he said on the sidelines of a large-scale solar and storage conference in Sydney.

Out of this, nearly 3,503 MW of capacity is already under construction.

Utility-scale solar projects have played an enormous role in this increase, accounting for 2,349 MW, or about 42 per cent, of the formally announced projects.

“At the utilities scale, it is simply that the cost of solar has come down to compete with wind, and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has provided a lot of transitional support to be able to drive down the deployment costs,” he said.

The current year could see the biggest addition in solar capacity, likely to exceed the record 1,035 MW capacity that was installed in 2012.

Mr Williamson expects further growth in 2018 as costs fall further, encouraging more uptake of solar.

The news comes amid the lingering debate on policy uncertainty in Australia’s electricity sector, with the government outlining a new National Energy Guarantee (NEG) policy.

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Australians have had their say in the marriage debate

Jamie McKinnell and Kate Shuttleworth
(Australian Associated Press)

 

Australians have had their say in the same-sex marriage debate, with more than 12.6 million ballots received before the survey officially closed.

According to the latest estimate, 78.5 per cent of eligible voters had returned a ballot as of Friday.

Same-sex marriage advocates on Tuesday issued a public call for anyone who’d left it until the last minute to hand-deliver their vote by the 4.30pm cut-off.

“We are grateful for the amount of Australians who have participated in this process,” equality campaign Alex Greenwich told reporters outside the Australian Bureau of Statistics office in Sydney.

“A strong majority of Australians support a fair go for all and want everybody to be able to marry the person that they love in the country that they love.”

City of Sydney councillor Christine Foster, the sister of former prime minister and outspoken ‘no’ vote advocate Tony Abbott, said the signs were looking positive.

“All the signs are really positive; the high turnout, exit polling and that would really be a seminal national moment for Australia; it will be a unifying moment,” she said.

Olympic swimming champion Ian Thorpe was reassured by the number of people who’d already returned their vote ahead of the deadline.

“Considering how many people in Australia have voted for this, it’s quite reassuring because we know over recent decades how many people have supported marriage equality,” he told AAP at the Melbourne Cup.

“We are hoping its an overwhelming positive ‘yes’ result and it leaves our politicians with no excuse but to get on with it.”

The ‘no’ campaign said its team members were looking forward to some days off.

Spokesman Lyle Shelton said even if the ‘yes’ vote prevailed, the ‘no’ campaign would need to hold same-sex marriage supporters to their pledge about there being no negative consequences of reform.

“We promise our supporters that no matter the result, we will continue to work to defend Australian families,” he said in a statement.

Mr Shelton said the ‘yes’ side had already said it would continue pushing for legal same-sex marriage even if the survey result was a ‘no’.

“Even if we win, we will be need to continue to fight to defend marriage and to protect Australians from the consequences of its redefinition.”

In a new Essential Poll of 1792 people, published in The Guardian on Tuesday, 64 per cent of respondents said they had ticked the ‘yes’ box.

Thirty-one per cent were ‘no’ voters and five per cent declined to answer.

The ABS will now devote its resources to counting the ballots before the result is announced and published on its website on November 15.

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