Uber drivers will need to fork out $200 in annual licence fees

Uber drivers will be slugged more than $200 for an annual licence fee under suggested state reforms that even the ridesharer’s traditional rival – the taxi industry – has slammed.
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The fee was among a swag of changes announced by Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey ahead of the second stage of legislation due to be introduced to Queensland Parliament later this month.

But the latest reforms are far from popular – pleasing neither ridesharing company Uber nor the Taxi Council Queensland.

Taxi service licences and limousine licences and plates will be retained and a new annual licence fee of $237.26 will be introduced for ridebooking operators such as Uber.

Reflective signage will also be mandatory on the front and back of ridebooking services.

Security cameras must be operating in vehicles that are not pre-booked or services that take cash or payment during the journey. But this requirement would not affect Uber, which takes payment via a pre-registered credit card after the journey.

Driver fatigue must also be managed by companies and operators.

And all personalised transport vehicles will require an annual certificate of inspection and a new class of compulsory third party insurance – separate to taxis – has been created for ridebooking and limousines.

An Uber spokesman said the licence fee was “disappointing”.

“We’re disappointed to see the government propose new fees on everyday Queenslanders looking to access flexible work,” the spokesman said.

“The addition of vehicle licensing fees, which do not create any safety improvements or consumer benefits, is not in keeping with the stated aims of these reforms to open up competition, increase consumer choice and create new flexible work opportunities for Queenslanders.”

Fairfax Media asked Uber if it would absorb the cost of the annual licensing fee or whether it would be paid by individual drivers but the question was not answered.

There are about 10,000 Uber drivers in Queensland, which means the fee could instantly generate more than $2.73 million for the government.

Uber is still assessing the announcement, made on Thursday afternoon.

Taxi Council Queensland chief executive officer Benjamin Wash accused the government of doing nothing to level the playing field.

“This proposed legislation has been written to advantage rideshare operators – who have flouted the law and attempted to avoid tax and regulatory requirements – over law-abiding small business operators who make up Queensland’s taxi industry,” Mr Wash said.

“We will review the details of this draft legislation and make further comment soon.”

Taxi drivers and companies pay a variety of charges in Queensland.

The Queensland government will not release any new taxi service licences before 2018, but the cost to buy an existing taxi licence was about $200,000 at the end of 2016, according to a committee report.

The taxi and limousine “driver authorisation” annual fee is $140.65, plus new applications have a fee of $41.05.

There is also an operator accreditation fee of $171 a year for taxi or limousine services.

But the operator accreditation, licence renewal fees, taxi industry security levy and driver authorisation renewal fees were waived for 12 months as a result of changes in the industry.

Mr Bailey said the changes would create a fairer playing field for operators and increase safety and choice for customers.

The first stage included $60 million in transitional assistance payments – a one-off payment of $20,000 a licence, capped at two licences for taxis, and $10,000 per licence for limousine licence holders.

Eligible taxi and limousine holders and operators will receive an invitation from the Queensland Rural Adjustment Agency to apply for a slice of $26.7 million in industry hardship payments from April.

Eligible taxi licence owners and operators will receive a payment of up to $9000 per licence.

Limousine licence holders and operators will receive a payment of up to $4500.

Both payments would be shared 50/50 between owner and operator and be capped at 10 payments per registered entity.

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Cricket bat attacker jailed for three years: Long innings behind bars

A MAN who attacked a furniture rental business owner with a cricket bat when he came to sort out an outstanding bill has been sentenced to 3½ years’ prison.
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Justin Button, 30, will have to serve 20 months of the sentence before he is eligible for parole after leaving the victim with serious facial injuries in the attack.

Button last week pleaded guilty to intentionally causing serious injury to the business owner.

The owner had gone to Button’s home about 9pm in January last year to try to reclaim furniture.

The County Court sitting in Mildura heard the dispute between the man and Button came to a head on January 10 last year, after Button fell behind in payments in late 2015.

The man, along with his debt collector, went to Button’s Merbein home about 1.30pm, but failed to resolve the issues.

About 8pm they exchanged text messages and “regrettably” the man and his debt collector decided to go back to Button’s home about 9pm.

When the man got out of the car he was attacked by two other, unknown, men.

Button then appeared and hit the owner to the head with a cricket bat, causing him to fall to the ground.

He was then struck several more times to the face before the man’s “debt collector” was able to drag him back into the car and drive him to hospital.

The man underwent several reconstructive surgeries and suffered vision problems.

Defence counsel Oliver Cain said Button had been exposed to family violence as a child and his schooling was “unsuccessful”.

The court heard he had abused drugs in the past but now only used cannabis.

Judge Michael Bourke said it was serious offending, but noted it was unfortunate the owner had gone to Button’s home at 9pm.

He said while he accepted Button might have felt threatened, his response was disproportionate.

Judge Bourke noted the assault had a considerable impact on the owner and his family.

He sentenced Button to 3½ years’ prison with a non-parole period of 20 months.

He said if not for Button’s plea of guilty, he would have sentenced him to six years, with a minimum of 3½ years’ prison.

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Wessels taps into Brumbies brainstrust to help Force

December 6 2011, sport, story by Lee Gaskin, picture by STUART WALMSLEY. The ACT Brumbies train at the club’s headquarters in Griffith, Canberra. Defence consultant Dave Wessels. Photo: Stuart WalmsleyDave Wessels was the odd man out when he arrived at the ACT Brumbies, but he said his time with World Cup winners and brilliant rugby minds set him on a path to coach the Western Force.
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Wessels will return to Canberra Stadium as the enemy on Friday night when he leads the top-of-the-Australian conference Force in a clash against the Brumbies.

South African-born Wessels moved to Australia six years ago to join the Brumbies as a defensive consultant to work alongside Jake White, Stephen Larkham and Laurie Fisher.

White and Larkham have both won World Cups while Fisher is regarded as one of the best forwards coaches in international rugby.

Wessels used his time wisely, picking the trio’s brains before being giving the job of leading the Force this year.

“The biggest thing I took out of being at the Brumbies was just being able to sit in a room with those three,” Wessels said.

“They are some of the best coaches going around so being in Canberra was like being at a university of rugby for me.

“I was very raw at the time so I really just tried hard not to be noticed too much. But I think it was a great experience for me and it’s had a big effect on my coaching.”

The Force have surprised many this year and beat the highly-rated Queensland Reds last weekend to score their first win at home in almost two years.

The Force haven’t won two games in a row anywhere since 2014.

It sets up a massive clash against the Brumbies, who have lost their first two matches for their worst start to a season since 1999.

The Brumbies have won the past six matches against the Force, but history will count for little as both teams rebuild after major changes in the off-season.

The Brumbies recruited Kyle Godwin and Chris Alcock from the Force, while Wessels stepped up as coach in Perth and convinced former ACT fullback Robbie Coleman to join him.

Perth junior Godwin and journeyman Alcock will both start against their old club while Coleman looms as a second-half X-factor from the Force’s bench.

Asked what Brumbies fans could expect from the Force, Wessels grinned: “Some surprises.

“Sometimes the Force has been guilty of playing to lose. We’ve talked as a group about playing to win.

“That means every now and then we’ll get bumped on our arse and we understand that. But ultimately we want to win and have people be proud of the team.”

The Brumbies haven’t lost three games in a row since 2011 and are desperate to turn around their form.

“The Force are going to be hard at the breakdown and we’re prepared for that,” said Brumbies fullback Aidan Toua.

“We’ve gone through the last couple of games and we’ve been so close, so our general game is OK. It’s just about the finer detail that we’ve lacked in some areas of the game.

“I think both [Alcock and Godwin] are eager to play this weekend, results haven’t gone our way so far, so we’re really excited for this weekend.”

CANBERRA UNITED STAR TO DELIVER GAME BALL

The ACT Brumbies will turn to one of Canberra’s best female athletes for extra inspiration to chase their first win against the Force.

Canberra United star Michelle Heyman will be given coin-toss duties and deliver the game ball on to Canberra Stadium before kick-off to recognise her for winning the LGBTI sports personality of the year.

Brumbies chief executive Michael Thomson said: “It’s a great way to recognise another Canberra athlete and we are very happy she will be a part of our game day.”

Striker Heyman is a two-time W-League Golden Boot winner and played for the Australian Matildas at the Rio Olympic Games last year.

SUPER RUGBY ROUND THREE

Friday: ACT Brumbies v Western Force at Canberra Stadium, 7.45pm. Tickets available from Ticketek.

Brumbies team: 15. Aidan Toua, 14. Henry Speight, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 12. Kyle Godwin, 11. James Dargaville, 10. Wharenui Hawera, 9. Joe Powell, 8. Jordan Smiler, 7. Chris Alcock, 6. Ben Hyne, 5. Sam Carter, 4. Rory Arnold, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 2. Josh Mann-Rea, 1. Ben Alexander. Reserves: 16. Robbie Abel, 17. Nic Mayhew, 18. Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin, 19. Blake Enever, 20. Tom Staniforth, 21. Lolo Fakaosilea, 22. De Wet Roos, 23. Andrew Smith.

Force team: 15. Dane Haylett-Petty, 14. Chance Peni, 13. Curtis Rona, 12. Billy Meakes, 11. Luke Morahan, 10. Jono Lance, 9. Ryan Louwrens, 8. Richard Hardwick, 7. Kane Koteka, 6. Brynard Stander, 5. Matt Philip, 4. Ross Haylett-Petty, 3. Tetera Faulkner, 2. Heath Tessmann, 1. Pek Cowan. Reserves: 16. Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17. Ben Daley, 18. Jermaine Ainsley, 19. Onehunga Havili Kaufusi, 20. Isi Naisarani, 21. Michael Ruru, 22. Ian Prior, 23. Robbie Coleman.

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Encouraging learning beyond class

Bright sparks: Waratah West Public School students show off their lava lamps in test tubes at the Children’s University Newcastle Passport Day. HUNTER students have been urged to think of learning as a passport to the world.
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More than 1000 students from 24 schools are participating in the burgeoning Children’s University Newcastle program, which encourages children between the ages of seven and 14 to participatein educational activities beyond the school curriculum.

Students are given passports, which are stamped every time they complete a validated activity with a registered organisationeither before or after school, during lunch or in the holidays. Thiscould include playing sport or an instrument, joining a dance group or drama class or visiting art galleries, museums and libraries.

Waratah West Public teacher Jane Chapman said the school hadfully subsidised the $10 fee forall 38 students from years three to six to participate.

“We were one of the inaugural schools last year and it opened up a world of future learning,” Ms Chapman said.

“They were really excited at having their passports stamped and it showed them that learning is not just isolated to school and does not have to be something done only between 9am and 3pm. Opportunities for valuable lessons happen everywhere and can include things you already do anyway.

“The link to the University of Newcastle [UON]is important in helping them see it as an option for everybody.”

Five UON students from different study areas visited the school on Thursday and took the students through five activities in two hours.

The activitieswere basedon origami, advertising, first aid, making a lava lampin a test tube and sound-activated robots.

Students who reach 30 hours of activities attend a graduation ceremony at the UON Great Hall in full academic dress in October.

The program has almost tripled in size from last year, when UON was one of only three universities in Australia offering the venture and recruited 300students from nine schools.

UON is also working withAllambi Care, Premier Youthworks, Settlement Services International, Wandiyali and Wesley Mission this year to offer the program to students in care.

Could you go without your phone if it meant getting a good night’s sleep?

File image.It turns out,more than half of surveyed people who were glued to their screens late into the evening – late night workers, web surfers, movie watchers or online gamers – reported more than two sleep problems.
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The short-wavelength blue light from screens blocks the natural sleep hormone melatonin, which is produced by our brains to help us go to sleep and sleep well through the night.

“We believe that this association between before-bed screen time and having sleep problems is no co-incidence”,Australasian Sleep Association President Dr Maree Barnes said.

It’s why sleep specialistsare challenging Australians to enjoy one good night’s sleep to markWorld SleepDay on Friday, March 17.

Research shows adults should have 7-8 hours of sleep each night but studies indicate that a third of the population routinely fail to get enough.

Recent Sleep Health Foundation research found that 44 per cent of Australian adults are on the internet just before bed almost every night.

“That’s a concerning number of people delaying bedtime with devices that actually make good sleep harder to attain.”Sleep Health Foundation Chair and Sleep Psychologist, Professor Dorothy Bruck said.

“Night time screen use has also been shown to shift the body clock, making you more likely to rise in the morning feeling groggy and unrefreshed,” she said.

“That’s bad news for those wanting to wake up bright and alert for a busy day.”

The twospecialists say it is best to count back from when you need to get up, to work out when they need to go to bed to get the 7-8 hours of sleep that they need.

“Make sure you’re leaving yourself enough time to have that golden 7-8 hours of shut-eye,” Professor Bruck said.

“If it doesn’t add up, bring your bedtime forward. You’ll thank yourself in the morning.”

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School plans to help get food on the table

GOOD CAUSE: St Liborius students Evan McClellan and Ella Hetherton with deputy principal Alistair Stewart. Picture: NONI HYETTST LIBORIUS Catholic Primary School is one of many Bendigo community groups helping to raise money for Bendigo Food Share.
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The Million Meals in March campaign is hoping to raise$63,000 in one month to helpprovide one million meals to people and families in need.

To help raise part of the funds, St Liborius is selling My Local Biz voucher books for $25. Each book contains vouchers for more than 60 businesses and offers more than $1300 in savings.

For each booklet sold $5 goes to Bendigo Foodshare and $5 goes to St Liborius.

If the school can sell 2000 books before the end of March it will mean $10,000 for Bendigo Foodshare.

St Liborius deputy principal Alistair Stewart said the school got involved with Bendigo Foodshare to help families in the Eaglehawk area.

“Foodshare told us there is a big need for this type of support in the Eaglehawk area and we wanted to help fill that need,” he said.

“A lot of our staff are involved in social justice projects in the local community as are the student leadership group.”

Mr Stewart said Bendigo Foodshare provided packages to the school that helped them support families.

“We’re able to get food packages from them on regular basis that help support our families at St Liborius and support our wider school community,” he said.

“Some families need that support but with that they come back to us and talk and we are able to give them more assistance.

“If we can connect with families on deeper level, they trust us and we have better relationship when working with their children.”

Mr Stewart said seeing children and families appreciate regular food on their table was like Christmas.

“Some families and students know they are doing it tough,” he said.

“In the first week, one family said it was like Christmas and wereable to plan their meals for a few days. It is good to be able to provide that service.”

To order a My Local Biz voucher booklet from St Liborius, get in touch with the school.

“We have beenputting the word out with the school newsletter and details will be on our social media soon,” Mr Stewart.

In Bendigo, onein 11 people have trouble getting regular food on the table while in poorer areas it is onein ninepeople who need help.

At the end of the first week of the Million Meals in March campaign, Bendigo Foodshare had raised $6256.

Visit梧桐夜网bendigofoodshare.org419论坛for more details on Bendigo Foodshare or the Million Meals in March campaign.

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Swans’ training wings clipped by light rail

Construction of Sydney’s new light rail has impacted the Swans’ pre-season for a second straight year, forcing the 2016 grand finalists to narrow their Moore Park training base.
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The Swans have been using a field just 101 metres wide at times this summer with the development of the $2.1 billion CBD and South East Light Rail encroaching on the western side of the multi-use Tramway Oval, which usually measures 114 metres across.

Works in the area began in 2014 and initially reduced the width of the oval to 108 metres, but the Swans have shrunk those boundaries further on occasion to allow players to run laps of the field while training is in progress.

SCG and Allianz Stadium patrons will be serviced by a Moore Park stop upon completion of the light rail project, which will transport passengers from Circular Quay to Randwick and Kensington.

Sydney will have access to their in-season training base, the Sydney Cricket Ground, late next week with the Sheffield Shield clash between NSW and South Australia being played this week, the venue’s last cricketing commitment this summer.

The SCG boasts a width of 136 metres, some 35 metres more than the light rail-impeded Moore Park, while the MCG is 141 metres wide.

Across town, the GWS Giants train on Tom Wills Oval, which is about 120 metres wide. That facility is solely used by the Giants, while the Tramway Oval in the Moore Park precinct is also used by Super Rugby’s NSW Waratahs and up to 450 members of the Swans Academy.

“It’s never been wide but they’ve brought it in because of the trams, and we don’t have anywhere else to train,” Swans coach John Longmire told Fairfax Media.

“Would we rather have a wider ground with not as much traffic on it? In an ideal world you would have a bigger, wider ground, an AFL standard ground with facilities.

“There’s nothing we can do about it so we don’t think it hinders us too much, we don’t think we miss out on anything.

“In the end, we’ve got some grass out there, we’re going to train. Chasing and tackling out there is as important as chasing and tackling at the MCG.

“There’s a gym down there that we’ll do our weights in, it’s not going to stop us from being competitive.”

A Transport for NSW spokesman said construction of the light rail was expected to be completed in 2019, while works in the Tramway Oval area were on track to be finished this year.

The Swans have long been searching for a patch of land in Sydney’s eastern suburbs where they could build a secondary training base, and host reserve-grade matches.

Swans home games in the NEAFL are usually played at the SCG, but matches are occasionally moved to Blacktown International Sportspark, about 40 kilometres away, if the weather is bad and there is a risk of churning up the ground before an AFL fixture.

A lack of training facilities also deterred the Swans from submitting an application for a women’s team in the new AFLW competition.

Most other clubs in the AFL boast sole-purpose training facilities, or will do so in the near future.

Essendon opened a state-of-the-art training base in 2013 near Melbourne Airport, Hawthorn is planning to build a world-class training centre, while Fremantle is committed to a $109 million facility in Cockburn, which will be big enough to replicate every AFL venue.

“If you look at Lakeside [Tramway Oval] versus the MCG, you’ve got the tram coming down there, it gets a high level of traffic, the Waratahs train out here,” Longmire said.

“That’s a challenge for us and it’s a challenge for the game.

“In schools they’re really excited about AFL football, but they’re still looking to get more grounds, more facilities. People are wanting their kids to play AFL footy and getting facilities and grounds is a real challenge.

“We’ve been here for 32 years. There’s so much interest in the game, it’s just a matter of capturing that now and putting it together and supporting it with the infrastructure.”

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Super Rugby mess costing the Australian game dearly

If you thought all this Super Rugby hand-wringing was about a couple of small, broke clubs and their whinging fans, you were wrong.
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Sorting out the format and make-up of the competition is about the future of the Wallabies as much as it is about the Orange Emus. It’s about that mythical trophy, the Bledisloe Cup, and whether Australian fans ever again see a Test captain thrust it aloft.

It’s about your local rugby clubhouse, whose door you probably haven’t darkened in a while but boy, weren’t you dismayed when you woke up and read its volunteer board was trying to sell the joint to finance a future. The longer the Australian Rugby Union accepts a competition that makes less and less money for its Super Rugby clubs, the less money it has to grow the game anywhere else.

Just how much money is the ARU ploughing into clubs with falling attendances and members? Try an extra $8 million last year. Its forthcoming annual report is expected to reveal a total spend of $33 million in direct cash funding across the five clubs in 2016, up $8million on 2015 figures and $13million since 2014 – the year the Waratahs won Super Rugby.

Not all of that is good money after bad. But head office spent at least $3 million bailing out the Western Force last year, and that is on top of the $3 million it spent on the Melbourne Rebels the year before while the club was between private equity deals. In 2010 the ARU threw a few million dollars at the failing QRU, which followed the $5 million it gave the NSWRU a decade earlier. Imagine what $3million could do in other parts of the game right now.

Try the Australian Under-20s, who will play in the world championships in Georgia in May. In the nine years the tournament has existed, Australia’s juniors have never won. They have played in a final once – the same year then-QRU chief Jim Carmichael went cap in hand to the ARU – and in the bronze medal match just twice. Since 2011 they have not finished better than fifth. Over the past two years, ARU strategists have quietly overhauled the national U20s program, setting up provincial squads attached to the five Super Rugby clubs and launching a Super U20s Championship to give the 60-odd squad members regular game time.

But this is a program that operates on a budget of less than $1million a year, paying its coach somewhere in the vicinity of $30,000, in an area that every other major rugby-playing nation recognises as an area of crucial strategic import.

It is no secret that England’s recent dominance at the U20s level – they have won three of the last four titles – is translating now into a golden era at Test level. That’s not all down to Eddie Jones. The last Test nation to beat the All Blacks? Ireland, whose U20s played in the final last year. The IRFU, like the RFU, employ full-time coaches, strength and conditioners.

In fact, the strides made by both those countries ruffled serious feathers across the ditch. New Zealand won the first four titles on offer when the world championships started in 2008 but didn’t win again until 2015 and finished fifth last year. It is no surprise then that almost 50 of New Zealand’s best young players are about to assemble for their second five-day camp in the lead-up to the tournament in Georgia. In contrast, the new Australian U20s coach Simon Cron, who coaches the team part-time in addition to his Shute Shield duties, will not have all his players in one room until the beginning of April. They will have three days together and then meet again at the end of the month for an eight-day Oceania tournament alongside New Zealand, Samoa and Fiji. Necessity will dictate Cron use the tournament for some serious trial-and-error, in the hope that by the end of May he will be able to take a competitive side to Europe.

Imagine what a small slice of that semi-regular bailout money could do for the next generation of Wallabies. As outspoken club rugby identity Brett Papworth is fond of saying, there are too many good causes in Australian rugby and nowhere near enough money to fund them all. Club rugby, sevens, the U20s. They should all be in the minds of the administrators at the SANZAAR meeting on Friday.

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Up to $440m needed for sewerage fix

Labor’s$250 million commitmentto replacing Launceston’s combined stormwater and sewerage pipework could fall short of the work neededto be done, according to a 2016independent report.
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A report, by consultants Beca on behalf of TasWater to investigate solutions for the system, found that full separation was likely to cost $440 million, though could beas low as $300 million or as high as $560 million.

The system is a sore point for Launceston businesses and residents as, during times of heavy flow, it depositsraw sewage into the Tamar estuary.

The report found that overflows occur frequently with 10 spills occurring on averageweek, and thatfull separation would not completely fix the problem but cut the spill volume by 65 per cent.

Other options to reduce spills include spending $121 million to build three retention tanks to hold up to 88 per cent of the spill volume, or direction ofoverflows for storage at the Ti Tree Bend sewerage treatment plant at a cost of $167 million.

The state government has slammed Labor’s plan to have this project and two others in the South –$160 million for Macquarie Point sewerage works and $50 million of works at Camerons Bay –funded by privatesuperannuation funds.

Treasurer Peter Gutwein said the interest and expected returns from investors could see bills rise up to 18 per cent.

Opposition Leader Bryan Green denied the figure, saying it would match the interest rate applied to the $1 billion the government would need to borrow from TasCorp to complete its accelerated five-year capital works plan from mid-next year.

“Institutional investors look for a rate of return of around the same figure as interest rates,” he said.

Mr Gutwein said the government would consider funding for the three projectsbut the five-year plan would be prioritised.

He said the plan included $270 million for sewerage upgrades in Launceston which were expected to take pressure off the combined system.

Launceston independent MLC Rosemary Armitage said she would move to form a select committee in the upper house next week to probe the government’s plan to takeover TasWater with eight members expressing interest in participating.

She said the committee would prevent delays in the legislation passing through the upper house in spring.

Meanwhile, local government head Doug Chipman has lashed out at the government for using slow movement on resolving boil-water alerts in Tasmanian towns as justification for launching a takeover of TasWater.

The government has announced that it would this year legislate to make TasWater a Government Business Enterprise, seizing the corporation from council ownership.

Councils will retain an estimated $30 million in dividends until 2024-25 and half thereafter.

Local Government Association of Tasmania president Doug Chipman on Thursdayaccused the government of being “fast and loose” with facts, politically opportunistic, and misleading in their approach to the takeover this week.

“This continued rhetoric downplaying the accomplishments and plans for TasWaterultimately hurts all Tasmanians – impacting on our reputation nationally and internationally,” he said.

Mr Gutwein said the councils had almost nine years to act on boil-water alerts and had waited too long.“Over the period that we’ve been in government, I’ve been raising the issue of water and sewerage will local government as the owners, pushing them to do more using both the strong balance sheet of the company and the strong sector balance sheet,” he said.

Mr Green said the government’s argument for seizing control of TasWater in July 2018 to fix boil-water alerts was false with TasWater’s current project program ensuring all remaining towns on alerts would have them removed bythat year.

Avoca, Lady Barron, Mole Creek, Pioneer and Mountain River are expected tobe removed from the alerts by July 1.Derby, Branxholm, Legerwood and Winnaleah will be removed in by the end of August

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Oil plunges as global glut persists

The price of oil plunged to its lowest in three months amid renewed concerns that efforts to bring global supply into balance with demand are failing.
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Brent oil shed 5 per cent to settle at $US53.11 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures Europe exchange. US oil slid 5.4 per cent, the biggest one-day drop in more than a year, to $US50.28 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was the lowest closing price for both futures contracts since December 7.

The slide hit the shares of local energy companies on Thursday, with Santos falling 3.3 per cent and Woodside closing 1.1 per cent lower.

“The crude market is losing patience,” Mike Wittner, head of commodities research at Societe Generale in New York, said.

As a result, oil is edging closer to the level it traded at before the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed in November to cut output for six months, and it is unclear whether that accord will be extended. No assurances on OPEC quotas

Saudi Arabia Oil Minister Khalid Al-Falih this week said the world can’t rely on OPEC alone to balance the market and there was no assurance that OPEC would extend the current quotas beyond the six-month agreement.

He also said non-OPEC producing nations wouldn’t be allowed to take advantage of OPEC’s market retreat. Saudi Arabia has cut its output faster than it agreed but Mr Falih hinted there was a limit.

While compliance among OPEC members with their mostly lower monthly quotas has been better than expected, the lift in oil prices as well as tight cost controls among US producers has led to a steady increase in US oil production and stockpiles.

US crude stockpiles rose by 8.209 million barrels to 528,393 million barrels in the latest tally, a record high, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Oil services company Baker Hughes earlier this week said the average US rig count for February was 744, 8.9 per cent higher than counted in January, and up 40 per cent from February 2016.

“Whenever there is opportunity, you’ll get somebody down here in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania … and they’ll go back into the marketplace,” American Petroleum Institute president Jack Gerard said at an oil industry conference in Houston. “I believe our guys here in the US are well positioned … to take advantage of potential upside.” Global demand concerns

Mr Gerard said there had been a lot of talk about global demand rising at the conference, in particular in emerging markets over the next three to five years, and therefore there was a need to invest more to be ready for it.

What Mr Gerard called “thoughtful optimism” in the industry about the oil market isn’t being interpreted as such by traders and investors.

“Good news had certainly been out there in terms of production cuts,” Solaris Group chief investment officer Tim Ghriskey said.

“Now you see, especially on the US side, inventory builds and shale producers making some good money at these levels so production comes back on line.”

In its monthly report, the EIA is forecasting that Brent will average $US55 a barrel in 2017, rising to $US57 a barrel in 2018. US oil will trail Brent by about $US1 a barrel.

As for US production, the EIA is bullish. US crude oil production averaged an estimated 8.9 million barrels per day in 2016 and it is forecast to average 9.2 million barrels a day this year and 9.7 million next year.

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