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Community ‘betrayed’ on Treelands Drive centre decision

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The outside of the Yamba Community centre where outrage is upon the council.
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Community ‘betrayed’ on Treelands Drive centre decision

 

By Tim Howard

A Yamba community group says Clarence Valley Council staff have “betrayed” the trust of councillors and the public in their handling of a controversial $15 million community project.

The secretary of Yamba Community Action Network, Lynne Cairns, said the group has made Government Information Public Access requests of the council and the Department of Regional NSW and uncovered some damning information in documents that revealed that councillors and the community were denied in the decision making for the Treelands Drive Community Centre project.

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The controversy surrounding the centre in Yamba’s west began almost as soon as it opened in 1999.

But when council received an $11.1 million Bushfire Local Economic Recovery grant after the 2019-20 fires to be spent on the project the twists and turns have magnified.

Some Yamba residents said a plan to demolish and rebuild the centre was not a priority in the town.

And when the Grafton Pool was suddenly closed last year because of potential catastrophic infrastructure failure, council moved on November 22 to attempt to have the BLER grant transferred to the pool and move ahead with a proposal on December 13 that became known as Option B, to refurbish the community centre and include a library.

But during December and January these plans unravelled when the Department turned down the grant switch proposal.

And council became concerned the switch from a demolish and rebuild proposal would also rule the project ineligible under the BLER funding guidelines.

At its February 2023 meeting the council controversially rescinded the December resolution and re-instated Option A, to demolish and rebuild the centre.

Council is due to take the next step in this process at its meeting on July 25.

But YambaCAN has uncovered information its members believes undermines the council’s position.

The outside of the Yamba Community centre where outrage is upon the council.

After the February meeting it launched a series of GIPA requests to the Department of Regional NSW and the council, uncovering information that Mrs Cairns said throws new light on the process.

The group has sent a letter, listing its findings to all councillors ahead of the next meeting as well as to the Information and Privacy Commission.

“In an email exchange between a council officer and the Department in March, its seems someone in the department has realised the council has received the wrong idea about the BLER funding guidelines,” Mrs Cairns said.

“But in response to council’s email claiming Option B falling outside BLER guidelines its senior project officer said ‘With regard to point 2, I’m concerned that perhaps there’s been some confusion with the funding deed conditions, because for this project, we were aware Council were working on Option B and it would have been a permissible scope variation (i.e. to refurbish the existing centre, rather than knockdown/rebuild, in order to deliver the project within the available funds). I thought it would be helpful to clarify that point.’

“From that email trail it looks like council is saying that Option B doesn’t fit the guidelines and the Department is saying it does.”

Mrs Cairns said other emails and documents revealed under GIPA requests show the council did nothing to pursue Option B by providing details to the BLER program from September 2022.

“We found emails to council asking for budgets and planning details for Option B so they could assess them, but council provided nothing,” Mrs Cairns said.

Bizarrely the council did acknowledge this situation in February, just days prior to the council meeting when general manager Laura Black emailed the department.

“Council is seeking confirmation that the BLER funds are to be used for the project that was submitted – Treelands Drive Community Hub as described.

And whether, if it does not proceed with this, it too late to have some other project on the same site considered for the funding,”

Mrs Cairns said this was not an accurate portrayal of the situation.

“The ‘some other project’ was Option B, which the department had been aware council had been considering since September 2022,” Mrs Cairns said.

“It was not ‘some other project’ but something that had been a lawful resolution of the council since the December 13 meeting.”

Mrs Cairns said she had concerns the plans for the centre which went out to tender could contravene the BLER guidelines.

She said the BLER funding was conditional on the new building containing a commercial kitchen of 93 sq m and a dedicated multi-purpose under cover youth/early learning space with outdoor fenced area.

“The plans that went out to tender contained a 31.9 sqm community kitchen and the youth space is now an area beside the driveway that is not under cover, has no fenced area and is shared with the mobility drop off point,” she said.

“It appears none of these changes were officially approved as required by the Department.”
Mrs Cairns said another sore point was comparing the way changes to the Maclean Community Centre, which was also BLER funded, underwent radical changes, without the controversy.

Mrs Cairns said the information uncovered in the GIPA requests damages the council’s credibility in the community.

“To me it appears councillors and the community have been betrayed and decisions made which went against the community’s wishes,” she said.

Clarence Valley mayor Ian Tiley said he had read Mrs Cairns’ letter and said the difference between what the was revealed and what came to council was concerning.

“Councillors acted in good faith on information provided to them by the general manager and senior staff,” he said.

“We were told we did not have an Option B, but it now appears that we did have an Option B.”

Cr Tiley said he did not know how that transpired, but had sent a copy of the letter to general manager Laura Black to have it investigated.

He was not aware of anything related to this matter appearing in the business paper for the next meeting.

“The business paper is out later this week, I will be interested to see what is in it, and will talk more about It then,” he said.

 

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New one-stop shop to attract, support and promote women in building

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Women Building NSW
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New one-stop shop to attract, support and promote women in building

 

Master Builders Association of New South Wales, in collaboration with the NSW Government, proudly announces the launch of Women Building NSW, a comprehensive digital platform designed to attract, support, and champion women in the building and construction sector.

Unveiled on May 13, 2024, the Women Building NSW website represents a significant stride towards fostering inclusivity and diversity within the industry. This innovative initiative offers a centralised hub of resources and support tailored to women, young girls, parents, employers, and consumers alike.

Brian Seidler, Executive Director, underscores the pivotal role of Women Building NSW in empowering women to pursue enriching careers within the dynamic realm of building and construction. With the industry serving as a cornerstone of economic growth and development, Seidler highlights the imperative of harnessing the diverse talents and skills of women to drive progress.

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Despite the industry’s substantial footprint, statistics reveal a significant gender disparity, with women comprising only 15% of the workforce and a mere 3% of tradies. Seidler emphasises the vast potential inherent in tapping into this under-utilised talent pool to address chronic workforce shortages and meet the pressing demands of NSW’s housing crisis.

Bob Black, NSW President, affirms the Women Building hub as a valuable resource offering comprehensive guidance and support to navigate the various pathways available to women in the industry. By consolidating information and resources, the platform aims to streamline access to opportunities and empower women to thrive in traditionally male-dominated domains.

Central to the Women Building NSW initiative is the provision of a diverse array of features and resources, including a detailed Job Guidebook covering over 100+ career options, a business start-up booklet tailored for aspiring female entrepreneurs, and resources for parents, teachers, and career advisors. Additionally, the platform offers insights into upcoming pre-apprenticeship courses, apprenticeship opportunities, and resources to support employers in fostering gender diversity within their organisations.

The project has been made possible through funding from the Trade Pathways Program – Training Services NSW, underscoring the collaborative effort between industry stakeholders and government entities to effect positive change.

For those eager to explore the wealth of resources and opportunities available through Women Building NSW, the website can be accessed here.

 

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Australian unemployment increases in April to 9.7% – overall labour under-utilisation at highest since October 2020

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Australian unemployment increases in April
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Australian unemployment increases in April to 9.7% – overall labour under-utilisation at highest since October 2020

 

In April 2024, Australian ‘real’ unemployment increased 177,000 to 1,535,000 (up 1% to 9.7% of the workforce) despite overall employment remaining near its all-time high at over 14.2 million.

In addition to the increase in unemployment, there was also a slight increase in under-employment, up 18,000 to 1,594,000. These combined increases mean a massive 3.13 million Australians (19.8% of the workforce, up 1%) were unemployed or under-employed in April – the highest level of total labour under-utilisation for over three years since October 2020 (3.15 million) during the early months of the pandemic.

The April Roy Morgan Unemployment estimates were obtained by surveying an Australia-wide cross section of people aged 14+. A person is classified as unemployed if they are looking for work, no matter when. The ‘real’ unemployment rate is presented as a percentage of the workforce (employed & unemployed).

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  • Overall employment remains near all-time record high at over 14.2 million in April:

Australian employment was down slightly by 35,000 to 14,232,000 in April. A significant fall in part-time employment drove the decrease, down 261,000 to 4,903,000 while full-time employment increased by 226,000 to 9,329,000.

  • Unemployment increased in April with 177,000 more Australians looking for work:

In April 1,535,000 Australians were unemployed (9.7% of the workforce, up 1%), an increase of 177,000 from March driven by more people looking for both full-time and part-time work. There were 669,000 (up 74,000) looking for full-time work and 866,000 (up 103,000) looking for part-time work.

  • Overall unemployment and under-employment increased by 1% to 19.8% in April:

In addition to the unemployed, a further 1.59 million Australians (10.1% of the workforce) were under-employed, i.e. working part-time but looking for more work, up 18,000 from March. In total 3.13 million Australians (19.8% of the workforce) were either unemployed or under-employed in April.

  • Comparisons with a year ago show rapidly increasing workforce driving employment growth:

The workforce in April was 15,767,000 (up 142,000 from March and up a massive 717,000 from a year ago) – comprised of 14,232,000 employed Australians (down 35,000 from a month ago) and 1,535,000 unemployed Australians looking for work (up 177,000 from a month ago).

Although unemployment and under-employment remain high at 3.13 million – the highest combined figure since October 2020 during the early months of the pandemic, there has been a surge in employment over the last year – up by a large 418,000 to a near record high of 14,232,000.

ABS Comparison

Roy Morgan’s unemployment figure of 9.7% is more than double the ABS estimate of 3.8% for March but is approaching the combined ABS unemployment and under-employment figure of 10.3%.

The latest monthly figures from the ABS indicate that the people working fewer hours in March 2024 due to illness, injury or sick leave was 537,100. This is around 146,000 higher than the pre-pandemic average of the five years to March 2019 (391,300) – a difference of 145,800.

If this higher than pre-pandemic average of workers (145,800) is added to the combined ABS unemployment and under-employment figure of 1,541,200 we find a total of 1,687,000 people could be considered unemployed or under-employed, equivalent to 11.4% of the workforce.

Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – April 2024

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source January 2019 – April 2024. Average monthly interviews 5,000.
Note: Roy Morgan unemployment estimates are actual data while the ABS estimates are seasonally adjusted.

Michele Levine, CEO Roy Morgan, says total Australian unemployment or under-employment has increased to its highest in over three years at 3.13 million in April – 19.8% of the workforce – with over 1.5 million people either unemployed or under-employed:

“The latest Roy Morgan employment estimates for April show total Australian unemployment or under-employment (also known as labour underutilisation) has increased 195,000 to 3,129,000 (19.8% of the workforce, up 1%). ’Real’ unemployment increased 177,000 to 1,535,000 (9.7% of the workforce) and under-employment increased by 18,000 to 1,594,000 (10.1%).

“This is the first time in over a year that both unemployment and under-employment have increased in the same month with the two usually moving in opposite directions. The increase means overall labour under-utilisation is now at its highest for over three years since October 2020 (3.15 million) during the early days of the pandemic.

“The labour force has experienced rapid change over the last year with a large increase in population (+717,000) – a rate almost three times higher than the average annual population growth over the last 25 years of 287,000. This population increase has been the driver of a growing workforce, up by 667,000 to a record high of over 15.7 million in April 2024.

“In turn, the increasing workforce has led to large rises in both employment, up 418,000 to over 14.2 million, and unemployment, up 249,000 to 1,535,000. As well as unemployment increasing 249,000, under-employment is up by 254,000 – a combined figure of 503,000 more Australians either unemployed or under-employed than a year ago in April 2023.

“The figures show that although new jobs are being created, there are not enough jobs being created to soak up the nearly 700,000 people who joined the workforce over the last year and increasing numbers of Australians are becoming unemployed or under-employed.”

“The sustained increase in unemployment and under-employment over the last year shows the labour market is struggling to provide the right jobs for all those joining the workforce. Tackling this continuing high level of unemployment and under-employment must be the number one priority for the Federal Government which is due to hand down a pre-election Federal Budget this week.”

This Roy Morgan survey on Australia’s unemployment and ‘under-employed’* is based on weekly interviews of 974,626 Australians aged 14 and over between January 2007 and April 2024 and includes 6,020 telephone and online interviews in April 2024. *The ‘under-employed’ are those people who are in part-time work or freelancers who are looking for more work.

 

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Potential $1 Trillion Cost to Taxpayers from Superannuation Withdrawal for Home Deposits

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Superannuation Withdrawal for Home Deposits
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Potential $1 Trillion Cost to Taxpayers from Superannuation Withdrawal for Home Deposits

 

Newly released modelling commissioned by the Super Members Council reveals significant long-term fiscal implications for Australian taxpayers stemming from proposals allowing young Australians to utilise their superannuation to fund house deposits. According to the analysis, unrestricted access to superannuation funds for this purpose could saddle taxpayers with costs amounting to a staggering $1 trillion over time.

Key Findings of the Report

  • Financial Impact: The proposal to allow a capped withdrawal of $50,000 from superannuation accounts for home deposits could result in a $300 billion drain on federal resources across future decades. In contrast, an uncapped withdrawal policy could inflate this cost to approximately $1 trillion by century’s end.
  • Increased Pension Dependency: The report underscores a critical concern that enabling first-time homebuyers to dip into their superannuation will lead to significantly reduced balances upon retirement. This reduction is expected to increase reliance on taxpayer-funded age pensions, thereby escalating government expenditures considerably.
  • Economic Consequences: At its peak, the capped withdrawal policy could impose an additional annual cost of $8 billion on taxpayers, with the uncapped option potentially reaching an annual cost of $25 billion.

Impact on Housing Market and Home Ownership

The modelling also highlights adverse effects on the housing market, predicting an increase in capital city house prices by an average of $75,000, which could further exacerbate the housing affordability crisis. This inflationary effect contradicts the policy’s intention to enhance home ownership rates, instead potentially delaying entry into the housing market for future generations.

Expert Opinions and Recommendations

Misha Schubert, CEO of the Super Members Council, criticised the policy proposals as economically imprudent. Schubert emphasised that such policies not only fail to address home ownership rates but also worsen housing affordability and erode retirement savings, leaving a hefty tax burden for all Australians.

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“Economic evidence consistently shows that breaking open super for house deposits will not resolve the housing crisis but will rather inflate property prices and amplify pension costs,” said Schubert.

Call for Policy Rethink

The Super Members Council is advocating for a reconsideration of any policy that might weaken the integrity and success of the superannuation system, which has been pivotal in ensuring a secure retirement for millions of Australians. The Council warns against the long-term economic pitfalls of such policies, suggesting they would undermine the foundational goals of the superannuation system.

Analytical Backdrop

The findings are based on comprehensive microsimulation models developed by Deloitte, accounting for demographic shifts, superannuation contributions and balances, and projected tax and pension expenditures. This robust analytical approach reinforces the credibility of the projected fiscal and market impacts.

In conclusion, the Super Members Council urges policymakers to preserve the superannuation system’s strength, cautioning against decisions that could compromise both individual financial security and broader economic stability.

 

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