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National News Australia

Drowning Toll Rises over Busy Easter

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Drowning Toll Rises over Busy Easter

 

Surf lifesavers and lifeguards made more than 200 rescues and performed nearly 1,000 first aids over a busy Easter long weekend which saw the drowning toll rise to 42 for the year.

A 17 year old male was declared deceased on scene after lifeguards and members of the public recovered his body from the water at Hastings Point, north of Byron Bay on Saturday 30 March.

The boy had not resurfaced after jumping off the popular Hastings Point Bridge a little after 4pm.

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It was an ominous sign for things to come along the coastline, but volunteer lifesavers and lifeguards were resolute in their duty – 204 rescues performed, 832 first aid deliveries, and 34 ambulances called, making for a busy few days.

Lifeguards last night were also involved in the search for and retrieval of a man from the Parramatta River after he was reported missing just after 5pm. Police Divers eventually recovered the body of the man overnight, some distance from the patrolled zone.

Also among the major incidents on our coastline, a near drowning at Kiama on Friday afternoon where a 25 year old male was pulled from the water by members of the public and placed on oxygen by members of patrol. He was later transported to hospital conscious and breathing.

At the notorious Fingal Spit at Port Stephens, Fingal Bay SLSC’s Call Out Team and the on-call Duty Officer attended to five people who had been caught in a rip after 6pm on Saturday. Volunteers assisted in delivering first aid to the group before NSW Ambulance arrived, with one male transported to hospital as a precaution.

On Sunday, a pair of males – aged 18 and 13 – were pulled from the water by a support operations jet ski at Greenhills Beach in Sydney’s south. Both were put on oxygen and transported to hospital, the former in an unconscious state but breathing.

Further north, a male and two children were rescued by a support operations craft conducting a surveillance patrol off Main Beach at Byron Bay, well outside the flagged area.

Beaches are expected to remain busy over the coming weeks, particularly in the north of the state, with the Queensland school holidays beginning today – bringing with it a raft of travellers and holiday makers.

Flags will remain up on NSW beaches until 28 April 2024.

 

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Councils lose half billion dollars a year

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Councils lose half billion dollars a year

 

The United Services Union (USU) has unveiled a startling revelation regarding the NSW Government’s handling of funds accrued through a flawed waste levy system, which has led to an annual loss exceeding half a billion dollars for local councils. Rather than channelling these funds back into assisting councils with their waste management services and infrastructure, as intended, the government’s actions have exacerbated financial strains on local authorities.

This revelation, to be presented before the NSW Standing Committee on State Development’s inquiry into local government financial sustainability, highlights a pressing issue compounded by the detrimental effects of rate capping—a policy that has severely constrained the financial flexibility of the majority of NSW councils. Both the flawed waste levy system and the constraints of rate capping persist as legacies of the previous coalition government.

General Secretary of the USU, Graeme Kelly, underscored the severity of the situation, emphasising that while local councils and communities contribute approximately $750 million annually through the waste levy, only a fraction, $250 million, is reinvested into local waste management initiatives. The staggering sum of $500 million is siphoned into the state’s consolidated revenue, neglecting the intended purpose of aiding councils in managing waste sustainably.

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The shortfall in waste levy revenue exacerbates existing challenges, particularly in regions like northern NSW, where inadequate landfill sites prompt councils to incur additional costs by transporting waste across state borders. This situation not only burdens ratepayers but also results in lost levy revenue for NSW.

Mr. Kelly decried this as a blatant instance of cost shifting by the NSW Government, which places undue strain on councils already grappling with financial constraints imposed by rate pegging, diminishing grants, and escalating service demands.

The USU contends that the mismanagement of the waste levy exacerbates financial pressures on councils, incentivizing some to seek alternatives such as dumping waste in neighbouring states. This practice not only undermines environmental objectives but also erodes the financial stability of local councils.

However, the waste levy issue is symptomatic of a larger financial crisis facing local government in NSW, as highlighted in a report by Professor Brian Dollery. The report underscores the deleterious impact of rate pegging, which over two decades has precipitated heightened debt levels, infrastructure deficiencies, and decreased municipal efficiency compared to states without rate caps.

Mr. Kelly emphasised the urgent need for reform, asserting that unless councils are empowered to set rates reflective of their actual costs, the risk of financial distress looms large, jeopardising employment and essential services for over 50,000 council employees statewide.

The USU calls upon the NSW Government to dismantle rate pegging as part of a comprehensive reform agenda aimed at securing the long-term financial viability of local government. While recognizing the complexity of the challenges ahead, Mr. Kelly stressed that abolishing rate pegging represents a crucial initial step towards establishing a sustainable funding model that acknowledges the indispensable role of local government in community welfare.

 

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NSW Government to Modernise Planning with $5.6 Million AI Investment

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NSW Government to Modernise Planning with $5.6 Million AI Investment

 

The NSW Government has announced a $5.6 million initiative to integrate Artificial Intelligence (AI) into local council planning systems to address the ongoing housing crisis and shortage of planners. This move aims to accelerate development assessment times and enhance the efficiency of the planning process.

The “AI in NSW Planning” project has identified key areas within the development application assessment process that contribute to delays and could benefit from AI technologies.

After thorough evaluation, three innovative technologies have been selected for trials through the AI Solutions Panel and Early Adopter Grant Program:

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  • Adaptovate Pty Ltd’s Development Assessment Intelligence System (DAISY)
  • Archistar Platform
  • Propcode CDC

Councils are encouraged to apply for funding to test these technologies, with collaborative joint grant applications eligible for up to $500,000 and single council applications up to $200,000. This funding initiative is designed to foster innovative solutions to streamline the development application process.

Approximately 85 percent of all new home development applications in NSW are assessed by council staff. The introduction of recommended AI tools aims to reduce the average time taken to assess development applications by swiftly identifying administrative and data input errors.

Applications for the Early Adopter Grant Program are open to all councils and will close on 22 May 2024. Successful applicants will be notified by June.

Minister for Planning and Public Spaces, Paul Scully, emphasised the transformative potential of the program: “This grant program is set to modernise the NSW planning system, enhancing its efficiency by equipping our planners with the best tools available. Our objective is to ensure the planning system operates at full capacity, which is essential for the timely delivery of new homes.”

For further details or to apply for a grant, councils are invited to visit the NSW Planning website. This initiative marks a significant step towards bringing NSW planning systems into the 21st century, leveraging technology to meet the growing needs of the community.

 

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Nearly $1.4M in Grants Awarded to Strengthen Rural Communities Across Australia

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Nearly $1.4M in Grants Awarded to Strengthen Rural Communities Across Australia

 

In a significant boost for rural development, the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) has announced that nearly $1.4 million in grants have been distributed to 129 community groups across remote, rural, and regional Australia. These grants, part of the FRRR’s Strengthening Rural Communities (SRC) program, aim to support a variety of local initiatives designed to enhance community cohesion and resilience.

The funding was allocated across three streams: community enhancements like upgrades to local facilities; COVID-19 recovery projects such as the creation of cultural precincts; and disaster preparedness and recovery initiatives, which include programs tailored for trauma-responsive community healing.

This round of SRC funding saw an unprecedented demand with 450 applications submitted, requesting over $4.5 million in support for projects collectively valued at more than $19 million. In response to the high demand, FRRR has streamlined its application process, significantly reducing the time from application to award to just nine weeks.

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Jill Karena, FRRR’s Place Portfolio Lead, highlighted the shifting landscape of funding in rural areas, noting a decrease in traditional government and local business support. “The SRC program’s flexibility and year-round availability are crucial, especially as communities transition from immediate disaster response to long-term recovery,” Karena explained. “This round we observed a notable increase in applications for community events funding and initiatives aimed at boosting local economies through tourism and other activities.”

Despite the generous grant allocations, there remains a significant unmet need within these communities. An additional 85 projects were ready for funding, seeking over $900,000 which could not be met due to limited resources. This underscores the critical role that small grants play in sustaining rural community groups and why FRRR is actively seeking new partners to expand its funding capabilities.

“Groups have expressed the importance of having access to timely and secure funding to support not just immediate needs but also medium and long-term goals,” said Ms. Karena. “These projects foster a strong sense of place and identity, and they require continuous support. We hope to engage more collaborative funders to join us in nurturing the heart of Australia’s rural sectors.”

A complete list of the grant recipients is available on the FRRR’s website. The SRC program is supported by a variety of donors, from private individuals to larger foundations, all listed on the FRRR’s website. Community groups and local not-for-profits are encouraged to review the program guidelines and consider applying for future rounds of funding.

More information about the SRC program can be found here.

 

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