September, 2018

New Catholic standards body to crack down on clergy: Royal Commission

Brisbane Catholic Archbishop Mark Coleridge. Photo: Melissa Adams Francis Sullivan, CEO of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council. Photo: Jeremy Piper
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A newly established national oversight body for the Catholic church will have the power to publicly name dioceses or religious orders which fail to meet its robust standards, a royal commission has heard.

The inquiry was told the new body, Catholic Professional Standards (CPS) Ltd, will also give bishops the authority to penalise priests who do not to comply with the new benchmarks.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard that the body, formed late last year, would set, enforce and audit new standards on the protection of children and vulnerable people.

Neville Owen, the chairman of the Catholic church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council,  told the hearing CPS would publicly name the dioceses and orders which failed to comply.

“The teeth in this system is public reporting,” he said. “The intention is public reporting will be the norm.”

The inquiry heard the CPS board would have discretionary powers over public reporting.

Archbishop of Brisbane and vice president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Mark Coleridge told the hearing into church authorities the body would give bishops the power to penalise priests who failed to comply.

“These are serious sanctions, to stand a man aside or remove his faculties but given the seriousness of what we are discussing, they are measures I would consider,” he said.

The commission heard CPS as well as a public national register with background information on Catholic ministry were still in the early stages of formation.

Justice Owen told the commission CPS would be “functionally independent” from the church although it will be funded by two Catholic peak bodies, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia.

Chief executive of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council Francis Sullivan said the ministry register and CPS would help hold the church to account in light of thousands allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy over decades

“Getting change in the Catholic church is heroic and it takes a lot of time to get small changes,” he said.

“The real driver for this change has been the historic poor performance of church leaders.

“The real problem is that church the church leadership has never been held to account.”

Archbishop Coleridge described the establishment of the CPS as “historic”, saying it represented a “slow and painful shift of the culture”.

“If it doesn’t lead to cultural change, the danger is we go round and round and round and the appalling prospect is that the could end up where we started,” he said.

The hearing, before Justice Peter McClellan​, continues.

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The climate bombshell the politicians didn’t touch

APRA’s Geoff Summerhayes highlighted the potential exposure of banks’ and insurers’ balance sheets to real estate impacted by climate change and to re-pricing or even ‘stranding’ of carbon-intensive assets in other parts of their loan books. Photo: Jonathan CarrollNever mind the politicisation of energy and carbon policy – the market and legal system is moving rapidly to instil the discipline and punishment the government isn’t game to discuss.
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That was the core of the climate change bombshell dropped by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority on Friday. The policy vacuum will be filled by the personal liability of company directors and the disclosure requirements of financial regulators.

If the ABC’s Insiders program and the federal Environment and Energy Minister, Josh Frydenberg, are any guide, Canberra hasn’t yet grasped the importance of the speech by APRA executive board member, Geoff Summerhayes, to the Insurance Council of Australia forum.

In keeping with the Paris Agreement Australia has signed and the Financial Stability Board’s (FSB) policy development, APRA leaves no room for climate sceptics. Both the obvious physical and perhaps less obvious “transition” risks of climate change are real and present dangers to the financial system APRA is charged with safeguarding.

And it’s the transition risks of moving to a low-carbon economy that Summerhayes fingered as being particularly important for financial entities. APRA and its international counterparts fear the impact on banks, superannuation funds and asset managers of changes in policy, law, markets, technology and prices that are part of the agreed transition to a low-carbon economy.

Spare a thought here for the board of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) as it considers Adani’s application for a billion-dollar loan to build a railway from the Galilee Basin to the Queensland coast. While being lent on by pro-coal government members, NAIF directors would do well to consider why Australia’s banks seem to have no interest in financing the line. It’s not just a green PR issue – it’s the danger of being left with a stranded asset and directors being personally liable.

Summerhayes quoted legal opinion that it’s only a matter of time before directors who fail to properly consider and disclose foreseeable climate-related risks are held personally liable for breaching their statutory duty of care and diligence under the Corporations Act.

The same consideration would weigh heavily on Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) directors if the government changes the legislation to allow CEFC to lend to new coal-powered electricity generators.

Summerhayes noted that much of the early focus on climate change risks had been on insurance firms and their exposure to losses from increasingly frequent and severe natural disasters, but there were a variety of other potential issues.

“These include the potential exposure of banks’ and insurers’ balance sheets to real estate impacted by climate change and to re-pricing or even ‘stranding’ of carbon-intensive assets in other parts of their loan books,” he said.

“They also include exposure of asset owners and managers – an important consideration given the size of Australia’s superannuation sector and its heavy weighting towards carbon-intensive equities and a relatively resource-intensive domestic economy.”

Frydenberg on Sunday gave the impression the government was determined to bet Australia’s energy future on the coal industry finding a way to make carbon capture and storage (CCS) economically viable.

Given the Coalition’s refusal to price carbon so as to give CCS here even a small chance of success, that looks as sensible as an individual betting their financial future on winning OzLotto. That sort of policy response, driven by the coalition’s internal ructions, climate sceptics and concentration on simplistic immediate “hip pocket” politics, contrasts with broader forces APRA comprehends.

APRA’s view is that the Paris Agreement provided a very reliable signal that policy and regulatory efforts would intensify.

“The transition now in train could potentially lead to significant repricing of carbon-intensive resources and activities and reallocation of capital,” Summerhayes said.

“This process will be highly sensitive to changes in regulation, technology, the physical environment and behaviour by investors and institutions – and interrelated perceptions and sentiment about all of the above. Inevitably, even under a sanguine view of how smoothly this transition happens, there will be systemic impacts and implications that have to be carefully monitored.”

The Summerhayes speech is APRA’s first public stand on climate change. It has not rushed to it, coming nearly two years since the G20 asked the FSB to consider climate change risks and more than a year since the board established its task force on climate-related financial disclosures.

It’s in step with the insurance industry increasingly finding its voice on climate change issues after going a little quiet during the Abbott government days of overt climate scepticism.

In another context at the same ICA conference, ASIC chairman Greg Medcraft spoke about the legal licence tending to follow the social licence. On the risks and financial impact of climate change, it seems the market and legal judgments will proceed without political leadership.

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Television advertising revenue drops 3 per cent in six months

TV is competing against websites and social media for advertising dollars. Photo: Louise Kennerley ThinkTV Conference, from left: Nine CEO Hugh Marks, Ten CEO Paul Anderson, ThinkTV CEO Kim Portrate, Foxtel CEO Peter Tonagh, and Seven CEO Tim Worner. Photo: Louie Douvis
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Advertising revenue for television networks is down 2.7 per cent to $2.2 billion, according to figures for the July to December period released by industry body ThinkTV.

This is the first time ThinkTV has published the information instead of Free TV Australia. The new data also includes revenue for SBS and Multi Channel Network (part of Foxtel) and revenue from ads screened on video-on-demand (VOD). This means it is not comparable with Free TV’s data, which included revenues only from networks Ten, Seven and Nine.

“We have come together through an unprecedented collaboration between free-to-air and subscription TV and we are delighted that all commercial TV operators, including SBS, have provided their data to allow us to reflect the true scale of advertising on TV,” ThinkTV’s chief executive Kim Portrate said.

Last week, Network Ten issued a profit warning to shareholders, telling shareholders the weak advertising market was putting the industry “under severe duress” and it might report an annual losses of $30 million for this financial year if the government did not cut licence fees urgently. And Seven revealed its underlying profit was down 30 per cent. Nine is expected to reports its half-year results on Thursday.

While the total market declined to $2.2 billion over six months, revenue from VOD and streaming was up 48 per cent to $38 million. The figures are compiled by KPMG using unaudited data supplied by the television networks.

The final figures released by Free TV Australia showed national revenue for the three networks was $1.7 billion in the January to June period last year, a 4.3 per cent decline. At the time, Seven enjoyed a 39 per cent market share, Nine 35 per cent and Ten had 25 per cent of the advertising market. ThinkTV does not provide a network market share.

ThinkTV was created by Ten, Seven, Nine and Foxtel in late 2016 to promote commercial television as an advertising medium. The industry is battling a perception inside advertising agencies and media booking agencies that marketing on television is expensive and ineffective when compared with cheaper digital advertising.

The Australian companies are hoping to copy the success of a UK body called ThinkTV, which reversed the trend to increase advertising spending on television by 7 per cent between 2014 and 2016.

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Why no local news may be good news for regional TV networks

Billionaire owner of WIN Television Bruce Gordon, right, catches up at WIN’s Wollongong HQ with his veteran news presenter Geoff Phillips. Photo: Sylvia Liber The roll-out of 15 regional bulletins of Nine News began with a Canberra edition on February 6. Vanessa O’Hanlon anchors the program from Nine’s Sydney studios.
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Veteran anchorman Geoff Phillips reads the ACT and NSW bulletins of the all-local half-hour WIN News. Photo: Facebook/WIN News Canberra

Madelaine Collignon and Kenny Heatley, new presenters of Prime7’s five local news bulletins in regional NSW.

Vanessa O’Hanlon reads the localised versions of Nine News for regional NSW and the ACT. Photo: Developing Agents

Newsreader Mark Ferguson presents Seven News in Sydney.

As WIN, Prime and Southern Cross Austereo begin a three-way battle for TV news viewers in the central west of NSW, ratings results in Wollongong and Canberra suggest that no local news may actually be good news for the regional broadcasters.

Even in WIN’s hometown market of Wollongong, where the network’s billionaire owner Bruce Gordon recently championed his long-standing commitment to local news for regional viewers, the all-local WIN News bulletin was beaten at 6pm last week by Prime7’s relay of Seven News from Sydney.

Between 6pm and 6.30pm, WIN News easily beat Nine News, the new local news challenger launched in the Illawarra last week by Southern Cross Austereo. The Geoff Phillips-anchored WIN program averaged 27,364 Illawarra viewers a night versus Nine’s audience of 15,476.

But Seven News on Prime7 claimed No. 1 spot in the 6pm-6.30pm timeslot (averaging 32,666 viewers) as well as the largest commercial audience share over the first hour of prime-time.

In Canberra, the local bulletin of WIN News had the biggest audience in the six o’clock slot on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights last week, with an average five-night audience of 17,198 viewers between 6pm and 6.30pm.

But the first half-hour of Mark Ferguson’s Seven News from Sydney won in Canberra on Wednesday and Friday nights and averaged 16,990 viewers for the week – giving Prime7 just 208 viewers fewer than WIN News.

The previous week WIN beat Prime7 in the slot by just 437 viewers.

The new ACT version of Nine News, in its second week on air, was the only one of the three commercial news bulletins duelling at 6pm to increase its audience share from the previous week.

But Seven News claimed victory over the full news hour.

The ratings for Prime7’s relayed news programming against the considerably more expensive local WIN and Nine bulletins will be studied closely by all three regional broadcasters who have repeatedly warned in recent years that local content is not profitable and increasingly at risk without reform of Australia’s media ownership laws.

Prime7, the long-time regional affiliate of Kerry Stokes-owned Seven, hasn’t produced its own news bulletins for Canberra, Wollongong and Newcastle since June 2001, when it axed locally produced evening news in favour of brief “updates” slotted into in commercial breaks.

But Prime7 still produces five half-hour weekday bulletins from its Canberra studios for the regions of Inland NSW, North Coast NSW, Central West, Wagga Wagga and Albury/Wodonga, as well as a nightly half-hour of national news tailored for regional areas.

Ahead of this week’s launch of a localised Nine News bulletin for Orange, Dubbo and the central west, Prime7 switched to a new format for its local bulletins with Madelaine Collignon and Kenny Heatley as tandem presenters replacing Seven-bound anchor Freya Cole.

Nine, which last year dropped WIN as its regional affiliate after almost 30 years, and new broadcast partner Southern Cross Austereo are launching 15 versions of Nine Newsin the ACT, southern and central NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

The central west bulletin debuts at 6pm on February 20, followed by a version localised for Wagga Wagga and the Riverina from February 27.

Nine’s hour-long program mixes local, state, national and international news and sport.

With small teams of reporters based in each market, the NSW editions are compiled and broadcast from Nine’s Sydney studios in Willoughby, with news anchored by former ABC News Breakfast weather presenter Vanessa O’Hanlon and weather presented by Gavin Morris out of Nine’s NBN station in Newcastle.

WIN News, presented in NSW and the ACT by Wollongong-based Geoff Phillips and Amy Duggan, moved to the 6pm timeslot last July as part of WIN’s affiliation deal with Ten.

Presented and broadcast from WIN’s Wollongong headquarters, the all-local bulletins screen between Ten Eyewitness News First at Five and The Project.

WIN owner Mr Gordon recently vowed that his company viewed providing local news as “the obligation of having a television licence” despite increased competition and cost pressures.

As well as owning WIN, 88-year-old Mr Gordon is the largest shareholder in both Nine and Ten, but is prevented from taking his holding above 15 per cent in either due to the media ownership restrictions.

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Python caught in Abbotsford backyard could ‘eat a baby’, snake catcher says

Raymond Hoser with a 2.5-metre long water python, at the Abbotsford shed it was found hiding inside. Photo: Raymond Hoser
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Terrified Abbotsford residents found a 2.5-metre python inside a shed at the back of their terrace house on Sunday night.

And, according to snake catcher Raymond Hoser it’s big enough to eat a baby.

“This is by far the biggest snake I’ve seen in the city,” Mr Hoser said. “I’ve never caught a water python in Melbourne before.

“They’re crazy, biting, eating machines and could easily eat a baby.”

Lucy Jackson, originally from Britain, said finding a snake nestled inside her shed was a brutal introduction to life in Australia.

“My boyfriend’s dad was clearing out the shed at the back, when he ran out saying ‘oh my gosh it’s a snake’,” Ms Jackson said.

“I remember thinking, I’m never going outside again. When Raymond [the snake catcher] got there he said ‘don’t worry it’s just a python’, and I thought ‘are you serious?’.

“He said it wouldn’t bite, and if it did bite it wouldn’t kill you, and I said there’s no way I’m going to bed knowing there’s a snake in there.

“And he grabbed it and that was our Sunday excitement.”

Water pythons usually inhabit freshwater swamps, lagoons, creeks and rivers across the tropical north of Australia.

They feed on rats, bandicoots, wallabies, water birds and have also be seen feeding on small freshwater crocodiles. Their prey is usually ambushed when they come to drink.

Mr Hoser, who runs the company Snakebusters, was called to the house on Charles Street about 6pm Sunday.

By the time he got there, he said “the whole street” was watching the slithery specimen.

“It was in a storage shed made of brick at the back of the terrace house. It was crawling around near the ceiling,” he said.

“It’s obviously an escaped pet, but nothing is certain. You couldn’t know where it’s from for sure, but it’s a North Queensland animal.

“We don’t use them in my reptile shows because they’d be eating up kids.”

Ms Jackson said a neighbour saw a snake inside someone else’s backyard before it was spotted inside her shed.

“It’s very scary, but obviously as soon as he said it was an escaped pet I was really relieved. But it’s crazy to think people keep pets like that,” Ms Jackson said.

Mr Hoser said it was unfortunate that people could lose such a dangerous pet, as it was a bad look for all snake owners.

“Don’t lose them, it’s a criminal offence to have an animal escape. If a snake gets out and eats someone – you’re in the shit,” he said.

“The problem is someone won’t admit to owning it, so it’s unlikely the owner will come forward.”

The Park Orchards snake catcher said he would hand the snake over to a lost reptiles home in Werribee.

His advice for anyone who sees a snake near their home?

“Don’t go near them and they won’t bite; if you’re not near it, you won’t get bitten.”

He recommends people clear their gardens of rubbish and vegetation regularly, to avoid giving snakes a place to hide.

“Situations snakes love most are rocky retaining walls with overgrown vegetation, especially if there is a pool or pond nearby. This is snake heaven,” Mr Hoser said.

“Finally, if you see a snake in the garden the best advice is move out of the way and leave it alone.”

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