Queensland prepares $150 million rescue package for state’s struggling universities

The Queensland governing administration will supply $150 million in loans to the state’s university sector, which has endured in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Countless numbers of persons right throughout regional Queensland count on universities for a task,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Sunday.

“This package will aid to hold all our universities open, safeguarding these positions.”

Universities will be able to implement for financial loans with five-calendar year compensation terms to support dollars stream, retain employees and retain exploration assignments.

Queensland universities, and universities throughout the region, have dropped profits for the duration of the pandemic soon after Australia’s borders were being shut, limiting the movement of global learners.

The Queensland university sector has reported it will drop much more than $1 billion this 12 months, putting 4000 work at hazard.

Until finally the pandemic strike, the worldwide university student current market in the state was well worth $3 billion a yr.

Individuals in Australia must continue to be at the very least 1.5 metres absent from other people. Look at your state’s limitations on accumulating restrictions.

If you are encountering cold or flu signs or symptoms, keep dwelling and set up a exam by contacting your doctor or speak to the Coronavirus Health and fitness Facts Hotline on 1800 020 080. Information and facts is offered in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus



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New joint pension plan for Ontario universities taps OTPP veteran as first CEO


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Zvan, who left Teachers’ at the end of February, had been viewed as a potential successor to Teachers’ CEO Ron Mock, who stepped down in December. However, the top job went to another Teachers’ insider, Jo Taylor.

Zvan is an actuary by training and her roles at Teachers’ included crafting that pension plan’s responsible investing and climate change strategy and directing the organization’s enterprise and operational risk management approach. She also serves on the board of the Global Risk Institute in Financial Services, and the Responsible Investment Association.

Zvan said she will use her term as the university pension plan’s inaugural CEO to help “create a new plan that delivers stable and secure results” for members.



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Australian universities suffer job losses over coronavirus concerns


As Australia adapts to the COVID-19 pandemic, major consequences are being felt in the tertiary education sector, writes Dr Binoy Kampmark.

IT SEEMED a mightily fine and cosy conversation on Radio National’s Life Matters. The feeling among the participants on 11 March was that COVID-19 was serious, but something to be gotten over. It featured the lacklustre chief executive Catriona Jackson of Universities Australia, the unconvincing Dr Alison Barnes, President of the National Tertiary Education Union and a very compliant James McDonald, head of the Student Union at Monash University’s Clayton Campus. 

A few minutes into the discussion and something disconcerting became evident. The “she’ll be right, mate” attitude, meretricious and grating, was studding the conversation, despite casual employees not having adequate protection or students getting a subpar deal from universities keen to stick to their bottom lines. Students in Australia were understanding, explained McDonald. (No riots? No indignant revolutions?) Jackson was in “furious agreement” with the panellists, though made it clear that “industrial relations” was not within the purview of Universities Australia.

Such calamities give bad decision-makers alibis, neat escape routes from liability. Decisions made by universities to treat Chinese students as eternal, ever-giving cash cows were warned against as a financial hazard. To have done so was nothing less than an extravagant gamble and liable to result in massive pruning with a change in fortunes.   

When asked about the implications of over-indulgent investment and reliance on the exploitable Chinese student, Jackson took the same view as European imperialism of the 19th century. Australian universities were effectively shouldering a civilisational burden in spreading their tentacles into other markets. What would you have them do being autarkic and inward-looking?

In dodging the question on Life Matters, Jackson showed the confusion that belies discussions about the corporatised university. Student welfare was less relevant than the bling, glitz and propaganda of a “research” institution.   

The first staff to suffer, as they tend to be in these situations, are the sessionals who toil to keep the teaching system afloat. They are gotten on the cheap, denied benefits and only work for the duration of brief, semester-to-semester contracts. They form the precariat used, misused and ignored by the casual venality of ongoing staff and top-heavy management.

Despite students providing the bulk of income to universities, the institutions continue to behave with a callousness to those who assist in facilitating the services. The only thing that matters in modern university speak is “research” and “grants”, despite such income being subsidiary to the returns from broader teaching.

In the last week of February, Francine Chidgey, a casual in the employ of the Institute of Continuing and TESOL Education at the University of Queensland, noted glumly how half of the students in her section were from China:

“I’ve been told that I won’t have teaching shifts for 17 weeks. About 40 of my colleagues are in the same position, with others receiving only one or two days’ work per week and occasional relief work.” 

The shock to the Australian tertiary sector has continued in March and bound to widen with the addition of new countries. Italy has been added to China, Iran and South Korea. A note of urgency has also been struck with the declaration by the World Health Organisation that COVID-19 is now a pandemic.

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated:

“We expect to see the number of cases, the number of deaths and the number of affected countries climb even higher.” 

Just to underline the point, Southern Cross University closed its Gold Coast and Lismore campuses on Wednesday after a Philippines-based member of staff was identified as having COVID-19. 

Such conditions of concern and fear make glory days for opportunists and Australia’s university management class is reaping. Downsizing operations is all the rage. The first to do so with some brazenness was the University of Tasmania.

The university’s Vice-Chancellor Rufus Black described in a letter to staff a turbulent environment, one in which the institution had been “working against powerful forces” in seeking sustainability. There were, however, such factors as the “overreliance on China as a market for international education and what is now emerging as a pandemic”. This meant the generous use of a financial razor, cutting course offerings from 514 to 120.

He added:

“Thanks to the good work of our teams responding to the issue, the majority of our students in China and subject to travel restrictions have started to study with us. But as we know the spread of the illness continues to shift.  We have a long way to go in dealing with this issue and its consequences will last well beyond this year.”

Black’s reference to coronavirus shows the deviousness inherent in such institutional behaviour. He seeks to minimise the decisions made about China and the impact of COVID-19 by suggesting that the university had been planning cutbacks all along.

Changes were already needed to “course architecture”, with a greater emphasis on simplicity: 

“In the face of it, we are not making enough progress to be the right size to be sustainable even in the short time.” 

But a guilty mind, of sorts, is evident, namely a confession on the VC’s part that relying so heavily on the Chinese market had been a “known strategic risk”. (Prosecutors of corporate negligence and criminality, take note.)

The conduct of the University of Tasmania is a stark rebuff to the half paternal and half panicked urgings of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to employers “to support your workers, by keeping them employed. Hold on to your people, because you will need them on the bounce back on the other side”. Holding on to people, as Morrison puts it, is unlikely to feature for decision-makers who should, by rights, turn in their resignations and vanish before the viral haze. But that’s white-collar criminality for you.

Dr Binoy Kampmark was a Cambridge Scholar and is a lecturer at RMIT University. You can follow Dr Kampmark on Twitter @BKampmark.

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Coronavirus: 13 UK universities ‘could go bust without bailout’


Student in libraryImage copyright
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Image caption

Most universities have seen their finances harmed by the pandemic

Thirteen universities face “a very real prospect” of insolvency following the coronavirus crisis unless they receive a government bailout, a study suggests.

High-ranking universities with large numbers of international students face the largest immediate drop in income, says the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

But the least prestigious universities are at the greatest risk, says the IFS.

The IFS says a targeted government bailout of the universities most at risk is the most cost-effective plan.

The fallout from Covid-19 “poses a significant financial threat” across UK higher education, with most institutions left with reduced net assets, says the analysis.

They say the total size of the sector’s losses is “highly uncertain” – anywhere between £3bn and £19bn, or between 7.5% and almost half the sector’s annual income.

The researchers’ central estimate is an £11bn loss, amounting to a quarter of the sector’s annual income.

Lockdown related losses include:

  • fewer international student enrolments
  • less income from student accommodation, conferences and catering
  • losses on long-term investments

In addition, universities which are running pension scheme deficits will see them widen during the pandemic as investments stagnate.

But there are big variations between institutions, says the study.

Struggling for students

Universities with many international students which also have substantial pension obligations are often also higher-ranking institutions, with “large financial buffers” and the option of alleviating losses by admitting more UK-based students.

But this behaviour could harm less selective universities, which could see their potential students recruited by higher-ranking institutions.

Without significant redundancies, which would impact on teaching quality, universities are unlikely to be able to claw back much of the losses through cost savings, the researchers warn.

Some universities went into the crisis with far stronger finances than others, they add.

“Our analysis shows it is not the universities with the greatest losses, but the institutions in the weakest financial positions before the crisis, that are at the greatest risk of insolvency,” they conclude.

The researchers do not name names but, under their central estimate, suggest 13 universities, out of the UK’s 165 higher education institutions, would end up with negative reserves “and thus may not be viable in the long run without a government bailout or debt restructuring”.

Image copyright
Getty Images

Image caption

Less selective universities may face tougher competition for UK-based students

The analysis, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, suggests a targeted bailout aimed at “keeping these institutions afloat could cost just £140m”.

IFS research economist Elaine Drayton said a targeted bailout would be by far the cheapest option.

“However, rescuing failing institutions may weaken incentives for others to manage their finances prudently in future,” she warned.

“General increases in research funding avoid this problem, but are unlikely to help the institutions that are most at risk, as few of them are research active.”

‘Flaws exposed’

The National Union of Students said the crisis had “exposed many of the flaws inherent in running our education like a market”.

“When funding is so unstable, it’s no wonder that our universities and the jobs of thousands of academic and support staff are now at risk,” said a spokesperson.

“We are of course especially concerned about the risk to students that this instability poses.”

The University and College Union’s general secretary, Jo Grady, called on the government “to step in and guarantee lost funding for universities so they can weather this crisis and lead our recovery on the other side”.

“We need a comprehensive support package that protects jobs, preserves our academic capacity and guarantees all universities’ survival,” said Dr Grady.

In a statement, the Department for Education said a government package announced in May, allows UK universities to access business support and job retention schemes, while the sector will also benefit from the pulling forward of £2.6bn in tuition fee payments to ease cash flow problems.

Additionally, research focused universities across the UK will see 80% of fees lost from international students covered by government, alongside £280m in extra research funding.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said the body had been working closely with government on proposals to support universities.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the universities watchdog for England, urged all registered higher education providers to inform the Office for Students if they encountered financial difficulties.

“In these circumstances, we will be proactive in ensuring students’ interests are protected, including helping make sure that students can find an appropriate course elsewhere should any provider close,” she added.



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Canberra universities to welcome back 350 international students next month as part of pilot


The national capital will be the first city to reopen its university campuses to international students.

University of Canberra and the Australian National University will fly in 350 students in July as part of a pilot program backed by the ACT and federal governments.

Australian universities are bracing for a $16 billion hit over the next three years due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the majority of it from lost international student fees.

A lecture theatre at the ANU in Canberra.

SBS

UC vice-chancellor Paddy Nixon said the pilot would be important for Australia’s entire higher education sector.

“This is exactly what the pilot is about, it’s establishing all the feasibility, all the costs, all of the protocols that will go with it,” Professor Nixon told AAP on Wednesday.

He said final details were still being sorted but students would fly in from a hub in the Asia-Pacific and then be quarantined in an ACT hotel for 14 days.

They then would be housed on campus to continue their studies in time for the second semester in August.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday the ACT had one of the most well thought out proposals to start getting international students back in.

“We’ll look through how we ramp it up,” Prof Nixon said.

The program would target students who were already set to return for studies before Australia’s borders closed down.

Professor Nixon said depending on the success of the pilot, the two universities would then aim to bring more students back for semester one next year.

“It’s very exciting to get our students back and it is gradually returning to something close to normal,” he said.

ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt said his university missed the contribution international students made to the campus.

“This pilot is a great first step to bringing more of them back,” he said.



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Canberra universities welcome back 350 international students as part of pilot program


The national capital will be the first city to reopen its university campuses to international students.

University of Canberra and the Australian National University will fly in 350 students in July as part of a pilot program backed by the ACT and federal governments.

Australian universities are bracing for a $16 billion hit over the next three years due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the majority of it from lost international student fees.

International students could return to Universities in Canberra.

SBS

UC vice-chancellor Paddy Nixon said the pilot would be important for Australia’s entire higher education sector.

“This is exactly what the pilot is about, it’s establishing all the feasibility, all the costs, all of the protocols that will go with it,” Professor Nixon told AAP on Wednesday.

He said final details were still being sorted but students would fly in from a hub in the Asia-Pacific and then be quarantined in an ACT hotel for 14 days.

They then would be housed on campus to continue their studies in time for the second semester in August.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday the ACT had one of the most well thought out proposals to start getting international students back in.

“We’ll look through how we ramp it up,” Prof Nixon said.

The program would target students who were already set to return for studies before Australia’s borders closed down.

Professor Nixon said depending on the success of the pilot, the two universities would then aim to bring more students back for semester one next year.

“It’s very exciting to get our students back and it is gradually returning to something close to normal,” he said.

ANU vice-chancellor Brian Schmidt said his university missed the contribution international students made to the campus.

“This pilot is a great first step to bringing more of them back,” he said.



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Universities Step Up the Fight for Open-Access Research


For advocates of open research, these sorts of deals are potentially a good step. “It gets us closer to an ideal where everything is open-access,” says Michael Eisen, a geneticist at UC Berkeley and cofounder of the Public Library of Science, or PLOS, a major group of open-access journals. (He’s not involved in the UC negotiations.)

But there are stumbling blocks on that path, Eisen notes, including the status of the most prestigious journals, like Nature and Science and Cell. Those journals, which have large staffs and reject lots of submissions, are particularly expensive to produce, and publishers have long argued that the economics of making them open-access don’t make sense: The fees to publish would be too high if they couldn’t recoup their costs by charging readers.

Recently, that wall of opposition has been cracking. One reason is pressure from agencies that give researchers grants, says Lisa Hinchliffe, a professor at the University of Illinois library. Influential funders including the Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are behind a framework, called Plan S, which would ensure that all the research they fund be published outside of paywalls starting in 2021. Then there are signs of trouble in the subscription business model itself: preprints, which go up without paywalls and without peer review, have grown in influence. And there are plenty of ways for researchers to circumvent the journal walls, as universities have demonstrated by canceling deals. “They’ve recognized that gated access to PDFs is only going to work so well,” Hinchliffe says.

“The publishers have no choice but to reckon with this,” Eisen says. And in recent years, they’ve started to. A number of European countries, like the Netherlands and Germany, have forged open-access agreements with Elsevier, Springer Nature, and others. So have a number of universities in the United States (including California State University and Carnegie Mellon University with Elsevier). Recently, Springer Nature officials said they would sign on to Plan S for all its journals, including the flagship, Nature, and gradually introduce more open-access content over time.

Sure sounds like progress. But in the long term, the math isn’t so simple, Hinchliffe says. It goes back to the simple fact that some institutions, but not all, actually publish the bulk of the world’s journal research. Over time, as more major universities switch to pay-to-publish deals, more work will be freed from paywalls. If enough big institutions do that, smaller teaching institutions—the places where scholars just want to read research, not publish it—will be able to cancel their contracts. “But I assure you they won’t be sending their money to the big research university so they’re able to publish,” Hinchliffe adds. Either the big universities and their research funders will have to pay more, or the publishing industry will have to make less. “Eventually, this is going to be a major problem, and I think the major publishers are quite aware of that,” she says.

That’s one reason these deals have been easier to broker in Europe so far. In European countries, research funding is more centralized, says Webster of Springer Nature. The company (and others, including Elsevier) have been able to hammer out country-wide deals in which it’s possible to pull together different funding streams—which is necessary, she says, to support open access in expensive journals like Nature. But in the US, where everything is patchwork, the company has to design ways to separately invoice different funders, institutions, and researchers to cover the costs of publication. Sounds bureaucratic—and it is. It’s also expensive to set up. Webster says the company hopes the bespoke invoicing system it developed will be useful when it works with other US institutions.



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Coronavirus restrictions closed Canberra universities, and it’s affecting industries around the world


When the announcement was made to close Canberra’s university campuses last month to mitigate the spread of coronavirus, it was a welcome step in the fight against infection.

The Australian National University (ANU) alone is home to thousands of students and staff, all who might have unintentionally passed on the virus while at work or study.

But the decision to close campuses posed an unexpected challenge for those who rely on laboratories and on-site equipment to conduct their research.

It did not simply halt tutorials and meetings; it paused projects that relate to a wide range of industries around Australia and the world.

Now, academics in fields such as medicine, chemistry, education and biology are scrambling to find the best ways to conduct their work from the confines of home.

And, for many of them, it is the second set back this year, after January’s catastrophic hailstorm destroyed greenhouses and the projects they were housing.

‘Truly heartbreaking for me as a scientist’

Biology researcher Richard Poire-Lassus from the ANU’s Australian Plant Phenomics Facility (APPF) said the last month had been “very difficult” for the department.

Like many other researchers, Dr Poire-Lassus was forced to throw away experiments he had been carefully growing since being hit by the January hailstorm.

“The APPF has worked with ANU and CSIRO to relocate critical plants and experiments from the 100-plus destroyed glasshouses to our indoor infrastructure,” he said.

“ANU scientists were still licking their wounds, only to be asked to discard all the plants they managed to save from the hailstorm and many more.

“This was truly heartbreaking for me as a scientist.”

Yellow bags saying 'contaminated' lie on the ground of a lab.
Material from biology experiments had to be thrown away when the ANU shut down.(Supplied)

Dr Poire-Lassus said that some of the research underway in early March will take up to a year to re-grow, while some will never be completed.

Nevertheless, he is supportive of the measures taken to protect the Canberra community.

“We can only praise the prompt and effective measures taken by ANU to flatten the curve, and the APPF has done everything possible to mitigate the effects of the shutdown on the plant science community,” he said.

Closure impacts Ghana, Nigeria

For Dr Tory Clarke, another biologist, the impact does not simply stall her work as an early-career researcher — it will have flow-on effects that hamper the financial development of people in countries such as Ghana and Nigeria.

Focusing on a variety of crops, Dr Clarke’s work aims to improve yields in a bid to accelerate financial growth for those working the land in developing nations.

“I’m part of this international project that’s basically trying to engineer plants to be better at growing the food that we eat,” Dr Clarke explained.

“[Our] funding stipulates that any technology that we produce will then become available to small holder farmers in countries in Africa.

“But it will also mean that they will have an excess, that they can then sell, and use that to fund other parts of their life, like their children’s education for example,” she said.

Tory sits at her desk smiling while Isaac looks with interest at her computer.
ANU biologist Dr Tory Clarke, pictured with her son Isaac, now works from home.(Supplied)

Funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr Clarke’s project was also impacted by the January hailstorm.

Much of what had been destroyed then had just started to re-grow, when the coronavirus shutdown was announced.

“We just [had to] dispose of them all … so that you’re not spreading GMO technologies or anything,” she said, noting that her projects would be delayed by at least six months.

Dr Clarke’s work has now shifted to focusing on data analysis, which she can do from home.

But as a mother to three young children, working from home had both positive and negative impacts.

“We’re just trying to balance time,” Dr Clarke said.

“It’s really different and I really miss my office in terms of that uninterrupted deep-thinking time, because I don’t really get that at home.”

Canberra’s ‘wellbeing’ also under the microscope

It is not just laboratory work that has had to adapt quickly under coronavirus restrictions.

The pandemic has also forced innovation in areas such as education and health.

The University of Canberra’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation, Leigh Sullivan, said they were re-evaluating a wellbeing study developed in the wake of the bushfires.

He said the study, which was examining the wellbeing of those living in Canberra and the NSW South Coast following the fires, was being adapted to also take in the effects of coronavirus.

Research into the best ways to educate children at home has also taken a sudden turn, as schools scramble to reassess the capacity of their students to continue their studies away from the classroom.

“Because we’ve sort of been moving slowly in that line and all of a sudden, we’ve had to do it — there’s a whole range of new questions that need answering,” Professor Sullivan said.

ANU joins the fight against COVID-19

Megan smiles while sitting at her computer.
ANU researcher Megan O’Mara has been working on finding a COVID-19 treatment from her Canberra home.(Supplied)

Perhaps the greatest change to research has occurred in departments where academics have been recruited in the fight against coronavirus.

At the ANU, a project to use Canberra’s sewage to trace coronavirus will help health authorities get a better picture of the rate of infection in the capital.

Epidemiologist Dr Aparna Lal said the study might assist in confirming whether or not community transmission was occurring.

“Scientists reported finding coronavirus in Holland’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were officially reported there,” Dr Lal said.

For ANU Research School of Chemistry Associate Professor Megan O’Mara, it meant shifting away from her usual diabetes research in the space of a few days.

Now, she and her team are one of a handful seeking to find a treatment for coronavirus.

For the last decade, Dr O’Mara’s research had focused on finding a way to suppress a single amino acid transporter known as B0AT-1, a component of diabetes, which happens to be “part of the receptor complex for COVID-19”.

“Companies have been trying to work out how to develop something that inhibits B0AT-1,” Dr O’Mara said.

With permission to use the ANU’s supercomputer, which is necessary to conduct simulations as part of their potentially life-saving work, the team was able to start work on coronavirus immediately.

Dr O’Mara said they were using simulations to examine how the proteins within the cells of coronavirus were operating, all the while looking for a way to inhibit their growth.

“What we’re doing with our computer simulations is seeing how they move and seeing how different drugs and inhibitors stop them from moving,” she said.

“So if we can find something that then inhibits this receptor complex and stops the virus from fusing with the host cell we should be able to hopefully find something that will stop it from infecting us,” she said.

She said it was a “really exciting” time for their team, who were each working from home but relying on video conferencing for daily meetings.

“I feel incredibly fortunate that we’ve been able to continue our work on this and that we haven’t been as impacted as some of the experimental groups who unfortunately aren’t able to continue in their labs,” she said.

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Diminished vision for arts and universities


The government has relied heavily on the university sector during the COVID-19 pandemic for advice on virology, immunology and epidemiology modelling, yet it continues to underfund universities. It declines to extend its JobKeeper scheme to universities despite their catastrophic loss of income from overseas students. The universities became dependent on fees from overseas students to subsidise our own students because they were underfunded by government.

Now we are happy to accept the heavy fees from those overseas students, yet when they lose their part-time jobs they are unable to access the JobSeeker allowance. Like the government’s own scheme, the figures just don’t add up.

Christina Cheers, Sunbury

Basic fairness for society’s mind and soul

Why does the Morrison government see the arts and universities as unworthy of basic fairness? The value of both is a given; they feed the mind and soul of society. Why, one might ask, are literary works, drama, music and art part of education from preschool to year 12 if they are not valuable? Artists, musicians and universities contribute much more to society than most politicians do.

Actually, basic fairness – a much-touted Australian value – requires all people who paid taxes and lost their job through no fault of their own to be treated equitably with government financial help.

Judith Paphazy, Cape Schanck

Determining a spreadsheet colour code

How misguided was I to consider some of the billions from the JobKeeper blunder might now be redirected to those casuals, arts/entertainment people, visa holders, council and university workers previously excluded from assistance. Obviously they remain the wrong colour code on the Morrison/Frydenberg COVID-19 help spreadsheet.

Anne Hartley, Balwyn North

Withdrawal of unfunded empathy

I thought it was interesting that the $60 billion overestimate was regarded by Treasury and the Prime Minister not as money that could help unfortunate workers who had not yet received any assistance but as money that was now to be withdrawn from the original $130 billion touted as relief for those affected by COVID-19.

These are casual workers, people in the entertainment industry who were not eligible for JobKeeper or JobSeeker, those employed by universities and migrant workers who have had a couple of months living from hand to month. I think the PM and Treasurer feel that this “extra” money should not be spent on the poor and unemployed; they have “unfunded empathy” for such people who perhaps are not likely to be LNP voters.

Anne Findlay, Princes Hill

Spend the ‘extra’ $60 billion

Following the $60 billion mistake from Canberra, we all want to see this money going to worthwhile causes. Some for the ABC, the local film industry, and the arts who suffer endless funding cuts and are starved of support. Provide more for those really in need – casual workers and pensioners – more for education, including universities and TAFEs that are both crying out for more funds.

Ian Anderson, Surrey Hills

THE FORUM

MSO change needed

Thank you, Adele Ferguson (“Discord at the Melbourne Symphony,” 23/5) and Charles Sowerwine (Letters, 26/5). Your articles say it all. Both the MSO board and senior management have not only failed the MSO organisation catastrophically but have achieved precisely the opposite of their supposed aims. They claim to be saving the MSO but instead their untold damage to this wonderful Victorian cultural icon is all but destroying its very core. When will they realise their actions are driving the MSO off a cliff and soon there will be nothing left to save. Change is needed now or the MSO music will be no more.

Chris Turpin, MSO timpanist 1981-2017

EPA effectively hobbled

Since its inception, the Victorian EPA has been hobbled by lack of funding, ineffective leadership and a lack of support by successive governments. A recent review of the EPA’s handling of the storage of dangerous waste has highlighted gross failure to apply and enforce any existing regulation. The fact is the guidelines as to how and where this waste can go aren’t properly enforced. So, cowboy operators hire a warehouse, charge a motza to take waste that no legitimate company can touch, and then disappear with the cash, leaving the warehouse owner with the problem. Governments must ensure the rules around acceptable disposal methods and locations are enforced, then genuine waste disposal operators can handle the product inside the law.

John Marks, Werribee

Pay rise decision query

I am curious to know the details as to how the Victorian Independent Remuneration Tribunal arrived at the decision to amend pay brackets (“Pay joy for top public servants”, 23/5), effectively giving pay rises to senior state public servants. We need to see the reasoning and justification in order to understand how these determinations are made in light of the state’s very real financial crisis. We also need assurances that the submissions to the tribunal are broad and encompass industry and consumer groups, not just government or semi-government departments putting their cases forward.

Mandy Morgan, Malvern

‘Obscene’ wage rises

The proposed pay rises for public servant bosses and the already awarded pay rises for politicians are disconnected from real world economics. I find it obscene that the remuneration tribunal can find any reason for the high wage rises when inflation is low and other public servants (police, teachers, nurses etc) are being paid peanuts. Don’t forget that politicians and public service employees are here to serve and are employed in a non-commercial environment. Their wages should not be compared with private sector remuneration.

Lubor Novak, Rosanna

Selective advice

Jane Wright (Letters, 26/5) is correct in relation to carbon capture and storage and her likening of the government’s response when compared with energy policy and climate change. What irks most is the federal government’s willingness on one hand to trust and act on professional advice in relation to COVID-19 yet seemingly ignore similar professional advice when it comes to climate change. Thousands of lives were saved by acting on advice to lock down the country when COVID-19 surfaced. Thousands of lives have already been lost as a result of not acting on advice in relation to climate change.

Jack Morris, Bendigo

Short-term role for gas

There is a role for gas over the next 10 to 15 years to provide brief spurts of energy into the electricity grid at short notice. But even this is only until we have sufficient battery storage and pumped hydro in place. The Australian Energy Market Operator has stated that the grid could be upgraded within six years to accommodate 60 per cent renewables and that’s where we should be directing our efforts. We don’t need to muck around with carbon capture and storage. We should explore for commercial amounts of non-fracked gas in East Gippsland, preferably on shore, as we have the transmission infrastructure in Yallourn and Morwell where gas-fired turbines could be located.

Peter Barry, Marysville

A time for yelling

Amanda Vanstone’s view that “yelling across the town square doesn’t illuminate anything” does not make sense (“An outbreak of common sense”, 26/5). Yelling across the town square is the first step people can take against a government, a democracy or dictatorship, to achieve what they want. What is happening in Hong Kong, people yelling and screaming in the street, is a sign that people still have hope. Only a dead society will take what is shoved down its throat without complaint. India’s fight for freedom from British rule was another example; yelling and screaming across the town square was a significant part of their non-violent struggle against the foreign rulers. In fact, true democracy will last only as long as people yell and scream across the town square.

Bill Mathew, Parkville

Roadmap to nowhere

It is ironic that the Coalition uses the term roadmap for its ideas on our energy future because in terms of road use Australia faces rapidly sliding down the league ladder of motorcar emissions efficiency. We are way behind comparable nations in the promotion, subsidy and thus uptake of electric cars, and, worse still, our emissions standards for petrol and diesel cars are so poor that we risk becoming a dumping ground for cars which can’t conform in more enlightened countries. We need a roadmap that works on the road.

Robbert Veerman, Buxton

Equal pay struggle goes on

In 1902 white Australian women were given the right to vote. That was 118 years ago. They were considered worthy of a vote back then. So why is it in 2020 that many women are still struggling to obtain equal pay? Last year according to the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency women in full-time work on average were paid 13.9 per cent less than men in Australia. After all this time it’s time to fix the gender pay gap.

Ian Scott, Hamlyn Heights

Moving outdoors

Will Bennett (Letters, 26/5) could be right about gyms not being high risk if they adhere to the protocols adopted by Fitness Australia. However, it is the patrons of the gym and some of the staff that is the problem. Patrons not wiping down equipment after use, pools of sweat that aren’t mopped up and a staff member going around with a feather duster is hardly confidence building. The staff at my gym are lovely young people however when approached with my concerns I am told that the sweating, grunting, dropping of equipment is part of the territory. In the future I, for one, will be taking my exercise in the fresh air.

Peter Roche, Carlton

Gyms high risk

Gyms are high risk (Letters, 26/5). People tend to spend a long time there, breathing hard and using shared apparatus. Closing gyms affected me with the lockdown, and I’m missing my daily exercise fix there, but I’m not intending on returning for around a month after they reopen to see what happens. On the first day of the lockdown, I bought a spin bike, so I can cope until I return to my gym.

Wayne Robinson, Kingsley

AFL too powerful

The AFL has become far too influential in this city. I shuddered to learn that it will be restarting games soon, spread out over four days each week. Why can’t it revert to playing all games on Saturday afternoons? It means not only will these games be broadcast on commercial stations but also on the ABC, interrupting usual programs that those of us not interested in sport would prefer to hear. Unfortunately this goes on for anything up to six months of the year, taken so seriously by commentators and people who would be better off getting some exercise themselves instead of watching these overpaid players.

Lorraine Bates, Surrey Hills

Don’t squander legacy

It is unfortunate many young Australians have been forced to use their superannuation to traverse the financial crisis. But, conversely it is fortunate that they actually had a nest egg to access in these hard times. This pot of national savings, is a legacy of the Hawke-Keating government, who along with the ACTU and against the forces of the Liberal Party, created the national super schemefor workers. This unplanned spin-off from the scheme, is another gift from these visionary Australians.

Phillip Edwards, Churchill

Fee-free adds up

I read that after TAFE courses in Victoria were made fee free, there’s been more than three times the number of enrolments in Certificate IV Accounting and Bookkeeping this year. Perhaps Mr Andrews could consider extending the free enrolment offer to the ACT, in particular to federal Treasury employees.

Ronald Burnstein, Heidelberg

Making a JobSlogan

“JobMaker” is the final scene in the promising but ultimately disappointing triptych of quick schemes conjured up by the Morrison government to inspire some hope. With a name like its siblings, “JobMaker” attempts to embody the labour that it seeks to carry out. But just as JobSeeker did not help people seek out jobs, and JobKeeper failed to keep jobs for the most disadvantaged groups, it seems unlikely that “JobMaker” will have the ability to make jobs. The only thing that seems concrete in this grand plan to fix vocational education is to nationally standardise subsidies. So, either more money will be spent in giving nationwide access to vocational education, or less money will be subsidised to individuals, creating more bureaucratic inequality through arbitrary criteria, as we are seeing with JobKeeper eligibility.

Leonardo Balsamo, Blackburn South

AND ANOTHER THING

Politics

Pretty sure Mr Morrison will tell us the Coalition is the greatest economic manager ever, look how it has been able to save us $60 billion.

Giuseppe Corda, Aspendale

Did The Age have someone impersonating Amanda Vanstone? An entire article and not once did the author bag the Labor Party.

Graeme Gardner, Reservoir

Scott Morrison adding “JobMaker” to the JobSeeker and JobKeeper programs is obviously concerned most naturally about keeping his own.

Francis Bainbridge, Fitzroy North

Morrison says the economy could take five years to recover. Based on the JobKeeper $60billion bungle that could be five, plus or minus 2.3years.

Greg Lee, Red Hill

The government blaming businesses for completing the JobKeeper form incorrectly is like students blaming the dog for eating their homework.

Sarah Russell, Northcote

Morrison has obviously studied Dr Seuss. Perhaps he could now spend time on numbers.

Joan Segrave, Healesville

Unfortunately Paul Custance (Letters, 26/5), the Treasury calculator is powered by coal.

Bryan Fraser, St Kilda

Angus Fraser desperately wants a carbon tax, but cannot bring himself to use the dreaded term for his policy.

Jon Smith, Leongatha

Will Mike Pompeo (“US steps back from Belt and Road remark by Pompeo”, 25/5) and the US disconnect from Pine Gap?

Malcolm McDonald, Burwood

“You’ll remember me when the west wind moves upon the fields of barley.” Bit of a Sting, Scott Morrison.

Cynthia Humphreys, Toorak

Finally

Sew your club colours onto your pyjamas, thaw out your homemade sausage rolls and raid your hoarded supply of beer – footy is coming back!

Glenda Johnston, Queenscliff

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