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What we know today, Friday June 3

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State and federal ministers will meet next week to discuss a growing national energy crisis amid rising gas, petrol and electricity prices and risks to supply.

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Australia’s growing energy crisis sparks emergency summit

Federal, state and territory ministers will meet next week to discuss a growing national energy crisis amid rising gas, petrol and electricity prices and risks to supply.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said the government would consider using whatever mechanism can be used to counter tightening gas supplies across the east coast.

“We’ll be meeting with the regulator (and) with our state counterparts in a ministerial meeting next week to look at every available option here,” he said on Friday.

“The regulators already said that in initiating the gas supply mechanism they’re already seeing more gas supply into the southeast corner of the country and that should have a short-term impact.”

On Wednesday, the Australian Energy Market Operator triggered the Gas Supply Guarantee Mechanism for the first time since the measure was introduced in 2017, in order to secure gas for power generators and ward off a potential shortfall in southern states.

Increased winter demand for energy, unscheduled outages at coal-fired power stations and gas shortages due to the war in Ukraine have led to soaring gas and electricity prices across much of Australia.

Energy Minister Chris Bowen will convene the meeting next week.

Marles said the government will work towards increasing renewable energy takeup in the medium to long term, but changes to the energy grid will take time.

“What we have got now is really the product of nine years of failure on part of the former government in terms of having consistent energy policy,” he said.

“Investment in renewables is down, which is why we don’t have a grid that can accept them.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton called the characterisation a complete rewrite of history.

“This government went to the election saying they had the answers and clearly they don’t. You look at Chris Bowen now, he is like the bunny in the headlights and he has no idea which way to go,” Dutton said.

“This is nothing to do with renewables. I think the government has to take responsibility for what is a serious issue.”

While international factors outside the control of Australia are impacting markets, Dutton said the mechanisms are in place to handle changing circumstances.

“It seems to me that the inexperience of both Anthony Albanese and Chris Bowen is shining through. They have got the ability and the legislation there to deal with this and they don’t know what they should do.”

Director of the Monash Energy Institute Professor Ariel Liebman says Australian markets are exposed to international supply constraints with retailers shipping a vast amount of gas overseas.

“We have huge amounts of coal seam gas which was allowed to be exported with none reserved for Australia which has ultimately led to a situation where Australians are paying for gas prices at global parity,” he said.

“This would all have been preventable if successive governments had paid proper attention to rigorous monitoring and regulation of all the key energy markets in Australia.”

Liebman says the government should pull the gas trigger, known as the Australian Domestic Gas Reservation Mechanism, to divert exports and shore up domestic supply.

“The best immediate solution would be to pull the so-called ‘gas trigger’ to requisition supplies of gas intended for export,” he said.

“In addition, the government should also seriously consider a full gas reservation policy for the entire country, similar to the one in Western Australia and the United States.”

SA records five COVID-19 deaths, cases drop

South Australia has recorded five COVID-19 deaths and another 2468 cases.

Today’s case numbers are down from the 2868 recorded yesterday.

The number of people to present for a PCR test increased 0.5 per cent to 8632.

SA Health has reported the deaths of one woman in her 60s, two men in their 70s and two men in their 80s who test positive for COVID-19.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 remains stable at 238 with 10 people in intensive care.

There are 17,261 active cases across the state.

Wong continues Pacific tour amid China concerns

Foreign Minister Penny Wong continues to meet with Pacific island leaders amid concerns that China is attempting to push through a regional security deal.

The security aspects of the proposed Chinese partnership with the region has been shelved, but China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi continues to tour Pacific island nations to sign a number of bilateral agreements and sell Beijing’s regional development plan.

“The Chinese spokespeople have made clear this will be a continued aspect of Chinese policy towards the region,” Senator Wong said on Friday.

“What we’re seeing is China being much more active in the region. What we have to do is to lift our engagement in the region. We will engage with the Pacific bearing in mind we are part of the Pacific family, we’re not an external partner.”

The foreign minister says she has received correspondence from her Chinese counterpart following her election and would respond in due course as appropriate.

The Chinese premier has also reached out to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who also said he would respond in due course.

Senator Wong will meet with Tongan Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni and Tonga’s foreign minister on Friday.

It follows a meeting with Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa on Thursday, where she pledged a replacement Guardian class patrol boat to assist with maritime surveillance in the region.

The trip comes a week after the new foreign minister visited Fiji and as the Chinese foreign minister tours 10 countries in the region.

Wang is in Papua New Guinea just days after China put the regional security proposition on ice and watered down its proposal for the region in a release of its new position paper.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape has criticised the timing of Wang’s trip ahead of the country’s election, saying no agreement should be signed before polling day and that it would be “improper” for China to offer security support in the run up to the election.

PNG has indicated it is unlikely to sign a new security deal, as the resource-rich nation maintains close defence ties with Australia.

Libs sound alarm on jobs, give support to GST battle

The Opposition has seized on stagnant employment growth in Labor’s state budget to warn that “jobs growth is going to fall off a cliff in South Australia”, but the Liberal leader is offering “bipartisanship” on a looming battle with Western Australia over GST.

Treasurer Stephen Mullighan yesterday handed down the state’s first Labor budget since 2017, with record health spending and a predicted four years of surpluses – offset by “budget repair” measures, including public sector savings targets.

With inflation set to rise, the budget’s predicting the current year’s employment growth rate of 3.25 per cent to fall to just 1 per cent in each of the next four years.

Liberal leader David Speirs told media while “it’s not for me to criticise the mandate they’ve got to deliver” the various spending commitments outlined in the budget – which mirrored Labor’s pre-election pledges – “the bigger question is what’s not in this budget”.

He said the sluggish growth equated to “about 20,000 [fewer] jobs being created in this state… and that’s obviously a significant concern”.

The Liberal leader appeared to urge more targeted intervention in the economy, saying: “There is a role for government to respond to that and try to get projects off the ground that will actually expand job creation.”

He said what was needed was an “infrastructure spend that will confidently deliver jobs in this state – and the Treasury projections are not showing that”.

Speirs also warned that about $700 million over four years in savings was “concerningly” ambiguous, saying “there are hundreds of millions of dollars not detailed”.

“Of course, the easiest way to reduce spending in the public service is to axe public service jobs,” he said.

“There’s no doubt there will be many, many public sector jobs going.”

However, Speirs offered “bipartisanship” around Mullighan’s war cry over the Commonwealth’s GST allocation, which he said favoured Western Australia.

“There’s no doubt the GST distribution is very generous to Western Australia and if there’s anything that can be done to see a fairer distribution of GST, the Liberal party would support that,” Speirs said.

Mullighan delivers first State Budget

10 News First Adelaide – Disclaimer

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Unions cautious on budget implications

The public service union is calling on its members to stay “vigilant” for future staff cuts as the Malinauskas Government looks to claw back millions in savings from public sector agencies.

Several key government departments have been targeted for savings in the Malinauskas Government’s first State Budget handed down on Thursday.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet has been asked to find $65 million in savings over the next four years, while Innovation and Skills has been told to stump up $21.1 million next financial year.

The Attorney General’s Department, Treasury, and the Environment Department have all also been asked to reduce their expenditure.

Treasurer Stephen Mullighan says he has given agency CEOs latitude in deciding how to find savings measures.

In a memo to its members on Thursday, Public Service Association CEO Natasha Brown said the union was calling on members to “remain vigilant” in identifying where departments look for cuts.

“The Malinauskas Labor Government chose not to reverse cuts hanging over from the Marshall Liberal government, and instead opted to include $670m in additional public sector cuts over the next four years through the so-called ‘efficiency dividends’,” she said.

“The compounding effect of this year-on-year ‘efficiency dividend’ (which is just another term for job and service cuts) undermines the very services the public trust our government to provide to our community.

“The announcement of centrally funded targeted voluntary separation packages (TVSPs) is another loss for public services.

“The PSA does not support TVSPs as they not only cut ongoing roles, but result in real cuts to services.

“As part of our state’s economic recovery the Government should have used this Budget as an opportunity for greater investment in public sector employment and direct investment in public sector delivery of the services our community needs and deserves.”

The teachers’ union has also had a lukewarm response to the State Budget, welcoming investments in new technical colleges and TAFE but expressing concern about “structural funding inequity” for public schools.

The Australian Education Union also said a $2m scholarship program to train teachers will be “found wanting in the urgent need to address the teacher shortage crisis”.

The AEU is set to commence enterprise bargaining negotiations in September.

The cautious union response comes after a row erupted between the union movement and the Malinauskas Government this week over planned reforms to workers compensation.

The Australian Medical Association (SA), meanwhile, embraced the budget’s $2.4b commitment on health.

“As far as dollars, spend and where they’ve directed it, it looks great – a strong emphasis on mental health and staff, some on infrastructure as well and certainly looking at rural as well, as a rural GP I’m very heartened to see that,” AMA state vice president Dr John Williams said. 

“They won the election on health and they’ve increased what they promised so that is incredibly positive, it gives us a lot of hope.

“Like everyone in health, we’ve seen quite a few governments and quite a few successes and quite a few failures so we’re keen to watch the process carefully.”

Moody’s gives tick of approval to State Budget

Global ratings agency Moody’s has given a tick of approval to the South Australian budget, saying the state’s strong revenue recovery will narrow deficits despite post-election spending commitments.

In a statement released after the budget was handed down yesterday, Moody’s has maintained the state’s long-term rating at Aa1 and described SA’s outlook as ‘stable’.

“Revenues have exceeded our expectations on the back of the broad-based national economic recovery and a resilient state economy, as well as the state’s close revenue linkages to the government of Australia,” the Moody’s statement said.

“Although debt-funded infrastructure spending will drive net debt higher through 2026, we note the 2023 Budget has delayed some large capital spending projects and introduced a near-term focus on smaller projects to provide increased fiscal flexibility amid rising cost pressures, labour shortages and elevated supply chain disruption, as the state pursues fiscal repair.”

“The 2023 Budget also incorporates the new government delivering on its post-election spending commitments which have been predominantly funded through reprioritisation of expenditure, a credit positive.

“Notwithstanding the rising debt levels through to fiscal 2026, our analysis concludes debt affordability will remain strong and the state’s overall debt burden will continue to benchmark favourably against its domestic peers.”

The budget also received a positive response from the Property Council.

The lobby group’s CEO Daniel Gannon, a former Liberal Party media adviser, welcomed the introduction of no new taxes.

“The message coming out of this Budget is very clear – it’s about significant infrastructure spending with a strong focus on health and education,” he said.

“This is evidenced by the $18.6b invested into infrastructure over the next four years, critically focused on health, education, sporting, cultural and recreational facilities.

“The State Government’s $178m investment in improving public housing is a serious and welcome initiative, along with its commitment to better supporting first home buyers through a low deposit home loan scheme.”

Concerns budget’s housing measures fall short

South Australia’s peak social services body has welcomed the state budget’s public housing measures but says it doesn’t go far enough to address the state’s rental access and affordability woes.

Yesterday’s state budget detailed plans to build 50 new public houses specifically for people experiencing homelessness, as well as a previously announced 400 new public houses, as part of a $177.5m housing package over four years.

The investments come as Adelaide continues to hold the title of the least accessible rental market of any Australian capital city, while affordable rental properties are almost completely out of reach for minimum wage workers.

In response to the budget’s social service measures, SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley said there was “absolutely no doubt we need more action and long-term investment in public housing to help address rental affordability”.

“Far too many people are struggling to find a home, let alone one they can afford. The government has significant power to intervene here,” he said.

“By building further on its investment in public housing, the state government would not only create much-needed homes, but ease pressure on the market to make rental housing more affordable across the board.”

Womersley said SACOSS was nonetheless “encouraged by the new government’s attention to areas such as housing and homelessness, health and mental health, and cost of living”.

“Our call now is for the government to take these positive budget measures and build on them,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Council on the Ageing has praised cost of living concessions for seniors outlined in the budget, particularly the continuation of free public transport for seniors and doubling the cost of living concession.

“Free travel for seniors will cost the state government $5 million a year, but the freedom it brings to older people in South Australia to participate in their communities full time is critical,” COTA CEO Jane Mussared said.

“At a time when cost of living pressures are paramount for people on low and fixed incomes, this is so important. It also helps older people make the decision to leave the car at home and supports their independence.”

Russia gains stronghold in key Ukraine city

Ukrainian servicemen walk past a building heavily damaged in a Russian bombing in Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine. Photo: Francisco Seco/AP

Russia has tightened its grip on a key target in the battle for control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleads for more Western arms to help Ukraine reach a battlefield “inflection point” and prevail in the war.

Russian forces, backed by heavy artillery, control most of the eastern industrial city of Sievierodonetsk – now largely in ruins – after days of fierce fighting in which they have taken losses, Britain’s defence ministry said in its daily intelligence report.

Ukraine’s armed forces general staff said that besides its assault on the city, Russian troops were also attacking other parts of the east and northeast.

The capture of Sievierodonetsk and its smaller twin Lysychansk would give Russian forces control of all of Luhansk, one of two provinces along with Donetsk in the Donbas claimed by Moscow on behalf of separatists.

Seizing Luhansk would fulfil one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated aims and further shift battlefield momentum in Russia’s favour after its forces were pushed back from the capital Kyiv and from northern Ukraine.

Zelenskyy told Luxembourg’s parliament via videolink on Thursday that Russian forces now occupied about a fifth of Ukrainian territory, with battle lines now stretching more than 1000km.

Moscow’s forces were also attempting to advance south towards the Ukraine-held cities of Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, in Donetsk province, provincial governor Pavlo Kyrylenko said.

As the invasion heads for its 100th day on Friday, Russia says Washington is adding “fuel to the fire” with a new $US700 million ($A965 million) weapons package for Ukraine that will include advanced rocket systems with a range of up to 80 km.

But separately addressing a forum in Slovakia, Zelenskyy called for more weapons supplies to “ensure an inflection point in this confrontation” in Ukraine’s favour.

Queen to miss St Paul’s jubilee service

Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee: Trooping The Colour Parade. Photo: John Rainford/Cover Images

The Queen will skip the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral after experiencing “some discomfort,” at her Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

While the monarch will miss Friday’s service “with great reluctance” she will still attend a beacon-lighting event at Windsor Castle on Thursday evening, the palace said.

She is believed to have experienced episodic mobility issues during Thursday’s events.

It is understood the decision was considered regrettable but sensible due to the length of the journey and time involved and the physical demands the service would require.

The Prince of Wales will officially represent the Queen at the service on Friday.

In a statement issued on Thursday evening, Buckingham Palace said: “The Queen greatly enjoyed today’s birthday parade and flypast but did experience some discomfort.

It comes after the monarch took centre stage at her historic celebrations on Thursday, greeting crowds from the Buckingham Palace balcony, surrounded by her family.

Cheers erupted from thousands of well-wishers packed on to The Mall in central London as the monarch emerged for the flypast after Trooping the Colour.

It was the second of two appearances from the monarch on the balcony on Thursday – the start of an extended Jubilee weekend marking her 70-year-reign.

Eighteen royals including the Queen stepped out to watch the high-profile flypast, with the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their three children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis flanking the monarch.

Some royal family members were absent on Thursday, including the Queen’s second son Prince Andrew, 62, who settled a US lawsuit in February in which he was accused of sexually abusing a woman when she was underage. Andrew denied the accusation.

The palace announced later that Andrew had tested positive for COVID-19 and would not attend a service of Thanksgiving on Friday.

– With AAP and Reuters

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