- Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is flying to Qatar for a two-day official visit
- He is due to meet the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Interior Minister
- Meanwhile commuters at home face the steepest rail fare rises in five years
Published: 07:04 EST, 2 January 2018 | Updated: 10:08 EST, 2 January 2018
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling flew out to Qatar on government business today, leaving behind millions of commuters facing the steepest rail fare hikes in five years.
Downing Street defended Mr Grayling's decision to fly out of Britain as workers returned to work after the Christmas holidays today.
Neither Mr Grayling nor any of his deputies appeared in public today to defend the controversial 3.4 per cent average fare increase that has hiked season tickets by up to £2,500.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling (file image) flew out to Qatar on government business today, leaving behind millions of commuters facing the steepest rail fare hikes in five years
The Transport Secretary will find warm sunny skies when he gets off the plane for talks with Qatar's Prime Minister, Finance Minister and Interior Minister.
He is also due to see the chief of Qatar Airways and is not expected back in Britain before Thursday.
Asked the Prime Minister felt it was appropriate for Mr Grayling to be out of the country, Mrs May's official spokesman said: 'The fare rises we have known were coming for a while.
'The Transport Secretary and Department for Transport have been responding and have issued a full response to those fare increases.'
The spokesman said the Rail Delivery Group, which is not responsible for setting fares, was leading the response today.
Mr Grayling has been subject to reshuffle speculation and Mrs May's spokesman was challenged to say whether he would keep his job.
He said: 'Chris Grayling is working hard and doing a good job as Transport Secretary.'
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: 'The Secretary of State is currently on a pre-planned visit to Qatar to promote the UK overseas, support British jobs and strengthen the important relationship between the two countries.
'This trip has been specifically arranged to take place outside of Parliamentary time.
'The Secretary of State has repeatedly answered questions on this issue, ever since fare increases were first announced by the industry in August.'
The London Labour Party staged a protest at King's Cross station today, calling the fare hikes the 'Great Tory Train Robbery'
Members of the Labour party were campaigning outside Ely station, talking to commuters about the hike
Campaigners held a protest against rail fare increases outside King's Cross station in London today
Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said: 'The Secretary of State for Transport's failure to publicly explain to rail passengers why they are being hit with crushing fare increases today smacks of a man running scared.
'Passengers and taxpayers deserve better than a failing Transport Secretary who refuses to defend his track record.'
Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said: 'Rail passengers are shivering on platforms angered by the biggest fare increase in years while Chris Grayling is off globetrotting.
'It's very difficult to see what useful function he can perform in Qatar and Turkey that our excellent trade officials could not.'
Mrs May's spokesman defended the rise in a briefing, insisting the use of the RPI index to set the figure was 'consistent across the railway industry'.
He said: 'RPI is used to account for inflation in the cost of running train services and is used to index some charges.
'But the Government carefully monitors how rail fares and average earnings changes and keeps the way fare levels are calculated under review.'
The spokesman said 97 pence in every pound spent on tickets was ploughed back into railway investment.
As they faced a sharp increase in their tickets this morning, passengers hit out at companies for 'punishing them and lying'
Other rail users today complained about 'rip off' fares in Britain are
Average ticket prices across Britain have gone up by 3.4 per cent with rail commuters paying up to £2,500 more for a season ticket to work than they were at the beginning of the decade.
Furious passengers have shared their outrage on social media and hit out at rail franchises where some bosses are set to earn huge seven-figure packages.
A report has also revealed how rail passengers in Britain are spending up to five times as much of their salary on fares as other Europeans.
Commuter groups and opposition MPs are staging protests at 40 stations across the country today, including King's Cross station – where the London Labour party labelled the fare hikes 'The Great Tory Train Robbery'.
As people are hit with the biggest fare increases in five years, a report reveals the cost of some season tickets has soared by as much as 50 per cent since 2010.
The analysis by the Labour party of more than 180 routes found the average commuter will be paying £2,888 for their season ticket – £694 more than in 2010.
The highest increase in cash terms is on a Virgin Trains season ticket between Birmingham and London Euston, which has risen by £2,536 since 2010 and now costs £10,564.
The biggest percentage increase was between Tame Bridge Parkway near Walsall and Nuneaton, where the cost of a season ticket has risen 50 per cent or £968 to £2,916.
A separate report found rail passengers in Britain are spending up to five times as much of their salary on fares as other Europeans
Australia resists calls for tougher climate targets
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted pressure to set more ambitious carbon emission targets while other major nations vowed deeper reductions to tackle climate change.
Addressing a global climate summit, Mr Morrison said Australia was on a path to net zero emissions.
But he stopped short of setting a timeline, saying the country would get there “as soon as possible”.
It came as the US, Canada and Japan set new commitments for steeper cuts.
US President Joe Biden, who chaired the virtual summit, pledged to cut carbon emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by the year 2030. This new target essentially doubles the previous US promise.
By contrast, Australia will stick with its existing pledge of cutting carbon emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels, by 2030. That’s in line with the Paris climate agreement, though Mr Morrison said Australia was on a pathway to net zero emissions.
“Our goal is to get there as soon as we possibly can, through technology that enables and transforms our industries, not taxes that eliminate them and the jobs and livelihoods they support and create,” he told the summit.
“Future generations… will thank us not for what we have promised, but what we deliver.”
Australia is one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters on a per capita basis. Mr Morrison, who has faced sustained criticism over climate policy, said action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would focus on technology.
The prime minister said Australia is deploying renewable energy 10 times faster than the global average per person, and has the highest uptake of rooftop solar panels in the world.
Mr Morrison added Australia would invest $20bn ($15.4bn; 11.1bn) “to achieve ambitious goals that will bring the cost of clean hydrogen, green steel, energy storage and carbon capture to commercial parity”.
“You can always be sure that the commitments Australia makes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are bankable.”
Australia has seen growing international pressure to step up its efforts to cut emissions and tackle global warming. The country has warmed on average by 1.4 degrees C since national records began in 1910, according to its science and weather agencies. That’s led to an increase in the number of extreme heat events, as well as increased fire danger days.
Ahead of the summit, President Biden’s team urged countries that have been slow to embrace action on climate change to raise their ambition. While many nations heeded the call, big emitters China and India also made no new commitments.
“Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade – this is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” President Biden said at the summit’s opening address.
Referring to America’s new carbon-cutting pledge, President Biden added: “The signs are unmistakable, the science is undeniable, and the cost of inaction keeps mounting.”
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-56854558
Sydney seaplane crash: Exhaust fumes affected pilot, report confirms
The pilot of a seaplane that crashed into an Australian river, killing all on board, had been left confused and disorientated by leaking exhaust fumes, investigators have confirmed.
The Canadian pilot and five members of a British family died in the crash north of Sydney in December 2017.
All were found to have higher than normal levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, a final report has found.
It recommended the mandatory fitting of gas detectors in all such planes.
British businessman Richard Cousins, 58, died alongside his 48-year-old fiancée, magazine editor Emma Bowden, her 11-year-old daughter Heather and his sons, Edward, 23, and William, 25, and pilot Gareth Morgan, 44. Mr Cousins was the chief executive of catering giant Compass.
The family had been on a sightseeing flight in the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver plane when it nose-dived into the Hawkesbury River at Jerusalem Bay, about 50km (30 miles) from the city centre.
The final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) confirmed the findings of an interim report published in 2020.
It said pre-existing cracks in the exhaust collector ring were believed to have released exhaust gas into the engine bay. Holes left by missing bolts in a firewall then allowed the fumes to enter the cabin.
“As a result, the pilot would have almost certainly experienced effects such as confusion, visual disturbance and disorientation,” the report said.
“Consequently, it was likely that this significantly degraded the pilot’s ability to safely operate the aircraft.”
The ATSB recommended the Civil Aviation Safety Authority consider mandating the fitting of carbon monoxide detectors in piston-engine aircraft that carry passengers.
It previously issued safety advisory notices to owners and operators of such aircraft that they install detectors “with an active warning” to pilots”. Operators and maintainers of planes were also advised to carry out detailed inspections of exhaust systems and firewalls.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55862128
Australia unlikely to fully reopen border in 2021, says top official
Australia is unlikely to fully open its borders in 2021 even if most of its population gets vaccinated this year as planned, says a senior health official.
The comments dampen hopes raised by airlines that travel to and from the country could resume as early as July.
Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy made the prediction after being asked about the coronavirus’ escalation in other nations.
Dr Murphy spearheaded Australia’s early action to close its borders last March.
“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday.
“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus,” he said, adding that he believed quarantine requirements for travellers would continue “for some time”.
Citizens, permanent residents and those with exemptions are allowed to enter Australia if they complete a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Qantas – Australia’s national carrier – reopened bookings earlier this month, after saying it expected international travel to “begin to restart from July 2021.”
However, it added this depended on the Australian government’s deciding to reopen borders.
Australia’s tight restrictions
The country opened a travel bubble with neighbouring New Zealand late last year, but currently it only operates one-way with inbound flights to Australia.
Australia has also discussed the option of travel bubbles with other low-risk places such as Taiwan, Japan and Singapore.
A vaccination scheme is due to begin in Australia in late February. Local authorities have resisted calls to speed up the process, giving more time for regulatory approvals.
Australia has so far reported 909 deaths and about 22,000 cases, far fewer than many nations. It reported zero locally transmitted infections on Monday.
Experts have attributed much of Australia’s success to its swift border lockdown – which affected travellers from China as early as February – and a hotel quarantine system for people entering the country.
Local outbreaks have been caused by hotel quarantine breaches, including a second wave in Melbourne. The city’s residents endured a stringent four-month lockdown last year to successfully suppress the virus.
Other outbreaks – including one in Sydney which has infected about 200 people – prompted internal border closures between states, and other restrictions around Christmas time.
The state of Victoria said on Monday it would again allow entry to Sydney residents outside of designated “hotspots”, following a decline in cases.
While the measures have been praised, many have also criticised them for separating families across state borders and damaging businesses.
Dr Murphy said overall Australia’s virus response had been “pretty good” but he believed the nation could have introduced face masks earlier and improved its protections in aged care homes.
In recent days, Australia has granted entry to about 1,200 tennis players, staff and officials for the Australian Open. The contingent – which has recorded at least nine infections – is under quarantine.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55699581
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