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Federal ICAC: The Keys to the Electoral Mint?

By Tim Jones

Would the promise of a Federal ICAC give one of the majors the keys to the electoral mint? Tim Jones urges Turnbull or Shorten to take the microphone.

ICAC – The Keys to the Electoral Mint

In what is evolving into a series of ongoing scandals of rorting and corruption, federal MPs’ expenses are increasingly under the microscope – as they should be. However, scrutiny of use of taxpayer money should be constant. It should not just be a reaction to a particular scandal. Calls have been made to establish a federal version of the state anti-corruption body, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

There is a serious political opportunity here. We are in an age where, according to one recent poll, 80% of Australians think politicians are corrupt. The federal leader who introduces the bill to establish a federal ICAC has the keys to the electoral mint. As the one (seemingly) honest politician, they could win elections for their party in a landslide for years to come. If the other party rejects the proposal, so much the better. You take that fact, and you break them with it. They support corruption, or they have something to hide and so on. The campaign literature writes itself.

Is Shorten Wasting an Opportunity?

The fact that the LNP appears to reject the idea outright gives Labor leader Bill Shorten this very opportunity. However, his support for the idea has been weak, much like his leadership.

This is a consequence of Kevin Rudd’s no knifing clause in the Labor constitution. This was designed to create stable leadership by making it impossible to knife the leader. However, this job security has bred complacency in Mr. Shorten and a marked lack of leadership.

Even accounting for the fact that he was on holiday during the Sussan Ley scandal (and why would you not come back early at the presentation of a half-volley on leg stump?), his silence on this scandal has been deafening. The reason behind this silence is not clear. A don’t ask, don’t tell policy among politicians? A fear at what would be found if his own or his colleagues’ expenses reports were scrutinised, or something else? Whatever the reason, Mr. Shorten’s silence on this issue is deafening.

The ICAC Board

Who would sit on such a board? Naturally, sitting politicians would be banned – foxes guarding the hen-house and all that. Sitting politicians should have no say in who will be on the board, for the same reason.

I wonder if anyone else has noticed that certain former politicians, including Dr. John Hewson, Dr. Craig Emerson and perhaps also Kristina Keneally, offer sober analysis and often criticise their own side of politics. These people are examples of being able to take the politician out of the party and the party out of the politician. Are they infallible? No, and no-one is saying that. But they are outside the current hyper-partisan political battlefield and so are more likely to offer something approaching impartiality.

Other possible appointees would include political science academics, CPAs and other financial experts. For the I in ICAC to mean anything, there would be no government oversight of the board a la former NSW Premier (he has since resigned).  Mike Baird, caused trouble for an an ICAC investigator after they uncovered inconvenient truths about him.

There should be no communication between government and board, aside from subpoenas for records and testimony. Any sitting MP or Senator found with falsified records, or who lies to the board, will be terminated and prosecuted. Funds recovered and an immediate by-election called with no appeal. The parliamentarian should, of course, surrender any post-service pensions or entitlements upon conviction.

The time has come for corruption to end. The age of transparency must dawn. All parliamentary expenses, both during and post-service, are paid for with tax dollars. The people have a right to know how those monies are spent.

Mr. Turnbull or Mr. Shorten, take the microphone

 

Originally published on criticalanalystsite

 

NSW State architect rolls in his grave

By June Bullivant OAM

NSW State architect rolls in his grave – 200 years later his work faces destruction.

If Francis Greenway was alive today, he would be on the streets protesting about what the modern day State Architect is proposing to do to his work that has lasted for 200 years. Peter Poulet – the current State Architect –  is not a designer of grand old buildings, instead he likes modern art, “A well travelled artist” as this story in the Daily Telegraph tells us.

The question therefore has to be asked why a fellow that has no experience in design becomes the State Architect in charge of the ‘Architects Office’. Of course, the answer is a very simple one. You have a NSW Government that does not believe in saving our heritage and wants to sell it at any price. And that the original State Officer Francis Greenway remains relegated to a $10 note.

Francis Greenway (1777-1837), architect, was born at Mangotsfield, near Bristol, England, son of Francis Greenway and Ann, née Webb. The Greenways had been stonemasons, builders and architects in the west country for generations. Francis was in private practice as an architect in Bristol when in March 1812 he was found guilty of forging a document.

He was sentenced to death but the penalty was later changed to transportation for fourteen years. He arrived in Sydney in February 1814 in the transport General Hewitt, and was followed in July by his wife Mary, whom he had married about 1804, and three children in the Broxbornebury.

This is what the community is facing NSW from the State Government, no longer is heritage a precious commodity to be saved for the future use of the people, but a treasure to be sold. It is ironic then that poor old Francis is put on our currency, for that is what is happening.

Peter Poulet presides over the work of the heritage destroyers ‘Urban Growth’, which is the development arm of the State, but managed by young inexperienced people who think that a visit by the Premier or minister to announce a grand plan of destruction, is the best thing ever. Urban Growth have lodged a development application with the Baird Government appointed Administrator at Parramatta which will see the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct sliced into three to sell off to the highest bidder.

The office of the State Architect – whatcha has been a powerhouse for 200 years – has been dumbed down. It has now been reduced to an artist’s studio, not a design of grand buildings in sight, and the NSW community are fighting for their very life to stop the destruction of their heritage for the history and the future economy of NSW and Australia.

The problem with all of this is that when it is sold, when it is destroyed by high rise buildings, there will be nothing left that can bring tourist revenue to Parramatta. If the politicians – including Geoff Lee the local member – had an original thought that was sold by someone like Francis Greenway, they could see what a potential tourism site this could be: a desired destination of tourists from all over the world and it would boost the Parramatta economy for many years to come. But no, Mr Lee has been advised (wrongly) that he will get the site World Heritage Listed after the site has been destroyed.

Not so, Mr Lee, not so.

 

The Centrelink debacle has only just begun …

By Mel Mac

We hear Artificial Intelligence (AI) bandied about a lot in recent times as well as innovation and agility and more recently we have been hearing terms such as robo-debt recovery, algorithms and malware. The Income Security Integrated System (ISIS) ISIS was set up in 1983 and oversaw welfare payment deliveries, customer service, support and compliance activities for Centrelink. In 2015 Marise Payne, former Human Services Minister (and now Defence Minister) called for an overhaul of the system: ‘To deal with the increased demands over the years the original system has literally had another 350 systems bolted on. To put it simply, we are running a turbo-charged Commodore 64 with a spoiler in the age of the iPhone.’

In the 2015-16 budget, the Welfare Payment Infrastructure Transformation (WPIT) program was announced as the replacement for ISIS. The 2015-16, budget measure worth $60.5m is part of a $1.5 billion, seven-year program. The program was described by the government as one of the world’s largest social welfare ICT transformations.

In September 2015, the Department of Human Services (DHS) asked for expressions of interest (EOI) for the first tranche of WPIT for a core software provider. As part of tranche one a panel of members was also to be formed to compete for the other tranches. In a statement, Ms Payne said that: “Finding innovative and expert industry partners is the first step in providing a modern platform that will make interacting with government services easier for our customers,” the Minister added. “Over the next year, the department will commence two major procurement activities to secure a Core Software Vendor and Systems Integrators.”’

“The new system will reduce red tape for customers, lower the costs of administering welfare payments and save taxpayers money,” Payne said. “Customers can expect to see improvements to our payment systems by the end of 2016 with enhancements that will make online interactions quicker and easier.”

On March 2nd 2016, legislation was introduced to parliament to assist the government in chasing welfare debt by Social Services Minister Christian Porter. The changes allow interest to be charged on debts, ends the six-year limit on when debt can be pursued and stops debtors from being able to travel overseas. The new interest charge is around nine-percent and applies to social security, family assistance, child care, paid parental leave and student assistance debt. It won’t be imposed on those that have an approved repayment plan. The six-year limit brings it in line with tax debt and the travel ban brings it in line with child support debtors.

And by March 20th it was reported in the media that the DHS had partnered with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in a venture called Taskforce Integrity. Welfare recipients in areas identified as high-risk, received letters with the AFP logo alongside the Centrelink logo. This is a first, using a police logo on a welfare letter. The first batch of letters was sent to South Queensland and will be rolled out to other geographical areas around Australia considered high risk or noncompliant. The letters warn that the taskforce was “currently working in your community” and that providing the wrong information could constitute welfare fraud, resulting in a “criminal record or a prison sentence”.

The government’s new automated compliance system to detect overpayments began on the 13th of July last year. The system compares Centrelink information with records such as tax records, saving the government money on employing staff. The first error to come to light was it not computing the difference between 52 weeks in a year and 26 fortnights. And in December last year stories from the public began trickling through to the media.

In early August 2016, German software company SAP was selected to be the government software provider and tranche two was opened up for bidding. In the MYEFO published in December 2016 it was revealed that tranche two of the WPIT will cost $313.5 million over four years. The panel is to consist of IBM, HP, Capgemini, and Accenture; with the latter two currently competing for tranche two below:

  • Tranche 2 – Student payments
  • Tranche 3 – Job seeker payments
  • Tranche 4 – Family payments, including disability and carer payments
  • Tranche 5 – Seniors, pensioners and any remaining payments.

It is of note that IBM was also awarded a five-year contract by the DHS in March 2016 worth $484 million. DHS CIO Gary Sterrenberg said: “This innovative and flexible agreement allows the Department to use products, services and expertise through an on- demand model. It ensures value for money for government in maintaining the Department’s existing spend with IBM, with the opportunity to realign technology and services to areas which provide better outcomes for our customers over the five-year term.” And that: “This will also ensure the Government is prepared to transition to new infrastructure with more dynamic capability to support future programmes.”

This week Centrelink’s new robo-public servant was introduced in the media, and it is being tested on the public next month in February. Two robo-assistants will answer questions from the public, one will focus on the National Disability Insurance Scheme, (NDIS) and the other one on student payments. The plan is that if the trials are successful, they will be rolled out to replace traditional public servant roles behind the desk and on the phone in the DHS. Human Service’s Chief Technology officer Charles McHardie, also believes that virtual assistance will have a central role in the future of claims processing at the DHS or in WPIT.

Concerns about the right use of AI are real and there are many examples of it helping to increase inequality in many areas of our lives. Sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination are being built into the machine-learning or predictive algorithms, either intentionally or unintentionally. Machines are taught by humans and this includes any bias that may have. An example of predictive algorithms is Pro Publica’s study of an algorithm, built by a private company, it incorrectly flagged black defendants as “future criminals” more than twice that of white defendants. “The reason those predictions are so skewed is still unknown, because the company responsible for these algorithms keeps its formulas secret,” wrote Microsoft Research principal researcher Kate Crawford in “Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem.”

Australian businesses spend an average of $6 million a year on AI technologies according to recent research by Infosys. Algorithms are being developed for more and more things such as predicting investor responses to market shocks and offering financial advice. The research also found that: “Happily, Australia was the most ethically conscious country of the seven surveyed, with 69% [of businesses surveyed] saying ethical concerns were a major barrier to their organisation’s AI deployment plans, compared to just 33% in the US.”

To date 230,000 debt recovery letters have been sent out to Australians. There’s been countless articles written about it and there are 350 individual stories shared on the Not My Debt web site and a false debt tally of $2,124, 501. Thousands of Indigenous Australians have been sent letters with some just paying it off despite knowing it is wrong. Daniel Hayes told NITV News he was repaying the debt but when he started seeing news articles he stopped paying Centrelink. He said in early January that: “I’m in the middle of repaying them $3350 for apparently not declaring correctly in periods where I didn’t even have a job. When I asked for proof, they told me I had to go through my bank records, so I’ve paid it for a year down to $1600,” he said.

In early January, independent MP Andrew Wilkie, said: “I have had at least four people now approach me in my office who I would describe as presenting suicidal and in all those cases we’ve taken what action we thought was appropriate.”

Mr Wilkie requested an investigation into Centrelink by the Commonwealth Ombudsman before Christmas, they agreed on January 9th. Deputy ombudsman, Richard Glenn told the Guardian that the matter was “of significant interest to this office”.

“I can certainly say the ombudsman has approved an own-motion investigation into the matter… this one will be self-initiated because we have a number of complaints and there is significant public controversy about the issue. So, it is an inquiry into the issue at large, rather than into a specific complaint,” Mr Glenn said.

“Certainly, there’s enough information from complaints we’ve received and … that it’s an issue of significant interest to this office, and we’ll be pursuing it.”

The focus will be on three areas: the data-matching process used to compare Centrelink records with those of the tax departments; how Centrelink communicated with clients and how the agency managed the fallout.

Centrelink has been referring distraught people to Lifeline and several current and ex-Centrelink employees have told Mr Wilkie that there was little to no training for the recovery program. Mr Wilkie has written to the Ombudsman this week sharing what he has been told. It all reads badly but what jumps out at me, is that it has been alleged that senior departmental staff have been encouraging officers to compete with themselves over who can achieve the highest debt recovery quotas.

While all of this has been going on for weeks, the government denies that there is a problem, although they have agreed to soften some wording in the letters. And they’ve agreed to start sending letters by registered mail so that Centrelink can track if letters are being received. Many people have been unaware of any alleged debts until a debt collector was knocking on their door.

So far only The Australian has reported that there will be a senate inquiry into Centrelink. Perhaps last year’s failed Census inquiry report can assist them with it. The Turnbull and the Abbott governments don’t have a great record with technology. News about Australia’s biggest infrastructure, the National Broadband Network (NBN) is reduced to tiny PR pieces talking up their rollout but neglecting to tell the rest of the story. The census fallout may not be felt now but it will, that data has been compromised and is vital for planning things like infrastructure. Seeing this play out and knowing that the government is nowhere finished with their five-seven year WTIP plan, sends a shiver down my spine. We can take comfort in the fact that it has united us, so many are fighting for those affected but it is bittersweet, because it feels intentional and a government at war with its own people will never end well.

This article was originally published on Political Omniscience.

 

Centrelink debt: Guilty until proven innocent

 

By John Haly

Centrelink has been fraudulently issuing debt notices to people who owe no money. Persons so identified are then harassed and threatened to the point that they pay this un-owed debt rather than being penalised by a system, which they already know actively disparages them.

Labor’s Anthony Albanese, while being concerned about this government’s debt collection said, “No one would argue [against] that if someone has a debt from Centrelink, had payments to which they were not entitled, then it should be repaid“. I would argue to the contrary.

The Poverty of Welfare

Centrelink’s services exist to ensure the disbursement of social security payments whether that be for unemployment, or aid for families, carers, the disabled or indigenous. That financial aid in many cases has rarely increased, and in some has decreased in terms of CPI value. In the case of the baseline unemployment benefits, though indexed to the CPI, “there have been no legislated changes to real Newstart rates in over 20 years”, in fact since 1996.

Image from tai.org.au

This has raised legitimate concerns that the Newstart allowance is well below the poverty line,  which is an issue championed by:

Rorters! From Welfare or Multinationals?

These inadequate payments entrench poverty, inhibiting rather then aiding workforce participation. Mobility, presentation, education, literacy, and skill acquisition all cost money.  Financial stress adds to social marginalisation. Bullying by the job networks and policy victimisation generates social ostracisation in the community, and also limits possibilities for the unemployed and disabled.  So sorry  Anthony, but I am very much inclined to believe that if anyone got a little more money out of this dysfunctional system than the government was prepaired to provide, then they deserve to keep it.  Any extra money would only increase their chances of improving their lot, including their ability to contribute to the economy and to finding work.  Instead of attempting to recoup $3.5 billion in alleged “welfare debts”, why is the government not energetically recouping $6 billion from the tax dodging multinationals? 

What about getting a job?

The divergence between the Government’s unemployment numbers and Roy Morgan’s (image from roymorgan.com)

Numbers don’t lie but as the ABS knows, how they get presented matters. Apart from the financial constraints, there is the statistical improbability of finding work in any way. Roy Morgan demonstrates unemployment figures in December 2016 were 9.2%, which involves 1.186 million people. In fact, when you take into account underemployment, which has risen another 10.8%, the pool of potential job seekers rises to 2,584 million. All of these job seekers are competing for approximately just 163,100 jobs Australia wide (Nov 2016 Dept. of Employment IVI stats.). In the worst-case scenario, there are at close to an average of 16 people for every single job in the market and that doesn’t take into account the following:

And now, just to add to the psychological and financial pressures inherent in looking for work, the government has come up with a new strategy to inhibit your search, by occupying your time with digging up old payroll records. The news of this new tactic is ever-present. Twenty thousand people a week receive notices of debts – allegedly to recoup incorrect welfare payments. All of which are triggered by an automated debt recovery system, which is under intense criticism because of what is essentially, the (intentionally?) flawed logic of a computer algorithm.

Erroneous mathematics

Centrelink’s computers (IBM machines in case you were wondering) are attempting to match tax office data with Centrelink records to determine if there are discrepancies between Centerlink financial information and Tax office records.

But an inherent incompatibility exists between these two data sources, and it is a matter of timing. Centerlink has information about its payments made fortnightly, and possibly data relevant to jobs which clients were offered and accepted. Centerlink is unlikely to be aware of the continuing circumstances of that job or subsequent ones found independently in the course of any given financial year. The tax office has only an annual summary of income. There is no breakdown into weeks, fortnights or months. There is no breakdown of pay rates, when it was specifically known they earned it, or what changes to income streams occurred in the course of the year. The tax office data is therefore incompatible with Centerlink’s data. The government is comparing apples with oranges.

Despite this, Centrelink’s algorithm takes your yearly income as reported to the ATO, and averages it over each fortnight of the year. As any primary school age statistician would recognise, an annual “average” apportionment cannot measure individual fluctuations and is a flawed measure in any given fortnight. To assumes absolute consistency for all fortnights is absurd on a number of levels. The only group that may get close to this pattern are the fully employed and even then, there are allowances, overtime, uneven hours, holidays, sick leave, RDOs, wage rises, wage falls, changes of roles, and any manner of occurrences that will alter the payroll for any individual over any given week/fortnight. Certainly, the most unstable employment group and the most likely to have variants are the unemployed. It is common sense that if you are dealing with people who move in and out of employment in any given year where they may move from poverty one fortnight to sufficiency (or if lucky, excess) the next. It is common sense that averaging their yearly income will produce inaccurate results by which to measure any given actual fortnight.

Guilty before proven innocent!

So what does Centerlink do? They take the ACTUAL fortnightly records held by Centerlink along with any limited volunteered data and try to cross-reference it against a fortnightly averaging of annual taxation income data. The normal presumption of statistical probability would tell you the likelihood of such figures matching for this demographic, is extremely unlikely. You would have to presume the mismatches will be the most common occurrence. Any programmer (and I worked as one for most of my career) would tell you such a matching is deeply flawed. Therefore clients should be approached with the assumption of innocence. In the absence of specific information in Centerlink’s internal records for discrepancies, inquires should be made tentatively as to why there might be a prima facie case for a mismatch in numbers. The onus of proof should also be on Centerlink (and not the client), as the process is so obviously flawed. Something fully recognised internally within Centerlink, if not by the political policy makers. In the face of the inherently flawed logic of this approach, innocence till proven guilty would be the legally prudent course of action.

Debt assessment is followed in 3 weeks with debt claims (image from auswakeup.info)

So what does the government decide is the best course of action? To implement a process that presumes people to be guilty (of debt) till proven innocent. Twenty thousand welfare recipients a week have been receiving notices that they have 21 days to prove their “innocence”, or be hit with penalties. These include a 10 per cent debt recovery fee, jail time, a restriction on travel. The event for which they are being investigated may be anywhere up to six years in the past. Some recipients are paying up, not because they accept that they actually owe the debt, but simply because they can’t locate evidence from past years, or because they fear the repercussions of a punishing government bureaucracy. If you have ever had to deal with Centrelink or any of its private job network partners you will be well aware of how punitive they are. Surprisingly to the government – apparently – this is producing a backlash.

Flaws and error rates

Human Services Minister, Alan Tudge, insists the automated process is not flawed and despite protests to discontinue the letters he is forging ahead with gusto. For Trudge to declare, “he wasn’t aware of anyone who was completely convinced they don’t owe money but have been given a debt notice” is either grotesque wilful ignorance or a lie in the face of a growing body of evidence otherwise.  When even “Liberal Senator Eric Abetz acknowledged there seemed to be problems with the system“, then you know it has to be disastrous.

The one aspect of this (that nobody appears to be talking about) is the sheer workload this must be creating for Centerlink. Let’s assume Alan Tudge is correct that the error rate is only 20%, which is contrary to what centerlink whistle-blowers reveal is the case.  Giving him the full benefit of the doubt, 20K letters a week represents 4K fraudulent claims a week. Which is 16K a month and 192K a year. After 1.04 million data matching discrepancy letters in a year, they will not even cover all the numbers of unemployed in this country (1.186 million), let alone all the other welfare recipients for other reasons. Alan Trudge expects the system to “generate 1.7 million compliance notices”, which by his own estimates means at least 340,000 letters in error. Of course, the Centrelink compliance officer whistle-blower that spoke to the Guardian suggests the percentages of errors are vastly larger. Given that all of this was not only easily identifiable but unavoidably self-evident prior to the system being switched on, how is any of this not fraudulent?

Tudge’s apparent ignorance (image from Peter Martin on Twitter: @1petermartin)

Voters and workers affected

At the current letter-writing rate (if they can maintain it) this will take over a year and a half to complete, although Mr Trudge thinks it will take 3 years. By then Australian Lawyers will be in a feeding frenzy of class action suits with minimally 340,000 clients with legitimate grievances with the government. This will presumably still be an ongoing issue by the next election. According to 2014 Centerlink data there were 14.459 million Social Services payments made in the March 2014 Quarter to 50% of the population – interestingly, a reduction from previous numbers. There are only 13.5 million voters – according to AEC – who voted in the last election. This is not a vote winner.  But presuming you are not expecting to win the next election, leaving this mess on another party’s door to cleanup provides a damaging handicap. The amazingly short-term memory of the public, gives the coalition an advantageous opportunity to disparage what the next government will have to do to rectify the situation.

Access issues for Centrelink online facilitates debt being levied (image from theguardian.com)

Putting aside the legal costs, consider then the other real cost in man-hours for Centerlink to resolve each erroneous issue when there are minimally 4000 cases a week. To keep on top of the “erroneous” case load – if Mr Trudge is correct – requires the equivalent of 105 Centerlink officers processing each claim within an hour in a 38 hour week. This presumes the ability for each officer to address, research, confirm and redress an error on each letter in one hour and do no other administrative work. There appears to be mounting evidence it takes much more time. Plus that does not factor in the equivalent of the 421 Centerlink officers devoting a single hour in a 38 hour week, that you’d need to process the claims – and not fall behind – which Mr Trudge believes are valid. But these figures are conservative. As I previously explained, the error rate is far larger according to the Guardian’s Centerlink whistle-blower. The backlog of work is just going to be extraordinary, if it isn’t already. No wonder it is so difficult to get through to Centerlink on the phone. It was nearly impossible to get Centerlink on the phone when there was only 20,000 debt recovery letters sent in a year but now that they are doing it every week …. ? As for other means of communication, even compliance officers are complaining they cannot access the Centerlink online system efficiently, let alone customers.

Opportunities or Overload?

In truth, even if Alan Trudge did put an end to it; Centrelink will probably still be spending thousands of man-hours dealing with the consequences of this flawed and fraudulent system. The same would be true if the Commonwealth Ombudsman began investigating Centrelink’s debt recovery system and put a stop to it – disregarding the costs in legal redress, which are sure to follow.  Nothing about this course of action makes any logical sense, except to see this as class warfare against our vulnerable and easily disparaged citizens.

Well at least, it will probably increase employment opportunities in the community at Centerlink that will giving a few folk some extra, well sought after work. But wait, isn’t there a public service full time employment freeze?

This article was originally published as ‘Debt Collection‘ on Australia Awake.

 

Urban Growth: NSW development application to subdivide and vandalise Australian history lodged

North Parramatta Residents Action Group (NPRAG) have been alerted to the fact that the State Government’s Development Arm UGNSW last week lodged the first Development Application with City of Parramatta council for the Fleet Street Heritage Precinct: an ill-conceived proposal that will turn public land containing Australia’s oldest and most intact heritage buildings into a high density residential suburb of 3000+ units.

This precinct was placed under a total Greenban by the CFMEU and Jack Mundey in August 2015 after the community concerns went ignored by the State Member for Parramatta Dr Geoff Lee.

“Dr Lee is ignoring constituents who have been working tirelessly to save our indigenous and colonial heritage from being desecrated, while he is gleefully handing it over to Mr Baird to sell for private residential development,” said Suzette Meade, President of NPRAG

State Member for Parramatta Dr Geoff Lee continues to ignore the community who have been fighting against this inappropriate development for almost 2 years. All we hear is Mr Lee promoting Mike Baird’s mandate to sell every remaining piece of public land in Parramatta for residential or commercial development.

Before our local government was unceremoniously sacked and replaced by a State Government-appointed representative Ms Chadwick, the former Lord Mayor Paul Garrard of Parramatta City Council wrote to Planning Minister Rob Stokes demanding this totally inappropriate development be at least paused until the National Heritage Listing was finalised. Requesting further transparent consultation with the wider community and other interested stakeholders was carried out. This fell on deaf ears.

How can the future of this most precious site be under the autonomous control of a State Government appointed administrator who is absurdly making decisions on a development application that is being fast tracked by a State Government department who’s only mandate is to reach maximum residential density on public land.

This sort of undemocratic decision making process is something we would expect in North Korea but not here in Australia. It is a disgrace – a slap in the face to the Darug custodians of the land, the tens of thousands of women and girls from 1818 to 1974 whose lives were changed forever after being incarcerated within this precinct.

If the Greater Sydney Commission’s Lucy Turnbull is fair dinkum about making Parramatta Australia’s next great city then she will step in and stop this State Government proposal to vandalise Australia’s most significant precinct by dumping a new high density suburb here. Residents of Parramatta are calling on Lucy Turnbull to champion the peoples’ plan for the best and biggest arts and cultural precinct for NSW to be created in this world heritage worthy oasis on Parramatta River.

The residents of Parramatta demand that NO development application pertaining to the Cumberland Hospital site be accepted by City of Parramatta council. No land sold and not a sod turned until we have democratically-elected representatives returned to represent the community in the Local Government Elections in September 2017 – demanded Ms Meade.

Contact – Suzette Meade (0412 990 880) smeade@nprag.org

NORTH PARRAMATTA RESIDENTS ACTION GROUP www.nprag.org

 

Social Market Solutions to Underemployment: Or more traction for the miracle of the market?

By Denis Bright

With youth unemployment exceeding 25 per cent in some regions, bipartisan support should be forthcoming to expand new training and employment programmes.

Existence of the Future Fund of Australia and the numerous public sector business investment funds at state and territory levels provide new opportunities for bipartisan political leadership on the issues which should concern all Australians.

Perhaps national film crews and local media were hoping for this new direction as Prime Minister Turnbull visited the Vanguard Laundry in Toowoomba (featured image above) on 16 January 2017.

Alas, it was another rationale for a restatement of The Miracle of the Market by the Prime Minister within embedded attempts at point scoring against an absent Opposition Leader.

So we all recognise we have a vested interest in continuing to support open markets. Now, let me make another very – this is a very important point of differentiation. Bill Shorten, as I said – Bill Shorten is a shallow populist.

He is a disgrace to the legacy of economic reform that his predecessors as leaders of the Labor Party demonstrated, Hawke and Keating in particular. Now, there are arguments being made for greater protectionism in other economies, but my job as Prime Minister of Australia, and frankly Mr Shorten’s job for someone who wants to be Prime Minister of Australia, is to promote policies that deliver jobs, better-paid jobs for hardworking Australian families here in Australia.

Prime Minister of Australia in Toowoomba 16 January 2017

At least there is still some scope for some national policy consensus from the Prime Minister’s doorstop interview.

Writing for The Wall Street Journal Online (10 January 2017), Vera Sprothen gave qualified support for more private sector involvement in the delivery of future infrastructure. This essential involvement must be tactfully managed.

Overseas infrastructure corporations and even pension funds are staking out new Australian investment niches with the support of the Australian Trade and Investment Commission.

Instead of taking up the challenge of overcoming investment shortfalls in essential infrastructure and community services, the federal LNP is actively encouraging investment by such commercial juggernauts:

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) is opening a standalone office in Sydney to formalise its existing Australian operations.

A CPPIB news release announced the office will open in fiscal 2017 (to 30 March 2017), stating: ‘With C$7.9 billion invested in the country, Australia is an important market for us. An integrated CPPIB office will enable us to better manage current and future investments.’

Canada’s pension industry continues to be an important investor in Australia. CPPIB is the latest in a series of Canadian pension funds and banks that have established standalone Australian offices in the past three years, including Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, Borealis Infrastructure (OMERS), OP Trust, Fengate Capital, Royal Bank of Canada, Scotiabank and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

(Australian Government Online 29 August 2016).

Options available to federal, state and local governments have widened dramatically since the government of Paul Keating privatized Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) in 1994.

This exercise removed CSL from the government sector through a bargain basement share offer of $2.30.

CSL was highly profitable at the time of its privatization but the federal government lacked both the motivation and capital resources to transform it into a major global entity.

By 2015-16, CSL had sales revenue in excess of $6.2 billion. This represents the equivalent of almost 4 percent of the national economy.

With the vision of hindsight, there are now alternatives to this privatization of productive assets which had been in the public sector since 1916.

CSL produced blood plasma products, antivenom for snake and spider bites as well as a range of vaccines.

Public sector institutes now purchase the life-saving products from CSL Limited at market prices and are missing out from the full benefits of research and consultancy services within Australia and in both commercial export markets and DFAT assistance programmes.

CSL Online 2017

The imperative of privatizing CSL in 1994 has been changed by the formation of The Future Fund of Australia which commenced operations in 2006. Other public sector business investment funds also operate in most states and territories could have invested in the CSL as a Government Owned Corporation (GOC).

Consideration will be given to the existing and potential roles of the Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC).

1 Have Optimum Roles for the Future Fund Been Attained?

Appointed as Chairman of the Future Fund’s Board of Guardians by the Rudd Government, the Hon Peter Costello AC is fully occupied on implementing strategies to support social investment initiatives in Australia’s major national sovereign wealth fund.

As at 30 September 2016 the value of the Future Fund was an impressive A$124.650bn, meeting its benchmark return over the quarter and showing a return of 7.6% pa since the Fund was established in 2006 against a benchmark return target of 6.9% pa.

Future Fund Online 2017

In the words of Peter Costello Australia’s National Sovereign Wealth Fund has performed the following feats:

The Future Fund invests in all classes of assets – equities, fixed interest, credit, hedge funds, infrastructure, property, private equity.  It invests around the globe with around two-thirds of its investments outside of Australia.  The Future Fund has invested in water businesses in the United Kingdom, gas pipelines in the U.S., in the Airport in Melbourne, in Perth Airport and Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom.  It has owned stakes in a major Birmingham shopping centre in England and commercial buildings in Brisbane Australia.  It has stakes in commercial buildings in Vienna, on the Champs Elysees in Paris and 3rd Avenue in New York.  It has recently taken a large stake in the Port of Melbourne.  Through its private equity program it was an early investor in Uber, Air BnB and Snapchat.  Its private equity portfolio is unrivalled in Australia.

The Future Fund is fiercely independent from the Australian Government.  The Government does not tell it where to invest.  This independence is respected by both sides of politics.  It has been respected by Governments of both Liberal and Labor persuasion, by five Treasurers, and by five Prime Ministers.

(Future Fund Online 2017).

With tax avoidance by major corporations, entrepreneurs and private businesses so rampant, it is most unlikely that this debt situation will change in the medium term future to provide new injections into The Future Fund. As 2017 rolls on, excuses about the current debt levels are still being manufactured as shown in Scott Morrison’s latest Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO):

Australian Treasury Online 2016

In a currently slowing economy, the prospects for debt reduction are not promising without a return to the austerity programmes initiated in the 2014 federal budget.

Without dismissing the achievements of the Future Fund, it still has a minor role in a $1.6 trillion dollar national economy. Revenue generated by the Future Fund in 2015 amounted to 1 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) and to the equivalent of about 4 percent of government revenue.

In contrast, the combined assets of Singapore Government’s Temasek Holdings and the Government Investment Fund (GIC) surpass the profile of Australia’s Future Fund by a significant six-fold margin.

Fund Chairman Peter Costello continues to welcome the expansion of the Future Fund. This support offers the possibility of greater national policy concession on the future roles of public sector sovereign wealth funds and business investment funds at state and territory levels:

While it is a matter of regret that the Fund has not had any new capital since its original injection, the Fund has been asked to manage other Funds on behalf of the Commonwealth.  It is still administering two of the so called “Building Australia Funds” which were financed out of the 2007/08 Budget Surplus.  It has been asked to hold and manage money in a Disability Care Fund to help defray some of the costs of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).  In September 2015 funds were first set aside for the Medical Research Future Fund which currently holds around $4.5bn.  All up, including these other Funds, around $140bn is held by the Board of Guardians.

(Peter Costello’s Address to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Future Fund 7 December 2016).

In the post-resources boom era, investment in the Future Fund could perhaps benefit from the Queensland Investment Fund (QIC) fund management strategies. Although the QIC operates as a state-based business investment fund, it still has accumulated more than half of the Future Fund’s capital under management.

2 The Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC) and Its Business Investment Model

Established by the Goss Labor Government in 1991, QIC operates as a government owned business investment fund with two current shareholding ministers: The Premier and the State Treasurer.

The QIC’s clients are the Queensland Government through the Shareholder and Structural Policy Division of Queensland Treasury itself and institutional investors. The commercial suppliers of venture capital are not listed in detail in the 2016 Annual Report and are probably protected by commercial in confidence protocols.

These investment processes have the advantage of making the QIC independent of new funding from the state government. This assists the Australian and overseas corporate sectors and the Queensland Government as clients of the QIC to become involved in generating social market outcomes.

The suppliers of venture capital negotiate entry into one or more of the QIC’s Investment Funds including Global Infrastructure, Global Real Estate, Global Liquid Strategies, Global Multi-Asset and Global Private Equity.

Despite its impressive returns on equity and cost to income performance in 2016, the QIC is hardly a giant in the Australian or local Queensland economy. Assets under management do amount to an impressive $75.8 billion as stated in the QIC’s 2016 Annual Report.

The net profit generated to the Queensland Government of $88.3 million before tax amounted to about 1.6 percent of state revenue.

An expansion in the profile of business investment funds like the QIC at federal, state and local government is clearly a bipartisan possibility.

At Queensland state level, the QIC could become more involved in supporting start up ventures in the public sector

Examples of socially responsible investment by new start up GOCs might include Transport Oriented Urban Projects (ToDs) near underutilised state government land assets. Venture capital could be used to support economic and community development in both private and government sectors. Government involvement could actually speed up the development processes and enable the profits generated to support other social programmes.

Suburban and inner city ToD projects might include new housing blocks, commercial centres, pedestrian precincts, parklands and recreation centres near new integrated or refurbished transport terminals that are incorporated into local commercial precincts.

Best practice in ToD Development? (Central Park Online 2017)

A Catchment and Environmental Management Authority could become an independent public sector corporate entity with a specialization in alternative energy projects, mine site restoration, rural land rehabilitation and restoration of water quality.

Investment from the QIC should be completely compatible with the Queensland Treasury’s Market Led Proposals (MLPs). This offers support to private sector endeavours that are assessed as beneficial to the economic development and diversification of the Queensland economy.

Companies like Genex Power are currently looking overseas for new capital investment and might satisfy current MLP guidelines. The QIC might support such commercial projects in the future if they can satisfy commercial accountability guidelines.

Genex Power plans for the Kidston Gold Mine near Einsleigh, North Queensland

Commercialising Tourism Queensland would replace government spending by self-funding arrangements through online bookings for travel, accommodation, travel insurance, ticketing big events and a range of consultancy services.

Revenue generating booking site?

QIC investment holdings are still mainly in commercial real estate, including major US shopping centres through Forest City Enterprises. New investment acquisitions sometimes make it into the business pages but the main investment activities of the QIC goes on quietly behind the scenes:

Queensland Investment Corporation has finalised another leg of its $US500 million ($655m) deal with US partner Forest City Enterprises, buying a half stake in Ballston Common Mall in Arlington, Virginia, for a price believed to be about $US200m.

The interests in three east coast centres, flagged by The Australian last year, will take QIC’s US retail portfolio to more than $3 billion and its total property holdings to about $16bn.

QIC Global Real Estate managing director Steven Leigh said the US acquisitions — including investing in the New York-listed Forest City Enterprises centres — were a core part of its business strategy.

“We are still acquisitive in the US, our conviction is high,” Mr Leigh said.

“Our existing portfolio is achieving good income growth off the back of robust retail sales, coupled with a sustained low interest rate environment.”

The Brisbane-based fund manager made its first foray into the US in 2013, buying a 49 per cent stake in Forest City’s $2.05bn regional mall portfolio on behalf of super fund investors.

The 49 per cent stake in Ballston Common Mall, which settled on Saturday, is QIC’s 12th US retail investment. In February, the fund manager acquired a 51 per cent stake in the Ridge Hill retail shopping centre in Westchester County, New York. It will also acquire a mall in Florida as part of the latest Forest City deal.

(The Weekend Australian Online 6 April 2016).

A state Labor Government could choose to accelerate a diversification the QIC’s investment funds. This might also be an appropriate investment model for the Future Fund as Peter Costello seeks new business funding models to broaden its social investment programmes.

From the appropriately named Vanguard Laundry in Toowoomba, Prime Minister Turnbull has restated his desire for bipartisan support from the Labor Movement in advancing the unpopular trifecta of Australian politics by offering supporting roles in repeat performances of The Miracle of the Market, Trans Pacific Partnership and Most of the Way with the USA.

Perhaps Bill Shorten could work with the Prime Minister on a more balanced economic agenda to cover the presenting problems of infrastructure and community development shortfalls at a time when the talents of so many Australians are being underutilized by the current policy obsession with market-only solutions.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion about progressive pragmatic public policies compatible with currently fluid directions in contemporary globalization.

 

Labor/Democrat/Green: Conservatives in bunny suits.

By James Moylan

Who is to blame for Trump? This seems to be the abiding obsession of our journalistic class.

If you are a right wing journalist then it is apparent that Trump was elected because of a backlash against political correctness and a yearning within the huddled masses to be able to open their own small business, purchase six flat screen televisions, and an investment property. If you are a middle of the road journalist then it is obvious that the huddled masses were duped by fake news and all the right wing journalists. And while it would be nice to know what all the left wing journalists in Australia might think; unfortunately it seems that he is still on holidays.

The unfortunate truth never seems to get a look-in. It is not allowed to get a look-in. If the real reasons why we are electing such a disparate group of no-hopers to power were even hinted at by a member of our mainstream press then they would likely, very soon, no longer be a member of the mainstream press. The sad truth is that our journalistic class are just puppets and mouthpieces for our corporate rulers. So of course the election of Trump, Abbott, Turnbull etc. is proposed as being inexplicable. The truth cannot be uttered for fear of rocking the boat, endangering a growing pile of super, and the ability to purchase yet another investment property. How could a journalist possibly afford to send their kiddies to a decent private school if they were unemployed?

Yet the answer to this question is as simple as it is depressing. The primary reason that Trump, Abbott, Turnbull, and the rest of the corporate shucks get elected, and continue to get elected, is because they are genuine. They might be right wing pricks bordering on fascistic, but at least they are not talking out of one side of their mouths. The huddled masses may be ill-educated but they are not stupid. They can spot a phoney a mile away. And the so-called progressive politicians in all the western world countries are as phoney as a three dollar bill.

The reality of politics in the modern western world is that it is a game that is played according to a rule-book created and enforced by the moneyed classes. You don’t get a look-in as a Labor or Democrat politician unless you are willing to toe the ‘party line’ and also happen to have a big wad of cash hanging out of your back pocket. So our political and social discourse is one that is shaped by and directed toward salving the sensibilities of the big end of town. Heads they win – tails you lose. Every time.

In Australia we are provided with a choice between tax cuts for the rich or tax cuts for the upper middle class and the rich. Most of the past election campaign in Australia was devoted to discussing how much of a largesse those with more than a million dollars in super should be allowed. Or how big a tax cut should we provide those investing in housing. We were, once again, provided with a ‘choice’ between unabashed laissez-faire capitalism or slightly ashamed laissez-faire capitalism. A choice between honest arseholes or lying arseholes.

All our politicians continue to talk as if they are economists, not politicians. They all uniformly propose that we live in an ‘economy’ – not a society. The right-wingers talk about how we have to slash government services brutally while the ‘progressives’ talk about how we have to limit government services carefully. They all talk with an economist’s accent and with one eye on the pile of corporate donations stacked in the corner of their party room.

All the so-called ‘progressive’ politicians use exactly the same terms, talk about exactly the same things, in exactly the same ways, as our right-wing politicians. They are simply right-wing corporatists wearing bunny suits. In reality the only way that you can tell the difference between a right wing and a ’left-wing’ politician in our country is by noting that all the bunny suits the ‘left-wingers’ are wearing have a pretty little heart stitched onto one sleeve. It comes with the uniform.

When was the last time that you hear ANY mainstream politician in our country talk about the need to address the spiralling inequities within our society by increasing the taxes imposed on the richest? Or by increasing corporate taxes? Or about socialising essential services? Or removing the ownership of our mining resources from the hands of a few absurdly rich mongrels and returning them to the bulk of the population? Or maybe outlawing the manifold monopolies that have sprung throughout our economy? Or reducing the power and influence of the corporate press?

The so-called ‘progressive’ politicians in our country, and across the western world, have been utterly captured by the big end of town. The Labor Party, like the Democrats in the US, have been bought by the corporations and are now run as a wholly owned subsidiary of the right wing political parties. They can only talk about the same concerns that are of interest to the right-wingers, using right-wing language, and employing right-wing sensibilities. The only difference between a left-winger and a right-winger is the speed with which they are willing to see the poor and disaffected within society getting screwed. We no longer live in a Common-wealth. Australia has morphed into a Corporate-wealth. And everyone else, and the planet, be damned.

When I was a child the ‘economy’ was seen to be an aspect of our society. We all perceived Australia as being an egalitarian state that was based on the idea of a ‘fair go’ for all. However the society has now become an ‘economy’. Where once bank managers were seen to be paper shufflers and akin to insurance salesmen; they are now the rulers of the universe. Where once houses were conceived as being a form of shelter; they are now investments. Government was once upon a time believed to be a way of ensuring that we had a healthy society, not as a means of ensuring that we have a healthy environment for overseas investors. Our mining industry was perceived as being licensed by the state to extract our resources on our behalf; not as a means of enabling rich opportunists and overseas corporations to extract personal wealth. Electricity, water, local services, and government services were once appreciated as being essential services run by attention to providing an equality of universal service; not as an opportunity for the corporate classes to gouge the poor, build a portfolio, and retire early.

Why did Abbott, Turnbull, and Trump get elected? It’s simple. They are genuine arseholes – not hypocritical arseholes. Why do we see One Nation prospering and the Greens becoming a fading dream? Because One Nation are genuine monsters and the Greens are hypocritical monsters. The problem is not that the public is electing the wrong people but rather that we are provided only with a choice between a wide selection of cookie cutter arseholes. When provided with a forced option of voting for either Tweedle-distressing or Tweedle-disgusting; we choose the one who seems to be lying the least. It does not mean that the public are deliberately electing the wrong people – it is simply a symptom of only having a broad selection of either genuine, or hypocritical, arseholes to choose from.

More significantly, the majority of the population now know of no other option, For thirty years our corporately owned press has ‘educated’ the community to believe that they live in an ‘economy’. And that nothing else matters. That the essential job of a politician is to make sure that the piles of cash are neatly stacked and that every aspect of every social relationship is both economically efficient and profitable. That there are only two sorts of Aussies; lifters and leaners.

The sad truth is that the money-men seem to have won. They bought the press, then our politicians. Thus enabling them to force their agenda onto the whole of our society. Now it is the only agenda that the population even understands. So while it is true that we continue to elect no-hopers and sly pricks to our parliaments; it is a bit of a stretch to blame it on the population at large.

No political candidate who is not a corporate shill can ever get elected because they will simply be ignored, or demonised by the corporate press. The word ‘socialist’ is now universally equated in our social discourse with ‘terrorist’. Anyone who stands up and suggests that perhaps we might not need to beat the poor so hard, or so often, is described as being ‘naïve’, or dangerous. So the public have become distressed and disaffected while at the same time being utterly unable to even recognise anyone who might actually have their best interests at heart. At least the older Aussies can remember what it means to live in a society. All the younger generation knows is a dog-eat-dog economy. So when they elect the biggest and meanest dog it is not necessarily their fault.

Unfortunately, understanding the nature of our problem does not assist in solving the problem. We are still stuck with an economy where once we had a society. We are still ruled by rabid dogs instead of citizens. And the majority of the population still remain ignorant of what a ‘community’ might even look like. The only way I can see that we will be able to tunnel our way out from under this giant pile of excrement is to revolutionise our mainstream media. And that seems as likely as seeing an honest and socially responsible citizen getting elected to any of our parliaments – in other words; pigs might fly.

 

Turnbull Government ought to be shut down for fraud

By David Tyler

Australia is way ahead of the game in terms of using government policies and processes to punish and isolate our most disadvantaged citizens so the Government can reduce its welfare spending a few million. We now allow our Government to implement the work of sociopaths and threaten poor citizens with imprisonment on the basis of half-cocked ‘automatic computer-matching’ algorithms that are allegedly tracking welfare fraud. (Bill Mitchell Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE), at the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia).

“Bill Shorten’s skin is so thick it puts a rhinoceros to shame”, snipes Liberal hit-squad reservist, retired SA senator Amanda Vanstone who is rostered on this week to kick off the government’s perpetual rubbishing of the Labor leader.

She would know. Her own political style was brutal: “Let me put my dancing shoes on, ” she said on learning of the death, from stomach cancer, of fugitive Christopher Skase in 2001. At the time, she was the minister responsible for pursuing the fugitive. More recently, on Nine ‘s election eve commentary, she thrust her hand in Maxine McKew’s face.

“Talk to the hand, the face doesn’t want to listen.” The hand was almost as controversial as Turnbull’s victory speech.

She’s got her hand up again this week. Handy Mandy’s attack is a bid to help a government in crisis over its Centrelink debt collection disaster  while continuing the line that its policy failures are always Labor’s fault. Shorten and Tanya Plibersek invented the scheme, Vanstone writes, so they have no grounds, whatsoever, to criticise it.

Centrelink “does an outstanding job,” she dashes off, in pursuit of a red herring, because it is so big and complex and deals with 4.5 million (sic) “mindboggling permutations”. She reckons she knows. She once “had the welfare portfolio.”

Someone else can tell her it’s now more like 7 million. If they can get past the hand.

Vanstone and Welfare? Now there’s an winning double. It must be Liberal policy to choose the worst possible fit, like Greg Hunt, the Minister for killing the environment, for Health. Dutton for refugees. Who would have thought, Alan Tudge, another MP, like Ms Vanstone, with an empathy bypass, whose robotic delivery so perfectly suits an automated debt recovery system, would be Human Services Minister today?

Who would have thought a government could be so utterly out of touch that it would follow its debacle, this week, by extending Robo-debt to age and disability pensioners?

Vanstone’s bull-dozing joins Alan Tudge’s verbal sludge. The system is working perfectly, he crows. It’s meant to have a twenty per cent failure. That’s how it works. Fear and surprise worked for the Spanish Inquisition, too. Who knows how much more harm is yet to be done when the scheme is unleashed on age pensioners and the disabled?

Apart from its gratuitous cruelty, Centrelink’s “outstanding job” has public servants pitted against each other by managers, competing for the highest daily quota of debt notices, according to Tasmanian Independent Andrew Wilkie.

There’s a lot of “talk to the hand”, moreover, as thousands of Centrelink clients report, as their attempts to seek help or appeal mistakes and miscalculations are brusquely pushed aside. Fobbed off. Threats to seize or garnish bank savings have been reported. The “outstanding job” clearly includes extortion and obtaining advantage by deception.

“If the government was a private company it would go out of business or be shut down by regulators for fraud over the Centrelink debacle,” says former Digital Transformation Office head Paul Shetler. Talk to the hand, says Vanstone.

Vanstone is an expert in the straw man.

“What is it about us”, she writes, “what kind of bongo juice are we on when we fall for some schmaltzy rubbish suggesting that everyone should be allowed to keep overpayments?”

But no-one is making that suggestion. Liberal MPs caught in travel rorts defend rorting, it is true. Look at Steve Ciobo’s absurd claim that a Grand Final is a business meeting if you are an MP . Sussan Ley says she’s broken no rules. But that doesn’t mean everyone tries to cheat.

Keep overpayments? It’s a tactic to blur the issue, divert criticism. It’s a low ploy that can only increase suffering; further harden the dehumanising nurtured openly by Joe Hockey. the prejudice that the poor are leaners. Take away their humanity: take away their human rights. Scapegoat. Its demonisation of the poor is a domestic version of a cruel government’s denial that asylum-seekers are “legal” – have human rights, are entitled to care and compassion. Vanstone’s mob  helped start that with babies overboard in 2003.

Scapegoating helps bury the hoax of broken promises. When authoritarian structures or figures can’t keep their promises to their constituency, they scapegoat, Noam Chomsky warns. “Let’s blame it on people who are even more vulnerable and who are suffering even more than you are. Let’s make it their fault.”

At issue is an employment data matching system between ATO and Centrelink which crudely calculates client’s fortnightly earnings by assuming annual income is earned regularly over a year and generates letters demanding repayment of debt when it discovers or it miscalculates a discrepancy between the two agencies’ records.

Twenty per cent of demands from Centrelink are wrong. Yet many recipients are bluffed or frightened into paying up. 200, 000 letters have been sent since September. The pain and suffering is unprecedented.

In a reversal of natural justice, you are deemed guilty until you prove yourself innocent. Proof may be hard because the Robo-debt claw-back system can search back six years. Workers may not keep their records that long; ATO rules do not require it. Most don’t and the government is counting on it. Yet in contempt of reciprocity, fairness and good faith, if Centrelink owes you money, however, you have only two years to claim it.

Being bullied is the first approach many report. A threatening letter demands debt repayment with a ten per cent processing fee. Alan Tudge, appears elsewhere, to make it clear that defaulters could go to gaol. Attempts to clarify or rectify mistakes are often met with delays. In brief, Robo-debt claw-back is a flawed system, a wrong system, an illegal system before we even begin to consider the social or economic effects.

Bill Mitchell warns that the letters violate recipients’ human rights. Ben Eltham sums up.

Like the government’s last data debacle, the 2016 Census, it’s clear that there are massive IT failures here. This is not just a few glitches and bugs. A government department is sending out tens of thousands of erroneous communications accusing welfare recipients of over-payment. The government is falsely accusing some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Cruelly and irresponsibly, Vanstone misrepresents the issue, smears welfare recipients as cheats, parodying Shorten’s case for an inquiry as “We don’t give a hoot if you get overpaid, by accident or design; it doesn’t matter. Keep the lot. You’ve figured out how to get more than your neighbour? Good on you. There’s plenty more where that came from.”

How to get more than your neighbour? The pernicious lie of widespread deliberate welfare fraud is lightly tossed into the mix. It’s an assumption which underlies the whole clawback policy yet it is egregiously, wilfully wrong. Your prejudices are showing Ms Vanstone. DHS reports show a decline over the years in cases brought for fraud. In 2008-9, it recovered $113.4 million out of $87 billion in payments – 0.13 per cent.

There is no evidence to support $4.5 billion is available to claw back. That pot of gold your government is chasing just doesn’t exist, Ms Vanstone. But you can frighten people into paying anyway. Nowhere is there evidence of widespread rorting – for that you would have to look at politicians and their travel allowances.

Familiar also is her emotive plea that welfare is a burden on the taxpayer, yet Vanstone can add a loopy twist. “Take a $3000 Centrelink debt, she says. A person who pays about $26,000 a year in tax has to work for about six weeks to give the taxman that $3000 to dish out in the first place and certainly wants it paid out according to the rules.”

Yet only half of government revenue comes from PAYE tax. The rules? A tax system is part of a fair society it is not about resenting responsibility – “giving the tax man” but a way those who can work are able to help those who can’t. A real drain on the system, on the other hand, is the third of big businesses who pay tax. Yet Vanstone’s mob will give companies a $50 billion tax break.

Putting in the boot comes naturally to Vanstone who holds her own in a Coalition stable which boasts such feral attack dogs as Tony Junkyard Abbott or Senator Ian Macdonald or Peter “Nutso” Dutton. Indeed, her prowess in sinking the slipper once caused a mild-mannered Wayne Swan to call her a political hyena who takes delight in attacking society’s most vulnerable”.[4] Swannie’s too much of gentleman to tell us what he really thinks. Nor does he need to remind us that hyenas hunt in packs.

While she is unlikely to get under his skin, Amanda knows full well that Kill Bill is the only strategy the Coalition has going for it. OK it may well be derivative, out of date and increasingly ineffectual – like the Turnbull government itself but, hey, it’s fun and why debate the issue when you can play the man? Or all that you know.

Vanstone’s attack on Shorten, is a crude bid to redeem Clawback; to rehabilitate the Coalition’s automated debt-collecting process, a process which is part of its war on the poor and allied to its demonisation of welfare recipients – a process which is so wrong on so many levels that it has already done incalculable harm to thousands of Australians .

Vanstone’s chief tactic is to pretend that the only alternative to clawback is to leave overpayments alone entirely. You don’t pay the money back at all. Showing she’s all class – ruling class, the former Howard government minister charmingly manages to combine this misrepresentation with a dishonest slur of dishonesty on all Centrelink beneficiaries.

Yet Amanda is a welfare recipient herself. After retiring from the senate in 2007, she spent three years on the nation’s tit as Australia’s Ambassador to Rome. The job comes with a few perks such as subsidised accommodation, utilities and travel. Taxpayers lavish on the incumbent a multi-storey Italian mansion perched in the hills above Rome’s Piazza del Popolo.

This is not about Amanda, primarily, but the thick-skinned, wrong-headed, morally bankrupt government she represents. Never in Australia’s history has there been such utter heartlessness by the government department cruelly, ironically entitled, Human Services. Never has it been clearer to the Australian public that their government, unwilling and unable to chase revenue from company tax defaulters is prepared to go to war on the poor.

Most victims of Centrelink’s abuse in its Robo-debt-scam-the-poor-the-weak-and-helpless scheme have nowhere to go to get legal help. The basic legal help available from Centrelink will be axed in July. is Last year 150,000 of those who asked for help though community legal centres were turned away. Centres have had their funding cut.

Spare us the barracking, Ms Vanstone. Spare us the lie that the poor are worthless, lazy, dishonest and underserving. Save us your talk-to-the-hand endorsement. No need to put your own boot in. Your government is doing enough of that already. If you are worried about overpayment, how about refunding your government pension for the three years you were Ambassador to Rome. Remove the grounds for accusations of double-dipping.

The money could fund a legal aid centre for poor people falsely accused of fraud because Centrelink has made a mistake and that they are guilty until they prove themselves innocent. Call that an outstanding job all you like Amanda but it’s illegal, it’s immoral and it’s dangerous. Best of all you could back off with your attacks on the poor and turn your journalistic pen to ending rorts in your own political party. Reform is so badly overdue, they are about to undo themselves entirely.

This article was originally published on Urban Wronski.

 

Turnbull Government in crisis: fobs off nation with a review

By David Tyler

Pleonexia … originating from the Greek πλεονεξία, is a philosophical concept which roughly corresponds to greed, covetousness, or avarice, and is strictly defined as “the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others”, suggesting a … “ruthless self-seeking and an arrogant assumption that others and things exist for one’s own benefit”.[1]

“We are dealing with other peoples’ money,” intones Malcolm Turnbull, taking the high moral ground as he fronts a thin press conference on the afternoon of Friday 13th. Other people’s money. Who would have thought? Tell Centrelink.

The conference room is almost empty. The Canberra Press Gallery is either on holiday or heading for happy hour. A bored government staffer stands to one side; a stage-manager, ready to call time on any questions after the Prime Minister’s hammy but low-energy performance. The atmosphere is let’s get this show off the road.

Turnbull grips the edges of the moulded podium with both hands: he could be a Border Force Control officer on the bridge of an intercepted vessel. He’ll turn this thing around. The kitsch set is so stagey that it shrieks defensive artifice while underlining his government’s monumental disconnect from its people. The national flags add to the travesty.

It’s time to put out the trash; bury bad news in a time slot where it will attract least media scrutiny. Two weeks into a new year, the Turnbull government is already mired in crisis. Dirty Captain Turnbull must spin scandal as good news.

He is here, he declares, drum roll – to announce a new system. Trust him. MPs are helpless as a kitten when it comes to moral choices. He can fix all that. Operation High Moral Ground will flush out the rorters. Besides, we are soon to discover, he has probity’s poster boy, Arthur Sinodinos, up his sleeve.

Sussan Ley has made a “personal decision” to resign, Turnbull mumbles, to a reporter’s inaudible question. It’s almost an aside. Ley’s personal decision includes a statement that she doesn’t believe she’s broken any rules.

Yep, it’s the damn rules that have broken her; that stupid system which supposes you know right from wrong. Ken Goodger, Acting Anglican Bishop of Wangaratta, holds a garden party at his church in Albury in support of the high flying Health Minister, pilot and Pythagorean numerologist whose wings are now clipped. Grounded. Dumped from the ministry.

A deafening silence ensues from Ley’s own party where one might expect calls of support, yet the news is full of reports of MPs jostling for what the Herald Sun calls her “plum job”. Former Health Minister Tony Abbott puts in job application in Friday’s The Australian, in the guise of an article in which he shirtfronts Turnbull for being all mouth and no trousers.

Turnbull’s call, cunningly packaged as Ley’s decision, he hopes, will soothe a nation inflamed by a week of revelations of pleonectic MPs, snouts in troughs, rorting travel allowances. We will cheer his decisive leadership. Ra. Ra. Fat chance.

A deep anger now dwells within Australians, a sense of betrayal and of loss. So profound now is the gap between rich and poor; between those who have work and those who have no work; between home owners and those who will never own homes. Between men and women’s career options and pay.

Years of neoliberal cuts to services, to wages and conditions; years of corporatisation, deregulation and privatisation and the voracious love of competition and profit above all else have cheated us and divided us. There is nothing any leader of the party of the IPA, the mining lobby’s puppet, the hand maiden of big business and banking can ever say or do which will assuage the people’s anger.

Abroad, vulgarian and fellow professional narcissist, Donald Trump also deals in lies; manufactures facts; abuses those who would dispute his version of events.

“We are not living in a post truth universe”, writes Robert Fisk, “we are living the lies of others”.

Just when he’d hoped to get by without any cabinet reshuffle, a badly wounded Turnbull, who must himself live the lies of his hard right captors, is caught up in another silly season turkey shoot. But he’s ready with the traditional trimmings. Dab hand with the corny theatrics. He falls back on a tried and true script.

A sacrificial resignation is followed by a (patently hollow) promise to fix the system. Cue massive spin from a servile media. By Sunday the ABC features teenage reporters explaining how huge is the grey area between right and wrong. The system’s rotten. Politicians can’t be blamed for any bad moral choice, really.

It’s what you’d expect of Turnbull. God forbid he’d assent to growing demands for a national ICAC. Or agree to a cease-fire in the automated debt recovery phase of his government’s war on the poor currently harassing 20,000 Australians per week.

We haven’t heard it yet but expect the term “welfare security” to be applied soon as the government seeks another phrase in its mission to demonise welfare recipients; its determination to behave with the same indifference and inhumanity towards the poor as it does toward asylum seekers.

Working “incredibly well”, says Christian Porter about Centrelink’s Robo-call debt extortion system which hounds victims of its own mistakes within an inch of their lives; those it alleges it overpaid, demanding repayment plus a ten per cent debt collection fee.

Porter boasts $300 million dollar has been found down the back of the couch or in Grandma’s funeral bond; $300 million which is clearly not money received but debts alleged. There’s $4 billion out there to collect. But only if you believe the figure is anything more than a wild conjecture.

Robot Alan Tudge, a perfect choice as Human Services Minister in an inhuman government, is equally immune to the grief, the fear, the anger, the human suffering his automated debt recovery blunderbuss is inflicting. The system is working well, he says on ABC, Wednesday -“and we will continue with that system”. You bet you are. You bet I am.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, also is utterly unrepentant, blind to anything but the dollars. He makes a virtue of being remote and unyielding. “We make no apology for the fact that we are trying to make sure we are more efficient, have a wider grasp of those who might have received payments in error.” Or those frightened into paying money they don’t owe. Those driven by despair into dark thoughts of self-harm.

Darren O’Connell, whose PhD is in economics, a teacher who has lectured at Curtin University, has tried eight times since November to get his inaccurate debt removed from the system, but the letters keep coming.

“The process and logic used by Centrelink is both flawed, dangerous and opaque,” he tells news.com.au. “This process assumes people are guilty and it is up to us to prove our innocence.”

A competent, compassionate, responsible PM – even an agile PM would have called the dogs off on well before now. Sacked Tudge. Scrapped a monumental failure. Made time for age pensioners. Raised welfare payments to make amends. Instead he’s helping create for himself and his government a mother of a perfect storm.

Changes reducing the allowable value of pensioners’ assets help magnify the anger and resentment from those in the debt-collector’s gun towards those living high on the hog; having fun in the sun.

World’s best minister, Greg Hunt books up $20,000 of summer holidays in Queensland at the taxpayers’ expense. It’s a similar story with Matthias Cormann. Many other examples follow, each one pointing up the gap between the ruling elite and the rest of the nation; the rapidly widening social divide. A Cabinet Minister buys an apartment on impulse when most ordinary Australians are priced out of the market. Any protest is dismissed as the politics of envy.

Sir Michael Marmot, President of the World Medical Association says the opposite to poverty is not wealth. It is justice. Closing the gap on health inequality would mean tackling the disproportionate distribution of global wealth, the epidemiologist argues in his latest Boyer Lecture and it’s exactly the same within nations.

“We have the knowledge and the means to improve people’s lives and reduce health inequality,” he reminds us, “The question is: what do we have in our hearts? Do we have the will to close the gap in a generation?”

Abbott has a go at his PM in his vanity publisher, The Australian, for being unready to deal with a protectionist world under Trump. Be agile; don’t just say the words. Make no mistake, the former PM is on the warpath. Here, he scores a technical point – yet neither PM nor his nemesis equates agility with the real need to seek a fairer, more just society.

The Coalition merely flicks the switch to damage control. When all else fails book in a review or an inquiry. Or a distraction. The perpetually befuddled Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, another politician with a charisma bypass, beholden to capital, is wheeled in front of cameras to signal that trade will boom and security will be strengthened thanks to Turnbull’s deftly steering around the 330 Minke whales Japan is about to kill and avoiding any questions about conservation or the ethics of slaughtering sentient beings for human consumption under the guise of scientific research.

After Tony Abbott’s silly, made to be broken, submarine deal promise, Turnbull’s government is reluctant to make waves. It will not send a patrol vessel to Antarctic waters to monitor the Japanese whaling fleet unlike in previous years.

On the other hand, the free trade agreement with Japan is achieving amazing things, says Steve Ciobo noting

“Exports of beef have climbed about 30 per cent as tariffs of up to 38.5 per cent are lowered as part of the deal and are now worth $793 million.” Wild cheers all round. No-one questions the place of tariffs in a free trade deal.

Sadly, the incredible Japan trade boost news fails to distract the media circus from its pursuit of politicians’ travel rorts.

Professional wave maker, Nick “Get-your-head-on” Xenophon pops up on the box again. He’s sure the system is at fault on ABC 7:30. Up bobs Michael Gordon in The Age. It’s another part of the blame the system ruse. MSM scribes agree to call their hounds off; turn their ire from MPs who cheat, to the rotten system whose main fault seems to be that it presupposes politicians can make autonomous moral decisions. Steve Ciobo argues, on cue, that he can’t tell a Grand Final from a trade deal. Jules Bishop pulls out of the Portsea Polo just in case. Shinzo Abe needs me more is her excuse.

She wasn’t going anyway. Reports of a Hugo Boss outfit suggest otherwise, according to Fairfax’s Julie Singer.

Smoothie Stan Grant is also recruited into grey-washing what to most of us appears very black and white. C’mon, Stan. Imagine you are Sussan Ley. You get to Brisbane, bore a few chemists witless with your talk on scripts which could have been an email or a letter and then you fly on to the Gold Coast to buy your apartment. If you can’t tell which part of the journey to book to your boss, you shouldn’t be a minister.

If you can’t tell you don’t need to charter a jet at $12 000 to do the trip, you shouldn’t be in government. Nor do you need anyone to tell you that flying your own plane along the same route used by commercial services is not only hugely more expensive but it looks as if you are trying to get your flying hours up to keep your pilot’s licence. What Grant doesn’t go into is the fudging that is done to dress up holidays as business.

There is a lot still, though, potential grey area, isn’t there? If you look at the entitlements, it’s full of that, and it’s left to a lot of discretion and self-regulation.

We heard from Steve Ciobo, the Trade Minister, saying that he thinks it’s appropriate that the taxpayer pays if you attend a sporting function. He would be there being questioned, potentially doing work, as well as enjoying the sporting event. Does he have a point?

In a word, Stan, no. Imagine you are Greg Hunt. From 2004 to 2006 you travel with your family to Noosa in late November, each time staying there between three and seven nights and for five nights in 2008. You talk up the political things you do during your holiday. The meetings, the electoral visits. Dress it up. Then you blur the issue by reference to the beaut job you do at other times addressing the Davos mob on Hayman Island as a Global Leader for Tomorrow’ by the World Economic Forum. Yet none of this justifies booking your holidays up to the government.

The rule is clear. If your trip was primarily a family holiday, that should really be the end of the matter. While it is true that there may be some complex areas, the cases reported are not that difficult to call. But Stan and others don’t think so. The government gets a big boost on the ABC’s 7:30 Report and on all other mainstream media. Mission accomplished. Focus can now shift from rorters to the system. Why, it’s even led the Finance Minister astray.

Belgian Borzoi, Mathias Cormann, who barks and growls incessantly about keeping government spending under control, is clearly at a loss when it comes to who should pay for what. He billed taxpayers over $23,000 for weekend trips to the beach resort town of Broome with his wife over five years. A spokesperson for Cormann points out that the Minister would have had a range of mission critical commitments in the beach resort town. A very junior reporter on ABC 24 reads out a list of all the top level negotiations and vital political stuff Cormann would have to do in Broome.

Never overburdened by an original thought, Turnbull looks to the UK for a solution, as he did when he wanted Alexander Downer to retire in favour of pin-striped megalomaniac George Brandis, whose boundless faith in his own infallibility has not advanced either his own career or his Prime Minister’s.

In the meantime, press hacks flock to admire Turnbull’s new baby- his you-beaut triple decker anti-rorting authority. Turnbull’s system fix gets a massive spin, happily diverting us from any thought of adding up the rorts or forming the view that, in Sussan Ley’s case, here dies a scapegoat or taking interest in how few will actually pay anything back.

A sacking, spun as a mutually agreed resignation means there’s no need to publish PMC secretary Martin Parkinson’s review. It’s the very least that the embattled thin-lipped PM can do – apart from wearing the black spectacle frame of gravitas and sobriety who daily appears capable of less and less. The incredible shrinking PM blinks. A shrewd bit of deflection. Then bugger all the preceding reviews, he’ll set up one of his own.

Why, he’ll copy the Poms; import the British system of transparency, its Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 – as befits a staunch republican. He’s even going to set up an Inquisitor or a panel of three of them called an Independent Authority. That’ll help cut red tape and boost the mission of smaller government. But there’s more.

The independent authority will be staffed by a member experienced in auditing, a member experienced in remuneration matters, the president of the Remuneration Tribunal, a former judge and a former MP. Jobs for the boys and growth!

This is a very strong board, the PM patronises us. It will have significant independence from the Government. (Whatever that means.) MPs and senators will be able to get advice and rulings from the independent agency if they are unsure about a claim. Genius. Outsource ethnical decision making. What could possibly go wrong?

“Transparency is the key”, Turnbull says opaquely – the PM who refuses to confirm how much of his own money he spent on the election campaign – a PM who vowed never to sloganeer. We won’t get to see Martin Parkinson’s review of Ley’s rorts. His government refuses permission to professionals working on Manus or Nauru to testify to their experiences. Transparency? The Turnbull government has yet to share with the nation its legal advice it said it needed before joining the US in its illegal interference in Syria.

A 2016 independent review into parliamentary entitlements, led by retired senior public servant David Tune, found a “focus of concern is travel ‘inside entitlement’ but outside reasonable expectations and standards”, The Age reminds us. Turnbull ignores it.

Bugger Tony Abbott’s review which has been lying around the Liberal Party lunchroom, yellowing, fading, curling at the edges along with Turnbull’s own clean-up vows, now a mouldering year old. Mal must make a stand. But it won’t staunch the Turnbull government’s bleeding. And it’s got Buckley’s chance of fixing the problem.

Ms Ley who added an extra S to her name to liven up her life will be remembered more for her travel and her numerology than her service to the nation’s health or the body politic. In May 2016, her wish to lift the Medicare freeze was blocked by departmental red tape helped pave the way for Labor’s Mediscare.

She’s also become a standing joke on social media and an emblem of government excess during its automated debt recovery extortion, part of a war on the poor which has at its heart a mean-spirited denial of welfare beneficiaries right to payments which will at least keep them above the poverty line. A Melbourne Cup field of other rorters soon join Ms Ley. Each one is a nail in the political class’s coffin.

The vivid contrast between the entitlement of the ruling elite and the deprivation of the poor highlights the expanding inequality and redistribution of wealth from labour to capital; worker to boss that began with Hawke’s accord and continued as the neoliberal Keating Rudd and Gillard Labor governments traded away workers’ wages and conditions.

Ley’s final touchdown is a welcome distraction from news that Trump’s team is hustling Congress to approve its members without adequate vetting rushing through the process in a way which shows contempt for the American voter. It brought relief from chortling and guffawing over news from America of a Shower-gate scandal in which Russian agents, it is said, compiled a dossier of compromising dealings on the president-elect including The Donald’s alleged dalliance with Russian prostitutes and deviant sexual preferences

But now Turnbull must rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, as former Health Minister Tony Abbott loiters with intent in the public eye. Abbott backers are active. Turnbull drops National Party Deputy Fiona Nash’s name. As Assistant Health minister, Ms Nash took down a healthy food rating website on the advice of her Chief of Staff Alistair Furnivall.

Mr Furnivall is married to junk food lobbyist Tracey Cain, sole director and secretary of Australian Public Affairs which represents the Australian Beverages Council and Mondelez Australia, which owns Kraft, Cadbury and Oreo brands, among others.

By Sunday, he’s giving the impression that the impeccable Arthur “see no donors” Sinodinos will get the nod. Sinodinos was questioned by NSW ICAC in 2014 but couldn’t recall, despite being a director of Australian Water Holdings, an Eddie Obeid company, on a salary of $200,000 a year for three years, what he did beyond the odd meeting and checking his bank account.

Sussan Ley is all done and dusted now that her resignation is in. Yet her trip to the Gold Coast, after a meeting selling prescriptions in Brisbane, to snap up a $795 000 apartment on the spur of the moment is not all it seems.

In fact, her bargain buy turns out to be a carefully planned purchase in which the Main Street apartment owner, Martin Henry Corkery proprietor of Children First, a child care business and a big donor who gave the Queensland Liberal Party $50,000 in 2011, sold the property at a loss to the MP. Doubtless he took pity on the impoverished Cabinet Minister.

Corkery, who disavows all knowledge of who was buying what, received a $109,977 grant for his day care business when Ley was assistant Education Minister.

Furthermore, a retired couple on the Gold Coast Hinterland helpfully come forward to claim Ms Ley made an unsuccessful bid on their house nine months before she purchased the apartment.

Ley should stand aside until the two inquiries , one by Finance and one by Martin Parkinson of the PMC under way are completed. All overpayments should be paid back with ten per cent recovery fee under the same terms and conditions as apply to Centrelink beneficiaries. The media should be encouraged to drop its spin that Arthur Sindodinos has been cleared. The report, released September last year does not exonerate Mr Sinodinos.

Operation Credo is yet to deliver its report. Happily, NSW’s Baird government made amendments to ICAC last November which are widely tipped to help Mr Sinodinos while a current review of laws banning property and other specified investors to make donations could clear things up nicely.

Despite his sacrifice of Sussan Ley, Malcolm Turnbull begins 2017 badly wounded by revelations not only of endemic rorting but of a political caste made up of ministers such as Steve Ciobo who don’t see a problem with pretending that their holidays or Grand Final tickets are for business and their own and their families’ recreation. Nor will it help him with the perfect storm brewing as a result of the Centrelink clawback debacle and the rising discontent spread amongst pensioners by changes to the assets test.

Most damaging of all, however, and irreparable is the disconnect revealed between his ministers and the Australian people in comments from the likes of Alan Tudge and Barnaby Joyce which indicate a damning lack of empathy if not a contempt for the welfare of ordinary people in a society which wealth is increasingly in the hands of the elite.

Above all, a government which promised openness, transparency and consultation has opted instead for secrecy, lies and diktat. No staged press conference, fake news, spin, arranged resignation or any other diversion can alter one jot the right of the people to a fair and just society; to the truth, Mr Turnbull.

This article was originally published on Urban Wronski.

 

Watch this space in 2017

By Ken Wolff

As with most political issues, the following few questions are inter-related: Turnbull’s future may well depend on the economy, on whether or not a new conservative party forms and whether there is a Trump-inspired trade or currency war between China and the US; our economy may well depend on what Trump does in relation to China, let alone whether Morrison displays any understanding of economics; and so on.

Will the Australian economy improve or continue to stagnate?

In December we had the news that the Australian economy had contracted by 0.5% in the September quarter. Most of the pundits do not expect that to be repeated in the December quarter, which means we would avoid a recession (which requires two consecutive quarters of contraction).

On the other hand, commodity prices are still weak, although better than they were, and if a US/China trade war erupts may weaken again. Every reduction in commodity prices flows through a large segment of our economy, affecting the supporting businesses and often, through reductions in the workforce, local businesses, and the impact then multiplies ultimately affecting government revenue. The Christmas season may help us avoid a ‘technical recession’ (that magical six months) but will we see another quarter or two of contraction during 2017?

This year will also see the end of car manufacturing in Australia. That has implications across a number of industries and, as some commentators have noted, it has been car manufacturing that has driven much of the technological innovation in the manufacturing sector. Turnbull’s ‘innovative and agile’ economy may become a little more wobbly as a result.

The end of car manufacturing will lead to increased unemployment, not only in the car industry but in the companies that previously relied on providing parts to that industry. Couple that with the lack of wages growth (the lowest since records have been kept) and the government will be losing more in income tax revenue and paying more in unemployment benefit, making it that much more difficult to achieve its stated aim of bringing the budget back to surplus.

The economy did not go well in 2016 and the prospect for 2017 isn’t all that good. Even in his MYEFO in December, Morrison lowered the estimated rate of economic growth for both financial year 2016‒17 and 2017‒18. The new forecast rate of growth isn’t even enough to absorb new entrants into the workforce (usually accepted as about 3%) and that is without considering that the economic growth forecasts for the past few years have proven optimistic. Certainly don’t expect a boom year but how bad it may be we will have to wait and see.

Will Scott Morrison ever understand the budget?

Ever since the Abbott/Turnbull government was elected, and returned last year, the government’s budget deficit has continued to grow. Low commodity prices, over which the government has no control, and slow wages growth, which government policies have actually promoted, have not helped.

Morrison, however, continues to focus on government spending rather than revenue raising. Although he has backed away somewhat from his earlier statement that the government had a spending problem not a revenue problem, his actions have remained focused on reducing spending. (I won’t get into the MMT argument here.)

The government has ignored the opportunity to borrow money at historically low interest rates to fund infrastructure. Although it is now talking more about infrastructure, it appears it may be at a time when interest rates could be on the rise again — US interest rates are certainly likely to rise during 2017 which may force some other countries to raise theirs in order to maintain their currency.

Our Reserve Bank still has capacity to reduce interest rates (although such reductions have done nothing to stimulate the economy so far). If it does reduce interest rates, and the US increases rates, the Australian dollar is likely to drop in value. The government will claim that helps exporters but it will increase the price of imports which may not help our ‘terms of trade’ and will also potentially lower our living standards by making imported consumer goods more expensive at a time when wages are barely growing — not something that would enhance the government’s electoral appeal.

Turnbull’s ‘innovative and agile’ economy and the promise of company tax cuts — which he continues to espouse despite it being unlikely to pass the Senate — are not issues that inspire the average voter. If any benefits are to flow to the economy from such ‘policies’, they will be well beyond the next election, so Turnbull and Morrison can’t look there for short term budget improvements but they seem to have no other plans to help the economy and by implication the average voter.

Will Morrison and Turnbull finally concede that they also need to raise revenue in the next budget? That will be one to watch although I expect that, if so, they will do their best to obscure the fact.

Will there be a new conservative party?

Cory Bernardi is creating a nation-wide conservative movement but not yet formally a new conservative party. It will be interesting to watch where that goes in 2017 and whether it turns into a fully-fledged political party.

The Liberal party will no doubt do its best to stop it happening as it would further split the conservative vote, although that may not be an issue until the next federal election. If such a party comes into being during 2017, it could have serious implications for the government because it has only a one seat majority in the House of Representatives. Even if only one or two Liberal or National members in the House were attracted to the new party that would create a situation where not only does the government have to negotiate with crossbenchers in the Senate but also in the House to have legislation passed. Although the conservatives already seem to wield considerable influence in the Liberal party room, if they held the balance of power in the House, that could actually increase their influence. That may even be a consideration in the formation of such a party: if they wish to create Australia in their conservative image, having a couple of members in the current House could help them achieve that, or force Turnbull to another election earlier than he would wish.

The electoral implications are that the conservative vote could be split between the Liberals, One Nation, the Nationals and the new party, leaving open the possibility that Labor would lead on first preference votes in more House of Representative seats and have an improved chance of winning them. And it is likely that a proportion of the preferences for a new conservative party would flow to One Nation (and vice versa) before they flowed to the Liberals, so it would be very interesting.

The timing of the creation of such a party could be determined by the election timetable. The earliest a federal election can be called, other than another double dissolution, is August 2018 but such a party may like to test its electoral appeal at a state election. WA has an election in March which now seems too soon to establish the party and create an organisation geared for an election. SA goes in March 2018 and the earliest Queensland and Tasmania can go to an election is April 2018 and May 2018 respectively: so to be ready to contest one of those the new party would have to be created no later than the latter half of this year.

Will Turnbull remain prime minister?

Personally I think he will in 2017 but 2018 may be a different story — unless he voluntarily decides to toss in the towel, deciding it is just too difficult to govern his fractious coalition and cope with the constant negotiation with the Senate crossbenchers (and potentially House cross benchers) to have legislation passed.

As indicated above the earliest an election can be called is August 2018. I doubt he would dare have another double dissolution before then as that would not go down well with the electorate (but if he loses members in the House to a new conservative party he may be forced to). But if the economy continues to stagnate, or underperform as a result of a US/China trade war, that will reflect on the government, as economic performance always does even if the government has little real control over many aspects of the economy, and he may well foresee that he cannot win the next election — although he could leave an election as late as possible (May 2019) in hope that things will improve. Much will depend on his own vanity and desire to be prime minister or whether he sees a short stint as having achieved his ambition.

Another key factor will be the possible creation of a new conservative party. For Turnbull that could be both a blessing and a curse. A ‘curse’ for the reasons described above but a ‘blessing’ if it freed him to express more of his liberal philosophy rather than the conservative agenda. A Malcolm Turnbull who again expressed liberal views would probably reignite his support in the electorate but then both he and the Liberal party would need to decide what to do about it. While a more liberal Turnbull may attract votes, it may be just as difficult to form government if a new conservative party also attracts votes: in fact, a more liberal Turnbull may draw some votes from Labor and the Greens while some of the Liberal base goes to the new conservative party — that would really redefine the political landscape in Australia. It could also lead to a minority government and I doubt Turnbull would want to be in that situation.

Turnbull will have much to ponder particularly in the latter half of the year unless there is an unlikely improvement in the economy and unless the Liberal party is able to forestall the formation of a new conservative party or even the growth of conservatism in its own ranks. Will Turnbull want to continue to lead unless those things come to pass? Will the conservatives in the party room decide to move against him for a genuinely committed conservative leader rather than one who panders to them only to keep the job? After all, the result of the 2016 election means Turnbull does not lead from a position of strength.

Abbott has spoken against the rise of a new party and will some in the Liberal party see Tony Abbott as the one who can provide a bulwark against defections to a new conservative party or even its creation? Although perhaps not intended, the pressure created by threats of a new conservative party may well enhance the chance of an Abbott return to counter it.

Will Trump really threaten the world as we know it?

While Trump may cause problems for the US with his apparently contradictory promises to halve the company tax rate, spend billions on infrastructure and improve the US budget bottom line, their impact on Australia will play out indirectly through the international financial system. Of more direct consequence to Australia could be his trade and foreign policies, particularly relating to China.

Trump may wish to be more friendly with Putin and Russia but he will have to remember that China and Russia are still close, if not as close as once they were. He also sees North Korea as a threat but will have little scope to do anything about it without Chinese support although he thinks that using trade as a lever may also force China to act. He may think he is a good negotiator but he and his appointees will run up against expert negotiators and some, like the Chinese, are certainly willing to play the ‘long game’, something which Trump and his ilk seem unable to do.

Australia may continue sitting on the fence and use ‘diplomatic speak’ to suggest that differences should be resolved diplomatically but that may become more difficult under a Trump presidency. Will Australia be forced to side with either the US or China on some key issue? That will be a difficult position for Australia given that they are two of our biggest trading partners.

On trade, Trump is keen to scrap US involvement in the TPP which will effectively be its demise. Turnbull has consistently insisted that the TPP is essential to Australia’s future, so what will its demise mean for that future? It will be another piece of Turnbull’s economic plan that fails to materialise — which in the case of the TPP may not be a bad thing.

The main concern is a potential trade war between China and the US. If the US becomes more protectionist and imposes tariffs on Chinese imports, that may reduce Chinese production which in turn will reduce demand for Australian resources, with all the economic consequences that implies. It could also mean that China sends more cheap goods to Australia that formerly went to the US and that could further undermine what manufacturing we have left unless we also declare that they are ‘dumping’ goods in Australia and impose punitive tariffs which will essentially be biting the hand that feeds us. If this scenario unfolds, Australia will be in a difficult place economically and in how to respond to the challenges it throws up.

In turn, it may also mean that China pays more attention than it already does to developing nations in Africa and the Pacific and that will have foreign policy implications for Australia. We have been cutting our foreign aid budget but if China redirects its effort, we may be forced to do more in that area or accept further growth of Chinese influence in the region — which way will we go?

Conclusion

The above are just a few of the questions that could arise during 2017.

Others include:

  • Will the housing bubble burst and the construction boom come to an end?
  • What will be the effect if we lose our AAA credit rating, not just for government but for our banks?
  • How will Australia deal with Brexit and the need to negotiate separate trade deals with the EU and the UK?
  • How will we address problems meeting our climate change commitments under the Paris agreement?

And of course there are the perennials such as how we handle refugees and Australian Muslims which will be influenced by the rise of the conservative forces.

It may prove to be an interesting year both here in Australia and internationally.

What do you think?

What are your answers to the questions?

What other questions will Australia face in 2017?

This article was originally published on The Political Sword.

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Where is our democracy heading?

By Kyran O’Dwyer

In terms of the changes facing modern society, the process of change by erosion presents as the greatest threat, in my opinion. We have had an erosion of trust in our public officials, caused by their all too frequent abuses of the very trust upon which they are reliant. We have had an erosion of trust in our public institutions, caused by their frequent abuses of the very rules they are obliged to uphold and protect.

The greatest threat posed by erosion is not that the change occurs, but that the change occurs gradually, over time. The change is not noticeable on a daily basis, but at the end of a year, a decade, a century, you suddenly notice all that has eroded away. You suddenly realise what you had, only because you suddenly realise it has gone.

The ‘progressive’ government of the 70s were heady days. Criticisms at the time ranged from ‘trying to do too much, too soon’ to ‘not doing enough, quickly enough’. Whitlam’s changes were social changes, transitioning a society from the old Menzian thinking of the 60’s to the new thinking of the 70s. Whitlam was able to achieve this change not just because it had popular support. He spent years formulating policy and explaining it to the constituents, modifying it when necessary. “It’s Time” resonated with them as it attempted to enshrine basic standards for health, education, welfare, equality under the law. Basic standards for everyone. It was time to understand that women aren’t chattels, that our First People are our First People, that education is an investment that yields far greater returns than any corporation could ever dream of, that health and access to universal health care was a solid foundation upon which to build a healthy society, that a legal system had to be accessible to all if it was to have any value (let alone merit), that social ‘safety nets’ aren’t welfare as much as they are insurance taken out by society to ensure the safety of those who are most vulnerable.

It was a time when Australian’s took to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to protest an indefensible ‘war’, in righteous indignation of what their government had committed them to.

It was a time when Australian’s not only developed an independent conscience, but demanded that their collective conscience be heard.

In the modern context, you have the likes of Corbyn and Sanders. Both of whom formulated much of their policy based on what their constituents wanted. Both of whom appeared to have won the fight for votes, but lost the war with ‘the establishment’.

The problem is that all of those hard won standards have eroded away. Gradually, over time, the ‘conservative’ elements have repeatedly established bulwarks against change, by stealth.

In my opinion, ‘conservatives’ don’t have policies. They have nothing more than ideology, devoid of substance, fact, evidence. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Can you imagine any politician or political party going into an election saying “Medicare will go”, “Pensions will go”, “Your rights, under the law, will go”, “There will be no National Broadcaster”, “Unions will go”, “Universal education will go”. The list is long, but the point remains the same. No politician or political party would do it.

The likes of the IPA/LNP know this. Their plan is to do it by stealth. Erode the protections, bit by bit, and hope no one notices. When MSM are on-side, there is an endless supply of distractions, blame shifting, obfuscation and outright deceit.

Can you imagine how many votes a politician or a political party would get if their ‘manifesto’ mirrored the infamous IPA Wishlist? A wishlist so blatantly partisan to corporate greed and removal of oversight that it would be unpalatable to even the most uneducated of voters?

A manifesto justified with a faux truth. “Be like Gough” was meant to create the illusion that it was, somehow, a social policy, rather than what it really was, an anti-social policy. That it was, somehow, a catalyst for change that would benefit the many.

As opposed to its real intent, protecting ‘the few’ and their outrageous fortunes, their sense of entitlement and their complete lack of accountability for any ‘adverse’ outcomes resulting from their rampant greed.

In its opening paragraphs is this gem:

“No prime minister changed Australia more than Gough Whitlam. The key is that he did it in less than three years. In a flurry of frantic activity, Whitlam established universal healthcare, effectively nationalised higher education with free tuition, and massively increased public sector salaries. He more than doubled the size of cabinet from 12 ministers to 27.”

If you need to look at the IPA wishlist, find it yourself. Its promotion is not my intent.
In essence, it promotes an idiotic notion. That only by empowering ‘the few’ can we progress as ‘a whole’. That we not only need to empower them, but to protect them by removing any oversight or accountability.

The problem with the first Abbott/Hockey budget wasn’t the ‘obstructionist Senate’. It was the crappy content of the budget.

There was an observation in a recent broadcast on a ‘religion and ethics’ radio show. It suggested that the global push for basic global rights (of all sorts) in the 70’s was met with a fierce attack from the likes of Reagan and Thatcher, promoting corporatocracy over society. Secrecy over transparency.

The observation that was interesting was that the ‘progressives’ became defensive of the hard won rights, rather than openly attacking the idiotic notion that a corporation could ever be more valuable than a society.

Since that time, the ‘progressives’ have relinquished rights on a gradual basis, the erosion occurring gradually under the relentless waves of ‘conservatism’.

The time to draw a line in the sand and say “No more” has long passed. The erosion has been so great that there is no possibility of a ‘retaining wall’ doing any good. It’s time for reclamation.

In a recent three part series on The AIMN, “Bill ‘Horten – Labor’s Agenda”, John Lord offered something that has been missing from so much commentary. Not just an alternative to ‘what is’, but an opportunity to define ‘what can be’. Marcus Champ offered similar aspiration with “What if we had a better government” and Steve Laing’s “Can you beat a stacked deck” rounded out the trifecta.

One of Mr Lord’s comments pertained to the Constitution.

“We undertake to set up a people’s representative group to review the constitution over the next two years and take its recommendations to the next election.”

Our current Constitution, the ‘rule book’ of our society, is more concerned with the definition of federation than with the welfare of our society. Its lack of reference to any basic human rights, other than in an abstract form, is a sad reflection of where we are today.

By rewriting it, we have an opportunity to not only change the current political malaise, but to ensure that there will be no threat to the hard won rights we all deserve, through erosion.

If it starts with a Charter of Human Rights for every Australian, it can ensure a fundamental right to equality under the law. If that Charter of Human Rights includes fundamental rights of health, education and opportunity, it can eliminate the constant need for vigilance against the incessant erosion of those rights.

It has always struck me as idiotic that our current ‘entitlements’ are dependent on our geography. That our access to healthcare, education, the law, public transport, et cetera, changes merely because of which state or territory you may reside in. Changing the Constitution requires a referendum and is, historically, NFG (‘no good’, with an expletive in between). Rewriting it allows us to dispense with so much ridiculous inequity.

The ramifications of such change are profound. As are the benefits.

For decades now we have been told that there are different rules for different people or groups. Even more obscenely, we are told that this is as it should be. By rewriting our fundamental ‘rule book’, we have the unique opportunity of not just effecting change, but of protecting that change until such time as we, the people, think it’s OK to do so.

You may well call me a dreamer, but dreams are far better than nightmares. When we are living the nightmare, a dream can’t hurt, can it?

What would you put in our new Constitution? A unique opportunity to dispense with the politics of celebrity, identity, ideology and replace them with fundamental protections, for ‘we’, the ‘people’. Rewriting is far more realistic than amending. Surely?

 

Fake news? We should be so lucky.

By James Moylan

It has been interesting to read the Australian Press report on the Fake News scandal breaking in the US. The hypocrisy is astounding but not unexpected. At least some of the mainstream press agencies in America occasionally try to report the facts without resorting to spin; in Australia all we have is Fake News. 24/7. Year in year out.

Our mainstream press is owned, lock stock and barrel, by big corporations. Yet Aussies seem to be more than happy to stick their snouts into the rotting pile of garbage they spew out every day.

‘Tut-tut’ we say as we read a report about Mr Trump threatening to build a wall on the Mexican border, while our government is running a hell-hole concentration camp on a tropical island nearby.

‘Horrifying’ we comment over our morning coffee as we read of neo-Nazi sympathisers on the fringes of the American election campaign, while we elect a bunch of neo-Nazi sympathisers to our Senate and watch as our government fawns all over them.

‘Only in America’ we wryly observe as we watch the newly sworn in US Senate try to dismantle Obamacare, while our government has been slowly throttling Medicare, attacks the unemployed, removes dental assistance for the poor, defunds Legal Aid, and spends an entire term of government sacking public servants, stripping away their entitlements, and refusing even modest wage rises.

‘Thank God we’re are Aussies’ we sigh as we read about Trump stacking his cabinet with rich appointees with vested interests, while our government is being run by an ex-merchant banker who could likely buy and sell  Donald Trump.

‘The President won’t release his Tax Returns’ scream the headlines in our biggest papers, while our PM keeps a billion or so dollars earned from being a corporate raider in secret bank accounts in overseas tax-havens.

We sold our press to the top end of town long ago. Fake news? We should be so lucky. In Australia we live in a bubble where our press assures us, every day, that up is down and the right is always right. At least in America they actually get to read some genuine reporting every now and again. In our country, when a corrupt multi-national mining conglomerate buys the rights to build the biggest coalmine in the world, and the Qld government does its best to give them an interest free loan of one billion dollars of our money to construct a rail link, to ship our coal to non-existent Indian markets; the response has been silence. Even a little bit of fake news regarding these matters would be better than none.

When a Cabinet Minister is caught blatantly rorting her expenses so she can flutter on our out-of-control property market; the front page of the Australian spends a full week excoriating the leader of the opposition for daring to use his parliamentary expenses to bring his family along with him while campaigning for government. Fake news? ‘How horrifying’ we mutter. Yet in Australia all we have is propaganda.

Every day all our mainstream news outlets are singing from the same hymnal about how we need to further entrench the influence of the rich and powerful. Terms like ‘tax reform’ have become a shorthand for cutting the taxes of the already well-off. ‘Welfare’ is depicted as a hand-out and negative gearing as a way of assisting the poor struggling masses. Centrelink is no longer an agent of national compassion but rather a method for punishing the indulgent and feckless poor for daring to interrupt the long lunch of the entitled.

We have all been taken for suckers. We have collectively rolled over and let the press barons tickle our tummies while the corporations strip mine our wide brown land and dismantle our democracy. ‘Socialism’ has become a dirty sneer that government ministers throw at anyone sitting in a gutter asking for a crust.

The unfortunate and inescapable truth is that we are living in a land that is run by big corporations, for rich owners, by entitled, bigoted, white, politicians, where the whole of the mainstream press is simply a propaganda machine devoted to distraction and disinformation. So don’t giggle at what is happening in America. They are following our lead; not the other way around.

Sometime in the next few years the card castle that is the Australian economy will come tumbling down. When the crazy over-inflated property market crashes we will find ourselves living in a country where we exported all the profits of the long mining boom, or allowed them to be funneled into the pockets of the rich, even while we let our political masters dismantle the industrial base of our country and export all of our manufacturing jobs overseas. We now live in a country in which the entire economy is built on the shifting sands of the housing market. When the property market finally deflates, as all bubbles in the history of the world have deflated, we have nothing to fall back on.

Turnbull and his ilk will still have their fortunes tucked away in hidden bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, but all the middle-class who have extended their credit cards on the basis of ludicrously over-hyped property values will suddenly discover themselves sitting next to the unemployed in a gutter. Finally the ruling class in Australia will have generated the sort of world they have dreamed about. Everyone, apart from them, will be part of the underclass. We will have hundreds of thousands of unoccupied houses across our country that will at last be affordable, yet nobody will be able to afford to live in them. The illusory savings invested in super and being managed by the top end of town will have dissipated like smoke in a breeze as our stock market crashes. Bankers and property moguls will be forced to retire; overseas. I hope you already have a big vege patch planted. It might come in handy.

Yet, even in the midst of the coming depression, our corporate press will still be willing and ready to tell us all about the latest antics of the Kardashians, and sell holidays to visit the bleached bones of the Great Barrier Reef, or invite us to invest in the latest get-rich-quick scheme. They will remain willing to endlessly tell us how our poverty is all our own fault for being a bunch of leaners not lifters.

We live in a country with the highest levels of personal debt in the first-world, with a vastly over-inflated property market, with stalling wages and no manufacturing base, where the palpable and apparent effects of global warming are visible for anyone with a pair of eyes, and where all of our mainstream press is owned by one or anther big corporation; yet we spend our days looking at America and shaking our heads?

In just a few tens of years all of the coal we have been exporting will return in the guise of climate change refugees. Directly to our north is an archipelago peopled by more than six times our total population which will be one of the first parts of the globe swamped by rising sea levels. And these refugees will all know exactly who is to blame for the global catastrophe, even if us Aussies have deliberately avoided even thinking about it.

Do you think that our children will be thanking us for the world we are bequeathing them? I look around and feel utterly ashamed of my generation.

I know that a lot of readers will be feeling indignant and be protesting that ‘it was not me’. That ‘I am not to blame’. But if we are not all collectively guilty; then who is?

‘Poor fellow my country’ does not quite sum it up. We are deep in a coal mine, wearing a blindfold, and we keep on digging. Do you think future generations will cut us a break? We will be despised. And the sad truth is that there is an awful lot to despise.

So, perhaps, before we read about Fake News in the US, and sink back further into our pool of self-righteous schadenfreude, it might be an idea to look around our own backyard and realise that most of the rest of the world rightfully considers modern-day Australia to be a land peopled with selfish, brutal, right-wing arseholes. A land where the population is happy to round up immigrants and deport them on a whim, lock up refuges in concentration camps, embrace any multi-national mining concern willing to bribe our politicians, reduce the Aboriginal population to beggars granted the right to occupy our prisons any time they feel in need of a feed, demonise any attempt to decarbonise the economy while simultaneously subsidising coal mines; and yet still peer down their long noses at the rest of the globe and call them ‘undeveloped’.

Don’t kid yourself, the majority of the world’s population looks at Australia and sees a modern day form of racial and corporate apartheid. After all; they aren’t living in a bubble.

Fake news? We should be so lucky.

 

Colin Barnett on a road to nowhere

By Tracie Aylmer

On Thursday 12 January 2017 I went to a protest in order to protect the Beeliar Wetlands. There were around 1000 of us, all acting peacefully and inclusively. We all welcomed each other, no matter what background we came from.

There were nurses, doctors, lawyers, lecturers, elderly, children, mothers, fathers, truck drivers, Indigenous protectors and advocates from far and wide. We had no gripe against the police that aggressively attacked us. We did not fight back against them, other than to pull down a temporary fence. I very much doubt the fence would have felt anything.

The media has us as rabid, raving lunatics. If the media only understood all of the reasons why we were there in our own time for free, then perhaps this farce of a ‘development’ would not go ahead. In fact, most of the community are against the Roe 8 project, but many would not know it if they only saw what the media showed them.

Colin Barnett keeps saying that trucks would get off the road if a road was built. How? This is not even logically possible. In fact, more trucks would go on the road as the road would be available. Once the toll was on the road, then obviously the trucks would use back streets, similar to what happened when the M4 in Sydney was built.  I remember being in traffic for one and a half hours going to work and one and a half hours come back home from work, just to miss the tollways. My work was around 45 minutes away without peak hour traffic to slow me down. This is what Colin Barnett is advocating for – all streets outside of the tollways being clogged up during peak hour traffic. Since Perth already has a traffic problem, creating more traffic problems obviously does not make any sense whatsoever.

He says there is no other option, than destroying the only Wetlands that Western Australia has. He has targeted the Wetlands first, in order to demolish the wildlife. He has gone over and above his own policies, thereby negating all policies within all departments, in order to try to destroy the community.

This road was supposed to stop quite a distance away from Fremantle Port, which he has decided must be privatised. It doesn’t even get to the Port, and Colin Barnett has no idea even now how it is to reach the Port. The $1.8 billion price ticket doesn’t even include how this road is meant to get to the Port. Obviously, there is going to be an incredible budget blowout, similarly to the Sydney M4 and the Brisbane Clem 7. This budget blowout has not been allocated for by any authority whatsoever. It will happen, and it will put WA in even further debt than Barnett’s complete recent mismanagement of our mining boom.

Not only is this a road to nowhere, it is a road without vision. The only real winners are Barnett’s development mates, and possibly Barnett himself. There are rumours that he has a philosophy of ‘you scratch my back and I will scratch yours’. While I cannot comment further on this, it appears obvious that he is profiting somehow from WA’s dilemmas.

There is also another option. Not only will it be more efficient, but it will provide for thousands more jobs and give us more desperately needed trade. Since Fremantle Port is already nearing capacity, having another port will give WA the kickstart it needs to create a different type of boom. It will put more trucks on the road in a different area, thereby ensuring the trucking industry remains alive and well. It will save our Wetlands. It will give vision to a state that desperately needs it.

The community near the Outer Harbour have advised that they are desperate for Kwinana to open up. There is high unemployment in the area, and the tens of thousands of jobs in that area are much more needed than the over capacity Fremantle Port. Both communities want the Outer Harbour to exist. Much of the framework has already been completed for the Outer Harbour. All sides of politics knows it’s only a matter of time before it does exist.

Why is Colin Barnett wasting so much money on something that highly likely won’t occur anyway? His fanaticism simply does not make any sense whatsoever.

If he thinks behaving in this manner is going to give him a name that will last in his final months as Premier, he is sadly mistaken. We will make absolute sure that what has already been lost of the Wetlands can be reinstated, and that the whole project will not in its majority occur. We are very determined to keep our Wetlands. We will also be determined to make sure that his name is relegated to a footnote in our history books as one of the worst Premiers that WA has ever had.

There is an election in less than two months. As Colin Barnett is illogical, he is also unfit to remain as our Premier. Let’s kick him out. He deserves nothing less for this fiasco.

TracieTracie Aylmer – Tracie is an advocate who enjoys writing about social justice issues. From working in most facets of office work as a professional temporary for several years, to completing a postgraduate law degree and then to researching and writing about social justice, she has been a Jill of many trades. She is the most well known for writing a submission as well as the Immigration Department manuals and guidelines to the International Criminal Court, calling for the arrest of several politicians due to their crimes against humanity, as well as getting some pretty great results from the ICC.

The Sentient Adult

From F. Scott-Fitzgerald: ‘The Crack-up’

“This is what I think now: that the natural state of the sentient adult is a qualified unhappiness. I think also that in an adult the desire to be finer in grain that you are, “a constant striving” (as those people say who gain their bread by saying it) only adds to this unhappiness in the end — that end that comes to our youth and hope.”

It doesn’t do to become too cynical at a young age, THAT is best left those who reach the “winter” of one’s life and can “cheerfully” find justification for cynicism alongside their other trophies of other disappointments in life. It is one of the privileges of living a long life where one can, with experience (no matter how twisted that experience is!) talk-up justification without a youngsters interruption for one’s opinion … it’s called “booorinnng!”

Sneering Cynicism: Are you guilty?

I am hearing, especially in these rural areas where I live, an ironic twist of cynicism and naivety from the same mouths at the same time. For example, like in these cases of parliamentary privileges rorting by certain ministers.

Many in these rural areas, being “welded-on” LNP. Supporters, curled their lips in sneering cynicism when a Labor minister stepped down from his post for a $1600 B-pay done for him by a company … mumbles of “It’s what you’d expect” spat in disgust from those parched conservative lips.

Even one of “their own”, the Speaker of the House in the Gillard years; Mr. Slipper, was hounded from his position in disgrace for a cab-charge of; circa $900. Nine. Hundred. Dollars!

But THEN, when conservative  ministers (that’s plural!) are caught red-handed with their pilfering arms plunged elbow-deep into the proverbial “ministerial entitlements” cookie-jar, there is this eye blinking, ashen-faced disbelief that “one of their own” could do such a thing, even when one of their own is a fervent follower of that philosophy that believes in self-enrichment for the greater public good.

You have to wonder what the conservative public expects from the people they voted for … Mother Theresa in a banker’s suit?

I would offer a bigger fish to fry.

The underpinning foundations of political personality

In my trade of building, one learns from bitter experience (hopefully from others!) that certain types of soil can only support certain types of buildings without an injection of significant amounts of money!

For instance, the extremes of expansion and contraction of “Bay of Biscay” soils of the Adelaide plains made for the invention and development of “brick-veneer” construction after those earlier houses of solid-brick developed cracks in the walls you could drive a Mack Truck through!

One lives and learns … the same could be said (metaphorically) for people; only a certain quality of judgement can be expected or “built on” of a certain type of personality.

Which brings us straight to politics!

Cynicism: Creating an unfair imbalance

This cynicism about the intentions of politicians from BOTH sides of the House, creates an unfair imbalance between two opposing philosophies. The Conservative philosophy could, in fair comment, be considered both hypocritical and cynical in its twisted ideology of providing through Bills and Legislation passed through the House when it has power, of providing largesse and speculative opportunity for the Capitalist ideal and then laying claim to being the best friend to those in need of community support for the social welfare demographic … a contradiction in terms of intention and action, surely?

To sneer cynically at the attempts by Labor when in power to swing the public purse from Right to Left principles of governance, against extreme prejudice of conservative media broadsides that concentrate their fire to “expose” and to “ridicule” and to “demoralise” those attempts by the Labor party to bring about social equality by incremental shifts (so as not to “scare the horses” of public opinion), has to be in itself a most disgusting exercise of political cynicism bordering on sedition.

In some cases this is outright sabotage of vital communications infrastructure that benefits a foreign Media baron, and could be classed as outright treason against the people AND the State.

Then to use the Parliament to undo vital programs that give real benefit to the majority of citizens both young and aged has to be the lowest act of cynicism by the conservative parties.

Your sentient adult should stop and think

So when I hear those snorts of: “They’re both (parties) as bad as each other.” I have to wince in despair, because there has to be a time when the “sentient adult” in all of us has to stop for a moment … think about it a moment … and then realise that there IS a vast difference in both the political goals, the background lives and the policy aspirations to benefit whom and how many citizens of this nation between the two parties.  It is clearly defined by the scale of outrage against the amounts of rorting and the number of failed and dismissed ministers and members of the LNP as against Labor in these accusations …

Let’s get THAT straight.

There is a VAST difference between the arrogance of expected entitlements, the length and scale of rorting and the lenience of punishment against the scale of the crime that marks the Conservative Parties as the one most deserving of the public’s cynical “curl of lip”.

This article was written by Jaycee and originally Published on Freef’all852

 

How has fake news become such a problem?

By Miriam English

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, as have many people, I expect. The usual reaction is to blame the Russians for spreading it. And while the Russians are clearly culpable, there is much more to it. It should be easy to ignore fake news because it should be obvious that it’s wrong, but that isn’t the case anymore. Why not?

Unfortunately there are now so many sources of fake news that people have great difficulty sorting the reality from the bullshit. The right-wing media have a lot to answer for here. By tapping into and propagating conspiracy theories and outright lies they’ve created a fertile ground for fake news to spread. Less polarised media are not entirely blame-free either. Their unwillingness to take on and expose the lies for what they are has helped those lies to spread unchecked.

The fossil fuel companies, spearheaded by that nadir of morality, ExxonMobil, have also worked to spread disinformation. They’ve created an incredibly dangerous distrust of science which I expect will blow up in their faces soon, as they themselves are founded upon technology and require science in order to operate.

Most of the wealthiest companies and individuals routinely construct elaborate lies about their income so as to evade paying their fair share of tax, or any tax at all — tax that would help support the country that lets them make all that money. They have become the ultimate parasites.

The Western Intelligence community has also undermined truth and trust by repeatedly lying about many, many things. For decades they’ve denied that they have been spying upon everybody, but were exposed by Edward Snowden who is running for his life as reward for his heroism. They’ve been routinely lying about wars, such the entirely faked up reasons for the Iraq invasion, and now Syria in which we’re led to believe that we are the good guys fighting evilly brutal ISIS, when it turns out we are the bad guys who have set up ISIS as a tool to overthrow the democratically elected government of Syria. There are many others, such as lying about the Gulf of Tonkin so USA, and then we, could get into the Vietnam War, lying about bombing raids on our ally Cambodia (which triggered Pol Pot’s murderous spree), USA lying about successive democratically elected governments in South America so that they could be brutally destroyed. No wonder people distrust our spooks and military.

Our politicians deserve special mention as perhaps the most untrustworthy pack of liars in Australia’s history. Tony Abbott really brought this home with his ability to constantly lie, apparently without shame. Although, to be fair, he was to some degree emulating his hero John Howard, also an unmitigated liar, who is perhaps the only Australian politician to have been called a “lying little rodent” by his own party. Greg Hunt also ushered in a new era of lies, straightfacedly lying day after day when he was Minister for the Environment. Malcolm Turnbull constantly uses spin and lies for everything from promising not to throw money away on Adani’s Carmichael mine, to the Centrelink debacle, to the fake “debt crisis” (which paradoxically seems to be less important as it gets bigger), to blaming renewable energy for the blackouts in South Australia. Both the main parties collaborated in the lies about refugees, calling them “illegal” and compounding lies with more lies to rationalise torturing innocent men, women, and children. And then there are the constant, continuing problems of so many politicians inappropriately blowing vast amounts of taxpayer money on themselves and their pathetic lies in covering up. Their lies are so numerous and so common that it is difficult to keep track of them all. In the USA Trump is their Tony Abbott, lying with an ease that must make Abbott positively green with envy. In Britain the shallow, lying politicians who tried to manipulate the public saw it all unexpectedly come undone with BREXIT.

Politicians and other powerful people are fond of giving Orwellian names to things, so that they sound like they are the opposite of what they really are. USA is infamous for this kind of thing, for instance “Citizens United” actually crushed citizen-based politics. (I’m sure people in the comments will remind me of similarly disguised names of Australian projects. I know they exist, but can’t think of them just now.) Money spent supposedly to save the reef went instead to cane farmers, who are one of its worst enemies (ostensibly the money was to reduce their pollution of the waterways, but as far as I know, it was completely unregulated and could have been spent on Chrissy pressies for their kids).

So, with all these lies from so many directions, is it any surprise that the new wave of fake news has found such fertile soil in which to grow? A large part of the population doesn’t believe any of the standard sources of information anymore. People can’t be blamed for that. The normal sources genuinely aren’t trustworthy. It’s like the story of the little boy who cried wolf, but now played out on a world stage.

How can it be fixed? Simple. They have to stop lying. Of course that’s not so easy — many of those mentioned above are completely addicted to their lies. They have no intention of stopping. So I ask again, how can it be fixed? I guess we have to stop their lies. We have to show them that their lies have real consequences.