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Kaye describes herself as a middle-aged woman in jammies. She knew Tony Abbott when they both attended Sydney University where she studied for a Bachelor of Science. After 20 years teaching mathematics, with the introduction of the GST in 2000, she became a ‘feral accountant’ for the small business that she and her husband own. Kaye uses her research skills “to pass on information, to join the dots, to remember what has been said and done and to remind others, and to do the maths.”

There is a big problem in the construction industry but it isn’t the CFMEU

In November last year, Malcolm Turnbull issued a press release titled ABCC necessary to stop CFMEU lawlessness

The statement tells us that “The ABCC was established by John Howard in 2005 to ensure unlawful union action was properly investigated, dealt with and penalised”, emotively claims that “militant unions are making it more expensive to build hospitals, schools and roads – or international sports facilities”, and warns that “Australia can’t afford such lawlessness and dysfunction in our third-largest industry.”

The PM goes on to make the completely false statement that “During the seven years the ABCC was in place, construction industry productivity increased by 20 per cent.”  This is just a flat out lie.

He further claims “Since the ABCC’s abolition, productivity has flatlined, while the rate of disputes in the sector has increased by 40 per cent. In all other industries, the rate of disputes has declined by 33 per cent.”

Turnbull said “When there’s a problem with the construction industry, it flows through our whole economy. And there is a big problem.”

He’s right about that.  He just isn’t being honest about the real culprits who were exposed in a Senate report on insolvency in the Australian construction industry which was published in December 2015.  The following is an excerpt from that report.

The industry’s rate of insolvencies is out of proportion to its share of national output. Over the past decade the industry has accounted for between 8 per cent and 10 per cent of annual GDP and roughly the same proportion of total employment. Over the same period, the construction industry has accounted for between one-fifth and one quarter of all insolvencies in Australia.

This outcome isn’t, as some have argued, the result of market forces. While the construction industry is highly competitive and market forces play a part, there are other powerful factors at play. The structure of the commercial construction sector, serious imbalances of power in contractual relationships, harsh, oppressive and unconscionable commercial conduct play a major role when combined with unlawful and criminal conduct and a growing culture of sharp business practices all contribute to market distortions. As a result, the industry is burdened every year by nearly $3 billion in unpaid debts, including subcontractor payments, employee entitlements and tax debts averaging around $630 million a year for the past three years

In the view of the committee, the relative inaction that has characterised most government responses to the completely unacceptable payment practices in the construction industry has to end. The continued viability of the industry in its current structure requires Commonwealth intervention to ensure that businesses, suppliers and employees that work in the industry’s subcontracting chain get paid for the work they do.

The committee considers that the estimates of the incidence of illegal phoenix activity detailed in this report suggest that construction industry is being beset by a growing culture among some company directors of disregard for the corporations law.

Over three thousand possible cases of civil misconduct and nearly 250 possible criminal offences under the Corporations Act 2001 were reported in a single year in the construction industry. This is a matter for serious concern. It suggests an industry in which company directors’ contempt for the rule of law is becoming all too common

Recent studies indicate that illegal phoenix activity (across all industries) may cost between $1.79 billion and $3.19 billion per annum. Given the over-representation of construction businesses in insolvencies and phoenixing, the committee believes the construction industry is responsible for a substantial proportion of this cost.

The economic cost of insolvencies in the construction industry is staggering. In 2013– 14 alone, ASIC figures indicate that insolvent businesses in the construction industry had, at the very least, a total shortfall of liabilities over assets accessible by their creditors of $1.625 billion. Others who have analysed the data place the amount at $2.7 billion. The construction industry consistently rates as either the highest or second highest as against all other industries when it comes to unpaid employee entitlements.

Businesses now operate in an environment in which non-payment for work carried out is commonplace, cash flows are uncertain and businesses lower down in the subcontracting chain have little power relative to those at the top of the chain. In this environment, there is very little incentive to invest the necessary capital to adopt new and innovative construction methods, invest in new capital equipment or invest in workforce skills development.

The construction industry consistently ranks in the three least innovative industries in the country. According to latest available ABS innovation data, only a third of construction businesses could be classed as ‘innovation-active’ compared with more than half of businesses in the warehousing, media and telecommunications and retail sector businesses. Less than fifteen per cent of construction businesses had innovation in development, compared with over thirty percent of manufacturing businesses and 35 per cent of media and telecommunications businesses.

As innovation is a key driver of productivity, profitability and job creation, the lack of innovation in the industry must be addressed.

The construction industry accounts for an unacceptably high proportion of total alleged criminal and civil contraventions of the Corporations Act. This is indicative of a culture that has developed in sections of the industry in which some company directors consider compliance with the Corporations Act to be optional.

This culture highlights the importance of a reform to legislative and regulatory framework so that it better protects law abiding industry participants from unscrupulous business practices.

Section 596AB of the Corporations Act prohibits transactions entered into with the intention of preventing the recovery of employee entitlements or depriving employees of their entitlements and imposes a criminal sanction for breach. Yet, despite clear evidence of this occurrence, no prosecution under section 596AB has ever been initiated.

The report goes on to make 44 recommendations whilst pointing out that the problems have been known, and recommendations ignored, for decades.

This report is the latest in a long series of inquiries and reports dating back to at least 1995 that have considered the merits of changes to the law to regulate the payment of head contractors, subcontractors, workers and others in the building and construction industry. These inquiries have provided report after report, recommendation after recommendation, to State and Commonwealth governments, providing compelling evidence that any participant in a construction project who holds or receives money on account of the contract and is under an obligation to pay another participant, should be subject to a statutory obligation to hold the money as a trustee.

Similarly, a number of inquiries and reports have recommended the introduction of uniform, national security of payments legislation in the construction industry.

Yet, little or nothing has been done.

And it seems this will continue.  Why go after the company directors when you have unions to bash.

Pauline’s picks are on the nose

As someone who has railed against the rise of the political class myself, I can, to a degree, understand the anger which has expressed itself in the election of people with no experience in governance.

But surely there must be some criteria, some selection process as to the appropriateness and capacity of the people to whom we hand the reins of the country.

As shown by our current government, formal education does not necessarily lead to enlightened altruistic public service.

But nor does coming up through the ‘school of hard knocks’ automatically confer the ability to grasp the complexities and responsibilities of being a member of parliament.

It is unlikely that any candidate would have an entirely pristine past but they must expect it to be examined and be able to withstand such scrutiny.

Which is why Pauline Hanson’s press conference in WA the other day was so bizarre.

She was there to launch her party’s campaign for the upcoming election but refused to talk about the candidates.

“I’m not going to have trial by media here, with all of my candidates. If this interview is going to be all about the candidates that represent me, I’m sorry, but this interview is finished,” Ms Hanson said.

“I am not going to stand here and continue a conversation with regards to these candidates. You are treating me totally different to the different political parties.”

“But it’s a very valid question, as it goes towards your candidate’s reputation,” a journalist is heard saying.

The question related to One Nation’s candidate for Dawesville, Lawrence Shave, and his plans to start a business called Bikini Baristas, in which scantily-clad women would sell coffee to consumers.

According to his facebook page, Ps Shave also has supernatural powers.

“I have been gifted with supernatural means as in Matthew 4:23-25 as many years ago I stood on the bow of a fishing trawler at (sic) said to the destructive cyclone that was coming upon us to destroy the boat, crew and myself “I command In Jesus Name to remove yourself from this ocean” the weather station in Perth said that its (sic) was the first time in history that the cyclone split in two, one going inland and the other half going out to sea.”

The pastor believes he has healing powers saying he wants to deal with the sick directly from the ministry of Jesus.

“So the Gifts of healing are given to the church to restore physical health by Supernatural means from the Holy Spirit.”

When asked by 6PR host Gareth Parker about his bikini baristas, Ps Shave channelled his inner Trump.

“If the uniform looks good, why not? They look good, I’m always attracted to them because I’m a man.”

Then there is ON Murray-Wellington candidate Ross Slater, who has been consistently outspoken about his opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Redefining marriage will shatter the natural family structure, society’s moral code and affect everybody, because it’s only the beginning,” Mr Slater said in a letter to the Bunbury Mail in July last year.

“Same-sex couples entertain hetero bashing by suing people who refuse assistance with their “wedding” or condone their lifestyle.

“Bible quoting, introducing adultery decoys and continually referring to the shining sun disguises devious attempts to dismantle a sacred institution gay couples are neither eligible for, nor respect.”

One wonders how he slipped past James Ashby who disendorsed Shan Ju Lin for saying “gays should be treated as patients” and that “Abnormal sex behaviour leads to abnormal crime.”

In 2004, Andrew Denton interviewed Pauline Hanson on Enough Rope about some of her ON colleagues during her first stint in parliament.

ANDREW DENTON: One Nation MP Jeff Knuth said, “It would be better “if the Aborigines went back to the pastoralists and said, ‘Can we just… We’re not going to take your land. We’ll just live on it and work for you if you’ll give us a bit of meat.'”

Your Health spokesman, Ray Danton, actually publicly questioned the statistics on Aboriginal infant mortality as though they might have been made up for some other reason.

PAULINE HANSON: There were some radicals that tagged themselves to me. They saw me come along and, you know, this woman came along and they thought there was their platform to go and say whatever they wanted to.

ANDREW DENTON: But he was your Health spokesperson.

PAULINE HANSON: Oh, look, I wouldn’t even know… I don’t even know who he is. I know Jeff Knuth actually won his seat.

Senator Brian Burston assures us that the new One Nation team is a world away from the rabble who won 11 seats in Queensland in 1998,  imploded and took Hanson down with them.

They ran dopes, unemployed, inexperienced, not all that intellectual … we’re more cohesive than the previous bunch,” Burston said. “We’re a more intelligent bunch for a start.”

That was, of course, before the Culleton debacle.

But Pauline says we should trust her choices because they all filled in a form and she spent 2 days chatting with them.

“I came here before Christmas, I spent two days interviewing the candidates that came forward at that time, I was very happy with the calibre of candidates in this state.”

On past and current performance, I think Pauline will take anyone she can get to bump up the numbers of the One Nation push for a New World Disorder.

 

Tony Abbott’s overwhelming self-belief is astonishing to behold

Tony Abbott’s overwhelming self-belief is astonishing to behold

On Saturday, he wrote an article in the Australian which clearly indicates he believes the country, and the Liberal Party, will see the error of their ways and embrace the work he started during his short-lived and spectacularly unsuccessful stint in the top job.

He wants the Renewable Energy Target abolished.

He wants to increase GST to tax consumption rather than production.

He wants the company tax cuts fast-tracked.

He wants to get “taxes down and regulation down so that we can get productivity and profitability up.”

He wants “a ferocious clamp on all new spending other than that with a clear growth (or necessary national security) dividend.”

He gave Turnbull a serve saying that Trump’s election is a “good opportunity for the government not just to talk about agility but actually to be agile.”

He points out things have gotten worse under Malcolm.

“Although the government is in a worse position that it was 18 months ago to embark on a new round of major economic reform…”

And castigates Turnbull for not sticking with Abbott’s agenda

“…Our economic reform challenge is becoming more acute,” Mr Abbott wrote. “It’s a pity that Malcolm Turnbull abandoned the tax reform and federation reform white papers that had been well under way under my government. This process was the best hope of securing a shift from taxing production to taxing consumption and for making government more efficient.”

Either Abbott has the memory of a goldfish or a pope-like belief in his own infallibility.

It would be a huge mistake to reward this sort of public dissent with a Cabinet position.  Is Turnbull strong enough to stare him down?

We shall see.

In the words of Julie Bishop, “You’re not a celebrity, you’re an elected representative.”

In 2007, Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop accused Deputy Opposition Leader Julia Gillard of behaving like a “fashion model or TV star” rather than a politician.

You’re not a celebrity, you’re an elected representative, you’re a member of parliament. You’re not Hollywood and I think that when people overstep that line they miss the whole point of that public role.”

Ms Bishop said posing for magazine covers was “not my style”.

“Of course, people want to know more about you, but I don’t think you should be courting that celebrity status as if you’re a fashion model or a TV star, because you’re not,” she said.

Move along a few years to when Julie is “living the dream”, as she put it in an interview with Who magazine in December 2014.

“I can’t imagine a better job than the one I have,” she said as she posed for the magazine featuring an article where she “talks fashion, running, and style”, having also done a cover shoot for Harper’s Bazaar the previous month.  In 2015, it was Vogue.

It seems Ms Bishop now considers herself very much a celebrity.

“Ms Bishop and her partner David Panton mingled with celebrities and business figures in exclusive marquees on Derby Day and Melbourne Cup Day as guests of an airline company and an alcohol company.”

A statement from her office said “The Minister was invited and attended in her official capacity as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party.”

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo has argued the case for politicians to attend sporting events on the taxpayer dime.

“I can certainly say as an Australian, I would love to see Australia’s prime minister — I don’t care whether it’s Liberal or Labor — at a key game … between the Wallabies and All Blacks.”

Mr Ciobo seems to have forgotten the deafening booing received by Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the 2014 NRL Grand Final.

Ciobo also defended using his taxpayer-funded car to attend local sport events in his Queensland electorate of Moncrieff, saying: “I think people expect that“.

Would it be too much to ask that you drive yourself to the local footy match?

Defending charging taxpayers for going to the AFL Grand Final, the Trade Minister said, “Ministers or parliamentary secretaries or others are invited to go along to these events specifically by businesses and organisations who are taking the opportunity to showcase themselves there, to take the time to have a conversation in relation to important matters.”

I am not sure how the National Bank “showcases” itself at a football Grand Final and, if there are important matters to be discussed, there are far better places to do it than in the midst of 100,000 screaming football fans.

I beg to differ Mr Ciobo.  You are not celebrities and having a beer with someone does not constitute work.  If you want to take your family to an event, pay for it yourself.  If you want a family holiday, pay for it yourself.

Get over yourselves.

Groundhog day…but who’s the hog this time

Nothing shows a Coalition government in trouble more than playing the national security card, but even Tony Abbott wouldn’t go this far.

Malcolm Turnbull is “planning a major shake-up in counter-terrorism and domestic security.”

“Mr Turnbull has held high-level talks with cabinet colleagues about a new ­department and ministry to form a co-ordinated counter-terrorism effort.  It would be similar to the Home Office in the UK and Homeland Security in the US.  It would bring together the AFP, ASIO and Australian Border Force into one agency, where they could better engage, communicate and share information to tackle terror threats.”

Hang on.  I’ve heard this song before.

In September 2014, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop pushed back strongly against the idea.

“If there were such a proposal, it would have to demonstrate any current failures in co-operation between the intelligence agencies, federal and state police and ­Defence and I am not aware of any such failures,” Ms Bishop said.

Michael Wesley — professor of national security at the ANU and formerly assistant director-general for transnational issues at the Office of National Assessments with responsibility for intelligence co-ordination — argued that following the lead of the “$38 billion bureaucratic monster” in the US would be a “bad idea”.

Professor Wesley said there seemed to be growing momentum to build on the success of Operation Sovereign Borders and create a single security portfolio, bringing together Customs and Border Protection, law enforcement, security intelligence, and disaster management under the direction of one minister.

“This is an extremely bad idea, and is likely to decrease Australia’s security readiness,” he wrote.

“When the US set up the DHS, there was clear evidence that American security, intelligence and policing agencies were not working together. Nothing could be further from the truth in Australia today.”

In October 2014 we were told this plan had been scuttled.

“A move within the Abbott cabinet to establish a homeland security super-ministry drawing together several major departments and functions looks to have been scuttled because senior figures viewed it as an attempt by backers of Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to elevate him to future leader status.

The entire issue is tied up with the timing of a reshuffle that will eventually be necessary one way or the other because of the temporary and possibly permanent vacancy created by the absence of Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos.”

What a difference a couple of years make.

Tony Abbott said there was no need for Australia to adopt a US-style homeland security super-ministry because he had ultimate responsibility for national security.  He saw this as an empire building attempt by an ambitious opponent which he quickly quashed.

Will Brandis head to London to replace Downer?  Will Ley say buy buy?  Will we have a reshuffle?

As Abbott wanders the world giving advice to all and sundry, we can only speculate on who may be Turnbull’s hog.

 

 

It’s not submarine science

In September last year, Social Services Minister Christian Porter addressed the National Press Club with the findings of an actuarial study conducted by PwC which “shows that we face a total estimated future lifetime welfare cost of the present Australian population of $4.8tn”.

What an absolutely meaningless figure.  Its only purpose could be to find the biggest number you can to try to justify attacking welfare recipients under the guise of budget repair.

A more relevant figure might be the lifetime earnings of the big four accounting firms from government contracts.

The 2015 budget allocated $33 million to be spent over four years to bring in actuaries “to work out an annual estimate of the lifetime cost of Australia’s welfare system and to identify groups most at risk of welfare dependency.”

A nice little money earner but only the tip of the iceberg.

As Michael West points out, the Big Four accounting firms have picked up at least $2.6 billion in fees from the Australian government over the past ten years.

When it comes to leaners look no further than PwC itself which has picked up $759,736,134.06 over the past ten years from the Commonwealth; almost $760 million in taxpayer money for doing reports – providing advice, paper shuffling.

Let’s not forget Ernst & Young, which banked $525,064,685.80 for writing stuff, and Deloitte with its $415,773,994.86, the lowest of the Big Four leaners but nonetheless a leaner par excellence.

It is KPMG though which takes first prize in the corporate welfare stakes, strapping on $934,351,772.48 of the taxpayer’s finest, clipping almost $100 million a year, leaning like a test rugby pack.

All four have been big donors to the major political parties. All four are the architects of global tax avoidance. All four, while sermonising to government on tax policy, are busy advising their multinational clients how to skulk out of paying tax.

And what did this hugely expensive report actually achieve?

It identified that there were two groups particularly at risk of entrenched welfare – 11,200 young carers aged 15-24 and 4370 young parents (aged under 18).

In order to help this very small, very specific group, the government’s first move will be to create a $96 million honey pot – the Try, Test and Learn Fund – to trial experimental initiatives aimed at getting key groups off the public books and into employment.

“Anyone who can see these human stories playing out on the ground can come to us with an idea,” Mr Porter told ABC radio. “We will fund those solutions and measure them”.

But the Coalition already defunded one such successful program in the 2014 budget from hell.

Funding for the Youth Connections program, which provided funding to local youth services to support young people at risk of disengaging from education and work, ran out at the end of 2014.

“This is a highly successful program, supporting 30,000 young people each year.  When we have national youth unemployment at 12.2 per cent and many regions as high as 20 per cent we cannot afford to end assistance now,”  Youth Connections National Executive Officer and now Xenophon MP Rebekha Sharkie said.

“What’s more, 93 per cent of young people in the program who had reconnected with education, training or employment for at least 13 weeks, were still working or studying six months after Youth Connections.” That’s an extraordinary level of success and shows that this programme is too important to face the chopping block.”

“It costs on average $2,500 for a person to be assisted on Youth Connections, when you look at annual costs of $20,000 for a young person to be on Youth Allowance, it just makes logical economic sense to provide the support.”

In a typical cost shifting exercise, the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education, Senator Scott Ryan, issued a statement saying it was a state government issue.

“It is the responsibility of state and territory governments to ensure that young people stay in school until they are 17 as per their own legislation,” the statement said.  “Around 74 per cent of the young people supported by the Youth Connections program were under 17 years old and thus a state and territory responsibility.”

Since Mr Porter is asking for ideas, I have a few to share.

Stop gifting hundreds of millions to the big 4 for work that could be done by government departments.

Stop supporting the firms that facilitate corporate tax evasion – their advice is tainted.

Stop defunding successful programs particularly since you have no better ideas.

Stop squeezing the poor to pay for your promises.

Stop making the taxpayer fund your celebrity lifestyle.

And just to show you how easy it could be…..

Stop the corporate tax cut saving $50 billion over the next decade.

Cap the defence materiel budget to $10 billion a year saving $200 billion over the next two decades.

It’s not submarine science!

You stay in bed my beloved, I’ve got this covered

With Kathy Jackson due back in court in a fortnight’s time, one wonders what will come next to try to avoid facing the consequences of her actions.

The Heery Report into the actions of her partner, former Vice President of the Fair Work Commission Michael Lawler, gives an insight into just how strange this saga has been.

On 20 June 2014, Ms Jackson was due to appear at a directions hearing in the Federal Court of Australia at Melbourne before Justice Tracey, in proceedings commenced against her in the previous year by the HSU.

At 8:52 am on the morning of 20 June 2014, Mr Lawler sent an email to Justice Tracey’s Executive Assistant.

Dear [Executive Assistant]

I am the partner of Kathy Jackson.

I write as her partner in the discharge of my family responsibilities in respect of my beloved partner.

The need for me to take the step of writing to you causes me acute embarrassment because I happen also to hold the office of Deputy President of the Fair Work Commission. I am mindful of the duties of my office. I would not ordinarily write to you save that extraordinary circumstances obtain, and after taking counsel, I have conscientiously adjudged that I should write this email to you to inform his Honour that private circumstances have arisen since she returned home last evening which mean that she cannot appear in person at today’s mention.

She asked me as her partner, and I have agreed as her partner, to make application to the Court to seek leave to appear as her McKenzie’s friend to assist the Court in relation to the mention of the matter.

I will make that application when you call Ms Jackson’s number.

I do not relish having to make that application but in circumstances where there is no one else to act for her and she is mindful of not committing a contempt of the Court, I will make that application, and seek relief from whatever riles [sic] may be required for that application to be considered by his Honour.

I have a detail understanding of the case and can speak to issues of non-compliance.

If the Court insists on Ms Jackson appearing in person, I will wake her. I humbly beseech his Honour not to require that of me.

Yours faithfully

Michael Lawler

as partner of Katherine Jackson

Not quite the language one would expect from a member of the judiciary in correspondence with the court.

The directions hearing commenced at 9:35am. The transcript describes Vice President Lawler as appearing for Ms Jackson. At the commencement of the hearing, the transcript records the following exchange:

MR M. IRVING: I appear for the Health Services Union.

HIS HONOUR: Yes, Mr Irving. And I understand, Mr Lawler, you’re on the line.

MR M. LAWLER: Yes, your Honour. I have an application to make potentially depending upon what Mr Irving says. Your Honour should be in receipt – or your Honour’s associate should be in receipt of an email that I sent earlier this morning.

HIS HONOUR: I have read the email and I’m sure that you’ve made a mistake in referring to the proposed role as a McKenzie friend because I’m sure you’re well aware McKenzie friends cannot be advocates.

MR LAWLER: Well, I have to confess my ignorance, your Honour. I had thought that was the correct term and if I have erred, I apologise.

HIS HONOUR: Yes. Well, you might like to consult the authorities but they’re quite clear that a McKenzie friend is someone who can sit in court, quietly take notes, advise, but not act as an advocate and certainly not act as an advocate in the absence of the party concerned.

MR LAWLER: Of course, your Honour. I would not countenance for one moment pressing any application from the court that was inconsistent with the authorities and I’m grateful to the court for pointing them out to me.

HIS HONOUR: Well, you’re more than welcome to listen in on the proceedings and you may, of course, take such notes as you may wish and you may relay what is said here this morning to Ms Jackson.

MR LAWLER: Thank you, your Honour.

Following this exchange, the hearing then proceeded with Mr Irving on behalf of the HSU making submissions with respect to various procedural issues that had arisen in the conduct of the proceedings. After approximately 10 minutes, however, Vice President Lawler interrupted and began to participate in the hearing. As the above exchange makes plain, this was contrary to the express direction of the presiding judge.

For the remainder of the hearing, Vice President Lawler made submissions on behalf of Ms Jackson, asked questions of the Judge, requested that a photo of Ms Jackson be removed from the internet, and also provided information about certain aspects of Ms Jackson’s case, including an intention by her to seek an application that the proceedings against her be dismissed on account of the Union being guilty of an abuse of process and fraud on the Court.

On 23 June 2014, Vice President Lawler sent an email to Acting President Hatcher, Justice Ross, Vice President Catanzariti, Deputy President Smith, and Senator the Honourable Eric Abetz, the then Minister for Employment.

In his email, he sought to make a number of points, which included the following:

His involvement in the hearing occurred in extraordinary circumstances, namely that:

(i) Ms Jackson had been fully occupied in the Royal Commission for some weeks, and found herself unrepresented at the eleventh hour and with no practical capacity to ready herself for the hearing.

(ii) She sought an adjournment which was refused

(iii) Distressing personal circumstances on the evening of 19 June 2014 prevented Ms Jackson from sleeping for most of the night, which meant she was in no position, or state of mind, to engage with the Federal Court proceedings

(iv) There was no time to obtain a medical report or fresh legal representation (which she could not afford in any event)

(v) He adjudged that waking Ms Jackson to participate in the hearing could be seriously injurious to her health and would have involved him in a grave breach of his family responsibilities.

Will Lawler represent his beloved on January 24 as she again faces 70 theft and deception charges?

Will he think it worth waking her for this time?

A simplified guide to work entitlements and cutting costs

In order to avoid “errors of judgement” and “flights inadvertently booked for official travel rather than private”, and to help with budget repair and reducing carbon footprint, here are a few tips for politicians.

Stop flying to places outside your electorate to make announcements.

The Federal government is located in Canberra.  That is where announcements should be made.  If there is an area specific component, then the local member can elaborate to their electorate.

Stop charging the taxpayer for your attendance at sporting and cultural events.

If you have been lucky enough to be given free tickets to an event, be grateful, but pay for your own travel and accommodation.  Barnaby Joyce’s excuse that you have to hire limos or use comcars because you are obliged to drink doesn’t pass the wine bar test.

Weddings are not official business unless a foreign head of state is getting married and you are representing the government.

Claims of “networking” are not acceptable.  You should not expect to be paid for having a chat or being at the same function as someone you may have future official dealings with.  Attending a colleague’s wedding, or your own in the case of WA MP Steve Irons, is not government business.

Stop taking your spouse to work.

In 2016 the House of Representatives sat on 51 days.  That leaves 315 days when they didn’t have to be in Canberra.  There may be certain occasions where it is appropriate for your family to join you – first and final speeches for example – but to suggest that you need family reunions means you have chosen not to see your family during the 45 weeks you are not in Canberra.

Do not organise meetings around visits to your investment properties or parties you want to attend

It is a very bad look to have a contrived meeting and then go on to your investment property or hobby farm.  And last minute photos just before you fly out after attending parties do not entitle you to claim for travel and accommodation.

Stop the narcissistic need to have your photo taken.

It is not necessary to fly thousands of kilometres to have your photo taken with a shovel to announce investment in building infrastructure.  It is not necessary to shut down a workplace so you can be filmed on the factory floor.

Use skype and teleconferencing

Flying dozens of bureaucrats business class from Canberra and all over Europe to get together in Paris to discuss how they can cut costs is not productive or cost-effective, or even vaguely justifiable.  Use Skype and tele-conferencing and emails.

Use the internet instead of study tours

Going to a golf tournament on the other side of the country, Steve Irons again, or having a between flight layover in Kuala Lumpar, Barnaby Joyce, do not constitute “study”.  You can save time and money by researching on the internet or asking the many experts specifically employed to do research for the government.

Stop using accommodation allowances to pay off your mortgages.

I know you all do it, and it is “within the rules”, but that doesn’t make it right.  Change the rules.  And while you are at it, build an accommodation wing on Parliament House and we could save a fortune on accommodation allowances, comcars and security whilst reducing wasted travelling time and increasing politicians’ productivity.

Reduce your number of offices

There is absolutely no need for MPs to have multiple offices.  It’s not like they are sitting there at the counter waiting to have a chat with you.  Use communication technology to engage with your constituents.  Answer their emails or their questions on facebook.  Return phone calls where necessary.  Shopfronts do not equate to availability.

 

There are countless examples of enormous waste in government spending – welfare is not one of them.

Get your own house in order.

It is time for us all to start caring about something more than money

As we watch the debacle that calls itself government around the world scratching its collective head at why the people are angry, it would be timely to point out a few home truths.

The economy is supposed to serve the people.  It is supposed to have a point.

Economics started as a branch of moral philosophy whose aim was to try to create systems that would one day eliminate poverty and scarcity.

Our current system isn’t eliminating scarcity and poverty; it’s causing scarcity for most people and delivering extreme prosperity to a powerful minority.  Wages have stagnated, even as productivity and profits have risen.

Social contract theory posits that every citizen on the planet has inalienable rights, but to live among others in society, each of us must tacitly agree to yield some of those natural rights in exchange for the benefits of mutual peace and prosperity. Everyone living under the social contract has a duty to act responsibly, to obey the laws, and to abandon certain natural self-interest rights that conflict with the general good.

Since the origins of free market capitalism, however, many corporate founders and investors have argued that their companies are entities, not citizens, and so do not owe anything back to society.

In the 1970s, the noted economist Milton Friedman, who eventually guided the Reagan administration’s economic policies, launched an entire school of economic thought that famously insisted the only social obligation of corporations was to increase profits for their shareholders.”

As long as it is legal, companies can do whatever they desire to produce income for their shareholders. Meanwhile, by virtue of their legal status, corporations are protected from their mistakes by the grant of limited liability to their shareholders, except in cases of proven fraud or misconduct. Whatever effects corporations have on society, the shareholders are immune from liability.

But even as companies avoid liability and ethical responsibility, they seek to influence society through political lobbying and donations.  As they actively pursue subsidies, concessions, deductions and bailouts from governments, they also seek to minimise their contribution back to society with profit their sole aim.

Small businesses and individuals are fully subject to the harshest aspects of capitalism while large businesses are exempt. So long as that’s true, capitalism cannot fulfill its promise. Global economic production keeps growing, but it can’t grow fast enough to eliminate scarcity if the fruits of all that production flow straight to a few large corporate dinosaurs. Big companies are the problem.

We need a new approach to the issues of corporate responsibility. It is time for consumers to demand social contract theory be applied to corporations, binding them to act like responsible citizens in return for the tacit authorization society gives them to operate. The new logic must be that corporations are no different from individuals; since they exist within society, which grants to them the right to do business among the people, they have an obligation to behave and give up some of their self-interest for the greater good.

As consumers, we should demand sustainable, ethical conduct from businesses and use our power to reward businesses with loyalty or punish them with boycotts and reputational damage.

Governments likewise could support socially responsible corporations by directing government business and concessions their way whilst remembering that economies are tools meant to serve the general good and that wealth means nothing on a dead planet.

We need access to higher education that doesn’t depend on crushing student loan debt. We need to look at health care as a right, not a service to be bought and sold.  We need an adequate safety net that does not condemn the vulnerable to crippling poverty.  It’s time for the government to stop investing in institutions and to start investing in individuals, to stop rampant greed and accept the responsibility of stewardship.

It is time for us all to start caring about something more than money.

Keeping up appearances

Tony Abbott is certainly keeping up appearances.  Aside from being a not-so-humble backbencher with an itchy twitter finger, he has been extremely busy for the past few months travelling the world promoting himself and getting paid to do so.

September 15-18 he was in Prague, addressing the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists.  Flights, accommodation and incidentals for he and Margie were paid by the AECR.

Then it was off to New York where, on September 30, Abbott addressed the CQS Investor Forum.  CQS provided travel, accommodation and some hospitality and then flew him to London for his next engagement speaking to Australian Business in the UK on October 3.

On October 4, Abbott attended the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham as a guest of The Spectator Magazine, who met the cost of travel (including the return trip to Australia), accommodation and some hospitality.

November 2, Abbott went to Port Moresby to address the Anglicare PNG annual fundraising dinner.  Anglicare PNG met the cost of travel while accommodation and incidentals were covered by Airways Hotel Limited.

Then in early December, it was off to the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation Knowledge Summit in Dubai.  Costs associated with this visit were met by the Foundation and arranged by the Washington Speakers Bureau.

A couple of weeks later, Abbott went to Israel for the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue, this time courtesy of the taxpayer.  The Australian delegation included Opposition leader Bill Shorten, Trade Minister Steve Ciobo and ten other federal and state parliamentarians.

The speeches are excruciating – Abbott at his absolute pontificating self-promoting worst.  Why on earth people are paying him to go on the speaking tour is beyond me.  I very much doubt anyone would invite him back for a second go.

But more to the point, what the hell are we paying him for?  The people of Warringah have every right to wonder.

The false economy of decimating the public service

I sometimes wonder if the real Malcolm Turnbull was kidnapped and replaced by a doppelganger, so different are his actions as Prime Minister to his words before taking on the role.

As we bounce from one outsourcing disaster to the next, it is worth reflecting on what Turnbull himself had to say on outsourcing three months before he staged his coup to take the top job.

“There has been a practice for government to outsource what should be the legitimate work of the public service to consultants.  So the public service departments just become, you know, mail boxes for sending out tenders and then receiving the reports and paying for them.

What we have to do in government in my view is stop panning public servants and do more to ensure that they do their job better. And one of the ways to do that is to make sure they do the work that is their core responsibility, as opposed to outsourcing everything.

Of course, that will show up people who aren’t any good too: clearly it’s a lot easier just to send out a brief to McKinsey than it is to actually do the work yourself.

There’s no single answer to this but managing a talented workforce is very, very hard. You’re in the talent business.

The talent is the real asset of the Australian Public Service, so we have got to have a focus on the APS, a respect for the quality and seek to promote and improve the quality of that workforce all the time.

Most people work for the public service as much for the psychic wage as they do for the financial wage. Most of the very smart people in the APS could earn a lot more money somewhere else. One of the things we’ve got to do is respect the public service – respect it, expect more from it, and make sure that it has more challenging and interesting work to do.”

Others have expressed a similar view.

Former head of Turnbull’s Digital Transformation Office, Paul Shetler expressed his view in an article on The Mandarin last month.

Over the last 40 years, as we’ve outsourced technology, there’s been a progressive deskilling of the public service. The reliance on consultants is remarkable and the amount spent on them is eye watering. That’s just not necessary if we re-skill the public service.

Former head of the Productivity Commission, Gary Banks agrees.

He warned former PM Kevin Rudd that the bureaucracy no longer had the expertise to provide the evidence-based policy advice the prime minister was demanding.

Banks bemoaned the decline in the number of public servants with the necessary quantitative and analytical skills. He also warned about the varied quality and motives of the consultants involved in developing policy.

While there were highly professional consultancies, he said, there were also consultants who cut corners, provided superficial reports and second-guessed what ministers wanted to hear. Consultants had different motives to professional public servants, for obvious reasons.

Banks made an interesting suggestion – that consultants’ work be subjected to peer review – but that would require the government to actually release the reports that we pay for, something that is becoming increasingly uncommon.  How often do we hear the call “This is a report to government, not by government,” thus abrogating responsibility and accountability – the buck stops nowhere.

I would go further and suggest that any government contracts actually contain penalties for failure to deliver rather than profit protection for the other party as is so often the case.

The job of a Minister used to be to oversee the efficient and effective delivery of the government services but this has changed as Richard Denniss points out.

“the neoliberal obsession with privatising and outsourcing the actual delivery of services to the private sector, combined with enormous growth in the number of taxpayer-funded “personal staff” in ministerial offices, has fundamentally changed the role of minister. Rather than focus on the enormous, if often tedious, job of managing the delivery of essential services, the modern minister is often more interested in “shaking things up”. While identifying room for improvement is part of the job, announcing grand plans to drive future efficiency is no substitute for delivering actual efficiency.

Decades of “efficiency dividends” and other euphemisms for public sector cuts have fundamentally eroded the ability of agencies to deliver basic services.  Once upon a time a minister would have raged against the suggestion that cutting their department’s funding would help them “improve efficiency”, but once upon a time ministers would have thought they would be held responsible for failures on their watch. Those days seem long gone. The modern minister embraces the “opportunity” that comes with shedding staff.

For decades we have been told that outsourcing and privatisation would lead to efficiencies that would mean we have more money to provide more services. And for decades we have been told that we need to grow the economy before we can “afford” to treat the elderly with dignity and the disabled with respect. Well, GDP had doubled in the last 20 years and we have outsourced and privatised more thoroughly than most countries … so when will the quality of our public services start to improve?”

We have lost an enormous amount of expertise and experience from the public service who can no longer feel free to give frank and fearless advice and do not have the long term memory of tried and failed experiments.  Advice now comes from politicians’ personal staff, their spin team, and their tame consultants who produce reports with the required outcome – for a hefty fee.

Instead of having people who are intimately aware of the services they deliver designing processes, we pay a fortune to private companies who far too often fall short of their promises.

We are all now paying the price for the short-sightedness of decimating the public service for ‘budget repair’ and to avoid being told uncomfortable truths.

Stop the waste and we can stop attacking the poor

As the government scrambles to claw back money from the old, the sick, the pregnant, and the unemployed, they put no such austerity on their own spending.

In the 2014 budget from hell, Tony Abbott promised to cut off free flights for about 100 former politicians. But while legislation was passed by the House of Representatives in October 2014, it has inexplicably failed to be even put to a vote in the Senate.

According to Mathias Corman they’ve been too busy but who could forget the tortuous filibustering by Bridget McKenzie and James McGrath in September because the Senate had nothing to do.

After Choppergate, Abbott called for a review of politicians’ entitlements which proposed certain reforms, one of which recommended six electorates larger than 500,000 square kilometres receive a third staffed electorate office.  But Nationals MP Mark Coulton, whose seat of Parkes falls over 100,000 square km short of the guideline, wanted another office too so bugger the rules – full speed ahead.

According to the mid-year financial update, establishing the seven extra offices will cost taxpayers $8.1 million over the next four years.  What do they actually do with four offices (including the one in Canberra)?

Whilst on the subject of offices, Malcolm Turnbull’s Digital Transformation Office is also costing us a fortune.

The DTO was launched by Mr Turnbull, then communications minister, in July 2015, to drive his vision of “agile and innovative” government by working with departments to enhance their use of digital technology.  The project was re-launched in October with a new name, the Digital Transformation Agency.

Contracts publicly notified on the federal procurement website AusTender show that much of the DTA’s spending since it was established in July 2015 has been on contractors and temporary staff including $125,000 paid to recruitment outfit Hudson to provide a personal assistant for 12 months.

A DTA spokeswoman confirmed that $18.5 million in contracts had been agreed with labour hire firms.  Other taxpayer-funded spending by the micro-agency includes $1 million for five months of “agile coaching” by a private sector outfit Pragmateam, $43,000 on whiteboards and hundreds of thousands of dollars on public relations.

What is “agile coaching” you ask?

The spokeswoman said the agile coaching spending was needed to make sure DTO projects were run in accordance with best practice.

“The contract with Pragmateam allows for up to five expert coaches to guide the DTA, and other government agencies, through the different stages of the Agile methodology,” she said.

“This ensures that projects are run in accordance with best practice and ensures knowledge transfer for future application.

“The Agile methodology underpins the DTA’s work internally and with other agencies.

“It involves fast and intense development, testing and adaptation drawing on a wide range of expertise.

“This contrasts with more ‘traditional’ approaches to software and service design which involve lengthy specification design and rigid implementation approaches.”

What an outstanding example of babble!  That spokeswoman will go far.

The federal government spent a record amount on digital advertising in Australia last financial year.  Figures published by the Department of Finance in December showed total government advertising spending for major campaigns cost taxpayers $174.7 million in 2015-16, up by nearly $70 million from the previous year.

The Australian Electoral Commission’s pre-election advertising campaign was the most expensive single spend in the report, costing a total of $50.9 million.  Australian Defence Force recruitment advertising campaigns cost $31.4 million in 2015-16.  Promoting the Turnbull government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda cost $14.9 million.  A national campaign to reduce violence against women and children in Australia cost $13.4 million.  More than $10 million was spent to promote the government’s North Asia free trade agreements.  Promoting the now axed Green Army program cost $3 million in 2015-16.

Then there is our MPs’ penchant for RAAF jets to ferry them around.

RAAF jets chartered to pick up and drop off federal politicians flew without passengers on 107 occasions at a cost of $610,571 from July to December in 2015.

The “ghost flight’’ trips cost up to $18,000 just to fly to Perth without passengers. But wage costs for the RAAF crew push the total cost higher.

The latest figures include two passengerless flights made to pick up and drop off Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and her partner, David Panton, in October 2015.

An empty plane flew from Canberra to Perth on September 20 at a cost of $17,996, to bring back Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, Justice Minister Michael Keenan and Social Service Minister Porter to be sworn into Malcolm Turnbull’s first Cabinet.

In November, a jet again flew empty across the Nullarbor — costing $16,740 — to collect Senator Cormann and other MPs including Andrew Hastie, Senator Chris Back, Steve Irons and Senator Linda Reynolds for a sitting week when commercial flights were available.

On flights, MPs and staffers are offered wine, craft beers, gourmet hot meals and heated hand towels by crew.

These few examples are indicative of the cavalier fashion with which our common wealth is used and abused by those who see politics as a career and who have no qualms about using Treasury as their political warchest to be used to further their own careers and to provide them with a celebrity lifestyle – no skill or talent required.

If you are looking for double-dipping rorters who rip off the system and take no personal responsibility, look in the mirror.

 

Porkies and porkbarrelling – the Coalition’s approach to infrastructure

In June 2015 Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens pleaded with the government to do more to lift the economy.

In the past year “public final spending didn’t grow at all, public investment spending fell by 8 per cent.  It would be confidence-enhancing if there was an agreed story about a long-term pipeline of infrastructure projects,” the governor said.

“The impediments to this outcome are not financial,” he told the Economic Society of Australia in Brisbane. The funding is readily available, at very low interest rates.

The impediments are political.

Borrowing to fund infrastructure that will earn a return makes sense even if it runs up deficits and debt. It is “not the same as borrowing to pay pensions or public servants”.

In September 2016, incoming Reserve Bank chief Philip Lowe repeated the appeal for the government to do more.

“Another option is for some entity in the economy to use the low interest rates to increase its spending. The government could either use its balance sheet or its planning capacity to do infrastructure spending.”

“That is what most businesses do; they meet their ongoing costs through their revenue flow and they borrow to build assets. So the test is: can the government, can any of us find assets to build that generate a return for society?”

Tony Abbott came to power promising to be the Infrastructure Prime Minister.  We have been told over and over again that the government has engaged in record spending on infrastructure with the figure of $50 billion repeated by all.

This is, like most things this government says, a lie.

The actual money committed between 2014-15 and 2018-19 is $34 billion with another $8 billion proposed to be invested “onwards.’’ meaning into the unspecified future.  And even those commitments are not being met.

In its 2014 Budget, the Coalition undertook to invest $8 billion on infrastructure in the 2015-16 financial year. But the recently released Final Budget Outcome for 2015-16 shows the Government invested $5.5 billion and $490 million of that was a one-off payment to the WA Government as GST compensation.

That underspend followed an underspend of $900 million in the previous year.

The cuts have been made to projects including the Pacific Highway, Bruce Highway, Adelaide’s South Road upgrade and Brisbane’s Gateway North project.

Forward projections from this year’s Budget show that in 2019-20 investment on rail will fall to zero (2016-17 Budget Paper Number 1, page 5-38).

To add insult to injury, Malcolm Turnbull wasted $18 million of public money prior to the election on propaganda advertisements which falsely claimed the Government had delivered record investment.

Morrison’s December MYEFO showed an even sorrier tale as pointed out by Shadow Minister Anthony Albanese.

Today’s MYEFO announcements on infrastructure represent the Government’s final abandonment of the Infrastructure Australia process of evidence-based decision making on infrastructure investment.

The closure of the Building Australia Fund, which was for projects approved by Infrastructure Australia, would be bad enough in itself, but the funding of 75 small projects, 73 of which are in Coalition-held electorates at the time of the election, is an appalling abuse of Commonwealth responsibility.

Not one of these projects has been approved by Infrastructure Australia.

While the Government has found funding for pathetic pork barrelling, it has failed to invest in major public transport projects including Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project, the Melbourne Metro, the Western Sydney Rail Line, the Peth Metronet or AdeLINK.

The Turnbull Government has at least six Ministers with infrastructure responsibility, including Infrastructure Minister Darren Chester, Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher, Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash; Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Assistant Minister for Cities, Angus Taylor.  We could also include Communications Minister Mitch Fifield with the NBN.

The Government has rejected an application from the Opposition for charter letters from Mr Turnbull to his Ministers explaining who does what in this critical policy area.

The Opposition’s application under Freedom of Information laws was rejected on the basis that the material might reveal information before Cabinet.

Since when did the responsibilities of Ministers of the Crown become a state secret?

Why would reporting on the real state of the NBN lead to police raids?

Why are we ignoring cost benefit analyses?

What return will we get for the $400 billion they have found to spend on war toys?

Rather than listening to the advice of independent experts, this government uses infrastructure spending for its own political purposes and are consequently costing the nation dearly.

Bjorn again

In December 2015, Australia made a commitment to the global goal “to hold average temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

Then in March 2016, the Turnbull government signed an agreement to make a $640,000 grant to Bjørn Lomborg to write yet another climate contrarian book saying that “limiting global temperature rises to 2C was a poor investment.”

In 2012, the Danish government stopped funding Lomberg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre.  Lomborg does not have a background in climate science and has published no peer-reviewed articles on climate change – his views have been widely discredited.

So how did he end up here with his hand out?

Apparently he made a big “impression” on a rather simpering Julie Bishop.

Come sit near me Bjorn

Minister Bishop launched DFAT’s development innovation hub as innovationXchange affirming the Government’s push for the department to be more creative, entrepreneurial and innovative in its design and delivery of the Australian aid program.

The Minister also announced the creation of a 14-member International Reference Group that has brought together leading innovators who will provide strategic guidance and forge linkages with new partners and new sources of financing.

Lomberg was one of this ‘expert’ panel.

Not content with being paid to advise how our foreign aid should be spent, he was also given $4 million to set up a new version of his “Consensus Centre” at the University of Western Australia.

Such was the outcry at giving this man government funds, the university refused the money and, despite Christopher Pyne’s best efforts, he could not find any other reputable educational facility that wanted to be associated with Lomberg’s ‘research’ even if he came with Julie Bishop’s imprimatur and a truckload full of government money.

“You can be certain it will happen,” said Pyne.  “Freedom of speech demands that it does.”

Immediately Andrew Bolt, Henry Ergas, Nick Cater and Tim Wilson cried foul, accusing the university of censorship.  (Having that quartet on his side should be enough to raise concern for anybody.)

As far as I can see, no-one has been stifling Lomberg’s freedom of speech – he just wanted a patsy to fund it.

And that’s where we come in.

On Thursday last week, three days before Christmas, it was revealed that the Department of Education gave Lomberg the money anyway – or at least a goodly portion of it.

The Turnbull government signed an agreement to make a $640,000 grant to Bjørn Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre nine months after plans to establish the centre had been abandoned.

A breakdown of costs released on Thursday shows that $482,000 of the Australian funding was spent on professional fees and services including research, “outreach” and forums.

About $146,000 was spent on travel in an ambitious global project convening seminars to discuss the UN development goals in Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and New York.

The project formed the basis of Lomborg’s book The Nobel Laureates’ Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World, which is not widely available in Australian shops.

Lomberg’s whole body of work is about comparing the return for money invested in social outcomes.  For example, he thinks that encouraging sustainable tourism or reducing child marriages or drug abuse are relatively wasteful uses of aid funds, and action to reduce GHG emissions is too expensive.

If we are talking about wasteful use of funds, could I suggest that paying Lomberg $640,000 to write another discredited book and fly around the world promoting it was an enormous waste of our education budget, and I have a very uneasy feeling that our Foreign Minister and our ex-Education Minister are susceptible to being charmed.

A message to the suppositories

From Malcolm and the rest of us to the Suppositories

 

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.