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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.”

Shifting sands in the Galilee Basin

Wondering what’s happening with Adani?

Well there have been a few developments of late.

Adani’s original plan was to use the coal from the Carmichael mine in its own generators at the Mundra power plant in Gujarat, India.  Except Adani Power Mundra is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Faced with mounting operational losses, they have already started scaling down generation from the Mundra plant. The average plant load factor in the January-March 2018 quarter dropped to 37%, from 73% a year ago.

Currently Adani Power has debts of about $US7.4bn, having lost $US927m last year and $US317m this year.  They tried to give the government a 51% stake in the Mundra plant for a token amount of Re 1 but they weren’t interested.

If the Adani firm gets bankruptcy protection from the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), there will be a 180-day moratorium on repayment of loans. During this period, the borrower and lenders will try to work out a repayment plan. If no plan is agreed to within the stipulated time frame, lenders can sell off borrower’s assets to recover their dues.

Meanwhile, back in Australia…..

Last month, the Townsville Bulletin said Adani would sublet 600sqm of office space at its Townsville headquarters.  Then a few days ago, they reported that Townsville City Council, sick of waiting, is redirecting $18.5 million earmarked for Adani’s Carmichael coal mine airport to shovel-ready projects around the city.

But you have to admire the perseverance of Adani in trying to get money out of our governments.

In May it was revealed that Adani will pay for Isaac Regional Council to hire four extra staff.  A week later, the ABC reported that the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads and the Office of the Coordinator-General were negotiating terms with Adani and Isaac Regional Council for a $100 million upgrade of local dirt roads to give Adani year-round access to the proposed Carmichael mine site in central Queensland.

Adani had previously committed to carrying out the upgrade of Moray-Carmichael Road and the Elgin-Moray Road in order to keep it open in the wet season, a commitment noted in a coordinator-general report in 2014.  But hey, why look a gift horse in the mouth.

The various Indian governments want no part of Adani’s coal-fired power generation companies but here, our local and state governments want to build them roads and airports and our federal government wants to build them railways and ports.

Renewables are gathering pace in India. The Gujarat government announced last month it would build the world’s largest solar project, a 5000MW solar park that would be sufficient to replace the state’s lost power from Mundra.

Adani’s own renewables arm, Adani Green Energy, is poised to launch on the Indian stock exchange.

But here, we have Tony Abbott saying he was “misled by bureaucrats” and that our 2030 emissions reduction target was merely “aspirational”.  We have Craig Kelly and Matt Canavan insisting that the nation’s well-being relies on coal.

And we have a re-emergent Clive Palmer who, after successfully getting rid of the carbon price and mining tax in his last foray into politics, may well have his sights set on getting a slice of some government money for himself.

Waratah Coal, the company owned by Palmer’s Mineralogy, told the ABC in February last year that it had made an application to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to finance a proposed 900MW “clean coal” generator that would help provide electricity to Galilee coal mines planned by Palmer himself, Gina Rinehart, and Adani.

They say they will use carbon capture and storage by burying the emissions from the coal plant under the very same coal province that the three mining groups propose to mine – except that it will be “sequestered” in an “un-mineable” area of coal seams some 1km underground – a proposal that experts say is not commercially viable unless, of course, you get a shitload of government money to do it.

Then yesterday morning, we hear that Annastacia Palaszczuk told the Queensland Parliament that they would consider a taxpayer-funded loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund to unlock the state’s Galilee Basin coalfields if it were sought by a company other than Adani, just no-one has asked….yet.

In a statement, Mines Minister Anthony Lynham said Labor’s election commitment related specifically to Adani.

“The Palaszczuk Government has maintained its election commitment to veto any NAIF loan for the Adani Carmichael Coal Project.  The Queensland Government is not aware of any other active NAIF proposals relating to mining development in the Galilee Basin.”

Will Gina start bestowing gifts on Matt Canavan?  Will Clive make a comeback?  Will the dinosaurs of the Monash Forum prevail?  We can’t subsidise renewables but we give billions to coal barons?

How ridiculous it all is.

The government ignores the value of the ABC

It took the offer of a Chinese company to bring better telecommunications to the Solomon Islands to remind our government of the value of soft diplomacy.

After years of savage cuts to the Foreign Aid budget, ironically accompanied by huge increases in the defence and arms industry budgets, all of a sudden we can find a lazy $100 million plus to stop what is perceived to be an attempt by the Chinese to gain influence in the Pacific region.

Some would have us believe it is an attempt to hack in to our communications.  Perhaps so, though I rather think that is something that could be achieved far more easily another way.

This newly remembered responsibility to help our near neighbours (by means other than paying them to house our refugees or offering to build casinos) was not prompted by recognition of a friend’s need but in hasty reaction to someone else’s offer – more a PR exercise designed to remind them that they should be our friend, not China’s.

Whilst building needed infrastructure in poorer countries is commendable, there are other opportunities this government has deliberately thrown away for what seems little more than ideological spite.

One of the first actions of the Coalition after winning government was to axe the ABC’s $220 million 10-year contract with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) to run the Asia Pacific television service, Australia Network, despite them being in the first year of the contract.

It may come as no surprise to find the IPA had “Cease funding the Australia Network” at number 47 on their infamous wish list.

While countries around the world are expanding their international broadcasting services as key instruments of public diplomacy, our government chose to give up one of the most powerful communication tools available to it to talk to our regional neighbours about Australia presumably just because they hate giving money to the national broadcaster.

Calls from the IPA to demolish the ABC  (#50 “Break up the ABC and put out to tender each individual function” and #51 “Privatise SBS”), followed obediently by the Liberal Party Federal Council, ignore the crucial help they could, and do, provide to the government.

It was a Four Corner’s story, Unholy Silence, that finally prompted the Royal Commission into the institutional response to child sex abuse.

It was the Four Corner’s expose of the cruelty at Don Dale that led to another RC into juvenile detention.

And their coverage of water theft in the Murray-Darling has prompted the SA government to hold its own RC (to which the Federal government are desperately trying to avoid giving evidence).

It was not the police or the regulators who initiated these investigations or uncovered the wrongdoing.  It certainly wasn’t the government or their departments.

Congratulations and thanks must go to Walkley Award winning ABC researcher/producer Mary Fallon who was involved in all of these stories, with others, and who then spent hundreds of hours compiling and providing evidence for the Royal Commissions.

And then there are the stories the government won’t allow the ABC to tell.

Like the allegations of Australian authorities paying people smugglers to take asylum seekers somewhere else and the mistreatment of asylum seekers by defence personnel.

Or how we monitored the mobile phone activity of high-ranking Indonesians including the President’s wife.

Or the plight of refugees in offshore detention.

Or the real state of the NBN.

Or the lack of evidence of any benefit from company tax cuts.

Mitch Fifield smiles at us as he assures us that the government has no plans to privatise the ABC but his message to the party is that they have ways and means of keeping the ABC in line.

Aside from the savage cuts to base-funding and the constant stream of complaints and accusations of bias, Fifield outlined some of their plan to further contain and control the national broadcaster.

“In the budget, we announced an indexation pause for the ABC funding in its next triennium. We have paired that with an efficiency review to make sure that the ABC is being the best possible steward of taxpayer resources that it can be.

I’ve also initiated something called a Competitive Neutrality Inquiry, which has the purpose of assessing whether the ABC and SBS are using their position as taxpayer-funded entities to compete in ways which are not fair with the commercial broadcasting sector.

We also have a range of legislative measures which we have before the Senate. One of those, is to put into the ABC’s Act, specific and explicit reference to its obligations to rural and regional Australia.”

I wonder how the unexplained $30 million gift to Fox Sports would fare under competitive neutrality scrutiny.

A recent survey showed that the majority of ABC employees were left-leaning – greenies even.  Is it so surprising that those who work for a national broadcaster, rather than a commercial enterprise with an agenda, are more motivated by social justice and environmental protection than profit, greed and personal ambition?

The Treasurer said many people think the ABC is bias but, as those of us who actually watch it rather than whinge about it know, opportunity is given to all sides to present their view.  The IPA have resident status and we are regularly forced to endure people like Gerard Henderson, Michael Stutchbury and Nick Cater.  Liberal politicians, current and former, abound.  Amanda Vanstone and Tom Switzer have their own shows.  Extraordinary lengths are gone to to ensure a cross-section in the Q&A audience and panels.

I think the accusations of bias come from people who don’t like listening to actual evidence.  Let’s face it, no-one subscribes to pay tv for the news.

Finally, ABC head Michelle Guthrie has been stirred to defend her charge as her predecessors have so often been forced to do.

“[Australians] regard the ABC as one of the great national institutions [and] deeply resent it being used as a punching bag by narrow political, commercial or ideological interests.

Inherent in the drive against the independent public broadcaster is a belief that it can be pushed and prodded into different shapes to suit the prevailing climate. It can’t. Nor should it be.

In a complex world it is too easy for the powerful to do their work in dark corners: to cynically use so-called narrowcasting messages that have a direct appeal to certain targeted audiences, while conveying an entirely different message to others – to rely on rhetoric that doesn’t match actions.  Good journalists call that out.”

She further referenced a soon-to-be-released report by Deloittes which shows that the broadcaster contributed $1 billion to the national economy last financial year.  In addition to its 4000 employees, the ABC helps to sustain more than 2500 full-time equivalent jobs across the supply chain.

The ABC is not just there for entertainment or to regurgitate government media releases.  It is a priceless asset that plays a pivotal role in our society in many different ways.  Attempts to strangle it of funds, to erode its independence, to censor coverage, or to dumb it down, must be resisted strongly by politicians and the community.

 

They know it is wrong but, if it works, who cares?

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has written an essay in which she acknowledges that Muslims in Australia face prejudice, and that instilling fear and hatred is an easy, but unhelpful, course of action.

She references Robert Menzies who argued that the cultivation of the spirit of hatred against the Japanese was not a proper instrument of war policy.

“He asked himself the question: Are Australians so lacking in the true spirit of citizenship that they need to be artificially filled with the spirit of hatred?

“Seventy-five years on it is a question that still holds true. Today’s war is much more insidious, with atrocities abounding. Terrorism and the hatred it engenders can strike at the very heart of our society, literally as you walk down the street. This makes instilling fear and engendering hatred just as easy as in 1942.”

Yet this seems to be the very deliberate policy chosen by her party.

In 2011, opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, urged the shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about “Muslim immigration”, “Muslims in Australia” and the “inability” of Muslim migrants to integrate, telling the shadow cabinet meeting on December 1 at the Ryde Civic Centre that the Coalition should ramp up its questioning of “multiculturalism”.

Fierravanti-Wells says the various waves of immigrants since the early days of European settlement have all been “targeted” – from the Chinese, Irish and Germans, through the postwar cohort of Italians and Greeks, the Vietnamese and Lebanese in the 1970s and, more recently, Muslim groups – but we should not let their positive contribution to Australia be forgotten due to the actions of “a few rotten apples in our community”.

Perhaps she needs to have a word to Peter Dutton who suggested that the former prime minister Malcolm Fraser should not have let people of “Lebanese-Muslim” background into Australia back in the 70s – citing as evidence a handful of individuals of Lebanese descent who have been charged with terrorism offences.

Dutton also infamously claimed that Victorians are “scared to go out to restaurants” because of “African gang violence”.

But as Fierravanti-Wells wrote, “Rather than fostering hatred, deal with the issues head on… the community must safeguard the wellbeing of its young people.”

Australia needs to understand why young people are vulnerable to anti-social overtures, one problem mentioned by the Senator being the difficulty of finding a job, despite the oft-repeated boast of job creation made by her colleagues who, I suspect, never look beyond the numbers to see just who those jobs are going to or how hard it is to find a job when you have no experience let alone if you look different or have a funny name.

Yet George Christensen, when there was an attack on Merrylands police station, immediately took to facebook writing “I wonder how quickly some idiot is going to inanely say this has nothing to do with Islam or talk about a religion of peace or blame those who oppose radical Islam or even Australia as a whole for marginalising some ‘disaffected youth’.”

Turns out it was an older man with mental health problems but, as Queensland Senator Murray Watt tweeted, Mr Christensen’s mistake was “what happens when you desperately seek ‘evidence’ to confirm your prejudices”.

When racial tensions between Aboriginal and Pacific Islander residents erupted in Queensland, in his usual inept way, Andrew Laming tweeted “Mobs tearing up Logan. Did any of them do a day’s work today, or was it business as usual and welfare on tap?”

After widespread condemnation about his ignorant contribution, Laming lamely and belatedly tweeted the next day, “To clarify: Working together to resolve these riots the priority. Training and a chance for jobs are key.”

After actively pursuing trade and investment, willingly accepting political donations, and offering visas that could be bought if you had enough money to invest, we are now also supposed to be scared of the Chinese.

The Coalition have heralded their intention to, once again, stoke the fear that a Labor government would lead to a flood of “illegal” immigrants.  This is based on a growing number of Labor MPs who are saying a solution must be found for the detainees on Manus and Nauru.

What is Dutton’s plan for these people?  To watch them die, one by one?

Morrison and Dutton have both lied about violent incidents on Manus, wrongly blaming the victims of the violence.  They demonise these people who fled war and persecution because it suits their political purpose.

The government is very quick to use fear, to blame whole sections of the community for the actions of a few, to condemn people for their circumstances, and to react punitively.

They are not so good at identifying the causes of problems and offering support to fix them.

All people who live in Australia should help to make this a better place.  That will not happen if we alienate and isolate each other.  If certain groups are experiencing problems, it is up to the community as a whole to find ways to alleviate them.

Many migrants will need help to settle in.  Many kids will need help to find the right path.  Many people will need support to find employment.  Many of us will struggle with mental health issues.

These are not insurmountable issues in our wealthy country.

But while our politicians continue to deliberately use fear and “othering” as a political tool to further their own ambition, they encourage our suspicions and mistrust rather than empowering our collective endeavour to work together to meet whatever challenges our diverse society faces.

“The people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. All you have to do is tell them that they are in danger of being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.” – Hermann Goering

Rewarding incompetence – yet another scathing report about Dutton’s department

The 2014 National Commission of Audit decided there were “too many government bodies in Australia” and suggested abolishing, merging or privatising 99 of them.

One recommendation was the consolidation of border protection services which ultimately led to the formation of Dutton’s superministry.

“A consolidation of Australia’s border services has the potential to generate significant savings by removing duplication, better integrating and improving operational systems and practices, reducing staff, as well as consolidating back office functions and rationalising property. Savings could also come from greater efficiency in visa processing.”

However these benefits have not materialised.

A review published by the Australian National Audit Office last week into The Integration of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service highlighted significant and persistent departmental failings and no discernible benefit from the merger.

The report stated that the department “is not achieving commitments made to government in relation to additional revenue, and is not in a position to provide the government with assurance that the claimed benefits of integration have been achieved.”

Despite many previous criticisms and recommendations, “The department’s record keeping continues to be poor.”

“The audit found that the department did not maintain adequate records of the integration process. This finding repeats the outcomes of a substantial number of audits and reviews going back to 2005. The department’s own assessment is that its records and information management is in a critically poor state. The problems and their solutions are known to the department, and it has an action plan to address them, although numerous previous attempts to do so have not been successful.”

One gets the impression that the executive, having been granted their empire, aren’t really that interested in how it’s going.

“There was no evidence identified to indicate that written briefings were provided to the Minister on progress throughout the implementation process” and reporting to the Executive Committee had “minimal coverage of progress in delivery of the suite of 38 capability reform projects.”

 “In the Integration Business Case, the department committed to a detailed Benefits Realisation Plan. The plan was not implemented despite several reviews identifying this omission. As a result, the department cannot demonstrate to the government that the claimed benefits of integration have been achieved.”

And no wonder they don’t want to look at the evidence.

“Based on progress to the end of December 2017, if collections continue at the current rate the department will only collect 31.6 per cent of the additional customs duty revenue to which it committed in the Integration Business Case.”

The report also points to a “loss of corporate memory due to the level of turn-over of SES staff, with almost half of SES officers present in July 2015 no longer in the department at July 2017.”

When half of your staff quit, you know you have a management problem.

As we have come to expect from this government, they spent a fortune on consultants instead, but that also drew criticism from the ANAO for the lack of evaluation.

“The department made extensive use of consultants to assist it with the integration process. Despite a requirement to evaluate contracts upon completion, this did not occur in 31 out of 33 (94 per cent) of contracts with a value of more than $1 million examined by the ANAO, and therefore it is unclear whether these services represented value for money.”

The department initially identified possible risks to effective integration. However, regular reporting against those risks ceased when they chose to disband the Reform and Integration Task Force resulting in “a loss of momentum in the reform process and a drop-off in internal communication with staff.”

Despite endless scathing reports of waste and mismanagement, despite having completely botched the integration of customs and immigration and the formation of Border Force, despite half their staff quitting, Malcolm Turnbull decided to give Dutton and Pezzullo even more responsibility and more organisations to oversee.

On 18 July 2017, while this audit was in progress, the Prime Minister announced that the government had decided to establish a Home Affairs portfolio. From 20 December 2017, the Department of Home Affairs has assumed all of the department’s functions (including the ABF) in addition to functions from each of the Departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet; Social Services; Infrastructure and Regional Development and the Attorney-General’s department.

In addition to the ABF, the Home Affairs portfolio also includes the following entities: the Australian Federal Police; the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission; the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre; and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

It seems, regardless of how many negative evaluations Dutton’s department receives, he and Pezzullo are untouchable.  The only conceivable reason to reward such incompetence, and to promote such incompetents, is to placate a political rival.

Bugger the people who have to work for them or migrants who must deal with their department.  Dutton’s only function seems to be as resident shit-thrower on talk back radio, overruling court decisions for Ray Hadley’s listeners, and ignoring immigration laws for constituents in need of an au pair.

The law should not be a plaything of the government

From the beginning, the Coalition government has shown an unhealthy disregard for the law, using it for political purposes when it suits them and ignoring it when it doesn’t.

One of their first acts in October 2013 was to launch a high court challenge to overturn the ACT’s recently enacted same sex marriage laws.  The court ruled that states and territories did not have the right to overrule federal marriage law.

Yet when a citizen successfully litigated that the Commonwealth had no right to fund religious school chaplains in state schools, Christopher Pyne chose to bypass the ruling by giving the money to the states with the direction that it could not be used for secular welfare workers.

These were expensive exercises which ignored the will of the people and the intent of the law.

Then we had the saga of George Brandis’ refusing to fulfil a freedom of information request for his diary to see if he met with community legal aid stakeholders before making controversial cuts to the sector in the Coalition’s 2014 budget despite a Productivity Commission report that found it needed a huge boost in funds to meet growing demand.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal subsequently ruled Senator Brandis should process the request.  He again refused, taking it to the Federal Court who also ruled he must hand it over.  Eventually, after 1039 days and over $50,000 of public money wasted, Brandis finally handed over a heavily redacted copy of his diary.

Michaelia Cash is waging a similar battle to avoid answering questions regarding tipping off the media about an AFP raid on union headquarters.  The Federal Court has issued a subpoena requiring her to give evidence but she has instructed her lawyers to fight it.

And now we hear that the Commonwealth government and the Murray Darling Basin Authority have sought a high court injunction to prevent their staff giving evidence to the South Australian royal commission into the Murray Darling.  They contend that the SA royal commission does not have authority to require answers or demand the production of documents by federal employees.

This from the government who dragged three Labor leaders before Royal Commissions and broke a long-standing convention by demanding the release of Cabinet documents.

The government has sought to circumvent the law by bestowing special Ministerial powers and protections.

First, Parliament moved to give then Environment Minister Greg Hunt retrospective legal immunity against future legal challenges to his decisions on mining projects, effectively licensing him to avoid compliance with the EPBC Act.

Then we had Scott Morrison conferring on himself the power to revoke a person’s citizenship. The new laws provided the Minister with the power to set aside decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal concerning character and identity if, in his opinion, it would be in the public interest to do so.

Peter Dutton ignores court rulings that we are responsible for the care of refugees on Manus and Nauru and the ruling by the PNG court that the detention centre on Manus was unlawful.  He just moved people to a different place with less protection.

Nothing epitomised more the attitude that they are a greater power than the law than when three Ministers of the Crown – Greg Hunt, Michael Sukkar and Alan Tudge – had to be threatened with contempt of court charges before they would “apologise unreservedly” for their criticism of court sentencing in Victoria.

The court had previously said the ministers had “failed to respect the doctrine of separation of powers” and “breached the principle of sub judice”.

The AFP seem to be at the beck and call of the Coalition, as shown not only by the Craig Thomson arrest and raids on the AWU headquarters, but also the raids on the lawyer representing Timor l’Este in a case involving alleged industrial espionage by our government and on Stephen Conroy and a staffer when they revealed the truth about the NBN rollout.

It is also troublesome that the government of the day gets to appoint the judiciary and decide who will act as Commissioners in inquiries – Dyson Heydon being a case in point.

As rights are being stripped away from individuals with things like metadata collection, random identity checks at airports, reverse onus of proof with alleged robodebt bills, huge penalties for withholding labour, and the loss of the ability to appeal decisions, the government threatens public servants, journalists and contractors with jail time if they disclose anything the government doesn’t want them to.

The ABC has the Sword of Damocles hanging over their head with constant complaints from the government about any story that they perceive as critical, accompanied by new (weaker?) management, continued funding cuts and calls for it to be sold off.

More than ever, we need an independent national broadcaster, an independent judiciary, a federal integrity body, responsible regulators, and a knowledgeable Senate, to oversee the actions of our increasingly secretive authoritarian government.

We have forgotten what is important let alone how to fight for it

The trouble with neoliberalism is it focuses on the how and not on the why.

The result of this headlong pursuit of continuous growth is a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few while the vast majority are mired in poverty.  At the same time, environmental degradation in the pursuit of profit, and the waste produced by billions of consumers, is destroying the planet.

Neoliberalism purports to reward individual effort, completely ignoring the fact that we don’t all start from the same place.

It is much easier to build wealth if you start with some assets.  It is easier to do well at school if you have somewhere to live and enough to eat.  It is easier when your parents can afford to pay for extra tuition or to pay university fees so you don’t start life with a humungous debt.  It is easier to find work if you have a car or can afford, and have access to, good public transport.  It is easier to fight for your rights when you can afford a barrister.  And it is much easier to protect and grow your wealth if you can afford financial advisers and accountants.

Neoliberalism cares nothing about the greater good.  Every man and woman for themselves.  Lobbyists promote self-interest and the privileged jealously guard their perks.  Greed has replaced our sense of community, collective caring and shared responsibility.

Neoliberal governments strive to reduce regulation but businesses exist to maximise profits, not make moral or even ethical choices.  They will adhere to the law (usually) but contribute no more than they are forced to do.  And even that is questionable.  A quick look at the Fairwork Ombudsman site shows hundreds of litigations for underpayments, sham contracting, false or inadequate record-keeping and a litany of other abuses.

Environmental protection regulations are regularly breached with minimal consequences.  The Department of the Environment and Energy shows some case judgements but they seem to have dwindled to almost nothing since the Coalition won government.

Conservatives are often religious, insisting on imposing their view of the sanctity of life on everyone.  But they complain bitterly about contributing to the cost of raising children or caring for the elderly or providing a safety net for those who cannot work or find employment.

Spending on health, education, welfare and environmental protection is not a cost but an investment in a happier, more productive, more harmonious society.  That creates savings itself and benefits everyone.

Increasing company profits, on the other hand, have only benefitted CEOs and shareholders.  With company profits at record highs, investors enjoyed a 9.5 per cent per annum increase in dividend payments last year, while workers’ wages remain stuck growing at roughly 2 per cent per annum.  Rather than sharing the benefits of a revenue boost, the government wants to give even more back to big business through tax cuts and less to workers through cuts to penalty rates.  They want to impose draconian industrial relations laws and hobble workers’ ability to negotiate or protest, all the while protecting shareholders at every turn.

Despite the taxation assistance already given to small businesses, many will continue to struggle until their customers have more disposable income, a fact the government seems unable to understand.  Big business lobby groups oppose any increase in the minimum wage but they still think it would be a good idea for the government to give people on welfare a bit more to spend.

The idea that we must decrease company taxes to attract investment is not borne out by the facts. Non-mining investment grew by 14.0% through the year ending March 31, 2018 with many foreign investments coming from countries with lower tax rates.

You can’t tax a profitable business into being unprofitable, but you can, with their contribution, provide a strong judicial system, a safe place to do business where the rule of law is enforced, sophisticated transport and communication infrastructure, a well-educated, healthy workforce and a comparatively stable government.  These are the things that attract business investment.

We don’t need more growth.  What we need is a better, more equitable distribution of our finite resources.  Why should the owners of the capital amass wealth beyond measure built on the work of others who struggle just to survive?

We are a wealthy nation but we have lost our compassion.  We have forgotten our duty to protect the vulnerable.  We have abandoned our obligation to keep our home clean.  We ignore the plight of less fortunate countries.

We have become consumed by greed and gluttony.  But that has led to a greater poverty – a poverty of purpose and dignity, as Robert Kennedy said fifty years ago.

“Too much and for too long, we seem to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.

If we judge [our success by Gross National Product], that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.

It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.

It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

That same year, 1968, Martin Luther King organized the “Poor People’s Campaign” to address issues of economic justice.  The campaign culminated in a march on Washington, D.C., demanding economic aid to the poorest communities of the United States.

He felt that Congress had shown “hostility to the poor” by spending “military funds with alacrity and generosity.” He contrasted this with the situation faced by poor Americans, claiming that Congress had merely provided “poverty funds with miserliness.”  He was particularly in support of a guaranteed basic income.

His vision was for change that was more revolutionary than mere reform: he cited systematic flaws of “racism, poverty, militarism and materialism”, and argued that “reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.”

They shot them both that year.

Fifty years later, we are so used to all the things they warned about that we have given up the fight.

It is possible that a visionary leader could get the weight of the people behind them to remind us of what is important, but would the corporate world ever allow it?

With Abbott and Joyce gone we have an opportunity for a reset

For almost a decade, Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce have been hugely instrumental in the destruction of bipartisan support for action on climate change (and a lot of other things).  They have both now had their power stripped from them by their own parties for showing a stellar lack of judgement.

This presents an opportunity for a reset that should be grasped.

But will they?

No more money has been committed to Direct Action which has seen billions spent by the government resulting in a 3.6% (so far) increase in emissions since the abolition of the carbon price in 2014.

Minister for Agriculture and Water, David Littleproud, and his Assistant Minister, Anne Ruston, are at least mentioning the words climate change now but they remain unwilling to commit to government policy and regulation to tackle it.

Despite farmers’ increasingly urgent call for good, consistent policy, Mr Littleproud rejected calls for an agricultural climate change adaptation plan, saying farmers will need to do it themselves.

Ms Ruston told agricultural stakeholders they cannot rely on government and said “Industry should be allowed to explore the opportunities” to respond to the risks of climate change.

“We’re not investing specifically in programs, our response to climate change is embedded in everything we do,” she lamely said.

They certainly aren’t investing in programs.  They are terminating them.

The 2017 federal budget axed funding for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF), an agency that provides information to decision-makers on how best to manage the risks of climate change and sea level rise.

The NCCARF received A$50 million in 2008 to coordinate Australia’s national research effort into climate adaptation measures. That was reduced in 2014 to just under A$9 million. For 2017-18, a mere A$600,000 will be spread between CSIRO and NCCARF to support existing online platforms only. From 2018, funding is axed entirely.

This “do nothing and leave it to a future government” approach is typical of the Coalition who are all about the now.  Company profits are up.  Agriculture had bumper crops last year.  Fossil fuel exports are riding high.  Debt is unimportant now as the government spends up big to help boost growth figures.  Let’s do some tax cuts real quick before the Chinese economy slows down, the drought bites, commodity prices go down…and still no wage rises.

“I think we are already reducing emissions. We’ve made a commitment under the Paris agreement and we are moving towards that in a sensible and methodical way,” said Mr Littleproud.

Except we are not even going to meet our 2020 target of 5% let alone the inadequate commitment for 2030.

According to the Department of Energy and Environment’s own website, “Australia’s annual emissions for the year to December 2017 are estimated to be 533.7 Mt CO2-e. This figure is 2.4 per cent below emissions in 2000 (547.0 Mt CO2-e).”

If it’s taken us 18 years years to reduce emissions by 2.4%, how likely are we to reduce them a further 2.6% over the next two years?  I doubt the Snowy-Hydro 2.0 feasibility study will even be finished.  Is there another plan?

Mr Littleproud is a fan of renewables, perhaps unsurprisingly as his electorate will soon be home to large solar and wind farms, but he also has four coal-fired power stations so he treads the fine line of saying that economics should determine our future energy mix.

The men who thought wind farms look ugly – Abbott, Joyce and Hockey – have all been dumped by their own.  Their loudest coal supporters are men like Craig Kelly and George Christensen, hardly your go-to men for evidence-based decision-making.  Oh, and the overly ambitious Matt Canavan who will always say whatever he thinks is in his best political interests but who had little support in the recent leadership change.

The Coalition invested a great deal of energy into promoting Abbott’s attack dog style of politics and Barnaby’s public bar ‘beer with the boys’ porkbarrelling antics.  But the spin of best Opposition leader and best retail politician was exposed as having no substance.  These two were just not up to the job of governing in so many respects.

So why does the Coalition remain hamstrung by their policies?

And more to the point, why do they listen to the IPA who seem to come up with most of these whacky ideas?

The only Coalition policy, aside from increasingly intrusive attacks on our privacy, is tax cuts.  So what does the IPA, who recently made a submission to the Senate inquiry into the proposed changes to the taxation laws, have to say on the matter?  This one ranks up there with their most hilarious.

A progressive tax system, the IPA argues, discriminates against rich people.

“Other forms of discrimination, such as by skin colour, race, or ethnicity, are rightly abhorred,” the submission says, “yet the income tax system openly discriminates against people by income”.

We’ve got rid of Tony and Barnaby.  If they ignored Rupert, Alan, Ray, and the creche for aspiring Young Liberals – the IPA – we might just have a chance of resetting political discourse in this country so we could actually make some progress on the things that matter.

Time for a reset.  Please.

We are mired in the gutter of character assassination for political purposes

The Coalition’s political strategy has been, for some time now, to attack individuals in relentless smear campaigns.  This does absolutely nothing to advance policy.  It does nothing to encourage debate, inform the electorate, or garner support for action.  It does nothing to improve the lives of Australians.

Looking back over this century so far, it is hard to remember the good things that have resulted from political decisions.

Instead, we remember the tragedy of illegitimate wars and argue about how to deal with the innocent victims.  We attack people like Gillian Triggs who try to remind us of our obligation to protect human rights and to inform us of the harm being caused by our inhumanity.

We are told we should revere our civilised Western culture and our Judeo-Christian heritage, ignoring the way in which we built our wealth – invading countries, stripping them of their natural resources, stealing their land, massacring or enslaving the native population, instilling the fear of our god whilst spreading disease and debauchery.

We have sold off our common wealth, resources, crucial infrastructure, and profitable government businesses that provided competition to private providers, without consideration of future consequences.

We see inequality condemn millions to poverty as company profits soar, wages stagnate, employment becomes increasingly insecure and welfare payments fall further and further behind increases in cost of living.

We subsidise property investors ignoring the hundreds of thousands who can no longer afford anywhere to live.

We were briefly world leaders on tackling climate change until Tony Abbott convinced enough people that paying a few dollars a week to save the planet was an evil plot.  Reversing the trend of a decade, emissions have increased every year since they “axed the tax”.

As we endure coral bleaching, massive flooding, devastating droughts and bushfires, changing rainfall patterns, increasing temperatures and the melting of the polar caps and permafrost, we brag about economic growth built on the export of fossil fuels.  We attack Tim Flannery for passing on the warnings from the science community and disparage environmental protection through the legal system as green “lawfare”.

We wring our hands about falling educational standards as we pay teachers a pittance, pour more money into the private system whilst cutting promised funding to our most disadvantaged schools, decimate the TAFE sector, and burden university graduates with huge debts before they even start their working lives.  Bureaucrats and conservative think tanks push rote learning in opposition to the initiative, creativity, communication, teamwork and leadership skills employers are asking for.

The private health system, rather than easing the burden on public health, has led to rising costs for everyone and longer wait times in the public system.  Emergency departments are unable to cope as beds lie idle and jobs are filled by overseas visa workers.  Primary health has had funding frozen and private health insurance costs soar as do the government subsidies to prop it up.

We had a chance to listen to our Indigenous people about a way forward in addressing disadvantage and giving them a voice in determining their own lives.  Except we took their Statement from the Heart, screwed it up, and threw it in the bin without even a cursory glance.  I cannot imagine how that must have felt to the people who worked so hard to bring everyone together.

We almost had a world class NBN until Abbott and Turnbull decided to demolish it.  To all those lumbered with FttN, I empathise.  You wouldn’t want a job with the Telecommunications Ombudsman right now.

The outsourcing of services, whether it be the jobactive network, aged care, the NDIS, private colleges, call centres etc, has not improved efficiency or cut costs but has led to a myriad of problems and opportunities for unscrupulous rorting.

We chose to let out car industry die rather than subsidise it and then decided to subsidise arms manufacturing instead – a fraction of the jobs for immeasurably higher cost.  We cannot afford foreign aid but we have hundreds of billions for more weapons.

Rather than tackling the important issues facing government, we have endured endless scandals and directed attacks on opponents.

We have had three Labor leaders dragged before very expensive Royal Commissions.  Julia Gillard was subjected to months of attack in parliament over legal work she did decades ago.  Bill Shorten is now facing similar attack for a donation made over a decade ago.

In what has become a disturbingly familiar pattern, Craig Thomson’s arrest was televised.  The destruction of Peter Slipper’s life also occupied the Coalition for a long time.  Meanwhile, Kathy Jackson remains at large and no-one suffered any consequences for illegally sharing copies of the Speaker’s diary or for referring a possible debt of $900 to the police.

Sam Dastyari was forced to resign after asking a donor to pay a couple of small bills and then telling him that his phone might be tapped.  No-one ever answered who told the government that this had happened.  Is ASIO passing on information to be used for political purposes?  And what of Andrew Hastie using parliamentary privilege to reveal an ongoing investigation by the FBI into a donor?

As they throw mud at everyone else, the character of Coalition members and the integrity of their actions often avoids scrutiny as they refuse freedom of information requests, ignore court directions, withhold evidence and advice.

Even with the protection racket, the Coalition have had more than their fair share of controversy.

Tony Abbott told us, when asked about the qualities of a female candidate, that she had “sex appeal”.  Jamie Briggs was stood down for inappropriate and unwanted advances to a staffer.  Barnaby got a staffer pregnant and is facing sexual harassment complaints.  Both the head and deputy of Border Force stood down for affairs with junior staffers.  Allegations of inappropriately securing jobs for their girlfriends remain unanswered.

Peter Dutton texts that a journalist is a “mad fucking witch” and Greg Hunt tells a female mayor to “fucking get over it”, “robust” language he also admitted to using to bully a public servant.  Turnbull goes toe-to-toe with Abbott on a plane telling him “you’re fucking hopeless, you’re a fucking cunt, you should resign.”  And, in Parliament, Christopher Pyne calls Anthony Albanese a word that sounded a little bit like grub and a lot like cunt.

Bronwyn Bishop and Sussan Ley both lost their positions for abusing travel entitlements.

The head of the ABCC is found guilty of breaching Fair Work Commission laws and the Public Service Commissioner resigns amidst questions about his links to the IPA.  Michael Lawler also beats a hasty retreat allowing Michaelia Cash to bury the report into his protracted “sick leave”.

Tim Wilson went through no selection process for the job created for him at the AHRC, an organisation he had campaigned should be abolished, where he warmed a seat collecting a hefty salary for a short while whilst waiting for a safe Liberal seat to be gifted to him.

James McGrath was admonished for paying for tawdry dirt files to be complied on Labor members and was then gifted a job as Senator.

Andrew Robb and Bruce Bilson both took jobs before they left parliament which presented significant conflicts of interest.

Speaking of which, how has Stuart Robert survived the many controversies surrounding him?

The Coalition want proof of the process for approving the donation made by the AWU to GetUp in 2005 yet refuse to disclose the process for approving the $30 million grant to Foxtel Sports and the $443 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation (whoever they are).  And why was Gina gifted $70,000 to host a dinner where she gave $40,000 to Barnaby?

The Coalition has spent all of its time attacking unions, attacking Labor, attacking individuals who question their policy, and fostering division by ‘othering’ various groups in our community.  Five years in and they still are looking for others to blame.

The rich have got richer but the vast majority of the population are feeling disappointed and uneasy, concerned about the future.

It doesn’t need to be this way.

The Coalition election strategy is, once again, to go for character assassination of the Labor leader – “Kill Bill” and “Unbelieva-Bill” and other such puerile nonsense

It is up to the public to reject this inadequate attempt at deflection and to demand a genuine debate of important policy.

Vicki Campion’s judgement

If you are a politician who has, for your whole career, deliberately courted the cameras for your own purposes, you cannot expect them to just turn up when it’s convenient.

Here’s a tip, Barnaby.  If you want privacy, stop giving interviews about your private life.  Stop with the fluff pieces in magazines with wife and daughters, moralising to others about family values when you were already having an affair.  Stop with the photo shoots with a tea towel showing how domesticated you are in your new digs provided free of charge.  Stop throwing your new partner under the bus by questioning the paternity of her baby and blaming her for the latest attention-seeking money-grabbing exploit.  None of it is necessary.  We don’t need to know.

For a person who was employed as a media adviser, Vicki Campion shows a complete lack of judgement in how to handle the situation.

The leaked snippet of next week’s tell all show on Channel 7 shows a tearful Vicki saying “I couldn’t help it.  You can’t help who you fall in love with.”

Oh yes you can sunshine.  And what’s more, regardless of how you ‘feel’, you are in control of your actions.

If you have ‘feelings’ for someone who already has a partner, and those ‘feelings’ are reciprocated, then the decent thing to do is to terminate the first relationship before you have unprotected sex with someone else.

A drunken moment of lust is one thing.  Accusations of drunken lecherous behaviour from Barnaby abound.  However, an ongoing workplace affair that is known to colleagues, the deliberate action to cut communication with his family, the unprotected sex, are not some glorious expression of romantic love.  It is total hedonism.  It shows cruel disregard for a family and the inevitable public humiliation they would endure.

Barnaby took a week of personal leave in February to allow “current controversies to blow over”.  Now he’s off until August because of the backlash from their latest interview.

Barnaby and Vicki would have us see them as victims.  The promo of the interview suggests Vicki will tell us that she faced political pressure not to have the baby.  That begs the question, from who?  How many people knew she was pregnant and when?  Did they know when she was gifted a job in Damian Drum’s office in August through to October when she went on “stress leave”?

Drum said: “I suppose what you have to ask is when does a casual relationship become a regular relationship? When does that become a formal relationship? When does that become a girlfriend?”

Ummm….having a child together might be a clue.

Relationships break down.  The way that is handled says a great deal about the integrity and compassion of the people involved.

As for Ms Campion’s judgement – Barnaby?  Seriously?

Why do governments find it so hard to say we were wrrrr……….

Government is, in some ways, like running a business.  They must decide what they are trying to achieve, examine different approaches, choose which one to adopt, assess and evaluate progress, and, if you are not achieving the desired outcome, change the plan.

It’s the last part that government seems to have trouble with.  No-one seems willing to say that their plan isn’t working.

One obvious example of this is the privatisation of the Commonwealth Employment Service.  In an excellent article at Independent Australia, Darren Rexter writes of the pitfalls of turning jobseekers into commodities and the questionable practice of private sector organisations making a profit from the ills of the needy

He quoted Peter Strong, CEO of the Council of Small Business Australia, who recently wrote a piece calling for the creation of a new CES, stating that the privatised system was textbook driven policy that has created a few millionaires off the back of the unemployed while delivering a scheme that is probably delivering, at the most, minimal service.

Another example is the government’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The Labor government introduced a carbon price which was achieving the goal of reducing emissions.  The Coalition chose Direct Action instead and, ever since, emissions have been rising.

We have always had the goal to provide affordable, reliable energy.  The thing that has changed is the urgent need to minimise global warming.  But somehow that imperative has been discarded.

Privatisation of the electricity sector has proven a disaster.  The NSW government, against the advice of the ACCC but with the encouragement of the Federal government, sold off Bayswater and Liddell power stations and now the Coalition want to prosecute the company they sold them to if they don’t give it back.  They want them to keep using coal rather than implement their plans to use gas and renewables.

Then there’s our asylum seeker and refugee policy.  Supposedly, the draconian offshore detention was to save lives.  Peter Dutton keeps telling us about the deaths at sea.  But he refuses to talk about the deaths in custody or the sexual abuse or the mental health issues or the cruelty and illegality of indefinite detention of people whose only crime was to come by boat instead of plane to ask for our help.

Or we could talk about how we let the car industry die but are now going into the armaments industry.  Apparently giving billions to foreign arms manufacturers is preferable to giving foreign aid which has been slashed to record lows.

We have tried the experiment of pouring billions of dollars into private schools and our standards have fallen.  Perhaps we should stop funding them, put the money into public schools, free tertiary education, and teacher mentoring and support and see if results improve.

Private health insurance has also become an expensive experiment that drains money out of the public system with increasingly unaffordable premiums and rising out of pocket costs.  Waiting lists for elective surgery continue to rise as public hospitals close beds due to cuts in funding.

The government should fund public schools and hospitals and let those who wish to choose another system fund it themselves.  Private health insurance should not be government subsidised.

Slashing the numbers of public servants has also been a poor choice.  It has not led to better, more streamlined service for users.  It has not eliminated duplication.  All it has done is transferred the work that agencies used to do into the hands of overseas call centres and, instead of frank and fearless advice from departments, private consulting firms, for huge fees, give the advice the government wants to hear.

We send in inspectors equipped with the power to shut down puppy farms, we willingly pay more for free range eggs, yet when it comes to the horrific conditions in live sheep transport or the cruelty in abattoirs overseas, profit overrides our laws and our morality.

This list could be much much longer.

Why do governments find it so hard to say we were wrrrr……….

Increasing the Superannuation Guarantee would be a smart move

Nothing exemplifies better how totally lacking in judgement the Coalition is than the superannuation saga.

(Ok, maybe their determination to exacerbate climate change, but that’s another story albeit very similar in its short-sighted ignorance.)

In the brief moments between discussing dual citizenship and Gestapotato’s latest bid to make us all scared, they sometimes remember we have an aging population.

Their plan to deal with this is to make most of us work until we are 70 and to protect the wealth and tax concessions of rich old investors.

Scomo tears at our heartstrings about all the nanna, nonna and yanni investors who would miss out on their yearly gift from the government if Labor took away their excess franking credit returns.  Unlike the Low Income Tax Offset, which can only be used to offset tax you owe – no tax, no benefit.

(I also didn’t hear any concern when they took away the Schoolkids Bonus which was an enormous help to families trying to get kids ready for school just after Christmas.)

Getting back to superannuation….

Having adequate superannuation gives workers who haven’t had enough disposable income left over to buy multiple investment properties or extensive share portfolios a chance to have some quality of life in their retirement.  It also reduces the reliance on the aged pension.

So why do the Coalition fight so hard against it?

Compulsory national superannuation was initially proposed as part of the 1972 Whitlam initiatives but up until the 1980s superannuation was solely the privilege of predominantly male professions, clustered in the public sector or available after a long qualifying period in the private sector.

In 1985, a deal struck between the government and the ACTU saw the trade union movement forfeit a claim to 3% productivity improvement as wages to instead be paid in compulsory superannuation – endorsed by the Arbitration Commission and managed by superannuation funds with equal representation of the unions in the industry and the employers.

As usual, the leader of the Opposition, John Howard, saw it as an evil union plot.

“That superannuation deal, which represents all that is rotten with industrial relations in Australia, shows the government and the trade union movement in Australia not only playing the employers of Australia for mugs but it is also playing the Arbitration Commission for mugs”.

The 1996 election saw Howard promise to match Labor’s plan to gradually increase superannuation to 15%, only to dump it six months after the election.  Despite fighting tooth and nail every step of the way, they were unable to halt the rise to 9% by 2002, thanks to the Senate.

The Howard government despised superannuation. The idea that organisations of working people should manage large sums of money in the economy was anathema to it.  The rich wanted a piece of the action.  So, in 2007, the Coalition made changes that turned superannuation into a tax minimisation scheme for the wealthy by allowing people to invest up to $1 million in super and take the benefits tax free.

To this day, they still resent and regularly attack industry super funds despite the fact that they continually outperform the retail funds.  They don’t want workers’ organisations benefitting from the scheme they set up.

When Labor won government, they reintroduced the gradual rise in the SG but only got to 9.5% before the Coalition nixed it again.  This supposedly temporary freeze, unlike the temporary freeze on politicians’ wage rises and the temporary budget repair levy, seems to have turned into permafrost.

Any suggestion that increasing the SG would be an imposte on employers is not borne out by the facts.  Small business has already had a tax cut and have benefitted from instant asset write off and reduced penalty rates.  Unit labour costs have been stagnant or falling while company profits are soaring to record highs.  But none of this has led to wage rises.

If the Fair Work Commission and government refuse to legislate for pay rises, and with the unions largely blocked from the negotiating table and hobbled in the action they can take, increasing the SG, and the penalties for not paying it, would be a good start on forcing companies to give the workers a share of the wealth their labour creates.

 

Dodgy dealings

Tony Abbott promised a government that would be transparent and accountable.  Malcolm Turnbull promised to respect the intelligence of the electorate.  But increasingly, we are seeing a government who is a law unto themselves, a government who seems to view Treasury as their private piggy bank to use as they see fit, a government that showers largesse on their supporters at our expense, a government who thinks we have no right to know what they are doing as they strip away our privacy rights in the name of national security.

The latest example is the gifting of almost half a billion dollars to ‘save the reef’ to a charity who, last year, spent (or promised to spend) $5.9 million on “science investments” whilst spending $1.44 million on “employee benefits” and another $1.7 million on various administrative expenses.  They have six full-time employees and a further five part-time employees who have “roles relating to science, marketing, communications and accounting.”

This gift was made without any tender process or any consultation with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority who have 206 full-time equivalent employees.

Very similar to the $30 million gift given to Fox Sports to cover “niche” women’s sports on pay tv.  Whilst the government has refused freedom of information requests about correspondence relating to the gift, as it coincided with licence fee cuts for free-to-air channels, it seems obvious this was about keeping in good with Rupert.

Another hot topic where the government is stonewalling is why, on two separate occasions, Peter Dutton personally interceded to grant working visas to two young women who arrived on tourist visas but had the intention of working as au pairs.  All it took was a phone call from someone to Dutton’s office and hey presto, he overrules the immigration authorities and laws.  Mike Pezzullo, refused to answer any questions at senate estimates, taking them on notice even though others sitting with him at the table may have been able to provide the requested information.

Michaelia Cash has adopted a different approach in refusing to answer questions about her involvement in tipping off the media about a raid on union headquarters about a donation that was made over a decade ago and appropriately declared at the time.  As it is under police investigation, she can’t comment.  Surprisingly she has had no such hesitation in commenting on investigations into union activity, declaring people thugs and criminals only to, on countless occasions, have the prosecution case abandoned before it begins.

One such case was the recent dropping of blackmail charges against John Setka and Shaun Reardon.  When it turned out that Tony Abbott and Eric Abetz had met with executives from Boral who then changed their story, the prosecution beat a very hasty retreat, a move the magistrate said was “a very sensible decision”.

One thing the government prides itself on is stopping the boats.  But we never did get to the bottom of the story about whether, as overwhelming evidence suggests, they have been paying people smugglers to take the boats elsewhere, making it someone else’s problem.  The fact that that is illegal seems to have slipped by.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) representative in Indonesia, Thomas Vargas, said “To turn around and smuggle people to another country — that is illegal. So whoever does it, an individual or a country or a government, it doesn’t matter, it is illegal.”

In 2016, an interim Senate inquiry report found if the 2015 incident occurred as reported, “it potentially involved serious breaches of both Australian and international law” but ” these are unlikely to be dealt with through court action either in Australia or Indonesia.”

Another power that the government has used with relish is its chance to appoint people to boards, tribunals, and statutory bodies, the most egregious example being the sacking of disability commissioner Graeme Innes from the AHRC to gift Tim Wilson a high-paying job with an organisation that he had called for to be dismantled.  The job was not advertised and Tim did not have to submit an application or go through an interview process.  George Brandis just rang him up and said have I got a deal for you!

As Tim had no qualifications or experience in anything really, other than scribbling for the IPA and constant appearances on the ABC, they had to make a new position for him.  It didn’t really matter what because it was just so he would get lots of government money (I thought he was a libertarian?) and have something to put on his resume as he filled in a couple of years waiting for preselection in a safe Liberal seat.

I sometimes wonder if Tim feels any guilt about the price people with disabilities paid for his leg up onto the stage he so coveted.

Somehow I doubt it ever entered his mind because, as we can see from these few examples among countless others, honesty, integrity, accountability and acting in the best interests of the country are not considered important by a government who does as it pleases and feels no obligation to answer to anyone.

How do you achieve tax reform when the government are more interested in name-calling than honesty?

Rather than prosecuting the case for their policies, such as they are, the Coalition have decided their best chance of re-election lies with their “Kill Bill” strategy where they try to convince us, mainly through puerile name-calling like “Unvelieva-Bill”, that Bill Shorten can’t be trusted because he “says one thing in Canberra and another thing in Queensland/Victoria/Western Australia.”

Considering their own track record, that is a very dangerous road for them to go down.

It is true that Labor have argued for, and made, company tax cuts in the past but they were accompanied by increased taxes elsewhere to help pay for them.

When Paul Keating cut the company tax rate from 49 per cent to 33 per cent, he paid for it by a massive broadening to the base of the tax system: capital gains taxation at full marginal rates, a comprehensive fringe benefits tax, the abolition of entertainment as a deduction, tax on company cars etc.

The Gillard government went to the 2010 election proposing a modest cut to the company tax rate reducing it to 29%.  The policy also referred to the introduction of “new resource tax arrangements including a Minerals Resource Rent Tax for coal and iron ore and an expansion of the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax for oil and gas.”

At the time, the Coalition opposed any spending attached to the MRRT and so also opposed the company tax cuts.

When asked “If the legislation is introduced separately, which way will you vote on the company tax cut?”, Joe Hockey said they would still oppose it.

“The total amount of revenue to be raised by the mining tax over the next three years is the equivalent of just three months of borrowings by this Government in the last few weeks. This government is on track to have a deficit of nearly $40 billion this financial year. The mining tax is estimated to bring in around $10 billion over the next three years. It is a simple equation.”

Yet now, with government debt hundreds of billions higher, the Coalition feel they can give substantial company and personal income tax cuts with no broadening of the tax base or reduction of concessions whilst also delivering a surplus, mainly by relying on what appear to be unrealistic estimates of wage growth and the hope that the windfall from increased commodity prices and surging company profits will continue.

And if we want to revisit what the party leaders have said in the past, it is worth looking at what Malcolm Turnbull wrote about negative gearing, capital gains tax discounts, and concessions for the wealthy in general.

In his 2005 tax policy paper, Turnbull described negative gearing and the CGT discount as a “sheltering tax haven” that is “skewing national investment away from wealth-creating pursuits, towards housing”, and has caused a “property bubble”. Turnbull also acknowledged that “Australia’s rules on negative gearing are very generous compared to many other countries” and that “the normal deductibility principles do not apply to negatively geared real estate such that the taxpayer is not obliged to demonstrate that the negatively geared property will generate positive cash flow at some point in the distant future”.

In 2014 he said “Looking at Australia’s tax regime you would say that it is too tough on people earning income… but is incredibly concessional to older people who have made their money…”

But according to Scott Morrison, Labor’s policy to stop refunds for excess franking credits is “ripping off retirees, pensioners, nannas, nonnas and yayas all over the country.”

There was a time when Malcolm Turnbull spoke the truth about important things.

In a speech to the House of Representatives in February 2010, Malcolm warned that “having the Government pay for emissions abatement, as opposed to the polluting industries themselves, is a slippery slope which can only result in higher taxes and more costly and less effective abatement of emissions.”

He told Lateline in 2011, “If you want to have a long-term technique of cutting carbon emissions, you know, in a very substantial way to the levels that the scientists are telling us we need to do by mid-century to avoid dangerous climate change, then a direct action policy where the Government, where industry was able to freely pollute, if you like, and the Government was just spending more and more taxpayers’ money to offset it, that would become a very expensive charge on the budget in the years ahead.”

They have avoided that by refusing to commit any more money to Direct Action and not giving a shit about emissions rising.

When the Coalition say that you will always pay higher taxes under Labor, they seem to forget that they introduced the GST, adding enormously to the cost of living in one fell swoop.

They were also the ones who introduced the budget repair levy, removing it before the budget is repaired but in time for an election.  Suggestions by Labor that it should be kept until the budget is repaired bring howls of class warfare from the very people who introduced it in the first place.

They also conveniently ignore the fact that the Gillard government tripled the tax-free threshold putting thousands of dollars back into the hands of low income earners.

Whoever is advising government strategy would do well to remember the words of Matthew:

“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

We will never achieve genuine tax reform with a government who is more interested in name-calling than honesty.

And still they ignore the existential threat posed by climate change

The most recent quarterly update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory states that emissions per capita, and the emissions intensity of the economy (emissions/$ of GDP), were at their lowest levels in 28 years in the year to December 2017, a fact loudly repeated by Josh Frydenberg in the hope that we won’t notice that emissions rose again last year as they have done ever since the Coalition took over.

The reality is that this has far more to do with large increases in population and GDP than any reduction strategies and are fairly pointless measurements.  The atmosphere doesn’t care how many of us there are or what our GDP is.

Emissions increased 1.5 per cent in 2017, with the main cause being the expansion in LNG exports which saw a 41.4% increase in LNG production in 2017 and a forecast increase in LNG production for 2018 of a further 18.1%.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not considering the price, domestic gas sales decreased by 9.7% in 2017.  We don’t have a gas supply problem, we have a regulation problem.

Bucking the trend in all other sectors, annual emissions from electricity decreased by 3.1%, reflecting weakening demand (0.5%) in the National Electricity Market (NEM) and a reduction in brown coal generation.

Over the last ten years, coal generation has decreased from 85% of total generation to 75%. Conversely, gas has increased from 9% to 11% and renewable generation (predominantly wind and hydro) has increased from 7% to 14% of total generation.

Much has been made of Tony Abbott’s promise to add one million jobs in five years, but no-one seems to remember that he also promised to add one million additional solar energy roofs by 2020.  That promise never even made it to the starting line.

With the reducing price of solar panels and improvements in battery storage, we are well-placed to benefit from the abundance of sunshine in this country.  There have also been thousands of potential sites identified for small scale pumped hydro to act as storage.

Our government committed to the woefully inadequate target of, by 2020, a 5 per cent reduction in emissions compared to 2000.  According to the report, our emissions last year were 2.4 per cent below emissions in 2000.  Any claim that we have met, or will meet, our target relies on accounting skulduggery.  The facts are clear – in 2000 we emitted 547.0 Mt CO2 -e, in 2017 emissions were 533.7 Mt CO2 -e.

Many countries used 1990 as the year they based their 2020 emission reduction targets on, for example Norway who committed to a 30% reduction and the EU, 20%, on 1990 emissions.

In Australia, from 1990 to 2017, emissions from electricity increased 42.4% and stationary energy excluding electricity grew 47.3%. Emissions from transport grew 62.9%, fugitive emissions increased by 48.8%, and industrial processes and product use increased 37.4%.

The only reason we have seen a 7.5% reduction in emissions since 1990 is because Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) decreased by 114.5%.

Which is amazing considering, in Queensland alone, woody vegetation loss was around 395,000 hectares in 2015-16.  More than 1 million hectares of native bush and forest has been cleared in Queensland over the last four years.  Thankfully, the Paluscez government has recently reintroduced the land-clearing legislation that Newman so foolishly abolished.

The report also stated that the past six years have seen a strong increase in diesel consumption of 26.9%.  The transport sector has seen the highest growth in emissions since 1990 because growth in transport activity outpaced improvements in fuel efficiency. While per person ownership and use of light passenger vehicles has stabilised after decades of growth, freight and aviation activity continues to grow.

This represents an area where real improvements could be made by improving vehicle efficiency, moving to alternative fuels with potentially lower emissions, such as electricity, natural gas and sustainable biofuels, improving public transport, staggering freight deliveries and working hours to avoid congestion, decentralisation and small scale enterprises so freight doesn’t have to be transported as far, enabling people to work from home etc.

Action on climate change is an increasingly urgent priority yet this government chooses to ignore the myriad of ways in which we could be acting to try to avoid the inevitable catastrophe that will follow the out-of-control global warming their greed and irresponsible ideology is causing.

And I haven’t even mentioned a price on carbon which is the obvious first step.  Removing it did not stop the inexorable rise in electricity prices.

A few short years ago we were leaders in this field.  Thanks to the Coalition, we have gone a long way backwards, making future action much more expensive and even more urgent.

Press propaganda ramps up

I used to think Mark Kenny was a reasonably well-informed political commentator but I have felt recently that he was trying overly hard to give the Coalition the benefit of the doubt.

And then I saw his latest offering and thought WTF, do we live on the same planet?

The title – “As ‘ascendant Malcolm’ shows, nothing succeeds like success” – made me expect a satirical smackdown but I was sorely disappointed.  He actually meant it.

“Buoying the spirits of team-Turnbull is a confluence of factors including a rebounding economy, a generally well-received budget, Bill Shorten’s imminent byelection challenges, and the hope of extra pressure on the Labor leader around his party’s July National Conference.

Nothing succeeds like success.

And what could be more emblematic of success than 1 million jobs created under a Coalition government?”

It would be really nice if experienced journalists like Kenny actually did some analysis on those claims, put them in context, make some comparisons – did something to earn their salaries.

According to the ABS, between November 2007 and August 2013, the number of employed people increased by 1,088,500 despite Labor having to manage through the greatest global financial meltdown since the Great Depression.

So adding one million more employed in five years during a time of global resurgency is hardly anything to crow about.  It follows the average jobs growth over the last 15 years of about 200,000 per year which does not keep up with current population growth.

Kenny concedes that, despite the million jobs, wage growth “languishes at 2.1 per cent” which “has put a crimp on the budget’s shiny revenue projections barely a week after they were published.”

But he, again, fails to point out how significant that “crimp” is.  Adam Creighton gave a better idea in The Australian.

The budget anticipates wage growth rising to 2.25 per cent this financial year, which would require the quarterly rate of growth to surge to more than 0.7 per cent — a level not seen for four years — over the final three months of 2017-18. Wage growth is then expected to rise to 3.25 per cent by financial year 2020.

Reserve Bank deputy governor Guy Debelle commented this week that wage growth could remain stuck at about 2 per cent for longer than people anticipated.

Speaking on ABC’s Q&A program on Monday, the chairman of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Elizabeth Proust, said it was hard to see how Treasury had come up with such optimistic figures, describing the wage growth forecasts in the budget as “pretty heroic” and warning the government’s surplus will be delayed if they’re not achieved.

Undeterred, Kenny concludes with his own heroic prediction that “persistent internal critics – read Tony Abbott et al – might pull their heads in after realising that the PM could jag another term after all.”

Ya think?

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