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A lover and fighter for truth from way back. Delighted to have an opportunity to talk and looking forward to shaking NSW politics up in a couple of years. Till then, lets learn stuff together hahahaha ;)

Website: http://www.melmacpolitics.com

Australia, we need to have an urgent chat about surveillance technology and the race for marginal votes

We live in a time where often it’s only a handful of seats that can win an election, instead of election campaigns focusing on ideas and policies, the focus is now on influencing voters to win marginal seats. Data mining and surveillance tools that were created for war zones before being picked up by the advertising industry, are now in use against civilians. Privacy laws and regulations haven’t kept up with the pace of technology, and too many people are willing to exploit these loopholes. Business models that involve data mining like Cambridge Analytica and i360 can’t exist without tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and Palantir.

Everyone is scraping, selling and analysing our data it’s now about influencing our behaviour, predicting what we will do next. The co-founder of Palantir, Peter Thiel, wasn’t joking when he named his company after the Lord of The Rings stone that is ‘far seeing’. Technocrats take advantage of the fact that most of us aren’t technologically minded, especially the politicians that they pitch their technology too. This is the main-game now to try to see into the future with predictive technology, including predicting crime. In this article I will provide background about the tech giants and how they adopt each others technologies, how data is being used against marginal voters with the debut of i360 software in Australia, and what looms on the horizon. Firstly we will take a look at  Palantir and its ties and similarities to Facebook.

What is Palantir and how is it connected to Facebook?

Peter Thiel co-founded PayPal and sold it to eBay in 2002. He took advantage of a post-9/11 world and created a company that used PayPal’s fraud-recognition software to stop terrorist attacks. This company became Palantir and was founded in 2003. Thiel provided the seed money for Facebook in 2004 and joined Facebook’s board, he is still on the board today. Mark Zuckerberg was only 19-years old at the time, Thiel soon became a mentor and friend. Zuckerberg bragged at the time about how he was able to collect data willingly from people, he called them “dumb f***s”.

Initially the only investor of Palantir was Thiel but in 2005 the CIA’s venture arm In-Q-Tel, also became an investor. The CIA was the only customer of Palantir for the next three-years. They had the best engineers working for the company as they tested and evaluated their data mining software to predict terror attacks. Word soon got around and before long they were getting contracts from intelligence agencies, military units, and eventually police departments. Police departments in America were interested in using the technology for its ability to analyse big data to predict crime.

Predictive crime technology goes mainstream, including in Australia

Palantir secretly began using the population of New Orleans to test its predictive crime technology in 2012 by offering its services for free. In return they were given free data relating to public records, court filings, licenses, addresses, phone numbers, social media, and non-criminal data to train its software to forecast crime. Palantir’s prediction model also used an intelligence technique called social network analysis (SNA), which looks for connections between people, places, cars, weapons, addresses, social media posts and any data stored in databases.

This information is analysed and used to predict if people are most likely to be the victim of a crime, or to commit a crime based on their connection to known victims or criminals. It’s frighteningly close to the TV series ‘Person of Interest’, there are so many things that can go wrong here:

  • A culture in law enforcement of guilt by association.
  • The profiling of citizens being analysed by an algorithm with no human oversight.
  • Privacy issues.

There is no clear evidence of predictive technology reducing crime in New Orleans. Despite this it led to more contracts for Palantir, including foreign ones and with the Australian government. There are twenty-four patents relating to Palantir in Australia, the latest tender was signed last year, it’s worth $7.5 million and ends in June 2021. The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and different partner agencies use Palantir’s Fusion software, ACICs different partner agencies include: the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Tax Office, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, and the Department of Human Services.

Home Affairs Department becomes an intelligence hub 

Two bills were introduced in February this year, the Identity-Matching Services Bill and the Australian Passports Amendment Bill. The first bill authorises the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, and his department to match photos against identities of citizens in various agencies without a warrant. Media reports about it say that the government was basing this bill on an FBI model, but where did they get their model from? Palantir.

Home Affairs is now a huge data collection hub akin to Palantir and it will continue to grow as it collects information, each time a user makes a request for their identity-matching services. For example, say a bank supplies CCTV footage and data with a request, the footage and all of the data associated with the request will be hoovered up into the hub. The reasons for Home Affairs using this information are very broad, and include: criminal intelligence gathering and profiling, community safety (an example is a person acting suspiciously in a crowded, public space), road safety, and the policing of activist communities and protests. The second bill allows Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop to direct the automation of sharing passport data for the purposes of national security, meaning no human oversight, just algorithms talking to each other.

Palantir patents ‘crime forecasting’ tech    

Palantir is renowned for its secrecy, the only way to tease out what they’re up to is to keep tabs on their patents. The most recent patent that was granted was in December last year and it relates to ‘crime forecasting’ technology, to help police “to know when and where crimes are most likely to occur in the future.” Another patent pending involves the data mining and analysis of billions and trillions, or petabytes, of records. For context one petabyte equates to 58,292 movies or 13.3 years of HDTV content. These could be bank transaction logs, call data records, computer network access logs, email messages of corporations or other high-volume data.

The last patent pending involves household behaviour predictive software that analyses past behaviour in an effort to predict future behaviour. Examples detailed in the patent include obtaining data about household incomes, the number of cars belonging to a household, and your household bills. There are similarities here with Facebook’s ‘Loyalty Prediction’ tool and their ‘Household Audience’ tool. These tools allow you to target entire families in the household. This week the Intercept obtained a confidential document that claims that Facebook is promoting their ‘Loyalty Prediction’ ad service tool. It’s meant to assist advertisers chasing users that are on the verge of disengaging with brands. The Facebook business model has always been about data collection but now it’s moving into territory where it is feeding data into a machine learning program called ‘FBLearner Flow’. Algorithms predicting behaviour aren’t foolproof and because companies are paying for these predictions, there’s a financial incentive to make sure that the predictions are correct. There is concern that Facebook could engineer results.

Facebook has been experimenting on its users for years, their mood experiment in 2014 proved that it could change people’s emotions dependent on the content shown to them. It would be tempting to employ this method to change people’s minds about disengaging with brands. GQreported that Google has an application for a patent in the same realm regarding an algorithm to determine a user’s mood from a “plurality of data sources”; or big data. This technology is basically social engineering and it could be used to sway voters. Next we will take a quick look at the Cambridge Analytica debacle and then on to the debut of i360 software in the South Australian election.

The Cambridge Analytica debacle wasn’t really a data breach

In 2014 when Cambridge Analytica data mined Facebook there was a way that anyone could do it using one of Facebook’s own tools. Facebook had a ‘Reverse search tool’ which enabled users to search for people on Facebook just by using a phone number or email address to find their profile. The feature was ‘opt out’ for users and could only be turned off in the privacy settings. You could potentially feed the tool a list of phone numbers or email addresses that could have been taken from data breaches, online leaks, or even electoral rolls. It was only this month after being warned for years by developers of the potential for using the tool to data mine, that they finally shut it down.

When Facebook learned about what Alexsandr Kogan was doing for Cambridge Analytica in 2015 they actually paid him to do consultancy work. He was also asked to explain his technique for Cambridge Analytica, and to give talks to Facebook staff about behavioural psychology. Another method that app developers like Kogan used to scrape Facebook data, is by writing code inside their apps to capture your data. It was a Palantir employee that gave Cambridge Analytica the idea to use an app to data mine Facebook. Many are extremely sceptical of Zuckerberg telling Congress recently that he is unaware of what Palantir does and if Palantir itself has ever scraped data from Facebook.

i360 makes it debut for the South Australian election

The South Australian (SA) Liberals lost the election in 2014 because they didn’t win enough seats to form government. The leader of the party, Steven Marshall, and the SA Liberal State director Sascha Meldrum, looked to America for solutions. In 2016 they purchased a product license for i360 software, it costs around $25,000 per month. They worked together with i360 to customise the software to include Australia’s compulsory and preferential voting system. They began using i360 in 2017 giving them a headstart in targeting marginal seats for the March 2018 election. Dozens of staff and volunteers including Victorian opposition leader Matthew Guy, had a dry run using i360 in the field at the SA election. i360 has been credited for the SA win. The Victorian Liberals have been using it for a while, Queensland is about to sign up and the NSW Liberals, and the Federal government are thinking about it.

What is i360?

i360 was created by Michael Palmer in 2009 with a team of nine data scientists with PhDs behind him. It started out as a database to help Republican’s catch up with Obama’s successful use of data during his 2008 campaign. In 2011 the Koch brothers helped out by merging i360 with their non-profit organisation, Freedom Partners. Millions and millions have been pumped into it by themselves and their rich, conservative allies ever since. Making it non-profit means that they can hide who the donors are as well as the money trail. i360 is no longer just a database, they offer a suite of cutting edge tools, including analysis and predictive technology for political campaigning. i360 is primarily funded by the Koch brothers. If you haven’t heard of the Koch brothers, they’re billionaires that fly under the political radar and have made a fossil fuel, fortune. Their company Koch Industries, owns and operates a massive network of oil and gas pipelines, and they make a wide range of products that include: chemicals, jet fuel, plastics, and synthetic fertilisers. They have been funding climate change denialism, to protect their interests through foundations, institutes and front groups for years including an institute in Australia, the Institute of Public Affairs. More in this link and this link, if you’d like to learn more about that. Next we will look at how i360 works, their technology will sound a little familiar.

How does i360 work?

i360 has a multi-pronged approach that involves apps, technology, analytics, predictive analysis, as well as data science, digital marketing and advertising. Over the years they’ve amassed trillions of data points on hundreds of millions of Americans. They use thousands of unique pieces of data and combine data, analytics and predictive modelling for election campaigning. Facebook and Google Adwords work alongside i360, and are their featured digital partners.

i360 predictive technology

Advanced predictive modeling enables i360 software to test the effectiveness of thousands of political ads before using them. They use segment models that go above and beyond demographics, they include issues such as whether you want to ‘cut immigration numbers’ or are in favour of ‘raising the minimum wage’. These models can also help them to predict which issue that people care about the most. Knowing these details about people enables them to tailor their ads specifically for you, they personalise the style and tone of the ad, even the aesthetics and colours. These models get updated with new data and refreshed every night. This business model has much in common with Cambridge Analytica.

i360 tracks your online movements  

According to the i360 website they have partnered with a number of ‘mobile ID matching’ services instead of using traditional cookies to track your online movements. Cookies are a small piece of data sent from website’s that you browse back to your computer to help identify you so that they can advertise to you. This works for desktop and laptop computers but isn’t good for tracking your movements on mobile devices and for tracking your activities within apps that you visit. They claim to use ‘mobile device IDs’ which are used to identify you via your mobile devices and the apps that you visit. And then there is ‘direct matching’, which matches up apps that you visit while being signed into Facebook or Google enabling you to be found on multiple devices. According to their website this service is 100% accurate, no doubt because they’re partners with Facebook and Google. In fact the technology just sounds like a jargon laden version of the ad-tracking tools that Facebook already offers. More on this below.

Facebook and Google tracks you too

The Facebook like button has a small piece of code that tracks you as well as the Facebook share button when sharing online content, and then there’s Facebook Pixel. You only need to visit a page that has one of these buttons or Pixel code attached to it for it to collect data about you. What is Facebook Pixel, you may be asking? Pixel allows you to track user movements offline with: “A piece of code for your website that lets you measure, optimise and build audiences for your ad campaigns.” It tracks your activities and reports it back to Facebook and the code doesn’t expire like traditional cookies do. Advertisers can track what users are doing offline even if they don’t have a Facebook account, it’s called ‘shadow profiling’. Google does this too, even if you don’t have a Gmail account you only need to communicate with a Gmail address for one to be created.

Asher Wolf has recently written about how the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) with an unnamed telco, did an experiment in 2016 to track people by using their mobile devices. It turned out that the telco was Telstra, the ABS said that their reasoning for the experiment was to estimate temporary populations, and to assist policy makers. It’s not too far of a stretch to assume that this data has been entered into Palantir’s Fusion software, and you have to wonder what else the ABS and the government have been secretly up to in the last couple of years since.

The ABS promptly released a statement claiming that the data that they used was non-identifiable, this argument is wrong. Technology has advanced far enough that it can re-identify anonymous people’s data.

i360 uses set top box data to tailor ads 

i360 has a TV targeting service which offers personalised TV ads that can be shown on any channel or program being watched. They’ve partnered with D2 Media (the image below is their business model), and it’s available in America through Dish Satellite TV, or Direct TV. These services and set top boxes are also available in Australia. In 2015 Dish TV partnered up with Freeview as its manufacturer, and it’s of note that Foxtel is currently in the process of transferring its cable service over to satellite. Are there plans afoot for this in Australia in the near future, or are they already in place?

Political parties, volunteers, contractors and representatives, exempt from Privacy Act

The last time that there was a Privacy Act review was ten-years ago. It lasted more than two-years and recommended hundred’s of reforms. Many Australians don’t realise that registered political parties are specifically excluded from the definition of ‘organisation’, so they’re exempt from the Privacy Act. Also exempt from it are political representatives (MPs, and local government councillors), volunteers for political parties, and contractors and subcontractors of political parties. One of the recommendations was for the exemption to be removed. Both major parties ignored the recommendation. In light of recent events with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook I think it’s time to remove the exemption. If political campaigning is no longer a public process and is done in private,  being exempt from the Privacy Act is no longer acceptable.

The Liberal Party database and i360 combine  

i360 has been specifically formulated to sync and capture data from the Liberal Party’s database, Feedback. Feedback is operated by Parakeelia Pty Ltd which provides the party with the software for their data to be entered into. It’s owned by the Liberal Party. Feedback consists of data obtained from door knocking, phone calls, visits to MP offices, email responses, online and call surveys, census data, and social media data. This data combined with their software enables you to pinpoint swinging voters and marginal seats like never before. Similar to Google maps you can click on a location and it will pull up everything that you need to know about a person, including a script to read to them. Volunteers can make calls from home and door-knockers are saved time by the app providing directions to the next targeted voter to win over. The apps save time door knocking and calling, as you only target voters that you need to.

Parakeelia transfers money back to the Liberal Party, how is i360 being paid for?

In 2016 it was revealed that Liberal MPs had been paying $2,500 each to Parakeelia out of their software allowance for its services. Labor MPs also paid about the same for their database Campaign Central which isn’t owned by the party, it’s run by third-party provider Magenta Linas. Parakeelia started to transfer money from the company back to the party in 2010. In 2010 it was $12,100 with amounts continuing to rise with a 2016 transfer of $915,000. This made Parakeelia the party’s biggest donor for that financial year. There were concerns by Labor and the Greens that money was essentially being laundered through Parakeelia to boost Liberal coffers. However a limited-scope review by the National Audit Office in the same year, found that Parakeelia was not in breach of any electoral or parliamentary rules. University of Queensland Law Professor, Graeme Orr thinks that Parakeelia presents problems “deeper than strict legalities.”

“You have a question of a business built on taxpayers funds returning money to a political party: that’s problematic in a way we haven’t seen before,” he said. He thinks that these issues would be avoided if they chose their IT provider through a tender.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find any information after these financial years save for a vague tax return from 2016-17. We know that i360 costs at least $25,000 a month, who paid for the SA Liberals to use it and how are the financially struggling Victorian Liberals paying for it? If tax payers are, than that would be all shades of wrong and would take us  further into unchartered territory.

New entitlement rule changes opens up electoral budgets for software purchases

Following on from software allowances, late last year, new regulations for entitlement spending were quietly introduced by Special Minister for State, Mathias Cormann. Instead of receiving a $2,500 software allowance, for the first time MPs can now spend some of their electoral budget on software and services. These services include: robocalls, SMS and survey services, ‘subject to the limit of your office budget’.

Are taxpayers paying for themselves to be politically targeted?

How the NationBuilder platform compliments i360 software

i360 software needs a platform as well as a database to work. In early 2015 Indaily obtained documents that outlined how the SA Liberals were going to start training MPs and staff to use NationBuilder. NationBuilder is software that brings together services like WordPress, Mailchimp and PayPal on to the same platform. It imports things like the details of interactions with an MPs office from the Feedback database and builds profiles on people by syncing this with social media. NationBuilder also creates websites with donation platforms and provides content management. The documents describe the platform as “an electronic program where we can import emails and build profiles on voters” and how “it will track what people are liking, what they’re commenting on and add all of this information to their individual profiles.”

“Anyone who leaves a comment on Steven’s website is sucked in by NationBuilder, and a profile is created for them.”

NationBuilder has been used by Labor and some of the Greens for the last few years or so, according to the NationBuilder website it’s used in Australia by a number of parties. NationBuilder is used by politicians of all stripes around the world, President Trump used it for his election campaign and it was the platform that was used by both sides of the Brexit campaign.

Strange misinformation campaigns during elections, becoming the norm

To look at all of this in totality I’ll briefly explain a disinformation campaign that was also in play during the SA election. An early voting website that appeared to be from the SA Electoral Commission (ECSA), was actually authorised by the Liberal State Director. The authorisation line was at the bottom of the website in a light font. There was also a range of ads distributed to mailboxes and posted on social media making out that they were from the ECSA. It is unclear who was behind all of it exactly. The website and flyers requested personal details from those that were targeted. Three-weeks before the election after receiving complaints, the ECSA said:

“South Australians are advised that, if they provide personal details in response to these flyers or via the website, these have not come to ECSA.”

“ECSA advises that you should exercise extreme caution when releasing your personal information.”

These are tactics that are designed to deceive you and to slyly take your data, Republicans have been doing it in America for years. Every vote counts and every dirty tactic that is available is in use in Australia now. Anything that you see online like email surveys, or in your mailbox that asks for your details, be very wary.

Study about social media’s impact on elections, partly funded by a Koch Foundation

Facebook has recently announced a commission of researchers to study social media’s impact on elections to appease the groundswell that is building against their influence in elections. They will be given unprecedented access to Facebook data. Financing for this is coming from foundations including from one of the Koch brothers, the Charles Koch Foundation. There is understandably major concern about this, they’re known for not being the type of donors that just donate and step away, they like to be involved.

Facial recognition technology, and new tools on the horizon

Despite all of the recent privacy controversy Facebook wants to be able to run facial recognition scans without your consent. Legislators in America are still considering a change to the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). For years Facebook has fought a lawsuit regarding the handling of biometric data like fingerprints or facial recognition profiles. The plaintiffs argue that Facebook’s photo-tagging system violates the law because photos that are uploaded in this way are done so without consent. It’s of note that even if you aren’t tagged in a photo, their tech can find you. Facebook wants these consent protections neutered. Free access to pictures for years including Facebook owned Instagram, has no doubt sped facial recognition technology along.

Facebook has a new tech patent to determine social class, seriously, more here. They also have patents relating to eye activity, and the tracking of your relatives. And Google has a new tool out that will no doubt be shared and tweaked for further use in political campaigning. It’s called Plus Codes and it pinpoints locations extremely accurately. Google wanted to address the problem of high-density slums in India where just 30% have accurate locations for their addresses. There is a general election in India next year.

There is so much more that is already here and coming soon: the tracking of your car, listening to your phone calls, looking inside your house and the use of AI that studies CCTV footage to predict crime before it happens.

Is there hope?

Yes, Sir Tim Berners-Lee is working on a project called Solid. He’s working on a solution of separating apps from the data that they produce. An app built using Solid architecture would ask users where they want to store their data, ownership of your data and access to all of the data that you create. He believes that rather than our data being locked up with a company, we should have the choice of who to share or not share our data with. Who knows what innovations we could come up with ourselves and within our communities?

In conclusion

Governments entering the surveillance game alongside Palantir is chilling to say the least. Decisions based on algorithms without our consent and with no human oversight is a dangerous path to go down. A lot of predictive technology promise governments the world but most of it is largely unproven. The current Privacy Act doesn’t protect us as it should, this isn’t Facebook being dodgy with their user terms, default options and making it impossible to opt out of things, it’s our own government. Election wise its hardly democratic or ethical to target and influence voters secretly using their own data, perhaps even charging taxpayers to do so. The misinformation tactics also need urgent addressing it’s bad enough that our data is being used to manipulate us, to misinform us at the same time for a vote is cruel and immoral.

Many thanks to all that have helped contribute to this article.

This article was originally published on Political Omniscience.

Australian Super Funds wanting to invest in America’s infrastructure privatisation, is it ethical?

When I recently learned of the push for Australia’s superannuation industry to invest in American infrastructure, alarm bells rang. Neoliberalism is still very much in economical favour so what was this really all about? When I read articles about it from Australia a little closer, I realised that they were missing the meat of the story, all that I was reading was the bare bones.

Firstly there is no $US1.5 trillion infrastructure plan as such in the 2019 budget. The Trump administration’s infrastructure plan is basically a finance deal that includes deregulation, and the privatisation of America’s state and local government assets. $US200bn is all that the American government is willing to spend, including $US100bn that has been allocated to an Incentives Program. These figures however, do not include $US178bn worth of cuts to be made in the state and local government’s infrastructure budgets. They pretty much cancel each other out. The deep cuts in funding, and the need to fix their infrastructure will leave many of these governments no choice but to look at private funding and selling off its assets.

No matter where the funding comes from, privatisation requires taking over a government function at a lower cost than the government can provide it, and to make a profit, or it wouldn’t be worth its while.

America has been undergoing privatisation since the Reagan administration through its neoliberal policies. These policies enabled private enterprises to take over energy infrastructure and utilities, but not roads, rails, ports and airports, they have mainly remained as state and local government assets. Privatisation though is not as popular as it once was due to Americans seeing and living with the consequences of privatisation; they know how it affects their lives, wallets, and their communities. In Chicago for example, parking meters were privatised 10 years ago with a 75-year lease that has cost the city $US974m in lost revenue, so far.

Privatisation in Australia under the guise of ‘asset recycling’ has been used to lobby American politicians for the last couple of years. It was introduced to Australia by former Australian Treasurer, Joe Hockey. Hockey in his current role as American Ambassador has led the charge with assistance from others, including former New South Wales Premier Mike Baird. In Australia it involved selling state assets to private to help pay for infrastructure projects, and the federal government paid an incentive payment to add to the funding. There were no big cuts or deregulation involved. The super funds think selling it to the American public as “workers capital” rather than private, to pay for public assets will do the trick. The super funds have even re-branded: Public Private Partnerships in America, to Pension Public Partnerships.

You might be asking yourself: ‘Why should I care where or how Australian Super is invested if it’s bringing back returns?’ That’s a good question. America has inflicted neoliberalism policies around the world for the last 40 years, and this has led to the global decay of infrastructure. The global race to fix ailing infrastructure (or to gobble up what’s left of public assets), is being touted by Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, as the answer to sustaining economic growth. Neoliberal policies are profit-driven, whereas things like infrastructure maintenance are not very profitable. Hence the decline. Pretty ironic when you think about it.

Is it right or ethical for super funds to invest in a country that is also being deregulated within an inch of its life to make it easier for private with their investments? There are grave concerns for the plan to deregulate the country’s water supplies, some water utilities are already struggling to keep their water clean. Did you know that 16 million Americans get sick from dirty tap water each year? Deregulation, especially in regards to environmental restrictions designed to protect communities, will once again add to the monetary burden of cleaning it up onto the states and local governments. Even if super funds just invested in toll roads there like IFM Investors with their Indiana investment, wouldn’t it be better to invest in Australia’s infrastructure? In particular renewable energy, there’s a whole industry waiting to be untapped. Or perhaps the super funds could look to our neighbours in Asia needing infrastructure assistance, including being climate change ready. There is so much more to ethically invest in than road tolls and user charges around the world.

And on a final note, another concern that I have is if investing super into anything that makes a profit becomes the norm and accepted, what other ideas or policies that are unpalatable now, are lurking waiting for the right moment to be introduced? The privatisation of sidewalks in Australia? It’s already happening in Kansas City and Missouri.

There are only public assets (including public land), and services left to invest in or take over. If this were to happen what would the world look like? I don’t even want to imagine.

This article was originally published on Political Omniscience.

SOS from Manus

In April 2016, the Papua New Guinea (PNG) Supreme Court, ruled that Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was illegal. Their detention breached the PNG constitution, and their right to personal liberty. They’re detained on Lombrum naval base, thirty-minutes away from the nearest town, Lorengau. After three-years of being held on the guarded base, they were now allowed to go, with restrictions, into town, by bus in daylight hours. The Australian and PNG governments were ordered to start taking steps to end the detention of asylum seekers there.

It wasn’t until this year, that both of the government’s announced that the camp on the naval base was to be closed down. The deadline is this Tuesday, the 31st of October. Compounds housing asylum seekers on Manus have been progressively shut down since. They have been given four options:

Relocate to the East, Lorengau Transit Centre

Go home voluntarily

Settle in PNG

Resettle in a third country

During this time, locals have enjoyed employment and enjoyed earning money that most have never seen before. More than one-thousand locals have lost their jobs. Since the closure announcement, tensions have risen dramatically, with more robberies, and violence against the men held on Manus. To the point that many are too afraid to take the risk to go into town, they feel safer on the naval base. There is no point reporting anything that happens to them because the PNG police don’t do anything. Around seventy men are currently, at the Transit Centre, with over six-hundred cooped up on the naval base, refusing to move to the centre. They’re too terrified to go as it is not safe, the locals have made it very clear that they don’t want them there.

Communications from Manus

I’ve been in communication with an asylum seeker on Manus, for the last few months. Out of respect for his privacy and concern for his safety, I’m keeping his identity anonymous. I will call him Rick. With the October deadline approaching, and anxiety building, a few days ago, he shared a few things with me.

He met an Australian man on Manus recently, and while discussing his situation, he told him that he wanted to go and have a look at the new camp, at the Lorengau Transit Centre. The man replied:

‘Don’t go there, locals are so angry, and they might do something silly to you.’

He said that a few days ago he was in a meeting with locals who told him that they hated the men and wouldn’t accept them, and that:

‘We don’t want any refugees around our neighbourhood.’

Rick also told me how he had met and spoken of his concerns with David Yapu, a local Police Commander, on Manus.

He also shared his concerns and said that the police have been given:

‘No clear direction about your situation, if anything happens, we have no direction of what to do.’

Yapu apologised to Rick and said that:

‘We’re really sorry for what Australia is doing to you’.

He also said that what Australia was doing to them was:

‘Inhumane, and shouldn’t happen to any person in the world’.

The compassion from someone from a police force, renowned for their brutality, wasn’t lost on Rick.

The new transit centre isn’t safe

It was revealed in senate estimates this week, that the new construction at the transit centre being built in Lorengau by the Australian government, hasn’t even finished being built. Rick and his Australian friend, went together, to have a look at the new transit centre, but authorities wouldn’t let them in. The government says that it will be finished by tomorrow, the 29th of October. As the closure date looms closer, locals have threatened violence against builders working on the centre, as well as vandalising and blockading it. Landowners of the centre, don’t want any refugee centres in residential areas. They say they’ve had no warning or consultation by the Australian government, and the PNG government has also been kept in the dark about the new construction going on at the centre. There is also a petition being circulated around Lorengau calling for the Australian government to take the men to Australia, until a third country has been found for them. In one community meeting an elderly man said:

“I’m going to get the youths. We’ll get spear guns, knives, axes, spades, crowbars and we will block the road.”

Many of the refugees and asylum seekers have been locked up there for over four-years. Of the 718 men on Manus, most of the men have been found to be refugees. There is also a group of around forty men known as the ‘Forties’, that have refused from the beginning, to be settled in PNG if they were found to be refugees. They have been given negative results despite not being processed, including my friend Rick. When the option came up to resettle in America, Rick felt glad that he had stood his ground, because he felt that the Australian Border Force, was lying about PNG being the only option for him to resettle. He could see straight away that PNG was very dangerous and knew he wasn’t wanted, all of the men know this and feel this way. He has asked many, many times for over a year, to tell his story and to be processed, but they said that he’s lost his chance and he’s not getting another. They are threatening deportation.

Broken men

This week the men were given medical packs to last them for one-month, with no further assistance. Most of the men are on medication, to help them sleep, and for physical and mental health problems, and they require professional care. It’s alarming that they would give such a large of medication to them, without guidance, particularly when mentally unstable. Interpreters for the men are rare too, leading to miscommunications and misunderstandings between the different nationalities. Instead the seeds of conflict were sown from the start. The locals were told that the asylum seekers were dangerous criminals, and the asylum seekers were told that the locals had deadly diseases, and that they were cannibals.

In mid-February 2014, a violent riot broke out in the detention centre, lasting two days. Many of the men had already been imprisoned for nine-months with no clue as to what was going to happen to them. No asylum seekers had even been processed yet, they were understandably demanding answers about processing their claims and resettlement. When immigration officers arrived and told them that they were going to be resettled in PNG, one of the men asked:

“Okay, you are saying you are going to resettle us, but your country is listed as 39 out of 40 notorious countries, and how – I mean you can’t even control your own people, how do you think that you could resettle us and give us a life here?”

G4S had the detention centre contract at the time (Broadspectrum took over the contracts, after the riot), and their staff and guards, warned against such an announcement. Based on their intelligence, they were worried about the potential for conflict. Immigration on site agreed with the decision not to tell the men, but it was overturned by immigration in Canberra. The announcement, was the catalyst for the riot.

Violence and murder on Manus

Iranian asylum-seeker, Reza Barati, was murdered. Another man lost his eye, one man was shot in his buttocks, and another had his throat slit. Seventy-seven others were treated for serious injuries. It wasn’t until 2016, that a former G4S employee, and a former Salvation Army employee, (both PNG nationals), were arrested for the murder of Reza Barati. Their sentence was reduced because there were so many other people involved in the murder. The other people involved were local residents and local security guards. Nobody else has ever been charged for the murder, or for the other serious injuries, inflicted on scores of others. One of the men charged for the murder has escaped twice from prison. He is currently still on the run.

On Good Friday this year, drunken PNG soldiers fired into the detention centre on the naval base. This time security guards, refugees and immigration officials were assaulted. Nobody has ever been charged for this incident either. Six men have died on Manus, two of the deaths have been in the last few months, both of the deceased, were found near the transit centre in Lorengau. It has been reported that the deaths were suicide due to mental illness, some have their doubts.

A matter of human rights

The Australian government is currently trying to force the men off of the naval base and into the new centre by withholding medical services, emptying rain-water tanks, closing the mess and withholding fruit, sugar  and coffee cups. Interestingly the fruit, sugar and coffee cups were stopped from been handed out, but the men have started receiving them again. The men wonder if the Australian government is worried about being found to abuse human rights again. Lawyer Ben Lomai, is seeking orders from the court that food and water should be provided after the 31st of October.

“If there’s anything, food and water should be maintained because that’s their constitutional right,” he said to Radio New Zealand.

“So you can’t deny them food and water. So if they are allowed to stay there then those are the two services they can be entitled to. Other things can be subject to further negotiation.”  He is also seeking orders to guarantee the men’s safety if and when they are moved to the centre and for a requirement that refugees are offered settlement in a third country.

The men have been given food-packs to last two days. Electricity is set to be turned off and the PNG military have been ordered to take over the base next Tuesday.  There should be a sense of urgency, not complacently seeing how it will all turn out, and a lets hope for the best, type of attitude.

Time to end the political games

In my mind, we have moved beyond the blame game, or one-upmanship that both major parties have played. Beyond the billions of dollars spent playing these games. And beyond, even resettling asylum seekers like Rick in Australia, many of them don’t want to come here, and I can’t blame them. But they do want to be resettled in another country, and they deserve to be safe, and to become, contributing members of society again.

We also can’t ignore the fact that this is being done for political reasons, especially when we look at the fact, that as of last June, there were more than 64,000 people overstaying their visas in Australia. Nearly 7,000 have overstayed for fifteen to twenty years. The most humane and sensible approach would be to bring them to Australia for processing, and to take it from there, for resettling them.

They’ve lost so much, stealing years away from them, means that when they do finally get resettled, the road ahead will be much steeper, especially in regards to gaining employment. We are heading towards the five-year mark of their imprisonment on an island in the middle of nowhere, the world has changed so much in this time. And of course so have they, but what strikes me the most about these men is how strong they are, and how kind-hearted they are, despite everything that Australia has put them through.

This article was originally published on Political Omniscience.

The standard that you walk past …

Income management isn’t new in Australia, what is new, is the current government’s ideological push to enforce neoliberal policies on an unsuspecting Australia. In 2007, Professor Helen Hughes, wrote ‘Lands of Shame: Aboriginal and Torres Strait “homelands” in Transition.’ A few months before it was published, Hughes gave it to the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination (OIPC), the department responsible for indigenous policies. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs was Mal Brough.

The book was published by conservative think tank, the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS). It’s final chapter, reads like a blueprint for what occurs in the Northern Territory (NT) in June 2007. It calls for the closure of Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory (NT); a health audit of all children; the appointment of administrators; private home ownership; and the abolition of communal title customary law; the permit system and Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP). The book was also highly critical of policies relating to self-determination and land rights, branding them failed socialist experiments.

The use of a book, research or reports produced by a think tank, or a foundation, for government policies isn’t a new tactic. The Ronald Reagan policies from 1980’s, were mostly from the Heritage Foundation, which has been heavily financed for years by the conservative elite, and the likes of the Koch brothers.

Before we go any further, I need to provide some background, and a timeline of events. The Howard government, received many detailed reports about the escalating violence in Indigenous communities, but they were never actioned. With thanks to Chris Graham (current owner of New Matilda), Crikey and Michael Brull, for their succinct research over the last decade relating to the Intervention.

So many reports, not enough action

Indigenous academic, Boni Robertson, completed many detailed reports throughout the nineties. Robertson also led an inquiry in 1999, that actually involved Indigenous Australians, with fifty-senior women representing their communities in Queensland (QLD). In 1999, a shocking report about Indigenous violence, was released by Doctor Paul Memmott. The report was suppressed from the media and the public by the Justice Minister, Amanda Vanstone for eighteen months. By the time that the media got wind of it, it was old news and nobody really cared.

All of these reports and inquiries, warned of the numerous problems in Indigenous communities. The causes of family violence stem from a failure of government to provide adequate services, education and housing infrastructure. It’s also a failure from both sides of the political spectrum to acknowledge Indigenous culture and their relationship with the land. Neo-colonialism is still a problem in Australia, despite the fact that Indigenous Australians are the oldest known civilisation on earth.  They’ve hundreds of languages and their map of Australia is made up of many nations, not a handful of states. Wanting them to assimilate into a monolingual, mono-cultural society is one thing, the reality is another.

In 2002, the Central Aboriginal Congress prepared a paper showing how the number of Indigenous women being treated for domestic assault had more than doubled since 1999. A year later Howard staged a ‘roundtable summit’ of Indigenous leaders to address family violence. This achieved nothing.

An election was approaching in 2006, and for the government and the media, Indigenous violence was a popular topic. At one point, ABC Lateline had filed seventeen stories about it in just eight nights. Crown Prosecutor Nanette Rogers, was on the show in May that year and spoke of her experience with violence against children, including sexual violence in remote communities. What Rogers spoke about was exactly what Dr Memmott had detailed in his suppressed report, seven years earlier.

The media heats up

Minister Brough appeared on Lateline the next day and told the host, Tony Jones that: “Everybody in those communities knows who runs the pedophile rings.”

Jones: “You just said something that astonishes me. You said pedophile rings. What evidence is there of that?”

Brough said that there was “considerable evidence” but provided none. Claire Martin, the NT’s Labor Chief Minister, called on him to provide evidence of the allegation, he said nothing. Five weeks later on June the 21st 2006, Lateline had an anonymous male, former youth worker on their program. He backed up what Brough said:

“It’s true. I’ve been told by a number of people of men getting young girls and keeping them as sex slaves.”

The youth worker, claimed that he was once based in Mutitjulu, working in a joint community project for the NT and federal governments. The Mutitjulu community are the legal custodians of Uluru, or Ayers Rock.

His identity was hidden with his face shadowed and a digitised voice, and he cried as he detailed how he’d made repeated statements and reports to police about sexual violence, in Mutitjulu. He said that he’d withdrawn the reports after being threatened by men in the community, and that he feared for his life. He also said that young Indigenous children were being held against their will, and that other kids were being given petrol to sniff in exchange for sex with senior Indigenous men.

The next day, Martin announced that her NT government would hold a major inquiry into violence against children in Indigenous communities. Also on that day, Brough finally responded to calls for evidence of his accusations. He released a press statement, saying that information had been passed onto NT police, and that he’d been advised that “for legal and confidentiality reasons, I am unable to disclose detail.”

Questions asked too late, the damage is done

A few weeks later, the National Indigenous Times reported that the youth worker crying about his experience in Mutitjulu on Lateline wasn’t a youth worker at all. He was actually, Gregory Andrews an assistant secretary at the OIPC, and an adviser to Brough. He advised Brough about violence and sexual abuse in remote communities. Later it was revealed in parliament, that Andrews had never made a single report to police about women or children. He also misled a federal senate inquiry into petrol sniffing in 2006 and lied about living in Mutitjulu, he had never even set foot there.

All of Andrew’s allegations were thoroughly investigated and dismissed by the NT police. And the Australian Crime Commission, spent eighteen-months and millions of dollars, and also concluded that there was no organised paedophilia in Indigenous communities.

Martin’s inquiry reported back to her in August 2006. The inquiry’s final report: Little Children are Sacred, was handed to the NT government, in April 2007. It was impressive and was more than 300-pages-long, with ninety-one recommendations. The authors, Pat Anderson and Rex Wild, didn’t have an easy job, but they said that they were:

“impressed with the willingness of people to discuss the issue of child sexual abuse, even though it was acknowledged as a difficult subject to talk about. At many meetings, both men and women expressed a desire to continue discussions about this issue and what they could do in their community about it. It was a frequent comment that up until now, nobody had come to sit down and talk with them about these types of issues. It would seem both timely and appropriate to build on this good will, enthusiasm and energy by a continued engagement in dialogue and assisting communities to develop their own child safety and protection plans.”

But before the Martin government could respond to the report and without any consultation with her, or even his own cabinet. Howard and Brough used the report as a catalyst to launch their Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), or the Intervention.

The Intervention

The Intervention relied heavily on shock tactics. Naomi Klein has covered these extensively in her book about disaster capitalism. It favours a multi-pronged, speedy attack, this helps to create cover to introduce unsavoury or neoliberal policies. The Intervention ticks all of the boxes.

The NT and the Australian Federal Police, were sent into remote Indigenous communities, and the army and business managers were installed into Indigenous communities. Signs were put up declaring bans on pornography and alcohol in towns. It was framed as a “national emergency” and while everyone was distracted, and with a senate majority, the federal government was free to pursue its agenda. NTER (Northern Territory Emergency Response), was a $587 million package of measures, and laws regarding human rights, had to be changed or suspended, to get the new legislation through, these included:

Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

Native Title Act 1993(Cth).

Northern Territory Self-Government Act and related legislation.

Social Security Act 1991.

IncomeTax Assessment Act 1993.

As a result of the new legislation, regulations were introduced to ban access to alcohol, tobacco, pornographic material, and gambling services. Land was compulsorily acquired by the government in seventy Indigenous communities, this was to ensure that there were no interruptions by traditional owners. An income management scheme was introduced, the BasicsCard, which was actually born out of an Indigenous innovation.

The FOODCard was introduced by the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA) in 2004, the idea came about after community consultations. The main differences between the two cards are that one had community consultations, while the other did not. The terms and conditions for the FOODCard are available in Yolngu Matha and English for example, while the BasicsCard is in English only.

The other key difference is that the ALPA one is voluntary and you can set for yourself how much money to quarantine, whereas the government one is compulsory, and quarantines 50%-80% of income. The FOODCard was rolled out in 2007, but by then the BasicsCard had taken over.

Neoliberal ideology

The government waited a month until it introduced its last measure, abolishing a program called Community Development Employment Projects (CDEP). The CDEP was one of the programs that was working, it allowed communities to pool all of their unemployment benefits together. This was then paid out as a direct wage for local jobs within the community, or within the CDEP organisations.

Participants were counted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as employed, even though the funds originated from unemployment benefits. A form of self-government, and a good solution for unemployment that empowered many communities, especially remote ones.

Communities were also sent pamphlets from Centrelink, explaining that they now had to do something in return for their Centrelink money. The pamphlet also said that they had to call them with their contact details, or their payments might be stopped.

Dr David Scrimgeour, told the Public Health Association of Australia conference in September, that year that:

‘Most of the recommendations … have been implemented by the Commonwealth Government in the NT under the guise of protecting children, despite the fact that the recommendations are not based on evidence, but on neo-liberal ideology.’

He also said that the think-tank, CIS, that published Helen Hughes’ book, received ‘significant support from large corporations, particularly mining companies, and has close links with the Government and the media, particularly the Murdoch-owned newspaper The Australian.’

Reports ignored or used as political tools

So what does income management look like in the NT, ten years after the Intervention? The authors of the Little Children are Sacred report have both said that the report’s recommendations were ignored and that it was used as a political tool to push for an Intervention. Wild said this year that:

“One of the threshold items of the report is that community consultation is needed to be able to best implement the report and that clearly didn’t happen.”

Since the Intervention, report after report gets written about socio-economic disadvantage, and the negative aspects felt by those on income management, only to be ignored. They all have a common theme, that there is no evidence of value behind income management programs, and that they didn’t change behaviours. Is it the government’s place to modify human behaviour with financial measures?

There is one report though that has been listened to, it was commissioned by the Abbott government and reviewed by mining billionaire, Andrew Forrest. It was released in 2014: Creating Parity – the Forrest Review. Forrest and his Minderoo Foundation, want a new card called the “Healthy Welfare Card” to replace the BasicsCard. It would apply to all working age Australians, around 2.5 million Australians, if you exempt pensioners and veterans. This is consistent with Abbott’s view in his book Battlelines.

Following the BasicsCard money

The BasicsCard started out as store card’s from merchants such as Coles and Woolworths; by direct deduction of funds set up by a merchant; or by Centrelink making a credit card or cheque payment. This was too cumbersome, so in 2008 the federal government started the process of procurement for an open tender of the card. Five tender applications were received and the winner was Indue Ltd.

Indue started out as Creditlink, it changed its name in 2006 a year after Larry Anthony, former Liberal National Party MP became chairman of its board. Anthony was the chairman of Indue until 2013, and he’s been the Federal President of the National Party since 2015. Indue’s win was publically announced in December 2009, the original contract was worth just over $11 million for three-years, it ballooned out to over $25 million.

I’ve gone through the tenders and contracts relating to the card, there are thirteen in total to date. Out of those, seven of the contracts are limited, so none of the finer details are available for the public.

Open Tender, Contract Total:

$31,138,574.50 million

Limited Tender, Contract Total:

$29,064,436.16 million

Total: $60,203,010.66

Cashless welfare card cost, blow-out

The ‘cashless welfare card’ trials were originally slated to cost taxpayers $18.9 million.

According to the government tender, the original contract for Indue was worth $7,859,509 million, (media reports round it up to $8 million), it’s now at $13,035,581.16 million.

That’s just the Indue part, if we add the remaining $10.9 million for the other contracts involved in the income management program, we get a total of $23,935,581.16.

There’s 1,850 participants in the trial which began last year, so the cost of the card works out to be $12,938.15 per person.

Using the maximum Newstart allowance of a single person as an example, which is $535.60 per fortnight; they would receive $13,925.60 for the year. Add the Indue layer and the total is $26,863.75 per person.

A lot of money provided by taxpayers for behaviour change, and of course a nice profit for Indue, especially if it rolls out to millions of Australians. The millions of dollars flying about without any oversight, and the political connections are a grave cause for concern.

Income management rolls out nationally

In 2012, the Gillard government extended income management nationally, and for another ten-years. In the House of Representatives during the debate about the ‘Stronger Futures Legislation’, Senator Nigel Scullion, Country Liberal Party member, said this:

“There is a fundamental thread through most of the feedback we get when we talk about consultation. When we get to most communities any observer would say that Aboriginal people more generally hate the intervention. They do not like it, it invades their rights and they feel discriminated against.”

He still voted with the Gillard government. NTER was renamed, Stronger Futures. He went on to become the leader of the Nationals in the Senate, and Minister for Indigenous Affairs in 2013, and he still holds these positions.

Since the Intervention, the model has expanded from remote communities in the NT to the Kimberley region and Perth in WA; Cape York; all of the NT and selected areas of ‘disadvantage’. The areas that are deemed as disadvantaged are: Logan in QLD, Bankstown in New South Wales (NSW), Shepparton in Victoria and Playford in SA.

Six different income management measures:
  1. Participation/Parenting – NT only, when the government deems you ‘at risk’ if you’ve been on a welfare for a certain amount of time.
  2. Vulnerable welfare – When you’re referred to income management by a Centrelink social worker.
  3. Child protection income management – NT and some parts of WA, a child protection officer refers you to income management.
  4. Cape York measure – People there are put on income management, if they engage in    dysfunctional behaviour.
  5. Place based income management – For people living in five targeted communities that have been referred for income management.
  6. Supporting people at risk – People are referred for income management by certain state and territory agencies.

As of 25th March 2016, there were 26,508 on income management programs, 20,941 of those were Indigenous.

Trial sites, and another report

The three-part Orima Report is being used by the government, to not only extend draconian, income management measures, but also to quantify its success. Social and political researcher, Eva Cox sums up the report perfectly in a Facebook post, on The Say No Seven page:

“The whole data set of interviews, quantitative and qualitative, are very poorly designed and not likely to be valid data collection instruments. I’d fail any of my research students that produced such dubious instruments.”

The reports includes a lot of spin, asks respondents for their ‘perceptions’ at times, and includes retrospective responses, for questionnaires. The Say No Seven page, has been following all three of the reports closely, they crunched the numbers at the start of this month, when the final Orima report was released. An example cam be found on page forty-six:

“At Wave 2, as was the case in Wave 1, around four-in-ten non-participants (on average across the two Trial sites) perceived that there had been a reduction in drinking in their community since the CDCT commenced.”

This approach means that the reader focuses on the minority of responses, rather than the majority of responses. Six-in-ten not perceiving any reduction in drinking around town. It reads a lot differently than the latter.

Other places rumoured to be put on the card trial are Hervey Bay and Bundaberg in QLD. One peaceful rally against the card in Hervey Bay involved armed police, with protest organiser Kathryn Wilkes saying:

“There were eight of us women aged between 40 and 60 … We were very peaceful.

“They’re afraid of a bunch of sick women on the (disability support pension).

“If you pushed me over I’d end up in hospital. Most of us couldn’t fight our way out of a paper bag.”

This heavy-handed approach is all too familiar…

Star chambers and regrets

Which leads me to the anonymous, paid community panels that determine whether those put on income management should be able to access more cash from their bank accounts. Meddling in communities like this isn’t new, it’s been happening in Indigenous ones for years. Turning communities against one another is surely not the role of the government. It also allows them to neatly deflect any accountability for the program.

The BasicsCard can also make life harder for those already living in poverty, in that you’re restricted from buying second-hand items with cash, or something cheap online. It also means that things like how you pay your electricity bills for example, is decided by Centrelink, so no more payment plans. That’s what income management is, it’s not about just being put on a card as such.

Two trial sites were chosen to trial the BasicsCard card for one-year in 2016, one in Ceduna South Australia, and one in WA’s Kimberley region. The trials were extended indefinitely this year, before the trials had even finished, and before the final Orima report was released just this month.

One of four Indigenous leaders from WA that originally supported the scheme has since withdrawn his support for the card. Lawford Benning, chair of the MG Corporation, says he feels “used” by the Human Services minister, Alan Tudge. He met regularly with Tudge ahead of the cards introduction over a year ago, and helped drum up support for it. He said that services that were promised in return were not provided until seven-months later, and that what was finally offered was no good.

“I’m not running away from the fact that I was supporting this. But now I’m disappointed and I owe it to my people to speak up,” Benning said. “Every person I’ve spoken with said they don’t want this thing here.”

When Benning heard that the card was going to be permanent and about the roll out of the card at other sites:

“I said hang on, it sounds like you’re trying to get a rubber stamp on something already under way, in an attempt to legitimise something the community doesn’t support.”

“I said to him ‘your minister isn’t showing respect to us’. Prior to introducing the card Tudge was flying here every second weekend to meet with us. As soon as we signed up, we’ve never seen him again.”

Take a drug-test or no welfare for new recipients

The latest legislation currently before the parliament, involves a two-year drug-testing trial for 5,000 people in Bankstown (NSW), Logan (QLD), and Mandurah (WA). If it passes, new recipients of the Newstart and Youth allowance have to agree to be tested, in order to receive their allowances. If they refuse a random drug-test, their payments will be cancelled. If they test positively they will be placed on the BasicsCard program, with 20% of their allowance made available in cash. Twenty-five days later they get tested again and if they test positively again, they will be referred to a privately contracted medical professional.

There is no evidence that mandatory drug-testing will work on civilians despite what Social Services minister, Christian Porter says, this ABC fact-check puts that to rest.

‘Experts say that, rather than lots of evidence, there is no evidence, here or overseas, to show that mandatory testing will help unemployed drug addicts receive treatment and find jobs.’

The City of Mandurah has accused the Turnbull government of using dodgy data to justify being chosen for the drug-testing trial. City chief executive, Mark Newman wrote:

“One statistic used is that there has been an increase in people having temporary incapacity exemptions due to a drug dependency diagnosis rose by 300% from June 2015 to 2016.”

“The number of people concerned was a rise from 5 to 20 out of a total number of 4,199 people in Mandurah on either Newstart or Youth Allowance benefits as at March 2017.”

The standard that you walk past is the standard that you accept

To summarise, this is about neo-liberal paternalism, and human rights being exploited for financial gain, under the guise of philanthropy. The Intervention, and other recent punitive measures (including robo-debt) imposed on us, wouldn’t fly if we had a charter of human rights. We need one desperately. Indigenous Australians need a treaty, the right to self-determine, and a proper voice in politics, similar to what New Zealand has. Because if we don’t fight for our human rights, we won’t recognise this country in a few years time.

Statistics wise, Indigenous incarceration is sky-high, Indigenous youth suicide rates have risen by 500% since 2007-2011.

All that these measures are creating is a subclass of stigmatised Australians. At a time when many countries are talking about universal-basic-income or UBI, we’re still caught up in “dole-bludger” discussions. The reality is there is less paid work out there, and that this trend will continue.

Punishing our most vulnerable and those looking for work as though they’re criminals, with drug-testing, just isn’t Australian. We don’t need to follow America with a welfare system that’s littered with “food stamp” programs, and other neo-liberal ideologies. I believe the abolished CDEP is also a model worth looking at again and not just for Indigenous employment. Work-for-the-dole is just labour exploitation, and most of it is pointless when there aren’t any jobs to be found, in the first place.

And on a final note, remember the fake youth worker? He’s still been around as a public servant, and even landed a cushy job with the Abbott government in 2014 as the country’s first ‘Threatened Species Commissioner’.

(Many thanks to all of the sourced researchers, publications and artists involved in this article).

This article was originally published on Political Omniscience.

Kochtopus and getting to know some more players (4)

Before we look at how Steve Bannon met David Bossie and Andrew Breitbart, we need to go back to 1976, before the 1980 American elections. Billionaire brothers, David and Charles Koch were frustrated by legal limits prohibiting how much that they could spend on political campaigns. A candidate could spend as much as they liked running for office, and an individual could spend what they liked promoting candidates, but only if the spending wasn’t coordinated with them. Charles decided that David should run as the Libertarian party’s vice-presidential candidate too, so that they were free to donate as much as they liked.   

Their father Fred Koch, was a chemical engineer and built the family fortune out of oil refineries. Interestingly enough, he started out building refineries in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, and believed that communism was evil and didn’t like any type of government intrusion, these views became his son’s views. David Koch explained in a 2012 interview that their father: ‘was extraordinarily fearful of our government becoming much more socialistic and domineering. And that: ‘from the time we were teenagers to the present, we’ve been very concerned and worried about our government evolving into a very controlling, socialist type of government.’

When the Koch brothers inherited their father’s business in 1967, they renamed it Koch Industries in honour of their father, and have turned it into the second largest privately held company in America. Koch Industries not only owns and operates a massive network of oil and gas pipelines but it also makes a wide range of products including Dixie cups, chemicals, jet fuel, fertilisers, electronics, toilet paper and more. Out of the Koch family, these two brothers are the most politically active.

Back to 1980 and the Koch brothers and the Libertarian party. What is the Libertarian party? It was founded in 1971 by David Nolan and it promotes free market economics, protection of private property, non-interventionism, laissez-faire capitalism and the abolition of the welfare state. Some of the Libertarian policy platform that David Koch ran on is below.

libertarian1980policies

The Libertarian ticket only received one-percent of the vote. All was not lost as the campaign gave them valuable political experience. The older brother Charles, told a reporter at the time that: ‘It tends to be a nasty, corrupting business,’ and that he was ‘interested in advancing libertarian ideas.’ They came to realise that in order to change the direction of America they had to have influence in the areas where policy ideas arise from. They had already founded America’s first libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, three years earlier in 1977. Today, they underwrite a huge network of foundations, think tanks and political front groups and their powerful, ideological network is known as Kochtopus, in political circles. They have also given millions to political campaigns, advocacy groups, and lobbyists since then.

In 1988, a Political Action Committee (PAC), called Citizens United (CU) was founded by Republican, Floyd Brown, with major funding from the Koch brothers. It promotes corporate interests, socially conservative causes and candidates that advance their goals, which are: ‘limited government, freedom of enterprise, strong families, and national sovereignty and security.’ During the 1992 American elections, Mr Brown hired fellow Republican, David Bossie to find dirt on Bill Clinton. Mr Bossie made a name for himself as being a bit of an attack dog, in particular with all things relating to the Clinton family. Four-years later when the House Republicans launched a probe into the 1996 Clinton campaign’s fundraising practices, he ended up being the chief investigator for the member in charge, Republican, Dan Burton. Eighteen months later he was forced to resign after distributing doctored transcripts of an investigator’s’ jailhouse conversations with Clinton associate, Webb Hubbell.      

In 2001, Mr Bossie took over from Mr Brown as president of CU, where he began to write negatively slanted books about Democratic politicians. He became interested in making films in July 2004 after seeing Michael Moore’s documentary, Farenheit 9/11. His documentary questioned the Bush administration’s motives for war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and amongst other things, it argued that the media was used to exploit the 9/11 attacks. A couple of months later, Mr Bossie, mindful that it was an election year, retaliated with his own documentary, Celsius 41.11 (the temperature when the brain begins to die). CU produced the film and said in a press statement that they issued at the time: ‘Celsius 41.11 was made to refute the propaganda in Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11.’  

At around the same time that Celsius 41.11 was released in October 2004, Steve Bannon was promoting “In the Face of Evil,” a Ronald Reagan documentary that he had worked on as a screenwriter. When Mr Bannon’s documentary was released, it was panned by mainstream critics, with Lou Lumenick from the New York Post, writing that it was ‘very much like Soviet propaganda.’ There was a small group of conservatives in Hollywood that did like it however, and Mr Bannon met Mr Bossie at one of these screenings. It wasn’t long before they started working together on a film called Border War, about the perceived threat of immigration, this led to a series of movies that they made for CU. Mr Bannon also met Andrew Breitbart at a screening in December at the Liberty Film Festival. Mr Breitbart was working for the Drudge Report at the time, with plans to start his own website. More on him, a little later.                

In 2008, Mr Bossie and CU produced a documentary called Hillary: The Movie, critical of then-Sen Hillary Clinton, for the election campaign season. It was to be aired on cable TV before the Democratic primaries, but the Federal Election Commission (FEC) blocked it. They reviewed it and found that it was “electioneering communication” and that they were subject to rules governing the production of political ads. In 2009, CU sued the FEC, this led to a Supreme court case called Citizens United v. Federal Electoral Commission. On January 21st 2010, a five-four majority of the high court, ruled against the FEC, and ruled that corporations such as CU can spend as much as they like for and against political candidates. This also meant that they could receive unlimited donations without any government oversight or ever having to publically disclose them. The ruling opened the donation floodgates and gave a small group of wealthy donors, even more influence on elections.

Liberal advocacy group, Common Cause, believe that two of the judges involved, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, should have recused themselves from the Citizens United v. Federal Electoral Commission case. Both of the judges have attended invitation-only retreats organised by the Koch brothers. The retreats are for Republican donors and in an invitation for their January 30-31,2011 meeting, it describes the retreat as a ‘twice a year’ gathering ‘to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.’     

Think Progress also managed to get a copy of a booklet [PDF] from the June 27-28, 2010, meeting and buried within it, is a list of former guests at previous meetings. Mr Scalia and Mr Thomas are on the list, and while the booklet can’t prove when they went, if it was before the CU case, or if their decision was influenced. The booklet does provide insight into the issues that worry the likes of the Koch brothers. On page five, one of the topics for the small group dinners on the eve of the meeting caught my eye.

Issue Micro-Targeting: What gaps do we face in thoroughly understanding the electorate? What has been learned from research so far? How can we take advantage of this advanced technology?

When Obama was elected a myriad of conservative nonprofit groups cropped up, and one of them was called Liberty Central. It was founded in 2009, by Virginia Thomas, the wife of Judge Thomas. A few weeks after the CU court ruling, Ms Thomas told the Los Angeles Times that Liberty Central would be soliciting donations from corporations and other entities freed by CU to step up their political activity. Common Cause, also see this as a conflict-of interest, more on Ms Thomas soon.

In the next series we will look at Breitbart’s role in all of this, and take a look at the rise of the Tea Party, Steve Bannon and the Mercer family.

US propaganda 100 years ago and how the media was influenced (3)

In 1917, one-hundred-years ago this year, American president Woodrow Wilson, declared war on Germany. Mr Woodrow also pioneered the government propaganda system that exists to this day. He began by intimidating and suppressing any ethnic or socialist papers that opposed the US entering the first World war. At the time such meddling in press freedom was unheard of. A week after the war declaration he created a new federal agency called the Committee on Public Information (CPI). The government now controlled the narrative and press coverage. The CPI was dubbed ‘the nation’s first ministry of information’ by journalist, Stephen Ponder. Their first task was to convince millions of young men being drafted to go to war, as well as millions of Americans that supported neutrality. They had to convince them that war was the only option to ‘make the world safe for democracy.’ This was a time before radio became popular and before the weekly news magazine was invented. The chairman of CPI was journalist, George Creel and he organised it into several divisions.

The speaking division had 75,000 specialists who became known as the “Four Minute Men” for their skill in transcribing Mr Wilson’s war goals in short speeches.

The film divison produced the news reels needed to to garner support by showing graphic images in movie theatres. The images depicted the allies as the heroes and the Germans as barbaric.

The foreign language newspaper division kept an eye on US newspapers that were published in other languages than English.

The advertising division secured free advertising space in US publications to promote various war campaigns. Campaigns such as recruiting new soldiers, encouraging patriotism and feeding the narrative that the US was involved in a crusade against a barbaric, anti-democratic enemy.

The division of pictorial publicity comprised of a group of volunteer artists and illustrators. They were behind the famous image of Uncle Sam below. Mr Creel denied that CPI’s work was akin to propaganda but he did admit that he was engaged in a battle of perceptions. ‘The war was not fought in France alone’ he wrote in 1920. And after the CPI was disbanded in 1919, he described it as ‘a plain publicity proposition, a vast enterprise in salesmanship, the world’s greatest adventure in advertising.’

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One of the techniques favoured by the news unit was to bury journalists in paper by producing numerous press-releases each day. The unit also restricted the media’s access to those involved in the war, creating a news vacuum. This was filled with government-written stories, masquerading as news. The CPI also issued a set of guidelines for US newspapers and if editors didn’t follow these patriotic guidelines, they were deemed as unpatriotic. In another first, they decided to create their own daily newspaper, published by the government.

A nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward L Bernays, was a pioneer in human thoughts and emotion theories and was one of the CPI volunteers. ‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society,’ Mr Bernays wrote after the war. And that ‘Propaganda is the executive arm of the invisible government.’ Many of those involved in the CPI went on to lucrative advertising careers after the committee was disbanded.  

In 1988 Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman published the book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. They discovered that the propaganda model today, consists of five filters of editorial bias:

Media ownership: Media outlets have become large companies that cater to the interests of the owners or owner, and to make them profitable.

Advertising: Media can’t survive without it so they must also cater to political leanings as well as the economic desires of their advertisers.

Complicity: Government’s, corporations and institutions know how to influence the media. They feed the media scoops and interviews with “experts” and make themselves part of the journalism process. If you push back against the establishment you will soon find yourself out of the game.

Flack: When a story comes out that the powers that be don’t like, they mobilise and attack. They do this by discrediting sources, trashing stories, creating distractions and by changing the narrative back to where they want it to be.

The common enemy: Whether it’s communism, terrorism or immigration fears, to manufacture consent, you need a common enemy.

In 1992, they produced a documentary about it if interested and below is a handy animation, from March this year. It’s under five minutes long and has some more information, Australia gets a mention near the start.

I’m going to start introducing some of the players involved in today’s web of propaganda. In October 1996, Rupert Murdoch launched Fox News, it was the first of its kind. A 24-hour conservative-populist propaganda channel, filled with right-wing opinions and slanted news stories. All under the banner of “fair and balanced” and delivered as entertainment. He is most definitely a key player and one of the most powerful men in the media, more on him later.

In 1995, a year before Mr Murdoch launched Fox News, Matt Drudge launched the Drudge Report, and he ran it alone. It began with a weekly email for subscribers full of quirky conspiracy theories, right-wing politics, extreme weather and pop culture. Andrew Breitbart, wasn’t doing much at this stage besides being a news-junkie of sorts, and became a big fan of the report. He emailed Mr Drudge offering his help of which Mr Drudge accepted. Mr Drudge became his mentor and they created their own headlines with a blurb telling you the main point of the story, that linked to articles from all around the web. The Drudge Report was one of the earliest news aggregator web sites, a link from them could bring hundreds of thousands of readers to a  story. This gave reporters wanting exposure an incentive to contact Mr Drudge or Mr Breitbart as soon as their pieces were published (or even before publishing them). Tips from journalists gave the pair eyes and ears into nearly every newsroom in the world. In early 1998 they broke not only the Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton scandal, but also the fact that Newsweek had killed the story.

The Drudge Report, didn’t just have the ability to provide scoops for its readers but it also had a sense of urgency about it, and continuous news and stories sourced from the internet to entertain its readers. All of this was achieved with two people rather than a whole newsroom and without having to host content on its site, meaning extremely low overheads. It was also marketed as an alternative to mainstream-media that wasn’t controlled by corporate interests or politicians. It’s role in directing mass amounts internet traffic also made it lucrative for the news sites that received the traffic. He has even been called the ‘Rupert Murdoch of the digital age.’ More on it’s role in the Trump election campaign and how far that it’s come today, in another part of the series.

Next, I will uncover how Steve Bannon meeting Andrew Breitbart and David Bossie in 2004, has led us to today. I will also explain how the political activities of the Koch brothers has influenced the chain of events and more.

 

Jared Kushner, Facebook and Hacking: Propaganda in 2017 and how we got here (2)

Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband, was very much behind her father’s presidential campaign. He focused on message tailoring, sentiment manipulation and machine learning or artificial intelligence. His friends in Silicon valley are some of the best digital marketers in the world. He also focused on micro-targeting on Facebook: “I called somebody who works for one of the technology companies that I work with, and I had them give me a tutorial on how to use Facebook micro-targeting,” Mr Kushner said. Mr Kushner’s inexperience in political campaigning and his understanding of the world online became an advantage. Mr Kushner also looked at campaign spending differently by getting a maximum return on every dollar spent. “We played Moneyball, asking ourselves which states will get the best ROI for the electoral vote,” Mr Kushner explained. “I asked, How can we get Trump’s message to that consumer for the least amount of cost?” He tapped into the Republican National Committee’s data machine and he also hired Cambridge Analytica (CA) to help identify which voters mattered the most for Mr Trump to win. Be it trade, immigration or change. There are digital tools out there such as Deep Root, which drove his TV spend by identifying shows popular with voter blocks in different regions. The TV show NCIS had ads directed at anti-Obamacare voters and for folks worried about immigration it was shows like The Walking Dead. “It’s hard to overstate and hard to summarize Jared’s role in the campaign,” says billionaire Peter Thiel, the only significant Silicon Valley figure to publicly back Trump. “If Trump was the CEO, Jared was effectively the chief operating officer.”

This week Facebook publically acknowledged that its platform has been exploited by governments manipulating public opinion in other countries. Including during the presidential elections in the America and France. In a white paper, they detailed well-funded as well as low-funded techniques that are used by nations and organisations to spread disinformation and lies for geopolitical goals. It explained that these tactics go further than “fake news” as they include content seeding, targeted data collection and fake accounts to help amplify a particular view. “We have had to expand our security focus from traditional abusive behavior, such as account hacking, malware, spam and financial scams, to include more subtle and insidious forms of misuse, including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive people,” said the company. Facebook didn’t mention any nation states involved, but that their investigation ‘does not contradict’ the report [PDF] by the US Director of National Intelligence, outlining Russian involvement in the US election.

The white paper [PDF] doesn’t go into much detail about micro-targeting or what are known as “dark posts”. These are paid, sponsored Facebook posts that can only be seen by those that you want to manipulate. Mr Kushner also employed this technique during the Trump campaign. The paper does talk about targeted data collection that uses phishing malware to infect an individual’s or organisation’s computer. The malware steals their identification and information in emails and in their social media accounts. This information helps hackers to better target their phishing campaigns or ‘advance harmful information operations’.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) had their emails hacked due to a phishing campaign by Russian hackers in the run up to the election last year. One of these was sent to the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, John Podesta. One of his assistants, Charles Devalan, noticed the email that was sent to Mr Podesta’s private email account. It asked Mr Podesta to change his password. Mr Devalan could see that it was a phishing attack and forwarded it to a computer technician. Instead of saying that ‘This is an illegitimate email’ and ‘John needs to change his password’ he typed that it was ‘legitimate’, meaning that they unwittingly gave the hackers access to about 60,000 emails.

This week it was revealed that Russian intelligence has been allegedly sending phishing emails to officials and others involved in Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in the French presidential election. Security researchers at cybersecurity company, Trend Micro noticed a hacking group sending emails with links to fake websites that baits them into turning over their passwords. They believe that Russian intelligence are behind this and the registering of decoy web addresses, were as recent as April 15th this year. The websites are registered to a group of web addresses that they say belong to the Russian intelligence unit that they refer to as Pawn Storm, also known as Fancy Bear, APT28, Sofacy and STRONTIUM. US and European intelligence agencies as well as US private security researchers have determined that they were responsible for hacking the DNC last year.

Trend Micro also released a thorough report [PDF] detailing phishing attempts by Pawn Storm that they have blocked, including their email headers. They also provide visual examples of how hackers target high profile email users. Mainstream media has also been utilised by Pawn Storm to publicise their attacks as well as to attempt to public influence. One example is reputable German magazine Der Spiegel reported on doping in sports in January this year. They admit to being in contact with the “Fancy Bear hackers” for months. They say that in December last year that they received “several sets of data containing PDF and Word documents in addition to hundreds of internal emails from United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and WADA, the World AntiDoping Agency.”

In April 2015, the British army created a special force of Facebook warriors, with skills in journalism, psychological operations or PsyOps, and in using social media to engage in unconventional warfare. They join the US and Israeli armies that already heavily engage in PsyOps. Counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan has inspired the creation of the force. An army spokesperson said: “77th Brigade is being created to draw together a host of existing and developing capabilities essential to meet the challenges of modern conflict and warfare. It recognises that the actions of others in a modern battlefield can be affected in ways that are not necessarily violent.”

In the last article I mentioned Michael Flynn’s 2010 report, when he was the top US intelligence officer in Afghanistan. It was about wanting intelligence in counterinsurgency to act more like journalists.

The purpose of this series of articles is to provide you with as much background as I can, by researching and analysing information that can only be backed up with evidence. I believe that this story is onion-like with many layers as well as foreign players involved. A multi-layered attack on democracy around the world is currently at play. Because this story is playing out in real time, new information, once validated, will also be woven into the series.

My next article will explore Wilson Woodrow’s contribution to propaganda and how this has helped lead us to the likes of Breitbart News and Fox News.

 

Series: What is propaganda in 2017 and how did we get here? (1)

Recently I wrote about Cambridge Analytica (CA), I’ve discovered since then that there is a lot more to this story than just marketing tactics and I will be writing a series of articles about it. What has led us to the likes of fake news, alt-facts, disinformation, and propaganda not only in the media but also in social media? Who are the players and who stands to gain? I will explore all of this and more with detailed research in coming days.

Michael Flynn is a retired American army lieutenant general and was the first National Security Council advisor to be appointed by President Donald Trump. He was fired less than a month later this year on February 13th, under a cloud of suspicion relating to what he said on a phone call at the White House to Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak. Mr Flynn told Vice President of the US, Mike Pence, that the call merely consisted of small talk and holiday pleasantries. The White House, upon analysing the transcript of the wiretapped conversation found that he had also had a discussion about sanctions imposed on Russia, for interfering in the 2016 election on Mr Trump’s behalf.

The US army was also investigating Mr Flynn about whether he had received payments from the Russian government for a trip that he took to Moscow in 2015. The occasion was the tenth birthday celebration of Russian Today (RT), a television network controlled by the Kremlin. US intelligence agencies have been warning since 2012 that RT is a propaganda arm of the Russian government. Payments like this, without the consent of congress could violate the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which forbids former military officers from receiving money from a foreign government without their consent. The FBI was also examining Mr Flynn’s White House phone calls. This was due to concerns that in his attempts to hide what was said in the call, the Russians could blackmail him by threatening to expose him if he refused.

Mr Pence was angry at Mr Flynn as he had defended him in a number of television appearances about the phone call and he wasn’t impressed with him blaming it on his bad memory. Mr Pence was dubious about the bad memory excuse because of a similar experience late last year when this time, he was defending Mr Flynn’s son on television. He denied that Michael Flynn Jnr, was behind the conspiracy theories, such as Pizzagate about Hillary Clinton on social media. He also denied that Mr Flynn Jnr been given a security clearance. He had been given security clearance even though Mr Flynn told Mr Pence’s team that he didn’t have one.

On March 16th this year, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (House Oversight Committee) reported back to President Donald Trump, Secretary of Defense, James Mattis and FBI Director, James Comey. [PDF] They uncovered documents showing that RT paid Mr Flynn more than US$45,000 for his participation in the birthday celebrations as well as US$11,250 from a Russian charter cargo airline and US$11,250 from a Russia-based cyber-security corporation. They also uncovered a retroactive filing by Mr Flynn on March 7th with the Department of Justice. It disclosed that he served as an agent of a foreign government while advising President elect, Donald Trump. The filing reported that US$530,000 was paid to Mr Flynn for pro-Erdogan lobbying work in Turkey between the months of August and November in 2016. It is of note that on November 8th Mr Flynn wrote an op-ed claiming that the Obama administration and the US media wasn’t being supportive enough of Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It is fair to say that most Americans don’t know exactly what to make of our ally Turkey these days, as it endures a prolonged political crisis that challenges its long-term stability. The U.S. media is doing a bang-up job of reporting the Erdoğan government’s crackdown on dissidents, it’s not putting it into perspective. We must begin with understanding that Turkey is vital to U.S. interests.’

Mr Flynn’s lawyers say that they notified the transition team about his lobbying in Turkey but the President and the Vice President say that they knew nothing about it. The House Oversight Committee, requested information as to whether he’d fully disclosed his communications and payments from foreign sources as part of his security clearance, for his return to government. They also requested that the Defense Department take steps to recover all foreign funds accepted in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. On March 31st Mr Flynn told investigators that he was willing to be interviewed about the allegations but only if he received immunity from prosecution.

In 2010 as the top US intelligence officer in Afghanistan, Mr Flynn wrote a report about intelligence acting more like journalists. He lamented that US intelligence in Afghanistan spent too much time on attacking the Taliban and not enough on figuring out Afghanistan’s cultural and social landscapes. ‘Having focused the overwhelming majority of its collection efforts and analytical brainpower on insurgent groups, the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade.’ And that they overlook data such as polling data, patrol debriefs, minutes from local shuras, and economic statistics that helps them connect the dots. ‘This vast and underappreciated body of information, almost all of which is unclassified, admittedly offers few clues about where to find insurgents, but it does provide elements of even greater strategic importance – a map for leveraging popular support and marginalizing the insurgency itself,’ the report stated.

This sounds very much like the Strategic Communication Laboratories Group (SCL) which specialises in behavioural research and data that drives behavioural change. SCL is the parent company to CA. Five years earlier SCL was reported to be the first private company to provide psychological warfare services, known as ‘psyops’ in the military, at a global arms fair in London. It believed that armies were prepared to pay for their services from a private provider and that it could shorten conflicts.

The US Army definition for Psychological Operations or PsyOps is: “Psychological operations are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behaviour of foreign governments, organisations, groups or individuals.”

Bolstered by the success of CA during the American election SCL has lobbied the US national security services in the Pentagon about how its technology could be used to deter terrorism and to help assess attitudes about immigrants. SCL’s lobbying has been driven by a former aid to Mr Flynn and Mr Flynn is a former adviser for SCL. SCL recently won a defense contract with the US state department “Global Engagement Services” to work on “target audience analysis” (TAA) of young men in other countries who may be thinking of joining ISIS. The founder of SCL, Nigel Oakes also founded the Behavioural Dynamics Institute.(BDi). BDi is the research arm of SCL and its stated goal is ‘to assemble and assimilate the full extent of creative and scientific knowledge on group behaviour and the dynamics of change, and package it into a unified and workable methodological approach to conducting successful and measurable behaviour campaigns.’ BDi has a nine page white paper [PDF] dedicated to TAA ‘if you just want to understand a population, hire an anthropologist. But if you want to change people’s attitudes and behaviours, TAA is essential.’

Marketing has long been used by corporations to influence people’s buying behaviour but what does it mean if government’s use psy-ops to change people’s behaviour?

Tomorrow, I will delve into Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump’s husband, and the role that he played in her father’s election and more.

 

Our digital footprints shouldn’t be used against us

Can our digital footprints and data be used to manipulate our political opinions? Yes, but it was never the intention of scientists. The irony, in a world led by an American President that’s against science of any other kind bar psychometrics or keeping power. In 2008 Dr David Stillwell and Dr Michal Kosinski were students at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, when they launched a Facebook application called MyPersonality app. The research focused on five personality traits known as OCEAN. Openness (how open are you to new experiences?), Conscientiousness (how much of a perfectionist are you?), Extroversion (how sociable are you?), Agreeableness (how considerate and cooperative are you?), and Neuroticism (are you easily upset?). They asked Facebook users psychometric questions such as these as well as psychological questions. This was done with a test called “The Big 5 test” and they asked users permission to use their Facebook profiles for their research. Users were given their personality profile in return and forty-percent of users agreed to share their Facebook profile data with them.     

They expected maybe a few dozen users to fill in the questionnaire but they ended up getting over a million responses. Their data set combining the psychometric scores with Facebook profiles was the largest ever to be collected. Over the next four years they measured the OCEAN data and compared these with other data points such as Facebook “likes,” content shared and where they lived. In 2012 Dr Kosinski reported that with the data of 68 “likes” he was able to predict things such as whether the user was a Democratic or Republican supporter, with 85% accuracy. With constant refining and testing of this model Dr Kosinski was soon able to evaluate a personality with just 70 Facebook likes, learning more about the person than what the person’s friends knew about them. A couple of weeks after this Facebook changed “likes” so that they were private by default. This doesn’t stop data collectors, many apps and online quizzes today still require access to your private data before you can even take the personality tests. If you want to evaluate yourself based on your Facebook “likes,” I will provide links at the end of the article for Dr Kosinski’s website which you can then compare with an OCEAN questionnaire. The original project has finished as such but it is still open for research, you can even find Monash university from Australia on there as a collaborator.   

Dr Kosinski realised that it wasn’t just about Facebook “likes” or even Facebook but that we also reveal things about ourselves when we’re not online. Our smartphone he concluded, is in itself a psychological questionnaire that we are constantly filling out, both consciously and unconsciously. He worried what his research would mean in reverse and that essentially he had invented a people search engine that could possibly cause harm, rather than the original intentions of psychological research.

In 2014 Dr Kosinski was approached by a lecturer from Cambridge University’s psychology department. Dr Alexsandr Kogan, on behalf of a company called Strategic Communication Laboratories Group (SCL) wanted access to the MyPersonality app. SCL was founded in 1993 by Nigel Oakes, a former Saatchi & Saatchi ad man with a penchant for psychology and behavioural profiling. He also established the Behavioural Dynamics Working Group to understand and potentially change people’s opinions in 1989. SCL has been involved in elections in Africa, Asia, The Middle East, Europe, Latin America and The Caribbean. It has also worked for the UK Ministry of defence, the US state department, Sandia and NATO. It states on its websites that its methodology is approved purely because of its involvement with the latter, not anything to do with their success rate or ethics. Cambridge Analytica (CA) is an offshoot of SCL and was founded in July 2014.      

In the nineties, Mr Oakes employed two respected psychometrics professors, Professor Adrian Furnham and Professor Barrie Gunter. Both psychologists say that they were used by Mr Oakes to build credibility for his group. ‘I believe he is inappropriately using my name and reputation to further his career. He was unreliable and Prof. Gunter and I severed links with him’, Prof. Furnham wrote in an email. Prof. Gunter went further: ‘Adrian and I were  running our own small company providing consultancy services. Nigel made contact with us while he was working for the event division of Saatchi & Saatchi. As far as we were concerned Behavioural Dynamics was simply the name of a company he founded”, Prof. Gunter said. “Nigel didn’t have any qualifications in psychology. To have credibility he needed an association with bonafide psychologists, which is part of the reason that he brought us on board. But we found that no matter how hard we tried to rein him in, he would make all kinds of claims that we felt that we couldn’t substantiate, and that is why we stopped working for him’.          

In 2015 The Guardian reported that SCL found out about Dr Kosinski’s method from Dr Kogan in early 2014. After Dr Kogan was turned down by Dr Kosinski he established his own company called Global Science Research Ltd in May 2014. It also reported that he began working with SCL to deliver a “large research project” in the US. His stated aim was to get as close to every US Facebook user into their dataset as he could. He used Mechanical Turk (MTurk) which is Amazon’s crowdsourcing marketplace, to access Facebook profiles. He recruited MTurk users by paying them around a dollar to take a personality questionnaire that also gave access to their Facebook profiles. He promised that their Facebook data would “only be used for research purposes” and would remain “anonymous and safe”. Some complained that he was violating MTurk terms of service. “They want you to log into Facebook and then download a bunch of your information,” was one complaint at the time. Dr Kogan also captured all of the data of each MTurk users’ friends and at that time Facebook users had an average of 340 friends each.

This data was then used to generate models of their personalities using the OCEAN scale. Within a just a few months dr Kogan’s business partner gloated on LinkedIn that their company “owns a massive data pool of 40+ million individuals across the United States – for each of whom we have generated detailed characteristic and trait profiles”. Dr Kogan was unable in email to explain where all of the data came from as he was restricted by various confidentiality agreements and said that SCL was no longer a client. After Dr Kosinski read the Guardian reports he believed that Dr Kogan replicated his measurement tool and that he had sold it to SCL. Interestingly, Dr Kogan changed his name not long after this and is now known as Dr Spectre.

In November 2015, former Ukip leader and UK politician Nigel Farage, was supporting the “Leave European Union” campaign and announced that it had commissioned CA to support its online campaign. The results as we know now, is that Britain is leaving the European Union (EU). A record number of Google searches after the polls had closed asking ‘What happens if we leave the EU?’ suggests that many people didn’t know why they voted to leave or what the consequences of their vote meant.

CEO of CA, Alexander Nix describes their marketing success as being based on three elements: behavioural science using the OCEAN model, big data analysis and ad targeting. CA buys personal data from places like land registries, automobile data, shopping data, loyalty card data, club memberships, magazines that you read and what places of worship that you attend. They also use “surveys on social media” and Facebook data. There are data brokers such as Acxiom and Experian in the US for example, where you can get almost any personal data that you desire for a price. If you wanted to know where Indian women live for example, you can just buy it, phone numbers included. CA can then add this data to the electoral rolls of the Republican party alongside their OCEAN and social media data. “We have profiled the personality of every adult in the United States of America-220 million people” Mr Nix boasts. Which was exactly what Dr Kosinski feared.

“They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT” was a telling tweet by then Presidential candidate, Donald Trump on the 18th August 2016. Robert Mercer is a billionaire that started out financially backing Ted Cruz in the Presidential race but when he fell out of the race he supported Mr Trump to the tune of $13.5 million. He was Mr Trump’s biggest donor. Mr Mercer started out his career with IBM as a brilliant but reclusive computer scientist. He is credited with “revolutionary” breakthroughs in language processing – a science that went on to be key in developing today’s use of artificial intelligence. He later became CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money through algorithms on the financial markets. Nick Patterson, a British cryptographer, described how he was the one who talent-spotted Mercer. “There was an elite group working at IBM in the 1980s doing speech research, speech recognition, and when I joined Renaissance I judged that the mathematics we were trying to apply to financial markets were very similar.” One of its funds Medallion, that manages its employees’ money is the most successful in the world. It’s generated $55 billion so far. Mr Mercer also likes to fund such things as climate change denialist think tank, The Heartland Institute and right-wing news site Breitbart News. In fact it was $10 million of his own funding that enabled Steve Bannon, who is now President Trump’s chief strategist, to set up Breitbart News. Mr Mercer also has a $10 million stake in CA.

Mr Nix has also explained how most of Donald Trump’s messaging during his election campaign was data driven. CA divided the US population into 32 personality types and focused on just 17 states. They discovered that a preference for cars being made in the US for example, was a pretty good indication that they were a potential Trump voter. Similar tactics were used with gun ownership on the show “House of Cards” in season four. The episode focused on government “terrorism” surveillance data being used to influence gun-toting voters opinions, for their own means.

CA registered in Australia before our federal election last year and several state elections. It hasn’t lodged any financial disclosures as yet in Australia. They have registered an Australian office at a property currently being redeveloped in Sydney in Maroubra, corporate filings show. Mr Nix and Matt Oczkowski will be in the country next week for ADMA as guest speakers at a data analytics conference. They will also be meeting with Liberal party officials. In a country that has 10 percent of the population in comparison to the US, I personally can’t see too much damage. But what I do take offence to is another country trying to affect our countries voting outcomes. It doesn’t matter if you are English, Russian or American you have no right to manipulate voting intentions and we must legislate for our sovereignty now. For those curious about what makes you or your friends tick, or a little bit of insight into your personality, please feel secure in trying the links below:

https://applymagicsauce.com/

https://discovermyprofile.com/

Two weeks in, how does Mr Trump affect Australia?

I read with interest an article in The Saturday Paper called Goad of Silence by Mike Seccombe this morning, this led me down into an intriguing rabbit hole into the depths of the internet. Mr Seccombe described how different official social media channels of information, such as the National Aeronautics and Space (NASA) Administration Twitter account were being blocked by the Trump administration. And that “rouge” unofficial Twitter accounts had sprung up in their place such as @RogueNASA, I went to investigate the @RogueNASA account. Besides being impressed by their fund-raising efforts with pins and patches for charities such as Black Girls Code and FIRST Robotics!, I came across a non-descript looking link for a newsletter titled Garrett on Global Health. It was written by Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health Council on Foreign Relations. This nondescript looking link is the most comprehensive report detailing the first two weeks of the Trump Administration that I have come across. Ms Garrett provides analysis of three national security presidential memoranda (NSPMs), presidential statements, Executive Orders (EOs) and provides a list with links below, of nineteen presidential actions undertaken by President Trump between the dates of January the twentieth and the thirty-first of this year.

  1. “minimizing the economic burden” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
  2. freezing all regulations
  3. reinstating the Mexico City abortion policy (also known as the global gag rule)
  4. scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership 
  5. freezing hires for the federal workforce 
  6. advancing the Dakota Access Pipeline
  7. advancing the Keystone XL Pipeline
  8. expediting environmental reviews on infrastructure projects
  9. promoting pipelines “produced in the United States”
  10. reviewing domestic manufacturing regulation
  11. increasing border security measures 
  12. eliminating “catch-and-release” strategies
  13. pursuing undocumented immigrants
  14. reevaluating visa and refugee programs
  15. strengthening the military (NSPM 1)
  16. reorganizing the National Security Council (NSPM 2)
  17. implementing a lobbying ban
  18. calling for a plan to defeat the self-declared Islamic State (NSPM 3)
  19. reducing regulations

Out of forty-three top State Department positions, thirty-five were vacant by the second of February. Usually new presidents want to avoid mass resignations and wait until replacements have been found. Mr Trump’s party controls the House and the Senate and his party is most likely to support his choice of Supreme Court nominee. This means that the presidential actions above are expected to be backed by legislation and to become law. As Ms Garrett highlights, this behaviour from a new president isn’t unusual, what is different though is the speed of these changes and the confusion and turmoil that it has brought to the executive branch.

On the twenty-seventh of January Mr Trump signed an EO titled: “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” Iran is one of seven countries included in the ban, the other six are Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia. Mr Trump reportedly has business connections with Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, hence those countries seemingly being deemed as safe. It has been estimated that around ninety thousand people have been affected by this, including an Australian born teenager denied a visa to attend space camp in America because his parents are from Iran. A lawyer for the Justice Department revealed last Friday that around one hundred thousand visas have been revoked since the ban was put in place. A formal dissent memo was signed by over a thousand State Department employees, this is unprecedented in the first month of a new presidency, as well as the record amount of signatures. White House spokesman Sean Spicer has said that he was aware of the memo but warned that diplomats should either “get with the program or they can go.”

There has been concern amongst the scientific community that science data stored on American government websites will be erased. Scientific gatherings to save and store government data stored have been organised by a non-profit group called 314 Action.

“The government has done a great job of collecting and maintaining climate change data on these websites located all across the federal government,” said Shaughnessy Naughton, the founder of 314 Action. “The concern is that the data may no longer be publicly available, and then that they may no longer gather the data. It’s a lot easier to deny climate change when you don’t have data.”

Data Refuge is a public, collaborative project that was established by Penn libraries and the Penn program in Environmental Humanities. Data Rescue events are also being held all around America where volunteers are copying data from government sites and government data bases for safe keeping. After Mr Trump was inaugurated a few agencies restricted the amount of information available to the public. An EPA memo said “no press releases will be going out to external audiences, no social media will be going out … no blog messages … no new content can be placed on any website.”

America has a Whistle-blower Protection Enhancement Act that has been in place since 2012 and by chance the Follow the Rules Act happened to be before “The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee” last Thursday. Legislation strengthening measures related to nondisclosure policies, or gag orders, that restrict the ability of federal workers to communicate with Congress, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and inspectors general were approved. “This law has lived up to its name,” said Eric Bachman, OSC’s deputy special counsel. “It has significantly enhanced OSC’s ability to protect federal employees from retaliation.”

An America First Energy Plan was also released shortly after Mr Trump’s inauguration and it contains such phrases as: “Sound energy policy begins with the recognition that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America. The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans. We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own. We will use the revenues from energy production to rebuild our roads, schools, bridges and public infrastructure. Less expensive energy will be a big boost to American agriculture, as well.”

“The Trump Administration is also committed to clean coal technology, and to reviving America’s coal industry, which has been hurting for too long.” And that “Lastly, our need for energy must go hand-in-hand with responsible stewardship of the environment. Protecting clean air and clean water, conserving our natural habitats, and preserving our natural reserves and resources will remain a high priority. President Trump will refocus the EPA on its essential mission of protecting our air and water.”

The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Act 2016 (NAIF) was passed by the Australian Parliament on 3 May 2016, with its headquarters established in Cairns on the 1st July 2016 and it is supported by the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation (Efic). It’s offering $5 billion in concessional loans to encourage private sector investment in Northern Australia. Last Wednesday the Prime Minister (PM) of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull addressed the National Press Club (NPC) and said

“We will need more synchronous baseload power and as Australia is a big exporter we need to show we are using state-of-the-art, clean, coal-fired technology,” and that “The next incarnation of our national energy policy should be technology-agnostic.”

Treasurer Scott Morrison stated after Mr Turnbull’s NPC speech that ‘Coal is a big part of the future under a Coalition Government’ Mr Morrison also told the ABC that he won’t rule out Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) funding towards clean coal either “It’s the Clean Energy Finance Corporation — it’s not the wind energy finance corporation.”

Last Friday Australian Resources Minister, Matt Canavan, announced that he had opened up the $5 billion NAIF fund for new “clean-coal” power stations. He told ABC AM that “I’ve received some interest over the past week associated with our commitment to build base load power stations, including to support clean coal options”

Mr Canavan also cited a 2012 report by industry consultants GHD, which indicated that clean-coal power stations could be commercially viable in Australia’s north. “Some people might not realise that in North Queensland there is no base-load power station north of Rockhampton and industrial consumers in north Queensland pay often up to double the prices in southern Queensland”

Mr Canavan dismissed comments by AGL and Energy Australia that argued that new power stations would be expensive to build and would require significant public funding. “With all respect to those very eminent companies, we wouldn’t take advice from Coles or Woolworths on whether we should allow Costco for example to come into the Australian market,” Mr Canavan said.

“I am not surprised that existing generators don’t want another large-scale base load power station to come into the market, part in an area like North Queensland where they are clearly making good money selling electricity at very high prices.

“Good luck to them and good luck to them in the market.”

Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive Kelly O’Shanassy, doesn’t agree and said that there was no such thing as “clean coal”. “Every coal-fired power plant is damaging our climate, intensifying heatwaves and bushfires, polluting our air and bleaching coral reefs,” she said.

“Australia needs energy that doesn’t pollute, not energy that pollutes a little less than Australia’s existing coal generators, some of which are among the dirtiest in the world.”

Noting the use of “base load” in the quotes above, I will quote the Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, in 2014 “It’s an obvious conclusion that if you want to bring down your greenhouse gas emissions dramatically you have to embrace a form of low or zero-emissions energy and that’s nuclear, the only known 24/7 baseload power supply with zero emissions,” she told Fairfax Media.

A “baseload power supply” is in a nutshell, “continual power supply.”

“I always thought that we needed to have a sensible debate about all potential energy sources and, given that Australia has the largest source of uranium, it’s obvious that we should at least debate it,” said Ms Bishop.

It was reported last week by the Guardian that long term coal industry lobbying for years in Australia, by American and overseas corporations, has put pro-coal talking points naturally into Australian leaders’ mouths.

As John Quiggin wrote in Crikey last month, the only real viable option for clean coal was via a “carbon capture and storage” program or (CCS). The only version of CCS that could be considered commercially viable is when Carbon dioxide (CO2) is pumped into exhausted oil wells. This works best though with a pure source of CO2 such as natural gas rather than a mix of gases from coal-fired boilers. After decades of work and funding spent on CCS technology (including $590 million spent by Australian governments since 2009), there is only one operational power plant using CCS, the Boundary Dam project in Canada.

Even if all of the coal-fired CCS projects listed by the Global CCS Institute in Melbourne as possibly happening by 2030, are included in the total amount of CO2 captured, it would be less than 20 million tonnes a year.

Australia roughly generates this amount of energy in two weeks.

The Turnbull government’s administration, despite the focus of the main stream media on presidential phone calls and name mishaps, appears to be pretty much aligned with the Trump administration. Fred Palmer was the Peabody Energy Vice-President for government relations in 2010 and in the same year that the “Advanced Energy for Life” campaign was born. Peabody Energy Corporation (Peabody) is headquartered in St. Louis, America and it is the largest private-sector coal company in the world. Peabody has been developing, refining and honing its campaign tactics ever since. Mr Palmer describes former Australian PM Tony Abbott, as a “precursor” to Trump in the context of climate change and energy policy.

“When Tony Abbott came in, he came in running against the carbon tax. When Donald Trump came in, he came in running against the Clean Power plan. That’s the parallel I am talking about.” When asked if he had problems getting through to the federal government he responded, “No it was not. I was thrilled to have that meeting and reception that I got,” says Palmer.

“I had zero problems. If they had time, they talked to us.”

He also thinks that Mr Trump will be “spectacularly successful”.

And that “We are going down the path of his America first energy plan. There is nothing in there about renewables and there’s nothing in there about carbon taxes. It’s fossil fuel-centric and it is meant to be. It’s a fossil-fuel future for the United States.”

Followed by “I guarantee you the world is going to follow.”

There is no money to be made out of coal today, it’s had its time and has progressed us from the days of having to rely on whale blubber or whale oil for energy sustenance and steam powered ships. Renewable energy can also be a base-load energy that Australia can rely on and lead the world in how to do it rurally even, if there is political will.

Australia is in a unique position, not just in regards to our geological positioning and weather elements but we are surrounded by water and we live in very different circumstances, when we compare this with land locked countries in the Middle East. Countries such as Syria that Australia is involved in protecting values wise or war wise, is a part of this ban too. It is high time that we question our values and ethics as a country. Our country’s shipping ports also need to be thought about for the long-term of Australia’s future and not just a short-term sugar hit for a state government’s or federal government’s budget bottom line.

Human Services Privatisation Creep and TiSA

Australia has the highest rate of private incarceration per capita of any country in the world. We imprison more people now than in any time in history. Private prisons operate in five of Australia’s states: Queensland (QLD), New South Wales (NSW), South Australia (SA), Victoria and West Australia (WA). There are eighty-two state prisons between these five states with around 20% of Australia’s prison population residing in nine private prisons. Victoria has the highest number of inmates held in private prisons than in any of the other four states. It is comprised of thirteen state run prisons and two privately owned prisons. As of 2014 the two private prisons accounted for 31.8% of the total inmate population or 1,845 out of 5,800 inmates.

A report called: Prison Privatisation in Australia – The State of the Nation June 2016 was the first to collate publicly available information on private prisons in Australia. The key areas that were explored were Accountability, Costs, and Performance and Efficiency. The first private prison to open was the Borallon Correctional Centre (CC) in QLD, near Ipswich. It was operated by Serco until it closed in 2012. Serco is one of three private prison contractors favoured by state governments, the other two are G4S and the GEO Group (GEO), formerly known as Australasian Correctional Management (ACM). The privatisation stemmed from a 1988 report called the Kennedy report. It was chaired by businessman and accountant, Jim Kennedy and its intention was to reform corrective services in QLD. A program for privatisation was set out within his report: ‘(t)he opportunities for introducing private sector involvement are substantial and should lead to an increase in cost-effectiveness’. The reasoning behind this was that in some areas private providers ‘can do it cheaper and better’ and that introducing competition to the public sector would allow for the measurement of public sector performance. It was budgetary concerns with staff sickness and over-time that led to these measures not overcrowding as was the case for the other states except SA. Borallon CC was back in state hands in April 2016 as an education centre called ‘earn or learn’ for eighteen-thirty-year old offenders.

NSW followed QLD’s lead with an ‘Investigation into Private Sector involvement in the NSW Corrective System’ in 1989. The report cited a claim that Borallon CC had made cost savings of 7.5-10%. One parliamentarian cast doubt over the fact that no information had been provided as to how these numbers were established or calculated. Despite this questioning, Junee CC near Wagga Wagga was approved as NSW’s first private prison. It was originally managed by ACM in 1993, the ACM was restructured and became the GEO Group in 2004. GEO won the bid again in 2009 and still manages the facility today.

Independent inspection of private prisons in NSW has been sporadic, an Inspector of Custodial Services (ICS) was appointed in 1997 with a review off office scheduled for 2003. The ICS was to address issues not already covered by the Ombudsman. The review was carried out by former Police commissioner John Dalton and former chairman of the Corrective Services Commission, Vernon Dalton. They recommended it to be discontinued citing that many duties overlapped with that of the Ombudsman and the government accepted their recommendations. Another ICS wasn’t appointed until another nine years later in 2012 and within this time frame in 2009, the NSW government privatised Parklea CC in the North West of Sydney. The contract was awarded to GEO and it revised its plans to sell Cessnock CC in the Hunter due to an economic downturn in the region.

With a record 12,000 inmates in NSW, the NSW government announced “Better Prisons” in March 2016, with plans to “market test” the operation of the John Morony CC near Windsor, Sydney. For contrast, as of June 2015, there were 36, 134 people incarcerated across all eight states in Australia. Private companies were invited to compete against state owned, Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) for the tender with a winner to be announced in early 2017. A $3.8 billion expansion of the prison system was also proposed and includes a “Commissioning and Contestability Unit” costing $2.9 million. The unit is based on the work of former Serco worker, Gary Sturgess who was also an adviser to former Liberal premier Nick Greiner. The NSW shadow treasurer Ryan Park said “Contestability shouldn’t be an evil word – but under this government, all it means is privatisation by stealth. This government has shown time and time again that contestability isn’t about service delivery – it’s about saving money.” Mr Sturgess argues that it’s not about actually privatising but rather the threat of it to get public services and unions to improve their efficiency. “Gladys Berejiklian understands contestability – she used that approach as transport minister when she took on the private bus monopolies in western Sydney, and then initiated a reform agenda within the State Transit Authority … using the threat of competition if they did not reform,” he said.

The “Better Prisons” reforms also include cutting the number of teachers from CSNSW from over one hundred full-time positions to twenty. Corrective Services Minister David Elliott is to create sixty more roles but they don’t require a teaching degree. Prison teachers went on strike and up to two-hundred people rallied outside the NSW Parliament in September last year. “No-one can do the job that you do, you are highly skilled” Labor’s Guy Zangari told the crowd. “It’s more than just reading and writing, it’s more than just gaining skills to get a job.”

The Prison Privatisation in Australia – The State of the Nation June 2016 report covers publicly available data as of December 2015, and concluded that many problems in QLD private prisons were mirrored in NSW. NSW governments have favoured confidentiality and  commercial-in-confidence protections for private, over providing the public with any transparency about their operations and costs. When it comes to Performance Level Fees (PLF), Key Performance Indicators (KPI) or bonuses for reaching “performance targets”, it gets even more opaque. One example from 2006 involved GEO still being awarded its PLF despite not meeting its performance targets for Junee CC. The justification given By Commissioner Ron Woodham was that ‘performance linked fees were designed to encourage performance rather than be punitive’. The Department of Corrective Services (DCS) makes an annual report about some of the prison’s performance but not the costs, they’re aggregated. In fact, the researchers of the above report could find no publicly available information regarding the breakdown of private prison costs on a year-by-year basis. NSW has an Ombudsman that handles prisoner complaints and reports their data prison-by-prison. According to the data there are more complaints in private prisons than in public ones. There’re contract “monitors” that make reports about both private prisons in NSW but these reports are also not publicly available. The monitors reports don’t marry up with the Ombudsman’s either especially regarding complaints made. In 2011 when inmates died at Parklea and three men escaped from the prison, there was no mention of these incidents at all in the monitors reports.

It is of interest that the NSW government at the end of March 2016, made both the Junee CC and the Parklea CC contracts available through the CSNSW website. The contracts are heavily censored, for example in schedule six of the Junee contract ‘Operational Service Level Fee and Opioid Pharmacotherapy Program Fee’, all of the financial information has been redacted. In section eight, the ‘Key Performance Indicators and Performance Linked Fee’ has had the targets for each KPI censored, meaning that we don’t know the level of service that is expected of GEO. The Parklea contract states that the operational fee in schedule six is $29, 124, 488 but any information relating to the breakdown of these costs has also been redacted. It also lists financial penalties for major incidents such as deaths in custody but it doesn’t include the KPI’s against which the PLF is calculated. Once again, we have no idea what level of performance is expected of the contractor by the NSW government.

Image by artist Banksy

Treasurer Scott Morrison asked the Productivity Commission to investigate privatising human services. The preliminary findings of the inquiry suggested that social housing, public hospitals, dental services, aged care, services for remote Indigenous communities and social housing services could all be reformed. The commission will work on recommendations for each sector and report back to Mr Morrison in October this year.

There has been much said about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by Prime Minister Turnbull, President Donald Trump and the media. Mr Trump has made it clear that he believes that it’s not in America’s best interests to sign the agreement but Mr Turnbull doesn’t want to let it go. What has been missing is any talk about the Trade in Services Act (TiSA) agreement in the media or by Mr Turnbull or Mr Trump. There is a media release from October 21st last year by Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister, Steve Ciobo. He chaired a ministerial meeting on TiSA in Oslo, Norway that weekend and the release talks of ‘increasing Australian services exports, a key part of the Turnbull Government’s national economic plan to create jobs and drive economic growth.’

Australia’s services sector is a major part of our economy and accounts for 70% of economic activity. It employs four out of five Australians and accounts for 20.9% of all of Australia’s exports. Services account for around 75% of the European Union (EU) economy and 80% of the US economy. TiSA was also meant to be signed off with the TPP at the end of last year but it stalled due to disagreements about the free movement of personal data across borders. Mr Trump has already promised and already met with thirteen US tech giants last year and promised to make it “a lot easier” for their companies “to trade across borders.”

TiSA according to Wikileaks and other whistle-blowing sites is a deal that will “lock in” the privatisation of services, even in cases where private service delivery has failed. Government’s would never be able to return water, energy, health, education or other services to public hands. Perhaps this’s why there is such secrecy and a five-year clause preventing public access to the TiSA agreement after it has been signed.

We have seen the Australian federal government’s attitude towards human services with Centrelink and Medicare, and the absolute lack of transparency when it comes to the treatment of private prison operators in Australia. Should our tax payer dollars be used to pay private, overseas companies bonuses for fulfilling their contract’s? If companies need incentives to do a good job it sounds like human services belongs in the hands of public. When will state government’s using private, prison operators admit that a lack of staffing appears to be much of that sectors problems? And lastly, I implore you to please help create awareness about this, if they come for our services it will be the end of Australia or the world as we know it.

This article was originally published on Political Omniscience.

 

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